The Titus 2 Homemaker blog deals with the nitty-gritty of life in the trenches as a Christian homeschooling mama attempting to live a healthful lifestyle. The blog offers commiseration, encouragement, and practical ideas rooted in what she is learning on her own journey.
NOTE: This post is from an explicitly Christian perspective and presumes that its readers are Bible-believing Christians, as well. If that’s not you, you’re welcome to stick around, but you might prefer to skip this post as not applicable.
The False Dichotomy of “Gentle Parenting”
I dislike the term “gentle parenting,” particularly in Christian circles, because it inherently implies something about those who do things differently — that we are not gentle. It’s an expression of superiority more than it is a description of personal choices, and it has far-reaching theological implications.
To Spank or Not to Spank…is That Really the Question?
In the interest of full disclosure, I do believe that spanking is intended by Scripture to be a normative part of a Christian parent’s toolbox. However, regardless of whether you believe the “rod” in Proverbs to be literal or purely figurative, my real concern is over something deeper — the theological implications of the typical Christian anti-spanking arguments.
Whether or not a given family ultimately chooses this particular mode of discipline, the spiritual truths involved still matter. And far too many Christian families undermine, misunderstand, and/or misrepresent the theology of the Bible in their reasoning against spanking.
Christian opponents of spanking often claim that spanking “represents God’s wrath, rather than His love.” This emotionally-driven argument baldly contradicts what the Bible teaches, so these parents (‘though well-intentioned) are lying about God.
We, as His children, are, indeed, free from His wrath.
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 5:9)
“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9)
Discipline, however, is not an outpouring of wrath, but of love!
“‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:5b-11)
Breaking it Down
There is a lot we could pull out of the passage above with regard to discipline and how to model our parenting after God’s, but there are two points in particular I want to address for our purposes here. 1) God does “spank” His children, and 2) He does it as an act of love.
The passage not only states that God “chastens” His sons, which may be more broadly interpreted as a variety of forms of discipline or correction, but also specifically that He “scourges” us. To “scourge” is, literally, to whip — it carries precisely the connotation and denotation of a spanking: whoopin’, switching, etc. This is the description the Bible provides us as parallel to God’s chastening of His children.
An essential follow-up is why. “For whom the Lord loves.” “God deals with you as sons.” “For our profit.” “It yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” These are hardly phrases to indicate wrath or hatred.
In fact, the absence of such chastening is presented as undesirable — indicative of being illegitimate, posers, rather than actual sons of God. The chastening — by both rebuke and scourging — is for the benefit of His beloved children.
This description mirrors what earthly parents are told in Proverbs: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (Proverbs 13:24). Contrary to what our emotions might tell us, physical discipline done properly is an act of love, not hatred.
A False Contrast
This brings us back around to the phrase from the start of the post — “gentle parenting.” According to the Bible, God “spanks” His children. According to the Bible, God is also gentle. This is not an either/or. All parenting should be gentle parenting, whether it includes spanking or not.
All parenting should be gentle parenting, whether it includes spanking or not. Click To Tweet
We need to avoid misrepresenting God by leaning into either extreme. It paints a false picture of God to claim that what He says He does from love, portrays hatred or wrath. It paints a false picture of God to pit His self-described attributes against each other.
However, it also paints a false picture of God to use spanking for selfish reasons — like coercing outward obedience to make yourself look good as a parent. It paints a false picture of God to use spanking (or anything, for that matter!) as a means to drive out a child’s innate curiosity. (It is not gentle to discipline because a child’s actions are messy or inconvenient — not sinful). It paints a false picture of God if spanking is used to the exclusion of, or out of balance with, rebuke, training, guidance, and overall nurture of the young image-bearers God has placed in our care.
A False God
When we choose to set aside what the Bible teaches us about God’s Fatherhood, in favor of our own preferences, the alternative is an idolatrous image of a God who is always “nice.”
Now, don’t confuse “nice” with “kind” or “gentle” (both character traits the Bible does ascribe to God). “Nice” means “pleasant, agreeable, and satisfactory” — in other words, the kind of “warm, fuzzy” entity that we can just “like” all the time because He’s always “agreeable” to us. But that isn’t the God of the Bible!
The God the Bible describes is willing to cause us temporary hurt because He loves us enough to want to prevent our permanent harm.
What kind of God are you arguing for?
Are you arguing for a god who is a permissive parent?
Are you arguing for a god who is deterred by His own discomfort from doing what’s best for you because it hurts in the short term?
Are you arguing for a god who is always “pleasant and agreeable”?
Are you arguing for a god who is authoritarian and harsh?
Or are you arguing for the God described in Scripture, Who lovingly does whatever is necessary to bring about the fruit of righteousness in His children?
