Saturday, July 10, 2010

How Important is Mastery?

I have strong opinions about mastery. I struggled as a classroom teacher as I watched administrators direct teachers to push children through the system without focusing on what those children would take with them when they left; not considering what those children needed to make the most of their lives. Our responsibility, as classroom teachers, for educating precious children was often shoved aside because of budgets, government funding and standardized test scores. Even as I write this, I feel my blood pressure rising as I remember the battles I fought knowing that I would never defeat the system. It is one of the reasons that I homeschooled my children. I wanted them to have time for spiritual mastery, time for academic mastery and time for God to instill His mark on their character before the world invades.
One of the greatest reasons to teach mastery is that students develop a habit of learning as they master different concepts. The habit of learning provides a lifelong skill valued for many years beyond grades or test scores.
What is Mastery?
One definition of mastery states that it is the full command of a subject of study. What is the point of studying academically or spiritually if we aren’t ultimately going to be in command of that subject? Commanding a subject means more than memorization and regurgitation of information. It means a knowledge that can be deeply discussed, applied to other studies and thoroughly understood to the point that one can teach it. While this intense definition may not seem to apply to an elementary student’s grasp of the parts of speech, the general idea behind mastery enables us, as homeschool moms, to establish significant goals for our children and to evaluate exactly how much they have learned.
A simple example of mastery is the difference between memorizing multiplication facts and demonstrating an understanding that multiplication means repeated addition. Another example might be applying scripture to the heart rather than just memorizing the words.

Recently, God gave me an amazing gift. I teach high school Sunday school at my church and my son, John Paul, is in that class. One Sunday, we arrived early and were waiting on the other students when we began discussing how a wealthy man that we both know professed to be a Christian, but his daily behavior isn’t indicative of a believer. After a slight pause, my son quoted Matthew 6:24 –
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other;
Or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth.
As a mom, to hear my teenage son quote relevant scripture in the middle of a conversation brought a moment of sweetness that I will never forget. It may seem a small thing to many, but the fruit of God’s Word should always be sweet. This spiritual mastery of an important Biblical life concept is one of my goals for my children. I look forward to seeing more and more of it! J

How Does Mastery Apply to My Classes?
One year, I taught science in a private Christian middle school. It didn’t take much time in the classroom to realize that that the students had been basically trained to read, memorize and reiterate the facts laid out in the dull, lifeless curriculum. They were missing essential concepts and really had no idea how to even explain what they were learning. I took the paperback textbook, ripped it apart by chapter (middle school students truly enjoy dramatic effects) and told the students that we would use those chapters as reference materials as we learned. All tests went from being multiple choice to essay (they loved me for that!) and honestly, I was not a favorite teacher of parents or students at first. However, by the end of the year, those students could clearly articulate essential science concepts in both writing and verbally. We had awesome discussions. Parents and their Composition teacher appreciated my efforts. The kids never did truly fall in love with the essay tests, but they knew their stuff!
I teach my classes with mastery goals in mind. I don’t expect my students to just read the literature and complete the assignments, but my expectations extend to the display of a fuller understanding of the material, whether demonstrated verbally or written. For some students and even parents, this can be frustrating. The world often teaches us to accept the mere act of learning rather than aspiring to fully understand the knowledge and wisdom that God has graciously given to man. I have seen this played out in the education of the parents and home school students who previously attended public or private school. They come to me with primary concerns of earning credits and completing courses. Please don’t misunderstand…there is a practical need for our high school students to earn the appropriate credits, but their education should not be focused on that achievement. It should be focused on mastery of what they are learning.  
How Can We Determine if Mastery is Achieved?
Let’s say you’re teaching the steps of the water cycle to your 3rd grader and you want to evaluate whether he understands the concept. Various methods can be utilized to determine mastery, depending on your child’s learning style. Your child may draw a representation of the water cycle or verbally explain the process to demonstrate mastery.
It’s important when determining mastery to make sure that your child has more than one option for demonstrating what he knows. Some of the most common ways to determine mastery include:
  • Verbal explanation – more an older student, this may be a more formal speech rather than just a casual explanation.
  • Graphic rendition – this may be hand done or on a computer. Graphic organizers such as charts, Venn diagrams, plot maps, outlines etc may be used. Lap books allow students to organize information and then share what they learned using the lap books as a visual reference.
  • Written assignments – writing as a demonstration of mastery is actually a higher level skill because it requires not only written expression but also organizational thinking skills.
  • Kinesthetic model – physical models also assist some students when explaining specific concepts.
Sometimes a combination of methods works best. Examples include a lapbook and a verbal explanation or an outline and a written assignment.
The ultimate test of mastery is whether a student can teach the concept to someone else using whatever method works best. That someone may be a younger child, a peer or an adult. I often ask students to lead discussions online and in class if I feel that they can share their mastery of a subject with the rest of the class.
Mastery takes time and patience, but the rewards are beyond measure. There’s a tremendous joy in knowing that a student truly understands what has been taught and that he will benefit from that learning experience for his lifetime.
 Let me understand the teaching of your precepts;
Then I will meditate on your wonders.
Psalm 119:27
God bless you as you plan your coming year!
In Him,

