Baking With Kids (Without Losing Your Mind!)

It’s that picture perfect ideal we have in our minds: rolling pin in hand, flour artfully dusted all over our counter tops, our children’s smiling faces, eager to help us cut out adorable little gingerbread men.

The reality however, is not always so picturesque. There are eggs cracked on the floor, I need an ingredient I’ve run out of, two children both want to mix the batter at the same time. It could be easy to simply herd our children out of the kitchen and do it all ourselves, (I have wanted to on MANY an occasion) but there really ARE some amazing lessons and bonding to be had through baking.

Here are a few of my tips for baking (or cooking) with your kids without losing your mind.

** Disclaimer: the author of this blog post in NO way guarantees that you will not lose your mind even if you follow all of her recommendations, children are unpredictable and some days no matter what you try they will TRY YOU. Having said that – these tips can help!

Tip #1) Be Prepared

A little preparation goes a LONG way. Kids (especially very young ones) get impatient. They aren’t interested in tedious things, such as measuring. I always find our baking time 100x better when I have my ingredients pre-measured and ready to dump into a bowl. This also saves me from getting half way through a recipe only to discover a key ingredient missing. Hell hath no fury like a two year old who was promised cookies and has to stop the baking process due to lack of baking powder.

Tip #2) Clearly define each child’s job

Kids actually love rules. Especially when those rules are to ensure fairness. I always start our baking time by clearly defining each child’s job. I let them know who is going to pour the flour, who get’s to dump in the sugar. I tell them the mixing order, first comes older brother then older sister, finally little brother gets a turn. I’ll even go so far as to number out the mixes (“Each person can mix it 10 times and then you have to pass it on”) Might seem extreme, but my children love to know that their turn is coming, it helps them to be patient, it helps them to be respectful – they know the pre-determined amount of times their sibling gets to mix and can have self control because they understand an end is coming.

Tip #3) Create a safe space in the kitchen

Sometimes the chaos in the kitchen is due to the Mother’s anxiety. Our emotions transfer to our children. If we are worried about their safety, it can add to a very stressful activity. I have a designated safe space in my kitchen. Before we start cooking I let the kids know, in my serious voice, that this is the safe space, and when mommy needs to open the oven, or there’s hot oil on the stovetop, If I say “go to your safe space!!” you have to run there and stay until I tell you it’s ok.

I also make sure they know what jobs they CAN do and what jobs they CAN’T – so we aren’t arguing about safety issues. I DO let my kids (especially as they get older) handle knives, showing them the correct way, and teaching them how to be mindful of their fingers, etc. I also let them around hot pans on the stovetop (with supervision) and am constantly instructing them how to be aware of safety issues.

We’ve had a few burns and cuts, but nothing life threatening and the lessons learned have grown their confidence and general awareness in the kitchen. Kids like to know what is safe, what is dangerous and how to take something dangerous and use it in a way that is safe. It makes them feel very grown up and “in the know.” I love encouraging this independence.

Tip #4) Engage in conversation

Kids are most talkative when their hands and bodies are busy. A child who might be tight-lipped in the back seat of the car on the way home from school, can be Chatty Cathy as they mix some batter or cut some cookies out. This isn’t just a time to create food, but memories and connections as well. As long as I can see this time not as the “most efficient way to get food on the table” but a meaningful time with my child, I am able to slow down, not have to correct every thing they are doing wrong, and ask them about themselves.

A few of my favorite cooking conversation starters are:

“What flavors are your favorite?”
“Have you every smelled/tasted this ingredient before?”
“If you were going to make a whole dinner by yourself, what would you make?”
“If you were going to be a chef, what kind of restaurant would you open?”
“How could we make this food even MORE flavorful?”
“Can you find me the (xxxxxx) measuring cup.” (sneak in a little math/ fractions work here!)
“Can you organize these ingredient alphabetically?”
“Can you organize these tools in size order?”

I also try to give a TON of praise to the kids as we are baking. Focusing on affirming their independence, their decision making skills and how much fun I’m having with them.

Tip #5) Keep it Simple

Whether you are a culinary savant or have trouble scrambling eggs, keeping the recipes simple is best for all. The goal is to have fun, learn and create something edible at the end.

I got a Little House on the Prairie Cookbook for the kids when we were reading the books and I love using a lot of these simple recipes. Basic Sugar cookies are also easy and yummy. If you don’t want to have to deal with rolling and cutting (although that is one of the funnest parts!) these snowballs are really fun and rolling them in powder sugar is an great/easy job for little hands.

I’d also highly recommend following @charlottemasonpoetry on instagram for some wonderful kid-friendly recipes throughout the year – for Christmas they have published one for Chocolate Buns that I can’t wait to make with my kids.


Cooking and baking with your kids can be SO much fun.

Yes, it does require some patience and planning, but it’s well worth it.

I hope these tips and conversation starters and resources give you some confidence to get baking with your littles this holiday season.

Smells and Spaces: Christmas Traditions

When you think back to your childhood Christmas, what are your dearest memories?

For me it’s my grandmother’s Italian cookies, my mom’s vintage white porcelain nativity set with a pearlized glaze. It’s driving down that one street in our neighborhood that got LIT UP. It’s the smell of the Douglas Fir my dad always got the day after Thanksgiving.

Smells and spaces.

I can’t think of one holiday memory that doesn’t include these two things.
There are actually studies that discovered smells are what trigger our most vivid and profound memories.

So what does this mean for us as we are working to build memories with our children? I don’t believe Christmas needs to be FULL of go-go-go or do-do-do BUT a few strategic choices can go a long way to solidifying some amazing memories our children will take with them for years to come.

In the spirit of doing less with MORE intention – here are some of the ways I am incorporating smells and spaces intentionally, in hopes that my children will always be able to look back fondly on our Christmas celebrations.

