Book Thoughts: Teaching from Rest

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will already be aware that the first book I chose to work toward my 2018 goal of reading more non-fiction is Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie.

Every time a question comes up in the homeschool mom groups on Facebook asking for book recommendations for moms themselves, this book is suggested over and over again. I couldn’t figure out what could possibly make it that popular. Surely it couldn’t be that good, right? Wrong. It is that good.

Even the foreword of my copy is covered in hand-written notes!

Early in Part One of the book, the author shares a quote from C.S. Lewis:

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own,” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination.

She follows that with some practical application for homeschooling moms: “Surrender your idea of what the ideal homeschool day is supposed to look like and take on, with both hands, the day that is. Rest begins with acceptance, with surrender. Can we accept what He is sending today?”

Wow.

As a mom of 4 kids ages 7 and under, my day is full of “interruptions.” I never accomplish all that I write down on my “to do list.” Never.

And yet this is the life God has given me. I need to slow down and accept, moment by moment, that this child, the child in front of me right now, the one who is melting down because she didn’t get her way or the one who is celebrating the pee art dinosaurs he has just made on the couch (true story – see below), needs my attention and my affection and my loving teaching. And that is exactly what God would have me prioritize (as opposed to the next item on my list or, worse, the next post I could scroll to see on Facebook), and when I accept that, my attitude will be much more peaceful and in line with where God would have me focus my attention and energies.

pee art – “two dinosaurs”

I also appreciated the reminder of what I’m truly called to do. The author writes, “Most of my own frustration comes for forgetting what my real task is in the first place. He’s called me to be faithful, yet I’m determined to be successful.”

Yes. Obviously I need to have goals for my children – but especially as they grow older, I cannot force them to accomplish any given objective. In truth, my job is to be a faithful teacher. I need to pray. I need to meet each child exactly where he or she needs me to meet them. I need to teach, to present materials and ideas and concepts, and to encourage thoughtfulness. Each child will do something different, something unique and very much their own, with what I present to them, and my job cannot be to force those results, but to be faithful in what I teach.

I also so appreciated her writing about what curriculum is. She says, “Curriculum isn’t something we buy. It’s something we teach. Something we embody. Something we love. It is the form and content of our children’s learning experiences.” And a few pages later she writes, “Remember, how far we progress in a book does not matter nearly as much as what happens in the mind and heart of our student, and for that matter, in ourselves.”

I am so guilty of thinking that the curriculum I use in teaching my children lies solely in the materials I purchase. And then I become bound to those purchased materials, obligated to complete them in their entirety within a less-than-12-month time period. And that’s just not reality.

It is my job to educate my children. The materials I purchase are the tools at my disposal for pursuing that objective. If this year’s poetry selection in our purchased curriculum just isn’t doing anything for us, but I’ve heard about another book that is stellar, a substitution may be a great idea. If we take breaks from our purchased curriculum to study emotional self-regulation or visit a museum and learn about dinosaurs or listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches or to go to the fire station or to do a unit study on the Olympics and that enriches my children’s education, that’s just fine.

It is my job to nurture my own children, connect with them, prioritize my relationships with them. No one else’s homeschool will look exactly like ours, and that’s the way it should be. In working to serve God and my own family, I have freedom to teach what and how my kids need, in a way that works for our family.

I was encouraged by this book to grow myself, to be a person who slows down and reads and contemplates ideas. I want to live a life that I’d be happy to have my children imitate. I want to slow down, seek God for our family’s homeschooling journey, and really focus on relationships with each of my children. I want to take each moment as it comes, whatever it brings, and teach my kids throughout the day. I finish the book encouraged and refreshed in this long winter stretch of homeschooling, excited to live out these ideas of teaching from rest.

Summer Goals – 2015 Edition

While my girls continue to insist that it is not truly summer until we hit its official start later this month, Matt is done with his semester, we have finished our homeschooling school year, and the temperature is regularly surpassing 90 degrees, so we’re going to go ahead and act like it’s summer 🙂 To that end, I’ve been thinking about how we can best spend these summer months, and I’ve come up with some goals for us. In no particular order, they are –

1. Work with the girls on moving toward learning how to swim.

Miranda is 5 and Madeleine CaiQun 4, and I’ve done approximately nothing to help them learn how to swim before this summer. I think swimming is a valuable life skill to have, though, so this summer, we joined a pool, the girls are enrolled in swimming lessons, and hopefully we’ll be making some progress toward swimming!

