Song in My Heart

What songs have you memorized?  For as long as I can remember, I have been collecting songs in my heart.   My sister Lynn gets credit for planting this seed in me.  She was 11 years my elder and used to sing me to sleep when I was just a little girl.  Her inspirations included folk artists such as Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, and Joni Mitchell.  When she came home for visits, she would teach my sister Hope and me new songs she had learned — both the melodies and the harmonies.  The sweet loving feelings of being sung to like this set an absolute goal in my mind.  I would memorize songs and I would sing my children to sleep.  Now, I sing songs to my grandson.  It calms him from fretful wakefulness into deep, sound slumber.  So, the seed Lynn planted, in addition to blessing my husband, has benefitted my sons’ and grandson’s lives as well.  Singing can start a legacy.

Over the years, I’ve realized what a rich blessing it is to have so many songs stored in my heart.  I have a 2-3 hour repertoire of memorized songs.  Anybody that goes on a road trip with me gets forewarned.  I will sing through the night as I drive.  Singing is actually a terrific way to stay awake when you are getting sleepy on the road.  I think singing memorized songs is more beneficial in this aspect than singing along with the radio.  There’s something about the pumping oxygen through your lungs and making your brain work to remember all the lyrics that energizes you.    Also, when you are driving an “older model vehicle” in which both the radio and the air conditioner no longer work and you can’t hear your phone/i-pod because leaving the windows down puts you in a wind tunnel, singing gives you a good alternative to pass the miles away — just sayin’.           Singing has its practical applications.

A good many of the songs in my heart are hymns and songs of praise.  This, I learned, adds an entirely new dimension to the benefits.  I have walked through a decades-long battle against depression, have had years of deep frustration, experienced times of great turmoil, and am given to holding bitterness in my heart.  Singing songs of worship to my God and King literally lifts me out of the quagmire.  Worshipful singing changes a broken or distressed heart.

There are times when I am so downcast I cannot lift my heart to sing.  It was a time such as this that God revealed the power of worship songs to me.  He nudged me to just sing (more of a somewhat melodious mumble) the first few words of a song I knew and loved.  With those first few words out, my voice strengthened.  Determinedly, I sang the next line … and the next.  Within minutes, I was singing with my heart and not just my tongue.  I think that was my first revelation of how powerfully this act could take control over despondency, anger and bitterness.  Even when facing odious household chores, I’ve found singing from my heart keeps me in the right frame of mind and prevents me from developing bitterness or self-pity.  Singing sets your heart in the right place.

Another time I remember, I was visiting my aged mother, tending to some tasks she needed doing while she sorted through things at her chair.  I had a song in my heart and I just started singing as I worked.  I glanced up to check on my mom after a bit and saw the sweetest smile on her face.  It wasn’t until I heard my own children making music that I understood how much that blesses a mother’s heart.  Singing can be a blessing to others.

This summer, we experienced a delightful time with old friends who apparently have learned similar lessons and carry their own store of songs in their hearts.  It was our third and final night at the campfire and somehow, over the weekend, I had become the campfire entertainment director.  The first night I had challenged the kids with naming our 50 states, and later the adults with naming capitals.  The second night we had a try at telling continuous stories.  On the third night, when 10-year-old Maddie asked, “Mrs. Franklin, what are we going to do tonight?”, I was running out of ideas, so I suggested we sing songs.  Sarah, a young woman with a lovely voice and the confidence to lead, began to sing songs that we’d all sung together over the years in church.  She had built up her repertoire because she had learned that singing old hymns was the best way to calm her agitated grandmother who is living with them and suffers from Alzheimer’s.  (It should be noted that Grandma much prefers the peppier hymns. ) For over two hours, we sang and harmonized from an oft-shared treasure trove of memorized worship songs.  When half-asleep, young Caleb was taken into bed, he turned back and muttered sleepily, “But keep singing, OK?”  Later, after we’d finished singing a heart-warming rendition of COME THY FOUNT, Maddie called out from the camper next to us, “Sing that one again!”  It is a sweet, memory.  I hope to recreate it with campfires in our yard.  Singing builds community.

In the last few hours before my dear sister Lynn passed away, we had gathered around her bed and sung her both songs of worship (celebrating our shared faith) as well as the songs she had taught my sister Hope and I.  It was such a beautiful experience that the family gathered around my dad’s bed on his last night here on earth and did the same.  Sadly, my mom’s death came suddenly when she was home alone.  We didn’t get to sing her off.  Thankfully though, my sister Hope had called me over to Mom’s one night because she was acting very strange and agitated, and Hope was afraid she was dying.  There were several times like this in my mom’s last year, so it wasn’t an automatic, “Get the family over here,” kind of thing.  Hope and I tucked Mom into bed, prayed with her and listened to her “If I die tonight…” instructions.  After that we looked at each other and mouthed, “Should we sing?”  We decided, last night or not, it would soothe our mother if we sang to her.  We started with the “Lynn songs” and moved into songs of worship and hope.  I am so grateful we had that time of lulling my mom to sleep weeks before the Lord brought her home.  Singing is a great way to say goodbye.

What songs are stored in your heart?

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Parenting and Home Schooling Goals: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Today I’m going to write a challenge to parents, particularly to home school parents, but it is applicable to all parents.  When we first started home schooling, nearly 3 decades ago, we were advised to write a mission statement, to remind us why we chose this route and to help us focus on our goals.  I’m not sure I ever did that, and probably it would have changed quite a bit over the years.  In its simplest form, it would have been to teach my sons to love learning.  To that end, I’ve definitely succeeded. 

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Some of the other goals I may have set – goals which conference speakers directly or indirectly encouraged us to seek – we didn’t reach.  There was a lot of perfection pressure in the home school community in decades past.  It’s still there to some degree, though the direction may have changed a little.  Ultimately, I found making these things my goals often hampered what I’ve come to hold as my most important goal and also put unfair expectations on my boys.  All this pressure to present the perfect picture can wrongly imply to your child that he isn’t good enough – will never be good enough.

