Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Wheat Seed

Now and then I face a really tough moment in homeschooling. Sometimes a grumpy child, a disruption filled day, an academic concept that doesn't seem to sink further than a partial oral understanding despite repeated attempts.

At those moments, I need something to cling to. I need a foundation and a vision.

A year ago I received an interesting "gift" at the start of the homeschool year. At our homeschool support group they passed out a blue, glass bottle with the lid super-glued on. It said, "Homeschool Survival Kit," or something to that effect. The speaker (a homeschool dad) said to put this bottle on a shelf at home until you have "one of those" days. Somehow I made it through last school year without breaking that bottle. Yesterday, I had one of those moments. You know? When you feel like you are slipping back quicker than you are stepping forward?

I remembered the bottle.

I told my kids to continue their work the best they could and I would return shortly. I got the bottle, put it in a paper bag, and shattered it on my kitchen step. That in itself felt amazingly relieving. . .

Carefully reaching around the shards of glass, I pulled out the paper and began to read. This part stuck with me:

A grain of wheat seems so small, so insignificant. It wouldn't go very far toward feeding anyone, much less changing the world. Maybe you're feeling the same way right now -- small, insignificant, and unable to make much of an impact.

Jesus said in John 12:24, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

This single grain of wheat, if planted, can multiply into other plants, and within 12 growing seasons, can produce 10 times more wheat than was harvested in the entire United States in 2006. It could produce about 22 billion bushels of wheat in 12 seasons. That's enough to feed the entire world. And all of that from a single grain of wheat. But in order to do that, the seed itself must fall to the ground and die.

Jesus went on to say in verses 25-26, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me."

Your life as a home school mom is a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. By serving God in this way, you are pouring out your life for others -- not just for your children, but for generation after generation that you may never see. Imagine what God will do through one obedient mother who is willing to give up this part of her life in service to Him.

I pray that these words would encourage you as they did me. The best moments are those spent on eternity regardless of how they appear in the earthly realm.

Smooth and Easy Days

The Charlotte Mason carnival this time around centers on the forming of habits, of which she has much to say. While I hardly think that forming of habits guarantees smooth and easy days (we all still remain human), I do agree that they make the days smoother and easier. That said, I wanted to begin with a Charlotte Mason quote that inspired me in the instilling of habits, or rather the continuation thereof, in my children:

The child must not be left to his human nature . . . the child who is not being constantly raised to a higher and a higher platform will sink to a lower and a lower. Wherefore, it is as much the parent's duty to educate his child into moral strength and purpose and intellectual activity as it is to feed him and clothe him; and that in spite of his nature, if it must be so.

One follow up to that comes a few pages later when she says, "Habit may be a lever."

I don't ever want learning to lie stagnant in my home or in the lives of my children. In homeschooling them I desire them to reach their fullest, God-given potential and (hopefully) even enjoy the process. Habit provides a lever in this process. While still young and growing, children are becoming who they will be. Parents must keep a watchful eye to instill habits that develop into character that will reflect God's presence. The Bible provides the solid foundation, the source of information and motivation, and the goals we should reach for. Habits instill these traits into their lives in a concrete, practical way. Brick by brick their character grows, the fruit of their righteousness blooms, their maturity comes about.

The first habits that we work on instilling in our home center around chores. While chores are the physical outworking of the habit, the underlying fruit is unmistakable. Obedience, responsibility, cheerfulness, diligence, attention, just to name a few. All of these come up in conversations on a weekly basis in our household as we seek to instill the habit of daily chores in our children. I always try to refer them back to a Scripture reference as well to remind them that these expectations are not just from me.

The practical . . . Lofty goals are all well and good, but how to accomplish them is another matter. I have tried various chore programs over the years and have recently struck on one that works well for us. Springboarding from an idea I came across earlier this year in relation to character cards, I decided to make chore cards.

Each child has two envelopes inside the pantry door, one with their name, one with their name and "done" written after it. Each day, they should work their way through each card. I have the chores broken down into four time periods. 'A' chores should be done before breakfast (or immediately after, if not complete), 'B' chores after breakfast, 'C' chores after lunch, and 'D' chores after dinner. Each child spend about one hour on chores, the younger ones a bit less, the older a bit more. The younger the child the more simple each card, and I drew some simple pictures on my 4 year old's cards. She begged for her own envelope, otherwise I probably would have waited a year to start this for her. Shows just how well this system has worked for us!

Here is a peek inside my oldest son's (11yo) envelope:

A Chores (a card with each):
- Shower/dressed (comb hair)
- Clean room (make bed and vacuum)
- Garbage (empty all cans into main one and take out bag when full; on Wednesday take down to curb before 8:00)
- Clean bathroom toilets and sweep
- Start a load of laundry

B Chores:
- Wipe counters and sweep kitchen
- Brush teeth
- Laundry in dryer

C Chores:
- Wipe counters and sweep kitchen
- Brush teeth
- Laundry out of dryer
- Pick up 10 things around house

Group chores (these we do together and cover the rest of the main house cleaning that needs doing -- vacuum, windows, dusting, etc.)

D chores:
- Wipe counters and sweep kitchen
- Brush teeth
- Laundry baskets away
- Pick up 10 things
- Anything else? (this is my favorite, often nothing else needs doing, but some days I have one other small job that didn't get squeezed in anywhere else, this simple question takes care of those things. And, on days he can't force a smile, he asks it this way:

(the smile behind the paper was just as big over the ingenuity of the idea)

These cards have helped me hold them accountable, made their expectations very clear, and kept us all on the same page, or card.

I've also found that these envelopes are a great place to leave little "love" notes for my kids to start their day out well.

As I wrote in an earlier post in my gleanings from Charlotte Mason's first book, habits need reinforcing and consistent accountability even beyond mastery. Habit truly does dominate our actions throughout each day. I do think that habit differs from character (just because a child always turns off the light doesn't equate responsibility), but they may be intertwined at times, and habits can be teaching opportunities for character.

