Homeschooling: Miss Rhonda’s Readers

I’ve shared a few resources here before that helped get the Scout Kid on the path to reading. Native Reading was one– and I was excited to see the technique backed up in Thirty Million Words, which I just finished reading on my Kindle and plan to review soon. Leap Frog’s magical Letter Factory was another, and I cannot recommend it more highly to anyone who want their child to effortlessly learn basic letter sounds.

So the Scout Kid has been reading for a good few months now, but I found it hard to find him good books to practice on. I wanted books difficult enough to stretch his abilities, but it’s easy for him to get discouraged if there are a lot of nonstandard words, and because of this difficulty finding good books, neither of us were as enthused about him practicing his newfound skills as we should of been.

That’s why I was delighted to stumble across Miss Rhonda’s Readers. Written by a Montessori teacher, they are simple, sweet little stories that are designed to be delightful instead of dull or frustrating. At $0.99 apiece on the Kindle, we’ve been buying a new one every few days for the Scout Kid to work his way through. (He may or may not have learned how to buy them himself today and bought four while I wasn’t paying attention, but hey. There are worse things to accidentally buy four of.)

photo
It is such a joy to see my boy reading– as a word-lover myself, I’m so thrilled about the worlds that are opening up before him now that he can read, worlds of imagination, learning, and depth. I deeply believe that helping kids learn to read early is better not because it’s a race or because academic success is in itself an important goal for a four year old, but because of that. Because now he can start to dig into his own interests at his leisure and liberty, read a dozen books about dinosaurs in a row if that’s what he wants. Because of the connections with characters and the wonderful worlds that fiction hold. Because he won’t be at anyone’s mercy in decoding the world around him; he can forge his own way. Because reading is a door, not a destination. </sentimental monologue>

Anyways, check  out the readers; they’re great and the price is definitely right! You can by physical copies on her website, or grab them for Kindle from Amazon.

(Right now the Scout Kid’s biggest struggle is sounding out longer, unfamiliar words without immediately defaulting to trying to guess based on the picture and the word’s first letter. I’m mulling over how to make a game to practice that.)

 

Advertisements

Georgia Book Reviews: Waters of Eden, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

The Book: Waters of Eden: The Mystery of the Mikvah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.)

Summary: An exploration of the Jewish teachings on Mikvah (a special pool or body of water for ritual purification) in the written and oral Torah.

Recommended by: A messianic Jewish website I can’t seem to find now, sorry!

My Thoughts: This is the first non-fiction reading I’ve ever done on Judaism, and I found it fascinating. I was prompted to buy this book during my memorization of Matthew 3. I wondered where, exactly, the ritual of baptism had sprung from, when there was no record of it in the Old Testament and suddenly everyone was familiar with it when John the Baptist entered the scene. What was it about baptism that Christ needed to do in order to “fulfill all righteousness”? What was the Jewish understanding of baptism when Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan?

In some ways, the broad understanding discussed in Waters of Eden falls closely in line with New Testament teaching about baptism, and shed light on the historical understanding of baptism that would’ve been held in Jesus’ day. Kaplan talks about the connection of Mikvah to Sinai, conversion, and original sin. “How does immersion in a Mikvah change a person? This can best be understood on the basis of another Talmudic teaching that “a convert who embraces Judaism is like a new born child.” (page 12), and “…[A] Mikvah cannot be made in a vessel or tub, but must be built directly in the ground, for in a sense, the Mikvah also represents the grave. When a person immerses, he is temporarily in a state of nonliving, and when he emerges, he is resurrected with a new status.” It’s impossible to read this without thinking of Romans 6:3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Did I find the answer to my questions in this book? Sort of. Better understanding the Jewish traditional roots and understanding of baptism at the time of Jesus’ baptism helped make it clearer to me the notions of purification, rebirth and repentance, and consecration that would’ve surrounded immersion. One interesting side note is that baptism was generally for converts to Judaism, so when John called for repentance and baptism, he was calling his fellow Jews to something radical.

