Top Tip for the New Year: To Do Lists

For some reason I feel an obligation to write a post about getting ready for the New Year. Im not quite sure why but it probably has something with the fact that I wrote it on my to-do list. Which brings me to the reason I'm writing today.

One of the most helpful tips you can teach your kids is how to use a to-do list. I love to-do lists because they are very helpful if you want to get to a high stress level quickly. They are also helpful if you like to wake up and see how much you did not get accomplished the day before.

No, seriously, those problems only happen to people who let to-do lists get out of hand. The mistake I notice those people make most often is that they forget who is in charge. Remember, you are in charge, not the list. If you find that your to-do list is not helping, then here's all you need to do: just mark items off whether you actually did them or not.

Sure, the toilet paper might continue to be dropped in the toilet since the holder is broken, the mess in the hallway where the dog got sick might get a little smelly, and your family might be setting a record for the longest continual time wearing the same pair of underwear, but you'll feel so invigorated knowing you checked everything off the list anyway. Your family can go another week without clean underwear. Besides you can teach them the principles of reduce (they can go without), reuse (wear them inside out), or recycle (it won't hurt your spouse to wear some of those sexy bikinis of yours you never seem to wear anymore). It's all about the teachable moments.

In the interest of making sure everyone understands to-do lists, I want to show you the most recent list I prepared for myself as I'm getting ready to start the New Year:

1. Watch exercise tapes while baking cookies. (I have a resolution to work on my multi-tasking ability.)
2. Figure out where I put my HOW TO BE ORGANIZED book. (The one where I learned about making to-do lists.)
3. Do the stupid, good-for-nothing, never-works, positive thinking affirmations.
4. Check bank balance to see if I have enough money to buy KEYS TO FINANCIAL SUCCESS.
5. Transfer reading of HOW TO BEAT PROCRASTINATION to next week's list.
6. Write next chapter of my TO-DO LISTS FOR DUMMIES book.

Wow that's a lot to do. I better go get my pen so I can start marking them off at random before I take my morning nap.

The Seventh Sense

Did you ever see the movie The Sixth Sense, where the kid says "I see dead people?" The poor little guy was quite tormented by his visions. I have a similar problem: I see writing mistakes. You know, like spelling errors, typos and grammatical errors. No matter how hard I try, I can't stop. They just pop out at me whether I want them to or not. It irritates my family but I just can't help it and I thought I'd try to see if I can at least get some positive use out of this horrible affliction.

I know I risk also irritating my blog readers as much as I do my family, but listen, this is important. You never know what can happen from even a basic mistake. We can all easily imagine the things that could change by omitting just a single tiny little word like 'not.'

Oh and sure, we have spell-check, but we need to be careful about that as well. I can see some of you rolling your eyes and not quite believing how bad it can be so I guess I'll have to give an example of what happened several years ago to poor little John Doe (I'm protecting his identity of course).

Little Johnny Doe decided one day he wanted to try his hand at writing an essay and since it was an election year, the topic he chose was "keeping promises." He was just learning to use the new-fangled technological advance called computer spellcheck and when he ran the software, he noticed he spelled the word promises wrong. He saw several choices offered and so he picked the one that looked right. And below is how his paper came out:

The Importance of Keeping Promiscuous
By John Doe

Keeping promiscuous is very important. It tells people what kind of person you are. It tells people about your character. It is not fair or right to cross your fingers or your legs to get out of keeping promiscuous.

You should listen to your parents because they know all about keeping promiscuous. When they got married, they told the whole world about their intention of keeping promiscuous. This is very important to your future husband or wife.

Keeping promiscuous is also very important when you are someone like the president of the United States. I think most people believe President Clinton has done a good job keeping promiscuous.

When you owe money, sometimes you sign promiscuous notes. This means you’ll pay in order to keep promiscuous.

When I grow up and become an adultery, I will always be keeping promiscuous because that’s important to me.

NOW tell me it doesn't matter.

No Reservations Needed

but I've been busy with last minute shopping, and cooking, and volunteering, and...

Oh gosh I can't lie, it's Christmas! Okay I'll confess, I've been playing Guitar Hero with my son, who is in town for the Holidays. He and his girlfriend were supposed to arrive Monday but called Friday night and said they were on their way. I guess he enjoys the fact that he needs no reservations to come home and I think he does this on purpose to keep some spontaneity in my life.

And speaking of reservations, during his visit he introduced me to a very cool show on the Travel Channel called Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. This guy is a veteran food service worker, chef and author who travels around the world and sampling different foods and cultures. He is funny and irreverent.

Keith has loved watching food shows since he was very young and is quite the chef himself. He beats his mom spatulas down when it comes to cooking. But I can still beat him at Guitar Hero. So far, anyway.

