Posted in Blog, In the Word, Little Boots

What Shiny Boots Learned at Sunday School

As I sewed a badge on her Awana vest, Shiny Boots proudly showed me the work she had done at Awana last night — a maze leading to Jesus. “You can only go to Jesus if you’re happy, right, Mama?”
“Mmm…” I responded absently. And then I nearly pricked my finger as the meaning of her words filtered through my brain fog. “What?”image

She held up the maze. She had traced a line of smiley faces to Jesus, avoiding the obstacle of the sad faces. “You can only go to Jesus if you’re happy. Not if you’re sad.”

Of course I corrected her, and we had a conversation about God’s unconditional love for us. And how we can go to Him at any time, with all of our sorrows.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

So where did my daughter learn this erroneous bit of doctrine?

At Awana, basically a weekday Sunday School type of program for children.

We don’t put our children in Sunday School, because we believe that the main service is for everyone. A period of listening to Bible stories and colouring bible pictures is no substitute for being within the body of believers on Sunday morning, worshiping and learning alongside their parents and community.

As parents, it is our awesome responsibility to teach our children to know and love God. For this task, children’s bibles and colouring pages are very appropriate. But they are never a substitute for church.

So why, then, do we send our children to Awana? Not for the Bible teaching, which they get at home. We send them because they enjoy it. We send them to make friends and have fellowship with other Christian children. It is not necessary, but fun.

We specifically chose Awana because it largely stays away from doctrinal teaching,  which we prefer to provide for our children ourselves. It focuses on Scripture memorization, in a fun and lively environment. And it provides a gym program where they can run around and have fun with other kids in a Christian environment. We send them not for the teaching, but for the fun.

And of course, there will be times when the message they’ve gleaned is blatantly false, and we will have to do some debriefing. Certainly Shiny Boots’ intelligent and orthodox Awana leader did not explicitly teach the message that Jesus doesn’t want anything to do with the sad or downtrodden. She is a lovely Christian woman who would never have imagined that one of her little charges took away this message.

That said, she does have 8 or 9 other children to tend to, and she can’t be responsible for every heresy that each one soaks into their receptive little mind. She is not ultimately responsible for what my child learns. I am.

When we teach our children at home, we are able to focus on them one on one.  The impediment of shyness does not prevent the child from asking for clarification. Most importantly, the parent knows the child as no teacher could.

The takeaway? If your child is in Sunday School or a similar program, do go over with them what they have learned after each session. You may be surprised at the ideas they have picked up!

Posted in At Homeschool, Blog

12 Reasons to Teach ASL in your Homeschool this Year

1. You will be able to communicate with the Deaf and hearing-impaired.
Did you know that there is a whole Deaf culture right under the very noses (or ears) of the hearing world? It is a true culture, complete with its own language, history, social customs, art, literature, and humour. Go ahead, google Deaf culture and you will scrape the surface of a culture that you didn’t even know existed. Learning American Sign Language is the first step to exploring this world

2. In some areas, it will satisfy the high school foreign-language requirement.

Check the requirements for a high school diploma in your region. In many states, ASL is recognized as a foreign language for this purpose. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Ontario. Click here to sign the petition to have the Ontario Ministry of Education assign ASL course codes for the OSSD.

3. Your kids will have an exclusive secret language.asl

Fun, right? My boys call ASL “American Spy Language.”

4. It trains your brain to work visually and kinesthetically.

Visual and kinesthetic learners will have the easiest time picking up this new language, but it is also a great way to challenge your non-visual, non-kinesthetic learners (like me) to stretch themselves in these areas. I have had to learn to pay close attention to visual stimuli at a much faster pace than I am accustomed to, and my proprioception is also greatly improving. People on the autism spectrum may benefit from this challenge as well.

5. It can help you learn other languages.

I have a smattering of French, but I have never been successful at passing this on to my children. My attempts at immersion met with blank stares and glazed expressions, leading me to switch back to English just to make myself understood. I didn’t have the fluency or vocabulary to keep it up.