I discovered some years back that I was starting to develop a “salvation through home schooling” mentality.  If I did everything right, my boys would embrace my values, love the Lord and live to please Him.  If I parented as well as I was supposed to, I could save my children from choosing sin.   Oh, I probably would never have admitted or even recognized that’s what I was doing, but when it came down to it, that’s what it was.  One of my mantras now is, “You can’t home school (parent) the sinful nature out of your children.”  That’s not your job, and it’s not possible.  If it were, we wouldn’t need the saving grace of God.  We wouldn’t need Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection to give us true salvation.

Anyway, I didn’t do everything right; I did a lot of things wrong.  For one thing, my boys grew up with a mom who struggled with, at times, debilitating depression.  Striving for perfection can often lead to depression, by the way.  It took some hard knocks to wake me up to what I was doing.  My husband once told me I had to quit trying to make our kids fit other people’s standards for them.  This too I vehemently denied and I deceived myself.  First I tore him down for not setting (“suitable”) standards for our children.  Then I beat myself up for not being able to model, much less convince my children to adopt, those standards.  I’m here to tell you, you can and should model Christ to your children; this should be our real focus and our constant prayer.  You can lead your children toward Christ, but how, when and even if they truly accept His grace is between them and Jesus.   They will make mistakes and they will force you to face your own mistakes.

I have watched decades of kids graduate from home schooling.  I have talked with dozens of moms distraught over the choices made and actions taken by their adult children.  It is hard to accept the brittleness of goals you put so much effort into achieving.  I have learned we were looking at the wrong goals.

And so I challenge the present generation of hard-working parents:

If you are doing this (home schooling / raising children) to raise saints for the Kingdom, that is a good and godly goal, but they may grow up to rebel.

If you are doing this for “social security” — that is, so your kids will be your friends, that is a lovely goal for your adult children (younger children need you at a different level), but they may walk away from you.

If you are doing this to raise an academic genius, it’s entirely possible they may end up being “average” students.

If you are doing this to proudly build a tower of success (shame on you) it will likely come tumbling down.

If you are doing this to knit your family tightly together, you may succeed, or it may all unravel.

If you are doing this to keep your children from the world, it may result in them clinging to the ways of the world with all their might.

If you are doing this to earn a badge of honor for yourself, you deserve a badge of shame.

If you are doing this to prove you can, you are always at risk of proving you can’t.

What do you do when you have poured all your energies into a goal which ultimately you have no control over?

There is, I have found, only one purpose for home schooling or everyday parenting of your children which is pretty much guaranteed to get the desired results.  That is, you are doing this as an exercise in love and obedience.  Every opportunity you take to love and obey is pretty much guaranteed to expand your ability to love and obey.  In the process, you will have very likely strengthened your family.  Honestly, who can ever have too much exercise in loving those given to us by God?  And who can ever claim they aren’t in need of practice in obeying the Lord? 


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To that end, I have found one response to parenting and home schooling challenges which always seems to work.  Love your children in such a way that they will know they are loved.  Whether they embarrass you, question you, defy you, hurt you – and they will — respond with love.  Read 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 if you need a reminder of what love looks like.  That chapter does not just apply to marriage, in fact, I believe it speaks more to how God loves us.  It is a model of how we ought to love one another.

If you have to cut off friendships that are hurting your relationship with your children, cut them off.  If you have to sacrifice some of your ideals, sacrifice them.  If loving your child means readjusting the goals you set for them, then do it.  When your child needs correcting, let it be given with love, not anger.

When it comes to the “schooling” part of home schooling, love is what drives you to seek the right approach to help your child understand.  Love is what enables you to ask for help when you need it.  Love is what gives you the strength and ability to make the sacrifices required.  Love is what brings you to your knees in prayer to understand, build, strengthen and enable that child.

Read great books to your children.  Teach them the math, science and grammar skills they’ll need.  Teach them history, handwriting and health.  Teach them to love God, their family, their country.  Teach them the life skills they will need and teach them to give of themselves.  But also, be sure to teach their hearts to dance.   Teach them to laugh and sing and hug.  Listen to their heart.  Recognize their strengths and come alongside them in their weaknesses.  They are not your trophies; they are your gift and your responsibility.

When all is said and done, it is near impossible for your child to succeed in life and happiness if they don’t believe they are loved. 

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Home School Co-op Ideas

As a follow-up to my home school co-ops post, here is a list of some of the group learning activities we’ve done over the years.  Some are not technically a co-op, but they still present excellent opportunities to learn together with other families.

HISTORY PARADE -Gather together a group of creative families with each family committing to creating an entry for the parade.  Each family’s entry displays what they are studying in history that year.  This could involve costumes, banners, wagon floats, perhaps even a musical piece from that period of history.  Set a date for your parade (I suggest February, to alleviate those mid-year blues.) and arrange to march through the halls of a local senior living complex  or assisted living facility(or several of them). Just parading through the halls will greatly bless the residents, but if you want to go further, have some families take responsibility for handing out notices ahead of time to the residents to guarantee a great audience.

A parade in the nursing home is a fun and unique experience which will delight the residents if you're not too noisy.

A parade in the nursing home is a fun and unique experience which will delight the residents if you’re not too noisy.

Other families can organize refreshments which you share with the residents while you visit with them or give presentations about what you are studying.

