The secret of Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4

I love how the apostle Paul expresses himself. Here he is (in prison, no less!) telling the people of Philippi, “Be joyful in Jesus ALL the time. Did you get that? I say, be JOYFUL!” I think I get why he puts such emphasis on this point. I crave for my children to feel the joy of the Lord in their spirit. Because I know that once they’ve tasted real joy in Jesus, they will never want to let go.

Have you ever watched Veggie Tales’ DVD ‘Madame Blueberry‘? It’s about a lady (or rather, blueberry) who tries to buy joy. She knows it’s out there, but she doesn’t know how to get it. Until one day she sees a little boy rejoice despite his circumstances. Suddenly, Madame realises that joy is closely tied to thankfulness. She is well quoted in our house: A thankful heart, is a happy heart. Proverbs 17:22 tells us the same thing: ‘A joyful heart is good medicine.’

Paul tells us we should be joyful always. If joy is tied to thankfulness, that means we should be thankful, always. Not just when we live in peace. Not just when we are well. Not just when we get what we want. Always. We can be barren, threatened by terrorists, or plagued by illness, yet we can rejoice.  The secret is keeping that eternal perspective. ‘Joy in Jesus’ is because of Jesus, and not dependent on anything this world can or can’t give us. His sacrifice and victory and freely offered grace are the source of an eternal joy that we can know and live despite our circumstances. However saddened we are by the situations we are in, they cannot and should not rob us of true joy.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deut. 6:6-7

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deut. 6:6-7

The question is, how do we impart this joy to our children?  I have shared before some practical ways to encourage joy in our children. We also need to be living joyfully ourselves. On top of this, I believe teaching our children to live life God’s way will help them access joy, as it says in Proverbs 19:8 (emphasis mine):

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the
heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

Most importantly, we need to infiltrate their lives with the Good News. Grace should be woven into every conversation. We need to talk about it as we sit in our house, as we walk along our way, when we go to lie down and as we wake up to each new day. It should be inextricably bound up in our words and actions. It should be sprinkled throughout our home.

As our children go through life they experience all its frustrations, fears, temporary pleasures and empty promises. We must be there to help them see things from the right perspective. To help them grasp that yes – life will fail them. But this is not the same as God failing them. Because God looks at the big picture, the forever. And with regards to eternity, He has sorted it out on our behalf – eternal joy.

The refining pot of marriage

There’s a book I’ve been wanting to read ever since I first heard about it: Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas. The tagline for the book is ‘What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy’.

Wow.

After writing about Dating, marriage and lists last month, a friend of mine made a great comment,

“I strongly support the idea of having a list; you’re certainly right that it keeps us focused on what’s most important. But I also have recently learned the value in having a list also for myself if I have a list for my potential spouse. Who do I want to be to my future wife? Can you write one sometime on who you’ve striven to become before and in marriage?”

These ideas about marriage being an opportunity to refine our own character, and not simply a selfish ‘get what I want out of it’ union, is, I think, exactly what God intended.

Wedding

Young, in love and ready to be refined!

If we look right back at the beginning of time in Genesis we see that Eve was created not simply as a companion but as a helper for Adam. And so that the men reading this don’t get to full of pride and power, God clears up any confusion in Ephesians 5:35 where he says: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her’. The love referred to here is 100% sacrificial, guys – to the point of humiliation, torture and death.

One of Satan’s biggest, most successful lies is that being selfish (i.e. focusing on what I want before what I can offer others) is the way to happiness. Now there are many opportunities in life to find out that this is total rubbish, but perhaps none so effective as marriage. When you live with someone every day for the REST OF YOUR LIFE; when you are confronted with all their ugly character traits which you never saw during dating life (because don’t we all put on our best behaviour on a date?); when you are so vulnerable that you expose all your own ugly character traits – this is when true love kicks in.

Proverbs 117:3 says, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts.” God is reminding us of the extreme value he places in making our hearts right before Him  And 1 Peter 1 tells us why. In verses 24-5 he says “All flesh is as grass,and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (Emphasis mine.) We need to go through the refining pot because the spiritual is foreverThe physical – marriage – is ultimately temporal but it’s value in refining our hearts is eternal.

Eleven years older, wiser, and more in love.

Eleven years older, wiser, and more in love.

