Encouraging our children

There are times in every homeschooling mom's life that we wonder if we're doing the best we can. We wonder if we are teaching our children everything they need to know. We question the possibility of "gaps" in their scholastic achievements. Unfortunately, these kinds of question often manifest themselves in our own anxiety, worry and fear. And too often these things are transferred to our children as we push harder and expect more. Instead of seeing improvement we often see negligence, laziness and lack of motivation.  

As I graded our son's Bible essay, I made a list in the margin of the things that needed correction. There were a few spelling errors, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. I sighed as I read over the list. These were things he should know! Things I know we have covered and that he has mastered. I was frustrated. What was the missing piece to this puzzle? Why wasn't he doing his best? As I read the list over once again my eyes stopped on the last line.

    "Otherwise a good essay. Love, Mom."

As I studied that last line a Scripture came to mind that I had read the week before: Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. -1 Thessalonians 5:11. Was this last line the most I could offer my son in the form of encouragement?

As a Christian I am cautious of the "self-esteem" theory that builds children up in their abilities without ever correcting their mistakes. I have perhaps been overly careful not to create a prideful spirit within my children from too much boasting. But here was the Scripture telling me to do just that: to encourage and build up my children! As I meditated on this the Lord ministered these things to my heart:

·    Encouraging and building up one another is a command from the Lord. As this Scripture states, we should build one another up, encourage one another, in every area of good works - even math and spelling. It's enough for me to know that the Lord said to do it. I don't need pages upon pages of psychological data to affirm the benefits of this sort of instruction though they certainly are available. I find that as I apply this to our home school I am seeing our children strive to better themselves and their work.

·    It isn't dangerous to build-up my children in areas of good works. In fact, it frequently spurs them on to MORE good works. Just what I am looking for! I think my fear of creating a prideful spirit in them comes from my own struggle in this area. I have always desired verbal affirmation from those closest to me and thought it to be a prideful desire. It's not! Jesus knew we would need encouragement and so commanded us to encourage one another. Building up our children does not mean we are bragging or boasting about their abilities. And I'm certainly not suggesting that we parade our children's efforts in front of all who care to look for the purpose of "encouraging" them. I am speaking of the quiet times in our home when we as parents are teaching and instructing.

·    Too often my list of "corrections" is far longer than my list of encouraging words. If I look I can always find something to be encouraging about: penmanship, creativity, his abilities that could be added here or there.  For instance, if his spelling is awful I can mark the misspelled word(s) and also mention that he did a wonderful job of choosing the word to use in the first place. If a nine-year old uses the word "providence" in the correct context but spells it "provadense", it still deserves praise!

·    When I do need to correct I should strive to do it in a loving and graceful way. Never critical, never angry, never resentful or frustrated. Always for the building up and betterment of my child. I can go back to 1 Corinthians and read the 13th chapter. When I apply these principles to my teaching and correcting I always get wonderful results.

I also think it's important to remind ourselves that what we should desire to see in our children is progress not perfection. Let's face it: we, as their instructors and guides, are not perfect. How can we expect them to be?

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward
call of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:14

charlotte mason
& the large family


It has always been my opinion that Charlotte Mason's way of educating lends itself especially towards families of larger than average size. As the oldest of 6 children, all of whom my mother homschooled, we incorporated many of her methods in our home without even knowing it. I did copywork from old Reader's Digest magazines while I dreamed of being a "real" writer. That was the extent of my grammar and composition classes. My younger sisters did dictation as Mom relived part of her school years by having them write down their spelling words along with the complete sentences in which she used them.

And where was little brother? Usually outside on the front porch with a hammer and nails. Or sometimes in a tree hoping to climb to the very top in order to see a deer in our cornfield. Occasionally he would sit down for a story or an art lesson (which my sister Amy was specially adept at giving). And at five years old, what better endeavors should he be engaged in? While all the other children his age were stuck "doing science" inside glass jars, he was learning to fish and catch tadpoles. I'm sure Miss Mason would have been pleased.