Smells:

  • Choose ONE candle from your favorite candle store -or- essential oil blend and use it consistently, year after year.
  • Choose a favorite egg nog, apple cider or chocolate milk recipe.
  • Make Cinnamon ornaments to hang on the tree or use as gift tags. (here’s my favorite recipe)
  • Bake the same cookie recipe year after year.
  • Find a place in nature, a hiking trail, park, mountain or ocean/lake and breathe in and breathe deep. Different locations take on a different smell each season and connecting to the fragrance of nature is special and hopefully your children can visit this same location and smell the same smells year after year.
  • Choose a special perfume or essential oil blend that you wear. As mothers, we are our children’s safe space and cuddle spot, and I love the idea of giving them a smell to connect with.

Spaces:

  • Creating vignettes is my favorite way to establish consistent “spaces” in my home during the holidays. A vignette is a grouping of items that tell a story. Things like nativities, candles, picture frames, etc.
  • The tree is a big “space” in the home on Christmas – I like creating traditions in this space with special ornaments.
  • Cuddle spots/reading spots are fun to establish in the home – I have this one corner of the couch I always sit in to drink coffee and when the kids want to talk about their day, or we are going to read a book we all move to that spot – it just creates this feeling and consistency with the kids to help them feel safe and secure.

Being mindful to be consistent with smells and spaces can go a LONG way to creating those memories we long to have with our children. I know for me, I always want to do something new and novel and exciting, but I often have to remind myself that children thrive on consistency and routines and tradition – especially during the holiday season.

I would love to hear what smells and spaces you think of when you remember your childhood Christmases!

The Joy of Giving

It’s that time of year when we give more gifts in a smaller amount of time than any other.

If you are like me, it’s both a wonderful time (especially when the gifts seem effortless to give and the person so well deserving of some love and appreciation) and a stressful time (when the gifts seem expected or pressured and the budget is getting out of hand).

But when it comes to our kids it can be difficult to help them understand that they are not the center of the world and Christmas is more about the joy of giving than getting.

How do we raise kids who love to GIVE in a season when they are tempted to only think about what they can GET??

As with all things, this starts with us. Are we as parents modeling the kind of behavior we’d like to see in our children?? I had to take A MAJOR look in the mirror on this one – as someone who tends to get more than a few things for MYSELF on Black Friday and very few things for anyone else.

Do my actions communicate to my children that I get JOY in my life is from getting all the things I want?? -Or- have I learned the hard lesson, that when I sacrifice, say no to my own material “needs” (and I use the word needs ever so lightly) and create margin in my life to share or spend money on OTHERS there is an even greater joy and satisfaction to be found?

Once we have taken a look in the mirror, I would propose to you that the next best way to ensure our children are generous givers is to present them with opportunities to give that allow them to experience the natural joy we all get when something we have done blesses someone else in a real and tangible way. 

Not all giving is created equal when it comes to our children FEELING the joy. If we are buying toys to drop into a toys for tots bin, for kids they will never see and know nothing about – it’s going to be difficult for them to imagine or experience the joy that child will experience from their generosity. If we are donating to a cause online, it can be extremely difficult for our children to understand the impact we are making.

Here are a few ideas that can allow our children to not only participate in the act of generosity, but EMOTIONALLY experience the satisfaction of their actions – and THIS positive emotion will be embedded into their hearts and minds for the rest of their lives.

  1. Filling shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child: I love this ministry/activity because your child gets to choose the gender and age of the child who will be receiving the box. They can add handmade cards and notes and gifts. And then you can also track the box and see where it’s going – adding this personal touch helps to create ownership and excitement around the personal nature of what we are doing and who gets blessed by our generosity.
  2. Adopting a Family for Christmas: I love this activity because you get to adopt a LOCAL family. It’s an entire family, and you will get some personal information about the kids in the family. Anything personal that we can share with our kids about who we are serving will help them to make real connections. I also love the website I linked here – they have some great questions to continue the conversation with your kids as you are doing the activity or after.
  3. Picking out gifts for friends and family members: This is the MOST personal gift giving you can encourage your kids to do. Some kids are naturally very generous, while others could use some direction. I have a few of each kind of child and with my children who struggle a little more I like to take some time, one-on-one and ask them questions to help them think generously.

    “What is (Grandma)’s favorite thing to do?”
    “She likes baking”
    “Ok! What is something we could get her that would allow her to enjoy that even more?”

    “What do you love doing with (Uncle Jo-Jo)?”
    “I love playing soccer with him!”
    “Ok! What gift could we give him to thank him for that?”

    Walking them through questions like this helps to teach them how to think of others, how to be grateful for the ways each person in our family adds something unique to our lives AND the coolest part about this kind of gift giving: your child can BE THERE when the gift is received. I think this is 100% NECESSARY that your child sees the actual JOY on someone’s face when they receive a gift from your child. It’s just the BEST and actually can become addictive. Your child will WANT to keep giving after feeling that joy and satisfaction.

  4. Making gifts for others or providing a service: I love the idea of teaching my kids that sometimes being generous doesn’t require any money at all. Whether it’s making cookies for a neighbor or soup for a friend who is sick. Or maybe helping someone with yard work or doing volunteer work at a local animal shelter – our TIME and TALENTS are gifts along with our material treasures.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can find many more ways to cultivate generosity – my challenge to you is to make sure there is a tangible, experiential, component to the activities you choose. The more of this our children encounter and personally feel the impact of their actions, the more we can encourage that our children not only go through the motions of generosity, but REALLY feel the joy of giving.

Salt Dough Ornaments

Last year I went all out and created 25 activities for the month of December and it was AMAZING! (You can read about it HERE)

This year – with the kids being in school and there being less space in our adorable little apartment, I’m toning it down a little. But, come on guys, it’s still me…so here we are, November 24th and I’m already one Christmas Craft in!

This one is so cute and easy and fun: making Salt Dough Ornaments.

