A few nights ago my eldest son was up late reading. When I was ready to take myself to bed I checked on him one more time. I stroked his hair and asked if he wanted me to tuck him in with a prayer. He put down his book, smiled, and said, "I'll pray". And he did.
"Thank you God for making me one of the privileged boys who like to read — not a lot of boys like to read. Amen."
I've tried to honor him as the oldest by allowing him to stay up a bit later; he's allowed to read until he's ready to sleep... because he's nine now, because he's the oldest, because he's reading good literature, and because he's a bundle of energy during all his other waking hours. These evening hours have proven the mystical key with the power to unlock his peaceful place, and so I have placed it into his hand along with the freedom to wield it liberally. In his bed, when the house is still, my son's imagination moves freely. When his body is finally calm, his inner life awakens and walks around the lands in which he sojourns... Literarily speaking. Hour after hour of reading has also proven the magical key capable of unlocking 10,000 pages this school year! 10,000 pages he read!
At the beginning of his foray into chapter books we made a deal, "I choose a book, then you choose a book, then I choose a book, then you choose a book..." Sure he read through the entire Diary of a Wimpy Kid collection (two times!), but he also read The Odyssey, White Fang, The Last of the Mohicans, Robin Hood, One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, and Swiss Family Robinson. His younger brother's Captain Awesome series were listed among his pages, but so were the nine hundred pages of his Action Bible, also counted twice from Genesis to Revelation!
I dare not title this post, "How you too can raise a reader!" But I did share in this earlier post a few things we did from the start, more to foster a loving bond between us than to light the fire for great literary works. Joyfully I'm discovering that both loves took root and are now bearing fruit in his nine year old heart.
Earlier today I was asking him probing questions about the current book he's reading. Masterpiece, by Elise Broach, is an engaging Mystery about a complicated Art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. When I asked my young scholar why someone would steal a piece of art that could never be sold publicly he responded, "Some people sell the art on the black market and make a lot of money, but some other people steal art for... Love." After talking a bit more about how passionate individuals get about some of the Great Artists of the Renaissance we read a short biography on the German painter Durer. Durer's famous ink sketching entitled "Fortitude" is the Masterpiece that the story Masterpiece revolves around.
While I sometimes worry that I'm not testing for reading comprehension the way the schools do, (this is afterall my first year homeschooling), every now and again we have a conversation like this one and I think to myself,
I'm totally giving this kid an A+!"
For Literature and Bible and History, especially, I grade my boys on our conversations not our tests. Do they comprehend these wonderful point and the virtues and the meat of it all so well that we can have conversations about it all?
I remember a day earlier this school year, when I took Caleb shoe shopping. He needed some new flip flops and he found a pair by the brand OSIRUS. Walking out of the store Caleb casually mentioned, "I love that my new flip flops say OSIRUS on them." "Why", I asked. "Don't you remember? Osiris was the Egyptian God who was killed by his Brother Set and thrown into the Nile. His wife cried so may tears that the Nile flooded and now the Nile floods every year." We kept on walking, but I smiled and thought to myself "A+."
Here are a couple of great read-aloud references:
These next two are recent blog posts by mom's who have been reading to their children longer than I have, and have a thing or two to say about what they have learned.
Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.
Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."
Three little boy butts lined up in a row,
In the pew between their Daddy and me.
That's how we began the Mother's Day show
At the church just down the street.
We decided to bring our boys into "big church" with us this past Sunday morning. It was Mother's Day, after all. It went better than I had expected, and poorly enough to have caused some measure of embarrassment. You see, before you get any false notions about what sort of boys we paraded into our traditional (a.k.a. geriatric) service, know that our boys are not the quiet, orderly, hands-in-their-lap sort of boys. They are roughians. Animals. Strong-willed beasts that try our boundaries and our nerves at every turn. SITTING IN CHURCH WITH THEM FOR AN HOUR WAS NOT A PLEASANT EXPERIENCE! Not for us, not for them, and likely not for the dear ladies who intermittently patted my shoulder encouragingly throughout the service.
That said, we have decided to have them with us again this coming Sunday. And the next. And the next. Since we're at church for two services it works for the boys to be with us the first hour, then attend their Sunday School class afterwards. But the question remains, WHY? Why not wait a few more years before bringing them into "big church"? Why not wait until they are a bit more... well, mature?
Why? Because of that itty-bitty "yet," at the end of my pronounced exclamation above.
