Homeschooling: staying on track

Here’s the truth: the unsettling part of homeschooling is that there is no track. Sometimes, structure is provided by the curriculum. The State regulations might have minimum requirements (like days of school and subjects/grades). Often, we can find expectations in a local homeschool group or co-op. Honestly, the choice of studies and the schedule is mostly up to the family. What to do in a day or a year is left to the parents to decide, yet this is both freeing and paralyzing at the same time. Considering that most people don’t have any experience homeschooling until they begin with their own children, staying on track seems intimidating.

Nathan and I regularly remind ourselves of the goals at large when we begin to get lost in the details of the moment. We are after their hearts, and all else is secondary. Praying for the new school year and pleading for wisdom from the Lord gives us peace. Trying to surrender our plans and our days is part of the call of a Christian to obedience and faithfulness.

As parents, we set the atmosphere for learning in our homes by our interests and experiences. Our family enjoys biographies, literature, music, hosting people, road trips, hiking and nature. Since we instill our strengths in our children, we can assume that we will not be teaching them everything they will ever need to know about God’s world. A seasoned homeschooling mom several years ago shared with me her schedule and her prayer request which I have treasured as a nugget of wisdom. She mentioned that she regularly prays “that the Lord would fill in the gaps.” This is part of the adventure of the journey. It would be so stressful to constantly compare what our kids know with the neighbor kids. It would be discouraging to always question if they’re getting ahead or if that other math program would have been perfect. There will be holes that others will fill in as God brings them along our path.

Every year I create schedules and checklists, but that is just because of how I think. I thrive on order, so following a curriculum and incorporating our interests has been a good flow for us the past 12 years of homeschooling. We simply complete the curriculum and move on to the next level. Although we have done hands-on projects, we have mostly depended on literature (reading aloud) and comprehension. We use copywork, converstion, and writing papers (if old enough) to evaluate progress. In the last seven years, we have found support through the tutoring and brief classroom experience of Classical Conversations. I have been tremendously grateful for it especially in the junior high and high school years as have my children.

Keeping on track requires a great deal of intuition, observation, and conversation. When frustration and discouragement seep in, we try to take a break and look at it again with fresh eyes the next day. Sometimes we have evaluated if the material was not suited for that year for that student. Often, we just prayed together and pushed through.

We have never heavily relied on testing. While it’s a constant challenge, Nathan and I have always wanted to inspire a love for learning rather than the academic tasks. We have required diligence more than perfection and required focus more than completion. In recent years, we have seen the fruit of this. Children that struggled to master concepts are able to embark on new and challenging themes with enthusiasm for learning. They don’t exasperate nor retreat. They’re aware of their stumbling blocks yet can fully enjoy their own level of engagement. They’re aware that the learning will take more and varied efforts, but they feel defeated. This brings us so much joy and triumph.

As parents, we tailor the year to suit our children’s interests and aptitudes. While creating a homeschool track can seem demanding, hopefully it is rewarding to each child. I firmly believe that if the parent isn’t enjoying it, nobody is. Don’t hesitate to deviate from what everyone else is doing! Learning should be interesting, fun, and appealing to everyone!

Enjoy as much as you can in a day, and the days will add up to a wonderful year.

 with love, Damaris


Raising Four Daughters

Photo credits: Maria Wild

Spending these years with my girls, witnessing and nurturing every aspect of their life and development, bearing burdens, sharing joys, laughing, learning, raising girls is about the sweetest thing ever. Nathan’s mom always says that your children grow and become your best friends and confidants. I know our daughters are not yet big, but the privilege of having four girls is an overwhelming grace.

Everyone says ‘time flies’ and that the little years pass so quickly. So I wonder if I’ll miss the small moments of making braids for the second time today, and helping buckle little white church shoes, and cracking the same egg together for muffins. I realize that imaginary tea parties will end as will coloring pink princesses beside my littlest one. The next thing is not the same, beautiful as it may be, but gone too quickly.

