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Teaching/mothering tips

Renee Ellison's tools for effective teaching, and inspirational thoughts about being a nurturing mother.

The socialization dilemma

Saturday, 14. February 2015 by Renee Ellison

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The question:

A customer wrote:

“At present I have an 8 year old boy who loves to go out and play around with some neighbor 11 year old boys who are not the worst but they go to school and love fighting and robber games, which we have as a rule not encouraged in our home. He is then acting up inside the home, and starting to display the beginnings of a sour attitude. He has always been a very gentle and sensitive child who responded well to discipline. I’m wondering how I can display the sort of words and smiles you mention here when really I’m worried about him - what have I done wrong? What can I do about him? It doesn’t help that we are labeled “exclusive” at our church because we homeschool, and we don’t come from Christian homes and have no support from either friends or family. The pressure is beginning to tell on us and our kids look as though they were wishing they could just do the stuff everyone else is doing. We have fun with our kids working together, reading and listening to missionary stories, going on walks and kayaks together. But it seems the world is pushing in on is so hard and we might lose the battle already. We also have two daughters aged 5 and 2. How can we display all the love we long to when we are having these pressures and worries?”

Some answers:
My friend Eileen, who has a large family with a spread of ages, nailed it with the “communication key”.  That is the top concept.  She wrote:

“We drive two hours to and from shabbat almost every week and we still come against bad influences.  The only thing that I find that helps is intense time before… giving instruction on what is expected behavior, and after… going through all that they experienced and discussing what was pleasing to Abba and what wasn’t.  We also have to immediately deal with things they have seen or heard when they are around others.  For example, families who don’t believe in discipline, is this right or wrong, what does Abba say?  The more evil we come against, the more time we must put in to counteract. More Bible memory and more cuddle time to increase a loving attitude toward mommy and daddy.”

I would add three things more, as well…

Continually point out to them cases of where bad influences and poor personal choices turned out poorly for the unwise person. Appeal to their own self-interest and their own future protection, sparing them grief, for their own future betterment.  Let them know that you want them “to ride on the heights of the earth” for their sakes, because you and the Lord view them as so valuable in His kingdom.  This has a different “feel” than “thou shalt nots.”  This is a “let’s run with champions” feel.

Also, at some strategic moments one can almost appear cavalier, as a parent, about telling them that it is for their sake and not yours.  You could make these sorts of statements: “I’ve already made my choices; this is your life, and only you will live with the results.”  Or, “We don’t want you to have the emotional pain so and so lives with, or the practical fallout and negative effects, or to suffer backtracking in this area.”  This heightens their anxiety, when they see you “checking out.”  Don’t over-use this tactic, but it is good sometimes.  It is just one more tool in your parental belt to wield when the moment is right.

Two:
Minimize the amount of worldly input into your children’s lives. Certainly there should be none at all in your home—and there should be shortened exposures outside of the home.  Have other children into your home, and almost never have your children in other people’s homes unless you are there, as well.

Three:
Go deeper with siblings. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s birth family did this to the max, as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s.  We can encourage our children to dote on younger siblings more and to adore older siblings more; this will prepare them to one day be able to extend additional kindnesses to one’s spouse.  There are inexhaustible possibilities for expressions of love within the family that most secular families know little about.  This extends the child’s patience with relating, and takes him into an understanding of “empathy.”  It moves children deeper into realizing the differences of others’ brains and wiring, and brings them into relational surprises of the good sort, as well as shaping in them the grace of loving endurance.  Because eventually there are hard patches of loving any human—a spouse, a child or a disintegrating elderly person under our care for months or years far past our patience—and for teaching them how to cope with a host of differing and difficult personality types in every direction in one’s larger life.

It is only an American concept that we can choose our friends infinitely and only waltz with those who delight us—and to dump them, on a whim, when they don’t.  Having 600 Facebook friends is the antithesis of loving in the “daily round of duty” with a few.  The hard work of love is exactly that—hard work—but what it wonderfully yields, what we ultimately come to understand, is that love is never about the object of our love, but about growing our own capacity to live out His infinite love in our own spheres.  It was not the beauty of us, or any other alluring attributes from us, that coaxed the Almighty into loving us; it was sheer divine grit.  That was infinite “God-ness.”

‘Tis NEVER too late to parent BETTER

Sunday, 08. February 2015 by Renee Ellison

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If you are only just now seeing the big picture of raising godly seed, and a higher standard of parenting, do not despair about the years before now, that were not so well spent.  It is only the Enemy that tells us we are too late to really parent well.  It is never too late to bond well with our children and make a huge impact upon their lives.  Never too late.  You can begin afresh this very minute.

If you feel that the past has been a complete wash, start by focusing on what is most important: your own personal repentance and biblical imprinting on your children.  In prayer, tell God that you are sorry for your own misplaced priorities, that you didn’t “get it” about what a high calling this was and that now you want to make better decisions with your time and need His help.  Cry out to God for a turnaround in your own habits.  Trying to replace destructive habits without divine help is almost impossible.  Repentance opens up the heart to the working of the Holy Spirit—it grants Him permission to help you. 

