Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Tag: Prayer

My Homeschool Vision Statement

July has been the month of planning our homeschool year (for all my Aussie peeps, the American school year usually begins around Aug/Sept). For the last week or two, I have been locked in our study surrounded by school books, spreadsheets, and checklists. I always begin the process hoping to get the majority of our year mapped out, checklists filled in, and lesson plans written for the entire year so that I have less to do from week to week. I am yet to achieve this hope, but I will have the first term completed, which is a good start. This year was different. I began the process with something that I have never done before: I wrote a homeschool vision statement. Pam Barnhill has encouraged moms for many years to begin planning with a vision statement. She even gave a webinar once about it, and I believe she teaches about it in her planning courses. This year, I finally did it.

So often, planning can become mechanical. Find the curriculum. Fill in the timeslots in your planner. Begin pre-reading the books. Make a list of materials needed. Get the materials. Familiarize yourself with the lessons. Make a note of any discussion questions, science LABS, note-booking etc. etc and put those in the lesson plans/checklists. Do all of these x4 students. The process of planning can overshadow the reason why you began to homeschool in the first place.

The planning we do at the beginning of the year can also leave us disappointed at the end of the year. The hopes we had at the beginning are barely recognizable as we limp over the finish line. The end of the last three school years have left me anxious and overwhelmed. My school year never finishes as perfectly as I want it to. My children struggled in certain areas so that they didn’t make as much progress as I had planned. There were areas where our homeschool did not reflect the ideal atmosphere and philosophy that I so often write about here. We didn’t check all of the boxes. I dropped the ball on dictation, memory work, and (fill-in-the-blank). My kids didn’t do all the extra-curricular activities that I see my friends’ kids doing. I must have failed them. Somewhere in the middle of the year I lose sight of my reasons and hopes for homeschool and become overwhelmed with all the things. Maybe this is just a reflection of my own personality and the tension I feel between the ideal and the real, but this is how it has gone for me every year.

I knew that to begin planning this coming school year in this state of mind was not a good place to start. I needed to remember why I chose to homeschool before I even thought about filling in checklists. This drove me to prayer. I have prayed for specific areas of my children’s education before, mostly the areas of struggle, as well as my own keenly felt limitations in teaching my kids, but I have never prayed for our homeschool generally, or planning, itself. I have never begun my planning with prayer. Let me tell you, prayer changes everything. It is an acknowledgment that you have limitations and that you need help from our omnipotent, ever-present God. It is an acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty over all things, including our well-laid plans. As I have come to realize, my well-laid plans do not always turn out the way I want them to. But our year has been exactly what God intended. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) God’s plans always work out. And they are for our good and His glory. This month, I have prayed constantly for every child, every subject, every checklist. Not because prayer is a magic potion that will make our homeschool perfect, but because I need God. None of it is meaningful without acknowledging Him as being at the center of it all and that He is trustworthy and faithful to do His will in our homeschool.

After much prayer, I wrote my vision statement. I printed this out and put it in the front of my homeschool binder. I want to always have it right in front of me. Every time I open my binder to do the next lesson, my vision is before me. When difficulties come along, when a shiny new curriculum makes me doubt what we are currently doing and tempt me to throw it all away and start again, when my plans seem to fall apart at the seams, I can remember why we are doing what we are doing. I can hold fast to these principles that will withstand all the bends and curves of life, trust God, and press on. In addition to my vision statement, I also took the time to write specific goals for each of my kids that I keep in front of me as I make plans for their school year. These include specific subjects and skills, weaknesses and strengths that I want to focus on for each child this coming year. This meant taking a reality check on what was the priority for each child this year. Even though I wish I were, I am not Wonder Woman, and I cannot give focused attention on every area, for every child, all the time. Writing goals for each of my children helped me to see where my time is best spent with each child. I will not share my goals for my children with you since they are personal, but here is my homeschool vision statement for 2019/2020. I encourage you to think about writing one for yourself. If you already have one, what has been the benefit to you? What have you learned from it? Has it changed? I’d love to hear from you.

Vision Statement

I want my children to love and worship the one true God, pursue holiness, dwell on what is true, seek what is good, love what is lovely, and do what is right with all diligence and perseverance in order that they may glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

I want my children to desire wisdom and knowledge and develop the skills to pursue knowledge and wisdom for themselves.

The knowledge that I desire my children to know, delight in, and pursue is the knowledge of God, the knowledge of man, and the knowledge of the universe. The delight for this knowledge is most readily cultivated through living books. The supreme living book being the Bible.