Sometimes at home we like to refer to Nathan as the king, hence the girls are the king’s daughters. They love announcing, “The king is here!” when he pulls up the driveway in the evenings. But more importantly, they ARE daughters of The King. Sheer beauty. Loveliness. White as snow.

If we are teaching them to put on Christ, then we need to be ready to dress them like daughters. As I clothe myself in Christ, my girls can learn that their whole being is set right. Their status, self, refinement, and beauty rest squarely on Him.

As daughters of the King, we adorn them with virtues that are fitting for them. We teach them to strive for modesty of character that avoids an attempt to draw attention to oneself. Furthermore, modesty embraces the honor of reflecting the Light of Christ alone. “Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Peter 3:4)

Another value that we have been striving to endow with our not-so-little girls is a hunger for excellence. Each one obviously comes at this with more or less need than the other, but by giving them examples to follow and surrounding them with beauty in everyday creation we attempt to set them on that path. Music, literature, museums, art, orchestra, even just orderliness in the home help form their vision and desire for loveliness. Little daily tasks like table setting can help inculcate their enjoyment of grace and mastery. Naturally, we try to provide for their interest (archery, swimming, drawing, cake decorating, sewing) and by grace have some tools available to them here at home (art supplies, instruments, fabric, etc.).

We also want our daughters to be theologically well studied. That sounds a little stuffy, but, although they are still little, we include them in family conversation by asking questions, reading short portions of Scripture, participate in discussion, memorize verses.

My joy in my girls-become-women would be to see their confidence in their own callings be full of grace crowned with beauty. I seek for them to delight in service full of mercy. From a little age, we teach them to be careful of God’s provisions in our home and to be good stewards of all his material blessings. We pray that these little girls in our care have a longing soul for the weak, the needy, the hungry, and in faith give of themselves generously!

There’s no prescriptive way of raising a girl because there is no such thing as perfection. There is wisdom, and there are principles that we must build our lives around and nurture our families within. But there is also great freedom. Our daily puzzle is unique, and we shouldn’t be afraid to change and adapt. We all love fiercely and wrestle difficult decisions because we deeply care. There is no perfect or best way to do this job.

What a glorious thing!

I’ll end with my girls’ favorite verse:

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.”

– Proverbs 11:22

with love, Damaris


Happy Independence Day!

I trust your celebrations are loud, fun-filled with a dose of relaxing. Maybe the lake? A bbq? We’re all loading in the van as I write this to join in the local 4th of July Parade festivities.

I read this recently and thought it was an interesting fact to share:

“John Adams attended the Second Continental Congress, which began meeting in Philadelphia on July 1, 1776. The next day, the delegates voted in favor of America’s independence.

On July 3, Adams wrote to his beloved wife, Abigail: ‘The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.” He added: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.’

He was off by two days.

On July 4, the delegates in Philadelphia adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. History would celebrate their decision as the birthday of the new nation, even though they only formalized what they actually decided two days earlier.

John Adams did not understand the future significance of this day in 1776. But he knew how to face an uncertain future with certain faith: ‘I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe.'”

Let’s join him.

Excerpt from Denisonforum.org. You can find the post here.

with love, Damaris


How to Survive the First Trimester

I’m enjoying the second trimester especially since I don’t even have episodes of heartburn. Must be this baby is going to be bald : ). But I had been thinking of several things that I still wanted to add concerning the first trimester and specifically how to survive it.

My ‘morning’ sickness never went away during the day, and it worsened in the evenings. It started just before 6 weeks and got worse from 8 weeks to 11 weeks. It slowly calmed down during the daytme but was still bad at night until 14 weeks. Mine wasn’t just nausea but stomach pain. Although I was more sick than I had been with any other pregnancy, it certainly was not hyperemesis gravidarum. Everybody is so different and each pregnancy can be so different, but I can share my experience with you and maybe it can be of some use. What helped me to cope with nausea?

