How Can a Mama Schedule Creativity Into Her Life?

Note: This column was printed in the June 27, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write more on this topic ever since my fellow blogger, Renee Tougas of fimby.tougas.net, wrote the definitive e-book for busy moms who want to find time for their own creative pursuits.  How do I schedule it into my life, she asked?

Another friend of mine commented that she doesn’t see how I have time to do it all.  The truth is, I don’t do it all, and there are days that I feel like pulling my hair out.  Still, having children has taught me more about time management skills than any high power job could ever do.

It’s ironic that I’m writing on this topic at an unusually busy time for me.  With summer in full swing, I never guessed how many unexpected things could pop up at this time of year for young children.  Besides my son’s mini-camps and a summer class, I’m happy to shuttle him around to play dates so that he can enjoy this beautiful weather.

I also have a magazine article I’m trying to finish and get in the mail, a photo shoot coming up, another set of photos I did for a friend that I’d like to finish, and of course I continue with my weekly column.  Then there’s the magical laundry bin that fills up every time I empty it.

I work very hard at keeping perspective, and I also make sure that I don’t let my personal goals take my attention away from my kids.  I keep mindful that this is a short time in my life, and someday I’ll wish I could step back into this moment when my children were young.  But staying positive doesn’t take away the fact that I have to get things done.

It’s all about sorting priorities and making lists for me.  Luckily I found a little app for my computer that lets me make several to-do lists.  (I use To-Do Queue, but I know there are other good ones too.)  I use some lists for brainstorming ideas on what to write about, and I use other lists for the real gotta-get-it-done stuff.

Keeping these lists separated is what makes my life easier.  I’m never looking at a comprehensive, mile-long to-do list.

I make sure I get the important stuff done first.  I usually reserve certain days of the week for certain tasks, such as my weekly column.  Just as I mentioned last week in my “how to get the house clean” column, having specific days for specific tasks takes away the angst of “When will I get to this?”  Thinking about everything at once is too overwhelming.

When the must-do stuff is done, I use my lists to remind me of what I want to work on next.  Having this reminder open on my computer is important because it’s so easy to open up Twitter or Facebook and waste time.

But how do I get any of it done with young children who quite literally suck up every minute of the day?  Most of it happens at night after they go to bed, and some of it gets done in the afternoons while they watch T.V.  There are also nooks and crannies throughout the day when I manage to load laundry or write an e-mail while also sculpting clay creations with my sons.

While it would be ideal to have a few hours every week when I could retreat to a private office to get my work done, that will never happen.  What helped me gain perspective on this is what a friend of mine told me once.

He teaches news writing at the university, and he told me that while his students are writing in class, he’ll put the radio on.  He said he wants them to get used to distractions because in a busy newsroom, it’s not always quiet.  When he told me this, I realized that getting work done despite distractions is something we can learn to do.  It’s something we can train ourselves to do.

Distractions are always at hand for moms of young children.  A subtitle for this era of our lives could be “Ten Years and One Million Interruptions.”  So instead of waiting for the perfect time to get creative, learn to use the time you’ve got.

***

There’s also something I’d like to add that wasn’t in my column.  It’s about keeping perspective as I mentioned briefly.  I have many personal goals that I’d like to do, but I just can’t at this time.  I only do what little I can, and I try to appreciate this moment with my children first and foremost.  I’m pretty sure that being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom is going to be the happiest time of my life.  Why do I dream about doing something else when in reality, I have everything I want?

On the other hand, it’s good to have personal goals because one day these kiddos will grow up and leave my house.  I’m glad I’m pursuing my hobbies and career goals even if it’s a little bit.  I think it will lay a foundation for my life after kids, and from what I hear from “empty nesters,” it will be good to have a distraction at that time.

Remember that wonderful children’s story, The Tortoise and the Hare?  Be the tortoise.  Plod along and do what you can. After all, if you had all the time in the world, you might not use it wisely.

How do you make time for yourself?

Tadpole Update #2: They have legs!

We were very excited this evening to see tiny legs on our tadpoles!  Below are some photos that I took in the last few days.  I’ve put dates on the images so that you can see the progress.  Though we thought they were about to get legs, tonight was the first time we could definitely see them.  To see my first photos of the tadpoles and learn how we got them and how we’re taking care of them, click here.

