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A Month of Christmas Week Two: Christmas in Italy

After an extended blog break (mama’s need a break from all things periodically), we’re moving on in our four-part series, A Month of Christmas, we visited Italy in the second week! It was by far, much more fun than the Mexican Christmas. Maybe because we had a more open week, or perhaps because Italy just has better traditions, either way, it was a blast. The first thing we did was we collected sticks and small things like rocks and seeds we found outside to make a nativity scene. Italians often have many nativities in their homes during Christmas. This ended up not working out as efficiently as we had hoped, and we ended up ditching the effort to take a better, more seasoned crack at it next year. We did, however, complete the ceppo out of nature items. We read mixed reports on what a ceppo actually was. Some referred to it as a yule log, but others said it was a pyramid-shaped “tree” with shelves that held cute momentos and decorative items. It was said to have started in Tuscany. A small nativity scene can be placed on the bottom shelf, but ours was a little too tall.

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In Italy, children are told stories of La Befana, an old, cranky witch that lives alone and sweeps her home constantly. We’re avid Kindle Unlimited users, but we couldn’t find any books of La Befana, in case you go searching. We did, however, purchase a book on Kindle (instant gratification, and a less than organized mama) and read The Legend of Old Befana: An Italian Christmas Story

It’s a cute story! The old woman ends up seeing a procession of people headed to see the new Christ child and invite her. She spends all day baking goodies to take to the baby and forgets to sweep for the entire day. Noticing she’s leaving a mess behind as she begins to head out the door, she grabs her broom and sweeps from her kitchen all the way to the end of her pathway. Not wanting to waste any more time, she begins to run in the direction of the procession, forgetting about the broom still in her hand. Running as fast as she can, she starts to take flight. Spoiler: she never sees Christ, but delivers goodies to good boys and girls who leave her wine and cookies. Ha! We did just that, (after running next door to borrow a glass of wine from my momma, ’cause this mama is not a wine drinker) and she brought them some peppermint bark. Why? Because momma didn’t have any goodies in the house and MY momma did. The kids thought this was so much fun, and they put so much thought into the cookies they baked as well as where and how to leave the cookies and wine.

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On the “last day” of our week in “Italy” we made a huge, and I mean that pan of lasagna to share with my neighbor (AKA, my mom, stepdad, and siblings.) It was my step-sisters birthday, so we also baked her a cake.

Traditionally, Italians don’t eat lasagna for Christmas, they eat seafood because they’re usually fasting. Hayden was insistent on lasagna. It was the reason he wanted to do Christmas in Italy. He and Ella worked together to assemble the whole thing, I was very proud of them for working together and following the directions I gave closely.

We had fun visiting Italy for the week! We accomplished so much more as far as following traditions than we did in Mexico. Originally, we were going to also cover France, but my side of the family went on a cruise, adding an extra week to our Christmas, and we did an early Christmas at Hermans parents house. Those, coupled with our own Christmas, lead us to cancel our “flight” to France. 😉

Check out the next installment of “A Month of Christmas: Weeks 3 & 4.5” by following the link.

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A Month of Christmas Week One: Mexico!

Throughout November we learned everything we would ever need to know about Mexico. As December approached I was excited by the idea that we could do a Mexican style Christmas in the first week to kinda finish up on what we had been working on in our Mexico study. Hayden suggested that we should learn about how other countries celebrate Christmas, so we’re also going to cover Italy, France, and then America (our usual Christmas traditions) on the last week.

We created a board with everything you’d ever want to know about Mexico. We did mostly online research, but we also read the book Jaw-Dropping Geography: Fun Learning Facts About Magnificent Mexico by Jess Roche. We borrowed it on Kindle  Unlimited and read most of it, skipping the things we had already researched online. Another helpful resource we used was Pinterest. I wasn’t the first to think of learning about Christmas around the world. There’s so much to be found there, and Teacherspayteachers.com has more printables than I could wade through.

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We stuck with the things we could fit into our schedule, so that was traditional Mexican food, reading out loud, looking at pictures, and watching Youtube videos of what it’s like at Christmas time in Mexico. This video here is what we used to learn about the states in November. Not gonna lie, it’s kind of annoying, but effective.

