Monday, December 12, 2011

Lara's Christmas Book Review

Just thought you might be interested in my Christmas Book Review.  (complete with photos and links).
Check it out

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Best Family Games

Recently our family was having a grumpy day.  Some kids were pouting. Others were being snippity with each other.  And even my husband and I were starting to fall in with the negativity.   The saddest part about it, was that it was Sunday, a day when those feelings should be far away.   

A walk outside took the edge off, as did some dinner and dessert.  But we still had a long ways to go to get in the right frame of mind again. 

So after dinner we pulled out a new game my daughter had gotten for her birthday (Pit).
Look how excited my family is...
(In case you're not familiar with my humor, the excited comment was sarcastic)

 Playing games has been an important bonding experience in our family over the years and so it shouldn't have surprised me that it didn't take long before the negativity had dissipated and everyone was laughing again.  It may sound weird, but I felt like that spontaneous game night helped bring the spirit back into our home. 

I've been thinking about that night and how playing board games truly is a part of our collective family memories and so I  decided to write up a post sharing some of our favorite games and a few tips for making game nights a successful experience. 

Tip #1--Keep it light-hearted.  We are all pretty competitive in our family, so it's easy for us to start getting cutthroat.  The kids will take their cues from the parents, but we've noticed that when we keep our frustration in check, they do better as well.  Additionally, we have found that a  little self-deprecating humor is a good tension diffuser.  

Tip #2--Focus on the positive.  Complement good moves and even positive attitude.  In the Pit game above, one of my daughters was having the worst luck, never winning a single round.  We made it a point to complement her positivity and held her up as an example of being a good sport.  That example helped us in a lot of future games..."Remember when Cami had negative one-hundred and forty points and still had fun and kept a smile on her face?..." 

Tip #3--Be sensitive to building frustration and try to nip it in the bud.  In our family, a little silliness goes a long way in diffusing these situations.  We'll start bragging about the bad hands we've had and reminisce about the time we lost the game in grand style and in general just keep reminding everyone that we all win some and we all lose some.   If worse comes to worse, end the game night early (without blaming anyone) before bad feelings erupt.  Better to have a mostly positive, albeit short game night, than one that turns into tears and fighting. 

Tip #4--Involve young children even if they're too young to actually play.  Young children love to feel a part of the family dynamics, so we try to include them whenever we can.  Make young children the button pushers, bell ringers, dice throwers, card distributors, game piece movers...whatever they can do to feel a part of the game without actually playing.   Often we'll let the little one(s) choose which "team" they want to be on, then have them do all of the "work" except the strategy.   Usually they'll lose interest after a while and I think that just being in the room with a family that's having fun will make it a good experience for them. 

Tip #5--Mix things up.   My family often gets in the mode of playing the same game over and over again, but I find it helpful to make sure we mix things up with our game choices.    It seems like after a while of playing the same game, one person starts to feel like they always lose or that so and so doesn't do it right, etc.  When we change games, it gives other kids a chance to win and to play on their strengths. 

And here is a list of our favorite family games, where {almost} everyone in the family can play:

Ticket To Ride
The purpose of this game is to collect colored track cards and build train tracks from destination to destination.  It's great for basic geography skills and it's a pretty easy game to learn.  And my kids love the fact that they have an equal chance of winning as an adult.  Ages 8-Adult. 


This classic game takes 2 minutes to learn and was one the whole family loved.   It's pretty lively and definitely more fun with more people (3-8 players).  Beware, it can get loud. 

UNO Attack!

It's the same as Uno, except when you need to draw a card, you press a button and the machine spits cards out at you....sometimes 1 or 2 and sometimes 7 or 8.  The only problem with this game is that my kids enjoy pressing the button so much, that they never want to win, which can make the game very long.  :)


This one takes some simple strategy skills, but I've found that kids can pick this one up pretty quickly.  I usually end up helping the younger ones when they get stuck, but it is a fun one for kids and adults (2-4 players).


This lively game is great for big groups.   A variation on charades, the whole team acts the clues out while one person guesses.  Much laughter and silliness ensues whenever we play this game.

Blokus Classics Game

I'm not usually that good at games that involve good spatial skills, but this is one I can occasionally win, although I do get beaten by my 9-year-old pretty regularly.  The box brags about all the awards its won and that it promotes good brain it's a game that makes you smarter while you're having fun. 

We also enjoy playing Scrabble, Boggle, Chess, and Settlers of Catan, but find they're mostly for the older kids or adults. 

What about you?  Does your family enjoy playing games?  What are some of your favorites? 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011


"Parenting toddlers is a handful, but parenting teenagers is a heartful.

