Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Ah, the teenage years!

My girls have both entered their teenage years.  Yet, they are so different from each other.  In conversations with each of them this past week, I became aware of moments when I frustrated them.  And I was reminded of something that my husband warned me about a while ago.  He advised me to tread carefully with them even when I have strong opinions because I need to protect and preserve my relationships with them so that they might here me when I need them to--and when I want them to.

Last week, my oldest daughter and I went to a college fair.  Those kind of things are fascinating to me and aren't intimidating at all.  My daughter on the other hand, was a bit overwhelmed.  But, I plowed on ahead.  I learned some information that I needed to know to help me select her courses for high school that I hadn't known before--even though I had already done a lot of research already.  The most helpful part of the night for my daughter was a table we stopped at that gave her a stack of cards to sort through to help her discern what types of careers she might be interested in.  We talked later and discussed it.  What she learned.  What I learned.  She and I are in a place where we need to start to switch roles.  She needs to get into the driver's seat.  I'm not a helicopter mom, per se.  I'm just a "do"er.  If something needs to be done, I will do it.  So, I need to consciously switch gears and guide her in the doing rather than "doing" what needs to be done myself. 

We're going to go to another college fair in two weeks.  This time she has time to prepare (we only learned of the other one that morning and had no time to discuss it beforehand).  I asked her to think of what questions she has.  What would she like to know?  This time is going to be a little different...

My other daughter is a very typical teenager and her tone of voice can quickly rub me the wrong way.  It sounds on the edge of being disrespectful and questioning--yet, when I say something, almost every time I realize that she doesn't realize how she sounds and looks.  In the Journey of the Strong Willed Child by Kendra Smiley, the author talks about the importance of not taking a strong willed child's words and actions personal.  What they are doing is about them, not you--the parent.  My daughter's words and responses are indeed about her heart and I need to remember that and be patient.  I need to not take them personal and respond the way her tone makes me feel. 

Oh, to be a teenager!  What a journey...

Monday, June 11, 2018

The ups and downs...

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a mom telling me that she was in a place where she was really enjoying homeschooling and feeling good about being a mom.  She was in one of those places I've been before--savoring a moment of peace and contentment that you're doing what God wants you to and that things are working!  I remember the first time I had that feeling.  I think it was after the end of my oldest daughter's second grade year.  The feeling lasted for a month or so.

Since then, I've had times when I've felt that peace about parenting and school.  Sometimes that peace lasted minutes, sometimes hours, days, weeks, or months.  But, I have learned that it comes and goes.  Having it is a blessing--a time of rest.  When it is absent though, I have learned that it doesn't mean things are wrong, instead, it usually means one of two things for me... 1.  It's time to step back and evaluate.  What's working, what's not.  and 2.  It's also time to just put one foot in front of the other. 

I talked with a young woman on Saturday in a store who told me that she felt like she is just working her life away.  She's going to college and working two part-time jobs.  I nodded my head and understood.  I had three part-time jobs while I went to grad school.  So, I agreed with her that it was tough but that she would get through it.  I asked her what she wanted to do and it turns out that she really wants to be a missionary.  But, she doesn't want to go on a short term missions trip.  She really just longs to be out there.  So, I encouraged her to look for a week long camp of sorts--maybe through YWAM or Navigators--to help her get reenergized and remember where she's heading and why she's doing what she's doing. 

I feel like that's what we need as moms too.  I do.  A lot of moms I've known over the years who homeschool go to conferences and that really encourages them and reenergizes them.  That never worked for my family and our schedule.  But, what I did have were conversations.  I found that finding a friend I could talk to about homeschooling, or parenting, or life, was often just what I need. 

But, what do we do when we feel like there isn't anyone we can talk to?  Sometimes it's because there isn't any quiet space in our lives.  Sometimes it's because our family has constant needs.  Sometimes it's because we feel empty and it's hard to get back up or we feel hurt and it's hard to go out on a limb again and ask for help.  And Satan would love that!  But, I don't believe that's what God wants.  When I read the Word, I hear that "He will never leave me nor forsake me."  I really need to remember that.  Sometimes it's really easy to forget it, though. 

And sometimes people let us down so when we do reach out, we get rejected when we're already hurting.  I remember after I had my second child and my family wasn't plugged into a church yet.  We weren't members because we were still searching.  I reached out to a church because I was seriously depressed but when the woman I spoke with realized that we weren't committed members yet, she said she couldn't help me and that I needed to go somewhere else (but she didn't have anywhere to suggest when I asked).  I was so hurt.  I didn't know what to do and I didn't know who to reach out to.  But, I should have remembered... God said He would never leave me nor forsake me.  I learned what it felt like to be rejected while in a pit.  But, I also saw God provide in unexpected ways and simply get me through it step by step by putting.. one foot in front of the other.  I'm still standing.  And I learned to stop and help when someone in a pit reaches out to me.  I don't want to be that person who says, "I can't help you." 

If I were playing a football game right now, someone would say that I have taken a lot of hard hits this season (aka this past year).  It's been really hard to get back up.  To find someone willing to listen and talk.  But, I think part of that is just in my head because I have to fight the wrong things that someone said to me last year that still linger in my head.  When I look at reality, I can see that I've made new friends in each of the places we've lived this year.  Friends that have changed my life and who I'm thankful for.  I think that Satan really tries to tell us that we're alone and that no one, least of all God, cares.  But, that's not the truth.  None of us are truly alone.  And if you're my friend and know me, well, I always tell my friends that it doesn't matter if it's day or night.  Call me or email me (if it's after 10 pm unless it's an emergency :) which in case definitely call!) if you need to talk! 

But, that's just my two cents for whatever it's worth...





Friday, May 25, 2018

How to Use 100 Easy Lessons to Teach Reading

When I was student teaching in first grade over fifteen years ago, I remember being in awe of how a child learns to read.  I felt this enormous amazement at how a child's brain connects symbols to sounds, sounds together to make words, and then words together to make sentences and to make meaning!  In the school where I student taught, there was no set curriculum.  Teachers always wrote their own.  Fast forward to when my oldest daughter was 4.  It was time to start teaching the letters!  And then we'd be on to reading.

