Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for New Teachers

In 1998 I graduated from college and got my first job: teaching fourth grade at a small school just 15 minutes from my hometown.  I was just barely 22 years old and had my very own class of 14 ten-year-old minds to mold.

I worked hard with those kids.  I gave them everything I had that year.  Even so, in the end, I didn't think it was enough.  My principal was shocked to find me, after the kids had gone on the last day, sitting alone in the corner of my classroom, bawling my eyes out.  I just knew that I had failed those little people that I had poured so much into.  Luckily for me, my principal was a wise man who told me to suck it up; that I had done a great job and that I wasn't personally responsible for each and every student for the remainder of their lives.  I took that advice and it made the rest of my career a little easier.  Here are a few more nuggets of wisdom I wish I would have known that day.

1. Be creative.  The best things I did with my fourth graders weren't the things the textbooks suggested.  They were the things we did that were hands-on.  Yes, they took more work, but they were also much more rewarding.

We had a boat building contest.  I gave the kids craft sticks and soda bottles and sent it home for a week.  One kid came back with his boat covered in sprayed fiberglass!  He certainly won the contest! The next year, when I had his little sister, I had to be sure to have more well defined rules.  :)

We also did an econ project where we baked and sold hundreds of cookies.  The kids learned a lot about economics, everything from investors, to marketing to sweat equity.  They even got to choose what to do with their profits.

In my fifth grade class we read the book Esperanza Rising and celebrated Mexican culture with a a small fiesta.  We tasted jamaica (a drink pronounced ha-mike-ah) and rice water.  We learned Spanish words and ate fresh-made tortillas.  My student teacher had never had them before and I remember thinking, even the adults are learning now!

2.  Set the bar high.  I firmly believe that almost all students will rise to the expectations of their teachers.  If you lay out clear expectations and are consistent in making sure they are followed, you will have very few discipline problems and very few academic failures in your classroom.

3. Treat kids as individuals.  Fair doesn't mean everyone gets the same thing.  Fair means everyone gets a chance to succeed.  The kid with divorced parents who spends Wednesday night at Mom's house may need extra attention on Thursday mornings.  The little boy whose father is in jail might need more warnings to stop his behavior than the kid sitting next to him.  The little girl who grew up reading Spanish may need a little more time to translate in her head before answering your question.  Give it to her.  This doesn't mean you're playing favorites or being unfair.  It means you are meeting the needs of the kids in your classroom in the best way you can.

4. Don't use behavior charts.  This teacher already wrote a blog about why they suck.  Read it here. She says it better than I can, so really, go read it.  Quit humiliating kids with these ridiculous things.  Would you want your boss to post one in the lounge with your performance evaluations?

5. Don't take away recess.  I know, I know, it's so hard not to, but really, just quit doing this.  The kid who drives you the most crazy in class is probably the kid who needs to physical activity the most.  This is the number one thing I would take back if I had those early years as a teacher to do over.  I would give more recess and absolutely zero time on the wall.  Even on the worst of days.

6. Quit grading every problem of every assignment.  This is crazy and unnecessary.  There is no good reason for you to spend two or three or four hours a day grading papers.  You can throw some of them in recycling without ever looking at them.  You can stick them in the Friday Folders with just a checkmark or a sticker.  If you must grade them, grade as you go.  Have the kids work a couple of problems, they come to you to have them checked before they can move on.  You can also have the kids trade and grade.  This works especially well on spelling tests and math worksheets.  With today's technology, you can probably even show the answer key on your smart board and have the kids check them that way.  You're doing enough without grading every single pencil mark your students make.  Take back your evenings and weekends.  Just quit this.  Yes, Mrs. Perfect, I'm talking to you.

7.  Admit when you've blown it.  My second year of teaching I had a particularly bad day.  I don't remember exactly what happened or why I was off kilter, but I do remember ten-year-old Kristi asking me if we could talk in the hall.  When we stepped out of the classroom, this brave little soul told me that I was being unfair.  The kids hadn't done anything bad and I was yelling at them and just generally being unkind.  She was right.  I have rarely been so humbled.  After sending her back to class and taking a few minutes to compose myself, I walked back into the room and apologized to the entire class.  Our day got better from then on and I was able to preserve my relationships with those kids, even on a bad day.