I heard this quote in a relief society lesson right when I was muddling my way through piles of poopy diapers, tantrums, and one of those let's-see-how-many-messes-I-can-make-in-one-day phases.  It seemed nearly impossible that any future aspect of parenting could be any more draining than those exhausting days, but despite my doubts, the quote has stuck with me through all these years. 

Now, several years later I find myself at the  beginning edge of my parenting teen years and I am starting to understand that quote firsthand!   My teenagers are good kids, but I'm finding this whole gaining independence phase of life as completely and totally exhausting...physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Somehow, any crazy antic they did as young children didn't seem nearly so important or life altering as the decisions they're facing now. 

I wonder every day which battles are worth fighting.  Some are easy, like shaggy hair, messy rooms, or wearing funky (but modest) clothes.    No problem (mostly).    But what about the things that might matter?  Things like texting a lot.   Or annoying their siblings constantly.  Or  being totally lazy about doing their chores.  Or other normal things that teenagers do, like spending more time with friends and less time at home.  Inside I know this is normal, but still I can't really breathe easily until everyone's safe at home every night.  And even when we all are,  it just seems that with all the electronic media,  that our home simply isn't  quite  the safe haven that it was when I was a kid.  We have strong filters on our internet, computers in public places, parental controls on our televisions, picture texting disabled on the cell phones, but I worry that despite our efforts,  that the garbage is still there....on their friends' facebook walls,  in their text messages.  And scariest of all to me,  what about when they're at their friends' houses?  We've discovered, that even in the church, most parents simply do not feel as strongly as we do about internet safety. 

Short of locking everyone away in a dark room without access to the outside, I feel like we're at the stage of parenting our teens that we just have to keep on keeping with scripture study, family home evenings, and keeping an open line of communication with them,  then just trust and pray that our efforts to teach and lead them over the course of their lives have been enough.  Enough for them to be able to shun the evil before them.  Enough to be able to recognize and seek after the peaceful feelings that the spirit brings.  Enough so that one day we will be able to say that,  "in due time we can report to our Heavenly Father in His celestial home that we are all there - father, mother, sister, brother. . . . Each chair is filled. We are all back home."     (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, page 493.)

That would be enough for me. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

General Conference Traditions

General Conference weekend is upon us again and I thought it would be fun to gather a list of some fun General Conference traditions from my friends.  Most of the traditions revolve around food and quiet activities that keep hands busy and minds awake, but there are some fun, unique ones in here too that I wanted to share (and try someday too).

Most of these are quoted directly from friends.  Traditions with an asterisk* next to them, are traditions that our family uses.  

Feel free to add in some of your favorite traditions to the comment section! 

Food related traditions:
*Fresh homemade doughnuts (or some other exciting treat) on Sunday morning.  We rarely eat fried food, so the kids (and adults) look forward to it all year. 

Go to the grandparents' home for Sunday morning breakfast, then watch Sunday morning together.

Hot homemade bread coming out of the oven just when everything starts. It sure gets everyone in the room quick.

We have the kids listen for the "special word' of each talk (ie the topic). And then each time they hear the special word, they tell us and they get a small candy.

My parents have an indoor picnic and invite any near relatives. We would have all sorts of cold cuts, cheeses, and sandwich fixings with fun buns or fancy breads, along with chips, potato salad, macaroni salad, etc...

As a parent, we buy skittles, m and m's and play bingo for the first Sunday session.

We all get a bowl of M&Ms and every time we hear "Heavenly Father" or "Lord" we get to eat one! Helps keep our attention!

I used to go with my brother (and usually a couple other guys) to Chuck-a-Rama or other suitable eaterie and eat together before going over to the Stake Center for Priesthood Session.

*Ice cream sundaes at the YM president's house before Priesthood Session. 

A yummy breakfast/brunch something and watching on the internet, blasted loud thru the house while we watch in our jammies.

Ritz crackers, easy cheese, and guava juice...... whenever the prophet speaks to us. President Monson always gets out these three things when his family comes to visit, so when he speaks, that's what we eat. 

Quiet Ways to Engage the Kids:

(our basement was right in the middle of being remodeled in this excuse the torn up walls and tv on the ground)

(Similar to this story in the Friend) I have a friend who sets up their tent in front of the TV to watch it. Because King Benjamin's people listened to the first General Conference from their tents. :)  (How fun is that?  I want to try this one.)

*As a kid, we put out a huge sheet and dumped a million Legos on it and just built Lego creations for hours.   We were quiet and engaged.  (also shared by another friend)
We like to go through our 72-HR kits and update them.

We allow the kids and ourselves to work on something quiet with our hands, like my knitting, Peter's model painting, etc. We do this so we can stay awake during the talks. Not that the talks are boring, of course they are not, but the couch is so soft and comfy........

*Give small notebooks to each of the kids to take notes (or draw pictures).

*Have General Conference Activities printed off for each child. 

