Home and Family, Parenting

Bring it on!

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

– Helen Keller

This life is a testing ground.  As we raise our families, we need to remember that our job is not to avoid every storm, but rather, to prepare ourselves and each other to meet them.   Every person of great strength and integrity I have ever known has become who they are by standing firm and facing what life throws their way.  And those who are best at this are the most joyful people I know.

Some of the challenges I see around me include large families, couples who want more children but have been unable to bear them, military deployments, health challenges, financial problems, children with learning difficulties, and too-much-to-do-too-little-time.  I don’t know anyone who has an easy life.  If we are looking for one, we will miss so many of the greatest lessons we can learn in this life.

There are challenges which may enter our life through the poor choices of others, but they need never define who we are or what we can accomplish.  Our goals, habits, and pursuits are up to us.  I have chosen to become the woman God sees in me regardless of what others do, and I hope to be able to give that gift those with whom I come in contact.

We can do hard things.

 

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

Educational goals

I seem to be spending quite a bit of time lately helping moms talk through the goals they have for their individual children.  They are generally concerned about helping their children receive a “good education” at home.  That begs the question- what is a “good education?”  As someone who endeavors to work within a classical education framework, the most obvious concern would seem to be growth in the core academic subjects.  Is their understanding of history, science, etc. deepening?  Are they seeing connections between the subjects and learning to think?  While these are important, there are so many other ways to develop and expand your mind.  Have we added to our moral understanding?  Is our appreciation of beauty expanding?  There is so much more than the core subjects involved in a “good education!” As the parents of homeschooled parents, we are responsible for so much more than the three Rs.

Academic education is the most obvious training when discussing homeschooling.  Literature, vocabulary and writing, science, math, and history are a great base for academic studies.  Building a solid understanding of these subjects will pay large dividends in the future, but all this is simply the beginning of education.

Character and ethics education helps build character as they grow, and critical thinking plays a large part of that.  If my children leave home having read 100 classics, are able to do calculus, and can write like a professor, but are unable to discern bias or hidden motives in the world around them, I have sent well-educated patsies into the world for someone else to manipulate. They need to know how to think.  Life is full of absolutes, in spite of opinions to the contrary.  We must teach our children what those absolutes are!

As we build minds and characters, we also are building souls.  A study of music, the Masters of the art world, poetry, and religion can give them something to which they can cling when life gets hard.  And life will.  All of these things feed the soul.  It is important to me that my children have amassed an internal repertoire so that when they watch the sunset over the mountains, or sit on a beach as the sun rises, or as a new-born baby is placed in their arms, they have a song in their heart for that moment.  Allowing them the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, paint, draw, or delve into spiritual things can increase what they have to share with the rest of the world.  Giving them a respect for the sacred, and a love of God can anchor them “on the rock” when the storms blow.

Emotional education comes as we teach them to communicate and interpret life’s events with a belief that life is good. Teach them conflict resolution, positive attitudes, and a sense of their inherent worth. Inner strength and the ability to respond appropriately to the unexpected comes as they see these traits modeled, and are encouraged and reassured as they work to refine their own emotional maturity.  Being “well-educated” is not generally helpful if you can’t handle what life throws your way!

No parent will teach all these things perfectly. However, we must do our best, and then remember their education will continue as they move through life.  We are simply building foundations.

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!

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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“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.)

 

Homeschooling

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:

about
above
across
after
against
along
amid
among
around
as
at
before
behind
below
beneath
beside
besides
between
beyond
but
by
concerning
considering
despite
down
during
except
excepting
excluding
following
for
from
in
inside
into
like
near
of
off
on
onto
opposite
outside
over
past
regarding
save
since
than
through
to
toward
towards
under
underneath
unlike
until
up
upon
versus
via
with
within
without

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!

EnglishClub EasyEnglish ESLDepot Teflnet
Home and Family, Homeschooling

We love the library!

We attended story time at our local library yesterday morning.  The librarian read three Easter books to the children.  We sang songs, and even got a take-home craft.  Then we chose some books to bring home to enjoy at our leisure.  Some of my best tax dollars at work!

The public library is one of my “happy places!”  I can go and sit quietly in a corner and plan a meal from the wall of cookbooks, work on curriculum in the non-fiction section, find new ways to get organized, or even find a book to read just for fun.  Where else can you get a CD of your favorite music to play as you clean house, pick up a book on CD for the car ride this weekend, and get travel ideas from the internet, newspapers, or magazines?  When I go by myself, I can spend hours just exploring.

They also offer book lists for reading ideas, family programs for free, town hall meetings, and you can look for something new for your family library at the book sale.  You may find a reading program which awards prizes for reading.  Often sponsored by businesses, you can possibly earn fast food, small amounts of cash, books, or other things as an incentive for reading.  This can be especially helpful for reluctant readers, or to simply keep things fun.  Sign up as a family!

Librarians are a gold-mine of information.  They can help you or your children search out favorite topics or find a new fascination.  You can get help locating a much desired book locally or through inter-library loan.  (Not sure what that is?  They can tell you.)  They are well-read, and often more than happy to work with children who are well-mannered.  *True story-when my eldest got her driver’s license, the next person she wanted to show after Grandma was the local librarian, Rosemarie.  When Rosemarie retired, we were all sad.

