Archive for April 2013

Picking up the Playroom

I was in the kitchen this morning and heard a noise that sounded like Duplos being dumped out-- and I knew there were already little Legos all over the rug. Fortunately for today, the noise was just another toy being moved and we didn't have a huge mess to pick up (or a "big and big and big" mess, as the boys say to mean gigantic).

But I started thinking about all the other times that we've had every toy bin dumped out at once, plus a bunch of blankets out (remnants of forts). It's overwhelming and my boys are way too young for me to just say, "Pick all this up!" They help, but it's too much for them on their own. And even with help, they need really specific directions. We tend to work from biggest to smallest category and only work on one toy group at a time. I imagine that many of you straighten up this way (stuffed animals, then cars, then plastic animals, then Legos, etc).

It struck me that God sort of cleans me up like this. When my heart was drawn to Him, I'd sort of thrown everything out on the floor. I was, as we often say, a mess.

And it's the big things that go first. For me, that was self-injury and porn. Big stuff. The obvious, dangerous, "trip over this toy in the dark and you break an arm" kind of stuff.

Then it's on to the little things. And while the big stuff tends to require a lot of energy and real effort to get rid of, it's the smaller stuff I resist changing.

When God starts wanting to prune out EVERYTHING that doesn't bear fruit, every little dead twig, I balk. I did it this weekend with a book I just knew I shouldn't start and because I could find ways to justify it, I kept reading, and it consumed me. It separated me, if not from the fact of God, from the peace of God in my spirit. And that's a terrible thing. The presence of God is something I treasure, something that is precious and vital to me. I, and everyone around me, suffers when I'm cutting myself off from that through disobedience.

There's a temptation when cleaning up a playroom at night to just leave some of it for the morning. To pick up the big stuff, shove the little pieces out of the middle of the floor (or into the middle in a pile, haha) and go to bed. Maybe, on a practical level, one of the better arguments for cleaning up before dinner? But while big things are legitimately dangerous, we shouldn't let the obvious dangers discount the real pain in neglecting the little stuff. And if you step on them unawares, those little Lego pieces (or tiny Barbie shoes) hurt like hell.

This isn't a call to feel overwhelmed by the mess. God, like a good parent, will offer help and wise direction in cleaning it up. He loves us. He wants us to be at peace and secure in Him. But this is a call to stop reasoning away the little bits of mess. This is a call to stop justifying your neglect of those tiny toys that litter the floor when He's nudging your spirit with the command to just put it away.

Maybe it's not a sin for somebody else. Maybe it's a sin for everyone. Maybe it's gossip. Maybe it's gluttony. Maybe it's reading that book that is permissible but not beneficial for you right now. Put it away.

The boys and I have been reading "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence (that's the copy we have, but you can find it online for free legally). For them, it's just practice sitting and listening to something without pictures, but it's so good for me to be reading. Today, this was in the section we read (emphasis mine):

Spending time in God's presence doesn't weaken the body. Leaving the seemingly innocent and permissible pleasures of the world for a time will, on the contrary, give us comfort. In fact, God won't allow a soul that is searching for Him to be comforted anywhere other than with Him.
-Third Letter, "The Practice of the Presence of God "

This can be time you spend in God's presence while you work. While you eat. While you drive. But it must be intentional. Things that remove you, as my book did for me, from your ability to come before God in your heart are a problem. Stuff left on the floor in the middle of the night, just waiting for you to step on in the morning and leave you with a sore foot for the day, is a problem.

Maybe you're a point right now where your battles are obvious. Maybe they're struggles that take a lot of your energy and you are daily, hourly, falling on God's grace and it's taking all you've got to just hang on while He cleans up the big stuff. That's okay. I'd say to you, don't sweat the small stuff. God will deal with it when He deals with it. 

But some of us? Maybe we need to stop acting like our battle days are behind us. Maybe some of us should be sweating the small stuff. I know, I know we don't earn our salvation. But my heart is "prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love." We must make an effort to remember what is good, what is true, where our peace comes from and where our hope lies. 

What are you dealing with right now? What "little toys" is God telling you to pick up today?

Happy Birthday, I Guess?

Sam, whose birthday is in October, sang over his oatmeal this morning:

It's my present
It's my party
I'm not crying anymore.

So, there's that.

Taco Potato Casserole

Today, I was staring in my fridge trying to decide how to heat up stuff for lunch. We had raw, diced up potatoes from home fries last night and shredded cooked chicken left over from drumsticks. I opened the cabinet to see what we had that I could add because I wasn't really in the mood for home fries again or to stand there for thirty minutes to make fried hash browns (I would have had to do two batches). There was some taco seasoning and I ended up throwing this together and it was SO GOOD. It did take an hour to cook, so in the future, it'll probably be a dinner or something mixed in advance.

Also, forgot to take pictures. :/ Bummer.

And just realized, you could totally do this without chicken. Add another veggie (like corn), or serve it as a side with just the potatoes, or add a can of pinto beans!

Taco Potato Casserole

4 large potatoes, diced (or 6 medium)
2-3 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp. minced garlic (or 2 fresh minced cloves)
1 packet taco seasoning
2-3 oz. cheddar cheese
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. chicken bouillon
½ c. water
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper  

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with oil.

Use large bowl with lid, add all ingredients to the bowl, put the lid on, and shake it until everything thoroughly mixed and coated. Put in 9x13 dish, cover with foil, bake for one hour. Remove foil, bake three to five minutes to get top crispy.

