Learning through Play

The idea of young children “learning through play” has always been a favorite of mine. And while our older children typically fall into textbooks and other methods of rote learning, I encourage learning through play a great deal in the children’s early years. It is easy to catch them playing house, taking care of baby dolls, “churching,” mimicking the use of tools, and pretending any number of things. As they go, they learn naturally how things work, and it is easy to “scaffold” their learning: introducing a new skill, word, or idea with an added prop, a short conversation, or follow-up book or activity.

My baby and her baby

I suppose I am not the only parent who has watched with tenderness as a little girl wraps her baby doll and pats it to sleep with a soft lullaby. Yet the same child may later comfort her baby’s crying for a time and then snap, “Oh, be quiet!” and put it down in its bed with a frustrated sigh.

Or, a little boy’s dramatic play involves picking up a rectangular wooden block and putting it to his ear: “Hello?” “I’m fine, how are you?” And then he sits down on the couch and punches some buttons on his “phone” and “scrolls” with his finger as he gazes at the imaginary screen with interest.

Over the years, I have paid close attention to my Littles’ dramatic play and asked myself, “What are they learning?” Because their play is, to a great extent, the processing of real life. What they pick up at a young age may be what they repeat when they have children of their own. The occasions of seeing my children become absorbed in a block “phone” have been few and far between, but when I see it I know I have not been the best example in that area and it prompts me to be a little more disciplined. When a young “mother” becomes frustrated with her crying baby, I know that I need to pray and practice having a gentler and quieter spirit.

I can get a good idea of the tone of our home, what kinds of words and expressions are commonly used, and how things are going in inter-personal relationships just by quietly observing my children about their play. And if I see that their behavior could use some positive encouragement, their play time is a good time for that training: “Oh, your poor baby will be so sad if you are frustrated with her! I know it’s hard, but let’s try something else to make her stop crying.”

Also on the subject of learning through play, I have found (since being in Kenya) that many toys can be successfully eliminated in this process. While my older girls once had a plastic kitchen play set, my pre-school daughter now uses my real pots and pans and whatever else she can acquire, and sets up a temporary “kitchen” in her bed or a corner of the living room. If she’s outside, she will use old aluminum cans, discarded plastic containers, and sticks. I don’t think she’s missed out on much; in fact, I think the added creativity has been a benefit to her.

It seems that “simplifying” or “minimizing” is growing in popularity these days, and it’s definitely something that we can use to our benefit when it comes to our children and their playthings. Not only does having fewer things help them to be more creative, but it can teach them contentment and thankfulness for what they do have.

Family Happenings

Yes, we’re still here…just haven’t made time to blog. And I find that once I’ve been away from this space for a while, it’s hard to know how to get back into it. So I’ll just jump in with a few things by way of update.

We’ve been busy on the mission front, as usual, and hope to begin  updating the Kingdom Driven Ministries blog more regularly. If you hop on over there, you’ll see that we recently hosted a regional women’s meeting that was a real blessing, and we separated our overly-large home fellowship into three smaller congregations. (Exciting!)

We’ve leased a property a few kilometers from our current home, which is eventually going to house some livestock (cows, chickens, rabbits) as well as  additional crops (bananas, maize, and I don’t know what else). Milk and eggs are often hard to come by and a little more meat in our diet is not a bad thing. The property will also be used in various ways to benefit the brothers in our local fellowships.  We were  able to enjoy a little more family time than usual at year’s end, which was very nice, so Marc and the boys built some nest boxes and a rabbit hutch for use at the new place.

My intermittent frustrations with homeschooling here in Kenya are no big secret, though things have gotten somewhat better this academic year. I still haven’t seemed to consistently find time for Circle Time, especially for my Littles…and there are definitely things I want to work on in terms of both spiritual instruction and practical training.

2015-01-21 11.37.35For a number of reasons, during this week I asked my oldest daughter, Rebekah (who will be 12 on Friday), if she wanted to take the week off of school and be my “Mother’s Helper.” On Monday she helped me move around the furniture in our sitting room/dining area. Yesterday, I asked Rebekah to do a short Circle Time with the Little ones, and she did such a good job that we talked about making it a more permanent daily arrangement. We have the rest of the week to see how she (and they) like it. Meanwhile, having a consistent second hand to assist with home management and homeschooling has been a real blessing to me…maybe that’s why I have finally found time to sit down and blog. 🙂

Random Thoughts on Children and Chores

Last week I received an email from a friend who expressed some concerns about her 12 year-old son’s laziness and lack of desire to help with work around the house, and asked for my advice. In her comments, she said, “I get concerned because he doesn’t want to go that extra mile. He doesn’t even want to go the first mile!” I sent her an unexpectedly long response with my thoughts on the topic of children and chores. Figured it would make a good blog post, since the blog muse rarely hits any more and, when it does, time to write is often elusive. So here goes…


I was chuckling reading your question, as I have often found myself saying to various children at different times, “Never mind going the extra mile–you’re not even going the first one!” I think it’s just human nature to be lazy and unfortunately, it’s our job as parents to conform those tendencies into something useful. Some of my children are good workers and look for ways to help/things to do, others will do anything upon request but rarely voluntarily, and then there are those who grumble through the most basic chores, as if it were the end of the world. (Of course, sometimes all the kids show these various character traits at various times.) We try to teach frequently about the value of work/the importance of diligence (either family devotional times or my time with the kids during the day/homeschooling, etc.) and at a time when they’re not being defensive/rebellious and feeling like I’m correcting them because they’re NOT doing what they should. As for correction when needed, it depends on the situation/reason.