We looked through websites that described what Christmas is like in Mexico. I pinned most of them to my Pinterest board, so follow it here to get more ideas and to see more of what we learned about.

The most fun we had was eating the yummy food. My husband is the first generation in his family to live in the U.S., so Mexican food is something we know, and do well. While we never got around to doing the time-consuming tamales, we did have enchiladas, rice, and beans for dinner one night, and then the following night made Arroz con leche for dessert.

The arroz con leche had to meet high standards because my mother in law makes it during cold weather and the kids all LOVE it, I think I did a good job… if I do say so myself. The only part I used a recipe for when making the enchiladas. I usually cheat and gussy up canned sauce, but for the sake of tradition, I used this method from Budget Bite$

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder 
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 oz. tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 tsp salt or to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add the vegetable oil, flour, and chili powder to a medium pot. Turn the heat on to medium and whisk the ingredients together. Continue to whisk as the mixture begins to bubble. Whisk and cook the mixture for one minute once it begins bubbling.
  2. After one minute, whisk in the water, tomato paste, cumin, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper until smooth. Allow the sauce to come up to a simmer. Once it reaches a simmer it will begin to thicken slightly.
  3. Starting with a 1/2 teaspoon, add salt to taste. I used about 3/4 teaspoon total. The sauce is now ready to use!

It’s really yummy. The only change I made was substituting chicken broth for water. We also doubled it. I didn’t get any picture of this, sadly, but it was an excellent meal.

 

For the Arroz Con Leche, I used a recipe from The Grant Life, not going to lie, the reason I picked this one is that I L-O-V-E HEB so much, and every ingredient she used was from HEB. I think this calls for a hashtag: #texas! It also became the most accurately followed recipe I’ve ever used, since all of my ingredients were exactly the same! We added a few raisins to ours as well.

Arroz con Leche

Ingredients:

  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 4 cups of milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • ground cinnamon for topping

Instructions:

  1. In a large saucepan, bring the water and cinnamon sticks to a boil. Add the rice, reduce heat and bring to a boil again.
  2. Stir in 2 cups of the milk until the rice starts to thicken. Add in the other two cups of milk, vanilla extract and the sweetened and condensed milk. Allow to simmer until til thick or your desired consistency.
  3. Remove the cinnamon sticks, allow to cool, sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy

 

We had a fun week, but because of other obligations, we weren’t able to do as much as we wanted. Italy, however, will be coming to the blog soon and we’ve done so much this week I can’t wait to share it with everyone!
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Overflow with What Matters

I was in a Mom Mood today… Mamas, you know what I’m talking about. We had what I would classify a “bad” trip to the grocery store, which is kinda silly. Nothing was knocked over or forgotten. No one ran away or hid in a clothing rack. For the most part, they held on to the cart and participated in getting the things we needed, and no one asked to buy anything they didn’t have money for in their pockets. They were all just a little hyped up and full of energy, while I was utterly drained.

I recently taught a lesson in my Bible study class about overflow. Whatever we fill our cup with, eventually overflows. What spills out of us ends up covering the things, and people around us. If we’re overflowing with joy, then everyone around us will see and feel the joy that is spilling from us. If we’re overflowing with hate, anger, or rage, that is what everyone around us will see and feel too.

This morning I woke up in a bad mood and then allowed that mess of a sleepless night and frustration to stay in my heart and cling to all the silly little things that happened this morning. Ella forgot her wallet, had to turn around. Hayden took about 15 minutes to get fully dressed, Ryder didn’t like his pants, and Emma didn’t want to sit in her car seat. All of those things stuck to my bad mood until I was overflowing with nasty black tar that is spilled out of my mouth, heart, and mind and filled up the people around me. If that’s what I’m filling others up with, what’s going to spill out of them next? How can I fault the next child that rolls their eyes at me or talks back? I’m filling them up with everything I’m feeling while expecting them to return happiness and contentment. I’m hoping for respect and love, but I’m dishing out anger and harsh words. Yikes.

