Are you one of those folks who gets the mower out in early April? Do you love a pristine, mono-culture lawn?
Well, we’re not those kinds of folks. While we appreciate the immaculate lawns in town, we like to let our own grass and flowers grow a bit before taking a ride on the mower–and my husband likes to scythe parts of the yard for hay. Crunchy, I know. But when you have a few acres in the country, you can get away with it.
This year, when we were finally ready to take a first pass on cutting the lawn, the mower wouldn’t start. It needed new parts. And my husband was finishing teaching a power systems class for the first time at the local university (in addition to his day job as an engineer). And I was wrapping up my first year of leading a local homeschool co-op.
The lawn had to wait a bit longer than usual. But it didn’t wait begrudgingly.
My friends, we were rewarded with a beautiful show of wildflowers. And lots of frogs hopping all around in the evenings, too. May is a busy month full of end-of-school-year happenings. In the midst of it all, I would like to share a bit of beauty that came from something not happening. Enjoy.
The lovely show I’ve captured for you here spans April and May, but not comprehensively. There have been even more flowers beneath our feet–spring beauties, tiny violets, yarrow, and flowers for which I don’t yet know the names. (The ones I do know, I’ve learned mostly from friends or from the book Arkansas Wildflowers, which organizes flowers by color for easy reference.)
The front lawn is mowed now, and we’ve edged around the house. There’s still tall grass and wildflowers out in the side yard, to keep those neighborhood bees happy (yes, we get honey from across the fence–it’s wonderful).
So if your lawn gets a little long and scraggly this summer, and you just can’t get around to mowing it as soon as you’d like, I hope this post will encourage you to find the beauty in it even as you make space in the schedule for your lawn care routine. Enjoy the season.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Amazon links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a small commission at no additional charge to you.
This spring has been full of life: with garden work, schooling, spring cleaning, taxes, and adventures. I just wanted to hop on here today to share some of the wonderful things that I’ve been enjoying (mostly in my earbuds) lately. I’m on a bit of biblical womanhood kick, and whatever the world may bemoan about that subject, I’m incredibly refreshed by reminders of what God has both called me to and given me grace for in this life as a woman made in His image.
The Simplified Organization Podcast by Mystie Winckler (also available as YouTube videos). Mystie interviews Christian moms to get their best tips for parenting and home management to the glory of God. There’s a great variety of topics and tips. The practical and the spiritual don’t have to be kept in separate categories. 🙂 That’s what I love so much about this podcast (and other resources from Mystie)–not just life hacks, but real help toward godly faithfulness in both our homes and our hearts.
Fruitful Homemaker Podcast This is hosted by Emily Drew, a young mom (and fellow Arkansan!) who interviews older women in the faith. I love that she’s seeking to bring the Titus 2 wisdom of truly older women forward for today’s younger women to hear! Some notable guests include Martha Peace, Nancy Wilson, and Abigail Dodds.
Women Encouraged Podcast, Good Theology: As Mothers – with Nana Dolce This particular episode came recommended by a sweet new mom at my church. It’s a great encouragement to think carefully about what we believe and how that affects the relationships in our home–especially our lives lived out before our kids.
Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot. This is an old classic–one I read in my early twenties and then lent to a friend…never to be seen again. I finally repurchased the book last year, and reading it the last month or so has been such a breath of fresh air in the midst the smoggy mess made by our culture’s current state of confusion.
Speaking of the current state of things, since finishing Let Me Be a Woman, I’ve begun listening to That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis. This third book of Lewis’ Space Trilogy confronts totalitarian scientism and many of the themes addressed in The Abolition of Man. It may seem like a strange addition to a list of “encouragement for moms,” but I’ve found it to be great food for thought. Elisabeth Elliot tells about being a woman. Lewis shows it. His character Jane wrestles through it, and Lewis, as the author, lets her be a woman. I’m not done with the book, but I’m finding it quite instructive and freeing, as I tend to have some of the same modern-woman hang-ups as Jane.
