Help Your Child Develop a Prayer Life

Many Christian parents want to pass on their faith to their children. We are no different; we want our girls to have a vibrant relationship with the God who loves them so much.  That relationship is built through spending quiet time in God's presence, reading His love letter the Bible, and communicating with Him through prayer. Like any goal, it doesn’t happen by accident; it requires a plan of action. In our home, we have used different strategies for different ages.

PRESCHOOL 

It’s never too early to introduce your daughter to the power of prayer. Preschoolers are capable of praying more than “God is great; God is good.”  When my youngest was only two, we visited a 99-year-old saint who attended my church when I was a young girl. During our visit, we had a time of prayer. Each of us placed our hand on this precious prayer warrior and offered a prayer of blessing. The last to pray was the 2-year-old who babbled something incomprehensible. The woman was moved to tears that such a young child would pray for her. Here are some to introduce your preschooler to prayer:

  1. Explain that prayer, talking to Jesus, is like talking to their friends.
  2. Remind them that God hears every prayer they pray.
  3. Give them opportunity to pray from their heart. If they have trouble thinking of anything, start off with “Thank you, God, for...” and let them fill in the blank.
  4. Pray before each meal--even at restaurants.  This lets them know that God is important no matter who is watching.
  5. Make a prayer book. Place pictures of your family, friends, pastors, missionaries, etc. in an inexpensive photo album. As you flip through the book, your daughter can pray with you or repeat after you: “God bless____________.” Unfortunately, I didn’t think of this while my girls were preschoolers.

ELEMENTARY 

When our girls were old enough to read on their own, I made them a prayer card that doubled as a bookmark in their Bible. This simple tool helped our daughters develop their own prayer life. You can make this card on a computer, but these directions are for doing it the old-fashioned way, by hand. Be sure to write clearly and print unless your daughter can read cursive. Here’s how to make a prayer card for your daughter:

  1.  Choose a 3×5 card, with or without lines. Look for one in your daughter’s favorite color or use a white card and make it colorful with markers or stickers.
  2. Begin on a side with no lines. Hold the card in a vertical position with the longest side going from top to bottom. Begin by listing names of your family, one name per line: Ex. Dad, Mom, brothers, sisters, grandparents, other close family members.
  3. Next, (on the same side) list pastors, missionaries, teachers, or others in authority.
  4. Lastly, include things on the heart of your child like a friend who is ill. My oldest daughter included the country of China because she felt called to missions at a very young age.
  5. The opposite side is for your daughter. Choose one or two character traits that your daughter needs to work on. (ex. honesty, diligence, contentment) List the positive trait and a Bible verse about that trait. For example, if you need to work on truthfulness, then you may want to copy Psalm 34:13. If you’re struggling with diligence, you could copy Proverbs 10:4. Each day your daughter can read the verse and pray that God would change her heart. If your daughter reads the scripture each day for several weeks, she’ll memorize it without any trouble.

Of course, the card will not be accurate forever and will have to be updated every 3-6 months. Involve your daughter as you make changes. Pray together about which trait(s) your daughter needs to develop and encourage her as you see growth in her character.

UPPER ELEMENTARY/MIDDLE SCHOOL 

Encourage your daughter to begin a prayer journal. Many Christian and non-Christian bookstores carry bound books with lined or unlined blank pages or create your own with a 3-ring binder and dividers. Here are some suggestions to help your daughter prepare her journal:

  1.   Use a prayer plan like ACTS: Adoration – telling God how great He is Confession – repenting for what you’ve done wrong Thanksgiving – thanking God for His blessings Supplication – bringing your requests to God Prayer isn’t a laundry list of requests; it’s about building a relationship.
  2. Make a list of daily prayer requests, similar to the list above or help your daughter divide the requests: Monday for Missionaries, Tuesday for neighbors and those who are sick,  Wednesdays for Pastors, Thursday for family, Friday for Friends, Saturday for School.
  3. Make a chart for prayer requests, include a space for the date you begin to pray for the request, the date it was answered, and the answer. Seeing so many answers to prayer will grow your daughter’s faith.
  4. Record the scripture you read each day. Write one sentence summarizing the scripture in your own words and one sentence about how it applies to your life.
  5. Write your prayers to God. Encourage your daughter to write her feelings, reminding her that written words should be respectful and represent only what she would speak to others.
  6. Listen to God. In my own journal, I record my thoughts and prayers in cursive writing and what God is impressing on my heart in all caps.  Later, I can easily look back and focus on God's encouragement to me.  Prayer is a conversation, not a monologue.