I wasn't sure how to teach the letters and their sounds.  I couldn't find a curriculum with my oldest daughter that would teach me how.  So, my oldest daughter, at age 4, and my middle daughter, at age 2, learned their letters and sounds by watching Leapfrog's Letter Factory DVD.  Then, they both went through the Explode the Code books A, B, and C.  These books are wonderful!  They focus on developing a child's visual discrimination (essential building block for good reading), ability to follow directions (on the clues page), beginning phonics skills, and fine motor skills.  It is very important to get the teacher's guide to go with these books because otherwise a child can't complete the clue pages in the books.

By the time my son was ready for his alphabet, I finally found a curriculum that would teach me "how" to teach the alphabet.  It was Hooked on Phonics, Pre-K.  I love the video that comes with the series.  For each letter, there are several kinesthetic activities to do for each letter.  Part 1 focuses on the capital letters and Part 2 on the lowercase letters.  I also used The Letter of the Week, Book 1 by the Mailbox Books Staff.  This was great letter reinforcement and cut and paste practice, which my left-handed child needed.

Once my children learned their letters, it was time to start learning to read.  Initially, I started out with the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise.  This book does give instructions on how to teach the alphabet, but since my oldest daughter already knew that, I started with the reading lessons.  I had chosen this book because Jessie Wise talks so persuasively in her book The Well-Trained Mind.  After reading WTM, it felt as if the OPGTR must be right!  I am not exactly sure what it is about Ms. Wise's writing, but she writes in such a way that makes the reader feel that if you follow the model she sets forth, then you will be guaranteed to have a very well-educated and academically successfuly child.    What I learned as I started using the Ordinary Parent's Guide is that the reason there are so many different curriculum is that there are so many different children--there is no one program that will work for all children.

Autumn and I spent three weeks on the first lesson of OPGR and it wasn't clicking for her.  I had looked at How to Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but had been so puzzled by the strange markings that I had put it back on my shelf.  After 3 weeks, though, I gave up and went back to the drawing board.  I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and my daughter.  No one my husband works with homeschools and I felt that I had to keep up with the Jones' and prove to the world that this homeschooling thing would be the right thing for my family--I needed to prove to myself and others that my daughter would and could learn better at home than in a school setting. 

At this point, I pulled 100 Easy Lessons off the shelf and started working with it.  This is when it clicked and I figured out how to use this book.  Whenever I talk to parents about this book, I encourage parents not to go straight through this book, one lesson per day, from one to 100.  Here's why:

1.  We want our children to love reading and learning.  Forcing reading down their throats will only push them away.

2.  There are several big clicks that need to happen in the book (1 is somewhere around lessons 30-40, and a second is around lesson 60, and a third around 70-80).  These clicks are different for every child, but I did see all three of my children have big clicks.  If a child pushes ahead without those clicks, they won't become fluent readers.  It will take them longer to learn to read.

3.  You don't want your child to learn to read from simply rote memory, but rather to develop phonics skills in the process.  So, I did 5 lessons, then backed up, repeated and went forward 10 lessons, went back 5 lessons, repeated and went forward 5 or 10 lessons.  If my child stumbled at all, I'd back up 5 and repeat.

4.  I started using this book with my kids in PK4.  But, in that first year, I did 1/2 a lesson each time I worked with my kids.  By the end of PK4, one of my kids was at lesson 20, one at lesson 30, and one at lesson 15.  But, by the end of grade 2, they were all done.  It is 100 easy lessons, but my kids all finished at different points--1 was done by the end of kindergarten, 1 in the middle of 1st and 1 at the end of 1st.  When a child is done with 100 Easy lessons, they will have a 2nd grade reading level.

5.  After 100 easy lessons, I continue with Phonics Pathways, reading 1-2 pages per day (repeating when they don't get them to practice).  100 Easy Lessons doesn't do a lot of work with compound and multisyllabic words, which kids need and Phonics Pathways covers. 

6.  I don't do the writing portion at the end of the lessons.  My kids fine motor skills developed later and I didn't want that part of the lessons to frustrate my kids.

7.  100 Easy Lessons is one of the few reading programs that is not based on rhyme and that is why it works for many kids when other programs don't.  But, it also teaches rhyme!  And it is one of the few programs that teaches rhyme.  My oldest daughter is an excellent reader (always several grades above her reading level) but she didn't get rhyme until she was in 2nd grade.  Ironically, she wrote poetry as naturally as most people breathe air in 2nd grade, so not rhyming early did not impede her reading or writing development. 

8.  I use Explode the Code alongside 100 Easy Lessons.  If a child reads easily, 100 Easy Lessons and Explode the Code whole and half number books are enough phonics.  But, if a child struggles, I would add in the phonics lessons from the Explode the Code teachers guides.  Using these books together would provide an inexpensive and strong phonics program.

As for where to buy these books...  CBD is the best place to get the Explode the Code books and
Teacher's books inexpensively.  Each Explode the Code book is about $7 and the teacher's guides cost about the same, but 1 teacher's guides covers 2 whole number books and 2 half number books.  As for 100 Easy Lessons, it hasn't been updated in years so a new or used copy can be purchased on Amazon.  When I checked, a used copy could be purchased for $10.50 and a new one for $18.  If you're going to use it with several children, a new copy is worth it.  As for Phonics Pathways, don't buy anything older than the 9th edition.  It has some great eye tracking exercises in the back that may come in handy!  Dolores Hiskes also wrote Reading Pathways (older editions are titled Pyramid) and this can be a helpful book if kids are skipping words and need more practice tracking. 

It's been several years since my kids finished their phonics lessons.  My youngest has just started book 8 of Explode the Code because I use it in place of spelling through 3rd/4th grade.  Explode the Code really is an amazing series because it works on visual discrimination, reading comprehension, blends, spelling, writing, and pulling words apart and putting them together (a modified Orton Gillingham type approach).  I am so glad I found these books to use.  They gave all of my children a solid base in reading.  So solid that all of my kids have always read well above grade level--

I hope that I've remembered everything in this post.  Please comment if you have any thoughts or questions! 



And the series goes on... and on...

