Big News About a Little One

The blog has gone silent.

Homeschool has been pared down to just the essentials. (A good thing to do, periodically, right?)

I went a whole week eating mainly smoked apple & sage vegan sausage with mustard. It made sense at the time.

I went a whole month during which chocolate sounded unappealing.

Someone rang the doorbell unexpectedly last week (not a common occurrence because we live in a very private spot) and two of my kids weren’t wearing pants and the other was in a swimsuit for no reason in particular.

The laundry only gets done after the last pair of clean underwear has been called into duty. Come to think of it, that may have explained the swimsuit…

I’ve been calling my walk down the driveway to get the mail, “Exercise” because anything more lands me on the couch.

I’ve read more books in the last two months than I have in the whole year prior, because it’s one of the few things that doesn’t make me sicker.

I often fall asleep before my kids do at nighttime.

My kids have been patting my belly affectionately and telling me how big it is and I take it as a compliment.

Yep, the signs (and a good heartbeat) are all there. I’m pregnant!

Bean Baby #4 is due October 3rd and we’re all delighted about it. Actually, Daniel doesn’t know why we all get to pat my belly now but he enjoys it nonetheless.

I’m optimistic that the first trimester exhaustion and nausea are lifting a bit. My very favorite part of pregnancy should be right around the corner: feeling that magical, private nudging that reassures me all the changes to my body are for a glorious purpose.

Posted in Life as we know it, Pregnancy | 13 Comments

Portrait of Daniel

I grabbed my camera when I saw how cute Daniel was snuggling with his lovies after breakfast one morning.

I love the picture, but what happened next tells even more about my boy’s tender heart. He wanted to, “See picture?” and he climbed down off the chair he was on to look on the back of my camera.

Apparently he liked what he saw because he declared, “Snug!” and impulsively gave my camera a very sweet hug.

In a signature Daniel move, he was so overcome with love he headed to the kitchen to make his rounds hugging his dad and sisters as well.

(The stuffed animal in the picture is “Frogger,” a gift from his cousin for Christmas. Frogger was recently potty trained along with Daniel, and he gets lovingly tucked in with his own blanket at every naptime and nighttime.)

Posted in Life as we know it | 2 Comments

Bringing back the old school in our homeschool

I have found four relatively old-fashioned tools incredibly helpful in our homeschool.

The Watch

I now wear a watch on my wrist. It keeps me more aware of our schedule and how long I’m spending on a certain activity, but most importantly it detaches me from my phone.

I was using my phone to check the time, but it doesn’t follow me around the house as well as my watch (because I’m up and down and lifting kids all day and it doesn’t stay in my pocket for that). More significantly, my watch does just one thing: Tell me what time it is. It does not tempt me to check my email “really fast” or lure me into wasting time with any other distractions. I don’t have any games on my phone but I’m an information junkie so I’m always thinking of interesting things I’d like to look into. The more I stay in the moment with my children and stay away from my iPhone, the better. :)

(I keep a running list near my laptop where I jot down stuff I’d like to get to when I have computer time. That keeps those things off my mind most of the day.)

The Timer

This good old-fashioned battery-operated timer gets used more than anything else in our homeschool. I set it constantly for quick clean up jobs, for assignments and for my own personal reminders.

Here again, this beats out the phone because it’s single-purpose and my kids can all use it very capably and independently.

The Boombox

I often play beautiful music or audiobooks for my children while they’re having “room time” or creating art at the kitchen table. I fought getting a boombox for a long time because really, who buys a boombox these days? I thought if I was savvy enough, playlists on my phone, laptop, or ipad would get the job done.

But buying an inexpensive walmart boombox has been one of my best purchases in the last year. My four year old can handle her own audiobooks for the most part, starting and stopping when she needs to without coming to get me and trying to find her old spot. Again, there’s no temptation for my kids to cruise around and do anything else with a boombox. It’s single-purpose and thus super easy to supervise.

We’ve checked out many great books on cd from the library, and I play great music so much more often now. We learn our songs for the girls’ program at church and the songs for Mackenzie’s piano repertoire, all without any prep work from me (turning on my computer, syncing a gadget, updating software, etc.) I still do use my gadgets for great playlists for composer studies, or for audible books… but I use the boombox far more often for these things.

The Home Phone

During school time, I minimize outside distractions. One thing that has really helped is having a home phone, plugged into the wall, with exactly one receiver.

If someone needs to get a hold of me, they call that phone.

I’m generally responsive to email… during times of the day I check it. But I remain blissfully unaware of the outside world for hours at a time and I love it that way.

(I also love the times I spend chatting on the phone with old friends, responding to questions via email, or meeting face-to-face with friends for laughter and encouragement. But those things have their time and don’t need to derail my time for teaching my children. Actually, come to think of it, I need to make more time for phone chats. I found it easier to multi-task without a busy two year old, I think. Lately, if he’s not supervised, he is [adorable] Trouble!)

