A Little Extra Math For Fun

 

Math pedagogy can be overwhelming, whether or not you homeschool. Is this the right curriculum? Am I doing too much? Too little? Am I boring him or pushing him too hard? What if she misses something important? How can I help my child enjoy math even if I’m not “a math person” myself?

I think math is beautiful and fascinating and exciting, albeit somewhat mysterious once you get past calculus. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m conveying those feelings to my kids, or if I’m pushing them to dislike math by boring them or over-drilling. Recently, I read a couple of books that helped me to relax about math, try some new things, and aim in a slightly different direction for pre-algebra.

mathematical-mindsets
In Mathematical Mindsets, Jo Boaler examines research about how children learn math and what makes a successful mathematian to suggest the ways in which traditional education is failing students and how we can change outcomes as parents (or homeschoolers). Whether you have your child in a brick and mortar school or you homeschool, this book would give you a lot to think about.

Topics like how to create problem solvers (versus calculators or test takers), how to help children develop a growth mindset, and how to best challenge kids with math are well-presented and highly practical, while also backed up with good research.

I found Mathematical Mindsets incredibly helpful and would highly recommend it to all parents, whether or not they are teachers, and all teachers, whether or not they are parents.

playing-with-math-book-210x300
I also read the inspiring and encouraging collection of essays in Playing With Math. The book chronicles efforts by really invested teachers in a variety of school settings, homeschoolers dedicated to teaching math well, and leaders of math circles (groups that get together to do problem solving). I got so many helpful ideas, insights, and reassurances from this book. Most of the essays end with a math problem to solve individually or in a group. I really liked the inclusion of those problems, and was inspired to add math games/group problem solving/logic puzzles to our Table Time each day.

Most of all, I am glad to have read both of these books for their vision. I think my kids had gotten into the habit of thinking of math as just a problem set to get through, but what I really want is for them to catch the excitement of how neat math is, and to learn to be problem solvers. While I wouldn’t say I agree fully with everything in either book–it’s not practical to implement every idea in every setting–both were instrumental in shifting my focus and in making math more enthusiastic in our house.

If you’re interested in adding math games for a range of ages to your family time (whether in homeschool or just for after school fun), I’ve also been using some of the suggestions in the following books:

And, since I mentioned pre-algebra, I’m looking at switching over from Saxon to Art of Problem Solving when Hannah finishes Saxon 7/6. If any of you have thoughts on that, I’d love to hear what you think!

What are your favorite problem solving, math, or logic games?

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The Bookmarked Life #15

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.

 

…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)

…Teaching

We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity

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I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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Toward flourishing

I find my core callings deeply contradictory. Faith, marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, writing, and my paid work are not easy for me in every respect. I am fascinated but exhausted, comforted but confused, fulfilled but frustrated. The things I value most are, by and large, difficult. I say that the past year has been hard and it has. But even in the best of times I tend to do life in a fairly intense fashion.

Some of my intense life is circumstantial, but much of it is choice. So I don’t want to waste my story in rush and resentment. I want to savor hard days and difficult phases and flourish in the midst of it all. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I want to live deeply and joyfully instead of getting mired in discouragement and burnout, I need to keep my vision refreshed.

I have a feeling sleep might also help, but I will have to get back to you on that once I don’t have a baby and chronic insomnia.

irrational seasonCertain writers are my go-to mentors when I need to reconnect with the bigger picture. Madeleine L’Engle is one. I recently read The Irrational Season and was once again inspired by L’Engle’s refreshing viewpoints on faith, creativity, love, and motherhood–this time in the context of her thinking through the seasons of the liturgical year. Weaving in thoughts on language and mystery and memory, L’Engle writes with simplicity and profound insight about the way that the rhythm of temporal time enhances our understanding of depth, truth, and the unknowable greatness of God.

I don’t always agree with L’Engle, but I never fail to find food for thought and encouragement to think, write, and live with more clarity and honesty. I’d recommend all of her non-fiction, but I’ve addedThe Irrational Season to my favorites along with Walking on Water and A Circle of Quiet.

mission motherhoodSally Clarkson more recently joined my shelf of visionaries. In the past I think I misunderstood her platform and thought she was in the motherhood-is-woman’s-only-calling camp so I didn’t really connect with her. However, what I have found after several months of reading Sally’s books and listening to her podcasts is more of a vision for wholehearted living–of being all in as a mother even if you also do other things (she started and ran a business, wrote books, and homeschooled, for example). I love Sally’s vision for flourishing even in trying circumstances, and her encouragement toward excellence without making an idol out of motherhood.  There is a way to be wholehearted in parenting while also nourishing your soul and mind and creativity and I think Sally’s books The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood are excellent resources.

ministry motherhoodIn both books, I appreciated Sally’s ability to cast a thoughtful vision and give practical ideas while acknowledging that families and children and life stages are different and so methods may differ even as principles stay the same.

