Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Balancing Being the Strict Mom with the Compassionate Mom

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a pretty no nonsense, take no guff, stand your ground kind of girl.  I once overheard my kids having a discussion with their best friends as to which of their Mom's was the most strict.  Without blinking their cute little eyes, all of them declared that I was. They agreed that they liked to come to my house cause we did fun stuff but they said they knew that I meant what I said the first time.  As a rule, I am fine with that.  But God has been doing funny things with my heart this year.  I think with Connor leaving for college, watching Caileigh battle medications with nasty side effects and fight being sick all the time, and seeing that my little man, Collin, is about to meet me eye to eye, I have become much softer. Tears come to my eyes much more often and with seemingly little provocation, which annoys me, but I think God is just softening my heart and I might need to yield my pride and go with it.

Before this year, I never had to fight the urge to let them slide on a paper or push back their assignment or not clean their room every week.  If I said it needed done, I mean right now.  But recently, I have had to stop and think about the ramifications of letting some things slide instead of just demanding it be done.  I may finally have an inkling of what my more compassionate friends who aren't on the Dominant side of personality tests, deal with. It's an interesting experience. Novel even.

However, things still need done and with the twins in high school this year it matters. So, here are some things I have had to do to balance being the strict Mom with the compassionate Mom.

1.  Know what matters.  Even with great homeschool curriculum, some assignments matter more than others.  The ancient history timeline may be something we can let slide but math really should be done each day.  If your kids just wrote an amazing 7 page paper, it might be okay to do their comprehension questions orally, while sitting and having tea and cookies. If they are getting all A's on their Science module test, it might be fine to skip the Quarterly tests.  If they are younger and they did 3 really great copy work sentences in their best handwriting, maybe let them dictate their history narration to you.  If spelling is making them cry, try having them write the words on the driveway or with paint.  If they really are struggling reading that new chapter book, offer to read every other page to them while while they read everything else to you, and have tea and cookies.  It's the learning that matters, not necessarily the assignment.  If you know and understand the goals of a subject and why the curriculum is having you do it, then you have a better idea of what in that assignment really matters. The learning and retention of the material should be the focus not the fact that you can check all the boxes at the end of the day.  Know what matters.

2. Know your children. When Caileigh was little, she was able to bamboozle almost everyone into believing that she couldn't read as well as she could  just so she could snuggle in their laps, and be read to. She never did it to me because I knew better, but I caught on after Daddy told me how concerned he was that Caileigh couldn't read as well as Collin.  She was more an willing to get out of anything 'hard' by saying that she was tired or sick.  I had to know her enough to call her bluff, "Oh, that's too bad that you are sick and have to stay home while I take the boys to the library and ice cream tonight."  It's funny now that she is actually sick and has bad days that she absolutely refuses to be let out of anything.  Today as I watched her tired eyes try to write a paper and fill with tears because the words just wouldn't come, I had to make her stop and send her to her room for a nap. As a Mom, I need to be a student of my kids and know what their strengths and weaknesses are and be able to tell the difference between faking it and being very sick.  This can be difficult and I have had some spectacular fails in this department which meant I had to spend some time really observing and watching my kids natural cues and learning their personalities.

3. Know yourself.  I can let the house slide only so far and then I lose my mind.  I know that if my kids rooms are not walk able, that's going to be a problem.  The bathrooms must be atleast wiped down and we need to do a quick 15 min put everything away in the main areas daily or I start to twitch. I have learned not to ignore these things because then I have to insist that everyone stop what they are doing and DO IT RIGHT NOW!!!!  If I just maintain these things then I can let everything else slide.  I also know that other than having the stomach flu, I feel better if we atleast do some read alouds,  quiet reading and Bible together, no matter what else happens.  It helps that we do math and LA all year round so we are generally ahead in those subjects so we can drop kick them if we need to.  Don't let your compassionate self go beyond the point of no return.  If you have let everything slide, whether it be school, discipline or the house, and you feel the need to yell and scream, then you need to reevaluate your boundaries.  Know yourself well enough to know where your line is and then don't go there.

If you are like me and are on the stricter side, you might need to reevaluate what really matters and let some things slide that don't  really matter and enjoy your kids and the process more.  They are little for so short a time, don't miss it because you have to check all the boxes.  On the other hand, if you never get anything done and you feel like a failure and feel the need to loudly express your displeasure when you've let things go too far, you might need to add some structure, evaluate what your goals are and what really matters and hold your ground.  Neither extreme is going to make a loving, peaceful, successful homeschool or family environment.  God calls us to continually grow and to strengthen our strengths and weaknesses so that we become more like Him.  Jesus was compassionate when the situation called for it but He also held his ground when it was necessary.  To be more like Him, we need to have both in our lives. 


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I obey right away! Re-do

Our family went tent camping this weekend which is always an adventure with three children. It's also one of those areas which can show you if your children have a heart of obedience. There are many times while camping that demand absolute first time obedience. For instance... "Don't touch the fire, actually don't go near the fire, no don't throw anything in the fire. No you may not slide down the giant rock face first. You must stay where Mommy can see you, no you may not feed the wild animal." Scott and I are very grateful that this weekend showed that for the most part our children had a heart of obedience. It was a little wet (okay, a lot wet) and we may need to work on doing everything without whining and complaining but nobody's perfect!

Here's an idea to start your obedience training with your little ones!
Idea one: Read the story of Jonah to your children. (you can also watch a children's video on Jonah) Ask your children if Jonah obeyed right away. He didn't, so what happened to him then? He was swallowed by a whale! God put him in time out in a whale! Point out to you children that God gave Jonah time to think about what he did and that Jonah needed to ask for forgiveness for not obeying right away. When we refuse to obey right away, usually bad things happen, things like time out or getting hurt. Perhaps you can remind your children of times that bad things happened when they didn't obey right away.

Play the obedience game. This is basically hide and go seek where the parent hides and the child seeks you. The rules: You must come right away . Your child must say “Yes, Mommy or Daddy” before they reach you. Oh, and one rule we added after our kids ran over each other, no pushing or shoving. When they reach you can simply give them praise and a hug or reward them with a treat. I think that bad behavior brings bad consequences and good behavior should bring good consequences.

Help your children memorize Eph 6:1 by singing it to the tune of Happy Birthday.
“ Children obey your parents,
Children obey your parents,
children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” 
Ephesians 6:1
(By the way, this song was not my original idea, I got it from a book teaching scripture memorization)

Make a badge that says “I Obey Right Away” to wear. This is both a good reminder for them and something fun to wear!

Once you've done these things and your children have the concept make sure and follow up every month or so with one of these as reminders. I also have my children recite Rules before we go into a store or a public place and "I obey right away!" is one we repeat often.

See also:

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Dawn's Granola

Several people have asked for my granola recipe and I usually say, " Start with this base but then double it, add this this and that, exchange this..." So instead of going through all of that I actually wrote it all down as I was cooking.  (Aren't you proud of me, Connor?)

