Saturday, December 29, 2012


I had a funny encounter two weeks ago in Goodwill.  I was looking with my little boy for Christmas presents for our family.  There was a woman who was an army staff sargeant also looking in the same area.  I struck up a conversation with her about the pan she was looking at.  Somehow we ended up talking about garage sales.  I mentioned that there are websites that will tell you where the garage sales are (and do the searching for you).  I never remember things like that off the top of my head, so I gave her a card with my blog address on it and said that I'd posted about the sites.  Her response was funny.  She said she was so glad to meet me and know that I was a blogger.  She explained that she had a very different impression of bloggers and then she asked me for a second card.  I chuckled.  Here I was with Eli in my tennis shoes, jeans, and a long sleeve shirt--carrying my "outdoorsy" style purse that doesn't like to stay shut.  That's me.  My hair may even have been wet as it often is because I never have time to dry it!  As I write that, I realize that my description may give a strange picture of me.  Please don't think I'm a slob--I just do things as quickly as I can and wear comfortable clothes that I can do things in.  

Her reaction was interesting to me in light of a blog post I scanned last week.  During my perusal, I was struck (as I often am) by how idyllic the post made life sound.  It's a natural thing to highlight the best parts of life.  But, life isn't all easy.  The reality of life is day to day frustrations and struggles--with joys all mixed in together!  Or at least that's how my life is.  Today we had a fun visit with a friend and her kids.  But, this afternoon was a scattered mess!  I was trying to do December's budget and figure out how it went.  My kids kept interrupting with arguing or different needs.  I also interrupted my task to do a piano lesson with my oldest daughter.  Then, my mom also interrupted asking about the plastic container on the counter---so I went and dried it off and put it under Autumn's bed.  Then, I remembered a phone call that I meant to make last week and didn't want to forget again, so that took another 10 minutes.  Now, my son is asleep on the couch (yes, it's 6:30 p.m.) because he's exhausted and cranky.  I'm going to let him sleep about 15 more minutes.  One daughter is working on her cross stitch and the other is somewhere around here.  Dinner is beckoning me and I'm typing these words out because I have this impulse to write.

I guess my point of writing all that is that no one has it all together.  I think it's easy to read someone's book or a blog and think to myself, "Why can't my life be like that?"  or "Why can't I do that?"  or "I'm just not good enough."  some other such question or statement.  It's so easy to get caught in this trap--or at least it is for me.

This is what I find reality is.  We each have our own load to carry--our own responsibilities, joys, and challenges.  In the world we live in, we are faced with innumerable images of "the perfect life".  But, that's not life.  The trap I find is the temptation to think that my life is supposed to be "perfect".  This leads to one of two situations:  1) being disappointed in my life or 2) feeling horrible about myself.

This trap hits homeschooling moms in ways that are different than when children are attending public or private school.  In a school setting, children receive grades/report cards and have parent/teacher conferences.  There's a measuring stick (standardized tests and class average) that helps us to know whether a child is keeping up with his or her peers.  At home, there's no such stick.  All we have is our experience and that of our friends.  And on top of that, we are aware of how different the academic needs are of each of our children--in ways that classroom teachers cannot be due to time and situational constraints.  One of my friends has been reviewed by the county for her year end report the past two years.  On multiple occasions, the reviewer has informed her of modifications she needed to make so that--- her homeschool classroom would be like that of a public school classroom.  I laughed outloud when my friend told me what the reviewer asked her to do.  The reality of homeschooling is that it is not like a formal classroom.   Our year is flexible--we take days off when our family needs us to whether because of sickness, the birth of a child, moving, vacations...  I do believe that we need to make sure our children are learning and growing.  We need to be consistent as much as possible about schooling--because I believe it's good for them and us.  But, we also need to have a huge dose of flexibility mixed into that and adjust our expectations accordingly.

Life and homeschooling is not a formula.  If you put in x, you won't get y.  It's more like you start with x and then add y and then take away w and then multiply by z and then divide by a and then you find out what you get at the end.  