Just a few posts ago, I wrote a review of the book Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren.  And it's already time to write a review of the next book in the series! 

Storm Front is the next installation in the series.  So many Christian fiction series only have three
books in them.  So, when I read the third book in this series I expected it to end--but it didn't!  Now, the series is up to book #5 and it's clear that this isn't the last book in that series.  One more book will be published this coming November.

Storm Front tells the story of another search and rescue team member, Ty, and the woman who has captured his interest, Brette Arnold.  It hasn't been smooth sailing and both have troubled pasts.  Their paths cross after a tornado hits a town where another member of the search and rescue team was performing in a music concert.  This story tells the tale of their search for missing people after the storm has past.  This book moves through the plot and smooth pace.  The characters are likeable and flawed people.  Perfect people really aren't as likeable.  It is harder to identify with them, picture them as real because we are all flawed. 

This book didn't engage me as much as the previous novels in the series did.  But, because I've enjoyed the series I want to know what happens to the other characters.  This is a series that makes a lot more sense if you start with book 1, Wild Montana Skies.  Some series you're able to just read any book in the series and it will make sense.  But, in this case, Storm Front, really makes more sense if you read the other books first. 

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of the ebook of this book for review from Revell Books. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

A little behind...

I'm a little behind in my book reviews.  A lot has been going on in my house.  House projects, homeschooling, sports, and the like.  Amidst all of that, I've read a few books that I need to write a few quick posts about... so here goes!

The first book in my stack is Bountiful Blessings:  A Creative Devotional Experience by Susie Larson.  Several years ago, I read a book by Ms. Larson that I loved--Growing Grateful Kids.  So, I
was very curious about this devotional.

This book is a very short.  For each day, there is a Bible verse, a short blessing/prayer based on that verse(s) and a 5' x 7' coloring page. 

I'm not quite sure what I think of this devotional.  If it's what you're looking for, then it's okay.  But, the question is what are you looking for?  What am I looking for? 

This isn't what I'm looking for.  The coloring pages take time.  I don't have a lot of time.   And I wasn't always comfortable with the blessings.  I'm not a name it and claim it believer. 

So, I'm reading another devotional instead.  It's titled 31 Days Towards Trusting God by Jerry Bridges.  I read part of a day each day.  It has been very encouraging to me and challenged me.  I wanted more meat in a devotional.  I do highly recommend this devotional!  I have read the book Trusting God before and done the Bible study that goes along with the book.  Both deeply encouraged me, so I love reading this devotional. 

At different times in my life, I have found that I have more time for my morning devotions than at others.  Right now, I don't have a lot.  So, this book works well for me! 

Please note that I received a copy of Bountiful Blessings for review from Bethany House, but that these opinions are entirely my own.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

And the Series Goes On...

I enjoy getting into a book series and looking forward to the next one!  There have been several series I've enjoyed over the years, but right now there's a Christian fiction author that I enjoy reading.  It's Susan May Warren.  Her books are the typical Christian fiction and I've wondered why I like them more than others...

I think it is because the first series I read by her looked at a family of five kids and how their relationships changed as they became adults.  God helped me consider what that looked like.  My husband is the oldest of six kids.  Over the course of our marriage they have all become adults.  We read books because they help us to make sense of our own lives--as Leland Ryken says. 

I find that amidst the stress of life I can't handle heavy books filled with drama, but I can read light Christian Fiction. 

In the latest series from Susan May Warren, she writes about a group of rescue workers in Montana.  The last installment came out in January--Troubled Waters. 


The series began with a question mark about the relationship between Sierra and Ian Shaw.  This book finally brings them together.  The rescue squad's helicopter crashes.  So, Sierra decides to fundraise to help replace the helicopter.  Sierra heads out on Ian's yacht with a couple of his friends only to encounter some "troubled waters".  This story falls in line with the three books that precede it.  This book can stand alone, but it makes much more sense in light of the series.  I'd recommend starting with book one of this series (Wild Montana Skies).  This book flows well, with fun characters that easy to imagine.  It keeps going at a steady pace and never holds you up for too long! 

Ian and Sierra have been two of my favorite characters of the books and I looked forward to this book.  It didn't disappoint!  If you enjoy contemporary Christian fiction, I'd recommend this series!

Please note that I received a complimentary ebook copy of this book for review from Revell Books, but these opinions are entirely my own! 


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Correcting One Another...

I have come to the conclusion that people often do not realize how harshly they speak and how long their correction stays with people or how it damages relationships. I think we really need to think long and hard before we speak to someone in an effort "to correct what we think is wrong in someone else". Matthew 7:3-5

Here's an interesting and different take on speaking the truth in love... see article HERE According to Tony Reinke, that verse actually applies to speaking the Gospel truth into someone's life--not correcting minor flaws you might perceive in someone else. It's easy to want to correct someone in how they are treating you, but is that loving? Is it necessary (unless it is abusive or manipulative--in which case it definitely is)?

I have observed that it is easy to want to control how people treat us when we feel out of control in our own lives (or grew up feeling out of control in our childhoods) and tell people how to treat you, but I don't believe that is what real friends do for each other. I don't believe that's what loving others really means.

We don't ever really know all that is going on in another person's life. No one knows the load I truly carry and I don't know anyone else's full load. Why add to that? What if those words are the criticism that is the straw that breaks the camel's back? Instead of criticizing one another, wouldn't it be wiser to grow in grace and forgiveness towards one another? Speaking the Gospel truth is a different matter--it is life giving and strengthening. It is a different matter altogether.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Fun, Light Hearted Reading

Whew.  A few weeks ago amidst the stress of life, I sat down and took a little break from it all.  I had fun reading the latest novel by Jen Turano.

Out of the Ordinary is the second novel (after a novella and novel) of her Apart from the Crowd Series.  It tells the story of Miss Gertrude Cadwalader and Harrison Sinclair.  They have quite the names, of course!  Ms. Turano's main characters are always quite likeable and fun to read about.  Gertrude is a companion to a very eccentric woman who is quite the thief!  Her escapades were touched upon in the first book, Behind the Scenes.  As the reader, Gertrude's character will draw you in and make you smile.  This story meanders around until it finally arrives at a happy finish.  The writing is descriptive and keeps things moving along.  There are the good characters and the bad ones who produce the conflict at the heart of the story.

