Saturday, September 28, 2013

Good Fiction

I've been in the car lately and that means that I've been doing a lot of reading.  I finished up another book on my Kindle last night.  I had looked forward to this book because of a book I'd read in the past--June Bug.  It was Chris Fabry's first published book and I enjoyed it.  I didn't enjoy the next two books that he published quite as much as the first, but I still saw him as a good writer--worth reading.

A new book by Fabry came out in August--Every Waking Moment.  It isn't a romance or historical fiction
novel.  It's plain, old realistic fiction. There's a touch of the supernatural to it, but I'd still call it realistic fiction. The story centers on Treha and her gift with older folks beset by dementia and alzheimers.  I found myself drawn into the story as it began and slowly meandered along its way.  At the beginning of the story, Miriam Howard is being forced to retire.  Ms. Howard has been a protector of the elderly in her care at the retirement home and of Treha.  She has allowed her to use her gift to benefit the residents of the center.  But, with Ms. Howard's retirement comes deleterious changes that affect all at the center, including Treha.  

The story was an unexpected one for me.  It was enjoyable and well written.  I'd definitely recommend this one if you enjoy Angela Hunt's novels or Lisa Samson's!

And if you haven't read June Bug, I'd recommend it!

Please note that I received an ebook copy of this book for review from Tyndale Publishing.

Looking Up to History

Yesterday, I called a good friend of mine to discuss a quandary I was puzzling over.  I finished reading Carry On, Mr. Bowditch recently because Autumn and I are discussing it for her literature right now.  I was inspired by Nathaniel Bowditch's life as I read.  He was independent, creative, determined, a seeker of knowledge, hopeful, and didn't give up.  

But, my ideas of this man began to change a little when I assigned Autumn a worksheet for historical fiction.  Her assignment was to identify five factual statements from the book and five statements that were fiction.  I realized that she needed another biography of Nathaniel Bowditch to compare to Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.  I found two different biographies online.  They began to paint a different picture for me.  One was that this man was a Unitarian.  Here is a quote from one site "When asked about his religious beliefs he answered, "Of what importance are my opinions to anyone? I do not wish to be made a show of. As to creeds of faith, I have always been of the sentiment of the poet [Alexander Pope, Essay on Man],—'For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight; His can't be wrong, whose life is in the right.'"" It occurred to me that Unitarians might have had different beliefs back in the 1700s than they do now.  I discovered that this was true, but it's very confusing!  

I found myself pondering many questions...

We look up to many historical figures as being "Christian heroes".  But, what if they weren't believers?  What then?  What do I tell our children?  Not tell our children?  Should we study Christian figures more than people who didn't believe in God?  Should we sugarcoat people's faith and say they were Christians if their memoirs tell otherwise?  What makes people important?  Do I separate life from faith?

I found myself struggling to figure out how to teach history.  

So, I called my friend, who has her master's degree in history.  She shared me with me several stories.  One was about how Thomas Jefferson, a brilliant man, tore out whole sections of the Bible.  Yet, we call him a Christian and look to him as a "Christian" figure in American history.  Yet, he was a brilliant writer who had a profound influence on the formation of our government.  

God works in our world through Christians and unbelievers.  He works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).  He provides for us through farmers who grow food--some who know Him and some who don't.  He provides for our safety through police men and women--some who know Him and some who don't.  He provides for us through teachers--some who know Him and some who don't.

God shapes each one of us uniquely.  He has gifted us.  There is something called common grace.  From Wikipedia: "common grace is seen in God's continuing care for his creation, his restraining human society from becoming altogether intolerable and ungovernable, his making it possible for mankind to live together in a generally orderly and cooperative manner, and maintaining man's conscious sense of basic right and wrong behavior." (  

I grew up in the Quaker Church being taught to look for that of God in every man.  Though I see now how the idea can get twisted, I appreciate the idea that we see God in a man's ability to create, to write, to invent, to discover, to name, to bear children.  So, although these historic figures may not have given credit for their achievements themselves to their creator, we can.  