All three of these books are the sort I wind up purchasing so I can re-read them–and I fill them with sticky tabs and take reams of notes (I got nine single-spaced typed pages of notes fromThe Mission of Motherhood alone!). I have intense kids, I homeschool, and I work and write in the margins. If you have naturally calm kids and send them to a brick-and-mortar school and work full-time as a chemical engineer your take-aways may be different than mine. However, no matter what your circumstances, if you’re the sort of person who leans in to your life and longs to flourish in the midst of it, I don’t think you could go too far wrong with any of these volumes.

What books have most refreshed and inspired you lately?

 

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Raising Grateful Kids

Raising-Grateful-KidsRaising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World contains lots of helpful advice about how to accomplish the task named in the title, but I also found wisdom on several seemingly unrelated topics that the author skillfully tied to her main premise.

Kristen Welch does a good job of diagnosing the problem of ungratefulness and establishing some of the cultural circumstances that foster it in kids. Some of her solutions are what you would expect–don’t spoil kids, give them boundaries, expand their perspective, teach them to be thankful for the pancakes–while others were surprisingly and helpfully different.

  • “Compassionate parents raise their children to be prepared for an uncertain future.” Welch writes about not assuming that our children will be in a better financial situation than we are, but this idea extends to making sure your kids can choose a vocation or location regardless of whether it can sustain their habits of consumption.
  • Kids need to be taught how to use social media carefully. Since platforms change all the time, it’s better to establish general guidelines to help kids be wise online, especially since the online world tends to present unrealistic pictures and foster discontent.
  • “The most important thing we can teach our kids is self-control.” Welch does a fantastic job of outlining why the habit of self-control is foundational for so many aspects of gratefulness. This section gave me a lot to think about.

Although most people would probably say that gratitude is important, actually living in gratefulness is countercultural in ways you may not have thought about before. If you’re interested in raising kids who are characterized by gratitude rather than entitlement, I’d recommend Raising Grateful Kids as a strong resource.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

 

On reading with other people

parent's guideI recently had a chance to be part of a SENG parents group in my area. We read A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children and discussed one chapter per week.

Initially, I signed up because I thought it might be helpful to meet other parents who might be having similar issues to what we’re dealing with (and it was).  I’ve read a lot of books on giftedness (check this, this, and this for lists), so I figured the book part would be stuff I already knew.

As it turned out, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children was one of the most helpful books on the topic that I’ve read. Primarily, I’d link that to the fact that it covers so many parenting issues (versus a heavy classroom management focus) but I also think I got so much more out of it because I was discussing each chapter with a group.

In the book clubs I’ve been part of, we’ve always discussed one book per month. That’s great for overall themes and usually seems like a good approach, especially for fiction, but I found that meeting more frequently and discussing individual chapters was a fantastic way to read a non-fiction book. It gave us time to dig deeply into each topic, share strategies, and talk through issues in a way that would not have been possible had we attempted to discuss the entire book in one fell swoop.

This got me started thinking about how or if I could do more book discussions this way.  Of course, living in the suburbs as I do, the immediate objection will be that no one has the time to meet once a week to discuss a book (sigh), but maybe I should ask around anyway.

Back to the book for a second: If you have gifted kids, I’d highly recommend A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, whether you read it alone or in a group.

Have you ever done a book discussion chapter-by-chapter?

 

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Teaching From Rest

teaching from restI have had Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching From Rest on my wish list ever since it came out, and this Christmas I received a copy.  Y’all, I read a lot of books.  I don’t want to own most of them.  But I am so, so glad to own a copy of this one.

Teaching From Rest is ostensibly about how to homeschool with peace, but it’s also about how to do life with peace.  Homeschooling is a major part of my life, but it’s not the sum total, and I found so many pieces of this book helpful to me as a parent and as a person too.

I tend to do a lot of things, and get caught up in analyzing all the things, and often wind up getting overwhelmed.  The past several months have been even more overwhelming than usual.  But something Sarah wrote in this book stopped me in my overwhelmed tracks and completely changed my viewpoint about my days.

“Bring your basket.”

Sarah points out that often in homeschooling (and parenting, and life) we feel overwhelmed like the disciples faced with 5,000 people who needed feeding and only a few loaves and fish to get the job done.  We feel like we can’t possibly do this with the resources we have.  And we’re right as were they.  We aren’t making it up, life is hard. But whatever we are facing, we can bring our basket–whatever skills, abilities, and time we have–and trust God for the rest.

