The Misguided Middle

Sam is our middle child. He’s 8. He’s wonderful. He’s a bit of a shit…

Truth be told he always has been. I can say this because I love him. He came into this world backwards and screaming. He screamed for months. He wouldn’t let anyone else hold him. Once he could move he followed me everywhere and he screamed if I went out of eye line.

Sam pulled my hair. Sam hit me. Sam bit me. Sam hit and bit his sister. He ate all of the time. He was a bit of a shit…

As he grew, it started to become clear that Sam did not get language. He could not understand us and he certainly couldn’t express himself. Super long story short, Sam had sensory issues that interfered with language acquisition. We worked with our local ISD and did a ton of work at home, and eventually he started communicating, but to this day, Sam is not GOOD at expressing himself.

We’ve been working super hard on behavior. We’ve tried all the things. But Sam still hits people when he gets mad or upset or hurt and this happens on the daily. We talk about how we can’t control what other people do, just how we respond to it. He makes lists of other things he can do when he’s upset (count to 10, punch a pillow, walk away and do something else, etc) and he posts them on his wall. But I still worry, that Sam is a bully.

Last week, trying to be funny, he did something so upsetting and disappointing. Renna loves to draw and she even enters contests with her favorite YouTuber Draw with Jazza. The work she’s most proud of, was an updated girl with the pearl earring drawing in her sketch book. She worked so hard on it. Sam “added on” to EVERY page in her sketch book one day…including that one.

Elliott can’t write anything but his name, Sam…get a better alibi…

We had the big talk about how hurtful that was and how disappointed I was. How he had to make amends and he owed Renna something. He also had to apologize both in person and in writing and used his own money to buy her a new book.

Truth be told, Sam is my most helpful kid. When he’s showered in love and attention he’s amazing. He unloads the dishwasher, does laundry, helps with the animals, helps with outside stuff, pulls weeds, cooks breakfast, all the things when I ask. If I can hit him with a preemptive strike to keep him busy and entertained and working, he is a joy of a child. But being in the middle in a family with 4 kids is hard.

He’s not the oldest. He doesn’t have that extra responsibility and the opportunity often to be “in charge”. He’s not the baby and he got a double hit on that one with twin younger siblings. We do our best but undivided attention is sometimes hard to come by.

He’s stuck in the misguided, misunderstood middle. And sometimes that means he’s a bit of a shit… but we’re working on it. And we love his naughty little face off. And maybe someday, with enough guidance, he’ll be able to express himself without violence and vandalism ūüėČ

8 Tiny Eyes

My kids are growing.¬† They are growing too fast and it’s NOT ok with me.¬† I mean, I want them to grow up to be strong, happy, successful people some day, I just wish it would take longer.¬† As they grow, some things have become so much easier.¬† No more diapers, no bottles, no incessant crying for no reason, no giant diaper bags that can hold a weekend trip for two to some fancy B&B in wine country but is instead full of burp cloths that smell like sour milk and 47 pounds of baby wipes.¬† All of that is done.¬† And I can leave them unattended for a short time and they are usually all alive and not bleeding when I come back…usually.

But as they grow, the problems and the situations grow with them.¬† The questions, the peer pressure, and the desire to be independent.¬† I think I’m what you would call a free range mom.¬† ¬†But my husband is not a free range dad.¬† He will openly admit his freedom leash for the kids is very short.¬† Luckily for them, it’s usually me here ūüėȬ† I am not, however, ready to hand them over to social media.

My nearly 10 year old has a phone.¬† I know some people think that’s crazy, but it’s a tracfone and we had a legitimate emergency where she had to be in charge for a short time while the neighbor was on her way home and I realized that our lack of landlines made this interesting nowadays.¬† So she got a phone.¬† It was supposed to be for emergencies.¬† But she started using it to google things when we had a question we couldn’t answer without help.¬† Good use of a phone.¬† Finding pertinent info.¬† Then she used it to play music to dance too.¬† Perfectly fine.¬† She watched her favorite Artist/Vlogger on Youtube.¬† Fine.¬† She wanted games her friends play, but after much research I decided she couldn’t have those.¬† They were too open.¬† Too public.¬† She also loves to take beautiful pictures and she asked for an Instagram account.¬† ¬†“…hmm…well…”¬† I am pretty familiar with the workings of Instagram and the privacy and security.¬† We had a “talk” about social media safety and I locked her account down like Fort Knox and then I added the friends she was allowed to have.¬† She had to ask me to add or follow anyone else.

