Announcing Elizabeth’s new book!

Jonathan has been working hard behind the scenes to compile and edit my new book, Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More. What can I say? He’s my biggest fan. (This whole project was his idea, in fact.)

The book is available in both Kindle and paperback formats, and I’ll share the cover and the foreword below. I also want to say thank you so much for reading us both over the past 6 years!

With love, Elizabeth

P.S. If you read the book and like it, I would absolutely love it if you left an Amazon review. It helps other people find the book. Thank you so much!!

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No matter your background or experiences, being a woman is hard. That’s partly because being a human is hard. It’s also due to the many roles we women tend to carry in life. Daughter, sister, friend. Professional, mother, wife. Marriage and motherhood are indeed holy vocations, and they require much of a woman. Whether we work outside the home or from within it, our vocations sometimes stretch us so much that we fear we will break.

The truth is, there’s not a lot of preparation for marriage or motherhood. Certainly, we can read books. We can read books on how to have a great sex life or how to build a godly marriage or how to live out biblical submission, but when it really comes down to it, we marry a human person, not a book, and our husbands also marry a human person – us. A lot of marriage is simply trying new ways of doings things and seeing if they work (including, at times, seeking professional or pastoral help).

It’s the same with motherhood. We can read books on natural childbirth, healthy homemade baby food, and the most godly parenting – or the most logical. But nothing can really prepare us for meeting our child, some mysterious arrangement of our own DNA, or someone else’s. No one can prepare us for their likes or their dislikes, their strengths or their weaknesses. We have to discover these things for ourselves, over time.

What follows in this book is precisely that: the things I’ve discovered over time. There are articles and essays on marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, and the Christian life. In case you don’t know me, here’s a bit of background: As of this writing I’ve been married for nearly 18 years, having gotten married at the age of 18. I’ve been a ministry wife almost that entire time and have been living overseas as a missionary wife for the past 6 years. I’ve been a mom for 14 years and have been homeschooling for 9.

This book is my lived experience wearing all those hats.

You can purchase the book here!

Reflections on public speaking, prayer, and believing God

by Elizabeth

Three weeks ago I was smack in the middle of a conference. To be more specific, I was in the middle of the Family Education Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand as one of the plenary speakers. I didn’t talk much about it beforehand, and I haven’t spoken much of it since then. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty to say about it.

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The view from our hotel window.

The first thing I have to say about it is that it was SO MUCH WORK. I had no idea how much time and energy it takes to prepare one lesson for a large group, let alone multiple lessons. I’ve led small group Bible classes for years, but this is nothing like that. I don’t know these people; the sessions aren’t in the context of either long-standing relationships or long-term study topics.

Of course, this didn’t surprise my husband, who is well-acquainted with the privileges (and trials) of preaching. But I had never planned to speak at this thing. When we were invited to speak, I nodded my head and said, “Yes, we will come, my husband will speak and I will be the support person.” Because that is what I usually am. I am not the up-front person. I sit in the pews and listen.

The way things worked out, though, our workload was split in half. The topics the leadership thought were important to address and the topics that were heavy on our hearts, they fell out 50-50. I unexpectedly became half the teaching team. So I spent many hours out of the house in coffee shops, planning my talks. Each talk took more time than I had expected. I just kept needing more time to finish them. Until Jonathan left the country for his sister’s wedding, that is.

Our plan was to meet him at the conference location the night before it started. I would bring the 4 kids across country borders (something I’d never done by myself before), and he would fly in from the U.S., with about 10 hours to spare. I prayed about this. I knew one of his connections was tight, and I knew it was flu season in the U.S., a particularly bad flu season. And I knew my husband’s immune system was compromised due to his asthma.

So I prayed. And I asked a dear friend to come pray with me too. To pray for good health and flight connections for Jonathan. To pray that what we had to say would be what God wanted us to say, and that we would get out of the way and just preach a message of Grace to the parents at this conference. To pray that they would encounter the love of God for them personally.

In short, we prayed for everything possible except MY health, and my health is what took a beating. 60 hours before departure I spiked a fever. Now I know a few things about international air travel, and one is that traveling with a fever can get you grounded. And without a second parent to transport the kids to the conference, I knew the whole family could be grounded. I knew once sickness was in the house, it might spread to everyone else. We could ALL be grounded.

I immediately contacted the conference director to let her know, and she immediately got her prayer team praying. I didn’t know her prayer team was both so extensive and so intensive. They PRAY. And they pray. And then they keep praying. Every year they encounter resistance to the conference, which is a lifeline to many families homeschooling their kids in remote areas in Asia. This year the resistance seemed to come in the area of health, and not just mine. Others as well.

I also contacted one of our local prayer team members, who had the whole team praying for me. And then I basically lay in bed for 2 days, trying to rest. I wasn’t always successful, either. I would lay in bed, unable to sleep with worry, because I just HAD to get better, because people were DEPENDING on me. I had to heal myself, quickly. Which is of course impossible. And which is of course harder to do when you are not sleeping.

I had to depend on God to get me better, and I didn’t always do a stellar job of trusting. Truly, there’s nothing like preparing a lesson for a hundred people about Grace and then being tested in your belief in its truth.

