Three Things to Remember for Healthy Communication

You want to know something I’m superrrrr guilty of? 

Do, tell, Caroline, yes, do tell, you say? 

I’m super guilty of assessing a situation and feeling confident that I’ve totally got it figured out — when I don’t.

Like this one time we were staying at a hotel back when I just had three Collies toddling around me. Our room was on the ground floor but the eldest begged for an elevator ride, so I promised after breakfast we’d go ride the elevator. 

No big deal until kid #2 began blubbering something that sounded like “I don’t want to ride the elevator!!!” Ya know, super loud, while we stood in front of the elevator doors.  

Surrounded by other people. 

Within view and earshot of everyone still enjoying the breakfast in the hotel restaurant. 

I discussed this problem with the eldest, who felt it necessary to remind me of my promise at breakfast. 

Next, I tried explaining to #2 the fact that those people weren’t disappearing — the doors were opening to let them out on other floors. We could go up and come back down again. It would be so fun. 

He remained skeptical and unconvinced. 

Finally, with #3 on my hip, I took a knee to get on eye level with #2. I asked a question, trying to figure out what was at the root of this sheer terror. I was met with definite clarity when he cried out:

 

I don’t want to ride the alligator!!!

Now it all made sense. I could’ve sat there another half an hour, explaining the engineering behind elevators to my two year old. Gears and lifts and pulleys and shiny buttons that light up when you press them.

But the communication he needed was completely different.

He just needed his Mama to explain with great articulation that the word “elevator” and the word “alligator” are different.

Proverbs is pretty good at calling us out on our human condition. It speaks to our communication struggles with striking clarity.

What if we all took five today to check in our how we’re doing with communication? Check out these three points straight from Proverbs, well illustrated in the elevator/alligator experience.

  1. Communication is Dialogue, Not Monologue
    Save the soliloquy for the shower or the stage. Communication has to be a two-way-street or it will always dead end.
  2. Focus on Truly Understanding
    The verdict is in: fools only care about being heard. It takes wisdom to really listen.
  3. Be Slow to Speak
    When I’m rushing to say something, it often turns out that I don’t have the most useful things to say. We need to give others time to form their thoughts and opinions, and we honestly need to do the same for ourselves, to hear our own hearts, and then to consider what’s there in light of God’s Truth.

You know what’s crazy about listening? It’s an inexpensive gift to give, that can feel like a precious treasure to the person receiving it. We all want to be heard. It makes us feel like we matter. It makes us feel more connected and more understood.

Give someone the gift of listening today! And may your elevators be elevators, and your alligators, alligators.

P.S. If you’re struggling to tell elevators from alligators with your kids, I’d love to share some resources with you that have worked for us. To see them, click here!

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Words for the Mamas About Bringing Down the House

What kind of feelings does that first verse of Proverbs 14 conjure for you?

Clearly this is not a literal statement, right? It’s not speaking about a woman getting out her tool belt and her table saw and constructing a home. It’s about building into a home the things that matter. The things that build up the family, these are the things the wise woman does.

The foolish woman, on the other hand, is (probably) not outside having a demo-day, like Chip and JoJo either, pulling and tugging at the siding or hacking at the masonry to pull bricks down one by one. She is making choices that tear her family apart, or create discord.

You know that saying people like to bat around, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?”

Do you ever hear that and just feel pressure, because that means a lot how everybody feels falls on you?

One crazy thing about motherhood is how we know what a privilege it is, but how we feel so heavily what a responsibility it is.

One of the “common threads” of Proverbs 14 that is a whisper to my soul can be summed up in just two words:

Slow down.

Maybe it would help for me to walk you through and explain — so, I hear it like this:

In verse 2: He who walks in his uprightness fears the Lord,

But he who is perverse in his ways despises Him.

So? Slow down and listen for the leading of the Lord.

In verse 3: In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride,

But the lips of the wise will preserve them.

So? Slow down and choose carefully which words should pass through your lips.

In verse 4: (I love this one.) Where no oxen are, the trough is clean;

But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.

So? Remember that the goal isn’t a tidy house, a picture-perfect Pinterest life. Slow down and make the messes that are necessary to make the good things that bring increase to your family possible. 