Service oriented traditions:

*Make a special treat (like cinnamon rolls or apple pies) and bring them to friends before or after conference. 

Invite an older ward member  to come watch with you.

*Invite a family to eat dinner with you between or after sessions. 

Miscellaneous traditions:
*The General Conference after my boys turn 12, my husband takes them on a Conference weekend trip to Utah ( a long flight for us) to attend as many sessions as possible (especially Priesthood Session).  It was a great time for them to bond and talk about the responsibilities of the Priesthood. 

*The week before Conference, have a special FHE about modern-day prophets and recognizing the spirit and tie it into preparing for General Conference. 

Have the house cleaned and errands run before conference, and make the room into a "Quiet Zone",  even posting signs on the entrance. 

Between sessions we usually check out the biographies or documentary stuff on byu tv. 

(from Remove the spread with photos of the General Authorities from the most recent general conference edition of the Ensign. Use it to help children learn to identify the names of the speakers.

(from Create general conference traditions by participating between sessions in a family activity, such as playing games, watching old family videos, taking a walk, or talking about the session that just ended.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Life Lessons We Can Learn from the First Vision

The theme of our sacrament meeting on Sunday was all about the Restoration, so in continuing with the things we learned yesterday we decided to have our family home evening lesson tonight about the First Vision. 

My kids are all old enough that they know the story of Joseph Smith's experiences very well, so we decided that instead of reviewing what happened, that we would discuss some of the life lessons that we can learn from the First Vision.   It turned out to be a powerful and enlightening discussion that engaged the whole family,  so I thought I'd share some of our insights here, mostly just so that we don't forget them.  

Life Lessons We Can Learn from the First Vision

1.  That God hears and answers our prayers.

2.  Discouragement and negativity come from Satan. 

3.  That God's power is stronger than Satan's. 

4.  That we will never be tempted or tried beyond that which we are able to bear. 

5.  God will always be with us, especially in our darkest moments. 

6.  That we don't need to be well-educated or wealthy to make a difference in the world. 

7.  God loves us and knows us by name.       


Monday, May 2, 2011

Lehi and Nephi File Folders

These file folder scenes are awesome!  I have no idea where the fun artwork came from, but these are the perfect thing for teaching your family the stories of Nephi and Lehi!  Just mount the scenes inside of a file folder, laminate the folders and the figures, then use sticky back Velcro to attach everything.   (NOTE:  Some of the  figures  are repeated, as they are meant to be used on more than one flannel board scene at a time.) 

Click here to see my FHE LESSON INDEX and come back often to look for new lessons and ideas for teaching your family the gospel!
Lehi and Nephi File Folders

PS For optimal printing performance, it is best to create a free account with and download the PDF file before printing. As always, feel free to email me at if you are having troubles viewing or printing these lessons. I also love to hear your feedback and ideas for future lesson topics. 

It has been brought to my attention that some of my older lessons have been moved into the Scribd archives, which means that you have to pay a fee to download them.  The fee is nominal ($5 to download as many lessons as you want in 24-hours), but if you'd like me to send one or two of them to you as an email file let me know.  Unfortunately, due to my slow internet connection (30+ minutes to upload each lesson), I would not be able to email more than one or two lessons to you, but I'd be happy to do it if you let me know.  


Monday, April 18, 2011

Take an Easter Walk with Jesus

Take an Easter Walk with Jesus”walk outside, and find and place the following items in a bag while you talk more about Jesus’ atonement.  We do this early in the day as a prelude to an Easter  family home evening.  

A BRANCHa week before his crucifixion, as Christ entered the city, the people waved branches from palm trees

SOMETHING PRICKLYhis “crown” was made of thorns

A PIECE OF WOODfor it was out of wood his cross was made

SOMETHING NO LONGER ALIVEfor the Savior truly died

WHITE LINEN (may need to find this at home) Christ was wrapped in white linen before being placed in the tomb

A STONE it was a huge stone at the opening of the tomb that the angel removed
SOMETHING LIVINGto remind us that Christ surely lives.  He died and was resurrected. 

 Some of the beautiful sights we saw along the way that gave us the opportunity about the beauty of God's creations. 

Here is one of my kids' collections from the walk. 

My kids really wanted our dog, Rocky, to be the living thing they found as part of the walk. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Easter Coloring Book: with Scenes from Jesus' Earthly Life

NOTE:  If you're looking for our family blog, go here.  This blog is now 100% FHE lessons and parenting topics.  :)
This is a printable Easter coloring book featuring scenes of Jesus Christ's life on earth. The story of Easter is told simply at a young child's level, with a coloring page to accompany the text.

Click here to see my FHE LESSON INDEX and come back often to look for new lessons and ideas for teaching your family the gospel!

