9 Favorite Lapbook Projects for Fun and Easy Learning

I was getting the 7 year itch in homeschooling. I’d tried almost everything – except lapbooking. The kids and I were both stuck in a rut and we needed to do something fast before homeschooling turned into something that looked too much like, well, boring school. And then I found the lapbook that made all of the difference in our homeschool and I found a new and engaging way to get my kids excited about learning. So to kick off my list of 7 favorite lapbooks, I’m starting with a standby favorite – just in time for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday in March. Maybe your next homeschool pick-me-up is waiting among my list of favorite lapbooks – and I’d love to hear which one’s you’ve tried, and what you would recommend!

st.pats1. St. Patrick’s Day Project Pack by In the Hands of a Child

We’ll be reviving this favorite one this year with the younger kids who don’t recall too much from this the first time their older siblings studied about St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland, and everything Irish (it’s geared for kids ages 4-9, but is easily adjustable). Even if we weren’t Irish we would chose this type of lapbook, described by the publisher as a Project Pack, because of the thoroughness and quality. You’ll be able to find other lapbooks that are free online, but the sale price of less than the cost of shamrock shakes for the kids is worth the investment. This lapbook includes:

  • Research Guide – This includes a bibliography which makes trips to the local library a breeze when I need to stock up on extra resources, and it also includes links to websites that are helpful (reducing that wasted searching time).
  • Core Concepts – These descriptions of what the lapbook covers help you determine what (if any) other subjects you’ll need to be studying during this time.
  • Project Ideas – These include fun, hands-on activities that take the kids away from the lapbook and into their imaginations – great extensions for what they are already applying.
  • Sample Pages – This publisher does an amazing job describing how to fold a lapbook, use a lapbook, and gives sample pictures of real world lapbooks so you can get an idea of the finished product.

Colorful Mahjong Tiles2. China

If you’re looking for a fun and easy lapbook for your studies of China, check out this one from Randomosity. The highlight of this lapbook creation is the booklist she includes for supplemental reading. Then you can choose and print exactly which pages and types of topics you want to include in your lapbook. We like to make sure we add a map, and then throw in some cooking with Chinese recipes to help round out the experience. Our local college also hosts International Nights where we can go and learn more about various cultures – our program guides get added into our lapbooks.


magic tree house3. Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne

These easy to read and engaging stories get kids thinking about other times, events, and conflicts (usually in world history). These lapbooks are great supplements to further your reading with your kids. If your kids enjoy the Magic Tree House series, grab hold of their enthusiasm to keep talking about the books. This lapbook for the first book covers character analysis at a very elementary level, vocabulary from the story, and a small amount of science. These lapbooks are beneficial for kids who need a little more reinforcement with their reading comprehension, and then help them become more critical readers as their skills develop.

4. Civil War Lapbook

civil warThis is one of the best civil war lapbook tools you are going to find when you are trying to teach across several ages and abilities. The youngest learners can use the activities that rely more on basic skills of cutting, coloring, and pasting, but older children can be challenged by the ideas they tackle. The basic pages and inserts allow you to customize how much your child needs to contribute. You can have younger kids just write simple words, or have older children research and write short paragraphs describing their reactions and ideas. It includes topics and activities such as:

  • Civil War Uniforms
  • Flags of the Time
  • Civil War Quilts
  • Morse Code
  • People of the Civil War
  • More!

It is intended to be used in conjunction with the book Great Civil War Projects You Can Build Yourself, but my kids are using it as a supplement to the experiences they are having and the things they are learning as part of a historical re-enactors guild which performs plays related to Abraham Lincoln.

5. The Polar Express Learning Lapbook by A Journey Through Learning

polarexpressWe love reading aloud in our home, and lapbooks are wonderful ways to extend those stories into something more. One of my favorite ways to bring a good book to life is to use a lapbook, and the holidays are a great time to do this. Even shorter books like The Polar Express can work well with lapbooks because each time we read the same book with our kids we can discover something new. This particular lapbook is the perfect way to study during the holiday season – you get to play with jingle bells, experiment with hot cocoa, and even explore elements of story writing. It is intended for early elementary readers.

Other favorite holiday lapbooks include:

6. How The Grinch Stole Christmas by JoAnn S.

grinchThis is actually a unit study, but all you need to do is print the activities and have the kids attach them into a plain lapbook template. Activities ranging from making your own rock candy (learning about caves like where the Grinch lived), and exploring holiday customs in other countries. And it is free!

7. The Legend of the Easter Egg by Lori Walburg, lapbook prepared by Jolanthe Erb

This story of the legend of the Easter egg draws upon Biblical lessons, but the lapbook created by Jolanthe Erb also includes social studies activities on the history of the Faberge Eggs, math concepts, science lessons on parts of eggs, and more. This is available for free use by the creator.

8. 4th of July

4th of julyOver at The Frazzled Mama you can find some fun ideas to build your own Independence Day lapbook. Sshh – just don’t tell the kids they are learning in the summer. Who could imagine such a thought? These are great activities to print and bring along to the cabin, to the campsite, or to use on a hot summer afternoon.

9. Thanksgiving Lapbook

There is a link here at Joann Griffin’s site for printables to be used in a Thanksgiving lapbook. The pages are simple and not very detailed, but what I like most is that she just took a general interest she had and found a way to use some graphics to turn it into a lapbook. If you add some great Thanksgiving books for early learners, her pages can be fun (and free) supplements.