Prayer is such a key part of a relationship with our God. The earlier we teach our children about prayer, the earlier they establish that vital spiritual discipline.  Earlier is better, but it's never too late to start.  If your child is older, model to them the importance of prayer by praying before meals, talking about how God has answered prayer, and offering to pray with them about challenging situations in their life.  My dear mother prayed blessings over us each day just before we walked out the door to get on the bus.  And of course, pray for your child and ask God to give them a desire to be in relationship with Him.

These are just a few ideas God showed us to teach our daughters about prayer.  Ask the Creator of creativity to show you how to best reach the heart of your daughter and help her develop a vibrant and powerful prayer life.  I'd love to hear ideas from your family about how you have taught your children about prayer!

The Blessing of Technology Boundaries: Three Key Principles for Christian Parents

After I posted the article on technology in the January newsletter, Covenant Eyes asked if I would write a guest blow.  It may sound familiar, since some portions are based on the January newsletter, however the majority of the article has never been published on our site. Read the article on the Covenant Eyes blog...

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.

 

She May Have Alzheimer's but She's Still My Mom

My mom and I celebrated her 69th birthday on Sunday, but today she probably doesn’t remember.  Dementia has been slowly stealing my mother.  Just four days before her birthday my dad moved her to a full time nursing facility in a town near his PA home.  I had already planned to make the five-hour trip from VA to celebrate Mom’s birthday, and her change of residence didn’t change my plans. On Saturday night, I got my first glimpse of mom since Christmas.   Her eyes were still vacant, her mobility nearly gone, yet she still wore a smile.  Dad, one of my brothers, both of my sisters, and I sat around the table exchanging conversation and trying to piece together a conversation from her short, sometimes nonsense responses.  She stayed awake the entire time and enjoyed the cake we brought.  It was an unusual but sweet birthday celebration.

On Sunday, I returned to have some alone time with Mom and “to have church”.  She never missed a Sunday and most were spent serving the body of Christ with her exceptional musical gifts.  Her face showed surprise and a big smile when I found her sitting in the dining area with the other residents.  I greeted her with a hug and a kiss and then pulled up a chair to sit beside her.

Words cannot adequately communicate the reality of our time together.  On paper, her words are neatly strung together, one after the other.  In reality, there were many stops and starts and pauses.  Though the paragraphs here flow together swiftly, there was actually much silence and hand-holding during the course of my 45-minute visit, with little more conversation than what I recorded.  This woman was surely not the intelligent, vivacious, creative mother who raised me, but I saw glimpses of her.

I made some small talk with Mom about her birthday, how old she was, and what she had for breakfast. (She couldn’t answer, but the nurse had told me).  We sat quietly together observing the surroundings—a TV blared in the corner, a nurse was taking a resident’s blood pressure, and several residents walked aimlessly through the room.  It was hardly a setting for church, but I opened the service with some hymns.  I started with, “Heavenly Sunlight,” her favorite hymn and one she and her sisters had recorded on a CD about a decade earlier.  I repeated the chorus very slowly.  She knew many of the words, but she watched my mouth intently to help her keep up. She still loves to praise her Lord.

Next, I read from Psalm 34:  "I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.  I will glory in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together."  Then I read the first few verses from Isaiah 61, her life chapter.  All the while I read, she nodded her head and said “uh-huh” at appropriate She still loves the Word of the Lord.

Next, I gave her the updates of my girls.  When I told her that Victoria’s graphic design work had won a contest and that she was excited, mom replied, “That makes me happy, too.” She still rejoices with those who rejoice.

When I told her that Elisabeth had her own piano studio and was giving lessons to young children, she remarked, “I know she’s good at that.” She’s still an encourager.

I mentioned that Anna still wants to be a nurse and go to Africa.  Africa holds a special place in her heart since her sister had been a missionary there for 15 years and mom had traveled there on a mission trip in 2000.  She responded, “Oh, I hope she can make that happen.” She still has a heart for the nations.

Lastly, I told Mom that my musically gifted Abigail was still playing violin and that her talent must’ve come from her (Mom).  Mom played piano by ear with only 3 months of lessons and had a beautiful singing voice.  Mom’s response was that she got it from me.  (I have a degree in Music Education.)  When I disagreed, she said, “She got it from both of us.” She’s still humble.

