What comes to your mind when you hear that phrase--Delight Directed Learning? Most people assumed that Delight Directed Learning is studying what the kids want to study, or letting them follow rabbit trails of interest (and following them there!). Which is true, to some extent, though I prefer to tweak it just a bit.
DELIGHT (n.) // a high degree of gratification or pleasure; extreme satisfaction.
The first and primary thing to keep in mind when incorporating Delight Directed Learning into your child's curriculum is that in order for a subject or topic to give your child delight, it must meet THEIR idea of delight--what would give THEM satisfaction or pleasure. Just because you love the nitty-gritty details of WWI or the ins and outs of molecular biology does not mean your child will. Now, that's not to say they shouldn't study WWI or biology--they probably should!--but it is to say that it may not bring them the same degree of delight as it brings you. Granted, your enthusiasm can help (more on that later this week), but you may find that you're still nagging, cajoling, or just plain demanding them to stay focused and "learn." Whether or not true learning will actually take place under those conditions is debatable.
Please don't hear what I'm not saying! I'm not saying we should just throw out the curriculum or plans and follow the every whim of our kids. (Though some have done that and found great freedom and joy in that approach.) But what I am saying is you might need to at least INCLUDE something into your days/weeks that sparks your child's curiosity and fuels their desire to learn.
Clearly, based on this morning's experience, I've been failing with my own son.
This morning I took a deep breath and then set aside all I was doing to look him in the eye and listen--really listen. I asked him what it is about school he hates. I asked him how he thought we could change that. I asked him what he'd LIKE to learn about.
He couldn't answer all of my questions. He still doesn't even know what all the possibilities are. But we did come to some agreements. He still has to study certain subjects (I'm a stickler for requiring all the usual academic subjects), but I'm incorporating some of the topics he's curious about--never mind it's not a part of this year's curriculum. I know, I know...you thought I was beyond that. Well, my personality just won't let me give it up; even after 20 years I prefer to follow a set curriculum. But this year I'm going to wing it when it comes to some things.
My point is, if learning seems a little flat this year, or if your kids complain it's boring, take some time and ASK them what they'd like to learn about or what they'd like to do.You may not be able (in the case of those attending traditional school, even virtually) or willing (in the case of homeschoolers) to change their curriculum. But you might be able to incorporate SOME of what they love. Maybe it happens in the evenings or on the weekends. Maybe it involves signing them up for a class or activity or subscribing to a magazine. Maybe it means letting them spend all their waking hours pursuing something that to you seems ridiculous or a waste of time.
You could leave it at this, just letting them get out of this experience what they will, or you could choose to find academic connections. As Julie Bogart says in her book The Brave Learner, "Everything can be taught through anything." And, yes, this will take some time and research on your part. It might even mean you've got to listen to or participate in something that YOU find incredibly boring. (Believe me! I've heard ad nauseam about video games I could care less about and Rick Riordin books I would probably never read myself.) But this could be the difference between a mind that is turned off and one that is engaged and actually learning!
The point is to ASK your kids what would bring them delight and then tap into that natural interest.
Ask your kids this week what they'd like to learn/study and post in here in the comments below. (See mine...'gulp')
This careful planning and budgeting carried over into our homeschooling. While others had budgets of $1000 or more per year, I managed for years to homeschool all four of our children on $500 or less annually. Each year I would make one big purchase curriculum-wise for our oldest to use. As time went on, that number dropped as I re-used curriculum. Now I spend very little on our homeschooling, purchasing mainly consumables. And since I only have one left at home with me, we now have a little left over for fun extras, which is nice. But even when we didn’t, we still enjoyed a rich homeschooling experience. How? By taking advantage of every freebie I could get my hands on!
Nowadays there are SO MANY free resources for homeschoolers (or for parents who want to augment their child’s schooling) thanks to the internet. Here I’ve compiled a list of some of the best FREE resources out there for educational learning and fun. Most I’ve used personally, though there are a few which were recommended by friends and some which came on the scene after my own kids had phased out of that age bracket. So, without further ado, here’s the list:
FactHound.com—this one is a great starting place! Plug in any book’s ISBN and Fact Hound will filter through the options on the Internet and find you kid-safe sites on that topic.
KahnAcademy.com—this is one of the most comprehensive learning sites out there, covering PreK-college level classes in math, science, language arts, history & civics, economics, computer programming, college test prep, and such life skills as personal finance and career exploration. Most classes include videos and interactive quizzes. Younger levels also have practice games.
AllinOneHomeschool.com—also known as Easy Peasy, this site is an online, Christian-based, comprehensive (all major school subjects, including art, music, PE, logic, and Spanish) homeschooling curriculum for PreK-HS. And, yep, it’s all free! Choose a theme for the year, and all your kids will study the same topics, making discussion and collaboration possible.
Starfall.com—PreK-3, this site is full of learning games and activities in math, language arts, music, and seasonal themes.
Splashlearn.com—math games for K-5.
CoolMath4Kids.com—elementary math lessons, quizzes, and games (The downside to this one is the lessons are solely in written form (no animation or sound).
