A Day in the Life…

Being a college student and being a mother are two completely different lives, and when you are both, things can get a little bit hard to handle.

Fortunately, the ability to go to school online from the comfort of your own home makes this task slightly easier, but when you get down to it, do you not think it would make it a little harder? I mean sure, you save money by not having to put your child in a daycare facility while you physically attend courses at a conventional campus, but now you have to find time to sit in your virtual seat while raising your child.

Attending school online has its own set of difficulties, given the asynchronous learning environment.  Adding the stressed of motherhood, or fatherhood for that matter, can drive anyone mad quickly. This is my daily life.  I go to school ¾ time at the Art Institute Online, taking three courses a quarter.  I raise a four-year-old little boy, and earn a few pennies here and there from my writing submissions here at Associated Content, while searching countless websites for legitimate work at home positions to solidify extra income for my family.

Therefore, my nerves wear thin on a daily basis.  I seem to live in front of this computer screen.  Somehow, though, I manage to make above average grades in all my courses, make more money here than I had originally counted on, while making sure that my son is never neglected.  Though the house is always somewhat cluttered, and never anywhere near spotless, it is generally always presentable to unexpected guests. 

How I manage this some days, I do not know, (yes, I do get at least six hours of sleep a night), but here’s what I do to keep all my priorities straight and tasks completed.

My son and I wake each morning at 7:30.  While I make breakfast, lunch and dinner (I believe in a cook once a day philosophy) he quietly watches Noggin.  After we eat, he and I work on some worksheets together, and then I speed clean the kitchen and living room.  9:00 rolls around and I work on schoolwork for a solid hour while Joe plays in his room, or on his V-Smile Gaming System.  At 10, I break and do a load of laundry or something and focus on Joe until Noon.  He plays with his dad before he goes to work while I re-heat the lunch I made earlier in the morning, and we eat.  After lunch clean up, he naps from 1-3.  For the first half hour, I vegetate, and plan the rest of my day, and from then on until he wakes up, I write.  When he wakes up, we eat a snack, and I work on getting the sides for dinner done.  We play and relax until about 5 when we eat, then I clean up, and we play a bit more until 7.  Then it is bath time, story time, and then the toys go night-night when we clean up his room.  He is always down by 8:30PM, and that gives me two more solid hours before his dad comes home from work.  I am always in bed by 1 AM, and ready for the next day.  If it were not for scheduling and planning, I would not be able to accomplish nearly half the things I do in a day.

So next time you are crunched for time and stuck with a to-do list a mile long, remember the life of a college student mother!

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Balancing Work at Home Life

A work-at-home mother has many hats to wear during the course of one day.  She must hold true to her duties as a mother cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children, while she must answer to her virtual boss, no matter what the actual professional title may be.  Unfortunately, we do not have the convenience of being able to completely separate the two lives, or being able to work a full shift without an interruption.  With all the chaos that arises for a mother in her daily life, we all may need a few tips to stay sane as a work-at-home mother, and to help balance our lives.

Schedule, Plan, and Prioritize:  When you have a full plate with two work-at-home jobs, one professional and one familial, the most important thing is to plan everything to the best of your ability.  Schedule as many things as you can in advance and plan around them.  In addition, remember that while this job is important for financial purposes, your family and yourself should always come first.  A stressed out, overwhelmed woman makes a poor employee, and mothering becomes more difficult.  No one deserves to have to over extend themselves for anything, and you should learn when to say “No.” and know your limitations. Cleaning often becomes the thing to go on the list of things to do when it comes to working at home and taking care of your kids, so allow the house to get a little messy or enlist the husband for help.  He works too, but he makes as many messes as the children.  If your children are old enough, have them help you a little here and there as well.  Cook meals ahead so you do not have to stress that daily.  See my article on Once a Month Cooking for help with this.

