Books to Encourage your Heart

One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes hangs on the wall of my military office: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

The following books helped shape who I am as a wife, mother, and daughter of God. Some books are specific to homeschooling, while others are not. Even those books with a homeschooling focus are so wonderful that any family can benefit from their wisdom. The most difficult aspect of compiling this list was narrowing it down to manageable proportions! Obviously the most encouraging, empowering, and edifying book at the top of every list is the Bible.

All but six of the books listed below are based on scripture; the ones that are not are denoted with an asterisk. I chose to include them because they were instrumental in shaping my homeschooling philosophy. Some of those authors are in fact Christians, but their books aren’t exclusively based on Christianity.

Books to encourage and empower the homeschooling mama:

Teaching from Rest by Sarah McKenzie
Awaking Wonder by Sally Clarkson
The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment
*The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart
Better Together by Pam Barnhill
Different by Nathan Clarkson
*Nurture by Nature by Paul and Barbara Tieger
*There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Akeson McGurk
The Read Aloud Family by Sarah McKenzie
*The Five Hour School Week by Kaleena Amuchastegui
*
The Family Board Meeting by Jim Sheils
Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins
The Core by Leigh Bortins
In Vital Harmony by Karen Glass
Know and Tell by Karen Glass
*
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

Books to encourage and empower every mama:

Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson
Seasons of a Mother’s Heart by Sally Clarkson
The Life Giving Home by Sally Clarkson
The Life Giving Parent by Clay & Sally Clarkson
Different by Nathan & Sally Clarkson
Heartfelt Discipline by Clay Clarkson
10 Gifts of Heart by Sally Clarkson
Finding Selah by Kristen Kill
Introverted Mom by Jamie Martin
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

A Qualified Homeschool Teacher?

I am a certified educator who taught high school English in Texas and in England for a total of six years. My teaching experience includes gifted and talented education, pre-Advanced Placement, Advanced Placement, accelerated courses, and university-prep courses. After leaving public school classrooms, I went on to teach in a private pre-kindergarten program for a short stint. The last few years found me involved in adult education where I co-led Shakespeare classes for military veterans. I’m also in my eighteenth year of service in the Air Force National Guard, where I’ve received top-notch leadership training. Since 2011, I’ve authored, co-authored, and contributed writing to four published books. I’ve been interviewed by local media, a prominent podcaster, and—quite miraculously—found myself as an official staff member at a nationally-recognized theatre. Oh, and I’ve homeschooled my two sons since the very beginning.

All of that sounds really good on paper, doesn’t it? But I want to let you in on a little secret: None of that qualifies me to be a homeschooling educator.

What does qualify someone to be a homeschool teacher? A love for one’s own children. If you love your babies—even those giant, overgrown babies—from the depths of your being, you are qualified to teach your children! I can confidently assure you that my university degree, state certification, and leadership training do not make me a good homeschooling mom. In fact, my experience in formal classrooms was more of a hindrance than a help. A love for my children and a passion to learn alongside them is the only qualification I need.

Sweet Mama, if you are feeling less than confident, anxious, fearful, or inadequate, please hear me: No one is more qualified to come alongside your children and walk this educational journey than you are.

You were created in the image and likeness of God!

His works are wonderful, and you know that full well!

You have the mind of Christ!

Go back and read those statements again. Put them in first-person and say them out loud. Repeat until you believe it! You stand on HIS truth, goodness, and beauty. God is in the business of redemption; if you feel your own education was inadequate, He will redeem your education as you teach your child!

Walking in faith is hard. Saying yes to the unknown is hard. What you’re doing—whether it’s for a season or for the duration—might seem impossible. But I’m here to tell you it’s not! When you give God your yes and invite His holy interruption, He will show up. He will equip you to do the hard things. He will give you the strength for each day, the wisdom to lead, and the passion to persevere. There is plenty of oil for your lamp, and He’s waiting to give it to you!

