Saturday, April 12, 2014

Five Ways to Help Your Son Be a Good Boyfriend/Fiance


Our first "guinea pig"! Our first born child, Joshua (31), with his wife of ten years. They put up with our novice parenting skills during their courtship and engagements--but I am so thrilled with the loving, romantic, deferential, and fun marriage that they have!



Yes, you read that title right! Our twenty-one year old engaged son (soon to be married--in four months!) NEEDS his parents. 

(As a side note, ever since we have had sixteen, eighteen, and twenty year olds, we have believed that sixteen to twenty is actually the highest need time for our kids in terms of parental guidance and input....but that is another post for another day.)

 There are key things that we can do to help Jonathan be a great boyfriend, awesome fiance--and soon, fantastic husband!



BFFs for two years; a couple for two more; engaged for six months--the sweet, happy couple

Jonathan and Maelynn have been engaged for six months,  a couple for two and a half years, and best friends for two years prior to that. Jonathan is our third child to get married, so we have quite a bit of experience in the boyfriend/fiance department (as well as a mishap or two along the way--there is no perfect way to help our kids find their way in the romantic relationship/marriage department!).

We have been extremely active in Jonathan and Maelynn's relationship from the beginning (as we have been for all three marrieds and another daughter in a serious relationship now). But not just Mom and Dad--the siblings kept their phones handy on the night that Jonathan was to propose--and texts, pictures, well-wishes, and love you's were flying across cell phone lines throughout the night. 

So here are five ways we can help our sons be good boyfriends/fiances--with this list making the assumption that said son is old enough to get married or consider getting married and the girl he is in a relationship with will likely become his wife in due time. (When to start relationships, lengths of relationships, serial dating, etc., are all topics for another post, again, on another day.)




 
One of the perks of being in a great relationship with your kids--getting to help them plan the fun things of life--here Ray is helping the kids plan and reserve their honeymoon!

















1. Start the relationship with your son 

In other words, don't let him get himself into just any relationship. As Jonathan and Maelynn's friendship grew, so did our time with Jonathan. There was a lot to do emotionally and spiritually, after all! 

We were there from the beginning---helping him decide how to pursue the relationship, coaching him on how to talk with her dad, encouraging him to tell her his heart, and guiding him in the path that appeared to be unfolding before him. 

By starting the relationship with our sons, we can help them during the initial stages--help them avoid heartache, see things that they cannot see, etc. Obviously, this "starting the relationship with him" takes a lot of pre-relationship heart work. We had to have such a strong relationship with Jonathan (and Joshua, age thirty-one, ten years ago) that he WANTED us to be a part of what was going on--that he sought out our counsel, encouragement, wise words, vision, etc. (See TEENS posts at Raising Kids With Character!)






Family days can provide lots of time to talk, see how the relationship is progressing, have fun, and help our son learn how to be the best boyfriend ever!


2. Be available for both of them  

When Jonathan and Maelynn became a couple (and had both parents' blessings to pursue each other), one of the first things that we did was take them to dinner and tell them flat out that we were available. I believe my husband's words were something like "We are super excited about your relationship and really pray that it works out wonderfully. We want you to know that we are always available for you. That we will be here to cheer you, to support you, to encourage you, to help you. That we are always here."

Then we followed up--texts to both of them help us keep a pulse on the relationship. Time with just the four of us when they are home from college gives us further glimpses into the hearts of these amazing young people. Long phone calls about wedding plans (okay, and yes, spread sheets that I make in Excel to help them stay on track with wedding preps!) continue to let them know that these parents aren't going anywhere any time soon.







3. Check on the girl's heart through your son

Boys are not naturally sensitive, intuitive beings (okay, I'll say it--men are not naturally this way either). Jonathan has unusual kindness, sensitivity, intuitiveness, and compassion--but even he overlooks things in their relationship at times. 

We constantly check with Jonathan on Maelynn's heart: "How do you think Maelynn feels about that?" "Did Maelynn say that is what she wants too?" "Is Maelynn still struggling with this or that? If so, how are you helping her?" "How have you deferred to Maelynn lately?" "Are you putting her first after the Lord--and does she know it?"

Without Jonathan even realizing it, we are helping him learn to be the type of husband that Maelynn will want in the future. We are actually "parenting"--but without curfews, punishments, or constant lessons. These "heart checks" continually give Jonathan the tools he needs to grow as a fiance'.

With these "Maelynn heart checks" also come encouragement and affirmation for Jonathan when he is being a great fiance. During a recent phone conversation I had with Jonathan, he said that he had asked Maelynn specifically what she wanted to do on the four year anniversary of her mother's death--and then he told me that they had taken the afternoon off from school and walked on Lake Michigan (near their campus), talked about her mom and anything Maelynn wanted to talk about, then read together from "Five Love Languages" (not sure where he ever got such a notion!! ; 0 ). That evening they watched a movie and relaxed. He had discovered what his girl needed on this difficult day and set out to make it happen.

