Sunday, November 8, 2015

None of Their Business

With the advent of social media, we are all encouraged to share every moment of our lives online with our friends. What we’re doing, what we’re feeling, what we’re eating, where we are, who we’re with, what we think about certain issues - this is the standard content of posts on social media. Sometimes, however, in the enjoyment of communicating our daily lives, we forget that occasionally people we don’t know very well are reading what we post. Depending on where we post (say, in a homeschool Facebook group), we may even be sharing with strangers.

As a friendly reminder, it is unsafe to assume that distant acquaintances and strangers online are automatically friendly to our ideas and lifestyle. For the safety of your children, it is important to remember that matters pertaining to your child’s health, lifestyle and upbringing should be generally kept private online. There are many well-meaning people who will not hesitate to meddle and cause trouble for you if they believe you are making the wrong decision in one of these areas.

Following are some specific areas to be cautious about sharing with people we don’t know very well online.

Medical Opinions

There is a divide right now between people who favor traditional medicine and those who prefer a more natural approach. For example, vaccinations are currently a heated topic. Some people consider vaccinating to be extremely unsafe; others consider not vaccinating to be extremely unsafe. While it’s fine for you to express your opinion online, it is not the business of friends, acquaintances, or strangers on social media what you personally have chosen to do with your own children. Your child’s medical history should be private. If you really want to weigh in on the conversation, link to articles and sources that prove your point, instead of announcing which vaccines your child has or has not received. The same holds true when discussing other controversial medical topics.

Medical Problems
Along these lines, your child’s medical problems and course of treatment are also not matters for public discussion. Can you post a photo of your son or daughter with their ankle in a cast after a painful collision on the soccer field? Sure. But the details of the treatment and healing process are not the concern of others. Additionally, be careful of posting a photo of your child’s medical condition (a burn, an infection, etc.) and asking for medical advice from people online. If you fail to follow someone’s advice (however erroneous) and they believe you are not taking the problem seriously enough, they may consider reporting you to authorities. Ask questions privately of trusted friends instead of posting photos publicly for everyone to see.

Lifestyle Choices
One woman I know of likes to post a photo nearly every day of her little children eating lunch. She details the menu, which is inevitably unhealthy and unbalanced, and shares the photo and the meal description in a Facebook group that has over 10,000 members. While everyone likes to share their occasional “Pinterest Success” meal photos on Facebook, your child’s day-to-day menu is simply not the business of strangers online. If a disgruntled group member became offended with this woman and decided to make trouble, they could spread nasty rumors that she is a bad parent who feeds her children poorly and possibly even turn her in to social services. Your lifestyle is your own business. Your housekeeping practices, daily schedule, daily menu, and other areas pertaining to everyday living are not the concern of the public, so don’t share them online.

Parenting Practices
In an effort to offer advice, parents will sometimes post about how they handle their child’s shortcomings. This is not necessarily bad, but keep the details vague. Your child does not need to have all of his deficiencies aired publicly and permanently to the online world. Nor do you need to announce the details of your parenting practices to a critical public. What goes on in your house is between you and your family only. It is one thing to say that when your child was routinely procrastinating on his chores, you curtailed some privileges. It is another to recount the situation in explicit detail and open you or your child up to criticism from people who are not involved in the situation. If you really think the person you’re advising would benefit from hearing more detail, send them a private message instead of posting publicly.

On the flip side, if you are the person asking for advice, ask judiciously. If you need to ask how others dealt with the habit of procrastination in their kids, that’s fine. But you don’t need to give several paragraphs of examples of your own child’s bad behavior. Among other things, keep in mind the possibility that your children may see these posts someday and fiercely resent you airing their personal delinquencies to the public.

Sharing our lives online is fun, but it is important to be cautious when it concerns your children. When in doubt, don’t post it. Your family’s business is your family’s business, not the business of friends, acquaintances or random strangers online!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

You Give Them Something

“Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’” (Matthew 14:16)

“Jim is so talented in music, we just had to send him to school to let him get professional teachers and orchestra experience.”

“Ann needs more help in chemistry and physics than we can give her. So she’s finishing high school in the public school.”

“Linda really needs a better social experience – she’s an only child, you know. So we’re sending her to a good Christian school this year.”

“We can’t afford to homeschool any more – we both have to work.”

Perhaps you have heard, or made, these remarks. In a time when homeschooling is legal and easy to do (unlike a couple decades ago), many homeschoolers consider it merely one option among several. And if there seems to be a limit to what parents can do in their homeschool, they immediately look for another option.

But if we Christians really believe that God has told us to teach our children day in and day out (Deuteronomy 6), then we can believe that God will make us able to do so.

I was recently reading the passage in Scripture where Jesus fed the five thousand men and their families. I noticed an interesting fact. Jesus told the disciples to feed the people. He knew that they couldn’t – not with what they had. But he told them to anyway.

The disciples immediately brought up their obvious inadequacy to do so. “‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.” (Matthew 14:17) Whereupon Jesus performed the miracle of dividing the loaves and fishes, then gave them to the disciples to feed to the people.

Don’t we often act like the disciples? In homeschooling and in other tasks God has given us to do, we receive the Lord’s commands and then immediately point out why we are unable to obey them. Seriously?!  We are serving a God Who thinks nothing of dividing five loaves of bread and two fish to feed thousands of people! God divided the Red Sea so His people could cross. God made the earth stand still while His people defeated the enemy. Why do we doubt that He can and will help us obey His commands about raising our children?

Sometimes the obstacles God gives us are simply there to test our faith. As soon as we begin to pray and trust God to help us, He removes the obstacles or helps us find a way around them.

Sometimes the “obstacles” are really of our own making. Who said children need “socialization” with other children in order to be well-adjusted people? That’s not in the Bible, nor does everyday experience support that idea. Who said an institution is the only place to get a professional tutor? There are many people available who will tutor your child in almost any subject imaginable in your own home, and the internet is loaded with helpful free videos. Why do you need two incomes? Perhaps there are a lot of non-essential items that can be cut from the budget – or perhaps Dad can take a second job on the side instead of putting Mom to work. Often the solution to our “obstacles” is to simply evaluate whether they are really obstacles or only our own paradigms of reality.