When you’re searching for lapbooks, don’t forget to check out my top three general favorite sites:

These sites have great tools – some for free and some for cost – but they all can contribute immensely to your children’s learning experiences.

Don’t forget to share your favorite lapbook resources and I’ll get them added to a list to share.

Are there any topics for lapbooks you can’t find? Let me know that, too. When we work together, we learn together!



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Homeschooling Can Ruin Your Marriage

For better or worse. In sickness and in health. Perhaps you pledged things like this during your wedding vows, but did you also promise to honor your partner during homeschooling and times of sanity? You might make it through those “broke” years or come out the other side from a life threatening illness, but whether or not your marriage can survive homeschooling is a completely different challenge.

Education AheadHomeschooling is the fastest growing trend in education in America. Studies continuously point to the academic successes that homeschooling can provide.

  • Homeschooled students outscore publically schooled peers by an average of 36 percentage points.
  • 25% of homeschooled students are enrolled one or more grades above their peers who are in public or private schools.
  • Homeschooled students score on average in the 84th percentile in all areas of achievement tests.

And even though there are still lingering doubts in the minds of some about socialization, many in mainstream society also are beginning to recognize that homeschooling does not deter the socialization of children – it enhances it.

Why, then, can this positive education option be dangerous to your marriage?

Homeschooling is 24/7. It is a frame of mind. It is when you turn ordinary activities into field trips, topics for journaling, and opportunities to increase spelling vocabulary. Homeschooling changes who you are, especially if you do it well. But it also changes who you are with your spouse. If you are not careful, it can change your relationship in ways that threaten the stability of your marriage. This is even truer if only one partner in a marriage is enthusiastic about homeschooling. Flying solo as a married homeschooling parent is a challenge at best – a dangerous prospect in the least. Consider the strains that homeschooling places on marital relationships.

Homeschooling and Marraige: Resentment of The Job

Spouses can resent the time you give to your children in this 24/7 job. There are the days when your spouse sees you having a “fun day at the zoo” and thinks that you’ve got the easy job. He didn’t see your efforts to make sure even the car ride to the zoo was educational, the energy you put into each exhibit you saw with the kids, and the contribution that the trip made to the science series your kids are studying.

Not only does it sometimes look on the outside like you have the easy job, but your spouse can feel he’s getting the shaft when it comes to your time and commitment to the marriage. If your idea of “date night” is to watch a movie that would be great for school, see a play you’ve been reading with the kids, or hike a trail where you are considering taking the kids for nature camp, you might be inadvertently building resentment in your marriage.

Over time that resentment can grow – like a tumbling, twisting, and thorn-producing patch of weeds. Homeschooling families on average have several kids – so the years you are committing to your kids can be many, especially if you homeschool all the way from kindergarten through graduation.

In my household this means that I will homeschool my 4 children for more than 23 years when it is all said and done. That is 23 years of dedication to these little people and their activities. That is a lot of years to spend focusing each and every day on the education of children, and if I’m not careful, those can be years of my husband feeling left out of the priority loop.

Homeschooling and Marriage: Resentment of The Financial Picture

Those early years when you factor daycare costs into your decision, homeschooling can seem easier and even financially responsible. It is when the kids are all old enough to be attending school, even caring for themselves after school, where the stark differences lie. A homeschool mom isn’t needed to provide care for her young children anymore. Her role transitions from caregiver to teacher, guiding hand, or even partner. It is when this transition strikes that the working spouse can get a case of the “what ifs”.

What if the kids went to public school and my wife got a job?

This is the dreaded question that makes homeschooling parents wrinkle their noses. In a society where more and more families are living in dual income households the financial and social strains of choosing to live on a single income can be overwhelming. I’ve ridden the financial roller coaster over the 13 years we’ve homeschooled – and I still have another 10 years to go if I homeschool my youngest through graduation. It is a conscious decision to give up a formal 401K, the opportunities to build job security and pad your resume, and live on the constant precipice of risk if the single earner losing that precious job.

Financial strains can be one of the most significant factors in a decision to homeschool, and it can be cause for some of the greatest marital discord. If you are home each day, watching the kids blossom, and truly seeing their progress, your spouse might not get this same picture if by the time he gets home they are restless because they are hungry for dinner or you are tired because you also worked all day.

kids and moneyHomeschooling also costs money – in some form or another. The median amount of money spent annually in the United States each year on homeschool supplies and materials is between about $400 and $600 per student. This number can vary widely – I homeschool 4 children and usually spend that amount in total, including things like museum passes. I also know families who spend only the gas money for trips to the library and not much more.

The majority of mothers who homeschool do not do work that provides a paycheck – a whopping 81%. However, the trend also seems to be growing that more and more homeschooling parents are seeking part-time work of some kind. I am among these ranks, but my youngest is now 9 and I can safely leave him to finish his projects while I tackle some of my own. Working from home allows me to contribute to the bank account, and have something that is mine that I love and can love after the kids graduate.

However, working part-time and taking on the responsibility of the primary educator in the homeschool is a juggling act like no other. I simply don’t think I could have worked 25 hours each week from home and felt good about the kind of education and attention I was providing my children if I would have attempted this 10 years ago. It only would have created even more stress within the family.

Homeschooling and Marriage: Resentment of the Lifestyle

Let’s face it, even though we’re adults we still care about what others think of us – just hopefully not to the same degrees that plagued us in high school. So it’s normal to still feel the sting of judgmental words that are sometimes cast out when you announce “We homeschool” when asked where you kids go to school. If your spouse carries the weight of others’ opinions, being a new homeschooling parent can be – well – traumatizing for some parents.

