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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Teaching children spirituality

I feel very strongly that our children need to be strengthened spiritually as much as possible each day. Here are some of the ways we've incorporated gospel topics in different games.

The Gospel Game- we made this up as a family. The children take 10 washcloths or dishtowels and make a path with them across a room. They begin at one end and I sit at the other end with a small bowl of candy. I ask gospel or scripture-related questions, like a trivia game. Each time they answer correctly, they step forward onto the next washcloth. Sometimes I only ask verbal questions, such as "What was the name of the lady that married Isaac?"  I ask questions appropriate for their cognitive abilities, so Daniel (aged 3) will have questions such as ,"What age do we get baptized?" or "What color do we wear in the temple?". Sometimes I hold up pictures from the Gospel Art Kit (available from the LDS distribution centers or websites) and I'll ask them to tell me what story is depicted in the picture. This game is perfect for Sunday afternoons. When the children reach the end of the path and arrive where I am sitting, they receive a small candy such as a jelly bean or skittle. I let them repeat the game as often as they would like.

Sunday Stations- This is my daughters favorite activity. We set up 'stations' around the room with different activities to do. Some stations may have a stack of illustrated scriptures to look at on the couch. Another station may be Biblical coloring books and crayons. Another station may have puzzles made from cutting out scriptural pictures from the Friend magazine and mounting them on card stock. Another station may be with the Singing Can, an empty metal can that is full of wooden craft sticks. Each craft stick has a primary song title written on it. The children draw out a stick and sing the song listed there.

Bedtime stories- This time is valuable for discussing scriptures. The children don't usually want to sleep, so they LOVE to stay up and listen to scripture stories. Our favorites stories are either scripture stories, stories from my childhood or ancestral stories (very valuable for passing on family heritage and creating emotional bonds for the lives and experiences of grandparents, etc), or 'pretend' stories where I make up a story where the children magically transport to a scripture story and they have to investigate the area and gather clues to find out what story they are in.

For example, they magically go to Bethlehem and I describe the living conditions, common foods, clothings, etc so they can decide what time period they are in. Then they see the bright star at night, and later hear shepherds in the streets proclaiming the Savior's birth. I like to drag the story on multiple nights, so in this story they can't find the stable where the Christ child is staying. They look and look and go to the temple to see him and talk to the prophetess there who tells them that the family had already left. When they try to follow the family, they find out Joseph has taken them to Egypt, so the children have to prepare a caravan and load the necessary things to travel over the desert. They learn about desert lifestyles here, such as the foods eaten, living arrangements, working with camels, etc. It's all really fun and sometimes one story can take a week or more to reach a conclusion. I don't do these stories very often because they take  so much time, but we do really enjoy them when we do them.

Other favorite topics for this type of story have included:

Traveling with Nephi's family in the wilderness, retrieving the brass plates and Ishmael's family, and building the boats later.

Living with the Jaredites during the Tower of Babel and traveling with them to the Promised land.

Being part of the Anit-Nephi-Lehies and joining the army of Helamen.

Any scripture story will do, just make your children a minor character of the story, observing what major events are occurring.

 Other great ideas for bedtime stories (especially for nights when I"m not feeling well or have homework to finish) are the audio stories of the scriptures. These are FREE on the LDS website. Just download the files and burn them onto a CD. They have the complete stories of the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and D&C. They are so GREAT for exposing the children to scripture heroes in a low-energy way. We placed a small CD-player on the boys' closet shelf and I just push play after we finish prayers and goodnight kisses. This is one of our top favorite tools! These can also be played in the car while running errands, or on car trips. We love them!

When our children were very young (less than 3 years old) I taught them to enjoy scriptures by giving them something sweet while we read. The ancient Jews did this with honey when they taught their children from the Talmud, and I find it to be very effective with tiny children. The physical reward of a sweet taste makes them want to sit and read more chapters. I'd give them one chocolate chip at the end of each chapter. Occasionally we still do this, but not often.

