First - have they heard the "I Have a Dream" speech? It is only 17 minutes long - watch it on full-screen, turn up the volume and really listen.
Tracking ID UA-67579211-1
Nearly a hundred years had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation, yet America's black citizens remained trapped in a legal morass of prejudice and codified bias. The right to vote, to work, to receive an education, to simply "be" in certain spaces - all were points of contention. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man with powerful gifts, born for "such a time" as the Civil Rights Era. If your students don't know why we honor MLK, Jr. with a holiday - today is the perfect day to remedy that!
First - have they heard the "I Have a Dream" speech? It is only 17 minutes long - watch it on full-screen, turn up the volume and really listen.
Secondly - especially for your high school students - have they ever really THOUGHT about the words of his speech? Of how he crafted and carefully expressed every idea with the goal of impacting people's hearts and minds forever? I have two free files for you: A student printout of the speech, with numbered paragraphs to help you read it closely and discuss it, and a teacher's key close reading I created for my American Lit class students. I encourage you to go over this speech - if not today, this week; if not this week, this month. We honor the man when we keep his dream alive!
Not all rigor is mortis!
As we come to the end of the very strange year, I have been thinking how to make a Christmas for a relative that is in a care facility and will not be able to have much contact with us at all for the Holidays that have always meant so much. We are going to do a "Twelve Days of Christmas" surprise for them. It does mean twelve trips up the road a bit to drop a different gift each day outside with their name clearly labeled. (I did check with the staff, they are totally onboard! I suggest you do the same. Determine a PLACE you should leave the gift each day.) If your shut-in is at home, it might be easier - but watch out for those video doorbells we all gave grandma last year! Sneakiness is a plus, and my kids have enjoyed doing the "ring-and-dash" part of the equation in the past.
It occurred to me, as I planned, that perhaps many of you have a neighbor, or a relative, or a friend who is also shut-in this year, in a new and uncomfortable way. Some of us who homeschool have found that the comforts of home and family, and the familiar rhythms of a homeschool life still lived together, have meant that we feel almost insulated from the hardships of stay-at-home orders. We certainly are missing our groups and gatherings, church friends, and traveling - but I know for my family, the happiness of shared movies, books, and meals makes our experience far different from the one (or the couple) who are alone when they want nothing more than to be together with extended family and friends.
So. First - apologies for getting this printed up so late. I was honestly putting the finishing touches on my planning when it occured to me to share this. I hope you don't feel that the time is too late. You can start this at any time this season. Traditionally, the twelve days begins 12/25 and runs through 1/6 of the New Year. I like to begin early (on 12/14) and end on Christmas day when we do this, and my tags reflect that fact. It would be an easy task to simply change up the poem for different days. My tags are also built around the legend of the "Twelve Days," with each day standing for some part of the Gospel message. Of course, you could alter also if you prefer not to include that.
I'm going to upload the file for my twelve tags down below (totally free, no anything required) for you to print. If not, PLEASE, feel free to borrow and ammend my silly poems to your own gifts & days. You should not feel limited by calendar or budget. This can be as simple as making sugar cookies and delivering a few each night, perhaps shaped or decorated to go with the night's theme. If you don't bake - you could have your children create a picture for each night, or make a small Christmas ornament. Really, the possibilities are endless and do not need to be either expensive or time-consuming. It truly IS the thought that counts!
My nights & gifts are as follows:
1st Day-12/14 (Mon) - Partridge in a Pear Tree - a small basket of Pears w/gold bow
2nd day-12/15 (Tue) - Two Turtle Doves - Dove Chocolate Candy ( OR Dove lotion, bathsoap)
3rd Day-12/16 (Wed) - Three French Hens -Popcorn & movie
4th Day-12/17 (Thur) - Four Calling Birds - 4 cds of Christmas music (OR 4 CANS OF CHICKEN SOUP !)
5th Day-12/18 (Fri) - Five Golden Rings - 5 GOLDEN DONUTS (or five gold napkin rings around something?)
6th Day-12/19 (Sat) -Six Geese a-laying - 6 Plastic Eggs filled with nuts/seeds
7th Day-12/20 (Sun) - Seven Swans a-swimming - 7 Specialty Coffee packs in a mug (OR 7 Scented soaps, Or Schwans ice cream bars)
8th Day-12/21 (Mon) - Eight Maids a-milking - 8 Hot Cocoa packets
9th Day-12/22 (Tue) -Nine ladies dancing - Socks & 9 small Candy Canes (or Pink Lady Apples)
10th Day-12/23 (Wed) -Lords a leaping - Ten Gingerbread Men Cookies on a festive plate
11th Day-12/24 (Thur) - Pipers piping - 11 Piroulini Cookies (OR Biscotti OR Breadsticks OR anything “Piping” hot…)
12th Day-12/25 (Fri) - Drummers drumming - A drum of holiday popcorn or a "drum" of fruitcake..or anything else they might enjoy, but in one of those cute Christmas tins ...er, Christmas drums!
HERE is the pdf of my twelve "day" tags: (Click to Download, nothing required)
I guarantee that your family will have AS MUCH fun doing this as your recipient does finding the little gifts. We have "revealed" ourselves some years when we have done this; other years we have just kept the secret to ourselves. We have given "bigger" gifts (socks, dvds) and we have given tiny gifts (an ornament or cookies) and have found they are received with equal delight.
I challenge you - find someone who is alone this Christmas, and brighten up their season!
The ‘lasts’ can be hard, can’t they? Sometimes a ‘last’ passes by and we aren’t aware it is a last – until it is long gone. The opportunity to savor and purposefully remember is gone, and the wind of time blows it down the street of our days into the past. Today wasn’t like that, though. I knew ahead of time this ‘last’ was coming. I have been thinking about it, preparing for it, for a while now.
Today our ‘last’ child drove away for the ‘last’ time for a first day of school. It wasn’t that long ago that he had the cat in his lap, made himself a cozy nest in a laundry basket, and proclaimed himself ready for kindergarten. Different cat today, and the curriculum has certainly progressed (hey! Phonics worked!), but again he took some things to make himself a cozy nest while he settles in to do the hard work of preparing for a career.
I had anticipated feeling overwhelmed and maybe a little weepy after he left. With his older siblings on their own, including a newly married brother & sister-in-law, his leaving left us -alone. And then my husband left for work. I braced for a hard tug on my mama-heart. Homeschooling had been decades of loud laughter in a houseful of activity and energy. In my empty house this morning, all was still. Even our usually frenetic husky-dog lay asleep in the sun by the sliding door. For the first time in 33 years (at least for this practice run semester!), we are empty-nesters. This is how it will be. I waited.
But you know what? Instead of feeling an overwhelming wave of sorrow or emptiness, what I felt instead was an irresistible, tremendous surge of gratitude. This child for whom I prayed and with whom I worked so long; this child is going to be just fine. He struggled for five years to overcome dyslexia, sounding out words bit by bit well into fifth grade. Yet like a tiny single prop airplane, when he finally lifted off – oh, away he soared – higher, higher, higher – with seemingly no bounds to where he could go. Trust me, his reading comprehension has come a long, long way, baby. I am so grateful.
