Mamas, Let’s Show Each Other Some Grace

Mamas,Let's Show Each Other Some Grace

Here is a link to my latest article for the Homeschooling with Heart blog:

Mamas, Let’s Show Each Other Some Grace

 

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What I Wish I Would Have Learned Before I Began Homeschooling, Part One

boundaries, fence, homeschooling

When I was preparing to begin homeschooling, I knew that I would need some kind of curriculum, school supplies, a plan and a method.  However, once I was in the thick of it, I realized there was one area where I was desperately unprepared:  setting boundaries.

Years ago, a Christian counselor recommended a book to me, “Boundaries:  When to Say Yes, How to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life.”  I purchased it, but shortly after, began dating my husband and got distracted.  It sat on my bookshelf for a decade before God confronted me with the fact that I still had issues in this area that needed to be addressed.  Once I began reading it, I was surprised to realize how much of my life was being affected by my lack of boundaries.  Having grown up with a mother who struggled with addiction, I was often placed in the position of being the mother instead of the child.  I never learned to say “no” to responsibilities that were not my own or to set limits with others.

This caused me to grow into a parent who did not know how to set the appropriate limits with my children, either.  As a result, the biggest struggle that I have faced while trying to teach my children is simply having them cooperate and obey.  In the summer edition of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, there was an article by Deborah Wuehler, entitled “The Importance of Obedience and How to Get Your Kids on Board” that outlined some of the steps that she uses to teach her children obedience.  She instills in them as toddlers that she expects them to obey immediately, completely and cheerfully.  That was mind-blowing to me, as my children never respond to any request that I make the first time, which is my biggest pet peeve.

If I would have realized my own weakness in this area sooner, I would have addressed it in counseling long ago and been prepared to lay the groundwork of teaching obedience to my children when they were very young.  Of course, later is better than never.  The challenge of doing it when my children are several years into homeschooling is that habits have been formed that need to be corrected.

If you are having trouble setting limits with your children and find yourself repeating requests ad nauseam before they obey you, I highly recommend reading Deborah’s article and the book, “Boundaries” or “Boundaries with Kids”  by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  Cooperative children are so much easier to teach!  Most importantly, we are not only teaching them reading and writing, but responsibility – understanding what they are responsible for and what they aren’t responsible for, knowing how to say “no” and how to accept a “no.”  By setting external boundaries for them now, our children will eventually develop internal boundaries, which will be invaluable to them in adulthood and ultimately, in parenting their own children one day.

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Growing Your Child’s Vocabulary Organically

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Recently, as we were en route to a camping trip, my six-year-old wondered how much longer the ride would take.  Instead of asking, “Are we there yet?” she said, “How much more time until we reach our destination?”

My husband and I chuckled at her choice of words but we weren’t surprised.  My eight-year-old son was recently evaluated by a speech language pathologist.  We discovered that the stroke that he suffered at birth has impacted how his mind processes the written word.  However, she was surprised to find that his vocabulary and grammar skills, and his ability to understand language and express it verbally, was very advanced for his age.

I have no question how this came about.  My husband and I followed two steps, which set the stage so this process could happen organically – no vocab tests or drills needed.

  1. We make a point to fill our children’s bookshelves with books that have withstood the test of time. There may be new releases that will become classics one day.  However, the books that are generally considered as classics are looked upon that way for a reason.  We didn’t assume that our children couldn’t understand something that was written in old-fashioned or challenging language, either.  If we weren’t sure that the child would understand a word, we’d simply pause and explain what it meant.  Most of the time, we found that they could intuit the meaning through context.
  2. My husband and I read aloud daily to our children. In “The Read-Aloud Handbook,” Jim Trelease encourages parents to read aloud daily to their children, even past the age that they are able to read independently.  He states, “Kids can usually listen on a higher level than that on which they read.  Therefore, children can hear and understand stories that are more complicated and more interesting than anything they could read on their own.”  He also explains how words that are attained by the “listening vocabulary” then get transmitted to the speaking vocabulary, reading vocabulary and writing vocabulary.  Reading aloud is a bedtime ritual in our home.  As our six-year-old’s attention span isn’t the same as her brother’s, they each get to choose their own story.  This is a precious bonding time for our family, where we can share our love of reading and introduce stories to our children that were beloved from our own childhoods.
    1. Another thing that we’ve found to be helpful is putting audio books on in the car for our children to listen to. They can usually be borrowed from your local library.

