My Last Day of School

May 7, 2016, was my last day of school. After 20 years of homeschooling four daughters, our youngest finished her last day of senior year. It hasn’t been easy, but it was the best educational choice for our family and I have absolutely no regrets. I have learned so many lessons.

What I consider a lack of provision is often God’s direction.
When I began this journey in 1996, I thought I was homeschooling the oldest for only one year until we could afford private school. During that Kindergarten year, I discovered that teaching my daughter to read was ten times easier than potty training! Her love for learning opened up new possibilities for her and she declared a love for the nation of China that remains to this day. Her younger sister listened to our studies and she began reading at the age of four, though she was not yet in Kindergarten. We still didn’t have the money for school so I continued schooling them at home. 

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean I should stop doing it.
Homeschooling was incredibly hard in the early years. I felt alone. I felt lonely. I felt exhausted. I had a lot of “yellow bus” days—“Yellow bus, please come get my children!” At night, I tried to devise some good excuse not to do school the next day, but my OCD side took over and school almost always won. During the day I yelled and threatened and pulled out the phone book to call any school I thought would take them! In my heart, I sensed that I was supposed to keep homeschooling, so I did. But I wasn’t too happy about it.

Commit to the present and wait for the future.
In those early years, I was so focused on the future options for my children’s education that I had missed the present opportunity before me. I didn’t realize that indecision and uncertainly were robbing me of mental and physical energy. After much prayer, I committed to homeschooling every day of the school year and to reevaluate our options at the end of the year.

Change in my school started with me. 
My short temper and yelling was not helpful to create a good atmosphere of learning. Often my kids responded in the same way I responded to them. God revealed to me that if I wanted them to talk respectfully to me that I needed to model it to them. Little by little, day by day, He grew my patience and grace—for myself and for my children. Gratefully, the younger ones don't remember the yelling years.

I don’t have to have all of the answers.
Although my husband was supportive, I really needed to process and brainstorm with a fellow homeschooler. In His graciousness, God sent me a dear friend and ally who was as “iron sharpens iron” in my life. We discussed curriculum options and learning styles, individual learning challenges and how to challenge our kids to greatness. For ten years, we had our own two-family co-op where we partnered together to cover topics both academic and extra-curricular. She inspired me and challenged me beyond my self-imposed limitations. I was a better teacher because of her friendship.

Don’t underestimate what my children can do. 
In the course of our homeschooling, one had significant learning challenges. After years of working with a speech therapist, then a reading specialist, then a vision therapist, and then a tutor, she was still struggling. During the summer after eighth grade, she discovered Ben Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands, and set a goal to attend nursing school at Johns Hopkins. We discussed what it would take and I told her that she would have to “up her game.” At the end of her first semester of freshman year, that student had all A’s in her average to advanced high school level courses. Later, she decided on a different school, but continued her focused attention. During her high school career, she earned a total of 29 college credits with nearly all A’s. She is amazing.

Comparison kills joy. 
No matter what we did in our homeschool, it always seemed like someone else was doing something better, more creative, more academic, more something. As I began to plan each spring, I would ask God what He wanted my kids to learn and I planned accordingly. But many times I doubted that our school was academic enough, fun enough, thorough enough, challenging enough, etc. Instead of trusting God, I second-guessed my decisions and found myself frustrated as I tried to achieve the perfect homeschool. Eventually, I realized that the perfect homeschool is as unique for each family as each of the uniquely created students who are being educated.  

And so this is the close of one chapter and the beginning of another. Homeschooling was not easy, but it has been worth every minute. I “sail into the uncertain future surrounded by the faithfulness of God.”

 

Stuck Between Seasons

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This morning, as I was homeschooling the last daughter and simultaneous trying to work out details for a women's conference I am coordinating, I found myself very frustrated. I was disappointed in myself because I wasn't able to post a blog last week.

Later, I was fulfilling an order from our store when I happened to glance up at the schedule for #Intentional Parenting 2015. March is supposed to focus on grace. Ok. Got that. Maybe I can write something on Wednesday, I thought.

As I put the packages in my mailbox, I passed a very interesting perspective in my flower bed--a daffodil trying its best to bloom in the middle of snow that hadn't yet melted. It is as if spring is trying to make an entrance, but winter's finale still continues. (We've had ice and about 12 inches of snow in the past two weeks and there is a potential of more snow for us later this week!)

My heart was stirred that in some ways I'm like that flower; I am stuck between seasons. I can see so many things ahead in the future and I'm working to see things move forward, but now is not the right season. God was saying that it's ok that I didn't post a blog. It isn't priority in this season. I need to keep my priorities in line with His perspective and finish my assignments for one season before I fully embrace the next. 

As I typed this blog, it was an ah-ha moment: Grace. God was giving me grace, favor I didn't deserve.  He wasn't judging me or condemning me so neither do I condemn myself. My takeaway from today: giving grace must begin with receiving grace. That's a great topic for a blog...some day.

A Private Message That Forever Changed Our Family

I never intended to homeschool high school. As a high school student, I did well in English, history and foreign language; but I had needed a tutor to make it through Algebra 2, and I never took a science course beyond Biology. (I didn’t need to for my degree in music.) I hadn’t been successful when I TOOK those classes and I couldn’t imagine that I would be remotely successful TEACHING them. I was sure that it wasn’t God’s plan for me to homeschool high school. 

In June, just three months before high school was to begin, I was attending a women’s conference and the speaker said, “God can give you wisdom beyond your experiences.” I knew that God was sending me a message; He wanted me to homeschool high school. Part of me was angry. “God, when I had agreed to homeschool, I didn’t think that high school was part of the deal!” The insecure side of me felt too inadequate. The selfish side of me was looking forward to only having three to homeschool and didn’t want to be responsible to teach those challenging subjects. But after talking with Harold, we said, “Yes.” In return for our obedience, God poured out abundant blessings I could never have imagined.

Our family has grown in unity. Each of us has grown in character and grown closer to each other. We have learned how to serve each other, and we have learned how to work together to serve others. Our girls are more than sisters or classmates; they are truly each other’s best friends. As parents, these years have allowed us to grow strong relationships with our daughters that will stand the test of time.

Each daughter received a customized education that best prepared her to achieve her future goals. All of my graduates took college courses during high school, which prepared them to excel in their college studies and gave them space in their college schedules to pursue a minor or other field of interest. The flexibility of homeschooling allowed our girls to use their time to explore and pursue their God-given callings through life experiences, travel, education, and extra-curricular activities.

Most importantly, our girls flourished spiritually. Homeschooling allowed us to mentor and disciple our daughters through the critical teen years. We were able to read the Bible and discuss it together, to talk about the consequences of choices made in various situations, to memorize scripture together, and to guide them as they learned to make wise choices. Though we used carefully chosen textbooks and materials with a God-centered worldview, we also educated our daughters in other world views and religions so they could think critically about the influences in their lives. As a result of intentional spiritual discipleship, each daughter has established her own vibrant relationship with God and is positioning herself for continued growth.

I’m not saying that you have to homeschool high school if you want your child to be a Christian, because truly there is more than one way to raise a godly child. I am saying that homeschooling was God’s choice for our family and the experience has been an incredible blessing that has forever changed our family. I am grateful that God loved our family so much that He sent me a private message.

   

A Secure Investment: Investing in Your Children

(Note:  This article is by no means intended to criticize working moms or moms who don’t homeschool.  God calls families to different ways to raise their children:  there is certainly more than one way to raise a godly child.  My heart is to encourage moms who have chosen motherhood as a career.  It is a wise investment.)

After investing diligently for twenty years, my retirement account still stands at zero.  It has nothing to do with my broker or with the economy, but it is a direct result of how I invested.  For more than 20 years I have been a full-time, stay-at-home mom for our four daughters.  I have invested money, time, and energy into teaching, training, and mentoring these young women and it is an investment that has paid high dividends.  (Of course my husband has also played a significant role in their development, but this article is not for the Daddies.)

Before our children were born, I was a public school music teacher who also taught several classes of hearing-impaired students.  Most of the 750 students I saw each week knew my name and some even regularly visited my classroom for extra time together.  I had a decent income, a retirement account, and summers off.  My career afforded me the opportunity to make great dinner conversation as I described how I taught music to hearing-impaired children.  I taught for two years and loved my job.  In the eyes of our culture, I was successful.

God blessed my husband and I and three days after the last day of school, I found myself at home with a newborn baby girl who wasn’t interested in my teaching success!  My ultimate career choice was to be a wife and mother, but somehow this wasn’t what I thought I had signed up for.  Everything was new to both of us and it took some time for us to learn.  Even more disappointing was the reaction of friends and acquaintances when I told them I was a stay-at-home mom.  Some of them questioned what I did all day and others politely smiled and found someone else to talk to.  It was painfully clear that society did not approve of my

No matter what the view of others, I stayed true to God’s call for me and our family.  There were joyful days and there were difficult days (when wanted to quit or resign!).  Most every day was full—full of laundry, cooking, cleaning, straightening, counseling, teaching, repeating, training, undoing, redoing, correcting, repeating, disciplining, discipling, and did I mention repeating?  We read the Bible together, prayed together, talked together, dreamed together, and cried together.  Sometimes the progress was infinitesimal and my dream of God-fearing daughters seemed elusive, but still my husband and I prayed and stayed the course.

As with any investment, there was risk.  Would it be better if we had a second income so we could provide better?  Would a one-income household limit what they could do?  Should we send them to school so they can be taught by the “experts” instead of an inexperienced mom?  What if I ruin them?  The enemy of my soul tried to discourage me and cause me to doubt our choices and my value, but I held to the truth that I am a precious daughter of the Most High God.

Today, our investment continues to yield a high rate of return.  We have four daughters who are lovely, inside and out.  They aren’t perfect, but they know the Savior who is and they’ve been saved by grace.  They know the Word, and they obey the Word.  They are carriers of His presence who sow seeds of Jesus’ love everywhere they go.  My time as a stay-at-home mom has been the best investment I’ve ever made.

Reflections on Letting Go and Launching a Daughter

Five weeks from today, our oldest daughter will begin a new season.  She will be furthering her education in the areas of Bible and worship.  For the first 17 years of her life, I had envisioned my sweet daughter finishing her high school education, maybe attending college from home, and finding a wonderful husband so that they could pursue a life together serving God.  But God challenged my ideas for her future while the two of us were serving on a missions trip to China just before her senior year. Close to the end of our time in China, we had the opportunity to take a short hike to an overlook in a remote village.  As I stood gazing at the expanse of the incredibly beautiful mountains piercing the sky, I heard in my spirit, “This is your Mount Moriah.”  Immediately my mind flashed to a picture of Abraham with his son Isaac, standing before an altar.  His heart may have been filled with pain and grief, but through his surrender came great blessing to him and the world.

