Aggregate Marginal Gain: Small Steps to Big Change

ImageI am a journaler. When I have a moment alone to read or pray, I have to write things down. Sometimes I feel like my thoughts don’t count unless they come out of my brain down onto paper or onto the computer. When we moved, my husband was frustrated with me for wanting to cart a box of journals I had written that I never read across state lines. I just couldn’t get rid of all those old thoughts and memories. Surely they will be meaningful at some point in my life, right?

When we moved I perused through a few of my journals as I packed to see what I had been dealing with 10-15 years ago. Recently I ran across some more deep thoughts from the last year or so. Here is the sad truth. I…have…not…changed. Much.

Have you ever noticed that there are some things that you continue to have to ask God to improve on? The same things have been coming and going in my life for years. Patience, self-control, fear, selfishness, envy, patience, self-control, fear, self-control, selfishness, self-control, envy, self-control, etc.

The problem I have is in the little things that I have been begging God to change in me. Things like how I get distracted when I pray, I eat things that I am not hungry just for fun, I get easily frustrated with my kids, and so many other things like that. They are in my journal today and they were in my journal 10 years ago! I beat myself up unmercifully. Then often I just give in and give up trying to chase all these dreams of change.

I recently came across the term “Aggregation of Marginal Gain”. Apparently in the last summer Olympics the coach for Great Britain’s cycling team, Dave Brailsford, used this method of “identifying small performance factors that, when aggregated together, can have a significant cumulative impact” as stated from this article. He improved every aspect of his cyclist’s game by a margin of just 1%. He made small changes to every thing they were doing. They optimized things like his nutrition, seat, tires, training schedule each by a small about, but all those changes added up to a big result. This method is now also being used in other sectors. I’ve seen it mentioned in articles on finances, business management, and school improvement.

I think I can look back at my life and see that I am not really the same after all these years. I am changed, but it has been in the small advances, changing small things a little at a time. I would never have run a half marathon or written a book if it hadn’t been for all those small changes. A big vision or dream is important, but breaking it down into the small steps to get there makes success more attainable.

The other thing I took from this concept was hope. I realized that even if my success for the day isn’t huge, it is still part of the bigger picture. All my successes add up. On the other side, I should be cautious of small negative changes. They can add up as well, but I can cut them off before they do.

In parenting our kids through public school, I think this is a great concept to consider. If you are looking for a big change for your child, consider helping them with many small advances to see if it leads to overall success. For example, if you are talking about grades or behavior at school, perhaps it means tightening up 1% on the amount of sleep they are getting, the amount of time studying, lessening the amount of video gaming, increase the amount of reading time, upping the nutrition level of their snacks. All these small changes could give your child what he needs to reach the next level. I think small successes along the way give hope and energize the next change.

Schools and teachers are also using this method. If you are involved with your school or parent group, perhaps taking this hopeful technique to them and sharing how to break down your mission into small improvable pieces, it would give direction and small steps of success to make some of those looming goals possible to achieve.

This will surely help me with my new year goals of writing more and self-control with food, making some marginal lifestyle changes that will aggregate into overall success! Where could you benefit from using this method? Leave a comment.

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Christian Apologetics: A Great Need and Goals for Teaching our Kids How to Defend their Faith

ImageThis morning my husband. Mike, and a friend introduced a new adult Sunday School class to our church. Since we moved to Montana, we have made our home in a church that has adult Sunday School classes. We are so excited to have the option since the churches we have attended before never had classes due to schedule or facility. The opportunity to connect with people in our church and learn a bit more has been great! This class is a new concept for the church: Christian Apologetics.

The class description went something like this: Do you want to grow in your ability to graciously defend and articulate your faith? Would you like to study more about why the Christian faith is reasonable and defensible so you can speak confidently about it with your peers at work or in the classroom? Join us in a new discussion-based Sunday School class starting January 12. The class will begin with C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity which will be available to all who commit to participating.