Perhaps the most famous love passage in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. I once was told to read through this passage, replacing the word ‘love’ with my own name. Yikes! It was sobering. We are free with the words “I love you” to our spouse. But do we really know what love is? What if we measured our love against this description? We say, “I love you so much I would die for you.” But do we love our spouse enough to live for them? In the everyday frustrations of opposing opinions, of different priorities, of conflicting personalities? That is where we really learn to lay down our life.

Marriage is not there to ‘make us happy’, but when we let it make us holy, happiness happens. Take it from me – in my eleven years of marriage I have always been happiest when I have lived closest to God’s definition of servanthood. When (if!) we can conquer selfishness, there we find true joy.

Go read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 with your own name. Pray for true love. Live it out.

Grace vs discipline? It’s not a dichotomy!

“For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Ephesians 6:1

I have been blessed to observe many wonderful examples of parenting amongst my friends and family. I am always seeking to learn how to become a better parent myself. When I see children who are full of love for God and others I look carefully at how they have been parented, hoping to find some wisdom I can apply in my own family. There is nothing so important as the job of a parent, and we only get one shot at it. I desperately want to get it right!

It is a combination of my own experiences, observations of others and study of the Bible that has lead me to believe that grace-based parenting and parenting with discipline are two pivotal parts of the parenting puzzle. I believe they must work together, and that when they do the result is beautiful to behold. Yet so often grace and discipline are seen as opposing perspectives – an either/or choice. My experience is that to show grace without discipline leads to stress, strife, and sadness. To insist on discipline without grace leads to fear, shallow faith, and distant family relationships. The most successful parents I know apply both of these principles, balanced in just the right way – and their children are a delight and an inspiration. Let’s look at these two aspects in a little more detail.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

It is abundantly clear in the Bible that we are saved by grace, and that NO amount of good behaviour or Godly virtues can get us to heaven. It is essential that we teach this to our children. We need to model grace in our daily interactions with them, and we need to show them that we, too, are in constant need of grace. Our children should know in their innermost being that they are part of a messed up humanity, AND that they are loved beyond imagination by a God who wants to freely offer them salvation. This truth is vital. We need to talk about it and live it out openly at every opportunity. It is foundational.

Secondly, we need to parent with strict discipline. I include the word ‘strict’ here because I think most parents discipline to some degree. The type of discipline I’m talking about here is the kind that requires obedience and respect. This is where I begin to hear some dissent. Within the Christian parenting circle we talk a lot about grace. It is generally agreed that grace, unconditional love and forgiveness are central parts of parenting. But when discipline comes into the conversation many people begin to look wary. It’s not that parents don’t want their children to be obedient – but many seem to be afraid of enforcing it. They appear to feel that being strict is at odds with offering grace. But if we look at the Bible, I think this idea is unfounded.

The Bible  shows us two very clear aspects of who God the Father is, and how he relates to us as his children. Firstly, he is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8.) Yet at the same time we are told – no, warned – that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31.) Also, that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6) We can see here that despite our free access to God’s grace, he also disciplines his children and is not afraid to punish those who reject him. That seems very much like a balance between grace-based parenting and parenting with strict discipline.

Proverbs 13:24 is pretty straight forward on the topic of parental discipline: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” This verse tells us that avoiding discipline equates to hating our children. Yikes. In fact, if you really love your child (and most people say they do), then you will prove this by being careful to discipline “diligently”, or “promptly”, as the NASB and NKJV put it. Why? Because living according to God’s principles will bless your child, their family, their friends, their neighbours, their country, and the world. Hebrews 12:11 sums it up perfectly: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

So YES – it is by grace, not works, that we are saved. This is the foundation we absolutely need to teach our children to live upon.  But let’s not allow that wonderful truth to prevent us from disciplining our children – for their own good.

Leadership Education

I am currently reading Oliver & Rachel DeMille’s ‘Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning‘. I was directed to it via a blog I enjoy regularly, Simple Homeschool. Jamie Martin does a fantastic job of explaining Leadership Education in practice over there, and I recommend you check out her many posts to find out more about what it’s like to live this philosophy.