God:  Are you willing to give me your daughter? Me: I did that years ago during a baby dedication service at church.  Of course she’s yours. God: But this is different.  Will you surrender her to Me—and to China? Me:  But she can’t go to China.  She’s not married yet.  Certainly you don’t want her to be here alone (God had clearly called her to China during a Kindergarten geography lesson in our homeschool, but we had imagined that would be after she was married.) God: Must she wait until I send her a husband?  What if she never marries?  Can she not return to China?  Do you trust me to take care of her? Silence. Me: (through tears) Yes.  I trust You.  She’s yours.

This whole conversation was a surprise to me.  When our children were babies we understood that it was important to commit them to God’s care and follow His direction for them.  It was no surprise that our children belonged to Him, but I had imagined that our girls would stay at home, learn a skill that could bring in money from home and then they would be married.    I had not considered the possibility that our creative God might have other plans.  When we returned from China, I shared the revelation with my husband and with Victoria.  Together my husband and I released her to follow God’s direction for her life—whatever that looked like.  She continued to pursue her love for China and training for worship while she studied graphic design at the community college.

Fast forward two years.  Victoria was about to finish her studies at the community college.  Clearly God was growing Victoria’s passion for worship and expanding her gifting.  Leaders in the church confirmed her gifts and gave her opportunities to grow.  Victoria sensed she needed further training beyond what she could receive in our area, but she was reluctant to even dream about what might be beyond our community.  We could see God’s hand guiding her and knew He was expanding her vision.  After prayer, long discussions, divine appointments, confirmations, and our blessing, she applied and was accepted to a program to study Bible and worship.  I knew it was God’s will but my heart held a seed of fear that I was losing my daughter—and my friend.

One day in my quiet time as I was praying about this situation, God showed me that my daughter was like a bird.  “She’s a bird made to fly and it isn’t good if she was allowed only to sit in your nest and sing.  She has a gift and she will bless many ‘nests’ with her voice.  A captured bird becomes unhappy and unfulfilled.  As she fulfills her call, joy will overflow—both in her life and in yours.  There will be some who prefer birds in cages and they may not understand.  But I created birds to fly.  Some fear the birds will never return, but I created migratory birds to fly away for a season and then return to the same location, a safe place.  She will always treasure the safe place of your home.”  I realize that only outside the cage can she fulfill the purpose of her Creator.  First and foremost she belongs to God and I know He loves her so much more than I ever could.  I trust that He is guiding her and that she is following His voice.

The next five weeks will pass all too quickly.  We’ll spend time together, sharing quiet moments, shopping for necessities and making more memories.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the day Victoria checks in at school is three years to the day we departed on our life-changing missions trip to China.  She may be thinking of her new adventure, but I’ll be thinking of the mountains of China and Mount Moriah.  I know that through surrender will come great blessing.

 Note:  Victoria is currently recording her first CD.  It will be available in the Daughters 4 God Shoppe in early August.       

March Organization Challenge: Living Area

We’re on a roll, now!  In January we set goals, made a plan, and assembled a planner.  In February we brought order to meals and menus and cleaned the kitchen.  (If you missed any of these articles, you can find them on the “Articles” tab at Daughters 4 God.) March is the month for bringing order to our main living area—living room, family room, great room, or whatever you call it.  (If you have two such rooms, you have double duty this month!) It is difficult to give specific instructions for cleaning and ordering a living area, since each family is so unique.  This month, I’m giving you some general suggestions and recommendations to help you bring order and organization to your specific living area.

I recommend you print this page and post it on your frig so you can keep up with the weekly assignments.

Week 1:  Declutter and Downsize Keep only what you need and regularly use. It’s most challenging to be organized when you’re pressed for space.  I remember having two girls in a tiny two-bedroom condo with no basement or garage.   I survived by regularly discarding toys and clothing we didn’t need.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure what I’d need in the future, but that’s where I trusted God to provide.  If He provided it the first time, He could certainly provide again if I needed it.  We aren’t as cramped for space in our current home, but we still regularly evaluate closets, bookshelves, and other possessions.  We try to find others who may be blessed by our gently used items.  It brings me great joy to go to church and see young girls wearing dresses my sweeties have outgrown.

Start the process with items you need and regularly use.  Those items can stay where they are for now.  Next, get two trash bags and make three piles:  Trash bag #1 is Throw Away, Trash bag #2 is Give Away, Pile #3 is Need but Use Infrequently.  Evaluate decorations, knick knacks, furniture, and any other possessions—things you can see and things in drawers and under furniture.  Throw the trash away, find a good home for your gently used items, and find a temporary home for the things you “Need but Use Infrequently.”

Week 2:  Pack and Put Away Use it or pack it. If you’ve determined you need an item but don’t often use it, pack it away and make room for other necessities.  For example, you don’t need daily access to suitcases, seasonal decorations, keepsake items, old bank statements, tax returns, treasures made by children, etc.  Move the items to the attic or a top shelf of a closet.

Hit the spot. Also this week, remove any spots in your carpet and on your furniture.  I recently saw this recipe for treating spots: “Use hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle and thoroughly wet the area.  Come back and blot it up; then sprinkle iodized salt on the damp part.  As it dries, the salt will soak up the stain.”  I haven’t tried it yet, but a friend told me it worked great for a blood stain.

Week 3:  Order and Organize A place for everything and everything in its place. Everything needs a home.  My mom had a saying when we were cleaning the house: “Don’t put it down until it’s home.”  Most everything in our house had a home.  All our toys belonged in the basement where we had a special closet for the games, an area for the dolls and another area for matchbox race tracks.  In my home, I chose to use plastic bins for many of the girls’ toys—one for musical instruments, one for blocks, one for dress up clothes.  (Baskets work well, too, but I wanted something with a lid.)  Yes, there is an initial investment, but the return is a system for an ordered home that allows children to help.  When you ask your children to put things away, they know exactly where things belong.

Two are better than one. Look for storage options that meet two needs—a dresser that doubles as a changing table, an entertainment unit that has storage for DVD’s, a bookshelf with baskets to hold other trinkets, a higher bed frame that allows under-the-bed storage.  All of these options double your space.

Allow space for future growth. I’ve heard it said that you fill whatever space you have.  The same rings true for storage.  If you need 4 shelves for books, buy a bookshelf with at least 2 extra shelves.  (I’m not advocating materialism or collecting things but if you are a young homeschooling family or a family of readers, those empty shelves won’t stay that way for long!)  If you need storage for toys, make sure the lid fits on easily.  If the toys in the box fit like a tight puzzle, it’s unlikely your young children will be able to fit everything in.

Week 4: Bust the Dust Clean your living area, top to bottom. Cover a broom with an old t-shirt and remove cobwebs around the crown molding and down the corners.  Starting at one of the light switches in the room, continue around the room until you return to the light switch, accomplishing the following:  clean the glass and tops of the picture frames (Update pictures, if necessary.); remove all knick knacks and dust furniture; dust all knick knacks and replace them on the furniture, clean the windows—glass, sills, and sashes; clean light switches; clean door frames, removing all fingerprints.  Clean and organize other furniture in the room, such as an entertainment center, bookshelves, baskets, etc.  Start again at the same light switch and clean the baseboards, continuing around the room until you get back to the light switch.  Sit back and admire the fruits of your labor.

 

The Cleaning Game

When I was growing up, spring was the signal for an all-out war on dust and dirt at our house.  Mom removed and cleaned the curtains and drapes, got on her hands and knees to strip and wax the kitchen and dining room floors, and cleaned out every inch of the kitchen cabinets and every closet.  Taking care of her family was her full time job—and she did it well.  Most days we could’ve eaten off the kitchen floor because it was so clean.  (Some days you can eat off my kitchen floor because there are enough crumbs to feed a small country.)  When my brothers and sisters and I were at school, my mom had many uninterrupted hours to order her home. As a homeschool mom, my time is divided between home and school so I had to find an alternative. “Many hands make light work.” (John Heywood) When daughter #4 arrived, I knew I could no longer do everything around the house on my own.  The oldest was only 6 and the next was 4, but I immediately enlisted their help.  My solution was based in three principles:  1.The girls couldn’t do everything I did, but they could certainly do some things.  2. If their hands were busy working with me, it would be more difficult for them to undo what I was trying to do.  3. Working together as a family, no matter what the project, would build teamwork.  And so I invented The Cleaning Game--a fun way for our family to work as a team to clean our home.  When the house is clean, everyone wins!

How to eat an elephant You’ve probably heard the saying, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  The same principle works for the overwhelming task of cleaning a home—take one bite at a time.  The Cleaning Game (TCG) is played with 100+ task cards that each list one bite-sized task, brief instructions for how to accomplish the task and a list of supplies needed.  Cards include chores for two vehicles and houses with 6 bedrooms and four baths.  Blank cards are included so you can customize the game to meet the needs of your family.  Three diligent, expert players over the age of 6 are able to clean a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home in under 3 hours—not including floors.

“You can expect what you inspect.” (Anonymous) Remove any cards from the deck that don’t apply to your family.  Begin by dealing the cards to each player.  (TCG comes with instruction cards explaining several different ways to play with the same deck of cards, but our family plays once a week.)  I recommend that you introduce a few tasks each week, instructing and demonstrating how the task would be completed to your satisfaction.  Add tasks each week until all cards have been introduced.  Ideally, players who can read can work independently, however it is critical that work is inspected and that players receive both positive and negative feedback—especially in the start-up phase.  Parents can choose cards, remain only an “Inspector”, or complete the jobs that children are unable to do.  Players seem to be best motivated when a parent is involved in some part of the process.

“A family that plays together, stays together.” (Joy Moore) If you are interested in playing with your family, you have two options:  purchase a CD with the pdf file of The Cleaning Game for $7.99 and free shipping OR purchase and download the pdf file of The Cleaning Game for the introductory rate of $3.99 during the month of March.  Both forms of The Cleaning Game are available only at the Daughters 4 God Shoppe.

