Archive for the ‘Homeschooling’ Category

I laughed out loud when I received this award…I just lost my temper when things in my house didn’t go as planned. That is the total opposite of versatile :) And maybe that’s why I LOVE writing – everything can be edited for content and polished to perfection before anyone reads it. Like airbrushing ideas.

And now for my second confession: I received this award a few weeks ago but haven’t done anything with it because of the number of blog I need to award this to – 15!

But before I get to the rules and awards, I want to thank Gwen Bristol @ http://www.GwenBristol.com for the nomination! We met on LinkedIn and she has become a source of encouragement, support, and really good stories. (The Night Ones Legacy is excellent!)


Versatile Blogger Rules (If you choose to obey them)
•Display the Award Certificate on your website
•Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
•Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers (I’m changing it to 7 blogs. Why? Because I have to share 7 things about myself and 7 is the number of completion and perfection.)
•Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post
•Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

Here are the seven bloggers that I choose to present this award to:

http://lesleycarter.wordpress.com/ This girl has spirit!
http://frenchwellness.wordpress.com/ Very unique. I never know what to expect :)
http://5kidswdisabilities.com/ Inspiring!
http://shirleysquirrely.wordpress.com/ Just plain fun writing
http://lorieb.wordpress.com/ I’m always looking for wheat-free ideas
http://michelleproulx.wordpress.com/ She’s funny and spirited and adorable
http://quirkybooks.wordpress.com/ Talk about versatile! Sandra covers it all!

Now for seven things about myself:

1. I homeschool my children and I love it! I didn’t start this journey out of any religious crusade; I simply wasn’t ready to put my oldest daughter in all-day kindergarten and I knew I could teach her at home. We tried it for a year and decided to do it again. That was 8 years ago.

2. I have Type 1 Diabetes. It sucks. I give myself insulin injections every day. The silver-lining? I eat really healthy and I’m in good shape.

3. I turned 40 last year. Hey, it’s a milestone so we celebrated!

4. I have four children: three biological daughters and one adopted son. They are all beautiful and much loved. God knew what he was doing when he gave me these children: they stretch and fill my heart in many ways. (Did I mention my youngest was 2? He’s stretching me!)

5. I didn’t catch the reading bug until 7th grade when I was given The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende for Christmas. I read it in 3 days. I devoured every book I could after that, but nothing captured me like that again until I read The Counte of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.

6. My favorite snack is apple slices and almond butter.

7. I have a second blog that I started a few weeks ago for diabetics: http://www.NaturallyDiabetic.com It’s helping me stay focused on eating and exercising well, keeping my meals planned, and encouraging my children to take pictures of everything we eat so I can post it :)

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school bus

I was supposed to be in Cheboygan, MI this month talking to students about writing, but schedules being unruly beasts, I’m not able to be there. Instead, here is a bullet point list of ideas to do with students to encourage them to write.

* End the School Day with Journal Writing
At the end of a school day, each child has endured an adventure, solved the mystery of science, experienced a horror in the lunch room, felt the sting of bullying… the list goes on. Give them time to write about their day. What did they learn? What would they like to forget? What was the highlight of the day? Ten minutes a day of dumping their thoughts on paper could safe a life. I don’t believe I’m stretching the truth there.

writing pics 009

* When the students write, so does the Teacher
Model the behavior you want from the students. Are you a homeschooling parent? Do the same.

* Read what you wrote to the class
If the subject matter isn’t entirely private in nature, share what you wrote. Make sure it is light hearted. Although, if there was a difficult moment of the day, write about that, but end it with a VERY positive tone. Modeling positive thinking is good thing!

* There are times to correct grammar and times to just read
Think about it – if every time you spoke someone corrected you, how long would it take before you stopped talking altogether? Imagine a child at a dance being told he was dancing wrong…that’s a wallflower in the making. Sometimes writing is just writing – horrible spelling, grammar, and dialogue and all! The voice can’t always express the heart. That’s the power of art in therapy. Writing can be therapy too, but not if the teacher marks up a student’s heart with the sharp end of a red pen.