Thankfully the fever did go away in time. But by then I was having symptoms of a separate bacterial infection, and the night before departure I hurriedly called an M.D. friend for advice. She got me the antibiotics I needed as yet another friend drove us to the airport the next morning. (It takes a village, right?) I was still weak and had to depend on my older boys to help clean up and close up the house and carry the luggage throughout the day. And you know what I discovered? They are far more capable than I had known.

Jonathan even arrived at the conference on time. But I have to tell you, I was so nervous about my message on Grace that I couldn’t sleep at all the night before. I knew I needed the rest, but my anxiety was sky high. So I prayed all night. I figured, if I couldn’t sleep, at least I could ask God to work through me. With my body still weakened from illness, and my mind distracted from worry over doing a good enough job and saying the exact right words to fix everyone’s problems, I had never felt so strongly that God’s strength would have to be sufficient in my weakness. I knew that Wednesday morning’s talk on grace had to be all Him.

And I did feel God come through for me, and a huge weight was lifted that morning. I could sleep again – I was so thankful for that. But I’m not gonna lie; I made mistakes at the conference. I failed at certain aspects of my job. I prayed and prepared hard, but I still had failures. I had to remember the truth of my own message on Grace – that it does not all depend on me. That there is forgiveness for failures, and room to grow, and room to try again. There is room to trust that God is going to take care of people, that it’s not my job to take care of everyone’s problems, but only to be as faithful as I can, and to listen as closely to God’s voice as I can.

So we survived that week and even enjoyed the fellowship. And if Jonathan or I said anything helpful to anyone, I know it is from God, and not us. Not that I didn’t work hard to prepare. I probably worked harder than I have worked since my engineering school days. But that when it came down to it, anything good came from God. It always does. It has to. That is the only way. And when people asked how I felt about our part in the conference, I said I didn’t feel like a success or like a failure. I only felt that I did what I went there to do. That I shared the messages I went there to share.

But that is not the end of these messages. These messages are continuing to do their work on me. Just like I was tested in my belief in Grace, that I am not powerful enough to either heal myself physically or to reach people’s hearts, I am being tested in my belief of other truths I spoke about. How true are they really? Do I live like I believe them? Do I really believe that the King is still on the throne? That I can rest in the fact that He is on the throne?

Because last week we received some news that’s going to change a lot of things in our life. A Lot. Can I trust God with them? Can I trust Him to take care of us, like He always has? Can I rest in Him even in this huge transition? There are so many details to be worked out. Can I lay down my worry for the future?? Can I lay down my worry over how I’m going to know that I’ve actually heard God’s voice in these future decisions and not just my own?? Can I even be *excited* for how God is going to work in our lives and show Himself faithful once again?

And do I really believe what I taught about Resurrection? That the best thing God ever did was to raise Jesus from the dead, and that the deadest things in our lives are where God does His best work? That we can trust Him to bring life from death, beauty from destruction? Because some of these big life changes feel like death. I need Resurrection as a living reality in my life. Can I actually believe in resurrection even as I mourn the death?

These are just three of the messages that I felt impressed on my heart in the last few months, that I communicated to the group at the conference, and that God is writing even deeper into my heart AFTER I taught them. Do I believe the messages He has given me? I say I do, and I know I want to. But I will also pray along with the father in the book of Mark, “I do believe. Help my unbelief!”

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(In the next few months I will try to convert some of the teachings into blog posts.)

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Our kids in the main conference room.

Let the River Run

by Elizabeth

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Only two songs have ever won all three major awards (Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy) while being composed, written, and performed by a single artist. Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run,” the theme from the 1988 film “Working Girl,” was the first to do so.

Now, a few others have received all three awards but were co-written. One of those songs was Howard Shore’s, Fran Walsh’s, and Annie Lennox’s “Into the West,” the final song of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and an absolute family favorite. “Into the West” speaks to something so deep and true, so simultaneously melancholic and hopeful, that it’s no wonder it won all three awards.

But anyway, back to “Let the River Run.” I first heard the song not from the movie, but from my junior high choir director Mrs. Chaney (whom you may remember from last week’s musical contemplations). Simon described her song as an “anthem with a jungle beat.” And indeed it was the sound that first drew me in, not the density of the lyrics — lyrics I could not possibly have comprehended fully at the time.

Even so, something in those words was stretching out and reaching for me. And I think it’s safe to say that, having won all those awards, the song spoke to deep, cracking places inside a lot of people. Of course there are layers of meaning here — some more material, some more spiritual.

And I’m still not sure I understand the song in its entirety, but I understand bits of it. I know it’s about dreams and desires. I know it’s about longing and risk. I know it’s about waking up and about waking up others. I don’t think you have to understand every part of the song anyway. It’s not necessarily for understanding but — like all art — for feeling.

Speaking of art, you all know I am no artist; I cannot even draw stick figures. But this semester I found myself teaching an art class in our home school coop. (In actuality, I’m substituting for the real art teacher until she gets back into town.) I love numbers, patterns, and designs, so I figured we could explore the intersection of math and art together.

In preparing for this class I used some old material but also sought out new material. One of the new art projects I stumbled upon was the Pi Sky Line. While the New York City skyline (complete with Twin Towers) is the setting for the song “Let the River Run,” the Pi Sky Line is a city skyline whose building heights are based on the first 30 digits of pi.

Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. And it’s an irrational number, which means its decimals go on and on forever, never terminating and never repeating. There are no patterns to its digits, and there is no end either: it is infinity captured in a single number.

After you create your sky line, you paint or draw a background for it. And bringing this conversation full circle here, I knew I could not draw any background but Van Gogh’s night sky: “The Starry Night.” It was a painting I first encountered in Mrs. Chaney’s class. And this photo is the finished product. For me it is the intersection of art, music, math, literature and, most importantly, my soul in motion.

Educational thinker Charlotte Mason said, “Education is the science of relations,” and each week Mrs. Chaney assigned us a “Connection” paper. We had to connect something in her class to something in the rest of our lives. Every week we did this. She may not have known of Charlotte Mason’s century-old philosophy, but she knew that brain science supported the idea of interdisciplinary studies. Maybe that’s why, all these years later, the soundtrack of her class is still playing in my life.

Let the river run,
Let all the dreamers
Wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

Silver cities rise,
The morning lights
The streets that meet them,
And sirens call them on
With a song.

It’s asking for the taking.
Trembling, shaking.
Oh, my heart is aching.

We’re coming to the edge,
Running on the water,
Coming through the fog,
Your sons and daughters.

We the great and small
Stand on a star
And blaze a trail of desire
Through the dark’ning dawn.

It’s asking for the taking.
Come run with me now,
The sky is the color of blue
You’ve never even seen
In the eyes of your lover.

A Master List of My Home School Posts

by Elizabeth

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Hello fellow moms and home educators! The following is a master list of the articles I’ve written on motherhood and home education, now conveniently in one place, with motherhood skewed toward the top of the list and homeschooling skewed toward the bottom, and with missionary life sprinkled in here and there.

(I don’t normally think of myself as a “mommy-blogger,” but as it turns out, I’ve written an awful lot about my life as a mother.)

I’m a Proverbs 31 Failure

I have this vague notion that the modern Proverbs 31 woman stays at home with her (many!) children, educates them at home, makes all their (organic!) meals from scratch, enthusiastically serves her church community, and, after all that, is still (frequently!) romantically available to her husband. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with any of these endeavors individually, I personally cannot live up to all these expectations at once.

Intensity and Intentionality {a note about marriage and motherhood on the field}

In many ways marriage and parenting on the field is the same as it is in my home culture, but its intensity level is higher. Missionary life simply requires more of me, and in order to match its intensity, I have to be intentional about taking care of both myself and my family. I have to daily turn my heart toward them and toward God. When I don’t, the consequences are great. But when I do, the reward is greater still.

“Me Too” Moments

I always feel so discouraged about motherhood on Sundays. Sundays completely wear me out, taking care of my youngest children’s needs. I feel so out of my league. I think about all the mom blogs out there and wonder how these women have all this energy just to spend on their kids’ intellectual and spiritual development? I’ve got sin issues of my own that need working out; how can I give 110% to each kid???

What I Want to Give My TCKs

There’s something else I want to give my TCKs, and that’s privacy. I’ve chosen a very public profession; my children, however, have not. They may go wherever I go and live wherever I live, but they didn’t choose to live a public life the way I did. Perhaps when they’re grown, they will. I don’t know. I only know I want to give them the luxury of choosing it for themselves.

A Prayer For My Third Culture Kids

My child, I’m well aware that in this life, not everyone gets married. But should you happen to marry, first and foremost I pray you will marry a fellow lover of Jesus. And then — oh then I pray you will marry someone who feels at home in the In Between spaces, who knows how to live in the margins of life, who’s comfortable crossing over and blending in, even if never quite fully.

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

Sometimes I think about people with the gift of hospitality and get this gnawing, guilty feeling. Why can’t I be more like them? I wish I could, for hospitality seems like the Real Spiritual Gift. Delivering meals to doorsteps, inviting large groups into your home for meals, hosting people long-term as part of your family — this all sounds so very first century Christian. I sigh and start to think I must not measure up.

I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs

The idea that “other people’s needs are more important than my own” sounds very spiritual. It sounds very sacrificial and giving. But we are all of us humans, created and finite beings with limited resources. Our lives are powered by the Holy Spirit, true, but none of us can survive if we think we are only here for others, or if other’s needs are always more important than our own.

These are the (Mon)days of Our Lives

The boys were screaming, “Her finger! String! Her finger’s stuck on some string!!” I ran in, and looked, and sure enough, my other daughter had wrapped a string around her finger. The top third of her index finger was already dark purple, and the threads looked deep. I told the boys to go get the scissors, but I was able to untangle it before they returned.

Sometime We Eat Cereal For Supper

Sometimes I bemoan the fact that I can’t do everything all the time. That I can’t seem to get my life in order and pull myself together and balance all the needs. But maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe every day isn’t supposed to contain every thing. Maybe each day is only supposed to contain some of the things. Maybe something is always going to fall through the cracks.

The Little Word That Frees Us

We talk a lot about Missionary Kids (MKs) being Third Culture Kids (TCKs), but we talk less often about another aspect of their lives, the Preacher’s Kid (PKs) aspect. These MKs of ours, these kids we love so fiercely, are both TCKs and PKs. They deal with both the cultural issues of TCKs and the potential religious baggage of PKs. It’s the religious baggage that I want to talk about today.

