Suddenly Homeschooling? A Quick Start Guide to Crushing It While Corona Keeps You Quarantined

Like the Oprah Meme circulating on the internet right now, it’s a wild and crazy time… YOU get to homeschool. YOU get to homeschool… EVERYBODY GETS TO HOMESCHOOL!!

When public schools started closing, my phone started blowing up with texts from folks who are trying to figure out what to do with their kids while they’re home from school during this Corona-Virus + Homeschooling Pandemic. I immediately thought — hey! For once I have something useful to share related to a global issue! Maybe I can help some folks figure this thing out! I’ve been homeschooling our four kids for seven years, and have definitely made enough mistakes to have learned a few things on this journey!

I have a word of encouragement and ten practical tips for you today. Feel free to leave a comment with questions, and know that you, the person who taught your kids their ABCs and how to tie their shoes? You can crush this thing, too! You’ve got this.

First, the encouragement.

Take a deep breath and hear me out, okay? Last year, my second eldest son was in the hospital for 48 days. It was a heart wrenching crazy hard time complete with brain surgery and comas and a whole lot of heart ache, but — call me crazy — there are a few things I miss about that season. It was crazy hard, but life also got really calm in a strange way. We were completely focused on making it through this hard thing, closer than ever as a family, and overwhelmingly blessed with the support to family and friends to get through it. (He survived and is thriving and we are just about back to normal.) The close family time, the amazing medical team we got to know and love — these are things I miss, even about that hard place.

The lesson? Someday you’ll look back on this and “miss” it. Instead of seeing this as a super hard hand to be dealt, see it as an opportunity. This is your chance to do some of those things you’ve been wanting to, and maybe teach some of those lessons you have been wanting them to learn, but there never seems to be enough time. I hope the suggestions below give you some great ideas. Just know this: You’ve got time. This is an opportunity. You can do amazing things. Put on your big girl pants and get ready, sister!

Ten Tips and Ideas if You’re Suddenly Homeschooling

1. Schedules are your friend.

A schedule will do wonders for your child’s sense of peace, and for your sense of sanity. I will give ideas of how to fill that schedule in a moment, don’t worry, but know this: You don’t have to start at the same time every day, but it’s a great idea to create a rhythm for your day. Maybe your kids get to play for thirty minutes, and then everyone gathers on the couch for a story, and that’s the start of the school day. Maybe you start with chores. Just pick an order — a rhythm — tightly or loosely associated with the clock (see what works for you) and then try to stick with that for at least two weeks. See how it feels and tweak as necessary. You are learning. It doesn’t have to be perfect — it will be progress!

2. Start With What You Know.

Has the school sent anything home that they want your child to work on or advice or requests? If not, don’t freak out, and move on to number 3. If so, that’s a great place to start your schedule. Get those must-do’s out of the way.

3. Ask: What Would Benefit Your Child?

Is there a particular subject you’ve been longing to help your child make progress in? Are they struggling with division or handwriting? The internet is your friend. You can download worksheets related to a specific area of struggle, or even order some materials to help you on your way. For example, The Good and the Beautiful has great handwriting books. Shell Education produces 180 Days of Reading, Spelling, Math, Writing, and so on, and they’re all based on grade level. You and your child could do one or two worksheets together a day and you could really make fantastic progress without a huge investment.

4. Meet Books: Your New Best Friend

In our homeschool, I like to say if we’re reading, we’re learning. Put reading on that schedule of yours!! There’s nothing I love more than cuddling on the couch with a kid on my lap and one on either side of me while we dig into a good book. If you want to make your reading time last longer, consider allowing your kids to crowd around the dinner table or coffee table with crayons and blank paper or books that help them learn how to draw. (Ralph Masiello has some great ones.) And here is some FANTASTIC news. There are loads of free audiobooks just a few clicks away from you. You can save your voice, go wash the dishes or do the laundry and let your kids listen and color. They are still learning! Life is good!

Great hints: Your local library card should give you access to Libby, a fantastic app for finding ebooks and audiobooks. You can also look into Librivox, where tons of books in the public domain have been recorded by volunteers. All readers are not created equal — don’t be afraid to stop a book and look for a new one! I made a list of some of our favorite books on 2019 if you want to add some to your collection. Sarah Mackenzie has a list of some of her favorite read-alouds, including some of her favorite LibriVox, right here.

5. Activities Make Learning Fun

I’m sure you (and your kids) don’t want to hit the books all day! Here are a few ideas to keep the learning going when you’re setting the books aside for a while:
+ Art For Kids Hub. This youtube channel COULD be your new best friend. These step-by-step videos teach your kids how to draw things they are probably already interested in. (My Little Pony, Pikachu…) My kids can do this for hours!
+ Workout Videos Download the free NikeTraining App, or the Centr app (we love that one) — or get back on youtube and search for workout videos for kids. Move the coffee table and get some energy out!
+ Kiwi Co has loads of different lines of mail-order activities like Tinker Crate, Atlas Crate, Doodle, etc. These “STEAM” related activity crates are another great option for hands-on learning that is LOADS of fun.

6. Set a Crazy Goal (Like Learning a Language) and Go For It!

What’s something you’ve dreamed of doing with your kids? What if you spent this time trying to learn a language? And maybe you could research and plan a trip to visit that country someday! If your kids are home for six weeks, that is sooo many hours of opportunity for you to jump into a language and really make progress. Rosetta Stone has a discounted offer to allow you to learn unlimited languages with lifetime access to their materials. DuoLingo is a fun, free app you can access online or download to your phone that makes learning a language feel like playing a game. You may also have more materials at your fingertips than you realize: check the back of your kids’ favorite DVDs. Do any of them give you the option to watch them in another language? You’ll be amazed at how much you and your kids can pick up by listening to words in a new language when your brain remembers what is being said in English!! One of the most delightful thing about homeschooling is discovering you can chart your own course for learning something new. Be brave, be creative, start googling and see where you find yourself!

