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Smart Parenting

Practical advice about raising children

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1/27/2015

Rapidly growing in popularity, homeschooling is coming to be seen as a more holistic approach to education for many reasons.  In addition, homeschooling is a perfect fit for families unafraid to question the “experts” and take charge of their own well-being and their future.

Homeschooling
Photo by Fotolia

Benefits of Homeschooling

Studies show that children learn better in an atmosphere where they feel comfortable and when they have a teacher with whom they have a personal relationship.  Clearly, learning at home from a loving parent fits the bill. Every child learns at an individual pace, and homeschoolers can slow down or speed up as needed, avoiding both confusion and boredom.  Just as there is no magic age for learning to roll over, stand up, or walk, there is no magic age to learn to read, add or multiply; however, conventional schools usually demand children learn these things at the same age or assign labels to the children that may negatively affect their self-esteem for life.  But children who are forced to learn to read before they are ready often struggle with reading for years and may never really learn to enjoy reading, while children who learn at an older age usually catch up to the reading level of their peers within a few months.  Since reading promotes abstract thinking, imagination, improved writing and communications skills, expanded vocabulary, and learning about an endless array of topics, a child who loves to read has a powerful advantage.

Individual instruction takes a fraction of the time that classroom education does, leaving children time for free play, a much-neglected, but necessary element in healthy childhood development, as children learn more from activities they initiate.  Homeschooled children also have more time for crafts, hobbies, chores, and community activities, all of which build confidence, impart new skills, and prepares them for living in and contributing to the real world as adults.  Gardening, carpentry, baking, apprenticeships, political campaigning, musical or artistic development, and volunteering at their church or other local charity, and even starting their own business are among the many types of activities that homeschoolers are participating in every day.  Obviously, experiences of this nature will tend to form mature, responsible, and enthusiastic youngsters and citizens who are used to contributing to their communities.

Homeschoolers can individualize lessons according to the interests and needs of each child, since children learn better if they are interested in the subject or if they can see how it relates to real life.  Further, if a book or program is not working well for a child, homeschoolers have the option of choosing another book or program better-suited to the child’s learning style or interests—something a teacher of twenty or thirty children in a traditional classroom simply can’t do!

Most importantly, homeschooling teaches families not to blindly trust the experts but to take charge of their own lives, not only in education but in other areas, too.  Once a family has made the commitment to educate their children at home, they become increasingly open to beginning other activities at home.  More and more homeschoolers are starting to grow their own food, raise chickens or bees, make their own soaps or candles, bake from scratch, and use herbs, essential oils and other natural remedies for minor pains and illnesses.  Sometimes homeschoolers start doing these kinds of activities for educational purposes, for example, an interest in gardening or candlemaking might begin as hands-on science class. Other times the tight budget necessitated by having only one parent working outside the home might lead a family to learn to make their own toothpastes, shampoos, or detergents.  However, the experience of homeschooling, which involves the daily experience of how holistic learning surpasses conventional, one-size-fits-all classroom education, easily leads a family to consider what other endeavors they could successfully take on.  In particular, taking charge of one’s health goes well with homeschooling because both foster an individualized, holistic approach, and, of course, learning how to help the body heal itself is educational for the whole family!

Unfortunately homeschooling intimidates many families who imagine it requires a lot of money, academic prowess, or superior organizational skills.  Don’t worry.  In 2009, a study by the National Home Education Research Institute found that homeschoolers consistently outperform conventionally schooled students on standardized tests, regardless of the level of their parents’ education or their income bracket or the style of homeschooling.

Homeschooling Styles

Those interested in homeschooling can investigate different homeschooling styles to find one with which they feel comfortable. The options below are a few of the most popular styles, but there are many more.

Charlotte Mason style homeschooling. This involves using living books that engage the child’s interest, rather than textbooks, as well as limiting paperwork to the mornings and substituting nature walks, complete with nature notebooks for sketches and notes, in the afternoons.

Unschooling. Also called child-led education, where children initiate their own learning experiences, an approach first made famous by educator John Holt, who believed in children’s ability to learn what they need to learn; just as a child learns to walk and talk with the help, but without formal teaching, by the parents, so also children can teach themselves to read, write and do math with minimal help.

Relaxed homeschooling. In this style, parents provide parameters but allow children a certain amount of choice regarding books, educational games and activities and try to individualize lessons according to each child’s interests and needs.

Unit studies. The homeschooling family chooses one particular topic and applies it to all subjects; for example, a child interested in baseball could study how baseball affected history and vice versa, do math using baseball statistics, read and analyze literature about baseball, and study the science of different types of pitches, etc.