Announcing that you’re a homeschooling family when you’re among adults who come from dual-income families, where family meals are reserved for holidays, and anything but the local Wild Cats school colors are considered unpatriotic can be intimidating.

Socialization Rears Its Ugly Head in Marriages

Forget the hype. Socialization is overrated. Yet it still rears its ugly head in homeschooling families, especially if one parent already has reservations about the education choice.

Will my child really be able to make great friends?

Will my child really grow up to be normal without recess and assigned seating?

Will my child grow to be the odd duck because he didn’t play on the high school football team?

Many of these fears can only be eased by actually doing it. It doesn’t mean that childhood friendships are instantaneous or easy – anywhere, or that your child will be just like everyone else, but isn’t that kind of the point? Giving children something else, something more, is a common driving motivator for families to choose homeschooling.

And as far as football (or any other sport) goes, homeschooling is not an end. If your child is sports-minded there are many ways to integrate homeschooling and athletics. Just ask my kids – one who has a locker at the local public school and plays on several school sports. He not only plays, but the coaches and teammates want him to play.

How Do I Convince My Husband that Homeschooling is Right for Us?

I hear this question too many times from parents who are divided about making the decision to homeschool. I usually tell these desperate moms – you don’t. He has to find for himself that homeschooling is a viable, positive option for your family.

Don’t drag him. Homeschooling is an amazing adventure, but it can also be an emotional, physical, and mental exercise like no other. You don’t want to take on the responsibility of forcing your spouse into the decision. If your spouse thinks this is the worst idea in the world, or is apathetic at best, you’re setting yourself up for an even bigger challenge if you take the plunge without his support. Instead of rushing into the decision, assess where you are at today, in regards to where you hope to be someday with your children’s education.

Ingredients for a Strong Homeschooling Marriagemarriage

A backbone – You’ll both need to be strong to face the questions of the in-laws and the critiques of the neighbors.

Communication – Keep talking, without forcing your values on your spouse. The more you both share your concerns and dreams, the greater the opportunities you’ll have to help the other ease those worries or reach those goals.

Faith – Draw upon the faith that you have – in a higher power, in each other, and in yourself.

Patience – Parents automatically think this is about patience with the kids, but it is about patience with each other.

A well of comrades – One of the best things I did was start a local homeschool group (by literally placing an ad in the paper). My husband met other homeschool dads, saw that there were great families on this adventure, and knew that we wouldn’t be alone.

Shared goals – Write a list together about the kinds of goals you have for your kids. Then take a good, careful look at how you think homeschooling can help or hinder you from getting there as a family.

Financial literacy – Be realistic with finances, and take steps to ease financial burdens. This might mean cancelling those manicure appointments, or working from home as your family situation allows.

Humor – There will be some days when you will daydream about the school bus picking up the kids and the freedom you will have from teaching the quadratic equation one more time. Find ways to grab onto the humor in your homeschooling family, like this uplifting book I got for my husband, and then have passed on to other homeschooling dads.

Resilience – Instead of fostering resentment, build resilience. If you meet your spouse at the door each day crying, complaining, or rolling your eyes because the kids complained all day about mathScared baby against crazy mother or they were simply driving you crazy with sibling rivalry, this is the picture you will paint of homeschooling. Instead of meeting your spouse at the door with the leftover science experiment clinging to your hair and wild eyes because your kids almost blew a hole in the ceiling, build your own resilience. Take a 15 minute time out for yourself before he walks through the door and remember to welcome him with open arms. Without him you likely wouldn’t be on this crazy-wonderful journey in the first place, so remember to .

How do you keep your homeschooling marriage strong?



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Why Slumber Parties are a Bad Idea

My son is at a sleepover tonight, and I am sure I will most likely pay for allowing him to go. He will come home tired, cranky, and quick to retort with impatient answers to basic questions (such as Are you hungry for lunch?). Oh yeah – and he’ll come home slightly stinky because this was an impromptu slumber party and he didn’t even have so much as a toothbrush. Reasons like this make sleepovers a bad idea – and many parents agree. But somehow, sleepovers still exist in our home – and I’m OK with that – as long as a few ground rules and expectations are in place.

Sleepover Basics – What Do I Need to Know?

My Child – I have to know that my child is ready. There is emotional and social intelligence required for slumber parties, and it is my responsibility to my child, as well as to the family who invited him, that my child is ready for a sleepover. He needs to be able to take care of himself, as well as his basic manners (taking care of used dishes, putting bedding away, and helping with family chores).

The Family – Call me judgmental, but I’m not going to let my kids go to sleepovers just anywhere. In fact, even though my kids have all been to sleepovers, there is a finite list of homes where that happens. And despite the fact that my kids are homeschooled, this lack of sleepover-list-mania is not because my kids are socially deprived (they’re not – you’re just going to have to trust me on this one as I struggle to balance their busy schedules). It is because these are my precious babies and when I drift off to sleep at night I need to feel good about where my baby is drifting off to sleep.

My son is at a sleepover, but I am good with that – great with that, in fact. The home is also home to one of my dearest friends, and I know she’ll deliver all of the momisms I would be delivering if I was there. She’s texting me with updates and I’m checking in via Facebook. I know all of the people in the household, not just my son’s friend.

The Rules – Just who’s rules are followed at a sleepover? Does one family’s rules trump the other’s? Make sure you communicate with both the other parents and with your child about the rules. Younger children have a hard time discerning which rules to follow, and which expectations might make them uncomfortable.

