Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Why

Knowing  “the why” is important for many aspects of our lives to be effective – but none more important than “the why of homeschooling.”  Before you head off and enthusiastically change your dining room to a school room, or dutifully purchase piles of must-have curriculum or before you threaten to put your children on the yellow school bus as you grow weary, figure out your reasons for doing what you do. Rehearsing this on daily basis regarding educating your children really matters.
My W.H.Y. is centered on three things, which conveniently forms the acronym:

W – While They Are Very Young

H – Home

Y – You

“While They Are Very Young” - is a phrase taken from the beloved author of the Winnie The Pooh series – A.A. Milne.  He speaks of a great truth when referring to this important season of childhood. There is a small season, a window of opportunity if you will when your children are very young often referred to in Montessori terms called “the secret of childhood.”  This is the one and only time that is conducive to “homeschooling” years.  The very young child, as observed by Dr. Maria Montessori, has an absorbent mind.  They are formable and are emotionally impressionable.  They are eager to learn and be curious about their world.  They love the adult. They notice small objects. They desire to move in order to learn. They have a great capacity for language acquisition and mathematical interest.
These are called “sensitive periods.”  There is a season and a reason for homeschooling when children are truly receptive. That time is when they are very young.  Take advantage of the time.  Believe me when I say, the days might be long, but the years are short.  The time you capture now will never be within your reach again, so seize the moment. 

Home - is a sweet word that conjures up all the warmth and wonderfulness possible in the human experience.  The world is great but man’s heart is small, so God ordain one place we love most of all – home.  Homeschooling has a wonderful word tucked inside of it – home.  You are creating an essence, a feeling, and an impression.  You are writing your own story and setting the stage of the great narrative of your family story.  Home is the backdrop of your life. A sign hangs in my house - “home is where your story begins”  - and how true that is.  One beautiful reason to homeschool is the fact that your children will truly spend time at home.  Take care to create both indoor and outdoors environment that will be conducive to allowing your children both freedom and responsibility.  Children need plenty of time to tinker – or to “think the unthunk thought”  (Juila Funt).  They also need to have meaningful work that allows them to contribute to the family rhythm of life.  Helping with the meal preparation, cleaning, and organizing are all aspects with which children can and need to engage.  I desired to create a home atmosphere that had both beauty and order.  I took care to arrange my kitchen where my children could help themselves and help others in the process.

You - perhaps the best part of homeschooling is quality and quantity time you are offering your children without skimping. Generously devoting  yourself to their needs.  To this end, present the best version of you.  Your tone, your facial expression, your daily mood, your relationship with your spouse and your Lord, are all laid out before your children.  There are few places to hide. You, in your raw and organic state, is the best gift you can give your family.  The Lord uses this furnace of home to refine us and help us come out like gold.  Giving ourselves fully to our children – only we can do this – is one of the greatest gifts of life.

I was recently with a group of homeschooling heroines – woman who have heeded the call to homeschool their children.  This group, called Connect, served up weekly with warm coffee and even warmer conversation and encourage, has become a source of fuel for the journey.  We all need to know that we are not alone.  After sharing my “WHY” of homeschooling, I asked this group: why do you homeschool?  The answers were as varied and vibrant as the women seated around the table.

“Recovering my childhood” –expressed one mom who was actually homeschooled, or rather “unschooled.”  Left to her own devices, her mother had chosen a self-serve educational experience, leaving this now-grown woman lacking some educational building blocks.  She decided to homeschool to create a different type of homeschool foundation, with rigorous attention to quality literature, art exposure, science journals and studies, and writing accuracy. 

“Sheltering my children’s innocence” – answered another homeschooling mom who felt that world has become too violent, too intense, too demoralizing – and all of us agreed.  Her decision to homeschool was a hope to postpone the assault of a fallen world on her sweet ones as long as possible.  Often the word “sheltering” has a negative connotation.  Interesting concept.  We have no problem with nurturing young plants, pets, or other living organism, giving them a chance to root well, learn good habits, or solidify.  Why would we not have the same approach with young children?  Sheltering them from the inevitable storms of life, for a short vulnerable season is wise and wonderful. 