Blogger's Choice - Homeschool Blog Hop

This is the final post in the homeschool blog hop and it's blogger's choice. I debated about what exactly to write for this and I decided to do a mix (ha, like every other post). First, I'd like to talk a bit about classical education for preschoolers because I somehow totally forgot to write about it when I was talking about homeschool style. And this philosophy is pretty much it for us. 

First, watch this video:

Théoden is thirty months old. Two-and-a-half years. He loves to read Freight Train. So does Sam, actually, but he's a bit more shy whenever I get the camera out. But almost anybody watching this video could tell you that he's not really reading. He's reciting. For half the book, he's watching himself on the iPod screen and not even looking at the pages. And that's not a bad thing.

Classical education for preschoolers (through fourth grade, really) is the first leg of the classical trivium known as the "grammar phase." It's not one in which we especially focus on English but a phase of learning in which we focus on rules. I recommend Susan Wise Bauer's The Well Trained Mind, and I've grabbed this excerpt explaining the grammar stage from the book's website:

In the elementary school years — what we commonly think of as grades one through four — the mind is ready to absorb information. Children at this age actually find memorization fun. So during this period, education involves not self-expression and self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts. Rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics — the list goes on.
-Susan Wise Bauer on Classical Education

So, contrary to some popular belief, classical education does not mean reading Plato to your first graders (though some families might go ahead and do that as an exercise in listening and paying attention). For this part of education, it means memorizing. This is why I'm planning to start playing CDs of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables in the next few months so we can learn them and review them.

My kids might be smart, but they won't be geniuses for memorizing 9x7=63. If you're a parent yourself, you already know how early in life kids start imitating and parroting what they hear and see. That doesn't mean understanding is present. The understanding comes later. The understanding is something to build on top of this grammar stage, in classical education theory. This means that the foundational tools of the higher subjects (writing, algebra, chemistry, etc) are so ingrained that they don't have to be reviewed for months at the beginning of every middle school and high school year. 

Théoden isn't reading yet. He does know the alphabet along with more than a dozen sounds that letters make by sight. He has that book memorized, that's for sure. And he's having a blast. He's so proud of himself just for knowing things. Later, he'll want to know why those things are true, what makes them tick, how to use them effectively, and he will learn. He will learn one lesson at a time, with an educational bunker of a foundation underneath him. 

Now for the second part of blogger's choice:

I was homeschooled. I went to college. I graduated. My professors repeatedly told me they liked the homeschooled students. The college accepted my homemade, BOE-stamped transcript (they had guidelines on the website). I took the ACT and the SAT. I got scholarships. 

I did not go to prom or any high school dances, but that was by choice and not because I hadn't been asked (I was, usually by other girls who wanted me along for fun and I just didn't think I'd enjoy it that much). I participated in drama competitions and writing competitions. I babysat. I got a job and then another job. 

I learned my parents' faith and then made a personal decision to follow Christ. I have shared my testimony, I have mentored others, I have participated in college ministry leadership. 

I had (and have) friends from every educational background. I like meeting new people. I watch TV. I love the Word of God. 

And I was not alone. I had siblings and parents and grandparents along the way. I had friends that went to co-op classes with me, went to college alongside me or before or behind me, and graduated. I am not an anomaly. 

If you have questions about navigating high school, feel free to comment or email me for a student's perspective. Homeschooling high school does not equal academic failure in college or limited college options.

Also, you can talk to me in person! You're welcome to come to the Homeschool Blog Hop Q&A, on Saturday, April 27th from 10am-noon. It's being held at Trinity Assembly of God in the Café area. Check out the Facebook event page if you have FB or feel free to email me for directions. It's a bring-your-own-kids-and-snacks event, with possible babysitting provided (kids welcome either way, we're working on babysitting details) and coffee and tea and water.

And then, go check out these ladies and their last blog posts for this series:

Clockwise, from top left:
Lorrie @ Life and Lessons LearnedSelena at Campbell ClanKathleen @ Positive Adoption,
Audrey @ Everything BeautifulCharli @ WV Urban HippiesTracey @ Building My House, and Maria @ The Joyfully Frugal Home 

Not pictured: Jessica @ Redeeming the Home

That's Exactly Where You Live, Son

We've been going over the boys' full names and address with them for practice recently and last night at dinner, we reviewed all the names in our family for fun. I thought I'd see how much of their address they remembered.

Me: What's your address? Do you remember?

Sam: Um... Batman!

Yes, son. We have taught you well.

How I Feel About Socialization

Socialization is the second thing people always ask me about when we're talking about homeschooling (the first is algebra). It's a big concern for people. My feelings on it are, I suppose, pretty strong. I think that instead of just telling you that homeschoolers can and do socialize and the ways in which they do, I'm think I'm going to go over some of the underlying concern that prompts that question. I'm going to tell you what I actually hear when people ask about socialization, and if you have other concerns or think I'm wrong, just tell me!

1. "I'm afraid that my kids will be freaks and no one will like them."

2. "I'm afraid my kids will be so awkward they won't have friends."

3. "I'm afraid my kids will be so shy they won't be able to get jobs."

4. "My kids love their friends and I'm afraid they'll hate me for taking them away from that."

5. "My kid is a social butterfly and I'm afraid he'll suffocate at home."

Do those sound about right? I'm not making fun of them-- they're real concerns. Being socially crippled is lonely. Healthy parents usually don't want that for their child. You should think and work through those concerns and make your decision based not on fear, but on wisdom and understanding.

Here's the thing:

Public school does not equal socialization.

Did you read that? It's true. Think about your own school days. I'm guessing you can think of plenty of kids who seemed socially awkward despite being in public or private schools their entire lives. The idea that homeschooling, in and of itself, creates socially awkward kids is a myth.