In verse 12: 

There is a way that seems right to a man,

But its end is the way of death.

So? Slow down and choose carefully the way you are going to go.

These days, we are in the midst of a season I like to call “Homeschooling Light.” We have fewer tasks on our to-do list for each day. It turns out, when I have a smaller number of things on the list to do, I somehow seem to get so many more good things done.

When I put less expectations on my plate, I find myself stressing less, fussing less, and saying yes more, and enjoying more.

When a busy day comes along with too many tasks on the list, I jump right back into being fussy, impatient, frustrated and rushed.

Here’s what I want to say to you Mamas, and you precious young women who will be, and are already encouragers to other Mamas. (Feel free to forward my emails as you are led.)

You are enough. You do not need to compare yourself with other Mamas. You do not need to assume the other Mamas are doing this thing and that thing every day, and you should, too. 

Do you know who the Good Lord gave each and every one of those precious children that are in your care to?

You.

Not the Mama next door that you think has it all together and decorates her house so adorably for every season. Not the Mama on Facebook who seems to always know when the cool things are happening and is taking her kids there. Not the Mama at church whose kids never seem to do anything wrong, but always seem like perfect examples of getting. every. single. thing. right.

When my second kid arrived on the scene (like a Hollywood film story, no less) I had this moment where I felt overwhelmed by all the opinions and all the advice and all the choices and decisions I had to make. When I called my Mom from South Africa and told her my struggle, she said the absolute best thing she could’ve said:

“You are that baby’s Mama. No one else.”

So stand a little taller today Mama. Don’t freak out that you aren’t doing all the things that you think the “Good Mamas” are doing. Don’t think your kid needs to be involved in 13 activities per week to have a full and well-rounded childhood.

You are that baby’s Mama. That ten year old’s Mama. That twenty-year-old’s Mama. And more than all the things that that kid could be doing — most of all, they just really need you.

The no’s are often what make the yes’s really worthwhile. Slow down. Know that less is more. You may not even realize it’s happening, but you are building a house that will change the world.

P.S. There’s still time to give! Along with many other miracle families, we are raising funds to benefit the incredible hospital that (along with so many prayers) saved our son’s life last year, since the Children’s Miracle Network couldn’t host their telethon this year. Please click here to give! We’ve set an ambitious goal of raising $4,800 – $100 for every night Blake spent in the hospital. Please help us reach that goal! Thank you heaps and heaps to those of you who’ve already given!

P.P.S. Blake’s story was on the news this week! Click here to watch + celebrate the miracle with us!

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Four Simple Thoughts For Facing This Season of Unknown

Four Simple Thoughts For Facing This Season of Unknown

Right from the outset, I think you and I have something in common to talk about, no matter where you are on planet Earth. We’ve never faced a pandemic like COVID-19. But here we are, friend. We’re facing it. And my sole purpose in clickety-clacking my fingers across the keys today is to encourage you with a few simple ideas. I hope these practical steps will help you face this thing with bravery and perseverance so that someday you’ll look back and smile, thinking about what important things were forged in your soul in this very hard place.

Neither of us have much experience in this particular area, I know. It’s hard to know what next steps to take. But last year, my eight-year-old, Blake, was in the hospital for a long and heavy seven week period. (Many of you who’ve read here for a while know this already!) Living in crisis mode for an extended period taught a few lessons to my soul —  both because of successes and because of great mistakes. So from one human being to another, I’m hoping to impart a little bit of hope and strength and grace to you, out of one life-or-death journey, believing it can speak to another life-or-death journey — the one we’re all facing right now.

I’ve put this advice inside four simple points, and I hope they will be a breath of encouraging fresh air to your soul…

1. Establish a (Temporary) New Normal

One of the greatest things you can do for yourself right now is decide how you are going to live during this unique season. For many of us, the new normal is confinement at home. Isolation is hard. We were created to live in community. Out of love for our neighbors, isolation and helping reduce the spread of this virus is a great choice. For those who are health care workers, we are praying for you. As you may find yourself isolated at a hospital instead of outside of it, I pray you can find a temporary new normal as well. Here are some suggestions for what establishing a routine could look like.

