Saturday, February 20, 2010

day fifty-one: get bible and character dvd’s for your littles—review of NEST videos

“The NestFamily video series passed the toughest test in our house—the test of our kids! My three daughters love it. We love to watch a tape as a family just before bedtime. The NestFamily videos are a great tool for family devotionals.” Max Lucado

When our little boys were really little, we hit upon the best animated video Bible and character series that we have ever used (and I have gotten many, many different ones through the years at the library, homeschool fairs, and other places). This series, called NEST videos, is actually a fifteen year old company that does many outstanding products. The two I would like to specifically bring to your attention today, the ones we have used extensively, are the Bible videos and character “cartoon” videos.

The Bible video series is their core program. It contains fifty-six interactive Bible stories including twelve from the Old Testament; twenty-four from the life of Christ; and the remainder of Paul and his missionary journeys. They are animated, colorful, and beautiful.

This series is captivating, so professionally done, and award winning. It has received awards and recognition from the Emmy’ Awards, Parenting Magazine, The Parents’ Choice Foundation, National Educational Media Network, Film Advisory Board, Director’s Choice Award from Early Childhood News, KIDS FIRST, Practical Homeschooling, and the DOVE awards, to name a few.

The second product line, which I whole-heartedly recommend, is the Hero Classics. This set consists of twenty inspiring, educational stories of heroic men and women, with the emphasis on their accomplishments in world history and social sciences. This series helps teach positive character traits, such as honesty, courage, leadership, patriotism, self-control, compassion, and more.

This Animated Hero Classic Series contains twenty historically accurate DVD’s and has also won countless awards. According to Video Librarian Magazine, “This wonderful animated series brings to video not just historical heroes but rol models we need to keep alive in our memories.”

The downside of NEST products? They are pricey. While you can easily run out and get the latest-lack-of-character-building DVD at Wal-mart for five bucks and have two hours of crude, profane viewing, each short (thirty minute) NEST dvd costs about $25 if purchased in a set of twelve or more. We were able to get in on them when they first came out (on VHS) and got some truly exceptional deals on them. However, to purchase the DVD’s, one would either need to save for a while—or take advantage of NEST’s flex payment plan in which you receive the DVD’s now but pay each month (with no interest) via your debit card.

I think the NEST videos are an investment worth making for families who have children ages two to ten. They are ideal family devotion materials, Sunday school supplements, homeschool curricula, or “daily video after naps” items. They are such high quality products that you do not feel like you are watching the latest generic cartoon. Check out their link below—and consider getting them for your kids or grandkids.

Note: The last time I spoke with a representative for NEST, the gentleman told me that if you have the old VHS program, you can get a special rate for the replacement DVD’s. We have been considering taking advantage of this offer and stocking our shelves with the DVD’s for future grandkids. (Plus, Jakie keeps asking if we can get the new DVD’s of these for him before he’s too old!)


Thursday, February 18, 2010

day fifty: tell your kids from the beginning that you are all blessed to be a part of your family

“The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works is the family.” Lee Iacocca

About a dozen years ago, we went to a parenting seminar (we never outgrew parenting seminars!) in which the teacher said that we should tell our kids that our family is the greatest and go on and on about how wonderful it is to be a member of our family. He even said, “When you are all in the vehicle and driving somewhere, say aloud, ‘Which family is the best family ever?’” Then we should all chant and yell, “Ours is!”

Ray and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. Was this teacher a mouse in our full sized van, “Big Blue”? Ever since we can remember, and certainly since our oldest children were preschoolers and primary age children, we always gathered in the van and shouted out how great our family was, how glad we are to be a part of it, etc.

“Which family is the best family ever?”

“Ours is!”

“Who loves to be in our family?”

“We do!”

“Who has the best brothers and sisters?”

“I do!”

It sounds a little strange to read it—and unless you were there in our van with happy, giggling children and overjoyed parents, you can’t fully appreciate those wonderful times. But they were wonderful.

Children have a tendency to believe whatever they are told. So let’s tell them good things! How much better to start them off with a positive outlook on their family than on a complaining “other people have it better than I do” attitude that is so prevalent among kids today.

Our children always believed that we had an awesome family, in part because we “chanted” it (!) and in part because we did! We tried to do the many “positive parenting strategies” that I have been writing about. And we told them—frankly, that God has truly blessed us with a family and a Savior.

We wanted them to be happy that they were born into the Reish family. We wanted them to see how blessed they were to have such incredible siblings. We wanted them to appreciate their parents, who were dedicating a huge portion of their lives to raising them in the best environment we could create.