This makes at least 18 cups, which is a lot of granola, so halve it if you need.
Preheat oven to 300*
In a large bowl mix these ingredients -
8c old fashioned oatmeal
2c in total of a mix of almonds, pecans, walnuts etc
1c organic coconut
1c in total of sprouted pumpkin seeds and sprouted sunflower seeds
1TBSP of chia seeds
1TBSP of ground flax seeds
1tsp of salt
1tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of allspice

In a smaller bowl mix these ingredients -
3/4 cup of melted coconut oil
1 1/4 c of organic maple syrup
2 egg whites
1TBSP of vanilla

Pour wet ingredients over dry until everything is covered and there are no dry spots.  Place on two foiled lined cookie sheets and put in oven.  Cook for 45 - 60 min stirring every 15 min until granola is golden brown.  Once golden brown, take out of oven and allow it to cool, and continue to get crispy.  Place in airtight containers.

I like to eat this over Greek yogurt and berries every morning, some like it as cereal and my family uses it as snacks.


Monday, August 31, 2015

A Coffee Shop Chat

I am sitting here in Starbucks waiting for the twins to be finished with robotics and I finally had a bit of time to reflect on the huge changes that have happened in our family in the past summer. Connor had a smooth transition into his dorm, which is the largest dorm room I have ever seen.  Clearly God loves him. The twins have started high school and for the first time in over 13 years, I am not directly involved in their day to day schooling as high school with our curriculum is designed to be student directed.  It's odd.  I did have to add a read aloud because I missed sitting and reading with them.  

I question how I got here and wonder where the time went.  Oh wait, it went into raising and educating 3 kids, maintaining a home, running VBS programs, Christmas programs, making countless meals, planning many Disney trips, and loving my hard working husband. 

It's fun reading posts on Internet forums from new homeschool Moms.  They are so excited, so scared, so anxious, so brave and it makes me smile and remember my beginning years.  I didn't really have anyone who homeschooled older children in my life at the time so I just read, haunted the Well Trained Mind Forums, prayed and stepped out in faith.  

So, for all of you new homeschoolers here's what I would say to you if you were at Starbucks with me.

1.  Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment.  I know every day lasts FOREVER but the years fly by.  Don't miss the moments, as a matter of fact, sit down and play with the play dough.  Push a bench up to the counter and let everyone help make bread, cookies, dinner, whatever.  The mess can be cleaned up when they watch Veggie Tales.  

2.  Make a schedule for everything you need to do.  I know this seems contrary to number one but it really isn't.  Schedule time to play, to read, to go to the park, for quiet time, to go to the library.  But also schedule time to clean, do laundry, make dinner, go shopping and for heaven's sake, schedule time for dates.  

3.  Find people to do life with.  Sometimes it can be your actual family but for many of us, me included, that's just not possible.  I have people in my life who are older than us who have taken the role of my parents and the kids grandparents, people who are our very best friends and we actually do life together.  Sometimes they are hard to find, sometimes they are right in front of you.  Sometimes, you need to be brave and ask that family at church to lunch.  Sometimes, they have to continually ask you because you've decided that you don't want to be friends with anyone, ever again, and all of a sudden you realize that God has finally answered your prayers for a like minded friend.  Be brave, take some chances.  It probably won't happen right away but you only need one or two and when God provides, it's one of life's greatest blessings.  I love the people we do life with,  they have become my family and unfortunately for them, they are stuck with me.

4. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.  Your kids don't need a best friend, they need a Mom.  I tell my sisters to, "Be the Mom!". What I mean by that is to take the reins and be in charge.  God gave us these wonderful little people but these little people don't know enough to be in charge, so that's up to you.  Don't allow them to be disrespectful to you or to anyone else.  When you say, 'no', make sure there is weight to that.  I don't have to yell or repeat my words because my kids knew that I meant what I said the very first time I said it.  Have consequences and rewards in place long before you are in conflict.  Train them in appropriate behaviors and then keep them to it.  Be consistent.  Trust me, do this when they are young and by the time they are teens, it is second nature.

5.  Let them know you love them, no matter what.  Their behavior, grades, rooms, can never change your love for them.  Pray blessing over them daily, do it out loud so they know that you are praying over them.  Even in conflict, let them know you love them and always will.

6.  Train them in excellence, perseverance and diligence.  We don't always get things right the first time but we need to keep going until we get it right.  Failure is okay but staying down is not.  We work hard and keep working hard until we get it right. This has long term consequences.  

7.  Don't get distracted!  Keep the most important thing, the most important thing.  When you are teaching, don't do anything else. When you are playing with your kids, play with them.  Along with that, keep your school as simple as possible and only add things when you know you have extra time and/or bandwidth.

Most importantly, make time to know your kids.  I was just saying today that what I miss most about Connor being in the dorms is the end of the day check in.  I don't regret for one second the time I spend talking, taking my kids out to coffee and just hanging out.  We love to be together and I love that.  I miss it when a member is missing but I love the relationships.


Saturday, August 01, 2015

Summer update

It's been a crazy busy summer.  It feels like I have spent most of it preparing or cleaning up after the children/ husband who lead very busy travel lives. I think Connor has spent maybe two weeks home the whole summer.  He has been given a scholarship to go to the Scratch 2015 conference in Amsterdam so we will have him home for a week, then he leaves for a week and then he has three days before he moves into the Engineering Honors Dorms at CU.  It's a good thing he staying close so we didn't have to factor in travel time.

  Caileigh has had an odd summer as we found out at the beginning of the summer that she has an autoimmune disease called Retinal Vasculitis which attacks the blood vessels in the eye and can cause blindness and/or brain damage.  God was faithful and protected Caileigh's eye.  Even though we didn't find it until the infection was at an 8 out of 10, Caileigh has no permanent damage which the Autoimmune Retinal Specialist ( bet you didn't know there was such a thing - me either) called miraculous.  We have been so grateful that God steps in and takes care of us even when we didn't know we needed it.  She will be on medication for the next 2-3 years to put the disease in remission.  She has been a trooper and has been so faithful to take her meds and all the supplements we put in place to help manage the side effects.  She has spent much of the summer reading, when she isn't traveling, taking care of her garden ( and making sure I take care of it when she's gone) and swimming.

Collin finally has hit his growth spurt.  He is getting tall and lean, except for his hair which we tease grows faster by the hour.  He has finally embraced the love of reading and now spends hours in his room just reading.  Every so often though, the lack of movement gets to him and he jumps up, thunders outside and kick the soccer ball around for awhile or convinces Caileigh to go to the pool with him.

It's funny being the Mom of all teenagers.  I always feared the teen years a bit.  I didn't need to, it has been so wonderful.  I can see however, that all the years of training and discipline really start to pay off.  I don't need to repeat things because they know I mean business the first time I say something.  I can just say, "15 min cleanup" and everyone jumps up to make the house presentable because we taught that when they were little.  They get along beautifully and talk respectfully to each other and us, because we never allowed anything else.  They are not perfect, neither am I, by any means but they are pretty great and I am so glad I spent those younger years training and retraining and Rae-retraining.  The fruit is beautiful to behold.


Friday, June 12, 2015


After a wonderful 9 day trip to Disneyworld, we came back and threw a graduation two days later.  It only occurs to me later, that scheduling things like that back to back may be crazy. It was also raining like cats and dogs so we did a ton of praying that it would stop for the party because the 60-70 people coming would be hard to fit in my living room.  It rained hard right before the party and then cleared up beautifully for the party itself.  

