Cultivating a Love of Reading

One reason we chose to homeschool, and one reason we ultimately chose to purchase most of our curriculum through Sonlight, is that one of my hopes for my children is that they learn to love reading. Part of that is because I recognize its benefits – reading fiction can help develop empathy. It can help you cultivate a deeper spiritual life. But another huge part of it is that I love to read, and I love to connect with and share passions with my kiddos, and I’ve always hoped we’d be able to read and talk about books together.

Within the last year, I’ve been overjoyed to see my big girls developing an increasing love of reading. Madeleine CaiQun can often be found curled up on the couch with her nose in a book, and especially within the last week or so, I’ve started to see Miranda reading more and more on her own, too.

I actually feel myself rebelling and turning into more of an “unschooler” than I ever thought I would be as I realize how ridiculous it would be to pull my child away from reading a book she’s loving in order to insist that she read the exact chapter from the exact book our curriculum has assigned for the day. I’m definitely not actually turning into an unschooler (a perfectionist and a rule follower and a checklist-lover to my core, there’s no way I could actually “unschool”) – but if Miranda wants to spend 3 hours reading The Wizard of Oz, I’m certainly not going to pull her away from that! In fact, I may need to start stocking up more on these early chapter books that my girls can tackle on their own and really enjoy! Readers, what are your favorite third and fourth grade reading level books?

One of my goals for my littles for this school year has been to read more to them, and though they sometimes insist that they’re going to read their books “by myself!” they come running (or scooting) over any time I sit down on the couch and start reading one of their books out loud 🙂

And I absolutely treasure my moments of quiet with the big girls at bedtime – this is one of my favorite times of the day. We save our read-alouds to do together then, and we snuggle together in my bed, and I read to them.

I definitely have moments in parenting of feeling like nothing is going right, and I can do none of the things well, but days when I see my kiddos reading and when I get to read with them are an encouragement to my soul.

The Enneagram and Self-Knowledge

Being a mom, it’s easy sometimes to lose track of yourself as a person, too. Of course you exist in relationship to other people – in particular your children – but there can be times in which you aren’t sure who you are or what you’re doing, except in relation to said children.

It was fun to dig into a book this summer called The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. A friend asked if I wanted to read it with her, and we ended up having a small group of women from church get together and discuss it. We had people of most different personality types represented there, and one of the most interesting parts of our conversation was hearing about how everyone felt their very different personalities affected their lives and relationships.

Wikipedia describes the Enneagram as “a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types.” There are a few things I really appreciated about this understanding of personality types. For one thing, it incorporates tendencies toward optimism or pessimism, which I think is an important dimension of personality that isn’t always captured. But I actually don’t love the system as a whole. It seems to me to be 9 semi-random groupings of personality traits, as opposed to a systematic evaluation of where different people fall along various dimensions (like the Myers-Briggs personality type system) – and as someone who prefers logical thought and analysis, I really dislike that. I also think it’s a lot easier to type some people (me) than others (Matt). He and I read much of the book together and had interesting discussions about who we thought might fit which personality type and what that meant for how they interacted with the world, and we got our families in on it, asking my brothers and sister-in-law and then his mom and sister (who were visiting while we were reading it) what types they thought they were.

Even not loving the classification system as a whole, reading the book was still beneficial and fun. I suspect it comes as a surprise to no one who has spent more than 5 minutes with me that I am a One, otherwise known as “the perfectionist.” I’ve been aware of my tendencies toward perfectionism for quite some time, but it was still helpful to read and be reminded of the strengths and weaknesses associated with those tendencies. The summary description of this personality type in the book includes statements like:

  • People have told me I can be overly critical and judgmental.
  • I don’t feel comfortable when I try to relax. There is too much to be done.
  • It seems to me that things are either right or wrong.
  • I notice immediately when things are wrong or out of place.
  • I like routine and don’t readily embrace change.

True, true, true.

