What I Have Learned Directing Challenge A

I sit on our front porch, my favorite coffee cup in hand, reading the remaining few chapters of The Bronze Bow, the last book my students are to read this year. It’s raining and almost 3:00 PM and still my boys have not come in for lunch. The grating sound of the drill rings out over the pasture and I see them by the zip line, immersed in their work, unaware of the time. Their food is laying out in the kitchen, welcoming the flies, just as their school books wait on the table for them. A read aloud I have yet to do with Thadd, Latin to go over with JP. A meeting with Addie. They are working on a new fort they are building all on their own, with their cousin Justin’s help. They’ve already set the posts and built the platform and are starting on the frame. It’s good work. Impressive craftsmanship. And they are only fourteen and twelve!

I sigh as I finish a chapter. This book is so good and I have just three chapters left to read. I don’t want it to end. It hasn’t been this way with every book I’ve taught this year, but Elizabeth George Spear is a master of her craft. How she can write! She makes me want to take up my pen again from the long neglect and writer’s block. How I will relish the conversation my students and I will have on Tuesday about this piece of historical fiction.

This year is our third year with Classical Conversations, a Christian homeschool community that meets once a week to learn and interact with other like-minded individuals. It has been my first year directing a Challenge class, which is the upper level of the community, corresponding to Junior High and High School. My class consists of six students: four boys (one of which is my own son) and two girls, aged twelve through fourteen. They have six classes, or strands as they are called, consisting of Latin, Mathematics, Exposition, Science, Reasoning, and Cartography. We meet fifteen weeks in the fall semester and fifteen weeks in the spring. The kids come to class having already completed their work for the week and we meet for an entire day on Tuesday going over each strand and having rich conversations about them. I am a facilitator, among other things, with my main objective as a director being to engage them in the art of the dialectic. I help them to sort out all they are learning and to synthesize the information so that they can be equipped to learn how to think. The content that they learn is varied and difficult: translating Latin, drawing the entire world from memory, learning the art of persuasive writing, thoroughly engaging in the scientific method through a science fair. But the things that we are learning go so much further than mere academics. These children are learning how to listen to one another, how to have respectful conversations, and how to see the work of God in every area of life.

As I come to the end of a very rewarding and challenging year, here are a few take-aways:

  1. It is possible to learn Latin as a forty year-old.
  2. Some days are better than other days. Some days the conversations seem forced and trite, while other days, I am blown away by the Spirit-led moments and integrations.
  3. Prayer is of supreme importance. In prayer we wait in expectation of what God will do in the lives of those He has entrusted us with. I can do nothing on my own, but I am completely dependent upon the Lord.
  4. Junior-highers are absolutely hilarious and in need of constant correction. Whew! What a class!
  5. Asking good questions prepares the way for fruitful conversation. I am still learning this art.
  6. Rest is absolutely necessary. If I do not take the time to stop and to just be and to fill myself up with what is life-giving, I will have nothing of value to offer anyone.
  7. At the end of the day, what matters most is knowing God. The character of our students is far more valuable than whether or not they can decline a noun or draw the continent of Africa. The spiritual formation of these kids comes as they encounter the Living God for themselves. It is to this end that I strive. And it is a worthy goal.

It has been a good year and I am a bit sad to see the end, just as I am with the book I am reading. But, of course, I must finish both for there are more conversations to share, more topics to discover, more adventures to unfold.

A Letter to Mothers During These Strange Days

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“Be very careful , then, how you live, not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” Ephesians 3:15-16

Dear Mother,

Most of us are under some kind of shelter in place regulation due to the Coronavirus Epidemic and have found ourselves in a situation where our children are at home with us. It is a forced family time, such as I have never experienced before in my life and I know most everyone else has not either. Working moms are either working from home, or, if they have “essential jobs”, are having to navigate the strange waters of having their children at home and not in school, while something is creatively worked out for their safe care. Stay at home moms may have it easier, but this new-found homeschooling has created challenges as it has catapulted most everyone into spending more time together. And then having nowhere to go.

I can’t even begin to understand how difficult this must be for you. It’s hard for me and I’ve been homeschooling for a while now!

