block scheduling for kids

I put a version of this on Facebook this afternoon. What I put there will go in inset block quotes. (I have more things to say now.) I started typing on my phone in frustrated reaction to memes and other social media posts I’ve seen in the past week about MULTIPLE aspects of the ‘Kids Unexpectedly Home from School’ Situation and Working from Home. This post will just have the information applicable to kids. What I would like to do is set up a post with recommendations about working from home, and another post about working from home with kids around. I may quit the internet before I get that far.

A BIG THOUGHT:

We are in SERIOUSLY WILD TIMES right now. The other troubles The People (and Plants and Creatures, Et Cetera) of Planet Earth were experiencing have not magically stopped for us to figure out what to do about the spread of COVID-19.

It is okay to not be okay.

It is okay to take care of yourself.

It is okay to laugh and play and enjoy slowing down. Find the good things and celebrate them.

It’s also okay to cry and be mad and feel fear. Just don’t *stay* there.

We’re about a week into this mess. I am still unpacking the details, possibilities, and ramifications. I’m overloaded with options and emotions and ideas. My kids have a general idea of what’s going on. I tried yesterday and today to give them some open time so that they can have fun and I can have processing time.

It backfired.

Our feelings are too big. Playtime is too open. The uncertainty is breathing too closely down our necks. I need to temporarily dial back my expectations regarding emotional control and response inhibition (and other similar skills) in myself and my kids.

Y’all, listen to Megan: some kids don’t know how to Just Play All Day without some input from an adult, because their time is so structured.

If you *want* to let your kids play all day but they are making you insane with their boredom and their messes and their demands, try implementing a block schedule for types of play. You can have stations and not let them be with each other part of the time.

The base of this post is answering “Kids can play all day for the next three weeks and they’ll be fine.” because “But this may last more than three weeks.” and “Kids thrive on routine.” and “I don’t like Anarchy.” and “Where did you even find this many clothes?” and “Permanent marker is not good make-up.”

Block scheduling has sounded ridiculous to a lot of people I’ve talked to over the years. I have had more people tell me that it sounds like a great idea but it won’t work at their house than I have had so OH THAT MAKES SENSE. I guess it sounds too simple? It is simple, when you find yourself in survival mode and you need some scaffolding.

To make a block schedule, you need blocks and anchors (nonnegotiable things that will happen; at our house that’s just food and waking and sleeping… and turning off devices to let brains rest before sleeping).

SAMPLE BLOCK SCHEDULE:

Wake up

Block 1

Breakfast

Block 2

Snack

Block 3

Lunch

Block 4

Snack
Block 5

Dinner

Block 6

Screens off

Block 7

Bedtime

If your kids are very young, you can actually add more feeding times. If you don’t snack, you can take those out. Do what works at your house, even if that’s shutting your browser window and laughing at me.

A random block tip: set up transition time toward the end of the block so that your kids know you’re switching gears (even if you’re coming back to this activity after the anchor) and so that you have a chance to get help tidying the space that’s been used.

WHAT CAN GO IN THE BLOCKS FOR KIDS?

ANYTHING YOUR KIDS ARE WILLING TO TRY.

A walk outside
Outdoor games
Water play
Nature journaling
Birdwatching
Plant identification
Other outdoor activity
Drawing
Coloring
Painting
Playdough or modeling clay
Cutting cool paper into tiny pieces
Gluing tiny pieces to other paper
Making jewelry (beads and string)
Sewing
Cross-stitching
Crotchet
Knitting
Other art/craft
Board games
Tabletop games
Card games
Reading a nonfiction book
Reading a reference book
Reading comic books/manga
Reading a fiction book
Reading poetry
Reading a play
Reading aloud
Reading in crazy voices
Telling stories from books just based on the pictures
Listening to an audiobook
Watching a video of a celebrity or author reading
Other reading
Dress-up
Post office play
Flower shop play
Restaurant play*
Grocery store play*
Hospital play*
Doctor’s office play*
(*Don’t discount or avoid these right now; roleplaying helps kids process big feelings and ideas.)
Vet clinic play
Other imaginary shop/job/whatever play
Bake treats
Do chores
Do a building project
Reorganize a space
Watch TV/movie
Play a video game

I mean, I am tired of listing things so I am stopping, but do you see what I mean?

I thought of more things while I was cooking dinner, but I forgot them again. Basically, the blocks are where you tuck the HUNDREDS (THOUSANDS?!?) of suggestions and free trials and downloads and virtual tours and and and being shared across social media as people step up to fill gaps.

