Saturday, April 6, 2024

Our 50 Yard Challenge Experience

One gorgeous, sunny June day I was sitting in a hammock scrolling through Facebook when I saw a citizen post on our town’s news page that it would be nice if some young men in our town took the 50 Yard Challenge. To it he linked the website Our 10 year old son had just been talking about how bored he was and how he wanted something to do that summer. I clicked the link and it appeared almost too good to be true. Mow lawns, serve neighbors, earn free lawn equipment... sounded perfect. I called our oldest son JJ over and presented the idea to him and he immediately lit up. At first I only signed him up for the challenge as I was worried about 1. Finding him enough yards and 2. Our mower lasting for 50 yards. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the need was tremendous. Within a day of announcing that JJ signed up for the challenge, I had something like 22 requests in my inbox. It’s 100 something degrees here most days in the summer, so realistically I knew that he wouldn’t be able to get through more than two, possibly three yards max each day. We found that even two was difficult some days. However, the need was so great that I messaged the founder, Rodney Smith, Jr., and asked him how it would work if our second oldest son joined him on the challenge. I figured that would allow more time for water breaks and rest would would allow us to complete more yards each day. I found out that two boys can indeed complete the challenge together, so I signed our 9 year old son up too. 

For the challenge you need to mow 50 yards for the elderly, disabled, veterans, or single parents for free. After checking with Rodney, we found out that small tips were allowed and the boys kept those tips in a fund and used that money to buy gas and provide maintenance on the mower. One of the hidden benefits that I loved about the challenge is that it taught them how to manage money, and laid the foundational financial knowledge to prepare them for running a lawn care business. After the first tank of gas, I did not supply them with any money. At one point they were running low on funds, so they asked a neighbor who didn’t qualify for the challenge if they could mow her lawn for a donation towards the challenge. Soon after they were blessed by a relatively large donation from another member of our community that wanted to support their cause. 

With the larger donation they began to pay more attention to the people they were mowing for, and found out who truly had needs and more of what they were. We found that the elderly, disabled, and wife’s of deployed military spouses (especially those that were pregnant), by far had the greatest needs. With their extra funds they found other ways to bless some of these families, including buying food and diapers. Through the challenge they learned compassion and generosity. They also learned to listen to others. I personally loved chatting with the elderly and hearing their stories. My favorite questions to ask them were: 1. What is your favorite childhood memory? 2. What life experience were you most grateful for? 3. What single piece of advice would you tell your younger self or pass along to my children?

Most veterans did not have a true need (unless they were also elderly or deployed), but as a military family ourselves we still enjoyed mowing for veterans and found that they were most appreciative. The challenge reinforced how we have taught them to respect veterans and those that have served our country. 

We reached out to the local firefighters and police officers and no one contacted us about mowing their lawns. We did have one police officer stop while we were mowing a lawn in town and thank our sons for serving the community but he declined our offer to do his yard.

Our boys also learned how to deal with criticism. Some people would wait to reach out to us until they were contacted by Code Enforcement and then expect our boys to come out immediately, which was not always possible. The words of some people could be pretty harsh. These times were a good opportunity to remind our boys that we still are called to repay evil with kindness and grace, and also to teach them about setting boundaries. 

Dealing with rude comments wasn’t the only difficulty our kids have faced during the challenge. They had set a goal to complete the challenge in 50 days. They started the challenge persevering through 100+ degree days. The excitement of the challenge quickly fades when it’s 110 degrees outside, and some days I did bribed them with Sonic slushes. When the weather started to cool it also turned rainy. The yards were growing faster so the demand increased but the window of opportunity to mow between storms was small, so they knew on a good day that they would have to mow 4-5 yards which left them sore and tired. Then they started to have mower problems. By the end of the challenge there were quite a few parts that were replaced on the mower. I’m actually grateful that they did break down because even though it set them behind we met some other wonderful people in our community that donated their time to work on the mower. It reminded us that yes, there are some really good people out there wanting to make a difference and use whatever talents they have to help others.

I want to share another cool blessing. One HOT day we were asked to mow a huge lot for a veteran that had recently had back surgery. It was already their third yard of the day and they were exhausted. I couldn’t get our mower started so they borrowed the veterans’ mower. About 20 minutes later I finally got our mower started, which then gave them two mowers, but I was looking at the lot thinking it would easily take them 2+ hours to finish even with two mowers. Then out of nowhere a man on a riding mower shows up and starts knocking out the middle part of the yard for them. He mowed about 80% of the yard then as suddenly as he appeared, disappears and drives off down the street. We sure felt blessed by God on that occasion, and others. 

They did not achieve their goal of 50 yards in 50 days, but they came pretty close. I think our oldest did it in 56 days and our younger son in 53 days. Rodney was preparing to leave on his state tour, so it was a month or two before he was able to come visit the boys and deliver their free mowers, blowers, and trimmers, but the work and wait was well worth it. Check out these smiles!!!!!!!

That was more than two years ago. Since then they have mowed over 100 yards (earning their free Raising Men sweatshirts), their younger brother took and completed the 50 yard challenge, and one of their sisters is less than 10 yards away from completing the challenge. The next brother in line just can't wait to turn old enough to sign up. 

