Re-Implementing Circle Time

Values-Driven Family was pretty quiet during our time in Kenya, and I’ve been thinking on what to write here, since we’ve been back in the States again since February of last year (2021).

The transition back to Indiana went as good as it possibly could, and we are so thankful for God’s grace in that. Just about concurrent with our landing in Indiana was purchase of property in Kentucky (also only God!), where we had hopes to build. Suffice it to say, that went much more quickly than we ever could have anticipated, thanks to the hard work of Marc and the children, financial provision from the Lord, and the willing and amazing help, generosity, and prayers of many, many brethren over many months.

We have been in Kentucky now for 4 months! When we moved in, the house was still somewhat unfinished, so we’ve been working on many different projects while trying to school and manage Carrier Family Doodles. God is good, and we are thankful.

One thing that I have wanted to do upon returning to the States is to re-establish our beloved “Circle Time” as a daily routine, especially with our Littles. We were pretty hit-or-miss while in Kenya for a number of reasons, and, while I have some regret about that, I also realize that regret doesn’t change things. I have to deal with the reality that is, rather than hope for an ideal that may not manifest. While I have still not been perfect in my goal of having a daily Circle Time, we have been consistent enough that I see the benefits once again and am grateful for what the Lord has done through it.

We’re also returning to the “Core Values” with our younger children, which has been an absolute blessing. The Core Values (faith, surrender, love faithfulness, wisdom, self-control, righteousness, holiness, humility, generosity, and praise) gave our older children such a solid foundation in character and in faith, as we consistently emphasized these “values that God values” during daily Bible times, Circle Time teaching and training, and daily “teachable moments.” We are working our way slowly through our dog-eared copy of “Values-Driven Discipleship” once again during our family devotional times in the morning and evening. Circle Times include stories, songs, games, and memory verses pertaining to the Core Values, right on the level of our Little ones. I am so thankful for God’s faithfulness to us and to our children over these many years of desiring to know Him more and honor Him in everything. The core values, and daily Circle Times, have been a reliable means to that end for us.

Just in case you are new here, you can get an idea of how we implement core-value Biblical instruction and character training here: Be sure to visit our free downloads area, where you can find a free, printable core value chart and mini poster that can get you started in implementing Core Value instruction with your family, if you think that it would be helpful for you.

I never cease to praise God for the years spent investing in my older children: teaching, training, encouraging, and developing relationships, as I see the fruit that the Lord has brought from our hearts desire to follow Him and teach our children His ways. On days when I have pressing responsibilities and might otherwise have to neglect Circle Time, my older daughters have picked up the baton and carry it well. Here’s a photo of a fun project one of them did after a Circle Time last week, to help illustrate the core value of “Love” and leave the Littles with an ongoing reminder of what it looks like for them:

Core Values: Love

No matter what methods you choose as you seek to raise up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, keep pressing on in your efforts. Although in some seasons of life things may not be perfect, I always like to remind myself that God “gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11) and that “at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

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.

New! and Free for Limited Time: The Eternal Benefits of Circle Time

It’s been quiet on our blog for some time, and not because our family is not busy. I’m sure many of you can relate. BUT, I had to break the silence to announce a new publication that I know will bless many of you, and I hope you will take advantage of a brief window of time to get it FREE on Kindle.

About the book:

Add one simple element to your daily routine—Circle Time—and effectively promote a more joyful home atmosphere; meet more of your academic, spiritual, and character development goals for your children; and encourage family relationships in a positive way. Author Cynthia Carrier offers practical information and advice on just what Circle Time is, how to customize the components of your Circle Time to meet your family’s objectives, and how to deal with difficulties and distractions during Circle Time. For the Carrier family, Circle Time has been one of the most influential habits of their 15-plus years of homeschooling, particularly as it has helped them meet their family goals of discipleship in the Christian faith and character development. This short book will leave you with a wealth of ideas and encouragement to help you start your own Circle Time and have a similar eternal impact on your family.