On a practical level, replace the inferior habit (be it long phone calls, romance novels, TV shows, the idolatry of spectator sports, excess shopping, personal projects, or perhaps over-indulging a friend or relative to the harm of your own children who look to you but can’t find you because you are always preoccupied with someone beyond your immediate family) with a better habit that entices you.  If you can think of nothing else, replace all time-eaters /-wasters with family exercise.  This will start to turn your huge “ship of state” around in the waters.  Do it for 28 days straight and it will become a new, better habit.  Even if it is just a long robust family walk around the neighborhood, do it every day.  (Work up to three miles.)  This gives you bonding time with your precious children—positive emotional time not spent around chores or academics—and clears out the mental cobwebs for academic work when you get home.  Plus, it gets all of you into better shape.

Also, start massively imprinting your young children with the Bible by reading to them from Arthur Maxwell’s 10-volume The Bible Story and his set of Bedtime Stories.  Never skip a night.  Make this a non-negotiable.  We heard of one family who repeated this over and over for eight years; their children turned out phenomenally godly and holy.  This will serve as a third parent in its divine imprinting of your child.  It’s a great use of that special hour before bedtime.

Start there.  Then make to-do charts for each child and make them highly visible on a wall or door near you.  Delegate lots and lots of household chores so that you can keep your eye on the big picture of what each member of your family is doing, instead of you being down scrubbing that floor.  Have as many children as possible help you cook.  Don’t you be working in the kitchen while your children are hanging from the chandeliers.  Make them work with you.  Keep the speech upbeat and happy.  Pump the atmosphere with joy.  You want to give them joyful memories.  Was the greater bulk of the family atmosphere joy or harshness?  They’ll carry this impression with them for the rest of their lives, just like you do from your own childhood.

If you’ve completely lost control of the organization of your home, send your children and hubby away to your relatives for three days (if at all possible) and you stay home to get command of the organization of your house.  Work until you drop—‘til every muscle twitches—getting your house exactly the way you want it.

To recover lagging ineffective discipline with your children, start by saying the appropriate phrases and making loving comments with your own happy, cheerful voice.  If Johnnie is mean to Mary, you say the words Johnnie should have said—and be done with it.  For example, “Mary, I wouldn’t want to frustrate you.  I’m sorry, you’re my precious sister with whom I will rule angels in the next life.”  Then leave the room.  Johnnie will, no doubt, be left standing there with his mouth open.

Yadidahdidah—your objective is for your children to begin to feel a different energy in the home.  You, the mom, can be the example.  If the children are rude to your husband, run to him and throw your arms around him and say, “You are the best hubby and father a woman could want.  OHHHHHHH how I love you.”  Thus you indirectly correct your children by your own amazing loving example.  Start there.

The great surprise of homeschooling is that it not only conforms our children to His image, but conforms us (the parents) to His image, as well. Yup, homeschooling, done in the fear of the Almighty and by His grace, purifies two generations at once.

Instant simple one-minute speeches

Wednesday, 14. January 2015 by Renee Ellison

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Teach your children how to give quick-and-simple one-minute speeches.  Get ready for some super family fun with this idea.  Your little ones can do this, too.  Have a child stand on a stool and say a speech on any topic for one minute, out of his head.  These are even what are known as extemporaneous speeches—as are included in some speech tournaments.

The child draws a topic (which you have put in there) out of a hat and talks on it.  The stool is everything.  Via the stool the child is all of a sudden on stage and everyone is looking up at him.  He instantly feels super important.  The stool makes it—gets the child up out of the crowd.  The stool becomes the smallest most effective instant stage in the world.

‘Tis hilarious!  You may find yourselves rolling on the floor with laughter in the beginning.  Later (much later) you begin to refine their speech-making ability, teaching them how not to roll on the sides of their feet, fiddle with their hair, yank on their shirt, fidget, or say “um” too much, etc.  Order Learn to Speak with Ease for help conquering all that.

As a result of doing this over and over, children grow in their ability to think on their feet and to talk rapidly on whatever topic is handed to them in all kinds of social settings.

Start with easy topics like:
“brothers”
“red”
“chickens”
“water”
“love”
“angels”
“worms”
“how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich”

...and proceed to more difficult topics like:
“Compare and contrast David and Goliath.  How are they alike?  How are they different?”
“Why should a person read the Bible?”

Have everyone in the family take a whirl at it, even the four -year-old and even Mom and Dad.  ‘Tis great after-dinner entertainment.  A sibling keeps track of the time with a stopwatch, sand timer, clock or cell phone, and rings a dinger to stop the speaker when the time is up.  Have the timekeeper hold up five fingers for a five-second-warning when the time has almost run out.

Get ready for some splendid unusually creative fun.  You may be amazed at what your child expresses.

Map attack!

Sunday, 11. January 2015 by Renee Ellison

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Here’s a two-year old who knows the world map!  She’s got it DOWN, baby!  (Suggestion: press mute ‘til you get past the foul ad at the beginnin.)