Just a few things to keep in mind when you go:

  • Learn and practice library etiquette.  Soft voices, no running or chasing, keep the books off the floor, return books to their appropriate places, etc.  It is habit that will help your children for years to come.
  • Leave technology at home.  No need for anything requiring earplugs.  Turn your phone off (or at least put it on vibrate), and take conversations outside.  Enjoy the world of hard copies!
  • The library is not a museum.  If there is a book you really like or refer to regularly, buy it.  The inventory will change according to public demand.  If you are the only person who checks that item out, it may be weeded out to make room for more popular titles.
  • Pay your fines!  Everyone has them from time to time.  I hear librarians often have them too.  Think of it as a donation to the library.
  • If you check out an item and find that it is damaged, bring it to their attention as soon as you can or the next time you are there.  They will appreciate it, and it will save future frustration for someone else.
  • If it is a nice day, take snacks.  Eat them OUTSIDE the library.  Children are generally better behaved when fed.
  • If you use the computers, remember you are in a public place.  Keep any passwords or account numbers hidden and fully exit any browsers you use.
  • We would often try to visit the library when it was fairly empty.  If you avoid story time and go when school is in session, you will often have the children’s section almost to yourself.

When my children were school-aged, we established a routine for the library.
Everyone helped return books coming back, then they could look for what they were interested in finding IF they told me where they were headed.  I required the following: a chapter book (if they were 8 or older), a science book, and a history book they had not read before, and a book just for fun.  If they wanted to check out more beyond that, they could.  I always checked the piles before we left for anything I was unwilling to take home or allow them to read.  The librarians aren’t meant to be censors; you need to be.

The public library can be a wonderful place to spend time as a family, or on your own. If you haven’t been there in a while, go see what you are missing.  If you attend frequently, good for you.  There is always something new to discover!

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

Tips for working with preschoolers

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My life finds me surrounded by my grandchildren.  5 boys, 1 girl.  The oldest is 7.  It gets a bit crazy.  Rather than pining for the day when they are older (I do look forward to all that will bring), I have decided to love each moment I have with them now!  Preschoolers are a handful, so here are my thoughts on making the most of each day!

Tips for Mom’s survival

  • Consistency (or lack thereof) will make all the difference.  Choose your priorities.  Stick with them.  Mean it when you say it.
  • Doing things with them will work ten times better than simply telling them what to do.  Teach them how and then teach them again.  Together.  Often.  With love and laughter.
  • Now is the time to develop good habits.  If left unsupervised, they will develop not-so-good ones.
  • Learn about learning styles, stages, and personality types.  It will help as you teach them, and as you live together as a family.
  • Open-ended play can give you more bang for your buck.  Buy toys and books that will grow with them.  Enjoy family activities that can expand with them.  Grow with them.
  • Feed them the good stuff.   Limiting sugar and junk food will result in better health, better behavior, and better eating habits.
  • Limit screen time.  If it involves a screen, limit it.  Big ones, small ones, any screen.
  • Let them be kids.  They will be goofy, foolish, fun, and emotional.  It is okay.  They really do grow up faster than you think!
  • Keep it basic.  (There are lots of basics.)   If they never learn that basics are important, growing up is much harder!  You can’t build on a shaky foundation!
  • Give them chores.  Age-appropriate, genuinely helpful chores.  They can do it.  They need to do it.  You need the help.  Teach them to work.  As much as possible, have order in your home.
  • Routines are essential.
  • Allow them to contribute.  As they grow, they should feel needed, and should be taught to do what they can.  It is a good feeling.  Share it with them while they are still wanting to help!
  • Listen to them.  Laugh with them.  Enjoy them.
  • Keep your voice down.  The angrier you are, the quieter your voice should be.  (I do not know anyone who has perfected this, but it works when I remember.)
  • Find a few good friends for them and enjoy limited, supervised play dates.   Preschoolers tend to have a “pack” mentality if left to their own devices!
  • Sing.  A lot.

Tips for academics

  • Use real information and vocabulary.  They can handle it.  And it makes later learning much simpler!
  • Fun is important.  For you.  For them.
  • Do not panic.  They are preschoolers.  College is over a decade away!
  • Get your hands dirty.  Even harder, let them get their hands dirty.
  • Now is the time to develop an interest in the arts.  Visual.  Music. Theater. Sports.
  • Use simple learning materials.  If it is too complex for you to learn in an afternoon, don’t use it with your children.  Keep is simple, and it will be.
  • Let them explore-with supervision, of course.
  • Use good literature.  Dumbed-down books and other media are everywhere.  Be as discerning about what you allow them to see and hear as you are about what they eat.
  • Challenge yourself to challenge them.  Look for the best, and try different things.  If it is too hard, they will let you know.  But you may be surprised at what they can and are willing to do!
  • Keep it basic.  (There are lots of basics.)  We have developed this idea that basics are to be skimmed over in order to get to the “good stuff”.  Sometimes, the basics are some of the “good stuff”.  And they always make the “good stuff” easier to understand, and more enjoyable!
  • Use units as much as possible i.e. the human body, the alphabet, mammals, the United States, Fairy Tales.  Studying things in ordered groups allow children to order them in their head, and begin to learn how inter-related the world is.
  • Make messes-and then clean them up when you are done.  Together.
  • Sing.  More.  Learning songs, fun songs, nonsense songs, gospel songs and hymns.  Sing.

Enjoy them while they are young!  Charles Dickens said, “I love these little people, and it is not a slight thing when they who are so fresh from God love us.”  I concur.