Not only that. He was the one left behind by circumstances. My elderly mother lived with us, and it seemed that every spring, just as we finished the long fall review and turned a corner into new material, she would have a serious medical crisis: a stroke, a knee replacement after a fall, open-heart surgery, necrotizing fasciitis, another series of strokes. After twelve hours a day at the hospital, I would return to that little face – that sweet little face. And he would show me what he was trying to learn to do, on his own. Just by reading the instructions, with some not-always-detailed help from an older sibling, he taught himself to borrow for subtraction, to multiply in columns, to do long division. During his elementary years, all the tricky things? all the steps that kids stumble over in math? I was absent for many of them – trying, desperately, at night to show him the next day’s work. When I mourned over all he was having to do on his own, a wise mentor gave me this verse, Psalm 127:2 "... The Lord gives to His beloved, even in his sleep,” and reminded me that this child was learning an awful lot about faithfulness, about giving and living and love. I clung to that. I was trying; he was trying. We were not enough; God had to make up for an awful lot. But He did, and I am so grateful.
So, today, that sweet-faced boy is a mechanical engineering student well past all that calculus and linear algebra and – well, past me! I laugh to think how I worried that he would never learn to borrow for subtraction! I laugh to think how worried I was that he was having to learn how to learn. Even at 7, 8, or 9, under the watchful guidance of his older siblings when I was away, he developed the understanding that learning was important and working at it made a sweeter victory when something was understood and conquered. How can I now be sad to see the seeds thus planted and prayed over coming to a bountiful and blessed harvest as he drives away to his own life and career? I can’t!
I have become so aware of the patterns of lasts and firsts in life these past few years; I am learning to appreciate and embrace their coming. As my children have grown into young adults, the lasts have been coming at us fast! Yet…we noticed that if we were willing to release the fear of the “last” – we were really watching the birth of a “first.” Last days at home become first days in their new place. Last days here become our first new days as “the old folks.” Last nights in a childhood bedroom lead to a first night in their own home. Lasts are easy to mourn, perhaps harder to see as incipient firsts, but – oh the beauty when you glimpse it in that new perspective!
Just as God was faithful to lead and guide and provide for our family during those long, full, ride-them-like-a-rollercoaster years of homeschooling, God is faithful today. After 33 years with kids in the home as my primary focus and priority, I turn my eyes to tomorrow -- what is next? If God so ordains, and Jesus tarries, I may yet have 30 or 33 more years on this earth. I’m excited to see the “first” that this “last” ushers in!
But I’m still going to be really happy to see that kid, come Thanksgiving break! <3
Usually words come easily for me, but today I am struggling. The juxtaposition of the video of George Floyd struggling to breath under abuse of power and the video of Amy Cooper attempting to leverage fear of that same abuse were a combination that truly left me speechless, horrified, sick.
Racism is evil. To not speak out against it at this point feels like tacit approval. We each need to say it out loud - no matter how small or how large our audience. Yes, I must do something. I am aware that it is a small something. Please bear with me - so many words are fighting to bubble to the surface. I will say this awkwardly and without grace, because I am trying to say what should not ever need to be articulated; it is such plain fact - RACISM IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. THIS CANNOT CONTINUE.
Because racism is evil - sinful- the only lasting answer comes from repentance, a change of heart. We can legislate and we can have better training and we can protest (and I am not denying the benefit or reality of the need for any of those) - but true change must be won in each human heart. Racism is a sin. It takes a change of heart to overturn that. People are made in God's image - the Image Dei - and to deny the stamp of His image on any of His children is to deny Him.
That said, I am appealing today to the moms and dads that make up the majority of my audience, mostly homeschool families, primarily Christian homeschool families. Friends - we need to address this in our homes. We must. We MUST talk with our children. It is painfully obvious that racism is a sin prevalent in the world, and just like any other sin we must lay a foundational understanding of why it is absolutely against God's design.
We hear a lot about how important representation is in books and movies and on TV. But, honestly, I wonder if we have been missing something in all that discussion. Yes, yes, YES - it is critically important to children of color to see themselves represented - to see both the beauty and the potential in their lives. But you know what? I think it is also critical that we see each other represented. Bluntly stated: white children need to see children of color represented in books as beautiful, as smart, as creative, as heroes, as full of potential as every human being is. We all - every family, every parent - need to make sure to lay the foundation in our home that every single human being bears the image of God and is intrisincally valuable, because as with many other values we hold, they will surely encounter its opposite in this world.
So, here is one small something we can all do to change the future: We should purposefully use books to reinforce the natural and obvious fact that all people are created by God in His image. As I read a picture book with a two or three or four year old, I can point to the child on the page and say, "Isn't she smart? Look how handsome he is! Oh, isn't her hair pretty? Wow, he is so brave!" and in doing so teach my child that race is no arbiter of beauty or intelligence or success or worth. Go to your home library, right now. Do you have picture books representing black children and adults as joyful image bearers of God? Make sure, right now. Here are a few for your consideration (I LOVE the Matthew Turner books - the illustrations are so JOYFUL!):
As kids get older, make sure they read biographies of people of color, not because of the race of the protagonist but because these are people our children should know. If they don't know, there is a hole in their worldview. That is part of the point. There are picture books, chapter books, and award-winning biographies sure to inspire everyone from a budding artist to an aspiring engineer. The Harriet Tubman book "Moses" makes me cry every single time I read it, simply for the beauty of the faith etched in her face. Here is just a tiny sampling - check them out:
Later, as teens, our kids are going to need us to help them procees the horrific struggle of Frederick Douglass, not that there are any good answers to those hard questions. They are ready to explore the staunch determination of Sojourner Truth, the modern narrative of Colin Powell or Ben Carson, the bigger story behind Martin Luther King. Maybe they will even want to discover the truly miraculous call on the life of Samuel Morris. These are people who have spoken and continue to speak into the history and legacy of our nation and the world, and it behooves us all to be listening:
I started out by telling you what a small thing this was, and it is. I can't convict white supremacists of their sin. I can't turn the tide of racism or abuse of power. I can't, and neither can you. Only God can change such a hard heart.
However, just because we can't do those big things does not mean our small things are meaningless. Let's "do the next right thing" (as Elizabeth Elliot said decades before Frozen II was ever dreamed of). Let's make it a matter of importance to discuss equality in our family, with our children. Purpose to live lives that model respect for the image of God inherent in every human being.
Finally - the big thing - let's pray for an end to racism with this generation. Pray that God will allow His people to come together as a model of unity that will be a testimony to the nations. Will you commit to pray? To speak up? To use your sphere of influence to push back against racism? To lay that foundation for change in your own family? Let's do something.
Our family started social distancing and staying in as much as possible before it was required, as we began reading about the looming covid19 battle. I think it's been six weeks now. We like people, but we are also home bodies, so it hasn't been as hard on us as it has on many whose lives revolve in much more public ways. We homeschooled, so we understand and embrace the rhythm of a life lived from home. We have always cooked our meals and eaten together, we have always enjoyed the peace and quiet of a happy solitude, and we rarely seek entertainment outside our home. I guess this should be easy for us!
Yet even for we introverts and homebodies, this is a bit much. We miss our ministries, the church family we love to worship with, and the easy fellowship of friends over for lunch or dinner. This morning, as I prepared to teach yet another Zoomed homeschool co-op literature course, I began to grow frustrated. I felt myself thinking, "When will this be OVER?"
I immediately knew that was the wrong question. (I have a habit of asking wrong questions!) The question - for me - really isn't "When will this be over?" but rather it is, "What should I be learning in this place?" Or maybe, "How can I lean in to this silence and more clearly see the will of God?" I filed that question away to ponder and turn over.
