Help for Haiti

Help for Haiti
This organization has been in Haiti for many years. They are trustworthy.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

My friend Joyce

Recently I spoke on the phone with my good friend, Joyce Herzog. Although separated by many miles we are connected through our similar philosophy that all children can learn and there are many ways we can help them. Joyce has been an experienced educator both in private and public school settings, and she tutors students who are struggling to learn. Talking with Joyce leaves me humbled, for the woman is like a walking library of knowledge and wisdom. Although she's already authored multiple books, there are many more books inside of her just waiting to find their way into print. Lest you think Joyce is merely an intellectual, I need to mention that she has a delightful sense of humor and is one of the most creative people I've ever met. If one solution doesn't work, Joyce can come up with several more things to try in a matter of minutes. Give her a topic and she can come up with games to teach it and practice the concepts. Tell her a child's diagnosis and she can tell you how to compensate for weaknesses and teach to the strengths. Always optimistic and realistic, Joyce knows and shares strategies that work. Sometimes health issues slow her down physically, but her mind is hard to keep up with at times! She has so much mental energy and enthusiasm that it stimulates listeners to think of creative possibilities for themselves. I encourage you to check out her website at:

Joyce has time-tested, educational products on her site as well as advice for homeschoolers. My personal favorites on the site are the "Hints" section and the "Links" list of resources for special needs and struggling learners. At Heads Up, we only carry products that we can whole-heartedly recommend as meeting the highest standards that we would want for our own family. Joyce's books, Timeless Teaching Tips, Learning in Spite of Labels, and Choosing and Using Curriculum are available at our website

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Annual "Buy Yourself Flowers" Reminder!

It's time for my annual exhortation and reminder for all you homeschoolers who are starting a new school year to buy yourself some flowers! This is a tradition I started for myself years ago, and since then I have been urging my fellow homeschoolers to join me in starting a new school year out right with some lovely fresh flowers to commemorate the onset of another year of homeschooling. Please feel free to join me in this tradition even if it is your first year of homeschooling or if your child is in a more traditional school setting. All are welcome! I began this tradition to help myself get excited and enthused for another school year. Having a learner who struggled with numerous challenges, school was never an easy time for either of us. As the "Back to School" specials and commercials increased in frequency during August, I found I was having to take deep breaths and tell myself, "It's going to be all right, Melinda. You've made it this far. You know this is the right thing to do, and you can do it." While other moms in my neighborhood were counting down the days until school started and making plans to meet for coffee the first day school was back in session, I knew that my work would just be picking up again at that point. So I started buying myself flowers on our first official day of school for the year. I would select a nice bouquet and a card for my children to sign for me. At this point I have to confess that one year I was especially dreading the onset of school because the previous year had been so rough. The coming year held no guarantees that things would be any less challenging, so I selected a "With Deepest Sympathy" card for my children to sign. With their impulsivity issues, it wasn't until after they had scrawled their names on the card that they noticed the "With Deepest Sympathy" part at the top of the card. Then I heard cries of "Mo-om!" and we all had a good laugh together. Besides, I think it's o.k. for our kids to know that sometimes homeschooling is hard for us, too. Still worth it, but hard at times. Most years I pick out a more optimistic card to go with the flowers, remembering to avoid those dark purple crunchy ones that my cats seem compelled to chew until the vase spills. Last year, my daughter who graduated from our homeschool in 2006 bought me the flowers and picked out a card. Perhaps this will lead to an even better tradition where the children buy you flowers! But until that point, please join me in buying yourself flowers and share this idea with your friends as we embark on another school year.