There is no need to be legalistic about this approach.  When we go to the library, my daughter often picks picture books that are aesthetically appealing to her but are not very challenging.  That’s fine; I simply add some classic books that I know she’ll like as well.  In the end, she usually prefers what I picked for her.

Although we began this process with our children when they were very young, I think it would be beneficial to begin family read-aloud time with good books at any age.  I believe that the learning challenges that my son may face will be offset by the advantages that his exposure to quality literature has given him.  Most importantly, my children have learned that reading is a pleasurable experience, one that you never outgrow.

 

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Developing Patience for the Road Ahead

Developing Patience for the Road Ahead

Back in May, I wrote this post for the Homeschooling with Heart blog.   I almost didn’t get it written, because a tornado hit our state, and we lost power for almost a week.

The first two days, my children kept asking when they’d be able to watch TV or use the computer again.  I’ve made a point to limit their screen time, and because there was less availability and dependence on these things when I was raising my two adult children, having a device always on hand to entertain them just didn’t seem natural to me.  Even so, my kids still went through a withdrawal of the screen time that they are allowed to have.

They began to wander outside frequently to entertain themselves and joined with some neighborhood children to build a shelter in the woods behind our house.  I ended up having to coax them indoors for meals.  They managed to find something to engage them that also created an opportunity for teamwork and socialization.  It was almost a blessing in disguise.

Meanwhile, I was going through the withdrawal of having running water and access to information about what was going on, without phone or internet service.  I attempted to model patience for my children, along with gratitude that our home was not damaged in the storm and none of us was injured, although it became more difficult to do as the week wore on.

My reflection on this experience is that you never know when a situation like this will happen.  Many things are out of our control, and it is easier for you and your children to deal with when the virtue of patience has been developed.  It is these moments when it is really put to the test that you begin to realize just what an important life skill it is and how much you are actually lacking it versus what you would normally give yourself credit for.

In my opinion, the real long-term benefit of learning to wait until later for what you want now is the ability to wait on God.  It took many years of waiting and praying before I met my husband.  It might be a spouse, a job, the birth of a child, or any number of things that you or your child needs to wait on God for.

One thing that I have found helpful for my own children is making it the default that they wait in public (at a sibling’s extracurricular activity; at the DMV) without devices to entertain them.  If they’ve had practice stretching and developing those muscles during these short periods of waiting, I believe it will help them to be better prepared for the marathon when it inevitably comes.

My goals for the future are to be a better example of patient waiting in times of stress, to pray that God strengthens both my patience and that of my children, and to trust that He can do this work in us.

 

“A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him by heaven.” – John 4:27

“But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” – Luke 8:15

Our Experience with Pediatric Stroke

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Pediatric Stroke Warriors, a group that I follow on Facebook, shared this video recently to heighten awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke in a child:

 

Unfortunately, for our family, this is not new information.  My eight-year-old son, Jude*, was a full-term baby, delivered with the umbilical cord around his neck.  He was lethargic and his face was gray.  After a few deep breaths, he regained his color and appeared fine, but a few hours later, began experiencing focal seizures.  He was jerking his right arm, from the shoulder down, in a rhythmic manner which I recognized was not normal for a newborn.  I called the nurse, who rushed him to the neonatal intensive care unit, where they performed both a spinal tap and an MRI before he was twenty-four hours old.  The MRI found the cause of the seizures – he had suffered a stroke on the left side of his brain.

At the time, we did not know what his prognosis would be.  The doctors told us that newborn stroke patients fare better than adults because their brain is still developing, and other areas of the brain might take over functions of the part that was damaged.  As it turns out, he has been very blessed.  Because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, he has monoparesis (a type of Cerebral Palsy, muscle weakness caused by damage to the brain) in his right leg from the ankle down.  However, unlike many stroke survivors, he does not have speech difficulties or muscle weakness in his face, hand or arm.  He does not have any cognitive impairment, either.