PRAIRIE PRIMER – In this wonderful year-long co-op we went through the Prairie Primer and decided what activities we wanted to do together as a group.  Each family read through the corresponding Little House book for the month and did whatever other activities out of the book they wanted to cover as a family. We met twice a month for group activities, with different families hosting each gathering and all 6 families contributing assigned duties for each meeting.  Some of the terrific things we did together included:

  • making cheese
  • non-electric night in which we had a night of entertaining activities by candle light and the punched tin lanterns the kids made at the previous activity.
  • doing a shadow theater which was really awesome
  • a prairie Christmas celebration
  • making silhouette portraits
  • making leather mocassins
  • a night with the grandparents which included square dancing and a “Farmer Boy”  banquet of recipes from the Little House Cookbook
  • a campout weekend at Laura Ingalls Wilder Days in Pepin, Wisconsin

MIDDLE AGES – This one was a two-month commitment.  Families studied the Middle Ages in whatever way they wanted, but our group gatherings included the following activities:

  • designing a family crest and making it into a banner

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    Human Chess Players

  • playing human chess and learning what the different chess pieces represented
  • building a 3-room castle complete with drawbridge out of refrigerator boxes
  • visiting a Middle Ages re-enactment
  • taking a field trip to Medieval Times
  • hosting a banquet in which the children were assigned parts to play (minstrel, jester, server, cup-bearer, juggler, etc.); we ate cornish hens, multi-grain bread, venison and other fine fare off of (pita)bread trenchers; we decorated the hall with our family crest banners, and thoroughly entertained all the grandparents as we tried to prove that yes, their grandchildren were getting plenty of social exposure and were, indeed, learning a great deal.
    Family Crest Banner

    Family Crest Banner

    Castle Building

HEALTH and NUTRITION-  One field trip included a trip to the grocery store where we were given a guided tour through the produce department and got to taste some of the more exotic fruits.  After that, we were allowed to roam the aisles on a scavenger hunt where the kids were to read labels to find items with very specific nutritional content.  Another field trip included a tour of a dentist office and some education about good oral health habits.  An activity day focused on the five senses and included crawling around in a model ear, dissecting a cow’s eye and other sensory activities.  There were also fitness tests, keeping food diaries, and a day of learning about balancing fun with work in which the kids learned to do fun things such as face painting and juggling.

YOUNG PUBLIC SPEAKING – In order to ease the (elementary aged) kids into public speaking we met monthly with a group of families to recite memorized poems and to give short speeches within assigned parameters — for instance one month it might be “How to do something,” another month, “describing my favorite place,” or “our family tradition”.

BOOK DISCUSSION GROUPS – In addition to our literature discussion groups, especially at the high school level, we would tackle the tougher subjects by going through the same books together and creating presentations, quiz questions, and other challenges for each other or just generally discussing the matter together with other students and their moms.  In this manner, we covered such topics as American government, psychology, worldviews, logic, and science labs.

"Blood and Guts" group on "Nervous System" day

“Blood and Guts” group on “Nervous System” day

BLOOD and GUTS –  That’s the name of the book we used.  In this co-op group, one of the moms (a registered nurse) taught the lessons — each month focusing on a different body system; one mom set up arrangements with a local butcher to get a pig heart, lungs, digestive system, and whatever other body parts we were studying that month “strictly for educational purposes” — we had to sign a form each month promising proper handling and disposal; another mom organized snacks for co-op days (How could we eat?); and one amazing mom agreed to host our monthly meetings in her home.  Additionally, each mom contributed a variety of experiments and activities to further expand upon that month’s particular body system.

Our plastic tarp version of a tipi

 NATIVE AMERICANS – In this two-month co-op, each family chose a different region of the country and studied the tribes that lived there.  Our group activities included

  • learning Native American games, dances and crafts
  • making costumes
  • constructing a 12-foot tipi
  • studying the various types of houses in each region
  • visiting the Indian Summer Festival
  • culminating in a night where we gathered together to share foods from, model costumes of, and present reports about our chosen region’s tribes.

WORLD TOUR –  Each family takes a turn hosting the group and chooses  a country for their family to study.  On their host day, they provide food, crafts, activities and presentations about that country, teaching what they’ve learned to the other families.  Each child gets a passport and marks off the various countries as they learn about them.

Alternatively, this can be done as a one-time event.  Rent out a gym or other large hall at a church or school and host a World Tour night.  Each family chooses a country to study.  They put together a display about that country and stand at their table ready to talk to visitors about their chosen country.  Optionally, families might provide food from that country to give out in small samples.  They are also instructed to bring stickers, a rubber stamp or some other form of representation of their chosen country with which they can mark passports.  When visitors arrive  they receive a passport with all participating countries listed.  As they “tour the world” they get each county’s sticker placed in their passport at the appropriate spot as they gather information from the kids about the country they studied.

SCIENCE FAIR –  Whether you want to run this as a co-op or class in which the students learn how to do a science fair project, or otherwise leave it up to the families to study that themselves and just organize the event, a science fair is a great way to get kids excited about science and the scientific process.  Be sure to provide judges and awards.

WILD WEST – Work together with other families to recreate the Oregon Trail, the gold rush, the Pony Express.  We went to a nearby Wild West Museum and learned all kinds of things.  The Pony Express and the Oregon Trail were two of our favorite memories.  I will write more about them in another post.

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Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to give this co-op thing a try if you are a home schooling family.  If you are not a home schooling family, perhaps I’ve given you a window into our world that explains why we are so sold on educating our children in this manner.  This is why I try to explain that you can’t compare home schooling to public or private schooling as easily as some people like to believe.  It’s just a very different approach to educating.  It’s not for everybody, but I’m so grateful we chose this route for our family and feel very blessed to have been able to share the adventure with all of the wonderful families we’ve met along the way.

If you’ve participated in home school co-ops, I’d love for you to tell us what you did and how it went in the comments below.

Home School Co-ops:  How and Why?

 Australian and Asian Animal parade at Milw. Zoo 1990

Australian and Asian Animal Parade

If you are looking for a way to break away from the monotony of textbooks and wish to add a little life to your curriculum, co-ops are the way to go!  I’m not referring to such things as enrichment classes which can serve something like 80 families and 150 students, though in a sense, they are a co-op.  What I’ll be discussing here is small co-ops of a handful of families focused on studying the same topic for a set amount of time.  When planning a co-op there are several things to be considered:  How do you go about choosing families for your co-op?  How controlling should you be?  What type of problems might you run into?  How can you choose and limit activities?  I will give you the basic model we created that has proven very successful for co-ops I have been involved in, and then go on to answer the other questions and concerns.  In another article, I will share some of the different events and activities we did as a group.

