Saturday, January 9, 2010

day nine: reinforce concepts for school aged children with posters and table mats

                          “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.”
                                                              Walt Disney

Yesterday I talked about using posters and place mats to teach toddlers and preschoolers. Today I would like to continue that theme with reinforcing concepts and “teaching” older children (school age and up).

In addition to using posters and placemats with small children, we have used posters, placemats, and other “visuals” with our readers as well. More recently, we have had screen savers with Bible verses and other memorable information on the computer in the center of the house--the dining room where we all hang out.

Here are some more ideas for using these types of visuals:

1. Create mini Scripture posters on construction paper or on the computer. Hang a verse a week and recite it together at the dinner table or bedtime.

2. Write family rules, family values, or family "ways" on paper sized "posterettes," and hang one each week in a prominent location--talk about this rule or “way” during family dinners, etc. Some of ours have been "leave a room better than you found it," "your siblings are the most important people in the world," "it isn't funny if everybody doesn't think it's funny," "put others before yourself," “ask if there is anything you can do to help someone else,” and more.

3. Use educational placemats that correlate with what your kids are working on in school at that time. These can be purchased from an educational supply store and are avalable for everything under the sun--colors, numbers, alphabet, opposites, grammar terms, addition facts, multiplication facts, states and capitals, world geography, and much more.

4. Hang US “documents.” I got a set of US document posters when our older children were new readers. I would often find the “olders” sitting on the floor reading the “Declaration of Independence,” “the Constitution,” or the “Bill of Rights” to a little sister or brother!

5. Hang a posterette of a hymn, chorus, or Scripture song that you are learning together or in church. Put it close to the breakfast table or your child’s bed to review at a certain time each day.

6. Hang character posters—with a character quality, picture, and definition of the quality—up. We have often focused on one character quality per month—and had that character quality’s poster up for the entire month, then changed posters when we changed qualities.

7. Hang “I will” posters that correlate with a character quality that your family is focusing on. For example, when you are focusing on diligence, you can hang a poster listing “I will’s” that your children are working on with that quality, such as “I will pick up after myself,” “I will work as unto the Lord,” “I will do my chores without grumbling,” etc.

Friday, January 8, 2010

day eight: teach toddlers and preschoolers with posters and table mats

   "When a baby is picked up, spoken to, and loved, he is starting his education as God planned it."
                   ~ For The Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay~

When I read this quote I was taken back to twenty-plus years ago when we used posters to teach our toddlers and babies. When Joshua, our first born, was a toddler, I would get him out of his bed in the morning or after a nap, and waltz him around the room, reading posters that I put on his walls--Scripture posters, songs, rhymes, etc. He would laugh and giggle at my antics--and he was learning already..."starting his education as God planned it."

Fast forward a few years later to the days when our three oldest children were preschoolers and all learned "The Pledge of Allegiance," "My Country 'Tis of Thee," and "The National Anthem"--you guessed it, from posters again. I had posters hanging all around the dining room. (Our home was decorated in "Early Childhood" for many, many years!) As we all cleaned the kitchen together after a meal, we would look at the posters and recite and sing. All three of them learned these "classics" early through these posters and the repetition provided by that nightly cleaning ritual.

Through the years, we have used store bought posters, Scripture cards, homemade family "rule" posters, character quality posters, educational place mats, and more to teach our young children informally. Here are some ideas to get you started in teaching toddlers and preschoolers informally using posters and other visuals:

1. Buy posters with patriotic songs, rhymes, etc. and alternate these. Work on one or two at a time while you chore with your children, just before bed or naptime, or after breakfast each day.

2. Hang posters in the nursery and read them or portions of them to your baby or toddler before bed or when rising.

3. Get Bible character pictures/posters and as you read Bible stories or have Sunday school lessons about a certain Bible character, hang these up to remind your preschooler of the lesson.

4. Use a colorful calendar/poster to go over the month, day, and year with your preschooler each day.

5. Get colorful placemats for your preschoolers--many come with colors, numbers, alphabet, etc.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

day eight: enjoy the "ordinary" with your children

             "To fully appreciate 'the ordinary' is an extraordinary gift."
                                 from Simplicity Parenting

Not long ago, we had one of those "ordinary" evenings--dinner, discussions, a few chores together, Mom working on the computer (in the dining room) on documents, Dad and the three boys playing Simply Catan, then Dad and the sixteen year old sitting at the dining room table working on order sheets for our business with the two "littles" playing Legoes at the same table.

All of a sudden, our fourteen year old blurted out, "I wouldn't trade tonight for anything." What did that mean? It was, so, well, ordinary. We even worked some. He went on to say, "I mean it. This is the greatest family in the world. I love this...tonight..everything about it. Just being together and doing regular 'stuff.'"

We didn't watch a movie, play a video game, go out of the house, shop, do things with friends, or play on electronics. (Not that we are opposed to those things, but thankfully, it doesn't take those things to bring joy to a home.)

Three or four evenings. That's our rule of thumb for the number of evenings that all of the school aged kids and Mom and Dad are home together. Sometimes, during holidays or speaking weeks, that goal is not realized. But, more often than not, we have what we fondly call "ordinary evenings."