So why did Jesus say, “It is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness,” when John objected to baptising him? I’m not sure. I think, though, of the roots in Sinai that Waters of Eden presents. In Matthew 4, right after his baptism, Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be tempted, and his responses to the tempter’s wiles are all taken from Deuteronomy, from areas where Israel failed their tests. If his baptism, then, represented his assumption of his active role as the bringer of the kingdom of heaven, the true child of God in perfect obedience, baptism could be seen as his commitment, and his wilderness trial the mirror of Israel’s. It’s admittedly only a theory, but either way, I’m glad I read this book, as I think it added depth and richness to my thinking; I’d like to do more reading on Judaism, the oral Torah, and the Second Temple period.

Saintly Sundays: Memorize the Bible in 25 Years

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 10.19.41 PM

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to memorize the book of Matthew. The idea came from a few different sources. The first was this post on Changing Your Mind, which in turn introduced me to the book How To Master the English Bible (only available on Kindle that I’ve found; linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.) The basic concept is to read each book of the Bible over and over again until you’ve mastered it– deeply absorbed it, grasped the themes and messages, made it your own.

I started with the book of Matthew, and in the course of my reading, read a lot about the way Jewish children were raised in Jesus’ time. I’m so impressed with the way Jewish children memorize the Torah from ages 5-12. Having read that often devoted students would go on to memorize the remainder of the Tanakh, I was struck by the idea that Christ might’ve had the whole Scripture (of his time) memorized!

So why not me? Although starting at five books would’ve given me a more leisurely schedule, I discovered that I could do the entire Old & New Testament over the next 25 years, at the rate of 1300 verses a year, or about 25 a week.

Now, I know that sounds like a lot, and that’s where the next piece of the puzzle slots in: Scripture Typer. Seriously, buy it– it’s well worth the $10 price. With Scripture Typer’s automatic system of review, I don’t have to get my 25 verses word-perfect in one week. I just have to be able to type it at 92% accuracy. Then, over the next few weeks as it pops up for review, I get more and more accurate with it. The upshot is that with about 20-30 minutes a day (which I do first thing in the morning while the boys have a snack and read in bed), I’ve memorized Matthew 1-7 since January 1st.

Eventually, I’d like to do a modified version for my kids to use. Perhaps starting with the first five books of the New Testament from ages 5-12, and then if they’d like to continue, handing them over to Scripture Typer with a plan adjusted for the books they’ve already memorized? I’ll have to think on it.

If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, here’s a PDF of my 25-year plan. And I’d love to hear of any resources for memorization or tricks you guys use!

Georgia Book Reviews: The Jesus We Missed


The Book: The Jesus We Missed, Father Patrick Reardon

Summary: A loving treatise on the way we should understand Jesus’ humanity as presented in the four Gospels.

Recommended By: This review on the Gospel Coalition blog.

My Thoughts: Although at times I felt Reardon was descending into mere speculation– offering lovely explanations for various actions of Jesus that may or may not have any actual basis in reality– for the most part, I dearly loved reading this. Reardon’s love for Christ shines through the pages, his translations of the original texts and his historical understanding both of the Gospels themselves, and the church history and tradition that built on them, were invaluable and insightful, and I came away from reading feeling my own love for my Saviour expanded and my desire to learn more about him deepened.

I especially loved the beginning chapters on Jesus’ pre-ministry life. Since New Year’s I’ve been memorizing Matthew, and am just now starting on the Sermon on the Mount, so for the last month, I’ve been saturated daily in those four simple chapters on Jesus’ birth, flight to Egypt, baptism, and temptation in the wilderness. The richness of historical detail and insights from Reardon helped me feel even more intimate and helped by these four chapters.

I highly recommend this book to anybody who would like to better understand Jesus in his historical humanity, and I will definitely be seeking out Reardon’s other works.

