Hearts of Thanksgiving

In a world that often seems shattered, broken, and perhaps beyond repair….

Let us give thanks in our hearts for the light we and others can bring to the world.

Let us give thanks for our best attempts to be kind, compassionate and caring to ourselves, our children and the world.

Let us give thanks for all the good things we model for our children.

Let us give thanks for all the helpers in the world.  There are many.

Let us give thanks for all that we have, and all the ways in which we can help others.

Let us give thanks for the beauty of the earth and skies and seas.

Let us give thanks for the animals and plants and the diversity of all human beings and cultures around the world.

Let us give thanks for peace and show the world love.

Happy Thanksgiving to my dear readers,


Anticipation and Preparation: Advent

The wonderful season of Advent is almost upon us.  I am looking forward to another season of fasting, kindness, and waiting with hope.  I thought I would share a few of our plans for this week and the first week of Advent that is coming up.

I think it helps to think of Advent as the season of preparing, waiting, anticipating and Christmastide as the season for the twelve wonderful days of Christmas.  We can give ourselves permission to slow down and enjoy this time.  Our general plans for Advent involve making gifts, baking, decorating, attending church and doing some random acts of kindness.  I hope to have books to unwrap each day for Advent and also some acts of kindness we can do each week for others.   I also hope perhaps we will have an Advent Spiral at one point during this time (or perhaps we will have a Winter Spiral later).    You can see more about an Advent Spiral  here .

This is a beautiful week to create an Advent Wreath and light the first candle on Sunday. Next week, during the first week of Advent, we will  celebrate the Feast Day of Bishop Nicholas Ferrar, and make stuffed star ornaments and straw star ornaments and prepare for the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas on December 6th.

Here are some back posts about the first week of Advent:





I would love to hear what you are up to in preparing for Advent.

Many blessings,


Regulation of Emotions in Children–Part One

So, tis the season of licensure renewal!  So far I have been to a course on neuroprotection and development (you can go to my back post  to learn more about one of the those sessions), a conference regarding the latest advances in pediatric orthopedics (you can see this post to learn more), a breastfeeding conference that focused on the anthropological and biological facets of infant sleep and sleep in the mother-infant breastfeeding dyad, and a course on the emotional regulation of children who have anger, anxiety and ADD/ADHD; children who are in the autistic spectrum were also addressed.  This information was of course, not just valuable for those working with children with differing needs, but for ALL people who come in  contact with children.

This course was aimed at therapists but also at teachers.  The incidence of children with anxiety and anger issues is skyrocketing and the schools are really scrambling to catch up and create a culture that teaches children how to deal with their emotions.  Many of these children have special needs involving the sensory system.  One of the latest statistics I have heard is that one in every 45 children now can be diagnosed along the spectrum.  The public schools have a large job in front of them, and quite frankly I am connected with families almost every day who have pulled their children out of school because they did not feel their children’s needs were being adequately met.

There were several things this course centered on.  First of all, one has to understand the brain and how we nourish these three [oversimplified] brain levels.  The major thing is to keep everything CALM and predictable because if the physical body heads into fight or flight, even at a very low level,  then no learning can take place.  If the body is in fight or flight, then we are “downshifted” into using only the more primitive parts of the brain – typically the “primitive” brain and the limbic system of emotions.  When this occurs, memory, speech, expression, and  the development of neural pathways all decreases.  Hyperactivity increases.  The body goes back to muscle memory and autonomic reflexes.  So, with children who have challenges with emotional regulation, keeping things calm and predictable is vitally important and can be harder and more challenging than one might think, particularly in a busy school environment.

Talking about RYHTHM was a big part of this course.  The more anxious or upset a child typically gets, the stronger the rhythm needs to be held.  Visual aids for rhythm were discussed, along with how to prepare children for when the rhythm would be different that day.  Many schools are now making books with photographs of the children doing each part of the day (this was mainly focused on elementary aged children of grades one and up), so the child can flip through the book as they go throughout his or her day and follow along and know what is coming next.   Also, accommodations – does a child need to eat lunch not in the busy, over-stimulating cafeteria?  Can the teacher have the child sweep or run an errand to reset what is happening?

The other main part of nourishing the brain is connection and love.  Emotional safety, in whatever setting the child is in, is a very large part of keeping the body and brain in an optimal state for learning.  Physical movement, hydration, and nutrition are also important, along with natural and full spectrum lighting (the buzzing from fluorescent lighting can put some children’s bodies in a fight or flight mode).  Sleep and attention are large parts of nourishing the limbic system, as are the use of music, games, drama, storytelling and celebrations.  Lastly, movement and time in nature is a huge piece in emotional regulation and learning.  All of this is validated by research.  The decade of the brain was actually in the 1990s, and much of the research from then until now is just starting to seep into greater society. 