Parenthood is humbling, hard, and joyful all at the same time. It’s the things we fill our hearts up with the most that determine whether we sink or swim. So that way when we’re feeling jostled or broken what spills from us is (mostly) love. I gave myself a break today, apologized to my kids, and then prayed with them. Give yourself a break, and fill yourself up with something good, Mama. As my favorite bloggers, Abbie, at M is for Mama says, “hard is not the same thing as bad.” I think as parents we all need this as our mantra. If you’re in agreement, you can grab a cute print of it here, I have one in my bedroom that helps remind me that life is good even when it’s hard.

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Love and Lessons, Knowing The Holmans

A few years ago I came crashing head-on (Okay, not literally) into the Holman family. They had come to visit our church for a brief period and I was incredibly intrigued by them. I could see the love they had for one another radiating from the group, and all of the love they had to share with others in their sweet faces. I’m not making this up, and if you know them or ever meet them, you will know what I mean.

From the first time I walked into the Holman house, I knew there was something about their family everyone needed a piece of. No, they’re not pie… they’re better. The love they have for Christ pours into everyone conversation they share and every aspect of their life. When Sarah sent me a message asking if I’d be interested in reading her new book, There was Always Laughter in Our House, my immediate and exact response was “YES, YES! I would love to!” with one heart emoji…. after I deleted the 12 I initially added.

You see, a few years ago I was digging deeper into my faith. Re-working the way our family presented itself and had longed for quite some time for two specific (along with other non-specific) things that I didn’t have any examples of in my life but wanted a tangible example of and guidance… but no one I knew provided that. The Holmans were Gods way of showing me that I was, in fact, not as crazy or off the wall as I thought, and there were others out there who felt the same way. I wanted a large family I could love on forever, and I wanted our girls (and myself) to wear skirts and adopt a more modest approach to dressing, which isn’t common for our denomination or either of our families. Herman and I discussed these things many times but never came to any solid conclusions. What would people think seeing our still new-to-Christ family suddenly change the way we dressed? That question was between me and God I later understood. Mrs. Holman took us in and loved on us as if she’d known us for years, and I felt so warm and comfortable in their home.

I’ve learned so many lessons from the Holmans and I’d like to share a few with you:

  1. It’s okay to forge your own path as a Christian: When I met the Holmans for the first time I could feel Christ’s love through them. There are things the Holmans celebrate and do that aren’t necessarily common in the church. I loved this about them and used it as “permission” in my own life when I needed guidance from a Christian family to do less than common things for my faith. The church isn’t always right, but Christ is.
  2. It’s okay to want a large family (or not): Most of the time people question why on Earth we would ever want a large family. Some, are even rude about it or think it’s irresponsible. The love in the Holman home proved to me that it is possible to have a large, loving family on a single income despite the nay-sayers.
  3. Homeschooling is doing what’s right for your family. Mrs. Holman has homeschooled since before it was popular, and similarly to the path we’ve taken to get where we are, she also started out with an all-inclusive curriculum only to switch to something more relaxed that worked better for her family. Seeing the way their family worked together like a well-oiled machine, and how happy each child was with their education drove home the idea that homeschooling is not one size fits all and is always best when tailored to your family.

There are many lessons I’ve learned from the Holmans in the time I’ve spent with them, and I hope I learn much more. If you’ve yet to meet the Holman family, check out Sarah’s new book, There was Always Laughter in Our House, which is now available for pre-order until November 24th. It’s not the same as in-person, but it’s close.

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Incorporating Structure in an Unschooling Home

Many studies show kids crave structure; as an unschooling mom who allows her kids quite a bit of freedom, it’s my job to give them the structure their minds want in ways that are useful and also harmonious with our unschooling life.