This visual helps me so much.  I have the phrase written on my desk and in my goal sheets. I remind myself to bring my basket several times a day.  It really changes my perspective and reminds me to pray over more things.

Teaching From Rest is full of things like that.  I had several tabs to make a note on almost every page.  I can see re-reading this book again and again.  If you read Sarah’s blog, some of it will feel familiar to you, but it’s more than enough new and expanded content to be well worth it.

If you homeschool, I think you really, truly, and immediately ought to read this book.  If you don’t homeschool but tend towards bustle and overwhelm as a parent in general, I think you’d get a lot out of it too.  It’s an excellent read for any time of year, but particularly helpful in the New Year/fresh start season.

As a side note, I have the hard copy version of the book, which is revised and expanded from the original e-book. 

 

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November Reading Roundup

I read fewer books this month due to my unplanned hospital stay when I was too sick to want to read (and if you know me, you know that is seriously unusual!), but I still managed to read my usual hodge-podge of genres, which I’m linking up to QuickLit.  Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought, and if you have any particularly excellent recommendations for us this month! And without further ado, this month’s roundup:

A memoir that’s kind of like a book review

middlemarchI was intrigued by Rebecca Mead’s unusually structured memoir, My Life in Middlemarch, because George Eliot’s Middlemarch is also one of my favorites (if you’re an Austen fan, you really should read it.  It’s similar, but far, far more satisfying).

As it turned out though, Mead’s premise–that a particular book can weave into your life experience–yielded lots of interesting information about the book, the setting, and the author, but bogged down in Mead’s own memoir sections.  I think overall I’d just recommend that you read Middlemarch itself and skip this memoir unless you absolutely want to know more about the book and have time to wade through the memoir bits.

I did love the reminder of the very end of Middlemarch:

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Don’t you love that?

World War II history well suited to audio

train in winterWe began studying World War II just before our impromptu launch into holiday term (I planned ahead to take time off for maternity leave so we are on partial/half schedule through December) and as I’ve always been fascinated by that era, I was eager to read A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France.  I listened to the book on audio, and at first was allowing Hannah (age 9) to listen with me, especially due to the reader’s incredibly mellifluous voice.  She has the most elegant British accent and PERFECT French–as Hannah said, “I love to hear this lady speak!”  The gripping story begins with a very interesting history of the resistance movement in occupied France, and the various roles women played as the resistance became established.

However, once the book turned to descriptions of the convoy of women taken to the concentration camps, the unspeakable horrors they endured and how their commitment to each other allowed some to survive quickly became more detail than I wanted to expose the kids to for now.  The detail was entirely appropriate and important knowledge for adults, but take care if you have sensitive kids.  Even after decades of reading World War II history, I still learned a lot from this book and would recommend it.  

A parallel story of cultural change

Boston Girl cover[1]The Boston Girl reminds me a lot of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in that both books are told in retrospective style and feature heroines who come of age in tenements in a time of great change in America.  I enjoyed the changing perspectives and the way that attitudes and even the city of Boston changed as the main character grew up and made life choices.

If you enjoy books that combine a story with insight into cultural change and historical events, I think this is a pretty good one.

 

Part 2 of a funny memoir about growing up in small town America

she-got-up-off-couch-other-heroic-acts-haven-kimmel-hardcover-cover-artShe Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana follows Kimmel’s first memoir of growing up in small town America, A Girl Named Zippy.  In the second volume, which is also excellently and hilariously narrated by the author in the audio version, Zippy is a little older–10-13–and there are undercurrents in her growing understanding that all is not right in her world.  The main theme of the book, which begins with Zippy’s mom taking control of her life and going back to college, is her parents’ courage in finding happiness even though they seem locked in to dead-end situations.  The second book is not as funny as the first–although it’s still pretty funny–but Kimmel still nails the particular qualities of being a pre-teen in the 70s and somehow makes a very specific childhood seem universal.

An awesome fiction pick you will want to add to Christmas lists

ready-player-one-paperback-coverIf you need a Christmas present for a husband/brother/whoever guy who was a kid or teen in the 1980s, give him Ready Player One.  It’s the sort of novel that even guys who claim not to read novels will really, really enjoy.

And if you already like reading novels, whether or not you are a guy from the 80s, you’ll also like this book because it’s a crazy amazing quest-pop-culture-throwback-mystery-coming-of-age story that you will want to read from cover to cover in one sitting.

The book takes place in a close dystopian future.  In the midst of an extremely well-pitched story, it also examines questions like how we see other people and get to know their true selves, the interplay of virtual lives versus real lives, and the meaning of self in an increasingly technological world.