Kindle edition: FREE from June 5, 2020 (12 midnight Pacific time) until June 9, 2020 (12 midnight Pacific time), then $1.49.

Paperback is $4.50 on (wish it could be cheaper but their royalty structure doesn’t permit the lowest desired price. Get it on our Website for $3.50 instead!).

Get it on Amazon or buy it from Values-Driven.

Self-Evaluation in Christian Parenting

If you’ve been doing this parenting gig for any length of time, you know without our telling you that there’s no such thing as perfect children. Not only that, we’re never going to be perfect parents. So how do you know if what you’re doing is working? Is there any basis for evaluation until you’ve successfully raised your children…or discovered, too late, that they’ve got major character flaws, aren’t walking with the Lord, or can’t hold down a job once they’ve reached the magic “age of emancipation”?

We’ve always believed in “iterative parenting;” that is, ongoing self-evaluation in the target areas that we’ve self-defined as “successful Christian parenting.” These goals will obviously differ from family to family. For some, academic achievement is important so that their children will be able to successfully compete in the global marketplace. For others, it’s having children that will work well with their hands and be able to provide for themselves and their future families in this way. Some have specific spiritual goals and milestones they’d like their children to achieve (i.e., baptism) while others take a “wait and see” or “let them decide for themselves later” approach. Regardless of our long-term goals and how we feel we’re tracking in meeting them, there are always ongoing character issues that we see the need to work on, both in ourselves and our children (because, as we all know, the apples don’t fall far from the tree!).

Some character deficiencies  in our oldest son (now 16) were recently brought to our attention. And guess what? Because we practice iterative parenting and are constantly self-evaluating and making changes in ourselves and in our parenting, not one thing on that list was a surprise to us. In fact, we agreed with just about all of it. So what did we do? We shared the observations with our son and asked him to self-evaluate and make any changes he felt necessary, knowing that these character deficiencies were obvious to others and also to God. Does this mean we are failing, or have failed, in our parenting? Far from it. In fact, we were encouraged. Why? Because our son has made a commitment to following Christ. In sincere repentance, he has been baptized within the last year, and we’ve seen the fruit of true repentance in his life. Yes, he’s struggled with some things, and people can observe those weaknesses. But what others don’t see is our ongoing communication with our son regarding these issues; his desire to honor God in these areas; his active repentance, asking for forgiveness, and steady growth in grace to overcome in his areas of failure. So rather than admitting defeat in our parenting, we see much victory and are thankful for how God has guided us along the sometimes-difficult paths of Christian parenting.

And alongside our son, we’re growing too, because we know that (unfortunately) many of our children’s struggles, failings, and weaknesses come from things that we, as parents need to change in ourselves. How willing are we to humble ourselves and admit to this? How able are we to “forget what is behind” and “strain toward what is ahead,” pressing on toward perfection in Christ Jesus? (See Philippians 3:12-16)

Here are some honest questions that might help you in your ongoing sef-evaluation as a Christian parent. These are just a starting point; God and others may reveal others which are specific to your needs or circumstances.

  • Do our daily routines and activities reflect the priorities we profess?
  • Am I willing to do the hard things, and ask my children to do hard things, to overcome character deficiencies?
  • Am I consistently training my children in God’s Word and “practicing what I preach”?
  • When I fail to be the example I would like to be in my parenting, am I able to humble myself to my child or others, confess sins, and seek God for lasting change?
  • How open am I to receiving correction or suggestions from others?
If you like a more concrete approach to evaluation, take at look at our free “Family Planner for Character Growth and Development,” available for download here.

Remember that children’s growth in all areas is a process that requires patience, prayers, and ongoing effort on our part as parents. Though there are many things, both practical and spiritual, that we need to invest in and focus on, never forget the most important thing: bringing honor and glory to God and raising our children to do the same. I like how the apostle Paul viewed his work with the church in Galatia, with whom he was “perplexed” at the time of his letter writing: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…” (see Galatians 4:19-20). Let us similarly encourage ourselves as parents; whether we are blessed or perplexed with how things appear with our children, we must continue on in the process of laboring for the formation of Christ in them. Blessings to you as you press on in your parenting, for God’s glory!

