Are your kids struggling with blank page syndrome?

Steam is starting to come out of your ears listening to the tap, tap, tap of his pencil on that blank piece of paper as he sits there, groaning and sighing.

When is he going to get started with that writing?!

“Mom, I don’t know what to write!  Can’t I do something ELSE now?

Do you have a reluctant writer?

I know what that’s like. I had one, too.

Not just had one. I AM one.

Two things I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Staring at a blank piece of paper is totally intimidating.
  2. Writing is easier to do the more you do it. (Like with so many other things in life, right?)

Here is one idea you can implement TODAY that will help YOUR reluctant writer practice writing relatively painlessly.

Ready?

Have him begin a reader’s response journal and write in it every day.  But only for FIVE MINUTES. Tell your writer that even if he has more to say, he can only write for five minutes.

How to Do It.

Find a smaller sized spiral notebook or a composition book.  (Smaller = less intimidating.)

Writing about a good story is easiest. Before your student starts his daily reading assignment, have him write the following in his journal:

  • Date:
  • Title of Book:
  • Page Numbers read for this entry (page # started – page # ended)
  • Have him copy the assigned question (examples below)
  • Underneath, have him write his response to the question

What else you need to know.

If your goal is to build writing fluency, I recommend you focus on just having him write without editing his writing.  (If you have a particularly interesting response from your student on one day, you can always choose to make that into a writing project for the week.  In that case, you would expect your student to fully develop his thoughts, write well-developed paragraphs, use correct spelling and punctuation and to self-edit his work.)

You need to periodically check this to make sure it is being done; every day to start and then once a week once the habit has been developed, with periodic spot checks at irregular intervals.  :-)

Make sure the writing is done immediately after the reading.

Not only does daily writing increase writing fluency, this assignment also helps your student develop the ability to choose the main idea and to summarize a passage, both important writing and critical thinking skills.

Start with easier response prompts and then move to more advanced prompts as your student gets used to the process.

Remember that around middle school students mature to the point where they begin to be able to think more analytically, but this is a developmental thing.  If you are not sure your student is ready but you have been doing this awhile now and you want to ratchet it up a bit, occasionally pitch your student a more analytical question and see how it goes.

For your more artistic students, feel free to throw in some prompts that require illustrations.

A month of prompts to get you started.

  1. Do you like what you are reading? Why or why not?
  2. In a few sentences summarize what you read today.
  3. If you were a character in this book, who would you be and why?
  4. Is what you are reading believable? Why or why not?
  5. Draw four objects that represent your reading. Write a sentence for each item and tell how it relates to your reading.
  6. Write down one word from your reading today that you didn’t know. What do you think it could mean? Explain what made you think that.
  7. Is the setting (where and/or when the story takes place) described well enough that you have a ‘picture’ of it in your mind? Why or why not?
  8. Draw the setting in which the story takes place.
  9. Describe your favorite character and explain why.
  10. Describe your least favorite character and explain why.
  11. If you were writing this story, what would happen next?
  12. Tell me about the main character. What kind of person is he or she?
  13. Tell me what problem the main character is facing. What would you do to solve the problem?
  14. What has happened in the story so far?
  15. What is your favorite part of the story so far?
  16. What is your least favorite part of the story so far?
  17. What have you found boring about your reading? What made it boring? If you were writing the story, how would you make it more interesting?
  18. Describe the thoughts and feelings you had while you were reading today.
  19. What are the two most important ideas from this story so far?
  20. Write the title of this book. Do you think the title fits the story? Why or why not?
  21. What is something you have learned from reading this story?
  22. What ideas do you have about what will happen next? Has the author given you any clues in the story? What were they?
  23. What object is important to the story.  Draw it. Why is it important?
  24. Describe what one character from the story looks like.
  25. What is the most important event that has occurred in the story so far?
  26. Who do you think is the most important character in the story and why?
  27. What have you learned about life from reading this story?
  28. Write a paragraph about the main character in the story.
  29. Write a paragraph telling about the setting of the story.
  30. Has anything happened in the story that was unexpected or surprised you? Why?
  31. Write about what one character feels. Write about when you felt that way, too.

Hang in there, Mom!  You are going to hear some groaning about this, but if you cut down on other writing for a week to compensate for this daily assignment, it will go better.

Have you tried reading response journals before?  How did it go?

If you try this method, tell me how it worked for you in the comments!

 

 

 

 

How I knew that my kids were learning.

Elbow deep in soapy water, I felt a light tap on the top of my head.

Was that water?

Peering at the ceiling, I spied another drop on its way down, seemingly originating from the can light over my kitchen sink.

This can’t be good.

I wonder what the kids are up to? I took the stairs two at a time.

At the top I heard muffled squeals of delight. Hot steamy clouds hit me as I opened the bathroom door. On full blast, the shower pummeled two fully dressed kids sitting on a bath towel submerged in the tub.  With. water.  overflowing. everywhere.

“We’re in the rainforest!” shouted my daughter happily.