Most of all it’s a fantastic story.  I thought it was so fun even though my husband thinks I’m kind of culturally illiterate when it comes to the 80s.  Highly recommended.

A widely applicable leadership/business/life book

H3-Leadership-197x300If you’re saying, “well, I’m not a CEO so I will skip this book,” stop right there. The messages in H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle. are almost universally applicable, because we are all leaders in one way or another in our lives.  The book takes the approach that no matter what your leadership role, there are habits that can serve you well in your walk of life.  From exhortations to build deep connections and stick to your principles, to thinking rightly about ambition and innovation, the habits described in H3 would make a strong foundation for just about any calling. I appreciated the author’s readable style and thought-provoking way of examining common concepts in new lights.

My main takeaways from the book were:

  • To think differently about ambition so that I can foster the positive sides of that trait without succumbing to the downfalls (I had let myself off the hook for ambition since I gave up the whole “Big Career” thing, but really I’m a very ambitious person, and Lomenick’s section on the topic gave me a lot to think about)
  • To make a point of scheduling a weekly coffee with another writer, artist, colleague, or friend to get inspiration
  • To find a way to answer “How are you?” with “I’m rested and rejuvenated” rather than “I’m really busy”
  • Whenever someone asks me how they can pray for me, to ask for wisdom.

I think the majority of people would benefit from at least a cursory read of H3 Leadership and its description of helpful habits, and I’d recommend it.

A decent history of the Romanov sisters

romanov sisters

I can’t put my finger on why The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandrawas a long-term bestseller.  I enjoy Russian history, and thought the book was fine, but not terribly ground-breaking or fundamentally different from other, similar narratives.  That said, my perspective could be flawed since I listened to the book in audio form and was mildly annoyed that the reader mispronounced words including Russian names, and also I listened to it primarily in the middle of the night while up feeding the baby in the dark.  Listening while sleep-deprived, in pain, and disoriented as I tried to nurse, pumped, and gave bottles may not have been the ideal circumstances for consuming a book of history.  However, I don’t regret the time and did enjoy the book enough to recommend it if you’re looking for something about the last Romanov tsar and his family.

Another SUPER helpful book for parenting spirited kids

spirited childI’ve written at length before about the challenges of parenting intense kids (and books to help with that), after which a friend recommended Raising Your Spirited Child. I love that the book focuses on the power of the labels we use to describe our kids, and also on the fact that as parents our responsibility is to help our kids learn to navigate life, whether they come into it calm and compliant or literally having stronger physical reactions to frustrations, emotions, and stimuli.  Since parents are often like their children (shocker!) I found personal insight into things like why I can’t sleep in hotels and want to DIE when I hear other people chewing and why I’m always throwing away socks with the wrong type of seams, and I realized once again that I have a lot of sanitized, adult versions of the strong reactions my intense kids have to their environments.  I feel like so often the answer to my parenting struggles is GRACE–for all of us.

The book has a lot of helpful concrete suggestions for living with your intense child in understanding, avoiding power struggles, really commiserating with your child, and helping the child learn to control his or her own intensity.  I highly recommend it.

Your turn

You made it!  Let me know your thoughts on these books, or give us a tip for great books you read this month!  Finally, be sure to check QuickLit for more book roundup posts.

 

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On Balance, Doing It All, and Tracking Time

“I cannot subscribe to the belief that there is something about modern life that makes us harried and maxed out.   If we are, then it’s time to examine our own choices and the scripts that are running through our heads. You don’t become a better parent or employee by not enjoying your life. There are likely lots of options available to you that would make life more fun. Don’t assume anyone is judging you, or actually cares, if you choose some of them.” –Laura Vanderkam in I Know How She Does It

If there’s one thing that being pregnant with a fifth baby while working, homeschooling three older children, and dealing with intense parenting issues has shown me, it’s that really, truly, and absolutely I cannot do All The Things.  I am a pretty efficient person, and I get a lot done.  For a long time there, I was pushing through pretty handily. But this year’s added challenges made that completely unsustainable and I realized that if something had to give, it needed to be the extras, not my core priorities.

In other words, to Do It All I had to stop doing All The Things.  Yes, those are two different cultural narratives.  Using them interchangeably is what causes problems.

Doing It All is about making time for the things that are truly important to you–that are YOUR priorities, that work for YOUR family, where YOU uniquely contribute value.  It absolutely means different things for different people.  Whereas doing All The Things is external–it’s doing the things that are expected, that are other people’s priorities, that aren’t necessarily of critical core importance to you.  Doing It All is about finding a unique way to do the things you’re really called to do, and keep your soul fed and body rested and healthy at the same time.  Doing All The Things is about feeling guilty for your choices and staying up until 2am doing your kid’s science project for him and distressing store bought pies to make it look homemade (remember that part from I Don’t Know How She Does It?)