“Fostering my child’s uniqueness” – knowing the individuality of each child instead of a one-size-fits-all approach was another mom’s “why.”  Her child was a clever one – early reader, eager to devour all information with a seemingly unquenchable appetite for lofty learning.  Her decision to homeschool was spurred by the desire to stay one step ahead of her child’s love for learning rather than sentencing her child to lack luster classroom with only one answer and hands raised one at a time. 

“Developing the spirituality and sibling love among my children” – was yet another mom’s reason for homeschooling.  She wanted to create a home environment that allowed her children to practice spiritual disciplines, habits of healthy giving and forgiving, and working out sibling sharing and sanity.  She was raised in a home where it was almost expected that “kids will fight” and as a result, there was constant tension among her sisters.  She wanted to educate differently, travel with her children, and offer a new perspective on a peaceful home setting.  Homeschooling offered her that opportunity.

So I ask you, reader, why?  Why do you homeschool?  What target have you set up for yourself and what arrows are notched in the bow and ready to be released?  Soul search and find the answer to this important question.  Set up a target and pursue it with all you have.  Know your why.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Babies Don't Keep

Babies Don’t Keep

Mother, oh mother, come shake out your cloth!
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery, blissfully rocking!

Oh, I've grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby, loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew
And out in the yard there's a hullabaloo
But I'm playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren't her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.)

Oh, cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby. Babies don't keep.

Song for a Fifth Child by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton (born in 1921)

I took this lullaby to heart with my three wee-ones. I put down my clock and I flowed with milk-time. I cherished every moment of babyhood knowing all too well how quickly that season goes. This quest for infant-over-indulgence, led me to baby-loving habits that allowed my husband and I to thoroughly savor the memories of that brief time and enjoy the moments with our babies.  

I was in a pregnant-nursing-pregnant cycle from February of 1995 until August 2001. That was 78 months.  We waited five years to have children after we were married and once we started, every time I finished nursing, we found ourselves blessed once again.  However, during that six and a half year season, I often felt like a salmon swimming upstream.  Here in the USA, having babies, holding babies, and helping babies has developed quite a protocol, which skeptically favors the adult and often not the baby. 

As a new mother and a passionate Montessorian, I had developed appreciation for asking the question “what does the child need?”  Answering this question led me to look a bit further into other countries and cultures around the world; digging a bit deeper into a variety of research and opinions that seemed more understanding of basic human tendencies; and a bit farther into learning to parent from the heart, placing the child’s needs above my own.  One of my favorite authors were Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha Sears, R.N.  They were the champions of “attachment parenting” and were strong advocates for the family bedroom, nursing on demand, and non-toxin world for little ones.  In short, only the best for the smallest.  Their books and beliefs resonated with me and became our trusted source in information and encouragement.  A few words about him…

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two“Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his "little patients" call him, is the father of eight children as well as the author of over 30 books on childcare. Dr. Bill is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Dr. Bill received his pediatric training at Harvard Medical School's Children's Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto -- the largest children’s hospital in the world, where he served as associate ward chief of the newborn nursery and associate professor of pediatrics. Dr. Sears is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a fellow of the Royal College of Pediatricians (RCP).Dr. Bill is also a medical and parenting consultant for BabyTalk and Parenting magazines and the pediatrician on the website Parenting.com (http://www.askdrsears.com)”.

All in all, what I not saying is to follow Dr. Sear’s advice wholeheartedly. What I am saying is to follow the Holy Spirit’s prompting to parent from your heart.  There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” parenting standard and each of us should respond to the individual needs of our own babies. Listen.

I know what my babies were saying…

Please hold me

Please sleep with me

Please rock me to sleep

Please talk to me face to face

Please don’t let me cry for long

Please nurse me

Please don’t rush me

I just knew deep down that babies don’t keep and I urge you to “lullaby” all you can.

Enjoy this link to one of my most used lullabies that we know by heart... 
Michael Card's "Sleep Sound In Jesus" Lullaby

Friday, December 29, 2017

Whatever Your Hand Finds To Do...

What will your January be like?
Traveling away from home this January?
Hand In Hand’s Community has a creative approach to educational options in January: either staying home or studying at Hand In Hand.

When we created our homeschool academy in 2002, we created J-Term that allowed families the options to stay at home and enjoy time for unit studies, reading and cocooning.

