Monday 30 August 2010

A learning-rich environment

It's a popular question these days, three year old at my side: "So when does he start preschool?"


It has been nearly three years since I first shared my reasons for homeschooling. Most of those reasons remain the same today. Some are no longer as important to me as they once were. Other reasons have been added. Some priorities have been reconsidered, shifted. But throughout those three years, our resolve to homeschool has not wavered in the least.

I did, however, have a moment of panic recently, after reading yet another topic on what curriculum I should buy for my preschooler. Curriculum? Preschooler?? I have a preschooler! Should I be buying a curriculum???

Fortunately, it only lasted a moment. After a few calming breaths and with sanity once again reigning, I was able to remind myself that he's three. If there is anything - anything - that I cannot teach a three year old without the assistance of a full curriculum...well, perhaps I should reconsider homeschooling after all!

It's not as though there is necessarily anything wrong with the choice to use a curriculum, if that seems to be the best fit for one's family. If, for example, I had older kids along with a preschooler who wanted to feel included, I may consider something more structured. Or if homeschooling duties were being shared between the two parents, perhaps a curriculum would ensure a well-rounded education was being provided. Or whatever - I am not questioning the conscious decision to use a curriculum at this level, merely the assumed need for one.

The homeschooling market knows us well. They have a bottom line to look out for, so it behooves them to know their customers. The more they can sell, the better off they are. I don't blame them - they are a business, it's what they do. I just have to regularly remind myself that they are not there to look after my best interests. They are not altruistic simply by virtue of being a homeschooling company, whether secular or Christian-based. They are there, like any other business, to sell their products and make a profit.

My husband, sensible man that he is, is my voice of reason when I start to get lost in the sea of tempting homeschool products.

"Ooh, look at this, do you think this would be a good way to help the three year old learn math?"

" better than a bag of M&M's would be."

He's usually right. I could buy the flashy expensive math manipulatives, sensorial activities, or practical life extensions - or I could simply draw my child alongside me as we go about our daily life. He will learn these things.

In the end, real life is the best teacher. The most authentic. The most lasting.

So no, there will be no curriculum for us this year. Or the next, or the next, or...well, we'll take on a curriculum when (if?) we feel the need for one. In the meantime, I will continue to offer a learning-rich environment and incorporate learning into our everyday lives, rather than sitting down to "do school" at a particular point in the day.

I wanted to share some of the ways we accomplish this, and I'm hoping you'll share your ways too!


We read. Read read read read read. We read aloud, every day, as much as possible. Nothing could be more important for a child's future education.

We aim to read quality books, gradually increasing the complexity of language, with longer stories, fewer pictures, and more advanced vocabulary. We seek stories our child loves and is engaged in.

Letter Recognition, Writing, and Phonics

We provide access to letter-based games and puzzles, a variety of letter manipulatives (such as fridge magnets, card stock cutouts, and paper printables), and good-quality drawing tools (pens, markers, crayons, pencils, paint, and so on).

His current favourite is his "mats", several dry-erase sheets with various tracing activities on, such as shapes, lines, letters, and numbers. He loves to create letters out of toothpicks, chopsticks, straws, noodles - anything that can be formed into the shape of a letter. We try to find letters in unique places, like telephone poles (T), car tires (O), or chairs (L). We talk about the sounds they make as we go about our day. Our library selection always includes at least one alphabet-themed book.

Knowledge Enrichment

Our library selections also include several non-fiction books, whatever he requests on that particular day. I often suggest ones that correspond to a recent field trip or activity - for example, a book on bees after a trip to the honeybee center, a book on animals after a trip to the zoo, or a book on "a year at the farm" after a trip to a working farm. We bring home and read knowledge-rich books that relate to his current interests, questions, and experiences.

Communication Skills and Problem Solving

If we can't find a book that answers the question he has, I assist him in asking the librarian for help. This typically includes a script and encouragement for him, and a translation for the librarian. When purchasing a new book or toy, we talk about the price, hand him the money, and allow him to complete the transaction.

When problems arise throughout the day, we work towards handing ownership over to him. What suggestions does he have for solving this problem? What might the outcome of a particular option be?

Beginning Math Skills

When asked for, say, five marshmallows, I will set three on the counter and ask him how many more I need to make five. If we need to prepare snacks for each of us, I will ask him how many we need for Mommy, Daddy, and two kids. I need three eggs and only have one, how many more do I need to get from the carton? How many more forks do I need for the table? How many more...?

We bake and cook almost daily, which presents a great number of opportunities for counting and introducing math concepts. We count things as we come across them over the normal course of our day - the stairs, the blocks in our tower, the cars we've been playing with. I point out page numbers when we're looking at a table of contents and then flipping to a particular story in a book.