She found some old friends from her first school.¬† Ok.¬† I guess.¬† Which ones?¬† I checked her account every single day.¬† Then I started checking into her friends accounts from her phone and I was shocked.¬† Little girls posting photos they shouldn’t.¬† Using words they shouldn’t.¬† Talking about topics they shouldn’t.¬† And then it happened.¬† My kid posted something mean to someone else…It was a celebrity, not like a friend they’re picking on, but still NOT OK.¬† I talked to her.¬† I asked her to explain.¬† I yelled I’m sure.¬† I made her write a paper about responsible social media use and then I disabled her account and deleted her app.¬† I also took her phone for 7 days.¬† I do think she gets it, but she’s not getting Instagram back any time soon.

She wanted to be on the phone…like she was an addict in withdrawal and asked daily for it back.¬† That’s when it dawned on me, that that’s the culture and the generation we are raising.¬† We are raising kids who think it’s normal to spend inordinate amounts of time on the phone.¬† Looking at it.¬† Reading things.¬† Socializing.¬† Working.¬† Watching videos.¬† Heck even banking and ordering dinner.¬† On the phone.¬† Never more than 10 feet away.¬† Mine is 12 inches to my right as I type this.¬† I can see it in case it lights up.¬† In case someone calls (rare) or texts, or sends a Facebook message.¬† I can pick it up any time and get dopamine hits from the little hearts on Instagram and the Like button on Facebook.¬† When someone likes your photo or comment your brain releases dopamine and makes you happy.¬† Your serotonin levels rise.¬† But it’s a short burst and you need more.

8 tiny eyes are watching us.¬† Watching us hold on to our phones too much.¬† Guilty as charged.¬† It must be wonderful if we’re doing it right?¬† So they want to do it too.¬† They want the dopamine hit.¬† They want the acceptance of their peers.¬† And the pressure to fit in comes in to play.¬† 8 tiny eyes blinded by blue light.

I’m working on my addiction.¬† I’m working on it so 8 tiny eyes want to play outside, maintain their creativity and their zest for reading and learning.¬† I want them to get dirty and scrape their knees.¬† I want them to build forts and not just on Minecraft.¬† Real ones.¬† With like sticks…¬† 8 tiny hands.¬† Covered in mud.36322606_10105388121782775_2744062426549846016_n

Affiliated – Story Cubes

We are affiliated.¬† We are affiliated with Amazon.¬† Why?¬† Because life is busy and stores are hard.¬† So we shop Amazon…a LOT.¬† It’s easy and I don’t forget stuff because it’s like *click*click* done.¬† Boom.¬† It’s in the mail in 2 days.¬† We buy our fair share of Amazon items for the farm and for school, so we joined the affiliate program.¬† ¬†Don’t worry, we won’t be pushing random things.¬† But when we do find something we love, we will share our link with you and you can choose to use that link to purchase that item too and then we get a kickback from Amazon to keep things going around here.

A product we really, really want to recommend to you is Rory’s Story Cubes.¬† The kids played Story Cubes with some of their friends and Elliott asked for it every.single.day since that day.¬† So I popped on Amazon and I ordered them.¬† They’re fun.¬† They’re educational.¬† And they make even tentative children bold story tellers.¬† We made this quick little video to show them to you.

Why I like Story Cubes:

  1. ¬†Kids and Adults can play Story Cubes together.¬† The little one’s just make less complicated stories.
  2. I can challenge the kids to expand on their story.
  3. It is creative “writing”/thinking disguised as pure fun.
  4. It can be used as a writing prompt to get kids going on a detailed story.
  5. Everyone likes the sound of rolling dice right?
  6. There are multiple packs to keep the fun fresh.

 

If this isn’t school work, presentation, improvisation, and quick brain training I do not know what is.¬† Barnes & Boutiques seal of approval.¬† Fine scholastic Fun.¬† 2 Thumbs Up.

So if you want to try Story Cubes for yourself, you can grab them HERE.  This set contains 3 full sets of cubes: The original, Voyages, and Actions.   One set is fun, but we get the best stories when the kids add a few dice from each set and roll those.  It gives them verbiage to play with and additional ideas.

But sometimes that is out of budget.¬† So if you’re going to get just one, I recommend the classic set in the Orange box HERE.

 

If that is still out of budget, here’s a great DIY idea:¬† Make them!¬† Find some cube shaped boxes of any size.¬† We made these animal and color dice many moons ago with 6x6x6 boxes I had from shipping hats and headbands.¬† I would print some pictures from google images and decoupage them on the side of the box (or use packing tape because decoupage sounds like a LOT of work…) and get to playing!¬† It might be fun to do together anyway!¬† You can learn more about playing with our animal or color dice on our Sensory Play website ūüôā

 

 

So go play!¬† Have fun.¬† Learn things.¬† Improvise ūüôā¬† Once Upon a time…

 

Art for Art’s sake

Once upon a time, when I started this blog, I promised how to write up’s of some kind.¬† I’ve never made one…I can’t really tell you how we gardened super successfully, nature did all of the work and we got lucky.¬† I cannot tell you how we care for our goats…we sort of just do.¬† But I can tell you about parts of our homeschool day and projects we do.¬† Today’s project was fluid painting.

