I loved winter break as a kid, a student, and as an adult. I love the opportunity to take some time to reset, renew, and rejuvenate before the new year begins.
This time of year offers a great opportunity to reconnect with family and friends (something I think we all need more of this year). It also offers the ability to slow down; remembering this time of year is not about us.
Winter break is also notorious for creating conflict with children, turn off our brains, getting out of routine, and all-around can be a formula for disaster (something no one wants more of this year).
We have learned for our winter refreshment some simple steps that decrease conflict and increase the quality time (all while keeping our brains fresh and working for the coming semesters).
Set a routine: It is really easy to let our kids run amok during school breaks. After all, it is vacation time, right? Ture, but when you plan a vacation to Disney World or on a cruise, you have an itinerary. Why would you not have a similar concept for your stay-cations? We have found that even the littlest routine is in place, behavior and attitude are much better all around. Our vacation routine consists of ensuring all chores are completed, some reading is done, some time outside playing, and perhaps a craft is done before turning to any computer or television screen. For some more tips on screen time, check out my blog Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy?
2. Join a Reading Program: Words have power.Books have power. For those who follow me closely, it should come as no surprise I incorporate reading into our lives – even on vacation. A great way to incentive this (and keep our brains working), is to join a reading program. This is a great way to keep kids (and adults) reading year-round, but especially during school breaks. Many local libraries have winter break challenges. We particularly like Beanstack. This site allows you to find local reading challenges near you (or create your own). Many challenges have tangible rewards.
3. Plan at least 1 outing a week: Many are averse to this for money’s sake and others are adverse to this for COVID-19 sake. I understand both of these. However, neither should prevent you from getting outside and enjoying the beautiful world around you. For those concerned about money, many zoos and museums offer great deals for the year for family memberships. For those worried about COVID-19, a hiking trail is a great way to be outside, seeing nature and enjoying the beauty around you. Either way, getting outside your home once a week during the break prevents Cabin Fever from setting in and taking over.
4. Give a Project: This should be something they can do in the allotted time. Projects offer a way to feel productive and successful at the end of the break. More importantly, if you help your child with the project, it can be a great time for bonding and making memories. Some projects to consider for winter breaks: rearranging the room and painting it (let them choose the color and help); painting a scene or picture onto a canvas, building a new bookshelf (or re-purposing furniture). For those with younger children, some projects might be arts and crafts, sorting through toys they no longer want, writing a comic book, or a story with illustrations. If your child plays an instrument, this is a great time to give a new song to practice and then a recital at the end of the two weeks to celebrate.
5. Schedule Active Family Time: I love family time. My family tries to set apart an hour a day to just be with family – no screens, no phones, no distractions. But, that can be difficult (especially with my and my husband’s jobs). How do we manage? We set a specific time and put our phones on silent or away (we do have to keep them out sometimes due to the nature of work). Then, we let our son pick the activity. Often he picks games (we like games a lot in my family). Sometimes he picks art or going for a walk or bike ride. Then we do that. It is our time to invest in each other. Some of our favorite family games are Shut the Box, Speak Out, Apples to Apples, Quiddler, Phase 10, Uno, Pictureak, Boggle, Scrabble, Concept, Clue, and Sorry.
We are hoping this winter break is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. May these simple tips be as useful to you as they have been for us. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good break! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our family to yours.
When people meet my son, they are often taken aback to learn he has a special need. We are often complimented on how well behaved he is and how polite. But, life was not always that way.
When our son was younger, could not speak at age five, and could not communicate to us anything without grunts, hitting, and kicking, we often felt like Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller.
One Christmas, when he was younger, I remember walking into a store and my son pulling the most epic of tantrums because he could not get the toy he wanted. This was literally five minutes into walking into the store.
He threw himself on the floor, kicking, thrashing about, and screaming like a banshee. Words did not help.
The stares started. The condescending looks. My husband and I were faced with a choice: give in and get him what he wanted so badly or stand our ground.
I am stubborn…we stood our ground.
My son did not expect what I did next. My husband continued with the shopping trip while I hauled our son (kicking and screaming) back to the car. I then put him in his seat, shut the door, and stood outside in the safety and relative peace and quiet.
My son spent the next 15 minutes kicking, screaming, and hitting everything he could reach, in the safety of the car and seat. I was there ready to open the door at any moment should he become unsafe, or once he calmed down. The windows were rolled down a bit (all safety precautions were met).
Once he calmed down (and stopped seeing red), my husband and I were able to talk to him about his behavior and how that was unacceptable.
This was our turning point. This was when I began to dig into every parenting book for strong-willed children I could get my hands on, every podcast, Ted Talk, everything I could find out about our son’s needs, how his brain worked, and how we could help him overcome the challenges he was born with.
Here are the top 9 things we learned about how to prevent and stop meltdowns, tantrums, and mayhem.
1. Start Small: If your child is anything like mine, then you probably want to tackle everything at once. Potty training. Tantrums. Cleaning. Manners. Unfortunately, we do not learn that way. Pick one to three things you want to focus on. We chose behavior in a store and classroom and transitions from preferred to non-preferred activities.
2. Prep: So often I hear of parents who cave in the market check out line when their child starts a tantrum. Or parents tell me of how exhausted they are from calls from the school and parent-teacher conferences. I get it. We could time the first call from the school to the exact day in the school year (Monday week three). We once had three parent-teacher conferences in the first week and a half of school. What we learned, prep. Prep the child with what is expected of them and what they will earn if they accomplish it. Prep the teachers what is expected of both child and teacher. Teachers have to be on board. We had a system where I texted the teacher daily what our son was earning and the expectations. This was helpful for consistency throughout the day.
3. Be Consistent: I am a big proponent of this and will say it again. Consistency is key. If your child thinks he plays a parent against the other, if she thinks she can get away with something at school and not at home, if a child sees a weakness in defenses anywhere – they will exploit it! Be consistent and work as a team.
4. Incentivize: I get the most push-back on this. “I don’t want to bribe my child.” “I don’t want my child thinking they get a treat just for making choices expected of them.” “I don’t want to bribe my child.” I get that. First, an incentive is not a bribe. A bribe is reactionary – an in the moment choice: “If you stop throwing a fit, then I will get you the candy you are hollering about.” This teaches the child that enough public humiliation for you as the parent gets them what they want. An incentive is a contract. A contract between parent and child of what is expected on both sides. If you keep your hands in your pocket in the store/if you use please and thank you/if you finish your homework without asking, then you get a balloon/piece of candy/star on your chart. This is actually a great way to start teaching finances and economy as this is a practice we adults use daily. Work an hour and I will pay you $10.00, don’t complete the work well, and you are fired. Instead of hourly work, they are doing task work – like an independent contractor.
