Learning to Love it All

By Ashley Whisonant

As my boys get older, I am trying hard to let them both be individuals. This is not always an easy task. See, my first-born little man is a rule follower. He is the ultimate people pleaser—a teacher’s dream. My second little guy, three going on thirteen, is a sweetheart with a wavy edge. His wavy edge makes him who he is, just as my oldest, straight-as-an-arrow makes him special. Embracing Gray’s wavy edge is not always in my toolbox as a mom.

For Thanksgiving, Gray’s preschool send home a blank turkey to decorate any way they pleased. Gray and I sat down and talked about some of the examples his teacher listed: clown, princess, etc. He listened as we discussed and then promptly requested his turkey be decorated as a “bad guy”. Now, my initial thought was, “What in the world?!?! You can’t go to preschool and have your bad guy turkey displayed for everyone to see!” His face was so excited to create a bad guy turkey with his momma. people-2942933_1280

So guess what? The best bad guy turkey is displayed in the hallway of his preschool-complete with an eye mask, Halloween creepy stickers, and a small heart for his momma on the bottom. Bad guy turkeys love their mommas too.

Just like Wreck It Ralph has taught us: Just because you are bad, doesn’t mean you are a bad guy.

When Did You Grow Up?

 By: Ashley Whisonant

The day I have been dreading has finally come. My oldest “baby” started kindergarten this morning. I held back my tears and we walked down his hallway and into the room that will mold him into the student he will become. My confident little guy went from attendance check in to lunch choice with ease. He gave me a hug goodbye and sadly did not look back. Here are all the words I wish I could have said…

You will always be my baby. You are the one that made me a mom. I didn’t know how much I could love someone else until I met you. I am a ball of emotions. I am both terrified and overjoyed for you. All the experiences you will have, good or bad, will make you into our future young man. Remember to help others, even when it isn’t the popular choice. Find your voice and use it for good. Kids can and will be mean. Do your best to surround yourself with sweet souls. Remember to be yourself. Love you my sweet boy.

Raising Readers

By: Crissie Kirby

Let’s face it . . . we ALL have one or two (or more) guilty pleasures in which we indulge.  Some of these might not be good for us (smoking, excessive alcohol intake, overeating, etc.), but some might not be terrible (working out, writing, crafting, etc.). For me, my number one guilty pleasure is reading . . . few things excite me as much as beginning a new book and delving in to the world created by the author. I don’t know when my obsession with books began, though I do vividly remember reading issue after issue of Reader’s Digest as a child and any other book that even remotely piqued my curiosity.  Reading isn’t a terrible habit to have, other than I could easily while away any number of hours in a land where dirty laundry and dirty dishes and messy floors don’t exist. I fully believe that being a voracious reader has allowed me to become a semi-decent writer.  When I had children, I just KNEW that I would have children who would LOVE books as much I did, so to ensure that, I bought a small library of children’s books. We had Goodnight Moon and Rainbow Fish and lots of Dr. Seuss and many other not so famous children’s books.  Then the unthinkable happened . . .

I had two very busy little boys.

Little boys who wouldn’t sit still for books.  Little boys who exhausted me to the point that I could often not finish a book we started before bedtime because I would, myself, fall asleep before they even blinked one tiny eyelid. I was failing as a reading parent.

As the boys got older, I would try to tempt them by buying books that I (again) just KNEW they would love. Captain Underpants and The Magic Treehouse and other not so famous short chapter books adorned the bookshelves above the aforementioned little kids books that were ever so subtly gathering dust from years of not being touched, much less read.

Unfortunately, most of these books, too, met with the same dust-encrusted fate as the earlier ones.

I was crushed. I was heartbroken. The one habit I had that I had literally waited years to share with my offspring was falling quickly by the wayside. In many ways, I resigned myself that my children were going to be like so many other boys who just didn’t like to read.

But, I kept on reading when I could. Vacations. Late nights. When I should have been folding laundry. I read. I read because it was my one little guilty pleasure that I couldn’t give up. Sometimes it would be with actual paper in my hands; other times it might be with my Kindle or on the Kindle app on my phone, but read I did. I continued encouraging the boys to read. I accompanied them to book fairs where I bought books that I silently prayed wouldn’t just become more dust magnets in our house.

Then, the tide began to shift. As surely as the sun rises slowly each morning, I would catch the boys reading books or magazines (mostly the Lego magazine, but, hey, whatever works, right?) when they weren’t required to by school. For my eldest, the reading bug sort of hit him after watching Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief and he began to read one of the Heroes of Olympus books. I was dumbfounded. I had tried buying the short little chapter books in an effort to ease them into reading and he picks up a 500+ page book and starts reading it willingly? His recreational reading has taken an even more dramatic turn in the last few weeks and he has been quickly devouring more than more than one book at a time. At bedtime, he reads. On the way to and from school, he reads.  The other night, I found him reading at 1 a.m. How could I fuss at him? As my mom replied when I relayed the story to her, it sounded like something I probably did as a child too. My previously devastated reading heart swells each time I look around and notice my son with a book in his hands sitting in the car or sprawled on the couch or nestled under his covers.