* Give students time to share
If you were to look at the notes of a popular public speaker, it’s likely there would be errors. But in public speaking, the notes are not graded, just the delivery. If you have a student who is not a good writer, they are likely a good speaker. Given them an audience. Don’t have time to sit and listen to one student? Give them a video recorder/digital recorder and let them run with it. You’ll be amazed with the growth in that student!

* Share good sentences
When I was a teacher, I made the horrible mistake of reading a student’s work as the ‘bad example’. Yeah, I know – horrible! Never ever read a students entire paper to a class, even if it’s the good example. Instead, pull several well-written sentences from several students papers and post them on a bulletin board (refrigerator for homeschoolers). Even a weak writer can have a great sentence. This boosts self-esteem and will result in stronger writers.

Related Links
Writing and Editing with Students

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When people learn that I have four children, they smile. It’s more than the average two kids and far less than the typical Catholic family of ten. When they learn that I homeschool my children, they are impressed (or worried that my kids will be social freaks). And then when they discover that I also write, they slap their forehead and walk away. “How can you possibly do all that?”

Easy! The same way anyone else manages to do the things they love. I make time for it.

Step #1 – Set Weekly Goals.
Know what you want to accomplish. Personally speaking, I include writing, exercise and household chores into one list. My favorite part of accomplishing the goals is crossing them off. It’s a little thing to do, but it means that my time has been well-spent and I have something to show for it.

Step #2 – Schedule Time to Achieve Those Goals
I can’t tell you how many people will tell me that they want to do this or that, but they don’t have the time. I want to lose ten pounds…I want to be a writer…I want to homeschool…I want to train for a 5K…but I work full-time, I get home too late, I can’t afford it, I can’t.
Bah! I say! Those are lame excuses and they need to be tossed out like last year’s trash.
Wake up 20 minutes earlier and read or write. 20 minutes isn’t going to completely deprive anyone of sleep, but using that time effectively can bring about great results.
Have an hour for lunch? Walk for 30 minutes or write for 45 minutes.
Do you watch 2-3 hours of TV every night? Quit. Work toward your goals instead.

Step #3 – Accomplish tasks/goals in ‘Chunks’ of Time.
There are times when little snippets of time are all you have. (see Post-it writing for more). To truly make progress toward your goals, you will need to invest time.
I’m very good at planning meals and I can grocery shop on a dime, but when it comes to actually making the meals I fail. The solution for this came to mind as I looked at how I schedule several hours a week to write; therefore I should do the same for meals. I now plan a week’s worth of meals based on the sales at our local grocery store and shop. When I come home, instead of putting the meat in the freezer (because at 4:00pm on any given night everything will still be frozen) I put the meals together then freeze them. Luckily for me, my family loves casseroles and crock pot dinners, but mostly, I think they are just happy to have regular meals. I spend hours planning, shopping and preparing meals, but making the meals ahead of time keeps my afternoons free. It takes a few minutes to turn on the oven and slid a 9×13 in than to start from scratch.

Step #4 – Professionalize Your Goals
Every professional has business hours. Writers, parents, homeschoolers, and any one striving to accomplish a goal needs the same. I have every Thursday afternoon to write. It’s a guarenteed 3-4 hours of uninterrupted writing time. When I set my goals for the week, Monday through Wednesday include writing tasks that will make Thursday more efficient.

Step #5 – Have Fun!
If writing is your goal, then keep it fun. If you are a parent, it’s not like you can quit. Just find the ways to keep it fun. Same with exercise. Change up your workout. Jog on Monday, lift weights on Tuesday, swim on Wednesday, yoga on Thursday…you get the idea.
The enjoyment-factor of any task helps keep motivation high. For example, one of my least favorite tasks is changing out summer clothes for winter clothes. To put much of the work on my children (it’s their clothing!) and to keep it fun, I pull out the new season of clothing and set up a store in the living room. They all ‘shop’ for what they want, but have to turn in clothing for GoodWill – a one-for-one exchange. They shop, the closets are cleaned out, everyone is happy.
In writing, the enjoyment comes when I schedule in weeks to not write, but to read as many books as possible. My record is 8 books in one week.
When I’m trying to keep my writing fun, I will switch up stories, read something I wrote years ago (and laugh), or find a new place to try writing – libraries and coffee shops are great, parks are more interesting, in the middle of the mall during Christmas is a blast! So much drama :)

And remember, there are 24 hours in each day. Minus 8 hours of sleep, that leaves 16 hours of productive time. Use it well!

tick-tock...this is only a caption. Stop reading and start working on your goals!

tick-tock…this is only a caption. Stop reading and start working on your goals!