We can help our children see what men and women in the past have achieved and done.  We can see who they were and how they withstood adversity.  We can see how they didn't give up.  We can teach our children about God and help them understand that it is He who helps us stand and weather the storms.  We can teach them about standing up for others.  We can show them the examples of others.  We can remind them that God has a plan and He works in our lives and He worked to care for our ancestors as well.  

It is good to see the good in people.  It is good to see the admirable traits and things they have done.  I think it's important, though, not to misrepresent people.  I am going to be careful about how I present people from history.  I don't want to present them as Christians if they weren't.  We often talk about Christians forming our nation and assume that all of the leaders of our country during the revolution were Christians.  But, some of the men who formed our nation had some strange ideas about God.  Perhaps, it's wise to remember that and not present people as something they weren't.  

I hope this post didn't wander too much and that it is coherent.  I am still sorting these ideas out in my head, trying to come to cohesive conclusions.  

Read With Caution or Avoid Altogether?

I hate delete!  I just had to get that off my chest.  I just spent a half hour sorting out my emotions and then my finger accidentally hit the delete button.  Crummy!  

So, here's the jist of it.  

I read Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge.  I thought I could read it and it would not affect me.  

I was wrong.

A week and a half later, I was struggling to find contentment in the place God has put me in my job--as a mom, homeschool teacher, and wife.  The tears hovered behind my eyes continuously.  

I was wrong.  I knew that what Ms. Eldgredge's book went against what I have felt God convict me of--that I need to be content with his plan for my life and not my own.  Still, my heart was unsettled.

Many believe that you can read books you disagree with and they won't affect you if you know the truth and are strong.

I thought I was strong.

I was wrong.  

I'm climbing back up, humbly.  I'm working to forget the ideas that had unsettled me.  I'm trying to focus on God and my family and not myself.

In a much shorter nutshell than my original post, that's it.  That's what I've been thinking about.  
I'm not as strong as I thought I was.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Few eBook Fiction Reviews

Recently, I had the chance to read several ebooks while we were on vacation.  I wrote several years ago on this blog about how I was dragging my feet when it came to reading on a Kindle. I am old school!  I love printed paper books.  But, last year we purchased a basic kindle for $30 (with coupons) for my husband.  Then, we decided a few months later to purchase a basic kindle without the ads, which costs $20 more (current price $89) because it was going to be for our kids to use.  This is also the kindle that I use and I'm so glad we paid the extra $20.  It was definitely worth it not to see the ads for adult books that usually come up on Kindle's screensaver.  

I have discovered that there are books that are perfect for reading on a kindle and others that are not.  Books that are more challenging to read, like Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, or books that I need to flip back and forth in are not ebook friendly for me.  But, light, easy to read fiction is perfect for a kindle.  

Since we were heading on vacation and a kindle is easier to pack than several books, I opted to load several books on my Kindle for our trip.  It worked out really well.  I now understand why people like carrying a Kindle on vacations.

The three books I finished were Home Run: A Novel by Travis Thrasher, An Accidental Life by Pamela Binnings Ewan, and Lost and Found by Ginny Ytrup.  

I started with Home Run by Travis Thrasher.  I had noticed this movie recently on CBD and was curious about it.  The story follows Cory Brand as he crashes and burns while playing baseball as a pro.  He is an alcoholic and is required by his team to go to a recovery group and try to "recover".  The story interweaves the present and Cory's childhood in his abusive family.  It is heartbreaking.  90% of the story is very sad.  I did learn a lot about the program Celebrate Recovery, which I have heard of.  The story describes Cory's meetings and the accountability in the group. This is a novel based on the movie and it reads like that.  But, it jumps back and forth a lot!  I became very bogged down in Cory's self-pity.  It was hard to read.  One hard part for me was that Cory's brother didn't understand the emotional burdens Cory had taken on when they were children and what he had done to protect him.  That was very strange to me.  As I've talked to people in my life and reflected on my own childhood, I've heard several times that they knew when someone was protecting them--whether it was a parent or sibling.  They also knew when they were being left to fend for themselves.  Additionally, I think it was particularly hard for me to read about Cory's unrelenting drinking through the majority of the book since one of my close family members is an alcoholic.  Is this a book I'd recommend?  Probably not.  It's very sad and left me feeling drained, though the ending is hopeful.  