Technology: Guarding Hearts and Minds

The speed of changing technology is mind boggling.  In the 80’s, my first computer experience included a boot up disc.  In the 90’s our girls played with an outdated Apple computer (Yes, I mean Apple.) and we bought our first family computer with 5 gigabytes of memory for Harold’s start up business.  In the 2000’s, internet and cell phones became necessities for doing business.  Today, I am typing this post on a laptop and some of you will be reading it on your smartphone that is significantly smaller and holds 10 times the memory of my first computer.  What an incredible evolution!  What an incredible responsibility… Though technology has changed at nearly the speed of light, I believe that it’s difficult for us parents to follow at the same pace.  Yes, I own a laptop, I communicate to friends through email (but that’s not my only form of communication), I navigate the web with little difficulty (especially when it comes to shopping =D) and I do text my daughters--but somehow I’m still not as skilled as my girls.  I once read an article that explained my lack, suggesting that the language of technology is a primary language for our children.  They’ve grown up with it.  Most parents have had to learn along the way and some of us are better than others at learning languages.  It totally made sense to me and explained why my then 6-year-old knew how to change my desktop and screen saver and I hadn’t a clue and why my 19-year-old had to help me learn how to subscribe to itunes podcasts and import my digital pictures.  I’m learning and progressing, mind you, but no matter how much I know about my computer it is certain that one of the girls knows more.

Computers can do some amazing things.  In the past month, the girls and I have used our computers to shop for gifts, research fibromyalia and identify blue delphinium, create a powerpoint presentation,email missionary friends in Spain, listen to a podcast from a church in California, Skype a friend in China, listen to music, get directions, design advertising pieces that will be printed in a local woman’s magazine, and of course, type and send this newsletter to hundreds of subscribers.

However, computers are a tool that can be used for good or for evil.  There are a lot of sites on the internet that are dangerous to my children’s lives and souls.  A few years back, one grieving mother came to me at a homeschool convention asked for prayer for her then 11-year-old who had inadvertently accessed pornography while visiting grandma. (She gave me permission to share her story.)  With the click of a mouse, not only can you access pornography, but I’m told you can find out how to build a bomb, how to commit suicide, why the Bible isn’t true, and so many more facts and opinions that fly in the face of our faith.  As parents, it is our responsibility to protect our children as they learn to use technology responsibly.  Sure, we can choose not to incorporate technology into our lives because it’s too dangerous, but using an oven or stove is dangerous, too.  Instead of relegating our cooking to the microwave, we teach our children about safety, supervise them, and give them opportunities to use the oven or stove within safe boundaries.  The same process works for the internet.

As parents, it is our responsibility to set boundaries and protect our children as they learn how to use technology so that they will learn to make wise choices when given that opportunity.  When our girls were very young, they had very limited access to computer games and no access to internet unless they were watching me or their dad.  Toward the end of elementary school, we still used computer games but we also began to incorporate the computer and typing skills into school assignments.  They still had no access to internet, email or Facebook.  Somewhere around middle school, we began to make use of computers as a research tool.  Instead of purchasing some security suite, I used the Windows program to change security

settings that limited their internet sites to only those that I had unlocked with a password.  (How to change internet security settings in Windows )  It can be annoying to repeatedly enter your password on certain sites, but the alternative of having my child wander the web alone is just not an option.

When Harold and I agree that a daughter has moral character, is responsible, obedient and is making wise choices more than foolish ones, we consider expanding the boundaries.  For instance, she may get an email address if there is a need.  (Anna got one last year when she was fourteen so she could communicate about her ministry, Blessing Wells.  Abigail still doesn’t have one, but has 5 or 6 penpals that she communicates with by snail mail.)  Our computers have a high security filter and are subscribed to Covenant Eyes, which doesn’t block sites but compiles all web usage and sends a bi-weekly report to accountability partners you choose.  A daughter must always ask permission to use the family computer.  If she needs to do research for school, I may allow her to use my laptop alone while I’m in the room occasionally walking behind her.  She and I both know that all of her activity will be logged and the report will be sent to our very good friend and to one of our pastors.  When she has proven herself faithful, I may extend her time on the internet—for destinations, not just for wandering.  If at any time we see a negative change in character and behavior, the privilege of using the computer is revoked.

What if a child owns their own computer?  Two of our daughters have made such an investment when they were about sixteen.  They may own their own laptops, but they must still abide by the boundaries we’ve set.  I still have permission to hold them accountable to the amount of time they spend on the computer.  I know all passwords for their computers.  Their computers are subscribed to Covenant Eyes. If they aren’t sure about the name of the website, they don’t enter it in the address line; they Google search it instead.  The girls give out their email only to good friends and don’t email or instant message or Skype guys without permission.  At any time, Harold and I have the right to read any of their email—not because we’re nosey or distrust our daughters but this would be necessary if we observed them making choices that cause us concern.

Today we continue to protect our family by setting boundaries, using the security suite that comes with our internet provider and by subscribing to Covenant Eyes.  My husband also has an app for his phone that reports web usage.  We are doing our best to set an example of being responsible and accountable in our use of technology, because you’re never too old to be responsible or accountable.  Let this be the year you make a plan, set some boundaries, and choose to guard the hearts and minds of your family.

Four Ways to Help Daughters Dream Big Dreams

Anna isn’t afraid to dream big dreams; dreams that will only become reality through the supernatural power of our magnificent God.  What seems to be impossible is a challenge she readily accepts; her faith is keeping me on my toes. D4G:  Tell me about Blessing Wells International.

Anna:  It is an organization I started to raise money to provide clean water for the people of Africa.  I first thought of Blessing Wells about two months before my thirteenth birthday.  I didn’t want to be selfish so I decided that I didn’t want to receive any birthday presents.  I wanted to give back to the people of Africa.  I wanted to make a difference and help the people of Africa survive and live without diseases and to have clean water.

I also wanted to give other people the opportunity to help build a well on a more personal level.  Even though they give in a small way, it makes a big difference.  Without other people I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.

D4G:  What was your first goal?

Anna:  My first goal was to build a family well in one year.  I achieved that goal and raised $750 in about 11 months.  I partnered with Samaritan’s Purse to be a part of a well project in the mountains of Sudan.

D4G:  How do you raise money?

Anna:  I take donations, I’ve sold candy, but mostly I design and make sterling silver and gold-filled jewelry.  I started with simple earrings and now I’m doing single strand necklaces and bracelets.  At first my mom helped me, but now I do all the work myself.  I’m learning wirework and hoping to make rings in the near future.

D4G:  How do you choose your designs?

Anna:  God.  I go to the bead shop and God shows me.  God definitely helps me choose the beads and things.

D4G:  Where do you sell your jewelry?

Anna:  I sell my jewelry at flea markets and personally to people at my church.  I’m hoping to set up an online store soon.

D4G:  What message do you have for other girls your age?

Anna:  Do hard things and make difference.  You’re never too young to do something important.  You don’t have to wait until you’re a certain age to do something important.  After I started Blessing Wells, I read the book, Do Hard Things (by:  Alex and Brett and Harris) and it really encouraged me that I’m not the only one who is working hard to make a difference.

D4G:  What is your current goal and how long do you think it will take to achieve it?

Anna:  My current goal is to raise $6,000 to fund a community well by the time I graduate from high school in June, 2014.  I am still in the process of looking at different organizations to partner with, but my goal is to find one where I remain anonymous.  I would love to help build the well, but I don’t want my name on it or any other special treatment.  It’s God working through me and not just me.  We’re just God’s vessels anyway.

A Note to Parents:

If your daughter has a dream that seems bigger than life:

  1. Resist the temptation to shoot it down. It may seem completely illogical and impossible, but pray about whether it is a dream from God.  If it is something on His heart, look for opportunities to partner with her.
  2. Be creative and look for connections.  The flea market at our church has been a great way for Anna to market her products.  Consider partnering with people or organizations that are already doing what your daughter wants to do.  It’s a safe way to find out how invested she is in the dream.
  3. Use the network you have. You don’t have to do everything; find some friends who are experts in what she needs to know or to do.  One of my friends designed a brochure, a business card, and a website for Blessing Wells so Anna could advertise.
  4. Look for teachable moments. I allowed her to host a jewelry party in our home so that she could start launch her collection.  It was a great opportunity for her to practice her public speaking skills. Helping make the jewelry was one way I could support her, but as soon as she was old enough, we took a jewelry class together so she could improve her skills and work independently.

While Blessing Wells International has required thought, planning, time, and investment on Anna’s part and some encouragement and work on my part, I am certain that the blessings for God’s children in Africa far exceed the little we have given.  I am grateful to have the privilege to partner with God and with my daughter to dream big dreams and to bless His Kingdom.

 

Reflections on Purity Weekend

It’s over and I survived.   All of my girls know about “the birds and the bees” and I lived to tell the tale.  A few weeks ago, I took my youngest daughter on “Purity Weekend”--my fourth and last.  You’d think I’d have felt relieved, but I found my feelings to be different. When we started the tradition of Purity Weekend with our oldest daughter, I was insecure, uncertain, and fearful.  How will I know when she’s ready?  How will I know when I’m ready?  What if I say something wrong?  What if I forget something?  I recognized the need to inform my daughter about the creation of new life, but I felt completely unprepared.  Since I was raised in a very modest home, this topic wasn’t discussed and the thought of having such personal discussions made me quite uncomfortable.  After much research, I collected some resources and planned the special event.  It was a great success.

As I prepared for our third daughter’s Purity Weekend, God impressed me to write a collection of information and object lessons to help parents inform their daughter about purity, sexuality and courtship.  The Gift of Purity:  Letters to a Daughter About Guarding Her Heart was released in April, 2009.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this resource, here is a short diary of how we used The Gift of Purity for Abigail’s Purity Weekend.

The week before the event I made an invitation for Abigail, telling her of the dates of her Purity Weekend and time we would be leaving.  I kept the location, the topics, and my planned activities a surprise.  Although it would’ve been great to mail the invitation, I ended up sliding it under her door.  With tears running down her cheeks she ran down the stairs and hugged me, hardly believing that the day had finally come.

When the big day arrived, Abigail and I loaded the van, said our good-byes.  As we drove, I hinted around a bit and then asked her if she wanted to get her ears pierced—something she had been anxiously awaiting for several years.  She was ecstatic and a little nervous, but so excited when she saw the results.  After dinner we checked into our oceanfront hotel at the beach (a great deal on Expedia).  She was overwhelmed by the ocean view.  We got settled in and then sat outside on the balcony as we completed the first section entitled, “Purity,” defining purity using biblical standards.  Abigail enjoyed the “Purity Point” object lesson demonstrating that you can’t identify pure water by sight alone.  We closed in prayer as together we dedicated each part of our body to our Lord and Savior.

Our Father gave us the beautiful gift of a clear morning and a glorious sunrise.  We completed the second section of letters about God’s creation of intimacy in marriage and the object lesson demonstrating the power of sexual intimacy to tie two people together.  We finished with some warnings of how Satan tries to pervert God’s precious gift.  The sunny day beckoned us out of the hotel room and we walked several blocks to a little restaurant serving a great breakfast buffet and some gigantic chocolate chip pancakes.  As we walked back to the restaurant, we visited a few shops and crossed a few things off our Christmas shopping list.