Posted in Homeschooling, Life as we know it | 2 Comments

Everyone should have a four year old

Publishing a draft I wrote back in September because it’s hilarious.

Since the moment Caitlyn arrived in our family, life has been more exciting and colorful. She carries exuberance with her everywhere she goes.

She turned 4 recently and I grew a little wistful on her birthday, thinking of how many of her crazy antics she is leaving behind as she matures.

That particular concern was premature.

Today…

…My four year old read the word “jubilant” as “jubboppalooey” with a totally straight face. I encouraged her to look again and sound it out, to which she replied matter-of-factly, “Yeah I did that and I’m pretty sure that is jubboppalooey”.

…My four year old disappeared for fifteen minutes while I was preoccupied feeding her brother lunch. When I wised up and tracked her down, I discovered she was in a closet, with the doors shut and light on, wearing a blanket and not a stitch of clothing. I muffled a laugh and asked what she was doing. “Oh, just getting warm,” she replied casually.

…My four year old emerged from the closet a few minutes later, with that blanket tied around her neck like a scarf. She trooped into the kitchen proclaiming, “I’m like an Indian, Mama! I’m wearing my raccoon!” (As far as I know, there was zero context for this.)

…My four year old wore different colored socks, a clean shirt (third reminder’s the charm!), clashing pants, sparkly shoes, and a big smile to the nursing home to sing for the “grandmas and grandpas”. Apparently despite our conversation on the way over and her repeated commitments NOT to talk about her injury from that morning, she couldn’t contain herself. I overheard her confiding to a very sympathetic octogenarian about her “bleeding toe snag”. Ack.

…My four year old observed as she read through this month’s Friend magazine, “That’s funny that someone’s hiding in that bag, right Mama?”

Those gloves are sort of creepy, I guess. And what is that tiara resting on?

And my personal favorite… My four year old commented on this picture as we read “Babar Saves the Day!”:

“There’s his trunk!”

I replied, “Yes, and all the other luggage.”

She added, thoughtfully, “I didn’t know those could come off.”

Ha! See it?

Yep, everyone should have a four year old. But you can’t have mine. :)

Posted in Funny kids, Life as we know it | 3 Comments

Christmas at our House

I keep things simple for Christmas decor, because it’s not really something I excel at or give much thought to. However, I looked around my house one afternoon last week and realized, “Hey! I like it.”

It also reveals some of our traditions…

This year I rolled out wrapping paper to put under our clear vinyl tablecloth (we rotate maps under there most of the year).

We always have an “endless” bowl of oranges during the month of December. And this year Scott snagged a poinsettia for $5 after one of his Willamette Master Chorus concerts. Apparently there was quite a rush for the stage when that announcement was made. :)

Every year we read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as a family (well, me and the kids) and we celebrate finishing by watching Mickey’s Christmas Carol. I keep the book on the table because it reminds me to read during mealtimes.

We have a little homemade nativity scene my mom made on top of our piano, along with a few of the books we’ve read in our Christmas Countdown. The jar on the left is full of little slips of wrapping paper, each with a title of a Christmas book written on it. We pick one paper from the jar every day in December and I go fetch the book out of a box in the garage.

(Some people wrap up each book and put them all in a pretty basket, but I’m a simple lady who doesn’t like to spend time and paper on all that wrapping. :) Oh and at least half of our books come from the library as we are slowly building our collection. My kids are delighted by the tradition anyway. )

Our family room is made for a Christmas tree and Scott really guessed right on the height this year when we cut ours down. On this particular day, the kids took “a trip” to the tree complete with sleeping stuff, clothes packed in backpacks, books to read, etc.

I love how we’re all drawn to the smell and lights and peaceful presence of a fresh Christmas tree all month long.

One night in December we have an official Christmas tree campout and I read aloud until I run out of voice. (For the past two years we’ve read The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke but I might be ready for a change because it’s way over the head of my younger kids.)

We also have a Little People nativity set out for the kids to play with, but it usually looks more like a crime scene than like the peaceful night it’s intended to depict. We have a whole bin of Little People in the closet so all sorts of unexpected animals make their way into the manger scene and more often than not, Mary and Joseph take a cab to Bethlehem. I think the important thing is that they get there. :)

Merry Christmas from The Bean Family!

Posted in Holidays, Life as we know it | Leave a comment

A 10 Year Journal – Highly recommended for parents of young children

I’m about to start my fifth year of a “Ten Year Journal” and I can now say that using this journal has had a tremendously positive impact on my parenting.

Way back here I asked for advice on how best to record my days as a mother to young children. I ultimately decided to start a Ten Year Journal on my computer. The concept is simple but the rewards have been very rich.

