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Mostly Canticles by George van Popta


After being rescued from grave danger, David sang, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” (Ps 34:3)  Throughout the Bible we are encouraged to praise God in times of joy, trust, confusion, understanding, sadness, and despair.  We pray while we sing and sing while we pray and, obviously, the words that we use matter. The more carefully our songs are based on the Bible, the more we will ‘be transformed by the renewing of our minds,’ the better we will glorify God, and the more fittingly we will encourage each other.

In Mostly Canticles, Second Edition the Rev. George van Popta gives us 54 beautiful Bible-based songs that we can use to praise God and to ‘address one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.’  The current collection contains 33 canticles, songs based directly Bible passages from both the Old and New Testaments.  There are also 21 hymns based on biblical themes.   A few Psalms are included among the canticles, but they are different from the rigorously text-based New Genevan Psalter that van Popta edited recently. (link to my article)

The canticles include the songs of Moses, Miriam, Hannah, Hezekiah, and the angels at Bethlehem; the prayers of Jonah and Jehosaphat; and selections from Isaiah, the gospels, and Revelation.  Of special note are a series of four canticles based on Isaiah’s passages about Christ as the chosen, commissioned, obedient, and risen Servant, and a series of seven canticles about Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Revelation.  The versification of Psalm 119 as an acrostic (in each verse all the lines begin with the same letter of the alphabet, just as David originally wrote it in Hebrew) is an astonishing technical tour de force as well as a grateful celebration of God’s law.

Fulfill to me the promise that you made
For then will I have answers for my taunters.
Forsake me never but give me your word.
Forever will I walk before my Saviour.
Fearlessly will I speak before the kings
Flinging wide open hands in love and worship.

In faithfulness you dealt so well with me.
Instruct me in your knowledge all-surpassing.
I went astray before you punished me.
It was to teach me, that I was afflicted.
Is not your law worth more to me than gold?
Indeed, I value it beyond all measure.

Remarkable are all your holy laws
Revealed by you to give us understanding.
Return to me and all who love your name.
Rule over me that I may walk uprightly.
Redeem me from the ways of evil men.
Rivers of tears I shed for man’s so sinful. (melody

The hymns in Mostly Canticles, based on Bible sections, biblical themes, liturgical forms, and historic hymns, include songs of joyful praise, heartfelt prayer, and deep penitence.   There are songs about Creation, the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ sufferings and glory, baptism, communion, the Ten Commandments, and more.  Here is one example:

Great care has been taken to pair appropriate melodies with the words.  Sometimes van Popta chose the evocative Genevan tunes usually used for the Psalms.  Often he used historic or well-known hymn melodies, such as the tune of “Abide with Me” for the communion hymn “Merciful God and Father of Our Lord.”  And occasionally he used classical music selections, as in the moving combination of Beethoven and parts of Psalm 38 given below.  A few songs were specifically composed by the late Christiaan J. Nobels.  In each case the words and music blend together, often by the mood of the melody itself, sometimes by its associations with other words.

George van Popta is a retired pastor who writes in the Reformed tradition but Mostly Canticles will bless all Bible-believing Christians, just as both Catholics and Protestants enthusiastically sang the protestant Genevan Psalms during the Reformation.

Mostly Canticles can be used for personal praise, communal singing, and teaching (the index of Scripture references makes it easy to find songs written on specific texts or themes).  I have even heard “I Will Praise You, Lord, My Savior” performed in concert, and it often fills my heart during dark sleepless hours.

I will praise you, Lord, my Savior, for you are so good to me.
You have shown to me your favor, and have made your anger flee.
I am filled with consolation; surely God is my salvation.
No more will I be afraid. I trust him, my only aid. (melody)

Although you can find these songs online at Mostly Canticles, it is worth buying the ring-bound soft cover book for convenience in browsing, singing, and accompanying.  If you purchase the book you also support Christian education, since all proceeds go to the tiny Ambassador’s Christian School.

For more information about Mostly Canticles or to purchase, please see the website.

Related articles:

Introducing the New Genevan Psalter

Thoughts on Finding God in the Hard Times by Matt and Beth Redman

Then Sings My Soul:  150 Christmas, Easter, and All-Time Favorite Hymn Stories by Robert Morgan

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Disclosure: I received a review copy of Mostly Canticles from the author.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Reading Week


Every fall we take a week off from regular schoolwork and focus on books.  This is a rest and a reward for the fall’s hard work.  It is also a huge game changer educationally, as we take time to explore new ideas.

