Gentle Early Chapter Books for Voracious Readers

Written by Irina Gallagher

The books children read set a major tone for the way in which they view the world – especially when they take the enormous leap into independent reading. I don’t take this fact lightly and, because of this, I find it a bit difficult to scope out reading material for my 8-year-old who spends hours each day with her nose in a book. I rarely follow book recommendations without pre-reading at least the first book in a series. I’m cautiously optimistic about children’s literature and I believe that children can handle more sustenance than rude, snarky characters, and frivolous story lines. At the same time, just because a child has the capability of reading something, doesn’t mean that their hearts and minds are ready for certain content. I prefer first independent books to be a place of gentle solace for young readers rather than action-packed works of conflict laced with intermittent rudeness. I have also found that my daughter is much more engaged when reading series of books rather than stand-alone fiction. With all of that in mind, I have compiled this list for anyone with similar philosophies. Below is a compilation of our very favorite early chapter books (books composed of no more than 150 pages generally, that are geared towards early elementary grades). This list contains only books with which both my 8-year-old and I have fallen in love over the past few years (there is a slew more that one of us has liked a lot and the other has not). 

 

The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels
This is not part of a series, but my goodness how I wish it was. Just look at the cover art. It matches the whimsical feeling of its contents perfectly. Miss Petitfour has sixteen cats (prepare yourself to say the cats’ names many, many times). On windy days, she likes to take her cats out in one kite-like string that travels through their city on many adventures. The frequency at which the main characters consume tea and jam certainly doesn’t hurt the lovely atmosphere this book evokes. Due to some skillful alliteration acrobatics on Anne Michaels’s part, Miss Petitfour is a perfect book to read together alternating readers at each paragraph. We read it together first before my daughter read it independently.

The Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green and Jennifer A. Bell
(10 books)
The charming quick tales follow a mouse named Sophie and her woodland friends on many wonderful adventures. This easy-to-read compilation is great for children who like nature, animals, and exploring.

Animal Ark Pets by Ben M. Baglio
(61 books) Average level N-O
This series follows Mandy Hope and her friend James Hunter in their quests to helps animals of all sorts. Mandy’s parents are both veterinarians and her grandparents live down the road in a little English cottage. Young animal lovers will happily read these pleasant books. The series has dozens upon dozens of volumes as they are written by multiple authors under the name Ben M. Baglio – this will surely keep the littles busy for a while.

For older readers, there is also a follow-up series called Animal Ark. The concept is the same, but the content is much more mature and at times deals with the death of animals in different circumstances. If your child is sensitive, wait a bit to start the Animal Ark series – Animal Ark Pets, however, is very mild for young hearts.

Burgess Animal Books by Thornton Burgess
(too many to count, seemingly close to 100)
This is a series which we read together before my daughter read the series in its entirety. I would encourage you to do the same as the dialects of certain animals can be challenging at times. The series follows animals from The Green Forest, the Laughing Brook, and the Smiling Pond as they go about their day-to-day lives, build nests, prepare homes for hibernation, escape the nearby farmer’s son, etc. If your family loves nature and learning in-depth details about various animals, these books are a must read. Thornton Burgess published the series between 1905 and 1965, so prepare yourself for some interesting verbiage coming out of your children’s mouths. Because the books were published before copyright laws were in place, you can readily find free e-books of this series.

Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker
(7 books) 690 Lexile average, Levels O-R
This is what I mean by sustenance. You can have a fiery, tenacious protagonist in children’s literature without turning the book into series of rude dialogues. Clementine is such a well-rounded character. I’m hoping we hear more from her in the future.

Cobble Street Cousins series by Cynthia Rylant
(6 books) 460-650 Lexile, Levels L-M
Another Cynthia Rylant addition here about three cousins who spend the summer living together with their aunt Lucy while their parents are touring the globe as dancers. This is a sweet series about friendship and “cousinly” love.

The Dragons of Wayward Crescent by Chris d’Lacey
(4 books) 670 Lexile average, Level O-P
This series is a bit hard to find and quick to read but well worth the effort. Friendly ceramic dragons coming to life, anyone? Yes, please!