Maybe yelling out how blessed your family is seems awkward to you. However, we can all use a little more thankfulness and a little less complaining. And our children can certainly benefit from seeing us be grateful and happy that God has given us each other. Something as small as, “I am so happy that God gave us each other” or “We are certainly blessed to have the family we do” is a good place for us parents to start.

Obviously, it takes a lot more than chanting to create a happy home. But verbalizing our blessings can be a part of the making of a happy home. And convincing our children from the earliest ages that they truly are fortunate to be born into our family is a great way to get them on our team from the beginning.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

day forty-nine: teach your kids as you drive

“You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.”
            Marvin Minsky

Yesterday I talked about the importance of taking a child (“whoever has shoes on”) with you one-on-one when you go to run errands, etc. I focused on the spiritual, communicative, and emotional aspects of spending time with our children in that context. However, besides those areas, riding in the car with Mom or Dad is the perfect time to learn…well, anything.

During those times that we are not having heart talks, or the times when multiple children are along, we love to teach our children as we drive. It really isn’t difficult—it just takes looking at this “down, often-unused” time in a new way. Every moment with our children is a potential teachable moment—we just have to look at them as such.

Here are a few ways to teach and talk as we drive:

1. Discuss what we have heard or read. This one is a biggie with two or more children in the vehicle with us at one time. Everyone has read a book, skimmed a forward, saw the headlines on Yahoo, listened to a sermon, heard a talking book, etc. most everyday here at our house. And all of these things are potential talking topics. It is rare for one of the kids not to ask a question or tell us about what he has read or heard anytime we are in the vehicle together. If he doesn’t, we have tons of topics to bring up: what did you learn today; what are you reading; how did the pastor’s sermon speak to you; etc. etc.

2. Listen together. We love to read aloud when we travel (more on this later!) and listen to radio dramas, speakers, and audio books anytime we are driving and not talking. Of course, listening together usually leads to discussion—and more discussion.

3. Talk about the people you see. I discussed this in an early January post—bringing hurting people to our children’s attention when we are out and about. In addition to teaching empathy, this kind of discussion also lends itself well to talking about choices, relationships, etc. When we see somebody lewdly dressed along the street, we discuss the importance of not putting those pictures in our minds, but looking away instead. When we see kids along the street fighting, we discuss the importance of anger management and conflict resolution. When we see a parent mistreating a child, we discuss parenting and the importance of handling behavior problems early—and correctly—to keep from lashing out in anger later.

4. Talk about what you see along the road. This is obviously wide open. A house being built lends itself to discussion about (1) buying something that is in your price range; (2) building a house in the country vs in town; on small acreage vs large acreage; (3) your dream house; (4) rooms and possessions that build family unity or increase family fun. Workers along the side of the road lend themselves to discussing (1) the fines for speeding in a road construction zone; (2) the amount of sun (and Vitamin D) a road worker would get in the summer; (3) jobs that are out in the heat vs jobs that are inside. Get the idea? There are dozens of topics to discuss in everything we see as we drive!

5. Talk about driving, safety, road signs, and more. This is obvious, yet often overlooked. We teach our children’s driver’s training classes ourselves, so we work hard at teaching “on the road,” discussing driving rules, defensive driving, decision making, etc. as we are out and about. But even if your children take driver’s training elsewhere, you can still augment that training when you are on the road. Right when something occurs is the best time to teach. When someone pulls out in front of you is the perfect time to talk about right-of-way and defensive driving. When there is no green arrow is the ideal time to discuss knowing when you can turn left.

Talking and teaching while you drive. It just makes sense. And for those of us who believe the quote at the beginning of this post, it makes even more sense. Discussions while driving afford us another opportunity to teach everything from driving, to life skills, to spiritual application, to relationship development, helping our children understand more as they “learn more than one way.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

day forty-eight: take a child with you whenever you can

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!

Monday, February 15, 2010

day forty-seven: have a valentine’s day (or any day!) party with your kids

This might seem like it is a day or two late, but it really isn’t. You see, when we had Valentine’s parties (or any “holiday” party) with our kids, we always did it a few days after the holiday—so we could get the candy and treats for 50-75% off! So…it really isn’t too late to have a party with your kids for Valentine’s Day!

One of the things that we tried to do with our kids for celebrations (or just “anytime parties”) is that we tried to go out of our way to make being with Mom, Dad, and brothers, and sisters cool. Our kids see us go to great lengths to prepare for a Sunday school class party, Mary Kay party, or extended family party. We put thought and effort into having “parties” with our kids—so they wanted to stay home and party with their family--and so that they would know that they are as important (more so!) than the Sunday school class, the gals at the make up party, or the reunion.