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY BABY?
Babies have high expectations and don’t care what I think but they are happier when their caregivers are not throwing stress hormones all over the place.

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY TODDLER?
Toddlers also have high expectations and don’t care what I think. But. If you put a toddler in a zone and expect that toddler to do the things in that zone, the toddler might play big and be happy.

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY OPINIONATED OTHER CHILD?
Children can be really rude and can hate other people’s plans and ideas and hopes. They’re like adults that way. But it has been my experience that if you give them some options (not too many) and a time limit, they can handle cooperating.

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY TEENAGER?
Block scheduling works for teenagers too. They like and need some independence. Be clear about which blocks are theirs to control, and which blocks are for assisting you or participating in family time.

Sometimes you can’t tell if something will work until you try it.

THE FINAL THOUGHT:

Express your expectations for yourself and the people you’re attempting to influence. Get feedback from them (yes even young children). Do what you can, reasonably, to accommodate preferences of those others.

You’re in this together.

Use your kind words.

Make good choices.

Don’t use water beads near a sink/tub/drain pipe.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Or, be afraid and do it anyway.

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school stations

In February I swapped our school days around so that most of our core subject work on formal instruction days is done at stations. The most basic version of the plan is that the four kids work individually and rotate among four stations at 30-minute intervals. I do have to read to Brennan (and sometimes Annie, if she’s being serious) and am available to assist anyone at any time, but the majority of the work is self-managed. This has simplified our school routine so much that I almost feel guilty, but I’m working to channel that guilt into plans to add in a little bit more intentional work for next school year.

A note because after I got through science talk I feel like it looks like all we do is try to read a bunch of different books and make notes: we do a lot of projects and illustrating and documentary-watching and such, but most of that happens OUTSIDE of stations time. Because my cover-school-imposed guideline is to accumulate 175 days of school work, we do formal instruction on a certain number of days (actually, the number of history chapters plus the number of individual history sections, because that’s what helps motivate me) and leave the rest of the days open for projects and experiments and field trips and finalizing our formal work. At one point I called many of those other days Overflow days, because we were doing what little “testing” I do, and focusing on arts, and filling in gaps, and all that stuff that sloshes out when you’re trying to maintain routine.

So, what are we doing for stations and why is it working okay for us???

First up: history!

We use The Story of the World as our base curriculum. That provides us with a storybook-ish textbook, maps, review questions, coloring sheets, and some projects. There are also recommedations for further reading and notes about which page numbers in additional recommended resources line up.

What has worked the best for us with SotW is that each formal instruction day we:
a) cover one reading section OR the chapter test,
b) fill in the chapter’s map and/or a coloring sheet and/or an activity sheet, and
c)  make notes or answer aloud some review questions about important details.

We’re having some trouble that I am going to work around by beginning our school day with this as our read-aloud, and then during stations the boys will be responsible for those coloring sheets/maps and more in-depth responses (using the book as a guide) while Brennan will still be working directly with me for narration/review. Annie is doing a half-baked year of unenrolled kindergarten but LOVES to have her own station set up so that she can color the pictures and the maps, so she gets included as far as her attention span will allow.

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In addition to our base SotW text, I keep our Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History available for the younger kids to look at and for Quinn to read and outline. [Please note: I am an independent consultant for Usborne Books and More, so if you happen to order from any of the links to that particular online UBAM shop, I receive monetary compensation.] Last week I snagged this cool green Short History of the World  as an order add-on and the boys have both really liked it, so into the pile it’s gone. If I have an issue of National Geographic or a library book or whatnot that meets our theme for the chapter, it goes into the pile also. If the kids get stuck and I’m busy with another kid or if they finish ahead of the timer, then they’ve got great picture-heavy resources to engage to stay at least medium-well on task.

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FOR SCIENCE:

This year our sciences are Earth science and astronomy. I started out with a really gorgeous list of the topics available in the resource books we have, and my idea was to rotate through all of those topics while also trying to dig deeper right outside our house for some general nature study. It has not gone at all as I had hoped it would, but oh well.

Right now we’re going back over ecosystems (based on continents) because we’re covering a lot of different places back-to-back-to-back for history before ending up fairly Eurocentric with talk about exploration and colonization. I found this pretty cool printable biomes map and we’re filling it in as we hit each geographic region, and the kids are also going to draw their own similar maps (because next school year we’re going to do way more map drawing and I need them to stop gaping at me in horror when I mention drawing maps).

Also, one of our pumpkins from last fall has finally gotten mushy, so we cut it open and now we’re watching it while it does its thing in this close plastic baggy.