  1. Get up at the same time every day. Shower and get dressed. Just because you’re not leaving your house doesn’t mean you don’t still have a life to live and work to do. Many people who regularly work from home speak to the benefits of getting dressed and treating their day like a work day, even if the commute is from the kitchen to the home office.
     
  2. Exercise. Your body needs this now, like always. Try downloading an app on your phone to guide you through a workout or hit your own home gym if you have one. Exercise will boost your mood, reduce the risk of depression, and mean you don’t develop a COVID-15 during COVID-19.
     
  3. Plan your day. This is especially helpful if you have children. {I’ve shared some ideas for all you suddenly homeschooling parents right here.} If you can continue to work from home, schedule the hours where you’ll be doing that work. When is lunch? When is quitting time? Don’t let the hours drag on and blur together. A schedule and rhythm for the day gives peace and order to the souls of the children in our care — but I’m confident it can benefit us adults just as much. Sometimes, when we’re feeling discouraged by the weight of what’s happening in our world, we need a little schedule to tell us what to do, to encourage us to keep going.

    “One foot in front of the other” was forged into our souls last year, and it’s great advice. Maybe this is a great time to check in with old friends — schedule some catch-up calls. Maybe it’s time to finish that project you started and shoved in a closet last year. The point is, don’t let your day happen to you. You get to decide what to do with the time you’ve been given.
     
  4. Go to Bed at a Reasonable Time. This is the shampoo, rinse, repeat part of the equation. Now is NOT the time to start a bingewatching habit. Go to bed at a reasonable time so that you can get up, exercise, get dressed and live fully into the routine you’re establishing for yourself. Your body needs rest — probably more rest than you were giving it a few months ago. This could be the time to establish a new normal that you’ll want to carry on once the world is back in business.

2. Stay Informed, But Don’t Stay Afraid

When we had no idea whether or not our son was going to survive, we did everything we could to understand as much as we possibly could understand about his condition. We knew what each of those wavy lines meant that moved across the vital signs monitor above his bed. We knew when his ICP’s were getting too high. We watched pulse Oxygen, blood pressure, heart rate and EEGs with fierce affection. With a non-medical educational background, I was swimming in foreign territory, but I learned the waters quickly and began praying very specifically. 

Sometimes, though, there was a whisper that came to my soul and taught me something new about trust: Keep Your Eyes Above the Waves. Those six words were a whisper to my heart that spoke volumes. Yes, Blake was in grave danger. Yes, those numbers on that screen mattered. But God was (and is) still on the throne. I had to trust that He had the final say in whether Blake would survive. 

It is important for us to know what is going on in our communities. If there is a Shelter in Place, barring some significant internal conviction of the Holy Spirit, it is right for us to obey it. If help is needed in our community, we should be aware and help when and how we are able. The bell curves and bar graphs will continue to fluctuate like waves across our screens. More people are contracting this virus. More people are dying. We must come to a place where we are certain in our hearts that the voice that spoke and calmed the Sea of Galilee can speak and calm the waves crashing around our world right now. We will trust Him and we will pray for Him to do exactly that, and be glorified in all of this.

3. Live On, and Live With Gratitude

If you’re reading these words, you are still here. You still have breath in your lungs and a life to live. Don’t stop living this one precious life you’ve been given. We learned this in our own forty-eight-day fire last year: every hard place is also an opportunity. We grew closer as a family. We experienced this incredible wrapping-around-us love from our community that was unlike anything we’d ever felt before. And we felt the nearness of God — as He truly does come close to those who are weary and heavy-hearted, burdened and facing hard places. And, as incredulous as it sounds to say it, there are precious moments from that season that we look back on with fondness and even miss, now that they are in the rear-view mirror.

If you see this season as an opportunity, and you choose to hold tight to the hand rails, trusting God to bring you safely through this roller-coaster ride, you might find gifts in unexpected places. We are losing loved ones, and it is heavy. It is right to grieve. It is right to feel sad. This is not an encouragement to force yourself into unrealistic emotions. But it is a challenge to remember to keep living. To trust the sun will shine again. To remember this season is not forever. 

