Thursday, April 16, 2015

Happenings Around These Parts Lately

 Here is a little bit of what is happening in the small moments of my life lately.  I sorted my bags of beans and rice into clean jars. Then I got inspired and taped the bag labels on the jars. Just a small piece of organization in my home that all the cupboards and shelves wish that they had.
 This is a snapping turtle caught by my nine-year-old son with the help of his older sister. This turtle was caught in our 'creek'. It's not really a creek. It is the drainage water from the neighborhood and yet a snapping turtle lives in it and so do crawdads. We love our creek and it has provided hours of entertainment for these suburb-bound kids.

While my nine-year-old was catching snapping turtles, my 16-year-old was off for the weekend checking out a college. Eeek! How has this happened? How have they grown up? Because the oldest was off checking out a college, I can't even believe how much joy the catching of this snapping turtle in our yard brought me.

 I am finally getting brave enough to venture out on my own and purchase flowers and plant them. I think of my flower friends and gardening in-laws who have come alongside me to help me learn how to plant things. I've learned  a few things, especially how important water is to growing things. As in, you must remember to water your plants.

I can't even believe how happy it makes me to have planted flowers in my yard. I'm not very good at gardening because I am not too good at paying attention to when it is time to plant and taking advantage of good weather. So, I love my perennial bushes and trees that provide most of the color in our yard. But I am so excited about this small amount of flowers in my yard. It is a huge accomplishment for me.
This pictures is simply because it happened to be green shirt day for us and it wasn't even St. Patrick's Day! Three of the kids randomly selected green shirts so my oldest son put on a green shirt and told me that it was green shirt day. He even got wet mowing the lawn and changed into a second green t-shirt. The best surprise of the day was that Daddy was wearing a green shirt. He leaves for work before any of us are awake and so we never know what he is wearing. So it was a fun surprise that he, too, was wearing a green shirt. So we had to take a selfie to commenorate this very important moment.

What's happening in your world?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Books to help grow deeper with God

I've been pondering for quite some time a post about my top favorite books. My top favorite fiction books are quite hard to narrow into a neat & tidy finite number that can be easily scribbled about on these pages.

However, as I have been thinking and writing and sharing some of what I am learning recently, I've realized that I am drawn again and again to the same books that help me in my walk with God.

These are the books that I read again and again. In some of them, I have taken to writing in the margins the date next to something that spoke to me and maybe something of the current circumstances that go with that date. As I reread the books, it is encouraging to read the longings in my heart that I prayed about that have been answered and to re-read the words that encouraged me during a particular season or challenge in my life.

The books I have found myself in repeatedly are the  Read Through the Bible in a Year checklist from Discipleship Journal, Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot, and My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.

I have recently added two books to the rotation that I can see becoming regulars. They are 31 Days of Praise and 31 Days of Prayer, both of which are by Ruth Meyer. Another book on the honorable mention list is Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor.

Even as I write these few books down, I feel compelled to begin to mention the many other books that have helped influence and shape me.  

However, truly the biggest impact has been the encouragement to read the Bible directly for myself.

I read a passage of Scripture and then try to write the verse or verses that have stood out to me for that day. I say try because the writing doesn't happen every day. Yet, I like those days best. So that even when I am using a devotional such as Jesus Calling, I usually read the bible verses first, write the two or three verses down that are referenced and then read the devotional. Sometimes when I do this, I find that I spend more time -- or feel more spoken to -- in the verses referenced than in the devotional. Sometimes it is the other way around.

Before I began using devotionals more regularly, I read through books of the Bible, instead of the jumping around that occurs in the devotionals. I highly encourage this reading straight through of books of the Bible, and to reading all of it for yourself. It is good to understand the big picture, the whole word of God. Just keep reading bit by bit, day by day, year by year, for yourself. Read verses here and there due to devotional direction. Read verses in a book by book plan through the Bible. Read the passages that your pastor is teaching about. Read your Bible.