If they’re not working due to a bad attitude, I do try to be encouraging rather than just corrective (“I know you want to do your project rather than what I’m asking, and I’m sorry. But we all need to do our part and serve one another. Try to do it cheerfully as unto the Lord, and you’ll find that you can back to what you were doing pretty quickly.”) Then I tend to leave them alone and let them have a bad attitude if they want to. It surprises me the number of times my encouragement leads to (eventual) repentance over the bad attitude towards work.

If it’s an ongoing problem with laziness, I tend to be a little more firm. (“It’s my job to prepare you for adulthood and if you don’t learn to work you will not be able to provide for yourself, never mind for a family if you should have one. That would be shameful, as our witness to others often comes from our example in working hard with our hands–1 Thessalonians 4:10. So you’ll have to learn to do the job and do it well. I expect you to do your work in good time and do it thoroughly, or you can expect some spankings.” Sometimes the admonition is enough (though the work might then get done with a less-than-stellar attitude) but other times they do need that spanking. If not a spanking, definitely consequences (such as other chores to complete so that they can “practice” working hard!).

Of course, sometimes even my best workers “don’t feel like it,” and I understand that because occasionally I feel the same way. In that case, I usually pitch in and lend a hand, as “many hands make light work.”  I usually find that the example helps and they often get right back to working cheerfully and I even find them “going the extra mile.”

In all cases, I try to model hard work for my kids and almost always refuse to ask them to do anything in terms of work if I am not also working alongside of them (if not on the same task, at least *something.*) Then if they are complaining or not wanting to do a job, I can gently remind them that we ALL have a responsibility to pitch in and they are not being asked to do something that others are not also doing. Sometimes the team mentality helps to encourage. Exceptions are if someone is sick or unable to work (even me!), in which case everyone is encouraged to pitch in and serve to help out for those who are unable.

Though it is hard and I sometimes am too distracted/busy, I do try to check all the children’s work as they finish. Anything that is not done well gets a verbal correction or  “reminder” for what to do differently or better next time. If the job quality is really unacceptable (standards vary according to age an ability) and I think it’s because of laziness/desire to get back to playing or personal projects, I have them re-do the job and sometimes even follow-up with an additional task “because they obviously need practice with how to work hard and do an acceptable job.” This usually keeps things running smoothly.


It helps to have times devoted to work when everyone knows that they will have responsibilities, but as you said there are inevitable times when other things need to get done. Don’t be too discouraged about what you perceive as a character deficiency. Just keep on teaching in a positive manner and correcting when needed.

Some questions to ask yourself/things to consider…these are ways that I self-evaluate, which may or may not be applicable in your situation:

–are you investing in your relationships with your kids so that they feel valued and loved  by you, and not just that they are appreciated by you for the work that they do?

–Are you modeling cheerful labor and encouraging a positive attitude in various ways, rather than making household jobs seem burdensome?

–Are you encouraging good work and helping the children see the benefit and blessing of what they do, instead of only correcting problems when they arise?

–Are you being realistic in your standards in regard to quality of work and ability in doing various jobs?

–Boys really are different than girls. I find that I am asking my boys to participate less and less in kitchen work (especially dishes) BUT they are the ones who do the shopping, which is a big responsibility…My oldest son is the plumbing and electrical “go-to” and he often does repairs to bikes and other things around the house, so I think that’s a “fair trade” in releasing him from more of the mundane household tasks. My next-oldest boy is not as mechanically inclined as his brother, but he does enjoy cooking so I’m trying to teach him more in the kitchen (still need to devote more time to that) and he willingly takes care of the animals and works in the garden. So, does your son have work that he prefers, which you can delegate to him “in exchange” for other people doing tasks that he doesn’t like so much? Not that this is always possible, and I think all children need to have proficiency most things. Not to mention, often in life we must do things we don’t “prefer,” and that’s a good lesson for children to learn–even my oldest does dishes from time to time!–BUT, in the short-term sometimes it does help attitudes about work if one can take a break from chores that are particularly burdensome.

–Generally speaking, do you have regular and expected times for chores to be done? We almost always do “wake-up jobs,” something small after breakfast and family devotions (breakfast dishes, quick clean-up to make the house presentable, etc.), and then afternoon jobs (supper prep, clean-up from the day’s activities, bringing in the laundry, etc.) If the children know to expect this, they are less inclined to feel frustrated about projects/play time interrupted, etc. Of course if you always felt that what you were doing was being interrupted, you wouldn’t like it either. If you are asking for an “unexpected” job to be done, a “five minute warning” if they’re in the middle of something is usually appreciated and makes the work less offensive. And although I do expect children to obey a request “just because” and not always need to know “why,” they certainly respond much better to those big or unexpected jobs if you can provide some reasoning and encouragement. (“I know weeding the garden is a big job, but those weeds are going to be flowering if we don’t take care of them and that will give us even MORE to keep up with! We’ll all work together and try to make it easier for everyone.”)

