October 9, 2020

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

I wrote last time about how it’s our job as parents to provide clear instruction – delivered calmly and methodically with an appropriate amount of practice and repetition – as we help our children to learn. This applies equally as much to academic content and what we might call life skills. Kids and teens need direct instruction and modeling.

They also need us to pay close attention to the processes in which they’re engaged as they learn, not just the final products. Let me once again return to writing to illustrate my point.

Too often with written composition, a student is given an assignment: “Write about xyz.” He’s generally given a few basic parameters – i.e., how long the essay should be, its due date – but rarely anything substantive, such as the piece’s intended audience or its purpose. And talking about the actual writing process - let alone walking a young person through it – is rarer still. Thus, all a kid knows is that he’s supposed to turn in three paragraphs or five pages about xyz in two weeks – oh, and to make sure it’s typed and double-spaced with one-inch margins. He has no clue about how to begin and then work his way through the several steps of a logical process to produce truly good writing. Instead, he guesses at how to throw together a product, then holds his breath until his classroom teacher or homeschool mom gives the paper back with a grade scrawled on top, often without any other feedback. And he deems himself to be “good” or “bad” writer based solely on those letter-grades.

But helping young people learn to communicate clearly in writing is too important a skill to treat so haphazardly. If we want good products, we must spend time working through the process together with a child or teen. We must shift our perspective as well – choose to see our child as a learner rather than an assembly line worker – so the process becomes more important to us than the grade on the final product. Of course, if we do that, the product will be better too. But our emphasis must be on helping with the process.

Take some time to replace writing with any other learning task we expect of any of our kids – anything from mastering algebra or spelling to cutting the grass or cleaning the cat boxes. If we focus on the product, we’ll see success based on a natural gift or a fluke some of the time – but failure and frustration most of the time. If we emphasize the process, though, we get to have our cake (a good product) and to eat it (spending meaningful time positively coaching our kids in something important) too.


Photo Credit: Mallory Matson

September 25, 2020

Don the Mantle

“Write about your summer vacation.”
“Write a book report.”
“Write an essay about the Battle of the Bulge.”

We’ve surely all seen directions like this – throughout our own childhoods, and also in the homeschool curricula we’ve purchased for our kids or in assignments sent home by our children’s teachers. Most of the time these directives come without further instruction. A child or teen is simply supposed to “know” how to write a paper appropriate to the task without actually having been explicitly taught how to do so. And their first attempts are graded (judged) as final products without an acknowledgement that the production of solid writing is actually a process involving multiple steps. The few who have a natural propensity toward written composition figure it out and are labeled “good writers.” Everyone else feels hopelessly lost, believing they “should” know what to do and beating themselves up because they don’t. Is it any wonder that most kids and adults say they “hate writing?”

The same is true for other learning tasks, academic or otherwise.

Do you tell your child to clean his room, only to be baffled an hour later when a few things have been shuffled around but it basically looks the same? Have you assigned your tween the chore of doing the dishes but found yourself frustrated later at spotty glasses and bits of food still stuck to the plates? Have you sent your teen off to “study for the test,” and then been dumbfounded when she gets a D on it anyway?

There are times, to be sure, when kids are simply lazy or disobedient. But before we accuse them of that, I think we owe it to them to consider whether or not we’ve actually taught them – step-by-step – how to appropriately complete a particular task. “Good writing” doesn’t just fall from the sky; we must invest the time necessary to carefully instruct young people in the writing process – and then let the process play out from beginning to final draft. We must clean a child’s room with him several times, modeling and talking through what we expect and why. We must demonstrate with grace – more than once – how to best load the dishwasher in order to achieve the desired results. We should devote time to helping a teen study, explaining, experimenting with, and practicing different methods of review that work for various subject areas or with her particular learning style.

If we can honestly say we have provided clear instruction – delivered calmly and methodically with an appropriate amount of practice and repetition – and a child still repeatedly messes up, there might be something else going on. Until then, though, it’s our job as parents to don the mantle of teacher/trainer, not disciplinarian or judge.


Photo Credit: Openclipart

September 10, 2020

Be Good and Have Fun…In That Order

When my girls were young and heading out on a homeschool outing or to spend time with friends or their grandparents, I gave them the same simple directive every time: “Be good and have fun…in that order.”

I definitely wanted my children to have a good time when engaging in various activities; after all, enjoyment is one sign by which we can measure the success of an endeavor, and God blesses joy. However, I also knew it was my job to disciple my kids – to teach them that obedience to Christ by demonstrating His character qualities should be the engine that drove their behavioral trains. As much as “having fun” is valuable, “being good” comes first. The former should spring from the latter, not run helter-skelter ahead of it.

