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New year, except not. :)

Last week marked the end of the girls’ adventure in their current math books, which means by my lights, they’re onto the new grade.  I use math as our metric because 1) it’s the subject we are most behind in; 2) it’s very sequential, you can’t really skip around or ahead if you’re not getting it; and 3) whether it’s going well or hard, it’s about the same amount of work—it takes about 36 weeks regardless.

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So, it’s a new academic year.  It’s also our spring break, which is going to last about three weeks and involve some non-textbook math, a side adventure into a different reading program, a different science program… it’s the season for electives, in other words.

And then we’ll go back to the grind.

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One big decision I made is to go through the curricula as we come to it, rather than adhering to the idea of Fall-to-Spring, and also to not keep the children in sync with each other or even in sync with themselves, subject-wise.  While the girls have both finished their current textbooks and are relatively together in scheduling, L is not finished his current course and I am not planning to begin his “new year” until fall, at which point the girls will be half-way through this year.  In other words, I am trying not to lose my mind, but also trying to let things progress at a natural pace.

My other big decision was to go year-round, which gives a lot more freedom for longer / more frequent breaks, while providing structure continually, and some extra academic time to pursue electives, fill in gaps, and otherwise go off-script.

2nd grade:

Core curricula: Christian Light Reading 200, Singapore Math, R&S Grammar 2, Sequential Spelling, Tapestry of Grace, Apologia Science, typing

DSC07716We are about halfway through Christian Light’s Reading 200 program.  It’s FANTASTIC.  Seriously.  I rave.  You definitely need a fluent reader, but we’ve got that, and there is everything to love about this program.  It’s cheap, has fantastic, deep Christian stories (albeit not Reformed), a great workbook with a good workload and challenging concepts… room for teacher interaction but absolutely not required.  Regular quizzes included help me know she’s really getting the concepts.

Singapore Math is still working wonderfully for us.  I will say I decided with five children in the pipeline, that manipulatives might not be such a bad investment, and so I’ve been collecting them over the past year, and they really help make math a lot more fun.  I plan to do a post on that.  I also really like Math Mammoth and I use it to provide extra practice / extra explanation of difficult concepts, and I can see myself possibly switching to MM entirely once I’m confident I have a good grasp of the path-to-Saxon-54 that I’m doing for the first three grades.  Right now I feel like with Singapore, I know we’re on track. But MM is very similar and would be cheaper, once I have more confidence in the subjects and level of mastery expected at each grade level.

Rod & Staff Grammar is also… exciting.  It’s a non-consumable textbook, cheap, solid, great mastery/spiral balance.  But the best part is they teach kindness and truth as an essential part of grammar.  I will say the exercises are a lot of work for someone who doesn’t have a great grasp of handwriting, and so I will sometimes let her do it out loud or a subset of problems.  The years after 2nd grade have workbooks, which will make it easier for her.

DSC07530Sequential Spelling is awesome.  It would work really well for multiple students, even ones slightly off in grade.  We are starting at the beginning, so I can’t speak for starting mid-stream, but I see her spelling improving so much from this program.

We are still doing Tapestry of Grace and Apologia Science—I reluctantly ordered the lab kit this next year, because I have trouble handling the prep for the non-core subjects with all the children.

We are also doing typing and math flash cards (via xtramath, which I extremely recommend and is free).  Ideally we would finish addition/subtraction in first grade and do multiplication/division facts in second grade, but I found xtramath too late for that to be true this year.

1st grade:

Core curricula: phonics, Singapore Math 1A/1B, Tapestry of Grace, Apologia Science, Headsprout

DSC06420I honestly feel like I’m still feeling out the best path to reading fluently.  I am a big fan of Headsprout.  So much of reading seems like a developmental thing more so than a taught thing.  I’ve talked a lot previously about the different things we do, so I’m not going to rehash them.  I will say I’m doing things a bit different in K now, and hoping that will lead to a more well-defined 1st grade DSC06408reading program with child 3.

Singapore Math 1A/1B – this program is challenging, numbers to 100, double-digit addition and subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, money, time, measurement… it’s work. :)  It also seems to work, though!

Grammar and Spelling we follow along with older sibling.  Same with science and history.

Xtramath – addition and subtraction flashcards.