Can you believe that 28 people showed up for that class this morning! We were absolutely amazed to see that many people anxious to learn. We went around the room to see what brought everyone to the class. The answers were as different as the people, but in general they had family, friends, or co-workers they wanted to impact for Christ or they wanted to be able to stand up for their own beliefs. There were people in the class from age 14 to 72!

So many mentioned how they especially wanted to “graciously defend” their faith.  The theme verse for the class is 1 Peter 3:15-16, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” This captures the essence of apologetics and that gracious defense.

Part of the reason that we moved from Western Washington to a Montana university town was because Mike had grown weary in his old job, but the other reason had to do with apologetics. The study of the defense of the Christian faith is something he had worked into because he enjoyed it, but also because he noticed there was a great need for Christians to think more deeply about their beliefs. He has a heart for those students that leave their Christian homes to go to college and lose their faith because they are fooled into believing that their values are not reasonable.

I share this with you in relation to Public on Purpose because the need and desire in that Sunday School class reflect just how much we need to be building up our children while we have a chance so they can stand their ground.

The 14-year-old that attended the class is in 8th grade and has a boy that is insistent in fiercely challenging her beliefs in front of everyone. She wants to be a good influence, but doesn’t know how to make her case. I wasn’t sure what she would think of a class filled with so many older than her, but she loved it. She was hungry for the skills that were introduced.

Mike talked about the four aspects of Apologetics that we will work to learn in the class. They come from the article titled, “What is Apologetics” by Ken Boa from the Apologetics Study Bible. These are also the things that you can work to impart on your children to prepare them for their journey through public school.

A Positive Case

Through my husband’s journey into Apologetics, I have learned so much myself. I listen to the podcasts and read the books he recommends. I am blown away by the many deep and convincing reasons I have heard that support the Christian world view. I was a raised a Christian and love the Lord with all my heart, but I have not been able to share that effectively with others when they have doubts or are misguided. As I learn more, I can see that there are so many ways to build a foundation with strong philosophical, scientific, and historic reasons to believe.

Make a Defense

Apologetics comes from the word “apologia” in Greek, which means defense. The idea here is that we can clarify what the Christian world view is and show that it is a credible.

Refutation

People have reasons they stand by their own non-Christian beliefs. We can learn how to show those reasons are not credible. We can discover tactics to graciously refute those arguments.

Persuasion

The ultimate goal we should all have is not to argue for the sake of argument, but in hopes that others would see the beauty of the true Gospel of Christ and apply it to their own lives. The application of the truth is the ultimate goal.

I can’t wait to learn these skills with my new friends in our class! The need is so great. I’m happy that my own 14-year-old daughter is thinking about joining us next week.

Mike has a ton of great resources that he uses to grow deeper in his understanding of the defense of the Christian faith. One that I find easy to follow and very applicable is a podcast by Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason at STR.org. The book I’m currently reading (that Mike recommended) is called “Tactics” by the same guy. There are other great resources out there and if you are interested in specific questions, I’m sure Mike will share where he’s found the best information. Just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

You’ll likely have work to do to pass these important skills on to your children. Many blessings on your mission!

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Starting Over…Again

2013-10-29 13.39.23It is has been awhile since I last posted. I don’t want anyone to think that I have given up all hope of continuing with this site. I have recently rediscovered my love for writing through a crazy adventure called “NaNoWriMo” or “National Novel Writing Month”. I figured out that I really can make time for writing. Apparently that is what “turning off the inner editor” will do and writing 20,000 words in 13 days. However, what I am probably back here just to stall writing more words for my “novel.” Fiction is tricky!

Anyway, it is time I touched base and made excuses for myself for not writing lately. We moved to Montana in May, but the entire last year has been a blur in a “what’s happening, my world is turning upside down” sort of way. We have finally settled into a permanent home. (The five of us lived in 590 square feet for two months and moved again before the end of the summer.) Everyone has started new schools and by the grace of God, all three of my kids are doing well and finding their way in this new world.  Maybe now I can carve out some time to write?

