One of the skills I insist my children learn as they become teenagers is outlining.  The ability to pick out main ideas from their studies, organize those on paper, and then create a composition from their outline has proven to be invaluable (so they tell me).

Here’s where it all began:

I first learned to outline at Roosevelt Jr. High School in the ’70s.  The man who taught the honors history block required a number of things if you were going to pass his class.  Neat handwriting, a research paper and a book report each quarter, and a neatly outlined notebook (to be reviewed by him at a moment’s notice!).  Each day upon reporting to class, the chalkboard would be covered with the outline for that day.  Proper form, all information written neatly in a clear cursive hand, ready to be copied.  And so we copied-each word properly spaced, neatly taken down so that we could refer to it later as we studied.  While I dispute some of the conclusions he drew in regards to history, I will be forever grateful to him for the gift of outlining he gave us.  As I progressed through school, I used outlining as a tool over and over again.  Sometimes it was required as part of an assignment; sometimes I used it simply to organize my thoughts as I started to work on a paper.  Because it was so vital to me, I determined my children would learn it too.

The process of creating an outline is simple.  The form is straight-forward and easy to follow.  It should look like this (each new idea is indented five spaces from the earlier one until you get to the next main idea.):

I.  First main idea

A. Subheading for main idea

1. Detail supporting subheading for main idea

a. more specific detail for main idea

b. more specific detail for main idea

2.Detail supporting subheading for main idea

B. Subheading for main idea

II. Second main idea

And so forth.

There are a few basic rules when creating an outline.  You can use either phrases (called a phrase outline) or complete sentences (called a sentence outline).  You must choose one or the other.  The numbering system is standard and does not vary.  Roman numerals for the main ideas; capitol letters for the subheadings; Arabic numerals for details; lower case letters for more specific details; Arabic numerals in a parentheses next; lower case letters in a parentheses after that.  Indent 5 spaces for each notation after a main idea.  If you have a 1, you must have a 2.  If you put in an A, you must also include a B.  When including an outline in a report, the pages are numbers with lower case Roman numerals.

When working on a research paper, a basic precursor to an outline is keeping note cards.  One thought per card.  Only one.  When you have your ideas written down, line the cards up on table (or on the floor, if you need that kind of room) in outline form.  I., A., B., 1., 2., a., b., II., etc.  Number or label them in the order you want to use them, and then transfer this information onto paper.  If you find a few more facts you want to use when it is written, go ahead and add them to your outline.

I am aware that an outline can be generated with most basic word processing systems.  Whatever.  Our children need to know how to generate one using the oldest “processing system” we have- paper, pencil, and their brain.  If they want to learn how to use the computer later, fine.  Just ensure they know how to create one themselves first.  Being able to write a well thought out, articulate paper will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Home and Family, Homeschooling

Teaching teens

I wrote this piece a few years ago for a group presentation.  My teens are now adults, and I enjoy them more than ever.  Hope you enjoy the read!

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I delight in my teenagers.  You can too. They become the most tremendous adults.  Teach them and then trust them (in that order).  Having great teenagers doesn’t just happen.  They don’t fall from the sky that way.  This is WORK.  It takes time, patience, laughter, growth, and faith.  I can’t think of anything I would rather do than watch them become who they were meant to be!


Pros to teaching them at home:

  • can be less time consuming than giving the school permission to plan their life, more time=more options, i.e. dual enrollment, tutors, jobs, volunteer work, etc.
  • curriculum more challenging and interesting
  • long talks about real subjects=real conversations
  • fascinating to watch specializations and opinions develop
  • closer ties to family of all ages
  • can be more flexible with curriculum if your teens are disciplined enough to set goals and then accomplish them
  • often easier to include Dad in their lives
  • they can help put together their curriculum to meet their personal educational goals
  • allows time to teach more than just academics (life skills, values, decision-making)

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Cons to teaching them at home:

  • exhausting
  • often need to outsource some things
  • curriculum more challenging
  • discipline more difficult if good habits are not firmly in place
  • your time is required to assist in building a social network
  • can be difficult to keep them home long enough to complete schoolwork if they have jobs, friends, and other interests
  • curriculum can be intimidating
  • long talks about everything-schoolwork, life, dating, work, family, religion and belief, you name it.  This will take time- lots of it!
  • not everyone else is doing it


Here are some things I learned about parenting and teaching teenagers:

Discipline is required- for both you and them.  Chores must be done.  Academics are more difficult but must be completed and then mom needs to take a look and check over their work.