These are all things that were talked about in order to keep things on as even a keel as possible.   You might be wondering what was recommended when things went out of bounds, so to speak.  What to do when children are having real difficulty in that moment in regulating?   I will try to speak to that in Part Two of this post.



Understanding the Brain

I just attended an interesting course regarding emotional regulation in children with anger, anxiety, and ADHD.  One of the first things we did was review the basic neuroanatomy of the brain and I often wonder how much people ever think about their own brain.  It seems to me that the average person knows much more about their own knee or ankle than their brain.

So, I think one of the easiest and simplest ways to think about the brain is 1, 2, 3.  This is a rather oversimplified version of the brain, but it could be useful for a quick grasp regarding brain.  We must always remember that the brain is part of the nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord together make up the Central Nervous System) and that the basic unit of the nervous system is a neuron.  On to 1, 2, 3!

1 – If you bend your fingers at the knuckles and cup your hands together, that is about the size of the average adult brain.  The brain weighs about three pounds and contains an entire universe between your ears! The surface of the brain has sulci (the depressions) and gyri (the raised bumps).  

2 – There are two hemispheres of the brain, connected by a corpus callosum to communicate between hemispheres.  Generally, myelination of the corpus callosum occurs around the third or fourth grade and generally occurs later in boys.

3 – We can think of three simplified levels of the brain – in reality, all these levels work together, but basically we can think of

a – the “primitive” brain – often called this because it includes the brain stem which controls vital functions, and reacts to stress through autonomic functions.  However, it also contains the cerebellum (DaVinci’s term which means “the little brain”). The cerebellum contains 10 percent of the brain’s volume but 50 percent of the brain’s neurons and we know the cerebellum affects timing, coordination, motor control, attention, language, emotional behavior and affection.   

b – the “limbic” system or the emotional system of the brain – often called this because it contains centers associated with emotions, sleep, attention, body regulation and memory.  The emotional center of the brain provides the interpretation of what is coming in through the sensory world and releases hormones in response.   It also combines parts of the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes we often include in  the cortex.

c- the cortex.  Also seen as the “thinking” brain (again, this is very over-simplified!), this contains the occipital lobe (processes visual stimulation), the temporal lobes (most often associated with hearing auditory stimulation but also is involved in memory , learning, and language), parietal lobes (associated with pleasure and pain) , the frontal lobe associated with judgment, creativity, problem solving, planning and lastly, the motor cortex which is involved with movement.  The frontal lobe develops last, and total brain maturity may not occur until around age 25.



Connecting With Young Children: Educating the Will – Week Twelve

Author Stephen Spitalny’s books are now 15 percent off at this link: 3 of my books are on sale at 15% off at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/stevespit  — Now is a wonderful time to get your own copy of this book and read along with us!

Many people use verbal instruction as a way to correct the behaviors of the young child….This is the sensory-motor stage of life when sense experience is the stimulation for action, not thinking before action.” – page 99

We are still in Chapter 5 of Stephen Spitalny’s wonderful book, “Connecting With Young Children:  Educating the Will.”  Our last post regarding this chapter looked at choices, and the anxiety many adults face in our society regarding decisiveness and how this bleeds into the way we can treat children like miniature adults when the consciousness of the child is not that of an adult at all!

Today we start with “Please, okay?” When a parent is wishing that a child would comply with what they are asking the child, they frequently tack on an “okay”.  The author notes that the children “are far more secure when they feel a confident guidance from the adult that cannot come from checking in with the child if your resolution of the situation works for them or not.”  If you feel as if this statement of the author  is somehow wrong or unsettling,  that your early years child of ages 3-6 years old should feel the situation works for them, I suggest you go back and do some inner work with how you feel about decisiveness in decision – making in general.    I believe that this is a skill that needs to be cultivated in this day and age.  How could you cultivate this skill in your own life?

“Please” if often offered by adults when there is no choice.  The authors talks about the difference between “Hand me the stick, please.” versus “The stick needs a rest” and accepting the stick with an open palm and then saying, ‘Thank you” to the child.  This may be semantics to you, but it is an interesting point of view to think about.  Another interesting word is the word “but” as this often is a way to deny something.  And finally, praise has been shown to actually not support the development of self-esteem in a child at all.  Acknowledging effort is much more important than praising the final outcome.  Praising in general often “wakes up” a child to begin comparing themselves to others.  A tool to use to replace, “Good job!” and the like is “I like it when you…”  A smile or a hug can do the same thing without any words at all.

More than words, we must remember consistency in follow-through and the physicality in which a young child lives.  If rhythm cannot hold the moment where discipline is needed, and singing with movement cannot either, than we must work carefully with our words and remember that whilst we live in our heads, our  early years children do not. Ten words or less should suffice!

