9 things we learned in our first year of homeschooling


Well, we did it: we completed our first year of homeschooling. When we started down this road, we didn’t really know what to expect: would the kids take to it? Would they turn into potatoes? Would we face the silent (or not so silent) judging of public schooling friends, family, and strangers?

These questions weighed pretty heavily as we started the year. But thankfully, it went better than I anticipated, even if there were a few hiccups along the way. Here are nine things I learned during our first year of homeschooling:

1. Kids’ books help me learn, too! Children’s books are more likely to give you the “big beats” of a subject that you maybe should have learned the first time around. Take history, for example: I want our kids to see that history is important. But in trying to teach this, I realized I didn’t pick up a particularly robust understanding of Canadian history in public school. So during our library and bookstore trips, I’d often grab a few books for myself. Among the things I learned? For one month, William Lyon Mackenzie was President of the Republic of Canada.

2. I loved seeing so many milestones firsthand. It was really cool to see Abigail learning to carry numbers, start to understand fractions, and begin memorizing her multiplication tables. Hannah was able to repeat back what she’d learned from our study on the ear. Hudson knows most of his letters and numbers, and points them out whenever he sees them. I would hate having missed all of this.

3. I realized my expectations were unrealistic (sometimes). Sometimes I picked work that I thought was going to be easy, but was not appropriate for the kids’ age levels. I had to apologize to Abigail for giving her a spelling list that was way too advanced for her. I also had to scale back my expectations of Hannah, who currently can really only do about an hour (tops) of concentrated schoolwork. I also had to deal with the disappointment of Hannah not liking the McGuffey Primer we purchased. (Sorry, she didn’t not like it—she hated it.)

4. Bible time was not a given. We know it’s important to teach our kids the Bible, but for some reason, it didn’t occur to me that Bible time was something that should be a part of our regular school routine. (Maybe we can blame that on my public school upbringing.) It was really helpful when Aaron brought home a copy of XTB, a daily Bible reading and activity book for kids ages 7-11 from The Good Book Company. Abigail’s really enjoying it so far, and we’re going to stick with it into the new school year.

5. Finding the right curriculum is challenging—but not for a lack of options. When I started researching homeschooling, one mom told me, “Don’t go to a homeschool convention. You will cry. I did.”

I’m glad I listened to her advice. There are literally millions of options out there—some good, some not so much. For example, I was super-excited about a zoology curriculum that was story-based. It had great reviews and the samples looked promising. But as we started working through it, I saw the story was poorly written, they had some major geography fails (seriously, they put Quebec in Manitoba on a map!), and the data sheets were a chore. My kids learned more from watching Wild Kratts on Netflix (don’t judge).

We ended up going with a hodge-podge of different resources, and it worked out pretty well for us. We had the Complete Canadian Curriculum as our foundation and supplemented with a bunch of other resources, including SpellingCity.com and Khan Academy. We even started doing Latin together, using Visual Latin as our curriculum (it’s super fun!).

6. Belonging to a co-op is helpful, but it is also a job. As first time homeschoolers, it was helpful for my children to be able to meet other home-educated kids and for me to get to know other parents. What I didn’t expect was how much work would be involved in teaching courses (parents are expected to teach three per year in our group)! By the end, I was pretty stressed as I taught our yearbook course which wound up having a lot of coordinating, following up and generally chasing people to get their work done. So there’s that.

7. No one is judging me. Really. No one cares when we get on the bus and go to the library on a weekday (with a stop at Starbucks on the way). No one freaks out about me setting up a beach cabana at the park on a Wednesday morning so the kids can eat raisins in the shade. I’ve had people come and ask questions before, but no one has ever accosted me. So, hurray!

8. I could take more breaks. There were days when the best thing to do when the kids were being super-whiny (“My hands are too tired to do school!”) or passive aggressive that we should have closed the books and went for a nature walk. Sometimes we did. But I probably could have done it more often.

9. When you’re done, it’s okay to be done. We ended up finishing our work before public school officially ended, and I was fretting because I didn’t know what to do. Aaron said, “Emily, you’re done. You can stop now.”

