Saturday, August 20, 2016

Reading Allowance

I feel like I've been learning a ton about homeschooling lately.  It's exciting and scary all at the same time.  Maybe it's because we're settling into life in the desert (I wonder how many times I've accidentally said dessert) or maybe it's because I now have a 1st and 4th grader and things are getting real.  I don't know.  One of the things that I've found myself praying for is people to come beside us; people wiser and who have gone on this path before and can direct us the right way.  My knowledge is limited and I humbly accept that my children also need other people in their life to help them grow in ways that I can't.

All that to say, a friend shared with me this blog by Sarah Mackenzie.  It has been encouraging and informative and inspiring to me and was definitely an answer to prayer.  One of her posts was on giving kids a book allowance.  We don't give our kids any allowance, for a list of reasons that is another post, but I loved this idea.  I would LOVE to work on building our home library with good literature, but also know that the kids will be more excited to read if it's something they've chosen themselves.  Another plus is, Alison frequently chooses easy readers at the library because she doesn't want to risk not finishing the book before it's due.  This takes care of that and now she can stress-free enjoy a longer book.

So a few weeks ago, we pulled into the Thrift Store parking lot (we have a really big, fairly nice thrift store down the street) and I handed each kid $1.00.  Next time I'll plan more in advance, but that's all the cash I had and I assumed that we could get get several books for a dollar.  The books weren't as cheap as I thought they would be, but they were each able to pick out a book and were excited to add it to our library.

I bought a couple of classics that were in really good shape for only a few dollars and I got hooked on keeping this book allowance up!  As an added bonus, it was also a good lesson in money management and social skills as they had to interact with the cashier.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Pley Review

I was asked by to write a review for them...I probably should have warned them that I'm not very good at sugar coating my feelings.  The information I received was that they rent out educational toys.  I will admit that I'm not the best at having educational toys on hand; honestly I think they take up a lot of clutter for the short amount of time a child can learn from them and have found other avenues of learning work just as good.  But I thought, "Hey, maybe this will be a good educational resource and I won't have to keep the clutter."  So I agreed.

I was pretty much disappointed from the get-go.  I got all the way through the website, giving some information and then it came time to pick which toy I would receive.  Big let down.  I would not call the toys educational; Barbies and matchbox cars and Legos.  I decided on a Lego set because I knew Eli would be excited about building it, but I was not prepared for the stress that went along with this little blue box.

We opened the box, dumped out the Legos and then I realized, "Oh my goodness, I have to make sure every single tiny Lego gets back in this box!!!".
Then Colin jumped up to the table and asked, "Where's my set to build?" and starts trying to help Eli build which resulted in Lego's all over the floor.

One toy and three kids=everyone unhappy.

Then came the real kicker.  It was completed and he wanted to play with the spaceship but I would let him take it anywhere because I couldn't chance loosing any pieces or getting any of our own Lego's mixed up with it.  Eli quickly became very sad that he couldn't keep it and had to send it back.  AND the amount of money I would have paid to rent this toy, I could have just purchased it new.  I would have much rather bought it than have to count 225 tiny lego pieces to mail back...Oh, that's the other thing, it was another errand I had to run in the 116° weather to mail it back to them.  

All that to say, I probably should have said no.  It was definitely not worth the effort or the time.  To all the other parents out there, DO NOT RENT LEGO'S.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Last Day of School!!!

While everyone is going back to school, we're just finishing up our year and boy, oh boy, were we ready!

Books closed.  Notebooks filed away.  Kindergarten and 3rd grade complete.

I would make an excuse for my sons not having clothes on, but it's 118° outside and I don't blame them one bit.

Also had to document our last day of working on our bodies for biology.  It only took us a year and we didn't get as much done as I wanted, but we learned a little something.

P.S. I got the most amazing app for our iPad for learning about the body and I would highly recommend it.  It's called 'My Incredible Body'.  Check it out!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hard working kids, part 2

In part with that entitlement, my kids often feel entitled to my "help" at any given moment.  I put help in quotations because really, they want me to do a percentage of the work for them.  They feel entitled for things to be easy.

How we were working, wasn't working.  As Albert Einstein said, it was insanity; we were doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.  So this week, I gave the kids each a piece of paper and on it said my expectations for the week; what they were allowed to watch/do for screen time and what schoolwork needed to be done.  However, I was not going to tell them when to do the schoolwork, it was their responsibility to get it done within the week and there would be consequences if it didn't get done.