Also, growing good habits in our children takes diligent, consistent effort. Mason's tips have influenced how I will approach habits. She said that we sometimes try to come up with rewards when instilling a new behavior, but the habit gained is reward in itself. Nothing against sticker charts, and fun rewards, but I realized that I don't really need to 'come up' with anything. The success of the habit will instill pride and joy in the child without it, and sometimes the reward may become the focus of the change rather than the habit. I saw this in my own children some time ago when they kept their room clean to earn a prize. It worked, but then fell apart once achieved. A habit is for life.

And that, leads into the other point that stuck with me . . . don't let them slip when they start showing success in an area. Sometimes we grow lax and think since they do a good job most of the time, I won't worry about this one time they forgot. This starts the cycle all over again, sometimes from an even worse place. I must remain consistent throughout and consistent until the end.

Other habits I want to add in once these chore cards are secure . . . individual Bible reading, hobby time, exercise, and taking initiative. I love the resources from Character first and have often used their book and pamphlets.

From laying down the rails, to keeping them on the track, habits are an important part of maturing and an important part of our parenting task.


A quick word before I head out the door with my kids to enjoy a local bog . . .

This stood out to me as I read in Ephesians chapter five, still with the focus of finding what pleases God. The whole chapter talks about imitating God, walking in His way, living by the Light, and "trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord" (verse 10). In the end everything will be exposed, and we need to be very careful to remember that each moment of each day. This section wraps up just after verse 15 and 16 which say, "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil."

I have heard it said that each moment you choose to do something you are choosing not to do hundreds of other things. I need to be so cautious in my little choices each day, and walk carefully with God's wisdom. The "evil days" is a strong reminder of the temptations and influences swirling around us in this world we live in, and make me all the more diligent to use my time and influence on my children wisely.

Making the most of my time . . . I better go!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Our curriculum plans

Each year as we enter a new year of school I still feel like I face something that I never have before. New books, new grade levels, new scheduling challenges. Just because my oldest "student" enters sixth grade this year does not mean I still don't feel like a rookie each September. Some things get easier, and I definitely know more things that don't work . . . And, I have my plans that I hope and pray will work for this year.

Of course, the best laid plans mean nothing apart from the right focus, which I have written much about recently. I love the promise of Hebrews 12:1 that we run with a great cloud of witnesses and we need to keep our line of sight upward as we face the challenges of the homeschool race. I also cling to the promise in Isaiah 58 that God will satisfy abundantly as I obediently follow Him. And just today, God gave me one more that I will have to save for blogging tomorrow, because otherwise the time runs out and the post runs long.

This year we have a sixth grade boy, fourth grade girl, second grade girl and two preschoolers (a four year old girl and three year old boy).

Rather than break it down by child I will break things down by subject since that's just how I often look at things. Last year before school started I finally solidified which curriculums I would use for each year and subject. History and Science still have some flex as I like to use what I have around and follow the kids interests to some extent in science.


When I first started homeschooling I bought into Abeka. Now, I think they have colorful books, solid teaching, and are easy to use, so I have continued with the initial stash that I bought, but then moved into Saxon which we have enjoyed as well. I guess this needs a little explanation as well. I don't bother with kindergarten curriculum. We either just play, pull stuff off the internet, or start first grade material at a slower pace. When they start asking to do math and are ready to do more than scribble, I give them their first grade book to work on at their own pace, generally a lesson or so a week). This has worked well for all of my kids and has given them a jump on their math skills. We use Abeka for pre-Kthrough 2 and Saxon on up through Algebra II and beyond (my oldest is in Algebra I, so I need to stock up beyond this pretty soon).


We start with lots of prereading activities and of course read constantly in our home. I like to use the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons whenever they are interested in learning (anywhere from 3-5 years old, but we don't finish in 100 days) and gradually phase into the Abeka reading program that I have for first grade. I have the Abeka reading books (all bought very inexpensively at book sales) through fifth grade and like to use them for at-level reading at various times, but I don't use them as my regular reading curriculum after second grade. Once they are strong independent readers they move into the reading assigned through Ambleside Online.


Last year we loved traveling through Hebrews 11 as we memorized the chapter verse by verse. We actually have a few verses left which we will hopefully finish up by October some time. My plan after that is to spend a month on each fruit of the spirit. Each week we will have a verse to memorize pertaining to that fruit and related daily chapter readings from throughout Scripture. We also sing a hymn and a chorus or two each day.


I went back and forth in this for a long time, and now I have settled on a combination of methods (the name of the game in my homeschool, I think you can see) that works well for us. I really like the early teaching methods of Handwriting without Tears, but don't like some of the later stuff. I really like the cursive in A Reason for Handwriting, but don't particularly like their early books. So, of course, we use Handwriting without Tears for the first couple years and then move into A Reason for Handwriting starting with their Transition book, once each child's printing is well established. This has worked well and not confused any of the kids yet . . .


We recently settled into Rod and Staff English books and enjoy their simplicity and thoroughness so much that I bought them all for 2-8 grade. So, while my older kids did not have them early on, my second grader is starting in it this year and will continue through to eighth. The fourth and sixth graders are in their second year of this book. My preschoolers are walking slowly through First Language Lessons with me. They are really having fun with these simple, engaging lessons. I'l have to show you our verb "dance" when we get there . . .

History, Literature, Science, Geography:

For these subjects I use a combination of Ambleside Online and other books and resources that I have around the house.


The kids each have sports (ballet, soccer, baseball, swim, etc.) involvements outside of the home at various times throughout the year. We also seek out field trips through our homeschool support group and lead a Keepers of the Home and Contenders of the Faith club in our home once each month.

