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Hey, Wildflower! (Identifying Central Texas wildflowers in our own backyard)

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Central Texas wildflowers are in full bloom! Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be working on identifying all of the different types of plants native to Central Texas. Since the wildflowers are out and looking beautiful, I decided to start here. The kids love it, and I enjoy the time spent studying outside. Stay tuned for more posts about the cool plants we’ll be finding and pressing in the next few weeks. It’s all part of our new organic style of homeschooling and our goal to love learning.  We’re so excited to see and name each one. This is the first time ever our family has gone out to pick flowers with the intent to identify each one! We didn’t have a large variety of flowers on our property, but we were excited to find what we did. It was also an excellent opportunity to snag some long grass for weaving on the loom!

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So, with coffee in hand (for my tired eyes) we headed out early to beat the impending rain. The weatherman says it’s going to rain the entire week, so we’ll work on pressing them in the following days to label, and then some for an Easter craft with the cousins!

Here is what we have an endless supply of in our yard:

Texas Dandelion Texas Dandelion – Pyrrhopappus multicaulis

The kids love that the dandelions stay open in the morning but close when the sun is high in the sky. It’s a new surprise every morning when our green afternoon pastures are speckled with yellow the next day.

wildflowers-014.jpgTexas Vervain – Verbena Halei (and Ella)

These are so pretty and remind me of lavender! I like simple, and these are right up my ally. All of the Texas Vervain we found on our property were purple, but they grow with white flowers as well.

Slender Stem Bitterweed (Hymenoxys scaposa)Slender Stem Bitterweed (Hymenoxys scaposa)

These look so similar to the Texas Dandelions but are much smaller. The girls really like them, and we actually found this one with a bee completely covered in pollen. So much so, he had a hard time flying away! I couldn’t get my camera ready in time to catch it, though.  Hopefully, he made it safely back to his hive!

wildflowers-019.jpgEvening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa)

Did you know these are not called buttercups?? I didn’t! That’s what I’ve always called them. The kids love putting them up to their noses to see the pollen stick.

Hymenopappus scabiosaeus L'Hér.  Carolina woollywhite, Old Plainsman, Woolly-WhiteCarolina wooly white, Old Plainsman, Woolly-White (Hymenopappus scabiosaeus L’Hér)

This pretty little (well, big) thing goes by many names. I had no idea what this plant was called, and it took the kids and me quite a while to find it online. Most of what we found didn’t have the pink colored blooms like this one. It’s fun to find all the different looking flowers that are actually the same thing!

texaswildflowerpictures.com is the website we used to find what we were looking for. It’s by far the easiest to navigate, and it’s color-coded! While we don’t have the Texas staples like Mexican Hats, Indian Paintbrushes, and Bluebonnets (below are some we have pressed and ready to label) in our yard, we’re excited to have what we do!

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From left to right: Indian Paintbrush, Bluebonnet, Indian Blanket Flower, Brown Eyed Susan

What’s your favorite wildflower?

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Five Reason We have an Outdoor Loom and Why You should Too

A couple months back I saw a pin on Pinterest with an outdoor loom. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Okay, maybe not ever, but I reeeeally liked it and my mind began to tick off all the awesome ways it would be amazing for our homeschool. If you’re not familiar with what this is, don’t feel left out. I wasn’t either. An outdoor loom is used the same as, well, an indoor loom. Only, instead of just yarn or other cloth materials, you use things found outside. Sticks, long grass, pretty flowers, and whatever else you can find. We also use scrap yarn and fabric (we’ve totally caught the birds stealing some) from my stash. You end up with a pretty piece of outdoor art that has SO many benefits for little hands.Outdoor Loom side 1

So a few weeks ago I decided while scanning Pinterest on a Saturday morning it was time for us to build one. Once upon a time, there was a swing in our backyard. It’s long gone now but the wooden frame is still there. Score one for this mama on a mission. It’s also in an “A” shape. Score two. My mind instantly saw a play hut! I wrapped the wire around all sides for a couple of passes. I used wire because we have no plans of cutting down our final product, and we want it to be sturdy, but for something less permanent or easy to cut, yarn would work fine. Once I got to about the kid’s height I stopped wrapping around one of the short sides and then continued almost all the way down the other sides. I left a gap at the bottom so we can easily mow and weed-eat around the whole thing to prevent snakes (eek!) from hiding in the kids hide-a-way. Check out our Instagram for more photos!