This principle can be also applied to our kids’ learning endeavors, whether that be via parent-led home education or some sort of conventional classroom schooling (in-person or virtual). While it is true that some parts of any curriculum aren’t actually necessary – and it’s our job as adults to keep silly busywork at bay and minimize the drudgery – the reality is that learning that which is truly important and valuable isn’t always fun. Some things a child or teen really must know in order to grow into a healthy, competent, mature young adult don’t come attached to a dog and pony show. At times with education, our kids must “be good” first – i.e., put forth real effort to obtain some knowledge or skill – and trust that the fun will manifest later. We do them a disservice if we lead them to believe that every learning activity must be “fun.”

One of my daughters struggled to learn to read and spell. She didn’t have a learning disability; she was simply what we might call a later bloomer. She didn’t always enjoy our spelling and reading lessons, but I knew the value of literacy, and it was my job to keep her motivated even when it was hard. Her diligence eventually paid off when things “clicked” in her brain. Now she devours hard classics for fun and is a gifted essayist and poet. She had to “be good” first – wrestling with the craziness of English phonics and spelling – before she could reach the fun of expressing herself with the turn of a phrase and getting lost in the pages of a beloved novel.

Whether you’re a continuous year-round homeschooler or have recently launched your kids into a new school year, aim to keep the idea of “being good and having fun…in that order” at the forefront of your mind so you can encourage and remind your kids. There’s nothing wrong with fun, but putting forth effort is necessary and important. Help your kids to desire “being good” with learning so they can have fun with its fruit later.


Photo Credit: OpenClipart

August 20, 2020

Enjoy the Moment; Start Now

Though I was a year-round homeschooler, there’s always been something “different” in my thought process about this time of year. My kids were typically not getting ready to start a whole new “grade level” in all their subject areas at this time of year – I mostly used ungraded material and the rolling nature of how I’d organized our days and months meant that, while we might start a new math level in September, new history material might come in November and new science in February. Yet – because of my childhood growing up in conventional schools, the nine years I spent as a public-school teacher, and the “school culture” around which most in our country organize their routines – I could never fully escape the sense of a “new year” beginning in the fall.

But I don’t have that this year.

My husband and I graduated our Irish-Twin daughters from our homeschool in June, thereby plunking me into the new, uncharted category of “retired homeschool mom.” Thus, I’m not feverishly working to organize our first back-to-homeschool day of the “new year.” And for the first time since 2005, I’m not planning to facilitate any academic learning for any child or teen.

I don’t know how other homeschool moms have felt when they first retired, but for me this is not necessarily a joyous occasion. I know God designed children to grow up and launch into productive adult lives – and I praise Him that both my kids have begun this new phase of their lives on strong (if rather unexpected) footing. However, I freely admit that I envy my friends posting their back-to-homeschool pictures and wouldn’t even mind embarking on a frantic, last-minute search for a new spelling program.

And my homeschooler-wanna-be-again musings bring me back to something I’ve “preached” for years – to myself and any other momma who would listen: Enjoy the moment. Whether you’re new to homeschooling or a seasoned veteran, enjoy the moment. Whether you’re seeking the right reading program for your first child or wondering how you’ll muddle through reading Little House on the Prairie with your sixth, enjoy the moment. Whether you planned to homeschool from before you ever got pregnant or never thought in a million years you’d be doing it, enjoy the moment.

You will sincerely doubt at times whether your child will learn “enough.” You will worry about your abilities or your budget. You’ll be very busy for a very long time. But I can tell you now from the other side that you will never regret one moment of your homeschooling journey – which will fly by far more quickly than you would ever dream – if you purpose to enjoy the moment you’re in as often as possible.

I’m sad having to look back at a beautiful season of my life that’s now over. But I’m thankful I can look back knowing I gave it my all and loved it in a big-picture sense. At the end of your homeschooling career, you’ll want the same thing. Start now.


August 6, 2020

Not Where or What, but Whom

This upcoming school year will begin like none other in the memory of anyone alive today. Some classroom teachers are preparing to try their hands at another potentially-trying round of distance learning, while others have been told by school boards to be ready for in-person instruction. Among those physically returning to classrooms, some will go in full-time to an environment that may roughly resemble what they left behind last spring. But most will encounter one degree or another of COVID-related alteration – i.e., trying to provide engaging, relevant instruction from behind a face shield, continually reminding kids to comply with mask and social distancing rules, juggling “blended classroom” intricacies, etc. Even homeschool parent-teachers will feel the pinch of coronavirus as they wrestle with myriad changes to or cancellations of their kids’ community-based activities and events.