5. Diet: Food affects behavior. Food was not something we originally tracked. I am so glad we did. By tracking his food, in combination with behavior, we learned that within 24 hours (to the minute) of having dairy, our son would have very negative behavior. We learned that when he ate a lot of processed food, high sugar foods, his focus decreased and his attitude was negative. We later learned this was because he was having stomach issues (he couldn’t tell us his stomach hurt). A great cookbook that helped us get started on a healthier diet for him is The Brain Food Cook Book, written by a mom of a special need’s kiddo. I have to say, some of our favorite recipes are in this book, and the tips on how to do this without breaking the bank and how the brain works is incredible. Our son’s neurologist concurred and said it was because of his diet and his oxidated stress regime, our son did not need medication for his migraines and other neurological issues.
6. Medication: If you can avoid it, I personally recommend avoiding medication. In our experience, when Kennedy Krieger doctors told us they don’t know enough about the need and effect of medication long-term on children, we were very hesitant. However, the school system we were in at the time, told us without medication they would not teach our child. The daycare echoed this. (NOTE: This is not legal, and we should have fought it, but didn’t know at the time we could). The medication prescribed was only approved in adults with heart conditions. The bi-product was helping with behavior in children, but no long-term studies had been done. We later learned (three years on the mediation), that there were studies showing his medication could lead to cancer long term. They did help. If that is what you think is best for your child, do what is best for your child.
7. Oxidated Stress: This an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can lead to cell and tissue damage. This occurs naturally. There are some peer-reviewed studies showing this affects everything from thyroids (almost 5,000), cancers (nearly 90,000), ADHD (nearly 2,000), and Autism (nearly 3,000). How do you combat this naturally occurring process? Fruits and vegetables are a start. We also switched to “clean” cleaning products (chemical free), decreased screen time, and increased time outside. We incorporated Protandim into our life. After a month on this vitamin, our son’s monthly to quarterly ER visits for stomach migraines decreased to none in the past three years, our son’s focus and attention increased (he is 11 reading at a ninth-grade level and taking a college music course), and he has been completely off medication for three years (taken off under the care of his physician). We get ours from Life Vantage (patented formula).
8. Track: It is important to only start one behavioral change at a time. Introducing too many variables at once will not let you know which ones do anything. We started with diet, then added medication, then dealt with oxidated stress – which eventually got him completely off medication. Track measurable things – how often the school calls, grades, attention while reading, how long it takes to complete a task. Below are some great resources we used, and use, to help us. I recommend making them editable and laminating them. This reduces waste and allows you modify based on age and behavior. Dry erase markers work great on these.
9. Celebrate and Recycle: Celebrate the win! Talk with your child about how proud you are of their progress. Celebrate the hard work it took them to accomplish that goal. Then, start the process over on a new behavior or more advanced behavior. Humans should never stop learning and growing. This is especially important for children. When one thing is mastered, move on to the next level or new behavior.
For more ideas on how to help avoid meltdowns and mayhem, take a look at my Facebook page.
October starts this week. A time of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins. Kids are discussing who to go as for Halloween – if trick-or-treating is even going to be something they can do. Fear is abundant as we look at the last quarter of the year, fiscal health for the holidays, and the fear of sickness. All things scary.
This month I am hoping to tackle some of the scary things I get asked about when it comes to parenting a special. The number one questions I am asked about is what happened when we found out about the life-changing diagnosis; I recommend checking out The Moment for more on that.
Today, I am going to attempt to tackle one of the scariest things people deal with in life – finances. This is a constant fear for most, especially as the unemployment rate rises in America. I was blessed to have parents who taught me the value of work and a dollar. Because of these lessons, I graduated with my undergraduate degree debt-free and paid off my student loans for graduate degree 2.5 years early.
Understanding finances starts young and should be taught in all households. A good understanding of finances will lead to less stress, less debt, and a healthier economy.
How do you teach finances to children? It can be hard, especially if you do not feel comfortable with finances in the first place. So here are six steps we use with our kid to help him understand finances as he gets older.
1. Talk about it: One of the most common things I hear from young adults is they do not know anything about finances. And really, why should they? We stopped teaching it in schools and 62% of America is in credit card debt with 62% of credit card debtors as college graduates! I often encounter people who explain their collection accounts, late payments, and bankruptcy due to being “young and immature.” This is really a claim of ignorance. If we want our children to be out of debt, we have to teach them from the get-go. We have to let them know that food they eat costs money, that light they are using costs money, and those clothes they like cost money. That money only comes from hard work. There is a balance. Talk about it.
2. Teach work ethic: Chores are an excellent way to teach work ethic. Having chores for as long as I can remember, taught me to balance, allowed me to work multiple jobs in college while going to school time and a half (and having a social life), and how to creatively think through problems. Work ethic will benefit children, families, and communities. Good work ethic is reflected in showing up on time and completing the task on time the right way with a good attitude. This should be reflecting in their chores and school work. Teaching these young will help ensure our children have this ingrained in them when they enter the workforce. A good work ethic will lead to better opportunities through more recommendations, higher bonuses, and promotions.
3. Teach giving: This is essential and often left out of finance conversations. If you don’t want to give money, try volunteering. This is a great way to change perspective and priorities. Financial giving is financially sound. This helps encourage budgeting by helping you shift priorities. We practice a 10% rule with my son. It is an easy number mathematically for him to understand. Whenever he gets money (for work done or as a gift), we immediately take 10% and save it for whatever he wants to give to. Sometimes it is the church, sometimes it is the zoo, sometimes it is buying a meal for a homeless person. He gets to pick.
4. Teach saving: This one is hard for most people in our instantaneous world. We are gratified instantly in almost all we do in the first world. We watch as three bubbles pop up on a screen showing a response to our message. We can stream almost any movie and binge-watch entire seasons of shows. Waiting is not something Americans, and most first-world people, are comfortable with. Saving is something that can actually financially save you. To help our little one, we also immediately take 10% of his money and put it into savings. This is what is used for unexpected expenses as adults (the car tire blew out or pipes blew). This account can also be used to save for vacations, new toys, and special experiences. Our son is saving toward a trip to Sea World to meet marine biologists and a loftier goal of adding a red panda exhibit to our local zoo.