Now, I know there are lots of experts out there telling us just to relax, take it easy, and not to put pressure on ourselves to do anything with this time. And, honestly, if I were feeling stressed, or fearful, or anxious - I would absolutely agree that I need to just be... But I'm not fearful or anxious or stressed. I'm just spoiled and like being able to do what I want to do, and I'm eager to not be too put out of my comfort zone. Hm. Sounds like a perfect set-up for a little spiritual growth?
Spiritual growth. Hm. That got me thinking about my garden. (I know. My mind is a giant room in which ideas mingle freely and associate without seeming connection at times.) THAT reminded me that I needed to go water my raised beds before the sun got high today. Well, as I stood there watering the plants, I found myself frustrated with this poor little raised bed. The cauliflower leaves were OUT OF CONTROL and nothing much was happening. I toyed with the idea of just yanking them out. Obviously, I cannot raise cauliflower! Too much time has passed anyway, and there was zero evidence that anything was happening.
I felt through the leaves...nothing. Maybe it was just time for the bed to be seeded with zucchini. That I can grow!
-Then, as I watered, I walked around.
Oh. From the other side, I was shocked to see these giant heads of cauliflower! I had to laugh at myself. I had somehow missed two bigger-than-bowling-ball sized heads of cauliflower. How is that even possible?
But you see - my perspective was off. I wasn't looking at the bed from a good angle to see what it was producing, and I was hastily trying to move on to the next thing. Patience is not my natural strong suit, can you tell?
I wondered, then, what spiritual growth was happening unnoticed and unappreciated in this time? My trials are so small - SO SMALL. I have a little backyard that I love, and my home is filled with people I enjoy. What punishment is there in that? We are healthy. Our faith informs our view of this time as a trial, but not as a threat. Finances are what finances will be - but we have learned not to fret over such material things too much.
So...why do I wriggle under these restrictions so? Well, partly because we were designed for fellowship. It is GOOD that we do not enjoy being apart. We were born to "assemble together" as one body.
But the truth is? I know that a good deal of my frustration this morning was simply not wanting to do something I didn't want to do. Stubborness. Willfulness. I just want my own way. I like freedom and making up my own mind and going where I want to go.
But what if God is growing something beautiful in this time? What if this lump of clay needs to sit still on the potter's wheel rather than wriggling under His hand as He forms me?
I have often said the last great gift my mama gave me was patience. Impatient naturally, I was 40 years old and homeschooling my three children, when my mama came to live with us. God used her to knock some of my sharper edges back, to smooth a few rough spots, and to sand away daily at that lack of patience. But, oh, it was painful.
In retrospect, as sharp as that time was, and as much as I often felt like I could feel my flesh-y self dying a fiery and humbling death, I would not trade it for anything. In fact, I so wish I had submitted to learning that lesson much earlier, so my early parenting years would have been kinder, gentler.
So I am leaning in to the quiet today. I am not trying to fill my time. I am listening, asking, searching for what I can learn. How can I grow closer to God? How can I be His hands or feet or heart in this time?
Most of all, I must remember, I simply do not have God's eternal perspective. I look at things too often from all the wrong angles, hastily, trying to get back to how I think things should be.
Will you come sit with me, in this time of "safer at home"? Let's make sure to soak up all we can of home, of family, of together. When everything in the world gets back to "normal" - or whatever the new normal may look like - may we never lose the new sense of home we are discovering, the appreciation for time just spent together, the ease and comfort of family, the centrality of home, the anchor of faith.
And, above all,
Noli Timere -
(This is an update version of a post first published several St. Pat's ago!) :D
When I take my reading basket and head out to read to children, I have some strick guidelines for what books make it in that basket: reading must be fun, should be - at least most of the time - informative, and ought to be enhanced by lovely illustrations, well-chosen words, evocative descriptions and imagery. In short, everything I want from a great classic work of literature, I demand for my story time books as well.
Holidays are especially tricky. There are SO many fun, rollicking rhyme books with goofy illustrations – and don’t get me wrong, we read them! But, if you have just a select amount of time, perhaps you are looking for more. For instance, St. Patrick was a wonderful hero of the faith, a bold and fearless man. It is worth celebrating his day, learning a little of the Emerald Isle’s myths and traditions, and maybe even feasting on Irish Soda Bread as you read (the link takes you to my favorite recipe - serve with green punch!) At my house we also enjoy the wearing of the green, finding four-leaf clovers, and perhaps even making leprechaun traps!
Here are just a few of my favorite St. Patrick’s Day reading choices :
If you have younger children, you might also enjoy some of these fingerplays and silly songs I use with 3-7 year olds! (If there are younger children, older children will often happily join right in!)
In our family, we call today "Christmas Eve-Eve." It is a funny, left-over-from-childhood saying, but it indicates that we are all leaning forward to the joy and celebration of Christ's birth. We long for that day, as we long for his return, because his coming changed everything - in an instant.
In the instant that Jesus was born in that manger, time and eternity changed. Even the little letters which divide our history into two great eras reflect the reality that everything has changed: B.C., (Before Christ) and A. D. (Anno Domini, the year of our Lord).
Christmas affected our personal lives in a dramatic way, too. Christmas brings the joy of knowing the nature of God. Christ was and is Immanuel, God with us. The joy of having access to a divine mediator is now ours. Christ is indeed our great High Priest, merciful and faithful to his flock. Today, having satisfied our need for forgiveness, He makes constant and effectual intercession for us. Therefore, our access to peace came through His birth as well.
Still anther joy we celebrate at Christmas is the joy of our conscious adoption into God’s family. As children of God by faith in Christ, with His name upon us and His spirit in us, we are welcomed, loved, and cherished members of His family.
We also celebrate the kindlier graces, the fruits of the spirit which Christ provides to each of us through the Holy Spirit. He said, “Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart…” To follow Christ is to exchange the harsh and hard way of the law for the way of love.
Finally, this Christmas let’s celebrate the eternal flame of hope that was kindled that long-ago morning. The birth of Jesus was the earnest of our expectation - of a day to come when the Son of Righteousness will reign in glory!
This Christmas, the world is one year farther away from the birth of Christ but one year nearer His blessed return. Merry Christmas, from our house to yours!
Does it feel like it's time for Thanksgiving at your house? It sure does at mine. Even in sunny SoCal, I notice a chill breeze sneaking in at sundown, and a few leaves are turning brown in the neighborhood. This year, Thanksgiving is running exceptionally late! I'm grateful for that, because it gives me time to suggest a few books for your family this Thanksgiving!
Other holidays provide distraction in the form of candy, presents, or fireworks...but Thanksgiving is literally all about family and home and snuggling in with those you love - how could there be a more perfect setting for reading some wonderful books? It's always hard to know "what age" a book is for - but the truly magical thing about holiday books is that they are the "one-size-fits-almost-all" of books. I like to keep a stack of picture books and early reader books around on the holidays, and I am always surprised to see who picks them up!
I'll suggest some of my favorite picture books and such in just a moment...but first!! First, I have to recommend this family favorite: Over the River and Through the Woods, a Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child. I like this particular version for two very important reasons: first, the woodcut illustrations by Christopher Manson are just old-fashioned enough to be charming, yet crisp and beautiful on their own; second, the music for the song is on the inside back cover so you can teach your children the melody and they they can SING the book as you go. This is a tradition that I promise makes sweet memories! The music is quite easy, as well. You may even have a piano student among your kids capable of playing it.