Back at the hotel, we began the last section of The Gift of Purity, entitled "Courtship."  Abigail was sad when she realized it was the last section.  We talked about the difference between courtship and dating and why her dad and I had chosen courtship as the process to discover her spouse.  The "Purity Point" object lesson reminded her that giving away a kiss is giving away a little of her purity.  When we concluded, she joyfully agreed to abide by the process of courtship and signed the Commitment to Courtship.

Now it was time for some fun!  We drove to a local spa where I had scheduled an appointment for a manicure.  The spa was lovely and her technician made her feel like a pampered princess.  Her first professional manicure, it was a memorable experience for one who wants to study cosmetology.  We returned to our hotel just in time to change our clothes and freshen up before dinner.

Abigail and I decided to take pictures on the boardwalk before going to dinner.  Actually, I decided that because it was a set up for Abigail.  I told her we'd ask someone to take our picture together, so I called to a man nearby, "Sir, could you please take our picture?"  Abigail immediately recognized her father, the would-be photographer.  Surprise and joy in her heart brought tears to her eyes.  For several moments, she was completely still in her daddy’s embrace and then together we drove to our dinner destination.

Over dinner we talked of courtship and the commitment Abigail and I had just signed.  Harold reminded her of her preciousness and presented her with a lovely purity ring.  Again, tears swelled in her eyes as Dad slipped it on her finger.  The three of us continued our celebration.  Abigail repeatedly looked at her manicure and the lovely ring on her finger—I’m not sure which one she liked more!  Dad returned home after dinner while Abigail and I stayed at the hotel one more night.  Neither of us wanted it to end.  Following a relaxing night of sleep, we gathered our belongings, checked out of the hotel, and arrived at home in time for our Saturday morning pancake breakfast.

Purity Weekend is over, but every one of the girls has mentioned that they want to go again.  I’ve told them that there isn’t anything else I have to tell them, but they insist it doesn’t matter.  According to my four delightful daughters, the best part is just being together.  I enjoyed the time as much as they did.  Maybe I’ll start another tradition.

A Lesson Plan to Teach Time Management

Introduction for Parents

Since the girls were quite small, we have tried to teach them to be good stewards of their money.  A few years back, God showed me that He was just as concerned with how we steward another commodity—our time.  He has given us the precious gift of 24 hours to spend each day.  Truly our time is not our own.  When we choose to follow Christ as Lord, we also choose to surrender everything we have to our Savior—our time, talent, money, dreams, future.  As parents, it is our responsibility to help our children make wise, God-honoring choices about how to use their time.

This brief lesson is designed to be used with children ages 8-14 years old.  I believe it will be most effective when you make it your own by using personal examples or applications to your own family.

Budgeting Time

Many people use a budget to help them plan what to do with the money God has given them.  God wants us to be responsible with what He gives us.  People make budgets to determine how much money to tithe, give, spend, save, and invest based on their priorities.

In the same way, God wants us to be responsible with the 24 hours that He gives us each day.  A schedule helps us budget our time and determine how to use the minutes and hours of the day based on our priorities.  Neither a budget nor a schedule is a permanent law set in stone.  Both can be adjusted temporarily or revised, if necessary, so you may want to write in pencil so you can easily make changes.  Print this schedule worksheet and use it to make your own schedule.  Here are some ideas of what to include on your schedule:

Tithing Time

A tithe means, “tenth.”  In the book of Genesis, Abraham gave God a tenth of his possessions. The Bible doesn’t ask us to give a tithe of our time, but the same principle works.  All of our time belongs to God, but He asks us to spend it in certain ways.  God desires us to spend time in church with our Christian family celebrating our God.  God also desires that we have a “date” with him, spending time in His presence praying and hearing His voice.  Most of us aren’t spending a tithe of our hours with God, but God hasn’t required that of us.  He wants us to regularly spend time with Him and with His people.

On your schedule:  Label blocks when you are at church for worship service, Sunday School, or other activities, including travel time.  Also label blocks for family worship or devotions.

Spending Time

When we make choices about what to do and how long to do it, we are spending time.  When we aren’t doing anything or just playing outside, we are still spending time.  A schedule is helpful because it keeps us focused and accountable to do what is most important.   Some things on a schedule are necessities, like going to school, doing homework, doing chores, participating in activities, or even daily hygiene.  When you’re an adult you’ll have other necessities on your schedule like work, laundry, or homeschooling your children.  On your schedule:  Label blocks for daily hygiene, chores, school, and any activities (ex. sports, dance, music lessons) you participate in.  Ask your parents to help you determine how many blocks to label for sleep.

Giving Time

God has promised to provide for our needs and often He provides more than we need.  Sometimes God gives us abundance to bless us and other times God provides extra so we can give to others.  God’s Word says to “consider one another’s interests ahead of your own.” (Phil. 2:10)  Our priorities should not focus only on ourselves.  God desires that His children live as a family by sharing, giving, and preferring each other.  He also commands us to feed the hungry and care for those in need.   At this stage of your life, you probably don’t have a lot of money to give, but you can give your time.

Talk with your parents about the opportunities available in your church and community and how you might be able to serve as a family.  Babysit for free for a family in the church or neighborhood.  Some communities have soup kitchens or distribute food through the local Food Bank.  Some churches have a ministry to the elderly who aren’t able to come to church.  Volunteer to serve in the children’s department at church so parents can be in service.  Pray with your parents about what would be the best option for you and your family.  On your schedule:  Label blocks on your schedule for the area(s) that you plan to give your time.

Saving Time

Time is a limited commodity.  You may get a raise and make more money, but no one on this earth can make more time.  The only way to have more time is to use it more efficiently.  Believe it or not, there are companies hired for the specific purpose of saving people time.  These companies collect and analyze information about how people use their time and then make recommendations for how the time could be used more efficiently.

You don’t have to hire a company to save time.  Take a good look at your schedule to find ways to save time and conserve motion.  For instance, it is probably a better use of your time to do all of your chores in one block of time than to do chores in short segments throughout the day.  Before you start school or homework, sharpen a pencil, gather your books, notebooks and any other supplies you’ll need.  This will help you work with fewer interruptions.  Taking your dishes to the sink after a meals takes less time and energy than leaving the table and then going back to get your dishes.  At the end of the day, hang up your clothes if they’re clean or put them wherever you keep your dirty clothes.  This takes less time and energy than putting your clothes on the floor and later picking them up and putting them away.

One of the most effective ways to save time is to stay organized.  When everything has a home, it is easier to put things away and locate them when you need them.  This will eliminate or at least decrease the time you spend searching for something you need.  You can save minutes a day by changing some habits and being organized.   On your schedule:  You can’t really label a block for saving time, but you can consider the suggestions above and choose one or two that you will add to your schedule.  If you are challenged in the area of organization, you may want to add a block or two of time to work on organizing one area of your life—school, room, closet, or other area.

Margin

You may be familiar with the word margin from assignments you’ve had in school.  Margin is the white space around the words on a page--basically the space that isn’t occupied.  Margins are important in writing because they allow people to easily read the content on the page.  If every space is filled, it would be confusing.  The same holds true for your schedule.  It must have some margin, unoccupied space, in case something unexpected happens or you just need some time to relax.  Margin also allows you to do your best without feeling rushed and pressured to move on to the next thing.

Take a look at your schedule.  If all of your blocks are filled, you need to make some adjustments and find some margin.  Talk with your parents about what might need to be adjusted or eliminated.  You may want to add margin or overestimate travel time to allow for the possibility of traffic and still arrive on time at your destination.

If all of your blocks aren’t filled, that’s ok!  The goal isn’t to fill all of the boxes.  The goal is to make time for all of the things that are valuable to God and to you.  Any square that isn’t filled is like having extra spending money.  Ask God to show what to do with your extra time.  On your schedule:  Label any margin blocks.  Make adjustments to your schedule, as needed.  You may have empty blocks that you’ll fill in the future.

Making the schedule was the easy part; now you need to fine tune it.  Live with the schedule and see what works and what doesn’t work.  If you’re feeling rushed in some area, try to shift the schedule a bit to make a little more time.  (You can divide the blocks to make smaller segments.)  If you consistently finish an activity with time to spare, you may want to shorten the block of time for that particular activity.  Activities may come and go.  Use your schedule to help you avoid the overcommittment syndrome—having more activities than you have hours in the day.

One schedule doesn’t last forever.  It is helpful to start with a new worksheet at least once a year and make a new schedule.  Take time to reevaluate priorities as well as the amount of time spent in each activity.  No matter how old you are, a schedule can help you be more productive and focused in what God has called you to do.

Homeschool Time Management

If you’re a homeschooling pro you probably have your own system for planning.  (A good system is anything that works well for you and your family.)  When I work with moms in my area, I find many who are homeschooling newbies who wonder how to make a schedule or others who label themselves as “organizationally challenged” who are looking for some ideas.  I’m not an expert, but over the past 14 years I’ve learned a lot about how to plan a homeschool schedule I can live with.  I don’t expect that the Moore family schedule will work perfectly for any other family, but I do hope that some of these ideas will help you better plan for the needs of your homeschool and your family.

PLANNING A CALENDAR FOR THE YEAR

Before I make a plan, I spend some time contemplating our current needs and our future needs.  After I’ve collected the information I can better put it onto a calendar and into a useable form.    When I am planning, I use 2 year-long calendar I’ve printed from the internet so I can see the whole year at a glance. (One calendar year from Sept. to Christmas and the next calendar year from Jan. to the end of school.)  When I’m recording the information and marking on the calendar, I find it easiest to plan using a block-style calendar so I have enough space to write.  Block-style calendar are available at discount dollar stores or you can print individual calendar pages from the internet.  Remember you’ll need a calendar page for every month of the school year which means 2 calendar years.  I make all my marks in pencil, since I often need to make adjustments or changes during the planning process.  Take a deep breath, grab a pencil and here we go…

Choosing Days Off

We seem to be able to focus best when we have regular breaks, short or long.  However, I find that I personally must have a regularly scheduled long break to do some deep cleaning and put the house back together.  (One week off every six weeks is ideal.)  We also take days off around holidays or when my children have scheduled breaks from activities such as piano lessons, dance or sports.  With that in mind, here are some questions to help you plan which days you plan not to do school.  As you make decisions about each area below, put an x over the date (on the block-style calendar) you’ve decided not to have school.