Now, of course, research and entire books are dedicated to the dangers of rushing children through childhood and pursuing too many activities for them (including the above-quoted book)--so maybe we're on to something here.  Regardless, it is that "ordinariness" that causes our children to "not want to trade today for anything in the world."

Tips for More Evenings Together:

1. Slow down Mom and Dad's schedule, so that you can model and lead the way in creating more "ordinary nights."

2. Reduce your children's activities. We have almost always adopted the "one activity per child per semester" benchmark. (Check it out--this is now Kevin Leman's advice in Home Court Advantage, too!)

3. Try to focus on family dinners more. Even if you just start planning and having two or three sit down meals together as a family, you will likely gain more time together than most have.

4. Have a television-less night or two. At first, you might all sit and stare at each other--but eventually, the time that was spent with media will be filled with conversations, games, and just generally "being"--something many of us are lacking.

5. If you now have no predictable nights at home together, declare one night a week as a family night. Each week schedule this (according to kids' activities and calendars on a week-by-week basis) and make it a priority. Have everyone put it on their calendar and stick to your guns that you will spend that evening together. (More on family nights later!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

day seven: use objects with special meaning to tie heart strings

  “A penny for your thoughts; a nickel for a hug; and a dime if you tell me that you love me.”

Yesterday I talked about two ways that we have gotten our children to talk through the years—“penny for your thoughts” and “talk to me” song. Out of one of these, a valuable “object lesson” developed and tied the heartstrings of my son and me in a special way.

The rest of that jingle goes on to offer not only a penny for what the person is thinking, but also a nickel for a hug and ten cents if you say “I love you.”

Sixteen cents… a meager amount of change that elicits warm feelings (and, I admit, a few tears of longing) as I write this. Our oldest son and I used to take the “penny for your thoughts” a little further when he was a little boy—and repeat the rest of the jingle to each other, complete with a big hug and special “I love you.”

As Joshua grew up, we would occasionally remind each other of how much we love to talk—and how much we care for each other by giving each other sixteen cents. When he was in high school and worked part time, I would wake up in the morning to find him off to work—with a penny, a nickel, and a dime lying on my desk. When he would open his lunch box, he would sometimes find sixteen cents taped to the inside of his pail. Not enough money to buy lunch, for sure, but enough money to know that Mom will be waiting on him ready to talk when he gets home from work.

What objects might have special meaning to you and your child? Is there a special item that you can attach unique meaning to for one or more of your children? Is there a trinket, heart, words to a song, picture of the two of you, favorite picture book, etc. that can be utilized as an object “just for the two of you”?

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

day six: use signals to get children to talk

                                              “A penny for your thoughts”

            “Talk to me, show me that you care. Talk to me, listen to the words I say.
         Talk to me, there’s so much we can share. I know you love me when you talk to me.”

The two quotes listed above are popular ditties in our home. The first one, a common saying, is one that we have used literally hundreds of times with our children—and with each other. Likewise, the bottom jingle, words to a children’s song that we have enjoyed with our children, is a number that we have sung over and over. Both of these have had the same purpose in our home: to remind our children that we want to talk with them—and that what they have to say is valuable and important.

Driving down the road with just one parent and one child, silence fills the air—until Mom or Dad says, “Jakie—a penny for your thoughts.” Or the parent reaches out, squeezes the child’s hand and sings, “Talk to me, show me that you care….I know you love me when you talk to me—I know you love me when you talk to me” (emphasizing the last line).

Little signals remind that son or daughter that he or she is in a safe communication place. That Mom and Dad truly care what is in their deepest heart of hearts. That we want to know their dreams, their hurts, their fears--and even the latest sports statistic or quilting idea.

It isn’t always that simple to get our children to talk to us, but if they are “conditioned” from toddlerhood that Mom and Dad are always there. If we stop what we are doing long enough to listen. If we give them a platform repeatedly…we might just get to their very innermost being. And they will know that “we love them when we talk to them.”

day five: AIM for more explanations

Twenty years ago Ray and I went to a parenting seminar in which the instructor (Greg Harris) taught that we should never simply answer our children’s questions with a quick, one-sentence answer. Rather, he said that when we answer our children’s questions, we should teach using parenthetical phrases. In other words, give the one sentence answer, but then “teach” more about that topic using parenthetical phrases—or more explanation with your answer.

We have a simple mnemonic to help you remember this: Answer It More--AIM. Whatever question your child asks you, do not just answer the question with a one word or one sentence answer—instead Answer It More. Answer the question with more information than you normally would: AIM!

AIM works in every area of life. A question just begs for more answer, more explanation, more detail—and it works to build your child’s background of knowledge—which carries over to life in general. Suddenly, your child knows more about that topic. When he reads, listens, watches, he brings more information and background of experience to those encounters…all because you AIMed.

