Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Heart Controls the Mouth

As a homeschooling parent, one of my greatest hopes is that my children flourish.  By this I mean that I want them to grow in Christ and find fulfillment in learning about His creation. I learned early on that the only way that could happen is if their teacher wasn’t a big, lazy, sour puss. If I’m not growing in Christ, if I don’t find fulfillment in learning and teaching about His creation, that will infect our homeschool and make our efforts fruitless. My heart has to be right or there will be a slurry of bilge that comes from my mouth.

This must be a common problem among homeschoolers because I recently read a blog post over at Heart of the Matter.  The author believes you should never say three things as a homeschooler: “I’m behind”; “I can’t do this”; and “I’m not doing enough”. 

This got me to thinking about the source of this language.  She seems to believe that these phrases are lies that we believe and if we remove this language from our vocabulary, that it will change our state of mind and thereby improve our homeschool experience. That starts with a premise that the mouth controls the heart. But is that really true?  Do I only have to remove a few phrases to accomplish my goal of children who flourish in my homeschool? Does my mouth control my actions?

Jesus says in Matthew 15:18, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.”  He clearly identifies the heart as the source of what comes from our mouth, not our mouth as the source of the condition of our heart.  If I stopped saying, “I’m behind,” would that somehow take my guilt away about being behind? Not according to Jesus.

It’s our heart that tells us we should feel guilty, that we can’t, that we should do better. So if we start with that premise, that our heart controls the mouth, it is clear that our heart needs to be examined, not our mouth.  

As a homeschooling parent, I can specifically relate to falling behind. It seems that every time I turn around I’m adjusting our schedule for one reason or another. I don’t see anything inherently wrong about saying “I’m behind” if that is the truth. Public school teachers fall behind in their plans all the time.  Daddies fall behind at work.  Everyone falls behind sometimes. We are really good at making plans and then not following them or thinking that we are in control of them in the first place.  So what is the big deal about me saying, “I’m behind”? It’s a common human condition.  I believe that what is important is that we allow God to expose why we fell behind and determine if that is a legitimate reason or if it is rooted in sin.

Before we examine our heart we need to first acknowledge another truth.  Grace is a gift of God, not something that you can earn or provide to yourself.  Even in this situation, you are seeking mercy, forgiveness, and freedom from guilt. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

Unfortunately, the author is pointing to herself as the source of authority and grace. She judges that the statement “I’m behind”, or the others, are lies which affect her state of mind. She can stop believing those lies if she stops repeating them. In other words, if she changes her words, she will change herself, and have nothing to feel guilty about. That is not logical at all! First, it isn’t a lie to say you are behind. If are following a schedule and you don’t keep up with it, then you are behind. It doesn’t mean it was wrong for you to fall behind; it simply means you fell behind. What we won’t know without examination is if those reasons for falling behind were legitimate or sinful. If all we do is stop saying a phrase it’s just avoiding the examination. By following this process, she is actually not only avoiding the examination, but also avoiding the opportunity to receive grace.  She thinks she is giving herself grace by just not speaking lies, but that isn’t real grace. That isn’t real freedom from guilt. Even if for a time she feels better, guilt will surly raise its ugly head again.

It is GOD who is the source of all grace, all mercy, and all that is good.  It is He who will change you! That gives me great comfort.  I’m terrible at changing myself. I can’t stay on a diet for more than a month, why would I think I could stop speaking 3 phrases? But thankfully, God is faithful to keep His promises for eternity.

So now that we understand that it is the heart that controls the mouth and that it is God who can free us from guilt our next step is to ask God to create that clean heart. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We can pray that exact verse and apply it to any situation in our life.  Ask Him to examine and change your heart. Then trust Him to do so through His Word, His Body, and His Spirit.

Let God reveal whether your excuses are legitimate. There will be times when you will fall behind and then need to adjust your plans. There will be times when you can’t do something yourself and need to seek help.  There are times when you won’t have done enough and maybe need to adjust plans to do more. Agreeing to never say “I’m behind” or “I can’t” or “I’m not doing enough” can lead to unaddressed sin because it avoids the truth.

