Home Chores Build a Good Work Ethic

It’s an ages-old debate: should kids be required to do regular chores around the house? My short answer is yes. Mom’s time is too valuable to be wasted on menial tasks. That doesn’t mean that Mom can’t or shouldn’t do them, but it does mean that those tasks that don’t require Mom’s unique talents can be done by anyone, not only by Mom. However, kids will need to be taught how to do a task correctly before they can succeed in it themselves.

Doing chores teaches skills, responsibility, and independence. Some day, for some unforeseen reason, Mom won’t be able to perform all of the household chores and pick up after everyone else. Whether that condition is temporary (such as a case of the flu) or more-or-less permanent (a debilitating health condition… or worse), Mom needs everyone’s help in keeping up. Incidentally, all those things Mom does are things the kids will eventually need to do for themselves in life, so they might as well suck it up and start doing them now to lessen the blow of reality. They might even find that ironing a few shirts provides an ideal time to organize their thoughts, besides making them look sharp at the job interview.

There’s a principle in economics called TANSTAAFL (say it as “tan-stay-awful”), an acronym for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” I applied it to home chores as there are no free rides: everybody can do his share. If you plan to eat this food, you’ll willingly help carry the groceries in from the car and help put them away. As my kids got older, it morphed into “Hey, Mom! I’ll do that job for you, so you can do this job for me,” whenever my kids wanted me to help them with a special project (often making a new costume). They would lay out their proposal and then offer to do something for me (often making dinner), providing me with the necessary free time to bring their idea to fruition. Helping (bartering?) in this way taught them the vital concept of earning: you have to give to get something in return. The job-trading offers showed that they understood the most important part: every player is capable of contributing something to the Family Team.

Starting Young

My kids learned to help put toys away as soon as they were old enough to play with those toys. We stored our toys on open shelves in an assortment of shoeboxes, ice cream buckets, small dishpans, and recycled baby-wipes boxes, each labeled with a simple drawing for what items went inside. I worked side-by-side with my toddlers or preschool-aged kids to help them learn to sort out the toys and get everything put away (nearly) every afternoon before Daddy got home. They could still get something out to play with while I fixed supper, but the worst of the mess had been cleaned up. We made clean-up time into a game by calling out one type of toy and getting all of those put away before focusing on another one, starting with the largest items and working down to the smallest. Then as the kids got older and more adept at sorting and multitasking, they could handle the clean-up tasks themselves, freeing Mom to start cooking or laundry or any other higher-skilled task. By the time my kids were both school age, I had come up with a new clean-up game: I would challenge each of them to run through the house and find ten things that belonged to them and put those away. With a little more growing up, that game became known as 52-Pick-Up and was expanded to include anything that was out of place, if they knew where it belonged, not just their own personal items. They learned to appreciate the look of a tidy home and enjoyed the peacefulness that came with it, so it wasn’t difficult to get them to participate, especially because we played it as a game, and I praised them and thanked them for their diligence. Who doesn’t like being praised and thanked for their efforts? No one here!!

A child who never learns organizational skills grows up to be an adult who still doesn’t know how to organize or clean—I know because I was one. It is because I have struggled as an adult to learn how to organize myself that I began teaching my kids organizational skills as soon as they could pick up an alphabet block and drop it into a box. We played that first as a game to learn coordination, and then we continued to play it later on as a clean-up game.

Later on, I made each child a picture-chart for the bedroom wall to help them learn how to tidy things up in their rooms. A sheet of paper with simple cartoon-drawings showed a bed with wadded-up blankets and an arrow pointing to a neatly made bed, a jumble of clothes on the floor and an arrow pointing to the hamper, a pile of books on the floor and an arrow pointing to books on a shelf. Simple, homemade, but very effective. Teaching them to make the bed first provided a large surface to use for further sorting duties, again working from largest objects to smallest. My younger child felt it was a rite-of-passage, growing-up milestone when he got a picture-chart for his room—he was a big boy now, and he was old enough to learn how to tidy up his own room. He was still far from reading words, but he could read those pictures!

Learning Life-Skills

Yes, it does take longer to do a task with a child than it does to do it yourself. However, the time that is dedicated to teaching the child how to do the task himself will pay off in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. By spending the extra time required to teach my children how to do a task, I was ultimately freeing myself from doing that task in the future. Yes, I can pull a full bag of trash from the kitchen wastebasket, take it to the outdoor garbage can, and replace a new bag within a matter of seconds. Teaching my child to do that chore and walking him through each step could take ten minutes. However, he will get faster with practice, and I can eventually stop supervising and move on to my own tasks for those valuable ten minutes. Even if I only spent thirty seconds emptying the trash myself, that time adds up. If I include emptying every wastebasket in the house and if a larger family means more trash, that can become a serious waste of Mom’s time and talents. More importantly, the children won’t learn to take on the responsibility for that chore.

My kids learned to do many household chores through the years: keeping their rooms tidy; emptying the trash; emptying and filling the dishwasher; sweeping or vacuuming; dusting; cleaning bathrooms; mowing the lawn; carrying and putting away groceries; sorting, washing, drying, folding, hanging, ironing, and putting away laundry; and many other chores that I can’t remember. Some of these jobs were regularly scheduled tasks, and sometimes the kids were just asked to help out with other tasks. Yes, they needed reminders occasionally—we all do. Yes, there were times when they grumbled—we all do. Yes, there were times when Mom still did the job herself—the object here is teaching skills and responsibility, not giving Mom a life of unlimited leisure while someone feeds her grapes and fans her with palm fronds. Yes, there were times when a job wasn’t done perfectly—but that’s not the point—the point is that they learned how to do these chores, and they learned to own tasks as their responsibilities. Family is a team, with all players contributing something to the team; it is a tremendous help if those players can be interchangeable in certain areas. When everyone knows how to do a certain chore, life won’t ever come to a grinding halt while we all wait for the one, single soul who can perform the required task and get us all rolling along smoothly again.

This process of learning how to do chores is important for more reasons than just sharing in household duties as a child. This process is teaching life-long skills in decision-making, organizing, and taking responsibility. No one wants to live with an adult who thinks that if he ignores things long enough, the Trash Fairy will come and make the mess magically disappear. Or the Laundry Fairy, or the Dirty Dishes Fairy. Moms, if you don’t teach your children now how to do chores and how to take responsibility for doing them, who will? Do you believe that allowing your children to be sloths and doing everything for them will somehow transform them into conscientious adults? I’m sorry if this offends you, but if this is currently the case at your house, you are already being offended by children who disrespect you and treat you as their maid. The new guy on the job who leans back in his chair and rests his feet on his desk is an only-slightly-older version of the preteen who played incessant video games amidst empty soda cans, dirty dishes, and smelly socks, while an overworked Mom cleaned up around him. The young adult who expects to draw a paycheck while texting or checking social media on his cellphone is the same kid who never lifted a finger to help Mom or Dad with anything around the house—and worse, was never required to help.