You can live this out practically by cooking good meals. Enjoy the loved ones that may join you in isolation. Try something new that you might continue to do when all this has passed, like watching a cooking class or learning to identify different species of birds. Try learning a new language or try your hand at calligraphy or watercolor. The key ingredient is to look for the gifts. Give thanks when you hear a bird chirping outside. Give thanks for the food you have on your table. Give thanks for the loved ones you have nearby, or the ones you can communicate with thanks to technology. And give thanks for that tech!


4. Choose to Believe ‘It is Well’ — No Matter What

Last, I’m reflecting on one more moment in my journey last year that built strength into my soul and gave me peace for the journey. Close to two weeks into our hospital journey, I was pacing the halls trying to articulate something to a friend on the phone. I came to this conclusion. “I have to come to a place in my soul where I’m not putting my hope in Blake surviving this. I have to put my faith in the goodness of God, no matter what.” Was I going to pray like crazy for our son to be healed? Absolutely. But I also just felt I couldn’t live in this limbo, I needed to get to a place in my soul where I could say, “Lord, I’m going to trust you — No Matter What. I believe You are good. I believe I will see Your goodness here. Somehow, You will make this good. I won’t stop loving You or following You. No. Matter. What.” 

If you are a believer, I want to encourage you to find a place in your soul to say the same thing. Goodness is in the very character, the very nature of God. There is brokenness in this world, yes. There has been ever since the Fall. But He is always in the business of redeeming. He is always in the business of making broken things beautiful.

Friends, this is indeed a hard place. It is hard to live in uncertainty. It is hard to live not knowing what tomorrow will bring. But Corrie Ten Boom put it so eloquently when she said,

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

We truly never know what tomorrow will bring. But we should never stop believing in the God who does.

xCC

I sure hope this was an encouragement to you today! Could you use some more encouragement during this crazy pandemic? If so, you can subscribe and never miss my (weekly) posts 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 an awesome Meal Plan Step-by-Step Guide…  Definitely a win/win! Hint: I Instant Pot like nobody’s business. 

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A How-To for Working Parents Suddenly Homeschooling

A How-To for Working Parents Suddenly Homeschooling

My last post for folks who are Suddenly Homeschooling spread far and wide pretty quickly, and I was SO GLAD to be able to share some of what I’ve learned from seven years of trial-and-error with homeschooling my own crew. I was immediately asked for tips and ideas for parents who have their kids at home AND have to keep working. My heart immediately dropped, thinking about you many parents… and then specifically about all the amazing nurses, doctors and therapists who cared for my son during his 48 day hospital stay last year and I thought… gosh, I need to think long and hard and do what I can to help!

Out of those thoughts, I’ve created a simple step-by-step system for creating a schedule that your child should be able to complete with minimal help from whoever is watching them while you’re at work. I hope this will be a gift to you working families trying to get through this craziness, and especially for the medical staff that are most likely working overtime right now. I welcome your thoughts and questions and hope to help any way I can!

Ready to jump in?

Step One: Gather Your Materials

The best place to start? Simply thinking about a handful of things your child would benefit from working on while you’re at work. Before we get into a list of ideas, I want to make one important caveat. You should not try to (and cannot) replicate public school at home. It’s just different!! I highly recommend starting out by creating a routine solely based around the two pillars that most educators agree are essential: Math and Reading. Once those pillars are in place, and you’re getting into a groove, by all means look at Science and Social Studies and a second language… but really know that if you guys are getting Math and Reading done every day, you are doing great.

Keeping that Math and Reading tip in mind, here’s a list of ideas (in no particular order — you already know what I think is essential!) for collecting materials to help your child continue making progress at home. Also — if your child has some schoolwork to do online, GREAT! Don’t try to overdo it — let that start your list!

