Family, Homeschooling, Motherhood, Parenting

Thumbprints and Homeschooling

What the heck do thumbprints have to do with homeschooling?

Well, think about what you know about thumbprints. They are unique to everyone; no two people have the same thumbprint. My thumbprint is different from my mother’s thumbprint. My child’s thumbprint is different from my thumbprint. Even identical twins have unique thumbprints. Like snowflakes, God has made each of us unique with both a unique thumbprint and unique purpose.

Your homeschool is like your thumbprint. It is unique; there are no two homeschools that are the same. Your homeschool is a conglomeration of your personality, your spouse’s personality, your children’s personalities, your faith, and the specific plans God has for you. Two families can be using the same curriculum, have the same theological beliefs, be of similar family structures and similar personality temperaments, yet their schools will still function very differently.

This “uniqueness” is important to remember when interacting with other homeschooling families. You see, there is a game we homeschoolers play when we are out and about with other homeschoolers. It’s called, “Let’s Secretly Compare”. And while learning from others can be a good thing, comparing yourself to others can be harmful.

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Books, Education, Family, Homeschooling, Motherhood

Ten Things to Include in Your Child’s Education, pt. 2

child helping child

This is the second of a two-part blog on things to teach your child outside of their general academic education.  The first part to this article can be found here.

Let’s pick up where we left off at number six.

6.  Teach your children to call people Mr., Mrs. and Miss

Not everyone may agree, but addressing adults as Mr., Mrs. or Miss is important.  Titles establish age boundaries and conveys respect.  A child addressing someone as Mr. or Mrs. communicates to an adult “I acknowledge that you are older than me (i.e. you are not my peer or buddy). Because you are older than me (and probably wiser) you deserve my respect.”

We require our kids to address anyone in a position of authority as Miss/Mrs./Mr. unless the adult being addressed specifically requests for our children to call them by their first name.  My husband and I make this (sometimes awkward) formality easier for our children by doing the same thing ourselves that we expected of them.  If someone is a generation or two older we often refer to them as Mr. or Mrs., unless they instruct us otherwise.

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Education, Family, Fatherhood, Homeschooling, Motherhood, Parenting

Ten Things To Include In Your Child’s Education, pt. 1

child helping childWhether our children attend a public school, private school, or a home school, their education must include more than just academics.  As parents we need to teach our children “life” skills.  While having book smarts is good, having humility and integrity is better. Here are ten things to teach our children that aren’t academic.  To keep from being too long, this will be the first of two posts, covering 5 suggestions each.

1.  Teach them how to answer the phone and take a message.

With the household phone becoming a thing of the past, this skill is becoming trickier to teach, but children still need to know how to answer a regular phone or a cell phone when needed.  Teaching them simple phrases such as “Hello, this is Mommy’s phone; this is Julie speaking” enables children to practice phone courtesy and interaction with adults.  I have a friend who has taught her children to answer the phone like this:  “Hello, Smith residence. This is Mary speaking, how may I help you?”  Now that’s how you answer a phone!

Good phone skills should also include learning how to take a message.  Teach your child to write down the caller’s name, phone number and reason for the call.  By doing this they will learn responsibility and gain confidence talking to someone over the phone.

2.  Teach them how to call someone on the phone.

This obviously has many of the same benefits as #1:  Calling other people teaches children to be more comfortable conversing with adults they have never met. It also teaches them how to speak politely and appropriately when they make a phone call.  Children may be taught to say something like, “Hello Mr./Mrs. Smith.  This is Bobby Jones.  Is Jason available to come to the phone?”  If Jason is not available then they could respond with, “Then would you please let him know I called?” And then finish with a “Thank you very much.”

Often, before making a phone call, we would sit down with our child and role-play the potential conversation.  That way, when our child made the actual phone call they felt a little more comfortable with what to expect.

We occasionally asked our children to call businesses for information, such as their operating hours.  Truth be told, they never really liked doing it; it definitely put them out of their comfort zone when they were young.  But living out of your comfort zone for short periods of time is not a bad thing.  It seemed to help our kids overcome their fears of talking to a stranger on the phone.

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Christianity, Family, Homeschooling, Motherhood, Parenting

The Arduous Struggle: or Prayer and Peeling Carrots

ElisabethElliot (older)I was thumbing though some old files and came across a little gem.  It was an article from the May, 1999 issue of The Gatekeeper, Elisabeth Elliot’s monthly newsletter. The article, written by Elisabeth, and titled, “Motherhood:  The Most Difficult and Rewarding Job” said this:

Mothers are always on call, expected to have all the answers and limitless energies. They’re supposed to do everything; it’s taken for granted.  How can you be and do everything expected of you?  What you need is an habitual sense of the presence of God. Think that Almighty God, who created the stars and keeps the seasons revolving in perfect rhythm, is there in your kitchen, in your bathroom, in the laundry room, in the grocery store.  Mothers, be prepared for an arduous struggle.  Your calling is impossible without prayer, the comfort and instruction of the Scriptures, and fellowship in your church.