“Really? But there’s a week left before the public schools let out.”

“Who cares? You taught the material you wanted to cover, and then some. You can seriously stop now.” So I did and we transitioned into a more relaxed daily routine for the summer, with reading and Bible time, and educational computer games. After all, we don’t want to be rusty for the fall, right?

So that was our first year of homeschooling. I was really nervous going in—I worried that I would turn our kids into potatoes; that they wouldn’t learn anything and that they’d hate it. Thankfully I was wrong. Abigail loved her first year in our new set up. Hannah liked it more than she lets on (I hope). And Hudson’s just happy to be here.

Onward to year two!

Photo credit: arranging graph via photopin (license)

Modesty, #ChristianCleavage and me


Some of you may have noticed the hashtag #ChristianCleavage bopping around Twitter. It was started after an unfortunate “modest is hottest” genre post by a pastor named Jarrid Wilson.1

(I must disclose I participated in some of the jesting as well.)

Now, I’m not going to spend time vilifying Wilson, whom I don’t know and I’m sure is feeling pretty rough right now. But the excerpts on Twitter of his original article reminded me of my own time in youth groups in the 90s.

Clothes don’t make the woman(‘s heart)

I wasn’t a Christian, but had friends who were. I had a great time pretending to be a Christian with them at church, at youth group, and Kingdom Bound™. I sat through some pretty weird youth sermons so we could get to the part where we could sing along to Jars of Clay songs, mostly because I liked the sound of my own voice and wanted everyone else to hear how awesome it was. And riding in the flatbed of a truck to get back to town and smoke illicit cigarettes at Tim Horton’s (yes, I am that old) was pretty awesome, too.

I learned pretty fast that sartorial code-switching was going to be required at some of these kids’ houses. I remember calling a friend to vet my outfit before her mom took us to the mall. My jolly roger shirt was’t going to work for that occasion. No fishnet stockings, either.

But you know what? It didn’t matter what I wore. My heart was still dead. I “got with the program” to chill with the church kids, but it wasn’t because of wanting to glorify God.

Sanctification and ostentatious dress

There are many women who, though they are far from Christ, dress demurely. Meanwhile there are new Christians who are filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit, immensely grateful for the free gift Christ has given them, and excited to share the gospel. But, in some people’s eyes, they might still look like worldly women. Perhaps, then, it would be unwise to use modest or immodest dress as our measure for holiness. It’s not that modesty in dress doesn’t matter (it does), but God works on the things in our hearts he deems most important first. A gunshot wound must be tended to before a sprained ankle, after all.

All Christian ladies are being sanctified at their own pace, as God works in them. And as a new Christian, I had to come to terms with a horrible fact: I am a tremendously vain woman. As I was nearing my wedding, I realized I wasn’t interested in looking good for my fiancé. I was interested in being admired by everyone else! My heart really strained against the idea that I had to let go of trying to impress everyone in a three block radius with my looks. But God, in his mercy, gave me three children and a lifestyle that necessitates wearing sweatpants much of the time. I still love dressing up, and I think that’s normal, but I’m no longer trying to win everyone’s admiration.

It’s helpful to remember that if we see a woman at church whom we think is dressed immodestly, she may be a new Christian. Or she may come from a different culture (there’s a subject to write a whole book on!). Or this may be the form of dress modelled for her. Or she may simply be so well endowed up top that anything lower than a turtleneck shows their #ChristianCleavage.

While ostentatious dress is a concern, we can’t forget that we don’t know what else is going on in a woman’s heart. We don’t know where God is working most profoundly. So before we get tempted to point fingers, we might want to consider where he’s working in ours first.

Attack of the Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess

I unlock the front door and my children and I fall into the house. We had a busy morning and it is already 12:30. The baby is cranky because he should have eaten at 11:30 and gone down for a nap at 12. The others are squabbling over who gets to sit on the left part of the bottom stair while they take their shoes off. I get the baby into the high chair and start nuking some baby food. I open a can of Princess Pasta (now made with real princesses!) and dump it into a pot.