  • Order an age appropriate Math Workbook like this one. Just completing one or two lessons a day will help your child continue practicing their math skills, and perhaps even strengthen some weak spots/gain some ground during the break. Have some time/want to save some $? You could also google “fifth grade multiplication worksheets” (or whatever fits the bill) find what you think is appropriate, print it, and put it in a folder.
  • Handwriting Books. How’s your child’s printing? Are you wishing they were learning cursive? You can print out free handwriting pages online, or visit a curriculum vender like The Good and the Beautiful (they’re our favorite for handwriting). Again, a page or two a day can take you a long way.
  • Shop your house for books your child could read and create an age-appropriate worksheet (or find one online like this) that will help them engage with the book in a fun (not school-ish!) way. Make multiple copies! For example, ask, “Who was your favorite character?” or “If you could rewrite the story, what would you change?” For older students, you could ask more in-depth questions.
  • Similar to the Math workbooks, look for something to strengthen your child’s Spelling, Reading or Writing skills. I know you don’t want to drop loads of cash on curriculum for just a few weeks, so remember there are loads of resources online and a half an hour hunting could produce enough work to keep your child learning for weeks!
  • There is SO much your child can learn online with the appropriate adult supervision and the right guidance. Khan Academy has loads of instruction videos on dozens of subjects for free. Maybe now would be a good time to sign up for a trial of ABC Mouse. (We haven’t used that one so I don’t know much about it!) Pick a subject and spend a few minutes googling — you might be surprised how much wonderful content you discover. Please just remember — I REALLY don’t recommend your younger children have unsupervised access to the internet. Check your parental control settings and be wise in this regard.
  • Choose something that’s just for the fun of it. Art For Kids Hub is a fantastic YouTube channel for drawing and other art projects. They’ll lead your child step by step to gain skills and confidence. KiwiCo has several great learning lines delivered to your doorstep, like Tinker Crate, Atlas Crate, and Doodle Crate. Definitely a fun and exciting way to learn!
  • Look for audiobooks online. I shared this in my last post but can’t recommend it enough! Start an Audible Trial or use your Library Card to access audiobooks. You can also check out Librivox where hundreds of books in the public domain have been read by volunteers. If your child is listening to great lit, they are learning! My kids love to gather around the coffee table with popcorn, crayons, and blank sheets of paper and listen to a story and create. Pull out a puzzle, build with blocks — and listen and learn at the same time! THAT is learning at its finest in our house! Also, blown away by this: Audible created a website called Audible Stories — as long as schools are closed, they are going to be open with free audiobooks! AMAZING! Well done, Amazon!!!
  • Shop your house (or the internet) for poetry books, or interesting pieces of information your child could practice memorizing. Many famous poems are online that they could listen to or read over and over. They could learn the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, a song of the US presidents or the States and Capitals, or a passage of scripture set to music. Really, the sky is the limit! Pick something they’ll enjoy and let them amaze you by showing you what incredible sponges their brains can be! Hint: Encourage them to aim for repeating it seven times for seven days — their brain will master so much with that amount of effort!

Step Two: Pick a Few Things Your Child Can Do Each Day

Now that you’ve got a plethora of ideas, let’s calm down and just pick a few things for the list each day. We don’t want to overwhelm them, so I’d recommend having a basic number of things you feel “MUST” be done, and then you can consider some extras that “might” be done. Remember: Math and Reading are really the essential pillars, so make sure those are on the list, and know the rest is excellent extra!

Step Three: Get Out a Few Blank Pieces of Notebook Paper

Now you get to put feet on this thing, baby! At the top of that sheet of paper write the date that the work will be completed. Next, draw a little square beside each item that you’d like your child to accomplish. Those squares are important so don’t skip that step! Every time your darling kiddo accomplishes something and gets to check that box, he or she will get a tiny rush of endorphins and gain a little confidence: “I can do hard things! I can keep going! I’m making progress!” My kids love checking boxes and feel a rather large tinge of frustration if I check one of their boxes for them!

Remember: you’re just listing work for ONE day on that sheet. Math and Reading are Essential. Add the to do’s to the list and you’re golden. Each step should have enough information for the person helping your child to get them to the right place to do the next thing, or if the child can work independently, for them to navigate from step to step on their own. I’ve included a few examples in this post to help give you an idea of what this might look like. Arabella (list above) is six, Blake (list below) is nine, and Asher (at the bottom of this post) is 11. The 11 year-old has a good idea of what is expected, so less instructions are necessary.

