Bored Games

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of giving your children the opportunity to learn during the Summer. I hope that I did not give the impression that this should be, like, work. There is a real temptation to fill the days up with all those activities—soccer, swimming, camp, workshops, playgroups—that would normally be taken up by school. For one thing, someone is going to have to do all of the driving. But more importantly, all of that busy-ness may keep our kids from discovering for themselves what it really is they want to do.

From where does this tendency to fill up Summer days come? The intentions are good, to be sure. We want to provide them with something like the structure that supported them through the school year. Structure is good, right? That’s all I ever write about. Also, we might be used to our own schedule, which does not include having the kids around us at all times. And you might remind me that there is a thing called childcare, and we still have to work (otherwise, how could we afford childcare?).

Finally, there is another noble impulse at work here: we don’t want our kids to be bored. Because that would be…what? Bad? Sometime back in the mists of parenting history boredom became a dirty word. But is it really?

Looking back at my childhood, I remember things like swim lessons and even, one magical year, art school. But mostly I remember days and days filled with the imperative to simply go play outside. Those days, endless and each much like the other, left it up to me to wander the yard and the neighborhood, awash in the backdrop of changing light. There was so much time, and this was a gift I simply did not have during the school year. As idyllic as this seems to me now, looking back, I am sure that being left to my own devices involved a great deal of boredom.

A recent article extols the benefits of letting kids be bored. Though this is hardly a new idea (the author cites a book from 1930 by philosopher Bertrand Russell), there has been plenty of contemporary research into the richness of boredom:

“Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy,” says Lyn Fry, a child psychologist in London with a focus on education. “If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”

The author suggests sitting down with your kids at the start of the Summer and helping them to come up with a list of things to do when boredom arises. We did this at home, and have a long list that includes the following:

Go outside

Play a board game

Draw

Paint

Knit

Write a letter

Make a map

Stage a play

Make a code

Read

Listen to an audiobook

Bake

Do math practice (no, really)

Create something out of recycling

Some of these require more adult intervention than others. But all are on the list with my childrens’ blessing, and all are free will activities that engage the mind and the imagination. It is working well, but one thing I’ve noticed is that it often doesn’t come up, because they have decided to spend an hour in the grass watching bugs.

That works, too.

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Summer School

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So, school is almost out. Summer is almost upon us. What are you going to do with your children now that they are home every day? Allow me to make a suggestion: start them in school.

Okay, let’s take a few deep breaths. I’ll take them with you. Ready? Now let me explain. What better time for your kids to learn than when they don’t have to go to school all day? If anything, all of the structure of their school day—all the moving from one place to another, all the sitting down and lining up and walking and standing and waiting, not to mention all of those other kids—has been in the way of their learning all along. Heck, even the teachers have been distracting them from their natural inclination to learn.

Don’t take it from me. Here’s what educator John Holt has to say about it, in his book Learning All The Time:

“I can sum up in five to seven words what I eventually learned as a teacher. The seven-word version is: Learning is not the product of teaching. The five-word version is: Teaching does not make learning. As I mentioned before, organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them. This is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false.”

What makes children learn, then? Having opportunities to do so. Having the time, and space, and materials to gather information, observe their world, experiment, try out ideas, make things. And as a parent, you are the ideal person to provide these opportunities. Writes Holt:

“What adults can do for children is to make more and more of that world and the people in it accessible and transparent to them. The key word is access: to people, places, experiences, the places where we work, other places we go—cities, countries, streets, buildings. We can also make available tools, books, records, toys, and other resources. On the whole, kids are more interested in the things that adults really use than in the little things we buy especially for them. I mean, anyone who has seen little kids in the kitchen knows that they would rather play with the pots and pans than anything made by Fisher-Price or Lego or name whatever you will.”

So there you go: you can be the one to provide this access to learning. And Summer vacation is best time to do it. You can take them outside: on neighborhood walks, to the park, to the swimming pool, to the river, to the beach, to the city. And you can provide their textbooks and visual aids and tools: at the library, at the museum. In the backyard, in the kitchen. In the garage.

School’s out! Now finally they can get down to some learning.

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Can you tell me how to get to Problem-Solving Mode?

This week’s post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts by Esther.