Ideally, the co-op should enhance your chosen topic without putting undo time and energy constraints on its participants.  Your co-op doesn’t have to be a year long thing.  You can plan a 1 or 2 month commitment if you want. Truthfully, I can’t co-op continuously.  At most, I can do two years in a row.  Co-ops expend a lot of creative energy and can burn you out if you don’t take occasional breaks from them.

Civil War

Civil War Co-op

We’ve been involved in a number of co-ops over the years. Some have been wonderful.  Some have added extra stress to our home school. Some were just for a social outlet. By the grace of God and the pioneering spirit of the early home school families, we managed to create a beautiful model with the first co-op we attempted.  For the most part, we have used the same basic set up for all the other co-ops we ran.  Here is the model we created:

  1. Keep it limited to about 6-8 families (You will likely need to “close” your group at some point to keep it from ineffectively growing out of control.)
  2. Choose the families carefully; you need to have similar expectations and similar commitment levels.
  3. Choose a topic to study together; let each family study the subject as they see fit at home, but focus on being prepared for upcoming co-op activities.
  4. Lay out a schedule for the semester/year appointing two families to organize the events for any given month. (It works much better to have two moms working together rather than assigning one mom to take on all the planning for any given event.) Every month a different set of moms steps up to the plate so there is not too much burden on any one family.  Alternatively, we had each mom team take two months in a row and then they were done hosting for the year.
  5. We liked to meet twice a month, once for a field trip or speaker pertaining to our topic of study and once for a group event (a themed banquet, learning new skills, an art project, each family giving a presentation, etc.).
  6.  Limit your activities.  Weed out those that are less valuable or too demanding in time, money or energy.  Even still, it is possible to incorporate several different activities into a single group activity day.
  7. While only two families are involved in the organizing for each month (Be SURE to rotate this responsibility!), ALL the families are assigned a contribution of some sort whether it’s bringing supplies, bringing food, preparing their own presentation, etc.
  8. Make a clean “end” to your co-op, thereby freeing yourself to move on and/or create a new co-op with other families (or some of the same). Things get stale if the same 6 families keep trying to carry on co-ops together year after year.
Prairie Family gets a visit from Mr. Lincoln

Pioneer Days

CHOOSING FAMILIES

The chemistry of the families involved can make or break a co-op.  Be a little exclusive here.  If you have a friend or two that you know would love to do this with you, invite them privately and let each of the 3 families invite one other family to the group.  You don’t have to advertise that you are starting a co-op.  Personally, I have a hard time saying no to anyone, but when it comes to co-ops, if you’re not willing to draw some lines, you may as well skip co-oping.  Completely open co-ops are dsestined to fail.

You have to have somewhat like-minded families for this to work.  If one family wants to be really laid back and focus on crafts and another family wants to have each child deliver a 10 page report, you’re going to have problems.  If two moms are working their bottoms off and the other 4 are sitting in the other room just chatting with one another, that’s not going to work well either.  You need families committed to participating and not just taking.  There’s nothing wrong with focusing on crafts OR research papers; just make sure the group is like-minded.

Castle Construction

Building Castles with the Middle Ages Co-op

Another question is what to do about younger siblings.  We have always allowed preschoolers to participate.  And it was an unspoken rule that parents would keep their younger children involved or otherwise involve them quietly in a corner of the room so as not to disrupt the activity or stress the hostess.  It is also important to understand the necessity of respecting the home and belongings of the host family.  Again – Keep your co-ops small and manageable.

There are other reasons for limiting the size of the group.  First of all, if you are meeting in somebody’s home, it’s unreasonable to have 30 kids show up.  Secondly, it’s important that everybody does their fair share.  If every participating family doesn’t have to carry a share of the load, you will end up with uncommitted families that will take advantage of those that are willing to put in the work.  Usually you want at least 2 families working together to “host” any given event, but if you get more than 3 or 4 families hosting, it becomes “too many hands in the pot”. Finally, you will find if you limit the number of families, it will be a more intimate group where real friendships have a chance to blossom and grow and it is unlikely that anyone will be ignored or left out.  Also, it’s less intimidating to plan and activity or make a presentation before 12 peers than it is before 30.  Big enough to share the load, small enough to avoid cliques – that’s my recommendation.

If you don’t know many families, you may have to just publicly put your feelers out there on your local home school forum or facebook group.  If that’s the case, really spell out what you are looking for – something like this:

Oregon Trail Day

Oregon Trail Re-enactment

“Fun family of upper-elementary students looking for 5-7 other families to co-op for two months on the Solar System and two more months on the Oregon Trail.  You can choose to join us for either or both studies.  We will not be following any particular curriculum.  We will have a planning meeting for each co-op to decide exactly what we want to do as a group, but other than that focus, you use whatever materials you like to study the subject.  We will meet twice a month for each co-op alternating between field trips or speakers and hands-on activities and presetnations.  You must have a student in the 3rd – 5th grade level to join.  Older and younger siblings are welcome to participate as well.  We expect all children to be kept under control and to be respectful and cooperative.  Each family will commit to helping organize one of the two events for each study.  Failure to hold up your end of the bargain may result in asking you to leave the co-op so other “cooperative” families can fill your spot.  We will limit the co-op to a maximum of 8 families.  If more families than that are interested and willing to commit, we may break into two groups.  If you are interested, please call …”

You can also put out a more general announcement such as, “Is anybody else studying The Oregon Trail or the solar system?  We might be interested in doing a few group activities together.”  Gather whoever is interested, then split into groups based on ages and/or levels of commitment.  It’s possible only one or two families end up responding and it becomes evident you won’t work well together.  If that’s the case, just graciously decline and say you’ve decided a group might not be best for you at this time.

