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When I first began teaching our son Matt at home, I marked his mistakes in red like my own teachers had done, to help him notice his mistakes and try harder next time. He seemed oblivious to his mistakes, though. Matt disliked penmanship, for example, and our lessons failed to improve his attitude.
Then I read some good advice and quit marking mistakes. Instead I started drawing a red circle around Matt’s best work on the page. Then we talked about why those letters and words were his best. He had disliked having me tell him why his mistakes were so bad, but now he enjoyed hearing me tell him why his best work was so good. Matt started looking forward to seeing red marks when they meant success instead of failure. His penmanship improved, and so did his attitude.

After a few weeks of this new strategy, I started asking Matt to circle his best work himself. Once he began evaluating his own work, he found his mistakes himself, and his penmanship improved dramatically. The eye opener for me, though, was not how much the new approach changed Matt’s attitude, but how much it changed mine. Grading penmanship was irritating when I focused on finding what was wrong. When I focused on finding what was right instead, I cheered up and had more patience.

Later I was able to apply this new understanding to Matt’s spelling lessons.

Matt was a late bloomer who didn’t really “click” on reading until he was 10. Once reading clicked for him, his reading skills shot far above his grade level. But his spelling skills were poor, and he seemed unable to progress. He could make 100’s on his spelling tests using a traditional spelling curricula, but he could not seem to transfer what he learned in those lessons to the same words when he needed to spell them for original writing assignments. He behaved as if he had never seen that word before, and he could misspell the same word three different ways in one paragraph. He had great trouble proofreading as well. He could not catch his own mistakes.

He was so frustrated with his spelling difficulties that he began “dumbing down” his vocabulary in his written work to avoid writing words he didn’t know how to spell. His writing was way below his grade level and even further below his vocabulary level.

We finally had him tested at the local public school when he was 13. They said he could read at a college level, but he spelled at a second grade level. So he was “learning disabled in spelling.” I tried their suggestions for helping improve Matt’s spelling, but they didn’t work.

Then a schoolteacher friend of mine told me about a method for helping kids learn to proofread. I modified that method and came up with a good system that worked well for Matt. He began picking up two years in spelling improvement during each year that we used this method.

Today Matt has a Ph.D. in cancer research. He still struggles with spelling, but it is no longer an obstacle that prevents him from expressing himself in writing.

Here’s the method:

1. Use a spelling curricula that includes sentences for dictation, preferably a curricula designed for problem spellers. Teach the spelling lesson and do the exercises.

2. Then dictate three or four sentences using that lesson’s spelling words. (Use your judgment to discern how many sentences your student can do without feeling overwhelmed.)

3. Show your student the correctly written sentences that you just dictated and allow her to correct her own work before you even look at it. (Learning to find her own mistakes and correct them will be her key to learning to spell correctly.)

4. When your student thinks she has corrected all her errors, go over the paper with her. Make a little red mark for every correct word or punctuation mark on her paper. For example, if she capitalized the first letter of the sentence, make a red mark. If she spelled that first word correctly as well, make a second mark. When you come to an error, don’t make a big deal about it. Be matter of fact. Simply explain why it doesn’t get a mark and move on.

5. When you finish correcting the paper, count up all the red marks. Give your student a reward – a raisin or chocolate chip or other small reward for every red mark. (Chocolate chips worked wonders for Matt. He was disappointed when he missed a little red mark, and he tried harder next time to spot his errors himself. As his proofreading skills improved, his spelling improved.)

You can modify this system for original writing projects. If your student is too stuck on spelling to produce a writing flow, let her dictate to you what she wants to say (Dictation #1). Then dictate Dictation #1 back to her as she now writes down her own words (Dictation #2). Give her a corrected copy of Dictation #1. Allow her to check Dictation #2 using Dictation #1. Then proceed to steps 4 and 5.

Use good judgment. The important thing is to work with your child at her learning level and avoid her frustration level. Some horrible spellers, like Matt, are incredible story tellers who can dictate far more words than they can manage to write when those words are dictated back to them. In that case, dictate back only a paragraph or a few sentences – whatever your student can manage without becoming overwhelmed.

© Becky Cerling Powers 2012

Have you ever wondered what Sin looked like in the Bible story about the first murder, when God warned Cain that Sin was crouching at his door?

Well, perhaps not.