That Time Paul Talked About Breastfeeding

You need a lot of stamina. You don’t sleep through the night for months on end. Sometimes you get painful mastitis or yeast infections. You have to keep up your water and calorie intake. To your embarrassment, you leak milk everywhere. Or you have to work hard to make enough milk. Sometimes you can’t figure out for the life of you how to make this child stop crying, but somehow you have to stay calm while you do it. On top of that, you’re basically tethered to your child because you don’t know when they’ll need to eat again. You sacrifice many things for this child, this child whom you love so tenderly and so fiercely.

The Thing That Happened While I Was Scrubbing the Kitchen Floor With a Toothbrush

For me today, obedience means looking at the people who are already in my life, and saying yes to THEM. It means saying no to certain other things. I’m finding that as I practice my yeses and nos, I’m more content in each moment. I’m more joyful in each moment. I’m more present in each moment.

On Your High School Graduation: A Letter to My Third Culture Kids

I must say goodbye to you like this, no matter where in the world I live. And when you do leave, there are things I want to tell you. Things like. . . You are my child. You are now an adult, and I’m proud of who you are, but you will always be part of my family. Our home can always be your home.  No matter where we live, we will always welcome you into it.

7 Thoughts for Graduating TCKs

If you let them, the questions of home, belonging, and identity that your TCK childhood has asked you to answer can take you deeper into the heart of God than ever before. If you’ll take the time to look for Him, you’ll find Jesus on the other side of every question you have. Only Jesus can help you live an unhindered life. His is the face of love, and He is the answer to every question you’ll ever ask. So go with Him: there is redemption on this road.

You Don’t Have to Home School Preschool

Here is what you actually need for the preschool years: a home full of life and love. And books. Lots and lots of books. Kids learn so naturally at this stage, and they’re interested in so many things, that there’s no need to do anything formal.

Dear Homeschool Mother of Littles: Don’t Give Up

One of these days it’s going to be worth it. You’re going to turn around and find that everything you’ve been working towards and everything you’ve been longing for is finally coming to fruition. It’ll all be right here, right now, today. Just keep going.

The Home School Manifesto

We will commit to seeing our children as whole, integrated beings and not as students only, and we acknowledge that their scholarship — whether high, low, or somewhere in between — is only one aspect of their personhood.

6 Things I’ve Learned From 6 Years of Homeschooling

When I was first exploring the idea of homeschooling our children, a woman at church told me very matter-of-factly that in order to homeschool, the mom has to really want to. She told me how her husband had wanted them to homeschool. She wasn’t opposed to it and thought she would try it out for him, but she just wasn’t all that interested in it. She was the one who had to do the teaching, not her husband, who had originally wanted it. Eventually, they quit, but it wasn’t the end of the world. They just sent their kids to school, and mommy was happier.

Let Me Tell You About Kassiah Jones

That Friday I took the first of what I’m now calling a “Kassiah Jones Day.” I canceled home school. I played games with my kids. We watched sciences videos in the air conditioning. I read more than usual to them. I’m with them all the time, but I don’t always share enjoyable activities with them. Instead I focus on finishing our lessons, and then in my “free time,” I work.

After 8 Years of Homeschooling, I’m Giving Up

For years I avoided the way “expert” homeschoolers scheduled their school year, with six weeks on and one week off. I was afraid that kind of rhythm would make the school year last forever and that I wouldn’t have a significant enough summer break to recharge. Who wants to do school all the time?? And school all the time is exactly what that approach sounded like. I opted for the “traditional” school schedule instead.

Two Sanity-Saving Home School Practices

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.

8 Practices That Are Revolutionizing My Parenting

I’m understanding more fully that we are not looking for perfection – in ourselves or our children. We’re looking for progress. For growth. My husband likes to say, “All learning happens one step at a time.” It’s plastered on the wall of our home school, in fact. But though we had pounded that fact into our children’s heads (with varying degrees of success), it had not yet reached down into mine.

Unrealistic Expectations (Home School Burnout Part 1)

I got to the end of most school days and didn’t want any more kid-interaction. I just wanted to quit and go hide somewhere. I wasn’t playing games with my kids anymore, I wasn’t reading aloud to them, I wasn’t enjoying them. I felt guilty about my lack of interaction. I complained to my husband that homeschooling was stealing my motherhood. This wasn’t what all the home school speakers and writers promised would happen if I chose to home school. Everything was supposed to be peaches and cream! Rainbows and butterflies! Pony rides in May sunshine!

“Mom Fail” (Home School Burnout Part 2)

So when the first Monday of summer break came around, I took a break from parenting — almost literally. I let myself be a “bad” mom: I locked myself in my bedroom and let my children watch movies. All.day.long. I didn’t talk to them, I didn’t read to them, I didn’t play with them. It was a total “mom fail.”

The Mean Mommy (Home School Burnout Part 3)

I began to see that I was aggravating the homeschool stress through my reactions and attitudes. Busted! God was convicting me big time. You mean this all came back to me? You mean I’m the problem here? I didn’t want to admit that. I would rather blame my issues on something outside me. I really couldn’t though.

Resources for the New and the Weary (Home School Burnout Part 4)

For me, recovering from home school burnout was about addressing spiritual and emotional issues, as well as practical issues. Here are some resources that helped.