Here are three ways we incorporate structure into our unschooling family:

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  1. Chores. The kids are always expected to do some kind of chore or multiple tasks each day. We usually have some sort of system that tells the kids what is expected of them. This doesn’t always come in the form of a chart. They get bored with stickers or small novelty items easily. The number one motivator is technology. One of the rules we have when it comes to chores is your own room is not a chore, it is your responsibility to maintain. Are their rooms always clean? Ha! No. Sometime, we can’t walk through the cut up paper and toys, and we require them to clean up, but it’s not a daily thing. We do, however, have a list (sometimes physically written, sometimes not) of chores that we put on a rotation that the kids are responsible for before they’re allowed to have screen time. Sometimes the list is unnecessary and they’ll be told to clean the kitchen, or living room before playing/watching. We don’t pay them to help maintain the house, but we do pay them to do things that aren’t daily necessities. The only rule we have for paid chores is: your room must be clean and your required duties finished before you can be paid to do a job.
  2. Church. As members of our family (and small children that cannot stay alone) the kids go to Wednesday night Bible study each week. As members of our church, we see it as our responsibility to attend studies or volunteer our time. While the kids are still small enough that they do not volunteer on Wednesdays and Sundays I do. Not only does a scheduled, weekly activity add structure to our home, but they know, no matter the season, we will be at the church every Wednesday and Sunday unless someone is sick. As a family that often volunteers in our church, they will usually spend long hours with me prepping a lesson, or re-doing a room, or getting ready for a festival or program. These extended hours require them to behave better than they would at home, with less to do. This demands self-control from them. While they’re not perfect but neither am I.
  3. Manners, respect, and responsibility. As children all under the age of eight, the amount of responsibility they actually have is small, but they do have things they are responsible for. It’s not always the same, though. For example: recently we had hundreds of Queen butterfly caterpillars at our house. The kids wanted so badly to bring a few indoors to watch cocoon and hatch. I told them I would not take care of them alone and they needed to stay in their rooms. (Our cat likes them… and not in a good way.) The girls hatched about six or seven and let them free without much help from me, washed the container they used to put them in when they were all gone, and got rid of all the plants and water they used. This is a job well done for a seven and six-year-old. Manners and respect are essential in our house, too. We’re pretty laid back (hence- the unschooling thing), but we do expect common courtesy from the children (and ourselves) as well as respect for elders and each other. We allow them to choose their bedtimes as long as they’re getting enough sleep to function responsibly and be nice the next day. As soon as one of them has tired eyes and stomps about grumpily, or has nothing nice to say to anyone, their bedtime becomes regulated until I believe they can fall asleep at a decent time.

Does your family unschool? How do you incorporate structure into your home?

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The Past Two Weeks In Pictures

It’s been an eventful two weeks that have kept me from the blog! The week I spent preparing The Week of Yes post was full, and now this past week was full too! Luckily, (for the blog) this week has been less than eventful, so I’m able to catch up. (Week, week, week, week. Is there another word for week!? Haha!)

We started off the weekend two weeks ago coming out of my first time at Fifth Quarter– an event our church hosts to give kids something to do after football games on Fridays and to spread the love of Christ. It was one of THE most humbling experiences I’ve ever had.

Depending on where you’re from you may or may not understand the seriousness of football season in a small town. I never did until my senior year of high school when I met Herman and began going to his games. After the first game, I felt like a total girlfriend failure. I sat in the stands conversing with other girls, and having a good ol’ time…. until he started asking me hard questions like, “did you see how many sacks I got this game?” Uh…. sure did, honey. (NOPE!) After that, I decided I wouldn’t be a horrible girlfriend anymore and pay attention. Here’s a picture of Herman in his high school football days with his best friend. You’re welcome.

Herman and Tyler

Anyway, Fifth Quarter made me realize my dislike for teen ministry isn’t so much of a dislike and more of an apprehension. I MC’d and judged some games and a rap battle that I fail miserably at when I tried to “drop some heat.” I also got to use the word “salty” in context multiple times, #YOLO. I was in awe (like, always) of Gods ability to lead the way and not only allow me to have the confidence to stand on a stage in front of 50 middle school and high schoolers but to also enjoy what I was doing while knowing that (hopefully) the gospel was reaching them.