Can over-sheltering and cutting kids off from relationships create awkward kids? Sure. But that's more of a family thing, not a school thing. I'm guessing that if you're reading this and concerned about socialization, you're not going to regularly turn down play-dates or opportunities for your kids to be around other kids. You're going to make sure they have chances to see friends. Church, for one, is a great place for that. So are homeschool groups.

Let's look at that again:

Public school does not equal socialization.

Public schools foster a bullying atmosphere in which kids are hyper-sensitive to each other's differences in an effort to weed out the "unlike" parts and fit in. Kids like things that are familiar-- they like things and other kids to be like them. Even mild social shunning has an impact on kids and teachers in public schools cannot and should not be expected to micro-manage children's interactions. You tell me that your five- and seven-year-old can't get along all afternoon and you don't know what to do? Then don't expect your kids' teacher to manage the social interactions of thirty different kids while also teaching them. It's not fair to the teacher.

Do eight-year-olds know better? Maybe not, after all. And this is why public schools do not equal socialization.

Socialization is learning to get along with both your peers and those outside of your peer group. Do you want your child to have productive and beneficial conversations or interactions with their friends and their grandparents? With you and their siblings' friends?

An analogy I mentioned to my mom the other day is that of cooking. You would not reasonably expect a young child to become a good cook by putting them in a kitchen with lots of only other young kids. They will not, in most circumstances, take the ingredients and tools at their disposal and start cooking well. They might manage to eat enough flour and plain fruit to stay alive, sure, but it's not going to be that great for them or really equip them with cooking skills.

How does a child learn to cook? By cooking with someone who already knows how.

Children learn to be healthily socialized in the same way, by learning alongside someone who knows how to socialize. That means watching you-- their parent-- interact with them, with siblings, with the other parent, with the cashier at the grocery store, with a friend, with a mentor. This means getting practice by interacting with their siblings, with you, with a gentleman at the nursing home, with your friends, with their own friends.

They will learn how to be gracious and kind in conversation by watching and hearing you. They will learn by getting that practice with your supervision. Am I advocating that your children never have time with friends away from you and your direct watching eye and listening ear? Of course not. They have to grow up. But this means that the transition period to handling those interactions with wisdom and grace on their own will include you nearby, to prompt and admonish and correct. And I, for one, do not think that this particular kind of wisdom and grace is present in most six-year-olds. If you think it's lacking in most adults nowadays, consider how many of them grew up being socialized in public school?

Is public school the devil? No, of course not. But socialization is often held up by potential homeschoolers or homeschooling opponents as the field most likely to suffer by "keeping kids at home." And every argument against keeping kids at home assumes that the public school offers the best socialization education available and that, at least in this particular field, homeschoolers will have to struggle to keep up.

Which brings us to another aspect of the concern about awkwardness. What if your child is willing to talk to others, capable of talking to others, but is perceived as weird by those around him?

I would argue that kids that have social grace and are still perceived as weird are often labeled such because they are passionate about something that isn't mainstream. They're the kids that love to talk about civil war history or juggling or weather reports or current events in the Middle East. But you know what? Those kids may suffer a bit for their "weirdness," but they are far more likely to find authentic friendship in shared interests than merely having lives populated by acquaintances, even if those friendships don't number as many, and also to be active in job fields or hobbies they are genuinely excited about.

There's a huge belief these days that most of America operates in that one "finds" oneself in college or immediately after. There is, indeed, a period of time for most kids in which they grow to learn things about themselves regardless of background around this point in their lives.

But after being a high school student, a college student, and a post-college graduate, and hundreds of conversations with countless people (not exactly a scientific study, but bear with me), I would say that most of this "finding yourself" business is a result of hundreds of thousands of high school graduates entering college every year with absolutely no idea what they like. There are some who make it through the system without this problem, but I'd guess it's a one to five ratio? And those "ones" were usually the weird kids.

The other kids spent at least the past four years, if not the past twelve, squelching interests or passions that didn't line up with the mainstream, in a system that purports to celebrate individuality. Sure, they might have joined clubs and activities they actually enjoyed, but most of them find out pretty quickly that excited and passionate talking about something only you and one or two other people are interested in gets you labeled as weird.

Why does homeschooling work a bit better in this regard? Because you, the parent, have the opportunity to make an effort to get your kids connected with kids that share interests, instead of just who they happen to be lumped in a classroom with based on district. Because most elementary school kids, removed from the scorn of other kids toward learning, are excited about learning. They will talk to other scorn-free kids and connect with them and by the time they hit high school, they are often confident enough in the validity of their own passions and a few cultivated friendships that either, as introverts, they are content to remain with their circle of friends or, as extroverts, their cheerful confidence draws other kids hungry for friendship to them.

This post is long and it's clearly something I'm passionate about. That might seem a little weird to you (haha, joke-- um, or maybe not). But even if you don't agree with my reasons-- even if you fiercely disagree with them-- take time to think about why you think the public school system provides better socialization. What exactly, do you think the classroom model accomplishes? What time do (or would) your children have that their socialization would be encouraged rather than punished for being disruptive? Lunch? Recess? Bus ride? Thinking about exactly what you expect the school to provide may help you more clearly see the ways that it is actually failing to meet those goals, or conversely, even some ways that you might actually want to emulate it.

But please, take time to get past what you've always been told the school does for kids and think about what it is actually doing, good or bad. Especially when it comes to socialization.

Speaking of socializing, do you want to come hang out with us and ask some questions? You're welcome to come to our Homeschool Q&A at Trinity Assembly of God, this Saturday (April 27th) from 10am-noon. Coffee, tea, and water will be provided, feel free to bring your kids and your own snack. If you're on Facebook, you can RSVP here and get a reminder from FB about the event. Otherwise, feel free to email me or just show up!