Okay, now down to the serious business of Thanksgiving picture books! We have such favorites, and have loved so many wonderful Thanksgiving books, that it is truly difficult to narrow down to just a few. We have tried to cull from the best of "first Thanksgiving" plus fun, family, and faith - see what you think!
Of course, we also have a list of favorite FUN Thanksgiving books that focus on family, and fun, and turkeys, and, well, THANKSGIVING...in all its autumn wonder!
Aren't those just the BEST? I hope you see some of your favorites listed, and I hope you have found a few new books to try out as well! Now. What about those of us who are a little older? We need some lovely prods to thankfulness as well, right? Here are few books I have enjoyed and found to be especially meaningful during Thanksgiving - I hope you will too!
I always struggle to END these book recommendation posts, because there are so many more books that are simply wonderful and waiting to be read! I apologize if I have left off one of your favorites, but invite you to recommend it yourself in the comments.
Now, from my home to yours, best wishes for the blessing of a warm home, time with loved ones, and the grace of gratitude.
Honest, I am not trying to alarm you, but we only have 22 days until the turkey carcass is in the freezer for soup, and people start lining up to buy their Christmas trees at the local Home Depot!
Maybe it's because I was born on Thanksgiving. Maybe it is that I have heard Thanksgiving is called "The Introvert's Holiday" for its more reflective, more intimate pace. Whatever it is - I always try to make sure that in our home, we pause between the mad back-to-school/World Series/Halloween rush...and Christmas season...to be thankful.
It seem appropriate to pause to reflect on all our blessings, but how can we do that?
All too often, I wait until the day before Thanksgiving...then I think, "OH! We need to talk about THANKFULNESS!" Ha. As in, "Hey kids, before everyone starts asking you what you want for Christmas - possibly even AT the Thanksgiving table - let's try to think about what you are already thankful for!"
More recently, I've tried to make autumn our season of Gratitude. As we settle down into the school year, we try to consciously appreciate the gifts of family, home, friends, and the simple everyday blessings that mean the most. But - how to make that a visible part of our every day?
So, I took a few pictures, put together a cute little bulletin board set....and then never used it on a bulletin board! We love to use it as dining room decor - around the top of the wall, or just above the chair rail level. I printed off the pictures at my local photo printer's and reuse it - but if you have a good color printer, you can do it right at home! We cut out and glue the border together, then cut out and leave a stack of the "leaves" laying in the middle of the table all month. Any - and all - of us are encouraged to write down a blessing in their lives when it comes to mind...and stick it on the wall. (We use painter's tape - whatever will leave your wall unscathed will work!)
By Thanksgiving - I hope - we have a more sincere understanding of the blessings in our lives, and a more sincere gratitude going forward into a season that SHOULD be a season of giving. I am happy to share the set with you - and hope it helps your family as you seek to develop an attitude of gratitude!
Finally, today, I want all my friends here in The Red Couch Reading Room to know - I am sincerely thankful for YOU this season. You are my comrades in arms, as we seek to build integrity, wisdom, and discernment into our students, our children. Thank you for coming by to visit, thank you for inspiring me, and thank you for holding the bar high in your homes and classrooms! You are a blessing to me!
It was my pleasure to have coffee this morning with a local author whom I really admire, N. J. Bennett, the author of the Norma Jean mysteries...and so much more! As N.J. was telling me about her latest projects over at bennett-projects.com/ and I was enchanted to learn more. Norma Jean is a whirlwind of ideas and creativity. I want to tell you about several of her books and projects, but then I want to really point you to a fun item that I think many homeschool families could use to help their budding writers hone the process of novel-writing.
First of all, if you have not seen the Norma Jean Mysteries...you need to take a look at them! Set on the prairies of Canada, the stories follow young Norma Jean and her younger brother Howard as they unravel mysteries - but these mysteries always have a foundation in our too-soon-forgotten history. In the first book, Norma Jean & Howard learn about the Danish resistance during WWII, in the second, they are plunged into the history of the Acadian emigrants to Canada, and in the third, they learn about the thousands of British Home children, sent to Canada to work on farms and in homes. Each of these episodes in history is an intrinsic part of the story of Canada and of our world's history. Each of the mysteries is full of fun, farm-life, and teachable moments. Recommended for grades 3-8, but better yet, for family read-aloud nights!
BUT...N.J. Bennett is at work on far more. She is developing Reader's Theatre presentations that can be used to present - in an entertaining, fun, informative way - the lives of the Great Heroes of the Faith. I have always been intrigued by church history, and after getting a glimpse of these Reader's Theatre productions, I am even more intrigued! N.J. has provided both a SCRIPT...for a stand-alone event...or all the notes & directions to make a Dinner Theatre production. I think homeschool groups could have SO much fun with this idea! (Or church choirs, or private schools, or...you get the idea!) We all need to learn more of what the lives of Martin and Katie Luther, St. Augustine, John Knox, Gladys Alward, Gregory the Great, and Roger Youderian can teach us.
Finally, the item I want to introduce as a great writer's aid for young writers: Norma Jean has made her story-boarding technique available in a workbook format for young writers. Those oldest of elementary students or middle-school students who love to write, who think they have a novel inside, but aren't quite sure how to...well...get it all set down properly on paper? This workbook may be just the thing to help them take the leap! I love the idea of using this workbook as a resource for a semester - or, dare I say, a year? - of creative writing work. Assignment: Finish the workbook, and finish your novel. Honestly, I suspect there are many young writers who would absolutely jump at the chance to sit one-on-one with an author and learn her process - and this is that opportunity! Take a look!
I was thrilled to spend part of my morning catching up with N.J. Bennett. She is at work on so many great projects right now - always something in the works! I hope you take time to check out her novels, the storyboarding workbook, or her reader's theatre productions! You will be glad you did!
I know in our family, the best learning happens when the kids don't even realize they are learning. Games are a tremendous asset in our homeschool arsenal, but so often we struggled to find a game that every member of our family could play, or a game every member of the family would really get something out of playing. My kids are 3 years apart at each step, and it was pretty rare that every member of the family was both challenged and truly entertained.
THAT is why I had to write this review. I noticed there was one booth at a recent homeschool convention I attended that was always busy. There was laughter. There was obvious excitement. Parents and kids stood and played this game...sometimes the kids stayed there for hours! This game - VOE*CAB*EWE*LAIR*E - is amazing! The most unique aspect, in my opinion, is the way each card leads to discussion about the way the word is used, increasing comprehension along the way.
All ages play VOE*CAB*EWE*LAIR*E at their own ability level, using different colored cards for different academic levels from ages 5 through adult! From 2 to 8 players can play at a time, with the players focusing on the definitions of words to move through the game, resulting in strategic vocabulary and comprehension work for the entire family! Trust me, moms and dads, you will be challenged!
John Harding, the inventor of VOE*CAB*EWE*LAIR*E, told me he himself loves games, and was inspired to create an engaging way for kids to learn new words. For me, as I listened and watched people actually playing the game, the most impressive part of the game is the broad appeal and broad educational application. Beyond vocabulary, students build comprehension and spelling skills (for bonus points!). The game even includes elements of math (you can take a "short term loan" of letters), and there are many other life lessons included that make the game more exciting and make every play of the game a new adventure.
On the second day of the convention, I kept hearing, "My kids stayed up until past midnight playing this game!" and "The whole family laughed all night over this game!" Parents and kids were both thrilled to hear that Mr. Harding has expansion packs ready for printing which will be available soon.
