Thursday, September 12, 2013

Beating Procrastination

No matter how many years of experience I have in getting things done and no matter how much I understand about procrastination and its effects on my life, I still occasionally do one really dumb thing: Put off doing something because I think it will be too hard or too long or too laborious or too messy or too boring or too something!

Then I finally do that undesired task only to find out that it was a thirty or sixty minute job--and the great feelings I have after I am done far outweigh the work itself!

I have, however, in the past few years learned some coping mechanisms for procrastination.

Here are a few tips to help you the next time you feel procrastination coming on:

1. Stop! 

Think about the situation for real. Ask yourself truly how long the task could honestly take. Answer yourself. And if it is under thirty minutes, JUST DO IT!

2. Break it down! 

We have taught this technique to our kids in study skills, chores, room cleaning, yard work, etc. Just take the big job and tell yourself that you will not try to do it all right now. Instead, tell yourself that you will simply do ten minutes a day three times a week until the task is done. You won't have to face the entire thing. Just set a timer (another thing we have taught our kids!) for ten minutes. When the ten minutes is up, marvel at how far you got on the project--and leave it until your next ten minute period.

3. Get someone's help. 

This summer I was sinking into a little depression after a family friend died. I was just so mournful for his wife (one of my best friends) and his children (my children's best friends) that I found myself unable to tackle very big jobs for a few weeks. After a couple of weeks of not getting much done, I realized that I had to do something to get myself in gear because classes would soon be starting and I would not have the time that I had in the summer. I decided to work on the things that I couldn't face at that time only when I had help. My fifteen year old son and his teenage friend became y assistant for a couple of hours once a week--and I saved the things that I just couldn't face by myself (things that I normally could have dug into without a problem) for when the three of us could work together. I finally got my freezers cleaned out, some garden produce put up, and my freezer meal preparations back on track. Sometimes it just takes a little help to get us moving in the right direction!

4. Make things you are constantly facing into weekly or daily tasks rather than saving them up until they feel formidable. 

An example of this for me is vegetable and fruit preparations. I used to save them all for one time each week--then I found it harder and harder to come up with the block of time needed to slice, dice, and julienne. Instead I made what was one big project into ongoing daily tasks.

5. For really difficult things, just dig in for a minute or two. 

I know that doesn't sound long enough to even get anything done. But a minute or two here and there starts to add up. Also, one minute soon becomes three or four minutes--and your momentum will start to build.

 I had like ten bags that were filled with various things--a document bag, gym bag, swimming bag, swimming toy/snack bag, old purse, new purse, lunch/snack bag, etc. And I stuffed them in the corner of the room, got two new bags at a garage sale (document bag and purse/go bag) and started using those two instead. Every time I looked at those dozen bags stuffed in the corner, I got a knot in my stomach. I just didn't want to face them.

 One day I told myself that I would just pull out the top bag and spend a minute or two on it. By the end of that ninety seconds, i had that bag cleaned out and put away! The next day I did another couple of minutes. My momentum was building and my bag pile was going down. Remember: You can do anything for one minute!

Entrees ready to go to the freezer!

I hope these don't sound trite or silly--like why in the world couldn't you just clean your freezer or sort your bags, lady! I think we all get overwhelmed at times with way too many things to do. And these tips help me during those times to JUST DO IT!

Crock Pot Wednesday: Cavatini

Getting ready to assemble my Crock Pot Cavatini and put it in the crock for the next day's lunch

I hesitate to share the "recipe" for my crock pot cavatini since it is not exactly a recipe. However, if my scrambled instructions and plan here cause other moms to "think outside the box" and see how you can literally throw a semi-healthy meal together in a very little time; how to use your freezer to help you with meal preps; how to feed a lot of people in a short time; how to use your crock pot even more; etc., then I am happy to share my "recipe."

If you have followed Crock Pot Wednesday for long then you are probably aware that I like to assemble a crock pot full of food on Tuesday morning (before my editing and writing work in the afternoon), stick it in the fridge, then pull it out and "crock" it on Wednesday morning for my sons and a couple of kids who stay with us overnight during our "cottage classes" on Wednesday to have for lunch. If we have any leftovers for Thursday  night's leftover night, that is even better! ;)

So here is what I did this week to assemble our Crock Pot Cavatini:

Ingredients (estimates)

1 to 2 lbs of precooked hamburger* 
1 lb of precooked ground sausage (also in the freezer bagged up)
1 to 2 lbs of pepperoni
1 lb of smoked sausage, sliced in rounds
1/2 to 1 lb of cheddar jack shredded cheese
1/2 to 1 lb of mozzarella cheese
tons of pasta (I used 24 oz of shells)
lots of pasta sauce (I used one huge warehouse store jar of sauce and a smaller can)
onions, green peppers, red peppers (also frozen from our garden)
mushrooms (optional)

1. In huge stock pot, boil pasta until al dente. (It is important that it not be fully cooked since it will get mushy in the crock pot as it is heating if it is fully done to begin with.)

