Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thought on Happiness

I started reading a new book yesterday and it's not one of those that I just can't put down.  It's very well written, but there's a character that grates on me.  What the character says is thought provoking for me because I disagree with the character so much!  

As I was reading yesterday while my husband was driving, I came across one quote that particularly struck me.  I'm reading the book on my Kindle so it's difficult to get back to the quote.  But, basically, the character said that contentment is when people settle for their lives because they're unhappy.  It's resignation.  They don't want to change and are actually miserable so people justify it by saying they are content.  People who change and progress with the times are actually the happy ones.  So, the character says...

What I read made me think about contentment.  As a Christian, I seek contentment.  Because contentment means something different to me.  It means trusting in God's plan for my life over my own and finding joy in that trust.  God's plan undergirds my life.  His providence.  His plan.  It's better than my own could be for my life.  Contentment is lasting.  It is something to strive after and seek.  Happiness, on the other hand, is fleeting.  It feels good in the moment.  But, it isn't able to be sustained continuously.  It is often self-centered and selfish in nature.  At the core, happiness--in the way that our culture often refers to it--is about us, rather than about God.  

But, Christians get it wrong, too, I think at times.  We can fall into the trap of thinking that it is bad to be happy.  Happiness isn't bad in and of itself, I think.  What's bad is when that is our goal instead of contentment and we make choices seeking happiness instead of seeking to glorify God and trusting Him.  But, I come back to Ecclesiastes 3:12-13...

12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.

It is one of God's gifts to us to enjoy our work and food.  I've known some Christians that shun the world because they think that it isn't okay to be happy and enjoy something.  But, I think that is wrong theology too.  God has given us gifts and this verse tells me that He wants us to enjoy them.  The problem isn't happiness, it is that the world has twisted the importance of happiness and turned it into an idol.

A few years ago, when we were doing a Bible Study on Genesis by Tim Keller, we took a look at how the Serpent works in the Garden of Eden.  At first, the serpent just repeats back what Eve says, but then the Serpent says it with a little twist.  Each time the Serpent speaks, he twists what God said to Adam and Eve more.  

I hear the mantra often "I just want to be happy."  A friend of mine who works at a counseling center said over Easter dinner that all group sessions state that the goal people should strive for is "to be happy".  Hmm.  Happiness isn't evil, but it isn't primary goal we should be striving after.  At least, that's what I think and what I find when I read God's Word.  

The two greatest commandments are that we are to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength--and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Neither of those list happiness as the most important thing we should do.  I think happiness in the life of a Christian looks like joy and it is in the Word in Galatians 5:22-23:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control;against such things there is no law.

Yesterday, my son turned 6 years old.  And I was happy.  I was joyful.  I loved that he enjoyed his birthday presents from us and his sisters so much.  Each gift was perfect for him.  I loved watching how his sisters sought to make it a special day for him.  I loved the peace in our family--it wasn't perfect and Eli still had a few tears when he got frustrated at moments and Sami got frustrated when the rain spoiled her plans.  But, I saw those blessings, joy, and happiness as coming from God.  They were gifts and undergirding how I felt was my unspoken thankfulness to Him.  I said to my husband last night that my goal when it comes to my kids isn't that they would be happy or that they would have all experiences available to them.  It is that they would know how much God loves them and how much we love them.  And that they would get to be kids.  I don't want the world to steal their childhood from them.  

But, back to where I started with this post.  It hadn't occurred to me before yesterday that contentment is something I desire, but it doesn't play the same role in my thinking that it does in someone who doesn't trust God or believe in Him.  If one didn't believe in God, why not pursue happiness first. It's what makes sense, doesn't it?  Why not want to be happy and feel good? If there isn't a plan undergirding anything, like Romans 8:28, that's what makes sense.  

It's moments like this, when it occurs to me what my life would be like if I didn't trust the Lord...what my life would look like if I was constantly striving after happiness, which never lasts and is always fleeting.   I am so thankful that the Lord drew me to Him.  With great humility and tears, I am thankful.  I was lost and angry in my teen years and early twenties.  But, years later, I feel joy now when I look at my children and marvel at how He has made them. The peace I have because I trust the Lord's plan for my life and theirs is lasting.  