How to be a Temporary Trailing Spouse

As many of you know, Jonathan was homeschooled, and I wasn’t. When we started our family, I just figured we would homeschool because Jonathan would want that. After a few years as a mom, however, I wasn’t quite so sure anymore. I was afraid I’d do it poorly. I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy being with my kids ALL DAY. I was afraid that life would consist of only one thing: schoolwork.

Going Back to (Home) School

This year in our curriculum, we studied ancient history, from the first recorded accounts in Mesopotamia, to the fall of Rome. This means our studies covered the entire time period of the Bible, including both testaments. And I discovered: I did not know as much as I thought I knew.

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We’d been studying China, and the art materials came from our curriculum’s China Kit. We mixed the ink ourselves, used special brushes on special paper, and stamped our work in red at the bottom.

You Don’t Have to Home School Preschool

Over the years many moms have asked me how to get started in homeschooling.  This post is basically a (prettier) copy of the saved email I send out to people asking about homeschooling preschool. ~Elizabeth

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The first thing I always tell parents is that you don’t have to homeschool preschool. I’m not the only one who thinks this. In fact, I don’t know any homeschool moms of more than one child who do homeschool preschool. After you “do preschool” with a four-year-old child and then the next year “do kindergarten” with that same child and realize that kindergarten was just a repeat of preschool, most moms decide to ditch official preschool lessons altogether. That goes especially if you have other children in the home, either older children who actually need lessons, or babies and younger children who need a lot of hands-on care.

Here is what you actually need for the preschool years: a home full of life and love. And books. Lots and lots of books. Kids learn so naturally at this stage, and they’re interested in so many things, that there’s no need to do anything formal. Today I will share my favorite resources for educational theory and practice. I’ll share my favorite books to read aloud with young children. I’ll also include a list of sturdy educational toys that are a good foundation for a home schooling family to own, along with the very first curriculum you might want to buy.

 

EDUCATIONAL THEORY AND GUIDES

Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. This book guides you through teaching and learning styles. It’s like a self-paced workshop to get you started on your journey.

Teaching from Rest by Sarah MacKenzie. This book is small but worth several re-reads. I also highly recommend her  Read-Aloud Revival Podcast which is one of my favorite home school podcasts.

Here are 7 educational principles from my education mentor in the States.

As your children, I have many more recommended books and podcasts. But these are the ones to start with.

 

TOYS AND GAMES TO INVEST IN

A soft globe that can’t be pierced by toddler teeth. Only has the most basic details but helpful in the early years. We actually still use ours.

Peg boards. Kids can’t get enough of these things, and even as an adult I love playing with peg boards.

Wedgits starter kit. Wedgits never get old.

Pattern Blocks. Kids love these.

Wooden Blocks. Lots of open-ended play opportunities here.

Catch the Match game.

Cuisenaire Rods. I’m big on manipulatives, can you tell?!

My kids still play with all these toys (except for the peg board, which we did recently retire). They are great for imaginative, open-ended play, either alone or while being read to.

It’s also important to have lots of paper, crayons, colored pencils, and paints lying around, along with glue, tape, and scissors.

 

BOOKS TO READ ALOUD

In the beginning you just want to play with your kids and read aloud to them. If you have access to a library — great! If you live overseas without good library access, you may have to purchase some of these titles and transport them back in a suitcase. Get used to it — you’ll be doing that a lot once you start homeschooling the elementary years.

Beatrix Potter’s stories — all of them. A wonderful way to introduce your children to advanced language while they enjoy the lush illustrations. As an adult I adore Potter’s stories. It’s better to get them as individual books, but if you can’t, a treasury will work (I usually don’t recommend treasuries because of their bulk).

Mike Mulligan and More by Virginia Burton — we all love these stories, and though it’s a treasury, it’s not bulky.

Make Way for McCloskey. Another non-bulky treasury with the funny stories and beautiful pictures of Robert McCloskey.

Reading Mother Goose rhymes to your young kids is also great for them — it introduces them to poetry, is enjoyable, and gives them some cultural literacy. This is the one we have, but there are other good ones out there.

Reading your kids Fairy Tales is also part of their cultural upbringing. A First Book of Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales are good to begin with.

Anything by Arnold Lobel, especially the Frog and Toad books, Owl at Home, and Mouse Tales. These transition nicely from read alouds to early readers.

I’m not a huge Dr. Seuss fan, but we really like Horton Hatches the EggHorton Hears a Who, and Sneetches on Beaches.

A read aloud book from Usborne that’s a lot of fun is Farmyard Tales. It’s a treasury that’s not too bulky, and the stories are fun for reading aloud and then later reading alone.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. A beautiful story about imagination and community.

Corduroy and Dandelion, both by Don Freeman and both about home and belonging.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. A deceptively small story about nature, introversion, and kind mothers.

The Little Brute Family by Russell Hoban. More grown-up wisdom for the little kids (or is it little kid wisdom for the grown ups?).

Really little kids love Eric Carle books. We don’t have very many of them anymore, but they’re pretty much all good.

For preschool Bible times, I love The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth Taylor. Much more comprehensive than most children’s Bibles while including a picture for each story.

When your kids are a little bit older, they will enjoy these non-picture books:

Grandma’s Attic series by Arleta Richardson– fun stories that aren’t too moralizing. Better than Laura Ingalls Wilder and better than Caddie Woodlawn.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Fun and easy. There are two more by that author: The Dragons of Blueland and Elmer and the Dragon.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. A classic.

