Commonplace: Charlotte Mason on … Fad Diets???

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I’ve been reading Charlotte Mason’s fourth volume, Ourselves, and while it is full of wise words, this section I’m sharing here today struck me by its almost surprising timeliness.

It’s easy to get the idea that folks over a hundred years ago lived lives so vastly different from ours that they were somehow either more boring and serious or else more backward and superstitious than people are today. The reality is that humanity is humanity, no matter what the era. And apparently there were people getting obsessive over special diets in England at the turn of the 20th century. They may not have the same names or focus, but they perhaps share the same craze. And it’s the craze, the self-absorption, that Miss Mason calls attention to in her chapter on temperance. I’ll let her take it away:

Conscience is not, in fact, so much concerned with the manner of our intemperance as with the underlying principle which St Paul sets forth when he condemns those who “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.” This is the principle according to which we shall be justified or condemned; and, in its light, we have reason to be suspicious of any system of diet or exercise which bespeaks excessive concern for the body, whether that concern be shown by a diet of nuts and apples, of peacocks’ brains, or of cock-a-leekie. England is in serious danger of giving herself over to the worship of a deity whom we all honour as Hygeia. But never did men bow down before so elusive a goddess, for the more she is pursued, the more she flees; while she is ready with smiles and favours for him who never casts a thought her way. In truth and sober earnest, the pursuit of physical (and mental) well-being is taking its place amongst us as a religious cult; and the danger of such a cult is, lest we concentrate our minds, not upon Christ, but upon our own consciousness. We ‘have faith’ to produce in ourselves certain comfortable attitudes of mind and body; this serenity satisfies us, and we forget the danger of exalting the concerns of the creature above the worship of the Creator. The essence of Christianity is passionate love and loyalty towards a divine Person: and faith, the adoring regard of the soul, must needs make us like Him who is ‘meek and lowly of heart.’ A faith which raises us to a ‘higher plane’ should be suspect of the Christian conscience, as seeking to serve ourselves of the power of Christ, less to His glory than our own satisfaction.
(Ourselves, Book II Part I Chapter III, p. 230-231)

Wow. Fad diets aside, isn’t it so easy to fixate on improving our physical and mental well-being apart from the glory of God? Our culture is drunk with this sort of thing. And while Christians certainly seek to learn and grow, our aim ought to be entirely different.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added,” Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew.

It’s good to be reminded that in all our living and striving, our eyes ought to be on Christ and not on …ourselves. Even when writing a book with that title, Miss Mason makes clear that self-knowledge isn’t an end in itself. And neither is self-improvement. In all of our growth, are we growing more “like Him who is ‘meek and lowly of heart'”? It’s a good question to grapple with before the Lord.

What have you read lately? Anything quote-worthy? I’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment below.

Gardening: A Prescription for Perfectionists

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It’s garden-planting time where I live. And that means I’m spending more time outside in the cool air and warm sunshine with my hands in the dirt. Time outside often gives me space to think, and time in the garden gives me a lot to think about–including the attitudes that I bring with me.

I can be a bit of a perfectionist. Wanting to get things just right. Spending way too much time researching a subject until I know it thoroughly enough to not mess it up (as if that were somehow possible). Perfectionism is a kind of obsession over performance and results. While it focuses on improvement and promises fulfillment, it actually tends to get in the way of both.

gardening cure perfectionist perfectionism

When I walk out into the garden and away from my other chores and plans and projects, I’m confronted by something very outside of myself. It’s easy to assume that my home and my work and my plans are all somehow a kind of extension–or at least a reflection–of who I am. But when I walk outside, I encounter something obviously other. There’s a wild beauty to things that grow. And in the presence of this wild beauty, I’m less tempted to delusions of control over it. Instead I’m drawn into wonder.

By the time I’m out planting our first seeds, the snow has just melted and revealed that under a thick blanket of frozen white, our daffodils have not only been surviving but actually growing–green and tall. And I didn’t do a thing to make this happen. I’m in awe of their happy refusal to stay dormant in our recent and unseasonable cold snap. Arguably not the perfect conditions. Yet they respond to the call to perk up–a call that doesn’t come from me or my plans.

daffodils in snow spring garden

Stepping outside of the four walls of my home usually gets me out of the four walls of my perfectionistic, all-or-nothing head. You could say that going outside prepares the soil of my heart to receive seeds of truth. To that soil, the garden adds images, active reminders of those seeds, of that truth.

As I plant and marvel at seeds in the dirt, my Father sows and tends seeds in my heart.

Here are a few of them:

  • Not every seed will sprout. When you have an all-or-nothing mentality, it can be discouraging to know that if I plant just one seed it may not work out. Planting more seeds than the number of plants I intend to grow feels potentially wasteful. I don’t ultimately control germination. I can help it along, but I mostly have to sit and wait and see. And be generous enough with my seeds to see something come to life. If I’m seeking perfect outcomes and efficiency, I might be upset that I won’t get a return on every little bit of my investment. But that’s just reality. God calls me to generously plant seeds anyway.
  • But somehow seeds DO sprout. We’ve been at this gardening thing for at least six years and yet it never fails to amaze me when tiny bits of green pop out of the ground where we planted seeds a few days or weeks before. God is good. He made this beautiful process and I get to take part in it. How much more delightful when God is at work in human hearts and invites me to participate and marvel at His work?
  • Frost may come and kill. Sun may scorch and burn. Those precious little seedlings that do sprout are up against the elements. I do what I can to protect and provide for them, but I cannot shield them from everything. In fact, a measured exposure to the elements is actually part of the process for these little plant babies to grow strong and learn to stand up on their own. Oh, how this speaks to me as a mama!
  • It pays to be firmly rooted. That exposure to the elements can benefit the plant only if it has a good root system–both for taking in water and nutrients from the soil and for keeping the plant sturdy enough not to topple over. When we transplant tomato seedlings, we burry about three quarters of the plant! It feels like a setback. Like we’ve now put ourselves behind in terms of growing a nice, big plant. But that apparent setback results in greater health and fruitfulness.
  • Bugs may devour. Vigilance is required. Whether it’s squash bugs or tomato hornworms or aphids, we’re always on guard. This is not a once-and-done thing, as though picking all of the bugs off in one day would keep us from having problems the rest of the season. A perfect sprint doesn’t work here, but rather faithful watchfulness. And even still, we will lose some fruit and some leaves to pests. That’s how we know they are there.
  • Pruning is hard. Cutting off potentialities doesn’t feel good. But we don’t have infinite space in the garden (nor does each plant have infinite resources). Despite aiming for high-intensity growing methods, there are still, by nature, limits within which we must work. Refusing to stay within the limitations of nature results in stunted growth and disease. That perfectionistic tendency to push for more-and-better often ignores the reality of limitation. If we don’t cull the excess seedlings, if we don’t prune the lower and non-productive branches, we aren’t helping our plants. I, like my plants, am finite. I, like my plants, have limitations. Culling and pruning are necessary and good.
  • Results will vary. With all these variables of seed conditions and weather and pests, it should be obvious that I can’t perfectly predict the outcome. I can’t guarantee the results. Sure, I plan carefully and consider quantities needed in advance. But the results simply aren’t that much in my control. We may get a lot, we may get a little. Our harvest may be beautiful or riddled with holes. Related to this fact…
  • Imperfect fruit still eats. In the store, when I’m putting down money for fruits and veggies, I inspect every piece, making sure I get the most perfect and untainted produce possible for my dollar. But when I’m harvesting out of the garden, a tomato that is only half-eaten by a worm is still good for half a tomato. A couple of these “bad tomatoes” can dress a salad or tacos. A bunch of them can make a batch of salsa or a tomato pie. It requires more work to make the most of the imperfect gifts from the garden, but they are gifts nonetheless. It’s an opportunity to grow in both thankfulness and resourcefulness–two things that I might miss if I continued to always insist on “perfect” produce.
  • God causes the growth. This is the real “capital T” truth. And it’s the truth that runs through the rest of these bullet points. I’m not in control, God is. I’m not on the throne, He is. I may plant the seeds and provide what I can, but God causes the growth. The reason gardening is so powerfully instructive, so beautifully corrective of my perfectionistic tendencies, is because it visually, tangibly illustrates the truth that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and that He simply invites me to participate with Him in His beautiful work.