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fun Summer Writing Ideas

Writing in the summer? Nah...that's one wants to do that! However, imagine how beneficial it would be if your children were able to continue growing in their writing skills while enjoying a summer break too. Don't think you can get your children to write this summer without frustration and battles? It's all in the approach! Keep the pressure low and encourage rather than demand. Pair up with your child for one of the summer writing ideas in this article and you could find writing more enjoyable than you would expect...changing not only your child's attitude about writing, but your own, as well. Just give one or more of the following a try:
Summer journaling - shop with your child to pick out a special journal just for recording summer events and activities. Rather than journaling every day, choose a day each week to visit a fun place just to write. For younger children, sitting with you on a blanket in a park or by a lake could be incentive to write down some thoughts. For older children, a trip to the local coffee shot, journaling on the computer, might be the trick. My son and I have a favorite coffee shop we like to visit out near Kiawah Island and we go there just enough to keep it special! Don't make serious demands on writing length or format. Even if your child can create bullet point ideas describing a recent trip or describe the beach or his best friend's backyard, that will work! He's still communicating in the written word. Keep it light, fun and memorable!
Travel games - turn off the dvd player in the car for a while and use your brains! Verbal travel games can improve your child's thought processes and writing skills. Some ideas include:
    • Telling a story in a round - you start a story and then each person adds to it. 
    • ABC themes - use every letter in the alphabet to come up with a word matching a specific theme. One person starts with the A, the next person does B, etc. Theme examples could include the beach, summertime, fruits and vegetables, favorite books/characters or anything else you can imagine. To make it more challenging, require each person to recite the words leading up to his letter.
Accordion books - those of you who know me well, know that I love accordion books. They offer such a great opportunity for creative thought and expression, plus they make awesome keepsakes in a small, compact size. You can purchase accordion books already made or follow these simple directions to make your own and save yourself a lot of money. You could have a few made up for younger children and supplies on hand for older children to make their own.  Some summer accordion books ideas could be:
      • ABC - for younger children, when you take a trip to the beach, park, etc, find different words that start with different letters of the alphabet. You don't have to do every letter, every time. You can make it an ongoing summer game. You could take a picture of the letter words for the accordion book or have your child illustrate the word himself each time.
      • Photo journaling - taking photos while enjoying your summer allows for excellent writing opportunities. Children can write sentences, paragraphs or simply word lists to describe the photo or event. Place the writing and photos together in your accordion book. You could use a theme per book: visiting Grandma's house, going to the mountains, fun in the sprinkler, etc
      • Summer poetry - find different poems that relate to summer to record in the accordion book and have your child memorize (memory work is excellent for pre-writing) a poem or two, then illustrate. A child might also be inspired to try writing his own summer poem and illustrating it. Acrostic poetry offers a simple but enjoyable format that most children understand for writing early poems.
      • Recipes - have your child choose favorite summer dishes and record the recipes in his book. Throughout the summer, you could make the recipes together, take photos and include them in the book.
      • Movies/book reviews - children tend to read more enjoyable books in the summer and writing a simple review of the book can provide excellent skill reinforcement. A matinee movie also offers a chance to write a review. The child could illustrate the cover of the book, a favorite scene or character, or simply include a movie ticket stub with the reviews.  
Summer writing workshops - consider enrolling your child in a writing workshop, such as the one I teach, to sharpen his skills and let him work on his writing with other children. I often find that my summer writers are more enthusiastic and accomplish a great deal because they don't have other school work on which to focus. Note that the deadline for my Summer Writing Intensive Workshop is June 22nd.
    These are but a few ideas for summer writing fun. Personalize any of them and create an awesome memory with your child.  Remember, if you journal, create an accordion book or write a poem, your child will be more likely to do so and to enjoy the experience more. Have a wonderful time writing this summer and be sure to respond to this blog and let us know how it worked out! If you have other writing ideas, please share them for all to enjoy.