Step Four: Attach any worksheets, write out any links, put everything together in one place.

When I’m away, it makes life sooo much easier if everything the child needs is all in one place. I try to attach worksheets with a paperclip, or put any workbooks that will be needed for the child to check their boxes.

Step Five: Consider a Reward for the Hard Work

You know what a lot of folks have a love/hate relationship with right now? Screen time. But when your kids are home and you’re trying to keep them isolated (you good citizen, you!) screen time is a likely necessity. Screen time can be a reward for getting all the work done. “No screens until you’ve ticked the boxes!” Or maybe if the child ticks all the boxes all week, dinner Friday night is something special they love to have. Maybe you’ll bake cookies together Saturday. Maybe she’ll earn $1 towards that Lego set she is saving up for. You’ll know you’ve found a great reward when your child is willingly plugging along with the end in sight. In case you’re wondering, I really believe in rewards for hard work because I think that’s real life! When you work hard at your job, you get paid — and hopefully if you’re putting in extra time and effort, you get noticed and get rewarded above and beyond. Work hard in your back yard pulling weeds and cutting grass, and you’re rewarded with that amazing feeling at the end of the day — I did that! This yard looks great! If you can aim for positive consequences and get more flies with honey than vinegar (so to speak), by all means — go for the honey!!

Encouragement for the Journey

Now that I’ve shared these ideas, I just want to take a moment to encourage you of one more thing. Friend, it is not going to be like this forever. Last year, we stared death in the face when my eight-year old son went into the hospital with a massive brain aneurism. The days dragged into weeks and for a long time we felt there was no end in sight. Survival mode is a hard place to live in. We are a lot like ketchup packets — you really only find out what’s inside when you get squeezed.

It’s hard to be squeezed, and it takes a lot of mental fortitude to make it through when there’s no end in sight. But, friend, you are made in the Image of God. He is strong, and so are you. He is creative, and so are you. He can laugh at the days to come, and so can you. We will get through this! This is not forever. The world may be a little different on the other side of all this — but maybe, just maybe, it will be better. Maybe we will have learned a little about caring for our neighbors. Maybe a lot of families will draw closer together, allow some old wounds to heal, make some new and beautiful memories when they have this time together. This isn’t forever, so don’t be afraid. And, this isn’t forever, so make the most of it!

I’m here for you if you have questions! I’d love to encourage you however I can. Brave Moms and Dads and Many Other Caregivers, above all, enjoy those kids. Have fun. Make learning fun for them. They don’t need to be worried or afraid. Find reasons to laugh, and laugh lots and often. Good times are ahead, and the best is yet to come!

xCC

I sure hope this was an encouragement to you today! Could you use some more encouragement during this crazy pandemic? If so, you can subscribe and never miss my (weekly) posts 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 an awesome Meal Plan Step-by-Step Guide… kind of like this post, but for meal planning. Definitely a win/win! Hint: I Instant Pot like nobody’s business.  

***

One more to-do for you to view!

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

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…”

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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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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!

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Great Children’s Books Gift List 2019

Great Children’s Books Gift List 2019

Squnching together with my kiddos curled up with a book? I feel like there is no better use of my time than that. We have connected and laughed and cried (yes, I’m mostly the one crying) and learned so much just by sharing great books with great stories. While Blake was in the hospital, sitting beside him on the hospital bed to read a book, or reading with the other three kids on the couch at home made life feel normal again, if even for a moment.

I decided to try to make some mental (and on paper) notes this year to share some of our family’s favorite stories in hopes that they can bless yours in the year to come. At Christmas, we often try to give our children “something they want, something they need, something to play with and something to read.” And we usually try to make the thing they want the thing they play with, too… 😉 If a good book or two is something you’d like to put under the tree this year, I’ve done my best to organize some favorites below!