I have realized slowly over the past 12 months that I am waiting for the boys to experience some miraculous transformation, through the passage of time; a maturing to happen if you will. But what has hit me is that maturity doesn't happen naturally. Look at the adolescence all around us in our culture today. Maturing is done to them. Maturity happens when just the right amount of pressure is applied. A purposeful, loving, encouraging, hope-filled pressure as new responsibilities are added upon their capable shoulders.
My husband and I have committed to raising them, training them, and bringing them up to maturity. To manhood.
Sally Clarkson often says , something along the lines of, "Without the influence of parents, children will go the way of their culture." So, you see, I want to influence my children into maturity. Into the folding of little hands. Into the "Yes, Ma'am" and "Thank you, Sir," eye contact and good listening ears. I want to graciously apply instruction, and higher and higher expectations, and nobler and nobler admonitions. "You can do this!" I want them to hear my voice as I place the challenge of maturity upon their young shoulders. "You are able to sit here by my side for 45 minutes and do what others around you are able to do... listen. And if you can't bring yourself to listen, you must simply practice self-control and. sit. still."
The one on his Father's right yawns dramatically, with arms outstretched. The middle oneslides off the pew and sinks down to the ground. The last in line is by my side, and looks up at me with a pained expression.
I smile, remembering the warmth of my own Mama's body, holding me close in church. And so I reach around him, pat his other side so that he's tucked tight against me. Just the right amount of pressure, indeed.
Before you begin, let me say that most of this story is ficticious. It is a story that wrote itself one character at a time, starting somewhere around the middle, blooming out from there. It begs me ask myself, each time I read through these testimonies, "who am I sharing Christ with? Who am I linking up with? I don't want to miss out on this!"
My name’s Evelyn Brouer.
I was married in 1901 to a handsome Dutchman in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both our parents were immigrants and we came from large families. We ourselves had five sons. The oldest of them was Robert. I can’t fathom what made us have more children after him, even though we’d wanted a large family.
You see Robert was awful colicky. I don’t think I slept the first year of his life. There were only a few things that could calm the child. Nursing, of course, his favorite rattle, long walks in his pram, and listening to me read the Bible. He’d sit still and calm as long as I read. Can you believe in that first year of his life, I read the entire Bible aloud to him. Genesis to Revelation. My husband would come home and find us reading, in Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1 Samuel, Haggai, Proverbs, Psalms, Matthew, Ephesians… “You say the child has colic, I say Robert was just crying out to hear the Word of God.”
Watching him grow up was like watching a miracle take place. As though the Word of God had taken root in his young life. He hungered to hear it, to study it, to share it. Every time I hear him preach now, I think back to the hours of reading we did that first year, and how his infant fits would cease.
George is the name.
After my Father left during The Depression, my mom and I barely held things together by working odd jobs and taking most of our meals at the church. We helped to serve those less fortunate than ourselves and then got a serving each day as well. It got us through.
What really got us through though, was what Pastor Brouer had to say each meal. Every day, after he blessed the food, ole Brother Robert would tell all those hungry men and women, boys and girls, grandmas and grandpas how Jesus was the bread of Heaven and the living water. He said that people who eat regular food and drink regular water just get hungry again, but people who feast on God’s Word are satisfied with eternal gifts.
By the time I heard that message 100 times I could give the sermon myself, and so I did. You see, I believed it. The truth that God’s love was enough to satisfy the hungriest soul became my bread, and I told my mom that I was going to tell everyone I met. We didn’t have the money ever to send me to Bible School, I hadn’t even finished my primary schooling before going to work as a plumber. But everywhere I went in my job I felt God nudge me, as if saying, “Here’s another hungry, thirsty person for you, George! They need the bread of life.”
The Depression’s been over most of my life now, but the need for food, (good hot, soul-satisfying food), is as needed now as ever.
Hi, I’m Joe.
I’m a family man mostly, not very handy around the house, but I always made enough money to hire help when something broke. One day, many years ago, (let’s see it was 1948 and my daughter Nancy was just turned two), well on that day I’d hired a man to come in and do some work on my front bathroom. The man’s name was George.
Well, after George did his job he asked if he could share with me something that was important to him. I thought it was a strange request but he was a friendly fella and I was curious. Turns out, this young man was a Christian and felt led to tell me how I could have a relationship with God too. He said that God sent his Son Jesus to earth to live a perfect life because I couldn’t. He said that when Jesus died on the cross He wasn’t dying for His sins, He was dying for mine. And all I had to do was believe He did that for me so that I could be forgiven.