And it’s so important to be aware of all of those tendencies in myself! Being aware that I prefer to operate in black and white in the midst of a world of grays helps me not to get so frustrated by the intricacies of different situations and to be willing to look at both sides. Knowing that my tendency is to focus on things that are incorrect is a reminder to me to look at all that is correct, too. Realizing that there are reasons for my love of routine helps me to give myself space to deal with change when it has to happen.

And all of that awareness helps me to be a better wife, a better mom, and a better friend. Just because I am a perfectionist and want everything to be done just so does not mean that my children will appreciate my attention to detail. Because it is so easy for me to notice the negatives, I need to make a special effort to look for the things Matt is doing that are helpful and express my appreciation.

I also appreciated that this book was written from a Christian perspective and included information about spiritual strengths and weaknesses of each personality type. I don’t think I’d thought of my personality influencing my relationship with God in quite that way, and it was a good exercise. Some words that stood out to me were, “If you’re a One, you believe the only way you’ll know peace on the inside is if you perfect everything on the outside. It’s not true.” It really is a temptation for me to pursue peace by getting my external world in order – devising systems for regular toy pick-up, planning our meals and our school days, etc. But true peace comes from Jesus, from being real with Him, working through our thoughts and feelings with Him (the book highlights the importance of Ones being honest about their anger!), trusting in Him, and relying on His Spirit.

Since reading it, I’ve been more cognizant of the ways my personality may be affecting me throughout my days and in my relationships. I still don’t love the Enneagram system as a whole, but I have found that taking the time to look at who I am and what that means for how I live my life was illuminating and helpful!

Year In Review: Homeschooling 2016-2017

Most places wrap up their school years in May, perhaps June. Here at our house, we finished our home-schooling year in mid-August! It was an odd year for us – we’d finished our previous year later than I’d originally thought we would, mostly due to Matt’s heart attack. That meant we started this year’s curriculum later than I’d thought we would. And on top of that, we were finishing up our adoption process last fall, necessitating hours of paperwork for me, trips to our Secretary of State’s office to certify documents, travel coordination, and so much other logistical work that we didn’t get through as much of our curriculum as I’d originally hoped in the fall – and then, of course I went to China. And I returned from China with a 3-year-old, and we all had bonding and attachment needs, and she had major medical needs. But God 🙂 Honestly, it stressed me out, not being ahead of the game in terms of our school schedule. I am a perfectionist, and I like to be well ahead of the pack. Except there is no pack. There’s learning and growing together – or not. And we’re learning and growing together. And truth be told? My kids (and I) do better with year-round structure. They (and I) do not do well with weeks of totally unstructured time. It was a good thing for us to do school over the summer. We still have a ton of fun – pool time and parks and playing – but we also do some work. It’s a good balance for us.

I’m actually quite proud of the ways in which we’ve grown as a home-schooling family this year. It feels like we’ve settled into more of a groove. We’ve figured out more of what works well for us, and we’ve stuck with that, whether it matches up with what anyone else does or not. I used to think that we had to start our day with Bible reading, because obviously your day should start with Bible reading! It turns out that doesn’t work so well for us. Starting our day with math works well for us. It’s the most intense of our “seat work” subjects, and if we don’t get it out of the way early, it’s a real battle to try to tackle it later. If we do math and handwriting right off the bat, they’re done well and they’re done quickly – at least more often than when we do them later in the day 🙂

And then we do something that gets us moving. I love checking off boxes. If it were up to me, we’d do all of school right away, and then we’d be done and have the rest of the day to play. It turns out that this is another area in which my initial expectations just don’t match up with the reality of what works well for our family right now. My kids do so much better if we take a break after their seat work is done. Cosmic Kids Yoga is a favorite. 

If I were less of a check-list mom, we’d probably go out to the park more often (also if it were easier to take 4 small children, one of whom uses a wheelchair and one of whom is an untrustworthy runner, to the park). Or even for walks. But I am a check-list mom, so we do yoga 🙂 And I work on growing toward being more laid back.