8. Treasure the little moments.  My favorite moment as a teacher was at a school awards ceremony.  John, who had been in my class the previous year, had gotten an award for his Exemplary score on his state tests.  After getting the award and before heading back to his fifth grade class, he walked over to me, gave me a hug and told me, "Thanks, Mrs. C, for teaching me stuff."  It was just 10 seconds to him, but it still makes me tear up.  Treasure those moments; those thank yous and those hugs.  Hold on to them on the days when you just can't seem to get anything to add up or you have an angry parent show up at your door.  You're going to need them on those days.  Write them down.  Keep a file or a scrapbook of the good things and check it often.  Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

9. This one may be uber specific, but I had a great system for fire drills.  At the beginning of the year, I would assign the kids a number.  I usually did this alphabetically but you could do it however you want.  We used the numbers for everything from attendance to turning in papers, so the kids were very familiar with their numbers.  At fire drills (or tornado drills or whatever) they were to get in line in number order as quickly as they could when we got outside.  We quickly numbered off and I knew exactly who was present and who was missing. My class was always among the first to turn in attendance and  more importantly, I was quickly able to identify who was accounted for.

10.  Don't give homework just to give it.  Just don't.  The kids who "need" to the work are most often the ones who don't have the support at home or the academic skills to do so.  It takes them hours and causes undo stress for them and their families.  The kids who can get it done quickly don't need it, they already have the skills.  It's just busy time that takes away from the really important stuff in life: family time.   Leave room for the kids to be kids.  Let them play and enjoy their lives at home without worrying about another math paper.

Yes, there will be exceptions to this one.  There will be days when you need to send something home.    It's hard to, say, observe the moon at 2:00 in the afternoon.  So, yes, kids will need to do this at home.  But give them some leeway.  When I assigned homework, it was almost always a weekly assignment; very rarely something that had to be done that night.  By this, I mean that I gave homework on Friday afternoon that had to be completed by the next Friday afternoon.  That gave the kids a week to work on it and didn't mean they had to do it on a certain night.  I think most families appreciated that.

I'm not gonna sugar coat this; some administrators will insist you send homework.  With ridiculous educational initiatives like No Child Left Behind and Common Core, the pressure is on!  Many principals don't know how to deal with it.  I once got graded down in an evaluation for not sending enough work home with elementary kids.  I wish I was kidding.  It's a tough one to stand your ground on, so do your best to know what you're getting into.  If you have the chance, ask what the expectations are for this when you interview for a job.  Finding a principal who shares your values can save you a whole lot of headaches.  Take it from a girl who had six bosses in nine years.  The ones who shared my philosophies (and I'm not just talking about homework here) were a pleasure to work with.  The ones who didn't weren't so easy to work for.  There's a huge difference.

11.  Make physical contact with each kid, each day.  In my classroom, this meant that before they left for the day, each kid gave me a hug or a high-five on the way out the door.  Every. Day.  I connected with them, one-on-one, for at least that brief second each day.  I think it made a difference.

So, there you go, new teachers (and maybe some veterans, too).  And just because I know that teachers LOVE graphic organizers, I'll leave you with these.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Product Review: Magic Tap

There are few things in the world so precious to parents of young children as those things that allow said children to be independent.  This Christmas Santa delivered one such thing that has made my life SOOOOOO much easier!  It's this; the Magic Tap.

Basically, it's a magic (okay, it's battery powered, but that amounts to about the same thing) pump that you can stick in a gallon of milk, OJ, or whatever and your kids can get their own drinks without having to lift the way-too-heavy-for-them gallon jug out of the fridge.

I'm not usually a big fan of the "As Seen on TV" products but with two kids under seven still living in my home, I was tired of getting up to pour the milk every time they wanted a drink.  Also, I'm not a huge fan of cleaning up the $4.76 gallon of moo juice off the floor.  This time, I was willing to give it a try.  Honestly, I'm really glad I did.