Now, I knew I’d sinned. I didn’t need this young man to convince me of that. I’d been to war and back by 1948 and now I was raising a family and knew I needed help. My wife knew we needed help too, but neither of us knew much about Jesus. By the time George and I finished talking, the sun had gone down. He gave me the name and address of his church and two days later my wife dressed up our little girl in her prettiest dress, and I took us all to church. Nancy doesn’t remember our family before we were church-going folks. Boy did she love her Sunday school classes! She took to Jesus real natural-like. All her teachers said so. I think it was in hearing her tell us her Sunday school lessons each week where I started to understand those things I’d been hearing from the pulpit. Took my child to make me get it though.
Hello, my name is Nancy.
I grew up in the church. Always loved helping in the nursery, once I was old enough. I went to College for a year or two after high school to be a teacher, but all I really wanted was a family. When I met and married Jim we started a family right away and I didn’t think about teaching again.
I’ve spent the majority of my life taking care of my family now. Raising them was everything to me. My home’s still set up for children, even though my youngest child just married a sweet boy and moved to Florida for his job. But my home looks like I have little ones over every day. The cupboard with the puzzles and games still pops open slightly. It’s just that full.
I have four grandchildren nearby; three grandsons and one granddaughter… but it’s not a full time job the way it was when my kids were young. Not that I’d have the energy for that now. My husband is still working, but we know that retirement is coming sometime soon and there should be money enough for us and possibly some traveling. And I still love to cook and keep the house and have friends over for dinner, and go to Tuesday morning Bible Study with my old gang. You see, I still stay very busy. But it’s not been easy, this transition… for a number of years now.
I’m not a full-time mom anymore. What I always felt was my personal calling in life is over. I don’t have a career… So what am I? I wonder if God has something special for me to do in this Season of my life. Is there something He’s planned for me to do? I don’t want to miss it, because I want it to count. My life, that is… I want it to count. I feel like raising my children counted.
Recently I had a thought, though I haven’t done anything about it yet. I’ve been thinking of helping at our churches inner-city tutoring program. Like I said, there was a time I wanted to be a teacher and I always loved helping my kids with their schoolwork. I’m thinking of signing up to teach English as a second language to Spanish speaking women. Just once a week. I know it won’t fill up all of my time, but it seems like a good place to start.
Hola, me llamo es Ilma.
Hello, my name es Ilma… is Ilma. I come from Mexico City and live with my Sister’s family in Houston, Texas. I learned to speak English on Tuesday morning with Nancy. She teach me to speak English and she teach me also about Jesus. I knew about him before on the cross, we all wear crosses and pray to him and to Mary. But I did never know that He is alive and that He calls out to me to follow Him.
I have exciting hope now. He no longer is on the cross. You see, I don’t wear a crucifix anymore. My cross is empty. I speak Spanish to my family about what Nancy has taught me, and I read my Bible (en Espanol.) I want one day to see I teach another about Jesus, like Nancy teach me about Jesus. I want that, very much. But today I just pray for the family I work for. Their children do not know Jesus. Maybe one day I will tell them, and they can have this happy hope too.
Hello, my name’s Afshin.
I was raised in a Muslim home in Houston, Texas. I never went looking for Jesus, but it seems to me that God came looking for me. Not directly, necessarily, but He had a plan no doubt. It’s too obvious that He had a plan to get ahold of me.
I must have been about 10 when our housekeeper, Ilma, left our family. She’d been with us for years, and I remember her crying when she said goodbye. She gave me a Bible that day, which I thought was strange since we were Muslim, but I put it in my closet.
About 8 years later, when I was packing for College, I found that Bible. And I read it during my freshman year. And amazingly, I believed what I read. I didn’t understand it all, but I believed it. That’s when I started going to church and making friends with Christians. After College I started speaking at Christian youth outreaches and sharing my testimony and telling kids how they could have a relationship with Jesus too… no matter what their background or what their family believed.
My name’s Ben.
I’d heard it all before. Growing up in a Christian home I heard it my whole life. I believed there was a God and that He lived in my heart before I knew what a heart was. But I believed it all without question, because my family believed and I never knew any different. Then in High School I saw how big the world was and how many different people and places and faiths there were and I wanted it all to be okay. You know? I wanted my Jewish friends, and my friends that thought it all started from some primordial goo billions of years ago, and my Muslim friends… I wanted to just accept it all as being alright. That God wasn’t going to punish some people for believing different things. I guess I started to think that all roads could lead to Heaven.