–Do the children have a good balance between school, chores, and personal free time? Of course we are preparing our children for a lifetime of work, but they are children, after all. At age 12, your son should be investing perhaps 3-4 hours in “school” (I find that my older children can complete all their assignments in that amount or less *IF* they are being diligent…which sometimes they are NOT). Then, a roughly equivalent amount of time in actual work, if you have enough for him to do (indoors, outdoors, or in serving others in some way). Of course you have family times where you do various things, and meal times, but that should still give him a good couple of hours of personal/free time during the day. Of course, it’s important to intersperse work with appropriate short breaks, etc. For example, even though our mornings are devoted to “school” (roughly 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM), I tell the kids that they should do their math or language arts first, then they can have a 10-15 minute break. After that, they get the the other primary assignment done and move on to whatever is scheduled for “electives.”  If we’re working on a long job (like harvesting maize/beans or weeding the garden or our Saturday whole-house cleaning), we usually work for 30-45 minutes then take a 10 minute break. Sometimes a cup of juice or a small snack goes a long way. 🙂

I admit, I used to be a bit more of a “drill sergeant” in regards to the children’s work…I think I have become much more gracious in how I ask the children to do things, more realistic in my expectations, and a lot more encouraging of sincere effort, as well as more instructive in taking advantage of “teachable moments.” I have definitely seen that my approach and attitude affects a lot in terms of how the children respond. It is true that they choose their own attitude…but if they “choose” a bad one, I can either exacerbate it or reduce it by how I respond. This has become more than obvious throughout my oldest son’s early teenage years.Re: boys-turning-into-young men…which your son is… they definitely don’t like to be tied to Mama’s apron strings (*wink*). So, is your son spending good time with his Dad? Does Dad give him jobs to do so that he can feel like he is contributing in a “manly” way to the household? In addition to the things you are asking him to do, is he learning practical skills that will help him feel productive/grown up? (I’m not meaning for this to sound sexist, which it might…but boys and girls are definitely different and I think it is important to acknowledge that in our parenting.)  I struggle with this a little more with my second son than I did with the first, as my oldest has always wanted to do the things his Dad does and has just has a mind/aptitude for various skills, which his brother has little interest in and aptitude for. However, I’m not too worried about it. I’m keeping focused on the primary thing (“seek first the Kingdom of God!”) and I figure the future will unfold itself. He generally has a cheerful attitude about work, and although he doesn’t have a penchant for manual labor (particularly things like weeding the garden), I do find that he is particularly meticulous in his work, which I try to encourage and compliment. If the two boys are “sharing” garden weeding, the oldest gets twice as much done in half the time (to his brother’s frustration), BUT the younger one does a much more thorough job, whereas his brother just “gets the job done.”

Whatever the issues are, remember that you can only do your part in training, encouraging, and disciplining, and there is much that you have to leave to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. There is seed time and harvest, and we are given our children for 18-ish years for a good reason…they need that long and that much ongoing work on our part.  And as you know by now, each one his his/her strengths and weaknesses, so we need to encourage the strengths and work on the weaknesses, without expecting that everyone will be of the same ability/personality, etc. For example, one of my daughters, at only age 9, is a VERY capable household helper. She knows what generally needs to be done and jumps in to help. She can prepare complete meals on her own and willingly does so. In fact, if she is “bored,” she typically looks for work to do. Since her personality is somewhat like mine and I definitely appreciate her help, it is easy for me to encourage her, but I find that it somewhat embitters her older sister (age 11) when she gets too much complimenting (from me or others). My oldest daughter just doesn’t have that mind or that work ethic in regard to many of the household tasks (though she generally does whatever she is “asked” to do and does it fairly well) BUT she is an excellent seamstress-in-training, a great artist and storyteller, and generally very creative–all gifts which I know the Lord will use in His special way.


I hope you have been encouraged, or perhaps challenged, by these random thoughts on children and chores. Feel free to add your own thoughts (or questions) in comments!

Some of us are Normal

I know that many people don’t “get” homeschooling. We’re not a majority, so it seems we constantly have to prove ourselves. I’ve been guilty of singing the praises of homeschooling, while minimizing the difficulties, occasional blunders, and frequent uncertainties. But I still cringe when I read news articles and blogs talking about how homeschoolers out-perform their public school counterparts on tests of all kinds. And what about those who play musical instruments practically from the womb, or shine like stars in the universe as they go out boldly into the community and earn friends of all ages for themselves?

Certainly, many homeschoolers excel in this nurturing environment and are able to develop in their personal giftings to an extent that they could not in a public school environment. Many are also well-socialized, despite the stereotypes that try to portray otherwise. I’m happy for them, but what if some of us homeschoolers are just…normal? (Like many public-schooled children are…normal.) After years of homeschooling, and speaking on the homeschool circuit for several years, I can honestly say that many homeschoolers probably feel that they have to justify their methods and “results” to fellow homeschoolers more than they do to outside critics.

