They are Going to Be OK. (I promise!)

Multiple fires across the Pacific Northwest have caused this smoky haze for weeks. Recently, three fires about 60 miles away resulted in thicker ash and smoke that blurred everything for a few days. There is this sense of uncertainty when smoke and ash cover everything and blur the lines in the distance. I found walking out to my car over ash-covered ground to be an unnerving experience. I looked back and could see my footprints outlined clearly in the ash. Looking forward, the path was fresh and clean. There was nothing to stop me from going forward. Well, except the smoke. Lines were blurred and visibility was limited. I looked up and the sun was hazy and distant. It hurt a bit to breathe also. And the smell? Not the fresh cut grass or the roses in bloom, but wood smoke. Everything felt dark and hazy. There was a sense of danger, regardless of how far away the real danger actually is — a feeling that it would be easy to go the wrong way.

Like the smoke in the air and the ash on the ground, life is uncertain and can feel dangerous at times. You take a few steps on a path and you can see where you have been, but looking forward you are unable to see what the future may hold. Sometimes even the strongest Christian can doubt God’s guidance and plan. We start to doubt our choices. Worry, fear, and guilt set in, making it almost impossible to move forward at times.

This is the life of a parent. Whether you are homeschooling, after-schooling, or deciding to send the kids to school, there are no guarantees that you are choosing, have chosen, or will choose the right path. It feels like all paths are smoke covered and booby-trapped. And, stopping isn’t an option; you have to continue forward.

I have been there multiple times with my four children. I think we have done most schooling options. My three boys have been in public school, in the local Adventist school, traditionally homeschooled, unschooled during a time of major upheaval with my daughter, in charter schools, and in online schools. My daughter, due to her special needs, was in a local public school until she was 20. Mix in volunteering, part-time jobs, therapies, music lessons, youth groups, church functions of all sizes, Pathfinders, Boy Scouts, and co-op, and you have all kinds of ways to stress, worry, and add guilt.

There have been tears, anger, fights, frustration, slamming doors, joy, love, happiness, pride, laughter, and great discussions. And, before each change, transition, or step, I agonized over making the right choice for my kids. I worried I was doing it wrong. Was I permanently damaging them in some way because I taught grammar the wrong year, or didn’t teach one pre-algebra? Did I start too early or too late? I was guilt-ridden over the years we skipped everything except math and reading, even though that felt like an accomplishment. More guilt came over only doing the core subjects without supplements or even field trips. There was worry about when to start (none felt ready or had the desire), early graduation (yeah, right), and transcripts and record-keeping (uh, where do I start?). I failed them. I knew it.

Any of this sound familiar? Here’s a secret for you … There is no right or wrong way to homeschool (or not) your kids. You are doing just fine. And the kids? Make sure they can read, write, and do math. Teach them how to learn everything else. Teach them who God is. Teach them about salvation through Jesus Christ. Teach them to love others. Teach them integrity, hard work, and discipline. They are going to be OK. (I promise!)

I have another secret for you: You are not alone. Do you know what you see when the smoke clears? The path is full of others just like you and me — dads who are doubting they did the right thing; moms who are looking at going back to work, struggling with depression, or just trying to pick the right curriculum; parents who have been right where you are now. You are not alone in your fears, worries, anxieties, pitfalls, behavior issues, time management problems, special needs, or any other issue you can name. Need help? Need prayer? Just need to vent? Go ahead, we are here for you. That’s what a community does; we support each other through trials and triumphs.

Want to know another secret? Jesus has your back! The phrase “do not be afraid” is in the bible 365 times. That is one for every day. Joshua 1:9 (NLT) says, “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Even at your lowest (or highest) moments, you always have God. He holds you as you cry after a particularly long day. And that “AHA” moment when the children get it? He is celebrating right beside you.

So, look at that ash-covered path, look up at that smoke-covered sun. Look into that smoke-covered landscape and take a step. Look around, we are all here — some behind, some alongside, some in front. We support each other, as God supports us. Do not let fear of the unknown keep you from the path God is calling you toward, whatever that path may be.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

We have all heard the saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” However, in this last couple of weeks, God has been bringing me into a new understanding of this saying. First of all, does this saying have a negative connotation or is this saying indeed implying a blessing? I am beginning to switch my paradigm from the first to the latter, and I’m so grateful God is still working on my heart and mind.