I have to be honest.  I can always depend and look forward to reading one of Ms. Turano's books when they come out because they are funny and light-hearted (and unbelievable of course as any fairy tale-ish story is).  My husband constantly teases me about reading books like Out of the Ordinary.  He reads much more serious fiction.  But, my heart just needs a break and a happy ending when I pick up a book!

This book delivered just that--a fun break from life.  I could smile and chuckle as I read about Gertrude's adventures with Harrison and her friends.  It was a breath of fresh air!

As I was getting to post this, I discovered on Amazon that the next book in this series is going to be published next July.  I am so glad!  As I was reading this story, I had really wanted to know what happens to Gertrude's friend Temperance...

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishing for review, but these opinions are my own.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Engaging with Social Media

I realized yesterday that it's been about a year since I got back on Facebook.  It was quite the anniversary...

I chose to comment on a thread in a homeschool group I had joined on Facebook.  The person who started the thread asked for insight about how to help her young daughter who didn't want to do her handwriting.  I commented that I had been reading a book about handwriting research and that it was interesting to read about the important connection between the automaticity of handwriting and becoming a fluent writer.

Someone else commented and asked for the title of the book--which I replied with.  Then, the original person who started the thread commented about how she agreed with the importance of reading and writing and that they are foundational.

Well, it went downhill from there...

I replied with this, "I agree that reading and writing are the foundation of everything. ;) "

I included the wink.  The wink just meant to me that I agreed--and I thought that most people would agree--

But, a woman took offense to my simple statement.  She attacked me and my "wink".  I was surprised, but I shouldn't have been.

This is the way of social media.  People make assumptions about other people and think the worst--rather than the best. 

The commenter in this case went on about how I simply didn't understand what it was to have a child with learning disabilities and that reading and writing are not essential--that someone could function in the world without being able to write. 

The ironic thing about all of it is that God has laid it on my heart to pursue understanding learning disabilities better and specifically struggles with reading and writing.  This woman didn't know me, nor did she know this about me. 

I responded to her comment that no tone was meant by the wink and that my statement had no particular tone.   I reminded her that she didn't know me nor know my heart or experience with kids. 

And then I said that her comment is one of the reasons I stayed off social media, and Facebook in particular, for five years. 

I've thought about getting back off.  I start a lot of conversations with friends asking how they manage and approach the pitfalls of social media because it is a part of our lives for better or for worse. 

I've discovered that most people I know have concerns about social media.

What common struggles do we have?

We all see the lives of others and at times think that their lives are easier or better than ours. 
We can compare ourselves and feel that we have failed personally or professionally--that we are less that we should be or can be. 
We get caught up in the gossipy details about people's lives.
We're privvy to complaints that family members have against others that we'd rather not know about. 
We only hear one side of the story and it's easy to get caught up judging the other side--the one we don't know. 

But, what is the antidote to these struggles?  Is there a way to find our way through it?  Is staying off social media the only solution? 

I think there are a few ways I've found and I've heard from friends to deal with these things. 

1.  You don't have to friend everyone.  Be wise. 
2.  You don't have to unfriend people who's posts you don't want to see--you can unfollow them. 
3.  Keep your privacy settings tight.
4.  Set boundaries with yourself about how much you want/don't want to get on social media. 
             For me, I only have facebook access on my computer.  I did put the app on my phone.  So, I
            don't get pinged when someone posts and I'm not distracted by it when I'm not home.  I have
            other friends who only get one once a week or who only use it to connect with family
            members. 
5.  Practice thinking the best of people and not the worst.
6.  Weigh the emotional costs of engaging in banter on a post.  Does the person have ears to hear or would it be a case of throwing pearls before swine that they might turn and trample upon--and then attack you?  If you don't want to comment, you can always PM someone if you have a positive thing to say or simply want to ask a different question.  I've gone this route multiple times.

But, I haven't figured it all out at all.  It still hurts when strangers say unkind things when I choose to share something I think in reply to a question they've asked.  I struggle when I know there are two sides of a story and one person is broadcasting their side and people are jumping on board--criticizing the other side.  It makes me sad when I find myself comparing myself with others. 

It's not easy to figure out what to do.



Friday, September 15, 2017

Ugh... A horrible book.

I just read the kind of book that gives homeschoolers a bad name.  I feel like I have had a unique combination of experiences.  I have taught in several public schools, substitute taught at various schools in several different states, taught at a private school, taught at a homeschool co-op, taught in a GED program at a community college, have tutored K-12 subjects, and have now homeschooled for over ten years.  I know that there are strengths and weaknesses of each system.  But, one of the biggest problems I see is how the systems--public, private, and homeschooling--interact with each other and view each other.  It is this problem that grieves me.  I don't believe that there is one right educational fit for all children, but I wish there was more respect and grace shown between these three systems.  The book I just read does not help to encourage that.

In front of me sits a new book by Dr. Kevin Leman, Education a la Carte:  Choosing the best schooling options for your child.  What this book should really be titled is Education:  Valuing Public, Private, and Charter Schools More.  My time is short and so I'll try and get straight to the point and explain what my issues with this book are.  I know I don't have time to really dig into them.  I realized that this book first of all doesn't have a Christian emphasis, but does have a moral slant.  Secondly, the author perceives that the goal of all parents is that their children will achieve worldly success and by that I mean monetary success.  Lastly, this author was "privileged to sit in on a homeschooling focus group" in which he listened to a group (of what size? where?  who was in it?  what ages were their children?  who was running it?) which made some statements that by no means were representative of the vast variety of homeschoolers who are educating their children today.  So, my last issue is how he portrays homeschooling.

I'll start with my first point.  The books I'm aware of by Dr.  Kevin Leman's books have all been published by Christian publishers over the years, so I assumed that they were grounded in the Word.  But, as I perused this book, I realized that there weren't any Bible verses in it or referenced in it.  So, I spoke with a friend who has read several of his parenting books and asked if they were Biblical.  She explained that they had some solid, good advice but that they would better be classified as "moral" than "Biblical".  But, what that means for the book is that many Christian parents may not find that they agree with the premise of most of his points.  I didn't.