And, while you're at it, check out these ladies and what they have to say about socialization today:

Clockwise, from top left:
Lorrie @ Life and Lessons LearnedSelena at Campbell ClanKathleen @ Positive Adoption,
Audrey @ Everything BeautifulCharli @ WV Urban HippiesTracey @ Building My House, and Maria @ The Joyfully Frugal Home 

Also, not pictured, Jessica @ Redeeming the Home

Too Much Technology?

The boys are used to watching shows streaming on amazon or Netflix. If things take a second to start, we tell them, "Be patient, it's loading."

Tonight we were doing our bedtime routine, which includes singing two or three songs. Théoden requested "Blessed Assurance" and Adam asked him if he wanted to start singing.

We sat there for about thirty seconds and Adam prompted, "Théoden?"

Théoden answered, "It's loading?"

Breakfast Theology with Toddlers

The boys were talking about Adam's hair and beard this morning while munching on hashbrowns. Adam decided to introduce a concept (growth) and I think it went in a different direction than we were expecting.

Adam: Baby Lucy has hair. She didn't when she was born and now she does.

Sam: (incredulous) Lucy was born?

Adam: Yes.

Sam: Like baby Jesus?

Adam: Yes! And so were you.

Sam: (with an "I know you're joking" giggle) No!

My Biggest Frustration

My biggest frustration! This is part of the homeschool blog hop I'm doing with several other lovely ladies. Check the end of the post for links to their blogs! I'm posting rather late in the day, but writing anyway!

I feel, unfortunately, like I'm an easily frustrated person in some regards, so this list could be long for me. It's hard for me to quantify levels of frustration to determine "biggest." So, maybe instead of that, I will go over a couple frustrations that seem to take turns being the biggest, dependent on mood and day. Feel free to share this with family/friends who keep asking you about homeschooling, by the way, heh.

Let's go into this list with a few things understood, just in case this is the first blog post of mine you're reading. First, I was homeschooled from third grade through high school. I "was" a homeschooler before I was a homeschool "teacher." I have three kids and they're all two or under, so our "school" right now is super basic stuff. I'm not dealing with algebra or science fairs or SAT prep yet. Also, I talk to people about homeschooling a lot and I grew up in a decently supportive church community, but in a time when there were only a few of us and we were still by-and-large considered mostly weird. Some of (not all!) that stigma is fading a bit in this particular area, partly because it's a lot easier to find lots of other homeschoolers to talk to. Anyway, my family and few homeschooling friends were a curiosity to people, which meant I spent a lot of time talking exactly about what I did.

Let's just call this confessions of a homeschooler and use that previous paragraph to segway into this list:

1. I understand that you're curious, but I am not being homeschooled because I am (a) a genius or (b) too stupid for "normal" school. Please ask me how I do school or what my day is like, but please don't (a) pop-quiz me to make sure I can read or (b) assume that you must seem stupid to me because I'm too smart for you. Also, this same grace for my kids, please, now that I'm the mom instead of the student.

Here's the thing: my parents care a lot about me. And even if you've met that one weird family that didn't seem to feel like actually educating their kids was important, that's not very common. It was really important to my parents that I do well in school. It's important to me that my kids are learning. And in addition to that, there actually are oversight laws in place, so someone outside my family is keeping tabs on my year-end test grades or my work portfolio.

And homeschool doesn't and will not cover all bases at once or the same pace. Public and private schools don't either. It's not perfect, but that doesn't mean it's terrible.

That said, I think there's a growing understanding that homeschooling works and that it has a real educational value. Which leads into the other half of this frustration, which is the pendulum swing ("Oh, you aren't stupid, so you must be crazy-smart").

Maybe I am smart. I'd like to think so. I love learning. I love talking to people. But you know what? I hated math when I was younger. I don't mind it now and would like to get better at it, but as of this moment, I'm pretty terrible at algebra or anything past basic geometry. I just am. This was not a homeschool thing. This was a me thing. Science is not my strong point, despite having two parents that loved math and science and taught it pretty well, as evidenced by the success my siblings have had in the same fields I disliked.

And in high school this assumption was especially frustrating. I had friends that would cut themselves off from entire conversations with me because they "weren't homeschooled" or "didn't get it." And you know what? Darn it, I don't get it either, and that's why I want to talk about it. Homeschoolers need some breathing room to not be THE BEST AT EVERYTHING just because they're excited about stuff. Give your kids that space. Give your grandkids that space. Give your neighbors that space. Please.

2. Comparison. A few other of the blog hop moms wrote about this and it's so true. When I compare myself to what other moms of preschoolers are doing, I feel inadequate regardless of how well my kids are doing. I'm not spending too much time on this point because others have written about it so well and because for the purposes of this post, it's pretty self-explanatory.

3. Being with my kids all day.

Not gonna lie. Being with toddlers all day is exhausting sometimes. I'm there for every fit, every meltdown, everything. They throw stuff out of my grocery cart. They stare at my pee in the toilet and talk about it. They scream when I tell them they can't play my iPod. I want to let them help me make dinner and they want to help me make dinner but they keep licking the measuring spoons and trying to stir this raw chicken with the whisk while I'm cutting it.

I hesitated to put this point on here because some people might misunderstand and think I feel trapped at home. I don't. I love being with my kids all day. I love being here to read to them, to talk to them, to be present for so much of them learning and exploring and hearing stuff they say to their toy animals like, "Hi, owl. Owl, you have eyes. Are you sad? Why you sad? You have eyes. You have wings. You can fly! Owl you can fly!"