Well, I think it's time that my musings must come to an end for this morning and I need to get my children going!  I hope all of this makes sense.  It may have come out a bit rambling along the way... 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Doing Devotions With Our Children

I have to admit that this has been a weakness of mine.  For the past few years, I have struggled to get going in the morning.  Then, by the time we get started, I feel a great sense of pressure to get all our academic work done.  So, I've skipped devotions.  We have always prayed before all of our meals and have family devotions many nights.  So, I let the practice go by the wayside for a bit.

When my kids were little (ages 2-5), reading a Bible Story was a daily practice in our schooling.  We read through the Read Aloud Bible Stories (all 4 volumes) plus Ms. Lindvall's Tell-Me Stories (from the same set, but about Jesus' parables) when they were 2 and 3 years old.  Then, we read through Ms. Lindvall's little storybook, Bible Stories for Little Children when they are 4 and 5 years old.  It's out of print and it's one of my favorite books! After each short story, they get to answer a few short questions that are right at their level.  Eli just finished this one with me and loved it.  Now, we've moved on to Big Thoughts for Little People by Kenneth Taylor, the man who founded Tyndale Publishing.  I reintroduce the Read Aloud Bible Stories when my kids are learning to read, so Eli is reading through them aloud to me now.  The language is simple and the books are large--with large print.  They're really wonderful.

But, when my kids hit first grade, I don't have a specific devotion plan.  I have read different devotions periodically for a time, but I couldn't find a routine that could stick well for me.  Until recently...

We instituted a new morning ritual.  Each morning our goal is to listen to Adventures in Odyssey around 8 am.  Sometimes it ends up being 8:10 or even 8:15, but no later than 8:30 a.m.  This has gotten my kids up and going--as well as me.  Along with this ritual is the habit we've begun that everyone must gather on the couch for devotions and a read aloud.  We already finished reading The Cricket In Times Square by George Shelden and have now started The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit.  Doing read alouds has been another weakness of mine.  I have been good about it when my kids are younger, but then as they get older I have let it go and let them read on their own.

But, God is a redeemer.  I have noticed how homeschooling is not just about my children learning, but it is about me learning as well.  It is often about God working through my weaknesses and showing me how to fill in the gaps that can result from them.  I see God's graciousness to me and His love for my children in how He has created them.  My oldest daughter reads the Word on her own and has for quite some time.  I never stopped talking to my children about God and His Word as we went about our days.  But, I erred in not starting things off all together.

My children and I all value our new routine.  I think my oldest daughter most of all.  I love to see how God fits the pieces together.

When my kids were little, I reviewed a lot of Bible storybooks.  I learned a lot from reading so many.  Some were very fluffy.  Some filled in details that weren't in the Bible.  Some changed certain little details that are in the Bible.  That's why I ended up loving Ms. Lindvall's books and the one by Kenneth Taylor.  I posted a list of my favorite ones by age group HERE.

Last year I received an e-copy of a new one by Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Devotions based on the Heidleberg Catechism.  I had considered reading her other devotion book based on the Shorter Catechism before, so I was interested in this one.  When I first received it, I tried reading it with the kids but they didn't take to it.  So, I set it aside... for another time.

Three weeks ago, as I was considering what to use for our morning devotions, I looked through our collection.  I wanted a devotion that would work for my almost 6 year old, 8 year old, and 10 year old together.  I looked through what I have.  I opened up Leading Little Ones to God and a few others, but none of them appealed to me.  I wanted a devotion that would take us a long time to go through, but that had short daily devotions in it.  I didn't want a fluffy book that starts with a cultural grab your attention trick that then connects a Biblical truth to it.  I also didn't want a short book with only 30 days of devotions.  Then, I remembered Comforting Hearts.  So, I pulled out my Kindle and "opened" the book up.