Work in Blocks:  This will keep you from becoming too stressed over one item, be it the children or the job.  When you wake up in the morning with the children, make sure to spend time with them after breakfast festivities are finished and make sure they are squared away to play independently for awhile.  Give them a task, and some options to keep themselves busy while you work.  Work until you become frustrated or you need a break.  Take a few minutes to breathe.  Then repeat until the work is done and/or the children are in bed for the night. 

Use Naptime: After you have taken a break from the work and gone back to tending to the children, put them down for a nap.  For the first half hour or so of the nap, do not do anything.  Do not clean the house, do not go to work.  Just take this as “Me” time.  We all need it for a bit, and the more load you have, the more often you need it.  If your children do not take naps, do it when your husband comes home from work.  Work through the remainder of naptime so that your children can have your full attention again when they wake.

Step Back and Breathe: The most important thing to do is be able to take a break from either situation and realize that you can do it.  However, you do not have to do anything right at that second, (unless your children are in danger, of course) and take that “Me” time I was talking about for a few minutes a day.  This will help tremendously when things get tough.

Many work-at-home mothers stay stressed, and this is not healthy for anyone in the situation, so take the tips and put them to some use.  I am sure they will help!

Learning Activities for your Four-Year-Old

Your child just turned four, and all of the sudden you have nothing to entertain them with.  Here are some activities that you can do with your child that will not only entertain the child, but have them learning as well.

Four years old is a great age to start all sorts of activities.  Swimming lessons are a healthy activity, and if the child does not already know how to swim, it is a good age to start because the body has the strength to begin to learn easily. 

Some other great things to involve the child in that encourage social activity along with physical activity are dance classes (for both boys and girls), gymnastics, horseback riding, martial arts, and sports.  Some toys that are good to have around at this age are:

Role-Playing Toys: Costumes, props, etc. that allow the child to step into a variety of professions and places.  Playing with toys like these will allow the child to engage their imaginations and work on problem solving skills.  Any play set that allows the child to step into a make believe world, such as a pirate ship, dinosaurs, or anything else you can think up, will encourage imagination development.  To help the child learn more, you can take pictures of the make believe worlds the child sets up and have them tell you stories about it.

For Girls: Dollhouses and Accessories:  Because children at this age have more refined motor skills, they can easily move parts of the toy world around to fit anything their vivid imaginations can cook up.  Make sure the child has enough room to spread all the play sets out.  Play with the child on a play mat that you can make yourself.  You can ask the child how to design the mat, mimicking a neighborhood environment like your own.  Encourage the child to tell you about what she is playing, so that she may fine-tune her vocalization.

For Boys: Cars and Remote Control toys:  Children will enjoy these kinds of toys because they have so much energy they love to make things go, constantly.  Racing cars gives them the thrill of competition and helps them to learn all about sportsmanship.  To help the child learn more, you can create race tracks of your own, or watch a segment of a NASCAR race on mute so that you and the child can take turns announcing the action.  Another good activity would be to take the child out on a walk, pointing out signs and signals to teach the child what each of them mean.

Ride on Toys: Toys like these help to build a sense of independence because they can “drive” themselves around, and they combine physical play with imaginative play. These toys are great opportunities to teach the child safety topics.

Preschool Electronics: Real digital cameras, mp3 players and other kid versions of electronics are wonderful because they allow the child to feel grown up.  Having a camera they can use allows them to take pictures of things they like so they can express themselves in a different manner. To help the child learn more, let them take photographs of their favorite things and make a scrapbook of the pictures together.  Record the child singing and let them listen to themselves.  Encourage play of all sorts of toy instruments so they can explore with musical talent.

Creative Toys:  These toys allow your child to express himself creatively with art in many forms, and they have interest in toys like this because now that they have a longer attention span, they can focus more of their attention to details.

All of these toys and activities should keep your child busy for hours, and encourage all sorts of things to make a well-rounded child.

