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Reading Aloud with Your Family

One of my favorite homeschooling activities over the years has been reading aloud to my kids, whatever their ages. Sometimes it seems as though reading aloud is just one more thing to do, but it actually saves homeschooling time and effort. It is certainly one of the most efficient and effective ways to learn. It can encourage our children in their more formal studies. It can give them context for the other things they learn. It is also a great way to relax together, to reduce cabin fever, or to redirect a bad day. And, finally, it is an excellent way to bond.

We have enjoyed an enormous number of books together through the years, ranging from picture books to adult biographies. Recently my teens and I finished a lively history of the Dutch fight against the sea, Of Dikes and Windmills by Peter Spier. Next we will likely reread an old favorite children’s book, Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan about World War 2 in Norway. After that, maybe Chesterton’s Father Brown, or perhaps a few more nostalgic trips into beloved children’s books.

Our favorite method of learning foreign languages includes reading aloud, too. At first I need to do a lot of translating, later I only explain a few main words, and eventually we just sit down with a good, thick book and enjoy.

If you are new to reading aloud, choose any book you loved as a child (I find older books make much better read alouds, for whatever reason), sit down with your kids, and just start reading. We read the Bible aloud after every meal, and that is always an excellent thing to do. For more suggestions, check out our list of Top Twenty Books For Families to Read Aloud. I wrote a Reading Aloud Pep Talk almost a decade ago. Since then I have discussed reading aloud and have shared our lists for 2011-2014. If you want to check out our more recent read alouds, quite a few of them are on my GoodReads read aloud shelf.

Reading aloud is so simple: Just start, and then fit in a bit every day or two. Enjoy!

That was my contribution to “The Read Aloud Homeschool,” a recent feature at The Curriculum Choice. It’s worth reading the rest of the article as others discuss their families’ reading aloud adventures:

  • Alison explains how to keep kids engaged while reading aloud. My children have drawn pictures, practiced making knots, crocheted afghans, braided their hair, shelled beans, and so much more while I read aloud; Alison shares dozens more great ideas for both little ones and older kids.
  • Heidi talks about books for little ones, from her family’s top 10 to series books with a printable. The books I read with my little ones became their favorites and even now I am ‘not allowed’ to pass them on because they are just too special. So choose these books carefully!
  • Tricia describs how her family combines reading aloud with chalk pastel studies. She also enthusiastically promotes our family’s idea of reading week. (As a writer, I love hearing how my writing has benefited other families, so thank you, Tricia!)

I wish you joy as you read aloud with your family, no matter what their ages are!

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up

This may be linked to Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Christian Homemaking, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Review: The Invention of Clouds by Richard Hamblyn

Naming things is a powerful activity—it was man’s first task in Genesis—and this power is explored in Richard Hamblyn’s brilliant book The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies. I do not think I have ever read such a satisfying, lyrical, information-packed science history book before, although I have read many good ones.

A favorite pastime in the early 1800s was attending scientific lectures. Quakers were not allowed to attend universities, but because they could attend these lectures and even give them, they became a force to be reckoned with in the British scientific world. One of these Quakers, Luke Howard, gave a lecture in 1802, grouping clouds into categories: cirrus, cumulous, stratus, and nimbus. This talk, later expanded into an essay, spread like wildfire through Europe, greatly influencing both science and art and becoming the basis for modern meteorology.

Hamblyn tracks this development and its many aspects, from the growth of scientific journals to the increased fascination with meteorology throughout British and European society. We bump into one famous name after another: Napoleon, Jane Austen, Coleridge, Charles Darwin, Beaufort (of the Beaufort wind scale), Davy the scientist, Shelley, Keats, and many more. Goethe became a strong admirer of Luke Howard and even wrote poetry based on his cloud classifications, later adding verses celebrating Howard himself. Constable’s cloud studies were solidly based on the new developments in meteorology. One could almost say that, once there were words to categorize clouds, cloud mania enveloped Europe.