There was a lot of activity in the community room where we were sitting.  When someone walked close to the stool where her swollen feet were propped, she moved her feet.  “Every time they walk this way I have to move my feet,” and she flexed her foot slightly to demonstrate. She still thinks of others.

Later, one of the patients knocked over a chair and she remarked, “Some of them don’t know how to act.”  When I mentioned that the staff thought she was pleasant, she said, “I’m glad you told me that.” She still brings peace in chaos.

Before I left, I asked her if she wanted me to pray for anything.  She said, “No, I try not to hold onto anything,” and proceeded to hand me the wet washcloth she had been holding in her hands.  Maybe she was talking about the washcloth, but it really is how she has lived her life. She’s still teaching me how to grow in Christ.

I prayed with her and she agreed throughout the prayer at appropriate moments.  She was clearly in her element with her Savior.  For years her days began around 4 am as she spent time with her Savior in my old bedroom turned prayer room. She’s still in love with her Jesus.

After the prayer, I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  Through tears I told her how special she is, how I glad I am to be her daughter, and how much I love her.  She responded, “I love you, too—well, you oughtta know that.”  As I stood to go, she kept repeating, “I love you. I love you so much.” She’s still my mom.

 My mom and I before she was diagnosed.

My mom and I before she was diagnosed.

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.

Sweet Words from Abba Father

February is the month our culture has designated to celebrate love.  I am so glad that Jesus showers His love on us throughout all 12 months of the year.  He sends us love notes nearly every day, whether we recognize them or not.  He calls us to Himself and longs to spend time with us.  What more could we ask for! During the past two years, I’ve been on a journey with God.  I’ve learned so much, but I’m still learning about His unconditional love for me and for you.  I’m learning how to balance, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21 KJV)  and "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."  (John 15:15 NIV)   Ultimately, I want to be so close to my Lord that He would call me His friend.

Recently during one of my quiet times, I confessed to God I didn’t feel close to Him and asked Him what that meant.  These sweet words came from my Abba Father.  Though I was the receiver, I believe He would like me to share these words with all of His daughters.

Being in My presence goes beyond feeling.  Quiet yourself and focus on Me—on who I am, on My faithfulness, on My never-ending mercy.  Sit in My lap and be at peace.  Nothing else is required; nothing else is expected.

Lean back.  That posture is not one of warfare, but of intimacy.  It is easy to whisper in your ear what others cannot hear.  When you lean back, you can feel the warmth of My breath; you can hear the beat of My heart.

I didn’t say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you STRENGTH.”  No, I said, " I will give you REST". (Matt. 11:28 NIV, emphasis mine)  Even in the midst of so much to do, I ask you to rest and trust in Me.

Why must you go at breakneck speed?  I didn’t set that example.  The spirit of the knowledge of good and evil enforces the need to earn your value and title of being exceptional.  You are exceptional!  I created you.  There is no one else just like you in all of creation.  I made you in my image.  You need not do anything more than breathe and smile.

It is my prayer that you’ll join me as I learn how to be a human being and not a human “doing”.  Make time to sit in the lap of the Creator of the universe who just happens to be the Lover of your soul.

Cooking Birthday Party for Girls

Every birthday is special, but our older two girls especially looked forward to their tenth birthday-- the first time they were able to have a sleepover.  For various reasons, Harold and I chose to discontinue sleepovers altogether and start a new tradition for our third daughter's tenth birthday party.  (We don’t do parties every year, so this was a big deal.)  I asked God for creativity, and He gave me the idea to have a Cooking Birthday Party.  We invited ten girls, ages 9-11, for the party that started at 11 am and ended about 3 pm. Invitations

Option 1:  Use recipe cards with the following handwritten information:  the title “Cooking Birthday” as well as who it’s for, date, time, location, address and RSVP.  The recipe card should easily fit into an envelope for personal correspondence.  Purchase extra cards and envelopes and use them for thank you notes.

Option 2:  If you have some computer skills you can design your own invitation by importing a photo of the birthday girl or some still life reflecting cooking.  Be sure to include the same information I mentioned above.  Print the invitation on cardstock to give it a little weight.  (You can buy individual sheets at an office supply store.)  I recommend designing two to a sheet, cutting the page in half (either direction) and folding the invitation in half.  Send them in invitation-sized envelopes.