We did a co-graduation with our friends since the two graduates did much of their high school years together.  Neither of them wanted a formal graduation so we had grandparents on both sides for both kids give blessings and then we presented them with their diplomas.  It was amazing to have people that have loved and prayed for these kids give them a blessing and a charge for the future.  It was sweet and meaningful.

Given the chance, I always have something to say...

Our beloved Mr. Vic, Miss Mo and Alex kept us laughing and reminded Connor of how much he's loved and that he has people who are proud of him and are behind him.

Grammy and Papa continued the blessings by reminding Connor of his Godly heritage and by encouraging him to never step away from his faith.

I had prepared a whole speech but could barely get through the first few sentences.  I was far more emotional than I thought I was going to be.  I can't quite believe that he won't be here with us everyday.  I am so very pleased with who he is and am so excited for his future but a little sad for me.

Scott's speech was equally as touching. He gave a wonderful charge to Connor.

The graduates and their very proud parents.

The Hudsons and Grays, well behaved and nicely posed.

The Hudsons and Grays in their more normal habitat.

The fire pit and the S'more bar were very popular.

Silly String fight!

Our adorable Sophia with a prop from the photo booth.

Every graduate should have Mickey Ears graduation caps!

The S'more Bar

The official graduation selfie.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

You Can Do This!

Do you remember when you had your first baby?  The first moment you had with that sweet, little person? I had a long, hard labour with my oldest, over 36 hours of labour and hadn't slept in 48 hours and neither had anyone else in my general vicinity.  After Connor's birth and he had been bathed and fed and the 500 pictures taken with both sets of new grandparents, everyone left to go take showers and get food and sleep.  Finally, I was left with my little man.  I placed him on the bed and looked at him eye to eye and introduced myself, "Hi, I'm your Mom and I am going to try my very best not to mess up your life. "  Some may laugh and ask if I really made that little speech, but I really did.  I needed to verbalize my commitment.

When my twins were born, I merely promised them that somehow we were all going to survive this and prayerfully, thrive.  Thriving seemed like a reach with two newborns and a three year old but I was going to put all my efforts into making it happen.

When we brought home our children, each time seemed like a Herculean effort.  With Connor, everything was so new.  How did we know that the fresh salad and broccoli I was eating would cause terrible tummy aches in our newest little member?  When was he actually going to sleep the entire night?  We put a schedule into place, read all the books, talked to older, wiser people and made it work.  With the twins, we took a deep breath, read all the twin books, brought in a friend who had twins a year earlier and made it work, albeit with very little sleep.  With all of them we did survive and indeed, thrive.  I hold my memories of that time close to my heart and with much love.

When we start thinking about Homeschooling we often get a similar level of fear and nervousness.  Are we going to totally mess up our children?  Can we really teach them to read, to do long division, to diagram sentences?  Can we do this without losing our mind, killing our children, and still make dinner?  Is it just hubris to think we can do this better than the experts?  What will everyone say?  Are our in-laws or parents going to completely freak out?  Will our kids become unsocialized, social misfits?

That level of fear and questioning reminds me of the fear I felt when I brought my first child home from the hospital.  "Are you seriously going to let me go out if here with a child?  Do you really think I am capable of this?  What will I do if they cry or get sick or...".  With our twins, it was more of a, " Please don't make me go home!  There are not near enough adults at our house to deal with all of these children."

Homeschooling is much the same.  It's gonna possibly be the hardest, most draining, challenging, most rewarding and blessed thing you have done since bringing home your first baby.  I have found that now, 12 years into Homeschooling, I wouldn't give up even one moment of it.  I have put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and many a tear into three of the most amazing people I have ever met, and it has been well worth it.

So just like the little pamphlet that they gave me at the hospital on, "How to Take Care off Your Baby" here's your, "How to Homeschool and Thrive".  It won't be nearly enough information, just like that pamphlet from the hospital, but hopefully, it will give you some help along the path.

(Keep it Simple Sweetheart)
The temptation the first time you homeschool is to buy everything and more that first year.  One of your friends says that Sonlight teaches your children to love to read and someone else says that My Father's World has better Bible so it makes total sense to buy both and try to combine them.  You can't decide whether a spiral math or a mastery based math is better so let's do a little of both.  You've heard that homeschoolers are unsocialized so one of the first things you do is sign up for a Co-op two days a week as well as piano, soccer and choir.  Some of us, me included, buy twice as much curricula than we need each year and find it would take us 22 hours a day to get it all done.

I am here to tell you a little secret, homeschooling is less about the curriculum you choose than the way you put it into practice.  The best homeschool curriculum is the curriculum you get done.  Your child is going to have gaps in their education, they just are.  You cannot teach them every possible thing but you can teach them how to love to learn.  You can teach them how to find information, how to be diligent in their work and to persevere until they do understand and to keep searching until they find out the answer to that problem.  More curricula is never going to give you a child like that but you can.  You can encourage your child to ask questions and if you don't know the answer to say, " I don't know.  Let's go find out together" and then do it.  Not knowing something isn't a failure, it's just a stage of the process.  If we don't know something, then we just need to find out that information and not to stop until we do know.

We often feel that choosing our curriculum is the biggest factor in having a successful homeschool.  I would agree that it is important but it is no where near the most important decision.  We need to think of our curricula as the vehicle that gets us to where we need to go.  Our destination is our homeschool goals, we are the drivers (in high school our children may be the drivers) and our curriculum is merely the car we use to get there.  It may be luxurious with all the bells and whistles or it may be a Pinto which a badly needs a paint job. You can still get where you are going with either vehicle, the ride may feel differently but ultimately it is up to the driver as to whether we are going to make it to our destination.  We should never let the vehicle determine where we are going, we are the driver and it is merely a tool we use.

Especially the first year or two or in years that life is happening at the speed of light, you need to just keep it simple.  Figure out your goals, make a list of your "have - to's" and work on those.  I always recommend starting the year slowly.  I start at the beginning of August and add a subject or two a week and by week 5 or 6 we have added everything in.  I also recommend buying just the absolutes and start on those and only add in things as they are needed.  Do not start the year with an overflowing schedule, start slowly and make it successful.  Having everyone hate school (including you) at the beginning of the year isn't going to do anyone any good.  When you brought that first baby home you didn't over schedule.  You made things as simple as possible, homeschooling is going to be similar.  I will also tell you that the first 6 - 8 weeks in a school year are hard.  It takes everyone a while to get in a groove.  Don't change too many things in those first weeks, just start slowly and keep it simple.

Just DO It.

I talk to a lot of homeschoolers in the course of a year, hundreds on a slow convention year and thousands in a busy year.  One constant refrain I hear is that everyday life gets in the way of homeschooling.  I agree it does, but that doesn’t change the fact that we just have to do it. When my twins were a year, I herniated two discs in my lower back.  I was trying to sit down on the ground at a Church picnic with both babies in my arms and wearing a backpack.  I tried to sit down without using my hands and as I hit the ground I felt a pop and severe pain.  Over the next year, I spent ten months in Chiropractic Offices, torture sessions with Physical Therapists and finally in a Surgeons office.  Needless to say it was a crazy painful year with 3 hospitalizations and a major surgery.  It was also my first year to Homeschool.  There wasn’t a day that I wasn’t in pain nor was there a day when I felt like it was the perfect day to homeschool but it was something I committed to and I was determined to do a good job of it.  Connor and I spent many an afternoon doing school while the twins napped and I laid in bed.  It was hard but we did it.  So like the Nike slogan says, “Just DO It”.