In reality, homeschooling is just an extension of parenthood, not the adoption of the new role as teacher.  You don’t need a lot of expensive textbooks, elaborate science kits, academic brilliance, advanced degrees, or a perfectly organized house.  All you need is determination and love.


Agnes PennyAgnes M. Penny homeschools her nine children in Whitehall, PA.  Her newest book, Your School of Love: A Spiritual Companion for Homeschooling Mothers, is available from TAN Books, as are her other two books, Your Labor of Love for expectant mothers and Your Vocation of Love for all mothers.



12/19/2014

When the temperatures drop, getting kids outside and connected to the natural world can be a hard sell. But making up fun activities and getting creative helps keep kids in touch with the natural world all year.

Outdoor Winter Activities

1. Make Ice Sculptures

Many children are more excited to wander around in the cold if there is a specific project to complete. Encourage children to gather natural materials to put inside of an ice sculpture. Collect leaves, pine cones, acorns, twigs, pine needles and other materials and then place them inside a plastic container or ice cube tray with a string hanging out. Fill the container with water and put it outside or in the freezer. Once frozen, use the string to hang up the sculpture. On warmer days, children enjoy watching their projects melt.

2. Read Books About the Natural World

Many children enjoy books about nature that are incorporated into stories or poetically presented. Some of our favorites are The Snowflake by Neil Waldman, Wild Fox by Cherie Mason and Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta.

3. Look Around for Signs of Animals

The animal world changes dramatically once winter hits. Walk around outside looking for signs from animals, such as footprints, opened nuts or animal homes. Reading a book beforehand to teach children what to look for may be helpful. Good children's titles include Animals in Winter by Henrietta Bancroft and What do Animals do in Winter by Melvin and Gilda Berger, or even Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich for adults.

4. Feed the Birds

Winter can be a difficult time for birds, as days get shorter and food sources are covered in snow. There are lots of fun kids' projects for feeding our feathered friends, including orange feeders and suet balls with seeds (or a vegetarian version).

5. Invent Winter Games

My children enjoy playing "ice hockey" with sticks, stones,and found objects on a patch of ice. Constructing winter fairy homes with icicles, mini snow forts, rocks and bright berries can engross children for a long time. When it is really cold, bring found natural objects inside to create a fairy craft.


Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development.



8/27/2014

Getting kids outdoors can sometimes prove challenging. Kathryn Bluher emphasized in her Seattle Children’s article, “8 Activities to Get Kids Outdoors in Cold Weather,” nearly half of American preschoolers haven’t experienced parent-supervised outdoor play each day. This data was obtained from a study conducted by Pooja Tandon, a pediatritician and childhood-health researcher, which also found that 15 percent of mothers and 30 of percent fathers in the U.S. don’t take their children outside to walk or play even a few times per week.

Tandon also stated that outdoor activities provide children the physical and motor development they need. Additionally, these activities improve kids’ vitamin D levels and mental health.

Getting Kids Outdoors

How do you get your kids to appreciate nature? How do you convince them that outdoor play can be fun and enjoyable while ensuring their safety? Help your kids live a healthier life while keeping them happy. Entice them with these innovative outdoor activities for kids—they won’t be able to resist!

1. Cramp Together like "Sardines"

How To Play Sardines
Photo courtesy Andrea Macken, via Pinterest

Tweak the classic hide-and-seek by playing a game called sardines. Here’s how to play sardines: In this game, only one child hides, while the other kids wait for 25 minutes before searching for the hider. As each searcher finds the hider, he crawls quietly to the hider’s hiding place. Searchers need to be careful not to let other searchers find their hiding spot. The searchers and the hider eventually cramp together in the tiny hiding space, like “sardines.” At some point in time, the players won’t be able to contain their giggles, while they crowd a restricted space for hiding. This is what makes the game fun for your children!

Ensure kids safety by playing the game in a wide outdoor space, like a local park or your backyard. A wide space will give your kids more place to move about, and play the hide-and-seek counterpart. Plus, playing this game will let your kids appreciate the creative purpose of nature. But don’t forget to supervise your kids while playing to enhance their security outdoors.

2. Collect Rain in an Ice Cream Tub

Collect Rain
Photo courtesy Lalita Krish, via Pinterest

According to PlaygroundEquipment.com, kids who play both cautiously and creatively are those that have clean and lasting fun. Don’t hesitate to take play ideas for kids to the next level. Play with your children in the rain outside. Have fun gathering rain in an empty ice cream tub.

Expand your kids’ storehouse of knowledge. Weigh the tub with them after it has collected rain in your backyard for an hour. The additional knowledge kids will gain from this activity will help them complete schoolwork better or finish a life task in general.