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Knowing how to solve problems is a valuable, life-long skill. That may be the understatement of the year. Finding solutions to mechanical or physical problems is hard, but finding solutions to problems involving several people interacting and getting along with each other is really tough. That process is a major part of parenting, though.

Here are some suggested steps for problem-solving family life challenges.

(These are designed for school age and older children–and for adults!–but the process can be modified to use with younger children.)

Part 1 By Yourself

1.Acknowledge to yourself what is going on with you: What is your physical state? (hungry, sleep deprived, wound up, …) What are your feelings? (frustrated, worried, fearful, …) What are your fears? (I’m a terrible parent; My child will never be able to go to sleep without me, go to school, be self-supportive, . . .).

2. Ask yourself: How is this affecting me? Can I list specific, concrete ways that this is impacting my life? Is this blocking my ability to achieve my goals or meet my needs?

3. Respond to yourself empathetically—“I hear you” “It’s hard to deal with this. ” Help yourself calm down by deep breathing or physical exercise.

Part 2 With the Other(s) (spouse, child, etc.)

Establish a connection. Essentially this is saying or conveying without words “I’m available to listen—now or whenever you are ready to talk.”

4. Bring up the problem in a neutral way; for example, “We always seem to end up yelling at each other in the mornings. It’s upsetting to me and I think it bothers you, too. Can we talk about how we might be able to do things differently?”

5. Use empathetic listening. The goal is to listen for understanding, not weakness. Trust that the other person is not lying or trying to manipulate you, but being honest. You DO NOT need to agree with him/her, just to accept that this is his/her perception. Help the other person go through the process you just went through of identifying feelings and needs and calming down.

6. With the other person’s help (when possible), identify out loud (and in writing if desired): how s/he feels; his/her need(s); and what s/he would like to happen. It’s important that you are able to state these and have the other person say (or indicate) “Yes, that is what I feel, need, and want.”

6a. There may be lots of things. Pick only one to deal with right now. You can get back to the others later.

7. Now state your own feelings, needs, and what you would like to happen regarding the issue at hand. Do this as briefly as possible. Remember this is what you would like to happen, NOT what you insist upon happening. If appropriate, ask the other person to state your feelings, needs, and wants in a way that you agree is accurate.

8. Sit with this for a while together.

9. Brainstorm together—come up with a list of possible solutions (whacky and totally unrealistic ones encouraged to get the creative juices flowing) and write them down.

10. Evaluate those solutions. Consider any other relevant factors and realities: developmental stage, temperament, safety, affordability, time, health, fairness, family rules, laws, moral considerations, etc.

11. Select one(s) that meet both your needs. Be open to change. You both have veto power over any of the suggestions and you both need to agree on the solution.

12. Be as specific as possible about your agreed upon solution—when where what who.

13. Put it into practice for a specified amount of time. Then follow up with each other—how is it working out? How are you feeling now? Make adjustments as needed.

14. Problem Solved! Celebrate successes!

Repeat as often as necessary.

 

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to three boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

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Breaking Down the Break

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So, the kids are home from school. How is that going?

We are taking a break from homeschooling as well, so we’re all home and in full Winter Break mode. Add up all that family time, the change in routines, and the excitement of the impending holiday and the results can be unpredictable, to say the least. What can we do to ensure that these days at home go as well as they can?