These are available on-line from about $6-$20, depending on where you shop.  I got mine at our local Shopko store for about $13.

If you live like I do and have multiple milkaholics in your house, be prepared to go through a lot of batteries.  We got ours on Christmas morning and have been using it since then.  It's still on the first set of batteries, but we can tell they're nearing the end.  (I think I got the cheap Dollar General brand this time, so that may be a factor.  I'm not really sure about how battery quality effects this.  Or anything else.  I just know the DG brand is way cheap compared to the name brands.)  We go through a gallon of milk in about two days around here, so if you go through less, they should last longer.  If you go through more, you might consider investing in a dairy cow.

There is a bit of a learning curve for finding out how far away from the spout to put your cup.  The first few days I had to clean up a few messes, as we all had to figure it out.  After the initial trials, the number of milk spills in our home significantly decreased.  Another word to the wise, you may want to pour a tiny bit out of a new gallon before putting the Magic Tap in.  If you don't, there's a chance you may overflow the container just a little.

My littles really like it.  I mean, like they really like candy, really like it.  They're all smiles and this momma is getting a break from pouring the milk each morning.  That's a win-win in this house!

***I have no affiliation with Magic Tap.  I just really like this product and wanted to share something I think will make your life easier.

***Update: This only lasted about 6 months. Even with new batteries, it just up and quit. So, it was good while it lasted but that wasn't long. Boo.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Those Who Know They are Right

Whew!  There's like 15 minutes left of Tuesday.  But here it is, this week's unsolicited advice. Enjoy!


So I'm in this Facebook group for homeschool moms.  It's a Christian group with almost 1000 members.  I've met exactly three of them in real life.  Two live close to me and are among my closest friends.  The other I met when she gifted me with a free clothes dryer.  (More about that in a minute.)

They have kind of been my go-to group when I have questions about just about anything.  Obviously,
they can answer my homeschool questions of all kinds: curriculum, schedules, field trips and all that jazz.  I've seen them discuss recommendations for appliance repair, doctors' offices, dentists, and even church building plans.  When my dryer bit the dust and I asked for recommendations about what brand might be best for me to purchase, a complete stranger offered to give me one she had in her basement - totally for free - because she couldn't use it (she had gas hook-ups and this one was electric) and wanted to give it to someone who could.  Almost weekly they are taking meals to new mommas or people who are sick.  They pray for each other and encourage one another in some great and big ways.  Overall being in the group is very encouraging.

Except when it's not.  Except for the times when I feel demeaned and judged by the well meaning hyper-conservative Jesus loving mommas.  I understand these ladies.  At one point in my life, I would have fit right in with them.  Most of the time, they are not intentionally mean, they're just intolerant of ANYTHING that doesn't match up with their view of God.  Not just things that are clearly laid out in scripture (like, say, the Ten Commandments) but lots of other things too, like Halloween, Santa, and Harry Potter.  They zealously believe that they are right and want everyone around them to see the "truth" that they have seen.  Any divergence from their view is seen as a threat and must be squashed immediately so as not to take root and ruin all things holy.

When I posted a link to an article that summed up my views on Halloween, the backlash was harsh.  We trick-or-treat in my house.  We carve jack-o-lanterns.  We don't give the day up to the devil.  Instead we participate in community events and we build relationships with our neighbors.  There were some in the fb group who respectfully disagreed with my point-of-view.   I had expected that and I can appreciate a good conversation with people who don't make all the same choices I do.  There were a few mommas, however, who could not.  One woman made it pretty clear that by participating in Halloween we were "compromising" our Christian faith.  She then proceeded to imply that because, as a seven-year-old, my daughter had dressed a vampire, she would most certainly grow up to be addicted to porn.  I am not even kidding.  It took a lot of restraint but I think I managed to reply to her firmly but respectfully.  She didn't get why I was offended at her comments.

