Monday, 25 May 2015

Drop the labels and embrace your life!

Labels can be useful.  They can help us to define things, provide a starting point for further research, and allow for clearer explanations.  But, labels can also feel restricting, confining, narrow and stressful.

These days there are labels for explaining behaviour, parenting styles, educational methods and more.  And while I like that there is a name for the variety within each area, trying to fit in to a category or label can also be very limiting. 

Our favourite place to be is in nature.  This is where my boys come alive!

I’ll try to focus more on education although for me, this topic also applies to other areas of our lives such as parenting styles and understanding my children’s personalities etc.

We’d all agree that most parents want the best for their children.  They also want the best education for their kids too.  We are blessed in our country to have options.  Our kids could go to a public school, variety of private schools, some type of alternate education or homeschooling.  Each option has their own set of pros and cons.  There are excellent and not so great schools/teachers within each option available.  Since every family situation is different everyone has to make their own decision about what is best for their family.  Many factors come into play here such as the child’s needs, finances, location, faith, and more.  What bothers me is when people put down some of the options making us feel like their way is best.  Since we all want the best for the kids why can’t we all support and build each other up.  No matter what choice a person makes surely there is some way you can encourage, support, invest in, or build into that child/family.  We all have strong feelings and opinions but these many options for education aren’t going to disappear just because you (and many others) don’t feel they are the best way to learn.   Rather than disagreeing with their choice of educational location or institution maybe we should focus on building into the lives of kids any way we can.  Maybe that is going to see the play your niece’s school class is putting on, or sharing your love of painting with a homeschooled neighbour, or listening to the exiting adventures your grandkids have been reading about. 

TJ asked daddy to help him figure out how many letters were in the alphabet.  Then we made secret codes up for each other.
For our family we have chosen to homeschool our children.  It is a decision we consider regularly to see if that is still be best fit for our children and situation at the time.  When I first started researching about homeschooling methods I was rather surprised to find out that there are so many different methods, styles and pedagogy to choose from!!  I took my time to read about each one to find out what resonated best with me.  This is where all those labels came in handy.  It helped me to further my reading and distinguish one thing from another.  I could let go of that which didn’t fit with our family and pursue those that did. 

Where I went wrong was to try and pick one method that I felt was the best fit for my family and go all out.  I felt that if I strayed from being a purist (or as much as I could) in that method then I’d be doing it all wrong and not be as effective.  It became very stressful, expensive, and I didn’t like who I was becoming.  In my mind I felt our way was best, and I began to tolerate others but look down on them for not choosing the same way.  I narrowed my range of possible connections too.  When we did something with the children that wasn’t inline with what I thought I should do, I felt guilty, worried and tried to swing the other way to make up for it.  Eventually I would abandon that method entirely and try something else. Now most of this was all up in my head but still I really didn’t need that stress in my life.

Learning can happen any time any where.  It can also be just plain ol' fun!!
This year I decided to drop the labels and embrace what worked best from everything that I had read or tried in the past.  Again each method or pedagogy has its benefits otherwise so much time and effort wouldn’t have been put into developing it.  But since we are all different and complex I don’t feel one specific way is going to work for our whole family forever.  Since learning comes naturally let us also follow the rhythms of nature.  There is a time and a season for everything.  There are seasons of our life that we may be outside more, exploring, working on gross motor, and building.  Other times of our lives we are very interested in a project that engages most of our time.  Some days I have a mini panic attack and want to check in where my kids are at so we may do some workbooks.  For us winter brings us to inside a little more to books, board games, research projects, TV, documentaries, artistic pursuits and handiwork.  With the new baby coming this summer I am sure that our focus and attention will turn to caring for this new little one and welcoming him into our family for a while.  Now that I have stopped worrying so much about following a specific method or worrying about what others will say about it, we have found true joy in learning at home together.