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These are some of our science resources that go with what we’re doing this school year and will be doing next school year. I’ve been working to load the new shelves but I still haven’t managed to pull all of the science books out of general rotation. I’m mostly okay with that, because I’d rather the kids look at them than the books be tidy and together and on a shelf. Except that it would be nice to live in a world where those options don’t feel mutually exclusive.

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FOR MATH:

We use Khan Academy for most of our formal math instruction. The lesson videos are great, the practice sessions are quick and easy to feel good about, and the boys are able to manage their experience with very minimal interference by me. I’m able to log in (either on their accounts or on my own) to see what they’re doing, if they’re struggling, where they’ve managed to leave gaps, and how the lessons tie in together. If they’re having trouble, we rewatch videos and I work with them to see which steps or bits of concepts they’re missing.

Especially because the girls are still developing number sense and getting comfortable with basic arithmetic, they do a lot of work with manipulatives, shapes, blocks, matching, and puzzles during their math stations.

We also do some math journaling, defining concepts and making notes about lessons.

This week we had history material about the Mayan numeral system, so the boys filled in a cool chart about that and then did a worksheet. If we ever have an opportunity to directly link math to another subject, I take it.

AND FINALLY, LANGUAGE ARTS:

Language arts is the station that is the hardest for me to explain and the easiest for me to feel bad about. Right now, because we had hit a harsh patch of refusal to cooperate, we’re using language arts station to work on reading journals or do half-baked grammar lessons or work through handwriting workbooks or practice phonics or play with bananagram tiles or just whatever vaguely English-language based thing I decide to pile up. I’m using the other stations to get a lot of the boys’ reading and writing practice in and using THIS station to reinforce the basics and work on developing cursive and stuff like that.

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Right, well, 90 minutes and 1200 words later, there you have it. Partly. Sort of.

kids’ gallery wall

I’ve always wanted to be that person who is able to pull together gallery wall ideas, buy the frames, insert art into frames, put framed art on the wall in prearranged pattern, and enjoy.

It’s possible that from the way I listed all those steps, you’re already figuring that somewhere in this process I GET LOST. You would be correct. If I have an idea, I balk at the price of frames. I can’t shop at the thrift store without taking more Benadryl than I can take while I’m nursing a baby, and I don’t have the mental capacity to find what I want while I’m pregnant, so the past three years (and a couple of months) have been a flat bust in the find-frames-cheap department. Which is fine. Because I can’t leave the furniture in place for long enough to make a wall gallery work, anyway.

So. Failure. And that’s fine. Because it’s pushed me to be resourceful and to gracefully and with dignity be FINE (no, really) with alternatives that fit our season of life. It’s sort of like how I stopped buying lamps I like. Because. *sob* Children are too rough on lamps to have lamps you like that will hurt your heart if the lamps are broken.

Gallery wall.

Kids’ room gallery wall.

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I designed these signs to print on watercolor paper, and there’s a set up in the living room that I decorated. When I did them, nokids wanted to be involved. But later, they wanted to do the signs, too, confound it. So I printed these on normal printer paper (not even cardstock, which would have been smarter), and they sat in my bedroom for a few weeks.

Last night, the kids were being wild and I needed to know they weren’t hiding somewhere doing something destructive, so I pulled out the signs and my washi tape and some rubber stamps and ink. When I asked about other supplies, everyone expressed disdain for anything beyond stamps and ink. We stuck with those.

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And after the initial “Oh, not like that…” I just let them do it. I wanted the washi tape to match – the prints and the room. Theeeeeeeyyyyyy did not care, and this is what they picked.

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We added a painting Aiden did a few months ago and a couple of photo prints, and I was anxious.

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Then Quinn wandered into the bedroom and yelled, “It’s so good! Thank you!” and Aiden agreed that it was wonderful and Brennan was all, “Thank you! Thank you! I want to reach it my picture!” They all had to tell Jonathan what everything is (using rather a lot of pleasant adjectives).

I’m glad I helped them do this.

turning points

I bought an out-of-print book from a third-party seller on Amazon, like, totally on one of those whims they make movies about. You know what I mean – they’re fodder for documentaries and comedies alike. I am hoping this leads to epic win documentary level, instead of comedy or epic fail documentary.

We’re making plans for some serious gardening this year. I’m making plans for some serious produce-related projects. These projects may be pushed into next year, not gonna pretend like I’m aiming for total annihilation of my stuff-to-try wish list THIS YEAR. But I do want to begin preparing – building knowledge and examining space and thinking about time necessary. And I want to plant food and flowers and make the space around our home as enjoyable as it can be.

almost alone on Valentine’s Day

As I write, it’s Valentine’s Day. It’s almost normal bedtime. I’ve been cleaning up the pile of stuff to clean up later… I decided it might as well be later. Annie is asleep on the couch (she’s got a pillow tucked next to her to keep her from rolling off!) and Jonathan is at my mother’s house with the kids.