Here’s how I do it:

– I created a document on my computer and I put the day’s date:
January 1st

– Then, underneath it I write the year:
2011

– Next to the year I write a note about that day.

That’s it. Every day I move my way down, and when I get to the beginning of a new year, I scroll to the top of the document and put the new year (2012) and entry beneath the old year’s entry for January 1st. Then a year later I write 2013 and that January 1st’s entry.

My Ground Rules

I’m sure I say this often on the blog, but I’ve found in my life that things done consistently over time yield the greatest results. I’ve found that in order for me to do something consistently, it needs to be linked to a habit I already have, and it needs to require very little willpower to begin. (Interesting reading on establishing new habits: tinyhabits.com and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)

So I put journaling in my evening routine, and I promised myself I only had to write ONE thing about my day. The journal entry was not going to be exhaustive or daunting in any way. It could just be one sentence. That way, it was very easy to sit and hammer something out. The beauty of getting started though is that more often than not I end up wanting to write more.

An Example

Last night, I sat down to write something from my day and I had the pleasure of skimming through other entries from that day in previous years:

December 28th
2011 – We had tithing settlement and loved watching Caitlyn tromp up and down the hallway in her “new” brown boots while Mackenzie tried to shepherd her and sneak in some handholding.

2012 – Lots of snow! I’m getting a little wistful already, thinking of this as possibly my last big snowstorm. It’s our seventh Ohio winter. Mackenzie asked me while sucking on Christmas candy, “What are these supposed to do anyway? What are the gobs supposed to stop? Plus, what IS a gob?”

2013 – We are writing and drawing thank you notes for Christmas presents and Caitlyn saw a picture Mackenzie painted. Initially she thought it was a man and complimented Mackenzie on it enthusiastically. When she was corrected, she said “Oh Mackenzie, what a nice pair of pajamas you painted! It’s beautiful and it just warmed my heart.”

I laughed and shared a bit with Scott, who was sitting nearby.

The Impact

Personally, I struggle with time as mother of young children. Sometimes the moments (and messes) stretch on forever, and other times my kids are growing up so fast that their days of being tiny are slipping through my fingers (and through the holes of my leaky memory).

Sometimes the fast and the slow happen at the same time. Always, though, I find that perspective helps.

When I look back on a difficult day, it gives me patience through the difficulties I’m currently facing. I see I’ve survived hard things in the past and it is a confidence boost that I’ll be able to handle whatever comes next.

February 13th
2013 – In the space of 15 minutes, Mackenzie threw up all over (missed the barf bowl), Caitlyn got buckled in her high chair while I cleaned up the mess and promptly dumped a glass of water all over herself and wailed, and Daniel bounced happily in his doorway jumper… with poop up to his armpits. Scott was working late again and Tiffany was bringing dinner for our swap and she walked right into the crazy. It was definitely a memorable night!

Sometimes reading a previous entry allows me to celebrate the end of a difficult phase that I’d left behind without even realizing it.

February 8th
2013 – Bedtime is so exhausting and discouraging lately. Scott and I are constantly strategizing how to make it a more positive experience for everyone. How do scriptures, family prayer, teeth, hair, jammies, personal prayer, song, and snugs and kisses turn into a battle? At least one of us always ends up in tears and I confided to Scott tonight “I’d rather pick up poop of the carpet than try to get these kids in bed!” and to my surprise, he readily agreed.

When I look back on an entry that highlights how much my kids have grown and changed in the time since I wrote it, I enjoy reliving the sweet moments that have past and it’s a reminder to cherish the current time even more. (And I have more peace about those moments being in the past because I know they aren’t lost!)

February 17th
2013 – Today I woke Caitlyn up from her nap and with characteristic good humor, she was grinning and humming me a song. When I asked her if she was ready to get out of the pack and play she said “Just after I finish humming this song.” Sure enough, she finished up and then was ready. :)

or

February 21st
2011 – Another easy day for Scott. He was able to see us in the morning and return home just past 3 in the afternoon. This rotation has been such a breath of fresh air. Mackenzie Anne Bean informed Scott she gave Columbus, Ohio a third name as well: Larry.

Of course journaling in general brings so many benefits. Topping the list for me: time for self-reflection and a family history to pass on to my children.

This 10 year format in particular, though, has been tremendously encouraging and grounding for me as a mother. Every night as I reflect on our day I see clearly that the things that matter most are not usually the places we went or the things we’ve accomplished but are far more commonly the funny, sweet, or tough moments we’ve shared as a family. I know I recognize and savor those moments more in my day now and keeping 10 Year Journal lets me preserve them for when I need them.