Then one day I was with my high school church group and this guy came to share with us about how he came to faith in Jesus from a Muslim home. And I know he didn’t say things I hadn’t heard before, but somehow, this time, the words made sense. I understood that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, to forgiveness, to a forever life with God. And I didn’t see it as exclusive anymore. Like I had the right thing, but everyone else wasn’t allowed into my club. But I understood that Jesus came for all of us. And if I was going to choose to believe in Jesus, as Savior of the world, then I was going to have to take Him to all of the people around me. Not because my religion is better than theirs, but because my Savior can save anyone, anywhere, from any religion. I changed that day. Radically changed.
My name is Gramma Ethel Higgins.
I’m Ben’s Gramma. My Grandson always called to tell me what God was busy doing in his life. I remember him calling when he led a neighborhood friend of his to Jesus. Then there was the time he called to read me his school project that he’d written, specifically because he wanted to tell his teacher and classmates about how Jesus Saves. “Jesus Saves”, that was the title of his report.
And I remember the Saturday morning he called to tell me all about his trip to Peru that was coming up. He was only 14, and he said that he was excited that God was calling him to do something very clear. He told me that he wanted to see multitudes come to Christ. I’ll remember that always, “multitudes” he said. I listened and as always I wanted to help, so I told him to send me a support letter, and I’d help get him there.
Months later, after he’d returned home I got another call. It’s was Ben, but he somehow sounded much older. His voice was strong and sure; O I know I’m just a Gramma, but I could tell that my boy had grown up into a man that summer. It didn’t surprise me when he called again to tell me that he’d be going back the next summer. Again I knew my part was to give money to get him there. It was a joy to do that small part in helping him tell others about Jesus.
But the call I wish never came, was the one from his Dad, my son, telling me that Ben had come home from Peru very sick this time. He’d contracted an infection and was getting sicker by the day. We knew, all of us did, that BJ would have opposition from our enemy. We just didn’t know that it would cost him his young life. He suffered for a couple of weeks in the hospital and then went on to glory.
Hello, my name is Adelogonda.
I am from Peru, in the city of Tumbes. I was a giggly girl with all my friends the day God spoke to me. At school we were taken out into the courtyard to watch a show. They were students from America, and our teacher wanted us to listen to their English and then talk with them afterwards, to practice our English. So they did their show. There was a fight between Jesus and Satan and I watched them with their swords, and I knew in my heart that their story was about me. After the play a boy got up. He was smaller than a man, but talked like a man with something important to say. And he told us, he told me, about my sin. He was not unkind, but loving. And he said that God loves me and wants to have a friendship with me, and He can clean me from all my sin. I wanted… this.
Afterwards I was with my giggling girlfriends, and the same young man walked right up to us and asked us if we wanted to accept this gift that Jesus came to give us. He told us all these things again, and all five of us girls said yes, and prayed to receive Jesus as our Lord that day.
I knew that it was big in my life, but I didn’t know what I would do when I got home. My family all goes to the church together, to mass. But I never understood any of it. I did not think anyone, except maybe my Abuelita, did. So I did not plan on telling anyone.
When I got home from school, my Father was sitting at the table with my Mother and Grandmother and Aunts and Uncle, and my little Brothers, and they were all leaning over the table looking at something together. When I came in my Father looked up and waved me over to him. His eyes were red and I was scared that maybe someone had died and was lying there on our table. I looked for my littlest brother and he was standing nearby, so I wasn’t worried it was him. I remember that.
When I came up beside my Father I saw that there on the table were Bible papers telling the same story of God’s love and forgiveness that I had heard that day. My Father had been at work that morning in the city and these same Americans had acted out their show in the square where my Father is a policeman. He had told them they could use the square for 20 minutes. They set up and did their play and everyone stopped what they were doing and watched and listened. So did my Father. And… He said that the story they told was about him. And afterwards, as the American actors talked to all of the people who had watched their show, “a small boy,” he said, “who talked more like a man, came up to me and asked me if I know this Jesus, who takes away the sin of the world.”
I began to cry, because I knew it was the same boy-man who had come and talked with me. And that night my Father told the story and read the papers he was given to us all, and our entire family believed together.
I do not know what to do now. Everything has changed for me and for my family. I do not know what God wants from me, but I am not afraid. This battle I knew was going on in my heart is all done. In its place is a new power. I must tell others about Him. Like He got down deep in my heart and is now trying to get out… out to others.