For older children, I've really enjoyed a method pioneered by Nathan's aunt. They give each child their own copy of the scriptures ( I think it's only $1 at the LDS distribution center) and for important events we draw a simple picture on the verse. The children color the picture while I read the verses and we discuss what it means. Sarah and Matthew LOVE this! They beg us to read more and more because they don't want to stop. nathan's aunt has published several books with specific verses and the pictures to draw on them. We ahve several books filled with pictures for the Bible and Book of Mormon and D&C.  Unfortunately, the books are out of print now, but the concepts can be applied for anyone. For example, in the Bible we draw rolling hills along the bottom margin of the pages that talk about the Sermon on the Mount. I'll see if I can get some sample pictures up so it makes more sense.

Nathan is really fantastic about doing formal scripture study, where we gather as a family in the living room and read a chapter out loud together. Anyone who can read takes a turn reading. Sarah and Matthew can read a verse or two aloud with us. Nathan is so great about explaining hard concepts or defining unfamiliar words for our children. 

We read a scripture verse each morning right before leaving for school. We talk about the verse as we drive to school and talk about how to apply it that day. For this we use a simple 'Scripture-A-Day' book that looks like a daily calendar. Each day we turn one page and read the verse.

We drive for 20 minutes to get to church each week, so we sometimes sing Primary songs together while we drive. It helps prepare our minds for the Spirit and calms the children so they can be reverent. After we park in the parking lot, we say a family prayer asking for the Spirit to be with us in our meetings and for our hearts to be receptive and humble, and for our eyes to be open to service opportunities within our ward that day. I find it to be really helpful. On the drive home, we ask the children what they learned about in class, and we all discuss what our lessons contained.

In an effort to have more meaningful Sundays, we've started inviting the ward to come to our home on Sunday evenings to sing hymns together and enjoy desserts. It's been really nice. Nathan always makes a great dessert, like Angel food cake, soft cinnamon rolls, etc. We sing for an hour and then eat and enjoy each other's company. We used to do this at a friend's house in the country. We'd sit on their wrap-around porch on big porch swings and rocking chairs and we'd all sing to guitar accompaniment. It was SO fun and we all have fond memories of the experiences.  Our friends moved, so we decided to start hosting this at our own home. We've made some really good friends this way; it's such a fantastic way to get to know people from church.  I love exposing our children to these experiences!

Family Home Evening is of course one of the BEST ways to teach gospel principles and have fun together. We share a spiritual story, an object lesson, etc. We always have a family activity with it, like a game or some fun activity(such as playing a quick board game together, play Red Light-Green Light, Uno, etc), then we have dessert.

I think the key is to have as frequent exposure as possible to the scriptures and gospel topics. It's also important to have positive expereinces with the scriptures that will create fond memories. Don't force things, beucase then they will resent it and you will have an antagonistic rather than apathtic reaction from your children. Whether I am right or not may remain to be seen, but I hope these suggestions are helpful to you!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Home school ideas and resources

I've had several friends ask me for lists of homeschooling resources, so for ease of communication (and also to prevent me from re-typing the same information every week to different people) I've listed our top favorite resources or teaching methods here.

Teaching Methods:
I seldom did 'workbooks' or used 'textbooks'. The only exception is for the workbook series we loved for phonics and writing. It's called "Explode the Code" and I highly recommend it.

One of our all-time favorite methods was to buy or print blank Bingo cards and fill in the squares with our own information. This is applicable to EVERY subject! Review phonics by writing in the letters of the alphabet and saying "I'm looking for the letter that makes the 'mmmm' sound." If they didn't know the letter symbol to match the sound (such as when you have a younger sibling playing the game with the older one), then I show them a picture of the letter and they visually match it. For other subjects, we'd put numbers on the board and I'd say something like "I'm looking for the number 5" (when you are working on mere number recognition), or "I'm looking for the answer to 5+4" (when working on beginner math), etc. For science we'd write different key words to whatever topic we're learning and I'd ask a question appropriate for the key word, such as "I'm looking for the name of the bone where your knee is" (Patella). For the first bingo they'd get a Skittle or jellybean. They'd also get one for achieving blackout.

We'd also play games by writing sight words on plain index cards and sticking the cards on the wall. I would sit on one side of the room and ask Sarah to bring me the card with a particular word on it. She'd run to the wall and search until she found it and she'd bring it back. She'd read me the word and spell it out loud. For every 10 cards collected she'd get a Skittle or an M&M candy. When siblings play simultaneously, we'd have easy words for Matthew (rat, sit, etc) and harder ones for Sarah (righteous, tough, character, etc) and they'd take turns fetching cards. This also works for many subjects. This method is great because it's active and involves their entire body, making it not only more enjoyable but it imprints on the brain better as well.