The rest of this chapter has wonderful sections regarding the often-debated topic of using NonViolent Communication with small children, and answering children’s questions. This, to me, is one of the most important chapters in this book and I encourage you to read it!

Many blessings,


Week Eleven of Homeschooling Eighth Grade, Fifth Grade and Kindergarten

So our past week  started off with the most beautiful Feast day of All Saints.  Our girls sang in two separate masses selections of  Schubert’s Mass in G.  It was glorious and what a wonderful thing to be a part of with the adult choir, a string quartet, and amazing opera soloists.  What a lovely way to begin the week.

Kindergarten – We did quite a few things leading up to All Saints Day and now we have had a wonderful time celebrating All Souls Day and getting ready for Martinmas.  Our circle is now a woodland themed circle with little autumnal animals and the wind playing a major role.  We are baking, painting and modeling.  We have made pumpkin pie salt dough,cookies, taken nature walks and worked on lanterns. Our story is the story of a little shepherd and his sheep. 

Fifth Grade –  We have been putting together our Main Lesson book with a wet on wet painting of the Indus River Valley and a summary of the vast land of India from when we started India.  We also learned a version of a  Hindu Creation Story and created a wet on dry painting for this story, which took us several attempts to really get it look good.  We looked at the story of Brahma and made a mask with Brahma’s four heads. Then we moved on to the  story of Lord Vishnu and how he married Goddess Lakshmi.  We have a painting started for this but I am not certain we will finish it.  The paintings seem to take us a long time.  We also heard the story of King Sangara and his sons and Shiva and how the Ganges came to earth just to hear more stories!

We were fortunate enough to have a Diwali event at our local library in the middle of the week, so I told the story of Rama and Sita before we went.  There were three kinds of crafts to make, Indian food, and wonderful bharatanatyam dance and singing.  It was fun to be part of community festival that tied in with our block. 

For the last part of the week,  we moved from our Creation story into the story of Manu and the Flood and created an oil pastel picture and summary for this story.  We talked about the sacredness of the cow and I told a story about that and we modeled the Brahman cow out of plasticine.   To end the week, we briefly talked about the caste system and how it sprang from Brahma and we started reading about the Sons of Pandu from the Mahabharata.  I hope to end with this story and some spice painting and Indian cooking next week.  We need to keep moving on, because we have been very slow this year!

We are still reading “The Iron Ring” and working on measurement, fractions, multiplication tables, and other math topics.  We are also still working on spelling.  Music is currently working toward Advent and Christmastide music, and also music for our church’s spring musical – already!

Eighth Grade –  We finished up the Civil War through the biography of Sherman and the march to the sea through our state.  I had a book that was a diary of a Confederate girl living in Atlanta at the time of Sherman’s March and that was a good tie-in.  We had also been in the past to a historic site regarding the burning down of a textile mill near us and learned about what happened to all the workers, so that was easy to recall as well to tie in with Sherman. 

Then we moved into the details of Reconstruction and how new challenges arose.  We compared and contrasted Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois, and tied this into our regional history by talking about the rise of historical black colleges in our state.  I am planting seeds for when we do our Peacemakers block in the spring when we will talk extensively about Civil Rights and the great figures of the Civil Rights Movement, many from our own region.  The last bits of American history we did included Little Big Horn, including a pencil drawing of Little Big Horn, and we talked about the Plains Indians Wars.  We ended on the Transcontinental Railroad and the immigration of the Chinese to California and the role of Chinese workers in building this railroad.

We have two field trips left that I would like to do sometime this year to tie in with this block, and then I will be satisfied.  There are also two badges through the National Park Service that were helpful to do in this block:  the Civil War Junior Ranger Badge, and the “Discovering the Underground Railroad” Badge.  Our daughter is still finishing up a book about Harriet Tubman.

We moved into Organic Chemistry at the very end of the week and really only got as far as discussing the different types of  taste, the function of taste buds, and moved into carbohydrates – monosaccharides, disaccharides,polysaccharides.  We are drawing from the book, “What Einstein Told His Cook” and I hope to move a bit faster next week with Chemistry, although we have several field trips planned.  Thanksgiving is drawing near, and I would love to get this block finished before that if possible.

In our year-long course of Geography, we finally, finally finished up a Main Lesson book page for the United States and the paper on Hurricane Katrina:  Ten Years Later. That was a great project to talk about how to gather resources, how to take notes from resources, then how to use those notes to put the paper together and how to provide references. 

Typing, High School Spanish with a big mid-semester project in Power Point was also due last week for an outside teacher,  and Math (Mainly review of fractions) rounded out the week.  It was busy!  Our older daughter is also involved in all the choir things going on as well, and in Cotton Boll and Consumer Judging for 4-H.  Whew!