Before you jump in with all the reasons you can’t possibly do anything differently in your life, I’d recommend you track your time for a bit.  I have done this every once in a while since I read 168 Hours (still my most highly recommended life management book four years later) and it’s invaluable for several reasons.

Tracking time helps me check my words and attitudes.  How we talk–to ourselves and others–about our life matters.  When I track my time, I see the big picture of how I spend time over the course of a week or month, rather than just how I remember a given day.  We all have a bias to weight the negative more heavily than the positive, but when I track my time I can’t say, “I spend all day picking up after everyone!” because I can see that actually I spend 10-20 minutes on it.  Maybe 10-20 excruciatingly annoying minutes, but not all day.  For me, knowing that reality helps me to turn around a negative attitude and start thinking of better solutions.

I also have to be honest about the “I don’t have time for…” excuse, because when I track my time I see that I spent X hours a week piddling around on Facebook or chopping onions instead of doing the thing I claim is something I want to do.  You don’t even want to know how much time I used to spend chopping onions.  My time logs have helped me get more focused about internet time, and were my impetus to buy those $1 bags of pre-chopped frozen onion.  And sometimes I’ve had to own up to the fact that the thing I keep saying I don’t have time for is really just not a priority right now.

Tracking time helps me check my pain points.  I overreact to some things (like feeling I pick up all day) but often completely miss actual problem areas.  One time my time log showed that I was spending a crazy amount of time making breakfasts.  I didn’t realize how much that was throwing off our day, but it was, and seeing on paper that I was spending over an hour a day prepping ONE meal–and during our prime work/teaching time nonetheless–helped me start to think through solutions.  This time around I’m looking at the time I spend getting ready for the day and getting ready for bed at night.  I’m not convinced those are hours well spent because they aren’t really restorative or rewarding, and they are keeping me from doing the things that ARE restorative and rewarding.

Tracking time helps me check my priorities.  Tracking time is not about trying to max out every minute of your day.  It’s about having an accurate view of how you spend your time now, so you can decide if that’s how you WANT to spend it.  Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised at how well my time and priorities line up, and other times I’m forced to look at the fact that I’m skipping out on something I say is a top focus area.

I know how she does itI recently read Laura Vanderkam’s new book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.  Although perhaps less universally applicable than her previous book 168 Hours, this one brings fresh perspective to the question of women doing it all in our culture.  The major strength of the book is its reliance on actual time logs tracking 1001 days in the lives of mothers who earn six figures.  Laura is up front about the bias there–plenty of important jobs don’t pay that much, and lots of us define success in different terms than our annual salaries–but the point she was trying to make was that even women in the top tier jobs still have time for personal lives and being involved parents.

As I’ve tracked my time, I’ve often struggled with what counts as work and what does not.  I like Laura’s definition that work is anything that’s contributing to your career trajectory.  So, in my case, a business building meeting or doing the administrative tasks that keep my business going count as work even though I’m not directly paid for them, but an office worker wasting an hour on Facebook during the work day probably shouldn’t count that as work even if she is getting paid a regular salary.  I also apply that to the time I spend on homeschooling–my prep counts for me, but my kids doing independent work without me doesn’t factor into my time log.  It counts for their school record, but doesn’t count against my available schedule space.

When you look at it this way, and especially as you consider the time logs in Laura’s research, you quickly see that the key to balance is actually to determine your OWN definitions of success in your various roles, and fill your time with important things first, rather than trying to add important things on top of whatever you’re actually doing.  In this sense, working (or working more) may not actually harm your family at all.  What’s overwhelming is the plethora of little unimportant things we find ourselves saying yes to, even when they aren’t contributing to our big priorities, goals, and roles.  

“You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself.” –Laura Vanderkam in I Know How She Does It

When I track my time or build an “ideal week” type schedule, I find this to be invaluable. I know from tracking my time that I spend 20-30 hours a week directly on homeschooling (the kids spend a bit more time doing independent assignments).  I also know that I read aloud to the kids, on average, just under two hours per day.  And I interact with them a lot of other times as well.  Therefore, I do not have to feel any guilt when I set aside afternoons as work time and let them play independently or with a babysitter. I also see that, although I’m not in a stage of life where I can easily fit in a 90 minute workout every day, over the course of a week I do exercise more than the recommended average.  My time logs help me see the big picture on my time, so I can more easily try out shifting things around to free up a block of time for things I want to spend time on.

