Tag Archive | social skills

First, Character

A modern proverb that we hear frequently is “Don’t compare your kids to other kids.”  It truly is an important piece of advice because every child is different, and each develops at a different pace.  Homeschooling, however, makes following that advice extra difficult, I think.  Since our kids aren’t in a school where all the kids of a particular age are being presented the same material at the same time, we homeschooling parents wonder at times, “Am I teaching what he should be learning right now?”  “Do I have him on track with others his age?”  We homeschooling parents aren’t trying to make a better than/less than judgement call, but just evaluating our own academic plan for our children, compared with what other children are learning.

Of course, in our current society, academics are ranked as Top Priority.  It seems like kids now are learning material a year or two earlier than I did in school.  Even at the kindergarten level, I remember all year learning about the Letter People – focusing on one letter each week.  Mrs. Blakeman’s kindergarten class with the inflatable Letter People hanging from the ceiling is a cherished memory of mine!  But now it seems as though children are expected to know all of the letters by the time they start kindergarten – kindergarten is now time to learn how to read.  (Please correct me if I’m wrong on that.)

The funny thing about that to me is that children are pushed to higher levels of academics at earlier ages, and yet character development is barely in the picture.  Personal responsibility, hard work, perseverance…those seem to have been thrown out the window.  I’ve heard stories of parents contacting their child’s college professors because the work is too hard.  A friend of mine who is a college professor was telling me recently that his students don’t know how to read for comprehension – they can only scan for specific information to answer a specific question.

Last summer as we were preparing for Drama Queen to begin piano lessons, her teacher gave me some assigned reading so I could learn about the Suzuki method.  One quote (from Shinichi Suzuki’s book, Nutured By Love) stood out to me:  “First character, then ability.”  If I remember correctly, it was the motto of his childhood school, and it had a big impact on him.  It really spoke to me as well – to the point that I made it our school motto.

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We love academics around here, we really do.  Drama Queen has made huge improvement in her reading skills over the past few weeks, which is very fun and exciting.  Plus, she is practically giddy over learning any math I put in front of her.  Mr. Bang, meanwhile, isn’t all that interested in his own work, but eats up anything I do with Drama Queen.  When I give her math challenges just in normal day-to-day situations, he almost always spits out the (correct) answer before she even has a chance.  In addition, my little first grade girly-girl has gotten herself interested in some of the major American wars, so at her request, we’re spending this semester focusing on one war a month:  Revolutionary, Civil, WWI and WWII.  Academics are fun; we love learning new things!

However, I regularly emphasize to my children that academics are not the number one priority.  Your character is what really determines what your quality of life will be and what impact you will have on others.  Because of this, I don’t want to leave character development to chance; I want it to be an integral part of the learning that happens in our home.  Last spring at the Great Homeschool Convention (which is much better than its cheesy name implies), I went to a session with Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason, focusing on character development.  Her recommendation was to spend a few months really focusing on developing one character trait, which is the approach we are taking.

There are a few different things we do to help develop the trait we’re focusing on.  For one thing, I bought Shafer’s book, Laying Down the Rails, which is a great parent resource to understand what are appropriate expectations within a particular character trait.  I see that she also has one now for children that includes stories and activities and such to help motivate children to develop each character trait.  I don’t have that one yet, but I am certainly intrigued.  (If you have it, what do you think?)

I also bought a We Choose Virtues kit with fun posters to display as we focus on a particular trait.  With each new one we focus on, I hang the larger poster in the upstairs hallway, between their bedrooms.  We keep the smaller cards in the dining room and frequently use lunch time to review them.

Kids of VirtueVille Individual Fan Posters     Kids of VirtueVille Individual Fan Posters    Kids of VirtueVille Individual Fan Posters    Kids of VirtueVille Individual Fan Posters    Kids of VirtueVille Individual Fan Posters

I read lots of stories to them, stories which highlight that particular character trait.  My favorite sources are the Bible and The Book of Virtues, but of course, there are many other good sources.  Two others that we use frequently are My ABC Bible Verses and A Child’s Book of Character Building.

There was one other idea that I received back in February when I was visiting my former church in Virginia.  This idea was sent home with all the parents as a way to continue what the kids were learning at church, and I loved it!  Six months later, I have finally made my adapted version for my family.

Character flowers

We’re using these face flowers as a way to encourage us to watch for the current character trait in each other.  Each morning, the flowers start out flat on the table.  As one of us sees another family demonstrating the focus-area character trait, we get to put that person’s flower in the pot.  During dinner, we are able to share how we saw family members demonstrating that trait.  For instance, right now we’re focusing on one trait a week, reviewing the three we emphasized last year.  This week our character trait is obedience.  When Mr. Bang put his dishes away after breakfast without being reminded, he was showing obedience, so his flower went in the pot.  When Drama Queen put her clean clothes in her dresser as soon as I told her to, Ethan saw that she was demonstrating obedience, so he put her flower in the pot.  Now, obedience is a little different from honesty or self-control or others, because you have to be showing obedience to someone in authority over you.  As Christians, The Brain and I believe that our obedience is to our Lord, so we had the kids brainstorm with us what it looks like when we are being obedient to God.  They are able to watch for those things (disciplining in a calm manner instead of yelling, teaching them diligently, working hard to provide for the family, etc.) to be able to put our flowers in the pot.

