Benefits of the Outdoor Classroom

Here in the Netherlands two organizations worked together to promote going outside for learning by organizing an outdoor school day. They challenged schools to do at least one lesson outside on this day. We decided to join this special day with our homeschool, and we spent the whole day outside. In the morning, we went for a walk in the forest with three other homeschooling families. The afternoon we spend working and playing in our garden.

Both my children, but especially my son (three years old), love to play outside. My son often asks me, “Can I play in the garden now?” — even before breakfast or after dinner. I simply can’t say no to this. Being outside has so many benefits.

Today I want to share with you some of the benefits of playing and learning outdoors, particularly for preschoolers.

In the book Child Guidance, sister Ellen White shares with us:

  • “Next to the Bible, nature is to be our great lesson book,” Testimonies For The Church 6:185.
  • “To the little child, not yet capable of learning from the printed page or of being introduced to the routine of the schoolroom, nature presents an unfailing source of instruction and delight. The heart not yet hardened by contact with evil is quick to recognize the Presence that pervades all created things. The ear as yet undulled by the world’s clamor is attentive to the Voice that speaks through nature’s utterances. And for those of older years, needing continually its silent reminders of the spiritual and eternal, nature’s teaching will be no less a source of pleasure and of instruction,” Education, 100.
  • “The fields and hills — nature’s audience chamber — should be the schoolroom for little children. Her treasures should be their textbook. The lessons thus imprinted upon their minds will not be soon forgotten,” The Signs of the Times, December 6, 1877.

So, let’s use the outdoors for learning. The course of SonLight about the ‘ten principles of true education’ also emphasises the importance teaching in nature.

“Homeschooling is meant to be done in a natural surrounding where children learn naturally.… Teaching outside tends to quiet hyper students. At first there may be moments of distraction, but these moments will pass, or can often be turned into lessons.… Teaching outside will improve the five senses. Students will become more sensitive to seeing detail, hearing quiet sounds, smelling fragrances, feeling breezes and changes in temperature, and tasting nature through its smells. This will help develop in them a sensitivity to people, their needs… In their time of trouble to will be the little things that will help them to know how to respond to a friend or an enemy. Teaching outside offers time for personal prayer, thoughts and meditation. It offers opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak gently to students through nature.” https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B1d_dY0vFt8ffm1wVjFNQ25tUWFsWFFnT1RnZ3hCbWhHcDdodkhBZW82akg0dERfcFpDbDg?amp%3Busp=sharing

There are also multiple health benefits from playing and homeschooling outside:

  • Sunlight: the sun supplies us with vitamin D and helps with sleep-wake cycle.
  • Fresh air: indoor air is more toxic than outdoor air.
  • Exercise: it strengthens muscles and bones, and it prevents obesity.
  • Healthy eyes: spending a lot of time outside in natural light protects against nearsightedness.

And, last but not least, the influence of being outside on mental health:

  • Better cognitive performance
  • Improved attention spans
  • Better behavior and mood
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved memory
  • Reduces stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Playing together with other children encourages social development like sharing, and how to negotiate and resolve conflicts.

Adult controlled play, such as in organized sports, and free play are not interchangeable, although both are valuable. Children learn better when they regularly spread their attention or can pause.

What is your experience with the outdoor classroom? Please share how you use your outdoor classroom and how it benefits your children.

Public Speaking and Homeschooling

Do your kids love public speaking?

Can you picture your kids being up on stage talking and presenting?

Do you picture your kids being good leaders one day?

How many hours a week, or a month or a year, have you spent in building public speaking skills with your children?

Running a clinic with multiple doctors and staff requires my wife and me to review countless resumes and interview many people. Many people flunk their interview within seconds simply because they were either not able to hold eye contact, were overcome by anxiety, or were not able to think critically under pressure when answering questions.

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking, and it is one of the most common phobias in the world. Whether people realize it or not, their career and life decisions are often decided by their public speaking skills. Some people may choose to pursue a career where they will interact with many people daily. Some may choose to do the opposite, where they will work in private, or have less interaction with people. If your kids learn to speak in public today, they can prepare themselves to speak properly in public, and to manage the fears of presenting in front of others for the future. To put it simply, your children’s future careers may depend on these skills.

We all want our kids to do well when they grow up. We want them to be confident enough to be on stage, especially when God opens doors for opportunities to influence others. We want them to be leaders. Our family intentionally decided to invest in public speaking skills and stage presence skills when homeschooling them on a daily basis. I’d like to share some ideas you may find useful in your homeschooling journey.

