Fight this Homeschool Legislation Now!

Representative Stephanie Chang (District 6) has introduced a bill to be decided this Tuesday (April 21, 2015). Her letter requesting co-sponsorship states:

This bill would require that each person who is educating a child at home furnish the school district, at the beginning of each school year, with information about the child being educated. In addition, if a child is being educated at home, the parent or guardian shall ensure that the child meets in person twice a year with a physician, social worker, teacher or school counselor, regulated child care provider, etc.

Ms. Chang cites two severe cases of child abuse leading to death as the reason for her legislation. One is a recent case out of Wayne County involving two children who were dead in a freezer for years and no one noticed them missing, ostensibly because the parent claimed that she homeschooled.

It’s easy to look at a horrific case like this and say, “Something needs to be done!” But, legislating against homeschoolers is not the answer. Here’s why:

  1. The right to oversee and direct the education of children rests with the parent, not the state. I, as their parent, have the right to choose to put my kids in school or to homeschool them. I evaluate that choice for each of my kids. I make changes as I see fit. The state does not and should not have the legal or moral right to require that I notify or answer to them about my child’s education.
  2. It seems like a small thing, asking that we submit a form and have our kids get a physical and meet with a social worker each year, but it transfers the authority to the state from the parent. This legislation shifts the power and sets a precedent for future increased regulation.
  3. Let’s call a spade a spade. The people that Ms. Chang mentions, these horrible, horrible child abusers and murderers, are NOT HOMESCHOOLERS. They lie and say they’re homeschooling. Homeschooling becomes the scapegoat. Why validate the lie of a murderer by harassing and regulating a group of innocent people? The news is full of horrible stories of child abuse and child murder that have absolutely nothing to do with homeschooling. Child abuse is awful. Child abuse needs to be stopped, but regulating homeschooling won’t make any difference.
  1. My son (adopted out of the Michigan foster system) saw a physician regularly and went to day care, and yet somehow the doctor and workers all missed the three broken bones that were in various stages of healing when he came into foster care at four months of age. What Ms. Chang proposes is a band-aid fix. Our foster system is broken. Children are abused with no consequence to the abuser. Children are returned to the abuser over and over and over.

People call CPS because a neighbor lets her kids run barefoot, yet no one calls when they haven’t seen their neighbor kids for years on end? Wayne County, where the kids in the freezer were found, is home to 70% of Michigan’s foster kids, yet my experience with the foster system there was appalling. Legislators, if you want to protect our kids, begin by fixing the foster system and start with Wayne County.

Homeschoolers, believe me when I say that we don’t want caseworkers anywhere near our kids. Three of the ones I’ve worked with have lied in court under oath. We’ve had two great caseworkers; the others were dishonest, uncaring, and at times malicious. We saw false reports filed and policies violated repeatedly. While there are some great individuals, as a group these are not people I want talking to my children.

Legislators, don’t fix what isn’t broken. Homeschoolers are doing a great job. The test results show it. The graduated homeschoolers show it. No regulation is needed for something that is working and working well. Use our tax dollars elsewhere. For example: you could put laws in place to require prosecution and lengthy prison sentences for child abusers. You could introduce legislation to prosecute GALs who don’t do their jobs, or legislation that would allow foster parents to become a party to the case for children in their care. Creating a fair way for cases to be appealed on a child’s behalf, not just on the parent’s, would really do some good, as would better oversight of judges.

Everyone, please contact the state representative for your district before this goes before the Michigan House of Tuesday. You can find your representatives here: http://house.michigan.gov/MHRPublic/

Books for Moms to Befriend

IMG_9480Sometimes homeschooling parents get so busy choosing the best books for our kids that we forget to do the same for ourselves. One of my favorite ways to unwind is a hot bath with a favorite book. This doesn’t always work out well; poor At Home in Mitford has taken at least two dips in the tub.

IMG_9494I walk by my bookshelves and see some of my best friends: the books whose worn covers I touch as I walk by, the ones that bring a smile and demand to be read every year or so. My favorites are all tame and clean. Most are Christian with a moral and open discussion of God and His plans, books in which you learn something new every time you read them. Here, in order, are some of my absolute favorites. Sorry, dads, I’m afraid most of these books will appeal more to the ladies. I’d like to hear which books everyone else enjoys, if you care to comment. What gems am I missing?

(Additional great books by the same author are in parenthesis in the order I rank them.)