Next point.  The first chapters focus on explaining and identifying what parents want first for their children and then what they should look for in a school--note that he really means in a formal school setting.  The feeling I got as I read those chapters was that we should all want monetary success and acceptance to the best colleges for our kids.  On page 27, Leman writes "Let's be honest, shall we?  Each of us wants our child not only to compete but also to be top dog in an increasingly complicated, global world."  No, that's not want I want most for my kids!!  What I want for my kids is to to love God, to love others well, and to be able to live independently as adults.  Then, two pages later, he writes that "the reality is that you have to go to some sort of college these days in order to make a decent buck."  No!  That's not true either.  I talk to people all the time about their jobs and how they got them.  But, college isn't always a part of the picture.  My husband took a very nontraditional path to his degree and he's a great example that debunks that myth.  He's a smart man who works hard and has a lot of knowledge.  He does have his degree now, but it is his experience and the knowledge he sought outside of a classroom that really helps him do his job!  When I consider my own children, I expect my youngest son to pursue a trade that will allow him to be practical and support himself (and a family) and pursue his interests.

At one point, there's this statement that tells you about Leman's wife's reaction when he brought up homeschooling to her.  This is how he relates the story on page 63, "...I once brought up homeschooling to my wife.  "What?" she said, baring her teeth like a German shepherd patrolling the junkyard against potential adversaries.  That was the end of the subject for us."  When you read a statement like that in the book, you know that the author and his wife do not see homeschooling the way homeschoolers do.  I wish he had left that story out of the book.  The section on homeschooling is very short and gives a very strange and in many ways wrong view of how homeschooling actually works.  He focuses on the drawback he sees of what to do when your child misbehaves and paints the picture that homeschooling parents have to separate the roles of teacher and parent.  My experience is that you can't fully separate the two roles.  You are always parent and teacher, too.  Because as a homeschooling parent, I engage in my kids' lives throughout the day.  Ironically, the homeschooling authorities that he quotes are odd ones--two of them I've never even heard of!  I have been reviewing homeschooling curriculum for over ten years and listening to parents about the different books they read and I've never come across these two...  I could go on and on, but instead hopefully I'll write a book some day that's a better representation of homeschooling.

I think the last thing that surprised me about this book is that the list of resources at the end of the book is just a list of Dr. Kevin Leman's books.  There were no references or explanation of the "homeschooling focus group" he attended, no footnotes explained, or the site that told him Susan Sutherland Isaacs and John Holt are two of the major driving educational philosophical forces behind homeschooling.

I wish Dr. Leman had written a better book.  I would not recommend this book.  It is not a broad research based book.  Instead, it is a book written based on stereotypes and anecdotal evidence from his own life and experience.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book by Revell books and very obviously these are all my own opinions.

The next yearly installment...

For the past how ever many years, I have reviewed Melody Carlson's annual Christmas novella.  This year is no different.  This post is about her new one, The Christmas Blessing.  I've had some favorites over the years.  Christmas at Harringtons, The Christmas Cat, The Christmas Box...  But, this one kept me going until the end and then it didn't make my favorites list.  Let me explain.

The book is just fine.  It's a made for tv Christmas movie.  It's a sweet story about a young mom at
her wit's end choosing what's best for her son over what's best for her, sacrificing her heart.  Amelia Richards had hoped for so much more in her life, but she made a choice and then her love died in the World War II.

Melody Carlson writes fun Christmas novels.  And this one is enjoyable until the end.  There is a scene that is missing.  I feel like she took the easy way out.  It is the hard scenes in a book that I love and learn the most from.  The scene right before the end is the one I most want to read!!  But, it's not there.  The author chose instead to infer in two sentences what happened.

Is the book still worth reading?  It's a fun, pick up to read book when you have a cup of tea one evening.  But, just be warned, there's a scene that I think is missing!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Publishing for review, but these opinions are my own.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The many approaches to homeschooling

In a former life, in what feels like a long, long time ago, I was a middle school teacher in two different public schools.  It seems like a lifetime ago.  I had earned a master's degree in education and fell in line with an educational philosophy similar to many of my colleagues.  I was in a cohort of students that hoped to teach at urban schools--to help kids who were struggling learn.  My educational philosophy was based upon theories of the likes of Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget about how children develop and learn.

But, when I entered the world of homeschooling, the phrase "educational philosophy" took on a different meaning.  The greatest difference I found among homeschoolers was whether parents considered their philosophy to be in line with the likes of Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, classical education, or was standards based.

In a post a few months ago, I mentioned that I started out when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten subscribing to the educational philosophy outlined in Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well Trained Mind.  This book sets forth how one can follow the classical model for education.   The Classical model is based on teaching children according to three stages of development: grammar, logic, and then rhetoric.  Trivium Pursuit gives a detailed explanation of what a Classical education is Here.   I think parents who see problems in the public schools and the tide turning away from phonics towards common core and whole language reading like the appeal of academics and a wholly new way of attacking the same problems.  It strongly appeals to people who feel they were missing things in their own education as children, love the classics, see a huge value in learning Latin and Greek, and appreciate the promises it gives of a well rounded education for students if parents follow through.  There are other books which outline this approach as well, including Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn.  Teaching the Trivium differs from The Well-Trained Mind in that the latter book is written from a secular perspective and the former is written from a Christian perspective.

After following the model of WTM for two years, I realized that it was not working for my daughter or me.  We were both at our wit's end.  Something needed to change.  We moved away from the philosophy of WTM and back towards a standards based philosophy of education using public school textbooks as the foundation of our curriculum.

But, the classical model works for many families.  I have watched this over years and listened to many parents who love what their children are learning.  So, how do you figure out how to follow this model?  There are a lot of great resources out there.