  1. Holidays—Which holidays will we take off?  How much time will I need for preparation (including cleaning, meal prep, laundry, shopping, etc.)  Our standard:  Labor Day, Wednesday before and Friday after Thanksgiving, 2 ½ to 3 weeks off at Christmas, New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day
  2. Vacation—What time of the year is best for our family to take a vacation?  How much time will I need to prepare for the vacation (including shopping, laundry, packing, planning, etc.)  For years we vacationed during the first week of October—cooler weather, fewer tourists, and a more convenient time for our family and my husband’s work situation.  Since we started school in August, a vacation in October was a welcomed break.  Our standard:  One day off before we leave, one day off after we return (This is critical!  After many trips, I realize that I need a day to recover, unpack, and gear up for “normal” life.)
  3. Spring Break—Are my children involved in activities that are affected by the public school spring break schedule?  I found that when I scheduled a different week for our spring break and still had to take the children to activities, it didn’t feel like a break.  There is no right or wrong.  Choose whatever works best for your family.  Our standard:  Spring break based on activity schedules or children enrolled at the community college
  4. Field Trips—Field trip days count as school days in our school.  They aren’t days off, but they are certainly days that are a welcomed break in our normal routine.  I look at the curriculum and try to find activities that coordinate with what we’re learning, but our excursions don’t always line up with our curriculum.  A trip to Williamsburg or the science museum is always educational, no matter what we’re studying.  I generally schedule field trips between our longer breaks.  Our standard:  Between 5 and 10 field trip days a year
  5. Other breaks—When am I or my children less motivated to do school?  I find that January is almost always a tough school month for us—we’ve just had a long break, we’re inside, we’re halfway through school, but still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I increased our productivity by adding a winter break week or long weekend around President’s Day.  It gives us something to look forward to when we’re in the January doldrums.  You may also want to take days off when family comes to visit or if you have a special event for your family.  Our standard:  Winter break the week of President’s Day, spring break usually the week before or after Easter

Planning the First Semester and Determining the First Day of School

I begin with the end in mind.  Here’s my plan.  It may seem a little confusing, but stay with me.

  1. If you haven’t already, put an x on all the days you are not doing school, including the day you want to begin Christmas break.
  2. Determine how many weeks of school you want to finish before Christmas.
  3. Begin with the last day before Christmas break and count backwards, labeling each day you plan have school (ex. 5,4,3,2,1 Week 16; 5,4,3,2,1 Week 15, etc.) until you arrive at Week 1.  The first block of the school week will be labeled with both the week number and the day number.  Week 1 Day 1 is your first day of school.

Planning the Second Semester

Christmas is a real high point in our family so January seems like a bit of a downer, especially since we have to get back to school after a nice long break.  I find that my children are motivated to work when they know there’s a vacation day in the near future.  We finally found a rhythm that works best for our second semester—6 weeks on, one week off, 6 weeks on, one week off, 6 weeks on.  School’s finished!  Sometimes we have to flex a little based on Easter or spring break, but overall this plan works best.

  1. Determine the first day you’ll do school after Christmas break.  Label that day “Week (whatever you stopped at before break.) Day 1.
  2. Label each day you plan to have school with one number in each block (ex. Week __ 1,2,3,4,5; Week__ 1,2,3,4,5; etc.) until you have completed the number of weeks in your school year.  The last day you label is your last day of school.  We usually have 34 weeks of book work and 2 weeks (10 school days) of field trips.  I schedule 34 weeks of school and record the dates of the field trips to equal 36 weeks or 180 instructional days.

Schedule At-A-Glance

Now that my schedule is planned, I take all the information and transfer it into a form that shows me the plan at-a-glance.  Here is a sample of our school calendar.

PLANNING A DAILY SCHEDULE

When homeschooling several children who can read, it is helpful to have a list or schedule to follow and to record what work has been completed.  June is traditionally my planning month when I make weekly sheets with daily assignment grids for each child.  Sounds like a lot of work?  Not really when you consider that once my school year starts, it is turn-key since both they and I are aware of the daily expectations, my students stay on task much better, and I can reuse the schedule with the younger girls.

Daily Schedule for Elementary

Since I am a list person, I naturally love the grid system of planning and scheduling assignments.  When the girls were old enough to work independently, I made each of them an assignment book—a 3-prong folder with weekly grid pages that detailed their assignments.  Sometimes grids are left empty the student isn't able to do the assignment alone.  When each assignment is completed, the block is checked off, providing an easy way to keep track of completed work.   Here is a sample elementary school schedule.

Daily Schedule for Middle and High School

I continued the grid system for my oldest, but then realized that my second daughter was working at a different pace in some subjects.  With some changes and adjustments, I created a syllabus for each subject that included expectations and a grid of daily assignments and assignment due dates.  This way I can mix and match subject levels based on the student’s ability.  Here is a sample of a schedule for an upper level class.

Making Adjustments

When our oldest entered the community college as a dually-enrolled junior *(earning high school and college credit simultaneously), our schedule drastically changed.  Up until that point, my schedule was my own to plan and control.  About four weeks into the first semester I was planning our regular October vacation.  Victoria innocently looked at me and said, “I have class.  I guess I won’t be able to come with you.”  Needless to say, we rescheduled the vacation and I adjusted my schedule to mirror her breaks so that we could be together as a family.  I have no control over the college schedule, but I still have the flexibility to make a schedule that maximizes our family time.

The goal of any daily or yearly schedule is to make the best plan that best suits the needs of your family.  Over the years, that plan will change (after all, how many high school students still have nap time?!).  Our job as parents is to make adjustments and adaptations in the midst of a dynamic situation.

Maybe this is more organization that your world can handle.  That’s ok.  You don’t need to do it our way.  This is only one way to have a plan and keep your students accountable.  The truth is there are many days I could talk us all out of doing any school!  With a schedule, we are much more productive and I know that we’re staying on track and that we won’t be doing school in July.  May God bless you and direct you as you make a schedule for your family.

*Please note that I am not encouraging that every high school student be enrolled at the community college.  Each family must make decisions based on God’s plan for their family and its members.

Back-to-School Memories

Planning for school is quite a task—choosing curriculum, ordering books, purchasing supplies.  It takes a lot of time and thought.  My mother never homeschooled her five children, but her job to prepare us for school was just as challenging.  She had an incredibly organized system to accomplish that goal, but the process never took precedence over making each of us children feel special.
 
A TRADITION IS BORN

In early August we took inventory of our clothing.  Mom sat on the edge of my bed with notepad in hand, recording my needs with the most beautiful cursive writing.  Ours was an extremely frugal family and often my list was short since I had an older sister whose hand-me-downs supplied most of my wardrobe.  My sister was much taller than I and the clothes never fit perfectly, but Mom altered them often by ripping out the seams and remaking the garment using the worn material.  There was one exception and that was the outfit for the first day of school.  Mom always made sure that we had something new to wear.

Our first stop was the upstairs sewing room where we’d pour over boxes of patterns and stacks of fabric my mother had bought inexpensively at a local warehouse.  I’d choose a pattern and fabric for my new shirt, skirt, gauchos, or pants.  If the fabric inventory was low or mom didn’t have a pattern in my size, we went to the fabric store, sat side-by-side paging through pattern books, and searched the remnant table for the perfect piece of fabric.

A few weeks later, with list in hand, Mom and I went school shopping for the things she could not sew.  This was a highlight of my year!  With four siblings, I recognized the treasure of having Mom all to myself for a few hours.  We generally started at Kmart (before the Wal-Mart years) and purchased the “foundational garments” mom couldn’t make.  Sometimes we bought shoes but our family most often went to a friend’s store to purchase everyone’s shoes at the same time.  We bought new notebooks, folders, notebook paper, a new box of 64 Crayola crayons complete with sharpener (I still love the smell of those crayons!), and whatever else we needed that year—a lock for a locker, an assignment book, or a book bag (pre-backpack years).  When every item on the list had been crossed off, Mom let us pick out something special that we wanted.  Once I chose a set of watercolors.  Another time we got a treat from the Kmart food counter—cherry red Icees with pictures of polar bears on the cup.  When I came home with my bags of treasures, I presented them to my siblings and later to my dad when he got home from work.

Our shopping days changed a bit over the years.  When I was in eighth grade, we went to the outlets in Redding, PA.  The following year when I was in high school, there were only three children at home and money wasn’t quite as tight.  We began to buy jeans and a few other things at the mall, but Mom still sewed whatever she could.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but she managed to make stylish clothes by combining several patterns for one garment or allowing us to help design our own pattern.  On our last school shopping trip, for college, she helped me find a rug remnant and coordinating comforters for my dorm room.  I remember little of the items we purchased over the years, but I still feel the warmth of uninterrupted time with Mom.

EMBRACING THE TRADITION

Now I am making precious back-to-school memories with our four daughters.  The first year I began to homeschool, I had a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and a six-week-old.  I wasn’t really thinking about shopping.  I was just glad to have my curriculum!  School days were short and we had many opportunities to shop for new clothes or school supplies we needed.  As the girls got older, I recognized the need to spend one-on-one time with them and my heart remembered those special shopping days with Mom.

We adopted the tradition of back-to-school shopping days, but with a Moore family twist.  We still take inventory of clothing, pass along the hand-me-downs (a rare thing since all the girls are now nearly the same size!) and I make a list of what each one needs.  We also take inventory of what school supplies each daughter has and will need in the coming school year.  I schedule a day for each daughter and together we “conquer the list.”  There is no sewing room or fabric or patterns.  I high-tail it to Wal-Mart!  We collect our school supplies first, and then we pick up any “foundational garments” and hit the sales racks.  Depending on what’s on the list, we may end up at our favorite thrift shop.  In our area of Virginia, it’s not always easy to find winter clothes in August, so we often finish our shopping later in the season.

Like my mom, I let the girls choose something they’d like—something that isn’t a necessity.  Over the years, Abigail chose a bendable pink ruler, Anna chose a collapsible ruler, Elisabeth chose a paint-by-number picture of a horse, and Victoria chose a beautifully decorated journal notebook.  If it fits in the budget, we may get some ice cream or even have lunch at a fast food restaurant.  Most of all I make opportunity laugh and to listen.  I don’t want it to be a totally serious time, but if it seems appropriate I’ll ask what they liked or disliked about the school year before, what they’re looking forward to, and what they’re thinking about for the future.  And like days gone by, when we return home one sister joyfully shares her newly-purchased treasures with the other sisters.

This year I thought we’d try something different.  Since time was limited because of our Guatemala missions trip, I thought we’d do a joint shopping day at an outlet center sometime in the fall.  It seemed like a good idea at the time since two are at the community college and didn’t really need much in the way of supplies or clothing.  But here I am, three weeks into school, feeling the loss of those special moments with my girls.  I don’t miss the shopping, but it’s not really about shopping.  I miss the one-on-one time with my daughters, one way I can communicate to them how precious and valuable they are to me.  It doesn't matter that we’ve already started school.  I’ll squeeze in some time with my girls between Chemistry and Algebra 2, and thank my mom for taking time to make back-to-school memories with me.