We serve a mighty God who controls the winds and waves, not to mention homeschools. God in His wisdom has chosen to use us to implement His plans. Often He does not take the loaves and fishes and say, “Let me take care of this.” Instead, He says, “You give them something to eat.” And then He multiplies them for us!

Written by Heather Sheen

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Help Flooded Homeschoolers in South Carolina – Here’s How

We are all aware of the devastation caused by the recent flooding in South Carolina.  Homes and communities throughout the state were damaged, in particular those in the midlands and low country.  Many homes were destroyed and even lives lost during the recent events.  Many prayers are being lifted on behalf of all of the families affected.

Homeschooling families who have been displaced by the flooding face an added challenge.  In addition to their homes, their educational teaching materials like books, computers, and educational toys are damaged or destroyed. The school year is definitely disrupted.

Several organizations are stepping forward to help homeschoolers in South Carolina.  The South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools (SCAIHS) and the Home School Foundation (HSF) have set up funds and collection points for materials to help South Carolina homeschoolers.

SCAIHS, founded in 1990, is the oldest and one of the largest home school organization in South Carolina.  Based in the Columbia area, it serves members throughout the state.  SCAIHS provides curriculum and education counselling along with providing the accountability record keeping that is mandated by the state.  SCAIHS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

HSF is the charitable arm of the Home School Legal Defence Association (HSLDA), which is a national organization providing legal assistance, pro-homeschool lobbying, and homeschooling services to homeschoolers throughout the country.  The HSF is also a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

Although the flood relief program is being administered by SCAIHS, a homeschool family does not need to be a SCAIHS member to receive help.  This flood relief program is to help all homeschoolers throughout the state of South Carolina.  If you know of any homeschoolers who have been impacted by the flooding, please have them contact SCAIHS via email or phone.

SCAIHS office phone number is 803-454-0427.  The office hours are Monday through Thursday from 9:30 to 5:00.  If calling after hours, just leave a message and contact information.

Donations can be sent to SCAIHS or HSF.  Cash donations can be made at the website of either organization. 

If donating on the SCAIHS page, select the box saying you would like to designate a donation and then select SC Homeschool Flood Relief Fund.

If donating to HSF, select the “Donate” button and then select the “Compassion/Emergency Response Fund.”

If you would like to donate materials for homeschoolers who have affected by the flooding, there is one collection location in the upstate.  The First Baptist Church in Taylors, 200 W Main St, Taylors, SC, will serve as a collection point on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:30 to 3:00 when the Upstate Homeschool Co-op is meeting there.

Donations can also be sent to the SCAIHS office:
930 Knox Abbott Drive
Cayce, SC  29033
As more information becomes available on the flood relief effort, it will be posted on the SCAIHS Facebook page.

Please pray for everyone affected by the flooding.  And if you are able, please help assist the homeschoolers in South Carolina whose home education has been disrupted.

Who Do They Hang Out With?

“Bad company corrupts good character.” (I Corinthians 15:33)

“I don’t want to clean my room! Get out and leave me alone!” The bratty 12-year-old girl slams the door of her room after yelling this remark to her mother.

“Give me a kiss, darling,” the woman whispers. “Your wife isn’t here and she’ll never know.”

“Fine,” hollers a frustrated father to his wife before stomping out of the room. “Do whatever you want. They’re your kids!”

Do these examples sound like the kind of people you want your children to hang out with? The kind you want your children to emulate? To admire? Of course not! But wait a minute, you might say. You don’t think we let our children go around with people like that?

Well, my friends, let me ask the forty dollar question: Do they watch movies?

The three examples listed above are regular fair in movies - even "family friendly" ones. Our family has only ever watched “good, clean” movies. But I can still say that I have never, ever seen a movie that didn’t have at least one, if not several objectionable characters in it. “Objectionable” means someone who habitually disobeys the Bible’s instruction. There were always at least one or two people that were rude or immoral or disrespectful or unkind or …. You fill in the blank. These characters’ actions were not portrayed graphically or overtly, but it was still clear that they were ungodly.

Okay, someone will admit, that’s true. But that’s real life. As long as the movie portrays those people as bad, what’s the harm of my child watching it? After all, we do want to teach our children about good and evil.

Children Aren't Equipped to Discern
Teaching your kids that evil people exist is a good thing. After all, if people were not basically ungodly, there would have been no need to for Christ to die on the cross for us.

However, the harm comes from the fact that, as the Bible says in James, children think like children. They do not have good judgment. When you are reading or telling a story, you can make it clear verbally that the “bad guy (or gal)” is bad. But in a movie, the viewer is usually expected to make that judgment call himself. And children, even teens, are not fully equipped to discern ungodliness, especially if it is subtle. In fact, kids often end up admiring a bad guy because he is good looking, dashing, courageous or cool.

Children have a fleshly nature just like adults and therefore they tend to gravitate toward the ungodly – just like adults do. I remember a friend being chagrined when her darling little 5-year-old ignored all the good songs in Veggie Tales and instead started singing in the grocery store the “Bunny Song” which states things like, “I don’t love my mommy, I don’t love my daddy, I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny…!” (Veggie Tales has since revised the song.)

Even if your kiddos have the discipline to resist emulating an ungodly movie character, they are still filling their minds with the rude remarks, bad language, or mocking gestures of the actors. These behaviors are often then exhibited when the child becomes angry or otherwise lets down his guard. At the least, they can disturb his thoughts and color his attitudes.

Our family can almost always tell the difference between kids who watch movies and kids who don’t. The kids who watch tend to have a sassy, smart-aleck attitude toward adults and expect to be entertained all the time rather than use their own creativity to entertain themselves. The children who don’t watch movies instead exhibit more of the behavior their parents require – politeness, good attitudes, and creativity. Perhaps you have seen the same contrast yourself.

No More Bad Company
So what is the answer? Can a family really completely avoid movies in today’s culture? How can you keep the kids quiet? Why should they miss out on a fun experience that everyone else in America gets to enjoy?

