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July 28, 2017

I have a confession to make. Despite teaching for over eight years, I had actually never taught a kid to read from the very beginning. I would always get a handful of kids, even in fourth grade (and in sixth grade…) who were still hovering around the first grade reading level, but they already knew their ABC’s and the general idea of piecing sounds together. I usually focused more on building fluency and developing comprehension. So when my daughter started asking me to teach her to read, I would smile and assure her that someday, yes, someday, I’d teach her.

Let me be clear, I was NOT planning to tiger-mom this, and I was never planning to teach her to read at age three. But I do try to be supportive of her interests, and I do love teaching. So when she kept on asking me to teach her and she seemed ready to learn, it wasn’t in me to say no.

But I definitely tried to put it off. As her love for books grew, her persistence in asking grew, and soon I started wondering when was too soon, and I began the rabbit hole of research that is when and how to teach your child to read. I was hesitant to introduce the alphabet to her, because I had read somewhere that the names of the letters will just confuse a learning child who should first learn the sounds they make. I read up on different philosophies, which left me feeling paralyzed and even less confident about starting anywhere. I asked my teacher friends who taught younger grades, and got a lot of great ideas, but still felt like I needed a program to guide me. I thought about buying a home-school kit or something, which is how I stumbled upon How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

Honestly, it sounded like an unrealistic stretch, and I got the same feeling I have when I watch TV infomercials: If it sounds too good to be true…

If it weren’t for Amazon and the 2,000+ glowing reviews of this, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But it piqued my interest enough for me to read several reviews and I even took a “Look inside!” the book. I saw strangely scripted words and antiquated cartoons. I wasn’t sure about this.

A few weeks later, my friend put up a video of his young daughter writing and he mentioned this very book. HMMM. I asked him what he thought, and he also had glowing reviews! Still, there was a lot I was skeptical of. The “100 days” part. The “easy lessons” part. The “just 20 minutes a day” part. The “love, care, and joy only a parent and child can share” part, because if this were so effective, wouldn’t teachers have adopted this into their programs long ago? Well, I thought, I guess for $13, I can just buy it and see what it’s all about. 

When it arrived, I did the nerdy thing I do and I read the entire Introduction and Parents’ Guide from start to finish. It was no small feat, with its 20 small-fonted textbook sized pages. It didn’t take long for me to get totally absorbed in it, nodding my head and learning new things the way I did in teaching school. I appreciated the introduction. Their methodology was clearly laid out, thorough, and thoughtful. I appreciated the strategies they offered for teaching, including how to keep kids on track, pacing, and the hurdles they predicted would happen (and what to do about it). These guys knew what they were talking about, and it was clear they had a lot of successful experiences with this program. I was sold.

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July 5, 2017

I was standing near the shipwreck, angling myself so I could keep one eye on my daughter digging in the gravel pit and one eye on my son as he climbed up and down the mini bridge. Minutes passed, and for the most part, I stayed where I was, willing myself not to interrupt my children’s play and holding back even as I watched a boy treat my daughter unkindly. To a stranger, it might have appeared that I was disengaged and not really watching any kids, but really, I had my eye on both while I tried to give them space to be immersed in their play and explore and learn independently.

As I stood there, I listened as a dad excitedly showed his child something neat about the water area. They remained for a few moments, and then just as quickly, the dad said, “Okay, let’s go, let’s see what else there is.”

“Wait I just want to try-”

“No, c’mon, we have to see the other exhibits!” the dad insisted.

After a moment, his child reluctantly left the water area and trekked after his father. As I stood there, unhurried as my daughter continued to scoop gravel and my son continued to climb up and down, it occurred to me that just a year ago, I had been just like this father.

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June 16, 2017

I’ve shared some thoughts on submitting to husbands before, but today, I want to share an image of what it can look like for husbands to love their wives in a Christlike way:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Ephesians 5:25-27

This passage is talking about how Jesus Christ loved the church (all the believers of the world) and gave himself up for her (to the point of dying on the cross) to make her holy and blameless so we could have a relationship with God.

On first glance, there is one key idea that stands out to me: husbands love wives the way Jesus loves the church. And what did Jesus do for the church? He did everything he could to make it possible for the church to be one with God, even to the point of dying. So, husbands, you’re supposed to do everything you possibly can to bring your wife closer to God, even to the point of dying. It’s a big job.

But what does it really look like today? There are very few instances where men have to sacrifice their lives to save their wives, and even if they did, that doesn’t necessarily make her holy and blameless. So what does it mean for a husband to give himself up for his wife, for the sake of allowing her to be more holy and blameless before God? What does that kind of love even look like in today’s world?

