E is for…excellence

I have covered this topic in the past but it is so good we can bring it up again. BPA brings out the excellence in your children, yourself and your family. The notebook and map standards, research projects and 4Ring are but some of the tools to promote excellence in your home education (and your every day life).

The Bible emphasizes the importance of excellence and when you base your subjects on God’s word you will discover many scriptures, stories and individuals that bring this into focus.

How do you think excellence has become a part of your home education and your life with the use of BPA?

No dancing allowed

This song from the Wicked soundtrack really struck a chord with me (pun intended). Too many parents these days are content to help there children glide along the surface of life, never digging deep to experience the joys–and the pain–that life offers.

Dancing through life
skimming the surface
gliding where turf is smooth
life’s more painless
for the brainless
why think too hard?
when it’s so soothing
dancing through life
no need to tough it
when you can slough it off as i do
nothing matters
but knowing nothing matters
it’s just life
so keep dancing through…

dancing through life
swaying and sweeping
and always keeping cool
life is fraughtless
when you’re thoughtless
those who don’t try
never look foolish
dancing through life
mindless and careless
make sure your where less
trouble is rife
woes are fleeting
blows are glancing
when you’re dancing
through life…

gangnam-style-sign-278x370I am concerned we are raising a generation who is unaccustomed to hardship and adversity. Cancelling honors awards, giving “participation trophies” and incessant access to social media contribute to a culture of shallow individuals with no real grasp of difficulty.

Unfortunately if you prevent hurt feelings then you also prevent the satisfaction of excellence. I think most of these decisions are made to make the adults feel better. Kids are more resilient than we would like to admit. So if we cut out all rewards of excellence why try? What child wants to get straight A’s, for example, only to have their honor roll removed, communicating to them that excellence is punished and mediocrity is desired? Catering to the dancing crowd will leave our country with a full dance card but no one to walk us home.

When will we decide that pain and hardship are actually tools that build godly character, and that we can embrace and celebrate failure. We can look to God’s word for countless examples of this lifestyle in action.

God, please help me to care more about my child’s character than their comfort. Help me to raise gardeners and not dancers. Help me to teach them to embrace hard times and all the good that can come of it.

1 My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, 3 and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, 8 for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. 9 Then you will understand what is right and just and fair–every good path. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Proverbs 2:1-10


Commonplace Blogging

<div xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" about="http://www.flickr.com/photos/crespoluigi/3334034556/in/photostream/"><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=Before the internet craze of blogging we wrote our thoughts down in something called a journal. Or a diary maybe. But it was for your eyes only, no worries of nasty comments from people you’ve never met–or kudos either. There is a comfort in putting pen to paper, capturing thoughts in space and time with the confinement of the written word is challenging and exhilarating.

This article (and my other passion) got me thinking about what I do here online. While it’s good and helpful and sometimes I dare say necessary, it is something my family, even though they participate by default, know very little of this part of my life. I don’t sit and read them my posts or share articles from other moms that bless me. They don’t know most of what I share here, not because I have a secret but I suppose it just never seemed necessary–at least not at this time.

But what about later, when they are older, when they have children of their own and are filled with questions, or when they are searching for more homeschool memories, the little memories that are crowded out by more urgent matters. I could just point them to this URL and let them search, like any stranger could, probing for information and answers. I don’t want a cold computer screen sharing my thoughts on this season of life with them. I think I can do better than that.

I have decided to keep a written record of the posts I feel are the most poignant to my family. I want a sort of scrapbook, more of a commonplace book about our homeschool years, filled with blog posts, pictures and all the other memories that make everyday life interesting. It will be in my own handwriting (ugh) and filled with my thoughts and dreams and hopes and yes, even fears, with those who mean the most to me.

<div xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" about="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nate/412783683/"><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=This is a gift, something I can leave as a legacy, my blog posts and more, written by my own hand. Who doesn’t love finding treasures like that up in Gramma’s attic? We all love poring over old letters and pictures. Who wouldn’t love to hear great gramma’s thoughts on a particular time of life? Family is a big deal and I don’t want to deprive mine of the part of my life I share with all of you.

Commonplace books on our family. Now there’s a treasure worth leaving future generations.

We are history

History to many people seems like a dusty book that you bring out and teach your kids when you have to meet state requirements or because you “have to.” History is not that at all. It is not a stale timeline or disjointed facts from long ago. It’s alive and it’s happening all around you right now.

girlonpath3547128317_04b011457fHistory, or His Story, is going on every second the clock is ticking. Yesterday is history, is it not? History is a record of all that has happened since God created time. But it really has always been because God’s story has always been. So we focus on man’s history but really it’s God’s story.

Why do I say we are history? Because we are in time, we are God’s story, we help further His story. One day my family, if no one else, will look back on what I’ve done and hopefully they will see that I furthered His Story in some way. I want them to be able to say that I had some hand in God’s plan for mankind, that I made a difference–even in only one life.

I know God is the only one that can truly know what impact my life has had here, and I look forward to those words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” But I think there should be a trail behind me for others to follow. My history, intertwined with God’s, can lead others to the Truth long after I am gone.