The answer to the first question is, yes. You can completely avoid movies. Our family never watched movies until Raquelle and I were in our mid-late teens. Even now we only watch movies 3-4 times a year. (Yes, I said 3 or 4, not 34!) Simply unplug your TV and DVD player, put them away in a back closet or the basement and don’t get them out.

Your family may go through symptoms of “withdrawal,” but here’s an important thing I’ve learned from my mom: If you take something bad away, replace it with something good. Get your children good books. Get them toys and games that force them to use their own creativity – Legos, dolls, sewing materials, building blocks, Fischer Technik, Lincoln Logs, Scrabble, Pictionary, etc. And give the kids household chores that help them realize they are a working part of the family, not simply a prince or princess on a visit to be entertained!

As for the third question, why should your kids miss a fun experience, let’s remember our priorities. Obeying the Bible’s instructions to avoid ungodly companions (on the screen or in person) is more important than “fun.” In fact, the Bible never, ever mentions fun as an objective. When we obey God’s commands with a good attitude, He gives us joy and peace. And sometimes we have fun doing so. But “fun” is not an entitlement for a Christian or anyone else.

So maybe it’s time for a quick check on your family. Who are your kids hanging out with? Godly companions at home, at church and in good books, or worldly companions on the screen?

Written by Heather Sheen

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Breeding the Entitlement Mentality at Home?

A common complaint that conservatives have about my generation and younger is that we have the "Entitlement Mentality." We vote for candidates who promise us "free" stuff (funded by the taxpayers, of course).  We get angry if a boss criticizes us (or even fires us!) for sloppy work. We appear to feel that society owes us whatever we want. 

The parents of this "entitlement" generation are blinking in astonishment. After all, we "entitled" 20- and 30-somethings were raised by parents who still had a sense of personal responsibility. Our parents worked for their living, saved money, and went without if they couldn’t afford something. They didn’t dream of demanding that the government fund the solutions to their problems. So what went wrong? Somewhere between my parents’ generation and my generation, there was a disconnect.

The Disconnect
Unfortunately, I see that disconnect continuing to happening not only in secular culture but also in conservative Christian families. We say that God requires personal responsibility for our actions, but we teach our kids a very different story. In a multitude of daily decisions, we too are raising our kids with the Entitlement Mentality. I see four areas in particular where this Entitlement Mentality is being inculcated.

You deserve to have fun – There's no problem with parents wanting their kids’ childhood to be pleasant. Kids have a large capacity for fun and enjoyment that will naturally diminish as they grow up and face the trials of adult life. But many parents seem to believe that their children deserve to have fun all the time. I see many foolish decisions made by moms and dads because they don’t want to curtail Johnny or Susie’s fun.

Chores, disappointments, working for what you want – these are all things that children will face in adulthood. Therefore they need training early in life to help teach perseverance and responsibility. None of that is much fun. But one way to avoid breeding the Entitlement Mentality is to teach your children that life is not merely about having fun. It’s not even about “following your dreams” (where is that in the Bible?).  It’s about joyfully working for God’s glory on the mundane tasks He gives you each day.

If we don’t teach this, it’s easy for those fun-expecting children to grow up into adults who see nothing wrong with wasting their lives in idleness, blowing their money unwisely, engaging in sexual promiscuity, or worse things, in the name of "fun."

You deserve to have everything paid for – I am often amazed at the expensive and unnecessary items that parents will buy for their children – even older children. Yes, it is a parent’s delight and privilege to buy wonderful gifts as well as daily necessities for his child. But when it comes to also funding your child’s car, college education, trip overseas, high-tech phone, expensive gaming system, and a closet-full of name-brand clothing, I can’t help thinking how much more they would appreciate those things if they were required to work for them themselves. 

You may point out that the cost of these items – especially vehicles and college education – is prohibitively expensive these days. To which I would point out that nowhere are we entitled to a top-of-the-line car or a name-brand education. There are creative ways to take care of big-ticket items in your life without paying top dollar and expecting Mom and Dad to fund most (or all) of it.

If kids are not taught to contribute to their own needs, it is too easy to grow up into adults with the Entitlement Mentality who expect society to pick up the tab for their own fiscal irresponsibility – just like their parents did when they were children.

You deserve to have your parents pick up the pieces – It is often frustrating to watch a young person take on a project and, instead of having the chance to learn from their own mistakes, his parents jump in and smooth over all the difficulties on his behalf. Your child decides to raise money for a cause, but you wind up doing most of the grunt work in collecting donations. Your child decides to start a small business, but you are the one who constantly nags him about deadlines and fulfilling orders. Your child is assigned a project by you, a tutor, or a boss, and you are the one who sits up late the night before getting it done. 

All of us need a helping hand occasionally, but a parent who never gives his child a chance to fail is breeding the Entitlement Mentality. These children grow up into adults with an Entitlement Mentality who think that government bailouts and subsidies are the norm, and free healthcare, unemployment compensation or job creation is simply owed them by society.

You deserve to be forgiven – No matter how stupid, obnoxious, or downright sinful a person is these days, the cultural mantra is "tolerance." The Christian version of "tolerance" is "forgiveness." We tell kids to just "come as you are," that we won’t be "judgmental," that we just want to "love on them." There’s nothing inherently wrong with these ideas as long as they are balanced with the biblical idea of consequences for wrongdoing. The story of the Gospel starts with judgment before it ends with grace.

God has said some things are objectively wrong, and that He will bring judgment on those things in the form of negative consequences. When a child is instead taught that Mom and Dad will let him get away with everything and just "forgive" no matter what, he forms the Entitlement Mentality towards sin: God (and everybody else) owes me love and forgiveness. This is a form of the Entitlement Mentality that can have awful eternal consequences, not to mention negative consequences in this life.

Though Christians are certainly required to forgive those who wrong us, society as a whole is never required by God to ignore sin in the name of being "non-judgmental." We do our children a grave disservice if we teach them that their sins and mistakes will simply be overlooked in the name of love. True love helps a sinner repent from his sin and learn to live righteously.

If you are upset at the Entitlement Mentality we see around us, you're not alone. But we need to be careful not to have a shallow perspective of the problem. It’s too easy to simply say that if "those people" would just pull their pants up and get a job, we could go back to a godly society.

