Thursday, March 24, 2011

Letting My Kids Make Mistakes

I ended up going to the TJEd forum last weekend.  I was a little worried about going this year because I felt that I already had enough things that I was working on and I didn't want to feel like I needed to work on more!  Fortunately, that wasn't the case.  Instead, I felt verified in many of the things I already do and learned some ways to make them better.

One message I heard in every single class that I attended (I went to Shepherding Future Statesmen by Keri Tibbets, Mentors to Match our Message by Mary Biesinger, Love of Learning: Not Just a Phase by Kelli Poll and The ABCs of Teaching Genius by Angela Baker) was that mistakes are a wonderful learning opportunity and I need to let my kids make them.  I already knew this, of course, having made and continuing to make mistakes on a pretty regular basis, but I didn't realize to what extent I was protecting my children from making some themselves.

Kari talked about how once you've taught your children something once, it is not necessary to keep re-teaching the same thing or your voice just becomes "like Charlie Brown's mom" and they don't pay attention to what you teach since you're always going on about the same thing.  I didn't realize how much I gave my children "reminders" until I got home and started trying to implement some of the things I learned.

For example, I have taught my kids to put their shoes in the closet when they come in from playing.  They seem to end up in the hall a lot.  My usual response to this is to remind the kids to put them away (at least I don't pick them up for them right?)  and if they don't do it within a reasonable amount of time, I give them a consequence ("I asked you to put those away and you still haven't, now you can clean the rest of the things in the hallway as well") or something like that.

Instead, what I should do is let them take their shoes off and leave them in the hallway (no "don't forget to put your shoes away" etc) and then give them a consequence without a warning for forgetting.  They have already been taught so now it is time for them to learn from their mistake.

I've been trying this (not re-teaching things I've already taught and giving a consequence when they make a mistake) and I realized on the first day how very often I was in the habit of reminding, "Let's be kind to one another", "Make sure you take your dishes to the sink", "We don't use loud voices in the house", "Don't talk when I'm reading", "Make sure you get your morning list done before breakfast", "Don't leave the kitchen until it's clean", etc.  I'm sure you're getting the picture.

When I got home from the conference, I told the kids how great it was to make mistakes so that we have the opportunity to learn (it took a while to explain that one, but they got what I was saying after some clarification) and that I was going to try to stop reminding them and keeping them from making mistakes so that they could learn from them.  I told them that if I had taught them something once, I wasn't going to insult their intelligence by repeating it over and over anymore.  I would just give them a consequence so that they could get to really learning it.  They though this sounded like a good idea, but none of us realized just how bad my habits were.

The first day, there were a lot of "time-outs" and "pick up 10 items" for consequences for different behaviors.  If there were not 10 items to pick up, I would let them clean baseboards (one wall = 2 items) or scrub toilets (one toilet =10 items) or whatever I could come up with.  Poor Spice got so frustrated at one point that she went to her room and stayed in there for about an hour because she was mad at me (she did come out later and she apologized and told me she knew I was doing all of this because I loved them and she was sorry for being grumpy).  Bud was shocked at one point because I sent him to time-out for yelling out random annoying noises (this has become quite a habit for him and my constant reminders not to do that were not making any difference).  I did try to not make the consequences too severe (time-outs were not that long and 10 items are not too hard to pick up) as we get used to this new way of doing things.

I've been at it for 3 days now.  I don't quite have it down yet and I have to really hold my tongue to keep myself from reminding and sometimes I'll "hint" with some sort of gesture that they are forgetting something, but I am definitely improving - and the best part is that they are too!

Yesterday, they all came in for dinner after playing outside and I was shocked to find that they ALL put their shoes in the closet!  Also, when I ring the hand-bell for dinner, they all actually go wash their hands and come set the table right away.  They are actually remembering to put their dishes in the sink as soon as they are done eating, etc.  What a load off my chest to realize that I don't have to sound like a broken record all of the time!!

One thing that hit me particularly hard was when Keri said that if you interfere in your childrens' conflicts that you make the "victim" more weak and the "bully" more against the victim.  I've always tried to let them resolve their problems on their own and I would try to only step in when I sensed contention (or angry, mean things starting to be said and done) entering the home (I would have them sit on a step and discuss it without contention or they would have to go to time out until they were ready to discuss it without contention).  At least that's what I thought I did, but I have realized that I did often let them tell me their problem and I would try to help them come up with a fair solution (one that someone usually thought wasn't fair) and they would usually go with my solution since I'm the mom and must therefore be right.  Maybe I was right, but what I was doing was making the "victim" weaker and the "bully" or "teaser" more resentful.

