Three Simple Strategies For a Great Start to the Virtual School Year by Kelly.

School is ramping up again and I was wondering how is everyone doing and how are you preparing to make virtual learning 2.0 a positive experience? I love the theme “Looking for Silver Linings!”. Here are some healthy strategies I’m prepping this week after talking with counselors and educators this summer.

1. Sit down with your kid individually and have them generate their own list of ideas for how to calm down and recenter. Ex. Breathing, read a book, do yoga, run, dance, take a walk outside, call/zoom with a friend, etc. Then print out this list and keep it near their work space. When they are experiencing frustrations, have them pick something off their list and break for 5-10 minutes. It gives them control over the situation (removes the parent from the situation) and teaches them mindfulness. (Also, parents make your own list and keep it near by).

2. Sit down with your kids and generate a list of their favorite upbeat songs that will always result in a dance party. The physical movement and music releases endorphins and will help boost moods and improve mental focus. I’m aiming for 2-3 dance parties a day.

3. Trying to carve out time individually with each child for 20 minutes a week. Do a no-fail fun activity meaning there is no chance of power struggles or disappointments. Just something simple like sitting down and play legos, riding bikes together, staying up late for 20 minutes and looking at the stars, etc. Whatever allows you to connect with your child positively for 20 minutes – it will greatly improve/maintain a healthy relationship especially during times when you have another role as educator.

Sending virtual hugs to every parent & educator!

Our family’s schoolroom under construction.

When I (for sure knew) I wasn’t failing as a mother by Carly

We all have those moments/days/weeks or hell, maybe years, as a parent where most things go wrong. Where it feels like your child is having an endless meltdown or maybe if you have multiple kids like me, and you are constantly soothing or getting something for one child, only to run to the next who is having a huge crisis (maybe you gave them green apple slices instead of their preferred red, I know, what the hell was I thinking??).

Not that long ago I was having one of those days. It started with my youngest curled up sweetly in my arms in bed, only to scream as loud as she possibly could the minute I moved an inch. She proceeded to follow me, screaming into the bathroom, only to be comforted by sitting on my lap as I, you know, used the bathroom. Next few hours are a blur as I wake up our other two kids, dress and feed them a somewhat nutritious breakfast then rush out the door to catch the school bus and head the younger two off to preschool. “Did I put mascara on both eyes or just one? I am 72% sure I put deodorant on”, I think to myself as we dart to preschool. After work I rush back to preschool to be greeted by the two running into my arms and immediately asking/demanding for a snack. Good thing I work for grocery stores, otherwise I’d never remember that part.

I hurry home because I realize, it’s a school night for my husband and his online lecture started exactly 15 minutes ago. I come home to get dinner started for the kids, thankfully a pot roast was thrown in the crockpot that morning (thanks love). Our youngest is going through a very clingy stage, okay she’s been that way since birth, but in the last few weeks it’s been really intense. So much that I’ve learned how to do most things one-armed or with a toddler on my hip or lap. I refuse to bend to her will near a hot oven though. So in a Hail-mary attempt at keeping her occupied, I gave her some small plastic bowls and a handful of pretty beads to organize. She’s a sorter by nature and will stay occupied long enough for me to take dinner out of the oven. After a minute, she spots the entire bag of beads that I tried hiding from her and realizing I was holding out on her, demands the entire thing. I say no and go back to what I’m doing which then sets off an array of emotions. Most of them in the screaming department. Completely not thinking about anything but getting dinner on the table and having her not near the hot oven door, I foolishly gave her the entire bag of beads. She was happily content and went back to sorting. My gut told me I was an idiot but the sight in front of me felt like a win. Several minutes later as I’m dishing up three small plates, of course with all the basic food groups represented, I hear it. She dumps the entire bag and it spills out all over the bowls, down the chair she was on and all over the dining room floor to places unknown. Immediately, I regret the risk I took trusting her with the bag and chastised myself heavily. I sighed and tried to think of a moment when I could get to picking up all those damn, pretty beads. My oldest two were already at the table, commenting on how hungry they were when they turned and saw the giant mess their sister made. I continued putting food on the table, chalking the whole thing up to another chore we needed to get to like the never-freaking-ending laundry or the dishes that were now piled high in the sink.