After finishing Home Run, I moved on to An Accidental Life by Pamela Binnings Ewan.  I was very curious about this book.  The back of the book explains that it is about Peter and Rebecca, two jet set lawyers climbing the ladder--one in public defense and the other in corporate law.  Peter, a believer, comes across a case that rocks him to the core.  Rebecca's life changes when the unexpected happens and she is forced to confront the pain of her childhood and God's love.  Essentially, this book tackles the question, "What happens when a baby is born alive after a late term abortion?" in story form.  I had never given it much thought before but was aware because of an interview I once heard on Focus on the Family that it happened.  A few years ago, the movie October Baby also opened my eyes.  This book tackles the issue head on when a baby dies because of a failed abortion.  Peter prosecutes the case, while Rebecca is forced to make life-changing decisions.  I enjoyed this book.  The beginning is a little slow, but I remained engaged in the story.  The second half was compelling.  I liked the characters in the story and the writing.  This is a book I would recommend reading.  It isn't a romance.  It is realistic fiction set in 1982.  Yes, set in 1982!  It isn't set in the present day.  Just as I felt good after I'd watched October Baby, I felt good when I finished reading this book.  

Finally, I began Lost and Found by Ginny Yttrup.  Earlier this year, I read Ms. Yttrup's book Invisible (which I really liked), so I was interested in reading this novel.  Lost and Found centers on Jenna Dulaney Bouvier, the wife of Gerard Bouvier and daughter in law of Brigitte Bouvier.  The title comes because Jenna has lost herself in her marriage and life, but finds herself again in the course of the book.  This book didn't connect with my heart the way Invisible did.  The plot and writing were fine, good in fact.  The story kept moving.  I had a concern or two.  The first is the relationship between Jenna and Matthew MacGregor, Jenna's counselor.  Although he seeks accountability, professional lines were crossed.  One of my friends is a psychologist and she explained that a therapist cannot be friends with one of their clients within two years after ending services.  It is unethical and a psychologist will lose their license or at the very least have it suspended for a period of time if brought before the licensing board.  Counseling within the church is tricky my friend explained to me because of this issue.  Counselors have to be extremely careful.  Seeing Jenna outside of his sessions with her, alone, was totally not professional or a wise decision.  The ending has a lot of holes in it and a lot is left unexplained which is my second concern about the book.  It affected me as the reader because I was left very puzzled.  It also bothered me because it talked a little bit about Matthew and his wife, Tess, but never once really identified that it wasn't appropriate for him to have the friendship with Jenna that he had.  At the end, I wasn't sure that I would recommend this book.  It okay and filled the ten hour car drive home.  I wanted to finish reading it and find out what happened, but...  well, but.  I don't know.

So, the verdict?
If you haven't seen October Baby, I'd definitely recommend it!  
If you're looking for a good read, pick up An Accidental Life or Invisible (see my review HERE).  

My Kindle was very good to keep me company on our ten hour car drive home.  My husband likes to drive in silence, so I think my Kindle is going to be making a lot of trips in our car.  I don't mind really because my children all like to read in the car as well and it's a time when I have a few minutes of peace to just read.  

Please note that I received complimentary copies of each of these books from the publishers for review.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kid Safe Search Engine

Fifteen years ago, when I was teaching computers to grades K-5, yahooligans was the popular, safe search engine that I used with my students.  This year, I tried to use yahooligans with my kids and quickly got frustrated because the search didn't bring up any results.  Bah.   

I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but I just typed in "kid safe search engine" on google and came up with a result.  

Google has developed a safe search engine filtering technology that is used by several other sites.  I found one that is the primary site:
If you scroll down, there is an explanation of what is filtered and what isn't.

Then, I found another one called KidRex.  It uses the safe search technology and then goes beyond it to add their own list as well.

I googled for "consumption illness" while writing questions for Autumn's Carry On, Mr. Bowditch unit.  I came up with several results that I was comfortable with.  

I'm sure neither of these sites will be perfect, but I'm glad to have an option other than the unfiltered Google engine.