CoolMath.com—same company as above, but this site is for middle and high school math. (No games, but they do link you to higher level games at CoolMathGames.com).
MakeMeGenius.com—this site is science focused with tons of videos on every science topic imaginable for grades 1-7.
BBC.co.uk/history/forkids—BBC History for Kids. This site is now archived, so the content is static, but it is still a great resource for Ancient history, British history, the World Wars, and famous historical individuals.
Mission-US.org—interactive missions (around an hour long) that delve into some of the more difficult topics of US history (slavery, immigration, Japanese internment camps, etc.). Designed for middle schoolers (though high schoolers will probably enjoy them as well), students interact with a cast of characters to understand the various perspectives existing at the time.
Kids.NationalGeographic.com—games and videos on all kinds of topics from science to history to culture (as we would expect from National Geographic). A great resource for fun investigation.
TheHappyScientist.com—the website’s design isn’t as graphically pleasing, but this site has curated a ton of science videos and experiments for at home learning.
NASA.gov/kidsclub/index.html—all things NASA for kids, how cool! Videos, games, downloads, photos and mission reports, plus STEM activities to do at home.
Almanac.com/kids—Old Farmer’s Almanac meets the 21st century! This is such a cool site for fun “extra” learning. Stories and activities on all sorts of random topics. Plus all the usual daily facts one would find in the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
LearningLab.si.edu—the Smithsonian’s learning website. You could get lost in the virtual leaning lab! Search millions of images, audio recordings, videos, and texts collected across the various Smithsonian museums. History, art, science, culture—it’s all here! Designed for educators, the content is a little more accessible for older students, but it’s an amazing resource for the homeschooling parent. You can even create your own “collections” on any topic you can imagine!
Additional free resources I’ve used over the years have included:
Public library—collections, classes, and presentations (usually always free).
Parks & Rec department—our Parks department offers classes, guided hikes, and star-gazing events throughout the area’s natural areas (some are free, some have a nominal fee).
Art galleries—cultivate art appreciation by making these a regular destination.
Local symphony and theater groups—many of these organizations have an educational program for students. Often this entails viewing a dress rehearsal for free, sometimes with a talk with the conductor/director afterwards.
YouTube—Hands down my favorite learning resource!! With a quick search, you can find a video on literally ANYTHING. Documentaries, animations, music videos…the world is at your fingertips!
Creating a rich learning experience for your children doesn’t have to break the bank. All it takes is a little imagination and some online or in-the-community sleuthing!
Photo courtesy of Thomas Park on Unsplash.
(Yesterday we talked about setting goals for your children. Today we're going to cover the actual planning process to ensure those goals are met and learning is occurring. This post will apply more to those parents who are homeschooling, but even if your child is in a traditional classroom or is learning virtually, you can still supplement their learning by incorporating educational activities--trips to the zoo, a museum, a farm/dairy, or an art gallery count. So do visits to national/state parks or historic sites. Reading great books together, playing strategy game, and learning new skills like cooking, sewing, or woodworking are "educational" and supplement a classroom education too. You can plan these kinds of activities into your weeks and months and over time, you will have created a rich learning experience for your children!
Deciding what kinds of learning activities to include or what kind of curriculum to use will depend on those goals you settled on. If you missed the first part, I encourage you to go back and read it (scroll down to view) and create those goal lists! Once you have thought through your goals for each child—where you’d like to be at the end of this school year as well as the end of your parenting journey—and have written these down, it is time to create a learning plan.
Consider our recipe analogy in part 1 of this Planning for Learning Success duo. Some people love to follow a detailed recipe while others like to experiment a little, trying a dash of this and pinch of that. In the same way, some academic planning styles are very traditional and detailed while others are loose and free form. But regardless of your preference, it is important to have some kind of plan in mind to accomplish your child’s academic progress. There are five broad planning styles. Let’s examine each here.
Curriculum Teacher’s Manual
Some curricula are all-inclusive (cover most or all academic subjects). Many of these include a teacher’s manual that details what needs to be covered in each subject each day. These are comprehensive enough that you don’t really need another planner. Everything you need is already all in one place. Some examples of these include: Heart of Dakota, My Father’s World, Book Shark, and Timberdoodle.
Pros: I don’t have to do anything! Just open and go.
Cons: I may want my kids to study something not listed in the teacher’s manual, or we may get behind in just one subject and have to keep flipping between days.
This is set up for academic planning (think a teacher’s planner) with the days of the week along the top, a spot for 6-8 academic subjects along the left side, and blanks (or lined squares) for jotting what you want to cover in each of those subjects on which days. This is the planning method I’ve used most because it is familiar, seems thorough, and it helps me think through what I’m going to cover each week (and if I need to purchase or collect any supplies). Plus, I personally love the sense of accomplishment I get from checking things off! The downside is I have to enter all the information for each week. I’ve gotten faster at this and more adept at planning ahead, so whereas I used to plan one week at a time, I can now plan the whole month in one sitting. Still, I have to take the time to do the entry work. Examples of this type of planner include: The Well Planned Day, The Ultimate Homeschool Planner, or academic planners by Barnes & Noble, Erin Condren, Purple Trail, and Plum Paper (some of these are customizable which is nice). You can also find PDF and online planners as well as academic planning apps by doing a Google search for academic planner and/or homeschool planner).