So now, when contention starts creeping into our home, I'll give both of the children a consequence (usually a time-out) and then invite them to try again.  It has worked so well so far.  I think the big difference is that when I give them their consequence and they try to explain to me what has happened, I refuse to get involved.  The first time they tried it I explained, "It doesn't matter to me who did what or what is going on.  This conflict is between the two of you.  You two are in charge of your relationship with each other.  Some siblings grow up to be enemies and some sibling grow up to be great friends, but it is up to you.  I can not get involved".  And then I didn't.  One conflict took about 20 minutes for them to resolve peacefully on their own and I really wanted to give my input on an easy solution, but I stayed out of it and they both learned so much more than if I would have solved it for them.

I am finding that I talk way too much.  I've made them a bit dependent on my reminders and advice.  It has been a great thing to watch them actually take ownership of their actions lately and to try to think about and do the appropriate thing without me telling them what that is.  It's been so good for Bazinks as well, but I'll have to write about that later because what is going on with him has been pretty interesting.

By the way, Keri Tibbets is putting a parenting e-book together that should be available in the next couple of weeks on the website.  It will have the information she taught in the forum.  You'll have to let me know what you thought after reading it or if you went to her class.  She said some really interesting and some controversial things in there.  I love it when people are willing to say it how they see it even if it may not be very popular.  I admire her courage.

I recommend the other presentations I attended as well.  I picked the presentations well this year and I learned from each one.  Teaching my kids to have a brain "growth" mindset instead of a "fixed" mindset was an important lesson to me (from Kelli Poll).  She recommended the book Mindset to learn more about these mindsets and how to encourage a the growth mindset.  I taught my kids about this and I think it was a powerful lesson.  Maybe I'll write more about that later as well.  Arbinger's James Ferrel was also wonderful.  I've read and re-read Arbinger books and have been to several seminars and I still seem to learn something each time.

I'll try to share some more of what I learned as I try to implement it.  I can't say I'll get to it for sure though.  Time for blogging has been hard to come by lately!  I got up at 3:30 am this morning and after trying to get back to sleep for over an hour, I went downstairs for a snack and decided that I might as well blog a little.  If this post isn't very coherent - that is my excuse.  I'll have to take a nap sometime today!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Freshen Up on Your Math!

I've been feeling a little guilty about the neglect of my blog.  I've had a hard time sleeping at night (I go to sleep fine, but then I wake up around 3am and can't get back to sleep until 5 or so), so I've been sleeping in and there is just no time for blogging.  The last two nights have been better though, so hopefully the weird sleeping patterns have passed.

Right now, I have water starting to boil so I can make my kids some oatmeal and we can get going to choir, but I quickly wanted to write about a pretty amazing site that my friend, RaNae, told me about.  She told  me she was kind of addicted to it and was having a great time freshening up on her math.  My other friend, Mary, told me that her son was on it for about 4 hours the other day and he loves it.  They told me it was just pure math - no frills and whistles.  I was intrigued because I really didn't want to create a "video game" atmosphere in learning, even if it was for math, so I liked the "no frills" concept.  I was very curious to see the site and I finally got on it a couple of days ago.

I had fun doing some of the math problems myself and seeing what I could remember.  I thought I'd see how Bud liked it so I opened an account for him and he tried it.  He really enjoyed it.  He was looking forward to trying to get 10 in a row right yesterday (if you get 10 in a row, you are "proficient" in that concept and you move on to the next one), and he wants to try again today.  I signed myself up as his "coach" so I can log in and see his progress from my account whenever I want.

It's free and the math concepts are explained in a clear manner through video.  The website is - Here is the TED video in which Khan talks about why he created the site:

I'm very excited about it and if the excitement doesn't wane, I'll try it on Spice (she likes Aleks math, but Aleks math doesn't have videos that explain the concept, and it costs money!)   I'll have to let you know which one she likes better.