What encouragement have you found lately, mama? Not just to get through the long days of noise and messes, but what has been encouraging you to thrive in you role as a wife and mother? What resources help you lift up your eyes (Psalm 121)?
My grandma, my last living grandparent and the last living great-grandparent to my children, passed away in mid January. I wrote this letter for her, much like I wrote a letter for my PopPop when he passed a few years ago. My parents printed the letter out and set it on a table during a reception in memory of my grandma last month. Her friends said I described her quite well.
January 17, 2022
You gave me my first spanking, and I’m sure I deserved it.
You gave me your auburn red hair. And maybe some of your stubbornness, too.
When I was probably four, you gave me a t-shirt that proclaimed to the world “I’ve got the meanest Grandma in town!”
You excelled at tough love in the best way possible. You took good care of me and didn’t hesitate to correct me. You have been a constant in my life, always rooting for me, always making things fun. And always (perhaps hopelessly) trying to teach me some old-school “classy” manners.
I’m pretty amazed at all your years of living. You lived them fully! You coached basketball, you were one of the first women to graduate from Florida State University, you cracked codes with high-level clearance in the US Navy, you sold real estate, you raised two boys in Rhode Island, France, Hawaii, Virginia, and Texas (I’m sure I’m missing some stops along the way). You survived cancer and replaced how many knees? And celebrated 67 years of marriage before PopPop went on ahead of you.
There was a visit to my parents house a few years ago that I’ll never forget. You and I sat next to each other at the dinner table, as we often did. Everyone else had gotten up, but you and I sat there and swapped boy mom stories. You raised two boys, and I’m raising my two boys. We understood each other. And from that time on, I realized I didn’t just have a Grandma, I had a friend.
I don’t know how many people get to see both their grandparents live to the age of 95. It was a surprise to lose PopPop. He left so suddenly. And yet I had cried when we drove away from your house the Christmas before he died. I knew somehow it would be the last of its kind. And it was perfect.
PopPop’s passing was sudden. This is different. You know your time is up. You knew it at Christmas, and we all seemed to know it, too. It was a perfect last Christmas with you. We were all together as a family, and we visited PopPop at the National Cemetery with you. And again I had that tearful, sinking feeling as we drove home.
What a gift to have had you in my life for so long. I have been truly blessed to know you as my Grandma and as my friend.
You’ve always been tough when you needed to be tough, but you’ve also always been a devoted, faithful source of love. And probably one of the greatest examples of fun and grit mixed into one person.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you.
I’ve posted a few articles in the past few months, but I haven’t posted a personal update of any kind in a long while. Life has been full, so it seems like a good time!
Back in August my husband broke his neck and my oldest son broke his arm (both by falling off of a backyard zipline). That began a new (unusually slow in some ways, unusually busy in others) season for us that lasted right up until Christmas, when Nathaniel was finally released from his neck brace. Woo-hoo!
We thought we were jumping into “normal” again when January rolled around. No injuries! No extra doctor’s appointments! The medical bills are almost behind us!
We had a steady first two weeks, and then my Grandma was put on hospice. We traveled to see her before she passed. We made it to town in time, but not to the hospital. Still, I was thankful to be there with my family, my parents and my brother. It was good to say “good bye” to Grandma together.
The morning of the last day we planned to be there with family, Nathaniel woke up with a fever. A quick test confirmed he had that contagion that gets posts flagged on Facebook. We got out of dodge as quickly as we could, and thankfully my parents and brother stayed well. The boys and I, however, followed Nathaniel’s lead a few days later. Fevers and coughing and headaches, oh my.
We didn’t have as easy of a time as some, but we didn’t have a serious case, either–nor did we pass it to family. And for all of this, we are thankful for the Lord’s mercies.
We had a ski trip planned two weeks from the day we first came down with the C bug. Fatigue and cough still present, we played with canceling, but to no avail.
