Ever the Optimist

I started crocheting a baby blanket for my oldest — nearly 25 years ago.

I never finished it, yet I still hold on to it. It’s in a hatbox, and had somehow made it through over a dozen moves in a half dozen countries.

Here is my current project, a baby blanket for a dear friend who has been ready for a baby for decades. God is fulfilling the long held hope.

And so I’m committed to finishing this baby blanket for this child of the covenant.

Reformation Day Resources for the Family

I love traditions.

I also resist traditions which begat high expectations in others and internal pressure in myself.

Throughout the years, our Reformation Day celebration has looked different, year to year. Sometimes we’ve had a Reformation month. For the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church, in 2017 we had a whole Reformation year.

As I share some of our traditions, ideas, and resources let them inspire you and encourage you — but with no expectations or pressures. Enjoy the fun, use the time as a catalyst for learning more about your faith and history. Remember that following the traditions of men and trying to measure up is the opposite of what we love about the Reformation!

Delving deeper in to the whys of observing Reformation Day is in another post. This is simply a list of my favorite resources. (Amazon links are affiliate links, as you might guess. Everything linked is something we own or have used in our family.)

Men of the Holidays: An Inspirational Look at the Lives of St. Valentine, St. Patrick, Martin Luther, Squanto, and St. Nicholas: As you can tell from the title, we use this book several times throughout the year. Along with a story of each man of faith and God’s providence, each chapter includes a recommendation for Bible memory and discussion of a core theological concept. My children, like most, love revisiting the same stories year after year.

The Christian Biographies for Young Readers series by Simonetta Carr is beautiful — beautifully written, beautifully illustrated, and beautifully communicating people of Christian history. While of course you’ll want the book about Martin Luther, we are slowly collecting all of them. Last year I surprised the kids with a Reformation Day gift — the biographies of Lady Jane Grey for my daughter and John Knox for my youngest son. They are published by Reformation Heritage Books (one of our faves!) and various titles frequently go on sale.

Along with Simonetta Carr’s biography of Martin Luther, for middle/high school students, we like When Lightening Struck! by Danika Cooley. (Check out her Thinking Kids Press website for tons of great free resources for discipling your kids, as well as the great Bible Road Trip curriculum.) For adults my favorite is the classic Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton — personally, I prefer it as an audio book.

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer is great for a family movie night. It is produced by Ligonier Ministries, which also provides a free study guide (which we haven’t used with the kids, but I could imagine using with a small group.) While you can buy it from them directly or stream from Amazon at any time during the year, they often provide for free streaming during October.

I listen to a lot of podcasts these days — often with the kids. The Life and Times of Martin Luther, produced by a lay-historian/theologian Steve, is phenomenal. Though it hasn’t been updated recently, it is worth listening to all of the back episodes. Ligonier Ministries has a new high-concept podcast, Luther: In Real Time. Each episode is released 500 years to the day after key events in Martin Luther’s life and ministry.

There are so many more that we have loved! I’ll come back and add to this when I don’t have little ones who are calling me.



Watch Free! Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer

 

For the month of October 2020, Ligonier Ministries is making their full-length documentary about Martin Luther available for free, streaming from Youtube.

Their free study guide is available if you’d like to have more guidance in discussions with others or going deeper on your own.

If you find this post after October 2020 and want to watch the video, you can either purchase it dvd or blue-ray (archaic!) from Ligonier directly, or rent a digital copy from Amazon or other streaming services.

We love Reformation month in our family, and have slowly, over time, built up some family traditions that are meaningful to us. I’m looking forward to sharing some of our favorite resources and activities in the coming days.

But for now — go watch Luther!

Fisher’s Catechism

The other morning I tumbled down a theological rabbit hole and at the bottom, I discovered Fisher’s Catechism.

I was working on an article, “What is Reformed and Covenantal Theology?” and I wanted to do a quick check on the wording in a question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism when I found this treasure.

“Fisher’s Catechism” was originally called “The Synod’s Catechism” and was written by Scottish pastors Ebenezer Erskine and his son-in-law, James Fisher. It is a catechism of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, written in a question-and-answer format and laced with Scripture.