Raising good cooks: part one

When it comes to preparing your children (daughters and sons) for adulthood, kitchen skills can be a little overwhelming. All that goes into keeping a good kitchen is daunting, especially if you are a perfectionist or feel you lack skills in this area. Pick recipes from a favorite cookbook or family album and get to practicing.

photo courtesy *Susie*

Part one in this series is a list of recipes. A good cook does not need a hundred recipes. Ten simple recipes are all you need to master. This will give your child a wide variety of menus that will serve them well. Once you master each of these recipes you are able to improvise and create an almost endless menu. And they are all easy to double or triple for crowd pleasing meals too.

Pancakes. Making good pancakes takes skill, and making the batter from scratch is helpful. Adding a couple of Tbsp of oil transforms it into waffle mix. You can shake things up by adding fruit or other toppings and pancakes are a winner for breakfast or dinner.

Soup. Knowing how to make a basic soup is essential. Whatever soup your family loves most, learning a basic soup is important. Once you do, you can vary the ingredients to make an infinite variety for any season of the year. (And your college student will never have to settle for Ramen or canned soup!)

Basic spaghetti sauce. This is the basis for almost any variety of Italian dish. A good tomato based spaghetti sauce can feed an army of friends and family and it’s an inexpensive way to impress someone you love. Ladle it over pasta or veggies for a winner every time.

A casserole. Casseroles are another dish that you can change up a million ways. Once you understand the basics you can add any number of ingredients and always get it right.

Baked bird (for meat eaters). Another simple skill that will take you far in the kitchen. Start with a chicken. And when you are feeling ambitious, try your hand at making gravy with no lumps!

Cookies. Knowing how to bake cookies is essential. They are great gifts and snacks. They are easy to make and fun to serve.

Cake. There is really no substitute to homemade cake (except maybe angel food!). Basic cakes are not difficult and the results are tasty. And a college kid or newlywed can afford to make a cake a lot easier than buy one.

Chili. Another dinnertime staple. Vegetarian or meaty, leftovers are great too. Good chili will keep people coming around.

White sauce. This is a foundation for many things like casseroles, mac and cheese and some soups.

Bread. Again, this is a money saver. Making your own rolls and bread is all natural and you can’t beat the smell of fresh baked bread. There are tons of recipes out there to experiment with to find one that is easy and mistake-proof (most of the time). Cornbread, quick bread, yeast bread, pick something and work on it.

These ten basic recipes are things your kids can work on from upper elementary age so that by the time they leave your home they are armed with somple but tasty recipes that will save money and keep them–and their friends–happy for years. Of course, there may be things that your family loves that you wish to substitute.

Optional extras to learn: pie crust, eggs of all kinds.

Next time: 10 basic kitchen skills to master

The case for excellence part 2

Excellence is not a light switch. It’s not something that you wake up one day and you suddenly are, like a birthday. It’s more like getting grey hair; it happens one strand at a time.

The process of excellence is important. Like a baby chick must struggle to shed its shell, the struggle to learn is necessary and rewarding.

Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. James 1:3, 4

The trying of our faith increases patience. This increased patience (fruit of the spirit) brings increased perfection, or wholeness. It is a glorious chain reaction that we would never wish to short circuit in our children. He has struggles for them in their learning, in their reasoning, in their finding their way in their own faith. If they never get the chance to reason from Scripture for themselves they will never get to the wholeness, to the security of their own faith in Christ.

And this is true excellence. Ownership of your own faith, not your parents’ faith. Internal government, governing self with Christ’s superintendence and the Holy Spirit’s faithful guidance. The ability to give an reason for the hope that lies within you (1 Peter 3:15).

My goal is to this: to give my children every opportunity to struggle, not to be a stumbling block but a coach that pushes you farther than you thought you could go. I love that scene in “Facing the Giants” when the Coach Taylor shows Brock that he had more in him that he thought possible, driving him to crawl the entire length of the field with another player on his back. Once Brock got a vision, once he saw what was possible, he was like a new player and he influenced all the other players.

I want my kids to push and struggle and fight with all their might. I want them to give their all and lay exhausted in the end zone, amazed at what their God was able to do through them.

What sweet satisfaction, this excellence.

The Case for Excellence part 1

In American society today there  seems to be an allergy to excellence, at least to the Christian idea of excellence. On the one hand you have children afraid to look “smart” in front of their peers. and on the other we have the Martha Stewarts working hard to convince us that perfection is possible. Kids are texting and losing what little grammar skills they may have once possessed while they try hard to be “gangsta.” The excellent is, for the most part, not valued or praised or even seen as something to strive toward.

What is the Christian idea of excellence? I submit that it is not simply getting good grades. It is your internal character and not your “book smarts” that make a person excellent. For example, Daniel in the Bible was described as having an excellent spirit in Daniel 6:3. This fueled hatred among the leaders of the land and that’s how he ended up in the lion’s den. He was not excellent because he was the smartest. He was excellent because of his character.

Christians should set the standard in education. American Christians are blessed beyond measure. We enjoy liberty in every area. Nothing has been held back from us. We have to most to be thankful for—and the most responsibility. We should always strive to work toward excellence. God’s idea of excellence. As we become more and more excellent on the inside, our outward fruit will be excellent as well. We will work harder, be more diligent and make more of an effort to be a good example to others, in word and in deed (Col. 3:17).