MEMORIZATION

There are three benefits of memorization. The first is emotional health benefits. Remember that the brain is a muscle that must be exercised. There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus which is in charge of making and keeping memories, and partly responsible for managing emotions. People with Alzheimer’s disease have their hippocampus fail first and severely before other parts of the cortex fail. People with depression, bipolar disorder, and schizoprenia have a hippocampus that shrinks gradually.  The hippocampus also is now known to control the hormone estrogen, which controls emotions and mood changes.

By training yourself and your kids to memorize things, it may prevent you and your children from depression, anxiety, mood changes, Alzheimer’s, and other mental illnesses!  

The second benefit of memorization is, as your children spend time memorizing passages, tables, and poems, they learn to focus. Studies have found that students who were required to memorize from an early age often go on to have more capacity to focus on educational tasks as high school and college students. Researchers from the National Institute on Health and Aging have found that adults who went through short bursts of memory training were better able to maintain higher cognitive functioning and everyday skills, even five years after going through the training. Practicing memorization allowed the elderly adults to delay typical cognitive decline by seven to 14 years!

The third benefit is increased confidence.  When a child learns to do something difficult, they earn a great sense of accomplishment. This is especially true where plays or presentations are concerned; children often receive praise or even applause after they recite a poem or act in a play, which increases their self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.

Start with a simple task such as memorizing short Bible verses. This is something you can even do with a two-year old. Ask them to do it while standing up before meals and during morning and evening worship times. Ask them to keep their eyes focused on you and to speak clearly with a smile on their face. I make it more personal and understandable by modifying some of the Bible verses so they can understand the meaning of them. Here are 12 simple verses that you can use for each month of the year or the first six months of the year (two verses a month, depending on your child’s ability to memorize):

    1. Numbers 6:24 The Lord bless you and keep you.
    2. Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
    3. Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world.
    4. Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey Mommy and Daddy in the Lord.
    5. Matthew 28:20 Jesus said He is with me always.
    6. John 10:11 Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd.
    7. Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
    8. Psalm 136:1 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.
    9. Philippians 4:13 I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.
    10. Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    11. Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid, I will trust in Jesus.
    12. James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

Some kids who are kinetic learners will find it easier and enjoyable to memorize Bible verses while doing an activity such as running in circles, hula hooping, dancing to a song, doing signs or hand gestures, etc. Make sure to repeat these verses daily during dinner time or worship time.

Older kids can start memorizing a whole chapter of a Bible or a long passage. Have them present to you during morning or evening worship, or in the middle of homeschooling session in between subjects. Even better, parents should also memorize these passages and maybe even do a competition with the older kids!

This will not only help them understand important spiritual lessons, but also help their brain cells to handle large amount of information which improves their cognitive functions. Here are a few ideas of important Bible chapters or passages that older kids and adults should memorize:

    1. Numbers 6:24-26
    2. The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-17
    3. The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:1-12
    4. The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:5-15
    5. Psalm 23 & 46
    6. 1 Corinthians 13
    7. Romans 8 & 12

REGULAR GIGS, AWARDS, AND REWARDS

As mentioned previously, when children receive applause and praises, their sense of self-worth and confidence are also increased. Even better, treat them with rewards or awards every so often.  

  • Have them present what they just learned from science or history lessons in the morning to the rest of the family during evening meal.  Ask them open-ended questions: “What did you learn about amphibians this morning? What did you learn about the Egyptians today?”  
  • Morning and/or evening worship times are perfect for them to present a Bible verse or chapter.  
  • Have the kids present what they memorize in front of church as part of the worship program or Adventist Youth program.  
  • Challenge other kids in their Sabbath School class to memorize verses and passages as well, and have them present during church service.  
  • Have your kids present their school project or what they learned this past week to their grandparents or family friends when they visit.  
  • Make a calendar with goals of which passages to memorize for the month and for the rest of the year.

USING VISUAL AIDS AND PROPS

Just like with a science presentation, help your kids with their speaking presentation using visual aids and props. I have been invited to be a judge at the local schools’ science fairs, and it’s always interesting to watch how some kids with average project can shine because of their public speaking skills, while some kids with average or amazing projects end up not winning because of their presentation skills. Younger kids can start with simple objects, while older kids may use slideshow software or props.  

Have your children be involved in a play at church or school where they get to do speech as a character. Preparing for a role, and preparing visual aids and props — both of these activities teach them to be prepared for their presentation in advance, which will help lessen their anxiety.

JOINING A PUBLIC SPEAKING CLUB

Toastmasters International or other local groups are often found in local libraries or churches. Look up Toastmasters International to find a local chapter. You’ll be surprised how much you and your older children can benefit from attending this weekly meeting of various people from all walks of life who simply want to improve their public speaking skills.  They will give you constructive criticisms, and they will help you to be a better speaker.

Our children at the time of this writing, are eight and four. They do fairly well being up on the podium or on stage with other kids at church or at a dance recital.  However, they still have some stage fright when they are up there by themselves. They are getting better at it, though. The oldest one actually recently asked when she could do special music all by herself. And, both of them enjoy doing mini presentations during evening dinner from what they learned in the morning.