  • quart jars full of water with lemon (very heavy on the lemon juice)

  • vitamin D drops (long Michigan winters leave one pretty depleted)

  • coconut water (I added juice or steeped my herbal tea in it)

  • eating small amounts of food at a time

  • closing my eyes

  • caffeine in the afternoon

  • pressing a pillow tightly against my stomach

What did the first trimester look like?

  • lots of joy

  • everything smells bad

  • a pooch

  • can’t sleep because I’m so hungry

  • tired

  • excitement

  • telling friendly customers at Costco

  • so tired

Cravings during the first trimester?

  • corn flakes

  • bagels

  • oatmeal

  • Korean

Aversions during the first trimester?

  • fried food

  • tea tree oil

  • all candles

I hope this is helpful for you if either you or someone you know is entering this difficult stage. Even if they’re on the other side of feeling terrible, maybe this can give you something to talk about : )

with love, Damaris


The Best Summer Reading Series For Families

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.

–Marcel Proust

As we mentioned in an earlier post, structured schooldays have ended, and we now fully embrace the new pace of summer. I confess that welcoming wide perimeters of time for each individual’s curiosities and pleasure is the sweetest gift to me as a homeschooling mother. It is satisfying physically, mentally, and emotionally for all of us in our home to rest from new lessons and long academic days. While we seek to maintain simple structures of chores, meal times, piano practice, Bible reading, family read-aloud, and bedtime, we’ve exchanged formal lessons for copywriting (from classic, favorite books that they each select) and Bible memorization. One of the ways we continue to learn is through reading which is truly the most longed for summer delight. We fill our baskets with books and also pick a long book series to listen to.

Our family loves audio books for many reasons, all of us bond with the characters, share laughs about the stories, and enjoy retelling them long after the series has been returned to the library. Sometimes the audio versions are read by the author (my favorite), or they might be dramatized. Sometimes we listened to them while the children built Legos. Sometimes we all climbed on my bed and folded laundry while enjoying the stories, but mostly we listened to the book series in the car. We took the CDs with us on road trips, to brunch, farm milk pick-up, and to the grocery store. Nonetheless, we’re never found without the next CD!

The first 7 titles that I have listed are book series that we listened to in audio form in the order in which we listened to them over the years. We listened to one series per summer. The last 3 have been recommended to me, but we have only listened to the audio book of the first in the series. We haven’t read the sequels (some may be for older children than mine are at this time).

Alexander and Eva wanted to write a short review on these book series! Here are their words:

The Magic Tree House

Jack and Annie (bother and sister) take us on countless adventures in the past. Through the 55 small books that make the series, it’s a fun way to learn history! -Eva

Ramona

The book series begins when Ramona is a very little girl and grows with her. She’s very mischievous and it’s written through her perception of life. There are 8 books in the series. -Eva

Little House in the Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder in the series of 9 books tells about a little girl and her family moving from the woods of Wisconsin to Iowa to Minnesota to North Dakota. It seems to be mostly autobiographical. -Alexander

The Indian in the Cupboard

Fantastic series of 5 books! A boy named Omri gets a small medicine cabinet for his 9th birthday from his brother. He thinks it’s a boring gift until he discovers the magic. -Alexander

The Boxcar Children

Four children are left orphans. The Alden siblings are afraid that their grandfather is a mean old creep. In the story, they realize otherwise. Many books have been added to the series. -Alexander

The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis wrote the most popular children’s series (selling over 150 million copies). Four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in order to escape the bombing of London during WWII move to a rambling country estate where they discover the secret land of Narnia in a wardrobe. There are 7 books in the series. -Alexander

Redwall

An intricately woven story with endearing characters. Brian Jacques’s realistic depiction of the animal’s stories is why the author has been compared to J.R.R. Tolkien. 22 novels in the series (we have not read them all). -Alexander