7. Embrace the Documentaries

You may think your kids will never sit through a documentary, but it might be that you just haven’t found the right documentary. The BBC’s Planet Earth II is one of our all-time favorites. (Available on Amazon.) If you have the Disney Plus app, look for movies like The Monkey Kingdom and Born in China — there are several masterfully done options where story and facts are woven together, so that you’re engaged with the “characters” of the story, but you’re learning about their lives at the same time. You can sit on the couch eating popcorn and learn at the same time!

8. Help Your Kids Become Better Humans (and Family Members)

Take some time to take stock of what’s happening in your home right now. Are there things you could work on to change your family dynamics for the better? Maybe a thirty-minute slot on your new daily schedule could be Life Skills or Activities for Daily Living. Take the time to teach your kids how to fold their own laundry and put it away, so that you can place your kids’ clean clothes in a basket and send it to their room with them. Teach them how to properly wash dishes. Get outdoors and dig up a patch of ground for a mini-garden, or put some pots on the porch and plant some seeds to grow something that will later become food on your table. Now would be a great time for them to learn to make their bed if they haven’t already. How to properly clean a toilet or clean out the litter box. Maybe your home needs a new system for organizing toys, and your kids could learn where to put things away when they’re done with them. There are days for us where homeschooling means hitting the books hard, but there are also days where it means learning how to be a good human being. Both are a beautiful part of the journey.

9. Take Your Classroom to the Kitchen

Along the lines of number 8, there is perhaps no better place for learning than the kitchen. Cooking is a life skill your kids will need for the rest of their lives. Cooking is chemistry. It’s math and science, it’s art and reading… it is so many things all at the same time. This homeschool opportunity could change your family for the better if you and your kids begin a beautiful kitchen relationship! You could even check out some of my favorite Instant Pot recipes that double or triple and find yourself cooking ahead and freezing meals! This will bless your future self when the school doors open again, the corona-pandemic has passed and life is back to normal again. (Subscribe here and I’ll email you that list!)

10. Begin With the End in Mind

One last idea I’d love to share. Every morning to start our school day, my kids and I are piled on the couch together. I give them a few quiet minutes to fill out prayer journals like these, I read from a devotional like Louie Giglio’s Indescribable or Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment. We say a prayer for the day. We often transition from there to the Jesus Storybook Bible. They can sketch or draw while I read, and my daughter’s artistic responses to our devotionals are often incredibly profound. Sometimes we move straight to the schoolroom after that, other times we linger on the couch to listen to Story of the World’s Audio CDs for history.

Starting calm, quiet and together is a beautiful way to begin that can create such a sense of peace and calm for us. I highly recommend beginning your day with something peaceful, centering, and together. Maybe for your family it’s poetry or meditation. Start in a calm manner, and sometimes that calm can influence how your kids feel for the entire day. I bought blank journals for my non-readers/writers to scribble their responses in. You can see my daughter’s lovely response to one devotional below. I wrote the sentence she wanted to draw a response to, and then she drew what was in her sweet little six year old heart!

I hope those ideas have your wheels turning, and instead of thinking OHMYGOODNESS, WHAT ARE WE GONNA DOOOO, you’re thinking… Gosh, there really is so much we CAN do! This is an awesome opportunity! Your next step is to create that schedule we talked about based on what will work for YOUR family. Do you need a few hours for work each day? Maybe one hour can happen while your kids watch a documentary in the morning, and another can happen while they listen to an audiobook and color in the afternoon.

Remember: you get to create the schedule. There is no right or wrong here. Enjoy the freedom in that, friend! Below I’ve included a sample schedule to get your creative juices flowing. I’ve had comments closed on my website for a while, but I’ll be opening them today so that you can ask questions, and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction. Savor these precious moments, friend. Yes, it may feel overwhelming right now, but someday you might look back and say, “Gosh, I really miss those days when we were home with the kids…”

xCC

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Are you encouraged today? I hope so! Homeschooling isn’t what I normally write about around here, but I sure hope this was an encouragement to you today! If so, you can subscribe to receive weekly Love, From Here and never miss a post by clicking right here I’ll do a happy dance, and you’ll get encouraging words in your inbox once a week! I’ll also send you the awesome Meal Plan with lots of Instant Pot recipes I mentioned! Definitely a win/win!

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Some posts on my site contain affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

Sample Homeschooling Schedule

  • 7:00 Breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, make beds and enjoy some free play time
  • 8:30 Gather in the Living Room for Morning Time (as above, perhaps with devotionals, prayer, etc.)
  • 9:15 Math Time Whether you have a full-out curriculum or are just downloading color by number multiplication worksheets from the internet, we typically feel like reading and Math are core pillars to our schoolday.
  • 10:00 Snack time. Take a breather and let everyone have a few minutes to get up and stretch their legs.
  • 10:30 An Alternating Hour: Science and History One great way to fill a slot is to have two or three subjects you rotate through during that time period. Look up the life cycle of the frog and draw a picture about it today. Google Alexander the Great or read about him tomorrow. If you are ‘winging it’ without a curriculum to guide you, just starting with a ‘subject’ and a question is a great idea. How are crayons made? What happens to tadpoles’ tails when they become frogs?
  • 11:30 Quiet Reading Time or Come Help Mom make Lunch
  • 12:00 Lunch and a little free time
  • 1:00 Memory Time We memorize lots of information as a part of our Classical Education method and you’ll be amazed at what your kid can stuff into their noggin with a good bit of repetition. How about they memorize a Shel Silverstein poem or the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence? A song with a chapter of the Bible, or a list of the American Presidents. There are songs online from memorizing the Periodic Table… complicated science definitions… consider this brain training time!
  • 2:00 After all that challenging Memory Work, let your child relax and listen to a story. If you don’t have lots of books on hand at the moment, use the suggestions above to find ebooks or audiobooks online. Your kids can color and draw while they listen to great stories and get exposed to exquisite vocabulary.
  • 3:00 Activity time! Now’s a great time for Art for Kids Hub, a Tinker Crate, watching a tutorial online to make slime, pulling out the play dough — end your school day with some fun!
  • 4:00 School can be out now if it isn’t already! If you want a little help with what to do next, how about getting your kiddo into the kitchen to peel the carrots or do something to help with dinner. Could they help fold laundry? At the end of the day, if they’re not ready to have some free time to do what they want, give them some chores that will actually help you out — they’ll get the idea and start finding ways to entertain themselves very quickly!