The root problem is deeper than that. It’s in how we raise our own children to be citizens of both an earthly and a heavenly society. None of us are born with entitlements to have everything fun, free, and forgiven. We are all sinners who are debtors to God's grace. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The REAL Cost of Schooling

I often hear anti-homeschoolers trot out their favorite reasons for why they think homeschooling is bad. Unfortunately for them, most of them have been very publicly debunked by multiple studies - and the obvious results. 

Socialization? Homeschoolers are better adjusted that government schoolers. 
Academics? Homeschoolers out-perform government schoolers. 
Extra-curricular activities? Homeschoolers have just as many or more than government schoolers. 
College? Universities actively recruit homeschoolers because they are good students.

So what’s left? Well today I’m going to debunk the last, tired old argument against homeschooling: 
It costs too much.

“I wish we could afford to homeschool, but we really need both our incomes,” a dad sighs.

“I want my child to have the best educational experience possible, so I have to work to afford it,” a mother insists.

“You can’t tell families to homeschool in this economy – moms have to work just to make ends meet,” a friend lectures.

And I say… Facts are better than arguments. Let’s look at the numbers.

I did some extensive googling on the cost of institutional schooling. The numbers were very interesting. 

The Cost of Government Schooling
“Free” government school costs can include lunches, school supplies, tests, field trips, and school clothes (gym clothes, uniforms, etc.).  An average family can spend $500-$1500 a year on “free” government schooling necessities.

But we all know there are extras. Before and after school care, sports, tutoring, music lessons, it all adds up. Now we are looking at another $5000-$1500 per year.

On top of that, when both parents are working, the average family ends up eating out a lot more. Mom just doesn’t have time to cook every night. A typical family can spend $200-$500 a week on restaurant food alone. Restaurants are expensive - many studies have shown that home-cooked meals average one-half or even one-third of the price of restaurant meals.

There are other costs to consider too. When mom works every day along with dad, the gas costs go up. Not only does mom have to go to and from work, she and dad now have trips to pick up children from school, lessons, or daycare. Average gas costs for a family every year can be upwards of $2000-$3000.

Mom also needs more expensive clothes when she works. She may even need to buy a whole new wardrobe routinely. This can start around $1000 a year and go up to $3000-$4000 or more.

If mom is working full time, she probably doesn’t have time to deep clean the house. So now we can add in the costs of hiring a cleaning lady. This can be an additional $200-$300 per month, adding up to $2500-$3500 a year.

Then there are the things that are harder to add up. When there is no “general manager” at home every day, waste happens easily. Someone forgets to stock up on milk and bread, so dad grabs some at the convenience store on the way home – for a 30% higher price. With mom and dad too tired to supervise playtime, expensive toys get left outside in the weather or are neglected and broken.  It’s too much trouble to refill things like soap dispensers so new ones are bought every time. Clothes aren’t laundered or mended properly and must be thrown out due to stains or holes.

And finally, there’s the health costs associated with a family that is running all the time, stressed, eating poorly, and has improperly supervised children. A quick overview of this subject shows that when children grow up in a clean, peaceful, healthy home environment instead of being herded in a high-stress environment with a crowd of other germy children, they wind up much healthier and have less accidents. Medical costs for the average institutional schooled family can be $3000-$10,000 per year.

The lowest estimate of all these costs I came up with was about $10,000-$12,000 per year. That’s the bare-bones lowest, not the average. Average costs of a normal family can be $20,000-$30,000 a year or more. 

All so that mom can work and let the kids have “free” government schooling...or so the family can "afford" private schooling. 

DOES IT PAY? Let’s see…

Moms Making Big Bucks?
Let’s set all those costs against what mom will make in her job. An average woman in the U.S. has a salary of about $35,000 per year. Subtract out all taxes and social security and she’s left with around $25,000 per year to spend.

Did you notice those numbers? Average family costs for “free” government schooling while mom works are $20,000-$30,000. Average salaries for working moms are $25,000 after taxes. It’s entirely possible that a family using the “free” government schools could wind up losing money every year on the transaction.

And it's possible that a mom who is working so the family can "afford" private school will wind up losing money on the transaction.

Not just possible, but highly probable.

The Cost of Homeschooling
But wait,” you say. “Homeschooling costs a lot too – the government schools at least provide some things for ‘free.’ Homeschoolers have to pay for everything themselves, plus the taxes that support the local schools.”

Let’s take a look at that claim. To begin with, curriculum for homeschooling can be completely free. Yes, I said free – without quotation marks. There are free books, free downloads, free printables, free ideas, and of course, free books at the public library. Used curriculum abounds and you can often borrow or buy second-hand for just a few dollars. And these free curricula can work well - studies for years have shown that there is no correlation at all between how much is spent on curriculum and how well the student succeeds. What studies do show is that a loving, one-on-one tutorship situation always out-performs every other teaching scenario.

But that’s just the curriculum. Field trips can also be free or very low cost. Many parks and museums offer special passes or deals at certain times of the year.

Even lessons or special tutoring can be more cost-effective through homeschooling. Homeschooling parents tend to be much more engaged with their children in helping them regularly practice and fully benefit from the lessons. A homeschooled child can make as much progress in a year as an institutionally-schooled child might make in two or three years.

A homeschooled child can be a healthier child since mom is around to prepare healthy meals three times a day. Mom also has time and energy to disinfect bathrooms, do laundry regularly, make sure the children brush their teeth, take their vitamins and go to bed on time. And a peaceful, low-stress, and bully-free environment helps a child’s health and development, not to mention his or her safety.

Every study ever done comparing government schooling to homeschooling has shown that homeschoolers out-perform public schoolers. The only excuse anti-homeschoolers have left is that it’s too expensive for mom to stay home from work. And I just kaboshed that. Yay me!

And yay you if you choose to tap into the academic, social, health – and financial – benefits of staying home to teach your children!