We went ahead with our trip, and had a great time–but with doctor’s orders restraining Nathaniel from literally risking his neck on the slopes (avoiding trees and jumps in particular), and with some of that lingering fatigue holding us (mostly me) back at altitude, we took it easier than we normally would.
We had two solid weeks of school after Christmas break before we took school with us to visit family around Grandma’s passing. Sickness knocked us out for a week. And we got back to it for a week before taking a week of vacation. We’re back at it now. It feels like a very interrupted start to the spring semester, but our daily routine is strong, even if the Monday after a vacation is still the Monday after a vacation. 😉
And the Monday after that is a Monday, as well.
The boys are working independently on their core school work (math, writing, reading living books for various subjects), and the things that I’m teaching/doing with them are things that I’m excited to be learning alongside them (Latin, logic, and history read alouds).
This may seem like a strange addition to the list, but the Scholé Sisters are doing a Spring Seminar called Excellent Marxmanship inside Sistership (the online network for Christian classical homeschool moms to discuss all-the-things–free to join, but this course is available at the paid Sophie level). Marxism, which is antithetical to Christianity, has influenced our modern world in many ways, and there’s no better way to see it for what it is than to get it from the source. I listened to The Communist Manifesto (available at librivox.org) back in 2020. That was a great first pass, and this Excellent Marxmanship seminar is giving me a chance to read it again and dig deeper–along with other ladies who are interested in Truth more than knee-jerk reactions. Along with Marx’s Manifesto, they’re reading two other books related to the subject. The background knowledge provided and discussion via comment threads and video chats makes this a high value course! It’s worth the cost of paid membership in Sistership, to be sure. Just make sure you can set aside some time for it.
Even if you can’t join this seminar, it’s valuable to read The Communist Manifesto for yourself. It’s sometimes hard to understand, sometimes (ok, often) infuriating, but well worth being aware of, especially if you are guiding your children through the ideological jungle of our world today.
A good book to pair with Marx would be C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. I’ve been thinking for a while that these two books, both short and a bit challenging, one diabolical and the other full of truth and insight, are so worth wrestling through in order to understand our world today. Let me know in the comments if you’ve read either of them or plan to!
Prepping food for my family has always been part of my day job, but there have been some seasons, like last fall, where I get into survival mode and I rely way too often on canned refried beans and tortillas to get a quick meal of bean burritos on the table. We still love our bean burritos, but I’m getting creative in the kitchen again. 🙂 It’s funny how when you put just a little extra thought into something, even something as every day as dinner, you can turn the mundane into something creative. And it makes the whole process more enjoyable.
Every year I appreciate the coming of spring. We encounter trials and dry seasons in life, but God graciously gives us signs of life even during the coldest time of year. The trees started budding as soon as the days started getting longer again (back in January!). We’ve seen a few daffodil blooms in the past two weeks. Sure, I live in the south, so your experience may vary, but the imagery of spring, whenever it does come, is a beautiful reminder of a God who can raise the dead. Of a Father who provides for His children. Of a Savior who died to give us life and who rose again for our justification and our hope. I love finding hints of the gospel of grace in the world that God has made. As we look forward to spring, may you find those traces of His grace around you, as well.
I’ve been on a bit of a minimalist kick lately, decluttering my house, my closet, my recipes, my priorities, you name it. While I don’t necessarily hold to minimalism as a whole-life philosophy, I find that it does offer some necessary push-back to our modern tendencies to be “ever expanding,” whether that be in our possessions, resources, opportunities, or social connections.
On that last item, social connections, I recently read an article explaining the theory of what’s called the Dunbar Number. A British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar posited (after some research on primates and combing through human records) that the greatest number of meaningful connections any one person can hold at a given time is about 150.
I have to admit I had quite the confirmation bias response to this article, because not too long ago I was explaining to my husband that I have social limits, and I simply cannot keep up with all-the-people, and I certainly don’t have energy for continually adding to the number of all-the-people to whom I feel some measure of social obligation.