I find it helpful to think of homeschooling as my job.  If I was in an office, I might take an occasional sick day but I would have to be really sick.  I wouldn’t plan on Bible Studies or take personal phone calls or spend time checking my Facebook page.  I would give my time to do the job that I was being paid to do.  I think homeschooling requires the same level of commitment.  It doesn’t matter what we feel like or how tired we are, we have to just do it.  Homeschooling is hard, it is demanding, it requires us to give patiently of our time, our energy and every ounce of creativity we have but it is worth every ounce of sweat, every tear and worth the determination to do it everyday no matter what life throws at us.

If it’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Right

Homeschooling is difficult.  It is a constant balance of doing the have to and the want to, it is balancing being the Mom and the teacher.  It means we balance several full-time jobs that all require our constant attention and still strive to have a well-ordered, happy home that our hard-working husbands can come home to each night.  It is a constant balancing act of plates that could all drop on our heads at any moment.  I live this constant high wire act every day and I understand the strain but I want to add two more plates to the act.  The balance of character training and that of academic excellence.

Often we hear that we must choose our priority in homeschooling, whether we are going to strive for character development in our children or that of academic excellence.  I think this is a faulty premise.  Character training and academic excellence are not mutually exclusive.  They are not an either/or proposition, they can be different sides of the same coin - a great homeschool environment.

One of the goals in our homeschool has been to train and prepare our children for whatever God has for them.  In Jeremiah 29:11 it says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  He has plans for our children and whether they are to be a wife and a mom or a Pastor or a Professor of Mathematics, I want them as prepared as possible to walk the path that God has set them on.  To do that, I believe that we need to focus on character development, spiritual disciplines and academic excellence.

Perhaps we are simply not asking the right question.  Perhaps the question isn't whether we should focus on character or academics.  Perhaps we need to simplify the choice by focusing on excellence.  The philosopher Aristotle said this, " We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit."  Perhaps this is what we need to focus on, striving for  excellence in whatever we do and making it a habit. If we are training our children in character, with patience and diligence, we refuse to accept unkindness or dishonesty.  If we are teaching our children, we refuse to accept a paper that is less than their best.  We need to calmly, lovingly and consistently ask for our child's best whether we are dealing with sibling rivalry, their bed not made or a math paper that is not done correctly.

Excellence should not be confused perfection.  I love what the actor Micheal J Fox says, "I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection.  Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business."  We are not asking our children or indeed ourselves to be perfect, we are asking for diligence and the perseverance to strive to do better.  We are not asking a child to get the answer the right the very first time but to promise them that we will keep going until they have it mastered.  We need to promise our children that they are not alone in this process but that we will be there to stand beside them encouraging and mentoring them.  We need to encourage them not to be okay with mediocrity but to strive towards excellence.  As parents and teachers we need to ask a little more of our children than they think they can can give, not to frustrate them but to nudge them to do their best.  Not their brothers best, or the best their friend can do but their best.

At the beginning of each year, my husband and I set goals for our children in three areas, spiritual, personal and academic.  We recognize that our children need all three areas to be properly prepared to do what God has for them.  They need to know and love God, they need to be able to get to a class on time with all of their books and be able to to have the education they need to succeed.  We want to stand beside them and say, "You have some wonderful gifts that God has given you.  Let's work on your strengths to make them stronger and strengthen these areas of weakness".  Let us not limit our children by failing to recognize that we need to ask for excellence in whatever they do, including academics, whatever they say and how they act.

You Can Do This, We Can Help

Every time I enter a convention hall, this phrase crosses my mind.  It perfectly describes how I feel about why I have spent 8-10 weekends in the past 3 to 4 years speaking and talking to homeschoolers around the country.  I want every homeschooler to feel empowered and have the confidence to teach their children if that’s what they have been called to do.  I want them to know that they are not alone, that help is there for the asking.  It also why I planned this event and roped my friends into helping.

The truth is that all of us need people.  We need people to go to for advice, someone to understand that this homeschooling is hard and someone to laugh with you when your best laid plans are all over the kitchen floor.  We need each other.  Don’t believe the lie that you are alone.  We all need community.  I find that I generally have a Mom or two that I go to who are farther along the path than I am, a friends or two who is at my same stage who can do life along side me and then several younger Moms who I can then help along their path.  We will all do a better job if we have community.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Living What You're Learning!

 Most of us grew up in a traditional school atmosphere.  There were desks in neat rows where we sat alphabetically and all of our textbooks fit inside.  When it was time for math or reading or history we all took at our textbooks and followed along.  When that class was over, we put the book and away and failed to think of it again.  We didn’t need to, that class was over for the day. When we start homeschooling many of us revert to what’s familiar - the traditional classroom.   I felt the need to just do what I knew, use a textbook, a workbook and have a little desk bought from a school sale and set up school at home. Fortunately, God and my husband had another plan.
In order to break out of that cycle we have to recognize several things:
1. In a traditional school setting we wouldn’t have more than one age group.
2. It is not necessary to stay in one room to school all day.
3. This philosophy of learning may not be the best learning style for active young minds and bodies.
4.  School can be fun and still be rigorous.

One of the main goals in our home school has been to teach our children to love to learn and we began to find that very difficult in the traditional school setting with all traditional school texts.

We believe that if we help our children to be life long learners because they love to learn then anything we might have missed, they will pick up on their own. Really, we think of it as one of our educational safety nets. If we raise children who maintain a child like curiosity and a joy of learning through out their life there is nothing that they cannot do. Einstein says, “ It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” We want to awaken and nurture that innate curiosity. We also want them to understand that learning and knowledge doesn't take one form. It's not just from 8:30 to 2:00 or only to be found in textbooks, learning can be found in many different places. Charlotte Mason, who was an educator in the early 1900's, had a motto for the children in her school which was, “I am, I can, I ought, I will.” but what I find more interesting is the motto for the parent and/or educators was, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Elsie Kitchling wrote in a 1935 Charlotte Mason's Parent's Review, “We have a definite mission – to bring the fullness of life to the children. It is more possible to carry this mission in a home schoolroom.” Those statements resonate with me. Education is an atmosphere that we can create but is also discipline, not everything is going to be fun and games sometimes we need to just memorize those multiplication facts but our mission is to make our children's education a way of life.

Multi-Level Combined Learning
How do we think out side the box? One of the easiest ways to immediately make an environment of learning is to combine your children's subjects as much as possible. My kids have Bible, History, Art and as much science together as possible. This allows you do all the projects together. This also allows you to have a commonality to talk about through out the day. The side benefit that I have learned of combining my kids is that they will play together about what they have learned about in school. Without any direction from me, my kids will build a Lincoln Log Jamestown or create an oasis in the Sahara desert for the Bedouins in the sand box.