If there is another one that you like to use, please comment and let me know!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Book to Read With Caution

Sometimes I come across books that are hard to review. I, like other reviewers, fear negative remarks and attacks. So, why even write a review that isn't positive and what people want to hear? Well, because of concern--concern about how ideas and words can get twisted. I like to read some of the books that I think will be popular in mainstream Christian circles, so that I'm aware of what people are reading and thinking about.  So, I decided to read Stasi Eldredge's new book Becoming Myself.  It was published a month ago.  

My husband and I have read several of John and Stasi Eldredges' books over the past years. We've noticed that there are some good ideas in their books, but that the points can get carried away.  I discussed their books with our pastor this morning and he used a phrase that I thought was very apt to describe their books.  He described their approach as being very "emotionally charged."  I agree.  It is.  

As I started out reading this book, I was very curious about what the pages ahead held for me. But, as I read the first few chapters, I began to get a little concerned. I was surprised by the rabbit trails and paths that she took. The goal of the book, I believe, is to encourage women to understand that they are loved by the Lord for who He made them to be and that they are continuing to become that woman as they trust and walk with the Lord. Along the way, she addresses cultural issues (among them was misogyny and the hatred of women). She addresses the role of one's mother in a woman's life and specifically devotes time to how one's mother cared for you while you were in her womb. She asserts that this care of a baby while in a mother's womb would either lead a woman to be secure or insecure, to feel rejected or accepted. She doesn't include any scientific or psychological support for this statement. She sites a video by a woman that I did not recognize as her only support for several pages of assertions. She then moves on to freedom and not judging others.  Along the way through the book, I found several statements that concerned me.

Here are some examples:
From pg. 72, "What happens in the womb sets the foundation for our life.  When a mother is happy, secure, and hopeful, the blood flow to her uterus opens up and fully nourishes the fetus.  When a mother is worried, anxious, or fearful, the blood vessels constrict, and the flow of blood to the fetus is constricted.  The developing baby does not get enough.  If that experience is predominant, the baby comes to believe in her core that she will not have enough; she is not secure, not safe, and not taken care of.... and then on pg. 73, Ms. Eldredge encourages readers to ask "While you were being formed in your mother's womb, think on it: do you think you were satisfied?  Did you get enough?"

On Pg. 169, Ms. Eldredge encourages women not to judge others with these words, "Judgments are dangerous; judgements are like curses.  They release the hatred of the Enemy upon those we have judged.  When Christians pray with a spirit of judgment it is not a prayer, it is a curse.  Christian curses happen when we pray wanting vengeance, when we pray with a spirit of hatred, judgment, anger, or revenge.  Prayers like "Get him, God," "Teach him a lesson," "Rebuke him, God" have the same energy as witchcraft.  Actually they are witchcraft, and they hurt people.  They damage them spiritually and physically...When I say "judging," I'm not talking about the wisdom of discernment between evil and good.  I'm talking about cursing others."  She makes some strong statements there.  Ones that I'm not entirely comfortable with.   

At several points, I had to put the book down for a while. The first time it was because I was puzzled by the author's statements and realized that while what she said could be true, it felt like it could be very easily twisted and misinterpreted. Later on, I set it down out of frustration over the discussion of misogyny and attributing an adult woman's struggle with insecurity to her mother's pregnancy and treatment (or neglect) of her at that time. But, I picked it back up. I finally set it down again after reading a long chapter about dreams and how we need to have dreams, because if we don't we won't be successful or happy--because dreams only come true when people have them. At this point, I set the book down, looked out the window and cried.

Dreams are a tricky thing. This is a theme that comes through in several of the Eldredges' books. That we are to dream and that God will give us the desires of our hearts. Well, yes... and no. God often does not give me what I want or dream of. I had dreams for my life when I was a young woman just out of college. Those dreams have not come true. Instead, God has given me other gifts and a different life than I ever thought I'd lead. I can see how my life is what He had for me. I can see how it is best for me--though not easy. I have come to feel that God kept me from some successes that could have led me down a path away from the Lord. I couldn't reconcile my views with Ms. Eldredge's ideas about dreams. I suppose that is sad. I suspect there's a middle ground between what she writes in this book and the cynicism that has stolen into my views about dreams.