In an everyday sense, I think there are a lot of small things. Making time for your wife to have some rest and relaxation. Giving her space to catch up on Bible reading and prayer. Encouraging her to go spend some time in nature, or to meet up with a sister in Christ over coffee for accountability and prayer. As a father, of course all of this means taking the initiative and energy to watch the kids and give her that space to do those things. It’s not easy or intuitive to initiate such a task for yourself- “Hey hon, why don’t you go get some quiet time in this morning? Get some coffee, have some Bible or journalling or prayer time? Wouldn’t that be nice? I’ll take the kids to the park, it’ll be great, and I think it’d be great for you. Stay out til nap time!”

Wives, honestly, how OVERJOYED would you be to hear that on a Saturday morning?! Not just the idea, but the supportive attitude behind it?? I’m guessing you’re thinking: THAT SOUNDS AMAZING.

It would be.

Husbands, maybe this isn’t exactly how you want to spend your weekend, but maybe that’s what it looks like to sacrifice in such a way that allows your wife to be washed in the Word (spending time reading the Bible) and to grow in holiness and blamelessness. It’s a way of dying to your own desires and convenience in order to help her become more sanctified.

My appreciation for this concept intensified a couple months ago, when I was trying to decide whether or not to join a team at my church on a missions trip this summer. At first, I didn’t actually consider going. I just knew I really really wished I could go, because it was exactly the kind of trip I would love to join in on: the location, the work, and even the team were things I could get excited about. But 10+ days out of town? Yeah, right.

I mentioned this to Ben, and without hesitation, he simply said, “If you want to go, I can watch the kids.”

…What?!

“I’d be out of town for at LEAST ten days. You’d have to take time off work,” I countered.

“Yeah, I could do that,” he replied. Straight face.

“But you hardly even have any days off, you’d want to spend it on that?”

“No, I wouldn’t want to, but I would do it if you really want to go,” he answered.

“We wouldn’t be able to go on our anniversary trip,” I reminded him.

“That’s okay. If this is something you want to do, we can skip it.”

That’s how the first conversation went. And my mind was spinning with the possibilities. I started looking into the kids’ schedules, my schedule, school schedules… the mission trip itinerary, and I began daydreaming of 16 hour long flights (woohoo! 16 hours to MYSELF!!), eating several meals in a row with just adults, and doing God’s work in another country. It was the kind of daydream that had happy music in the background and heart-shaped clouds floating in the sky.

And then I remembered my real life family, and the music came to an abrupt stop and visions of crying and cranky children appeared. An exhausted image of Ben appeared, and I dialed back on my excitement. I could hardly leave for one day without having to go through a few days of adjustment from the kids- what would ten days do?!

Anyway, to make a long story short, I went back and forth a lot. I was excited, then hesitant, then determined, then resigned to staying home. I talked about it with family, friends, and of course, Ben. Every time I brought it up with him, he affirmed that he could do it and would do it and that I shouldn’t factor him in.

I still didn’t feel great about putting him in that situation, though, and it wasn’t until he looked me in the eye and assured me, “Jo, it sounds like this trip would be really good for you. You said you would feel so refreshed and it seems like you’re a really good fit to do the work there. I think it would be a great trip for you to take a break from watching the kids, and a great way for you to serve with others. If going on this trip means you’ll be rejuvenated and refreshed with God, then I think you’ll come back a better mother and I think that’s great.”

MELT.

He really said that. And the first thing that came to my mind was this: Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Wow, so THIS was what it looked like today, to give yourself up for your wife. He was going from spending a few luxurious days at a resort with me to losing that vacation completely. Not only that, but he would exchange that vacation time for staying home to do the thankless work of taking care of two young kids. On his own. For ten days. Straight. Um, 240 hours in a row watching the kids all by yourself?! Even I haven’t done that! And yet he was so quick to assure me that this was all something he wanted to do if it would be good for my spiritual life. 

Guys, that’s love.

In the end, I decided not to go. I had a few reasons, but a lack of support from Ben was not one of them.

If you don’t have kids, I think there are still so many ways for you to try to support your wife in her pursuit of holiness and godliness. Marriage can be so sanctifying and there are numerous occasions every day for us to point one another back to Christ. There are many ways to give up your own conveniences and comforts for the sake of encouraging your wife toward Jesus. But if you do have kids, I think the sacrifice required to give her the gift of space and time with the Lord is an incredible way to love her and sanctify her at the same time.

May 31, 2017

6/4/2017 UPDATE: Congrats to Natalie, the winner of our giveaway! Thank you all for participating!

I’m a big fan of letting kids have space to be bored, so when EQtainment sent me this article to share, it seemed like a perfect fit! It’s a more succinct version of what I would say, and I am happy to share it here with you today!

Scroll to the bottom to see the great giveaway we have for you today, too!