5. Teach taxes: As a political scientist, I find teaching this concept is really difficult. Taxes are often taken right out of the check upfront, so when you calculate a budget, this number is very important. Taxes are designed to pay for things like that pothole-free street you drive on daily. Taxes pay for that public library and park you enjoy taking the kids to. Taxes pay for those firefighters who fight fires so you don’t have to. Taxes are helpful to each community. Taxes are paid either upfront or on tax day, but they are paid. We teach our son this but taking 10% of his income immediately and setting it aside in a Taxes account. This way, when he breaks something in the house (which is inevitable), the money to fix it is there. He paid his taxes, so that glass/towel rack/doorknob, etc. he broke can be replaced. The household tax teaches him about the income tax and where that money should go. A great resource for kids on taxes and finances is Finances 101 for Kids: Money Lessons Children Cannot Afford to Miss.
6. Teach budgeting: Budgeting is hard. It takes self-control and patience. When practiced regularly, it is actually quite easy and helps prevent that dreaded debt we all hate so much. Teaching our children this valuable tool is life-changing. Budgeting ensures you always have enough money for what you need and those things that are important for you. It also helps you shoot for a goal. If your hourly $10.00 job is insufficient, it gives you a goal target for where you want to be. Below is an excel spreadsheet that we use for our kiddo that helps. It is filled in with an example. Sometimes seeing the budget in black and white helps change a concept to concrete practice.
Schools are back in session across the world. Parents are all giving a collective sigh of relief. Lunches are being packed, backpacks filled, and routine starting again.
But, along with school and routine, are tests, quizzes, and the inevitable paper. Students across the world are giving a collective groan.
Schools do not teach time management, study tips, or note-taking anymore. These are all things that are supposed to be innate in our students these days. I disagree. I find these skills to be essential, not just academically, but professionally and personally as well.
Studying is an essential part of being a student in school or a student of life. These steps are used by my son at home who is reading 3 grades above grade level. These tips are especially useful for kids on the spectrum and help alleviate some of the stress that comes with school. Here are 9 tips to help you ace that next test.
1) Listen and pay attention: This sounds so simple. In reality, this can easily be the hardest thing to do; especially if you have a mono-tone teacher, or find the subject taught to be boring. Listening (not just hearing, but really taking in the information) is key to comprehension. Pay attention is not just listening, but actively listening. Ask questions. Be engaged. Be willing to learn.
2) Make sure you understand the material: It is really easy to think you understand the material in a lecture, but then get home and realize you have no idea what happened in that class. So, make sure you understand the material. A great way to do this is to use elaborative integration and self-explanation. Elaborative integration is asking how this information actually affects other areas of study or your life. How does math affect your career choice? How does the history of politics affect your personal life? Self-explanation is essential. Summarize the class to yourself. Teach yourself. If you cannot explain it to someone not in the class clearly, you need to study a bit more.
3) Skim, skim, skim: This was essential to me as I got higher and higher in academics and had more to read in a shorter amount of time. Skimming is essential to getting your brain in the right mindset to accept new material. Skim chapter titles, headers, subheaders, fist sentences of paragraphs. These will usually tell you the most important topics, ideas, and vocabulary likely to be on tests. These can be the beginning of your study session notes.
4) Take good notes: This is a hard one. Some students want to write down everything in a lecture – word for word. Some students only write single words. Both are poor notetaking habits. I recommend the Cornell Note Taking Process. These actually allow for you the places to incorporate elaborative integration and self-explanation. For those who are visual, this also helps for those who need academic doodling.
5) Distributed practice: I love this technique! Simply put, this means studying throughout the week instead of in one cram session. The Cram Session is a technique used by students throughout the world, but it is not helpful in long term retention. As academics (and life) build on each other like a high rise, it is essential to retain the information. Using distributive practice to ensure retention. Studying ten minutes a day for a subject (50 minutes a week) will ensure you retain the information and spend less time the day before a test (2 hours) trying to make sure to know the material.
6) Interlevel practice: This practice is great to ensure recall. This is mixing information when studying. For example, if you have ten vocabulary words and you practice spelling them each word ten times each, you would be doing distributive practice. If you were to practice the spelling words writing one word, then the next, then the next, and the doing this pattern ten times, you would be doing interlevel practice. This can become a really good technique as you mix subjects as well. We use dessert time to review grade-level material incorporating all subjects for this. This also ensures we are out of a school setting and can be a little more silly.
7) Create a study schedule: This sounds like a given, but it is the most forgotten part of scheduling. Most parents make sure there is time for the extracurriculars of football, soccer, dance , and music, but then forget that studying takes time too. We have stopped holding our children accountable for studying until the day before a big test. With a study schedule in place, there is sufficient time set for all subjects to be worked on without spending hours every evening on homework.
8) Practice Tests: No one wants to hear more testing is needed. This is a great way to get a feel for what you know, what you don’t know, and where you need to spend extra time. You can create your own practice test using the keywords and questions taken in your notes. Or you can create flashcards and practice that way. The key is to practice. I like to start a session with a practice test early in the week, then use it at the beginning and end of every session following up to the test day.
9) Review Often: Most students will review. They just typically review the night before a test. Use your downtime to review (going to and from school or practice). I recommend reviewing the notes for the day at least 30 minutes after the class. If you use the Cornell Note Taking System, this is a great time to pull out those headers, vocabulary, questions, and work on your summary of the notes. This should take 5 to 10 minutes. Review the week mid-week. Review the material in detail the day before tests. Review of material often will ensure retention, clear focus during study sessions, and less stress the night and hours before a test.
Some of you (like most my family), naturally retain information with little work. But, if you are like me, acing a test takes time and effort. These simple steps can increase your retention, decrease your stress, and help you utilize your time management effectively ensuring a higher grade.
Let me know your favorite study techniques in the comments below.
Sometimes it feels like life is a juggling act. Juggling school and work. Juggling play dates and cleaning. Juggling parenting and being a spouse. Juggling life.
How do we find peace in the chaos? Simple. Time management.