What you teach your toddlers is what your youngsters will do automatically, and what you teach your youngsters is what your teens will do automatically, and what you teach your teens is what your young adult children will do automatically. It begins with sorting toys and putting them away, then progresses through taking out the trash and shuffling loads of laundry, and grows into someone who notices a task that is not being done and takes on the responsibility without waiting to be told that it’s his duty. I have known bosses who swept the floor because the lower-level employees didn’t think it was their duty to sweep. Sometimes it may not your assigned task, but you do have all the talent required. Teach your kids do look for tasks they can do at home, because it will pay benefits in the long run. As employees in that all-important first job, they will receive more positive feedback from taking the initiative to do a task (or asking if it’s okay to do it) than they will from standing around and waiting until someone else tells them to do it.

How to Do the How-To’s…

Start small—don’t expect your inexperienced teen to understand how to do multiple loads of laundry if he’s never had to hang up a single shirt. If your teen doesn’t know how to do laundry, start by showing him how to fold towels and work up from there. Help him master each crucial step before adding in more complications. It’s never fair or just or right to scold someone for doing a task incorrectly, if he’s never been properly taught how to do it.

Show & Tell—demonstrate the task and explain the critical parts. Example: explaining that a clothes hanger is a substitute for shoulders can teach how to hang a shirt straight. Talk about the various steps of the tasks you’re doing and explain the why’s for each step. Kids are more likely to do it your way if they understand the reasons behind why you do it the way you do it. I fold the towels this way so they will fit into this skinny cupboard. Also, specify which steps are required to be done a certain way and which steps can be done as the child wishes—giving him freedom to make it his job, not yours. It’s also helpful to the Family Team concept to listen to others’ suggestions of different methods. Mom is not God, and Mom can learn shortcuts from her spouse or kids. Been there, done that, changed my ways.

Let him try it—and don’t expect perfection or speed. Re-demonstrate any steps that are really crucial. Simple charts can come in handy here, too, such as how much detergent to put in the washer, what settings to use for different loads, and a reminder to clean out the dryer’s lint filter.

Give reminders—without nagging. No one enjoys being nagged. Set a very basic schedule for repeated tasks, such as “Make sure to empty all the wastebaskets and take the trash out by Thursday mornings, because the trash collection truck comes right after lunch on Thursdays.”

Say a sincere thank you—because everyone enjoys being appreciated. Hey, the trash is already emptied—and I didn’t even see you do that! Thank you!!

Keep it simple for success—even very complicated tasks can be learned one step at a time. Allow your child to keep trying until he gets a task done correctly, but do it by encouraging his progress, rather than scolding him for his failures. We worked for mastery in our homeschool lessons, believing that a concept wasn’t fully learned until a score of 100% had been reached. However, the child got to keep trying and keep correcting his work until he had mastered it. The same philosophy was used in learning chores and other tasks: keep trying until you get it right, keep working until you get it done. My daughter now works in a retail clothing store with many high-school-aged co-workers, and she finds their attitudes of “a just-barely-passing grade is good enough” to be completely unsatisfactory. Her work ethic of “keep at it until the job is done right” shows that she takes responsibility and personal pride in how the store looks and in how she serves her customers.

Teach your kids to be industrious by being industrious yourself—laziness breeds laziness. Don’t treat your kids as your servants by always asking them to fetch-and-carry for you, if you are fully capable of getting up and doing the same things yourself.

 

Teaching kids to help at home teaches them how to learn from others, something that will be very valuable in their future jobs. Teaching kids to do their assigned chores in a timely manner teaches them responsibility, again a valuable future skill. Teaching them to look for unassigned tasks they can do teaches them to take initiative, the most valuable skill of all. Being teachable, taking responsibility, and taking initiative combine to form an excellent work ethic, whether your child grows up to become a stay-at-home spouse or a corporate executive, and it starts with learning to pick up toys.

See also (in no particular order):

The Importance of Play in Education
Spoken Destinies & Learned Behaviors
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M
Sorting Toys Is Algebra
I Give One Grade: 100%—But You Get to Keep Trying Until You Get It
Using Your Household Staff
Biblical Model of Discipleship
Pregnant & Homeschooling (great ideas for delegating, even if you’re not pregnant)
Full-Bodied Education: Mind, Body, & Spirit
We’re Not Raising Children – We’re Raising Adults
Respect Must Be Earned (good look at our attitudes toward each other)
Taming the Laundry Monster

Top 10 Homeschool Mommy Myths

Homeschool moms, especially new-to-homeschooling moms, can easily fall prey to some nasty myths. These myths, as with any myths, are simply not true. Read, learn, and be encouraged.

1) School requires 7 hours of carefully-planned-to-the-minute instruction. If your child doesn’t respond well to 7 hours in a chair at a desk, the answer isn’t how to fix him or how to fill 7 hours. The solution comes from realizing that schools spend up to 75% of each day in non-instructional activities: waiting for silence, waiting for eye contact, waiting for the slower students to catch up, counting who’s there, counting who’ll be eating lunch, counting noses again after moving from here to there, standing in line after line after line—you get the idea. Seventy-five percent! Three-quarters of their day! My kids could go off-topic eleventy-dozen times and still get all their work done in less time than they would have spent at school.

2) School requires homework beyond the lesson. Some new homeschool parents wonder how much homework should be assigned after their students complete each subject’s daily lesson. My answer is none. Schools assign homework because there isn’t enough time left in their busy day to actually complete a lesson. We did lesson work as part of each subject’s “class time,” so there was no need for further work after the class was done. (Bonus: Homeschool kids get to do the practice work immediately after learning the lesson, rather than struggling hours later to remember what to do and how to do it.) Reading was our only exception, and that was because I never held reading class once my kids were reading independently—I just let them go off and read on their own time. We called it pleasure reading, instead of considering it as another academic subject.

3) It doesn’t really count as homeschooling if:

  • We didn’t learn it during school hours. (Sometimes the best lessons happen on the weekends or in the evening or while you’re away from home.)
  • We didn’t learn it from “approved” curriculum. (Sometimes the best lessons happen out-of-the-box and away-from-the-books.)
  • We didn’t plan to learn it. (Sometimes the best lessons happen spontaneously.)
  • None of our friends are also studying it. (Sometimes the best lessons fit your personal, immediate needs, and not the needs of anyone else.)