Learning Activities for your Three-Year-Old

If you are looking for some activities to do at home during the day with your three-year-old child, then look no further.  Even though everyone says the two’s are terrible, the three’s are often worse as your child reaches a stage of self-discovery and independence that can be frustrating for us parents.  Look to these activities to help your child learn and to make your day fun for the both of you.

Three year olds are very reluctant to be still, so running and chasing activities are a great way to keep them occupied.  Though you will tire of it before they will, it will almost ensure a nap later on in the day. 

Three year olds are very eager to help in any way they can, and want to be included in everything.  To make getting work around the house done a little easier, enlist your child for help.  Do not stress if they do not want to help, but you will find that they like to help you wash dishes and will even tote laundry to the washing machine or to the dryer for you.  Even though it is not much and you probably will not get it out of them every time you ask, it does help you because you get things done while knowing that your little one is not off getting into trouble.  Stress that they are a good helper and they will become even more eager to help, and be sure to show them the accomplishment and thank them many times.

Now is a good time to introduce them to the kitchen.  You can find preschool friendly recipes all over the internet.  I suggest Rice Krispy treats, or trail mix.  They enjoy helping and really enjoy eating their snack later, especially knowing that they made it.

In addition to the more intense physical play, helping around the house, and socializing, bring more into the arts and crafts.  Try using play-doh or finger paint.  It makes a mess that is easy to clean up so it is as equally stress free as it is fun.  Teaching the child to help you clean up is a great way to get them started cleaning up after themselves, and if you ask nicely, they should have no problem.

At this point, it should be easy to have the child saying the alphabet and they should have some interest in reading.  Phonics toys that teach letter sounds and simple flashcards will help them learn to read.  Start with some simple handwriting exercises, and you will be on your way past kindergarten in no time. Search “preschool handwriting activities” in Google, and you will have plenty of information and worksheets readily available!  A great toy for teaching phonics is Fridge Phonics by LeapFrog, and runs about $20 at Wal-Mart.

Next in my series, see activities for your four-year old.  Also, be sure to check out activities for your one-year-old, and/or your two-year-old.

Activities for your Two Year Old

If you are looking for some activities to do at home during the day with your two year old child, then look no further.  These activities are designed to help your child learn and to take away some of that stress that the “terrible two’s” bring along.

Social activities are becoming increasingly more important at this stage, so if other children are around this is a good thing.  If the child is an only child, get together with friends who have children to let your child explore. 

The ability to form short sentences and to follow simple direction makes conversation and playtime much more enjoyable for the adult and the child.  Children this age love to imitate things they see adults do, so toys that help do this like play food sets, play tool sets, etc. will help.

Hand eye coordination is becoming more refined so arts and crafts with large pencils and crayons are a great way to keep the child entertained while helping them learn.  Sit them down and let them draw freely.  The skills they learn here will help with handwriting in the years to come.

Introduce them to the computer with your assistance.  Noggin, NickJr., and Sesame Street all have websites with games for young children.  Fisher-Price also has some great online activities for children. One suggestion is the Elmo Keyboard O Rama game, which allows children to push a button on the keyboard to hear a letter, a word that starts with that letter, and a picture. Any non-alphanumeric characters prompt Elmo to laugh as though the child tickled him.

Review things that the child knows, such as colors, body parts, animal sounds, etc. to ensure that the child does not forget anything you have learned with them so far.  Repetition is key, and making it fun is important.  Do not simply quiz the child.

Continue reading to the child, introducing books on potty training and things of that sort so that the child may learn what is coming next.  Read the same book many times, and the child will begin to able to tell you the story themselves. 

Look online for coloring sheets and simple crafts for you and your child to do together.  Celebrate all accomplishments, and be sure to let the child place his or her artwork on display for all the household members to see.  NickJr.com is a wonderful place for activities to do with your child. You can choose things based on the characters that your child loves.