We have fond memories of communion nights, footwashings, Valentine parties, Easter celebrations, fondue parties, “flat top grill” parties, and more with our children. Being in our family was just plain fun and way cool! Some times we would just announce to the kids that “tonight, we’re having a movie party” or “tonight, we’re having a chocolate party” or “tonight, we’re having a game party.”

It may have been as simple as frozen pizza and a movie or as elaborate as a fondue meal that Mom and the littles spent the afternoon preparing for. It may have been for a holiday (after the holiday!) or just because we wanted our kids to stay home with us on a Saturday night instead of running around with friends. (We’re not opposed to friends, but the more time we spent with our kids the more WE would influence them rather than peers influencing them.)

I will list some ideas for a homemade Valentine’s Party—some that we have done and some that I have read about or heard of.

1. Write love notes to each other. Okay..I can write this one without crying…I really can. Some of my fondest memories are the times that we sat down and had the kids write notes to each other. Okay…forget the not crying thing. Talk about incredibly sweet and memory-imbedding! We drew names and sat down and listened to the true Valentine’s story on cassette (Adventures in Odyssey) and wrote love notes to each other. I still have some of them! We had the little kids dictate to us. One of the funniest ones: one of the little boys wrote, “Dear Kayla, I love you so much because you have skinny arms.”

2. Have fun foods! This is especially important as your kids get older. After all, what do they have when they go out with friends or to youth group? Pizza, Taco Bell, mall snacks. As our kids got older, we got more elaborate with our party foods. When the two oldest girls were college age and crazy about Flat Top Grill when it first opened in Fort Wayne, one of our Valentine’s parties was a flat top grill night. (It was tons of work to prepare for, but the older kids loved this!) We had meats, veggies, and pita breads all ready—and had griddles and electric skillets all set up on the table. It was quite the feast!

3. Do something for others. Preparing Valentine’s cookie baskets or bath baskets for nursing home residents, etc. is a great way to spend a party—and helps others too.

4. Wait until after the holiday to have your party, so you can get some cool party treats for fifty to seventy-five percent off! With seven children, buying elaborate Easter baskets or Valentine’s hearts was usually out of the question. However, after the holiday, we could go get things for a lot less and still give them special treats.

5. Spend your Valentine’s Day showing love to those less fortunate. For the past several years, we have spent time on or around Valentine’s Day serving a Valentine’s banquet (and sometimes cooking it or helping to cook it) for adults with cognitive disabilities through our daughter’s disability ministry (One Heart). We often do things to prepare for it (cookie making, set up, preparing a special drama, etc.) then serve at it. Valentine’s Day is about love…and what better way to show love than to live out Luke fourteen.

6. Get a special movie, audio, or talking books to listen to or watch together for your Valentine’s party. We love Adventures in Oddysey and other radio dramas put out by Focus on the Family; the Christian bookstore (and Hallmark) have some good movies about unconditional love, etc. that are appropriate for this holiday.

7. Write various verses about love on large hearts cut of construction paper, cut each one in half in various zig-zags, mix them up, and pass out a half a heart to each person. That person then finds his other half, reads, the verse, and discusses it with the family.

8. Sing Scripture songs about love. Once we had piano players around here, we loved to gather around the piano and sing. None of us is too musical (except the two pianists), but we all loved it anyway.

Party with your kids—and make them want to stay home more!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

day forty-six: work on your marriage relationship to strengthen your relationships with your children

“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother, and the most important thing a mother can do for her children is to love their father.” Anonymous

Four sweet children pressed their noses against the window pane—fourteen year old Kara, twelve year old Jonathan, nine year old Josiah, and six year old Jakie. They giggled, tapped on the window, and smiled from ear to ear. What were they looking at that made them so giddy and joyful? The were watching their mommy and daddy dance in the drive way.

Five years ago I got a life-changing Christmas present from my husband: ballroom dance lessons. The first year was rough; we couldn’t afford to take private lessons, which is what really helps you grow as a couple in dancing. (Group lessons are fine, but if you only take classes, the steps come much more slowly.) We “trudged” through dancing because the lessons (the gift) were expensive—and I felt that I should love this, even though I didn’t at first. Little did we know the effect these ballroom dance lessons would eventually have on our marrige and on our children.

The kids were overjoyed from the beginning. We still had six children at home at the time, ages six through nineteen. Our son and daughter-in-law also lived near. They were all so supportive of our new hobby. They told us that all we ever do is work and parent—and they were happy that we got to do something “fun.” They would often watch us in the drive-way muddling through our new steps for the week. They would have dinner on the table and ready for the family when we got home from lessons. If things were especially hectic in a given week, they would often volunteer to do extra jobs, take the younger kids to their things, etc. in order for us to get to go to our lessons.