My kids (six and three) were playing in the living room while I was packing one morning last week. My son, being older, was not happy with the way his sister was playing and started to “recite” the Ten Commandments. Now to be completely honest with you, up to this point in our lives, I have had to struggle to spend time with the kids and speak of Christ in every situation. My husband has had to work long hours just to make ends meet, and I have often had to take on side work just to be able to feed everyone. My kids do not know the Ten Commandments, but we listen to them as often as I remember to play them. I couldn’t help but chuckle in this instance. I don’t remember what Elijah was unhappy about; however, I do remember him saying, “The commandments say, you shouldn’t lie, so you need to stop doing [whatever it was she was doing].

I had to laugh (to myself of course), because what she was doing had nothing to do with lying, but to him, he felt like saying that would pack more punch to solving her behavior than if he didn’t. (I saw the “I’m better than you” attitude of pride come out and that is a struggle for me, but at that moment, Christ came in and whispered in my ear. “You know ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’? Let me teach you about the Rod.”

“He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently,” Proverbs 13:24.

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him,” Proverbs 22:15.

“For every tenth part of herd or flock, whatsoever passes under the Rod, the tenth one shall be holy unto the Lord,” Leviticus 27:32.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” Psalm 23:4.

So we see the rod being both comfort and also correction. Can we correct and discipline our kids in a way that they will feel comforted and yet still change their ways?

I have to study it more; however, I want to pose to you this question and this challenge.

“This know also, that in the last days, perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient, to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more then lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, ed away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs was. But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, affiliations, which came unto me at Antioch, at lconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things, which thou hast learned; and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” 2 Timothy 3.

May I make the suggestion that the Rod in scripture can be replaced with the Word of Scripture. When we see the areas in which our children are struggling with sin, and we teach them how to claim promises, stand on scripture, and memorize scriptures having to do with the specific area that they are struggling in, not only do we give them the tools for dealing with and overcoming sin, but we give them a foundation for what they believe in that can never be shaken.

My prayer in this next month is that Christ will give all of us the strength, time, and wisdom to discern the faults in our children, and that He will lead us to the verses that will allow our children to overcome.

 

Taking Care of Everyone…But you?

As we begin a new homeschool chapter, I have been chewing on what my first blog post of the year should focus on. I have many ideas for the future, but the one thing that keeps coming back to me is this — how is mom holding up?

Some of us are “seasoned” homeschoolers, whatever that means. Some of us are just starting out. I think I am in the “half-baked” stage — not done yet, and so I still need some more seasoning. So much to learn, and at times I feel like I need to unlearn some things so that I can have more flavor in our school. Life would be pretty boring if every family school consisted of the same ingredients. It’s something to chew on.

But, as we begin a new year, I am reminded of mom. Most likely, you are the principal teacher in your homeschool. I realize there are exceptions, and I’m not trying to exclude anyone; if this applies to you as dad, grandma, or whomever, then take it to heart. I know it applies to moms.

As teaching moms, we get excited about new projects, new curriculum, methods of teaching, craft supplies, fun field trips, and the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? We drive our troops to music lessons, practices, clubs, counseling sessions, play dates, Bible studies, birthday parties, service opportunities, jobs, and Grandma’s, not to mention the hours at the table, in the garden, reading on the sofa, or in the woods taking nature walks. And then, there’s often a husband who has needs and expectations too! But, what about you, homeschooling mom? How do you meet your needs? How do you avoid burning the midnight oil to get everything done? How do you avoid burning out because you’re so busy doing good for everyone else that you forget about your own needs?

As I sit here on a Friday afternoon, reminding myself to guzzle more water to battle a nagging UTI, I just want to encourage you — not because I have it all together as a home educator, but because I see a genuine need in all mothers who tend to take on too much. My words to you are these: It is not selfish to take care of your own physical needs. Your family needs you, and you are very much aware of that. But, they need you healthy. They need you cheerful, and that’s very difficult to pull off when you’ve stayed up until midnight again. How do I know this? Well, because I’m living it! We are instructed to teach our children cause-effect relationships. But, we have to be real with ourselves and realize that bedtime is not just for babies; our bodies need water; and a little exercise and fresh air will do wonders for our attitudes as moms, just as much as for our children.

