Two Sanity-Saving Home School Practices

by Elizabeth

I’ve written lots of theoretical home schooling posts before (see here, here, here, and here), but sometimes we just need a little practical help. So that’s what I’ve got for you today: two practices that are saving my sanity right now. Maybe they can help you, too.



I first heard of looping from Sarah Mackenzie (here and here). In a nutshell, loop scheduling is a technique that can be used for subjects you need to get done regularly but that don’t have to be completed every single day. (That means math is a subject that should never be looped!) Classic looping examples come from the fine arts – things like picture study, composer study, and poetry reading. It can also be applied to various housework tasks.

When I first heard of looping, I didn’t think the concept applied to me, so I ignored it and moved on. Then this year happened. I now have a 7th grader, a 5th grader, a 3rd grader, and a 1st grader. That’s a lot of grade levels to manage. And it’s a lot of language arts — if you, like me, think each child needs to do reading, spelling, phonics, handwriting, composition, grammar, and vocabulary each day.

The hours required to do that many subjects within a subject was eating up our days. And I constantly felt like a failure, as we simply could not finish every single piece of language study every day. Nobody had ever told me that all my children needed to do every language art every day, but somewhere along the way I internalized the expectation.

Then I started remembering my own middle school education. I only had language arts for one hour per day, plus homework. But that wouldn’t add up to 3 or 4 hours per child per day (HALF our home school day), even in middle school. It would be 1 or 2, max.

Then I remembered some more: we studied language arts in units. We’d have a poetry unit, then a grammar unit, then a literature unit, then a composition unit. We didn’t do all the things all at once.

I started thinking I needed to apply this to our home school. I started thinking in terms of units. If we’re deep in an intensive writing unit that already takes a couple of hours a day, it’s just torture to add the stress of separate spelling and grammar and vocabulary lessons at the same time. Why not finish the writing unit and then move on to the nitty-gritty of grammar or spelling?

And why had I not thought of this possibility before?

Later I spoke with my husband – who was himself homeschooled – about these things. He agreed that my expectations had been ridiculously high and supported my effort to find more reasonable expectations.

Then I spoke with my Home School Mom Friends, and they reminded me that my “new” approach had a name – it’s called Looping.

So that’s what we do now. We loop our language arts, and everybody is much happier and less stressed.

***We do not loop reading. Reading – both reading aloud together and reading silently alone — is the foundation of our education, and they happen every day. ***



I’m a type-A, perfectionistic, over-achieving person with a bent towards workaholism. In the past, therefore, whenever we had any down time in the home school day (immediately after lunch, for example, or when all my kids were working on individual assignments), I tried to fill that time with other work: emails, blog posts, life planning, ministry event planning. I wanted to squeeze every available second out of my day.

This posed a problem for me, however, because in entering another world, I was drawn away from my home world. Once I entered the world of outside work, it was hard to shift my mind back into whatever school question (or sibling squabble question) was being asked. And an open computer is a distinct sign to children that you are not available to them.

My thoughts and attention ended up being divided, and I never felt like I finished any one thing. I was trying to become more efficient but ended up being less efficient. (Additionally there’s the black hole of social media, surrounding which I deceive myself about how productive I’m really being.) I was perpetually exhausted in this kind of non-boundaried life. And I think my kids were getting less of me than they deserved.

So during school hours, I started committing not to open the computer in order to “be more efficient.” I decided to read picture books to my youngest during that time. Or read something from my long list of books I’m always trying to get to but am too tired to read by the end of the day. When a child comes to you with a math question or a life question, it’s much easier to put away a paper book than it is to put away a screen.

I call these times the Lulls. They are the lulls in the day that I used to try to fill with more work. Now I stay present and fill them with my own education or enjoyment, and I feel less harried. Before, I was always trying to rush through school work so I could get to my “other work.” Now I don’t rush. Now the school day is more peaceful. And it’s all because I use my Lulls differently.

I should also mention that different days have different Lulls. If my older children are all doing a review assignment in math, I have much more Lull time. But if they each need to learn something new (or on the days we attend co-op), I have less Lull time. But that’s OK. The Lull time isn’t meant to be productive. I’m not trying to “get work done.” I’m merely trying to be more focused and effective in filling the time gaps.