Five Reasons why we love our outdoor loom (1)

  1. Fine Motor Skills: With a house full of small children I’m constantly searching for ways to work their fine motor muscles, and weaving is a wonderful way to do so. They have to work whatever medium they’re using in and out of the wire, and that requires skill. Reaching in, pinching the grass between their fingers, and the simple act of weaving the items in and out of the wire all do just that.
  2. Hand-Eye Coordination: Did you think only sports did this? Nope. Weaving is great for hand-eye coordination, too! You can’t always ensure whatever you’re weaving is going to go over and under exactly where you intend. That’s where hand-eye coordination comes in. See? (Pun totally intended) While a good game of catch works so does weaving.
  3. Patience: A loom doesn’t fill overnight. It takes time. Lots of time. When we first put it up Hayden said, “I’m going to fill up the sides right now so we can have walls!” After weaving for a good hour he realized it was going to take much longer than he first thought. Not only does it take time to fill the loom, it takes time to weave. If you’re too forceful the twig could snap, or the grass could tear. Gentle patience. It’s a slow process.
  4. Relaxing: Weaving will relax you. No lie. The kids get quiet from their need to focus, and it becomes a silent activity. The repetition is calming, and once you get into a “groove” your mind can wander. Pair that with the sweet sounds of nature and it’s bliss. I enjoy the loom, for this reason, the most.
  5. History Lessons: Weaving is dated back to more than 25,000 years ago. (SAY WHAT?!) Since then we know it’s been used all over the world. It’s a wonderful skill to have that was once basic knowledge, and in some countries still is. There’s always a new lesson to learn every time we weave! The Industrial Revolution put weaving “out of style” like so many other things, but who’s to say we may not need the skill one day in the future?

If none of these reasons make you want to build a loom in your yard, there’s always the fact that they’re pretty!

Loom view 2

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Introducing Us Part Four: Meet Ryder

Oh, my sweet Ryder. You would think the more children you have, the less of an exciting experience it would be. That, as you get to your fourth or fifth child, it would just be another day. Another walk in the same old park. But, it’s not. With each child looms the possibility of there not being another baby. Ever. For some, this may be a joyful idea. For mamas in large families who enjoy continuing to carry (maybe not this part so much), and eventually hold new, tiny babies (YAS) this is sad. Ryder was the first child I felt that. He was the first time after pregnancy Herman said, “You better love that baby, ’cause we’re not having anymore.” (LOL, LOL, LOL) So I held him tighter. I held him longer; even though I knew, Herman probably didn’t mean what he said. I let him be a baby even at times when, with the others, I probably wouldn’t have. After Ryder, I got pregnant again. I went into labor at about 20 weeks, but they weren’t able to stop it. I think losing Benjamin put into perspective how joyful experiencing every single moment of the first years really are.

Ryder and I still have a special “thing.” I don’t really know what to call it. Saying “bond” sounds extra cheesy with a side of parm. I expected a certain level of independence out of the other kids by the age of three that I just don’t from Ryder. I still see him as a toddler. Which he is. (We’ve come full circle to that whole live, and learn parenting thing I talked about in Introducing Us Part Three) Babies just don’t keep, and it’s more noticeable with each child.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/reyes-family-1

Meet Ryder. He’s a ball of energy dipped in sugar; the sugar makes the energy sweet. He loves his momma (and I love him more). He’s a smart boy who loves to work with his hands, bake cookies, and crack eggs at breakfast… lunch… and dinner. The kitchen is his favorite place to be, with outside in the dirt a close second. He takes two to three showers a day, and Y’all, they’re needed before he’s allowed to crawl in my bed at night. Yeah, that’s right. MY bed, and when he’s not there I MISS HIM! What kind of sorcery is this? I love him more than my heart can handle.

Ryder is wild. There’s no denying it, and if you know my family, personally you probably were thinking it. One of the first times Daddy ever spanked him, he looked him directly in the eyes and said, “that not hurt.” Yup. Trouble with a capital “T.” You know those kids in public places that you say, “Goodness. That mom needs to control that child.” THAT IS RYDER! THAT’S HIM! Sorry for yelling. Seriously, I feel their pain now, and I’m so sorry for my Judgy McJudgerson glances.

