February 26, 2014

Chores: Lessons Not Found in Books (Part II)

My boys have a tendency to leave their toys and other belongings laying about the house in random locations.  If you have boys, I'm sure you can relate.  Legos are everywhere.  In the lint trap of the dryer.  Behind the couch.  Under the refrigerator.  In the dog's mouth.  You'd also be hard pressed to look in any corner of the living room without finding a Matchbox car or Transformers piece or dirty sock.

These sorts of things don't fall under any of our chore categories.  Well, technically, they do, but if you know boys, you know how attentive they are to detail when it comes to cleaning.

One fine day, whilst perusing Pinterest, I fell upon this gem of an idea, lovingly called "Mom's Ransom Box".  Of course, I immediately located an empty Rubbermaid bin and printed out the cute little poem to tape on top of it, provided by Just Another Day in Paradise.

About once a week, I walk through the living space, pick up any out of place items belonging to the boys, and put them all into the bin.

My boys have specific chores they complete each day, and the chores they must complete in order to earn back their belongings from Mom's Ransom Box are above and beyond their regularly scheduled chores.  (If you want to know the reasons we implemented a chores system with our boys, you can check out my previous post.)

Retrieving the mail is generally the one they choose.  They get back one item from the box each time they bring the mail in.  Other chores they could do include washing the laundry, shoveling snow, cleaning the bath tub, or giving the dog a bath, just to name a few.  Although, that last has yet to happen.  I'm usually the one drenched in soapy water and covered in dirty dog hair.

Hopefully, this system, along with their regular chore schedule, is helping to teach my boys responsibility and a respect and appreciation for their belongings.  They are much more careful about leaving their things laying about the house since we implemented the Mom's Ransom Box. 

Give it a try!  I think you'll be pleased with the results.  Let me know how it goes!  Or, if you have another method for getting your kids to take care of their belongings, tell me about it, too!

February 20, 2014

Chores: Lessons Not Found in Books

 Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.  ~Proverbs 13:23
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.  ~Proverbs 22:6

I remember coming home from school to find the dreaded scrap of paper on the dining room table.  My brother and I knew what was written on it, and we wanted to burn it.  We may have actually done so at least once, but not before reading it and doing as it said, for fear of being grounded indefinitely.  Of course, playing with fire would get us grounded, too, but we didn't think that far ahead.

On that scrap of paper, we'd find a list of chores for each of us.  Clean the bathroom.  Wash the dishes.  Dry the dishes.  Vacuum the carpets.  Clean your room.  Ugh!  We hated those lists.  But, if I'm being honest, without those chores during my childhood, I probably would live in a pigsty today!  Having chores helped teach me responsibility, hard work, and just general life skills. 

My husband and I desire to teach our boys those same ideals.  We want them each to have a good work ethic, to understand that you have to work for the things you want in life and that you can't just have things handed to you because you feel you deserve them.  We want them to learn to take pride in a job well done and feel the growth of self-worth and self-respect that comes with accomplishment.

We feel that these types of lessons will also teach them to respect other people and property.  When you work hard for something you want and finally reach your goal, you will appreciate it more than if someone simply handed it to you.  You will treat it better.  You will take care of it.  And you will realize that the things other people have are also important to them, because they, likewise, worked hard to earn them.  Therefore, you will respect their property in the same way you respect your own.

And, of course, we want them to learn to take care of themselves in the future.  They won't always have us around to cook their meals, wash their clothes, or take out the trash for them, so they need to learn now how to do those things on their own.  And, let's face it, some day we're going to be old and decrepit, and the boys will have to take care of US!

When we felt they each were old enough, we implemented chores for our boys to complete each day.  We don't have them do all the house work while we sit around and eat bon bons all day.  They're not our slaves.  But we do expect them to pitch in and take part in this thing called family.  There's no reason that all the tough stuff should be left up to just one person (namely, me!)

This mom stated quite succinctly in her blog the major benefits of having children do chores.

So we chose a few chores we knew they could handle.  Some simple.  Some a bit more challenging.  Twelve of each.  Then, at the beginning of each week, the chores are split evenly between the boys.  Six chores each that get completed each morning before we begin school.