Preparations

Preparations for each activity are listed below.  I set up “stations” in the locations listed, including all the supplies and instructions I needed.  If I planned more than one activity at the same location, I had a basket with instructions and supplies for each activity, including an empty basket to hold the supplies from the first activity.  I also set the table in the dining room where we’d be eating.  Careful, advanced preparations will make for smooth transitions during the party.

Decorations

I kept it simple since most of the budget went to the party activities.  We chose blue paper plates and napkins that coordinated with the invitation.  The activities for the party kept us in different rooms, but we decorated the dining room with blue and white helium balloons.  Fresh flowers would be a nice touch.

Activities

As guests arrive, each girl put on an apron with her name written on the tag and made a chef’s hat. Make a chef’s hat at the kitchen table (15 mins.) Before the party:  I cut the white posterboard into strips, according to the directions, and collected the white tissue paper.  I had the tape and paper clips available.  I also had a stapler, just in case. During the party:  As the girls arrived, I explained to each one how to make the hat.  Anna helped the others, since she had already made her hat.  The girls can chat while you put the supplies in an empty basket and wipe off the table.

Prepare lasagna at the kitchen counter (30 mins)

Before the party:  Gather all the supplies you’ll need, including ingredients, measuring utensils, a large bowl, and a lasagna recipe using no-bake noodles.  Be sure leave enough time to defrost frozen hamburger.  Purchase aluminum foil loaf pans, one for each girl’s lasagna.  Use a permanent marker to label each pan with a guest’s name. During the party:  Of course you’ll want the girls to start by washing their hands.  Explain to them that preparing a meal is an important responsibility for a wife and mother and that today we’re going to practice.  I had the girls take turns measuring, preparing and adding ingredients to make both the meat and the cheese portions.  I allowed each girl to assemble their own lasagna.  (Make sure they have the pan with their name on it.)  The lasagnas baked on a cookie sheet while we did the next activity.

Blindfold the Cook at the kitchen table(30 mins.) Before the party:  Locate a blindfold, sleeping mask or bandana.  Also have available a large spoon, a timer (you can use the stove timer) and two bowls, one with a bag of large marshmallows.  (Save some for consumption.) During the party: We followed the directions, however we opted not to eat the marshmallows that had been used in the game since many hands had touched them!  I suppose you could set a rule that you can’t touch the marshmallows, but scooping them is harder than it looks.

Eat Lunch in the dining room (30 mins) Before the party:  Set the table.  Prepare a simple salad and slice some bread. During the party:  Serve the individual lasagna on each girl’s plate.  Serve the salad and bread family style.   I also had a pitcher of water on the table.  The girls can toss their paper plates, forks, knives, and the foil containers when they’re finished, but have them keep their cups for dessert.  While the girls are eating, prepare the kitchen table and other surfaces for decorating the aprons.

Decorate the Apron kitchen table (45 mins.) Before the party:  I purchased aprons in bulk from a warehouse club.  Then, I purchase several colors of fabric paint.  I think I had 3 or 4 at the most.  Mixing paints is not recommended with that many girls.  I collected my shaped sponges, paint brushes, and pencils to draw designs.  I collected some old t-shirts and had enough newspaper to cover the table.  (I removed the kitchen chairs with fabric seats.  I needed them in the dining room any way!) During the party:  I reminded the girls that the paint was NOT washable, asked them to wear a t-shirt and then let them be creative.  Since it’s been five years since I did this party, I’m a little fuzzy on how we fit all the girls and their aprons in my kitchen!   You may need to work in shifts.

Open Gifts (30 mins.) This is the easiest part!  No preparation!

Decorate Cupcakes on the kitchen counter (30 mins.) Before the party:  I baked cupcakes the day before the party so they would be completely cool. During the party:  I bought one color of frosting, some sprinkles, and a few small bags of candies like Skittles.  When the girls were finished, they took their cupcake to the dining room.

Cake time in the dining room (30 mins.) During the party: While the girls were decorating, I cleared the table, set clean paper plates, and poured waters in their cups.   When everyone was at the table, the girls ate their cupcakes together.

Party Favors

Of course, the apron is the party favor.  (Remind them to be careful because the paint will probably still be a little wet when they transport it home.)  My budget was spent, but you could also include a wooden spoon, utensils from a dollar store or a cookie cutter.  If I remember correctly, we sent a recipe card with the lasagna recipe in our thank you note.

Best of All

I believe this is a way to remind our daughters to be keepers at home.  It’s good to teach our daughters that cooking healthy meals is an important part of their responsibility as a wife and mother.  Practicing their skills in the kitchen helps them to feel more confident and having the apron somehow makes them feel a little more “official.”