Buy Curricula Early in the Summer
To start the process of thinking through the year, I buy my curriculum early in the summer so that I have time to look it all over. I read my Teacher's Manual all the way through and start notes on the main topics.
I take the time to look through all the books in my curriculum.  What do I have and what do I need?  We use a boxed curriculum as our starting place as it  saves me time and money and then I can start individualizing from there.  Spend time making a master list of major Bible, history and science topics to refer back to.  Make a list of your priorities for teaching that year based on your curricula.  If we have a plan ahead of time we are less likely to stray from our main goals and it allows us to evaluate opportunities as they come up.

Get your spouse involved.
My husband is a great resource for me, especially when it comes to fun and games.  I can tell him the main topic of what we are learning and he will begin his search for great things.  He’s a computer guy so he will always start there.  Amazon is his friend.  He also loves unique game stores and will spend time looking for games that we can play as a family.  If I share my prioritized list with him then he’s good at starting to think about and look for things that will enhance our school year.  The more our kids “live” what we are learning the more memorable it becomes.

Learning Vacations and Grandparents
Another benefit of planning early is that you have time to plan and schedule family learning vacations.  We usually plan one vacation a year that is an extended field trip.  When we were studying American History we went to Washington DC and Mt. Vernon.  When we were studying Colorado we traveled our state for several weeks to see what we were learning about.  When we were studying Teddy Roosevelt and the beginnings of the National Parks we went to Yellowstone in the winter and then followed up in the spring with 5 National Parks in 5 days.  When we purposefully schedule these things to coincide with our academic learning we begin to take learning outside the box and it becomes real to our kids.  When our little girl stood on the porch of Mt. Vernon and looked over the Potomac she told me that she understood why Pres. Washington wanted to come back to his home, it was too pretty to stay away from.  These things stop being academic and become understandable when our kids experience them.

We like to take Grandparents with us on these trips as it’s fun and they bring another level of understanding and it shows our kids that we are never to stop learning and that learning is a family event.  Plan some time to research.  Find some guides that will help teach your kids about where you are going.  Have a blank notebook for each child and each day day have them write a summary and draw a picture of where you went and what you saw.  I also like to have a read aloud that is specific to the place that we are going. Because we homeschool, we generally don’t have to visit places during the peak season. If we are going to a place that has historical significance, I like to have the kids do a time line piece before we go to fit into our master time line.  It helps us to mentally fit in where this place fits chronologically.  When you get home have your kids do a hands-on projects on one portion of your trip.  When we did our study on Colorado and spend several weeks traveling, my oldest did a report on the history of Colorado but more specifically a report on how our family got here.  My daughter took pictures of wildflowers everywhere we went and identified them and put them all together in a lapbook my other son did a diorama  of Mesa Verde and  wrote a short report on who lived there.  They had a great time and they learned a ton.

Early Learning
At the youngest stages of learning, that from about 2 years of age to 6 or 7 years of age hands-on learning is so important and the more fun school is, the more they want to learn. The more they want to learn, the happier every home school Mom is. As a matter of fact, at this age, I had to tell my kids that Mom had to stop teaching because I had to make dinner. I believe that at this stage kids need to feel it, touch it, live it in order to learn it. The more you can have them feel it, touch it, live it, the more they will remember and retain the information.
Here's some ideas for the youngest stage of learning.

Read a Book and then do something from the book. Reading about Jonah? Put a blanket over the table, open a can of tuna and talk about how bad that “time out” would be. Read “Give a Mouse a Cookie” and make cookies together – maybe make a mouse too and act it out.
Read a book about manners like one of these and then go act them out. You be the child and have them be the Mom. “Suzie, this is Mrs. Gray.” Your response as the child, “Hello, Mrs. Gray. How are you?” We had a little tent playhouse and we would take turns and model these behaviors.
To learn their letters sing the sounds and go around the house and tape letters on anything that begins with the letter they are learning. Then when Dad gets home have the child bring him around the house showing him everything that starts with that letter.

The Sand box is a great tool at this stage. You can practice writing letters, learn about erosion and build the Tower of Babel.

M&M math is one of our favorites. Teaching addition is a breeze. You have one m&m and I give you one more how many do you have? Two! Subtraction too. You have 4 m&m's and Mom eats two of them. How many do you have now? Oh sorry, you only have two. How many do I need to give you to make 5? Skip counting, addition and subtraction, multiplication and division can all be taught using m&m's and at the end we all get to have some. It's a win for all involved.

The point is not that you have to do some great big craft session or set up something elaborate. You can and many Mom's are great at that. I am not one of those. I am more of the, “Let's see what do I have right now that will help me explain and teach this concept well?” And by right now, I mean this very second. To have my twins practice math, I wrote numbers on the play food and made some quick “Grocery lists” gave them some accurate play money I had in a drawer somewhere and had them play store. One was the customer and the other the store keeper. They had to do the addition and give the money to the store keeper and the store keeper had to check their math. Then they switched. They played this way for hours each week and did more math then I ever could have gotten them do in a workbook. It took me approx. 10 min to set up and it allowed us to fulfill our goal, “to teach our kids to love to learn”.

Once our kids got passed that early Elementary stage, I had to start looking harder at what activities we could do that would catch their interest but would still help to nurture the love of learning that we had instilled earlier on.

Food and Cooking
 We love food and we love cooking together at our house and I have found this to be a great way to bring school into our everyday life. Studying fractions? Make a pie together. You'll get to talk about fractions as you cook and then you can teach fractions as you cut it up. When we first introduce fractions we have a pizza and pie night to introduce this concept in a fun manner. “We cut the pie into 8 pieces so right now we have 8/8th or 1 whole. If we serve one piece or 1/8 of the pie how much will we have left? 7/8th. If Daddy eats ½ or 4/8th of the pie what fraction of the pie is left.” Yes, we could do this with a manipulative but it's more fun and more memorable with food way and not only am I doing school but we've made dinner too! Cooking can be used in so many different applications. Learning about the beginning of the United States? Make Johnny Cakes or studying Ancient history? How about having a real shabbat or passover. Learning geography? Plan one night a week that you make food from around the world. There are tons of cookbooks out there that can help you plans these. Here's a few that I use all the time. ( The US History Cookbook, Celebrating Biblical Feasts, Cooking Around the World – Dawn's) This method is one of my very favorites as it accomplishes so much in so little time, my kids learn how to cook, we're making learning come alive, dinner is made and Dad gets to be involved in the learning because he gets to eat it with us. It's multi-tasking at it's best. My husband had a great time being the Lord and Master at the Medieval Inn night and we all learned how hard it would be to be a monk when we had pea soup, black bread and were unable to talk through the entire meal. We also learned so much when we did a full shabbat from Friday sun down until Saturday sun down. Not doing dishes is hard but spending a whole day resting and just being together was wonderful.