When I dropped the labels and embraced learning as an organic flowing journey, I also began to accept, encourage and support others in their journey too.  We are all in this together so lets not put each other down or make them feel like they aren’t doing enough.  Stop comparing our children with each other.  They are going to be different even within one family.  I am not using the same educational model as you and that is okay.  Let us look for ways to build into the lives of our family, friends, neighbours and children.  What skills do you have that another could benefit from?  Do you have supplies you aren’t using that could be passed on?  Could you gather together to go on a field trip?  Is there a resource that your community of learners need?  Let us drop the labels and start living life more fully.

The boys and their homeschool friends directing their own play and negotiations
Tell me what do you need right now?  How can I support you?
I’d love to hear your questions, worries, prayer requests, and thoughts. 
You can post them in the comments, our Facebook page, message me on Facebook or contact me by email.  All our contact info is in this post also.

My Joy-Filled Life

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Our Week: Enjoying the spring weather

I figured it was time for an update!!  
I've cut back on my picture taking to be more engaged and enjoy being present with the kids.

We've been out into different natural locations several.  The boys adore being outside, climbing trees and such.  Resting is also awesome in the outdoors too.

TJ love all the wonderful thoughtful gifts he received for his birthday.  We've been spending lots of time using them and playing.

We were blessed to visit a new location with friends.  They explored, played and flourished!

Body painting is always a fun thing to do.  A bit chilly being washed off though...

My creative boys can make almost anything out of loose parts.  TJ ha made a ring toss game, and I'm not sure what MJ has made but they both love their creations.

We also got to celebrate Daddy's birthday.  MJ packed up a lot of his toys to give to his daddy.  TJ made the most thoughtful video talling dady all the reasons he loves him.  We added pictures and made a CD for him.

Another outing with friends to the forest.  This time the kids created the burr club, collecting all the burrs they could into this huge beehive shape.  We took it back with us the following week to add more!

We went to a fabulous Super Hero themed party for the boy's friends.  The bouncy castle kept them busy most of the time, but they also loved dying their own cape.  Back at home the capes were used as the ground in small world play.  They also rode around on bikes dressed as super heros.  So cute!!

We took advantage of the nicer weather to visit several different skate parks recently.  The boys have improved so much with their balance.  MJ is loving his new padding and practices falling just for fun to try them out.

We've also been caring for our flower beds, and planting vegetables in our gardens.

After organizing the playroom, we moved some board games to the family room.  So much math, learning, sportsmanship and family fun have happened around out coffee table.

Be sure to visit our Facebook Page for extra photos and videos.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Where to put the new baby?... Musical rooms and another purge.

We have been extremely blessed with the coming of our new little boy, due at the end of July.  God has answered our prayers and helped to heal our wounded hearts (I had a miscarriage about a year and a half ago).

We have been blessed by many loving friends who have given us everything we need to welcome this little one into our family.  We had kept a few larger items and are constantly being blessed by the generosity of others.

As I was looking for a place to put some new items for baby a sudden panic hit me.  Where are we going to put the baby??

Our house is under current renovations but we are not in a position to rush and complete the work before our little one arrives.  We have plenty to work with if we are creative.  We have two bedrooms, a playroom, office, family room, kitchen, bathroom and front hall.  I'm trying not to put anything in the half that is being worked on as we also run our family business there too.  For storage there is a linen closet, one cupboard in the large bedroom, some space above the hall and shelves in the hallway.

Here are the bedrooms currently, mess and all.  In one room is a queen bed, two dressers and lots of baby stuff piling up. The larger one has bunk beds, a single bed, two bookcases and a dresser. Time for some musical rooms, creative organizing/storage and another purge!!!

Now every family is different and that is totally okay.  I don't expect everyone to agree with our sleeping arrangements as it is a very personal choice.  So I encourage you to go with what works best for your particular family and not worry about what others have chosen.  For us we have found that everyone in the house sleeps better (for the most part) when there is an adult with the kids. Some nights just until they fall asleep but we have the option of sleeping in their room too. MJ shared a bed with me for years and often does if he's having a rough night.  We plan to have baby and I share a room and daddy will be with the boys as he currently is.  Once baby arrives we'll get to see what kind of sleeper he is and may rearrange the beds again.