But in any case, here’s what Sin looked like last Wednesday in our homeschool Bible study. There he is crouching…

Crouching...

waiting…

Meanwhile, inside the summerhouse....

Meanwhile, inside the summerhouse….

… there’s a discussion going on about What Makes Me Jealous and My Choices When I am Jealous.

Oops! Somebody made a bad choice.

And that choice opened the door to Sin.

He pounces!

He pounces!

For the last six weeks I’ve been meeting with seven kids, a couple of my young mom friends, and a retired nurse for Bible study. The children range in age from 4 months to 12 years old. This is not your typical women’s Bible study, although we do try to spend an hour in an adult study. Nor is it a children’s neighborhood Bible Club, although we also spend an hour singing and teaching Bible to the kids. It’s a multi-generational inductive Bible study, where we study a passage together as adults, then turn around and draw the children into an inductive Bible study of the same scripture in the way that kids do inductive Bible study.

Which is – through the arts.

Taylor’s Comic Strip -1-
The Fall (Genesis 3)

During my four years as an undergrad at the University of Iowa, the most practical training I received came to me not from my professors, but from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s staff, who introduced me to inductive Bible study in small groups and then gave me hands-on training in this commonsense 3-step process of:
1. Observing (noting facts)
2. Interpreting (analyzing)
3. Applying (determining the significance of)
the text of the Bible for yourself first — instead of going to commentaries and other books to read what others have to say about the passage.

The method uses good questions to engage your mind in discovering for yourself what the Bible says, what it means, and how it applies to your life.

I enjoyed this so much that when I went home for Christmas vacation, I gushed enthusiasm about studying the Bible to all the kids in my former youth group who had gone off to college, too. Unlike me, they were enrolled in Christian colleges.
And they were put out with me.

Why?

Because they were taking Bible classes in approved Christian schools and they didn’t see what there was to get so excited about.

Their bewilderment made me even more aware of the power and joy of discovering new things for oneself. It helped me understand why research shows people remembering more of what they say themselves than what they hear from others, and more of anything they figure out for themselves than what others tell them.

Good questions help discovery in any subject area. They have the power, though, to do even more in Bible study. For although the Bible is not the only place where we can meet God, it is our primary place, the place where we are most likely to encounter Him when we are looking. We get distracted, though. We find it hard to concentrate on our reading. But good inductive questions help us focus. They make us dig into the text. They prod us into engaging with the words, and the next thing we know, we are engaged with the Word Himself.

Today there is a flood of helpful inductive Bible study guides and other materials on the market, including whole Bibles published with inductive Bible study inserts. But when I was a college student, there was little material available. So my staff worker encouraged me to write the inductive questions for our student conferences.

Then I graduated, married, and had children. I began to wonder if it would be possible to teach the inductive Bible study method to kids. Could children observe, interpret and apply the Bible?

After I experimented a bit by creating an intergenerational Bible study class, Joann Collins, the wife of our church’s education pastor, asked me to help her develop Sunday School curriculum using learning centers. Her request for learning centers pushed me into realizing how to teach kids to observe, interpret, and apply the Bible for themselves.

First, I saw that the Bible takes hold on our imagination and starts renewing our minds when we are somehow motivated to process the material. Adults take hold in this way when good questions prod them to write down or to discuss the observations, interpretations, applications, prayers, etc. that flow from their reading. In other words, adults tend to process material by writing about it or talking about it.

But second, I realized that children don’t do that. They process Bible material better through the arts – storytelling, music, the visual arts, drama, and dance/creative movement. Here, for example, is 4-year-old Ada processing an application question (draw a picture of a time when you were jealous):

Ada Drawing: Jealousy             Ada Being Jealous

(Note: When Ada drew this picture, I told the moms that it would be OK if she just got so carried away with the Joy of Markers that she didn’t stick to the point and draw a jealousy experience. Pre-schoolers get very immersed in the media itself. They may not be ready to follow additional directions as well, like answering a question using the media. But Ada was working alongside older children (ages 8, 10, and 12) who were drawing pictures and talking about them, which probably helped her get the idea. She stayed on task and dictated an explanation of her drawing to her mom. We could have asked the older kids just to talk about their jealousy experience before playing the Sin Crouching game, in which case, the lesson would have taken less time. But since Ada was there too, we asked all the kids to draw a picture first. Ada was young enough to need the extra step of drawing her idea before discussing it, and the other kids enjoyed talking about their pictures, too.)