Feel free to ask questions below. I intentionally leave lots of time for each activity so that a) you never feel ‘behind’ and b) you have time to tidy up one activity before moving on to the next. Remember: ENJOY this time with your kids. Please share this with a friend who could use it, and HAVE FUN!

xCC

If (Like Me) You Want to Learn to Take It As It Comes

I never knew two thick and lovely slices of black cardstock paper could solve problems that seemed insurmountable. I also never realized what a hard time I have with making decisions until someone else articulated those words for me.

When our eight-year-old came home from his forty-eight days in the hospital, he was his old self in many ways, but also different in several. Unlike before, he seems to mention the grandfathers that have already passed away much more often than he ever did before, with a simple sigh and the comment that he misses them. He seems to laugh with his whole soul these days, and relishes in every slice of humor that crosses his path.

He also struggles with Math in a way he never did before. A worksheet that might have taken ten or fifteen minutes three months ago can now take a solid forty-five, with a lot of coaching and assistance. He can still read the problems, and he still seems to understand most of the concepts, but his short term memory deficits make it difficult for him to hold a number in his head while considering how subtracting a second number from it will change it. 

After a couple of visits to neuro-opthalmologist specialists, we came home armed with some ideas to try, some worksheets to copy and repeat, and, much to my surprise, a couple of sheets of black cardstock paper.

At the therapist’s recommendation, I used the cardstock to block out everything on Blake’s Math worksheet, except the one problem that he needed to focus on. It wasn’t a completely miraculous difference — he wasn’t back to finishing fifteen problems in five minutes, but there was a very discernible difference in how he faced the challenge of Math. And his speed and accuracy absolutely improved. 

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own. {Matt. 6:34}

Today, as I adjusted the margins and helped him, I realized how much sense it all made:

He just needed to focus on one problem at a time.

In life, I tend to get ridiculously overwhelmed by decisions. I don’t want to make wrong decisions. I want to do the things that are at the forefront of my own heart, but I also fear how my choices will impact the people around me for better or worse. 

In the book, Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot wrote to her daughter about the challenges of the days when she had an infant on her hip, she was newly widowed and she had a jungle mission station to run. She spoke of feeling overwhelmed and said:

“Well, I’ve felt that way a good many times in my life, and I go back over and over again to an old Saxon legend, which I’m told is carved in an old English parson somewhere by the sea. I don’t know where this is. But this is a poem which was written about that legend. […]

“Do it immediately, do it with prayer,
do it reliantly, casting all care.
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
leave all resultings, do the next thing.”  

I held onto those verses for quite some time. What a gift it is to be reminded that we don’t have to have all the answers! We don’t have to have an answer for every question on our Math worksheet. We don’t have to have an answer for every question regarding our future. What choice will we make when it comes time to decide about this thing or that? Perhaps the best thing we can do is live right here, right now, and do the thing right in front of us that it the next right thing to do.

I came across that poem again, just last week, reading a wonderful book called The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. She shared it in its entirety, and I was so blessed to read the whole poem — I didn’t know there was more! So struck by it, I felt I should probably be framing it and placing it on a wall in my home. Now you know what to get me for Christmas. Here’s the beautiful full version: {Often listed online as “Author Unknown,” Emily attributes it to Mrs. George A. Paull.}

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from heaven;
And through the hours the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “Do the next thing.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King;
Trust them with Jesus: Do the next thing.

Oh! He would have thee daily more free,
Knowing the might of thy royal degree,
Ever in waiting, glad for His call,
Tranquil in chastening, trusting through all.
Comings and goings no turmoil need bring;
His, all the future: do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who hath placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ’neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor!
In the shade of His presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance live out thy psalm;
Strong in His faithfulness, praise Him and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

–By Mrs. George A. Paull 

I hope you’ll read those words through a few times today, friend. Maybe come back to them when life starts to loom large in front of you and you feel daunted. Be encouraged that you do not need to know it all or have it all figured out to move forward. You and I can learn something from Blake, taking the Math work one problem at a time. 

Strong in His faithfulness, praise Him and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

xCC

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I hope you’re encouraged today, friend. If so, I’d love to welcome you to 
subscribe here for a weekly dose of encouragement.

 And! If you’re like me and struggle with decision fatigue and choice-making, Emily P. Freeman’s book, The Next Right Thing, really is worth your time.

Still reading? Did you catch this post with some of our family’s favorite books this year? {We also love KiwiCo’s Tinker Crate!}

Oh! I know what you’re waiting for…

An Update on Blake

Blake continues to improve and to thrive at home and at therapy! His left side keeps gaining strength: he snapped the fingers on his left hand yesterday and was very proud. (I can’t even do that!) His physical therapist also observed, crazy enough, his left foot had a better range of motion than his right last week. Perhaps all the prayers are making his left side his strong side! He has the balance to ride a scooter (while his Mama watches nervously) and the strength to come home from a few hours of therapy and still walk the neighborhood.