Study after study has shown that reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge and helps teach patience.  As with learning to walk and talk, developing a love of reading, it would appear, is just something that develops when the time and conditions are right.  And I’m so grateful to finally be sharing my guilty pleasure with my sons.

A Much Needed Special Day

By: Ashley Whisonant

Gray

Shortly after we became pregnant with my youngest, Gray, my husband and I decided we would complete our family with two. For whatever reason, I never imagined myself with more than two or even a little girl. Even looking at a family picture now, I feel we are complete.

I frequently find myself feeling guilty for my second born. With my oldest, Weston, we were mentality present for all his firsts. He had our full attention, all of the time. I remember the excitement of watching him roll over and crawl. The moments of him running to meet me at the door when I pulled in the driveway from work. He was our whole world.

Gray

Gray will never know the feeling of being the only one. He adores his older brother and thinks he hung the moon. I remind myself to take mental pictures of Gray’s firsts- crawling, walking, waving. I work hard to not let life get in the way and give him the same experience as his brother, but it is different.

I needed to do something special for my second. While Weston was camping with my husband, I planned a special day for just Gray and myself. One of his favorite places is the beach. He could run up and down, racing towards the waves for hours. I was determined to have a special weekend with him. 

Gray

When he got up, we painted and shared a breakfast laughing together. Our drive down to Sullivan’s Island was not filled with screen time, but real conversations with my two year old. He pointed out all the things he saw, colors he liked, and we sang Disney songs. We arrived to an almost empty beach-in July! It was as though someone knew how much we needed the time together. I truly lived in the moment with my second born. The laughing, playing, running, and swimming was just what we both needed.

After our day together I realized he is not missing out. My guilt is internal, not with him. He feels my love and knows how much I care about him. I need to let go of my guilt and enjoy the moments with him.

An Aerial View of Childhood

By: Angie Sloan

As a parent, you spend most of your time “in the weeds,” tending to the daily grind of raising happy, responsible, well-adjusted little people. Your ultimate goal is that they turn out to be great adults. You hope they will find themselves in a life they love, surrounded by people who love them as much as you. You do all you can to guide them to this path. You help steer them in the right direction.

Looking back at my childhood, there were a lot of people in my corner. My cheering section was full and I always received the encouragement I needed to succeed. But there were pivotal moments and conversations that I recall that made a tremendous difference in the paths I chose.

There was the English teacher who encouraged me to write. She loved my work and always made time to read my imaginative short stories. I look back and realize that she was a major influence in my love of writing. She told me, “Write from your heart. Keep it genuine.” Even now, when I write something, I have to feel it, or I scrap it before I ever click ‘save’.

At different periods in my life, I worked at a radio station. I remember talking with the program director about various career paths. His words to me, “Never confuse a hobby with a career.” I was almost offended at the time, but hindsight provided clarity. He was saying, love what you do, but don’t lose your love of what you do because you “have to do it” for your livelihood. Great advice!

Jack and Ila coloring at Flight Deck

Jack and Ila coloring at Flight Deck

There were so many other conversations that stick out in my mind. But this post is not about me. It is about having the privilege to witness one of these conversations, as a parent.

Jack, my 8-year-old, is consumed with WWII. Over the course of a year, he has read about 40 books on the subject. He retains everything he reads and loves nothing more than to talk about it. I know more about the war than I ever have, as Jack educates me on a daily basis. He seems to have an understanding of it that reaches far beyond his years. This weekend we went to Flight Deck Restaurant for lunch. Being new to the area, it was his first time going there. He was in awe of all of the memorabilia. He pointed out different planes…that’s a spitfire…that’s a B-17…and so on.

After our meal (which was delicious) the owner made his rounds through the restaurant. He stopped by our table to check on us. I introduced him to Jack and told him how much he loved the place and about his deep interest in WWII. The owner was impressed. It’s not every day you meet an 8-year-old with such knowledge about WWII. As busy as he was, he stood there and talked to my sweet boy for a long time. Jack was thrilled to talk with him about the different planes and battles of years past.

Before he left our table, he extended his hand to Jack. I will never forget what he said to my son. I don’t think Jack will forget either. With absolute sincerity, he shook Jack’s hand and said, “I am so impressed with your knowledge. Tell me your full name so I can remember you, because you will do great things and I want to say I met you when you were a kid.”

Jack smiled and said, “I am Jack Sloan.”

He said, “I am Ted. I hope you come back and visit us again. Remember, Jack Sloan. You will do great things in this world.”

Jack was quiet as he walked away. I could see what an impact those words had on him. I know there will be times in Jack’s life when things are hard. There will be times when he loses his way. My hope is when his path is dimly lit, he will reflect on those words and remember that he is destined for bigger things.  That greatness is a choice. I hope he strives to be like all those WWII soldiers he looks up to.

And I hope that Ted knows that he is now a part of that destiny. Such a simple gesture with such a big impact. Jack will never forget that conversation. And neither will I.