I sat down with my three kids on our couch and pulled out our Bible.  I started with week 1.  Each week has 2 questions. The first day we only talked about question #1.  Then, the next day we talked about question #3.  On day 3, we actually did Monday's devotion.  At the end of each day, there is a verse or two from the Bible to read.  I used this chance to teach (and reteach) my children how to look up verses in the Bible.  We started by singing the Awanas' books of the Bible songs.  Then, we sang the OT or NT song until we got to the book we were looking for.  Each day it is a different child's turn to read.  So, they each get a chance to practice looking up verses.  They look forward to it.  Some days we all pray when we're done and other days just me or one of the kids prays.  

Over the past year, I've learned a lot watching my husband do our evening devotions.  He's a natural teacher.  I am a learned teacher.  I need a nugget and then I can run with him. But, with him, it just comes naturally how to explain things.  When I discuss the devotional with my kids, I ask them what different words or phrases mean and we discuss them.  The first couple of questions focus on sin and sin and sin.  My kids understand that we live in a fallen world.  And we have talked about sin and misery because of the fall.  But, I also daily remind them of God's grace for them and the hope that He has given us.  

I am so thankful to have a routine in place now that works for our morning devotions.  It's a good place to start our mornings.  I have to admit that if we have to be out the door early in the morning, we don't get our devotions in.  But, we do the rest of the week.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds for review from P&R Publishing.

Odd Man Out

Two years ago, I deleted my facebook account.  Wow.  It's surprising to me that it's been two years already.  Mostly, I don't miss it. Facebook is like internet's version of high school for adults.  It can make you feel like you're "in" or that you're "out".  Oh, the travails of high school life!

Two months ago, I went from an old Nokia prepaid phone--an ancient phone like the ones most people had fifteen years ago.  Except that I had it up until just two months ago.  I texted for the first time last June when we went with a group of junior high kids from church to camp.  For the first time, I actually found it handy to text and found a reason to.

But, recently, I learned that texting can be just like Facebook.  It's an a-emotional form of communication.  You can't get someone's attention by speaking up.  People can choose to ignore you.   You can't always convey the feeling with the words you're saying (even with emoticons).  Texting can feel like high school too. You can be a part of a group conversation.  Everyone can be talking with each other, but not acknowledging you're there, or not there, or what you've said.  Whoa....  high school all over again.

My husband talked with me about the next morning.  He shared some wise advice with me that he really wanted me to hear.

There are times when we need to walk into situations where we're likely going to get rejected.  We're called to love people with Christ's love.

But, there are times when we know certain environments are simply not wise to walk into.  We've been there before.  Experience has taught us.  These are negotiable.  It isn't wrong to stay or to walk away.  

My experience with group texting felt like high school, because I let it.  I cared whether or not I was included.  Instead, I just needed to realize that it wasn't where I belonged.  There are other places and other groups where I do belong.  This is the advice I've given my little 10 year old daughter.  It isn't because people may dislike us, they just prefer others.  It's okay.  

Last Sunday, our pastor was preaching and I was reminded of something the Lord has laid on my heart many times before.  I love when I realize that God is working in my life.  But, I really love watching how He's working in other people's lives.  One of those ways is through the friendships and relationships that he blesses others with.

In the case of the group texting, I have a choice.  I can focus on not being included.  Or I can be thankful for the relationships he has given the other people in the group and then walk on.  I think it would be wise for me to choose the second path... And to forego future group texting...  I've gathered from several friends that group texting can often be problematic and they all stay away from it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Handwriting Help

I've been reading more about how to help my children with their handwriting.  I found this document online HERE.  Pages 11-14 talk about identifying the difficulties children are having (good questions!) and then a brief description of how to help each one.

Here's a second document I found online that has more helps and tackles other issues that might come up in greater detail.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Typical Christian Fiction

This morning I finished reading Caught in the Middle, a new Christian historical fiction story by Regina Jennings.  My husband asked me last night what I was reading and I replied that it was just a typical Christian fiction book. 

It is just that.  I often read what looks like typical Christian fiction, hoping for something different.  The last one I read by Ann Gabhart was.  But, this one by Regina Jennings is pretty typical.