After watching the adorable little video clip of “Lilly: The World Map Master”—the two-year old who knows the locations of even the remotest and smallest of countries “whiz-bang”—and your children are now thoroughly inspired to gain such a grasp of the world themselves, proceed like this:

They all stand in front of the map—have them clasp their hands above their heads, arms outstretched—and say this little poem to learn directions while they swing their arms in those directions, like an elephant’s trunk.  Everyone says it together:

When facing a map
Directions are a snap—
North is way up high [trunk points to ceiling]
South is cold and low [drop trunk low]
East is to my right [trunk swings to right]
and west is opposite, you know [trunk swings to left]

Then go around once more, hands still clasped, arms outstretched, making a clockwise circle:
No
Eating
Soggy
Waffles!

Now onto teaching the equator:
Draw a strong permanent wide red line all the way across the center of the map at the equator.  The children step up to the map and tap it twice (like it is a hot potato) and say: “Equator—hot! hot!”

Then progress over the next few days with learning the seven continents; they all begin with “A” but one!
Africa
America (North)
America (South)
Antarctica
Asia
Australia [together with Oceania]
Europe

Have them point to and saw them until they can do it rapidly with no help.

Next, draw a line on the floor—or masking tape a line there, far away from the map—and line the children up by twos and have them run in teams of two to the map and slam into the wall, pointing to the country you name.  See who can get there first.  Children absolutely love this game.

Then proceed to the four major oceans:
Pacific
Atlantic
Indian
Southern (the waters surrounding Antarctica)

Then proceed to the major rivers:
Nile
Amazon
Mississippi
Tigris
Euphrates
Thames (London)
Yangtze (China)
Seine (France)
Danube

Then proceed to more and more countries until the entire map is eventually known.  Tis a great after-dinner lively fun/learning family game.

Why bother educating your child?

Sunday, 21. December 2014 by Renee Ellison

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If you’re homeschooling, but some of the aspects of your children’s general education have been falling though the cracks, here are some reasons for powering-up the academics a notch or two.

Why hone in on general education:
You want to be committed to the academic endeavor in increased measure, because gaining a large general knowledge in all subjects is what I call growing a conceptual alphabet with which to understand life.  This augments children’s total view of life—gives them an intellectual confidence in navigating all social conversations and in hearing all world news—because they can pin new information into the context of something they already know.

Further, a large general education increases children’s worship of God incrementally as they grow in their awareness of the intricacy and complexity of what God hath actually wrought.  It is the uneducated who think life is simple or that they totally understand it all.  Gaining increased wholesome knowledge grows real humility: “The more I know, the more I realize that I don’t know.”  Becoming aware of how God shows forth His complexities—not only with physical matter but with designing systems in which it all works together—creates further respect for God.  And then, of course, being vaguely aware (as it happens to us) of how God makes and disciples the human being on top of all of that is mind-blowing.

All wholesome knowledge complements (as in: completes, rounds out, gives insight to) all other knowledge.  There is no downside to having our children know too much of God’s world in all of its glorious detail.  Knowledge gives a person a leadership edge, a kind of natural authority; you can’t lead other people if you know less than they do.  We want our children to be the head, and not the tail, as it says in Deuteronomy 28:13, and achieving this requires building mental muscle.

Why we don’t get to the academics routinely:
When we examine why academic education doesn’t happen, it is in invariably because the logistics, structures and routines of education aren’t settled, and the type of education we have chosen is too mother-dependent; she just can’t get to it all.  No woman is super-woman 24/7.

But, happily, there is a way to make this happen easily and largely, without a heavy demand upon mama and papa, by using the A.C.E. curriculum.  When your children read the English, Social Studies and Science ACE paces they will begin to teach you (the parents) at dinner time every night!  You’ll be amazed at how much they learn and retain. They will grow to be happily conversant in all sorts of topics, wowing the socks off of you.

Second, academics falter if there is no habit of studying.  We want to give our children a lifetime habit of continued study—of continued curiosity and of continually being well read and articulate both in speech and writing.  It has been said that “reading makes a large man, speaking a ready man, and writing an exact man.”  There is no downside to that smile !!!

A third reason is that the years of childhood and child-rearing pass all too quickly.  This is the season of life to do the lion’s share of laying the academic background for all future mental superstructures one wants to build upon that.  The remainder of life never again affords this opportunity to do it this fully.  Therefore we want to make hay while we have this chapter opened up, via a childhood that was God-given for that purpose.

A common mis-assumption about basic learning:
Here’s a final point about why educate: it is so easy as a parent, myself included, to assume that our children know everything we know.  But, sigh, they don’t; it has to be re-taught to every generation.  Children are devoid of all sorts of knowledge that we take for granted.

Implications of focusing (or not) on conquering the 3Rs:
Soooo, what are the implications?  Having this high vision of the benefits of a strong general education might reduce the temptation to have a capable young adult focus on work to the exclusion of his basic education.  Even your most hardworking child would do well to always allow for an hour or two of daily study (in addition to Bible study), even during the summers.  Just think “Abraham Lincoln” to help keep it all in balance.  Young Lincoln worked during the day and flung himself down by the fireplace light to study aggressively every evening.  He never quit the learning for the physical labor, or for developing his financial base.  He grew them both together.  William Holmes McGuffey, godly author of the McGuffey readers of the 19th century, was passionate about preaching the Good News (he memorized entire books of the Bible) and educating young children.  He declared that we must “teach our children to become lifetime lovers of learning.”