The recipe is beyond simple:

1 Cup Salt

2 Cups Flour

1 Cup Water

Mix it all together and roll out like cookie dough. Cut out your ornaments like cookies – this is the most fun part! Lay out on a cookie sheet and bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours (if you roll your dough thick, it might take 3 hours). Make sure you make a small hole in the ornaments before they dry so you have some place to tie a string or hook.

Once they are dry you can decorate with paint, glitter, etc.

The kids just LOVE these ornaments and we mke them almost every year. Also, this is a great alternative if you love the idea of Christmas cookie making but not the sugary binge that comes after.

The Power of Rhythms

One of my favorite aspects of the Charlotte Mason method of education (the method that I prefer to use and align with the most) is the focus on creating habits and rhythms to the day, week and month. Not just for the children, but for the mother as well (this concept can even serve you if you have no children at all). This is NOT something I do naturally, nor have I found it especially easy to get these rhythms started. If you only knew how many times I tried to create a “chore chart” before giving up.

When I first tried to add new activities or focuses to my day and personal growth I tried to do WAY too many. I wanted to implement all the things all at the same time. All I felt was overwhelmed, frustrated and exhausted.

After learning to pair down, my next mistake was trying to stick all my new desired habits to a schedule. At 10:05am I needed to start my habit of tidying up the playroom – it was ON THE AGENDA. Well, it took me all of a few days to realize that kids and schedules just don’t go together. Heck – forget the kids – ME and schedules just don’t go. The structure was just too rigid for me.

And this is where I lived for a while. Frustrated by my lack of ANY structure, but intimidated and overwhelmed by the ultrastructure that I would see in so many of my highly organized friends and overly detailed planners.

Once I started diving into Charlotte Mason’s writings on how to help children establish habits, the idea of rhythms to the day felt like a great middle ground. There is a plan to the day, we have objectives and a structure, BUT rather than each activity being tied to a specific hour, or being confined to a 20 or 30 or 40 minute time block, it is more about the rhythm of the day and the order to the day.

Now, if you are reading this, you are probably in one of two camps. The first camp is the ultra organized, everything has a place and a time, and you may feel that this is simply not ENOUGH structure for you. I get that, and if your system is working for you, then more power to ya!! However, I have found that life is life. There are things outside of our control and sometimes, being SO strictly tied to a time and a specific slot can cause problems. Activities that are important to you, like reading aloud to your kids, might not happen on a consistent basis if there’s traffic that cuts into the “reading hour”, or a giant mess takes forever to clean up, or any number of things get in the way.

If, however, you have a rhythm established, then you know read aloud time comes after you get home from school, and it can be 3:30pm on Monday or 4:30pm on Tuesday because you needed to stop at the store for some milk before getting home. Having a rhythm keeps the activities happening from day to day, without life needing to go picture perfect -or- making a you feel like a failure because the “schedule is getting thrown off!!!”

The second type of reader may be the one who shudders at the word schedule. Who feels confined or overwhelmed or just bored by the idea of doing the same thing at the same time every day. I get that – 100%, I feel  much the same way, but here is my argument for why it can be really powerful to create some rhythms.

  1. Creating rhythms gives you a plan that you don’t have to re-create every day.

I don’t know about you but it is EXHAUSTING for me to have to figure out what to do each day!! Whether it’s with my business or with my kids. The fewer decisions I have to make, the better. Having said that, I do still have some room for decision making, because I can be flexible within each allotted “activity.” For example, when I was homeschooling, every Thursday was our day out. I would pack lunches the night before, and we would head out of the house. Sometimes to a park to explore nature, sometimes to the science museum, sometimes we’d take the metro downtown and walk around the city to enjoy the energy, architecture and food. I could find flexibility with what we did, but I knew each Thursday we would be explorers. This was intentional to foster a sense of adventure in my children and broaden their horizons and what they were exposed to.

Having this weekly rhythm allowed me to make time for what was important to me, keep me from having to recreate the wheel each week – but also give me some flexibility for my spontaneous nature!

2) Creating rhythms allows you to automatically honor YOUR priorities.

Whether you love or hate planning and scheduling, you have to admit that without SOME sort of structure, to do list or intentionality, your life will drift and usually that drifting does not take us where we want to go. The good news is that creating rhythms is an AMAZING way to be intentional about how you spend your time, without having to be a slave to every second being micro-mangaged.

When I want to set up a new rhythm in our lives (more on this later, but I highly recommend starting slow and adding one rhythm at a time, because building habits takes focus and work) I start by making a list of all the things that I might possibly want to improve. It can be anything from improving the atmosphere in our home and a more consistent cleaning routine, or it could be a character trait I’d like to see my kids, like servanthood or hard work. Once I’ve made my list (chances are, if you are on Instagram or Pinterest, there will be no end to the list of things you could potentially want to see improvement on, and this is where we fail so often. There are SO MANY things we are constantly wanting to do or learn about, or implement with our kids, and yet we rarely take the time to think: “What makes sense for us TODAY?” and make a decision to work on ONE area at a time and take REAL action so our wishes become reality) I will consider EVERY option I have written down and pick the ONE that I want to see become a reality.

If this is difficult for you, remember, it’s ALL GOOD. There is no “wrong” decision. If you are improving yourself, it almost doesn’t matter what you pick. Everything bleeds into everything else. If you choose to start with your health, you better believe your parenting and marriage are going to improve as well. If you choose to strengthen your friendships, you may find yourself more positive at work. Don’t get so hung up on it being the “perfect” area to begin with, the point here is to decide on SOMETHING so we can place our focus and energy in ONE direction and actually see progress. (One question I do like to ask myself however, is “Which area is causing me the most pain?” -or- “Which area, if I really improve in it, will bring me the most joy and satisfaction?” I always find at least one or two areas rise to the top whenever I ask these questions)

Now that you have your area of growth selected, it’s time to create a rhythm in your day. I strongly believe, if you are starting from scratch and have ZERO rhythms established, the morning should be your first place!