Will your family be away from home this January? Does your your family like to travel? Some of my sweetest memories are traveling in the month of January to Fort Myers Beach, Florida with my family. Being the first one to spot the sign “Island Towers” as we turned the corner on the narrow beach front road – was the coveted family prize. Eating seafood, picking seashells, and watching pink sunsets were daily delights. Playing “Rook” around the table at night was always memorable with my brother who loved to bid high and often couldn’t deliver!  Often the best parts of vacations, wherever they happen, are the adventure and adversity that a family shares together.
Staying home this January to cocoon?
Or instead of traveling is your family hibernating? I love this term and I think it adequately describes the blustering weather of Minnesota that beckons families to remain indoors, cuddle, relax – and yes, somewhat hibernate.  During this month, remember to focus on your science projects:  allow your children to follow their natural curiosity and research topics on the assigned science subject (either geology, astronomy or meteorology).  Create a project together allowing the children to use various media and creative ideas.  Remember a good science project always has three things: 1) a good question! (what is the science project answering?); 2) name, age, date of the young scientist asking the question; and 3) clear, neat, and creative answers to the question.
The eight years rendered awesome experiences at my home with my three children. Experiences of studying science and making messy projects; cold snow play followed by sipping hot chocolate; reading on the couch with children snuggled up against my shoulder; sleeping in like bears who are hibernating; and most of all character development. Working, playing and praying together with siblings is sometimes the greatest challenge and best reward of the home educating lifestyle. Simply time for “God-talk” and teachable moments make time at home the best.
On the other hand (pun intended), when we created the Private Academy, we created a J-Term at Hand In Hand that has proved to be one the greatest months for our young learners!
For the first time ever in 2011 we had 46 children come for fifteen, fast, fun days of a variety experiences. Miss Elisabeth, our own organic and culinary chef, outdid herself with ethnic snacks, and three course lunches with tasty surprises from Korea, Finland, and the Caribbean. Along with Chinese Bells and Gongs, Mrs. Lee brought the orchestral sounds from Finlandia and the spicy sounds of salsa dancing to life in the Great Hall. Mrs. Baker, our passionate science mentor, helped guide the creative and well-done science projects. The classrooms themselves guided by amazing Lead Teachers and Assistants were buzzing with reports, original art pieces, poster boards, money and measurement games, time and temperature, and engaging story problems. A highlight of that J-Term for me was witnessing 14 HIH (past or present) students, ages 12-15 years, at the Artic Blast Winter Retreat, with hands raised in worship, hugs all around, and a vigorous game of broomball! Beautiful!
Although some staff members have changed from this inaugural year, many remain the same along with the same creative and exciting educational offerings. We look forward to another amazing J-Term with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of travels and field trips.
This January, whether you are at home, away, or at Hand In Hand, may the scripture: “whatever your hand finds to do – do it with all your might” be true for all of us.
Coming to Hand In Hand for J-Term Fun?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Loving This Child

How do I love the Christ Child 
and my own child at the same time?
I was asked to share at my church Mom’s Group on how to love Jesus and mother children at the same time. Is this possible? Does your relationship with Jesus change through the years? How can you continue to strengthen and love Jesus while loving your husband and children?                                Good questions. 

Before I was married, I diligently pursued my relationship with Jesus. There were hours to spend in devotions, worship concerts, the prayer chapel. My thoughts were so devoted to the One. Then, in alarm I read the scripture verse that stated “There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:34 KJV) I wrote in the margin of my Bible an emoji with a shocked face.  Would getting married mean a lessening of my love for Jesus???

I married in 1990 to my best friend and undoubtedly God’s man for my life. From February 1995 until August of 2001, I was either pregnant or nursing, which was about 68 months. Near the end of this 5.6-year, non-stop, very wet, experience, I stole away a few minutes away to be by myself in a local coffee shop.  Just me and Jesus.  Just to remember what a quiet time was like. I opened my Bible … “And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the women took the child, and nursed it” (Exodus 2:9). It was as if Jesus met me in Café Cravings and gave me that edict directly.  I was doing this for Him and great would be the reward.  I have carried that moment with me ever since…loving my family and loving Jesus all at the same time.