MomMom needed a break.

It seems pretty weird now that I’m writing about it, but it’s been really nice. We’re about 6 hours in. I’ve played with Annie, fed her, snuggled with her while she slept, read some in my Bible, made notes about some projects I keep stalling on (uuuggghhh), and started working my way through the piles (multiple) of that stuff that needs a home but doesn’t really have one and just keeps being in the way no matter where it is, then isn’t easy to get to when you need it. I’ve got Pride and Prejudice (Hi Colin Firth!!) playing in the living room and a fresh iTunes playlist in the bedroom.

Dirty dishes are piled up on the counters. I hope I don’t trip over that bag of I-don’t-know-what when I need to go feed Annie in the middle of the night. I keep thinking about friends who are in the hospital (or who got to go home today, yay babyZeph!), and friends who are going through some heavy, heavy stuff, and how loving people – deliberately loving people the way they need to be loved – is so difficult but so amazingly rewarding.

I’m all over the place. It doesn’t seem quite like my house with Jonathan AND the big kids gone. I think as much time as I spend with Annie, we still haven’t really gotten to know each other yet. Well. Part of that’s because she’s expanding as fast as she’s growing. All of the kids are. Every day brings with it the possibility of so much growth, so much change. The bigs are pretty good at communicating what they want, and I’ve got a fairly solid handle on what they need that they don’t know how to ask for. Annie doesn’t know what she needs or wants, yet. Except food, a fresh diaper, a scenery adjustment… She’s so sweet.

Quinn is finally really reading. Um. No. He’s finally catching on to that thing where I’m not a total lunatic about letter sounds matching letters in books and in environmental print. It was a HUGE wall to break through, but we’ve done it. He’s done it. All I did was keep ambushing him with every tip I’ve ever heard. None of them worked. Or maybe, eventually, all of them worked.

He still says he can’t read.

But that’s because he’d rather play with his Legos.

Yesterday I let Aiden use a real knife to prep strawberries. He got tired of standing in front of the fridge with the door open biting into the strawberries… so he grabbed a table knife and eventually mashed one in half. I had no clue what he was doing – I was 10 feet away feeding Annie. Facing him. But apparently not with the program. He piped up “I DID IT!” and when I realized what he did, I decided to have a serious knife safety lesson. We especially practiced the part about not using knives without MomMom. AAANNNDDD the part about keeping your left-hand fingers out of the way. He wanted to cut something today and I told him he couldn’t, and he grabbed my chin and looked at me very seriously and said, slowly, “Yes, I can. I can be slow and steady and take it easy and don’t hurt me.” The answer was still a no. But I was glad he remembered some of the directions.

Earlier today, Brennan marched up to me, leaned against my legs, and ordered, “Wook UPT.” which I did, startled. She had to reach way up to wipe my face with a wet baby wipe (turns out she found them in the clean-it-up-later pile in my bedroom), then smirk-beamed at me, hopped down, and wandered away. I don’t know what happened to the wipe. But I wondered how many times a day I say, “Look up!” and then wipe her face. Doesn’t seem like often, from the pictures I take. ha!

I’ve been working on projects this week that I’m so excited to share, but I can’t yet. Teaser, for accountability. Since every time I mention wanting to write about something, I follow through. (Never. Almost never.)

Colin Firth just got shot down (his proposal was lousy, so it was well-deserved) and Annie said something. I don’t see her stretching, but if she made noise then it’s almost snack time. I guess I’ll go change discs and get ready to feed the pitiful creature.

I’ve set this to post Sunday because I know Jonathan will be home by then. Seems like solid internet safety.

HELP MEEE withaproject

I’m pulling together a BIG collage of pictures of our family, and I want to put Bible verses and quotes and phrases on it. I don’t really even know what to say I’m trying to do or what I want, but I’m wondering if any of you have anything you think should be included. I have three options for how to do this; what I do will depend on what all I can come up with in the next couple of weeks.

My deadline for finalizing the project is February 15th; the large prints are 40% until then. If you have an idea – or if you want me to help work on something like this for YOUR family – let me know!