There is something powerful about how we start our day. If you are a natural morning person, like I am, you can get REALLY creative and elaborate with your morning routine.

Mine is about two hours long, if I am able to complete all of it (remember that whole conversation on kids and flexibility?) and includes my skin care routine, listening to podcasts, drinking water, gratitude, planning out my day, setting my top objectives for the day, mediation, reading scripture, praying and a workout.

It doesn’t HAVE to be that elaborate however, If you are not a morning person, you can make your rhythm a slower one. Maybe you start with coffee and listening to classical music. Maybe you do some gentle stretches and affirmations. Maybe your goal is to simply get yourself in a grounded, positive state before the day starts. The important part is the rhythm being INTENTIONAL (meaning, you are doing the things YOU have decided feel good to YOU).

If you do want to focus on creating a morning routine – I have a free e-course for you that will walk you through how to create and establish a life-giving morning routine: CLICK HERE to access.

3) Creating Rhythms can create an atmosphere of safety for your children and family

Time and time again, studies have shown that children thrive on structure and consistency. When I first read this, it was bad news for me, because I LOVE spontaneity and get bored easily! But I have to say, as I have begun to implement rhythms into our day and our lives I have been so pleased with the results I’ve seen in my children.

  • There is less arguing. If I have set a precedence for quiet reading time after dinner instead of watching TV, after just a few days and explaining what we will be doing, the kids aren’t fighting it. They aren’t caught off guard by my every whim, they aren’t shocked or struggling to keep up with what I am asking of them. They almost effortlessly move right into the activity and find joy in knowing exactly what comes next and what is expected of them.
  • I can start giving them more responsibility. Now that the kids are going to school, we have a great little morning routine created and because the kids know what comes next, I’ve been able to give them little “tasks” and responsibility that they are proud to do and can begin without me telling them to. This is WONDERFUL because it’s now become something they do from their OWN sense of responsibility, rather than because I am nagging them to do it over and over again. It creates a beautiful atmosphere in the mornings, with each child being a busy bee, getting all their tasks done.
  • Rhythms can also become a “safety blanket” that can help children when life gets turned upside down. Anyone else feel like when you go on vacation your kids turn into demon children? I mean, of course the later nights and extra sugary treats probably has something to do with it, but it can also be that the children are reacting to a completely different atmosphere. Different bed, different food, different schedule – it is very disorienting. If, however, you have established little rhythms in your day and life, you can continue to start your day the same way, or have the bedtime routine be consistent – you can take these rhythms with you and find your children much more well adjusted, happier and more content. When Hurricane Irma hit Florida, we evacuated and ended up staying for a week with another family in Orlando. It was stressful and crazy, but I brought our school books (we were still homeschooling at the time) and continued doing our morning school time each day, and I found the kids felt much more settled and at ease to have that familiar rhythm in their day.

The hardest part about getting your kids to fall into rhythms is getting YOURSELF to fall into a rhythm. I highly suggest starting with YOU. Start with that early morning, move into the rest of the day, little by little. What feels awkward at first will soon feel like second nature, and instead of reacting we can be living on purpose.

I plan to make this topic a recurring one on this blog and next installment I plan give some very practical tips for how to get a rhythm started (this is the most awkward part!) and how to get your kids and family ready to jump into the new rhythm with you, but for now, remember – rhythms can work for anyone, even if you are not a particularly organized or type-A personality, and they can be powerful tools to provide structure, purpose and security for all.

 

The Heart of a Homeschooler

We recently transitioned from a homeschooling family to putting our kids in school this year. (You can read more about it here).

It was a difficult transition for me, there was so much about homeschooling that I loved and I was sad to give it up. However, I was shocked to find that MANY of the concepts and principals and ideas at the HEART of homeschooling could still find expression even with the kids in school.

I would love to introduce and explore these concepts with you, I feel like they set the tone for any other resources, guides, etc that I may create in the future. My vision is to create seasonal guides, discussion prompts, activity packets and more for homeschoolers AND parents with kids in school to help parents connect with and take full advantage of these young years. Because, lets face it, sometimes it’s a struggle to connect with our kids in a meaningful way and it can be intimidating, but here is my encouragement to you: THESE ARE YOUR KIDS – you are the perfect parent FOR THEM. Most of the time, simply showing up and being present with them (not just physically but mentally and emotionally) is all they want. 

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen and heard my kids being CRAZY and all I have wanted to do was run away and hide, but when I realized that they were acting out because they NEEDED some direction and attention, I decided to PRESS IN and in those moments I found the most profound connection and amazing memories that I never would have built without the courage to be present, even through the hard. It feels so counterintuitive but the more I do it, the more natural it becomes and I have been able to transform difficult situations into an opportunity for me and my child to grow together.

So, yes, I am excited to, in the near future, bring you some great resources that will hopefully serve you, especially if you have never homeschooled or thought you could or even wanted to, but I really feel like these principals are super important to lay down as a base before we get into all of that.

The first concept I am bringing over from my homeschooling days is the belief that I am the primary educator of my children and I am capable of teaching them. 

This is a concept that every homeschooling parent has to believe and understand. They are personally taking the full weight of educating their child so they must believe they are capable of doing it. However, even if your children are in school and a teacher or administration is handling the curriculum and the implementation of it, doesn’t mean YOU aren’t also capable of educating your children. Don’t let ANYONE tell you that you can’t because you aren’t a “professional”. Don’t ever believe the lie that you are not able to teach your kids – you were their first teacher and will be a teacher for them for the rest of their life, not only with your words, but with your life.

Plus, YOU are the expert on your child AND education is something that is NATURAL to children and not something that HAS to be structured. 

Believing that you CAN teach your children (even if you choose to outsource it) and that you are the primary educator of your child is something that ALL parents, homeschooling or not, should believe. It’s SO empowering and having that mindset will allow you to see and seize teaching moments wherever and whenever they present themselves. 