5 Reasons “I’m Bored” Should Be Music to Your Ears

Guest post from EQtainment

What should you do next time your kid says “I’m bored”? Hint: Nothing! In fact, here are five reasons to do yourself and your kid a favor, and let boredom be.

Boredom is the key to unlocking your child’s creativity.

Complaining about being bored gets pretty boring pretty fast. Finding ways to fill unstructured time is how your child finds their muse. Whether they use that time to build a fort out of couch pillows, make a mud pie, or pull pots out of the cabinet and bang on them with a spoon, boredom breeds inspiration.

 

Being bored encourages kids to learn to amuse themselves without digital distractions.

If you automatically hand your kid your phone every time you sit down at a restaurant or get in the car, you’re robbing them of the chance to learn to talk with their own family, or even just look out the window. Enjoying the company of others — and yourself — is fundamental to well-being. Want to take it to the next level? Declare every Saturday or Sunday as Digital Day Off for the whole family.

 

Boredom gives children a reason to challenge themselves.

When a kid is constantly busy, they may not get the time to perfect a drawing, or finish a puzzle, or practice shooting baskets in the driveway. Boredom is the chance to work at something hard and build a skill — and in turn, self-confidence.

 

Free time is time to be free.

When a kid has nothing to do, they learn to just be. Slowing down means time to recharge. Even kids get stressed when they don’t get that opportunity.

 

Being bored motivates kids to explore their world — and themselves.

Between soccer and piano lessons (never mind school), kids spend a lot of time learning what we want them to learn. But without free time with nothing to do, they don’t get the chance to try things on their own and figure out what they like to spend time doing. That’s why it’s so important to schedule some unscheduled time into your weekly routine. Maybe they’ll catch caterpillars in the backyard, or make up a new recipe, or grab their crayons and Q’s Coloring Book. Whatever they decide to do, they’ll love the chance to be in control and discover who they are.


A note from JoEllen: 

EQtainment also sent me some products including a game called Q’s Race to the Top. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed, but the reviews don’t lie- this game is a winner! It is unlike any other kids game I have played with my children. The first time I played it with my daughter, my husband saw the fun we were having and exclaimed, “This game is awesome! I want to play!” I could tell he genuinely did. 

Before I had played it, I was planning to just do a quick mention of the game, but I can’t help myself- it’s easily our family’s favorite game now, and a must-have if you want to laugh, be silly and active, and have really interesting conversation with your kids. I’ve learned fascinating things about my daughter, like what she thinks about at night before going to sleep, and which rules at home she thinks are good (and not good haha). It offers opportunity for thinking through various social and behavioral scenarios without feeling like a lesson or chore.

I’m always curious to know what my kids are thinking, but don’t always know how to tap into their brains- this game gives a really unique perspective while helping us coach them toward better behavior and emotional health. LOVE. 

GIVEAWAY:

I am so eager for you all to try this game that I asked EQtainment if they’d be up for a giveaway, and they said yes! Enter below for a chance to win a Q’s Race to the Top board game and a year’s subscription to the Q Wunder app (including access to premium content). You can enter daily through Saturday, 6/03, and I’ll announce the winner here on Sunday! Thanks, EQtainment!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

May 10, 2017

We’re going to visit a more heavy topic for today: Child loss.

I don’t go here often. It’s a hard topic- both for you and for me. Yet this is a very real part of my life- something that hits me every time someone asks how many kids I have (I hesitate, still, and then usually say “two” with a forced smile while thinking three in my head). It pops up whenever I fill out forms for my kids that ask about their siblings, and crosses my mind often whenever I see four year olds running around and laughing and playing and growing. I miss mine.

I can usually brush away any heavy thoughts within moments. Usually. I was once told that I’m very good at compartmentalizing- I guess this is a strength that has served me well. But there is one situation when I cannot simply push away the thoughts and realities of my experience, and this is when I come across another mother who is freshly experiencing the nightmare of losing a child.

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April 26, 2017

Okay, you’ve got an idea about what kind of preschool you’d like to send your child to (read more here). Great! Now what? Warning: reading this next section might just make this decision feel even more complicated than it needs to be, so proceed with caution ;). Here are a few more things you might consider as you decide on a preschool.

Physical environment

People environment

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April 19, 2017

I am NO EXPERT on early childhood education.

Which is why I would have really appreciated an overview guide like this a year ago, when I was neck-deep in preschool research. It can be a daunting task. There is still so much I don’t know, but my goal is to give new parents an idea of what kind of things to consider when getting started on preschool research. I want to help you narrow down your goals and organize your thinking. I’ll talk about the different factors you might consider as well as some of our thinking as we worked through our decision for our preschooler.

Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any one best philosophy or type of preschool for all kids. I think they all offer different and wonderful ways for your child to grow, and you should find something that works best for you and your child!