The point is not knowledge but wisdom and fear of the Lord. As a Christian my goal is not simply to fill my children with facts until they are ready to pop. They must be able to correctly apply knowledge in real life.

My next post will finish up by discussing the process of excellence and applying scripture to our educational goals.

Spirit of excellence in notebooks

(my apologies in advance for this long post. It was impossible to shorten it.)

At our Bible principles group we had a question about notebooks and excellence and what exactly should be required. I liked the response so much I asked permission to post it.

I have a question about notebooking… how much do we insist that this be their
very best work? I am almost certain one would not find messy notebooks from our
founding fathers! Do you require first drafts?

I’m going to preface this by saying I am probably the least qualified to answer a specific question about notebooking as I am just at the very beginning of this journey myself and have never notebooked in my life. Your question raised some more general thoughts about educating children in general, however, that I think are relevant.

First off, I believe you do well to look to yourself first and examine whether your expectations are fair and appropriate. The one question in this study guide that gave me pause was, “can you set aside perfectionism for excellence?” My husband has a standard of perfection with the children, and I see what that does to them…what he sees as laziness, I interpret as a reaction to an expectation they know they cannot reach anyway. I would suggest asking yourself more questions along this line. Do you enjoy what you are doing? Are you enthusiastic about notebooking (or do you grumble in your spirit about what your child may or may not be able to accomplish)?

Second, a thought that may only be tangential, but I have been contemplating since reading this first lesson : )

What is a standard? Essentially, it is a military term, and even when not used as such, I believe that is the basic sense behind the word. Our dear 1828 dictionary defines it such (first entry only):

1. An ensign of war; a staff with a flag or colors. The troops repair to
their standard. The royal standard of Great Britain is a flag, in which the
imperial ensigns of England, Scotland and Ireland are quartered with the
armorial bearings of Hanover. His armies, in the following day, On those fair
plains their standards proud display. Fairfax

The image I have is the standard-bearer holding his colors high so that all on the battlefield can see it, despite the smoke, dust and general confusion of war. It comforts the troops, lets them know the battle is not lost and tells them which way to go. The standard-bearer has a most important task, for if his standard falls, the troops will disperse. He also has a most dangerous task, for he has marked himself and made himself a visible and desirable target for the enemy (all kinds of thoughts I could draw from that, but I will attempt to stay focused).

When we desire to raise the standards for our children, we must first be sure of what that standard is, or it will not be clear through the confusion. Of course, that standard is Christ, but we must be sure we are communicating that effectively and that we too are remaining focused and not inadvertantly changing standards in the middle of the battle. We must remain motivated in order to have a motivating influence on our children.

Then we can look at some of the specific challenges. A child who is interested and engaged in learning typically puts forth their best work without prompting. They see the work as interesting, relevant and applicable to life. This motivation comes either extrinsically from rewards, punishments or just the infectious enthusiasm of a good teacher, or intrinsically when the child connects privately with the information.

Perhaps it would do you well to think honestly about what positive and negative attention your child gets for different tasks associated with learning (and remember that even negative attention can serve as a reinforcer of certain behaviors in a child if they desire to keep you engaged with them). She may need more praise for what she is doing correctly, and more general encouragement. You may need to look at her individual interests and see if you can incorporate that into some of her work. My daughter fights reading tooth and nail, but she is quite the little performer. So we bought her a tape deck and she will read and listen to herself read all day and now that we are making a tape for grandma, she will even practice beforehand without a single complaint. That is why it is important to keep your focus on your end goal and determine what will work best to get you there. If your focus drops to the handwriting in a single assignment, the standard(flag) drops as well, and no one really knows where the real battle is anymore, or even who is winning. (posted by Dana)

Good job, Dana. Sounds like a veteran, even if you’re not. I tell my Princess G to “do to the best of your ability.” Of course, the principle of individuality says this will result in a variety of expressions. But you have to learn what your student is capable of and require that in a way that you both are happy with. And you may have to modify your idea of a notebook. Children with unique needs require thinking in a unique way. They can demonstrate excellence in a variety of ways. And the point is the “spirit”, not the” letter”. I know I struggled with this much of last year.

I felt compelled to create voluminous notebooks for my 7dd. We did not have much fun. School was a trying time and not an environment conducive to learning at all, I must say. So I had to make some decisions. We homeschool and I must do what I think is best as her teacher. So we did some things on the computer that she could print out. We drew more pictures. We did more things orally and things got a lot better. My goal was to make sure she was actually learning something and I wasn’t just filling a notebook to satisfy a need I had. I can inspire her with my own notebooks and those of her peers. She can develop into a student who loves to learn, whether or not her notebook is museum-worthy.

So this year we will continue to work on excellence in our notebooks but I’ve come to see that as a process and an individual result. We will do more artistic things because that is her gift and passion. God is helping me on my notebooking journey and together we are teaching Princess G an excellent spirit. And as she learns I believe her notebook will demonstrate that.