But there are moments when I want to get away for a bit. And I think that's okay to admit. A lot of times, it means that I actually need sleep or more time with God and not really a chance to do whatever I want. That's not realistic even if my kids aren't around.

I love my kids. And there are moments in my rough days when I don't want to be around them for a while. I'm homeschooling because my husband and I decided together that it was the best thing for us and not because I am a saint, because I have unlimited patience, because my kids never get on my nerves and that's how I manage, because I've figured it all out already. Talk to any homeschooler long enough, and you'll eventually hear that every single parent has uttered some variation of, "THE BUS WILL PICK YOU UP IN THE MORNING I AM DONE."

What we're really saying is: I'm tired. You are being difficult. I am probably being difficult. We are frustrated. We will figure this out by the grace of God. I still love you but I am still learning how to love.

4. Self.

Oh, flesh. I hate you. You sweet-talk me into doing things for myself that I "deserve" and they are not what I really need or want and before I know it, I'm standing in Eden with that fruit in my hand, torn between still enjoying the taste in my mouth and the sinking feeling in my gut that God is going to show up for our walk soon, calling, "Adam, where are you?"

5. Expectations.

This is maybe also wrapped up in point one, but I guess I think of that point more in relation to my own experience as a homeschooled student interacting with others and this one is more about my life as a mom interacting with my kids. It's hard to find a balance for what I should expect of my kids. It's difficult to sort out all the "should" and "shouldn'ts" for where they actually are and where they "need" to be.

They should be able to, they should know better than to, they should, they should, they should.

Here is the thing that is hard to remember: I should expect them to grow and I shouldn't expect them to do so in a way that doesn't surprise or challenge me.

I was laughing with a friend the other day about the ridiculousness of yelling "STOP YELLING" at your kids. And I think that rule can be applied to just about anything. If it's taken me this long to figure out basic stuff and I'm still working on things like "do not speak harshly when upset," then my expectations for my kids' behavior and learning pace should be full of grace. Parents have a natural desire to see their kids do "better" than them. This can be healthy. But doing "better" isn't going to be achieved by lots of moaning about where they "should" be instead of figuring out the wisest way to handle where they actually are.

Here is an Occam's Razor for learning challenges and using therapy or extra time to help a child, one I'm learning is still true for my husband and I as well:

If it helps, it helps. If it doesn't, it doesn't.

No shoulds about it.

(Wow this post is already super long.)

6. How easy it is for me to be consumed by homeschooling.

Homeschooling is something I do. It is a big part of my life and I love it. As previously mentioned, I love learning. But it is all too easy to be consumed by the label. It is not my life, it is not my salvation, it is not the entirety of my identity.

I am a follower of Christ. I am also a wife. A mom. A sister. A friend. A witness.

The burden of my children's education in both the faith and academics is such a great one at times that it is hard to stop poring over curriculums and schedules and discussing things and talking about it and step back from it and remember the other parts of my life and not feel guilty for remembering that.

Homeschooling, in some small ways, is to life with your kids as a wedding is to marriage. (Note: I said some small ways. I like analogies I have to fight for.) Under the pressure of getting things "just right," it's easy to get caught up in micromanaging all the details until you get to the day after the wedding and realize that your entire relationship with yourself and your spouse and your life had become wrapped up in that one thing and you're not really sure who you are anymore and don't know what to talk about if it's not math worksheets or what the kids learned today.

Balance. Balance has been a theme here, I guess. I want balance in how I am perceived. I need balance in looking to others as inspiration and looking at them as measuring sticks. I need balance in how I view my kids, the time I spend in preparation.

You know what's easy to balance?

A yoke that isn't heavy. A lot of times, I need to take a deep breath and stop focusing on my frustration.

Matthew 11:28-30:

"'Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.'"

Check out the other blogs! Here:

Clockwise, from top left:
Lorrie @ Life and Lessons LearnedSelena at Campbell ClanKathleen @ Positive Adoption,
Audrey @ Everything BeautifulCharli @ WV Urban HippiesTracey @ Building My House, and Maria @ The Joyfully Frugal Home 


Sam's first joke, told today:

Sam: Knock-knock.
Me: Who's there?
Sam: Can who.
Me: Can who who?
Sam: It's a message. It's a bear and it's silly.


Things I am sad/amused we have had to have conversations about or establish:

"No eating poop?"

"Don't pee on dogs?"

"It's not poop? It's chicken?"


I'm on my iPod writing this as we wrap up breakfast but I'm going to try to post some pictures later today. I just thought I'd catch everyone up on what the hot topics are in the Simmons' household.

Homeschooling Style and Curriculum Choices

Curriculum so far: None, heh.

Style: Booooooooks.

Honestly, though, right now, I'm at the very beginning of homeschooling my own kids, so our curriculum is the library, plus a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We also do a Bible study with some colorful topic flashcards and I'm getting ready to add poetry, but this will just be me reading a poem I pick from online or one of the many books of poetry we have around the house (one of my favorites is the Oxford Book of Christian Verse, but I don't think our copy is the "new" one).

I grew up with Sonlight for most of my school life and I loved it. It had lots of books and plenty of assignments, but very little "textbook" work (I mean, aside from math and science). I've thought for a long time that once my kids are old enough, we'd just start using Sonlight but I'm starting to consider other options just out of curiosity. I'm definitely looking at different options for PreK-- everything from Timberdoodle's hands-on package, which I hear is great for boys (Charli mentions this in her post, I do believe), to Before Five in a Row, which uses a lot of books.