So here’s how to apply the sanity-saving practices of Loops and Lulls to your day:

Loops: Follow those links up above to Sarah Mackenzie’s Loop Scheduling instructions. Spend some time figuring out which of your subjects a) don’t need to be done each day or b) already aren’t getting done each day. Place them on a list and cycle through them one by one. All your looped subjects will now be getting done on a regular basis, and you’ll feel less guilt and less pressure.

Lulls: Commit not to do other work while you’re teaching your kids. This is hard, I know. We want to get as much done as possible each day — “redeem the time” and all that. But focusing on school work alone helps your day go much more smoothly and, in the end, helps you be more efficient and less stressed out.

Happy Home Educating!

Running to Jesus?

by Jonathan


Running to Jesus is not always the answer.

Recently, I read about the rich young guy who did what we typically label a great thing: he ran to Jesus. In Mark 10:17, we read that he “came running up to [Jesus], knelt down, and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

But why was he running?

Was he running because he had a ton of important stuff to do? Was he coming from some uber important business dealings, looking to get a quick Word from Jesus so he could return to real life?

Was talking with Jesus an afterthought, something he might just be able to fit into an otherwise stuffed schedule?

Why was he running?

Was he running in desperation? Had he reached the end of himself and realized his need for salvation? The text doesn’t seem to say so. Actually, the text shows us a guy who’s pretty sure he’s got it all together. He’s got money, for sure, and he’s got pride. But it’s not really the bad pride, right? It’s the kind of pride that says, “Well, actually, I’ve kept the entire law all my life.” Oh snap, that is the bad pride.

But why is he running?

It looks like a bullet point to me, an agenda item – “Ask Jesus how to be saved.” Check.

Jesus sees this guy, the man with all the right answers to the wrong questions, and feels “genuine love for him.” Even so, Jesus doesn’t throw open his arms or the gates of heaven for this man. Because this isn’t how a person is supposed to run to Jesus. He is not prepared to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

So why does he run? Well, because he is us.

We run and we run and we run, and then we see Jesus in someone, or we read a powerful book, or listen to a touching podcast, and we cry out, “I want that! I want peace and love and joy and salvation and whatever THAT is!” But we’re still running. We’re still loving our busyness or our business. Our legs have carried us to a legitimately good question, but our hearts are three miles behind.

I want to stop running.

I want to walk with Jesus, slowly learning his ways, hearing his voice.

I want to remember that Jesus doesn’t dole out life-changing maxims in 140 characters. He says “Follow me while I walk. Watch me. Be with me. And I will show you.”

It’s a slow faith, without shortcuts or belief-hacks.

May we follow Jesus like that.

And when we do run to Jesus, may it be with childlike confidence and joy. I think he likes that kind of running.

I’ve come to believe that Jesus is not a big fan of fast faith, where I try to fit my big questions into little boxes, hurriedly scarfing down truth.

I need to walk with him, slowly.

Do you?

A world in need of water

by Elizabeth


I once listened to an interview with Linda Sue Park, author of the children’s book Long Walk to Water. I remember being completely struck by her comment that if you don’t have water, you don’t have anything. Water is everything. Even more than food, water is LIFE.

But access to water is something I have always taken for granted. I’ve been insulated from these things. I’ve never worried about where my bathing water or washing water, let alone my drinking water, was going to come from.

Beyond that – I’ve never worried about whether my water is clean. I’ve always had access to clean, safe drinking water, even in Cambodia. And I swim in large, artificial pools of water FOR FUN.  Talk about privilege.

Some time later, I read in Pacific Standard magazine about Colin Kelley’s research on water distribution. How a lack of water is one the factors that can lead to instability in a region. And how experts thought nothing could happen in Syria, it was stable. Nothing — that is — until a drought descended, and the whole region destabilized. Practically overnight.

Kelley’s research shows that the Syrian drought was made 2 to 3 times more likely by “human influences.” Human influences like grazing policies that favored larger farmers, and the ensuing desperate attempt by smaller farmers to access water any which way they could: by digging wells. So ground water became depleted. Wheat crops began to fail. Families started to migrate. And the whole system started to disintegrate.

But this is not the first time human behavior has affected the environment in negative ways. Susan Wise Bauer, in a recent Psychology Today article, says that when ancient Sumerians needed more water to grow their own wheat crops, they simply irrigated their fields with the nearly fresh (but slightly brackish) water of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. When it became clear that the fields were suffering, they refused to fallow the fields to allow for recovery.

