Stop Keeping Up

There is this idea I’ve noticed lately that we absolutely must be doing more things, particularly new things, with our kids in order to get them to learn.

We must always be creating new sensory experiences, new invitations to play, new craft ideas, for our little ones or we consider ourselves to be failing.

Can I be honest with you? You do not need to put so much pressure on yourself.

Really.

In our pre-internet parenting days, my husband and I kept things simple with our oldest daughter. We read to her. We coloured and drew with her. We played with play dough. We made snowmen. We dug in the sandbox. We arranged alphabet letters on the fridge. We went for walks. We climbed monkey bars and slid down slides. We played dress-up with funny hats and boas. We had tea parties. We played dolls. We cut with safety scissors. We picked out colours and shapes around us.

I didn’t concern myself with what other people were doing because we were doing what came naturally to us.

And you know what? Our daughter turned out fine. She’s an honour roll student. She’s a critical thinker. She’s creative.

We did much the same with her brother and sister when they came along. And they’re just as smart, just as creative, and just as good at thinking things through that she is, in their own unique ways.

I get bogged down some days with the overwhelming amount of ideas on Pinterest and Facebook. I actually have to take breaks from looking for more, I get so exhausted. I want to introduce all these amazing opportunities to learn to our toddler, that I sometimes forget to just do what comes naturally.

We can be that way with teaching our kids about the world around them, about discipline, and even about God.

We search and search for ways others have done things because we don’t have the confidence in the very abilities God has given us to raise our kids.

Yes, it is wise to look for resources when we don’t know. Or when we need encouragement. I believe God has gifted some very talented people for those purposes.

But when you find yourself in the comparison trap, when you find yourself overwhelmed, when you find yourself feeling like you just can’t keep up one moment longer, consider taking a break.

Grab some crayons and draw stick people. Crack open Dr. Seuss. Smush some play dough. Make sandcastles or snow angels.

Just because you can.

Who doesn’t love a giant dice?

One of the teaching tools I really enjoyed using at preschool was a giant dice. Customized to fit the activity, a big dice can be useful to teach your little one not just counting and number sense, but can be used to encourage gross motor development, colour recognition,  and even as a conversation starter for small groups of kids (think Circle Time or Sunday School).

Since I don’t have Circle Time at home, I wracked my brains trying to figure out how to use a giant dice at home to engage the little mister. Last year I found a great physical activity dice idea where I drew a different gross motor skill on each side of the dice. Ty and L love it. I used short word directives, but I also (poorly) drew a picture on each side so even Ty can tell what action he should do!

I usually make my dice out of recycled cracker boxes, and last week I happened to have another one. This time I made a more traditional dice, with dots representing one to six on each side, but in different colours. I can use it for counting games with Ty, for colour scavenger hunts (we roll the dice, look for things all around the house that are that colour, and see how many we can find), or whatever else I can think of at the moment.  Since I really like making these (almost as much as I love knitting scarves!), I thought I’d share the instructions with you so you can make your own.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is only appropriate for toddlers/preschoolers. The big kids in my house are constantly playing with the giant dice. I just had a thought – doesn’t a life-sized board game outside in the summer sound fun?

What you need:

  • cracker box (I usually use a big Goldfish crackers one), or any box that can easily be made into a square. Or you could go buy a new tea kettle and keep that box, like I did on the weekend!)
  • utility knife (if your box is not square)
  • packing/duck tape
  • paper to cover the box
  • markers/crayons/bingo daubers or whatever you would like to decorate the outside
What you do:
  • (If you have a square box, skip to step 2.) Remove box flaps on top of box. Measure at each corner to a point that you will cut to to make new flaps (to make the box a cube). Draw a score line on each side from corner to corner to make folding easier; fold flaps down.

  • Fill box loosely with crumpled newspaper to make the dice roll evenly. Secure flaps closed with tape.
  • Cover box with paper (or paint). I also cover the edges of the box with tape, but that’s the perfectionist coming out in me. I don’t like the unfinished paper edges. You can skip that if you want.

  • Decorate box. If you’re simply putting dots on, bingo daubers work well, although you need to let one side dry before you flip it over to do the other side. I learned the hard way.