This year we were sick during reading week but even so it was very good.

We had some books for nostalgia and pure relaxation, like Swallows and Amazons, Freddy the Pig, and Asterix.  We looked at picture books, like Anno’s culture books (ideal for classical education), Jill Barklem’s amazing Brambly Hedge series, Bill Peet’s zany stories, and art books. We read fiction as well as science, psychology, homesteading, health, organizing, statistics, motivation, and art.  (In the past I would have been reading aloud as well—we have enjoyed so many excellent books together including these Top 20 Family Read Alouds.)

It can be a transforming opportunity for kids to have no learning responsibilities except reading for a whole week. For teens, it is a chance to explore possibilities for the future.  As Cal Newport points out in How to Be a High School Superstar, it is crucial to take time to explore and develop new interests.  And even if this particular reading week does not spark any new interests, it is still a special time to anticipate, enjoy, and remember.

Not that reading week is necessarily restful.  Reading can be very hard work.  It can be very intense, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually and even the Bible points out that ‘much study is a weariness of the flesh’.  Therefore we need to make opportunities for other things as well, like physical activity, good food, creativity, laughter, and music, but not for extra screen time.

The Bible also tells us to beware of anything beyond the teachings of the wise.  Now, we know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but we also know that even unbelievers can discover and write about parts of the truth.  It has been said that because we are people of the Book, we need to read other books as well as the Book.  However, choosing books carefully requires wisdom and practice; this is a week of going through piles of books and learning how to choose the best.

But enough of these generalizations.  I am often asked practical questions about reading week and here is a list of answers, reposted from the past—you’ll notice that we reread certain books regularly:

What’s Reading Week?  Well, one week a year we take time off from formal schoolwork and spend an entire week reading.   Yes, we still feed the chickens, go for walks, eat, and sleep.  We even manage some music practice.  But, mostly, we read.

What do we read?  Whatever we’re interested in.  This year we have all the Bill Peet picture books out again; that seems to be an annual tradition that we all love.  Miss 12 has a pile of Nate Wilson books to explore, I want to reread some gluten-free living books, Freddy the Pig has come back once again to entertain us all, and we’ve ordered all the David Macaulay DVD’s and books (Cathedral, Castle, Motel of the Mysteries, etc.) that the library has.

But why?  Is there a reason we do this?  Obviously, there’s nostalgia, like our annual Bill Peet indulgence.  And there’s is learning, like the books about Van Gogh and about writer’s groups.  There is pure enjoyment, like Peter Speier’s wordless picture books and Don Aslett’s hilarious dejunking books.  And there is excitement, as in the Asterix, Beowulf, and The Cricket on the Hearth.

The other reason is quite practical.  We live close to a tiny country library in a city-wide system of huge libraries.  Our library is often on the endangered list, quite literally, and as homeschoolers we depend on it.  So, years ago, we began our Reading Week to coincide with our library’s annual counting week.  I suppose it’s actually Save the Library Week.

It’s the week we order more books than usual, visit the library every day, and pull a lot of books from the shelves.  We also request a lot of books from other branches.  Usually we have 50 or so books requested; during reading week it is often over 200.  Usually we have less than 80 books out; during reading week it is several times that.  Our reading week helps the library’s statistics, and our librarians are grateful to (and proud of) ‘their’ homeschoolers.

And the final big question:  Will we ever read them all?  No.  There are already three books in our return box, one of them full of blasphemy on the only page I checked.  We don’t need that.   But we will read most of them.  Our children are amazingly fast readers, and I’m no slouch at whizzing through a book either.   A lot of the books will be enjoyed from cover to cover.  On the other hand, I won’t read every recipe in every gluten-free cookbook.   I’ll skim through many books and study a few in great detail.  And Asterix will be read, reread, and chuckled over.

There are, of course, a few more niggling practical matters:

Where do we store all those books?  In rows and piles in front of our bookshelves. (Or, this year, in piles in the middle of our living room, as you can see above.  Sigh!)

How do we keep track of them?  Very carefully, according to our usual system for avoiding library fees.

Doesn’t it make a mess in our house?  Yes, and after a month I’m always thrilled that most of the books are gone.