I gushed, "Oh Jonathan. You are such an amazing fiance. You seek out Maelynn's needs and then try to meet them. That was so special. I am so proud of you for your sensitivity and care for her." See---teaching, training, encouraging, and affirming--all because of availability and asking the right questions.




4. Check on the couple's physical relationship often 


My husband is the type of father who loves to ask questions. He feels that the kids can learn more through their answers to our questions than they would if we just gave them the answer or told them how we wanted things. 

The same is true in the area of romance. When our kids begin a relationship, he asks them what their physical plans are, point blank. "Do you see yourselves holding hands or hugging?" "How about arms around each other or leaning on each other while watching a movie?" "Do you plan to kiss during the courtship period, engagement period, or not at all (before marriage) on the lips?"

Then he listens. Then he gives them input. ("You guys have a long three years ahead of you in this relationship. I agree that kissing should be reserved for the engagement period.") He can confirm, add to, give advice, etc., because he asked them first. And then, guess what? They ask him what he thinks! (Sneaky, huh???)


Ray asks them how they are going to stay true to their commitments in this area first (again).We help them design safeguards for their physical relationship--no kissing in the car, no being alone at one of your homes, etc. 

Once the parameters have been set in the physical relationship (by the couple, with our input), we can help them stay true to their physical commitments. Ray has asked our sons who have been in relationships exactly how things are going on a regular basis.

We are helping our son be a good boyfriend (then fiance--and eventually husband) when we walk through appropriate physical contact with them from the beginning--and check on them often. Our future daughter-in-law deserves a husband who keeps his word and loves her enough to honor their pre-marital intimacy decisions.









5. Encourage your son to have fun and make things special   

We want all of our married kids to be hopeless romantics like us!
Ray and I are hopeless romantics! We ballroom dance nearly every weekend because with each song "there is a three minute period in which nobody needs anything and the only people in the world are the two of us." (Told you we were hopeless!)


And we encourage our kids in relationships to be romantic, spontaneous, fun, and surprise-filled. When Jonathan and Maelynn first started dating two and a half years ago, Ray told them to make a list of all the fun things they wanted to do together during their summer school break (after work, of course!). He told them to check it every week and be sure to do something fun each week.


Long mornings at an old, dusty book shop, long walks in the park, singing together, movies, and concerts are some of the fun things Jonathan and Maelynn enjoy doing together.


Before they got engaged six months ago, the entire family called Jonathan one-by-one to offer advice on the perfect engagement night. It was loads of fun--and encouraged Jonathan to not just get engaged but to really GET ENGAGED! ;)


A couple of days before the big night, when Jonathan was heading out to go back to college, my husband slid him a fifty dollar bill and told him to "go ahead and take her to The Melting Pot. You want this night to be as special as it can be." Yes, I had to go two weeks without a dinner date with my husband--but it was worth it to us to help Jonathan afford a super special engagement night. Encourage romance in your son--this really makes a girlfriend/fiance happy!


Jonathan and Maelynn's re-enactment of their proposal--her sister wanted pics!


We even tell the boys that it is Scriptural to have fun and "cheer" your wife: "When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business; but he shall be free at home one years, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken" (Deuteronomy 24:5). I know, I know...taking a verse out of context, but doesn't that verse say something about how God views a marriage relationship and the husband's role to make the wife happy????

Occasionally, we just ask Jonathan, "Other than studying together for twelve hours on Saturday, what special thing did you do with Maelynn this weekend?" It can be as simple as walking downtown Chicago, playing in the game room at the college, or renting a movie for the two of them--but we don't want him to skip special things even in the midst of busy-ness (and two very serious, studious college kids!).

Additionally, we like to have fun with the sweet couple. It isn't uncommon at all for Jonathan to get a text from me giving him a potential schedule for when he is coming home to see if he and Maelynn can join us for pizza night, game night, park day, or a movie out. Being in these settings with the two of them helps us see how their relationship is going and what we can recommend to Jonathan to be a better boyfriend/fiance. 

Fun family times with the couple also give us chances to listen to Maelynn when she talks and point out little things that Jonathan might miss. (It isn't uncommon at all to hear my husband talking to one of the marrieds or dating kids on the phone and say, "I heard ____ say this the other night. What do you think he/she is feeling?" OR "When ____ said this, I didn't feel like you were really listening.") In addition to potentially helping a current situation, we are also helping to train our son or daughter's ears for really listening to the other person.