Kindergarten:

Core curricula: Christian Light Kindergarten II, Singapore Essential Math A&B, Handwriting Without Tears, Reading Eggs

DSC07093Child 3 has been doing a much more carefully-defined preschool program than his sisters, and so I’m intending to transition him into Christian Light’s Kindergarten II program (and Singapore Math’s Kindergarten Essential Math, which is on track) in the fall.  Then that program transitions into a learning-to-read program which eventually transitions into the Reading program that I like so much.  I’m not sure how all that is going to go, but I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting it. :)  At this point I have a good grasp of what needs to happen in kindergarten, I’m just still working out the best way to get there while managing older children and preschoolers at the same time.

Pre-K:

Core curricula: R&S ABCDEF series, Handwriting Without Tears, Starfall, Before the Code

DSC07548(This is where child 3 still is until Fall or so.)  We have transitioned into separate math (Rod and Staff) and English (Before the Code) books, which I feel is good, challenging prep for Kindergarten.  He also does handwriting (Handwriting Without Tears).  Right now I am loving this spot as a transition out of “preschool” and into something that’s really directionally preparing for Kindergarten proper.  We seem to spend about six months in pre-K.  It really is a transition to full, proper school.  Assignments are still really short (maybe 30 minutes total per day) but there’s the expectation there.  It also begins to build on itself rather than just meeting the child where they’re at, to begin sequential knowledge for the first time and increase skills.

Preschool:

Core curricula: R&S “About Three” preschool series, Horizons Preschool for Threes, Horizons Preschool

Child 4 is just beginning on this stage.  I feel like I have a good system here.  There are kind of three sub-levels I set in my head:

  1. We begin with Rod & Staff’s “About Three” books (learning tracing skills, to sit still, to match, etc.)
  2. Then move into Horizon’s “Preschool for 3s” (learning colors, to follow directions, to count)
  3. And finally Horizon’s “Preschool” book (which is essentially Pre-4 or so)

Horizon’s Preschool book is about on level with the Rod and Staff ABCDEF series which I use in Pre-K, but much more colorful and fun / less work / less prep, as well as having a large mixture of subjects in one book.  We seem to spend about a year and a half in preschool.  At first it’s very spotty and student-directed and by the end it’s an expectation and regular, if still very short, assignments.

Also important to note that this stage is not about finishing books.  Most of these books you can start in the middle and so I just pass them on child to child and buy new ones when the old ones are full, not finished by one child.  I move them along according to their stage, not based on completion.

Homeschool, week 6, randomness and solutions.

I have learned so much in the past month.  I had all these ideas and so many things that didn’t entirely pan out the way I thought they would.  I have a great urge to try to spit it all back out in an organized post so that others might not make the same mistakes that I did, but then I realize in my next thought that there are still ten million things I don’t know, and everything is incoherent (hello, pregnancy brain, I love to blame you!) anyway.

Nevertheless.  A dear friend chronicles her life in blogging with lots of pictures.  So here are lots of pictures from this very week of ours.

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Lesson first: Daddies are great.  (Okay, I already knew that, but this is a new context.)  We did school on Labor Day.  Seth was intrigued with what we were doing, so we drafted him into helping us build our Mesopotamian ziggurat.  I would have never, ever, in a million years come up with such a good resemblance!

 

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Lesson two: Visuals are great.  Specifically, the alphabet here, which is hanging over our dining room doorway, has been a great help.  It helps the children remember which letter is which and which sound goes with which letters, and it gives them a lot of confidence in “guessing” answers for our various phonics games.  We also have a vowel chart which we refer to daily as well.  Actually, I pretty much have our walls plastered with things we’re working on, and I take them down and replace them as we move through our studies.

 

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Lesson three: nameplates really work!  I printed these up TOTALLY just for fun.  I’m not sure whose fun I was thinking of; it makes it look more like a school, right?  But I thought they’d get ripped up and destroyed in a week.  Instead, they’ve actually been great resources that the kids actually USE.  Both girls have the worst time remembering how to make numerals, in particular, and they actually refer to the itty-bitty (but right in front of them) print on this during their math lessons.  They’ve also noticeably improved their handwriting, especially of their names, from referring to the plate.  Now I just feel dumb for having thought nameplates were merely classroom decorations!