  • Have fun!
I’d love to know what activities you use your dice for if you make one. Feel free to email me or comment below!

On refreshing

I mentioned a few days ago I am currently reading the book, The Fringe Hours.

I’ll admit, at first I was mildly skeptical. It just seem so selfish of me to try and carve out more time for just me. I’m already pretty good at that.

But as I keep reading, I’m beginning to understand the heart of what she is saying. In order to have more to pour out on others, or even just enough, we have to be taking care of ourselves, spiritually, physically, and mentally.

So here’s the thing. I’m usually pretty good at carving out quiet time first thing in the morning for just me and God. And I’m usually pretty good at taking care of myself – you know eating properly and exercising (although I could probably eat a little less chocolate. Just keeping it real!).

But when it comes to how I spend the rest of my down time, I’ve realized that the things I am doing are more draining than life-giving.

I love to craft. I really do. A few months ago, I grabbed my hot glue gun, some sticks, and a couple of old votive holders and made the cutest little rustic candle holders ever to grace my piano top. It took me maybe a half an hour, but it rejuvenated me for days. I still smile when I look at them.

As a rule, however, I tend to spend my extra moments wasting time online, or playing the most annoying solitaire game on my iPad (I say annoying now because I am stuck on a level. When I’m winning, it’s not so annoying). Too much of this leaves me feeling drained and empty and unable to cope with daily stresses. Like a three year old melting down because yes, his big brother really does have to go to school and can’t stay home and play trains.

It’s causing me to step back and really evaluate how I am using my fringe hours. I usually avoid dragging out my scrapbook albums or my knitting or the book I am reading because I dread the interruptions, or I feel like I won’t get enough done to feel like I’ve accomplished something.

But I think I need to do just that. Not to selfishly wile away hours while neglecting my family or leaving chores undone. But to spend even just a few moments refreshing my spirit in ways that are meaningful to me.

I forget that sometimes those little things can be every bit as spiritual, because God created us with the desire to do them.

(instant)joy: pipe cleaner activity

As a mom of four one thing I really, really appreciate is activities and crafts that are easy to set up and easy to do. I’m all about simple in our house! But I also really like it when I can find something that literally takes seconds to throw together to keep the little mister busy for a few minutes while I get something done.

Like last night when I was baking cupcakes for Hannah’s birthday and he kept trying to steal them because I was also in the middle of making supper and he was hungry. Definitely a good time for an instant activity!

I’ve been wanting to introduce this one to Ty ever since he was a baby, so I was really glad to dig it out.

What you need:

  •  pipe cleaners in various colours, cut in half
  • colander

What you do:

 

  • Show your toddler how the pipe cleaners fit in the holes of the colander.
  • Let them try, helping if necessary at first.
  • Once they’ve mastered it, you’re good to go!

Ty’s a pretty quick study – it took him watching me twice and me helping him once to figure out how to do this activity, but it kept him busy for a good ten minutes. Once he finished fitting pipe cleaners in, I encouraged him to take them out and do it all over again. He loved it!

And the cupcakes? Whisked away to the safety of our freezer, waiting to be devoured by a gaggle of preteen girls this weekend.

Mission: accomplished!

Stay tuned for more (instant)joy ideas coming your way soon!

 

Five Minute Friday: Encouragment

Five minutes. To write. To silence the inner critic. To build community.

*****

It was so easy to be a cheerleader for my kids when they were little. Every little accomplishment, every little milestone, they deserved to be applauded. And it gave them the confidence to keep pushing, to keep moving, to keep growing.

But when did it become easier to criticize than encourage? This thought puzzles me constantly. Why do I, their biggest fan, find myself picking on the things they do wrong instead of applauding the things they do right?

I’m working on this, this cheering for my kids. Most days I can do it effortlessly.

But then the quarreling gets the better of me. Or the messes. Or the pushing back as they try to expand their boundaries just one more inch.

Yesterday I was telling my husband how I think I may have finally gotten over the hump of acknowledging how much closer our teenager is to being an adult. That it’s finally starting to feel just a bit easier to give her the freedom to blossom. And I find that in my shift of attitude, I can encourage her more freely.