Jars of buttons are ideal for sorting and counting. We categorize everything according to a variety of criteria. Spatial and sequential skills are developed through play with wooden blocks, Lego Duplo, train tracks, puzzles, and marble runs.

Beginning Map Skills

When we're driving anywhere, I have him help me find our way. I tell him our planned route at the start of the trip, and then break it down street-by-street as we drive. "We need to turn left at Clark St. Clark starts with 'C'. Help me find the street sign that starts with 'C'." This helps, naturally, with letter recognition and phonics as well.

We have maps up on his bedroom walls, one of Canada and one of the world. Because we have family, friends, and prior homes spread all across the country, we have many points of reference to talk about.

Fine Motor Skills

Developing fine motor skills prepares his fingers and hand muscles for the physical demands of writing.

In addition to all of the drawing, writing, and painting materials, he draws with sidewalk chalk, plays with playdough, and laces pasta onto bits of yarn. Having access to an easel or other vertical surface (like paper taped to a wall) is great for developing different hand muscles. He gets long stretches of sand play at the park, and he loves water play as he "helps" me wash the dishes or splashes with his baby brother in the bathtub. Scissors are another excellent hand muscle development tool, and even knife skills are beginning to be developed here with the assistance of a butter knife and a pizza cutter. Texture play is also encouraged - running hands through rice, drawing with shaving cream, or hunting for buried "treasure" (small candies) in a container of flour.

Gross Motor Skills

Big muscle movement is also essential. Besides just being outside as much as possible, we have fun with learning new skills such as hopping on one foot, doing jumping jacks, jumping rope, playing hopscotch, and throwing and catching balls of various sizes. He runs, jumps, plays soccer, swings, slides, digs, and climbs. Exploring the natural environment has nearly endless benefits in a multitude of areas.

Computer Use

There are excellent websites out there, such as and Get Ready to, that can be of great use in teaching a child. At this time, however, we have chosen not to make use of those, preferring a more organic approach as well as minimal screen time at this age. Likewise, we have no television in our home, occasionally watching a movie (educational or otherwise) on our computer.

Talk, and Relax!

We talk all day long, about everything. We excitedly point things out, drawing his attention to the wonders of the world around him. We answer endless questions, and when we don't know the answer, we seek it out.

Nothing we do, however, is a formal "time to do this" or "you need to learn this" sort of thing. Because our child is very interested in letters and numbers right now, we provide those sorts of activities and he does them as he wants to, along with the everyday pointing out letters and numbers as we go along. If he wasn't interested, it would not be a concern to me until he was closer to six or seven. There is much to be said for a slower approach to formal education. Those early years of play develop integral skills that will greatly enhance future learning.

Our constant dialog seems to naturally cover the things he needs to be learning at this young age - manners, community, nutrition, health, weather, and so on. He learns how to clean up his messes, take care of his body, and contribute to a functioning household. He learns how to take turns and how to carry on a conversation. He develops a rich creative imagination coupled with self-confidence that will serve him well in future problem solving. He forms an increasingly detailed understanding of how the world around him works.

The more he learns just by living, the more I understand the whole concept behind unschooling. Better to spend the day playing hard in the sunshine than sitting in front of alphabet flash cards.

In what ways do you offer a learning-rich environment and incorporate learning into your everyday lives?

Thursday 26 August 2010

The Heart

Last night I lay in bed, hurting.

Perhaps I am too sensitive.

Perhaps I expect too much from others.

Perhaps I rely too strongly on the approval of others.

Whatever the reason, sometimes harsh words slip through and pierce me to the core.

I struggle internally - do I respond? Engage? Ignore? Give in to the temptation to lash out in kind?

And so I lay there, heart hurting and mind in turmoil, praying for sleep, giving up in the early hours of the morning and seeking refuge on the couch with my Bible. I found comfort in Psalm after Psalm, whispering them aloud to the quiet night. I picked up my Book of Common Prayer and read those old familiar prayers, not needing the book but somehow savouring seeing the words in print nonetheless. I sung the Venite; I prayed the prayer of Confession; I was calmed and comforted.

Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us: But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders; Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults, Restore though them that are penitent, According to they promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord: And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

BCP, page 3

Why does this confessional prayer bring me such comfort, I wonder? Perhaps because it brings my focus back to where it belongs. I am not here to please my fellow man. I am here to love God and to bring glory to Him. I am accountable to Him. I must answer to Him for my every thought, word, and deed. I must continue to grow, to write His Word on my heart, to follow the promptings and guidance of His Holy Spirit. He knows my heart and He loves me. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

There will be those who mock me. Some because they do not know God; others because they do and feel that I fall short.