Georgia Book Reviews: The Secrets of Happy Families


The Book: The Secrets Of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler

Summary: Hacks from everything from business to the military to reality TV on doing family life better.
Recommended By: This Cup of Jo blog post on keeping the spark alive in your marriage (it quotes from the book and is a good little read in and of itself.)
My Thoughts: I love this kind of book, which pulls together a wide range of research and experience to provide, not a step-by-step guide, but fresh inspiration and ideas on doing something better. (A similar title that I thoroughly enjoyed was How We Learn.)

Feiler writes in a light style and pulls together a couple of different sources for each of his chapters, some more scientific/academic, and some just people with good life experience or who have done something well and in an innovative way.

The broader scope of the book suggests that happy families are those who are adaptable, invested in each other, multigenerational, directional (or perhaps purposeful is a better word), and deal with conflict well. Some of the specific suggestions explored that I like and might want to incorporate into our family life(/am already incorporating but found affirmed) are:

  • Handing over routines to kids to be their own responsibility (via checklists) and gaining their feedback into ways they can do it better. My own kids are a bit on the young side for it, but only a bit, and I always think it’s better to start something a little early and have some growing pains…
  • The notion that people are more motivated by fear of losing a good thing than by the prospect of gaining a good thing, so a smarter way to motive your kids via reward is giving it up front but making keeping it conditional on their behaviour.
  • The value of building resilience and stability in children through telling them the ups and downs of your family’s history.
  • Taking time as a family to define your core goals and values, and talking about those to motivate your choices, i.e., “We are the kind of family who…”
  • The Harvard Negotiation Project’s five-step philosophy for handling the world’s toughest disagreements:
    • Isolate your emotions
    • Go to the balcony (i.e. move away from the situation until you can objectively look at the big picture.)
    • Step to their side (try to understand how they’re thinking, listen, ask questions.)
    • Don’t reject, reframe (work to find alternative solutions that meet everyone’s needs by asking open-ended questions, moving the spotlight from two rigid opposing positions to new options you’ve come up with together, ‘expand the pie before dividing it’.)
    • Build the golden bridge (settle on a resolution that leaves neither party embittered; write down together a list of possible solutions, star the most promising and eliminate the others.)
  • Take off the training wheels in teaching your kids personal finance. Talk to them honestly about your money, hand over responsibility for good and poor decisions to them while they’re still dealing in pocket change, give them meaningful earning opportunities, and finally, consider the goal: that they be responsible, self-reliant, and creative with their money.
  • Play better with your kids by creating games for them that have challenges/failures as well as easy parts, ‘levels’, and rules that force creativity and strategic thinking.
  • This quote about being a sports parent: “The purpose of youth sports… is to create better competitors and better people.” The first goal is the domain of the kids and their coaches. “Parents have a more important job… You focus on the second goal, helping your kids take what they learn from sports into the rest of their lives… Let’s say your kid strikes out, and his team loses the game… You can have a first-goal conversation about bailing out of the batter’s box, keeping your eye on the ball, etc. Or you can have a second-goal conversation about resilience, character, and perseverance.”

At the end of the book, my take-away isn’t that we need to make a lot of changes to be a happy family, since I feel like we’re a happy family already. (It might, however, be more useful to a family that’s struggling in that regard.) My takeaway was more small ideas and hacks that I’d like to take on board to care for and enjoy each other better as husband and wife, parents and kids, and even as an extended family. It was a one-day read for me, and, while not groundbreaking, certainly helpful.

Disclaimer: Books linked through my Amazon Affiliates account. If you like the sound of this book, buy it through my link and help feed my reading habit!

Georgia Book Reviews: Partners in Christ


Book: Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism, by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.*

Summary: A case for being an evangelical who believes in the authority of Scripture and isn’t complementarian.