While it led to prosperity in the short run, over time it led to political and economic instability and, eventually, permanent desertification of the area. So no, the modern world is not alone in its abuse of this good earth. And truly, the reach of the curse is far.

But problems like the ones faced in the Middle East can happen anywhere, because lack of access to basic resources like food and water affects political regimes. And people like Colin Kelley work hard to predict the next great shifting of people, power, and resources.

One of those places is the American Pacific region – all the way from Mexico, whose drought in the 1990’s and early 2000’s led many to migrate north, up through California, and into Oregon and Washington.

Agricultural workers already had to cycle through various crop locations each year. But then drought came to California, and workers were fainting in the fields from exhaustion and dehydration. Then they couldn’t make quota. Then fields started to close. And families had to move.

These agricultural workers lead economically precarious lives. Surely drought affects poorer workers much more severely than it affects the middle and upper classes, whose lives are far more cushioned against climate troubles.

And that is the point in the article where I paused. I paused to mourn for the families in California — and the Middle East — who are intimately acquainted with the current drought. I paused to mourn for people who are displaced because of these current droughts. I paused to mourn over the human contribution to these current droughts.

I paused to contemplate how silly my ministry pursuits, or my educational concerns for my children, or my desire for leisure time, might be in the light of people who have no water to drink and no food to eat.

And I paused to long for the day when this current worldly mess will

Then I had to press pause on my pause and put the magazine up, because my children still needed feeding and bathing and tucking in.

But I won’t stop longing for the Day.



Sarah Mackenzie’s interview with Linda Sue Park, author of Long Walk to Water, at Read Aloud Revival podcast.

“Droughtlandia” — an article by Jeremy Miller in Pacific Standard magazine.

Research Spotlight on Colin Kelley, also in Pacific Standard magazine.

“Destroying the Planet. We’ve Been Doing It for a Long Time.” — an article by Susan Wise Bauer in Psychology Today magazine.

A Few of My Favorite Things {December 2016}

Happy New Year from the Trotters in Cambodia! As usual, I’ve got lists of the best stuff from this month, including a Christmas section, a Third Culture Kid section, and a Home School section, so be sure to scroll through everything to find what you want. ~Elizabeth


The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. My family attended this play at one of the international high schools in town. It was the perfect way to kick off our Christmas season.

More regular dates with my husband. I am so much happier when I get away regularly to talk with my husband. And now that our oldest is of babysitting age, we can go to our favorite coffee shop (Joma) more often.

The Sparrow. Our co-op performed an original play based on the story of Robin Hood. It explored themes of power, oppression, and poverty, and the students themselves gave input into the script. I loved the community nature of kids and parents working together on a project and the way it empowered my kids, each in his or her own way.

The Moms. “The Moms” are the women of our home school co-op. They are kindred spirits. We share both the experience of cross-cultural living (which is a powerful bond in itself) and the daily experience of teaching our children. There is no one like these women, and time with them is sacred and holy (not to mention fun).

Rogue One. We watched this on our family Christmas outing and followed it up with ice skating at the mall. Rogue One was a good, funny story with no bad language, no gory battle scenes, and a strong non-sexualized female lead — two years in a row on that count for the Star Wars franchise.

Boxing Day. I was invited to a Boxing Day party at some friends’ house, and one of the things we did was sing Christmas carols, yes even the less well-known ones, AND all the verses (the host is apparently a verse snob like myself). Of course the feasting and conversations were fun too, but the highlight of the evening was the singing.



I did not finish any of the books I began last month (maybe next month??), but here are the best things I did read and listen to this month.

Poppy by Avi. This story about a brave, intelligent little mouse is funny, adventurous, and fast. This was my first Avi book, but I might be hooked now.

Beatrix Potter The Complete Tales. I love Beatrix Potter, don’t you? But I recently realized I hadn’t ever read them to my girls. So we cracked open this treasury and read them aloud this month. Truly, Beatrix is as delightful as ever. In fact, I think her work is even richer for adults than it is for children.

Grandma’s Attic series by Arleta Richardson. We think Grandma’s Attic books are better than Caddie Woodlawn (which we read in November) and the Little House books (which got me hooked on reading as a child). These stories are filled with the misadventures of Mabel O’Dell, and practically every chapter has us laughing. We read them years ago but revisited them this month.