If you enjoy including "gamification" of your subjects in your homeschool ( and if you don't, you should!), I heartily suggest you take a look at VOE*CAB*EWE*LAIR*E - you won't regret it!
Not All Rigor is Mortis!
Yesterday at church, a young homeschooling mama friend asked me for a recommendation for a great way to start their school day. She was looking for a way to center their academics around the idea of learning about God's world. Her kids are elementary age, and she wanted something with a couple of hundred devotions, something that could tie in with school somehow. Now, in my home we always started our day discussing our kids' AWANA work for that week, really digging in and not just "memorizing" the verses, but reading through the whys and wherefores, to gain understanding. We loved the quiet rhythm of starting each morning with prayer, with a hymn, and with our deep-dive into the Bible through their AWANA verses. But I totally understand her desire to show her kids God's presence in every aspect of academics, rather than making "Bible" solely a separate study.
The good news is that there are so many great choices! I recommended these two books by Louie Giglio, and I thought I'd take just a moment to share them with you all, too. They are two of my favorites. I love the fact that the illustrations are fabulous, that the devotions are appealing to a wide age range, but most of all? I LOVE that they are science-based. Each and every one of the devotions springboards from Scripture, and then reveals God in the details of creation. There is also a daily "Be Amazed" section with cool scientific facts that tie in with the devotional thought. I would say that this book is TARGETED for ages 4-10, but I know from many families who have used it that it easily appeals to 11 & 12 years olds as well. In fact, several moms have told me they have to HIDE these books, or the kids will just take them off the shelf and read them straight through!
The original "Indescribable" and the new "How Great is Our God" devotionals each contain 100 devotions just right for starting your homeschool morning thoughtfully!
Now back to our regularly scheduled blog posts about convention highlights in 3...2....1....
PS - I'm also going to drop the link to the story-time devotionals my sister and I wrote down here, in case anyone is looking for something like this! They are sweet, family stories about getting to know God and His Word. Take a look - I would love to know what you think!
Whew - sorry. Part 3 of the series is a little overdue. I have been busy prepping my online classes for the fall, but never fear! I will be faithful to tell you about the rest of the wonderful treasures I discovered at homeschool conventions this summer! The idea of connecting home educating families with resources they might otherwise not discover is just too strong! I promise, Lord willing, there will be EIGHT total treasures for you this year! :D
Okay, down to business. I was thrilled to find myself RIGHT NEXT to the most popular children's author booth at a convention earlier this year. Tricia Martin has written a Christian adventure series for kids ages 5-11, called "The Old Tree Series," and it was SPEEDING out of there! I wondered what all the fuss was about, so I quickly looked up the reviews on amazon (I know, I know, I cheated!).
It was exciting to read the reviews - people were honestly bubbling over with praise for this imaginative fantasy series. Some compared it with The Chronicles of Narnia, as each book shows a different adventure in faith that both reveals how decisions affect the world and allow children to understand timeless principles of goodness and truth.
When I talked with Tricia, her faith in and love for Jesus was the primary takeaway. She wants kids to grasp the greatness of the love of God, and to understand that following Him is an exciting adventure throughout life. Tricia emphasized that the while the reader is joining a grand adventure (the reader may be meeting Abraham Lincoln in his childhood, or experiencing an adventure in an underwater kingdom, or traveling to the Wild West...each book has a different setting!) they are also learning about spiritual warfare and the loving care of God.
While Tricia had the entire series at the convention, you can always choose just one book to check out and see if this might be a fun, God-honoring adventure series YOUR children would love as much as the children I kept hearing at the convention: "Oh, I finished the first book last night, and I can hardly wait to start the next one!" I placed direct links for Tricia's "The Old Tree Series" books below, so you can check it out! This local Southern California author is active in ministry at her church, holds an M.A. in counseling, and has also authored several books for adults on developing a personal, intimate relationship with God. You can find her at soulbreakthru.com
I would love to hear which of "The Old Tree Series" your children enjoy the most! (I happen to love Abe Lincoln, so the 7th is my favorite!)
I am so excited to bring this "Convention Treasure" to you! Having had a student who LOVED everything related to rocks & fossils, I know the struggle to bring quality geology education into the homeschool setting. Well...your problems are solved! Northwest Treasures is your solution! A geologist out of the Seattle area, Patrick Nurre conducts classes & seminars locally - but he can help your homeschool "dig in" to the amazing planet we live on, no matter what part of it you call home! He has authored an extensive homeschool geology curricula, along with rock, mineral, and fossil kits for every age & stage of curiosity.
I caught up with Mr. Nurre recently, at a homeschool convention where he was a featured speaker, and I was absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer scope of his work. To be honest, I am not yet - after really examining their website - sure I have an accurate count of all the curriculum kits they have available! From the "Geology for Little Eyes" Prk-3rd grade kit, to their "Bedrock Geology" curricula for grades 7-12, Mr. Nurre has created kits for every age and interest. Would you like an annual family short unit on some aspect of Geology? They have enough variety that you could do one every year...for a very long time!
Mr. Nurre first was hooked on Geology when, as a young child, he found a dinosaur bone lying in the alley behind his home - while walking home from school for lunch, no less! (True story!) His life-long love of fossils, rocks, and the story the earth has to tell now has grown into a fount of information and resources that every single homeschool family can utilize:
Occasionally we hear of someone's "life work" - well, in this case it is absolutely accurate to use that term. The lifetime of learning that Mr. Nurre has managed to make available for homeschool families is formidable. As we spoke a few weekends ago, Mr. Nurre emphasized to me how important it is to continue to reinforce the biblical principles we see in the very stuff of the earth. He has purposefully designed his kits so that families can teach Geology in "little chunks," coming back every year to keep a biblical worldview in mind as the entire family learns about, and comes to more fully appreciate, the creative genius of the Designer of our earth. I encourage you to visit northwestrockandfossil.org to start your exploration!
Each summer, my darling (helpful, hard-working, loving, amazing) husband and I take the Red Couch Reading Room on the road to various homeschool conventions. We have a booth in the exhibit hall, I generally teach a few workshops on homeschooling, or literature, or both; we breathe deeply of the amazing fellowship of the kindred spirits of homeschooling mamas and dads who are so genuinely working to try to provide the very best education they can for their families. They are inspiring, and we are always so happy to share what we have learned, as parents down the path just a little way.
One of the highlights of every convention, however, is the Exhibit Hall! What a joyous, fun, amazing, inspiring, WONDERFUL place a homeschool Exhibit Hall is! We love each one and especially look forward to the unique vendors from each geographical region. Of course, we love the big, nationwide exhibitors too – what would we do without them? But the niche vendors really catch our fancy. Often, their products are truly wonderful opportunities for the unique educational realm that is home education.
However, Steve and I have said more than once that we feel a little bad that some of these incredible local vendors don’t have the kind of nationwide exposure that they deserve. That is how I started doing my annual “Convention Treasures” series! Each year as we go to conventions, we look for those stand-out vendors that may be regional or local…but deserve much broader attention!
As we attended the CHEA of California Homeschooling Convention in Pasadena recently, our very first convention treasure for 2019 caught my husband’s eye immediately. He urged me to go check out this new book "How to Change a Tire" by Norm Whan. Wow - was I ever glad I did!