DSC06048Lesson four: a brainless (overwhelmed) Mommy needs a real preschool curriculum.  I had vague notions of throwing something together for L as we went along, matching (vaguely) whatever the girls were working on.  You can guess how that story went—it didn’t!  Thankfully I had ordered a copy of Horizons Preschool for Threes way back in mid-summer, and they finally released it and mailed it to us, and to my great surprise, I actually really like it!  It is reasonably affordable (like $30 or less?), covers all subjects, and really is designed for beginning three-year-olds.  And it’s just about all I can handle, myself, to sit down with him and work through it.  It could be a good jump-off point for a mom with more time to devote to preschooling (I think the teacher’s guide has lots of extra activities), but I needed something really simple (for me) that was also reasonably well-rounded to build all the essential preschool skills. So we literally just sit down together and work through the day’s worksheets. Preschool for Threes is a perfect fit for us. L also follows along with phonics, and often science and history lessons as well, and we do extra math with manipulatives. And the girls actually enjoy “teaching” him things like counting and adding, and he actually learns from them sometimes!

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Lesson five: children love maps.  Not the preschooler, who I think doesn’t understand what maps even are, but I have a modern map of the whole world hanging on one wall, and on the other wall, we tape up multiple maps of the area we’re actually studying—Mesopotamia here.  We compare the maps, remember where we are, where Florida is (this gives them some concept of distance, because they know how long that drive is!), so they know where we are studying.  And they can also compare to other places we’ve studied; they quickly recognized the Nile on their Mesopotamia map, and it opens the door for talking about ancient trade routes and other things.

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Lesson six: planning is… enlightening.  Really I could say much more emphatically that planning is the root of all success in homeschool or something like that, except that I know it isn’t true for everybody. :)  But, trying to balance THREE children’s schooldays, when none of them are independent learners… I figured out in about week two that a vague plan or even a weekly sketch was just not nearly sufficient.  This is what we’ve ended up with—those blocks of lessons are for one week.  And that is terribly, terribly abbreviated.  Behind those lines are actual plans, links, projects… this is just what I need to remember what page to turn to.

The really amazing thing is that all this planning actually saves me time.  Week one and two, I had my weekly list of things to accomplish, and then when we’re all sitting there actually doing school, I had to keep double-checking and calculating which part we had to accomplish that day in order to get through our week plan.  It took a lot of time and stress, right in the middle of the school day when I couldn’t afford it!  Now I just look at my sheet, open the books, and literally check it off as we go.  We’ve been getting more done, more projects, more subjects, and finishing our day about an hour earlier.  Seriously!  I cannot believe how much time I was wasting scrambling throughout the day.

How do I plan?  Like this:

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Homeschool Planet is the awesomest homeschool planner ever.  It’s new.  It’s a little rough around the edges (just came out of beta).  It’s a little bit expensive.  But… it’s totally worth it.  I tried planning on paper for two weeks.  In the amount of time it took me to plan one week on paper, I can do at least half a semester on here, and best of all, I can plan ahead as I have time to do it. And I can plan per subject rather than per week.  That really helps with continuity.  And in execution, this saves me HOURS each week. No exaggeration.  I have tried lots and lots of planners and this was the first one that was powerful enough but also quick/simple enough. RECOMMEND.

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Lesson seven: kids like to plan, too.  This is our “into our brains” chart for a week.  Every week I put a new one up.  The stickers match our subjects, and when they complete a subject, they put the sticker in the right block, and throughout the week it completes a path—and at the end of the path is an increasingly-small reward.  It works.  Seriously.  It’s like magic.  Even the subjects they hate (*handwriting*), they know it’s just a sticker on the chart and then they will move on.

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Lesson eight: projects and games are really helpful.  Above, the girls hold leaves from their nature walk looking for monocots and dicots to put in their botany notebook, and are standing in front of the remnants of a phonics game that we’d played earlier in the morning (every right answer and you move the correct worm an inch closer to the apple).  I hate projects.  As a student, I was not the one who wanted to go out and experience it for myself if I could just read about it in a book.  And as a teacher… projects are CHAOS. Seriously. Every time you do “fun,” you are inviting chaos into your home. :)  But… it turns out they remember things better.  They have fun.  The silliest little game or a run out to the back yard to fetch some moss, and they get a boost of energy that will last them ‘till lunchtime.  It’s great.  It requires a lot of planning, but, again—worth it.

So.  There’s my homeschool randomness, for anyone who’s curious what we do all day, how it works, with three littles and a baby and a pregnant, perpetually exhausted, brain-deficient Mommy. :)

Fall 2013–the best-laid plans…

Well, after all my planning, I ended up scrambling a whole lot of things over the summer!

Still on Tapestry.  Still on Singapore Math.  But we went to a curriculum fair and I have come to realize a few more things, and… pretty much everything else has not quite ended up as I planned! But now that we are working through our first week, it’s all official—if still subject to change!