Back to the subject of my experience with inductive Bible study for kids: For the next two years that Joann’s husband was on staff at the Albuquerque Christian Center, she and I developed adult inductive Bible study material for parents and Sunday School teachers and worked with a team to develop inductive curriculum for children on the same scripture passages as the adults, but using a variety of hands on projects: visual art (drawing, painting, printing, sculpting, bookmaking, crayon techniques, and on and on), drama (charades, pantomime, puppet theater, shadow theater, masked drama productions), game inventing, creative writing (song writing, play writing), creative movement, you name it. In retrospect, we could have done kids’ inductive Bible study more simply, but so many young artists became involved in helping us that we were able try more elaborate projects along with the simple ones. We all had a lot of fun, and many worked together to build a Sunday School that engaged the children’s bodies, minds and hearts.

Along the way, we evaluated the curriculum according to the three steps of inductive study and to what children could do at the end of the lesson that they couldn’t do at the beginning. If the object of the lesson was observation, could they retell the story accurately in some form? If the object was interpretation or application, could they express or demonstrate the meaning or a life application?

I moved with my family to another state after that, and there we began the adventure of homeschooling. Once again the inductive approach helped me. I developed our family’s curriculum for studying not only the Bible, but all subjects on all grade levels using an art-based, hands-on approach. The inductive method applies across the curriculum.

A few weeks ago, Joann phoned and asked me to help her develop inductive Bible study curriculum again, this time for a parochial school. So, in order to help her and the teachers at the school, I have decided to start blogging about Inductive Bible Study for Kids. I hope that what I’ve learned over the years will be useful not only for the teachers at Calvary Chapel Academy, but for parents, homeschoolers, intergenerational classes, home and cell churches, pastors who want to coordinate children’s ministry with their sermon texts, and many other ministries that work with children and want to encourage them to engage with the Word.

My daughter Jessica and I have been putting together an online writing class through StoryCircle called “My Odd Aunt: Writing Family Stories.”
The class runs from March 31-May 12, 2014. The synopsis:
Do you have an odd aunt? A wise dad? A famous (or infamous) distant relative—or a relative who did something extraordinary? Did your sister die when you were a kid, or your mother suffer from depression? This course will take students through the process of writing about an interesting or compelling family member—from the basics of research to an end product.
If you’re interested, here’s the link: http://www.storycircleonlineclasses.org/classes/powers_cerlingpowers.spring2014.php

 

The teen years have a reputation for being the worst years for raising children, but I disagree. A well trained teen can be marvelously competent. Take the time my gall bladder nearly blew up and landed me in emergency surgery. Our three children were 17, 14 and 12. For several months, with a little help from Dad, they completely took over all the cooking, housecleaning and laundry. The two older ones also planned and completed all their homeschool lessons independently.

When parents take the trouble to teach children good work habits, skills and attitudes when they are young, it really pays off when they get older. Here are a few tips for teaching school age children the basics of those housecleaning chores they will need to handle all their lives. Continue Reading »

When our three children were small, I ran our household by the Crash Crisis system. Every time I took on a special project, the household unraveled into a giant mess. I would spend a couple days making costumes for a children’s musical, and then spend the next week fighting depression while I tried to dig out of a disaster zone and get the household back on track.

Fortunately, when we began home schooling, I learned a better system: the Minimum Maintenance (MM) system described in Totally Organized, by Bonnie McCullough.

The heart of the system is recognizing that “keeping up is easier than catching up.”

“Every house has a minimum daily requirement to keep it running smoothly,” McCullough explains. Once you know which jobs must be done and which can be skipped, you need to accept your home’s minimum requirement and see that it gets done. You don’t have to do it all, but someone in the household has to oversee the process.

For most families, the minimum daily requirement includes

  • keeping up with laundry
  • meals and meal cleanup
  • keeping down the accumulation of clutter

For me the heart of MM is McCullough’s clutter solution: spending a focused five minutes picking up each room in the house (10 or 15 minutes in the kitchen) before leaving the house or starting any projects. McCullough recommends that you use a timer and wear an apron or shirt with pockets. Start by picking up the biggest items first, and then work down to the smaller items that can be collected in a basket or pockets.

It’s amazing how much work you can accomplish in five minutes.

“Work fast and don’t clean too deeply,” McCullough says. “When you see jobs that need doing, jot them down on a project list for later, during cleaning time.”