Are we invalidating the library statistics?  No.  As you can see from the numbers above, we’re taking out more books than usual, but not that many more in terms of a library’s output.  Just enough to make the librarians love us, not enough to make them hate us.

We love Reading Week.  Great books, no schoolwork, special snacks, and the opportunity to really delve into one author’s works are all wonderful treats.  We have learned, though, that we must keep a bit of a normal routine of mealtimes, chores, and outside time or everyone will become grumpy in a few days.  It’s true that reading can be over-done.

But my homeschooled kids know my weakness and love to point out, “You learn from reading, Mom!”   Implying that therefore it’s all OK, and, really, it is, because it’s as much of a break for mom as for the kids.

If you’ve never enjoyed a Reading Week, try one.  You might be starting an annual tradition and even if you don’t it will be a memorable week at worst and a life-changing one at best.

Note:  The links above are to my reviews or articles; there are no affiliate links.

If you enjoyed this, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Review: Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras


If every parent knew and acted on the research presented in Nicholas Kardaras’s Glow Kids, students would learn much better, fewer kids would be on medication for attention and mental health issues, and the psych wards for young people would not be as full.

I have been trying to review Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids—and How to Break the Trance for months, and each time it would expand into a lengthy exploration of various concepts in the book.  Earlier I discussed the practical educational applications of this book for homeschoolers as well as the mental health implications of screens for kids  Here, finally, is the book review itself.

For some time, screens seemed to be the solution to a whole host of parenting-related issues.  They held promise as educational miracles, replacing teachers and enabling even young children to learn incredible amounts of information.  They seemed to be a splendid babysitter, pacifying young children with educational programs and keeping teens safely off the streets while still allowing them to connect with others.

But, as always, there are negative aspects and it turns out that the negative impacts of screens are far more significant than anticipated

You can read the rest of my review here.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library on the recommendation of a pediatric concussion specialist (statistically, phone use and kids’ susceptibility to serious concussions have increased at the same time) and have given my own honest opinions.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Screens and our Kids’ Mental Health, with Tips for Parents


We parents worry a bit about what screens may be doing to our kids but our worries are mostly about inappropriate videos, internet predators, and similar dangers and there are internet safety devices to take care of that.  As for the rest, most kids have screens at a young age and all teens are glued to their phones so it must be fine. Right?

Wrong.  One clue to this is that upper level tech creators often give their kids very little access to screens.  So what is it that these tech creators know that the rest of us don’t seem to get?

It’s this: Most video games, social media, and online entertainment are deliberately designed to be highly addictive. They can damage the developing brain and are implicated in mental health problems.

In fact, Nicholas Kardaras, a psychiatrist who works with kids and teens and specializes in addictions, writes, “Like it or not, the reality is that in our glowing screen culture, we have essentially been giving our most innocent and most vulnerable an addicting and mind-altering electronic drug.” (34)  Others echo his concerns.

Kardaras wrote Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids—And How to Break the Trance to alert parents and educators to this growing problem.  He begins by relating his first discoveries of the horrific effects screens can have on vulnerable kids.  It all came to a head when a young teen showed up in his office with gaming-induced psychosis.  It took a month in a hospital psych unit to reconnect him with reality!  In his book Kardaras explains how all kids are hurt by early and excessive screen use, even though few break down completely.

If you are tempted to scoff at these ideas, consider this.  The US military is studying the use of video games in pain management and has found that, for those with the most severe pain, video games are more helpful in burn pain management than morphine.  This seems to be due to changes in neurotransmitter levels as a result of immersion in the game.  Now, if the chemistry of veterans’ brains can be altered by video games, then certainly we need to consider what happens to the developing brains of kids who use them.

First of all, Karadaras discusses addiction, defining it simply as pursuing something compulsively and self-destructively.  Then he outlines risk factors for addiction.  It seems that our brains crave novelty, reward, and connection with other people.  Youth who are socially or culturally isolated, do not have a strong purpose in life, want to escape, or are under excessive stress, are more likely to find relief and meaning in screen-based lives, potentially leading to addiction.  It is important to realize that screen-based connection, such as social media, does not fulfill our need for human connection and can actually worsen loneliness and lead to mental illness.