You need to have a clear curriculum plan and goals which must be both focused and flexible.  They need to have the opportunity to dig into subjects by which they are fascinated!

Allow them to dabble.  And to be them. Delight in their quirks and goofiness (take lots of pictures!).  They are not miniature adults.  They don’t need to excel at everything, and not every project begun needs to be finished and submitted for inspection.  Life does not work that way, and we are preparing them for life.

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Teach them life skills along with their academics.  My children left home with the ability to do their own laundry, balance a checkbook, speak with others, and cook a meal.

You are not to be their best friend right now.  They need clear boundaries, guidance, and to know that someone else is there to help when they get in over their head because they will.  They need a parent.  I would rather have them make mistakes and learn to fix them in my home than send them out into the world expecting things to always go smoothly!

Encourage and facilitate good friendships.  We have hosted dance dinners, parties, cookie-baking adventures, conversation areas, meals, and transportation among other things.  I know my children’s friends.  They know me.  It is a great moment when their friends ask to come over “just to hang out and talk” and then spend some of that time with me in the kitchen.  Love it!


Learn to under-react.  They will do brainless things. Take a deep breath.  Take five minutes to remember what you did as a teen.  Now go talk with them.  If they can trust you to be “adult” about things, they can learn how to do that themselves.

Be at the cross-roads of their lives.  Send them off to their activities in person, and then be there when they get home- whether from classes or social gatherings.  (This is not possible 100% of the time, but shoot for at least 80%.)  Give them your time and they may just share a precious piece of themselves with you.


Find a phone buddy who also loves your children.  Share the joys, and talk through the frustrations with them.  Another voice may help you retain a clearer perspective when it gets rough, and it gives you a chance to brag a bit.

Expect great things and stupid mistakes.  You won’t be disappointed.

Share memories about when you were a teenager.  Be honest. You did brainless things.  Knowing you recovered from your mistakes can help them trust both you and them.  Help them see that everyone has fears, doubts, and silly moments.  This is NOT meant to be a lecture!  It is time to laugh, cry, share, and cherish each other.

Find tutors to assist in the academic areas where you feel weak.  No one is expected to specialize in everything.  There are often great teachers at the local high school and good courses on-line. There may be a teen or adult in your area who can help.  Ask around.


“I don’t know” is an acceptable answer; it is not a place to stop.  Learn together.

Do not raise your teens in a vacuum.  Different is okay.  Isolated is not!!  Help them learn about various learning styles and personality types.  Celebrate differences.

Teach them the art of argument.  Teach tools to allow for self-expression in positive, acceptable ways.  We need to raise leaders, not lemmings.

Time is short.  Don’t waste time on things of little value.

Hopefully, self-discipline, good habits, character education, and academic basics have been covered in earlier years.  If not, get to work on it.  (You will need to keep a closer eye on schoolwork and goals.)

Laugh a lot.  Enjoy the ride.

Home and Family, Homeschooling

Teach them to think

As we teach our children, teaching them critical thinking is paramount!  It cannot be done with in a vacuum, or without assistance.  Teaching critical thinking is also difficult if it is not practiced by the adults in the child’s life.  Do your children hear you discussing the “pros” and “cons” of a certain activity?  Are current events discussed and reviewed?  Are you thoughtful about the decisions made for your family, or do you regularly take the path of least resistance?  Remember, children learn what they live!