Pros: You choose the subjects. Helps you think through the week before teaching it. Check list. Each child can have his/her own planner to keep kids straight.
Cons: You have to write or type all the assignments out. If you change your mind or get behind, you have to cross out and rewrite/retype the whole week/month.
In this method, you know you have certain subjects you want to cover regularly, but rather than scheduling them for a certain day, you create a rotating schedule that you follow regardless of the day of the week. For example, maybe you want to cover math and reading every day, but you want to (on average) cover science and history three times a week, grammar twice a week, and typing or art once a week. You create a schedule that looks like this:
When I did this method, I typed my schedule up and printed it out, then slipped the pages into page protectors. We then used wet erase markers to check things off as we completed them (and I could also add little notes or specific page numbers, etc.). When we were done with the loop, I just wiped them clean and we started over.
Pros: You don’t “get behind” if you miss a day or two of school.
Cons: There is no place for recording specific information for each subject. (So you still have to write it down somewhere—either on the side as I did, in a planner, or on a master list you print out.)
This approach capitalizes on the benefits of learning at home. It’s so much easier to teach all ages together than have everyone studying something different in each of the 5-8 subjects. When you think about it, does it matter which grade you learn about the Civil War or the solar system as long as you learn it? (Obviously, some topics will be repeated more than once, giving opportunity for more in-depth learning at the higher level.) A morning basket allows the parent to group everyone together for an hour or two to study the subjects that are not skill dependent, leaving the afternoon for independent learning on subjects such as math, spelling, etc. Alternately, some people use a morning basket for just a half hour or so, allowing for together time over some subjects that might not otherwise be covered: Bible memory, poetry, music, art appreciation, vocabulary expansion, etc.
The contents of your morning basket may be shaped by a curriculum or may be delight directed. The sky’s the limit here! (I saw one morning basket that was Marvel movie themed. They read a biography of Stan Lee, learned about stunt doubles and special effects, played a trivia game covering the movies and actors, wrote their own screen play, and created their very own movie short!) Typical morning baskets include:
Pros: Family time. Parent isn’t stretched so thin trying to get every subject taught to every child. Fun!
Cons: Not as structured and sequential, so might create learning “gaps.”
This is the loosest form of planning. It has been around for a long time but is currently gaining more interest thanks to Julie Bogart of The Brave Writer. She calls it “planning from behind.” In essence this is going to your planner or notebook after the fact and writing down what you did, read, or studied. Whenever you do something that could count as learning (which is practically everything!), go back and record it—with learning objectives if required or desired. This recording could happen at the end of each day (I recommend this because everything will still be fresh in your memory) or the end of the week, but the point is to write it down! Otherwise you don’t have a record of the learning your children have been doing, and most states require that you keep some kind of records if you are homeschooling. Of course, you can use this method if you are not homeschooling but are just choosing to augment your child’s learning. Personally, I think it’s a fabulous way to keep a record of any “unofficial” learning that is happening. You’ll be amazed when you look back to see how much you’ve actually accomplished.
One thing I do recommend, however, is having a clear goal list in mind (see the first part of this blog duo). Without any goals, learning can be haphazard. (Which might be fine if you’re just supplementing traditional school but is probably not so great if this is your main mode of homeschooling.)
Pros: More organic. Not tied to a curriculum. Anything and everything can count as learning.
Cons: Parent has to remember to record the learning that occurred. May result in learning “gaps.”
AND FINALLY…It might be obvious, but it is possible (and perhaps even preferable) to use more than one of these methods simultaneously. You might do Morning Basket time together as a family and use Subject Looping for independent study. You might use the Teacher’s Manual to keep track of core learning and Post Record learning that occurs outside of what the curriculum prescribes. In any case, experiment a little—find what works for you! If something isn’t working, try another approach. And remember, just because you used one method of planning this year doesn’t mean your stuck with it forever. You will probably use a variety of methods over the years, depending on the ages of your kids, the curriculum you’re using, and other life factors (like COVID virtual learning!). What matters is that you’ve got a plan that minimizes your stress level and ensures quality learning for your kids!
Planning for learning can be tricky, but it’s so important. Without a plan (at least a loose one), your academic goals will surely flouder. Think of a plan like a recipe…
A good recipe can:
Educational planning is a lot like that recipe.
Plans are important, but before you can effectively plan for academic learning (or anything else for that matter) you’ve got to have some goals in mind. If plans are like a recipe, then goals are like your shopping list. You can’t make that recipe if you haven’t got the ingredients, so before you get out the pans and actually get to work, you may need to go shopping!
Goals are all about keeping the end in sight.
Since my children were tiny I’ve set goals for their learning and development (yep, I’m one of those weird people who likes to plan ahead and make lists). I’ve got master lists of goals I made years ago and which have hardly changed over the years, and I’ve got much shorter-term goal lists that I reassess regularly. These goals come in handy for making all kinds of decisions: choosing homeschooling curriculum, making choices about extra-curricular activities, setting expectations for chores, and even guiding intentional conversations. In short, they help me think about the end result.
