The Sparkle Jar: A Simple Way to Build Connection

Saturday, August 4, 2018

This is my July post written for No Hands But Ours.

I recently read a quote from Here We Read that said, “Give children more experiences, not things.”

It got me thinking about our Sparkle Jar. I really hadn’t stop to ponder the what, why, when, where, or how because it’s something I have done in the past in my classroom and now in our home. It’s a way we have created a team spirit and simplified the stuff accumulated around here.
It’s one of the ways we choose experiences over things while building connections, highlighting the Golden Rule, practicing empathy, and finding wonder in our day to day lives.
What? The Sparkle Jar is a cookie jar where we drop sparkles (which are just flat marbles for fish tanks) for a million different reasons. It is important in our home for being intentional in encouraging our children to care.
Why? There was a time when all my children had chore charts, sticker charts, allowances, etc. that helped them do one thing… focus on themselves. Their ego-centric selves were always on high alert in competition with their siblings about every single little thing. Were they the best? The fastest? Number one?
It wasn’t about a family striving to be stronger and more unified. It was individuals competing with each other for more.
Enough was enough.

We wanted our family to build up each other, striving for connection and relationship­­, thus came the Sparkle Jar. It was a way to focus everyone on a common goal as a team player with one thing, not twenty.
Simple and sweet.
One and done.
You get the message.
Where? The Sparkle Jar sits on the counter in the kitchen where we gather the most often. It’s a constant reminder of the goal we are all working towards and reminds everyone to pitch in for the common good of our family.
It’s not just for our family either. When someone visits like our grandsons or cousins, they can contribute to the jar too. If they get ‘caught’ caring for someone, helping at first request, or cooperating with others, they add sparkles to our jar. They love the thrill of throwing them in and our kids love that others help in meeting our goal. Also, if we’re away from home, we keep tallies of sparkles. It still works on the road.
When? When we first started the Sparkle Jar, we drew a line low on the jar to fill and treated our family to blizzards at DQ. As time passed, we upped the line and added more sparkles to our stash to earn family fun like passes to the Aquarium or zoo, maybe a trip to the bookstore, or day trip on a nature outing as a family. The sky is the limit. We don’t always have a specific goal in mind other than using up all the sparkles at which point we meet as a family and discuss what we might need or want to do.
The focus is the good deeds done on the journey, not the finished destination. It’s a beautiful journey too because they know once we fill the jar, we start over toward a new goal. It encourages us all that caring for others is never done or complete. It is something we strive for all of our days on earth.
How? We have seen a significant willingness to help without even being asked. Our children look for ways to care for each other. The Golden Rule is truly the foundation of our whole Sparkle system. If you are thinking of how you want to be treated, you are very likely to ‘Sparkle’ in your own behavior towards others. Trying to take our eyes off ourselves and focus on others.
Even as adults, we could improve on this level. The kids have even caught me and Scott doing something they believe deserves sparkles. We let them catch each other in a Sparkle act too. “Mom! The boys made our beds today!” It really is beautiful to watch. When they see each other being sparkled for a choice, it must likely to be repeated by all the rest.
Celebration Day. Once the jar is full, we plan our celebration day. We’ve done tons of things with our kids that lots of families just do randomly, but we choose to pair it with our Sparkle Jar celebration. One idea is to rent or buy a movie on Amazon, pop popcorn, and enjoy family movie night. Another is to let everyone choose a book they have been wishing for. We have even taken them out for evening rides on the boat with a dinner picnic and sunset swims.
It really doesn’t take much to bring wonder and enchantment to our children’s lives. It just takes intention and effort.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
SO evident with our Sparkle Jar… when everyone is showing each other respect and caring to help, the camaraderie and family spirit creates positive energy which inspires more and more of the same! Who wouldn’t want that for their family?