The prints on sale start at 16×16 (and get bigger) and I would charge about $20 (for 16×16; and increase accordingly for print cost). That’s for metallic photo print, with direct-to-you shipping and a $5 processing fee; additional copies would be exact print cost.

dreaming big for 2014: goal setting introduction

Three years ago, I attended a Making Things Happen intensive and it changed my life. At first the change wasn’t radical. And I’m almost embarrassed to be all like, “IT CHANGED MY LIFE!” because I haven’t experienced the KIND of life change that I thought would result. But that’s okay. My life changes have been better for my heart and my soul than the changes I thought I wanted when I signed up.

One of the changes I’ve experienced is that I’m determined to dream and to chase my dreams. My dreams and my hopes CAN be totally out of my control, and God CAN infuse me with what I need to make the ten, hundred, or million tinybaby-but-ACTIONABLE steps. I CAN make good things happen – in my heart, in my head, in my house, for my husband and my kids, for my family and friends, for our community, for the world.

God created me for a purpose,
and He will equip me
with what He wants me to have
to do what He wants me to do.

I believe that God will honor and bless my dreams and hopes, because I am working so hard to be sure that my dreams and my hopes honor Him. Some of them are pretty obvious and the goal-setting portion involves cultivating good habits and cutting out things that just don’t help anybody. But even implementing good habits requires a good plan!

My trouble comes in when I start trying to plan. I get overwhelmed pretty easily when I add projects to our normal day – unless I have a plan. But plans… until I learned how to break down tasks into actionable steps (tiny little pieces that can be accomplished within about 2 minutes), I would very quickly get bogged down, and my plans would fall apart, and so would I. (I still do, unless I break things down.) I also have trouble with starting projects I’m not really invested in – I’ll think something sounds good, and I’ll dive in, and I’ll be part of the way through the process and wonder why I’m even doing this thing.

Last year, I went through a goal-setting series that Lara Casey (who started MTH) posted on her blog. It truly helped me be honest about what I want and why I want it. This year, she’s doing the same thing, and updating the process as she goes through it herself – so it stays relevant. I’m doing Step One today. It’s the same as something I’ve already done for my set of PowerSheets, but I’m doing it again today anyway. Why? Because every time I wrap my brain around what works versus what doesn’t work, or what excites and encourages versus what’s toxic, or what I’m afraid of and what’s the worst that could happen, I COME AWAY KNOWING MORE ABOUT MYSELF. It gets easier to say “YES!” to God-honoring, purpose-fulfilling things that help me serve God and love other people.

As I started trying to blog my responses to Step One, I realized that it might be useful to post THIS, and not want to explain again with each post. In addition to the goal-setting step posts, I think I’ll do a 2013 recap based on the PowerSheets I’ve used this year, and another one that outlines some of the goals I end up with for my 2014 PowerSheets.

HOORAY!!

a few things

1. We have been harness-free for a week. I’ve been meaning to create a blog post all week, but we’ve had data issues with our phones and I’ve had issues handling the computer. It’s been a wild week. But we’ve been able to change bebe diapers about 4 times faster than before, and AnnieMer is looking about twice as long as she did. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

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2 and 3. These boys. They had footy-pajamas-and-wild-hats day. And Aiden was Luigi, but he was shrinkeded, and it’ll be okay because he’ll get taller someday. This picture is of a hat trade. It was a little bit violent. They lurved every minute of it.

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4. This girl. I let her “floss her teeth” (tried to keep her from swallowing floss) while I braided her hair. She left the braids in for HOURS. It was definitely a record for us. She grew up the past couple of weeks. And she is magical.

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5. You can see a note I posted on Instagram at this link – I’ve got a chance to order better notebooks for the writenow prayer journaling kits at TendingBabylon, without having to up the kit price by $10. But it’s just good for couple of days, so I need an $8 deposit by Monday, December 2, 2012 at 10pm. Aaaannnddd I need to get orders for 10 of them. (It was 20 by Saturday, until I read the email better. I’ve got an abscessed tooth and I’m a crazy person.)

monkeys, wrenches, and gifts

1) I started, in August, making plans to create prototypes of a product line that I’m really excited about that would go along with TendingBabylon and a bigger thing. The goal was to plan, plan, plan, and then use Kickstarter to raise funds to build the prototype kits and ship them to testers in March or April. As I’ve been working the past few weeks, and as we’ve made some choices and goals as a family, it’s become increasingly obvious that the plan is not going forward as intended. AMAZINGLY, I’m not disappointed, I don’t feel like a failure, and I believe I’ll get around to finishing this eventually.

2) I’m excited because this weirdness means that I can kick some of the planning to the curb and get started in time for the new year. It also means I could have product available for Christmas.

3)

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