Sonlight really worked for me but I'm willing to consider other things depending on how my kids learn. I'm researching a lot of different math curriculums-- one thing I hated when I was growing up was Saxon math. I think there are a lot more options geared toward homeschoolers now.

I think style-wise, I'd say I'm confident? Perhaps too much so? I like schedules and I don't stress about adapting pre-written schedules to fit my family (like with Sonlight), but my confidence has gotten me in trouble in the past when my response to a curriculum need is, "I'll just write this myself!" I tend to lack follow-through (sometimes because I get bored, other times because I underestimate the scope of the actual project; that said, getting books on sale is awesome, but please don't complain about $100 comprehensive instructor's guides-- that's so many hours of work right there).

Irony: Previous paragraph was about feeling confident, but started with two questions. Verbally, those would have been uptalking, ha.

Anyway, I've written curriculums for classes I've taught, for myself in high school, and helped adapt curriculum for siblings. And I've learned that while I love to write curriculum and schedules, I need to have a rule for my own kids in the future: If it's not finished by the beginning of the fall that we need it, I buy something. I'm avoiding the "starting a curriculum that's only half-finished" quicksand, because I know we'll suffer for it halfway through the year.

Also, I should note, I like the idea of arts and crafts, but I know the thing that already is hard for me and will be in the future is incorporating "messy" activities to go with our theme/subject. Legos: I'm fine. Watching a movie: Awesome! Anything with glue: ugh it will be everywhere and i will have to clean it never miiiiind.

But that sort of stuff is good for my kids, so I'll just have to get over it, even if we don't do stuff like that as often as "crafty" moms.

As for worries about sticking with schedules, here's the thing. I'm working on sticking to my cleaning schedule. Discipline is something I'm still working on. Because of that, I know I'll be tempted to just take days off for no reason or because we're busy with other stuff, but I also know that I love knowing we're doing what's best for our kids. When they were tiny, I worried I'd lack the follow-through to brush their teeth every night, but you know what? I do. I also feed them meals three times a day whether or not I feel like cooking. So I know that, by the grace of God, whether or not we feel like doing school, it will happen because it has to.

So, simple arts and craft suggestions, anyone? Pinterest overwhelms me and/or makes me just want dessert.

*For local readers:  On Saturday, April 27 from 10am-12pm, we blog hoppers will be hosting a question and answer session at Trinity Assembly of God, Fairmont, WV. Email/comment to let me know if you want more details!

Clockwise, from top left:
Lorrie @ Life and Lessons LearnedSelena at Campbell ClanKathleen @ Positive Adoption,
Audrey @ Everything BeautifulCharli @ WV Urban HippiesTracey @ Building My House, and Maria @ The Joyfully Frugal Home 

Why, or How, I Started Homeschooling

This is the third post in a month-long Tuesday/Thursday series about homeschooling that I'm doing with a group of other moms who blog.

So, first of all, this post might be a little disorganized. It's 11:01pm at the start of writing and we've had a busy (good kind of busy!) day and I'm just now getting around to typing up some thoughts on this.

A lot of the moms in this blog hop started today's posts (privilege of late writing: I read everyone else's stuff first, ha) with something along the lines of, "I never thought I'd homeschool," or "I had no idea what it was," and followed with, "God told me to," or "God changed my heart."

I thank God for those Abrahams of a generation before me, called out of Haran and the land of the Chaldeans. That step away from the familiar into the unknown was one that paved the way for people like me, who might receive similarly crazy-sounding calls to something else at some point, built on the foundation of the steps of faith before.

I'm, I think, officially the youngest member of this particular blog hop. My kids aren't even technically old enough for "regular" preschool, but I already know we're homeschooling when they are. We already "do school" every day. And I was homeschooled.

I went to public school and then did half a year of private school and then after second grade, never went back. I've since finished college, for those of you wondering if that's still an option for homeschooled-through-high school kids.

My husband was homeschooled for all but half of a second grade year and high school. We come from a tradition of homeschooling and that makes it something more comfortable and less scary for us, I suppose. We've still seriously considered real reasons to homeschool beyond the fact that it is familiar, but I know neither of us have had to struggle through the decision to do something we never thought we'd do when it came to homeschooling our kids.

Because it's late and I'm tired and can always write more later, I will give a brief overview of reasons we are homeschooling (please remind me if you're interested in these further and I will write more/find links for you):

  • To have the time to instill a Biblical foundation in our kids
  • To give our kids even more opportunity to see us live our faith and learn to love each other
  • The American school system is, as a whole, academically failing our nation's children
  • Bullying isn't something you should "learn" to "live with"
  • To help our kids spend time with what they love to do
  • The 8-3 "at a desk" model of education is physically unhealthy
Anyway, this almost doesn't count as Tuesday anymore, ha, but some thoughts to read, however scattered. What say you? 

Check out the other bloggers!

Clockwise, from top left:
Lorrie @ Life and Lessons LearnedSelena at Campbell ClanKathleen @ Positive Adoption,
Audrey @ Everything BeautifulCharli @ WV Urban HippiesTracey @ Building My House, and Maria @ The Joyfully Frugal Home 

Plus, we've added a new blogger! Check out Jessica @ Redeeming the Home !

The Gospel for Kids

See those kids? Oh, man, I love those kids. They climbed on my lap when I sat down at the table to blog. Théoden is still sitting on my lap asking for a "warm drink" of my coffee. 

It is my greatest desire that those little boys, and Lucy (who is sleeping right now), love Jesus and choose to follow Him. And it is a choice they must make someday, a choice Adam and I can encourage them towards and give them a foundation for but cannot make for them. So we think a lot in this household about the Gospel, for ourselves and for sharing it with our first mission field-- our children. 