With interest and perhaps some of that confirmation bias running through my veins, I decided I’d see where my current number of connections stood. I pulled out my brain dump notebook and began to write down all of the people with whom I have some meaningful or working connection. I started with family. That easily reached over 30 people. Then it was long-standing friends. You know, the people you may or may not see each year but whom you are committed in some way to maintaining for the long haul: again, over 30. Neighbors came to about 20. Homeschool connections almost 30. Church connections (which is small right now because we’re still new at our local church): about 15. And then I listed those who are a bit more distant but still qualify under this idea of meaningful connection: 60 or more. If you just add up the rounded numbers I’ve listed, that makes 185, more than the Dunbar Number (150). No wonder I feel a bit overwhelmed and like I can’t add any more.
But guess what kinds of people I didn’t add to any of those lists of contacts? For the most part, I didn’t include online-only relationships. There are seven ladies who make the cut because they are part of an online stand-up/accountability group. Other than those ladies, every other person on the list has some real-life, meaningful or workable connection (or has had in the past and therefore they are on the list).
What this little exercise demonstrated for me was twofold: One, there isn’t really any room for me to build or even maintain relationships on social media or other online platforms. No wonder I feel a little overwhelmed trying to keep up. Two, even these connections that I wrote down are pushing the limit, and I need to prioritize.
Now, Dunbar’s theory itself has prioritization built in. He suggests that any one person can have only about 5 people in their inner circle—these are loved ones, your most trusted and closest kind of friends (large families can adjust this number accordingly, IMO). Next up are “good friends,” of which you can maintain about 15 (or just ten more than the 5 closest friends we already mentioned). There are about 50 that can be called “friends” in a meaningful way before our own capacity is stretched enough to make the term “friend” less meaningful (I’m looking at you, Facebook). And then the next jump is up to that limit of 150 meaningful contacts. Beyond that, the study claims we could have face-recognition of up to 1500 people–but not meaningful relationships. I can’t say I’ve taken the time to test the limits on that last one.
Now, all of this should be taken with a grain of salt. The Dunbar Number is a theory, not gospel nor scientific law. But it is interesting, isn’t it?
I’ve titled this article “Titus 2 and the Dunbar Number,” so it’s about time I brought this back around. As Christians, we know that the greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And while Jesus insisted that anyone who we find in need of our help can be considered our neighbor (see the parable of the good Samaritan), in today’s times, we tend to be over-exposed to people and needs via the internet and social media, skewing our sense of responsibility away from our nearest neighbors and toward those far from us.
The impact here is both quantitative in that we’re compelled to give emotional energy toward more people than we have capacity for and qualitative in that we’re tempted to prioritize (at least in the moment) people far away from us, for whom we are not most responsible. The issue here isn’t that caring for people far away is bad (it’s good to be concerned for people in different places than we are), it’s just unnatural to have a constant reminder of them and to be pulled away from the people literally right in front of us or across the street. The combination of those quantitative and qualitative elements makes for a rather big challenge, especially if we take seriously the call to “love our neighbor.” We’re left asking Jesus for clarification, “Who is my neighbor?”
This is where Titus 2 comes in. Some people hate this passage because they see it as limiting women to the home, keeping them barefoot and pregnant, etc. But I think we can see it in a different light. Here it is for your consideration:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
If we are to love God and love people, the first place that we ought to practice that God-honoring people-love is within our own households. What Titus 2 (and a few other passages) implies to me is that this temptation to concern and even distract ourselves with people “out there” isn’t something only modern social media mavens have experienced. Even women in the first century needed the reminder that a love that isn’t fulfilling its duty at home first is a hypocritical love that can lead to the gospel being blasphemed, the good news being spoken of as if it’s bad.