With a little planning, a good dose of commitment, and the careful choosing of participants, co-op groups can add tremendous depth and fun to your home school experience.

Next time, I will share some of the things we’ve done together in co-ops and other ideas for group activities.

Home School Help – Tending to Toddlers and Preschoolers


Balancing Teaching Your Older Children with Tending to the Younger Ones

Balancing Teaching Your Older Children with Tending to the Younger Ones

It is very easy to neglect your toddlers or preschoolers while trying to carry out your home school responsibilities. Younger children without a doubt, create a challenge for any mom, especially the home school mom.  We are torn between guilt and frustration as our younger children wander aimlessly about through their day, trashing the house and interrupting our teaching efforts. This post is to remind you that you are a family first, and a school second.

If you have read my earlier post on LESSON PLANNING, you will find that to be a great start in being able to make more time for your young children.  School-aged children with a weekly lesson plan in hand have far more direction and need far less of Mom’s constant attention.  In addition to making out a plan for your students, make out a plan for your pre-schoolers (even toddlers) as well.  How detailed you want to make this is up to you, but it should have at least these two things:  Every day you should have at least one special play activity scheduled.  You should also schedule at least one older child per day to spend an hour of playtime (or reading time) with the younger ones.  (Write their assigned time right on their school lesson plans.)  These two items alone could well give you two hours a day to focus on school without neglecting the little ones.  In addition, schedule time for you to spend with your younger children.  If you don’t consciously schedule it, it often gets forgotten.  I know it may not be possible to spend a large chunk of time, and maybe you can’t even get it in every day, but at least a few days a week plan an activity alone with this child.  It could be as simple as reading a book, playing hide and seek for 15 minutes, or letting them help you put groceries away.

Assign each older child at least one hour per week where they are scheduled to play with their preschool siblings.

Assign each older child at least one hour per week where they are scheduled to play with their preschool siblings.

Make sure each of your older children has at least one hour a week (each having their scheduled day/s) assigned to playtime with their younger siblings.  It would be best, but not necessary,  if these hours were scheduled at the same time each day.  Little ones thrive on routine.  It might also come in handy to give students a ½ hour assignment to play with the baby at those times when their brain needs a break.

It might come in handy to give students a ½ hour "assignment" to play with the baby when their brain needs a break from the books.

It might come in handy to give students a ½ hour “assignment” to play with the baby when their brain needs a break from the books.

Now, about those daily special play activities – Pick at least one item each day that is done only on that day of the week, during school time.  You can even call it their  “school”  if it helps.  A sample schedule might look like this:

Monday:  stringing beads

Tuesday:  playdough

Wednesday:  pattern blocks

Thursday:  popcorn play*

Friday:  painting

* By Popcorn Play I mean buy a 25# bucket of popcorn seeds from Sam’s Club and set it aside just for play use.  Dump it into a large, wide container (We’ve found a plastic toboggan to work particularly well, otherwise and underbed storage container will work nicely.) and let them play with it like sand — measure, pour, make roads, bury things.

You could even plan one activity for the morning and one for the afternoon.  The child should be where you can keep an eye on him, but try to plan activities that he can do without much assistance.  By allowing these activities only on the assigned days, it keeps the interest level high and your child will play at the activity much longer, thereby developing a healthy attention span.  Also introduce you child to daily chore assignments, and allow him to sit in on school when possible.  My 3 year olds loved to cuddle up on the couch when we were reading aloud even if they had no clue about what was being read.  It’s just a nice “belonging” thing to do.  If my boys were playing phonogram Bingo, we gave the preschooler a card and they’d tell him where to put the marker chips.  If they were using math manipulatives, their younger siblings were right beside them building things out of the same manipulatives.  Always let them sit in on fun stuff like science experiments and art projects.  And finally take full advantage of their naps!

I will write what could be a sample schedule, and then I will list lots of activity ideas.

8:30 chore time (some simple but contributing tasks)

9:00 free play or joining in on school activity

10:00 assigned morning activity (This would be the special activity chosen for that day of the week.)

11:00 play with sibling

12:00 lunch and recess (Get fresh air!)

1:00 nap

2:00 assigned afternoon activity (a second activity done only on this weekday)

2:30 Mommy Time!

3:30 free play

4:00 play with siblings while Mom makes dinner

You will note that I have included “Free Play” periods.  It’s very important that children are allowed some freedom in their day.  There should be times when he can explore, learn to entertain himself, or play as he desires.  The opportunity to do so is sadly lacking in today’s overly structured, schedule-packed society, and it’s not fair to the children.  Also, PLEASE, don’t plop that tot in front of a screen!  Granted, there are lots of wonderful things to explore TOGETHER on the internet — caterpillars morphing into butterflies for example — but really, REALLY limit the time your young children sit in front of a screen, be it TV, computer, tablet or phone.  And as much as possible do screen time along with your child rather than using it to babysit for you. That being said, I will now go ahead and list suggestions for things to do during the scheduled part of the day.

IDEAS FOR ASSIGNED ACTIVITES:

  • playdough

    Bring bath toys in the kitchen for water play time.

    Bring bath toys in the kitchen for water play time.