What a pleasure to meet the phenomenon that is author Norm Whan! While this is Dr. Norm’s first “homeschool” or “parenting” book, he is already an established author. His books “Canning Hunger thru Neighborhood Connections,” and “The Phone’s for You!” have long been used to develop leading national ministries. As founder of “Canning Hunger,” Norm put into action a simple concept, namely, “Hunger is Complicated; Helping is Easy.” Now, with his new book “How to Change a Tire ...and 132 Other Basic Life Skills I Should Teach My Kids Before They Leave Home” Dr. Norm has proved once again that he is a man of action, taking something we all "know" and making it practical.
How to Change a Tire…” is genius. Honestly, it is a FRAMEWORK for an entire Life Skills course, a series of life skills in every imaginable area. How many times have you read that young adults are struggling “to adult” because they don’t know how to do things that are second nature to us as parents? They don’t know how to make dinner, to check the oil, to plunge a sink? “How to Change a Tire…” is a guide to turning that ship around. Let’s make sure the NEXT generation knows how to be independent…and we may even learn something along the way ourselves!
After looking through the book at the convention, I had to smile. I know exactly what I would do with this book! I would make it a contract – a contract between our kids and us, their parents, “These are the things YOU NEED TO KNOW. We are going to do our best to teach you – or to find someone or some way to teach you! – every skill in this book before you graduate. YOU have to approach every lesson as if your life depended on it. (Because, in some cases, it might!)” I think once you look through this book, you will grab a couple of families to co-op it with and set out on the great adventure that “How to Change a Tire…” can be for your students! I would suggest doing it over several years – maybe as a four-year high school co-op course.
Now. What is this book…NOT? It is NOT a step-by-step “how-to” book for every skill. Rather, it is inspiration. It is a gathered series of goals. It is accountability. It is a journal. It is a trove of memories waiting to be made. Do not expect this book to tell you how to teach each skill; that is not its purpose. “How to Change a Tire…” is gathering of purpose, an outline for a life skills course you will never regret teaching and your students will benefit from for the rest of their lives.
As you might have guessed, a portion of the proceeds of this book goes to “Canning Hunger,” the national non-profit Dr. Norm began back in 1992. Once again, here is the LINK where you can see more pictures and examples from the inside of the book and purchase it online! It is currently only available from their website. In addition, don't miss the video below, where Dr. Norm explains his motivations for writing the book!
Not all Rigor is Mortis!
he kiss of night hangs on the roses,
Its fleeting jewels serenade the just-dawn,
As Summer mistily, lazily, stretches her arms.
For one transitory moment,
Light and Beauty dance on the petals.
The world draws its breath.
Then the day goes off like a rifle,
And mist-jewels scatter as Summer shakes
her foggy blanket back and greets the sun.
Remember that long-ago saying, "Stop and smell the roses"?
DO IT. I beg of you, do not let the tyranny of the urgent rob you of your present. Do not let this summer go by in a haze of chores and obligations and urgency. Make time to feel.
Inhale deeply of the summer: its chaos, its beauty, its non-rhythmic rhythm, its very soul. She's just waking up. Summer's day is begun. Go outside and play with her!
Are you looking for some great summer books? My family, like most homeschool families I know, switches into another gear for summer reading. Some of these books are old favorites that we have loved for decades, and others are books I stumbled across relatively recently while...well, let's be honest here!...while looking for MY great summer reads! :D
I can be persnickety about selecting books - both those I want my kids to spend their precious time with, and those I want to spend MY precious time with! For our family, a summer read should be a luxurious romp. We want to have fun with our summer reads! Of course I love great literature, and of course the classics are never left off my "currently reading" bookshelf, but a summer read must be portable: I have to be able to put it down...to jump in the water...and pick it up when the kids drowse off to sleep. A summer read might not be the heaviest mental lifting I do all year; a summer read should speak adventure to my soul! I may not spend 90 days touring the globe ...physically!! ... but my mind can be off on all sorts of grand adventures with a good book.
Chapter Book - PreTeen Ideas! (Note: if you encourage your children to use kindle, check this! I found the Wally McDoogle books on kindle this month - for a mere 99 cents.) If your kids are going to be reading in the car...NOTHING will make them snort out loud with laughter like the Wally McDoogle books. There is always a lesson, a moral, a good deed...although how author Bill Myers manages to squish all that in between the non-stop hilarity is really beyond me. These are Christian fiction, and I would put the reading level at 3rd grade. They are short, 120 to 140 pages each, and quick reads. Next up? "The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic" is a much longer book, but still aimed at the 8-12 year old set generally. Author Jennifer Trafton's debut novel, this amazing adventure will have your kids turning the pages till the very end! Highly recommended (also see read aloud recommendations for Trafton's amazing 2nd novel and a great opportunity for families to create together!). "Phantom Tollbooth" is a kids' classic, so fun and full of the unexpected that it draws in even the most reluctant of readers...and finally "The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had" - a book about friendship, prejudice, history, and potential - really a book that is a deceptively quick read with heart-stirring themes (I almost put it in the read-aloud category, because I think there is so much to discuss here).
What about teens? If you are like me, some of what is available for teens may dishearten you. Now, for clarity and the sake of helpfulness: I err on the side of imagination and adventure. I tend to not encourage romance-reading (sorry for those fans who made it thus far!) for any age - I find the genre unrealistic and unhelpful. Thus, you will find sci-fi, historical fiction, adventure, biography, and such weighted rather heavily amongst my bookshelves. Even a summer read can INSPIRE! :D (Or, I can hope it will at least!) First, I debated whether to put Catherine Valiente's "Fairyland" books here...or in the "mom and dad" section. I have not, honestly, finished reading the series. I know some have said Fairyland is "Narnia meets Alice in Wonderland and goes to Neil Gaiman's Discworld" - but I honestly find them a unique nod to previous Sci-fi/Fantasy without really owing too much to anyone. "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" is the first in the series, and not my favorite...but start here. This series insists on big vocabulary, quick thinking, and makes big demands on its readers - but then rewards them wholeheartedly with fantastic wordplay, imagery that astounds, and a healthy serving of nonsense! Next, some classic James Herriot - we LOVED these books as a family. There is something so gentle, so real, so adventurous about this vet's ordinary life that it is plain inspiring. "Watership Down" is a YA classic, echoing with themes of loyalty, friendship, integrity and so much more. Next, a new entry in my recommendations...and I confess I hesitated: "Wildwood" Chronicles. Wildwood is a long book, its vocabulary is daunting, and I confess that people either love it...or hate it. That said, those who love "Wildwood" REALLY love it, so give it a chance and see if you believe that this really is the "American Narnia," as its subtitle claims! (I wouldn't go THAT far, but did find it a great adventure...if a bit long!) My final suggestion for this section is "Peace Like a RIver." Honestly, I think this book has a young narrator that rivals the classic Scout & Huck Finn. A secular book about strong faith, it does not shy away from themes of faith, family, and the twin possibilities of redemption and eternal loss. It is a book with strong themes, for older teens no doubt, but I encourage you to give it a look. Honestly, anything Lief Enger has written is worth that! He is on my shortlist of "most-likely-to-write-a-classic-I'll-be-teaching-some-day" authors.