This is one of those books that’s so packed full of insight that I’m not even sure where to start with a review. Unschooledis, of course, primarily about unschooling, but it goes much deeper than that, making it a must-read for everyone, really.
The book opens up with a brief history of public/mandatory schooling, and how we got to where we are today. This will be eye-opening to many people, who probably don’t realize just how new our current system of all-week, much-of-the-year mandatory schooling is. The rest of Unschooled is just as effective (if not more effective) at pointing out how strongly our beliefs about learning are shaped by our current culture, rather than biology, history, etc.
There are a number of references, both to studies, and to alternative education pioneers, throughout the text. However, it’s very accessible; it isn’t an academic treatise.
The first part of the book is dedicated primarily to a discussion of how children learn — and what they don’t need in order to learn. You might be surprised by how much children can pick up without formal instruction, and even from “non-academic” sources. Homeschoolers will find this encouraging. Parents in general will probably find themselves inspired to provide more time for free play. Many will be drawn to move in a “less-schooled” direction for their children’s education.
Lest you should be inclined toward discouragement because you are drawn to unschooling but don’t find homeschooling practical for your circumstances, the second part of the book explores some of the alternatives that are currently being developed. Unfortunately, these are still a bit scattered, and not everyone yet has access to such resources. But they’re encouraging, anyway, as a peek into a revolution that has already started, and which can provide some ideas for others willing to step out and make changes.
I really believe there’s benefit for almost anyone in America in reading this book, whether it inspires them to make specific, concrete changes in their lives or communities, or just opens their minds to possibilities outside of what we’ve come to expect as the norm. I considered myself to already be pretty far outside the norm going into the book, and I still was struck by how strongly my beliefs about education are driven by the culture in which we live. I find myself wanting to buy it by the case and hand copies out to everyone I know.
Unschooled is easily one of the best books I’ve read this decade.
The biblical principle that “the worker is worthy of his wages” drives my interest in fair trade products. Fair trade simply means that those involved in the creation of a product are paid a fair wage for the jobs they do. “Fair Trade” is a general term, but it can also be used for products that have a specific stamp of approval, so another phrase to describe the general concept is “ethically sourced.” This gorgeous pottery from Carthage Co. is ethically sourced.
Essentially, the wonders of the internet have allowed the company to “cut out the middleman,” enabling Tunisian artisans to deliver their lovely stoneware direct to your table — or your doorstep, at least — at reasonable prices for pottery (while still making fair wages themselves).
A variety of pieces are available, including place settings and serving ware, in a variety of colors. The stoneware is microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe, and lead-free. The selection you see here is several different colors of the condiment squares. These are a little bigger than a standard sticky note, and are great not only for condiments (or small desserts, bread, etc.), but also as trays for holding rings near the sink, change trays on the dresser, and other non-food uses.
Some of the finishes are more matte, while others are glossy, and the colors range from simple neutrals to bold colors. I personally love the crackly-looking finishes.
When we’re talking about pottery, as long as it’s functional (which this is), the biggest thing you probably care about is the appearance, so I’m going to post my photos of the beautiful pieces and let them speak for themselves.
If I didn’t already have sixteen full place settings, I’d be jumping to fill my china cabinet with this. As it is, I’ll have to make do — at least for now — with a handful of individual pieces that can complement what I already own, or be used outside of the dining room. Check out the full collection at Carthage Co. (and look for these to make future appearances in photos here on the blog).
Some of you might be familiar with the BabyLit board books. This set is from the same publishers. These are about the same size as the BabyLit primers, or the Mini Masters books, and there are four bilingual (English/Spanish) books: Red (Rojo), Yellow (Amarillo), Green (Verde), and Blue (Azul).
Each page consists of a single word (or phrase), in both English and Spanish, along with a representative image. There are a couple characteristics, though, that set these apart from other bilingual word books.
First, the words are strung together to create picture stories. For instance, a “whale” has a “spout” that sprays, forcing a “boot” into the air.
Second, the Spanish words have pronunciations with them. These are not always completely precise, but they’re written in a manner intended to be simple for English readers, incorporating familiar English words whenever possible. For instance, the Spanish word for “boot,” “bota,” is offered as “BOAT-ah.”
One caveat is that more conservative readers might not be fans of Green. It has a heavy fantasy focus, with elves and (sea) “monsters,” and even a witch.
And it also has this page with mucus dripping from the sea monster’s nose:
We’re not as crazy about this one as we are the other three.
Overall, though, the kids love them. The toddler flips through them, and even my elementary schoolers (6 and 8) enjoy reading them. I think they appreciate that, unlike our other bilingual books, the pronunciation guides enable them to read the Spanish in these.