Although I am not even half-way through this book yet, I have found it to be inspiring, practical and fitting with my own ideals of education. The focus is on educating a child in the things that matter most, first. Then it follows up with inspiring a love of learning which will lead children to seek out a superb quality education. It talks a lot about tailoring education to each child’s unique talents and gifts, and seeing the goal of education as preparing them for their personal ‘life mission’. This might be in international ministry, an office job, a world-renowned scientist or a homemaker.

Reading 'Leadership Education' on my Kindle, thanks to my amazing Granny who just knew I "needed" one!

Reading ‘Leadership Education’ on my Kindle, thanks to my amazing Granny who just knew I “needed” one!

After reading through the theory part of DeMille’s book, I put together a personalised summary of the principles and beliefs that Leadership Education promotes. I emphasise personalised for two reasons: First, having not yet read the whole book I may have misinterpreted some aspects, as I don’t yet have the whole big picture. Secondly, I have included notes and quotes which reflect what I take from the book, which is not always exactly what the book means (though in most cases it is). I originally wrote this summary for a friend, but found it a helpful overview myself. I share it with you below, and hope you too find it inspiring, encouraging and useful.

I would especially like to hear from others already using Leadership Education, or those who have read the book and have more comments to offer about it 🙂

Please note that all text in quote marks come directly from the book.  I have not attached page numbers as Kindle versions don’t provide that information.  If you would like to know exactly where a specific quote comes from, please do ask and I’ll provide you with a proper reference.

Basic Premise

There are two main methods of education:

  • Conveyor belt
    • offers all children a set knowledge base without consideration of their specific gifts
    • expects all children to learn through the same (or at least, very similar) methods regardless of age
    • focusses on academic achievement as the main goal
  • Leadership
    • focusses on each child’s unique gifting and starts with this as a basis for learning
    • believes that children learn differently at different stages of life, and adjusts methods accordingly
    • lays a foundation of morality, spirituality and character development, believing this is of central importance to all other learning

 Theory

There are six stages of learning that students should progress through chronologically

‘Nearly all development occurs in stages or phases. This is also true of education. We believe it is important to take advantage of each phase of development to its fullest.’ Ages for the stage are guidelines only, as each child is unique in development.

Foundational Phases

‘over-programming’ during these phases can cause conflict in the child. This is a crucial time to figure out ‘what is success? What is maturity? … What is my relationship with God? What is my relationship with others? What is my duty? And so forth.’ ‘When we give inappropriate attention to academic achievement during these phases, it can teach our children that they dislike academics because everything is “hard” and “boring,” and/or offer our children an alternative source of self-worth that is inferior to a genuine and positive self-concept resulting from living according to true values such as faith, good works and accountability.’

  • Core:  birth to eight or nine
    • ‘During core phase we lay the foundation for all learning and service in the child’s life.’ The ‘curriculum’ is made up of values, relationships, identity and responsibilities.
  • Love of Learning:  eight to twelve
    • Pressure to learn formally in this stage can cause negative attitudes to learning. ‘These are the years when children dabble with learning, getting to know “what’s out there.”’

Educational Phases

‘During this period the bulk of a person’s “book learning” takes place.’ Through this phase the student will being to use about 70% of their time in intensive learning. Important topics are ‘our place in history and the cycles of society.’

  • Scholar:  twelve to seventeen for girls, thirteen to eighteen for boys
    • ‘At first, the new scholar may only study a few hours at a time, but … by the end of Scholar Phase, most student are studying well over forty hours a week.’ Students are still free to study their own choices of topics, though teachers should encourage and inspire them to ‘see the value, relevance, and excitement of studying other important subjects.’ Teachers should be careful not to ‘knee-jerk’ and require conformity to conveyor belt education at this stage, however some formal education at a college or similar is often useful for some topics. Mentors are key during this phase, and ideally fathers should be one of these. During these teenage years, ‘A leadership view replaces the conveyor-belt search for identity with a quest for vision and mission.’
      • NOTE:  there is a “semi-phase” before scholar, termed ‘transition to scholar’. I have not read further on this yet.
  • Depth: eighteen to twenty-four
    • ‘During depth phase, mentors asses student strengths and weaknesses, help students fill in gaps in their knowledge, go into real depth in their areas of strength and passion, and otherwise lead young people in preparation for their life mission and focus.’ As youth typically leave home for college/uni/work during this stage, it is vital that you prepare them to find mentors of their own who will encourage them wisely. This should be a time of mastering self-control and developing education to career-level.