Do not feel bad for having to place the child in front of the television for brief periods so that you can get work done.  Do not let it babysit the child, but if placed in front of the right programming such as Noggin (now a 24-hour network), Nick Jr. or PBS, it will actually help you and the child rather than rotting their brains.  Games like hide and seek and rolling or throwing a small ball are great for physical activity.

Next in my series, see activities for your three-year old.  Also, be sure to check out activities for your one year old if you missed it!

Activites for your 1 year old

Here are some activities you can do with your child that will facilitate learning as though they were in a preschool environment.

At this stage in life, children are learning how to walk, and their vocabulary is increasing everyday . Developing hand-eye coordination is important at this point, so you will want to do things with them to help them strengthen skills in those areas.

Games to play at this stage of life include: Peek-a-Boo, Patty Cake, and “Where’s the Baby?”.  Hide the baby under a blanket or cover them with a towel and ask where the baby is.  Move the towel or blanket, say, “There s/he is!”, and laughter will surely ensue.

Focus on speaking to the child as though they can understand you. Using baby talk will only hinder their vocabulary; the more you speak to them as though they understand adult words, the better they will speak to you in the end.

Turn every part of the day into learning.  Say the names of body parts as you wash them during bath time.  Soon the child will be able to point out parts of their body on their own.  Some good toys to have at your disposal are blocks, shape sorters, and simple puzzles.  Count the blocks with the child as they play with them or when you put them away.  Even though they will be a while before they can count with you, it will help them later.  Tell the child the shapes as they put them in the sorter.  Ask the child to point out each shape.  Soon, they will not only be saying each shape, but will know which one is which and right where it goes into the box.

During meal times, tell the child what color the food is that they are eating.  Point out colors of everything around them and soon enough they will be able to identify colors, and even tell you a favorite.

Always talk to you child.  You can never say too much, and anything is sufficient.  The more they soak in the better.  Reading to your child is still just as important as it has been up to this point, and you should continue to do so frequently.  Take suggestions from your child as to what you should read, even if it is just a point or a giggle.

Following these suggestions will set you up for an amazing year of growth, and get you ready to get into some more engaging activities for when your child turns two.  Stay tuned for more suggestions for more learning activities for children aged 2-4.

Potty Training Advice

The time has come for your child to graduate from diapers to the big kid potty.  How do you make this transition easy for them?  How can you make stress free for yourself?

Start Slow: Do not expect to make the change from diapers to underwear overnight.  It can take a lot of time to get used to, for both you and your child. Try once a day and see the response you get.  If it is going well, you can increase potty exposure. 

Follow Your Child’s Cues: Make sure your child is showing interest in the potty.  Talk to them about it, and see how they feel.  You know they are ready to start trying when they can acknowledge that they have gone to the bathroom in their diaper or pull up.  If they are scared, talk to them.  Make sure they know going to the potty is a big kid thing, and get them excited about it.

Make it Routine:  Once you have decided it is time to train, do not back down.  If you experience problems, just slow down, but the most important thing is to keep at it.  If you stop all together, you will never make progress.  Sit them on the potty for a few minutes and distract them with a story or a game.  It may take a few minutes, but they will go.  If you notice a pattern in their habits, try putting them on the potty for a little bit when you think they are about to go.

Positive Reinforcement:  Always congratulate and reward.  Even the smallest amount of progress should be rewarded, no matter how much.  You will get further in the long run if you reward the small stuff, rather than punishing accidents.  Do not make potty time a bad experience on the child, or you will continue having problems.

Make it Fun:  Develop a reward system and stick to it.  Tell the child that if they go accident free all day, you will make a special treat for them.  The longer they go accident free, the bigger the reward.  I had a sticker chart that I used with my son, and after his first week accident free, we took him shopping for a toy.

Keep Trying:   It will never go smoothly the first try.  If you are having too many problems, do not let that get you down.  The important thing is that you and your child are working on it, and they will eventually get it.  Though it may seem like they will go to kindergarten in diapers, they won’t!

Do not get discouraged.  Try these tips and see how they work for you.