With this month being “gay pride” month, these business/customer clashes are bound to be at the forefront of many people’s minds. You know the ones: a baker who declines to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding, a photographer who declines to do an engagement shoot for a homosexual couple.
I have several concerns with the current trend toward coercing the business’ owners compliance.
1. A person is not an event. An event is not a person.
This is the most apropos point. The businesses in question, in no instance that I have heard of, have actually refused to provide services for homosexuals. They have, rather, declined to do business involving homosexual events.
Refusing to have a part in a homosexual wedding ceremony is not the same thing as refusing service to a person because he’s homosexual.
This is a very important distinction. If a baker will bake a cake for a homosexual individual for his birthday, but won’t bake his wedding cake, that is clearly not discrimination against a person. It’s making a choice about what types of events and ideas your business will support.
In any other context, most Americans would view this as obvious. Should a Christian church-owned publishing house be required to print Buddhist books? Should a Jewish or Muslim chef be required to cook and serve pork? An atheist t-shirt maker to print evangelistic t-shirts for the local church youth group?
All of these businesses should be willing to do business with any of the people represented, but they should also have the right to refrain from types of work that violate their beliefs.
2. Even if the issue is truly discrimination, this is not the government’s place to intervene.
It does, but it shouldn’t. Regardless of how morally right or wrong a business owner is, the government has no appropriate jurisdiction to compel him to do business with any particular person or in any particular capacity.
There are lots of things that are morally the right thing to do. It’s right to tell the truth. The government doesn’t come force me to tell the truth to my husband, kids, or friends. (Although they can if I’m under oath, because they have a compelling interest in my honesty when I’m taking part in a governmental proceeding.) It’s right to love your neighbor. The government doesn’t come force me to take the neighbor cookies or shovel the snow from his front walk, or save him the better parking space.
3. Where does it end?
I know that “slippery slope” can sometimes be a logical fallacy, but where government is concerned, it is a valid consideration. It is a well-established historical fact that men with power are inclined to gather as much power to themselves as possible. “Given them an inch and they’ll take a mile.”
Because the issue that instigated this was homosexuals complaining of discrimination, it is stuck in our minds as an issue of homosexuality – but it isn’t that at all. If the government can force a private business owner to do the kind of business they believe he should be do with the people they believe he should be doing it with, where is the line to be drawn? Letting the government decide is treading on pretty dangerous ground. (Especially when a limited few are passing – or refusing to pass – the relevant laws, in direct opposition to the expressed will of the people and/or their duly-elected representatives, taking our voices entirely out of the equation.)
Will a clergyman be forced to perform a wedding ceremony for a couple he believes biblically ought not to be wed? Will an anti-vaccine organization be forced to advertise in favor of vaccines? Will a vegan company be required to provide real leather options for people who want them?
In other words, the fact that it’s “homosexual” encounters with businesses that have made the news emotionally charges matters and obfuscates the real issue: who has the right to tell a business what kind of business they must conduct? And even if you’re on the “right” side of this issue right now, how will you feel when the same principles are applied in a different context where you find yourself on the “wrong” side?
Are We Confusing Authoritative with Authoritarian?
Outside of the Church, there’s a frequent tendency toward permissive parenting – that is, being so child-centric that children are basically “permitted” to do whatever they want. Inside the Church, we often see a pendulum swing in the opposite direction: a child’s unique personhood is often ignored, with children being forced to think like their parents think and to behave the way parents want them to, out of sheer control on the parents’ part. “I’m bigger and stronger, so I will make you do as I wish.”
I absolutely believe that children need to learn to obey their parents even when they don’t understand. This is essential to keeping them safe. It’s also how they ultimately learn to obey God, whose instructions don’t always make perfect sense to us. But this can be done with an attitude of nurture (“…raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord…”) of the unique individuals God has designed them to be. It doesn’t have to be done with the goal of forcing them into mold.
Parenting and Personality
An important foundation stone here is the recognition of our differences. There’s a tendency to believe and act as though the same response from one hundred different children in similar situations is always motivated by the same intent. But it isn’t. What looks like defiance or rebellion on the surface sometimes is, but it’s sometimes merely childish foolishness or a misunderstanding (which still need to be addressed, but differently). And God is generally more concerned with our heart motives than our outward actions – shouldn’t we be? Granted, we can’t see our children’s hearts the way God can, but if we’re paying attention, we can often catch a glimpse. Let me give you a couple of examples from my own life to illustrate what I mean.
