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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

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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.

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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. (more…)

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“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. (more…)

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Being a Better Parent in July

On Sundays… Keep in mind throughout the week that unless you set aside many other demands, you will inevitably neglect your children’s deep need for your focused attention.

On Mondays… Don’t forget that children need to be physically close to their parents all their lives, not just when they are babies. Cuddling and rough-house play says love to small children. A touch on the shoulder sends love signals to a teen. And everyone needs hugs every day.

On Tuesdays… Remember that you can provide a good foundation for continuing communication in the family if you keep reading aloud as a family activity even after your children can read themselves. Reading good books as a family does more than help children in school. It establishes bonds of shared adventure and experience. It leads naturally to talks about ideas, hopes, feelings, worries, dreams and all the stuff of friendship.

On Wednesdays… Teach children to say “Pardon me” in a humble tone when they bump into someone or realize they have interrupted or caused a disturbance. Be a good example and use the same good manners with them.

On Thursdays… Check your attitude when you train children to clean their rooms or do chores. If you complain and scold while working, you discourage your children and sap their energy. Your approach to chore training teaches children attitudes toward work in general. A positive attitude can teach them that messes are a part of life, and the best thing to do with a mess is to deal with it efficiently and then move on.

On Fridays… Be aware that children do better when you tell them what to expect. So before explain beforehand how you expect your children to behave in a store, or how you expect them to treat other children as guests in their home. If you forget to explain before hand, and your children are disappointing you, then call them aside and explain what you expect of them in private.

On Saturdays… Remember this prayer for the month: Lord, give me the wisdom to recognize when our family is having a problem, the honesty to admit it, the courage to face it, and the perseverance to deal with it. Amen.

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Mom used to call my dad the Pied Piper. When he showed up in the yard, kids began appearing like magic. (more…)

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How to be a better parent in June:

On Sundays…Keep in mind that rules without a loving relationship breed rebellion.

On Mondays… Remember to look directly into your children’s  eyes when you encourage, compliment, or give “I love you” messages. Many parents unconsciously recognize the power of direct eye contact during negative encounters with their children. “Look at me,” they say before beginning to scold or give instructions. This is OK as long as parents use direct eye contact for positive encounters as well. Otherwise, children will begin to avoid making eye contact, which will hurt their ability to relate to others.

On Tuesdays… Don’t quit reading aloud to older children who can read independently. The books you read to them will build their vocabulary and enjoyment of literature. So read a chapter or two of a longer book aloud every night, and take a rousing adventure along on a family camping trip.

On Wednesdays…Keep in mind that a parent’s attitude is the most important factor in giving minor first aid. You need to be matter of fact about the pain without dismissing it. By providing a bit of warm nurturing along with a calm approach, you help children develop calmness and patience toward life’s inevitable emergencies. Warm soapy water, kisses and bandages are the standard, tried and true remedy for minor cuts and scrapes.

On Thursdays… When children do poorly on chores, “Criticize the job, not the worker,” says organization expert Bonnie McCullough.

On Fridays… Remember that perfectionism destroys creativity. So be generous with supplies and matter of fact about mistakes. For example, never restrict a child to one piece of paper. Children need to make many drawings at one sitting to improve their skills. Having to produce perfection on the first piece of paper blocks creativity.

On Saturdays…Keep in mind that children’s spiritual needs may sometimes be difficult for adults to recognize because they are so intertwined with youngsters’ physical and emotional needs. So be sensitive to the possibility that your child’s distress may be spiritual, but that he or she may not know helpful words to express the need.

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