Older Children Training Younger Children

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Titus 2:3-4 tells us that older women are to train the younger women in various things. Most of the time when we think of this, we think in terms of adults. We think of the women whose children have grown coaching new mothers and such. And that is an important element of these verses. I can remember being shocked to realize, when my oldest children were preschoolers, that I was an “older woman” to new mothers. I could coach them in things related to babies. But recently I realized that this concept begins much, much earlier. In our family we have all girls, so the gender of the text “fits” and I’ll be using girls in this post, but I think many of these concepts carry over to boys and mixed genders as well.

10300683_10153566916394838_168564344117248775_nWhen my older girls were preschoolers they had a couple friends who were 4-5 years older than them. These lovely homeschooled girls were sooo sweet to make my little ones feel wanted, included and “big”. And my girls doted on them. As my girls got older, their little sister and her friends started following them around, imitating them, doting on them. Understandably, that sometimes annoys the older girls, especially when it’s little sister who is ALWAYS there. Many times I’ve reminded them how much they loved “playing with” their older friends when they were little. It helps them think about it from the littler ones’ perspective and be more patient, though obviously we also sometimes need to remind little sister to let her older sisters do their own thing.

Just recently Little Sister got to experience being an “older woman” to a younger child as well. When a newly 4 year old joined our Kindergarten Sabbath School, I noticed that she watches my daughter and her friends and imitates them. If they are singing and doing the motions, she does, if they aren’t, she doesn’t. So on our way home from church I talked to my daughter about what I’d observed and explained her responsibility to set a good example.

2015-06-01 10.26.31 - EditedBut since this is a homeschool blog, I wanted to focus mostly on how this concept is currently playing out in our homeschool.

  • Multi-age curriculum. This year the science curriculum that my 12 year old, Lexie, chose is a curriculum that’s designed to be used for a wide age range. When Lexie chose it, I suggested that she could “teach” her little sister the first grade portion while doing the 7th grade portion independently. Both girls loved this idea and are having fun doing science together.
  • 2015-06-01 12.18.46 - EditedHands-on learning. My other 12 year old, Ashlyn, loves art and gardening. For a couple years now, she has shared these passions with her little sister, teaching her, not only the “how to” of these things, but the love of them as well. The two of them have “art time” together. And when Ashlyn goes out to work in the garden she calls her little sister to come with her. She has her own watering can and gardening gloves and when they come in both girls tell me about their garden. Lexie loves to cook and does most of the cooking these days. She often gets her little sister to “help” even though it takes longer, so she is sharing her love of cooking, and her cooking skills with her younger sister.
  • Chores. When I set up a new chore chart I make sure to give my youngest some chores that she will do with one of her sisters so that they can train her in that chore. Other times I’ll give her a chore in the same room as a sister. So while she’s cleaning the bathtub she can observe her older sister cleaning the rest of the bathroom and begin learning those skills. I also give her chores that I help her with so that she’s learning chores from all three of us.
  • Observation.  In addition to the above intentional ways of older mentoring younger, perhaps my favorite is the unintentional ways it just happens. Little Sister is always watching her big sisters and learning from them. Recently while doing school together, Lexie asked her “what did God make on the 3rd day of creation?” Little Sister responded with “wait, let me look it up!” She went and got the iPad and opened the YouVersion kid’s app that reads Bible stories to you (one of her favorite apps). She went to the creation story, and figured out that God made plants on the third day. While I’m pretty sure that if she’d thought about it she’d have been able to answer without “looking it up”, I was most impressed with the fact that she’s seen her sisters “look things up” so she wanted to look things up too, and could think through where to find the information, and do so. I’ve always felt that more important than memorizing facts, is knowing how and where to find information you need, so she’s already started learning that skill, mainly by observing her sisters.

All of these, and I’m sure others I haven’t thought of, are great ways to encourage older children to teach younger children, a valuable tool for you, and a valuable skill for the children!

Worship Through Serving Others

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I’ve seen many articles in the last few years about young people leaving the churches. It’s a concern. I don’t have any global answers, but I can tell you that one key, for my children, is giving them opportunities to serve. To be active in their worship, and to be giving, not simply sitting and being entertained.