Have you ever raised tadpoles or any other kind of critter?

Cleaning the House with Young Children

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on June 20, 2012.

Mothers of young children often lament how they can’t get anything done.  What they mean by this is how they can’t seem to get the laundry, house cleaning, or cooking done, or, if they do another kind of work, they can’t find time to finish it all at once.  We go from being childless and able to tackle our tasks one at a time to a schedule with no beginning and no end.

It’s more of a mind-shift, and it takes a lot of time to figure out how to navigate our chores amid the needs of the children.  I am still trying to shift my mind.  It’s not an easy thing, but once in a while, I think I’ve almost got it.

The first thing I had to remind myself of is that I am doing something – the most important thing in the world, perhaps – rearing children.  Every mundane task I do at home stacks up as the first blocks in these little people’s lives.  It may not feel like it, but I’m the one there to keep them from falling over.

Mothers put a lot of pressure on themselves to be able to do it all, but all we really need to do is show up and love our children.

I want to tell moms with younger children not to try so hard.  All we can do is prioritize and do what little chores we can.  It’s the kids that come first, and it’s not going to kill them if they crawl through some dust bunnies.  Use frozen food if you have to.  Just take care of yourself – you can’t be a good mom if you don’t – and take care of the children.

Now that my youngest child is almost three, it’s getting easier to find time to clean the house on a regular basis. This past year I started “Monday Cleaning Day.”  I’ve never had a cleaning schedule before, but now that I have kids, I realize schedules are my friends.

Writers say that you should write at the same time everyday, every week, or whenever you can manage it.  What counts is that it’s at a recurring time. If you do this regularly, you’ll train your writing mind or “the muse” to show up.  This is true.

Now I believe this strategy works with everything.  Ever since I started “Monday Cleaning Days” I am in the mood to clean my house every Monday morning.  When in my whole life have I ever been in the mood to clean? The best part about it, however, is that it takes away those frustrating thoughts of “When will I get this done?”

I wouldn’t have been able to do this the year before when I had a one-year-old, but now both my boys are helpful.  They pick up toys and help me mop the floors, and the five-year-old loves to vacuum the sofas.  It’s important to get young children in the habit of helping, but don’t worry about the quality of their work.  If they do anything, it’s great, and you are fostering good habits that will stick with them as they get older.

(I will also make a point that wasn’t in my column: I doubt I could have done “Monday Cleaning Day” when I had only one child.  Having an older brother to direct the play helps me considerably when I’m trying to get things done with a two-year-old.)

After they help me as much as they can, it’s their “job” to play alone while I finish.  I think there’s something about the routine of doing it once a week that helps them and me too. They understand that it’s just one day a week and then we get back to our regular schedule.

Of course, it could also be that I’ve started “Monday Movie Night.”  If they help clean and leave me alone while I finish, they get to watch a movie.  I want them to learn that after we work hard, it’s okay to relax and reward ourselves.  My five-year-old is old enough to recognize when the house gets messy, and I think he is learning to appreciate cleanliness.  He’s proud of himself each time he shows me the clean sofas.

I also don’t consider it a bad bribe because I also give myself permission to take the night off.  With small children, I’ve had to schedule in “veg out time” too, though I admit I don’t always stick to this. It’s too tempting to use the time to pursue some of my creative goals, and next week, I’ll write some ideas on how mamas can schedule creative time into their lives.

How do you get your cleaning done with small children in the house?

You might also be interested in Embracing the Chaos and Embracing the Chaos, Part 2.

Guess who’s raising tadpoles?

Last week (on June 15th) when my five-year-old and I returned from his mini-camp, my husband and two-year-old surprised us with tadpoles!  They collected them at a stream where they found hundreds of tadpoles.  Most of them will get eaten by predators, so we’re going to help three of them along until they mature and then release them in the same spot we found them.  (At least we hope we get that far.)  So far they are doing well!

We’re keeping them in a container box on the porch. We used tap water, but we put a water conditioner in it that we use for our fish aquarium. Later we also added some of the water and algae from the stream that the tadpoles came from. We put some rocks and a filter in the water, and we are feeding them bits of frozen spinach and tapole/frog food we found at the pet store. They have gotten considerably fatter since we got them, and they seem happy!