We read in the scriptures truth about God, truth about the world, and truth about ourselves. We know we are to respond to it properly. But sometimes the truth takes time to sink in. And sometimes it takes living the metaphor.

When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden. He told them to “cultivate it and keep it.” The Hebrew words in this phrase from Genesis 2 mean something along the lines of “work or serve it and guard or attend to it.” Working in a garden was part of the original earthly paradise. And I think it’s interesting to note that God’s calling here is not to make things grow–that was His job. His children were simply to work and guard, to serve and attend. Basically, to show up and care for it.

It’s the same for me, whether in the garden or in life. My responsibilities, beyond staying firmly rooted in Christ and His Word, come down to these:

  • Faithfully sow
  • Faithfully water
  • Faithfully tend
  • Expectantly watch
daffodils spring garden growth

Every time I wander out into the garden, it’s an invitation to enter into the metaphor, to contemplate the truth beautifully woven into the fabric of Creation.

Here are a few of the scriptures that bring my garden time to life:

And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up daily, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. Now when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:1-5

I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

I’ll sign off with a quote my husband found in a gardening article some time back. He shared it with me, and I’ve made a point of hanging on to it.

The principle value of the garden . . . is to teach . . . patience and philosophy, and the higher virtue – hope deferred, and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation, and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning.

–Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in the Garden (found at this website: http://www.leereich.com/2012/06/every-time-i-go-near-my-apple-and-plum.html)

Post script: The day I started writing this article, I realized that our refrigerator went out. Nothing was cold. All the ice had completely melted. My day was not my own. We had to change gears, adjust, adapt. Within 30 minutes of wiping up the floor, I managed to drop a quart jar half full of coffee as I was attempting to put it in a cooler. Coffee splashed all over the floor, the fridge, and the cooler, requiring me to wipe up everywhere-again-and-then-some. I found myself saying, “Well! This is the day!” And then I laughed. And started singing, “This is the day that the Lord has made…We will rejoice and be glad in it,” inviting my kids to smile and laugh along with me. Yes, my friends, God is good. He graciously allows us many imperfections–and uses them to capture our hearts…if we but recognize the invitation.

Gardening is just one way God reminds us we’re not in control, that seeking to be perfect in ourselves is a fool’s errand. How else do you feel His gentle nudge?

Book Review: It’s a Numberful World

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This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. 

Scroll to the bottom for quick-reference information on the book!

A friend of mine lent me It’s a Numberful World by Eddie Woo a couple of years ago in case I might want to share some of it with my boys in our homeschool.

It’s a modern book with modern appeal, and that makes it a fun and very approachable read. Famed Australian math teacher Eddie Woo pulls from all over math history and modern technology while approaching subjects topically–finding math all around us and applying it to all kinds of situations and phenomena. Woo does a great job of communicating his wonder both at the beauty of mathematical patterns and at the way math works, striking an engaging balance between awe and practicality. Here are a few samples page spreads:

math book review woo
math book review fractals
math book review spiral eddie woo

For Eddie Woo, the wonder is inextricably linked to his Christian faith. The book is “Dedicated to the Author of Life” and quotes Galileo on the dedication page: “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.” While Woo’s faith comes out in his dedication, the book itself stays very safely within the realm of secular discussions of mathematics.

I really enjoyed the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the wonder at God’s handiwork hadn’t been limited to one page. I’d love to hear more of Woo’s awe of God directly connected with mathematics, as he is quoted in this article:

We talk about the fact that the universe is designed in this way and you can find all of these patterns; do you think that that’s a coincidence? One of the things I love to point out is we call the universe the cosmos which means ordered and structured and designed, as opposed to chaos, and the reason why we can find these mathematical principles is because there was a designer. We didn’t just spring into being. It has immense beauty.

I mean, how can it be that mathematicians and physicians – secular ones – all agree that one of the primary criteria for judging whether something is mathematically true or not is whether the equations are beautiful. Why on earth should the equations of the earth be beautiful? And the answer is we have a beautiful designer who designs things beautifully. So for me it’s a source of marvelling [sic] at the way that God crafted the Universe.

While I would have liked to see more of that godly awe, It’s a Numberful World was a really fun read. I appreciated the invitation to take a multi-disciplinary exploration of mathematics–and to play with it along the way. I haven’t really used it in our homeschool, but that’s partly because we already have so many interesting things (Fibonacci sequence, tessellations, using drawing tools, etc) that we’re exploring in our Right Start Math lessons. Wonder and play with math are already part of what we do. I might keep Woo’s book in mind for when we hit high school math, however. And I’m very interested in exploring his teaching videos on YouTube or …wait for it… WooTube.

Here are the fast facts:

Book Title: It’s a Numberful World: How Math is Hiding Everywhere …from the Crown of a Tree to the Sound of a Sine Wave
Author: Eddie Woo
Published: 2019 in North America
Originally Published as: Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths, 2018 in Australia
Pages: 307

Recommended for: High School to Adult
Uses: Supplement to math curriculum, enjoyable math reading.
Consideration: Chapter 25 “Why Aren’t Left-Handers Extinct?” refers to Darwinian evolution, specifically the theory of natural selection, as the author mathematically explores why certain traits persist.

How We Homeschool: Bible

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Amazon links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. I make no money from links to Christian sellers, but I encourage you to support them over Amazon whenever possible.

“What Bible curriculum do you use for grade x?”

It’s a question I get from time to time, and it never ceases to make me squirm a little.

Why, you may ask? Well, because the idea of “Bible curriculum,” and especially for a particular “grade level,” is foreign to me.

Now of course I’m aware of the fact that “Bible curriculum” and “Bible classes” exist in Christian school settings, but I’ve always wrinkled up my nose a bit thinking about the Bible being made to fit the mold of an academic subject, added on to a school day like just another textbook or workbook to get through. What affect does that have on the way kids approach the Scriptures? And do they give grades for those classes? What does that teach?