Courage, dear heart! Where you’ve been called, you will be equipped. Remember He is for you and He will never leave you nor forsake you. Please know I’m cheering you on every step of the way. You’ve got this! May you rest in the arms of the One who painted the stars in the canvas of heaven.

My One Word

Since 2015, I’ve prayerfully considered and carefully chosen one single word to focus on each year. In lieu of New Year’s resolutions, My One Word allows me to cut through the ever-present pressures and white noise of life. At the end of 2014 I was juggling a new baby and a two year old; I was overwhelmed by parenting two little boys, preparing for the homeschooling adventure, and attempting to keep my head above water with household duties. The word nurture helped me rightly order my priorities. I needed to nurture my children, nurture my marriage, and — most importantly — nurture my relationship with God. That focus word became a lifeline while navigating the adventure that was 2015.

As 2016 loomed on the horizon, I longed for a purposeful vision that would sustain my hopeful family ideals. God placed the word intentional on my heart, and I began to focus on it with laser precision. By the summer of 2016, I had permanently deleted my Facebook account in an effort to be fully present for my husband and kids. I intentionally invested in specific books, authors, and podcasts that spoke into my life in a meaningful way. My broad and wide friendships were culled down to a small handful of deep and intentional relationships that can weather any storm. The ebb and flow of this intentional lifestyle anchored me to Christ and kept unnecessary distractions at bay.

As the sun set on 2016, the pace of life had quickened beyond our comfort level; the dawn of 2017 found my husband and I in need of rest. Simplify became the cry of my heart. We cut out activities that kept us on the go — to include bible studies and marriage-building classes at church — choosing instead to focus on our family at home. I purposefully stopped blogging for most of the year in an effort to simplify my mind and heart. It became a time of sheltering-in-place to build a biblical foundation that will (hopefully) sustain our family for generations to come. Instead of a weekly women’s bible study, I began to read the weekly Torah portion. As a family, we simplified life by celebrating biblical holidays rather than getting caught up in cultural, quasi-religious agendas that, in the past, just kept our wheels spinning. Friday nights have become a beautiful celebration of God’s commandment to rest; Shabbat dinners at the dining table on Granny’s fine China are now the highlight of each week. Far be it from me to alter our Shabbat routine — my children won’t allow it! Living a simplified life has blessed our family beyond anything I could have imagined in January of 2017.

Looking back, I can see how living a nurtured life led to an intentional vision of simplification. During the times I neglect nurturing my soul with God’s word, my stress levels rise and I become an impatient, graceless mess. If I allow myself to get caught up in the endless oblivion of my phone screen, I lose intentionality and am carried along by wisps and whims of nonsense. My family deserves better…and so do I. Were I to try and sign my kids up for every enrichment activity under the sun, we’d end up cranky and stressed from overextending ourselves. It’s my responsibility to carefully weigh our commitments and simplify family life. I am the gatekeeper and guardian of our home, may I not be caught sleeping or chasing after the wind during these precious, formative years.

As yet another year draws to a close, I am brimming with hope and possibility for 2018. The word flourish has been flitting and fluttering through my heart for the past couple of weeks; I long to see how God uses this new One Word to guide me through the next twelve months. I will continue to nurture my family and my soul. I will seek to be intentional in all of our dealings and decisions. I will carefully simplify anything that can possibly be simplified, and — with God’s help — I will flourish in the process!

Our Shalom Summer

Late spring and early summer proved to be a bit busy for our family. My husband and I were involved in a Sunday evening marriage enrichment course and a Thursday evening discipleship study — long nights for two little boys, lots of homework for Mommy and Daddy, and about twelve weeks of being stretched thinner than usual. Both courses greatly enriched our lives, and we came away from the experiences with a bevy of new friends. Win-win! We were also ready for a break…which led to our laid-back, Shalom-style summer. Lots of rest and peace for this family!

In the weeks since, we’ve kind of sheltered-in-place at home. I’ve been planning and prepping for homeschooling, spending more time in the kitchen, and allowing my mind and heart space to breathe. Nearly two months ago, I permanently deleted my Facebook account…and it has made a world of difference! Motherhood is my current mission and ministry, and I needed to prune away distractions for my own sanity. Over the past several weeks, a handful of people have asked me when I’m coming back to Facebook; I’m so relieved to say, “Never!”

