Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Read, Reflect & Respond in Our Home & Co-op Classroom

Dear friends,


The following article is an excerpt from the March 2009 issue of my Hope Chest e-magazine. It is a follow-up to my earlier blog post, the audio/visual workshop, Read, Reflect & Respond (The Real 3R's of Literature!)



"READ, REFLECT & RESPOND”

IN OUR HOME AND CO-OP CLASSROOM

To supplement the workshop presentation linked above, I would like to share with you just a small sample of the specific ways that we implement the Read, Reflect, Respond process in our home. I’ll start with what I do with my children, and then move on to how I use it myself.


BIBLE: My friend Heather was commenting the other day how she needed to be more consistent with teaching her kids to study the Bible. I realize that I need to work on this more than we have recently. Usually, I had just been reading a short portion of Scripture before moving on to our other books. This past week, I decided to teach them how to study it, starting with the book of Colossians. We are working through several verses each day as a group. Each of my younger kids (ages 11 and down) has a small pocket New Testament that we use at Bible time so they can all be in the same version (NIV) and on the same page. I also wanted them to be able to take notes effectively, so I went to the new Deal$ store that just opened up near us and bought five composition books for $1 each. These are good because my kids can sit on the couch with them and it’s stiff enough to write on without being as bulky as a notebook. Everything stays put in one place – no stray papers! Each one of my kids works at his/her own level. Melody, who is three, scribbles and puts stickers in hers. Occasionally I’ll write a phrase for her (“Jesus is God’s son”) and ask her to repeat it, or I draw a heart or a cross. That’s enough to keep her happy, though she still wiggles a lot. Ben, our six year old kindergartner can read and write, but not spell. I write out a list of short phrases from the verses for him to copy, such as “Bear fruit in good works” or “Pray for others.” Then he reads them back to me later. He is very pleased with his work. Naomi, our eight year old, writes down the same phrases as I say them to her. (In Charlotte Mason circles, this is known as dictation, whereas what Ben does is called copy work.) Andrew (age 11) and Micah (age 9) do what Charlotte Mason called written narration. This means they write down in their own words what they have learned. As we study, the kids read aloud the verses (recitation) and we do oral narration; that is, each child has the opportunity to comment to the group what the passage means. Dictation, copy work, recitation, oral narration. and written narration are all solid foundations for the “Read, Reflect & Respond” process. You can read more about the wonderful Charlotte Mason method in Karen Andreola’s book A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning as well as on Jeannie Fulbright’s web site.


CHILDREN’S NOVELS AND NARRATIONS: Our current pick for a novel, at home and in my 7th-8th grade co-op class, is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Part of a nine novel series on racism in Mississippi, this particular book is set in the 1930’s. It’s always been a “must read” in our house. The last time I read it aloud to my kids (several years ago) they made me do 85 pages in a stretch, without even stopping for lunch. It’s not exactly a jolly book; the end of it is very sobering. But it is a vital one for introducing key issues of life and how we deal with challenges and injustice. This book is one that I assign to my class in our Providence home school co-op the years when we study American literature. I wrote my own study guide for it, supplemented with information from the web. Instead of having my 11 year old son, who is in my class, write out all of the answers, I had him do them orally. The thoughts flow more freely this way sometimes, and it takes less time than writing it all out. (He already has a lot of other written assignments, so there is no loss there.) In January, I assigned the Civil War novel Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. As usual, I gave them my study guide for it, but after we “finished” the four weeks I had the hunch that some of them had rushed through it and not given it proper attention. So for the next week’s assignment, I told them to read the entire book over again. Each day, they were to write a response paragraph (a written narration) on something they had read. I told them it could be in the form of a summary, a description of a person or scene, an opinion, a poem, a journal entry or letter as written by a character, or a description of how this relates to something in their own lives. I told them to make sure each paragraph was complete, clear, convincing, and creative. Their paragraphs were absolutely delightful! I know that I will use this method again at least once a year. The second reading helps them pick up details they didn’t catch the first time around, and the response paragraphs require more creativity and critical thinking skills than just answering questions.


ESSAYS AND OTHER WRITTEN RESPONSES: Last month, I knew that I would be assigning a persuasive essay as a writing project. I wanted it to be something related to the either-or logical fallacy that we were covering in class. This kind of fallacy occurs when a situation is presented as “it must be either this or that” when in reality it could be neither or both at the same time. I wondered what to use as a specific topic for the essay. God graciously provided the answer through an e-mail conversation with a distant relative about the Great Commandment (love your neighbors) and the Great Commission (preach the Gospel). I realized that many Christians at different ends of the theological spectrum tend to focus intently on one to the neglect of the other. Some think that we should just meet people’s practical needs, and avoid sharing the gospel because they don’t want to “force their beliefs down their throats.” Others think they should just devote all of their ministry resources to communicating Scriptural truths because it takes too much time and money to try to keep up with social action and community service. My conviction is that we need both the good deeds (Great Commandment) and good words (Great Commission) fully integrated with one another for maximum effectiveness. So, I compiled a list of Scriptures on both, gave them to my class, and assigned them to write an essay on why we need both. I’ve been very pleased with what they have written so far! This is an example of examining the Scriptures, and reflecting on and then responding to the issues in them. I encourage you to use this approach in some of your writing assignments. You can find the Scriptures we used on at The Great Commandment & the Great Commission. Written responses don’t just have to be about something they have read. They have also done these for President Obama’s inauguration speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, as well as fine art, poetry, and carols at Christmastime. I will be posting similar Easter week assignments on-line soon.


SHORT STORIES: Well over ten years ago, I started investing in the Miller story series by Mildred Martin. I may not be a Mennonite, but these books are treasures! Our copy of Missionary Stories with the Millers is completely dog-eared from heavy use. Joanna says she read it 12 times when she was younger. Last year, I had been reading bits of it to the 5th-6th grade history class which I assist in at co-op, and one of the moms asked if she could borrow it. A few weeks ago, one of my own kids asked where it was, and I remembered that I hadn’t gotten it back. My friend brought it to me the next week, and we’ve been reading a chapter or two at home since then, as well as in that history class again. My kids beg for this book! I think it has given some of them a real heart for global outreach, which may be evident when you read the family news section of this issue. The other books in the series are Wisdom and the Millers, Storytime with the Millers, Prudence and the Millers (about health and safety) and Schooltime with the Millers. We love them all! They are not at all expensive, and some of them have activity books to go along with them. (We haven’t bought these.) The place where we buy the Miller books is www.Timberdoodle.com. We have been ordering from this excellent family-run Christian home school supplier for almost two decades. I know they don’t have the same vast selection as Christian Book Distributors, but their service is stellar, their prices are discounted, and what they do have is a fantastic variety of high quality educational materials. They specialize in hands-on fun activities, Christian character building resources, great literature, and products designed for use with autistic and other special needs children.


