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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.

Glow Kids, Screens, and Education


Glow Kids, Screens, and Education

A few years ago, my dental hygienist enthusiastically told me that her children’s school was completely computer based and every kid had a laptop.  With my mouth wide open I couldn’t say anything, but I wouldn’t have known how to respond even if I had been able to talk.  After all, computer learning is everywhere so it must be good, right?  But somehow it didn’t seem wise.

Many, like my dental hygienist, are enthusiastic about it, but others, like some of the top tech creators, strictly minimize their children’s exposure to screens, even to the point of sending them to special no-tech schools.  What do they know that we don’t?  And what are the implications for homeschooling?

We have used some computer-based curricula with my children in the past, although we never depended on it.  While this worked rather well for teens in subjects such as math, foreign language, and accounting, it did not work well for most other subjects or for little people.  In fact, I sadly recall times when I insisted my elementary aged children do ‘schoolwork’ on the computer while they would have been much better off doing paper and pencil work or even just playing.

Looking back, it actually seems that educational technology was not only ineffective but often counterproductive for my kids, something that Dr Kardaras’s book Glow Kids suggests is true in general.  Kardaras makes a profound statement:  “People need to first fully develop their brains—their cognitive, attentional, linguistic, emotional, spatial and reality-testing mental faculties—before their brains can go beyond those areas and handle hyperarousing and reality-immersing screens.” (34)

Because I don’t want other little ones to face the same educational disadvantages, I want to discuss the educational aspects of Dr. Kardaras’s book Glow Kids and apply his thoughts to homeschooling.

Some say that nowadays educational methods need to change and that we need computer learning, since kids have shorter attention spans than they used to.  However, using screens as entertainment (games, social media, Youtube surfing, and even movies) has profound effects on attention span.  Not only do screens keep kids coming back for more, but they also hyper-arouse their nervous systems, making it impossible for them to focus on less stimulating things such as reading or learning.  So, yes, it is true that most kids nowadays cannot focus and have short attention spans.  (22 ff)

However, Kardaras and others suggest that the solution may not be what educational software providers say it is, i.e. providing more engaging programs to hold their attention.  Instead, Kardaras suggests radically less screen time so that kids will have the opportunity to develop both attention and the ability to think.  In fact, research suggests that basic intellectual and neurological development is hampered and altered by screen exposure, and that the effects are more severe at early ages.  Even more strongly, the Alliance for Childhood is quoted as saying that “…a high-tech agenda for children seems likely to erode our most precious long-term intellectual reserves—our children’s minds.” (203)

On the other hand, screens do have a place in education, but not in the way they are often used.  That is also discussed in Glow Kids.

Technology can be a useful tool in already effective schools with effective teachers…but it does little for mediocre educational systems and, worse, in dysfunctional schools it can “cause outright harm”,” Kardaras says, quoting one researcher.  One problem is that technology does not address student motivation, which is more likely to come from an effective teacher. (202)  Studies have shown that reading comprehension is greater from paper books than from ebooks. (216ff)  Finally, “technology can only help when a child or student is developmentally ready to handle powerful and hypnotic screens.” (220)  Most fundamentally, children and teens first need to develop the ability to think. (220)

Kardaras concludes:

Technology can certainly be helpful in a well-supported and thoughtful high school curriculum.  Perhaps even in middle school, some limited exposure to computer learning can be helpful.  But the notion of sticking a radiant screen in the hands of a kindergartener or a child in elementary school is not helpful educationally, but, as we have read, could be neurologically and clinically harmful—especially for already vulnerable children. (220)

Well then, what about all the glowing information that comes our way about the importance of computers in education at all levels?  Kardaras shows behind-the-scenes machinations, corruption, and unfounded idealism in the battle to sell educational material, including software and tablets, to schools.  It’s a sad story, one all parents should be aware of.

Naturally, we homeschoolers are most interested in what this all means for our own families.    So, based on the research presented in Glow Kids, what can we say about screens in the homeschool?

Ideally, preschool and elementary learning should be done without screens.  There are excellent non-screen educational resources and curricula, and building strong relationships with people, the real world, and  books is still one of the main benefits of homeschooling.  Even for repetitive work such as math drill, it is best to try a low tech approach like hands-on math play, old-fashioned flash cards, or a paper-based drill program such as the excellent Calculadder.