Time management is not a complex theory of life, as some may think. Time management taking (or not taking) simple steps to make life easier. The continuous use of these simple steps will make you more productive at school, work, and life with an added benefit of decreased stress.
Here are the 10 steps of time management my family uses:
1) Allow time for planning and Make a List: Planning can often seem like a waste of time. But, this small step at the beginning can save you tons of time at the end of a project. We set a tentative plan for the month/week and modify as our needs change. Life happens, plans change. Planning ultimately allows for flexibility. We also use this planning time to make lists. We love to check things off. It gives a simple sense of accomplishment and keeps us motivated to move forward when things get complicated.
2) Keep work with you: I don’t know about you, but I always seem to find downtime in my day. Whether it be while driving or walking to an appointment, or waiting in line, or waiting for a doctor show to a scheduled appointment, I wait. Waiting is a part of life. Knowing how to use this downtime efficiently can be a huge advantage. We have a choice. We can either scroll through a social media page or we can practice a new language or worksheet, or read a required book, or practice and review your notes for the day (study habits will be in the next blog).
3) Be Realistic and Flexible: It is really easy to over commit. We have to be realistic with our strengths and weakness. We have to be honest with how long something is likely to take us. Just as important, we have to be flexible. Some of the most highly effective people have a “bumper” set in every schedule. Do not schedule activities back to back. Include a “bumper” of time to account for meetings/classes going long, traffic, accidents, forgetting your homework/assignment, and needing to head back to the house. This will ensure you have flexibility without encroaching on others’ time.
4) It’s OK to say NO: This took me a really long time to learn. If I am honest, I still struggle with this. It is OK to say, “No.” You do not have to agree to do everything everyone wants you to you. You are only human. Knowing your limits (time, personality, requirements for sleep), are all essential to creating quality products and lasting relationships. If you do decline, just make sure to do it with grace, and perhaps a referral. I like to decline with a “Thank you, but not at this time. Perhaps you can consider So-and-so. I think they would be very interested,” or “Thank you, but not at this time. I would be happy to donate my time to next month’s fundraiser/money to the event/set up the flowers to be delivered/etc.” This simple referral allows the other party to feel heard, valued, and perhaps come back to you for help at another more appropriate time.
5) Find your productive time: I once watched an episode of Brothers and Sisters, where a political character stated, “I have done more by 8:00 am than most people do in a day.” This really stuck with me; so much so, I changed my entire schedule. I am more productive in the wee hours of the morning than I am from noon to five. So, I ensure my workday reflects that productive time. I learned in grad school no one bothers me between the hours of midnight and seven in the morning. So, I set up my focus hours then. As a mom, I do not stay up all night but know I ensure I am at my computer no later than 6:00 am to start work. Before work is prayer, meditation. After work, I help with school, and then we do a workout, field trip, or fun activity to wind down for the day.
6) Create a dedicated work/school schedule: Schedules are so important. They help keep you organized and ensure you have set time aside to complete the required activities. Knowing when you are required to work/school (and the prep time for each), helps to ensure you are not double booking, over-scheduling, or ignoring (for those procrastinators) an important task. The trick is to keep the schedule flexible as needed, but it should be used in the majority of situations.
7) Budget your time: Budget your time like you would budget your finances. Track where you are spending time and where you are not using the time to your advantage. This will help you prioritize when is productive, what needs more focus, and where you can rearrange to have more productivity. B a clock-watcher. If you know what time it is, you have a better grasp of your time throughout the day.
8) Exercise to clear your mind: Physical movement is so important to both production and retention. Study after study shows a connection between physical exercise and productivity at work. Some companies are even paying their employees to work out as it increases productivity, decreases stress, improves social connections, and oh, makes us healthier. For students, exercising after learning a task has been shown to improve memory and retention. So, burn some calories, get stronger, and strengthen your brain and production all in one thirty-minute workout.
9) Don’t get sidetracked: Distraction is the key to failure. My son is the king of distraction. I can ask him to put the dishes aware and all of a sudden, I have a robot in my kitchen. The trick to time management is not to get distracted. We teach this to my son by using a HIIT timer. He attaches this to his belt loop and every time it beeps it reminds him a) to be on task and b) that the allotted time to complete the task is diminishing. To introduce this, we started it as a game. Now, he uses it for everything from a work out to clean his room. At work, I use the 25 minute rule. I work on a project without distraction (no emails, texts, or calls) and then can take a break between my next 25 minutes and catch up on all those things.
10) Get a good night’s sleep: I love sleep. Good sleep. The body was designed to do some of the most intensive work while we sleep. Our bodies rebuild and process the day while we sleep. Sleep is essential to process and retention, but also, for us to have the energy to complete another crazy busy day. Sleep helps us learn, strengthen our memory, increases our creativity and insight. Sleep does so much! (learn more, strengthen memory, increase creativity and insight)
Now that you have some tips, take this quiz on where you are in time management to know where you might want to focus your attention in the future. Create your time-use log. Do it for at least 24 hours. The longer you do it, the more you’ll see where you lose/waste time.
“I am worried about sending my kids back, but I concerned about socialization if I homeschool.”
“I loved the flexibility of homeschooling this last semester, but I am concerned about socializing.”
“I really want to homeschool, but I am concerned about socializing.”
This is actually the number one “concern” I hear when people learn we homeschool. It honestly makes me laugh – more so now that I know the changes districts across America are making.
When we chose to pull our kid from public school (for so many reasons), we were “concerned” about socializing as well. This was particularly concerning for a parent of special needs children who need the stream-lined socialization for more than just play.
The fears of the “weird home school kid” label and, worst, it becoming true, were a serious battle for my family. I did what any data-loving person would do – I calculated all the time he spent “socializing” at traditional public schools. There is no talking in class (unless a team activity, which was once a week at best). There is no talking in the hallways (too and from PE, lunch, and recess or assemblies). There was no talking on the bus to and from school. So, I was left with the 20-minute lunch, 15-minute recess, and 20-minute PE class on average most days. I added in another 20 minutes of “team activities” for grace. All in all, my son was “socializing” 90 minutes a day – at best.
From what teachers are telling me, with new COVID-19 measures, children will not be allowed to socialize with those outside their class, dividers will be put up between students at their desks, team projects are out the window, and oh, PE, recess, and lunch will likely be in the same room with the same kids they are not allowed to go within 6-feet of.