“Yeah! We’re floating on a raft down the Amazon River!” my son yelled, barely audible over the pounding of the shower.

Like any self-respecting mom, I was winding up to let ‘em have it.

That is when the lightning bolt hit.

That’s when I knew.

They were learning!

Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning using living books, instead of textbooks, really works!

  • We had read a few fascinating books about the rainforest.
  • They had done oral narrations over what they had read.
  • They had completed copy work about the rainforest.
  • They had drawn pictures of the rainforest (another form of narration).

And now they were dramatizing a scene in a story they were creating, with themselves as the stars!

Our recent readings about the rainforest had ignited their imaginations!

Isn’t that what Charlotte Mason homeschooling was all about?  Presenting children with a “feast of ideas” and letting them ‘form their own relationships’?

I certainly had not suggested that they soak the bathroom rug and do who knows what to the ceiling and light fixture downstairs.

Miss Mason’s thoughts:

The children should have the joy of living in far lands, in other persons, in other times––a delightful double existence; and this joy they will find, for the most part, in their story books. Their lessons, too, history and geography, should cultivate their conceptive powers. If the child does not live in the times of his history lesson, be not at home in the climes his geography book describes, why, these lessons will fail of their purpose.           ~Charlotte Mason Vol. I, Part IV of Home Education, p. 153

My kids weren’t playing in the shower, they were ‘at home in the climes’ of the South American jungle!

WOOHOO!

I knew then that our recent switch to the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling was the right choice for us. Despite the punishment the house endured, I knew we had made the right decision. And we never looked back. :-)

So…. are your kids learning?

How do you know?

 

 

 

 

Make Your Own Natural Easter Egg Dyes

Did you know that thousands of years ago the ancient Chinese were already dyeing fabric?

Or that the Maya in South America created red dye from ground insects?

Instead of buying those pre-packaged egg-dye kits this year, why not create your own natural dyes?

You have most of the ingredients in your refrigerator and pantry already. Experimenting with various vegetables and spices and turning out eggs that are one-of-a-kind is a great hands-on, multi-age project.

Here’s what you need:

create natural Easter egg dyes

Preparation

The items we used are pictured above. (We had to go to the store to get red cabbage to get a bluer-blue, so add that one.)  Here is a list of what we used this year and the color that each material yielded:

  • yellow onion skins: dark red
  • red onion skins: purplish-red
  • coffee: light to dark brown
  • tea: light tan/golden brown
  • spinach: light green
  • turmeric (spice): bright yellow
  • red cabbage: bright blue
  • raspberries: light pink

Gather items you can use to make dye, such as the ones above.  Try some other spices, grass, flower petals and other items you might have outside with one crucial caveat:

 Check and make sure that nothing is poisonous, please! 

You would not want to touch or have your children touch plant parts that are poisonous, and you certainly would not want to put anything poisonous in your cookware. If you do not have a thorough field guide to your local plant life, just stick to vegetables and spices.

You will need at least four small saucepans. (Smaller pans don’t require so much dye material.)

Depending upon how many eggs you would like to dye and how much material you have  –  I recommend at least 12-18 uncooked white eggs. It seems over the years that some eggs absorb dye better than others – I am not sure why that would be; does anyone know?

IMPORTANT NOTE: Authorities say eggs are not safe to eat if they have been out of the fridge more than two hours after cooking, so keep track of this unless you aren’t going to eat them.

 

Method

  1. Chop (veggies/skins) or mash (berries) each item that needs it and put a cup or more in each saucepan with the egg(s).  The typical four burner stove allows four saucepans/dye colors to be done at one time.
  2. Measure about two cups of water  – or just enough to cover the egg(s) – add one tablespoon of white vinegar for each cup of water. Stir it.
  3. Boil the eggs for 20 minutes and turn the heat off or remove pan from burner.
  4. Check the color of the eggs.  Leave them in the water longer/add more dying material if you would like a deeper value.
  5. You can even leave the eggs in the water overnight if you refrigerate the pan with the water and the eggs. (Cool before putting in your fridge.)

Leaving three eggs  in red cabbage/water overnight (in the fridge) resulted in the gorgeous blue pictured below!

Make Your Own Natural Easter Egg Dyes!

Other Method

 

Another method is to use the procedure above but without cooking the eggs until you have boiled the material for an hour and strained it.

Once the dyeing material has been boiled and removed by straining, use the water to boil the raw eggs  for 20 minutes.  This probably results in a more solid, uniform color, rather than the “textural” look of our eggs.

I have never tried this.

Perhaps I was too impatient to boil it for an hour….

While You are Waiting

While you are waiting for the eggs to cook/dye to take, you might read and talk about the history of dye creation. Here are a couple of links to get you* started:

General historical info about dyehttp://www.ehow.com/about_5422885_history-fabric-dyes.html (Science)

Dying silkhttp://www.advantour.com/silkroad/dyeing-of-silk-fabrics.htm (Science/history)

The famous “Silk Road” trading route: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/silk-road/ (History/geography)

*Please do not let your kids loose on links without first taking a thorough look – I did not read every word on every page connected to these.

