Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why You Need to Read Aloud to Your Children Now

Book Club

I have given birth to five bookworms.

(They're also Mexican jumping beans.  Well, only 1/4 Mexican jumping beans, but I digress.)

Five bookworms they are, and five bookworms I am planning on them staying.  Reading to me is as natural as breathing and the love of books ranks high on my list with chocolate truffles and coffee. There is never a time when there is not a half-read book somewhere in my general vicinity.

There must be something in the genes or perhaps passed along through the umbilical cord, as life-giving as oxygen and nutrients.  There was never any question in my mind that my children would be readers.  Just like they had no choice in their genetic makeup, they had to know that they may as well have been born holding a library card.

I remember my very first readers that my parents bought for me.  Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel and Little Bear by Else Minarik became dog-eared, the spines cracked and read until they were falling apart.  I loved them so.  Neither of my parents were habitual readers nor particularly inclined to read aloud to us.  I remember compensating by reading aloud to myself as soon as I was able.  I never thought twice about it.  The simple act of knowing the words and putting them together in the building blocks of literature had become as necessary as sleep, overshadowing dolls and being outside.

One of the greatest pleasures in going to school for me was when my teacher or librarian read aloud to us.  I remember the kindly librarian introducing me to the Anne of Green Gables series with a twinkle in her eye and the whisper of, "Oh, you're just going to love this." As we progress on our own homeschooling journey, I always try to make sure we're knee-deep in a piece of literature that gets us out of our school room or family room and transports us somewhere new, old, familiar, or different.

I've heard for quite a while that reading aloud to your children is highly beneficial.  To me, it's simply a lovely thing to sit and peek at their faces as I'm reading, watching them experience the beauty of language and the power of a good story.

As I researched the benefits of it, for all age groups of children, it has become more apparent how important reading aloud to them is.  Babies who are read to at age 8 months have a more varied and well-rounded vocabulary by age 3.  A better vocabulary means that when they start school, they will be able to listen to instructions given by their teachers.  Early education is based on oral instructions because children are usually not reading enough to get all of the information they need to complete work.  The less they're able to succeed in doing their school work, the more likely they are to drop out, setting themselves up for a much harder life.  Reading also stimulates memory, curiosity and motivation. (source)

Here are a few things that I've noticed on my own with my children, no fancy research here, just plain living:

  • Children automatically turn their attention to the rhythm of the written word, whether it rhymes or not.  It's a given that if I sit down to read with my four-year-old, all of my kids will crawl out of the wood work to come and snuggle up on the couch.
  • The physical closeness is a lovely thing.  Even my older ones tend to come closer to feel their arm against mine or choose to pull a younger brother on their laps.  Reading aloud, I can pretty much rest assured that no one will be hitting or kicking one another.  It's beautiful.
  • They learn so much about other cultures and time periods.  They are learning history and about other kinds of people, just by picking up a story book.
  • When it's illustrated, my kids are feasting their eyes on art while listening.  The colors, the shapes and the words produce a harmony that appeals to several of their senses.  If there aren't any illustrations, their imaginations are hard at work.
  • They are learning different literary devices that will help them with speaking and writing later on down the road.  Things like allegory, similes, metaphor, idioms and hyperbole are all things that will give them a better understanding of the world and people around them.
  • Even though they may be reading at a certain grade level, they listen at a totally different one.  Don't be afraid to read books that are too hard for them on their own or even revisiting the ones they loved when they were younger.  
As we cracked open The Magician's Nephew tonight, by C.S. Lewis, none of my children made one motion to move away from the table.  I loved hearing their guesses as to what was going to happen next and listening to my youngest as he processed the words I was reading.  I have so much satisfaction of coming into a room and finding one of my older ones curled up with one of the younger ones, responding to, "Please read to me."  I have many dreams and desires for my children, like all mothers do.  Reading to them all now is one of the ways I can help them later on in life.

I challenge you to use this summer to read aloud to your children and then stand back and watch them grow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Homestretch

Every mama knows about the homestretch to the end of the school year.