I might be missing something, but I think that pretty well covers things. One item of note, although we do use many books that require a fair bit of independent writing, I try to balance this with completing lessons orally as appropriate and time allows. I also generally only assign the odd or even numbers in any given assignment. If they struggle with those, or work too hastily, they have a whole nother set ready to give them the extra practice, or patience building, that they need.

For more homeschool ideas visit Happy to Be at Home and for other Homeschool Memoirs links check out the Homeschool Blog Awards

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Just a quick inspiration . . .

The glories of recording! As I plan on using Ambleside Online quite a bit in the home educating of my children in the years to come I have decided to start recording the reading that we have to do as often as possible so that I will eventually have fewer demands on my time during those busy school hours. Talk about multitasking! I can read four stories at the same time this way. :-)

My husband hooked up a nifty free software called Audacity that I can now use to easily record and manage my recordings onto my computer. I lock myself in our office for a few minutes here and there and read a chapter at a time and save it as such. This is a long term project, but every chapter recorded is time saved down the road. And, with five kids going through the same books, some of these will be used many times over. I don't want to read every book this way, as I do still want my kids to do quite a bit of their own reading, but this method enables them to keep their schedule fresh. Of course, for the younger kids I read all of their books to them, so this is a wonderful way to let them hear and rehear some of those stories independently.

This got me to thinking about other uses for recording in our homeschool context. I have just started reading First Language Lessons (an easy to use book that I highly recommend) with my younger ones. I know this is designed for first and second graders, but I find even at a much younger age they can memorize definitions and poems, and learn some of the steps of narration and observation. We will most likely do a couple lessons a week out of this book and so far they have enjoyed this simple addition to our preschool time.

Throughout these lessons they need to memorize. Yesterday we talked about the definition of a noun, today we read a poem. Memorization requires repetition. Again, I don't always have time to repeat this poem three times each at three different times throughout the day (although if I have it memorized already we can say it while cooking or cleaning or whatever). However, if I record it the first time, then they love to play it and replay it. I have really hit on something here! So, we recorded the noun definition together, the Caterpillar poem, a story, and the fruit of the Spirit song we are learning also. Mid afternoon and they already have almost of it memorized, and are having a blast doing so.

I picked up the tape player at a garage sale for a dollar a while back and we get tapes to record over for twenty-five to fifty cents at Goodwill or garage sales. A very frugal school supply, and a great enhancement to their learning.

I have wanted to use this for other projects for a long time, I think I finally got my start. Bed time stories, songs, Scripture memory, daily review, even little messages reminding them how much I love them! Obviously, this doesn't replace our time together, but merely enhances it and carries its influence and imprint even further.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The silver lining

Every circumstance has more than one viewpoint.

Returning home from a meeting this evening I heard a good thing about rising gas prices . . . Fewer traffic deaths.

As prices rise, people drive less, more people stay alive! Could you ever imagine that those higher prices you cringe over paying are actually pro-life measures? Okay, I'm not going to lobby for continued higher prices, but even high gas prices can have a positive impact.

They said, we will soon sink to levels unseen since 1961! Amazing. Here is one article from a couple weeks ago on this interesting news info. Other factors obviously play into any statistic, but nonetheless, higher gases have definitely contributed to fewer accidents as people stay off the roads if possible.

Can I add this to the list of reasons I'm glad I homeschool? Two more reasons, gas prices and traffic fatalities!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lessons in my running shoes

For the past six weeks I have enjoyed running about every other day, gradually lengthening my times and distance. Yesterday I decided to just keep going and see where it would take me. Well, time ran out before my energy did and I ran three and a half miles. Those thirty minutes gave me lots of time to think and pray.

My mind mulled over some applications from my run that applied to homeschooling as well, and even parenting in general.

Getting started is sometimes the hard part . . . The first mile to mile and a half I thought for sure I wouldn't even make it to the two mile mark. However, as I pushed through it I settled into a rhythm that worked for me and after a little while longer I felt like I could run forever. The first week or two of the homeschool year sometimes plays out that way as well. So many disruptions and catastrophes and failures it seems we will hardly make it through September, let alone the whole school year. And yet, as we push on, seek encouragement, reset priorities, and find our family's rhythm we can settle in. We will still face hills and headwinds and rocks in our shoes, but we know we can keep going and even succeed.

Sometimes goals need reevaluating . . . I had to stop thinking about the two miles that I had yet to finish and focus on just getting around the next bend, up this particular hill, to the next tree. Although homeschooling requires the long haul, we sometimes need to focus on the moment and seek God's strength for right then and keep our goals achievable.

We may need to adjust our pace . . . When I push too hard it makes it harder to keep going. Just as I needed to find my rhythm, and continue to readjust based on how I felt, in homeschooling we sometimes need to slow down for a bit. We don't quit, don't just stop, but take our time through the tough spots.

Don't quit! We never know just how much we can accomplish until we try without giving up. The success of a year well run brings joy to ourselves and glory to our Heavenly Father. We often sell ourselves short because we run in our own strength with our human vision.

Hebrews 12:1,2 sums this all up, and will remain in my focus this week and in the year ahead. This encouragement comes after listing the great men and women of faith throughout history (Hebrews 11).

We don't run alone.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the
right hand of the throne of God.

~Hebrews 12:1,2~

Friday, August 22, 2008

Typical dinner conversation

Why does the wind blow?

Why does the wind blow differently in the sky?

Why is it sometimes windier than others? How come the wind often goes the same direction?

Why is Pluto now a dwarf planet?

Why did it take them so long to define what a planet really was, and then take so long to realize that Pluto didn't fit that definition?

Of course each of these precedes a bit of debate and logical reasoning as to why, when, personal opinion of each topic, and lots of explanation.

Do I have all the answers to these questions? hahahahahaha, no.

But, I love my computer. Without the internet we would be left to conjure up our own reasoning (which would generally end with, "just because.")

