The World is our Classroom

the_world_is_our_classroomI think most homeschoolers dream of having a place to call their own. You know… a dedicated ‘homeschooling’ space where the bulk of our learning gets done. While not all of us have a dedicated room to do our schooling in, we are fortunate to call the world our classroom. Learning takes place anywhere and everywhere!

Like most families, I’d love to have a homeschooling room. A special place set aside just for our learning materials, instead of having them nudged into a closet. A place where colorful charts, verses, and artwork could be proudly displayed on the walls. A place where, if learning isn’t finished, we can simply leave our projects to rest until later. It’s a lovely dream, but, for now, we work with what we’ve got. The world is our classroom and here is where you’ll usually find us:

The Kitchen Table – We don’t have a dedicated homeschooling room, but we do have a dedicated homeschooling place! If you happen to stop by on a moments notice, you’ll find us at our kitchen table plugging away at our lessons. It’s a good size and convenient for having snacks.

The Office – My husband has a ton of books, supplies, and inspiration all packed into his little office space. Sometimes you’ll find us crowding his space to do a little learning.

The Backyard – The great outdoors, filled with greenery and fresh air. If we can, we try to get outside on occasion.

The Park – Sometimes the backyard doesn’t do it. We need some leg room to run around, swing from trees, and rough-house with our friends. What better place than the park? Plus, they have basketball courts, volleyball courts, tennis courts, and more!

The Library – If we can’t be at home, this is where we prefer to be. Our favorite place on earth. Books, games, research materials, and more!

The In-laws – Who else is going to teach us how to garden, cook, crochet, cross-stitch, craft, sew, and more? Being at my in-laws is always a treat.

The Animal Shelter – We love this special time working with local volunteers and professionals in the field of animal care. We do everything from clean the shelter, care for the animals, socialize with the animals, help with local events, and more. This even extends into fostering at home!

Hiking – There’s nothing quite like the great outdoors. You’ll find us all over our state, discovering new trails and getting dirty.

On Field Trips – Museums, galleries, music centers, and more; field trips are wonderful and we take them as often as possible.

No, we don’t have a dedicated classroom, which I would truly love, but we do have the world at our fingertips. Now, if I could keep the kitchen table clean!

“Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,…”
~ Isaiah 55:3

Your Turn!: What is the most unusual place you’ve ever done ‘school’?

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Is Happiness a Factor for Choosing Homeschooling?

factor_for_homeschoolingI suppose there are many reasons to homeschool, some more pressing than others. One of the most recent arguments I have heard is that homeschooling brings happiness. Of all the reasons we have chosen to homeschool, happiness is not among them. Why, do we not want to be happy? Of course we do! But what happens when the momentary happiness is gone?

As much as we would all like to project the image of well-rounded kiddos, perfect houses, brilliant minds, and endless talents, the truth of the matter is there are days when life is just plain hard! Kids don’t always get along, the house can’t seem to stay clean, and life just keeps interfering with our well-laid plans. If we homeschool because ‘it brings us happiness’, we run the risk of burn out during those moments which are less than cheerful.

Don’t get me wrong, I often experience moments of happiness while learning with my children. Our family is, generally speaking, a happy one. That does not mean this is our reason for homeschooling. We homeschool to have better relationships within our family, to disciple our children, to further their education, and to encourage a love of learning. Most importantly, we homeschool because this is what God called us to do.

Joy is a byproduct of a well-lived life serving the Lord. I would pray each of us be filled with joy. However, I would caution anyone from pursuing homeschooling because they assume happiness and joy will naturally flow due to this choice of lifestyle. Joy stems not from circumstances, which might change, but is a gift which we openly acknowledge comes from God. When they are following His leading, joy simply emanates. More importantly, we are walking righteously.

“You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
~Psalm 16:11

Your Turn!: Was happiness a motive when you were deciding whether or not to homeschool?

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I Don’t Need This

The following article was written for our monthly PSP newsletter. With permission from our principal, we are sharing this with you; praying you are blessed by the heart of his message. Enjoy!

….. 