Our approach to the Bible looks a lot less like school and a lot more like discipleship. Reading the Bible together has been a part of our family culture since before our children were born. We haven’t ever felt a need to make sure we added Bible to the kids’ schooling because they’ve been getting Bible with their breakfast since they were tiny.

In fact, while every part of school is informed by the Scriptures, we like to keep the Bible itself separate from “school” in a sense so that they don’t get the impression that a day off of school is a day off from devotion to the Lord.

But what does that look like? And how can you get started with this holistic family discipleship model of Bible learning if it’s foreign to you?

Well, let’s start with why.

Our Why: Created Reality and Biblical Goals

Our children are precious creations of our Heavenly Father–and they are precious gifts entrusted to us as parents. We desire to give them access to the Truth that God has revealed in His Word so that they can grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, that they would begin to know and love their Creator.

Ultimately, we desire that our children would trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins and that they would love and serve Him all their days–for their good and God’s glory, both in this life and in the life to come. We don’t ultimately control this outcome. But we can be faithful to train our children in the way they should go.

Our Why Dictates Our How: Holistic Family Discipleship

Given the nature of our children, the nature of our relationship to them as their parents, and the nature of our goal (that they would have a relationship with God), it follows then that we ought to teach them in a way that is first and foremost relational. And decidedly not academic.

This means that interaction with the Scriptures comes woven into the fabric of our every day lives. There are no worksheets nor tests, no grades nor grade levels.

This doesn’t mean we don’t use printed materials to aid our children’s learning (I will link to some below), but we need to remember that the greatest resources we have to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord are His Word, His Holy Spirit, and our own lives lived alongside and before our children.

God’s Word: We must be in the bible ourselves and we must offer the Scriptures to our children.

The Holy Spirit: We must be seeking God to be at work both in us and in our children–apart from Christ we can do nothing. We may have had a direct role in bringing about our children’s physical life, but the spiritual life is of the Spirit–we cannot manufacture it in our kids. Prayer is indispensable.

Our Own Lives: We must model for our children what it means to believe the Word of God, to study it, to meditate on it, to practically submit our lives to it, and to receive both correction from it when we fail and comfort from it when we repent.

What does this actually look like?

Family Bible Time (what some call Family Worship)

Our current family Bible reading pattern, which we’ve had going for several years, is Proverbs at breakfast and Gospels at supper.

Now, this doesn’t mean each one happens every day. The reason we read the Bible over breakfast and dinner is because we often don’t read the Bible over breakfast and dinner. This is a scattering of seeds, not mechanical planting. We aim for faithfulness and perseverance rather than anything that resembles perfect consistency. But in keeping up the habit, we pretty reliably hit at least one of these each day, sometimes both. And before it was Proverbs and Gospels, we read slowly through the entire Bible at meal times–it may have taken a decade, but we kept going. The reason we’re in Proverbs and the Gospels right now is because the primary needs of our children are to receive instruction and correction according to God’s wisdom and to receive Jesus the Messiah as their Savior.

While we eat breakfast, my husband will read a few verses from the chapter of Proverbs that matches the calendar date (since there are conveniently 31 chapters in Proverbs), either selecting these verses ahead of time or asking for the kids to randomly select a number. He reads a verse and asks what it means. The kids give it their best shot and then we all discuss the meaning. He asks if they can think of any examples (a child may not use his brother as a negative example–this is a necessary rule, folks!). It has been fun over the years to hear the examples the kids come up with–sometimes from a fable, from literature, from a Bible story, from a movie. They are learning about wisdom and foolishness and learning how to identify each.

After Proverbs, we recite the Shema and the Lord’s Prayer. We switched up this recitation time over the holidays last year in order to recite and memorize Mary’s Magnificat. Now that we have the placeholder for recitation, we may use the time for other passages when they seem fitting.

Our evening Family Bible Time involves my husband reading from a passage of Scripture (currently Luke) at mealtime and then asking a few questions:

What did we learn? This is a good time for kids to either pick one thing that stuck out to them or simply narrate what they heard.

What can we worship God for? Sometimes, when we’ve been in the prophets, the answer is usually “That God was so patient and gave so many warnings.” Now that we’re in the first few chapters of Luke, the answer is usually “For sending Jesus to save us.” Sometimes the answer is different, but it’s no problem to worship God for the same things over and over again–in fact, it’s right to do so. Once answered, we pray and praise God based on what we saw in the passage–even if it’s simply for preserving the genealogy of Christ (which is pretty amazing when you think about it). Sometimes there may not be an obvious answer. When we were in the middle of Job as a family, it was admittedly hard to find any answer from the text–so we felt Job’s desolation a bit but worshipped God anyway.

What can we do with what we have learned? This is where we pay attention to the right response(s) to what we have read. Sometimes it is simply to worship as we did in the second question. Sometimes there is a command that we ought to obey. Sometimes there is something for which we ought to be thankful, something that ought to amaze us, something that ought to cause us to care for others, an example to follow or an example not to follow.

Now, these questions aren’t magical. They’re just the tools we have used for discussing the Bible as a family and for attempting to respond to it properly. Sometimes the kids are fully engaged and wow us with their insight. But sometimes the kids aren’t super excited to answer. Sometimes we get blank stares. But we don’t read the Bible and ask the questions in order to get perfect responses from our kids. We do it so that they are regularly interacting with the Scriptures and learning by modeling how to respond to them. It’s not perfect, but it is worthwhile. We are planting seeds.

Other Applications and Resources

The seeds we plant in Family Bible Time are watered by a lot of other practices and experiences.

We pray together as a family before meals and before bed. We try to remember to include intercession: to pray for neighbors, friends, family members, etc–sometimes on a weekly rotation so we don’t forget (but let’s be honest, we sometimes forget and go for long stretches with just basic bedtime prayers).

We have also made sure to include Bible time for our children to enjoy independently, even from a very early age by listening: Dove Tales (with cassettes–yes, we inherited these from my in-laws), Jesus Story Book Bible (with CDs), and a dramatized audio Bible from Faith Comes by Hearing. Now that our boys are 11 and 9, they are expected to read a chapter of the Bible first thing in the morning before coming downstairs for breakfast. This doesn’t mean it always happens, but that’s the goal and the general habit.

We’ve also enjoyed watching videos by The Bible Project–edifying for parent and child alike.

This emphasis on the Word of God being integrated into all of life means that it also influences our school day–just not in the graded-Bible-curriculum sort of way.

We read church history: Little Lights Biographies (for very young children, from a Christian seller), Christian Biographies for Young Readers (from a Christian seller), and Trial and Triumph (from a Christian seller).

We read aloud some theological books for children: A Faith to Grow On, Sammy and His Shepherd, The Attributes of God for Kids (from a Christian seller), and The Ology (from a Christian seller). As the kids grow older, their school reading list will include many Christian books that encourage them to walk with God and know Him more deeply.

We have listened and sung along with scriptures put to music: Hide ’em in Your Heart and Seeds Family Worship.

We have enjoyed singing many hymns in our Morning Time (currently singing along with this channel), and we have also enjoyed music by Sovereign Grace Kids (from a Christian seller). Even as adults, when we listen to music with lyrics, we generally choose music that is spiritually edifying. Our kids take this in as well.