For history we loved an unconventional approach. I'd read a chapter to Sarah out loud, then I'd ask her to repeat it back to me. I'd write down exactly what she said in a binder filled with notebook paper. At the bottom of the page she'd draw and color an illustration from the story. In this way you begin to build your own textbook and it's an effective way to gauge how much they understand from your reading. I chose to start history from our religious standpoint and we began with the pre-existence. We discussed the events that happened there and began world history with Adam and Eve. This teaching method would be great for scripture study as well.

For reading skills, I highly recommend buying a cheap copy of the Book of Mormon or Bible. We gave Sarah a copy and had her highlight the words she new on each page. She would do this during home school or during church.  She loved it! This really helped her read better. At first she would just scan the words and focus on any 3-letter words, but this was the single teaching method that helped her the most with reading. Within 2 weeks she moved from reading 'his' and 'the' to reading 'righteous' and 'commandments'. I really believe the Spirit helped her learn.

Audio CDs- I can't say enough about this topic. We have several different CD's that teach through song or story. We keep them in the car and listen to them whenever we're running errands. I LOVE this method. The children listen to the stories/songs very well and learn fantastic information while being entertained. We buy these as gifts for Christmas or birthdays. We learn science, history, and math this way. We also enjoy classic works of literature this way. There are some high-quality children's versions of Shakespeare and other great authors. Be sure to investigate a particular product before buying it though. Just because it says it's educational doesn't mean it's not inane. Too many producers don't have kids and don't know how to really teach them; they try too much to be entertaining and the result is really not worth your investment. Some of our favorites are listed below. 

We LOVE to read out loud as a family. We pick a classic and sit together with blankets in the family room and read for an hour or more. The children love it and so do I. If you're husband does great voices, then you're in for a great treat! I LOVE whenever Nathan reads, and the children are kept laughing most of the time. If you haven't tried this before with your family, start with an easy, funny book like the original Winnie-the-Pooh collection. This will keep everyone laughing the entire time! They are so clever! After the routine is established, you can move on to other books. We've really like the original Alice in Wonderland, Heidi, Sherlock Holmes, and Swiss Family Robinson. Matthew really loved reading a Midsummer's Night dream and didn't want to story to end. Shakespeare does take some explaining, though, so it's not a fast read. This is such a great way to spend an evening or Sunday afternoon!

For most of our science teaching, we'd pick a topic and go check out everything the library had about that subject. We used this with History as well. We'd check out all the non-fiction books for a given time period, such as the Renaissance. We'd take our laundry basket and literally fill it with 45 books for the week. This was our most valuable teaching source of information. We had so much fun and we'd sometimes read together for 4 hours in one afternoon. The key is merely to find out what the children want to learn about. If they are self-motivated in learning, you can't keep them away from the books even if you wanted to. Sarah often tried to read at the dinner table. Most of the specific resources I list below are DVD or CD format, only because our favorite books are all free at the library and I haven't written down all the great titles we love there. I've written down the things that I either have purchased for gifts or am planning on purchasing soon. There are lots of DVDs listed, but we really don't watch much TV. We spent most of our time reading and playing.

Another favorite method was to experience the topic and go on a field trip! We explored all sorts of wonderful places and things together! The family memories created are so valuable! I would just teach them whatever we could find about the area/destination.

We also loved doing unit studies...the concept of making all your school work in the different subjects fit around one theme for a period of time. This way the reading, art, and math all match whatever the history or science lessons are about. They loved learning about the planets and made their own planets to decorate their room. Then they filled condiment tubes full of applesauce for 'space food' and they played for hours pretending to be in space on their rocket. They self-initiated all of this after reading with me about the planets that day. Encourage them to explore their own interests and let them make their own crafts so they can be creative.

We invested in a trampoline for the 'recess breaks' in home school. This is one of the best investments I've ever made. Be SURE to do your homework before buying! The market in inundated with cheap trampolines that will break or harm your child! We liked the Staged Bounce model on The jumping surface on our trampoline is covered with numbers, shapes, and math symbols. We do math games on the trampoline by having them jump on math equations. They jump on the '4' then '+' then '5' then '=' then '9'. Get it? It's fun and has lots of game possibilities.