Pre-marital time with his girlfriend/fiance is the perfect opportunity for him to hone those relationship skills and character qualities that he has been learning at home since he was little.



Trust me, you WANT your son to be a good boyfriend/fiance to the woman he is going to marry because it lays the groundwork for his marriage relationship. This is the perfect opportunity for us to help our son hone the relationship skills (empathy, kindness, generosity, compassion, selflessness, love, deference, etc.) that he has been learning at home for the past eighteen or twenty years. Our training years are not over just because our son is in a serious relationship. He still needs us--and his girlfriend/fiance will be overjoyed that we helped him become a better boyfriend/fiance!







Friday, February 28, 2014

W is for Wonderful Wednesday--and Other Special Times With Our Kids!

Piglet sidled up to Pooh. “Pooh!” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. I just wanted to be sure of you.”

                                        A.A. Milne








One way that we have tried to have one-on-one conversations with our children, in spite of there being seven of them, is to take a child with us in the vehicle whenever possible. We began this custom when we just had three small children, making it a point to always “take whomever had shoes on” with us when one of us ran an errand.

Through the years, our custom has become a little more sophisticated (especially now that the kids are older and not always available to go run errands). Now we focus not on who has shoes on but rather on who needs Mom or Dad the most at that time. It is not uncommon for us to discuss the week in terms of kids’ needs and for one of us to say, “Why don’t you have ______ ride up with you to see your mom Wednesday night, so the two of you have a chance to talk about that.” Whatever that might be.



Of course, good discussion can also take place in the vehicle with more than one child with you. We had three girls in a row followed by three boys in a row (after our first child, a boy). This made it particularly good for talking in groups, and it wasn’t uncommon for the boys and Dad to have “Daddy talks” while en route places. (And I could never disclose the contents of those talks!)

Sometimes deep discussions did not take place. Sometimes we just talked about what we saw outside (more on that tomorrow!). Other times, it was just like the quote above by AA Milne—and the child just needed to “be sure of us.”

In case you think that taking a child one-at-a-time is still not that important, let me leave you with this thought: We have had children repent of deceit, cry their eyes out over a broken heart, and even accept Christ as their Savior in a vehicle, one-on-one with Mom and/or Dad. We actually had our oldest child reveal to the two of us whom he thought he wanted to marry (and he did several months later) in the drive-through of a fast food restaurant. Never underestimate time spent with Dad and Mom alone doing something as mundane as running errands!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Our Kids Will Do To and For Other What We Do To and For Them--Reprint

"Throughout their lives, your kids will do to and for others what you have done to and for them.”




In our “Character for Tweens and Teens” seminar, we stress the quote above—because we have seen it over and over in our children’s lives during our thirty years of parenting. And it is truly something to consider in the time, effort, money, and teaching that we invest in our children. When I look back at how true this statement has been in our lives, I just want to tell every parent that there are genuine dividends paid for all of that investing!

I could share examples of this with you from every age and stage our seven kids:

*How Joshua, our first born, would sit in the back of the van and tell his sisters what to expect when we got to our destination, how they should behave and how they should treat others—because his mommy and daddy had done that for him since he was a toddler.

*How Kayla, our second daughter, took it upon herself at age fourteen to do all of the cooking for a long period of time during my grief after our stillborn daughter’s birth and my life-threatening ruptured uterus—because her parents had served her, fed her, and taught her everything she needed to know in the kitchen.

*How Cami, our third child, started a ministry for the disabled when she was a senior in high school (that still runs today seven years later and ministers to over a hundred disabled adults every week)—because we taught her to look into people’s hearts to see their deepest needs, and we looked into her heart.

*How the girls planned a special meal for their brothers and even called and invited their grandparents to their “Silly Supper” while Mom and Dad were out of town---because Mom and Dad had always tried to make things special for them.

*How Kara, our fourth child, listened intently night after night to the needs of the teens on the traveling drama team that she led—because her parents had listened to her needs late at night for twenty years.

And on and on and on and on. Our children are far from perfect—as are their parents. But there is one thing that we can be sure they will always do: serve, love, reach out, touch, help, and communicate with others in many of the same ways that they have been served, loved, reached out to, touched, helped, and communicated with by us, their parents.

We have an example of this hot off the press that is so incredibly cute I just had to share it with you. Our almost-eighteen  year-old Josiah (sixth child of seven living)  asked a few weeks ago if he could surprise his younger brother Jacob (our youngest) by taking him to visit their oldest sister near Chicago where she is in grad school at Wheaton College (a four hour drive from us). We discussed it and decided to let him do it, so he set about planning the trip.