It led my heart to worship this morning! — as the study of theology should do.

For example, see this exposition on the Trinity. The first part is from the WSC.

QUESTION 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?

ANSWER: There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Q. 1. Whence is it, that this article of our holy religion has been so much opposed by adversaries, in every period of the church?

A. The devil and his instruments have warmly opposed it because they know it is the primary object of our faith and worship; it not being enough for us to know what God is, as to his essential attributes, without knowing who he is, as to his personality, according as he has revealed himself in his word, to be Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, 1 John 2:23, — “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.”

 

Q. 2. Is this doctrine of the Trinity, then; a fundamental article, upon the belief of which our salvation depends?

A. Beyond all doubt it is: because without the knowledge and belief of the Trinity of persons, we would remain ignorant of the love of the Father, the merit of the Son, and the sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost, in the purchase and application of redemption; without which there could be no salvation, John 17:3, — “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

The Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics hosts the (free!) online version of Fisher’s Catechism.  CRTA is a wealth of historic documents and has been serving the online Christian community for decades — I remember accessing it in the late 90s.

While that is how I found it today, I want to get a hardback copy of Fisher’s Catechism (aff) when I can (and here is my Amazon review.)

When Our Weakness Becomes Apparent

Our weakness may seem, as if it were an obstacle in the way of God’s perfecting his strength in us. Paul does not merely deny this, but maintains, on the other hand, that it is only when our weakness becomes apparent, that God’s strength is duly perfected. To understand this more distinctly, we must distinguish between God’s strength and ours; for the word my is emphatic. “My strength,” says the Lord, (meaning that which helps man’s need — which raises them up when they have fallen down, and refreshes them when they are faint,) “is perfected in the weakness of men;” that is, it has occasion to exert itself, when the weakness of men becomes manifest…

For then do we make room for Christ’s grace, when in true humility of mind, we feel and confess our own weakness. The valleys are watered with rain to make them fruitful, while in the mean time, the high summits of the lofty mountains remain dry.  Let that man, therefore, become a valley, who is desirous to receive the heavenly rain of God’s spiritual grace.

John Calvin, commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

My Most Recommended Homeschooling Books

 I started reading about homeschooling and various educational philosophies when I was in high school.  Though now there are a wealth of encouraging, thought-provoking homeschool books, I find that I recommend the same ones over and over. Most of these authors have other excellent books as well, but these are my favorites.

 

Here’s a quick list of my most recommended homeschool books.

 

For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Educating the Wholehearted Child, Clay and Sally Clarkson

Home Education Series (Six Volumes), Charlotte Mason
Free online or well-formatted hardcover set.

The 3 R’s: Grades 1-3, Ruth Beechick

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully: Grades 4-8, Ruth Beechick

Know and Tell: The Art of Narration, Karen Glass

The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, Raymond & Dorothy Moore

Read Aloud Family, Sarah MacKenzie

Well-Trained Mind, Susan Wise Bauer

(Most of the above links are Amazon affiliate links — you pay the same price, I get a small cut.)

 

 

What is the Best Homeschooling Curriculum?

You know what I find most essential in our homeschool?

A comfy couch and good books.

With so many families choosing to homeschool for the first time, I keep hearing some of the same questions. . .

What is the best curriculum?
How can I make sure I’m not missing anything?
Is there a list of school supplies I need?
How do you set up your school area?
How do you schedule your day?

It can be crazy-overwhelming.

(Scroll to the bottom to see my favorite homeschool resources. . .)

When we first started homeschooling, the options were more limited.

Traditional textbooks? Choose Abeka. Unit Studies? Konos. Charlotte Mason? Put it together yourself. Classical? Trivium Pursuit.

Now there are so many beautiful programs — each one making a promise of a smooth and peaceful school year.

“The best curriculum is the one you use.” 

That was the wisdom shared with me early in our homeschool journey.

The longer we homeschool, the more I’ve found that to be true.

The curriculum that I can consistently use, week in and week out week, is better than the curriculum that sits on my bookshelf.