The value of establishing good educational habits:
If your home’s daily routine is often shattered or your family travels a lot, you have little hope of maintaining this academic habit unless you get organized with portable thin academically assigned storage boxes—one for each child with their name written in large print on both the top of the box and on the ends.  That way if they are grabbed and stacked in the van on the way out the door, each child can quickly open his own box and make good use of ten minutes while he is out and about with his parents.  This box is an extension of his head.  It is the very first purchase I would make.  It will be used not only for travel, but in the home, as well.  The children will tote these boxes to a more quiet room to study, or take them outside under a tree.  (Train them to always tuck the lids directly under the box each time the box is open, so no one trips on lids flung all over the floor smile .  I recommend the $4 Sterlite™ 6.2 qt. boxes with the green handles.  Having these school boxes is a must in order to successfully tote around and keep track of the A.C.E. paces and other academic materials, to not lose momentum, to keep each child organized without you, and to keep a grip on what comes next!

At home, the boxes are then to be put back in exactly the same place every time—on your learning wall set of shelves (read about that in the next blog post).  If such a system does not get put in place, much time is wasted hunting for academic materials that could be spent actually doing the academics.  Making optimal use of momentum time is the organizational principle here.

Grab the time; make the time!
We were often on the road while we were raising our daughter.  She studied year ‘round, grabbing snippets of focused time wherever life halted enough to squeeze them in, and progressing while the wheels pounded the pavement.  She accomplished volumes of study in this manner.  We constantly used the adage: “Use small minutes wisely to grow your brain; this is your life that you are building!

Struggling with peer pressure

Wednesday, 10. December 2014 by Renee Ellison

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How do I teach my children how to withstand peer pressure?  My son is a completely different person when he is around a certain friend.  We have spoken to him about his behavior, but it seems that he desires a friend so much that he is willing to change to fit in with this other boy’s way of functioning.  The other boy makes fun of everything we do, and our son joins in with this behavior so he will be accepted and have “fun.”  When my husband and I correct him about it he becomes grumpy and sullen.  He is a marvelous, loving, caring, kind, helpful, gentle young man when he is at home, but a completely different person when around this other person.

Wanting to please their peers can be a serious problem for young people. When my husband’s folks raised their children, they solved the problem with daring forthrightness; they simply told them, “You’re different!  Get used to it!” And get used to it, they did. The primary way? They were taught to participate in all things good by leading everything, whenever possible.  Also, they were never allowed to go to worldly events. They had to occupy themselves with something else that evening—something that would grow their world.  So occupy they did—and soon forgot the other.

In our own family, we isolated the child and taught her that the way of the common peer is a boring path of mediocrity—showing her time and again that when people saturate themselves in the world it doesn’t lead anyplace good. They do endless figure 8’s throughout life. We diffused the lure of the pagan by pointing out the end results over and over again.  Eventually she began seeing it herself, and pointed it out to us.

Thus, instead of being fearful that your child won’t fit in, you make him euphoric with his own high plans.  He will scarcely have time to contemplate the life of worldlings, because he is sooooooo busy making something exceptional out of his own world—and getting ahead in life.  Perhaps your husband can take your son to work, with the goal that he would learn a practical trade, perhaps building his own paid-for house someday with the skills his father taught him and thereby never have a mortgage—for example.  Now that’s an exciting consuming goal for a while.  Help him set his personal goals higher.

Don’t give in—and don’t give up.  Sharpen your vigilance.  Increase your own friendship and time with him. We have great encouragement in the Psalms that it is okay—more than that, it is actually righteous—to choose righteous friends. Proverbs 18:24: “A man with unreliable friends comes to ruin.”  Have him look up that verse and these, too: Proverbs 12:26, 13:20, and 14:8Proverbs 5 talks about giving thought to your ways—and that the ungodly wander aimlessly.

So, who should the children of godly parents relate to then, especially if they have few if any peers?  The immediate family. You just go deeper with befriending siblings.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s family life was amazing. The brothers were deep good friends. They constantly challenged each other, intellectually and spiritually, so much so that eventually no one on the outside could keep up with their vigor and rigor. The Bonhoeffer boys began to see that their own family was exceptional—and that they couldn’t find such first-rate companions just anywhere.

The best companions any child can have are other mature Bible-believing adults—most especially his parents.  Peers generally drag each other down. A third grader doesn’t have enough of an experience base to mentor another third grader, for example.  Hover over the formation of friends very carefully.  Continue the watchfulness all the way until you get them down the marriage aisle with a like-minded mate of deeply shared faith—ideally, early on.  Then, and only then, can you put your feet up and rest.  The devil tells you to quit such work when they are 16 (or 6, for that matter, when parents give them over to kindergartens all over the world).

Develop in each child the habit of having strong personal daily devotions.  See to it that your children read in scripture every day by themselves and for themselves.  Teach them the habit of underlining something for themselves and taking down one idea from the text; they can write it in their own notebook.  For adolescents it wouldn’t hurt to read ten chapters of Proverbs every day for three days and then do it all over again—and again and again for a while.  The book of Proverb repeatedly warns that having the wrong friends can lead to ruin.  Scripture will speak directly to their spirit.  Make them eager to see what God says, for the final bar is soon.