INDEPENDENT READING: Our kids also read by themselves. Some of this is as assignments, such as Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens for Joanna’s high school co-op class, or Little House in the Big Woods for Micah’s 3rd-4th grade class. But they also read a lot just for pleasure or personal development. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and the Little House by Laura Ingalls Wilder have always been popular in our home! I try to leave ample time for my kids to just curl up on the couch and read. I’d much rather have them do this than endless worksheets!


READ, REFLECT & RESPOND FOR BUSY MOMS


Moms, you need this as much as your children do! Are you feeding your mind and your spirit so you can keep up with the many overwhelming demands of life? Are you going deep or just trying to get through the surface stuff? Take time to read, reflect, and respond -- and set the example for your kids! What books are you reading now? What do you want to read soon? Write a list! I think I’ve heard that the average American adult doesn’t even read one full length book each year, not including what they read for work or school or to their children. However, I think you would be surprised how many life-changing books you could read if you make a plan and take the time for it – even 15 minutes a day.


As part of the “Read, Reflect & Respond” process, I take notes in my journal for some of the books that I choose. I used to use a hardbound “diary” style journal, but last year I switched to a sturdy, full sized notebook, which is much more practical for me since I can insert or remove pages as needed. In the notebook, I have three sections. The first is for whatever household stuff I need to keep track of, like a “to do” list or a budget. The second section is for my chronological journal, which includes my own reflections on daily life, records of notable things that have happened, letters or e-mails, brief quotes and my own thoughts from books I am reading, prayer requests from friends, Bible study notes from quiet times or church sermons, etc. (I don’t carry the whole notebook with me to church; instead I carry a simple folder with lined paper, and then I put the pages in the notebook when I get home.) The final section is for more lengthy book notes. If I have decided to consistently take notes for a certain book, I like to keep it all together so I can more easily reread them later. Usually, my book notes consist of my favorite quotes, short synopses (summaries) of each chapter, and my own commentary and reaction to what I am reading.


I recently finished reading I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman's Encounter with God by Bilquis Sheikh. In 1966, a wealthy Pakistani Muslim woman started having strange dreams about Jesus. After reading the Bible and talking to missionaries, she trusted in him for her salvation and began to live a life of surrender to God and service to her people. She eventually had to flee the country because of persecution. This book is a huge blessing to me, especially because when I first picked it up to read, I was feeling so low and discouraged. Reflecting on God’s grace in Bilquis Sheikh’s life caused me to respond with fresh gratitude and resolve to persevere with my own puny trials. I didn’t take notes on this book; I was too tired and just trying to enjoy the story! My sweet second cousin Jean sent it to me. We often share Christian books with one another, and she always seems to know how to encourage me in the faith. Do you have someone like this in your life?


I am currently reading (and taking notes on) The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. My 14 year old daughter Lydia is working through this book as an English assignment using the Progeny Press study guide, the curriculum she prefers because it provides challenging questions and writing projects. (We usually buy the downloadable PDF version and print it out in fast draft mode to save ink.) Lydia is doing English independently this year, rather than with our co-op classes. Though in 8th grade, she has received permission from our home school enrollment program to get a high school credit early, since she is doing advanced work. All six of her titles this year are British literature. Since I found an extra copy of The Screwtape Letters at a yard sale, I decided to read along so we can discuss it later. Even beyond my daughter’s academics, it is a help to me spiritually as well. It’s an unusual book, a collection of (fictitious) letters written by a demon supervisor to his underling, instructing him on how to distract and discourage Christians. It takes a little extra thinking to translate from their viewpoint (such as God is “The Enemy” and Satan is “Our Father Below”) but it’s worth the effort. Even the process of reasoning it out is so valuable in stretching the brain and heart. I find that I don’t always agree with C.S. Lewis, especially the last two chapters of the otherwise brilliant Mere Christianity. However, I know that part of the reflection stage is realizing that we need to be very discerning and not just accept everything we read – but that we can still gain valuable insight even when we don’t agree with ever last bit of something. You can get a combined Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters volume; I think this is the one Lydia has since she asked for it for Christmas over a year go.


A few years ago, I wrote two articles related to the concepts above. You can find them at Learn to Discern and Busy, Dizzy & In a Tizzy: Christian Contemplation for Moms and Other Frazzled Folks.


The one last link that I want to give you is for a free 130 page downloadable e-book by Leigh Bortin of Classical Conversations. Even if you don’t use the classical approach to education, you’re sure to gain some great insight and ideas! You can find it here: Echo in Celebration: A Call to Home-Centered Education.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rain Songs

Dear friends,


I love rain! Yesterday morning, while I was still snuggled under the blankets in bed, I rejoiced to hear the sudden ripple, rumble, and then roar of rain on the roof. I thought, "Rain, welcome!" There is no "Rain, rain, go away!" here most of the time, unless we're planning a picnic or heading out to soccer practice.

I tried to think of an impromptu poem to replace "Rain, rain, go away!" but I couldn't. So as I emerged from the bedroom, I settled on chanting, "The rain is raining all around / It rains on fields and trees / It rains on the umbrellas here..." My mind went blank on the last line, but Micah chimed in, "And on the ships at sea." Lydia, accustomed to my random poeticizing, asked if I had made that up. "No, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote it," I replied. Micah added, "It's from The Child's Garden of Verses." His tattered copy is wedged into his backpack for its weekly trip to our home school co-op classes, where English teachers take poetry seriously.

I love rain! I remember as a teenager in Maryland dancing in glorious ponds of puddles. We lived at the top of a steep hill on a street oddly named Stillway Garth. Down the back steps, curved behind our Garth, lay Stillway Court -- which became Stillway Pond in a decent deluge. I still play in the gutters with my kids during a good storm, with "Singing in the Rain" and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" in my head. Rain!

That same morning that I awoke to the delicious sound of rain, Micah spotted a female cardinal in the magnolia tree in the backyard, and inspected his pot of morning glory sprouts waiting to climb the iron grill on the front of our house. Both need rain!

