the ultimate do-it-yourselfers!

Clay and me with a few of the grands at the WW 1 Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Author Nancy Pearcy recently described homeschoolers as “the ultimate do-it-yourselfers. They are self-motivated and self-directed, independent-minded and creative. They are not content to turn the education of their children over to the government.”

I know this is true! I never cease to be amazed at the dreams homeschooling parents turn into reality in order to meet the educational needs of their children! Many develop learning opportunities for children with special needs. Others design lessons that will reach the hearts and minds of any number of children all under one roof, all different ages and abilities, all with varied interests and gifts, and typically all living on one income! And all of them make life and learning happen in the midst of what seems like an impossible life to those on the outside looking in!

I believe it happens because they have sensed an amazing call and are willing to be used by the Lord to raise children for His glory alone! Deuteronomy 6:1-9 paints a picture for us of what this looked like for the children of Israel: “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

I believe this is what it should look like in Christian homes today! It begins as we purpose to love God with our whole hearts, souls, and might. It continues as we love our neighbors as ourselves, especially the little neighbors who live in our own homes! It blossoms when we teach our children diligently from the very moment they wake up, all through the day as we live ordinary life in our own homes, as we run errands and accomplish daily tasks, and again as we tuck our precious children into bed at night! The Hebrew word for diligent implies that we do these things with precision and purpose, striving to hit the mark as we prepare our children for spiritual battle. We are to wear our Christianity every day, all day long, reminding our children that we are set apart and that we belong to the one true living God! There is no more effective way to obey these commands than to homeschool our children. There is no better teacher fit for the task than a child’s own parent!

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remembering an older woman

This morning I woke up thinking about women in my life who helped shape my views of children. God love them. From my upcoming sequel to The Joy of Relationship Homeschooling:

“Another person who shaped much of my thinking about children was my friend, Shirley. One of the most creative and fun people I have ever known, she spent years as a Boy Scout leader, often turning 30 boys at a time loose with wood carving knives! Many times she heard, “My mom never lets me do this,” so she took note and was sure to give them many more such opportunities. When it came time for Bible school, she was the craft lady who had prepared for this week all year long with hundreds of clothespins, cereal boxes, glue sticks, and cotton balls lined up in her garage. By the time grandchildren came along, she had mastered the art of providing creative and simple play and they spent hours at her house “painting” the outdoors with water and putting on dramas on her front porch. She taught me that no cost, child-directed play is always the best!

Since Shirley’s husband worked as the janitor at our local school, she enjoyed looking at how the schoolrooms were decorated when she went to help him clean. “There isn’t a square inch of those rooms that aren’t decorated out to who-laid-a-rail,” she would often say and she was right. “The refrigerator is full of ADHA meds because the kids can’t concentrate and is it any wonder when they dangle every imaginable thing in front of their faces?” she lamented. She often worried about those artistically gifted children who were stepped over in order to fulfill the subject hierarchy, understanding it before Sir Ken Robinson had even identified it. She went out of her way to praise the small painters and designers, raving about the beauty of their stick figures and sardine can dioramas! It was common sense insights like this that made me question so much of what I had been taught in teacher education courses in college!”

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one danger of charter schools

 

Someone sent me a photo of a page from a charter school high school entrance exam. I don’t know the “right” answers for these questions; do you? Please, homeschoolers, do not trade your freedom to teach what is right and true for government dollars!

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intricately woven

 

Scripture itself recognizes aspects of child development that wise parents will want to acknowledge and consider. Psalm 139, for example, describes the amazing, hands-on method God uses in creating each individual human being. We must approach the miraculous creation of a child in the womb, God’s secret hidden place, with awe and reverence. It is a holy, sacred act, set apart from how man creates. The Hebrew word “raqam” is used to explain the unique and particular way He makes each and every baby. It is used other places throughout Scripture to describe fine embroidery; it literally means skillfully woven in variegated colors! Verse 17 tells us that God’s thoughts of us are precious and infinitely valued because He has created each of us with a particular and divine purpose! No child is a mistake or not good enough. If these things are true, shouldn’t we use this as a beginning point for understanding and thus educating our children?