If you’re feeling anxious, without peace, it just may be that you have not made time in your schedule for study in the Scriptures and prayer.  It is essential, no matter what you have to forgo, no matter which people in the church you’re going to have to say no to, no matter how crowded  your schedule may be at home, you must somehow, but the grace of God, make time to read your Bible and pray.

God knows you can’t always be thinking of Him.  You have to put your mind on what you’re doing.  You have to concentrate on that recipe.  You have to study those homeschool geometry lessons that you forgot so many years ago.  You have to concentrate on measuring out that medicine for the sick child or making up the grocery lists and menus for the next week.  This means that you must concentrate in your quiet time as well.  Then learn to turn back to God throughout the day.

Try looking up to the Lord with a hundred little looks of love during the day.  Every now and then lift up your eyes, lift up your heart, and remember that Christ is in you.  He dwells in you.  He gives you the gift of grace.  (Don’t forget grace – you need it!  We need it every hour of every day, every minute of every hour.)  Learn to pray while you’re peeling the carrots, driving the car or cleaning the house.

Remind yourself that the materials of your work and play and all of your daily life are hallowed by the presence of Christ, by the presence of His infinity in the midst of your finiteness.  Remember that Christ is present even in the weak and the mean and the ugly.  In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it for Me.”

Our thoughts and desires need to be more referred to Him, determined by Him.  We need to ask for wisdom in mind, holiness in will, and a mind and a will made one with Christ.  Living in his presence – in your kitchen and in your laundry room; loving, which means to will the good of another, not allowing any hardship or sacrifice to deter us from helping them; and looking  for His best.

To this I say, Amen.

Family, Homeschooling

Complexity vs. Simplicity

busy momI make life more complex than it needs to be.  I don’t know why I do it, but I do.

I over book my life with good things.  I live in a Midwestern college town that, despite its smallish population, has a great music and art scene.  Every weekend there are festivals, displays, visiting musicians, concerts and traveling exhibits.  They are fun and always educational.  I feel an obligation to take my children to them, even though we don’t end up going to all that many because we are too busy doing other good things.

As a homeschooling mom, I create self-imposed personal burdens to make sure my children are involved in ample extra-curricular activities, church groups and service opportunities.  I spend a great deal of time getting the kids to all the places they must go.  After all, they need to be well-rounded.

When meal planning for my family, I feel obligated to search for non-GMO grains, organic produce and humanely-raised meats.  I watch out for trans-fats, work on ways to add coconut oil into my cooking, and try to cut the carbs.  I strive to achieve adequate sunshine, ample exercise, and the appropriate levels of hydration (from filtered water, of course).

Sometimes I get so busy I feel like I need to remind myself to breathe.

Foothills-parkway-8F-tn1For Thanksgiving this year our family took a road trip to southern Tennessee to visit our relatives’ farm.  As we snaked through the Smokey Mountain foothills we searched for the narrow black top road leading to their house – that would be Possum Trot Road.  When we arrived, our relatives already had a small fire going outside.  They knew we liked to sit around the fire at night and talk.  It is so quiet there.  It’s muddy and it smells like cows, but it’s very, very quiet.

Despite their seventy acres, our relatives do have neighbors.  From the top of the hill you can barely glimpse the dark rooftops of distant barns and homes. It’s easier to spot them in the winter when the trees are bare.  We seldom see these neighbors but we know they exist.  Sometimes their cattle wander up along the north fence line or we hear a distant chain saw, tractor, or shotgun.

Decisions over whether to enroll children in piano versus cello lessons are non-existent in that area.  People don’t have the money for such things.  The kids go to school, then they come home and help on the farm.  Down there, cultural events include hunting and horse shows, and those don’t happen often.

The Walmart nearest to our relatives is ten miles away.  The nearest clothing store is ten miles away.  The nearest gas station is five miles away. Heck, everything there is miles way.  People stock up on sausage when United Grocery Outlet runs a sale, or toilet paper when Dollar General gets in a big shipment.  It doesn’t matter if the meat is pasture-raised or name brand; what matters is the price.  Budgets are tight and you do what you can.