  1. Keep the routines that you can. It is be tempting to let everyone (including ourselves) sleep in, and that can be nice, for sure. But if your children are accustomed to the way the morning goes in getting up and getting ready for school, pushing the day back can be disruptive. We try to keep the structure of the day intact as much as possible, sticking to predictable mealtimes, bedtimes, chores, daily activities and downtimes in order to keep things predictable. The more things that they can anticipate happening in the usual way, the more comforted and settled they will feel.
  2. Pace yourselves. Just because we are faced with all this unstructured time does not mean that we should try to fill it with activities. Even the “fun” can be overwhelming without allowing for the quiet periods we all need in order to recharge. The adults will need to do this to, and if you are used to having time to yourself during the day, be sure to allow for that as well.
  3. Prioritize the holiday stuff. Every family has its own traditions and the children especially will delight in those activities—decorating the house, baking, taking in the lights around town—that they associate with this time of year. But I’ve found that trying to force it can be more stressful than it is worth. One of our favorite traditions has been to visit a tree farm to select a tree and cut it down. This year, however, due to a variety of factors (the extra soggy weather, a general lack of funds and a general lack of tree space), we decided to scale back on that particular adventure. We stopped at a tree lot in town and took home a smaller and cheaper (but completely charming) tree, a process that took ten minutes instead of most of an afternoon.
  4. Get outside if you can. Especially if the kids are spending more idle time at home, and adjusting to the slower pace away from school, it is all the more important to spend time walking, hiking and moving around out of doors. We have been taking advantage of those brief windows of non-rain.
  5. Transition back to school time. If we have been keeping a predictable schedule and balancing periods of activity with down time, this will be easier to manage. Going back to school at the end of the break won’t be as much of a jolt if everyone knows what to expect.
  6. Be patient with each other, and with yourself. Everyone in the family is dealing with changes, and even pleasant changes can be difficult. If we remember that everyone has to adjust on both ends of the break, we might avoid the feeling of desperation that comes with having everyone just…around for so many days. Also, keep in mind that it’s normal for kids and adults to feel a bit of a crash when all the excitement is over. Anticipating that is a job of parenting, it’s true. But the easier and more predictable it is for our children the saner we will be.

Happy holidays!

 

 

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A Day in Homeschool

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I called in sick to work today, which means that I was granted the rare opportunity to experience a day of homeschool with my family. I wanted to report on what I saw there.

My wife Kyrie has been homeschooling the kids for a few years now. She has been switching things up as she goes, as new and better ideas come to her. Kyrie is trained as a Montessori teacher, and taught for several years in both Montessori and public preschool. She recently attended a weeklong Waldorf homeschooling conference in Portland. And now she is integrating elements of the Charlotte Mason curriculum. Honestly, I don’t know how she does it. But what she’s doing now is what she has determined is best for the needs of each child (remember, we have four girls, aged 4, 6, 8 and ten).

We got up and made breakfast (pancakes) and the girls worked on their chores, got dressed and made their beds. School started promptly at 9:00. Kyrie had everything on a timer, so each subject or activity went on for the scheduled time and then we switched to the next. My times are approximate, as they are from memory. Be patient with me.

9:00 Circle time; greetings, prayer and Scripture reading.

9:20 Math for the 8 and ten-year old; worksheets at different levels with Kyrie available to help. The 6 year-old took this time to draw while I helped the 4 year-old occupy herself in the play kitchen in her bedroom.

9:35 Read Aloud. Kyrie read from Mary Pope Osborne’s retellings of American Tall Tales: today was Davy Crocket, and all the kids found this highly amusing.

10:00 Copywork. Girls took out their notebooks, whose pages have space for both drawing and handwriting. They copied out a short passage and illustrated it.

10:15 Morning Tea. Tea with milk and honey, and cookies!

10:30 Play time. We’re big on play time.

10:50 Nursery Rhymes. Kyrie read some assorted nursery rhymes and we ran outside to play “London Bridges.”

11:00 History. I was recruited to read from Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s illustrated biography of Benjamin Franklin. It was a hit.

11:50 Science. Kyrie read the excellent children’s book Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies. Girls did an exercise in which they took a sheet of paper and cut it into increasingly smaller pieces to simulate the rapid division of microbes. We discussed the importance of air and sunlight in keeping microbes at bay.

12:45 Lunch.

This ended the school day proper. After lunch girls have “rest time,” which usually consists of dividing into older and younger pairs and playing or drawing while listening to an audiobook. On special days they watch a movie.

In the afternoon they took a trip to the library in Corvallis, and played at Central Park.

It was a breakneck day! I was surprised by a couple of things. One was how engaged all the kids were in each activity. Kyrie reports that keeping everything to the timer helps to prevent burnout. They packed up whatever they were doing when it was time to move on to the next thing (that was the other thing that surprised me).

So, that’s what I’ve been missing out on. I kind of wish I could be going to homeschool every day. But I’m glad to let Kyrie run it.

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Reading, and What Comes Before

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“Daddy, do you think I’ll be able to read when I’m a grownup?”

This question came from my six year-old daughter. Her eldest sister, now ten, started reading when she was six, and moved straight from picture books to the Narnia series. The next oldest, now eight, endured similar frustration until everything clicked for her this year. Now she’s unstoppable and reading space on the couch is at a premium. I don’t think the six year-old has much to worry about.