Many families I know have joined Classical Conversations groups.  The founder of this network of groups is Leigh Borten.  I do want to note that her ideas are very intellectually similar to the ideas of Lev Vygotsky.  Another way to follow the classical method is by using the WTM as a guide or Teaching the Trivium.  Leigh Borten's book and Douglas Wilson's book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning both argue why classical education is the best way to argue education.  Wilson, in his typical style, is of course very inflammatory.  Borten is more moderate and balanced, though.  Even though she plagiarizes other educational theorists' ideas, her book is easy to read and understand.  Her book, The Core, is easy to understand and clear (although she plagiarizes other educational theorists).  If I were to recommend one book to explain the classical method, this would probably be it.  Although, I recently spoke to a friend who wouldn't recommend this book.  After being a part of a classical conversations group for several years and being a tutor, she felt that it isn't a program that works for all students, although it presents itself as one that does.  She also explained that Borten's ideas are based upon Douglas Wilson's ideas, which gave me concern.

Teaching the Trivium takes a very specific approach to classical education and it's the right book for the right person--just as the other books are the right books for the right people.  As homeschoolers, we all find books that will encourage us.  But, no book will have all of the answers.  They can give us ideas, but since all of our families are different, we have to take the ideas that have worked for other families and consider how they will work for us.  Teaching the Trivium is written from a strong Christian perspective and the belief that all families should homeschool.  I did correspond with the author about her book and she expressed that if they could publish a second edition that there are changes they would make to the book.  I would keep that in mind and just like you would read any book--read it looking for ideas about what might work for you.  Sometimes even an opposite idea can help you figure out what you believe about homeschooling.

The Well-Trained Mind, like Classical Conversations relies heavily on curriculum from the authors as the foundation of their programs.  It has a very specific tone...  It is a very helpful book, but I think it is important to keep in mind that you are not "right" if you follow the author's advice, and "wrong" if you don't.  Rather, it is one approach to education and if you find that you align with the ideas set forth in the book, then it will give you a framework of how one can implement classical education in your home.

Many homeschooling parents love the classical model and there are many other classical publishers out there including Veritas Press and Memoria Press.  But, I think if I could wish one thing for homeschoolers in regard to classical education, it would be that we would all show one another respect--whether we do or don't agree with this model.  I truly believe that there is no one "right way" to homeschool in regards to educational philosophy.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Teaching the Trivium for review from the publisher.  But, the thoughts in this post are all my own.  I borrowed a copy of the Core, checked out a copy of Douglas Wilson's book from the library years ago, and owned a copy of The Well-Trained Mind when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten years ago.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cops and Robbers

A while back, I started reading Lynette Eason's Elite Guardians series.  It was fun.  I enjoyed the characters.  So, I looked forward to reading the new book in the series, Chasing Secrets.  Chasing Secrets could be a stand alone novel, but it really makes more sense when read in the sequence of the series.  I had missed one of the books, so I went back and read Moving Target before I read Chasing Secrets.  There were a few details about the characters in Chasing Secrets that you wouldn't know if you didn't read Moving Target.

Chasing Secrets tells the story of Haley Callaghan.  Haley is one of the Elite Guardians, a group of bodyguards in Columbia, South Carolina, that works with the police department to protect people.  At the beginning of the story, a young man Zeke attempts to rob Haley.  How that scene plays out will make you like Haley from the very beginning.  Another character is introduced at the beginning of the story that you will come to like, Steve.  He's come home to South Carolina after several years away.  He, like many book characters, is running away from the past, but finds that he has to stop and face the past.

Isn't that life?  We each have our own history and if we don't take it to the Lord and sort through it, it will confront us (or rather God will confront us with it).  Of course, it's always more dramatic in Christian fiction, but that truth remains the same.  We are all products of our past.

Ms. Eason writes a compelling story in Chasing Secrets.  It moves along at a good clip.  There are neither too few nor too many characters for most of the story.  Although at one point, there were quite a few moving people to keep track of.  It's a good solid Christian crime-suspense novel.

If you have read any of her other novels, I'm sure you'll enjoy this one!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell books for review, but these opinions are my own.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Embarrassed

Sometimes I feel embarrassed that I read Christian fiction as a way to relax and take a mental break from life.  My husband teases me about the books and I am embarrassed when friends or family ask me what I've been reading.

To me, life is quite heavy.  It's busy and I have a lot to do.  My life only allows me to breathe for a few minutes here and there.  And Christian fiction books let me do that--breathe and be entertained.  Yes, they are entertaining to me.  Some are better than others, though.  Some Christian writers are more skilled in their character development, and description.  Some stories are more feasible and believable (even in a fairy-tale sense) than others.

Having said all that, there are still books that I've read, but have not really enjoyed.  The book I read this past week is falls into this category.  I didn't like or enjoy it and found myself skipping past 3/4 of the book to the end to see how it ended.  I've read other books by this author and they fell in the middle of the pack of "Christian historical fiction" that I've read.  They neither stood out, nor fell to the bottom.  But, this one was irksome to me.

The book was A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White.
I have been pondering why I disliked this book and I think it had to do with the glorification and justification of theft.  The plot was also more ridiculous in nature than the usual Christian fiction.  The main character of the story, Rosemary Gresham, is a thief who is recruited for the task of discovering whether a gentleman's loyalty lay with Britain or Germany.  She is an orphan who was adopted into a family of thieves and orphans.  The story follows her as she wrestles with her heart over her task yet seeks to follow it to completion.  When she changed, I didn't entirely know whether to believe the changes or not and that didn't sit with me.

I want to clarify that it's not that this particular story or book is bad in my opinion.  It's just that I didn't enjoy it and I think the story line rubbed me the wrong way.  I much preferred Ms. White's Ladies of the Manor series.

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Novellas and Christian Historical Fiction

After the last novel I read by Jen Turano, I discovered that she'd written a novella as the start of her new series.  I read the first novel first.  When I discovered the novella, I enjoyed reading it, but wished that I had read it first.  I've noticed that several authors have started to do this.  So, when a new novel arrived in the mail recently for me to read, I first went online to see if the author had written a novella to kick off the series.  And... she had!

The series is the Orphan Train by Jody Hedlund.  The novella that begins the series is An Awakened Heart.  It can be found on Amazon to download for free to read on your kindle or kindle app on your tablet.  The novella tells the story of Miss Pendleton and the Reverend Bedell.  Miss Pendleton is only thirty years old, yet already considered a spinster in the times she lived in--New York City during the 1850s.  That novella tells her story of finding purpose and not giving up.  It is a sweet story and it also sets the stage for the first book of the series, With You Always.  