The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant
(5 books) 670 Lexile average
I cannot say enough about Cynthia Rylant books for young children. Rylant had us hooked with her series of Easy Readers including Poppleton and Mr. Putter and Tabby. Her works for independent readers are equally as wonderful, but The Lighthouse Family is my favorites of all. I haven’t read more endearing stories of love and friendship.   

My Father’s Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannett
(3 books) 810-990 Lexile
My daughter and I read the series together before she read and reread and reread the stories of the incredibly clever and resourceful boy Elmer and his unlikely friendship with a young dragon. This series should appear on must-read lists much more often than it actually does.

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series by Ellen Potter and Qin Lang
(4 books) 530 Lexile average
There should be at least 20 books in this charming, quick-to-read series about a girl named Piper who lives on the Island off the coast of Maine and travels to school in a lobster boat.

The Puppy Place series by Ellen Miles
(42 books) 570-750 Lexile, Levels M-Q
Since reading this series, my daughter doesn’t pass a dog without trying to identify its breed. This is a sweet series for dog lovers about a family who fosters puppies. Each book focuses on one puppy (or, at times, multiples from the same litter) and predicaments such as finding the dogs forever homes or training ill-behaved little canines. It’s a must read for little blossoming dog lovers. Ellen Miles also has a similar series entitled Kitty Corner for cat lovers.

Tales from Pixie Hollow series by Disney
(26 books) 550 Lexile average
I am not generally a huge fan of Disney books, however, this series is a real gem. If your child enjoys stories of fairies and their magical lands, this is great. We read it in its entirety together before my daughter read them by herself. Since finishing the series, we have spent countless hours picking our fairy talents and pretending to be residents of Pixie Hollow.

If your child enjoys The Tales from Pixie Hollow, a great read-aloud series is Fairy Haven by Gail Carson Levine. The characters are familiar, but the writing and details are a bit heartier and more mature. Another follow-up for slightly older readers is the Never Girls series, which brings a group of human girls into the mix.

Thimbleberry Stories by Cynthia Rylant
720 Lexile, Level M
Again, Cynthia Rylant with her incessant charm. Supreme coziness, that’s what this is. This is a nice book which includes many pictures throughout. Super for cuddling under fluffy blankets and reading together.

    Welcome to the Bed & Biscuit series by Joan Carries
(3 books) 610-670 Lexile, Level M-Q
Why oh why are there only 3 books in this series? Anthropomorphic farm animals going about their daily business with great fun and humor, what more does one need really?

 

 

I hope this list contains a book which will soon become your young reader’s favorite. Happy reading!

The Nest of the Little Sprouts

written by Irina Gallagher

Tree HouseI am walking with my seven-year-old daughter to visit her house – a place where two completely dissimilar trees intertwine and form a perfect little space for my magical girl to climb. She deemed this her own many years ago when she was the only kid in the family and has since then created additional spaces to house the little ones who followed. My son’s house is next door in a little pine. Along the same strip of land, adjacent to a canal, are several other tree houses designated for cousins. But the main resident here is the little girl holding my hand as we walk to her tree for the last time. You see, this week we are moving. Due to work-commute logistics and the phenomenon of ever-growing children, we had to find a new house. Our whole brood is saddened to leave though the little three-year-old hurricane is perpetually ready for a new adventure; my husband is looking at things in a rational and positive light; my girl and I have been mourning our move before it even happens. We’ve found a lovely new house, we are heartbroken to leave.  

Nine years ago, my husband and I crossed the threshold of this 1,000 square foot dwelling and decided to live here. Honestly, it wasn’t so much that we fell in love with the space. It was nice. The neighborhood was nice. The townhouse was nice. The surrounding area was nice. But it wasn’t a matter of love at first sight. It was a matter of convenience. We had to move out of an expensive apartment as we adjusted to one income while I finished my Bachelor’s degree and a friend was moving and interested in renting out her townhouse. We simply thought it was advantageous for everyone. Nine years later, I think it was serendipity.

