Thursday, April 25, 2013

How we handle screen time

I remember when I was a kid...too much screen time wasn't even an issue.  We didn't have cable so we only had a few channels.  Those channels only played cartoons on Saturday mornings so there wasn't much to watch the rest of the week.  There was the occasional "Wonderful World of Disney" movie that would play on Sunday evenings and I watched Mash with my Dad each night.  I also remember watching "Wheel of Fortune" on occasion...must be where my love of puzzles developed.  So, yeah...watching TV wasn't a huge time sucker for me.  Don't even get me started on how funny my kids think it is that I was born before the internet was around!  Dealing with too much screen time these days is a legitimate concern. 

Annie received her first Leapster when she was about four years old.  We bought Megan one when she was three.  Lily inherited those when the older girls moved on to the Nintendo DS.  Those were passed on to Lily when we moved to the Nintendo DSi, which are still a favorite.  Of course, now we have iPod Touches for the older girls and I am sure Lily will have one sometime in the next couple of years.  I began to feel a bit overwhelmed by the technical gadgets my children were amassing so I decided to do things differently with Noah and Claire.  Noah turned four in January and does not have any type of electronic device.  He has to play with good old fashioned regular toys!  I intend to stick with this until he is at least five or six.  I will do the same with Claire as well.

We have a new method of controlling "game time" in our house.  The kids earn 15 minutes per day for doing a good job with school.  They earn 2 minutes per glass of water that they drink.  They can also earn time by playing outside....if they play outside for an hour they can earn an hour of game time.  They can redeem their game time on Fridays after all of their schoolwork is completed.  They can also redeem it on Saturdays between 10am and 4pm.  We started this about a month ago and it has been working really well!  I am planning to continue this through the summer.  Instead of earning time for doing their schoolwork, they will earn time by completing math drill worksheets or writing stories.  I also don't allow them to sit down and play game for hours on end.  If they play for an hour then they must take an hour break.  There have been weeks when they have earned a large amount of game time and weeks when they earn the bare minimum.  If the weather is awesome and they spend a large portion of the day outside then I will let them play game off and on without deducting time since they are striking a good balance.  Really, that's what it is all about...striking a good balance between time spent being active and engaging their minds and time spent being couch potatoes.

We got rid of cable a couple of years ago.  Programming for kids was available 24/7 and it was turning into an addiction with the kids.  We have Netflix now.  The kids are allowed to watch TV when they wake up in the morning until we are ready to start our day.  It usually ends up being just enough time to watch one show.  I allow them to watch a bit of TV or a movie in the afternoons as well.  I just try to keep an eye on how much time they spend sitting in front of a screen.  Once again, it's all about balance.  Yes, some days they will be a couch potato all afternoon...usually if someone is feeling poorly or it's rainy and ugly outside.  Other days the TV will go off at 9am and not come on again. 

We also have rules about screen time when people visit.  If friends are over we do not play video games or watch TV.  In my opinion your friend is there to play with you and not to watch TV.  Yes, we have had the occasional playdate when all the visiting friend wants to do is watch TV or play game...those friends don't usually get invited back.  Seems harsh but I have a tough enough time keeping my own kids from too much screen time so I don't want to spend my day policing someone else's child in that regard.  Besides, if there is a friend visiting then they should be able to come up with some sort of creative play on their own.  Of course, we do make exceptions to that rule...sleepovers almost always involve movie watching and day long playdates will involve a bit of screen time just to keep the peace.  Generally speaking though we try to discourage screen time when friends visit.