The Scriptures inform the other books we choose–and how we read them–whether literature, tales, history, poetry, nature, etc.

The Scriptures make it into our kids’ copy work and dictation, too (that’s language arts).

Keeping It Real

We don’t do all of these things all the time. The most regular parts of our every day life are family Bible time, listening to hymns and other spiritual songs, family prayer, and good discussions on all kinds of things as we go about our days together. And these discussions aren’t just aimed at our kids. My husband and I discuss books, current events, and so many things with each other, seeking to apply God’s Word and His wisdom to everything we encounter. Our kids are audience to these adult conversations, too.

The aim is holistic, not check-list driven. And it is gloriously free from pressure to “get through it” on any kind of annual school schedule (thank God!).

The point of this post isn’t to say we’ve got it down, nor to set any kind of expectation for anyone else. The point is to demonstrate the many ways in which we can spiritually nurture and disciple our children–without boxed curriculum. And to remind all of us (myself included) that we may sow seeds, but the Lord causes the growth. Our dependence upon Him is central to our efforts at training up our children in the ways of the Lord.

All of the things we do have begun as small habits. A little here, a little there. If you are just starting to bring Scripture into your home and homeschool, don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed. Pick one thing. One habit that you and your children can enjoy. Plant a seed. And then another. Water where you can. The Lord causes the growth.

I hope this post has helped to somewhat answer the “What do you use for Bible curriculum?” question. It’s not a short answer, but I hope it may encourage some to think outside that proverbial box … of curriculum. 😉

How do you nurture your children in God’s Word? What resources have you found helpful?

Other posts in this series (so far):

Why We Homeschool: Our Top Seven Reasons

How We Homeschool: Hello, Charlotte. Hello, Classical.

Five Intentions for Christmas Break

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Today marks the first day of Christmas Break for my family. My husband is off for the next two weeks (which has never happened before!), and the kids and I are off from school. Over breakfast we discussed what we want to do with our holiday time off—but the notes we took down didn’t turn out like your typical Christmas Break Bucket List…

My husband and I are both project-oriented people. We’ve been building mental to-do lists for the coming “break” for a couple of months. So our family’s little exercise could have easily turned into another one of mama and papa’s project lists—without much room for margin.

That’s why my husband had us start our breakfast planning session with more general intentions: How do we want the next two weeks to feel? Not just, what do we want to do, but how do we go about it? What atmosphere are we trying to achieve?

This turned out to be a great place to start, guiding our hearts before drawing up schedules.

christmas break bucket list five intentions

Here are our intentions for Christmas break in five words: Celebratory, Connected, Contemplative, Peaceful, Prepared.

Celebratory  You would think that celebration ought to go without saying (and maybe that’s why it was the first word to come to mind!), but it’s easy to forget that a lot of our chores during this season have celebration as their goal. We want all our doing to be consistent with festivity, with celebration, with joy!

Connected  The people God has put in our path are important. Family and friends near and far, neighbors, our local church—we want to strengthen these connections, sharing with them the joy of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Contemplative  Amid the hustle and bustle, we want to take time to listen, read, learn, and consider. To think deeply, to pay attention. To share what we’re learning and thinking in a leisurely manner with one another.

Peaceful  It’s good to be reminded that our break is not just an opportunity to get more work done! Even while we still want to tackle a few projects (especially between Christmas and New Year’s), we know we need to slow down. To rest. To be still. And to come at all our work and activities from a place of rest rather than rush.

Prepared  We want to both enjoy the fruit of our labor (by being prepared for things in a timely manner) and enjoy the preparing process itself. We can enjoy the process if we remember that our preparations—of food, cards, gifts, etc—enable us to better celebrate and connect with others. And taking the time to calm our hearts, by contemplating the meaning of Christmas, we can more meaningfully engage in the work—even when it seems tedious or overwhelming. Making room for rest is as much a part of our preparation as all of the physical logistics.

It’s been fun to rethink our to-do list in light of these intentions! Making Christmas cookies and taking them to friends becomes an opportunity to connect, to share in celebration, to provide scripture on a card for contemplation! Our meeting over breakfast this morning was an important part of preparation for the coming weeks, so that we could set our hearts and then plan our days accordingly. Our Advent devotional listening to Handel’s Messiah invites us to contemplate the life of Christ as we sip eggnog together on the couch (connection). The kids are preparing Christmas songs on the piano, and we’ve been memorizing Mary’s Magnificat, providing contemplative and celebratory riches to share with friends and family—some in person, and some virtually. Even activities like hiking and cleaning and reading and playing board games and finishing up a few random projects take on fresh new color when we consider how they work toward the intentions we have stated.

As we’ve thought over our list today, we’ve also realized that each of these intentions are a part of our devotion to Jesus during this season. We are celebrating the birth of Christ, seeking to stay connected to Him in prayer and in the Word, contemplating what it means for God to become man, thankful for the peace that comes because our sins are forgiven in Jesus. And we are preparing our hearts to welcome the new born King—as a reenactment of history but also as a foretaste of things to come. The King will come again, and we must be prepared to receive Him.

May every heart prepare Him room…

Merry Christmas!

What are your intentions for your holiday season? What kind of atmosphere are you aiming to cultivate?

Cyber Monday Homeschool and Homemaking Deals [expired]

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This is not at all an exhaustive list, but I wanted to pass on a few deals for things that I myself use and deeply appreciate!

Prodigies Music has steep discounts on memberships during their Cyber Monday Sale [sale is now over]. As a reader of Kept and Keeping, you can get an additional 5% off with coupon code KEPT.
Our family has enjoyed the Lifetime Membership for four years now! We started learning on desk bells and are now dabbling in recorder, ukulele, and piano! The Prodigies team keeps adding more colorful sheet music and more fun instructional videos. My family’s music education library keeps growing and growing!

Playing a Right Start Math Game
Exploring Geometric Solids

Right Start Math is having a sale on gently used curriculum, manipulatives and instructional/tutoring kits [sale now over]. We’ve used Right Start in our homeschool for over six years, and it is giving my kids a fantastic, hands-on foundation for understanding and enjoying math. If you’re not sure if this program is for you, they have tutoring kits that you can use to supplement your child’s math education or use to get a feel for how Right Start teaches math–it is different, but I have found it is worth it!

Grace & Truth Books

Check out Cyber Monday discounts at Grace and Truth Books–a great source for Christian books. We have especially enjoyed the Little Lights Biographies (for early elementary school) and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series (for upper elementary) in our homeschool. They also carry Teaching from Rest–a great encouragement for Mom!

Mystie Winckler over at Simply Convivial is offering her Homemaking 101 Course for only $17 (regularly $36) [sale over]. All of Mystie’s courses are such a blessing. This Homemaking 101 course is practical and purposeful but definitely NOT perfectionistic! You’ll find real Christian encouragement for managing and enjoying your home, not someone else’s.

Thanksgiving: A Holiday Made for Unsettling Times

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We’re all familiar with the modern traditions surrounding Thanksgiving in America: parade, family, turkey, football, pumpkin pie, and …shopping like maniacs the following day.

We may even take a few moments to give thanks or remember that iconic feast shared by the Pilgrims and American Indians nearly 400 years ago.