My long-term goal list consists of those skills and ideas I want my children to have acquired by the time they graduate and leave home. On this list I’ve included:
On the other hand, I also have shorter-term goal lists. For example, each school year I create a list of goals I want to focus on for the coming nine months. (I do the same for the summer months, though these goals are usually not so academic focused.) When setting my school year goals, I try to think about each child’s strengths and weaknesses. Maybe I want to really develop a strength and encourage more pursuit in that area. Or maybe I want to shore up a weak area. In any case, this list helps me decide what classes to include for homeschooling, as well as what character qualities to focus on, what chores to require, etc.
In part 2 of this duo, we'll examine different styles of planning, when to use which style, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. But for now I would encourage you to spend a little time thinking through both your long-term and short-term goals for each child. Then write them down!
As Benjamin Franklin once said: By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail. Take the time to prepare and your planning will be that much more productive and successful!
Moms are the only people I know who willingly lock themselves into a bathroom in order to get some 'me time.' Young professionals sip lattes in hip coffee shops while reading the latest best seller, business executives get their nails done--mani and pedi, even retired women schedule lunch dates with their friends. But moms...we have no free time for me time! From the moment our feet hit the floor it's go, go, go. Kids to dress, mouths to feed, laundry and errands and soccer practice and homework. Never mind our husbands who'd like a sliver of time as well. Most days it's all we can do to fall into bed in utter exhaustion without ever having had a moment's rest.
Jesus knows how you feel.
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.
At the height of his ministry, Jesus and his disciples were pulled in every direction. So many demands pressed upon them that they didn't even have a chance to catch a bite to eat! Sound familiar? (How many times can a cup of coffee be reheated before it's worthless?) But Jesus recognized his disciples (and his) need for rest. He arranged for them to get away.
It's okay to intentionally take some time to refresh.
But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Despite a legitimate need for rest, sometimes the needs of the people prevailed upon Jesus and his disciples. Kind of like our kids....Best laid plans for a weekend away, a night out, or just a hot bath can be stymied by a baby's fever, a 4th grader's forgotten science fair project, or a teenager's broken heart. Despite the exhaustion, Jesus had compassion on the people. As moms our heartstrings are pulled by our families as well. It's important to remember that compassion is a part of God's nature. It should be a part of ours too.
Sometimes 'Me Time' gets swallowed up by 'Mom Time,' and that's okay.
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered, "You give them something to eat."
Jesus knew how tired the disciples were. Just a little while previously he'd been the one leading them away from the crowds to a quiet place to get some rest. But now he is demanding that they give yet again...he's calling them into sacrificial living. Being a mom is like being in boot camp for sacrificial living! The demands are there 24/7. There is no denying they are exhausting. And yet...
Jesus calls us into sacrificial living.
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
"How many loaves do you have?" he asked. "Go and see."
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
After hearing that Jesus is asking them to give yet again, the disciples panic. They don't have what it takes! They can't possibly give anymore; they themselves don't have anything left to give, and what little they can scrounge up is hardly enough. As moms we can feel that way too--spent, empty, running on fumes with no reserve tank. Maybe by scraping the bottom of the barrel--by relying on what little we've got available to us (a phone or tablet, perhaps)--we can buy just a few more minutes or hours. But we certainly don't have enough. But look at what Jesus did. He took the meager bit the disciples could pull together and multiplied it. He made it enough! Momma, you don't have to do it! When you're at the end of yourself, when all your grit and fortitude is gone, when you're just about ready to crumble...Jesus steps in. He can take what little reserve you have left and stretch it into what you need. Is it easy? No. Does it mean giving beyond what you think you can? Yes. Does it demand surrender and trust? You bet. But when we, like the disciples, take stock and bring to Jesus the very last bit that we have, asking him to make it enough, he does.
You don't have to be enough because Jesus is enough!
My heart has been breaking lately over the seeming chasm that exists between races in this country. I cannot understand how anyone can look at another human being and see less. Each and every person in precious in God's eyes. How can any turn a blind eye or a cold shoulder to the suffering of another? How can anyone claim to be a Christian and not be moved to empathy, compassion, indignation, and justice?
Grace. Mercy. Humility. These are the hallmarks of the Christian message--the Gospel.
In mercy God saw humanity in our helpless and hopeless state and had mercy on us, devising a plan to rescue and save us.
In humility Jesus left His throne in Heaven to be born as a human; to live among us, experiencing our pain, and to die for us so that we might live again.
Grace is extended to every person who acknowledges his/her need of a savior and believes in Jesus' death and resurrection as the means of salvation.
These also ought to be the hallmarks of the Christian life. But are they? Can Christians in America (primarily those who have benefited from the status quo) truly say we have lived in humility--the kind of humility Jesus displayed and the kind He asks of us?
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."
What does it mean to value others above yourself? If I'm honest, I don't know that I personally have done much of that in my life. Certainly not for people who are not my dearest friends and family. But it is what we are called to as Christians. Humility.