Be Intentional

Some may call me crazy, but I thrive on organization and planning.  I used some sort of “day planner” since I was a young girl.  In middle school my homework planner had Snoopy on the front, in high school it was a notebook of sorts, and in college a calendar held the due dates of my assignments.  After I graduated from college, I needed only a calendar and a wedding planner since most of my free time was spent with my husband-to-be.  I worked as a teacher after our marriage and found that my lesson plan book suited my need for organization.  But when the children came… Victoria arrived the day after the last the day of school.  No transition time between teacher and mother.  I was blessed to be able to stay home with her, but our days were like the wind—wherever, whenever, and if.  I found myself turning on the TV for news in the morning and leaving it on for hours in my day while I went about my business.  I dreaded meal time because I generally had no idea what we would be eating.  I was sporadic about cleaning, using the “if there’s a ring in the toilet, then it must need to be cleaned” philosophy.  I did laundry when someone was about to run out of something.  There was no order in my home.

Proverbs 29:18  Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

At a trip to the local Christian bookstore, I discovered a Christian woman’s planner—not for the business minded, but for homemakers.  (I am sad to say that this particular planner is out of print, but you can make your own planner with printable pages at www.organizedhome.com.)  The book literally saved my life.  It helped me to make a reasonable list each day (when the block was filled, I couldn’t add another thing!) and to plan my meals and a coordinating grocery list.  The best part was a section on the side with a list of priorities and space to record how I would bless my family that week.  As I began to use this tool, I found more time than I knew I had!  (I still maintain that I get more done with four children than I ever did with only one!)  I found I could focus on what needed to be done today, knowing that I could wait until tomorrow or next week to do other things.  Meal time was a joy since I wasn’t frantically trying to come up with a recipe to suit my meager stash of ingredients.  I discovered I actually liked to cook!  Our home became much more peaceful and I personally was more at peace, as well.

Proverbs 14:15 A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.

Years later, I still have a planner on my kitchen counter.  It has my list of to-do’s, my meals for the coming week, a list of books I’ve loaned out, and a running list of Christmas gifts I think of throughout the year.  I find that having this system of organization helps me have a plan.  I become intentional.  Since I know what we’re eating, I know what groceries to buy.  Therefore, I’m not wandering in the store searching for what looks good.  I save time and money.  I also group my errands together on the same day and by location, saving time and gas money.  I set goals and accomplish them—well, most of them.  Making a plan gives me a sense of purpose, keeps me focused and helps me accomplish the things I value.

Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

My intent is not to sell you on the usefulness of using a daily planner, but I find that this same principle of intentionality works with raising children.  As parents, it is our responsibility to seek God for His plans for our young children and later to partner with our young adult children to discover God’s will.  (Isn’t that taking control of your life?  No, God is always in control and may override our plans and readjust our goals at any time He chooses.)  If my husband and I have no goals for our daughters and they have no goals for themselves, it is easy to aimlessly wander and fill up time with activities of little value.  But if we set clear goals for our daughters’ spiritual lives and for their character, we can make wise decisions about how to use our time, money, and energies (and which homeschool curriculum to use!) to meet those goals.

Action Steps I’m probably preaching to the choir, but it is my heart’s desire that parents seek God and hear His goals and His heart for their family and for each of their children.  Here are some suggestions for a process of establishing goals.  If you are married, whether your spouse is a believer or not, please work together in this process.  You each bring a different perspective and it will help you understand each other better. (Since marriage is the foundation of family relationships, you may want to use this process for your marriage first.)  Pray for God’s wisdom as you set goals for your family.

  • Ask God for His vision for your family (Ex.  This is what God wants our family to look like.)  Write your family’s vision statement.
  • Record what needs to happen in order to meet those goals.
  • Make a list of the personal character traits that you desire your children to have.  (The list may be the different for each child or the same for all of them.)
  • Of the listed character traits, choose one or two to focus on each month.  It doesn’t have to be formal (with a curriculum), just intentional (reminders, scriptures, prayer, and heart-to-heart talks).
  • For each child, write down future goals for them based on their gifts and calling.
  • Evaluate all of your family activities in light of the goals for your family and children.  Are your extra activities helping you achieve those goals?  If not, you may need to make some changes.  Which activities need to go?  What activities can you add to support your goals?
  • With children’s goals in mind, what activities would encourage their gifts and callings?

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of steps in your planning process, but I hope it will inspire you as you begin or refine the process of being intentional as you raise sons and daughters who will know Him and make Him known.

Planning a Homeschool Graduation Ceremony

Last June our oldest daughter, Victoria, graduated from high school after 13 years of homeschooling.  It was quite an accomplishment for her—and for me!  When Harold and I began our homeschooling journey, high school was not part of the equation.  Planning a graduation ceremony was not on my radar screen!  After lots of prayer and research, God gave us ideas that created the perfect night of fun and honor for Victoria.

Preparing for the Day

Choosing the Ceremony Just as each family homeschools differently, each homeschool family has several options for graduation.  Since Victoria had not attended a homeschool co-op or umbrella school, she was not connected to a ceremony that was already planned.  I talked with her about the possibility of graduating with other organizations such as the local support group or the state homeschool organization.  She wasn’t interested in graduating with people she didn’t know so she chose to have an individual graduation ceremony.

 

Planning the Celebration Victoria and I talked about what she would like to have at the ceremony.  We agreed that Victoria would play a piano piece that she had dreamed of playing since she was seven.  We also talked about a guest speaker, but in the end we agreed that Harold, Victoria, and I would speak.  Victoria acquiesced to my request for a PowerPoint presentation.

 

Choosing the Venue Since our graduation ceremony included a short piano recital, we needed a location with an acoustic piano.  Our church no longer has a piano, but we were able to use another local church where Victoria had had piano recitals in the past.

Choosing Colors I purchased a black cap and gown (from homeschooldiploma.com) but allowed Victoria to choose the “class colors” for her tassel.  She chose red and white.  We kept the color theme for all the decorations and details of the celebration.

Announcements/Invitations Victoria wasn’t interested in formal announcements so we decided to make the announcement the invitation to the graduation ceremony.  I wanted to include an up-to-date picture since many would be mailed to out-of-town friends.    We came up with a compromise at studiodayspring.com.  (There are other options at shutterfly.com, snapfish.com, and peartreegreetings.com.)  She designed the black, red, and white invitations which included a picture taken by a friend.  (Note:  Most professional photographers require a release of copyright—and a fee—to use their work.)  We were so pleased.  We even found “Celebration” stamps from the post office--no extra cost, but a nice touch.

The Diploma I ordered a lovely personalized diploma and padded cover from homeschooldiploma.com.  (Same company as the cap, gown, and tassel)  They had several wording selections to choose from and we included one that included commendations for her character as well as her academics.  We personalized the name of our school, her name, the date, and a favorite scripture.  I was extremely pleased with the quality.

Preserving the Moment Knowing that everyone in our family would be quite busy, we asked one friend to take photographs and another friend to video tape.  That freed us up to greet guests and enjoy the evening.  Next time, I’m going to make a “shot list” of the pictures I want.  We forgot to take a picture of our whole family at the ceremony.  We did take one at home, but it wasn’t quite the same.

The Program Here is a sneak peek into the first graduation ceremony of the Moore family homeschool.  It was a very relaxed atmosphere with lots of laughter.  Some people said it felt like a big family sitting down together.  The ceremony lasted a little less than an hour. In case you’re like me and you envision pictures of things, you might want to know that all four girls sat in the front row.  There were two chairs on the platform for Harold and me to sit in during the ceremony.

Prelude:  Our graduate chose a recording of one of her favorite songs by her favorite Christian recording artist. Welcome:  (2 mins.) Harold greeted the guests with some warm remarks and prayer.  He introduced Victoria and she walked to the piano. Senior Recital:  (8 mins.) Victoria played one movement of a Beethoven sonata.  After she finished her piece, she walked to the rear of the sanctuary and into the lobby where I helped her put on her cap and gown. Processional:  (2 mins.) We used a recording of a short version of “Pomp and Circumstance.”  I quickly walked down the side aisle as the music started and all eyes were on Victoria’s entrance.  When Victoria arrived at the front, she greeted her sisters, her dad, and I with a kiss on the cheek and a long- stemmed red rose.  It was a precious and emotional moment, especially for the sisters. Our Homeschooling Journey:  (10 mins.)  This was an opportunity for me to talk about homeschooling in general as well as our particular experience homeschooling.  When we made the choice to homeschool kindergarten, I knew only 5 homeschool families—and the oldest child was in fourth grade.  I never intended to homeschool through high school, but I told the story of how God had changed my heart of over the years.  Most of all I wanted to encourage other families in how doable homeschooling is and how valuable it is to homeschool through high school. A Pictorial Transcript:  (5 mins.) After twelve years of schooling, I had quite a collection of photos from field trips, recitals, and other family adventures. I assembled them together for a PowerPoint presentation set to music. Charge to the Graduate:  (10 mins.) Harold used a scripture from 2 Timothy to encourage our graduate to continue in holy living. Reflections from the Valedictorian:  (10 mins.) It has been a standing joke in our family that our girls will be valedictorians and so we listed her as such on the program (half sheet of white cardstock with the order of the ceremony).  She talked about what homeschooling meant to her and thanked those who had been a part of her education—music teachers, leaders in the music ministry at church, and of course, her parents.  Though many of the guests already knew, she concluded by mentioning her short-term and long-term goals for the future. Presentation of the Diploma:  (5 mins.) I held the diploma while Harold read it aloud.  After we presented it to her, she moved her tassel from the right side of her hat to the left side.  The audience erupted in applause and cheers. Closing Prayer and Blessing:  (5 mins.) Harold prayed a sweet prayer of blessing over Victoria. Recessional:  Again, our graduate chose a meaningful song that reflected her hopes for the future.

The Reception I tried to keep everything very simple.  We kept everything in the color theme of red, black, and white.  Our only decorations were a dozen red roses and some helium balloons, but we did set a table of memorabilia with Victoria’s senior picture and a frame with a mat that her guests could sign.  It hangs in her room today.  Also on the table were samples of her school projects and a notebook portfolio of her graphic design work.  We had a separate table with a basket for cards and gifts. Our menu included a beautifully decorated cake, pretzels, nuts and our graduate’s favorite snacks: black jelly beans and lemon heads.  Our punch was a red lingonberry punch--again, one of the Victoria’s favorites.