I know some moms who sneak into their kids’ rooms at night after a difficult day and watch them sleep to remind themselves of the sweetness of childhood and to soak up some shared peace and air with their kids. Typing up my journal entry and seeing poignant moments from the past laid before me serves a similar purpose, I suppose, without risking waking anyone up! ;)

Posted in Deliberate Mothering, I am a mother, Life as we know it, Parenting Hacks | 4 Comments

How I Teach My Children Character

In our home, we teach our children table manners, phone manners, how to chop vegetables, how to ride a bike and countless other practical life skills. But at the core of everything we do with and for our kids, ideally we’re seeking to teach and cultivate character.

I discovered a tool earlier this year that has helped us tremendously in identifying and articulating the character traits we hope to instill in our children and foster in ourselves.

It’s called Character First Education and all the resources we’ve used are available FREE online. It takes very little prep work and has had a significant positive impact on our home.

What We Love About Character First Education

– The character traits on their list are practical and powerful. The short definition is something my 4 year old can easily grasp.

Example: Attentiveness is concentrating on the person or task before me.

– Each character trait has five “I wills” – things you can do to help foster that trait.

Example: Attentiveness includes looking at the person speaking, not drawing attention to oneself, guarding against distraction, sitting or standing up straight, and asking questions to help you understand.

– The videos we watch (more about these later) are engaging, fairly short (~5 minutes), and very high on content. They are 5 minutes well spent.

My kids were riveted by the story of the white-tailed deer who was attentive and avoided a predator. We now all know the poem about attentiveness with hand motions by heart, so I can actually discreetly cue my kids from across the room to be attentive by using a specific hand motion (to look at the person speaking, for example).

Why I Love Studying Character Traits

I believe the very best way to teach character to our children is to model it. However, explicitly teaching what constitutes good character makes our kids more observant of their own actions and more motivated towards self-improvement. If they learn what it means to be compassionate, for example, they’ll be able to identify it when they see it, and they’ll be equipped to evaluate their own behavior.

The definition and five simple “I wills” outlined by Character First Education provide us with a vocabulary we can use to articulate our expectations. Our kids know what’s expected of them when we ask them to be diligent, and we can prompt them further to finish their project, etc. This does not mean they are perfect at it, of course!

We as parents aren’t perfect at these either, and focusing on character is an excellent reminder that we need to model these things ourselves. If we’re asking our children to be attentive, for example, we should be looking at our children when they’re asking for our attention, and turning off devices instead of being tempted to multi-task while carrying on a conversation.

Before the beginning of each new month, Scott and I chat about what character trait we’d like to focus on as a family for that next month. These conversations are brief and worthwhile because they increase our family’s unity and give us a regular time to reflect on our children’s needs.

How We Use Character First Education’s Resources to Study Character

I believe that good things done consistently over time yield great results. For me personally, I know that in order to do things consistently, I need to keep them as simple as possible and I need to do the legwork in advance so that things can run on “autopilot” through the vicissitudes of life with young children.

To that end, I do the following:
Once or twice year: I make up posters in Photoshop using the definition and five “I wills” and a picture of the animal associated with that quality. I do a whole bunch of them at a time, and they’re pretty fast.

Here are a few examples. Click on one to see it bigger:
Gratefulness-rgb

Honesty

Responsibility

I print our posters out on 8.5 x 11 cardstock.

Once a month: Scott and I flip through my stash and decide which trait to focus on for the next month. I tape it to our wall by our kitchen table. (Maybe some day we’ll upgrade to a frame?)

Once a week: Mondays during breakfast are our character days, and I just pull up the website on my iPad and we all watch the Poem video or Nature Story video, or both. We follow along with actions to the poem. If we don’t catch it on Monday at breakfast, we just do it when we think about it later in the day or week. By pegging it on Monday morning, it’s a near certainty we’ll get to it by Friday afternoon! :)

Nearly every day: Character comes up in conversation! I love it. Caitlyn will be goofing off during scripture study and apologize for not being more attentive. I’ll encourage Mackenzie to take responsibility for her mistake and make it right and a light will go on because it’s something we’ve discussed before in a very positive way. Someone will quote the poem about gratefulness and do the silly hand motions for “When I go to the store, I’ll be glad for what I have instead of always wanting more!” I’ll call for a “giraffe” who can help me out with something in a hurry (the animal for availability).

Occasionally when we’re in the car or doing chores we’ll just review the poems we’ve learned in the past.

That’s it! So far my time invested is ~1-2 hours for a year of printouts, 5-10 minutes per month taping something on the wall, and 0 minutes of prep work for video clips each week. We are consistent because it’s simple and the legwork is done in advance.

I’d love to hear in the comments if you have any questions or helpful suggestions about how you teach character in your home. Here’s the link one more time to the free resources we use: Character First Education. A new character trait is added every month.

Posted in Homeschooling, Life as we know it | 7 Comments