Monday, October 5, 2015

Day 3 : Community Defined

Before we can really dive in and talk about community, I think we need a working definition for community so that we can point back to it should we get lost in our quest to find it {or avoid it...which ever boat you’re in}. After doing much etymological research on and Wikipedia, I’ve landed with this definition.

A community is a group of people who share common ___________.

I know. I’m expecting a job offer from Webster at any moment. 

But isn’t that really a beautiful definition? That community is so loosely defined? Community isn’t a set time or place or number of hours. It isn’t bound by geography or gender. It’s simply people {required} who have something in common. 

Know people who have the same beliefs as you? Bam. Community.

Know people who like to bird watch...just like you? Bam. Community. 

Know people who all love Friends and miss it so much and no matter how great The Office or Parks and Recreation are there will never be a more awesomer show ever? BAM. COMMUNITY. 


That’s the kiddie pool of community. It’s not the deep, life-treading community that we actually need in order to navigate through our hundred-ish years {I’m optimistic} here on Earth. For that kind of stuff, we need to look past the word “common” in our definition and focus on the word “share”. None of the things we hold in common with others don't mean a hill of beans if we don’t share them with each other.

Let’s now revisit the above examples from this angle.

Community is having common beliefs AND sharing your thoughts, experiences, trials, and triumphs with one another. 

It’s having a common interest in birds AND going on trips with your bird-people to different states or countries and finding those rare species on your Clements Checklist...and then blowing up everyone’s Instagram feed with your amazing finds.

It’s loving Friends AND having a marathon night when you all wear your Thanksgiving pants and play ring toss with bagels and no one goes on a break. 

And it’s having coffee with a friend, commenting on a blog, ‘liking’ an Instagram post, attending small group, hosting a dinner party, organizing a rally, and __________.

But let’s go deeper. Like the drop-off deeper {hello, Nemo}. What if we considered doing in the ugly, the hard, the uncertain, the raw, the messy, along with the glorious, victorious, sparkly...all of it with these people in our community? Because it seems to me that the life-giving of community happens in the life-doing. Whether it’s yard-sale-ing or baby birthing, let’s not do it alone.

Remember in the account of creation in Genesis? God had called all that He made “good”...except for the fact that the man was alone. 

Yes, I know that it points specifically to marriage in this instance, but I think the implication is further reaching. It’s not good for any of us to do life alone. We weren’t created to be alone and if we try to live that way, we will never experience the fullness that comes only in community. 

Community is doing life with people because you share something in common. 

OK, so maybe that’ll be our definition. 

How do YOU define community? What communities do you identify yourself with? What are some things you’re hoping we’ll talk about in this series? I’d LOVE to know! 

Thanks for stopping by!


To see all posts in this series click here.

I also invite you to share your experiences in community via Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #JustBetterTogether. Remember that your profile has to be public in order for everyone to see your posts - otherwise it'll just be seen by your followers. You can find me on both social media platforms: @jasmyndenton.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Day 2: Real Community

I'm just popping in right quick for the day 2 installment of 31 Days of Community -

I've been fighting a fever, chills, severe body aches, and nausea since late last night.

Lyle {my husband of almost seven years} sacrificed his most productive day at work to stay home with the boys so that I could rest and recover. I am so thankful for him and the way we work together to make this house home for our family.

Home, family - that's your primary earthly community. It's the one you're born into and it shapes the way you seek and live in community after you've flown the nest and made your own. And I want to talk about that more. But not today.

Tonight when Lyle had a prior commitment, my best friend, Sananda and her amazing daughters kept the boys for me even though she wasn't feeling great {pregnancy is so fun!}. I can't imagine that we could have better friends anywhere in the world.

Lyle and I moved several hours away from our families and landed in a place where we really knew no one. It was scary and lonely at times. Finding family away from family is a long process and it still sometimes feels like an imposition to ask others to help in times of need. But that is what true community is - knowing that loving people is not an imposition or an interruption. It's a joy and a treasure that you can ask for help, be helped, and know that you'd do the same if the roles were reversed.

I'm really excited to talk more about aaaaallllllll of this. But first, I'm excited to sleep and kick this sickness to the curb.