And so it rained. Poured, really. I had to drop the kids off at the side door of church, then park the van, not in the soggy soccer field, but in a real parking lot. Thad sheltered me with an umbrella so at least I wasn't too soggy as I entered in for worship.
Jesse Phillips preached from Hebrews on the fruitfulness of faith, causing yet another rain song to trickle through my head -- with a little tune I made up years ago to even more ancient words: "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you." Hosea 10:13
Rain: refreshing, softening, nourishing. A gift! Sing a rain song!
"You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD, have created it." Isaiah 45:8

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Read, Reflect & Respond (The Real 3R's of Literature!)

Dear friends,

In January, I presented a workshop called "The Real 3R's of Literature: Read, Reflect & Respond" at the Books & Beyond Literature Live seminar. I recorded the audio of it, and later edited it (lightly) and added related pictures and captions. You can find it below, split into four parts. The total time is less than an hour. It gets a bit fuzzy in full screen mode, so you might want to leave it small. The workshop handouts that follow are not nearly as complete as the audio/video segments (and do not replace them), but they do contain the web links to many of the books and publishers that I mentioned.

This presentation of the "Read, Reflect & Respond" concepts will be featured in the upcoming issue of my home school e-magazine, The Hope Chest, but that will have even more in it than this. If you would like to subscribe now, just send any e-mail to my automated list server at hopechest-subscribe@associate.com.

Please note: Sometimes the videos take a little while to buffer, so you may have to wait a minute or so once in a while. Also, if you have a problem with one of the web links, just e-mail me and I'll correct it. There are a bazillion in this post, so I'm sure I've messed up at least one or two!


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The Real 3R’s of Literature: Read, Reflect & Respond


Introduction


  1. Life has a purpose! Reading has a purpose! Down with ignorance and apathy!

  2. The discipline of reading, reflecting and responding helps us learn to think more deeply and relate to others more wisely. We are less likely to be duped and more likely to engage in real life. We will have something worthwhile to say in a conversation. We will be prepared to meet life challenges.

  3. Reflecting and responding increases long-term retention of information, beyond the test.

  4. Our response often includes practical application and action to transform our lives and culture.

  5. Reading improves comprehension, logical thinking, creativity, writing skills, grammar, spelling, etc.

  6. Reflective reading feeds the spirit and inspires our souls. Readers become leaders!

  7. The reading, reflecting and responding stages overlap and can be simultaneous.

  8. Research the Charlotte Mason method of education for more inspiration. Read The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola and check out www.JeannieFulbright.com/CharlotteMason.html.

  9. Use the RR&R techniques for art, music, movies, nature study, sermons, and life experiences. See http://www.providencehomeschool.blogspot.com/ Advent assignment posts for examples of this. I'll be posting Easter assignments soon, so check back in a few weeks.

♥ Mom Tip ♥ You need this as much as your children do! Are you feeding your mind and your spirit so you can keep up with the many overwhelming demands of life? Are you going deep or just trying to get through the surface stuff? Take time to read, reflect, and respond -- and set the example for your kids!


A few little quotes to amuse and inspire…

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx

♥ “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” Mark Twain

♥ “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” Erasmus

♥ “A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.” Henry Ward Beecher

♥ “The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that.” McCosh

I mentioned these books in the Introduction section:

One book that has been particularly influential in my daughter Julia's interest in world missions is: Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road by Timothy Keller.

Read

♥ Choose carefully!

Books can make a deep and lasting impression, so avoid exposure to much “twaddle” that dulls or pollutes the mind. Reading for amusement and relaxation is fine, but be careful.

♥ Create a literature-rich environment with a well-stocked home library.

  • Kinds of reading: academic, pleasure or personal interest, skills, devotional, etc.

  • Formats: books, newspapers, magazines, web sites, blogs, books on CD or DVD

  • Genres: Scripture, realistic modern fiction, historical fiction, fairy tale, sci-fi, romance, mystery, poetry, song lyrics, plays, art, biography, history, science, how to, self-improvement, essays, etc.

♥ A variety of genres enhances and balances.

When studying a historical period, read novels, biographies, key documents, and poetry. Listen to music and speeches. Watch a movie or documentary.

♥ Help your children select books or do it for them.

  • Selecting good books takes a little research and a lot of discernment.
  • Check book lists and ask for recommendations from people you trust. My friend Meredith Curtis has great lists on her web site at http://www.joyfulandsuccessfulhomeschooling.com/.
  • Click on “inside the book” at Christian Book Distributors or www.amazon.com/ to read a chapter.
  • Do a web search on the author’s name or the book’s title to see what others say about it.
  • Stock a special bookcase with parent-approved, interesting books for your kids to choose.
  • Share your favorites with your children! Introduce a book like a friend.

♥ Evaluate reading choices by pre-screening from front to back.

  • Is it wholesome, age-appropriate, and highly recommended? Newbery & Caldecott books are a good starting point, but check each title yourself to see if it is appropriate for your child.

  • Is it accurate and fair, without being too simplistic or overly biased?

  • Is it interesting, well written, and thought provoking? What is quality of the illustrations?

  • Is the author reliable? (Your children may want to read his/her other books later.

  • Is this the right book for right now? Is it worth the time it will take to read, reflect and respond?

♥ Choose a mode of reading.

You can alternate between these during a single book:

  • Parent reading aloud to child: allows instant interaction about content, models proper speech

  • Child reading aloud: same benefits as above, plus personal practice with pronunciation and inflection

  • Reading independently – in one sitting or over a period of time (check in to see if they need help) Reading independently but with periodic parental discussion or group interaction

♥ Encourage pre-reading preparation.

Before reading, encourage your child to browse quickly, ask questions and make predictions. Preview any study guide questions before you read.

♥ Give plenty of time to read, in a quiet and comfortable setting.

♥ Read with pencil and paper handy!

A quote that is not in the audio/visual presentation:

“Children well educated, who employ their minds on serious subjects, have, for the most part, but an ordinary share of curiosity; what they know gives them a sovereign contempt for many things they wish not to know. They see the emptiness and futility of the many things which the idle and the ignorant pursue with so much eagerness and passion. Children ill instructed, and not accustomed to application, have wandering imaginations. For the want of solid nourishment to the mind, their curiosity turns towards objects which are vain and dangerous. Those who have wit often become conceited, and read books which nourish their vanity; they become passionately fond of romances, comedies, and novels, which silently instill into their unguarded breasts the poison of profane love. These imaginary adventures render their minds visionary, in accustoming them to the strained sentiments of vain romantic heroes. Children filled with thoughts of their romantic heroes, become astonished when they look around in real life, and cannot discover a single person throughout the world bearing resemblance with their ideal hero. They would wish to live like those princes and princesses who are always charming, always adored, always above every care. What a disgust for them to descend from a hero and heroine, to the low detail and drudgery of taking care of a family. Children should be influenced by books that vividly portray life in all its trials and victories. Divine providence should echo throughout its pages. Characters who suffer wrongfully in a righteous manner, and display humble dispositions, will lay a secure foundation for the time when childhood may be stolen away; perhaps through the death of a loved one, sickness, or calamity. Children need informed instruction, and models of heroes and heroines of righteousness to fill their reserves for such a time. In literature as well as in history, God who doeth all things well, must be seen through the filter of His divine love and tender care for His children and as an avenger of all who harden their neck.” Francis Fenelon, 1685, in Education of a Child: The Wisdom of Fenelon, published by Lamplighter.