So can you work a “big job” and also have a life and be a good mom?  Depending on how you define those terms, sure.  I fully believe that you can do the big jobs with kids if you got started at the big job BEFORE you had kids.  Having looked into this pretty extensively, I don’t think you can start entry level in a demanding field and immediately hope for the kind of flexibility people achieve after devoting several years to a career path.  So, ideally, you’d discover your love for the big job prior to starting your family.

What do you do if you already have the family and want to on-ramp into some kind of work?  I transitioned out of a very particular type of government job when I had kids, and gradually figured out ways to translate those skills into the private sector in a way that is very flexible and allows me to also devote considerable time to my other callings, passions, and interests.  I think the transition could have been faster if I had been more deliberate about the advice Laura gives in this book and in her previous work to put the big pieces in first, and then fill in the schedule with other things, rather than trying to shove a new big piece in on top of the minutia.

One criticism I’ve seen of this book is the fact that women who earn at this level can afford to outsource in ways most of us can’t.  There is something to that, especially if these women have only a few children and if they are in dual-income households.  Even on-ramping would be easier if your spouse is already earning enough to off-set start-up costs and childcare and housekeeping.  But, after reading the book, I can’t say that it’s the outsourcing that makes these women able to balance.  The schedules include lots of cleaning, piddling around, and working when kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied.  It can be done.  If you take the main principles into consideration, you might be surprised at the ways you can escape overwhelm and find time to do what’s most important to you.

I Know How She Does It gave me a lot to think about and inspiration for some new solutions I’m integrating into my own balance.  While it would probably be most helpful for moms who do some work outside of the home, the principles do apply to anyone who has a work identity–including homeschooling, homemaking, volunteering, or whatever.  I still think 168 Hours is more universal, but if you’re a person who is interested in work/life balance or who is contemplating trying it out, or who needs some inspiration to stop feeling stuck in your choices, I’d recommend I Know How She Does It

What do you find is your biggest challenge to work/life balance?  Have you ever tracked your time to try to solve it?

 

Disclosure: This post contains some track-backs to my original reviews, but also some affiliate links.  Thanks for clicking through to Amazon from A Spirited Mind!

 

 

Helpful Books for Dealing With Intense Kids

So far all of my children tend toward intensity, and this year one child in particular has been navigating a phase of particularly heightened emotional responses.  After a troubling encounter with the pediatrician, who immediately declared those behaviors abnormal and probably indicative of extremely serious mental illness, we had a major parenting crisis and the wheels felt like they were coming all the way off of our already challenging family life (not challenging in a bad way, but parenting soon-to-be five children when we are all pretty intense people and are in various stressful and/or developmental stages takes considerable effort).  Thankfully, and as a major answer to prayer, we got connected with a very understanding and helpful psychiatrist who assured us that the child in question is not at all mentally ill, but is a gifted kid with an intense personality who needs different strategies and parenting techniques.  Progress has been slow, but we do see progress, both in this child’s responses and in our own ability to parent these intense–but also intensely interesting!–kids of ours.

In this process we got a lot of good counsel from friends we trust, and naturally I read some books.  On the off chance that one of you might run into similar situations at some point, I’m reviewing a few that were particularly helpful.

misdiagnosisIt turns out that common characteristics of gifted children and adults are often misdiagnosed as mental illness or disorder.  It also turns out that we were exceedingly fortunate to find a mental health professional who recognizes the difference (as apparently this is not the norm). Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders contains exceptionally helpful comparisons between behaviors and markers for a variety of illnesses and the ways giftedness can look like those conditions but is actually different.  The book also goes into what to look for when a child or adult has a dual diagnosis–that is, the person is gifted AND has another condition, and how that dual diagnosis often presents differently or can be overlooked.  The information is complex, but the detail is critical if you are at all unsure about what someone is telling you about your child.

To be very clear: I absolutely support getting help and using medication for actual mental illness or imbalance.  This book does NOT take the line that you shouldn’t medicate children at all, ever.  It just counsels restraint and accurate diagnosis prior to medicating, which seems eminently reasonable to me, especially as so many of the case studies in the book involve kids being given serious drugs designed to treat conditions the children did not even have–to the detriment of the child’s development.

Even if you aren’t currently dealing with a potential diagnosis issue, I still might recommend this resource for parents of gifted kids in general.  I’ve read plenty of books on the topic, but this one presents data-driven findings about the way gifted kids think and react to situations that I found helpful for all of my kids.  The authors point out that often giftedness is a touchy topic because it strikes people–even people who are gifted themselves–as gilding the lilly, but in reality parenting kids who think differently, experience life differently, and engage differently and more intensely can be very, very challenging.  This part of the book is insightful, encouraging, and helpful.

explosive childThe Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children is not written explicitly about gifted kids–although lots of the case studies seem to feature them–but rather offers perspective and techniques for parenting kids who are intense (in all sorts of ways) because they lack skills in flexibility and frustration tolerance.

