Editor's Note: Today, we welcome new friend and CatholicMom.com contributor Cynthia Ann Costello. I look forward to sharing Cynthia's writing with our readers and invite you to join me in welcoming her to the family! LMH

The Yellow Pad – Our Prep for the New School Year

The cards matched up.  The noun card said “Yellow Pad”, and the adjective card said “Awkward”.  It was Christmas break and our family was playing a homemade Apples to Apples game – Costello Edition.  My 19 year-old son had cleverly created the game as a gift to his younger 9 year-old brother, inventing his own adjectives and familiar phrases that were events and circumstances known only to our immediate family.  This match made the entire family hysterical with laughter.

“The Yellow Pad” is our catch phrase for individual meetings with each child a few weeks before school begins. Our family has homeschooled through eighth grade, and then our children attend the local high school. The Yellow Pad is so named because from the first years of initiating this practice, I wrote notes for the meeting on a yellow legal pad.  When the children were in gradeschool, there was a tone of great seriousness invoked as we began, and in later years I had to lighten up as our teens balked at being called to the “hot seat”.  The older kids teased each other about who would be next, but when it came down to sharing goals and ideas, I believe they received the message that they were special and loved.  In fact, we always begin with “You know that we love you…” and in later years, they would say these words before we could!

On the “Yellow Pad” each year I prayerfully write down goals for the year for each child.  These are listed into five categories- spiritual, academic, physical, character, and social.  I go over them with my husband for his input and then we share these goals with each one of the children in an individual meeting with them.

Spiritual goals are always discussed first, because we believe these are the most important!   Seek ye first the Kingdom of God!  Examples of goals include commitment to a morning offering and reading about the saint for the day, adding a holy hour, or more intense prayer to know their vocation.  In this category, we offer suggestions on how to become closer to Christ that year, and depending on their age, suggest ways that they could deepen their relationship with Him and participate more fully in family prayer.  Daily mass is always highlighted as the most important part of our homeschooling day, and those attending school are assured of their remembrance there.

The next category is academics.  In this section, we go over the subjects we’ll be taking that year, and encourage hard work and dedication to their studies.  Children heading into upper grades are challenged to increase their study time, and understand the importance of preparation for college.  “Pray about what you are passionate about”, we remind them, “as this may be what God is calling you to do.”

Following academics are physical goals.  I have found that I need reminders myself to eat right, get enough sleep, and factor some exercise into my weekly routine.  Under this category, we talk about sports, and perhaps some individual aspirations to increase confidence or achieve a new level of proficiency.  All five of my children have enjoyed participation in sports and we have found that setting personal goals for the body is good for the whole person!

Character goals are next. What a joy it is as a mother, to contemplate the amazing gifts God has given my children.  How can I help them to cultivate their strengths and virtues? Can I lead them to understand more fully how God is asking them to multiply those talents?  Additionally, it is humbling to recognize areas where I need improvement, and to assist my children in doing the same.  For example, if patience is a virtue that one of us lacks, we mention ways to pray for grace to practice that virtue.  Perhaps our character flaw is to procrastinate.  Listing ways to combat the “putting it off” syndrome that so often gets us in trouble is a concrete way to affect change.

The fifth and final goals we consider are social goals.  During this time we talk about friendships, dating relationships, and opportunities to initiate new activities that introduce healthy interactions with others.  Homeschooling offers so much flexibility in this area, as we keep in mind that time spent with people of all ages leads to maturity in speech and action.  Moms can truly help children reach their fullest potential by fostering activities where they will be challenged and encouraged to learn how to hold conversations with and/or work alongside peers and adults alike.  Heading a new club or taking the leadership role as a captain of a school team encourages wisdom in social relationships.

Wrapping up our Yellow Pad meeting entails opening the floor to our child’s reactions, feelings, and input.  We give them an opportunity to suggest their own goals and aspirations, and to respectfully give their opinions on how we, as parents, can be part of that growth for them. By the end of their college years, we know our children are well on their way to setting their own goals and we watch with joy as they do!

In the end, our highest “Yellow Pad” goal is to let our children know how much God loves them, and how proud we are to be their parents.  I think that the laughter that evening as we played the board game was a response that came from their love for us.  I have kept all the Yellow Pads since their inception .They are a record of love and of growth into adulthood and holiness for all of us Costello’s.  May God make us all saints!

Copyright 2011 Cynthia Ann Costello