3. Demolish a Big Leaf Pile

Train your little ones to achieve stronger body stamina. Guide them to rake up a big leaf pile, then let them demolish it afterward. Raking leaves will give kids the physical exercise their body needs. Heavy stuff may overwhelm your little ones, so be sure to assist your kids in using the rake to avoid injuries and accidents. Allow children to get carried away with their imagination. Let them ingeniously reconstruct the leaf pile into something their hearts desire.

4. Tummy Time Activities

Tummy Time Activities
Photo courtesy Debbie Fischer, via Pinterest

Secure your children’s playground safety by letting them observe their outdoor surroundings closely. Take a break from playing in seesaws and swings with your kids. Lie down on the grass with them on your tummies. You may observe the playground environment, review safety play measures together, or use your imagination and come up with stories while lying down comfortably.

Make sure to keep your playground safe by letting your young ones demonstrate their learning gained from Tummy Time moments before they resume playing in your backyard.

5. Build Your Own Carnival

Build Your Own Carnival
Photo courtesy Cynthia Ramirez, via Pinterest

A backyard carnival compliments your kids’ fun outdoor activities. Use cardboard, poster board, construction paper and bean bags to build your own carnival. Construct a ticket booth, balloon dart board and photo booth backdrop in your playground. Make believe you’re in a miniature carnival. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it look realistic.

6. Tracking Animals Helps Kids Learn to Pay Attention

Tracking Animals
Photo courtesy Suchil Coffman-Guerra, via Pinterest

Think about helpful activities to get your kids to play outside. Sharpen your children’s attention and memory by going on an outdoor tracking activity. Wild animals, such as cottontail rabbits, white-tailed deer, red fox and fox squirrel, may be hard to spot, but the footprint marks they leave in the mud can guide you to the direction they pass through. Ask your children informational questions afterward, such as what was the animal doing? Why did it stop at a particular area? And where has the animal gone now?

Exert additional efforts in supervising your children during the trip. Getting too close to wild animals poses enormous threats to your kids’ safety.

Explain the benefits of outdoor activities to your kids in detail. Let them experience extraordinary moments outdoors to help them become physically fit and active.


Aby LeagueAby League is a medical practitioner and an Elite Daily writer. She also writes about business and other topics of great interest. Follow her @abyleague and circle her on Google+.

 



5/22/2014

With summer vacation right around the corner, long, sun-filled days are fast-approaching. What better way to spend them than at the beach? Whether you live near the coast, or are planning a seaside family getaway, a trip to the beach with kids is a lot more fun when you’re prepared. Yes, sand toys and sunscreen are a must. And be sure to tote plenty of snacks and drinks too. But as a seasoned beach mama, take my word for it that having a couple of planned activities—beyond the basic wave-riding and sand sculpting—is a good idea. When your little ones get too sandy, too hot, or generally disagreeable for whatever reason, pull out one of these creative ideas to reset the mood!

Beach Fun

Beach Fun: Sea Life Touch Tanks

For many summers now, my girls have enjoyed weekly visits to a small strip of shore we call Shell Beach. We gather with friends and the kids spread out, spending the day shaping the powder fine sand, riding the Gulf waves, scaling snail-covered rocks, and climbing low-hanging sea grape trees. The one activity they all adore, however, is creating “touch tanks”—portable containers filled with sea water and found sea creatures. Armed with nets, shovels, buckets, and curiosity, the kids seek and discover all variety of sea life: crabs, non-stinging jellyfish, small fish, sea urchins, sea snails, coquinas, sand fleas, whelks, and more! Once captured, the critters are corralled into buckets and bowls where they can be touched, examined, and observed. The touch tanks are added to all-day long, and then the creatures are gently returned to their habitats, unharmed.

Touch Tanks

Try It!

• Bring along a few buckets and portable containers, and some nets and beach shovels, when you visit the shore.

• Help your kids to search the different natural habitats of your beach to discover the varying sea life they house. Look in the water, around rocks, along the shoreline, and in the sand. Take a walk and see what you can discover in different areas. (Consider visiting the beach at different times of the day to see what different critters can be found.)

• Gently place found critters into buckets or containers filled with water or sand, depending on the creature. Now is your chance to examine them up-close. If it’s safe, encourage kids to carefully touch and explore!

• If you like, bring along field guides to help you identify the species you collect.

• Keep adding, or cycling, finds to the touch tanks all day long. Remember to always return your critters to where they came from.