There will be those who see my faith as misguided at best, a crutch, a comfort in the face of trouble and death, a delusion.

There will be brothers and sisters in Christ who find my beliefs disgusting and disgraceful, even reprehensible, not lining up with their own. I will always be too liberal for some, too conservative for others.

There will be family who do not understand my choices, who feel that my choosing differently than they did constitutes an attack of their own decisions.

There will be acquaintances who do not take the time to get to know me, who judge my shy silence as snobbery and superiority.

And there will be those who love me. Maybe none of us will love perfectly this side of Heaven. I know that I don't. I know that I am wretched and that my help comes from God alone.

I wonder, as these harsh words and aspersions pierce my heart, if I am guilty of the same. I know there is much that I find sad in this world, much that causes me to wonder what has become of our society, what has become of our westernized Christianity, what has become of our communities, what has become of our families and parenting, what has become of so many things. Do I speak out against the wrongs that I witness without that harshness, that cruelty, that venom? Without questioning the sincerity of others? Without tearing others down or mocking their words and beliefs? I pray that I have not been guilty of the same, but I will choose to use this hurt to re-evaluate my own words from this point on.

I must also re-evaluate the power that I allow others to have over me. If I am, as I have said, confident that I am sincerely following God and that I am accountable to Him alone, then why does it hurt me so deeply to have my faith, my character, my decisions, my whatever, questioned by others? It is not their approval that I should be seeking!

And so I learn, and I grow, and as always I find that the Word of God brings comfort and assurance to a hurting heart.

"I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety."

Psalm 4:8

Sunday 22 August 2010


Every day I look forward to Heaven.

But some days I long for it with every fiber of my being.

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."

Revelation 21:4

No more more more sorrow or crying or pain.

No more strife and bitterness.

No more abuse. No more physical abuse, no more emotional abuse, no more spiritual abuse.

No more heartbreak.

No more petty quarrels.

No more tearing others down to puff oneself up.

No more false religions, distorted doctrines, and wolves in sheep's clothing.

No more pride.

No more senseless destruction.

No more self-destruction.

No more hatred.

No more sadness, disappointment, and hurt.

No more sickness and disease, but new bodies, full hearts, and right minds.

No more hunger.

No more tragedy.

No more sin.

No more.

Friday 6 August 2010

Legislating morals and tolerance

A federal judge overturned California's ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, ruling that the voter-approved Proposition 8 violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

I've already written about my views on homosexual marriage. I am a Christian. I believe that homosexual acts are a sin in the eyes of God. And I support homosexual marriage rights.

I believe that laws should not legislate morality, but should protect people from the immoral actions of others, such as theft, assault, and murder. In that regard, I do believe that homosexual civil unions should be allowed. You cannot and should not legislate religious morality. For one thing, a theocracy would be a terrifying thing, and for another, you cannot legislate people into heart-level moral behaviour.

I'm not American myself, and I'm always confused when some of my American friends start going on about America being a "Christian nation". What does that even mean? How can a nation be "Christian"? And do these people honestly want a theocracy in place, as though a) you can legislate people into a saving relationship with Christ and b) trust the government with that sort of power?

It boggles my mind.

There are those who believe homosexual marriage should remain illegal on the grounds that it is a sin in the eyes of God. Should premarital sex be illegal? Should co-habitation be illegal? Granted, we don't license intercourse or habitation arrangements. However, co-habitating couples do, after a period of time, become treated as a "married couple" as far as tax issues, health benefits, medical emergencies, and so on. Homosexual couples have no such rights. If both situations are religiously immoral, why should co-habitating couples have those rights, but homosexual couples should not?

The whole system needs overhaul, you say. Sure. But that doesn't change the reality of what is. Right now homosexual couples cannot have those arrangements that heterosexual married and co-habitating couples can have. That is what this is about. That secular inequality is what people are fighting against. Yes, there is also another level of wanting recognition as a couple in society, and an even further extreme (which I wholeheartedly disagree with) of wanting to legislate "tolerance" even within the church by forcing clergy to marry homosexual couples, but the very basic foundation of this is fueled by those sorts of legal arrangements - property, custody, power of attorney.

Of course marriage is more than that, and at a heart level, a piece of paper really means very little as far as commitment goes. Homosexual couples know this, co-habitating couples know this, married heterosexual couples know this, and Christians know this. Christians take it one step further and make a covenant before God. But when it comes down to the secular side of things, those legal arrangements mean a great deal. Can you imagine having no say in what happens to your partner in a medical emergency? Sinful relationship or not, it must be absolutely heartbreaking.