The Brain and I took some time at the beginning of this school year to list our highest goals for our children.  Academics, of course, were in the list, but at the very top was that they grow into adults of strong character.  The thing about character development is that all children are constantly learning the level of character that is expected of them.  We want to be intentional about our children’s character development so that positive character traits become just a natural part of who they are.  Charlotte Mason made a great statement about that:

“Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.”

What do you do to develop strong character habits in your children?   Are there any relevant children’s books that you recommend?

Road Trip Brain Food

I recently went on a road trip.  All by myself.  And you know what that means, don’t you?… 22 hours of listening to whatever I wanted!

I absolutely love reading, but rarely find time to read anything above a 3rd grade level, so the trip meant getting to listening to full audio books!  I made it through parts of four books during my excursion (I had already started the first and didn’t make it through all of the last):

  • The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox
  • How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

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The Goal may seem an odd choice for a homeschooling stay at home mom.  It is unequivocally a business management book.  It’s a fictional account of a plant manager, Alex Rogo, who is stressed over his plant’s impending shut-down.  He happens upon a former colleague, Jonah, who serves as Rogo’s mentor throughout the rest of the book.  Jonah leads Rogo to completely rethink what the plant’s goal is and how to achieve that goal.  As a result, Rogo steers a completely different direction than how things have always been done, and has to deal with a lot of criticism for that.  Of course, taking those drastic steps ends up not only keeping the plant from being shut down, but making that plant the most productive in the area.

So…why am I reading this book, you ask?  Well, The Brain reads lots of business management books (they actually pertain to his job) and recommended this one to me.  Early on the book, I began to feel really challenged about what my one core goal as a homeschool mom is, and what approaches I should be taking to meet that goal.  I haven’t come to any conclusions yet.  In the book, Rogo really wrestles with his thoughts of goals and methods, and sorts through it all with a group of coworkers.  I feel like I really need to spend some doing the same.  (Any “coworkers” out there want to join me in reading the book and sorting through our goals and methods??)  The book definitely has me thinking.

When The Brain and I were discussing it after I finished reading it, he asked if I listened to the interviews at the end of the book.  Well, I did hear the beginning of an interview, but it was Boring with a capital B.  So I quickly moved on to my next book.  The Brain reminded me that one of the interviews is with a teacher who used this book to rethink her teaching approach.  He said it was the best interview of the set and that it would be really helpful for me, so I definitely plan to go back and listen to that.  (I imagine that the interviews are only on the audio version of the book, not print.)

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I hate conflict.  I really do.  Historically, I avoid it at all costs.  I have actually cut-off relationships because I didn’t want to deal with conflict.  At this point in my life, I’m trying to move beyond that and learn how to actually work through conflict with others.  How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding is so helpful for me in regards to learning how to do that.

This book is a follow up to their book Boundaries (a must read for anyone who interacts with other people).  Boundaries helps you determine what boundaries you need to set with others; Difficult Conversation helps you know how to actually HAVE that conversation with someone about boundaries.  (You can still get significant value out of Difficult Conversation even if you haven’t read Boundaries.)

I really wish I could include some of the powerful quotes from this book (and the other three!), but since I listened on audio – while driving – I don’t have a book to flip through or written notes to make use of.

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Okay, this one’s a classic, and I’m sure you’ve either read it or are familiar with it.  Written back in 1936, it still is probably one of THE most influential “self-help” books on the market today.  (I have absolutely no data to back that up – purely guessing.  😉 )  If I had the time, I would love to re-read this several times a year, just for the reminders of how to have positive healthy interactions with people -whether building relationships or just having brief encounters.  I’ve never been so hot in the social skills arena, so this is the perfect textbook for me!

It’s divided into four sections:  Fundamental Techniques in Handling People, Six Ways to Make People Like You, How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking, and Be a Leader:  How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.

Actually, as I read those now, the titles sound rather self-serving.  Listening to the audio book, though, my impression was much more of how to get past yourself and be really interested in and focused on the other person.  This is another book I would recommend to everyone.  Read it again or read it for the first time – I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll benefit from it.

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Mere Christianity is another classic, and another book I would love to reread on a regular basis – at least once a year.  I understand different parts of it each time I read it.