Then I considered WHO he was socializing with. Daily we were informed of bullying (my son was actually bullied by students, teachers, and aides). Daily he would come home with stories that would break your heart.
The kids he could hang out with without being bullied, well, their morals were questionable at best. Parents allowing elementary kids to watch movies like Saw and other horror movies, or who believed kids should not be held accountable for behavior because they are “kids and need to figure things out on their own.” The lessons he was learning from his peers were not love, kindness, and mercy, but hate, selfishness, and worry.
Weighing the pros and cons, we obviously decided to pull our son.
So, how do we get that 90-minute social activity? How could we as parents fill the role the state has been doing so mediocrely? Could we do it better? The answer was a resounding YES.
1. Team Sports: Many parents say they are exhausted between school and the numerous activities they do after soon. Homeschool actually offered less time “in the books” and more time to have fun. Our son joined a community team – first flag football and then track and field. He is held accountable, taught self-discipline, and has so much fun! He has been a state champion in flag football and in track and field three years running. I addition to some great local teams, check out Special Olympics – for streamlined and special needs kiddos.
2. Play-dates: I don’t know about you, but I love play-dates (even as an adult). The beauty of homeschool is I get to pick who my child spends his time with. Gone are the days were every kid in a 30-student classroom has to be invited to every party and play-date. Now, we got to know who he was spending time with, the values those kids were pouring into each other, and not have to do the obligatory invitations to kids we knew our son did not want to hang out with. Don’t rule out co-ops, small groups, youth groups, and Sunday School.
3. Volunteering: There is so much emphasis in high school to do community service. A lot of schools now require this to graduate. But, why do we wait so long to instill that into our children? Volunteering is so important to the community and developing young hearts into compassionate passionate adults. Some great places to get involved are your local church, food closets, and community centers. We love working with senior citizens, writing cards, calling, video chatting! Our son has now started helping lead the young children at our church in Sunday School activities. I love it when my son gets to help out our local Rotary club serving meals, helping in supply drives, and more or helping Habitat For Humanity. See what your community offers, I bet it is more than you think.
4. Field Trips: Our son was lucky enough to go on one to two field trips a year. Field trips are so important for hands-on learning and socializing. People are more themselves when not in a traditional classroom. Since we pulled for home school, my son goes on at least once a month (COVID-19 aside). There are so many places to go for free and a lot of places have openings for homeschool groups. For biology and ecology, we took a trip to the Florida Caverns, for history we went to a live re-enactment of the Spanish colonies in Florida. There are so many possibilities! Even before homeschool, we would travel somewhere at least once a month just to see the world and new cultures. These are perfect outings for playdates, other homeschool families to join in on, or just fun for the whole family.
5. Extra-curriculars: Just like any kid, homeschool kids need extracurriculars. Our son has enjoyed learning dance and guitar. These are great ways to introduce other teachers while also helping encourage friendships to grow in unlikely places. Many community centers offer these classes for free or cheap. Don’t rule out acting, dance, art. Scouts are a great way to teach volunteerism and socializing.
It is easy to be concerned with socializing your child. I think we should be concerned about what that looks like regardless of where they go to school. As the old adage says, bad company corrupts good character. Homeschool offers an ability to know what is happening in your child’s life, offers more opportunity to grow and learn in a social environment, and allows you the opportunity to invest in the lives of those who hang around your child.
Whether you homeschool or not, I hope you consider these tips and how they can help your family grow together in love, laughter, and learning.
I had a very interesting conversation with some parents a little bit ago. They came over for dinner and heard me ask my child to do the dishes. Their jaws dropped!
“You have him do the dishes?!” They asked in astonishment.
“Yes. He has chores around the house.”
“Wait. He has more than doing the dishes? What else does he have to do?”
“Oh, clean his room and bathroom, feed the animals, pick up the dog poop, and fold and put away his laundry.”
“I think that is too much! He is a kid. Kids should be out playing and being creative. Their job is school and that is where it should end.”
To which I graciously responded. “You are right. He is a kid. For this short time, I have him, I am responsible for teaching him how the real world works. I have a full-time job as well. Then I teach him home school and take care of his social and health obligations. My house still needs cleaning, the laundry still needs to be done, and the dishes still need to be cleaned. Simply because I have a job that does not change the responsibilities at home. We have chosen to teach our son that as a family who resides in the same household, we all have responsibilities and must contribute.”
They sat in contemplative silence for the next five minutes and then agreed.
So, how do you teach responsibilities? What is too much? Where is the balance? Here are 10 easy steps to taking the work out of teaching work responsibilities.
1) Whose Responsibility? It is important to not just teach how chores are done but whose responsibility things are. For example, as a kid, I learned multiple instruments. If I forgot my instrument for band practice, I was not allowed to call my parents to bring it for me. They had full-time jobs as well. I remember my mother saying to us when we forgot our homework/backpack/coat/instrument/etc. “Whose homework? Whose responsibility?” Boy, did we hate hearing that! She was right. We do our children no favors when we come in to save the day every time they mess up and forget. This does not mean never be that hero (life circumstance often teaches us we need help from others), but we should not make it the norm. Let them learn and grow.
2) Chores, Chores, Chores: No one likes chores. Don’t fool yourself. You don’t even like chores. They are a part of life, that also teaches us to work ethic, responsibility, and diligence. Check out the downloadable document below on Age Appropriate Chores for Children published in 2013 for a place to start. (Thank you, Pastor Lisa for making this great resource available.). Remember, each child is different and has different needs. This is just a guideline. We also introduced one chore at a time so our son could perfect before he got overwhelmed.
3) Planning: Weekly I try to get some idea of the menu for the week. Or at least when I get the grocery shopping done. Sometimes, I am just out of ideas. This is a great place to have children help and teach responsibility. Let your kids help plan (and cook) a meal. They will love being involved and usually will like to eat what they make (for you picky eaters out there). Let them help at the grocery store. Teach them how to pick produce, how to get the cheapest item or the best quality for your money. Give them a budget for their “impulse buys” they will undoubtedly ask for it. Start the conversation on money and taking care of the groceries – a life skill they will need for the rest of their lives.