In December someone asked about Santa.  I know a lot of parents who don't "do Santa."  We do.  In fact, we love Santa.  That doesn't mean we love Jesus any less.  But, oh, the judgement that reigned down on the pro-Santa crowd in the form of comments like, " you mean, do I lie to my kids telling them that the man in the red coat is real and will drop off their packages on Christmas Eve, no." and "No! I don't lie to my kids. We celebrate Jesus." As though those of us who celebrate with Santa leave Jesus totally out of the mix.   While I understand that some parents may feel like they are "lying" to their kids about these things, I think of it more as using our imaginations and playing pretend for a long time. I am okay with you not agreeing with me.  I respect that you have made different choices than we have. Calm, open discussion with reasonable people is a great thing.  Mean spirited, my-way-or-the-highway remarks are not.

Things got really heated when someone posted an old link to a youtube video made by a supposed ex-witch that denounced Harry Potter and all things JK Rowling.  Again, many of the moms were able to have honest, open dialog but there were a few who just couldn't respect that someone could actually have read Harry Potter and still love Jesus.  One woman put herself out there as an expert, who had had personal conversation with the author and with children who became demon possessed after reading the books.  I'm not saying she's lying.  But I will say that I don't believe everything I read on the internet.  This woman in particular made it hard for me to take her seriously because of the way she was bullying people who didn't accept her word as the gospel truth.

I used to be a lot like these well meaning mommas.  Everything in my life was black or white.  Gray was not an option.  Apparently, neither was tact or grace.  In high school, I once broke up with a boy I'd been dating by telling him, with absolutely no warning, "I can't go out with you anymore because you're not a Christian. Sorry."  I'm pretty sure I also mentioned in the same conversation that he was probably going to Hell.  Amazingly, he didn't immediately decide to give his life to Christ.  Go figure.

But that was 20 years ago and as I'm approaching 40, I've learned a few things.  A lot of my knowledge has come the hard way.  I've offended and ostracized.  I've said so many things that I wish I could take back.  My foot has been in my mouth so often that I can distinguish between Adidas and Nikes by taste alone.  I've made choices that were less than stellar.  I've crossed uncrossable lines and shattered unbreakable rules.  In all of that imperfection I've become a wiser woman and I believe, a better friend.  I've learned to love people where they are and not need them to be who they are not.  It's a work in progress and I still struggle with much.

Here's what I wish I would have understood when I was younger.  Take note, you who are certain you are always right.  This list just might save you some heartache and a friendship or two.

1. My way is not always the ONLY way.  Yes, there are absolutes.  I'm not saying there aren't.  But there are a lot of areas that just don't matter that much.  Things that work in my family may create utter chaos for yours.  Our priorities may be miles apart.  This doesn't mean one of us is wrong, only that we are different.  Learning to embrace that instead of fighting it makes life so much easier.

2.  Just because I'm right doesn't mean I have to convince you that you are wrong.  It's not my job to convict you of your sins.  That's what the Holy Spirit is for.  I may share my experiences, but making you feel like less of a person because we disagree will never be a winning situation for either of us.

3.  Grace trumps judgment. Every. Single. Time.  I've had friends tell me of their failures: abortions, affairs, bad parenting, even abuse.  When I have responded with kindness, love, and grace - even in the face of the "big sin" issues - I have not destroyed, but deepened my relationships.  By treating people as fallible human beings, rather than as "sinners," I have been able to show the love of Jesus in a much better way than I had before.  People are more important than things, rules, or how I feel about Santa.

4. Just because people don't know about your sin doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  All of us, every single one, are less than perfect.  Not one of us is fit to "cast the first stone."  (John 8:7)  Some of us are better at hiding our sins than others.  In my experience, the people who work the hardest at hiding their weaknesses are almost always among the very lonely and the very sad.  When I was more worried about what other people thought of me than about getting my life right, I was miserable.  When I quit playing Mary Poppins and admitted that I'm not "practically perfect in every way," my life got a whole lot easier and my relationships went to a whole new level.

5.  Always be real.  As I've gotten older, I've learned to open up and share my failures with trusted friends.  Again, this has only served to strengthen my relationships with others.  I'm not suggesting we go around wearing Scarlet Letters.  There is a time and a place for sharing as well as a time and a place for silence.  Be wise about what you share and with whom.  But always be real.  Pretending to be more than you are only leads to isolation and heartache.  Take it from the girl who spent almost every Friday night of her high school years watching Walker, Texas Ranger with her parents.