Our oldest son gets a lot of attention here in Africa. He’s just shy of 15, but he can repair phones, do electrical and plumbing work, fix motorbikes, and more. He’s always been more comfortable around adults than other children. Probably part and parcel of being the oldest child who got the most focused attention. That, and his particular personality and intelligence. I wouldn’t say that he can do what he does *just* because we homeschool. Truth is, we homeschool seven other children as well, and the others don’t show these same aptitudes and abilities. Does that mean our homeschooling is not successful? NO. It just means that God made each of our children differently and has individual plans for their lives.

None of our children play a musical instrument (except one, who is self-taught and  picks up the guitar only occasionally). Some can barely hold a note in song. While a couple of them are interested in art and pretty good at drawing, we haven’t really done much to hone those skills. Our oldest girls can cook and sew, but only to a certain level of functionality. You won’t find them whipping up four-course meals or sewing Victorian-era dresses; instead, they’re making spaghetti with an awesome homemade sauce and attacking our never-ending mending pile. We’re living in a foreign country and trying to learn a second language, but it’s been a slow and not very pleasant process over all. One of the kids loves animals and would spend all day catching critters and learning about them, but confesses that he doesn’t see much career opportunity in doing so.

And when it comes to that socialization? Some of the kids are pretty good at it, and others are still “works in progress.” However, I don’t think that’s based on the fact that we homeschool, but rather is largely a function of personality. Would they do better in public school? I think it would be detrimental to their progress in social development, rather than helpful. Instead, homeschooling allows me to see areas where my children need to grow, and enables me to work those lessons into daily life. It’s a slow-and-steady process, but we persevere.

As an aside, I also cringe when I read or hear teachings about how the teenage years are (or should be) a “myth” for the Christian homeschooler. We’re going to have two teenagers in our family all too soon, and I can tell you that growth spurts (and the accompanying tiredness), hormones, and emotions at this age are all too real. Many Christian parents have done their very best through this stage and have “lost” their children to the world. I don’t think we need any more guilt (albeit well-meaning) as we navigate this already-difficult phase of life.

In the final analysis, our homeschooling family is pretty average. However, we’re not after academic success or worldly accolades. Ultimately, we want to raise children who love God with all their hearts and who love their neighbors as themselves.  But even in their spiritual growth, our children are probably pretty “normal” for their various ages and stages. Some are not regenerated, and we’re just trying to teach them habits of obedience and good behavior. Others are seeking to please God but occasionally struggle with the flesh and have questions about what we’ve taught them and try to live out. I don’t know how our journey is going to end, but I trust God. And I’m okay with being pretty normal.

The Ugly Consequences of Sin

Our twelve year-old has always loved animals. Every time I upload photos from the camera, I laugh at how many pictures like this unexpectedly show up:


It means that Jonah has snuck the camera away to photograph one of his latest “finds.” I’ve been surprised by chameleons, snakes, box turtles, butterflies, snails, and more at various times over the past few years.

When we moved to Africa, one of hardest things for Jonah was giving up his beloved hamster. He’s wanted a pet and the family cats don’t count because they belong to everyone. He wanted something cute and cuddly all his own, and though chameleons abound here and they’re fun to play with, they’re not exactly what he was looking for.

Then, just the other day, our neighbor’s boy showed up with something unexpected: a wild rabbit he’d caught. Somehow he knew that the wazungu house was the right place to try for a sale. I summoned Jonah to the door.

He wanted 250 shillings (about $3). We’d paid only 100 shillings each for our domestic rabbits and I whispered to Jonah that he really should negotiate aggressively on the price. But he was already in love, and I think our neighbor knew it. Jonah tried to offer 200, and he was refused. Back to his room he went to get the money.

Since it was evening, we made sleeping arrangements for the new bunny, quickly named “Sungura” (which means rabbit in Swahili, since Jonah didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl). By morning, it hadn’t eaten any of the greens that Jo had collected for him, so Jonah fed him baby formula from a syringe every couple of hours and the rabbit never left his side–even while he was doing his school work. Jonah was tickled that the rabbit continually licked his face and neck, and when Jonah would move away from the rabbit on the couch, it would quickly move over and snuggle to his side. Finally, the perfect pet! Just what he’d always wanted.

That evening, Jonah typed out an email to family in America and of course, told them about Sungura. We had just finished supper, so I told the kids they could go outside to play. I glanced over the email, clicked “send,” and looked at my inbox. Suddenly I heard loud voices outside and so I got up to see what was the matter. Before I got to the door, Jonah was inside. He had composed himself while in the yard, but as soon as he made it to the privacy of the living room, he erupted in sobs.

Through his tears, the story came out: he’d brought Sungura out to play in the great outdoors. Of course, all his siblings were excited to see the rabbit run around. One (who shall remain nameless), started chasing the tiny rabbit. Jonah yelled, “Stop! Don’t do that!,” knowing that his sibling might inadvertently step on the creature. His sibling didn’t listen, despite several warnings. Suddenly, a foot met the unfortunate rabbit’s neck. Blood immediately spurted from its nose. I ran outside to see what could be done, but it was, of course, too late and too serious.