After doing some searches on Pintrest, I came across the idea of a family wardrobe.  Everyone's clothes all in one spot.  Totally ingenious!!!  I enthusiastically presented the idea to my husband and suggested getting rid of all the dressers and..... he was slightly hesitant.  He liked the concept but couldn't visualize how that would work in our particular house.  We had a very good discussion about clothes, sleeping arrangements, minimalism, our expectations and more.  It was very helpful and in the end we came up with an idea we both felt good about.

So the plan... move the boys clothes to a new spot and use more vertical space, then sell their dresser.  Move the boys' bookcases to the playroom and fix that up as a special play room for the two older boys.  The smaller bedroom will just be for sleeping with the bunk beds and a single bed.  The larger bedroom will have the queen bed and baby.  We'll keep our two dressers but make better use of the cupboard so that baby clothes can also fit into this room.

Boys clothes vertically in the hall (dress-up clothes beside it)

The next morning I woke up early (this awesome plan was on my mind) and I made space in the hall shelves for the boy's clothes.  Then I moved all their clothes to the new space, purging as I went.   They each have one shelf for pants, one for tops, a bin for socks & undies and their off season clothes are in a bin at the top. I still haven't organized the rest of the hall as you can see.  Half the dress-up clothes are in the playroom and some are in the photo.  After breakfast I couldn't wait to show the boys their new wardrobe location.  MJ didn't really care but TJ was very upset.  The change was big and I hadn't explained the whole plan.  I totally know this about him so I took the time to reassure him, listen to his concerns and explain the whole plan to him.   Well then he was totally on board and wanted to know when all the rooms were going to change.  I did explain that it would all take time so sometime that week.  It all depended on if I could get the time (the boys not fighting but helping etc.)...  TJ got right to work.  He was so excited about changing rooms that we all got on board and spent the morning moving furniture.

We never imagined fitting the three beds into one room, but when you take out the unnecessary and get creative, it all fits well.  Everyone has a special shelf for pictures and nicknacks.  The beds are in the room and the PJ's are in the night table.  Under the bunk beds are the boys tool boxes and a special robot that TJ made.  Under the single bed are the boy's toy strollers (we decided to keep those until our winter purge), and some smaller suitcases.  Everyone approves and loves the new space!!

The larger bedroom looks so huge.  We have two dressers, the bed (this looks rather small in this space), a bassinet, and a box of baby blankets and stuff.  As I settled into the new space I decided to go through all my maternity clothes and remove anything I never really wore.  I have a bag of clothes to sell.  Some clothes ended up in the closet and I now have an empty dresser drawer for baby gear. Then I went through all my normal clothes, this includes all seasons and variable sizes.  Again I chose to keep items that I know I wear often and love.  Everything fit into one large plastic tub that we put above the hall until the weather changes.  I'm still setting up the baby clothes but those will all fit nicely in the cupboard with bins for the next sizes up within reach.  We even had room to store some other items for the house on the top shelf!!

Please ignore the mess, we have a few things to put away.

It feels so good to be a little more prepared.  Now we aren't rushed to get extra rooms in the house done because we all fit comfortable in the space we are using.  We have a tone of items and furniture to donate/sell too. 2 bags of cloths, 1 bag of cloth diapers, 1 bag of towels etc, 1 box of random items, 2 dressers all not needed.

Our next plan is to figure out the playroom.  We moved the boys' bookcases full of toys and special items into that space.  It'll be a joint project to figure out how to arrange it and make it work.  The family room has a few shelves for toys, but will transition more to baby things down the road. After the playroom I'll be working on the hall shelves.

So do share, what areas of you home or life have you simplified recently??

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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Adventures in the forest

My boys love the forest.  We spend hours each week with friends or by ourselves.  The boys learn so much it has been fantastic.
Climbing a fallen tree

This week we had one of the boy's friends over for the morning.  We set off into the forest for a walk.  This time we took a bag of items that might inspire exploration.