When in doubt, go for the more rigid rules – and if you feel that the other rules are too lenient, maybe that is your signal that this sleepover is a bad idea. Before my son left for his sleepover, I told the other mom that we say no texting after 10:30. She smiled and said Good, because in our house the electronics get placed on the table at 10:00. Problem averted – my son heard this and knew that his new rule for the night was 10:00.

Why Sleepovers are a Good Idea

Allowing kids to safely experience the rules and mojos of other families teaches them more about their own. Maybe now my son won’t complain quite as much about the 10:30 no texting rule because he sees firsthand how other families have similar rules. He also gets to experience friendships at deeper levels. He gets to build relationships with the parents and siblings of his friends, which can actually make children safer. Remember the good old days when everyone knew your name… in the neighborhood? When you know your kids’ friends and their families, your children have an extended family. Yes – this can be a concern when there are too many opportunities for private time. However, this is why the issues listed above: my child, the family and the rules, are so important to discuss very clearly with everyone involved.

There will also likely be a time in your life when you will need to be away for the night – for a family emergency or hopefully an impromptu surprise night away for your anniversary. Every family needs a back-up family they can call and ask for a sleepover favor. If your child has never been allowed to stay anywhere else, this could be a difficult time, especially if the reason you need the sleepover is because there is an emergency and your child is left feeling out of sorts. Years ago when my kids were much younger we had a family emergency and it was so valuable to me to know that I could leave all 4 of the kids with another family (bringing the total of kids under the roof to 8!), literally at a moment’s notice and know that my kids felt safe, and I knew what to expect from the sleepover.

Planning a Successful Sleepover

There are things you can do to keep your kids safer and help yourself feel more comfortable if you choose to have your kids participate in sleepovers.

  • Talk with your kids. Communication and honest conversations about privacy and sexuality are a must.
  • Whether your kids are the guest or the host, make sure that all of the kids know the basics of fire safety for the home, where the telephones are, and where the home address is listed.
  • Make sure that both families are agreed upon the kinds of music, video games, television shows, and movies that kids are allowed to watch, play, or listen to during the sleepover.
  • Amend sleeping arrangements. We usually opt to have sleepovers occur in where the kids are in the family room – sprawled on sofas or bean bags. It lessens the intrusion on the privacy of bedrooms and the awkwardness of who sleeps where.
  • Get to know the families of your kids’ friends. This is one of the best things about being a homeschool family – we all know everyone else and we get to spend lots of time together. Invite your kids’ friends’ families over for a BBQ or game night. You’ll get to see the dynamics and understand the relationships a bit more. Who knows – you just might find those dear, close friends you never knew you were missing and you all gain bonus family members.

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Get More Out of Family Meals

Get More Out of Family Meals

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You’ve probably heard a zillion times that eating together as a family is good for you. Studies show doing this a few times a week help kids to do better in school, take fewer risks, and learn to communicate better? But how are you supposed to get them there when everyone’s lives are hectic, filled, and overscheduled? Use the following ideas and printables to help you tame the hungry beasts and get more out of every meal.

Keep ‘Em Busy Before Dinner

Part of what makes family meals so rushed is just the getting there. Yes – it would be amazing if I could wave my wand and produce a healthy, balanced, attractive meal that my family wants to gather around in less than 15 minutes. But between the dog waiting between my feet for a stray crumb to fall, teenagers hovering and asking How much longer? with the impatience of a toddler on a car drive, and the younger kids turning the kitchen rug into a magic carpet, I am lucky to set the table in 15 minutes. This is when I need a plan – and I need to keep them busy – just long enough to prepare the meal.

Place settings – Encourage the kids to set the table – without just tossing a handful of random forks in a pile.

  • Use this cheat sheet for your kids and let them set the table – It will pass the time and help keep them busy.
  • Check out some of these napkin folding ideas – elementary and older kids can have fun trying to create the perfect swan or come up with their own creation. I use cloth napkins just made from cotton squares of fabric that I zig-zagged along the edges.

Placemats – Give Younger kids these printable placemats – there are 10 different borders and each child can have a unique placemat or you can print enough of the same kind for each family member. Kids can decorate the center of the placemat with self-portraits, pictures of their favorite foods, and words or pictures that describe what your child did that day (a great conversation starter for the meal, too!).

Make Some Menus – You can just have the kids use a chalkboard or dry erase board and let them write down a café-style menu, or use paper and crayons to make a menu to hang on the wall. You can also print these and let the kids complete the rest.

Pillowcase Chair Covers – These easy projects can add a special touch to any meal – no sewing needed! You can even use pillowcases you find at thrift stores, and supplies around the house. Just make sure that the case is wide enough for your chairs. There are many ways the kids can decorate their chair covers:

  • Lay the pillowcase flat on the table and have the kids stamp their handprints on the fabric.
  • Give the kids stampers or fabric paint to decorate their chair covers.
  • Use chains of old jewelry, beads, or even belts to secure the chair covers.
  • Simply tie with a bow – add a decoration if wanted.

Let the kids get creative – and they will stay busy, too!

Try some of these easy recipes and get your kids in the kitchen – family meals are about more than filling bellies – they are about filling hearts and minds.

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Do Longer School Days Equal Smarter Kids?

Do Longer School Days Equal Smarter Kids?

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If the nation’s children aren’t succeeding in school, it means they need more time in school. Such is the position of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said that he supports the adding of hundreds of hours to academic calendars. A pilot project which will encompass 20,000 students across several states and schools aims at adding at least 300 hours each academic year. The reasons why many are supporting such changes might surprise you – and clue us in to a self-destructive education plan.