School Logo“I Don’t Need This!” How many times have I uttered those words? Probably more than I can count, certainly more often than I recall. The chapter of the old year has closed, and a new chapter in our lives is just beginning. Many of us tend to look back at the past year, either rejoicing, or thanking God it is over. I am no exception. As I look back at the year, I too am glad, in a sense, that it is done. In truth, some chapters are darker, scarier, or less cheerful than others, to say the least. In my own case, the second half of the year was definitely in the trials category.

James tell us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

To be honest, I struggle with verses like these at times, particularly those hard times. But in light of God’s Word, I have to conclude that my opening question does indeed have an answer. That answer is, “Apparently, I do.” If I truly believe that my Father is in control, is sovereign, and has a perfect plan for my life; and if I trust that, like Job, nothing can come my way that hasn’t been okayed by Him first, then I must conclude that my trials, however unpleasant, weighty, or dark they may seem, have been allowed by Him for some reason, likely more than one. I can only conclude one thing from this: God uses trials to work on me.

God has a LOT of work to do in me, so maybe that is why I seem to have so many trials? Back to James. It says to “count it all joy… knowing that the testing produces patience…” My first inclination, whenever things get difficult, is to immediately cry out for relief, strength, and praise to God for His wonderful sustaining grace… NOT!! Sadly, my first inclination is to complain, bemoan my circumstances, and wonder, “When will this end?”

I am not, by nature, a very patient man, just ask my wife and kids. My Father, however, is working on that. His ultimate goal is not my creature comforts, but that I may, personally, be complete, lacking nothing. In order for that to happen, I need to learn patience, because, at least according to James, patience has a work to accomplish. That work cannot be accomplished quickly, easily, or without trial, because patience is only needed when one has to wait. If all of my trials ended in a split second, when would patience be built up?

According to Paul, I am supposed to rejoice in the Lord always. (Php. 4:4) James said to count it all joy. This does not mean that I am supposed to enjoy the trials, there is nothing pleasant about what we are enduring, but I am supposed to rejoice in Him during it. The fact that He is working on me is a joy, because He is working toward a perfect end, and the fact that He is working on me at all proves that I am His.

Not only am I impatient, but my natural tendency is also to wander, roam, and get distracted. I am like the little boy whose father is constantly saying, “Come here, stay close to me.” Every time a trial comes along, I run back to my Father because, like that little boy, I am afraid, overwhelmed, intimidated, or perhaps simply had some sense knocked into me. This being the case, I can also conclude that God uses these trials to keep me close to Him, which is where I need to be.

In the words of a contemporary Christian artist: “Now, I don’t want to sound like some hero, ’cause it’s God alone that my hope is in, but I’m not gonna run from the very things that would drive me closer to Him; so bring it on.” (Steven Curtis Chapman, “Bring It On”)

As I put this all together, I am coming to understand a key fact: It is one thing to praise God during a trial… it’s not always easy, in fact, it rarely is… but it’s another thing entirely to praise Him for the trial, which is where I need to go if I am to count it a joy when I fall into one. May the blessing of the Lord abound in this new (learning) year as you stay close to Him.

Your Turn!: During your summer break, in what ways are you being purposeful in drawing closer to the Lord so that you might be refreshed for the coming adventures in learning?

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“I’m Not Interested!”: When Kids Don’t Like the Lesson

I'm_Not_InterestedHe’s just sitting there. It’s not as if he doesn’t understand what is being taught, but his eyes are glazed over and he’s slumped in his seat. If he had a choice, he’d rather do almost anything else. She’s staring me down; frustration, irritation, and a genuine lack of enthusiasm radiating from her rigid form. Sure, she could do it, but why? Why study hours of seemingly pointless details. What’s wrong with both of these situations? Neither child is interested and they are clearly making it known. It’s not that they don’t want to study anything, they just don’t want to study that. No matter how I try to twist the lesson to make it more appealing, this child won’t engage. What’s a mom to do when their child just isn’t interested?

I wish I was the ultimate teacher; able to make all children not only learn anything taught, but also like what they are learning. Unfortunately, I too, often have to find creative ways to encourage my children to learn. Oh, sure, there are some things they’d jump at the chance to do, but others take a lot more persuasion, and even that doesn’t always work.