Finally, don’t submit to parental erosion.  One of the enemy’s commonly used tricks is to make us throw our hands up.  Instead, we throw our prayers up, and we “up” our vigilance.  By doing this, you will be tracking the problem at the “letting out of waters”—at the hole in the dike, right at the source.

Thoughts on family entrepreneurship

Saturday, 29. November 2014 by Renee Ellison

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Entrepreneuriship is what founded our country, and it is currently yielding better and faster results for the young than most college degrees.  It is beneficial for homeschoolers to train their young thoroughly and ongoingly in the dynamics of entrepreneurial endeavor.

Having said this, here are some balancing statements regarding family entrepreneurship:
Sometimes hearing a talk or reading a book on this topic can cause us to make work assumptions and take daring risks that go beyond the implications of the talk or the book, which were designed to first and foremost inspire, or to get us to think outside the box, but skips over some “in-the trenches reality” fall-out.  In other words, it may tempt us to lay hold of implications that simply are not true in our particular case, and which go beyond what the work actually is and what it will yield.

All work involves a high measure of tedium; no work exists anywhere without that.  There will be some hours in all types of work, whether it is for an outside boss or you are your own boss, that will demand sheer grit endurance.  One could conclude from a short inspirational talk that one route is horrible and the alternative route is totally pain free or slave-free, which is not true.

Anyone who makes it in any business endeavor has worked like a slave to get there—even MLM’ers.  The ones that make it big, worked.  Their growing income didn’t fall off trees.  It cost them something.  They lived, slept, ate and drank their MLM business endeavor, and worked far in excess of normal business hours.

Sometimes inspirational talks can avoid discussions about obstacles.  For example, the current red tape that small businesses are under is far more difficult to navigate than what small businesses in the past had to deal with.  For example, the minute you hire anyone, you have to consider the fiscal and financial toll of computing worker’s compensation, Obamacare expenses and reporting paperwork.  It can turn into a nightmare quickly.  To hire any contract worker socks the upstart company with heavy taxes, which may be out of all proportion to what the business entrepreneur can recoup in the initial years.  Currently business governmental red-tape is a formula for failure, for not being able to make it.  It is business sludge.  The political leaders of the State of Israel had to change their tax structure and business laws in order to jump start their country decades ago.  Currently we are governmentally in a business law jungle; the noose has tightened.

Also consider the anxiety levels of self-employment.  To be an entrepreneur means you wake up every morning unemployed, and that can cause high levels of stress.  One never knows if the personal business one thinks will work, will actually succeed, given the current climate, especially if no one else has tried your particular new idea.

Having listed these entrepreneurial cautions and considerations, here are eight good resolutions:
One:  To lower your stress levels, grow your entrepreneurial endeavors on your side hours, over lunch breaks, evening hours and weekends, until they can sustain you financially—before you even think of quitting your 8 to 5 SURE job.

Two:  Tighten the use of all your stray hours. To grow an alternative plan, you must continually ask yourself the question: “Is this the best possible use of this hour to advance me financially?”  As a parent of a budding entrepreneur, it is most important to teach this single paramount principle to adolescents.  Every hour lost in youth is irretrievable.  Ben Franklin is a great example of getting serious about finances early in life.

Three:  Throw yourself into other people’s seasonal or short-term income streams.  Whenever money is flowing, get in the boat and paddle in that water.  Then come back to your own dreams when nothing else is happening—making use of private hours in the deep, cold winter months, for example.  We watched our very fiscally wise neighbor do this.  He always worked for someone else whenever he was asked, and then did his own projects when nothing else presented itself.  Thus, he grew both kingdoms at once.  Money earned little by little is what makes a solid future, not “waiting ‘til my ship comes in!”

Four:  Begin with what you already have. Examine and take inventory of the endless possibilities of your own land, your house, your car, your specific resources, your buildings, public buildings, other businesses, your aptitudes, your knowledge, your talents, people you know, current business relationships, apprenticeship possibilities close to home, and free online training.  Many of the most successful entrepreneurs have logged in many hours in online education—three-day workshops in various subjects, etc.—taking advantage of the training opportunities and finding ways to “plus” their business more.

Five:  Take your expenses out of a child’s upstart small business endeavor; he or she must reimburse you for the plastic cups for a lemonade stand, for example.  This teaches the children that they never get the whole dollar; they have to learn to factor that in from the get-go.

Six:  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Ecclesiastes 11:1 says: “Toss your bread on the waters” —morning, noon and night—for who knows which one will succeed.  Multiple income streams assure MORE success.

Seven:  Steer clear of MLM’s, they place too much stress on friendships because they are loaded with expectations for the other guy (over which you have almost no control, after your initial influence).

Eight:  Use your few rare high energy free hours to plan for the use of your low energy hours.  In other words, learn how to limp when wounded.  Develop the personal discipline to keep going doing something that involves brawn but no brain to keep advancing your own little world in the directions you want it to go, using small moments wisely.  It is important that parents teach their young how to marshal stray hours to build their own fortresses.  That gives them focus and ammunition against the temptation to fritter away their time in ways that don’t further their own long-term goals.  A productive child is a happy child.