LOVE is an action verb and also a state of thinking properly.  Don’t be conformed to the world but rather transformed by the renewing of your minds so you may be able to prove what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God! (Romans 12:2)

Here’s My Weekly Ways to LOVE Jesus by Loving my Family!

L – Lift.  First off, daughters of God and sisters in Christ - the Lord Jesus loves us. We love Him because He first loved us. He is the “lifter of our heads!”  We are His Bride and He adores us.  This must be a settled issue in our hearts.  Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church said that truly knowing God is realizing the difference between DO and DONE.  Two little letters make all the difference. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross settled our redemption once and for all.  It is not about us “doing” anything more.  It is about what was “done” on the cross.

Lift up your eyes.  This word “Lift” is mentioned 270 times in the Bible, almost always in terms of gleaning a new perspective.  Lift your eyes friends and see that Jesus is for you. Psalm 3:3 says “But thou, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the lifter of my head.”
Worshiping with your kids in the car. Bill Johnson from Bethel Church talks about “singing a new song” that ushers in the solution. Find worship music you all can enjoy. Teach your children to sing loudly, make harmony and praise boldly. Worship in church. Raise your hands and they will follow your example. It is a sign of surrender.  They will model what you do. Sara Groves is one of my favorite artists.  She sings the song track of my life.  Her new Hymns Album will breath life, theology and Jesus into your daily situation. Discipline yourself to only listen to uplifting music and inspirational artists.

O – Open.  Second, open your heart to new ideas.  Don’t let the culture, even “Christian culture”, shape your parenting and your relationships with Jesus or others.  The Holy Spirit is working in your spirit to guide you into all truth.  Be open to His unique leading and ways in your life. Deut 28:12 says “The Lord shall open unto thee His good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto the land in his season. Praying throughout the day.  Three meals per day at least we can bow our heads and thank God recognizing that all things come from Him. Thanksgiving for the laundry and the bubbles in the sink as Ann Voskamp suggests. Talk to God while you are doing life and teach your children about God “while you are in the way with them.”

Bath yourself in God’s Word by meditation. Peter Haas from Substance gives a step by step method for mediating. In addition to the the Word, reading both non-fiction and fiction books can increase your faith.  Inspirational books by authors like Karen Kingsbury or Francine Rivers.  Keep you book in your diaper bag or purse.  Sitting at ballet, too long of a line at the bank, pull it out and grab a chapter. It will begin to renew your mind and give you a new perspective.

V – Value. Value and prioritize the right things. God first – means husbands first and children second and everything else third. Valuing the Kingdom looks very different than valuing things of the world.  Just walk down the checkout aisle and check out the magazine covers – that will tell you what we place value on and our focus attention. Yikes! Luke 12:7 says “Even the very hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” How can you start valuing different things?

Attending a small group with your husband.  Growing together. You start and end with your husband -so nuture that relationship. My husband and I were intentional about sitting together in church with kiddos on either side so we don’t get out of practice J Practicing Sabbath. Rest from the things that normally make up your “have to!” day in and day out. Go to church. Find a time that works for you and your family. Make it a priority. 

E – Eternity. Eternal perspective is so important as we live a spiritual life in a natural body.  Life on earth is brief, but Heaven is forever. Our existence on earth is just a vapor, that comes and goes – but our souls and relationships are eternal. Francis Chan and his wife encourage us to look our marriages and family in light of eternal purpose and perspective.  So remember my statement at the beginning about “getting it right? Working it right – so once is enough?” I have now come to believe that eternity is for all the things we can’t get to….we will have a whole eternity to work it out! Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble heart.”

Spending a date night with Jesus.  Time for coffee and quick get-a-way but never at the expense of your family. Journaling and thinking on paper is a great way to “cast your cares on Jesus!” Husbands can be present and you can do this alone, too. There is no better way to get an eternal perspective than to spend time alone with Jesus and His precious Word. The Trinity will meet you there – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and you will go deep into the eternal truths that God has for you.

May this Christmas season bring fresh ideas like newly fallen snow that lands on us gently and allows us to deepen our love for Jesus and others.  We have this one opportunity for life and that is no small thing. Mother Theresa said “we can do no great thing only small things with great love.” May this be said of us.