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Persuasion) (Don’t waste your time reading Northanger Abbey.) P & P is my absolute favorite book of all time –Elizabeth and Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Lydia –some of the best characters ever written, plus clever banter and satire, not to mention romance.
  2. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol) A little hard to get started, but this is a must read for every high school senior. The messages about making choices and living with them will open discussions. The sarcasm and commentary on English society at the time are biting, funny, and leave you thinking.
  3. IMG_9495All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, and The Lord God Made Them All) I don’t use the words “excellent” and “love” lightly when describing a book, but I absolutely love James Herriot’s excellent, excellent books. Each chapter is a separate story, yet all connect on a common thread. They are sweet, taking you back to a simpler time of small town characters you wish you might have known. The story of Tricky Woo makes me laugh to tears every time. The story of Jim’s friend who has to quit farming and move to the city to work at a factory tears my heart.
  4. The Obsession of Victoria Gracen by Grace Livingston Hill. This book is unlike any of her other works. It lacks the syrupy sweet element so common in books from the beginning of the last century. Victoria Gracen takes in an errant teenage nephew and changes life forever for him and the other “trouble makers” he attracts.
  5. Christy by Catherine Marshall. The story of a young school teacher at a mission in Appalachia. She faces struggles, strange superstitions, and finds love in an unexpected place. I love, love, love this book.
  6. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (These Happy Golden Years) I started reading Laura books in first grade and never stopped.
  7. Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John (Rainbow Garden, Star of Light, The Tanglewood’s Secret) A story of sin, redemption, and forgiveness with a nice twist at the end. It’s really written for kids, so I read it to mine and then assign them to read it a few years later.
  8. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Who doesn’t love a tale of pirates and treasure, mutiny and courage? I mean, skeletons pointing the way? Creepy and cool.
  9. At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. Father Tim and Cynthia, Barnabas and Dooley, Miss Sadie and Absalom Greer. This book has characters you wish you could meet, a good plot line, and inspires you in your relationship with God.
  10. IMG_9492Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. For whatever reason this is the Shakespeare that I laugh over and read again and again. I’m always amazed by how many of Shakespeare’s phrases have slipped into common usage in our society.
  11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I like that doing what is right at any cost is a given for Jane. Authors rarely write like that today. (I can’t believe Charlotte’s sister wrote Wuthering Heights, which I hate.)
  12. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery (Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island) As a kid I skimmed over Anne’s flowery speeches and descriptions. Now I love those parts. Then there’s her deep friendships, her love of Marilla and Matthew, her crazy yet oddly understandable escapades, and of course Gilbert.
  13. Little Women Louisa May Alcott (The Inheritance) Who doesn’t cry when Beth dies?
  14. Pollyanna by Eleanor Hodgman Porter. This book always makes me smile, so much better than the Disney version of the story.
  15. A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton Porter (Girl of the Limberlost and Laddie) She lives, learns and grows with the decisions she makes. She relies on God and herself and becomes strong and fiercely independent.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. An excellent book, this doesn’t make the top list because it is too gripping and violent, which doesn’t lead to relaxation. But, it is a powerful story with a great message.
  2. Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley (I don’t like the sequel) This is the touching and sweet story of a pastor who loses his faith and the family and congregation who help him to find it.
  3. Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark (Weep No More My Lady, All Around the Town) I’ve read all of her books and can’t put them down until I’ve finished, or sneaked a peek at the last few pages. These mysteries aren’t Christian, but Clark is a Catholic, so her books often feature mass or priests, and don’t have racy scenes.
  4. The Client by John Grisham (The litigator, The Runaway Jury, The Last Juror) I like his books. He writes an entertaining, gripping story. He’s a believer, which isn’t blatant in his writing, but I appreciate that he keeps things clean.
  5. The Enchanted Barn by Grace Livingston Hill. ( Lo Michael) These both have a bit of Hill’s more sappy elements, but are still interesting and worth reading. I like the pictures they paint of society at the time.
  6. Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin (Hidden Places) This book features the entwined lives of three generations of women. It deals with making the right choices, even when it’s not what your heart wants. I like that the main character doesn’t have a romance in her story.
  7. Escape by Barbara Delinsky (Coast Road) (Careful with her books. She seems to have begun her career writing trashy romance novels. I was pretty disappointed in her when I stumbled across a plotless book of trashy love scenes and shallow characters.) Escape is the story of a woman who steps out of her life to reevaluate what is really important.