Why Are People Fighting for Longer School Calendars?

Not all school calendar plans are created equally.

  1. Rearrange the schedule while maintain a similar amount of school hours (more frequent breaks spread out over the course of an entire year).
  2. Add actual days of instruction (as many as 30 or more to each calendar year).
  3. Divide the school children into groups and rotate days they are in school (using the school buildings and teachers for more days in the hopes of reducing class sizes).

Each of these three methods have their own pros and cons, but the overall approach is supported by many educators and the American government. That is because the American government is taking notice that our students aren’t exactly leading the way in the classrooms. And if we aren’t leading the way in the classrooms, we can’t be leading the way in the world. (I guess I didn’t know that the world was run by standardized tests…)

Arne Duncan, along with his supporters, claim that there are several benefits to increasing academic hours each year.

  • It reduces the summer learning gap that some children experience (usually those living in poorer neighborhoods and in families with fewer resources).
  • Longer school calendars will extend the opportunities for children on poverty to receive free and reduced meals.
  • Families without stay-at-home parents don’t have to find interim daycare for the entire summer.

Calendars Aren’t the Problem – Attitudes about Education Are

Adjusting the school calendars to add more hours, instead of simply adjusting the school calendars to be more effective, is a perplexing plan. For as much hype as Arne Duncan and others want to put on the effectiveness of more academic hours each year, the actual supporting evidence is scant. In fact:

  • A review by the Center for Public Education found that students in India and China (2 countries that have been cited by Duncan as examples of calendar and academic models), in reality don’t require their students to spend more hours in the classroom.
  • Several states, including Minnesota and Massachusetts, have higher than average test scores yet still implement school calendars that don’t start until after Labor Day. In the great state of Minnesota, there was talk of extending the classroom calendars to begin school in late August, but it was quickly shut down by teachers, families, and businesses that rely on vacationing families.
  • Teachers lose out on opportunities to develop their skills through extended learning courses and practical applications when they are expected to spend more time in the classroom.
  • Finland, while it outscores America in many academic areas, requires its students to be in school for fewer hours.
  • Students lose opportunities for free play, to exercise their imaginations, to work summer jobs that help pay for college, and time with families.

Simply extending school hours and lengthening the academic calendar will not prepare students for the future. We need to move away from the school of thought that tries to convince us that warm bodies sitting behind desks is the best way to learn. Instead of a discussion on increased hours, it is time to hold a discussion on increased academic variety.

  • Offer enrichment programs such as the National Summer Learning Association in the summer that are both educational and rich with opportunities for exploration, especially in communities where children are at risk for lagging in the summer or for families who do not have someone at home to care for the children during summer break.
  • Get away from rigid grade levels and move to more of a Montessori approach that would allow for intergenerational teaching and learning. If students spend 6 weeks at the beach with their parents and then forget how to divide, they can go back to school at their levels and where their abilities are, instead of punch a time clock for their grade.
  • Expand individualized instruction and implement learning style evaluations to meet the needs of all the children in the classroom.
  • Change the expectations and goals of education. Are we doing this to create worker bees or to develop our families who can be successful, happy, and healthy?
  • Change the expectations we have as parents for summer vacation. If we keep kids out of classrooms for 3 months instead of 4 weeks during the summer – are they really going to sprawl in the meadow and count butterflies or shooting stars? Or will the kids instead be shuttled between baseball tournaments (I know we were in a different city each weekend last year with one son), flitting between swimming lessons and park days with friends? Will the kids sprawl on living room floors in the air-conditioned comfort, texting, gaming, and plotting with friends how to take over Facebook?

If we are realistic with ourselves we can admit that even though we wish that our kids could experience the laze of summer days, we are the culprits in making sure that lazy summer days don’t happen. We work in dual income households where organized care or activities for the kids are needed. We put forth efforts keeping up with the Jones and Smith families. We think we are helping our kids to become well-rounded if we keep them busy. And school is very adept at keeping kids busy. The best summers my family has spent have been when my kids have declined the offer for golf, baseball, or any-other-time-sucking-camp or class and opted for an old fashioned summer vacation. In the words of my then 10-year-old: I just want time to enjoy summer and make up my mind as I go along. I want to fish and play in the backyard. Well said, young man.

According to the Coalition for a Traditional School Year (yes – there really is a grass-roots effort dedicated to old school schedules): Families and teachers – not calendars – teach children.

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Would You Do It All Over Again?

Would You Do It All Over Again?

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Back to the Future – Living a Purposeful Life as a Parent and Grandparent

Would you go back to high school if you could know then what you know now? Or how about take a trip like that infamous one Michael J. Fox took in Back to the Future? There is no time like the present to give some words of wisdom to your future self, and your kids can even take part. Not only is it a great exercise in personal awareness and goals, but it might actually serve you well one day. Think about your purposes in life, and give the future you a little perspective.

The following printable activity sheets are launching points for bringing a little introspective and perspective into our lives. Your world is probably just as busy as mine, which means we can use all of the assistance we can get, even if it is from our future selves.

Printable Predictions for Young Kids

Use this printable activity sheet to encourage your young child to think about the future. What kind of a parent does he hope to be one day? The answers your child gives might surprise you, and they might just help you become a more conscious mom or dad. Nothing gives you a reality check like your 6 year-old son telling you that he is so glad he is never going to have to be a mom – they seem really tired most days and have a lot of work to do. Maybe the message your young child sends to her future self is one you can learn from to be a more effective parent, today.