Artwork by Meredith Thompson 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Crayon Box

Dedicated to my parents, Dr. Olaf Lawrence Bernard Lee and Mrs. Marlena Caroline Testa Lee, both who loved me well and who taught me to think outside of the box and color outside of the lines.

It is one of my earliest memories  - a long, dark stained, rectangular, oak table, child’s height, with two antique school chairs positioned in an inviting way.  The table beckoned to me each time I would pass its strategic location at the bottom of the steps, close to earshot of the kitchen.  The table was adorned with recycled cookie canisters filled with crayons, collected from the various boxes that Crayola had to offer. There were also reams of newsprint paper, calling to me.  This was a place where the majority of my free time would be spent creating art projects as I was growing up.  The table so perfectly sized, the array of colors, the blank pages waiting to be filled became my world.  Here is where my “books” of International Girls from Around the World, and Little Mouse Adventures would be written, edited, and of course, published with staples and a hand-made cover.  My parents would eagerly wait for the new series, and then sit with all the time in the world, reading the penciled words and admiring the stick figures with “ooos” and “aahhs” as if they were holding a book that had won the Caldecott Award.

My parents’ encouragement didn’t stop with art.  There were the “concerts.”  Weekly ones offered in the piano loft, where my mother’s beautiful Steinway was kept.  The concerts always had tickets and a program with at least three pieces from the latest book of Bastien Beginning Piano or Faber and Faber.  My parents would attend with all the patience and courtesy and applaud at all the appropriate times – all the way to my final bow. They never seem to tire of attending nor grow weary with my repeated pieces of “Run Away Pablo”, “The Enchanted River”, or “Circus Maximus.”

I also planned plenty of “church services.”  The most memorable being the evening I secured my father’s very large drafting paper and proceeded to design an orphanage.  I was ten.  I felt certain that, one day, I would build an orphanage in Onslow, Australia someday and needed to create a vision for others and raise money to do so.  When my parents returned from a dinner appointment, I had turned our living room into a church sanctuary rearranging the furniture just so.  The fireplace hearth made the perfect platform and the candlestick was my microphone.  I had push-pinned my plans for the orphanage into the wooded mantle.  I started by church service with a song, accompanying myself with the ukulele.  I then preached a stirring sermon on the needs of poor and Jesus call for everyone to help!  I finished by passing around the offering basket to my parents and younger brother who was also summoned to this momentous occasion. God bless my parents, of course, they gave generously and shared something with my brother so he could help out the cause. 

Time passed but the creativity and ingenuity continued…

When it came time to study art in college, I often would bring home my rudimentary projects with beginner strokes and disproportionate still life drawings. Of course, to my parents, Picasso just walked in the room. They professionally framed almost every one of pieces from Art 101 and made it the focal points in many rooms of our house. 

As for my concerts, I continued to study music through out my high school and college experience studying with experts.  My parents drove me often to Chicago for flute lessons with the editor of Flute Talk Magazine and my private flute teacher.  They felt she best understood me and caused me to “sing and dance” when I was playing my Hanes instrument.  My parents were always there whether I was singing a solo or in an ensemble, playing my flute, or performing in musical theatre, cheering and applauding as my greatest fans. They were there for me in audience when I sang in a choir at Carnegie Hall just a few years ago, beaming down from the balcony.

As for my dreams and ideas - rarely a meal went by without a discussion that involved our next trip or some half-baked idea that just needed a little more time in the oven of ingenuity.  They would take my ideas with such seriousness and attention – always treating it like the next best invention or inspiration.  One of those dreams, drawn on napkin at dinner, was a home-school academy, which eventually would become Hand In Hand Christian Montessori, one of the largest Christian Montessori schools in North America.

And so I named my blog The Crayon Box for a variety of reasons but the deepest one is embedded in the soil of my home environment.  Together my parents created a space that allowed this brown-haired, average girl from Minnesota to believe that she truly could create something, share a song, and make a dream become a reality.  I dedicate more than this one blog to them – I owe them everything and thank them for a colorful life of out-of-the box thinking.  I thank them for simply believing in me….

I ask, who’s in your balcony cheering you on?  Who are you applauding today?? May we all steward well the ones in our care who have tiny, fragile dreams and scratch art to share.   Who can say what those small beginnings will become tomorrow with a bit of belief and abundant love?