Easter Coloring Book: with Scenes from Jesus' Earthly Life

This is just a random visual aid that I had, that could be used for retelling the Easter story or for a quiet activity to keep in a church bag. 

Easter Tomb

PS For optimal printing performance, it is best to create a free account with and download the PDF file before printing. As always, feel free to email me at if you are having troubles viewing or printing these lessons. I also love to hear your feedback and ideas for future lesson topics. 

It has been brought to my attention that some of my older lessons have been moved into the Scribd archives, which means that you have to pay a fee to download them.  The fee is nominal ($5 to download as many lessons as you want in 24-hours), but if you'd like me to send one or two of them to you as an email file let me know.  Unfortunately, due to my slow internet connection (30+ minutes to upload each lesson), I would not be able to email more than one or two lessons to you, but I'd be happy to do it if you let me know.  


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Self-Control Mobile

Okay, it isn't Monday anymore, but since I had all my kids home from school yesterday, early Tuesday is all I could do.  :)

This is a mobile to hang in your house of this wonderful quote about developing our characters.  It's a powerful quote and would go perfectly with a FHE lesson on self-control, developing habits, or character development.   Or it would make a great basis for a family home evening itself, as you talk about each aspect of the quote. 

“Thoughts become words, words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character.”

Coming soon....some fun Easter stuff. 

Click here to see my FHE lesson index. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Apostle Wheel and Latter-day Prophet Matching Game

Here are a couple of activities that we love for General Conference. 

Print two sets of the matching game and play as per a normal matching game.   Or for an extra challenge hand out a set of cards to each child and have them listen for each latter-day prophet's name mentioned during conference. As each name is mentioned, they can hang the picture on the wall (or add to a notebook or something)  You can have a special treat waiting when they've all been mentioned. 

Click here for an index of my ready-to-print FHE lessons and other activities!  Have a wonderful Conference weekend!

PS  For optimal printing performance, it is best to make a free account with and download the PDF file before printing. 
Latter-day Prophet Matching Game

This Apostle Wheel is in my General Conference Activity Packet, but since it's buried in the middle, I thought I'd publish it by itself for those who don't want the whole packet.  My kids absolutely LOVE this apostle wheel and I like that it gives them practice recognizing the apostles faces  and names. 

Apostle Wheel

Monday, March 21, 2011

David and Goliath: Overcoming Temptations FHE Lesson

NOTE:  If you're looking for our family blog, go here.  This blog is now 100% FHE lessons and parenting topics.  :)
I know it's been a while, but I'm here today with another of our favorite family home evening lessons.  I was actually surprised that I hadn't already digitized it, since it is so well-loved at our house!  The modern day goliath activity is an activity your family won't soon forget as they hurl their "stones" (marshmallows) at the the Goliath (who is covered with some ideas of  personal "goliaths" they may be facing).  It opened a lot of discussion fodder at our house and I don't think they'll never look at courage/choosing the right the same way again.  :)

Now I've been excited to get back into the swing of regular posting again, but after re-realizing how much time it takes me to type up individual lessons, at this point I'm going to try to commit to posting something each week.  That something might be a full lesson, a scripture story, a fun activity, or just some cool random visual aids I have floating around.  It is my hope that getting back into the swing of it again will get my enthusiasm and creativity flowing again.  :)

I've had several people contact me about including black and white originals where possible in the lessons.  I do have originals for many of my lessons and I do plan to include them in future lessons, but this one is one which I don't have originals for.   

Click here to see my FHE LESSON INDEX and come back often to look for new lessons and ideas for teaching your family the gospel!

David and Goliath: Courage to Overcome Temptations

I had the black and white originals for another Modern-day Goliath activity, that I thought I'd also share.  You could use them in place of the slips of paper in the lesson or you could use them as an activity on their own later in the week.: 
David and Goliath Activity (black and white)

PS For optimal printing performance, it is best to create a free account with and download the PDF file before printing. As always, feel free to email me at if you are having troubles viewing or printing these lessons. I also love to hear your feedback and ideas for future lesson topics. 

It has been brought to my attention that some of my older lessons have been moved into the Scribd archives, which means that you have to pay a fee to download them.  The fee is nominal ($5 to download as many lessons as you want in 24-hours), but if you'd like me to send one or two of them to you as an email file let me know.  Unfortunately, due to my slow internet connection (30+ minutes to upload each lesson), I would not be able to email more than one or two lessons to you, but I'd be happy to do it if you let me know.  


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Whys and Whats of Homeschooling for 8th Grade


Over the last few years, I've had a lot of people ask me about our decision to homeschool our children for 8th grade.  It's a rather drastic choice and while most people have been supportive, it's also somewhat controversial.   Of course we did not endeavor into such a decision without a lot of research and prayer and over the course of the last few years we have felt very inspired that it is the right thing for our family.  Recently a friend of mine asked me some specific questions to help her as she decides whether to homeschool her own daughter for 8th grade and since  other people have been asking as well, I thought I'd compile a list of the things that I've been asked most frequently:  

Why 8th grade?