We keep a screen over the box when we’re not watching them to keep mosquitoes and other pests out of the box.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

And let’s have a round of applause for my husband who initiated and did the work for this awesome homeschool science project!

Lessons Learned in the Garden

“A new study conducted for Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has found that encouraging children to learn gardening boosts their development by helping them become happier, more confident, and more resilient. In addition, gardening also helps teach children patience and the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle.”  

–Quote from an article titled, Teach Children Gardening and Give Them a Natural Head Start in Life on NaturalNews.com

It’s that time of year again for planting and growing things, and I’m happy that my five-year-old seems just as excited about the garden as he was last year.  It’s an exciting year for me too because we’ve planted things I’ve never attempted to grow before.  At his request, we’ve got corn, carrots, onions, and garlic, and we also have the old staples: cucumbers and tomatoes.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to prune back some bushes and clip the perennials before they budded (makes them stronger), so my flower beds are crowded with daisies falling over on top of other flowers, and an off-shoot of a butterfly bush is growing between two bushes that were already suffocating each other.

The yard is a work-in-progress, and it always will be, but even when it’s unruly, it gives me great pleasure to see the plants circle around to their blooming glory.  It’s also the potential that gives me thrills – thinking about what I might be able to do once the boys are older and strong enough to haul dirt and wheelbarrows!

It’s my goal to keep them interested in cultivating a garden, so I don’t pressure them, and I let them plant what they want and overwater it at times too.  If something doesn’t grow, I tell my son we learned something, and we’ll try again next year.  My five-year-old is always talking about planting this or that, and getting a new packet of seeds is like getting a new toy.

Yesterday we went to visit some long-time friends of mine, and I knew the five-year-old would love their garden, which is spread out over their whole yard.  It’s one of those cozy cottage-like places.  Of course he was in heaven as he asked what the names of the plants were, and when I wasn’t looking my friend gave my son a packet of green bean seeds and some seeds from a plant outside.

I didn’t think we’d have room for those green beans, but my husband enthusiastically went out with my son and extended the garden by several feet.  So now we’ve got green beans too!

When I mentioned to my son that he might be a gardener when he grows up he said no because he wants to study snakes.  I had the pleasure of telling him that it’s possible to do more than one thing when we grow up, and he could certainly have his own garden.  A light bulb seemed to go on over his head when I said that.

Last year I used his enthusiasm to teach him about the parts of a plant.  I found an inexpensive “Life Cycle of a Plant” poster at a teacher’s store, and we also have two helpful books at home that my son likes to read:  From Seed to Plant by Allan Fowler and How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan.  Both of these books are written for youngsters.  We also sprouted bean seeds in jars.

Gardening is a wonderful learning experience for children.  It teaches them how our food grows, about the environment, and it gives them something to take pride in.  It’s the character-building aspect of gardening that I most love.  My son has learned about patience and hard work.  And for me, it’s relaxing, except maybe when the boys are fighting over who gets to water with the hose.

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on June 13, 2012.

Please share your photos and posts about gardening with children in the comments section.

“Children generally start out that way…”

Every once in a while I happen upon a wonderful quote that involves children and my belief that they should be free to explore, play and use their imaginations.  If I can, I’ll share these with you.

I don’t usually get a chance to listen to my favorite podcasts, but recently I was driving without my children and listened to this wonderful interview with Oceanographer Sylvia Earle on On Being with Krista Tippett.  (If you haven’t tuned into this program before, you need to.)  I loved what Dr. Earle said early in the interview about her childhood experiences and how it led her to the work she does now.  I find that there’s a theme among scientists when I hear them being interviewed: it always starts in early childhood.  

This is a quote from the transcript:

Ms. Tippett: …So it’s clear to me that you discovered the natural world in general and water in particular and the ocean in your earliest life. I mean, this seems from as far back as you can remember to have been part of you and your imagination.

Dr. Earle: Um, a critter person. Children generally start out that way, given a chance to explore even in their own back yard. So often, the adults around them will say, oh, don’t touch that beetle or, ugh, an earthworm, or caterpillars, yuck. My parents were different….

Be sure to listen to the whole interview or read the transcript by clicking here.

