For Homeschooling Moms

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There are  hundreds of books about homeschooling, but only a handful that I turn to time and time again for encouragement. Today I’d like to share with you not literature, but non-fiction: writings that not only remind me personally why I’ve chosen this journey, but also that I’m one of thousands in the trenches of training up children for the glory of God. If you aren’t familiar with these titles, keep your eyes on the lookout at your next homeschooling conference, or treat yourself wherever you buy Christian books.

The Spiritual Power of a Mother

Farris, Michael P. (2003). The Spiritual Power of a Mother. Nashville: Broadman & Holman.

Subtitled “Encouragement for the Homeschooling Mom” this collection of essays and speeches by homeschooling pioneer Mike Farris reminds moms of the powerful potential they have to influence their kids. Founder of both HSLDA and Patrick Henry College, Farris describes the sacrificial love of mothers, our responsibility to teach our children about God, and His faithfulness to finish the work he began in them. With chapter titles such as “The Dangerous Myth of the Perfect Homeschool Mom” and “The Hard Days”, he elevates the sacrifices his wife has made as he honestly describes their family’s own homeschooling journey. This book stays on my nightstand, because I can reread a pick-me-up essay in about five minutes, even if I am comatose from a long day of motherhood. And if I just need to smile I reread his “Top Twenty Advantages of Homeschooling” in chapter four.

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Home Sweet Homeschool

Maakestad, Sue. (2004). Home Sweet Homeschool: A Survivor’s Guide to Giving Your Kids a Quality Education. Grand Rapids: Revell.

With a Masters in Education I never for a minute questioned my ability to teach my kids at home- but I know the majority of homeschooling  moms are assailed with the world’s darts of “What makes you think you’re qualified to teach your kids?” With humor and intelligence, Maakestad shares the truth about just how competent you really are based on common sense, excellent examples from research, and most importantly, the Word of God. Each chapter ends with Scripture nuggets applied to the homeschooling experience, nuggets such as the following:

“Never forget to make use of your great homeschool advantages. Our kids have been given to us so we can present them back their heavenly Father. His image is stamped upon them, and it’s up to us at home to teach them from his Word about their godly heritage and calling- to birth in them a love of him and show them the more excellent way.”                                                                                                                                                                               (p.102)

And then she shares the following Scripture from Matthew 22:20:

And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”

They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”

And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,                                                                         and to God the things that are God’s.”

Sue Maakestad’s ability to defend the benefits of homeschooling using largely secular research is excellent. Her humor as she describes her own family’s experiences is a blessing, and her counsel wise. She’s the homeschooling friend you wish you could sit down with for a cup of tea or coffee and glean from her intelligent perspective.  And you can: just by opening her book.

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When You Rise Up

Sproul, R.C. Jr. (2004). When You Rise Up. New Jersey: P & R Publishing.

Don’t pick up this book if you’d rather not be homeschooling, because once you do there will be no going back.

In When You Rise Up  R.C. Sproul challenges homeschooling parents to think about the reasons they are homeschooling, and implores them to recognize that the ultimate goal should not be high academic achievement, well-behaved children, or anything else, but of turning their hearts toward God. He  even goes so far to say that it isn’t enough to know why we are choosing to instruct our children at home, but that we need to understand the motivation behind the very subjects we choose to teach. As parents we are “to talk to them about God and how he relates to everything” (p.75) and teach our children who God is, what He has done, and what He requires (p.92). This is the book to pick up if you ever find yourself second guessing your decision to educate your children yourself.

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Passionate Housewives Desperate for God

Chancey, Jennie and McDonald, Stacy. (2007-2009). Passionate Housewives Desperate for God. San Antonio: Vision Forum.

Okay the title is kind of corny, as is the book’s cover. But if, like many homeschooling moms, you are juggling a household of young children, this is a book you want to find. Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald are veteran homeschooling moms, both to very large families. Together they collaborated on a book dispelling the contemporary myths about homemakers, and they did a tremendous job showing feminism for what it really is. The preface alone, encourages using Scripture, what a godly “keeper at home” looks like- and it is beautifully done. Chancey and McDonald know what it’s like to be up all night with little ones, week after week. They know what it’s like to be overwhelmed, to go against the tide of culture, and to struggle with perfectionism. They have learned to embrace their sacred calling and can help young mothers do the same.

So fix yourself something warm to sip, open a book, and be encouraged. God is faithful. He will fulfill His purposes and plans, when you put your trust in Him.

Words by Heart

Sebestyen, Ouida (1979). Words by Heart. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.

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Words by Heart is a strongly written story about forgiveness, set in the racially tense South, in the early 1900s. Twelve year old Lena’s father chooses to move his family into a white community ,where she would have more opportunities than if they remained in their African American neighborhood in Scatterbrook. In the story Lena first becomes aware that she isn’t accepted based on the color of her skin.

Lena’s father is the person she most loves and admires. He is one of the most Christ-like characters to ever grace the pages of a work of fiction, children’s or otherwise. Not only does he continually forgive his enemies, but he chooses to do what is right even when he is afraid, and points his daughter to walk in love when nothing could be more contrary to human nature.

Words by Heart is a heavy story, which is likely the reason it hasn’t found much popularity in children’s literature. It is a shamefully realistic picture of what our country was like at the turn of the century. There is little to lighten it up: the subject matter, the fear of its characters, and some language (Lena’s father’s employer does a fair amount of swearing), make it most suitable for young adult readers. Just the same, it is a book families passionate about both faith and stories shouldn’t miss: a book that teaches more about loving your enemies than this one would be hard to find.