I will say, there is some good stuff in this book, too.  Here's a good quote from pg. 133 "A word about honest.  The Scripture exhorts us to speak the truth in love.  Speak the truth in love.  Which means, don't speak the truth in anger or resentment or with the desire to wound.  We need to be careful to check our motives underneath our speaking the truth.  We want to be aware of the "why" behind the desire to share something."  I completely agree.  Earlier in the book on page 45, she says, "Though our past has shaped us, we are not our past.  Though our failures and sin have had an effect on who we are, we are not defined by our failures or our sin.  Though thought patterns and addictions have overwhelmed us, we are not overcome by them and we will never be overcome by them.  Jesus has won our victory.  Jesus is our victory."  Again I agree.  Isaiah 43:2 NIV

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

There is some good truth in this book.  But, it was some of the author's rabbit trails and applications that concerned me and give me reason to not recommend this book.  I think it is very important for women to understand that God loves them and created each woman uniquely. We are loved. And what we think shapes who we are and how we live. But, instead of this book, I would recommend a different one--The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God I'd also recommend Cynthia Heald's Bible study series Becoming a woman of... I'd particularly recommend starting with Becoming a Woman of Freedom. I think it covers the same topic, but by going straight to the Bible. Becoming a Woman of Grace (and honestly all the other ones in the series) also deeply encouraged me.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Homeschooling Out of Fear

Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Twelve years ago when we moved from Texas, a woman I knew shared this verse with me.  Little did she know what life would hold for me in the years ahead.  Like everyone else, my life has had lots of ups and downs.  I've held onto this verse often and I was reminded of it today when I read a column on World Magazine's website HERE.  

The writer expresses that one of her primary reasons for homeschooling for twenty years was fear.  Fear of the influence on the world on her children. I have heard many parents express this feeling as a reason to homeschool. But, I don't think it should be a family's primary reason for homeschooling. We homeschool because we feel called to.  It is a tough thing to homeschool. I don't believe that fear will not sustain us long term in this endeavor and if we live from fear long term, there can be dire consequences for us and those around us.  But, I'll get to that in a moment.

Fear is not of God.  Fear is of Satan.  Satan wants us to be afraid.  God, on the other hand reminds us over and over in Psalms that he is our protector and refuge.  He is our shepherd and will lead us through the dark places.  As our pastor preached last Sunday, he explained that scripturally the poem "footprints" is off the mark.  In Psalm 77:19 ESV, the Word says: 

19 Your way was through the sea,

    your path through the great waters;

    yet your footprints were unseen.
Instead of it being God's footprints carrying us when there is only one set of footprints, it is actually ours that we see.  God is unseen, guiding us.  We have to keep on walking, trusting.

Eventually, our children will have to go to school.  For many students, this will be either high school or college.  We can't shelter them forever.  We need to equip them so that they will be able to cope with the world they live in and not hide from it.  As parents, we have huge responsibilities when it comes to our kids.  Years ago, there was a book by David Elkind titled The Hurried Child.  I agree with the author that children are being forced to grow up--too soon.  But, I don't think hiding them from growing up isn't the answer.  In Lit! A Christian Guide To Reading, author Tony Reinke gives the advice that we should not take a never stance on a particular book, but instead "Not Yet" approach to the books our children read.  We shelter them so that they can be exposed to the world when they are ready to handle it.  We expose them bit by bit and help them process what they're learning.  We also have to let go bit by bit in the process so that when they set out on their own, they are able to stand and make good decisions.

Last spring, it did hit me that my kids would eventually go to college.  A good friend of ours was explaining his feelings about the heavy burden of responsibility that sits on parents' shoulders when they choose to homeschool. He explained that he wouldn't recommend it to a lot of people.  It's a hard path.  His words were like a punch to my gut.  I've always been secure in my desire and calling to homeschool.  But, to have a close friend that I respect question it was hard.  And honestly, I was scared.  Really scared.  For some reason, the reality that my kids will go to school someday really hit me hard. And I was sad. I will miss them when that day comes.  Part of me was very afraid, just like the columnist wrote on World.  I found myself in a tizzy for a few days.  I had tons of thoughts swirling in my head...

