Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Q & A: Unexpected Homeschooling

Many of my friends find themselves homeschooling unexpectedly. Several have asked me for advice. 

I may have homeschooled for eleven years, but the last couple years have been so challenging that I don't feel like an expert. And, even though we have homeschooled for years, the inability to leave the house has changed our homeschool, too. 

But, I'll share a few of the questions I've been asked.

1. Laundry, meals, cleaning - now homeschooling—how do I keep up?

Remember, you didn't plan to homeschool. Give yourself grace.

I was able to do it slowly, first with a kindergartner, then a first grader, then gradually adding more students. You had to jump in with only a few hours notice. You didn't plan or train for this. It is okay. It won't be perfect. Your homeschool certainly won't look like a school classroom. 

Expect your house will look terrible after spending all day at home. Your laundry might not be finished by evening. That is okay. Lower your expectations for meals and cleaning if you have to. Homeschooling is what you were given to do, so be willing to adapt for awhile.

2. I'm in the last trimester of pregnancy. I was doing the bulk of my housework in the morning and spending the rest of the day on the couch. Now, with my mornings spent doing schoolwork, I can't keep up. How can I make this work better?

Pregnancy is tough. You might need to be even more creative to find a way to do school with you limited energy. Try having the children come to you. Stretch out on the couch or recliner and the children can come to you when they have questions. If you can pull a recliner next to the dining room table, or wherever you are doing school, so you can rest while keeping an eye on your scholars. 
If you find that your children are interrupting each other with questions every two minutes,  you may find it works best for each child to have a scheduled time to have a meeting with mom. They can save up their questions to ask you in their time slot. 

Hopefully if you stay sitting with your feet up as much as possible, you'll have enough energy to make it through the day. 

3. How much can I expect my children to help with housework when they are also doing schoolwork?

Children can often do more than you expect. And if everyone does a little bit frequently, it is much better than saving all the work until it is a huge job.

When my mom would get overwhelmed by work, my dad would tell her, "You are not using your resources," meaning her nine children. Please get your children to help, even though their help might not be to your standard of cleanliness. 

I found it worked best to have a short job for each child after each meal. It might be dishes, carrying out garbage, sweeping the dining room floor, tidying the living room, or sorting laundry. They kept the same job for months, because I couldn't handle chore charts that change every day or every week. They had the same job, at the same time, day after day after day so they learned to do the job without (too much) reminding. Yes, they get sick and tired of it. Yes, they complained. But eventually they learned to just get the job done in a few minutes so they could have time to play.

If your children are home all day with you, the house will get messier. I found it much easier to vacuum under the table every single day instead of saving it for a big cleaning on Saturday. It is far easier to give the toy room a quick pick up every day after lunch then waiting until the job was unbearable. Try to catch jobs when they are still small tasks.

4. My two-year-old can trash the house while I help the other children with their school work. Help!

Toddlers are a common challenge for homeschool moms. 

Here is a list of things that have I've tried with various children through the years with varying degrees of success.

  • Save some special toys or books that can only be played with during school time. The dollar store might yield some fun new toys. Or try Legos. Or puzzles. Or playdough. As soon as school is finished, put the toys away until the next day. 

  • Assign an older child to play with the toddler for a half an hour, then switch to another child. This is especially good mid-morning when a wiggly eight-year-old needs a break too. A half hour of pushing little  brother on the swing outside can be good for both of them. This gives you undivided time to work with another child. 

  • Most toddlers love to have books read to them which is great reading practice for children of all ages. Some preschoolers like audio books, though others will get bored quickly. But it might give you ten minutes of quiet.

  • Consider letting your preschooler wash the breakfast dishes. They might be soaked, and you might have to mop up the kitchen floor afterward, but it might keep them entertained for an hour while you help with math.

  • If you have a child that destroys the house when you back is turned, give them one safe room to play in. Use a child gate to keep them in one room, ideally within eye-sight of your school corner. They might hate it, but they will eventually learn they have to stay and play in that room.

  • This might seem obvious, but utilize nap time. That might mean waking the toddler early enough that he is tired enough to take an early nap. Save the most troubling school subject for naptime. Or, alternately, your school student might like to get up early and do his hardest subject before breakfast when the house is quiet. This is working for my ninth grader this year. He likes to have most of his Algebra lesson finished before the other children wake up.