The Invention of Clouds ranges throughout the European world, pairing broad insights with fascinating details. It also discusses the beginnings of the dichotomy between science and the arts (also outlined in Pearcey and Thaxton’s The Soul of Science and Pearcey’s Saving Leonardo) and explains why Howard’s cloud names were accepted by both groups. Some of the most fascinating details in the book are the quotations:

  • “As a Quaker, Luke Howard shared Linnaeus’s profoundly religious sense that taxonomy was intended as “a respectful ordering of God’s Creation,” an outlook reflected by the lack of anything mechanical or life-denying in his classification of clouds.” (189)
  • “Art and science, after all, were both products of the human imagination; both were ways of representing and giving order to the world.” (307)
  • “Since the painting of nature is a means toward the clearer understanding of nature, it has a serious, even a profound, job to do.” (308)
  • …his profession as a painter could be shown to be “scientific as well as poetic; that imagination alone never did, and never can, produce works that are to stand by a comparison with realities.” (Constable, 317)
  • During the busiest time of his life as scientist, businessman, and teaching father, Luke Howard wrote, “Yet how to be more useful to others I do not yet clearly see; so I keep still in my corner.” (348)

The profound humility and eagerness to serve in this last statement should make many of us pause. Are we so eager to serve God? Are we so humble and busy for him?

In a most fitting conclusion to a life devoted to the contemplation of clouds and the service of God, Luke Howard died at 91 while listening to his son read aloud from Genesis about the rainbow in the clouds. (333)

In portraying Luke Howard and his society to us, Richard Hamblyn, perhaps unwittingly, gives us insight into a deeply Christian way of looking at the world and at human activity as well as insight into the beginnings of meteorology. He does it all with consummate skill, weaving all sorts of ideas together coherently and beautifully. All in all, The Invention of Clouds is one of the best science history books I have read.

This is the kind of book that could be used as science and math reading for high school. It could also be used for history or even for an extensive unit study, given the many possible rabbit trails it introduces. To really enjoy the book readers should know a bit about European history and culture at the time and regularly be able to take a few moments regularly to watch clouds.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up

Disclosure:I borrowed this book from the library but it is one I would love to own someday.

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.

A Chameleon, to the Glory of God

Sometimes looking at nature can make me think of all sorts of deep things. Other times I have only one response, “Wow! My God made that!”

Recently we spent some time watching this chameleon.

It looked us over with its ever-rotating cone-shaped eye. The other eye, on its other side, was looking at something else. What brain power must be involved in processing images from two eyes!

But this little animal, almost sparkling with color, wasn’t concerned with any of that. It went on its merry slow way being a chameleon, doing chameleon things to the glory of God. Carefully it moved its funny feet, one at a time, finding new places to hold on. Up the branches it climbed, slowly testing each foothold, carefully observing all around. When footholds seemed unsteady, the tip of its tail wrapped around a nearby branch.

And then it came down again, just being a chameleon to the glory of God.

I all can say is “Wow! My God made that, and keeps it going moment by moment!”

Praise the Lord!

May we all intentionally open our eyes, wherever we are, and notice the miracles God has placed all around us!

We watched this chameleon and other amazing creatures at “Survival of the Slowest,” an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature. This exhibition is open until April 28, 2019. Earlier we saw butterflies there, and once I spent a long time watching butterfly chrysalises.  When the snow howls around, this museum is a good place to see some of the amazing things God has made.

Disclosure: I am not compensated for writing about the Canadian Museum of Nature.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

This may be linked to Inspire Me Monday, Christian Homemaking, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Review: Mending Fences by Suzanne Woods Fisher

After his third stint in rehab, Luke Schrock went home but no one seemed to want him. Yes, the Amish forgave him; they are required to. But that doesn’t mean they trusted him; almost everyone watched him suspiciously, remembering his devastating pranks. Handsome, charming Luke had always found it easy to win people’s trust, but no longer. So why was he there?

The rehab counsellor had suggested that since he didn’t seem to be able to move forward, he should perhaps go back and find out why. And bishop David Stoltzfus, the one man who had not given up on him, told him, “It’s going to take work to build a good reputation.”

What kind of work? Well, there were those twelve steps Luke had memorized in rehab, and David expanded on them. He had to make a list of all the people he had harmed over the years and apologize. As if that were not enough, he had to ask each person how his behavior had affected him or her. When Luke wrote the list it had only three people; David’s list was thick, page after page of stinging memories.

And, as Luke well knew from past conversations,

David called those stinging memories one of the greatest gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Convicting memories, David called them. Conviction was meant to turn us to confession. And confession brought us back to God.

All that didn’t take away from the fact that he ended up staying with Amos and Fern Lapp (whose mailbox he had cherry bombed not too long ago), a kind old couple who took in strays, and who had space for him only in the tack room of the barn. In the house lived another stray, Izzy, gorgeous Izzy whom he recognized from his first time in rehab. But Izzy was completely uninterested in Luke, no matter what he did. That was another shock to Luke; pretty girls were always interested in him. Always.