4) All children progress according to an age-based “scope and sequence.” Pfft! Children don’t all begin crawling at the same age (some prefer scooting, and others just stand up and take off), children don’t all begin talking at the same age (or with the same vocabulary), children don’t all learn to use the potty at the same age, and children don’t all learn reading, geography, and trigonometry at the same age. Age actually has very little to do with learning ability. And while we’re on the topic, when was the last time you saw a scope-and-sequence for learning very important skills of when and how to rotate tires or change motor oil, cooking an entire meal and getting every dish done at the same time, sharpening a lawn mower blade, changing a newborn’s diaper with one hand while holding onto a toddler-Houdini with the other, or being able to tell the difference between chicken pox and a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to medicine? Sometimes education comes on a “need to know” basis—when you need to know it, you’ll learn it. Life is its own scope and sequence, and the scope and the sequence are different for each person.

5) There’s a better teacher out there somewhere. Maybe you’ve been waiting for the ideal teacher to come along to take your kids under her wing and set afire their love of learning—the right teacher. You feel a little like the old knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, who guarded the Messiah’s chalice for 900 years, waiting for a new knight to come and relieve him of his post. However, that ideal teacher, the “new guardian” of your children’s education just might end up being you. We were fervently praying for our daughter, Jen, to get the right public school classroom and the right teacher for her 5th grade year, when God showed us Door #3: Homeschooling. He disregarded both of the options in her public school and guided us down an entirely different path to the school and the classroom and the teacher He had chosen for her needs: Mom. Our son, Nathan, needed a teacher for 1st grade with a personality that would accept and appreciate his boundless sense of humor, since his Kindergarten teacher had kept him on the Time-Out Chair for nearly the entire school year. Again, Door #3 led to Mom being selected as the ideal teacher for him. The ideal teacher you’re waiting for, the ideal teacher your kids need is in all likelihood staring back at you from the bathroom mirror.

6) Comparing ourselves to other families will show us how we’re doing. Comparing my family to other homeschooling families was not really a good thing to do. Comparing how my kids were doing in their schoolwork to how other kids were doing, again not a good thing. Comparing how my kids were doing now to how they had previously been doing was great! We could definitely see their individual progress from week to week and month to month (sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but they continually moved beyond where they had been before). When I came across a blog where another mom had posted her 12-year-old’s super-aggressive list of books that he’d read during 7th grade, I wanted to poke my eyes out with salad tongs. His unbelievably extensive list (for that one year!) could have passed as the cumulative life-time achievements of a tenured college literature professor. I decided to stop reading that blog. It was a wise choice. Instead, I paid more attention to how my child learned to read words, rather than guess at them, and reading those words led her to read a whole book, which she enjoyed enough to want to read another, which was two more than she’d ever read before.

7) I need “Me” time. When my kids were smaller and needed more attention, I used to feel like I never had any “me” time. But I wasn’t the #1 focus at that time—and I assured myself that “my time” would come later. As my children grew, I taught them skills and responsibilities, which gave me helpers to lessen my long list of to-do’s each day and gave me just enough “me time” to let me think an entire thought by myself and thereby make life bearable. As my children’s abilities increased each year, their ability to help out increased, too, and my free time grew accordingly. The bigger shock came when they had both gone off to college and left me with no more helpers!

8) “I blew it, I made a mess of things, and I can’t undo it.” If you’ve made a big mistake (like pushing your student to the point of tears over conjugating verbs), apologize. Hug each other and promise to help each other figure out the best way to learn this stuff. Your child will respect you more for your role-modeling of humility. Ask your kids for their input on different ways to learn certain subjects—they will have great suggestions for activities to try, and their ideas will help tailor activities to their specific learning style needs. When my kids weren’t sure of how to proceed, I made little reminder signs to decorate our classroom: “One free hug with every hint!” “If you’re stuck, ask Mom. If you’re confused, ask Mom. If you’re not sure, ask Mom.” (Can you tell my students had lost all their self-confidence in public school?) Holding a child on my lap and offering encouraging cuddles was extremely beneficial to both of us. Even during those occasions when you just don’t know what to do next, sharing the love through hugs and prayers will draw you and your students closer together—and that’s the biggest reason why you chose to homeschool in the first place.

9) The teacher must always be right. Wrong. We are fallible humans, and we make mistakes. Textbooks and answer keys occasionally include mistakes, too. I found several mistakes in textbooks and answer keys during our homeschooling career. Sometimes they were typos, and sometimes they were just errors, but regardless of why, the books were wrong. Parents and kids alike will learn from homeschooling, and we learn more from our mistakes than we do when everything goes smoothly and perfectly. When you mess up, admit it; apologize, ask for forgiveness, make amends, and then move on. Be a shining example of how an adult should handle personal goof-ups with grace and humility—they certainly won’t see that in many other areas of life.

10) “I can’t homeschool—I don’t know everything!” That’s the point. Homeschooling parents don’t have to know it all, but they can teach their children anyway and can learn right along with the kiddies. When my kids asked me a tough question and I didn’t know the answer, their eyes lit up when I said in all honesty, “I don’t know… but I’ll bet we can find the answer together.” Kids appreciate honesty, especially from adults, and an honest admission of “I don’t know” is a refreshing change for them from the know-it-all attitude they usually get from the adult world. My kids delighted in playing “Let’s Stump Mom,” and their desire to learn increased with every round, won or lost. No one knows everything, but everyone can learn more. Let learning become a regular habit for parents as well as for children. It’s another facet of that role-modeling thing!

Bullying

Everyone encounters bullies somewhere. Even homeschooled kids can be confronted by a bully in group activities or once they become old enough to enter the work force. “Forewarned is fore-armed,” so we are presenting several strategies for equipping your children to recognize bullying behavior and strengthening them to be able to deal with bullies effectively. The headlines are current proof that when allowed to continue unabated, bullying will escalate to extremely serious, even lethal consequences. Our aim is to help you stop it in its very early stages. Since not all of our readers are able to homeschool, this article also addresses bullying in school situations. Many of the scenarios presented here are also used by adults, whether deliberately or just out of habit. As parents and role-models, we must break the cycle of bullying among our own peers, as an example to our children. Some readers may object to the statements made in this article, and those who do are invited to take a long, hard look at their own behavior, beliefs, and values, because they may unintentionally be using bullying tactics themselves.

Why Bullies Bully

Bullying affects almost everyone in some way at one point or another. Some people willingly and eagerly push others around (whether physically or verbally) in an effort to make themselves feel more powerful or important. Some people become their unfortunate victims, just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Simply put, bullying is a way to manipulate and control other people.

Help your children see that people who pick on others have been picked on by someone else.  Explain that the kids at the park who say mean things are probably being verbally abused by others—very likely by their own family members. When kids have someone in their lives who is routinely insulting to them, they feel the need to pile insults on someone else. They have learned through what has been done to them that it is right and acceptable for them to do this to others. Many families know nothing else: all forms of abuse become generational, simply because no one knows any other way to behave. For someone who comes from an environment where name-calling and ridicule and manipulation are rampant, bullying becomes their interpretation of “appropriate” behavior. Knowing nothing other than this pitiful behavior, they grow up to continue the hurtful legacy with their own children. Breaking the bullying cycle requires adults who are willing to reassess their own value systems and stand up against the patterns of needless hurt, but it can be done successfully.