I'd love to hear your hints on making these unexpected homeschooling days successful.

If you want some more good reading...

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

And Then It Was Spring

If you've read here long, you know I enjoy gardening. Sometimes, I enjoy the idea of gardening more than gardening itself. In March I paint mind pictures of impossibly perfect vegetables. In August, gardening is just plain hard work.

But the last two years, I've decided I needed gardening.

On the days that started by driving into the city while it was still dark and walking down long halls and sitting in small rooms talking with white-coats, I spent the evening in the midsummer dusk hacking out tall weeds. I couldn't control the monster cells in my husband's brain, but I could drip sweat and break finger nails by battling weeds. I didn't care if I ate any fruit from my garden, I just needed to be there.

Last spring, I would, with some guilt, leave Ed on his recliner to scratch at the moist earth and dribble seeds into rows. The contrast between a world awakening to springtime and my husband's body shutting down was painful, but I needed the hope of springtime to remind me that I was still alive and had children to water and nurture.

Now, a year later, our world feels shrouded in a fog. This spring, we are walking a confused path together, all over the world, each one trying to find our way on an unknown road.

But here in Pennsylvania it is spring. The bluebirds and robins don't know anything about a virus. They are gathering twigs and building nests as always. I watched two male mallards chase each other across the pasture, vying for a mate's attention or defending their territory.

The ordinariness of spring bulbs, flowering trees, and the first dandelion is strangely comforting. So much has changed. Plans are uncertain. But so much is the same.

"I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee...The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me...Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." (Hebrews 13:5,6,8)

I don't fear the future. I don't know what is going to happen, but after last year, when maybe the worse I could imagine did happen, I learned that with God I can survive the impossible.  I don't like inconvenience. I certainly don't like suffering. But I know that God is a whole lot bigger than my fears, and I'm willing to load my worries on Him.

And then I'll find some weeds to pull. And push a hoe through damp earth, throw in some seeds, and look for a harvest later this summer.

My prayer is that God's work in our hearts, through the softening of this storm, will bring abundant harvest.

Monday, March 23, 2020

More Free Audios and a Giant List of Favorites

I love how so many people are looking for ways to help others in this time of crisis.

After I wrote about audio books, I found that Audible is giving access to many books as long as schools are closed. Of course, some aren't worth listening to, but there is some great books on the Audible list.

Scribd gives two free months. Sign up through this Scribd link.

Years ago, we used Librivox, where volunteers read books in the public domain. If you want to read classics, this is a perfect site, and it is always free, but the quality can vary.

And don't forget your library. Many library systems have ebooks and audio books available for download through Libby or Hoopla. In many states you can get a library card from a large city, even if it is many miles from your home, and access even more books. So if you are in Pennsylvania, check out the Philly library system. If in Texas, look up the Dallas system.

But I know your next question, what should I listen to?

I can't answer that question for you, but I can give you a list of books that we have enjoyed. We have always enjoyed audio books, but last year I turned to audio books for survival. Since I was doing all the driving and was usually the only adult in the vehicle, audio books were my life saver. Somehow everyone quits fighting (usually) when listening to a story.

Then I lost my voice last summer. For months I could not read to my children for longer than a few minutes. For someone accustomed to reading to my children for an hour every day, this was challenging. I couldn't even get through a chapter of Scripture. Audio books to the rescue. On really bad days, I would put my phone in the middle of the table, and we would listen to our latest story during dinner.

As the result, we have listened to hours of books in the last year from Scribd, Audible, and our library. I also listened to books when walking or running errands.

Here's our favorites.

(But they didn't make this list unless I enjoyed them. Nothing wrong with an adult choosing to listen to a middle grade novel just for fun.)

Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt
Pooh books by A.A. Milne
Masterpiece by Elise Broach
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (starts strange but gets better)
Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Secret Garden by Frances Burnett
Christian Heroes series by Janet and Geoff Benge
All books by Elizabeth Enright
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Shiloh series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit
Bull Run by Paul Fleishman
Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriette Gillem Robinet

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien
Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Nonfiction for the Family: (adult books that we enjoyed as a family)

End of the Spear by Steve Saint
God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew
Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Rocket Men by Robert Kurson

Books for Me

Adult Fiction: 
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce
All the Light That We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Adult Nonfiction:
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
Decluttering at the Speed of Life by Dana White
The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman
My Confession by Leo Tolstoy
Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell
The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

I can hardly stand sharing a list like this without comments. I want to say, "Oh this book, this one here, you need to read this one... if you like...then you'll love this." I want to tell you which book had us roaring in laughter, or crying, but I want to send this today so reviews will have to wait. Just know that each of these books was enjoyed by someone in our family in the last year.

But now, I'm not sure what book that I should listen to next. Have a suggestion for me?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Home All Day

We spent a week in North Carolina and, as my friend said, came back to a different world. And she wasn't referring to the daffodils blooming. As I listen to updates, I've said "this is unbelievable" so many times the last couple days that it has nearly become meaningless.

Like everyone else, I'm trying to find ways to keep my children happy and healthy. Since we homeschool, our daily life hasn't changed drastically, but I'm realizing how much we enjoy social life. As one by one, the events on our calendar have been canceled, my children (and me too) wonder what we are going to DO.

So Monday I sat down with a piece of paper and made a list with the help of my children. We came up with some things that we could do that don't involve other people. Things like geocaching, which Ed used to do with the children.

Each child picked a day to plan the menus and cook. I allowed them to choose some special items such as root beef floats. Yesterday I braved the grocery store, searching two stores before I found everything on their lists.

I'm grateful for the warmer weather. Spring is a great time to be stuck at home and with a little encouragement, I think I can get them started on some outdoor projects. Maybe my flower beds will be weeded early this year.

With schools closing, many of my friends are doing some version of homeschooling. I've been asked how to manage children in the house all day long. Many days I don't feel like I'm managing well, but the best days have a routine.

Some of us are more naturally scheduled, and others relish flexibility, so routine will mean different things to each of us. Most children thrive on knowing what is expected, and their lives are feeling off-center right now. You can use this time as a free-for-all vacation, but I think you and your children will benefit from a routine of meals, chores, study, outdoor time, and play.

My children have been spending a lot of time practicing instruments recently. I've always wanted my children to learn to play an instrument, and I taught them a little piano, but never was consistent and the last few crazy years, stopped completely. It felt overwhelming to me to schedule lessons for them.

My ten-year-old daughter is using Hoffman Academy to learn piano. You can watch the videos for free, but we bought the membership to get the printables and the practice sessions. The cost is far cheaper than lessons, and the material in the course is high quality. You can sign up for a free trial to see if it is a good fit for you.

My boys are using Yousician to learn both guitar and ukulele and have made great progress. I love hearing them strum. Again I decided, after trying it for free, that the membership was a bargain for as much as my children were using it.

Another online membership we use and love is Scribd. I wrote about this audio book membership a few months ago, and we continue to love it. Right now, if you use my sister's link, you can get one or more free months. We have enjoyed hours of ebooks and audio books through Scribd.

I'd love if you would share your ideas on how to keep your children busy. What do you plan to do with your children these next few weeks at home?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Picture Books on Pioneers

I've always loved stories about pioneers traveling west to find new homes. Here are some favorites that I've shared with my children.

This post contains affiliate links.

Sunsets of the West by Tony Johnston, Illustrated by Ted Lewin
From New Hampshire to California a sturdy pioneer family makes the difficult journey to a new home. Lewin’s watercolors make this book stand apart.

Warm as Wool by Scott Russell Sanders, illustrated by Helen Cogancherry
Betsy Ward longed for wool to make warm clothing for her family in the rough wilderness of the Ohio frontier. A charming story with warm illustrations about a determined woman who had the first sheep in her area of Ohio.

The Floating House by Scott Russell Sanders, illustrated by Helen Cogancherry
The McClure family is floating down the Ohio river in a flatboat with all their possessions. Their destination is a new settlement in Indiana where they will build their new home. Beautiful story and illustrations expressing the spirit of the courageous settlers.

Conestoga Wagons by Richard Ammon, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
The Conestoga wagons made in Lancaster County served as the tractor-trailor trucks for 100 years. Bold paintings show accurate details of the wagons and the hearty men who drove them.