'Til tomorrow, y'all,

To see all posts in this series click here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Day 1: 31 Days of Community

His eyes had been open for .78 seconds and the first thing that Judah (our almost-three-year old) said when he woke was, "Mommy! We get to see our friends today!" Most days it's,"Mommy, I want something in my mouth. I want cereal and yogurt and milk and orange juice. Will you make it for me pleeeeeease?" But today was different because being with friends is better than breakfast.

For the entire month of October - yes, all 31 days - we are going to be talking about and doing community. Not because I am an amazing community do-er or maker, but because we are all community need-ers.

I'll be sharing some of my story of finding community and joining community and creating community and even being community-less. We will also do some community myth-busting. Some days will just be a link to another post that speaks to the heart of community in ways I've not yet experienced, but still long for. Some days will be a challenge of the community variety. Some days will be GIVEAWAYS - all things handcrafted by some amazing people with whom I get to do life.

I also invite you to share your experiences in community via Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #JustBetterTogether. Remember that your profile has to be public in order for everyone to see your posts - otherwise it'll just be seen by your followers. You can find me on both social media platforms: @jasmyndenton.

I'm so glad that you stopped by! If you're also writing in the 31 Day Challenge, leave a comment so I can check out your posts! Hundreds of bloggers will be blogging daily for the month of October on a variety of topics, so if you'd like to be inspired and entertained this month, check out, select a category of interest and ENJOY!

I'd love to know if you're reading along this month or just stopped by on a rabbit trail around the ol' www. Don't be afraid to say's often the best and easiest way to step into community.

To see all posts in this series click here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kindergarten Kickstart: Literacy Skills

When I started school I remember sitting in the living room while my dad told me all the things I needed to know about starting school. Things like ‘You’ll get to eat lunch with your friends’ and ‘You don’t let anyone pick on you because you’re small’ and ‘Don’t show your underwear to anyone, especially not boys’ {I specifically remember this one because I said, “Yeah but what if I flip upside down on the monkey bars and I am wearing a dress?” - I already had that kindergarten what-if thing down.} Besides the underwear thing, the advice I remembered and considered most important was this, “Jaz, learn how to read. Because if you learn how to read, you can do anything.” 

Of course, me and my smart self was all, “Well, you don’t have to read to know how to do math.” But he insisted that reading was the key to it all. In hindsight I see that he was right {always}. 

Reading unlocks the world, can be an escape - a vacation for the mind, grows and encourages imagination, and so much more. Once you learn to read, you can never again look at a word and not read it. And that is just the coolest thing ever. 

If you have an extra 10 minutes, check out this article by author Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

Before we talk literacy skills, first know that literacy isn’t just reading. It’s also understanding, interacting with, and responding to texts. Writing is part of literacy. It’s a way for children to respond and communicate - it gives them power to take a word that’s in their heads and put it on paper instead of always reading what someone else writes. So what does your child need literacy-wise to be ready for Kindergarten?

To correctly use a pair of safety scissors to cut paper. 

What does this have to do with literacy? Well, I am glad you asked! Using scissors is a prerequisite to being able to write - it strengthens the hand muscles. It also takes a bit of mental endurance and determination to cut on a line and not cut corners. This mental skill is used when reading a word or sentence; you can’t just read the first letter and know the whole word. You must stick with it to the end. Here is a GREAT blog post about scissor skills! 

Trace a dotted line to make a picture or letter. 

By the time your child starts kindergarten, she should be able to hold a pencil (standard size) and trace a dotted line with very few errors. You can find a gazillion printables on Pinterest or you can just draw your own. You can also use a yellow marker or highlighter and have your child trace over your writing or drawing - it requires the same skill. 

Sing the ABCs...and know that Elemenopee isn’t a letter.

I’m not even saying that kids need to recognize all the letters in the alphabet, but they should be able to say them in sequence. If you’re always singing the traditional ABC song {tune of “Twinkle Twinkle”}, mix it up. There are loads of non-traditional ABC songs on YouTube that change the melody so you don’t have the usual mash-up of LMNOP. My favorites are Mother Goose Club’s Alphabet Train, ABC Kid TV ABC Songs, and LittleBabyBum ABC Song

Another fun way to say the ABCs is taking turns. You say A, he says B, and back and forth until Z. This can be done in the car, in the pool, the bathtub or around the table. It's really fun if more than two people are playing. It makes the sequence not so 'rote' and forces everyone to pay attention!

