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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Book Review: “Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School”

When the idea of this website took root in my heart, “Public on Purpose” was the original title I had in mind. However, when I mentioned the idea to Mark and he had “happened” to have written, but never published, a book on the subject years before called “Going Public” we went with his quirky title. I went so far as to register the domain name, “ChristiansGoingPublic.com”, but when I went to search for it on Google, imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a book already written by that name!

The book “Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School” was written by David and Kelli Pritchard of Tacoma, WA (just a few hours away from us). Parents of eight children themselves and other children they took in along the way, they provide great guidance for families with their kids in public school.

Before starting this site, I had searched for resources to help Christians with kids in public school, but did not find many at all. As far as I can find, this book is one of a kind and it is worthy of reading.

This book does not take a stand that public school is the only right choice over other options like homeschooling or private school. Instead, they think we should all actively seek God in our decision making. They also recognize that a majority of Christian children do attend public school, so we need to provide help for doing it successfully, just like we, at Public on Purpose, do.

The book points out parent’s role in the education of their children. We can’t leave it all up to the school. As they quoted from Missionary author Elisabeth Elliot, “There’s never been a time when children could be raised without sacrifice and discipline on the part of the parents.” The book gives many practical ways for parents to train and support their children’s education.

Homeschooling is also a focus in the book in the regard that we should all be “homeschooling”. The couple says, “Yes! We definitely homeschool our children…and starting at age five, we also send them to public school to get more information.” We have the responsibility as parents to make sure our children are getting an appropriate academic and moral education. We must see ourselves as teachers. “Education is not primarily about “them” (the school). It belongs to us first and foremost.” Remember that we need to prepare our children for being sent out. “If you fear that the tide of influence will run the other way – that public-school classmates will drag your child down from his or her standards – then this means you have some training yet to do.”

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the importance of sending your child to school with self-control. “The child with self-control has been trained to tell himself yes or no, based on certain criteria.” It gave me a focus for why I train my children the way I do. I want them to be able to control themselves when I am not around. This affects many behaviors and attitudes where I sometimes let their behavior at home slip. Now, I take action to help them correct behaviors so that they want to change them and will do so on their own.

The book also addresses that fear cannot be a reason that we don’t put our children in public school. “The issue is not whether we trust school officials to always do the right thing. The issue is whether we trust ‘that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28)” Our God is bigger than our society. If we prayerfully consider our ways and motivations, we can trust Him to protect and use our children and families even in public school.

In an interview with Focus on the Family at the beginning of this school year, David and Kelli Pritchard also shared that they believe you need to consider “each kid, each year”. This is what helped me in my decision to pull one of my daughters to homeschool her for the rest of the year. I felt like it was the right thing for her for this time.

There is so much more in this book that will help you in your public schooling journey and I can’t share it all, so grab a copy for yourself. If you have read any other good resources on Christians in public school, please leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to review other material.

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Each Child, Each Year – Facing Academic Challenges in the Classroom

Things have been keeping me busy, not the least of which was deciding to make one major change for our family. Even before we got this website fully off the ground, there were signs that we would face challenges with one teacher this school year. Despite many efforts to correct the situation, I decided this week that I would homeschool my middle daughter for the rest of this year.

It may seem that this doesn’t fit in with our title and mission of “public on purpose”, but actually, it does. We do public school for many reasons. I’ll write those out for you in a post some day. We do public school because we have spent many hours purposely thinking through every pro and con. Generally academics have been a pro or at least neutral in the public school. My children have generally learned what they were supposed to know each year.

However, to be purposeful about public schooling you have to consider each child, each year. Not every child is the same and not every teacher or school is the same. You cannot assume that it will be the best answer all the time.

I am blessed to be a stay-at-home and available to give homeschooling a try with my daughter. I know not everyone has this option, but since I do, I should consider it in my options…knowing that God can equip me for the task if it is something I should do.

So, what brought me to the final decision? Oddly, it was a very civil meeting with our principal about a completely different topic. Our school is going through a school improvement process because it hasn’t reached its goals for four years. So, they are being required to restructure. I went into the meeting with some ideas to help make positive changes and we talked. After 45 minutes I walked out and reflected for a bit. I realized that we had wasted our time. No change would come from my efforts. That realization made me reflect on the discussions about my daughter’s classroom and I realized that was the same case there. We had said a lot of words and I had waited, but made no significant progress. It was time to make the call.

So, now I hope that being both a public school mom and and home school mom I will be able to offer a unique perspective. I imagine it is all part of God’s plan, even with this blog.