    God bless,

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    What Should My Child Be Writing and When? Part 2: Middle School and High School

    I recently gave a workshop on how to teach reluctant writers. The most concerned parents, understandably, were those of children in middle and high school. So, I am going to digress for a moment to address this issue. When you reach high school in your home school and realize that your child can’t or doesn’t write, it’s easy to panic. If you are in this situation, take a deep breath and understand that there is a solution. Here are a few tips for getting your student back on track:

    ·        Evaluate exactly where your child is achieving based on a recent writing sample (unassisted). For example, if your high schooler doesn’t know the parts of speech, you have to go back and teach them. If he doesn’t put sentences together well, forget about writing paragraphs and papers and revert back to practicing writing solid sentences! Then you can move forward with the next set of skills. Understanding outlining has to come before well developed papers can be written. Sentences before paragraphs and paragraphs before reports. If you feel unable to evaluate your student’s writing, email me as I do offer evaluation services at a reasonable hourly rate.
    ·        Focus your energy and time on those necessary skills. You don’t have as much time, so make sure that you are devoting significant time to catching up and being consistent to work on writing daily. Most of the students that I work with who are greatly challenged by writing have not had consistency in practice and evaluation. This leads to a lack of confidence. You can’t expect your student to write well if he never practices the skills.
    ·        Read, read, read – your high schooler will benefit from reading on the highest level possible. Daily reading with related writing assignments is the perfect combination for advancing skills. Be selective about what your student is reading and be sure to point out the value of the written word as your student reads.
    ·        Integrate writing into as many subjects as possible – any writing assignments that can be integrated into science, history and other subjects will make the skills more relevant to your high school student and offer even more practice as well reinforcement of those skills.
    ·        Keep assignments shorter – until your student has caught up on skills, give multiple shorter assignments rather than overwhelming both of you with large, stressful writing projects. Make sure that you’re willing to evaluate and grade the assignment before you choose to assign it.
    ·        Acquire help, if needed if you find that you’re not making the progress your high schooler needs, seek out a tutor or teacher to help. You don’t want your child finishing high school without the life skill of writing well. Feel free to email me if you need more specific recommendations or help with teaching or evaluating writing.

    Middle School: Typically grades 6-8, these years are those in which some kids lose track of writing. They write for assignments but the focus isn’t on mastery. It’s vital that skills continue to be honed and if possible, writing becomes more comfortable. During the pre-high school years solidifying strong writing skills in preparation for the higher level writing in high school couldn’t be more important. You shouldn’t assume that your student has specific skills just because he is a certain age. Taking the time to evaluate your student’s true abilities is vital to moving forward. Skills and strategies at this age include:
    ·        Sentence structure and paragraph formation – before you work on any writing projects for these grade levels, make sure your student has a firm grasp of how to write solid sentences and form paragraphs including articulate topic sentences and relevant supporting sentences. Strategies: 1. Use books of various types (novels, textbooks, etc) to show your student different sentence structures (varying lengths and complexity). 2. Have your student start out writing a simple sentence, then discuss how to change the sentence into a more complex style. 3. Give specific topics to your student for practicing writing sentences and help him expand those sentences into paragraphs.
    ·        Paragraph transitions – this is one skill that often gets rushed through in writing education, but the ability to transition between paragraphs should be practiced over and over. It doesn’t come naturally for most students and many parents don’t focus on it because it’s frustrating and sometimes parents aren’t confident teaching this concept. Strategy: Make sure your student understands transition words. Click here for a list of common transition words and when to use them.
    ·        Note taking – if your student started this skill in late elementary school, as recommended, then continue it with more challenging content. If your student hasn’t previously worked on this skill, then you’ll want to start simply with short single paragraphs. Strategy: Integration of subjects works well with note taking by practicing this skill using material from history, science, literature, etc. For example, have your student read 1-3 paragraphs in science and then make a bullet list of important concepts recalled from reading. If there is a tendency toward copying directly from the material, have your student close or cover the book before note taking. 
    WHAT NOT TO DO: Assign a writing assignment for every set of notes your student takes. You do not have to assign a writing assignment just because you’re having your student take notes. The notes themselves may be the complete assignment and they’re worthwhile because they will reinforce important concepts and be useful for studying as well as improving writing and comprehension skills!
    ·        Outlining – If your student already understands how to outline with a web design, move on to traditional (using Roman numerals, letters and Arabic numbers) outlining. Be aware that students who are more graphically inclined tend to be more comfortable with web outlining so the move to traditional may be a bit of a challenge. Students who are more structured thinkers usually do better with traditional rather than web outlining. Strategy: After practicing note taking in another subject, such as a history, science or literature, have your student create an outline from his notes (not from the book). Be sure that your student has taken a significant amount of notes in order to outline at least three main sections. 2. Consistency is key in outlines. An outline should contain all single words, all phrases or all complete sentences. I don’t typically recommend complete sentence outlines for middle school students because they’re more likely to copy sentences and not understand the overall concept.
    WHAT NOT TO DO: Don’t give up! Outlining is very frustrating for some parents and students. It’s one of those wonderful skills that truly improve with practice.
    ·        Report Writing – in middle school, a basic report of 3-5 pages provides practice for all of the previously mentioned skills. Three to four well written reports per year provides continual use of the skills without being overwhelming. In middle school, students should use 2-3 resources for their reports. These resources could include textbooks, other books, magazine articles and online sites. However, I strongly recommend that you train your student to use a variety of sources. It’s easy to skip a trip to the library and rely on the internet, but it’s essential that students learn to use various materials. A brief resource page as the end of the report with the author and named material (book title, website URL or magazine title) suffices. In high school, students will have more detailed resource pages.  Strategy: Let your student help choose report topics (all or some) from his different subjects. Consider any of the following:
    §         A science topic that is new or of particular interest
    §         A favorite historical character or event
    §         An invention or discovery from science or history
    §         A favorite or new author of a book from literature
    §         An artist or musician that is being studied in history or fine arts.
    Even if your student is helping choose the topic, be sure to direct him to select an assortment of different report ideas. Some students want to only write about people or one particular subject. The more diverse the topics, the greater the opportunity for learning! When grading reports, I usually count them as a test grade for my students since they encompass so much time, energy and many skills.
    ·        Creative Writing – if your student has already been exposed to poetry and short stories in literature, creative writing will be much easier to teach. If those areas haven’t been covered, you’ll want to read poetry and literature for a semester before tackling writing creatively.
    WHAT NOT TO DO: Expecting your child to write creatively without sharing an abundance of poetry and literature with him is unfair. Remember that reading and writing link just like walking and running. If a child tries to run before walking, he’ll spend a lot of time falling. If a student tries to write creatively without having read and studied examples of creative authors and poets, he’ll spend a lot of time frustrated.
    Once your student develops a sense of understanding concerning creative works, he can move on to writing creatively. Begin with smaller assignments and work your way up to more challenging, lengthier projects. Some ideas to consider include:
    §         Studying rhyme schemes in poetry and have your student write poetry with similar rhyming patterns (haikus, sonnets etc)
    §         After reading a novel or short story, have your student do one of the following:
    1.     write a different ending
    2.     add a new character
    3.     create a lap book to present the literary aspects including a plot map, character analysis, themes, conflicts, vocabulary, figurative language and a book review.
    4.     design a book cover and write an overview for the back of the book.
    5.     focus on the genre of the book or story (historical, science fiction, mystery etc) and write an outline of another story idea in that same genre
    6.     compare and contrast two books in chart form or as an essay
    §         Have students respond to photos from a newspaper or website writing what they think might have occurred.
    §         Create comics – this idea works particularly well for students who are reluctant writers. The student should focus on the content of the writing as well as the artistic design of the comic.
    ·        Self-editing – One of the most overlooked skills in middle school, this habit can change the level of success that a student experiences throughout all of his years of writing. The best habit a student can develop for self-editing is reading his work aloud. I promise you, I will read this article aloud before publishing it. It’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to self-edit. Another tool that’s proven to be effective is a basic self-editing checklist, adapted to specific writing assignments, such as the one on Epi Kardia’s Tools CD. As well, your job will be easier as your student becomes a more proficient writer! J