I know a woman who accepts bullying from her friends because she is dependent on the company and approval of others for entertainment and self-worth. She bullies her friends in return, trying to manipulate them into doing what she wants to do. She’s a grown-up who never learned to cope with bullying in a grown-up manner and therefore dishes it out herself as part of an endless cycle.

Subtler  Methods Used by Bullies

It’s easy to identify the playground bully who shoves other children out of his way and stomps on their toys. The adult bully who loudly curses at the Little League umpire or uses his vehicle as a road-rage weapon is also easy to spot. Recent headlines have provided horrifying examples of bullying taken to such extreme ends that it resulted in murders or suicides. However, most bullying begins with much simpler, less conspicuous methods. Beyond the obvious punching, hitting, and name-calling, there are many more subtle forms of bullying:

  • Putting down others just to make oneself feel good
  • Telling someone they are “useless,” “good at nothing,” “a baby,” “a loser,” or other demeaning labels
  • Making rude comments that only the bully considers to be funny, but everyone else recognizes as just rudeness
  • Not allowing others to voice their opinions (especially dissenting opinions), whether objecting face-to-face, behind the back, or through social media
  • Needing to have the last word
  • Touching someone who doesn’t want to be touched, no matter how lightly
  • Tickling!
  • Reprimanding a student for asking too many questions in class or for answering questions too frequently in class
  • Labeling a child as ADHD or other “disability” where none exists, just as a method of controlling the child’s thoughts and behavior. [I’ve seen teachers label eager-to-learn students as ADHD to make them be quiet, because they (consciously or subconsciously) didn’t like the student’s teach-me-more attitude.]
  • Exhibiting overly dramatic behavior or adding drama to nondramatic situations to gain attention, create or break alliances, and fuel their own desire for power or control
  • Bribing others to be nice (doing whatever it takes to maintain control)—not to be confused with rewarding good behavior [see Is This “Acceptable Behavior”?, linked below]
  • Insisting on being bribed to be civil
  • Being irresponsible as a means of controlling a situation, such as not doing a task that others are depending on
  • Making excuses and/or blaming others for their own irresponsibility, mistakes, and shortcomings; the need to assign blame for whatever goes against their wishes; not accepting the premise that they can be at fault
  • Keeping others waiting, as a means of control
  • Arriving unprepared and making excuses, rather than admitting it; forging ahead anyway, assuming his (or her) “talent” will make up for it
  • Whining, as a means of control
  • Treating every facet of life as a popularity contest
  • Assuming everyone adores and admires him (or her) and getting angry and vengeful when someone doesn’t
  • Not allowing others to learn to lead; won’t delegate or train a replacement; believes no one else could possibly do what he (or she) does as well as he does it
  • As a leader, serving his (or her) own purposes first, before the group’s

The most frequent bullying I had to endure in my own school years was from my teachers: drawing the other students into laughing at one who had fallen asleep or given a wrong answer, rolling his or her eyes at a student who asked a question that the teacher felt had an obvious answer, asking pointed questions of a poorly achieving student to emphasize his lack of preparedness. One of my teachers in high school dubbed one of my classmates “Flycatcher” because she yawned once without covering her mouth, and he called her that for the remainder of the year. I even had an elementary teacher who got angry with a little boy who kept putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans. She stood him at the front of the room, pinned his pockets closed with huge safety pins, and then forced him to stand there while she led the rest of the class in pointing fingers at him and singing a little ditty about putting his hands in his pockets, and not just once—she made us all repeat the song several times and encouraged us to repeat the song any time we noticed him with his hands in his pockets. I found it horribly humiliating, and I wasn’t even the boy being singled out for embarrassment by the teacher. Should I mention the set of monstrous rubber ears she made another student wear who was caught not paying attention? I doubt that any of her students went home to tell their parents about what a bully that woman was, just because she held that much power over them. Even if the parents had learned of her abhorrent methods, they were just as afraid of her as their children were, and no one would dare to cross her. That teacher had no respect for the children she taught, and she proved it through her bullying tactics.

In institutional school situations, teachers, staff members, and bus drivers are now being encouraged to stop bullying when they see it. Schools and communities are enrolling in popular anti-bullying campaigns today. However, those same authorities aren’t likely to judge a few quick remarks or intimidating glances from one student to another as bullying, but instead consider it just as “kids being kids.” After all, if they recognized those methods as bullying, they would have to stop using those methods themselves! A closer look at some of the anti-bullying propaganda reveals that they are attempting to bully the bullies into submission. Is that really supposed to be an improvement?

As a homeschool parent, I witnessed bullying from adults in church situations—and I must admit that much too often in our experience, those adult bullies were closely connected to the public schools as teachers or support staff. They viewed their own behavior as being “instructional” or “disciplinary,” but it is just flat-out bullying when an adult ridicules another person (of any age) for any reason, especially when they encourage others in the room to ridicule and laugh at their victim, too—or they don’t stop those who are bullying through ridicule, name-calling, finger-pointing, or other unacceptable behavior.

Parents are not immune from bullying either, and often exhibit it toward other parents. Consider the moms who put hours and hours into organizing some mom-and-kids events, only to have other families arrive late or not show up at all (despite their promise to attend) or complain about the details of the events. They are showing disrespect for someone else’s work by making sure it doesn’t happen as planned. It’s subtle sabotage, and it’s bullying to maintain control. Yes, there are times when unavoidable delays happen, kids get sick on the way out the door, or numerous other problems might prevent a family from fulfilling their plans. However, one quick phone call can let the others know what has happened, and even if the apology comes a day after the missed event, respect and appreciation are still shown to the organizers. The person who undermines the plans and hard work of others is a bully who wants to control events to keep all the attention focused on himself. Ignoring the effort, commitment, and time expended by others on your behalf is a form of bullying. If you join a group, whether an organized club or an informal play group, you must be willing to set aside time on your calendar to participate. If your time, money, and energy are too important to be wasted on the group, do the other members a huge favor by dropping out and letting them get on with their plans.

This also applies to that one family whose single veto can shut down an event that all the other families in a group want to do. No matter if the group is made up of public school parents, homeschooling families, church members, sports teams, or dance moms, allowing a single voice to overrule the majority for his (or her) own selfish reasons, is openly granting bully privileges to the troublemaker. If one family doesn’t approve of a specific event, they don’t have to come. If they are not available during the scheduled time frame, the group shouldn’t be required to change the entire schedule to suit the bullies. On the other hand, if all members of the group are in agreement and are making a courteous effort to accommodate each other, that’s completely different from one member disrupting everyone else’s plans, just for his personal convenience. Mutual respect compromises; bullies command and control.