What looks like defiance on the surface is sometimes merely childish immaturity or a misunderstanding. Click To Tweet
Personality Example 1: The Interrupter
My husband and I have very different conversational styles. This is evident just from watching us on Facebook! He edits every comment before he posts. (That’s partly because he’s accustomed to posting for work, but it’s pretty illustrative of his manner of communication in general, too.) I always hit enter too soon, and have to go back and edit almost every post for typos. Our oral communication is the same way. He’s slow and deliberate – the kind of person who doesn’t necessarily say a lot, but when he does say something, you know it’s worth listening to. When I talk, it’s more like the verbal equivalent of drinking from a fire hose.
For a long time, we would butt heads because I would interrupt him. He’d get (understandably) frustrated that I was so rude as to interrupt him, feeling like I couldn’t possibly care what he had to say if I was willing to cut him off. Meanwhile I would get frustrated that he was frustrated, because I (usually) didn’t mean to interrupt; I didn’t realize he wasn’t finished! A major “light bulb moment” for us occurred when he asked, “How can you possibly think I’m finished with my thought? All I did was take a breath!” To which I immediately replied, “Because I could fit a whole paragraph into that pause!” He just stared at me for a moment and then said, “Yeah, I guess you probably could.”
That vividly illustrated the difference in our communication styles. Neither is “good” or “bad,” “better” or “worse”; they’re just different. But we had to recognize them so we can extend each other grace. He doesn’t so readily get frustrated if I interrupt (and if he sees me opening my mouth he’ll say, “I’m not done!”), because now he knows I don’t intend to be rude, and I will wait quietly for longer than I think I need to, because I realize the pause isn’t as long as it feels to me.
At this point you might be wondering what that has to do with parenting. Well, my husband and I are pretty intelligent, reasonably mature adults. We both have a decent amount of familiarity with ideas like personality types, love languages, and familial patterns. I’ve read a lot about various personality typing systems, and he has pastoral training. We came into this thing heavily equipped to deal with differences in approaches to life, and it still took us several years to work this out!
Now imagine that the “interrupter” here is your two-year-old daughter.
She doesn’t have the ability to articulate that she doesn’t mean to interrupt. She may not even be able to understand what the problem is. All she knows is that she tries to engage with you in her childlike way, and you get angry with her, shut her down, and perhaps even discipline her for disrespect – which leaves her completely confused, because she doesn’t understand what she did wrong. Pretty soon, that precious little girl may just decide that Mama doesn’t like her and give up altogether.
[Important side note: I am not saying all interrupting follows this pattern and is unintentional, nor am I saying that interrupting is okay. What I am saying is that the “why” matters when deciding how to address it.]
Personality Example 2: The Silently Stubborn
Now let’s turn it around and consider another little girl – one who’s the quieter type. I had a little one who struggled to communicate. She had some speech issues, but also struggled in general to keep up with the pace and tone of our household (which is comprised largely of faster, higher-energy people). Whatever the cause, she had a hard time getting her ideas from her brain to her mouth and out. When she was very young, there were a few times she refused to put on her shoes when it was time to leave the house.
On the surface, it looked for all the world as though she was being obnoxiously defiant. She simply refused to put on the shoes; she gave us absolutely no other indication that there was anything at play except that she didn’t want to. But the Holy Spirit nudged me to dig deeper and, thankfully, for once, I paid attention.
We had the wrong shoes.
Not in a “these are the Mary Janes; I wanted the sneakers” sense, but in a real, “these don’t fit; they’re somebody else’s shoes” sense. (Another couple times to follow, it was something slightly different, but the same general idea.) She couldn’t process quickly enough to tell us what was wrong, so she did the only thing she knew to do: she balked at putting on the shoes.
I could have disciplined her for defying me. It would have looked like I was right. But I would have been wrong. Because although it might have looked like my daughter was being rebellious, she was actually attempting to communicate, and falling short. It would have been very disheartening to this child, already struggling with communication, to find her attempts at communication considered so unacceptable that they got her in trouble. Did she need to learn some better communication tools? Absolutely! But I had to recognize that her heart was completely different than her sister’s had been several years before when responding exactly the same way to the same instruction.
We Aren’t All the Same!
It’s human nature to assume that what motivates the person beside us is the same thing that motivates us, that he sees the world the same way, that he processes in the same manner and the same order, and that his ultimate conclusions should, therefore, be identical. But people are all different!
That child that seems to be lazy could be lazy…or he could be a super-literal thinker. (My super-literal thinker struggles to find things, even when they’re in plain sight. I’ve heard other parents say the same thing about children with similar personalities; I think when what they see in front of them doesn’t match the picture in their heads, it reads as “not a match,” and they’re not quick to adjust.) That child who seems to be stubborn about obeying might be…or she may just be incredibly curious about how the world works. That child who seems to be disrespectful to everyone may just have an innate drive to edit!