Beach Fun: Art, En Plein Air

Sometimes an entire day (or weekend, or week) of sun, sea, and sand can be overwhelming for kids.  I’ve found we can extend the length of our beach trips if I plan a quiet activity that can be done on a blanket, in the shade of a tree or beach umbrella. In comes beach art en plein air—a French expression which means “in the open air.” Typically used to describe painting outdoors, plein air art for us includes various types of mixed media, including crayons, markers, colored pencils, and tape/glue, as well as paint. No worries if the kids get messy—they can wash up in the ocean!

Beach Art

Try It!

• Pack a tote bag of art supplies. Include simple, portable materials such as sketchpads, watercolor paint trays, a few paintbrushes, markers, crayons, tape and glue, colored pencils, and a cup for water.

• Try landscape pictures: Suggest kids paint, or draw, the landscape as they see it. Have them first divide their paper into thirds with one-part sky, one-part water, and one-part shore (they don’t need to be equal parts). Next, encourage them to add details they observe, such as clouds, birds, boats, people, palm trees, rocks, and so on.

• Get creative: There are many creative ideas you can do for on-location art at the beach. Try making a leaf rubbing of a seaside plant or tree (place the leaf vein-side up under a sheet of paper, then rub over the paper with the side of a crayon and watch the image appear). Or try taping or gluing found objects (feathers, shells, seaweed, sand) onto paper to create a mixed media collage.

• Create sea-watercolor paintings: Bring along a squirt bottle and a couple of plastic straws (never leave these behind as they could harm wildlife). Fill your squirt bottle and a small container with sea water. Use the collected water when painting to create sea-watercolor paintings. Use the spray bottle to spritz paintings—watch how the colors bleed together and create new designs. Use the straws to pick up drops of sea water and drip them onto paper saturated with color. What happens if you sprinkle the pictures with sand? What happens when the paintings dry—does the salty water create any special effects?

Photos by Elizabeth Sniegocki

For more creative ideas to keep kids active and engaged in the natural world this summer, check out the 8-week, At-Home Summer Nature Camp eGuide at A Natural Nester. It’s packed with a summer-full of kid-friendly lessons, outdoor activities, indoor projects, arts & crafts, recipes, field trip ideas, book & media suggestions, and more.


Elizabeth SniegockiElizabeth Sniegocki is a writer, naturalist, suburban homesteader and mother in Sarasota, Florida. She writes on seasonal and sustainable living, wholesome cooking, community building, conscious parenting and more for various print and online publications. Elizabeth also offers self-paced eCourses and family eGuides to help others create a natural and mindful environment around them, and within. Learn more about her work at Natural Nester.



4/24/2014

Now that spring has sprung you may find yourself spending more and more time outdoors—and why not? If the weather feels wonderful and the fresh air feels amazing, stop feeling cooped up and go play outside with your kids. You can keep them busy outdoors with these fun and innovative crafts found on Pinterest. Be sure to follow us on Pinterest for even more inspiration.

5 Outdoor Crafts for Kids

Pasta Butterflies

Pasta Crafts: Butterfly Decorations

Pull out your garden containers and leftover bow tie pasta to create these adorable spring-themed decorations. Although this isn’t necessarily an activity that will take your kids outdoors, it certainly evokes spring and can be stored outside. Via How Does She.

Pin it!

Rainbow Bubble Snakes

Fun Messy Games: Rainbow Bubble Snakes

Be prepared to get messy with this fun outdoor activity. These Rainbow Bubble Snakes are easy to make and transform waste around the house into a toy for the kids. To keep things eco-friendly, use dish soap recommended by the Environmental Working Group and natural dyes such as turmeric powder (yellow), chopped beets (pink) or frozen blueberries (purple). Via Housing a Forest.

Pin it!

1 Ingredient Slime

Sensory Play: 1-Ingredient Slime

As gross as you may think it is, making slime for kids has its rewards. They can’t enough of this flubbery substance, which is—for some reason—irresistible. What’s great about this homemade batch is that it’s nontoxic, edible and borax-free, and only takes five minutes to make. Mix it up then go outdoors with your kid to throw it around and play with it. Via Blog Me Mom.

Pin it!

Citrus Cup Bird Feeder 

Bird Crafts for Kids: Citrus Cup Bird Feeder

Fill empty citrus rinds with bird seed and a little bit of peanut butter. Your kids will enjoy putting together this nifty little project, but even more they will love watching their feathered friends visit time and time again to feast from their creation. Via Mama.Papa.Bubba.

Pin it!

Backyard Teepee

Outdoor Oasis: Backyard Teepee

Whatever the reason may be, everything is more fun when done inside a hand-built teepee or fort. Make your kids’ dreams come true by building them an outdoor oasis—a backyard teepee. A basic teepee is not difficult to make, but it does require time and effort. What’s best about this project is that your kids can color the inside or outside of the teepee, truly making it their own creation. Via Ziggity Zoom.