As a former classroom teacher, recently “retired” homeschool educator, and concerned community member, I’ve been thinking a lot about educators. I read their anxious social media posts. I see the sadness in their eyes when we talk in person. And I am greatly grieved for them all: the chemistry teacher pondering how to engage his students in video simulation labs; the new kindergarten teacher who can’t display brightly-colored posters or dole out reassuring hugs; the ELL teacher who knows his low-income students can’t access online instruction; the homeschooling mom whose gifted gymnast daughter has to choose between the danger of completing intense workouts in a mask or skipping the season entirely.

Virus-related realities threaten to pluck the wind from our sails and steal our joy.

I don’t have an easy remedy, and I don’t want to offer up tired clich├ęs. But as I think about all of this, one word resonates.


Why did you first choose to go into teaching? What motivated you to educate your children at home? For the vast majority, the answer to those questions boils down to relationship – i.e., a desire to connect so well with young people that we can influence their hearts and minds in a positive way. The key is in the connecting. In the relationships.

Truth be told, content delivery will probably “suffer” this year; most kids simply won’t learn as much or as well as before. But they can – and will – “catch up” later…if we keep our focus where it ultimately belongs, which is on our relationships with them. When children and teens know we value them as uniquely-designed human beings, they can weather cultural storms. When they see that we’ll listen – really listen – their stress decreases and their openness to new learning improves. When they understand that we’ll prioritize them over a math lesson, they’ll be more able to try again another day.

It won’t be easy, but, as you start this new, unprecedented year, aim to keep your eye on that which really matters – not your instructional environment or even what you’re trying to teach, but whom.


Photo Credit: Nenad Stojkovic

July 23, 2020

Do Your Children Know You Believe In Them?

A little over two months ago, our younger daughter came home to announce that she and her beau – who was with her – had eloped earlier that afternoon. We love the young man who is now our son-in-law and had fully supported an eventual marriage. But this was stunning news, made all the more surprising because she had turned 18 less than a week prior to the elopement.

Whether or not my husband and I – or our older daughter – agreed with the timing of the marriage or the means in which it was carried out, we had a choice to make. We could allow our shock to morph into anger and hard-heartedness, or we could work through our astonishment toward acceptance.

Though we each took a different route to get there, we all chose the latter. In my opinion, this was the right landing place, for at least three reasons. First, our daughter and son-in-law’s only possible sin in the matter was a sin of omission – i.e., keeping the elopement plans a secret. In reality, though, I’m not sure that was sin; it may simply have been a decision with which we didn’t necessarily agree. Second, Christ’s love calls us to reconciliation and relationship, particularly where there’s repentance. And both of them were extremely remorseful once they realized how sad we were at being left out of the decision. Third, I’m a Momma Bear; thus, for my part at least, there’s nothing my kids could do that would ever cause me to sever relationship with them.

Ultimately, I didn’t want my daughter and son-in-law to feel insecure around me. I wanted to communicate to them that I believe in them and in their ability to grow a solid, God-centered marriage that will stand the test of time, even if I wasn’t expecting it to start quite as soon as it did.

I’ve said that to them many times over the past nine weeks and will continue to find ways to do so going forward. We also chose to demonstrate our belief in them by hosting a post-elopement reception, which gave us a chance to acknowledge them publicly – in front of friends and family – as a legitimate married couple.

Whatever the particulars in each family, every parent will need to find ways with every child – many times throughout their lives – to say and demonstrate that we believe in them – and in their ability to stay or get back on a healthy path in life. They want this from us. In fact, they need it. So think on it; is there something you must say or do today to show one of your children that you believe in him or her?


July 9, 2020

Don’t Grow Weary

Fourth of July was certainly surreal. Though some communities hosted parades and fireworks, most events were cancelled. Some gathered for picnics, but many stayed home. President Trump’s pro-America visit to Mount Rushmore stood in stark contrast to continued anti-America riots. In fact, the whole first six months of this year have made being an American very stressful, causing many to suffer from crisis fatigue and making many just want to give up caring.


As tempting as that sounds, it’s unwise. Of course, Christians must remember that our ultimate citizenship is in Heaven, not with any country on Earth. Thus, we must avoid placing any nation-state on a pedestal and should acknowledge America’s unavoidable imperfections.