The Man Who Lit The Dark Web by Charles Graeber in Popular Science. When I finished reading this article, I said to myself: THIS is the most important story in this magazine, not the Mark Zuckerberg whose famous face graces the cover and who wants to change the world by immersing us all in virtual reality, but the man who discovered the atrocities of human trafficking while fighting terror in the Middle East and whose subsequent journey led him to organize teams of coders and computer scientists to more efficiently and effectively fight the sale of human flesh. I don’t know if this man (Chris White) is a believer or not, but this is the kind of work that pushes back the Darkness, and I’m thankful for it.

The Eternal Argument on the Bibliophiles podcast. More big ideas to chew on from the people at Center for Lit.



Don’t Ask Me About My Christmas Traditions by Amy Medina. Simply perfect.

Reflections on a Christmas Poem by Adam Andrews. Read the poem by Anne Ridler.

Immensity Draws Near for the Sake of Love by Missy Andrews. Again, read that poem. This one’s by John Donne. (By the way, Adam and Missy Andrews lead the Bibliophiles podcast at Center for Lit.)

Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite. As you know I’m really into poetry these days. It really is the densest and most efficient form of language, beautiful and soothing and searing all at once. You’re gonna want a hard copy of this book. But the following poems aren’t just good for Advent, they’re worthy prayers the whole year long.

O Sapienta (Wisdom)

O Adonai (Lord and Master)

O Radix (Root of Jesse)

O Clavix (Key of David)

O Oriens (Dayspring)

O Rex Gentium (King of Nations)

O Emmanuel

(The Latin ‘O Antiphons’ were the basis for the hymn ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel.’)

A print of Mary consoling Eve. I’d seen this going around on Facebook, but you can also purchase it here.

A new musical version of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by the ethereal Audrey Assad.



I Signed Up For This by Anisha Hopkinson. So good!!

Moving abroad will fix all of your issues . . . . and other lies by Jerry Jones. Funny (par for the course with Jerry) and true. Reminds me of Marilyn Gardner’s You Take Yourself With You (And Other Important Things About Living Overseas), which is also worth a re-read if you have time.

You and me: teen sweethearts on a wild 20 years together in the Kingdom, an article in the Phnom Penh Post about a married couple I’m acquainted with here in town. Such a sweet story, and describes so well the importance of Third Culture Kids connecting with other Third Culture Kids.

Nobody Knows by the Lumineers. I heard this song in the movie Pete’s Dragon. My kids have been watching this movie for a while, but I had never taken the time to watch it until recently. Its themes of longing and belonging surprised me, and its soundtrack is sublime — make sure you also check out Something Wild by Lindsey Stirling and Andrew McMahon (but skip the official music video as it alters the meaning somewhat, and just stick to the lyrics video I linked to).

Anyway, back to ‘Nobody Knows.’ Something about the folksy sound of this song drew me in, and then of course, there are the lyrics: “Nobody knows how to say goodbye, seems so easy till you try.” It’s so true — missionaries often need to receive special training in how to say goodbye well. Or what about this line: “Nobody knows how to get back home. We set out so long ago. Search the heavens and the earth below, nobody knows how to get back home.” Words for a global nomad if ever I saw any.

This month I was also privileged to read and review an advance copy of Marilyn Gardner’s upcoming book Passages Through Pakistan. Marilyn is a writing friend and Third Culture Kid who grew up in Pakistan. Although on the surface my TCK story diverges widely from hers, I found myself relating to so much in this book. I cried a lot, and laughed some too. I also got a kick out of how she told her story chronologically while also arranging the chapters around forms of transportation. Such a clever writing device. I’ll share my official review on here when the book gets closer to publication!



In Remembrance of Me, a communion song by Cheri Keaggy. This song was in my head a lot this month. Personally, I think Free Indeed did this song better a cappella, but I can’t find their version, so you’ll have to  settle for Cheri’s own version. Such beautiful lyrics.

The Creed by Hillsong. Yes, I’ve shared this song before, but this month when we sang it in worship, I was struck all over again how crucial these beliefs are to our lives and faith, and how important it is to repeat them again and again to our children (and to ourselves), to talk about them when we are at home and when we are on the road, when we are going to bed and when we are getting up.