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Bible books for every family bookshelf

 

Summer is the perfect time to start a new plan for family Bible study! There are so many wonderful books that will engage the hearts and minds of everyone in the family; let me share some of my favorites!

Sally Lloyd-Jones and the artist Jago have teamed up to give us one of the finest children’s storybook Bibles available, The Jesus Storybook Bible ~ every story whispers His name. Sally’s winsome writing style draws children in immediately and it will soon become everyone’s bedtime favorite. Jago’s illustrations are breathtaking and colorful and bring each story to life in a fresh way. Helping children see God’s amazing plan for them through Jesus has been masterfully presented and is convicting as well as comforting.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, also by Lloyd-Jones and Jago, gently presents big thoughts for little ones, again pointing them to Christ and setting the stage for deeper thoughts to turn into deeper conversations.

 

Jago’s beautiful illustrations will captivate your little ones!

The devotionals by children’s ministry director and author, Starr Meade, belong on every family bookshelf. Doctrinally solid and written to be used for multiple ages, Meade’s ability to present difficult truth in simple ways will give you the confidence to tackle the many questions children ask. She is a prolific writer but here are a few of her books I have enjoyed:

The Mighty Acts of God

The Wondrous Works of God

God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation

God’s Mighty Acts in Creation

Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds ~ Family devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism  This year is the 450th anniversary of this confession and a good time to revisit it or read it for the first time. I love it because it is very personal and convicting.

Give Them Truth ~ Eternal Truths for Young Minds

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds

 

Big Beliefs ~ Introducing Your Family to Big Truths by David Helm  is another solid work that breaks down key theological concepts into bite size pieces the whole family can understand.

 

The newest one I have discovered is The New City Catechism ~ 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds and it is a gem! This is the perfect size catechism to memorize as a family and to spark discussion and further research as you learn sound doctrine. The word catechism simply means “a summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.” Unfortunately, the practice of catechizing families is a lost art, one we should certainly bring back to our homes and churches. You can also find more information about this book at www.newcitycatechism.com and a handy phone app is also available.

 

 

Finally, this little treasure of a book was brand new to me when a guest pastor quoted from it a couple weeks ago. Only 37 pages in length, Jonathan Edward’s Resolutions and Advice to Young Converts gives us wise counsel from the writings of the the Great Awakening preacher and amazes us with how timely it is, even all these years later.

 

 

Do you have any favorites to recommend? Please leave your suggestions in the comments!

 

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choosing the good part

 

I checked my lipstick one last time and adjusted my cute strappy heels. Getting dressed up for a night out was a treat for this jeans-and-t-shirt-wearing mom of preschoolers! My salesman husband was entertaining clients and their wives for dinner, and I looked forward to lively conversation that didn’t include detailed reports of somebody calling someone else “doodie breath” or complaining “he looked at me” over the mac and cheese.

Happily, I slipped into a chair next to another woman about my age and introduced myself. Her face lit up as she told me her name, and then she promptly asked me, “So, what do you do?”

“I’m a mom!” I shared excitedly.

“Ohhh, that’s nice,” she declared in her very best Judy Dench voice, before turning to the woman on her other side, both of them ignoring me for the rest of the evening.

That moment in time would forever be etched in my memory. It didn’t matter that, besides being able to sing all stanzas of “There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Spider” while cleaning up a diarrhea mess without losing my composure, I was well-read, a sharp conversationalist, keen on current events, and held a college degree. I was even wearing cute shoes, for crying out loud! The fact that I was simply another human being worthy of respect had escaped her. And worst of all, in her eyes, choosing to define myself as “a mom” held no value.

Sadly, often we are the ones who are the worst enemies of godly motherhood!

The explosion of Pinterest and Instagram tempts us to compare ourselves to unrealistic standards. Homeschool mommy blogs make us tired and nearly defeat us. We become obsessed with the seemingly urgent, but non-essential, cares of life. And often the worst day of the year is Mother’s Day, when well-meaning pastors extol the virtues of the Proverbs 31 woman while we interpret the story as though her lifetime achievements were a daily checklist.

