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  • Writer's pictureMallory G Foster

Planning to Watch Wonder Bloom In the Midst of a Wild Year

Teaching was rough until I ditched the expectation I realized I was clinging to - that my task was to get every student to LOVE geology and environmental science (better yet, to work so every single one of my students would want be a geologist after my class). I pulled from wisdom from my student teaching supervisor and grounded myself, and my teaching, in accepting the students in front of me. I noticed that my students needed opportunities to regain confidence in themselves as learners, to find a love for learning, to embrace frustration, and to get used to asking questions and seeking answers. Luckily, this focus grows science skills too. Instead of teaching science, I taught students to get curious, to care, and to look for solutions - in the lens of Earth and Environmental Science. I chose to reduce my worry about the looming giant list of standards, and instead, focused on the learners in front of me and their connections to the content I was tasked with teaching. I taught the kiddos in front of me FIRST in congruence with my values (lifelong learning, stewardship, education as a shot at a more equitable future, etc) (second) in the frame of my content (third). As a parent, I learned to approach family life in the same way. It's easy to feel the pressure to do more, to be more, to somehow magically get your kid to exceed every benchmark in front of them, and to make this all instagrammable. We risk losing ourselves and our focus on our kiddos when we give into the pressure to live out of congruence with what we really care about and value, especially in times as uncertain as these. Repeatedly, I've found myself having conversations with friends, Will, family, and clients about expectations and values for our families. I've used the framework I used as a teacher and converted it to how we approach our family life and I wanted to share it with readers as a potential tool for grounding your family life so you can find certainty and calm in your family so you have a better shot at watching wonder bloom this year - while keeping your wits intact :). SO, let's dive in!

Download the Our Year at a Glance PDF here!

Step One: Know your bottom line for this year. For our family this is to do what we can to be

healthy and safe during a pandemic, and to focus our energy on creating happy and meaningful moments together. Here are some questions to discuss as you determine your bottom line:

  • At the end of the day, what REALLY matters to your family?

  • What do you want to spend the bulk of your energy for your family on this year?

  • What can you control? If your bottom line is out of your control, you are setting your family up to fail. I cannot control if we get COVID19 or not, but I can control the number of people we see and our mask wearing habits, etc.

  • What do you find your family, or yourself, repeating over and over again? I know one family that has chosen "We are in this together" a their bottom line and I LOVE that!

Step Two: Get clear about what you want to have last from this year for the kiddos in your life. While knowing how to add mixed numbers is helpful, at the end of the day, if your bottom line is getting through this year together, that is pretty insignificant. I'm not suggestin

g we let ourselves off the hook or just throw all attempts at learning to the wind, YET when we frame our year in what matters most we are more likely to be ready to learn and ready to guide that learning. My school district called these "District Transfer Goals", I went on a North Carolina Outward Bound School course in college that called these "Pillars", whatever you call them, keep them broad, meaningful, and widely applicable. Aim for 2-5 of these - no more! If you have more, you'll end up running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Here are our family's: We want to be building HG's capacity to be communicative, curious, compassionate, and creative. We want to pour energy into her ability to communicate in different ways, to curiously approach the world and different people, to compassionately interact with others, and to creatively solve problems and express herself. Those improper fractions help us communicate mathematical information - so we aren't ditching them, they're just not our focus. We learn those things BECAUSE they help us grow in these areas we truly, deeply care about and want to improve upon so we can be helpful, happy-ish humans. Here are some questions to ask/prompts to think about:

  • What do you want to have stick at the end of this year?

  • What skills can our kiddos gain through learning and play that we care about?

  • We will feel like we served our kiddos well if they are frequently practicing/getting better at...

  • When we look at what our kiddos like to learn and do, it is valuable because...

  • What kind of humans do we want to be?