 

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Ouida Sebestyen’s first novel (incidentally, published when she was fifty-five years old) was awarded an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, was the winner of the IRA Children’s Book Award, and A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and The Courage of Sarah Noble

Dalgliesh, Alice (1952). The Bears on Hemlock Mountain. New York: Scribner (Simon & Schuster).

Dalgliesh, Alice (1954). The Courage of Sarah Noble. New York: Scribner (Simon & Schuster).

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Rarely are two of my favorite books for an age level by the same author, but Newbery honor books The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh are the exception.

In The Bears on Hemlock Mountain eight year old Jonathan isn’t so sure about going over the hill to fetch an iron pot from his aunt, as it is early spring:

 

“Me?” said Jonathan. “All alone? They say there are bears on Hemlock Mountain.”

“Stuff and nonsense,” said his mother. “Many’s the time I’ve been over Hemlock Mountain and not a bear did I see.”

.                                                                                               (Dalgliesh, p. 15)

 

And I’m sure you can guess what happens…

This book is just plain fun to read. Based on a Pennsylvania “tall tale”, it depicts early American culture with humor and charm, and rewards both ingenuity and bravery. With unforgettable rhythm, Jonathan and his mother keep up their courage by telling themselves, “THERE are NO BEARS ON HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN, NO BEARS, NO BEARS AT ALL”, over and over, until young listeners are reciting this along with the story. Simple, and full of faith, I never tire of reading this to my kids.

The Courage of Sarah Noble is based on the true account of an eight year old girl who came with her father into the Connecticut wilderness in 1707. Far from her mother and her large family of brothers and sisters, Sarah must face fears of wild animals, Indians, and being separated from those she loves. In just fifty-five pages Alice Dalgliesh shows young readers that “To be afraid and to be brave is the best courage of all,” (Dalgliesh, p.36).

I love how this third person narrative shows not only a child’s perspective, but a loving father’s as well. And I especially appreciate the way it shows the love of a Christian home by contrast of another:

 

“Soon we shall have a fine house like Mistress Robinson’s.”

“No,” said Sarah. “Like our own.”

“And why not like Mistress Robinsons?”

“Because there is no love in that house,” said Sarah.

“You are too wise for your years.”

(Dalgliesh, p. 14)

 

Both The Bears on Hemlock Mountain and The Courage of Sarah Noble are sure to continue inspiring Christian families for years to come.

 

 

Heart of a Samurai

Preus, Margi (2010). Heart of a Samurai. New York: Amulet Books.

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Heart of a Samurai is the fictional account of a Japanese teenager’s unprecedented encounter with America in the mid 1800’s. Shipwrecked at the age of fourteen, Manjiro, (also known by his American name, John Mung), is rescued by a whaling vessel, along with four of his Japanese shipmates. After sailing for two years with the crew of the John Howland, Manjiro returns to the United States with Captain Whitfield, who later adopts him. In the book, Manjiro must address fears based on preconceived ideas,  homesickness, and choose between a myriad of opportunities placed before him.

To give you a taste of Pruis’ writing style, here is an excerpt that shows the inner struggle Manjiro is going through. He has just been informed by a Japanese shipmate that the choice to stay with the rescued sailors from his own country, or go on to America with Captain Whitfield, was to be his own:

“Manjiro opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Thoughts collided in his mind. To see America…but to possibly miss a chance to return home to his mother and family. To learn a thousand new things…but to go to a strange place where people might hate and reject him. To feel again the lift of his heart when the sails filled with wind and the ship seemed to soar over the ocean…but to have to say goodbye to his comrades with whom he’d shared so much…” (Pruis, p,74)

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In Japan Manjiro was being raised as a Buddhist. Not much mention is made of this, other than a reference to early missionaries trying to change not only the beliefs of the Japanese people, but their lifestyles as well. John Mung’s adoptive family must change churches twice before finding one accepting of their new son, but it is clear that somewhere along the way, he was presented with the gospel, for in his final letter to Captain Whitfield  before returning to Japan he writes:

“I hope you will never forget me, for I have thought about you day after day; you are my best friend on earth, besides the great God.” (Pruis, p.251)

In this her first novel, Margi Preus successfully weaves together a number of historical accuracies into creative writing. The book is informative in its descriptions of nineteenth century whaling, the codes of the Samurai, the  California Gold Rush, and Japanese and American perceptions of one another in the mid-nineteenth century. Heart of a Samurai is suitable as a read-aloud for any age, and as an independent read for grades six through eight. It could be used in conjunction with Commodore Perry and Land of the Shogun, perhaps reading  this aloud and having the kids read Preus’ book on their own. (Manjiro’s adventure, and consequent ability to counsel and interpret for the Japanese government, was instrumental in paving the way for the end to 250 years of Japanese isolationsism). It can also be connected to Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, the story of Nathaniel Bowditch, as after returning to Japan, Manjiro translates his book The New American Practical Navigator into Japanese. (Jean Lee Latham’s Carry on, Mr. Bowditch was awarded the Newbery medal in 1956).

In addition to being a Newbery honor (2011), Heart of a Samurai made the Best Children’s Books of the Year lists for Bank Street College, the New York Public Library, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Beautifully done!