Printable Predictions for Tweens and Teens

Has your teenager ever stomped out of the room and promised to never be like this when she is a parent? Have her put her money where her mouth is and consider what she really views as important in parenting. Use this printable and encourage her to record her predications and hopes for her future – and take note – they just might be telling you a bit about you today.

  • Encourage your tween or teen to write a letter to her future self – she can keep it with her mementos or ask you to safeguard it in the safe until she’s a parent of a tween or teen.
  • Talk with your tween or teen about what you used to think when you were their age – honestly. Don’t sugar coat it – but treat them with respect and understanding.

Printable Predictions for Parents

Over coffee with girlfriends we’ve shared stories and dreams about how we hope to be someday as in-laws to the spouses of our children. Sometimes these are based on wonderful experiences we have with our own in-laws, and other times they are based on the battles we’ve fought. While you can’t predict how you might feel one day as your baby gets married, you can give your future self some advice, and let it serve as a reminder to how it feels to be the daughter- or son-in-law.

Printable Predications for Grandparents

Does your child’s grandparent feed him sugar-anything for breakfast, despite your pleas to the contrary? Or does your child’s grandparent ignore your child? Grandparenting can be a rocky road – but grandparents are so important to children. Give yourself a heads-up for your future generations and use this printable to write a letter to yourself for when someone small is calling you “Grandmama”.

Sometimes the best lessons are those that we teach ourselves. Use these printables to spur some predicting and some promising about how you hope to live your future life. Get your kids in on the action, too. Kids are dreamers and they can teach us to dream big – and dream honestly. Who else can plan to be an astronaut who also designs video games and works in an underwater laboratory investigating sharks?

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Students Aren’t the Only Ones Who Hate Tests

Teachers Boycott Standardized Exams

Parents, students, and more recently, educators, have been questioning the need for and reliability of standardized testing of students. New attention is being given to the argument that standardized testing causes a negative strain on classrooms and curriculums as teachers in Seattle recently decided to boycott standardized exams. The boycott doesn’t come as a reaction to necessarily what is best for the students, but because for the first time teachers will be evaluated in part against the results of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.

The New Debate Over Standardized Exams

For years parents, students, and some education enthusiasts have been decrying the use of standardized exams. Many of these people have argued that standardized exams drain the energy and attention from real learning opportunities and place the focus on teaching students to regurgitate information.

Ironically, the teachers in Seattle are in part making their argument against this particular standardized exam because they don’t know ahead of time which specific types of information will be covered – they don’t have the tools they feel they need to teach to the test. They don’t receive sample questions and the students complain that the information covered doesn’t mesh with what they’ve been learning in their classrooms. Therefore, the teachers don’t feel they can adequately teach their students to pass the MAP test, which in turn will lower their evaluation scores.

The argument by the teachers is about teaching to test, but the argument that we all should consider is whether or not standardized tests are effective measurements of real academic achievements. The premise for the Seattle teachers’ argument is rooted in the idea that teaching to the MAP test is not possible, therefore teacher evaluations are unfair. The premise should be, however, that standardized tests are inadequate measures of students’ abilities, the focus of the tests takes away from real learning opportunities, and teachers shouldn’t be measured primarily on the basis of test results.

Why Teachers Shouldn’t Be Measured Against Standardized Tests

Think of all the students, in all of the schools, in all of the communities across the country. While they might all fall under the title of public school, they can all vary to tremendous degrees. These variances can drastically affect student performances on standardized exams. Just consider a few of the factors that are largely beyond the control of the teachers that influence students’ abilities in schools.

School funding – Schools that can afford materials and resources to enhance learning might in turn produce students who score higher on standardized exams. Teacher turnover rates for struggling schools also negatively affects children because it removes consistency and commitment from their education.

Typical family structures – Family structures change from district to district. In those communities where many students live in fractured homes filled with turbulent family, financial, and emotional turmoil, the students are less able to make school the healthy focus of their lives. Students who have parents who are available both in time and ability to help with homework and facilitate other learning opportunities will have more of an edge when it comes to things like standardized tests.

Socioeconomic statuses – The socioeconomic status of the families within a school district also contributes to the success or failures of students. In poorer neighborhoods the struggles are compounded – schools don’t receive enough funding, families aren’t earning as much which causes strain on familial structures – the ripple effect eventually hits the students and can cause negative consequences for academics.

  • Research has determined that three-fourths of schools that are ranked in the bottom 20% based on test scores wouldn’t be ranked as underachieving schools if differences in learning opportunities outside of the classroom walls could be included in the measurement of student success.
  • Students from middle-income (or higher) homes tend to show gains in summer reading levels, while students from lower-income homes lose in reading skills over the summer.

Student demographics – It has been shown that teachers who have higher populations of ESL (non-native English speaking) students, students with learning disabilities, students with behavioral and emotional challenges, and students who come from struggling home environments can negatively impact a teacher’s rating if he/she is rated based on standardized tests.

Other Ways to Measure Teacher Performance

We need to get away from the idea that the performances of teachers can’t or shouldn’t be measured. They are charged with one of the most important jobs in society – educating children. If we don’t attempt to measure their effectiveness, we can’t determine how to improve education. Measuring teachers’ contributions to classrooms should include various tools implemented over several years.

Skills and Knowledge – Teachers who build their skills, keep current with improvements in resources, and seek new or improved skills should be considered for financial reimbursements and pay raises. This is a common business practice for employers who seek such things as additional certifications.