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The first thing is, I switched to A Beka phonics.  Now, I really don’t like A Beka.  I don’t like what I have read about their business practices, I don’t like their prices, and I don’t like their theology or their rampant civicism.  But…  While feeling like I still don’t know anything and wishing that I had majored in early childhood education instead of secondary education, I have nonetheless come to the conclusion that I have been going about teaching reading all the wrong way.  I think I have been too laid-back and random.  E got a hold of math really well, with very little effort on my part, and I thought reading would be the same way, that learning was just a natural process that needed to be facilitated.  But it didn’t work.  So, while she knows a lot more than the beginning of A Beka Letters and Sounds K5, we are starting in the beginning, doing all the exercises, all the games, all the chalkboard stuff, everything—and we’re taking R along for the ride.  They’re doing the exact same thing.  It will be a lot of review for E, and a real challenge for R, but they really enjoy doing it together and I am hoping it will serve as a good foundation for R, while cementing a lot of concepts that E didn’t get so well (particularly blending), while building her confidence and mine.  A Beka is supposedly about a grade ahead of most other curricula, so while it kills me that my otherwise-first-grader is doing a K5 curriculum, I’m trying to be very chill about it and just ignore the “K5” on the cover. :)  And for R, I’m not really expecting her to master the concepts, just to do her best, and then next year we would either move on to something only incrementally more difficult for mastery, or, if she does better than I expect her to, she could keep on with E.  They don’t seem to mind doing the same thing.  I even have L in on the fun and am hoping he at least picks up his letters, if not his letter sounds, from the exercises. (For him, I am supplementing with extra preschool-oriented worksheets centered around the same letters that the girls are working on.)

I will say that the experience has given me a great determination to be more purposeful in earlier schooling, and I am pursing a more systematic preschool curriculum for L so that he might have a better foundation than E did when he gets to this point.  That’s my hope, anyway!

I also changed science.  We went to a homeschool fair and there was an Apologia Science display, and I looked at it and really liked it.  It is designed such that the whole family studies science together, with different levels of activities and notebooking for the different grades.  I really like doing school together.  It also, instead of doing every science subject in every grade year after year, picks one major area (botany, animal science, anatomy, astronomy, etc.) and spends a whole year going into great depth on it.  That seems a lot more conducive to learning.  Then, after I’d decided on it, and went through to compile my supplies lists and pick our experiments and projects for the year, I was even more impressed because it’s full of things that are really hands-on but also use affordable/available supplies and are easily adapted to a wide age range.  The only thing I really don’t like about it is the textbook is very word-heavy and has few pictures (and some is downright clipart-looking) and it isn’t bound very well.  The text itself is fine, but the formatting just is not very appealing, and it’s hard for small children to be engaged with so many lines of unbroken text.  All three children do science together with very different expectations of their participation.

I’ve also added subjects.  We are doing First Language Lessons for grammar, which are really short auditory lessons that all three children participate in, which fits well with our school day, A Reason for Handwriting (A & K) for handwriting (I don’t like A Beka’s), Draw Write Now for an art supplement, and Polished Cornerstones for a “character”/home economics supplement.  I should add that none of these is terribly time-intensive, nor do I try to do them all every day (except for handwriting).  But it is good to have them on my weekly schedule and work them in here and there. Smile

Homeschool Day Book — Review

I have been hunting for the perfect homeschool planner for months.  And finally ended up with an Excel spreadsheet and a whole bunch of paper printouts.  Still not thrilled with that solution.

But when I read about a record keeper that let you put things in after finishing them, it seemed like it had the potential to be a good fit for us: I could keep my spreadsheet for planning ahead, but then keep track of what we actually did in a neat little program.

So… how did it work?  We just started our school year so I decided to give it a whirl.

One area that Homeschool Day Book really shines is in simplicity.  It took me less than ten minutes to put in our three students and all our subjects.  Similarly, it has been taking very little time for me to enter what we did – less than five minutes. If I’d put the program on a laptop that I kept in the schoolroom (this would have been smart) then it really would be effortless.  I love how easy it is to tick which subject each lesson falls into (this would make field trips, for instance, really easy to categorize), and that each lesson can include any combination of students.  You can also record how long you spent on each activity, and add a “description” to explain what you actually did.  This could be really useful for those who aren’t using textbooks or who need detailed notes to compile for the state.  So far that is not me, however, so I am just putting the page/lesson numbers in the title and leaving the description blank.  It works well.