I found this really cool site on wind currents. It has some nifty graphics and cartoon astronauts that put wind flow in very easy to understand terms. Of course, their first example is a room with a fireplace in it which they say will heat the house. My son, a Mythbusters fan, quickly pointed out that fireplaces actually cool the house because they allow just as much cool air into the house through the chimney, thus counteracting their effective heating power. Great, I didn't really need to know that. He always has to know the REAL answer. In the end, the site did satisfy his answer and we could finish dinner in peace (except that then I had to blog about it, so they finished without me.) And, we also found a map with global wind patterns on it.

Your kids ask any questions that require outsourcing to answer?

Any other topics you have loved your internet for recently?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Some good, some not so much

Homeschooling involves lots of ups and downs. I started this week with grandiose plans of having this great week of getting our feet wet in our new schedule and working through week one of our Ambleside material. (insert loud guffaws here). Then the week started.

Disruptions to the schedule: I knew I had a meeting on Monday, but aside from that I felt fairly confident that we could 'do school' most days. Monday night I realized that I had books on hold at the library that if I did not get them on Tuesday they would no longer be there. So, a quick trip to the library turned into our day of running errands for the week (a last minute shower invitation required a gift, a couple grocery items I forgot, exchanging baseball tickets from a game rained out earlier, swing by our friendly farmer for some eggs and chicken visits-- does this count for science today? Yeah it does! -- etc, etc.) So, when we arrived home at 2:30 . . . we salvaged what was left of the day and hoped for something better tomorrow.

Then Wednesday we had a little guest in our home for the morning so we again tweaked our schedule, but it actually turned out amazingly well, and despite the trip to the orthodontist I had to squeeze in this morning, we might actually get everything done this week. Can you say, "flexible?" I betcha can. That is so often the name of the game. We still easily fit in the hours and days needed, but they definitely don't fit the traditional 9-3 school day of other kids.

Wednesday we did our Bible time, a bowling competition, and some oral reading time while our neighbor boy was over. We then decided to enjoy our art/cooking project for the week and make soft pretzels. We had a lot of fun doing this and they turned out really well! My first successful boiled dough attempt.

After lunch we packed up our school books and headed outside to continue our tree studies. I have not really found this study all that fascinating, but I think just spending time learning outside keeps it lively. We rode bikes to a nearby large oak and spent over an hour talking about it, examining it, sketching it (everyone has their own notebook for our nature study time), and then relaxing reading Around the World in 80 Days in its shade. I think the lemonade helped complete the picture. It couldn't get much better than that.

On the way home we stopped by our garden and picked beans and tomatoes and watered the lettuce, spinach, and basil seeds we just planted for our fall harvest. The kids love helping with the picking of vegetables better than the planting, weeding, or eating them. That's all right. I think spending time outside picking vegetable is good for you, too. :-)

My husband ended up working kind of late again, so we decided to dig into our first Plutarch lesson around 5:30 (I know, I should probably not school so late, but it keeps the "I'm bored" complaint at bay). Now I know why so many people comment on how complex the language is, WOW! Only my two older ones actually have to cover this, but I rarely school with less than two kids around, so they all jumped in. This term we are reading about Poplicola, and my kids insist on calling him "Pepsi-cola." Hmmmm, close but not quite. The lesson went surprisingly well and even my 7 year old had some valuable contributions to the conversation that followed.

Just as we wrapped that up my husband came in and we enjoyed a simple meal of soup and crackers together. All in all, we had an amazingly successful school day, about as unconventional as homeschool gets, but productive nonetheless. We'll see what today holds . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Homeschool Memoirs - Introduction

As each year flips by homeschooling seems to define more and more of who we have become as a family. Christ has used this backdrop to shape us, grow us, challenge us, draw us close to each other and to Him, and, oh yeah, cover the academics as well.

I remember the first conversation I had with my husband about homeschooling. I believe it took place in the car on the way home from the hospital with our first child. I verbally expressed my thoughts about never letting this amazing bundle far from our sight. We had been through so much to welcome this precious miracle and had fallen instantly in love with him. I could not imagine ever waving good-bye to him as he got on a bus to learn who knows what from who knows who. My husband did not quite share my passion in that first conversation, but it didn't take too much time with this life-changing child for him to realize the overwhelming job that parenting presented and recognize that the scattered hours around a school day would not work for raising this child the way we felt responsible to.

Now, that bundle recently celebrated his eleventh birthday and four more bundles have arrived over the years adding fuel to the fire for our homeschooling passion. Raising and mentoring our children requires a non-stop commitment to our kids, and in our home homeschooling makes up an important part of that mix.

A few of my "students" pose for a picture with me.

A little more about me, the teacher of this one room school house with five students and a dog . . .

- A passion for missions. My husband and I spent a year overseas teaching and working as dorm parents at a mission run school for nationals. While we haven't spent much time on the field, missions is a part of conversations, prayer, and giving in our home on a daily basis.

- Laid back! I love schedules and organization to get me going, but once the ball is rolling, I don't stress much if we hit a few bumps along the way.

- Love to learn. I credit this to my parents and a teacher I had in high school that made me realize that even history could be fascinating with the right teacher (story teller, news reporter, whatever you want to see them as). Aside from computers and anything motorized there isn't much that I don't get excited about learning about.

- I couldn't stick to one curriculum to save my life. I started with Abeka (seemed safe), tried Konos, Sonlight, Saxon, and now into my second year with Ambleside Online (and whatever books I feel like pulling off my shelf to supplement). Each path has some things that I enjoy and some things that I don't, so I prefer to mash it all together into my own blend of learning and growing spiced up with six different personalities and learning styles just to keep things interesting.

- Eagerly desiring to live thinking only of what God thinks of me. I Corinthians 4:5, my verse this week.