Can we in America truly say we have shown mercy? Think about the kind of mercy God has shown to us:
“But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” (Ps. 86:15)
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Ps. 145:8-9)
"But because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions..." (Eph. 2:4-5a)
His mercy extended to us before we knew we needed it. It extended to us while we were still sinning. It extends to us every day of our lives through the good and bad, through the ups and downs, through our faithfulness as well as our stubborn disobedience or ignorance. Perhaps our mercy (on both sides of the fence) should look the same, genuine. Mercy.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (Jm. 3:17)
Can we in America (white, black, and every shade in between) say that we have truly lived by grace? Do we rest in God's grace for us?
"He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
(2 Tim. 1:9-10)
Do we extend grace to others (regardless of the color of their skin)?
“Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Heb. 12:13-15)
Extending grace means I don't hold a grudge. It means I don't seek retribution. It means I don't assume the worst. It means I seek the best for the other person--their best, not my version. Grace by its very nature costs the giver something. It cost God something. It cost the great men and women of faith something. And if I am in humility seeking to promote the Gospel--the good news of God's grace, mercy, and love--it will cost me something too.
"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace."
Mending the walls of racial division in our country is going to require that all parties (of all colors) put on humility and forgiveness. It is going to require extending mercy and grace. It is going to require that we grow in understanding and empathy. (Do you really know as a white what your black brothers and sisters are going through? Do you need to educate yourself?) And it is going to require that we grow in love for one another--true brotherly love, motivated by a familial bond that goes deeper than we have been accustomed to acknowledging. Because everything else--grace, mercy, and humility--can be summed up in that one word and posture. Love.
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." (Col. 3:1-14)
I asked the Holy Spirit and a few wise older mothers to give me advice; then I came up with a four-step process by which I could evaluate books. It is not foolproof, but it's been surprisingly effective and has served me well for over thirteen years now.
Before I share my four-step process with you, though, let me recommend that you determine ahead of time the standard by which you'll judge your children's reading material then communicate this to your kids! If they know ahead of time what you will not allow and why, there will be fewer tears and complaints when you have to veto the cool looking book they've just pulled off the shelf. Most parents share some common concerns--foul language and graphic violence, for example--but even families who share similar values and religious convictions can vary when it comes to reading standards. Communicating with your children why particular content concerns you can put you and your children on the same team instead of at odds with one another.
Please, whatever you do, do not assume that just because a book is written for a certain age group it is appropriate for your child. The following are all themes that commonly show up in children's literature but which we chose to avoid (in addition to cursing and violence) in our book selections:
Like I said earlier, this four-step process is not foolproof, but it has proven to be effective the majority of the time. If you are ever in doubt regarding a book's contents after putting it through these four checks, tell your child you'll give it a more careful examination (or read it) before you give your approval. In addition, you can (and should) request that your child stop reading a book and bring it to you if he/she discovers content that is offensive, questionable, or uncomfortable. Not only does this train them to be discerning readers themselves, it gives you an opportunity to talk through any unsettling or defiling content your children may accidentally encounter.
Speaking of raising discerning readers, you can teach them to evaluate their own books. As a rule of thumb, I generally preview my kids' books for them from ages 8-10, telling them why I need to eliminate some books without going into detail. Then from ages 10-12 I begin to have them join me in the previewing process, discussing any content that is glaringly obvious. By age 13, I rely on them to preview their own books, bringing me only those they are unsure of. By the time my kids hit 16, I allow them to read whatever they want (with a few exceptions). Because I have trained their minds to be discerning and their hearts to love God and purity, I can rest assured they will be repulsed by ungodly content and will choose to read those books which align with God's Word. (By the way, this process works equally well with movies!)
I should also mention that before I evaluate any books, I say a quick prayer asking the Holy Spirit for guidance and discernment! God knows how much time I've got, and he knows my kids--better than I do! He wants their hearts soft and pure. I can trust He's got my back. And if offensive content gets missed, I can trust God's going to use that, too, to facilitate conversations which need to occur in order to train and disciple them. So what are the four steps by which I evaluate a book?
This evaluation system is not a guarantee. It is intended as a tool. It will not eliminate your need to preread some of your kids' books, but it will decrease your load tremendously. In addition, I pray it will give you a means of opening up healthy discussion with your children about their reading habits and what they put into their hearts and minds.
Philippinas 4:8 remains our family's standard by which we measure those things we read, view, listen to, and invest in: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (NIV).
As the coronavirus quarantine drags on, we’ve all had to find creative ways to socialize. This has been tricky for large groups such as Scout troops and faith-based youth groups. Online Pictionary can only go so far. In an attempt to connect the youth of our church, our family came up with an energetic and crazy scavenger hunt that can be done virtually. It can accommodate groups as small as four people or as large as fifty. It can also be adapted for use with your own family in your own home. I hope you enjoy the fun and laughs this zany game provides.
This game works well with video group chat platforms like Zoom or Skype. All players need to be connected via the chosen platform and must have their video option activated. Each person also needs to select a base location (the living room couch, for example) to which he/she will return after each hunt.
Depending on the size of your group, you can play this “every man for himself” or on teams. One person will serve as a moderator and judge.
