Sunday, March 30, 2014

For the people-watching parents of pre-schoolers

I may be the least credible blog “writer” ever.  Most people who write things are avid readers.  Not me. 

That is…I don’t read a lot of printed material.  For me to put a lot of stock in what authors say, I want to know if their lived-out lives are as neatly packaged as their well thought-out paragraphs.  Before I purchase a book, I have to “buy” the person selling it.

I do, however, consider myself a reader.  I like to read people.  I watch them.  I listen to them.  I take note of what they say.  I try to figure out why they believe and behave as they do.  I analyze for myself if I want to incorporate their advice into my life.  No matter who they are, I learn from them and I usually appreciate them for the enrichment they add to my life.

I am particularly grateful for the parents who “let me in” to their families.  The older women in my life who have shared their experiences/philosophies/methods/reasonings for their parenting endeavors have handed me individual bricks upon which I have built the structure of my parenting style, whether I agreed with them or not.  Therefore, this blog is for those younger than me who are starting their families or have young children.  I’m writing for those who know my family, who have asked me how I raise our kids, who are question-askers, and who are deciding for themselves which bricks they want for their own wall.  And so without further ado, here were some main methods and philosophies I employed while our children were pre-schoolers.  I am particularly high-lighting the way my husband and I “ran” our family during the toddler years.

1.        We guided our children with Scripture.

There was always a reason why we did the things we did.  The verses in the Bible were our guideline for living a pro-active life and our “go-to” when problems arose.  If a child was afraid of the dark, she was taught Ps 56:3 “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”  If a child was selfishly screaming “MINE” while hogging a toy, he was to repeat Ps 24:1 “The Earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.” 

2.       We trained them to obey us.

The kids learned a little chant: “It’s time to obey, right away, with no delay cause that’s God’s way.”  Often times, if the child did not immediately do what was required, I would ask “are you obeying right away?”   If direct disobedience of a clear instruction followed, the child was disciplined.  The method of discipline (spanking, time out, removal of an item, creative measures that occurred to me spontaneously) varied from stage to stage or child to child.

Because obedience is crucial, excuses were not acceptable.   A child could not get away with “I didn’t hear you”.  They were exhorted to tune their ears when I speak because of John 10:27 “my sheep know my voice”.  A child could also not excuse himself with “I forgot”.  We found ways to remember what was expected of us because God commands, not suggests, that His people “Remember” numerous things in the Bible.

3.       I sought to never utter, “Just wait til your dad comes home.”

My husband has a busy schedule, so there was no way I was going to wait on him to carry out discipline.  My children had to learn to respect and obey me, since I was their primary caregiver.  I also believe that young children need immediate feedback when they do something wrong. When my husband was home, he readily administered teaching or discipline that needed to happen under his watch, but I made sure that whatever happened while I was with my kids was dealt with by me and later communicated to my husband.

4.       We limited our rules.

I can not keep up with a hundred “do’s” and “do not’s”.  Unless the toddler was disobeying me directly (which is a violation of loving God), I could ensure that he or she was breaking the second most important rule “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31
With this in mind, every time we had a family or friend conflict, I questioned the kids with one main idea, “Who or what are you loving right now?” I would probe into the issue that always caused the conflict—the toddler cared more about the toy, himself, his space, his food, etc. than another person.  Therefore, when my child broke “the rule”, I would tell him what he did wrong, HOW to act the right way, and make him repeat why as stated in 1 John 4:7—“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” 

5.       Rewards were limited for the use of training habits, not behavior.

I would certainly use treats or candy if the child was potty training, or enduring the horrible practice of eating vegetables.  However, the kids were never given rewards SO THAT they would obey or treat people well.  I want my kids to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do and because they love other people.  There were times when a child so impressed me, or so moved my heart that I would reward them with external things or activities after the fact, but I sought not to let the “goodies” be the motivation or the bribe for good behavior.

6.       I took a lot of naps.

This is really about knowing my limitations and maximizing my effectiveness.  I have a very hard time thinking well or behaving well when I am sleep-deprived.  There were times I had no choice in my lack of sleep, but when I could, I let my children take care of themselves in order to charge up.