Toys and Games
I love to buy learning toys and games for my kids for presents. It's a good thing they have grandparents who love to spoil them and just give them something just for the fun of it because I am always looking for things that I can use for school too. This is also a great way to get my husband involved. Talking about home schooling theories and debating which book to use is not his idea of a good time but if I say that I need a toy or new games that will help cement some of the things we are learning in school? He's in and the bonus is that he'll usually play with the kids using these toys and games. Legos are one of these things that we love and I can use for school. When we were learning about the WWWI and WWWII, I bought several sets of the green army men and we used them to demonstrate trench warfare as well as play a few mock battles. Studying medieval history? Get one of the castle sets for a present. Two birds with one stone. Games are the same way. Scrambled States was a great game to help us memorize the states in a fun way outside of school. Settlers of Catan was a fun way to introduce the difficulty in setting up new settlements during colonization. A few comments about what we just studied and suddenly my kids understood more about how and why colonies were settled and how they depended on each other. When I go to a toy store I am continually thinking. “ How can I use this for learning purposes?”  What here can make our learning come alive? If I know my topics for the year, I can plan ahead.  As a matter of fact, while we were opening Christmas presents this year, my oldest son stopped and asked if the present he was opening was for fun or for learning? I told him it was for both. Thankfully, he really liked the present. As our kids became teenagers, these games morphed into game nights where we invite several other families to bring food and play games long into the night.  Most of the kids had no idea that we were buying and playing games that were learning games.  Settlers of Catan is a great game to beginning exploration and settlement.  Ave Caesar was played while we studied the Roman Empire, Lancaster was played while we were studying the Middle Ages and each player had to create a fiefdom.  We got Timeline so that our kids could memorize historical dates and have fun with their friends.  Pandemic was played while we studied Biology, Axis and Allies, during WWII.

Christmas Break
I love Christmas and I love taking a long Christmas vacation from school but I never feel good about not doing any school and I need something to help keep the kids and the Grandparents busy so I started planning Christmas unit studies based on what we were learning in school. This helps us to really enjoy the Christmas season, keeps what we are learning fresh in our minds but seems so different and fun. I always plan a Biblical aspect that helps us to keep the real reason of the season in the forefront of our mind, a read aloud aspect and crafts and food. When we were studying Rome, we read Jotham's Journey, made Jewish and or Mediterranean goodies and made Christmas ornaments that told the Christmas story. Last year when we were studying the 18 and 1900's we learned about Charles Dickens, read Christmas Carol, studied the Biblical truths evident in the story and made crafts and goodies that were applicable to that time frame. This year, as we have been studying geography and cultures we did a unit study on Christmas around the world. We read tales from around the world, made cookies and treats from different countries and made traditional Christmas crafts. We had a Christmas party with several families in which everyone brought food from around the world and talked about being missionaries to those all around our world. We ended our unit study by having a La Posada. If you have a friend who is home schooling too, Christmas unit studies are a fun way to get together and divide the work.

Bible Application
We can often find things that help us to make learning real for history, science or for our read alouds but how about for Bible?  When we think about it, this is the area in which we most need to be deliberate about taking our learning outside of the classroom but sometimes it’s also the area in which we struggle with the most.  I have found that opening up a discussion up with my kids about what we are learning in Bible and how we can take it outside our four walls has been the most enlightening.  Kids want to do something, they want to reach out and help and sometimes we just need to ask them what they feel like God is calling them to.  It was my kids idea to sponsor a child,  it was my kids idea to have a lemonade stand and to donate the proceeds to Bible translation because we had read a book about people not having a Bible in their own language.  It was my daughters heart for the homeless that had us start going to feeding centers or to canvas the neighborhood for extra canned goods for the food center.  One of my sons friends felt the need to raise money for children in Ethiopia so she talked to my son and their friends and they put on a piano benefit.  A bunch of middle school kids using their talents to play piano to benefit children across the world, absolutely priceless.  It was only our job to say okay, what can we do to help you?  We need to tell them that they can do great things for the kingdom of God, read them stories of people who did great things for God and then let them go.  Support them and no matter how busy we are, find a way to make it happen.  I want my kids to understand that they can make a difference all we need to do is pray about it and then obey. We can also be looking for books that help us explain this or bring the matter to mind with a different perspective.  Reading stories of people who did great things for God is a great way to also help our kids learn Bible application.

Older Kids

As my kids became teenagers and moved into Middle School and High School, we still tried to live what we were learning but it morphed a little.  We still do foods that relate to what we are learning and games and field trip but they have become much more social outings.  Now we take a group of teenagers to the Art Museum to study art.  If we are doing foods, we invite other families to do it with us.  Our game nights have been up to 40-50 people.  If we want our kids to enjoy this kind of learning we have to be willing to be the ones who are willing to have people over, set up the game nights, plan the museum outing.  It’s not always convenient and I have learned that a messy kitchen floor is fine, the teenagers don’t care and they will probably spill something anyway so I might as well wait until after the party before I clean.

The other thing I have learned with teenagers is that we have to start asking what they are interested in and helping them schedule and find the time to do what they are passionate about and helping them to live our their learning.  My oldest was interested in programming so we started a FLL team.  He loved SCRATCH and he spent a lot of time programming on it which led to him being asked to be a Curator and Tester, which led to him meeting some of the creators of SCRATCH which led to him developing an add on to control robots from SCRATCH. Which led to him speaking at SCRATCH conferences in Barcelona and MIT to Computer Science educators around the world.  He then taught kids in inner city LA and online basic programming and circuitry.  Kids that had never seen how computers and programming worked and began in his class to program basic games. Which thankfully led to some very prestigious scholarships so that he basically has all of his College tuition paid for.  Our daughter is interested in plants and gardening and read tons of books on aquaponics and she decided to set up a working aquaponics systems with fish that fed our family fresh herbs and vegetables last summer.  Most of the supplies were from earlier learning toys and scraps in our garage. When our kids were little our job was to lead them to the outside learning opportunities but now as our kids are older, our job is to say, “sure, let’s try it and see what happens”.

Stay on Task
Here’s where it gets hard.  There are a lot of great opportunities out there.  Opportunities that have great learning benefits but if we fail to stay on task then we will be so over committed to things that are not helping us to enhance what we are learning that the school year will get ahead of us.  We have to be deliberate and be able to evaluate what things will help us with our task of learning and what things will detract.  Great opportunities may come but we need to be willing to say, “not right now”.  It may a no answer for this year.  I know I have turned down opportunities to go to things because they weren’t what we were studying at the time but that allowed us to have time to go to something that really brought to life what we were learning about.  I know this is almost sacrilege to the homeschool Mom but we need to pick and choose what will get us the most ground.

Schedule Unstructured Time
We need to give ourselves time to think this way.  Schedule structured school for the mornings and work hard at it and then allow for unstructured afternoons where you can play a game together or cook a meal from your history book or have the kids build the Taj Mahal out of building blocks.  Don’t over schedule yourself and your kids so that there isn’t time for anything else.  Make your home an atmosphere of learning but don’t let it become a mark you check off.  Just like the parent and educators in Charlotte Mason’s schools we need to make “education an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”


Friday, April 10, 2015

Prepping for Convention Season

I know this is a repeat post, but ready or not, convention season is upon us! 

I am going to tell you that if you don't regularly go to a convention, you should.  Think of it as in-service training.  Actually, at a convention I spoke at last weekend, I had to sign papers for people who came to my sessions so that they got credit for on going training. I thought that was a brilliant idea and I think we need to consider the convention in that same light - on going training! Convention is your time to ask questions, pick people's brains, get your hands on that cool, new curriculum and get inspired.   You also never know what conversations with a  perfect stranger in some  booth will change your life or your children's life.  It is important.  In the words of Shakespeare, " Get thee to a convention!" Okay, lecture over.