My name is Carmen.
My neighbor Adelagonda is such a sweet friend, and I can tell she is changed by this new faith in her. She tells me and tells me about Jesus and what he can do in my heart. I knew my heart and I knew that she spoke of something wonderful, but she didn't know me like she thought she did. There are things I have done… Anyway, I tell her no. No thank you, Adelagonda. I am so happy for you. But no.
One day she came to me and said she’d dreamed of me. And she saw a necklace, like this… linked together. I was a link she said. But my link was broken. She cried. And I cried to, but I think I cried more for her than for me. I was sorry I could not believe.
It was four years later when my Mother died that I started wondering about God again. My Mother was always faithful going to Mass and she prayed for me, but I didn’t want what she and Adelagonda were offering me, until then.
When my Mother died I felt very much alone. My sin and my shame were always with me, but with my Mother gone, it was too difficult for me to bear. I went to Adelagona’s Mother, since my friend was not at home anymore but living in another city. Adelagonda’s Mother told me about Jesus being with us forever, and we are not alone, and we don’t need to keep feeling bad about our past sins. We can be forgiven. And so I prayed to God, telling Him that I was sorry it had taken me so long, but I believe now. I finally saw that Jesus could forgive me, because He died for me. I am not alone now. I am very much not alone now. I am free.
I began this story a few years ago. As it builds upon itself, one person's testimony linking up to the next, I am inspired anew.
One person’s faith to step out and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t stop with one redeemed life. The passage of faith continues, affecting generations for the Kingdom of God. So be the one, who by the power of the One, shares with one… then pray for the many.
"While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. But some were indignantly remarking to one another, "Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they were scolding her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her."" (Mark 14:3-9 NASB)
There are stories from the Bible we could perfectly tell on cue, so familiar with them we are. The above scripture is one of those for me. And then a new day dawns and another layer is pealed back, new applications sting with Heaven's challenges in this Christian life.
This morning I read these verses about the woman who anointed Jesus' body with very costly perfume. And I thought to myself, "Do I give generously to Christ, by giving to others because I am His disciple?"
My first response was "Yes, hello... I'm a Mom!" And then I felt an immediate prick as I thought the words "but do I pour our my sacrifice joyfully, thankfully?"
And I thought of the verse "let your light so shine before man, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven!"
As I sacrifice, pouring out all of my resources in service to the little recipients within our home, am I doing so as unto The Lord? Is my light shining?
"Do everything without complaining or grumbling, that you may become blameless and pure children of God."
Do I look like the child of God that I already am? Is my light shining? Is my sacrifice of costly perfume fragrant? Does the aroma rise Heavenward toward the One who gave all He had for the Salvation of our souls? And does the aroma waft through our home and into the nostrils or our little ones, my husband, our neighbors, and those in need of Jesus all around us every day?
How sweet is my sacrifice?
"That they may see your good works and glorify our father in Heaven."
This morning after I took my shower I stood before my mirror applying a battery of moisturizing arsenal. After soothing my pricey eye cream into the fine lines around my aging eyes I applied a bit more to my upper lip where little wrinkles have started forming. I pursed my lips and watched the lines sink deeper still.
30 years ago, when smoking was all the rage, ladies called these lines "smoker's lips." In our mothering generation I've heard them referred to as water bottle lines. We carry around our water bottles, pursing our lips to take sips all day long. But I wonder, sadly, should we call these new wrinkles "disgruntled mother lines?" Have you ever caught your reflection in the rearview mirror of your car, or a window in your home? Pursed lips, unwelcoming eyes, the proof that your sacrifice has cost you your joy and your love...
Has your sacrifice lost it's fragrant aroma?
I want joyful laugh lines framing my eyes and crowning my lips. O how sweet it should be, to pour out our lives, our love in a display of the most costly sacrifice. As unto the Lord Himself. How very sweet it should be.
Mama and Teacher
We've bounced around educationally these past few years, trying to find the right fit for our family. It's always right about now (late winter to early spring) when I start praying, researching, seeking another educational alternative for our family. This year, however, I am happy to say we are staying put in our HOME SCHOOL! While I am sure we will tweak curriculum and class-day co-ops here and there, I am thrilled to have such surety about the foreseeable future. I honestly didn't expect to love learning with my boys this much.