He must have talked to me about the “unveiling” of the trip to Jakie no fewer than a dozen times over the three weeks prior to the trip: “Should I drive home with him from my drum teaching and ask him to tell me where the gps says to turn?” “Should I take him to Cami and Joseph’s (our daughter and son-in-law) and make him think we are spending the night there but then take off from there?” “Should I pack all of his stuff while he is at piano then act like we are going to run errands?” On and on. He had a new idea everyday it seemed.

He set aside two hours the night before to go over directions with his dad, talk to us about details, call Kayla (whom they were going to see), and pack/load the car while Jacob was at the YMCA exercising with Kara (our fourth child). He gassed up his vehicle. He packed snacks. He gathered story tapes. He went to the bank and got cash. He packed Jakie’s things and hid them in the trunk.

At one point in Josiah’s preparations, he said, “Don’t you think this is the best surprise that any of the siblings have ever done for another one?” To which we just smiled and nodded. (Our kids have had a sort of unofficial “best sibling EV-ER” contest going on for many years.)

And then they left. His idea to take Jacob to Cami and Joseph’s and go from there, telling him only when Jacob noticed that they were not taking the route that led home, won out. 

And Jacob called us to see if it was really true—“are we really driving to Kayla’s for the weekend?” We could hear Josiah laughing in the background—one happy big brother.


Josiah’s idea wasn’t quite as original as he thought—but we didn’t tell him that, of course. For Josiah had just done nearly everything that we had done for him eight years ago when we took him and his siblings on a surprise weekend trip—right down to hiding packed things in the trunk, packing good snacks, sneaking out story tapes and games,  and taking a strange route to confuse them. Because by that time, we knew that  “throughout their lives, our kids will do to and for other whatever has been done to and for them.” Smile…

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

U is for UNDERSTANDING FREEZER COOKING--Determining the Type of Freezer Cook You Want to Become


Cooking day!




When a person asks me to help them get started in freezer cooking, I am always anxious to offer advice and help because I know how much it has helped me, blessed others, and nourished my family for the past twenty-three years. As I stated earlier on the blog, my first piece of advice is to not make it bigger than it needs to be. Freezer cooking doesn't have to be this all-encompassing way of life that is so huge you can't bear to face cooking day. On the other hand, if you like to go big (which I always have!), then by all means, go big.

The next piece of advice in starting to freezer cook is to determine what kind of freezer cook you want to be--that is, how extensive do you want to cook freezer entrees vs. just regular daily food preparation. By this, I mean that you can literally do something as simple as double a casserole one night each week to stockpile a few freezer entrees each month--or you can use the elaborate six month system that I used to use when my children were all at home. And then, of course, everything in between.

Here are some options for the "type" of freezer cook you might desire to be:

1. The aforementioned "extra casserole" each week cook. In this way, you eat like you normally have, cooking from scratch or using convenience foods each day, but one day a week, you make an entree for your family's meal and freeze a second one of the same type. In this way, you end up with a few freezer entrees each month to grab and use as you need to. It is also super simple to just double whatever you are making. It truly takes maybe 25% more time to make an additional one as opposed to making one to begin with. This might be a good choice for someone who doesn't want to do much but wants to dabble in freezer cooking and also wants to have some entrees on hand to bless others. (Blessing/helping others has been one of the biggest benefits of freezer cooking for me over the past two decades.)

2. The "ten pounds of meat" a week method. This is the method I am currently using, and I just love it. One day a week, my teenage son and another teen and I have a three hour Kitchen Session in which we do the following:
a. Ten pounds of some meat made into entrees (Today was taco meat; the last time it was braised beef cube mix for stroganoff and/or beef stew; before that it was spaghetti pies.)
b. Meal for that day (Today was sloppy joes and smashed red potatoes.)
c. Fill at least one crock pot insert for another meal over the next few days (usually soups and stews) (Today was chicken casserole in the crock.)
d. Clean/dice/prepare fruits and veggies
e. Make something special, like a cake for a carry in or bars for a dance or breakfast casseroles for a shower, etc. 

3. The "once a month cooking" method. My first introduction to freezer cooking was via the book Make a Mix Cookery. I began making mixes with this book twenty-three years ago (when I was pregnant with our fourth/middle child). I made "Bisquick," brownie mixes, cake mixes, cookie dough, white sauce balls for the freezer, quick bread mixes, and much more. This book introduced me to freezer cooking through freezer meats (like taco meat, braised beef cube mix, master hamburger mix etc.) that you can pull out of the freezer and use in other recipes. It was and still is an amazing book that set me on the path to home management that would make me successful at feeding nine of us for many years--and that helped me help others and train my own children in hard work and kitchen preparations. 