The sibling was disciplined, and we all cried. It was an “accident”…but it wasn’t. This particular child has struggled to respect the word of older brothers and sisters lately. When corrected by them, this child has been obstinate about NOT listening and NOT following their direction. The rebellion has been obvious to everyone. It has been corrected by parents and siblings alike, and we’ve also tried to teach through the Word of God the importance of listening to wise counsel, obeying older siblings in the absence of Mom and Dad, and so on. To no avail.

If it had been an unfortunate accident, there would have been no punishment. But it wasn’t. It was sin. And this time, there were consequences. Unfortunately, it was not to the child only but to a beloved brother.

It was  a quiet and sad evening in the Carrier home. But we had some good conversation as a result. The brother forgave and his sibling repented. I know it is for God’s glory and our good.

But the boy still misses his bunny. He’s still a little sad. And things are still a little quiet as we all process the sadness of this circumstance and meditate upon the ugly consequences of sin.


“What you can’t do, God can”

She wakes up early and comes to snuggle under my blanket while I read my Bible on the Kindle.

I lay down in her bed and tickle her; she giggles and tells me, “Mom, you’re my best girl!”


Now that so many of my children are getting older, I miss these times with them. I wish that connecting with them was still this easy. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with maintaining relationships with all eight of them, and I wonder if what I’m doing is enough. Life is so busy, our house so loud, and private times with each one so hard to come by.

I suppose all of us mothers feel this way from time to time, regardless of how many children we have or what our life’s circumstances are. I keep reminding myself of a word of encouragement that I received at a church service one Sunday evening. I think we had five children at the time and I had bundled them all up and taken them to this special service (I don’t remember where Marc was at the time, but I think he was traveling for work). I was hesitant, as I wasn’t sure they would all behave–especially as the evening got into bed time. I did end up having to leave early, just as the prayer time was beginning. I tried to be unobtrusive as I made my way to the door, but I remember (to my embarrassment) that the speaker stopped in the middle of whatever he was saying to address me before I made my hasty exit. He blessed my family and spoke some words that I don’t remember, but here’s what stuck with me:

“You’re not Super Woman.

You’re not a super wife.

You’re not a super mother.

But what you can’t do, God can.”

And I trust in that…every day. I strive to please and glorify God, but I know that I fail in more ways than I realize. Maybe I’m not in “sin,” but I know I could do better…invest more…be less self-focused, sometimes. This is especially true in the important area of relationships. I wish there was more of me to go around. But I pray that as I do my part, God would do His. That He would fill in the gaps and do something more with my sometimes inadequate attempts at mothering.

Yesterday, I was reading First Timothy and pondered the qualifications for widows (1 Timothy 5:9-11). She must have a “reputation for good works,” the first among those being “if she has brought up children.” This work we are doing…it is a good work, and done faithfully, it brings great reward. So let us press on, even when we cannot do so with perfection. Let us trust in God that He will be faithful to bring our efforts to completion.

The School Year Begins!

This week, we were officially “back to school.” I admit to feeling woefully unprepared; I haven’t re-visited my scope-and-sequence for each of the children to refresh myself and provide necessary direction, which is something I’ve faithfully done in previous years. I haven’t reviewed “daily responsibilities” with the children to help things go smoother. And we haven’t been having a daily Circle Time or training times except for a handful of days since coming to Africa. I miss that terribly and know what a great difference it makes in the overall scheme of things. But honestly, the burden of daily work has just made it impractical for all of us to get on the same page and sit down together as I would like. The best time has been afternoon, but inevitably when I think “Wow, we can have Circle Time or do a little bit of training!”…the afternoon rains are upon us and it’s so loud in our tin-roofed house that all we can do is sit down and look at each other. The person next to you can barely hear you, even if you’re yelling. But, it sure makes a good time for each of the kids to sit down with a book (which everyone also enjoys).

In our first five days of schooling, we actually only did three complete days. Life kinda got in the way. We ended up harvesting and canning our carrots one day (21 quarts plus a bunch fresh, which will last a while!). That day, we managed a half-day of school in addition to the extra work. Marc and I went to town another day, and the kids under Isaiah’s supervision did well in managing the day’s work and food needs, as well as taking good care of the baby, but only did a half day of schooling in the process.

On Friday, after not having cleaned my kitchen floor in two weeks and having that on my to-do list (and needing to wash the dining area/sitting room floors as well) PLUS having an extra-large load of wash to do, I was sure that trying to get all that done AND a full days’ school was pretty unrealistic…but I was pleasantly surprised. Jonah cleared out the sitting room and swept, then Deborah followed up with water and squeegee. I set aside my laundry for a quick quality-control check, and then they got to their books. Everyone else had other jobs to do, which took some time, but they got done and got to their schooling as well. And the baby was happy to sit in his stroller while I did wash, instead of wandering around looking for trouble as usual.