Jesus had a friend who struggled in similar ways, and we see her story in Luke 10:38-42. One evening, when he was invited to her home, Martha was worried and distracted with making sure all the details of her dinner party were in order, and she began to complain. “Don’t you care that my sister has left me with all this to do by myself?” she asked him.

Her sister Mary was sitting close to Jesus, hanging on every word of spiritual truth he had to offer. He replied to his dear friend, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

What words of wisdom for every mama today! Jesus, in using the phrase “good part,” made it clear that spending time with him, being attentive to his word, and not being distracted by the temporal cares of this world are what bring about an honorable, upright, excellent, and happy life. This is often so difficult, but here are some thoughts we must remember:

  • As a mom, you are made in the image of God, infinite in value, chosen before the foundations of the world, and dearly loved by your Creator. God looks at your heart and measures your worth by what he has already done on the cross!
  • As a mom, you are called to obey what Jesus told us are the two greatest commandments: to love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Loving God means we will know and obey his word and seek to apply it to every aspect of our lives. Loving our neighbor means loving our children first, applying all the “one another” verses of Scripture as we build relationships with them.
  • As a mom, you are called to rest in Jesus. He has a sovereign plan for each of you and your children, and he will bring it to pass in his perfect time! Like Martha, we are to stop worrying, fretting, and complaining and simply and fully trust Jesus!

Originally published in Family Magazine, 2015.

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the parable of the blue snow

I am not a graphic artist. In fact, I am a bit stickmen-challenged when it comes to drawing. But that fact certainly didn’t stop me from approaching a 6th grade art project with all the gusto of Renoir. Our class had returned after Christmas break to discover the bulletin boards covered in blank white paper and several new 64-count boxes of crayons placed around the room.

“Children, this will be our art project this month,” Mrs. Elliott announced. “We will work together to make a winter scene mural. Be thinking about what you most like to do during January and what you would like to draw. This afternoon we will begin.”

All 30 pairs of eyes turned to the 40 or so feet of empty paper, some of us already envisioning the finished work as we tried to concentrate on fractions and spelling.

Lunchtime found several of the girls excitedly talking about their ideas, describing ice skaters on a pond and children building an enormous snowman. Janet, a tall, willowy girl, had a natural talent for drawing and her own sketchbook in her desk. While everyone watched, she used her recess time to plan her part of the mural. Her friends “oohed” and “aahed,” pronouncing her the best artist in the 6th grade.

Two o’clock finally arrived and Mrs. Elliott told us to each find a spot around the room where we would like to draw. I chose my place next to a large window overlooking the playground and downtown streets beyond. Tall trees cast their afternoon shadows across the landscape; smoke curled from chimneys above the snow-covered rooftops of our little town.

I picked up a few crayons and turned back to the board to sketch. With a clumsy hand, I outlined the black and gray limbs that stretched across the schoolyard. I filled in the lines of the tree and added a golden squirrel peeking out of a cozy nest in the hollow of one tree. Once satisfied with my scene, I unwrapped the Cornflower Blue crayon from it fresh wrapper and, laying it on its side, proceeded to cover the page with blue rolls and waves. Stepping back to admire my picture, comparing it to what I saw from the window, I sighed with pleasure.

“Mrs. Elliott!! Mrs. Elliott!” I heard Janet exclaiming. “Just look! Karen Allen has ruined our mural! She made all the snow blue!!!” Suddenly feeling small and dumb, I looked at all our friends, shaking their heads and pointing as I waited for Mrs. Elliott to rip my drawing from the board and agree that I should not ever again be allowed near a piece of white paper or a crayon.

“Come here class!” she motioned toward the window. In unison we stared at the yard below as she asked, “Tell me, what colors do you see?”

“White!” Janet barked, looking over her shoulder at a group of girls nodding their approval.

“Black and gray!” shouted Bobby. “All the trees are black and gray but the mud is brown.”

“The school building is red and the bus is bright yellow,” added Crystal.

“But the snow is white!” Janet repeated, making sure everyone understood her official position.