My children are home schooled, and their mother is a skilled and experienced teacher, but there’s really no secret to how reading came to be a prized experience in our family. We have books. Lots of books. Books on the shelves, books on every flat surface, books on the floor and under the beds. Books we sought out and books that were gifted; books from frequent trips to the library and books that appeared mysteriously without explanation. Books that fall out when we open the car door.

The presence of books in the home is probably the most powerful way to encourage literacy in children. After all, kids learn what’s important from what is in their environment. A long-term study found that having books on hand is a more significant indicator of a child’s future academic success than the parent’s level of education (which was previously though to be the most important factor). According to the study, “Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.”

Reading to your children is important, of course. After all, they have to know what those leafy things are and how they work (and why nothing will happen when you swipe or click them). There are a variety of preliteracy activities that help to ensure that kids will read at the appropriate time.

  • Oral language skills. Children listen to adult conversations. They learn to ask questions. They tell stories, especially if we tell stories to them.
  • Play. Left on their own, children will naturally create their own narratives through the very important activity of playing with one another.
  • Language is everywhere. According to this article, “While it’s important to understand preliteracy skills and behaviors, you don’t have to directly teach them. Instead, try to follow your child’s lead. For example, interesting experiences like grocery shopping, bank visits, and trips to the veterinarian encourage children to talk. These informal occasions allow them to take risks using language, particularly in new and creative ways. They will play with familiar words, explore new meanings, and test uses of language in different settings.”

Having books around? Talking to kids? Is it really that easy? Not for everyone. My six year-old is still a little concerned that reading won’t happen during her childhood (I give her six months to a year). But reading, in this environment, will happen when it happens. Every child is different, and the skills will fall into place when they’re ready (as any parent who has struggled to potty train their child can attest).

We are fortunate to have much more than twenty books. Of course, this increases exponentially the possibility of library fines. Somehow, it’s always worth it.

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The Dress Rehearsal

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So, school is starting soon. If you’re not one of those parents who have kept those routines going throughout the Summer (have you met one? I’m sure they exist), then you and your kids may have some adjusting to do in order to transition smoothly into the school year.

One difference that makes itself apparent is that suddenly, a lot more will be happening in the morning. Kids will need to be fed, bathed, dressed and ready to go—to the bus stop, to the car, on foot, preferably with shoes on—and all of these things need to happen on time.

Don’t freak out! Some of this will have to work itself out through experimentation, and there may be mornings in which someone’s shirt is inside out and the homework is in the lunchbox. And that’s okay. But there are ways to prepare the ground, as it were, to make the coming circus easier to mount.

One week is generally enough time to get back into school routines. This gives time to work out the kinks, to try the steps in a different order or at a longer or shorter duration, and most importantly it gives kids the opportunity to adjust to this new reality. They are going to be full of excitement and trepidation in more or less equal measure, and knowing how their sendoff will work goes a long way toward easing their minds and being able to focus on the good stuff.

What needs to happen? Here are the essentials.

  1. The night before: have a good idea of what breakfast will be, and what lunches will look like, if applicable. Lay the kids’ clothes out, or have outfits stored together for easy access.
  2. In the morning: You should be up first, because you’re the ringmaster. It is good for parents to establish their own morning rituals in order to be awake and ready to meet the kids’ needs. Making coffee is the key to my success (if not my very existence). My girls like to read books or draw first thing, so I might leave books, paper and pencils out for them to find.
  3. Kids can get used to getting up on time. Like I said, a week should be enough time for this to sink in. It might be good to allow a few days with little pressure before making it a “dress rehearsal.”
  4. Help kids practice dressing, toothbrushing, and gathering of backpacks, jackets and whatever else they might need. Give gentle reminders with little pressure, and make it fun, with incentives and rewards for mastering the task (my kids are fond of brushing to a timer; something like a sticker chart might work to encourage the practice).

These days of preparation are the place to learn what works and what needs tweaking. Remember to be gentle and patient now that the stakes are low and by the time “opening day” arrives, you will all feel more confident and comfortable with the new routine. And by removing barriers to the kids’ success, you are helping them to a place in which they are ready to learn.

Did I mention the coffee part?

 

 

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