This book begins where the novella leaves off--which is why I'd definitely encourage you to read the novella first.  Some novels are stand alone, but in this case, I think the novella is needed.  At the beginning of the novel, we find Elise Neumann and her sisters staying at the Seventh Street Mission.  How she ends up there is explained in the novella.  With You Always follows Elise as she travels to Quincy, Illinois, seeking to support her sisters and adopted siblings.  Before she heads off to Quincy, she meets Thornton Quincy.  The story follows them and the adventures that lie in Quincy, Illinois.

The story flows and keeps going at a good pace.  The characters are enjoyable and engaging.  This book is simply light-hearted reading.  Jody Hedlund's books are similar to Tracie Peterson's or Kim Vogel-Sawyer's books.  This book and the novella are a fun, afternoon read.  If you enjoy lighthearted Christian historical romance, then this book will be right up your alley!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House but these opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Different Children = Different Learners

When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, I remember a mom telling me that she had to use different curriculum with each of her children.  I also clearly remember my reaction!  Inside I recoiled at the thought of having to buy new curriculum for each of my children--I had no idea how I would afford to do that!  It was also hard for me to imagine that my children wouldn't be able to use the same curriculum.  I had been a classroom teacher and I used the same curriculum for all of the students in my class.

But, in time, I found the other mom's statement to be partially true, but only partially.  Many homeschooling materials appeal to one style of learner more than another or they aren't easily leveled to different abilities levels within the same grade level.  So, often when kids learn differently, parents have to buy different curriculum for each one.  This is one reason why I've gravitated to public school textbooks over the years.  Public school books tend to integrate multiple learning styles and lend themselves to differentiated learning.  For grades 1-6, I used Harcourt Trophies for Language Arts.  At the end of each lesson, there were 4 activities I could assign.  The directions were general, so I could decide the length of the assignments and which ones were right for my kids.

The term differentiated learning, aka differentiation, is a funny one to me.  It is what homeschool parents do all the time without calling it that.  But, it's the phrase classroom teachers use to describe what they do and what we do to help our students.  In homeschooling, we all modify our curriculum and choose curriculum that's appropriate for our kids--for their reading level, for their learning styles, and basically for how they learn best.  When we become students of our students, we differentiate their learning.

How can one avoid having to buy multiple curriculum for the same grade level if your children learn very differently and are not all at the same ability level in a given grade level?  You can do two things--you can either differentiate learning using the same books or you can buy curriculum that has multiple levels already included in it.  One good example of this is Evan-Moor's Nonfiction Reading Practice books.

It's easy to build a language arts curriculum around fiction, but learning how to read and understand grade level nonfiction passages is really important, too.  This series by Evan-Moor includes 17 topics.  There are three leveled passages for each topic with coordinating questions and a writing topic.  The topics are on social studies, science, math, technology, and the arts.  The topics are interesting.  The books are reproducible, so you only need to copy the pages needed for each child.  The writing paper has wide, clear lines.

I'm going to be using the grade 6 book from this series this upcoming school year with my middle daughter.  I plan on using one passage from this book each Monday.  On Monday, I'll have her read the passage silently, then we'll read it together and then highlight or underline the most important sentences (3-4 at most).  I will then ask her to list the sentences.  On Tuesday, we'll work on paraphrasing those sentences and writing a summary.  On Wednesday, I will assign the questions--which include short 1 sentence responses and multiple choice.  Thursday, she'll begin her writing assignment by completing a graphic organizer and then spend time on Thursday and Friday writing a response.

I'm looking forward to using this book.  It will make my life as a teacher easier.  I love writing curriculum and modifying it, but I actually have less planning time as a homeschooler than I did when I was teaching in a formal classroom setting.  I need to be able to grab a book and go!  I hit the ground running, so to speak every hour of every day.  I have three children at three completely different grade levels, so it's a lot to juggle!  Books like this series by Evan-Moor make life simpler for me and I'm very grateful!

Please note that I did receive a copy of the grade 6 Nonfiction Reading Practice book from Evan-moor for review, but these opinions are entirely my own.



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dads and Father's Day

Getting back on Facebook this year after being off of it for five years has been an interesting experience for me.  Some things have changed and some have stayed the same...  One thing that is the same is the cornucopia of comments on any given holiday.  Today there are many, many loving and positive comments posted by people about their fathers.

I posted about the dessert I made about my husband.  I rejoiced that I successfully made the custard for creme brulee and that my husband used the kitchen torch I bought a few months ago to carmelize sugar on top to make the key crusty topping that it needs!

I didn't say anything about my husband, though I am very grateful (as are my kids) for who he is and the piece of the puzzle he is in our family.  He is one of kind--always saying something off the wall to make us laugh or think.  He balances me as a parent and as my husband.  He tells me that I balance him, too.

Many of the comments were made by people about their spouses, but just as many are made about their fathers.

But, I didn't.  I thought about my dad this morning during church and remembered the time when my kids asked me to tell them some good things about my dad.  What did he give me?  He gave me the belief that I could do anything I set my mind to.  I inherited my strong will and stubborn determination from him.  But, I also inherited the personality trait of being an entrepreneur.  I am always thinking of new ways to tackle problems or new things.  I am a salesperson at heart like my dad.

Not all relationships are the ones that we paint on Facebook.  That is the tough part about Facebook.  I read several comments today that were very complementary of parents who have provoked their children in the past as Ephesians 6 exhorts fathers not to do.  Facebook is not all real.  There's always another side.  Sometimes it's a good side, but sometimes it's a bad side.  Facebook simply doesn't tell the whole story, which is what makes it such an effective trap!  A comparison trap.

It is easy to get mired down in the dysfunction of certain relationships, yet I believe there is good that can come from also remembering the good as my children's query did for me.  I wanted to share this in case someone else might feel the way I do when I see all of the posts on Facebook.  In general, I stay away from Facebook on holidays and near holidays because I have learned it isn't good for my heart and my thoughts.  I have learned that this is wise for me to do.  Seeing or hearing things that cause us to fall into competitive thought patterns or make us feel bad about our own lives or struggle with the lives God has given us isn't helpful.  I come back to this scripture...