On the other hand, God chooses to place each individual in a particular place at a certain time in history. That means He intended for Americans to be Americans. And patriotism isn’t a sin. We can genuinely love and appreciate the beautiful aspects of America – past and present – and also admit its failures – past and present. We can hope, pray, and work for constructive change and also decry illogical, unnecessary destruction. It’s not a matter of either/or; it’s about both/and.


And for the sake of our kids, we must stay engaged and find that middle ground.


I have only a few vivid memories of growing up in the 1970s – but every one of them is tinged with angst. I recall President Nixon’s depressing resignation speech. I watched coverage of Americans evacuating the US Embassy in Vietnam. I heard about gas lines and 20% interest, packed up my belongings as my parents’ house was foreclosed upon, and fretted over Americans held hostage in Iran. My parents didn’t talk with me about any of it, so I absorbed the general malaise that hung over the nation. And I entered into young adulthood with a very unhealthy, skewed view of America.


The chaos of current events certainly rivals that of the ‘70s. And it has stressed our kids. Children and teens are resilient; they can come through trying times with hope for the future. But they need our example and guidance to do so.


It’s our job to listen as they express fears. It’s our job to answer their questions as best we can. It’s our job to show them a broader, historical perspective and to direct them toward seeing things from God’s point of view. It’s our job to pray with and for them, maybe now more than ever before.


When our current turmoil passes – and it will – you’ll want your kids to emerge clothed in optimism, hope, and peace. “So, let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6.9)


Photo Credit: Dome Poon

June 25, 2020

Leaning Not

Even in the midst of coronavirus-related lockdown entropy, the past few months have been quite eventful for me. Prior to the virus situation, I was preparing for my daughters’ graduations from our homeschool – in fact, I was serving as coordinator for our local group’s spring formal and graduation ceremony – while also navigating the emotion-laden road of my impending “retirement” from homeschooling. And when lockdown measures went into effect, none of that went away. On the contrary, I doubled down on the dance and ceremony, determined to do everything I could to retain them, while remaining keenly aware of my status as a homeschool short-timer. I also helped the girls adjust to finishing a class via Zoom, adapted to having my husband home and working from our basement, and provided emotional support for one daughter, who was furloughed from work and all her volunteer activities. And then – just hours before our state supreme court issued a ruling ending the lockdown – my other daughter announced that she and her beau had eloped!


We did have our spring formal, and we did hold a (live) graduation ceremony. Both events looked somewhat different than originally anticipated, but the ceremony was beautiful and the dance was arguably better than a “normal” one. I survived the initial shock I felt about the elopement – we are thankful our new son-in-law is a very good man who loves the Lord – and we’re currently planning a July reception. My husband is still ensconced in the basement, and our other daughter’s life hasn’t yet returned to any sense of normalcy. But she’s gearing up for a new adventure at Bible college this fall, and we’re fervently praying it won’t be hindered.


I haven’t yet owned my new identity as a “retiree.” In fact, I still feel strange about no longer keeping daily learning logs for the girls. But perhaps all the uncertainty, upheaval, and change with which I’ve dealt over the last thirteen weeks will actually facilitate that process. I’ve certainly had much opportunity to remember Proverbs 3.5 in recent months, and that’s as good a lesson as any to continue applying as I go forward from here.


Photo Credit: Rays of Bliss

April 14, 2020

Be Real but Land Correctly

Music-smart people “think with rhythms and melodies” and gravitate toward understanding the world and expressing themselves through both. God has chosen to make me quite music-smart, and I’ve been able to utilize that throughout my life in many different ways.

One of the most meaningful Holy Week experiences I’ve ever had occurred several years ago my then-worship pastor asked me to be part of the Good Friday music team. In addition to leading the congregation in several meaningful songs, we opened the service with a special music piece in which eight singers stood in a semi-circle facing a large cross we’d secured onto the sanctuary’s platform. We sang the beautifully haunting piece a capella – without any instrumentation – in four-part harmony, endeavoring to listen as carefully as possible so we’d all stay in tune with each other and hit every note on-pitch. Our goal was to glorify the Lord, aiming to honor His sacrifice on the cross by drawing people into worship through our words and notes. Without accompaniment, the task was incredibly challenging, but God honored our desire by enabling us to “nail it,” as musicians say. As our last notes drifted away through the sanctuary, the congregation responded as we’d hoped they would – sitting in awed silence, not at our “performance” but at God’s amazing gift of salvation as expressed in the song. Many of us shed tears of joy as we smiled at each other across our little circle, and recalling the experience has made me emotional all over again.