Their individual ways of interacting with the world may not always work well; we all need to learn how to temper certain tendencies and/or how to adjust and adapt. It’s our job as parents to help our children do that!
But if we can see the world (at least a little bit) from their point of view and understand why they do what they do, we can direct them to become the most godly versions of themselves, rather than trying to turn them into someone else (or punishing them for being themselves).
The Bible tells us that the Body is comprised of many members, and it’s important for each part to play its own part well, not try to function as a different part altogether. Wise parents recognize that our children each approach the world different than we do, because they’re different parts of the Body.
If You Need Help
If we want to help our little eyes become the strongest eyes they can be, and not turn them into ears or mouths or feet, or whatever we ourselves are, there’s a good chance we’ll need help. It isn’t intuitive to see the world from someone else’s perspective.
It isn’t a Christian book, and I do not endorse everything she writes (I can’t emphasize that enough; some of it is very weird), but The Child Whispererhas been one of the most helpful tools for me in this, and I highly recommend it. It does a better job than any other resource I’ve seen, of showing how different personalities play out in the nitty-gritty details of everyday life.
For a Christian approach to personality, Positive Personality Profiles is also good, although it doesn’t get nearly as specific about what certain traits might look like in everyday living.
I’ve talked a bit before about the basics of building a wardrobe that works for you. Starting with colors and shapes that mesh with and reflect your own personal coloring and shapes is key. But even if you’ve done this, you might end up with a lot of clothes that individually are lovely, but which don’t work well together. (For instance, if you don’t have enough solids, too many of your prints might clash.)
The Full-Year Wardrobe Capsule Plan
The Full-Year Wardrobe Capsule Plan from Carina at Frump Fighters (which is in the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle this week) provides a capsule plan that makes an excellent starting point. It’s a little on the larger side for a capsule (you’ll have more than 10 or so garments), and it has several specific features to recommend it.
It’s designed specifically with stay-at-home-moms in mind, so there aren’t a lot of unnecessarily fussy or formal clothes. (There’s a work version available if you need that. This version, though, would probably also work well for women who wear a uniform when they’re at work.)
It’s modest. Of course, your own specific garment selections might make it more or less modest, but the plan as a whole uses modest pieces in modest ways.
It covers all four seasons.
It includes notes on adjusting each garment in the capsule for maternity or nursing. (This might be my favorite feature!)
There are over 280 outfits specifically laid out and pictured for you, so there’s virtually no guesswork. (You can actually get just the capsule plan — which garments to include — for free here. But if you want the outfit ideas themselves, you’ll need the full plan.)
On the negative side, not everything might be a good fit for your personal style. Information is included for adjusting, to some degree — like for choosing your own overall color palette. But some items are pretty “set.” For instance, the capsule includes three striped garments and two plaid shirts, and I don’t really wear either stripes or plaid. It’s going to take a bit of effort to determine what best to substitute those with so the plan will still work right. “Olive pants” are also a specified garment — something that might not work well if olive isn’t your color. You get the idea.
Still, even just having the outfit ideas helps with thinking outside the box when building outfits. And looking over the included pieces helped me identify some “gaps” that help explain why I was struggling with certain outfit needs (like not having a winter sweater that falls into the right “category” to have the versatility I needed in winter).
Basic Principles — and Alternatives
Of course, the real key here is not this specific capsule (although it’s very handy that it’s been designed with all the important lifestyle factors for a stay-at-home-mom), but the basic principles. Principles like making sure you have a mix of neutrals and colors, and making sure you have enough solids. And like making sure you have both foundation pieces and “outside” layering pieces. But there are other ways to accomplish this.
One method some friends have alerted me to is the “4×4” capsule at The Vivienne Files. One interesting feature of this method is that a single 4×4 capsule can be your entire wardrobe, but you can also have a number of 4×4 capsules within your wardrobe. (This template fleshes it out a little. This post is also exceptionally helpful for explaining how and why it works.)
Start with What You Have
While we might like to have any excuse to buy more clothes, it’s best to start with what you already have. Identify what you already own and how it works together, and then identify any gaps. It’s these gaps you’ll want to shop to fill.
Shopping on a Budget
I’m very small, and my size is hard to find, so my options for shopping new without breaking the bank are pretty limited. Overall, the bulk of my new clothing comes from Old Navy and Target, with the occasional garment from Kohl’s or a “teen”-targeted mall store like Charlotte Russe.
But I open up the possibilities by shopping primarily used. My two favorite sources are Swap.com and ThredUP. Swap.com typically has lower prices but a much wider range of quality. ThredUP is pretty fussy about what brands they’ll accept, so the prices are higher, but the brands are generally higher-priced to begin with, too. In either case, shopping markdowns can save you even more. (Both also sell kids clothes, if you’re looking for that.)