We’re learning more every day about our sweet boy. How he ticks, what he’s about to do next (mostly so we can stop it), and what works for him so we can give him the best learning experience possible. People always use the phrase “terrible twos” to describe two-year-olds. My theory is that those people have never had the opportunity, or forgot what it’s like to parent a three-year-old. For real, yall. At two, they’re just curious. They want to know more about everything, and it’s an innocent kind of curiosity that can be confused with misbehavior…. a lot. At two there’s no real understanding of right or wrong. But, three? Oh, boy. This is the “I’m gonna see just how far I can take this before you step in” age. It doesn’t last. They turn four, a switch flips and (for a while) you get your baby back. He’s almost there, and I’m ready. His adventurous spirit is enough to make a conquistador question where we’re going.

While there’s not much to say on schooling for Ryder, we do have certain expectations for him. These are the things that are part of being in our family, as well as the list of what we expect out of each age. (I talk more about this in Introducing Us Part Three).

Here’s a sample of what we look for in a child Ryders age:

  1. Knowledge of basic colors (so not colors like turquoise or beige)
  2. Ability to count to ten
  3. Sort shapes, colors, and animal groups. Farm animals, water animals, etc..
  4. Ability to follow simple directions
  5. Simple household chores like emptying bathroom trash, sorting or folding laundry, washing cabinets, cleaning and putting away clutter, and other small tasks
  6. Easy kitchen tasks like cutting fruits and vegetables, setting the table and cracking eggs

A lot of what is learned for his age repeats with some variety and increasing difficulty for the next few years. Life skills are the majority of what we focus on. The constant need to “keep up” hits me often, but I resist. Ryder’s favorite book is right now is “Love You Forever.” While I think it’s kinda creepy, (don’t lie, you know you do too.. That lady gets a ladder and crawls in his second story window at night!) it’s just another nightly reminder that babies don’t keep. “That little boy grew. He grew, and he grew, and he grew.”

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Why We Always Say “I’m sorry”

I grew up in a house of yelling. We yelled when we were angry, happy, sad, or just having a normal conversation. My natural inclination when I feel frustrated, or like I’m being ignored by the children is to yell. I remember as a child getting yelled at and feeling like it was completely unjustified. I’m positive it was just my skewed childhood memory that makes me remember things that way, but it is how I remember it. So, how are my children going to look back and remember their childhood?

I remember two times my mom apologized to me without a “but.” The feeling of knowing she didn’t mean what she said, or how she behaved all hinged on whether or not there was a “but” involved (I think this goes for any apology). I was the oldest child, and as I mentioned in my post Introducing Us Part Three, as a parent we’re ever evolving. We’re always learning better ways to manage situations, and as I got older, my mom did just that. The oldest child witnesses more growth in their parents than any of the others. My poor Hayden knows this all too well!

When Herman and I first started going to church not a whole lot changed in our lives. We could feel the ever growing fire kindling, but it wasn’t fully blown or hot enough to make us take notice for some time. Once we became faithful followers, a lot of what we used to do changed. For Herman, yelling isn’t a go-to, so this isn’t a vice he had to overcome like me. He hardly ever raises his voice when he’s angry, and if he does, it’s probably because he picked it up from me.

“Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.” Proverbs 29:11

One of the things that are constantly changing the more I grow in Christ is my parenting. I feel less like I have to control every single situation, and more like a moderator. Yes, I’m the parent. But my job is to guide them, not forcefully make them be the person I want them to be. I slip up daily, but God’s grace is never ending. Once more, His grace is NEVER ending. Ever. So why is mine?

It’s so easy to explode and once all is said and done continue on with life like nothing happened. As the parent, my anger was justified, right? I yelled because they wouldn’t listen. Simple as that. But, watching my children interact with each other showed me how damaging my thinking really was. So I started with apologies.

As children, we’re always told to apologize to each other, and it has to be sincere. We are told to look in their eyes, speak openly without anger in our voice, and not to justify our actions. Only to seek forgiveness. So why wasn’t I doing this with my kids? Every time I don’t handle a situation with grace, I apologize. Every. Time. If I’m short with all of them, I will apologize to them all together. If I yell at one of them, I will seek them out for a one-on-one. Apologies like, “I’m sorry I did that, but you…” are where it becomes a justification for the action and not a sincere apology. So I strive to make them as genuine as I possibly can. I ask for forgiveness, and then for them to pray with me, or for me.

My best friend always says, “it takes three generations to break a cycle.” My hope is that with sincere apologies, giving grace whenever I can, and aiming for more peaceful parenting I will give my children the building blocks they need to parent with grace from day one.