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2. Be consistent in working with the girls to develop self-control, kind words, and gentle hands.

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory 🙂 These are growth areas for us, and while I can’t force hearts to change, I can be consistent in encouraging good behavior and addressing issues that arise.

3. Work through 4-6 weeks of school curriculum.

I’ll share more about our plans for Miranda’s kindergarten and Madeleine CaiQun’s pre-k school year soon, but for now, I’ll just say that I think year-round schooling works best for our family at this stage, and I’d love for us to get a solid start in our curriculum for this upcoming year before the fall actually arrives!

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4. Get set for a mobile baby – and some days, 2 mobile babies! 

One reason for us to cover some ground with school this summer is that we’re going to be watching a friend’s baby two days a week starting in the fall, and obviously 2 babies require more care than 1! I’d like to have a better idea of what our school days are going to entail and be able to plan accordingly. Beyond school, though, we’ll need to make some changes to the set-up of our house, doing some child-proofing, etc.

5. Organize the playroom.

A few weeks ago I did some de-cluttering of the playroom and a bit of re-organization, but I’d really like to get it set up more fully and organized in such a way that is conducive to mobile babies!

6. Blog!

I really enjoy writing and blogging, and I’d love to be more consistent in writing this summer. I have some ideas for some posts I want to share with you all, and feel free to let me know if there are topics you’d like me to cover here!

7. Read more, in particular the parenting books I ordered this spring.

Another of my loves is reading, and with 3 little ones for whom to care and a multitude of tasks to accomplish, it’s easy to push it off to the side. I think it’s important, though, for me to expose myself to ideas outside of myself. Right now I’m finding it really encouraging and helpful to study parenting and learn more about strategies I can employ in shepherding my kiddos. I have a small stack of books I ordered this spring about parenting, and I’d like to make my way through them during the summer.

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8. Make it a priority to have fun. Say yes to things like walks, time at the park, and time at the pool.

We are doing some school and trying to keep some semblance of structure to our days, but I still want to enjoy and facilitate our kids enjoying this summer. I want to take advantage of nice weather, when it appears, and get outside and have fun.

9. Enjoy Atticus.

Our little guy is so incredibly adorable and sweet. I’m such a task-oriented person by nature that it can be easy for me to take advantage of the times when he is content to accomplish something from my “to do” list, but I also want to make sure I take time to snuggle with him, tickle him, smile and coo at him, and just enjoy the little person he is.

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10. Write in each child’s journal at least once.

From before our kids were born or joined our family, I’ve maintained a journal for each in which I write letters to them. I know that I won’t always remember each little thing they do that makes me smile or how I’ve thought about them at different times, and I want them to have a record of those things. I want them to know how much I’ve loved for and cared for them throughout their entire lives, how precious each one is to me. It’s hard to set aside the time to write, though, so my goal is to write to each child at least once this summer.

11. Finish writing and sending thank you notes to people who blessed us around the time of Atticus’s birth.

I’m generally pretty awful at writing thank you notes (as evidenced by the fact that Atticus is now 6 months old and I have still not sent out these thank you notes!). I truly believe it’s important to thank people who have taken time out of their lives to bless us, though, so I want to finish writing these and get them out to people.

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12. Go on at least 2 dates per month with Matt.

Matt and I just recently celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary 🙂 I think the first year after adding a child – whether through birth or adoption – is always challenging for a marriage, and we want to be intentional about sustaining our relationship.

13. Replenish our savings.

We’ve had several significant expenditures recently that have depleted our savings beyond the level we like to have it, so we’d like to earn and set aside some funds this summer to replenish that fund.

14. Build a more consistent prayer life.

This is something I consistently find myself struggling with. I find that parenting has driven me to prayer like nothing else, but I still am not sure when to set aside a specific time (or times) to pray, and I find myself often, in the moment, responding before praying, and I’d like that order to be reversed! Moms of littles, any suggestions??