For more me-trivia, check out my seven random facts.

homeschoolingwednesday Naming Your Homeschool

I look forward to participating in these two memes on Wednesdays to learn from other homeschoolers and maybe, just maybe, offer a little encouragement from what I have learned and the experiences in our home. To hear how our first week of homeschooling is going, I wrote a bit here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Verse of the week -- I Corinthians 4:5

As I looked at the pages of Scripture in church this past weekend the verses turned into a mirror with amazing clarity. The phrases showed clearly an area that needs my serious attention and surrender to God's way of thinking. Even through the struggle of the process, I appreciate when God gets in my face like this and loves me enough to make me better.

I never thought of myself much as a people pleaser. I think as a homeschooler you can't worry too much what people think, but some people matter immensely to me. Their moment by moment estimation of me and my worth in their lives has too strong a grip on my emotional state. My parents used to fall into this category, and now I think my husband does. Not because of anything good or bad that they do or did, but because I hold their opinion of me in high regard and spend a lot of energy trying to interpret their present perspective of me as a person. I realized as I read and reread this passage of I Corinthians 4 that I often place their favor, or my interpretation of their favor, above God's.

This presents a real struggle. As a child you want your parents to wax eloquent about your strengths and successes, and as a wife you want your husband to brag to his buddies about your value to him and to look at you with admiring eyes every day. However, those outcomes should not drive our actions or our residual emotions. We should seek to honor and obey God and what would draw His praise in eternity.

Our pastor challenged us to minimize our focus on what others think of us (verse three says it should be a very small thing what others think of us!) and maximize our focus on what God thinks of us. That's where I would rather have my judgment rest anyway. With God, who knows my heart, my motives (sometimes a scary thought), the circumstances, my perspective, my shortcomings, and loves me with an eternal love that would agonize on a cross for even me.

Chapter three put this into the greater perspective of the judgment seat of Christ. There my works will receive their just reward. The temporal accomplishments of this world will not survive that test. If I act remembering that my body is His temple far more of my actions will deserve His recognition on that day.

Each day I need to lay down my life, die to myself, my expectations, my desires, my rights, my goals, my agendas. Step back to watch God do an even greater work than I had originally envisioned. My driving force should not be a contented look on the face of my husband, although I will still enjoy that, my driving force should be God and His glory, His praise. I think my fault hasn't been so much seeking after the praise of others as it has been living up to my own expectations and parameters for judging the success of a day as based on how I interpret other's reactions. They still love me, still remain devoted to me, but my experience ebbs and flows based on how I think others think of me. It all comes back to me, my selfishness, and unconditional surrender.

Can I give Him every inch of my life? Surrender every ounce of energy that I have? Live solely for His praise and eternal perspective? Whether as a mom, a friend, a wife, a daughter, a neighbor, a co-worker, a client, a teacher, whatever my role, I should seek the praise of God alone.

Wherefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God.

~I Corinthians 4:5~

Friday, August 15, 2008

Frugal Friday -- quality homeschooling

Each year I endeavor to prepare for the coming homeschooling year with high goals for academics and spiritual content. I do not desire to just meet standards put out there for the general public, and I do not have a yearning to plod through high level works devoid of any spiritual benefit. Setting high (yet, achievable) goals is just the beginning. I also have a desire to do this as frugally as possible and have learned throughout my homeschooling years how to provide a quality education at home without sacrificing the budget.

Choose curriculum carefully and if you like it, stick with it. I wasted a bit of money early on rushing to buy whatever I heard someone say was 'the best.' Everyone has their favorite, I just needed to find mine. Even after settling into our favorite, I still hear about a great book or program that I don't use and I look very carefully to determine if it offers much more than what we already have. And, I like to make things up as I go along in certain areas (not changing content, but rather in methodology). Sometimes I will take a method that people rave about and tie it into a curriculum that I already use. For example, I have heard wonderful things from many people about Spell to Write and Read. So much so that I considered buying it. At around $100 it seems a reasonable price, but I already have spelling, reading, and writing material that I also like. One of the great things that I heard about it is that it introduces all of the sounds that a letter could make at the same time (I haven't used this curriculum, I am just going on what others have told me at this point), and I thought that was a great idea. So, now as I teach reading to my kids and review phonics with my older ones, I use this concept. We don't just say 'A' says 'a' we talk about each of the sounds that letter (or combination of letters) can make. Sometimes without buying a new curriculum we can breathe new life into our existing ones with a little creativity.

Take full advantage of your library. I cannot tel you how much money I have saved by using my library. A number of years ago I used Sonlight, another curriculum that I had heard great things about and did really enjoy. However, I looked at their core packages and the prices seemed so high. For those without a library, I know they need to buy the packages offered. For myself, rather than just swallow it as worth it for the sake of educating my kids, I took the catalog and jumped online to check which books I could get from my library. I found quite a few of the required reading and history books either at my library or at other libraries that I had access to. Instead of ordering the whole core, I ordered just the books I could not find easily and saved almost $200. If I did find a book that we really enjoyed or I knew we would use for years to come, I still might consider buying it.

Enjoy the internet! If you had the time to explore and are comfortable with your searching ability, I think you could school very well using just the internet. Any time that one of my kids needs extra practice in an area, I google the topic with "printable worksheets" added on and come up with a variety of sites that provide what I am looking for, often with answer keys as well. I now use Ambleside Online for most of my homeschooling needs and through their site found a number of great books that you can read in their entirety from the internet. I do try to get what I can through the library because my kids can't all be on the computer at the same time, but I use these online book sites as well. Here is their "Online Library". The Baldwin Project and Project Gutenburg offer a number of classics as well that you can read without cost in the comfort of your own home.

Shop garage sales and used book sales, buying what you know you will need. If you have any homeschool co-ops or support groups in your area, chances are they have a book sale at least once a year (usually in the spring). These can offer a great opportunity to see many curriculums free, and talk to people who used them, and to buy books at affordable prices. After I settled on Saxon Math for fourth grade and beyond I started looking for all of the other years. I have now bought all I need through Algebra Two (still looking for the ones beyond there) at no more than $15 each! Also, if you have a curriculum that you like, some will have scratch and dent sales. I stocked up on my Rod and Staff English through one of these at 20% off or more.