I hope this article is helpful to you and your little ones. We have the responsibility to train our children to be pillars of the church and to be leaders wherever they go in life. Leaders are not necessarily bosses. Leaders are influencers. Everybody is a leader when you can influence others around you.  With the Great Commission as our task, we must equip our children with public speaking skills to reach others and to spread His love.

Maranatha!

Arthur P.

Taking Care of Us

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There comes a time when we start questioning ourselves, when the challenge of parenting, educating, therapy, work, and all the other things we deal with in our lives becomes overwhelming and we wonder if we are doing the right thing, or if we need to let something drop off our list. These are often signs of burnout and fatigue.

We need to make sure we take time to take care of ourselves. Self-care is something I often neglect. It’s important to take care of the whole family, to remember ourselves while we are doing so much. As parents we often put the children first. There are so many things vying for our attention that it is easy to lose us in the process.

There are things we can do, though. We don’t have to go big to take care of us:

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  • Journal – Writing for some is greatly therapeutic! It gives us a place to vent and express our thoughts and feelings in a safe place. Sometimes all we need to do is express it.
  • Be Alone – Sometimes just doing something by yourself is refreshing. Grocery shop without the kids, get out of the house alone, go for a drive, sit in the driveway, just find some silence where no one is able to interrupt.
  • Exercise – Plan something regularly to get out and move! Find what you enjoy — dance, aerobics, yoga, swimming. There are many classes you can enroll in to bring accountability into your exercise program. I once joined Middle Eastern dancing for the fun of it, and I’ve done rock climbing too. Find something different, try something new!
  • Friends – Just spend time with friends. Go out for dinner or to a movie, have coffee, go window shopping. Do something you enjoy with someone you like.
  • Date – This isn’t (just) for single folks. If you have a spouse, make a plan for date night. Take care of your relationship, add some spice to your relationship. Make room in your life for uninterrupted quality time with your partner.
  • Get Creative – Draw, paint, photograph, write, decorate, knit, crochet, cross-stitch, needlepoint, sew… You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to do it. Express yourself!
  • Play – Be social. Have game nights, spend time with friends as a family. Have family movie nights, family games, family outings. Make time for fun. So often we get so focused on raising and teaching kids that we forget to have fun with them. It’s important to make sure our kids know relationships are important too.
  • Know Yourself – Know what you enjoy and go do it. Make time for yourself. If you don’t fit this list, make your own.

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Burnout happens to everyone. We need to be proactive; if it happens, be honest and gracious with yourself. Be purposeful, make appointments with yourself and keep them! Take care of yourself. Remember we show our children how to take care of themselves, and this is something we must model, not teach.

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Teaching Humility

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How do we teach our children to be humble when we so often miss the point of it?

What is humility? How do we protect our children from the sin of pride, while at the same time teaching them that they are valuable and important?

For too many years, I thought humility was to depreciate myself, to cling to my failings and faults in order to refuse value. I thought humility was always being aware of my failings, my sins — to live in degradation because of the things I do or have done wrong…in other words, to continually pay for the consequences of my sins. I have lived in the shadow of seeking to be perfect because I didn’t believe I had value otherwise. I have struggled with teaching my children to be humble because I did not understand humility myself. I have heard parents say they did not want to praise their children’s accomplishments because they didn’t want to teach them to be prideful. I do not want my children to believe they were less than they are. I want them to know I believe in them and I am pleased with their accomplishments!

God has been working on my heart. I have realized that humility is very much like courage. Courage is strongest in the face of danger. A person who never faces a challenge, who never faces danger, cannot be called courageous; so also, a person who does not believe in their value cannot be called humble.

If we do not have an intrinsic understanding of our value, we cannot truly understand humility.

Let’s look at some Biblical examples. Who does Scripture admonish to be humble? At first, it is the Israelite nation. Why? They have intrinsic, God-given value. God made it abundantly clear to them that He held them in high regard. He literally moved oceans, rivers, and armies to prove how much He cared for them. They KNEW, without a shadow of a doubt, that they were chosen to be God’s special people. What did they do with this knowledge, however? A lot of the time they used it to set themselves apart from the other nations. They set themselves up as more valuable than other people because they had God’s favor. So often, they took the special favor given them by God and decided it was their right rather than their gift. They forgot the source of their value. They sought perfection to hold onto His favor instead of seeking Him. They refused to be humble. In turn, they had to be humbled.

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God doesn’t want proud people. Prideful people treat others with disrespect and abuse. He wants us to understand we are valuable and then show others that they, too, are valuable.

Pride is believing you alone are valuable and have the right to hurt or hold others down so you look more valuable than they are.