I want my children to learn to think for themselves and be able to articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly in both oral and written forms.

I want them to learn the reading, writing, math, and thinking skills necessary to participate and contribute in society as godly, patriotic, and useful citizens.

Sovereign over Every Moment. God’s Grace in the Returns Line

“Mom! The light on my favorite new toy I got for Christmas doesn’t work!”

This exclamation during a fight between two siblings, another telling me all about a book she was reading, all while I tried to get checklists done and order art prints for school to begin next week, and write a list of birthday cards, presents, and groceries I forgot to buy when I shopped yesterday.

Sigh.

“Do you have the box?” I ask, frustrated. She produces torn up cardboard that once resembled the bright shiny box that housed the beloved toy.  A bit of gorilla glue and the box is almost passable.  I concede to add another stop to my errands list and return her toy so we can reorder and hopefully receive one whose light does work.  We arrive at the store and wait 20 minutes in the returns line, but there are no issues and the toy is returned and we move on to other errands.

It is now 1.30pm. We have not eaten. Children and mom are getting hangry and all my errands are not complete. I wish we didn’t need to eat because I really don’t want to buy food out and I did want to finish all my errands before going home. There is only one choice. We go home. I immediately get online to re-order the toy and get that job out of the way. Except, to our horror, the toy is out of stock! Who knows when or if it will come back in stock. I try Amazon. $73.00! WAY more than was originally paid and we returned it for.  My heart sank. I have a to-do list a mile long, it’s halfway through the afternoon and I haven’t even achieved a quarter of it, and now my daughter has just returned her favorite toy that is no longer available. My frustration increases. I look at my daughter. There was only one thing for it. We go back to the store in the hopes that we can retrieve the toy.

On the way, I hold little hope that we will be able to get it back. I tell my daughter to pray. She prays a simple sweet prayer, “Dear God, please help me get my toy back. Amen.”

Once again we are in the returns line. This time we only wait 10 minutes. We explain the situation to the sweet lady at the counter. She looks in the bins behind her. Our toy is not there.

“If it was an online order I don’t know what I can do.” She sees the disappointment and sadness in my daughter’s eyes and says, “there is one other place I can look.” She is back a few minutes later with the news we didn’t want to hear. “I’m sorry, but because your return was an online item, it has already been processed and labeled. Once it is labeled to go on the truck back to the warehouse, there is nothing we can do.”

“Has it left yet on the truck? Where is it right now?” I ask. She knows that I suspect that it is still in the building but due process says I can’t have it back now because it will mess up the system. She looks to see if we can buy the item in the store. We can’t. She really wants to help but knows she can’t. She takes me to her supervisor, asking her if anything can be done to get the item back. The supervisor reiterates what we’ve already been told. Once the item has been labeled, it’s bad luck. As I am talking with the supervisor, the sweet lady from the counter walks away to try another idea. She turns the corner. When I finish with the supervisor we attempt to follow her. She is nowhere to be seen. All hope seems lost now. Our one advocate trying to help us has disappeared. Maybe she went to the online order pick up area. We go there. I ask the two men working if they’d seen the sweet lady. She was helping me. They have not. My daughter’s eyes begin to well up. Her beloved toy is lost to her now. One of the men asks if he can help. I don’t think he can but to indulge him I tell him the very short version of our story. Enough for him to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help.” But he doesn’t say that. He goes out the back and brings back a box. Our box! It’s our toy! He rips off the label and asks what I paid for it. I tell him. He manually puts the amount in the register and it is ours again!

As we leave the store with a skip in our step and tears of relief in my daughter’s eyes, I reflect to her,

“God answered your prayer today.”

She looks up at me with wonder and awe. “Yeah, I guess He did!”

“Twice we had been told that we couldn’t have it back,” I tell her. “If we hadn’t lost the lady, we wouldn’t have found our way to the man at the back. In God’s providence, when it seemed it was gone and there was nothing to be done, God directed us to the very person who could help.”

I realize that this story is pretty trivial as far as life stories go. It is just a toy. It would have been disappointing but not that important. But what seemed small and insignificant to me meant everything to my daughter. She learned that her God cared for her and was gracious and loving and kind and she could trust Him, even when our actions are unwise.   If it had turned out that in God’s providence we couldn’t get the toy back, God would still have been caring, gracious, loving, and kind. The lesson would have been to be content with what we have and perhaps think and consider all options before making a decision that could potentially be unwise.