I thought Alison would love it, but yet again surprised me with her reaction.  She didn't like it that I wouldn't tell her when to work (I would tell her what we had going on for the day and would suggest she make a plan for when she was going to work).  I was also surprised by the other venues she chose to work hard at.  All of the sudden, she asked if she could make a smoothie and for the first time, she got out the vitamix cookbook, followed the instructions and made the smoothie all by herself.  Last summer, when Ben was deployed, we went through the whole cookbook and made every recipe and rated them.  I have no idea why now, but I'm so glad we did.  Clearly it gave her the confidence to use the Vitamix herself and she knew which recipes to use.

She turned into a smoothie making machine and wanted to make everyone smoothies all the time.  Watching the olympics was also a great picture of what hard work looks like!

Then one day this week, she made me a menu and asked if she could make me lunch.  After I put my order in, she made up a grocery list and asked if I could take her to the store.

It's not at all what I was looking for in her, but what a great surprise.  Not only was she working hard, but she was serving our family while doing it.  As for school, there were plenty of tears this week as she realized how hard it is to work on her own without me instructing her, BUT she did fabulous.  She did better than she's done all year and I am so proud of her.

As we closed our books yesterday and celebrated the completion of this crazy year, I wished I could have gone back a few weeks ago.  I wish I would have just stopped then.  I confess that I pushed through because I wanted all the boxes checked for the year and I should have just left things unfinished and made smoothies with my kids.  We did work really hard this year...we worked hard through a really hard year and another hard year is coming.  I know there are other military homeschooling families who can relate to these years and this is one of those times I wish we could all go grab some coffee together.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Raising Hard Working Kids In An Entiled World

"Do good work" Wall Badge

When I saw this sign yesterday from Magnolia Market, I thought, "How did Joanna Gaines know I needed this?!  I wonder how much I would have to pay to have her be my mothering mentor?"

We've had a crazy year.  We did some school and then Ben came home from deployment.  We did some school and then we had the holidays.  We did some school and then we moved across the country.  We did some school and then we did some exploring of our new state and had 3 rounds of visitors.  We've continued to do school through the summer as we've tried to meet new friends and figure out living in the desert.  We're getting ready to finish our school year and take a little break before Ben deploys again.

Through this whole crazy year, I've felt really good about homeschooling.  I love teaching our kids.  I love our little schoolroom and I really enjoy our days together.  But something happened this week...this was the worst week of school we have ever had.  It probably had something to do with the fact that Ben told the kids this week that he's deploying some time next month.  Or maybe it had something to do with the failed math assessment.  Or maybe we all just burnt out from the accumulation of this year.  I don't know, I just know it was very bad.

All of the sudden, the kids could not finish a single assignment well.  There were tears and pouting and grumbling and complaining about each and every subject.  I realized how quick I am to offer rewards for finishing something.  Alison especially will do anything for a reward.  I potty trained her in a matter of days just for stickers, she'll participate in sports for ice cream and persevered through Ancient history for a fish.

It's easy and it works, but what is it really teaching her?  To only get something done if you get something out of it?

We spent a lot of time this week talking about this verse:

Ironically, it took her three attempts to write it without misspelling a word and she was copying it out of the Bible!  Sigh.

I felt like the kids were just not there.  They weren't engaged and waiting for the moment I said, "Okay, school is done." so they could have their screen time.  I lost count how many times that I told them that they are not entitled to electronics and I could easily take away their screen time.

I know you're waiting for my 3 easy steps to raise hard working kids in an entitled world.  You're probably looking for the pretty picture to pin or the fun graphics to map out the best parenting skills.  I don't have it.  The humbling truth is, it's a matter of the heart and there isn't a quick fix for that.  Our house is already electronic limited and I could take away the little that they have for all of eternity and it still wouldn't give them a good work ethic.  I can talk to them all day long about the importance of doing a job well, even when you feel like your "boss" (aka mom at this time in life) is mad at you and it can all fall on hard hearts.  I could give them countless chores and make them slave away all day long, but it still doesn't mean they'll want to the job before them well.

 My easy steps to make them work hard won't change their heart.  Even without electronics, our kids are still being ingrained that "You should get what your heart desires".  They feel entitled to eat the fun Elsa fruit snacks and to win every game they play and to participate in every single extra curricular activity they want.

My only answer is to pray.
God is the Lord of their hearts, not me.

The best lesson we can teach our kids is to run to Jesus; admitting we are weak and full of sin and need his forgiveness and strength.  The second best is leading by example.  Let them hear your prayers over your family and let them see you working hard for the Lord.  Get in beside them as they scrub toilets and bring them into the kitchen with you to prepare dinner.

Work at parenting with all your heart because you are working for the Lord. Don't neglect praying over your kids and never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.