The 12 Days of Christmas….Books

By: Leah Prescott

It’s no secret that we love books in my family. However, if it’s possible, we might love Christmas even more. We love decorating for Christmas, pulling out all the family heirlooms, baking holiday cookies, and singing carols. But when we lug the heavy suitcase full of Christmas books from the attic, all the hustle and bustle seems to fade away. We are all in rapt attention, mesmerized by the same stories told year after year.

Christmas Books

Here are some of my family’s favorite Christmas books, in no particular order. Some of them may be familiar, but we have a few unusual choices that you might also enjoy:

  • The Golden Christmas Tree by Jan Wahl – A sweet folk tale with beautiful illustrations.
  • Walt Disney’s Santa’s Toy Shop by Al Dempster – Vintage Disney charm that reminds me of my grandmother.
  • The Candymaker’s Gift by David & Helen Haidle – The legend of the candy cane as it tells the Christ story.
  • The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs – We just have a small board book, but the story of sacrifice is a beautiful one.
  • The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams – A longer story for little readers, but this classic can’t be overlooked.
  • The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy by Jane Thayer – This is a year-long favorite for my dog-loving kiddos.
  • Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder – This is part of the My First Little House book series, which is one of my favorite picture book series of all time. Beautiful illustrations play perfect tribute to the beloved original series.
  • Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O’Connor – Sparkle, glitter, and a meaningful lesson…literary perfection!
  • Olive, the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold – Just plain Christmasy cute with flaps, scents and pop-ups!
  • Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry – Charming vintage illustrations with an adorable story about animals sharing Christmas.
  • Lassie, a Christmas Story by Earl Hamner – Another echo from my childhood, this book is reminiscent of the 1950s show with a spiritual lesson as the cherry on top.
  • God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren – Mama polar bear tells baby polar bear all about the first Christmas in a gentle way. I love that this book includes mention of Santa (without breaking the magic), but more importantly points to the manger.

Christmas books

In my mind, you can never have too many Christmas books, so you can bet I’ll pick up more this year, even though our house is bursting at its seems. I’ll be watching Amazon’s list of best-selling Christmas books for children and paying frequent visits to my favorite thrift stores, where I often find them for 10 or 25 cents each!

Merry reading this holiday season!

Summer Fun Baskets

By: Leah Prescott

This year we are taking a true summer break, free from formal studies. I am sure this won’t always be the case as we sometimes have subjects to work on over the summer or some catch-up from days lost over the year. Still, while “book learning” is fun, nothing can take the place of carefree summer days filled with playing in the sprinkler and hunting worms. I’m looking forward to my kids wearing themselves out in the sunshine and teaching them some new board games when the South Carolina heat gets unbearable.

Summer fun basket

On the other hand, I want to do all I can to preserve the knowledge my 8-year-olds have gained over this school year and get those little thinking muscles primed for third grade. I’ve been thinking of ways to help encourage learning without major preparation or angst for any of the parties involved. Today I wanted to share one of these ideas with you. Whether you homeschool or not, this is a simple idea that is easily adapted to many ages. Perhaps it isn’t revolutionary, but it’s easy…and sometimes that’s better.

Summer fun basket

I was pretty proud of myself for cleaning out our entire library area by the end of the school year. I had to prepare for our annual book sale, so my arm was twisted into action. I took stock of our materials, filed away completed work for our records, sold some unneeded items, and tossed a lot. All the pencils found their way back to the pencil boxes and I discovered that we actually own one billion crayons, which surprised me since the perfect colors always seem to be eluding my little artists.

Summer fun basket

After the big cleanup, I set aside a large basket for each child and started filling them with “summer fun.” There are only two rules for the contents of the baskets: they must be fun and they must require little or no supervision. Here are some of the things I added to these baskets:

Summer fun basket

  1. Pencil box with basic supplies: glue stick, crayons, pencils, scissors, ruler
  2. Clipboard and legal pads (My children love clipboards. Any writing project is instantly twice as enticing if a clipboard can be utilized.)
  3. Flash master handheld game (electronic flash cards)
  4. Construction paper, stickers, and stencils
  5. “Fun” workbooks (We like the ones in the Target dollar spot.)
  6. Three Ring Binder with cardstock (My girls like to “scrap book” with magazine cuttings.)
  7. Play-Doh or silly putty

Those are the basics that I added to start out. It’s nice to continue to refresh the basket throughout the summer. A new paperback book, card game, or puzzle would be fun to add. Bead kits, rainbow looms or embroidery kits for older children are perfect. I’m looking for a paint-with-water coloring book for my preschooler.

Summer fun basket

This is also a nice place to stick those prizes from Chick-fil-a that would otherwise get lost at the bottom of your purse or the freebie stickers that come in the mail. Really, the options are endless and can be tailored to your child’s interests or needs.

The only “rule” I give the kids about these baskets is that they clean up after themselves. Summer is the time when I really try to crack down on housework and form better habits, and the whole family has to be on board. (If anyone has any tips for teaching my 3-year-old to clean up after himself, they will be humbly received.) Of course, if you have any ideas for easy summer learning, I’d love to hear them in the comments!