Also popular are Stuart Little by E.B. White and The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater is lots of fun.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary is also lots of fun. There are two others in the series: Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse.

Kids love Gertrude Chandler Warner’s Box Car books. They make great read alouds and then middle grade readers.

Another popular one with older readers is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

Of course we can’t neglect C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. You want them as separate books.

All these stories are just as enjoyable by parents and kids, which is what you want in a home library. To buy these books all at once would be a lot of money; but I didn’t buy them all at once. I bought them slowly over time. The idea here is to give your children a taste for good literature so that they aren’t satisfied with lesser quality stuff.

But you do want to make sure the books you buy are books your family will love — all families are different. If you have access to a public library, you’ll be able to more easily and more cheaply get a feel for which books fit your family. You can get a ton of great book ideas from Gladys Hunt’s Honey for a Child’s Heart (or access the FREE book list at Read Aloud Revival).

When you invest money in good books and games and toys, you’ll want a special place for them, and you’ll want to teach your kids how to take good care of these items so they don’t get lost (or in the case of books, damaged). I like to keep books off the floor, mostly because of the constant risk of flooding in Cambodia.

That’s about it. In the beginning all you need are some of those building block sets, Play-doh (homemade or store-bought; good for open-ended play), the basic art supplies I mentioned earlier, and some good books to read. Take them to the park (if you have public parks — we don’t) and let them play outside. Give them basic chores to do like setting the table and putting their laundry in the bin and picking up their toys. It really doesn’t have to be complicated in the early years. They’re just learning what it means to live in a family.

 

BEGINNING CURRICULUM (FOR LATER)

As they begin reading and writing around age 5, you’ll want a good math program, a good reading program, and a good writing program. Focus on that for a year or two, then slowly add more “curriculum.” When your kids get older, Usborne and DK Eyewitness do have a lot of good science and history spines (spines are resource books that aren’t too “textbook-y”).

I use Singapore Math in the early years, but Math U See is getting consistently good reviews for being kid- and parent-friendly.

For teaching reading, I like The Reading Lesson because it’s got big print, and you can write and color in it. I’ve also heard very good things about All About Reading.

I also like the Bob Books Set 1 & Set 2 and the Sonlight Kindergarten and Grade 1 readers. Young children get a lot of satisfaction from reading an entire book, and each individual book is not too much work at once — you do not want to overtax the child’s mind.

Pretty much everybody I know uses Handwriting without Tears for handwriting. I think you can also buy the books on Amazon.

A good regular atlas and a good Bible atlas are important resources to have. The Student Bible Atlas is excellent. Nearly any atlas by National Geographic is a good one. I’ve got the World Atlas for Young Explorers. But there’s probably a newer, more updated one now.

 

Well, that’s the end of my “You don’t have to homeschool preschool” lecture. I hope this has been helpful to you. Feel free to contact me privately if you want more information or to talk about this more in depth.

Daughter

by Elizabeth

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This picture. I love it. Not because it’s particularly elegant or beautiful, but because of what it means to me. It means so much to me, in fact, that I taped it to our home school wall so I would remember and not forget.

We’d been studying China, and the art materials came from our curriculum’s China Kit. We mixed the ink ourselves, used special brushes on special paper, and stamped our work in red at the bottom.

Now, I’m not particularly artistic, but I thought I could paint some crude mountains. Mountains speak deeply to me about who God is, about His power and love, about His majestic greatness and His vast creativity. And they give me a place to meet God, in much the same way that mountains gave the ancient people of Israel a place to meet God.

The kit provided about a dozen examples of Chinese characters to try our hand at copying. Most of the characters concerned everyday family relationships. Brother, sister, Mother, Father. But when I saw the character for Daughter, I immediately knew it was the one that belonged on my mountain picture.

Of all the characters, it was the one I was drawn to most strongly. Magnetically almost. More than Wife and more than Mother, the way I most strongly identify myself is as a Daughter. Not necessarily as a daughter of my biological parents, though that’s true too, but as a Daughter of God. Most of my daily responsibilities revolve around Wife and Mother, but “Daughter” is, at my core, how I see myself and how I define myself.

Daughter: it’s who God says I am.

And Son or Daughter, if you are in Christ, is who God says you are, too. Your sonship is more important than your career, more important than your ministry, more important than your marriage, and more important than your parenting. It’s more important than any reputation or renown. It is an eternal identity, and valuable beyond measure. You have been born again. You have been adopted into God’s family. You are Sons and Daughters of the King above all Kings.

Remember this.

 

(Originally shared on Facebook)

8 Practices That Are Revolutionizing My Parenting

by Elizabeth

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The speaker at church was encouraging us to look to God for mercy and healing, and then when God has healed you, to remember to thank Him. And suddenly I stopped, because I thought about all the things I’ve asked God for in the past, and I realized that I’m currently in a season where I’m living into some long-awaited dreams and receiving help for some long-asked-for requests.

Most of those prayers have to do with my parenting. I’m always praying to be a better mother — because I so often feel like a failure of a mother. Looking back that day, I started seeing that I am a different Mom than I used to be. And I’m a different wife. Not in every way and not in every moment, but I’m a person much more at peace in myself and in my circumstances. This is the fruition of long-awaited prayers.