Lewis and Papa: Adventure on the Santa Fe Trail by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle
The story of a historic trail combined with richly detailed paintings to share the bond between a young man and his father.

Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails by Verla Kay, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
The difficult journey to California comes to life with Kay's lilting verse and Schindler's humorous artwork.

Old Crump: The True Story of a Trip West by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by John Winch
Stuck in Death Valley with no food and no water, a faithful ox carries four children to safety. Based on a true story of some forty-niners who took the wrong shortcut on their way to California.

Along the Santa Fe Trail by Marion Russell, illustrated by James Watling
Detailed water-colors combine with a true account of a young girl's journey of the Santa Fe trail. The hardships and joys of the journey are clearly depicted.

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Friday, March 6, 2020

Questions Without Answers

In the spring of 2017, my husband Ed was asked to preach on the topic of bitterness. He prepared the message, but that week severe headaches forced him to cancel his commitment. Two days later, a surgeon removed a tennis ball-sized tumor from his brain.

In his sermon notes, Ed had written that bitterness is nearly impossible to self-diagnose. We can see bitterness in others, but it is easy to justify our own grudges. Ed compared bitterness to making a snowball. When weather conditions are right, a handful of snow can easily become a hard ball. When this snowball is rolled, it picks up anything around it, including more snow, leaves, and stones, until the snowball becomes too large to push. Likewise, bitterness grows and becomes deadly.

I didn't think I had a problem with bitterness. I had a happy childhood, a handsome husband, and six healthy children. I had never been abused or deeply wronged. I knew I was blessed and didn’t begrudge others for what they had.

That was before Ed was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. Despite multiple surgeries and many treatment attempts, two years later in May 2019 I became a widow at age 43. Now when I saw an elderly couple walking side-by-side at the grocery store, the pain rushed in to choke me. I had lost my dream of growing old with my husband. My three-year-old daughter might not even remember her daddy. I wanted to scream, “It’s not fair.”

I had always thought unforgiveness was the root of bitterness, but in his sermon notes Ed had written “perceived injustice or unfairness” at the top of the list of causes. What could be more unfair than losing my husband?

When my children say “it’s not fair,” they hope their complaint will change the unfairness. But my whining won’t bring Ed back. When I say “it's not fair” I'm stating that I don't deserve this suffering. I’m asking God to explain why He allowed my husband to die.

My western mind seeks to protect myself from any difficulty, but suffering is part of the human experience. Living in American freedom, in a hard-working culture with modern medicine, I had been spared the suffering common for most of history and in many parts of the world. Because of my context and my choice to follow the Lord, I thought I deserved a comfortable life.

When I lost my husband, my best friend, and the father of my children, I felt robbed. I was angry and asked why. Why Ed? Why take someone who was active in kingdom work? Wouldn’t God have received glory if He had answered the many prayers for Ed’s healing?

Job also asked why, but in the middle of his questions, Job proclaimed his trust in God. “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” I have something Job did not have because I can read Job’s whole story and see the past and future, the visible and the invisible, and the mercy of God. I’m still sitting in Job’s ash heap, but my story also has a past and future, visible and invisible, and the touch of God's mercy. Like Job, I can’t see my whole story. Maybe someday my questions will be answered, but today I need to accept not knowing the explanation.

I knew my unanswered questions could ferment into bitterness. Because Ed didn’t want bitterness to poison our children, I watched him resist the human tendency of bitterness by accepting cancer and the suffering it entailed. Ed prayed for healing with his hands open to accept death.

Ed wasn’t the first person who found peace this way. Elisabeth Elliot wrote “Acceptance is the key to peace in suffering.” Elisabeth knew hard questions and suffering: her first husband was murdered and her second husband died of cancer.

I wanted the peace Ed had experienced. But for Ed, accepting death meant gaining the glories of heaven. I still had to put children to bed alone, listen to friends tell of their anniversary get-aways, and mark “widow” on tax forms. I hated thinking of living without Ed for decades, but I was even more scared of becoming a bitter old woman.