He is also doing better with regard to his memory — recent events and answers to questions are coming to him more quickly and easily. This is helping him ‘slot in’ in playing with his sisters and brother more and more. At first, it seemed like he felt a bit lost and struggled to join in their play, but now he is running around the house or crowding around the coffee table with the rest of the musketeers. What a precious sight for Mark and me!

Blake’s eyesight is something we continue to ask for prayer for. With helpful cues, he is finding his way to the left side of a page or the left side of a room, but he will tend to eat the food on the right side of his plate first, color the right side of a picture first (and maybe stop before the left is fully done) and so on. There is a definite difference there. 

Thank you again so much for your care and concern and for lifting Blake up in prayer. He is absolutely doing miraculously well and we pray the improvements will continue. Please join us in praying his AVM will disappear, his eyesight and memory will be fully restored, and he will grow up to be the man of character and integrity he was created to be! Thank you for joining us in giving thanks for all the Lord has done! Hallelujah!!

Psst. Some posts on my site contain affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

Four Things to Consider If You’re Still Thinking About an Instant Pot

I know. If you haven’t decided to ride the Instant Pot wave you’re probably tired of hearing about it and ready to move on with your life.

I would probably feel exactly the same way if I was in your shoes. I like not being a joiner sometimes.

But two and a half years ago, the hubs read a blog post by a prolific tech blogger friend of ours raving about the Instant Pot. And the hubs, being the Hero Hubs that he is, thought “If this guy, who sees all the new tech that’s out there, is raving about this thing, I believe him.” So he bought me one.

I, on the other hand, was terrified — daunted by the idea of pressure cooking, daunted by the idea of learning a whole new appliance in my kitchen and maybe? Just downright scared I was going to blow something up or I’d forever have a red stain on our ceiling and scars to boot.

I finally got brave enough to get it out of the box and read the manual. Then read some step-by-step recipes online until I felt like I understood how the thing worked. And when I finally got to that step, and gave it a shot, I discovered that truly, it is an incredibly easy way to go from ingredients to dinner’s ready quickly. Win.

A friend texted me this week to let me know she was still on the fence about the Instant Pot and I thought I’d share here some of the thoughts I shared with her (and some extras) for why it has been a game changer for our family.

  1. The Triple/Double Effect
    This has probably been the biggest game changer for me of all. I have carefully worked my way through dozens and dozens of IP recipes online, and have consistently discovered that I can double or triple SO MANY of them with amazing results.

    And I treat those leftovers like gold, y’all. I’m a homeschooling Mama of four and we have 24 Tuesdays of Community Day in our school year. I’m FOUR meals away from having the base for 24 meals in my freezer. That means the main thing, the hard work, is stored in my freezer (in a labeled yogurt tub, mind you) and all I’ll need to do is heat those leftovers I thawed the night before, throw the rice in the rice cooker (I love this one) and throw together a salad, or bake the tacos or cook the broccoli — you get the idea — and dinner will be ready. Even on Tuesday. {mic drop, gasp, huzzah!}
  2. The One and Done Effect
    I can be a pretty fancy lady in the kitchen. Shrimp and Grits with sautéed peppers and bacon fancy. Chicken Piccata with Angel Hair Pasta and a delicate salad with homemade dressing fancy. I can tell you which of my kids like capers. But I don’t like the thirty pans and bowls I mess up to make that glorious Chicken Piccata. It can stay in the rotation, sure, but I also need some meals where I get to just throw everything into the IP and walk away. Like Erin’s Instant Pot Mexican Casserole, where everything is right there. Meat. Rice. Veggies. Yes!

    I hear you asking: CC, Isn’t that the same as a slow cooker? Well, yes and no: the slow cooker requires my attention at 8:00 am for things to work out between us. But so do my kids and our homeschool routine. The Instant Pot, sweet gal that she is, will wait for me and when I dump everything in at 4:30, walk away and can still shout, “Come get your dinner, kids!” at 5:30, life is just that lil’ bit sweeter. Or spicier.

    (And by the way, the Instant Pot is a slow cooker, too… so for recipes where you need to sear a big pork loin before it slow cooks, or cook the bacon and sausage for Zuppa Toscana, you can do that on the sauté function, take the meat out and switch gears for slow cooking, and put it right back in the same pot to slow cook the rest of the day. Can you tell I don’t like dirty dishes?)
  3. My Fast Food Goal is HAPPENING
    My goal with fast food? Is to pretty much never eat it. My little town doesn’t have a lot of healthy fast food options. I don’t like how much trash a family of six creates when consuming fast food either. So I make a plan (more on that below) and already have the week’s meals on the calendar. Tripling or doubling means I can grab those leftovers in emergencies. Real emergencies! But if I just forget to thaw the chicken the night before, I know I always have a handful of ingredients on hand, and there are recipes where I can start from frozen, throw in those totally frozen chicken breasts, and an hour later have chicken that is falling apart with deliciousness.
  4. Brave is Good. And Can Be Tasty.
    I think it’s really easy to get comfortable — stuck with what makes sense, what’s easy, what doesn’t require extra effort. At the outset, I didn’t like the idea of trying this new thing. But as I’ve consistently worked towards healthier lifestyle choices, especially in my kitchen, I’ve realized that the Instant Pot could be a really great companion for the journey. There are so many fantastic websites full of great, healthy recipes just waiting to be discovered. Hiding veggies, and making them palatable in plain sight, has been taken to another level. And I never would have found my new favorite recipe (Moroccan Chicken Bowls) or my sweet Blake’s new favorite (White Chicken Chili) if I hadn’t set out on a path to discover some new and fun ideas for us to enjoy as we gather around the table.