The Ones We Laughed At…

  1. Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis features insects speaking a made-up language and building a fort in a flower. It is a very simple story but there are tiny little things of interest on each page, like stories within the story. We see something new every time we read it… and we apparently cannot stop checking it out from the library!
  2. Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds (and Peter Brown the illustrator is a favorite!) is just so so adorable. Jasper Rabbit is a big bunny and shouldn’t be afraid of his underwear… but he is! This is a sort of sequel to Creepy Carrots, which is equally delightful and hilarious, and Blake’s favorite book.
  3. Elephants Cannot Dance or basically any Piggie and Gerald book by Mo Willems. These would make great “stocking stuffer” books! Or you could grab an Elephant and Piggie Biggie and get five of these magical books in one. I have been reading these books to my kiddos for at least six years now and they have not gotten old!! There’s a Bird on Your Head, I Broke My Trunk, Should I Share My Ice Cream, Pigs Make Me Sneeze… y’all, they’re all so good.
  4. Runny Babbit and Runny Babbit Returns by Shel Silverstein (posthumously published). Every bit as magical as his classics Where The Sidewalk Ends and a Light in the Attic, but twice as funny, these collections of poems will introduce you to Runny Babbit and his Funny Bamily, Toe Jurtle, Ploppy Sig, and Even a Dire-breathing Fragon that might fart your stire for you. Yes… the language is totally mixed up and my kids totally love it, and then ask me to read the poem over again “In English!” I read these books to Blake in the hospital not knowing if he’d wake up and remember anything — but gosh they made me sit and laugh even in those dire circumstances. What a gift laughter is!
  5. My Teacher is a Monster (No, I am Not!) by Peter Brown. This is another book that is engaging and good fun, with illustrations that make you notice something new each time. Give the teacher a posh British accent to bump this one up a notch at read-aloud time. {I also love Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild!}
  6. Read the Book, Lemmings! by Ame Dyckman: These little lemmings are adorably funny and you will laugh at this amusing story with engaging illustrations — another one I don’t mind reading again!

The Pictures, the Text, the Children’s Book Magic

  1. Goldfish on Vacation by Sally Lloyd-Jones (illus. Leo Espinosa). I might have a special affinity for this book because I saw an interview of Sally Lloyd-Jones and loved her thoughts on this based-on-a-true story picture book. Sweet, lovely and engaging.
  2. Tabby McTat, the Musical Cat by Julia Donaldson (illus. Axel Sheffler) This one has been out for a bit. The rhyming never misses a beat, it is such a charming and adorable story, and the illustrations are the kind that you can look at for ages. (And if you’ve ever been to Edinburgh, you might feel as if you’ve been whisked back for a visit!) Donaldson and Sheffler are the team behind some of our all-time favorite books like The Gruffalo and The Scarecrow’s Wedding. So fun, so charming, so good!!
  3. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick (illus. Sophie Blackall). Every once in a while, you come across a story that is so fantastically unique and special, you’re sure it just has to be true. This is one of those too-good-to-not-be-true stories. It weaves together family history and the story of a REAL bear cub who made her way across the Atlantic along with Canadian troops during World War I. The origin of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin… and so much more, tied together in this remarkable story. We LOVE it! {Caldecott Medal Winner}

The Ones That Really Meant Something… (Yes, I Cried.)

  1. Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story From the Border by Mitali Perkins: You might find you have different thoughts about issues like immigration when you view the issues through the eyes of your children. If you’re hoping to spark some deep conversations, about the world outside your neighborhood, what a great starter this will be. {If you specifically want to discuss immigration with your children, Lubna and Pebble is another deep, beautiful meaningful immigration story. Yes, I cried at both.}
  2. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney : This one is a classic that has so much to communicate to a new generation. It might challenge your children (and you) to think about what simple things they could do to create more beauty in the world around them. Conversation opportunity: What does it mean to leave a legacy?
  3. Otis and the Kittens by Loren Long : Our tenderhearted Blake adores Otis. Otis, Otis and the Puppy, and Otis and the Tornado, are all simple stories that hold deeper layers of truth. They engage ideas about empathy, fear, welcoming ‘the other,’ and courage… and Otis and the Kittens far and above has a theme of bravery and self-sacrifice, with illustrations that truly made me teary-eyed, even at a child’s picture book. Can books teach care, compassion and empathy? Yes. Especially books like this one.
  4. Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco: MANY of Patricia Polacco’s books bring tears to my eyes, but this one perhaps the most. It’s a beautiful story of hardship and overcoming and an illustration of how no matter what your family may face, when you face it together, you’re “home.” Polacco’s text is much more lengthy than a typical picture book, so I don’t recommend her books to very young readers.