In this home, we celebrated countless birthdays. We mourned too many losses. We laughed and we cried. We grew pots upon pots of tomatoes as if we were going to start our own line of tomato sauce. In this home, we found out that we were expecting – twice. We witnessed our children taking their first steps. We watched countless performances in the living room. We stopped thousands of sibling squabbles. We made a million memories in this 1,000 square feet. How could we have possibly imagined that the small family of three who entered in 2008 – husband, wife, loyal canine kid – would also raise a daughter and birth a son there? That was not the plan nine years ago when we stepped into this dwelling and basically said, “Why not?”

In this home, fairies lived, benevolent witches perfected their spells, dinosaurs roamed nearby, friends from alternate planes came to visit daily, and magic flourished. Behind our townhouse neighborhood was the tree house settlement and adjacent to that, until recently, was the “Dinosaur Place,” which most people would have seen as an abandoned golf driving range where people thought it appropriate to dump old couches and televisions and where teenagers engaged in teenagery activities. To my little sprouts, though, this is where dinosaur eggs were frequently found and Brachiosaurus fossils were regularly discovered.

Behind the dinosaur area was the house of a friend akin to Pippi Longstocking. Hers is not my story to tell, here is what I will say, though – when the construction of a new neighborhood caused the demolishment of this friend’s house and the entirety of the Dinosaur Place, it was a sign that somehow the universe would fling us elsewhere. Don’t worry, we asked all of the fanciful friends to move with us. We will be busy finding them new homes, but the heartache remains.

Field Trip Kids

Not all of the friends can be taken with us. As difficult as is is to believe, among the imaginary friends and dinosaurs there are the mortals of the neighborhood with whom we are saddened to part. There was the neighbor from a door over who walked at the same time as us daily. Most days, a friend would join her for her middle laps. The kids and I had many conversations about how lovely it is to have such a friendship. There was the couple in their seventies who left their house simultaneously but always walked in opposite directions; there was always a level of peaceful truth upon seeing this interaction. There was the running man who had a very strict regime of running a lap in regular fashion as a warm up and then three laps with his arms at his sides; sometimes he ended his runs with a cigarette by the pool, and for some reason I can’t help but find the opposition in those two activities charming. There was the large man with the “puppy pack” as we called it – four tiny dogs on four separate leashes always going in opposite directions. We imagined how these puppies wake the man in the morning by bouncing on him repeatedly. There was the man that we saw very seldom but whose joyous personality was such that a simple heartfelt “Good morning” from him could brighten your entire day. There were various dogs and their owners about whom we made up stories. We envisioned the three Huskies starting a Northern breeds club and inviting the Keeshond and the Komondor to join. It was a sea of colorful characters who we looked forward to seeing regularly. Unfortunately, we can’t transplant these people with us nor can we take the walls that nurtured our family for almost a decade.

Today, we tearfully closed the door of our quaint, loving home for the very last time. My son left his flip flops as a present to the house – I didn’t know this until we locked the door. My daughter left a note for the new owners: “Dear new owners. Please take care of our house. We hope you have no problems with this wonderful home.” – she listed all five family members who happily lived under that roof. No matter how much we grow to love our new place and no matter how many interesting characters we collect there, we will never forget the warm embrace of our little nest.

My daughter climbs for the last time into her tree. She says to me “Mama, I can feel the tree breathing.” I try to hold myself together as I pray that she can enrich our new home with as much love and magic as she did here in this loving little neighborhood where our family became whole.  

PSA to Homeschooling Skeptics

Written by Irina Gallagher

KiteAfter a busy summer spent with family and friends near and far, we have just finished the first month of second grade. I’m so excited about the beginning of this school year. We’ve accomplished a lot during the last several weeks – cultures have been explored, paintings have been drawn, kites have been made, books upon books have been devoured. Unfortunately, along with the excitement of empty libraries, parks, museums, and beaches, we are also back to homeschooling commentary from well-meaning and, in some cases, outright critical members of our community. In the summer, no one cares much to ask about your child’s schooling, but as we return to our extracurricular activities and find ourselves out in the world during regular school hours, we encounter our share of remarks on the subject.