Speaking of teaching moments, that brings me to my second principal: Children are ALWAYS learning, structured or unstructured.

Homeschoolers don’t think of education as ONLY happening during a certain set of hours or in a certain atmosphere. In school, for sheer necessity, learning must be structured and measured and planned ahead, but one of my FAVORITE things about homeschooling was how much learning took place organically. If you have the eyes and ears to see and hear it, you will be amazed at how often children are learning and how hungry they are for information. 

As parents, it is our job to notice when our children are hungry for information and provide as much of it for them as we can. As soon as you realize the WORLD is the classroom, the more enriched your moments with your kids can be (and not JUST for them, the world is a classroom for us as well!)

The third principal is that education is more fun and effective when done together.

There are many types of homeschooling, so this may not be true of all, but the method of homeschooling that I employed was not to replicate a classroom in my home (at desks, with a strict time table, very structured), instead, I chose to weave schooling in and out of “living”. Yes, we had time for memory work and that was structured, we did follow a curriculum, and  had time for reading and doing math, but it wasn’t always the same time every day, and sometimes memory work was done at a park or in the car. 

Sometimes, we’d take a full day to explore a natural wild reserve because the weather was beautiful. Because of that flexibility in education, and the way that we would weave education in and and out of our lives, I realized that teaching my kids is most fun when we are learning things and doing things that I’m interested in and curious about. This has to be the starting point for those of us wanting to engage with our children and teach them. 

Instead of starting with what you think you SHOULD be teaching your kids, or what other people are teaching THEIR kids – start with what YOU love and bring your kids along.

One of my favorite concepts when I was homeschooling, was to remember that I am the lead learner, not the expert. I don’t have to know it all, but if I am willing to learn and lead the way and expose my kids to the world, it will spark their curiosity and mine as well. 

This is actually a MUCH easier concept to employ with my children in school because I know the basics like reading, written and arithmetic are already being taken care of. I can simply take the time we are together and be learners together. If I am curious about gardening – we can go learn together about soil ph and pollination. If I want to learn an instrument, we can take lessons together. 

If I want my kids to think learning is fun – I have to SHOW them that learning is fun. If I want to connect with my kid, I need to be INTERESTED in the activity we are doing and invite them to join me. 

The last concept to consider is that children are people too.

This might seem basic, but the implications are profound. What this concept means to me is to treat my children the way I would want to be treated. Yes, I am the parent and I need to set structures and guidelines for my children, but I don’t need to DOMINATE or control them. I don’t need to underestimate them or dumb things down for them. 

I respect that they are a person with preferences and I can challenge them to try new things, but I don’t need to force it. If I am modeling the behavior I want to see in them and I am explaining to them WHY this is a good thing, I can trust that over time they will be open to it. I always want to treat them as I would want to be treated. I wouldn’t want someone to force me to do something I am not comfortable with. I would want someone to be patient with me to warm up to something new over time. So this is the attitude I adopt with my children.

Some of the activities that I have included in my guides will be new for you and your child. They might whine or say they don’t want to do it. They might complain and you might feel frustrated to even TRY these activities if all they are going to do is moan and cry. I have BEEN THERE and it can make you want to shut it down and go back to the comfort zone. BUT, as I said at the beginning, sometimes all we need to do in those moments is slow down, PRESS IN, ask questions, listen to our children. I love knowing WHY they don’t want to do something. Maybe their fears are unfounded and I can talk them through what the activity will involve. Maybe they are just tired or hungry and we can grab a snack before heading out to our activity. I also explain to them WHY we are going on a nature walk, or filling out a gratitude journal each night, I try to give them a vision for the purpose behind this activity. I treat them as a person. I respect their individuality. I speak to them as intelligent beings capable of understanding and reasoning with me. 

Parenting does not always come naturally. Parenting is one of the hardest (if not THE hardest) thing I have ever done. It takes a lot of dealing with MY insecurities, my weaknesses and my own shortcomings. To connect with my child requires humility and a willingness to sacrifice. I do think that these basic concepts will serve you as you move into some of the other guides and resources that I am planning to create. 

You CAN teach and connect with your child.
Teaching moments are EVERYWHERE.
Learn together and start with what sparks YOUR creativity.
Children are people and the more we respect them the deeper our relationship will go. 

To me…this is the heart of a homeschooler.

Finances and Freedom in the Gospel

Finances.
The simplest thing in the world.

When you earn money: add.
When you spend money: subtract.

Don’t spend more money than you earn.

Simple.

Finances.
The most complicated thing in the world.

The worth of a man to provide.
The way affection is expressed.
The security we crave.
The craving to always want more.
The measure of success.
The shame of debt and failure.
The pride of self-sufficiency.

How do we find our way?

It took my husband and I ten years of marriage before we finally got on the same page about finances. We THOUGHT we were on the same page. Every month we’d review and as we looked at the less than ideal numbers, feel the shame of our lack of discipline. We’d set the budget for the next month – DETERMINING to do better! Only to come to the end of that month in much the same place. All too quickly, our once a month reviews turned into once every three month reviews, and finally we stopped reviewing all together – only troubling to look when there was an overdraft notification or emergency.

Shame around this topic was thick. It kept both of us from being open, being present, being honest, being humble and finally God brought us to the point of desperation (what a mercy when He does that!).

Finding freedom in this area has been a slow journey (and I am still walking daily in it) but these gospel truths are what helped me to push through the darkness and come into the light.

My inability to manage my finances does not define me

I can’t tell you how many times I would tell myself, my husband, and anyone really: “I am just NOT good with money. I hate it, I hate thinking about it, I hate dealing with it, I’m just not good with money.” I said it so often that I started to believe it was true. I believed that I was who I was.