Still, there is a goal in mind.  In life, my goal is to glorify God and raise my children in His ways that they might also know and love Him.  In schooling, my goal is for my children to progress each year and grow--to gain the academic and practical skills they will need to someday get a job and contribute to the world we live in.  I do probably have other goals as well, but those are the two that come to my mind first.  I believe that it is important to have a goal in mind in all that we do.  Where are we going?  Where are we headed?  It is too easy to fall prey and simply begin drifting around.  I always find that the middle of the school year is a good time for me to sit down and reset my goals with my kids.  What has worked?  What hasn't?  Where are we going?  

For us, that means that I am going to become my girls' piano teacher for the rest of the school year.  It means that I have not been diligent about my morning devotions with them.  It means that I need to get off this computer and go parent!  It means a lot of things.  

I need to fight the emotional traps that creep into my head and steal my thinking time.  I need to get my eyes back on where we're going...  And this is what I intend to do starting right now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Laughed till I cried

It is a rare book that can make me laugh when it comes to Christian fiction.  Really that's because I haven't many Christian authors who incorporate humor well into their writing.  This morning I finished reading A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano.  On the back of the novel, it identifies this book as her first published novel.  

I enjoyed it.  It's a Christian historical romance fiction book.  The story centers on Eliza Sumner who has traveled to America in the late 1800s to reclaim her lost fortune. There is one scene from the book that made it a good book for me.  It was the humorous scene on pages 102-103.  I was left with a good feeling about the whole book because of that scene.  I even read the scene out loud to my husband (which I never do!) and he laughed.  I laughed so hard because I cried.  The scene came out of the blue but perfectly fit in the tale.   

I enjoyed the characters.  They were likeable and strong.  The women were strong, but not too strong.  The men were gracious and strong as well.  And the kids--well they were spitfires who you fell in love with as you read about them.  

This fiction book was more fun for me to read than most.  And the humorous scene really did leave a smile on my face for quite some time.  I'd love to read the sequel I can see this author writing and the zippy dialogues between Agatha and Zayne that one could predict would be in that one.  

This book made me wish more authors included genuinely funny scenes in their fiction!

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

Great Picture Book on Sculpture

I do not often look at books and just "love!" them. I have to admit that I am picky. This year we've been using a video art curriculum that they've learned quite a lot from. I'm still always looking for great art resources. This book is definitely one to add to my collection! The story isn't particularly exceptional, but I enjoy how the information is introduced to children on how to think about and ponder sculpture. It is introduced simply and at their level. My oldest daughter (9 yo) has already read the book and liked it a lot. I know she will absorb the information about the different types of sculptures and how to appreciate it from this book. Basically, a trio of mice travel to the art museum for a sculpture exhibit. They see various types of sculptures and then focus on one particular sculpture. They look at it from all angles and then sketch it. Then, they think about how it makes them feel and what it makes them think of. I loved this discussion! Then, they sketch the sculpture and the steps are given simply enough that a child (or a class) could imitate this practice with any sculpture. Then, the museum is about to open and the mice must head home. That is the weakest part of the story, but I overlooked it because I like the rest of the book so well. After the story, the author gives some great information about sculpture and an activity to do.

If you're looking for a resource to teach children in grades K-3 about sculpture, this is a neat one!

Friday, December 7, 2012

An inconvenience

Have you ever considered how often we, as a culture, communicate to parents that children are an inconvenience?  It hurts my heart so much when I hear the things people say and do.  As a culture, we have become so self-focused that children are often seen as an interruption.  It was an old adage "children should be seen and not heard". I feel as if that adage is unknowingly reinforced by how people treat parents and their children.