It’s very important – in regards to any of our “smarts” – to avoid idolizing the strength itself or the things that support it. For example, I need to remember that the most important thing about worship music is the God it’s designed to glorify. Music draws me into worship, but I must guard against “worshipping” the music itself, whether I’m listening or performing. That, however, doesn’t negate the fact that limits on our ability to use our God-given “smarts” do hurt.

And that has been my experience since my church was forced by the COVID-19 situation to move to online services a few weeks before Easter. It’s natural for me – by God’s design – to be drawn to Him when believers join together in song. I know I can’t do anything about it right now, but I transparently admit that listening from my living room with just my family to the few musicians allowed to gather on Saturday mornings to record music for the streamed Sunday services just isn’t “real church” for me. It’s still my responsibility to worship, but the unfortunate limits placed on my music-smart strength right now challenge me emotionally. Holy Week didn’t “feel” like Holy Week because my God-given learning strengths couldn’t be fully expressed.

Perhaps you or your children have been experiencing similar feelings as the expression of your/their “smarts” has been altered in one way or another during this trying time. Don’t dismiss that; it’s important for our overall well-being to feel our feelings instead of “stuffing” them. So, if this past week didn’t “feel” like Holy Week to you, it’s okay to admit that. Just don’t get stuck there.

Just as God is far bigger than current events, He’s also big enough to handle our feelings. So, be real, but remember to ultimately land every day on what matters most of all: No matter what, Jesus IS risen (He is risen indeed!).


Photo Credit: Jon Tyson

March 31, 2020

Will You?

As I write, our nation is consumed by COVID-19. It’s the only topic substantively addressed in the media, and related posts of all sorts – from data to rants to irreverent memes – abound on Facebook and Twitter. As testing increases, many results come back negative, some positive. Of those who contract coronavirus, some have no symptoms, many feel horrible for a time but recover in rather short order, and some become seriously ill and even die.

In particular hot-spots, medical personnel are stretched to their limits, and the governors of many states have enacted executive orders limiting freedom of movement to greater or lesser degrees. Most institutional schools are closed, leaving parents to figure out homebound learning on the fly. Workers who can do their jobs via virtual means have been sent home for the duration, computers in hand, but hundreds of thousands of others have been furloughed or laid off, spiking unemployment claims and jeopardizing their financial security. Some who’ve been deemed “essential” and must continue working worry that their health and that of their families may be at risk. Small businesses struggle within narrow profit margins to stay afloat, the stock market has tanked, and Congress recently passed a multi-trillion dollar “rescue” plan. People are either petrified or livid, sometimes both.

Whatever particular emotion any of us may be feeling at any given moment, it’s safe to say that our stress is through the roof. And that stress is undoubtedly putting strain on relationships – between friends and among extended family members, perhaps even between husbands and wives or parents and their children. In times of angst, the default position into which most of us unconsciously fall is a defensive one. We feel backed into a corner by the overwhelming nature of the larger issues from which we can’t run; because we can’t flee, we fight.

It’s hard – though not impossible – to step back and try to see things from another’s point of view. For the sake of relationship, though, it’s worth the effort. Because, whatever the casualties – from the virus itself or all the ancillary damage – we should aim to ensure at the very least that our valuable relationships don’t die during the pandemic.

And thinking in terms of the eight great smarts may help with that endeavor, as it does in so many other ways.

The different ways in which people are wired impact everything – how they process academic information, to be sure, and also how they react in crisis situations. Just as adapting to a child’s innate intelligence strengths improves his ability to learn his math facts, so, too, accepting that different people have different needs in the midst of our current circumstances can help to salvage relationships.

For example, a people-smart individual will crave time with others to discuss his views and feel secure, while a self-smart person will need to be alone to process what’s happening. The logic-smart will seek data; if they’re also word-smart, they’ll search for articles and research studies, but if they’re picture-smart, they’ll prefer graphs and charts. Body-smart individuals may struggle in very real ways with quarantine because of how it limits their level of physical activity. I’ve even seen nature-smart at play when a friend recently expressed hope that the environment may have a chance to heal as more people stay home.

Rather than becoming angry when a friend or loved one processes matters related to this situation differently than you, can you, instead, choose to take a step back? Can you consider how someone else’s “smarts” differ from yours and accept God’s design in each of you? Will you choose to seek understanding and peace with the ones who should – at all times – matter most to you?


Photo Credit: Tyler Nix
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