For all of you home schooling Moms, you know what's coming? Convention season. 

For some of us, it's an exciting thought, for others it's a dreaded thought. I think we, as home school parents, should go to the convention every year, whether we like it or not. Why? Because it helps us to be better educated and if we don't need the education surely some newbie does and they could use a veteran's advice.

I happen to love convention season. I love going to conventions whether I am working the convention or attending the convention. I love all the books, all the new curriculums and the science kits, oh and the history add-ons and did I mention the books. (Seriously, where else can you buy owl pellets, a how-to knit book, a Bible and Historical comparison timeline, an Adventures in Odyssey CD, and a Laura Ingalls Wilder bonnet? That's awesome - I'm just sayin') I love that I could learn about how to teach reading and how to teach Calculus within a two hour time span. I love all the possibilities. It just makes me happy.

I am aware that the convention can also be an overwhelming, scary place full of too many options. So I have decided to give to you my list of convention prep. I have been going to conventions since I was 15. For those of you counting, that's a long, long, LONG time. First as a student and now as a Mom, so I have some well used practical hints.

1. Make time with your husband to pray and write out your goals for your home school and your kids. Click on Family Purpose for a basic "how to" on creating goals. Bring these goals with you to the convention to help you narrow down the choices.  This is a vital step in deciding to homeschool, picking curriculum and being deliberate in parenting and educating your children.

2. Read Debra Bell's "The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling" before you go. It will help you get an understanding of the types of curriculum out there. Veterens and speakers will toss arounds words like, "classical, Charlotte Mason, literature based, unit studies and lap books" and it will give you some understanding of what in the world they are talking about.

3. Go with a friend who has been homeschooling longer than you. Bring your husband. Pay a babysitter, bribe your mother or do whatever you need to do to have your husband come with you. My husband is a life saver at the convention. He sees the bigger picture and helps me to pick curriculum that meets our goals and he carries all the heavy stuff. I love that.

4. Make a list before you go of what you need. Don't go in blind, do the research, visit web-sites, message boards, e-mail me, talk to the lady at church that home schools to figure out what you need.

5. Make a budget - be realistic. I spend at least $1000 a year total on all three kids curriculum although with high school looming that number is about to jump, I fear. That $1000 looks a lot but check out what a private school costs. Some people do it with less, some more. I buy what we think is best for our kids. Sometimes that's the most expensive curriculum, sometimes it's not. Keep your husband out of your budget money. We have more books on the Roman Empire than I know what to do with.

6. Plan to go for more than one day. I find I need the first day for looking around and the second or third day for buying.

7. Our cardinal rule - NEVER BUY MAJOR CURRICULUM ON THE FIRST DAY. No matter what that amazing speaker says, go home( or the hotel room) think about it, talk to your husband, look at your goals and sleep on it. This has saved me a world of trouble. I can't count the number of times I have changed my mind after some thought and prayer and sleep. Trust me.

8. Wear really comfortable shoes and bring a sweater, notebook , pens, caffeine and chocolate. You can thank me later.

9. Plan time to shop. It's tempting to go to all the speakers but you need time to get hands-on with the curriculum. Ask questions of the vendors. Ask the vendors if their curriculum fits your goals. ( I love doing this - it saves me so much time) Don't be afraid to spend major time at a booth, especially if it's going to be your main curriculum ( think MFW, Sonlight, TOG etc). Ask me how much time I spent at the MFW booth before we decided it was the "one". David Hazell knew me by name and sight while choosing Kindergarten. It's also okay to just say that you need time with the Teacher's Manual looking at the curriculum. Do what you need to do.

10. Buy fun things to bring home to your kids. Buy a bonnet, a rubber Bowie knife, a game, a new Adventure in Odyssey and a new book to read. They will think conventions are great.

If you are not a home schooler and you just want great, God honoring books, CD's, games, devotionals, parenting books, how-to's on grinding your own wheat, whatever, the home school convention is a great place to go as well.
Hope this helps and hope to see you there!

Oh, in 2011 I will be at Colorado, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nebraska, Texas, California and I forget who else (there should be a couple more...). If you are also at any of these, come find me.  I can be found at the My Father's World booth or they will (probably) know where I am.  I love to put faces with names.


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Middle School Vision Casting

Often we see Middle School as just a stop gap between Elementary School and High School but it is a vital step to prepare our kids properly for High School so we can then properly prepare them for College or Career.

Middle School is the perfect time to teach independent learning, time management, stuff management, as well as start vision casting.  It is so important in these Middle School years that we spend time chatting with our kids about what they think they might be interested in. It is important that we tell them that God has great plans for their lives and we want to partner with God in that. Start talking about whether they see themselves going to college and if so, what colleges and for what.  Start asking them where they see themselves in 10 years. Allow them to dream and talk about their passions and desires, this is the time to talk to them about the fact that God has a purpose for their lives and it is our job to help prepare them for that.  Spend some time looking at careers and talk about schools that might help them follow their passions and God's will. Let them know, it's not time to make decisions, it is time to dream.  Want to be an Astronaut?  Okay, great, let's see what that takes. If they don't know, that's okay too, but maybe there are a few things they are interested in and see if we can pursue them.  This is a great time to let your Middle Schooler know that you believe in them and that you are willing to help them put in the hard work that it takes to follow their dreams. I read the book, "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell which talks about people who did extraordinary things, not because they were necessarily extraordinary but because they were willing to put in the work. He talks about the fact that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something and that's the difference between many people who do extraordinary things - the time and hard work expended.  We need to be telling our kids this.  They are smart enough to do whatever they want but are they willing to put the 10,000 hours of hard work in to follow their dreams? Caileigh often compares herself with others and generally puts herself in the negative. Last summer, I really started talking to her about the value of perseverance and hard work.  We talked about setting goals and then spending the time and hard work to meet those goals.  She set some big goals for herself and then put her head down and got to work.  I have never seen her so determined and hard working and she has met her goals and exceeded them.  It is so amazing to see and it has given her great confidence.  Not because I told her she could but because she has worked hours and hours and is seeing the fruits of her labor pay off and she feels good about her hard work so she works harder.  What a great life lesson this has been for my 13 year old girl.

Our job as parents is to take some of of their dreams and aspirations and help our kids get started.  If they are interested in Engineering, get them books, sign them up for Lego League.  If they show interest in Knitting, get them some books, and some cheaper yarn and needles and set them free.  Are they interested in physics?  Get some books and then some science kits.  Start little, then if they start showing more interest, dig deeper.  Talk to people who specialize in that interest and find out how they got started.  Be interested and help them see the possibilities and keep telling them it's possible with enough hard work.  If they decide it's not for them, that's okay, that's why you start with little things.  If they talk about being an Astronaut, don't start by sending them to Space Camp ( unless you are my husband, but he just needed an excuse to go himself) start by watching Earth to the Moon and playing Kerbal.

Start looking at Colleges that have what your kids are interested in and figuring out what requirements they need to get in. We started looking at Colleges with Connor at 12.  He wanted to go to MIT then and he still wants to, although CU is making a big play.  We started talking about what he would need to do then so that now, it is possible. That will help us to give some guidance to our kids and start showing them that we believe their goals and dreams are possible.