I was explaining to my mom why we don't invite any guests over for Christmas Day.  When we have guests over, we try to make sure they are comfortable and receive our attention.  We do have guests over on Christmas Eve.  It's a tradition with the family that comes over--one that we look forward to every year.  But, on Christmas Day, we want to focus on our family--our children, our parents, and siblings, and celebrate with them.  On Thanksgiving this year, we had family over and a couple who has spent several holidays with us.  In my eyes, they are like family.  I don't focus special attention on them and neither does my husband.  We're all glad to have them with us.  My mom felt that we had neglected them that day.  I wasn't able to explain to her then how we hadn't neglected them.  After I explained how we felt about Christmas Day, I explained that we felt the same way about Thanksgiving and that was in part why we didn't single our guests out on Thanksgiving.  We treated them and included them like family.

I have begun to notice this in myself--that at times I pay more attention to the people around me than to my children.  I can take my children for granted.  But, I don't want to be this way.  I want to fight this.

A few weeks ago, my husband read an excerpt from a book to me on Amazon.  It was mockery of Good night moon.  It said something like "Good night, my child, go to sleep, everybody does it, now quit the racket and GO TO SLEEP!"  There were also some cuss words added in there.  I was alarmed.  My husband and I had quite the discussion about it.  He thought people wouldn't read it to their kids--that they would just laugh at the irony of how we feel as parents when we're so tired at night and just want our kids to go to sleep-now!  I didn't have that same perspective.  I thought people wouldn't see anything wrong with reacting that way.  They would feel justified and might even read the book to a child.  At night, I'll be honest, I am tired.  I do really want my kids to go to sleep.  I fight myself inside from snapping at them when I'm totally exhausted and just need to get into bed.  But, I realize that is my own sin and selfishness.  It is something wrong with me.  It isn't all right.  

When we make sarcastic jokes about a child being a disturbance at Bible study--the mom knows there's always a seed of truth that prompted someone to say it.  That person may not be speaking for the group at all, but a seed of discomfort and being a burden to others is planted.

When we say that children can come to an event if they have to (and you have no other care for them), we are saying the children are not fully welcome.  They'll be endured, but it will be a burden.

When we say to a family that in order to come to Bible study, they have to find child care for their children at their own home, then we are often shutting the door to families who can't afford to do that on a weekly basis.  

When we let a child cry for an hour in the church nursery instead of trying to comfort the child, we communicate to the child and witnesses that the child is not a gift, but a burden to be endured.


Well, I could go on.  I've had all of these things happen to me or have watched them happen.  And my heart breaks.  Our children are a precious gift.  We have the honor of caring for them and raising them.  The church has the opportunity to give children unconditional love and support--to help them feel safe.  I have seen this happen too.  And I've known it.  I can picture the church I grew up at in my head.  I can walk all over the church grounds and it makes me smile.  I was known by the adults and welcomed.  I desire that for my children.  

Well, I better get back to my kiddos, lunch, errands, and a concert tonight with my family.  I need to remember that they are a gift, not a burden.  Their interruptions and conversations are a gift and not a burden, too.   

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Vision and Reading

Last summer, I read a textbook about Reading Assessment.  It was extremely dry and treated children like robots rather than children.  It made me consider the state of education and testing in schools today.  In putting so much emphasis on the results of testing, we are turning our children into statistics--instead of what they are--human beings.  It was very interesting because one point the author made is that the break for a child can be at multiple points in the reading process.  It was amazing to realize how the reading process can be broken down.  

The simple view was where theorists started in the 1980s by stating that reading comprehension (R) down into the product of decoding (D) and linguistic comprehension (C).  Now, there are more complex models. Hollis S. Scarborough's rope model used breaks down the process into language comprehension and word recognition.

Language comprehension includes:
Background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, literacy knowledge

Word recognition includes:
Phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition.

Reading is a very complex process.  Understanding these models helped me understand where the breaks in processing can occur.

One interesting thing that I began to realize when my girls were learning to read was that I could pay more attention to what was clicking and what wasn't because I was working one on one with my girls.  When I was teaching in the classroom, I worked with groups of 5-6 students at a time.  We used the whole language method of teaching reading.  But, I have learned so much more about how children read since I left the classroom than while I was in it.  And one thing that I've become very convinced of is that when it comes to reading, children are not a statistic nor are they a variable in a plug and chug formula.  Each child is an individual.