Where do I start my research?

Your preschool decision can be as simple as finding the closest preschool to your house, or finding one on the way to work. You visit and it’s warm, welcoming, and the kids are thriving. GREAT. Done. You are so efficient!

Others go with the recommendations of friends, which is a great place to start. Your friend raves about her child’s class and school. You visit, it’s just lovely, and you see her child thriving there. Sure, why not? Easy peasy, you are done!

If you’re like me, though, you take about 100 factors into consideration, weigh each one (using an Excel spreadsheet), agonize over how important each one is (both now and in nine months, when she would actually be enrolled), and flit back and forth as you get input from friends, the Internet, reviews, and your “gut feeling” after you’ve toured the school (not to mention the pressure of waiting lists!).

Sometimes, I really wish I were not that parent, because the first two scenarios seems so simple and everyone I know is still very happy with it. The best advice I got from a friend was, “Jo, don’t overthink it.”

So maybe you should do yourself a favor and stop reading right now ;). But if you must, then press on. Good luck. And really, try not to overthink it.

Different Types of Preschools

In my research, I came across five main different types of preschools: traditional, play-based, Montessori, co-ops, and home-based. While most preschools have elements from more than one category (i.e. “play-based co-op”), these are teaching philosophies and styles you might want to grow more familiar with.

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April 13, 2017

A couple weeks ago, I got a random spam comment on an old post that I wrote, “Activities to Do with a Toddler.” After the initial disappointment of realizing it was not a real comment (yes, I like your comments!), I decided to look over that old post again from two years ago. First of all… TWO YEARS! I’VE BEEN BLOGGING FOR OVER TWO YEARS! I read somewhere that the average life of a blog is three years, and I think I jusssst passed that milestone… so here’s to another 3+ years for Cuppacocoa! 🙂

As I read it, I kept thinking, OOH, that’s a good idea, I should do that with my little boy! He’d love that! and Wow, what a great idea, so glad somebody compiled these to help pass the long afternoons. Heh heh.

In all seriousness, though, it was a reminder to pull out the old bean bin (which I had been hiding from him ever since he learned to grab things) and let him have a go at it. I was actually quite certain that he was not ready for such an activity. He is one, he still puts a lot of things in his mouth, and I just didn’t feel comfortable leaving him with the big bin of beans unsupervised. Did I really give my daughter full access to that stuff at the same age?!

According to my blog, I did. So the least I could do was let him have a shot at it.

I waited for a time when I could give him my full attention (i.e. his big sister was out of the house) and I took it out. Much to my surprise, he quickly caught on to the idea that all the beans needed to stay in the bin! Of course, some came flying out, but he soon learned to bend down and pick them up and put them back. I was impressed all over again.

There’s no way I would have taken them out if I hadn’t seen me do it for my first 1-year old. Hmm, I thought, there’s probably a bunch of stuff I’m forgetting to do for him that I did for her. Poor second child. I should go through my blog sometime and dig up those ideas that worked so well for her, and implement them for him!

So that’s just what I did. Here are my five posts that JoEllen of the past wrote for JoEllen of today, and I am high fiving old me (younger me?) for doing that. For some of them, I wasn’t sure if maybe I just got lucky the first time around (like “patient hands”). Would it really work again? Would it work with my boy? Would it work with my second child, when my attention was so divided these days (because older siblings sure know how to snatch up that attention!)? But I can say with more confidence that these are tried and true, at least two times through. Maybe you can try it, too!

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March 20, 2017

Since no one happened to get a clip of this particular moment a la Super Dads, I thought I’d illustrate it myself.

 

…and my work today is done. Time for macarons.

March 15, 2017

When we hear the garage door opening, it’s a flurry of activity. “PAPA’S HOME PAPA’S HOME PAPA’S HOME!!!” She drops everything and runs around like a chicken with its head cut off before she inevitably darts behind the kitchen counter and hides. I can feel excitement pulsing from her as she waits, holding her breath, reading to burst forth and surprise him with a hug.

He walks in, feigning confusion, “Hey, where is everybody? Oh, maybe they are all sleeping. I wondering where Mama is-”

“SUPWIZE!!!!!” she cries as she leaps out and bolts toward him with pounding little feet, “WELCOME HOME! I WAS HIDING, PAPA! I WAS HIDING THE WHOLE TIME!”

I can’t imagine a happier homecoming, and this is not an unusual scene at our home when Ben comes home. I love how she loves him, and I am over the moon for him as I see his face filled with warmth and love and delight in his child.

Everything started off similarly enough today. The garage opening, the open-mouthed excitement, the running around. But when he opened the door, she ran to him and I heard her cry out, “What fruit did you bring me today??”

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