We tried, at first, having the chores written on slips of paper that they drew from a basket, but inevitably, one boy would end up with the majority of the hard chores and the other would get the easy ones.  Then, tears and tantrums would follow. 

The pictures below show the solution I came up with for that problem.  Each boy gets 3 easy and 3 hard chores, so it's even, and there are no more tears.  Plus, they don't have to do the same chores every week.  With the flick of the spinner, they can get a brand new set for the new week, which helps keep them from getting bored and feeling overwhelmed.  Take a look:

Do you have your children do chores?  If not, I'd love to hear your reasons why.  Let me know in the comments.

January 22, 2014

Stretch a Sentence: Creative Writing

My boys struggle with language arts, which frustrates me, because it's one thing I excel at, but I can't figure out how to teach it to my boys.  I've been told I should be an English teacher.  So, why is this so difficult?

In trying to instill a working knowledge of the English language in my boys, I've had to come up with creative teaching methods.  I shared with you last year our Story in a Bag project that was a huge hit with the boys, which is great for getting their creative juices flowing.

Today, I want to share a creative writing task that helps teach how to write better, more interesting sentences.  Once again, I can't take full credit for this idea.  I stumbled across it via Pinterest.  But, I found it was missing a step, so I modified it.  This is called "Stretch a Sentence".

First, here is the original image I found on Pinterest.  I don't know who or what the original source of it is, but it's what I used as a starting point:

Now here is my modified version.  You'll notice I've added a step and changed some wording to make it more understandable and, well, correct:

Modified version for use in this project

Another successful creative writing task!  And finding any writing tasks that my boys enjoy is a monumental feat!  Below are my boys' completed sentences and illustrations they each added.

Noah's stretched sentence.

Brandt's stretched sentence.

Have you found creative ways to get your kids writing?  What tricks do you use to teach Language Arts to your kids?  I'd love to hear what you do.

January 3, 2014

New Year, New Commitment

What is the energy like in your home school day?

Do your kids wake up each morning and jump right into their routine?  Eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, then sit down with their books and assignments and get right to work without even so much as a prod from you?  Or do they need a little help waking up and a little reminder of what's expected of them, but then get right to it?  Or do you find you pull yourself away from your own morning routine to search them out every 5 minutes to get them back on task, because they have no interest in getting to work?  

Are your school days peaceful?  Stressful?  Oscillating between the two?

More often than not, since we began this school year in September, stress has ruled the roost.  It's a constant battle with my boys to get anything done.  Chores?  Not happening.  Putting on clean underwear?  Ha!  School?  Forget about it.  And I caved.  I gave up.  Oh, I stuck to my guns for a couple of months, but by November, I was exhausted from trying to keep my boys on track.  I hollered.  I threatened.  I pleaded.  I begged.  I cried.  I hovered.  I intimidated.  I bribed.  It didn't seem to matter.  They refused to cooperate.

So we took a week-long break for Thanksgiving.  But, when we returned to our schedule the next week, things were the same, and I was still exhausted.  We limped along until Christmas break, which lasted a week and a half.

During this break, I decided we cannot continue the way we've been going.  We're falling behind in most subjects.  And we don't like each other.

Home school should be enjoyable!  We shouldn't dread waking up each morning.  If that's what happens, then we may as well send the boys back to public school, because this home schooling thing isn't working for us.  So, we're going to change it.

I know that home schooling is right for us.  God put it on my heart to school my boys at home and bring them up to be good, Godly young men.  But I also want to enjoy being with them.  I want to have fun with them.  I want to laugh with them.  I want to create lasting memories with them.  And I want them to look back on their childhood years with pleasure, not with disdain.

For us, this means starting out the new year - 2014 - with a heavy hand.  I know; that doesn't sound very fun or memorable or pleasurable.  And it's not.  But, in order to get my boys to understand that I am not their doormat, and that they do not have the option of treading on me and doing as they please rather than committing to this home school thing, I have to stand firm, dig in my heels, and keep them on track.  Even if that means disciplining them for disobeying.  

We returned to our school schedule on January 2nd, 2014.  Today is January 3rd.  So far, both boys have found themselves grounded from all electronics through the weekend.  And there have been tears.  But I believe they are beginning to understand that a change is occurring.  