Specific resources we liked:

Story of the World book and audio series by Susan Wise Bauer. We absolutely LOVE these for history!

Jim Weiss, audio book series on CD.  It's a great introduction to classical literary masterpieces such as Dickens, Shakespeare, O. Henry, etc.

Magic School Bus series on DVD. Great for science!

BBC Earth series on DVD. These can be viewed online for free. Great resource for earth science! We love these!

The Electric Company- the original series from the 70's. It's great for phonics and grammar. We really love it!

Little Einstein Dvds- great for art and music appreciation.

PBS- Between the Lions. Good for beginner phonics.

Musical Notebook CD-from Great for learning prime numbers, the 50 states, anatomical names, money values, countries of Central and South America, parts of the inner ear, planet names, branches of the government, etc. A favorite of ours! It happens to be made by a homeschooling family!

Schoolhouse Rock- great for a variety of topics- grammar, sciences, history, government, math, etc. We really LOVE these. Especially the "Interjections" song. Most of these can be viewed freely online on Youtube.

Bob books series- GREAT for beginning readers! This was a huge hit for us. It made reading easy for the kids and it was so fun for them to read on their own in their first book.

Leapstart Learning games for the computer- we liked the math, reading, and logic drills in these. They are available for most grade levels.

Sir Cumference books- ---they teach geometry principles in a fun story format. Very fun and pretty memorable.

Childcraft books- PRICELESS. You an sometimes find a set at HalfPrice books or on Ebay. My kids read them everyday. Not kidding. It's all about sciences and humanities (like the history of language or people around teh world) and full of pictures or little thinking games. I found a set recently that was being sold for ONE DOLLAR per book! If you can find one, I highly recommend it. These are our most used resource!  I can't thank my mother enough for giving us the childcraft set I grew up with. What fond memories I have of sequestering myself away with those books!

"Top Secret Adventures" from the publishers at Highlights. It teaches Geography/Social Studies in a detective style with puzzles. You have to find out who the thief was, what they stole, and where they hid the item. So far he's learned about Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Australia, and few others. Doing the puzzles is great. Lots of good thinking involved and it's fun! One kit comes in the mail every month.

"Classic Starts" series you find at Barnes and Noble. They are 4 or 5 dollars a piece but hard bound! He's read Robinson Crusoe, The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Call of the Wild, The Three musketeers and others. I love them too. They are simplified but true to the original story and style of the author and glaze over some of what would have normally been too graphic for kids.

 General Suppliers:

A great resource for browsing resources is We do much of our birthday and Christmas shopping through them. It's a home school family that catalogues their favorite tools and sells them all in one locations so you aren't hunting around online for hours. Some of their recommendations we've liked and some we haven't liked. Everyone's preference is different.

We also really like Lakeshore Learning online. They have a store near us and I love to go browse. Most of their products are overpriced, but it's a GREAT place to get your own ideas of how to apply it at home with your own supplies. This is where I had the idea of making our own bingo games. They have an entire AISLE full of just Bingo games in different topics. The games were $10 each, but a pack of 100 blank Bingo cards was only $5. There's also a lot of neat science supplies there. 

I hope this information is helpful for you! We have found that we much prefer to buy educational things rather than toys for holidays.  Some great things to consider  are science kits (think ladybug hatchery, butterfly home, ant farm, magnifying glasses, bug-catching kit, etc), hands-on crafts (embroidery, painting set, art set, craft supplies, etc), educational games (Frog Juice, Chess, Sum Swamp, Life, Battleship, Memory, High-ho Cherry-O, Uno (even a three-year-old can play Uno! It's a great family game!), Pay Day, Tangrams, puzzles, etc), books, audio CDs, and educational DVDs.

This all said, here is the most important part: Ponder and Pray.  There may be something you could bless your children and family with that you haven't even thought of. Also, God knows your children much better than you do, and He knows how they will learn the best. There were so many times when I struggled trying to teach my kids. Sarah would put up a mental wall to the extent that she wouldn't even acknowledge me when I told her I loved her. I tried every way I could think of to show my love for her because I think it's critically important for them to know I love them. I had to pray and ask God how to get through to her and it was something no one else could have suggested. He told me to clean her room for her. That changed our entire relationship and helped our home school experience.