Applicational Phases

‘Leadership Education will naturally be followed by a life of service and leadership.’ This is the time to carry out one’s personal mission work, and to have an impact on future generations. ‘The greatest component of the Applications Phases is not education per se; it is application of one’s education and whole soul to improving the world.  These phases do not have age guidelines, but relate more to the two periods of life as an adult, and then as an elder.

  • Mission
    • This phase is about ‘building the two towers of family and organization’.
  • Impact
    • This phase is about ‘changing the world to be whatever it should be for your grandchildren and their children’

 Learning Keys

There are eight keys of great teaching which can be applied throughout the phase, which enhance learning.

  • Classics, not textbooks
    • ‘Great works inspire greatness.  Mediocre or poor works inspire mediocre or poor learning.’
  • Mentors, not professors
    • Different emphasis ‘professors’ teach a set curriculum, ‘mentors’ find out student goals, talents etc. and ‘develop and carry out a plan designed to effectively develop his genius and prepare him for his unique mission.’
  • Inspire, not require
    • Lack of inspiration should cause the teacher to question ‘what do I need to do to spark their passion to do the hard work?’
  • Structure time, not content
    • ‘Great teachers and schools allow young students to follow their passions and interests during their study time and inspire them as needed to take on areas they may not initially recognize as interesting and desirable.’  This requires a degree of trust from the teacher, both in the student and the method.  ‘Students must have the freedom to fail in order to truly take responsibility for their own progress.  They must know that their education, their life, their mission, will hinge upon their own choices.’
  • Quality, not conformity
    • Resist the pull to conform to educational norms if they do not contribute to the lessons which need to be learnt at each child’s specific stage.  Also, ‘Great teachers inspire and demand quality, ever urging their students to higher levels of excellence.  They shun mere conformity and expect their students to think and perform to their ever-increasing potential.’
  • Simplicity, not complexity
    • Don’t feed students overcomplicated curriculums.  This fosters a dependence on experts and an attitude that he/she is not able to learn and understand for themselves.  Rather, ‘students study the greatest minds and character in history in every field, write about and respond to what is learned in numerous settings, and apply it in various ways under the tutelage of a mentor’
  • You, not them
    • ‘Focus on your education, and invite them along for the ride.  Read the classics in all fields, engage mentors who inspire and demand quality, structure your days, weeks and months to include study time for yourself, and become a person who inspires great education.’
  • Secure, not stressed
    • Try to ‘know what you are doing is right and that you are doing it effectively’.  Use your own system of knowing what is right to evaluate Leadership Education and see if you believe it is right for your family.  If it is right, then learn to do it effectively by taking advice from others who have done it before.  Being secure instead of stressed will result in peace, focus and joy in your educational journey.

Behind the Scenes

Seven is a really big number.

Seven is a really big number.

I’ve recently started a new schooling system. With the advent of my Prince turning SEVEN (shock, disbelief) I have felt the need to take my relaxed, interest-led, natural learning method a notch up the formality rating. Whilst I still absolutely believe in the benefits and necessity of keeping learning fun, relaxed and relevant, I also have found that some days my kids need a little prompting. With their limited world view there are some things they don’t learn about, simply because they don’t know about it. This is where I come in! I see my role as ‘Chief Instigator and Inspirator‘. (Yes, I know that’s not a word.  But it should be.)

When I let my children learn naturally, I am usually surprised at how much of what they do would be classified as ‘official schooling’ if I had instigated and formalised the learning which happens. For example, yesterday Prince saw a French book lying around so he picked it up and began reading. Sitting next to him, I peered over his shoulder and pointed out that if he read the helpful translation lists at the top and bottom of the pages he would then be able to understand the cartoon strips. With a little help he then read two pages of French conversation, practicing pronunciation and extending his vocabulary! This is my ideal:  unprompted interaction between kids/parents/tools produces effective learning.

But natural learning is not what this post is about.  Why?

Whilst I see first-hand the benefits of learning as opportunity and desire present themselves, I have also seen that there are some things I’d like my children to know which don’t come up in our everyday life very often. Also, there are some days when I feel we have done very little learning of any kind, and although I am comfortable with this every now and then, I desire to foster a habit of industrious activity rather than laziness. SO! Here is my new and improved ‘Natural Learning with a Structured Twist’: It’s very simple really. I started by drawing up a Monday – Friday timetable. Under each day I put in topics that I think are important to make sure we hit from time to time. Over a few weeks I tweaked this until I ended up with this:

My super-secret, under-cover Spring '13 timetable!

