March 5, 2021

Unplugging

Five or six years ago, I was in the midst of deciding whether or not to allow my then-young-teen daughters to begin engaging in social media. Like many parents at the time, I wrestled with the neurological effects that increased online activity might have on their still-developing brains. And I worried about exposure to cyberbullying and the possibility that they’d be targeted for trafficking.

Those with teens and younger children now have even more to consider. Neurological and safety concerns still exist. And now we’re also dealing with a level of extreme online vitriol the likes of which we couldn’t have imagined five years ago, along with its twin cousins of censorship and “cancel culture.” Whereas we used to fear that a child would be bullied online by his peers, now it’s just as possible that adults will unrelentingly go after a young person in the vilest of ways. And the platforms themselves feel entitled to monitor our every move and even – God help us – our thoughts.

Among those who’ve been victimized by such extremes, I’m seeing an exodus. Some have moved to alternate platforms, but many have opted to greatly reduce or even eliminate their virtual presence. I applaud them. I believe that more and more people are realizing that both they and their children are far better off focusing on the smaller-scale but healthier influence of offline, real-life relationships and activities.

I eventually allowed each of my daughters to open a Facebook account, which I closely monitored and to which I held the passwords. They both found Pinterest as well. But I was thankful that neither expressed more than a passing interest in Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. And I’m even more grateful that both were able to self-moderate their social media consumption.

But if they were young teens today, I wouldn’t let them near any online platforms. I would, instead, do even more than I did five years ago to help them develop and grow strong connections with local friends. I’d find more real-life activities in which they could participate. And I’d challenge myself to be a good role model by scaling way back on the social media influence in my life.

In fact, I’ve recently been working on that, and it’s already paid off. I’m going out to coffee with local friends more than ever before. I’m serving as the resident “veteran” at a weekly homeschool co-op. I’m reading uplifting books and digging into the Word. I’m cooking and exercising. I still interact online, but only in a couple of select groups on a limited basis. The longer I’m away from mindless newsfeed scrolling, the less I miss it and the more I wonder why it ever held sway over so much of my time.

I don’t know if what I’m seeing in others – for themselves and their kids – and experiencing in my own life is a “new normal.” But I sure hope so. During 2020’s pandemic-related lockdowns, we recovered an appreciation for our immediate families. Maybe now it’s time to learn the value of unplugging.

CK

February 10, 2021

Count Your Blessings

Late in 2020, I happened across a meme picturing a glass canning jar filled with folded, multi-colored papers. The accompanying text issued a challenge: “This January, start the year with an empty jar. Each week, add a note with a good thing that happened. On New Year’s Eve, empty the jar and read about the amazing year you had.”

Aiming to push against an uncomfortable malaise that threatened some days to overwhelm me, I decided to give it a shot. I also purchased a “one line a day” journal, in which I take a few moments each evening to jot down some thoughts – positive or negative – about the day’s events. I keep the journal where I easily see it each night, and I’ve set a notification on my laptop so I don’t forget to do the weekly summary. Then, when I think on Friday night or Saturday morning about what to say for the week’s submission to the blessing jar, I refer back to my daily journaling and also reflect on what’s happened in the lives of each of my family members during the previous week.

Being a pessimist-leaning realist by my (human) nature, I sometimes focus first on the “bad” things about which I may have vented in the journal. I must actively choose to recall the positive. But I’ve seen so far that there’s always something – and often multiple occurrences – to document for the jar. Taking time to acknowledge that each week has, indeed, had its share of blessings has softened the sting of inevitable struggles. And recalling the positive gets easier with each passing week.

It’s not too late to start counting your blessings in a similar way. There’s nothing magical about January 1; helpful practices can stick no matter when we launch into them. In fact, you can even extend what I’ve done by including your children and spouse, perhaps assigning each family member a specific paper color to ensure that everyone participates fully.

And by now if – like me – you’re music smart, it’s probably inevitable that you’ve got Johnson Oatman, Jr.’s 1897 hymn in your head. Thus, I can’t think of a better way to remind you to get started counting your blessings than to get his song stuck there for the rest of the day!

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

CHORUS
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

CHORUS

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

CHORUS

CK

Photo Credit: Prayer Jar

January 15, 2021

Get Back to the Basics

Don’t feel sorry for or fear for your kids because the world they are going to grow up in is not what it used to be. God created them and called them for the exact moment in time that they’re in. …Don’t let your fear steal the greatness God placed on them. I know it’s hard to imagine them as anything besides our sweet little babies, and we just want to protect them from anything that could ever be hard on them, but they were born for such a time as this.

This is an excerpt from a Facebook post made on January 6 by Alex Cravens, a young father of two. The post went viral, garnering untold numbers of views and shares and over 22,000 comments in less than two days. And Mr. Cravens is right, of course. But, if you’re like me, you probably do fear even though you know you shouldn’t. And you likely wish there were something you could do to make the last year and all its future ramifications disappear.

Of course, none of us exactly knows what the coming days and months will bring. Our anxiety might actually be for naught. Perhaps both COVID and the virus of hyper-partisanship will soon be constrained, enabling us to resume our normal (not “new normal”) lives post haste. But, honestly, in the case of the latter at least, that would take a miracle.

And God can work miracles where we least expect them! However, if His will involves something different, we must choose to walk in faith – remembering that He’s not surprised by any of what’s happened and that He will sustain us through whatever is to come. We must model that faith for our kids so they can do the same.

There is within the homeschooling movement to which I’ve belonged for almost 20 years a call that I believe applies right now to all parents: Get back to the basics.