Following this book, after a year or two of doing freezer meats and mixes, I found the book that I used for several years--Once a Month Cooking. It was one of the first of its kind, and while I wouldn't want to use it today because my methods are much more efficient for us, it opened my eyes to the world of freezer cooking--and I embraced it whole heartedly, cooking for one day a month and putting up twenty entrees or so each time. In this book, you choose the recipes you want to make, the number of each, plan, shop, do preps, and then cook and freeze up to twenty entrees at one time--presumably for the next month.

When I first started using this method, I cooked two days one week (a day of preps then the next day cooking/freezing) and began using those meals immediately (about four per week). Then before those were gone, I did another cooking day and filled another freezer for the next month, etc. This book is a terrific resource for learning what freezes well and getting recipe ideas, as well as just getting an overview of freezer cooking in general.



Obviously, to do "once a month" cooking in a day (by yourself or with a partner or kids), you don't have to follow this book. After a while of using this book, I moved on to my own style of  "once a month cooking" in which I would do mostly one certain type of food (i.e. crumbled ground beef one month; shredded chicken the next). The problem with this is that if you are relying too much on your freezer meals, you end up eating the same type of meats that whole month. (See my solution below in my "six month cooking week.)





4. "Cycle cooking"--or "six month cooking week." 

The aforementioned "one type of meat per cooking day" led me to what I did for many years--a method that is not for the faint of heart! In this method, I divided my recipes into six "cycles":

a. Shaped beef and other beef (meatloaves, meatballs, tuna balls, salmon loaves, swiss steak, Florida steak, braised beef cube mix/stroganoff)
b. Crumbled beef (spaghetti pie, sloppy joes, lasagna, taco meat, taco pie, hamburger stew, chili soup starter, etc.)
c. Shredded chicken (chicken rice soup starter, bbq shredded chicken, chicken tetrazinni, chicken spaghetti, chicken lasagna, hot chicken sandwich filling, chicken rice casserole, chicken enchiladas, etc.)
d. Chicken breasts (parmesan chicken breasts, grilled/marinated chicken breasts, chicken parmesan, oven fried chicken, chicken fajita meat, Oriental chicken, chicken cordon bleu, Monterey chicken breasts, bbq chicken breasts)
e. Sides (potato casserole, rice casserole, fried rice starter, mashed potatoes, broccoli and rice, four bean bake, green bean casserole, cauliflower au gratin)
f. Desserts (cookie dough, unbaked cakes, pies, quick breads, etc.)

In the "six month cooking week," I started the process by shopping on Friday, preparing my bags and containers and labels on Saturday, and starting the cooking on Monday. I did about thirty entrees each day--one day shaped beef, one day crumbled beef, etc. I would fill one freezer with six months worth of freezer meals by the end of the week. It was exhausting (and at times overwhelming), but it was amazing to have that freezer full of meals.

Once that freezer was full, I just did regular freezer cooking one day a month--but I did a different cycle each time--and began filling up my other freezer. By the end of the six months, the first freezer full of meals was empty and the next one was full. It was my favorite system ever because it brought together the efficiency of freezer cooking with my super efficiency of cycle cooking--doing one type of meat at a time. (This system actually trained me to do the "ten pounds of meat a week" method I now use. Doing all of the same type of meat at one time is super efficient!)


5. "Power Hour" cooking

When I can't have my three hour "Kitchen Session" as described above, I often opt for the "power hour" freezer cooking. In this method, my son and I (or my husband at times) go into the kitchen for one hour and do as much as we can possibly do--of all the same things. In this regard, we might make six lasagnas or ten bags of sloppy joes or ten bags of taco meat or eight bags of chicken rice soup starter. This method only works if you do it often though--otherwise, you end up eating the same thing over and over!


So what kind of freezer cook do you want to be? What would best meet your family's needs? How do you cook--big or small? What feels right for you?

In starting out with freezer cooking, you can do whatever works for you! And you will bless your family and make your days run more smoothly in the process.





“Readability Levels and Formulas for Homeschooling Parents”

                         “Readability Levels and Formulas for Homeschooling Parents”

                                  
                                                                                   Donna Reish











                                             An Introduction to Readability Levels


I began homeschooling over thirty years agol when Ray and I taught my younger sister (who was in eighth grade at the time) in our home. During my first several years of homeschooling, I used early readers when my children were first learning to read, but I did not care for “readers” for older children. I always felt that abridged or excerpted stories were inferior—and that children should read whole books.


This worked wonderfully for my first two (the ones who learned to read at age eight and nine). They didn’t like abridgements and excerpts very much anyway—and could easily read a couple of chapter books a week from ages ten and up. (I should note that they are both real literature buffs as adults, and our son teaches literary analysis of many novels to homeschooled students every semester. All of that reading really paid off!)