Recently, we’ve been having some issues with faithfulness (the children doing as asked, particularly while I am outside focusing on the daily wash)…they know I’m not really paying attention and you know what the Bible says about children left to themselves bringing their mother to shame? It’s true! Well, on Friday I was certainly distracted with my daily work but pleased to see a change in the “norm,” with all the kids inside staying on-task. The difference? I suddenly realized that Marc was unexpectedly HOME, and although he was trying to rest and ended up reading a book in bed…HE WAS HOME. The kids knew it. They got their stuff done! And even had a little time to enjoy the new swing set before lunch. Granted, lunch was a bit late as I finished up the laundry and squeegeed the kitchen floor…but everyone agreed that it was both a productive and enjoyable morning. And in the end, a full day of schooling was accomplished! God is good.

Isaiah (our oldest, age 13 and in 8th grade) has decided that he wants to be a missionary bush pilot and has been focusing a lot in that direction. There is a flight school in Nairobi, which he can enroll in as early as age 16, so he’s prepping for the GED and wants to test-out as early as possible to get into the program. All as the Lord wills, but the goal is a good one and GED prep is a fine thing to aim for. He’s got lots of enthusiasm and it’s helping him take responsibility for his education. So also this week, Marc and Isaiah sat down for a planning session and figured out his scope-and-sequence for the sciences, which was a big relief to me. Now I just need to sit down and so the same for the Social Studies. We use a curriculum for math that we feel will prepare him well enough (not to mention, he’s got a pretty analytical mind, anyway).

Not a bad first week, though (needless to say), I hope in subsequent weeks to get more accomplished in less time.

For those of you who are homeschooling, how’s your year going?


The Power of Sympathy

Historically, we haven’t been perfect at encouraging our children. We talk about that in our book, The Values-Driven Family:

We both grew up in homes where we knew we were loved; our parents did their very best in every way to bring us to adulthood successfully. Yet we both also would say that we grew up in an environment that leaned toward the critical. Whether reality or simply our own perception of things, we constantly felt like we had to “measure up,” and if we failed we felt a certain condemnation. This somewhat negative overtone to our family lives, however, didn’t really become obvious until we prayerfully considered our own shortcomings as parents. It was then that we saw that we were perpetuating this learned pattern of parenting, and propagating a spirit of discouragement rather than encouragement. As a result, our best efforts in training, discipline, and even relationship-building were falling short.

(p. 18)

We talk about a few ways that we’ve tried to overcome this deficiency, the least of which was to implement the use of the Core Value Chart (more about that and a free copy here). Developing healthy and loving relationships with each of our children has also been important–but I won’t deny that we’ve had our struggles there, too.

Personally, I’ve become convicted over time that not only is encouragement necessary in relationships, but so is sympathy. Not the artificial kind that comes across as being condescending, but a true desire to connect and understand. I reflected on this yet again this morning as I read from the book of Hebrews in my quiet time:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

True sympathy can mean giving a hug at just the right time. Perhaps, like the friends of Job, we sit in silence when words will get in the way. I find that I often express sympathy by sharing my own similar struggles or stories from my past–and I end by simply saying, “I understand.” This is my favorite way to express sympathy, because then I get to take the next step and share how the Lord has strengthened me or helped me to overcome, or I can express how I’ve experienced His comforting presence during difficult times. This is not only good for our family relationships, but it is also an excellent discipleship opportunity as we strive to help our children grow closer to the Lord.

I need the Lord to give me gentle reminders in this area quite often, because it’s easy to lose sight of sympathy in the everyday hustle-and-bustle of life. Think on these things today, and don’t forget to extend mercy to your children and give grace to help them in their time of need.

Our Day, as of 1:35 PM

I usually get up early for my morning Quiet Time (the baby normally helps with that) but today it was, quite unusually, raining a bit in the early hours and I wanted to stay in bed. I got up at 6:10 when the baby cried, which is when all the bigger kids also started rolling out of bed. I fed the baby and handed him over to Deborah, who was the first girl up with hair brushed and ready to go for the day. She entertained Enoch in the living room while I got dressed.

I sent Isaiah next door to collect our two liters of milk and began setting the table for breakfast (cups for tea, a peanut butter coffee cake made the night before, and some bananas). Pastor David arrived from Nairobi at about 6:40 AM, having taken Easy Coach through the night. (He’s joining Marc and Tonny on a training mission…somewhere…for the next few days. Tonny had stayed overnight and surprisingly, even with all our noise, wasn’t up yet.) By now all the children were up and gathered in the living room, either having Bible time or chatting with their Dad and Pastor David. Thankfully Enoch, who had started the day rather cranky, was now pleasantly entertained by Pastor David’s charming smile and soothing manner.

By 7:10 Isaiah arrived with milk, which I boiled in preparation for making tea. Tonny finally got up and everyone washed their hands while I finished getting breakfast on the table. I emptied out the pan of coffee cake and everyone probably would have had more if there had been any. Afterwards, Marc left on his motorbike with our 11 year-old to pick up the battery he had left at the charging station over night. Isaiah chatted with the guys outside while Hannah cleared the table, Rebekah started dishes, and Deborah began the task of washing clothes. Our neighbor, Jane, had arrived to complete the task of transplanting some onions in our garden, which she had voluntarily begun the previous afternoon. Micah (4) and Jubilee (3) went out to “help.” I sat at the table and checked my email and Facebook while feeding Enoch. Then I sat on the couch (still with Enoch) and turned on the Kindle for some Bible reading (Psalm 31).