6. You can't expect non-Christians to live by Christian standards.  If your bestie doesn't believe in Jesus as Lord, you can't expect her to live a Biblical life.  If your husband isn't a believer, you can't expect him to tithe.  You simply need to set a Godly example and pray for God to work in their lives. Setting them to a standard they don't share isn't realistic and will just cause you unnecessary heartache.

7. Even if you're right, if you're a jerk, no one will care what you have to say.  You could be telling people that they need oxygen to survive but if you're mean no one will care.  They will hate you and everything you stand for.  They will stop listening when you talk and you will lose all credibility.  You will struggle with relationships and wonder why no one wants to sit next to you at lunch.  Jesus said we are to be "salt" to the world.  Notice he didn't say "Be vinegar" or "be sour grapes."  Nobody likes a jerk.  Don't be one.

So, there you go.  That's what I wish I would have understood in my teens and twenties.  Learn now what took me many years to get.  Keep your friends, be salt and light, and quit looking like a jerk on Facebook.


What is the most important lesson you have learned as you've matured in your faith?  What are you still working on?

And yes, I know that I don't need to interact with jerks online.  It's just that it was easier to make my point using people from Facebook than people I know in real life.  Please don't let the fact that my early illustrations were from online comments take away from the point of the post.  

Order of Operations Poster

Today Baby Girl's math lesson was on the order of operations.  Her book didn't have a great visual, so I created this one.  I thought some of you might like it.  I'm still figuring out all of this blog related stuff, so I don't know how to make this a pdf file for you.  If you want a copy, email me or message me on Facebook and I'll get it to you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Living with a Servant's Heart

When asked, Jesus said that there were two things that He considered the most important.  First, love God with everything that you are.  Second, love people the same way you want to be loved.  They don't seem like they would be hard things but in the midst of our everyday lives they are often pushed to the back of our minds and forgotten.  But we're all called to be servants.  We're called, dear ones, to serve others.  This doesn't mean we're to be doormats but rather that we are to think of others first and treat them in ways that reflect that.

This servant's heart thing doesn't come naturally to me.  Not at all.  It's a fight almost every single day.  It's one that I sometimes win and sometimes lose.  More often than not, I want to do the selfish thing, the thing that I think will make my own life easier.  But on the occasions that I chose to serve others, to put other people's needs and even wants in front of my own, I've been blessed.

Sometimes it's the big things but more often it's the little ones that add up to make the biggest differences.  Here are a few small things you we can practice every day that reflect a servant's heart.

1.  Let someone else have the seat.  Once upon a time in America you would never have seen a woman or an elderly person standing while young, able-bodied men were sitting.  Today, you see it all too often.  For Pete's sake, I've seen very obviously pregnant women standing while teenagers sit, oblivious to the courtesy they should be extending.  Often, their parents are sitting beside them, just as clueless.  Whether it's at the doctor's office, on the bus, in a theater, or even in church, this sight is all too common.  Let's change that, starting today.  If you see someone who would appreciate the seat more than you - pregnant ladies, mothers with young children, people with disabilities, the elderly and the just plain tired - to name a few, give it up.  The time you spend standing probably won't kill you but the kindness you show just might give someone else the strength to get through the day.

2.  Park further away from the door.  For a long time, there was this lady who came to my church with her five little kids.  Because her kids were so close in age, it seemed like she always had one in a carseat and one on her hip and another two or three running alongside her.   Despite this, she parked her vehicle in the spot furthest from door.  Every. single. week.  For years.  In the rain, in the mud, in the blazing hot Kansas sunshine, she chose to leave the close spots for others and made the walk through the parking lot surrounded by her children.  No one would have thought poorly of her for parking as close to the door as possible but she chose to serve the others in our fellowship by quietly making this sacrifice.  