But that wasn’t the lesson God wanted to teach us on this day. Today, my daughter learned that God always answers prayer.

“I’m glad God said yes.”

How Martin Luther Helped Us to Pray

For the past year and a half, every school morning, we begin our day with what I call “circle time.” My four kids and I gather together on the couch, or around the table outside, to read Scripture, memorize Scripture, pray, and to read and memorize poetry. It hasn’t always been easy establishing this routine, especially with a baby and a five-year-old incessant wriggler whose maximum attention span is five minutes. Nevertheless, it has become my favorite time of the day. I hope over time it becomes my children’s as well. It is wonderful to begin the day together focussing on our Lord; emphasizing truth, goodness, and beauty. It really helps set the tone for the rest of our day, most of the time.

When we began to incorporate a regular circle time in our day the children each took a turn at praying. Their prayers would be something like this:

“Dear God, thank you for the day. Please help us at school and please help such and such to get better. Amen.”

There is nothing wrong with this prayer in itself. The Bible says we should come to Jesus like a child. God hears our simple, heartfelt, and fervent prayers. The concern I had was that I felt as if the children were praying on autopilot. The same prayers would be prayed each day, the exact same words said by rote, and I didn’t feel that they actually thought about what they were saying. I didn’t feel that they really understood that they were praying to God, the creator of the universe. As I thought about it more I realized something: that was how I prayed as well. I was praying in a haphazard, unthoughtful way. They were following my example.

The Barber Who Wanted to PrayOne day, as I sorted out the kids’ bookshelf for the hundredth time, I rediscovered the children’s book The Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R. C. Sproul. We had read and enjoyed this beautifully illustrated book several times before, but hadn’t pulled it out for quite some time. It is about a father, Mr. McFarland who, during family devotions, is asked by his young daughter how to “pray in a way that will make Jesus happy and will make me feel more comfortable.” Mr. McFarland tells her a 500-year-old story about a barber and his famous customer, the outlaw, Martin Luther. He tells her how Luther came to write a letter to the barber, explaining to him how to pray using the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments.

Thanking the Lord for putting this book in my path right when I needed it, I decided to read this story to the kids as part of our circle time. After spending a week or two reading it over a few times and having them tell me the story in their own words, I explained that we would do as Martin Luther taught the barber, and memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments as part of our memory work during circle time. I wish I could tell you that the girls jumped for joy at this pronouncement. They did not. In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard groans. It sounded like a lot of work to them so, of course, they didn’t want to do it. But anything worth doing requires effort. We have been memorizing these verses and creed, five minutes a day, for the past year and a half. The oldest has memorized all of them and the younger two have memorized the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed and are at various stages in memorizing the Ten Commandments. Amazingly, I too have memorized them incidentally since I have been helping the children learn them.

As we have memorized each verse or sentence, I have encouraged the children to pray through them as was taught in the story.

“Think about the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’ When you think about these words, allow your mind and your heart to give careful attention to what these words say, and let them move you to deeper prayer.”

Martin Luther goes on to give several examples in the story of praying in this way. I too tried (and continue) to model how to pray in this way. Each day I picked one line from whatever the children were in the process of memorizing, often focussing on the same verse for the entire week or more, sometimes even a whole month. Then I encouraged the kids to pray something about that. For example, when considering the line in the Apostles’ Creed, “Maker of heaven and Earth,” I would talk about how they could praise God for His wonderful creation. Thanking Him for the birds that chirp in our trees. For the sun and the moon and the stars. To thank Him for creating this world that we are living in and for providing plants to eat that bear seeds after their own kind. I would ask them to think about how powerful God must be to create such a perfect home for us. I then told them to include in their prayer at least one thing about God’s creation that they were thankful for and to thank Him for it.

As we have continued this practice of praying through these verses and creed I have seen my children grow in how they approach God and how they pray to Him. They still pray with their simple language, but they have begun to include whole verses from memory in their prayers and to apply them to specific circumstances for which they are praying. Not only has this book helped me to teach the children to pray biblically and to seek Him and His Word, it has also radically changed and enriched my own private prayer life as I too learn to “pray in a way that will make Jesus happy and will make me feel more comfortable.” While this book was written for children, it’s story will impact anyone who wants to grow in prayer and their Christian walk with God. If you’re interested, Luther’s original letter is also freely available online.

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