Some people are able to break the pattern of bullying and stop the abuse; others carry it on, and the bullies from high school become the bullies in the workplace. Bullying is nothing more than showing disrespect. Most bullies don’t even know they are bullies—they just know that they are only happy when they get everything they want. They don’t have enough consideration for anyone besides themselves to even know they are being disrespectful. Narcissism and bullying go hand in hand.

Ways to Deal with Bullies

Be extra-nice to take the power out of their “punch.”   Proverbs 25:21-22 “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” (NIV) Thinking back to the two main bullies I had in school, Mom pointed out Proverbs 25:21-22 and Matthew 5:44 to me and told me to be super-duper nice to them when they were being mean.  If they said something mean, then I said something complimentary to them. If that didn’t work, then I asked them if they wanted to hear about Jesus or pray with me, and they just started avoiding me. ~Jen

Pray: God can change what we can’t.  Matthew 5:44-45 “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (NIV) God loves the bullies just as much as He loves anyone else, so pray for Him to bless them and make their lives better, taking away their need to hurt others.

Empathize. Consider why the bully acts the way he does, perhaps he is being bullied by a family member or other authority, such as a teacher, coach, or boss. Understanding that, we can be sympathetic to him, although we probably can’t fix his problems. Parents can also help their kids to see that they don’t have that abuse happening elsewhere in their own lives (like the bully does), which is a good thing. It can confirm to the child that the name-calling is only the bully’s opinion and no one else’s.

Expend energy. Whether you’re crocheting an awesome princess costume for your friend’s cat, kicking a soccer ball around the yard as hard as you can, running a few miles, hammering nails into a block of wood, or cleaning out the shed just because it’s fun to break up all the junk and slam-dunk it into the trash can, finding a way to use up all your pent-up aggression will help you to decompress from the stress of the situation. While working at a consignment shop, my daughter would occasionally notice an employee being harassed by a rude customer and assign that co-worker the task of hauling discarded glassware out back to the dumpster. A session of practicing 3-point-shots with cracked plates and chipped vases never failed to redeem that person’s entire day!

Respect yourself. Finding your self-worth from what peers think of you makes you more susceptible to bullying and peer pressure.  If you have learned to find pleasure in your own company through hobbies and personal interests, you won’t be dependent on others to provide you with entertainment, and bullies won’t be able to control you by taking away your sources of pleasure and recreation.  Someone with hobbies, interests, and proficient talents is also less likely to believe another’s put-downs and more likely to have friends who will defend their worth. If your child is being bullied, build up his self-image by reminding him of the things he is good at and the things you as a family value in him. Give him a list of positives in his life, and let him know that you see worth and value and importance in his life. Can he make awesome origami animals? Does she have the recipe memorized for chocolate chip cookies? Has he never yet been stumped by a math problem? Has she picked up complex lesson concepts more quickly than you anticipated? Does he have flawless rhythm or a beautiful singing voice? Can he impress Grandma with his card tricks? Has he studied his hobby extensively and can rattle off dozens of facts about it? Think about all of the skills your child has that you consider ordinary just because you see them every day, and let that child know that not every kid can do these things. These are the skills that make him special and unique and important. Being able to entertain oneself through those hobbies and interests means that even when no one else is available, you can still be in the delightful company of yourself, where every activity is enjoyable.

Respect others. Respect and bullying are polar opposites. Teach your children that everyone has value, everyone is good at something, and everyone is knowledgeable in some area. A person who respects others can learn something from every person and every situation. Teach your children that unkind words are not acceptable. We had a favorite children’s book called Never Tease a Weasel that we quoted often, as a reminder that teasing was a form of bullying and unacceptable behavior: “Never tease a weasel, not even once or twice. The weasel will not like it, and teasing isn’t nice.” The excuse of “I was just teasing” is a definite sign of bullying.

Surround yourself with positive influences. If someone has enough supportive friends and family around them, a bully isn’t going to take them on—they’re too well protected.  In extreme cases, that may require walking away from an unsupportive, negative situation. If that means leaving public school and beginning homeschooling, or finding a better homeschool group, church youth group, club, or whatever—do it. After all, you joined these groups for their positive influences, so if they only offer negativity, then they aren’t the right groups for you. Removing yourself from a bad situation, leaving a group, not replying to a rude comment, or any other method of “walking away” is not defeat—it is actively taking back control over your own life by breaking the cycle the bully needs to continue to maintain his power and control.

Involve yourself in your child’s situation.  My husband used to join our daughter for lunch occasionally at her public school.  She felt protected and encouraged by his presence, and whenever a bully came up she could introduce her dad, and suddenly the bully wouldn’t want to bug her any more. (He also may have promised to hire a big 5th grader to beat the kid up if he didn’t stop behaving badly, but that’s mostly an unsubstantiated rumor.) Years later, when bullied in her workplace, Jen used her established friendships with her managers to let the bully know that she had influence in high places.  She could casually ask her managers “Do you know what’s wrong with Mary? She seems angry anytime I talk to her.” Then they would ask Mary why she was upset, sending the subtle message that they were looking out for Jen, too. By surrounding herself with metaphorical parents and siblings, she let the bully know she had a powerhouse of support.

Be weird. Weirdness scares bullies, who are counting on predictable reactions.  If you are a loose cannon, you are intimidating. Example 1: My daughter works in a retail store where she wears elf costumes to work during the Christmas season. Her curious attire and jovial spirit are welcoming to the innocent shopper and threatening to the co-worker bully who just doesn’t understand how anyone can be that happy all the time. Example 2: My son enjoyed his buddies and loved them like brothers, but one day things had gotten to the point of him always being the victim of their shenanigans. He restored balance quickly by seizing opportunity and turning his face to sneeze directly into the face of the oldest and largest boy, who didn’t mess with him after that. Incidentally, bullies usually don’t have a true sense of humor, since that requires showing appreciation for another’s creativity. A rubber chicken produced at an opportune moment can be a delightfully effective, yet harmless weapon against a bully. Hone your inner Robin Williams; yodel along with your iPod; disclose a secret wacky talent; scream like a velociraptor; or reply to a bully, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English,” spoken in perfect English.  Catch a bully off-guard with something bizarre, and he won’t have a prepared response, and that takes away his power and control.

These coping strategies may not completely convert a bully back into a human being, but they can enable someone to tactfully deal with him and remove his phony authority from the situation at hand. Family-as-a-team provides the wonderful advantage of familial support, giving children more reassurance of their worth and status, the things that help them recognize the lies that bullies spew. A child who knows his own value will not be intimidated by a bully—he will be more apt to scoff sarcastically, “Yeah, right, good one,” and walk away.