If playing on teams, divide the players equally and assign them first a number (for what team they are on) and then a letter (for the order in which they play). At the beginning of each “hunt,” the moderator will say (for example), “All the A’s are hunting this time.” He or she will then announce the item to be found followed by the word “Go!” Then every person assigned that letter has 30 seconds to hunt through his/her perspective house to find the required item. The first person back to their chosen base location with the item gains a point for his/her team. (If you have a lot of teams playing, you can give 2 or 3 points for first place and 1 or 2 points for second place and so on.)
Items brought back after the 30 second time limit has expired do not count for points or bonuses. Items that have a bonus attached to them net the player/team an extra point. No item can be used more than once for any given player/team. (For example, a roll of TP or a bar of soap cannot be repeated for “Something from the bathroom,” nor can player 1A bring a scarf for “Something plaid” and then player 1D bring a scarf for “Something you wear in winter,” even if that scarf is not plaid.) If a player brings back the wrong item, he/she forfeits any points for that round. HINT: It is suggested that the moderator stress at the beginning of the game that players pay attention to what their teammates bring back in order to avoid forfeiting points by bringing back repeat items.
If, when an item is announced and a player knows he/she absolutely does not have that item in their house (a Slinky, for example), he/she can say “Tag In!” The rest of the team now has the opportunity to search for the item in their place. Each team has a total of 3 Tag In’s to use during the course of the game. The moderator needs to keep track of this and announce when a team has used all of its Tag In allowances. HINT: If the moderator realizes that players/teams are using up their Tag In’s too quickly, he/she may choose to select some rounds as “Earn an Extra Tag In Round” and award every player back with the correct item an extra Tag In for his/her team, regardless of whether they come in first or not.
You can play for a specified amount of time or until all the items on the list are found (there are enough items to last a typical group. Either way, at the end of the game, the points are tallied up and the high scoring player or team is the winner. (See next page for a list of items to be found.)
ITEMS TO BE FOUND
It is just another little reminder from our Creator that He’s made us to be in fellowship with Him. We can drown out that call when life is sunshine and roses, but when life takes us out at the knees, well, that’s when our souls remember we need God.
That stability and peace of mind is one thing that Christians cite as a benefit of their faith. And prayer plays a big part in that. It’s an integral part of the Christian life. Interestingly, though America is solidly a praying nation with 79 percent praying regularly and 55 percent praying daily, many of those who do pray (over 70 percent) report being less than satisfied with their prayer life. Even seasoned Christians struggle with prayer.
I understand struggling with prayer. It is not something that comes naturally for me. I have to work at it, both in consistency and in substance. People all the time tell me they see me as a great prayer warrior, but I'm not. I just muddle along as best as anyone.
Over the years I’ve tried several different methods and techniques to increase the consistency and the substance of my prayer. Here are some of the practices I currently do or have done in the past:
1) For years I journaled and wrote my prayers out by hand. It helped me stay focused. It took a lot of time, though, so as life got more complicated (i.e. children) I found it unsustainable.
2) I have been setting alarms for prayer for a couple of years now. I set an alarm for a specific time of day and pray for something specific when the alarm goes off. The focus of those prayers has ranged from prayer for a specific request given me by another to prayer for political leaders to prayer for salvation. Currently I have committed to pray daily for the salvation of a loved one until it happens or until I die. That's a pretty big commitment, but I really feel passionately about it. Still, I know myself, and I knew I would forget or peter out which is why I've been using an alarm. It keeps me accountable.
3) I've used various books over the years to help focus my prayers and make them deeper. My favorites are by Stormie O'Martin: Power of a Praying Wife and Power of a Praying Mother. These books helped me learn how to pray Scripture and gave me areas to pray for my family that I might not have considered otherwise. I would like to write my own someday, but for now I heartily recommend those.
4) I also feel like it's so important to pray beyond our family. Some years I have focused on praying for America (president, Congress, local leaders, and issues, etc.) and used the alarm on my phone system for that. Some years I have prayed for the nations using YWAM's guide. For several years I prayed for our pastors and my neighbors, using an index card system. This year I am praying for persecuted Christians using a guide put out by Voice of the Martyrs. Over the years I've involved my kids in this by tying our prayer focus to our homeschooling (praying for America when studying American history for example). It has been such a great way for them to learn how to pray in general (especially losing the timidity of praying aloud with others) and how to pray beyond what they want for themselves.
5) When people ask me to pray for them, I often stop and pray with them right then and there. That's because I know that more often than not I'll forget to pray for them later. It's a bit awkward and takes some getting used to, but most people appreciate it. And that way I don't have to feel guilty if I do, indeed, forget. At very least I have agreed with them in faith at least once.
All this being said, I still very much struggle with offering up general or half-hearted prayers. I struggle with being selfish in my prayers, with getting distracted while I pray, and with doubting that God will answer certain prayers. Still, I press on, and I hope that by sharing my struggles and my ideas I can encourage you to press on as well.