You might be thinking that this seems pretty spiritually heavy for just trying to improve our outlook on our homeschooling efforts.  Let me assure you that Satan enjoys nothing more than separating you from God, even on the small stuff.  He will find the chink in your armor and exploit it.  What seemed like a small thing can turn into a huge problem if not addressed. In this case, the chink is that you are trading His grace for your law in an attempt to be freed from guilt.  Thankfully, in Christ, yes, we can even be freed of guilt from falling behind in homeschooling!

I’m sure the author of this article intends well.  She seems like a person who has a passion for supporting homeschoolers.  I really appreciate that about her.  There are many times in my life when I have had similar thoughts.  If I take control, I can fix it. Through the Gospel I've been made aware that no matter how hard I work, grace isn't mine to give, change isn't mine to make.  God is in control of these things and he wants me to acknowledge his control of these things so that I can be drawn closer to Him. Being aware of what is coming out of our mouths is very helpful though, but you must dig deeper.  You must ask God to reveal sin in your heart and change your heart if you want your homeschool to flourish in the future.  That's what you can do. Just changing the way you speak won’t get the job done.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Curriculum Review - Exploring America by Notgrass Publishing

Last year at a curriculum review I was exposed to America the Beautiful from Notgrass Publishing.  I was very impressed with this curriculum.  I debated about whether I should start my 8th grader on it or move on to Exploring America.  I decided to go with Exploring America because it was so rich in literature and Bible.  I fell in love with American Voices.  My 8th grader loves to read, so I thought that would be a good way to approach history. I also didn't see the point in starting a US history course for 8th grade only to start another US history course for 9th grade. My thought was, how much difference could there be between the two levels? This was a mistake.

Our Co-op Experience

I also decided to use this curriculum at co-op.  We had a group of families who were also going to be using the curriculum so it made sense to work together.  We split the course up into 2 classes, history and literature/comp.  On reflection we should have made it a two hour course. I made the lesson plans for the year for both classes; I taught literature/comp and another teacher taught history.  We left it to the parents to teach the Bible lessons at home. 

Notgrass suggests that a high school student can make it through this course in one year and if complete can earn 3 credits (history, English, and Bible).  Halfway into the first semester we realized that there was no way we could do a Unit a week as they suggest.  consistently, we had students not turning in homework or being unprepared for tests.  We spoke to the parents about their struggles and they simply said there was too much work.  We were following the suggested assignments for each Unit. We decided to adjusted our plan to only do one book (up through the Civil War) in one year. We didn't want to sacrifice all the richness of the course so that we could squeeze it into one year.  We decided we could offer the course again next year to cover Reconstruction to current history  This helped tremendously in the history class, but in our lit/comp class I still was having students not turn in work on time and not prepared for class reviews of the novels. It is unclear to me that this was just the lack of dedication on the students part or if it was just too much work.  After our own personal experiences, I am more inclined to believe that these students, like mine own were just not ready to take such a difficult course.

Our Personal Experience

I decided to pull my daughter out all together from the co-op classes. Over Christmas break I pondered just dropping the curriculum because she seemed to really be struggling with the adjusted plan too.  I decided to stick with it though, but I had to do some major adjustments for her. After the following adjustments she is making regular progress, which is a relief.

1.       I decided to let her just work through the course at her own pace and not try to squeeze it into a time frame at all. I didn’t want to sacrifice many of the assignments that I think bring depth to this curriculum in favor of squishing it into one year.  I do give her a weekly lesson plan, but if I see that she is making an honest effort and not getting the work done for the week, I will adjust the lesson plan.

2.       I dropped the novels, but kept the American Voices readings.  We might use the book list for a summer reading list.  It is a fantastic list of literature.  The AV readings were something I wouldn't compromise.  If not for the AV readings, this would just be an average Christian based history curriculum. The fact that they use so many origin sources makes this course outstanding.

3.       I added Bible.  I had originally attempted the Bible credit with her, but after the first couple of weeks I saw that there was too much work.  It was one of the selling points on the curriculum for me and something so many courses lack.   And to my point about original sources, how more original can you get?