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It’s been over a week since my last post. It’s NaNoWriMo for Novelists – a madhouse of writing 50,000 words in a month and I’m doing my best to keep up. But it’s time for another Writing Conference boost. To review, our outline is:

wRiting Effort DoUbled by Concentrated Educational Details

Today is Educational. And we are going to talk about…education. Creative, huh?

This concept is so simple, it’s easy to forget…Go back to school.  I’m not suggesting that you should sit in on a third grade lesson, but look at what kids these days are reading. I guarantee it’s very different from what you read as a kid.

I turned 40 this year. As a child, I read Judy Blume, Madeleine L’Engle and ten-pound school anthologies. That’s it. The librarian at my elementary school failed miserably at her job and didn’t even know it. I remember the first time I stepped into that library – the smell of ink and paper was as rich to me then as a strong cup of coffee is now. We were in the LIBRARY! I was certain this was the place, the once-a-week half hour when we would hear a story, a haven of time in my week when I could explore books and escape work. How wrong I was!

It was Dewey or Die.

The library was meticulously organized, dusted and decorated. Books were lined neatly with the edge of the shelves – right where the librarian wanted them to be. After my first library visit, I left with one picture book that had to be returned the next week. There was no story read to us. It was all rules and decimal systems.

On the counter near the door stood  a coffee can of rulers for us to use when we explored the bookshelves. Yeah. Rulers. It wasn’t to measure our reading ability. If we saw a title that sounded interesting, we were to slide the ruler next to the book before taking the book off the shelf. This assured that all the books would still be in place when the class left.

Talk about judging a book by its title!

She never introduced us to C.S. Lewis, Beverly Cleary or Paul Flieshman. In fact, our school library was divided into grade-appropriate shelves. Older students were not allowed to check out picture books and younger students were not allowed near the chapter books. That meant the older students who struggled with reading were only allowed to check out books that were too difficult for them. Those who excelled in the early grades were stunted in their reading development because they were not given the opportunity to read the more difficult books.

As a writer, this opens a market for you. High-interest, low-reading difficulty for struggling students, to name one. These could be non-fiction books with shorter sentences and paragraphs with age -appropriate information. Or, stories written in a simpler sentence structure that offer exciting adventures.

So, learn what’s out there already. Study the masters – not necessarily those who make the NY Times Bestseller Lists, but books that break molds, that have stood the test of time, the banned books. Read the genre that fits with your writing. And then make a note of who published it, see if you can find the agent that represented that author and when your story is finished and polished, send it to them.

If you are like my students, you are wondering, “How many books should I read?” The answer is: Read a little of what interests you every day. No matter where you are in your writing journey, stop and take a week, or a month to read the new releases. Or, if you are like me and didn’t have teachers who encouraged you to read, go back and read what you missed.

http://bitly.com/SsDwSF – link to HAISIN Recommended Reading Lists 2012, a list of books for children. If you write for children, learn what’s out there, see what’s selling, talk to parents about what they are looking for in a story, in a non-fiction book.


The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

The Penderwicks (a series) by Jeanne Birdsall

Inkspell, Inkheart, Inkdeath (a trilogy) by Cornelia Funke

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

And if you are interested in supporting this author, try: Gateways, by Me :)  available @ http://amzn.to/SYiT3W


If you have any other reading suggestions, please share! Include the age level and genre.



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Jesus told Peter to “put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Luke 5).

Hmmm…deep water? Sounds like missionary work. Not just missionaries who travel to remote islands with a New Testament in hand, but missionaries within ten miles of where we live. Those folks who man the Soup Kitchens, distribute food and compassion, the Meals-on-Wheels deliveries, those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and act accordingly.

Deep Waters.

Taken while fishing with my dad – a tradition I hope lasts forever!

With Jesus as our guide, we can walk on those waters and not be sucked under by gravity or the undertow. Our faith can protect us from slipping under the consuming waves while we cast a life line out to those just under the surface.