The changes were slow and imperceptible, and I didn’t even know it was happening at the time. I didn’t even set out for it, I don’t think. But I think I know some of the ways it was birthed. Many of the changes I’m going to talk about relate to homeschooling, but much of what I’m learning could probably apply to all parenting if you change some of the verbiage.

 

1. I started listening to different voices, and slowly I started thinking differently. I used to keep up on a lot of post-fundamentalist news like the falls of Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips (of Vision Forum), and the oldest Duggar son. I was obsessed with needing to know, after having read a book on fundamentalist home school cults several years ago. I feared being part of the same “machine” that created these home school disasters. I got lost in cyberspace any time I had the chance. I would fall down an endless rabbit hole of meaningless blog posts and podcasts.

I don’t do that anymore. Not that I don’t occasionally get lost in cyberspace, but that I am much more selective with my influencers. I don’t need knowledge of the most recent evangelical disasters in order to mother my children well, to nourish my own spiritual life, to connect with my husband, or to serve in local community. Instead I need encouragement and inspiration for the day at hand.

Now I listen to Sarah Mackenzie (of the Read Aloud Revival podcast and the book Teaching From Rest, which continues to do its work on me), Brandy Vencel (of Afterthoughts blog and the Schole Sisters podcast), Cindy Rollins (of the Mason Jar podcast and the book Mere Motherhood), and their influencers: the speakers and writers at the CiRCE Institute (my favorites are Angelina Stanford, Christopher Perrin, and Andrew Pudewa).

They’ve changed my thinking on education, its purpose, and its practical implications. They’ve stirred in me a hunger for discovery that I used to have, that got lost along the box-checking, high-performing, competitive way. They’ve inspired me to start reading poetry again.

And I listen to the artists and makers at the Rabbit Room (my favorites are Rebecca Reynolds and Andrew Peterson). They have pressed me further into the reality that I’m an image-bearer of God, and they’ve fortified my understanding of creativity and art. I’ve followed their lead in embracing the physical world, and as I’ve done so, I’ve become more fully human — and a more complete human makes a better mother.

 

2. I’m wrestling my perfectionism even more heavily than before. It pops up in the unlikeliest of places, doesn’t it? You think you’ve conquered it, but then you realize you are still drowning in lies. I was trapped in lies about what it meant to be a successful mother. I was trapped in lies about what it meant to send well-educated young people off into the world. I thought it had to be perfect. I thought there had to be zero educational gaps. I thought I had to prove my intellectual worth through my children’s performance. That’s a lot of pressure to live under.

I’m understanding more fully that we are not looking for perfection – in ourselves or our children. We’re looking for progress. For growth. My husband likes to say, “All learning happens one step at a time.” It’s plastered on the wall of our home school, in fact. But though we had pounded that fact into our children’s heads (with varying degrees of success), it had not yet reached down into mine.

I’m trying to put school in its proper place by giving it neither too much mental weight nor too little time. A bad day doesn’t bother me as much anymore. (A bad week, yes. But a bad day or two, no.) So what if the math assignment bombed? So what if the writing assignment took half the day? We’re not looking for perfection here, just steady work and steady improvement over time – and that means accepting setbacks with calm and patience.

Even if a child “loses it,” I don’t think the day is a bust. I know every day is a learning opportunity, and the days stack up to years, and there’s always tomorrow to try again. I’m staying calmer and speaking more gently so I can look back at the end of a hard day with less dissatisfaction and fewer regrets. But I remember that even if I lose it, I can acknowledge it, seek forgiveness, and start again tomorrow.

[BONUS TIP: Their education will have holes. Yours does. Mine does. Everyone’s does, no matter where or how their education took place.]

 

3. I’ve stopped putting my educational trust in curriculum. I used to want to find a curriculum that was “perfect” (see the pattern here?). And I wanted that curriculum to basically be the teacher. I wanted to leave it alone and let my children become educated by it. I was saving my brain space for writing, you see. It was all about checking boxes so I could get away and get alone and fulfill my “real” calling.

But over and over again, I became frustrated by published resources. They’re never exactly what I want, so I go looking elsewhere for perfection. It has taken me the greater part of 8 years to figure out that not only can I adapt a resource, but I must. I must tailor my children’s education to them. They are individuals. I have to use my brain. I can’t “save” it for later. I can’t get lazy.

I have to engage with where my children are at that moment, both scholastically and emotionally. Where they are is the only place to begin, the only place to build from. And in truth, my children are my real calling. Not writing. They, and any human being placed in my path. [Note: this also explains why I publish much less frequently than I used to.]

How I teach now is much more akin to coaching or tutoring — which is always what I said I enjoyed more anyway. And it’s much more satisfying. I see the struggle; I see the progress. I see the child. I’ve learned I don’t even need curricula for some subjects – I can make them up myself (like writing), be a more hands-on teacher, and even get to experience the joy of better results. I’m leaning into these ways and gaining confidence that I can do these things. I don’t have to trust a boxed curriculum.

[BONUS TIP: I had to stop thinking of my children en masse. They are not a herd. My family is a collection of individuals with differing temperaments and abilities. It’s easy to think of children as a group when they’re young, but as they grow, it becomes more and more important to see each child as an individual.]