“Is it?” Mrs. Elliott asked. “What do the rest of you see when you look at the snow?”

“It IS blue!” said Debbie. “And sparkly when the sunlight hits it.”

One by one the students saw the blue in the snow where the shadows crossed the lawn.

“Yes,” Mrs. Elliott agreed. “It IS blue.” Then turning to me she sweetly smiled and said, “Karen, what a lovely picture. Thank you for helping us all see the blue in the snow!”

I learned two very important lessons that day.

First, I am an outside-of-the-box thinker. When most people see white snow, I see blue snow. It is just the way I am. Rather than accepting what is expected to be the right answer, I often observe things in the shadows.

There are many children like this. In fact, there are many adults who, by the time they reach adulthood, are silenced or even shamed into giving the “correct” answer, the one society has labeled the right one, even when further research might prove them wrong. Institutions rarely accommodate those who play by different rules and are quick to label such children as “rebels.”

My guess is that all children would fall into this category if given the chance to pursue learning according to their God-given bent. Imagine if filling in worksheets or choosing from endless multiple-choice answers were exchanged for the opportunity to explore the world with gusto and joy!

I also learned another valuable truth that snowy afternoon in Mrs. Elliott’s 6th grade classroom. A teacher who looks for the outside-the-box thinkers and not only accommodates them but encourages them in ways that help them stand against the tide of public opinion, is a rare jewel. She can change a life forever!

Homeschooling moms and dads have the unique opportunity to step into this teaching role with confidence and leadership not afforded to others. We don’t need to design our days or lesson plans around someone else’s goals for their children. We will be the most satisfied as homeschooling parents when we embrace the unique gifts and talents under our own roofs, remembering this important truth: true homeschooling success is found at the intersection of these gifts and the needs of the culture in which we are placed!

“True education means more than the perusal of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.” 

from Education, The Moore Foundation

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daisy chains and rabbit trails: priorities for the coming year

“Mrs. Guest, ma’am, would you be willing to lead our next Bible study for young mothers?”

The words nearly stuck in my throat as I approached the sweet lady sitting across from me. It was a beautiful morning as we sipped tea and nibbled sugar cookies, the peaks of the alpine mountain range looming over her house and the grassland beyond. I was a bit intimidated by what were, to the wife of an enlisted man, lavish and elegant surroundings. She was the post commander’s wife, dressed in a neatly pressed floral skirt and matching pumps, a sharp contrast to my jeans and t-shirt.

I waited for her response. Surely this older and well-respected woman would have sage advise for me and I couldn’t wait to learn all I could from her.

“Darlin’,” she answered in a gentle Texan drawl, “I don’t think I will be able to do that this time. You see, I am spendin’ the summer makin’ daisy chains in the grass with my children.”

“Daisy chains,” I thought, a bit bewildered. Mothering’s best moments, she assured me, took place under a sunny sky surrounded by wildflowers and with no pressing schedule to follow. I did not realize it then, but this dear woman was painting a relationship picture for me that I would one day need for homeschooling success.

I am continually amazed at the growing number of activities available for homeschooling families and often hear moms exclaim how exhausted they are at the end of a typical day. In the midst of sporting events, co-op classes, church commitments, music lessons, and a plethora of options for socialization, true relationship building between children and parents often gets put on the back burner. The result is that days, weeks, and even months can go by without any time left for real, organic conversation. And yet, all of the recent Barna research shows that moms and dads spending lots of quality, one-on-one time with their children is the single greatest factor in a child’s spiritual growth! How important it is for homeschooling families to recognize the value of the mentoring relationship we have with our children over everything else and make it a priority by not being too busy.

So, before you begin filling in those blank pages of your new lesson planner for this year, let me encourage you to consider these thoughts:

What are the areas of your life as a homeschooling family that are the most important to you? Brainstorm, making a list and narrowing it down to your top five priorities, placing the building of solid mentoring relationships at the center of your schedule! Remember these will look different for every family and may change from year to year and even season to season. Consider how the curriculum, programs, activities, and learning methods you now use either enhance or detract from your goals. Evaluate what percentage of your awake time is spent with your own children and don’t discount the fact that teenagers need nearly as much of your attention as your little ones do!