One of the big things we were part of this first year was a group called Classical Conversations. For 24 weeks children (and parents) study History, Grammar, Science, Math, and Latin together through a Classical format. At this stage with young ones that means tons of memorization work. Caleb, now 9, understands much more about what he is memorizing than his pre-school aged brother, but we are all going through the information together.
I confess that doing this class-day each week on top of our full at-home curriculum was a lot for me this first year in the trenches. Truthfully, I wasn't sure I'd take it all on again next year. The worst part for me this year was the guilt I felt that I wasn't doing as a good of a job as the other Classical Conversation moms around me. They were reading more books to reinforce the history learning and practicing their memory more diligently. For goodness' sake, I simply wanted my children to come joyfully to the school table when they were called!
That said, I wasn't sure I was going to be doing Classical Conversations again next year. And then suddenly something wonderful happened. A couple of somethings, actually! First of all, I was dumbfounded to find that my 3rd grader actually had memorized nearly all of his history and science sentences! And the facts we had tucked away began popping up in our conversations together. Then my middle-est, who doesn't like class-days ANYWHERE and fights me tooth and nail to be part of any community, started enjoying our CC days. But the final straw was Dr. Suess! Seriously! I was reading to my pre-schooler one night recently, "HOP ON POP" by Dr. Suess and the last page ended with "CONSTANTINOPLE and TIMBUKTU."
I gasped and said, "Asher, you know about Constantinople! Who was the Emperor who founded Constantinople?"
"Emperor Constantine," he answered rather matter of fact.
"What was it that Emperor Constantine did?" I asked.
"He legalized Christianity." Asher smiled, quite proud of himself, I think,
"And Timbuktu... Asher, do you remember studying Timbuktu on the map? It's in West Africa."
"Yep," he responded, "The Songhei ruled Timbuktu."
I know my pre-K'er isn't heading off to Stanford or Yale tomorrow because he can put together bits of information, but I saw fruit hanging from this grid of knowledge we have begun forming this first year. And Classical Conversations has been a huge part of that!
And so I've signed our family up again, ordered the Cycle Two curriculum, and feel peace. The best part of all. Peace.
If the examples above pushed me over the edge to commit to another year of Classical Conversations, then the dialogue I enjoyed with my 3rd grader last week was icing on the cake and sweet confirmation. We had just began reading through the second volume of The Story of the World over lunch, diving straight into the Middle Ages. I pulled out a coloring book of beautiful, intricately drawn Castles that I had purchased months ago and hid away until this time in our History lessons. Beneath each picture was the name of the specific castle, along with the location and some brief history. As we turned each page I asked Caleb if the location had been part of the Roman Empire (which we had just wrapped up learning about).
"This castle is in France," I said.
"It was called Gaul when the Romans were there," Caleb replied.
"What about this one?" I asked.
"Yep... but it was known as Germania not Germany?
"And these two?"
"Yes, and yes... they're in Britain. Don't you remember, Mom? The British didn't like the Romans and they'd paint themselves blue and come out to fight the Romans all naked!
Once again, he's not writing a thesis paper for his Master's Degree, but we are learning! Learning! It's such a miracle to get to do it together. And a greater miracle still that we know we'll be doing it again next year! (sigh)
We're coming near the end of our first homeschool year and so I've decided to write a short series on what we are doing, what we have learned, and where we are heading. Because I spent some fun learning time with my preschooler today, and because I have more experience homeschooling little tykes than big ones, I will start with this topic: Homeschooling a Preschooler.
Really, I should call this post "playing games" instead, since that is where learning happens for these little tigers. While I have used the Hooked on Phonics set Hooked on Kindergarten with all three of my boys, the pre-reading stage is all play-based, with a little help from Leap Frog's animated DVD, "The Letter Factory."
Once they know many of their letters and the sounds they make, I design their first "treat game" board. I get a large white craft board and make a train of letters, numbers, short words, and common blends like th, sh, ch, and br. We grab a spinner from one of their other board games, a little toy to mark where they are on the board, and a small bowl of "treats."
They spin, they count, they move their marker around the board. When they land on a letter they say, "A, an A says ah, for apple... Z, a Z says zzz for zebra... P, and P says p for popcorn..." When they land on a short word, they work on sounding it out. When they land on a blend they don't yet know, I simply have them repeat the sound after me. When they land on a number they tell me the number, sometimes count to it, and sometimes trace it with their pointer finger. As for the treats, sometimes they get one every time they get an answer correct, other times I give them one special treat when they've made it to the end of the game. Today my big guy didn't use a spinner, instead he read every letter and number and word along the train, and then got to finish up the rest of his Easter candy.