Over the last several weeks I have been a part of too many of these interactions. The latest was with a woman who was very concerned about how many hours per day we spend on school, how I examine my daughter’s progress in any given subject, and how we socialize. It’s fine to ask these questions; I can safely say that a majority of homeschooling parents don’t mind being asked about our schooling logistics. I think most of us are eager to talk about our homeschooling lives; after all, this is an enormous part of our time. What we do care about is that when we’re asked how we choose a curriculum, how we report our kids’ progress to the school board, what our days look like, and the deluge of other questions that we are confronted by regularly, that people do so without implying that we could not possibly be capable of teaching our own children and that our children are severely lacking something crucial by being homeschooled.

I understand that homeschooling is not the standard, so people tend to get caught off guard when hearing that we’ve made this educational choice. As a result, some make strange comments on the topic. Trust me, I’m a terrible conversationalist, too. Here are a few tips that may help you converse with the alien homeschoolers in your life:

Don’t make a face as if you’re watching us step in dog shit when we tell you that our family homeschools. This needs no explanation. I saw this face last Thursday.

Perhaps don’t imply that my kid sits in a cave during the school week (especially when you’re seeing us out doing extracurricular activities – you know…like your kids). My family is fortunate to live in an area which has a vast homeschooling community. There are numerous homeschool co-ops featuring a variety of homeschooling styles showcasing everything from classical education, Waldorf, unschooling, Montessori, religious-based, Charlotte Mason, and everything in between. There are more field trips scheduled by homeschooling groups in our town than we could possibly attend. We see other people. We interact with a variety of age groups on a regular basis. You don’t need to call the socialization police.

Please don’t feel the need to get defensive that you don’t homeschool. I’ll never really understand this one. Often, people seem to think that I am judging them for NOT homeschooling. Trust me, your child being in a public, private, or charter school is at the bottom of my list of concerns. I judge you on how much you tip and how you treat my dog – not where your kid goes to school.

Tone is everything. Instead of asking me how I could possibly know how to teach if I don’t have a degree in education, ask me what my child’s favorite subject is or what I enjoy teaching most. I’ve had many conversations about how we report progress and the minutiae of curricula that were just fine. It’s the discussions which insinuate that I haven’t a clue about anything regarding education that are tedious and insulting. I’d be happy to bore you with details of how my daughter performed on her latest tests or show you the portfolio of a year’s worth of schoolwork that we present during our end of the year evaluations, just don’t make it seem like you’re evaluating our scholarly success please. You have no more right to do so than I have to ask you to see your kid’s report cards. Cool?

How do we know we’re doing enough? This question is so common. I don’t know of a single family who blindly decided to homeschool. We do our research. We spend countless hours seeking schooling inspiration and conversing with other homeschooling families who inspire and guide us. We spend hours weekly ordering books from libraries to coincide with our studies. I have never asked (nor would I dream of asking) a public school parent “How do you know that your child is doing enough in school?” I’m not entirely certain why it’s appropriate to ask a homeschooling parent this. Please understand how high the stakes are when you are teaching your own kid. We can’t say that our teacher this year wasn’t that great. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We work our asses off. We have our doubts and we push through because we believe that we know what is best for our children – the same as you believe your schooling choice is best for yours.

Don’t call us freaks. That should go without saying, right? This was not the same person as the dog poop facial expression. Even as a term of weird, faux endearment, just don’t. Thanks.

Ask us the same questions you would want to be asked. We are all trying to provide the best possible opportunities for our offspring. In that major sense, we are very much alike. Ask us what you would like us to ask you. Tell us what your kids are doing in school. We love to hear it and we love talking about what we are doing in school (just not when it feels like we are attempting to defend ourselves and our kids against homeschool criticism).


Mount Rainier
Sometimes it seems adults have major awkardness asking homeschooled kids questions about school, as if the space in which one learns somehow influences the child’s ability to answer questions regarding their education. I asked my second grader what kind of questions about school she likes to be asked. Here are her questions (and answers).