4) Kids Help Kids: For those with multiple children, use this opportunity to develop leadership. Let older kids help younger kids learn things like how to tie shoes, or send them on an errand together to pick something up. Kids learn a lot from older siblings and teammates. Use this to teach generationally.
5) Play-dates: I know it is really easy to want to be present at all playdates all the time. But this is just no necessary. It is ok and good to leave your children with a trusted adult. If you trust the parent, and it is age-appropriate, leave your child to have fun without you. This helps build confidence in children. Knowing Mom and Dad trust you to make good choices without them is empowering to them. But more importantly, it gives them real-world experiences. Not one house is the same, not one human is the same. This opens the door to some really wonderful conversations.
6) Volunteer: Generation Z is known for a passion for social justice. But, they are also known for not following through. They were taught the issues and a passion was ignited. But they were not taught the practicality of the hard work, critical thinking, and diligence it takes to make a change. Simply posting a meme on social media does not change make. Teaching volunteering gets to the root of this problem. Volunteering showcases need, teaches work ethic, dependability, and commitment. It also allows the first-hand experience of need, bureaucracy, and politics. All those things play large roles in adult life. Teaching volunteering at a young age starts a healthy foundation for these areas that can easily become toxic later if not healthy discussed.
7) Students keep track of their own work and test: It is great to know about your child’s schoolwork. But their work is not your work. You already went to school. You already know it. Don’t do their work for them. Set them up to succeed. We use this great Student Smart Planner Academic Planner (I use the Wordsworth Goal Setting Planner for myself) for our home school (it has places for long term projects, schedules, grade tracking, and monthly and weekly calendars). For younger kids, this is a great planner as well. For those in school, we used a checklist morning and night for our son to know what was needed each morning and what was completed.
8) Organize your own schedule: Today in America we are socially judged by the number of activities our child is in. We are told kids need perfect grades and extracurriculars out the ears to get to college. Our kids are tired, stressed out, and overwhelmed. A great documentary on this is Race to Nowhere. Let’s give our children the power to decide what extracurriculars they do – if any. Some kids might need extra time for school. Some kids might want three or four a week. Some might just want to do one thing they can learn to do really well. Let’s stop making Jack-of-all-trades-and-masters-of-none.
9) Independent Thinkers: Kids need to learn how to think – not just memorize facts. Set them to succeed in this by encouraging independent and critical thinking. Let them learn about themselves and how they learn. ReadTheory helps kids in reading comprehension, Learning Styles is a great place to learn about how your child learns. When you know how you learn, you equip yourself with the ability to better learn the more difficult skills and academics.
10) Entertain Yourself: You are a parent – not a Hollywood movie star or singer-songwriter. You were charged with raising compassionate, intelligent children into wonderful adults. You were not charged with being your child’s friend, entertainment, and all-around everything. Release yourself of that stress. Teach you, child, to entertain themselves. This is critically important to brain development, social play, and creative and critical thinking. It is also entertaining to you as a parent to see what they come up with.
This week I have had a significant amount of requests to discuss homeschool. Questions like “How do you homeschool while working? What curriculum do you use? How do you socialize your child?” and so many more have poured int. I will not answer all of them here (in August I will be focusing on the daily tricks for homeschoolers). Today I will focus on curriculums.
With changes in education due to COVID-19, a lot of parents are really considering homeschool. It is not an easy choice (even without the pandemic). If you are anything like me, you wonder if you will be a good enough teacher? Will your child fall behind in academics, social skills, and emotional development?
The good news is there is so much good news!
Homeschooling is not new to the world. In fact, for most of human history, parents taught children or tutors came to houses (if you could afford it). You know your child better than anyone, so you know where they struggle the most and where they can just breeze through. You can essentially create your own IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for each of your children. As my mom used to say, we have “different children with different needs.”
The first major concern is socialization. I get that. It was a big one for me. I will talk more about that next month. For those who have worked with me in editing or social media marketing, you know how much I value data. I have even used data in helping with behavior challenges with my own kid.
As any good data analysis would do, the first thing I did in answering that question was to track how much socialization my child actually got in school (note, this was done when my son was in elementary school). My son left the house at 7:30 on a bus and came back at 3:00. When I learned he was not allowed to talk on the bus, I removed any transportation time from the social component. Lunch was 20 minutes and the recess was 15. There was no talking allowed in hallways. And interactive work with children in the classroom had significantly declined – other than 1 class project a week, my son was learning next to and not with his peers. Taking all that into consideration, as well as really speaking with his teachers, my son was really only allowed to socialized 30 to 45 minutes a day. With home school, that increases so much with play dates, co-ops, small groups, sports, and so much more.
There are so many curriculums out there. And the best part of home school, is you do not have to pick and choose. If your child is a verbal learner, there are curriculums for that. A visual learner? There are curriculums for that. Learns kinesthetically? There are curriculums for that. There are so many, we actually mix and match for our son.
As a researcher at heart, I spent six months reviewing and researching curriculums prior to starting homeschool. Here are some we use, why we use them, and some we don’t but think are pretty great. Many of the below have Facebook groups, local co-ops, and more for additional help and socialization for the kids.
1. Time4Learning***: They are relatively inexpensive with a monthly fee of $25.00 and a military discount. They also use a refer a friend program that helps decrease expenses. This is a DOD approved national standard-based curriculum. This is a great curriculum for kids with special needs.
This is our foundational curriculum. This is great for military families that move a lot because it is national standards and teaches to that. They have 4 foundational courses (math, science, social science, and language arts). Their curriculum is interactive, game, and video-based teaching a variety of methods to problem-solving. They also have built-in Time4Fun (recess of fun games) and the app is mobile so it can be done anywhere.
As I work from home, and reports are due to the school district, I particularly like the freedom this curriculum gives me to work. It has so many tools for reports (attendance, duration in class, scores, etc.) It allows me to input the amount of time a week, length of the school year, and pick and choose what I think is appropriate for the mental development of my child. It then plans the school year for me allowing to change the plan at any time to add in breaks, modify curriculum, and more.
This curriculum also allows my son to have a bit more control of his learning by giving weekly or daily assignments and checklists.
2. Easy Peasy: This is a completely FREE (yes, FREE) curriculum. They recommend a once-yearly $15.00 donation, but even without the donation, you can still use the curriculum. This is a Christian based curriculum. This has all basic subjects as well as Bible, computer, PE, music, Art, Critical Thinking and so much more. They offer Spanish as a language for middle school. (Time4Learning does offer Rosetta stone at any level, but it costs a bit more). This is our supplemental program.