But for most of us, our understanding of the holiday doesn’t go much deeper than that.

And now it’s 2020.

We’re living in a pandemic, watching tensions mount between different groups of Americans, and trying to see straight in the aftermath of a vicious and confusing presidential election.

For some of us, this Thanksgiving may look like holidays-as-usual. We’ll gather with all the family, thankful for our health and thankful that our state hasn’t locked us down again.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

For others, we may begrudge the restrictions in place that cramp our traditions–or maybe we’ll voluntarily cancel trips and gatherings.

For still others, there’ll be at least one empty chair at the table. A chair that was warm just last week.

We Americans have some common experiences this year in that we’re seeing history unfold before our eyes more than we usually care to.

In light of this, I’d like to share a peek into the past that I have found encouraging. Thanksgiving is indeed a holiday made for unsettling times. There are three key moments in Thanksgiving history that can help us to understand both the holiday and our place in the story today: the colonial period, the founding of our nation, and the Civil War.

Thanksgiving in the Colonial Period

The colonial period of American history involves a complex interplay of different people groups and different motivations. The Native Americans consisted of various different tribes and customs while the Europeans likewise were represented by explorers and settlers from Spain, France, England, and Holland.

There could be peace or war in any and all directions.

There could be prosperity or famine and plague.

There could be–and there was–kidnapping of Native American youth to be sold as slaves in Europe.

Against this tumultuous backdrop, the coming of the English Pilgrims and their warm and life-saving reception by Squanto and the Wampanoag Indians radiates hope for peace and provision in the midst of very uncertain times.

It’s also an incredible picture of forgiveness: Squanto was one of those youths stolen from his home and sold as a slave in Europe. He escaped to England and eventually made it home to find that his people had been wiped out by plague. What had been done to him was terribly wrong and deplorable. But in the process, he acquired the English language and faith in Christ.

What was the Pilgrim’s response to this incredible provision of practical help and a mediator with the native people? They set aside time to celebrate a harvest feast, giving thanks to God for His protection and provision–even after nearly half of their company had died in the previous year. Their neighbors, the Indians whom God had used to preserve them, joined them in the feast.

Giving Thanks for a New Nation

Let’s fast-forward 160 years to the first proclamation of a national “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789. The fledgling United States of America had won their independence from Britain just a few years earlier in 1783, the Constitution had just been peacefully ratified in 1787, and President George Washington, with a nudge from both houses of Congress, saw fit to give thanks.

Washington’s three-paragraph proclamation begins by recognizing “the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” He continues to summarize reasons for a day of thanksgiving and prayer before dedicating the remaining two paragraphs to 1) a call to thanksgiving and 2) a call to prayer. I highly recommend you take the time to read Washington’s address in its entirety here.

As you read, you’ll find an aim at uniting as a people around both thanksgiving and prayer. You might be surprised to find no reference to the pilgrims. And you might also be surprised to find that the call to prayer includes a call to plead for forgiveness:

…that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions…

There’s a lot more food for thought here than “pilgrims” and “family” and “football.”

Before we jump ahead in time, I think it’s important to recognize that the Pilgrims and George Washington alike were not perfect people, nor were they living in perfect times. The early days of our American republic set the stage for the drama that we’re about to discuss–by raising the standard of liberty while simultaneously failing to fully apply its ideals. While their blind spots are tragic (just as our own are today), they gave us the language with which we have continued to pursue liberty and justice for all throughout the following two centuries. To mock at their ideals and their giving of thanks is to cut ourselves off from the very things we ought to bring forward.

With that in mind, let’s look at the third moment of Thanksgiving history for our consideration today: the Civil War.

Thanks and Praise in the Midst of War

While Washington made the first presidential proclamation of thanksgiving, and while pockets of Americans (particularly in New England) celebrated a thanksgiving feast from year to year, President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863 was the first in what would become a continuous string of thanksgiving proclamations by US presidents up until our times.

Sarah Josepha Hale, best known for writing “Mary had a Little Lamb,” had been writing to presidents for decades, pleading with them to create a national thanksgiving holiday; and for decades she was ignored. When she sent a letter to President Lincoln, however, she found a listening ear.

Within a week Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Thanksgiving–nine months after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and one month before delivering his Gettysburg Address–and smack in the middle of a war that would become a five-year scar on the face of American history.

Lincoln’s proclamation (actually written by his Secretary of State, William Seward), contains only one substantial paragraph, weaving back and forth between poetic consideration of blessings from “the ever watchful providence of Almighty God” and the context of “a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity.”

Of the blessings listed he declares: “They are all the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Like Washington’s proclamation 74 years earlier, Lincoln’s call to thanksgiving and prayer is not without reference to sin. In fact, after inviting all Americans to unite for this purpose on the last Thursday of November, he continues:

 …I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity [sic] and Union.

The Civil War saw more American casualties than all other wars combined up until the Vietnam War about a century later. The need to remember “widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers” was palpable.

And while there is always more than one motivation at play on either side of such a conflict, it is undeniable that the continued enslavement of Africans and black Americans played a central role. It’s not at all a stretch to read this cause into “our national perverseness and disobedience,” and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address makes this soberingly clear.

It would be nice to be able to tie this up with a pretty bow. To demonstrate that changed laws and a presidential proclamation of thanks, prayer, repentance, and a call to unity could indeed make all things right.

But Lincoln was shot. And his expressed desire for repentance and healing left unrealized.

And there’s no reason to believe that had Lincoln lived to serve his second term repentance and healing would have come any more easily. These kinds of changes start in hearts not heads of state.

Bringing it Home

So here we are now. Twenty-twenty has been quite a year. But we aren’t alone in facing “unprecedented times.” These are the things history is made of.

I believe we can better find our place in that story if we remember where we’ve come from, if we remember that what is true and good is worth pursuing in any age, and if we repudiate the cynicism and resentment that work against these ends.

In a holiday season thrown off balance and stripped of some of its usual charm, may we look back to find our bearings and the traditions that are most important.

In the face of a pandemic and its associated isolation, may we remember “widows, orphans, mourners [and] sufferers.”

In a social climate rife with vitriol, may we “fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation.”

In the fierce clamor for control of the political sphere, may we seek the “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience” that comes from the work of God in the hearts of individuals who look to Providence more than presidents.

What human beings on this continent have needed in 1621 and 1789 and 1863 is the same as what we need today: hearts humble before God and man, hearts that are quick to repent of sin–in all its forms–and do what is necessary to truly love our neighbor. Our Thanksgiving holiday, both in history and today, is an invitation to practice that humility and cultivate that love.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sources to explore:

https://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving

https://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/thanksgiving-proclamation-of-1789/

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-proclaims-official-thanksgiving-holiday

https://www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-and-the-mother-of-thanksgiving

http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/civil-war-casualties

Further reading on this blog:

The Poverty of Pragmatic Gratitude and the Riches of True Thanksgiving

Remember and Rejoice: Thanksgiving Meditations from the Book of Deuteronomy

[Real] Life After Instagram

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On August 22, 2020 I finally did it. I deleted my account. I had only been on Instagram for two or three years, but it was long enough to feel pretty at home there–and long enough to have spent considerable time wondering whether it was worth keeping up.