Honestly, I can’t take credit for any of these ideas, I never sat down and intentionally asked myself “how can I get my kids actively serving God, to keep them engaged?” God led us into these ministries before I even realized we needed them. But because we’ve discovered these opportunities, I want to share them with others.

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Helping in younger kids’ Sabbath Schools. From the time my daughters were 9, they have helped in Cradle Roll or Kindergarten Sabbath Schools. They love helping teach the younger kids, and what better way to learn, than to teach others? While they sometimes complain about the things I ask them to memorize as a part of our homeschool, they happily and voluntarily will memorize things to act out for the Kindergarten kids.

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Community service. Our church is awesome! Once a month we, as a church, go out into the community on Sabbath afternoon and serve. Recently we’ve been helping at a “big brothers, big sisters” community center. Do crafts with the kids who come there, and playing basketball, etc with these kids. My girls’ favorite though, is what our church calls “mobile soup kitchen” we go downtown and pass out soup, hot chocolate, water bottles, etc. to whoever needs them.

2015-04-29 19.47.36xAn interactive “small group Bible study” for kids. This was another one that came about by accident, but I think it’s soo cool. Several families in our church host small group Bible studies. The pastor provides each group with a list of study questions that relate to the upcoming week’s sermon. The group we joined includes another family with kids. The kids all played in the playroom while we had our Bible study. Then one time, to keep the kids occupied, my 12 year olds adapted a “play” they had written/performed at home, to include the extra kids. At the end of Bible study they invited all of us to the playroom and performed it for us. Someone suggested that the kids should do a play to go along with the study topic in the future. So the next time, we found out the study topic ahead of time and the girls figured out how to make it work. After performing it for our Bible study group, they also performed it in church that Sabbath. While they’ve only performed in church once, and some weeks the study topic doesn’t lend itself to a play, it has become the “norm” for the kids to figure out some kind of Bible play and perform it at the end of Bible study. While it’s fun for all of us to see what they come up with, the part I love the most is that it’s a way for kids, young and old, to discuss and study the Bible in their own way. I suspect, if our group stays intact, that as the kids all get older, their plays will become more in depth, or perhaps they’ll naturally morph from performing plays to having their own discussions of the Bible study topic, regardless, it’s become their own kid-level Bible study and it’s their own doing, not adults telling them they have to.

These specific ideas are just what’s worked for my kids. Different ideas will work for different children, and in my experience, kids come up with the best ideas on their own. Worshiping become real when we are serving others, children need to experience service too.

Families are Teams

We live in a competitive world. Sports . . . jobs . . . kids’ games . . . everywhere we look, there’s competition. Having twins, who both tend to be perfectionists, I realized at a very young age, that competition between them does not lead to family harmony.

When they were young, we played cooperative games. I still remember, when they were 6 or 7, they saw our old “Sorry” game on the shelf and asked to play it. I remembered playing it as a kid, so got it out to teach them. It was an epic failure . . . they were absolutely NOT willing to “be mean” to each other (being mean to mommy was great fun), so the first time one drew a sorry card and the only player with a piece that could be sent home was her sister, the game dissolved into tears.

As they’ve gotten older that has changed and they now enjoy board games of all sorts. But I still feel it’s important for families to be aware of, and limit, serious competition within the family.

I was recently part of a conversation online discussing ways to make Easter egg hunts fun for a wide range of ages/abilities. Many great ideas were given for how the hunt itself can be designed to be non-competitive. I think my favorite was to assign a certain color egg to each child (or, for a large group event, each age range). That way the toddlers can just gather up their eggs on the grass . . . littles can find slightly hidden eggs and so on, until the upper elementary kids have to really work to find well-hidden eggs.