The book is actually the compilation of radio broadcasts Lewis, a former atheist, made during the early 1940’s, in the midst of WWII.  His purpose, from my understanding, was to explain and help people focus on what all believers have in common – not details that separate people into denominations.  The book is written in a very casual tone, as if you’re sitting and talking with him over coffee, but the topics are still very thought-provoking.

As with How to Win Friends, there are four sections in this book:  Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe, What Christians Believe, Christian Behavior, and Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity.

For me, it’s actually not a good book for audio format, because I want to reread pages and paragraphs and have time to mull over them.  I would love to have time to sit and really think through the logical explanations Lewis sets forth in this book.

I definitely recommend the book to all Christians as a deeper study into God and our faith. I also recommend it to anyone else who would be interested in getting a better understanding of what Christians believe and why they believe those things.

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What about you?  If you had time to read four books that either you haven’t read before or that you wanted to re-read, what would they be?

Yes, free play IS more important then those expensive lessons

Did you know that there are conferences now on how to play with your children?  And that books are written on the importance of play for children?  How did we get to a point in our society where free play isn’t just a normal aspect of childhood?  Somehow we’ve gotten way too structured and demanding about young children reaching predetermined levels of accomplishment – even at 3 years old!!

Here are a couple of great articles about the importance of play.

The first is from The Atlantic:

All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed

By Esther Entin

For more than fifty years, children’s free play time has been continually declining, and it’s keeping them from turning into confident adults

The second is from Huff Post:

If We Don’t Let Our Children Play, Who Will Be the Next Steve Jobs?

by Darell Hammond

I love this quote by Jobs:  “School was pretty hard for me at the beginning. My mother taught me how to read before I got to school and so when I got there I really just wanted to do two things. I wanted to read books because I loved reading books and I wanted to go outside and chase butterflies. You know, do the things that five year olds like to do. I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.”

This quote that I saw on facebook fits this topic perfectly:

“Be careful what you teach.  It might interfere with what they are learning.”  -Magda Gerber

Side Benefits of a Church’s Children’s Program

Obviously this isn’t the main purpose of church, but it can be such a great supplement to homeschooling!  The children get a lot of fun and age-appropriate biblical teaching, of course, but other than that, they get so many other great opportunities!

One of the main homeschooling myths is that homeschooled children don’t have opportunities to develop social skills.  That’s a whole different post, but in terms of this particular post, I will state that church is a wonderful opportunity for children to make friends, practice sorting through conflicts with peers, respecting authority other than Mom and Dad, and learn group behaviors such as standing in line and following teacher directions in a group context.  Between Sunday morning church, Wednesday evening church activities, my Thursday morning women’s Bible study, and my regular MOPS meetings, Drama Queen and Mr. BANG have up to four opportunities a week to spend time developing social skills with a core group of children.  (And love it every time!)

Another great opportunity is making fun crafts and artwork.  I must admit, I’m not a craft person.  As they get older and are able to do crafts more independently, we’ll definitely incorporate that type of thing into our homeschool curriculum more.  At this point, though, I mainly let them do open-ended artwork with a variety of materials:  paint, colored pencils, finger paint, crayons, collage, etc.

The projects Drama Queen did this weekend at church were really neat, and would be easy to do at home.  (Which I don’t have to do because she had the opportunity to do them at church! 🙂 )  The first is a picture of Jesus walking on the water, approaching the disciples stuck out on the sea in a big storm.  The cool thing, though, is that Jesus is made into a popsicle stick puppet, which the child can move back and forth through the waves.  What an awesome idea!

The second project she did was make a rainstorm, including lightening.  She said it was from the Noah’s Ark story.  Isn’t it so cute?!

I love that these art projects help the kids be able to retell the Bible stories more easily, but I also just love that they get to have fun experiences with artwork!

My favorite “side benefit” of the children’s program at my church, however, is the children’s choir.  When Drama Queen started children’s choir this fall, she was very hesitant about it.  When I picked her up afterward, though, she was positively giddy!  She kept asking, “Do I get to go to choir again?!  Did you sign me up for choir?!”  She loves it!  So at first, I was simply pleased that she was having a positive experience with learning some music skills.  Then I saw one of the older children’s choirs perform in church.  I was BLOWN AWAY!!  These children were precise in their pronunciations, had perfect mouth formations, and were very crisp in their cut-offs.  I loved watching their director – she wasn’t just moving her arms up and down and mouthing the words, she was directing!  It was without doubt the best church children’s choir I’ve ever seen.  In my mind, it compared to the auditioned children’s choir my baby brother was in as a child – and that was a choir which performed in Carnegie Hall!

I was prepared to pay for my children to be in some type of class where they can get some solid music instruction.  Now I’m thrilled to learn that they’ll get such a fabulous musical experience for FREE at church!!

What about you?  If you’re part of a church, do you feel like your children experience great “side benefits” in terms of instruction you might not feel equipped to give them on your own?  If you’re not part of a church, do you have another type of community organization that provides similar “side benefits” for free?