As we head into our third year, here is my advice:
1. Don't hesitate to sign your kids up!!! Your child will learn social and life skills and be ready to start their own business by the time they are done with the challenge. They'll be more connected to their community and have quite a few stories to share with their friends.
2. Sign them up with a sibling or a friend. It is way more fun and achievable if you do it with someone.
3. If you're having trouble finding yards, post in a local faceboook page (yard sale pages, community news groups). 
4. Try from the start to find some paid yards to mix in with the free yards. They will need money for gas and repairs and it is more motivational when they have a few extra dollars to spend at the convenience store afterwards. Build the entrepreneurial mindset in your children with my Entrepreneur Adventure - Lawn Care Business. If they have taken the 50 yard challenge they can begin this activity with a mower and trimmer!
5. Whenever possible, take a few extra minutes to visit with those you are mowing for. You'll both be blessed.

Thank you once again to everyone that has been a part of this 50 yard challenge. Thank you to the generous donors that support this ministry. Thank you to the community members that have allowed our boys to serve you. You are helping me to raise up our boys to be generous, hard workers. Thank you to the community members that have served our boys and helped them either financially or with their time or talents. Thank you to everyone that has cheered on our boys or written them a note of encouragement or appreciation. Thank you to Rodney for started this organization and for investing so much time and energy into the program. And last but not least, I’m thankful for the Bible, Gods Holy Word, that is a light onto our path and guides us in how to live. I’m thankful that so many of those truths and words could be reinforced throughout this challenge. “ Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” -Deuteronomy 11:19

Want to learn more about building an entrepreneurial spirit in your kids? Looking to help them start their own business? Check out my post Business 101 for Kids!

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Homeschooling through the Seasons

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It has been a while since I blogged, but so many fellow mamas reached out to me with questions about homeschooling and others encouraged me with their stories of how my blog has inspired or encouraged them in their homeschool journey. So, here we are starting our 11th year of homeschooling and I have a goal to document it once again. This year we will have a 9th grader, 8th grader, 6th grader, 4th grader, 3rd grader, 1st grader, pre-k 3 (or little tornado), and Lord willing a baby will be joining us! One of the things I love about homeschooling is the freedom to adjust and make course corrections through the different seasons of life. With one going into high school and a baby due in November, I knew that this year would not and could not look like other years. There are some big changes for our older girls and some smaller changes for our younger boys. We kicked off our school year two weeks ago and so far I'm loving our curriculum choices and think it will work well for this season of our life. If you are in a different seasons of homeschooling, you can check out the Homeschool Tab for an idea of what some of our other years have looked like. 

So I'll start with the biggest change. For the first time I will not be teaching the girls any of their subjects. This was not an easy decision for us at all (I'm a little sad), but it is what we feel is best for them this year. I knew that I would not be able to provide the level of academic rigor I believe they need this year and they are craving social interaction with peers. We enrolled them in a homeschool academy and some online courses. The homeschool academy we chose is a once per week hybrid program, so they will take five courses there with teachers who will assign and grade assignments that are sent home to be completed throughout the week. Some of the subjects they are taking are core subjects (like history) and others are electives (including art and photography). 

For math this year they will be using CTC Math. I have heard other homeschool moms rave about this program for years, and finally gave it a try. Two weeks in and I wish we switched much sooner. For the first time ever, our 9th grader who hates math is completing her assignments independently and without tears! You can pay for a family subscription, which makes this course super affordable for homeschooling families. I will likely switch the boys to CTC Math next year (thinking maybe 3rd grade and up... when they have a basic understanding of early math concepts and are able to navigate a computer independently).

Both girls will be doing their English through Apologia online. We love the teacher and book selections (many Lamplighter classics). Apologia Academy is one of the more expensive online options out there, so we likely will not continue to use them each year.

Because we were so late in signing up for the homeschool academy, the 8th grade science course was already full, so she will be taking Astronomy through Journey Homeschool. The course has not started yet, but so far I am impressed by the syllabus and layout of the course. I love that they have a fill in the blank notetaking notebook to go along with the weekly videos. I think this will work out wonderfully for our daughter with dyslexia. I also like that it is biblically based science curriculum and the affordable price tag.

With the girls mostly on their own this year, it was important to me that we still start our days together as a family. After breakfast and morning zones (their chores) we gather on the couch for World Watch News. This 10 minute daily newscast delivers relevant headlines and global topics from a Christian worldview. It's a great way to stayed informed and spur discussions with the kids. Afterwards, we read a chapter from Proverbs and pray together. 

Since it is the first year that the boys will be schooling at home without the girls, I designed the year 100% to their interests. We are going all out boy here at home! For science, I chose Masterbook's Paleontology class. Our boys are wild about dinosaurs; so much so that their room is dino themed. We love Masterbooks for their biblical worldview. While I'm not usually a huge fan of student workbooks for science (I prefer journaling), for this unique course we decided to use them. We are also using the Masterbooks Academy Elementary Paleontology supplemental videos. So far the course is everything we hoped it would be and the boys are having a blast learning!

For History it was time to loop back around to early American History, so we are using Masterbook's America's Story 1. Instead of worksheets, we will be doing lots of hands on projects and field trips. So far this year we have already visited Toltec (Plum Bayou) Mounds State Park, made duct tape Viking Helmets, and crafted cardboard ships. Looking forward to making many memories together this school year!

For Math and English the boys will be going through Math Lessons for a Living Education and Language Lessons for a Living Education (both by Masterbooks). We love the short lessons and spiral approach. This leaves plenty of time for us to play some educational games (like Sum Swamp, Prime Climb, and Chess) and read books together. 

And while that wraps up the "book" learning, remember that a large portion of education takes place outside of the books. We will round out our days with music, sports, scouts, service, entrepreneuring, and more! Are you a veteran homeschooler, first time homeschooler, or somewhere in between? I'd love to connect with you on Instagram @Pocketful_of_Treasures

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