The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call in him in truth. –Ps. 145:18
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I’ve always liked cooking. I’ve always cooked on a budget (we’ve had only one income for most of our married years). I’ve always considered myself pretty creative when it comes to cooking. And I keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer. But I’ve got to admit that even I have found myself a little flummoxed more than once lately, looking at what I’ve got on hand and wondering, “What do I make with that?”
The coronavirus crisis is challenging the cooking strategies of many. A quick Google search tells me that (at least of couple of years ago) 56 percent of Americans eat out 2-3 times a week and only 27 percent cook on a daily basis. Whether you are part of the majority or have been an outlier, the reality is we all are dealing with food shortages, temporary closures of restaurants, and (in many states) mandated shelter at home orders. Which means collectively as a nation we’re cooking more.
On the one hand, that’s a good thing! Americans are alarmingly overweight (one site put it at 83% of men and 72% of women in 2020). As a country we’ve also come in dead last among the nations for chronic health conditions several years running now. Much of this is due to our poor eating habits. Cooking from-scratch foods is a fabulous start toward better nutrition. So though we’re stuck inside our homes with strange food items in our pantries and refrigerators, let’s look on the bright side! This unfortunate global health crisis just might be a tiny step forward in America’s own health problems. On the other hand, we’re still stuck in our homes with strange food items in our pantries and refrigerators. Over the years I’ve found four foods to be a fabulous solution to cooking with odds and ends. This discovery was born out of necessity. I’d get toward the end of the month and have spent already all my grocery money, which meant scrounging the cupboards to see what I had on hand that I could combine into something somewhat passable. I also hate waste, so I am continually keeping an eye on what’s in the fridge that might need used up before it expires or goes bad. Not that I never have to throw out what I term “science experiments,” but I do try to keep that to a minimum. Which gets me back to those four fabulous foods.
Each of these dishes is extremely versatile. Combine a couple of always-on-hand staples and you’ve got a good base. Toss in whatever meats and/or vegetables are languishing in your fridge and voilà—instant, delicious meal. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve done this. I’ve earned the reputation for inventing recipes. Half the time my “inventions” are lucky accidents that came about because I was desperate. Granted, it does take some cooking savvy to know what spices combine well (more on that later) and how to pair and cook ingredients to create the best blending of flavors (sautéing, roasting, and boiling all create different nuances of flavor). But I promise you, anyone can follow these four formulas and come off like a pro!
So what are these fabulous four? Glad you asked! Drumroll please…
Soup is not only delicious and nutritious, it is the ultimate ingredient (and, therefore, budget) stretcher. You can start with prepared broth (chicken, beef, vegetable, or seafood) or make your own and go from there. Personally, I love homemade stock. It not only, has better flavor, in my opinion, it is arguably lower in sodium (something we all could use a little less of) and, if you’re making bone broth, has the amazing healing benefits of that come from animal bones. (Don’t believe me? Do a quick search on the benefits of consuming bones.) So let me break down my soup formula for you step-by-step.
Step 1: Make your broth. If you’re using boxed broth, easy peasy (though I do cut it with some water to reduce the sodium level—about a 2:1 ratio of boxed broth to water works well.) To make your own broth, chop and lightly sauté a vegetable base (see below) in a large stock pot. Then add meat bones if you are creating a meat based stock (a whole chicken with most of the meat cut off, a ham bone, some shrimp shells, you get the idea) or other vegetables if creating a vegetable stock (especially root vegetables and leafy greens) and cover with water. Add 1-2 tsp. salt and ¼-½ tsp. black pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 3-10 hours. The longer you simmer the more flavorful your stock will be. If you’re making meat stock, be sure to remove the bone(s) or shells. But don’t discard them—there’s good meat on them thar bones! Let them cool slightly, then pick off every last bit of meat you can. Save the meat for your soups; toss the bones. (Or reuse them…old wives tales tell of reusing bones multiple times to make bone broth until the bones are “spent.”) If you plan on using your stock within the next week, you can just refrigerate it. Otherwise, let it cool, then put it into pint sized freezer safe boxes or bags and freeze for later use.
Vegetable base: Personally, I think onion is a non-negotiable for soup. But if you’re having a hard time finding some at the store as I have lately, you can substitute onion flakes (though not nearly as good) or omit it altogether and up the other robust vegetables in the base—celery and garlic. Regarding celery, use the flimsy little inner stalks and all the leaves—though not very tasty on a relish tray, they work great in soup. As for garlic, you can use cloves that are starting to sprout, have a brown spot (just cut it off), or are so little they’re annoying to work with. Crush them or leave them whole. Either way, the sautéing and simmering will infuse your stock with flavor. If I have it on
hand, I also add fresh parsley (can substitute dried, but it’s nowhere near as tasty) to the vegetable base as well.