Now before anyone throws stones because they think I’m promoting “the patriarchy,” let me be the first to say that this principle holds true for men as well. It’s why elders are supposed to be good managers of their own households before they are recognized as leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). It’s why a man that doesn’t provide for his own is called “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). The call to prioritize the people right in front of us is universal. This responsibility to one’s own household is why singleness is, for some, an effective state to be in for the sake of ministry to others: because the man or woman who isn’t tied down has more time and energy to devote to the Lord, which may include serving others beyond the home in a way that the married person simply can’t (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). But that’s more the exception than the norm for believers. Most of us are called to marry and build families to the glory of God.
So the reminder in Titus 2 to love your husband and love your children and focus on the work that must be done to keep the home running well isn’t slavish or limiting. It’s a sane call to put first things first. The calling toward home and family doesn’t necessarily preclude other callings, but it does take precedence over them.
And, if you think about it, all of this makes sense in light of Dunbar’s thoughts on human social capacity. We each may vary in terms of our social capacity, and some of us may need to cut back while others may need to stretch themselves. But at the end of the day, we all have limits. And we all have to choose how we will use the limited resources we’ve been given.
How about you? Do you feel our modern connected world pulls your attention away from the folks that matter most to you?
We may not need to dump online community and resources altogether, but might it be helpful to imagine what our priorities would look like if those things didn’t exist. Join me for a thought experiment?
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you want your family life to look like? How might you prioritize your husband? Your children? If you are in a different stage of life: your roommate, parents or siblings, or extended family?
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you do to get to know your neighbors? To be a blessing to them?
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you do to get to know the people at your church better? How might you reach out to discover needs and meet them? In your church and your local community?
If the internet didn’t exist to make long distance relationships many-and-easy, who would you 100% want to keep in touch with–even if it meant more effort?
The following article has been adapted from a talk I presented at the Natural State Charlotte Mason Retreat in April 2021. 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.
Here’s a little literary puzzle for you: What do the following books have in common?
Literary nerds would say most of these are examples of “The Hero’s Journey”, but my husband says they’re all just backpacking stories.
Getting Outside to Live the Adventure
This spring my family reached the halfway point of the 223-mile Ouachita Trail.
We’ve been section-hiking the OT ever since I read True Grit back in 2018 and wanted to walk down where the story takes place.
Backpacking has provided our family with many transcendent connections—literary and otherwise. When we set out to cover some ground on foot, we’re getting in touch with a very ancient human practice. When we do something challenging, we have a chance to grow in character. When we face a grueling, rocky climb, our books can inspire us: “It’s the steps of Mordor! Onward to Mount Doom!”
Backpacking isn’t for everyone, but I firmly believe that reading living books and spending time outside are the one-two punch when it comes to helping our kids experience and enjoy what Charlotte Mason calls the science of relations. Some of our best family discussions and most interesting ah-ha moments happen on the trail. And it’s beautiful. But the magic doesn’t happen if we don’t step outside.
Do you know the context for the familiar Charlotte Mason quote “…mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them?” It’s from Volume One, in the section on “Out-of-Door Life for the Children.” Miss Mason recognizes that getting our kids outside might require us to work wonders. It’s a high calling. And it may feel at times that we have to climb mountains to make it happen. But the payoff is worth it. The connections made, the character built, and the awe at our Creator’s handiwork are all worth the effort.
I want to address two attitude obstacles, drawing from my family’s journey into backpacking. Even if you don’t choose to get into backpacking, I hope these concepts will help you recognize your own obstacles to getting outdoors and think of how you might work wonders to overcome them.
Attitude Obstacle #1: The Anxious Mama
We have not always been a backpacking family. I’ve enjoyed hiking since my teens, but sleeping outside is another story.
Several years ago, my husband looked into hammocking as a more comfortable alternative to sleeping on the ground. One evening, he set up a brand-new hammock kit in our yard, complete with a narrow “mummy” sleeping bag, bug net, and rain tarp. He tried it out and thought it was great. I tried it out and literally started hyperventilating. I’d never slept in a mummy bag before, and it turns out, I’m mildly claustrophobic. I couldn’t see the sky, I couldn’t move my arms or legs. It was too much all at once.