The Penderwicks

A father and four daughters take a vacation in a gardener’s cottage in Connecticut and have daily adventures with the son of the lady who owns the manor house on which the gardener’s cottage is situated. A series of 5 books. -Alexander

A Wrinkle in Time

Overpowering the evil brain with love, Meg is able to save her family from the magic’s grasp. Interesting fantasy book! 5 books in the series. -Eva

Ann of Green Gables

Ann was a girl adopted at age 11 who finds a bosom friend. It’s full of tales of dangerous dares. 7 books in the series. -Eva

with love, Damaris


Managing Mom Expectations

Expectations are not easily silenced, especially when they come from those closest to us (and whom we love most) or from ourselves.

Just the other week, I woke up with a tight grip on the day. Really, it started the night before. The surety of my control over all the phone calls I would make, the blog post I would write, the chores, piano lessons, library returns, etc. I had high goals for the day, and then children bickered instead of getting dressed, the oatmeal boiled over onto the stove, and I forgot to confirm an appointment, and an email came that it got cancelled. To top it off, over the weekend we had run vinegar through the coffee pot to clean it. My elated anticipation turned to horror when my cream curdled to the top of my coffee cup because of the vinegar that hadn’t been flushed enough from the machine. I was utterly frustrated because I had lost all control no matter how hard I tried. In my world, this is not an isolated occurrence – my expectations leave me feeling like a failure all too often. How I want to surrender my moments to God!

Do you ever wonder what went so wrong from your well-laid plans?

At the end of the day, we feel unhappy about how our day went – not feeling as accomplished as other days, or may even feel guilt. I have watched for the things that make me feel satisfied at the end of the day and not disappointed about how the day went. I absolutely love a clean house, and baking, and hosting Bible study, but at the end of some of those long days, I would feel down – not fulfilled in the events of the day. All are good activities, but sometimes may be unrealistic expectations. Spending a little time in prayer, reading to the children, asking them to work with me in the kitchen, or sitting at their side to learn a new school lesson are the top activities that always leave me lying in bed with a full heart from a full day. I am not advocating for not getting anything done here! There are days for accomplishing a lot, and we try to tackle those together. We say ‘yes’ to tub scrubbing and window wiping, and ‘no’ to tea time with an audio book. It is what we were aiming for on that day. Changing our expectation makes all the difference.

We need humility to accept our limitations and admit when we are wrong about unrealistic expectations. Expectations can be unrealistic not because they cannot be accomplished, but because they are not for us at this time. Unrealistic expectations can creep into all areas of our life and can often be poisonous. They quickly drive us to stress and self-pity. Our mind wanders, and our hearts flutter with fear at our inability and failure to meet the unrealistic expectations.

Are you feeling unfulfilled when your marriage supposedly isn’t like someone’s else’s? Are you letting a messy house or running behind schedule irritate you? Do your kids’ childish mistakes and accidents annoy you? Do you feel like a failure when you see disobedience in the children, again? These all have the potential to be unrealistic expectations that leave us with ragged emotions that overtake our hearts – hearts that God wants to shield and strengthen (Psalm 28:7).

Watching over our thoughts and wants will prevent unrealistic expectations from creeping in. I have prayed for both of us, that we make every thought captive in obedience to God and be sober-minded (1 Peter 5:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5) so we can be filled with peace as we manage mom expectations.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

with love, Damaris


Rhythms and Routines

Do you ever have that nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something and just can’t put your finger on it? Sometimes I’ve spent an entire morning feeling like a ping pong ball – bouncing here and there, but getting no where! Grrr….that can be so frustrating!

I think that building in some predictability to my days is essential, moreover, it’s an anchor that keeps my days consistent regardless of the ocean of chaos I’m currently bobbing in. I’m convinced that some carefully crafted rhythms in a home help everyone in the family to enjoy the comforts of home and also helps us keep up with our work so that things do not go completely haywire. Being rooted in our rhythms comes over time, and promises a sense of fulfillment in the confidence that we’re not just reacting all the day. Life can move beyond survival-mode to accomplishment-mode, and we can enjoy home and the people in it.