This episode was especially enjoyable to me because my family and I have taken an interest in the ocean, and we are currently watching the Discovery Channel’s series Blue Planet for the second time on Netflix.  Many of Dr. Earl’s sentiments overlapped what we have learned through these wonderful documentaries.

A Homeschool Pre-Kindergarten Graduation

{Part 3 of Recording A Homeschool Student’s Progress: The Homeschool Portfolio} {Free print out}

So after my practice year, recording everything we did, and completely changing my mind about my son’s grade level, I wanted to wrap it all up with a graduation celebration.

Why a graduation for “pre-kindergarten”?

The main reason I did this was because I wanted my son to feel a sense of accomplishment.  But more than that, I didn’t think he completely understood what his “homeschool” was all about.

He knows he’s being homeschooled, and he even tells other people this.  He understands that many kids “go to school,” and I think he has a rough sense of what school is through television and books we read.  He also knows that those short, formal reading and math lessons are “school.”  But what I’m sure he didn’t know is about all the other stuff:

(Note: If I don’t have a link to a post on these topics yet, I plan to write them in the future.)

For a while, I had planned not to tell him that these things were “schoolish.”  He loves everything, and he’s naturally curious!  I didn’t want to spoil the fun.  But then I realized that he should be commended for his natural curiosity, and he should know that all this cool stuff….Yay! It’s school!  And I hope that because of that, commemorating the end of the year will somehow motivate him to get through the stuff that isn’t as fun like those reading and math lessons.

The second reason I wanted to do the graduation was because I wanted to showcase my son’s accomplishment’s to our family, and I hope that this will soften any concerns they may have about homeschooling.

There was also a third reason to do the graduation, but I didn’t realize it until after it was over: Having a graduation for my son and our family was the best way to get me to summarize what my son accomplished and showcase it in an interesting way.  In turn, this was the best way to teach me what I should be doing for our future record keeping!

I prepared three things for the graduation:

  • A progress report such as the Georgia law requires for a homeschooled child after the age of 6.  (Note that this progress report is for your records only.  You do not have to submit it to anyone.)  This report was about six pages long (bullet lists for each subject, and I used the “course of study” list to know what to highlight).
  • A 15-minute slideshow of photographs that I took of many of the workbooks, artwork, games, projects, classes and outings my son did as he worked through a typical course of study for a preschooler and kindergartener.
  • A completed “pre-kindergarten” course of study certificate  (For a free, blank pdf of the certificate that you can use for your own needs, click here: Completed Course of Study Certificate)

On the morning of the graduation, I put these out in our living room:

  • Various projects (posters, books etc) that my son had done throughout the year.
  • The portfolio or 3-ring binder with all the goodies I mentioned in my record-keeping post.

But ultimately I realized that all anyone would ever look at would be the progress report and the slideshow.  So this is what I learned about my record keeping:

All I used to write the progress report was my photographs and my blog’s Table of Contents.  That’s it!  (UPDATE: Upon greater reflection, I realize that I do use my charts/summary on occasion to help me write blog posts, however.)

I didn’t need to consult my beloved charts or that lengthy summary I wrote every week.  So was it all a waste of time?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I’m glad I have them because if I had to, I have plenty of evidence of our daily work.  It also fills out his portfolio quite nicely, and it makes a really nice keepsake.

Will I continue using the charts and weekly journal?  I’m sure I’ll use the charts.  They help keep my own peace of mind since I’m not using a curriculum.  As for the weekly journal, I may not be as diligent about that now that I know I probably won’t use it much, but I think I’ll try to keep it up because it, too, gives this homeschooling mama peace of mind.

In conclusion

You must think I’m a maniac especially in the light of the fact that in Georgia, we do not have to keep portfolios and we only need to write a progress report and keep it for our own records for three years!  (Same with the standardized tests that Georgia homeschoolers are supposed to take every three years starting in the third grade.)  Even if I were to put my son in public school at some point, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will ever review these materials.  From what I’ve heard from other homeschoolers, schools test a child and place him/her where they think he/she should go.

Yet I do it because 1) perhaps I am a maniac, 2) it’s how my mind works – I’m a writer and organizer on paper, and I only wish my house were as organized, and 3) for me, it’s important to teach my son goal-setting and let him feel the reward of accomplishment and also show his family what he’s done.  In short, it’s all about having peace of mind about this homeschooling journey.