*The photo above was taken on 8-13-09 in Chillicothe, Ohio by my daughter, Beth.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monk, The Odd Couple, and Messes

I am a defeated perfectionist. I think I was born wanting to line up my diaper pins and while I was growing up the rest of my family was also neat and orderly. I thought most people were, and even lucked out with my college roommates who were organized and kept their possessions fairly tidy. When I married Scott, I was surprised to find out that he was disorganized. When we were in college and he just had a few things to keep track of he seemed to be functioning just fine. When we had an apartment and later bought a house and shared possessions, he showed me his amazing tolerance for clutter, losing things and misplacing materials. And it is amazing to me even now, after 25 years together. He honestly doesn't notice the piles of stuff and random items left throughout the house. Having children just added to the clutter and extra things to deal with (me) or not deal with (the rest of the family). Remember Felix and Oscar, the Odd Couple who were opposites in their tolerance for neatness? Have you ever watched Monk, the obsessive compulsive detective who is a cleanliness addict? I am drawn to his character even as I relate to some of his behaviors as he attempts to straighten and clean and put things in order around him. Like Monk, I can relate to his genuine distress when surrounded by others who are less meticulous. I have a strong desire for my surroundings to be organized and predictable. In fact, it feels like a need, not just a want. I have a certain spot for items like scissors and tape, and it distresses me to go to retrieve them and find them missing. When I ask my family members if they know where the items are, they typically can't recall or they tell me where they last saw them. It makes so much sense to me to just put things back where they belong so they are there when you need them. I've tried to explain how it will save time in the long run and be less stressful all around, but even when it's another member of my family rushing around trying to find a lost item I seem to be more anxious about it than they are. My husband and two AD/HD children have proudly declared their ethnicity to be "Slob-onians" and the messes really don't faze them. I, on the other hand, am allergic to dust and don't want all these allergy shots and medication to be for nothing, so I try to clean. But I can't keep up with them. I've thought about hiring cleaning help, but that is expensive and much of what needs done is putting things away so that the cleaning can be done. I've written up chore lists in detail so they don't have to think about or remember what to do, just follow the list and check things off as they go. They resist using the list, wanting instead to eyeball the room and announce, "It looks o.k. to me." Trust me, it does not look o.k. I know by now some people are thinking I need to lower my perfectionist standards. I have done that, and I can even be satisfied with just the appearance of clean for some rooms. I have discovered that the Slob-onians can un-clean a lot faster than I can clean and it is impossible to keep up with them. Since I seem to be as incapable of changing as they are, I have acknowledged my status as defeated perfectionist. The desire for clean and orderly is still strong, but the reality of life with Slob-onians defies the realization of that desire.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tea Party or White Water Rafting?

As you think about materials and activities to use with your children, it's important to take their personalities and interests into consideration. Publishers design materials to be useful to large groups, and it wouldn't make sense from a business standpoint to try and individualize every aspect of the curriculum. As homeschoolers, educators, and parents supplementing their child's education we can individualize to best meet our child's needs. I found that my children did better when I made the curriculum work for them by changing it to fit their learning styles and supplementing with games and other media that would appeal to them. I had one child out of three who could easily go with a curriculum in its original form. The other two needed something different or various alterations to the material for them to maximize their learning opportunities. My daughter, Beckie, is a very versatile child. She easily engages in activities traditionally geared toward girls and in her earlier years could dress up in frilly princess outfits and stroll about with a lacy umbrella and oodles of fake jewels. Beckie could just as easily hold her own in activities typically thought of as designed for rough and tumble boys' play and could make vehicle noises and Lego creations with the best of them. She is already a second degree black belt and frequently sports numerous bruises obtained during her martial arts classes. Beckie made an observation in church awhile back that I hadn't even thought about, and I had to laugh when she pointed it out. The women's ministry was offering a Mother/Daughter Tea for the women to attend. It was a fun time for dressing up and enjoying pretty china and the company of other women and girls. The men's ministry was planning a white water rafting trip that would include some camping and outdoor adventures. Beckie leaned over to me and commented, "Why do the guys get to go white water rafting and we get tea? I don't even like sitting around drinking tea, but I'd love to go white water rafting!" I agree that Beckie's options were rather limiting for her. She is physically fit and enjoys outdoor activities. The rafting trip would be a better match for her, and I'm confident she could have kept up with the boys in the group. In this case, it wasn't a choice she was offered and it was tea or nothing. Beckie made a good point, though, and it reminded me not to limit her because of her age or gender. Someday Beckie will go white water rafting. She may develop skills that are not usually taught in standard curriculum or at the generally expected time for her age. That's o.k., and if someday she develops an affinity for tea parties, I'll support her in that as well. We shouldn't hold our kids back because they are interested in something that won't be covered in this year's scope and sequence or because they aren't at the "right" grade yet. Instead, let's figure out how to make our materials work for what our kids are ready to learn, and remember who they are as individuals as we make our choices.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Self-esteem and Reality