3.  Open doors.  This one is so easy but so powerful.  Simply open the door for someone, hold it long enough for them to walk through and give them a smile.  You'll be surprised at the difference you can make. 

4.  Help others without complaining.  There are these two boys at my church that I want my sons to grow up to be just like.  I guess it's not really fair to call them "boys," especially since one of them just got engaged.  They're early 20-something college students right now, but I've known them since before they started middle school.  I'm still getting used to the idea of them being men.  (Good grief, I sound like I'm 90, don't I!)  Over the last decade I've asked a lot of these young men.  I've had them carry boxes, hang Christmas lights, act in skits (and this is WAY out of one's comfort zone) and help me with a million other things for VBS.  The tasks are never glamorous and often include physical labor.  They've hung backdrops and moved about a zillion pews, tables and chairs.  Without exception, they have done what I asked and then come back to see what they should do next.  As they've gotten older, they've become my go-to-guys.  I can count on them to do just about anything.  They do not only what I ask but what they see that needs done.

I can't talk about these two young men without mentioning that they learned these things by example.  They've lived their entire lives watching their parents and grandparents constantly give to others.  They've worked alongside their fathers and grandfathers moving pews and building stage sets.  They've carried bags and boxes full of ministry materials for their mothers, aunts and grandmas.  They've delivered cookies baked by those same ladies.  They are who they are because the generations in front of them have modeled these behaviors for them.  My deepest desire is that my boys become men like these because they will have mentors who lead the way.  

5.  Let someone else go first.  When my Wal-Mart cart is full to overflowing and the guy behind me only has a box of diapers and a Pepsi, I let him go first.  The guy who looks like he'll just die if he has to spend just one more minute in the grocery store also gets to go before me.  This can also mean letting your spouse or kids pick what to watch on TV or letting a car cut in front of you in the line out of the busy parking lot.  It might even mean letting a group of teenage boys hit the buffet line before you.  No wait, I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean that one.  That's just crazy talking.

6.  Stay and clean up.  If you really thought about it, you'd probably be surprised to realize how very few people do this.  On a sign-up sheet, it's almost always the last spot to fill up.  If there is no sheet, it is probably being done by the same small handful of people who always do it.  Before you rush out the door from a church dinner, a Scout meeting or a birthday party, take a look around and see what you can do to help.  If everyone just took the time to put away their own chairs, wipe down a table or take out a bag of trash the world really would be a better place.

7. Perform a thoughtful act of service for someone in your home.  Sometimes, for me, it's easier to show acts of kindness to complete strangers than it is in my own home.  But these are the ones that have the biggest reward.  Bring your wife breakfast in bed, even if it's not her birthday.  Make your husband his favorite meal, just because you love him.  Let the kids play for an extra five minutes because they're enjoying themselves.  Feed the dog, even though it's your sister's turn.  Leave a love note on the mirror in the bathroom (Dry erase markers are great for this.).  


How are you living this out?  What's the best way someone has shown love to you through service?

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Year, New School Plan

One of the hardest things for me as a homeschooler is keeping everyone (myself included) on task.  Finding a schedule that works for us has been impossible.  I tried to do the whole "have a routine not a schedule" thing, but I'm not really any better at that.

For a while, I made detailed lesson plans for each week (customized for each kid), printed them out, gave them to each kid, and tried to be sure we got every single thing on them done.  The idea was good and it did help.  When I actually did it. The reality for me was this: I suck at doing this.  If my printer runs out of ink, we don't have school for three weeks because I can't print the lesson plans.  (Ok, so maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration...or maybe not.)  It seemed like we were using a lot of paper to print out a schedule that we were never quite able to live up to and I hated that.  So I quit.

I've tried following the teacher's guides in Sonlight's core curriculum.  Didn't work.  I felt like I had to do everything they suggested, even the stuff I felt like was a waste of time.  If we missed a day, I was totally thrown off.  So I quit.