On our dining room wall, we have a topographical mural map of the world. It’s wonderful for homeschooling, not to mention a great conversation center piece with guests. As my children and I sit around the table, gazing longingly at the world, we wonder where we will visit in the future.

Best Christmas present!

My daughters want to become missionaries and travel and share God’s love and message. We’ve read stories about people who have made the journey to South America and lived among the tribes in the Amazon forest; a woman who traveled through a war to arrive in China where she shared God’s Word; another woman who went to the Philippines and lived among a tribe and became their daughter and sister. The stories are wonderful on paper when years of weather, illness, struggles and deprivation are condensed into neat paragraphs.

The Deep Water we are called to navigate in order to share God’s Word looks pleasantly coordinated on our wall map. The rivers are neat blue lines, the oceans more interesting because we can see the ridges which lie hidden under miles of water. Missing is the understanding of what a jungle holds, how deep hunger can eat, and just how far of a walk it is to the other side of the mountain.

And I realize that my Deep Waters are nothing but a wading pool for infants. I may complain when splashed and perhaps I have even fallen in and soak my clothes, but I have never truly slipped under the water and watched the sky recede from view. Hunger only lasts as long as it takes for me to walk to the cupboard. I can go to a church which I choose and not fear persecution. My family is alive and well and living close enough that I can drive to them in a few hours. My children are healthy, we have a house, we drive two cars – we are living a good, easy life.

Am I following Christ? Do I have to leave everything behind and follow him? Is that what Deep Water Faith is?

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Mr. Obstacle, I will not surrender to you.

Mrs. Negative Thought, I will not be ruled by you.

Mr. Today, you have tried to beat me back but I will resist you.

Push me – I will not give . Shove me back – I will not budge. Slap my cheek – I offer you the other.

Yes, it’s true that I’m trying to do too much, but that was my choice. I will accomplish my tasks. What I’m doing is necessary. So I’m here.

And my purpose is here to stay.

Mr. Obstacle, Mrs. Negative Thought, Mr. Today – you will not be here tomorrow. How do I know that, you ask?

I know who is on my side. He’s bigger than you and He’s more loving than me.

And He always wins. And when I do His work, I always win.

My prayer to everyone struggling with something:

Lord, I hand over all our troubles to you. Care for our hearts, our minds, our souls. Help us to see your will in our purpose. Protect us from the attacks of Satan, the dark angel who works through policies and expectations of other, within red tape and circumstances, in our doubts and fears. Keep us strong, focused and patient. Amen!

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It’s that time of year for our family when we wrap up one school year, celebrate our accomplishments and prep for the new school year. Last weekend was our annual Homeschooling conference where I purchase all the school books for the upcoming grades. It starts with a rush of eager mothers on the used book tables and then persists all weekend as we peruse the glossy books that have never been opened; the pages that contain oodles of information and stories that call out to be read and loved.

Now that I’ve attended this conference a few years, I’m smart enough to come prepared with a crate on wheels to hold everything I buy. Other moms are still learning as they balance book in there arms and have to turn down coveted items simply because the don’t have the strength to hold another one.

It’s when I came home and unloaded my booty of bound written words that I realized how much my family loves books. We have eight bookshelves in the house and four of them are stacked with books two deep. The end table in the family room is stacked with my daughters favorite books so they can sit down and re-read their favorite parts. Library books are organized on the floor in our reading corner where they lean against the wall in their own little display. We have book bags near the door to grab on the way to the store to catch up on a few pages between here and there. We buy purses large enough to hold books.

But the best part of all of these books cluttering my home are the notebooks of stories my children are writing are sprinkled around house. They read and they write. They have friends who write and share their stories during play dates. I will be honest – the kids are great writers! They are imitating their favorite authors, using those books as guides, the authors becoming mentors to my children.

Friends and family often ask how I encourage my children to read so much. As I look at our lifestyle and our home, I can narrow my children’s reading success down to four things my husband and I have done:

1. Our TV is not an option except for Friday nights when we all watch a family-friendly movie together. We don’t watch the news, they aren’t exposed to commercials, and they don’t wear that dopey TV-face for hours a day as someone else determines what is entertaining for my children. Instead, we read, play, interact, cook, do art projects and work in the garden. TV is a huge deterent from everything creative.