When our children show no interest, none whatsoever, in a subject, do we force it upon them? If the thought of having to write research papers fills our children with dread, do we still make them do it? If algebra sickens them, do we push them through the equations anyway? So much of life isn’t black-and-white. There aren’t easy responses to these questions; no pat answers. Each family must pray about the individual situation and ask the Lord to give them wisdom in how best to handle it. But, here are a few things we’ve learned…

The Littles – For those with little kids balking at the notion of having to learn undesired subjects, perhaps it is our method of teaching which is hindering their desire to move forward. It might also be likely that we are introducing topics at too early an age. One further thought is that our children really don’t understand what they are going to learn. Sure, they hear the words – Language Arts – but they don’t correlate that with the telling of stories and crafting of words. Sometimes it takes a creative moment on the parent’s behalf to make the topic sound worthwhile.

The Middles – The workload is starting to increase and our children are beginning to take notice. They don’t like the idea of having to learn more subjects or take on more work. Things they used to enjoy have now become a chore. Did we increase their load too soon or all at once? Perhaps we forgot to take the time to make the topic more interesting, assuming they were big enough now to simply tackle any project plopped in front of them. We mustn’t let our middle children get lost in the mix or forget to make learning fun.

The Big Guys – Subjects like algebra, biology, and composition are looming in front of their eyes, all with loads of work attached. Our child insists they don’t want to take that chemistry class, failing to see the need for learning the periodic table of elements. Here is where things get tough. Do you force them to take all those college prep classes, no matter what they have to say to the contrary? Do you let them decide for themselves what they wish to study?
Each family needs to make these decisions for themselves and it’s not always an easy task. Through prayer, council, and wisdom we must decide for each child what is best. For some, they need the push to study topics not readily desired. Others would only be stressed and hate learning altogether if shoved.
No matter our decision, I would still encourage us to find fun ways to make learning fun. However, at this stage, we also need to stretch our children. They ought to learn life isn’t always fun, easy, convenient, or made to order. Homeschooling offers us many options, and we are grateful for all of them, but we are attempting to raise responsible adults. And, not all responsibility is fun or wanted.

Do we force learning on our children? Oh, sometimes. We want to try new things with them, expand their horizons, and help them get a well-rounded education. We also need to remember to be careful in our desire to stretch our children. We want them to be challenged, we don’t want them to be broken.

“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”
~ Proverbs 18:15

Your Turn!: Have you ever forced your child to learn a particular subject/topic and then later regretted it? Have you ever forced your child and later had them thank you for the opportunity? Share your story with us!

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Why Am I Two Steps Ahead?

why_am_i_two_steps_aheadI can’t help it, really I can’t. Once the end of our learning year seems to be in sight, I am already starting to think of what comes next. I don’t wait for the year to finish, I don’t wait for summer time; I start planning the minute the urge takes over. It looks like this year is no different. We hadn’t even finished our third quarter and I was already two steps ahead.

By nature, I tend to be an overly organized person. I also tend to obsess over things and continually think over them until I’ve made myself crazy. When I consider what next year might bring, it helps to start writing things out and narrowing down decisions. This gives me plenty of time to thoroughly inspect new ideas or activities and test out concepts to see if they work practically. It also helps in being able to do research, if some of our new interests require a financial investment or a great deal of time. Once ideas are written down, I don’t have to worry about forgetting a truly awesome idea or keeping information in my head. It’s down on paper and I have plenty of time to get to it.

I also tend to write down thoughts on how our routine is currently working. Is our day Bookshelf_Feb2010running smoothly? Will our day need to be adjusted next year to accommodate our children’s needs or household schedules? What is working well this year that I don’t want to change? What is not working and needs to be revamped? Which things need a complete replacement?

Planning ahead has also helped me in mapping out our children’s educational futures. By looking in the direction our children are headed, I have a better idea of how their learning should be planned out now. If my child wants to be a zoologist, I don’t want to wait until her junior year of high school to start bumping up her science courses; that is something we need to start looking at in junior high.

The only downside I see to being two steps ahead (or three, or four), is that I get anxious to start. I become excited over new projects, new school books, new routines, and new opportunities to learn. While I understand the current year needs to be completed, I’m chomping at the bit to move on.

Above all else, I am continually praying for our coming year. No matter what new changes – and there are going to be some awesome ones – come our way, I want to make sure we are following the path He has laid before us. If I do this on my own, I know I am going to fail. With Him, this next year looks to be an excellent one!

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.”
~ Proverbs 16:9

Your Turn!: When do you begin looking at next year’s routine?

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How MY Home Schoolers Measure Up

how_my_homeschoolers_measure_upWhew! I could breathe a sigh of relief. Looking over that clever diagram of how home schoolers are measuring up, I could tell we were doing fairly well and I felt encouraged by how successful home schoolers are doing as a whole. Then, a thought occurred to me… This isn’t why I chose to home school. What matters is how my home schoolers measure up. Not to someone else, not to a diagram, and not to a standardized test. Rather, how they measure up to their own capabilities.

I can see how this diagram, and others like it, come in handy. There are people who need to see the numbers before they will believe that home schooling truly is and can be a success. Others need encouragement, seeing the evidence of their hard work. I could see myself using diagrams like this, presenting it to those who might have questions or doubt the outcome of learning at home.

I need to issue a cautionary note though, more to myself than anyone else. My advice is this: ” Self… this is not the measure of your child!” There, I said it. The minute I start spending more time focusing on whether or not we meet someone else’s standards for my family, rather than on what they need, that is when I lose my way. This isn’t a competition between them and anyone else; they are to achieve at their own pace and in their own 2-homeschooling-by-the-numbersway.

May we also point out that while the stats and information are helpful and interesting, this tool should not be used as a means to bash our public school friends over the head. Homeschooling is a calling. While we have chosen not to put our children in public school for various reasons, we understand and respect not every family has the ability to make this choice; nor the desire to do so. Let us not use this information as weapon, but a means of communicating the value in what we do.

Diagrams can be helpful and fun. However, they are not a guide for living. I will not panic if my child is a little below the “standard” and I am not going to get puffed up with pride if my child “excels”. I am going to accept my children for what they are, helping them to become the best they can be. After all, the measure of my child’s success is not going to be found on any chart. But in a life well lived.

“But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.”
~Galatians 6:4

Your Turn!: What do you use to help measure your children’s achievements?

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Do You Feel Like a Ping-Pong Ball?

do_you_feel_like_a_pingpong_ballOur neighbors have five kids. At one point they homeschooled all five, each child having completely separate curriculum. I learned a lot from our afternoons together. One basic lesson l learned was that having five kids took a lot of work. I could bounce around like a ping-pong ball all day or find a better way to make this happen. For our family, the best method of tackling the concern of teaching four kids is to do as much as possible together, as a group. If we can learn something as a family, that is what we do.

While there are some areas of learning which require individual study, mainly grammar and arithmetic, there are just as many – if not more – we can do together. Bible, history, science, geography, economics, and logic are all areas of learning we not only do as a group, but have more fun doing so. Thus, we spend the bulk of our day learning together.

How can all four of our kids, who happen to all be two years apart in age, learn the same material when they aren’t the in same grade? Good question!

Grade, Smade – Exactly who determines what gets taught at each ‘grade level’? Why can’t a five-year-old learn biology and a fifteen year old study life science? What’s important isn’t the ‘grade’ our child is in, but that the material being covered is done thoroughly and in such a way our child understands. I would also encourage us to challenge our children in their learning. This might mean a higher level for our younger kids and a more basic for our older; each child should be taught at their level, not their ‘grade’.

Middle Ground – To help all our children follow the lessons (the littles not being overwhelmed and the older ones bored), we try to reach for the middle. By teaching to the average, the littles are slightly challenged, but not lost in the mix. This also allows for the older children to participate in the bulk of our group activities, while additional assignments and projects are given to increase their learning in this area.

What, Again? – Once you’ve been homeschooling a while, you start to notice something. History repeats itself; so does science, literature, grammar, and almost everything else. We cover certain aspects of science in first grade, right? Guess what. We covered them again in second, with a little more added. Oh, and we did it again in third, then fourth, and yet again in fifth. Perhaps we should stress less about skipping a ‘grade’ with our kids, missing out on material, and just focus on them learning the concepts we’re teaching now. Odds are, whatever we didn’t get this year is going to be covered again next, and the year after that.

What about high school? Not much has changed. There is no reason our eight year old can’t learn a little biology along with our big girl. He might not participate in all activities, but he’ll have projects of his own. Our big girl might have a few additional projects tailored just for her, but this will teach her to work independently. There is no reason the bulk of our studies can’t still be enjoyed as a group, it just takes a little imagination and dedication. In the long run, it’s still less work and more financially feasible.

Do I still have days when I feel like a ping-pong ball? Absolutely! That’s bound to happen when you have four kids, homeschool, run a business, and a household. However, we like to keep the bouncing to a minimum and do as much as we can together. It’s less work for mommy and, frankly, it’s just plain fun!

Your Turn!: I used ping-pong as an illustration of what my day can sometimes feel like. If you had to compare your day with a game, which would it be?

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Help, We Started Late!

Help_We_Started_LateLet’s face it, there are times in life when we all run a little behind. We arrive to appointments late, we show up tardy for Christmas dinner, and perhaps don’t get the bills in the mail on time. As homeschoolers, the one time we shouldn’t have to worry about running late is during our learning day.

Each of us is on our own schedule. We all have a routine which best meets our family’s needs. Once we have established ourselves it can be all too easy to start feeling like a failure when we vary our day or even our week. We get up a little late and it seems the whole day is out of focus. Life hands us a curve ball and school for the week is a total loss.

Instead of allowing this situation to get the best of us perhaps we need to look at this from a different angle. We are homeschoolers. Unless our state or PSP mandates a particular day-to-day routine, we have the freedom to start our learning any time we like! There is no ‘running late’ to start arithmetic and science. There is no waking up ‘late’. Apart from outside appointments, running late is nonexistent.

To take this a step further, we might even consider these occasional variations in our routines a blessing. Maybe we needed that extra sleep and our bodies are renewed. Maybe we needed those extra minutes to get the science project done. Whenever we experience a slight change in our schedule, this doesn’t mean we are failing or running behind, it means we are adjusting our day to best meet our family’s needs. Sometimes that means more sleep, sometimes that means a longer learning lesson, and sometimes – in my case – we decide our local theme park looks good today.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I like routine. I thrive on routine as a matter of fact. I am the first one to admit ‘running late’ is a frequent worry of mine. There is a time and place for having a schedule; many of us benefit from a daily plan. However, we need to plan our day; not let our plan run our day. Don’t live for the routine.

This month, as most of us head back to our learning routines, I pray we all forget the imaginary clock in our heads; the one that tells us we ‘didn’t start on time’. Instead, let us live each day to the fullest; grateful for each moment we have with our kids.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
~ Ecclesiastes 3:11

Your Turn!: What helps you get back on track when things seem to be running a little longer than you planned for?

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Loosing the Reins

Loosing_the_ReinsWhen our children were little, they required a lot more guidance in their learning. They needed me to walk them through a daily and weekly routine. They thrived on knowing what to expect next, what each day brought to them. As my littles have grown, however, I’ve come to realize they are wanting a little more control over their learning routine.

I like routine. With all of life’s responsibilities, good planning removes a lot of the stress and headache of trying to get everything done. The danger in too much control is that our children can sometimes feel boxed in, forced to follow a pattern which they had no say in making. As our children get older, it helps to include their input and loosen the reigns.

We started out our learning year just as we have the previous few. We had our routine in place and our electives chosen. Our ‘rotation’ spots were all picked out and mommy had the perfect plan in mind. Somewhere around the beginning of second quarter, my kids started to voice new-found opinions. Would it really be that life altering if they got to choose when they did electives?

It seems instead of doing electives at an appointed time they wanted the freedom to work on these learning areas at will. If they chose to rise earlier than everyone else, they could practice their Spanish then. Free time between learning subjects might be the perfect opportunity to sit at the piano. It wasn’t a matter of avoiding these topics, they simply wanted the freedom to choose the appropriate time themselves. In other words, they wanted a little control.

This didn’t seem like such a far-fetched request. They are getting older and have solid reasons for wanting the bulk of their afternoons free; it’s not like they are pushing off electives only to sit around doing nothing. They still plan to get things done, but in their own time. Afternoons could now be free to bake, sew, play together, and even just rest.

Part of me had doubts, but I wanted to give them a chance. So, we compromised. I would allow them the freedom to choose when they did their electives. If they couldn’t stick with it, and I was having to remind them too often, we would return to our normal routine.

Thus far the plan has worked well. My girls are cruising through their lessons with me and finishing their electives in good time. While my son needs my input and assistance a little more than his sisters do, he too is doing very well. Unless the kids are learning a new piano piece or my son needs a reading partner, they are handling electives entirely on their own. Loosing the reigns and allowing them monitored freedom was a great decision for all of us. The kids are learning to structure their own time wisely and mommy has less to worry about. It’s been a win-win change.

Now, if only I could convince them that 25 minutes if not a half an hour. Cutting corners doesn’t count!

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time,…”
~ Ephesians 5:15-17

Your Turn!: How closely do you monitor your children’s electives? Is this something you work on together or allow them to manage on their own? Share your ideas with us!

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Just Give Me An Answer!

Just_Give_Me_An_Answer“Mom, what’s the answer to this question?” I could see it in her face. It wasn’t that she couldn’t find the answer herself, she just didn’t want to exert energy in reaching it. “Well, how would you go about solving the problem? What would be your first step?” I replied. “Really, mom? Can you please just give me an answer?” As a matter of fact, no; no, I won’t.

I admit it. There are times I am a little tough on my kids. I’m not mean. I just like challenging them and pushing them to the limits of what they think they can do. While at times I am sure this is frustrating for them, hopefully one day they will see the brilliance of my plan. In my humble opinion, I believe constantly giving our children the answers is not a good thing. There is a time and place, to be sure, but we need to be on the lookout for always providing solutions without allowing our children to find them on their own. Instead of handing over quick responses to their questions, there are a few better ways to go about reaching the same end.

Make Them Find the Answer – As children learn new skills, they will often come across vocabulary and terminology previously unheard of. Instead of immediately telling them what a word means, we encourage our children to look the word up for themselves. The same goes for facts about topics of which they have little knowledge. If they want more information on Timbuktu, they go look it up! This saves them the headache of having to wait for mom and encourages them to be proactive with their education. Being an independent learner is important.

Have Them Try For the Answer – Often our children know the right answer, but are just afraid of being wrong. At others, I simply want to hear their thought process to see where they’re going off track. In these cases, I have them make an educated guess and tell me what they think the answer is. Once I see which direction their mind is heading, I can redirect, correcting mistakes and reinforcing skills already learned which would have helped them find the correct answer.

Lead Them to the Answer –  When learning new skills, I try to lead our children to the truth instead of merely stating it. We walk them through the process of finding the solution and allow them to answer the question for themselves. Through this they not only gain a better understanding of how they reached the answer, but it lifts their spirits to know they could answer the question on their own.

Give Them the Answer (and a Short Lesson) – When we’ve exhausted every other avenue, I will finally give them a straight answer. Sometimes simply looking up a word doesn’t help a child understand its meaning. Sometimes they try, but can’t find the right solution. Times like this call for a straight answer, followed up with a quick lesson on how I went about finding the solution or just better explaining what something means.

Of course, there are those times when my hands (and mind) are so busy that mommy forgets all of the above and gives a quick answer. (You should see my kids’ faces when this happens! They feel they’ve pulled one over on me and gotten off easy.) However, whenever possible, I prefer to avoid the easy route and encourage them to discover the answer for themselves. It is more rewarding for them, and offers a world of learning.

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
~ I John 5:14

Your Turn!: What resources do you keep on hand to help your children find answers for themselves?

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