Then along came our third child, who begged for everything that I did not think was “best” for learning—workbooks (the more, the merrier, in her opinion); readers with excerpts and short stories; tons of what I had thought were useless pages of worksheets and coloring pages; and more. She was a different type of learner than Joshua and Kayla had been—and desired different learning tools.


So I began my hunt for “older” readers—readers for children beyond the phonetically-controlled ones that I had utilized to teach reading. I found many that I liked—and actually used some of them to read aloud to the kids since we found the stories and excerpts interesting and fun. They even caused my kids to go on and read entire books for themselves that they might have otherwise not known about or read (after reading an excerpted portion in their readers).


So…the moral of this story? Every child is different. Each child has his own learning style, likes, dislikes, etc. And we need to cater to those as much as possible in their learning. In order to choose reading materials for your children, a basic knowledge of readability levels will be a great help. I will detail readability levels and determinations in this month’s newsletter (March) and next month’s.  



                                          Readability Levels of Books


When a child is in school, he is likely in a “reading group," that is a group of children from his class in which all of the students read at about the same reading level. The child’s teacher chooses readers/stories for each group of children based on that group’s (the children in that group’s) reading level.

To practice with your child at home, you will want to do the same thing—but in a one on one, rather than small group, situation. How do you know what level is appropriate for your child?

I will enumerate some tips for choosing books at your child’s reading level, primarily for word-calling purposes. First, though, a small peek at readability levels will help you in determining your child’s reading level.

Readability is based on many factors. Many readability scales use one of a few simple formulae in which the number of words in a passage or story is divided by the number of words—and a readability level is derived based on the number of words each sentence contains (on an average). Other formulae use the number of syllables, considering that a sentence that contains twenty “one-syllable” words is certainly easier to word call than a sentence that contains twenty “three-syllable” words.

In both of those cases, the readability level is based on word calling, which is an accurate portrayal of early readers since children do not focus much on comprehension at that level of reading. (And if a class does focus on comprehension, it is usually just literal comprehension—what happened, who the characters were, etc.)


As students progress in their reading, we want them to not only be able to sound out words in a passage or story, but we want them to derive meaning from those words. Formulae for readability of a text based on comprehension is much more difficult to assess (though definitely counting number of words with longer syllables demonstrates a higher comprehension level than just merely counting the number of words).


So many things come into play when considering readability of, say, a chapter book of 150 pages. A book might be short but extremely difficult to comprehend due to the vocabulary used (which some formulae do not consider). Likewise, a book can be very long but have extremely immature vocabulary and not be difficult to comprehend at all.

In our language arts and composition books, we give students passages to write from at least half of the time for factual writing in the early grades, lessening as students learn to find appropriate sources themselves, etc. In choosing these passages to write from, comprehension is extremely important. In order to write from source material, a much higher level of comprehension must be realized than merely that of sounding out the words. In choosing passages for students to read, take notes from, and write from, we consider readability in terms of word calling first, then we consider sentence structure. Sentence structure includes the length of the sentence, the type of sentence (i.e. what we learned as compound, compound-complex, etc.), the type of and length of sentence openers a sentence contains (prepositional phrase openers, adverb openers, etc.), and finally, the vocabulary of the passage.


How does this apply to your reading with your student? Consider the list of ascending skills below concerning readability and readers:



Readability and Readers


1. In the early grades, you will be concerned with readability in terms of decoding, phonics, sight words, etc. That is, can your student read the words?


2. If your child already reads well in terms of decoding (sounding out words), and can “pick up anything and ‘read’ it,” you will want to focus on content—comprehending what he reads, discussing it, etc.


3. As students progress in reading, homeschooling moms and teachers in school often forsake the practice of reading aloud with children, noting that the child can word call anything, so there is no need to check for word calling skills/application of phonics. However, we advocate reading aloud with your child for some years, at least a couple of times a week. No, you will not be checking for word calling anymore (though my older boys will still say something like, “How do you pronounce this word—m-y-r-i-a-d?” when they are reading something to themselves), but reading involves word calling AND comprehension. A child who can “read anything” but not comprehend it is like a child reading “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.” To say that a child in fourth grade can read at a ninth grade level because he can decode all of the words in a passage that is rated at a ninth grade readability level is like saying he can read the “Wocket” tale by Dr. Seuss. He might be able to word call it, but is he “reading” if he cannot comprehend what he reads?


4. Oral reading together with Mom or Dad at upper elementary grades is for comprehension—you will not necessarily be checking on the application of his decoding skills, but you will be checking on his comprehension, vocabulary recognition, etc. You will hopefully be guiding him through his reading, discussing it, answering questions about vocabulary words (i.e. words he can easily sound out but does not know the meaning of), etc.