It doesn't matter if your kids are in public school, private school, homeschooled or in a charter school whose niche is learning to weave rugs on a loom using the wool the students sheared off of the sheep in PE.

We all know it, love it, loathe it, breathe a huge sigh of relief when we're through it.

This is our reality and the reality is that we're tired.

Everything gets a little lax this time of year.  Clothes don't match when we go out in public places, library fines start to add up, and that spelling test on the lesson plans?

Yeah, right.

Summer is beckoning and we would be fools to not heed its call.

We are all longing for some breathing space in our days, extra time for the children to bicker and get on each other's nerves.  We need days with swimming and movies with popcorn and being curled up on the couch with a book.

We are almost there, friends.  We're so close!  I can smell the alluring scent of sunscreen gently wafting in through the windows as well as seeing the glazed look in my children's eyes as we read through our history lesson.  Heck, I have the glazed-over look myself.

We can do this thing, right?

In the mean time, it's back to packing lunches, making sure everyone has clean clothes, or trying to read the history lesson even though you continue to fall asleep.

We've totally got this.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

When Dreams Are Slowly Revealed

I'll admit it straight off right here.

It's taken me twenty-five (okay, thirty-six, really) years to know what I wanted to do when I grew up. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker (or librarian), it has crossed my mind.

Don't get me wrong.  I love my life.  I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing, in fact.  Even in the hard days of kids who pout because they have to redo their handwriting or chores or the potty overflowed again and the library books are about three months overdue (there goes my chance that library gig), I look up from whatever I'm doing and fully realize that this is the life for me.  It's wonderful and fulfilling and fun. No matter how bad a day has been, I know that by the next morning as my kids stumble out to the kitchen, eyes at half mast, my heart will still be thrilled to be spending the day with them.

But, secretly, don't most of us have a feeling like there's something in addition to caring for our sweet families that we want to do?  Is there something wrong with us?

I would say no.

When I say in addition to our families, I am saying that nothing comes before them in your priority list but as an additional way to expand the gifts God has given

I realize that there are mamas out there who would argue with that with every part of their being and I get that, I really do.

Let me make one thing quite clear.  I am an advocate for mamas to recognize their God-given gifts, training and growing them as a way to bless their family and others outside of it, not in a way that takes away from their families or homes but in a way and in the time frame that God has specifically laid out for them, which will most definitely look different for every woman.

One dream that has started to be revealed for me personally over the last few years is to become a speaker.  Once while listening to a key note speaker, the Holy Spirit tapped on my shoulder and said, "You could do that."  Within about five minutes, my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear, "You could do this."

Holy smokes.

While I'm not sure what my final niche will be yet, quite possibly in marriage or homeschooling, I am thrilled to be starting to see how God is lining everything up for this. My days are still very  much the same.  I still make dinner and grocery shop, clean the toilets and iron my hubby's work shirts.  Super glamorous, I know.  But even when I'm not seeing it, just simply being aware of it, there is training going on.

The wonderful thing about this dream is that it is big for me.  Even as extroverted as I am, I wouldn't consider myself a public speaker.  Except that I am becoming one.  I can see that it is actually something buried down deep inside of me that I didn't even know was there.  With time and practice, it is coming out.

The great thing about God-sized dreams is that this wasn't even my idea.  This is not me at all.  However, I am willing to do the grunt work and let Him take care of the results.

What is your God-sized dream?  Does it seems too big, too unfathomable, too ridiculous?  Awesome! God does His best work when things are too big, too unfathomable, too ridiculous, right?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Brood of Hens on Mother's Day {Cluck, Cluck}

Mother's Day around here is always a lovely, perfectly arranged, smooth flowing event.

Until it isn't.

Here's the problem:  My motto in life is "Go big or go home."  (which actually explains my former hair-do's, my bum and the size of my family.)

I get this curious gleam in my eye and ideas spew out of my mouth. My husband tries to run for the hills, but he always gets called back, responding to the voice of the siren, slowly being pulled in, unable to resist its call.

But as a mother myself, isn't it supposed to be a day where my husband and kids do all of the work and I lay on the couch eating bon bons?