This curriculum also has cash prize contests for writing and science. For those who want to simulate science fairs and excellent writing, this is a great way to help develop those skills with a great incentive!
3. Adventure Academy: This is a fun exploration web-based learning curriculum. They allow the learner to take some control of their learning process. I have not used this curriculum, but I like what is offered. This allows for a more social learning environment by allowing the learner to create their own aviator and work with other online learners. They are currently having a sale of 49% off the subscription – which drops this curriculum down to approximately $10.00 a month. It is super fun! This is interactive and has a lot of visual components.
4. Abeka: Based out of Pensacola Christian College, Pensacola, FL, this Christian based curriculum is used throughout the country and states both in homeschool and private schools. This curriculum has all basic foundation classes, reading, and Bible. They offer video lessons and standardized testing! Depending on your state requirements, that can be an essential factor. This one is more expensive ($100s to over a grand a year and increases with each grade). HOWEVER, they offer flexible pricing, accredited contents, and for those in high school, a DIPLOMA. That diploma will essential for those military families using the GI bill for their kids.
5. Classical Conversations: The basis of this Christian based curriculum based out of Southern Pines, NC is trifold: Classical, Christian, Community. The community that comes along with this curriculum is great for those worried about socialization. As you move to high school, the success on the SAT and ACT for those who use this curriculum is high. For middle school and high school, they offer trained tutors once a week. This is a great curriculum for kids with special needs! This curriculum grows both the social community and the independent investment for kids. If you are a working parent, the requirement for in-person get-togethers may be a challenge, but definitely worth looking at. If you cannot due the community part, you can still access their bookstore with great resources!
6. Liberty University Online Academy: This Christian based curriculum is fantastic. This one is pricey, but offers family discounts, military discounts, and payment plans. They offer structured and customizable learning plans, around the clock access to the curriculum and certified teachers. This curriculum does offer dual enrollment for up to 60 college credits. This is something to consider if your state does not offer this. Dual enrollment has the ability to let your child graduate high school with an associate degree as well! This curriculum also allows your student to graduate with a diploma recognized nationwide!
7. Duoling: This is not a curriculum, but a FREE learning resource. This teaches almost any language with an interactive online environment. Learning a language at a young age can help with communication, critical thinking, and socialization. This free program sends weekly progress reports and daily reminders to practice. With built in incentives of rewards and trophies (much like a video game), this allows your child to move at their own pace. We do use this, but we do not grade our son on this.
8. Supplemental Learning: I am an avid reader and believe, like Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln, that learning is done through reading. For those of you who follow my son’s amazing history, you know reading taught him to speak. In addition to the above, we incorporate state level reading into our year. This is approximately ten books a year. The book is read, a paper is written and a project is done. Projects have included everything from building Lego diagrams and book reports to writing a play. This is usually a month-long process, so my son learns how to executive plan at the same time.
9. Unschooling: This is a relatively new idea. This allows teaching children based on their interests and not following a curriculum. This is often termed “natural learning” or “independent learning.” This is not a curriculum, not a method, but a way of looking at children and life. A great example of this is the movie Captain Fantastic about a family that homeschooled their children in the wood. (Do not watch this with your young kids; this is rated R and has adult themes). This type of “curriculum” is an opportunity for you as a parent to educate your child in the way you think is best.
10. Tutors: Yes, tutors still exist. They are also great resources throughout the education of your child. A quick google search will generate thousands of results for tutors near you. A lot of homeschool curriculums offer tutors, but if you choose one without that and need one for your child, this is a great resource to consider. Prices will range with each depending on course work, grade level, frequency and more. This is a great resource to have in your back pocket as your children get older as well.
The best part about homeschooling is that it is fluid. What works for one child might not work for another. What worked one year might not work the next. There are so many options out there. You do not need to feel stuck in one curriculum ever. Do what works for your family.
Know too, that this is a change for your family. Anticipate growing pains for everyone. Give yourself GRACE. No one expects you to be perfect. We don’t expect teachers who go to school for years of getting trained to do this to be perfect. Teaching your kids will be hard (teaching anyone is). I have a teacher friend who once told me, “I love teaching, but there is NO WAY I could teach my own kids.” That is a teacher. Teaching your children is not without challenges. But, picking a curriculum should not be one of them.
Go forth in decision knowing you are not alone. There are tons of communities out there to help. Reach out to me anytime. I would love to know how I can be of better service.
*****As a member of Time4Learning, I have been given the opportunity to review their program and share my experiences. While I was compensated, this review was not written or edited by Time4Learning and my opinion is entirely my own. For more information, check out their standards-based curriculum or learn how to write your own curriculum review.
What do toddlers, pre-teens, and teens all have in common?
They cry out for independence. “Don’t help me!” “I can do it myself!” “I’m not your little girl/boy anymore!”
They are not wrong. Kids can do so much more that we think they can. So how do we know when to step in and when to let failure happen? How do you teach accountability and responsibility to children who think they know it all already? Here are 6 tips I use in my household.
1. Pick your battles: I hate messes. Call it a pet-peeve or OCD or what you like, but I like a clean, neat and tidy home. My siblings (sorry guys) growing up and kiddo now, have other ideas of what home should feel like. I learned early on as a parent, to pick my battles with my very strong-willed* child. Now, when the room doesn’t get cleaned, I shut the door (out of sight out of mind) and my kid knows he doesn’t get to watch TV, play video games, play outside, create anything until the chores are done. It has created a much more harmonious environment.
2. Offer Choices: When I was younger, my parents divided chores by age (ignored gender rules). Occasionally they would re-arrange as family dynamics changed. I liked this. But recently came across a “Chore Market.” (This works very similar to Silent Butler). What is that? Much like the Stock Market, a Chore Market is when your children bid on chores they will do. The catch? Lowest bid wins and that is now their allowance. This is a great way to start teaching financial responsibility, family responsibility, work ethic, and start the conversation on investments as they get older.
3. Provide Flexibility: Flexibility is a key to success. This prevents kids from thinking they must be perfect all the time. Perfection can be rehabilitating. So, teach flexibility with deadlines. One of my favorite practices in home school is offering a Fun Friday – this is a five-week school scheduled offered to be completed in four days, at their pace. We do not set days for subjects to be taught, my son gets a weekly schedule and he can finish it at his own pace. Some very motivated weeks, he does two weeks in one, and some weeks there is carry over to Fun Friday. But, he has the flexibility to finish his tasks as he needs.