Then there are the reports:

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And this, to me, is the weakness of Homeschool Day Book: there just aren’t quite enough options on the reports. And I would love to be able to export all my data to CSV or some such readable format so that I’m not locked into the program’s report options.  For me, the major thing the reports are lacking is the subject name.  You can print subjects when you do the “Time Spent Per Subject/Date” reports, but the “Entries” report (seen above) doesn’t include the subject names at all… leading one to wonder what on earth “Cooked Cornbread” was supposed to fall into (it was actually part of our kindergarten phonics exercise).  This would be a handy option.  The reports are neatly formatted and sensibly divided by date, subject, or child, so this is kind of a minor quibble, but honestly, the inability to export the data wholesale would make me really question the wisdom of entering my information in every day, day after day, and then be limited to these few report options that the program provides.  I can think of lots of ways I might want to format the data, but will never be able to.  That said, the program is so simple and fast to use, and light to run, that I might use it anyway.  They’ve really put together something that excels in simplicity, and that’s a good thing.  “Reports” is just a little too simple.

The last point is the price: I downloaded the trial to do a review, and popped over to check out the price, and it’s $39!  That’s a lot, for something that you could do with just a spreadsheet (admittedly a sloppy and hard-to-print spreadsheet, but still).  If it was half that, I would say, that’s fair, and I would consider paying it myself for the convenience and simplicity of the thing.  I would also think about paying that much if it was web-based so I could access it across computers, because I bounce from one computer to another all day, and having to go upstairs to enter information on “my” computer is a small hassle.  If it was $29 instead, I would think it was pricey but would still consider it.  I understand that in some ways, $39 is not so much since it is a permanent license, and it is a useful, niche program, and if I used it every year for twelve grades, then $39 would be an absolute steal.

To conclude… on the one hand, I do think I’d be more likely to use this than any other planning software I’ve tried.  It is so easy and requires so little time.  It’s easy to understand, easy to get started, and easy to be up and running in less than a half hour.  It’s practical.  On the other hand, the fact that I’m limited to the predefined (and few) “reports” to get my data back out again… I’m not so keen on that. And honestly, that is what is making me waver about whether or not I’m going to continue using it.  My advice would be: wait until you start school, then check out the trial, take a good look at the reports, and if you’re happy with what they generate, then this could be a great solution. Smile

Disclaimer: I was offered a free license for the software in exchange for writing a review. It did not impact my opinion.

Fall homeschool planning.

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So, next fall we will, Lord willing, begin our first foray into 1) official, state-registered homeschooling, and 2) first grade.  And so I am attempting to make sure that we are covering all our bases, and covering them well!  Because I am expecting to be greatly pregnant by the time we begin, and have a newborn halfway through the year, I am trying to do as much planning ahead as I possibly can.  I have my lesson plans broken down to the weekly level for the entire year, and am beginning to work through which specific activities we’ll do.  I am planning for a long winter break from Thanksgiving through New Years, because I’m sure otherwise school will fall apart then anyway until we settle into the routine of a new baby.  That long break also means that we are beginning in August, and running through the end of May.  When our year isn’t planning to be interrupted by a newborn, I would ideally like to plan 9-week terms separated by substantial multi-week breaks and run year-round.  But this year, I think we need one big fat break in the middle instead.

Our core curriculum, although it is treated as more of “dessert” at the early stages, is Tapestry of Grace.  This is a classical curriculum, in four yearly cores, which repeat three times each throughout the schooling experience, covering a multitude of subjects from history, social studies, English, composition, philosophy, government, rhetoric, and geography.  The first year, which we are doing at lower grammar level, is the Ancient World.  The thing I am most excited about is that all students, regardless of age, are centered around the same basic part of history every week, while the activities, expectations, and reading and writing assignments are tailored to each student’s individual level. So, for instance, one week the lower grammar child may be learning about the geography of Egypt and the importance of the Nile to the local economy, building pyramids and making Egyptian headdresses, while the rhetoric-level teenager may be writing a 10-page essay analyzing the intricacies of the ancient Egyptian religion and its influence on later philosophy.  I think this is a great opportunity for larger families to maintain a lot of cohesion while also meeting each child’s academic needs, and I am excited to see how it plays out as the years go on!  I am intending to repeat this year almost exactly in four years with E2, rather than E1, in the student role (while E1 would have moved on to an upper grammar approach to the material), so in addition to trying to make meticulous plans beforehand, I am going to try to keep detailed notes and lists as we go along.  I will say, the books seem a little ambitious with only a first-grader and a kindergartener; I am expecting it to go a little haphazardly, but then of course the next time around we will use the same books except then we will have a 2nd grader and 3rd grader as well, Lord willing, because by the time the cycle repeats, even if E1 is moved on to upper grammar, the younger ones will still all be lower grammar.  So I’m definitely looking at this year as a low-stress test drive of the material and the course structure.