The curriculum I have in my bookshelf is better than any shiny program hashtagged on Instagram.

There is no one “best” homeschool curriculum.

What works for my family won’t necessarily work for your family.  Honestly, what worked for my family five years ago doesn’t work for my family now!

And that is okay.  We are all learning and growing and changing.

The most beautiful part of homeschooling can also be its biggest challenge. Homeschooling is personalized to you and your child. While that is wonderful, it can also feel like a burden to decide how to homeschool.

For that we need insight in to our children’s strengths and weaknesses and understanding of how we work best. Pray for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

Do a little research — but not too much. Pray. Make a decision based on what looks doable for you right now.

Is it appealing to you and your child?
Is it a choice made out of fear?
Is the schedule realistic?
Can you afford it?

Commit to using the curriculum you choose for the first semester (without getting distracted by other amazing programs!) Then evaluate.

Is it working for your child?
Is it working for you?
Are you looking forward to learning together?
Is it easy to consistently implement?

Please keep all of the above in mind as I share what I’ve found to be the best homeschool resources.

 NB: This list was initially compiled July 2020 — in the midst of families determining the next steps for schooling during Covid-19.

Recommended Homeschool Resources

Complete Curriculum Options

AmblesideOnline: This is a rich — and free! — curriculum that is based on the principles taught by Charlotte Mason. “Children are born persons” and should be respected and educated as such is the foundation of this approach, and it relies heavily on reading “living books” and narration. We used AO in our early homeschooling years, were distracted by other options for awhile, and are back to using AO. Start with the Welcome to AmblesideOnline article to get a good overview.

Sonlight Curriculum: I remember Sonlight’s early catalogs with the 20 Reasons NOT to Use Sonlight article — true honesty to help parents determine whether their curriculum was right for their family. Sonlight is a Christian, literature-based curriculum with an emphasis on history and cultures around the world. The teacher’s guides lay out day by day schedules, which many people find helpful. We used Sonlight with a few of our children for a few years, and I was pleased with the book selections and conversations our family had.

Timberdoodle: We’ve been ordering books from Timberdoodle for 20 years, and have used their family’s descriptions and reviews of materials in homeschooling decisions. They were one of the first to offer resources for STEM-based learning and children who learn differently They offer a complete curriculum (which we haven’t used).

Simply Charlotte Mason: We have ordered the artist study packets, Book of Centuries, and memory verse cards (also available free.) We haven’t used the complete curriculum, but I appreciate that they have developed an open-and-go option for a CM education.

Math Resources

Life of Fred Math: While Life of Fred is an unconventional approach to math, we find it engaging and helpful in developing mathematical thinking. I have friends who have used the whole series as their only math curriculum and they say their older students have a solid foundation.

Arithmetic for Young Children: Free online classic curriculum using manipulatives and teaching children to reason mathematically.

Khan Academy Math: Even when my older sons were in advanced math in high school, their teachers would refer them to Khan Academy when they needed help. We are using this in early elementary to help translate some concepts my kids understand intuitively into math terms and symbols.

Teaching Textbooks: While I was strong in math, I have trouble explaining it succinctly. Teaching Textbooks does that for me and we’ve used it in middle and high school. For my math-strong kids, they were more challenged by being in a math class than simply using Teaching Textbooks.

Charlotte Mason Resources

Living Books Press: Great store to purchase physical, high quality books used by AmblesideOnline and other Charlotte Mason curricula.  Many of the books they have were previously only available online or in poor facsimile copies. One of my favorite bookstores.

Riverbend Press: We often purchase preprinted artist packets, even when they don’t match up exactly with the AmblesideOnline artist study. (All AO artist study prints are available free online and in an easy to download and print PDF.) I’ve also purchased a Book of Centuries from Riverbend Press for myself to keep alongside the children..

Beautiful Feet Books: This literature-rich history curriculum using a Charlotte Mason approach was started by a homeschool mom in the early ‘80s. Many of the AO books which are not in the public domain (such as the D’Aulaire and Holling books) can be purchased through BFB.