Recommended By: A rather mixed review on the Gospel Coalition blog. You might not be surprised to learn that I agreed with a lot more of Stackhouse’s points than the TGC blogger…

My Thoughts: I think what I most appreciated about this book was the ‘middle way’ approach Stackhouse takes. He critiques flaws and too-glib arguments in both complementarian and feminist readings of Scripture, and his approach provoked me to take more honest looks at the ‘sticky’ passages regarding the roles of women in Scripture. Although I didn’t always agree with his interpretations– for example, I find a plain reading of Ephesians 5 to be much less supportive of male leadership roles than Stackhouse does even within it’s historical context (a blog subject for another day!)– I appreciate the chance to think critically and consider new perspectives on these passages.

Stackhouse presents the argument that New Testament norms in gender were adapted to their historical context, much in the way the sexual transgression laws of the Old Testament represented not God’s ultimate best standards, but his patience to meet hard-hearted humanity where they were at in their cultural surroundings. This isn’t a particularly ground-breaking argument, but Stackhouse’s approach to it is unique and moderate. His ‘model’ for best synthesizing and understanding the Scripture’s teaching on gender is as follows:
– Principle #1: “That men and women are equal in dignity before God.”
– Principle #2: “Since some things matter more than others, lesser things sometimes must be sacrificed in the interest of the greater. What matters most to God, it seems, is the furtherance of the gospel message.”
-Principle #3: We have “the Christian liberty to give up precisely some of the freedoms won for us in Christ– again, for the sake of a higher good.”
Stackhouse argues that Scripture presents a model of doubleness– affirming certain patriarchal practices and attitudes of the day, while at the same time– sometimes in the same breath– offering a taste, a breath, a reminder of the equality and unity of men and women. Although I don’t always agree with his interpretations or the broader framework he proposes, I think his approach to the task of forming a coherent interpretation from a widely varied body of Scriptural teaching on gender is wise and can be learned from: he is committed to not using ‘pet’ texts from murky passages to support his preconceived views, but instead trying to form a theology that most nearly agrees with the most clear teachings from the broadest passages on the subject. As I work to form a Biblical theology of gender, a task for which I most certainly find myself in flux and often in deep water, I appreciate this wise approach to interpreting, and I pray I can humbly and wisely approach Scripture in a similar way as I work to understand the sometimes-thorny issues surrounding gender and the word of God.

A final point I find very worth considering comes in this quote: “Indeed, as Howard Marhsall pointedly suggests, the very term complementarian may be nonsense: two classes of people are equally capable, but certain leadership roles are reserved to just one of those classes, yet everything else can be done by members of either class– what is ‘complementary’ about that arrangement?” I read this put another way on a blog post (which I’ve unfortunately lost track of since so will have to paraphrase from a very rough memory): “If the positions of pastor and church leader are closed to women by nature of their God-given roles, what positions within the church are correspondingly closed to men? Should men not serve in the nursery? Help with the dishes after a potluck? Offer support and advice to someone making a decision? In what sense do complementarians understand women’s ‘ezer‘ role to be distinct from an man offering their gifts of service and help within the church, such that we could say that man was ‘usurping’ a woman’s role?” Without a coherent answer to this, we are not really discussing women as ‘complementary’, but merely restricted.

*Book linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.

Thursdays with Words: April Reading List

I’ve been reading a lot more than I have in I can’t even remember how long (thank-you, Georgia!), so I wanted to sit down and do some reviews of what I’ve read recently. Partly I want to just get it out of my head, and partly I hope you can find something that catches your interest. All links will be through my Amazon Affiliates account*. So, without further ado– what I’ve read this past month (well, six weeks-ish):

How We Learn, Benedict Cary
Steven got me this for Christmas and I loved it. I loved it for me, and I loved it for my children, and I can’t wait to read it again and sit down and write out how these ideas can be applied to homeschooling. It’s basically a series of ‘brain hacks’ to help you retain and memorize information better, solve problems more creatively and efficiently, and generally learn more effectively. I’m probably going to do a longer blog post on it so I’ll leave it at that.