CALM

Consistency translates into a more calm and contented environment essential to growing and nurturing together as a family. Especially when we have little ones, rhythms and routines give a strong foundation for growth, and all the members of the family have something to lean into. The simple rhythm of morning and bedtime routines are the most natural anchors for us all. Meal times can also serve a constant comfort that helps ground the day.

NOT BORING

Creating a rhythm or flow to our day doesn’t mean dedicating long hours to creativity and crafting, but it also doesn’t mean boring! It doesn’t mean days will be monotonous with no fun or time to explore. Routines welcome heaps of wonder and play, a positive management of the natural stream of work which naturally never ceases. Embracing a routine gives us freedom to enjoy the moments’ activities.

LIBERATING

Helping children understand and remember what to expect in their day means that they will be more willing and ready to help move on to each next thing. When they are included in the routines, children feel proud to help often being independent to do more on their own (before meals, clean-up, bedtimes, etc). For example, if the children know that they take a bath, slip into clean jammies, brush teeth, and have family prayer before bed every night, they’ll move along this rhythm taking some initiative.

NOT PERFECTION

Crafting rhythms certainly doesn’t mean striving for perfection. Picture yourself as an artist cultivating beauty, love, and comfort. Listen to your natural rhythms and your personal preferences. Every home will be different. You’ll be much happier with your routine if the rhythm gives you pleasure and the order comes from your own personality.

Rhythms and routines bring calmness and confidence of knowing that we’re prepared. Where to start? Write out when you want wake-up, meal, and bed times to be. Then add in the times when you have commitments (preschool, swim lessons). Now you have a relaxed and manageable routine that will help with the flow of your day. Next week, I will share our morning routine!

She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.

She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.

Her lamp does not go out at night.

Proverbs 31:17,18

with love. Damaris


Paths Not Forgotten

A few weeks ago, our family road tripped to the East Coast (read about it here). Everyone had so much anticipation for visiting New Hampshire and walking on Nathan’s childhood paths. He had not forgotten even the slightest details of the centennial rock walls or the trees or the thick moss carpets of the New Hampshire woods! It was magical for all of us to walk behind him, listening to his every memory and sigh. It far exceeded our expectations that these were dreamy woods to be lost at play in, listening to The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe read aloud, and playing games of pretend. In this great quietness, where he could dwell in stories of his own, Nathan was so happy. Staying curious and full of wonder in these woods of New Hampshire. Here is where he breathed the magic and beauty of childhood -unrushed. As the children and I walked behind him, we collected leaves of all shapes and sizes with the most brilliant colors. We counted one for each of the nineteen cousins and giggled at all the fun we would have pressing and laminating them as little tokens of our love. All around us, the naked oak trees were so old and laden with acorns so big that we gathered handfuls from the mossy floor to decorate our table with back home. We will plant a couple of them too!

The quiet treading in the woods all ablaze, inspired me to push against the busyness and the pressures, and be intentional about simply creating together, learning together, making together and keeping the beautiful childhood magic alive. As a former child myself, I believe childhood should be full of laughing and sunshine, running and climbing, and all the wanderlust. Looking up, enchanted by the sparkling waving leaves, having visions of greatness so overwhelming that one’s soul hurts. We should be training them to experience and know true happiness – not pursue it for a lifetime. This means that sometimes I make myself get down on the floor and play, sometimes I get under the covers with them and tell dreams. Simply looking kindly into their eyes and knowing them, or pressing their head against my chest till their breathing and my heart are in sink fuels my vision for the wonder of childhood. It’s a wonderful gift to share these short years with them, and prepare them for joy-filled ones to come!