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. 🙂

Homeschooling in Kenya: years in review

We came to Kenya at roughly the mid-point of the 2011-2012 school year. Suffice it to say, between packing, moving, and settling in here, I was happy if we managed to do some sort of language arts and math on a daily basis. In fact, the only text books we brought with us on the plane were our math books. Almost all our other books were shipped by crate, which didn’t arrive until we had been here several months. And by then, hours of daily wash and other manually intensive labors (which we were totally not used to), as well as a near-constant stream of visitors, made schooling pretty hit-or-miss for much longer than I would have liked.

We started the 2012-2013 school year in September and I did so with some trepidation. I wanted to get back into our routine of having a daily Circle Time with all the children, which normally includes reading aloud, singing, Scripture memory, “Training Times,” and so on. This time of teaching, direction, and family unity had become a greatly missed element of our homeschooling day.  Unfortunately, I found that particular habit somehow hard to re-establish, no matter how much I wanted to include it in our day. I think we might have had a dozen “Circle Times” throughout the year.

I also hoped to get beyond the Language Arts and Math basics that had been our routine. Don’t get me wrong, we were all learning plenty of new life skills and growing in our character, not to mention (sort of) learning Swahili, so there was lots we were doing that had great value and didn’t fit neatly into my “plan book.” And we didn’t entirely neglect electives…but I definitely wanted to step things up a notch.

As such, Marc and I decided early in 2013 to hire a wash lady to come in six days per week. It freed up a big chunk of my morning so that I could  focus on nurturing, discipling, and homeschooling the children. Even so, I wondered where the time went each day. We never seemed to get to that long list of things I wanted to “do” with the kids, and I started to worry about those dreaded “gaps” in their education. Would we ever get back into that old routine that had allowed us to accomplish so much? It seemed that the answer was no. In the early part of 2013, we hosted a steady stream of visitors. Just as we were recovering from that, Marc got in a motorbike accident and wrecked his knee, which put some burden on the family to help him out with a lot of daily functions. However, it was also a great opportunity to learn to serve cheerfully and put our faith into practice. There’s nothing like “life lessons!”

A month later,  I thought we’d get back to “normal,” but it just didn’t happen. Even though I wasn’t doing wash daily, meal preparation and housekeeping were still labor-intensive. As well, we continued to welcome steady streams of visitors who needed medical or food assistance–and of course, that operated on their schedules, not mine.

I spent much of our 2013-2014 school year still feeling like we just didn’t have the time. We did better, that’s for sure, but still didn’t manage to coordinate Circle Time very often and were still not as organized as I wanted to be with electives. Isaiah was now in 9th grade and I found that while we had excellent resources to get through the elementary and even middle school years, there was a gap as we entered high school. We had Math covered, but Language Arts was wanting. I thought we could use a free online website that boasted a pretty good high school syllabus, BUT our Internet just didn’t cooperate, so that was a disappointment. We made do with some intensive reading and writing, a GED preparation handbook, and occasional Internet-based studies. However, near the tail-end of the year, we ended up having a visitor who brought a high-school level Language Arts series of textbooks, which was a real blessing. Even so, I figured we might as well wait until  the new school year to begin it.

I also felt like my Littles weren’t getting enough attention. The big kids were kind of on “auto pilot” with a lot of their schoolwork, but I had a first-grader who was quite a reluctant reader, a pre-schooler who was ready to read (and I just didn’t have the time!), and in general I felt that all my younger children could use more of my attention. But I (we) were doing the best could…which was a frustration in itself. What could we possibly change up to make our homeschooling and family life more like what I thought it should be?