For further reading along these lines, read Sure Financial Steps for Beginners.

Spiritual profundities in Les Miserables

Sunday, 23. November 2014 by Renee Ellison

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Victor Hugo’s nearly 1,500 page French tome, Les Miserables, may well have been the most profound novel ever written.  If you have a teenager or young adult, this is a good read.  Here are some thoughts to accompany that reading—to view it not only as a story, but as a parableThe novel is a full discourse of every nook and cranny the soul runs to, to understand itself.  It is saturated with spiritual verities.

Javert epitomizes the law, unbridled and metastasized into a cancerous fever on an insistent hunt for its prey—a universal “gotcha”.  When the law becomes a conundrum even to himself, his soul is confronted with an irresolvable complexity.  Choosing mercy is unthinkable.  Sadly, as seems the case with most people, he must die with his theology intact, even if it doesn’t “fit” and even if it was proven to be incorrect.  Suicide is the only way out of his rigidity.

Juxtaposed to this is a depiction of the very opposite, the low-life; lawLESSness run aground in its own bawdy insatiable flesh.  The flesh even pillages the dead for more stuff, totally blinded to the fact that this IS, in fact, eventually death for him, too—and then what will he live for?  The revolutionaries are the “arm of the flesh” trying to change the hearts of men from the outside in.  Without God as a reference point, without prayer, men are sure to strew the stage of life with death.  As in Hamlet, revenge eats up everything in its path; not a soul is alive on that stage at the end of that tragedy.

Eponine depicts for us the secular humanist who is hunting for salvation in a place where it will never be: a hand-picked lover, who himself is preoccupied with someone ELSE.  She dies in the arms of a transient fulfillment.  Desperate to be sure of her ground, she tells IT how to function, what to say and do, and she clings to it still.

And Jean Valjean?  His thieving habit, he thinks, needed to work his own salvation, still not cured after 19 years in prison (that it was done for a good purpose made no difference), so he tries it again.  He sees no other way to meet his needs—which are many.  But, alas, his trembling confidence is met again with the “lock-him-up”.  Life, for him, now, is a verified endless dead-end.  However, this time his thieving despair is unexpectedly met with the priest’s “Take my silver candlesticks, too”, and Valjean’s habituated impulsive world-view dissolves.  What is this?  Some mysterious abundance that goes beyond my needs? Mercy?  Not only has he now felt it, he also now realizes that he may be the agency of it, too.  His conversion is none other than Christ in the soul—the synthesis of law and mercy.  The halleluiahs break out over his wasteland and he quietly and maturely lives differently—Calvary bound, too.

The story has it all.  It even raises the great universal, cosmic question of “Who Am I?” Am I this thing or the other?  Where do I “come down?”  Where is my core?  What is my zip code, really?!  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous poem from prison was titled the same: “Who Am I?”  “Am I caring and deferential, as my prison mates imagine me to be, or am I the wild man who thrashes around inside, full of questions?”  Shakespeare’s Hamlet adds to the body of literature, also asking this question.  “To be or not to be? that is THE question.”  And so, too, we see the Psalmist, King David, beg for integration even in his mature soul—far more advanced than most: “May the meditations of my heart be pleasing to thee, Oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”  May I not live in shadows.  Deliver me from splinteredness.  Make me “one” before thee, in my inward parts.  Show me to myself.

“Who am I” is a question that really none of us can answer.  Only He who made us really knows.  Self-discovery takes a lifetime; it is really only unveiled as we partake of God-discovery, and even then it is only mincingly understood.  With Bonhoeffer we end up saying, “I do not know, but what I do know is that “I am Thine!”

(For another believer’s more extended foray into this topic, see Bob Welch’s book of 52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables.)

Pros and cons of using the Charlotte Mason approach to elementary education

Monday, 17. November 2014 by Renee Ellison

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Some homeschoolers are worried that if they were to use the Charlotte Mason approach, vital sequential skill development would get lost in the matrix of actually trying to DO her approach.  For example, if a child were to try to learn the violin or piano by “wandering and wondering,” he might not end up at the level of excellence of an Isaac Stern or an Arthur Rubenstein!  Indeed, sometimes it takes a ruthless sequential tutor to get you there.  A huge chasm begins to develop between Mason’s lofty ideals and what actually happens in the home.

On the other hand, some parents worry that following a course of sequential academic skill development will lose some of Mason’s “awe and wonder” development.  Certainly, no devoted homeschool mom wants to lose that aspect, if there is some way to achieve it along the way.  Bring ON the awe and wonder!

Considering the above two scenarios, let’s look objectively at the strengths and weaknesses of Mason’s method of elementary education, with an eye toward implementing what’s good and discarding what’s not so good.