Wisdom for a New Year

This year I want to make a difference.  I want this year to count more than all the others that I’ve lived thus far.  I don’t want to leave a word unsaid, a deed undone.  Life is short.  Yes, it sounds cliché, but the statement is true nonetheless.   I realize more than ever before that every day is a gift and it is our choice what we do with it. My Auntie Eleanor put my thoughts into words.  Though she was confined to her home and sometimes even bedridden, she regularly sent friends and family words of encouragement.  Titled “Love More in ’94”, this poem was sent to a friend just months before she passed away.

Mend a quarrel

Seek out a forgotten friend

Write a love letter

Share some treasure

Give a soft answer

Encourage youth

Keep a promise

Find the time

Forgive an enemy

Listen

Apologize if you are wrong

Think first of someone else

Be kind and gentle

Laugh a little

Laugh a little more

Express your gratitude

Be honest in pain

Grieve without embarrassment

Gladden the heart of a child

Take pleasure in the beauty

And wonder of the earth

Speak your love

Speak it again

Speak it still once again

By:  Eleanor Ginder

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.

Remember and Reflect: Celebrating a New Year

The beginning of a new year is a great time for new beginnings: new eating habits, new exercise programs, new personal goals, and new projects.  For my friend Karen it means a new Bible, since she buys a new one each year so that old markings don’t distract her and she can receive fresh revelation.  For the past 25 years, I’ve celebrated the new year by making resolutions. Last year, I began a new tradition.  One of our pastors introduced our family to Remembrances and Revelations, a discussion guide worksheet to help us reflect on the past and intentionally plan for the year ahead.  Some questions are directed to the family, such as “What great works of God have we experienced this year?”,  “What has God taught us this year?”,  “What scriptures have we memorized?”, and “What mission is God calling us to in the coming year?”  Some questions should be completed with each child individually, such as “What was the greatest disappointment of the year and why?”, “What do you wish was different in our family?”, and “What was the most special event of the year and why?”  As your child answers these questions, it will give you a window into their heart and soul.  The thought-provoking questions helped us to reflect on the past and to prioritize and be more intentional about our goals for the coming year.

Remember that this guide is only a tool, not a biblical mandate!  You can use some of it, part of it, or none of it.  Ask God to give you a plan for your family.  Since our family will be traveling on New Year’s Eve day, I plan to bring the Remembrance and Revelation guide so we can discuss the family questions together.  In January, I hope to carve out some one-on-one time with each child so we can complete the individual portions together.  No matter how you use this tool, I hope it will be a blessing and help bring your family closer together as you begin 2011.

Simple Gifts

Purchasing Christmas gifts can be one of the most intimidating responsibilities of the Christmas season.  I love to give gifts, but I think shopping is as enjoyable as cleaning the oven.  Fortunately my love of giving gifts outweighs my strong dislike of shopping!  Here are some of the tips I use to simplify my Christmas gift list. Keep a list.

I haven’t fully embraced the digital age (or the prices of the electronics!) so I still use the notebook planner system.  When I am able to write down important dates and events, I don’t have to keep them in my brain and I can stay more organized.  In the back of the planner, I keep one section devoted to a yearly Christmas list.  When someone mentions that they need or would really like to have a specific item, I write it down in my “Christmas List” section.  When I go to my mother-in-law’s house and she says her cookie sheet needs to be replaced, I write it down.  When I am inspired with a gift idea for a daughter, I write it down.  When Christmas arrives, I have a head start on my shopping list.

Set a limit.

I remember the first time I heard about families who gave their children only three Christmas presents.  I never imagined I’d be one.  After all I love to give gifts, especially to my children, but one Christmas convinced me that my generosity wasn’t always best for my children.  The Christmas our oldest was four, she opened one present after another and loudly demanded, “What’s next?!”  We had sacrificed so she could have a remarkable Christmas and it seemed that she was less than grateful.  The next year we instituted The Three-Present Tradition—technically they receive four since there is something small in their stocking.  Though the number of presents has decreased, my girls are very grateful for what they receive.  The expectations are clear and no one is disappointed.  It also causes me to evaluate my purchases more carefully.  Recently the girls were talking about Christmas traditions and said they would like to continue The Three-Present Tradition with their families--if it was ok with their husbands.

Make a budget.