The gospel reminds me that I am a NEW CREATION. I have been given dominion over sin and darkness. It reminds me that what stays in the dark remains hidden and what is brought to light can be forgiven.

I was comfortable with defining myself as someone “not good with money” because it was easier to believe that, than to realize it was a sin issue that can be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. Once I stopped defining myself as someone “bad with money.” and instead as a daughter of God, I found the boldness to bring our mess out, share it with others and get a plan in place.

Submission brings freedom

Now that we had our plan, I only had to follow it. This however, proved to be more difficult that I anticipated. I was confronted with rebellion in my heart. I did not want to submit to the boundary lines God had placed around me.

If I wanted to bless my kiddos with ice cream, I would bless them with ice cream! If I wanted to redecorate our bedroom, I would do it! Submitting to a budget and restraints and never feeling like I had quite enough to do what I really wanted, made me feel stifled and constrained and I didn’t like it. I am ashamed as I recall the many little tantrums I would throw. My poor sister (who is so faithful and disciplined with her money and my role model in this area)  heard quite the earful every time I would huff and puff about how hard this is.

As I began saying no to the things I wanted to buy, I had to cry out to Christ to make me content when there was no ice cream, or I was staring at that old coffee table with marker stains on it. I had to lean on Him to fill the void when I wasn’t able to maintain my life to the standard I felt I deserved or was “acceptable”. I had to remind myself where my joy and purpose and value lie. There was no retail therapy and it was so painfully good.

Funny thing happened, as I sacrificed and submitted to Him, I felt greater freedom. I felt freedom from the gut wrenching feeling of getting the overdraft alert email. I felt freedom to give money to a needy friend whose son was very sick, because we hadn’t overspent it on a West Elm coffee table. That is the contradictory freedom of the gospel!!

Life comes through death. Freedom comes when we submit and lay down our demands.

He alone can be my hope

The last gospel truth that brought freedom through this season of growing in our finances came a few months after the initial struggle. We were budgeting regularly, we were sticking to the plan. I had gotten over that silly lie that I “wasn’t a money person”. I was submitting and saying no to what wasn’t in the boundary lines for us and finding such freedom! We were putting money away towards debt and it was exciting.

Until, our homeowners insurance dropped us and we had to find a new company. As the inspector came through our house we discovered that the electrician who had redone our electrical panel over six years ago, did a terrible job and the entire thing needed to be redone.

Nothing like a $1200 home repair to shake all the confidence and money saving momentum. All of a sudden I was looking at our A/C unit, wondering when it would fail us. I was imagining strange noises coming out of our van. Everything seemed like it could go at any time and I felt anxiety creeping up in my heart.

I realized that I had begun to subtly shift my confidence from the Lord, to my ability to be a good little girl and save her money and stick to a budget. Once again, I ran to the gospel and found freedom. He feeds the birds of the air, he clothes the grass of the field, do not let your heart be anxious.

If He did not spare His own son, how much MORE will He not also give us all things.

The last lesson I have been learning about finances is that they are simply a tool in God’s hands to make us more like Christ. The numbers almost don’t matter – it’s my heart He’s after.

Our inheritance is CHRIST – not a 401K or a dream retirement home. This world is ending – for a while I actually used this as an excuse NOT to manage my money or put it away – thinking that it doesn’t matter, because this is not our final home, but when I realized that the way I treat money is a revealer of where my heart is toward God, how I’m trusting Him, submitting to Him, believing His truth about me instead of my lies, I found such FREEDOM to use this tool for HIS glory and put it in it’s proper place.

Publishing this blog in THIS month is a huge deal for us, because this is the month we officially are completely debt free (minus our home) and this is also the month when we prayed and decided to invest our money in our family before doing the “right thing” and build up a 3-6 month savings first. It’s not the plan, it’s not the debt, it’s not any of that – it’s our hearts. Are we willing to submit to God in EVERY area, including our finances? Are we willing to seek Him and let His gospel freedom impact even the dollars and cents in our bank accounts and wallets?

I am still learning EVERY DAY, I still struggle with shame and self-control, but I am not my failures, I am redeemed and my inheritance was purchased for me – NEVER to be taken away.

 

Refining How I Let my Kids Fail

I love failure.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who loves failure as much as I do.

I mean… I hate it, just like everyone else, when I fall short and mess up, but I’ve learned to see it as a beautiful thing.

I read a fabulous book a few years ago called Failing Forward by John Maxwell and it was one of those books that made the world shift upside down. The thing I thought was unacceptable and to be avoided at all costs (I am a classic, overachiever, A+ ONLY kind of gal), turned out to be good – WHAT??. The moments I thought I was at my weakest were actually moments of great potential for rising and moving into greater things.
Fabulous book – HIGHLY recommend it.

I now SEEK OUT opportunities for failure. I now press IN when I’m met with failure. It’s a whole thing and it has made my life so much richer.

Naturally you would assume I would be 100% on board with the parenting rhetoric of the day, which is that as parents we should let our children fail.

If they forget their lunch, they’ll just have to go hungry and eat when they get home. That’ll teach them to never forget their lunch box again! If they forget to set their alarm, don’t wake them up! They’ll be late to school or work and have to deal with the consequences of their actions. It’s a mean world out there – better they learn NOW while it doesn’t matter as much, than later when the consequences are worse.

I certainly believe in preparing my children for the world by allowing them to experience natural consequences of their actions.
Absolutely – 100%.

I do however have a few thoughts and concerns to propose for those of us letting our kids fail.
I am uncomfortable with a few ways that this principal can be applied – mostly from the way I HAVE applied it and as I have considered and prayed through this concept, a few adjustments have been incredibly helpful to me in this area.

When I am confronted with ANY parenting idea…I have to start with one important question: Is this Biblical? Does this find roots in scripture? Should I apply this in my life?