Child and teen mental illness has increased dramatically in the past short while, leading some experienced psychiatrists to wonder whether or not screens, whose use has increased dramatically over the same time, may be involved.  It turns out that 90% of students with attentional, behavioral, emotional, or developmental problems also have a problematic relationship with screens. (119)

This relationship between screens and mental health is partly due to what has been called Electronic Screen Syndrome.  It turns out that “…the unnaturally stimulating nature of an electronic screen, regardless of its content, wreaks havoc on the still-developing nervous system and mental health of a child on a variety of levels—cognitive, behavioral and emotional.” (116, italics added)  Electronic Screen Syndrome is “a disorder of regulation; that is an inability in children to modulate their moods, attention or level of arousal in an appropriate or healthy manner.”  It seems that screen use, regardless of its content, leads to both dysregulation and disorganization of the various biological and hormonal systems that can lead to or worsen “disorders such as ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, sleep disorders, mood disorders such like depression and bipolar disorder, or behavioral issues like aggression—even kids with autism.” (115)

Before prescribing medication for such conditions, it is helpful nowadays to instead prescribe a complete tech fast or digital detox to assess the role screens may have been playing and to help children and youth reset and down shift their overaroused nervous systems. (117)  Amazingly, such tech fasts have been effective 80% of the time, typically reducing psychiatric symptoms by at least half and even causing complete resolution of symptoms in cases where there did not appear to be an underlying psychiatric condition. (117)  This approach also keeps children from unnecessary psychiatric medications which can so easily lead to an unstoppable cycle of medication and suffering, as discussed in Robert Whitaker’s chilling Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.

Kardaras describes two ways tech fasts or digital detoxes are done (120-122, 238-239), recommending that the cold-turkey approach not be used since it can be both dangerous and traumatic, and emphasizing that screen time needs to be replaced with wholesome activities and interactions.

Glow Kids includes detailed discussions of video games, social media, violence, internet predators, educational uses of screens and more, always returning to the central theme that screens, both by their very nature and because of what is on them, harm the mental health of our children and teens.

What Can Parents Do?

Basic strategies from various sources, including Glow Kids:

  • Show the child or teen the research about negative clinical and neurological effects of excessive screen exposure.
  • Limit total screen time to one to two hours a day for ages 6-12 and set limits for teens as well.
  • Substitute screen time with family time. Doing screen-free activities together, such as in 52 Ways to Connect with your Smartphone Obsessed Kid (note: all links are to my reviews or articles)  by Jonathan McKee, will go a long way to reducing tendencies to addiction.
  • For teens, I would suggest adding outside commitments such as part time jobs, volunteering, or sports.
  • Encourage social interaction with family and friends. Growing up Social by Chapman and Pellicane discusses the effects of screens on socialization, with advice for parents.
  • Require physical activity of some sort in exchange for the same amount of screen time.
  • If your children need a phone to be able to keep in touch, get them a flip phone instead of a smart phone.
  • Distinguish between using the internet and screens as tools versus using them as toys. Using them as tools includes surfing to research a topic, email, computer programming, creating music, writing, editing photos, following sports, or watching educational YouTube videos. These tend not to be addictive and can contribute positively to a teen’s life.  Using screens as toys is often addictive and/or destructive, and includes mindless Youtube surfing, video games, hyper-texting, hyper-social media, gambling, porn, and chatrooms, and these should, obviously, be either minimized, or, in the case of some, avoided entirely.
  • Most obvious and important of all, set a few basic rules for everyone in the family:
    • limit screen time,
    • do not allow screens to interfere with schoolwork, other necessary activities, and relationships,
    • put screens away an hour before bed, and
    • do not allow screens during the night.

Boredom without Screens

But, object most kids and many parents, that will lead to boredom.  Kardaras’s response reminds me a bit of Anthony Esolen’s brilliant book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child and of the Harris’s concept of delight-directed learning. They all suggest that it’s good for kids to be bored and to have to figure out, on their own, what to do.  “This is when creativity occurs, and your kids can find their talents,” Kardaras says. (247) How to be a High School Superstar Without Burning Out by Cal Newport helps teens and their parents understand how this process can work for older kids.

How can we determine if our children or teens are at risk for tech or screen addiction?