You’ll catch the local gossip as well as cattle-feed additives at the nearby Co-op. On one of our past visits, a neighbor brought our relatives a newly-caught snapping turtle.  They wondered if we wanted it.  For soup…I guess?  During our recent visit, the Mennonite family from down the hollow (pronounced “holler”) sent us home with wheels of Colby cheese and hugs, and told us to come back and see them soon.

While in Tennessee our children hiked, wrestled, played with dogs, helped drive cattle, went target shooting and tended the fire.  They didn’t ask for their video games.  They didn’t even want them.  And I didn’t worry once about getting somewhere on time.  I was too busy listening to unusual songs from the birds overhead and the winds gliding across the hills. Besides, in that part of the country, nobody seems in a hurry to get anywhere.  Life is so much simpler there.

We are back home now.  I have a meeting tomorrow.  I need to remember that my son’s piano lesson has been switched to a new time on Wednesday.  I am out of my free-range chicken.  I will have to get to the store soon.  I have a coupon that expires Friday for a store at the mall.  Maybe I can get over there after I pick my husband up at the airport.

Welcome back, Complexity.  I think you and I need to have a talk.

Boys, Education, Homeschooling

Ten Simple Ways to Teach Those Busy Boys

Kid with a telescope explorerBoys often come out of the chute ready to move and explore.  As they approach preschool age, boys often prefer physical activities over activities that require them to sit still.  If you have a busy boy (or two, or three, or a busy girl) in your home, here are some simple ways to keep them moving and active while teaching them something at the same time.

1. Jump (or hop or clap or spin) to the number (preschool/early elementary) – Hold up a few of your fingers and have your child jump that many times.  Five fingers on Mom’s hand equals five jumps from Timmy.  See how fast he can jump, or how slow.  You can make it more challenging by having him jump two less than the number of fingers you are holding, or one more.  Or, to be even more challenging, have your child jump the answer to the number of fingers on one of your hands times times the number of fingers on the other hand, or one hand plus the other hand, or one hand minus the other hand, etc.  See how fast they can jump, or how silly they can jump.  Variation (toddler/preschool):  Place some sort of markers (paper would work) and have your child hop forwards or backwards the same number of spaces as your fingers, like a board game. Variation (toddler/preschool):  put colored construction paper down (as in Candy Land) and have them hop around the “board” according to the color you call.

2.  The Penny Game (toddler/preschool) – You need stairs for this one.  Place numbers on your stairway (pieces of paper with clear, large numbers written on them) that will sit at the end of each stair so as not to be in the way.  If you have ten stairs for your stairway, place number 1 on the bottom stair, number 2 on the next stair up, number 3 on the next stair, and so on.  Grab a penny (or another coin, or a button, or whatever) and have your child sit on the bottom stair (stair 1). Stand and face your child while you secretly hide the coin behind your back in one of your fists.  Bring your clenched fists around to the front so your child can see them and have your child guess which hand is hiding the coin.  If he/she guesses correctly they move up one stair (to the stair marked 2).  If they guess the wrong hand, they move down a stair (or don’t move at all if they are on stair 1).  The goal is to get to the top of the steps.  This activity not only keeps them moving but introduces them to numbers, the number line and the basics of addition and subtraction.

3.  Ball toss (preschool/young elementary) – place 4 or 5 small bowls (like soup bowls or small mixing bowls, or any containers with relatively high sides – shoe boxes would even work) on the floor or a table.  Have your child try tossing a ping pong ball into one of the bowls.  Have small pieces of paper, each bearing a letter of the alphabet, placed in the various containers.  (There should be one paper for each letter of the alphabet, so if you have five containers, four of them will contain 5 papers and one will contain 6).  When the ball lands in a container pull out a letter of the alphabet and place it on the floor or table.  As they continue to toss the balls into the containers, keep pulling out letters (have them say the letter sound as well!) and arrange them in alphabetical order until they have “won” all 26 letters.  Variation (older boys):  Nerf Shoot – instead of tossing balls, have your child use a Nerf gun to hit paper or plastic cups or small boxes on a table or bench.  Have a question inside each cup like, “What is the capital of Delaware?” They get one point for hitting the targeted box or cup and a bonus point for answering the question correctly.  Have them play against a friend or sibling to see who can reach 10 points first.

4.  Draw letters/shapes in sand or dirt (preschool) – who needs a Magna Doodle (do they even still make those?) or a drawing app on an i-pad when there is dirt around? Have your child draw shapes or letters in sand, dry dirt, or, if you are brave, mud with a stick.  If they are young, start a shape or letter and have them finish it for you.