5. If your child is beyond the beginning phonics instruction, you may not need books that are “graded” in terms of readability. Perhaps he already enjoys reading a certain picture book series or early junior fiction series. These can then become his “readers” to read with you.


6. Consider the differences in “readability” in the materials he reads with you vs the materials he reads to himself:

a.    Be sure the material he reads aloud with you is somewhat challenging (i.e. he needs some help with words here and there but the books do not leave him in tears).

b.    Be sure that what he is reading to himself is not so difficult that he needs cueing or instruction as he reads it.



7.     Keep in mind that there are other things that affect readability besides syllable count, numbers of pages, sentence structure, and vocabulary. Interest is a strong factor in determining readability. (That is why I recommended the Saxon Bold Intervention+ for older students who need remedial reading on our Positive Parenting blog.The materials that they read from are high interest for older students—not childish or primary stories.) This is the reason that children who would not read their science or history book in fifth grade are picking up huge books of Harry Potter and these vampire books (not sure of their titles). Whether we like them or not, many children out there are reading these tomes simply because they are interested in them—despite the fact that those kids are not “at that reading level” and would never have picked up a book over two hundred pages prior to these books being released. (If you have an older student who is working on remedial reading, ask your librarian specifically for high interest/low readability materials for older students. Some of the adult literacy materials are extremely high interest with lower readability levels, as well.)



+Note: If you have an elementary child who is struggling with learning to read, visit Positive Parenting and click on “Reading Instruction” for helps and reviews of programs.





Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Never Get Behind on Dishes and Laundry Again!





Image from scoutiegirl.com



Twenty-five years ago when I was a young mother, housewife, and homeschooler, I had trouble getting all of my work done every day--while teaching a young son to read, keeping a curious preschooler out of everything, taking care of a toddler, nursing a baby, etc. Truly the statement "the days are long but the years are short" was never more real to me.

I had problems that many people who are "self employed" have--plus the added "benefits" of having a lot of littles around making messes and needing seemingly-constant attention. (I really do think they are benefits--but when a man is self-employed, he usually doesn't have to take care of a home, feed a crew, and provide constant care and supervision to little kids! He just, well, works!)

The greatest problem that those of us who are self employed and/or homeschoolers and/or housewives with littles is that of prioritizing. The second greatest is motivation. Why clean this up when it is just going to become a mess again in thirty minutes? Why fix a hot meal....three hours later, I will need to start another hot meal!

I have found many ways to get the motivation needed to make it through those days of many littles and lots of homeschooling needs--but that would take a book to explain, so for today, I would like to address the concept of prioritizing.

When I had little kids, I loved creating systems--toy storage systems, closet organization, bookshelf perfection. These were things, however, that should not have been high on the priority list. The priority list needed to include daily work, like dishes, laundry, meal preps, child cleansing, reading lessons, and unit studies. Not systems!

My husband would come home at the end of the work day, and I would take him by the hand and lead him through the house, making a path through clean laundry, unbathed children in pj's, and stacks of dishes, to show him the toy shelves with all of the toys sorted into baby wipe containers with picture labels on each shelf so that the kids could put the toys onto the right shelves. It didn't even dawn on me that I should have done dishes and laundry BEFORE doing those amazing toy shelves.



After he saw my prize-winning shelves, Ray would roll up his sleeves (literally) and dig in to help bail me out from my day of misplaced priorities. We would get the dishes and laundry done; he would call me "closet lady" --and then we would often repeat the cycle again in a few days. 

As we added more children to our home (and more kids in school), it became obvious that I could not continue to put contact paper on every box that came in the house and hand make labels with bright magic markers. Something had to give--and it was then that I came up with the solution to all of our laundry and dish (and trash!) problems:

Treat laundry, dishes, and trash just like brushing my teeth. I brush my teeth at least twice a day (sometimes three or four if I eat something spicy or I am going out in the evening). And I began doing the same with dishes, laundry, and trash. 

We still adhere to the below schedule twenty-five years later--though I have seldom done this daily work once the two oldest children could handle these tasks, about ages ten and seven--the youngest child or two of the family who can handle the work has always done the daily tasks (so that we more, um, accomplished kids and parents can do harder jobs, like cooking, shopping, cleaning out freezers, weekly bathroom cleaning, discipling teens, mentoring young adults, teaching fractions, organizing closets (!), etc.).