When an older brother wants to play along I let him, but each letter needs to be a noun, every number is multiplied, and each word must be made into a sentence with a subject and predicate. Ha! But today it was just a little game with my youngest.
Another of our favorite games is "Stack the Numbers." As with "The Treat Game," we use "Stack the Numbers" once the child is mildly familiar with their numbers. Write one number on each index card. Begin with numbers 1 - 10, then arrange them out of order for the youngling to pick up in order. Right now my preschooler is mastering numbers 1-30, as well as counting by 10s from 10-200.
Here are some pictures from a couple of years ago, when my middle-est was working on Numbers 1-50.
The last ingredient while growing kids at home, whether you are home schooling, private schooling or public schooling, is to read aloud to them liberally, no matter their age. Since my boys struggle listening to a good book together (insert: hitting, crying, complaining, trying to make each other laugh, doing back flips), this is not always a peaceful, enjoyable experience for their dad and me. However, as we work on their manners they are learning to recieve this gift that is key to both bonding and learning at home.
Our last Read-Aloud was Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingals Wilder. Today I picked up The Apple and the Arrow - The Legend of William Tell by Mary and Conrad Buff, for my husband to read with the boys this weekend while I'm gone on a women's retreat. I'm sure there will be much archery and tree-house designing while I am away, so I thought a Father-Son story would be perfect.
I am by no means an expert in this homeschooling thing. But now that my oldest two are 9 and 7, I often look back for inspiration to these early days, simply playing, being together, and learning along the way.
Spring, O Bloom,
Bloom forth in me!
Lifts up to Thee.
And Deep Core Seed.
All of Me,
Yes, All of Me.
Raised up to Thee.
I took a moment today, in between the teaching and the laundry, foregoing another sink full of dishes to walk out into my garden. Discovering new blooms within the dark green spring-leaves of my rose bushes each day has brought me so much joy these past two weeks. It's silly how much, really. I wonder if it is because our home is so noisy and I am the only girl within it that I long for beauty. Or maybe it's just the private places in my heart that the Lord made that way.
One of my 8 rose bushes alone had 24 enormous buds just days away from opening. So I cut all of the perfectly unfurled ones and brought them inside. Vase after vase.
The dishes were all still waiting for me when I came in, and somehow three little people were all hungry again. These beauties don't erase the busy necessities all around, but they do add a fragrance. A fragrance that reminds me of my Grandma, and a beauty that heralds I remember that I am a girl here within this house full of boys. Each day as the sun rises higher and higher, these bouquets of creation brought within tease me to break away again and find the warmth of a new day, new blessings, new kind words. All things beautiful.
All of me,
Yes, All of Me.
Raised up to Thee.
I never thought myself a formula girl until I had babies. No, I'm not talking about Infant Formulas -not Enfamil, Similac, or Bright Beginnings. I mean that blessed equation where a+b = c. Every time. ALWAYS! This is what my ingrained equation looked like when I popped out my three boys: If I wake up each morning and use tender words with my children, set up the easel often, bake homemade cookies, read Bible stories, gently correct, consistently train, always point out my own shortcomings and ask for their forgiveness, put down my smart phone to play dumb little games, give them warm baths and read more books, give them vitamins and take naps together.... If I do all these wonderful, praiseworthy parenting tasks THEN I CAN BE SURE I will get the right response from my children.
I do this, you do that in return. I feed you healthy food, you have a healthy body. I point you to God by modeling grace and teaching you about Jesus, and you grow to love God too. Yes, I love formulas... I won't lie! But we aren't cookie cutters... not them and not us. Formulas might work if it weren't for the age old sin issue we all struggle with. Our dear little loves are sinners from the start. And what about us?
But parenting, no matter how consistent we are, is not a formula. There are gigantic true things that every little developing person needs from their parents, but we can't add all those ingredients into a pot, mix them up with lots of kisses and expect things to turn out just so. Sometimes days they do, but most days they don't.
And I'm not the only one looking for specific answers to each battle scenario, I am certain of that! Just this past February I went to a conference for Mothers hosted by Sally Clarkson. It was my second time at her MomHeart Conference, though her book The Mission of Motherhood has been my favorite Mom-book of all time! Anyway, here's the point, this is why I'm sure that I am not alone in this passionate drive for parental formulas... Every time Sally opened up the floor to questions one woman after another would begin with "What would you do if..." or "Can you give me an example of what this grace-based parenting looks like when a child is..." and the best request of all began "Can you maybe role-play, you and your husband, what you would do if..."