While a family of 8 isn't as large as some, it is larger than most. At any rate, it serves the purpose of this study: using Charlotte Mason with a large family. The biggest obstacle my Mother faced, as I'm sure some of you can relate to, is the question of what to do with a toddler, baby or preschooler during school time. Though there are many answers, my mother employed the following:

- My sisters and I rotated baby-duty. We called it that not because we saw it as a chore. Quite the contrary in fact. When our little brother was born his 4 older sisters thought he was just about the cutest thing that ever lived! To have baby-duty meant to have the supreme, most sought-after task in the house. Though he was breastfed, we still had the privilege of changing his diaper, bib, and outer clothes as the need arose. We made sure it arose often. He was our own little play-doll. While the one sister had baby-duty, two of us worked independently while Mom worked with the other. We just switched between baby-duty and independent study until we had all had Mom for our toughest lesson of the day.

The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom
of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher
and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of
forcible intellectual feeding.

- C. Mason; Vol. 6, pp. 32.

- We all did many independent studies and incorporated schoolwork into our daily lives. For one of us that meant lots of reading and report writing, for one sister in particular it meant doing the dishes and learning to cook (and add fractions at the same time).  For our youngest sister it meant pouring over any and all printed matter having to do with horses.

It is well we should recognize that the business of
education is with us all our lives, that we must always
go on increasing our knowledge.

-C. Mason; Vol. 6, pp. 54.

- We were encouraged to take up outside projects, start our own businesses, help neighbors and church family in any way we could. So much for the socialization query. In addition to teaching us basic skills needed for employment and interaction with the adult world, it taught us to never waste our time. We were always researching, thinking, doing something. Even in our play we could be found reenacting our history lesson of the day. Another form of narration.

It will be noticed that the child is educating herself;
her friends merely take her to see the things she
already knows about and she tells what she has read,
a quite different matter from the act of pouring information
down the throats of the unhappy children who are taken
to visit our national treasure houses.

-C. Mason; Vol.6, pp. 77.

- Mom did as little actual teaching as possible. She very rarely stood between the book and the child instead letting us wring out everything we could from it ourselves. We did unit studies frequently - after we had learned the material we would play school and teach it to our dolls.

All schoolwork should be conducted in such a manner
that children are aware of the responsibility of learning;
it is their business to know that which has been taught .
To this end the subject matter should not be repeated.

 - C. Mason; Vol.6, pp.74

While it can be said that most of Miss Mason's correspondence families employed one or more house servants to help out with domestic chores, homeschool mothers of today have more servants than most of them dreamed of! Consider our automatic clothes washers and dryers. Our dishwashers and hot water heaters. Microwave ovens, bread machines, deep freezes and take-out food delivery are all on our payroll. Not to mention climate-controlled homes autumn through summer. Milk is as close as our refrigerator, and eggs by the dozen require no more effort than placing them in our shopping carts.

Additionally, her insistence on leaving a child alone in his quest for knowledge until the age of 6 further eases our burden. Narration, copywork, great books, great artists and composers - all of the ingredients for a liberal education are there without the "work and preparation" of a classical or classroom model.

When all is said and done, it can be seen that Miss Mason's methodical lack of tedious teacher-involvement, lesson planning and regurgitating of information for the students benefit lends itself perfectly to large families. In homes where there is a 6,8, even 10 to 1 teacher-student ratio this way of educating our children fits the bill perfectly. Few are the hours of planning, gathering materials, creating and scoring multiple choice tests.

And on the subject of what to do with our pre-school aged children during school hours, I hope you find the following links helpful.


There are ideas here for babies and toddlers.
Lots of other information too - take awhile and look around!

My favorite for Preschool ideas.
Be sure to look into the Ziploc bag idea - it was the best investment I ever made!


First off, I must make a confession. I am NOT one of those natural Martha Stuart types who has a crispy clean house and never misses an appointment. I'm not an expert. On the contrary. I found out after the birth of our second child that being perfectly organized is a myth. I accepted the fact (finally) that being a great housekeeper means working towards perfection but never really arriving. And finally...I'm fine with that. I didn't become truly organized until I gave up the notion of being "finished" at the end of a day. Until I did I constantly felt burdened, over-worked, unappreciated, and down-right miserable. 

Being a wife-mom-teacher is a tough job and while being wonderfullly organized is, well...wonderful - it can become a millstone around our necks if we allow it to. I was caught in that trap of feeling as though I didn't accomplish anything at the end of the day. Ladies, Satan is a great deciever and if he can make you believe this lie you are in trouble! The world has the view that we must "see resluts" in order to judge something worthwhile or valuable. Being a stay-at-home mom and homeschooling doesn't often include this concrete proof that we are doing well. In fact, I go to bed with dirty laundry in the hamper every night and dirty dishes in the sink. It doesn't matter that I was up until 10pm trying to "finish" everything. Someone needed a last-minute drink of water. Someone had an accident and needed to change their night clothes. And bedsheets. And blankets.  Again.