Have a wish list for each child for birthday and Christmas gifts. If others ask what your child needs, have a couple great book titles on hand to suggest. Obviously, you don't want your child to receive a gift they would not appreciate. Although, for my son's second birthday I did ask for a couple science books that we needed. He has enjoyed them, didn't know the difference at the time (a present is a present is a present!), and they will be put to good use even long after the trucks or clothing that he enjoyed from others. While I wouldn't want all their gifts to be school books, I enjoy getting curriculum books for myself. I know, I'm strange like that.

I hope that some of these tips offer you some help in providing quality academics in your home in this coming year.

For more frugal tips check out Crystal's blog.

Reap in massive harvest - knees needed: Praying during Ramadan

For the last couple years I have used the days of Ramadan to focus on praying for Muslims. I look forward to doing the same this year, and wanted to pass along a helpful prayer tool. An organization called 30-Days offers some suggestions and daily prayer emails throughout the month. If you sign up for their email reminders you can cancel after the month is over, or stay on it and be all ready to go for the next year. They send very few emails the rest of the year, so you don't need to worry about them cluttering your email box.

Please join, PRAY, and spread the word. I can't be everywhere in the world that I feel a call to minister to, but I can pray and still have that world-wide impact. Praying during the month of Ramadan is significant because most Muslims are focused on their spiritual lives during this time. I pray that God would open their eyes to the Truth during this unique opportunity.

The following is the information that I received today regarding prayer during the upcoming month of Ramadan:

30-Days of Prayer for the Muslim World Ramadan 2008 / 1429: September 01 - September 30

Hey prayer partners,

with just 16 days before the start of our prayer time for Muslims, I am so excited.

I just had the privilege of praying for some 20 families who are going to totally UNREACHED Muslim people groups.

And you know what?

All those just back from the massive harvests had the same testimony:

"We got breakthroughs when God's people prayed."

One family had struggled for years without seeing any fruit. Over the last year 100 Muslims came to Christ. The breakthrough, they said, came after we targeted their Unreached People Group in prayer!

A middle-aged German women told of her hardships reaching M's, especially the men. She felt distanced by the culture and wondered how she could win any friends, let alone Christ-friends. Again, you and I had prayed for her region last year. Again, "all of a sudden they became interested to hear the Message".

WOW, when we pray, God answers!!!

WOW, when we pray, God sends!!!

WOW, when we pray, NOTHING can stop Muslims from hearing the Good News!!!

Be encouraged, let your faith multiply. Let's get people praying now!

If the idea of bringing God glory where there is currently no Christian witness stirs your soul, then help me help others to join the Lord directly in what he is doing.

  • Are you a Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, social network user? Tell your network about this prayer movement.
  • Do you have a blog? Use ours for automatic, daily feeds during Ramadan.
  • Do you have an email list? Forward these emails daily.
  • Do you have faith in God? Pray in Jesus name for Muslims to come to Christ. He is answering daily.

Be encouraged.

God is faithful!

Pass this email on to all you know, let's pray, let's change the world, together.


Thank you.
Blessings, Ron
May Jesus come Quickly

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reading reviews

A homeschool friend sent out an appeal today for a book review resource. This really got me thinking. I have a number of resources for finding quality, wholesome reading, but do not have a resource to look up books I might not be familiar with, especially contemporary ones. I did a google search and came up with this article.

It says that while Focus on the Family's Plugged In movie review can help in choosing a movie, how do we find out about the books we or our children want to read? Here is a site that they recommend for parent friendly book reviews. I looked at it briefly and it seems to have some good info, but of course their list is not exhaustive. They say they are looking for qualified reviewers, this might be a great way to help advance this cause.

Another site requires a $15/year membership to view their reviews on various books. If you do a lot of reading, or your kids like to do a lot of independent reading of unfamiliar books, it might be worth it, but I don't know much about it, so I cannot recommend it at this point.

The Bluedorn's book, Hand that Rocks the Cradle, also came to mind. This offers parents an excellent resource, but mostly for a list of books to read, not books to not read. I have an older version of this book and have enjoyed referring to it from time to time.

Any other resources out there to help us offer our kids the best reading material?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Becoming odd

We have almost fully made our transition to odd ages now. Our children all arrived roughly two years apart from each other, and with a couple birthdays this week we just have one more still at an even age. For now they are 3,4,7,9,11.

With two birthdays so close together I often try to have combined birthday parties, but they each have very different personalities so this has not always worked (we did try a princess cowgirl party one year, but it left something to be desired). This year Paige wanted a pool party and Faith wanted a beach themed party. Perfect! That I can work with.

With the success of the day still simmering, I thought I would share some of what worked for us and some websites I have enjoyed over the years for party planning ideas.

I often refer to Birthday Party Ideas for lots of ideas on almost every imaginable theme. I usually start there and then build off of my children's preferences, my resources and budget, and my own creativity (that was listed last for good reason).

Many people enjoy Family Fun and the great ideas there. I have referred to their site occasionally. They do have great ideas, but not the variety that I have found elsewhere.

In the cake department we have enjoyed the graphics and how-to guides on the Coolest Cake site. Again, we start with their ideas and turn it into our own, but they have given us some great ideas for cakes.
We came across our cake for this year on that site and created this fun beach scene complete with gummy life-savers for intertubes, graham cracker crumb beach, jiggler ocean, and teddy grahams soakin' up the rays. My husband helped me quite a bit getting the ocean just right. He always manages to refine my wild ideas so they look more than presentable. :-)

Here are a couple other closeups of the beach and water:

It kind of blends together, but the two guys are building a sand castle in the closest corner and then two bears are sunning themselves on Laffy Taffy towels in the middle of the beach.

Watch out for the shark!