Yesterday’s Classics: Over 20 years ago, The Baldwin ProjectGateway to the Classics began to compile quality children’s literature in an easy-to-read online format for free.  Connected to these sites is Yesterday’s Classics, which provides these books in well-formatted print form. When the older boys were using AO, we used this site to read many of their schoolbooks for free. With the younger ones, I’m now buying as many of the books as I can.

Cherrydale Press: Foreign language curriculum developed from CM’s ideas. This is something we have only started using recently.

Swedish Drill Revisited: “A modern approach to Charlotte Mason’s Recommendation for Physical Education.”  This is something we have started using recently.

Modern Classical Resources

Trivium Pursuit: Please pause and go read this article — Ten Things to To Before Age Ten. I was given this little paper pamphlet in the early ‘90s and was inspired that it was possible to provide my children with a solid, classical education. Besides their book Teaching the Trivium, we’ve enjoyed the pictures books, logic, and Greek materials from the Bluedorn family.

Memoria Press: Offers a complete Christian, classical curriculum with a strong emphasis on Latin. Along with homeschool resources, they offer resources for special needs families, an online academy and are connected to a physical school. We have ordered individual items, but have not used the full curriculum. (Too workbooky for me.)

Well-Trained Mind: Susan Wise Bauer has written one of the most popular books on modern, classical education and developed a homeschool curriculum to help parents implement it.  WTM now also offers an online academy. We haven’t used the full curriculum, but appreciate some of their resources like the audio books from Jim Weiss.  Help, I’m Suddenly Homeschooling! is a great article for families thrown in to Covid-19 education.

Veritas Press: They do it all — physical school, self-paced online classes, real time online classes, parent-taught curriculum. Some of my older boys used the Omnibus materials in high school. I’m a big fan of the Phonics Museum First Edition reading curriculum because of its beautiful artwork and engaging readers. The second edition is less appealing to me. (I’m saving our first edition for our eventual grandkids. . .)

 Classroom Supplies

Millers Pads & Papers: Another family-run homeschool company that has been in business for decades — I remember getting pretty rainbow paper at a convention in 1996!  Besides all sorts of notebooks, blank books, and paper products, they also sell workbooks, educational games, and toys. (Note: That’s an affiliate link — because I recommend them all the time anyway!)

Dick Blick Art Supplies: When my Mom was an artist on Jackson Square, she would get many of her materials from Dick Blick. Their products range from student to professional grade (and pricing!), but I’ve found all to be high quality.

More Great Resources

Raising Real Men:  Especially check out No Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and Hope and  Craftsman Crate.

Treasures from Jennifer: Such beautiful learning tools! Everything we’ve ordered has been of an amazing quality. The kids like their Name Tracing Boards. and the Advent Spiral is on my wishlist.

Montessori by Mom: This is the first time we’ve had an educational subscription box.  We started just after the Covid shut-down, and it has been fun to have something to look forward to in the mail. (Note: This is an affiliate link and if you use the code AFFALBU you’ll get $10 off your first month of a subscription.)

Rainbow Resource:  Just about any homeschool book, textbook, workbooks, curriculum, educational game or toy that you want can be found on Rainbow Resources — usually cheaper than Amazon.  Great descriptions of all the products and an online support forum. Be aware. . . they have so many products that the online catalog can be overwhelming and clunky.  It’s worth getting a paper catalog, too.

Used Books

I’ve personally ordered from each of these.

Amy’s Bookshelf

Living Books Marketplace
CM / Living Books FB Group

All of the above are resources or companies we’ve used over the years. Recently I’ve been introduced to some great new(ish) resources. While I’m sticking with what is working for us, these are resources recommended by friends.

Trusted Friends Recommend

My Father’s World: “My Father’s World Christian homeschool curriculum combines the best of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, classical education, and unit studies with a biblical worldview and global focus.”

Tapestry of Grace: Christian, unit-study style approach to teach multiple ages at once.

Funschooling:”…using kids’ natural talents and passions to ignite a love for learning.” Beautiful notebooks that guide learning.

Masterbooks: “Creating faith-based, engaging, effective, and practical educational materials.”  I’ve heard it is open-and-go.