This time has also allowed me to finalize our core values and family mission. Our core values came about when I was listening to a Wild+Free homeschooling podcast. Our goal for homeschooling is to create disciples and life-long learners who marvel at the world and how it works — I chose our core values based on the goals we want to achieve as a family, and the lifestyle I want our children to value. The idea for our family mission was born out of our discipleship group; I got the idea when we were talking about how our lives fit into God’s story, and how he is the author and perfecter of each of our stories. Hopefully, it will keep us mindful of our purpose.

  

The boys and I have started making sourdough bread — they make wonderful messes while learning about fermentation and feeding the starter. Keane is a big fan of burying his hands in the einkorn flour, than flapping his arms like a bird. This has proved to be a patience-building exercise for Mommy! My goal is to stop buying pre-made foods; I want them to value what goes into their bodies and appreciate the baking process. They eat their sourdough bread with almond butter (not yet homemade) and jelly (with dewberries and grapes they helped handpick). Next on the homemaking to-do list: homemade kvass with the leftover bread crusts, and then homemade cocoa almond butter. I’ll attempt these next kitchen adventures in a few weeks…baby steps!

As a former teacher, I’ve no doubt over-prepared for our inaugural homeschooling year. My main struggles will most likely be consistency and balance (things I struggle with in my personal life, as well). Although, I do have the benefit of Asher’s ultra-consistent personality and his passionate tenacity to learn. He’ll keep me on track…probably more than I’d like! I’m so excited to share the adventures of education with my children. It is an honor that God is allowing me to speak truth into their lives, and I do not take this journey lightly.

With the dawn of each new day, I attempt to implement spaces of Sabbath margin. If my heart and mind are intentionally focused on restful Shalom, I find that I’m more patient and peaceful with my family. I’ve traded the fancy brewing machine for a whistling kettle and teapot; I light candles to create a mellow atmosphere; we listen to music throughout the day instead of allowing the TV to be our constant soundtrack. I also scaled back my photography endeavors, which leaves more time at home with my family. Small things tend to make a world of difference in my home. My days have become a beautiful blend of delicious tea, intoxicating candles, calming essential oils, Andrew Peterson, J.J. Heller, Jill Phillips, and Andy Gullahorn. I lack the time and money for spa days and weekend getaways…but I do have the ability to craft a peaceful home.

Along with scripture, I’m working my way through several books by some of my favorite authors: Sally Clarkson, L.R. Knost, and S.D. Smith. Filling my mind and heart with beautiful words written by inspired authors keeps me focused on truth, goodness, and beauty. It’s those very elements that I long to instill in my children. Of course we still endure some crazy, chaotic days, but the foundations of Sabbath and Shalom keep me grounded in the midst of it all.

Simple Pre-K Homeschool

 

We’re a few weeks in to our pre-k homeschooling foray, and things are bumping along quite well. I’ve read more than my share of books and blogs about education (considering the fact that I am a certified teacher), and my favorite aspect of our classical academic path is its simplicity. Ideally, you should be able to educate your child with nothing more than a library card and a stick in the sand. My go-to podcasts and bloggers are Circe Institute and Amongst Lovely Things. Granted, I’m using a bit more than just those two essentials, but I’m sticking with things I already have around the house.

I’ve found that my son and I thrive on a somewhat predictable routine, so I implemented a system that keeps us on track. It has been very helpful to put the reigns in his hands — this gives him ownership and allows him to express a healthy sense of autonomy. Academic responsibility from the get-go! I made a “schedule” so he could choose the order of our daily lessons. (Juggling nap times, laundry, and trying to keep us fed left me a bit inconsistent in our daily school routine.) He gets to add a clothespin (by himself, to work on dexterity) each time we do something new. He loves it!