Anyway, thanks RaNae for the great discovery!!!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fun Times and "Lamb of God" Concert Coming Up.

Probably my favorite "field trips" are times when we just go out to the duck pond or the mountains and spend some time observing nature.  The children get really excited about their discoveries and I love to just watch the things they come up with.  I'm excited that it's getting warmer (although a little sad that the beautiful blanket of white that was covering the yard-work is disappearing) so we can go out more often.  Maybe next winter I'll be better about bundling up  and going outdoors more when it's cold, but I didn't do a very good job of it this winter.

Anyway, we did go out occasionally and I have pictures to prove it.  There is also a fun cultural event coming up that I want to make sure everyone knows about.  First,  here are some pictures of some of our latest outings:

Free Zoo Day:

We were here for quite a while.  The kids are getting to where they like reading the information so it's fun to take it kind of slow and we fill each other in on the things we read.

The mom with the 2 cute little kids is my "cousin" Lisa.  We're not actually related, but our families have been friends long before I was born and we have always considered them family.  I had never just "hung out" with Lisa and it was a lot of fun!  I also saw my old friend, Jamie, from MBA school (our husbands were in the program).  She and I used to run together and she got me interested in racing.  She has been on a lot of adventures and I had no idea she was living so close now.  Hopefully we can get together soon!

You'll notice Spice isn't in any of the pictures.  That's because she took most of them :-)

 Fort Douglas Museum:

This museum was  a pleasant surprise.  We actually went to the University of Utah to see the Natural History museum, but when we got to it, we found that they were closed because they were changing locations.  I saw signs for Fort Douglas so I thought we might as well check that place out instead.  The volunteers there were amazing.  One man who fought in the Vietnam war took us on a tour of the museum and explained things.  He told us about some of his experiences and he knew a lot about guns which kept Bud asking a lot of questions.  It was small, but there was a lot to learn there.  Ray wasn't too interested in it all, though, and his favorite part was playing in the snow as we looked at the outside exhibits.


Last Tuesday, we drove to Logan to see "The 5 Browns"  They were pretty amazing.  I took a really awful picture (best I could get with the iphone in that lighting as I held Ray in one hand) so I'll put a better one from the Internet below it.  If you haven't heard the interview they had on the Mormon Channel, you should listen to it.  They are really down-to earth and their words were inspirational.  I'll link it here.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

You can listen to the full interview here.


The next performance we plan to go to is The Lamb of God by Rob Gardner.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Lamb of God CD so I am so excited to go to the actual performance.

Here is Rob Gardner talking about the piece:

You can see a schedule of the performances at:
They'll be in Salt Lake, Ogden, Las Vegas and Oakland.

You can get tickets for the Salt Lake performance on the church's website.  Here is the link.

We went to see Rob Gardner's Price of Freedom performance a few months ago and I was extremely impressed.  I wouldn't miss this one for anything (except for my kids' choir performance which happens to be on the same day as the Salt Lake City Lamb of God performance!  We'll be going to Lamb of God in Ogden the following day though (if they weren't in Ogden the next day, I would seriously consider skipping our choir performance - that's how exited I am about it).  I did already order tickets for the Salt Lake performance though, so if anyone is in need of tickets (I have 12) let me know!

More California:

Finally, I have more pictures from California that my husband hadn't uploaded from his phone before I wrote my post about the trip so I'll post them here:
Tom Sawyer island was one of my favorite places.  It felt peaceful
compared to the hustle and bustle of Disneyland
and there was a lot of nature.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Creating an Inspiring Learning Environment Through Work

For those of you who asked or are interested, here is the basic outline for the presentation I gave last night.  I won't type it all out - it was rather long, but here it is without the explanations, examples and stories :-).

Also, several people asked questions and I've written some of them out toward the bottom - some of them I didn't answer as thoroughly as I could (after I thought some more about it) so I hope this clarifies things a little better.

Creating an Inspiring Learning Environment Through Work 

A. Intro and how I came to be interested in this
     a)Homeschooling focus shift from purely academics to character development
     b) Knowing Stuff vs Becoming 
            -Faith without works is dead
            -It's in the doing (even and especially when we don't feel like it) that we become.
            -Actions build our character.