Written by Heather Sheen

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Easy Tips for Teaching Writing

Writing is more important than ever. Have you noticed that computers are forcing more and more of us to write? Just when you were beginning to think that writing wasn’t really very necessary! 
Now, lots of parents will acknowledge that writing is important. After all, they were made to slog through all sorts of reports in school and turn in mindless book reports. But when it comes to actually teaching it, gadzooks! Oh my goodness! What shall we do???? It suddenly sounds very mysterious and forbidding.

No Mystery About It
You may have noticed that my daughters write. They actually enjoy it. One mom asked me my method for teaching Heather and Raquelle to write. I told her, it comes down to just two words. Make them! That’s it. Just make them write. Regularly. Whether they want to or not.

Speaking and Reading Help
One of the best ways that you can help your children write well is to speak correctly, read aloud often, and give them good books to read. Writing is merely a tool for communicating. If your family practices articulate communication and reads regularly, you are actually practicing handling the English language. If your kids are speaking and reading it well, then it follows that with regular practice they can write it also. So much for writing being mysterious. 

On the other hand, if a child is allowed to grunt his or her way through the day and watch a lot of TV or videos with a minimum of adult communication, then they are being hampered in learning to write. Reading, speaking, and writing all dovetail together to form communication.

Create Fun Reasons to Write
One of the best ways to encourage writing is to give your children practical reasons to write. Letters, whether email or snail mail, are a perfect example of a practical outlet. Have them write to friends, relatives, or even government officials. 

When our girls first began writing, we would orally compose a letter to their grandma, then I would hand print this for them. They would then copy what I wrote so that they could begin understanding how to compose and write a letter. We used the same procedure for writing thank you notes. 

Of course, they can also make birthday cards and Christmas cards and write sentiments in them. You can even write back and forth amongst your family right there at home and read each others’ letters at a special time set aside for this. Regardless of what they wrote, our girls were writing for a real person and not just a dry, dull textbook. Writing to grandma was much more motivational than writing to nobody. It helped that grandma would write back and commend them on their letter writing.

Writing Assignments
When our daughters were about 10 years old and could write fairly well, I assigned "Writing" once a week in a special writing notebook. This once-a-week assignment was in addition to continuing to write letters, cards, etc. I didn’t especially care what the topic was, but they had to write at least a good paragraph. We discussed what the topic was going to be. When they finished, they had to read it aloud to me and their sister. I would also look this over for writing errors. Sometimes they would have to re-write portions because spelling and grammar were too messy to ignore. I gave them more leeway regarding corrections in the writing notebook because I wanted them to focus on getting their thoughts on paper. Letters and notes had to be done correctly and were not sent out until they were right.

Whatever method you might choose in teaching your child to write, the most important focus is that they actually write. There are many good programs for helping a parent teach. But if you have a good sense of the flow of our language and can write reasonably yourself, you may not need a program at all. The tool you use to teach writing isn’t as important as making sure that the skill is practiced regularly. Writing isn’t nearly as mysterious as it sounds, so relax. Your children aren’t going to be ruined because you didn’t find the perfect curriculum.

Just write. 

Written by Holly Sheen

Sunday, August 30, 2015

7 Characteristics of a Good Music Teacher

I am a music teacher. I’ve taught lessons for nineteen years. Doesn’t that make me sound, like, Really Credentialed? Cool. I have also been a music student myself, studying under a variety of teachers. This also makes me Really Credentialed to talk about today’s topic: 

What makes a good music teacher?
I’m going to skip the discussion of whether or not your child should even take music lessons and assume that you’re already planning on it. Actually, wait, I’ll have a very short discussion - your child absolutely should take music lessons. The end.

Good music teachers come in many forms, but they have several key elements in common.

1. They are gracious. I know from personal experience that studying with an abrasive, patronizing, or autocratic teacher can sap the joy from learning quicker than you can spop a seed out of an orange slice. (SPOP!) I also know from personal experience that studying with a teacher who is kind, patient, thoughtful, and tuned in (bad pun!) to the student makes for an outstanding learning experience. It’s great to read a prospective teacher’s resume, but if possible try to talk to one of their students and see if the student recommends them enthusiastically. Simply having a credentialed teacher does not automatically guarantee a good learning experience for the student, especially when the student is a beginner and a child.

2. Good teachers are not slaves to method books or approaches. I can’t tell you how many times people have poured out frustrated stories about previous teachers who forbade them to learn pieces they were interested in, insisted they had to learn certain songs or play from certain books (even if the musical genre was one that offended the family’s standards), or even reprimanded the student for daring to learn a piece on their own. What a travesty! There are a thousand and one ways to teach music without letting a particular method become a dictator. While good teachers provide guidance and help to select books and songs that are appropriate for the student’s ability level, they are not dogmatic. If a song offends the student, they skip it. (They might even skip it if it bores the student.) If the student wants to learn a certain piece, they help them find an arrangement of it suitable to their ability level. If a student experiments on his own, the teacher applauds the effort. The good teacher serves the student, not the curriculum!

By the way, if your children are currently taking lessons from a teacher who is inflexibly tied to a curriculum and you think that you’re the one with the problem, let me clear that up for you - you aren’t. They are. Good teachers are always willing to customize for their students’ needs and interests.

3. Good teachers give focused attention to your child. Just because a teacher spends thirty minutes of one-on-one time with your child doesn’t necessarily mean the teacher is focusing. Good teachers make sure their students understand what’s being discussed. They don’t assume that because they explained a concept once that the student remembers it forevermore. They review.  They reassess. They spot problems, even small problems. They try to stay aware of the student’s frustration level. They ask for feedback. They are alert with more advanced students, making sure that they’re not boring them by covering old ground or assigning busywork.

4. Good teachers respect your time. They start and end on time. They don’t take chatty phone calls or text during your lesson. They don’t eat into your lesson time with endless small talk or long drawn-out anecdotes. They notify you of schedule changes far enough in advance for you to adjust your plans. 

5. Good teachers are encouraging. They realize that cultivating a love of music in their students is the overarching goal. They know that the person who loves to play music will continue to pursue it, so they fan this love into flame. They critique in a tactful and constructive manner. They praise progress, even if it’s small. They are patient and polite.