Sally and Clay looked at one another like dears in the headlights of a frenzied car. Aren't we frenzied sometimes as we search for the answers that will lead our children to life, and our home into the blessing of peace as we enjoy each other? After a few awkward moments Sally took the mic and graciously said something along these lines, "I can't show you what it looks like because we all have different issues. But let me ask you, what do your children see when they look in your eyes?"
It was the question of the week for me? What do my children see when they look into my eyes? Because it has everything to do with the blessed formula that can answer any and all questions, calm all fits, and always point our children toward Jesus. Love. Love must be the lens through which we see our beloved ones, and love must be what they see in our eyes as they look back up to us.
And still, don't you want to ask "But what does it look like?"
When my children wake up and negative, hurtful words are again the first thing out of their mouths. What does love look like when all of our consequences and encouragement seem to do nothing? What do I do when they continue to disobey at the table and hit one another and run away shouting "NO!" when I call them to grab their shoes and hop in the car? What do love beams shining from your eyes look like when these are the scenarios that string together to make up our long days?
It looks like endurance, it looks like perseverance, it looks like courage, it looks like faith. It looks like Galatians 6:9, "Do not grow weary while doing good, in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." It looks like James 1:2-4, "Consider pure joy my brothers and sisters when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." And Romans 5:3-5, "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." It looks like Philippians 3:14, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." And 1 Corinthians 9:24, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize."
The goal is the prize and the prize is LOVE! The harvest is brought in through love, and love is perfected in us as we persevere through adversity, pressing on. Love, love, persevere, love, love, persevere and then love some more.
It was the end of a long week and all 3 boys were weary and raged, and here I was trying to fit a quick trip to the grocery store into their exhausting afternoon. They yelled for things, cried at me, ran up and down aisles, and hit at each other. I would have loved to turn around and go straight home, but there was no other chance for me to get the shopping done.
I felt attacked and upset at them for making my life so difficult. And I blew it! To make matters worse, this was the weekend I was scheduled to go away for a writing retreat. My husband was taking the boys for a fun filled weekend at “Grandpa’s lake house”, while I got the time, space, and quiet I needed to write, uninterrupted. My intended subject: Raising boys with lots of love (insert laughter). Now on the cusp of my retreat I was as depleted as my little charges. In an instant I lost all patience with their childishness and cries, I knew they needed a quiet house and a quiet mom to usher them into a quiet evening, but I was spent.
In the car I scolded them good, started the engine and headed home. Within minutes they were all three of them sound asleep, and in the silence I had longed for conviction came quickly. I pulled into the driveway and unpacked the trunk, as they continued to sleep. I called my dad, whom I felt needed a heads up concerning my sleep-deprived hooligans, but as soon as he answered the phone I cried, “How can I write to women? How can I encourage them to raise their children when I can’t even train my own? Let alone endure them some days? I have nothing to write, I have nothing to say.” I felt taken out of the ministry God had opened up before me. Disqualified. I had grown weary and lost heart. After a long pause I said it again, “I have nothing to say, nothing to write.” My Dad’s response was gentle. “No, you have something to say, you just don’t like it. You want to be a Perfect Prophet.”
“A Perfect Prophet?” I thought for a moment, “Yes, I do!” I’d much rather be the well-spoken, put together mom, with words like honey dripping from her lips, who encourages others out of her reservoir of perfectness… not from all that’s lacking in her life. But this is the truth: Only Christ was perfect. The rest of us are simply in need of His perfection, that He might exchange it for our brokenness.
We are not perfect… but we are redeemed! I’ve sinned and fallen short of His Glory, all of us have gone astray, messed up, lost heart, grown weary, lacked faith, and denied Him by denying love to others. It was for this very reason Christ died. And, for the purpose of saving sinners all around us, he continues to Call His redeemed bearers of light out into the world today. But we say no to going because we feel we’ve disqualified ourselves. We wait to be more like Him before we “go!” But He doesn’t perfect us before He calls us, and He’s not done with us by the time we’re sent. Instead, He perfects us along the way. He transforms us by the renewing of our mind and the sanctifying power of His Spirit as we walk with Him. There was only one Perfect Prophet. Only One. But when we surrender our lives to Him, we can become, “Perfectly profitable” to all He has planned.
May you feel encouraged today to be a blessing to those around you, even in your imperfections.