Mom Tip ♥ What books are you reading now? What do you want to read soon? Write a list! You might choose a variety, including books about spiritual life, marriage, parenting, home education, homemaking, cooking, crafts, social justice issues, historical fiction, etc. My favorite authors include Elisabeth Elliott, Gary Thomas, Jerry Bridges, Emilie Barnes, C.S. Lewis, and Gary Haugen. Download free Christian classics on-line at www.ccel.org/. (Note to blog readers: My "bookshelves" are in the right hand column of my blog.)

In this section I mention these books:

This article on my web site my also be helpful to you: Learning to Read. Additionally, we have used these resources for teaching our kids to read:

Reflect


“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Francis Bacon

Study questions should require critical thinking, not just factual recall. More advanced questions will require a synthesis (combining) of information from different parts of the book. Go beyond the questions in a text book!

Background:

  • What kind of book is this and why am I reading it right now?

  • What is the significance of the title or cover art?

  • What is the author’s life background and worldview? What did he or she want to communicate?

  • What is the author’s tone in this book (upbeat, harsh, relaxed, urgently persuasive, funny, reverent, etc.)?

  • When and where was the book written, and under what life circumstances, such as war?


Character, Setting, Plot & Style:

  • What universal themes, such as courage, pride, justice, greed, honesty, or jealousy, are woven into this book? Which one is most prevalent? What can I learn that is applicable to my own life? (I mention the book Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes in the audio.)

  • What perspective can I gain about these themes from this time period, culture, and worldview?

  • Which character reminds me most of myself? What would I have done if I were that character?

  • Which characters are dynamic (developing & maturing) or static (unchanging)? How do main characters learn/grow from events in the story? How do their values, fears, motives, or conflicts change?

  • Are the characters believable? What flaws do the “heroes” exhibit? What virtues do the “villains” exhibit? (In simplistic stories, good and evil are more clearly demarcated for young minds. Books for more mature readers show the realistic nuances of authentic human behavior and attitudes.)

  • How would the story be different if written from a different character’s perspective or in another setting?

  • Do the characters speak in the same manner as I do? Are any special accents, idioms or dialects used?

  • What are the main events in this story? How does the plot rise, fall and twist? Do this a chapter at a time, and then for the whole book at the end.

  • How is cause-and-effect used in this story, especially in consequences for actions?

  • What symbolism is used? What does it mean? Is the symbolism effective, understandable & significant? (I mentioned this book: The Parable of the Lily)

  • What other Biblical, literary or historical references are made in this book?

  • Are there any words that I don’t fully understand and need to look up in a dictionary?

  • How does sensory detail (what I vicariously see, hear, smell, taste, and feel) put me “on the scene”?

  • Does this book use flashbacks or drop hints about what might happen in the future?
    Can I follow the clues and make predictions? Is the outcome too predictable or contrived?

  • Does the outcome give a sense of closure, or is it unsettling or confusing?

Discernment & Application:

  • How does this information fit in with what I already know (or think I know)?

  • Humility is needed! We don’t know everything about the topic just because we’ve read a book or two.

  • Is what I am reading essentially true or in agreement with Scripture? (Obviously, no other book is perfect!)

  • Does this information contain logical fallacies or propaganda? Does it represent opinions as being hard facts?

  • Does this reading challenge my assumptions or stretch my perspective? Is this good or not?

  • What should I accept or reject from it? What do I need to fully absorb or apply?

  • Is this book what I expected? Did it answer any burning questions for me?

Aids in the reflection phase:

  • References: Bible, dictionary, encyclopedia, map, timeline, history/science text, commentaries, Google

  • Published study guides (Progeny Press, Five in a Row, or Glencoe) or parent-written study questions

  • Personal conversations, interviews with experts, discussion groups, literature classes, on-line forums

  • Journal to take notes, ask questions, and make comments as you read. I like a notebook or composition book.

  • Field trip related to story: art or history museum, zoo, bird sanctuary, horse riding, ethnic restaurant


Mom Tip ♥ Are you truly thinking about what you are reading or putting your brain on auto-pilot? Does your reading motivate and inspire you? Does it make you draw in your breath or furrow your brow?


Respond

Communication Responses (Oral, Written & Artistic)

  • Talk about it! This could be as you read or after you finish. You can do this as a parent and child, as a whole family, or as a discussion group. Give a short “book talk” to introduce it to a friend or a group.

  • Read it aloud to someone, with expression, different character voices and sound effects.

  • Recite or write a passage from memory. This is especially good for poetry, Scripture, and famous speeches.

  • Do an informal oral or written narration, telling it back in your own words.

  • Prepare a short formal presentation to teach to your siblings or friends using a poster or Powerpoint.

  • Copy key quotes into your journal, along with your reflective comments and questions. These journals can become lifetime treasures! Or make a quote book.

  • Copy it in your best handwriting, illustrate it, and give it as a gift. This is especially appropriate for poetry, Scripture, and short quotes.

  • Summarize the main events or points either in a paragraph or a list.

  • Write a complete, unbiased pro/con list about an issue as if you are investigating a potential decision.

  • Rebut an argument or stage a full debate on an issue.

  • Do a character analysis or compare & contrast characters or events within the story.

  • Write a journal entry for one of the characters telling an event or feelings from his/her perspective.

  • Write a short fable with a moral. Or, if you are reading a Bible passage, write a short story about it.

  • Pick a book that you think one of the characters might enjoy and tell why.

  • Give the story a different ending and/or write a sequel to the story.

  • Compare and contrast a theme in this book with the same one in another book.

  • Write an essay about the themes as they relate to Scripture.

  • Write a book review and design a book jacket.

  • Write a blog post or a personal letter to a friend about it. Include digital art or your own pictures.

  • Write an imaginary letter to a story character to share your advice or express admiration.

  • Write a letter to the author with your comments.

  • Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine about how the issues in it relate to current events.

  • Give a speech about the themes in it.

  • Attempt to emulate the style of writing by writing a similar story or essay.

  • Write a poem, song, or creative story about the key themes.

  • Turn the story into a play. You can produce it, film it, and then edit it using Windows Moviemaker.

  • Write questions and answers for a trivia game (like Jeopardy) or design a board game.

  • Draw a picture, diagram, map, or illustrated timeline.

  • Make a 3D sculpture, diorama, mobile, or collage.

  • Make a costume or doll clothes that one of the characters may have worn.

  • Practice your speaking and writing skills! Start responding to what you read and then sharing it with your family and your friends. This is also an effective way to share your faith.

Mom Tip ♥ What kind of person are you becoming in response to your reading? Start a reading journal today!


Application Responses

Decide on an appropriate action in response to a character’s example or an author’s persuasion – and then do it!

  • Reach out to someone who is lonely or give help to someone who is needy.

  • Make your voice heard about an important cause.

  • Ask forgiveness of someone you have offended or forgive someone who has offended you.

  • Break a bad habit and start new wholesome ones to replace it.

  • Work harder at doing what you already know to attain a personal goal.

  • Learn a new skill mentioned in the book, such as cooking, sewing, wood carving, nature collecting, camping. Find project instructions in library books or on Google. Many book series have their own cookbooks.

Several of the books that I mentioned in this Response section are:

“Committing a great truth to memory is admirable; committing it to life is wisdom.” William A. Ward

Thursday, March 19, 2009

YMCA, Friendship, and Passover Seder

Dear friends,

Wow! Two posts in one day! I'll try to make this one brief, but I'm trying to write while it's fresh.

Two days ago my 14 year old daughter Lydia asked if we could invite some of her friends to meet us at the YMCA so they could practice soccer for the upcoming season at Metro Life. So my friend Beverly (the mom of that family) and I got to work out on the treadmills for a while. We decided it would be wonderful for both of us to have the extra accountability for getting there regularly, so we agreed to meet twice a week. Ben was sick last night, so I left him and Melody home with Rachel and Joanna today. Micah and Naomi went in the youth fitness room to play Wii and do crafts, and Andrew alternated between the youth room and the cardio room where I was. Beverly and I managed 45 minutes on the treadmills today! That is not something I would have done if I didn't have her to talk to as we huffed and puffed along. After she left, I hit the weight machine circuit and pumped about 7,020 pounds (at an average of 60 pounds at a time, depending on the machine).

Beverly is the high school English teacher at our Providence home school co-op, and I am the 7th-8th grade teacher, so we have a lot to discuss. On Tuesday we talked about grammar and writing curriculum for next year, and today she mentioned that she wants to put on a messianic Passover Seder for her students and maybe even whole families in our co-op. This should be interesting! Thad and I went to a messianic Seder service many years ago with our old friend Larry and his late wife Pam, and it was fascinating. My daughter Mary and her husband Ryan also worship in a messianic synagogue, Gesher Shalom, where we once attended a Yom Kippur service. They hope to travel to Israel this autumn. I went there for five weeks when I was 16 with a Teen Missions team, thanks to my parents be willing to let me take a few risks and explore the world! (See the Ship in Harbour post from earlier today to make sense of that.)

I listened to music on my MP3 player while lifting weights. I had started listening to Sara Groves Add to the Beauty, but, inspired by my chat with Beverly, I switched to contemporary messianic music, Paul Wilbur's Watchman that Mary and Ryan gave me for Christmas. Good stuff!

Well, all this to say that I am grateful for many things -- for the opportunity to work out, for a friend to do it with, and for a neat bunch of families at Providence where we can put together extra special things to do with our kids. Mostly however, I'm thankful that Jesus was our Passover sacrifice! It is his blood that covers us so that wrath will pass over, and he who leads us to the Promised Land of Heaven.

If you are interested in Jewish heritage, check out these blog posts from last year.

What is Yom Kippur? (Day of Atonement)
Mary's and Ryan's Beautiful Wedding (complete with chuppah and all)
And the reception, too! (chair dancing, anyone?)
Lamb Favorites (Music, Not Food) (messianic music)
Do Cry (this has links for Seder and holocaust resources)
"Seven Blessings for One Marriage" -- and Our Big Fat Jewish Wedding (a poem and a Torah scroll)

L'Chaim!

Virginia

A Ship in Harbour is Safe...


Dear friends,

"A ship in harbour is safe, but that is NOT what ships are built for." William Shedd

I found this quote the other day on Julia's bulletin board when I was sitting on her bed, delivering some mail that she won't see until she returns from Bolivia next month. (She arrives home April 10, the day before her 20th birthday.) People frequently ask me if I experience fear when I think about what she is doing there, traveling among the mountain villages in very harrowing conditions. No, I don't. Yes, I am concerned, but there is no fear. I usually don't hear about their wild exploits (like crossing a river with a strong current or sleeping on a bus overnight because they were stranded by a mudslide) until after the fact. Anyway, and I sure do enjoy the stories! This is what I have tried to raise our children to do: to live in the Holy Wild, not in the Safe Harbour. What she is doing in Bolivia is God's work, and she is in God's care. She's having quite the adventure! You can read all about it on her own blog at http://www.juliaknowles.blogspot.com/.




Thanks to a visa extension, Julia will actually be able to go back to Entre Rios in July for 12 days with the Mission:X medical team from our church! She and Angela are already planning a health education program for the people in the villages.



I have often told the story of how one day a few years ago I walked into Julia's room and noticed newspaper clippings taped up all around the Bolivian sugar sack that she bought on one of other two trips there. Each of the clippings had to do with some sort of crisis around the globe, such as an earthquake, famine, terrorist attack or war. I was mystified about this until I noticed a dog-eared book on her nightstand about global mercy ministry. The clippings are still there, and so is her sweet heart. She has such a passion for hurting people, for people who need the touch of God's grace. And I so admire her for it!


Do pray for her! Pray for her safety! (After all, I am her MAMA!)