Mending Fences is the story of Luke’s list, how he apologized, realized the sometimes horrific consequences of his actions, and tried to make amends. It is the story of Izzy and her search for her mother. It is also, in a quiet way, the story of Luke and Izzy. Ultimately, it is a story of repentance, a story of the damage done by those who have not repented yet (and good Amish, like God, keep giving people chances), and a story of how repentance and faith are intertwined.

When Miss 16 asked me to review this book, I expected a light, summery tale. Instead, I got an intense novel of repentance, forgiveness, and growing faith. These are things we all need to learn more about.

Thanks to Suzanne Woods Fisher for yet again making the Word of God practical in an unforgettable way. Yes, the story is intense; it is also sentimental; and it ends happily, because with God happy endings are possible. And so Mending Fences displays the hope of the gospel, as opposed to the angst and hopelessness of our modern culture.

As David said when Luke thanked him for not giving up on him,

All thanks belongs to God. It really does, Luke. It all starts and ends with God. He’s the one who doesn’t give up.

And, when Izzy asked in desperation where God was when the utterly horrible things happened to her—if he really always watched over her—then David, who had known great tragedy, was able to testify with conviction that,

God brings good out of everything for those who love him. Everything can be redeemed….

Although Mending Fences has a very strong theme, Suzanne Woods Fisher has made it into a gripping story as well, with believable characters and a beautiful setting. I recommend this unusual book to all.

Related resources:

Resolving Conflict by Lou Priolo covers some of the same topics. I expect to write a review of this excellent book soon.

A surprising number of children and teens are being sucked into screen-based addiction, involving brain chemistry changes just like  other addictions do. For more about this, read my article “Screens and our Kids’ Mental Health, with Tips for Parents.”

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up

Disclosure: This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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.

Butterfly Chrysalises and our Children’s Salvation

The other day I spent 40 minutes watching a butterfly ‘nursery’. A few butterflies had partially emerged from their chrysalises. Some were dangling from their empty former home, occasionally flapping their tiny, awkwardly-shaped wings. Others, already looking like proper butterflies, rested or tried out their long new tongues,* curling and uncurling them repeatedly.

The most amazing, however, were a few of the chrysalises themselves. Outwardly they were the same as their neighbors, some brown, some green, some small, some large. But what was special about these few is that they occasionally began to move. Silently, as though touched by some invisible hand, they swayed back and forth a few times. Then they hung still again. Some of them did it only once in the time I watched, and others repeated this at random intervals.

Obviously something was going on inside them, something completely invisible, something mysterious involved in the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. Some miracle that only God truly understands.

A few weeks ago I came across the idea of mothers being described as ‘fruit inspectors’ **looking for the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our children, and I got the feeling of constant, anxious, yes, even frantic poking at the fruit to see if it was maturing. What apple or peach could survive such treatment and still mature properly? Can people?

What if someone had started poking at one of these swaying chrysalises, perhaps making a tiny hole to peer inside? Would a fully formed butterfly have emerged after such interference?

The Bible commands us to tell our children about him throughout everyday life. (Deut 6:4-9). It commands us to enculturate our children in the culture of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). It points out that even a child is known by his actions, by whether he does what is pure and right (Prov 20:11). But nowhere does it command or commend anxious prodding and poking into our children’s souls.

Just as we do not understand what is going on inside a swaying chrysalis, so we do not know God’s inner workings for growing faith in our children. The Bible often points out that God acts in ways beyond our understanding, and it also reminds us that he is good and he is loving. He knows what he is doing—our role is but to trust and obey. Anxious, fruit-inspecting mothers with frantic or nervous agendas can cause harm. Loving, obedient, trusting parents will, by God’s grace, do good in the lives of their children.

May God bless us all as we seek to obey him in our roles as parents, and may he give us the trust to believe that he does do what is best. May he preserve us from anxiety and instead fill us with the peace that passes all understanding.

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6, 7

Surely, the God who routinely turns caterpillars into butterflies can do all things.


*Its tongue is called a proboscis, and you can read more about the complexity and unexpected features of both the proboscis and butterfly behavior, some of which we have actually witnessed over the years.

** This was mentioned in the book Broken Pieces by Simonetta Carr; for more information about the book, read my review.

These butterflies were at the Canadian Museum of Nature; I also wrote about our previous visit to the Butterfly Exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

This may be linked to Inspire Me Monday, Christian Homemaking, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

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