Step Three: Knowing your bottom line and your pillars (or whatever you want to call them), what do you need to do each day (or most days) to get closer to making those a reality? I LOVE having daily musts! As a mom, it makes it SO much easier for me to ditch mama guilt. As long as I do the four things that are our daily musts, I know we are doing what we need to do to give HG the best shot at being her best self. Daily musts are also nice because it means EVERYTHING ELSE IS EXTRA so there's less need to run all over the place all day and there's a better chance at getting to the end of the day and really feeling like you rocked it. I recommend having daily musts for each adult, for the primary caregiver + kiddos, and the family. It's probably a great idea to have a must or two for you and your partner if you have one (buttttt let's be real, Will gets the short end of the stick sometimes so it's slightly hypocritical for me to suggest this...). My daily musts for myself are to move, to work, and to talk to another adult. My daily musts with HG are that we read and write, go outside, make a mess and clean it up, and solve a problem. Reading and writing lead very obviously into increasing communication skills, going outside boosts curiosity, etc - these all tie directly to our family pillars. For our family, we eat at least one meal all together and we do one activity all together. As a couple, I think we'll work on doing something before watching a show together each night :). Here are some questions to ask and prompt to discuss to establish your daily musts:

  • What do you need to do each day so you can feel calm and collected?

  • What can you do with your kiddos to move toward your pillars and bottom line?

  • If you had a PERFECT family day, what would you do? What can you pull from that and do in 5-20min together each day?

  • If you had a day to yourself or a lovely date, what would you do? What can you pull from that and condense into 5-20min each day?

**I don't suggest putting chores in here unless you will literally lose your mind or have a panic attack if they aren't done. I'd suggest putting them in your daily routines instead. These are things that fill your cup, not things that prevent your cup from leaking.**

Step 4: Now that you've got daily musts that are relevant to and supportive of what your family cares about, shape your daily routines around those. Know your frame factors, like when people need food and rest, when virtual learning happens, etc. Then, prioritize your daily musts. Fill the rest of the day with things you'd like to have happen (chores, extra play and learning time, etc). Our daily routine is a hot mess right now because we are allegedly moving allegedly soon so we have all these random appointments popping up, but here's what generally goes down: Will and HG have breakfast while I laze around. We walk Will out and play in the sand. We walk Freda (our doggo). Back home, we do a playful learning project or shorter focused learning tasks. Then, I workout and HG has snack. We play and shower. We have lunch. Allegedly quiet time happens... Then, we do something as a family, I have work time, we make dinner, walk Freda, run 2929292929 laps around the house, and get ready for bed :). Then, I do work and Will plays music til we watch a show together. He goes to bed, I do more work and then crash :). Here are questions and prompts to plan your own routines:

  • What times do things REALLY happen (for example, my daily schedule starts with me getting up at 7:30... that does not really happen so I need to stop lying to myself)?

  • What times do things like school, meals, leaving for work HAVE to happen?

  • When do you have the most energy to guide play and learning? When do your kiddos have the most focus and sit down kind of energy?

  • How often do you need breaks from each other? How long do they need to be?

Step 5: Wrap this all up in a little ribbon by writing your why. Why do you do the work you do? Why do you stay home? Why do you have the schedule you have? Write this, tear it off, and put it where you can see it on your worst days to remind yourself you are doing alright. This could also be a quote if you want - mine is "What will our children do in the morning if they do not see us fly?" attributed to Rumi. For a while, this meant working out of the house, right now it means owning my own business and working from home, for a while it meant being all in as mama.

So, print that little download, hash it out as a family, post it, and when you have a day when your kiddos can't log in to virtual school for the 2999th time, when you think you're failing as a SURPRISE homeschooling parent, or when you're feeling guilty that you're working at home or the office, return to the list. Ground yourself in what you're doing and why. And rest in that you are doing just right by your kiddos and yourself. And if doing this feels futile, stressful, or confusing, lets get you set up with one-on-one family life coaching! I offer free consultations and varying, personalized coaching packages. Here's to a wild year of some kind of wonder!

Fill out the download? Share a pic via email ( or post it on IG and tag @watchwonderbloom!

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