B. How do we teach our children to do hard things?
     a) Heavenly Father wouldn't take our agency, but he did give us work (Adam and weeds) to help us develop our character and overcome our natural tendencies.  (See here for more on this).
C. Living on a farm
      a) Many great leaders grew up on farms - learned work and discipline
      b) I can't move to a farm (can't even keep my garden alive), but we do have work that we need to make sure that we do in our home and yard.
     c) Start where we are and go from there 

D. How do we require work?
     a) Chore charts, reward systems etc, help (more on this later), but they are not an end of themselves.
     b) I have found 4 principles that help our work go smoothly when applied, and things seem to go downhill when I get lazy about them.

E. Principle 1:  "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." -Mark Twain
       a) read Tom Sawyer (last part of chapter 2)
       b) Should work always be fun?
            1. Doing it together makes it better
            2. Work by it's very nature isn't always fun - often repetitive, mundane and hard
            3. Doing the things we don't feel like doing builds discipline and character
            4. Teach children that they are not doing something temporal in their cleaning, they are building something eternal - their character.
            5. TJEd principle - Require Work, Inspire Learning
                -now that children know what real work is, their learning has become play (next principle)

F. Principle 2: Eliminate Distractions - Work Time is for Work
      a)  Hard one for me!  Hard to tell the kids to stop practicing, reading, or writing and do their work first.
      b) Benefits:
        1. Work gets done faster (for the most part)
        2. Hands are free to do a good quality job (used to let them hold a toy, not anymore)
        3. Reading, writing, practicing, playing, etc have become privileges for when the work is done (instead of rights or obligations) - they are excited to get back to their books, etc.
        4. According to Mark Twain's definition (principle 1) - learning has become play.

G. Principle 3: Don't Take the Work out of their Play - Less Resources = Better Play
      a) Headgates (plain and simple toys)
      b) Benefits:
        1. House is easier to clean
        2. Play is smarter (can play pretend for hours with a stuffed animal or a blanket)
        3. Disciplines the mind
          -The children need mental focus to imagine instead of having a ready-made prop (making a crib instead of having a plastic one)
          -Prolonged imagination builds mental focus (try playing with a 4 year old)
          -Builds creativity, curiosity, imagination, ability to think "outside the box"
         4. We rob them of this when we give them entertaining, scripted toys
         5. When there is work in their play, they progress to learning as they are ready (Headgates)
            -learning starts to become more interesting than play and they begin to choose it more often
            -My kids: 11 year-old: learning activities 90% of her free-time, plays 10%
                             9 year-old: learning activities 75% of his free-time, plays 25%
                             7 year-old: learning activities 50% of her free-time, plays 50%
                             4 year-old: learning activities 10% of his free-time, plays 90%
            -I see the progression (when I first started this - most of them played most of their free time) Now they read, write, practice piano, crochet, do math, observe nature, etc)

H. Principle 4: Progress isn't linear
      a) Days are different (energy - yours and your children's, illness, appointments, calls, etc)
      b) Discouragement if you expect each day to be better in this area than the previous day
      c)Upward Spiral (bad days are less bad than previous bad days, good days getting better on average)
      d) You'll notice the steady and constant growth of character and discipline when you look back on months and years of trying.
       e) Do what you can today

I. Our Schedule (some practical ideas - yours will look different)

 Morning List (before any reading, playing, etc are allowed)
 -Make Bed
 -Get Dressed
 -Tidy room and zone (check under, on top and behind things, corners)
 (zones don't change - Little Miss always has the front room, Spice has the living room, Bud has the basement which includes the toy room, stairs and family room and Bazinks just got assigned the upstairs bathroom - just keeping it picked up)
 -Scriptures, journal
 -Read list again and make sure everything is done
 -Ask mom if she needs anything else
 -Have mom come check your work (very important!)

Breakfast and Clean-up
Each child has a job for the day.  One has wash dishes, one has counters/put away dry dishes, one has table & chairs/put away dry silverware, and one has floors.  We rotate for the next day.  Each child helps clean up after meal.  I help the little ones - show prop

Family Work
Charts, reward systems (show props)
Monday: Everyone cleans out car, everyone spot cleans the walls, doors, switches, windows in their zones and rooms.
Tuesdays: Bathrooms (they pick if they want to clean the toilets, do a surface wipe-down, or clean bathtubs and showers in all of the bathrooms).
Wednesday: Kitchen and Floors: Someone removes the chairs and replaces them and cleans the appliances, someone else sweeps, someone else mops in the kitchen.  Each child sweeps and mops the bathroom near their zone. 
Thursday: Dust and Vacuum (each person dusts and vacuums their room and zone)
Friday: Make-up day or free day
Saturday: Help dad with his list, some deep cleaning if needed and food prep, or family outings.  I try to do my shopping on this day.