Chapter Books To Read Aloud

While picture books are my happy place, Mark is kind enough to be the regular reader during our evening story time, where we often have kids doodling on blank sheets of paper and listening to a story. We typically reserve chapter books for special bedtime stories.

  1. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood :: The humor in this book is fantastic. It is dry and witty and well paced and your kids are likely to howl for another chapter. (And good news, if they like it, there are six books in the series.)
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis :: Clearly I treasure the classics and the Chronicles of Narnia should be on every child’s bookshelf. Enough said.
  3. The Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen :: Oh, how we love the Porcine Wonder that is Mercy Watson!!! These books are early reader chapter books that can be finished in one sitting or broken up into two of three, but they are hilariously funny with absolutely fantastic illustrations and we laugh and laugh at these books. I do my best to give each character a unique voice, but there are so many good and interesting ones often interacting with one another, it’s a bit of a workout. I truly LOVE these books!
  4. Tales from Deckawoo Drive (also Kate DiCamillo/Chris Van Dusen) This spinoff of the Mercy Watson series has longer books and “fuller” chapters, but is still laugh-out-loud-funny with the clever and witty writing and hilarious illustrations that complement the stories so well. You might discover you sat down to read a couple of chapters with a kiddo, an hour has passed and you’ve finished the whole book! So far we’ve enjoyed Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? but I’m hoping more of these books will find their way under our Christmas tree.

Most Requested: Stories of Faith

Last, but not least! I so often get asked for recommendations about sharing your faith with your children, and I think books are so powerful in this regard. They do not have to be children’s Bibles to communicate Biblical truth. (Hello, Narnia!) I love to remind friends (and myself) about that thought — so many books (like Otis and Goldfish on Vacation) have a person who makes a big (or small) sacrifice or shows up and changes things for the better. Remember to be on the lookout for any theme that can help you think about goodness, beauty and truth. But here are some ‘overtly’ faith-based books that I think will be a gift to your family.

  1. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (Ann Voskamp) Yes, I share about this book every year. It has become so central to the Christmas experience for our family, and I’m always excited when December 1st arrives and we start reading this together and coloring the corresponding ornaments which you can print from Ann’s website! This will be our fifth year enjoying this Christmas devotional. {I’ve reviewed this book and shared more details about it here.}
  2. Love Letters from God (Glenys Nellist) Arabella was just given this book for her birthday and I already adore it! It contains a selection of Bible stories told in new and different ways. Along with each story, there is a corresponding verse of encouragement and a fold-open love letter from God. You can write your child’s name so that the letter reads “Dear Arabella…” Each of those letters relates to some aspect of the story and brings a new perspective to God’s love for His children. It’s a beautifully done, lovely book and would be a very special gift!
  3. Tiny Bear’s Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones) This sweet and simple little Bible is for the youngest of readers. It has a sweet, teeny little collection of Bible stories told in the form of poems. A great jumping off point for beginning to share God’s love with little ones.
  4. The Jesus Storybook Bible (also Sally Lloyd-Jones, illus. by Jago) When Sally Lloyd-Jones set out to write a Bible for children, she had no idea what an impact it would also have for adults around the world. She retells Bible stories in ways that help us think about things we may not have considered before. Every story really does help connect the threads of God’s love, and that from the beginning, the plan was always our rescue. The plan was always Jesus.

There are so many more favorites I’m sure I’ll slap my palm against my forehead that I forgot to mention them here, but I hope this list gives you some great ideas and introduces at least a few books this might be a blessing to your family! When those forgotten books do pop to the surface, I plan to share them on Facebook, right here. So if you have any questions about any of the books I’ve mentioned that you might like to ask before you buy them, please don’t hesitate to comment on Facebook and ask away!

I pray this Christmas season will be full of God’s goodness, that His Presence will trump all the presents… and that it will be a time to for your family to remember: The Plan was always Jesus.

xCC

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