Will they be ready?  

Can I do this?  
No, I don't want them to go!
Do they have to?

And then finally I came to this conclusion...I need to make sure they're ready for whatever God has next for them.

I sat down and wrote out a plan through eighth grade.  I had to tuck all of the literature books away so that my kids won't read them ahead of time.  I thought about what curriculums I will use between now and then so that they will be ready if the Lord leads us to put Autumn into high school.  

All of this was me doing something.  I'm a doer.  In the midst of this doing, came the "being" time.  It stole in as I worked and planned.  I needed to focus on "being"--trusting God to care for my children now and in the future...  trusting Him to guide me when the time comes for them to transition to new teachers...  trusting God and reminding myself of the convictions God has given me that we should homeschool...  remembering what I'm doing and why.

This week we're on our family vacation.  We take it after everyone goes back to school.  The vacation rental home is far cheaper and it saves us a lot of money.  We actually like the weather better, as well.  Each day, I've gotten to sit and be with my kids.  I love them.  I love the time I get to have with them.  I love climbing on the rocks with them and seeing them set off air rockets.  I love listening to them play paper dolls and legos.  I love hiking with them and eating new foods together.  I realize that I get to spend a lot of time with my kids because we homeschool.  It's not always easy time like these memories.  But, I don't think I would trade any of it.  

Homeschooling is a good fit for our family--for me, my husband, and our children.  But, I don't want to homeschool out of fear.  God doesn't call us to be afraid.  Instead he calls us to be strong and not to be dismayed or afraid. We are preparing our kids for what lies ahead for them... in the world.  

Fake Fireworks

When I grew up, we were able to set of fireworks where we lived. I remember holding sparklers in my hands and enjoying it immensely. I have longed for my kids to experience a little of the joy and fun that comes with fireworks, but we live in a state that doesn't allow them.  Yesterday, we were in a little toy shop that had something called a Skylight Rocket in the clearance section.  It was $10, so I took it to my husband to see if he thought it might be a good idea.  He agreed, so we purchased it.  

Eli was so excited when we got back to the vacation house where we're playing and took out the rocket set up. He had such a great time. Of course, the rockets quickly went from being pointed in the air to being pointed at me! Boys always look for a target. Then, it became a cannon and my husband became the bad guy... 

Last night, we took this rocket out at night and turned on the two lit rockets that come with this set. We let Eli jump on the pad, but my 7 and 9 year old girls were only allowed to use one foot and stomp on it so that they wouldn't break the air launch pad. They had such a wonderful time watching the lit rockets fly up and then down again. I felt as if we got a taste of the feeling I had with fireworks years ago and was so thankful!

I miss fireworks.  I miss the fun that I had when I enjoyed them as a kid, and often I want the same things for my kids--similar experiences for my kids, but they just don't seem possible.  And then, God blesses me in some way like this.  Honestly, I smiled in my heart last night knowing that God knew how much I have wanted to do fireworks with my kids.  And I knew this was close.  

It happened a few days ago as well.  My husband and I have pretty much decided that we don't want to go to movie theaters anymore.  They're expensive and often don't seem worth it afterwards.  But, that experience of going when you're a kid is priceless.  I still remember the first movie I saw in a theater--Disney's A Jungle Book (I didn't actually like it).  On Sunday night, we took the kids to see Disney's Planes movie in a small town movie theater.  We were the only ones there in the theater.  The older theater didn't have the huge modern sound system that the ones by us have--and we were thankful.  Our kids have sensitive ears and we had been worried that they wouldn't be able to handle the noise.  But, they were fine.  In fact, they absolutely loved the movie.  My husband and I both agreed we'd try and go again when there was an appropriate movie out (that's the hardest part).  

As we drove home from the movie, I smiled inside, thanking God for the blessings of that night.  The huge joy that came from watching our children enjoy themselves so much.  Again, it was an experience I had wanted for my kids, but didn't know when of if they'd get to experience it.