Allowing homosexual couples to have those secular rights in no way invalidates the holiness of marriage, nor does allowing them to marry, in the legal sense, make it any more likely or unlikely that homosexual acts will occur. It's not as though people are avoiding homosexual relationships because they can't be legally married. The relationships exist either way. Refusing to give homosexual couples "legitimacy" doesn't prevent homosexual relationships. It doesn't prevent homosexual acts. It only prevents homosexual couples from having those same civil rights that married heterosexual and co-habitating couples are already afforded.

There are so many things that are religiously immoral but also legal. You cannot have a Christian society, only Christian individuals, and allowing homosexual couples to be legally recognized as such doesn't change that at all.

But there is an opposite extreme which I want to speak to as well. You should not legislate morality, no, but you should not legislate "tolerance" either. My only concern with allowing homosexual unions is that it would not stop there. There absolutely does appear to be an agenda to require clergy to perform homosexual marriages within the church (or, stated the way those with an agenda present it, to "prohibit discrimination" on the part of clergy), regardless of the clergy member's beliefs. That I vehemently oppose.

You want equal rights under a secular legal system? I'll support you. You want everyone to be forced to approve of your relationship? Too bad. The government does not exist to make everyone "like you". I'm not even just talking about homosexual marriage here. It's an attitude I see all over the place now as far as legal "rights" go. So-and-so doesn't like me, waaaah, make them like me! Such-and-such offends me, waaaah, make it go away! Stop whining. The government upholds your rights, not your desire to be loved and accepted. Some people won't like you. Some people will like you, will love you, but will morally disagree with your lifestyle choices and won't in good conscience be able to perform a marriage ceremony for you. Accept that and find someone who will - goodness knows there are plenty of churches out there now that are perfectly okay doing so.

Personally, I believe civil unions should be permitted between any consenting adults, period. I also believe the church should retain its own separate ability to perform marriage ceremonies for only those they morally support. I believe that those morals should be upheld, and upheld strongly, within the church, but never made into legislation in an attempt to force people into religiously moral behaviour. Civil unions should be the sole property of the state. Marriage, as a religious ceremony, should be the sole property of the church. Civil unions and church marriages should be two entirely separate things, not tied together in any way.

To those who are against homosexual unions for religious reasons: You cannot legislate morals.

To those who believe that all clergy and all churches should be forced to perform a marriage ceremony for anyone who requests it: You cannot legislate tolerance.

You can't force morals. You can't force acceptance. Let the government focus on what it should be doing rather than pushing your own agenda.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

And then there were three

Sometime in September, there will be three little rug rats 'round these parts.

No, the third one won't be ours. Maybe in a year or two, when my nursing-sensitive body decides it's ready again!

The third one is a little baby boy who will be coming to hang out with us for a couple of days each week. I will be caring for him while his mom returns to part-time work. He will be about four months old when he joins us.

I'm really excited about this. I've been keeping my eye out for childcare opportunities for a long time now, waiting for just the right arrangement to come along. This will be really good for us. The baby boy will be just a few months younger than my baby, so it will be fun for them as they get older. My boy adores other kids, so he's looking forward to it too. I feel privileged to be able to provide a safe place for this child. Since it's only part time, we'll still have plenty of time to do our own things on the days he's not with us. And, on a purely selfish note, the bit of extra income will be more than welcome.

My husband will be returning to school in the fall. The last school year ended mid-May for him, and he has been unable to find summer work since. This was definitely not something our budget had in mind. He does have part time work lined up for the fall, which will help, but unfortunately we're likely looking at student loans now. I'm not happy about it, but it is what it is. Nevertheless, we intend to use as little of the loans as we possibly can, so the extra childcare income will be, as I said, more than welcome. It was good news indeed when she contacted me after the initial interview to say that yes, she would love for us to care for her son in the fall. Praise God for His unfailing provision.

On the other hand, things could be interesting around here! Two babies and a rambunctious preschooler - oh boy. Still, two days a week will be a nice way to ease us into things, and if I need to accept another child or two at some point in the future, so be it.

In the meantime, we're looking forward to getting to know this little baby and welcoming him into our family each week. I know how difficult it must be to leave your child in the arms of a stranger for the day - I can't imagine having to do it myself - and I am grateful for the opportunity to provide this child with a safe and nurturing place to grow.

Monday 2 August 2010

Evidence of summer

Sandy feet...
...and everything else.
Eating raspberry yogurt popsicles... bare feet.
Or eating wood chips instead.
Sitting in the sunshine, sipping honey milk iced tea.
Taking long walks. Often.
Sidewalk chalk...
...and skinned knees.
Hope your summer is going as wonderfully as ours!