2. While pasta is boiling, stir fry onions and both kinds of peppers in olive oil in small skillet.

3. Drain pasta and mix all ingredients together in a huge bowl until all is well-mixed.

4. Fold mixture into eight quart crock pot.

5. Place in refrigerator until ready to use it (covered).

6. Take from fridge to crock pot base and cook on low for a couple of hours until heated through and bubbly. (Time will vary based on your crock pot; mine is super hot, so I had to turn it down to keep warm after only two hours on low.)

*Notice in the picture that this ground beef came from my freezer; if I don't have hamburger in the freezer, I put ten pounds in my eight quart crock pot before I go to bed, turn it on low, and let it cook all night; then the next morning, I drain it and crumble it with an old "potato masher," bag some of it up to freeze, and use some of it in the recipe for the day.

Starting Out Right With Kids' Homework


Once school starts and the textbooks have been previewed, you can help your students get into good homework habits by doing their homework with them for a few weeks. 

Here are some tips along those lines:

1. Taking the textbook preview further

There are a number of ways that you can take the previewing of textbooks that I discussed yesterday even further with your children for more comprehension of the material:

a. Do his first few assignments out of the book with him, pointing out the things again that you observed in your first preview. This will help him see that those things are not just good things to know, but also helpful for completely homework quicker and more accurately.

b. Help him prepare for his first test with his textbook and you by his side. Show him how he can use the glossary, sidebars, table of contents, etc. to quickly fill in his study guide or quickly determine what the most important aspects of the chapter are in order to prepare for a test.

c. As you are previewing a text (for the first time or an additional time), use a large sticky note to record what you find. Write the title of the text at the top, then make notes about what it contains as far as study and homework helps. Stick this in the front of his textbook and help him refer to it when he is doing homework or test preparation. You could even record a plus and minus system, such as

+++ means something is going to be really helpful---a +++ beside the Table of Contents, for instance

+ beside a word he writes in the front of his book tells him that this might be somewhat helpful—Example: +Some graphs

- No study questions at end of chapter—again, he can make a list in the front of his book (on a large sticky note), etc. 

d. Help him “label” different sections of his book with sticky notes along the edges. For example, you could put a yellow one at the beginning of each chapter and a pink one on the page that has definitions for that chapter, etc.

2. Prepare your younger student for textbooks by using user-friendly non-fiction books

Maybe you are not in the textbook stage with your kids; however, you can begin preparing them for those all important study skills that I described yesterday with quality non-fiction books. If kids at ages five, six, eight, and ten, learn to navigate around Dorling Kindersley, Eyewitness, and Usborne books (among many others), they will be heads and shoulders above other children who have only been exposed to fictional stories (more on the benefits of fiction later!). 

These outstanding non-fiction books have literally hundreds of topics that interest kids, but they are so colorful and alluring, you do not feel like you are “teaching” at all. Additionally, they have many aspects that your child’s future textbooks will also have: glossaries, Tables of Contents, sidebars, graphs, pictures, inserts, definitions, bold font, italics, etc. Reading these to and with your children when they are younger will provide a natural step into textbooks later on.

Note: We teach our students (in our home, our cottage classes, and in our language arts books) a simple memory device for remembering fiction and non-fiction:

Fiction=fake (both begin with f)

Non-fiction=not fake (both begin with nf)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Teaching Children HOW to Learn

Speaking about "Building Study Skills and Comprehension" at a conference

There are many aspects of teaching a child how to learn, one of which is working to increase our children’s comprehension. When people have good comprehension, they can learn anything, anywhere, anytime.
There are three primary ways that we have worked to increase our children’s comprehension: (1) Discussion with parents and those more knowledgeable than the child; (2) Good questions following reading or discussions; and (3) Provide a rich background of experience.

The first two of those go hand-in-hand. Discussion of everything with our children from very young ages has given our kids experiences in areas that they would normally not have experiences in. It gives us the opportunity to teach all the time—and gives them learning hooks that they create with the discussion material to bring into other learning situations.

Good questions, not just rote questions, help the student think more deeply about subjects and allow you to observe his thought processes and help them along. Lastly, a rich background of experience gives your student the edge in learning any subject. Like discussion, it gives a child more knowledge, more background, more information to bring into future learning scenarios.

I am adding some information about teaching children how to learn, good materials, links to articles, etc., in the sidebar of this article for those who would like to study this further. Just being aware of always teaching our kids how to learn, how to study, how to research, how to further their understanding is a big step in teaching kids how to learn. 


                        Tips and Links for Teaching Children How to Learn

~People often ask us what we would have done differently in our homeschool. One of the things I would have done differently is that every child, every year would have done a thinking skills book of some sort from the Critical Thinking Company:

~Dozens of articles on reading instruction, readability, creating an environment conducive to reading instruction, choosing readers, and much more!