Some computer learning could be helpful for middle school if it is accompanied and supported by quality teaching.  It would be best to focus on high-education value and avoid high-addiction materials.  Examples of helpful tech use could include online research, Math Score (unfortunately it has also added a game), Seterra (geography facts), Rosetta Stone, and Duolingo (languages). (Note:  All links in this article are to my reviews.)  On the other hand, having books for research, pen and paper for math and spelling drills, and a live teacher for languages would undoubtedly be better, but these things are not always possible for a homeschooling mom.

For high school, effective computer learning we have used alongside more traditional learning includes ALEKS (mostly math), Professor in a Box Accounting, Rosetta Stone and Duolingo, Seterra, Windows Programming, Web Design, and The Great Courses (caution: at least one of their instructors is known for attacking Christian beliefs, so this is not a blanket endorsement).   I have written about a few more helpful learning resources for high schoolers, ones that are tools, not toys.

Three exceptions:

  1. There are online learning programs that are essentially a classroom on a screen or that are actual live classes, involving interaction with a real teacher and other students. We have never tried the former, although we did benefit hugely from AP English taught online, but I know families who have used them successfully for older children and teens.  These programs are not the hyper-arousing, game-based ‘educational software’ that cause problems but valid and successful ways of learning, although in-person teaching is always best, especially for younger children.
  2. There are also learning programs for disabled or special needs children that do not rely on bells and whistles but give children the ability to keep up in the classroom, and those also tend to have a net benefit.
  3. On the other hand, kids who are clinically addicted to screens would benefit from a full digital detox; even educational screen use should be completely eliminated for a period of time. For more information, see Glow Kids or consult an addictions counsellor who understands screen addiction.

All that being said, we live in the real world and it is not good for kids to be completely out of step with what their friends are doing.  When older children want to play games, here are “Three Computer Games that I Almost Always Allow”.  Yes, they are educational but they, too, can be addicting; after what I’ve learned from Glow Kids I would raise the recommended age and also say that they should not be played before bed. Oh, the things I wish I had known earlier!

I encourage you to reconsider screen use in your homeschool, eliminating it for little ones and minimizing it for all.  It’s also worth reading Glow Kids:  How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids—and How to Break the Trance.

Related book reviews and articles:

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

Screens and our Kids’ Mental Health, to be published soon.

52 Ways to Connect with your Smartphone Obsessed Kid by Jonathan McKee.

Smart but Scattered Teens by Guare, Dawson, and Guare.

Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Gary Chapman and  Arlene Pellicane.

Thanks to Miss 16 for the photo.

Note:  All links in this article are to my reviews.

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: Henry Barrie: Vimy Ridge Survivor


Like many country boys in the early 1900s, Henry Barrie of Lanark was ready for adventure. His best friend Jimmie put it well, “Day after day, milking the cows, chopping wood, feeding the chickens, fetching the water and that is all I’m going to do the rest of my life.  Eventually, I’ll get married and show my kids the same thing as well. It would be nice to have a story.” So Henry, Jimmy, and many other young men left the eastern Ontario routine of winter, maple syrup, summer farm work, and turkey harvest, and went off to war together, eager to ‘do the right thing’ for many reasons.

They trained endlessly in Quebec and then, after an event of great significance on board the enormous SS Lapland, they continued their training in England.  It was boring, but as Henry told Jimmy, “I suspect drill is probably better than war.”

It was.

When Henry and Jimmy were unexpectedly separated at the front lines, Jimmy gave Henry a little diary so that they would be able to swap stories.  In hospital after his first injury, Henry began to use it reasoning that, “Maybe if I write this down it will help me to stop thinking about this.” He continued this diary, against regulations, when he went back to the trenches, creating a rare day-by-day account of World War 1 from the front lines.

Author Robert More took Henry’s diary and his letters home, weaving them together with historical research to write Henry Barrie: Vimy Ridge Survivor, a riveting 90-page story for children that will fascinate adults as well.

From Henry’s youthful eagerness to do the right thing while seeing a bit of the world, and his days in the trenches, to his recuperation from serious injury in England and his return to Lanark, this book shows what World War 1 was like.  Henry Barrie did not waste words; likewise the book itself is full of references to the trenches, going over the top, and injuries that are both powerful for adults yet suitable for children because of their brevity.  Robert More seamlessly inserted Henry’s diary entries into the story, explaining where necessary without over-emphasizing the terror.

For example, on the day that the Canadians took Vimy Ridge under the leadership of Sir Julien Byng, Henry simply wrote:

“April 9  Went over the top.  Took three lines of trenches.  Was a wet day.  Seen an airplane come down.”