I am not writing to give you resources that I’ve found helpful or to give you tips on how to homeschool your children. The online help is abundant in that arena. I am writing because I would like to tell you the main reason that I chose to homeschool my children over seven years ago.

My grandmother was a missionary in Honduras in the sixties. She loved Jesus in a way that made me want to know him more. Her life motto was a simple phrase and she said it often: “Only one life ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” This concept that our lives are short, that our time here on this earth is temporary is the number one message that must be comprehended when faced with the great responsibility of caring for small human beings. We are mothers. We have been entrusted with a precious gift of a life. Or more! The people in our homes are made in the image of God with the capacity of doing great good or horrendous evil. Our time with them is short and absolutely crucial for shaping the next generation. I do not homeschool my children because I think I am the greatest teacher. Nor do I keep them home because I’m trying to isolate them from the world. My main reason isn’t even that I want them to have the very best life with the best education they can have, though those are reasons.

I homeschool because I see the discipleship of my children as my number one responsibility as a mother. By discipleship I mean the training of their hearts to know and to love God. There is no higher calling than that. I see homeschooling as a means to disciple them throughout the day as we read good literature and have deep conversations, as we discover the laws of science and marvel at God’s creation, even as I have opportunities to address their disrespectful hearts or their math mistakes. It’s all discipleship! It’s all training. The pointless grammar or the tedious writing, the repetitious memory work or mundane handwriting all delivers opportunities to grow in grace and patience and kindness. It is a gift.

These days at home are a gift. Use them well, remembering that in just a little while those children will fly away.

Sincerely,

Kristin Joy

“Only one life ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” C.T. Studd

The Fifty Book Challenge

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I want to share something that has been an invaluable tool that has gotten us through the past two Houston summers. I didn’t come up with this on my own, but was encouraged to give it a shot by one of my true friends, Angela. It’s called The Fifty Book Challenge and it has revolutionized our summers.

Here is the gist of it: your kids have three months to read fifty books, after which they receive fifty dollars to spend on something real.

Two summers ago when we tried this out on Addie and Jeremiah, we all were uncertain as to whether or not they would finish the books in time. Let me tell you something. Fifty dollars has proven to be a huge motivator for our kids. 🙂 Not only did they finish the challenge in time, they had one whole month left!

Let me give some guidelines:

1. The books must be within the reading level of the child. This may seem very overwhelming, but it challenges them and keeps their interest. Some books will naturally be longer than others. We gave them freedom to read smaller fiction or nonfiction that were age-appropriate, which balanced some of the longer reads we also encouraged them to read. I have also said that books of the bible count in this challenge as well. There are great reading lists online for different ages. Utilize the summer reading lists public schools hand out, or the summer displays in the library. You will go to the library. A LOT. Let your kids choose, but also pick a few books you want them to read. Also, any chapter books that Jason or I read aloud to them during that time period counted as a book to add to their list. (Just our personal rule).

2. They have three months from the starting date to finish their fifty books. For example, this year we began on June 5 and will end on September 5. If you break down the days, they generally have a little more than a day and a half to read each book.

3. They must spend their money on something real. This rule has proved to be very difficult to define. Our children are exposed to so much toy junk through advertising and most kids will come up with a lot of ways to spend fifty dollars before they even have it. I am trying to figure out a witty acronym for REAL, which gives them parameters for spending. Our definition has been to spend the money on something that lasts, something that is good, something that is educational. The first summer Addie spent her money on gerbils and Jeremiah spent his on legos. They could both prove to me that their choices fell within the boundaries of something real.

4. Give them at least an hour a day to read. This is the absolute best part of it all. We just got back from a trip up to Dallas and on the way home, all three of our kids were QUIET for at least an hour as they got out their bag of books and their reading logs and started devouring words. (Thaddaeus was reading quietly out loud, as early readers will need to read aloud or to an adult).

Have fun with this! There are so many benefits they will receive from reading multiple books. Our kids have truly learned to love reading during this time and have gained a tremendous sense of personal accomplishment from finishing this challenge.

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Because, let’s face it. When you are handed a crisp fifty dollar bill that you earned, that is a great feeling.