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Introducing Us Part Three: Meet Lylah

If you’re keeping up, you’re already aware this is part three in my five-part series “Introducing Us.” Starting here I’ll be introducing children in my home that are under the age of six, which, you’ll also already know is the age school begins in our house. Their homeschool journey started with ours even though they’re younger than six. Learning is an all day, everyday event in our home.

Lylah is my wild child. I think anyone who has multiple children in their home always has one child that they would consider their hardest to parent. This is my rambunctious Lylah. From day one she was strong-willed and serious. She can throw a fit like no other, but can also melt your heart in the next few seconds. She’s outgoing and never afraid to be herself. No one’s opinion will ever cramp her style; I wish I had half the confidence she does.

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Like the others, Lylah fell victim to my constant need to “keep up.” Ella was an early talker, and since they’re so close in age, it was easy to compare all of Lylah’s milestones with hers. (Bad Mama, I know.) Lylah took longer to talk, and even longer to use personal pronouns correctly. Parenthood is ever evolving. You always hear older children say to their parents, “you didn’t let me do that when I was younger” or “you have more patience for the younger kids.” It’s because every day of parenthood is a learning opportunity. A chance to change the way you handle situations. I’m thankful for this. Especially with Lylah; we clash like oil and water, so I have the need to apologize more often in our relationship than with any of the other kids.

When I did an overhaul of what our goals were for homeschooling I was in the middle of the book The Unhurried Homeschooler. I L-O-V-E, love this book. Follow the link, get a copy if you haven’t already. I promise you won’t regret it. As I’ve mentioned before we were in a rough place right after Emma was born. Schooling was more of a dreaded task than an adventure, and one of the things the book suggested was to write down exactly what we expected at each age. (To be fair, a wise woman who has homeschooled for many years also suggested something similar to this a few years prior, and I just didn’t take her advice. I now kick myself for that.) But, anyway, once I wrote down the things I thought were necessary for each age, and Herman and I sat down and went over them all, I realized Lylah was pretty much right on track with where I would expect a child her age to be. When I initially made the list, I realized a lot of what I wanted them to know would overlap in the age range of 3-6. Colors, shapes, and counting. It was only the amount of shapes and colors, and the number they could reach that would change. Age five is the age that we start to pay more attention to letters and the sounds that they make. I don’t want to jinx it, but Lylah already seems like she’s going to kill it as a reader!

All of her learning is organically achieved right now. She just recently learned to write her name unassisted while we were filling out Valentines. She had the ability to recognize her name, and copy it, but this was different. She wanted to personalize each one, so she learned to spell and write her name by comparing hers to one I completed for her. She was SO proud, and since it was entirely self-lead, she enjoyed the entire process. Not once did she become discouraged, or question whether or not it looked perfect.

Lylah spends the majority of her day “doing her own thing.” She loves to be read to, and once or twice a day she will decide to work in a workbook  (usually when Hayden or Ella are working. Monkey see, monkey do). I always help her if she asks for it, but I never intervene. When I take control learning just isn’t fun for her anymore. She enjoys treating each page like a puzzle and gets eminence satisfaction when she’s able to decipher what it is the instructions are asking. I’m so excited to continue to watch Lylah learn new things, and grow.

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Introducing Us Part Two: Meet Gabriella

Six, almost seven years ago a nurse handed me a tiny baby girl. I put her into the crook of my arm, and that wrinkled baby raised the back of her hand to her forehead, let out the most pitiful cry I’ve ever heard and turned her face into my chest. Oh, the drama. Gabriella- more often referred to as Ella- has lived up to her first introduction to the world.

Meet, Ella. Our sassy, soft-spoken, sensitive, shy, sweetheart. (Did Y’all catch my unintentional use of alliteration? Save your applause for later, folks.) She loves books, babies, hot tea, cooking, and baking. She’s wise beyond her years and the worrier of the family. She’s the “mother hen” of our crew; always making sure her siblings are well cared for and listening… especially to her. She’s the best kind of challenge when it comes to homeschooling.

Ella attended Pre-K at the local public school for only a few months. There was never any indication she wasn’t succeeding in school, nor did she have any serious issues with being there each day. She had excellent, attentive teachers, and enjoyed her time at school for the most part. She would occasionally tell me she didn’t benefit from the amount of time she spent at school, that it “took too long” for her to come home each day. That would pull at my heart-strings. My girl missed me!