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place

where colors are brighter, the air softer,

and the morning more fragrant than ever again.

– E. Lawrence

with love. Damaris


A Table In The Desert

It seems like a terrible confession to make, but the first year of having a newborn is not magical, blissful, delightful for me. It is sweet, yes, but that year is just plain hard. It is the most up-hill, exhausting climb I’ve endured in parenting. It is hard on many different levels – mentally, I struggle with feeling chronically disconnected, each day trying to fill the shadow of how I know I’m supposed to be. Going through the motions of what ‘normal’ Damaris would do and say. I try to be present, but the days remain hazy and somehow unnatural. Physically, I don’t feel…me. I can’t get comfortable in my clothes, my hair is falling out (yikes!), my skin is dull, and I have no stamina – no matter the amount of caffeine. Spiritually, I wander through a desert. Literally.

Looking back, I know the first year is blessed and full of joyful moments. I certainly don’t despise it! During the last few pregnancies, however, God has been graciously teaching me how to prepare my soul for the struggles of this desert place.

I never made the connection of my struggles with a desert, until our Pastor preached a message on Christ in the wilderness and ministered to by the angels (Matthew 4:1-11). The Holy Spirit used those words to make clear that my soul was hungry – that I thirsted and had no fill.

It is very difficult, in the pace of incredibly busy days, to find time to rest one’s soul. Especially during the newborn months (or, it seems, the whole first year), my doubts and fears springing from my unbelief can readily overwhelm me. I’m in the middle of a wilderness and I want to cry in frustration: “Can God really be trusted?” “Can He really take care of me?” “I am feeling so empty in this desert and see no reprieve!” When I am in the desert, even the memory of once being satisfied, filled, and overflowing has dried up. I am the Israelite who spat: “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” Psalm 78:19.

So, what has been my lesson from the wilderness? When Jesus was alone, God sent the angels to minister to Him! Yes, He sees (El-Roi)! Yes, He delights in me, and will nourish my soul! When I cannot find enough minutes to read the Scriptures between nursing, diapers, and the other children – He will provide (Jehova-Jireh)! For the Israelites in the desert wondering if God could spread a table for them, the resounding answer was God giving them the “grain of heaven” and raining “meat on them like dust.” Psalm 78:23-27

Our seventh baby’s first year has just passed, and God, as always, was all-sufficient (El-Shaddai). He is changing my unbelief for rest and teaches me that He delights in my longing to be nourished. So I pray for you, if you are in the desert, that you will seek God earnestly. He will make streams overflow in your wilderness.

“They remembered that God was their rock,

the Most High God was their redeemer.”

Psalm 78:35.

with love, Damaris


The Dance Of Parenting

You make it look so easy!” were the words of a Costco mom who offered them with kindness. She was younger than me by a decade, and was now watching me trying to keep my kids from wandering in front of other people’s carts…again. I think she was referring to parenting looking easy.

As I lapped the store a few more times, I thought about what she said. Sometimes I think that parenting is like ballet. I’m not speaking from first-hand experience here – I never wore a tutu, but the girls have fun looking at books and imitating a few pirouettes now and again. Like ballet, parenting can provide the illusion of effortlessness, but it never reaches a plateau of ease or simplicity. The demands keep changing, and the challenges evolving as our children grow. This requires constant vigilance – even the pros have bloody feet when they practice. So, this illusion of grace and control truly lies only with the spectator.

Painfully slow-moving, weak and awkward is my parenting reality. In fact, I’m pretty terrible at parenting. As I stick with it, I pray I will improve, but I know I will not achieve mastery. No amount of time or practice will result in my mastering the art and skills of being the perfect godly mother. God’s plan for parents is proficiency in faith and perseverance in servanthood (no diplomas or credentials here!).

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1Corinthians 15:58

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain. Psalm 127:1a

Parenting is my test of faith. The labor of parenting, no matter our season, is the Lord’s.

with love, Damaris