6. Good teachers aren’t in it to glorify themselves. They don’t show off or try to overawe students with how talented or important they are. They don’t force students to perform just to make the teacher look good. They don’t use their students. They don’t feel threatened by advanced students who begin to equal them in ability.

7. Good teachers do a good job of passing on technical knowledge. They teach good technique. They teach musicality - that is, how to play music like a musician, not a robot. They help their students learn to sight read well. They teach students the theory of what’s behind the written page so that one day the students can branch off the written page if they want. They teach an appreciation for a variety of genres. They familiarize their students with basic music history. Some of these things take time and won’t be covered in the first three weeks of lessons, but if you plan to stick with the teacher for a length of time, it’s worth asking if they cover all these topics. (Hint: If you ask a teacher if they teach music theory and they say, “Huh?” look for someone else.)

If your child is currently with a teacher who does not seem to fit these criteria, listen to your instincts and change teachers. Your primary goal should be to instill a life-long love of music in your child. A bad teacher can discourage or blunt your child’s love of music. A good teacher will fan it into flame.  

Raquelle and her sister Heather have taught music lessons to hundreds of students over the past 19 years. They offer lessons in piano, violin, harp and music theory. If you're interested in discussing lessons with them, visit their website at

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Should Children Be Our Evangelists?

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

These are pretty strong words from Jesus about causing children to sin. Some people interpret this verse to mean actual children, and others say it means those who are children in the faith – new believers. Either way, I think we would all agree that purposely placing such vulnerable people in the path of sin is a wrong thing to do.

But I wonder if we don’t slip up in this area without realizing it? I considered this subject one Sunday as the pastor was preaching about staying true to the faith. He mentioned that children especially are in the “danger zone” at school. Most of their peers are either non-Christians or immature Christians who are hardly the best people to encourage someone in their walk of faith. Those peers are more likely to discourage the Christian child from following Christ. Have you ever heard a gaggle of kids or teens talking and then one of them say, “Hey, we should stop talking like this. It’s gossip and it’s not right.” Or how about this scenario – “Wait guys, we shouldn’t do that because our parents told us not to and we should respect our parents.” Sounds a little unlikely, doesn’t it?

But wait, you might say. Jesus also told us we would face opposition in our Christian walk. Isn’t this normal for a Christian? Shouldn’t our children learn early to be strong in their faith and be salt and light to those around them?

Jesus' Choice for Missionaries 
Consider this. Jesus sent out missionaries to be witnesses for Him while He was here on earth. His choice of witnesses is very interesting. First of all, He didn’t even send them out until He had spent a great deal of personal time teaching them every day - for years. Secondly, He sent them out in pairs – not by themselves. And thirdly, He chose grown men. This was not cultural. Jesus repeatedly broke cultural barriers concerning women and children. This was Jesus’ purposeful plan to send out missionaries who were strong in the faith and could hold their own against the violent opposition of the world.

Who Do We Choose for Missionaries? 
Now think about this. Muslims who follow the Koran believe that the infidel must be killed. And we have seen with horror that in some countries, those Muslims actually use children to accomplish this task. The children usually die in the process, thus provoking us to rightly condemn the grown men who would send a child to do their violent job.

But are we Christians any different? We believe that the “infidel” or unbeliever should be evangelized, not killed. This is good and scriptural. But why do we send our children out to do our work of evangelization? They, too, often suffer great casualties in the process. Recent studies and books have noted that children from Christian families are leaving the church in droves when they reach adult age. Perhaps this is because we send them out to fight a battle they are not prepared for?

Nurturing Children in the Faith 
The Bible says that even Jesus was careful not to break the “bruised reeds” or snuff out the “smoldering flax.” (Matthew 12:20) Young people in general and young Christians in particular need nurturing and strengthening, not grueling opposition every single day from those who are their friends. God in His providence sometimes allows this to happen to young Christians. But we should be very cautious about taking such a burden onto our own consciences.

Evangelizing the world is a good thing. We should teach our children to do so. But while they are young, they should be accompanied by parents who are strong in the faith and can support and encourage them in the process.

Forcing a child every day to a place where he must stand alone against ranks of those who would tear down his faith is putting a child in a place where he is pushed to sin. Rather than smugly enjoying the fact that we’ve sent our children out to be salt and light, perhaps we should instead be on our knees repenting for actions that merit millstones around our necks.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Consulting the Dead

"When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn." - Isaiah 8:19-20 (NIV 1984)

The pagan experts of Isaiah’s day were the mediums and spiritists. These people supposedly predicted the future. They claimed to have deeper understanding of the present. If a pagan needed wisdom for a decision or insight on an issue, he consulted a medium or spiritist.

The problem was that God’s people started doing the same thing. Isaiah rebukes them with divinely inspired succinctness. "Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony!" The Israelites had the written Word of the God of the universe. There was no need to go to pagans for "wisdom."

Do we ever do the same thing? Do Christian homeschoolers ever fall into the trap of consulting spiritually dead pagans instead of God’s Word for wisdom in raising their children? Naw, certainly not us!

Have you ever refrained from correcting your child’s erroneous views because you didn’t want to damage his self-esteem? Where did that idea come from? Not God’s Word! God tells us to train and discipline the foolishness out of our children. Self worth should be derived from how God sees us, not from how indulged we are by others. No, guarding a child’s self-esteem to the detriment of forming his character is a pagan idea. Since unbelievers have rejected God, they only have themselves left to worship. Hence, self-esteem becomes very important to a pagan.

Did you ever let your children go to foolish or silly youth events to get some "socialization?" Who gave us that idea? The pagans! Children are basically good, they reason, and they need to be around other children to be "properly" socialized. The Bible, however, declares that "he who walks with the wise grows wise but a companion of fools suffers harm." (Proverbs 13:20) It also tells us that "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." (Proverbs 22:15) Should foolish, young children hang around often with other foolish, young children? You draw the conclusion!