“Never feel so defeated by a tornado-struck room that needs several hours work that you don’t do anything at all,” she warns. “Just a few minutes in the room will keep it from getting worse.”

Begin your pick up routine by keeping in mind the “First Impression Principle,” McCullough suggests. “This means when you enter a building, if the first impression is one of neatness, you assume the whole building is clean. Most people don’t notice smudges on a windowsill, they notice clutter.” So decide what a caller at your door sees first, and start by picking up that area.

This simple routine made a huge difference for me. In our home, each of the children was responsible to do three focused, five minute pick ups (their bedroom, plus two other rooms) before starting the school day. (The kitchen was equivalent to two rooms and got a 10-minute pick up.)

That helped us start lessons in a tidy house instead of trying to work in a mess. When we left the house early for a field trip, it felt good to walk in the door later to a neat living room.

Of course we had plenty of lapses, and the house could get badly cluttered during the day, with everyone home most of the time.

But MM taught me that when my house felt out of control, I could get fast results and feel much better if I focused on it for even 30 minutes. If the kids pitched in, the whole house could look dramatically better in only 10 or 15 minutes.

This pick up time can be modified according to an individual’s preferences and needs. You can set the timer for five minutes to work room by room, or set the timer for 30 minutes and run all over the house picking up. If you have small children, you can do it in five minute bites.

Houses do need cleaning. You can’t give that up entirely. But throughout the year you can make what you have cleaned stay looking nice longer by using this clutter solution. And it’s a great help during the holiday season. As long as you keep up with your minimum essentials, you can put your house “on hold” for quite a while in order to take time for special Thanksgiving and Christmas projects and holiday events.

© Becky Cerling Powers 2003

Do not publish without attribution

http://www.beckycerlingpowers.wordpress.com

Exiled to Gansu Province

Image“What happened to the Canaan Home orphans and their families after New China forced Laura Richards to leave China?” readers of Laura’s Children often ask me. This fall Xiaomei Lucas, whose mother grew up in Canaan Home, gives us a glimpse through her essay, “Exiled to Gansu Province” in That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone, edited by J.L. Powers and published by Cinco Puntos Press (www.cincopuntos.com).

Her memoir begins like this:

I used to get so angry with our children when they wasted food that my husband Barry must have thought This lady has to be crazy!! But when I was growing up in Gansu Province in China, I knew children who were so hungry, they tied a rope around their stomach so they could sleep in spite of their hunger pains.

My family was exiled to the impoverished province of Gansu in 1969 during the early part of the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was a power struggle among China’s top leaders. In 1966 Mao Tse Tung began encouraging young Red Guards to attack authority figures. The Red Guards mobbed and ransacked people’s homes, beat and humiliated people in public, and burned everything that represented “The Four Olds”—old ideas, old thoughts, old habits, old customs. Then they started attacking religious believers and intellectuals. As the Revolution spread, people began manipulating mobs to get personal revenge against fellow workers and neighbors or they accused other people out of fear, to distract attention from themselves. Tens of thousands were beaten to death and hundreds of thousands were sent to labor camps for “re-education.”

In those days the government determined people’s job and residence assignments. My mother was working as a nurse for a famous hospital in Beijing. Vice-Chairman Lin Biao wanted to test his power, so he issued a policy that all the big hospitals had to send some of their doctors and nurses to work in the countryside. Mom’s hospital chose to send her. They wouldn’t say why….

“I don’t know what to do with my teenage daughter,” one of my young mom friends told me the other day.”My daughter is so different from me! She loves lace and frilly things, and I’m just not that way.”

“I published a parenting column years and years ago on that subject,” I told her. “When my daughter was in her twenties, it helped me a lot to re-read it. I’d ask myself, ‘Do I still believe this?’ And I did. Maybe you’d like to read it.”

She wanted it, so I emailed it, and she told me later that it helped her. Maybe some other mother will find it useful, too. So here it is:

Letting Daughters Grow

When our daughter Jessica was about 11 she went through an annoying phase in which she seemed to be putting me down all the time. “I like to be on time,” she’d say, “but you’re always late.”  Or, “You’re always forgetting things, Mom. I’m not absent minded like you are.”

I felt defensive and irritated by the barrage of apparently critical remarks until the day it dawned on me that Jessica was observing, not criticizing. She was looking at me closely, then looking at herself, and then trying to figure out which of us was which. Continue Reading »

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