Our forest explorers bag

Our explorers bag:
magnifying glasses
tape measures
pencil crayons

TJ investigating

As we started off into the forest the boys stopped to investigate everything!  They noticed the different texture of the bark (so we stopped to talk about how to identify different types of trees).  All the Trilliums are out so we looked at the different colour and where they grow best.  We also talked about how they are a protected flower and the flower for Ontario where we live.


The boys used lots of energy to climb tree stumps and run about.  They stopped to consider a map on the way and got to decide where we would go.

The boys on their 'island'

They chose our favourite 'pond' which is all dried up now.  Perfect for exploring.  I set down the bag and everyone looked around.  The boys pointed out interesting features like an island, fallen trees, rusty fence, etc.  I just mentioned in passing that they could use our supplies to make a map.  Apparently they were totally into the idea.

Map making

Each boy drew his own map and instantly came up with a new adventure.  They followed their new maps all over the spot we stopped at, adding more details all the time.  It was delightful to be part of the adventure.  These brave explorers met up with aliens, poisonous plants, booby-traps, fake treasure and more.  One was heading for a secret spy lab, another to treasure and I'm not sure where MJ was off to.

TJ's map, full of traps, side trails, land features and directions

Once it started to sprinkle a little we decided to head towards home.  This fit perfectly according to their maps!  We made some stops along the way to check our directions (according to their new maps).  Then magically found ourselves right near our own stick forts!  

Our friend's new fort
Our friend wanted to make his own fort so we got to work.  Everyone pitched in to help or work on improving their own forts.  Lots of negotiations, conflict resolution, and engineering were part of this building time.

TJ feeding our pet lion
Too soon it was time for our friend to head home.  We hung out a little longer and then made our way inside for a rest.  We can't wait to see what our next adventures bring...

What do you take along to explore???

This post is linked to:
Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-up
Pintastic Pining Party

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Our Week: TJ Turns 7

Thought you might all like an update on what we've been up to these past two weeks.  Here are only a few snipits of what we have done.  Lots has been happening, including a birthday!

TJ lost two teeth.  He was really wanted to save one so he wrote a note to the tooth fairy.  She kindly responded leaving his tooth and a cool new rock for his collection.

There is always some new robot or creation around the house.  This is one TJ made.

I left out some hand tools for the boys to discover.  They got right to work drilling holes in everything they could.  TJ made some welcome signs for his fort.  MJ started on some tree blocks.  I got out the skill saw to help move things along and he sanded them down.  Since then they do keep coming back and using the tools on occasion.

The boys have ben attending a midweek program at our church all year.  They had an awards night and carnival.  Of course the boys had a great time playing carnival games!  Both boys received the highest points for the boys in their age groups (points are given for uniforms, memory verse, book work, attendance...).  TJ memorized all the bible verses in his book this year often doing two a week.  MJ finished his verses from last year and completed the book for this year too!!  

We have been going to the same spot in the forest with our friends for several weeks now.  We brought some magnifying glasses, as requested, along with a few other tools, etc to explore.  They loved the magnifying glasses and measuring trees.  We saw snakes and turtles.  A Geo-cache box was found too!

The boys freaked out when they found some beetles in the sandbox.  I enthusiastically suggested we look at them in the bog catcher and observe them.  Everyone drew pictures and wrote about what they saw, then we let our little bugs go.  Anyone know what kind they are???

Lots of work started in the gardens.  The boys cleaned up their flower beds.  TJ and I moved some hosta plants from another spot to his garden.  We also made a trip to the garden centre to buy each boy a new plant to their beds.  

We also got the veggie garden at our house started.  The boys each have a pallet of their own.  They planed out which veggies they wanted and put a few seeds in.  Our community garden has some growth already!  We have some tiny peas, onions and strawberries starting.