My super-secret, under-cover Spring ’13 timetable!

Now, I know how formal this looks. But looks can be deceiving. The key to keeping this natural is this: KEEP IT SECRET! I don’t let my kids know that behind the scenes of our seeming unstructured day is a chart which prompts Mommy to casually say, “Hey guys!  Let’s play ‘Flags of the Word’ together!’ on Tuesday. Or that when I start playing a French computer program on Wednesday, and they just happen to be sitting close by, I am actually taking advantage of their inability to stay away from electronic media, and capitalising on the attention I know they immediately pay to All Things Computerised.  As they listen and – usually – come and join in with me, they are absorbing new words, better accents and French sentence structures without any idea that they are ‘being schooled’. When I write maths problems on our activity board for ‘fun’, this is exactly what they think it is – little do they know that it is actually Friday’s ‘Basic Skills’. In reality, this is not a timetable for the kids – it’s for me.  I am kept accountable through the structure, then implement it through life in as natural a way a possible.

Another key to the natural flow of this new system is flexibility.  One of the joys of home education is it’s flexible nature, and I never want to lose this.  If we don’t get to History on Monday – never mind.  We’ll pick it up on Tuesday… or next week.. or we’ll do double another time… or we’ll forget about it.  Since we don’t break the year up into terms and holidays, but rather school throughout the year (and indeed, the days and weeks), there is no pressure to make sure we cover every thing, every day.  If we miss something, I can always put it down to an inset day 🙂

Reading is Princess's newest learning passion!

Reading is Princess’s newest learning passion!

Lastly, I hold to my belief that children learn best when they are self-motivated and interested. If a child is showing a new passion for music, then take time to indulge that for a while, even if it means cutting back on writing. If, as happened to us, a recent trip to France sparked an enthusiasm for French, then this is a great time to become immersed in French books, programs and conversation. If science needs to take a back seat for a while, so be it. You can always come back to those subjects you left behind, but you can’t always recapture the spark of excitement which lives in your child temporarily.  Don’t miss it – nurture it!

I know that formality, structure, and curriculums are the favourite choice of many home-educating families. But if you’re looking for something a little more natural, then maybe you want to create your own Behind the Scenes timetable.  And maybe you have some other great ideas for keeping the balance between structure and freedom?  Please share them with us all 🙂

Guest Post: Laying Strong Foundations

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
Matthew 7:24-25

Hi! In this family I am known variously as Sinead, Sineadanne, Tobe (pronounced ‘Toby’) and Aunty Tobe – I think that covers it! We have been so blessed by God to have one foster son (adult) and four precious princesses (ranging in age from 7 to 12). We love God, family, music, nature, being creative, food & laughing together!

I was thinking the other day about some basic concepts it is helpful for children to know. It was a useful process for me: taking a step back to survey our parenting focus from a ‘big picture’ viewing point. Below is what I came up with, vaguely grouped but in no particular order of importance.

I thought I would share these ideas in the hope that God may be able to use something to help someone somehow 🙂

RELATING TO GOD

Laying strong foundations is important in parenting.

Laying strong foundations is important in parenting.

– God loves them and desires that they love Him
– Our value comes from the unchangeable fact that God made us and loves us; we & God belong together
– Jesus is a friend like no other they will ever know – even us, their parents – and He demonstrated this on the cross
– When we do wrong things, we deserve to be punished by God. God keeps a record of every wrong thing every person does – but Jesus’ sacrifice means that a Christian does not have to take their punishment as Jesus has already taken it for the
– Following Jesus includes:

  • Putting God first
  • Putting other people before ourselves
  • Showing grace (a simple definition = undeserved favour)
  • Being humble
  • They can talk to God about anything

– Sometimes things are hard/bad things happen – this is actually good in the end as God uses these situations to train and strengthen us

RELATING TO US (PARENTS)

– They can talk to us about anything
– We love them and like them  (Note: these are connected but different things and they need to know BOTH)
– God has given them us, their parents, to look after them and teach them about His love & His ways – THAT is why it is wise & beneficial for them to listen to us
– Our love is unconditional and we will support & encourage them through the ups and downs of their lives
– Unlike God and just like them, we make mistakes (this gives us an opportunity to role model humility, repentance & the joy of God’s grace)

PURPOSE

– Our purpose on earth includes:

  • to love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul
  • to love others as we love ourselves
  • to fear God
  • to serve God
  • to praise God
  • to honour God

– Our lives (time, words, actions) are created by and for God, not ourselves

Take joy in everything!