Intention and Effort. There is much intention and effort involved with this idea. We can’t begin something like this just to let it fizzle out. We have to be excited for our family and look for opportunities to sparkle them with love. In the beginning we over sparkled our children as a way to get them aware of their choices and actions. As time has passed and we see certain things becoming second nature to them (a perk of sparkles), we don’t always reward for that reason. It just becomes the right thing to do.
As you can guess, this system works best with younger children, but I still see the older children encouraging the younger ones, helping them to make good choices, and always pitching in before being asked. I love seeing the older ones giving sparkles to the younger ones which shows me they own the responsibility of why we started it in the first place.
Honestly it helps us move from managing our children all the time to them managing themselves – creating a lovely place to do life together!
You might wonder if our children ever have their own money in which to learn management, saving, and wise choices. They do have opportunities to make money – pet sitting for neighbors or helping in the yard. They also prefer monetary gifts for birthdays and holidays over more stuff. Because we homeschool and have workbooks, I write $10 on the inside back cover and when they finish the book, they get paid. A win-win for all of us!
I have even seen the sparkle effect work in situations at the store when one child is wanting to buy something they don’t have quite enough for and another child steps in to cover the deficit. Sometimes they require pay back and other times they let it go. I let them work that out on their own.
I believe Sparkles are teaching our children three important character traits:
1. Empathy: Stepping into someone else’s skin and walking around in it.
2. Collaboration: Working together on a common goal in mind.
3. Cooperation: Coming together as a team for the good of everyone.
Can you think of any profession that wouldn’t look for those qualities in their employees? How about spouses in a family? What about in a classroom or sports arena? Can you see the endless outcomes of this simple habit training?
Did you know there is real research behind smiling? It says, “The mere act of smiling reduces blood pressure, lowers stress hormones, and boosts your mood; a British study even found that one smile generates the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.”
Why would we not do everything in our power to share a smile and encourage a smile??? The act of smiling triggers endorphins which make us happy. We smile to be happy. Feelings follow our actions. As moms and dads, we are the atmosphere of the home. If we smile and try to have fun with our children, we can create a wonderful place to be a family.
The best thing we can give our children is a happy and peaceful home with happy and peaceful parents.
Other ways I see the Sparkle Jar working for our family is allowing us to focus on what we want more of and making sure we will get it!
So, for us, the Sparkle Jar works a sort of magic. It focuses us on finding the good and beautiful and lovely instead of competition, selfishness, and entitlement. Would our kids be just as vigilant about caring for each other without sparkles? Maybe, but pointing out their good makes me feel good too.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
The Challenge. Choose one thing you want to see an improvement in and focus on that one thing. If it goes well, add another or be like me and go all out.
(One caution: We don’t take Sparkles away! The reason for a Sparkle Jar is to encourage good choices, and we want to keep it completely positive. If there is a behavior or choice that is the opposite of a Sparkle, you could say, “I am so sorry you made that choice. If you had done this or that, you would have earned a Sparkle. Do you think you could do that next time?” Try to state the positive of what you want them to do not what you don’t.)
Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go, aand when he is old he will not depart from it.”

We all want a calm and peaceful home with our children fostering close connections and relationships. I hope with all my heart this helps someone find a beautiful rhythm in their daily lives.

Lots of Learning!

Friday, August 3, 2018

One of my favorite things is taking photos, and I have been printing key photos of memories the kids might choose to write about in their journals.
I lay the photos out and once they have chosen, I let them write OR I write down their thoughts for them~
This is definitely Calla's favorite activity mostly because she loves to look back on all the photos tucked sweetly away~

We have loved starting a few new things this month such as an Emily Dickenson poet study and Ancient History study~

I have also begun using The Wand from Brave Writer with the little girls and usually the others mingle in as well~
The treasures I have found in the $$ spot at Target are coming in handy!

EK is working on another display for her nature shelves~
An insect collection.

EK and SJ learned how to make pompoms from yarn and created this adorable little animals~

We have been reading this book with our ancient study~
 This chapter made for a very fun dusting day last week!

Sometimes I walk around the corner to find EC diligently working on a big project~
 Here she is copying the sight words into a tiny book she made.
After she was long done and it lie on the table forgotten, I glued it into her journal for safe keeping.

She, HM, and CA made their own version of pompom pets~
 And just like If You give a Mouse a Cookie...
If you make pompom animals, you must have a cute bag to carry them in.

We made a cute game called Letter Mamas and Babies with lids from pringles with baby letter written on it~
 And Mama letters from a puzzle.
We pretended the babies were crying for their mamas, so we had to match them up!
SO fun!

I also made up a pass the bag game where each child pulled out a three letter picture, and we all wrote it on our boards~ 
 Then we put in our Montessori Phonetic Reading Blocks~
 Three little girls are becoming BIG readers from all this fun!

One day when EK dumped the skimmer, she found this adorable toad frog~
 So she made him a terrarium, and we all observed and journaled for science~
 LOVE bringing real nature in and making it part of our learning~

Planning for homeschool looks a lot different than traditional school planning for me. When I taught school, I had every single minute planned from bell to bell because... 24 children. Every minute had to be accounted for and used to maximum potential. I even began my home school life planning like traditional school just in a home location.

Planning has changed to serve me, not me serving it. Usually on Sunday, I make a wish list of things I might want to cover sometime next week. (1st photo) and as those things are completed, I mark through them and add unfinished ones to next list.

At the end of the day or couple of days, I make a list of bullet items we completed that day (2nd photo).

I love writing a list of completed activities (3rd photo) and realizing how much we do in a day that wasn’t even on the list. Having a wish list invites rabbit trails and deep dives.