 

This feels like a pretty ambitious list, but I’m hoping we can get a good amount of it accomplished before the summer is through!

a great parenting resource: No-Drama Discipline

Several years ago, as Miranda was growing out of the baby stage and as Matt and I began preparing to embark on our journey to become adoptive parents, we started reading and researching more about parenting. Interestingly enough, it was the resources aimed specifically toward helping adoptive parents raise their children that we found most compelling. Those books rely heavily on the latest research about child development, neuroscience, and the ways in which children learn, particularly with regards to the skills necessary for the ability to develop successful relationships.

One of the tenets of the philosophy we have embraced is that the purpose of disciplining children is to teach them – not to punish them – and within that context, nurturing our relationships with our kiddos is of paramount importance. I just finished reading No Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, a book that subscribes to that same philosophy, and I found it to be an incredibly encouraging read with a number of examples that offered timely application for our family.

Siegel and Bryson describe how many of us default to punitive discipline strategies that our children experience as pain or rejection, and they discuss the ways in which our children’s brains respond to those disciplinary strategies – primarily by shutting down their higher brain functions (which are the areas that enable them to learn) and instead staying locked into more primitive, reactive areas of the brain. However, we as parents can instead choose strategies that focus on setting healthy boundaries while also respecting and nurturing our children.

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Our children’s brains are still developing, so, as we give them practice using their higher brain functions, they’re learning the very process of how to use those functions and even structurally building their brain in a way that predisposes them to be able to calm themselves, exercise self-control, think rationally, and have empathy in the future. Hebb’s axiom tells us that “neurons that fire together wire together” – in essence, as neurons respond together to various experiences, the connections between those neurons grow, making it easier for them to respond together in the future (p 42-43). When our kids experience a problem, we can train them to calm down and be thoughtful about potential solutions, and then their brains will be wired in such a way to encourage them to default to those modes in the future.

If we focus on connecting with our children and making sure that they – and we – are in a good place to address any issues that arise, we’ll be cultivating our relationships with our children and we’ll be much more effective in teaching them. I remember it feeling like a revelation to me when, during one of the CCEF courses I took, the instructor discussed the ideal that the driving force behind our approaching anyone about an issue we see with their behavior should be their good – it shouldn’t be about getting something off your own chest or making you feel better, but about whether it’s actually in that person’s best interest for you to discuss the issue with them. It’s interesting to me that many of us who are Christians embrace that idea when it comes to our interactions with other adults but feel perfectly comfortable expressing immediate frustration or displeasure with our children. I want to be treating my children with at least as much care as I treat the adults in my world, though.

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Of course, children are not adults and need to be treated appropriately. No Drama Discipline encourages us as parents to “chase the why.” Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is the outflow of what exists inside of a person, in their heart. Our children may not be able to express to us why they’re acting in a particular way, but we need to dig deeper and seek to understand the reason for the child’s behavior, because if we address only the behavior, we’re going to miss out on anything deeper going on with our children at the heart level.

And children need their parents to establish and maintain consistent structure. Our end goal, though, should not be to obtain mere obedience. We want to help our children gain insight into themselves, grow in their ability to be empathetic and thoughtful, and develop the capacity to participate in healthy relationships. In this book, Siegel and Bryson offer numerous strategies (and examples) to help parents do just that.

Matt and I are finding it both encouraging and transformative.

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The other day, one of my girls was getting out a plethora of art supplies to work on a project, and she carelessly knocked my beloved water bottle onto the floor (twice), thereby breaking its straw. I ignored my immediate impulse, which was to yell at her and perhaps impose some arbitrary restriction on the art supplies, and instead I just asked her to pick it up. Later, when both of us were calmer, I asked her to come talk with me, and I showed her where it was broken. She offered to fix it for me and immediately attempted (unsuccessfully) to repair it. When I told her I was sad that she’d broken it and I couldn’t use it, she offered a genuine apology and went to her cabinet to get me a cup of hers that I could use until my straw could be fixed or replaced. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that smoothly – but I’m confident that I wouldn’t have gotten a heartfelt apology or creative attempts to repair the situation if I’d yelled at her and tried to force her to say she was sorry in the moment.

I’m hopeful that Matt and I will be able to live out, more and more, parenting strategies that build relationship with our kids and encourage thoughtfulness and growth in them. And I’d definitely recommend the book No Drama Discipline to any other parents out there!