Here are my reasons for quitting–as well as my reflections after a full two months without the ‘gram.

Why I Quit Instagram

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with social media ever since my then-friend-now-husband convinced me to join Facebook back in 2006.

That love-hate relationship (with Facebook, not my husband) extended to Instagram a few years ago when I decided that it looked like a less-cluttered and possibly more fun platform–and that it might help drive traffic to my blog.

It was fun. And I enjoyed the people I met there. But over time I found the positives didn’t outweigh the negatives. Here’s what finally led me to walk away.

REASON #1: The InstaNature of the Beast (and the Guilt Cycle)

There’s something written into the name “Instagram” (and thus into the platform itself) that creates a sense of urgency where it doesn’t really belong.

Cute moment with the kids during school… Ooo…I should share this!

Hike in the mountains… Ooo…I should snap a photo!

The sense of urgency interrupts real life, but then real life interrupts my attempts to craft a cute caption. When the post is finally made, guilt swoops in, nagging at me for the time spent when I really should have been all-there with my kids or thoroughly enjoying God’s creation or maybe even writing an actual article.

But then the guilt that comes from real life’s call for my attention gets pushed around by the guilt that the platform itself creates. When “instant” is in the name (and the algorithm), it’s hard not to feel like you are somehow failing if you don’t update frequently.

The only way to break this crazy Guilt Cycle is to recognize that I don’t owe Instagram my content, nor do I really owe anyone (and especially not strangers) a near-daily peak into the life of my family. That’s really absurd when you think about it.

REASON #2: The Time-Sink

Even at times when I wasn’t posting very often (which, let’s face it, I was never a super-frequent poster to begin with), there was still the draw of the feed: cute pictures of parenting or homeschool moments, inspirational quotes, updates from some of my favorite people (because I followed real friends on IG, too), and give-aways for things I actually wanted (and which I won on more than one occasion).

These things are lovely, but while they might seem like benign encouragements in my day, they more often than not were the bait to keep me scrolling when I really needed encouragement to get up, do my duty, and love my people.

This past summer I installed the Freedom app, which I have found very helpful.

Putting your social media use on a time budget may just reveal that you don’t have time for it at all.

When I put reasonable restrictions on social media, it became abundantly clear that there simply wasn’t time for creating those cute posts that seemed so necessary. Even when I tried a post-scheduling app, I simply I couldn’t keep up.

All I was left with was that oh-so-addictive scrolling. And it began to feel more and more empty, more and more like stealing time away from what really mattered, even as I had given myself less opportunity for it. My moments of Freedom opened my eyes to the fact that my life off-screen was very, very full. You might say that Instagram wasn’t helping my real-life bottom line, which leads me to the next point…

REASON #3: Low Return on Investment

My real-life bottom line wasn’t the only one that failed to see great returns. While I did manage to stir up a little more interest in my blog, it wasn’t worth the time nor content invested. I enjoyed being able to share things on Instagram, and I’m happy that people could enjoy what I shared there, but it was a drain on my actual writing goals–goals that are more important than traffic, likes, or “social media presence.”

All that said, my initial goal of driving traffic to my blog didn’t actualize in any significant way (it just meant more sharing work surrounding each new blog post). And in the past year, I’ve discovered that a timeless and well-written post that people are searching for is my single best draw for new traffic. I’ve always preferred the “just write and let them come” thing, and now I’m beginning to see how that can work–without Instagram.

REASON #4: A Healthy Dose of Positive Peer Pressure

The three reasons listed above were not the only ones nagging at me. My love-hate relationship with Instagram included a few more considerations and questions that I hadn’t fully enumerated before. Enter Mystie Winckler, whose blog I’ve been following for a number of years and whose voice and thought process I highly respect. I was actually trying to convince myself that I could take this “Instagram thing” up a notch–make it work, post more content–when Mystie announced she would be deleting her account and gave her reasons in this article. Having some of those nagging concerns listed out in front of me helped me see that I really didn’t want to work things out with Instagram!

I posted my “resignation,” if you will, a few days later.

why I quit instagram

The Results: Goodbye, Instagram; Hello, Freedom

So, how’s life on the other side? Well, it’s life. Real life. And a whole lot of it.

Getting off of Instagram (and making good use of that Freedom app) has made me so much more aware of how buried I am in projects around the house. 😂 And doesn’t that make sense? Don’t we often look to social media as an escape from what we have to do? From the overwhelm that hits when we consider just how much there is to do–and the guilt that has piled up from the last several instances of escapism?

With social media and even email under tight regulations thanks to the Freedom app, I can begin to see the mess much more clearly. And yes, on one level that is frustrating. But it’s also liberating. I’m making huge gains in home and life management: chipping away at goals surrounding our school booklist, finances, painting/remodeling projects, fitness, being “all there” during school time with my kids, more readily reaching for a book, more readily allowing prayer to fill the natural pauses in my day. And doing so without any impulse to capture it for the world to see, which I find allows me to enjoy these things–and not just the images of them–far more.

I’m also free to enjoy our homeschool without images of someone else’s pretty school room making me sigh over the scratched up kitchen table and 34-year-old linoleum floors that greet us every morning.

You think these things–all the perfect images–don’t get to you. But they do… Until you decide to ignore them.

And that is when you begin to really appreciate the beauty of the people God has given you and the places and things–even the worn-out, unphotogenic things–He’s graciously provided.

I’m still planning on replacing that floor, though.

As for the blog, well, while I have never gotten high amounts of traffic, I’m getting better traffic than ever, even when I haven’t posted for a whole month. That increase in traffic is coming from search engines, not social media–even though when I initially publish a post my greatest source of traffic comes from sharing it on Facebook. Turns out my real-life friends are far more likely to read what I write than strangers on Instagram. I think that’s the best I could hope for–knowing that what I write blesses the people I know is way better than increasing numbers among people I don’t know.

I only wish I could say that I’m writing and publishing more frequently, but I think that will come in time. For now I’m taking care of business around the house and for my family (which will continue to be my top priority by a long shot, even as I hope to up my writing output).

The Verdict

While I understand that some people favor Instagram over other platforms and can use it to reach their goals, I have found that I absolutely do not miss or need Instagram in my life.

It’s also true, however, that a distracted mind will find distraction without Instagram’s help. And that’s why I can’t say that all of my results come from simply dropping the ‘gram–deleting my account along with the Freedom app’s ability to schedule blocks on any other online distractions or apps has been a knock-out punch. I highly recommend you look into Freedom or another such tool. I’ve found it an invaluable piece of the puzzle.

Whatever you choose to do to manage the social media and internet beast, let me leave you with this encouragement:

Rightly ordered living is, well, rightly ordered living. And no amount of pretty pictures or affirmation in the form of likes on Instagram can make up for the lack of it.

Recommended reading:

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

Competing Spectacles

40 Things I Love More than the Internet

How We Homeschool: Hello, Charlotte. Hello, Classical.

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In my last post, I shared Why We Homeschool, and part of our WHY included the freedom to choose HOW.

