The first few months of Beezus' life, I breastfed in front of the television. I watched daytime television programs over and over again. Television was my entertainment and staying home drove me nuts. It seemed impossibly impossible. And every day I thought, "Next week, I will go back to work." As Beezus got older, I turned the television off. I realized later that the early days felt like I was just on long weekend. I needed that period after birth to relax and zone out as much as possible. When I finally de-worked, I could see that life at home was going to be a beautiful, amazing, creative adventure.
One thing that staying home hasn't done is drive me nuts. It does the opposite. It makes me calm and gives me focus. Going out in the world makes me a little nuts now. It's so loud. People are rude. And I am a weirdo. The parenting nuances and philosophies my husband and I have adopted came about organically as we have learned to parent one newborn through four-year old, through the loss of our second daughter and into the birth of our third son who is turning sixteen months in a few days.
My husband and I didn't read a lot of parenting philosophy or dogma before we became parents. We did what felt natural, then gravitated towards philosophies like our own. We tend towards Waldorf toys and philosophy, because they tend to be simple and beautifully made and inspire creative play. One thing we were sure about it that we didn't want big bright red and blue plastic toys all over our house. Kids live here. That is obvious, but we didn't want to feel like only children live here.
I guess the other element of that is the noise of children's toys. My husband has degenerative hearing loss and wears hearing aids. Background noise upsets him. Life feels chaotic when there is some whirling dervish of a toy beeping and clicking and screaming and playing carnival music. It is so chaotic and uncomfortable. Being at houses with all that crazy noise make me feel claustrophobic, like I am suffocating by sound. When Sam and I first got together, I was someone who came home and turned on NPR for some background noise. So, being mindful of his hearing loss has taught me to turn off one thing before turning on the next. When we sit to eat dinner, all music, television and toys go off. When we sit to talk, we talk. We don't listen to music as well. When we listen to music, we don't play games, we listen. It has been very good for me, because I am a multi-tasker and it helps me to be present with the task at hand. Bea's little friend came for dinner one night, and during dinner she said, "It is really quiet here." And I hadn't thought about it before, but it is quiet.
But besides just the noise chaos we have quelled, we quelled the toy chaos by organizing our house into play stations, though we never intentionally called it that. That was something that also came about organically as I learned to stay home and introduce creativity into our daily lives. I dare say it is the thing that saved me from going nuts and kept our day moving and creative.
What I mean by stations is that there are areas in each room designated for play and that contain toys. Nothing was formally introduced to our children as, "Here, Children, this is the only place you may play. The other area is Adult Human area." Rather, we just kept all the toys contained in one place, and each room has a different type of toy/play. So, throughout our day, we move throughout the house. That keeps us from being bored.
Rody, and a wooden castle with some princesses, horses and knights. Both kids love both of those toys. I pulled out the Rody for this photograph, but generally, he is in his stable, which is the space between the red couch and the secretary. We also bought this sweater ball, which is easily made out of old sweaters. It is fun to kick and throw, and it doesn't hurt when you get nailed in the nose. So the kids feel free to play ball in the house.
This bookshelf in the living room is one most people don't notice. It is under one of our sidetables. But it contains the homeschooling and craft books I have collected. When we feel bored, we pull one out and pick an activity. The best books I have on that shelf are Celebrating the Great Mother, which has seasonal based spiritual activities and crafts, and The Kids' Nature Book, which is 365 activities for kids for outside. That book is listed by every day of the year, and is dictated by a Northern Hemisphere weather system and seasonal nature book. We try to follow it a few times a week when we are interested in an outside activity. Celebrating the Great Mother also has guided meditations for children, which my daughter LOVES, perhaps more than anything else we do during the day, and ways to customize seasonal altars, which we do. Guided meditation with children is a wonderful way to inspire storytelling and imagination as well as calm them throughout the day.
Around the fireplace is our music stations, which is a big basket of instruments. See, it's not that we don't like noise, we just need to do it mindfully, and purposefully. Every day, we play music at some point. Beezus has taken two Music Together classes, and the CDs from those classes are great for leading our music time. Our favorite song is The Earth is Our Mother, which is the hippiest song in the world, but the kids just love to play drums to it. I haven't gone out and bought every instrument together, but have sort of amassed them over the years.
The play kitchen is unsurprisingly in our own kitchen/dining room area, and the kids make dinner when I make dinner. We also have a shopping cart for them to use the area like a market. Kids of all ages love playing in pretend kitchens. I think the great thing about play stations is that I don't micromanage my kids' play. I merely move from room to room to do my daily chores and duties, and they switch gears to play. It also makes clean up so easy, because we use a lot of all purpose baskets, so we can sweep everything up and put it in the basket and return it to its corner. Our shopping cart works in that way for our kitchen area. I do find wooden eggs in my pots and pans, but in general, the kids are good about keeping toys with toys.
I also have a little easel for them and a table to draw and do crafts. We sometimes move the easel into the basement, then bring it back up in a few months. This space is a space that can get splattered with paint, glitter, glue and mess and there is no screaming. It is a mess-welcome space. I think that encourages mistakes and true art.
Lots of hats, bonnets, and hoop skirts in that trunk, which gets stuffed and closed when we have company. It doesn't look like the children go into that room at all when company is arriving. Though, funnily, my mother came to stay one weekend, and turned down the sheets, and Beezus' little stuffed elephant was in a sling taking a nap.
In the basement, where our washing machine is, we have toys that we received that blink and make noises, and the kids love going down for chores, because they can play with new toys, or old toys that have been forgotten, or are just a little below their age level. In their room are books, and baby dolls, and stuffed animals. All in all, there isn't one area of the house that doesn't have something to play with, and there is no area, save their shared room, that there isn't an adult element to. Even the bathroom has a basket of Schleich animals that they play with in the bath and beyond.
I guess to wrap up, part of what makes staying at home wonderful is giving yourself the freedom to figure out what makes you nuts and preventing it. I hate clutter and noise, so I got rid of the noise, and solved the clutter problem with play stations and baskets. I still step on little toys, and as you can see in the pictures, some toys end up in the dress-up area, and costumes end up in the music basket, but before I set up my house this way, I was going nuts collecting all the toys to move them to one area with toys. Hope this is helpful to someone. I would love to hear about your experience figuring out some of this stuff.