Is it Time to Quit Homeschooling?

Christmas was over. The ceaseless cold set in and once again I dreamed of boarding schools in Switzerland that would take my children until they’re eighteen (or even twenty-one) and send them back as well-mannered functional human beings capable of bringing untold benefits to all of society.

More realistically, as I do every year around that time, I pulled up the websites for local private schools and called the public school for a kindergarten information packet. This year I went so far as to fill out and drop off applications for three of my kids at a local private school, go to an open house, and schedule a meeting with the principal.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but homeschooling can be tedious drudgery. In all the articles that I read telling me I should homeschool, this was never mentioned. I’m tired. I’m worn.  Sometimes I want desperately to quit.

I’m no homeschooling newbie; I’ve been at it for eleven years. But, at times it is so much, too much. It defines my life and the person I am. I feel that homeschooling has eclipsed me. I spend all day with my children but wonder if they even know me.

Am I selfish in wanting to pursue dreams so long on hold? I’ve written four novels and published none. I want to sit in a coffee shop sipping mocha as I edit a manuscript instead of worrying about gaps in my kids’ education.

At my third INCH Convention I went to a session by Christine Field entitled “Is it Time for a Change?” She addressed this very issue: throwing in the towel. One thought stuck with me all these years. Christine said (basically), “As much prayer and soul searching should go into your decision to put your kids back into school as went into your decision to take them out in the first place. If you felt led by God to start homeschooling, you need to wait for the same leading to quit.”

This year more than ever I prayed and sought counsel. My friend Linda Hall said, “His will could be a number of things as long as I’m doing them with a clear conscience and covering them in prayer.  He can bless a multitude of paths if they aren’t contrary to scripture.”

This was very freeing to me. There isn’t just the one right path which I must somehow decipher, but possibly many.

“But,” I told Linda, “I want to follow the BEST path, God’s best plan. I just can’t figure out what it is.”

The homeschooling path is difficult. It’s work. It’s selflessness. It’s deciding to do for the kids instead of for yourself over and over and over, and it’s a path I finally decided to continue to travel.

Why am I going to continue when it would be so much easier to quit?

Because a path being difficult doesn’t make it the wrong path, and the reasons I began homeschooling in the first place still exist:

  • I don’t want to spend eight hours a day missing my kids.
  • I think homeschooling will give my kids the best chance to draw close to God. One day I will be held accountable for the choices I made and how those influenced my children’s hearts for (or against) Him.
  • I want my kids to learn independence, not to follow the crowd. Homeschooling is making that happen.
  • We’re having good results. With two in high school now, we can see that it has actually been working.
  • I like taking vacations during the off season and scheduling appointments during the less busy times.
  • I like my kids having plenty of time to run wild and free. (Though I do wish they would do it with less mess.)
  • I have a lot of great curriculum I’d really like to keep using.
  • My kids take care of each other. I don’t think they’d be as close if they were in school.
  • The other day my seven year old and five year old spent hours playing with my friends’ (homeschooled) fifteen and nine year olds. Meanwhile my sixteen year old and one of their twelve year olds were hanging out in the next room. I love how with homeschoolers age so often is not an issue.
  • My fifteen year old makes me breakfast. He couldn’t do that if I were putting him on a bus every morning.

Anyway, let’s be honest, I’m not really cut out for the school system: the daily commute, packing lunches, and don’t get me started on dress codes. My girls wear an odd array of dress up clothes, leotards, scraps of cloth and blankets every day. I don’t really want them to be stifled into khakis and polo shirts.

Teaching Scripture Memory

The Bible tells us to meditate on His word day and night (Ps 1). That’s easier to do when His word is committed to memory. I want my kids to get Bible verses stuck in their heads the way that everyone gets Frozen’s “Let it Go” stuck in theirs.

Call me paranoid, but I harbor the thought that within my children’s lifetime they might be denied access to a Bible or that openly owning or carrying a Bible might become illegal. I think of Betsy and Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place having only their tiny book of Matthew with which to minister to all those women in the concentration camp. I decided at the very beginning of my parenting career that I want my kids to have as much scripture memorized as possible.

The other day one of my sons was confronted by a friend asking if the Bible says anywhere that Jesus is as much God as the Father is. Without missing a beat my son replied, “Colossians 2:9, For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form.”