TJ's birthday was coming up soon, but my mom was going to be away.  The boys and I had an awesome visit with a fun trip to the park.  Nanny and I also made an airplane shaped cake (lets just say we were making memories not a professional cake here.  Super hilarious but very crumbly).

The next week we went back to our favourite spot with friends again.  It is amazing to see the difference between one week to the next.  The weather had changed, we saw tadpoles, snakes and turtles.  Several new families joined us this visit too.

Back home the boys set up fairy houses, only they used dinosaurs and bug that we had.  TJ has added elaborate decorations and a cool swing.  MJ used all his tree blocks and some Lego to add to his little home.  They played for ages outside visiting each other.

My friend and I organized a Literature Fair / Tea Party for one of the homeschool group we are part of.  We invited everyone to bring their favourite book and present it in any way that the'd like.  We sat families in similar age groups.  Tea and cookies were served and everyone shared about their books with their table groups. I was so impressed with the variety and creativity of the presentations.  There was a board game, scrapbook, reports, songs, costumes, drawings, Lego creations, and more.  New connections and friendships were also made that afternoon.

MJ brought his Touch and Feel Tractor board book from when he was younger.  He wore yellow, green and black like a tractor and brought a toy with him.  TJ brought A Donsey of Gnomes: 7 gentle gnome stories to tell about.  He drew a picture of each of the gnomes in the book and told about their adventures briefly.  I showed everyone Brambly Hedge as I remember having it read to me as a child and now my boys love the stories too.  We especially love the illustrations.

Our busy week ended with a fabulous celebration.  I can't believe my first little baby is already seven years old!!!  Thanks to Pintrest I found some adorable ways to set up a fun airplane themed party.  The baggage claim was for loot bags.

We served some cupcakes, rice krispie squares and a coffee cake.  this celebration was also to recognize Daddy's birthday later in the week and Mother's Day.

The children had a chance to make paper planes, paper helicopters and straw planes.  They tested them out and marked down how far the flew.  We also had some pre-made planes to try and fly through a hoop.  The trampoline was a hit along with pin the propeller on the plane.  Of course I had cute little signs to accompany each station.

In flight snacks and a fueling station kept the guests filled nicely.  TJ had a wonderful time.   We spent the evening playing with his gifts.  Thank you everyone for making his day extra special.


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Sunday, 3 May 2015

Another major purge: Tackling the toys!

A while back I wrote about how Less is More.  That journey never ends.  Some how the belongings multiply, items enter the house through a variety of ways and we get overwhelmed with clutter.

I have discovered that the more I take out of the house, the less I really need to live a full and happy life.  Material objects seem to clutter our home, time and minds.  I'm tired of cleaning up messes all day.  Then stuffing it all back in to already packed storage spaces.  What if we only kept that which was useful, and brought us joy?

We always have a donation box on the go.  This last time I cleaned the house I thoroughly went through every draw, cupboard and item in the room.  Some rooms went much faster than others.  Either way the results looked very organized and refreshing.

Some guidelines I follow:
Have we used this recently?
Do we need so many multiples of items?
Do we love it?
Is it useful?

If one of us is not sure on an item we usually wait until next time I go through the rooms, or decide if we could sell it and use that money for something else we really need.

Our Biggest Problem:
My biggest challenge has been the boys' items!  Imagine if you will a messy boy bedroom.  They each have a bookcase for personal items, toys, books etc.  The shelves were so bursting full and larger items were all over the floor so that you couldn't even get to the bookcases.  They also have the only closet for the whole house in their room (it holds some adult clothes, toys and junk).  I couldn't stand it!!  They boys also couldn't get to or even use their things.  Sorry no before photo, I just couldn't deal with it all.  Daddy and I had great discussion because we didn't want to invade their personal space and take away items that belonged to the boys.  We really wanted to involve them in the process, help them to take ownership and love their room.  We also homeschool so I was torn between providing a rich environment to explore and learn from, and having too much out to clutter up the space.