  • pattern blocks
  • popcorn play  (like sand play, only with popcorn kernels)
  • puzzles
  • play with water (much like the popcorn – Place a vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen floor with a plastic dishpan full of water.  Supply the child with a baster, funnel, cups, strainer and small toys to strain and let them have at it — under supervision, naturally.  When they are done, grab the mop and you’ll get a cleaned floor out of the bargain as well!)
  • sorting activities (sort by color, size, texture, category, likes/dislikes, …)
  • drawing / coloring
  • cutting, pasting & stickers
  • Duplos
  • Fisher Price Little People, Imaginext, or Adventure sets (These collections are easily built via rummaging.)
  • rubber stamps
  • digital books (This is one of my few suggestions for being in front of a screen.  Make this the exception and not the rule for reading time.)
  • listen to music (dance with streamers or bop a balloon to the music)
  • blocks (At about 1 year old, my boys particularly enjoyed dropping cube-shaped letter blocks through the hole in a plastic cereal container.  Eventually they moved on to building towers, then zoos and cities.)
  • toy animals (the hard rubber type – great for sorting, setting up a zoo,  or playing “survival of the fittest”)
  • matchbox cars
  • play food / dishes
  • practice cutting skills with old magazines (I am told by enrichment teachers that a number of our 7-8 year old students still cannot handle a scissors properly.  You need to give them practice in this skill.  There are plenty of “safe” scissors available.)
  • roller-skating in the basement (assuming you have slow kid’s skates!)
  • chalk on basement floor (a wet mop will take care of it)
  • build a blanket tent and look at books or camp with stuffed animals inside
  • wash windows (a spray bottle full of water and a rag)
  • math manipulatives (Pattern Blocks, Unifex Cubes, balance, Cuisenaire Rods, links, counting bears, dominoes, geoboards, fraction circles, etc.)
  • Tending to Preschoolers

    Math manipulatives can be used creatively.

    costume box

  • special videos (use sparingly)
  • puppets
  • obstacle course
  • decorate graham crackers with frosting and sprinkles *
  • make snack kabobs with toothpicks, mini marshmallows, pinapple chunks, cheese cubes, raisins, etc. *
  • magnetic letters or other magnets
  • look at photo albums
  • rhythm instruments
  • paint-with-water books
  • bean bag toss
  • weighing and comparing items with a child’s balance
  • practice dropping clothespins or pennies into a mason jar.  Count how many you get in.  Do it from a standing position with the jar on the floor or kneel on a chair and balance your arm on the chair back.

*allow them to serve the snacks they’ve prepared to their older siblings – if they dare eat them!

Okay, that’s enough to get you going.  Choose five or ten activities and assign each to a day of the week.  You may use additional activities  for Mom or Sibling time.

Don’t cast that child aside.  He will grow up all too quickly and is at a very precious age right now.  Be sure your home school doesn’t leave him a casualty.  God Bless your efforts.

Home School Lesson Planning

Lesson Plan Binders
The first few years that I home schooled, I would try to schedule out each week ahead of time.  Even so, sometimes I would wake up in the morning and wonder,“What were we supposed to do today?”  It’s amazing how brain dead you can get with mountains of laundry, dishes and papers to be corrected staring you in the face.  Several years later (Don’t wait that long!) I finally learned how to lay out a lesson plan that was easy to use and very effective.  I have used that same basic format for nearly 20 years now and we couldn’t function without it.   This has made a world of difference in our home schooling day and in what we accomplish in a year.  My method is not by any means the only method out there, and it may not be right for you, but for those of you struggling with how to plan your day this is well worth the effort.

I have created Lesson Plan Forms using the “table” tool in Microsoft word.  It is helpful to have all this information stored in your computer, but easy enough to do by hand as well.  You will want a weekly lesson sheet for each child.  This is a basic chart with the days of the week listed across the top and the various subjects or book titles listed down the side.  If you are planning for just one child a standard teacher’s plan book works fine.  I note on my master copy which subjects need to be done with Mom or siblings.  Across the top I have the child’s name and grade, the week number/dates  and a blank to record the number of hours for that week.  (In my state we have to keep track of hours.)

If you are doing this on computer, enter as much of the unchanging information into your table as you can, then highlight it, hit copy, and paste it 30-40 times (depending on how long your school year is).  You can then type in (or cut and paste) the various assignments for each week. You may skip this part if you don’t want to have a record on the computer of the whole year.   If you are doing it by hand, make a master chart for each child, then run 40 copies of each one.  I buy different colors of paper to print out our lists, and assign a color to each child.  It makes it easier to identify who’s list is laying under the coffee table and it gives the task list a cheery look.  Use bright colors!
Here are some blank forms you can copy if you prefer to write them out by hand.
Blank Lesson Plan PagesCreating Home School Lesson Plans

BREAKING DOWN THE BOOKS

Make a stack of all the books you plan to use for each child. If you will be using more than one book for a subject — for instance, reading a book about electricity, one having electricity experiments and one about Thomas Edison — make note of what order you wish to read the books.  If you are doing unit studies, determine how long you will spend on each unit and what books and activities you intend to use.  Now you need to decide how to break each book down into daily assignments.  Some books are easy.  With many text books it is obvious to do one lesson a day and reserve some days for tests.

Other books are not so clear cut.  They may only be used for a few weeks, or may not be broken down into easy-to-divide lessons.  I’ll page through these books, determine how much I think my child can handle in one day and break it down that way.  I might otherwise decide how many weeks it should take to complete this book.  I will look at the number of pages /chapters/lessons and determine how many need to be done each day or week in order to meet my goal.  For instance if my child is to read a 23 chapter book and I think he can handle 2 chapters a day, I know it will take 12 days to complete the book.  I’ll then decide if we can afford to spread it out over 3 weeks or if we’ll have to fit it into 2 weeks.

If I’m breaking it down by pages rather than lessons or chapters, I will actually page through the entire book to figure out where a logical place to break would be.  You don’t want to end the week two pages form the end of a section. In this case, I figure out how many pages we should average a day and try to break it close to that amount. In addition, you’ll want to note any special activities of field trips you  want to do when studying a book.

You don’t have to do every subject 5 days a week.  As  much as I am able, I try to keep each subject down to 4 days a week, and each day I alternate which subject gets skipped.  This way if we have a field trip or day off, say on Friday, I can schedule every subject’s  “off day” for Friday that week,  and not have to catch up. You should type out or write down your breakdown of daily assignments for each book.