I swept out the kitchen, especially all the mud that had accumulated by the back door with just a few early morning trips to the out house. Tonny interrupted my task to ask if I could help him prepare a bath. I put on a big pot of water to boil, had Deborah take a break from laundry so I could borrow one of the big wash basins, and gathered all the supplies Tonny would need in the bathroom. Meanwhile, Baby Enoch entertained himself by playing with the piles of dirt that Hannah was sweeping from under the table. When moved, he would find his Dad’s Bible on the coffee table. When moved again, he meandered into the kitchen and discovered the electrical wires left disconnected when we had removed the battery the previous day. Then back again into the sitting room to find more trouble…

After setting Tonny up to bathe, I got the bin of clean laundry that had been taken in the previous afternoon but not yet put away, and I sorted it into piles. By now Hannah (after a few gentle reminders to stay focused on her work) had finished cleaning up from breakfast and I asked her to put away the folded and sorted clothes. Isaiah, temporarily distracted by a low-flying agricultural plane, was now reigned in to empty the indoor “pee bucket” that we keep in one of the stalls of our bathroom. (Now that the mosquitoes are out when the sun goes down, we use the emergency bucket as needed!) I also instructed him to roll up and shake out the throw rug in the sitting room and prepare for floor washing (which involves putting coffee and end tables up onto the couch and moving the toy box, shoe bin, and carpet out onto the veranda, then doing a thorough sweep of the concrete floor.) By now Jonah and Marc had returned, so I sent Jonah out to burn the garbage.

Marc, Pastor David, and Tonny left at about 9:00. Not much later, Jane came in from the garden and asked if I needed eggs. She scored really big last week in finding a place where we can get eggs in quantity–we got FIVE DOZEN and wasted little time in consuming them. We’re down to eating meat about once every 2-3 weeks, so eggs are a preferred source of protein. We normally can only get 3-4 eggs every few days, though. Anyway, I was happy to give her some money for another  four dozen, and the two older girls begged to go with her, so I agreed. First I had to scrounge a 5-gallon bucket from the veranda and clean it out for egg transport.

Meanwhile, Micah and Jubilee had begun playing but their diversion was neither messy nor loud, so I let them continue. Isaiah had finished clearing out the sitting room, so I put him on the mission of entertaining Enoch while I prepared to wash the floor (a task I had intended for Rebekah, who was now gone. But both girls had at least gotten through the laundry and dishes!) I set Jonah to cleaning his room and Hannah to washing about four pairs of very dirty flip-flops (necessary for using the outhouse, but not so nice to use when they leave your feet muddy.)

With everyone occupied, I was able to wash the sitting room floor and decided to do the bathroom and hallway as well. I started cleaning carrots, tomatoes, and peppers in preparation for supper, which will be vegetables and ugali. Realizing that lunch time was rapidly approaching, I put Jonah on prep duty, skinning unripe “cooking bananas,” which would be mashed and added to  rice for our meal. I asked Hannah if she could pick skuma (collards) to add to my veges for dinner. I confirmed that she knew how to do it, recalling that she had done so before with her sisters. Meanwhile, Jane arrived with the big girls and the eggs. Rebekah said that Auntie Jane’s “not too far” walk turned to to be pretty far, indeed, but…she wasn’t really tired. In a moment of distraction, Micah asked if he could go help Hannah cut skuma, and I agreed. Jane bounced Enoch and Jubilee in her lap while I put the eggs away, freeing Isaiah up to look for a recipe online, at my request. Today is one of our two weekly dessert nights, and I was unusually enticed by a recipe for Kentucky Butter Cake that I had seen on Facebook earlier.

Jane said her goodbyes and I began cleaning the skuma that Hannah and Micah had now brought in. I asked Rebekah to set the table, gave Isaiah permission to do some work on the computer in Excel, and gave Jonah direction on completing lunch preparation. Deborah entertained Enoch, who was now apparently complaining about Jane’s abrupt departure. A few minutes later, Jane returned, and in broken English explained that evidently Micah had gotten a little over-zealous in his skuma-cutting and  stripped about a dozen plants of all their leaves. I thanked her for the information and went inside, rather ungraciously reminding Hannah of her responsibility to supervise and direct her little brother, and Micah to slow down and (for the thousandth time?) please wait for directions instead of just jumping in to do the work!

I finished cleaning the skuma and then collected Micah and Hannah for hugs and kisses and an apology (will I ever learn?). Then, finally, we were ready for lunch–a rather late 1:20. And I sat down to blog, wondering if anyone would be interested in the minutiae of our day and realizing that schooling hadn’t been a thought in anyone’s mind…but, praise God, we’ve almost finished our 180 days anyway…

Our First “Self-Sufficiency” Day

Marc and I have noticed that here in Kenya, children are very often left to themselves. Usually, this is by necessity, because work for daily bread (whether working in the fields and at home, or wage-earning work, when it is available) is typically so demanding that parents aren’t left with much choice. In America, we took things for granted, like having a vehicle to hop into and a supermarket a short trip away. Here, you walk. Sometimes far. We always chuckle when we ask Jane how far away a particular destination is. She often shrugs and says, “Not far.” But it could be several kilometers–“not far,” indeed! We don’t leave our children home alone, but a single mother with few resources (or mom at home with Dad at work) sometimes has little choice.