Now, I have a foothold for teaching French. I simply teach them the French vocabulary for the signs that they already know. “Donnes-moi tes chaussettes, s’il vous plait,” I say, and then I can slow it down and sign it. It keeps them from giving me that deer-in-headlights look. They understand what I am saying by the signs, but they can keep their brains working in French without mentally switching gears to English. Fluency and automaticity are much more easily acquired when one can prevent the mental translation of the new language into the native language.

6. It’s a Family-Integrated course of study

When we began learning ASL together, we were all at Level Zero. We started out with Baby ASL videos on Youtube, and had a lot of fun practicing and stretching our vocabularies together.

Once everyone starts signing around the house, even Daddy will begin to pick up some signs (whether he intends to or not)!

 7. Your children can “talk” with their mouths full without being gross.

How great is that?

8. It’s a fun way to mix up the normal family dynamics.

My middle, Shiny Boots (4), is our most proficient finger-speller, and is very quick at picking up new signs. She just loves having a subject where she outpaces her big brothers, and it’s great for her confidence. The middle child often needs just that kind of boost.

9. It can help solve the Homeschooling-with-Little-Ones scheduling dilemma

I know what you’re thinking: This sounds great, but I just don’t have time for another subject in my homeschool day. I’m already swamped teaching Bigs and Middles while trying to keep the Littles out of the Math-U-See blocks!

But ASL could actually help you solve the Homeschooling-with-Little-Ones dilemma. Here’s how:

I used to have each of my Bigs “teach” my Littles an arts-and-crafts class to keep them busy, while the other Big had one-on-one instruction. This met with success for some time, but as the novelty wore off, I wore myself out making sure the arts bin was always fully stocked with interesting new dollar-store activities. And that’s not even taking into account the mess they left for me! (My Bigs are really still Middles.)

Sending one of the Bigs to practice ASL with the Littles is another matter entirely. No messy materials, no planning on my part. They simply engage in a fun and top-secret “spy language” conversation.

10. You can tell your children to sit down and be quiet in church without saying a word!

This was a completely-unforeseen perk of learning ASL, but has become one of my favourite benefits. I can tell my child to “turn around, sit down and be quiet” without making a sound. Okay, so maybe you can do that with a Mom-Look. But show me the Mom-Look for , “Pass your brother the blue notebook in the diaper bag, give me the receiving blanket and please don’t drop your Bible on the floor again!” And when you have a small child who is really doing a great job keeping still, you can give some positive reinforcement without whispering yourself: “Good girl, Annie!” If you do family-integrated church, this is priceless.

11. It’s time well spent.

You will learn something that you will never forget — (can you say that about Charlemagne or Champlain? I really hope so, actually. We spent a lot of time on Charlemagne!) And you may even open a door towards an interesting option for career opportunities for your children.

The year that you began learning ASL is a year you will look back on as one which really expanded your family identity. You are creating fun, laughter-filled memories, as you all experience each other in new ways.

12. It doesn’t have to cost a penny. 

We started with Signing Time and My Smart Hands videos on Youtube, and then moved on to Lifeprint courses with Bill Vicars. These are all great resources. Bill Vicars offers a full introductory 15-week course for free on his website.You can really learn a lot without spending a penny on curriculum.

**I am not an affiliate, simply a happy consumer of the material above.**

Posted in Blog, In the Word

Family-Integrated Church

We have to travel a fair way to get to our church. There are nearer churches to our home, but we prefer a family-integrated church, and so we travel for it.

Our church is very small. There are not a lot of other families there, and my children comprise more than half of the entire child population. But the people who do attend are kind and genuine, the sermons are full of good teaching, and we are happy to have found a good church home.

We have made friends in particular with a lovely young mum with a newborn. She comes over and does art classes with my children every week! What a blessing to this craft-challenged homeschooler!

That said, some Sunday mornings it seems just too early to get everyone up for the long drive, and too late in the afternoon when we get home. Yesterday was one of those harder mornings.

But it is always worth it when we arrive… And this week even more so, We were astonished and delighted to see what seemed like swarms of giggling, laughing, children playing together in a common area before the service. My own four children had run ahead of me, and so they were part of the general sea of commotion. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I entered and saw the general atmosphere of happy children.

There was a new family at church! A homeschooling family with six children, ranging from toddler to young teenager.