Next...how about some family read alouds that will bring good discussion, some giggles, maybe an important discussion or two? (PS - don't judge any of these books by a movie that may or may not have been made supposedly based on it! :O ) Take a look through this list and see if you don't find something that will set your summer nights rolling! If I could recommend ONLY ONE book for you - it would be "Henry and the Chalk Dragon," by Jennifer Trafton. This sweet story of a boy's imagination SHOULD inspire us all to greater creative endeavors. In fact ( Homeschool Mom Alert!!) the author has a 4 lesson FREE creative course that readers of "Henry and the Chalk Dragon" are invited to take, a kind of creative journey the author will lead your family through. If it sounds about perfect for this summer? IT IS! Here is the link for the course...so you can preview that before buying the book, if you would like: https://jennifertrafton.pathwright.com/library/henry-and-the-chalk-dragon/75702/about/ Check out the other recommendations as well - my family's favorite summer read aloud is "Summer of the Monkeys" - the kids all remember the time I laughed so hard, in gasps, that I could not finish reading the chapter and one of them had to take it over! Madeleine L'Engle's first in her Quintet, "A Wrinkle in Time" was actually one of MY favorite books as a child, and my family loves it as a read-aloud series. I had so many potentials, but I had to cut it off somewhere...so the final recommendation in this section is " :D "My Family and Other Animals" - by Gerald Durrell. This is but the first in a trilogy of Durrell family adventures, and it is a witty, quirky family indeed - sure to bring some laughter from their family to yours! (There is a British TV 6-part series based on these tales, if it sounds familiar!)
Of course, mom (and dad!) certainly need some wonderful, thought-provoking, literary adventures all their own. I make these recommendations as "places to begin" - knowing many of us hold different standards, and of course have differing literary tastes. With that caveat, here we go! First up is "The Outcasts of Time" by Ian Mortimer, which is the story of a man dying of bubonic plague during the 1300's, who is granted the gift of six days - with a leap of a century between them - to try to earn his place in life via a truly noble deed. Here is philosophy, wrapped so tightly in well-written plot that you will nearly not recognize it! Then, of course, JRR Tolkien's sweet nugget, "Leaf, by Niggle" is a deceptively light, short Tolkien. As with all Tolkien works, however, you will not live long enough to plumb its depths! Those who think too hard about such things suggest it is a retrospective on life as a writer, but all will enjoy it! "The Book of Strange New Things" by Michel Faber was a World magazine Book of the Year several years ago. It took me this long to catch up. You will not want to miss this surprising, secular, sweet take on a futuristic missionary journey. It's stunning; I still can't stop thinking about it. My 4th suggestion for this summer, "Return to Me" by Lynn Austin, is an historical fiction book based during the time of the Biblical books Ezra and Nehemiah. The nation of Israel is in exile in Babylon, and the yearning of the people to return and rebuild Jerusalem is in tension with the distractions and realities of every day life. I am not a "biblical fiction" fan AT ALL - but I will say this series has been an exception for me - perhaps it will be for you as well! I hope you enjoy it. Finally, "The Other Woman" by Daniel Silva, is #18 in his "Gabriel Allon" spy-espionage-adventure series. It has won more awards than I could list here if I tried. It is remarkably fun, fast-paced, and wryly intellectual, with the Israeli spy Allon just wanting to return to his art-restoration business and family life, but being dragged once again into an insolvable case. Expletive-free (unless my husband and I missed one?), there is one sexual situation in the first dozen pages. If you can skip over that one scene, the rest of the book is quite buttoned-up and a great deal of who-dunnit-it fun! I hope you find SOMETHING to make you smile this summer in this group!
Finally - did you think I would have begun here? - some sweet picture books. I am particular about picture books, as you might imagine. Parents, I am well aware, must read these books hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I prefer gentle truths, tender words, and beautiful illustrations in my children's picture books. The illustrations are as important as the text, but not moreso. Here are some favorites I have read at least a hundred times, without tiring. I would gladly read them to your child today, this very moment! There is a great combination of SWEET, INSPIRATIONAL, FUN, and COMFORTING in this group - and I hope you have FUN with them! (PS - the first is a Claire Newberry. Frankly - you can just pick ANY Claire Newberry book and it will be a treasure forever!)
Aw...summer. May it bring your family lots of laughter, joy, and memory-making! Maybe one of these books will contribute to some part of that - let me know if you find one amongst this group that becomes a particular family favorite.
May your summer be long, your rest deep, the renewal real, and your joy limitless -
Today is quite a day. May 2nd stands in the annuls of history as a day of shock, a day of remembrance, a day of taking a stand. It is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is also the anniversary of the Birmingham Children's Crusade in 1963.
Civil Rights. The Holocaust. It's hard to know exactly how to broach some of these hard subjects with our children. We want to preserve their innocence and their gentle hearts, yet we understand that as parents and educators it is up to us to make sure our children see history and humanity through the lens of compassion and understanding.
So, how do you begin to talk about Holocaust Remembrance Day - May 2nd - with an 8 year old? How do you begin to discuss Civil Rights with a child who has only know his or her family's love and support for their whole lives? In my experience, the best way to approach hard subjects is through real life remembrances and stories. I encourage you to search out holocaust survivors who might be appearing at story hours or local libraries; they are growing fewer and we must take our children to meet them, hear them, while we can. Similarly, be bold to reach out to the aging members of our communities who can tell about segregation, marching in the 60's for Civil Rights, remembering what it was like under Jim Crow laws.
Our kids won't know if we don't tell them. Recently, I taught a high school co-op literature class during a lead-up discussion for reading the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," that had never heard of Jim Crow laws or segregation. They were stunned to find out that it happened within my lifetime, and nearly 100 years after the end of the Civil War. I was similarly stunned - and saddened - at their ignorance.
But I promise your children will never forget hearing a grandmother talk about being the first black student to integrate a high school. They will never forget running their finger across the Auschwitz tattoo of a holocaust survivor. They will never forget hearing these stories, feeling the emotions.
Fortunately, a great book can evoke that same sense of understanding and compassion by capturing these real life events and bottling the emotion in print so that our children can continue to learn well the lessons of history. Today, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance day, I have selected four "beginning" books on the Holocaust, picture books that introduce ideas and facts without being scary. Of course, you know your children and will want to preview these, but I found them to be a great starting point for elementary age kids. Read them, discuss them, tell them you want them to remember - so that this never happens again!
May 2nd is also the anniversary of the Birmingham Children's Crusade, a particularly difficult and yet extraordinarily victorious chapter in the Civil Rights Movement. I have always felt that the Children's Crusade is a powerful place to begin to discuss Civil Rights, carrying inherent interest because it is about children using their voices to appeal to hardened hearts - and being heard!
As with the Holocaust, there is so much that is difficult and painful to discuss in the history of the Civil Rights movement. That fact alone should propel us to prepare our students with truth and inspiration. It isn't enough to say, "I just want my children to love and respect everyone" without helping them to understand that somehow this was seen as a radical concept not very long ago. Again, you know your children. You know your neighborhood, your place in the world. For me, I wanted to be the first one to discuss Civil Rights with my children. I wanted to show them the beauty and bravery of standing up for what you believe.
It's hard to reveal the evil side of human history to our children. But if we don't, I assure you they will hear about it somewhere else, from someone else - and there are no guarantees what sort of message they will receive. Here are four of my favorites to help you start this conversation in your home or classroom.
Every day is the right day to look for books that will help us talk with our children about the value of human life, the respect and worth of each individual. I hope these books give you a few ideas that will lead to great discussions in your home or classroom.