So are you saying that my child doesn’t need to know any letters? No, I am definitely not saying that! I am saying that he will learn his letters in kindergarten and already knowing some or all will certainly be advantageous. If your child has done any type of preschool, he’ll likely know many letters. 

Be able to recognize, orally spell, and legibly write his/her name.

These are the most important letters in the whole alphabet to your child. Kids will make connections to other kids and other words using letters in their names. “My name starts with H and so does hat!” Usually names are the first understanding of the idea that words are made of sounds, sounds are represented by a letter, and letters are put together to make words that have meaning and that we can read! Of course they aren’t thinking all of that, but it is what they are beginning to understand. I must stress that your child should be able to recognize the letters in her name even when used in a different word. This is how you know she understands that the letter ‘C’ at the beginning of ‘Cate’ isn’t just a half circle that you draw when you begin to say the letters in her name. As you read with your child this week, draw her attention to the words on the page and prompt her, “Hey! Look at all those letters at the bottom of the page. I wonder if we can find all the letters in your name. Let’s look for a ‘C’ you see one?” Not only will this help her to learn her name, but it also draws attention to the fact that there are words in books that tell the story along with the pictures.

When your child is writing his name, don’t stress about upper and lower case letters. In fact, if your child’s school is using “Handwriting Without Tears” as their handwriting curriculum, your child may be asked to use only uppercase letters in the beginning and then will learn lowercase later. So if Daniel looks like DANiEL, that’s ok! That’s a wonderful place to start Kindergarten! Also, don’t worry about reversed letters. It is completely normal for kids to reverse letters and isn’t even considered a problem until second or third grade. I have had kids write completely reversed; as in I could hold their writing up to a mirror and read it perfectly. And they were just fine. 

Be able to listen to and interact with a story. 

Your child’s teacher will read A LOT of books to her students starting on day one. She will stop intermittently and ask questions about what has happened in the book, why it happened, and what students think will happen next. Your child will be expected to sit or lay or wiggle around a bit and listen and participate. Your child is NOT expected to be completely silent, nor answer every question {correctly or incorrectly}, nor have already read the story. And the BEST way to prepare your child for this is to read at home. With you {or another reader in the house}. Every day. 

Believe me, I know how hard this is. I have two kids of my own and there are days that it just doesn’t happen in our house. But because I know how crazy important and seriously good it is, I make it happen most days. This is not to toot my own horn or have y’all bow at the awesomeness that is me and stand in awe at my mad-parenting skills. Nope. I have read the studies and seen the proof in the pudding - children who are read to at home are much more successful in school than those who don’t have this opportunity. And you know what? Most of it isn’t even the actual reading. It’s sitting in your lap, being loved, being close, listening and being listened to, sharing an experience that can’t be seen on TV or touched in a toy box - only imagined by kindred hearts. One of my favorite quotes is, “Great readers are made on the lap of a parent.” And it is so true. 

If you don’t have many books at home, that’s ok! Your child benefits even from reading the same ones over and over. Also, your child will have regular access to the school library and can bring home books. Use your local library - reserve books online, run in and pick them up after work, and read them FOR FREE! 

If you have LOTS of books at home...oh, your child is so lucky! Read favorites and find those at the bottom of stacks that have never been opened. Perhaps consider donating some books to your child’s classroom library or even ask the teacher to send some books home with another student who may not have books at home. 

But what if my child can’t...

Don’t worry about it. Really. Have a conversation with your child’s teacher about your concerns. Don’t be crazy helicopter-y and call every day, but be in communication with her. Most likely she will say, “Oh, don’t you worry a thing about that. A LOT of kids don’t know _____ when they come to Kindergarten. We will make sure to teach them what they need to know.” And she will. 

And if it ends up being something that's not normal, that's really ok, too. Be your child's advocate, listen to teachers and professionals, and lovelovelove your child for exactly who he/she is. 