He goes to physical therapy once a week, wears an AFO (ankle foot orthotic), and a device called a WalkAide.  He had a gait analysis done last year, and I had to answer a ton of questions about what he is able to do, whether he requires assistance to do it, how far he can walk, etc.  I was feeling a bit sorry for him, because we had come to the point where the brace was no longer enough, and his physiatrist felt that he needed more aggressive intervention.  Filling out that questionnaire was humbling, though.  I kept answering “yes” to almost every question, “no” to his needing assistance, and admitted that he can hike for a few miles.  The only thing I couldn’t say that he can do is play sports.  As my husband pointed out, it is unlikely that he would have been athletic, anyway, because neither of us are.

I will write a follow-up post about the more recent interventions that we have utilized, but I thought it was important to share this video and information about pediatric stroke for those who are not aware of it.  Until it happened to my son, I had no idea that a baby could have a stroke.  The sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner the patient can receive the care that they need.

 

*I have decided to use pseudonyms for my children, to protect their privacy.

Trusting God’s Plans for My Children

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This is my daughter’s third year studying classical ballet, and she loves it.  After her first year, her teacher decided to keep her in level one.  I agreed that if she hadn’t mastered the basics, it made sense for her to remain there until she was ready to move on.  After all, as a homeschool parent, I understand how important mastery is in any subject.

At the end of her second year, her teacher decided to hold her back again.  Most of her friends had moved on without her after the first year, and now, this year’s classmates would do the same, including her best friend.  I was afraid that watching her peers move ahead without her would damage her self-esteem and wondered if she should try a different activity.  Maybe she would be more successful at something else.

My husband was the voice of reason.  He said, “She loves dance.  As long as she wants to do it, who cares what level she’s at?”

So, she began her third year in level one, while taking some private lessons in addition to help her catch up.  She also wanted to try scouting, like her brother, but I had a lot of trouble finding a local troop for her.  Her best friend’s mom told me about a group that her daughter was attending that was similar to scouts, but Bible-focused instead, so we decided to try that.  However, it turned out that the time of her friend’s level two dance class conflicted with the other activity, so she couldn’t participate this year.  I briefly wondered if we should forget about it, but decided to let my daughter try it out, anyway.

She absolutely loved the new club and was very motivated to bring her book home to read the lessons with me and practice memorizing Bible verses.  Before I knew it, she was earning rewards almost every week and feeling proud of her accomplishments.  She also enjoys the time each week with her new friends.

This past week, I overheard her dance teacher compliment her during class and the thought crossed my mind that maybe she was getting ready to move up, which could happen at any time during the year.  I was initially pleased, until it occurred to me that attending the level two classes would prevent her from going to her other club.  I know that would disappoint her.

This made me reflect on how God has assigned each of us individual gifts and has a plan for us to use them.  While I was concerned about her lack of success in one area, He knew that he had another place for her, one in which she not only would excel but would do so while being immersed in His Word and learning to write the words of it on her heart.

As we enter a new year, I want to learn to trust His plans for my children more and worry less.  I know that I am leaving them in the best possible hands.

 

Using Guided Repeated Reading to Improve Fluency

Smart girl

I am in my fourth year of homeschooling my son and learning to read has been a slow process for him.  He’s made a lot of progress recently, but the one remaining obstacle that I see is for him to achieve enough fluency to feel confident reading in public.  In co-op, Sunday school or other activities, he avoids reading.  He confided in me recently that he doesn’t want to read in front of his peers because he still needs to sound some of the words out.  Most of the children that he encounters around his age don’t have to do that.

As a result, I decided that helping him to be a fluent reader needs to be our top priority right now.  I don’t want him to miss out on participating in activities that he enjoys.

We’ve often used the McGuffey’s Readers for oral reading practice, and years ago, I read on another mom’s blog that she had her children read the same lesson from a McGuffey’s Reader for five days in a row.  At the time, I was confused as to why she did that, as the lessons in the early readers are short and sweet.  As I searched for information on improving fluency, though, I discovered why – Guided Repeated Reading.  While our phonics curriculum had new passages to be read by my son each day, Guided Repeated Reading has the child read the same passage over and over until they can read it without hesitation, even if it does take five days.  The steps that we have been following are:

  • Practice reading for 30 minutes per day
  • Have the child read the same passage at least 4 times in a row
    • Supervise and make gentle corrections when needed
  • Read the passage aloud for the child at least twice to model fluent reading for them

pinkk flowers

One piece of advice that I’ve read is to model the passage at the outset of the lesson rather than having them sound it out first.  The idea is that having familiarity with it removes any anxiety that your child may have about approaching new text.  I see value in that idea, but my child is used to doing memory work (such as poems and Bible verses) and I notice that if I read through the passage for him first, he appears to be reciting portions back to me from memory, which isn’t reading.  For that reason, I have been having him sound everything out initially and then modeling it for him after he has gotten through the whole thing once on his own.