4.       I narrate the history text.  I found out the hard way this year, although she loves to read fiction for fun, she struggles reading history and science texts. I found that her vocabulary just wasn't where it needed to be to ease through this course.  She can read and pronounce most words, but she doesn't always know what they mean in context.  I think this course was just above her reading level in a lot of ways.  That is actually ok with me generally speaking.  I think the only way to expand ones reading level is to start reading above it, but it would have been nice to understand that that was the case.  That isn't Notgrass's fault by any means, but I think they could do a better job at honing in on what grade level this course should actually be fore.  More on that in a minute.

       I purchased a MP3 recording and multimedia CD for her science text, which helped a lot! I hoped to find that for this course as well, but Notgrass doesn’t offer those options. It was up to me to provide that to her.  I actually really enjoy it. Every couple of weeks or so I record myself reading all the history text in a Unit on my phone. It helps me to prepare so that I can then instruct her better.   She can then read and listen to the text on her own and at her own pace.  She claims this has made all the difference in the world to her.  Her grades have improved and the pace has sped up.  I also provide her with links for the American Voice s reading assignments.  I can usually find someone reading them on Youtube. I would also like to be able to direct her to other websites that discuss the topics she is studying, but at this time I don't have time for that extra layer of work.  This is why it would be so helpful if Notgrass would provide it; it would save me huge amounts of time.

My Review

Notgrass says Exploring America will fulfill 1 high school credit for history, English and Bible. I felt a great amount of pressure to meet those standards.  I transferred that pressure to my daughter.  That is not why we homeschool; to meet some standardized notion of what a student should learn in a given time period.  We homeschool so that each of our children can receive a customized education based in Biblical truth.  So once I grounded myself again in that truth, the curriculum became much more useful to us. 

Because of the experience we've had in co-op, not just based on our personal experience with the course, I think that Notgrass has been too general in their identification of the curriculum as "high school".  There are too many varied notions among homeschoolers to label a curriculum as general as "high school".  I'm calking that up to a rooky mistake on my part, bu I just would have appreciated not wasting nearly a semester struggling through this course at home or at co-op to figure that out.  I look to the publisher to help me with that.   

The English work is heavy. The credit is supposed to cover composition and literature. There is a novel about every 2-3 weeks which has a set of questions to answer at the end of each novel, a writing assignment for each Unit (each week), and another English assignment for each lesson. In the quiz and exam book there are also questions for each literature assignment, and a test at the end of every 5 units. Often the English assignments for the lessons are nearly as big as the weekly writing assignment.  My students found it hard to get through all the writing in one week, especially considering that one of the days was spent in class.  They really only have 4 days to get the work done unless they were to cut into their weekend.  Even now that my daughter is not taking this course at co-op, 5 days wasn't enough, hence why we don't try to squeeze it into a week now. 

This curriculum is reading intensive which makes sense.  You have to transfer the knowledge in some way or another, and reading is there method.  The main issue is that because it uses so many original documents, if your student doesn't have a vast vocabulary, they are going to be slowed down by that. If you are trying to meet the 1 unit a week standard, then this will be a problem.  

There is a daily history reading assignment, most days there is an additional American Voices reading assignment, and over the course of 2 or 3 Units there is a novel assigned.  The history reading takes about 20 minutes for me to narrate. Slower readers will likely take double that time.  Those who don't have an adequate vocabulary will also need extra time to expand their vocabulary by asking questions or looking up words.  Make sure your student understands that it is important to stop and ask questions about words or concepts they don't understand.  Otherwise when they get to the questions they will be very frustrated.

The AV reading can be a lot or a little.  It's not evenly spread out.  It seems like the first couple of Units were reading intensive. Again, vocabulary will be a stumbling block.  If your student has read out of the King James Bible their whole lives, this will probably be easy hat, but if not, you will find when they are reading letters and speeches, they will struggle with the style of writing and vocabulary.  I wouldn't let that deter you in using it.  Just like learning to read and write in cursive, we need to understand that as a civilization that our history doesn't start with us.  We must learn where we came from and to learn that we need to be able to speak their langue, so to speak.  It's a skill that needs to be learned so that our heritage isn't lost. 