The Results

When you are done cooking the eggs and you are happy with the color, remove them from the dye water, gently pat dry and refrigerate. The egg carton they came in is a perfect place to keep them. When they have cooled, shine them up with a little vegetable oil to bring out the color.  

Make Your Own Natural Easter Egg Dyes!

 

 

What About You?

Have you ever dyed your eggs using natural dyes?  How did they turn out? Do you have any dyeing material that you particularly like?

 

Dana Wilson at Train up a Child Publishing

Impatience or Grace?

March 3rd, 2015

Are we giving our kids impatience, or grace?

“Mom, will you play a game with me?”

I can’t believe that after hounding reminding this child several times this morning to finish his math and fighting “the writing wars” this afternoon, he now wanted to play a game. With me.

My insides were screaming, “NO, I really DON’T want to!”

But of course, I murmured a lack-luster “Sure.”

All I could think about was how early I had woken up to get organized for the day. How patient I had been when I felt like yelling.  How messy the house was and how I still had no idea what I was making for dinner.

His perspective, of course, was entirely different.

And, sadly, it took me WAY too long to figure out his perspective.

It wasn’t a coincidence that this child wanted to play a game with me after a frustrating school day.

This child needed the assurance he was still loved.

 Just like I do, regularly,  from my Heavenly Father.

Even though he knew he had fooled around instead of getting his math done. Even though he had been playing in his room instead of doing his copy work

He needed a hug and some focused attention, without the pressure of “school.”

He needed me to be “mom” for a while, instead of “teacher.”

As I looked into that unsure face, I finally got it. Hugging him close, I asked, “What would you like to play?”

“How about Monopoly?” he squealed.

“We can start it and play until time to fix dinner, but we will have to finish it later.”

“Mom, I am sorry I played today instead of working on school.”

Giving unexpected grace prompted a repentant heart.

Lord, please help me to be quicker to extend grace and less impatient with my children.

The light in his eyes and relieved smile on his face gave me a little spring in my step that evening.

Giving grace instead of the ‘expected’ reaction is an investment that will pay off great dividends.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Gal.6:9

How is your challenging learner doing this week?

How might extending him or her unexpected grace help?

Five Simple Ways to Say Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is coming up in a week. Normally I post homeschool learning and ministry ideas for families before this special holiday, but this year my Valentine’s post is not going to be about homeschooling at all.

This year, I am reminded that there is a relationship we moms… especially we homeschool moms…are all too likely to put on the back burner.

When you are juggling a baby, chasing a toddler, grading an essay and answering an algebra problem, your husband is not exactly on the forefront of your mind, right?

I sure could be better at this… maybe you could be, too?

I know this doesn’t apply to everyone; you may be single.

But if you are not….you might have noticed that it. is. so. easy. to. put.  our.  kids first.  Sometimes they have to be first, obviously… but there should be regular times when we intentionally, mindfully do things to let our husbands know that we haven’t forgotten about them!  Do you agree?

Five Simple Ways to Bless Your Husband—and not Just on Valentine’s Day

1. Spend intentional, stop-everything-else-and-look-at-him-while-he-is-talking-time every day. We are exceptional at kissing ouchies, listening to stumbling new readers and chattering toddlers. We sometimes even do an admirable job of keeping the house relatively germ-free, pulling off regular meals and keeping the clothes clean. But we are so busy that we seldom just stop. listen. and look, giving our husbands our undivided attention.

2. You’ve read a thousand times about how important it is to have a regular “date night.” You may not be able to pull this off weekly, but why not find another couple with small kids and trade babysitting every other week? Your kids will have big fun and you will get some much needed, regular time alone with your spouse. (And  please work at talking about something else other than the kids!)

3. Study your husband like you do your kids. After teaching them all day, you know how they like to learn, what they get excited about, and how to bless them.

Hearken back to your dating days and remember what has been lost in light of the dirty diapers, messy kitchens and a plethora of homeschool projects. Seek ways to bless your husband, even if it is just an unexpected back rub at the end of a long day.

4. Use your talent or hobby to bless your husband on Valentine’s Day.Crafty? Make him a card or put together a basket of special food or hobby treats.  Musical? Write him a song or cover another song and make him a recording. Or make a playlist of “your” music.  Artistic? Paint him a picture. Writer? Write him a poem or love note.

5. Bite the bullet: plan and do something HE likes to do. You get extra points for this if he knows it is not your favorite activity. Watch the game, go on a hike, play golf, go fishing, play paintball, help him do yard work or share in a needed home repair.

Believe me when I say that your family will all benefit by you mindfully honoring your husband by conserving time and attention for him.

Now tell me, does this strike a chord with you? Could you do better at investing in your relationship with your husband?  Are you going to do anything special for him on Valentine’s Day?

Please tell me in the comments!