“I would be glad to answer:

Q: What series of books are you reading right now?
A: Animal Ark Pets

Q: What subject do you like most?
A: Reading

Q: What projects are you working on right now?
A: I’ll always be teaching my brother ballet. For school, I’m working on a book of pictures of family history stories.

Q: What was your favorite thing you learned this week?
A: My favorite thing this week was learning to make soft-boiled eggs.

Q: What kind of field trips do you hope to go on this year?
A: I want to hike mountain ranges.”

There you have it. It looks like I should start planning this mountain hiking trip (maybe we’re finally going to Washington).

Happy school year – no matter what that “school” may be!


Homeschooling Skeptics

Love > Hate

written by Irina Gallagher

black-stripe-pride-flag It has been a devastating week in Central Florida after a senseless act of hatred claimed 49 lives and left 53 people injured – some still fighting for their lives. Of course, as a community, we have mourned previous mass shootings. We have shed tears for the victims and families of cities around the country and around the world. We have held our babies closer after all of these tragic events. We have dealt with the heavy hearts. We have tried to put ourselves in the shoes of the affected communities. We have listened to Obama give the aftermath speech time and time again. But this was different. This was right in our backyard, an hour away. The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. An hour away from home. In Orlando, where my (now) husband and I used to go when we skipped school (sorry, parents); where I went to college and got lost in parking garages searching for my car on an all-too-regular basis; where my husband commutes for work daily; where we take our kids on weekend trips. This time, it was our community.

This was the first time that there was no way to shelter our 7-year-old daughter from tragedy. While the week was spent trying to avoid the news in the company of our kids and trying to stay informed by quietly reading the Orlando updates; there was no way to shield this. My girl and I had to have a conversation about hate, about how someone could possibly inflict such carnage by singling out a specific demographic. We had to talk about the LGBTQ community as a safe haven and why we need to support something that should just be a given. We had to talk about how we would feel if her aunts were targeted simply because they loved one another. And with this talk, I had to erase a part of my daughter’s innocence.

The following day, we were preparing to go to a local candlelight vigil for the victims of Pulse. My daughter asked if we knew anyone who had died there. I responded that while we didn’t know the victims personally, we were going to show our support, to show unity, “We are going because,” and she finished my sentence “we care.” Yes, we were going because we care. We bought candles and spent time drawing rainbows and hearts on the wax catchers. When we arrived at the vigil, we saw unity. We saw people come together in support of the fallen, but also in support of love and equality. On the way home that evening I asked my daughter if she was able to hear all of the speakers during the ceremony. She answered yes. But what stuck with her most was one line: “We are one.” She was referring to the most powerful speaker of the night, Pastor Glenn Dames of St. James AME Church, who proclaimed “We will not be divided. We will stand together. And we will not allow some cowardly terrorist to pull us apart. We will cry together. We will rise together. We will laugh together. And we will be one.”

Vigil

There were tears this week over the horrendous act of hatred in Orlando, for the lives lost all too soon, for the state of our world in which a massacre like this can occur. But more tears were shed over the community’s reaction – the thousands upon thousands of people who waited hours in line to donate blood (shout out to my mama); the donations pouring in from all over the world in support of victims’ families; the companies, corporations, and sports teams who have offered support to Orlando in numerous ways; the strangers who have gone out of their way to show various acts of kindness, because they wanted to do something; the vigils drawing hundreds, thousands of people in communities far and wide; and countless stories of love and support. The unity that we have witnessed since last Sunday has been tremendous and I know that not only Orlando feels the love, but the collective LGBTQ community as well. This week showed, above all, that love is greater than hate. Every time.

“What divides us pales in comparison to what unites us” – Edward Kennedy
Orlando vigil

Dear Magical Girl

Written by Irina Gallagher

Magical Girl

My Dear Magical Girl,

Seven. How could this have happened so quickly? One moment you are crawling around the living room in search of board books to chew and the next you are devouring 100 page books on a daily basis. You are clever, imaginative, kind, talented, willful, passionate, funny, thoughtful, and wise. I could never give you a complete summation of all your wonderful qualities and certainly I couldn’t say all the things that I’m thankful for because of you, but here’s a very limited list:

Thank you showing me how precious time is.