How2014-04-20 12.03.38ever, the reality is, we don’t always get to choose the rules for events we attend. In our family, from the time the girls were little, we’ve had a family rule. At events where kids gather candy or other “loot” (not only egg hunts, but parades where candy is thrown, pinatas at parties, etc), in our family we pool all the candy and the kids divide it evenly. While this saved tears when the twins were little, I didn’t fully appreciate the beauty of it until more recently. Our third daughter, affectionately nicknamed Little Bit on my blog, is 6 years younger than her older sisters. While her sisters have always been awesome big sisters anyway, it has made it easier for them, over the years, to let her find the easy eggs, or to help HER find harder eggs, or to help HER gather candy, instead of each rushing to get the most THEY can get, because they know they’ll be sharing it anyway. It allows them to enjoy watching her wonder at new experiences instead of focusing on their own gain.

Another area where I’ve been diligent in not letting competition creep in is the twins’ schoolwork. As homeschoolers we don’t give “grades” per se, so most of the time it’s a non-issue, but our state requires that homeschoolers take achievement tests in certain grades. The first year the twins took the tests, I warned them ahead of time that I wouldn’t be telling them their scores. Especially with them being the same age/”grade level”, I wasn’t going to allow this mandatory test to give them something to brag about or lord over each other. Instead, when I got the results, I gave them general, not specific to each other, information. In several cases, they fell within the same percentile, so I could tell them that information, praising them for their hard work that put them near the top of their grade level. Where their scores differed I gave more general information. . . telling them that in both cases their lowest score was on such and such a test, and discussing the reason for that (it was testing an area of learning that I had intentionally delayed formally teaching them up to that point). . .

And now, as I type, they are taking their 5th grade tests. This year there’s been more discussion. Ashlyn has worked diligently to learn the area that they were lowest in last time, and she wants to know her scores so she knows how she’s improved. I think, because she’s put so much more effort into that area than her sister, she also kind of wants to know if that effort has “paid off” in higher scores than her sister. For now, I’ve told her I make no promises. I’m still committed to not facilitating or allowing them to brag about doing better than each other, or make each other feel bad. But I want them to be able to celebrate their accomplishments as well. So we will see . . . again, any area where their scores are in the same percentile will be easy. I may also pull out their scores from two years ago and tell them areas where they improved . . . we’ll have to see.

I know of families where the whole family enjoys friendly competition, and that’s fine too. I think the key is friendly competition and that comes with knowing your children’s, and your own, personalities. . . if it works, great, however, if competition is hurting relationships within your family, I’d encourage you to find ways to encourage teamwork and minimize competition in your family.

In Like a Lion . . .

LionLambOne thing that I’ve found works well in teaching young children is helping them to see, and celebrate the rhythms of the year. This includes year round nature study, observing the changes as the seasons change, and also celebrating holidays and birthdays as they cycle around each year.

Sometimes it can be fun to mix things up abit, and I’ve found that March is a fun time to add new fun to our season observations.

Most of us have grown up knowing the old saying that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. In our house, every few years, we have some fun with this.

My five year old is too young to remember when we’ve done this in the past, so it was especially fun to introduce the idea to her this year. Conveniently, on Friday afternoon she was playing with her plastic animals, so I asked her to find me a lion and lamb that we could use for school for awhile. The lion and lamb sat on our living room windowsill all day Sabbath. Several times she begged me to tell her what we were going to do, but the anticipation is part of the fun (this isn’t true for all children, my older daughter, Ashlyn, would have found the not knowing to be torture, not fun. For her, I would have found the animals myself, and kept them out of sight until school time on March 1 or waited and asked her to find me the animals on the first.)

2015-03-01 10.49.22 - EditedSunday morning the lion and lamb moved to the top of the piano, along with two jelly jars and a jar of marbles and glass “jewels” as we call them, the flat marble-like things that are sold to put in flower arrangements and such. The jar of marbles is obviously much bigger than needed for one month’s weather, but I already had them all in a jar and they look so pretty, I just left them that way. During our school time that morning, we read a Lion and Lamb poem and talked about what it means for weather to be like a lion or like a lamb. Then we looked outside, where the snow was falling fast, and agreed that it was most definitely a lion kind of day, so she dropped a marble into the lion’s jar.

The lion and lamb traveled around the house a bit during the day, but always returned to their jars on the piano, ready for the rest of the month.

