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.
Happy Halloween! Belated as it might be. I apologize for the silence the past two weeks – technical issues abounded. All bugs have been sorted and we should be fully operational. Thank you for being patient with me.
This month is all about gratitude. Thankfulness. Something most Americans, and I would wager most first-world citizens, are in desperate need of.
This past month, as a mom of an adolescent, I found myself often frustrated by the poor choices my son made. It felt like no matter what we as parents did, my son was determined to make poos choices. My son was successful in breaking something every – single – day for one week straight. Dealing with crazy work demands and trying to figure out how to balance everyone’s needs seemed more complicated than usual.
Honestly, there were some days it felt hopeless. I felt the world against me. I felt frustrated with the special needs I have to deal with, the demands of work for both myself and my husband. I felt very alone. But that is never the case, is it?
So, how do we pull ourselves out of these dark moments as moms and dads? How do we remind ourselves of the enormous amounts of blessings that are part of our lives daily? How do we develop a Gratitude Attitude?
Here are my five steps to having a Gratitude Attitude as a parent, and for life:
PERSPECTIVE: Did you know, according to an article published by Anup Shah in 2013, at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day ($3,640 annually)? Almost 2 in 3 people lack access to clean water to survive on less than $2 a day ($884 annually)? More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day? More than 385 million live on less than $1 day ($364 annually)? Or that 1.6 billion people (1/4 humanity) live without electricity? The stats are a bit outdated, but the principle remains the same. The first world has champagne problems.
As I write this, I am sipping my fair trade Laughing Man coffee (super yummy), my son is creating art with actual paper and pencils and we are enjoying a beautiful sunny cool fall day on the deck in our backyard. We have a wonderful home, a beautiful big yard, and my husband and I both have jobs. Our bellies are always full, and we can pull out water from any faucet (or our fridge) whenever the notion strikes. And my son had enough in our house to break something every single day in one week and still, our house functioned just fine. I find a gratitude attitude starts with the right mind set – reset your mind.
2. RENEW YOUR MIND: If you are like me at all, what you watch, read, scroll through, etc. all affect your state of mind. When I watch scary movies, I get scared. When I focus on the negative comments in a scroll, my mind is negative. When I read an intense book, my anxiety rises. We need to renew our minds – start treating them like we do our bodies.
Just like a healthy body needs exercise and quality food nutrition, a mind needs exercise and quality food nourishment. Reading is essential to renewing your mind. Don’t just read novels (though I like those). I find reading historical books, world solution books, and culture books help me to see the world from another’s perspective more. I have attached some of my favorite books to help get you started in this.
3. MEDITATE: This sounds New Age and for some a little hippie, but what a difference it makes! Most people picture meditation as sitting on a yoga mat with your feet crossed and saying,” om,” in a quiet voice. There is so much more to it. Meditation is simply the practice of focusing your mind. What you focus on is just as important. Focusing on whatever is true, beautiful, pure, lovely, admirable, think on these things. For those who pray, this is a great time for that. I find doing this throughout my day is beneficial to keeping my mind in a good place. There are a lot of apps that can help make this a daily practice. I like Calm and the Abide podcast.
4. WORKOUT I try to do a 30-60-minute workout four times a week. Ideally, we should be moving our bodies cardiovascularly at least 30 minutes a day, but in life, I find that is not always possible. I have a love-hate relationship with working out. I hate the getting started part…and doing the workout part. But, I love how I feel when I am done. I find I feel less stressed, more energized, and sleep so much better. There are other benefits to working-out too – higher happiness levels, better success setting and meeting goals, improved memory, and concentration and so much more.
5. GET OUT IN NATURE: In a world of computer screens, tablets, phones, and social media, we often forget the importance of getting outside. So often, people get their dose of nature from a documentary in the comfort of their own home. But that does not have all the same benefits of actually walking outside, getting sun on your face, and enjoying the sights and sounds around you.
There is a great article, The Positive Effects of Nature on Your Mental Well-being, published on October 16, 2020, that goes in-depth into the numerous benefits of nature. Here are just some of the highlights. Nature helps emotional well being, and memory focus (for those with special needs kids, this is a wonderful FREE tool). Nature lowers stress and helps those suffering from depression. Nature walks and other outdoor activities help build attention and focus. This is a great way to spend time with the family and increase school focus later. And one recent study shows spending more time outside and less time in front of a computer can help increase our problem-solving and creative thinking.
6. CHOSE JOY: This may sound the simplest, but it can be the hardest. It is so easy to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of life – the doctor’s appointments, the tantrums, the politics of the world, the pandemic. There is so much negative out there. It is easier to find the negative and focus on that than it is really to choose joy. This is different than happiness (a fleeting feeling). Joy is a deeper peace and understanding that it is good in the world. Good will win. Joy is actively counting our blessings and naming them one by one. This is hard in a society where we judge each other instantaneously on 15 different social media platforms. This is hard when everyone’s voice is fighting to be heard. This is hard when we encourage the negative in our feeds. To make this a higher priority in my life, I have ceased actively participating in social media – outside of this blog and its Facebook page. Oh, sweet relief! Oh, calmer and happier self! I highly recommend at least a social media fast for a bit and see how it affects your mental and emotional state.
Having a gratitude attitude is not always an easy process. It is often contrary to our society’s love for drama, negatively, and sin – let’s call it what it is. Our society has been constructed to be all about Me and less about others. When we change our perspective to helping others and focusing our minds on what is true, noble, pure, and good, it is amazing how grateful we are. It is amazing how truly blessed we are. It is amazing how these small actions can change our lives for the better forever.
For more tips and tricks on how to have a gratitude attitude, check out my Facebook page.
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.
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.
My son did not speak till late five years old. I remember praying he would just say a word of what he wanted or needed instead of throwing a fit to communicate. There were some nights it was just so exhausting not knowing how to help him help himself.
I quickly realized I had two paths. I could simply complain about my son’s inability to speak or I could attempt to help him figure out this essential skill.
Here are the four steps I used to get my son from speechless to not shutting up.
Don’t hold back. Babies can read. Did you know that? Research has found when a mother frequently spoke to their infant, the child learned almost 300 MORE words by age 2 than their peers whose parents seldom spoke to them. More surprising is that by age 2, a child’s brain is as active as an adult. By age 3 it is twice as active – and it STAYS that way.
Comic books! I hear a LOT a kid won’t read because they think it is boring. Coming from this author, editor, and avid reader – YOUR KID IS RIGHT. The problem is not with reading, it is the material. Find what excites them and read that! For us, it was Disney Comic Books (also limits screen time so win–win)!
Ask Questions. Too often we read a book to a child and then simply kiss them goodnight. We do them a disservice. Ask them about what they are reading. Is it interesting? Is the character sad? How would they feel in a similar situation? What do they think the place looks like? Asking allows them to interact with material not just lay there like a dead fish.
With these simple steps (and a slew of speech and language therapy), my kid went from non-communicative to never silent! You can watch him on his Youtube Channel where he creates, reads, dances, and just gets all-around silly. Just sit back, relax and watch as your child begins to open up.