I’m not a public school “hater.” Herman and I both had somewhat enjoyable experiences in school. I’m also very much aware of the necessity of public education for some families, because of work or just Mama’s sanity. Public school teachers are real-life superheroes who deserve a cape, a large cup of coffee, and an endless supply of dark chocolate. But, once again I found myself thinking there had to be a better way. Who guides us? The social norm, or God?

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Romans 12:2

Ella has always been quiet. She enjoys playing alone and is the exact definition of an introvert. She got that from Herman, which is evident if you know anything about me. Until recently, when she would speak to me while driving, I would have to pull over and turn off the ignition just to hear her! In a crowded place? Forget hearing anything she may have to say.  After starting Pre-K, these things became much more apparent. Almost like she was exhausting all of her energy at school, and when she came home, there was nothing left. She’s still pretty shy in social settings but has come a long way.

She was only a month past four when she started Pre-K. She was not ready. Hindsight is always 20/20, right? Ella is an unhurried learner. I won’t use the word slowly because learning isn’t a race. If she’s not ready to learn something, it just won’t stick no matter how many times you go over it, and that’s okay. When I started homeschooling the kids, I immediately made the decision we wouldn’t push for any type of structured learning for her or the younger children until six. You would be amazed at the information children pick up just through play!

Unfortunately, after we were home for a while, I kept falling into the trap of comparison. What if she’s behind? This question always led to me trying to teach her things she just wasn’t ready for and frustration from us both. So of course when she turned six I started her on the DVD-led curriculum right away, and she learned NOTHING! It was discouraging, and I began praying for answers. Even though I was initially on the right track with helping her learn, I was again allowing the world to influence a situation I had already given to God.

Something I continue to cling to is advice given in the book Homeschooling: what to do when you want to quit. Michelle Cannon writes: “When someone calls me to say they feel behind, the first thing I ask is, ‘behind what, or whom?’ …” (Follow the link to take a look, or grab a copy!) The title of the book almost kept me from reading, but it’s a book full of encouragement for all situations, not just for those who feel like quitting. Once we dropped the academy-style learning, she began to flourish.

Currently, we’re putting emphasis on reading. Within the last few months, she has picked up the ability to recognize all of the letters in the alphabet, and the sounds they make. This is a tremendous feat for her, and the pride in her eyes when she can recognize something makes my heart happy and helps me remember this is not a race. For a while, I was concerned that she may be Dyslexic and starting therapy would be necessary. Seeking outside help is always an option in our family, but for now, we’re just taking our time, and it seems to be working for her.

Here’s a sample of what a typical day at home looks like for Ella:

  • Wake up and eat breakfast, usually, watch cartoons
  • Complete any chores
  • Letters and sounds instruction for 15-20 minutes then complete work ~1 hour total
  • Play/free time
  • Lunch
  • Quiet time (This is time spent alone in a room for approximately 1 1/2-2 hours. She usually does self-guided penmanship practice and workbook pages to fill the time.)
  • Math instruction 15-20 minutes then complete work ~1 hour total
  • Play/free time

There are things we don’t limit in our home that fall under the category of her play/free time. We don’t restrict the use of puzzles, making easy-reader books, workbooks, crafting and art projects, spending time exploring nature, and reading books. This means my house is usually covered in glue, glitter, and scraps of paper. If you’ve ever been over to my house, there’s a chance you’ve witnessed the endless crafting first hand. She will occasionally use some of her free time to practice math, watch science, history, and art videos on Khanacademy.org, or play on abcmouse.com. Our adventure days, as Hayden refers to them, are days spent learning organically, usually outdoors somewhere. Science and art are easily explored on these days. Her current fascination is learning how to sew. Project Runway, here she comes!

Reading to her, I think, has been the most helpful part of her early learning. It’s taught her that reading and writing are always left to right, something she’s struggled with and that there is always at least one vowel in every word. She has started to recognize simple words as they repeat in a book, which shows me she’s able to follow along. Most of all, the stories give her the drive to want to learn. Which is the number one goal in our home.

Our style of learning is definitely not for everyone, but it’s what works best for us. I’ve had to let go of a lot of unnecessary worries, and pride to get where we are today. It’s easy to quiet the voice that tells you to follow your own path when the world is loudly screaming you’re doing it wrong. That’s always a struggle anytime you go against the grain.

Ella needs a lot of breaks, and to always be hands on. Out of everything she has taught me since we’ve started our homeschooling journey, the most important thing I have to remember, is her need to always take her time. It’s a humbling lesson in such a fast-paced world.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heavens…”  Ecclesiastes 3:1