After Ed’s death I forced myself to push on, to learn to cope, to figure out how to change the van’s registration, and find its insurance information. I took the children camping and planted a garden. Those around me said I was a strong woman, but I knew staying busy wasn’t what I really needed. I somehow needed to accept the pain without being destroyed by it, to remember Ed, and to acknowledge the enormity of my loss without suffocating.

Jesus invites us to “come...and I will give you rest.” Rest? Sounds like what any overwhelmed single mom with six children needs. He promises rest if I come to Him, but bitterness will erect a barrier between us. To live in the restful presence of Christ, I can’t demand answers to my questions. I need Him more than I need answers.

Elisabeth Elliot also said, “If your faith rests on the character of Him who is the eternal I AM, then that kind of faith is rugged and will endure.” I want the rest found in enduring faith. I unclench my hands and hold them open. I ask God to give me a warm heart to melt that icy snowball inside me. I know Who God is (a good God) and who I am (His daughter). After God reminded Job of His creative power, Job accepted that his questions would remain unanswered. I do the same.

Ed had planned to close his sermon with words from Revelation 7:14-17. This passage describes a scene of believers from all nations and tongues. They endured great trials on earth and are now gathered in heaven worshiping before God’s throne where they have no hunger, thirst, or tears.

Heaven is not fair either. Why would God want to share His home with us? Why do I deserve His eternal rest—a gift He invites me to begin to experience now? It is a gift without answers. Whatever injustice I perceive now will vanish in the glories of heaven. The hunger for relationships, the thirst for fulfillment, and the pain of separation will no longer be present. Either my questions will be answered or they won’t matter anymore.

I still fight bitterness every day. Maybe time will fade the pain. Maybe I’ll think “it’s not fair” less often. But I suspect that every holiday, every memory, every new milestone my children reach will require me to open up my hands and give my questions back to God so I can walk into His rest.

I was the one who needed Ed’s sermon, written in his notes and lived in his life and death.

First published in the winter issue of Daughters of Promise.
Photos by Regina Rosenberry.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Book Tracking

Every few months, our internet goes down for a few days, and I get a chance to test my addiction levels.

Last week it was our modem that croaked. Since I'm now using Ed's phone, I didn't think the withdrawal would be so bad - I could still check email. But my children use the phone for an online guitar program and in three days, they drained nearly all my data for the month. We resorted to a check-email-twice-a-day policy.

While it is eye-opening to find how much time my children or I are online, it is also a relief to be able to send an email, use GPS, and place an Amazon order again. I do like technology. Just want to use it and not be ruled by it.

I did a reading challenge in January and February and was surprised to find I picked up a book instead of spending time online when I had a reading goal. I read far more books this winter than usual and, though the challenge ended, I hope to make some personal reading challenges for the rest of the year.

Back in January I asked how you track your reading. (Go read through the comments to enjoy all the ideas.) I loved your input. I'm still tempted to try Goodreads, but am resisting since I'm trying not to give myself more online temptations. But I did borrow a few of your ideas.

I've always just listed title and author. I'm now adding a few more notes to my list.

I decided to borrow an idea from Redeemed Reader and rate the literary quality and the moral/spiritual quality. Sometimes I read a beautifully written book, but have to ignore some some language or other issues. Other times a book might be poorly written, but the content has value that makes it worthwhile. Of course other books are great, or terrible, in both areas.

I use a simple 1 to 5 rating for both such as 3/4. It only takes a moment, but helps me remember my impression of the book quality.

I also added initials to note genre. MG for middle-grade. NF for nonfiction. AF for adult fiction. YA for young adult.

Finally, I drew a smiley face if I read the book to my children, a triangle if I listened to it on audio, and a triangle with a smiley if we listened to the audio together.

I'm liking that my book list now has a few more details for me to remember when and how I read the book, and what I thought of it.

I also started a notebook for quotes. I often write down quotes, but they are scrawled anywhere and everywhere. My sister makes adorable homemade journals, and I've been wishing for an excuse to use one. The leather cover and heavy paper is a delight and pausing after reading a wonderful book (such as Humility by Andrew Murray) and finding a quote or two that captures the essence of the book, is a delight. Some books are not as quotable, and I don't record nearly every book I read, but already after a few months, I love reading through these pages and remembering books I've read. Wish I had done this years ago.

Do you write down quotes from your reading?


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