Early discovery learners spend much of their time learning critical thinking skills automatically if they are living in a resource-rich environment.  As toddlers, they observe, and then attempt such tasks as setting the table, building with blocks, or returning books to the shelf.  By doing so, they practice creating patterns, working within systems, and comparing size and shape.  Doing chores teaches them to create order from chaos. The ability to accomplish a job even when they “do not want to” is a skill that will serve them well when faced with paradoxes and challenges as they learn.

As they grow, assist them in finding ways to classify, match, sequence, and explore.  Look for opportunities to build the following skills:

  • patterns
  • opposites/comparisons
  • classification
  • cause and effect
  • listening counting/ordering sets

Also look for ways to produce or acquire games/activities that allow them to spend time with the following:

  • nesting cups/building blocks
  • matching games, lotto boards (such as bingo), dominoes
  • phonics/phonograms
  • word games
  • dot-to-dot pages
  • hidden pictures
  • sequencing cards/activities
  • puzzles
  • picture books without words

Critical thinking games to consider for purchase:  (Consider asking for some of these when Grandma wants ideas for birthdays or holidays.  By far, Timberdoodle has the widest selection of critical thinking games I can find for this age.)

  • Learning tiles (Timberdoodle and Discovery Toys)
  • Large Pegboard (Timberdoodle and Discovery Toys)
  • Pattern blocks
  • Number/picture slide
  • Camelot Jr. (Smart Games)
  • Mighty Mind (Leisure Learning Products, Inc.)
  • Early sudoku puzzles

Later discovery learners have already begun establishing a mental picture of the way the world works.  Take that opportunity to introduce activities and habits that will assist them is building a correct, clear concept of the world around them.  Help them better utilize clearer thinking skills as they rely on an odd (sometimes humorous) logic all their own!  If they can recognize faulty logic, they can correct their thinking as they grow.  Just remember to keep things concrete and literal.  The time for abstract games will come soon enough.

  • Mad-libs
  • word searches (use while they are still learning to spell)
  • brain teasers
  • Encyclopedia Brown books
  • puzzles, tangrams, pentominoes, soma cube, sudoku, etc.
  • word problems
  • I own a game called Drive Ya Nuts (Mattel).  It is no longer available for purchase, but if you look for it on Google , there are a number of sites that have directions for making your own version.

Critical thinking games to consider for purchase (These also work for later learners.)

  • Rush Hour (Thinkfun)
  • Square by Square (Thinkfun)
  • Cuisenaire Rods and books (Cuisenaire Co. of America)
  • Wrap-ups (Learning Wrap-ups)
  • Labyrinth Board Game (Ravensburger)
  • Tilt (Thinkfun)
  • Blokus (Mattel)
  • Izzi (Thinkfun)
  • Cool Moves (Thinkfun)
  • River Crossing (Thinkfun)

Analysis learners are beginning to understand abstract thought and humor.  They often seem to question everything you say and expect.  Stay calm.  They need to learn how to challenge other’s thought processes with courtesy, and logic, and they are simply practicing on you.  As you talk them through the challenges, you are teaching them to think for themselves (which is what we want them to do when faced with the world’s logic and values!).  Now is the time to introduce current events and opinion as a regular part of their academics.  Go ahead and ask them questions for which they do not have the answers; then help them go find them.  You can also encourage their ability to pick things apart with any of the following:

  • logic problems
  • crosswords
  • vocabulary activities
  • grammar study

Critical thinking games to consider for purchase

  • Equate(Conceptual Math Media)
  • Q-Bitz (Mindware)
  • Wrap-ups (Learning Wrap-ups)
  • Visual Brainstorms 1and 2 (Thinkfun)
  • TipOver  (Thinkfun)
  • Rubik’s Cube
  • any game listed for later discovery learners

Application learners should be preparing for life after their teen-age years.  Proficiency in expressing themselves with clarity both verbally and on paper should be a major focus of their studies. Continue with the things they were doing previously, simply add the following:

  • editorial writing and analysis
  • formal logic study

We owe it to our children to equip them with the armor they will need to make moral, grounded decisions as adults.  Life will throw dilemmas and paradoxes at them and they need the tools to dissect, clarify, and analyze each situation so that they have an opportunity to lead others with truth rather than simply “follow the pack.”