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The kids listening to the message
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Emma checking teens in with Amie

 

Fifth Quarter ended at midnight and I went home and sewed until 2:00 a.m. (why do I have to procrastinate!?) to finish up birthday presents for TWO, yes two, birthday parties we had on Saturday. So, bright and early Saturday we went into Taylor to get the boys haircut– worst cuts they’ve had in a long time, by the way– and then headed to Mansfield Dam for the first party. (If you’ve not been there, go.) Sweet Dejah turned one, one day before our Emma Faye. My kids had so much fun until the end when I broke the golden rule for our Week of Yes and told them no. You can read all about how I broke their little hearts at that link^. The second party we went to was for my cousin’s son Ashton. He’s seriously the cutest thing ever, and the party was dino-myte. Yeah, I said that. We got home before dark but were pooped. Emma didn’t sleep and was super cranky, so we only made it to service on Sunday, and skipped Sunday School, like the hoodlums we are.

Tuesday the kids made me the sweetest cake. One of them mentioned that they didn’t get me a cake for my birthday, so they made me one right then and there. It consisted of melted chocolate sprinkled with coconut and frozen until firm. Um, can I just say that it was the BOMB! I love Mounds and Almond Joy, and it was a very good copy-cat! Plus, it was topped with dinosaurs from Ashton’s party, win!

Fun fact: Ryder took almost every dinosaur off of the cutely decorated cupcakes (after cake was served) and was playing with them. When I tried to tell him to put them back I was informed he licked the icing off the bottom of each one, and could keep them. Oops…
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The “cake” the kids made for my birthday, a month late. 😉

Wednesday we hydro-dipped pumpkins at WNL (our weekly kids’ bible study), and then the kids wanted to come home and hydro-dip EVERYTHING. So we dubbed Thursday a Slime making, hydro-dipping, Halloween-ing day! We made fluffy slime and clear slime. Lylahs fluffy slime (R.I.P) was an epic fail and had her melting down on a Facebook Live broadcast Hayden was “hosting.” We deleted it, and shall never talk about it again. HA! We never got to the hydro-dipping, but the kids did get to use the spray paint to spruce up the peeling paint on their bikes and scooters, so it was still a win.

Hayden, Ella, Lylah, and Ryder before making slime
The kids with all of their slime supplies

 

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Friday we spent the day at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. It’s so beautiful there, and it was a perfect 80*. We went walking on their trail (and off the path) and played at their new All Abilities Park, and THEN we went home, and Herman kept all of the kids (no shock, there) PLUS EMMA (You can gasp, now) while I went to the grocery store.

He brought home a new bike for Ella, so they went on a bike ride with Emma in tow while I snuck off to the store. It was glorious, and nerve-wracking all at the same time. I was so sure  Herman would call begging me to hurry because she couldn’t hang without me (and the ability to nurse on a whim) but it never came!

Also, *Que Ella saying her throat hurt.*

 

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Hey, Ly!
girls with their troop
The girls with their troop

Saturday the girls participated in a parade with their Girl Scouts Troop and then we walked through the Hutto Olde Times Day Festival. I wanted so badly to stay and “play” but when I sat in a shady spot to nurse the baby Ryder sat with me instead of getting shaved ice, and I noticed his eyes looked a little glossy. Sure enough, he was burning up. Some cold water bottles and shaved ice held him over while we made our way out. He waited out Hayden using the (ridiculously priced) amusement park tickets we bought so he could ride in the shade with me, and then we headed home, where, Emma started to get fussy.

If you’re keeping count, that’s 3 out of 4 kids sick in our house. Sunday was a super lazy day of desperately trying to keep high fevers down, as well as liquids. Then, Monday, Lylah also jumped on the fever wagon. No one had a temperature this morning, but we’re still doing lots of couch naps.

Sleeping Lylah
Sleeping Lylah
Sleeping Ella
Ella, couch sleeping
Hayden
Sleeping Hayden
babies
Bub and Emma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, that’s the past two weeks in about 1,000 words and 20 pictures… give or take a few. Is that all, you ask? 😉

 

 

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A Week of Yes

A Buzzfeed blogger recently posted a short video about saying “yes” to her children for an entire week. (You can watch the video here, to see where this began.) She is seriously the cutest, ever, so go watch! My sister tagged me in the video, and after I saw that her children requested spaghetti tacos, I was on it like white on rice. Okay, maybe I wasn’t THAT on it, but I did immediately decide that it would be fun to do with the kids. I’m still sad my kids didn’t ask for something strangely awesome for dinner.