2015-03-01 10.53.03 - EditedMonday morning, as soon as Little Bit came downstairs, she went right to the window, observed the heavy white sky, declared it another “lion day” and added a second marble to the jar.

Later in the day, she came outside while my husband and I were shoveling the snow, and she realized it was actually a very nice, not too cold, day. She was very disturbed to have chosen wrong, and very relieved when I pointed out that she could easily move the marble from the lion jar to the lamb jar.

We’ll continue with our weather study all month and, at the end of the month, we’ll also slip in a short math lesson by counting up the marbles in each jar and finding out if we had more lion days or lamb days this month.

With an older child, this could be expanded to use a calendar with lion and lamb stickers to see which days were lion and which were lamb, and/or it could be shown on a graph to see trends.

Indoor Activities For Cold Winter Days

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In the last couple of weeks winter has hit here with a vengeance! The snow has been predicted more than it’s come, but it’s been really, really, REALLY cold.  While I believe it’s important to get fresh air even when it’s cold, I also support my children’s desire to not spend very long outside when it’s bitterly cold out there. Which means finding more inside things to do. . .

My 11 year olds are pretty self sufficient in that regard. They happily find sewing patterns, knitting or crochet patterns, new recipes to try, or a good book to read. But my five year old needs abit more guidance. . .

Since I’m guessing I’m not the only one who needs simple, indoor activities for this time of year, I thought I’d share some things we’ve done recently, and things on my “to do” list that I can pull out as needed . . .

2015-02-01 20.34.27 - EditedPaper snowflakes! We spent a solid week making 50+ paper snowflakes for our church social. The big girls looked up patterns online and made some gorgeous snowflakes. Little Bit’s were less . . . impressive but she had lots of fun making them. For her, I found that what worked best was coffee filters (the basket style). They’re already round and the thin paper makes it easy for little hands to cut through multiple layers.

Playdough and clay are always a hit. We have a fabric bin in the living room full of playdough, clay, cookie cutters, etc. That makes it easy to pull those out, and working with playdough and clay is a great way to build hand strength which helps with learning to write and/or play piano. . . Little Bit just thinks it’s lots of fun! And occasionally her sisters join her too.

Bookmaking.  Actually, I can’t take any credit for this one. One of my older girls used to do this all the time when she was little and recently, we came across one of hers, and it apparently inspired Little Bit, she’s been busily making a book for the last couple of days. She draws pictures, and asks me to write (on scrap paper) a few words describing the picture, then she copies those words onto the page with her picture and tapes or staples the pages together. It’s fun

2014-11-17 13.05.40Last month, as part of learning about the middle ages, we made marshmallow catapults. They were fun to make, and the girls spent most of the afternoon shooting marshmallows across the room.

Hair clip holder – in our house full of girls, we seem to be drowning in hair clips and such. This looks pretty easy, and a fun way to help Little Bit learn to braid while making something we can actually use!

On a day when we need to get some movement in, this is a fun, WARM, version of a snowball toss. And bonus, she can have fun drawing faces on the cups before hand!

We have big front windows that are fun to decorate, right now we have paper snowflakes on them, but it might be fun to mix things up and make these snowflakes.

With the Great Backyard Bird Count coming up soon, it’s a great time to make some bird feeders and such, here are a few options:

Cookie cutter bird feeders

No instructions, but this citrus bird feeder looks easy enough to make without instructions.

Water bottle bird feeder

2013-02-26 12.38.48Toilet paper roll bird feeder – we did this a couple years ago. Even age at 3, Little Bit had fun with it!

And on a day when it’s not TOOO horribly cold out, why not send the kids outside to make a snowman bird feeder.

Since we know spring WILL come, now is also a good time to gather nesting material to put out for the birds in the spring.

Here’s a valentine’s art project that doesn’t require any special equipment, but sounds great (and it could easily be adapted to other times, any simple shape would work!)

I have lots more Valentines craft ideas on my Pinterest board. I also use Pinterest to collect craft and hands-on project ideas for various science topics, different periods of history, etc. That way, whatever we’re studying, I can easily find ideas I’ve seen in the past that fit with that topic.