I'm sure a lot of you do, too.

We talk about the Gospel and we've read Luke and John with them, straight from the Bible. We have Bible storybooks and illustrated children's Bibles that we read together (a current favorite is the Easter story, and the last page is a picture of people in a field and an empty tomb in the background. Sam loves to look at that page and say over and over, "He's not there? Tomb is empty? Jesus is not dead? Jesus is alive. He is not there in dark cave"). 

But you know what's missing from every children's Bible and Bible storybook? 

Jesus being beaten. Sometimes, even the crucifixion. Usually, it's just a page with women and disciples weeping and the text, "Jesus died." The Beginner's Bible at least shows his feet nailed to the cross with his mother nearby. 

I'm not going to throw those books out. They're still good books. It's my responsibility, and my husband's, to share the full story. But the full story is important.

We, as a culture, are squeamish about exposing young kids to violence or ugliness. I understand that. It's distressing. It's dark. We don't even like to think about it. That's why we have movie ratings and consider violence and gore: to protect. But I think it's crucial that we include all the details in the sharing of the Gospel with young kids and I'd like you to consider them with me and maybe comment with your own opinion.

I think, first, that it's worth recognizing our intention in maybe offering our children a "gentler" Gospel, without images of His death or spending much time talking about it. We want to shelter them. That's a good intention. However, this is how I feel about it:

My children will certainly, in their lifetimes, see and experience suffering. As much as it breaks my heart, they will know the ugliness of human nature in themselves and those around them. This is outside of my control. I can shelter them all I want, but even in an environment free of any external cultural pressure, they will find those tendencies to sin and a capacity for cruelty even in themselves.

The beating of Christ was prophesied and His blood works healing and salvation for us. It is a part of the story that showcases the brutal and senseless violence of humanity. It is full of despair and shame, the agony of knowing the whip will rise and fall yet again, the humiliation and bitter pain of the crown of thorns being shoved into flesh and hair. Even writing this, I want to stay the whip and burn the crown. 

But my Savior endured that for me. It is heart-wrenching but, in those moments when I am wretched with my own guilt, it is a balm. The punishment fell on His shoulders and by the grace of God, I am saved. 

Understand I am not advocating a glorification of the violence itself or an obsession with it. But the absence of is, I would even say, dangerous. 

My children will know suffering. When they do, I want the foundation of the Gospel from their childhood to include a Savior who knows and understands what it is like to suffer the worst mankind has to offer. 

I do not need to protect my kids from the full truth of the Gospel and I do not need to protect the Gospel from their questions. 

When we offer our children a gentler, watered-down Gospel, stripped of the suffering and summed up instead in a single, incomprensible line, "Jesus died," we do them a disservice. Young children often do not understand death. They understand much sooner what it feels like to scrape a knee or bump a head or to hear a mean word. If you want to share with your children the Jesus who saves them and heals them, who understands their pain and their guilt and shame and still loves and forgives, give them the full Gospel.

I do not want my children's first exposure to violence and terror and ugliness to be in a video game or a movie, and then to decide at some later point they are "ready" to hear the rest of the story. The rest of the story should be why and how they can handle and process the human deprivation around them and in them as they grow.

They will ask questions. They will be confused by the beating of Christ; it will wound them inside. It breaks my heart to know this, but this is the truth of raising our kids in a fallen world when they are born with a fallen nature. This should wound and offend them and we should work through their questions and confusion about the brutality and what Christ's sacrifice really means. The Word says that whoever falls on this rock of Christ and His Gospel will be broken, but those on whom it falls will be crushed (Matthew 21:42-44). I say one more time:

I do not need to protect my kids from the full truth of the Gospel and I do not need to protect the Gospel from their questions. 

What do you think? 

Organize Shmorganize

Hey! This is the second post in the homeschool blog hop I'm doing with six other wonderful ladies. Today's topic is about how one organizes one's day. This is an exciting subject for me because I like the idea of being organized.

I looooove new planners. Sticking to the schedules past a week or two? Not so good. Getting better!

I'm looking forward to looking into new curricula as my kids grow, but we're already pretty familiar with Sonlight. One of the reasons I enjoy it is that it uses lots of non-textbooks but it also tells you what to read from those books each day. It comes with a pretty detailed schedule already put together for you.

For now, though, my unit studies are sort of dictated by what's available at the library and what we already have on our shelves. School-wise, for preschool, I don't really write much down. I'm going to need to start keeping better track of stuff as we introduce more alphabet and number worksheets and projects, but for now we're just doing a lot of reading.

As for taking care of school, other needs that kids have, plus running a household, I've gone through several different systems. I've tried managing stuff with Google Calendar, printed pages in a binder, a spiral notebook, and what's finally ended up working for me is a nifty little Mac and iPod app called OmniFocus. We splurged on it a while ago when it was both (a) on sale and (b) helpful for my husband's graduate school work. But I've been using it too, with a separate account so we can keep our lists from being confused.

I also tried cleaning the entire house on one day, once a week, for a while, but that seemed to only work for a season. Right now, I'm cleaning one room a day (we have a small, five room apartment, so that works out well, ha). That includes straightening, dusting, vacuuming, and mopping (okay, technically, wet-swiffering). Other projects also get put on the list.