Turns out, if I embrace this change, there are actually many things that I will struggle through in the next year or so that might actually be more beneficial for you guys!

New Faces = Making New Connections

We are starting over with our presence in the public schools. No one know us here. None of the students say, “Hey, there’s Tegan’s mom!” in the hallway anymore. All those relationships I built with the kids in my kids’ classrooms are gone. How do I start over? Perhaps my struggle to do that will help others to jump in wherever they are and to get creative about how to do it.

New District = New Methods and Motivations

We were just getting used to the way things worked in our school district back in Washington. I had argued with all the teachers and principals and gained an understanding of why they do the things they do, and now I must do it again. Everything is different here. At least I can be compassionate of different district atmospheres now and I have a second chance to make first impressions.

New Job = New Ideas for Time and Family

Too make things a little more complicated, I got a job. A real one that I have actual hours each week in an office and I even get paid! I had jobs before we moved, but they were a bit random and I had a ton of volunteer obligations as well. This particular job felt like a true gift from God, so I felt very good about taking it and I am loving it. I think that it is actually better for my kids that I have it too. I am such a busy person and God knew I needed a place to use that energy or I would be sucked under. The job “just happened” to be posted in our church bulletin over the summer and I “just happened” to have the skills they needed. It has been an adjustment to have a regular schedule to keep at work, but being able to leave the work at work has been a profound benefit for our family. I should now be able to better address two income family situations and how to squeeze in volunteering or family activities into days that are already packed with work.

New Direction = New Perspective and Scope

We are now in a “college town” and our hearts go out to the students that have come to college with questions about their faith. They get a different world view shoved on them and don’t know what to do. With our own daughter in high school this year, we have a new perspective on the importance of preparing our kids for living in the world with a durable Christian worldview.

I am sure there are other ways that our new family situation will help me to write again so I can encourage you all to keep up the fight in equipping your kids to wade through the secular atmosphere of public schools. I’m not perfect at it by any means, so we can continue to learn together.

 

 

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WEIRD: What Christ Followers Look Like to the World

IMG_5124 - CopyLast summer I took my girls out to our special camping spot for our 4th annual “Mommy and Me” Camp. Since I couldn’t afford to send my girls to church camp, I began this little tradition that we have all grown to love. Last year’s theme was “WEIRD”. I walked the girls through the ways that we appear to be weird to the world as Christians, but how that is okay.

We have since had a really “weird” year ourselves and we find ourselves selling our home in Washington, taking a pay cut, and moving to Montana. My dear church family understands and supports us, but to the world that would seem very weird.The last seven months have been crazy and this is why I haven’t written much on this blog, but with the move, I am leaving behind my jobs and obligations, so I should have a little more time to write here.

The turn events began as God was stretching and growing my husband. He has a gift for apologetics, the defense of our faith. He began reading and listening to everything he could find, then started writing a blog of deep thoughts that others have found helpful. He loves taking on the hard questions about Christianity and can do it in a calm and kind manner in debate. Last summer, just for the fun of it, he got a distance certificate in apologetics from Biola University. He did all this while being the Information Technology Manager of a local manufacturing company.

But now, it looks like this path has lead us to a job in Information Technology at Montana State University. The true calling however is to reach out to the students on the campus…a place in dire need of critical thinking about how belief in the Christian God is reasonable. Studies show that over 40% of Christian kids leave their faith when they go to college. Some lose it before they leave home and just play the game until they are away from their parents. We have to do something to help these kids…your kids and my kids as they go out into the world.

I have always been a more emotional Christian. I believe because I just know that God is there. He’s always been there for me and I’m sure He always will. I’ll admit I’ve asked why we need all this intellectual discussion about God. Isn’t faith believing in what you can’t see? But as my husband has jumped into all this apologetics, I find myself following after him. I’ve enjoyed the conversations we had about moral relativity and logical fallacies. In the end, the more I learn about these reasons to believe, the greater my faith grows and the more in awe of God I am. These mind exercises have increased my faith! It is almost to the point that I am bubbling over to tell the person next to me…Did you hear about DNA! It is incredibly amazing and a little difficult to explain with evolution…”

I know that makes me sound a little weird, but I think that is the point. Our theme verse for our camp was Romans 12:2. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” My husband and I have certainly been transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is has also affected our children. So much so that my new practical approach to preparing my children for public school is through some of the apologetic tactics and reasons to believe that I have been learning!