Next Time… Unbelievably, we’re about to do this all over again!  Our second daughter will graduate in June, 2011.  We were so pleased with graduation, we’re not planning to change very much.  (However, I am planning to start the working on the PowerPoint presentation much earlier!)  We’re still planning a solo ceremony very much like the first one, but adapted to the interests and talents of our second daughter.  We’ve chosen the venue, the colors, and a tentative invitation from an online source.  We’ll use the same black cap and gown (This time we’ll remember the bobby pins and to wear the honor cord!) and we’ll order another diploma from the same site.  One thing won’t be same…this time I’ll be prepared!

Under Construction: Our New Online Store

Some of you may have noticed that our online store is temporarily under construction while we make some adjustments.  When our new store opens, you’ll find some changes.  After much prayer, Harold and I believe that God is leading us to make some adjustments to our ministry. First, we are discontinuing all products that aren’t exclusive to Daughters 4 God.  We will continue to carry our self-published titles such as Lady Day, The Gift of Purity, the audio products, and our sterling silver jewelry.  It is impossible for us to offer the other products at prices to compete with Amazon or CBD.  At this point, I’m planning to review new products for raising daughters, but we will not be offering them for sale.  Fewer products mean less time managing inventory and more time for writing and for ministry at our local church.

Second, we anticipate that our new store will have audio and pdf downloads priced less than a hard-copy product.  Some of you have asked for a “Cleaning Game” download so you don’t have to pay shipping.  We think that’s a great idea and we’re working to make that a reality.  We’re also hoping to add more audio teachings as well as some other books that are in development.

Third, we will not be traveling to homeschool conventions as we have in the past.  (We still haven’t decided about MACHE for 2011…)  It has become more difficult for us to travel together.  Harold took on a new role as Associate Pastor last October which means he can miss fewer Sundays, and the oldest two will be in college in the fall but still living at home.  Yes, we could leave Harold and our two college students behind, but that’s not what the Moore family does.  We’re a team and we minister together.

We believe that this is God’s plan for this season.  We will still look for opportunities to share our heart and our experiences, but just a little closer to home.  That’s a tough one, since we’ve made so many friends over the years.  Thank you for all of your encouragement and support.

Ruth Bell Graham once saw a sign along the road and asked that it be epitaph.  Her tombstone reads:  “End of Construction.  Thank you for your patience.”  I suppose I feel the same way, like I’m always under construction.  There’s another flaw, another weakness, another insecurity that my Creator lovingly reveals to me.  But I’m so grateful that He also shows me His complete sufficiency for every area of my lack.  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)  “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 1:6)  His construction process is not always easy or pleasant, but always necessary and beneficial.   Our construction, both personally and for D4G, continues but thank you for your patience.

My Favorite Things: Middle and High School Curricula

When we began this homeschooling journey fourteen years ago, we agreed to take one year at a time.  It never occurred to me to homeschool high school.  In my mind, that wasn’t an option.  But God had other plans…last year our oldest daughter graduated from high school after 13 years of homeschooling.  (One down and three to go!) After teaching high school for the past 5 years and middle school for the past 8 years, I have collected a list of favorite curricula we’ve used in our home school.  My suggestions are completely unsolicited from any publisher/distributor and I’m not receiving any compensation.   I just want to pass on my experiences to help other families.  I welcome posts with comments or suggestions you might want to pass on to parents who are homeschooling middle and high school.

Science:  Apologia I am science-challenged.  My brain doesn’t think scientifically without a lot of effort and study.  In high school, I nearly failed biology (I strongly disagreed with my teacher about evolution and I paid for it.) and I never took chemistry or physics.  When we decided to homeschool high school, I knew I would need great resources to get me through! We’ve used Apologia’s General Science, Physical Science, Biology, and Chemistry.  In each class, the material is laid out systematically so that even a non-scientific thinker (like me) can understand and apply the concepts.   “On Your Own” questions throughout each module (chapter) help the student process and apply new learning.  (OYO answers are at the end of each chapter.)  Instructions for the experiments are easy to follow which allows the student to work independently, even in Chemistry.  The instructions for the Biology dissections are very clear.  Usually the girls did the dissection and dictated information for the lab report while I read the instructions and wrote down their dictation. The first three texts have an end of the chapter study guide for the students to complete; the chemistry text replaces the chapter study guide with review questions and practice problems for each chapter.  Included with each text is a teacher’s guide which has blank tests for each module, blank quarterly tests, as well as answers for the study guides, review questions, practice problems, module tests, and quarterly tests.  The teacher’s guide also has sample calculations for experiments. Apologia provides other resources in addition to the printed textbook and teacher’s guide.  They have a CD-ROM of the entire textbook that you could use instead of the printed text.  We tried that one year, but found it was sometimes difficult to refer back to what they had studied earlier.  We went back to the printed text.  This year, one of our daughters has sometimes used an audio mp3 and followed along with her written text.  It was helpful for her to have the correct pronunciation.  Another resource, a supplemental CD-ROM, includes animations and other audio visual information supporting the text.  While the supplemental CD’s are not necessary, I’ve found them to be quite helpful—particularly for a visual learner.  The Apologia website has lots of web links for curriculum users and helpful information to help you choose science curriculum over the course of your child’s middle school and high school years.

What I like about it: The scope is academic, yet it is presented simply enough that I can understand.  In each class my children have learned scientific facts that refute evolution.  It is easy for both students and parents to use—students can work independently and parents have all the resources to assess the progress of their students.

Math:  Teaching Textbooks This has to be my absolute favorite high school curriculum find!   It’s like having a private tutor.  Three sets of CD-ROMs include audio instruction for each lesson as well as step-by-step solutions for every problem—practice problems, problem sets and test questions.  (So great for moms like me who don’t clearly remember high school math classes.)  That’s not to say that I don’t have to help my students, but if I get stuck we can watch the videos together and figure it out.  Such a time saver! Each subject comes with a traditional textbook, though spiral bound, and an Answer Key with answers to each problem and blank tests for each chapter.  One set of CD’s has audio instruction for each lesson using a “blackboard” style teaching segment as well as the step-by-step solutions for the practice problems for that lesson.  A second set of CD’s has step-by-step solutions for each of the problems in the lesson.  A third CD’s has step-by-step solutions for each of the test questions. During the past three years we’ve used Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry.   Generally, I have the girls watch the teaching segment, do the practice problems, and check their answers in the answer key.  If they get something wrong, they watch the solution to those problems on the CD-ROM.  Then they do the problem set and check their answers.  If they get more than 3 wrong, they come to me.  Otherwise they watch only the problems they got wrong.  It is a little spendy, but so worth it for families who have multiple students since everything is non-consumable and can be used with multiple students.

What I like about it: First, my daughters have actually enjoyed this math program—a first for some of them.  They understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.  I love that when my daughter has a question in Algebra 2, I don’t have to spend 30+ minutes reviewing the chapter so I can find the answer.  We can watch the CD-ROM together and figure it out.  I think the style of the CD-ROMs and the independence the class affords is helpful for preparing high school students for online classes in college.

Government: Notgrass I found Notgrass at a small homeschool event in Chattanooga, TN.  Each of the various curricula is written by Mr. Notgrass, a dad who homeschooled his children and who holds a degree in Religion and History.  The main government text has 15 units which include instruction.  A separate book has primary source material such as letters, legal cases, and documents that is assigned in the main text.  Another book has review questions for each section and tests for each unit.  An answer key has answers for both the unit questions and the tests. There are writing assignments for each unit.  The lessons were engaging and filled with practical information.  We used the internet to find the names of the cabinet posts we were studying and prayed for these individuals.  I also looked for opportunities in current events to reinforce our learning—an easy thing to do during an election season!  I learned a lot, even though it was the second government class I’ve taught.

What I like about it: I like that it starts with a biblical basis for government and continues to the twenty-first century.  I also like the primary source readings that were included in the supplementary book. PS  We’re planning to use the American History/American Literature/Bible Curriculum for 2010-2011.  I’ll try to post about it later.

Foreign Language:  community college or a tutor My oldest wanted to study Chinese, so we purchased Rosetta Stone for her high school credits.  She put in her time and completed the exercises, but it did not help her to write or speak fluently.  At 16, we enrolled her in a Chinese class at the community college.  (Fortunately, the teacher was a believer we knew.)  Our daughter learned more in a few weeks than she had learned in two years of Rosetta Stone.  (Our experience might have been different with a different language.) We’ve used Power Glide, Bible Spanish, Learnables (French and Spanish), Pimsleur (Chinese), and Visual Link Spanish.  They all teach vocabulary and introduce students to the cadence of the language—which is helpful in middle school.  However, there is no substitute for a teacher when learning grammar and how to speak.  NOTE:  In most states you can receive high school and college credit for the same community college class.

What I like about it: Victoria was able to learn pronunciation, grammar, and culture from a native speaker.  She also enjoyed using her new language skills to communicate with the other students in the class. PS—We’ve just purchased “Tell Me More” French.    We’re only two weeks in, but it has a great balance of listening, reading, speaking, and writing.  I’ll give you a better review after we’ve used it for about a year.

Some observations about other curriculum we’ve used…

Sonlight: My oldest really enjoyed the year entitled “History of God’s Kingdom.”   We liked the strong academics and integrated literature and history, but there was so much literature that I felt there was little time to digest it.  Great for voracious readers, but be aware of what your children are reading since some books may not be acceptable to your family.  The teacher’s manual is great, but I found that the assignments required a lot of parent/teacher interaction or discussion.  I found I didn’t have enough time for the discussions and homeschooling our younger three.

Bob Jones  American Lit., American Govt.: I liked the biblical integration and the simplicity of use.  (Read the chapter, answer the questions, take the test.)  I found many questions on the test that were based on notes in the teacher’s manual and not on the textbook.  The references for the answers are given in the answer key.  You either have to let the student read the teacher’s manual, or read the teacher sections to them.

Bob Jones Writing and Grammar 9 and 11: Great for the study of grammar, but I felt the instruction in writing was a little weak.  The projects were a little easier than what I would expect from my high school students.

Videotext Algebra: We found it difficult to use.  I believe it would work for a math-thinker, but for the math-challenged it was very confusing.

Saxon Algebra 1: My daughter was able to do the problems, but she didn’t understand why she was doing what she was doing.  We even used the DIVE CD-ROMs, but it didn’t work for us.  I know other families who really like Saxon, but at our house the explanations did not translate to conceptual understanding.

My Favorite Things: Homeschool Elementary Curricula

Introducing “My Favorite Things”

For those of you who know me, you know I’m a connector.  I love to connect people with people or people with resources.  That’s why we started Daughters 4 God.  If I was blessed with the opportunity to chat with you over a cup of mint hot chocolate at Starbucks, you’d hear about my new favorite book I’m reading, or about a website I came across, or about someone I know who might be able to help you accomplish the project you’re working on.  I’m really not out to sell anything (which is why I’m such a poor business woman! J), I merely want to support others as they walk out what God has called them to do.