OmniFocus utilizes David Allen's GTD method from his book Getting Things Done (I haven't read this yet). One of the ideas is that you're more likely to tackle projects if you break them down into every single step and then work through that checklist rather than just having "clean out bedroom closet" on your to-do list. The "clean out bedroom closet" task would show up on your overview, but navigate to it and you'd have a sublist that might include:

  • pull all boxes out of closet
  • lay all hanging clothes on bed
  • take shoes out of closet
  • fill box with "homeless" items
  • pack away past-season clothes
  • fill bag with giveaway items
  • throw out any clothes past salvaging
  • scrub closet shelves

and so on. This system has been really helpful for me, because I tend to start projects with enough enthusiasm, but give up halfway through because they suddenly feel "too big." Writing down even the obvious stuff has given me a way to check stuff off my list and now exactly what to work on next without having to think about it or make excuses. The system is only as useful as my discipline, though, and that's a personal thing I've been working on recently.

Another thing that helps is menu-planning. I plan out even lunches and breakfasts. Even if I don't assign meals to particular days when I write it out at first, I've been making sure to decide before I go to bed at night what all three of the next day's meals will be so I'm not blindsided by: 4pm time to start dinner, last meal of week, happens to be a crockpot meal and meat is still frozen (!!!). (As a side note, if you're just getting into meal-planning, save yourself some trouble and learn from me: write down at least two easy meals. The enthusiasm of starting to menu-plan can lead to feeling super-adventurous and prepared and then you end up with seven meals that each require two hours of work and your toddler NEEDS YOU ALL THE TIME RIGHT NOW that week. Don't give up! Just go easy on yourself.)

School, right now, fits into my "to-do" list for the day because it doesn't take much time. I'm sure that things will change and shift as school requires a bit more time, but we'll deal with that when we get there.

So, that's how I'm managing stuff right now. What about you?

Don't forget to check out the other blogs posting about this today!

Clockwise, from top left:
Lorrie @ Life and Lessons LearnedSelena at Campbell ClanKathleen @ Positive Adoption,
Audrey (me!) @ Everything BeautifulCharli @ WV Urban HippiesTracey @ Building My House, and Maria @ The Joyfully Frugal Home 

A Day in the Life

I should start this blog with a confession: I like being awake in the mornings but only once I wake up. And "waking up," for most of my life, has been a sort of drawn-out, grumpy process. There was a time in my life when I considered 9 am way too early to be thinking about waking up. And now I wake up at 5 in the morning most days. I need that time before my kids get up to get the day started right and my kids, almost without fail, wake up between 5:30 and 6:30.

So, my day starts at five in the morning and if you'd told me that in high school I would have thought you were straight-up insane. But really? It's not so bad.

Right now, my homeschooling life isn't that complicated. If you're reading this as part of the blog link-up and you don't know me, then I should tell you that I have three kids, all of them under three. My twin two-year-olds are the ones I "do school" with, and my almost-seven-month-old hangs out and listens, plays, naps, or poops (sometimes a combination of these).

We have breakfast pretty early (see: waking up time) and then a little after eight, I put the girl I babysit on the bus for school.

Preschool around here starts at 9:30 am, for no particular reason other than we happened to start at that time several days in a row and I noticed. Assigning it a time gave me something to shoot for and make sure I remembered to abandon other projects and take care of school before my kids were nearing nap time.

Wanna know what we do? Every two or three weeks, I pick a new subject -- trains, ocean, space, jungle, etc-- and we go get a bunch of books from the library. Some of the books are usually the non-fiction for kids books (about parts of a train or the planets) and then some are fiction books with the topic or only tangentially related.

So, at 9:30, I say, "Let's do school!" and we all climb onto the couch. We start with a Bible study (right now, we're doing Beginner's Bible cards, which are here and unfortunately discontinued) and a short prayer. That takes about seven or eight minutes total. Then we do our reading lesson, which is mostly just practicing letter sounds and helping with consistent letter recognition. And then we read a stack of books.

Right now, this works really well for us because my boys love the alphabet and they love when I read books to them. If they didn't enjoy it so much, I don't think I'd push it-- maybe try to get through a book or two a day. But now, they usually cry when I stop after seven or eight books and want more. We spend about forty-five minutes, total, doing "school" on the couch.

In the afternoons, we'll sometimes do activities (splashing in the sink, playing with dry rice and cars, painting) or go for a walk if the weather is nice. We'll probably be going outside a lot more as it warms up. Another confession: I need to start actually planning out my activities so I stick to the schedule because I'm not a very consistent arts & crafts person. My boys love hands-on stuff and I just don't get stuff out often enough because I don't want to deal with the mess, even though usually it's only about five minutes of clean-up.

The rest of their school right now is really behavioral and home-life stuff. They work on putting laundry away with me or hang out while I work on chores. They like to use baby wipes while I dust and help me scrub stuff off. They play a lot, with train tracks and Legos and cars.

Finally, in the evening, we all sit on the couch again (husband, too, this time) and read a story from The Beginner's Bible, a Psalm or Proverb (we read in order and we're on Psalms for the second time now), sing two or three hymns (they always, always request the "doxology," which for us is the last verse of "Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun." Then we pray.

I'm super-excited to do more with them as they grow up, but right now, that's pretty much our school day. I have two big goals right now as I teach them and that's to work on foundational stuff about our faith (Jesus loves you, Jesus died for you, this is the Gospel, this is the Word of God) and to foster and grow their innate curiosity into a love of learning. So, basically, some Bibles and a lot of crayons! Ha.

Be sure to check out these other ladies and their posts today in the Homeschool Blog Hop, every Tuesday and Thursday this April!

Clockwise, from top left:
Lorrie @ Life and Lessons LearnedSelena at Campbell ClanKathleen @ Positive Adoption,
Audrey @ Everything BeautifulCharli @ WV Urban HippiesTracey @ Building My House, and Maria @ The Joyfully Frugal Home 

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