For a number of reasons, we felt like if we were only going to homeschool the kids for one year, then the eighth grade year was ideal.  My first main reason for this decision is that for the most part the year is off their high school record, so that I don't have to explain the holes in their transcript (see exception below) when they're applying to college.   Secondly, we felt like it was their one last year before heading off to the crazy world of high school, and we wanted to give them every opportunity to strengthen themselves within the walls of our home before then.  Lastly, both Spence and Cami had gone to their seventh grade year at middle school before homeschooling for 8th grade, and frankly for various reasons both of them were very excited to have a year "out of the system".   While neither one of them had had bad experiences, neither one of them were such fans of the middle school garbage that goes on either.  And that brings me to my last big reason...middle school is kind of  a yucky, transitional time in many kids' lives and once again, we felt that a year of a positive strengthening experiences in our home was infinitely better than the negative environment of a middle school. 

 Many people we've met in our homeschooling ventures, homeschool for all of middle school.   With our younger kids at home, we didn't feel like that was the right thing for our family, but now that my baby is in school, I may consider that for the future (if the younger kids are game for it). 

Doesn't the middle school need their positive influence?

Of course it does, BUT not at the detriment of tearing my kids down along with them.  Once again, we absolutely felt strongly that bringing them home for a year was  exactly the preparation they needed to be the best positive influences possible going forward into their high school years and beyond. 

My child doesn't want to homeschool, but I think it would be best.
I personally do not feel like it would be a very successful experience if your child is resistant to being homeschooled, even for just one year.  My advice is to suggest homeschooling as a possibility for a year or two in advance of when you're considering it, then take opportunities to regularly point out the fun advantages that homeschooling will offer them (field trips, no late night homework, etc). 

In addition, to increase their excitement level of staying home for a year, we also promised our kids a fun trip sometime during the year....a special trip that they wouldn't be able to do if they were in school.   Spencer went on a trip with my parents to the the Pacific Northwest through Seattle and into Canada.  Cami is heading to Denver in a couple of weeks with visit his family and hopefully to catch  BYU in the basketball playoffs there.  

If despite your advance preparation and promise of something exciting, they are still resistant, then I would strongly advise you to reconsider your thought to homeschool.  Having a sullen, unhappy teenager at home for a year could be a very trying experience for both of you that may sabotage your efforts in strengthening them for the future.  If, however, you absolutely feel that it is the right thing to do despite their resistance, then I would plan on a month or two of decompressing and working on your relationship. 

I'm too busy, I'm not sure I can make it work.
I figure everything that keeps me church callings, PTA responsibilities, Ellie's health issues, etc....would be consuming my day regardless of whether I was homeschooling or not.  But if Cami were at school, my time with her would be short and rushed.   With her at home, in addition to her academic studies, she also gets some Real Life 101. 

My advice is to take a deep breath and be prepared to prioritize.  First off, while some people may argue with me, I do not feel like homeschooling should be designed to be just like a school day where they are trying to cram six subjects in a day, while you stressfully try to keep up with everything they're doing.  I firmly believe that one of the beauties of homeschooling is flexibility.  Math is something that needs to be done every day, or it can easily get away from you, but in my opinion, there is room for much flexibility in all the other subjects. 

When you think of all the down-time in a day of school...going from class to class, the teacher disciplining other students, taking attendance, the teacher answering questions that your child already understands...the actual amount of time spent learning is not that impressive.  I feel like Cami spending an hour-and-a-half doing her online, interactive science class geared to her specifically is every bit as effective (or more so) than 2-3 hour-and-a-half blocks of science per week at school. 

What about curriculum? 
There are a million things out there, but my strong suggestion is to not feel like you need to recreate the academic environment of school at home.  Take advantage of being at home and make it fun!  Math is math, but every other subject can be made exciting and interesting for both of you.  I won't go into great detail here (call or email if you have specific questions), but here are a few basic things to keep in mind. 

  1.  Homeschooling is not free or cheap, especially for teenagers.  You want them to have quality materials and exposure to uplifting ideals and you should expect it to be about as expensive as sending them to a cheap private school....but with a much more loving, committed teacher!  :)

  2.  I know I'm repeating myself now, but do NOT try to recreate school at home.  It will be too draining for both of you and will likely not be the fun, bonding year you're hoping to have.   Except for math, it is absolutely not necessary that they learn exactly what they would have had they been at school. 