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:8, ESV


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Christians and Homosexuality

Over the past few years, I've read several books about homosexuality and Christianity as I have sought to sort out how I feel about this issue that has become a difficult point of contention for many Christians.  There are Christians who say that it is not sinful to be homosexual and live an active homosexual lifestyle.  There are other Christians who disagree with these claims and say that it is unbiblical.

I have watched as our society has been grappling with this issue.  Periodically I have reviewed different books about homosexuality written by Christians.  These books include Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill, Rosario Butterfield's books The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered, and I read a book last year in which the author, a father of a lesbian daughter, justified that homosexuality is not a sin, nor is it a sin to be in a homosexual relationship because God wants us to be happy.

Reviewing Washed and Waiting was a learning experience for me.  I spent time contemplating and writing my review so that it would be clear, but not condemning.  I received several scathing comments on my review from people who disagreed with the book's premise and ideas.  For a few days, my mind churned and my stomach clenched when I read and responded to the comments written.  They were harsh and upsetting.  I tried to respond with grace.   It was one of my first experiences with how mean people could be with their comments on reviews.  But, those comments compelled me to sort through and understand why people would make such comments and understand my own beliefs.

I came to several conclusions.  One is that many people in our culture have embraced the belief that God wants us to be happy and that that belief supercedes what the Word of God says.  That belief is the justification many people use for discarding several translations of the Bible and whole parts of the Bible.  That belief is what drives people to say that the Bible was mistranslated.  People throughout history have been twisting God's Word to say what they want it to.

A second belief is that parents can have a hard time acknowledging the sin of their children.  It is a hard thing to acknowledge sin in our own hearts, but our children are even more precious to us.  The book written by the father who's daughter is a lesbian was written to explain that homosexuality is biblically okay.

Yesterday, I was reading Jerry Bridge's book He Took Me By The Hand, in which he explains that it is not the Holy Spirit that is fallible, but that our interpretation of the Word can be fallible and that we can not see clearly because of things we are holding on to.  So, we must test what we believe by the what the Scripture says.

Recently, another book on this subject came across my desk.  Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted by Ron Citlau is written by a pastor who has struggled with same sex attractedness during his own life.
 This book is a teaching book--more sermon than memoir, but filled with personal acknowledgements.  It is different than other books I've read because it is more cut and dried, straight to the point.  I appreciate the topics Mr. Citlau tackles such as marriage and whether it can be a help or a hinderance to someone who struggles with homosexuality.  He cites Scripture throughout his book.  He begins with tackling the primary issue at hand--one of identity.  I think it is wise that he begins there because claiming that something is "my identity", or is "just the way I am" along with a belief that God wants me to be happy is the justification many people use for all sorts of bad decisions--from having affairs, to leaving their spouses, to using marijuana...  I think this book starts in a good place and tackles some difficult topics that others don't.

If you're looking for a book on this topic that explains why homosexuality is a sin and how to love people who struggle with it, or if you are a Christian who struggles with homosexuality, this book may give you some food for thought.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House publishers for review, but these opinions are my own.

Riveting Christian Suspense

Last week, I read Dee Henderson's new suspense novel, Threads of Suspicion.  It is the second book in her series about Evie Blackwell.  Before I read this novel, I went back and read the first book in the series, Traces of Guilt.  I really enjoyed Traces of Guilt.    I started with the first one because I was curious about how the main character of this series, Evie Blackwell, would be introduced and described.  Traces of Guilt introduces the idea of a group of detectives in Illinois tasked with solving cold cases.  Evie Blackwell is a test case in the first novel.

This second novel does not depend at all on the first one, so you can jump into this series in the
middle.  Evie and several other detectives are announced at the beginning as a new task force by the governor and they decide on the cases they are going to tackle.  Evie picks a case involving a missing college student and her partner picks a missing private investigator.  This novel follows their journeys as they try to solve their cases.

Evie's character is complicated, but human.  The cases the story centers around are complicated and cloudy.  The plot moves at a steady pace and doesn't get bogged down too much along the way.

The thing about suspense novels is that they are often intense and this one does not disappoint!  Dee Henderson is an excellent suspense writer and this novel is full of twists and turns.  I think I liked the first novel more, but this one didn't let me down.  These two novels are much more intense than her popular O'Malley series.  In Threads of Guilt, two of the O'Malleys show up within the story indirectly connected and if you've read that series, it is fun to realize those connections!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for review, but these opinions are my own.




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just light, fun reading...

Over the years, I've read Jen Turano's books as they've come out.  The first of a new two book series Apart from the Crowd is what I read last week.  Behind the Scenes centers around Miss Permilia Griswold (could she have a worse name?).

The story begins with a ball in New York City's high society--one of the events of society's season.  Miss Griswold is likable--a Cinderella of sorts surrounded by her ugly stepmother and unkind stepsister. One big difference in this Cinderella tale is that Miss Griswold's father is only absent, thankfully, and not dead.

At the ball, she overhears threats made about a man's life and she attempts to warn him.  This book did make me laugh out loud as Ms. Griswold attempted to save Mr. Rutherford when she overhears a threat on his life, but which he doesn't give any credence.

This story is a bit like high school--you have the in crowd and the outsiders.  And as the story goes on, you realize the significance of the two.  It's hard for me to imagine what it was like to live in the late 1800s.  This story is such a fairy tale, but it's a fun one.  Cinderella has always been one of my favorites.  And this story does not disappoint.

I would however recommend reading Ms. Turano's novella At Your Request first.  It sets the stage for Behind the Scenes and there's a scene in the book that makes much more sense.  At Your Request can be downloaded for free to your Kindle on Amazon.  And besides, it's just fun to read as well!  I discovered the novella after reading the first novel and wish I had discovered it first!

The writing flows in Behind the Scenes and I didn't get bogged down reading it at any point.  Permilia made me laugh and smile.  It's just simply a light-hearted, fun read!  If you have enjoyed any of Ms. Turano's books in the past, I'm sure you will enjoy this one as well!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishing for review, but these thoughts are entirely my own.  I enjoyed this book and its moments of escape!