Another big no-no in our house (really anywhere) is that you do not ignore others in favor of staring at a screen!  It's a huge pet peeve of mine when I am trying to engage a child/teenager in a conversation and they are busy texting, listening to music or playing a game.  It's just rude.  I don't do it as an adult and I won't allow my children to do it either.  I am sure we have all seen the person who is talking on the phone while checking out at the grocery store...totally ignoring the cashier as if they didn't exist except to bag their groceries.  It is the epitome of tackiness to behave that way.  I won't stand for it!  My children know this.  In fact, it is the very rare occasion that any sort of gaming device leaves the house and travels with us...they certainly never make it out of the car.  I know lots of parents rely on these gadgets as a way to keep their children entertained while at appointments, grocery shopping, etc...  I am guilty of it myself, however, I try not to do this.  I always encourage them to bring a book or a few small toys.  I would rather see a child playing with some action figures and laughing than sitting quietly with their nose shoved against a screen.  FYI, those pocket versions of regular board games (Connect Four, Scrabble, etc...) are fantastic to toss in your purse to bust boredom if the need arises!

So, it really all boils down to being responsible about how much time the kids spend in front of a screen.  It's easy to tune the kids out and not pay attention to how they spend their time.  I know some days I am just happy if they are being quiet and not fighting.  However, I try very hard to remain aware and responsible about their screen time.  I also have to remind myself not to become addicted to screen time.  If I don't set a good example for my kids, who will?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Typical Day

I am always getting asked what my day is like.  I am guessing people are curious about how a Mom, with five kids, manages to homeschool, clean the house and keep everyone alive.  So, here's a peek into a typical day in the Herrera house.

7:00am ~
My bedside alarm goes off.  I hit snooze...several times.  I am not a morning person.

7:30am ~
I manage to drag myself out of bed.  I head into the bathroom to get ready for the day.  I have gotten this down to a science and I am pretty speedy about it.

7:45am ~
I am fairly presentable by now.  No, I am not ready for a photo shoot but I do have on clean clothes, a freshly washed face, clean teeth and my hair is in some semblance of a style.  I head to the kitchen where I make breakfast for all five children, pack Lily's lunchbox and  gather up Lily & Noah's backpacks.

8:00am ~
For the most part, my children are all awake at this time of the morning.  They can be found watching cartoons in the living room waiting patiently for me to get them breakfast.  The only exceptions are Noah and Claire...their room has a baby gate in the doorway so they have to wait for me to come and let them loose.  I get Noah and Claire dressed before bringing them downstairs.  Meanwhile, the older kids are already eating their breakfast.

8:30am ~
Breakfast for the kids is finished and I have managed to scarf down a poptart or a smoothie while checking my email and Facebook.  I proceed to brush teeth for Claire, Noah and Lily.  I also fix Lily's hair and help her choose an outfit for school.  The older two girls are instructed to make their bed, brush their teeth and hair and get dressed for the day.  Contrary to popular belief, just because we homeschool does not mean that we lounge around in our pjs all day.  Of course, we do have days like that but they are the exception and not the norm.

8:50am ~
Head out the door to drop off Lily and Noah at school.  They attend school at a local church that is a five minute drive from our house.  I toss Claire in the car to ride along, however, Annie and Meg stay home on their own to watch a bit of TV while I do the carpool lane.  I am fairly confident that at their current ages (11 and 9) they are capable of staying home for the ten minutes it takes me to drop off their siblings and return home.

9:00am ~
I am back from dropping off Lily and Noah.  I make sure the TV is turned off and that all the beds are made and then we head to the schoolroom/basement to get started on our day.  Claire spends time playing in the basement while we homeschool.  I don't follow a set schedule each day in regards to homeschool.  I just make sure we cover all of our subjects by the end of the day.  I almost always try to get math out of the way first when the girls are fresh.  After that it's anyone's guess as to what will come next.  History is a favorite so it will often come next, but there are times when I want to get grammar over and done with so it will come next.  The girls are pretty good about digging in and get started and the whining is generally minimal. 

10:30am ~
We are all ready for a break.  So, we head upstairs and everyone grabs a snack.  Annie and Megan will often head off to play for a bit after they are finished with their snack.  Claire and I usually curl up on the couch and watch the last half of Sesame Street.

11:00am ~
It's back to the grind!  We all troop back to the basement.  At this point it is hit or miss in regards to Claire's antics.  Some days she is content to go off and play on her own and other days she ends up sitting on my lap and coloring while I do school with the girls. 

