Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Musings on Testing

A Word About Testing

For the umpteenth year, I am sitting in the coffee shop drinking my tea waiting for my kids who are taking the standardized test.  In our state, we have to take tests every other year starting with 3rd grade.  We do testing every year as we want our kids to be comfortable with the process long before it really matters in high school.

When my kids were younger, testing time was incredibly stressful for me.  When they were testing, it felt like I was being tested and I didn't have any control over the outcome.  I didn't sleep, I stress ate and I was a general mess.  It felt like my entire worth and job outcome was in the balance.  Now, however, I look forward to it.  I get to sit and drink tea, read a book, and relax.  Yes, relax.  You heard me say it, relax.

I think there were a couple of realizations and events that changed my attitude about testing.

- It's just a momentary snapshot  in time.
When the twins were in third grade, we got the test prep book, like I do every year, learned how to fill in the bubbles (because we don't ever do that in our homeschool), got the feel of reading the test book, made sure to read all the directions twice and check every math problem.  The day of the test arrived and I hugged and prayed over my kids and went and proceeded to bite my nails for the next several hours.  When I picked up my kids, they were ready for the after test ice cream and I asked how it went.  Connor and Collin said they the thought they did fine and I asked Caileigh about her math test and she said in her little cute voice, " It was easy peasy, Mommy!"  We happily went for our ice cream and I impatiently waited for the results.  I got the results back and found that the boys did really well and I was very pleased.  I opened Caileigh's test and all her LA and reading tests were very high and most of her math tests were great but then there was one at 18%.  18%? How in the world could that happen?  I took a deep breath and called Caileigh.  She bopped down the stairs with a smile on her face and then I asked in a non-smiling, irritated voice, "Caileigh what happened in your test?" Her sweet smile faded and she took a breath and replied, " I was bored with the test so I filled in the dots to make a pretty flower."  Horrified, I asked, " Did you even read the questions?" "No, Mommy, I just made a flower." "A flower? You made a flower?" Her big brown eyes filled with tears and I was stunned by both the fact my daughter scored a 18% by just filling in the dots and that I had handled this all completely wrong.  I had no words and I sent her to her room. I have had to spend many years undoing the damage I did in that moment.  I had to come to realization that a test is just a small moment in time and the results can be changed by a whim (like making a pretty flower pattern), an upset stomach, a headache or even just uneasiness in the surroundings.  That's all it is, a moment in time.  It doesn't really test what they know, it tests how they test and regurgitate information.  It has its place, but very little real weight should be placed on the results.

-A test or a grade doesn't define who you are.
My best friend tells a fantastic story about her mom and her brother.  When the son was little, he struggled with reading and learning problems and came home with a failing report card.  He was so sad and felt so dumb.  Taking a look at her son's face, she took the report card and set it on fire out on the grill and looked at her son and told him, "A grade doesn't define who you are."  That boy is now a Professor at a University in Arizona.  I love that story, and those words have been what I have used to help undo the damage I did with Caileigh.  I used those words with Connor when he had a panic attack right before the SAT's because he forgot his Scientific Calculator and we had to rush to get him a new one and it left him so flustered that he bombed the test.  "This does not define who you are. This is a snapshot in time.  You are a beloved child of God who is a genius with Computers, writes amazing piano compositions, a great teacher to underprivileged kids and well loved by your family. Not to mention you can take this test two more times. No sweat."  Those tests also don't define who I am as a teacher.  I am a beloved child of God, a well loved wife and mom and a hard working teacher who wants the best for her kids and my kids scores do not define who I am or even a good reflection on he job I am doing with my kids.  They don't show my kids character, they don't show what great writers my kids are, they don't show the diligence my kids have when facing a hard math problem.  They don't show how well my kids understand the cause and effect of history, or how deeply they understand their reading. They show how well and how quickly they can regurgitate information, just like Google or Siri can.

So why test at all then?

We test every year for several reasons. One, it trains my kids in how to take a test which is an important skill for high school and college.  Two, it gives me a guide in picking curriculum and spotting weaknesses.  If all of my kids were all lower in mental math then I can work on that.  Sometimes, it shows that I need to spend a little more time focusing on punctuation.  We realized with Connor that while he scored really high overall in everything, his pre-algebra  skills were his weakest test.  He passed AP Calc with flying colors but his lowest score was on fractions.  So, we reviewed those before he went to college and have the twins doing more daily review of past topics. I use it as a tool to help me figure out their weak spots.  That's all they are, a tool.

We have found that having academic goals each year and then working on tracking those goals each year are a much better litmus of how they actually are doing.  It's also a much better litmus test on how I am doing as a teacher.  Am I meeting their needs, shoring up their weaknesses and helping them soar in their strengths?  Is my relationship with them strong?  Can they take constructive criticism, am I teaching them diligence and perseverance?  Am I helping them to meet their goals?  Am I pointing them back to Christ? All of those questions are a far better test of my teaching ability than whether they picked out all the wrongly spelled words.ategories:

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Dealing with Selfishness


Bible Verse - “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important command.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:37-40

One of the best ways to combat selfishness is to introduce the idea of service.  When we learn the Golden rule in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them - this is the Law and the Prophets.” we are learning that putting others needs first or serving is what God wants from us.  Even a toddler can pass out a snack , “ Oh, you want a snack?  Can you give your brother and sister these crackers first? Then you can have your snack.” As they pass the snack out make sure you praise the toddler and have their siblings thank the toddler for serving them. Anytime a child wants a drink, a snack or a treat, is a great time to have them serve each other.

Even cleaning up their toys is an act of service.  We can say, “ Okay, let’s all straighten up so that we can serve Daddy by having a nice clean house to come home to.”  I remember handing my little twins their toys to throw into the toy bin one at a time.  Could I have done it faster myself? Sure, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was to train them into straightening up and that we serve each other by cleaning up after ourselves. 

If you bake cookies, make extra and take them to a neighbor before you enjoy the cookies yourselves.  As your kids get older, take note of the elderly neighbors and go out as a family and shovel their driveway as you shovel yours.  In our family, we always said, “ We are the J.O.Y. (Jesus, Others, Yourself) Patrol .  When we put Jesus first, then others and only ourselves last, we not only bring JOY but we get JOY in return."

To serve others outside our home we may write letters to our Compassion kids, send Operation Christmas Child boxes, make and give Blessing Bags to the homeless, serve in homeless shelters, go on Mission trips, pray around our neighborhood, bring meals to those who need it etc.  By middle school, we expect our kids to be serving  outside our home atleast once a week.  We thought it so important that we made service a requirement of graduating from our homeschool. We serve those inside our home by cleaning, cooking, yard work, taking care of the dog, laundry etc.  It’s important to have both realms of service, inside and outside our home.

When I notice a child struggling with selfishness, I make a concerted effort to give them service opportunities and remind them of our priorities.  We are to put Jesus, others, and then ourselves and when we mix that up, we bring everything but joy with us.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Character and Academics Matter

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 developement 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 propsition, they can be different sides of the same coin - a great homeschool enviornment.

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 developement, 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 except 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 perseverence 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.

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, whatever they say and how they act.


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.