So friends, especially that one friend who asked and is still on the fence, if you’re considering the Instant Pot, I think it’s worth your dollars and your time. Save up for it and save a ton of money by eating out less. Look forward to discovering you can make amazing Greek yogurt at home or take a spaghetti squash from raw to perfectly stringy in less than twenty minutes. And then google a recipe to find out why you would want to do that. (One answer is this Paleo Spaghetti Pizza Pie.)

Convinced yet? You can click here and grab an Instant Pot on Amazon right now.

You can also enter your email here and I’ll send you my free Five Step Meal Plan System and a Month of Weekday Recipes including of course… lots of Instant Pot Favorites. (And a weekly dose of food for the soul for good measure.) THIS is the aforementioned meal planning that has made the IP work for me hard, and often. Having a plan is KEY, y’all!

Regardless of what’s for dinner, I hope you’ll remember to keep the main thing the main thing: enjoy gathering around a table with the people you care about. Share food. Talk about life. Encourage each other. Hopefully this one tool will make it a little easier for you to make the time, and make those relational investments that happen in the presence of food like nowhere else. That’s the real sweet stuff anyway.

xCC

Psst! Don’t forget to grab the Five Step Meal Plan System freebie and stock up on unlimited free weekly encouragement… right here!

In case you’re wondering, Instant Pot did not sponsor this post. I would totally welcome their sponsorship but ya know, I just haven’t heard from them yet. My posts do sometimes contain Amazon Affiliate Links. When you click those links to make a purchase, I receive a teensy bit of compensation, which is a blessing to keep With Love, From Here posts coming! Thank you!

The Good Words: How Good Friday Bought Paul’s Contentment {And Ours!}

On the Christian calendar, yesterday we celebrated the day we call good. Good Friday, the day we remember that an innocent God was pronounced guilty, taken to a cross at the hands of men, and was crucified. It is counter-intuitive to think of such evil and call it good — but when we remember what was accomplished on that day, the punishment that purchased our peace, the death that gave us true life, we know that God pre-ordained it for our good, and good, so good it is.

This month, if you’ve been following along, we’ve pondered the Apostle Paul’s outrageous claim, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” {Phil. 4: 11-13}

Paul basically says “No matter what… I’m okay.” Wow.

One chapter earlier, it seems Paul gives us a clear picture — not a subtle hint or a mysterious clue — but a very clearly spoken explanation for why this kind of contentment is possible. In chapter three of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes about all the reasons he has to boast if the competition for holiness has anything to do with what he has done in service to God. After a long string of accolades which would have been very impressive to the Jews of his day, Paul writes with a surprising commentary:

“All the things that seemed super-awesome before, all my achievements…” {a modern equivalent might be “my multiple PhDs from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford, my decades on the mission field serving the poorest of the poor in India, my world-renown last name that is proof of status and wealth”} … “all of it is trash. Refuse. Worthless.”

The NKJV translates Paul’s word choice “rubbish” — scholars seem to think a worse word might be appropriate — but why is everything he could boast in rubbish?

This is the explanation:

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith…”

And this is the clue that unlocks the mystery. The plain truth made manifest on a Good Friday two thousand years ago:

Christ is where we can find our contentment. Our hope. Our joy. Our peace. Our everything. And if we truly understand what He accomplished — how His perfection paid for our foolish, selfish sin — then we know that we truly do know a God who has already supplied all that we need for life and godliness. Paid for by His death on the cross.

This is the hope that we have, the hope that is found when we recognize the glorious goodness of Jesus dying for us–the gift that is the one thing we need most and have no chance of finding any other way.

This was my thought at the start of all this pondering:

Paul looks to Christ to find contentment — so that whatever life brings his way, he is able to trust, to survive, and even thrive because Christ is his sustainer, and makes contentment possible in any circumstance.

And it seems that Good Friday cross is the place where the Truth became a crucified reality. His death purchased our life. And this is what it means for us:

Once we realize we have everything we truly need in Him, we can find contentment anywhere, anytime, in every circumstance. Abasing or in abundance… when Christ is our all, when we embrace the idea that He is able to work all things together for our good and His glory, our trust leads to greater contentment. 

Our Good Friday was marked by a guest missing from the table, a broken window at the back door and a trip to Urgent Care for stitches. Every day is an opportunity to suffer under the struggle of wishing things had happened differently. And every day is an opportunity to choose to say “Yes” to God instead, as Mother Teresa said, to “give whatever He takes and take whatever He gives with a smile.”

Next month (tomorrow!) we’ll dive into thinking about that “with a smile” idea, but in the meantime I hope you’ll take a deep breath, open your eyes to the circumstances around you and know that no matter what they are, contentment is yours for the choosing.

Because of Good Friday… and because of the Good Sunday around the bend.

xCC

P.S. If you want a sneak peek of April’s Good Words, you can click here to view and print a small version, or click here to view and print a large version!

The Good Words :: Kindness Has a Thousand Flavors

“Years ago I began to pray over all those God brought into our home a prayer I had often
whispered to Him in regard to my daughters: ‘Father, give me Your eyes for them.
Give me your eyes for this man, this woman, this child. Show me how You see each one.‘”
***

Katie Davis Majors — the Katie of Kisses from Katie who moved to Uganda at 18, adopted thirteen daughters and founded a ministry in an extremely impoverished community — wrote those words in her new book, Daring to Hope. Her bravery inspires me, her heart inspires me, and she is certainly a living, breathing example of kindness.

The beauty of Katie’s story, as she continually shares it, is that she walks with Jesus, listens to His voice, and does her best to do what He says. And maybe that is kindness broken down into its simplest form?