    High School: Before even considering high school writing, make sure that your student developed a solid grasp of the middle school writing points previously noted. As a writing teacher, organization and self-editing usually present themselves as the greatest challenges for my high school writers. Transitioning from middle school level writing to high school level also causes issue with some students as they want to relax in the simpler writing of younger days.
    ·        Essay writing – covering the five basic essay styles (narrative, expository, descriptive, persuasive and comparison/contrast) is essential for high school students, particularly those who are college bound. Most high school writing and literature courses require the ability to write these essays. The ability to write these essays also allows for greater opportunities to respond in writing for both history and science high school courses, providing for subject integration. Epi Kardia’s Essay Styles curriculum offers solid coverage of these essay styles.
    ·        Research papers – I strongly recommend that students write at least two research papers during high school of at least 10 pages in length. This process should not be rushed and each step of the process (topic selection, researching and gathering materials, note taking, outlining, writing, multiple rewriting, footnoting and citing resources) should be given appropriate time. For some students, this may be a year long process while others may only need 4-5 months. Research writing offers a tremendous opportunity to integrate subjects. Selecting topics that relate to material being studied in history, science or literature enhances your student’s learning experience. For a comprehensive, step by step instruction guide to research paper writing, check out Epi Kardia’s The Steps to Writing a Research Paper.
    ·        Responding to Literature – whether you’re studying novels, plays, poetry or short stories, high school students should analyze and explore fictional works by various authors. High school students tend to do this best when the literature is grouped according to style, geography or time period. American literature, British literature and World literature should minimally be studied and extensive writing should be incorporated in the forms of essays, book reviews and reports.
    ·        Responding to Non-fiction – as your student studies science, history and other subjects, writing assignments will help your student not only present how much he has learned, but it will also reinforce what was learned. Incorporating written assignments such as research papers, essays and reports increase your student’s writing skills and material comprehension.
    ·        Speech writing – I believe that every student should take Public Speaking in high school. This course not only provides essential verbal communication skills, but it also teaches students to write in a succinct and powerful manner that can be utilized throughout their adult life.
    ·        Business writing – practicing writing cover letters and resumes will put your student a step ahead when college rolls around. Also, if the opportunity arises, developing a strong letter to the editor of your local paper, responding to emails and communicating in writing with other adults all provide precious practice for necessary life skills.
    ·        SAT writing – practicing for the SAT essay gives your student a way to not only score better on the test, but it also allows for practice in very focused, precise writing because of the limitations of time and space. As well, the ability to outline and organize thoughts quickly is an excellent skill that a student can use throughout his entire life.
    ·        Personal writing – adults often have to write personal emails and notes. Having your student write personal correspondence such as thank you notes, cards of prayer and encouragement or simply having a pen pal, provides great practice for informal, but intelligent written communication. This is often overlooked as a high school skill.
    ·        Self-editing – In high school, the goal is for students to edit their work without having to be told. In early high school years, using checklists or reminders, by building in time for self-editing, consistently can lead to older students more naturally as they write. Older students tend to realize the benefit of self-editing and how time is saved when they don’t have to complete as many drafts of an assignment. As students edit their own work by habit, you’ll see them also apply that habit to personal writing as well.
    ·        Collaborative writing – this type of creative writing can be exceptionally fun for high school students while teaching them to write fiction. For homeschoolers who are not utilizing high school courses, this writing may be done via email with other students. Basically, one student starts a story and as it is passed around, students add another paragraph that continues the story in a logical and intelligent manner.