Teacher-bullies are an example of a bully that can’t usually be overcome by being nice or funny. They have all the control in their own territory, and as the supreme authority, they are power hungry. This is where parents can step in for their child and try to settle matters, but a true bully teacher still won’t be intimidated. They will hurl all the typical arguments (excuses) of how they know what’s best since they are the “professional,” they have taught this way for years, it’s your wimpy kid who’s the real problem, and so on, ad nauseum. The administration will stand behind their teacher, unless you can produce copious amounts of evidence and witnesses to the contrary. The only way out of that circumstance is to change classrooms, change schools, or homeschool—my preference.

The hurtful things that rude people say to us are like bags of garbage they throw onto our doorstep. We can’t stop them from dumping their garbage there, but we don’t have to drag the garbage into the house, dump it all out, and spread it around on the furniture. Let a bully’s hurtful words remain outside your door—they don’t belong to you. To counteract bullying, you have to break the cycle and disrupt the bully’s plans.  A bully cannot be a bully without a victim. Refuse to cooperate with him, walk away, or do anything necessary to leave him victimless.

See also:

The Socialization Code

Respect Must Be Earned

Becoming a Successful and Proud Quitter

Dropping the Drama

Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M

Siblings as Best Friends

Is This “Acceptable Behavior”?

If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind

Teach Your Children the Art of Amusing Themselves

Never Tease a Weasel (children’s book)

Husbands & Wives: Why They Teach Differently

If you and your spouse have shared the teaching responsibilities at your house, you have probably experienced this phenomenon: husbands and wives approach homeschooling from very different perspectives.

Here is a typical scenario: Dad goes off to work each day, earning the paycheck that makes homeschooling possible, and Mom is the primary teaching parent. One day when Dad is not at work, Mom’s normal teaching duties are handled by Dad. Mom may be sick in bed with whatever despicable virus has finally caught her unawares, or perhaps Dad has a vacation day, it’s a holiday break, Mom just needs a Me-Day, or fill-in-the-blank other reason that can take Mom away from the action. An efficiently organized Mom may leave a list of the lessons that she feels should be accomplished for the day, but Dad may also scan through the list and do things his way. The children may even think Mom wouldn’t do it this way, and they may or may not voice their opinions aloud, depending on how the day proceeds. Dad will get important things done, but they may not be the same things that are on Mom’s list, or they may not be completed with the same methods or in the same order or in the same time frame that Mom would do them. Husbands and wives approach homeschooling from very different perspectives.

I remember returning home after a day away from my homeschooling role to find that my husband had supervised some of the lessons but allowed the children to handle others on their own—whereas my normal routine might have been to micro-manage every lesson throughout the day. He had completed several household chores during my time off, but they definitely were not the same ones that I would have done, or they were done in an entirely different manner from my normal routine. I do know that it was always a good thing for me to see his very different approach to things: it usually taught me that I could step back and give up a little more of my control and allow others to handle the responsibilities in their own ways. I frequently found myself stuck in the rut of routine, thinking that this job must be done this way, every time. Witnessing my husband’s approach to the same job was very often a delightful revelation of time-saving, energy-saving shortcuts. My focus had been on managing the whole operation at once, concentrating on the end results, where his focus had been on each task individually, revealing unnecessary steps.

Women multitask. God designed women to be nurturers: able to maintain a comfy and cozy home environment, prepare the meals, tend to the baby’s needs, care for the growing children, and so on—all at the same time. Whether or not today’s woman is a stay-at-home mom-of-many, she has the God-given ability to handle multiple tasks at any given time, capably and efficiently.

Men maintain a singular focus. God designed men to be providers and protectors. As hunters and defenders, men must keep their eyes on the objective. Glancing away could mean death through attack or starvation from losing sight of the target. Even though most modern men do not spend every day literally in search of the next meal or fending off predatory enemies, they still approach their day-to-day business with the singular focus that God has placed within them.

Moms and Dads approach homeschooling differently, by God’s design. Moms can teach several kids at once, each child in a different subject, in multiple rooms, while keeping track of laundry cycles and watching the clock to know when to start dinner. On the other hand, Dad can get Junior unstuck from a tricky math problem in under 5 minutes. Then Dad will take Junior out back and teach him how to throw the football in a perfect spiral.

Mom may vent to Dad about her frustration with that day’s homeschooling, giving him a blow-by-blow account of all she did to try to discourage the twins from kicking each other under the table. Dad will quickly see past the details of the squabble and offer the simple solution of putting them in two separate rooms to do their work tomorrow.

Dad may come up with the idea for a great dad-and-lads camp-out for this weekend. Mom will gather all the necessary comforts of home, packing the cooler with sodas and milk, and send along all of the ingredients for making s’mores by the campfire—including clean marshmallow roasting sticks. Dad may protest at Mom’s insistence that they take along the band-aids and antiseptic wipes, but he will use them when Junior skins his knee after tripping on the hiking trail and sliding down the rocky hillside (but it wasn’t all that far, just a few yards).

Moms and Dads bring different sets of skills and talents to the task. Moms are good at cuddling and kissing boo-boos; Dads are good at rough-housing and playing horsey. Dad’s tools are hammers and saws and power-drills; Mom’s tools are rubber spatulas. Moms do have tools called beaters, but they get used for things like eggs and cream. “Changing the oil” may not sound very exciting, but when Dad does it, he gets sufficiently greasy and dirty to satisfy any child lucky enough to be allowed to help him. Moms often plan their lessons and stick to their plan. Dads often walk away from the books and teach lessons from real life. Moms and Dads both make excellent teachers, but we should never expect them to do the same job in the same way, with the same tools, or with the same flourish and finesse. To expect Mom and Dad to teach the same subjects to the same children in the same way is to expect at least one of them to deny the instincts God has placed within them both and to work counter to everything God has programmed them to do and to be.

Consistency in teaching is a good thing, but taking a break now and then is a good thing, too, and children and parents will be blessed by both. Moms and Dads, please recognize that your way and your spouse’s way are both valid, no matter how dissimilar they may be. One way is not necessarily the only right way, and another method is not necessarily a wrong approach. Sometimes different is just different, and variety is the key to learning.

Family Planning (No, Not That Kind)

Planning is vital — but I don’t mean planning every moment of every day, deciding what lessons you will do when or to which organized activities you will deliver your children every day. The most important thing to schedule is your time together as a family. Set aside an evening for a light supper, then watch a family movie together, with plenty of popcorn and apple slices. Plan a family game night and try your hands at Jabberwocky Scrabble (anything goes, but players must pronounce and define each “word” — be prepared for side-splitting laughs) or a similarly fun twist on any other game that’s been gathering too much dust on the shelf. Reserve an entire day for a family outing: take sandwiches, fruit, and a large jug of ice water and head for a park with a lake or nature trails or playground equipment and spend the day disconnecting from everything and everyone else. Block out a weekend on the calendar for a family get-away and then get away from your normal schedule and routine.