This year we started with a simple craft that involved gluing shells and pretty stones to matting to make original picture frames. This was easy and not too messy and kept the kids busy while we waited for all the kids to arrive. We then ate lunch, which went well, but was a lot of work. I don't know if I will plan a big meal for a kids party again. Everything went really well, but the prep was almost overwhelming at times. I think I will stick with the cake and ice cream route for most birthdays. My sister, Mother-in-law and sister-in-law both stayed for the party and were a big help to me maintaining my sanity throughout the festivities.

The bulk of the party I split the kids into three groups (one boys, one younger girls and one older girls) and rotated between pool time (my sister helped supervise), free play with sprinklers and water balloons, and structured party games with me. The kids did a great job, although the free play time seemed too long for the youngest group.

For games we played musical towels, water balloon shot put, coconut bowling (should've gotten two coconuts for this, it split on the second toss and we had to play with half a coconut . . .), dress up relay (with an adult sized beach outfit in each bag complete with sunglasses and sandals, this was quite entertaining), parachute games with water balloons, and a memory game with summer items on a tray (I had about 10 items for them to remember. I would take one away while they looked away and they had to guess which one was missing. This was so simple, but they surprised me by asking to play repeated times).

My kids love participating in choosing their theme and some of the activities, and the ice cream flavor. :-) They also seem eager to set up and clean when it involves the anticipation of the party. The parties always seem like so much work, but in the end they build amazing memories and we have such a great time. I am very grateful, however, that we have no more birthdays until December . . .

Monday, August 11, 2008

Verse of the week -- Isaiah 58:11

It's almost here. No avoiding it, maybe postponing it, but no escaping it. Whatever plans we have formed or not formed, books we have read or not read, and supplies we have bought or not, will have to suffice. The start of the school year lies in wait just around the next corner.

For the record, I love the start of school. Everything seems fresh: ideas, books, motivation, curriculum, organization techniques, schedules. However, some things always seem undone. One more book I wanted to get in this summer, one more getaway, one more revision of this or that, one more project around the house, etc. Regardless of what to-dos I have done, the school year begins. And, for a time, all is well.

Then, sometime late September (or late in the afternoon of day one . . .) frustrations crop up. Children bicker, concepts challenge our fortitude, schedules lag behind or press breakneck speed ahead, distractions crop up like weeds in July! This week, God gave me a special verse for those times, and to keep me out of denial now. No matter how grandiose and perfect my plans seem now, they cannot stand firm against all that my finite children will throw at them (I'm never a part of those problems . . .)

I have taken my time in savoring the book of Isaiah again recently and have arrived at one of my favorite chapters. Isaiah 58. I have much more to say on this chapter, but I kept clinging to one verse in particular as I read this just now. "And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Isaiah 58:11.

When those rough days come, as I can guarantee they will, God offers a satisfying spring of water to carry me through as nourished as the ground in April. Of course, this response is for the obedient, those laying down their life at His feet. I can't go charging ahead with my own agenda and purpose and expect Him to pick up the pieces (although He graciously does that at times as well.)

He will satisfy us when we call out to Him and when we put our faith to work caring for others in need. We don't need to fear giving so much of ourselves that we run out or run dry. He will provide waters that fail not as we step out of the picture and let Him take charge.

I love this promise wrapped up in this verse. I know I will fail, I will lose my focus, I will get caught up in the temporal and forget the eternal, I will skew my priorities, and yet, when I return to Him, I will remember that He has all I need. Available for the asking, guidance for the day, strength for all that He has called me to accomplish, and forgiveness for my many shortcomings.

Thank you, Lord God, for watering my soul once again, and the promise to continue to do so as I call on You and walk by Your ways. ~Amen

And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
~Isaiah 58:11~

Friday, August 8, 2008

That's 'H' as in huh?

Sometimes we face the need to spell our names, email addresses or other pertinent information for other people to write down. At these times, sometimes one letter can easily get confused with another and it is helpful to have reference words to make sure you are all on the same page, or at least the same letter.

Today my husband was getting information from someone and they said, "O as in Olga." Hmmm . . . That's probably a good choice since not many other words sound like Olga. However, this also sparked a lunch time conversation at our house about other words that would not fit the part so well.

These are some we came up with . . .

Horribly long words:

- A as in antidisestablishmentarianism

- O as in octogenarian

- Z as in zoological

- S as in serendipitous

Then there are words that are useless because they sound nothing like the letter you are seeking:

- K as in knock

- P as in pneumonia

- G as in gnat

- C as in cheese

- S as in shine

- P as in phone

Some that just struck our fancy:

- W as in why

- D as in duh

- B as in bye

- C as in ‘click’

Or, you could trick them up by focusing on ending sounds instead:

- N as in administration

- S as in trains

- T as in mutant

Whatever way you choose, no reason to leave a mundane task as is, have some fun. :-)

And, if you are interested, here are the practical lists of 'official' words including the NATO list and the Western Union list. More practical, but not quite so fun as coming up with your own.

That's E as in eulogy, R as in mower, I as in incantation, and N as in Neanderthal.


One reason I have enjoyed jumping into the blogosphere so much comes from the encouragement that I receive from other mothers, and homeschooling ones in particular. I often come across posts that give me great ideas to implement, recipes and schedules to try out, projects to enjoy with my children, and just plain old inspiration to keep on keeping on.

A blog that I have enjoyed in recent weeks called Generation Cedar has challenged my thinking and given me great motivation to continue on as mother and teacher with joy. I would encourage you to read this particular post on her site that has again both challenged and lifted me. I know I fall short of many of these descriptions of a homeschool mom, but I proudly join these ranks even with the constant reminder of the weight and responsibility I carry into that role.

Our homeschooling reasons are many, but I love the way this paragraph puts it:
Home school mothers are the heart of a traditionalist revolution that is driving life back into the homes. To these women, and the men blessed to be married to them, homes are no longer assets or places to share a microwave dinner at the end of an exhausting day of separation. Spreading like some beneficial virus, men and women are returning basic educational, economic, and social functions to home where they have always belonged.