Robert More filled in historical details, ending with, “…it was a day he would never speak of to anyone, ever.”

During the horrible final winter of the war when the cold was intense and letters scarce, Henry wrote, “Jesus really is my best friend now.  He is the only one who is with me every single day.”  This certainty of faith was central to Henry’s life and Robert More suggests that it was the reason he came back from the war essentially unchanged.

Although, like many of his day, Henry was intensely private even in his journal, it is evident that he was filled with longing for Nettie back home, love for his family, loyalty to his pals, especially Jimmy, and joy in occasionally attending church.

Henry Barrie:  Vimy Ridge Survivor is realistic but also optimistic.  Henry must have learned this attitude from his father who would thank God for ‘a fine day’ and his wife for delicious food even when the children would be complaining about having to eat porridge for supper yet again.  After interviews with his children, the author told me that  Henry himself later also used the phrase ‘a fine day’ when giving thanks each evening, and it shows up throughout the diary—not on the day they captured Vimy Ridge, when over half of his battalion died, but so often.  Even the day he was seriously injured was called ‘a fine day’ and when he later wrote his mother about it he said, “Jesus was definitely watching out for me.  Praise God!”  It is this positive outlook that makes this book suitable for children despite the terrible subject matter and that gives Henry’s story its unique strength.

In the world of children’s war books, Henry Barrie is a refreshing representation of reality.  Henry depended on God, and that is openly acknowledged in this book.  Traditional publishers liked the incredible story but wanted Robert More to omit references to Henry’s faith, as though belief in God did not matter in the life-and-death existence of World War 1. But God is not irrelevant, either in the trenches or in the rest of life, and Henry Barrie’s story is yet another example of this.

Even though I have emphasized the Christian aspects of the story in this review, Henry Barrie itself is very much an exciting tale of an ordinary young man who heads off to war with his pals and who, unlike many of them, survives.  It’s a good story, both gripping and moving, and the fact that is based on an actual diary gives it historical significance as well.

There are few godly history stories like Henry Barrie: Vimy Ridge Survivor, and we desperately need them.  Robert More has done us a great service by transforming Henry’s diary and letters into an exciting story suitable for children and fascinating for adults.  I highly recommend this inspiring book as we remember World War 1 this November.

The Henry Barrie website includes purchasing information,  a free children’s study guide (written by More’s grade four students), and a free devotional guide for adults.  Henry Barrie is also available on Kindle, but with different cover.

Notes:

  • The cover photo of Henry Barrie is from World War 2 when he served again, not from World War 1 which is discussed in the book.
  • Unfortunately, as in most books from micro-publishers, a few typos were missed.

Related links:

They Shall Never Grow Old by Peter Jackson, released a few weeks ago in the UK but not yet in North America, shows life in World War 1 based on old films. I expect it will be an incredible accompaniment to Henry Barrie for older teens and adults.  For more information and the trailer, see the Imperial War Museum’s site which states, “Peter Jackson, best known for directing The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has created a new film using original footage from Imperial War Museums’ extensive archive, much of it previously unseen, alongside BBC and IWM interviews with servicemen who fought in the conflict.”

I Was a Spy! by Marthe McKenna (link to my review):  True personal account of a World War 1 Belgian spy that kept Winston Churchill up till 4 AM, although years earlier he had already passed on ‘the appreciation of his Majesty’ to the author for her espionage work.

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin (link to my review):  A Christian novel based on Marthe McKenna’s story.

Leadership Lessons from Vimy Ridge by John Pellowe,  a free audio file of a dramatic production that discusses a different angle of World War 1 (or here, to arrange to listen to John Pellowe’ presentation in person, an memorable experience).

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.

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.

Fall Recipes: 15+ Ways to Enjoy or Preserve the Harvest

Every fall, I search my own blog for our favorite harvest recipes.  This year I decided to compile a list so you can enjoy them as well.  These are all favorites that we have used over and over, from salsa and sauerkraut to pumpkin slice, apple salad, soups, and Thanksgiving turkey.  I have included a few helpful fall kitchen tips, a favorite fall memory, and a bit of encouragement, too.

I was hoping to make all these recipes printable and to spruce up the pictures, but there is no time for that (we are still working on apples and tomatoes as well as the carrots, turnips, and kale that are still in the garden).  However, the recipes themselves are great, and that is what counts, and you can always print them out by copying and pasting into Word.