Do only what your budget will allow, and trust me when I say that fun doesn’t have to cost anything. We tramped through the woods, stopped to look at the wildflowers, marveled at the tiny fish or tadpoles at the lake’s edge, or dipped our fingers and toes in the chilly water. We watched the clouds for drago-saurs and ele-raffes, skipped rocks on the lakes, and let the ripples on the water mesmerize us until we had forgotten everything else. Take turns playing follow-the-leader around, over, and through all of the swings and slides, take giant steps or silly, head-bobbing, arm-flapping walks round and round the trees, and let yourselves laugh freely and enjoy the company of the people who matter most in this world. Wander through a free museum or turn a lingering trip through an antique store into a spontaneous walk through history.

Why do these things need to be scheduled? Because if you don’t schedule time for your family first, your time will be scheduled for you by other people, other groups, or by other activities, and your family’s time together will be vaporized into the mist of a busy life. Family must come first, and it doesn’t count if you are all attending a group activity but participating as individuals instead of as a family unit. If this is a foreign concept to you, dare to try a brand new activity where you and your spouse and your children interact together for the entire time. It may take a while for this new bond to develop to fullness, but there is a unique and lasting experience ahead of you, and family is well worth cultivating.

Teaching the Satisfaction of a Job Well Done

Have you ever noticed that cooking is much easier to do if the counters are clear, and the dishwasher and dish drainer are empty? I think a clean kitchen is a pleasure to be in and to work in. A sparkling clean bathroom makes me feel more like I’m vacationing in a nice hotel room than enduring yet another ordinary day at home. When my family all pitched in, and we cleaned the house super-fast for short-notice visitors, I always marveled aloud at how nice it looked! I wanted my helpers to feel appreciated, but I also wanted them to focus on what they had accomplished and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

The big question on your mind may be how to get your children to pitch in and help. Should you bribe them? If you routinely reward them, will they always expect some tangible payment for helping? And would a regular reward really be any different from a bribe? A bribe is something promised in advance in order to obtain a desired result. A true reward should be a surprise given after the fact as a bonus for desirable behavior.

I gave my children occasional rewards for cooperation and patient endurance after a grueling day of errands or shopping. You did a great job of helping without whining or complaining, so now you can pick out a treat! Usually, the rewards were simple things like a candy bar or a small toy, nothing to break the budget, but enough to say Thanks — you’re appreciated! At other times, when our children mentioned a more expensive item they might like to save up for, we made them a surprise gift of it, as another unexpected reward for being a good, cooperative, and helpful member of the family on a regular basis.

My kids tidied up their own bedrooms as one of their normal duties, but about once each year I would help each of them with a thorough overhaul. We went through all of their clothing, culling the outgrown or damaged things. We deep-cleaned the closets and corners that usually got ignored. We rearranged the furniture to suit their latest whim or growing-up needs. That much work often took more than a single day, but when we were finished, I had helped each child see the benefits of all our progress: more floor space for playing board games, new bookshelves for organization, or a desk in their bedroom for a private work space. Many of the decisions along the way were left up to the child in question, so that they had a true sense of ownership in the reorganization process, and along with that came the satisfaction of having things the way they wanted them. Yes, sometimes it is difficult to part with a favorite shirt when the child can still get into it (sort of), but the feeling of moving on to a few new clothes (and making some new memories) will be well worth it. Completing this laborious task should be marked by several moments of admiration and recognizing the satisfaction in a job well done.

There is satisfaction to be found in even mundane tasks. Emptying the kitchen trash can is hardly anyone’s favorite job, but once it has been done, it is much easier to toss the next item in! Nothing falls out and slithers to the floor, you don’t have to cram the pile down to make room for anything else, and you won’t be reminded (again) that the trash still needs to be emptied, and it is still your turn to do it.

We moms often find ourselves expending all sorts of energy to get tasks done, but we need to save a little of that energy for praising the job well done and bestowing our satisfaction in the accomplished task. You worked a long time on that! It feels good, doesn’t it, to have it finally done! And you did a good job, too — I can tell that you put a lot of effort into your work! Who wouldn’t like to hear that? Even when no one else had helped me with my own large or time-consuming tasks, sometimes I still exclaimed aloud over a finished job and expressed how nice it looked or felt to have it completed, just to inspire my children to look for satisfaction in the completion of their own tasks.

You can bribe a student to complete a lesson on time (or ahead of time), or you can surprise them with a reward for the lessons they finish quickly under their own motivation. The latter will be less stressful and more beneficial to all involved. When the child is surprised with a reward, he feels satisfaction at knowing his accomplishment was appreciated by others. When he has been bribed, he feels relief that the distasteful task is now out of his life and (perhaps) a greedy glee that he tricked someone else into paying him to do said distasteful task. A student who learns to enjoy satisfaction as its own reward does not need constant tangible gifts, as the object of bribery does. Teach your children to find satisfaction in doing their best and completing their tasks in a timely manner. It will be a lesson they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Preschoolers’ Educational School-Time Activities

How much trouble can a bored preschooler get into while you are trying to help your older children with their lessons? Don’t answer that. Instead, let’s just focus on providing your preschooler with some fun activities as his own version of “schoolwork.”

Preschoolers can begin to learn school-time skills with a few simple projects of their own. Try some of these activities by setting up your preschooler with his own individual work area, just as though he were another “real” student, but your space allowances will determine whether your preschooler is seated near his siblings or in his own special location with plenty of elbow room. If it is possible to group your children together in the same area, your preschooler can begin to observe how his siblings sit and work independently, so that he can learn to duplicate their actions. Not every preschooler will be eager to sit still and “play” school for long periods, but for those who are determined to mimic their older siblings, these suggestions offer safe, semi-supervised activities that will develop essential skills. Activities can be changed periodically, just as your older students change subjects throughout the day. These projects can work to lengthen a short attention span, as well as keep your little one occupied in fascinating, educational activities while you explain a lesson concept or demonstrate a few math problems to your older students.

You will probably need to work back and forth, setting up the preschooler with his activity, then starting the older children on their lessons, checking back on the preschooler, following up with the olders, and repeating the cycle as often as needed. Yes, at first you will feel as busy as the old-time plate juggler who balanced spinning plates on tall sticks placed around a table, running and spinning and running and spinning and running to catch the far one just before it falls, but your diligence will quickly pay off with rewards of students who can work independently for a few minutes until Mom is available for help.