We will talk more about academics and skills needed in Middle School in the next couple of weeks but the first step is Vision Casting.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Senior Pictures!

We took Senior Pictures in October and while we were at it, we took a few family pictures.  I am still amazed that we are at this point, but as we are in the final stages of finding out which Colleges he's been accepted at, if he made it in the Engineering Honors Dorm at CU and the ever so important last and final stage of The Boettcher Scholarship, I suppose it's time to face the fact that my handsome boy is heading off to college next fall. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Best Mission in Life

Several years ago I took a very in depth Bible Study/Class on discipleship.  We read the Bible, we read Bonhoeffer and we even read a book by a Communist detailing how to pursue people to make disciples.  Through the six week class we had to pray and really delve into God's mission for each of us and to develop into disciple makers.  By the end of the class we were to enter into 2-3 mentor relationships.  At the time all my kids were little and I was struggling with God's purpose for me.  It seemed like all I did was say, "No" and clean up messes and teach basic reading.  I didn't feel used for anything important.

Through out the class I still felt less than as the other members were VP's of major corporations or Professors at a local University.  I learned something that changed my outlook on life.  God revealed His purpose for me, to make disciples of my three children.  My job was to enter into a teaching and mentor relationship with my three kids and that's how God was choosing to use me.  My very important job was to prepare them Spiritually, Emotionally and Academically for whatever God would have for them as they leave our home.  I felt appointed by God for this very unique position that only I could do.  It could only be me.  It was up to me to dedicate myself to this task that God gave me.  I wrote out my Mission Statement, my Objectives and Goals and have kept them close to me ever since.  There were days that I longed for a more glamorous task, an easier task, a task that allowed me to hire out the cleaning, the laundry and the whining.  It is the hardest thing I have ever done but it's also the best.  So Moms who are in the midst of the hard days, let me encourage you to spend some time in prayer, figure out what God is calling you to do, write it out and post it where you can see it, and then put your head down and get it done.    Every day I have to choose again to get out of bed, even when my back is out and it takes my 30 min of Pilates just to be able to leave my room and do what I am called to.  It is hard but it is oh so worth it.  I am grateful for every day I have been able to disciple and teach my kids.  I can see the fruit showing up in the lives of my kids and I know that Jesus gave me the best purpose ever.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Passion led High School

As we are entering the last semester of High School with Connor, and have had a surprising level of success both with admissions and scholarships, I have been asked several times recently about how we made Connor such an attractive prospect to schools.  Ultimately, the answer is God.  God has a plan for Connor's life and made him such a unique, wonderful guy that we knew God has paved the way.  That being said, there are some things that I have both seen in Connor's High School career and in the High School career of friends who are seeing the same level of success, that I think can be quantified.

1.  Excellence - We have always pushed our kids to strive for excellence, not perfection, but excellence.  If we are not as good at something or don't get it right the first time, that's fine but we will not move on or give up until we understand. If they got a problem wrong in math, that's fine but we work on it until we get it right.  Understanding is the key and we work on something until we know it and can do it successfully.

2.  Failure is an option -  we have tried to instill in our kids that we should always try.  We might fail but then we just get up, brush ourselves off and try again.  Failure is just an opportunity to do it again, but better.  What if Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Edison gave up at their first sign of failure?  The world would be a much worse place.

3.  Middle School is vital - Middle School is where we ramp up, it's where we start making judgements on the world, it's where connections start making sense.  Middle School is where we really have to start paying attention to our kids passions.  It's where we start talking to them about what interests them, what makes stand up and pay attention, what makes them tick. It's also when we start dream and aspiration casting.  "What do you think you want to do?  What colleges do you think you are interested in?"  At this age, we set no limits.  Cambridge, Harvard, MIT?  Sure, all of that is possible but it's going to take WORK!  Academics needs to be really kick started in Middle School because it's where we prep for High School which is where we prep for College or Career.

5.  Follow their Lead -  In or Around Middle School we really started paying attention to our kids interests.  When we went to the library, I would tell our kids to get a history and a science book they were interested in.  I started paying attention their choices and patterns started emerging.  Caileigh picked out gardening books and books on gross germs and diseases.  I gave her some seeds and a patch of the garden and got more books on Biology.  Connor wanted books on programming and inventors.  We started him on Scratch and started looking for First Lego League teams.  Collin likes facts, physics and Legos.  We started buying more Physics books and talking about what things he likes to build.  We asked why they were interested in those subjects.  What would they like to do about those interests?  Tried to find people in their life that they could talk to about those interests.

6. In or around 8th grade, we have them read, "How to be a High School Super Star" by Cal Newport. This is a great book that talks about following a passion, not only following but purposely structuring time and energy both towards finding a passion and then following that passion.  We also like them to read, "Do Hard Things" and "Start Here" by the Harris brothers.  We want them to do hard things in God's kingdom and these books are a great starting place. This is also a great time to discuss that we can be workers in God's kingdom without following the traditional path of Pastor and Missionary.  For kids who want to do God's will sometimes they can miss the fact that God can use them in many different areas.  Connor has taught inner city kids Computer Science and witnessed to Professors in major secular universities by being involved in Scratch and SNAP!.  God created our kids and will work His will into whatever paths He leads them in and our kids need to understand that.

7.  Structure High School to allow time to follow their passions. - I actually struggled with this with Connor.  I had a pretty rigorous plan in place before I read, "How to Be a High School Superstar" and I struggled with the thought of changing those plans.  After much prayer and discussions with my husband, we restructured.  I kept a base level of an academically sound education in History, English, Arts and Foreign Language which would prepare Connor for college but then ramped up Math, Science and Computer Science.  We also gave Connor extra time in his day to work with Scratch.

8. Be willing to say, 'yes' and follow through. -  Looking back I can see several times that we could have said , 'no' to Connor because it was too hard, too time consuming or too far fetched which would have completely changed Connor's High School career.  It is hard and sometimes it seemed completely far fetched, like Connor actually be invited to speak to Comp Sci a educators in Barcelona.  I mean, who expects that a 15 year old can figure out a problem that graduate students at Berkely haven't been able to?  We said 'yes' and allowed Connor the time to do so and he did.  We said 'yes' when they were interested in First Lego League (FLL) and started a team.  We said 'yes' to Caileigh when she was interested in Aquaponics and Scott spent hours helping her figure the system out and she did and successfully built an enclosed system with fish and plants which then fed us with fresh herbs and vegetables.  It does add more work and time and sometimes money.  Start small with their interests, buy seeds and give them a plot of ground with some library books if they are interested in gardening.  If they are interested in knitting, buy them cheap needles and Wal-Mart yarn and see if they follow through.  If they do, take the next step.  Find a class for beginners to help them and then watch to see what they do with it.  When we did FLL we discovered that Connor didn't like building the robot, he liked programming the robot.  We took that and moved in a different direction. It takes a lot of work on a parents part to say, 'yes' but ultimately it is worth it.  I know it can seem really expensive but I can also see where God supplied the money when we needed it.  Sometimes the kids worked for the money, Grandparents have helped out or we had an unexpected extra job to help pay.  Now, it is paying off in scholarships.