Within 3 to 6 months of following this protocol, your child’s reading is supposed to greatly improve.  We’ve been using this method for about six weeks and I can see evidence that it is working.  I’ve noticed a few improvements in particular:

  1. When he encounters a word that he has mastered in a passage that we’ve previously worked on, he often remembers the word on sight now, rather than having to sound it out as though he is seeing it for the first time.
  2. If we return to a passage that we’ve already done and moved on from, he can still read it easily.
  3. He’s becoming braver about attempting to read unfamiliar words in other situations.

Over the course of time that we’ve been doing this, he has gone from needing about three days on a new passage to being able to master it almost completely in one sitting.

If reading fluently is a struggle for your child, you may want to consider using Guided Repeated Reading as a tool to help them.

Relationship, Obedience & Homeschooling

Relationship obedience pic for blog

Recently, as we were waiting for our daughters at dance class, another mom asked if my children had started school yet.  I explained that we had begun our school year, but we homeschool.  In response, she said, “I thought about homeschooling, but in the end, I decided that my relationship with my children would be better if I weren’t their teacher, too.”

A few years ago, a friend of mine who was considering homeschooling her child shared with me her worry that her son wouldn’t listen to her if she tried to teach him, and therefore, not get his school work done.

I cannot judge either one of these concerns.  I understand them well, because I’ve had them myself.  As I’ve prayed through them, though, God has shown me His heart about these things.

Relationships require interaction and time spent together to grow in intimacy, not time apart.  The reason that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” isn’t because you love someone more when you are apart; it is because the less you are together, the less opportunity there is for conflict to develop.  God’s Word shows us that He is very relational.  He is our Abba Father.  Jesus is His son.  The church is called His bride.  How can we model for our children an intimate relationship with God unless we have one with them?

Also, it is very important that we all learn obedience to God.  How do we prepare our children for that responsibility if we haven’t taught them to obey us first?  Personally, I’ve been very frustrated by a stubborn disobedience that has arisen in my 6-year-old lately.  I warn her that there will be consequences if she doesn’t make the right choice in a given situation.  Yet, she continues to push the limits until I end up having to take a privilege away.  Then, the tears flow, as though she didn’t already know that was going to happen.

I don’t want to chasten my children or remove blessings from them.  However, this helps me to realize how God feels about me.  He wants my obedience and for me to listen to His leading, so he can bless me also.  That just confirms to me that I need to stick with it.  My daughter will find it much easier to follow God in the long run if she gets her heart right in this area now.  It also helps me to keep my eyes on Him in my own walk.  If it hurts me this much to punish my child, I can imagine how much more my Father in heaven is grieved by me at times.

If I weren’t home with my children all day, I’d have a lot less time to help them build their characters and encourage their spiritual growth, but it would still be my responsibility, even if someone else was teaching them to read and write.  So, I embrace the challenge, trusting that God will work in their hearts to bring them closer to Him.

“Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” – Jeremiah 24:7

 Note:  This post was written for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’s Homeschooling with Heart Blog and the intended audience is parents who feel that they have been called to homeschool.

Homeschool Garden

Hugel Culture with text

Last year, I planted a vegetable garden.  It was only my second year doing this.  I grew up in the city and don’t know much about gardening.  However, while homeschooling my son, we learned about sprouting seeds and the garden seemed like the next logical step.

In our family, we try to live pretty naturally.  I cook from scratch and avoid artificial ingredients.  So, if I was going to grow food for us, I wanted it to be as organic as possible.  I saved seed from plants I had grown the year before, used our compost, fertilized with manure and Epsom salts, deterred pests with crushed eggshells and cups of beer planted around the raised beds.

Every morning, I went out, watered my plants, pulled off any powdery mildew-infected leaves, picked anything that was ripe, tied or propped up anything that needed it.  I said to my husband, “This is like having a baby, except that it doesn’t wake me up at night!”