The novel reading doesn't have any specific time table to meet except by the end of a certain unit when they would take a test, but I found that I had to break it up into regular chunks for my class so they wouldn't end up having to read the whole book in one week.  That was just poor study habits. Make sure your student has a plan for completing the book, not just a general deadline.  Discuss what they have read with them at least once a week. If you need supplemental questions, the quiz and test books doesn't really have very many, you can easily find questions by doing an Internet search. 

I think Notgrass could appeal to a much larger audience if they would do these things:
  1. Offer a 1 and a 2 year plan.  Certainly  offer the option of earning those 3 credits in a year, but for those of us who aren't trying to meet those standards, offer suggestions for a longer plan.   
  2. Be more focused in suggestions for grade levels. Instead of saying "high school", help me the parent to understand how I can best use this curriculum for a student who isn't going to fall perfectly into your ideal student.
  3.  Offer some multimedia additions like MP3 narration for auditory learners, and links to websites or suggestions for videos for visual learners.  I think this could add another layer of depth to an already rich course.
I’m not sure what I will do next year, if I will let my daughter finish the course or switch to something else.  She really isn’t officially in high school yet, so I could start her on something completely different and not loose any ground.  I think she would do better with a DVD based curriculum or at least a DVD supplement, but there are very few out there that cover all of American history.  I really want her to love history, and right now she is just being obedient.  I will probably keep using American Voices though as a supplement regardless of what we use.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Laundry Routine

I’ve tried just about every laundry schedule or routine in the book.  Our needs are ever changing when it comes to doing laundry.   So, in another effort to do away with schedules in favor of routines, I am implementing a new laundry routine. 

Now that the children are a little older, I think it is time to start training them to do their own laundry.  D is already capable, and K just needs a bit more training before I set her off on her own.  J is just 8 and a boy.  I make excuses for him, but honestly the boy is quite capable of learning to use these machines.  He could probably repair them in a pinch. The sorting on the other hand…well he will need supervision for a long time. Let’s just leave it at that.

We are doing Keepers of the Faith this year with the girls, so one of the awards they can earn is a pin in laundry. Hopefully, this extra layer of training will help them to build some good long term laundry skills and habits.

I have decided to implement a by room system for this season.  We have 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, and kitchen.  Kitchen rags need to be done more than once a week, so that will get worked into our routine every other day or so.   I’m thinking it will look something like this:

Master Bed
D’s Bed/ Kitchen/
K’s Bed
J’s Bed/

We don’t wash our sheets every week.  I know, some people are cringing, but we just don’t.  About every other week is what I would like to maintain. I’m not trying to make any huge leaps in bounds here in establishing new routines, just trying to be more consistent in what we tend to already do. I will likely rotate rooms each week.  Week 1 and 3 will be Master and K; week 2 and 4 will be D and J. That would be one large bed and one small bed each week.

I tend to get 2 loads done a day, but not as regularly as I would like.  I feel like if we make it each person’s responsibility to wash their own clothes, with the exception of my husband, people may be a little more motivated to help.  A week worth of clothes for one person should take about 2 loads. I think that is pretty reasonable amount of laundry once a week for a kid to do.  I’ll do the rest for the time being, but part of the girls training will be to do the household laundry eventually too.  

Like with kitchen rags, I will need to do whites a little more often. Don’t know if 3 times a week will be needed; we have a lot of those types of things, but we also have the occasional accident that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.  

The other part of the laundry routine is deciding when this will happen during the day.  I think the best plan is to hit it in the morning before school, at lunchtime, and before bed, but we can be flexible with that because this is a routine, not a schedule.   Once laundry line season starts, it might need to look a little different. To get the clothes dried before the sun goes behind the trees you have to get washing done before 10am.

Mondays will be hard because we are in co-op all day.  That is why I have only put towels on Monday.  I think I can get Hubs to switch them at lunch time for me if I am sweet about it and I don't use the clothes line for towels.  

One of my pitfalls is that I have these great plans and then I don’t communicate them, but once.  I have a fantasy that I should only have to tell someone to do things once.  

Lazy Girl Tip: Live in reality land, not fantasy land.

Since I don't have a chore chart picked yet I'm not completely sure how this will be communicated, but for now I'll just add it to their lesson plan for the day under Keepers of the Faith.