One criticism I’ve seen of this book is that it’s just making apologies for kids who are bad and manipulative.  Don’t they just need more discipline or sticker charts or to be told to get over it when they overreact?  Well, maybe some kids do.  But if your kid is consistently flipping out at one or two key triggers (in our house this often happens with deviations from the planned schedule–whether our stated agenda or what the child had in mind for the day.  Other kids may overreact to bedtime or departures or homework or whatever) and the regularly suggested parenting tips aren’t working, it might be worth your while to consider another approach.

The book suggests a collaborative problem solving approach to teach kids to deal with unexpected situations with greater flexibility and perspective.  It’s not an easy one-click solution, but if you have a kid who flips out it might take less time than dealing with that.  One thing I found particularly helpful was examining my own reasons behind making changes or asking kids for things.  I kind of like flexibility and being able to change plans when things make more sense a different way, but I have a few kids who don’t roll with that as easily (and who aren’t as highly motivated by efficiency as I am!).  The problem solving approach requires the parent to articulate the actual concern behind a request–why am I saying no/changing the plan/setting this requirement–and sometimes once I’ve considered what I’m really concerned about, I realize that I don’t actually need to instigate the problem.  Sometimes I do–I’m still the parent here–but being more aware of the couple of triggers a child has can go a long way to minimizing them.  I also liked how the book emphasizes teaching skills rather than various techniques for strong-arming or manipulating kids into doing what you want.  It seems more in line with the goal to train children to be functional adults.

As for how well the problem solving works…well, it’s a process and the author admits that.  We’ve had some success with it, and I’ve been surprised at how well mutually agreed upon solutions can work–especially in areas where I have pretty well defined ideas of how things should go.  By getting to what my concern is, and what the child’s concern is, we can come up with solutions that might not have been either of our first idea, but which are workable.

Emotional Intensity 3Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings is a very readable, encouraging book geared primarily toward parents but also with considerable insights for teachers, schools, and other outside-the-family situations.  I liked how the book focused on the strategies you can teach kids to help them to navigate their feelings and intensity.  So often the response is “get over it” or “stop overreacting” or otherwise implying that something is wrong with the child.  But our feelings are not wrong, just sometimes what we do with those feelings.

I think this book does a great job of exploring the different ways that kids can be intense.  It doesn’t always look like anger or flipping out or weeping–many kids just chatter a lot, get giddy, and have a lot of energy.

If you’re parenting a gifted kid, especially if you are also teaching one, this book has a lot of practical helps and things to think about.  I found it very, very helpful and would highly recommend this one.

living with intensityLiving With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults takes a much more academic approach, which was fine with me but might be dry if you aren’t really fascinated with the topic.  I found that there were several chapters I only skimmed, while others I took time to read slowly and carefully, because some dealt with things I’m not dealing with currently, or were better laid out in other books (like the Misdiagnosis book reviewed above).

I thought the particular strengths of this volume were the chapters on specific strategies for different excitabilities (if you’ve read much of the literature of giftedness you’ve probably run into this idea of different types of intensity/excitability) and the sections on being a gifted adult.  I took LOTS of notes on the practical strategies, because my kids do have different excitability types and frankly, I can actually use some of these ideas on myself!

Sometimes I wonder if I read books on giftedness halfway for parenting and halfway for myself.  The chapters in Living With Intensity on adult giftedness really helped me. First, it’s helpful to know that I’m not so very strange or abnormal as I usually feel.  This book goes into several studies on how gifted adults progress through life stages, and it helped me to look at my stage in life and realize that I am not alone in some of my feelings and fears.  It also helped me to think through strategies of dealing with things as part of a bigger picture–this is the very thing I try to help my kids with, but I don’t always do it for myself.

Living With Intensity might be a good book to check out of the library so you can read sections of particular interest to you, but if you don’t have time to read widely on these topics you really can skim lots of it.

If you have intense and/or gifted kids, or were/are one yourself, what resources have you found particularly helpful?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

 

The Bookmarked Life #13

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

…my philosophy/theology/ethics of social media use as my kids get older.  I see lots of resources to keep kids from doing dumb things online, but what about things that parents post ABOUT kids online?  In the past I’ve had a habit of recording funny things the kids do and say on Facebook, but a recent episode when an anecdote about me was misrepresented on Facebook made me nervous–I can handle it because I’m an adult, but what if that happened to one of the kids because I unthinkingly put up a story about something I thought was funny?  I may need to record those moments differently to protect their privacy.  I’m interested to know if anyone else is thinking or writing about this!