Ok, so how are you feeling? What are you thinking? Anything you’d add to the list? We’d love to know!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Kindergarten Kickstart Part One: Self Care Skills

Thanks for joining me in the first part of our Kindergarten Kickstart series: A Practical Guide to Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten. As a former kindergarten teacher (now stay-at-home-mom) I’m very excited to share with you some tips and insights as your child begins his or her first year of school! Whether your child is attending public, private, or homeschool, the preparations we discuss will make your child’s next step toward becoming an independent thinker, learner, and leader much easier.

{Disclaimer : I come from a public school background, but I support each family’s decision to educate their kids in the way that works best for your family during this season. My observations and suggestions will reflect the experience I have from the classroom, but can be applied across many educational pathways.}

Today we are discussing what I consider to be the most important skills for a child to have in a classroom environment. Your child’s teacher is prepared to teach her students everything from how to walk in a line to why it’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Yet these skills attained prior to entry to school will help your child be confident in him/herself and will help you to be confident that your child will be okay without you. {I know, I know...maybe you want him to need you - and he will always need you, just perhaps not for every little thing.}

The best way to see if your child has already mastered these skills is for you to be a little more ‘hands off’ in the weeks nearing the first day of school. This will help you to see where she may need some instruction and will help her to become aware that she has skills that she can rely upon.

Also, through all of these areas, your child’s teacher is not going to be completely hands-off. Nor will she expect perfect mastery of all these things. She will help, really. Just remember that she is having to help 20 kids, not just one. The more your child can do independently, the more she will be able to accomplish in a day...and not spend the day waiting.

Here are the major areas of self-care that I recommend focusing on before beginning Kindergarten.


Teachers rely upon regular routines to help their classroom operate safely and smoothly. It’s a way for all children to feel involved in the goings-on of their room and let’s them exert a great deal of self-direction and control. {Yes, it is a BIG deal to kids that they get to put their own backpacks/lunch boxes in the right place without any help.} This often requires that they remember and execute several directions in the right order and in a quick fashion. For example, in the mornings my kids would come in, unpack their backpacks and put them in their cubbies, put their binder on the counter, make their lunch choice for the day, and then move to their seat for their morning activity. Of course I spent WEEKS teaching this routine, but it was obvious to me that there were children for whom this was a very new expectation, thus making it difficult for them to begin the day smoothly and confidently.

You are likely already helping your child prepare for this, even if you don’t know it. You’ve been doing a bedtime routine since the early months of your child’s life. Dinner, bath, brush teeth, comb hair, pajamas, bedtime story, prayers, and lights out. {You know, perfect world.} See if your child can do it on his own. After dinner, let your child go through whatever routine you’ve already established and tell him you’ll meet him in bed. Try not to remind him of each step and then when you do meet him in bed, go through the steps to see if all things were done. If not, gently and lovingly have him go do that thing he missed, but celebrate ALL the things he remembered! You can also try giving multi-step directions and then watching her follow through. “Julie, please clear the table for supper and then make sure everyone has a plate, fork, napkin, and cup at their seats.” “Becca, before you can go outside, you need to get dressed, brush your teeth and your hair, and feed the dog.”

See you’re already relieved aren’t you? You do this all the time!


All kids, unless there are medical reasons, need to be fully toilet trained before kindergarten. This includes being able to pull down clothing, accurately aim :), wipe sufficiently, put clothing back in proper position, and FLUSH. {I never mind helping someone maneuver a snap or button...those can be tricky for little hands.} It also means communicating the need to use the restroom in a timely fashion and using the restroom when given the opportunity. Kids will have accidents. They get busy. The game on the playground is way more fun than going to the bathroom. Kindergarten teachers totally understand this and they are never {in my experience} belittling toward children in these situations. If your child does happen to have an accident, you’ll have provided a change of clothes for the occasion. Your child will be responsible for going into the bathroom, cleaning him/herself up, putting on new clothes, and depositing soiled clothes into a bag provided by the teacher. This may seem like a lot to expect of a five year old, but let’s be real, in the lawsuit-crazy climate of our country, no teacher is going to be in a bathroom helping a partially clothed child. Personally, I always stand right outside the door and hand the child clothing and a plastic bag, giving somewhat blind instruction and reassurance.