The Bible says: “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” Meaning, children are evaluated and judged and should stand on their own actions. They are building a reputation even as a young person. I have often told my children that they are free to choose to tell lies, but the consequence of that choice is a reputation of someone who is not trustworthy. They will erode trust with me, they will erode trust with their friends and teachers and once trust is eroded it is difficult if not impossible to rebuild.

And this brings me to my first consideration for those of us letting our kids fail:
Are we taking the time to FIRST teach our children the consequences of their actions before throwing them into the ring?

Yes, I do think LIVING OUT the consequences of one’s actions is a great way to learn, but I think our kids can also learn from us TELLING them. And there have been many times when I have been lazy or just forgetful, to teach my children FIRST. (Disclaimer – my children are ages 8, 6, 5, 2 – so I still have relatively young children, and we are very much in the TRAINING phase…but even still…I know that as a pre-teen, I remember being kind of oblivious to the cause and effect of the world around me…I think even our older children can need to be reminded and verbally trained every now and again)

Here’s an example, I remember a few years ago (before I was as intentional with training my kids on nutrition and how food affects our bodies) my son ate a ton of candy for Halloween. He got a terrible stomach ache and actually threw up. My response to him was: “Well, that’s what happens when you eat too much candy!!!” Not compassionate. Too bad. Now you learned your lesson. Deal with it.

I cringe to think of it. Yes, he did learn his lesson. But – did I EVER have a conversation with him about what candy and sugar and food dyes do to our bodies and our stomach? Nope. How could I expect this child, who has only been marketed to by the candy companies as candy being good, and delicious, and colorful, and fun – know what would happen if he ate too much?

So often, I just assume my kids know better. When in fact, I have not taken the time to instruct them and I’m just upset that now I have to clean throw up off of a Spiderman costume and I’m actually probably more irritated with myself for not paying attention or not wanting to fight him and restrict the candy consumption.

Imagine how different the situation would have been if I would have said: “Hey sweetie, today is Halloween. You will be getting a LOT of candy. Here is what candy and sugar and food dyes do to your body <insert description of all the diseases and health problems caused by large amounts of sugar>. It is your body and your choice what you do with all this candy, but I want you to know the consequences if you choose to eat a lot. How much do you think you should have tonight? …… Ok, how can mommy help you stick to that amount? Do you want me to put the rest up high so you aren’t tempted to eat more? Great! Sounds like a good plan! I can’t wait to see what pieces you pick to enjoy tonight!”

SO DIFFERENT RIGHT?

Now, my son may still eat too much, he may throw up, and that’s fine – some kids DO need to experience it. But I don’t want that to be an excuse for me to not adequately train my children.

This can apply to so many areas:
Are we training our children how to manage their schedules?
Do they know how much time each activity takes?
Are we training our children how to handle money?
Are we teaching them how relationships work?
Do they know how much gas costs?
Are they aware that food and sleep affects their health?

These are just a few of the areas that I ASSUME my kids will just naturally know. And if they sign up for 5 different extra curricular activities – WELL, they better still get their homework done!! (but, if I never trained them on how to plan their time, how can I expect them to encounter ANYTHING BUT failure?)

Isn’t this how God deals with us? He GIVES US His law, He tells us the consequences, He reminds us of the blessings that follow obedience. I want to treat my kids like that.

How else does God treat us? Well, with compassion.

I think this is the default for most parents. As I polled several of you on social media on this topic I was so encouraged at the desire to let kids fail combined with unconditional love and I think that is so important and most would agree to that.

But as I pushed deeper into how God deals with me and what the Bible says about relationships and community I started to wonder – what does a “You’re on your own kid – if you forget too bad for you.” kind of attitude teach my children? Will it teach them not to ever trust or rely on others? Is that what I want to teach them? As I intentionally teach them independence, am I unintentionally teaching them that they don’t NEED community? Am I ok with that?

I want my children to take responsibility for their own actions and life, but also know that it’s ok to rely on a community or a family to have your back. I think about how my husband deals with me, I realized that there are absolutely times when I SHOULD have suffered the full consequence of my mistakes – I locked my keys in the apartment, I forgot to set my alarm in the morning, etc. and my husband has graciously helped me out. We are a family and we support each other and I am so THANKFUL for the grace and mercy shown to me.

Being in a relationship with others is wildly inconvenient. I am ashamed to say how many times I have used this “You forgot it, too bad, next time remember.” principal simply because I did not want to be inconvenienced. In our family we cary each others burdens and sometimes that means we turn back and get the long-lost, beloved toy left at a restaurant even though we are all tired, because we LOVE the person it belongs to and we sacrifice for his/her joy.

At the end of the day, God doesn’t always allow me to feel the full consequence of my mistakes or sins either – yes, He allows punishment and consequences to befall me but there are many times when He is gracious and I can do the same for my kids, even at great cost to myself.

My final thought on this issue is a question I am constantly coming back to: In my parenting efforts, is my goal to create moral, conforming, “good” little girls and boys, or to parent my children’s hearts towards the gospel? And what is the difference?

Morality tells me to at all times strive to be good and do good and live virtuously. It tells me that my identity and worth lie in how good, responsible and mistake-free I can live.

The gospel tells me that my sins and actions have weight and worth and are grievous to a Holy God. The gospel tells me that I cannot EVER be good enough to earn God’s favor or save myself. The gospel tells me when I fall short, there is grace because Jesus SACRIFICED and paid the PENALTY for my sins.

Jesus did the ultimate “bail out” by paying the FULL PRICE for my sins.

I do not always want to bail my children out of their messes, but sometimes – I do. Sometimes I’d rather preach the gospel to them. Sometimes I’m ok with letting them fail and struggle and find their own way and feel the weight of their consequences, but now with these considerations in place:

I will educate you before pushing you into the wild world.

It’s ok to still rely on community and family, we are not islands unto ourselves.

When you are not good enough – Christ is your Savior.

Now get out there little ones – and fail GRANDLY…I’ll always be here to remind you of grace, as you fight your own battles.