Then there is self-degradation. Self-degradation is refusing to believe you have value, focusing only on your failings, and believing that you cannot have value until you have achieved perfection. This is disproved in Scripture time and time again.

Self-degradation, the belief that you have no intrinsic value, is pride, not humility. It stands beside pride in believing that you alone are responsible for achieving value.

Though there are many examples through Scripture, you really only need to look at one character to see this: David. David was a simple shepherd, without value in his family of origin, shrouded in mystery, small in size, without anything to recommend him when Samuel anoints him to be the next king of Israel. Suddenly, his life does a complete turnaround and he is pretty much left reeling from the changes. What David does have to begin with is a deep understanding of his value in God’s eyes.

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David understands that all his accomplishments are because God has provided them and protected him. Even knowing that, even understanding that God was beside him and eager to answer any question he had, David was not perfect. Sometimes he forgot to ask God what to do. Sometimes he blatantly chose to sin, such as when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had Uriah killed. Sometimes he made huge errors in judgment because he neglected to check in with God. History, however, tells us that no matter what David did, God continued to show him favor. David didn’t need to be perfect; he needed to maintain his humbleness by remembering where his favor came from, returning to God every time he messed up, and using his favor to help others.

Humility comes from understanding God holds your value; it is a gift meant to be shared. Humility is understanding you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to accomplish it all or be strong enough to sustain life. Humility is remembering where you have come from, what you have survived; it is knowing you have value despite the mistakes and errors made along the way. It is seeing the full journey, recognizing God’s hand in your life and treating others the same way.

This is what humbleness is. Humbleness is knowing intrinsically what your value is and Who it comes from, and helping others to see the same value in themselves.

So, how do I teach my children to be humble? I have to start by teaching them they are valued, that they are loved, that they are important. I need to teach them that their failings and mistakes will never affect their value in my eyes or in God’s. Then, I have to teach them to treat every other person they interact with as valuable also. Only then will they truly understand the meaning of humility.

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Call Me Pastrami on Rye

I have now officially joined the ranks of the sandwich generation.

It’s been three years since my dad died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. The nurses contacted me that morning; perhaps my mom hadn’t answered their call. I was the backup contact.

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We arrived at the nursing home mid-morning; he died around midnight. In the intervening hours, my mother, who has been, throughout her life, solid and stoic, grieved like I’ve never seen anyone grieve. At one point, she had no idea where she was. It was shocking.

My mom was a nurse who became a director in two hospital systems. She was masterful at managing her departments and actually getting rid of ineffectual union-protected employees (at a certain point, they would start transferring when word went out that she was coming in). She was a powerhouse.

That day in December of 2013, I remember watching her sob, so frail after Dad passed away. In that moment, I said to God, “It’s okay. She needs to grieve. But, at some point, I want my mom back.”

It was a prayer that would go unanswered.

My mom has never been the same. It’s like she doesn’t have the same drive or focus. One week prior to my dad’s death, his mother also died. Mom had been primary care giver — despite them both being in facilities — to both. Soon thereafter, she also quit her part-time nursing job that she’d had since she’d retired.

Now she had no reason to leave her apartment.

And, in the last three years we’ve watched, helpless and sad, as she declined physically and most recently mentally.

And so last month, my sister began talking to her about the necessity of her giving up her own apartment that was a financial drain. She has three daughters, and combined with her family and friends and the visiting possibilities, there’s no reason she can’t live with my sister and then travel a bit.

It sounded like a fantastic idea — until she unexpectedly gave notice at her apartment, necessitating a move in with my family until she leaves to live with another sister out of state for several months before finally settling back in with my older sister just north of me.

While it is only a temporary arrangement — Mom will live with us through the first of December — I find myself squarely in a sandwich between the children I’m raising and my mom who needs me.

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With everything going on with my oldest son during the last year and especially this summer, I’ve felt like I’ve lived in such emotionally upheaval! I’m dealing with physical manifestations of my stress; ironically, my shoulder has developed a condition called adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder.

Isn’t it interesting that it’s my shoulders that are suffering? The pain is excruciating at times. And, there’s no reasonable explanation as to what started it. Unless it’s the weight that they’re carrying around.

My kids have mixed emotions about Grandma moving in. I think they’re still mostly excited, and I’m doing my very best to encourage that. I’ve read accounts of other homeschooling families who had unexpected situations come up that have turned out to be huge blessings despite it interrupting schedules and plans. Heaven knows she might bring a bit of structure and routine to our sometimes-crazy household!

My mom was my rock as I was growing up, and now it’s my turn to be her soft place to land. She’s got health challenges that seem daunting, and I’m already praying for wisdom and strength. I guess it’s time to start leaning, even more so, on my real Rock as I face this new situation!