Ideally, kids will know how to wash their hands, but I always do a hand-washing lesson or two at the beginning of the year. Your child’s teacher will, no doubt, do the same.

In the coming weeks, try to only give reminders to use the bathroom if you are planning to go somewhere. {This will be the case in school. We always take a trip to the bathroom before leaving for lunch, special electives/assemblies, and recess.} Otherwise, leave it up to your child to know when to go.


Check with your child’s school as to what the nap/rest policy is for kindergarteners. Unfortunately, this much needed time in the day is becoming obsolete in the name of rigor and maximizing classroom time. In my opinion, there is little to maximize upon when little heads are nodding off during afternoon math lessons. Ah, but that’s a conversation for another day. Most kids coming into kindergarten still take a nap or have a definite rest period in the afternoon and it is extremely difficult for them to stay alert and active all day at school. If your child’s school offers no rest time, help your child to prepare for this eventuality by planning afternoon activities that require focus and movement. Please know that your child’s teacher wishes it could be otherwise and she will plan lessons that are fast paced and highly interactive to try to combat the nodding of heads.

The Nose

This usually becomes a problem a couple of months into the year when all the kids have had an opportunity to share all of their germs. Noses pour with yellowy-white snot and instead of grabbing a tissue, many kids just use their tongues to wipe it away. {Y’all, I wish I was kidding, but alas, I am not. I gag as I type this.} Kids in my room had to ask to use the restroom, but never to get a tissue. Teach your child how to fold a tissue {‘cause you know they are probably going to be one-ply}, blow, and then pinch off the snot. {So sorry, but sometimes you just have to say it.} Repeat if necessary. Then dispose of the used tissue in the trash can, not the floor or back in the tissue box. Hand sanitizer is usually a good idea at this point. Because kids could get tissues at any point, it meant that I wasn’t actively coaching them through this process. It really helps when kids can go through all of the steps independently. So, go blow!

Time to Eat

The following are the skills, in my estimation, that will help your child tremendously in feeling successful and energized while at school. Your child will eat at least twice and perhaps three times while at school. Certainly he will have snack and lunch, but may possibly have breakfast. Many schools have universal breakfast, which means all kids get free breakfast. This may be in the cafeteria or, more likely, their classroom. Because eating is essential to your child maintaining energy during the day, and because the time given to eat said meals is short, your child truly needs to master these skills early in the kindergarten year.

  1. Opening Packages and Containers - So many parents spend lots of money and time packing these super cute, highly desirable, and delicious lunches and snacks, but their children can’t open any of it by themselves. Teach your child how to open their packs of crackers, bags of fruit snacks or chips, and CapriSuns. If you buy a Thermos to send soup or leftover spaghetti, make sure they know how to open it. When you head to Chic-Fil-A and McDonalds, let your child open packets of ketchup and BBQ sauce. I know it is much faster and cleaner for you to do it and you may well be met with resistance {‘I caaaaan’t. It’s too haaaarrrrrrd. You do it. Please?’}, but he will not die trying to open ketchup. Promise.

  2. Eating with a utensil - The spork. Ah that fickle thing. Tines not long enough to stab through a chicken nugget and not round enough to efficiently scrape up the last bite of mashed potatoes. {But perfect for punching holes in a styrofoam tray.} Whether your child’s school allows real forks or requires students to use this weird hybrid, encourage your child to eat with a utensil and not her hands when appropriate. Pizza? Nope. Tinned peaches? Yes, please.

  3. Take Smaller Bites - This helps prevent choking and The Joker look when biting into a PB&J. {You know what I mean, peanut butter from ear to ear.}

  4. Use a Napkin - For spaghetti sauce, chocolate ice cream, or skin-dyeing pink cupcake icing that misses your mouth. Or that really greasy pizza on your hands. It’s really more about self-awareness. Most kids actually don’t realize that food on their face and then, if they do, they typically don’t care. Talk about using your napkin and wiping your face and hands with it {not your shirt, your pants, the chair, or the underside of the table}. If you draw attention to the fact that you do it, your kids will notice you doing it, and usually will follow suit.