What’s Your Gap?
I discovered that one of my biggest clothing dilemmas (besides not having the “right” layerable neutral sweater for winter) is that I shy away from neutral pants (trousers, for any Brits reading this). I love my printed jeggings — but then if my shirts are mostly prints, they clash. I do have solids, but the particular assortment of solids and prints I have is awkward (leaving with prints with prints and solids with solids).
How about you? When you assess your wardrobe, what gaps do you find?
A lot of people like the general idea of unschooling, but find it a bit too unstructured for their tastes. Or they aren’t sure how they’d keep records. What I’m going to describe here isn’t quite unschooling (although you can adapt it to be more or less structured), but it is a more “freeform” style of planning that enables some degree of structure while still providing a lot of flexibility.
Getting Started: Ask the Kids
This process is going to work better with older kids. It’s worth asking younger kids, but they might need more focused questions, and they might not have as fleshed-out answers. Anything they do tell you will provide useful insights into their interests, but it’s not going to give you the same result as with older kids. This method will work best with middle schoolers and high schoolers, I think.
Looking ahead to next year and the coming years, I wanted to give my older kids some more freedom to choose how and what they study. When we’ve tried this before, it’s been a bit too open-ended, and one of mine, in particular, is not very self-motivated, so it’s ineffective to give her free reign. So what I decided to was give them an assignment to tell me what they want to study and how they would propose to do it. The idea was to use the result as a starting point, tweaking it and fleshing it out as necessary.
The parameters were that they had to consider all major subjects (i.e. science, history, math, language, Bible…). Which “specialties” they selected within those was up to them.
Tweaking, Adapting, & Filling in Gaps
I was pleasantly surprised by what both of the girls turned in. Ariel’s (16) was more thorough. She’s had more opportunity to determine what she’s passionate about, and she has more schooling behind her. Her proposal included items like this:
For…literature, I’d continue to do what I do now: read books and write reviews for them on Goodreads and my blog. I honestly wouldn’t care if I got graded on them if I got to just write reviews like I already do. It’s basically literary analysis, but I don’t have to get out of a book exactly what some curriculum wants me to get out of it. Even a set list of questions about the contents of the book, if it was applied to books I naturally read, would be tolerable.
This is a good example of a couple of things. First of all, she’s specified the subject and she’s specified the process. This could be turned in to the county as a curriculum plan for those who need to provide such information.
Second of all, this is an example of something that has a good foundation but probably needs tweaking. My kids are avid readers, but they aren’t so good about reading a variety. Leaving her to read only the books she’s interested in with no nudging to get out of her comfort zone would likely be pretty one-dimensional. But a slight tweak would be to assign her to choose a certain number of books from a given list, which would preserve the heart of her preferences here, as well as her ability to have some freedom of choice, while still offering some direction and that push to move past her comfort zone.
Sophia’s (almost 12) was a little “gappier,” which is to be expected for her age. However, she was surprisingly aware of the limitations of what she gave me. There was also more information in what she provided than she realized. For instance, she had this to say:
For science, I’m also not really sure. I’m interested in computer science and programming and stuff, but at the same time it all seems really confusing and intimidating. And I know that’s a stupid reason to not want to learn something, but I can’t help it. I’m not particularly interested in astronomy, or chemestry, or human biology, or physics, or Earth science. Of all of the options I think I’m most interested in botony and zooology.
(Yes, we have a few spelling words there.) She did specify an interest in computer science, but not much beyond that, particularly given how many years she has left in school. And she recognized this.
And I think I have a problem. I’m pretty sure most of the things on this list (like history and science) I basically just said I’m not really interested in at all.
However, there’s more information in her proposal than she knew.
Outside of music… I’d like to cook/bake more just to experiment
She didn’t realize it, but she offered some prime information here for moving forward in science. Cooking is an excellent context for studying science — and she enjoys it. So that’s information we can work with.
History was truly a gap in her paper. She and I talked about the fact that a good part of the reason for this is likely that one has to be exposed to something in order to know whether or not one is interested in it. So probably a good starting point would be to get a strong general overview of history, and maybe that will inspire further interest. (We’re looking at The Story of the World and The Light and the Glory and its sequels as a quick, narrative-style way to get a basic overview of world and American history, respectively.)
Even though this is not necessarily something she’s thrilled about, since she identified that gap, she’s more open to finding a way to fill it than she probably would be if we simply said, “you need to study this.”
Structure and Recordkeeping
I haven’t hammered out all the details yet, but in terms of structure for the year, I’m looking at drawing up some type of contract for the girls that has two “tiers.” The first tier would be the daily/weekly requirements, and it would be fairly general. The purpose of this is merely to provide accountability for their actively working on their schoolwork each day/week.