By the way, interestingly, with only a little tweaking, “what’s good” in the Charlotte Mason approach can all be applied to A.C.E. (Accelerated Christian Education’s curriculum) with less than half the effort and cost. For one thing, right out of the shoot, the parent doesn’t have to spend the greater part of two decades hunting and shopping for the next “great book” (each child will need truckloads of those)—nor will she spend the exorbitant amounts of money to acquire that library.  A.C.E. has already compiled over 15,000 “greatly written” concepts, much of it in story form, FOR you, and there is no lid on what your child can read in the evenings and weekends in the larger great books—without the HAVE-TO pressure for also doing that during your core academia in the day. Keep in mind that you’ll be doing schooling for 12 looooooonnnnnggggg years in one form or another.  What happens when the parent “tires”—then what?  All theories look good on PAPER.  What happens on Thursday mornings after mommy has been up all night with the baby?  That is the “rub”.  What if we can’t FIND a “great book” that day?  And what of the daily development of math and writing skills?  There is a lot more implementation complexity here for a homeschooler than meets the eye.

The strengths and weaknesses of Mason’s core tenets:

One:
Mason designed schools to implement her method.  Being unmarried herself, she, no doubt, did not realize the value of the sheer holy VOLTAGE of what having one’s own children at home produces over a lifetime.  These educational setting CHOICES are the difference between “home-centric” life and “peer-centric” life.  The potential for unity, bonding, and spiritual influence (as a FAMILY) in the world is staggering if homeschooling is done “right”.  It is what Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were achieving through their dynasties.

In schools—yes, even in good private schools—the “curriculum” may become far more than a parent bargains for, while the child rubs shoulders with peers from broken homes, media-addicted homes, spiritually defunct homes, emotionally abandoned and preoccupied homes, twisted homes.  The mandate in Deuteronomy 4-6 to educate one’s OWN offspring at home primarily by ADULTS is the most powerful means of discipling the next generation known to man.  Other third graders simply does not have the experience base to mentor YOUR third grade child—but mentor them on the playground and in the restrooms, they will.  The good can become the enemy of the best.  Where education takes place needs to be a concern for any spiritually responsible parent.

Two:
Mason recommends having children read REAL literature (instead of twaddle) from the get-go. Who could argue with this!  We absolutely agree!  Many nursery rhymes and fairy tales are straight from the pit of hell.  Only the devil could have designed them to terrorize children so well.  They cut their teeth on: “When the bough breaks the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all.”  How lovely.  And why we would ever teach that a fox eats your grandmother as per Little Red Riding Hood?  Just what a child needs, don’t you think?!  Every single one of those rhymes and children’s stories need to be evaluated BIBLICALLY.  What is to be DRAWN from this story anyway?  And Mason would roll over in her grave if she saw what the MEDIA now adds to this collection of garbage.  Even ADULTS couldn’t stand this parade of horror, grotesque creatures and violence that are now marketed to our children.  We all can be agreed with Mason: jettison the reading JUNK—all of it.

Mason’s phrase “real literature” or “classical literature”, however, is in great need of tweaking.  One has only to read Kevin Swanson’s book, Apostate: The men who destroyed the Christian West, to realize that classical literature can be from the pit of hell as well. Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, for example, leaves the adulteress with none of Christ’s blood to draw from, and no law to understand her guilt by.  There is no confession, and there is no redemption.  Who wants to put that hopelessness and ambiguity down deep in a young adult’s soul?  Aristotle, Plato and Socrates were avowed atheists.  Would we allow them through our front door in person, sitting our children at the feet of their long white robes, if given the choice?  So, what is the solution here?  We must hand-pick this “great” literature.  The Apostle Paul later despised his worldly education, as did Augustine, both of whom were thoroughly educated in the “classics.”  For ideas, especially for young daughters, get Melanie’s stellar highly screened list of favorite books off our website; she (being a librarian from birth smile ) already did decades of screening homework for you in this area; her book selections are superb.

Three:
Mason posits using narration (a verbal or written summary as a response to all verbal or written content shared with the child, as opposed to fill in the blanks).  This is an EXCELLENT strategy.  The brain works hard to cling to and refashion knowledge in order to make it one’s own, via this process.  But sometimes (oftentimes), Mom and Dad aren’t around, or are preoccupied and CAN’T listen to the sheer AMOUNT of narration that eight children would require to do EACH day to process ALL information this way.  Let us get some balance here.  Fill in the blanks isn’t akin to hell.  It, too, is a way of processing information smile.  It CAN get the child educated, too!  The solution? Use narration around the dinner table at night and every chance you get, but spare yourself the rest of it through the day if you have to ALSO get the laundry done and dinner fixed!  Using it as your highest trick in the bag, doesn’t mean you HAVE to use it unmitigatingly.  Use it as a marvelous educational tool on your teacher’s belt—one of many.

Four:
Mason puts forth having children take meandering nature walks, noting discoveries in a notebook, and drawing (and sometimes collecting what they see).  Go for it!  This is good stuff!  But this nature emphasis doesn’t have to limit or define the REST of one’s academics.  It makes sense that this would be a wonderful childhood activity—especially to replace hours of media.  But so is music practice—which builds virtuosos, and drawing skill—which builds real art ability (not the development of artistic abstractions), gymnastic skill, entrepreneurial endeavor (so your 13 year old can completely run your apple orchard BY HIMSELF, selling the produce, doing his own spreadsheets, etc., and your daughter can cook any gourmet meal to serve to 12 people, at the drop of a hat, no sweat! or vice/versa).  Any open-ended REAL LIFE activity will accomplish “awe and wonder growth”, sparing a child from hours and hours of childhood aimlessness.  The strategy?  Figure out what an ADULT is and incrementally get there, starting today while the person is a young child.