11:50am ~
It's time to pick up Noah.  Claire and I jump in the van and do that while Annie and Meg finish up whatever they have been working on.

12:00pm ~
Lunchtime!  We all eat lunch together at the kitchen table.  I will often finish first and then unload/load the dishwasher while the kids finish up.

12:45pm ~
Claire goes down for her nap.  Noah settles down to watch some TV.  Annie and Megan head back to the schoolroom to finish up their work.  At this point they are usually working on things that don't require me to teach (reading, grammar worksheets, spelling word review sheets, etc...) so they are on their own.  I will usually use this time to do some housework (laundry, a bit of dusting, mop the floor, etc...).

1:20pm ~
The girls are finished with school, Claire is still napping and Noah has moved off to play on his own.  I try to have the TV turned off at this point so that everyone is encouraged to entertain themselves.  Doesn't always happen that way but that is the general plan.  I head over to pick up Lily from school.

1:30pm ~
Lily is home and joins in whatever game the girls have going on.  I always take this time to sit down and be a bit lazy.  I find that I really need an hour or so of doing something I want in order not to loose my mind when the end of the day rolls around.  So, I will sit down and read for a bit or watch a show on Netflix.  I sometimes browse the internet reading homeschool blogs or "pin" things on Pinterest.

2:30pm ~
Claire usually wakes up around this time.  We all end up in the kitchen for an afternoon snack.  At this point the kids are free to do what they want for the rest of the afternoon.  Sometimes that will mean sitting down together to watch a movie.  Sometimes we will all head out to the yard and play.  Sometimes we will go for a walk.  It's basically whatever....  If the kids are being good about entertaining themselves then I will try to get a bit of housework done.

4:30pm ~
I will usually head to the kitchen at this point and start getting ready for dinner.  I have this thing about cooking in a clean kitchen so I always unload/load the dishwasher, wipe down the counters and sweep the floor before I start making dinner. 

5:00pm ~
I start making dinner.  Sometimes this is an involved process.  It depends on what we are having.  I will have the kids take turns setting the table (napkins, silverware, drinks) and I try to keep it fair. 

5:45pm ~
Carlos walks in the door and we sit down to dinner.  We eat dinner together every single night.  It is the rare night that we aren't all at the table together.  I think eating together is so crucial to a happy family unit.  We start off every meal with a prayer.  We try to talk turns with this as well.  Even Noah, who is four, takes a turn praying.

6:15pm ~
Dinner is finished and clean up begins.  I usually load the dishwasher while the kids bring the plates from the table and put away the condiments.  Carlos will take Claire into the living room to play with her a bit.

6:30pm ~
If the weather is nice, the kids will head outside for a bit to play.  If not, they will usually go ahead and get their showers.  The older girls take care of that all on their own...even Lily.  Carlos and I handle bath time for Noah and Claire.

7:00pm ~
It's tidy time!  We try to remember to have the kids pick up their rooms each evening.  It keeps us from running into a giant mess down the road.  Some nights we don't have time/remember to do this but we try to stick with it.  I also ask the kids to work as a group and clean up the basement so it's ready for our homeschool day the next day. 

7:30pm ~
Claire and Noah head off to bed.  They share a room and having them go to bed at the same time seems to work out best.  After they are tucked in the remaining kids gather in the living room.  We use this time to do our family devotional.  We are working through a book called "The Dig" right now and we are studying the book of Luke.  The kids generally enjoy this.  After we finish our devotional I will read out loud to the kids.  We are reading "Peter and the Secret of Rundoon" at the moment.  It is part of a series that takes place prior to "Peter Pan".  The kids really love this series!  Lily will often color or play quietly while we are reading.  Annie and Megan sit still though and listen.

8:20pm ~
It's time for the girls to brush/floss their teeth and head off to bed.  Carlos and I tuck them in with hugs and kisses and turn out the lights.