Not only does AIM help your child once he is a student, but it also helps him from toddlerhood all the way up through adult. Here are some simple examples:

1. Recently, I overheard a preschooler ask her mom what the smoke detector on the wall of the bathroom is. The mom replied, “It’s a smoke detector—if it senses smoke, it sounds an alarm.” Nothing wrong with that answer. However, AIM (answering the question more) gives you the opportunity to bring even more info (and relate it to other scenarios). How about this: “It’s a smoke detector. If there is a fire, smoke goes into it, then an alarm beeps to tell you to get out of the building. Do you know the white square things above the bedroom doors? We have smoke detectors too. They’re just white, not red.” A simple question was posed—now Answer It More!

2. As we were in the kitchen a lot preparing for Christmas, we reviewed and re-reviewed the cups, quart, tablespoon, etc. scenarios. A question about “How many cups of chocolate chips are in the bag?” becomes a further lesson easily. (I know, I could have just told them that it says on the front of the bag how many cups it contains, but that wouldn’t give me a chance to use AIM on them!) Rather than answering the question with the cup measurement, I can direct my budding chef to the nutrition information and walk him through the “servings per container,” “serving size” information and figure it out together. AIM allowed me to teach math, cooking, thinking skills, logic, problem solving, comprehension, chart reading, and more! (And the beauty of it is that the kids have that information/skill to take with them for the next time. And, yes, they will need help doing it several times before it is second nature to them, but that just gives me more opportunities to teach!)

3. Behaviorally, AIM is outstanding. When our kids run in church, and we tell them not to, we can answer “Because I told you not to” or “Church isn’t for running.” Or we can AIM—answer the why question more. We can give character-building lessons with purpose. We can teach them about thinking of others before themselves; we can help them learn to be alert to other people’s needs and special circumstances; we can give them “learning hooks” on which to hang future character lessons on.

And, of course, AIM also works for all school areas. We need to slow down our hurried lives and capture those teachable moments—for babies all the way through our young adults. Let’s AIM for even more learning and positive parenting in 2010!

Monday, January 4, 2010

day four: build a love for reading from the crib

Building a love for reading in our children has always been a high priority in our family. My master's work is in Reading Specialist. I have taught people from age seven to seventy-seven how to read. And I have encouraged countless others in reading through tutoring hundreds of students. Reading has always been important to me as it opens the door to life-long learning in a powerful way.

It has been (accurately) said that "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." Ray and I took this saying to heart beginning with our first child twenty-seven years ago. Of course, daily story times and family read alouds are excellent ways to build a love for reading (and learning) in older children, but we have found that, as the quote above explains, we can make children readers quite literally from the crib. Below are some ideas that we have used to create "readers" literally years before our preschoolers and toddlers could read.

1. Mom and Dad read aloud to each other during late night nursing and/or rocking sessions.

2. Start collecting "baby books"--cardboard books, vinyl books, felt books, and other baby and toddler safe books. Put this in "baby's book basket"--a baby-safe basket that sits on the floor of the room Baby spends a lot of time in.

3. Save certain books (for us this was felt activity books) for Baby/Toddler to use during quiet times like church or other "sit still" periods.

4. Play Wee Sing activity and other "song" and "rhyme" cd's when Baby goes to bed. Graduate to lengthier "story" cd's (such as Mother Goose Rhymes, Toddler Bible stories, fairy tales, or Aesop Fables) as your baby becomes a toddler and is better at listening.

5. Limit television and/or videos to very little or almost none in the first three years in order to build an appetite for books and "slower" activities. (Too much stimulation through tv and videos causes young children to develop short attention spans and little desire for books and less-entertaining types of activities.)

6. After your toddler falls asleep at night, sneak in his or her room and place a small basket of baby books in the corner of his crib. When he awakens in the morning, he will develop a habit of playing with his mobile and crib-attached toys--and looking at his baby books.

7. When weaning time comes around, replace one feeding with a story time session. We did this with each of our children, replacing the afternoon feeding with a baby-only story time and a sipper cup of milk or juice.

8. As your toddler develops a longer attention span, allow him to join in your older kids' afternoon story times. As soon as he is disruptive or unattentive, place him in his crib. Joining older children's story time is a privilege that he will earn as he matures enough to sit still with the other kids. (I usually did his baby-only story time, then allowed him to be part of our regular story time for one simple picture book, then put him to bed for his nap. As his ability to sit and listen lengthened, so did he amount of time he stayed in older kids' story time.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

day three: trust God for your kids in the new year

January always affords us the opportunity to "start anew." The opportunity to right the things that we felt were wrong in the previous year; the chance to do better, be better, love better...and parent better.

It's no wonder with all the excitement and anticipation of a new year that we don't wish each January that we just knew a  little of what that would hold. That we just knew some of the things that would come our children's ways. That way, we reason, we could be a little more prepared, a little less worried about their futures.

Parenting is filled with wonder...good wonders...and the times we wonder what is next for our children. Worry seems to come easily, especially, to us mothers. Daily turning our cares for our children over to the Lord is a daily exercise that would benfit all of us "worrisome" types of moms.

"The Gate of the Year," a poem written in 1908 by Minnie Louise Haskins, sums up the truth about standing at the gate of a new year--and wishing we knew what it held for our families. We don't need a heads up about what this year will hold as much as we need to hold on to the one in control of this new year.

                                        "The Gate of the Year"

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,

"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."

And he replied, "Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God;

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!"