Learning is most effective when it occurs in a natural, integrated fashion. Today, we read Reptiles and Amphibians by Cynthia O’Brien. I used the book to springboard into phonics, math, and science. The words amphibian, frog, and snake contain blends and digraphs that we’ve been practicing — so I made an effort to point out a few of them as we read. When Asher saw a captivating photo of a green tree python a few pages in, he wanted to learn more about it. A quick Google search revealed that they grow between five and seven feet long; he ran and got the tape measure so we could measure and count the appropriate number of feet. All of this snake trivia eventually led to watching a YouTube video of a ten-year-old girl feeding her snakes (which literally left me nauseous, but I put on my brave face for Asher). We then discussed predators and prey, and I did not sugar-coat the fact that animals eat other animals…even the cute, furry ones.

Generally, I’m not a fan of doing crafts with every lesson, but I try to work something in every now and again. This paper-plate snake took minimal effort on both of our parts, but it provided maximum output. We talked about how reptiles and amphibians use their camouflage as we colored (he’s very much into team efforts), then we recounted that reptiles are cold-blooded; have dry, scaly skin; lay eggs; and breathe air.

With his homemade snake proudly displayed on his easel, he excitedly told Daddy and Papa all about reptiles soon after they walked in the front door this evening. Fair warning to anyone who happens to visit: Asher will enthusiastically maul you with newly-acquired information and boundless energy! All of this homeschooling occurred while little brother napped. After he woke up, we listened to the Song School Latin CD, and watched Preschool Prep’s Digraphs DVD. These CDs and DVDs are by no means essential to pre-k homeschooling efforts, but I use them as life-hacks so I can take care of laundry, clean up the kitchen, and prepare dinner without two children underfoot. Work smarter, not harder!

DIY: School at Home

I’m a simple girl, so it makes sense that my efforts at homeschooling are more stick-in-the-sand than glitter-glam. After perusing Pinterest until my eyes oozed out of my head, I decided that attempting most of those wonderfully fancy projects would turn me into a crazy person. So, I vowed to spend as little money as possible and utilize the resources I already had.

This DIY morning board (as I have so aptly named it) is easy to put together and even easier to use. The easel was a Christmas gift two years ago, the 100-pack of paper plates were in the pantry, the paper calendar was hanging in our bathroom, and the ABC scripture flip-chart had been hanging around the house for a few months. I used three Command adhesive hooks leftover from party decorations, two binder rings leftover from my teaching days, and a lone clothespin from the laundry room. The bingo dotter came from the dollar store, and we use it to mark of the date each morning.

The easel serves as command central for our morning time routine. As soon as Asher is coherent enough to pitter-patter out of the bedroom, he asks to do the date. I point to each part of the calendar as I say, “Today is Monday, June 1st. The year is 2015.” He takes his bingo dotter and dots the current day. Then we count all of the days of the month, pointing to each number. Next, I ask him about the weather, then help him affix the clothespin to whatever picture matches whatever is going on outside. After the date and weather are taken care of, we move on to our ABC scriptures. We focus on memorizing one scripture a week, and we review the previous weeks’ scriptures as we go along. (This is very helpful for me, too!) Considering he’s only three years old, I don’t want to go really in-depth with our morning time. Some days he doesn’t want to count all of the days, so I’m not opposed to letting that slide on occasion.

The magnetic marker board is great for writing practice — we can also flip it over to use the chalkboard side. This past week we learned about mammals, so we dug through his animal magnet collection and put the mammals on the magnet board. Then every couple of days we would review their characteristics. (He loves telling people that all mammals toot…you’ve been warned!)

This simple, stress-free morning board helps us start our day, and serves as a launchpad for whatever else happens to be on the agenda. It puts him in the learning mindset, and he usually asks to practice Latin or do phonics after we finish our little routine. Other days, we sit together in the floor and work on rhyming and counting puzzles. I try to let him lead us based on whatever his little heart desires — this keeps our 3K homeschool time light and fun. I want to keep him excited about academics, as opposed to enforcing a monotonous morning routine.