I can applaud her accomplishments that aren’t so little, cheer her through her milestones even as I grieve knowing that each one takes her a little further from me. I can let her know I believe in her and she believes me. There once was a day where I know she didn’t, where she thought I only saw the negatives.

I want her, I want all of our kids, to have the confidence to keep pushing, to keep moving, to keep growing.

Because I really am their biggest fan.

*****

Thanks(Giving) Jar

My teenager is a genius.

Yesterday Em came to me and asked me for a spare jar. When I asked her what she was planning (she’s always planning, my girl is. She’s so creative!), she told me she was going to write one thing she was thankful for on a slip of paper every day for the entire year, and read them all December 31st.
I love that. And as I mulled it over in my mind for what I could do, The Thanks(Giving) Jar* was born.
It’s simple, really. As my daughter, I’ll be writing down one thing I am thankful for every day for the year. All those little things I take for granted. Like socks. And heat. And other mundane things. But I didn’t want to leave it at that – I wanted to put my gratitude into action. So I’ve also decided to add a coin with each slip of paper and at the end of the year take that money and give it to a ministry that provides for those who don’t have all those things I tend to take for granted.

I’ll also be inviting the other members of our home to do the same – I think our kids can definitely stand to remember that we are so incredibly blessed!

I’m so excited about this! And I really hope it is something you will consider doing with your family, too!

Of course, my printer is out of ink, so I can’t print off the pretty little label I made and add it to my jar, but just as soon as I can, I will share a picture of it with you.

Even better, here are some labels for you to print for yourself, if you’d like! I included four, just in case you have other members of your family would like their own jar. You know, those siblings who refuse to share anything. Not that I would know anything about that sort of thing. *cough*

*Edited to add: I changed the name slightly after the original post went live. Sometimes it takes me a few days to really shape an idea into exactly the way I want it! Thanks for hanging in there with me!

On #mothergood

I’ve been thinking some more on this whole concept of mothergood. So much so, I want to declare it a movement. Even if it’s just me moving.

When I think about what it means to mothergood, it’s more than just being supermom. In fact, it’s NOT being supermom at all. It’s not about having the perfect home or perfect kids. Rather, it is about finding joy in being a mom, about serving our families in the way God has equipped us to without worrying about what others are doing and if we measure up to those standards, about raising our kids to be followers and lovers of Jesus.

If I could, I’d take all the books and articles and pins that make us moms feel less than, that make us feel like we are failing because we aren’t doing all those things someone else says we should do, and I would toss them out with last week’s leftovers that no one wanted even when they were fresh. I’m tired of striving to do, when God has called us to be.

Be women who love Him with all our hearts and souls and minds. And when we don’t, be women who come to Him with repentance.

Be mothers who love our kids with the kind of love He offers us – unconditional, just, true. The kind of love that offers itself even in moments of incredible trial, that drives us to our knees in prayer and praise when we really just want to give up.

Be women less concerned with what the world tells us and more with what God tells us. Women with eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, the One who died while we were still sinners because of His great love for us.

We mothergood when we follow the One who is good. When we say no to the joy stealers and yes to the Joy-Giver.

Our kids won’t be perfect, but then neither will we. But the glory we will bring Him will cover over our failings like nothing else.

I want to mothergood.

The 5 Love Languages of Children

Last year was a tough year.

Not that anything overly bad happened – on the surface, in fact, our live looked pretty blessed. We had a healthy baby, we were settling in to our lesser finances a little more comfortably, and our marriage was strong.

But last winter we suddenly found ourselves struggling with one of our children. It was hard and it was often ugly and by the end of most days we were exhausted and depleted and unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Through much prayer we were able to get through the worst of it. But as my head cleared in the aftermath, I realized that as parents we had a long way to go in repairing our family dynamic, not just with our one child, but with all of our kids.

I love our kids. I happen to think they are fantastic, smart, funny, kind, and pretty great. They’re my favourite kids by far. And I thought I was doing a good enough job letting them know they were loved, until I started to see patterns of behaviour that indicated otherwise.