Step 2: Get creative. Once you’ve got your stock (either homemade or from a box), you’re ready to make soup! Of course, if you know you’re going to use your stock right away, and you need a big pot of soup (say 8 servings or more), you can combine your stock making with your soup making. Just add the other ingredients along with the meat bones, and you’re good to go. The few exceptions include any pastas or grains (such as rice or barley) that you’re adding to your soup and frozen or canned peas. They tend to get too mushy if cooked all day. So what do you add? Anything really. Below I’ve listed some ingredients I commonly add to my soups and stews. Like I said, soup is a good way to use up odds and ends, so don’t’ be afraid to throw in that one potato, the half cup of fresh spinach, and the somewhat wrinkly tomato or pepper you’ve got in the bottom of your vegetable bin. They’ll all combine nicely and come out just fine, despite their questionable appearance before entering the pot. (Just don’t put in something moldy! Though I have been known to cut the bad part off, chop up the other half, and put that in the soup pot.)
Step 3: Season the soup. Besides salt and pepper (which are a must), the sky’s the limit. A good cottage style soup often has 1-2 bay leaves and some rosemary or thyme. Want an Italian flavor? Add oregano and basil. Mexican? Cumin and chili powder. Middle Eastern? Curry powder. Greek? Dill, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Oriental? Ginger and soy sauce. If you’re unsure, a quick online search will net you the recipes to several ethnic spice blends. But honestly, I used to just open spices and sniff until I found a combination I liked. If I wasn’t quite sure if I liked the combo, I’d put a dash of each in my hand and sniff the blend before committing. Half the fun of cooking is experimenting, so don’t be afraid to try!
Step 4: Add the extras. About 40 minutes from serving do the following:
Casseroles are about as American as it gets. These one dish wonders feed a crowd almost as well as Jesus fed the five thousand. Maybe that’s why they’ve long held a place of prominence at church potlucks! In any case, enterprising mommas have baked these delicious concoctions for decades now, relying on pasta (usually) or some other wonderful carb such as stuffing to stretch the other ingredients and fill bellies. Like a soup, just about anything can go into a casserole, and also like a soup, it’s an easy 4-step process.
Step 1: Pick your pasta (or other filler). This base is the magic when it comes to casseroles. Grains tend to be inexpensive, and they bulk up when cooked (which you’ll need to do before assembling the casserole, with the exception of bread), really stretching budget dollars. This is what feeds a crowd on pennies. With a few well-chosen extras (i.e. protein and vegetables), the cooked grain becomes a complete and well-rounded meal. Some ideas to consider:
Step 2: Add vegetables and/or meat. Ground beef and chopped or shredded chicken are perennial favorites in casseroles, but you can also add cooked legumes or even chopped tofu. Adding a protein gives the casserole staying power nutritionally. These can be stirred into your pasta/grain or layered in a baking dish. Some proteins to consider:
Step 3: Moisten everything with a sauce. Casseroles are typically baked, which means without a sauce the pasta or grain that serves as the base can dry out, making the whole thing less than palatable. Sauces not only ensure you won’t have to choke down an overcooked mess, they also give the casserole its delicious and distinct flavor. Years ago chefs and housewives alike made all their sauces from scratch, but modern cooks often turn to canned or bottled premade sauces, making casserole construction a snap! Some popular sauces to consider:
Step 4: Bake (usually at 325-350° F) until set. Top with cheese or another topping (such as French fried onions or crushed cornflakes) if desired—many casseroles call for this finishing touch—and return to the oven for a few minutes (long enough to melt the cheese or brown the crunchy topping). Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving (many casseroles benefit from this rest; it allows them to set up a bit). Enjoy!
What is a hotdish? Well…a casserole basically. But most casseroles include pasta while a hotdish relies on rice to bulk it up. (At least that’s the distinction I’ve always made.) And while a casserole is baked in the oven, a hot dish is served straight out of the pan in which you cooked it, reducing the time from prep to table—a great advantage when you’ve got a family turning hangry on you. Really, you can follow the same ingredient suggestions for a casserole when making a hotdish, just put rice in place of the pasta and skip the oven! In addition to the sauces listed for casseroles, try these delicious options which pair well with rice:
I might be stretching things here, but a one-pot pasta dish is the pasta equivalent of a hotdish—at least for the purpose of this list. Like a hotdish, it is served straight from the pot, eliminating the need for the oven as well as the extra time that baking requires. (Yes, I know there are many delicious pasta dishes which require baking—lasagna, stuffed shells/manicotti, etc. But we’re leaving them out for now.) Generally, we tend to think of pasta as Italian fare, so home cooks often get stuck in a rut when it comes to the combinations of ingredients and sauces they pair with their pasta. But pasta can be found in cultures as diverse as Asian and African, and these flavors can open up a whole new world for those cooking on a budget. By changing the combinations of ingredients, sauce bases, and seasonings, your family can tour the world while you save money and stretch pantry stapes! Some ideas (beyond the obvious, of course):
Cooking from scratch is having a renaissance. My hope is that by providing you with four basic formulas, you will find the process of creating daily meals not only easier but more enjoyable. With a little practice, you’ll be creating your own recipes in no time while feeding your family home-cooked meals and stretching the budget and your pantry contents to boot!
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Aimee Fuhrman is a full-time homeschooling mother of four (some of whom are now grown) who moonlights as an author. She loves Jesus, encouraging others, books, knitting, and coming up with delicious allergy-friendly recipes. She lives at the foothills of the Colorado Rockies with her husband of 25 years and their brood.