Before you go shopping, determine how much you plan to spend on Christmas presents.  No matter how many presents you buy for your children or other family members, it’s easy to go “hog wild.”  You see something that you know your family member would love and then you look at the price tag.  Well, it’s more than you wanted to spend but you rationalize that the recipient just has to have it.  Soon your Christmas budget has been thrown out the window and you’re paying for Christmas until March!

Know the rules.

If you exchange presents with your extended family, find out what the exchange looks like—individual gifts for everyone, individual gifts for children, or family gifts.  It is a little awkward, but you may also want to discuss a budget limit so that everyone is on the same page.  Again, communicated expectations make for fewer disappointments.

Shop all year.

Since I don’t like to shop and rarely find myself at a retail establishment that doesn’t sell canned food, I shop for Christmas all year long.  If I happen to be in a store in February, I look for winter clothes sales.  During the summer, I found a great deal on Christmas plates to hold my homemade goodies.  Consider seasonal sales, going-out-of-business sales, or home parties as great opportunities to do some early Christmas shopping.  When we’re on vacation, I keep my eyes open for unique gifts.  Gift shops are sometimes expensive, but may have the perfect gift.  On our vacation this year, we spent a day at Springs Folk Festival where we found handmade items from wood, leather, textiles, pewter and other metals.  I picked up several pewter Christmas ornaments that were significantly less than Hallmark prices.  Several years ago, I purchased cloisonné jewelry during a missions trip to China.  Shopping year ‘round can save money and ease the December budget by spreading expenses over several months.

Be creative.

Handmade gifts are unique and personal.  It just doesn’t seem like Christmas to me if I’m not making some of my gifts.  In last year’s December newsletter I wrote an article entitled, "Gifts from the Heart," a collection of handmade gifts that I’ve made over the years for family and friends.  You may also find ideas for handmade gifts at organizedchristmas.com.

Simplify.

One way to simplify is to give family gifts.  Two families have been the inspiration for simplifying some of our gift giving.  Each year the Bowen family gives us homemade cinnamon twists, one for each member of our family and the Shedd family, originally from Ohio, makes homemade buck-eye (chocolate and peanut butter) candies, one for each member of our family.  Each family has gifted us these same treats for nearly ten years and yet we still anticipate these treasures.  Recently, we started our own tradition of giving homemade peppermint bark to families.

Another way to simplify is to buy in bulk.  When I find something that I really like, I sometimes buy a bunch!  When giving gifts to everyone in a group, like a Bible study or a group of Sunday School volunteers, it works well to give the same gift to everyone.  This year I found a great sale on a leather-bound devotional book, so my husband will be giving it to all of the men he is mentoring.  Last Christmas, I made a dozen pair of star earrings for my friends.  Giving the same gift saves planning time and shopping time.

Prepare to wrap.

I love to give gifts that look beautiful but I hate to wrap and I’m opposed to using gift bags for everything.  One way to make things easier is to be organized and prepared.  Before Thanksgiving, I purchase boxes, tissue paper, wrapping paper and matching wired ribbon from a $1 retailer.  Sometimes I buy the sticker gift tags and other times I use decorative scissors to cut gift tags out of cardstock.  At home, I have a large plastic tub to store boxes, gift bags, tissue paper, and gift tags—the front for year-round and the back for Christmas.  I keep an extra pair of scissors and scotch tape with the wrapping supplies so that everything is easily accessible.  When I have to wrap, everything is in one place.

May your Christmas shopping and wrapping be full of peace and joy!

Merry Organized Christmas

Long before there were organizing experts or special stores devoted solely to organizing, my mom had set up my dresser drawers with separate shoe boxes for socks and “unmentionables.” She color-coded the photo albums, school folders, and even bath towels. Christmas was no exception for her organizational skill.  Mom made lists in September and had her shopping done before Thanksgiving.  Nearly 80 Christmas cards were hand-addressed, signed in her perfect penmanship, and sent on the Friday after Christmas.  The every box of Christmas decorations was clearly labeled and the wrapping was finished long before Christmas Eve.