I want to share the steps that brought me here in case it might help you consider each of your individual children and their situations.

Pay attention early in the year

We had to learn the hard way with our oldest. Each year we would send her to school and pretty much assume that all was going well unless we heard otherwise from the teacher. Now, after many years in the public schools, we know that you must pay close attention. Not all teachers are created equal when it comes to parent communication.

Our most successful years have been with teachers that send home graded work often, communicate regularly via newsletter or email, and keep our kids accountable to turning in work. Often these key ingredients are missing and symptoms can show up early. Also, we have found that good grades on a report card do not necessarily represent how much they have learned in the year. Watch for information from teachers about your student’s progress and if you don’t get much, be sure to check in with them to see how things are going. It may be that things are fine or it may be that something is missing in the classroom.

Define needs and goals

If you find that something is missing, you need to decide which are the most important issues. Perhaps you find there is no accountability from the teacher, your student is missing work or producing poor work, or maybe there is a classroom management problem. It would be a good idea to prioritize your concerns. Decide what are your most important goals for your student. This will help you know which battles are really worthy of fighting, and when action is necessary.

Communicate with the teacher

When you go in to talk to the teacher, ask questions to clarify your perception of the situation. Talk civilly and respectfully. Explain your perspective and your goals for your student. See if you can come up with an action plan that will fix the situation. Expect to do your part and hold your child accountable to take part in the solution. Do not leave the entire problem up to the teacher to solve. Keep your concerns professional and don’t let them become an attack on the teacher as a person. Try to be as positive as you can.

Communicate with the principal

If you do the previous steps and you are unable to make a plan, you may need to speak with the principal. The administration should be able to step in and help the teacher find a solution if necessary. Continue to do all you can to make things better. Don’t lose sight of your main goals.

Make decisions

Once a plan is moving forward, you will need to give the situation some time. Changes take a while to implement and solidify. However, if things do not seem to improve or you are unable to take the steps to open up communication with a teacher or principal, you may need to take action.

You may need to take the lead and create a specific new system so that you are able to get the information from the teacher that you need, whether that is a written progress report or graded work sent home in a packet. You may have to ask for your child to be moved to a different classroom, or to a different school if possible. If you have the option, you may decide to home school that child for the year. When things aren’t improving you have to take some kind of action. You cannot wait forever. Your child’s education is ultimately your responsibility.

I lingered in the waiting stage for these last two months. After communicating the challenges with the teacher and principal, I was seeing some improvement. It was very slow, and not in the area that was my biggest priority. The issue was really being danced around and I was not getting real answers from the teacher or principal. All of a sudden I realized that was what was happening. It became apparent that my daughter was going to suffer if I didn’t do something significant.

So here I am with two in public school and one at home. I imagine we’ll have our own challenges ahead, but God willing, we’ll make progress. I really feel that this will be a special time for my daughter and I. She has never had time with me on her own, being the middle child. She shines when she gets positive affirmation, so now I’ll be able to give it to her. It may be just what she needs to grow in her faith and be guarded socially for a bit. God works through these things and so I put my trust in Him completely on this new journey.

Image: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Quick Tip of the Week: Tracking Play Dates and Sleepovers

If you have more than one kid, you might have the same problem we have. Every weekend each child is angling to get a friend over to play or spend the night. On occasion I even let the pressure get to me and everyone has someone over at the same time! With all girls, it can be a crazy, busy party…but we all still have fun!

Problem

Sometimes it seems like we have a child over almost every weekend and my children don’t seem to appreciate that. Often, all they remember are the times we say “No, not this weekend.” They also tend to disagree about whose turn it is to invite someone over.

Solution

Lightning just struck my brain a couple weeks ago and I came upon an exciting and easy solution! I told my girls to write down their friend’s name on the calendar on the day or night they played or stayed over. There it is…documented! Wow, that helps my brain to relax, make wise decisions, and also helps the girls to appreciate how many times we actually do say “yes”!

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Bonus Printable

I go back and forth on prayer lists and journaling and arrow prayers all day long. It seems I pray and worship differently just about every day. However, I’ve found that prayer lists really help me to remember specific things and keep me focused. So, for a little fun, I’ve made you this printable prayer list with my “10 Things to Pray for Your Kids“. You can print it large and hang it on the fridge or you can print it as a 3×5 card and stick in your Bible. It’s just a little fun gift from me to you…if it would be useful to you. Hope you are all having a wonderful weekend!

See below where it says “Download Attachments” to click and save or print these files.

Blessings,

Shawna

Download Full Page Prayer List

Download 3×5 Prayer List

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