Though I find myself in the morning, reading devotionals, I still read through the Bible. I often use the read through the Bible in  a Year List and check off the books. 

If I am doing a Bible study or a devotional that day, I do that, but then, when I don't know what to do, I go back to my checklist of reading through the Bible in a  year and just pick up where I have left off.

It helps prevent me not reading my Bible just because I don't know what to read. So sometimes it has taken my three to five years to actually 'read through the whole Bible' due to my diversions. There have been other seasons when I have been determined to finish it in a year. For my son, who reads very fast, he finds a year is too long in which to read the whole Bible. He reads it much faster than that. I'm pretty sure that I have never done that.

However, my point is to find a pace that works for you and read through the entire Bible. And when you finish, begin again: either to read it in a year, or 3 months, or on the diversion trail that I have described. Do whatever pace works for you, especially for whatever season of life that you are in. Be encouraged that His word does not go back to Him void. He is faithful to bring forth fruit in your life due to the faithful reading of His Word.

In my reading times, I read a passage of Scripture, copy a verse or two that I really liked, and then I write some thoughts about what I read. Sometimes as I go through a particular book or passage, I will answer a few questions, selecting one or more from this list:

* What did I learn about God?
* What did I learn about Jesus?
* What I did learn about the Holy Spirit?
* What did I learn about man?
* What did I learn about believers?
* What did I learn about non-believers?
* Is there a promise to claim?
* Is there a command to follow?
* How can I apply this Scripture to my life?

Sometimes I will write down my prayer requests. Sometimes I will write down questions about the passage that don't make sense.

Also, when I read the Word has changed throughout the years. For many years, I read just before bed. Then, when I got married and started a full-time job, I found it hard to read at bedtime so instead I read in the nooks and crannies of my time. When I was a mother with young children, I often read during nap time, if I could stay awake. Now, with older children, I find that I can take a leisurely time reading the Word in the morning again. It sure seems luxurious; I am trying to enjoy it because life has proven that it changes. There have been seasons when I have been able to read a lot and study the Word for hours several days a week. There have been seasons when I read the verse taped to my mirror each morning and dashed off to my responsibilities for the day. And everywhere in-between (including days, seasons of laziness).

Just keep reading the Word for yourself. No matter how long it has been since you last picked it up, just keep reading: Day by Day, Week by Week, Year by Year. I hope this encourages you to do that. If I can do it, so can you. Really you can!

How about you? 
What tips do you have  about how to spend time in God's Word in order to grow deeper in your walk with Him?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Some thoughts on teaching writing

As I've been thinking about how to teach writing, I've scribbled a couple of thoughts about it here. I'm no expert on how to teach writing; I love to write, I love to teach., and I am teaching my four children  how to write and so I thought I would share a part of my  journey with you.

Content of writing versus form of writing

There are two basic layers to teaching writing: content and form. There is the WHAT of what you want to say, or the content, and then there is the HOW of what you want to say, or the form. One of the difficulties of teaching how to write is just this: learning how to write while trying to figure out what to write.

In one sense the form or rules of writing can appear easier to teach than the content of writing. Somehow the rules of writing: grammar, spelling, capitalization, and commas seem easier to correct than content but they are closely related to content because WHAT you want to say influences HOW to say it.

Yet, I do agree that Content is more difficult to teach because how can you teach someone to think and to articulate ideas if they haven't already been thinking for themselves. As I pondered this difficulty of the tension between how to write and what to write, I asked another homeschool mom in passing how she taught her children to write. She said, "They write every day" and then she had to dash off.

I wasn't sure how that helped me. But I took that little nugget and came up with a method for them to write every school day. Now, after a few years, I see the beauty in this. The way to learn how to do something, is to do it.

So it is in writing that one can learn to write. 

Learn how to generate ideas
So how do we write to learn how to write? A simple form is a 10 minute journal. Find a notebook and a pen. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Find a prompt: such as a word or a question. Start the timer. Begin writing and don't stop writing while the timer is timing, even if it means that you write: "I don't know what to write but I have to write for 10 minutes: over and over again. There is no worrying about spelling, grammar, handwriting. Just write without stopping for ten minutes.

This simple exercise teaches you how to get ideas out of your head and onto page or screen. You can use a pen and paper or a computer. This exercise is somewhat like playing scales on the piano. It gives muscle memory about how to write.

Getting to the ideas in our minds is one skill set while organizing and editing those ideas is another skill set. When I began this idea, I was surprised how much my children enjoyed doing this and asked to do this and often write longer than the prescribed time.

Later on in our schooling, the students have had writing assignments when they simply stared at me with no idea how to begin. Then I told them to set a timer and write on the topic for 10 minutes without stopping -- idea generation! Immediately they got unstuck.

I also have them edit journal entries once a week. They take one of the free-writing sessions and give it form and structure, proper spelling and punctuation along with other editing as needed, so that it can become a piece of writing that they are proud of.

The next part of learning how to write is to read. It is important to read great books, great fiction books. It will introduce the children to books that have something worth reading both because of its content and its form. It therefore becomes important to:

Find great books. Read great books. 
Read them aloud; read them quietly. Read great books.

Finding great books does not necessarily mean the top 100 classic books that every child should read before going off to college. There may be some books on that list that are great, however, not all books are great just because they are on that list.

You need to learn how to find great books that are worth reading again and again.

It starts by finding the books that impact your heart, mind, and emotions, leaving you a changed person. Now, there are those books that many love. Those are good places to start but don't worry if that book isn't for you. You will find your way in time. Although I do need to caution you that a lot of the great books were written in a time and an age where time was slower-paced than our world is so some of the great books need to be given time to warm up -- maybe even halfway through the book. Yet, even after giving it some time, you may find that the book still doesn't resonate with you. That's fine. Set it down and keep looking.You'll need to learn some discernment and learn which books are great books by reading them.

It is hard work finding great books. It is hard work to find the type of book that impacts you both with its message and with the way it is said, but keep looking because it's worth it!

When you find the great books, read them aloud and  give them to your children to read them to themselves and read them yourself and don't get in the way. Enjoy the story for the story sake. Do NOT make your student write a book report.

Do take time to discuss favorite treasured parts of the book, as long as it's not forced. Keep a quote book of favorite pages. Keep a book journal, making a list of the books you've read and what you do or do not like about them. Read what your children are reading. Ask them what they like about it. Let them enjoy the story for the story sake -- just like you would enjoy a movie without dissecting it. Read it. Enjoy it.

Remember that every great book you love or that your favorite English teacher loves or your aunt that is always reading loves just MAY not be the book that you love. But find the fiction books that craft a story that draws you in. But is imperative for you to find really great books and have your children read really great books. Writers read.

And it is in the reading great books with great ideas that it will stir and generate ideas in your students. Childhood is a time to instill in children what is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and true. Children are curious quite naturally. They are fascinated with dandelions and bring them to their mothers. Fan the flame of their interests. Talk with them. Answer their questions and ask them questions. Spend time together and these activities will build experiences, thoughts, observations, and perceptions that they can then begin to put on paper.

There are many more aspects to writing but these two are great places to start. The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is a great book to read to be inspired to read aloud to your children and includes a book list in the back. I have found some treasures in his book and at least one of his books that he went on & on about, I didn't like. I didn't read it aloud. BUT, the rest of the book inspired me and made me want to change the world by reading stories aloud to children, adults, to all the people of the world. It gave me a great perspective.

As far as editing writing, I use Strunk & White's Elements of Style. It is not a complete how-to manual but it is concise and helpful.

Any other thoughts that you may have about teaching writing? 
Did you have an inspirational writing teacher that taught you?

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