The second tier would be more specific, and would require that check off the completion of whatever skills, content, etc. we determined together was reasonable/acceptable, based on their proposal, as tweaked.
You can leave it at this, but if you want to keep a more thorough “big picture” record of what each student has or hasn’t learned, The Checklist is an excellent tool for this.
More Help Building Flexible Studies in Unfamiliar Subjects
Maybe you need a little more help with covering essential content in a subject that’s unfamiliar to you. Some of my favorite resources are “skeleton”-type tools. That is, they have the key skills and minimal information for addressing them, without being fleshed-out — so you can adjust them as you prefer. I don’t have a specific resource to recommend for history (apart, perhaps, from reading lists by historical period), but I have a few to offer for other subjects.
For math, Math on the Level is a clever system designed by a homeschooling mom. It includes a list of skills, along with information about teaching each one. (Including activities, games, etc. for most.) There is also a tracking chart and a review system of just five problems per day. You can be as structured or unstructured as you prefer in teaching the individual skills, but still be structured in tracking what the student does or doesn’t know.
For grammar, I use KISS Grammar at my house. This is a free program offered online by a retired college English professor. There are workbooks available for each level if you’re not confident teaching the skills yourself, but you can also just use the general method and do it on your own. I like that it’s minimal and unfussy. (No fluff.)
There’s also a Self-Paced Course that was originally intended for teachers who need to brush up on their grammar in order to feel equipped. By design, this can be done independently, and all the necessary grammar can be learned in a single year using this course if it’s saved for high school. (Grammar is developmental, so the ability to work with certain constructions grows as children grow. By high school, all of them should be accessible. Prior to that, you can only progress so far.)
For composition, I like the method used by Institute for Excellence in Writing, again because it’s flexible and adaptable to the content of your homeschool. And again, if you prefer to delay these skills and then teach them in a concentrated fashion, the high school essay intensive will teach the bulk of the necessary composition skills.
IEW has done-for-you workbooks for all ages, but if you want to stick with the “freeform” theme, you’ll probably want to take the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style seminar (in person or via DVD) so you can introduce concepts yourself and tailor assignments to your child’s studies.
The basic idea here is that you need to have an idea of what information or skills you consider essential for your child to learn by the time he graduates. This might be specific (“addition,” “ability to identify the clauses in a sentence”) or general (“3 sciences”). My personal recommendation would be to keep your expectations for content subjects more general, although much of the expectation for skills subjects will probably need to be fairly specific.
If Your Kids Are Still Very Young
If your children are still very young, you might be interested in another resource that’s in this week’s Ultimate Homemaking Bundle: Montessori Beginnings ($77 value). This short online course introduces the key concepts of Montessori-style education, particularly with relation to toddlers. This helps build and establish a lifestyle of learning early, and of encouraging independence. (Note: when I say “independence,” I mean in the sense of children taking responsibility for themselves, not in the sense of their being independent of authority.)
The bonus activity lists in the course are a good “minimalistic” tool in keeping with the flavor of this post and the approach it describes.
Perhaps you’ve seen resin pendants, or bottlecap magnets made similarly with resin. Resin is a bit tricky to work with (and toxic), so it isn’t a kid-friendly craft. The versions of custom bottle cap magnets in this post give a similar look, but with safer, simpler methods that make for good kids craft projects. If you’re looking for kids craft ideas for Christmas (or other gift-giving occasions, like Mothers Day or Fathers Day), these bottle cap magnets should fit the bill.
The first thing the kids need to do is cut their images into 1-inch circles. If you have a punch with a lever (which takes less strength than a more traditional style punch), this is a much easier option for young kids especially, because it takes less skill. But if you only have scissors, that will work, too.
If you’re using scissors, trace the flat side of the bottlecap onto your image and then cut just inside the line.
If you’re using a punch, turn it upside down before inserting the paper, and you’ll be able to see how your image lines up in the hole.
Then glue the image into the well of the bottlecap. Try to encourage the kids not to use an excess of glue.
Let these dry before moving on to the “resin-y” steps.
(Some of our images are magazine pictures. The others are printouts from Voice of the Martyrs, to make magnets as prayer reminders for persecuted Christians around the world. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which document we printed them from.)
Method 1: Embossing Powder (for older kids)
Once the glued-in images are dry, you’re ready to apply the pseudo-resin layer. This first method looks most similar to resin, but because of the heat, it’s not a good choice for younger kids.
Fill the bottlecap with a layer of embossing powder. You do not need to “fill up” the cap. (In fact, you probably don’t want to do that.) You do need to have an uninterrupted layer.