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Like a week ago, on FaceBook, I was scrolling around and saw a painting that caught my eye.¬† It was different bands of color with these cool cells.¬† I was obsessed and took to youtube to figure it out.¬† I searched “cell paintings” and found myself in a sea of Fluid Painting videos.¬† The next day I watched a few with the kids and they were officially obsessed too.¬† It was sworn, at that moment, that we would get super messy with some paint and we would create the mesmerizing fluid paintings.

The Problem – none of the videos were super specific about the process and how they mixed and what they mixed and how much.¬† So we got to make it up as we go.¬† I am sure there are 8 kajillion methods for this medium, but the following is what we did.¬† I did hear the words “silicone‚ÄĚ (which we didn’t use) and “Floetrol” (which we did use) used a lot.

On Saturday, between a wedding and a reception, Lewis and I had some time to kill, so of course we went to Meijer.¬† Because what else do people in a black suit and floor length sparkly dress do with their child-less free time?¬† I wandered into the craft aisle on accident and found a decent price on canvases, so I started to load up Lewis’s arms.¬† And right across from there were some acrylic paints.¬† So the mission to make this happen began.¬† I acquired an excessive amount of acrylic paint quickly because I’m me and I like choices.

Problem 2 – What the heck is Floetrol?¬† I drew some conclusions that it was something that made the paint “more” and helped me pour it.¬† That’s all I’ve got.¬† My deductive reasoning is pretty hardcore ūüėȬ† Did I google it?¬† No.¬† I loaded up all of my kids for a day of small business shopping in Romeo MI.¬† We grabbed lunch at Romeo Family Restaurant.¬† Then we headed over to Creative Corner Art Supply store.¬† The man working there is SUPER kind and friendly and helpful…but he had no Floetrol.¬† He seemed to know what it was though, and it was in fact some kind of pouring medium.¬† He gave my kids each a bottle of his discounted acrylic paints for free (because cute small town) and I bought them each one more color from their adorable shop and a homemade paper making kit…apparently we are going to make homemade paper…to be continued.¬† We left, sad we were headed to a chain craft store, but to make ourselves feel better we stopped at Juliet Chocolates and got some candy.¬† All better.

We made our way to the big craft store…they had ONE kind of pouring medium and it was $16 for a bottle smaller than the perfume I keep in my purse.¬† No thank you craft store.¬† I FINALLY turned to google.¬† You know where I found this mythical Floetrol???¬† Frickin HOME DEPOT…no joke.¬† $7 for a quart. Luckily it was right next door.¬† Floetrol in hand we headed home to finally make some art.¬† So skip the middle man and head straight to the house paint section at your Home Depot.

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Here’s what you need:

  1.  Excited Participants (4 children, 1 mom, and 1 nosy dog)
  2. Some sort of Acrylic paints
  3. Craft Sticks or something for mixing
  4. Mythical red solo cups…not just for beer pong and flip cup.¬† Or Dixie Cups or whatever little mixing cups make your heart happy.
  5. Highly recommend disposable gloves.
  6. DROP CLOTH.¬† Let me say that again.¬† GIANT DROP CLOTH!¬† You’re going to make a mess.¬† A big one.¬† I went with the disposable plastic sheet for house painting and covered my kitchen floor.
  7. We also used an old cookie sheet to catch the biggest part of our mess.¬† Worked well.¬† It now looks super awesome and we’re letting it dry out too so we can use it again next time.¬† OH THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME!
  8. Drinking straws if desired.
  9. Pushpins to put in the back corners of your canvas so that it can sit up off of whatever you leave it on to dry and have room to drain.