My new goal for this blog will be to help others do the same for their kids. We need to be prepared with answers for the tough questions about Christianity so our kids aren’t afraid to ask. We are especially challenged as we at registering our girls in an new and bigger school district. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences between them, but know that I am praying hard for them on their journey through this major life change. I know that God is big enough to get them through this!

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My Kids Are Still in Public School

I have been gone from posting for a long while. In the world of blogs, dropping the ball for four months probably means I’m starting again from scratch. In the meantime, I have switched the blog to WordPress and lost my writing partner. Mark took a position as a principal of a Christian school, so he is a little busy.

There is still so much to talk about with parenting kids in public schools though, so lets continue this conversation. If you have any challenges you would like addressed or anything that has been helpful, please comment. That will help me to know what to address and will also help others.

I am the director of our small church’s children’s ministry and there is much I am learning there that I hope will help in our discussion. I now realize how important it is for churches to teach families how to disciple their kids (grow their faith). You should not trust your child’s spiritual growth completely to Sunday school. We only have 40-60 minutes with them each week at the very most. You, as parents, have many more hours to leverage, but may not feel you have the skills to do it. I hope to make that skill building part of my upcoming posts because we all want to send our kids into public school with adequate spiritual strength, but need help and encouragement to do it!

I am not perfect at this and don’t want anyone to feel pressured or overwhelmed to be perfect in your pursuit to prepare your kids. I just believe this is a good topic to explore and continue to grow in so I can give my kids the best chance to thrive as Christians in public school.

I send my blessings and hope to post again soon!

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You’re the Boss: Parenting as Leadership

I just finished reading a book called, “The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Posner for application toward equipping leaders in the children’s ministry in our church. The book is not a Christian based book, but geared more toward leadership in corporations. The fascinating thing about the book is how its guiding principles would have defined Jesus’s ministry. Basically, it showed that servant leadership was a best practice in corporations. What surprised me was how those principles were also valid to me as a parent!

The authors of this book did not define good leadership with power and authority, so perhaps that is why it resonated so well with me as a Christian parent. If we are good “leaders” for our children, perhaps we can enable them to better succeed in the public school arena.

Model the Way

One of the best practices for good leaders mentioned was “Model the Way”. Leaders should walk the walk and be consistent. Certainly that is something we already know we should do, but perhaps if we consider ourselves as leaders and not just parents, it will help us to remember to do it. Leaders do this by clarifying their values and showing an example. When employees know and accept the values of their company, they can feel motivated to do the work they need to do.

As parents this means we need to know what we believe and why, plus actively and purposely model those values in our homes. Mom and Dad need to live out those values in order to have credibility with their constituents.

Inspire Shared Values

To inspire shared values within a company the authors suggest a leader illustrate his or her vision for the future of the project using colorful word pictures to animate the vision and enlist others to get behind that vision. It doesn’t happen by accident. In order to inspire others toward something, the leader has to have a clear picture of where they are going! Jesus illustrated his points with his parables.

Parents can do this with special analogies and stories that are illustrate their family values, but the first step is to know what exactly are their family values. Your family should have values relating to academic, character, and spiritual areas. If you send your children or “team” off into their jobs (school) with a clear vision of those values, they will be able to stand for them and work toward them even when you are not around. A family can have a “team meeting” to discuss the values that the CEO and COO (mom and dad) have decided to highlight for their “corporation”.

Enable Others to Act

In the work force, you must foster collaboration to create a climate of trust within a team. Everyone needs a job to do, but they need to be equipped to do what is required of them. Leaders can facilitate teamwork and strengthen self-determination with training and positive feedback. Good leaders are like coaches, helping others to use their skills and develop new ones so they can meet their expectations.