  3.  Contact your high school and find out if there will be any potential conflicts with homeschooling for 8th grade.   Especially, discuss math, since many kids are taking high school level math by 8th grade.  Our high school needed to see Spence's Algebra work, in order for him to sign up for Algebra 2.  For this reason and because I was much more intimidated by teaching Geometry, we signed Cami up for a Geometry class at a local private homeschooling "school".  I liked that she was being taught by someone more knowledgeable than me and I appreciated that she would have a grade and plenty of proof (and proofs) to show the school.  

  4.  Network!  Before you even start homeschooling, find a local LDS homeschooling group, get on their email list, and start participating in their social activities.  As you go along, you will most likely discover amazing moms who teach classes to other homeschoolers.  My kids have participated in Shakespeare, Statesman, and cooking classes this way.  It's great for them socially, good for you to have someone to bounce ideas off of,  and also great for supplementing the curriculum. 

  5.  In order to ensure that their homeschooling day doesn't dissolve into time wasting, we make the hours that they would normally be at school (8-3) a time set aside for their development....without TV, computer, or sometimes even pleasure reading since I have a few bookworms.   It doesn't necessarily that that block of time is super structured the whole time, but I want them to understand that their time at home is meant for  their strengthening and development, not to have extra time to waste. 

What are some of the coolest parts about homeschooling?
This list could be a mile long, but here are a few of my favorites:

  Low stress.  No more staying up until the wee hours trying to get a project done.  With even a somewhat concerted effort, they can easily complete all their work in a couple of hours each day, leaving the rest of the day open for developing talents, friendships, reading, helping around the house, exercising, etc. 

  Developing talents:
  This is one of my favorite parts about homeschooling...the opportunity to explore their talents like music, cooking, sewing, etc. in much greater depth than they could if they were bogged down with a full day of school and the ensuing homework. 

  Working on goals: 
Along the same lines as the previous  one, when their school work is all done in the first few hours of the day, guess who has plenty of time to work on Personal Progress, merit badges for Scouts, and any other goals they have set for themselves?  No more excuses! 

  Specific training:  You really want to teach them about how to balance a checkbook or make and keep a budget or learn how to plan a well-rounded menu and haven't had time yet?  Homeschooling provides the perfect opportunity to sneak in teaching about all those practical skills you've been meaning to teach them, but struggle to find the time for during the school year. 

  Family relationships strengthened:  I love to see the special bond my 8th graders develop with their younger siblings during this time at home.  The bond is not only between them and any preschoolers that happen to be home with them, but because their lives are less stressful and jam packed than previously, they also have more to give to their other siblings as well.  It really has been a wonderful blessing to our whole family. 

In addition, there's also the bond between parent/child that invariably is strengthened as well.  Part of it's just the sheer quantity of time spent together, but it's also the special little things that we do together through the year...the Friday lunches out, the inside jokes, the shared dinner preparations, and the fun shared experiences. 

What are some of the disadvantages of homeschooling for a year?

Probably the hardest part of it for me is the lifestyle change that it entails.  I was used to having preschoolers around all day, but it's totally different dynamics with a teenager in the house.  In many aspects it's easier than having a preschooler, because they can be left alone for a time, they're a little more self-motivated than a preschooler, and don't need to be entertained all day.  On the other hand, teenagers don't take naps or go on playdates and it sometimes can be draining to have them there all the time.  On the flip side, it could be just as challenging, if not more so, for the teenager who is suddenly at home all the time.  I suggest finding social groups and classes to get the involved in, for your sanity and theirs.  

What about sports?

Our district does not offer middle school sports anyway, so this was not an issue for us.  We just had them participate in the community sports' leagues. 

What would you change?

Not much....maybe go on more field trips and be better organized. 

Any last words of wisdom? 

Be prayerful, be prepared,  be flexible, and have fun! 


Monday, January 31, 2011

An Update and Family Home Evening Troubleshooting Guide

Just a quick note to let you know that I have not given up on posting new family home evening lessons here.  My Mondays have become totally crazy from morning to night and this winter, like most winters, finds me sagging with less energy and enthusiasm than the rest of the year.     I  am really hoping the Mr. Groundhog will predict some warm sunshine very soon, since my Vitamin D pills are a poor substitute for the warm rays of the sun.  I hope to regain my groove sometime in the next few weeks....

In the meantime here's a troubleshooting guide I prepared for a RS Enrichment night lesson on holding successful family home evenings.    Feel free to add in your own solutions or problems in the comment section and I will try to address them (or add them to my list) in a future post.  

by Lara Goold

Issue #1
I have children that are preschoolers and teens and every age in between.  How can I possibly teach a lesson that will be meaningful to all of them? 