Take joy in everything!

JOY

– God will take care of problems and help us cope in hard times, which means there is nothing we can’t get through in life with Him = JOY!!
– Christians go to heaven = JOY!!
– All good gifts come from God and He gives us many every day = JOY!!
– God wants us to look out for these good gifts all the time and be thankful to Him and others for them = JOY!!
– CHOOSE joy – in the end it is always better to look on the bright side

RELATING TO OTHERS

– God will meter out justice (so they don’t have to!)
– Do good to others as much as you can, especially if they are unloving to you
– Imagining what others might be thinking/feeling is useful in knowing how to bless them
– Show grace & forgiveness as you have been shown grace & forgiveness
– Wisdom is seeing things as God sees them & it is something good to desire
– Think BEFORE you speak or act
– It is great to be an encourager/helper

  • Everybody needs one
  • It is good for everyone involved e.g. helper & ‘helpee’.

– People make mistakes – including us and them – it doesn’t make the people less lovable: God forgives them (and us) so we should forgive them (and ourselves) too

Wow – that ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be! This may seem overwhelming to some of you but let me encourage you; when I start to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the responsibility of parenting, I have learnt to remind myself that there are THREE parents: God is working tirelessly to lay strong foundations in our children’s lives – we are just His helpers! Furthermore, we have surprisingly many opportunities in the day to gently teach & reinforce these foundational concepts.

I am sure there are others, too – probably some obvious & important ones – this was just a mind dump with a little revision. Can you add any ideas on foundational concepts children should know? I’d love to hear them 🙂

Brick image courtesy of Kai4107  www.freedigitalphotos.net.

Above all else

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”
Colossians 3:12-14

As I go through my journey as a mother, seeking to “write on the door posts” in the lives on my children, I find countless important life lessons I need to teach them. When they were babies my responsibility lay in showing them care and love, and providing them with a stable family life. As they grew I began to teach them how to interact with others. As they get older still I explain to them the value of sharing, the importance of humility, how to forgive and be forgiven. In any one day I might take opportunities to teach everything from how to put their shirts on the right way around, to the meaning of faith.

With so many things to teach my children, it can sometimes be easy to lose focus of what is most important. In Colossians 3 Paul lists many things that are valuable for us to strive for – tender mercies, kindness, forgiveness. But he highlights that there is one thing that has greater value than all the others: love.

Above all, we must teach our children to love.

Love, Jesus tells us, is the fulfillment of the law. Love sums up the law and prophets. Love covers over a multitude of sins. The greatest commandments are to love God with everything we have, and to love others as we love ourselves. If I could teach only one thing to my children, it would be to love God with their whole hearts, souls and minds, because all good things flow from this.

Day to day it can be difficult to keep this priority in mind. Satan, I am sure, takes every opportunity to place distractions in our way and make us see them as so pressing and important that we forget to teach the our children about love. As a homeschooling mother I feel the pressure of the world to provide a good education for my children. Education and careers are extraordinarily highly valued in our society. Whilst I agree it is valuable to be well educated and able to earn a living, it is not the epitome of success. True success lies in love; in accepting the love of God, and returning it to Him and to others.

May we all, as parents, teach our children the ultimate lesson of love – above all else.

Teaching your child to read

I can clearly remember, when Prince was about 2 years old, watching a 5 year old daughter of a friend reading a book, and feeling suddenly very daunted at the idea of teaching my children to read. It seemed such a huge thing, and so difficult. Even though Prince could already tell you the phonic sounds of all the letters of the alphabet, and their names, reading still seemed such a distant and impossible achievement. Yet now, at 6 years old, Prince can easily read just about any book he cares to pick up.

For those of you who are considering home education and might be feeling the same daunting fear that I once felt, I want to encourage you: the path from then to now was easy – and I am no qualified teacher! Here are some things we have done to get to where we are today.