Maybe you feel that since your children are receiving such a superior education at home, they are qualified to make most of their own decisions themselves. After all, it’s easier for you that way, and they seem pretty responsible kids. I’ve seen many parents allow their children too much autonomy in decision-making and then bewail the stupid decisions their kids make. Why? The Bible tells us that children think, act and reason like... children! (I Corinthians 13:11) It is therefore futile to expect children to always act like little adults — or to give them the responsibility of adults. But the pagans would have us believe that since man is basically good (remember that?) children should be allowed to "express themselves" however they please.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest pagan ideas Christian parents often embrace is that children should be educated by "experts," not their parents. I challenge those parents to search their Bible to find one Scripture out of the multitude concerning child-raising that tells anyone besides parents to train and disciple their children.

The Bible is a marvelous book, full of wisdom, instruction and insight — straight from the mouth of God! Why do we Christians run after the teachings and opinions of spiritually dead philosophers, experts and professors? "If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn." We must compare everything to God’s Word.

"Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony!"

Written by Heather Sheen

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Homeschooling: Not My Gift?

I was chatting with Kristina, a bright, creative, and very capable young mother. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile so she was updating me on her family. Her oldest child, she told me, would be starting kindergarten at a wonderful Christian school this year. “I’m not going to homeschool,” she said hastily. “I mean - trying to keep up with all the little ones at once and teach too…that’s just not my gift.”

Are you like Kristina? Have you decided against homeschooling because you feel that you lack the skill and ability to do it? Is homeschooling outside your comfort zone? Does it seem difficult, frightening, or overwhelming? Does it just seem like it's not your gift?

These are understandable fears and feelings. However, they bear investigating. There are three problems with the “not my gift” perspective.

1. First, most parents are far more gifted than they think they are. If I were to list the “most likely to succeed” candidates for Homeschool Mom, Kristina would be near the top of the list. Kristina is very talented and has done a terrific job teaching her children life skills already. The notion that her ability suddenly stops when it comes to teaching her child his ABCs or the multiplication tables is simply untrue. Kristina should look back on what she has already done and pluck up confidence! I have often been pleasantly surprised to find that I could actually do things I thought I had no talent for if I had a little guidance and persevered. We can learn to do things that at the moment seem overwhelming.

2. Second, usually false assumptions are hiding behind the “not my gift” argument. Kristina set up an untrue either/or situation in her mind. EITHER she would homeschool and it would be impossible to help the eldest with school work because of the demands of the younger children, OR her eldest would go to an institutional school and everything would be easy. 

Scenario One is stressful and Scenario Two is a breeze. Is that really the case? Isn’t she reckoning without needing to help her eldest with homework, making sure that he is all packed each morning, trying to get him fed and dressed and out the door on time in between the others clamoring for attention, and so forth? And if we want to talk about stress, isn’t Kristina reckoning without school politics, demanding school schedules, her child being picked on or having his feelings hurt by other students, and teachers who don’t understand her child as well as she does? There are plenty of stressors in an institutional setting.

Yes, to Kristina’s point, doing school work with just one child while the other children want attention too might be challenging. But it’s certainly manageable. Millions—literally millions—of mothers all through history have made it work. 

Whether it is doing school with the eldest while the younger children nap, or having special “school time only” coloring books to keep the little ones busy, there are a variety of options to make it happen. But remember, if you send your child to a public or private school, you will still have to spend routine one-on-one time with them helping them with school assignments. Since it is going to happen regardless, wouldn’t you rather be the one in charge? Wouldn’t you rather be the one in choosing the curriculum, setting the schedule, and establishing the routine?

3. The third problem with the “not my gift” concept is that it is a faulty way to plan our lives because it places the emphasis on our talents, not our duties. When we approach a situation, we need to look honestly at what we are called to do, not what our “gifts” are. 

The fact is, a “gift” simply means something comes naturally to you. If you don’t have a “gift” for something, does that mean you don’t have to bother trying? Of course not. It simply means that you have to seek extra guidance, pray diligently, and keep persevering. 

What if it’s not our “gift” to keep our tempers? What if it’s not our “gift” to follow a budget? What if it’s not our “gift” to drive at a safe speed? What if it’s not our “gift” to forgive someone who hurts our feelings? Does that mean we can say, “Oh well, too bad, these aren’t my gifts”? Of course not. If they are a duty, we should say, “Since these are not my gifts, I need to work extra hard to get better at them.”

Let’s say that you think homeschooling isn’t your gift. Is that really the question you should be concerned about? No. Instead parents should explore what the Bible says about parental discipleship and decide which method of schooling allows them to best train their children in life and godliness. 

Institutional schooling can rarely compete with the benefits of one-on-one tutoring and the wholesome, Christ-centered learning environment of the home. Your personal giftedness is frankly irrelevant to the question. But the good news is that you can learn and you will learn! God is on your side and will not fail you! 

Remember, God never says that His power is made perfect in our giftedness. His power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) You’re not going to do this alone. He is going to empower you every step of the way. 

Not your gift, eh? It doesn’t matter. You can do it anyway!

Written by Raquelle Sheen

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Light

It’s been a rough time for Christian conservatives lately. From the Supreme Court’s ruling on homosexual marriage to the shooting in Charleston to the banning in some places of the Confederate flag, conservative culture has been under attack. It can be a discouraging time for godly families.

What kind of world will your children grow up in? What can one family do to counteract the paganism and anti-Christianity that seems to be gaining ground all around us? It can feel like we are fighting a losing battle.

Lately, however, I have found good grounds for encouragement. The Lord has been showing me how we may be facing one of the best opportunities in generations to share the gospel in our nation. Here are some thoughts you may find uplifting.

We Are On the Winning Side
If you’ve read Revelation, you know how the story ends. God wins! Actually, if you read the whole Bible you realize that God is controlling and ordaining everything that happens and using it for our good and His glory. God controls history.

Time after time in history, ungodly people have tried to thwart God’s will. We see it from Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery out of jealousy, to King Nebuchadnezzer trying to stamp out all worship except that of himself. Time after time God not only turns the battle into a victory, He actually uses the activities of the pagans to bring even more glory to Himself. We need have no fear that God is overwhelmed or caught off guard by what is happening in our culture. He knew it and planned it before time began. His side will win, regardless of the way things look from our perspective.

It’s Been Worse Before
A quick look at history will reveal that, rough as these times are for Christians, there have been far rougher times for Christians in the past. And even now life is far worse for Christians in other nations. At first that may not seem encouraging until you realize that out of the darkness and paganism of past history, God has brought the light of His gospel to every corner of the globe.

