Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In Defense of a little Benign Neglect

Like so many of us, I've become a bit of a Pinterest addict over the last year or so. And nestled in between all the recipes I'll never make and the projects I'll never crochet are hundreds of pins for things I'll never do with the kids. Homeschool ideas, general crafts and activities, things to do outside: the list is unending. And despite the number of blog posts I've read on exactly the same subject as the one I am currently writing, there's this little part of me that feels terribly guilty about this.
James here isn't sure whether he's more frustrated with the bee that chased us away from the picnic table, or his sister for trying to grab his last few crackers
You see, it's been a rough summer. Nothing big - no terrible crises, no health problems, injuries, or deaths in the family - just a 16 month old bundle of mischief named Lucy. Honestly, after two kids just 18 months apart, I thought I'd hit my parenting stride. Not that I had everything figured out, not by a long shot. But having executed a move across town with a 3 year old and an 18 month old, I figured I was getting pretty good at multitasking and managing kid chaos. Not so much. Lucy is twice as active as either sibling - and her brother was no slouch! She's into everything, with an infernal instinct for the messiest, most fragile, or most dangerous objects in reach. She greatly prefers food on anyone else's plate to her own. She's a climber: all of the chairs at the dining room table and kitchen bar must be tipped over at all times lest she use them as ladders and wreak havoc. She has the attention span of, well, a 16 month old, and has absolutely no compunctions about letting everyone in earshot know when she's upset, being left out, or simply bored. She despises above all things seeing anyone do Anything that she's not allowed to participate in, and yet her mode of participation tends distinctly towards the destructive. (For instance, despite numerous experiments, she remains convinced that crayons Must be candy!) And did I mention that she doesn't really nap unless she's attached to me?
Please note the tipped-over chair at the bottom of the shot
So, I started the summer with great intentions. We officially started homeschool lessons in late spring, with no plan to stop for the summer. I started a list of activities especially to be done outside.  We even did a few of them. But things quickly deteriorated.  The baby was so incensed at being disallowed from the table during the school lessons that I mostly had to hold her while "teaching."  Attempts to instruct my eldest on, for instance, letter formation had to be limited to about 3 minutes, or the time it would take her to travel from wherever I dumped her down to my son's chair, which she would climb onto so she could grab at his paper or pen. By July, I'd given up. The rest of the Mommy-lead crafty, educational, or simply fun activities I had at the back of my head quickly followed. Frankly, I can barely even read to them: the baby has to be in the middle of things and quickly becomes grabby, to the severe detriment of the book and her mother's patience. 

Instead, we fell into a pattern of visits to the two parks within walking distance, the library, our homeschool co-op (basically a play-date this time of year), and the like. In between times - and there's a Lot of between times - I devote much of my attention to the baby (and maybe occasionally a little housework!) while the older two wander off on their own. To my general frustration and moderate guilt... until I pay a little closer attention to what's actually going on. 

Because what do they Do when they're off on their own? Well, James LOVES his Legos, and we are blessed with a house big enough to have a spare room that can be sealed off from the baby. So there's a Lot of playing for the two of them back there. They also do an enormous amount of role play - which, perhaps unsurprisingly, seems to be split about 50/50 between playing pirates and playing house.  They build forts, make huge messes, and dress up like Darth Vader.
No, they haven't seen the movie. Thanks to "The Piano Guys," they think Darth Vader is a scary looking guy who plays the accordion!
 Often I am able to send them into the enclosed backyard where, after watering the garden (a paid chore for the 5 year old), they play on the climbing structure, fight bad-guys, and build "campfires." On our afternoons at home, I give them strict instructions not to disturb me during nap time unless the house is on fire, a bad-guy is at the door, or someone has broken a leg. (Sometimes this even works!) Baby-free in the dining room at last, I often come down to a puzzle or a game of Candy Land (on which James has taken to "helping" his sister when she gets behind!)  
Yesterday the baby was so excited to go outside with them that I delayed her nap by 45 minutes or so and sat out under the gazebo while they all played. After soaking everything that stood still with a pair of squirt guns, they commenced to plucking the river rocks out of the edging and plunking them into the bucket they were using to fill their weapons. Eventually these same rocks were used to create campfire rings, moved to Another bucket, and finally (at my insistence) trucked back to their beds. 
Yes, my son is wearing his padded, lined spacesuit. Yes, it's 90 degrees. No, he was not willing to select a more sensible outfit!
The Mischief Baby (as her brother calls her!)
Incidentally, at last these were activities in which Lucy could participate with abandon: she loves water play as much as any toddler, and thought the rock transport was thrilling.

What I'm getting at here is that *it's all OK!* The older kids are not suffering from my "neglect." To the contrary, they are thriving.  While Grace is by nature able to entertain herself with ease, James has truly stepped up to the challenge of finding his own activities.  They are learning to play cooperatively and peacefully (Usually. OK, sometimes!) together. They are exercising their imaginations. They are being creative. They are, at times, even learning to include their youngest sister!  

And, while we have given formal academics the boot for a while, we have managed to carve out 10 minutes every now and then to do some Bible memory: they've both gotten the first 6 or 8 out of the AWANA Sparky books down! Note that this is an activity that can easily be done standing up, or while buckled into the car on one of our cross-town visits.  

Obviously, since we are homeschooling, this isn't a long-term sustainable scenario. But neither is Lucy's stage of life. I'm sure she'll continue to present many challenges, but equally certain that within the next 6 to 12 months she'll become a lot easier to handle during projects with her older siblings. And isn't the flexibility of being able to adjust our school times, styles, and etc. as needed one of the reasons we're doing Homeschool in the first place? So what if we don't re-start our school lessons until October, November, or even the first of the year? My five year old is not going to be irretrievably "behind," and my (by then) four year old may be more ready to learn some of the same concepts.  

In any case, there's one more thing I've largely eliminated from my schedule this summer: Adding any more pins to my kid boards on Pinterest! 


HeidiSue said...

I love this! you are homeschooling just exactly the way we did with our kids in the 90's...and believe me, all of my kids are much better off for the more relaxed, easy going "let em learn as they live" approach that I adopted.
What adorable little ones...you are in for the time of your, and their, life!

TarkheenaCrafts said...

Thanks for the encouragement, HeidiSue!