(For information on the levels of learning, see posts from 02/26-28/2013.)



Those pesky prepositions

I am a firm believer in utilizing a formal, rigorous course of study for grammar when your children have entered the analysis level of learning (see post on 02/27/2013).  One of the greatest rewards of studying grammar is the opportunity it provides the student to present themselves well as they head out into adulthood, and one of the most helpful things to remember from grammar study is a basic list of common prepositions.  Why?  Those who take the time to re-arrange both their spoken and written word to ensure no sentences end in a preposition have generally learned how to create a well-worded sentence.  It can take some practice but it is well-worth the time!

Here is a list of the most common English prepositions:


To simplify the memorization process Yep, we memorized them!),  I divided the list into sets of 5-10 (depending on the child) and we worked on one set a week until the complete list was memorized.  After they were comfortable with the list, we would get into the newspaper or other media and look for sentences which needed to be re-written.  Often advertizements and signage are written as incomplete sentences.  That fact can initiate a fun conversation!  You will also find prepositions ending sentences in the scriptures.  That is due to a difference in syntax when translating.  Another fun conversation!  Often, the current vernacular and regional idioms end in prepositions.  (Where is the store at?  What are you looking for? etc.)  As your teens grow older, encourage them in developing a speech pattern which recognizes and correctly places prepositions.  It can be a great mental exercise for the entire family including the parents!

Having the ability to present themselves well on paper or in person gives your children a boost when they leave home.  It is a good habit to develop and is becoming a bit of a lost art.  Let’s revive it!

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Cooking, Homeschooling

Using the newpaper to the fullest

I recognize that newspaper subscriptions are not as common as they were before the advent of the internet, smart phones, and other new technologies.  Such a shame.  We used the newspaper in so many different ways as I was teaching my own children, and I still use it as I work with young people today.  Here are just a few ways it can supplement your academics:

Discovery learners (explanation in my post on Feb. 26, 2013)

  • Have them identify letters and numbers from the large print.
  • Cut apart the lettering in the headlines.  Have them create their spelling words, or simply assemble familiar words from the letters.
  • Look for the pictures which accompany the stories.  Cut out various pictures which can then be categorized into different emotions.  If you use images from throughout the paper, you may be surprised at the variety of feelings caught on film.
  • Give each child a length of print and have them look for the most commonly used letters.  Make a graph or a chart with tally marks.  Look at other print media.  Do your findings match there as well?
  • Later discovery learners can look for the most important or persuasive words in an article.  Why did the journalist choose those words?  Which other words could they have chosen?
  • Put together a family newspaper.  Have your children play reporter/journalist.  Call extended family members and gather information about each person, then try and write articles that are informative and interesting.
  • Find the weather report and track what is forecasted as well as the actual weather happenings.  How are they the same?  Different?  What other information is included with the forecast?
  • Many papers offer an educational page or insert each week.  Look for them.  They often have games, and activities to make your studies more interesting.  Can’t find one? Call your local paper and ask.

Analysis learners- many of these will work for application learners as well (explanation in my post on Feb. 27, 2013)

  • Give your teen an amount of “money” to invest.  Have them choose stocks to purchase, and then follow the stock prices in the economy section to see how well they did.  Watch the stocks for two months or more to get a clearer picture of what happens with the stock market.  Graph the results.
  • Have your youth clip coupons and use the ads to put together menus and the shopping list for the week.  Go to the store and see how well they can stay within the family budget.
  • Have your student copy a sentence or two from an article of their choice.  Have them diagram it.
  • Look for recipes that feature foods your family likes or would like to try.  Organize them into a three-ring binder.  As you make them, make a note of which ones you enjoyed, what worked well, what might be a way to “tweak” them, or just toss the ones which you wouldn’t make again.  (Often the recipes in the paper are taken from the latest cookbooks.)
  • Look for unfamiliar words to use in a vocabulary list.
  • Read an article looking for a specific part of speech.  Circle or underline the nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, etc.
  • Cut out or copy a comic strip.  Put white out over the text in the thought bubbles/spoken words.  Have your students write their own text.
  • Read the editorials together.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Why?  Can you find a flaw in the argument?  (We did this daily for years.  My entire family became much more competent at putting a well-worded argument together, and were able to discuss current events intelligently with those around them.)
  • The local section of the paper often lists upcoming events.  Plan a field trip as a family.
  • Track your favorite sport or team.  Learn to analyze stats, memorize players and their numbers, or look for the ways injuries, weather, playing fields, or fatigue affect the game.

