How to Start Homeschooling

As a long-time homeschooler, friends seek me out when they're seriously thinking about homeschooling. Often they're panicky at the prospect. I can relate. When we decided halfway through our firstborn’s kindergarten year to un-enroll him and teach him at home, my “what now?” phone call was to a homeschooling veteran. She not only successfully homeschooled her own children, she was (and still is) an expert on homeschooling. An author of books about homeschooling and speaker at conferences on homeschooling, she told me to take a deep breath and grab my library card. “If all you do the rest of this school year is get the best children’s literature from the library and read aloud to your son, he will be just fine" she said. "In fact, he’ll likely be ahead of his classmates.”

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How to Bake Bread

Have you ever asked yourself, "Why is my bread like a brick?" "What's the secret to getting the dough to rise?" or "Why is my bread so crumbly?" I've answered these questions in emails, Skype tutorials, and phone calls. The one-word solution to these common problems is practice. But there are some tricks and techniques that make all that practice more productive. If you've ever wanted to bake bread, or have been frustrated in your efforts, here’s a quick lesson.

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On Farmer Boy and Becoming a Man

farmer boyThis week as our eight-year-old son was reading chapter 25 of Farmer Boy to me at the kitchen table, I was feeling a bit behind schedule. We had been doing this together on and off since last fall, and I was eager for him to finish so we could start another read-aloud. But today, when I noticed how close to the end of the book we are -- just four more chapters to go -- it hit me that hearing him read this book has been a taste of joy so sweet, the end of it suddenly feels sorrowful. On the last page of "Threshing," the chapter about nine-year-old Alamanzo's efforts to help Father process their wheat, our son read,

...he went whistling to do the chores.

All winter long, on stormy nights, there would be threshing to do. When the wheat was threshed, there would be the oats, the beans, the Canada peas. There was plenty of grain to feed the stock, plenty of wheat and rye to take to the mill for flour. Almanzo had harrowed the fields, he had helped in the harvest, and now he was threshing.

He helped to feed the patient cows, and the horses eagerly whinnying over the bars of their stalls, and the hungrily bleating sheep, and the grunting pigs. And he felt like saying to them all:

"You can depend on me. I'm big enough to take care of you all."

Most people think the Little House books are for girls. I disagree. The main character in the series isn't the plaited second daughter, Laura, but Pa. He's the stout-hearted pioneer, the one who forges through the big woods, heading always further on, working tirelessly to make a living for his family. He beats back the wilderness to take dominion everywhere they settle. Indians, locusts, wild fires, blight, storm and cold; all of this and more conspire against him. Every failed harvest reminds him that he is at the mercy of a fallen world, but also that it is his burden and charge to provide for wife and children in spite of adversity and even disaster. Little House is a series about taking dominion.

Farmer Boy is particularly suited to sons. It is Laura's account of Almanzo Wilder's childhood, providing a look into the upbringing that formed him into the man who would become her husband. Every chapter presents a new challenge for the boy who is determined to grow to be a farmer like his own father.

"You can depend on me," our son read aloud. "I'm big enough to take care of you all."

I interrupted his reading. "Is he?" I asked, looking intently at him. He thought for a moment. "Yes, I think he is."

"What is Almanzo becoming?" I asked.

"A man." Churchill answered.

He looked up from the page to my face. "Mom, you're crying."

"Yes, I know. The transition it happening," I said, wiping away my tears.

Mei Fuh, a Treasure

Mei Fuh In my recent search for living geography books I came across Little Pear, a short chapter book with whimsical illustrations about a boy growing up in a small Chinese village. Unlike dry textbooks, which are often written by a committee, living books are typically written by a single author who is passionate and knowledgable about his subject. They have a rich variety of vocabulary, and are well written. Living books are memorable, lovable ways to learn about everything from history and literature to math, music, and biology.

Before we were halfway done reading Little Pear aloud, however, we figured out the formula. Little Pear, the boy, is like an Asian Curious George. Every chapter is full of mischief but he never faces any consequences. As much as we wanted to learn about another culture in a faraway place, the lack of real-life cause-and-effect was disappointing. Even the dangers of running away from home to a big city, falling into a vast river, and even lying to his parents resulted in happy coincidences, rewards, and increased privileges. Thankfully, there are other books to choose from.

Enter Mei Fuh: Memories from China, an out-of-print treasure by Edith Schaeffer that I borrowed using our public library's interlibrary loan. The best kind of children's book is one that the youngest in the family loves nearly as much as the grown ups and big kids. Edith Schaeffer's Mei Fuh is just such a book. A memoir of her life as a baby born in Wenchow China to missionary parens, Mei Fuh takes you into the life of a child who speaks more Chinese than English, knows how to eat rice and drink tea simultaneously, and has silk worms for pets, even as her Christian missionary parents shape her world to be biblically faithful.

Mei Fuh must certainly contain Schaeffer's earliest memories of life. Yet she adds the benefit of decades of reflection, and a Christian worldview, to delve into complex themes of private property and theft, love for nature and animals, and the sanctity of human life. Schaeffer weaves her memories into stories as skillfully as the Chinese woman who used her chopsticks to transform the silkworms' cocoons into the most luxurious silk for a dress.

As we read the book aloud, we felt the foreignness of being a stranger in a strange land. She helped us know what it was like to transition from the country of your birth to the country of your citizenship; how missionary life can resemble our residency on earth as citizens of heaven. These are not things Schaeffer tells her readers, but rather, her skillful stories show it. They left me drawing parallels, mulling over, meditating. Most memorable was God's providential care of the details -- directing Schaeffer's birth in a far flung province of China, ordaining a childhood shaped by the customs and culture that would remain an influence on the rest of her life.

Having read Schaeffer's L'Abri before reading Mei Fuh, but both in the same year, I marveled to think that this twirling girl who loved the feel of smooth bamboo and the sights and smells of oiled umbrellas in a walled compound in Wenchow would grow up to the be the woman who would host so many seekers at the shelter, L'Abri. Her upbringing must have affected how she cooked, hosted guests, and thought about God's world and her place in it.

Moralizing books tell you what you should think. Elegant, living books show you such treasures through stories. They leave you asking questions and wanting to uncover the truth.