Home educating is no joke! It’s not a tea party, and despite what some will think, we do much more than just sit around and do crafts with our children! We have real stresses. We worry about our children’s attitudes and characters — a LOT! We wonder about their futures, and wonder if we are doing it all right, because we don’t have a second chance. Often as we take on all of those unknowns, we find ourselves running around to grab at any perceived learning opportunity, maybe even to the detriment of our peace of mind.

So, what is the answer?

I can only share with you what I am learning myself on this enjoyable, yet, exhausting road. These tips are not in any particular order, except for the first one.

  1. We as home educators absolutely need our time with God! I find that I can get so edgy and driven with my children if I don’t have the softening influence of the Holy Spirit for myself! And, praying for my family particularly helps me to look at them differently. Sometimes I wake up late, in a rush, and find that mid-morning, or sooner, I have to go close myself in my closet with the Lord to regain my perspective, and to just cry out to Him for help. Satan will capitalize on any chink in our armor, so putting on the full armor is so important! This is truly the best gift we can give to our children and husbands — a heart that has met with Jesus and surrendered, so that when we deal with them, we will treat them with grace.
  2. Sleep. I can’t say how much you need, but I know when I need more of it! That’s when I get irritable about little things, feel like weeping over trifles, and start to feel fuzzy in my head the next day. I have gone through times when literally every time I sit down to read with my kiddos, I knock out. A little more sleep is needed! For me, practically, this means putting school away in the evenings; logging off of Facebook, even when I am reading helpful, school-related information; and heading to the bed around a half an hour before I need to be in bed. This is because, inevitably, there will be distractions along the path, such as clothes that I need to put away, something I needed to write down, or catch-up with my husband that needs to happen. This is a real struggle for me, but little by little I am seeing that I gain much more than I lose when I get to bed on time. Even Jesus as our Creator didn’t keep going — He rested after creating our world, and He took time away, even though all of the work was not done while He was on Earth!
  3. Water—don’t forget it! That’s pretty self-explanatory, but overlooked. When our brains get dehydrated, they don’t think well, and irritation also pops out! Consider this article on dehydration and mood swings, and this one too. This is one good reason for us to drink water ourselves, and to strongly encourage our students to drink theirs regularly! We drink water before breakfast, and I have to stop and remind everyone to take drinks throughout the day! One thing that works for us is to fill up a large jar with the minimum ounces that I want them to drink; then they have until bedtime to drink it. This helps them to see how much they’ve had so far, and how much more they need to drink.
  4. Time for You!  I don’t mean time away all of the time, because who really can do that, but just little snatches of time that serve to refresh your tired mind. I have a little shelf in our bathroom that I keep a small Bible and two encouraging books. My refresher often takes place behind that closed door! Even just a few verses or half a page during the midst of a busy day means a lot to me. I try to keep a book there that is specifically for me, such as another homeschooling mom telling her journey. It’s a reminder to me that I am not alone, and that there is help for every emergency!
  5. A walk out in nature can also be a great way to refresh, and this is a great way to break up the school day!  We often just stop mid-morning to jog/walk out to the mailbox or pond, and we come back more energized. Sometimes I or my Type A son resist this intrusion into our “plan” of getting something done, but we both need it and are never sorry that we choose to take a nature break.
  6. Pick and choose! No one can do it all! There is no way we can attend every church function, field trip, play date, birthday party, hobby, or music opportunity — or even, dare I say it, every service opportunity! If we are pursuing that quiet, simple life which will do so much for our children’s characters, we are told me must be much at home! This, frankly, is overwhelming to me, and yet freeing!  Overwhelming, because I want to provide many good things for my children; freeing, because I see that the best thing that they need is my love, attention, and time! A weakness in our family is believing that we can do too many things for others, and forgetting that we need to say no to even good things so that we may do our first task by our own fireside. So, we need to pray that God will show us our first priorities, and then add other things as they do not take away from those.

“The family circle is the school in which the child receives its first and most enduring lessons. Hence parents should be much at home. By precept and example, they should teach their children the love and the fear of God; teach them to be intelligent, social, affectionate, to cultivate habits of industry, economy, and self-denial. By giving their children love, sympathy, and encouragement at home, parents may provide for them a safe and welcome retreat from many of the world’s temptations,” Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 65.2.