But, where does that leave us if our child is struggling to learn to read or struggling to recognize the alphabetic symbols--the letters?  I think we usually jump to the process--we conclude that there must be an issue with a child's ability to learn or the program we're using.

But, I think the place to start is with a child's vision.  In this post, I'm going to focus on vision and the brain.  I'll talk about reading programs in another post.  In school, children have their vision checked every year.  As homeschoolers, we often don't realize that this is a good thing to do as well.  So, start with vision.  Can your child see correctly?  A child's vision continues to develop until they are 8 years old.  This is one reason that it is not preferable to teach very young children to read.  They can have a more difficult time with letter reversals simply because their vision hasn't developed.

I've been told by a vision therapist and eye doctors that letter reversals aren't a serious concern until a child is 8 years old and they aren't going away.  Many children do have letter reversals that eventually go away by age 8.  After age 8 is when medical professionals become concerned.  If you are wondering how parents know that children need glasses at an early age, several of the signs are frequent headaches, squinting, not seeing things far away, inability to focus on surroundings, frequent blinking...

If a child's vision is on track, but there are other vision issues, then vision therapy might be an option.  My brother went through vision therapy when he was in kindergarten.  Vision therapy is used to help train or retrain one's eyes.  The statistical evidence is mixed.  But, I know that my brother benefited.  Both my father and brother have mixed dominance (as does my son).  My parents saw a drastic improvement in his ability to read and learn.  If there's a question of whether it could help, I think it's worth investigating.  Locally here in Maryland, I was referred to Dr. Diane (  If you have any questions about vision therapy, just contact her via the website.  I contacted her two years ago when Eli was 2 and she called me on the phone right away.  I was impressed by her encouragement to not worry and wait to see if there would be issues with Eli when he began to read.

When I talk to parents about reading, I first ask whether their child's vision has been checked.  The second question I ask is whether the child is left handed.  This sounds like an odd question, but almost unanimously when I ask if a child is left handed, there has been a delay.  It has taken that child longer than their other children to learn to read.  My theory is that our brains process things differently.  Here's a site with a bit of interesting info:   I did also just order a book on left-handed children and I'll post soon about what I learn.

After considering vision, there can also be a break in a child's visual processing.  One of the therapies parents can do at home that has been developed to help children is Brain Integration Therapy (BIT).  Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP, has written a book called the Brain Integration Therapy Manual.  It is very interesting.  Ms. Craft identifies four gates that information can get blocked at as it is trying to be processed by the brain.  They are the visual processing, visual/motor, auditory processing, and attention/focusing/behavior gates.  She identifies characteristics of learners who have each gate blocked.  I found this section very interesting, as well as her discussion of right and left brain learners.  From my own observations and discussions with friends, I definitely believe that there is something to this theory.

One of the veteran homeschoolers in my area conducted a semester class for middle/high schoolers with this program.  Over the course of the semester, students and parents saw a huge improvement in the students' handwriting.  She highly recommends this program for learners struggling with penmanship, reading, and writing.  This program can help students with processing problems.

I had intended to use this program with my girls, but it is time intensive.  My girls don't have major issues with their writing, reading, and processing.  My son is left handed, but he is not reading yet, so I can't use it yet.  But, because of friends' experiences and what I've observed with children, I wanted to post this review now in case this program might help someone.  

This program is for readers who recognize the letters and can form them.  So, I wouldn't consider it until your child is at least 5 years old.  If your child only shows mild reversals (which are normal), I would wait until your child is 8 years old.  If he or she is still experiencing difficulties then, then I would definitely recommend trying this program if you think he or she might benefit from it.  On her website under the About tab, there is a place where you can contact her.  If you have questions after looking at her website, please email her and ask if she thinks brain integration therapy would benefit your child.  That's what I'd do.  