 

4. I’m broadening my understanding of education. I touched on this in #1, the voices I’m listening to. I used to put my children’s education – or at least my contribution to it – in a box. Education equaled core work only. Education wasn’t art or creativity or movement or theology or finances or health or real life. I didn’t “do” real life. I did academics. But I’m realizing that these things are part of organic family life, part of all life.

If I’m engaged and not locked in a corner, I will naturally teach these things (alongside my husband who is already a natural teacher). I will encourage their creativity in art and architecture and storytelling. I will not think of these things as adjunct or auxiliary. They are central to becoming a fully human being. I don’t need to be afraid that art or sports or relationship will steal from my children’s robust-enough education. I can welcome them into our home and into our life.

 

5. I’m beginning to embrace assessment, and we’ve sought outside help for certain difficulties. I used to despise standardized testing as I thought it unnecessarily stressed students out. And I still believe it does, for young students. But for older students, it can be a learning experience in which they learn how to take a test that can give some reassurance to both parent and child for work well done.

Separately, we reached a point with certain issues where we needed some outside perspective. Reaching out for help was the beginning of a journey to accept my children for who God created them to be, not who I imagined they would be. These assessments have given me the grace to accept my children as they are, while also gently stretching their capacities. And armed with new knowledge, I have better strategies for teaching my students.

The testing gave me the courage to take a long, hard look at myself and see my own difficulties reflected in my children. It allowed me to embrace differences between how I assumed my children would behave, and how they actually behave. It’s helped me to better accept children who are the same as me as well as those who are different from me. And we have a lot more joy and connection.

 

6. I’ve purified the schedule, and I continually work to keep it that way. As is my custom, I chose a word for the year. This year the word was “Purify.” After last year, in which I “flirted with burnout,” I wanted to purify my schedule. And I did. What I didn’t realize was that God would also work to purify my beliefs, challenging me to confront and remove those lies of perfectionism I was still clinging to (see point #2). Believe me, that purification did not happen without intense times of prayer and many, many tears.

But anyway, back to the schedule. I’ve simplified my own schedule and commitments, along with our school schedule. I’m combining subjects, chucking some altogether, and giving ourselves much more manageable weekly assignments. We have more time to rest, relax, renew, and reconnect. And to ensure that this happens, I’m learning better how to unplug from the internet.

 

7. I’m remembering the importance of pre-teaching and review. Why I neglected this before, I’ll never know. One of my professors in college used the entire first 15 minutes of a 75 minute class to review the last class. Why didn’t I catch on to his tactic? We humans, we forget so easily. Minds need to be prepared to remember, to function, and to learn. I don’t need to get so frustrated by forgetfulness. I should expect forgetfulness. Why else would God tell us so often in His word to Remember?

Forgetfulness is in me, and I seem to be able to live with myself just fine. It makes me think I can learn to live with my children’s forgetfulness, too. I can work to reinforce their memory through review. Not rushed, exasperated review, but easy-going, happy review. I forget. You forget. Our children forget. It’s part of our nature, so take a deep breath and remember it will be OK.

I now allow more time for new concepts to sink in before I get frustrated with a child. Of course they don’t know understand the concept yet. It’s a tricky concept. And of course they can’t perform those operations yet. They can’t do it with ease yet; they haven’t been doing it for decades like I have. They’re not robots. They can’t look at or hear a concept once and understand it. Most people can’t. Rather, we must be exposed to it in different ways and at different times, preferably with a calm and unworried teacher. It’s my job to be that kind of teacher.

I give more encouragement over progress than I used to. I used to desire perfection and quick mastery and treat anything less as unsatisfactory. Now I see the mental effort and praise it. Now I see the improvement and point it out. I’m also more attentive to their signs of distress, and I don’t always push through. Tears, anxiety, hunger, fatigue, it’s more at the front than at the back.

[BONUS TIP:  I do more emotion coaching too. If someone had a poor night’s sleep, or the power is out, or it’s hot, or the work is just plain hard, I might say, “I know we feel like being cranky today. I feel like being cranky today. But let’s try not to.” I might repeat an old camp director’s saying: “Make it a good day.” I might tell them to switch subjects or get a snack or take a shower or do something creative or active for a while.]

 

8. And finally, I’ve started sharing and confessing in real life community. I see how other people deal with their issues, and they see how I deal with mine. I know what other people’s struggles are, and they know mine. And we don’t judge each other. In fact we are here to remind each other of all these things that I’ve talked about so far.

Looking back, I think partaking of closer-knit community probably predates these other changes. Being with other women who are on the same journey (cross-cultural living, ministry life, and homeschooling) has been the impetus I needed to make other changes in my life and in my outlook. I can’t speak highly enough about this. Parenting and homeschooling should be community efforts. We don’t need to fly solo.

 

I am by no means done learning how to be a better mother. And I will never, ever be perfect. I’ve called these 8 points “practices” precisely because I am not done learning how to walk in these ways. They are most certainly directional changes for me, paths I must choose to walk over and over again; I must keep practicing them. And I say they are “revolutionizing” my life because although the changes happened slowly over time, family life is markedly different for all of us now. It feels like a revolution, especially when I slip back into old habits and immediately know they are not how I want to live, because I’ve tasted the fruit of a different tree and felt the light of a different sun.