Make sure any spills are cleaned up before applying heat; you don’t want to melt embossing powder to your table! Working on a piece of parchment or a craft mat is not a bad idea. (Also, we learned the hard way that a plastic table isn’t the best work space for this. The table melts!)
Then, use the heat gun to apply heat. It works kind of like a hair dryer except it doesn’t blow. Don’t put it too close. This step requires some patience — and adult supervision, because the heat coming off this is hot. You don’t want your hands in front of it, and you want to be careful touching the metal bottle cap after the heat gun has been directed at it. (This isn’t so dangerous as to be panic-worthy or anything; just make sure your kids are old enough to use common sense caution.)
Keep applying heat until all of the embossing powder is completely melted. It may not look completely clear. Depending on your embossing powder, it might look a bit “frosty” while it’s melted.
When the embossing powder is completely melted, (carefully — remember it’s hot!) set the bottle cap(s) aside to cool and set up.
Method 2: Dimensional Magic (for middle kids)
This second method is a bit safer than the first, because it doesn’t use heat. But it still can be slightly finicky, so I wouldn’t use it with the youngest kids.
After the images have been glued in and thoroughly dried, get out your Mod Podge Dimensional Magic. This is a thick liquid. Squeeze a layer of this liquid to completely coat the image in the bottle cap. I like to start at an edge and slowly spiral in, or start in the center and spiral out.
Squeeze gently and steadily, because the only way you can really mess this up is by getting bubbles in the layer. When you’re done, you can gently tap the bottle cap on the surface, if you like, to help settle everything into a smooth layer and help release any bubbles.
Set the bottle cap(s) aside on a level surface to dry thoroughly.
Method 3: Epoxy Stickers (for everyone)
This last option is quick and simple and works for everyone — even preschoolers.
Once the images have been glued in and thoroughly dried, peel a clear epoxy sticker off its backing for each bottle cap. Place it, sticky side down, into the bottle cap and press firmly to adhere.
These are fairly stiff, so even young children should be able to get them lined up well, because they will only settle into the cap once they’re all the way in. The youngest kids might need help peeling them off of the backing first, though.
These need to be pressed in firmly to ensure they’re stuck, but don’t require time to dry before moving on to the next step.
Adding Magnets to the Bottle Caps (all methods)
Once the previous steps are complete, and the caps are thoroughly cooled or dried (if applicable), you’re ready to add magnets.
Flip the bottle caps over so they’re all facing down.
If you’re using the button magnets, add a dot of Tacky glue about half the size of a pea, then press the magnet into place.
A word of warning: because the bottle caps are metal, they’ll attract the magnets. We didn’t think about this before trying to put the first one on, and it snapped to the back of the magnet before we had it lined up the way we wanted. (That might be a good way to introduce kids to the concept of magnetism, though!)
I recommend that you hold the bottle cap with the glue on it in one hand and the magnet in the other so you can guide it into place as it “snaps” on. Then press gently to ensure it’s making good contact with the glue.
Once again, let these sit until they’re thoroughly dry. (I’d leave them upside-down while they dry, rather than trying to flip them over yet.)
At the beginning of this post, I noted that these bottle cap magnets make good kids craft ideas for Christmas, Mothers Day, Fathers Day (teacher appreciation, birthdays, etc.). If you’re giving them as gifts, you’ll want to present them nicely.
Two (lined up) to three (staggered) will fit nicely in an Altoid or similar tin. These are handy because the magnets will stick right to the tin so they don’t slide around.
Gift card tins are a viable option if you’ve used flat magnets on the backs, but may or may not be deep enough if you’ve used button magnets. Like mint tins, these have the advantage of enabling the magnets to stick directly to the tin. (They also come pre-decorated for gift-giving, and often with cards!)
When I decided to work on these with my kids, I chose to call them “joy journals” because that rolls off the tongue. These are a little like art journals melded with gratitude journals.
What is a Joy Journal?
The idea I had in mind when we put these together is that they would be books filled with things that bring us joy. So there’s an element of gratitude journaling to them, but they’re more than that. The contents of a book like this can be serious — like Scriptures, significant quotes, or lists of things you’re grateful for — but they can also be lighthearted and silly. You’ll notice mine has silly memes in it.
By the way, that note at the top the right-hand page is the link to my personal “bad day playlist” on YouTube, which is full of things like giggling babies.
The next page actually contains a snippet of printed paper that I just like. The aim is to fill it with things that make you smile.
Not things that “should” make you smile, or that you “should” be grateful for, or anything like that, but things that actually make you smile — no matter how small. Everyone’s journal will be different, because we all enjoy different things.
My kids made their own, but they’d misplaced them when I was taking pictures for this post.
Be sure to choose a notebook you like, or grab a blank one and decorate it, so the notebook itself will make you smile, too!