2. We have loads of books and our children see us read and write often. Children will do what their parents do. If you want your children to be good readers, you need to be a good reader. We go to the library often, visit used books stores, share books with friends, and talk about what we are reading. If a movie is based on a book, we all read the book first. Books and gift cards to bookstores are rewards for good behavior.

3. We are blessed with a retired teacher who hosts a weekly Literature Club for several children. This is a huge part of my children’s desire to share their writing. For many, myself included, sharing what you’ve written is difficult. My daughters have found encouragement and new ideas in this group. For your family, find a parent or a teacher who is interested in leading a similar literature club. Children read a book a week (or one a month) and then talk about it and do an activity. My daughters have made acorn flour & pancakes after they read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and origami boxes for The Year of Jackie Robinson and the Boar by Betty Bao Lord.

4. My children don’t own any electronic games. There is no Game Boy, Kindle Fire, or whatever the lastest hand-held distraction is in this house. We don’t have a Wii, although I would like one because they are active and many of the games do encourage group participation. While many families spend money on video games that draw kids away from interacting with people and consumes their mind with battles and violent images. Even the mild games draw children away from people. Books can do the same thing – my daughters don’t hear or see anything in the house when they are reading. The difference is that the images in their minds are their own creation, not a digital vision injected into their mind.

It’s true that some kids just aren’t going to be readers, but if their home environment directs them to a book or magazine instead of the TV, the potential to become a good reader increases. The next post will be how to encourage active children to pick up a book. Until then, take the kids to the library and find a used book store. Happy reading!


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Writing a story, a book or a poem might not be a physical feat, but it is certainly a mental accomplishment worthy of medals and trophies. Finishing a story, polishing it up to be read and shared is much like what we do to prepare for church, for a date, for school pictures. Who would ever think of having a school picture taken with messy hair and a smudge of playground grass on your cheek? Ok, I just described my fifth grade picture…but that was a mistake I still regret!

Parents and teachers feel frustration when kids turn in writing assignments that have not been edited or revised. While it’s a valid excuse for frustration, what do kids really know about the difference between writing, editing and revising?

Editing is the grueling task of fixing spelling errors, comma splices or a lack of a comma, adding possessive apostrophes…you get the idea. Editing does not come naturally. The knowledge must be learned and practiced.

Revising is studying the flow of a paper. Do the paragraphs begin with a good introduction sentence? Are they followed by supporting sentences? Does the paper veer away from the intended purpose?

The best way for students to learn to edit is to read their work aloud. For me, that step alone helps me catch more than 50% of my editing errors. Reading aloud works for revising, too. First, for a student to recognize a good flow of a five paragraph essay, they need good examples and poor examples – none of which should be fellow student’s work. The pressure is too great to be a good writer and the horror too lasting if a student’s paper is selected as being the ‘bad’ example.

If you are a teacher or a homeschooling parent, teach writing in small and consistent chunks. Share samples of good writing. Choose a topic and help students to create one outline. Assign each student to write their own five-paragraph essay from that outline. The most important piece is to grade these writing assignments using only three or four specific areas. For example, all students should know when to use a capital letter, end punctuation and how to indent a new paragraph. Once those three areas have been mastered, move on to three new areas.

This idea is not mine, but something I learned years ago at a writing conference. The areas are called “Focus Correction Areas” or FCA’s, which should be written at the top of the paper to remind each student in which areas the teacher will be grading. There is a great example of this at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/23426069/Five-Types-of-Writing-and-Focus-Correction-Areas-(FCAs) .

As a writer, a task I do for several hours each day, I still make mistakes. How can we expect students to hand in well-edited papers? (In the professional world, we have editors for that!) Allow them time to “professionally” edit each other’s work and keep the possibility of earning a good grade an achievable reality. Don’t hand out those gold medals for writing to every student who hands in a half-effort. Allow the students to earn that prize by keeping the focus on the progress, not the final result of each paper.

Put on your Sunday best for your writing. It will pay off, I promise!

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I’d like to give a big shout of thanks to all the people who help me quiz my children on their academic standings. No, really, I mean it! It’s so helpful to bump into people in the middle of the day, who upon learning that we home-school, proceed to ask, “What’s the capital of New Jersey?” “What do you call an insect without a backbone?” and my personal favorite, “I can buy five cans of tomatoes for $4.00, plus I have a coupon for 20% off my entire order. How much will the tomatoes cost?”