Over the past five years, my go-to lesson plan strategy has all too often been to simply wing it.  I'd just do whatever we felt like that day and call it good.  In my head I had a rough idea but I didn't let the kids in on it.  Because we didn't follow a schedule or even a routine, they had no idea how long school would last.  We might be done at noon and spend the rest of the day at the park or we might be working from breakfast to bedtime.  Although I love the flexibility or being able to set aside what we're doing for the sake of more important things, like building relationships or serving others, not knowing what was expected made things rough on my kids.

Over Christmas break I decided I need a new approach.  I love check-lists.  The satisfaction that comes when I look down at a row of checked off tasks is one of life's simple pleasures.  My problem was that I didn't have the time or energy to create new check-lists for each kid each day.  (Especially so now that I have three kids in school!)  So...I figured out a way to let the kids know what is expected without going crazy.

We started out by having a min-confernce with each kid.  We talked about what they thought each day should look like.  I had some requirements in mind but let the kids take the lead.  They all agreed that they needed to do one math lesson or test each day.  One kid wants to read one chapter in the Bible and another wants to read it for 30 minutes a day.  Some have slightly longer activities than others and my youngest doesn't have nearly as much to do as the big kids.  We included typing, Kindle apps, and computer time as well as regular pencil-paper activities in math, reading, Bible, writing, science and social sciences.

After the conferences I made up lists for each child.  I used clip art to add stars under each task.  If they are expected to do it every day, there are five stars.  If it's a once a week activity, one star.  Three times a week, three stars and so on.  Because I loathe the idea of making new charts each week, I got out my handy-dandy laminator and slicked them up!  Now the kids just use dry erase markers to check off what they have finished and everyone knows what is expected of them for the day.

The kids are in charge of what they do and when.  They know that they have to be finished with school before they can do anything else, like go to Scouts, visit friends, or watch TV.  I let them know in the morning if we have plans and they need to work accordingly.  For my daughter, this means she starts school before the rest of us are up.  This gives her more free time later in the day.  My oldest loves sleeping in.  He may need to tweak his sleeping habits if he's going to get done with school before all of his activities. But for me, that's a learning lesson as well.  Time management, baby.

To be fair, we're only on day four of this.  But for the past four days, we've had success.  The older kids take about four hours to get done and the younger one is busy for about half of that time.  Ask me next week and we may have scrapped the whole thing.  Or maybe we'll still be using a slightly different version of this when they're in high school.  That's the beauty of homeschooling. We can do what works and kick the rest to the curb.


What works for your schedule?  Do you let your kids lead the school day or are you a more in-charge kind of teacher?

Unsolicited Advice Blog Series Coming Your Way

I'm launching a new blog series that I just know you're going to want to read.  On Tuesdays (Or possibly Wednesdays.  Thursdays if I'm really busy. Fridays if life is just too crazy to get it done on time.  So, yes, probably on Fridays.) I'll be posting a new batch of "Unsolicited Advice" for those who wish to glean from my plethora of life experience. All blessed 37 years of it.  (I am not even kidding when I tell you that I went about four months last year thinking I was 38.  I guess when you have to round up to 40 it just doesn't matter that much anymore.)

There will still be lots of other ramblings as well.  Homeschooling stuff.  Parenting stuff.  Church stuff. Silly stuff.  Grateful stuff.  All the things you've come to expect from The Crutch Files will still be there.  We'll just be adding in a special section so I can boss people around on the internet without sounding too pushy.

So come check me out on Tuesdays.  Or Fridays.  Or whenever.  If you want to be sure not to miss one, go ahead and subscribe via email using the handy dandy little sign-up thingy on the right side of the screen right under the "This is Me" section where it says, "Don't Miss a Thing...Subscribe via Email."  All the cool kids really are doing it.  Both of them, if you must know.  Seriously, though, you don't want to miss this series.  So sign up. Right now.  Go ahead.  There you go, it wasn't that hard.  See you on Tuesday!

Oh, just one more thing.  If you like what you're reading here, feel free to share it with your friends, neighbors, perfect strangers or whoever.  Those little buttons at the bottom of the post let you share the blog via email, Blogger, Twittter, Facebook or Google+. The little pencil lets you comment. Comments make me giddy.  Seriously, go ahead and leave one.  You'll have me smiling for days.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Taking Food to Friends in Need

A few years back I spent a solid week in the hospital, followed by a month long recovery at home. During that time we were blessed by many, many family and friends who brought us meals.  It was so helpful to have that part of my day covered.  My family certainly ate better during that month than they usually do!