For instance, out of the terrible persecution of the Reformers came the Protestant church, the Bible in the common people’s language, and missionaries who evangelized the world – including the American continent. God has used – and continues to use – hard times to refine His people and make them into a brighter light to the dark world.

God Asks for Faithfulness, Not Results
God doesn’t give us a “quota” of converts we must make. He doesn’t give us a list of laws we must pass or cultural standards we must implement. Instead, He tells us to be faithful to His Word. When we repent of our own sin and strive to be holy, there are natural cultural changes that occur in our lives. When we “preach the gospel” to others, “making disciples” of them, there are natural cultural changes that will occur in their lives too. The more we are faithful to apply the gospel truth to our lives and share it with others, the more the culture will change on its own into a godly society. It starts with one person at a time being faithful.

The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Light
Have you ever lit a candle during the daytime? It can be difficult to even see the flame unless you’re close to it. But contrast that with lighting a candle in the night. You can surely see the light in that situation!

I’ve talked to many people who remember the “good old days” when everybody was nice and decent (supposedly). But that feel-good culture of the past evidently was only skin-deep as the children and grand-children of that generation went on to create an ever more rebellious society. I can’t help but wonder if the “candle” of past Christianity blended in too much with the “decent” culture of the times. “Cultural Christianity” sometimes makes it hard to witness to people who figure they are already decent enough to make it to heaven on their own, and perhaps it was no different in the “good old days.”

Today, there is less confusion on that score. It’s getting to be pretty clear who is a Christian and who isn’t, who lives by biblical cultural standards and who doesn’t. The “candle” of Christianity is shining ever brighter in the darkness of our current societal paganism. Someone who has wrecked their life with sin is far more ready to hear and accept the gospel than someone who has always lived a “decent” life and has it all together.

In closing, remember this famous passage from 2 Chronicles 7:14. Note that in order to heal a nation, God does not give us intricate formulas for elections or lists of laws to pass or quotas for church membership. Instead, He simply calls His people to be faithful in their own personal lives. God moves mightily in the prayers and obedience of Christians.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Written by Heather Sheen

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Who’s Really Building the House?

King David got a great idea one day. He looked around at his luxurious palace and compared it to the tent that the Ark of the Covenant reposed in. The contrast jarred him. He told Nathan the prophet, "Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent." (1 Samuel 7:2). He was disturbed. He wanted to honor God and create a permanent tribute to the Lord Almighty. He wanted to build God a house.

Maybe you feel like David. You want to honor God too. God has blessed you and you want to build a permanent tribute to the Lord through your own service. You want to build God a house.

What does this “house” look like? Maybe it means you want to raise a big family of God-fearing children who will be mighty for the kingdom. Maybe, as a homeschooler, you want to start some sort of ministry to strengthen other homeschoolers as they disciple their children. Perhaps there’s a fantastic Christian organization your family wants to work with and thereby reach many people for Christ. Or maybe you simply want to be so much like Christ that your life and testimony speaks volumes for Him. Whatever it is, deep down there is something you are passionate about that you want to do to “build a house” for God.

God commended David for his desire. He told David, “Because it was in your heart to build a temple for my Name, you did well to have this in your heart.” (2 Chronicles 6:8). Likewise, God is pleased when we want to honor Him and spend ourselves in His service. We do well to have these kinds of desires in our heart.

But then what happened? God chose not to have David built the temple. He told David, “You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.” (1 Chronicles 22:8)

Sometimes God chooses not to let our desires on His behalf be carried out either. Maybe God has chosen not to let you have as many children as you’d like. Instead of the small army of godly offspring that you wanted to raise for Him you have just one or two children. Maybe the homeschool ministry you tried to start has petered out for lack of interest from others. Perhaps health problems or unexpected responsibilities prevent you from working with that fabulous Christian organization you wanted to be a part of. Or maybe you find that, despite your best efforts to be a good testimony, your sinful self gets in the way over and over and you always seem to muff the job.

Of course, at this point we have to remember that God is God. While He is pleased with us when we want to do great things for Him, sometimes He has other plans for us. Sometimes He prevents us from carrying out our desires the way we’d like.

However, this does not mean God won’t use us. Just because God doesn’t always choose to have us carry out our Plan A does not mean He won’t use us just as effectively for Plan B. David didn’t build the temple. But he did provide a huge helping hand to Solomon. We learn in 1 Chronicles 22:5: David said, "My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the LORD should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it." So David made extensive preparations before his death.

Have you stopped to think about the ways you can serve right now, in spite of being thwarted in your initial desires? Maybe the fact that you have just a few children instead of a dozen means that you can open your home more often to others. Maybe the time you would have spent on that homeschool ministry you wanted to start is being spent caring for an aging relative instead. Maybe the fact that you’ve stumbled so often as you strive to be a good testimony gives you a perspective that allows you to extend grace and encourage others who face the same problems. I could go on, but you get the point.

One other thing stands out in this whole story with David. Sometimes we miss it because we get so focused on David’s good desire and how God shut the door on it. However, if we keep reading, God’s incredible love shines forth. God essentially told David, “You wanted to build me a house. That’s great. But instead, here’s what’s going to happen: I’M going to build YOU a house.” We read, “The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.” (2 Samuel 7:11-12)

Haven’t you seen this in your life over and over? I know I have. We come to God with our Big Ideas to serve Him. Sometimes God says no to those Big Ideas. Then He takes that “no” and turns around and eventually blesses the socks off of us in ways we can’t even imagine. He “builds us a house.” It may not always be at the time or place that we expect. Sometimes the results of our labor may not even come fully to fruition in our lifetime. But God does not forget. In His faithful timing, He overlooks our unworthiness, turning our godly desires and faltering efforts into something that does in fact glorify Him. So be encouraged, friends! Maybe you can’t build that temple you wanted to build. But that’s okay. If you love God and seek to serve Him, He will use you anyway. And, in the love and mercy that so characterizes our Lord, He will build a house for you.

Written by Raquelle Sheen