7.       I finally admitted and fought against my own anger problem.

Never was I aware of the depth of my anger until I had children.  There are times that my attitudes and actions scared me greatly.  I got honest with the fact that there were moments I didn’t like my children, didn’t enjoy my season of life, and didn’t even like being a parent.  There were times I could wrestle and repent of my anger quickly and resume normal life.  There were times I had to change my situation so that I could “be angry and not sin”—I’d spend the whole day in public because I knew if I was at a park around people there was no way I would hurt my children!!! 
8.       I delegated my weaknesses.

I didn’t do this on purpose at first.  I often felt guilty for the skills I lacked as a parent.  But I soon found out that my husband is the very structured one of our family.  When he sets things in place, I can quickly follow suit.   A grandma taught one of my children how to make her bed.  I still can’t make a good-looking bed, or fold fitted sheets for that matter.  Also to my delight, one of my three-year-olds could organize things as well as I could, so I let her.  Imagine a toddler who gets on to her mother for not putting her shoes back in the right place!

9.       I did not micro-manage their time.

Our children have had thousands of hours of unstructured time to create, solve problems on their own, explore, find solutions to their boredom, etc.  Remember that I’m not that structured anyway.  I think this is an instance where my weakness became the catalyst for my children’s creative strengths.

10.   We let them be exposed to a variety of people and problems of the world.

Because I think the biggest threat to my child is his sin, and the second biggest threat to my child is my sin, I am less afraid of other people’s sins.  Our young children have sat on the couch with former drug dealers, abusers, and addicts and heard their stories.  They have dined at our table with people of different backgrounds, religions, and denominations.  They have ease-dropped while my husband engaged others about who Jesus is and why His death and resurrection are so important.

Because of my husband’s job in college ministry, our children have had an amazing amount of time with college students and young adults. Because of the church, they have had relationships with people of different ages, learning styles, skill sets and capabilities.  Because of our community, our kids have conversed with the elderly in nursing homes and held a baby who was meant to be aborted.  They have been friends with the mentally and physically handicapped.  They’ve had front-row seats to our friends who have grieved death and gone through divorce.  My husband and I didn’t necessarily plan for all these people to cross their path, but we’ve taken advantage of the conversations that followed—that this world is brutal and Jesus is best.

In conclusion, you may have found nuggets of valuable wisdom that you will keep in your heart.  You may decide these nuggets are crispy-fried balls of cholesterol-laden, artery-clogging vessels that you would never purchase for yourself.  I trust that you are able to make valid judgments about what you treasure and what you trash for your own family as you build your little nest. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why Christians should be cautious in criticizing Common Core

I hesitate to write this blog because I am not a Common Core advocate.  I care nothing about promoting these standards or fighting against them.  What bothers me as an educator, parent, and Christian, is all of the misinformation and misrepresentation of well-meaning people.

I am not in the least an expert in all things education.  I graduated 14 years ago with a B.S.E. in Elementary Education.  At the time of my studies, I was encouraged to teach much of what Common Core is driving down the pike.  However, a decade ago, there was no concrete way to implement the ideals.   I did not immediately enter education as a vocation--instead I primarily stayed at home with my three children during their pre-school years.  I became a full-time teacher for the first time last year, during the first year of Common Core's implementation.  

Though I can understand the concerns about CC in literacy, I am not educated enough myself to speak in that arena.  I CAN inform others of the practical implications for math, since this is the subject I most adore, what I'm teaching every day, and it is in THIS area that I perceive others being completely misinformed.

In my classroom, there are at least 4 different dynamics going on.  First, I am accountable to teach the Standards.   This is non-negotiable.  Second,  I have a curriculum that was adopted and purchased by the school.  Third, I am trained in different programs during professional development on how to deliver these standards.    And fourth, I have 53 students who think in a variety of ways, use a variety of methods, and bring their own reasoning and thinking into the classroom.