It was extremely good timing that I received The 5 Love Languages of Children to review. I had heard of the book before, so I was eager to read it.

It was eye-opening to say the least.

To know that each of my children have their own love languages, their own ways of needing to be shown love has indeed been life-changing. Not because I had to do anything drastically different in how I love my kids, but because it has caused me to pay more attention, to be more intentional in filling up my kids’ love tanks in ways that are meaningful to them.

One responds best to hugs and other affectionate touch. One responds best to encouraging and affirming words. And yet another to being helped and spending quality time.

I had become lazy in my parenting, I will admit, trying a one-sized-fits-all approach to four very different children. Understanding why that wasn’t working and making small changes has made all the difference.

There is less fighting, less stress, and more willingness to cooperate and listen. And not just from the kids, but from me as well.

Not only that, but it has helped me better understand my own love language and that of my husband’s, making me more understanding and patient on the days that I feel like being anything but.

And that is a very good thing.

This book has been provided courtesy of Northfield Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. for my honest review.  Available at your favourite bookseller, including Amazon.ca.

This ministry of motherhood

You want to know something funny?

As I was typing the title for this post, my only-have-had-one-cup-of-coffee fingers kept typing “mothergood” instead of motherhood.

And there’s the whole point of this post.

I’m breaking my break for a moment because I feel like I have finally stumbled upon something good. This morning as I was praying and feeling sorry for myself over my lack of purpose (or, rather, my feeling of a lack of purpose), I finally got it. Back in January I shared that once summer holidays hit, I would officially be finished babysitting and that I felt God was calling me to not work for this next season. Back in January, I was really excited about that.

In June, when the repairs around the house started mounting up, I felt a lot less excited about that.

Not only my lack of excitement, but my need for doing something big in my own eyes for God, has led me to this place of discontentment. But this morning, He redirected my focus.

This morning as I was pleading with Him to clarify my calling, He clarified it by reminding me what He has already called me to.

Motherhood.

This world will have us believe, lovelies, that this is not enough. That its not enough to raise our kids to His glory, to be content building a home. That we must also pursue bigger and better things, otherwise we lose who we are.

It is in this pursuit of bigger and better that I have lost who I am.

So I am on a mission. I am driven to get out of this place of reluctantly accepting my calling of motherhood and instead find joy and passion in it. I am driven to find out how I can serve our God and my family authentically, without trying to become someone I think I should be. Because let’s face it. How many times do we resolve to be “better” moms, only to try to live up to someone else’s definition of what that is?

This is for Him. All for Him. Because there is a reason and purpose for Him calling me to this ministry and it is high time I started to view it as just that.

I want to mother good.

On hindrances and why I’m signing off for the summer

I’ve been really struggling with unrest and feeling weighed down ever since I ended my social media break. The creativity and zest for life that I experienced during that break is quickly dwindling. And I am tired.

I was having a hard time nailing down exactly what was bothering me until this morning when I worked on my Children of the Day study. We were looking at things that hinder. I couldn’t name anything specific, even though I have this incredible burden on my shoulders, until I read this:

“A hindrance is not always something sinful. Even something wholesome can become less and less consistent with the path God is opening to you. Its season has passed and it’s time to lay it down. These can often be the hardest hindrances to let go of because they’re more subjective and easier to rationalize. They’re not wrong; they’re just wrong right now

Let’s also be sensitive to a churning in our souls or a growing unrest or discomfort toward that particular thing We’ll know. And when we do, let’s ask God for the strength to pitch it. One way we’ll know it was His will is that, even while we miss it, we’ll feel relieved.” Children of the Day, p 67, emphasis mine.

I need to sign off for the summer, to discover if indeed it is this whole social media thing that is hindering me and the growth God has in store. I’ve become a person that I don’t recognize or like all that much, and I want to change that. Or rather, allow Him to change me.

Summer seems like the natural time to do this, because life winds down as school ends and the days beg for afternoons spent on the deck with glass of iced tea and a good book. Of water fights with the kids and sunscreen on our noses. Routines shortened and schedules relaxed. A season of rest and a season of growth.

My soul and my heart feel lighter already.