From that experience and from watching others around me in similar situations, I learned a few things about how to be the most helpful to my loved ones who need an extra hand during tough situations.

1. Do NOT take food in containers that have to be returned.  Use Ziplock bags, Rubbermaid containers or foil pans.  If your friend needs you to bring food, it's because they are going through something stressful.  By leaving your dishes with them, you are actually adding to their stress, not taking it away.

I once took a meal to some friends who had gone through a series of tragedies in a very short time. When I dropped off food in their kitchen, there was a pile of at least 20 pans and dishes on their counter from previous meals people had brought them.  When I asked my friend if I could return some of them for him, he told me he didn't even know who they belonged to.  I don't know about you, but staring at a stack of dishes I can neither put away nor return to their owners stresses me out.

If you absolutely cannot use disposable containers, there are a couple other things you can do.  When I made some things for my neighbor, I went over and got her dishes, made my food in them, and took it over to her.  She still had some minimal clean up but she didn't have to return my stuff.

One lady made us spaghetti sauce in her own pot, brought it to my house and transferred it into my pot. She brought the cooked noodles in Ziplock bags.  Again, minimal clean up and I didn't have to return her pots.  Excellent!

2. Think outside of the evening meal.  Don't get me wrong, bringing supper is awesome, but most people eat more than one meal a day.  One of my friends brought us breakfast foods when I was sick; homemade pancakes and waffles along with precooked sausage patties.  This was especially helpful for me because my kids could put these in the microwave or toaster and I didn't have to help them. Breakfast burritos, casseroles, muffins and cinnamon rolls all freeze nicely and would make great breakfast ideas.

Snacks are also a good thing to add to your deliveries, especially for anyone who is homebound.  Fresh fruits and veggies, a gallon of milk or a box of granola bars might be just what someone needs to make it through the day.

3. Make things that can go in the freezer.  If things are freezer-ready, it adds flexibility.  If yours is the third lasagna they've received in as many days, being able to put one in the freezer for next week is a great option.

4. Bigger isn't always better.  After surgeries, people often have restrictions on how much they can lift.  That extra big casserole might be more than they can safely get in and out of the oven.   Consider making two smaller pans instead of one huge one, even for larger families.  They can have them both in one setting or even put the second in the freezer for later.

5. Have one person bring the whole meal, even if more than one person prepares it, at a specific time.   Sick people need rest.  Some of them may have difficulty getting up and down.  They need to wear their jammies and not worry about putting on make-up.  Having only one person stop by is probably less stressful than answering the door three or four times.  Send a text before you leave your house, letting them know that you should be there in so many minutes.  This gives them a few minutes to unlock the door, brush their teeth or whatever they need to do to be comfortable.

Don't stay too long.  Remember, your loved one needs lots of rest!  Chances are, they'll put on a brave face while you're there, even if it means extra pain for them once you've left.

6. Consider bringing plastic silverware and/or paper plates along with your meal. This makes clean up easy peasy!

7. Don't have people bring things every single day.  Three times a week is probably enough for most people.  Every day can be overwhelming and there can be so many leftovers that people end up throwing food out and feeling bad about it.

8. Have one person coordinate the meals for the entire duration.  Consider using a website to make things easier for everyone.  I've seen Take Them a Meal and Lotsa Helping Hands.  Take Them a Meal is more public, where anyone can gain access.  Lotsa is more private, where members must be approved to join a community of helpers.  Both include easy ways to sign up for needed meals.

This person can also check with the receiving family to make sure there are no food allergies or needs to be aware of.

9.  Consider gift cards to local restaurants.  These can be used on days when no one is signed up to bring food or even later, when meals stop coming but the recipient just needs a day off from the kitchen.

Have you even been blessed by others bringing you meals?  What did you appreciate most?  What was the hardest for you?  What would you add to this list?