For science, I honestly didn’t agonize over the decision very much.  I’ve looked at many lower-grade science curricula, and they all seem incredibly similar.  This one is MacMillian/McGraw-Hill, 2nd grade (because we’ve already been doing “first grade” for quite some time—early science is easy and our kids love science!), and I picked it because it was incredibly affordable (widely available used), and has a good website with lots of supplementary videos, and is simply structured with review questions and suggested experiments all right within the text.  I am planning to keep our kids “together” for science in at least pairs, which seems doable to me because the high school sciences don’t necessarily have to go in order, so we can simply reshuffle partners around as necessary to make sure everyone gets the right curriculum at the right grade level.

For math, we are continuing into Singapore Primary Mathematics 1A and 1B for E1, and Singapore Essential Math Kindergarten A and B for R.  I like Singapore, and so do the kids!  From what I’ve read, it is pretty well leveled with Saxon, so I am intending at this point to switch to Saxon once we are out of early elementary… or not.

For phonics/reading, I have not been able to “plan” it very well, because it has seemed like more of a brain development issue than a textbook/teachable issue.  With that said, I have been pretty pleased with EPS Primary Phonics, and we worked through the K book last year and are currently working through the 1 book, so I am hoping to begin the 2 book by fall and begin, at some point (probably earlier than fall), the K book with R.  We also use lots of supplementary materials, games, and computer programs.  Once such which was recently recommended is Phonics Pathways, which I’m going to try to draw all the kids into.

Lastly, preschool… L will be our youngest-yet “preschooler,” and my plan so that I can actually teach the girls is to assemble a number of “busy boxes” for him so that when I need him distracted, he can sit at the table and work on his schooltime-only special exciting activity/toy.  I am expecting that with both Tapestry and science, he can sit with us as we read together and even do his own semblance of many of the activities—not necessarily to absorb any of the learning, but at least for distraction purposes.  So it will be more when we are doing the “seatwork” of math and reading that I will be trying to distract him with his busy boxes, and hopefully at some point in the year he can begin his own workbooks.  We have had good experiences with the Rod & Staff Preschool Workbooks, which are by far the most well-suited to very young children that I have ever come across.

Tips for Finding Time in the Word

There’s been a quote by D.A. Carson making the rounds on the blogosophere, most recently here (emphasis not mine):

Martyn Lloyd-Jones once spoke with a group of medical students who complained that in the midst of their training and the ferocious work hours they really didn’t even have time to read the Bible and have their devotions and so on. He bristled and said, “I am a doctor. I have been where you are. You have time for what you want to do.” After a long pause he said, “I make only one exception: the mother of preschool-aged children does not have time and emotional resources.

It is important to recognize, too, that there are stages of life where you really don’t have time to do much, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Children will sap you. If you have three children under the age of six, forget serious reading unless you have the money for a nanny. When our youngest finally went off to kindergarten, we celebrated that day—I took my wife out for lunch. Only then could she get back into reading again. It’s the way life is. You have to be realistic.

You can read the comments for some of our attempts to point out the flaws in his logic.  But it did make me think: what are some practical, concrete ways that Mommies of littles can still meditate on Scripture and spend time in prayer?  There are no “right” answers here, but these are some of the things I’ve personally experienced.

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1. On the computer.

Be it a tablet, a laptop, or a full-fledged desktop, computers are a lot more child-friendly than a thin-paged Bible. Bibles and toddlers do not fare well together.  So let’s get out of the way, right away, that there’s nothing holier about reading a bound book than a glowing screen.  I’ll bet the glowing screen will be a lot easier. If you’re reading this blog post, you could be reading your Bible.

2. On index cards.

High schoolers taught me this one: write verses on cards and stick ‘em on your mirrors, on your windows, over your kitchen sink.  Who says it has to be a whole chapter? Better to eat a bite here and there than to starve!