When Marc went to Nairobi with our 10 year-old son a couple of weeks ago, he came back more than once to the house where he was staying to find the three children (ages 9 and under) home alone. He remarked that they were very well-behaved: no bickering, faithful behaviors (for the most part), and younger children who respected the authority of their older siblings in the parents’ stead.

We agreed, this would probably not be the case if we left all of our children home alone. My 10 year-old noted, “Well, they probably didn’t bicker because they had no toys to fight over.” Good point. As well, I don’t think our children have had enough opportunity to prove themselves responsible in taking care of their own needs for any extended period of time. They’ve only been apart from both of us a handful of times (usually when we go out to dinner to celebrate a birthday or anniversary), and the longest has been for the weekend, when they stayed with some friends of ours. Although we teach and train them in all things vital to home management, and they generally know our routines and expectations, they certainly derive a level of comfort in having an adult to fall back on. Unfortunately, I was sure that if left to their own devices, there are some things that they take for granted that would fall through the cracks.

So, with Marc and our oldest (a take-charge kinda kid) off to Nairobi for a few days, I decided to call a “Self-Sufficiency Day” for the rest of our crew, with the 10 year-old in charge. I thought it would be a good exercise for all of them. We went over the expectations, and I even wrote them on the chalkboard for reference. Things like:

  • Do it God’s Way! Love and serve one another. Please God with your attitude and your behavior.
  • Keep yourselves clean (hair, faces, feet, teeth) and LOOK AROUND to see what needs to be picked up around the house.
  • Remember to change the baby’s diaper.
  • Big kids, supervise little kids even if you are doing something else. Little kids, respect the authority of your older brothers and sisters.

And so on. They knew they would be responsible for their school work as well as home management, child care, and meal preparation. I would be closed in my bedroom and only available to receive meals or to feed the baby. (I also came out a couple of times to hook up the laptop and charge it on the inverter, but I told them to pretend I wasn’t there.)

My ten year-old spent part of the day before planning out AM and PM jobs for all the children, as well as meals. I have to admit, his choices were a little starchy (mandazi and tea for breakfast, beef broth with rice for lunch, and pasta for supper along with fried bananas and honey for dessert); however, I’m not sure how much better I would have done. The only fruit in the house was bananas and tomatoes. What can I say? We need to go to market! (That’s tomorrow…)

The morning went very well. My ten year-old kept everyone on-track and motivated in a very encouraging way. My oldest daughters teamed up to care for  the littles and did a super job, even when multi-tasking  to do their school work. My seven year-old did an admirable job with the laundry. (The only thing I had to return to the wash pile was a pair of jeans that needed a lot more elbow grease than she could muster. Ahhh, those boys of mine!)

The afternoon left something to be desired. The in-charge ten year-old got caught up in reading a new Thornton W. Burgess book that I had downloaded on the Kindle and before he knew it, it was 4:00 and everyone had far over-shot their afternoon “Free Time.” I actually had to prod them to move on with their afternoon responsibilities (including finishing their school work), which was a bit disappointing. I wondered what would have happened if I had not intervened? I guess I didn’t want to find out! However, after the reminder, things slipped back into gear. Jobs got done, supper got started, and school assignments got wrapped up.

I had given my 10 year-old a budget for the day of 200 shillings (roughly the equivalent of $2 and change, which buys quite a bit here). That would cover any supplies that we unexpectedly ran short of (such as laundry soap) or he could use it for some limited food items that could be purchased at the little shop/restaurant across the street (mostly staples like flour, oil, etc.). He considered buying the favorite “mandazi” from the restaurant at 50 shillings per bag of ten (and we’d need at least two bags); however, he did the math and realized that making them was much cheaper (and the recipe made a lot more–about 50!), so he was excited to make them himself. He ended up spending 18 shillings for 6 beef cubes, which he used to make broth for the lunch time rice, and he got a bag of sugar for 65 shillings to replenish our supply. Also, he ordered a litre of milk for 35 shillings to have tea for the next day. All in all, a total of 118 shillings spent for the day. Not bad. I had to chuckle, though, when I overheard him preparing breakfast in front of an audience of little people saying, “It’s almost ready! This is just taking a little longer than I thought!”

I sat down for supper with the crew and asked for their reactions. Over all, everyone was pleased with the day, though they admitted it was hard work.  Since this was the kids’ first “solo” day, I had made some suggestions for AM and PM jobs, but I’m hoping that after some repeats of this type of training they will be on the lookout for what needs to be done and will need less direction. A good first stab at self-sufficiency. We’ll keep practicing. My 9 year-old daughter can’t wait for the day she’s “in charge.” She’s pretty sure she can handle it.