Saturday, August 30, 2014

Back to School Tips: Less Stress, More Fun -- Family Traditions and Routines that Work!

Including Ways to Make "Back to School" Special for Younger Siblings NOT Starting School

When a new school year rolls around, I use it as a time to take stock and consider what we need as a family to make us stronger and to reduce stress and disjointed-ness during the busy-ness that often accompanies a school year. I decided to share some family traditions and new routines that have worked my family (or for families I know). Perhaps you'll decide one will work for you or the list will help you assess what your family needs this Fall!

1. Join the Gym (or start another workout routine or exercise experience)

Last year, when Wild Thing (my oldest son) started preschool (his first schooling experience), we used that opportunity to begin a new routine with Caterpillar (his younger brother) as well. I joined the gym with a Kid's Club and introduced the Kid's Club to Caterpillar as his school. (We call it the gym school). Caterpillar has always been a very clingy "mama's boy" and needed opportunities to be with other children and caretakers and not with me. The gym school was the perfect beginning for our family. The time away from me was short (1-1 1/2 hours) and felt safe (for both of us). It was a transition at first (meaning he did cry), but this year when he started preschool, he asked if he was still going to get to gym school as it has become something he enjoys. While I did it primarily for him, as we didn't need a full-time or part-time daycare (nor could we afford one), I also realized how valuable this regular exercise time (and time to myself) was for me. It was a great decision and a very affordable way to find something that helped foster his independence and my health and wellness! Remember, sometimes the key to success for your family is to take care of yourself, mama (or daddy)! 

2. Start Tot School Activities at Home

Another thing I did last year when Wild Thing started school was begin a Tot School experience at home for Caterpillar (which I soon expanded to include Wild Thing as he really wanted to join in the fun and learning when he saw the activities I set up for Caterpillar). I structured it as daily baskets inspired by a Letter of the Week explored through each of the 5 senses. Some weeks, this was a bit much and I would only do 1-2 sensory bins, but overall it was a positive learning and play experience for both of the boys and something we still do from time to time. Here's my most popular Tot School posts from the blog: G is for Ghost (and more!), Learning Through Play with the Letter E, Letter C Explorations, and A is for Apple -- the post that started it all (and the most popular post on my blog right now), and I have a fun Tot School Pinboard for even more inspiration.

3. Focus on Family Dinners -- Unplugged! 

If you don't already, try to have dinners together as a family -- without TV or other tech devices. I find starting new traditions or routines in the Fall when the school routine begins is an easier way to introduce them -- and a constructive time to refocus if a past tradition, like Family Dinner, has gone awry a bit with summer. We initially began a focus on family dinners two years ago as part of a focus on gratitude, but it is something I'm glad that we've continued. That family time together is really important, and I've come to enjoy creating healthy (and affordable) meals for our family. Conveying Awareness with Jessica David always inspires me to eat well and feed my family well, and the focus on family dinners inspired me to share Weekly Meal Plans for awhile on the blog. Here's the Top 3 (in terms of popularity): Meals and Snacks Inspired by Books, Healthy and Affordable Meals, and Top Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Recipes!

4. Commit to Family Service

This may seem challenging, but it's really not. The commitment can be simple -- picking up trash on the way to and from school, if you walk, just one day each month; collecting food for the food pantry in September, which is Hunger Action Month; writing gratitude postcards once a week, etc. For AMAZING ideas and to see how wonderful -- this experience can be, check out Pennies of Time. She shows just how simple (and fun) it can be. She and her boys committed to 15 minutes a day serving others and amaze me with all the ways they help others.

5. Start a New Chapter Book

This summer, Wild Thing and I read our first chapter book together: Jorgits and The End of Winter by Anders Sandell, and we both really enjoyed it. As school begins, we're starting a new book, also about a boy starting a new school. We're already almost a third of the way through Star Wars: Jedi Academy.

6. Join a Book Club

Though I haven't kept up with blogging about the Virtual Book Club for Kids, we still join in and discover new authors and new book-related activities through this fun, free online book club. Since many schools highlight the importance of reading, joining a book club for the school year is a great way to make reading fun. If you feel like you already read enough with your kids, consider joining a book club just for you. I know our library has book clubs for adults. We loved exploring Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? with the VBCK.

7. Schedule a Regular Date Night

This is something I'm hoping we can recommit to now that things should slow down for us a bit with school. Our summer schedule can be all over the place, but the school year makes things a bit more routine. In the past, we've tried to set a regular date night, often monthly on Sundays, but we never stick to it. This Fall, I'd like to give it another try! (Even if we just do a date night at home once a month after the boys are in bed).

8. Plan a Mom's Day/Night Out -- or  some Morning Mama Time

Maybe this isn't something that will fit your schedule regularly, but it's worth a try. Even if you just pick 1 or 2 dates this Fall that will be days or nights just for you -- try and make it work! It doesn't have to be costly either. Find a night or day when you know your partner, a relative or good friend, can watch the kids and go to a movie, peruse a museum on a free day, go for a hike, or sit at your local coffee shop with a good book. Maybe you can swap nights with a friend. My experience is that so many moms (and some dads), almost never do this, especially when their children are still young (like mine, who are 3 and almost 5). If a day or night out just doesn't seem manageable given your circumstance, consider joining the Abundant Mama's Rise and Shine Challenge, a free 10 day challenge to encourage mama self-care. I'm terrible when it comes to waking early, but those rare mornings when I do wake before everyone else and find myself sitting on our patio with a nice cup of coffee or tea watching the world, reading a book or writing in my journal are absolutely priceless and I find those days are often some of my best.