Academic Scores – There is a place for measuring the effectiveness of teachers by looking at academic scores. This, however, can be done on smaller scales without standardized testing. Classroom portfolios reviewed by qualified personnel can serve as adequate measures of academic progress, and it takes into consideration all of those factors that negatively affect teachers when standardized test scores are used.

School Wide Assessments – Schools in individual districts can be assessed for effectiveness, and teachers must work together in order to use the resources in the district to effectively teach students. This would help reduce penalizing teachers who are compared against teachers from other districts.

Student and Family Feedback – Students and their families should have some sort of input in the assessments of teachers. These teachers are serving enormous roles in the lives of families, and forming relationships that are mutually respectful and open fosters benefits for everyone.

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Does My Child Need Preschool?

Does My Child Need Preschool?

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It used to be that Kindergarten was the great evening agent – it leveled the playing field as much as possible for children before they entered 1st grade. Those were in the days where kindergarten was half-days, at most, and it consisted of fairy tales, building blocks, and finger paints. Now these traditional kindergarten activities are being bumped by preschool, and kindergarten is a full-time job for 5- and 6-year-olds.

Is preschool the new kindergarten?

Does my child need preschool in order to succeed in kindergarten?

These are the questions that parents today are facing, and the answers and expectations of society aren’t always on the same page. It is becoming the expectation of teachers that children coming into their kindergarten classrooms have attended either preschool or a have been in a formal daycare setting – and they are probably right. Approximately two-thirds of children in the United States attend preschool or are in daycare during these formative years.

Research seems to indicate that children who attend preschool score higher on average in pre-reading skills and math skills than their kindergarten counterparts who don’t attend formal preschools. The follow-up research, however, is ironic. Of those children who attended preschool, studies indicate that by the time these children enter 6th grade, they have slight increases in behavioral problems. They tend to act out and disrupt classroom activities more often.

And those academic edges that kids had in kindergarten? Those seem to fade by the time kids who attended preschool are in 5th grade. The exceptions to this group of kids are those children who attended affluent preschools and are still slightly ahead of the curve. However, this could be attributable to the fact that these children who come from extremely financially secure backgrounds could also be exposed to other cultural opportunities that enhance their overall studies.

The Benefits of Preschool

Preschool began as a way to jump-start education for children – those who were early bloomers and those who seemed to need a head-start. There is little doubt that when children are exposed to a positive and stimulating environment, that there can be benefits that will help them succeed in formal school.

  • Experience following directions from someone other than a primary caregiver
  • Experience working in groups with peers
  • Opportunities to experience interactions with children of other backgrounds
  • Opportunities to build skills needed for kindergarten

Can My Child Succeed without Preschool?

The benefits that children can gain from preschool aren’t only found in preschool settings, however. They can be supplied by parents and caregivers who are proactive and take the time and energy to expose their children to myriads of opportunities in the real world.

  • Visits to museums (science, art, children’s, etc.)
  • Opportunities to volunteer in the community as a family
  • Daily reading and writing opportunities
  • Interactions with people of all ages from all walks of life by being engaged in the community
  • Trips to the library and things like story time
  • Opportunities to play with children other than siblings (those little sibling hierarchies don’t matter as much in the classroom!)
  • Engaging activities that encourage kids to explore art, social studies, their faith, and the world

Not all parents are rushing their children through academics. In fact, some parents are taking the opposite approach and practicing what is known as red-shirting – holding their kids back from starting kindergarten in an effort to give them an edge. The effects of this practice are debatable, as are the benefits and drawbacks of preschool.

As a homeschool mom who is about to graduate her first child from high school, I can wholeheartedly say that preschool is not the be-all, end-all of academics. When we provide engaging and enthusiastic opportunities and environments for our kids, they flourish. And we have to go back to the basics and ask ourselves:

Have kids and their basic needs and abilities really changed, or are we just changing our expectations and social norms?

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Tracking Kids with Technology

Does Technology Keep Our Kids Safe or Create Minions?

If you’re a parent chances are you have had that heart-stopping moment when you couldn’t find Billy in the grocery store aisle or he didn’t return your call out the backdoor for lunchtime. My first memory of this as a mom came when my distracted toddler was following the square tiles on the floor of the department store instead of following in our heels. We veered left, she veered right, and what ensued was her shrill shriek: Mmmmoooommmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Where are youuuuuuuu???????

Immediately we knew where she was, and for an instant we feared she was being attacked by store mannequins by the fear in her voice. But she simply lost sight of us, planted her feet firmly in the location where she realized she was without us, and began flailing her arms above her head, less than 3 feet away from us. This was an unintended test – she passed with flying colors. Don’t be quiet, don’t worry about creating a scene, let everyone know your situation.

GPS and Monitoring Devices for Kids – Necessary Evil?

For any parent who has experienced this panic, for themselves or their kids, a GPS and flashing beacon sometimes seems like a welcomed option. And sadly for some parents, the reality is that monitoring systems might have reduced dangers or eased pain when their kids didn’t innocently go missing for moments. However, as technology seeps into everything we do, we have to stop and ask how much we want it to replace common sense.

The Benefits of Monitoring Devices

Products like Amber Alert GPS tracking systems allow parents to monitor the movements of their kids from their own smart phones or computers. For some families the added protection and assurance is worth the invasion of privacy and expense.