And then She sneers in my ear:

“If you’d planned better, you would have packed a lunch. Also, that Princess Pasta is basically dog food for children.”

No, I don’t have some jerk living in my house that stands around waiting for me when I get home. What I do have, is an idol.

Meet the Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess (or, for the sake of brevity, the HDMG).

Beware the wrath of the HDMG

artwork by Emily Armstrong

She takes no pity on me, and offers no help in time of need. She exists in a state of eternal displeasure. She is not impressed with my home-keeping, and thinks I need to dust more often. She tells me my children would comply if I’d done a better job with them as infants, and practiced more of what I was supposed to learn from those Christian parenting videos.

The HDMG thinks counselling is for weaklings and epidurals are for wusses. She demands my supplication and obedience, so I read parenting and home-keeping books, articles, blogs to try to do better. But she accuses me from there as well; I don’t move the furniture when I vacuum. I use formula and jarred baby food. I feed our family white flour. I can’t train my kids to pick up after themselves in “3 easy steps!”

I don’t homeschool.

I’m happy with “only” three kids.

I don’t want to adopt.

The Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess scorns my failings and condemns me for them.

Praise be to God that the Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess is nothing but a stone idol. When I forget this, my spirit shrinks and I feel so wretchedly inadequate. But when I cower before her cold marble stare, I am facing away from my precious Savior. Jesus neither condemns me, nor gives me a list of cultural (or countercultural) mandates to follow. Jesus has, by His blood shed for my dead and idolatrous soul, freed me to live for Him, and only Him.

So what does this mean? It means I can keep my house as clean, or as messy as I want to, so long as I bring glory to Him. I can raise my kids using whatever parenting methods I want, so long as I raise them in a way that glorifies Him. And I am free to never, EVER vacuum under the sofa, because it’s who sits ON the sofa when we practice hospitality that matters.

Seven years ago, I prayed desperately for God to tell me what His plan for me was, and I heard a name: Harriet. I had no idea what this meant so I looked up the meaning of the name. Turns out it means “Home ruler.”

That is who I am. And when I get caught up in false guilt, thinking of how I “should” be, I am living out of fear of the Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess, not in the freedom that God has given me to run this house for His glory.

The baby is asleep upstairs, and the older kids are (gasp!) watching TV. The tornado of lunchtime has blown over, and nobody died or got scurvy from Princess Pasta. We all have days when we feel like everything we do is wrong, and I’m sure I have many more ahead of me.

But Jesus knows I am trying to raise my kids and run my home for His glory. I will not do it perfectly, and I will hear the insidious voice of the Homemaker Demon Mother Goddess from time to time.

But Christ is for me, and I can trust that He is pleased.

What God’s teaching me through epilepsy

brain scan

Photo by Miranda Knox

It’s been about two months since I wrote about being diagnosed with epilepsy. And so I’ve had two months to grieve, accept, do some research, grieve some more, then accept, then do more research, then start to kind of hate the Internet for proving me with so much information to drive myself crazy with. Then I do some more research.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned, both about epilepsy and about myself:

Doctors who study epilepsy find seizures and brain surgery very interesting, and have full confidence in their own abilities. One of the websites I visited gave a description of temporal lobe surgery, and ended it with “but don’t worry, your hair will grow back.”

Yeah, because I was super worried about my hair.

There are some things to be thankful for. The type of epilepsy I have is a kind that doesn’t cause me to lose consciousness (or my bladder). Others are not so fortunate. So I’m able to care for my kids, and I don’t have to worry about peeing myself in public. I call this a win.

A positive side effect of my medication (yes, a positive side effect! How often does that happen?) has been an improved mood. The medication I have been prescribed is also used to treat bi-polar disorder; anxiety and depression had been an issue for me in the past, and I have perceived a real improvement in my ability to talk myself through negative feelings. Spending less time on the big comfy couch of sadness located in my mind is a good thing.

But what have I learned about myself? I have had the opportunity to see how prideful and self conscious I can be. For the first few weeks I really didn’t want to leave the house at all. Not because I could have a seizure; because people would see me have a seizure, and that was way worse.