However, as I looked at the gardens of my neighbors, I sometimes got a little envious.  I had put so much tender care into my little plot of land, and theirs had grown so much bigger, faster, and yielded so much more food already.  Sometimes, it was discouraging and made me wonder if it was worth it to do things the way that I had chosen to do them.

That thought process took me right back to parenting again.  When my youngest was born, I wanted to breastfeed her, as I had with my other children.  The fact that she was premature and had an immature immune system was an additional motivating factor.  Luckily, I knew ahead of time that she’d be delivered early and had read up on strategies for nursing a premature baby.  It was NOT easy, though.  She was too small and weak to nurse directly and had to be tube-fed the milk that I was pumping for her, every 2 to 3 hours, around the clock.  I set an alarm to wake myself at night and delivered all of the little, carefully labeled bottles to the neonatal intensive care unit every morning.

One night, I stayed overnight at the NICU so I could spend extra time with my baby, trying to teach her to nurse.  As I attempted to get some sleep, I overheard the nurse who was responsible for my daughter that night speaking with another nurse, mocking my attempts to breastfeed a preemie, which she presumed would fail.  It was devastating.  I was just trying to offer my child what I thought was the best that I could and frankly, one of the only things I could do to nurture her while she was still in the hospital.  Who could find fault with that?

After a month in the hospital, my baby returned home on a bottle.  I spent three more months on the roller coaster of pumping milk around the clock while also trying to help her get the hang of nursing.  I made more than one tearful phone call to the lactation consultant, and eventually found myself grumbling over having to stop everything to pump throughout the day, while keeping a newborn and toddler happy at the same time.  At times, I thought how much easier it would be just to give up and turn to formula instead.  It wouldn’t have been the end of the world.  I had made a choice to breastfeed, though, because it was what I felt was best for her.  No one was forcing me to, so what right did I have to complain?

It wasn’t long after this realization that she finally got the hang of nursing, and rejected the bottle feedings for good.

I can draw the same comparison to homeschooling.  When I was considering taking on the challenge, a homeschool veteran that I knew gave me the wise advice that it was something that God had to call you to.  I prayerfully considered this and determined that He was.  Over the last three years, I have found a lot of joy and blessing in the experience of teaching my children.  It has inspired me to recognize the many teachable moments that present themselves throughout the day, even when we aren’t “schooling.”  It has challenged me and helped me to grow.

It isn’t easy, though.  It requires effort and sacrifice.  Sometimes, it is very frustrating and my patience wears thin.  It can be tempting to look at the garden across the street, with the “miracle” grown, heavy-laden plants and think how much easier it would be to take that path and how much better the short-term results appear to be.

Then, God reminds me, “If I’ve called you to it, I’ll equip you to do it.  You made a free will choice to follow the path I set before you.  Are you going to trust Me or grumble about it?”  That’s when He reminds me of some things.

  1. Faster isn’t necessarily better. Three of my four children attended preschool, but I kept the youngest home with me, because the cost had become too high.  When I began kindergarten with her, I discovered that she was farther ahead in some areas than her siblings had been at the same age.  Beginning school two years later had not hurt her at all.
  2. Anything that is worth doing will never be easy. When I first got saved and the realization hit me that I was supposed to surrender my love life to God and remain pure until He brought me a husband, I didn’t think it would be easy, but I never comprehended how challenging it would be.  Not only was there physical temptation to combat, but the fear that no one would ever want to marry me.  Looking back now, the only regrets that I have from that time are the moments when I failed to be strong and compromised in some way, and there were always ramifications from those choices.  The times when I walked in complete purity were worth the sacrifice.
  3. We have to take responsibility for what God has entrusted us with. This won’t be the same for all of us.  Some parents have obstacles that prevent breastfeeding, homeschooling, or growing their own food.  Some people just aren’t called to those things, or perhaps aren’t in this particular season of their lives.  We aren’t all meant to walk the same exact path at the same time.  We should still strive to be faithful in whatever circumstance we are in presently.  No matter who is teaching our child to read and write, we still have a responsibility to teach them about Jesus, to treat others as they would like to be treated, and to be grateful for the blessings they have received.

So, when I am tempted to look upon the garden across the street with envy, I remember these things.  My garden may take longer to grow and produce less impressive-looking food, but it will nurture the bodies of my family just as well.  So, I can rest easy, knowing that I have done it the way that I was called to, instead of taking a shortcut that I would have regretted.  There is something incredibly satisfying in that.