Five:
Mason recommends teaching grammar/writing skills off from the child’s own written works.  Yes and no.  Sequentially teaching a child the ideal way to do his penmanship and cursive writing is not awful.  In fact, for generations it has yielded LEGIBLE handwriting.  And teaching phonics sequentially will save you tons of academic heartache later.  However, if a child still guesses at what he is reading through using comprehension clues, his reading will stay dwarfed.  Wandering around in the alphabet might not “get you there”.  Reading doesn’t HAVE to be a hit or miss proposition.  There is a KNOWN way, tired and true, to get this job done that takes the guesswork out of it for a lifetime.

On the other hand, Mason’s dictation ideas are excellent.  In fact, historically, taking down daily dictation was used by the French in their schools, to very good advantage.  To see what actually makes it onto the child’s page is a wonderful way to frequently and casually “test” him or her. Mason’s focus here is great.  We agree, wholeheartedly—but that doesn’t preclude ALSO teaching him writing skills, line upon line, to get him there.

An EASY Solution? Have your cake and eat it, too ?! At very low financial cost to you?
Use A.C.E. as your track to ride on (very inexpensively) and have your child do narrations off THAT content, some days, if you wish.  The content is there all gathered FOR YOU.  You can just vary your teaching STYLE around those 15,000 concepts that are already provided FOR you.  THEN have your child read recreationally the “great books” from your pre-screened list of excellent REAL books—i.e. all spiritually non-compromised great literature.  Reading all of the available biographies of missionaries, for example, teaches your child selflessness like nothing else.  All biography inspires; it reminds us that we each just have one life to live, and it shows us the way some truly great individuals chose to live.  There.  We just saved you hours and hours of shopping, anxiety, and oversight trauma—and your child WILL get educated.  You can take that to the bank.

Finally: also teach your child the Bible by reading sequentially through Egermeier’s Children’s Bible Story EVERY NIGHT before bed.  Do not skip this input.  The years pass quickly, and what you didn’t put in their spirit may not ever get put there.  After a few times through the Egermeier edition you can switch to Arthur Maxwell’s 10-volume set, The Bible Story; the pictures are exquisite.  If you don’t teach your child the Bible, you might as well scratch your influence in the world, no matter how well educated your child becomes in all the other areas.  It IS sadly possible to educate an intelligent murderer, you know.  We must teach our children the WHY of life, not just the HOW.  Live in and through and under the BIBLE, thoroughly.  Then and only then will you have “educated” your child.  God-speed.

Steer your young girls out of “Magazine Anxiety”

Friday, 14. November 2014 by Renee Ellison

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Faith cometh by hearing, worldliness by sight. Magazines mainline discontent into most every young girl in the country.  The polished pictures carry a world of impact.  Anxiety is what it sells—levels and levels of unmitigated anxiety.  Magazines set up a comparison between what she IS and what an airbrushed photo shoot makes all other reality SEEM to be.  The “loser image” thoughts overwhelm a young girl (and often her mother, by the way, via her own magazines).

Sight is often not reality; it can be 180 degrees from reality.  It can even be a downright lie.  Photo shoots and materialism make us focus on our trappings instead of essences in in all sorts of areas (for example, needing yet another set of dishes, rather than serving a better meal; needing the right image jacket, even though very uncomfortable; etc.).  We then live for the wrong things.  “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”  Thus, we hold on to the nebulous “win” as more and more images flood the soul from the action-packed noisy media, too.  Magazines and media are some of the devil’s chief agencies of getting the human to prefer the knowledge of the tree of good and evil to what we could have been and could have had, spiritually, over the course of a lifetime, if we had stuck to the tree of life.

In grocery store check-out aisles we see magazines that read “Celebrity Falls in Love,” marries, has baby, lives in mansion—but on the other side of the rack are all the magazines that tout the break-ups, the affairs, falling out of love, bankruptcy.  Train your daughters to skip the cruise through celebrities’ lives; that goes nowhere.  Those “realities” are nightmares of living in figure 8’s, perpetually.

We traveled to Panama once and while on a public bus noticed all of the scantily dressed, spiked heeled, tightly jeaned, overly made-up teenaged girls glued to a magazine in their lap—all of them, faces riveted there, yes, up and down the bus.  They learned what to do from the magazines, studied them religiously, and then enslaved themselves to carry it out in their lives.  When a few of them hopped off the bus, a gang of boys waited for them at the bus stop—ready to eat their dessert.  They had done it many times before, and had the routine down.  Virginity was a thing of the past.  The girls had been brainwashed to live for display, and paid the price for what the display brought them.  The magazines have one goal in mind: to make our daughters into sex slaves.  Whether it be in school or at church, makes no difference.  You can’t leave a young girl—in the bloom of youth—half-dressed and expect that she will be a servant of the Lord.  Shut off the propaganda machine.  Get it out of your home and their lives.  Begin when she is young.  Never let it in.  Dump the anxiety production.  Your daughter is flirting with visual cancer.  It is no gift to her.