I am grateful that some of that organization has filtered down to her daughter, but I sometimes wish that my Christmas (and my closets!) were a little more organized.  I believe the key to organization is prior planning and lots of lists (so the information doesn’t have to stay in my head!).  If you’re looking for some tips to better organize your Christmas celebrations, check out organizedchristmas.com. You’ll find a Christmas countdown with a daily assignment, holiday tips, recipes, and printable forms for a budget, gifts, Christmas cards, menus, and lots more. (There are enough forms to keep you busy until next Christmas!)  Certainly it isn’t necessary to fill out each form, but I find it helpful to choose forms that apply to the most unorganized areas of my Christmas celebration.  When I make notes, it helps me better use my time and resources to accomplish my goals.  This year I plan to use the Ornament Journal to record the history of special ornaments that hang on our tree and the Holiday Menu Planner.

Most of all, don’t let the enemy of our soul use disorganization to steal your joy and paralyze you.  Choose not to compare yourself to anyone else and remember you are a precious daughter of the King of Kings.  His love for you isn’t based on your organizational skills.  Ask God to give you direction and help you make a plan.  Do the best you can with the time and money you have, but don’t forget to choose to be fully present in the moment.  Find joy in the chaos of decorating; find joy in the long (and sometimes loud!) trip to visit relatives; find joy in being with friends; find joy in remembering Jesus who was born to give us life, and life more abundantly. (John 10:10)

 

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.

 

Time to Soar

Twenty years ago this month I discovered I was carrying our first child.  Though seasoned parents repeatedly mentioned how quickly the years would pass, I still found it difficult to comprehend.  Now I completely understand.  It seems like just yesterday our Victoria was born and yet today she is preparing to graduate from the community college, searching for a job, and planning her next steps.  Our second daughter is not far behind, having begun her college education nearly three months ago.  It would be easy to let fear overwhelm me, but God has given me tremendous peace during these transitions.  He even spoke a special word during one of my quiet times. It is my hope that these words encourage those of you walking the same road of transition. “It’s time for her to grow and to soar.  You have kept her protected and nourished her well.  She has lived in a palace, knowing her place and her destiny.  Now it’s time for her to leave the safety of the palace.  This will open her eyes, grow her compassion and strengthen her faith.

Everyone is right when they say it will never be the same, but I say it will only be better.  She is a bird who was made to fly.  It would not be good if she were only allowed to sit in your nest and sing.  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 think birds should stay in cages.  They may not understand, but I created birds to fly.  As she flies from one location to another, she will bring songs, and life, and laughter to so many.

Some fear the birds will fly away never return, but I created many migratory birds to return to the same location, a safe place where they can spend the winter.  She will return to her safe place in my perfect time.”

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?                          Matthew 6:25-27

 

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.

Our Guatemala Missions Trip Update

The memories of eight years ago are still clear to me today.  While visiting my husband’s parents, their church hosted a joint Sunday morning service with a Hispanic congregation.  My 8-year-old Elisabeth fell in love with a little Spanish girl and together they shared their native languages with each other, pointing to objects and repeating words for the other to learn.  That experience made quite an impact in Elisabeth’s life.  Several years later, we talked about what God might have for her future before He sends her future husband.  (From that conversation, the book Becoming a Daughter of Destiny, was born.)  After a time of prayer she said that she wanted to work with Hispanic children and maybe even start her own orphanage. Over the years, Elisabeth’s love for the Hispanic people grew.  She studied Spanish, listened to Spanish Christian radio via the internet, and dreamed of the day she could travel to South or Central America.  Last year she heard about a team who was going to Guatemala to teach orphans about worship.  She was interested, but it was too late to join since the team was leaving in only two weeks.  She prayed that another team would go the following year and put her name on the waiting list.  Throughout the year, Harold and I prayed and sensed that this trip was God’s plan for Elisabeth.  In early April Elisabeth and I were accepted to be part of a return trip scheduled for July, 2010.

Before we left for Guatemala, God put in my heart to print a Spanish translation of Lady Day that could be used in orphanages.  God provided a friend to translate the book and the finances to print a colorful cover designed especially for the girls of Guatemala.  We brought 100 copies and prayed for God to open doors.

Our ten days were packed with ministry to orphaned, abused or under-privileged children and to orphanage directors, house parents, and Guatemalan believers.  We held a Worship Festival at three different orphanages.  The first day the team played with the kids (ages 4-18) for a few hours to build relationships.  We brought balls, bubbles, jump ropes, kites, and balloon animals, and a giant parachute.  We had a time of singing songs in Spanish and English like, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” And “I am Free to Run.”  We also shared a meal with them.  The next day or several days later, we returned to teach them about worship.  We began with a time of singing.  Then we broke up into small groups and rotated

through several “stations” about how to worship God through music, dance/movement, crafts and soaking. In music, we taught the kids a little about reading music and matching pitches.  Elisabeth and her friend Kara were in charge of the dance/movement.  They taught the kids how you can worship with dance and planned movements (a lot of jumping!) to the Spanish version of “You Have Turned My Mourning into Dancing.”