We started with what’s called a “dirty pour”.¬† It’s not alcoholic or inappropriate despite the fun name.¬† Basically, we mixed some paint, here’s my specific measurements:¬† pour in enough acrylic paint to just barely line the bottom of the cup.¬† Add in a few drops of water, and then add in Floetrol. I would say my final mix was about an inch in the cup.¬† I didn’t want to waste too much paint but wanted enough for everyone to have fun and have lots of colors to play with.¬† The “dirty pour” means we started with an empty cup and poured in some white.¬† Then some ocean teal.¬† Then some more white.¬† Then some black.¬† etc. etc.¬† in layers.¬† We now had one cup of paint, neither shaken nor stirred.¬† We put the canvas on top of it, then flipped it over quickly and pulled up the cup!¬† We had a puddle of paint colors in the middle.¬† We then tipped the canvas slowly back and forth and all around until the paint slowly started migrating all over the canvas and swirling it’s colors on it’s own.¬† BE READY FOR THE MASSIVE RUN OFF.¬† We ended up with this as our test piece:

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We were excited about it but wanted to try other things from the 7 billion tutorials we saw too.  So Renna and Sam went first and did a more controlled pour of 3 or 4 colors.  They poured little dots of white and then in the center of each dot, they poured another color, and in the center of that another and so on.  They tipped theirs too and it came out like this:

Next up was the twins, who are 4…and I was scared for the safety of the pergo floors and the clothing, but I let that go, because paint is fun.¬† They wanted to do a controlled pour too just because they wanted to pour paint more times…¬† After we tipped theirs, we grabbed a drinking straw, and they pointed it at the canvas and blew through the straw to let the under layers of paint come up and the results were pretty cool.

The air going into the paint made for some cool designs and those “cells” we were talking about.¬† In a lot of the tutorials they used WD40 or silicone drops in their paint mix to force up more cells.¬† We didn’t do that, but might try it in the future.¬† We were keeping it simple.

When the kids were done we had a massive amount of paint left and I was itching to do my own, so I did.¬† Having watched them go, I learned somethings.¬† I flooded the canvas of my painting with just two colors, not really mixed together but poured side by side and allowed to mingle in the middle.¬† I let it flood the whole thing.¬† Then I poured one pink circle in two corners and added a yellow circle inside of that.¬† I used Elliott and Lorelei’s straw trick to have a little more control and manipulate my puddles where I wanted them to go and creating a floral shape.¬† I didn’t tip after I added the pink or yellow. Just moved it around with the straw and let the colors mix and pull up background colors on their own.¬† I’m super happy with how it turned out.

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So we did 6 paintings.¬† Made a huge mess!¬† And a had a LOT of fun.¬† Renna discovered she wants to be a youtuber and tried to make her siblings play along…¬† It went Ok…and maybe with some creative editing we will start a Barnes & Boutiques YouTube Channel someday.¬† Our paintings are laid out on a broken down cardboard box on the kitchen table and with the amount of paint on them I estimate they will be dry in March 2019.¬† Ok…hopefully sooner…but you guys…it’s a LOT of paint.¬† They’re not even close at this point and it’s been 6 hours.¬† So heads up there.

Homeschooling has been such an adventure!¬† People ask me all the time “Well what about Art and music and things like that?”¬† Ummm…this is NOT where we are lacking at all.¬† History turns into art.¬† Science, English, HECK!¬† Even math sometimes.¬† We love projects and we like to get MESSY.¬† Bring on the spilling paint and glitter and glue and melting wax and whatever else ya got.¬† We are ALL IN.

So go buy some canvases and make a new masterpiece!¬† It’s fun and easy and everyone feels like an accomplished artist when it’s done.

Happy Creating!

-Mary

Why I Chose Home Schooling

At 6:45 the alarm woke us up with it’s horrible bark. ¬†With indignation I would get out of bed, smack it silly, and then head upstairs to wake up Renna and Sam, inevitably waking the twins as well. ¬†I tried to be nice about it, truly I did, but my patience is thin in the morning, and if I have to be up, they better jump up and MOVE. ¬†I yelled at them to get downstairs and brush their teeth. ¬†I yelled at them to get their clothes on. ¬†I yelled at them to get to the table and shove food in their faces while I frantically searched for school appropriate snacks and made lunches. ¬†I yelled at them to get their shoes. ¬†Why are shoes so difficult to find? ¬†Where did you take them off? ¬†Why can you only find one? ¬†Did you take each shoe off individually in separate rooms? ¬†They’re a set. ¬†You should really take them off together! ¬†WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? ¬†You’re going to be late! ¬†Where is your jacket? ¬†Why is it covered in mud? ¬†Get outside, the bus is coming!

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They would board the bus at 7:30. ¬†They got off the bus at 4:15. ¬†They were exhausted. ¬†I yelled at them to get their homework done. ¬†I yelled at them to get changed for their activities. ¬†When we got home, even more exhausted, I yelled at them to keep them moving and eat their dinner, shower, read, and go to bed. ¬†And we did this…every day. ¬†5 days a week. ¬†But this is what we knew. ¬†This is how it goes, right? ¬†There isn’t another option, right? There are a million things they HAVE TO get done in a day…right?