Life often doesn't look the way I wish or think it should--in both big and small ways.  The world is a different place than I wish it was.  But, the Lord amazes me with how he cares about the little and big things.  Two things that seem so trivial and yet they were two things that I wanted so much for my kids--the movies and fireworks...  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Accelerated Middle School Math

Yesterday when I was at our community pool, I met a gal who has had two children attend the science and math magnet in our district.  I asked her if it was difficult for them to get in.  (Her other child attends another high school magnet in the county).  She said that it is a challenge and said jokingly that they hang on and hope their child won't burn out by the end of their senior year.    She said it simply to acknowledge that the math and science magnet is a challenging program.  All of her children have loved their high school programs.

I then asked what her children did to prepare for application to the program.  She didn't tell me much aside from their middle school math schedule of courses.  When I was in middle school over twenty years ago, I took 6th grade math, Pre-Algebra in 7th, and Algebra in 8th (which was a joke of a class).  I went on to start Algebra I freshman year, then geometry in 10th grade, Algebra II/Trigonometry in 11th, and Pre-Calc and prepare for the AP exam my senior year.  

When I was teaching middle school a little over ten years ago, the scope and sequence was still Pre-Algebra for 7th and Algebra I for 8th grade and so on...

But, it's different for a lot of students now.
Sixth grade math is essentially pre-algebra.
Seventh grade math is Algebra I (high school equivalent course)
Eight grade is Geometry (high school level course)
Ninth grade begins Algebra II and so on...

I wanted to share this with other parents who have a young child who is gifted in math and is considering the trajectory for their math programs or considering applying come middle school for a high school math magnet in your area.

My children are not especially gifted in mathematics, but they are competent and on grade level.  Eli loves it and of my three children, he enjoys it the most.  But, we will see what the future holds for him.  I have a chosen a mastery curriculum that doesn't require a lot of abstract thinking in early grades.  Mathematics curriculum has changed over the past ten years and educators are requiring a much greater degree of abstract thinking at earlier ages.  This is a struggle for a lot of students.  Developmentally, the ability to think this way will come later for most students.  

But, for students gifted in mathematics, the ability to think abstractly comes much earlier.  If my children were gifted in mathematics (like my friend who's son could add and subtract time when he was three years old), then I would choose Singapore Math--the standards edition that can be purchased through Singapore--not the abbreviated version that is available on CBD.  I would also look at Prufrock Press for supplementary math resources.

Writing Curriculum

I've been working on writing curriculum more and more over the past year.  In my mind, I've spurned all the things I hated about lesson plans from my public school teaching days.  But, I realized this morning that I threw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.  The curriculum I've written so far hasn't been bad.  But, it hasn't been as purposeful as the curriculum I'm writing right now needs to be.

When we write, we start by identifying the purpose of our writing.  Next, we make an outline. Then, we identify the details we want to include.  And finally, then we start writing.  Once finished, we proofread and edit.

It's the same with writing curriculum.
1) Identify the goals:  what you want your child to know and be able to do once the study is completed.  These are two separate and important things.  #1 Content and #2 Skills.  The more specific the goals,
2) Make an outline of what are the main topics or ideas that you want covered.  Then hang smaller topics on each of the larger ones.
3) Now look at the skills that you want your child to learn and keep these in mind as you compile reading passages and assignments to cover the subject material--the outline of topics you made.
4) Look back at your goals and identify how you have assessed whether or not they've learned the content and acquired the skills you wanted them to.  Assessment in homeschooling is different than in classroom settings, but it's still important.  I want to discuss that in a minute.
5) Write out a list for each unit of the assignments to be completed.  Make sure everything is copied and assembled.  
6) Revise and modify assignments as needed--as students are completing them--realizing that you may have planned more than can be realistically completed.  A particular assignment may not be connecting the dots together for your child, so add something else in, or take something away.