As mamas, don't we all know that it isn't all about us?  Included in our family group are my mother in love, my mom, my grandma, my sister and me, which means there are five mamas.  Five.

My grandma and MIL are both widows, my mom is divorced and my sister was a single mom.  That's a whole lot of moms and only one husband... Mine.

Bless his heart, this man did not know what to do.  There was no way he and our kids could do it themselves, not that he didn't give it a valiant effort.  He really is amazing.  But, I prefer a sane and kind husband to an overwhelmed and grumpy one, don't you?  So he calls in reinforcements from the perfectionist "Go big or go home"-party-planner.  I think that actually might be my most accurate job description.

Let's be honest here, while I don't get much rest, I really love doing it.  I love setting a sweet and feminine table to bless all of the ladies and looking for ways that will minister to them.

Like serving peach sangria.  And everyone asking for seconds.

Seriously.  Nothing says Mother's Day like alcohol?  What does that say about my family?

Every year is different but it's always understood that there will be a brood of hens descending on my house after church on Mother's Day.

Yes, I am one of them, usually the one who clucks the loudest.

When it comes down to it, who else would I want to do this for?  These women surround us with their love and support, their kookiness (some which has been a genetic gift to us) and their amazing Christmas and birthday gifts over the years.

Go big or go home... just because they deserve it.

(Especially my mom because I was her child that gave her the most opportunities to practice patience, kindness and self-control.)

How will you spend your Mother's Day?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When You are Just So Tired

There seems to be a common refrain that rolls around in our brains and out our mouths until it seems to surround us like a word bubble fog.

"I'm so tired...I'm so tired...I'm so tired."

Sound familiar?

Yeah, to me, too.

We are all busy people.  We know this fact.  We live this fact.  I do not know one person who is not busy and tired, except maybe, uh...  Nope.  There's no one.

Here we go, shlumping about, heads down and feet shuffling, while we're muttering our refrain as a chorus.

What a dismal picture this is.  Okay, so maybe it's not that bad, but it is a reality in and around us.

So what are we to do?

Late last week, as I was muttering to myself about the laundry and the dishes and bickering and the thirteen socks that have seemed to have taken up residence in my Suburban for whatever reason, with the constant reminder to myself about how tired I am, the Lord clearly spoke to me.  And I mean clearly.

"Stop.  It."

"Yes, you are tired.  This is the glorious result of living a life full of little, marvelous people and appointments and commitments, and having a home.  Guess what, girl?  Everyone else in this world is tired, too.  You are not a special case.  Get over it."

Ouch.  Harsh?  No.  Rude?  Absolutely not.  The truth?  You betcha.

So what are we to do?

We certainly cannot neglect our bodies, spirits, emotions and mental need for rest.  There is no way I am advocating that.  We certainly need to sleep (although, think of how much I could get done if I didn't?) and times to step back and give ourselves breathers.  I cannot imagine how I would get through my weeks with out a bowl of Bordeaux Cherry Chocolate and a viewing party of Married at First Sight.  I mean, really.  Let's be reasonable here.  Then, too, there was the thirty minutes today where I took a break from teaching school so I could nap.  A spontaneous viewing of Veggie Tales saved the day, Baby.  Am I embarrassed to admit this?

Uh, no.

Again I ask, what can we do?

We can change the way we speak to ourselves and others.  We can stop reminding ourselves how worn out, exhausted, drained (etc., etc., etc.,) we are.  May I just say that in a few days time, my perspective has changed dramatically?

Yes, I am tired.  However, the more I repeat this to myself, the more I am setting myself up for defeat during my days.

So what words do I say instead?  I'm still very new to this, so I'm figuring this out.  So far, when I've caught myself living in the Land of Weary (and this certainly not all of the time, to be sure), I have smiled and reminded myself at how amazing this life is.  You know what?  I bet your life is pretty amazing, too.

When someone asks how I'm doing, I don't sigh and tell them how busy and exhausted I am.  Now I am verbally reminding myself that I am actually pretty darn good.  Could you say the same?  Probably.