This family has to travel to get to our church, too. I hope they don’t find it too far. I so much enjoyed having them there — not least for the good model of behaviour they provided for my children.

My children behave well in church for their respective ages: Encyclopedia (7) pays attention and follows along in his Bible; Safari (5) and Shiny (3) read their children’s Bibles and have to be reminded from time to time not to  wiggle; And Busy (20 months) — well, Busy spends most of the service walking or being carried back and forth across the back of the room — she’s still too little to sit quietly in a seat during the whole sermon. Admittedly, it is a lot of work to train them to sit nicely and pay attention in church — but how wonderful to have that family seated in the row behind me, from littles like mine to quite big kids. I was so encouraged to see their model of exactly what I am trying to achieve. Their littles were well-behaved, and their older children were paying careful attention, following along, completely capable of benefiting from the sermon along with their parents. How wonderful to witness and what an encouragement to me in what I am trying to do with my children.

By the way, there are very few family-integrated churches in Canada. An American site provides a listing of 9 churches across Canada:

Mountain View Christian Church Hamilton, Ontario
Grace Covenant Church Beeton, Ontario
Sovereign Grace Family Church Belleville, Ontario
Hill Country Church Cochrane, Alberta
Moosehorn Baptist Church Moosehorn, Manitoba
Ottawa Valley Reformed Baptist Kinburn, Ontario
Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church Timberlea, Nova Scotia
Sovereign Grace OPC Mississauga, Ontario
Family Builder Christian Church Mississauga, Ontario

I know there are more than these. I can think offhand of at least four more churches in Ontario alone (two in Alliston, one in Madoc, one in St. George), but as a rule, a family-integrated congregation is very difficult to find.

But so worth it. In the past, we’ve chosen to keep our family in the service, and we’ve experienced varying amounts  of pressure to put the children in the child care ministries. It is really nice to be at a church which truly welcomes children as a part of the greater community.

Posted in At Homeschool, Blog

Homeschooling With Little Ones Part 2

In my imagination, I am the perfect teacher: knowledgeable, patient, fun.  My children are the perfect students: eager to learn, capable, never have to be told twice. We sit together at our backyard table (for some reason, my idealized homeschool vision always has us outside in perfect weather), and we are joyfully engaged in whole-family learning.
Everyone — even the baby — is hanging avidly to every well-chosen word that drops from my smiling (always smiling) mouth. I give a well-received lecture or reading, and then we act out some major historical event. I am secure in the knowledge that my children will always remember everything we’ve learned, because of all the fun we had learning and acting it out.

In reality, it is never (NEVER) like this. We do homeschool outside sometimes, but the wind blows our papers
022around (somehow, there is no wind in my imagination). In reality, I am juggling the baby on one hip, struggling (and usually failing) to capture the attention of my middles, and never able to go far enough, fast enough for my eldest.

The reality is that it is a real challenge to homeschool with little ones. A grueling battle, engaged in daily — with results that are barely discernable in the day-to-day, but which, over time, really do come to fruition. These are the three most important things that I have discovered over the past few years of homeschooling.

1. Plan for Short Terms

Forget the year plan, the semester plan, and even the term plan. Think shorter. Little ones go through different stages quickly — and 002you need to readjust your schedules and plans accordingly.

The newborn who sleeps and nurses all day actually gives you a lot of time to focus on sit-down school with your bigger ones. Learning to read, for example, can take place cuddled on the couch together while you breastfeed the baby. More active work can be saved for those long naptimes.

But within a couple of months, that newborn has turned into a big baby who may have his own opinion about naptime — and you may find that you need to adjust your schedule around baby. Similarly, there is a time when a toddler begins to take shorter or less consistent naps, and you may need to do some tweaking of the schedule to accommodate this.

Plan for short terms, maybe monthly or bimonthly. It is much less discouraging when you’ve planned to adjust for a change in baby-schedule. If you’ve planned for it, it is not a failure in your schedule, but something you have expected to happen.

2. Plan Classes for Your Big Ones to Teach the Little Ones110907-1427d

Do you have a certain class that’s hard to get done with the little ones around? Perhaps your eldest child really needs some help — and quiet — during Math. Or maybe the middlest needs some extra quiet during spelling. This is a great way to get your older children to help you with the younger — happily!