9. Journal Jam It Out

Mama Scout is a favorite site of mine and I've now participate in both her Dream Lab and this summer's Family Journal Jam. Her e-courses get me focused on daily journal writing and engaged creativity, and I love that the summer course encouraged family creativity. I've seen the way her programs benefit the mothers and families involved. Try writing and drawing in journals together as a family, or, if you want to focus on a writing commitment for yourself, join Mama Scout's upcoming e-lab, A Book About Me.

10. Commit to regularly trying something new!

When I first started blogging, I discovered the blog 52 Brand New and loved the blogger's commitment to trying something new with her children once a week. Even if you think you can't commit to a weekly goal of trying something new, do consider making new experiences a priority. When I try something new with my sons, I find that it brings me back to my childhood, when so many things were new and encourages me to embrace the joy of discovery with my sons! This summer, we tried container gardening. We had success with our tomatoes, but not with our flowers (just too hot and dry where we were this summer and too many away from home excursions). Our strawberries are still up for debate, but I don't think they are going to make it. However, the boys and I loved this new experience.

For our family, this Fall, I have some key Back to School-inspired goals from this list: #3 (get back to family dinners unplugged), #4 (I want to commit to a monthly visit to the nursing home for Veterans that we've visited in the past), #5 (an ongoing family reading goal) and #7 (we really need our date nights!) 

What about you? What routines or traditions strengthen your family and keep your school year stress-free? What do you want to try this Fall that you haven't done before? Let's inspire each other!

Sharing at: Sharing Saturday, KBN Back to School Linky Hosted by The Educators' Spin On It, Montessori Monday and The Weekly Kid's Co-Op.

You might also like:

Simple Ideas for Hunger Action Month
Thank A Teacher!
Tot School: Letters A-N and P! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What's In a Name? Everything.

Raising Compassionate Kids: One Name at a Time  

As parents, selecting a baby name is a big deal. It can take a long time. In the case of my sons it took, literally, months (the whole pregnancy and then some). With both boys, we had no idea what their names would be before they were born -- we didn't even know if our child would be a girl or a boy, and with both they were "Baby Boy Fischer" at the hospital for the first 2-3 days, or basically as long as was possible. 
Baby Boy Fischer (#2) when still un-named.
The nurse came to us and told us that it was officially time to solidify our child's name for their official record -- that's how long we held out on solidifying this important decision. We love the names we selected, and we're also glad we took our time. A child's name is important -- it signifies what the child means to their parents (and often to their extended family). It lays the groundwork for who they will become. It is a name we will say more often, in many cases, than any other name.

A name signifies that you mean something to someone. It's really, really important -- that's why everyone (of my generation) loves the Cheers song ("where everybody knows your name"). It's why we name our pets, and why kids name their stuffed animals or other toys. It's why those birth names often come with nicknames, a further testament to how important a person is in someone else's life. 

Thus, a lack of a name means something too. When we interact with the same person over and over at the store, but fail to take the time to learn/notice their name and address them accordingly, we're asserting that their name doesn't matter. They are not that important. When we see someone who is homeless and move away from them or avoid eye contact, it negates their existent. Often, those individuals are invisible to most people. Few bother to learn their names, even if they walk by that homeless person regularly. They become "the homeless person" -- their circumstance in life is who they are; they are not a person equal to others we know who have names.  

However, at some point, someone gave that person a name. 

In fact, they probably took great care in selecting that name. It meant something -- perhaps it was a family name handed down from generation to generation or inspired by someone they hoped their child would emulate, and that name means something now. 

In our tiny town, we have Papa John -- John may not be his birth name, but it is his name. The name he gave my husband when he asked. My sons know him by this name. They say hello to him when they see him and call him by his name. They think of him when we have extra soup or bread or fruit and get excited about sharing those goodies with their friend. In fact, my youngest son (my introvert) will shy away from some adults around town when they try to greet him (it can take him awhile to be comfortable with new people), but will shock those some adults by walking up to Papa John to say hello.

To many, he is "the homeless guy," but to us he is Papa John. He has a name. He matters. The boys even notice when he's not sitting under his tree when we drive by it and will worry if we don't see him often enough. To them, he's a part of their community, and I am glad that they are learning not to see him as "that guy," but to see him as a person, as Papa John.

My guiding word this year is compassion (thanks, Mama Scout for introducing me to guiding words). I take that word into my parenting as well. It is so important for me to raise compassionate kids, and I've realized that one important way to do that is to call people by their names. Our barista, our cashiers at the grocery store, the guy at the deli counter, the woman who stocks our favorite yogurt, the cashiers at our mini-mart, to us they are Becca and Matthew, Charles and Eva, Andrew, Shannon, Becky and Terry. They have names. They matter...and so does Papa John.

The next time you encounter someone who is homeless, even if you don't have something to give (a dollar, a dime, a homeless care kit), try giving a few moments of your time.

Ask their name. 

Ask how they're doing. 

Recognize their personhood. 

Do this even if you're with your kids - especially if you're with your kids. You're modeling important behavior to them. You're teaching them that every person deserves to be treated kindly, even people who are different. That's exactly what we hope to teach kids when we want to prevent or stop bullying, so let's make sure we're setting the example. 

Today, Thursday April 7th at 6:30 p.m. PST/9:30 p.m. EST, I'm excited to be joining Sheila of Pennies of Time and Jon from the I Have a Name Project for a Twitter chat about helping the homeless. I hope you'll join in too. Hashtag: #servechat 

Together, we can rethink homelessness...(as this awesome video from Impact Homelessness inspires us to do). 

You might also like:

A #Kindness Family Challenge
Fun Family Service Ideas/RAKs
Simple Sibling Play Ideas