Apples Breton Style

Fall Recipes

Stress-Free Succulent Turkey

Turkey or Chicken Soup

Tasty, Easy, Frugal Ham

Broccoli Soup

Cauliflower Soup

Spicy Apple Salad

Apples Breton Style

Pumpkin Slice with Pie Options

The Simplest, Tastiest Butternut Squash Recipe and the Next Best

Butternut Squash Oven Fries

Barbequed Zucchini and Zucchini Chips

Cauliflower Soup

Preserving the Harvest

Sauerkraut

Salsa and Salsa Soup Stock

Freezing Peppers

Microwave Blanching for the Freezer, a Three Batch Process

Pickled Beans, Large and Small Batches

How to Pit Plums for Jams and Sauce

Preserving Basil

Making Sauerkraut

Fall Food Tips

Microwaving a Pumpkin

Shelled vs Unshelled Nuts:  Which are a Better Deal?

Harvesting and Homeschooling

Just for Fun

Today We Ate a Beet

Encouragement

And, if you need encouragement to just keep on picking the next vegetable, preserving the next batch of fruit, cooking the next meal, and doing the next thing…because all this enormous amount of effort seems so trivial in the grand scheme of things, please do read my post about Harvest, Health, and Thanksgiving.

May God bless us all as we use his gifts of health and harvest to his glory!

If you enjoyed this article, 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: No Christian Silence on Science by Margaret Helder


No Christian Silence on Science

Your teen is interested in science and, as a Christian parent, you worry about what an evolution-dominated university education will do to his or her faith. Many years ago, the father of a bright young girl named Margaret worried the same way, but he needn’t have. Now this Margaret, who has become Dr. Helder, is one of the most prominent women in creation science, and her recent book will help you and your teen.

After many years of writing, speaking, and lecturing—as well as raising six children and teaching science to homeschoolers from K-12—Dr. Helder has written a book that will inform, guide, and encourage young people interested in studying science. No Christian Silence on Science: Science from a Christian Perspective aims ‘to show that science, when critically evaluated, does not threaten a biblical understanding of how we came to be here.’

No Christian Silence on Science

Although this book is not written specifically for high school students, it can be used to teach teens who want to understand science from a biblical point of view and be able to talk about it wisely. This slim book covers a lot of ground; each of its five chapters is distinctly different, and some will be easier for teens than others, but all are worthwhile.

…To read more about the book itself, please see my complete review of No Christian Silence on Science on the Curriculum Choice.  For more discussion of the book, continue reading below.

Although Dr. Helder does not emphasize it explicitly, the key to her book and to all Christian scholarship is to realize that discoveries in the world God created will not contradict the Word he gave.  With that firm confidence, one is able to ask questions, to understand societal issues, and to deal with ethical issues in all disciplines.  Of course, it requires both Bible knowledge and a deeper knowledge of their fields than students currently have, but just knowing that this is a possibility can be an encouragement.  And learning some of these ideas while still in high school will begin to equip young people.

After studying high school biology a teen will, with effort, be able to understand much of the science in this book.  No Christian Silence on Science also discusses history and some philosophy, and as such is not an easy book.  In fact, since research level science is being discussed, the reader must fully expect to not understand everything, and rather learn to delight in what can be understood.  But that, too, is a common part of learning about God’s creation.  Lord willing, my girls will be studying this book after they finish Apologia’s Biology.

No Christian Silence on Science is a must-read resource for all Christian young people interested in science, whether they are in high school or university. It will remind them of the influence of prior beliefs, show them the ever-increasing problems with evolutionary theory both in science and in society, and equip them to challenge inaccurate scientific claims with grace and confidence.  It is a challenging book, but anyone planning to study science should learn to accept the fact that there will be things they will not be able to understand. Ideally, all older Christian teens and adults will read this book.

Although No Christian Silence on Science is not written for homeschoolers, it could be used in the homeschool as extra reading for a biology course, or in a Bible, apologetics, worldview, or career planning course.  It is a versatile book with many possible options and it could be one of the most worthwhile books your teens will ever study, because it will strengthen them to stand firm in their faith and even to be able to reach out to others.

…To read more about the book itself and for purchase information, see my complete review of No Christian Silence on Science on the Curriculum Choice.

…For some fascinating online science articles, ideal for homeschool science reading, see my list of Dr. Helder’s online articles.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I am just a newbie, or connect with me on GoodReads where I, eventually, share what I read. 

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book; my opinions and thoughts are my own and I am not compensated for them.

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