As we parents navigate the path of guiding our kids’ screen use, here are some questions to consider, selected from a list in the appendix of Glow Kids (note that these questions apply to teens as well, and also to us parents):

  • Is your child staying up later and later to stay on the computer?
  • Does your child get fidgety, anxious, and/or angry if they don’t have their device?
  • Is their tech use negatively impacting their schoolwork, family life, or other activities or interests?
  • Is your child hiding their screen usage or hiding their devices from you?
  • Is your child dreaming of virtual imagery?
  • Does your child seem apathetic or bored more easily?

Dr. Kardaras says that any or all of these (or any of the other ones on his complete list) could be a red flag for tech or screen addiction.  If you are concerned and the above strategies make no difference, it would be wise to read about digital detoxing in Glow Kids and to see a professional who has experience with screen addiction.

We live in a ‘brave new world’ and need to learn to protect our kids, mentally, physically, and spiritually, from the negative aspects of technological developments while also taking advantage of their positive aspects.  Discerning how to do this can be overwhelming but Glow Kids and the other resources listed below will help.

Reviews and Articles Related to Screens, Kids’ Mental Health, and What Parents Can Do:

Glow Kids, Screens, and Education.”  It turns out that screens may cause more educational problems than we suspected.

Review of Glow Kids:  How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids—and How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras.

52 Ways to Connect with your Smartphone Obsessed Kid by Jonathan McKee. Practical ways to connect or reconnect.

Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane.  “Is it possible for children to learn about relationships and responsibilities when the vast majority of their time is spent absorbed in a screen?”

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child by Anthony Esolen is not specifically about screen use, but many of its key ideas are very relevant.

Delight-Directed Learning Pitfalls.” The joys and some common pitfalls of encouraging kids to pursue their own (screen-free) interests.

How to be a High School Superstar Without Burning Out by Cal Newport includes step by step guidance for how to harness free time and develop interests.

Note:  The links above are to my reviews or articles; there are no affiliate links.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library on the recommendation of a pediatric concussion specialist (statistically, phone use and kids’ susceptibility to serious concussions have increased at the same time) and have given my own honest opinions.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Review: Help! I’m Homeschooling! by Tricia Hodges

It is true that habits—good ones, that is—make homeschooling possible and even pleasant.  Charlotte Mason wrote about the importance of habits in education years ago. Recently James K. A. Smith claimed that virtue and character are habits internalized*, showing just how important they are.  Deep down, all of us know that smooth days run on the smooth rails of good habits.  However, homeschoolers have often struggled to understand how to make habits work for their families.

Now that is no longer necessary.   In Help! I’m Homeschooling!  Helpful Habits for the Heart of Homeschooling Tricia Hodges, veteran homeschooler of 5 and long-time homeschool encourager, has given a practical introduction to the habits of effective Christian homeschooling.

In her chatty and enthusiastic style, Tricia shares what works for her family, acknowledging that you need to choose the habits that will work for your own family.  A few times, however, she becomes insistent, like the wise mentor she is:

  • Your family needs some kind of habits to make homeschooling run smoothly.
  • Mamas need personal habits to homeschool well.
  • Prayer is the foundational habit.
  • You must spend time with your husband.
  • The three R’s are basic, so treat them that way.
  • The extras are wonderful and you can include them without stress.
  • Everyone needs a rest break in the afternoon.

Again and again, Tricia points homeschooling moms to the Lord.  She shows how to make faith practical, explaining how habits of praise, prayer, and relying on God can be developed even in the overwhelming busyness of homeschooling.  This is truly the heart of Christian homeschooling, but we are so often tempted to rely on ourselves or our curriculum.

After over two decades of homeschooling, I was reminded of a few things that I had let slip over the years, so Help!  I’m Homeschooling! is benefitting our family, too.   Even in high school it is important to focus on the 3Rs—whatever that means for teens—while exploring other subjects.  I needed the reminders about goal-setting, celebration, and communication as well.

How I wish Help!  I’m Homeschooling! had been around 20 years ago! It would have made our lives so much easier and better.  I am convinced it will bless any homeschooling mom who reads it, especially those newer to homeschooling and also veterans like me.

Note:  Unfortunately, as in most self-published books, a few typos were missed.

*You Are What You Love:  The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith

Reviews of Related Books

A Homeschooler Thinks about The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Bonding with Your Child Through Boundaries by Hunt and Wells

Balanced by Tricia Goyer

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the author and have given my own honest opinion.

This may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

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