Those leading this charge have challenged homeschoolers to set their priorities aright, putting the basic needs of faith and family first. It’s not that other endeavors are unimportant. But getting back to basics means focusing first on our relationships with the Lord and with those in our own homes – putting time with the Lord before anything else and equipping ourselves and our children with deep knowledge of the Word – and then trusting that matters of secondary importance will fall into place as He’s ordained.

Astute mothers and fathers at other times of national crisis – the Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, the two world wars, to name just the most obvious – focused on these basics, and God saw them through. We can do the same thing now, for such a time as this.

CK

January 4, 2021

Look In and Look Up


Last year at this time, I’d just begun the last semester of my homeschool mom career. I’d created each daughter’s final learning log and was facilitating their progress through the last of their coursework. Each had applied for and been accepted into her post-secondary study program of choice. One was in a serious relationship that I already knew would result in eventual marriage. I was coordinating our homeschool spring formal and our homeschool graduation ceremony. I was juggling our family schedule as well, aiming to coordinate the use of two cars between four drivers, three of whom worked outside the home on varying shifts.

And then COVID.

Without belaboring the point, we all know what that means. Simply put, nothing we anticipated at the start of 2020 played out as expected. Wrench upon wrench was thrown into the works of our lives, day in and day out. Every time we thought we’d rounded the bend toward the home stretch of our annus horribilus, we discovered that the markers had been moved on us without warning.

And now here we are at the dawn of 2021.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still grieving what I lost in 2020. I’m mentally drained. If I’m really honest, I’ll admit that I’m angry. And I’m sure I’m not alone. After all, we’re still in the midst of the circumstances that upended 2020, so we don’t yet have the closure that would allow us to fully move on.

But when “everything” feels too overwhelming, I’ve been coaching myself to redirect in two different ways. Specifically, I look in and I look up.

I look in by focusing on my home and family. I pay enough attention to politics and culture to be a responsible citizen; I even do what I can to affect change. But at the end of the day – to keep my equilibrium – I must hone in on my relationships with my husband, each of my daughters, and my son-in-law. I don’t know what will happen “out there” through 2021, but I can decide to love my family members no matter what. Knowing I have legitimate control over that brings peace.

Even more importantly, I look up – to God. I remind myself that He’s in full control of everything and that even I know the ultimate end of the story, as described in Revelation. But I let myself be “real” and cry out to Him, too, honestly admitting my fears and concerns. He doesn’t mind because I’m coming to Him like the father of the boy in Mark 9, who declared, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9.24) Knowing that He’s loving and strong enough to handle my stress and weakness brings peace.

Engagement in the wider world is good. Looking forward to what the future may hold – and making plans to accomplish various goals – is good. But if the events of 2020 bring us back to the importance of looking in and looking up, it wasn’t all for naught after all.

CK

Photo Credit: Long Thiên

December 17, 2020

Take Heart

I’ve experienced a couple of significant transitions this year.

First, both my daughters graduated from our homeschool. When we’d decided that they’d graduate together, I knew I’d be in for a systemic shock when it happened. After all, I’d instantly lose an important “job” I’d officially held since 2007, and even my mothering role would change once the girls were recognized as bona fide adults. I’d purposed over the years to guard against making the title of “homeschool mom” the core of my identity. But it would also be delusional to believe that transitioning from that role would be seamless. Anyone who pours her heart and soul into a big “project” for almost 20 years is bound to experience loss when it wraps.

And then my younger daughter eloped with the love her life – less than a week after she’d turned 18! Thankfully, my husband and I love our new son-in-law. In fact, we’d fully anticipated an eventual wedding, and I’d embraced the idea that my transition from homeschool mom would include a stint as wedding planner and mother of the bride. Instead, lockdown-related restrictions scared the young couple, leading them to figure out how to marry in a pandemic. They live only a few miles from us, and I literally see her almost every day. But having one of my baby girls officially leave the nest has, indeed, been quite a transition.

The pandemic wreaked havoc with my older daughter’s plans, causing her to take an unplanned gap year. So, she’s still home. But, as I anticipated, parenting an adult child – even one who is very respectful and responsible and a lot like me – is a brand-new life experience.

And I’m a creature of habit. In fact, my husband’s very accurate nickname for is me “Rou-Tina,” which makes change – even happy developments like gaining a new family member and successfully launching my children into adult life – harder on me than it might be for others. But I’ve decided not to beat myself up over it. 

Change is obviously inevitable; you may have experienced some big transitions in your life this year, too. And we must guard against wallowing in the past, wishing everything would stay the same when we know full-well it can’t. But we have to give ourselves grace.

For one thing, loathing negative change, such as the death of a loved one, isn’t wrong. And being nostalgic because time marched on more quickly than we’d prefer is natural. It’s also normal – because of how our culture treats the Christmas season – to experience such feelings more deeply at this time of year. If you’re feeling off-kilter right now due to transitions you’ve experienced over the past several months, welcome to the human race!

We must, of course, keep walking through valleys – armed with the Word of God and the encouragement of fellow believers – so we don’t get stuck. But if you’re in a change-initiated valley now, take heart. To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 10.13, nothing “has seized you except what is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not let [your transitions be more than] you can bear. …He will provide…so that you can stand up [through them].”

CK

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.

CK

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.

CK

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.

CK

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.

CK

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 clichés. But as I think about all of this, one word resonates.

Relationship.

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.

 CK

Photo Credit: Nenad Stojkovic
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