My husband realized that we needed to start by just getting me comfortable being outside. So, he’d set up the hammock on a pretty day and suggest I go out to take a nap or read a book. That, I could do.
Over time, as I got more comfortable, we tried sleeping outside on mild nights with no need for rain tarp or bug net. But I would still sometimes go inside midway through the night. This was not my thing, but it was growing on me.
Fast forward to today: I find my hammock quite inviting after a long day of hiking. And I’ve even gotten to the point where I can sleep on the ground on an ultralight air mattress.
Your husband may not be the one leading the charge into the great outdoors for your family, and that’s ok. You may not be interested in backpacking, and that’s ok—I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for my husband. But I hope you can see some of the takeaways from this story.
First off, we need to be patient—with ourselves and with our people. We are all–moms, dads, and children–born persons. So, consider your people and their quirks.
Secondly, we also need to recognize that if there is a strong reaction to something, it may mean we’re doing too much too soon. Start small, with things you can enjoy, and build up gradually from there.
Thirdly, our fears and anxiety may also mean we need more exposure—not less—to the things that scare us.
Let’s say you’re terrified that a snake is hiding behind every rock, just waiting for you to walk by so it can strike. You go over the facts: “Snakes are as eager to avoid me as I am to avoid them.” But often the facts by themselves don’t govern our emotional response until we’ve had the experience of safely walking past 100 or maybe even 1,000 suspicious rocks, with no snake incidents.
Facing our fears and dealing with our hangups is part of practicing masterly inactivity. It’s well worth reading chapter three of Volume Three to get better acquainted with what that means. But Miss Mason does give us a short list of what masterly inactivity involves: authority, good humor, self-confidence, confidence in the children, and a sound mind in a sound body.
Miss Mason adds, “If the sound body is unattainable, anyway, get the sound mind.” 😉
Our anxiety can trip us up, but it can also trip up our kids if we allow it. If we don’t face our fears and cast our cares upon the Lord, we may fail to communicate “confidence in the children,” we may be more inclined to say no when we should say yes, and we may deny our kids opportunities to test their capabilities and to grow in grit and resourcefulness.
Instead of modeling anxiety, we want to model curiosity and wonder at the things God has made. Instead of allowing our fears to keep us inside, we want to show our children by example how to step out beyond our comfort zone and grow.
Attitude Obstacle #2: The Reluctant Child
We know we’ve got to deal with ourselves first, but we may find that our kids are just as hesitant as we are–or perhaps even more so. What’s a mama to do?
Here are some considerations that may help.
Make it Sensitive
My oldest son loves Legos. When we started more serious backpacking the thought of missing out on more than one day of Lego playtime almost brought him to tears. So, for his birthday one year, my husband bought him a minifig backpacker complete with accessories. There’s even a Lego bear, a fish, and some poison ivy. He gets it out when we stop for lunch or after we’ve set up camp, and it’s made our extended time in the woods much more enjoyable for him.
It makes a big difference for a child to know that their interests have been considered. If there’s an activity that they already enjoy, taking it outside may be a good way to gently encourage a new love for the outdoors. Take read-alouds or poetry tea-time or something artsy out on the lawn. If your reluctant child can get more comfortable doing ordinary things outside, it can help the transition into more outdoorsy activities.
Make it Special
We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it special. There are treats we enjoy only while hiking—things like pre-packaged snacks or GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) or homemade apple leather or dried fruit. And this brings up the idea of special responsibilities. You don’t need to do all of the preparations, mama. It can be more fun for kids if they have some skin in the game and can say, “I made the trail mix!” or “I sliced the apples!” Give them the opportunity and see what happens.
We can also give our children special tools as appropriate. A well-timed gift of a compass, spyglass, or pocketknife can be a big boost to a child. If you have a garden or do landscaping around your home, let your kids use real tools as soon as they are capable of safely wielding them. Our kids are often more capable than we give them credit for. If we tell them “no” all the time when they’re little, we shouldn’t be surprised if they shrink from doing big person things when they’re teens.