Some children lack confidence because they are very aware of their own struggles. Their self-esteem is low and may lead to a reluctance to try tasks or join in activities. This is especially apparent if they have a learning glitch or other challenges and their siblings do not. The comparisons are inevitable, and the child who struggles may feel inferior or somehow defective. As educators and parents we can work to balance this skewed perspective and help our children develop an accurate view of themselves by pointing out things they are good at or show an affinity for throughout the day. Often these strengths are not the traditional academic areas, but may be reflected in athletic skills or artistic endeavors. I had a chat with my daughter once when she was discouraged about one of her school assignments. It wasn't coming easily for her and she began to droop as she came face-to-face with the challenge. I told her there were different ways people could be smart, and pointed out several areas where she was able to excel. As I explained that some of us are athletic, some of us are artistic, etc. she concluded happily, "I'm pretty much the whole package!" Her struggles were forgotten for the moment as she reflected on her strengths. The goal isn't for us to encourage our children to believe things that aren't true just to make them feel better. Our intention should be to help our children develop an accurate view of themselves with the recognition of both strengths and weaknesses. We all have areas of struggle, and some are just more visible than others. Let's do what we can to help our children see themselves as God sees them, as individuals who are valuable and have areas of struggle and areas of gifting. This truth is the foundation for genuine, lasting self-esteem based in reality.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Diving Boards and Moose Tracks

Years ago my youngest child, Beckie, had mixed feelings about jumping off the diving board at the local community pool. She had been through a few rounds of swim lessons by then and could swim and tread water. She watched others jump and splash and could tell they were having fun. She decided she wanted to try it, and I agreed to let her try a jump off the lower diving board. She confidently climbed up the ladder, then slowed as she approached the end and came to a stop. Suddenly, her confidence was gone and she stood there trembling with indecision. I was standing nearby on the edge of the pool, ready to jump in and rescue her if necessary. (I am not much of a swimmer, but I would have dog-paddled to her and tugged her out!) Beckie looked at me, looked at the water, looked behind her at the line of kids waiting their turn, and reversed course back down the ladder. She got her courage up and repeated the scenario a few more times, each time getting angrier with herself for not taking the plunge. I did my usual Mom pep talk things, like pointing out that she could already jump and knew how to swim and that after the first time it would get easier. Knowing Beckie, I knew if she didn't go for it during this visit she would talk herself out of trying again for a long time. She knew she could do it, I knew she could do it, but she just couldn't make herself jump. At that point I decided verbal encouragement and logic weren't cutting it and I tried an incentive. This reward may sound like a bribe, but I assure you it was really an incentive! I told Beckie that if she jumped off the diving board she could have a scoop of her favorite ice cream, Moose Tracks, when we got home. The promise of ice cream was greater than her fear of the unknown sensation of jumping off the diving board and she immediately got back in line for a turn. When she got to the end of the board, she hesitated and reminded herself of the Moose Tracks that awaited her successful jump. Then BOING off she went! She came up grinning and swam to the side of the pool, climbed out and got right back in line for another turn to jump. After her third jump, the life guards blew the whistle for rest time so she had just gotten her jumps in on time. She came over to me and as I wrapped her in a towel and hugged her proudly against me she informed me that she had earned three scoops of Moose Tracks. Apparently she thought each jump earned a scoop, and was keeping a mental count as she envisioned the ice cream piling up. Good thing the rest period started when it did! I informed Beckie that the Moose Track reward was a one time incentive for learning to jump off the diving board. But I did give her three scoops that night because I know the courage it took and in my opinion, she earned it. It was also another good reminder for me that I needed to be very specific in my communication, and that sometimes kids need a little more from us than our words of love and assurance.