8:30pm ~
I am off the clock!  I usually get my shower and then relish my kid free evening!  Carlos is currently in grad school so he is usually busy studying.  I spend my evening reading, surfing the internet, watching TV/movies....basically doing whatever I want.  I NEVER do housework in the evenings.  I would rather live in a messy house than spend my kid free time cleaning.  I have five kids and spend my entire day running on full speed.  The evenings are my time to relax.  I don't have to change any diapers, answer any questions, fix any snacks or clean up any messes.  It's my time! 

11:30 - 12:30am ~
I head to bed.  I am a night owl so it's not uncommon for me to stray more towards the 12:30am bedtime.  On occasion I will even stretch it to 1:00am.  Of course, that is usually only to finish a great book.  I try not to do it too often or I am a total grump the next day. 

So, that's pretty much a typical day in my life.  On Mondays and Fridays, Lily and Noah don't go to school.  Lily spends those days homeschooling with us because she has a work packet sent home every Thursday.  Noah spends that time playing and making messes.  :)  I tend to do most of my grocery shopping and errand running on Saturday mornings.  Although, there are occasions when a trip must be made during the week.  I try to keep those to a minimum and do them on the days when Lily and Noah are at school.  Annie and Megan will simply pack up their schoolwork and do it in the car. 

We also go to the library once a week.  I do this when Noah and Lily are in school to minimize the chaos we visit upon other library patrons.  :)  Annie and Megan are in charge of gathering books for themselves to read during the week when they have free reading time.  Annie also reads each night in bed until 9:30pm.  I gather books for Lily and Noah.

Currently, Carlos is teaching the older girls how to swim.  So, after dinner he will head to the pool a few nights a week with them while I handle bath time and bedtime for the younger two.  I am also planning to implement an exercise plan for myself sometime this spring/summer.

My biggest piece of advice I can give to other Moms who homeschool or who have a large family is this.....Always make time for you.  Set aside time each day when you do what you want.  It can be for anything as long as it is something you enjoy and doesn't cause you stress.  :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Still around...

I am still around.  Life has just been keeping me hopping.  I have been busy living.  I am hoping to get back into the swing of things and find time to blog on a more regular basis.  For now, I can offer up a little bit of what has been keeping our family busy.

Annie ~

My oldest daughter will turn eleven in less than two weeks!  Where has the time gone?  I can still vividly remember when she was holding my hand and trudging through the park.  Now she runs off on her own and is just so independent.  I suppose that's a good thing though.  I don't want her to cling to me.  I want her to be confident and explore the world.  Speaking of which, she will be heading off to summer camp in June.  It will be her first time away from home for such a length of time.  She will be gone four days and four nights.  I'm going to miss her so I am a bit sad about the whole thing.  However, she is beyond excited!  She talks about it almost every day and it's a struggle to keep her from packing her bag already!  Annie is still my bookworm.  She reads so many books that it's quite a task to get them all recorded in her reading log.  Her current passion is birds.  She has spent many hours looking into the backyard with binoculars and sketching the birds she has seen. 

Megan ~

Megan has been doing better with her reading skills.  It's been a struggle to get her to read on a daily basis, but I keep at it.  I keep hoping she will stumble upon a series that will suck her in and give her a love of far it hasn't happened.  She is still my most athletic/outdoorsy child.  If the temps are above freezing then there is a good chance she is outside.  She spends her days rollerblading, bike riding and drawing on the driveway with chalk.  We didn't do American Heritage Girls this year and I can see that she is missing the social interaction with other girls her age.  She and Annie are great buddies, but I know she longs for a buddy who is just like her.  Annie is more or a tom boy and a stay indoors kind of girl.  Meg wants a buddy who would be happy playing outside for hours on end or just as happy playing Barbies/My Little Pony inside.  I am thinking of doing the P31 Princess study with her next year.  It's a year long program through our church where mothers/daughters/grandmothers study Proverbs 31 together.  We recently attended a meeting with some friends of ours and Megan really enjoyed it.  The only kicker is that it meets weekly the entire school year.  I'm not 100% sure that I am ready to add it to our already busy lives.  I will continue to pray about it.