Thank you for being, without a doubt, the most imaginative person I have ever met.

Thank you for being an amazing big sister and for having patience (most of the time), even when there is a little lion of a hurricane circling you.

Thank you for being kind and thoughtful to all creatures, no matter their size (though I know you prefer the smaller ones).

Thank you for making me want to be a better person.

Thank you for keeping me on my toes and my mind challenged on a daily basis. I’m hopeful this will help me keep some mental fortitude in the future. (You can take a day off here and there to let your mama and papa rest a little.)

Thank you for always inviting me on your adventures. I know I sometimes get crabby when changing your clothes to go out requires an accompanying otherworldly story line, but I truly appreciate you including me.

Thank you for sharing the stories from the books you’re reading. One of my favorite parts of the day is snuggling up with you before you fall asleep and hearing what Elmer, Lizzie, Gabby, Ernest, Prilla, Clementine, Turnip, and Gruffen have been up to.

Thank you for appreciating simple things.

Thank you for loving our reading time together. There’s nothing sweeter than cuddling up in the armchair with you and reading together. This will always feel to me like our own little home.

Thank you for being such a wonderful role model for our little lion (this does not include jumping on beds, climbing various pieces of furniture which ought not be climbed, or playing some very safety-questionable games, but I understand).

Thank you for your truly bright ideas. An astute inventor named Thomas Edison said, ”To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” You, my dear girl, have many great ideas. I cannot wait to see what’s next. (I would be ever so grateful if you could figure out a solution to slowing time a bit. If anyone could help me out with this, surely it’s you. Keep me posted on this please.)

Thank you for filling every room you enter will heart and magic.

But most of all, thank you for changing everything.

Happy Seven, my lovely girl.

Magical Girl

Whoa, Mama!

The overwhelming pressure of present-day motherhood
Written by Irina Gallagher

Muse of Discovery by sculptor Meg WhiteWord of warning, this isn’t meant to diminish the importance of parental caretakers as a whole, but to shed light on the roll of the primary caretaker, who, in the U.S. is still predominantly the mother.

There I was, sitting in a room full of moms and kids all clanking old kitchen apparatuses. It had been a particularly difficult week – the moon and its impending fullness and Mercury and its retrograde-ness did nothing to help. As I clinked my red plastic plates together, I was thinking about how overwhelmed, overworked, frustrated, exhausted (sure in a sense of little sleep, but more so in an energy-deficient sort of way), and maxed out I’ve been feeling lately. Finally, here at music class, surrounded by a bunch of toddlers, there was a moment of respite – not in a complete silence way, but in the “thank goodness there’s a chance for me to just sit and rest for a minute and not have to engage in conversation of any kind, not have to keep my small kid from falling into a sink full of dirty dishes while slipping off a step stool, not have to harp on my big kid to finish a five minute bit of school work which she somehow transforms into a draining forty-five minute task, not have to give my opinion on anything, and not have to keep people from yelling excitedly while jumping from bed to bed or rolling off the couch” sort of way. While this 3 minute kitchen music play-along break was nice, I was in a negative mood this particular morning and was dwelling on my own issues rather than actually savoring the moment.

As I was thinking of an onslaught of responsibilities, my focus returned to the class. I looked around the room and noticed that most of the moms seemed to be lost in a bit of a daze while banging their spoons against ice cube trays. I don’t think it’s farfetched to think that I was not the only one in the room feeling maxed out – from the mom who works six days a week while managing to homeschool her children to the new moms adjusting to their completely altered lives as parents to the moms who are steadily (dare I say courageously) keeping their shit together while bringing a second, third, or fourth kid into the family units – here we sit, quietly and collectively exhausted.