The following is a list of materials and activities to help keep your preschooler occupied and give him a boost in the learning department, beyond the usual board books and wooden puzzles. Whether these activities look educational or not, they do include getting-ready-for-learning skills, often disguised as creative fun. Reserving these materials (especially the scissors and glue sticks) and activities for use only during school-time or at the school table will help reinforce the idea of schoolwork in your preschooler’s mind and help him become accustomed to your family’s homeschooling routine. If the “fun” activities can only be done during school, it helps to plant the idea that learning is fun — plus it keeps those activities from becoming boring. Many other activities and playthings also have educational benefits, so please extend this list with your own activities and variations to fit your child’s interests and skill level. Be sure to swap ideas with your friends, no matter what the ages of the children, because ideas can be adapted to suit any age level.

“Sample” Notebooks
Materials: an assortment of old magazines, newspapers, greeting cards, sales ads, junk mail, etc.; spiral notebooks and glue stick, or magnetic photo album/pages. Store these in a specific box for the preschooler’s use, to prevent him from cutting up your newest magazines, unpaid bills, and expensive set of leather-bound first edition books.
Method:Let your child find and cut out pictures, letters, or numbers that fit certain criteria:

  • Objects matching a specific color (use basic colors to allow for variations in shading);
  • Objects starting with a certain letter of the alphabet;
  • Letters and/or numbers in a variety of fonts/typefaces.

Use each of the above groups to create individual “sample” notebooks, making 1-2 pages for each category: color recognition (separate pages for red, yellow, etc), letter-symbol recognition (separate pages for a/A, b/B, etc), letter-sound recognition (separate pages for things that begin with “a,” “b,” etc), number-symbol recognition (separate pages for each numeral, 0-9 or higher, if desired), number-value recognition (groups of 2 items for “2’s,” groups of 3 items for “3’s,” etc.), etc. (Recognition of the letter or number symbols is important because the variations in fonts and typefaces can be quite confusing to beginning readers.)

Keep the child busy looking and searching on his own for the needed samples and let him do the cutting, so that this activity lasts more than a few seconds. Samples can be glued into an old spiral notebook with a glue-stick or put into an old photo album or 3-ring binder with “magnetic” photo pages for minimal mess. The notebooks can also be “studied” for help in recognizing colors, letters, etc. Occasional supervision may be necessary to help the beginner understand the placement of the samples. A younger child may just enjoy cutting/gluing random pictures into a notebook without any specific categories. Pictures can also be arranged so as to tell a wordless story: This little girl went to this house to visit her grandmother
Skills Developed: visual recognition, cutting with scissors, glue-stick, fine motor skills
Mess Alert: paper scraps from cutting; glue-stick residue

Tangram Pictures & Patterns
Materials: felt pieces, flat craft foam shapes, colored paper or card stock pieces (cut into circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, parallelograms, etc.)
Method: free play; challenge student to duplicate patterns; challenge student to keep enlarging designs
Skills Developed: eye/hand coordination, fine motor skills, pattern recognition
Mess Alert: pieces to pick up (Store the pieces in a box large enough that your child can easily return the pieces himself at clean-up time)

Stringing Beads
Materials: wooden, plastic, or craft foam beads; empty thread spools; leather boot laces, shoestrings, or plastic laces
Method: Tip of shoelaces can be stiffened by wrapping with masking tape to form a child-safe “needle” about 3″ long. Free play, or challenge student to duplicate patterns.
Skills Developed: eye/hand coordination, fine motor skills, pattern recognition
Mess Alert: pieces to pick up (Store the pieces in a box large enough that your child can easily return the pieces himself at clean-up time)

Sewing/Lacing Cards
Materials: cardboard or poster board shapes with holes punched close to the edges; plastic canvas; yarn, heavy string, shoelaces, or plastic laces
Method: Sew through the holes to outline the shape or loop around the edges. (See above for creating a safe “needle” with masking tape) Plastic canvas can be “stitched” randomly or into any pattern desired; it can be cut into shapes or used as squares or rectangles (circles can also be found in most craft stores). Blunt yarn needles (metal or plastic) can also be found in craft stores, if desired.
Skills Developed: eye/hand coordination, fine motor skills
Mess Alert: strings to pick up (Store the pieces in a box large enough that your child can easily return the pieces himself at clean-up time)

Building Blocks
Materials: Cuisenaire rods, building blocks, etc. (may be interlocking or non-interlocking)
Method: free play; building/stacking; pattern matching (include paper patterns to reproduce with blocks); counting, matching, & sorting. Simple patterns may be drawn as a guide for the child to reproduce over and over: red/red/blue or square/rectangle/triangle, etc.
Skills Developed: eye/hand coordination, fine motor skills, pattern recognition, basic math awareness
Mess Alert: pieces to pick up (Store the pieces in a box large enough that your child can easily return the pieces himself at clean-up time)

Buttons
Materials: jar or box of assorted clothing buttons
Method: free play; sorting, matching, & counting
Skills Developed: eye/hand coordination, fine motor skills, basic math awarenes
Mess Alert: pieces to pick up (Store the pieces in a box large enough that your child can easily return the pieces himself at clean-up time)

Wikki Stix
Materials: Wikki Stix (like chenille sticks, but made of wax)
Method: free play; pattern duplication; shaping into letters or numbers
Wikki Stix may be stuck to windows, table tops, paper, or stuck to each other for 3-D creations.
Skills Developed: eye/hand coordination, fine motor skills, pattern recognition, creativity
Mess Alert: may leave slight waxy residue on surfaces, depending on brand used

Cutting Practice
Materials: child-safe scissors, construction paper or newspapers (Again, have a designated supply of papers for the child to use, avoiding accidental cutting of valuable materials.)
Method: Let child practice cutting photos or ads from newspapers, cutting along lines, etc.
Let child practice cutting by reducing construction paper to bits! Leftover scraps of paper, torn sheets, or less-pretty colors may be used up in this manner, giving valuable practice in scissor skills.
Skills Developed: eye/hand coordination, fine motor skills, cutting with scissors
Mess Alert: paper scraps

Handwriting Practice
Materials: newspapers, junk mail (Again, have a designated supply of papers for the child to use, avoiding accidental drawing on valuable materials.)
Method: Let child practice handwriting by tracing lines inside the thick lines of headlines and large font letters and numbers. The child may also like to copy letters or entire words onto blank sheets of paper or wide-lined paper.
Skills Developed: eye/hand coordination, fine motor skills, pre-handwriting basics
Mess Alert: paper scraps; marks from pencils or other writing implements

Activity Jar
Materials: Activity Jar full of assorted items
Method: (see this article for details)
Skills Developed: sorting, matching, counting, fine motor skills
Mess Alert: pieces to pick up (children can easily help toss pieces back into the large container). Pieces may be poured out onto a cookie sheet or cake pan to minimize scattering.