Blessings,

Virginia


(P.S. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them if you want to see what I'm talking about!)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Tour Through Liberty

Dear friends,
My sister was just remembering this photo after her family took a trip to NYC to celebrate the 30th birthday of our sweet sister-in-law, Dana Quarrier. My Aunt Camille kindly sent this to us. It was taken on September 6, 2000 at the Statue of Liberty, and yes, those are the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the background.
(From left to right: Virginia, Micah in the stroller, Mary with Lydia in front of her, Joanna, Barb with her baby Amy, my niece Carrie, my nephew Doug, Rachel, Julia, and my brother John with Andrew on his lap. All of the children are mine, except where noted. I was also pregnant with Naomi at the time.)
~*~*~
After we came home from our Liberty Tour, I wrote an article about it for the Hope Chest, the home school e-magazine that I still publish. I was trying to draw some parallels from American history to the modern home education movement. Here is the article:
~*~*~
A TOUR THROUGH LIBERTY
The children and I had a golden opportunity this past month to go “up north” and visit my family. My sister Barb, who is the adventurous type, suggested that we go on a mega American history field trip for three days. This takes quite some doing when you are traveling in three cars with 10 children, two moms and a grandma!

The first day found us in Valley Forge, where George Washington wintered with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and where we misplaced a daughter for about 45 minutes (long story, Mom’s fault). When we toured Washington’s headquarters there, the guide inquired why our children were not in school. My reply? They are! School takes place wherever we happen to be learning at the moment! What freedom! At the Episcopal chapel at Valley Forge, things took on a personal note. The names of two of our ancestors (Captain Samuel Ransom and Captain Alexander Quarrier) are inscribed on the list of patriot heroes on the bell tower wall, and our girls took turns making crayon rubbings.

After spending the night with my brother in New Jersey, we headed out to the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Two other home school families met us there, so our clan swelled to 16 children, four moms, one grandma and an uncle. The ferry from the Jersey side took us first to Ellis Island, where immigrants were processed for entry into the USA in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here we made more rubbings from a wall, this time of the names of great-great uncles and aunts who came from Italy (Thad’s side of the family) and Germany (my side). It was after 2 o’clock when we got to the Statue of Liberty, so none of us got to climb the stairs to the crown. While the rest of our party went up to the pedestal (still quite a view from there), Grandma and I stayed at the bottom with the three little ones and browsed through the museum.

The next morning (my 37th birthday) I woke up with morning sickness and a bad headache, but a few hours later we were able to drive back to Pennsylvania to see historic Philadelphia: the Liberty Bell in its glass pavilion, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House and more. Though we’d had lots of fun and learning, you can imagine that my patience level hit rock bottom by the time we got back to Grandma’s house near Washington D.C. that night!

Yep, that was quite some field trip all right! Lest I forget, my refrigerator door is now plastered with souvenir magnets, and miracles of miracles, the photos are already in an album. But I digress. I would like to share some historical background as well as a few things related to the home education movement that struck me as we visited these hallowed grounds.

The Liberty Bell, made in England, arrived in Philadelphia in 1753. Hung in the State House (now known as Independence Hall), it was often rung to herald important town meetings, toll the deaths of dignitaries and more. Inscribed with a verse from Leviticus, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”, it was testimony to the desire of the British colonists to lead lives of liberty in a land where justice reigned supreme. Unfortunately, over the next two decades, it became increasingly obvious that the royal and parliamentary rulers across the Atlantic were more interested in their own fortunes than in fair governance. They would not listen to the repeated pleas of the colonists for representation in the decisions that affected them. As unrest grew, freedom-minded folks knew that soon the Liberty Bell would ring for another reason! I think of how long modern parents and other concerned citizens have been laboring like the petitioning colonists, this time fighting to regain religious liberties and promote academic excellence within the public school system. I commend them. But I also commend those who have decided they cannot subject their own children to secular mediocrity when it looks like effective reforms will never happen. Their conviction is that the time for independence is now, thus they choose to educate their children privately or at home.

At Independence Hall in the summer of 1776, a group of courageous patriots pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to declare independence for the American colonies. Toiling in secrecy in tightly sealed rooms (no air conditioning for the sweltering heat) they composed the document which became the birth announcement of a new nation. They knew that the penalty for such political treason was death by hanging, but they willingly made the sacrifice. Since they had not much to gain for themselves, and everything to lose, they were truly doing this for the generations to come. We in the 21st century take for granted the notion of a democratic republic, but back then it was a rather alien concept, virtually untried. Now think about our home school forebears in just the last few decades who risked ridicule, truancy charges, court cases, imprisonment and even the removal of their children in a time when the alien concept of home schooling was not considered a “viable educational option.” What’s this? You think you can teach your OWN children at HOME? (Actually, harking back to colonial days, home schooling was quite the norm!) These brave dads and moms sacrificed their lives (time), their fortune (money) and their sacred honor (reputation in the community) so that not only they, but WE, years later, could have the FREEDOM to educate our children according to our convictions. (Yes, I know there are still legal battles going on, but comparatively few now compared to back then.) I remember when I was in college and had never even really heard about home schooling, weeping in prayer over accounts of seven brave fathers in Nebraska who went to jail over the right to privately educate their children at an unaccredited parent-controlled Christian school. I don’t know how that particular case ever turned out, but I do know that we in our day stand tall on the backs of willing-to-be-martyrs such as these. God bless them!

Let’s turn our attention to Valley Forge as a symbol of the dedication to a noble cause. It’s one thing to declare liberty, but quite another to fight for it, year after year, through deprivation and discouragement, until it is fully attained and peace comes at last. When I think of the sacrifices that these men and their families made to bring independence to fruition for the newborn United States, I am profoundly grateful. If you’ve read your history books, you know that certain leaders in the fledgling government, far removed from the battlefield, were at first unwilling to make practical provision -- food, clothing, supplies -- for their brave soldiers. Is it any wonder that so many men either deserted the army or simply went home when their minimum time commitment was up? But it is a great wonder that so many stayed and gave their all for liberty. Let’s say you have decided to declare your independence from government schooling by keeping (or bringing) your children home for their education. That’s just the start. Now you have to pay dearly for it! Now you have to put in the time for lesson planning and teaching. Now you have to shell out your hard earned cash for books and supplies and activity fees. Now you may have to face unsupportive relatives and neighbors. You might feel like you are gutting it out all alone, but your convictions keep you pressing on. You know that even though no one is pointing a gun at your head, you are in serious spiritual warfare for the hearts and minds of your precious children. Forge on, even in the valley!

Onward through history! The Statue of Liberty was a centennial (100th) birthday present from the people of France, who had been our loyal allies (remember the Marquis de Lafayette?) in the war, and who admired and sought to emulate our form of representative government. It’s nice to have cheerleaders and fans! After you’ve been home schooling for a while, those looking on might start to say things like, “Your children seem to be learning a lot at home!” They clip out newspaper articles for you, bring over interesting books for your students, or volunteer to take them to the symphony. They might even start home schooling their own children! We are a witness to the world. If we are successful in our endeavors, they will want what we have.