Too bad there aren't any Navy bases in Waco Texas.  Doesn't living on a farm next to the Gaines' sound fabulous?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Friendly competition?

How do your kids handle competition between siblings?  Do they thrive under the pressure of beating a sibling or does it make them discouraged?

I'm about to find out how my kiddos handle it.

The same day I gave Alison her math assessment, I gave it to Eli as well, curious to see where he was.  I knew that a large portion of it were concepts he hasn't formally learned yet, but I also know the power of listening to siblings learn.

I was shocked at the results; he was two questions short of passing 2nd grade and basically got the same score Alison did.

Yikes.  I wanted to party and jump up and down and make a HUGE deal of how awesome this was, but then again, I didn't want to make Alison feel like an even bigger failure.

All of the things we've been doing for Alison's math boot camp, Eli wants to participate in and CAN participate in, but I'm in this weird limbo of not wanting to hold him back, yet wanting Alison to jump ahead to gain confidence.

I even tried downloading a 1st grade math app just for him, but he claims it's too easy.

The difference between teaching boys and girls never ceases to amaze me.  When Alison was a toddler, I could say, "This is an 'A'.  What letter is this?" and she would say, "A".  Same thing to the boys, "This is an 'A'.  What letter is this?" and they would say, "Banana" or "7" or "Blue".  And I would eventually stop trying to push this style of learning and a few months later, they would just know that it's an A and move on.  Math is the opposite.  Configuring numbers just makes sense to them, while it sends Alison to tears.

This is how excited Eli was to start preschool years ago:

It still cracks me up.  Thankfully now he knows how fun learning can be :)

Any tips on sibling competition???

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Cracks in the foundation

This post goes on my "I wish someone would have told me" list. 
Let's see, so far I have:
  • How to take care of yourself after having a baby.
  • How hard the few weeks leading up to deployment and after coming home from deployment are.
  • and now this:

The public school that Alison went to for 1st and half of 2nd grade was extremely reading focused; all of their programs and rewards were geared toward reading.  Alison was "off the charts" in reading and sat quietly in her chair and followed the rules, so I always got "she's an excellent student" from her teachers.  Never once did they tell me that she struggled in math.

It wasn't until I began homeschool that I figured out the weakness in her education.  Just mentioning fractions freaked her out.  Multiplication?  Forget it.  She was a nervous nelly before she could even read the problem.  In public school, she had figured out how to work the system; she could ace tests even without knowing the information.

I decided to re-do second grade math at the beginning of 3rd grade to build her confidence and make sure her skills were solid before moving on.  Right after she finished, we began the moving-across-the-coutnry process and used for the remainder of the year along with the occasional worksheet.  I would sit with her once a week and watch what she was working online and I felt like she was being pushed and learning and doing well.  We are ending 3rd grade this week, so I gave her an assessment test to see what curriculum to order for 4th grade.

1st, should be easy peasy, question:
Me: "What is 53 minus 10?"
Alison: starts counting on her fingers..."41"
Me: "Wait. What is happening?  Why are you counting on your fingers? And how did you get 41?"

I finished the assessment and was almost speechless.  Truthfully, I was heartbroken.  You can tell a momma over and over not to take her kids' failure personally, but it's still hard to do, especially when you're the teacher too.

Me: "Alison, you didn't pass the assessment."
Alison"Ok, no big deal.  I'll just try harder next time."
Me"It actually is a big deal.  There isn't a next time."

Yet another thing public school ingrained in her; failure is not a big deal, you have infinite amount of times to try just a little bit more and maybe eventually you'll pass.
But if you don't ever feel the sting of failure, you won't ever try harder.

We spent most of that afternoon discussing issues that are a whole other post and that night we had a meeting with the principal, aka daddy.  It was decided that we would begin math boot camp and continue working on math, even over our break, until she was caught up.

Just a day into our boot camp, it became clear where the major crack in her foundation was.  She didn't have the basic math facts memorized.  She never made the transition from counting on her fingers to find the answers to relying on her memory for the answer and somehow she hid it really well.  I reached out to a friend who helps lots of kids catch up in math and she told me that this is a very common issue with kids.  Some kids just have a hard time memorizing in general and some kids just don't want to leave the comfort zone of counting on their fingers.

What I wish I would have known:

** Use math flash cards starting in 1st grade and keep using them!  Review them frequently.  Give a stack of them to your kids to review on their own before bed.
** Play cheesy math music and watch fun math videos on Youtube and play math games.  They may be slightly annoying, but they really get in kids brains and help concepts sink deeper.
** Don't assume your kids know information!  The saying about assuming is true. 
** Don't rely on computer programs for education and only use it as a supplement.