Pin it!



3/10/2014

Kids in the Kitchen
Photo by Kristy Severin

Encouraging children to help prepare meals in the kitchen is a wonderful way to introduce the simple pleasures of life. By taking the time to prepare meals with children, they are learning to work with their hands, about food preparation and planning, working with others, as well as developing an appreciation for the food we eat every day. To help encourage your child or a child you know, start by having children help out with the meal planning—from deciding what to eat, making a grocery list, helping out at the grocery store and unpacking the groceries at home. Children may gain a sense of pride and independence if asked to help with these practical tasks that could help guide their future in a positive manner.

Kids in the Kitchen: Kitchen Tools

Most kitchen tools are kid friendly, such as mixing spoons, measuring cups, and bowls. For the not-so-kid-friendly kitchen tools, try these suggestions.

Kid Friendly Knife

Kid-friendly cutting knives such as a Joie wavy slicer

Kitchen Stool

A safe kitchen stool such as the Guidecraft kitchen helper stool

Kitchen Peeler

Kid-Friendly peeler such as the one from “How We Montessori”

To encourage even more independence, you may want to have an area in the kitchen designated solely for the child that contains items within reach such as plates, cups, silverware, snacks, napkins, and other practical, safe kitchenware.

Small Kitchen Area
Photo courtesy Three Oaks Blog

The idea of allowing children to serve themselves and/or help out with practical every day activities may seem overwhelming at first but children are generally intrigued by practical life skills and activities, and you may find them not only interested in helping, but that they will love helping and the chance to be independent. You may also enjoy having the extra helper and the time to bond with your child.


Kristy SeverinKristy Severin is a mother of two, a certified art instructor, photographer, painter, writer and cook. She earned her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, East Africa. Inspired daily by her children and love of the earth, Kristy’s fine art and writings are at The Art of Green Living.



12/3/2013

I loved being outdoors when I was a kid and was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to be outside. We moved around a lot, and it was always fun to explore new places. Sometime in high school however, I lost touch with that part of myself and became much more of an indoors person throughout my young adulthood. Now, I have a two-year-old son who loves to be outside and am learning once again the value of getting kids (and myself) to play outside.

Playing Outside
Photo By Fotolia/Alliance

Our family faces a challenge I’m sure some of you can relate to living in a small apartment with only a balcony to call entirely ours. It’s easy in that situation to give in and blame accessibility, the weather, and a number of other factors for staying inside.  Thing is, getting your kids outside doesn’t have to mean letting them loose in some 1/2-acre fenced backyard or waiting for perfect weather at the park. It might take a bit more effort on your part as a parent, but it’s well worth it.

Are there any other ‘outdoors’ areas nearby? We are fortunate enough to have some semi-wooded public areas in our apartments where I can take my son. Is there a park nearby? Even if it’s just a small neighborhood park, it can offer more excitement than you might think. Do you have time to go somewhere like a nature preserve, county park, or greenway even if only on the weekends? Take advantage of those precious opportunities. What if the weather isn’t cooperating? You might be able to work with the weather for an outdoor activity (as long as you’re not dealing with severe weather). 

Playgrounds are great and sports are certainly a great reason to get outside, but for some kids neither of those will be much of an enticement. In fact, my son has little interest in playground equipment. If your child is ‘outdoor activity averse,’ try coming at it from a different angle. One of the most valuable effects of getting kids outside in my opinion is exposing them to the way nature works. I also love to start explaining to my son how human activity impacts nature and how we can protect nature. For the kid who is more bookish or interested in science than traditional play, recommend they take their interests outside. Could they pick up a book at the library about birds and then put that knowledge to use by bird watching at the park? Or perhaps your young scientist could count birds and then compare their totals to migrating bird counts to see how your local population compares? Or maybe they could observe and diagram the parts of a habitat?  Not all kids want to run, jump, or climb when they’re outside and suggesting alternative activities can inspire a child to get outside when they might not otherwise. 

Of course, one of the most important parts of getting kids outside is you. Kids obviously need supervision but also encouragement and sometimes someone to learn with them. Make what time you can to be part of getting your kids outside and you might even find yourself rediscovering your own inner child with dirt on your hands and fresh air in your lungs.


Elyse BlackElyse Black is a wife and mother to one (soon to be two), educator, avid home cook/baker, and pragmatic environmentalist. You can find her kid-tested, kosher-friendly recipes on her blog, “What’s Cookin,’ Mamele?”





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