Begin to eliminate those things that are not beneficial or that take time away from accomplishing your five goals. Ask yourself if those goals can be better met at home rather than somewhere else and be honest. If, for example, your toddlers and preschoolers are spending hours in their car seats during the week as you transport older children from one activity to another, its time to reexamine your priorities. If you find yourself eating fast food several times each week, consider whether or not this is the healthy lifestyle you want in your home. Remember that life is short and life with our children at home is even shorter. Imagine yourself, 25 years from now, talking with your adult children who are raising your grandchildren. How can you spend your time today that will best prepare them for that task? Delete the rest!

Also say “no” to new things that won’t help you accomplish your goals for your family. Ask yourself which options are the best choices for you as they come along. Remember that every time you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else; be sure you are saying yes to things that matter. Don’t sign up for a single activity that will not help you accomplish one or more of your five goals.

Reject anything that is in opposition to your personal ideals. Don’t jump on any homeschooling lifestyle bandwagon without evaluating it according to your own beliefs and convictions. Just because another family embraces a certain belief or way of doing things doesn’t mean you must!

Purposefully make time for those things that are important. Never allow yourself to say “I don’t have time” if it is something that will help you attain your goal. For example, if you want to develop a new family habit, wrap that activity around something you do every single day. For years we tried to begin the day as a family with Bible reading and prayer but found it difficult to keep as a routine because of Clay’s work schedule. When we decided to include it as part of something we already regularly did together and incorporated it into our evening meal, we had immediate success!

Never underestimate the importance of having plenty of sleep, relaxation, and nutritious meals. Crankiness and disobedience can often be traced to failure in any or all of these areas. So can mom burn out! And aside from the health benefits, the time spent preparing and eating meals together can provide the opportunities needed for family members to sort through the issues of life and to do so out loud with trusted companions.

Do not succumb to the latest homeschooling fad just because it is popular; remember that you can become a slave to many things, including your curriculum choices, unless you choose to use the material in ways that suit your own children. Many people measure the success of their school year by the number of pages completed in their textbooks or how well their children perform on a standardized test. The truth is that true education usually occurs when children are allowed to follow rabbit trails along the way, causing them to think critically and research more thoroughly. The common principle of spiral learning, that is, repeating basic information in textbooks, adding a little more each year as the grades progress, can bore and frustrate both students and teachers. By slowing down your journey through basic texts and allowing time for discussion and expanded research according to personal interests, your children will blossom.

Throw yourself into accomplishing those five goals. Read, study, and learn everything you possibly can about things related to your goals and see how it changes your life! If there is something you do not know how to do, learn alongside your children! Build a library of resources around your priorities and encourage your children to pour over them, adding books and DVD’s that are of high interest to them, too. Encourage them as they acquire new interests; study and pursue them together.

Remember that the eternal always trumps the temporal. This will be a continual battle as long as we are in this world but purposing to live each day with this belief at the core of your life will bring great contentment, satisfaction, and fruit, some you may not even live to experience.

Abigail Adams once said “Great learning and superior abilities, should you ever possess them, will be of little value and small estimation, unless virtue, honor, truth, and integrity are added to them,” and she determined to raise her children with these goals in mind. Together they melted the family’s heirloom silver to make bullets during the Revolutionary War and served many statesmen around their dining table, the children listening intently as the great thoughts of the day were birthed. She declared, “When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”

One morning as her children studied, Abigail heard the roar of cannon fire miles away in Boston. Instructing young John Quincy to close his books, she led him through the pasture to a spot high enough above Bunker Hill to safely watch the now famous battle. She showed him in real life the cost of patriotism. What an impression it left on the young man who would one day become the 6th president of the United States and a devoted Christian who was committed to justice and freedom! Though Abigail did not live to see all that her son would accomplish, we still enjoy the fruits of her labors today!

What are your five goals and how do you plan to achieve them this year? And, most importantly, how will you make the mentoring of your children the cornerstone of family life?

(originally published in Home Educating Family Magazine)

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