Application learners (explanation in my post on Feb. 28, 2013)

  • Use the classified ads to look for jobs requiring different levels of education.  Using the salaries listed, have them look for housing, food, transportation, and other living expenses to put a budget together for a month or more.  (You will have to provide utility costs.  Those aren’t in the classifieds.)
  • Keep a notebook of clipped articles dealing with a current event or social issue important to your family.  Watch for changes as time passes, or look for the various biases of different reporters.  After you have taken time to examine the issue more fully, write a letter to the editor explaining where you stand and why.
  • Keep reading the editorials together.  Consider having your young adult write a paper on an issue which they find concerning.  How does it affect them as they move into adulthood?  How might change be accomplished?  What roadblocks would need to be overcome?
  • Look for recent quotations or famous sayings to put in their quote/penmanship books.  Why did they choose what they chose?
  • Do the crosswords puzzle, or at least attempt it.

The newspaper is not as popular as it once was and yet it can assist us in the most challenging part of home schooling- using different media in order to avoid academics from becoming mundane.  It can enlighten, challenge, and shed light on a considerable number of items in our lives.  This list is just the beginning.  Take a minute and spend time in your local paper, and see how many different ways you can use it in your own home!


Analysis learners

This is part two of the three part series on learning levels.

Analysis Learning

The Analysis level youth is full of questions and challenges.  Finding the relationships between facts and events is the focus for this level.   Help your youth identify effects of various events and people on each other and history in general.  Your child will let you know when they are ready to expand their learning to this stage.  As they approach the teenage years, adolescents challenge what they have learned and what they are being told.  Rather than becoming overly concerned as this happens, consider their questioning a signal that they are looking for deeper understanding. Consider the inquiries a desire to know for themselves rather than just taking another person’s word for it.  What a great opportunity!  Now is the time to have discussions on motivation, ethics, relationships and for them to begin learning to be logical, rational thinkers.

The beginnings of this self-discovery are exciting to watch.  Mom, be aware.  This level of learning is emotionally exhausting!  (They tend question everything, and “yeah, but….” becomes a standard part of their communication style.  Take this time to teach them to question with respect, and to express themselves clearly and thoughtfully.)  Areas of specialization and personal interest can be detected during this stage.  Help your youth set goals that will allow them to excel academically, and help them grow personally.  Now is a great time for longer-term interests to be explored.  Music lessons, classes in hands-on skills (wood-working, sewing, etc.), or sports can be great opportunities for growth.

More seat work is to be expected at this stage of education…gradually. Outlining, writing, research, and scrutiny become a large part of the learning process.  They will have more work of which to keep track.  Now is the time for practicing how to set up a notebook system, and get things organized!  Give them time; encouragement is appreciated as they work to get used to following through with the effort required.

Analysis level is generally the most expensive level to teach at home.  Often more specialized supplies are needing to be acquired at this stage than any other; much of what you buy will move with them in the coming years.  Try and find reusable materials or share with others teaching the same level, or consider it an investment for your children and generations to come.

Encourage youth to spend time with media that enlightens and uplifts.  Much of what is produced for this age (and the coming years) is dark, lacking in moral direction, and introduces topics and language that is questionable.  Be aware of the media to which your children are being exposed-in your home, and elsewhere.  Be sure to keep a dialogue open as they move into the teenage years.  This is when parenting becomes exhilarating!

Analysis learning begins at approximately age eleven or grade five.  Girls generally enter this stage before boys.  Remember, this is flexible!