This is our pretty much our family right now and how we’ve done it, is that we always start off the lesson with a simple concept or object lesson that is the “meat” of the lesson (usually with lots of visual aids to keep them engaged).  We really focus it on the younger kids and enlist the older kids to teach or participate heavily in the discussion.  When I feel comfortable that they’ve really got it (usually in 5-10 minutes) we branch out a little more for the older kids.  We talk more about real-life application and specific situations that they might face, where they can put the gospel topic into practice.  The younger kids are present (although usually playing quietly) during this.  Sometimes it’s a challenge, but in the end I feel like everyone is getting something somewhat significant out of the lesson.  In addition, I believe that the review of simple concepts for the older kids and the preview of more in-depth concepts for the younger ones also adds a valuable element to the lesson. 

Issue #2:  My kids are so young, I just don’t think that they’re getting anything out of it.  Why bother?
It’s the habit that matters.  Keep the lessons short and sweet and fun.  If all they get out of a lesson is that Jesus loves them or that keeping the commandments is good, then consider it a success.  In addition to building their testimonies one simple concept at a time, establishing the habit of weekly family home evenings early in their lives will make it so much easier for you later, when they’re older and busier. 

Issue #3:  My teens are so resistant to sitting down for family home evening and always have a ready excuse at why they should be excused.

The best way to get around this is preventative maintenance.  If you’ve been having weekly family home evenings ever since they were small children, they would know that it is a firm expectation that they participate.  If it’s too late for preventative maintenance, then start now with consistently holding it weekly and expecting, firmly, but gently, that every member of the family participates.   Inconsistent lessons or loose expectations will only increase their resistance, so be committed…they need these lessons and family connections more than ever now! 

Issue #4:  My spouse gives really long, boring lessons that really turn the kids “off” of FHE. 

You may laugh, but I’ve talked to many, many people where this is an issue (including us occasionally…shhh don’t tell Glen).  My best suggestion would be to be prepared.  When it’s their turn to give a lesson, have a discussion beforehand at how you hope the lesson will go (stay positive).  If they’re too busy to plan for an object lesson or story that will capture the kids’ attention more, then plan one to go along with the topic (with their approval of course).  Be careful not to usurp the lesson teaching away from them.  Kids need to hear from both parents and their siblings whenever possible. 

Issue #5:  My kids are crazy and won’t sit down for 2 minutes.  I always end up so flustered by the end of FHE. 
It’s time to evaluate.  Are your lessons too long or not engaging enough?  Are you not expecting enough from them?  Are you consistently enforcing the same expectations week-to-week?  Or are you unknowingly reinforcing their poor behavior by paying them negative attention or by cutting the lesson short in frustration?  Figure out where the trouble is and work on fixing it.  Family home evening should be a positive experience for both kids and adults (at least most of the time).  In our house, we allow some quiet wiggles in the younger children, especially when we focus the lesson on the older kids, but leaving the room or disrupting the family are not tolerated at all.

Issue #6:  We are busy with so many activities, I just don’t know when we can squeeze one more thing like family home evening into our schedules.  We always go to church.  Isn’t that enough?

Think about it honestly.  If your life is so busy that you can’t squeeze in a 20-30 minute block of time once-a-week devoted to strengthening your family and learning the gospel together, then perhaps it’s time to evaluate where your priorities lie.  Remember family home evenings aren’t cookie cutter from family to family…find a time and a system that works for you and make it happen every week…no matter what!

Issue #7:  My kids always end up fighting by the end.  It’s exhausting.  

A little preventative maintenance here can go a long way.  If there’s a pot stirrer in your house that likes to get people’s goat (yes, we have two in our house), then try to preemptively engage them in a way that makes it harder to push people’s buttons.  Sit next to them.  Give them tasks.  I also strongly recommend keeping family home evenings positive (see commandment #4), so that no one ever feels ganged up on during a lesson.  If you notice the beginnings of a fight forming,  nip it in the bud. 

Issue #8:  My spouse isn’t supportive for making FHE a priority (or works long hours that make it unlikely for him to be home). 

Ideally, everyone in the family would always be able to participate happily in family home evening, but unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world.   Don’t let this be a deterrent to you.  The blessings are indiscriminate.  If you have to be the one to take charge of family home evening by yourself, every week, your entire family will still be blessed for your efforts.   In our house, we usually try to move our family home evenings to Sunday nights when we know there is something going on on Monday, but sometimes my husband works late. Or something unusual pops up with one of the kids.   It’s not ideal, but in these situations we go ahead with family home evening…with whoever is there.  

Issue #9:  Someone always gets upset or feels picked on during the lesson and stomps off in a huff. 

Back to commandment #4 again….keep it positive.  Family home evenings are for teaching your family the gospel and how to be better people, not for addressing an individual’s behavioral issues.    Individual issues should be saved for individual conversations and family home evening lessons should be focused on gospel principles and character development.  I know from personal experience (from my youth) that people are not motivated to change by embarrassing them or by tearing them down.  Do everything you can to keep family home evenings a safe haven for everyone.  I believe that even discipline, when necessary during family home evening, should be kept positive. 