The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett
I read this right after he died. I had always had the impression that Pratchett just wrote kind of goofy fantasy, but I was wrong. Or at least, about this book. But I will definitely want to read more. I found his work a beautiful blend of humour and poignancy, his culture rich and detailed, his MC thoroughly relatable and awesome, and his imagination wonderful. This story made me laugh out loud and it made me think. I was wasting my time not reading him all these years.

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, Orson Scott Card
I got this because I am working on a fantasy novel; this is also the reason for most of the other books I’ve read this month and most of the books on my to-read list. I’m trying to get a handle on the genre and some of the aspects I am less strong in. I feel myself to be reasonably strong on the mechanics of writing, but this book focuses on aspects specific to speculative fiction– worldbuilding, magic systems, types of stories, and the SFF publishing market. I think it was a good base for me, and serves as a good jumping off point for reading SFF with a watchful eye for the elements that make it good SFF.

The Patternist Series, Octavia Butler
I downloaded the first book (Wild Seed) because Card praised it in the above-mentioned book. Then I tore through it, dowloaded the next book without stopping, and tore through that, and so on ’til I’d read all four. A creative concept and I was very surprised the direction it took. All four books are connected, but in a loose, unexpected manner as they travel from the 1600’s to a post-apocalyptic society. The writing is spare without being unnecessarily so, and the plot is forefront without neglecting the skill and beauty of the language, which I find rare in plot-driven books. Content advisory: there is a lot of sex in these books. It’s not graphic, it’s just ubiquitous. The story features essentially the breeding of a new society and the characters are all part of that so they all just end up having lots of sex. You were warned.

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
Read this for book club; it’s been a while since I read older fiction like this and it was a good shake-up for me, I think. Different language, different style conventions, different social mores and overarching values… I was interested in the story but I had a hard time getting away from the constant commentary on what females can and can’t do/feel/think. I read on Collins’ Wikipedia page that “He also wrote penetratingly on the plight of women and on the social and domestic issues of his time,” so maybe I was just too far removed socially from the time of the book to catch on? Maybe he was being ironic? He seemed to spend for more time than necessary pontificating on what women are intrinstically like, and he doesn’t usually decide on the more flattering choices (i.e. weak, emotional, stuff like that). Marian Halcombe is interesting, witty, intelligent, and totally not the love interest in the story, which role is instead fulfilled by her angelic, blonde, and boring-as-heck half-sister Laura. So that annoyed me the whole time.

Update: This was still bugging me so I did a quick Google of “feminism the woman in white wilkie collins” and came up with this blog post which does enlighten me a little. Commentary on unjust marriage laws, strong female character, types. Ok, cool. Still a little annoyed but less so.

Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson
Read this on the plane back home for Easter (and then all the next day when I was supposed to be actually doing stuff like mothering my children and unpacking). I’m working on writing a fantasy novel so I’m trying to read more in the genre, get a better feel from the sweep of fantasy and hit the big authors in the field. I enjoyed the magic system (Allomancy) in this book, which was intricate, internally consistent, and unique. The characterization and development was decent and the writing also fair to middling, although Sanderson did feel the inexplicable need to use the word ‘maladroitly’ like four times which is totally uncalled for. But (spoiler alert) Jordan used the word ‘rictus’ even more than that in Eye of the World so it was probably a good thing Sanderson was chosen to continue the Wheel of Time series…

The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan
For the whole first section of the book I had a very hard time separating my opinion of the elements of this book that have become tropes from my opinion of the actual writing, but as I got deeper into the story, as things got more immersive, I was able to set that aside. The further in I got, the more I admired Jordan’s worldbuilding and creativity. I still don’t find the writing style very much to my taste, and I was annoyed throughout the book about the way he wrote women and the way he wrote male-female relationships (like, everybody had to mention about how they could never understand the other gender), but the story, the scope, the world, the magic, were all beautiful and well-done.

*And hey: if you buy any of these books through my links here, I get money! So, just a thought…

Saintly Sundays: I Was The Lion

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
― Aslan, from The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis

I want to pay better attention to the voice of my God saying “I was the lion…” in my life. Sovereign and difficult and good.