    This is a brief overview of essential skills for students in 6th-12th grade. It is not a comprehensive list of what could be taught, only the minimum of what should be taught. If you struggle with teaching or evaluating your student’s writing, check out Classes by Beth to see if I offer a class online or locally that might appeal to your family.

    God bless you as you endeavor to teach your children to write!

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    What Should My Child Be Writing and When?

    Part 1: Elementary School
    I receive this question so often, and not only from home school parents. Even those who have children attending private and public schools wonder if their children are on target with writing at any particular time. As a writing teacher, my recommendations, based on my years of experience, are as follows. Please note that these are general guidelines, not taking into account learning disabilities, gifted children or individual child develop which should never be overlooked.

    PreK – Kindergarten: READ, READ, READ! The best writers tend to also be readers. Exposing your child from a very early age to well written children’s books promotes stronger future writers. Discuss how writers use words to create mental pictures and emphasize the importance of how words are used.
    1st – 2nd grades: When I first started teaching first grade in a private school, writing “books” with children was a new trend. After spending time with this age group, I realized that they didn’t truly understand the purpose of such writing. At this age, limited life experience can truly frustrate a child who is asked to come up with a story idea. Many of them don’t remember the details from their last birthday, let alone have the ability to put such thoughts into complete sentences. Copy work from well written children’s literature is the best type of writing exercise for this age group. If your child demonstrates eagerness toward writing, you could have him dictate their thoughts to you and then have your child copy what you have written, in part or in whole. The focus during reading and copy work should be on basic skills such as capitalization, punctuation, simple parts of speech and how words work together to create a complete thought.

    3rd – 5th grades: These years make up some of the most influential writing experiences for a child. Their exposure to interesting writing activities and development of essential skills greatly determine their ability and attitude toward writing later. Think of these years as a time to build up confidence and skills allowing your child to later enjoy writing and researching. Some specific areas that should be addressed include:
    ·        Review of any previous punctuation, grammar and capitalization rules, as well as additional rules that have not been introduced - Strategy: point out punctuation, grammar and capitalization rules in literature and other reading materials. This offers your child a relevant example of the rules.
    ·        Parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc) - Strategy: create a lap book or other graphic organizer for the parts of speech. With a lap book, your child can use it as a resource as he/she writes.
    ·        Solid sentence structure - this is so often overlooked by parents…they jump from parts of speech to writing complete paragraphs. Sentence development requires significant time and paragraphs will come more easily if writing different types of sentences has been practiced consistently. Strategy: use note cards with various words (a variety of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs – don’t forget articles such as a, the, etc) on them to allow your child a hands-on activity for creating interesting sentences. Have him/her copy the sentences he/she creates.
    ·        Individual paragraph development including topic sentence and supporting sentences - Strategy: Again, refer back to material your child is reading. Copy work should continue through elementary school and your child can highlight or underline topic sentences. Identification should always come before implementation. Once your child can identify topic and supporting sentences in literature and other books, writing them will be easier.
    ·        Combined paragraph development (start with two and add on as your child develops confidence and demonstrates skill) including transition sentences between paragraphs - Transition sentences are another commonly overlooked skill in later elementary grades. Strategy: Before asking your child to write transition sentences, brainstorm a list of common transitional phrases (finally, as, for instance, first, second, etc)
    ·        Beginning outlining - A student who can outline most often turns out to be a well organized writer. You can’t spend too much time with this skill! Strategy: consider using a web outline rather than a traditional outline as it offers a more concrete picture for an early writer.
    ·        Beginning report writing and note taking - Train your child from early on to rewrite all report content in his/her own words. Also, make sure your child has a firm grasp on paragraph writing and transitions before asking him to write a report.  Strategy: begin with one paragraph at a time, reading it aloud or silently, and have your child verbally explain what was read. You can write this for your child initially and have him copy it. Later, have your child verbalize it and write it himself.
    ·        Book reports – this writing activity provides an excellent introduction to the literary parts of a story (plot, characters, etc) while working on organization skills at the same time. Strategy – a lap book or oral report (written first, then spoken) provide appropriate formats for book reports while allowing for creativity and additional skills.
    ·        Creative writing focusing on description and sequencing. Commonly, parents jump right into creative writing because it sounds fun. Realistically, it’s a challenging type of writing for children. Be sure to model and give plenty of examples before expecting your child to write creatively.  Stories can be very difficult for younger writers and in most cases, are not the best place to start for creative writing. Strategy: Fun poetry such as alliteration, acrostic, haikus, etc offer great opportunities for kids to express themselves with some structure, but not too much. Be sure to read plenty of it together before having your child write.
    It has been my experience that children who truly dislike writing didn’t have a positive start with it. Writing skills seem daunting to some parents because they are not writers or they don’t feel confident evaluating their children’s written work. If you are one of those parents, consider my Hands-On Elementary writing class where your child will learn how to write and enjoy the process! If you would like assistance evaluating your child’s work, I do offer evaluation services for a fee. Please email me for more information.