Continue…

Note to Self: Homeschooling Edition

Written by Irina Gallagher

ComparisonThis week, we survived the first week back to school after a long holiday break. This marks the beginning of the second half of the school year in our household. As the semester moves forward and we imminently edge closer to the “Have we done enough?” stage of the year (or May, for short), I thought that it might help my future May self to have a few reminders jotted down in which I can later take a bit of comfort, or perhaps more like a list of homeschooling goals for the remaining five months.


Dear homeschool-teaching self,

  • You’re doing great.
  • Keep trying to chill the f*** out. In all realms, really, but in homeschooling especially. No one is benefiting from your freak-outs. Also, congratulations on losing your composure less. Those B complex and magnesium supplements seem to be helping. You’re the poster child for patience and serenity. (Maybe by May this will be true.)
  • Realize that everything you don’t accomplish in your scheduled plan isn’t a failure; it’s a lesson in the complications, surprise opportunities, and unexpected nature of life. Count what you have achieved because of said “failure” rather than the “failure” itself.
  • Don’t compare your kid’s accomplishments with anyone else’s. So what if another kid is doing calculus in second grade? Good for them. Your kid has her own amazing capabilities. There is no need to be arrogantly defensive; other children’s successes have no bearing on those of your child.
  • Keep your scheduling in check. You know that your family needs to sandwich days of social, outside stimulation in between quiet days at home with no outside influences.
  • Pause at least once a day to reflect on how thankful you are to be able to homeschool and cherish the moments that wouldn’t be possible without this gift.
  • Don’t let people’s questions dampen your spirit. Every homeschooling parent has heard them, “How do you know that you are doing enough?” “How long do you plan on homeschooling? Surely there’s a limit.” “Aren’t you concerned about socialization?” Know that some people are asking with good intentions and from a place of positive interest, while those that ask in condescension clearly don’t know how awesome your homeschooler is. Spam them with some of the hard number infographics you’ve found on Pinterest of why homeschoolers are soon going to be ruling the world (basically).
  • Remind yourself constantly in spurts of “we need more extracurriculars” that you don’t need to boost your anxiety levels with extra activities, nor do your kids need to be dragged around classes-galore and on massive amounts of field trips. We are just not that family. It’s not in us genetically. Yes, of course, don’t miss incredible opportunities afforded to you. But don’t involve yourself just because you feel like every other family is participating more than yours in such endeavors. Just because there’s a field trip, doesn’t mean you have to go.
  • Contain yourself when you find the “perfect curriculum” that will carry your kid all the way through their entrance into college. Remind yourself of the last time you found the, ahem, “perfect curriculum” and decided to go all in, spent loads of money, and decided – upon further consideration with all parties involved – it wasn’t so perfect after all. Don’t commit to years of something. It’s not practical and it’s ill-fitting to your homeschooling style.
  • Remember that your strong-willed kid arguing with you endlessly about not wanting to write (or equivalent), is just a prequel for when she uses that steadfast brain of hers to do something absolutely extraordinary in the world. That tenacity will be most warranted then.
  • Don’t give up. Take a break, step away, reassess, and remember that changing your mind about your homeschooling approach or homeschooling in general is allowed. Don’t make any rash decisions after a particularly hard days.
  • Enjoy it. Even the absurdly difficult days. Like everything else in parenting, this time is very short-lived. Enjoy it.
  • Buy wine. (Magnesium will only take you so far.)

Resolution: Make Room for Magic

Written by Irina Gallagher

Happy New Year!New Year’s Eve, people! New. Year’s. Eve! December 31 is always a complete mixture of emotions for me. There is excitement about prospects of the new year – new opportunities, new beginnings, new adventures. But there is a simultaneous twinge of sadness. I have always been terrible with goodbyes. Saying a farewell to a whole year of time is very difficult. All of a sudden, after mostly not giving much thought to the passing of each individual day, week, or month, time feels fleeting and the goodbye is conclusive and nostalgic. The touching moments from the year quickly stream through my memory as I squeeze my family tight knowing that this year, this beautiful year, is something that will not ever repeat itself. I find myself stubbornly wishing the ball would drop slower while eagerly anticipating the mark of January 1. Inevitably, time moves forward and then excitement strikes.