Rocks and Nerds

One interesting aspect of homeschooling for our family was the people we met as we looked for resources to learn more about our interests. When my son developed an interest in fossils and rocks, we discovered there were actually clubs for rock lovers. But they call themselves by more sophisticated names, usually having geological society in there somewhere. We found a group and went to their meetings and discovered the members to be extremely welcoming of a mom and two elementary age kids.

See, it didn't matter how old we were, how much knowledge we had of the topic, etc. What mattered is that we had a common interest. We had a great time with these people, learning all about the science of rocks.

One of the members took quite a liking to us and I guess sort of decided he would be our mentor. He even took our whole family on a special, private field trip to collect rocks and fossils. He had been granted special permission to go inside a local quarry and invited us to come along. He showed us how to find crystals and fossils, how to extract them from the adjoining rock and explained the details of each rock, fossil and crystal we found.

In short, he was our teacher for the day. But none of us thought we were in school.

We were having so much fun and my husband was too, but he still thought it was kind of strange, that we were all so interested in rocks. While we were taking a lunch break, my husband kind of offhandedly joked, "Gosh I hope we don't turn our kids into nerds."

And that's when our new-found friend really went off. He reminded us that this was just our old way of thinking that we learned in school, that if you were interested in scientific ideas and such, then you were generally called names like "nerd" and teased a lot. I could tell by the way he relayed this information, that he suffered through this himself.

He taught John and I a lot that day, and it wasn't all just about the science of rocks.

Salivating for Fractions

I was reading this article today about how people are using YouTube videos to learn. This is another great example of using technology to push the boundaries of education and learning.

I decided to play around a bit for myself and found a video of a guy explaining how to use food when teaching fractions. But he wasn't using food. He was using notepaper and had drawings of a pizza and a loaf of bread on his notesheet. What's that all about? I mean, if you're going to make a video about using food to teach math, doesn't it makes sense to use real food?

This site is all about freedom and fun so of course I recommend using real food. Real food is much more fun, whether it's used for fractions or for food fights. (And every homeschooling family should be having food fights.) Can you imagine having a food fight using drawings of food? That would certainly have changed that scene in Animal House. Really now, get the real stuff and have some fun.

If you don't I'll have to put you on double-secret probation.

But a word of warning based on experience: If you use real food, it's possible that for the rest of your life, you'll be like Pavlov's Dog and salivate every time you look at a written fraction.

Which can be really embarrassing on a field trip to visit a stock market.

What To Do When It Snows

Okay, so if you live in the Northern Hemisphere and did decide to go park hopping in the last couple of days, I realize it might not have turned out quite like you hoped due to the weather. You probably came home with muddy shoes, and a frozen backside from sitting in the plastic infant swing too long. Yeah, park hopping might be best done in warmer weather.

So I guess I should be sharing ideas for those days when you get a good amount of snow. If it was totally up to me, a good snow day would be filled with sleeping, eating and either watching a movie or reading a book set somewhere in the Caribbean Islands.

But since kids usually want to actually get out in the stuff, here are three things you can do in the snow to bring out your family's artistic side:

1. Build a snow fort or castle. Bread loaf pans make great molds for snow bricks by the way.

2. Make snow sculptures to scare away annoying little neighbors.

3. Or make snow sculptures to attract crazy cartoon fans.

Park Hopping Part 2

Great news readers. Melissa and Keith have decided they may occasionally want to participate in my blog! Apparently yesterday's topic convinced them that it could be useful if they came on and gave their perspective once in a while. I guess they have more to add which would help my readers understand our homeschooling experience better. You know, like my book did.

Is that right, Keith?

Well, yeah Mom, we just decided that sometimes you can be well, umm, forgetful, I guess. And the details you forget we think are important for readers to know.

Hmm, so I forgot something about the park hopping? Do tell.

Okay, well, readers, the reason mom 'invented' park hopping wasn't really so that we could enjoy the various benefits of different parks in a single day. It came about because of more, umm, practical reasons.

Keith what are you talking about? That's not how I remember it.

Well, I didn't think you would. Let me give an example of one day I remember in particular. One of my favorite parks has a great merry-go-round. But mom insisted on joining us and got sick and threw up all over the ride. Once that happened, there was no use staying there, so we left and went to another one to have lunch.

While at the next park, after lunch, mom was playing with my magnifying glass and set fire to the shelterhouse. So of course we stopped, dropped and rolled quickly from that one and headed to another park.

This next park had some great swings and by this time school was out so there were a lot of kids there already. I remember Melissa and I grabbed the last two regular swings and Mom strained into the only swing left, one of those baby swings with the full plastic seat that has leg holes in them.