4. Support Growth: This one is hard. We always want to be the protection for our kids. It is nature. Reality is – we will not always be there for our kids. We must support them. When I was five, my mom took me on a mile walk from my house to my kindergarten class. That was it. After that walk, I was on my own for getting to and from school. As my younger siblings joined, I became responsible for them as well. Different times, I know. But, really, not all that different. Teaching kids how to play in the neighborhood, get to and from school, and ultimately fail at school or chores teaches independence and that we are all human and make mistakes.
5. Encourage healthy risk: My son loves to cook! But, he is also easily distracted. But, when he asked to learn to cook his own breakfast at age seven, who was I to stop him? So, he learned (first very closely supervised) how to make his own eggs. This has now become gourmet eggs, sausage, and fruit in the morning. After six months (I could have let go of the reigns sooner), he took over his own breakfast. He knows makes all his meals except our family dinner. But he also catches our family dinner often – taking responsibility for providing for our family.
6. Embrace Mistakes: We are not perfect! Your kid will be less perfect than you. Embrace the mistake. Everyone spills milk. Everyone burns a dish here and there. Everyone skips to the back of the book at least once for the answers. The trick is not to dwell on the negative and failure but to use that to encourage growth and learning. As Einstein put it so well, “Failure is success in progress.”
Our kids are miraculous beings. Our job is to help them see that – without inflating their ego. Finding a balance between independence and responsibility is hard. But possible. The more we practice these steps the easier they become. The more we encourage independence in a healthy way, the more our children will learn problem-solving, critical thinking, and fundamentals of life.
How have you found this balance? What has worked? What has failed?
Most of the world has been operating within the realm of the same four walls for the majority of the year. Those in America have been at this at least a month, some longer.
Day after day I hear the same exhausted frustrations of parents: “My kids are driving me crazy! I keep repeating myself. I feel like all I do is nag!”
Well, you are not alone. We all get there (even in the best of circumstances). The question is do we stay there or do we something to fix it?
For my family, we do something to fix it.
Let me introduce you to one of our best friends and colleagues – Silent Butler.
Before you freak on the price tag, this friend has given his services for FREE. This is so simple it will shock you.
How many of you have asked your kid to clean their room, only to find it hasn’t been completed or everything has been shoved under the bed/in the closet/crammed into drawers?
Out of exasperation, you now beginning the powerplay of taking things away, the battle of either teaching to clean (or, be honest) doing it yourself. By the end of the day, everyone is tired, you don’t want to be around each other and you just feel defeated?
Enter Silent Butler.
Instead of going through that battle, hold your child accountable. An easy way to do that is a large plastic laundry basket (we use this one).
When your child says the room is clean. OK. Great. Go play.
Then take the basket, and fill it with all things left on the floor, under the bed, in the closet, out away incorrectly. (NOTE: You must have taught the proper way to clean a room and what Silent Butler prior is to implementing Silent Butler).
All those toys, books, TABLETS, video games, etc., that they claim to love so much, but do not treat as though they do, are now in the possession of Silent Butler.
But don’t worry, this is not forever!
When your child does something good, unexpected, helpful, you just ring the bell for Silent Butler. Things like helping a sibling with homework without being asked, picking up the dog poo or doing the dishes, (for those on the spectrum) having a good playdate or losing a game without a single reminder of good sportsmanship all can trigger Silent Butler.
The important thing is that it matches where your child is (age, mental ability) and it cannot be a chore already assigned as part of their daily routine.
When you ring that bell, Silent Butler rolls out once again. Only this time, instead of taking, our Butler is giving. The child can take one toy out of the basket. They have earned it back.
TWIST * TWIST * TWIST
For those with siblings, this becomes particularly effective. There are no rules on whose toys are picked when Silent Butler rewards.
This means if Suzy left her tablet on the floor in her room when she was told to put it away, and Johnny earned a Silent Butler reward, Johnny can pick Suzy’s tablet.
What does this teach?
I know you are wondering why use this method? It seems sneaky and rude. Well, that is true. But so is the world.
As parents, we are tasked with raising children into quality adults who contribute to society in positive ways and are aware that the world is not rainbows and butterflies.
This teaches so much:
1. Responsibility: Whose tablet? Whose responsibility? Whose homework? Whose responsibility? When you shirk your responsibilities, someone else will swoop in and fix it AND get the credit. Silent Butler begins as Positive Punishment/Negative Reinforcer.
2. Teamwork/Family building: Working in a family is the first practice of teamwork. We are teaching children what it means to be on the team by showing them responsibility falls on everyone. When we reward good extra behavior, it acts as a positive reinforcer that modifies the negative behavior. Silent Butler is now a Negative Punishment/Positive Reinforcer.
3. Integrity: What is done when no one is watching will be seen. What is done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops. All secrets come out. That is why integrity is so important. It is who you are when no one is watching (or you think no one is watching) that ultimately defines your character.
4. Accountability: Teaching accountability starts with parents. I have said this before practice what you preach. You must hold yourself accountable to follow through, kind words, and tones, working as a team. Once this is done, Silent Butler teaches that all kids are held accountable for their actions all the time. Silent Butler is ALWAYS in play. Both the good and the bad.
This is a simple idea that when put into practice can help SAVE MONEY on those reinforcers, help create a POSITIVE and HARMONIOUS environ for everyone in the house, and ultimately, help create HONEST, RESPONSIBLE adults to help create positive change in the world.
I encourage you test this out in your own homes. Give it a couple weeks. Track your progress and setbacks (there will be setbacks as with all changes). And let me know how this works for you. Don’t be afraid to share this blog with others you think might benefit from the simple induction of my friend Silent Butler.
You have this. You are good parent. You are a good teacher. You are a good coach. You are good leader.
***Disclaimer: I did not come up with this idea AT ALL. I was raised with this. The credit all goes to my parents who successfully raised 7 children and numerous “family friends” with to the sum of all six entrepreneurs, a lawyer, two opera singers, (one lawyer waiting taking his first bar), over fifteen degrees, all are fully employed, and the creation of two non-profits.