For me, planning and listing completed tasks also allows me a place to record growth moments for each individual child because GROWTH is the measure I use in evaluating our learning. Not test scores or completed curriculum or even a new skill cemented. I measure our success with Growth in character, interest, and motivation~ those are the eternal values we all need to strive for whether home schooled or traditional.

You know the old Theodore Roosevelt quote, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
That’s the bottom line~ Am I teaching them to care and love and serve?!? 

We enjoy a @juliebravewriter lifestyle as much as possible, and one of her tips is to encourage our children to tell their stories and then jot them down~ making writing feel natural, meaningful, and supported.

 One of the ways we have made writing a real life experience is allowing EK to write for her own IG Page.

She is practicing photography, editing photos, how to write a post, and publishing. We’re keeping it private and enjoying the time we spend together working on it!

We have three little foxes that live behind our house in the woods~
 And we love watching them play each afternoon.

Calla loves to paint and here she is at 6:30am one morning happy as a lark~

Seems like I’m on a writing kick right now and want to share another @juliebravewriter tip~

Go deep instead of wide meaning it’s perfectly okay to take all the time needed or wanted for a certain thing. As for time, it could mean a day, a week, a month, etc. on any subject.

All my children have Penpals and other than math and read aloud, it’s a Deep Dive Day. It take ALL the time and ALL my energy, so I don’t try to squeeze in all the things.
This was a little book PC made for his penpal and I couldn't help but take photos of it!!

Writing letters is SO rich in many things from thinking to speaking to organizing to communicating not to mention all the mechanics that goes into it X 7. Such a wonderful art that has sort of gone by the wayside.

This little baby asked Alexa how to spell cat all on her own and wrote on her paper~
 Backwards and all. :)

Fridays are Free Write days and while the big kids were writing their thoughts~
 Evie began copying these adorable new books we ordered from Target~
 And when she began copying, her two younger sisters did they same.
Just look at Calla's little drawings~
And copying the words! I am SO proud of all 7!!!

Finishing Off a Fun July~

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Our dog Sadie loves golf cart rides and now she has been jumping up on the seat as if she is a person~
Look at the beautiful yard my amazing husband keeps!!!

We were SO blessed to get to spend the day with the boys while Savannah went to school for the day.
We actually stopped by Target for a little shopping, and they were all perfect~

Back in time for lunch~

There is nothing I love more than watching the boys busy in their space living their best life~
 Their new house is SO perfect, and we love going to visit.

The girls were all due haircuts, so we made appointments at this new salon in town~
 5 haircuts in and hour and half~
 Mimi came to be with us since she works a few buildings down~
 From long and stringy to fresh and healthy~

 While we were at the salon, the boys were enjoying a sleepover with Aunt Susan~
 She spoils them, and they adore her... We ALL do!

The weekend brought a day with ALL the bigs.
We hung out by the pool, grilled, made ice cream,
 And went for a ride on the boat~
 We loved having Hayden with us too~

We also got to take care of our grand dog, Cabot~
 This photo of Rosie and Calla just made me smile all over.
Calla said, "Rosie, will you hold my hand?" :)

My mom and dad have a huge garden as you have already seen, and they are always gifting us wonderful vegetables~
This week after room time, I surprised the kids with a box of butterbeans the GOT to shell for dinner.
Seriously, they thought it was so awesome and ate every single one!!!

Gardening & Fun Mail~

Sunday, July 22, 2018

There is no great garden in the world than my mom and dad's so I took the kids up to pick a little bit~

We picked green beans and butterbeans, okra, and they gave us lots of other things~
 We also enjoyed yummy watermelon before jumping in the pool~

CA was SO excited to get a letter from Ben Curtis~
 And he sent me one too! :)

 We also took advantage of Prime Day to order an Echo Dot which we love~

 and this really awesome game!

It's been a pretty low key weekend so I was able to get a post done before the end of the month.

Lots of Learning!

Friday, July 20, 2018

EK has really been practicing her photography.
She has opened her own private IG account and posting her photos with written stories~

Seems like we are really into writing stories, making books, and drawing tons of stuff~

 Some days when we read a lot, everyone finds something to do.
Calla wanted to crochet so she learned to finger knit~

We have started a few new things and this is one of favorites.
Starting with Ancient History and love the internet linked videos~

 We are also using The Precious People from Jennifer Pepito and made these beautiful depictions of Creation~

We are also using The Mystery of History audio and enriching our study with BF Around the World with Picture Books~

I listened to a wonderful webinar about knowing your children {their strengths and their interests} then planning to suit... also, surrounding them with things that spark love.

This week we ordered EC a stack of fashion design books and to say she has taken off with it is an understatement~
LOVE watching her be creative!!

I have also picked up lots of cute things at the $$ spot at Target~
Here we mixed last years with this year matching ABC clips to felt letters.

We also got these adorable puppets and the shows have been sweet~
Lots of learning!