  1. From early on we introduced letters and their sounds in play. One of my favourite toys was foam alphabet letters for the bath. We found these useful for reinforcing the shape and sound of letters, as well as associating letters with fun – Prince particularly enjoyed using the letters to build up shapes of vehicles and buildings!  The other toy which really helped with learning letter sounds and names was a toy bus we borrowed from a relative. Prince would press the buttons and copy the sounds, all of his own accord, and learnt a lot in this way.
  2. Once Prince knew the basic sounds, I introduced two letter sounds like ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘ee’ etc.  I looked at the Jolly Phonics guidelines for which sounds were best to introduce at what stages. I printed out a chart which I put up for Prince to see everyday, and I also just talked about them as we came across them in our everyday life. For example, if we were reading a book and the word ‘food’ came up, I might say, “Look, Prince – F-OO-D.  See how these two ‘o’s’ make an ‘oo’ sound when you put them together?”
  3. We also began blending sounds to make words from early on. As soon as he knew the sounds for ‘c’,’a’ and ‘t’, for example, I would show him how they can be put together – slowly at first, then faster until he could hear the word ‘cat’. I didn’t do this formally, but simply as opportunities presented themselves through every day life. When you take time to see it, you notice that we are surrounded by words everywhere; walking through the mall can be a phonics lesson! Again, we also had toys which helped teach blending, spelling and reading, such as a Jolly Phonic’s puzzle, and a Melissa & Doug ‘See and Spell’ board.
  4. Enjoying books together.

    When I thought he was ready, I introduced Prince to the first ‘Jolly readers‘ books.  In retrospect I think I did this a bit too early, and I did find that I had to take a break and restart again later on (we first started these when he was four).  I think the ideal time to progress onto the next level is when the child is showing an interest, and this progress should be a natural flow, rather than a segmented step up.

  5. When Prince was five we made our way through the next level of Jolly readers, and began the third level. By this time his reading had improved, but the requirement to read for an hour everyday (this was about how long it took him to get through a level three book) was too much. Although he didn’t put up much of a fuss, I could see that the task was too hard for him, and as such was affecting his enjoyment of books in general. At this point I decided to take a break from any set reading schedule, and just let him do what he wanted with his time for a while.
  6. Since then I have not gone back to any form of ‘teaching’ reading, and it has been during this time that his reading has improved most dramatically! It took a little while – a few months – but I found that he started to enjoy reading so much more once the pressure to learn was taken off of him. And because he enjoyed it, he worked at it. He figured things out, asked questions and persevered until he could read the books he wanted to read. As his ability continues to increase, he stretches himself further and further, and so progresses without me needing to do anything more than simply answer questions like ‘what does that say?’ What could be easier than this?!

Overall, the single most important piece of advice I would give in teaching your child to read, is to enjoy books as a family. Enjoy them together, encourage them to value books of their own, let them see you reading, read out loud, create special reading times. Because out of enjoyment, comes learning.

Prince still has a lot to learn, of course – he is only six! But I am confident that he will pick up what he needs to know as we go through life together, taking opportunities to learn as they present themselves, and enjoying the process of reading for pleasure.

A joyful heart

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22

The life of a child is like a swing – they seem to go from having the best of fun to total disaster in one quick swoop! One of the challenges as a parent is helping them learn to moderate this roller-coaster of emotions, identify what the important things of life are, and make the choice to have a positive outlook.

My prince is going through a time of particular challenge in this area at the moment. It seems as soon as something doesn’t go the way he would like he reacts as if his world has just come crashing down. I don’t say this in jest – in actual fact it is something I find hard to deal with. It is tough to balance understanding that little things are important to children, with teaching them to respond well to disappointment.

In hopes of encouraging both myself and others, here are seven ideas for dealing with the emotional downs in our children’s lives:

  • A joyful heart is GOOD!

    We love the Steve Green ‘Hide ’em in Your Heart‘ Scriptures songs. One that we often use when one of our kids is feeling down is ‘A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine’. This reminds children that being joyful can work like medicine, making us feel better.