We have a high calling. We yearn for much as we think of our children and their futures! And, we have the promise that God will lead us in every endeavor. With this knowledge, let us as mothers step back a bit and let God do what He has promised He would do!

My favorite Bible text is this one:

“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children,” Isaiah 54:13.

Be kind to yourselves, mothers, so that you can keep doing the great work that you are called to do!

Exploring a New Year…

 

The most frequent response I get when I tell people I homeschool has been, “Wow, I don’t have the patience for that,” or “You must be a very patient person!” My answer is that it takes a lot of patience to parent. Homeschooling isn’t that different, just extended.

One thing that has really helped me to be patient in our homeschool has been to remember my children are people first. When I remember that they are people, I can be more compassionate. Jesus told us to “let the little children come to Him” in a time when children were thought to be a nuisance and in the way. Things haven’t changed much in that aspect. Adults tend to want children to do what they are told, when they are told to do it, how they are told to do it. In fact, when I was a young girl if I was told to jump, the reaction expected was to ask “how high” as I was starting to jump.

One of the blessings of homeschooling our children is that they are able to develop their own sense of identity…except we don’t always appreciate that independence when it comes against us. It is possible to harness that independence, to use it to enhance their educational experience.

I don’t want a carbon copy of me. It would certainly be easier to predict their desires, interests, and actions, but it would be boring. My sons have different interests, different life goals, and they are still discovering them. My job is to help them discover their path in life, to discover God’s calling on his life. When I remember this, it puts life, and school, into perspective.

Our homeschool journey includes exposing the children to many different options. Sometimes we do weird, crazy things to explore those options. We’re often researching topics of interest, no matter how strange they may seem to be. You can use all of those options to teach all of the subjects needed. We’re stepping into junior high this year, and that makes it a transition year… It’ll be an interesting journey as we move forward.

My advice as we move into a new school year: Don’t be afraid to throw out the books sometimes and explore the weird things in life. Let the kids find their own passions and use those passions to teach what they need to know to succeed in life. Get hands on, and discover what’s available in your community to reach your child’s interests. Forget about the path you had planned, and let them discover their own.

Fall Semester: Building Blocks

When I began homeschooling my seven-year-old last year, it was a slow start. We attempted a few methods before finally landing on what worked well. At the end of winter, Mickey should have been completing kindergarten. Instead of reading like a first-grader, he read at a .03 reading level. For those who may not know, that number means he was reading as if in the third month of kindergarten. Now, I’m no stranger to changes mid-game, and this was another time when I had to stop, assess, and reroute our homeschooling journey.

New Plan
We planned to school year-round, but as my son still struggled so with letters, phonics, and penmanship, my husband and I discussed our upcoming plans. Since Mickey was excelling in math and science, we decided to only work on reading for the summer. He has been working on his daily challenges and assigned lessons three days per week through the summer, and he has exploded with excitement, reading road signs, subtitles, and books (unassigned). As his excitement has grown, so has mine. I saw him experience a whole new world that I remember discovering, and still love: the world of reading.

Progress Report
I haven’t kept a close eye on Mickey’s grades this summer, mainly because teaching my kids to read has always been a point of serious anxiety for me. I know Philippians 4:13, though — and I claim it, and I think it, and sometimes I may shout it: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Because of my anxiety over it, we didn’t monitor his progress through the summer. When I began to plan for Mickey to begin first grade, I had him take the reading assessment offered by the academic program we use. He tested at a 1.08 reading level (almost second grade). This was a shock to me. Even though we read together, even though he reads everything, and even though he writes stories and letters and cards, it was a shock that he improved so much so fast. It was a shock, even though I’ve prayed over it and fretted over it, and God has given me the tools to teach my children.

Building Blocks
It turns out that since Mickey’s reading has improved, he is able to excel in the other subjects. He doesn’t have to ask me to read the questions every two minutes. He doesn’t have to click on the little microphone that prompts the computer to read to him. He can read, sound out, and understand everything I put in front of him!

It was hard for me to admit that I couldn’t teach my son to read, when I love to read and have always been a reader. Reading is the the first building block for the rest of first grade in our house. Now that he can read, the possibilities seem endless.

And, now that I remember that God answers prayers, the possibilities are endless.