Here’s a six week segment for a science book we used.
6 week breakdown for one book

Once you’ve broken down all the books you can transfer the daily assignments to your weekly lesson plans.  Here is where individual preference really steps in.  Because I store all this in my computer (where it’s really easy to cut and paste changes as we go along) I try to lay out the daily lesson plans for the entire year.  I usually spend my summer months doing this.  I know from experience that I don’t have much time or brain power to do this once the school year starts, and if it’s not written out it doesn’t  happen.  This can be an overwhelming task and you may prefer to fill out your forms week by week.  If you have a list of daily assignments for each book this is not difficult.  Just check off the assignments you’ve completed and you’ll know exactly where you’re at.

Here is what a weekly lesson plan incorporating all the subjects will look like.
3 versions of weekly lesson plan

There are some incredible benefits to having a plan such as this.

  • You make great progress, and those extra books
    that you’d really like to fit in some time actually get assigned and completed.
  • You hand your child the assignment sheet each week (or tape it on the wall) and both you and your child know exactly what needs to be accomplished.
  • If you file the paper at the end of the week you have a nice record of  what you’ve done.
  • It’s a great lesson and satisfying experience in setting and completing goals.
  • It places both the freedom and the responsibility of effective time management in your child’s hands.

My boys cross off each box as they complete it.  If your child is feeling particularly motivated he may whip through the tasks in a few hours.  If he is dragging his feet, you simply don’t allow school to be done (no TV, no play, no dinner if need be) until all the day’s assignments have been checked off.  My boys will occasionally decide they want a day off and work diligently for a day or two to get an entire day ahead. I don’t specify any order as to how they have to work through their day – as long as they get through the whole list.  School is no longer done or not done according to how frazzled Mom feels today.  It also makes my boys happy to know Mom is not going to just keep adding assignments to their day until they faint with fatigue!

Lesson Plans for Every Child

I hope this helps give you an idea on how you can organize your lesson plans.  For me, the important thing is that each child has their own sheet.  The teacher planning books are good for one or two children, but there’s just not enough room for larger families.

If this whole thing is too overwhelming for you, keep asking others how they do it until you find a system that works for you.  I’ve known people that just write out at the end of the day what they’ve done that day.  I personally am too tired at the end of the day (and lacking in the discipline) to take the time to do that.  Others will write a date in the corner of the workbook pages which shows when that page is to be completed.  Still others will just fill out lesson plans each weekend for the upcoming week.   If your system is not working, find a solution.  If it’s working well, stick with it.

UNPLUG and ENGAGE – 100+ Things OLDER Kids Can Do at Home to Learn, Relieve Boredom and Bless Others

Nothing ruins a summer so much as the phrase “I’m BORED!”  But letting your children pass the days sitting in the air-conditioning in front of some screen or another is not the answer to this problem.  Here are all kinds of things your older children can do to engage in life, relieve bordome, stimulate their minds and imagination and use their gifts to bless others.  [Check out my son’s stop-motion videos if you want to learn the value of stimulating the imagination.]  Here’s hoping that awful phrase is removed from your home this summer.  These activities are — for the most part — FREE!, child led (not a lot of parent involvement necessary), and can be done right in your home or yard.  Almost all of them don’t even require electricity much less a screen (although I do send you to some internet links to help you get started on some of them).  Print ’em and Post ’em.  When the kids even HINT at being bored, point to the list.  Enjoy!

Go here https://blessandbuild.com/2014/07/07/unplug-and-explore-60-things-kids-can-do-at-home-when-theyre-bored/  to see my list for younger children,
and here https://blessandbuild.com/2014/07/07/road-trips-unplugged/comment-page-1/#comment-160 to see my ideas for fun things to do in the car.