I think next of the immigrants who stepped out of dark, musty steerage compartments onto solid ground at Ellis Island after weeks and months at sea. These men, women and children came to our shores with a sense of adventure, ready to embark on a whole new life with opportunities not available to them where they had come from. They didn’t have lots of resources to start with, perhaps just the clothes on their back, but they were willing to work hard, to learn a new language, to adopt new cultural customs. If they were lucky, they had friends or family already in the New World to help them get adjusted. When you started home schooling, did it seem like you had entered a foreign land? You had to learn the educational jargon, you had to adjust your lifestyle (maybe you gave up mom’s income) and rearrange your house. You had to face confusing curriculum choices. And you had to find your place in the home school counterculture, which has its own values and philosophies. If you were lucky, you had a mentor to hold your hand and give you advice as you got started. But you still had to learn to stand on your own two feet, and to make the decisions that only you can make for your family. But now this new land is YOUR land! Are you glad you came?

Well, this has been a rather painless romp through American history for us, sitting in our comfortable homes in front of truly technological wonders, our desktop computers. I only ask that we remember with gratitude all that has been done on our behalf, by both patriots and home schoolers. But freedom gained once is not freedom guaranteed forever. Political maneuvering can drastically change the course of a nation in just one election, or even between elections. I beseech you, that as we look ahead to the future months and years, that we will remain vigilant to preserve and even further reclaim our freedoms, our right to educate our own children in a spirit of liberty and excellence.
~*~*
And that last sentence, my friends, is more true than ever!
P.S. After I wrote this post, my second cousin Margaret, a home school mom in North Carolina, sent me this link to a case in which a judge in a divorce case ordered three home schooled children back to public school despite the fact that they are performing above grade level: http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/4727161/
For liberty!
Virginia

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Come With Me Here....

My daughter Julia posted about her trip to Las Abras and San Josecito on her blog at www.JuliaKnowles.blogspot.com. The return trip include a bus that got stranded at a landslide, several hours of walking, and crossing (on foot) a river with a strong current.

At the end of her post, these words, which amaze and inspire me...
"You know what I was thinking this weekend? When God tells us to do something, it's not just a "Go do that...", it's a "Come with me here..." It's like he takes our hand, and says come with me, let me help you love others, let me mold you, bless you, show you. :) Pretty neat!!"
Pretty neat, indeed! This reminds me of Matthew 11:28-30.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Go read her post for yourself! (And do remember to say a prayer for her!)

Blessings,
Virginia

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Busy, Dizzy and in a Tizzy?


BUSY, DIZZY AND IN A TIZZY:
Christian Contemplation for Moms and Other Frazzled Folks


Are you “busy, dizzy, and in a tizzy”? Is your life whirling so fast that you don’t have a chance to sit and think, much less nurture your soul? I would like to offer some simple encouragement for tending your heart-life amidst the myriad demands of a busy household.


OK, I know what you are saying: “I don’t have time to sit around and think deep thoughts about God! I’ve got lessons to prepare and grade, diapers to change, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to make, bathrooms to clean…” I hear you. I have ten kids. Granted that some of them are now very helpful teenagers, but I still remember having five little girls ages seven and under, with a husband working long hours. And we can find time for what is really important. It just takes some juggling and adjusting. You probably know by now that I’m on a lifelong quest to find the balance between being and doing. Remembering the story of devoted Mary and busy Martha in Luke 10:38-42, I want to “choose the good portion” while not neglecting my family.


As you read this article, keep in mind that the point is not to do something for the sake of saying we did it but to make a deeper connection with the God who made and redeemed us. The goal of this time is to come out more filled with the Spirit, to see more love, peace and joy in our daily lives as a result. Do you have more passion for the Kingdom of God? Are your delights and desires more in tune with his? If not, are you holding back anything in your heart from unreserved worship? O come, let us adore him! Here are more than a dozen ways I’ve found to make time for soul nourishment through the spiritual disciplines.


Remind yourself daily of the Good News of the cross. We always need to start with this foundation. If you don’t have a living relationship with Jesus Christ (which is not just about church attendance or mental assent), none of the rest of this will make any sense at all. I would be delighted to talk with you about this if you have any questions. We don’t deserve any of the blessings we have, least of all the immense treasure of fellowship with God. But because of his mercy, we can ask him to forgive our sins! “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). The Bible promises that those who have trusted in Christ's sacrifice for their salvation can confidently enter the Lord's Throne Room to find grace and mercy.


Be ready to focus quickly on the things of God during what little time you might have. Learn to lay aside “the cares of this world” and concentrate on what the Lord has for you. Yes, there will be a time to bring before him in prayer the issues that concern you, but your focus should be on his sufficiency, not on your troubles. He is so much bigger than our circumstances! We bring our problems, our confusion, and our weakness into the Throne Room of God. As we draw near to him, we will bring out his strength and wise answers so we will be equipped to deal with them.


Designate a quiet comfortable spot in your house. Set up a personal chapel where you can go sit every few hours to regroup and refuel spiritually. Mine is an easy chair in my bedroom next to a fully stocked bookcase. I slip in there several times a day for at least a few minutes and up to a half hour or so.  When my kids were babies, toddlers, or preschoolers, I might put them down for a nap in the same room or rock them on my lap.  My "quiet spot" is not completely quiet – I often have children wander in and out. And this is also not the only place I can have “devotional time” – I think about God throughout the day, whatever I am doing, whether it is washing dishes or stuffing laundry in the dryer. Taping up little cards with Scripture verses around the house can be a great inspiration, too.


Make a habit of daily Bible study. Keep a Bible handy at your “personal chapel” spot. Use book marks to keep the places you are currently studying so you can easily sit down and read a bit without fumbling around. Make a plan for what you are going to read so you don’t just flip open and see where you land. For example, if you read a chapter of the New Testament every morning, you’ll have read the whole thing within several months. You can also finish the Old Testament at the rate of two or three chapters a day, perhaps in the evening. Make a little chart to mark off your progress as you go. You can also go to Bible Gateway Reading Plans to select a plan for reading a daily portion in one of many different Bible versions or Bible Gateway Audio Bible to listen as you are washing the dishes or folding laundry. This web site also has a really good search function for doing topical studies.