One thing I’ve loved about this year has been the continued cultivation of a love of reading. We love the majority of Sonlight‘s book choices. After we take our mid-morning break, we dive into reading – often for hours a day – and we enjoy it. These were some of our favorite books from our core curriculum this year.

Reading quality books has also been a huge part of cultivating a love of reading in our kids beyond school. One morning I looked around me, and this was what I saw – all 4 kids looking at books.

That warmed my heart. More than I want to impart any particular pieces of knowledge, I want to instill a love of reading and of learning, and my hope is that we are doing that through the choices we’re making.

Part of that has been making some curriculum adjustments. I mentioned in some of the posts linked above that I was exploring different math curriculum options for Madeleine CaiQun, and I’m glad I did that this year. Singapore Math is an excellent curriculum for Miranda – she loves mental math and just gets math in general. It didn’t click as much for Madeleine CaiQun. After doing more research, I bit the bullet and ordered an entirely separate curriculum package – Math-U-See – for her, and it’s a great fit. The use of manipulatives helps her to understand each lesson so well, and I’m seeing her manifest true mastery of concepts. It’s certainly not financially optimal to have two kids using two different curricula, but one of the beautiful parts about homeschooling is that when you have two very different children who learn and think in very different ways, you have the freedom to teach them and help them learn in very different ways, and I’m thankful for that.

We also have the freedom not to have to work through all things on exactly the same timetable, and I’m thankful for that, too. Miranda is still finishing up Singapore’s Year 2 math, even though we’ve technically finished the school year, and that’s fine. Not having started her new math curriculum until mid-year, Madeleine CaiQun is also obviously not finished with it, but again, that’s fine – we’ll work through it and move on to the next level once we’re ready for it. We also needed to take a bit of time after the end of this school year to finish up our Language Arts program from this school year, and we’re only about halfway through the first book from our Spelling curriculum. I’m always reminding myself – this was their kindergarten and first grade year of school. They are doing great, whether we make it through an arbitrary number of lessons in a given year or not. Obviously if they were showing significant deficits, we’d be concerned and would take whatever measures were necessary to address that – but that’s not the case. They are learning and growing and doing beautifully. 

I think we had a successful year. We learned, and we grew. We made it through (approximately) one year’s worth of curriculum in approximately a year for most subjects. We’ve found some routines that are working for us. We’re getting a lot of quality time together. We talk about anything and everything. This was a good year, and I’m so looking forward to our next one!

Summer Reading

One of the greatest challenges for me, during this stage of life in which I have a good number of fairly small children, is in balancing all of my primary roles and responsibilities. Being a wife and a mom can, even on a good day, threaten to overwhelm all else. Yet I know that it is crucial for me to have time to think, to pray, to reflect, and to be a person in my own right.

Something I’ve always enjoyed is reading books. I love both non-fiction and fiction, the former offering countless opportunities for learning and the latter providing a glimpse into the minds and hearts of other people and thereby helping to expand my own. And while I’ve never entirely stopped reading, it’s been something that has ebbed and flowed, generally in inverse proportion to the demands of my children.

I really started making reading a priority again this past spring. Before we went to Omaha for FangFang’s surgery, I’d solicited book recommendations from friends on Facebook and received quite a few and downloaded several into my Kindle app. That was fortunate, since she spent much of her time in the hospital sitting on my lap, often sleeping, and I could do little besides read.

I’ve discovered in the last few months that I really do retain non-fiction better if I read it in actual book form, so I’ve been sticking to that, but I’ve been borrowing fiction books from the library through Overdrive to read on my Kindle app (and occasionally purchasing books from Amazon, as well). I’ve actually put the Kindle app on my phone, and I’ve read so many books that way over the last couple months. It’s not really my preference, but I always have my phone with me, so I’m able to pull it out and read for a few minutes while waiting for water to boil when I’m cooking or sit and read while waiting in the bathroom with a potty-training toddler. And a side benefit is that I’m less tempted to look at Facebook 50 times a day when I have something else interesting I can pull up on my phone instead!