I read this statement by Mac Duis this morning "information retention is less important than information usage in solving problems and making decisions." on

Hmmm...  I'm not sure that I entirely agree with this statement.  I use a lot of the information I've learned over the years and not just the tools that I have learned about how to solve problems and make decisions.  I think students need both.  I don't think one is more important than the other.  It is interesting to me.  This statement is rooted in the belief that technology gives people instant access to information on the web.  But, there are potential problems with this.  There are long-term concerns that this will affect people's ability to remember in old age.  They won't have a wealth of personal knowledge to draw on.  Their brains won't have been exercising and strengthening their ability to retain and remember experiences and information.  I don't believe technology is not the savior and cure all that many people believe it to be.  

I think your opinion about this statement will shape how you write curriculum and modify the curriculum you are using for your children.  For some children, it is genuinely difficult to absorb and retain a lot of information all at once.  So, we modify our curriculum and goals--making adjustments so that our expectations are appropriate.  But, I still believe that we should not make those expectations too low.  Learning to remember information and understand the world is important--which connects to my belief about schema theory.... 

I have been struggling with the US History curriculum I am writing.  I agree with the schema theory of education, that Jon Piaget developed.  If a child connects something they are learning to something they already know, then they are more likely to retain that knowledge.  I picture it like a web.  

For the first unit, I wrote I had to come up with the basic web.  Thankfully, I later found a document online that had basic web outlines for each of the units of US History that I wanted to cover.  This made my job of writing curriculum much easier.  When we write curriculum, this web is the basics that we want our children to know.  The web will be simpler for some students and more complex for others--based on their ages and abilities.  It should be written appropriately.  You can make a separate web for information to be mastered and one for skills (connecting the topics/activities to the skills to be worked on).  

As for assessment...
Here are three webpages about assessment:
The most helpful one to read:

Homeschoolers use tests and tangible reports as assessment measures.  Written assignments and reports are necessarily assessed differently than they would be in a classroom.  The teacher doesn't have 30 students to compare work.  A homeschooling parent has only one or a few at most.  I took a course last summer and tried to explain to a former school principal who was facilitating the course how different assessment is for homeschoolers.  He didn't want to discuss it with me.  I was sad.  I really wanted to discuss it with him!  

Grades have a completely different purpose in homeschooling than in the classroom.  In the classroom setting, a grade is the quickest way to communicated to a child's parent (and the educational system) whether or not the child is mastering the information and "how" they are doing.  In the last document about assessment above, other reasons are named, but honestly--as a teacher, I think grades have more to do with the parents than the children.  In homeschooling, a grade is used to communicate to a child whether their work is satisfactory or excellent or needs improvement.  It is a means of communicating to a child whether they need to work harder or put more effort into their assignment.  Normally, children in a classroom learn this by comparing themselves to one another (which is a potential positive effect of peer pressure, but also one that can backfire).  I am introducing grades this year with Autumn (5th grade).  I realized when she completed her first reports last year that it is time.  She needs to understand when her work is not satisfactory.  Rubrics are very good for helping children with this.  

I found this site with writing rubrics for kindergarten through fifth grades.  I was told by a veteran homeschooler that writing is one of the most difficult subjects for parents to assess.  Rubrics can help with that struggle by breaking down all the elements that children need to have present in their writing.  This is a post written for homeschoolers about how to write rubrics.

What I am most concerned about when it comes to math is mastery of concepts.  They must get 90-100% correct on their chapter review (without help) to move on to the next chapter without any remediation.  I can tell if they don't understand a concept by talking to my child.  This is very different than the way it works in the public schools.  The class will still move on even if several children are at 70% mastery.  With homeschooling, I don't.  

Assessment of verbal skills and information mastery in a homeschooling setting is a lot of parent/teacher observation, presentations, noticing the child bringing up what they've learned in later discussions with friends and family.  We see our kids up close.  We talk with them in the cars and while were going from one place to another.  We are continually teaching them.  This is both formative (ongoing, in progress) and summative (conclusionary, final) assessment.  

I hope some of this information might be helpful to someone.  Whenever I start a post like this one, it's really my way of processing out loud and bringing together all the scattered thoughts in my brain.  I was reminded of several things I needed to remember in the process and found several new resources that I need to integrate into my curriculum (the writing rubrics!).  Blogging is a funny thing to me.  I can't quite articulate why I write.  But, part of it is because it is a way that God works in my life to help me.  It organizes my thinking.