Everything We Need by the group Acappella. These lyrics are straight out of 2 Peter 1:3, and I grew up on them. I just happened to hear it again as we were sharing some of our Acappella CDs with our kids on a car trip. And I really needed the reminder.

The Final Word by Michael Card. There’s no one like Card for theological richness and depth. He’s kind of like Malcolm Guite — a theologian and poet who turns phrases in such a way that I instinctively know they’re true, even though the words and ideas are new.  Read his lyrics here.



Hebrews 2:14-15:

“Because God’s children are human beings — made of flesh and blood — the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could He die, and only by dying could He break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could He set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.”

(You can read why it impacted me so much here.)

The ministry of Does God Exist publishes bits of information on different aspects of creation. These links are about the beautiful lotus flower, which is considered sacred here in the East. Its self-cleaning abilities have inspired scientists. It’s also a very hardy plant.



Should I Make My Child Apologize? by Brandy Vencel. There’s also a Part 2 and Part 3.

Get sleep. by Mystie Winckler. She’s also got Eat breakfast. Both posts have pithy little titles that pack a lot of (easily forgotten) wisdom.

And while we’re on the subject of pithy wisdom, check out my old camp counselor Laura Hamm Coppinger’s excellent (and funny) post Don’t Buy Stuff.

Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson. I’m nearly done working through this book. Occasionally it makes homeschooling feel like a too-heavy spiritual burden that my husband and I have to carry all alone, but most of the time it lifts the burdens. A few big takeaways:

  • Homeschooling is a lifestyle, and it is going to require sacrifice. (I have found this to be true; homeschooling is a job, and I am a full-time working parent, apart from any outside ministry I might add to it. Accepting at the outset that lifestyle changes will have to be made is helpful for coping with those changes.)
  • If you think homeschooling is a burden and not a blessing, then you are not free. (I have been on various points on this spectrum and know this statement to be true. I’m currently and have been mostly in a place where I think it’s a blessing, but I know the other side, and it’s not fun.)
  • As homeschoolers we do not have to follow the educational systems of institutions. (A good reminder as I tend toward scholastic snobbery even as I struggle to keep up with the workload I’ve assigned myself. My children’s education does not need to look like mine!)
  • The book also reaffirmed our family’s choices to read lots of books, both together and alone. (That was basically nice confirmation of what we already do.)

I also re-read Sarah Mackenzie’s much more accessible Teaching From Rest this month. One reviewer says she the book is a quarterly read for her, and it may become so for me too. But do yourself a favor and get a hard copy. Kindle is only second best in this case.

(For future homeschoolers I also always recommend Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum as it explains all the relevant educational approaches and helps you choose one based on your and your kids’ personalities.)

I’ve processed the educational and mothering ideas in these books in various forms here on the blog too:

The thing that happened while I was scrubbing the kitchen floor with a toothbrush

Dear Homeschool Mother of Littles: Don’t Give Up

The Home School Manifesto

Home School Burnout Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations (the first in a 4-part series)

If your year has been a flop {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today. . . .


For the past several years I’ve chosen a “word for the year.” Each word is meant to serve as a rudder for the year, a way to focus my attention and direct my inner life. Sometimes I very specifically sense God’s leading in the word; such was the case of “Listen” in 2011 and “Encourage” in 2013. Both of those words started with quiet whispers from God that were continually confirmed throughout the year. Words — and years — like that feel very successful.

But other times I’ve chosen words that simply seemed to fit my spiritual needs at the time, as has been the case for the last two years. In 2015 I chose the word “Peace,” mainly for the warm fuzzy feeling it gave me. I just wanted a little bit of rest. Some peace and quiet. But throughout that year, God peeled back the layers of my illusory peace and revealed relationships in my life that were not actually at peace. My year felt like a failure until right at the end, when relational reconciliation emerged as an eleventh-hour gift from the Father.

Maybe that year wasn’t such a flop after all, I thought. It gave me the confidence to choose a word again. So in 2016, I chose the word “Steady.” I wanted to have steadier emotions no matter the amount of stress I was under, and regardless of which day of the month I was on. I thought this was a great goal. I wanted to be like Caroline (Ma) Ingalls – wise, calm, and gentle in all circumstances.

Basically, I wanted to be perfect.

And it was a complete flop.

You can finish reading this post here.