  • Children with developmental disabilities who are more prone to wandering and poor decisions
  • Children with behavioral issues that make trust difficult
  • Families who live in environments where 3rd party monitoring is a reassurance and not an intrusion

The Dangers of Tracking Our Kids

Yes – there are days when I wish I knew a little bit clearer picture of precisely where my children went that day, but then I remind myself that I am not raising minions. I am raising children who learn to stand on floor tile and scream, flail their arms, and do so with confidence that they understand safety rules. Turning to technology to keep our kids safe poses the danger that we – our kids and us as parents – will become reliant on technology and skip the “stranger danger” conversations. We risk moving from communication and skill building to charts and maps of our kids’ lives.

Tracking Devices and Schools

A federal judge recently ruled that a Texas school can legally require students to wear locator chips while they are inside the school building. At first I read this and thought this must be in response to concerns over school safety issues in light of the tragedy in Connecticut. But it turns out that money, so many times over, is the responsible party for this tracking travesty.

School officials claim that the tracking is not being used to spy on children, but instead to locate students who are in the building and late to classes. Why would the district care so much and want to implement this technology plan? Because Texas law distributes education funding based on attendance records of students who are present in their first-hour classrooms. The school district using the tracking plan, Northside, claims that it is losing $1.7 million each year because students are tardy to classes.

So instead of implementing incentives for these students – perhaps that $1.7 million for tardiness results in no field trips, school dances, ect., or higher taxes for parents who then do something about their children’s tardiness – the school district has chosen to track and attack. Find the kids who are late and get them to their classes so the school can get its money.

What lesson does this type of tracking teach children?

  • Responsibility for attendance?
  • Responsibility for academic progress?
  • Responsibility for the money parents pay in taxes for educational purposes?
  • That the school will track kids who are making bad decisions instead of helping them learn to make better ones?

Tracking children and therefore “fixing” the funding problem doesn’t teach children the responsibility and skills needed to succeed in life. It teaches them to be minions. Would you want your employer tracking you if he suspected you of spending a few too many minutes at the water cooler? Or would you expect that your behaviors at work (both good and bad) will have their own rewards and consequences? Tracking our children for safety might be one thing, but tracking them for an easier way out of funding crises creates drones.

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10 Fun Freebies for Families

The grocery bills keep rising, the costs of music lessons seem to snip holes in the pocketbook, and orthodontist bills just prepare you for college bills. Raising kids is an expensive adventure. That is why I absolutely love finding free bargains that give a little boost to our days. Some of these are things that are actually on our “need” list, while many of them just add some fun extras that make life easier or bring a smile to a face. Freebies for families are some of my favorite treasures – and here is just a sample of some that help ease the financial crunch.

Free eBooks for Kids

Due to some savvy Black Friday shopping there are now new tablets in my house, but I don’t want to spend a fortune (or anything, really) filling the memory on the tablets with books for the kids. So I’ve been surfing and searching for free eBooks, and here are some of my favorites. (Most of these are for Kindle apps, but there are also options for Nook, or you can download the free Kindle app.)

1. Amazon Kindle Store – Go to the Kindle store at Amazon and select “Children’s eBooks” from the left side menu. Then look to the right and you should see two lists – one for the Top 100 Paid eBooks for kids, and one for the Top 100 Free eBooks for kids. Select the titles that interest you to see more about the books, then you can add it to your cart (just make sure that you have your tablet or mobile device synced to the Kindle store, which you can do by selecting Manage Kindle).

2. The Library – Check with your local library, or the library of a nearby University (or maybe even your alma mater), for selections of eBooks. Our library loans eBooks for free, and also offers free audio books for download. You can borrow for free for up to two weeks – all it takes it a library card.

3. Dailyfreebooks.com – This is basically a filtering service you can use to be alerted to free eBooks that are offered through Amazon. The benefit is that it allows you to select the genre (Children’s) and many other categories, and be alerted as new free titles are added.

More Freebies for Families

4. Boston Market Birthday Club – If you have one of these restaurants near you, sign up for a birthday club offer for your kids.

5. Bob Evans – Another birthday club for kids that will get them a free meal – one step closer to lowering that grocery bill!

6. Hy-Vee – If you have a local Hy-Vee grocery store, your kids can sign up for a Kids Club membership that will not only give them free birthday meals, but invitations to special in-store events – including classes and tours behind the scenes. If you don’t have a Hy-Vee store near you, check with your local grocery chain to see if they offer the same enticements to shop their store.

7. LEGO Club – If you’ve got a LEGO builder half as enthusiastic as one of mine, you need to sign up for the free LEGO Club online. You can even take it a step further (if you are ready to hear the “I might want to save my money to buy…” that I usually hear) and request a product catalogue. This great color guide shows all of the possible sets your builder can imagine. Technical difficulties prevented me from ordering my catalogue online, but I just called the 1-800 number listed and ordered it for free within a few minutes.

8. Barnes Noble Kids’ ClubSign up your kids who are 12 and under for special discounts and a free cupcake on their birthdays.

9. Toys R Us Birthday Club – The bonuses are minimal with this club, but if you have a birthday kid who gets a few extra spending dollars from Grandma on her birthday and Toys R Us is where she likes to spend it, you can get special coupons (and the bonus of wearing a birthday crown when she shops!).

10. FreeCycle.org – This site is based on local groups where you can offer things for free or post a request for a “wanted” item. You’ll find everything from cribs and kids’ clothes to books and yard toys.

Raising kids is not a free ride, but a few freebies along the way can be fun and help ease the entertainment portion of the budget. What free bonuses have you found for your family?

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