3. With your children.

This is easiest if you invest in some good, Scripture-filled story Bibles.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading illustrated Bible stories to my kids and found my own heart profoundly convicted.  I imagine older kids would have the attention span to listen to a non-illustrated, real Bible reading, but for toddlers, I can speak firsthand of the great impact that an illustrated, but still literally Scripture or at least paraphrased Scripture, Bible story reading can bring to Mommy’s heart.  Similarly, you can memorize a story and tell it to your children.

4. When your children are asleep.

Naptime. I really believe in naptime, for many reasons. In our house it is a “quiet hour” (actually, two hours long) when the children are expected to be quietly in their room, by themselves, asleep or resting.  This is a great time to do things like talk to God and spend time reading His word.  Also, children, especially toddlers, need a lot more sleep than grown-ups, so hopefully they either go to bed way before you or get up much later than you – even more time to read and pray.

5. In music.

There is a LOT of music out there that is just Scripture.  Seeds Family Worship jumps first to my mind.  If I’m having trouble eking out time to sit down and read the Bible and pray, I’ll put on some Seeds or other Bible memory music and listen and sing and praise and pray while I’m dashing around the house chasing children, cooking dinner, or mopping floors.  Multitask!

6. With other people.

One thing I have learned about myself is that I can make time appear out of nowhere if there are other people expecting me to accomplish certain tasks.  In other words, all I need sometimes is a little push, a little pressure, to inspire me to tear through the laundry or the dishes in record time so I can sit down for a moment and get to the Bible study.  If I know someone is expecting me to have read and prayed, and expecting to discuss it with me… I’ll usually have figured out a way to get it done.

7. As a family.

This is like #3, of course, except that I’m talking about more of a “family worship” type thing here. This isn’t including the children in my devotional time, this is a time of mutual benefit in which I am following my husband’s lead.

8. In school.

If you homeschool, pay attention when you teach Bible!

9. On your phone.

Waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the pediatrician to decide it’s time for the appointment to actually begin, sitting in the rocking chair nursing the baby, sitting next to your toddler soothing them to sleep, pacing the church foyer with a fussy baby… like computers, phones make great Bibles. I am not an extremely distractible person, but I still try to keep the apps on my Android phone at a minimum to encourage myself to reach for the Bible app rather than something else to alleviate those temporary moments of boredom.

10. Throughout the day, constantly.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
(Hebrews 4:12)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
(2 Peter 1:3)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17)

I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
(Psalm 119:11)

The message of the Word of God is relevant to our lives. If you live with toddlers, how do you answer the unending questions without cracking open the Bible? So many things in our daily lives tie back to the Word of God. So many things with children require the wisdom of Scripture. We have to know it and use it in order to evangelize our little ones.  We have to know it and use it in order to know how to behave ourselves.  We have to know it and use it in order to remind ourselves of the daily comforts of grace and the coming glory of heaven.  The words should come to our minds and be in our hearts and flow out of our mouths. If we don’t know the words, we should be flinging ourselves into the pages of Scripture and pleading with God to engrave it on our hearts.

Being without Scripture is like being without water. We thirst for God. We need to drink.

Skipping naptime? Proceed to Hell.

 

Mommy, am I going to go to Hell because I didn’t take my nap?
–Ellie, age 4

I posted this little quote on Facebook yesterday and it gathered no comments or likes, and I deleted it again after realizing that it probably sounded really stark and silly at a single glance.  What bizarre theology am I teaching her that she could ask such a question—to be eternally punished because of a missed nap?

And it is a silly question, at first glance, but I understood what she meant and was struck by it deeply, and I wanted to write an entry to explain the context.  Because it’s a good question, and one I should be asking myself.

As adults we don’t have anyone telling us to take naps, obviously, but for Ellie, the issue was one of obedience.  She wasn’t trying very hard to take a nap.  She was allowing herself to be distracted—and, even worse, she was distracting her sister into disobedience as well—and so, after hours of my failed attempts to coerce her into obedience, and eventually proclaiming that naptime was over, her question was a logical one.  She was disobedient. Disobedience is a sin. Sinners go to hell.  Is she going to hell?

The thing that struck me about the conversation was her concern for eternity over what was, by any measure, a small sin.  It seems absurd on the surface; surely God doesn’t send people to hell because they got distracted during naptime, right?

Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”
(Ezekiel 18:30-32)

There’s the very obvious answer that jumps to mind, that God’s grace is sufficient for all our sins.  If Christ died for her sin of disobedience, then of course she is safe from hell.  And that’s true.  1 John 1:9 clearly applies.