Hymn, Prayer, Scripture story, family memory work, a chapter of history while they draw
Lunch and Clean-Up
See Breakfast

Leaning Skills or Lesson (just 1 or 2)
Children choose a writing assignment (penmanship, copy work, language lesson, poetry, story)
If I see a need for a child (Bud and his times-tables right now) or if they've asked for a lesson we would practice it here.

Free time and read to mom
I pull one child at a time and have them read me a couple of pages of the book they are reading.  If they are not in the middle of a book, I'll suggest one and read a little of it and then have them read me a few pages.  The children most often choose to write, read, practice piano, Spice does math online, observe nature, sing, draw, crochet, or play (mostly the younger ones).

Dinner and Clean-up
See Breakfast

Bedtime List
Tidy Room and Zone
Teeth, pajamas
Journal (short entry on something you're grateful for)
See if mom needs anything
Report to mom

Family Reading
Scriptures and from a Classic (currently Laddie)

Read in Bed, lights out

J. Q & A
How long do these things take?
Typically the kids wake up around 7, we eat breakfast at 8, we do family work from 9-11, I start dinner at 4, we eat at 5, bedtime lists start around 6:30, family reading at 7, bedtime at 8.

What if your kids are hungry as soon as they wake up
Their morning lists do not take very long since they are done daily.
They are always welcome to eat fruit before breakfast (or for snacks)

What about math?
Spice has chosen to do formal math during her free time (she likes aleks math - for a discount I signed up through - it's $60/year instead of like $240).  I started her in 3rd grade math in case she had holes to fill.  She did it in 10 hours (the computer keeps track).  She is also zooming through 4th grade and I'm sure she'll "catch up" to her 5th grade level very quickly - because she's choosing it and she's developmentally ready to understand the more abstract concepts.
For the younger children, I have them figure things out that they want to know (how much longer until ____?  How long is a meter?)  How high is 6 feet 2 inches?  etc.  I also give them mini-lessons as they are ready (Bud is learning his time-tables, Little Miss just had a short lesson on adding longer numbers because she was interested).  I'll teach them to add, substract, multiply and divide with mini-lessons as they are ready.  After that I'll let them choose a more formal math program.

What about Science?
Since children can't really understand real science until they have an understanding of some advanced math, I don't do much in "experiments" etc.  Sometimes one will have a question about an observations and I'll encourage their own experiment.  Mostly for science, we observe nature and look up questions we have or get a book from the library about it.  In the spring, we plan to spend a lot more free time outdoors.  We'll also be gardening and planting for work time.
Do you rotate their zones?
I don't  because they have taken an ownership and a sense of pride in their zones.  I don't think they need to know how to clean every room in the house to know how to clean a room so I'm not too worried about changing it for them.

How do you decide which child does what during family work?
They usually call it out and whoever speaks first gets the job.  I could rotate it if I saw a need.

How do you keep them from procrastinating their work?
I like to use timers.  We use the family ladder as a reward system when we are trying to work on speed in our jobs (sometimes we're more focused on quality, sometimes on how we get along during work, it depends on the day).

What if one child refuses to work?
I wrote about that hereBasically, the pattern is: a tap on the shoulder (a reminder), a direct command, if command is disobeyed - a consequence - time-out or an extra job during free time.

What do you expect from your four-year old?
He cleans his room with his brother, gets dressed, makes his bed and picks up his small zone in the mornings.  I help him with his kitchen job.  He is given someone to help during family work or he's asked to play with the baby.

What about teenagers and hectic schedules?
A wise friend once told me (thanks Lara!) that the family schedule doesn't stop for one family member and they can catch up when they return.  For example, if Bud is at Scouts during family reading time (this isn't typical), we have family reading time anyway, and he can read what he missed on his own the next day or we catch him up on what happened.

Those are all the questions I can remember right now.  Does anyone have any more?