…Furnishing My Mind

Eliza had a vocabulary explosion while we were out of town in July.  They say that a change of location often has that effect on kids, and certainly it’s true of Eliza!  One I really want to remember is the way she says “statue.”  It sounds like “staht-yeuw” and we keep trying to come up with reasons to make her say it because it’s so cute and funny.

In another great example, Eliza came dancing into the room wearing her sister’s ballet slippers.  She hauled her foot up on my lap and said, “DIE!  DIE plezz!”  I was taken aback.  My word!  She’s only two and already has had enough of me!?  Then I realized that the string was untied and she was trying to say “TIE please.”  That was a relief!

…Living the Good Life

DSC_0378We had a great week at the beach with my parents (pictured above), enjoying the sand and the pool and getting a good break from our home turf.IMG_4341Then Josh had to get back to work but the kids and I spent another week with my parents at their lake house. My parents got this huge inflatable thing to drag behind the boat and the kids had a blast.

IMG_4345The lake they live on is huge, with lots of fun coves and waterfalls to explore and rock formations to climb.

DSC_0434IMG_4370We visited a bunch of interesting places like the Biltmore House gardens, a science museum, and two museums in our own city, one of which offered a hands-on opportunity to pan for gold! Fool’s gold, but still fun!

…Teaching

We started school again on August 3, with a revamped schedule, new approaches to problem areas, and some different ways of doing things.  With a 4th grader, 3rd grader, 1st grader, toddler, and new baby due in November, we were due for some problem solving.  One innovation I have high hopes for is Table Time.  This section of our day is where I’m putting non-core subjects on a loop.  If I try to do Latin, Spanish, geography, artist study, composer study, poetry analysis, Shakespeare, and things like that every day, some of them wind up not getting done.  This year I set up a schedule to hit each of those topics twice a week during table time.  We will do those subjects all together, at the table, while the kids eat a mid-morning protein snack. I also added in memory work and a brief calisthenics break to this part of the schedule, and so far I think it’s going well.  If the new setup keeps working once the novelty wears off I will post more about it.

…Boosting Creativity

DSC_0038Eliza needed a backpack for co-op this year, so I grabbed a ridiculously cheap one that had decent colors.  Then I felt bad for buying my child a $3.97 backpack so I decided to upgrade it a little.  Fortunately I have a huge collection of embroidery flosses and found three to match the colors.  I added a flower and vines, then her monogram, then some more scrolly things, then put stripes on the monogram.  I could probably do more, but enough is as good as a feast.  I listened to podcasts while I embroidered and kept it simple, so it was a fast and fun creative project.  She REALLY likes it and refuses to take the backpack off, even to sleep.  If you lose Eliza these days, you can just listen for her little voice singing, “Mah backpack!  Mah backpack! Zaza’s backpaaaaaaack!”

IMG_4401

…Seeking Balance

IMG_4396I started tracking my time in August (more about that later) and one thing I remembered from previous time logs is how very, very much time I tend to spend in the kitchen.  With school starting back up and work to keep up with and a toddler who really, really, really wants to be snuggled around 5:30 every afternoon, dinner prep can easily be an hour and a half of cooking while breaking up fights and dragging a crying kid or two along while they are attached to my legs.  I enjoy cooking and being creative in the kitchen, but I prepare three meals a day for six people so I don’t always want to go full gourmet.  As this problem crystallized in my mind, Lora Lynn posted one of her seriously helpful updates (I consider her a virtual mentor, even though she has no idea who I am) and I decided to do some freezer crockpot meals.

I found some meals that seemed to fit with the way we eat (mostly protein and vegetables with lots of flavor) and used Lora Lynn’s tips to create 15 meals, prepared in crockpot liners, in just an hour and a half.  There was an extra half hour of cleanup, but still, eight minutes per meal beats 90 minutes per meal hands down.  I’ll keep you posted on how we like the meals, but I’m thinking that getting a few meals off the schedule might be worth it.

…Listening To

Every time I plug my phone into the car (I play audio books and music for the kids via the phone) the system defaults to the Hypnobabies: [Wahhhhwwwwwwnnnnnggggg noises] “Wellllllcome to your birthing day affirmations…..today is such a wonnnnderful day to enjoy liiiiiife.”  It’s creepy.  The kids can do a bang-up imitation of the lady, but this is getting on our nerves.  However, due to how our music is stored now, I can never seem to get it from iTunes to my phone via my laptop.  I have to use Josh’s computer instead, and I never remember to do this.  I need a better system.  Although for some reason I am now COMPLETELY convinced that today is a wonderful day to enjoy life.

What are you bookmarking this week?