We ended up taking several months’ vacation this summer–something unusual to our homeschooling routine, for the last several years at least. We somehow have ended up schooling almost year-round, with days or weeks of as-needed to accommodate whatever was going on in “life.” I wondered if the break would be detrimental; the kids have always needed to retain some semblance of routine and productivity or else we end up dealing with behavioral issues, “boredom,” and so on. Not to mention serious complaining and struggle when we do try to get back in the groove. But I definitely needed a break, so…several months off it was.

I picked a random date of August 25 to start our new school year. I went in with little preparation, other than re-reading key sections of my old favorite, Homeschooling Year by Year (Rebecca Rupp), and tapping some random notes on possible schedule changes into a Word doc on my Android. I also purchased a few Kindle books, as I hoped to start Circle Time again with some regularity and needed a fresh read-aloud that our children of many differing ages could all enjoy.

We’re now almost at the end of our second week, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how smoothly things have gone. We’re accomplishing the basics, plus Circle Time, AND even electives every day, plus keeping up with house stuff and the regular demands of missionary life, without me feeling overwhelmed or like something is being sacrificed somewhere. I’m not sure how long this will continue, but I surely hope it does!

In trying to figure out just what allowed for this change (and why we weren’t able to accomplish it sooner), I see two significant things having occurred: another missionary family moved in next door in April and have become an integral part of the mission, particulary in taking care of regular medical needs of the needy in our community–something that had previously fallen to me.  Not only that, but I made a concerted  effort during the end of our last school year (and over our 3-month break) to train my older girls (ages 11 and 9) in many of the labor-intensive food preparation activities that I take care of on a daily basis. Thankfully, they have done well and are excited about the responsibility, which has removed a significant burden from me. (Incidentally, the start of the new school coincided with the beginning of our “30-day Challenge” to eat locally, which means greatly simplified menu options that either the girls or I can prepare).

I also realized that during our previous years here in Kenya, dealing with baby Enoch was probably quite a bit more time-intensive (and emotionally demanding) than I had realized. Suffice it to say, he was a rather difficult baby until he began to be able to toddle around at about 14 months, and even afterwards had a temperament which made it hard to smoothly integrate him into our school days. Now, however, I am pleased to say that at three years old, he is much better trained, and even excited to be doing his own “school” (which usually consists of copying shapes or drawings, writing random letters, and “reading” lots of books).

And so, I find myself simply thankful for “new beginnings” and am looking forward to what the Lord will do with this next year of homeschooling on the mission field.

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.

“I’m Afraid he’s going to be…an Engineer”

Don’t get the wrong idea…we don’t watch Dilbert…but when Marc was working with a bunch of engineers, this little clip made its rounds in the office so everyone could get a chuckle out of it:

Marc immediately thought of our son, Isaiah, who (except for the “utter social ineptitude”) has had “The Knack” since he was just a little kid. Back in Indiana, his favorite thing to do was post requests on Freecycle and see if he could score electronics or things with motors that he could fix. If they weren’t fixable, he’d take them apart and save anything he might use for a future project. He’s made some really neat stuff, including a motorized bicycle (using an old chainsaw motor), a homemade BB gun, and a small blender (though not suitable for much besides having fun). Not only that, he’s constantly fixing things around the house (yeah!!) in addition to being our on-call tech support guy. Here in Africa, he’s also become quite gifted at small engine repair and regularly fixes motorbikes.

The down-side of this great trait is that his corner of the boys’ bedroom usually look like this (and, yes, he made the desk himself):


I’ve learned to close the door or just not look too often. Unless there’s a window of opportunity for room-cleaning, which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago he had a neat idea to make a portable sprayer, using a broken well pump that Marc let him have and some assorted parts he’d collected (see the blue bin in the photo above). He was thinking it would be useful for the garden, but I was thinking pressure washing, so he made two different nozzles. Here’s the finished product:


Yesterday we harvested our beans and used Isaiah’s new invention to spray the weeds remaining in the field so we can re-plant in a couple weeks or so.