    Watch for What Should My Child Be Writing and When? Part 2: Middle and High School coming soon!

    God bless you as you endeavor to teach your children to write!

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    How to Conquer Time Stealers

    Teaching classes, homeschooling, writing my book and blogs, assisting my husband with his Personal Chef business, managing my household, finding time with God, designing curriculum, preparing to teach Sunday School and miscellaneous other details in life all occupy my day. Now, before you begin to think that I am some super woman who has it all together, let me insert a major disclaimer here…I am so not altogether. However, my God is and He is where I derive my strength each day! Over the years, as a homeschool mom and in multiple other roles, I’ve noticed little thieves attempting to control my life and steal my time!

    Some of these thieves appear due to my own weaknesses while others arrive without being invited. Nevertheless, as I mature (and this seems to be a long process), I am discovering ways to eliminate or at least somewhat control them. Do you have any of these time stealers in your house? I’ve included some ideas for conquering them that I hope will help.

    1.     Disorganization – one of my least favorite scenarios is when I’m trying to locate something in my home, knowing that I have it, then waste tons of time looking for it. While I’m not a neat freak, I do find that by starting Monday morning with my house neat and reasonably organized, the rest of my week really ends up being so much more productive and peaceful. My son seems to work much better in a neater environment as it allows him to find what he needs more easily to get his job done.
         Possible solutions to conquer this thief:
    ·        Take a little time on Sunday evening to just straighten up from the weekend and make quick lists for those items that are a priority. I avoid leaving dirty dishes or other chores to be done on Monday morning that could be done quickly on Sunday night. Also, by making lists on Sunday evening, I wake up on Monday morning with my goals already set for the week and ready to roll.
    ·        Have a easy to reach place for things. We have two large drawers in our television armoire in the living room and all of my son’s school books are stored there. It’s easy to take out materials and put them away. If they get too cluttered to close, we know it’s time clean out the mess. Basically, that happens about every other month. I have a basket that I use for storing my school materials and that’s about it. For many of you, with multiple children, more sophisticated methods may be need to be implemented, but make it as easy as possible. Baskets and other containers with leads allow for quick clean ups with losing vital books and materials. I was a fan of shelves at one time until I realized that I could always see them and they never seemed neat. Now, I’ve converted to covered containers because it can be neat without being perfect. We live in a very small house so keeping things in their place is an essential. Again, I lose time when I have to hunt for something or spend an entire afternoon cleaning up because we haven’t put things away for a week.
    ·        Keep an all purpose notepad or notebook – I previously kept a separate notebook or notepad for every aspect of my life. At one time I was a huge fan of The Well Trained Mind and I attempted to apply those organizational techniques to my entire life. Ugh! Big mistake…I ended up with a bunch of binders, half used and half organized. Now, I keep one small soft sided journal that I can throw in my purse or bag. My journals come from Barnes and Noble because they have them in packs of three for about $9. Red is my preferred color, not because I am a fan of red, but because it’s easier to find when I am looking for it. I keep all notes and lists in one notebook for any given time period. I write the applicable dates on the front of the journal and store them according to date as I finish with them. I do sometimes use paperclips to sort pages, as needed. When I put something away in an unusual place or I am afraid I might not remember, I note it in my book. I’ve learned to write down details from phone calls in it to avoid having a bunch of scraps of paper. I use an unlined version, although there are lined versions, to provide the most flexibility in case I want to sketch something or need more space than a line offers. Of course, if I ever lose my book, my brain might explode. J That hasn’t happened yet, praise God!
    2.     Overly organized – Is this possible? Definitely! This little thief deceives you into thinking that you’re working on being organized when you’re really just procrastinating on doing what’s on your list. Thriving in my home for a period of years, this thief had me fooled into doing silly things like rewriting and reorganizing my lists continually or constantly reorganizing shelves, closets, etc with the latest storage containers. Okay…so I do have a storage container fetish, but still, I have learned that just because it’s new doesn’t mean it is better! How can you prevent yourself from being overly organized?
    ·        Keep lists uncomplicated and remember you control them, not the other way around. To prevent stolen time, I don’t rewrite any lists until all but 1 or 2 of the items are completed or I’ve had the list for at least a week. I like lists clean and neat, but in order for them to be useful for me, I know I have to cross off items and make notes as appropriate. In my journal, I keep six different lists to stay on top of my life. The last one is miscellaneous because I need a catch-all list. If something is time sensitive, I note a completion date with it, but I don’t put a date on everything because some things can wait until the next week. I review my lists on Sunday evening and adjust my priorities for the next week. Since I put things on my list as they come to mind, I don’t panic over not completing all of my lists each week. I used to, but I’ve grown a little in that area. I’ve learned that it is okay to transfer list items to a later time as long as you find you’re making progress.