Sarcasm aside, I’m both puzzled and thankful for this phenomenon. Academics are crucial to the success of anyone who wishes to have a decent career. But math doesn’t hold the same importance for a writer as it does for someone interested in becoming a doctor. Words are lovely when they are crafted into a well-written blog post or story, but they do little to organize finances. To think that one pop-quiz in the middle of the grocery store or at the park is going to determine the quality of home-education is ridiculous.

What matters in the overall education of a child is character development, faith formation, and perseverance in the face of adversity. I’m still waiting for someone to ask the girls, “What is the most valuable lesson you are learn from being home-schooled?” I’m quite certain “I know that Trenton is the capitol of New Jersey” will not be the answer.

This is a slice of what homeschooling looks like, but missing in this mini-slide show are the field trips, the science lessons, and vacations that are rooted in history lessons. And I have yet to capture a picture of the emotional bonds that homeschooling creates, but rest assured that when I do, I will post it here.

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Several months ago there was a sale at a school and up for grabs were bookshelves, desks, instruments and a million other things. We went, of course, and found three desks for the girls. Problem was they would not all fit in the back of the truck. I came home and hooked up the trailer (a very proud and physically tiring task!) and returned to the sale. The man who helped me load commented that he had never seen a woman tie down cargo quite as well as I had. Proud moment number two! After a successful drive home, I approached the driveway and faced a great obstacle: backing the trailer into the driveway.

I have watched my husband do this over the last 13 years and I remember the ‘steer in the opposite direction’ concept from driver’s ed. classes, but this was the first time I had actually attempted backing up a trailer on my own.

After several failed attempts and even more positive encouragement from my daughters, I did manage to back it in. While learning how to do this, I was completely blocking traffic on our street and had more than one offer from a man to just to it for me. Stubbornness runs fiercely through my blood, and I politely said, “No. I have to learn how to do this.” Luckily, the men just waited patiently in their trucks and laughed at my many comical moves.

My pride was a bit bruised by their laughter, I’ll admit, but when I did finally succeed, those lovely men actually cheered for me. That was worth all the work!

A few days later, my middle daughter was working on a new math concept, her most difficult subject. Working together, she could solve the problems well. But as soon as she was on her own, she forgot what to do next. And so I would model the process again, this time asking her to figure the steps along the way. On her own once more, she would trip and fail. We were both frustrated and I didn’t know what else to do.

“I think you just need to try these on your own. Do one problem then show me. We can figure out the mistakes together, but you need to give this a go.”

She did not like the idea. “What if I get it wrong?”

Ah-ha! That was the problem. Children are afraid to make mistakes and adults are quick to jump and respond too harshly.

Children need a safe place to learn, explore, make mistakes and succeed. There is a line from the movie, Megamind when Titan, the bad guy, tells Megamind that he always fails. Megamind responds with, “I might fail, but I’ve learned from my mistakes.” And he proceeds in successfully defeating the bad guy. (I apologize if that’s a spoiler for anyone!)

I reminded her of that line in the movie. “We learn the most when we try and fail. Sometimes learning what doesn’t work is more important than learning what does. Thomas Edison, in inventing the light bulb, said he found a thousand ways that it didn’t work. He needed to find only one way that did.” (another movie line! Thank you National Treasure!)

“Like when you backed up the trailer?” she remembered. “Those men wanted to help you, but you said no.”

“And now I know how.”

My parents always told me that parenting was a more difficult than growing up because you re-live all the emotions that your children feel. How true! I’ve also discovered that children are learning how to be adults. If, as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends we can embrace a child’s mistakes and use them to enhance their understanding of this world and how they fit in, we are creating a future of people who can pass along the tradition of knowing the value of the ‘try and try again’ principle. The moms and dads of the world also need opportunities to completely fall on their faces and get back up. What would happen if we forgave a friend who made a grievous mistake that hurt us? Or what would happen if we gave a co-worker, who should know better, the opportunity to re-do a botched project?

In a nut shell, children are being schooled on the idea of adulthood. Adults are taking the test.

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