Parents can be good leaders if they see themselves in this way. We can’t expect our children to do what they don’t know they are supposed to do, or if they don’t know how. We need to equip them and give them clear expectations. On the other hand, we can expect that our children do what they are capable of doing or things of which they are almost capable of doing. I sometimes find myself taking over organizing their schoolwork, doing their homework, or managing projects for them that they are capable of doing. Instead, I should hold back and only equip where needed and let them do and learn.

Encourage the Heart

It is noted that good leaders reinforce the contributions of their constituents and celebrate victories together. This means that leaders really get to know those under their authority so they can personally find out what motivates them. Then they can recognize their successes in a personal, yet fun way.

Each child is different. As parents, we must know them and find what encourages and motivates each one. Celebrate with their successes in individual, special ways and you’ll see their motivation grow. When they succeed in any way that relates to your family values whether academic, character or spiritually related, appreciate it!

I would love to work for a boss that was this kind of servant leader…oh wait, I do. Jesus modeled the servant leader to us. As parents, we can picture ourselves in that corporate situation if it helps us to practice parenting as a good leader, following Jesus’s example.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Temperature Rising – Parenting Challenges of the Summer Break

I’m so sorry you haven’t heard much from us as we have entered summer. I have filled my once school-focused mind with so many other activities and ideas. We just got done doing an Olympic-themed vacation Bible school for our church and have been attending to some other “non-urgent, but important” things I’ve been catching up on, like reading!

But like most of you, I think I have come up against something that you all are probably dealing with…the…children…are…home…all…day!

The problem I’m dealing with today, is not them, their boredom or busyness, fits or fighting, or messes and mayhem, but *my* reactions to them.

I think I need a time out sometimes. For some reason, I have been quick to let my temper rise and lose control. I just get upset and spew things like “what were you thinking?!” and “I can’t believe how disgusting this room is!” and “you better change that attitude!!” It isn’t that their behavior doesn’t need to be dealt with, but that I am not dealing with the issues well myself.

I am reading a book about leadership right now and it has struck a cord with me. To be a good leader, the book notes, you must “model the way”. Ouch. My losing control in angry words is NOT modeling the way! In order to model the way, the book suggests you must “clarify your values”. Whether it is providing good customer service, providing a good value, or saving the world, leaders need to know *why* they want to go where they are going…where they are leading their team. Once they clarify their values for themselves, they can better show them as an example to their followers.

I have never really thought of parenting as “leadership”, but it truly is. As a parent-leader, I must clarify my values too. I need to know what I value the most so I can know what I want most for my children and what qualities I most want them to have. I want them to have a good attitude and work ethic. Christian values like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control are key. So the question is, am I modeling those things for them?

Not always! What can I do to improve my leadership in these areas, my ability to model them?

Choose Your Battles

Sometimes I find myself getting upset about things that are not important. If I check the situation against my real values, I will be able to decide if a particular incident is worth my being bothered. Is the child exhibiting sinful, selfish behaviors that need to be addressed, or are they just being annoying and need redirecting?

Pray

We just can’t do it without the help of the Holy Spirit. I know I gain much more self-control when I draw near to God. I can do that in slowing down my pace and taking time to pray. I need to trust Him with my wants and needs and with my children.

Take a Time Out

Sometimes I just need to take a break away. If I find my temperature rising inexplicably, perhaps I need to give myself a time out. I can even use that time out to pray! I can go into my room and ask God for help in self-control and patience.

Think it Through

I may need to respond to a situation, but I should not “react” to the situation. I need to take time to think it through before I speak. What is causing the problem? Who is really at fault? What were the expectations? Is this a teachable moment? If I think some of these questions through before responding, I will have much more success.