                    TWICE A DAY LAUNDRY, DISHES, and TRASH TASKS


Bedtime: (1) Run the dishes from the evening in the dishwasher
 (2) Put laundry from earlier in the dryer ("fold ups" only; we have always done hang ups in the moment, moving it before it spins out and hanging it up when it is nearly dry so that we don't have to iron)
3) Start another load in the washer before sleeping

Morning: (1) Unload dishwasher and put away any big dishes that were drying on the counter after last night's dinner
(2) Fold and put away laundry in the dryer
(3) Move washer load from washer to dryer and dry it
(4) Gather trash all over the house in the big bag out of the kitchen trash can and take it all out; replace bag

Noontime: (1) Do second load of laundry in dryer (fold and put away)
(2) Start tonight's first load of laundry in washer
(3) Load dishes from breakfast, lunch, snacks, and cooking and run dishwasher

Evening chores: (1) Unload daytime dishes
(2) Load dinner and dinner prep dishes
(3) Bag kitchen trash again and take it out (we only gather from everywhere else once a day, in the morning)


This assumes chore sessions are in place. Even if you do not have good chore sessions right now, you can start with a five minute session before or after each meal and get laundry and dishes done then (even if it is just you doing them). Four five minute sessions can keep everything up if you have a dishwasher. (Note that we do a load or two of "hang ups" in another chore session in addition to that twice-daily laundry schedule. "Hang up" laundry is a weekly chore, separate from the daily laundry.)

When I didn't have a dishwasher, I still kept this same routine, but I just kept hot sudsy water in the sink all day (reviving it as needed) and washed dishes and put them in the drying rack as I had them, definitely at least after each meal, but I (or a child) would often run out and wash a sinkful here and there.

Doesn't TWICE A DAY for each chore (fully done--trash, laundry, and dishes) and twenty total minutes of work a day sound completely doable??? It is! You can do this!

Twice a day--just like brushing your teeth!


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Baking Rice




My grad-student daughter from Illinois, my fifteen year old son, and I spent half a day this week cooking with my daughter who is expecting her first baby (our first grandchild) in four weeks. I have done freezer cooking for twenty-two years, so the girls just naturally do these types of cooking and food preps as well.

In three hours, five of us did fifty meals! That is twice as many as I normally would do in that time with that many people working simply because I was splitting the meals between Cami and me--so we averaged four servings per meal (instead of the normal eight servings that my meals now make). She took the smaller ones (see picture above) while I took the bigger ones. So in essence, we did twenty-five entrees that fed three and twenty-five entrees that fed six to eight.

The details of how to freezer cook are definitely for another time (and I am looking into doing a podcast about it for those who have been asking a lot), but I did want to document the fact that I cooked rice in the oven for the first time, and it turned out wonderful!

One of the entrees we were making is called "meatball stroganoff over rice." We had long-grain brown rice, but my daughter forgot to bring her rice cooker, and mine is well, buried or lost or something. (I've been decluttering and getting rid of things and putting things I don't use as often in tubs, and, well, I lost the rice cooker.)

Normally, when I do freezer cooking (usually once a week I do four to ten entrees for the freezer during one of my twice-weekly (or thrice-weekly) Kitchen Sessions), I start things immediately that take a while. One of those early tasks would be to put a lot of rice in the rice cooker for this stroganoff dish. I couldn't put it in the microwave because that would tie up the micro too long, and I didn't want to cook it on the stove because it would also be tied up--plus, I hate watching rice on the stove top while I am freezer cooking. It is a pain and just another thing to think about when I am crazy busy in the kitchen.

I remember a friend telling me that another mutual friend cooks her rice in the oven, so I Googled it and discovered that it looked as simple as the rice cooker or micro method (both of which I love and yield perfect rice imho).

I will put the link below from about.com for detailed instructions, but I skimmed the recipe and did what I always do: did four times as much as the recipe said while not really doing what the instructions say--and hoped for the best!

In a nutshell, I put four cups of rice and eight cups of hot water in a jelly roll pan (huge "cookie sheet" type of pan with great sides--mine take up my entire oven, like the size of two 9x13's or so). I did this twice. Turned the oven on 375, covered the two pans tightly with foil, and forgot about the them for forty-five minutes or so. Then I pulled them out, removed the foil, and had perfect rice. It didn't take up my micro or stove top; I didn't have to stir or watch or add more water, etc. It was that simple.

Note that the instructions say that you need to boil the water first, add butter, etc., but I literally did what I wrote above. Easy peasy.  If I were doing it again, I would use broth. I always cook my rice in broth, but for some reason I forgot this time.

Anyway, we pulled the rice pans out of the oven and dipped the rice into the bottom of our foil pans, placed our meatballs all over the rice, then coated the meatballs with our stroganoff gravy. And they looked delicious!

Here is the official instructions from about.com:

http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/ricegrains/a/Rice-In-The-Oven.htm