  • Go to the dollar store and buy all kinds of fun little projects: wooden 3-D puzzles; paint-by-numbers; ceramic figurines and wooden ornaments for painting; little square artist’s canvases; construction paper, markers, glue and a Things To Make book; the messier the better. Choose things that will appeal to your children, things that will be novel, that they haven’t done before — and choose LOTS!
  • Take a big ol’ box and fill it up with all of these treasures. Show the children — but it’s look, don’t touch! The more anticipation you can build up, the better.
  • Tell the children what these treasures are for — it’s for their special time with their big/little brother/sister. Special, one-on-one time. Tell the older child that they will be teaching art class to their little sibling.
  • Schedule a time for each younger child to be kept busy by an older child — your older child will keep the little one busy while you are working on that Math work with your eldest, or tutoring your middlest in spelling.
  • Don’t let this session go on for too long. It has to stay fresh for it to work. Twenty minutes to half an hour, depending on the attention spans of your children.
  • Be sure they are set up outdoors, or in a room where you don’t mind the inevitable paint spills.
  • Keep it fresh — fill up the treasure box regularly, and don’t let your children into it other than during this special art class!

3. Don’t Try to Accomplish too Much

Hudson's first written word -- FED

You need to be flexible in your goal-setting. Homeschooling is most frustrating when you feel that  you aren’t accomplishing what you’ve intended. Sometimes, you just have to adjust those expectations. What is most important for each child? If you get that done, you are getting somewhere, day by day, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

We do Math daily, but the other subjects vary from term to term. Reading is important to keep up with, especially with new readers, but once they are reading independently, you have some more flexibility with how you incorporate it into other subjects.

Attempting perfection only leads to burnout. Decide what’s most important, and stick with that.

What tips do  you have for keeping school going while you have a houseful of little ones? I would love to hear!

Posted in At Homeschool, Blog

Homeschooling with Little Ones Part 1

The question that I hear almost as much as the socialization question is this: How do you manage getting any school done with all those little ones?

In response, I present to you my Real-Life No-Holds-Barred Post-it-Like-it-is Homeschool Schedule*

*this schedule varies from day-to-day so much, that, in fact, it has never yet repeated itself. But it goes something as follows: 

  • Bible, laundry, memory verses.166
  • Change a diaper, feed the baby, make breakfast.
  • Sing some math songs, mediate a dispute or two, do the dishes.
  • A little reading, a little playtime.
  • More laundry, another diaper change, another feeding.
  • Spelling, grammar, kiss a booboo.
  • Make a snack, do a science experiment, and clean it up.
  • Get everybody outside, listen to an audio sermon while you do some housework.
  • Find some pee on the living room floor, and clean it up.
  • Do some detective work to find the child with soiled pants.
  • Clean him up, make lunch, clean it up.
  • Feed the baby, change a diaper, do some fractions, hunt for bugs.
  • Storytime, naptime, rinse and repeat.


Add in some character training, some history, some household chores, and are you exhausted yet?

The most important thing I have learned is that I am not a classroom teacher, and I shouldn’t try to be. School at my house is going to look different from institutional school. It will even look different from school at your house. And that is okay. More than okay, in fact. It is exactly as it should be.

God made us all different, as different as the flowers of the fields, the birds of the air, and the creatures of the seas. He is a God of infinite variety and creativity. He made a world bursting with life and colour, all things bringing glory to Him in their own unique ways. And He saw that it was good.Cragg & Hudson, best buds

God put children in families, not in orphanages. It is part of His design that we are meant to be different from each other. We are different in how we raise our children, and we should be different in how we educate them.

Every homeschool teacher will choose different methods and different materials to suit very different children in different households. So the way in which I manage my day-to-day with little ones is obviously going to be different from the way in which you manage yours.

In answer to the leading question, then, I really just do the best I can to go with the flow of my particular household — and my best advice to you is just to do the best you can to go with the flow of yours.

That said, if you have some practical tips to share in the comments, please do. I will share some that I personally find helpful in my next post.