Today I was going about my least-favorite-task-of-the-week, beating and hand-scrubbing our area rug from the living room. (I regret that I ever complained about vacuuming. What I wouldn’t give to be able to vacuum this thing–I’d do it EVERY DAY!!) The easiest method for this is to roll up the carpet, carry it outside, and sling it over the kids’ swing set. After beating it with a broom handle and ripping a few holes in it, now I use some flexible hose instead. Then, I fill a basin with some laundry soap and water and dip my brush in it. Bit by bit, I scrub the whole carpet, continually dipping the brush into the cleaner as I go. It’s a messy and time-consuming process, usually taking me 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Isaiah asked if I could “pressure wash” the carpet using his new sprayer. My only reservation was that it would get so wet it might not dry before the afternoon rain. Then what? But I figured I’d give it a try. To my great surprise and joy, it worked wonderfully, though I did do a quick scrub with a brush on top of the spraying. Though it’s not perfectly dry yet, it seems it will be before the sun goes away. And, good news is, it cut my carpet-cleaning time in half!


So if you have a budding engineer in your family, don’t despair. Let ’em take stuff apart, overlook the mess,  put up with the single-minded focus that makes projects preferable to breakfast, keep encouraging the successes and sympathize with the inevitable failures, and enjoy the fruit of “The Knack” when you can.

The Consequences of Cheating

Do you remember doing SRA in grade school? You would select a numbered card from the box, read a story, and answer some questions. The stories and activities progressively increased in difficulty from 1 through 100.

I have such fond memories of SRA, I was excited to get a box when we were still young homeschoolers.

There is an answer booklet in the box. At first, I did all the correcting myself, but over time I’ve allowed the children to self-correct. They come to me if they have questions as they read or if they don’t understand the follow-up activities. I always check their work and go over anything they’ve gotten wrong. We do this not only with SRA but also with math textbooks, for which we also have answer books.

Today, for the first time in…how many years of homeschooling?…our first instance of “cheating” was brought to my attention. One of the children caught a sibling in the bedroom with the SRA answer book.

In deciding how to address this issue, I realized that I don’t think this child has ever been told that it’s wrong to copy answers out of the answer book. We’ve talked about lying and other forms of deception, but not directly about cheating as it pertains to schoolwork. So she got off with a very gentle rebuke and explanation about why her behavior was wrong. What did she do? She cried. But not because she felt bad for cheating. Instead, she was overwhelmed because…”it’s so hard!” That’s why she chose to copy answers in the first place–and it had been going on for some time before she actually got caught.

I consoled her with the fact that SRA isn’t about getting all the right answers–it’s about learning. And I would have been happy with her progressive learning, even if she got some wrong in the process. And in fact, by cheating she was making it harder for herself, not easier. Because now when she was on a certain number and difficulty level with her SRA, she really wasn’t equipped to do it on her own because she’d been cheating for so long. No wonder she was upset!

So I tried to determine how long this had been going on, and we went back. Back to a much simpler lesson, one that she and I worked through together. She did the next one on her own. And next time, she’ll continue from there. She’ll learn what she was supposed to learn the first time around.

It struck me that we sometimes do the same thing in our spiritual walk. How often do we try to get out of doing hard work, struggling through, and learning lessons that are, in the end, of great value to us? Sometimes we can claim ignorance, but other times we’re just lazy. Or it may be that the standard of perfection scares us. And yes, that is our standard (see Matthew 5:48), but God is infinitely gracious in getting us to that point. Our goal is to grow, not necessarily to get everything right the first time through. God expects us to make mistakes, He frequently gives us second chances, and sometimes we have to go back to a place we thought we’d never see again, just to learn lessons that we ignored the first time around.

I don’t ever want to presume upon God’s grace, or make excuses for my sin. Still, I am thankful for second chances and for a Father who is gentle in teaching me. I hope that as I resolved this issue with my daughter, and re-started those SRAs, she learned something–even if she didn’t get all the right answers.


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?