If you go to Sylvan or Huntington, they are going to recommend a wrote sight word/phonics program at a very high cost.  Before you go that route, try this one.  Even though the manual is almost $60, it is much cheaper than the private tutoring alternative.  

This is a program that you have to be committed to.  It takes several months to see an improvement.  But, so would tutoring (which also requires gas, transportation and reinforcing the teaching at home).  And I think if the difficulties that your child has with reading fall into the processing gates Ms. Craft identifies, then BIT is worth seriously considering.  

Parents have long been puzzled about how to help their children with dysgraphia and dyslexia.  I have a penmanship program titled Write from the Start, which is now out of print.  That program has similar exercises for fine motor to BIT, which is aimed at both gross motor and fine motor skills.  When someone has a brain injury, they have to relearn how to do something.  It makes sense that when a child has a break in how they process information, their brain has to be retrained in how to process that information correctly.  Occupational therapy is based upon this premise.  

I have a friend who's son had dysgraphia, a writing disorder associated with impaired handwriting, orthographic coding, and finger sequencing.  Dysgraphia often overlaps other learning disabilities and breaks in processing.  After several years, she was finally able to get him approved for occupational therapy.  When I listened to her describe the exercises he was doing, I realized that they mirrored the type of repetitive movements in BIT and in Write from the Start.  

If you're interested in Ms. Crafft's program, you can read more about it and order it from her website:  I first learned about her program from HSLDA.  If you are interested specifically in a writing program for dyspraxia or difficulties with handwriting, Lois Addy has written several resources for dyspraxia.  Among them are a book titled "Speed Up!" and the program I have, "Write from the Start".

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of the Brain Integration Therapy Manual for review from Dianne Craft.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Curious George, the Strong Willed Monkey

One of the things that I've noticed among many homeschooling moms is that we get concerned about the morals and lessons in the stories our children read. I remember when Autumn was a year and a half old, I began reading Curious George stories and realized that almost all of the time there are no consequences for George when he's done wrong.  I was so alarmed and at first I wanted to give away all of our Curious George books.  But, my daughter loved monkeys and I couldn't quite bear to give the stories away.  Then, I had my second daughter and she loved the stories too, so the stories stayed.  We all loved the PBS George series and that cemented George's place in our home.  

Reading obviously matters a lot to me.  I've thought a lot about what I read, what my children read, what I read to them, and why.  Several books gave me some wonderful food for thought and I'd highly recommend them if you haven't read them.  Gladys Hunt wrote three books--Honey for a Child's Heart, Honey for a Teen's Heart, and Honey for a Woman's Heart.  I feel she makes good points and has a balanced perspective.  She is protective of children and teens, but also realizes that you can't keep them completely away from the world.  Sometimes there are other lessons in books that we don't see at first.  

Life isn't fair.  There aren't always consequences.  The Psalms talk about how the wicked prosper--but not forever.  How do we help our children understand that?  Shouldn't we help them understand why we ultimately live with integrity?  That isn't about the consequences, but about who God wants us to be.  That we want to glorify Him and do the right thing even when nobody sees.  

There's also something else in books.  We see parts of ourselves in the characters and the stories.  Sometimes it helps us understand our own lives and talk about what's going on.  

I do believe that books can plant ideas before children are ready for them.  I don't believe it is wise to let children read whatever they want, but sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously.  I was given that advice about myself by a pastor nine years ago.  I remember it often.

So, how does all of this relate to Curious George?  Well, a few months ago a friend wrote on her blog that she was getting rid of some books in her child's collection.  They were Curious George stories and I knew that I had been the one to give them to her.  It didn't bother me.  I actually didn't have any reaction to her post, except "I once thought that same thing."  

But, I don't anymore.  

A huge lightbulb turned on in my head on Monday as I was driving away from Trader Joe's and listening with my children to Curious George Feeds the Animals on cd.  George fed the giraffes because he thought they were hungry.  Then, he gets chastised.  Then, he helps the zookeeper find the parrot and fix the hole in the netting.  