The Common Core Standards are my classroom "Bible" so to speak.  WHAT I teach is driven and focused by these standards found at  It is in these standards that I find I am suppose to make sure my students understand 2-digit by 2-digit multiplication, for example.  The standards "command" I teach the following:

* Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.
* Multiply, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; relate the strategy to a written method and explain the reasoning used.

Let's use an example of 42 X 37.  Most adults in the U.S. were taught a standard algorithm, which as a teacher I CAN and DO teach, but NEVER at first.  This familiar algorithm is what you will find on the right of this picture.

On the left-hand side of this picture is a standard algorithm that is taught in some other parts of the world.   It's called the lattice method if you want to explore further. If what is on the left confuses you, don't worry--adults from Asia for example, will look at what is on the right with the same freak-out mentality that American adults have when they see the method on the left.

When teachers teach multiplication based on concrete models of place value, it may look like this depending on curriculum that a teacher has:

With this array, the student understands that 4 in 42 MEANS  40.  The student is to understand that in multiplying we can break apart the place values, multiply those and then add the products together to get the answer. 
The above form is in a concrete drawing, but can also be represented like this:
The examples above may be some that curriculum gives me to teach, but how this shows up in the classroom may be different depending on the teacher and the program he/she has been influenced by.  In my classroom, and many others in my building, students show their work to the entire class and EXPLAIN it verbally or in written form.  Other students are encouraged to figure out how their peer got an answer.  As students are taught place value, the relationship between multiplication and addition, they may come up with their own way of calculating a problem such as 42 X 37:
In the above example, the student started with 37 X 10, something known and familiar to him, and then added that answer 4 times.  Then he added on 37 X 2 to get his final answer.
On any given day, my students may have 8 different ways of working the same problem.  The part that is DRIVEN by Common Core is the REASONING.  Almost every standard I bring to the classroom tells me to reason and compare and contrast relationships between various mathematical expressions and computations.  This is the part that takes so long.  I would argue that it does not dumb down any student, but forces them see the same problem in a variety of ways.  At the end of the day, concept, or year, the goal is that every student has at least 2 ways of approaching a problem correctly, and can explain or reason why he/she solves it that way.
So why, as a Christian, am I cautious to criticize as I have seen others do so?  In keeping with the "common core" way of comparing and contrasting relationships between unlike things and reasoning, here is why:
The christian's written standards are found in the Bible.  Those commands are often broad and general.  You will find a multitude of books written to give specific help on an area commanded by the Bible.  These books are not the same as the Bible, and there is room for mis-interpreting a "standard" or representing the Bible in a way that was not originally intended.  Depending on a christian's church, he or she will receive different training and programs on HOW to carry out and practically apply their faith that they are informed of by the Bible.  And lastly, there is individualism in the Christian faith.  No two Christians attack or understand life's problems the exact same way.
How many times have I seen people reject Jesus or the Bible because they didn't like the way others practiced their faith?  Or how many times have denominations and trainings promoted legalism, rigidity, or confusion? How many times have the authors of Christian books deviated from the meaning of Scripture?  If a person is going to intellectually reject Jesus, I at least respect him or her if s/he does so from reading the Bible itself.  I do not respect, nor accept, criticism of Jesus based on churches, authors, or individuals who claim to know Him.
My point is that Christians who throw darts need to be prepared to defend themselves when darts get thrown back at them.  We believe in a triune God who is 3 persons in one.  This does not add up mathematically.  We believe in God in the flesh, born from a virgin; this defies science as we know it.  The world looks at our standards of belief as insane AT FIRST, and it is our responsibility to bring clarity to the craziness.
Particularly if you claim the name of Jesus, be careful how and what you criticize.  Do not look at something you don't understand and automatically call it stupid.  Make sure that you understand what you are condemning.  If you hate Common Core, by all means speak your mind, join groups, share you tube videos, fight in the political realm, but MAKE sure you distinguish between the standards, curriculum, professional trainings, and the application made by a student.
We can not make productive change in ANY area if we make judgments before we get understanding.