Friday, November 15, 2013

The 5th Time Around...

I'm teaching "1st grade."  Again.  Child number 5.  I'll confess, I don't particularly like first grade.  It's a big responsibility teaching a little person to read.  It's stressful, and the whole sounding out the words day after day thing gets old, fast.  But then there comes a moment, when it's so rewarding.  Because, at some point, they typically take off.  Seemingly overnight, they go from laboring over ever single sound to really reading.  At least, that's the way that most of my children have done it.  

With my first child, I purchased the full on multi-subject curriculum which I stuck to with such intensity.  I wouldn't  dare skip a lesson or let a sloppy p or g go unnoticed at handwriting time.  Tears, well, they were a common part of our school days.  I knew that I wanted her to love learning, but I also was very, very worried about getting behind or being lazy.  I nearly destroyed our relationship with my desire for her to excel and honestly, with my fear of how things would reflect on me if she didn't.

Fortunately, God showed me a bit of the darkness in my heart and with each of my children, my approach to teaching reading (and most everything) has become more and more relaxed.  I still have my freak-out moments, but for the most part I really believe what I say to most moms when asked about homeschooling in the younger years.  They often ask me about curriculums and programs and such and I usually say to them, "The most important thing you can do is teach them to love learning.  Read to them a lot.  Take them on field trips.  Help them discover things.  Focus on shaping character and teach them to love Jesus.  Have fun.  Relax about the skills and teach them a few at a time, as they are ready."  

They don't want to hear that.  Well, most of the time they don't.  Their eyes glaze over and I understand, I didn't either when people told me that 10 years ago.  The shiny curriculums were just too appealing.  I was to eager to do "real" school.  

This year, for first grade, I decided to do a basic phonics curriculum, a basic math curriculum, and for everything else, I finally decided to use a curriculum with Abe that I have rejected with the others because I felt like it wasn't enough.  The truth is, it's just right for where we are these days.  It's called Five in a Row and it's a gentle approach to learning.  The idea is that you read the same book every day for 5 days.  Then, each day you explore some aspect of the book like a science, social studies, or art concept that is there. 

Let me just say that another one of the reasons that I initially overlooked it is because the thought of reading the same book aloud 5 days in a row made me want to rock in a corner.  I'll confess, we've never actually made it for 5 full days.  My goal is 4, and we usually accomplish that.   So far, we have "rowed" 7 books together.   Abe and I have had a great time and it has set my very busy boy up for success.  

Last week we explored a book called "Who Owns the Sun."  It's one of the few books that I wasn't already familiar with and it was a profound book for us to work through.  The book focuses on a slave boy who questions his father about who owns the sun, the moon, the wind, the flowers, the birds, etc.  With each question, his father explains that each of these things is too wonderful to be owned and he helps his son see the wonder in each.  Then, toward the end of the book, the boy overhears his plantation owner comment about how he owns his father.  Confused, the boy goes to his father, questioning how this could be.  At that point, the boy realizes the awful truth that his father, and likewise he, are slaves.  

The book is beautifully written and provided an excellent way for Abe and I to have one of our first real discussions about slavery.  You can imagine the questions that he, as brown boy, had for his white mama.  Once again, I was reminded of how terribly unqualified I feel for this inter-racial parenting gig.  But, I am always amazed at how God gives me the grace and wisdom for each situation as it arises.   I just pray that when it's all said and done, he'll know how loved he is and how powerfully the Lord can use his life.

I'm trying hard to treasure the moments each day when Abe crawls into my lap for his reading time.  I've been on this train long enough to know that they grow up too fast.  I'm so thankful that the Lord has changed my heart concerning first grade.  Now, if I could just gain some wisdom about teaching Algebra, I'd be in business!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Two Special Gifts

My mom was good at birthdays.  In fact, when Ryan and I got married, he had some big shoes to fill in the birthday celebration department.  Let's just say that it took several years for me to lower my expectations to a realistic level while he simultaneously learned to "up his game."  Now we live at a pretty happy birthday medium.  Well, we do after one terrible Wednesday birthday that ended with me crying in a Food Lion parking lot after church at 9:30 PM and Ryan inside purchasing a birthday cake from the markdown case.  That only happened once.  I did develop a love for whipped cake icing that year.  Not that I could find that stuff in Africa, which is probably good because I'm sure it's totally full of hydrogenated something or other.  How do I get off on these tangents?

Anyway, while we were in the States, Abe turned six.  It was fun to celebrate there, where gifts and goodies are readily available and effortless.  My mom had already planned ahead for Abe's birthday because she had intended to send his gifts in a piece of luggage that was supposed to come in with volunteers.  

She had started a handmade gift for him.  All of my children had received lots of garments sewn by their Grammy.  She was concerned that Abe didn't have as many as the others, so she had made up her mind that she was going to make him a nice cape.  

Unfortunately, she got sick before it was totally finished.  However, she wasn't one to give up easily.  So, one day at the hospital, shortly after I arrived, one of my cousins came from Ohio to visit.  Her mother, my Aunt Alice, and my mother have done quite a few sewing projects together through the years.  My mom called my cousin Charity to her side and whispered something to her.  Later, I found out that she had given Charity instructions on where to find the nearly completed cape and the task of getting it to her mother for completion.  She knew she wouldn't be the one to finish the cape, but she insisted that it had to be done.

My Aunt Alice took up the task and managed to get the cape back to us in time for Abe's birthday.  As you can imagine, there was not a dry eye at the table when Abe opened that special package.  Abe really did love his cape and has enjoyed wearing it.

Trying it on for the first time.
Super Abe!

Even super heroes like donuts!

My mother also planned ahead for my birthday.  Today, I turn 40 years old.  I have no idea how I can possibly be forty, but I am so thankful for the delightful years the Lord has given me (I'm also thankful for the not so delightful ones!)  My mom had already planned to give me a special gift for my birthday, a recording of friends and family sharing special memories and words of encouragement with me.  Like the cape, she was unable to see it to completion, but a dear friend took it upon herself to see that my mom's dream was accomplished.  This morning, we sat at the breakfast table and we cried as we listened to many of you share so many kind words.  I am thankful to all of you who took the time to share.  I am thankful for a mom who took the time to start something so beautiful.

I have to say that the recording was both painful and healing.  To hear my mom's voice was so bittersweet.  I have been living in such a discouraging and seemingly fruitless season, yet the Lord used so many of you to encourage me to be faithful and to remind me of how the Lord has used some of my pitiful attempts in the past to advance his kingdom and bring glory to himself.