Give Consequences in Love

When a situation is out of control and based in selfish behaviors, I need to do something. Yelling is not a consequence, so I must come up with something that will naturally teach a lesson that they will remember. I can even empathize with them while giving them a consequence if I am truly doing it in love. “I’m sorry that you have to suffer through this.” “I don’t like having to give you this consequence, but I want you to learn.” Consequences help them begin to remember and take responsibility for themselves.

So, if you are having a hard time in the summer months like other parents I’ve talked to, give these ideas a try. Leave a comment if you have any summer parenting ideas for us! I’m sure we can all use a little help!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Prepare for a Purposeful Summer

The school year is winding down here in Washington, but for some in southern areas of the country summer break has already started. With all the busyness of the end of the year, I haven’t had a minute to think about our summer and what we might do with it. All I can think about is the joy of not having to make lunches or get up early for making breakfast. But, I also know that summer will fly by and before long, I’ll be looking forward to lunches and schedules once again!

So, what will we do this summer? We are going to make a plan. We’ll kick the break off with our annual chinese food lunch on the last day of school and there we will start some brainstorming.

Summer Bucket List

At our special lunch, we’ll get out a piece of paper and write up a “summer bucket list”. We’ve already been talking about it. What do we want to do? This year I will make them come up with ideas for two categories: things to do and goals.

For the last couple years, one thing we’ve done was take a ride on public transportation to the mall. It surprises me that, of all the things we’ve done, a city bus ride is the first one they remember and want to add to the list.

Some of our goals this summer will be things like hiking 50 miles (not all at one time) and reading some amount of hours and visiting some amount of parks (yet to be determined). It won’t matter if we accomplish all these goals, just that we aim and measure our progress.

Keep the Brain Working

Something I’ll add to our list for the summer will be continued learning. I am going to stop by the local teacher store and get some workbooks. It won’t have to be much and we will probably focus on math, but it will be just enough so they don’t lose any ground over the summer.

With my recent homeschool experience I can see both the value of this sort of work and the simplicity of it once it is set up as part of a routine. To keep it interesting and fun, I may work in an incentive for them…at very least, it can be a way for them to earn a little screen time.

Work on Household Help Skills

Here’s a new concept I want to try out…household skill certification. In any job, you need training to learn how to do it right. My hope is to take my girls through a”training” process to get them lawn certified, bathroom certified, and maybe even dinner certified. If I can make it fun and an honor to be “certified”, perhaps they’ll enjoy participating in these household duties and even earning money, since they’ll be able to do it right. I’ll let you know how that goes!

At very least they’ll have more time to get their chores done during the summer and will need to do so to earn their privileges and fun times. Life isn’t all fun and games, so I suppose summer should include responsibilities. Also, I don’t want to burn myself out, so I will need their help!

Important/Non-Urgent Activities

In a leadership training class we recently discussed how we tend to spend our time. There are important things and there are urgent things. We spend a lot of our lives doing the urgent things and never getting to the important things.

Important/non-urgent activities are things like planning and preparing. We usually put these things off, but if I stop and take some time to do the important things when there are less “urgent” activities (like delivering forgotten lunches and volunteering at the school), I’ll save myself time and stress later.

Something important I’d like to do over the summer is schedule my Girl Scout meetings out for next year. That means I need to read up on a few badges and put some things on the calendar. It doesn’t have to be too detailed…just enough to rest my brain a little. I will also spend some time doing the same thing for the upcoming year for our church’s children’s ministry and should probably even do the same for this blog! This type of planning doesn’t take long, but you have to make the time to do it…BEFORE it becomes urgent!

Remember, rest and relaxation are in the important category, so I’ll try to get plenty of that in as well. The other thing to consider is getting rid of the non-important/non-urgent things I find myself doing sometimes like messing around on Facebook or getting lost on the web. I want to use my time wisely, so I plan do summer on purpose. Perhaps it can even be a habit that rolls over into the next school year!