Asking God to help us how He sees each person. To give us His eyes for them.

If I remember those thoughts — oh heavens how might it change my communication with my children?

How might it change my attitude toward strangers and friends and neighbors alike?

If under my breath, I whispered, “Father, give me your eyes for them.”

While I might initially look at incorporating a word like kindness into my life more fully and think it means big things — the truth it is really about doing the next small thing, like Mother Teresa said — doing the small thing with the great love. And the smaller the thing, the greater the love.

Our country is grieving this week, frustrated and sad and hurting — because one kid who maybe didn’t find the world a particularly kind place decided to drive to his old school and open fire with a semi-automatic weapon.

Do you ever wonder what it was? Was there one big thing — or were there a hundred small things — that made the difference between “I’m okay” and “I’ll show them?” Could kindness have been the thing that made the difference? And why did he tell one kid to get out of there before things got messy? Where did that kindness come from?

We will probably never know what made the difference, what set him over the edge, what set his course in the direction he chose to take it.

But could we change this — could we prevent this from happening again — if we chose kindness as a rule? If we asked for God’s eyes for one another and treated each other accordingly?

How do we become a kinder, gentler society?

I can only think of one way to start — as Michael Jackson so eloquently put it, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror… I’m asking him to change his ways.”

We cannot overestimate the importance that our small acts of kindness can have for those around us.

There’s an old proverb that says:

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost; for want of a rider the message was lost; for want of the message the battle was lost; for want of the battle the war was lost; for want of the war the kingdom was lost; and all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” 

We will never fully know what our small acts of kindness could mean to the world around us, the world of difference they could make for the person who receives them. But we have every reason to assume that even the smallest acts have the possibility of meaning the biggest things.

There are more ways to be kind than we can count… a thousand tiny opportunities to be generous with our souls every day. Ask for the eyes to see. Kindness has a thousand flavors and our world needs every one of them.

Keep smiling and keep loving and keep giving and keep letting me know how it’s going – I have loved hearing from some of you about your acts of kindness. This! The world needs this right now!

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. {Ephesians 4:32}

xCC

P.S. I highly recommend putting BOTH of those books from Katie on your reading list! 😉 View them on Amazon:

Kisses from Katie    :::        Daring to Hope

In case you missed it: I shared a bit about my experience with the Instant Pot and my ten favorite things to do with it on the blog this week!

Fifty Fun Ideas to Make Summer the Best Part of the School Year

If you’re a subscriber to With Love, From Here, you’ll know this isn’t a typical devotional/inspirational post… but I had all these ideas swirling around in my head that I wanted to share with fellow Moms & Dads trying to decide what to do with their kiddos over the summer… so I had to create a post to share or the ideas would never have stopped swirling! We’ll resume the usual good stuff shortly, but if you have kiddos and summer break is looming ahead of you, I hope this is an encouragement that will be helpful to you, and you’ll share it with friends! xCC
—–

Guess what!? If you live anywhere near my neck of the woods, this is the time of year where teachers are crossing off days on their calendars (or high-fiving because they already made it), while parents are scrolling the internet frantically for summer camp information. Yes… that long-awaited, (or sometimes dreaded?) special event is upon us:: Summer Break!

Now I’m a homeschooling Mama, so summer for me is kind of like… regular life, in some ways. But we do take a break from our usual school schedule between June and September, while finishing up any of those pesky lessons we just haven’t gotten to the end of. I’m looking at you, Math!

But here’s the thing. Summer is honestly an opportunity for some truly amazing learning to happen. It’s also a time for you to connect with those precious faces you might have felt like you were only seeing ever-so-briefly during the school year. With a few good tools in the arsenal, summer can be a time of fun, connection and learning, all rolled into one!  I’ve compiled a list of some of the things that have delighted and inspired my kids to love learning (often outdoors — bonus) and I am confident you will at least find a half a dozen gems on this list that can entertain and engage your crowd, too! And you can be as hands-on or hands-off as you want… know that encouraging a little creativity can take your kid a long way!

Shall we hop into the list?

{See what I did there? Photo by my eldest, nature-loving son}

Nature Study Books & Tools

A few days ago an unusual insect appeared on the wall next to our back door. My husband called our eldest over to have a look and encouraged him to get out the Insect Identification book to identify this creature. Our son amazed us by 1) Not getting out the book and 2) Identifying the Bug: “Oh that’s a ladybug nymph.” Like it was no thing, chicken wing. We were amazed. It did not look like a ladybug! It stayed put for a few days, just there on our wall, and then climbed out of its shell…a ladybug! Why am I telling you this? We’ve invested in some great Animal & Insect Identification Books, and our kids are obviously putting them to good use!! Here are some favorites…

  1. Kaufman Field Guide to Insect Identification :: Before my second son could read, he was flipping through this thing to show me bugs we were spotting outdoors because he’d gotten so familiar with it!
  2. National Geographic Guide to Birds of North America :: I’ve learned the names of birds I’ve been seeing my whole life thanks to this! Do notice what continent this is for and adjust accordingly!!
  3. Nat Geo Pocket Guide to Rocks and Minerals :: This one is not super extensive, but a great starting point for identifying rocks. I’m honestly flabbergasted by how loved this particular book is. The boys are constantly picking up rocks and trying to identify them on the fly now.
  4. Nat Geo Pocket Guide to Mammals of North America :: This one is pocket-sized and has less information than the traditional larger options, but is a great starter for getting kids interested and engaged.
  5. Pocket Microscopes :: We stuffed a couple of stockings with these little gems we got for less than $10 the Christmas before last and… drum roll please… these puppies have survived, and have given us a chance to look at feathers, spiders, bugs, tree bark, fingertips and so much more up close and personal. We’ve loved them.
  6. Binoculars :: When my eldest broke his first pair of binoculars because he wasn’t being careful with them (they were in a book bag he “dropped gently” on the ground) — it was a sad day. They were “grownup” and not the pair I’ve linked to here. He hasn’t been super careful with his second pair either. So the pair I’ve recommended here are appropriate for kids age 7 to 14, and parents with younger kids seem to be happy with them, too. However… if you think your kiddos will be gentle and careful with their binoculars and you’d rather make an investment in a better pair, it might be worth your while to get better views and more clarity.