Beast Academy: “Advanced math curriculum for your child at home. Choose books, online, or both to advance gifted kids in grades 2 to 5.” Comic-bookish.

Heart of Dakota: “Christian homeschool curriculum that is easy to use, flexible, educational and can also be used with multiple ages at the same time.”  Offers military and missionary discounts.

Gather ‘Round: Very new unit-study, CMish curriculum designed to be used by multiple ages at once.

Regardless of the curriculum you choose, remember you are the parent.  The curriculum is supposed to serve you and your child. Pray.  Make a choice, don’t buy too much, pull your child on your lap and start homeschooling.

Welcome to Homeschooling!

You’ve decided to homeschool. 

Maybe you have been wanting to homeschool, but weren’t ready to take the plunge.  Or maybe you are a reluctant homeschooler, choosing this because it seems the least-worst of challenging options.

Mom and Dad. . . I want you to know that YOU CAN DO IT!

It’s not going to look the same as school-building school. Some days are going to be awesome, and some days you’ll want to lock yourself in the bathroom just to get a moment alone.

But the truth is. . . No one loves your child as much as you do. No one knows your child and is seeking the best for your child the way you do.

I’m so thankful for the amazing teachers, family, and community who come alongside us and nurture our children as well. But you, Mom and Dad, no one is like you.

The past four months have been survival mode for everyone. We might be continuing in survival mode for a while longer, but most of us are transitioning in to the “new normal.”

Child development researchers and teachers know that children learn best within a secure, attached relationship. You know already that the best teachers you’ve had are the ones who cared for you. As you are figuring out this new school year, you are starting from a place of great strength — the loving relationship you have with your child.

Figuring out schedules and curricula and learning styles and educational philosophies. . . Sure, these things help plan this school year. But these are less important than the connection and growth of your child, secure in relationship with you. 

Start your planning with a smile, a hug, and prayer.

You can do it.

Our Covenant Children in Church

Children are the littlest disciples in our church.  It is good to include them in corporate worship, and prepare for them to be with the Body of Christ at large.  But realistically, children sometimes need to be helped to be involved in corporate worship so that they can participate with minimal distraction.

Some things that have helped us. . .

Setting expectations.  We communicate early that the whole family is expected to participate in worship, to the degree they possibly can.  We have them stand up when the congregation stands up, try to sing,  and fold their hands to pray.  Personally, I’m not organized to have a special church bag packed for each week, so we use the bulletin and a pen.  (I have trouble sitting still and focusing sometimes and so I bring a notebook to take notes to help me pay attention.) Even though we set expectations to join in corporate worship, we remember that they are not miniature adults and their participation is as a child.

Physical connection.  Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers usually do much better with being cooperative and quiet when sitting on a parents’ or other adults’ lap.  It’s both a physical and relational connection.  It’s much harder for children to sit still on chairs designed for adult bodies.

Explaining the liturgy.  Like the pastor explains communion so that both visitors and members understand what is going on during the Lord’s Supper, from the time the kids are little, I whisper to them what the purpose of each element of the service is for.  “This is the time we confess our sins.  We tell God we are sorry for what we have done wrong this week.  We know He forgives us because of Jesus.”

Learning hymns and prayers.  We sing the hymns and songs most common at our current church at home.  When we’ve had churches that posted the bulletin online ahead of the service, I’ve made a playlist on YouTube for that week’s music and played it in the background throughout the week.  Also, we work on memorizing the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles Creed, so the children can participate.

Remembering they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  These aren’t just my children, they are little people who God has placed in our family and in our church for His glory.  The ordinary means of grace (baptism, hearing the word preached, eventually communion) are for them as well as us.  God uses us as parents (and the church) to disciple these little ones — but the Holy Spirit is also working in their hearts apart from us.

Smile at children and parents.  Keep encouraging families with small children to come.  Keep encouraging them to have their children participate in worship.  Smile at parents when kids are wiggly.  Let them know they are welcome.

 

Some recommended resources:

Welcome!

Looking for spiritual encouragement and mommy-inspiration? CovMom.com is here to provide resources for you to glorify God and enjoy your kids.

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