When I have a very large seizure I wretch like a cat with a hair ball, which sounds exactly as pleasant as the sound you are imagining in your head right now. It feels like the auditory equivalent of soiling myself, especially when I’m able to get up and I look around and see that people are doing their best to “act natural”. But life must go on. My daughter still needs to go to school and I still need to run errands, and maybe even go on dates with my husband. So out into the world I will continue to go, and God will have to soften me from the inside out on this point.

Another thing I’ve discovered about myself now that I have an identified illness is I want to play the “epilepsy card” when both Aaron and I have had a bad day:

“Oh, something crummy happened at work today? Well, I have epilepsy. I win.”

Clearly this would be an unhelpful strategy in my marriage, but the temptation is there. I assume I’m not the first person with an illness or a disability to want to make much of myself when things aren’t going my way (at least, I hope not!).

Lastly, I have seen how small my faith can be. Due to a mistake in the pharmacy, I ran out of my medication 5 weeks early. As soon as I realized that I did not have enough pills, I was sick with worry. What if I call the pharmacy and they don’t believe me? What if they think I’m irresponsible? What if they think I’m lying? What if I can’t get the pills in time and my brain starts sizzling left and right and I end up in a coma because I didn’t count out how many pills I had a few days ago? What if I die for this ridiculously mundane reason?!?

I don’t think a person in a spaceship with only one portion of freeze-dried space food would be more worried.

Of course, it worked out alright. The pharmacist understood the error and Aaron picked up the rest of my medication. All is well, and I need not have worried.

But this is a process. I’m still learning to do all those things that seem so easy when you don’t have to do them:

  • Be humble.
  • Value others more highly than yourself.
  • Believe that God has everything in control.

I am grateful knowing that He will gradually cause my character to become more Christlike. I would already be in a sorry state indeed if I was doing this on my own.

Broken, yet intricately woven

brain scan

Photo by Miranda Knox

I was diagnosed with epilepsy on Friday.

My first thought was, “This is very inconvenient.”

I asked the doctor how it happened, but there is no apparent cause. It just is.

I didn’t do anything to cause epilepsy, nor is anyone else responsible for it. I find this frustrating, not because I want to lay blame, but because I’m the kind of person who wants to know why things happen.

As I sat waiting, first for the medical intern, then for the doctor, and later while waiting for blood work, I was reading and rereading Psalm 139:

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:15-16)

I was intricately woven. All the days of my life have been planned. Every moment.

While this brings comfort, it also hurts. It is a strange mix of pain and awe to know that an infinitely wise God has crafted my brain just so.

To have seizures.

To be broken.

It is a difficult truth that God had planned that day. I was told that I have epilepsy. I will have to be on medication indefinitely. I may someday need brain surgery.

My husband was watching our children, so there was no one to share the news with. It would be three hours before I could meet up with my family.

Yet, I will say that I did not feel alone:

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7-10)

My Lord Jesus walked with me in those hours. As He does now. He loves me and knows my grief. He will use my brokenness to point others to Himself.

I have epilepsy. To God be the glory.

Book Review: Letting Go of Perfect by Amy Spiegel


Often times, when I read a book by a Mom geared to Moms, I go through a strange cycle of elation and despair.

The cycle goes like this:

  1. Read book. Get super-psyched because now I have all the weaponry I need to attack the job of mothering and be super excellent, effective and efficient.
  2. Try to implement book ideas. Get mad at my kids when they don’t react like the book said they should.
  3. Yell at kids. Cry on the couch after they go to bed.
  4. Repeat step one (with a new book).

Letting Go of Perfect: Women, Expectations, and Authenticity by Amy E. Spiegel is not the kind of book that makes me go through this cycle. It’s not a how-to book, it’s a how-it-really-is book. Which is much more helpful.