    ·        Examine your motivations when reorganizing. Is your reorganization really serving a purpose or just stealing your time? Is spending two hours organizing the school closet really more important that going over long division with your child or writing out the bills? Believe me, I even catch myself doing this with my computer. I look at all of the files and folders and think, rather than grading my students’ essays, I really should clean up my computer. Really?
    3.     Email, blogging, tweeting, etc – Technology offers wonderful opportunities and often gets promoted for saving time. However, when it turns into a time thief, technology loses its value. So, what can you do to keep technology in its place?
    ·        Determine whether you need to utilize every form of technology. I purposefully do not have email access on my phone. I could easily be an email junkie so I realize that there are times when email access just isn’t necessary. I also tried tweeting for a time and realized that as a wordsmith, I get pretty annoyed with such a limited number of characters for communication. As well, I spent way too much time each day checking to see if someone had tweeted me and typically, the content just wasn’t worth the time. For some people, tweeting offers an excellent way to network and allows them to keep up with people and events without too much time investment.
    ·         Keep thieves at bay by having technology guidelines. I have technology guidelines for my life including only writing my blogs once a week (although I do check for comments daily so I don’t leave anyone hanging), not tweeting at all and checking email no more than three times a day (in the morning, in the afternoon and before bed). Occasionally, I will turn on my email to pop up as it comes in if I am working on a project with someone. I have my email set up to automatically file into folders as it arrives, allowing me to read the highest priority first and save others for when I have more time. My friends tease me because I only check my Facebook account 2-3 times per week, although I am trying to be more consistent with that network because it is the only way some distant family members know what’s going on in our lives. For a while, Instant Messaging on my computer about drove me insane but I learned to limit the number of people that I allow to IM me. Texting can still catch me off guard if I’m not careful. If it seems like a long conversation, I call the person.
    ·        Evaluate your reasons for utilizing certain technology and prioritize how you use each form. It’s interesting if you think about it and I did to determine what I would keep and what I would discontinue concerning technology. Tweet was an easy dump. I feel that email is an essential communication tool, but then I had to put it in perspective by creating a schedule. It’s the same for my blogs (all two of them) and my social networks (Facebook and The Homeschool Lounge or THL). I do need some time with family and friends whom I can’t always call. I do enjoy getting know other moms online since I live in a rural area. I do learn from others as I am exploring blogs and networks. Even when I start to make a phone call, I evaluate whether my time would be better spent texting or emailing that person. Depending on my goal, it’s nice to have some choices. However, perspective and priorities promote principles. Realizing how much time I realistically have to devote to each of these areas put a huge smackdown on those time thieves!
    4.     FatigueDana Wilson and I were just discussing the other day how allowing yourself to become overzealous about a particular project can really affect the quality of your work. I tend to be an obsessive worker…I like to get a project done in chunks. My problem occurs when I don’t know when to stop. Time gets stolen from other important areas of my life as I obsess over one particular goal. Not only can I wear myself out by working too hard for too long, I also lose sleep thinking about working on the project! God has been teaching me to break my projects into workable pieces rather than huge chunks that take all of my energy.
    ·        If you find yourself regularly tired, examine the possible sources. It could be your diet, lack of exercise, stress or if you’re like me, just taking on too much at one time.
    ·        Schedule time to rest. I know many homeschool moms who don’t get more than five hours of sleep a night! I would be useless if I tried to operate that way. The time thieves convince you that by less sleep you’re accomplishing more, but the reality is that by less sleep, the quality of your life and accomplishments become diminished and your body is much more susceptible to illness. You also need time to rest in God; to just be still in His presence and rest your soul.
    ·        Break larger projects into reasonable pieces. Don’t be like me and turn into a chunk junkie!
    5.  Winging It – do you find yourself getting up each day without a plan or a routine, just going with whatever comes up? Some days school gets done completely, other days you don’t know where the time went? We all have those days occasionally, but if you do this most days and you feel like time is just flying, it might be! Even if you’re unschooling or really laid back about life, you could be having your time stolen because you’re not really thinking about how you’re utilizing what you’ve been given.