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Moments Matter: Public School Gives You Moments of Impact

Until recently, I have to admit I didn’t really *like* other people’s kids. I loved mine, but maybe just didn’t have time or energy for other kids…especially when mine were little. I didn’t *mind* other kids, but I was not drawn to them. Now that I have been doing Girl Scouts with my girls for five years and I’ve been a Sunday school teacher for one and a half, things are changing. Just this fall I became a tutor at the junior high level and substitute teacher aide in the classroom. As these worlds overlap, I can see God is giving me His love for all kids with whom I come in contact.

Having my kids in public school has been a great way for me to meet and impact children beyond the church doors. Volunteering in the classroom, working there, being a Girl Scout leader…these things give me moments to just engage kids and show them they matter.

I have not always appreciated the moments I have with these kids, but now I am am seeing them for what they are. Each thing we do with them has value. When life is busy and running non-stop sometimes we feel like it is all a waste, it doesn’t make a difference, but the truth is, moments matter. Even just a few minutes of dedicated attention and love can change a life forever. God can use just minutes to change lives.

Wet Cement

In the book “Just a Minute” by Wess Staffford, president and CEO of Compassion International, talks about the moments that adults give to children that change their lives forever. Good or bad, adults can impact children. Stafford illustrates the spirit of a child as “wet cement”. You can still make a significant impression in the lives of children. As they get older their “cement” begins to harden. We can’t miss our chances when they are young enough to make a positive impact. Parents, teachers, Sunday school teachers, coaches, and even strangers can touch the lives of children in just moments and the younger we start the better.

Planting Seeds

Each moment we engage a child or young adult and pour God’s love into their lives is a seed planted. We have to scatter as many seeds as we can, but we aren’t in charge of forcing them to grow. God takes it from there. He can grow those seeds in their heart and turn a single encouragement or piece of godly advice into a life changing moment.

Just this week I was able to go on an all day field trip with a classroom of 8th graders. I have been in the classroom with these kids for the whole school year a couple hours per week, but this extended time gave me a chance to plant more seeds. I asked them questions, I encouraged and guided them, and I listened. I don’t know what God will use them for, but I pray that He is glorified in their lives by those purposeful moments.

Fan the Flame

I often pray that God would help me to fan the flame of His gifts in my children’s lives. He has created them as unique individuals. He knows why he made them and what path they should take. I haven’t identified all their gifts, but every now and then I catch a glimpse. When I do I try to encourage the gift and give them the tools to strengthen it.

We can do the same thing for every child with whom we come in contact. Keep your eye open to anything positive you can see and voice it. You never know if you are the only one they will ever hear from with that positive recognition. God might use your words to light the fire in their hearts that drives them for the rest of their lives.

We all have the opportunity to fan into flame the gifts and talents in children other than our own. I hope that other adults would do it for my kids. Sometimes they hear guidance better coming from someone other than me, or maybe another adult is more uniquely suited to give my child new tools.

Ask Questions

What better way is there to find out about kids than to ask questions? Have you always lived here? What do you like to do in your free time? What is your favorite food? What is your favorite or worst subject in school? This is how you get to know these kids.

I am a talker. Sometimes I get to telling my story and forget to let anyone in on the conversation. I find that if I force myself to ask questions, all of a sudden I am getting to know this child. It is amazing what they will tell me. Their answers reveal their hopes, dreams, and values. You can’t assume you know anything about these kids by looking at them from the outsides. Each one carries a different story and often times they are a *much* different than the story in your own home.

Watch for moments. Make moments on purpose. When you volunteer in the classroom, when you lead an after-school activitiy, when your kids’ friends come to your house, you just might find a moment to show the love of Christ by what you say or what you do. Don’t miss it.

Pray the lyrics of this Brandon Heath song…and God will give you the moments.

“Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the broken hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the one’s forgotten
Give me Your eyes so I can see”

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How to Know What Your Kids Should Be Learning in Public School and Help Them at Home

Do you know what your children are supposed to learn each year? Do you know what they are learning this year? Since we are their parents, it is primarily our responsibility to make sure they are getting what they need each year. There are a few resources available to you that can help you do that. I’ve only just stumbled onto them since I have pulled one daughter out to homeschool her for the rest of the year, but they’d be valuable for every student!