In the following video, I share my reflections on Spiegel’s new book, a couple of my big takeaways, and why I believe this is a really helpful read for Moms who are sometimes just trying to make it through the day:

[tentblogger-youtube K4DP4r3fn3s]

Title: Letting Go of Perfect: Women, Expectations, and Authenticity
Author: Amy E. Spiegel
Publisher: B&H Books (2012)

Book Review: Beyond Bath Time by Erin Davis

Moms and dads of small people know that there’s a lot of basic grunt work involved in childcare. On my less positive days I have complained to Aaron that my whole day was a grand exercise in wiping—wiping faces, noses, bums… Some days it can be hard to remember that there is a larger purpose for what I’m doing here and Erin Davis’ new book, Beyond Bath Time, was a helpful reminder of that. Check out my review below:


Title: Beyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood as a Sacred Role
Author: Erin Davis
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2012)

Book Review: Voices of the True Woman Movement

I must admit that I took Voices of the True Woman Movement to be polite. I was at the Moody table at The Gospel Coalition and was asked if I’d like a free book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I was afraid of what the reaction would be if I said “No, I heard she’s kinda OUT THERE,” so I just said “sure” and took the book and stuck it in my growing bag of free nerd-swag.

I started reading it later that day while waiting for Aaron, and was intrigued. Still apprehensive, but intrigued. Voices of the True Woman Movement is basically a transcript of the first True Woman conference, held in October 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. There are multiple contributors, including John Piper, Mary Kassian, and Joni Eareckson Tada.

The book offers a broad overview of the vision that adherents of conservative, complementarian Christianity have for Christian women today and into the future. It’s a good read, and I especially enjoyed the contributions by John Piper, Mary A. Kassian, and Fern Nichols. I did appreciate the chapter by Nancy Leigh DeMoss as well, to my surprise. DeMoss provides a solid exposition of the story of Esther, and reminds us that living for God’s glory, and not our own, is the only kind of life worth living.

I wasn’t really a fan of the chapter by Karen Loritts – too much of a tough talking football coach vibe for my taste.

The end of the book has a “true woman manifesto” for the reader to review, and there is opportunity to affirm the manifesto by “signing” in online at truewoman.com. I have not signed the manifesto, and probably won’t, but a cursory look at the site seems to indicate it’s a good resource for Christian women.

I think that the best thing I got out of this book was that the True Woman Movement is not something to be afraid of. There’s no push to have 27 children, or burn all your shoes, or wear a veil to church. What the authors do assert that the model of womanhood given to us by the world is a stinking pile, and that Christian woman need to immerse themselves in the word of God and submit to his will for their lives.

I would encourage women especially to read Voices of the True Woman Movement, if for no other reason than to get a sense of complementarianism from a female perspective. I hope you find the book as helpful as I have.

Title: Voices of the True Woman Movement: A Call to the Counter-Revolution
Author: Nancy Leigh DeMoss (editor)
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2010)

Book Review: The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin

The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin

This book will be different than any other book on organization that you’ve probably read. I have no schedule to offer you, I won’t tell you what day to mop the kitchen floor, and you don’t need to buy a timer. Your standards for an organized home and a reasonable schedule will vary with your personality, season of life, and the needs and preferences of your family.

What I hope to do is to help you examine your heart and discover things that may be hindering your walk with God. My goal is not necessarily for you to have a cleaner home or a more manageable schedule—although I certainly hope that is the case. Rather, my hope for this book is that it will help you serve God and your family more effectively, more fruitfully, and with greater peace and joy.

Staci Eastin, The Organized Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Conquering Chaos

The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin is not a book full of charts or checklists. There’s no instruction to do your laundry on Monday, or your floors on Wednesday. (Although seriously, who does their floors every week?) We’ve seen enough of those, and if you’re a person who struggles with disorder, you probably have a few of these books already and don’t need another one.

So what is The Organized Heart? It’s an insightful work that challenges the reader to investigate the root of disorder, which according to the author, is idolatry.

The Organized Heart covers four areas where disorder can reign (and ruin)—perfectionism, busyness, possessions, and leisure. In the chapter on possessions, Staci offers a very funny anecdote about her beloved couch; it went from being white and tan to brown and brown, and when all was said and done not even a charity would take it. [Read more…]