I stopped for a minute and asked my kids if they knew Curious George had done something wrong.  Yes.

Did it make them think it was okay to do something wrong?  No.

And then it hit me.  Curious George is a strong willed monkey.  There's this good hearted quality about George.  He always does what he think is best--it overrides what he's been told not to do.  Just like strong willed children.  Just like me.  Just like my Sami and my Eli.  He isn't trying to be bad!  

One of the lies Kendra Smiley identifies in her book The Journey of a Strong Willed Child is that when strong willed children disobey--it isn't about you, the parent.  They have an idea in their heads that overrides their desire to please.  Does this excuse all disobedience?  NO.  As parents of strong willed children, we need to love them and understand them.

Monday night at dinner, I told Sami five times to sit down with her sucker.  The fifth time, I yelled.  Enough!  But, I knew her exuberance had just overridden her desire to obey.  She knew.  I knew.  I love her.  She's trying.  She did better yesterday.  She held my hand in the parking lot and followed my directions in the grocery store.  She does listen.  But, there are times....  She's my George and I love her.

So, just in case you're thinking about not reading George to your children, I'd give it a second chance.  It just might make you smile--like the stories have done for my children and me.  

I don't think I'm ever going to look at Curious George the same again.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Global Warming Fears

Yesterday, my brother called and shared with me that he'd read something that really scared him last week.  It was an exposition about global warming.  He explained that it had huge implications for where we live and for the United States.  He also explained that none of it was new information, it was simply and succinctly reiterated and it caused him to fear for us--for the world.  

I responded that I know global warming is real, but I can't get lost worrying about it, because I realize I can't change it personally.  I consume the least energy I can, recycle, tried to compost (and failed this summer), don't drive unless I need to...  It's very easy for me to get taken over by fears.  I think it is for most of us.  For the past year, I've struggled with our home.  I thought we were buying a solid house that needed only easy cosmetic work like painting--little did I know how wrong I was!  We've worked so hard to fix this house and we've still more to do.  At the heart of it all, I think I struggled with the feeling that we'd tried so hard to do things "right", but in the end there were so many more glitches than we expected.  I've been caught on the "what if we hadn't purchased this house?" instead of accepting it and reminding myself of the prayers and how everything came together.  I need to trust God in the easy and hard things.  I've been amazed at my heart and what's been in it.  I had finally settled much of my fear after Hurricane Sandy, but it comes back so quickly.

A good friend of mine said something very wise to me last week.  She mentioned that God brings people into our lives that are easy to live with and ones that are hard.  The hard ones are just as important.  God uses them to grow us, just as he also uses the relationships that are easy.  I think I often only want the easy people and the easy things in life to grow me.  But, the trials, suffering, and people I conflict with are important.  So, are my fears.  I have two choices with my fears--to dwell and cave or to turn to God with them.

Although My brother's comments weren't intended to overly upset me and they seem benign, I knew I needed to come back to God's Word.  I felt like I needed to open up a commentary a good friend gave me two years ago by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones this morning.  I found this quote:

"The thing that is being forgotten by the vast majority of people is that the really important fact in the world today is God's activity--what God is doing, not what men are doing." p. 2 God's Way of Reconciliation

God is in control, not man.  I need to remember not to get mired down in fear, but rather turn to God and trust Him and his plan.  We prayed about where we would live.  We've trusted God for provision every step of the way.  It's easy for me to fall into the trap and think that we are the ones who are providing by our efforts.  But, I know it is God who is providing.  Our efforts do matter and we are to be good, faithful stewards of the abilities and gifts He's given us.  

So, today, I'm going to enjoy my children, the ability to sit down to breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them.  I'm going to be wise and purchase the food we need when I go shopping.  I had no idea what the past year and a half would hold when it began.  Yet, this is where we are now.  Sometimes I am surprised by my weakness and propensity to doubt.  I need to remember the truth.  

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Post script...  I'm sorry if this post seems rambling and jumpy, it is all the thoughts running through my head this morning.