 

In September of last year, Elliott got sick. ¬†Like really sick. ¬†The doctors kept telling me it was just a tummy bug and there was nothing we could do. ¬† We just had to wait it out. ¬†We were sent home from doctors 3 times. ¬†And let me tell you, we don’t go to doctors unless I think there is something seriously wrong. ¬†I stuck to my mom gut (always trust your gut, you’re their mom for a reason) and finally got some testing done. ¬†My sweet baby, my 3 year old had Salmonella. ¬† But not just salmonella, untreated major salmonella and he was septic. ¬†His renal system was slowly shutting down. ¬†He went to Children’s Hospital of Michigan by ambulance from our 4th visit to a doctor, where he stayed in infectious disease isolation for 5 days. ¬†Hint 1, tomorrow is not promised.

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While Elliott was still in the hospital, I called my dear friend Kelly, to complain… ¬†I was whining about being there and being tired when she gave me a shock. ¬†She was undergoing testing because she had some major back pain and they found a mass. ¬†After Elliott was healed, I went down to visit Kelly in Toledo Hospital, where, on the day we visited, she was diagnosed with Stage IV Primary Mediastinal Lymphoma. ¬†She was 32 and one of my dearest friends. ¬†It was in her chest, her back, her arms, and her legs. Hint 2, you never know what tomorrow may bring.

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Three days after Kelly’s diagnosis, my friend Bob, a part of my history and my adolescence, passed away of a massive heart attack at 41. ¬†He laid down on the couch to take a nap because he didn’t feel quite right and he never got up. ¬†Hint 3, LIFE IS SHORT!

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The next week, I pulled my kids out of school.  This might sound crazy, but we had debated it before and just never would have pulled the trigger.  This series of unfortunate events, spoke to me in such a way that I could not ignore it.  Life is short, you will never know what tomorrow brings, and it is not promised.  So we made a choice.

I cannot speak for Lewis, but I don’t have anything against the public schools. ¬†I think teachers are remarkable people who dedicate their lives to educating children and helping build the future. ¬†I was a public school kid, and I happen to think I’m pretty darn smart, well-rounded, and I have a love of learning. ¬†I had amazing teachers who were able to reach me and helped me find myself. ¬†But this isn’t about the school. ¬†It was about us. ¬†It was about FREEDOM.

I was tired of yelling. ¬†I was tired of my children being gone 9 hours a day, and fighting their exhaustion when they were here. ¬†I was tired of this grind, this mold we stick them into and expect them ALL to fit. ¬†As a mom of 4, I can assure you that all children are created uniquely and none of them fit a one size mold. ¬†I wanted the freedom to explore together. ¬†I wanted the freedom to teach them life skills, and teach them what it meant to serve others and volunteer. ¬†I wanted the freedom to stay up until midnight to learn about the stars, sleep late, and do math in their pajamas, because let’s be real, when I have to do math, I want PJ’s on and a comfy chair to do it. ¬†I wanted to take them to museums, and adventure. ¬†I wanted them to touch the earth and not just read about it. ¬†When they did read, I wanted them to choose books and subjects that interested them and inspired them to learn something new. ¬†I wanted them to make choices.

Here we are, 9 months later, and I think some people might call what we are doing “unschooling”. ¬†I prefer to think of us as some sort of hybrid just finding our way. ¬†We have workbooks and curricula, but we don’t use them all that much. ¬†We do go on adventures, but we also learn life skills, and we work a lot on just discovering what we do and do not like to do. ¬†For instance, I have discovered that I am not a huge fan of geocaching…the mud in the swampy woods ate one of my favorite boots and it never recovered….I’m not sure I’m built for the woods… ¬†But I learned I love science. ¬†And my kids have seen through my eyes and excitement that learning is fun. ¬†Baking is math. ¬†Animals teach you responsibility and biology. ¬†Planting a garden can teach you about the earth, photosynthesis, the life cycle, and patience. ¬†Trips to the library ignite a love for reading and reading opens the door to any education you wish. ¬†Being able to touch things and break them apart and see how and why they work has done more for them this year, than any amount of table work they could have done, in my opinion. ¬†All this said, I do recognize a need in the coming months for a little more structure. ¬†It’s possible we gave ourselves a little too much freedom ūüôā ¬†But all in all, we yell a whole lot less. ¬†We aren’t nearly as exhausted. ¬†And we’ve given ourselves the gift of time in a life where tomorrow is not promised, you cannot tell what it holds, and LIFE IS SHORT.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes which I submit to you as my home schooling mission statement:  There are but two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.  One of these is roots, the other, wings.

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-Mary