LEARN and ENTERTAIN

Alone or With Friends

  1. Learn  at least 3 different kinds of  SOLITAIRE.
  2. Learn to SHUFFLE and “bridge” cards
  3. Find old  FRAMES and/or old  FURNITURE (get permission!) and PAINT them with fun designs.
    DCIM100MEDIA
  4. Practice SPORTS SKILLS – dribbling, shooting, passing, free-throws, lay-ups, kicking, batting, pitching, volleying, archery, etc.
  5. LEGOS
  6. PAINT a masterpiece (If you haven’t got any ideas, try to copy a famous piece of art.)Imagination Station
  7. Practice DRAWING – I heartily recommend Mark Kistler’s books (or videos).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAcK9BY7Ymw
  8. Explore the world from a DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE with binoculars, magnifying glass or microscope.
  9. Have a KOOL-AID STAND.
  10. Gather, clean, and price outgrown toys and have a TOY SALE.
  11. CHALLENGE YOUR BRAIN with Cryptograms, Crosswords, Sudoku or Logic Puzzle
  12. Create a MAZE, with pencil and paper or with blocks or dominoes.
  13. Write a STORY.
  14. Complete a 500 piece PUZZLE.  (or more difficult if you choose)
  15. Use RUBBER STAMPS to make a collection of cards
  16. Learn ORIGAMI. – Get a book on how to do it from the library.
    origami
  17. Listen to AUDIOBOOKS  (Check your local library for a plethora of titles.)
  18.  CLIMB a tree.
  19. DECORATE your room.
  20. Build a TREE HOUSE.
  21. ROLLERBLADE
  22. Go for a BIKE RIDE. – With your parent’s help map out a 10 mile route and conquer it.
  23. Practice creating an outstanding AUTOGRAPH.  Your signature says a lot about you.  Make it stylish and unique.
  24. Make a MINIATURE GOLF COURSE in your yard or basement.   Use soup cans for holes.
  25. Learn some fancy JUMP ROPING moves.
  26. Learn some MAGIC TRICKS.
  27. Try a simple BUILDING PROJECT – shelves/bench/wooden crate/etc.
  28. Make an awesome COSTUME.
  29. Go on a NATURE HIKE.
  30. Create a SHELTER  out of branches, leaves, etc.  Sleep in it, if you dare.
  31. Press FLOWERS.
  32. Make PICTURE FRAMES  from twigs (or any other objects) glued onto sturdy cardboard
  33. Learn to KNIT or CROCHET.fairy garden
  34. Make DOLL CLOTHES.
  35. Create a  FAIRY GARDEN in a corner of the yard.
    http://www.themagiconions.com/2010/08/make-fairy-garden.html
  36. RE-FASHION old T-shirts.
    http://darlingadventures.com/?p=574
  37. Make BOOKMARKS.
  38. RE-CREATE your favorite book illustration.
  39. DESIGN your own GAME.
  40. Write SECRET MESSAGES with lemon juice on white paper.  When dry, hold paper over heating toaster to make invisible letters appear!
  41. Start a JOURNAL or write in one you already started.
  42. Organize your photos.  Create a PHOTOBOOK.
  43. Find and ant hill,  drop some crumbs or sweet liquid nearby and watch the ANTS do their thing.
  44. Play CHARADES.
  45. Draw/write a CARTOON STRIP of your own characters.
  46. Make a MAP of your bedroom, house or neighborhood.
  47. Find a PEN PAL from another country.  Share ideas about your cultures with each other.
  48. Collect sticks and mud and build a BIRD’S NEST.
  49. Create a family or neighborhood NEWSLETTER.
  50. Make PAPER AIRPLAINES.
  51. Learn to COOK a meal.
  52. Gather junk and discarded materials and turn it into a sculpture or other piece of art.  This is called FOUND OBJECT ART.
  53. Create a STOP-MOTION VIDEO.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuexL14O9L8
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9115ZqfkXM4  (See how creative my kids are?)
  54. Learn some CARD TRICKS.
  55. Practice FANCY LETTERING – a great skill to have for making cards and signs
    CHALK ART  https://www.etsy.com/listing/175732200/jeremiah-2911-for-i-know-the-plans-card?ref=shop_home_active_21
  56. Start a BLOG.
  57. Learn to FACE PAINT.100_0071
  58. Learn to whistle, snap your fingers, swim, ride a bike or ANYTHING ELSE YOU’VE WISHED YOU COULD DO.  (Probably not flying though.)
  59. REARRANGE your bedroom.
  60. Learn to tie a variety of  KNOTS.
  61. Learn a new VOCABULARY word every week and try to use it correctly every day that week.
  62.  Play MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.
  63. Pitch a tent and CAMP OUT in the backyard.
  64. Learn to make SHADOW PICTURES.
  65. LIP SYNC to a favorite song.  Or just go ahead and learn to sing it —really well!

 

 

LEARN and ENTERTAIN

With Friends / Siblings

  1. Play BOARD GAMES.
  2. Play cards with a friend.  Look up “POPULAR CARD GAMES” and learn the rules and strategy.
  3. Play MARBLES.
  4. PUZZLE RACES – Using two puzzles of the same difficulty (100 pieces or less) Race a friend to see who can complete their puzzle first.  You can also do this with teams.
  5. MAKE A VIDEO staring you and your siblings/friends.hopscotch
  6. Play HOPSCOTCH.
  7. Set up an OBSTACLE COURSE and  challenge friends/siblings to beat your time.
  8. Have a water BALLOON TOSS or an egg toss.
  9. Have a WATER FIGHT with water balloons, water guns, big plastic cups or all three!
  10. Play FLASHLIGHT TAG.
  11. Play KICK the CAN.  http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Kick-the-Can
  12. Have a SCAVENGER HUNT.  Form teams and a list of things that must be found outside/ in the house/ in the neighborhood.  State a time limit and see which team can find the most items.
  13. Record you and your friends doing CRAZY STUNTS like posing as mannequins in a store window, asking a stranger for a bite of his sandwich, handing out candy bars to random passers-by, having a parade down your street, or protesting something ridiculous.
  14. Play FOUR SQUARE.  http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Four-Square
  15. Play photographer.  Have a friend take turns with you doing PHOTO SHOOTS of each other.

 

 

Be a Blessing

We Are Most Blessed When Blessing Others

  1. WRITE a Letter.set up fair
  2. Wash WINDOWS.
  3. Clean a SHELF or DRAWER in your room.
  4. Set Up CARNIVAL GAMES for the kids in your neighborhood or for your siblings. (If you want to get really into it – have the kids bring old toys in exchange for tickets and use the old toys for game prizes!)
  5. Memorize then  Recite BIBLE VERSES.
  6. Memorize then recite a POEM.
  7. Put on a PLAY.
  8. BAKE A TREAT for your family or neighbors.
  9. ADOPT A GRANDPARENT from among the many lonely people in assisted living.  Write them notes, visit them, make things for them.
  10. Make CARDS/PICTURES and send them to loved ones
  11. CLEAN your bedroom.
  12. Pull the WEEDS.
  13. Using family friendly movies, run a THEATER in your living room for friends (complete with popcorn!).
  14. Write “THANK YOU” cards to tell someone how they’ve blessed you — even if you haven’t received a gift from them.
  15. Create circus stunts and perform a CIRCUS for/with the neighbor children.Circus Lion
  16. DUST the house.
  17. BRUSH the pet.
  18. PICK berries or vegetables.
  19. ENTERTAIN a younger sibling or neighbor child and give mom a break.
  20. Play outside with a PET.
  21. Surprise a neighbor with a GOOD DEED.
  22. Host a TEA PARTY.
  23. BATHE a pet.
  24. READ to younger siblings.
  25. ORGANIZE a dresser drawer.
  26. Clean UNDER the BED.
  27. MOW the lawn.
  28. Create a list of “RANDOM ACTS of KINDNESS” you can do.  See how many you can accomplish.
  29. Hold a neighborhood BIKE WASH.
  30. Do a STORY HOUR  for the younger children in your neighborhood.