I was in charge of crafts.  Through a translator, I talked about how God gives us artistic abilities and how we can use our gifts to worship Him.  Then the kids made a musical “tooter” with wide craft sticks and a prayer journal with blank pages to keep a record of what God says to them.  Sometimes they used their journals in “soaking,” a time of being quiet and still before God and soaking in His presence.  Before we left, we gathered the children back together and presented a mime about how God the Father loves us and gives us gifts,  but Satan tries to steal them and keep us from the Father.  We concluded with a call to salvation and a time of individual ministry, including a time of praying for physical healing.

During our stay in Guatemala, we visited four orphanages where I was able to present Siendo Una Senorita, our Spanish translation of Lady Day. One worker remarked how beautiful the books were and that it was a great translation.  She was thrilled.  A director at another orphanage commented that just that morning she had had a discussion with the girls of the orphanage and realized she needed a tool to teach them about such things.  She cried at the thought that God had cared enough to provide for the girls.  Another director said that just yesterday the leaders of the orphanage had discussed how important it was to have discussions about growing up and how they were going to approach the subject.  In each case, God had prepared the way.  I feel privileged to be part of God’s plan for the girls of Guatemala.  Praise God for His faithfulness to His beloved daughters!

While we were there, God opened up other opportunities that weren’t on our original schedule.  One day we drove nearly two hours to a small village near the volcano that had erupted in May.  About 100 underprivileged children from the area came to a small community center where we sang songs and played games.  After about half and hour, our team leader asked Elisabeth to tell the children a story that would make them ask Jesus into their hearts.  Through an interpreter, she told the story of the Prodigal Son.  Nearly all of the children raised their hand to accept Christ and Elisabeth led them in the sinner’s prayer.  I was so proud of her.  It was a sweet moment for a mother’s heart.

Another day, we spent about an hour at an orphanage with HIV positive children.  In that short amount of time, we sang with the children, told them how much the Father loved them using the story of the Prodigal Son.  Many prayed to accept Jesus.  As we gave the girls balloon crowns and the boys balloon swords, we spoke words of blessing over the children (Ex.  You are a warrior of peace.  You are a princess of faith.).  We were encouraged to hear testimonies of how God had healed three of the HIV-positive children and we prayed for more children to be healed.   Still another day we went to the Red Zone, a dangerous area of the city for natives and foreigners.  With a guide, we were given entry to a gang-infested neighborhood where we gathered in a small courtyard surrounded by corrugated metal walls.  Again we sang songs, presented a mime drama about the Father’s love, and crowned them as princes as princesses—this time with paper crowns donated by the Burger King where we had eaten breakfast.

While the majority of our time was spent with children, God also gave us opportunities to pray with people from all walks of life:  a family of Guatemalan believers who are involved in government, another family of Guatemalan believers whom God has prospered through business, and several American couples who serve as directors at the Christian orphanages we visited.  On the Sunday we were there, we attended a Guatemalan church where our team led worship and our team leader preached.  Many responded and came forward to receive prayer.  Several were healed.

A few of my favorite moments, in no particular order:

Seeing Elisabeth’s reaction to how God answered her prayers for a balcony at our hotel

Worshipping as a team at our hotel--the presence of God was so sweet

Listening to Elisabeth use her Spanish with the children

Watching Elisabeth ask the children if they want to accept Jesus and watching all the little hands go up

Praying for a young woman, knowing that God was calling her and changing her destiny in that moment

Presenting the Siendo Una Senorita books to the orphanage worker/directors

It was a privilege to travel with my daughter to Guatemala to love the people and serve my Father.  Neither of us will be the same--and I don’t believe that Guatemala will be the same, either!  Elisabeth is continuing her Spanish studies with renewed vigor and is praying about her next steps.  Spanish is definitely part of the equation.  In Guatemala, there are many children who now know of a Heavenly Father who loves them and who has given them gifts.  They have a new perspective of who God is and of their value as sons and daughters of the Most High God.  These children will become spouses, parents, businessmen, lawyers, inventors, government leaders, pastors, or worshipers who will shape the heart and soul of Guatemala…for the praise of His glorious grace.  All praise to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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!