Check Out Your State’s Standards

When my children have a teacher that communicates with parents regularly and sends home graded work, I feel pretty comfortable because I know what they are working on in class. We are even able to reinforce it at home. When I don’t see a lot of work come home and don’t hear from the teacher, I begin to get concerned. Every time that happens and I voice my concern, I am told to visit our state’s education website to check out the standards. However, I have never done it diligently. I have browsed past the information and gleaned a little, but never explored it in depth.

The homeschooling partnership that I consulted directed me to those state standards once again, but this time it was necessity. I had to know what to teach my daughter for her to stay up-to-par with the rest of the students in her grade. There is truly a wealth of information on our state’s education website.

I found that there was a large part of the state’s standards that she had missed this year. Part of the missing information was due to her own problem of not paying attention, but some of it was missing because the teacher just hadn’t gotten to it. I knew she was missing some things, and this, of course, was one of the reasons that I had to pull her in the first place, but now I know specifically. This gives me the power to help her.

Every state has their standards available. While some of the links on this Education World page are broken, it can give you an idea of how to find the standards of education for your state. The standards are generally divided up by grade level and subject. I challenge you to take a look at them for your students.

I plan to do this every year from now on for each of my children, perhaps over the summer so that I know what to look forward to in the next year. Then, my eyes will be open to any troubles early on.

Check Out the Standardized Test for Your Students

Another resource that I found is the state’s standardized test. People say that the teachers “teach to the test” nowadays and this removes creativity from the classroom. While this may be true, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use that test to help educate your child. If you use the test and supporting materials to focus your efforts, you can help your student learn AND maybe even be more successful on the test.

At the local learning store, I found practice workbooks and solution manuals are available for every grade for our state’s annual test. I know that my children go through these books in class each year, but the book has a glossary of words for each tested subject and the solution manual has a breakdown of the concepts being tested. It is an excellent resource for parents for working their children to supplement what they are getting in class.

In Washington state our test is called the “Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL)”. When I visited the state’s education page, I found sample test questions from previous years and other resources for teachers. As parents, we can also use these to help our kids.

Find Out What Subjects They are Teaching in Class

It is important to know what your teachers are teaching in class. If they don’t share the information readily, all you need to do is ask specifically. Find out what their focus is on in the current year in science, social studies, math and reading. Use this information to give you focus on what to talk about as a family and how those subjects affect real life.

I recently found out that in 5th grade the students learn about the Revolutionary War at my daughter’s elementary school. What a great opportunity it is for me to refresh myself on the subject and talk about it with her. We even found some engaging documentaries on Netflix to watch together.

My 7th grader was studying unit rates in math, so I made her figure out how much we would spend on gas for our spring break trip knowing the average gas mileage of our car and the price of gas…yikes!

**Added 4/13/12** Core Knowledge Series

When we got home from our vacation I came across another important resource that I forgot to mention, but that I’ve found to be very helpful. I bought the book “What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know” from the “Core Knowledge” series. They publish these books for kindergarten through sixth grades.

Not only does the book tell what they should be learning during that grade, but it also covered each topic. You can use it almost as a textbook. You can go over each subject and learn what you’ve undoubtedly forgotten since you were in 5th grade. For 5th grade there is history of explorers, science topics, math skills, poetry and other literature. It is all-inclusive.

If you were looking to supplement what your child was learning in class and make sure they didn’t miss anything. This would be a great book to buy.

I have not come across any similar resources for upper grades, but I would love to know if anyone has a good resource for this type of book for junior high and high school.

Those little moments you share in what your kids are learning make their education matter and come to life for them. Supplement what they are getting in class by using the resources readily available to guide and focus you on what is relevant for them. It takes extra time and effort on your part to do this, but it is worth it. As Christian parents, when we know what our kids are learning at each level, we can also take the opportunity to fill in the gaps with our Christian worldview on those subjects.

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