Would love to hear what you worked on last week or what you are working on this week!

Blessings and love,

Monthly Anchor Points: November

Anchor:  a person or thing that can be relied on for support, stability, or security; mainstay: Hope was his only anchor.

When we work to become the author of own family life, we take on the authority to provide our spouse and children and ourselves stability.  An effective way to do this is through the use of rhythm.  If you have small children, it takes time to build a family rhythm that encompasses the year.  If you are homeschooling older children and also have younger children not yet ready for formal learning, the cycle of the year through the seasons and through your religious year becomes the number one tool you have for family unity, for family identity, for stability.

Oh, November, such love I have for these autumn months!  It reminds me of all the beautiful poems, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Autumn Fires” to Sara Teasdale’s “Rhyme of November Stars” to “The Last Word of A Bluebird (As Told to A Child)” by Robert Frost to “Something Told the Wild Geese” by Rachel Field.  Lovely thoughts of autumn fires, stars, geese…and I feel myself connected to the beautiful natural world.  I want to walk in the wind and the leaves and be with my thoughts. 

Here are the things we are celebrating this month:

  • November 1 All Saints Day
  • November 2 All Souls Day
  • November 11 Martinmas
  • November 19 St. Elizabeth
  • November 25 Thanksgiving
  • November 29 First Sunday in Advent

We also have several family birthdays this month.

Ideas for Celebrating:

  • Learn songs for a Martinmas Lantern Walk
  • Use transparency paper to make window silhouettes and transparency cut-outs and lanterns.
  • Bake bread on the cold days
  • Look for bird’s  nests as the trees lose their leaves; make feeders start to be filled all the time, make treats for the birds 
  • Dip leaves in glycerin and preserving them
  • Cook things with cranberries, corn.
  • Make Thanksgiving Baskets and leaving them on your neighbor’s doorstep!
  • Gather greens and natural items to use for an Advent Wreath.  We do this at church from the areas surrounding the church and it is quite lovely!

The Domestic Life – These are some of the things we are doing now:

  • Pulling out all the things we will need for Advent
  • Making gifts and ordering gifts
  • Marking off whole days to be home
  • Marking off half days to take care of my own health
  • Making sure that we have the supplements and herbs on hand that we need to fight cold and flu season.   Aviva Jill Romm has good posts about what to have on hand on her website.
  • Bringing salt lamps, diffusers, lanterns into the school area.
  • Cutting back on activities so we have time to just be and play.  I don’t like to be super committed over the holiday months or in January.


Sigh.  This is the time of year that if I am not careful  I can start to get panicked about time we have missed.  This fall we had some very sad and tragic things happen that caused us to miss school in a formal way and I have to remind myself that we homeschool so we can be together in these times and because all of life is learning.  We have been diligent with the time we have had, and it will work out by the end of May when we finish school for summer!  I am sure others of you have been there this fall, so let’s just all hold together that life is our homeschool classroom!

Kindergarten – I love the lantern songs, the changing of the nature table to forest/woodland kinds of themes, fingerplays of owls and turkeys, and root children and gnomes.  Painting, baking, making lanterns and Thanksgiving crafts, cooking are all lovely and then we move right into Advent. Such a rich time of year!

Fifth Grade – We are still in Ancient Civilizations.  I wanted to be done with this block by now, but we must forge ahead steadily.  You can read more about our Ancient Civilizations block in my weekly round-up posts of fifth grade.  Music, dance, cooking, spices,  painting, drawing and modeling, and attending events in our community regarding Diwali  have all been part of our block so far, along with some intriguing stories about Ancient India.

We are also working  hard in math, spelling and music. This is also such a rich time of year for music between All Saints Day and Advent and Christmastide coming up.

Eighth Grade – We are finishing American History and I am happy with the way this block went…On to Organic Chemistry, a fitting block for the holiday season!  We also are still in North America in our geography that runs all year, but have used our time looking at the United States to focus on states and capitals, national geographic features, and then looked at the lens of migration through the history of Ellis Island, the immigration of people from Central America into Texas, and the migration of people from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  We used Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to gather research and write a paper about the Gulf Coast and where things are ten years later, so that felt like a good development of capacities at this point.  Math and high school Spanish round out our time together.

We will be busy with Cotton Boll and Consumer Judging this month, along with our statewide Junior Leadership 4H Conference.  We also are gearing up for Advent and Christmastide music in choir at church.

Self-Care – Yes, still a struggle and unchanged since I wrote about it in September.  However, I am feeling positive that the next few months will be ones of metamorphosis in health and I have been putting together a wellness plan for myself.  If I was younger, I don’t know as this would feel or seem as pressing to me as it does right now, but I think the time has come. More on that, and some of the steps involved in this for me later.

I would love to hear your November plans!

Many blessings,