The still-unfolding college admissions scandal, aka "varsity blues," has parents and students alike angsty these days. Wealthy celebrities and powerful parents cheating, buying, and lying to pave their privileged kids’ way into elite colleges has managed to unite the young, the old, the conservative, and the liberal in an uproar against the unfairness of it all. And, of course, they’re right.
It isn’t fair that students who deserved a place on these teams were bypassed for students who never intended to play. It isn’t right that SAT or ACT scores were skewed and misrepresented, bumping some deserving students down below the cut-off line. Society works for everyone when the rules are enforced for everyone. Still, there has come out of this a particular narrative that these kids are the lucky ones. I disagree. The entitled students involved here are really on the losing end of the long game.
First, these elite schools do not offer something irreplaceable; an education from an Ivy League or elite school is not inherently more valuable than an education at a state school. We can see that the provision of such a valuable opportunity simply does not necessarily translate into great achievement. It just doesn’t. Studies show students' lives are not either “set up” or “irreparably harmed” simply by virtue of the name on their diploma.(1) Warren Buffet assures us he learned more at University of Nebraska than at Wharton School of Business.(2) Plus, I have seen the evidence firsthand. I have worked with an awful lot of high school students, students who really ARE the lucky ones, students who wanted and valued that college education.
At least some of the so-called "lucky" students in the cheating scandal didn't really want the education their parents seemed to want for them. Do we believe for a moment that their mere presence on campus will somehow change their trajectory in life? No.
No, the REAL lucky students work hard for their education, and they work hard at their education. Perhaps they are the ones who actually DID qualify - through the slog of hard work and years of dedication - to represent a school on one of those teams, and now they spend hours rowing, shooting, striving, pushing to do their best both academically and in their sport. Or, maybe their parents said, “We love you to the moon and back, but we are barely making it here. We will support you any way we can, but we can’t pay for all of your college." Yes, the REAL lucky ones work. They work on teams, they work in academics, they work part-time. They get full-time jobs or internships during the summer. The REAL lucky ones go to community college and fight for the classes they need and work on homework late into the night and fall asleep on the bus on the way home because they are working so hard. They assist professors and they tutor friends. They carefully weigh the student loans they take; they write dozens of essays for hundreds of scholarship applications; they eat ramen in dorm rooms; they walk to work. They have the support of networks of family and friends cheering them on.
The REAL lucky ones will never take their education for granted. They are learning so much more than physics or English or math or educational theory. The REAL lucky ones are learning to work, learning to manage a thousand tasks, learning to stick up for themselves and put forth more effort than they knew they had to give. They are learning to dig down deep and come up with answers that astound even themselves. They are learning where their limits are, and they are learning how to push past them.
I was reminded of all this in a conversation with one of these “lucky” students this past week. He told me, “If I have a group project? I want to work with someone who is working hard at school, and doing other things like holding a part-time job, and tutoring a younger sibling. I want someone who knows how to work, who wants it. ” Yes, the real lucky students are the students other students want to work with. They are the students companies want to hire. They are the students who are not just getting a degree, they are getting an education. They are preparing for life. The ones that work hard to claim the education they actually want, they are learning to fight hard for life. They are learning that what is worth having is worth striving for.
They are learning skills and attitudes and work habits that will serve them throughout life, not just in a career but also in their families, their cities and towns, their faith communities.
So, yes, I’m angry that the educational system has been tilted in favor of the rich once again. It is wrong and it is a symptom of a network of elitism that has existed since time immemorial. It isn’t right, but I don’t envy them. I don’t wish that entitlement or that experience on anyone. These entitled kids have been set up for a life without any understanding of how to work hard and push through to success.
I don’t believe for a minute that they are the lucky ones. Don't you believe it either.
(I know many of us who homeschool come from a place of faith. If so, perhaps this reflection might help you today -- perhaps you have been looking for ways to talk and think about Lent with your children. If not, perhaps it still has something to offer in terms of helping your children and family understand the practices of Lent they will see happening around them this season. Please take from it what might be helpful. Thank you! )
Ash Wednesday - the herald note of the Lenten season. As someone who didn't grow up in a tradition that celebrates Lent, but whose very best friends did, I recall a childhood of secretly watching and wondering...watching the somber, sober reflection of the Ash Wednesday service, wondering if an ashen cross on my forehead might burn its way deeper, deeper, down into my heart?
As an adult, I have come to embrace a season of Lent, much as I embrace a season of Advent. Not because my particular church body prescribes or practices it, but because I find it helpful as a call to remembrance. After all, it's not about ashen crosses, really. It's not even about "giving something up" or my little sacrifice. No - it's about Jesus. It's about looking forward, focusing, leaning in. Lent is about preparation. Lent is about what's real - not just for today, but for forever. Lean in and look hard.
Leaning in to Jesus. That's what I want to do. In the next 40-some days, I want to focus more on His sacrifice, less on me. I want to think about why Jesus came, why Jesus lived, why Jesus died. Less of me, more of Him. Less of me, much - much - more of Him.
Ashen crosses point the way to the end of this journey of Lent, which is the foot of the Good Friday cross. It's an outward sign of an inward repentance. It's a symbol that cries out our understanding that it was our sin - the sin of mankind - that led Jesus to the cross. Lean in. Consider. Reflect.
There is nothing more sobering that realizing the cost - and the commensurate value - of our walk with the Lord. Without the sacrifice of the cross, there would have been no Easter morning resurrection. Without the cross, there would be no offer of eternal life. Without the cross, our sins would still stand between us and our Holy God.
Lean in with me this Lent, won't you?
Lean in to His love. Lean in to His grace. Lean in to His forgiveness.
When we are willing to expose our hearts to the penetrating light of the presence of God, we will find the joy and peace of relationship with Him. He is faithful. He is merciful. He is waiting.
In our homeschool, we always start "together" on the couch. We pray, asking God to focus our hearts and minds, to help us to do our best, to help us understand what He would have us learn. We sing songs - sometimes with the piano, sometimes just a chorus, sometimes the doxology alone. We work on AWANA verses together and then read the day's Psalm and Proverb. It's simple, yet so incredibly profound. My college-aged son recently told me those times on the couch together in the morning are the single thing he misses most about school at home.
During Lent, much like our Advent practice, we like to focus our Scripture reading on the upcoming season. We also have found it helpful to read through books or a devotional together to help stimulate thoughts and conversation about why and what we celebrate. Whether we make time for the additional reading first thing in the morning or during evening devotions, we read through Scripture, through books about Easter and Good Friday, and yes, books specifically for Lent. I have linked a few of our favorites below, for families and children of various ages, but there are honestly HUNDREDS that I could recommend. Of course, start and end and focus...on Scripture!
First, for the youngest among us! (And by the way, if every family in your homeschool group or at your church buys just one book, you can swap and share for maximum benefit with minimum out-of-pocket!)
Next, for those with slightly longer attention spans, although my young ones loves these as well! (Yes, one of these is an album of music - Scriptural, lovely calls to consider the truth of Easter. Challenge your family to find the verses alluded to in each song!)
And finally, some really wonderful books we have enjoyed with our older children:
Have you used a book with your children that has helped them prepare for the season of Easter? Do you have a favorite Lenten devotional? Feel free to comment and leave the title for others to check out!
How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!
How joyful is the man the LORD does not charge with sin and in whose spirit is no deceit!
When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat.
Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and You took away the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let everyone who is faithful pray to You at a time that You may be found.
When great floodwaters come, they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble,
You surround me with joyful shouts of deliverance