The story centers around Anne, aka Mrs. Tillerton, a young woman who has endured great suffering in her life.  Nick Lovelace enters the story as a businessman who knew her a long time ago, but only through his sister.  He owns a lumber company that is providing ties and materials needed to the railroads being built.  Ms. Tillerton gets stuck taking care of a baby whose mother has skipped town.  Her only connection is Mr. Lovelace.  And so the story goes... what will come of the baby?  Nick has seeds of faith, but Anne has none.  Will they turn to God in their crises?

The story is fine.  It's made-for-tv Christian romance fiction.  It is very competently written.  The ending seems to come a bit too quickly, though.  The author chooses to jump ahead a couple of months in time and give a snapshot to show what life is like for Anne to bring closure to the story.  

This book is fine to curl up with one night.  Does it stand out to me?  No.  It's not a bad book.  It just doesn't stand out of the pack.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Teaching Vocabulary

When my kids were younger, I sat down to put together a curriculum plan.  When I came to Language Arts, I found that it was easier to break down the subject for me.  I didn't gravitate towards all in one curriculums like Sonlight or Abeka.  So, I identified the components I needed for my children:  Reading, Reading Comprehension, Spelling, Writing, and Vocabulary.  As my kids have grown, this breakdown has remained the same with a few minor tweaks.  For my fifth grader, reading instruction now focuses on reading strategies and fluency.  Vocabulary in younger grades came in the form of Explode the Code--connecting words with their spellings and meanings through sentences and pictures.  My kids finish Explode the Code at the end of 4th grade.  I have them complete both the whole numbered and half numbered books.  This year, I knew it was time for me to tweak Autumn's vocabulary component of her curriculum as she started 5th grade.  So, I started my search for a good solution.

I had always assumed that when they were done with Explode the Code, I would transition to using EPS' series Wordly Wise.  But, as I considered it this year, I wasn't sure I was ready to take on the cost of another workbook to purchase every year for all three of my kids.  So, I started looking for less expensive, but effective ways to teach my children vocabulary.

Two of the ways classroom teachers teach vocabulary are by teaching it in context within the literature component of language arts and by having children write down words they don't know from their silent sustained reading in a journal that they then look up afterwards in a dictionary.  But, I knew that both of these approaches weren't going to be enough for my voraciously reading kids.  So, I started comtemplating vocabulary instruction and how I could do it in a way that was doable for me and for my kids.  

What I needed to consider first was what approach I wanted to take to vocabulary instruction.  I could either focus on whole words the way Wordly Wise does.  Or, I could start by teaching prefixes/suffixes and then moving on to base roots.  Basically words are made up of multiple roots.  There are prefixes, roots a the beginning of words; core or base roots in the middle; and suffixes, roots that end words.  I have chosen the second.  I am choosing this approach for a couple of reasons.  First, I wanted to help my children work on the skill of breaking apart words and developing their word attack skills.  Second, I felt it would help with their spelling and my second daughter's need for explicit instruction when she reaches fifth grade.  After making this decision, I needed to decide what I needed the format of the curriculum to be.

I want to spend time instructing them, but I have found that curriculum that is entirely teacher led doesn't work for me since my children are all working at different grade levels.  My kids like workbooks.  They like them for a couple of reasons.  #1 When Mommy is working with another child, they can go to the next page the read the directions and start to work.  Most workbooks give good directions and they scaffold little step by little step.  They don't typically make huge jumps that are hard for kids to grasp on their own.  #2  They like our system of working on a subject and then checking it off their assignment planner.  They feel like they are getting a lot done.  They have found that workbooks where they need to complete 2 pages per day are very doable and not overwhelming.  Even the writing workbooks I use vary the amount of writing each day, so it isn't overwhelming every day.  

I know that when I was a classroom teacher, the workbooks I now use would have been considered the worst thing ever.  Fill in the blank worksheets?  Oh, no!  It was considered busy work and mindless repetition.  