{This art was not directed by Art For Kids Hub… but it’s hard not to love those long-necked people, right?}

Art for Moms Who Don’t Like Pulling Out Paint (Me Neither)

  1. Art for Kids Hub :: Do yourself a favor and bookmark this YouTube Channel! We have fallen in love with Art for Kids Hub and my kids have created so many masterpieces thanks to the step-by-step instructions here! They talk you through it one line at a time, and use a lot of the tools listed below…
  2. Oil Pastels :: Wowzers these things take coloring to another level. Some of the posts on AFKH will specifically demonstrate how to layer in colors with oil pastels to create different effects. There was a 15% coupon for this item when I created the link… I hope it’s still there for you!
  3. Pip-Squeaks :: Art For Kids Hub uses Sharpies (ya know, the permanent markers?) for a lot of the drawings that afterwards get colored with oil pastels or colored pencils. I do not like Sharpies because… I mean do I even have to explain? They’re permanent. So we draw with pencils sometimes, and other times with Pip-Squeaks. The eldest got this tower for Christmas a year and a half ago and it is still going strong. He has only drained a few colors so far, which is impressive.
  4. Colored Pencils :: Also awesome to have in the arsenal. Way better than Sharpies. And can I just say? We tried “Watercolor Markers” which seem like a kind of hybrid somewhere between oil pastels and markers… and dang if those aren’t the messiest things I’ve ever seen. Don’t go with that option, mmmmkay?
  5. Origami Paper :: Great News! Art for Kids Hub has instructions for making lots of cool things with Origami Paper! You can definitely cut some construction paper into squares getting started, but once you move beyond the most simple pieces, having some actual Origami paper will really, really make a big difference. I’m amazed at how quickly our eldest can (without following instructions now!) whip out a dragon, a ladybug, a popper frog, yoda… the list goes on…
  6. Ralph Masiello’s Drawing Books :: These step-by-step guides are easy to follow ways to learn to draw new things like Robots, Dragons, things in the Ocean, Dinosaurs, and even those Bugs you’ve been viewing with your pocket microscope!!
  7. Side Note: If you have any friends who deal Usborne books… they have some amazing Travel Activity books that we really love. You can sometimes find them on Amazon, but I have a feeling they’re not really supposed to be for sale there… so I’d say look for a local dealer! 😉

Writing & Calligraphy

  1. Handwriting Practice for Boys: If your younger students need help tidying up their print, summer is a great time to practice. This book has sentences for copying that will make boys laugh, like “No girls allowed” and “It would be so cool to have super powers.”
  2. Handwriting Practice for Girls {I’m sure it’s obvious — think pink and sweet and sparkly, right?}
  3. Cursive Practice: Some school systems have done away with cursive, but I totally believe in the value of learning it! How sad our kids would not be able to read the original Declaration of Independence or other important documents if they never learned cursive?! This cursive practice book has jokes to keep the kiddos smiling while they scribble!
  4. Calligraphy Book: Your older kids who’ve already mastered print (and maybe cursive?) may delight in learning beautiful writing with calligraphy. My kids haven’t made it here yet, but I’m thinking about starting this summer!
  5. Calligraphy Starter Set: This looks like a great starter set for jumping in with first-timers!
  6. If you’re just getting started with a writing kid, I highly recommend Handwriting Without Tears for print or cursive… and they have a keyboarding program, too!

When You’re Traveling (Kids Under 6)

  1. Melissa & Doug’s Water Wow :: I have no idea how long we’ve had these things, but they are survivors. Truly, you do just need to add water to the little pen provided. Number Three asks to do this at home on a regular basis. And if you lose the pen? Grab a regular paint brush and a medicine cup. Cleaning up a tablespoon of spilled water (as opposed to a whole cup) will make you feel like a genius. That link was girly. Here’s some boy stuff.
  2. Spot It, Junior :: This small, simple, easy to take-along game is great for identifying matches and developing thinking skills! For younger learners there is a Shapes and Numbers version. For older kids, there is also an Original Spot It game which is a little bit more difficult.
  3. Mini-Magnetic Tangrams :: My kids have an old set similar to this one that they will pull out and play with again and again.