Over the years we have memorized hundreds of verses, full chapters of the Bible, and many Psalms. Here’s how we do it:

In teaching my kids scripture, I borrowed the system I use during my personal prayer time. I got a 4 x 6 index card box and placed just one divider in the middle. Whenever I find a verse I want my kids to learn, I write it on a card and put it in the back of the box. Once a verse is memorized I move it to the front. I write the scripture reference on the top left corner of each card and the date we began it on the top right corner. I think it’s neat to look back and realize we’ve known a verse for a year… or a decade.

One September a local printing store had free laminating for educators. I got all of our scripture cards laminated. They are so durable that I’ve paid to have our more recent verses done as well.

We have tried many methods over the years to memorize scripture. Here is what works the best:

  • For short verses: I read the verse, and have the kids repeat it in unison. We do this several times. Next, I have each kid say it alone, beginning with the child with the quickest memory. Then we all say it together. The following day anyone who remembers it gets a small treat. To be sure it’s well learned, we say it each day for a week before moving it to the front of the index card box.
  • For long verses: I read the whole selection every morning for a few days. Before long they just start speaking along. Other times I read it every day, and then we memorize just one verse within it each day.
  • For Psalms: We sometimes make is responsorial. I have the kids repeat the first verse as I read each subsequent verse. This is a really beautiful way to worship, and by the end of the psalm we all have that first verse memorized. Other times I read a verse, they read the next, I read the third, and so on. Then we switch the next day.
  • We often do a lot of these things in the car. We own a Bible CD set. So, if we are working on a long selection or a psalm we’ll listen to it a few times every time we’re in the car. Our CDs are dramatized, so the kids often begin to say the verses with the same inflection as the actors, which is entertaining, if nothing else.

Any system needs occasional refreshing and new ideas. Here are some of the extra things we’ve done:

  • “Bible Scratchout:” This is a very simple game that my kids love. I write the verse on the white board or a piece of paper. The first person reads the whole verse than scratches out (or erases) a word of their choice. The next person reads the verse, supplies the missing word, and crosses out another word. Each turn involves having the verse memorized just a little more, until the final player has to recite the entire verse. They get a prize if they do. Then anyone else who can say it without help gets a prize. Walla! The verse is memorized.
  • I picked up some giant notebook paper at a used curriculum sale for a dollar. I write out a verse or psalm in large print and hang it in an obvious spot, like the wall opposite the toilet. It turns out this is a good conversation starter: guests in our home come out of the loo asking about the verse.
  • When we worked on Deuteronomy chapter six we talked about writing God’s word on the doorframes of our house, as verse nine says. I printed out the verse selection and gave each kid five copies to tape up around the house. There were some funny locations, like the attic, and we lost some wall paint where we left the tape up too long, but we learned those verses.
  • When I was directing a Christmas play for a church group I wrote the narrator’s lines directly from the first two chapters of Luke. Then I cast one of my sons in the role (Don’t worry, he was the most qualified.) As he learned his lines, we all memorized a good deal of those chapters.

It’s easy to memorize things, but more difficult to retain them. We have several ways tokeep verses fresh in our minds by. First of all, we recite two Psalms each day as part of our morning Bible time. We rotate through the ones we’ve learned so that none get too repetitive. For example: We pray Psalm 1 and 4 one day, 16 and 19 the next, 23 and 46, the third, etc…

We also review different shorter verses each day. I pull five verses from the front of the box. I have the kids take turns saying them. Then I put them behind the other verses they know, right in front of the divider, so that the next day’s verses will be different.

We want to our kids see the application of the verses they have memorized in their daily lives. So I say a verse whenever it strikes me as relevant. For example: In watching a sunset or an eclipse I might say, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Ps 19:1) My children do this now, too. If one of the little ones is having trouble sleeping, I might hear an older brother telling her, “I will lie down and sleep in peace for you alone, oh Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Ps 4:8) If the older brother is getting frustrated I might hear, “When you are in your beds search your hearts and be silent!”(Ps 4:4b) instead.

An added benefit of all this scripture memory is that by the time the kids have a verse memorized, so do I. If I want to memorize a verse, I have the kids learn it. I’ll know it by the end.

As a believing mom, I love that moment when I hear a toddler, who can barely put a sentence together, mumbling bits of verses because all of our scripture memory has gotten stuck in his head. Mission accomplished.