    ·        Map out your days for a week. I’m not talking about making a schedule. Just write down what you do for a week. It won’t take you long to realize where your time is going. Did you go to the store five times because you never sat down and just made a list for one trip? Did you only teach two days of Algebra because your neighbor called seven times and you answered the phone every time? So many time thieves trample over our days like it doesn’t matter. In a world that seems to be constantly changing, we have to develop an awareness of who and what demands our time throughout each day.
    ·        Follow a simple schedule. I don’t advocate overly complicated schedules, but creating a simple schedule and following it can stop those time thieves in their tracks. For example, I am not a fan of dusting, vacuuming, etc. In order to prevent those chores from creeping up on me as a burden, I simply delegate one or two a day during the week. I map out what my son needs to accomplish each day, between school and chores, and highlight it as it’s done. I used to work on complicated color coded, sticky note schedules, but I realized that my schedule making was actually stealing my time! So, I simplified and gained time in the process, sending that thief out the door! One note about scheduling: don’t let guilt mess with you as you’re making your schedule. I used to feel like if I didn’t schedule every minute of my day, except maybe Sundays, I wasn’t doing my best. After years of working on this, I now realize that open times in my schedule mean I am allowing myself some flexibility to help others, spend more time in the Word or just rest.
    6. Play Time – Okay, I might get burned on this, but I feel like someone needs to say it. I love having fun, especially with family and friends. Whether we’re just playing board games, tennis, going to the movies or simply relaxing together, fun is a good thing. However, more and more, I notice that parents play video games without their children and often, without their spouses. Facebook offers any number of ways to be amused with games such as Farmville and I am a little surprised at how many adults are on these games for long periods of time and spend a lot of time talking about them. Television appears to also distract many people from interacting with one another and using the time they have in a healthy way. Now, to be fair, I am not saying that such games or television are foolish in themselves. For some people, that may be how they relax. However, examining how much time you devote to such things might be helpful. I know of homeschool moms who clearly spend time on these games and such, but struggle with getting their kids to finish school. I am not making a judgment call…it’s really not my place, but we have to model what we want our kids to do. It’s that basic and if we allow the time thief of foolishness to steal from us regularly, how can we expect anything different from our children?
    ·        Prioritize play time. Evaluate how much time each week you spend on playing video and online games, then compare that time to how much you spend enjoying your family, with God, helping others, etc. Where do you want that time to fall in the priorities of your life?
    ·        Model appropriate play time for your children. They’re going to see what you do, even when you don’t realize it. If you like time alone, make sure your children and your spouse understand that you’re not just randomly choosing to not spend time with them, but that you need a little down time occasionally. Be sure to communicate why you’re spending time doing what you’re doing.
    7. Not having relationship margins – some of the best advice I ever received was to have margins in my life. I overachieve, diving into situations, projects and other people’s lives giving 150%. While God does want us to love one another and be there for each other, margins in relationships aren’t options, they’re requirements. When you’re tied to other people through a strong, common bond, such as homeschooling, it’s easy to take on the burdens of others. If you don’t have relationship margins with your friends, your spouse and children could suffer. If you aren’t a very good friend, those relationships suffer. If you meet every new need at church or take on every leadership role in your homeschool group, that time has to be robbed from another relationship in your life, whether it’s your marriage, your children or God. I had a friend, Jessica, who had four small children she was homeschooling, when a mutual friend began have serious marriage problems. Every day, the mutual friend would call Jessica to talk. She soon realized that she was getting behind on school and household needs. Jessica wanted to be there for our friend, but she had to establish some boundaries, so she set a timer each time the friend called and then ended the call when the timer went off. Our friend never knew about the timer, but it helped Jessica, in a very practical way, to create essential margins in that relationship.
    ·        Make your map do double work. As you map out your days, also notice who you are spending time with on those days. Is your time being spent in profitable ways with those people who are most important to you?
    ·        Build margins. If you discover relationships that you’ve allowed to get out of control, begin building margins now. You can reasonably begin limiting and controlling your time without jeopardizing relationships. If someone in your life can’t accept your margins, you may need to evaluate where that relationship belongs in your priorities.

    It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 
    Acts 1:7
     We do not know the time we have on this earth, but we do know how precious that time is and what a gift it is! Time thieves attack all of us at some time or another. We have seasons when we’re more vulnerable and seasons when we are ready to do battle! If you have discovered ways to keep time thieves from interfering in your life, please be sure to comment and share those ideas with the rest of us.

    May God bless your family and help you multiply your time!