If you keep up with our Insta at all, you’d have seen the (almost) daily updates of how A Week of Yes went for us. I actually didn’t think that we would notice much of a difference since we already are kinda “free” (except things like manners, chores and such) so I was interested to see how often I actually said no.

(Side note: my husband didn’t even notice anything was going on until someone else asked him how it was going and then came home and told me, “I did notice you were saying yes more than no.” LOL, well, okay.)

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So, here’s what I learned from our Week of Yes:

  1. It was more work. I could lie and say I didn’t notice too much of a difference in the things we did, but I did. It wasn’t hard work, just more. Like, the first day. We were heading to the grocery store, and the kids asked if we could stop and have a picnic at the park first… so we bought the makings for a picnic and went to the park. They were all hot, sweaty, and needed a five-hour nap when we got back in the car, so we skipped the store. I then had to go to the store later that evening. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I did get to shop in peace.
  2. Saying yes doesn’t mean you allow your kids to run wild. I frequently updated on our Instagram story about how things were going. I had someone come up to me and say, “so, I heard you’re having a ‘week of yes,’ and you’re just gonna let your kids run around like wild animals.” To be completely fair- it was a teen, so it wasn’t like a grown adult coming up to me and being extra salty (I love when I can use that word in sentences.), but that’s not how it went AT ALL. I didn’t watch them burn things down or hurt each other and cheer them on from the sidelines, I said no. I said “yes” to requests they had, not yes to EVERYTHING they did that week.
  3. Just because something didn’t work out the first time, doesn’t mean it won’t another. I have this horrible habit of saying, “we tried that, and it didn’t work, remember?” During the Week of Yes, I learned that trying things again may yield different results. This seems like a “DUH” right, but with five kids you learn quickly what is a bad idea and what works. The kids asked to have a Master Chef challenge right before dinner one evening. Usually, I tell them to wait until the next day if I have dinner time sneaking up on us. Their challenges are long, make a mess, and they don’t always do the best job of clean up- leaving me to clean the kitchen before making a late dinner. Saying yes proved that just as we learn, so do kids. They had their challenge, and then clean up their mess– they even went as far as mopping the floor. They grow, and they prove Mama wrong.
  4. I genuinely enjoy spending time with my kids. Do they drive me crazy? Um… yes, but most of the things they requested entailed us having fun together as a family. Saying no all of the time prevents me from doing the fun stuff that I would usually call messy, or too much work. Those are the times we have the most fun, and this week reminded me of that.
  5. Kids can understand and adhere to limits. Unschoolers get a bad rap. If you were to ask someone unfamiliar with unschooling what it means, you’d probably get a mix of things like: “wild, unruly, cannot follow the rules, have no limits.” I do sometimes worry that this is what I’m setting my kids up for, but saying yes more showed me my kids do understand and can adhere to limits– both self-proclaimed and parent-given. One of the days we went to the park there was a merry-go-round, and when we got in the van to leave, Ryder threw up everywhere. The older three said they all felt sick but got off and rested before it turned bad. They listened to their bodies without me having to tell them. There was also a day that I had to spend at the church doing some work. We were there from 11:00-8:00 and when we were headed inside I asked (pleaded) that they puh-lease stay in the nursery and not run around making a mess. I said “yes” to a picnic lunch outside, and then we went in for the day. I’m still in awe of how well they did. They only made a mess of the nursery that they cleaned up.
  6. They can handle more freedom than we think. Unschooling has taught me to loosen the reigns, but the past week took it to a whole new level. Hayden has been able to go fishing and explore the woods alone for about a year now, but I’ve not let the girls go. Hayden, Ella, and Lylah went on a nature walk alone last week, and they’re all still here to tell the tale. We had a mini-course on snake safety, staying together, and other relevant things before they left. They came home, happy, muddy, and full of stories. (Disclaimer: we have 50 acres of land for them to explore. They never left our “yard.”)

The kids told me they didn’t notice anything too different about last week except that I was “more fun.” (MOM WIN!!) I learned so much, and I’m even making it a “thing” in our family every couple of months.