And then something happened. Without a word being said, our oldest got up from the table and went over and started picking up the beads. After a minute of watching his older brother with just as much curiosity as I did, our middle child got up from the table too and started picking up the beads. I didn’t whisper a sound but watched as they made a game out of how many they could pick up and began putting them all back in the bag. I must have stood there with my mouth wide open for a solid minute as I felt a rush of some feeling pass over me. It wasn’t exasperation, or defeat or even a “what the…” moment. It was a tidal wave of accomplishment, of rare but nonetheless true success.

My boys, who were just starving and slightly demanding as they wanted to know where dinner was, did a completely selfless act without even being coaxed to do so. There was no bleading, no negotiating, no promises of dessert. I could have wept, I felt so damn proud. In a job that is so demanding and sometimes, down right demoralizing, that small win as a mother was huge. Maybe, I thought, we were doing something right.

Now our three are sweet and kind but like most young kids under 7, the thought of others is not high on their radar. Some days being a parent feels like you’re failing at even the simplest tasks like getting out the door in a timely manner with coordinating socks. Things don’t always get accomplished, whines and tantrums are part of the job, patiences are lost, your youngest son may someday decide to pull his pants down and pee outdoors at another kids birthday party in front of EVERY SINGLE GUEST (true story btw) but small victories like the epic bead-palooza will make you feel like you’ve just summited the Everest of parenting.

To the weary parent who feels like nothing is going right at all, look for those small but glorious wins because they are there. If you blink or close your eyes too long (sleep deprivation is REAL), you may miss them and never be able to fully appreciate or celebrate those fragments in time where everything feels right in your world. 

How to Have Halloweek In Your Home by Carly

Birthdays and holidays in our home are a big deal. And I feel like the word big is probably underselling it a little. My kids were born with a mother who strongly believes that celebrating anything should be done in grand, unforgettable ways. Their mother is also slightly obsessed with Halloween. Has been forever. I love the colors and crisp mornings. I love visiting farms and sipping cider. I can’t ever have enough pumpkins, gourds (of all kinds) or cornstalks. Luckily, I married someone who fully embraces this obsession and brings down the 783 bins from the attic full of decorations each fall (thank you love!).

I can’t even tell you where the idea from Halloweek came from. My own mom used to say the Happy Pumpkin (similar to Santa) visited and left little presents randomly on days leading up to Halloween. I remember my parents making it special for us kids more than one day each year. Most likely the idea of Halloweek was an excuse to officially extend my favorite holiday from one night into seven. We started it a year or two after Liam was born and it’s been a hit every year. Halloweek is all about being intentional with our family time. It’s about having fun together. Below are steps for you to try Halloweek with your family:

  1. Come up with a plan. I sit down with a notepad a few weeks before and draw out the week of Halloween. I think of things we already have going on in our schedule (i.e. swim lessons, preschool carnivals, etc.) and write those in first. I also make a note of really long days and make sure for that evening we do something simple. The days that are left blank, I either reach out to friends to see if they would like to meet up somewhere fun for a playdate (like NW Trek) or I hit up Pinterest for something fun to do at home.
    Here are some of the search words I like to use: halloween craft ideas for kids, halloween science experiments for kids, halloween cooking for kids). I make sure every year that there is a least one night devoted to: Science, Cooking and Art. When I find something I like, I write it down for that day. Get others involved to help with the planning. One night might be devoted to spooky games but my husband may plan the games we actually do.

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  2. Shop. Use your planned week to create a list of needs.Try to find items you have at home first. Do I always have 19 cans of corn starch in the cupboard? Yep. Great, science night is taken care of and I’m decluttering one (of many) full cabinets. Win, win. For the items you don’t have, get them and have them ready for that night.
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  3. Display your Halloweek adventures. I love to make a countdown and hang it where each day a kid can pull off that day and we can read together what the activity is for that night. I will buy gift tags, write the day number on one side and the activity on the other. Then I hang them somewhere visible to everyone. You could do this on a chalkboard or bulletin board. Anywhere really. This gets everyone in the family excited about Halloweek but also serves a reminder of what each day’s plan is. Because extra reminders are always appreciated.Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 6.50.11 AM.png
  4. Enjoy & have fun! This is the MOST IMPORTANT PIECE to Halloweek – keep it all simple!! I can’t stress that enough. It does not have to be insanely elaborate to make it fun. For example, I like to have one night of making fun Halloween inspired food. Because one, it gets the kids involved in the kitchen and two, they are more inclined to try new foods because its in the shape of a pumpkin. Another win, win. On a night of festive culinary fun, maybe we make a pizza that has olive spiders on it and call it good. Don’t feel you have to go overboard to make it a night of fun.
    The idea of stretching out your favorite celebration is not limited to just Halloween either. With our very busy days, really the goal was to make sure we enjoyed more time together doing something that we loved, with the people that we love. Happy planning your family’s fun!Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 7.50.49 AM

Sprinkle In Some Magic by Carly

Some days, I feel like I am telling my kids ‘no’ at least 2,378 times.