Fast forward five years later. Ray and I have just moved up to Silver I. We have been taking mostly group lessons (though we take private lessons occasionally as anniversary or Christmas gifts) and have moved through Beginners, Social Ease, Bronze I, Bronze II, Bronze III, and Bronze IV. We no longer muddle or trudge through. It is a bright spot in our week—and we do not just practice in our driveway anymore. We can often be found in the ballroom at five o’clock in the afternoon, practicing and enjoying being together before the hecticness of the evening with a busy family begins. We usually “go dancing” socially on a Friday or a Saturday night (whenever we do not have something with the kids or grown kids). We often receive the highest compliment that we could ever ask for from our fellow dancers: “You two look like you love dancing and love each other so much.”

We have always had a pretty strong marriage. We have worked hard at it, doing most of the things that our early mentors, marriage seminars, books, etc. have taught us. We had lots of ups and downs, just like any other married couple, but we never let the downs get us down or keep us down. We knew that a strong relationship between us was foundational to our relationships with our kids.

However, with seven children, homeschooling, full time job, building a business and ministry, writing extensively, tutoring, managing a home, and child rearing, romance easily got lost in the shuffle. We have had to purposely work on keeping those home fires burning.

Even more important than romance, though, has been the daily ins and outs—the daily yielding of rights to each other. The moment by moment decision of saying, thinking, and acting as though the other person is more important than I am.

Dancing, however, has helped us with both: the true love of giving up what you want for someone else and the romantic aspects of our relationship. The romantic parts are obvious: what is more romantic than floating around the dance floor in the arms of the person you love as Josh Grobin sings “When you say you love me, the world goes still, so still inside; and when you say you love me, for a moment, there’s no one else alive …” Honestly, it is the most incredible and romantic thing that Ray and I have probably ever done for each other.

Surprisingly, though, ballroom dancing has affected the “practical aspects” of our marriage as well. There is so much yielding that must take place in every single ballroom dance in order to master the steps. The act of working together, moving in just the way needed to take each other around the floor. The process of ballroom dancing is so similar to the processes of a successful Christian marriage, in fact, that Ray and I are writing a book comparing dancing to marriage. Dancing on the dance floor is like a little teeny glimpse of dancing through life together as husband and wife, father and mother.

Of course, a strong marriage needs both aspects—the romantic and the practical, daily yielding of rights. They both result in a deeper love for the other person. And love is the key; after all, “the best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse.”

day forty-five: give your child "praise" and "love" notes

I have talked for the past week about praising your children--praise them specifically; sincerely; and in a character-based, non-outcome-based manner. AND using praise as incentive and motivation for positive behaviors in preschoolers. Today, in lieu of a review, I want to give some links to some things that you might find helpful.

One way that we encouraged our children is with what we called "lunch box notes." (I mentioned earlier about my then-sixteen-year-old son exchanging sixteen cents various times--a penny for our thoughts, a nickel for a hug, and a dime if you tell me that you love me; that was actually borne out of his dad and I leaving lunch box notes around the for children.) Anyway, these notes (or any notes, really) can be tucked in their lunch boxes, left in the bathroom for when they go in to get ready in the morning, placed in book bags and back packs, clipped to notebooks--anywhere that that child might see them.

We used ones that had a message on the front--and then we wrote a note to the child on the back that explained the front. For example, if the front said "You are a star reader," we would write a note on the back telling the child how proud we were that he was reading chapter books now--and how we saw him work so hard to get through that first one, etc.

Personally, we kept them in a little basket in our bathroom--and strove to each write two or three a week for a couple of years. (That woud be a good thing for me to do with my three guys now!) If one of us got out of the habit, we would remind the other--don't forget the notes in the bathroom. We would also point out things that we each saw, to remind each other of what to say. (The kids really love that--if they know that Dad has been telling mom how many free throws he is now making at night in the drive way or that Mom told Dad how fast he is getting his morning routine done in the mornings now--sort of that "public praise worth twice as much" that I talked about last week.)

Anyway, I'm sure you can purchase these at Christian bookstores or teaching supply stores, but I will post some links below--some for ones that you can print offline, some you can purchase then print off line, and some you can order hard copies of. Of course, if you are computer-savvy, you could create your own, as well.

Enjoy praising and encouraging your children this week!




Book about leaving teen daughter notes:

Another book about writing notes of encouragement for children:

More printables: