On Being Bookish
 

It’s that time of year at Valley Classical School when we find ourselves in the delightful and exciting season of book parties. Decorations, costumes, crafts, games, and snacks consume one whole class period for each grade while the students live out the book they’ve been listening to for weeks. Stepping into the world of a book sounds like a dream for most, but the parents of VCS make it a reality. Their own love for books shines through their efforts along with the wonder and enthusiasm their children bring to the party.

Indeed, I don’t know many families that love the classical model of education and yet don’t have an enthusiastic love for books. Erasmus famously said, “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” This certainly rings true for my own family along with many other homeschooling families I know. Book tables, bookstores, Amazon, thrift stores, and libraries have consumed more of our family income than I care to admit. (Yes, technically libraries are free, but only if you are the kind of person that actually brings the books back on time. Our family’s New Year’s resolution every year is, “No Library Fines.” We sometimes make it to February.) Stacks of books are always filling the corners of our little house. And honestly, I like it that way.

In his blog post, Why Christians Love Books, Tony Reinke writes, “Christianity is bookish. Books, letters, and literacy form an ancient bond between the publishing in digital media, and the co-opted social media in the earliest days of Christianity (letters). We are still a people of the Book. We are readers. We are writers. We are forward-looking people, bookish people, and we will not stop writing and publishing until the earth is submerged under a second global flood — a tsunami of truth (Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9).” Yes, we are truly bookish people.

With book party season in full swing, I’ve been thinking a lot about the books that God has used to encourage me as I falteringly attempt to remember, believe, and live out the gospel. I’ve compiled them here into a top 10 list with short descriptions and favorite quotes from each. Much like our VCS parents make stories come alive with beautiful book parties, these authors have brought Scripture to life with their words, showing me what it looks like to live out God’s one true story.

1. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers - This devotional was given to me when I was 16 after I first believed in Christ. For 25 years, Oswald Chambers has relentlessly pointed me to the goodness and holiness of God.

“If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed - you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.”

2. Attitudes of a Transformed Heart by Martha Peace - This book opened my eyes to all the ways that I excuse sin in my life. When I asked the author which of her books she recommended, she said that she believes this is her most important work. I agree.

“We are here to serve and glorify God, not ourselves.”

3. Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp - There have been many great parenting books published since this one came out, but this was a like a breath of fresh air when my oldest was tiny. It showed me the difference between behavior modification and reaching the heart.

“You must teach your children that for them, as for all of mankind, life is found in knowing and serving the true and living God.”

4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis - I admit, I didn’t read these as a child. As an adult, I fell in love with them and the artful way that Lewis could tell a beautiful adventure story and “steal past watchful dragons” with truth.

“‘Child,’ said the Voice, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.’” - from The Horse and His Boy

5. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper - I heard about how life-changing this book was from other students while my husband was in seminary. I reluctantly picked it up just to see what all the fuss was about. That’s when I experienced an entire paradigm shift. Piper was the first person to explain to me what man’s chief end is.

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

6. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs - Originally published in 1648, this book is still amazingly applicable today. His definition of contentment is worth the price of the whole book.

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition."

7. Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick - “Preaching the gospel to yourself” became a sort of catchphrase at my church several years ago. This book helped me understand that the gospel is not just for unbelievers, but for believers too. When we forget the gospel, “spiritual amnesia” is crouching at the door.

“Every sin we commit, either by omission or commission, is a failure to love as we’ve been loved. Every transgression of the law finds its genesis in a stinginess of soul, a belief that we’ve got to protect our interests, fight for our rights, build our kingdom.”

8. A Praying Life by Paul Miller - This author, along with Charles Spurgeon, changed the way I pray. They both have helped me see myself as a child coming to a good Father within the context of His story.

“Often when you think everything has gone wrong, it’s just that you’re in the middle of a story. If you watch the stories God is weaving in your life, you, like Joseph, will begin to see the patterns. You’ll become a poet, sensitive to your Father’s voice.”

9. Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett - Part prayer book and part poetry, this book is a constant companion to my Bible, devotional, and journal. It’s beautiful, rich, and deep.

“May his shed blood make me more thankful for thy mercies, more humble under thy correction, more zealous in thy service, more watchful against temptation, more contented in my circumstances, more useful to others.”

10. Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids by Jack Klumpenhower - After reading this book, I couldn’t sleep. His emphasis on showing kids what grace looks like and teaching them why the gospel really is “good news” rocked my whole world. It changed how I teach and relate to children.

“The cross is where Jesus frees us from the crushing, impossible pressure of having to serve God well enough.”

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. I wish I could have included more fiction and more impressive scholarly works, but in truth, these are the books that always rise to the top. It’s an enormous privilege to have God’s Word (even multiple copies!) in our own language at home, let alone stacks of good books to help us along. May I never forget, in my love for books, to recognize and be thankful for such bookish abundance.

 
Tonia Strange
Liturgy in Our Learning
 

My husband and I are members of an Anglican church, and one of my favorite parts of our tradition is the worship liturgy. It is repetitive, in the sense that we follow the same rhythms more or less every Sunday. We say the same prayers, acclamations, confessions,and creeds according to the church calendar. It is participatory, in the sense that we physically move and speak and embody the Gospel throughout the service. Who ever reads the Scripture passages will walk down off the stage and stand in the middle of the congregation for Gospel readings, to represent how Christ came and dwelt among us. We walk to the communion table every week, and put out our hands to receive—not to take—the elements, because we remember grace is a received gift.  

The word liturgy means “the work of the people,” and the liturgy of our worship service has changed my life. I never knew how much I needed to experience an embodied worship. I am moved to humility as I put my body in a posture of kneeling. My heart opens to receive grace when I hold my hands open to receive the bread. My soul moves to the physical responses of this participatory worship; down in humility, up and forgiven, forward to receive. Liturgy has shaped me as I respond in this constant, repetitive, physical form of worship.

All rhythms, like church liturgy, shape us in one way or another. My worship liturgy changes the way I respond to God and receive grace. My habits shape my time and the way I live. My routines shape the way I spend my days and nights. Liturgies in their repetition and participation form and shape us. School is not meant to be the church, but one of the things I love about our culture of education at VCS is the beautiful liturgy of our campus days. The work of the people, the work of the teachers, the work of the students—it’s a participatory act. What I am called to do as a Godly teacher is create a rhythm to the day, and a liturgy of learning that my students can fall into that will shape them into the image of Christ, and help form them into the people God wants them to be. What does a liturgy of learning look like in the classroom? I think there are two key elements: there is repetition in order to remember, and there is a physical participation. Both work together to form and shape the hearts, habits, and minds of our students.

First, we need a repetitive rhythm because as humans, we are forgetful. We have to constantly recall what we know, and we have to remember before we can take in more knowledge. In my class, the students practice math facts before learning a new concept. They rattle off their phonograms before learning how to put them into new spelling words. We recite parts of speech and capitalization rules before learning how they work in grammatically correct sentences. How can our students truly learn if they cannot remember? We have a beautiful rhythm of repetition in that every subject begins with some form of memory work so that knowledge is truly ingrained in the students’ minds. We have to repeat in order to remember.

The second aspect to our liturgical learning is participation. There is a lot of recitation, but the beauty of it is how the students are called to participate, and therefore their learning is all the more formational. They are responding to what is asked of them, not just sitting passively and absorbing the material. In our sound-off recitations, they speak the answers aloud and all together as a class. They stand to read Scripture. They clap and use hand motions. As they recite in unison, they are actively participating in something bigger than themselves. I always say to them, “All of you together makes one single voice.” It’s a reminder that as they participate, each of them belongs to the class as a whole. Not only that, but because they so actively participate, it helps them taste the whole of their knowledge. In that moment when they realize they just remembered every word of the long poem, or every single preposition, they taste the fruit of their labor and start to grasp the big-picture.

As a part of our liturgical rhythms at VCS, we start the day with an all-school morning assembly during which we recite the same things, repeatedly. We participate as we stand and speak aloud. Every campus day, over and over, the students stand up and declare who made them and speak aloud truths of God. Together we sing hymns that have echoed through generations, and we repeat verses of Scripture until we remember. One of the sweetest parts of my day is listening to the catechism of morning assembly. I’m surrounded by students who are in the process of learning these words for the first time, and they are remembering it more each day. But it is truly a wonderful experience to listen to the students who remember these words from learning them last year. After repeating these words day after day, they do not just recite, but declare. “Who made you?” and they answer, “God!”  They remember truth because they repeat it. They know the truth because they remember it. They are formed in this truth, and shaped by God more and more every time.

We don’t repeat the morning assembly material each day to be redundant, or because there is nothing “new.” I don’t start each new subject with some form of recitation work because it helps me govern my class well. We have a liturgy to our education because it is a formational practice, it is a life-giving rhythm. We recite repeatedly to remember. We participate because we belong to this work. We say truth aloud, each day, year in and year out, so our students will never forget. Repetition shapes us, liturgy forms us, and we pray God uses these rhythms of education to shape His children into the men and women He wants them to be.

 
Kate Orton
Laboring for Christ
 

I had an intriguing Labor Day weekend. My husband was out of town for a few days traveling. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and discouraged about all that needed to get done in regards to the ministry we work for and at home, but God gave me such a sweet, personal surprise! A missionary who many, including myself, have deep respect for, happened to be passing through the area and made a last minute request to visit our students and staff.  In the time I got to spend listening to him with our team, many things he said struck a chord with me. One comment, however, got me thinking about my children, their education, and how it relates to God’s future plans for their life. The missionary passionately shared of the need for laborers in world missions who know how to labor. Not only is there a shortage of missionaries on the field today, but those who do come struggle to properly labor for Christ. He said the new and young missionaries being sent to the field do not know how to work hard. They are shocked by the many hours missionaries toil for Christ, and only 3% of them make it past a year or two. Commitment, hard work, and longevity are all at risk with the up and coming generations headed to reach the unreached with the gospel.

I left the time with our friend feeling challenged and simultaneously encouraged. Challenged to pray and continue to ask God to send laborers to reach the unreached all over the world with the gospel.  Challenged in my willingness to come alongside future generations to prepare and disciple them into all that God is calling them to be in their character, commitment, and competency for their future vocation, including those who will be called into full-time missions. Yet, I was also encouraged, specifically in my heart and mind, for the precious opportunity to homeschool, as I know it is not always possible for families to do so. I am thankful that I have been given this window of time and opportunity, these carpe diem hours, minutes, moments, and years to participate with the grace of God and the work of the Spirit in the lives of my children—leading them, teaching them, training them, and speaking truth over them in their character and calling. Furthermore, I was also particularly encouraged for the opportunity to partake in a collaborative/classical approach to homeschooling. I am grateful that we are learning to work hard and play hard.

I know homeschooling and the classical approach is not the only way God can build a work ethic in our children and us, but it is certainly something He will use, and is using, as we partake in this great endeavor that is this year. And do it He must, because we need more missionaries on the field—great men and women of God who can understand languages quickly and excellently from their years of classical training in Latin, who will work long hours because they learned to study hard and work hard for 15 years in school, and who have been trained in the art of rhetoric; communicating with boldness, persuasion, and creative power. We need great men and women of God who have learned how to think and apply apologetics and theology to all of life, not compartmentalizing the sacred and the secular. We need young men and women of God who will bring the gospel to the lost peoples of the world in every sect of society and culture. We need educators, scientists, doctors, lawyers, coaches, leaders, and most importantly, a generation of parents, who will be set apart in the days to come, not merely by what they know, but by who they are!

To all of us today, my encouragement is to keep that big picture in mind. Think often upon what God laid on your heart when you were led to homeschool, and especially when you were led to use the classical method. For me, this is the big picture I keep returning to. I believe God is raising up a generation of leaders who will be like Daniel of the Bible, spiritual in our secularized world.  They will have a spirit of excellence on them, goodwill with men, be hard working, hard praying, and full of the Spirit. Daniels do not come from fluff or suddenly appear. God used Daniel's past, his background, his home, and his character to be one of the most influential figures of the Bible, whose prophecies and life continue to impact us today and tomorrow. God shapes our children by His profound call of grace, yes, but we would be foolish not to think He is using the majority hours of the week, the mundane, and many minutes a day to shape their destiny.

Let us walk with this in mind; our children will be the next generation of leaders in our world, and potentially the tip of the spear for the gospel going forth to the nations.

Lastly, my final encouragement is to continue to move through this year with joy in your heart and celebrate small wins often. Many of us may not be sensing much of either of those just yet, maybe experiencing some anxiety, doubt, fear, but I want to encourage us in the fruit of the spirit of joy and in the discipline of celebration.  As this year continues, and we want to keep the stamina and momentum we are working to build right now on our home days and school days, we will need joy and to celebrate small wins often.  Remember, joy makes us strong. The Bible says the joy of the Lord is our strength[1]. One author writes, “Without a joyful spirit of festivity the disciplines become dull, death breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every discipline should be characterized by a carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving!”[2] So how do we cooperate to experience the joy that the Lord promises can and should be ours?  Through a thankful heart, an obedient life, and an eternal perspective. We need to remember to wrap this entire year in joy, and its close cousin, gratitude, as well as celebrate often. This makes the difference of the day and the year. “The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”[3] Let us keep this before our hearts and minds as we go onward.

Isaiah 55[4]:

 “For you shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
 and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
  instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;”

 

[1] Nehemiah 8:10, ESV
[2] Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco: HaperOne, 1978. 191.
[3] Steindl-Rast, David. Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer. New York: Paulist Press/Ramsey, 1984. 204.
[4] Isaiah 55:12-13, ESV

 

Michelle Saladino
What Classical Education Has Taught Me As A Parent
 

On my way home from VCS a few weeks back, my child casually said, “Mom, in class we were discussing with our teacher the Major and Minor Prophets and their roles.”

He went on to share more, but I began to think at that moment, Wow, I am so grateful my child has the opportunity to be instructed in the Word of God through the context of his educational experience. And yet simultaneously I thought, is my child really having this talk with me right now about the Major and Minor Prophets? He was ready for more comprehension and retention of God’s Word than I realized!  Thus far, Valley Classical School has helped me to see this in my son, giving me a stronger desire to foster this more at home. 

The flexibility, family closeness, parental involvement, and individually-curtailed instruction of homeschooling is unparalleled, but adding a community of teachers, excellent curriculum choices, administrators, and students a few days a week has truly enhanced my child’s joy in learning. While also lending an opportunity for insight into him that I may not have seen on my own, be it his character, spirit, or intellect. 

Furthermore, it has been amazing to see how much my child really is capable of when given the opportunity to grow and be stretched in certain areas that he is not necessarily gifted in. I have seen his spelling and writing make tremendous strides this year, and on the flip side, I had no idea he would love languages. He loves Latin, and I am seeing he is gifted in it! 

Classical education is not Disneyland, nor does it seek to give children an education directed by their wants and desires. It aims higher, producing the magic, if you will, and cultivating the natural gifts, talents, and passions of a child, through an education established in the tradition and firmly rooted beliefs that once were and are being re-birthed. Children have a mind that is tremendously capable of being trained by truth rather than culture, and a spirit that is tremendously receptive to grow in character, hunger for God, and ability to make sense of the world through His Word.

 
Michelle Saladino
The Grace of Recitation
 

I am not a gardener. Tending to living things requires a measure of awareness and patience that I struggle to attain. One look at the grass in my yard provides all the support that assertion needs.

Yet, more and more I have come to understand the call to educate (and to parent) as the call to cultivate or tend the minds of students. It is a gardener’s call, as it is the farmer’s. The mission statement of VCS includes the word “cultivation” deliberately. At numerous points in Scripture, the work of the believer is compared to that of the gardener, especially as it relates to the work of evangelism. We sow, water, weed, and reap.

And as we undertake these tasks, these tangible steps, we hopefully begin to realize the limits of our role in the process of another’s conversion, just as a farmer might realize his limited role in the growth of his crops. We are called to perform the tasks, not to accomplish the work. We do not create transformation. We do not make things grow. That is God’s part. As Colin from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden might have said, “That is the magic.”

I am thankful that we have the easier part, but that is not to say it is altogether easy. The work of gardeners and farmers is hard. It is hard, in part, because it is repetitive, constant, persistent, diligent, faithful, trusting, and longsuffering. In short, it requires depth of character, and character is not easy to come by.

As educators, we can learn much from the tone and rhythm of gardening and farming.  In many ways, educating requires the same character that is required of farming. The education of a child over an entire academic career represents the repetitive, constant, persistent, diligent, faithful, trusting, and longsuffering cultivation of the mind and heart of the student. When VCS uses words like “layered” and “spiraling” to describe the approach of classical education, this is what we mean. Education is a daily work of faithfulness, not a lurching, cramming shove across a finish line.

Those qualities are embodied within recitation. When I speak of recitation in the context of the VCS curriculum, I include the sound-offs (Grammar, Science, etc.), Morning Assembly scripture and hymns, history timeline, math terms, math flash cards, Latin grammar questions and flash cards, and poetry review. These are the items on the lesson plan that are not required to be turned in at the next class. They aren’t graded or evaluated in the same way as other work.

And yet, recitation is the portion of our academic work that reveals, to the greatest extent, God’s faithfulness to the growth of our students. These repetitive tasks, these tangible steps, yield steady growth over time. Children’s bodies grow every minute of the day. We cannot perceive that growth at any instant, but the next time they stand against the wall or visit the doctor’s office to be measured, the truth of that growth becomes known. This is also the purpose of report cards--to perceive God’s faithfulness in that growth process.

The slow, constant nature of this growth provides lessons for how we go about doing recitation. While mastery is the ultimate goal, it is not the daily goal. Approach recitation as you would the task of watering plants. Each time you approach the plant, you might not see growth. Yet the watering produces the growth. And more water does not always produce faster growth; it can sometimes drown. Instead, focus on being faithful to that day’s recitation tasks. That is all that is required.

God works in similar ways. He asks of us only what he has for us that day. And he provides us with only what we need for that day. If we attempt to preserve and extend that blessing into the future, just as Israel did the manna that appeared each morning, it spoils. He wants us to trust Him, not our storehouses, for that is when our faith grows.

Like the dew that falls lightly each morning, the recitation nourishes the mind and heart just enough for the day. By God’s grace, what is produced, perhaps slowly over time, is the depth of character needed to undertake each day’s tasks and enjoy each day’s blessing.

 
Warren Rosborough
The Golden Spiral
 

I admit that I had never even heard of Fibonacci until our kids started listening to Jonathan Park Audio Adventures. I’ve always been a “word girl” leaning more toward grammar, poetry, music, and writing. Throughout my formal education, math, science, and history were just boring subjects to get through, disconnected from the real joy of the arts. I didn’t recognize their beauty until I started homeschooling.

The medieval mathematician known as Fibonacci re-discovered and applied a sequence of numbers in which the next number is found by adding the two numbers before it such as: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. This sequence has been called, “the golden ratio.” If you take those numbers and turn them into widths, you get a perfect swirl also known as, “the golden spiral.”

We see this spiral all over nature. In fact, it has been nicknamed, “the fingerprint of God.” From the center of sunflowers to pine cones to the tightly curled fiddlehead fern to nautilus shells to the very shape of our galaxy, the spiral is there pointing to a very ordered creation rather than a random chance of gas and dust.

For centuries, artists have used the golden ratio to create masterpieces that are pleasing to the eye. Look at the Mona Lisa, The Great Wave, The Parthenon, and the statue of David and you can see that the balance and focus of the art are in harmony with Fibonacci’s sequence. And here is where the magic happens for me: suddenly, math becomes art. The two are no longer separated into boring and interesting. They are intertwined, giving each other shape and meaning.

I see a lot of this magic in my kindergarten classroom. In fact, I revel in it. All of the facts we are learning come from the Creator Himself and point back to Him. What we call, “subjects,” aren’t divided as much as they are unified in an ebb and flow, making connections throughout our day. Our First Start Reading letter becomes the first letter of the new animal we are studying. Our literature book becomes a history lesson which then becomes art. Our new math concept flows into recess. Our morning assembly sound-off comes right out of our Bible story. Language is science. Literature is history. Math is fun. (I never thought I’d say that.) And that beautiful scarlet thread holding it all together is the theology of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As we were preparing the curricula for this school year, Fibonacci kept coming to mind because classical education has also been described as a spiral. As a student grows, the depth of their knowledge stretches in accord with their natural development. Facts are memorized, then revisited later in a broader context to be internalized, and then revisited again in an even broader context to be expressed effectively. The purpose of this method is to learn how to learn.

I’ve watched this process work its way out in my 9th grader. While my kindergartners are reading a picture book about Ben Franklin, my daughter is revisiting the facts through his autobiography and connecting that information to the American and French Revolutions, the Constitution, and the science of electricity. While I shouldn’t be surprised, I’m sometimes shocked that none of this is boring to her. That tiny spiral of information in her early years gave her sturdy, familiar pegs on which to hang this new depth of knowledge. She actually loves learning.

Part of the beauty here is that this process doesn’t end with a terminal degree. The Fibonacci sequence is infinite and so is learning for the classical student. You can never exhaust the golden spiral. And as man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, neither can you exhaust the knowledge of God. We are forever going, “further up and further in,” as C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle.

Make no mistake, learning is hard work. Teaching is also hard work. But as we spiral together in collaboration toward a better understanding of our Creator, our very lives, now intertwined, become a work of art as well.

 
Tonia Strange
Secrets to Successful Home Days
 

Have you struggled to settle back into a routine after taking a break for the holidays and unexpected snow days? Has the enthusiasm with which you tackled home-days at the beginning of the school year lost its shine during these bitter cold months of winter? We're here to help! Keep reading to discover how fellow VCS parents are fostering smooth and successful days of learning at home.

Setting the Tone

  1. "As a new homeschool parent I found myself looking at the lesson plan as items to be checked off a list.  I did not enjoy the process of watching them learn, learning alongside them, and guiding them in their learning at the beginning.  Once I dropped the task only approach, our days began to go much smoother and became much more enjoyable for both myself and the boys!"
     
  2. "I have learned the value of "break time". In past years I tended to work with the mentality "the quicker we get through this, the more time you'll have to play". Now I find myself allowing everyone (myself included) a 5-10 minute break every hour and I am SHOCKED at how much happier it makes everyone. Letting go of my rigid expectations have made for much more enjoyable home days."
     
  3. "I love to have music playing in the background to help keep things calm while we're sitting at the table."
     
  4. "I learned quickly that I am a morning person but my kids need a little time before starting school.  I'd love to start school at 7:30 but they're really not ready until about 8:30.  This happens to be about the time VCS begins, so making that change at home has really helped our day to go much more smoothly. "

Staying Organized

  1. "I use color coding for each grade/student. It makes it much easier to keep track of the weekly assignments for each child without getting them mixed up."
     
  2. "We use lots of clipboards in the classroom. Each student has three clipboards. One has the papers/worksheets to be completed on the current home day, the second has the weekly assignment check-list and the third is for the returned papers that are to be filed in the binder. The clipboards are emptied each week into the binders. I like the clipboards because it keeps the papers secured but accessible."

Raising Independent Learners

  1. "My younger children require much more of my attention because of their early reading skills. This has naturally encouraged my 4th-grader to become more independent during the school day. She is a self-motivated learner and I have given her freedom in going through the daily check-list on her own - leaving the things that require my assistance or explanation for the end of the work period. She enjoys the flexibility. I've also allowed her to start making more choices about when she would like to do school work. Handing over that responsibility is teaching her to be wise with her time or otherwise forfeit fun activities that may come later that afternoon/evening."
     
  2. "Neither of my boys are really ready to be super independent learners but I do encourage my first grader to read the instructions himself and ask me for clarification if he needs it.  I've also encouraged him to check over his work before handing it to me.  I'm still very active in his learning each day but I do think these two items are the beginning steps to getting him to be more independent."
     
  3. "I keep puzzles on hand so my youngest has something to do when he doesn't have work.  The puzzles are challenging for him so they keep him busy."

We hope you found these tips helpful. Leave a comment below to let us know your secrets for a  successful home day!

 
Valley Classical School
Full Minds and Clear Thoughts
 

As we prepare for the New Year, Neil Anderson, Head of School at Trinity Classical in Houston, TX, shares the importance of resolving to remain students so that we can be better teachers.

Early on in my public speaking life, I had the dreadful experience of standing in front of a room of people with nothing to say. I had relied on my cursory knowledge of the content and the assumption that I could fill in any necessary gaps on a whim. On this particular occasion, the plan failed, and I vowed to avoid that humiliation at all costs in the future. This has not resulted in my becoming the prototype for preparation, but I do have a firm conviction that one who asks for the attention of others in a speaking/teaching context should be worthy of that attention. Usually this demands adequate preparation.

The first of the Seven Laws of Teaching, according to John Milton Gregory, states: a teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth or art to be taught. This law is stated more specifically as a rule: know thoroughly and familiarly the lesson you wish to teach — teach from a full mind and a clear understanding.

At our winter faculty inservice, we talked about full minds and clarity in understanding. The rule is simple and obvious. Why would we teach what we don’t know? How can we teach what we don’t know? We all know it happens often in classrooms, pulpits, athletics, etc. We wing it. “Winging it” is occasionally linked to lack of time for prep and busy lives, but most often it is a product of laziness, an illness that few escape.

We often teach what we don’t know because we are lazy and didn’t carve out time for the first law of the teacher. On the opposite end of the spectrum, thoroughly knowing the content we wish to teach is no easy task. The calling of the teacher and faithfulness to this rule requires much of us, typically more than we are able to give. On any given day at our school, teachers at the grade levels we currently have need to apply this rule to several different disciplines each day. The content of each school day could warrant a ludicrous amount of preparation in order to truly become equipped with a full mind and clarity of understanding.

I bring this rule to light because it is equally applicable to our co-teachers, our parents. Just because we know how to do long division does not mean we are ready to teach it. Just because we read Macbeth in high school does not mean we are ready to take our students through it on a whim. This is a good topic for this season of resolving. Teachers and co-teachers alike: resolve not to teach what you don’t know. Resolve to teach from a full mind and a clear understanding at all times. Resolve to be a student first, then a teacher. Perfection in this task requires more than we have to give. But the chasm between perfection and slothfulness is great. Find a healthy place for yourself somewhere in between.

Amongst a host of things you could be doing in order to be faithful to the first law, the simple and practical commitment is to read ahead. You may not be able to accomplish it with every discipline, for every child, every day. You can start by tackling one subject per child. For example, if you have three children in grades 1st, 4th, and 7th, put the Story of the World 1, Saxon 6/5, and Arabian Nights on your nightstand and read ahead. If that’s all you can do, do that. Read ahead, think about the content you’re going to teach or discuss, and experience the reward of teaching with clarity.

I will be writing on more of the Seven Laws of Teaching in future posts. I recommend the book to you if you’ve not read it. The most important aspect of this first law is to remember the privilege of being a teacher. Preparation for the teacher is not drudgery, it is joy. Teaching is the desire to share what we are excited to know.

*reposted with permission. Original post can be found here.

 
Neil Anderson
The Pain of Pruning and Joy of Growth
 

About 6 years ago, one of my closest friends bought a house that had some huge rose bushes in the back yard. These plants were an impressive 4-5 feet tall and 4-5 ft wide. They even had a few bright, beautiful flowers here and there…but overall they were scraggly. They had very few leaves and very few flowers because they hadn’t been thinned, pruned, deadheaded, or fertilized for a long time. The previous owner had either ignored them, or become completely overwhelmed by them.

I convinced my friend that they could use a pruning, and she trustingly said that since I was the horticulturist, she’d let me do whatever I thought best. So we picked a day for her to watch our gaggle of children and for me to work on her roses.

Since I love pruning, I got into the scraggly mess and got to work with gusto - taking out the dead and diseased wood, cutting back the long leggy stems, and thinning out the middles to allow sunlight and wind to reach all parts of the bush. Next thing I knew, I had a mountain of thorny branches on the grass and very small - really stumps - of rose bushes remaining. I started to panic. What had I just done to my friend’s roses?! Did I really know what I was doing? Would they ever recover? I took them from their 4x5 foot mass of 100s of stems to stumps of about 1 foot tall with only 5-10 stems. I said a quick prayer that I hadn’t completely destroyed her roses. And then, while my stomach was churning, I started cleaning up the branches. I got scratched while pruning, but double scratched while picking up. It was miserable work.

My friend said we’d just wait and see. Trusting in horticulture's wisdom more than myself. So, we waited, added some fertilizer and mulch, and waited…for about 4 weeks. Those weeks seemed so long as I waited to see if I had killed her roses. But then we saw the first few leaf buds starting to swell and unfurl. And then another month or so saw new, strong, green stems start to grow. No roses yet, but stout stems and healthy leaves. Then finally about 4 months after the massive pruning project, the first buds started to show. The flowers that those roses produced that summer were amazing! Those bushes were a pink blaze of glory. All of that pain, hard work, and worry had found an end. A beautiful end.

I’ve been thinking that those roses are much like our family’s VCS journey so far. We had been hobbling along homeschooling for several years, doing okay on our own and even making a few roses here and there. But there were so many things we didn’t know how to handle, got overwhelmed by, or were playing it safe in - not wanting to go deep and prune out our bad habits. My bad habit of simply pushing aside assignments I didn’t want to or know how to teach, or our children’s habit of whining and not staying focused, or my habit of never sticking to self imposed deadlines. But we knew that if we wanted to see strong, vigorous, beautiful growth, that we would need some help and pruning - even painful pruning.

And boy, did it feel  like we got hacked down to 1/4 of our size in an intense and crazy way over the first quarter! There were so many tears on my part and the parts of our children. There have been many times I’ve cried out to our Father that this is too much. That I am too tired. That I want to be done. I want to go back to the safe and easier place. I want to be left to just bloom a few flowers here and there.

But now we have started to see our children begin to grow and change. We’re starting to see more and more how their campus teachers are loving them and walking with them and helping us train them. We are starting to see glimpses of the fruit that we have been praying and hoping for. We are starting to see the leaf buds swell as those 1 or 2 phonograms get a little easier, another row of math facts gets mastered, and one more subject is moved over into cursive, but most importantly - we’re seeing our children start to taste what hard work produces and like it. They’re little things, but we are starting to taste what is coming.

There is still work and many more pruning times ahead. But to see God’s grace towards us in giving us an intense time of pruning and to be able to see some fruit - that is a true gift. So, rally on VCS families! And remind me of the same. May God bless the adventure we are on together and give us courage to keep inching forward--to see our children and ourselves grow and flourish.

 
Jody Strom
The Shadow of Delight
 

The other day, during Bible, we were reading Psalm 91, and discussing verse 1. It’s easy to understand some metaphors of God-- His protection over us, our resting under his wings. But I was struggling to explain what “abiding under the shadow of the Almighty” meant to 8 year olds. I asked my students, “What makes a shadow?” I described the feeling of standing next to a tall person when the sun shines on them, and you are within their shadow. But for some reason, it didn’t seem to resonate with them as much as the other descriptions in the Psalm. Why is it a comfort to abide inside a shadow? My students have been struggling with understanding this, as well as something else. I thought about these as I drove home that day, and had no idea that God would weave these two things together.

The students in my class love order, structure, consistency, and rightness. They are very much aware of, and regularly point out, the mistakes that I make (so fun for my pride!), and those of others. They all have a strong desire to uphold classroom order, to meet expectations, put simply: they want to be right. They hate making mistakes. They become flustered and upset and frustrated when they answer questions incorrectly, or get problems wrong on homework, or blunder a line -- even one word--  in poetry recitation. No matter how often I try to tell them that failure and mistakes are ok, my words fall void. Inevitable mistakes continue, and frustrations rise again. This repetitive struggle is so hard for me as their teacher to watch! My heart has grown so tender towards them, that when I watch them internally beat themselves up, it beats on my heart, too.

So I think of how to approach this all the time- on my drives home from school, on my drives to school, as I set up my classroom, as I cook dinner. Throughout the year, as I have wrestled and prayed and ached and tried to faithfully pursue this process of helping my students, God gifted me with two unmistakable moments through which He spoke. He tied everything together.

The first was a regular campus day morning. The teachers and board members were gathering for our daily morning prayer, and Kyle Strom simply prayed that each student would “learn to sit peacefully under authority.” Tears sprang into my eyes right at that moment as the weight of the reality hit: I am the authority they sit under. What an incredible, significant, huge and humbling position! I thought about this as we headed into morning assembly, and it echoed what we had talked about in our teacher training this summer: we as teachers image the Father before these kids. Through our example in front of them, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they will glean more of what God is truly like. When Kyle prayed this, it reminded me how sacred it is to be the authority in the room because I get to show them what the Father thinks about them!

The second moment happened after this prayer, I was listening to a podcast and I was struck again in the same place. The speaker described her journey towards understanding what God is like, and believing what he thinks of us. She described how powerfully transformative it is to live rooted in God’s delight. The moment that struck me most was when she described a dream in which God asked:  “Is my smile enough?” That was it. Everything I have been thinking and saying and doing to try to help my students stop being frustrated with themselves started to come into focus! Zephaniah 3:17 says, “He will take great delight in you.” The Father delights in us, continually approves of us, and he SMILES over us. So if I am rooted in God’s delight of me, I can stand in authority over my students and show them my delight in them!

These two moments came full circle back to Psalm 91:  The Father’s delight is the margin within which we live, and dwell, and abide. It is the place where we fail, where we make mistakes, where we forget the answers after raising our hands, but where we can never be loved less. If we root ourselves in God’s delight, we can never be moved from that safe shadow.

I ask again, what makes a shadow? What happens when you stand next to someone taller and greater than you? Does the sun beat down on them instead of you? If they stand there forever between you and the wrath of the sun. What happens to you? You can freely fail. You can safely abide. The shadow of the Almighty is the safest place in the world, where we stand rooted in his delight, forever under his smile.

By: Kate Orton, Third grade teacher at VCS

 
Kate Orton