But, like many other ideas that I had when I taught public school, that belief has changed for me.  Now, I see workbooks very differently.  They are wonderful tools that help my children be independent learners.  They help guide my teaching so that I don't have to constantly use teacher's guides (which I have very few of in my house).  Teacher's guides take a lot of time to read.  And right now I don't have that time.  I make that time when I need to, but when I can teach from a workbook and later review with my children, it is easier.  

So, I knew I wanted to find an affordable, reproducible workbook that I could use to teach prefixes and suffixes.  I found two resources that I like.  One is entirely a workbook without a teaching guide.  The second is a set of two books that does give pointers and lesson plans.  

Teacher Created Resources has three books in their Practice Makes Perfect Series on Prefixes and Suffixes.  After looking around a lot, I decided to start with the third grade book even though my oldest daughter is in fifth grade.  It starts with the most basic of suffixes and prefixes and I didn't find some of these in any other workbooks.  I wanted her to have practice spelling and identifying even the simplest of these word roots.  The books are extremely affordable at a price of about $5.50 per workbook.  And they're reproducible!  She is going to also complete the second 4th grade book this year.  I am going to have her complete the 5th grade book next year in 6th grade.  There isn't a lot of instruction to these books, but it does familiarize my daughter with a group of words with the same prefix or suffix.  She likes these workbooks and I have since ordered the map skills books and dictionary skills book to supplement our curriculum as we finish out this school year.  

The other resource I found is also a solid teaching curriculum.  It costs more, but it has a lot more meat to it.  Shell Education has published two books--Starting with Prefixes and Suffixes and Practice with Prefixes.  When I looked online, there were no reviews or a preview on Amazon, so I went to the
company's website and found some sample pages there.  I liked what I saw then, and still do.  The lessons are clustered for each prefix or suffix.  The first book begins by explaining (in great simple language) what to point out to your students about word roots.  They start with identifying two and three syllable compound words, breaking them apart.  There are quick teaching tips that quickly summarize what you need to know.  If your child is auditory, there are quick teaching discussion ideas.  The pages are very well formatted and not filled with extra gobbildy gook that you have to sift out in order to get to the meat as many teacher's guides are.  Then after two teaching pages, there are four worksheets that you can use with your student.  I like the worksheets a lot.  You can either copy from the book or use the cd-rom at the back of the book.  The cd-rom is the only thing I'm not crazy about with this curriculum and it is the reason this book makes it harder for me to use.  They have put the files on the disk separately in alphabetical order.  At the back of the book, there is an index that tells you the file name correlating to what page it is in the book.  I would suggest if you want to use this book to a) copy all the worksheets from the book first and assemble before you start using it or b) open and print all the files first.  Then, the worksheets would be ready to use when you're ready to teach them, instead of you having to go find them when you need them on the fly.  This was my mistake.  Because I didn't have it ready for my daughter, she got tired of waiting and frustrated with this book.  She recognized that she had to wait every day for me to copy her vocabulary.  

This second curriculum is more expensive (at about $22 per book), but that is understandable.  The book is several times thicker, includes a cd-rom, and most importantly gives instruction on "how" to teach prefixes and suffixes.  It is reproducible and most reproducible resources like this one cost about $20.  I like these books and will look at more curriculum from Shell Education in the future.

For my older daughter, a lot of the instruction in the practice makes perfect sense because much of the teaching is implicit.  She gets it by completing the worksheets and seeing the patterns in the words.  My second daughter needs a great deal of explicit teaching though.  So, I am sure the second series will be a better fit for her.  She needs me to interact and discuss with the material with her.    When she is spelling, I orally help her connect words to other words when learning to spell a new word.  I love how easy the teacher pages are to navigate in Starting with Prefixes and Suffixes.  BUT, I will be sure to copy all of the worksheets prior to embarking on use of this curriculum with her.  It will make her life easier--and mine.  

I am thankful to have found these resources.  They are good, solid learning tools that will lay a foundation to help my children begin building their knowledge of word roots!  

Please note that I did receive complimentary copies of Starting with Prefixes and Suffixes and Practice with Prefixes from Shell Education for review.