The elation of the new year lies in the new, untarnished possibilities and in the hopes and resolutions to better ourselves, our families, our lives. It’s difficult to find this same level of urgency for personal revolution at any other time unless you’re having a mortality check moment. This need for renewal certainly never happens en masse as is it does during this two-day transition from old to new year. I love hearing my loved ones’ hopes, upcoming plans, and decisions to make changes both big and small. So far, I haven’t heard anyone resolve to buy more superfluous stuff, consume more crap, spend less time focusing on people they care about, read less, yell more, take life for granted, and be less present. We perpetually strive to simplify our avalanche of clutter – both mental and physical – during this wake-up call of a new year and any of the aforementioned resolutions would be a contradiction to that sentiment of simplification and personal growth.

My biggest resolution for 2016 encompasses the quintessential new year’s hopes to be present, rid myself of excess, not take things or moments for granted. All of these hopes diverge into one main resolution to believe, just believe, and allow myself to be engulfed in magic. This thought came to me a few weeks ago when my daughter was giving a living room ballet performance while my son accompanied the dancing with a dramatized, operatic version of his own making. The dancer illustrated every detail of her costume and the set scenery as she twirled across the carpet nearly missing the coffee table. And then she said four simple words that struck me profoundly; “I’m wearing pointe shoes.”

Here I was sitting in the same spot for at least the hundredth time attentively watching the performance as always when I realized that I’m continuously being invited to believe in and reach a magical realm which I subconsciously choose not to enter. I sit on the periphery and lovingly watch the happenings inside, but I never fully enter. Yes, I play along. Yes, I pretend. Yes, I pay attention. But never have I really watched the dance while truly visualizing everything laid out before me. Never have I distanced myself from all of my mental distractions to see the pointe shoes on my barefooted dancer.

It’s not just about pretending with children. I have my ballet en pointe performance with operatic accompaniment and you have your own magic waiting – perhaps, it’s a new adventure unfolding, a new path in life, or a seemingly unattainable move. No matter the magic, 2016 is the year to start believing. The admission to this magical realm is free, but there is one stipulation for attendance; you must believe. Really, truly believe.

As the ball drops a year from now and I squeeze my people close, I want to close my eyes and see the magical moments which engulfed me and I hope you can close your eyes and witness the magic which you have created, too. Happy new year!

The Gift Giving Question

Written by Irina Gallagher

Non-permanentIt’s Thanksgiving week here in the States, the official beginning to the holiday season. Finally, the weather has chilled delivering a festive feeling. Like every year, we’ll be celebrating all that we have to be thankful for by spending time with family. And then, if the biggest retailers have their way, we will be rushing out to spend all the money we have (or don’t have) on tons of useless clutter that we don’t really need on Black Friday. This afternoon I heard an advertisement on the radio that Toys R Us – which on a regular day is basically a sensory overload command station – will be opening their doors at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. So make sure you shove that turkey in your mouth very quickly so you don’t miss the deals. I would rather pay someone not to take part in any of this Black Friday shenanigans, especially at Toys R Us. But it’s all in the name of showing the people that we care about them with loads of stuff, right? The more stuff the better, they tell us.

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Dear Sweet Little Lion

Written by Irina Gallagher

IMG_20141201_221529 (2)Dear sweet little Lion,

Somehow, two years have passed in the blink of an eye. You have made an astounding impression on our family. You have brought joy to every person who has met you with your exuberant and kind nature. We are so very, very happy that you chose us. There are a million things I have to thank you for, but here are just a few:

Thank you for teaching me to value time. I mean really. value. time.

Thank you for always making me feel wanted and needed.

Thank you for the 729 nights in a row (yes, that’s an exact number) that you let only me put you to sleep at night. Even the bedtimes that lasted for two and a half hours and caused me to storm out of the room in search of an alcoholic beverage (for myself, not for you – though that may have helped as well). I’m sure you remember some of these times, one was just last week.

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