As far as serious non-fiction, I greatly enjoyed reading Hannah Anderson’s Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul, and I even got to go to a book discussion evening with some other ladies to talk about it. I’ve been wanting to grow in humility, and this book was a great encouragement to me. I’ve also been reading Raising a Sensory Smart Child, by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske. It has given me some good information as I’ve been learning more about sensory processing and about ways in which our body’s sensory-seeking or sensory-avoiding tendencies can affect our lives and how we can use that information to make good choices for ourselves and our children. After finishing Humble Roots, I started reading Mike Wilkerson’s Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry and am looking forward to digging into it more as I prepare for some upcoming ministry opportunities with our church. Next up after that is going to be David Powlison’s new book, How Does Sanctification Work?. David Powlison is my favorite Christian writer and speaker, and I’m really looking forward to reading what he has written. I’m hoping also to get into Praying Together, by Megan Hill, which a lot of the people from our church are reading this summer.

Matt and I have been consistent in our reading together – since our dating days, we’ve always read books together, sometimes both of us reading the same book separately and then discussing it, more often reading out loud to each other. In recent years we’ve been going through sagas – we read almost all of Madeleine L’Engle’s fiction, then read through Harry Potter, and we just finished The Lord of the Rings. The other day we started Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency, my first Douglas Adams book, which, so far, is odd – I’m looking forward to seeing what I think of it after we get into it a bit more, since so many good friends have such a love for Douglas Adams!

I’ve really enjoyed being able to venture beyond our reading together into copious amounts of fiction reading on my own, though, sprinkling in some heavier reads among a lot of lighter, happier books. I read two excellent World War II era books: The Nightingale, which crushed me; and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which at first I thought I wouldn’t like, due to its form of story-telling via letters between various characters, but which I ended up loving. I also loved Wonder, an adolescent fiction novel, which is beautiful and definitely a tear-jerker. My children will be reading all of those books as they reach ages at which they’d be appropriate!

I read some Nelson DeMille books, which were generally good stories, but most of his main characters just annoyed me, so I couldn’t truly enjoy immersing myself in them. But the only book I actually stopped reading before I finished was The Handmaid’s Tale. I may come back to it someday, but I found myself far too creeped out by its dystopian world. I was having weird dreams about it at night and having a hard time jumping back and forth between its world (while I cooked dinner) and my own (as children invariably came into the kitchen to make one request or another). While they’re lighter and probably less respectable as literature, I’ve enjoyed much more the thoughtful, engaging novels of Sara Donati and Christa Parrish. At another time, I might have pushed through the Handmaid’s Tale, because I feel like it’s a book I should be able to say I’ve read, but I’m learning that, just as I parent each child according to what they need at any particular moment, it’s a good idea to pay attention to what I need and want at various times. Right now I don’t need the harsh creepiness but am very encouraged by good, thoughtful stories, and I’m okay with that!

I’m so thankful to be able to grab even a few minutes here and there to do some more reading these days. I’d love any book recommendations you readers may have, as I’m always looking for more good books to read!

An Encouraging Book: Different by Sally and Nathan Clarkson

A while ago, my best friend from college recommended Sally Clarkson‘s podcast to me, and it’s now one of only two podcasts to which I make time to listen regularly. I’ve found it to be such an encouragement to me in my mothering. When Sally started talking about the new books she had coming out, and I read her guest post on Ann Voskamp’s blog, I knew I had to read this book. It’s called Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him.

You see, I have at least one child who is an outside-the-box kid. I actually suspect all four of my children may be, each in their own way, likely manifesting it in different ways and at different times. However, there is one child in particular of whom I am thinking right now. Matt and I have had innumerable conversations about what we believe is going on with this child, and we’ve prayed and sought advice from several people whom we trust. We’ve just recently begun the process of exploring whether it might be good to have some more formal professional evaluations done.

In the midst of all that, there is so much doubt and second-guessing. Is my child struggling in this area because I have failed them in some way? Has my discipline been too harsh? Too permissive? Have we made poor choices, and is what we’re seeing now just the result of that? How are the things we’re seeing affecting our other children? Am I a horrible mother? 