Are you going to turn into a perky high school cheerleader who's pony tail bounces in beat to the cheers and has valley girl speak spewing out of her mouth?  Of course not.  (Although, does that really sound so bad?  Especially when you're thirty six and possess stretch marks, a mortgage and orthodontist bills.)

Does this mean we gloss over the hard times, pretending nothing is wrong?  Absolutely not.  This is not something we do to pretend.  It is about letting our words change our perspectives.  When we speak true and encouraging words aloud to ourselves and others, the natural byproduct is the giving or receiving of encouragement.

Dear one, I know you are tired.  Let's lift our fifth cup of coffee in solidarity.  We do not have to live our lives defeated, exhausted and hopeless.

We can do this, not limping across the finish line, but with our heads held high and smiles on our faces.

We've got this, friend.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

When Writers Don't Write

I found myself in a conversation the other day with a stranger and was asked about myself.

"I'm a writer," I replied.

Wait. What?

I used to write.  I used to define myself as one who sits and plays with words.  I used to feel inspired in the middle of dinner prep.  It used to be a form of worship that I was privileged to enter into.

Why is there a plethora of "used to's" in the previous sentences?  (Would you say I have a plethora of "used to's"?  Get it, get it?  Oh, never mind.)

Dear ones, I am tired.  I am overwhelmed.  My spirit...heart...body are bone-weary.

Please tell me you know what I'm talking about.  For heaven's sake, I've already dangled a preposition and quoted a movie in this post.  A funny movie, to be sure, but still.

Instead of writing I am finding myself piling this week's clean laundry on top of last week's laundry on the couch.  We are now digging through the pile for clean undies because there doesn't seem to be a time to fold it all.  At least it's clean.

That's a comfort.

My days are slipping past, taken up with washing the dishes (again), half-done chores, unmotivated school days, ungraded workbooks in my basket and pots of coffee drunk until I look like I've stuck my finger in a light socket.

And to add insult to injury, right now, my idea of a fun night out is going to Goodwill, but only if it's a half-off sale.

I'm a cheap date.

Here's where I start banging my head on the desk.

Please forgive me.  I know this is just a "season".  I can see into the future and know that I will finally get to take a nap.  It's just kind of sad that it won't be until late July.  I know that the laundry will get folded. Eventually.  I know that the words will come back.

I will again write.  I will again encourage.

I have to.  It's what is on my card:

I obviously have some work to do.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why Snakes Will Never Be Part of our Homeschooling Adventures

There are those who reside on this planet who think that reptiles are amazing...fascinated...and I dare say, beautiful.

I am not one of them.

Even if one of my children happens to want to become a reptile biologist (I'm sure there's a special fancy name for it.  One that I care not to learn.), and they beg me, telling me that it's educational and needful for their future success, I won't have a snake in my house.

I'll pay for them to go to cosmetology or mortuary school.

But I won't have a snake.

Snakes have been the main reason why I have not been over the top thrilled when Paco wants to go camping.  I love being outdoors, I love my children running free and exploring, I love eating campfire food and gathering close to the flames after the sun has gone down.

But the possibility of having to use the outhouse or an (in)convenient bush and then a snake managing somehow to make it in there with me, biting me in places that never see the light of day, just sends me over the edge.

Lord have mercy, I would have made a dismal pioneer woman.  DISMAL.

Of course in all my camping trips, I've never once encountered a snake, ready to feast on my exposed flesh or not.  I've come home and breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I was safe and sound in my beautiful, modern and snake-free bathroom.

Or so I thought.

And then I read this.

If I wasn't a lady, I could tell you mile-long list of bad words that just went through my mind.

Now, I'm the kind of person who doesn't panic whilst in the middle of a panic-inducing situation.  I pride myself in keeping a cool head and a calm demeanor.

However, if there was a snake coming out of my toilet, all bets are off.

Lord, have mercy.

Pray for me.

(Now, I know that as a homeschool mother, I should disclose that the snake pictured above is a cobra, not native to my part of the world.  However, I don't care what kind of snake it is, cobra or no, venomous or non-venomous, it should not be in my toilet.  There is not one person on Earth who would like to see this staring them down when they lifted the lid.  Not one.)

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