  • Make it a habit to talk about what the most important things in life are – not just when the kids are upset, but also when they are enjoying something. Reinforcing this over and over will – hopefully! – help them learn to let the little things go and keep their minds on the big picture.
  • One of the top ten children’s movies from yesterday’s post was ‘Veggie Tales: Madame Blueberry‘. This teaches the motto that “a thankful heart is a happy heart”. We use this phrase (and accompanying song) from Madame Blueberry to help the kids remember to find things to be thankful for in every situation, and show them how this makes them happy.
  • Take time to acknowledge and understand that things can seem important to children even if they are not important to us adults. Reinforce the idea that sad emotions are okay – but that we must learn to deal with them in the best ways. By making our children feel heard and understood, we will help them to move on towards joy.
  • Something we invented is a ‘blessings walk’ – or a blessings drive, blessings lunch, or whatever else we happen to be doing at the time. When a child is tempted to be sad about something they don’t have, we take turns naming blessings in our lives and pretty soon the discontent disappears.
  • Model appropriate emotions yourself. Kids learn to imitate what the see, so as parents one of our greatest teaching tools is our own behaviour. They say actions speak louder than words, but I think what speaks loudest is actions matching up with words. When we model appropriate ways to deal with disappointment, and a heart focussed on the things that truly matter, our kids will be able to see the good fruit in our lives and be more likely to follow suit.
  • Teach the concept of choosing our emotions. Even as adults this can be tough, as we often think we are at the mercy of our feelings. Training our kids from young that we have a choice about how we feel will set them up for a more positive future.

Seasoned with salt – lessons from my Mom’s roast dinners

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Colossians 4:5-7 (NIV)

I love the imagery used in the passage. Full of grace; Seasoned with salt. It makes me think of my Mom’s home-cooked Sunday roasts. We would come home after church (usually with an eager guest or two) and the scent of potatoes, veggies, meat, Yorkshire puddings and gravy would fill the air as she finished off the final touches of the meal. It was a delicious, comforting, wholesome smell, and the food was always just as good as the anticipation. I think my Mom really IS the best cook in the whole world. But I’m getting side-tracked…

In these three verses of Colossians, the author Paul is referring specifically to the way we talk with people who are not part of the body of Christ. But I would like to take his idea and apply it to the way we talk to our kids. In a way, it’s not too different, because both are in need of experiencing the grace and love of Jesus through the way we talk to them.

Opportunities abound in the life of a parent.

Paul urges Christians here to “make the most of every opportunity”. As parents, we have LOTS of opportunities to witness to our children. We are around our kids a large part of every day, and talk to them often about a myriad of different topics. Because it happens so often, it is easy to forget that these conversations are chances for us to show the wonderful love and grace of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is especially easy to forget this in times of discipline, where it can be most important and have the greatest impact.

We need to be aware (and yes, intentional!) of the way we talk to our kids, and not let these opportunities slip by every day. We also need to be careful that we are not seasoning our conversations with judgement and bitterness instead of grace and salt, as so often happens.

But what is a conversation full of grace and seasoned with salt like? Well, I think it’s a bit like my Mom’s roast dinners…

  • It is wholesome.  It is not rude, inappropriate or unkind. Rather, it is respectful (it is possible to be respectful whilst still being in charge), carefully worded and loving. For example, instead of saying, “I told you to pick that up – do it now!”, we can say “Do you remember that I already asked you to pick that up? You need to remember to listen and obey straight away. Please do it now.”
  • It smells good.  Even though our words don’t have actual smells, they do have a scent in their own kind of way.  Conversations which are full of grace and seasoned with salt will have an overall good smell to them. Our kids will be able to tell that what we are saying is right and true and good, whether we are praising them or disciplining them.
  • It provides nourishment.  Although for the most part I loved my Mom’s roasts, there were occasionally vegetables I wasn’t so keen on. Even these, though, I would usually eat as I knew they were healthy and good for my body. In the same way there might be times we have to say things to our kids that they won’t want to hear.  We need to make sure that at these times we are full of grace and salt, and that we are speaking only to benefit out children, not to vent our anger.
  • It is comforting.  On the other hand, there are also times when our words can be a great source of comfort to our children. Here we can take the opportunity to show our kids the love and peace and joy that can be found in Jesus, no matter what circumstances we are living through.

Mom and me.

I want to end with a thanks to my Mom.

Thanks for your wonderful Sunday roasts, and for the lessons of love you have taught me all my life.  I love you.

%d bloggers like this: