Cutting the Cord on TV

One year ago, I grounded my kids for bad behavior.  We were at my cousin’s home and they began running around the house like wild hooligans!  First, I was embarrassed.  Then I found it disrespectful considering my cousins were doing me a favor by babysitting my 4 month old.  Usually my kids are obedient and responsive when it comes to discipline, but this time, they threw care to the wind.

When we got in the car (but before we headed home) I calmly and quietly turned around.  Looking them in the eye, I explained to them that I expected more.  “When we’re in someone else’s home, I expect you to be respectful, polite, obedient – just like we behave in our own home.”  (In our family, we often speak about how good behavior has “benefits” while bad behavior has “consequences”.)  So, I told them there would be a consequence for their actions.

Like most kids, my kids LOVE TV.  So while still in the car and thinking quickly on my feet (although admittingly coming up with a punishment QUICKLY is never a good idea), I said, “As your consequence, I’m going to take away TV time for a whole week.”  As that came out of my mouth, I heard from the hooligans, “What?  No, Mom!” and in my own head, the words came, “Woman, are you crazy?  That will teach you to speak before you think.  A week without TV?  So now you’re on duty to entertain them.  Yea…smart move, Mom!”  Gulping, I stuck to my guns and said a little prayer.

Long story short, we fared that first week much better than I anticipated.  With no TV, there was actually less arguing about what to watch and whose turn it was to pick the show.  That in and of itself was a huge blessing.  Less for me to manage.  I was also impressed that they actually LIKED playing together…A LOT!  They began to use their imagination (from books we’d read) to create characters and plots, even the brown box in the living room became their “hide-out” and endless hours of play.

After that glorious week of no TV – I gave them a reward: ANOTHER week of no TV!  (Snicker, snicker).  I was actually having fun watching them take leadership roles in their imagination play, learn to be flexible with each other and growing their relationship.  And truth be told, I think they were some what excited to have an excuse not to turn on the tube: Mom’s new rule.  Yup – the gift of parenthood: you get to make your own rules!

So it’s been 15 months since that heavenly “grounding episode” and we’ve adopted this new rule: No TV during the week.  Only on the weekends and with that – only 2 hours on Saturday and Sunday.  This gives them time to watch a movie or two from the library.  But on sunny days – sometimes that TV never gets switched on during the weekends.  As my oldest recently said, “Mom, TV is really boring compared to what you can do with your imagination.”

Moral of the story:  “Groundings” and “quick thinking” do have a long term advantage…for the whole family!

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The 5 Best Reasons to Travel with Kids

Road tripping with young children is no small feat.  In addition to your clothes and other needed items, there’s the stroller, the pillows, the toys and books (we all want happy riders), the movies and music, the cooler full of snacks and drinks, charge cords for all our mobile devices, oh and of course, the kids!

This last summer, when we set out on our exciting east coast road trip (Liberty Bell in PA, Washington Crossing the Delaware in NJ, Natural History Museum in NYC, etc), I had my itinerary all planned out.  Each day was accounted for with either driving or sight seeing, and we were all excited!  I was sure I had thought of everything.

However, as we journeyed, I was happy to learn I had not thought of it all!  I knew our trip would be educational, but I had no idea how many academic “fringe benefits” there’d be!

A fantastic travel game for kids 5 and up!

REASON #1
The 50 States:  For starters, I had ordered the “Wee Sing America” CD (Pamela Conn Beall) from our library.  In my americanly romantic mind, I thought it would be fun to listen to these patriotic songs as we traversed through the historical, revolutionary roads.  Additionally, as a fun gift for the kids, I purchased Melissa and Doug’s License Plate Game.  The wonderfully thought out game added so much to our hours spent on the road.  For each car or truck we passed during our 3000 mile trip, I had both my 7 and 5 year old reading the plates and exclaiming which state they had just seen.  And as it turned out (which was totally unplanned) there was a “states song” on the CD which my son and daughter fell in love with. Because we were talking so much about the states with the license plate game, they naturally wanted to put these state names to song.  So within a week, they had learned ALL the 50 states, in alphabetical order, with great joy!  That was not part of my educational syllabus – but hey – I’ll take it!

REASON #2
Elevator Etiquette:  I don’t know about you, but I find “social etiquette” and children don’t naturally go together.  There’s time and training that is needed to achieve a happy balance.  So with each hotel we stayed at there were elevators which allowed us to practice the importance of elevator etiquette numerous times a day.  In a short time, my children learned that when waiting for an elevator you stand back and wait to the riders to exit – rather than push on like elephants.  Likewise, once you get on board, they had to take “happy” turns pushing the buttons or that privilege was taken away.  Great motivation to do the right thing the first time!

REASON #3

Hotel Room Numbers:  What a great math lesson this was!  Once we arrived on the floor where our room was each night, we began letting our kids take the key card and do the figuring out of where we’d be spending the night.  We’d walk off the elevator and see the list of room numbers: 401-429 to the right and 430-450 to the left.  We talked about odd and even numbers as well as greater than and less than.  From the number on our key card, the kids figured out which direction our room was (odd or even = left or right) and then had to decide if we need to walk a far ways to our room or if it would be close to the elevator.  It was real life math!!