Read on and be encouraged!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Flower arranging

Sometimes child rearing reminds me of the sculpting of a bouquet. Putting together just the right pieces that complement each other, keeping the color alive, attention to detail, having the finished product in mind, and enjoying the process. I don't claim any skill at assembling flower arrangements, but I have learned a thing or two about kids along the way. I also know that things don't always turn out the way we had envisioned. Somehow we think if we have all the right tools, equipment, instructions, and vision, we will have smooth sailing and a finished product worthy of display. Maybe that works with flowers . . . Children are another story.

Last night as I continued my reading through the Charlotte Mason series, I contemplated the instilling of habits in our children and challenged myself with the thought of finding the most Biblical teaching model. Should I look to God's dealings in the garden of Eden? His interactions with the nation of Israel? Jesus' tutelage of his disciples? Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unit studies, delight directed? If I just choose the right model, I will guarantee the desired outcome, right?

Each Scriptural model that came to mind involved the perfect, holy God as the instructor and finite humans as the "student." In each model, the students made mistakes, fell away, grumbled, acted selfishly, and showed both measures of failure and of success. Reminder: A perfect teacher does not a perfect student make!

Think of Peter. How many of his choices and behaviors would we consider failures when compiling our report card? And yet, in the end he matured into a passionate, dedicated follower of his risen Lord. He willingly sacrificed all he had, his life included, to follow Christ and to persuade others to do the same. To have that fire burning in my children as it did in his life would be a great blessing to me as a mother.

In the process, we will see success at times, and we will also see clueless questions, flat-out failures, distractions, and dead-end rabbit trails but that does not necessarily shape the final product. Even all of that can result in a life that is a pleasing aroma, a beautiful bouquet to present to our Lord. I pray that despite the setbacks I may see at times, that each of my children will in the end show their lives to be obedient and truly sold-out to Him alone. Wilted, haphazard composition and all.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ready, set . . . still working on the set part.

As a new school year looms ahead I have lots of motivation simmering. Reading through Charlotte Mason's first book has encouraged and motivated me to start the year right academically and behaviorally. I feel strongly that one of the critical goals of homeschooling has to reach beyond academics into the personality and character of each child. Even as I sit down and write out my schedule and determine our weekly and yearly plans I want to refocus my energies to take advantage of each one of those teachable moments that crop up throughout the day and make sure I don't miss those times to nurture my children's souls.

In order to take full advantage of each day, I need to be prepared to meet the demands of the day head on. Right now I am laying out plans, determining schedules, setting goals, tracking down books, organizing our home, and preparing in any way possible. Here is some of the nitty gritty of what is taking place in our home right now.

Plans . . . For this coming year I have decided to follow the Ambleside online schedule. We have used this loosely in the past, and knowing my eclectic tendency to never buy into any method whole hog, it will remain somewhat loose this year. This year I want to follow the schedule a little more and take advantage of more narration, notebooking, and nature studies. We are all quite excited and while this does put some more demands on our schedule, I also think it will raise the bar even more as far as academics.

Goals . . . Each year I establish goals for each child, our schooling in general, and myself personally. Although these hover around academics I also incorporate spiritual, professional, extra-curricular, physical, financial, and familial goals as appropriate.

Organization . . . With our resignation from houseparenting we currently have a lot more room at our disposal and for the first time we have a designated homeschool room. We have already taken advantage of it and I love it! Before we had school paraphernalia in the kitchen and dining room and laundry room and great room and bedrooms and, you get the picture. Now we have everything in one place. Everything school related from records to books to school supplies to reference material to tables and chairs are all in one room. I love this! It allows us true focused time and space to do our school work.

Curriculum . . . while Ambleside provides the bulk of our framework, we do have other sources for math, English grammar, handwriting, and a smattering of other subjects. Last year I finally (I know, a little slow) sat down and really figured out which curriculum we would use for which subjects at each grade level. Now, different children at time need changes made to this plan, but just having this in writing gives me a great foundation to start with and we can flex from there as needed.

Schedule . . . New Year, new schedule. Sometimes it changes multiple times throughout the year. Especially when we had babies on the scene, I tweaked my schedule every couple months or so depending on nap schedules. My schedule for this coming year takes two significant changes into consideration over last year: I no longer work and no one needs a regular nap (except me, but I won't whine too much without one.)

So, here is our rough school day schedule:

8:00 breakfast (together as a family almost everyday, I'm so excited!)
8:45 Bible time
9:15 one-on-one school with Blake
This is when I review work, intro math and English and do some reading together
9:45 school with Paige
10:15 school with Faith
10:45 school with Brooke and Nathan
11:15 flex time (I need this, because invariably at least one school time runs long or some interruption crops up -- right now that's potty training)
11:45 Make lunch
12:15 Lunch and clean up
1:15 Active time/PE
1:30 Household chore time (for now we have a lot more rooms to clean, so we need more time in the schedule for this)
2:00 Reading together outside if weather cooperates (right now we read one chapter of Child's History of the World, a couple pages in Shhh, We are Writing the Constitution, and a chapter in Around the World in 80 Days) This will change a bit once we jump into Ambleside more fully.
2:30 silent reading time
3:00 Weekly projects (rotates through: nature, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Geography, Art, Music, etc.)
3:30 Finish individual school work and then choice time -- outside if weather allows

We've followed this roughly for the last couple weeks, with a little lighter academics since it is still summer and I think it work well for us at this place in our lives.

Underneath all the planning, I pray that my love for my children shines through each day and each activity. The greatest thing I can give my children is love, showing them the love of the Father and turning their attention to Him continually, I love this poem as a reminder of that. I pray that they will learn, and love to learn, and most of all that they will learn to love and live for Christ alone even more in the school year that lies ahead.