  5. Eating and Talking - Times for eating are one of the best chances for chatting in the day. Many times, kids are so busy talking that they forget to eat. Then when it’s time to pack up, they are scarfing down a turkey sandwich or chugging a half-pint of milk. I watched kids throw completely unopened or untouched food away because they spent all their time talking. {On that note, if you do choose to send your child’s lunch, don’t over pack their lunch box. One drink, one main item, and two small sides are usually enough without being wasted.}The best way for your child to become accustomed to this is for you to talk to them at meal times. Ask interesting questions or tell interesting stories, encouraging your child to eat in the mean time. I often advise my students to eat first, then talk. Especially because time is so short {lunch may be as little as 20-25 minutes TOTAL - that includes time for serving and opening of all the packages} it’s important that kids take full advantage of this opportunity to eat as it may be their last one before they get home.

They Need to Know...

...Your Name! It’s so important that your kids know your first and last name.

...What kind and color car you drive. As simple as “My mom drives a white van” will help so much in the carpool line.

...How they are getting home each day. Always send a note in case of transportation change, but make sure your child is aware of it, too.

...That you believe they are ready to go to Kindergarten!

That was long and perhaps a little exhausting. I hope it gives you some things to think about, feel good about, and work on before your child starts Kindergarten!

Tell Me What You’re Thinking!
About what things are you wondering, “Does my child need to…”? How have you adapted these things to homeschool? Do you think these skills are expecting too much of a five/six year old? Or do you think that kids are ready to do these things at this age?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kindergarten Kickstart : Introduction

You’ve registered your five {or six} year old for kindergarten, visited the owl-themed classrooms, and bitten your nails to the quick while your baby completed the kindergarten screening assessments. Target has gigantic pencils hanging from the ceiling and pointing you toward loose-leaf notebook paper, lunch boxes, and shag carpets for lockers. {Yes. That is an actual thing.}

In a few weeks, you’ll get a welcome packet from your child’s school, perhaps revealing the name of the lucky teacher who gets to be in the company of your kid for the next nine-ish months. {The significance of this length of time does not escape you.} Also in the envelope, a list of needed supplies - some items so specific and others quite vague - that make even the highest degree-holding parents anxious about selecting a plastic pocket folder with prongs and differentiating between a notebook and a composition book. And they need to have how many glue sticks?!?

Then at night as you’re watching your baby, who-isn’t-so-baby-but-is-still-your-baby, eat his macaroni and cheese or giving her a bath, you think to yourself:

Is she ready? 

Is he ready?

Am I ready?


Enter Kindergarten Kickstart. 

This mini-series is designed to give you some hints, tips, and pointers on how to prepare you and your child for Kindergarten. My hunch is when you read the list of suggested things your child should be able to do or is working toward, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. So relax; your child doesn’t need to be able to add, subtract, count to 100, read a beginner text, or even know all of the letter sounds to start Kindergarten. Those are the things they’ll learn in Kindergarten. Your child just needs to be reasonably prepared to begin.

This series will cover 5 areas:

2 <> Literacy Prep

3 <> Mathematics Prep

4 <> Parent Prep

5 <> Teachers' Thoughts

Also, I am happy to answer any questions you have about your child starting Kindergarten!

I’m excited to share my teaching experience and knowledge of the workings of a public school Kindergarten with you all and hope that it gets you a bit closer to ready.

Friday, May 15, 2015

How I Became a Stay-At-Home Mom :: An Interview

I met Kirsten back in October during The Nester's Write 31 Days challenge. Browsing through the hundreds of bloggers' topics for their 31 days of writing, one immediately piqued my curiosity. "31 Days: Live Like You Were Dying" - an idea both terrifying and intriguing. I was about two months post-partum and two months into my move to being a stay-at-home-mom. Kirsten's desire to be a stay-at-home-mom while knowing she had to work to support her family resounded with deep familiarity. I, too, knew that struggle and longing, thankful for what you have but wanting something else. Something more. 

Every Friday for the last few months, Kirsten has been posting interviews with stay-at-home-moms in order to learn their stories of how they were able to stay home with their children. I've greatly enjoyed the series and am honored today to share my story with her over at Indebted and In Debt.

Click here to read the interview.

If you've clicked over from Kirsten's blog, Hello and Welcome! Feel free to click around this little corner of the ol' www.