I am hopeful that this new year will bring wonderful new experiences to our home schooling adventure.  It can be done.  I am determined to make it happen.  I'll let you know how it works out.  Will the boys fall in line?  Will I cave again and end up hibernating to avoid the stress?  Will we have a happy ending to this new year?  

And how about you?  What have been your experiences with home schooling?  Are you struggling with defiant kids?  Or have you figured out a way to keep everyone on track and happy?  I'd love to hear what you're going through right now.  Let me know in the comments.

Here's to a happy new year for us all!  

August 21, 2013

Keep it Simple, Stupid!

When my first boy had his first birthday, I started a tradition that I enjoy, but that also causes me stress every year.  Each birthday, I bake and decorate a cake.  I don't mean that I slap some frosting on top, cover it in rainbow sprinkles and write "Happy Birthday!" with store bought icing tubes.  

No.  I bake the cake.  I assemble the cake into a specific shape, based on the theme of the birthday party.  I make (sometimes buy) fondant and roll it out and cover the cake with it... just so.  I create elaborate designs and shapes and colors to make just the perfect cake that everyone will ooh and aah over.

I usually use the week before the party to plan out the design on paper, then, the day before the party, I spend about 5 hours building my masterpiece.  I've created out of cake everything from Bob the Builder to an African safari.

My boys are always excited to see what their cake will look like each year.  People who aren't able to attend the birthday parties are always disappointed that they won't get to see what cake I came up with this time.  

But, if I'm being honest, over the last couple years, I've grown tired of making elaborate cakes.  They're expensive  And it stresses me out to be spending so much time working on a cake instead of enjoying time with the birthday boy.  Plus, the end result never matches up to the image I had in my head, which leaves me disappointed.  But the boys always seem to look forward to it, so I've kept going.

This year, though, I've gotten lazy.  The thought of spending hours on a cake made me want to hibernate for a month.

For my youngest son's birthday, which was in February, I cheated.  I baked the cake, and I made the frosting, and I even made some Oreo cookie pops.  But for the decorations, I purchased pre-made edible paper images, which I simply slapped onto the cake and the cookie pops and called it good.

Turns out, my son loved it!  He (and everyone at the party, for that matter) thought it was so cool that they could EAT paper!  Plus, it was an image of Transformers.  I guess I couldn't go wrong with that.

For my oldest son's birthday, which was just this month, I cheated even more.  Even the cookie pops were a bit more work than I wanted to do, so I gave my son a choice.  I told him I could either make a fancy, elaborate cake for his party, or, I could make an ice cream cake.  Lucky for me, he chose ice cream cake.  

The only decoration this cake had was a picture of Iron Man I printed from my computer onto plain paper and stuck into the top of the cake.  The cake was made of 24 ice cream sandwiches stacked on top of each other, slathered in Cool Whip, sprinkled with crushed Oreo cookies, and drizzled with Hershey's chocolate syrup. The whole cake took a total of about 15 minutes to put together.  10 of those minutes were spent simply unwrapping the ice cream sandwiches.

Wouldn't you know, this cake was a huge hit!  Even my father, who HATES Cool Whip, enjoyed 2 helpings.  My son ranted and raved over how awesome it was.  All the kids oohed and aahed, just as if it were one of my elaborately decorated cakes from the past.  At the end of the day, my son declared (more than once) that this was the best birthday he ever had.

Here is where I slap my own forehead and say, "Duh!"

All these years, I thought I needed to make a fancy, amazing cake that took hours to complete, because that's what my boys expected and looked forward to.  But, it turns out, all they really care about is that I am there with them.

They know I love them, whether the cake is a 3-tiered replica of the Empire State building or just a bunch of ice cream sandwiches stacked on a plate.  The type of cake I create for them doesn't make or break their day.  Sure, they think my elaborate cakes are cool, but a pile of ice cream sandwiches is just as good.  To them, the fact that I spent any amount of time doing something just for their special day makes them feel appreciated and loved, which is really the whole point to begin with.

Somewhere along the way, I came to believe that they would be disappointed and maybe even feel unloved if I didn't spend hours building a phenomenal cake for them.

I'm thankful that my husband and I, with God's guidance, have taught our children to appreciate the things we do for them, however big and fancy, or however small and simple.  They know we love them and that they are special to us, regardless.

I just need to remember to keep it simple, stupid.