REASON #4
Organization: To make our mornings smooth, it was each child’s job to know the next day’s activity and to pull out the clothes they needed for that activity; whether it be a long car ride, a day at the Liberty Bell, a day in NYC or just a down day.  They began to use their anticipation skills and pre-plan for their own needs in the future.  Really – exercising that independence skill I strive to teach them daily.

Additionally, this meant they needed to sort through and organize their car pack for whatever items they wanted close to them during the car ride.  They needed to grab their books, music, toys, etc that they thought they’d use the next day.  Again, thinking ahead and becoming self-sufficient.

REASON #5:
NO Instant Gratification:  Good or bad, instant Gratification doesn’t exist on road trips.  Instead, car rides help children understand that not everything happens within a couple hours – like a plane ride.  They learn how much distance exists between states and destinations.  And with that stretch of highway comes time.  A blessed thing!  That opportunity of time allows kids to again exercise their muscle of patience and self-sufficientcy.  They learn to entertain themselves.  I loved the natural rhythm that evolved as we drove each day.  The early excitement in the morning as we began our day, the slow settling into the drive and sinking into a good book, sticker project, coloring activity, or new toy, and then the shift into playing with one another.  They learned to entertain themselves or each other with the simpliest of things.

At the end of out trip – we drove from NJ to STL in one day – 17 beautiful hours!  But after about 11 hours of driving, our 10 month old was tired and bored of his toys.  “Enter knee highs!”  I had some knee highs in a bag which my kids found.  They got the idea to tie them together and then across the inside of the car (from hand rail to hand rail).  They then strung toys on it so the baby could reach out and play with the toys.  And happily it worked.  Hey – it all comes down to the marketing, right?  How ideas are presented.  Change up the angle or the way the toys are played with and it’s a new toy.  But that little discovery would not have come about if we were on the plane.

Our east coast trip was one of our most favorite trips to date.  We had so many happy, fun, inspiring, sweet family times that I’d do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance.  In fact, we’re planning a “Westward-Ho” summer road trip for 2014!  Stay-tuned!  I bet there are more “fringe-benefits” when traveling with kids to be discovered!  Have you traveled with kid-lets and what benefits have you found?

The Birth of Two Young Patriots

At the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA

At the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA

Since the beginning of July, our homeschool began studying the Revolutionary War and surrounding time period.  One symbol we gave significant amount of study to was the Liberty Bell and George Washington.  So, during our homeschooling road-trip, we went to Philadelphia, PA to specifically see the Liberty Bell.  During our study of the bell, we:

  • Read children’s books about the bell
  • Learned that it weighs over 2,000 pounds…(and they managed to move it down from its tower and into a wooden wagon!  Amazing!)
  • Learned that the British wanted to seize the bell to melt it into ammunition.  In its day, it was considered the “Mother Load” of bells and the Americans went to great lengths to protect it and themselves should the bell fall into enemy hands.  So…
  • …During the revolutionary war, the bell was secretly removed from Liberty Hall in PA and hidden away (under the floor boards of a church) until after the war.
  • Learned that to move the bell in secret, it was hidden in a wooden wagon under a hoop skirt and hay so it was disguised like a pile of hay.
  • And Lastly, we learned that the Liberty Bell had its last clear note rung on February 23, 1846. It was rung to commemorate the birthday of George Washington.

Because of our study, my children understood this was not just a bell…it was a symbol of determination by the people of America to preserve and protect their freedom.  Our American brothers went to great lengths to hide it from the enemy and rang their bell proudly when the war was over.  And through the stories and facts, my kids came to love this bell, this American symbol of freedom, of heart-pounding passion.

Having read stories and learned all the facts, having seen pictures of it in books, and after driving almost 1,000 miles, we finally arrived at the Liberty Bell Center.  We walked down the corridor towards the bell.  Like waiting to see an old friend at the airport whom you haven’t seen in a long while, my children were eagerly anticipating their first encounter with “the bell.”  I could tell their excitement mounted as they walked briskly to see this symbol in the “flesh”.

And then…the waiting was over.  There it was.  Both of their paces  slowed – almost to a stop.  They were unaware of the people all around.  My four year old son’s jaw dropped.  My daughter just stared.  Their eyes were fixed…it was real!  That was it!  It was really real!  I don’t mean to sound corny or overly patriotic.  This is exactly how it happened.  And to be honest, I was amazed at how taken they were with this moment.At the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA

As I stood behind them, watching them more than the bell, my eyes blurred.  They were looking at the bell, but saw so much more!  As a parent, this was a moment frozen in time.  They had captured the spirit, felt (if even for a moment) the passion cast into this bell.

As the privileged parent of these wonderful little people, their inspired moment has inspired me with further resolve to continue teaching them true American History.  Just as we were clamoring for Patriots to fight the embolden British over 230 years ago, so today we search for modern day patriots to preserve the freedoms we hold today.  How privileged I feel to have witnessed the birth of two more young patriots on this special day!