I explained a bit of our story–how my husband was homeschooled and how I went to public school. And I shared our mission statement:

Since before they were born, my husband Nathaniel and I have purposed to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and to educate them at home by means of whole/living books, meaningful work and life experiences, and disciplined habits of wisdom and personal responsibility—for school and for life and ultimately for eternity.

In this post, I’ll give a little more of our story and begin to flesh out just how we have come to do what we do–and how we think about it, summarizing Charlotte Mason and classical philosophies as best I can.

A Little More of Our Story…

That mission statement above was written recently, but it pretty well describes what our aims have been from the beginning, owing much to what Nathaniel’s family passed down and to his experience with the literature-based Robinson Curriculum.

Our initial trajectory found further inspiration nearly six years ago when an older mom-friend at the local homeschool co-op first introduced me to the ideas of Charlotte Mason and Christian classical education (yes, both at the same time–it’s taken me years to sort them out! Ha!).

We were already legally homeschooling our five-year-old at this point–attempting to use my mother-in-law’s KONOS unit studies curriculum. Think: a text-only Pinterest board in a three-inch binder (though I’m sure it’s more up-to-date these days). I had already found that, rogue that I am, I took the subject matter we were supposed to cover in KONOS, ignored the binder and its overwhelming amount of options completely, and simply went to the library to check out as many quality books as I could find for us to read aloud on a given subject.

I’m not a crafty mom, nor do I like Pinterest.

While carting books home from the library for our immediate needs, I began to explore Charlotte Mason via Ambleside Online and some of my friend’s Well Trained Mind materials (which are Classical, too).

Somewhere in that first year I also acquired Educating the WholeHearted Child, an excellent resource on Christian homeschooling, by Clay and Sally Clarkson–and I found Charlotte Mason quotes littered throughout.

Hmmm…Interesting. The wheels were spinning.

Half way into our second year, now invested in a couple of those Well Trained Mind materials and a practice called Morning Time (recommended by my friend and expanded upon by Pam Barnhill), I found myself tuning in to a new podcast called Scholé Sisters, “a casual conversation…” for “the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow.”

Inspired by the podcast to “find your sisters,” I invited the friend who had started this mess 😉 as well as a few others to form our own book club and read Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake–arguably the Charlotte Mason gateway drug.

At this point my research perhaps turned into somewhat of an addiction.

I began to see that Charlotte Mason’s ideas about books, habit training, and real-life learning lined up with so much of what we were already doing–and they challenged me to grow further out of my push-through-to-the-next-thing mindset that I’d acquired in my own school years.

I also began to explore classical education a bit, but never really hopped on the Trivium-as-stages Train. I was delighted to find in further listening and research that the “stages” application of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric was a gross oversimplification–classical education, as I had hoped, has far more to offer.

Since that first year where I didn’t-really-follow-KONOS, we haven’t used any sort of all-in-one curriculum (though I have borrowed a lot from Ambleside Online and we do use curriculum for math).  We appreciate the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason and Christian classical education, and we choose materials eclectically guided by a lot of the principles from these philosophies.

So, what exactly are they?

Hello, Charlotte

Charlotte Mason, a British educator who lived at the turn of the 20th century, describes education as “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Atmosphere refers to the naturally occurring environment of the child—the home in which they live, the people they live with, the world outside their front door. This also includes the attitudes that they pick up from, say, their parents.

Discipline refers to the formation of habits, whether personal cleanliness, academic, or other habits of character. Again, who we are as parents teaches a lot!

Life might be a bit confusing. By life Mason means “living ideas,” or knowledge that is vital. This kind of knowledge is found by being in living touch with the world around us and especially by being presented with a rich curriculum that puts us in touch with the knowledge made available in books—and particularly books of literary quality rather than dry textbooks which can often strip knowledge of its delight. When Charlotte Mason mamas speak of living books, they’re in this realm of “education is a life.”

Our mission statement corresponds with this framework for education:
“…meaningful work and life experiences…” — a big part of atmosphere.
“…disciplined habits of wisdom and personal responsibility…” — discipline.
“…whole/living books…” — and there’s the life.

Now, that’s Charlotte Mason on a very general level. She also has a list of 20 principles and six volumes in which she develops her philosophy and method. Some of the key elements include training the habit of attention, growing in self-education, narrating back what one has heard or read after just one reading, spending time outside in nature, studying a wide range of beautiful things, and resisting the urge to over-teach so that the child does the work of thinking for him/herself. But that’s just scratching the surface.

When I list Charlotte Mason as part of how we homeschool, I mean that we are happily influenced by her ideas, but I do not mean that I follow her method anything near completely. Her principles resonate with me and challenge me to be a better mom, but I implement them very much in our own way. And that’s perhaps why I sometimes feel that we fit more easily within Classical education (a philosophical umbrella with arguably various methods up for grabs) than we do in a strictly Charlotte Mason approach (a philosophy with a prescribed method to go with it). But they really do meld together well in our home!

Hello, Classical

Christian classical education aims at wisdom and virtue and at cultivating an appreciation for what is true, good, and beautiful. It emphasizes an ancient and long-standing educational tradition that has been abandoned in the past 150 years or more, but it’s making a strong comeback today. Training in The Seven Liberal Arts of Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric (the arts of language); Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music (the mathematical arts) is a key part of the curriculum. But this isn’t the sum total of learning, either. Other elements in this tradition include training in piety, gymnastic, music (in more than a mathematical sense), common and fine arts, sciences and history and philosophy–with Christian theology as both the guide and the goal.

There is a learning curve here, especially since the words I just used to tell you what’s included in a classical education all have older definitions and understandings that are either completely abandoned or else eclipsed by the way we understand them today. There are helpful resources out there, though. Podcasts like the Scholé Sisters, Ask Andrew, and Cafe Schole have been helpful. As for reading, these articles at the Circe Institute can get you started, and the booklet Introduction to Classical Education is a helpful overview. But once you’re ready to dive into a thorough treatment of Christian classical education, be sure to grab The Liberal Arts Tradition (revised edition) by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain. This book ties all the pieces together with lots of historical references so that you come away with a better and deeper understanding of the whole paradigm and where it all comes from. There’s also a short glossary of key words and concepts at the back of the book that’s a very handy reference!

Charlotte Mason and classical both aim at a holistic education that respects the nature of the child as made in God’s image. As such, children ought to be nurtured and educated in body, mind, and soul–and primarily by those that love them most. Today’s secular school system doesn’t acknowledge the soul of the child, so it falls short even when it aims at a holistic education.

Some of what we do will sound flowery, but that’s because our focus isn’t just on academic skills—it’s on all of life enjoyed and lived to the glory of God—and this includes a lot of things that are both enriching in an enjoyable way and pay dividends academically, too. What we do is academically rigorous, but in a very different way.

We’ve found that both Charlotte Mason and Christian classical education each resonate with our priorities and direction, while also giving a greater depth and breadth to our efforts than we knew was possible.

Do you have to follow either of these philosophies or methods to homeschool you kids well and raise them in the ways of the Lord? No. The best way to do that is to be humbly and constantly immersing yourself and your children in God’s word, believing it and living by it together in your everyday, everywhere life. But both classical and Charlotte Mason philosophies can be extremely helpful to that end–not only for the way they give you many positive things to implement in your teaching, but also for the way they challenge you to peel back the layers of negative influence from our modern, materialistic education system.