“No, don’t run with that!”

“No, we can’t make that right now.”

“No, we can’t do that today.”

It’s usually followed up with 80 questions of why nots or whining. I see their little defeated faces after hearing me so “no” over and over again. Then the guilt sets in.

One day of a particularly large amounts of no’s, I had my sons in the car driving to some annoying errand. My mind was set on accomplishing some silly task when we passed a 7-11. My oldest noticed the logo instantly and excitedly asked if we could stop and get slurpees. He followed up his request with noting that it was a very hot day and the icy drink would be refreshing for all of us (He was appealing to my usual comments about how summers are synonymous with slurpees. We would not be surprised one bit if law school was in his future). His little brother perked up in his seat at the thought, cheering for a blue raspberry slurpee.

I instantly said “no, not today, we have 400 things on our to-do list and slurpees are not one of them,” In the review mirror, I watched his face fall and it dawned on me. “Why am I saying no to this? It would take maybe 10 mins out of our day and it would make them so happy. And he’s right, it’s 93° outside, a slurpee sounds amazing!”

I went to express my change-of-heart but then paused. A fun idea popped in my head. Our boys like to pretend they are driving (as a lot of kids do) from the backseats, using whatever they can find as a steering wheel and make car noises. At that moment, my second born was doing just that. I pretended to panic slightly and loudly asked, “Oliver are you driving the car?!? I can’t steer! What is happening?”

His eyes got big at the thought and said “YES, mama I is!!”. My oldest looked confused but then caught on quickly and instructed his brother to turn the car into the 7-11 parking lot. The car veered in that direction as they both squealed wildly at the thought of being in control of the car. I was still pretending like something was wrong with the car as we pulled into the parking lot and the boys couldn’t stop cheering and laughing.

As you may have guessed, we did indeed slurp down those sugary, delicious drinks that day. It cost me a few minutes, six bucks and it was completely worth the smiles and excitement.

In a world full of rules and ‘don’t do that’s’, it was fun for a moment to not just say yes but to have them believe they were saying yes. They were the reason that we got a nice break and a treat that day. I also learned to chill more about running errands with them. Saying yes more often is better for everyone.

We never did get the car fixed. Every now and again it acts up and, somehow, some way, Oliver can control the wheel. He takes us to parks, Chuck E. Cheese, the museum and the other day we even had ice cream for lunch. He doesn’t know it was really to celebrate having a great first week in his new preschool class. All he knows is he saw a sign and drove towards it.

Mamas, sprinkle in some magic for them. Say yes more and remember they only have one childhood. Let them drive sometimes.

15 Minutes With Mom by Andrea

Life is busy. Life with 4 kids, school, sports, managing a team of post office/licensing clerks and a cleaning business is (crazy) busy. As it is every new school year, getting back into our routine is hard. Our day is probably very similar to yours.

We wake up and it’s a mad rush to get ready. We wake 3 of 4 kids up for school. While I am getting ready myself, I have to gently remind the 3 to keep moving as they don’t have much time. After finding missing socks and backpacks we are ready to head out. We give kisses and say our goodbyes. Daddy drops 3 of 4 kids off at their elementary school and goes back to pick up our big middle schooler.

After an insane day at work, I return home and go straight into momma mode. I am picking up kids and head to sports. I have two in flag football and two in basketball. Practices are almost every day of the week along with homework and school activities. Did I mention my husband and I also run a full-time cleaning business? Some nights we start our second shifts after the kids are in bed, returning home in the early hours and relieving either a grandparent or sitter of their nightly watch duty.

After learning about my daily routine, you can imagine it’s hard for all my little ones to get their one-on-one time with their momma. So I have come up with an idea that we started at the beginning of school called “15 minutes with Mom”.

Each night I ask the kids to get ready for bed around 8 and brush up. Once they are in the beds, I will come around and either lay with them and chat about their day or rub their back. This allows great one-on-one time and I get to hear how school is going. Since starting this, it has been an awesome way to reconnect with my two oldest daughters. I get to hear all about their days when its quiet and we can focus just on our conversation. I suggest every busy momma to try this. Slow down, even for 15 minutes, to reconnect after the chaos of each day has ended.