While I'm ever completely finished with housework, and certainly never  as organized as I'd like to be, I have found a few things that help. Keep in mind, that I implemented these things over the course of about 2 years. I know... you want things better Now. So did I and that is part of what is adding to your frustration. I've listed the things below in order of greatest effect.  Take my advice though (if you want to call it that) and just implement one thing at a time. Don't try to have an organization boot-camp and get everything "together" in one day or week. Slow down. :-)

1. Do the best you can and give the rest to the Lord. Take time each day to do just that. Carve out 30 minutes to an hour every day to pray, be still, and rest. Make this a priority!

2.  Ask your husband to pray for you on a daily basis. Don't overwhelm him with a 10 item list. Pick one thing and ask for him to lift it up to the Lord. I was amazed at the results of this. God is so good!

3.Before committing to any outside activities or ministries, ask yourself this one question:

Does this have anything to do with
my calling as a wife and mother?

Right now that's your ministry - your home and family. I'm not suggesting that you never commit to outside ministries but just do it prayerfully.

4. Involve your children in daily home cleaning tasks. Be positive about it, take time to really train them on a job well done, and be appreciative of their best efforts. It doesn't have to be perfect it just has to be their best.

5. Buy or make yourself a daily planner. If you already have one get it out. USE IT. Do not schedule anything without looking at it first. Take a few minutes each week to talk with your husband about his schedule that week.

So if I'm not perfectly organized and if I have in fact given up on ever being perfectly organized, why am I writing this article? To share the joy that can come with freedom. Hopefully you clicked on this article looking for THE tip to help you finally accomplish that task. It's never going to happen dear sister. Just do the best you can and lean on the Lord for the rest.


just phonics

To quote the famous author, William Shakespeare, phonics programs these days can be summed up in four words: "Much ado about nothing." Pick up any homeschool catalog and you will be bombarded by programs, books, audio and video tapes all touted as being the "best" at teaching your child to read. It's really quite overwhelming.  Not to mention the fact that most if not all of these programs are in the $100 range and some are quite a bit more than that. I am not proposing that these programs will not teach your child to read. On the contrary, they do so quite nicely, with colored photographs of an "ant" for "a", "bicycle" for "b" and so on. What I am proposing is that although visually stimulating, they are not at all necessary in the instruction of phonics.

Phonics, by it's very nature, requires memorization. You must be able to look at each letter and relate it with the sound it makes. That's it. All the bells and whistles you buy will not make this happen magically, or in my opinion, make it happen any easier. All you really need to teach you child to read is a basic phonics manual and a small chalkboard. More on that in a minute. I'm sure some of you may be asking the question, "What makes her the expert?"

Well, simply put... I'm not an expert and that is precisely the point. Consider the following: During colonial days, children were taught to read (usually by their parents) with nothing more than the Bible and a slate. Often slates were not even available and pieces of bark were used with bits of charcoal acting as a marker. Primitive? Yes. Did it really work? Absolutely! Even in situations where there was a teacher and slates/paper and quill were available, there were no fancy do-dads to teach the sounds of each letter. They were learned by rote, or repetition. Add all you like; lovely pictures, glossy photographs, you still must learn the sounds and be able to recall them on sight of each letter. WITHOUT a picture to spark your memory.

Ok. Back to the phonics manual and the chalkboard. The manual can be anyone you choose so long as it stands alone. Your child won't have flash cards, photographs, etc. when she reads independently of you and isn't that the ultimate goal? To teach phonics with pictures alongside each letter is to post-pone your child learning to really "read". It's fine for the preschool years, but lay it aside when you sit down to teach reading. Find one that has spelling rules too and you've bought your child's first two years worth of  language/phonics/reading "curriculum".

The chalkboard should be rather small, really only big enough for one sentence at a time. This way, there isn't room for doodling, and it's easier for little Johnny to stay focused on the letter you're working on at the time. As you teach the sound of each letter have your child copy the letter and you've taught writing alongside reading. Right where it belongs.

All the fancy programs are great, and though extravagant and un-needed to my mind, they work fine. But consider this: the more sophisticated our phonics programs have become, the lower our national literacy rate has plummeted. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding (sorry - I couldn't find the author of that one).

   More coming soon!                      
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