The Solution:
First we talked to the boys about how we felt.  Asked for their thoughts and presented some ideas of what we could do.  We actually have a really cool antique stairs that I'd like to use again as a display shelf.  We talked to the boys about putting it in their bedroom or the playroom.  We all decided to make a fort/loft in the playroom with the stairs and go through all the toys so that everything could find a home.  TJ then wanted a fort of his own, a special private space.  When I asked him to draw up his idea I happily realized it was doable.

Next step was to remove everything from their bookcases and under the bed.  I asked each boy to only put their absolute favourite, must have items back into the selves.  The rest we'd sort out later.

TJ's new personal fort in his room.
TJ had wanted to put some material between his bunk bed and the wall to create a fort in the space in front of his bookcase.  I love being crafty and was all set to do some fun sewing.  First I brought out our old puppet theatre to see how the idea would look.  Turns out the puppet theatre is a perfect fit!!  TJ loves his private space and carefully selected items on his shelves to compliment the new fort.

This next step was more dramatic.  I took all the left overs from their bedroom along with almost all the toys from all over the house and spread them out on the playroom floor.  I did not include the Lego or Playmobil (which they weren't going to give up), a few wooden toys that we had already put up for toy rotation, and the books which we had paired down a lot for now.  I placed like items together and invited the boys in to see how much they had.  Keep in mind this was already after a playroom purge weeks earlier.
Most of the boys' toys spread out in one spot
Most of the boys' toys in one place to sort through
 The boys were both a little shocked with how much stuff they had and didn't realize it!  We took our time over two days to take out anything that was their absolute favourite.  I reminded the boys that nothing would get thrown away or donated unless they said so.  TJ and I took a few photos of some cardboard robots he had made and then tossed them.

Left-over items to deal with
 Looks like vehicles, boardgames and personal items were favourites.  I boxed up everything else and put them in bins in my bedroom (we have no storage space in our house or I'd have used the basement).  If the boys ask for an item then I'll get it out.  I'll leave the bins there for a while and then ask the boys what we should do with all the unclaimed items.

Lastly I put the items they did want to keep neatly away.  A few things went back into the bedroom. Most went into the playroom and a few into the family room.  We haven't gotten to building the fort in the playroom yet, but now we have a plan.

The Results:
Amazing!  Both rooms are peaceful, organized and tidy.  They can find items on all the shelves and have empty space to fill as time goes on.  They also learned a lot about keeping what we love/use and letting go of the rest.

MJ's bookcase
 MJ's bookcase mostly has random clock and electrical parts for building things with, a few small toys and drawings he wanted to keep.  His tool box is under the bed.

TJ's bookcase
TJ's bookcase has items to play house, some smaller stuffies, and his books.  He loves his new private space too.

I found that after we removed a lot the boys re-discovered some old favourites and played happily with them for hours.  They have set up elaborate Playmobil farms again and added to those.  They are also in love with the handmade dolls I made them a few years ago that never were played with. Overall they are happier with less and are making some wise decisions about bringing more into the home.

Doll made for the boys Christmas 2012
Doll made for the boys Christmas 2012

BUT WAIT!!!  You have a bunch of birthdays coming up!!  What about gifts and things from that??

Well we do purge right before birthday and Christmas to make room for new items.  We have in the past asked for no gifts or a donation to charity instead of gifts.  Some family members prefer to donate towards the boys' RESP, or check out our lists of items we actually want/need.  Other preferable ideas are gift certificates to events, museums, parks, movies, magazines, or consumables like art supplies.  We are always grateful, thankful and blessed by any gift we receive.  The boys play with every item a lot.  They have hours of fun exploring and playing.
Minimizing our items is not a task we take lightly.  It does require a lot of thought but in our small busy home we have decided to keep the stressful clutter down and live with joy!

I can't wait to show you the playroom once it is all finished!!  Share with me... do you purge?  Want to know more about minimizing clutter? Share your successes stories!

This post is linked to:
Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-up
Twinkle Tuesday
Hip Homeschool Hop
Pintastic Pinning Party