Lily ~

Lily is about to finish up kindergarten and she has really thrived.  Next year, she will begin homeschooling with Annie and Megan.  She is quite excited about it.  I know she enjoys spending time with her friends at school each day, however, I think she misses her sisters when she is at school.  I am happy to say that she is reading and loving it and I am thrilled that I wasn't the one who had to teach her!  My nightmares of teaching Megan to read are too fresh in my mind.  Lily, however, seems to be a book lover like Annie and myself.  She loves to grab a stack of books and curl up in bed and read through them.  The other day I went into my bedroom and found Lily and Annie curled up in my bed with a stack of books next to them.  It was sweet. 

Noah ~

My little guy is a mix of joy and frustration for me.  He is still struggling with his speech.  We pulled him out of weekly therapy in September so that he could attend preschool.  Our insurance does not cover speech therapy so we were paying $400 a month out of pocket and doing that while paying for preschool for him and then private school for Lily was just not going to be possible.  So, we opted for preschool.  We figured his social skills needed to be improved and that his speech would grow from spending time with his peers.  His speech has improved but it's so slow that it's frustrating for me.  I can tell that he is frustrated as well.  I am pretty sure that we will put him back in speech therapy once May rolls around and we aren't saddled with monthly school tuition payments.  We have been blessed though because his teachers are so patient with him.  His classmates have been great as well.  Nobody really seems to notice his speech delay and it hasn't hampered his ability to make friends.  At least that's one less worry on my mind.  I am happy to say that he is fully day potty trained!  I can't even remember the last time I had to clean up an accident!  Of course, we are still working on staying dry at night but "Rome wasn't built in a day".  For now, I am enjoying only having one child toddling around my house in diapers!

Claire ~

Claire is certainly the baby of the family.  She is spoiled rotten.  Everyone dotes on her every action.  She hardly ever gets reprimanded and she is kissed and hugged a ridiculous amount each day.  She has a very strong personality and isn't afraid to tell you what she wants!  She is talking more and more each day, which has done a lot to soothe my fears about having another child with major language delays.  She will turn two in July.  I am thinking cupcakes at home with the family.  I went over the top for her 1st birthday and I just don't have the energy to do that every year for every child.  So, this year will be laid back and relaxed.  She is really enjoying playing outside these days.  I imagine she will be an outdoorsy girl just like Megan.

Carlos ~

My husband is doing well and keeping busy.  He started grad school in the Fall and has been working and studying constantly.  He finished with an "A" in his first course and is on track for another "A" in his second course.  We are all quite proud of him.  He is also getting started on realizing a dream of his!  Last week he purchased a beat up 1966 Airstream travel trailer.  The plan is to restore it over the next two years.  It will be a lot of work but it's something he is passionate about doing.  It's nice to see him so excited about it and I am looking forward to when it is finished and we can all jump in and head off into the wild blue yonder!  I see vacations to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Alaska, Maine, etc... in our future!

Shelby ~

I have been doing great!  I am enjoying my life.  Carlos and I will celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary in August.  In the first of those ten years I had five children that I was pregnant with, gave birth to and nursed for a year each!  So, for the first time in a long time I am not pregnant or nursing a baby!  It is so freeing!  I spent hours outside weeding the flower beds this past weekend.  Carlos asked me if I was sore and tired on Monday morning.  I was a bit sore and a bit tired but overall I felt great!  It was so nice to do something  and have the energy to complete the task!  All those sleepless nights during pregnancy and the early years of a baby's life really wear a person down.  It's so nice to get a full night of sleep each night without waking to nurse a baby or use the bathroom.  I have been debating getting back into running.  I was a runner in high school and college so it's something that I used to enjoy.  I downloaded the Couch to 5k app for my phone and I am hoping to start it in the next week or so.  I would love to eventually get to the point that I could run a 5k or even a half marathon.  I'll keep you posted!

Ok, that's enough rambling for the time being.  I plan to post about our homeschool year next.  I am hoping it's sometime in the next few days and not the next few months!  :)