This month, we are launching a series entitled, “My Favorite Things.”  I can’t say that I’ll include an article in the series every month, but my goal is to share the things that have blessed our family.   Most all of my favorite things came by recommendation of a friend.  I can also say that some of my friends have steered me away from what could’ve been a bad choice.  I hope that some of my favorite things will bless your family and maybe even become your favorites, too!

My Favorite Things:  Elementary Homeschool Curricula

Sing, Spell, Read & Write My friend Christine recommended this wonderful curriculum to me as I was planning for Kindergarten.  There are actually two kits—preschool and first grade.  I used the first grade set with all four of the girls when they were in Kindergarten, even though they represent several different learning styles.  Since I was a first year homeschooling parent, I appreciated that the kit was so complete.  My box included:  a teacher’s manual, two consumable student workbooks which included phonics and handwriting practice, 17 paperback student readers, cassette tapes, WORD-O (Bingo) game, two Go Fish Phonics card games (one for solo sounds and another for blends), vowel flash cards, a colorful Raceway chart to track progress, and a cardboard treasure chest full of prizes.  It was (and still is) a little pricey, but was very cost effective for a larger family since I could reuse everything but the workbooks--and the prizes.  The girls enjoyed it so much; they insist that they will be buying it to teach their own children. Why I like it: We had so much fun learning to read; I believe it gave the girls a love for reading that continues to this day.  I loved that their reading books corresponded directly with the sounds they were learning, setting them up for success.  It was a simple yet comprehensive system to integrate phonics, reading, spelling, and handwriting.

Winston Grammar Some homeschool moms dread teaching grammar, but not this mom.  Having used this program with all four girls, I found that it suited any learning style, but was particularly effective with a child who needed  a “hands on” approach.  The Basic program comes with a student workbook, a teacher’s manual and a pack of cards.  There is a pre-test to diagnose current skill, 30 weekly lessons of about 12-13 problems, four quizzes interspersed throughout the lessons, and a final test.   Each lesson includes the introduction and explanation of a part of speech using a specially designed card.  Students choose one card to represent each word of the sentence, making a line of cards on their desk.   For example, lesson 1 introduces articles.  An article card is red, so each of the “a’s,” “an’s,” and “the’s” in the sentence would have a red card.  All the other words would have black cards, indicating they haven’t been learned yet.  Students then mark their workbooks according to the markings on the card.  (An article has a check above it)  Most every week a new card is added until students can identify every part of speech and what they modify.  The last quarter of the book teaches noun functions using another set of cards.  Not only did the girls enjoy the program, they quickly learned the material and retained it. Why I like it: Most students don’t enjoy learning grammar, but each one of my girls looked forward to Winston Grammar.  It required little involvement form me and gave the girls tools to be successful as they studied independently.  As their understanding of grammar improved, I also saw a marked improvement in their writing skills.

The Learnables Elementary foreign language study just didn’t fit in our budget for the first few girls, but I rethought my decision when we began language studies in high school with our oldest.  When the youngest was in fifth grade, we wanted to begin a language but didn’t want to invest in Rosetta Stone.  Instead, we purchased the Learnables Level 1 CD-Rom  for French.  The concept is similar but not nearly as comprehensive.  No writing is required and no written words are shown.  Students look at pictures while the native speaker says either a word or phrase to describe the picture.  There is a 10 question quiz at the end of each of the 10 units.  I found that Abigail looked forward to her French lesson on the computer and began to apply her new vocabulary in her daily life.  At $50, it was a fairly inexpensive way to launch our foreign language study. Why I like it: I want my children to have the experience of communicating with someone who is not speaking English. The Learnables allows children to understand sentences spoken by a native speaker of a foreign language.  It fuels the interest for further language study which can be a benefit in sharing the gospel with those who haven’t heard.

Mystery of History 1 (MOH 1) My friend Allison called me for some homeschool advice and just happened to mention a new  history curriculum that had  just been released.  With girls ages 12, 10, 7 and 5  years, I was looking for a history curriculum we could all do together.  Frankly, that’s all I had time for.  Blending traditional ancient history and biblical history to create one seamless timeline of study from creation to Christ, MOH 1 was a perfect fit for our family.  There were three, short read-aloud lessons per week with a follow-up activity for elementary students, middle students, and older students.  I appreciated lesson plans that built on what they had learned in the lesson, giving them an assignment that was interesting and age-appropriate.  Map work, weekly quizzes or reviews, and other various activities required reproducible pages included in the teacher’s guide.  (These are now available separately on CD Rom.)  A helpful appendix references the lesson number and recommended literature, media, or other resources that we were able to find at our public library.  I used the literature recommendations for scheduling literature to supplement our language arts. One unique activity from MOH 1 that we did together was to keep a timeline in a 3-ring, 3x5-card notebook.  We created a 3x5 card for each person or event we studied.  On one side, we wrote the date(s); on the other side, the older girls wrote a description in their own words and the younger girls drew a picture with colored pencils.  Sometimes I used the cards as flash cards (around what date did this happen?) or I shuffled the cards and asked the girls to put them in the order in which they happened.  I can still see them crawling around on the floor with 20-plus 3x5 cards framing the perimeter of our family room! The following year  we used MOH 2--same basic set-up with slightly longer lessons, but the Dark Ages were not nearly as appealing and it was hard to maintain motivation.  Since MOH 3 had not yet been released, we had no choice but to change to another program.  MOH3, covering the Renaissance, has since been released.  When last I heard, future plans were to release a MOH 4 and 5 to complete the series. Why I like it: It saved me a ton of work!  My lessons, activity sheets, map work, timeline and lesson plans were all in one place.  The lesson was short enough for the younger ones, and the older ones developed skills in research and writing.  I felt that we learned how to integrate biblical people and events and the traditional secular history that is taught in public schools.

Considering God’s Creation

As a high school student, I nearly failed biology and never took chemistry.  I was desperate for a homeschool science program that I could teach—and enjoy.  My friend Susan, previously an elementary school teacher and a homeschooling mom of three daughters, recommended Considering God’s Creation.  I liked the simplicity—one teacher’s book, one student’s book, and one cassette tape (now on CD).  I also liked singing songs about science.  You memorize things so effortlessly.  (Remember Schoolhouse Rock on Saturday mornings?)  I had to take some time to divide the chapters up in specific lessons, but there was very little planning.  The read-aloud lessons were filed with scripture and simple explanations of why evolution isn’t true.   We removed the perforated pages and put them in a 3-ring binder, one for each student.  There was a lot of coloring, cutting and gluing projects in the workbook, which made it fun for the older ones, but challenging for the younger ones (younger than 2nd grade).  With a little extra help and supervision, everyone enjoyed science—even me! Why I like it: We all learned so much about so many areas of science--rocks, the solar system, living organisms and the human body.  The student book included instructions and supplies for games and hands on activities that made science fun.  I wish the kids were younger.  I’d do it again!

Next month, look for my favorite middle/high school homeschool curriculum.

The Deadly Trap of Comparison

I have lived a life of comparison.  From a young age I measured myself by the others around me.  My older sister always had cooler clothes and pristine toys.  My younger sister was quieter and didn’t get in trouble for talking too much like I did.  In high school I compared myself to my friends:  Sheri got better grades, Heather was more beautiful and popular, Lori was more athletic, and Rhonda had a better singing voice, and nearly everyone else was taller than I was.  When I entered college as a music major, the culture of auditions and recitals only added fuel to the already burning fire of comparison.  After graduation, I married Harold and we started a family.  In my desperation to be the best wife and mom I could be, I compared my efforts to those of my friends.  And then came homeschooling!  No matter whom I compared myself to, I always came up lacking. God has certainly done a great work in my heart, but the recovering perfectionist in me still fights to stay out of the deadly trap of comparison.  I know that I’m a daughter of the Most High God and that He takes delight in me, but I sometimes I fall prey to the enemy’s scheme of using others around me as the standard to measure my life.  I don’t think I’m alone in that.  I’m taking a chance and being pretty transparent, but here is a recent entry from my journal about God’s perspective of comparison:

Comparing is a form of dishonor--one is the loser and the other is the winner.  People compare because they feel a sense of lack.  They make excuses or justifications why someone has more than they do.  They define themselves by comparing themselves with others.  When you compare yourself with others, you are saying only one is good or valuable and that everyone should fit in the mould.  That’s not my way.  Look at the world I created.  There is great diversity, even in one species.  Is a maple tree more important than a pecan tree?  Is a tree more important than a flower?  I have created them all for a special purpose.  I am a unique God and I have created unique creations for unique purposes.

My limited study of art has taught me that the more rare a work of art, the more valuable.  Leonardo DaVinci’s one-of-a-kind painting of the Mona Lisa is a thousand times more valuable than a mass-produced painting from Walmart.  I’m not an art historian, but I do know that one element of the Mona Lisa that gives it value is its unique perspective for the time it was created.  It was unlike any other.

You are a unique work of art, fashioned by the Creator of the universe.  There is no one quite like you.  No one brings Him pleasure the way you do.  There are things that God purposed for you and only you to accomplish.  If you ask, He will give you wisdom to be the best wife to your husband and the best mom for your children.  Don’t let the deadly trap of comparison hold you captive.  Follow the leading of your Savior and walk confidently with your head held high.

“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.  (2 Cor. 10:12)

Looking Into His Face

You may think it funny, but I still read aloud to our girls.  They’ve all been able to read on their own for quite some time but they all still enjoy listening to a good story.  This past month we’ve been reading Mary Jones and Her Bible by Mary E. Roper, a true story of a girl who saves money for seven years so she can purchase a Bible in her own language. In one section, Mary’s father comes home with some good news for Mary.  “Mary, whose observant eye was sure to note the slightest change in her father’s face and manner, sprang up and stood before him, regarding his bright face searchingly.”  This sentence caught my attention and made me think.  Am I so observant of my Heavenly Father?  Do I spend enough time in His presence, gazing at His face that I would notice the slightest change of expression?  Am I so in tune with my Lord that I would see even a tiny hint of disappointment when I choose to go my own way? I want to know my Father so well, that I recognize even the slightest change of His face.

Mary knew her father’s face because she spent nearly every waking moment in the same room with him, opening her heart to him.  Knowing our Heavenly Father takes comes in much the same way-- spending time in His presence and pouring out our hearts to the Father who loves us.  My heart longs to know my Father in a deeper way.  I want to know His face as I know my own.  I agree with the words of Paul:  “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10)

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.