In backpacker culture, people use special names that in some way describe who they are. My trail name is Persistent Turtle. 😉 My 9-year-old is ALP, which stands for Apple Leather Power. You don’t have to be a backpacker to enjoy coming up with trail names.
Make it Social
We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it social. My kids love having friends over to play in the woods or in our creek, and we enjoy hiking with other families. It can be a really great way to learn, too, as we observe and wonder at things with friends whose outdoor knowledge and skills are different than our own.
Make it Seasonal
Make it fun by making it seasonal. Nobody really enjoys tick season. So, we do our backpacking mostly in spring and fall. In summer, we do more short hikes to swimming holes. Bonus points if there’s a waterfall to jump off of.
And in winter, our day hikes might focus more on finding waterfalls—frozen waterfalls look really cool.
Other seasonal elements we consider are fall colors, spring blooms, and berry picking season. For years when my boys were small we would read Blueberries for Sal and then go and pick blueberries.
Make it Smile
Make it fun by smiling. This is simple, but powerful. When your kids make an observation or create something with mud or rattle off more snake facts than you ever thought you wanted to know—or better yet they bring a snake inside the house—acknowledge their discovery or creativity and smile, even if you’re simultaneously leading them and the snake out the back door. Miss Mason says it like this: “…if they see that the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you, their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter in the book of Nature is closed to them.” Vol. 1, 58
So, keep that book of nature open by showing interest and smiling. Even if it’s gross.
Make it Screen-Free
Sometimes our screen habits are an obstacle to our outdoor habits. One may need to be cut back significantly to make room for the other—not just as a consideration of time but as a consideration of how our habits are training us. Charlotte Mason emphasizes training our children to really see when they are outside. The more we look at screens, the less practiced our eyes are at seeing depth and detail that isn’t pre-focused for us. Carefully consider screen habits in your home, as they can affect attitude on a general level as well as hinder our ability to really see and appreciate God’s world.
Once you’ve addressed attitude obstacles, the rest is just details.
This post isn’t going to go into all of the potentially relevant details, but I do want to briefly address hiking safety. The three most important things I can tell you about keeping your kids safe on the trail are these:
Train the habit of obedience—when you have little ones on the top of a cliff, they need to be able to stop when you say stop.
Train the habit of attention, of really seeing and being aware of their surroundings.
Get every walking member of your family a whistle. In our family, one blast means “Where are you?” or, in response, “Here I am.” Two blasts means “Come here.” And three blasts is an international distress signal, used for emergencies.
Along with these safety tips, check out the principles of Leave No Trace–these are outdoor ethics which serve as an excellent guide to walking wisely, practicing good stewardship, and loving your neighbor while out on the trail.
Take the Long View
Remember that this goal of getting outside is not a competition. To whatever extent we lead our children out of doors, we’re setting their feet in a wide room, and it doesn’t get much wider than the big world God has made and the living books that we enjoy.
Three years ago my family set out on the first section of the Ouachita Trail. I was so sore and tired by the end of our third day that I suggested to my husband that he might need to hike out to the highway and hitch us a ride back to our car in the morning. But after a good night’s sleep in my comfy hammock I felt much better, and we set out to complete the last eight miles of our 24-mile trip. Toward the end of the day, we climbed to a peak and looked behind us. After diligently studying the map and the horizon, my husband told me to look at the furthest peak in the distance.
I asked, “Is that where we started four days ago?”
“No,” he said with excitement. “That’s where we started this morning.”
Remember that if you and your family just keep taking the next step, before you know it, you will reach a vantage point far on down the trail, look back, and be amazed at the ground that you’ve covered.
Looking for great places to hike and camp or otherwise explore Arkansas? Check out my friend Lindsey’s website: All About Arkansas.
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 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?
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.
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…
What are your intentions for your holiday season? What kind of atmosphere are you aiming to cultivate?
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 onhowwe homeschool in future articles.
And now the WHY. Here are our top reasons for homeschooling:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?