5.  Color/letter treasure hunt (toddler/preschool) –  hide 5 red (or any color) things in one room and see if your child can find all five.  Or hide five things that begin with the letter “B”.  The possibilities are endless!  Variation:  Instead of hiding things, grab a clipboard and paper and go looking for red things (or black, or green) like an apple, a red sweater, or a cardinal outside.  Write down what you find.  Or go searching for things that start with a certain letter.  If you hunt for “B” things you can look for books, a baby, bathtub or banana.

6.  Math treasure hunt (preschool/early elementary) – this is a lot like number 5.  Hide 5 blocks (or cars, or large Legos) around the room.  Tell your child how many items are hidden and help him find them (treat it like a game of “hot”/”cold”).  As he finds the blocks, talk to him in math terms: “Timmy, you have already found one block, and you just found another, now we have two blocks because one block plus one more blocks make two blocks”  Get the idea?  Variation:  Have a set amount of blocks to work with.   Have the child go into the other room.  Hide some of the blocks, but don’t hide all of them.  Then talk to him in math terms again:  “Timmy, we have five blocks all together.  I still have two blocks here with me.  How many of them are hid?”  Then go find them.

7.  Geography run (preschool/early elementary) – Get a large world or U.S. map.  Place the map at a level where your child can easily reach it.  (We have a laminated map that we have taped to a large piece of cardboard so we can carry it around from room to room or prop it up on an easel) Using small Post-it Note tabs have your child find places on the map and mark them with the tabs.  It may be best to start with the continents since they are large and distinct.  Spend a few days teaching your child the location of each continent on the map.  Then, when they are ready, call out a continent and see how fast he can run and mark it with the sticky tab.  Use a timer to check his times.  Variation:  You can use this with any instructional poster.  Have your child run and point to letters or numbers, or classifications of animals, or the planets, or whatever you have at your home.

8.  Nerf Gun Safari (early elementary) – If you are not crazy about having your child “hunt” for animals, you may want to skip this one.  Take your son on a Nerf Safari by placing various stuffed animals around the house then turn off the lights.  Grab your flashlights and go “hunting”.  If your child finds and hits an animal have them look under the stuffed animal for a question you have hidden there.  The questions can be about whatever they are learning in school at the time.  They get one point for each animal they find and one point for each question they get right. Variation (preschoolers): skip the guns and just go animal exploring.  If you find an “animal in the wild” read the question that is hidden beneath.

9.  Math bounce (elementary) – you can practice math and ball skills at the same time by having your child bounce the answer to a math problem.  If you ask them, “What is 2 + 1?” they would bounce the ball three times.  Variation (older elementary):  This game could be used addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  It could also be used for other subjects:  have them bounce how many legs on an insect or an octopus, have them bounce how many planets there are, bounce out the letters that spell “elevator”, etc.

10.  Stack things – find a large quantity of something.  Playing cards, plastic cups, paper cups, empty yougurt containers, dominoes, and shoe boxes all work well.  Let them stack.  And knock down.  And stack.  And knock down. You get the idea.

Well, hopefully this list will help spark some ideas to keep your wee lads under control and out of trouble.  😉  I would love to hear YOUR ideas for keeping little ones busy.  If you have an idea to add to this list leave a comment and tell me about it!  🙂

Christianity, Homeschooling, Parenting

Keep a Quiet Heart

boat in stormHold us in quiet through the age-long minute

While Thou art silent, and the wind is shrill:

Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, art in it?

Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?

Amy Carmichael, from Toward Jerusalem

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of trouble keeping a quiet heart.  I am not usually a noisy person but my heart can sure get loud.  Loud with worry.  Loud with angst.

There seems to be so much too much to worry about these days:  friends and family who are battling serious illness,  friends with sick children, tornadoes sweeping through our community (in November of all months!), yet another school shooting.

Those are the heavies.  Then there’s the middlings: increasing health insurance costs, approaching Christmas expenses, and badly needed house repairs.

But it’s the trifles that bring me to the tipping point and cause my heart to yell:  educational challenges with children, trimming the budget, an endless stream of dirty dishes and laundry.

Here are some verses that have brought me peace.  May they bring you the same:

Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually.—1 Chronicles 16:11

Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.— Psalm 31:3

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.—Psalm 119:10

Be still, and know that I am God. – Psalm 46:10

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. –  Isaiah 26:3

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. – Isaiah 30:15

May I also recommend a wonderful book?  Keep a Quiet Heart, by Elisabeth Elliott.  It will strengthen and encourage you when your heart gets loud:

keep a quiet heart