But what Ellie meant in this instance—which I know from the broader context of conversations we’ve had recently—was, “Mommy, I disobeyed you on purpose. Is this a sign that Jesus doesn’t reign in me?”

In other words, she was working out her salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

We should be really concerned when we sin, because sin doesn’t come out of “a new heart and a new spirit.” It comes out of a heart that is “desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).

 

The Righteous is Scarcely Saved

I’ve been profoundly convicted in the past few weeks as I read verse after verse after verse that makes it clear that our salvation teeters on the edge of a knife:

If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?
(1 Peter 4:18)

“Scarcely saved.” Those are really scary words.  When I came upon them in a Bible study a few weeks ago, I was shocked and immediately went digging for help.  What does it mean, that we’re scarcely saved? The verse is in the context of suffering: “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). This is where Christians live: even though we are still in the flesh we are no longer for human passions but rather for the will of God.  The passage talks about the means God uses to accomplish this work in our hearts—how the “human passions” are trained to be put away by suffering—but the theme is rampant throughout Scripture on a very large scale.  Earlier in 1 Peter (2:11), Peter writes that the “passions of the flesh… wage war against your soul.”  In 1 John 3:8-9, John says:

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil… No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

In Romans, Paul, too, writes:

How can we who died to sin still live in it? …We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin… Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions…. thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness… now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
(Romans 6:2-22)

Colossians 2:11 says that in Christ we have put “off the body of the flesh.”

All this to say, Christians stop sinning. Here. Now.  We are no longer slaves to sin. We no longer make a practice of sinning.  We no longer live for human passions.  Ever.  If we do, we’re not Christians.

 

Fully pleasing to Him

For Ellie, her disobedience was naptime, and she has to evaluate her heart and see if she’s living in the flesh, or if she was doing “the very thing [she] hate[s]” (Romans 7:15).  Does she hate her sin and repent and make herself “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31) and is simply wrestling with the sinful flesh she still has, or is sin reigning in her?  Because even the sin of being disobedient to Mommy at naptime is not the mark of a holy heart.  There is no sin too small to escape eradication by the Spirit, no sin so small that it can persist in the face of grace.  Ellie is not commanded to live a mostly holy, mostly obedient life.  Colossians 1:10, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”  Even the Apostle Paul was worried about his sinful flesh disqualifying him from heaven: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability…
(1 Corinthians 10:12-14)

…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
(Hebrews 12:1)

We don’t have to sin. By God’s grace and Christ’s blood, we are free from sin (Romans 6).  And if we are not being victorious over sin, Scripture tells us to be concerned about whether or not we are really being saved, or whether we “believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2).

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
(2 Corinthians 13:5)

So Ellie’s question really provoked me. Is it possible for a little tiny sin like disobedience at naptime to disqualify us from heaven? Yes! But as a grown-up, nobody is forcing me to take naps.  I had to stop and consider what my little sins might be. Something so little that I think it’s too insignificant for God to worry about…  Maybe my habit of reaching for a chocolate bar in response to stress rather than giving it all to God in prayer and hope.  Maybe when I carefully pick the perfect pictures to post on Facebook in hopes of obtaining man’s praise.  Maybe when I give in to exhaustion rather than being gracious and patient with my children. Maybe when I think my judgment is better than Seth’s, and more important than my following his lead. Maybe when I become preoccupied with one of my craft projects and fail to do a good job feeding my family and cleaning our house.  Maybe when I’m continually resistant to criticism, or continually falling into the habit of criticizing others or gossiping about their faults.  Maybe when I think that if I present the Gospel in just the right way, with just the right trappings and adornments, that I can convince people to follow Christ, rather than looking for the Spirit to work in their hearts by His simple truth.

I can’t live “for human passions” even a little bit.  Paul says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:2) and that’s where I’ve got to live too.  There’s no room for “selfish ambition or conceit” (Philippians 2:3), for ungracious speech (Colossians 4:6), or dishonorable conduct (1 Peter 2:12).  I can’t be one with the “appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). I can’t ever grumble or complain (Philippians 2:4). I can’t be quick to speak and slow to listen (James 1:19). Any one of these things is enough to disqualify me; any one of these things is enough to prove that my heart is not His, that sin still ensnares me, if I can’t (or don’t) lay it aside.  Small sins are reflective of an unrepentant heart, not the sign of a believing heart that has died to self and now lives in Christ (Colossians 3:3,5).

Holiness is not optional.  Even at naptime.  Even for a four-year-old.  I’m so thankful to God for the reminder.