Stay tuned for more in this series as I begin to post specifically about how we handle various subjects in our homeschool (without actually concerning ourselves much with “teaching all the subjects”).

In case you missed it, here’s the first post in the series: Why We Homeschool.

Next up: How We homeschool: Bible

Why We Homeschool: Our Story and Top Seven Reasons

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Since before they were born, my husband Nathaniel and I have purposed to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and to educate them at home by means of whole/living books, meaningful work and life experiences, and disciplined habits of wisdom and personal responsibility—for school and for life and ultimately for eternity.

It’s a lovely mission statement, but how did we come to it? And how do our ideals work themselves out in daily life and lessons? In this first post in a series on Why and How We Homeschool, I’ll explain a bit of our personal story and then list some of the most important factors that have both informed our decision on the front end and benefited our family all along the way.

Why We Homeschool

When Nathaniel and I met in college, I was already pretty interested in homeschooling and he was dead set on it. He was homeschooled by godly parents from birth all the way through high school. His parents passed on their biblical convictions, and Nathaniel experienced first hand the freedom and advantages afforded by home education. He valued what he was given so much that it was an important part of the equation when we decided to get married.

I was public schooled in Texas and had a good experience, including good friends, honors classes, and competitive athletics. While school provided many opportunities, I recognize that what allowed me to take advantage of those opportunities was my parents’ dedication to teach and train me outside of school hours–they made the difference in my case, not the system itself.

When I was in high school I attended a church where half of the youth group was homeschooled. I appreciated how the homeschoolers I met were really down to earth and comfortable being themselves, and I admired how they could get their school work done in half the day and have time for family-life and even their own pursuits (like starting a business!)–all while I was sometimes at school for ten or more hours, plus homework. Homeschooling seemed so incredibly efficient! By the time I met Nathaniel at college I was pretty sold on homeschooling my own kids one day.
A lot of our approach and conviction has been informed by how Nathaniel’s parents sought to train and educate him and his siblings, but that’s also melded with my experience growing up and a lot of reading and thinking and discussion on education along the way. We both bring things to the table.

Our approach to education is fairly different from the traditional school model, but it’s also fairly simple. We, the parents, love to learn, and we love to live an enriched holistic life to the glory of God. We wish to pass this love of life and learning on to our children. Our educational approach has a heavy emphasis on Christian discipleship and on reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as engagement with the outdoors. We minimize the use of textbooks, except where necessary to learn a specific discipline, and we lean heavily on literature. We also have rich discussions as a family on all-the-subjects-in-the-world.

I mention this little preview on how we homeschool simply because having the freedom to do things in this way is in itself a reason for homeschooling. Stay tuned for when I go into greater detail on how we homeschool in future articles.

And now the WHY. Here are our top reasons for homeschooling:

  1. Of primary importance: We believe that we have a responsibility before God to raise our children in His ways (Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Ephesians 6:1-4). We believe that we can best achieve this by being directly involved in their education, and we believe that our home has the potential to be the most natural and loving environment in which true learning can take place. Furthermore, we’re able to explore the interplay of our faith in Jesus with everything we study, rather than simply adding “Bible” on the side of academic studies as though it is separate from all other knowledge and experience.
  2. Homeschooling is efficient. I admired this as a teenager. Academic work for elementary students can be done by noon pretty easily. Older students can work more independently and complete their studies with time to spare for other pursuits if they are diligent. While homeschool studies might be punctuated by playing outside, moving the laundry, or making lunch, they don’t lose time to things like forming lines, pep rallies, bus rides, etc.
  3. Homeschooling allows life skills to be a natural part of the school day. As I noted in the point above, a homeschool day unavoidably involves life skills. Even if kids don’t do all the chores, they’re at least home to see them being done by someone in the family, so they’re aware of what it takes to run a household. And when Mom is Teacher on top of Home Manager, she tends to make sure the kids get in on the chores! There’s some consternation lately about kids being required to learn higher math in school but not being taught how to file their taxes, buy insurance, or balance a checkbook. Home is a natural environment for learning all of these things and more–not by replacing part of the math program, but by having your child sit down with you as you do them.
  4. Homeschooling allows primary relationships to stay primary. Parents and siblings and even grandparents can be more involved in the child’s life simply because they are not sequestered away into an age-segregated environment for eight hours a day. Assuming the child has a loving family environment, this extra family time is a huge boon to their security, mental and emotional health, and ability to form stable and positive relationships later in life. Of course, on the flip side, if the home environment is caustic, this would be a reason NOT to homeschool. God bless the teachers that comfort children who receive no real comfort at home.
  5. Homeschooling provides socialization beyond the child’s peer group. “The companion of fools will suffer harm.” Putting a bunch of kids together who are at relatively the same level of foolishness because of their age and inexperience tends to work against the goal of raising children to be wise. In contrast, by homeschooling, our kids are far less dependent upon their peers, and they have to learn to interact with their siblings, with their parents, with their neighbors, and with other families whose children range in age from babies to adults. While parents who send their kids to traditional schools may also seek out relationships for their kids beyond their peers, the proportion of time spent with a peer group verses time spent with a variety of ages is quite different. Homeschoolers may be less comfortable in the peer group, but they tend to be more comfortable interacting with individuals of all ages in broader society. This different direction in socialization can lessen the negative effects of peer pressure while also putting the child in touch with people and situations from which they can learn wisdom.
  6. Homeschooling gives us freedom to travel off season. This may not be a high point for everyone, but my husband sure likes adventures. We make our own schedule and take vacation time when my husband’s work schedule allows, or based on the best time of year. School can come along with us (usually in the form of audiobooks listened to on the road), the trip itself might be a broader part of their education (like supersized field trips), and/or we can leave it all behind to be picked back up when we get home (this works just fine, too).
  7. Homeschooling allows us to pass on a love for learning and love for GOOD books. We love good books and have read aloud to our kids since they were wee babes. Many parents do this, whatever their school decisions. But because we homeschool, and because we homeschool with a literary focus, our kids’ time isn’t taken up with reading textbooks about history or science or literature–they get direct access to great literary books (on all subjects) as part of school time–everyday. And they choose to read outside of school time, too. Reading is enjoyable for life, and it’s also a marker for “student success.” We emphasize the learning and enjoyment–the “success” is a nice byproduct.

In case you didn’t notice, our reasons for homeschooling aren’t really fear-motivated. We aren’t so much opting-out of public school. We’re opting-in to something we think is beautiful. Homeschooling isn’t just how we do school. It’s a lifestyle. Because education is way bigger than our modern concept of “school.”

That said, there are many things we’re happy to avoid (see this article on concerning trends in children’s literature, for one thing). But those things aren’t the focus. We’re not running from Bad Things so much as we’re running toward The Good. Because The Good is well worth it.

why we homeschool reasons for homeschooling
Homeschool families come at it from many different angles and experiences. How about you? Why do you choose to homeschool? Or why might you be considering it?

Other posts in this series:

How We homeschool: Hello, Charlotte. Hello, Classical.

How We Homeschool: Bible