And into those fears and questions stepped Sally and Nathan Clarkson with this book, and it was such an encouragement to my soul. Frustrated by the frequent unexpected delays to my agenda that this child’s behavior can cause, I read Sally’s words, “And I began to deeply perceive that people made in God’s image, no matter how challenging, are of more importance to Him than efficiency, control, or order” (page 27). To my fear that my parenting is ineffective and that everyone does or will view me as a bad mom, she speaks, “So instead of worrying about what others thought or about what I thought children should be like, I tried my best to focus on Nathan’s true needs, his actual capabilities, and what he needed most to learn. I aimed at reaching his heart through consistent instruction, encouragement, accountability, and training, moving him little by little toward self-control and responsiveness to our family ways” (page 27).

I found reassurance that I wasn’t the only one to make a commitment to this as a parenting strategy: “So I learned to pick our battles carefully. I tried to focus on those things that mattered spiritually, not minor issues or man-made rules. I intentionally pressed in on issues that would affect relationships, character, and faith and tried to back off of other, less crucial issues” (page 41). That same strategy is the reason you’ll often see our big girls out and about with drawings on their faces these days. It is certainly not my preference – but we’ve got bigger battles to fight. I’ve told them that if they’re going to draw on themselves, it needs to be with washable markers, but beyond that, we allow it.

I read challenges to press on in pursuing and loving this child – “[God] does not require us to control our children or friends, much less ‘fix’ them. But he does call us to pay attention, to love others, to be the ones who reach out as consistently as possible…My most important ministry would unfold one obedient moment after another as I learned to love and understand and serve those who were closest to me. Nathan or one of my other family members would push my buttons. And I would have to overcome my feelings and practice giving patient answers, to give up my rights one more time…[W]alking in the power of the Holy Spirit often means choosing to be patient and loving when you feel like being impatient and angry. It is the practicing of growing in these areas that grows our spiritual muscle” (pages 136-137).

I found encouragement that persistent compassion and grace can reach hearts – “Knowing when to correct and train, when to overlook, and when to enjoy and praise is a constant balancing act for a parent, but I tried to err on the side of compassion and sympathy with Nathan. These seemed to be the tools that opened Nathan’s heart to correction. And these gifts could only be given through personal time invested over and over again” (page 145). And I saw reassurance that prioritizing my relationship with my children matters – “If we are gentle, loving, kind, forgiving, then our children will have a picture from us that God is also gracious, kind, loving, forgiving” (page 160).

Perhaps most encouraging of all, I read that I was not alone, that even Sally Clarkson, who speaks around the world, encouraging moms, had hard days in parenting, and yet she made it through them. She writes, “[M]any dark, challenging days filled my journey of motherhood. Yet my foundational faith told me every day that God was good and that He had given me this day to live out my faith in Him by doing my best to bring light, goodness, and kindness into the world. And so it was amidst my struggles and trials that I learned the secret of celebrating life as it had been given to me” (page 194). And she raised a son who, while outside-the-box, has learned to follow God in his own unique way. He himself says, “The truth is, we live in a deeply fractured world, and we don’t always have a choice about being broken. But we do have a choice about where we let our brokenness lead us. We can follow it into escape or addiction. But we can also follow it straight to God. To the One who knows us inside and out – with all our mistakes, broken parts, insecurities, and battles – and who still loves us” (page 186). And of the fruit of his experience with his difficult growing years, Sally writes, “I am convinced that the stories he is now telling could never have had such depth if his soul had not been shaped by the pain and tears of being different” (page 214).

Having an outside-the-box kid doesn’t mean I’ve done anything wrong as a mom. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with my child. It means that this is the path God has set out for us to walk, and we’re going to figure it out together, certainly making mistakes, but attempting to live honorably, challenging one another, and having our lives enriched along the way. I was so encouraged by this book, and if you are parenting an outside-the-box kid, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy and read it, too.