Traveling With Any Age

  1. Primary Journals/Composition Books :: This might be my favorite travel idea EVER. Make sure you get the journals that have the space at the top for drawing a picture and the lines for writing underneath! Use a glue stick to stick on a Slice of Construction Paper and trim the edges to fit. Then print a little label like “Sarah’s Trip to The Beach” or “David’s Summer Adventures.” Invite your kiddo to draw a picture each day and write a few of their favorite things about that day of the trip or that summer activity (or you can help them write/explain what they’ve drawn). We’ve been doing this for a few years, thanks to a thoughtful Preschool Teacher creating one for us — and these books are like gems that remind us of all these funny, wonderful things we would’ve forgotten from our adventures together!!
  2. The Kindle :: We aren’t excited about screens for the sake of screens, and entertainment. So we decided to buy our kids the super basic black and white Kindles that do not have apps or games. We check out books from the library for the Kindle (I’m still amazed by that) and we also borrow books via Kindle Unlimited. If you have an eager reader and the spare cash for this investment, I have to say, we’ve been amazed to see how much more the kids have read, simply because we can check out new books without leaving the house. Note:: They make the all-singing, all-dancing ones cheaper but beware: I think the only reason our kids are using the Kindle to read is because it does not have games and apps. They will probably cost you more in the long run! Our eldest was given a Nook (which died) but he hardly ever read on it! Also note: the Paperwhite is backlit, the traditional Kindle is not — ponder whether you want your kids to be able to read at night or not. (And know clipping a little book lamp to a Kindle also works and saves $40 I think.)
  3. Kids Atlas :: This is a super-engaging little workbook that combines a heap of educational information with activities, and walks you through the states in the US. Includes maps, facts like state birds, flowers, and trees. #1 says, “There are lots of fun puzzles and mazes and it sort of helps you with Math a little bit.” 🙂
  4. Are We There Yet? :: Similar to the Kids Atlas, this is a travel activity book that will help your kiddo pass the time while learning new things at the same time! Win win!

{The eldest really wanted this lizard to make an appearance.}

Rainy Day Read-Alouds

We all know we should probably be reading aloud with our children. And when it comes to picture books, I have no trouble pulling three dozen off the shelf at the library, and then realizing I’m going to have to put some back until next time.

But we’ve arrived at chapter book stage, which is awesome and daunting. Every book feels like such a big commitment! Now the hardest part of reading aloud with my kids — especially when it comes to chapter books — is just picking a book that we’re actually interested in reading together. I’ve found that reading aloud with your kids can create this bond like nothing else… pass heaps of time… and be educational, all at the same time. It has proved to be SO worth the effort.

You can pull out the Legos and let them build while they listen. Pull out some coloring books and let them create while they listen. Don’t be afraid to put one book down and try another… but don’t judge a book by its cover! *Make sure you see my notes below about engaging kids with the book/movie combo!!

Remember to check with your friends… (maybe try a book exchange?) check at the library… check the used section on Amazon…

Here’s a List of Some of Our Recent Favorites

    1. The Mouse and the Motorcycle
    2. The Chronicles of Narnia (We started with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, took a break to let them grow up a bit, and are planning to start again soon… excited squeal) — I haven’t found a set I love yet to recommend — but you can check the library, find a set you like on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble… or on Kindle!
    3. The Butterfly Lion :: This is a sad story, and is by a British writer, which means some aspects of it may take a moment or two longer to be understood by American ears. But it is a beautiful, meaningful narrative. (Bonus… I think it’s on Amazon for less than $1!)
    4. Mr. Stink :: This one is hilarious. But be warned: It has a bit of “potty talk” which I just skipped over and substituted for some words that I liked better. 🙂 Also British.
    5. Story of the World :: I thought this would seem like an overly educational suggestion, but this is a book actually requested by my kids as a Read-Aloud on a regular basis. It also serves as a wonderful history curriculum, but it reads in an engaging way, and often tells stories to help the kids picture the time period being discussed.
    6. Sassafras Science, Biology :: These books are truly a science curriculum disguised inside a page-turner story. We have loved reading about the adventures of the Sassafras Twins and learning lots of new vocabulary and Geography at the same time.
    7. Those are a few of recent favorites. Sarah MacKenzie at Read-Aloud Revival has a great list of her Favorite First Novels to Read-Aloud with Kids that you should also check out! (She is awesome.)

Here’s a List of Some Favorites that You Can Read and then Watch the Movie!!

When we were first trying to encourage our kids to sit still and let us read aloud together, it wasn’t a super easy task. But we started out picking books that also had a movie version. Once we finished the book we watched the movie together. Suddenly, the kids were so much more engaged in listening to the books. We could talk about how they were alike and different from the movies, what we liked and didn’t like about the changes… so many things that were great conversation starters.

Side Note: We buy ginormous bags of popcorn on Subscribe & Save on Amazon and use this stove-top popper that we love. (You can pop popcorn for reading, too, ya know?)

  1. Charlotte’s Web :: We watched the live-action version instead of the cartoon version {from my childhood} after reading this one and everyone was delighted. And then we watched Babe because it just felt like it fit in.
  2. Pippi Longstocking :: I remember watching the 80s movie for this wonderful book in FIRST GRADE. It is kind of cheesy, but the kids, especially number three, ate this one up!!
  3. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory :: Much to my dismay, the kids preferred the newer version of this film to the one I watched as a kid. But I guess the Johnny Depp character makes more sense to this generation than Gene Wilder?
  4. The BFG :: So many wonderful laughs are packed into this book! We are still repeating funny things that the BFG would say. (We loved this new movie, but some scenes might be scary for sensitive younger viewers!)
  5. Mary Poppins Oh my goodness I loved watching this again with my kiddos after reading the book! Having just seen the movies as a child, I had no idea Mary Poppins was a book series until I checked the first book out at the library. They are different from what I expected having seen the movie first, but just as fun and whimsical, and of course, mostly better than the movie. Even though I love Julie Andrews.

Last but not least… Math stuff.

I know you’re like… what? But there are some math tools in the arsenal at our house that our kids really enjoy getting creative with. Tape a blank piece of paper to a drawing board and give your kid a 30/60 or a 45 degree triangle and a T-square… and watch them amaze you!!

  1. Drawing Board – If you already have something flat like a good-sized clipboard, this is not necessary!
  2. T-square
  3. Ruler
  4. 30/60/90 Triangle + 45 Triangle
  5. Montessori-Style Tangrams

So there ya go, friends! I hope you found some gems in that list that will help make summer a fun time of learning, creativity, and kids being engaged in doing good stuff that’s good for the brain.

Have an amazing summer making memories with your kids!
xCC

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