Bible Time with Kids

Growing up as a PK (pastor’s kid) was an experience (more on that another time) but one of my favorite things we did as a family, were daily family devotions around the breakfast table. My brother and two sisters and I, we would go through commentaries and memorize scripture, having lively debates on original sin and the present day implications of what it means to keep the Sabbath Holy. My dad had this giant white board he’d whip out to help us understand the original greek of the passage we were studying. We’d often end in worship, my sister on the piano and the rest of us taking different harmonies. I’m sure it wasn’t as perfect and holy as my memories are, I’m sure we all had our off mornings and I KNOW that many times the “devotion” for the morning was to discuss and bring attention to one of our conflicts or disrespectful responses to my parents. It was part theology and part discipleship/counseling. Even still, it is one of my favorite growing up memories.

Once I had four littles of my own, I couldn’t wait to carry on the tradition of breakfast and Bible. Only, my children are seven, six, four and one, much too young to debate theology or play musical instruments. Most mornings my attempts at devotions end in frustration. Everyone has to go to the bathroom or get a diaper change, or needs more water, or spills their water. I am herding cats, not teaching eager little beavers.

Some days I feel like they are bored, uninterested and itching to leave the table. Some days I wonder why I try.

And then, one morning, I had a shift.

They weren’t paying attention, my patience was running thin, and I just started reading the story for that morning and it was about how Jesus calms the storm. Something about the way it was written pierced my heart. I felt like the waves were crashing down on me, I felt like Jesus was asleep in the bottom of the boat and here I was frantically trying to keep us from drowning.

I started to cry as I read, I was having my own holy moment and the kids started to hush. I guess they aren’t used to seeing mommy in tears or hear such heartfelt, weak and needy prayers.

It was in that moment that I realized why I need to persist in morning devotions.
Instead of doing it for them, I need to do it for me.
I realized that I NEED the gospel every morning, not just my kids.

Our devotions started to change a bit after that.
I started diving into scripture that inspired ME and brought me to tears, instead of the cute stories from their children’s Bible.

I played worship songs that I could belt out and experience the Holy Spirit through, instead of This Little Light of Mine.

I needed to preach the gospel to myself, I needed to be real with my kids over MY struggles to trust that God keeps His promises when it looked like daddy might lose his job, or I was so tired with a list a mile long. Some days, my passion and my heart would break through to them, their little voices joining mine and their prayers heartfelt and tender. Some days I really was just preaching to myself – while they smeared yogurt all over the table.

Either way I am convinced that I am most effective as a mom when I stand before God and work as unto Him and Him alone. When I don’t allow the responses from my children dictate my faithfulness to live and articulate the gospel to them.

Maybe one day, we will dive into commentaries and I’ll get out the whiteboard, like my father used to do, and we will study together. But, if that is a gift granted to me, it is several years off at least. Until then, I will follow Him, I will pray my heart out, right there at the table full of crumbs, over the screeches of a one year old who is done with being confined to her high chair, and I will delight myself in the Lord, leaving the souls of my children in His capable hands.

——————————-

Here are a few resources I have found helpful for our morning devotion time, easy enough for my very young children to grasp, but substantial to feed my heart as well.

Wise Up by Marty Machowski
This devotional does a uniquely wonderful job of teaching wisdom without teaching rules. It shows children how to live according to God’s design but is CONSTANTLY reminding them that good works alone can NEVER save us, we are loved by God through Jesus sacrifice alone. This devotional also has a musical album to accompany it and the truths that it teaches. My kids love music and I loved being able to sing with them and reinforce what we were learning day by day.

Heaven for Children by Randy Alcorn
I am a huge fan of Randy Alcorn and both his fiction and non-fiction. His book Heaven was foundational to my understanding of and greater longing for Heaven and when I saw he had a version for children I was hopeful it would be just as good. It did not disappoint. This book made us ALL long for heaven and was a constant reminder to me what GLORIES await us, giving me a hope in the midst of trials and giving my children a much larger picture of what Heaven is like and what a miracle it is that we, who are far from perfect or deserving, get to go to this wonderful place. This book also CLEARLY preaches the gospel in several places.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
I would be remiss if I did not include this resource, although it is not new by any stretch, still, I am blown away, time and time again, when we take a break from reading this bible and come back to it, how deep, clear, compelling and beautiful the gospel is presented through this Children’s bible. The ONLY Children’s Bible I would read all by myself.

 

Spiced Banana Pumpkin Bread

This recipe is the result of a happy mistake! I had run out of a few ingredients after already starting this recipe and started substituting. The result was SO amazing I had to try this “accident” again to see if I could recreate it on purpose, and it turned out exactly the same.

The main changes were adding a ripe banana, because I didn’t have enough pumpkin and adding brown sugar because I ran out of white. The banana gives moisture, sweetness and complexity of flavors. The brown sugar makes the edges of the bread a little extra crispy and chewy. It’s SUCH a great recipe, I hope you try it!!

It will make a LOT – so if you want to half the recipe, feel free. And I included a modification if you want to make this into muffins instead of a loaf.

I hope you enjoy this bread as much as my family and I have.


Spiced Banana Pumpkin Bread

3 1/2 Cup Flour
2 tsp. Baking Soda
2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1 tsp. All Spice
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Cloves
2 1/2 Cup White Sugar
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup Oil
4 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 Can Pumpkin Puree
1 Ripe Banana
2/3 Cup Water

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder and spices. In a separate bowl, use a mixer to combine both sugars, oil, eggs and vanilla. Mix the pumpkin and ripe banana into the sugar and oil mixture. Add the flour mixture into the wet ingredients alternating with the water until everything is combined. Grease two 8×8 square pans and split the batter equally between the two. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes. (this batter can also work as muffins, you will have to keep any eye on the bake time, somewhere between 30-40 minutes should be ok)