My “Chicken Checkers” and Life Lessons

My “Chicken Checkers” and Life Lessons

As we drive into our drive way after having run errands for a couple of hours, I call out, “I am in need of some “chicken checkers!  Who will help me?”  As I say those words I can hear myself parroting the familiar story of The Little Red Hen.  Eagerly responding, I hear my two happy kids’ voices saying, “I’ll do it!”  Once we park, they both jump out of the car and head for their chicken boots.  (The rule is we wear our chicken boots whenever we go in the coops so that we don’t track chicken “stuff” into the house on our regular shoes.  This is one of the many new “rules” I’ve instituted since getting our chickens about two months ago.  Having these systems in place has made everything run smoother and causes less work for Mom in the long run (the ultimate goal – right?)

We’ve had our 15 laying hens now for about six weeks (and 25 additional chicks who are not yet layers.  That’ll come in the fall.)  Every morning and afternoon we check for eggs and collect between 10-12 eggs a day.  The beautiful shades of tan, some dappled with chocolate-brown freckles, others a pale tan, almost vanilla are such fun to see.  Each egg is as individual as the hen who laid it.  And every day my two kids get excited to see how many eggs are waiting to be gently scooped up.  They each have their own basket, decorated pink for the girly girl and blue-camo for our down home boy!  I got the baskets at Hobby Lobby and then had each child pick out their favorite ribbon.  I then used a glue-gun to wrap the ribbon around the handles and voila – individualized baskets.

So my “chicken checkers” are at their post daily.  And new lessons are emerging daily, too.  They are learning to help each other with coop duties when I am not available.  Our littlest has trouble with the big coop doors (they are very heavy) so his older sister being bigger and stronger (for now) can help him open and shut the doors.  When I see this happen, I find my motherly endorphins shoot off like rockets when the spirit of cooperation out-rides the temptation to annoy one another.  Peace reigns, the eggs get collected, and a habit of helpfulness is once again instilled.  Just one of the many benefits to having chickens in the first place.  It creates opportunity to help one another towards achieving a common goal.  This is a life lesson: one that will be used with their parents (us) as we all grow and mature, in their own marriages, with their own children, on the job with their employer or as the CEO of their own business.  Learning to work together – especially when you are of different ages or generations is a huge asset one can bring to the table in this journey of life.

Having chickens is fun and tasty – but let’s not forget the unromantic part of keeping this (sometimes foul-smelling) fowl.  Mom and Dad play a huge roll in the success of this hobby.  A perfect illustration of this occurred when cleaning the coops last weekend.  I try to do the deed on the weekend as there are less things pressing on my time.  Additionally, I like to get it done early in the morning when the heat of each summer day has not yet hit its peak (although we’ve had about 10 straight days of 100+ degree days – ugh!).  Yet, last weekend as my husband headed off to do errands, there I was, in my oh so attractive grey “mom-shorts”, black tank top and my aqua and brown argyle chicken boots (about the cutest thing I was wearing that day).  Oh and let’s not forget my pregnant belly of 6 months.  Anyway, he calls to me, “I’ll be back soon.”  I look up, standing in 6 inches of stinky chicken shavings, the fragrant chicken air just hanging around like Chevy Chase’s cousin Eddy in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, my pregnant belly growing by the day, holding my snow shovel which I use to scoop up their shavings each week, and sweat dripping off my face and forehead.  Forcing a smile, I respond, “Ok, see ya soon!”  To be clear, I was not unhappy with the best husband in the world, just anxious to get this part of my day over.  But I have to say, just after that moment, I had a change of heart.  I realized that not only was I getting the coops cleaned, but I was getting a great workout to boot!  It really was a win-win!  So the rest of my time, as I listened to the rock hits of the 80’s, was quite pleasant.

And so it goes, another life lesson…for me and the kids.  Sometimes, having the quality results you desire (i.e.: fresh eggs on a daily basis) has a price.  It takes sacrifice, discipline, persistence in tending to the responsibilities on a day-to-day basis.  It’s not a sprint to the finish and collect your reward.  It’s a slow and steady race, with ample opportunities of humbleness sprinkled in for flavor.  And perhaps, as I reflect, the bigger benefit than even the fresh eggs…it’s the character growth for me, the husband, the kids.  And to give my hubby the props he deserves, this weekend he was right by my side and we cleaned the coops together.  You know that “working together thing” I talked about earlier?  Well, we did it today, and it was such fun!  Clean coops in about 40 min.  But what benefits do the kids get from this?  Happy, united parents, forging a team of cooperation and giving that they expect from their “baby chicks.”  It’s about a family who works to contribute – to each other and their world around them.  Looking to make their little world a bit more beautiful and fun at the same time.  It’s a gift we work to give to our “Chicken Checkers” daily.  Is it always neat and tidy (and pretty smelling)?  Not in the slightest, but that’s when the character is cultivated and hopefully rooted in solid ground.  I

like to think of it as “Less take, more give.”  It really fills a heart full!