We had to call the paramedics to get her out.

Hey now wait a minute-

Which certainly was embarrassing enough for us. But then they had to call the neighboring city for help. I remember the paramedic saying something on his radio about needing "the jaws of life for herculean hips."

Keith, I don't remember it that way at ALL. Maybe this isn't such a good idea.

Park Hopping

When my kids were young, we loved to go park hopping. Park hopping is the phrase I use to define my idea of visiting two or more parks in a single day.

Different parks usually have different offerings, whether it be equipment, or terrain, or activities and usually no single park has everything your family enjoys doing. But with park hopping, you can have lots of fun enjoying your favorite parks and their unique offerings all in one day.

So if you ever start to feel like the blahs are setting in, maybe you should just dump your previous plans and try a day of park hopping.

Homeschoolers As Private Investigators

Many homeschoolers start out being fairly structured and schoolish in their home education efforts. Usually this is because it's all they really know from experience and they have to start somewhere. But more often than not, after some time goes by, almost all families end up moving toward the less structured side of things. They relax more and let their child's interests guide them.

Some families desperately want to do this, but just don't know how to start. What's the best way to really find out your child's interests?

The most obvious way, by just asking them, isn't necessarily the best way for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the child is already a bit jaded by previous schooling experiences and tends to give answers that they think you want to hear. Sometimes they just can't articulate it or even really understand what you really mean when you ask.

So here's my suggestion. Take some time off from whatever structured learning you may have currently set up, (I recommend at least a week) and just let your child do what he wants to do.

Then get out your binoculars and your deerstalker hat. You can skip the pipe if you want. :)

Now start observing and looking for clues. What does he talk about? What is the activity he did most often? Take notes and at the end of your observation period, look over the notes for any patterns and ideas on what your child is into for the moment.

Now it's time to get creative. Think of ways you could used these natural interests for even more learning. If you need help after you've created your list, let me know and I'll be glad to help.

Most of all, have fun!

Grade Level? Who Cares?

When we're kids, everyone seems to want to know our grade level. And really I don't think most people think about the question much, they just use it as a conversation starter, which is fine.

But in reality, every child performs at varying grade levels depending on the subject. We all have natural talents and interests which means we would likely be ahead of our age peers in that particular area at the very least.

I suppose the idea of grade levels started because institutionalized schools needed a way to organize and group large numbers of students to help keep everything in order.

So if you are homeschooling, don't concern yourself too much with grade levels. It's just not that important. What's important is that your child is learning and growing. And if you relax and have fun together, that's going to happen naturally.

Why Do You Homeschool?

As homeschoolers, this is one of the most common questions we get from others.

Of course, the answer to this question is as individual as each family who decides to take this step. But over the years, I've noticed the question morph a bit into:

Why do you homeschool?

A. Religious reasons
B. Academic reasons

Apparently society has a need to propose this question in multiple choice form. Fine. I'll accept that. Except they forgot one.

It's a very important one that I don't think enough homeschoolers even consider to give as an answer. But we should. I guarantee it would lead to much more interesting follow up questions and everyone involved in the conversation would learn and benefit and see education differently. Here it is:

C. Fun reasons

How about we do an experiment? From now on, every time someone asks you why you decided to homeschool, answer C.

Let me know what happens.

Did You Know...

that many people in China read newspapers off of boards on the street?

How cool would it be to have newspapers posted around town like this? I could interrupt many more people in addition to my husband as they were trying to read the sports page.

Education Is About Learning, Not Testing

The Josephson Institute recently surveyed nearly 30,000 high school students in various areas of ethics. One area was cheating on tests in school.

My interest in this survey isn’t really about the specific results because it’s no surprise that students cheat on tests. The real issue to look at here is WHY students cheat on tests.

If the point of our educational system truly is to help students learn, then there would be no reason for someone to cheat on a test. As a matter of fact, there would be little reason to even use artificially-created tests at all.

IF students are given freedom to learn what interests them.

Students become interested in a topic because something is going on in their daily lives to make the topic relevant. For example, if a child wants to paint his bedroom, suddenly the idea of calculating the area of a given space becomes relevant. If the child wants to draw realistic pictures, suddenly perspective is an interesting topic to study. If a child wants to complain to the manufacturer of the defective product she purchased, suddenly learning how to write a clear, organized letter becomes relevant.

No artificially-created testing is necessary.

This is a prime advantage to homeschooling, especially in the states where homeschoolers are not stifled by regulations. You have the freedom to help your children learn topics they want to know more about when it is relevant to them. I encourage you to do this as much as possible. If you do, you will know what I mean when I say you won’t need to test your children. You’ll know they are learning.

And learning is what education is supposed to be all about, isn't it?