He created your children so He knows them best. Pray and He will lead you to what your family needs. Everyone is different and only He has the answers you'll seek.

I've been asked what we do for spiritual teaching, and I'll do a post on that topic soon. It's a whole article by itself!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

War of the worlds- My home against the world

This year we decided to do public school for Sarah and Matthew since my own Nursing classes are too demanding this year and prevent me from doing both my own school work and home school for the kids.

Sending them to public school is difficult for me. I disagree with the social problems inherent in the system. I feel like public school is just like the novel "Lord of the Flies", just masked within a building rather than the jungle. I don't like sending my kids there, even though the school itself is rated as academically 'exemplary'. The academics don't matter as much to me as the social lessons taught.

Public school is the perfect setting for training the country's next generation to be atheists and followers of the ruling crowd. In the words of Tom Paxton, "What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine? I learned our government must be strong. It's always right and never wrong, that's what I learned in school." I am nervous about the power the school has to mold these young receptive minds to whatever agenda they see fit. School and government agendas are a discussion for another day, though.

I know I can't shelter my kids from the world forever, but my heart is full of sorrow for these sweet children who are exposed to the world. I don't want them to lose their innocence and sweet natures. I want to be like the mother hen, gathering my chicks under my wings to protect them in love while I sacrifice myself to bear the brunt of the world's attack. I feel the powers of Satan trying to encroach on my little family, and it makes me angry. I feel somewhat helpless, even though I know the powers of heaven are freely given to mothers in protecting the family. I want to do MORE.

Each day I build them up with love and spiritual strength, but it's just battered away through the course of the day in school. Each day I feel like I'm picking up what's left of their spiritual defenses and working that evening to add more bulwarks, anxiously engaged by candlelight deep into the evening.

Matthew had a boy in his class that was hitting him and constantly being rude and profane. Matthew would come home each day and tell me about this bully and say,"Mom, I'm trying so hard to love him, but it's hard to do." Or he'd say "I know Jesus loves him too, so I don't hit him back." or "I told him I'd tell the teacher, but he started to cry and I didn't want to hurt his feelings." What tender pride fills my heart at this, my little boy! Any struggle in parenting him is rewarded with these moments! I don't want him to have to deal with the dross of society. I can only hope that his example will light the way for the other kids. We talk every morning about being leaders in school by having a righteous and loving example. We ponder verses of the scriptures each day before leaving our home, and I really hope they add strength to the children's hearts.

I feel like my attitude in parenting has shifted. I feel a sense of urgency for developing my childrens' spiritual strengths. I know Satah does not sleep, and does not rest in his scheming against us. I have to make every moment count that I have with my children. I have to be always aware of the world's barbs and prepare the children to be as defended as possible.

We've purchased a CD player for the children's bedroom and we play audio books for them after we do family prayers. We had been playing stories of Greek myths and classic works of literature (Charles Dickens, O. Henry, Shakespeare, and the like). Now I feel more drawn to playing audio scripture stories, the very best in classic literature.

We have spiritual discussions more often now and the children are understanding the sanctity of the home more. They tell me the contrast they see between the settings of school and home. They see the home as inreasingly valuable, a haven of peace and happiness. I hope one benefit of doing public school is a more unified home, a view of us as a team. I don't know if it's worth the cost.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Matthew's first journal entry

I wanted to start keeping journals for our children better. However futile the attempt may end up being, at least it's a start. My goal is to sit with each child once a week and record whatever they dictate. I think it's interesting to see what is important to them; it's also interesting to observe what they remember as the high points in their week. Here is Matt's first entry:

It's a good week. I'm five when I wrote this journal. I like being a kid because it's fun. I like playing with my brother and sister. I'm very good and I'm proud of myself. I like saving money. I'm saving up for a rock tumbler because I really want to make my own rock collection. I liked meeting my new teacher at school this week. I liked going swimming too. My favorite thing is my mom because she's nice to me and makes food for me. My favorite toy is a little plastic red man wearing a helmet. He's lost now.