Issue #10:  I want to have fun family home evenings every week, but just don’t really enjoy cutting and laminating. How can we have lessons that the kids will enjoy without putting forth that much effort? 

I’ll be honest.  This was one of my biggest hesitations with having the family home evening packets to put together tonight.  I don’t ever want anyone to feel like they need a 10-page packet in order to have a fun, engaging family home evening lesson with their families.  I know that most people do not enjoy the cutting and laminating as I have, but in my mind it’s reflective of one of the beauties of family home evening—just as every family is unique, with its own strengths and weaknesses—so will our family home evenings be.  I know someone who would take turns picking a picture out of the Gospel Art Kit each week and they make that their lesson.  I know others that pick a story out of the Friend magazine and base their lesson on that.  Others will watch a clip of a church video and go from there.  Honestly, I think mixing it up and having the lesson style vary from week-to-week is a great way to keep from falling into a rut.   

Thursday, January 13, 2011

10 Commandments to Having Successful Family Home Evenings

by Lara Goold

1.  Thou shalt be consistent.  Consistency, consistency, consistency!    This, by far, is the most important thing you can do to make family home evening successful.  By making it a priority and making it happen each and every week, you will speak volumes about the importance of the gospel in your life.  When you are consistent you make it a part of your family identity to hold family home evening every week.

2.  Thou shalt be flexible.  Family home evenings don’t always have to be the same.  When life is crazy, don’t let it get swept under the rug in the guise of being “too busy”…modify it to make it work for your family.  Hold it on Sunday nights if Mondays are filled with children’s activities.  Give a lesson in the car if you’re running to and fro.  Go around the family and have each person share what they learned about in church, expounding where you feel inspired.   Discuss a scripture.  Open and close with a prayer and call it family home evening. 
3.  Thou shalt be prepared.  Well-prepared lessons are going to make having family home evening easier, however if you haven’t had time to prepare do NOT use it as an excuse to skip it.  If you’re telling a story as part of the lesson, read the story in advance and be ready to RETELL it rather than read it.  It’ll make it easier for them to listen and not take up as much time.    Being prepared also gives you a chance to choose the focus of the topic you’re teaching, as well as giving you time to think of real-life stories you can share. 

4.  Thou shalt make your Family Home Evenings a safe haven.  Don’t EVER focus your lesson on one child or one child’s behavioral issue.   This will only lead to embarrassment and resentment, not exactly the tools for effective teaching.  If there is a problem that needs to be discussed, then relate it to a gospel topic and keep it positive.  If an individual’s behavior really needs to be discussed in specific, then it should be as a private parent-child conversation, NOT as a family.  

5.  Thou shalt keep it simple.  Don’t expect 45-minute long lessons where everyone is sitting still on the couch.  This pretty much never happens at our house (or in Elder Bednar’s house either).  Have a simple routine that is the same from week-to-week (prayer, songs, lesson, business, treats, activity, prayer), and go with it.   Lessons that are 5-10 minutes long (or even shorter if the kids are younger) can be even more effective than a longer lesson where the children may start to tune out after a while. 

6.  Thou shalt make Family Home Evening fun.   You want family home evening to be something that they look forward to each week, and finding ways to liven things up will add an element of excitement and anticipation.  Use visual aids, pictures, object lessons, stories (particularly from your own life), and games, which of course, is easier if you have prepared in advance.  If nothing else, make sure there is a fun treat waiting for them at the end!

7.  Thou shalt go-with-the-flow.  If the lesson takes a different direction than you expect, go with it!  Some of our best lessons have ended up on completely different topics that we had started with. 

8.  Thou shalt involve everyone in the family as much as possible.  Even very small children can hold up pictures, repeat a scripture, pass out treats, and answer very simple questions.  Older children (school age and older) can teach the lesson, look up scriptures, participate in discussions (sometimes with prodding), make the treats, etc.   Children will enjoy participating in family evenings more when they know that they play an important part. 
9.  Thou shalt make the focus of Family Home Evening learning the gospel together as a family.  Sporting events or concerts can be fun for a family home evening, once in a while, but the focus of family home evening should be about learning the gospel and strengthening family ties.  We’ve been taught that FHE should be a place where we can pray, listen or sing sacred music, study the scriptures, work together, serve others, focus on developing obedience and self-discipline, place a high priority on building loyalty within the family, build self-worth, and develop traditions.

10.   Thou shalt relate the lessons to everyday life.  A story from your own life or that of a relative, will be all the more meaningful to your children as you teach them about important aspects of the gospel.  In addition, a lesson on a vague gospel topic such as faith or agency, will stick with them more if they know what faith or agency (or whatever topic) means to them on an individual basis.  How can they have faith?  What should they do if their faith is wavering?