Rather than just quickly reading the verses, take the time to meditate on them. What do they mean? How can you apply them at your house? It is good to sit quietly and think, but you can also meditate on Scripture as you go about the rest of your day, pondering these things in your heart. I read from Luke 16-17 this morning, and jotted down several application phrases onto a card to put in the pocket of my capris: Faithful in little, faithful in much. Serve one Master: God! God knows what’s inside your heart. Forgive others repeatedly. Don’t expect praise for doing your job. Thank God for what he has done in your life. Lose your life to keep it. Just feeling the crinkle of the card in my pocket as I’m sitting or walking reminds me of what I have read, and I do take it out once in a while to remember them. Occasionally, I will even write a poem based on what I have been meditating on in my times with the Lord. You can find these on my web site.


Try to read regularly from good solid Christian books to help you walk out your faith. Several of my favorite trustworthy authors are Gary Thomas, Andrew Murray, Elisabeth Elliot, Corrie ten Boom, and Amy Carmichael. Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life has come highly recommended as a way to dig in to Scripture study, prayer, meditation, fasting, and other heart-nurturing practices -- as long as you don't make it legalistic or get overwhelmed. A good devotional book with short selections can be just right for a busy mom. My daughter found Charles Spurgeon’s Morning by Morning, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest and Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ for me at our library’s used bookstore a while back – nicely bound hardbacks for $1.50 a piece! You can find some of these resources listed on my Books to Feed Your Spirit page or read (for free) countless Christian classics on-line at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.  I also installed the Kindle app on my iPod touch and my laptop, and download a lot of free and inexpensive Christian books.  This is really good for the times I am away from home and have a few minutes while I am waiting for an appointment or for one of my kids to finally get out to the van so we can leave.


Take time to pray, to ask God to lead you in your own life, and to intercede for others. It may be helpful to write out a prayer list of various requests for family members, your pastors, friends, missionaries, current events, etc. You can the list in the back of your Bible or your journal so it is handy. Prayers don’t have to be clever or even original. Christians throughout history have prayed The Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This does not have to be a rote formula, as some have made it, but a way to acknowledge our humble dependence on him throughout the day. I often shorten it to “Sweet Jesus have mercy!” I also use prayers from Scripture, such as Colossians 1:9-14.  ("For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.")  Using Scripture helps me keep the focus on praying according to God’s will, rather than my petty desires. Sometimes I pray just sitting there quietly, other times while I am on my knees, and other times as I’m working around the house. “Pray continually…” He is always listening! Or, as Alfred Lord Tennyson notes, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” Oh, please remember that prayer is not just talking – it is listening for God’s still small voice speaking into your heart.


Start a journal and use it! I write my own observations and questions about life, some of my prayers, and plenty of Scripture verses and quotes from whatever books I am reading. This has been such a lifeline to me in the past year as I’ve been so acutely aware of my need for God’s mercy. I think of so many Christians through the ages who whose lives have been enriched by journaling. This may be a short paragraph, but I don’t want to underestimate the importance of this vital spiritual discipline.


Be appropriately aware of your emotions, especially as they can indicate your spiritual health. We are not robots! God made our emotions to help us respond to him and to life around us. You don’t have to be ruled by your feelings, but if you are anxious or irritable or depressed, find the spiritual remedy for that, rather than ignoring or suppressing these sensations. Ask God for wisdom in dealing with your emotions. It’s not a one shot deal, but continually offering up to him what is roiling around in our hearts. “Lord, I’m feeling so overwhelmed… Help me to see you as my strong tower, and please show me why this situation bothering me so much and what I can practically do about it.” God is not afraid of our emotions. With him at our side, we don’t need to be afraid either.


Play and sing worship music throughout the day. If you move from room to room a lot or spend a lot of time away from your house, load an iPod or inexpensive MP3 player with your favorite songs or other audio downloads, such as your pastor’s Sunday sermon if your church posts those on-line.  Set up a specific play lists of music for worship or comfort or challenge.  Listening while you do other things is a great way to redeem the time. I listen to worship music with headphones while I work out on at the YMCA. Even if you don’t have music playing, you can always sing in your heart.


Establish a regular devotional time with your children. Read the Bible, sing, and pray with them sometime during the day, which is a fantastic extension of your own time with God. This will not just be an academic exercise, but an opportunity for you connect again with your Heavenly Father as you bring your children to him for a blessing. (See Mark 10:13-16.)


Use your daily duties as object lessons of God’s truth and grace. When you are making dinner, think of the feast he is preparing for us in heaven. When you are washing dishes, be thankful for the abundant food you ate off of them, and pray for those who are less fortunate. When you are cleaning up your kids’ muddy toes, think of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. A yucky toilet, stubborn laundry stain, or dirty diaper can remind us of how he washes our foulest sins away: “white as snow.” This attitude not only inspires our souls with the holy character of God, but makes our work meaningful and less irksome. I find that, like Brother Lawrence, I can “practice the presence of God” no matter what I am doing, even if I am not kneeling in prayer or reading my Bible.


Think about God “in the watches of the night.” At times in my life, I have been a chronic insomniac, usually waking for an hour or more in the middle of the night. During these times, I would remind myself of the mercies of the Lord, pray for others, and think of Bible verses I had memorized. I also do this as I am falling asleep at night, and sometimes as I lie in bed trying to wake up in the morning. This is also a good practice for mommies who are night nursing their babies, as I did off and on for nearly two decades. “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” Psalm 63:5-7


Enjoy your Sabbath! This is a time when I don’t have to feel guilty about laying aside many of my regular daily duties. I like to use Sunday afternoon as a time for leisurely reading and contemplation, as well as rest. What a precious gift from God! Summer is also somewhat of a Sabbath (or sabbatical) for home school moms since we aren’t so busy with lessons. Use some of this time for refueling your own heart for the year to come!


I hope these simple suggestions have been helpful to you. I don’t present them as a formula, but as a means to help our hearts be captivated by our Awesome God.


I close this post with a poem.  You can find more of my thoughts about this by clicking 

Invitation to Stillness to go to the original blog post...




Invitation to Stillness

Advent Poem 2010
by Virginia Knowles




Quiet your soul to ponder, wonder, 
   and worship the Amazing One.
In these still and focused moments, 
  embrace his everlasting love for you.
Savor his sacrifice: Heaven to Earth, 
  an infinite journey of grace
When he came to rescue, release, and renew you.

In sacred response, draw near with a whole heart, 
  a deepening communion.
Be still in his presence, be filled with his presence
Father, Son, Holy Spirit: God with us.
Day after day, time with him is your most precious treasure.

Be the fruitful branch abiding in the Vine.
Be the little lamb in the Good Shepherd’s tender care.
Be the beautiful Beloved in the Lover’s embrace.
Ask, and he will surely show you how.
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