Teaching Our Preschoolers to Serve

A while back Kristen Summers asked if she could use a snippet of something I wrote in an upcoming eBook. I said sure, then promptly forgot about it.

Well, imagine my surprise when last week she emailed me and let me know the
eBook was ready! She sent me a free copy for review. I have to tell you, I loved it.

The book is Teach Me to Serve: 99 ways Preschoolers Can Learn to Serve and Bless Others.

In a culture that teaches kids that the world revolves around them (or should), this book is a breath of fresh air with practical, simple ideas for helping our littlest ones grow their hearts to serve others.

I appreciate Kristen’s honest tone. It’s not one of those irritating, “I’m perfect and if you do these things you can be too!” type of books. She is very real in her writing. I like that.

It’s also a fast read, well laid-out, and bulleted, which is nice for a quick skim or going back to look at ideas. Chapter 1 gives the Biblical basis for serving, while Chapter 2 looks at our own example, which is always the key, isn’t it?

Since your kids will model your example, let’s do a quick heart check: Does your child see you having the heart of a servant? Do they see your kindness, compassion and
care for others as they shadow you? Are you helpful? Are you deliberate? Are
you a cheerful giver? When you see a need, do you act? Your children will be
able to sense your concern for others by the way you act in word and deed, and
also by the way you pray for the needs of others.

The book is divided into areas in which to serve:

  • Home– LOVE this, because this is where we live. Why not start here?
  • Neighborhood
  • Community
  • Market
  • The House of God
  • Trips and Travel
  • Going Global

I originally thought 99 ways to serve sounded exhausting (99 more things I should be doing?) but the book didn’t feel that way at all. It felt quite manageable and practical.

You can tell the book is written by an experienced mom of preschoolers. The ideas aren’t those that make you tired just thinking about them. She gives small, simple ideas, perfect for little hands and hearts.

For example, I loved the simplicity of:

7. Ask your preschooler to help you (Mommy or Daddy) with one of your chores.
Maybe there is yard work or dusting to be done. Remember, we are not going for
perfection here, just developing a willing heart. Praise your preschooler’s good effort and thank her for being so helpful.

10. When a sibling is sick, allow your preschooler to help take care of his brother
or sister. Give the sick child a bell to ring whenever something is needed. Put your preschooler in charge of finding out what is needed when he hears the bell ring.

20. Your preschooler can help younger siblings by playing the “How Can I Help?”
game. When the younger sibling is frustrated or unable to reach something, have
your preschooler ask, “How can I help?” While a baby will be unable to answer,
your preschooler can pick up the fallen toy or spoon and hand it to her. Making
this a game will help your preschooler become quick to help.

[Love this one. One of my big pet peeves is when adults sit around and talk after a
meal while one person does all the work of a meal or clean-up. I want
to teach my kids look around and see what needs to be done or to ask, “What can
I do to help, Mom?” ]

 37. Are you hosting a garage sale? Let your preschooler hand out cups of free
water. Use a dispenser for ease of pouring.

 73. When a person drops an item, teach your child to help pick it up.

 I have to stop because I’m going to give away the whole book!
There are so many more great ones though.

I love that the author always brings it back to serving others to serve Jesus.  There are verses on serving sprinkled throughout.

I happen to think preschoolers don’t need much academic work. My preschool goals for my third son include things like learn to obey, be sweet, play, go outside, and get read to a lot.  (If he picks up some letter recognition and number awareness along the way, well, that would be okay too.)

But if a preschooler is doing some of these ideas in the book, they’ll be learning the whole time. They’ll be developing those motor and self-regulation skills, and doing it with a purpose. They’ll be learning the most important things.

I’ll end with the prayer Kristen gives at the end of her book, because it’s so wonderful and it makes me cry:


We thank You for the privilege we have of raising our young children. They are a gift and blessing to us and we are grateful. As we embark to teach our children to follow You and raise them in the faith, would You strengthen us to be the parents You intend? Help us to love and train them the way You would. Give us a heart ready to teach and persevere through the easy and rough days of parenting. Guide us in our discipline and consistency. We want to raise godly children.

Father, mold the young hearts of our children into hearts that chase after You and not the things of this world. Cause them to hunger for You even at their young age. Give them a heart to serve You and others, to deny selfishness and to be rich in compassion. Help us to take these tasks and the many teachable moments to demonstrate to our children the concept of serving others and following Your example of loving people. Fill us with Your love. May our minds and hearts grow in the things of God.

In Jesus’ Mighty Name,


Disclosure: Kristen provided me a free sample of the eBook in exchange for my honest
opinion. I do not make any profit from sales of the book.

Buy the book here in PDF format.  The list price is $3.99 but…

For the next two days (Sept. 25th and 26th, 2012) you can use the
code: homeschool30  
for a 30% discount.


10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 2

Lucy saving Edmund's life with her magical cordial

I’m doing this two-part series to go along with my Chapter Book Challenge. Won’t you join us?
In Part One, I shared my 5 real-life tips for reading chapter books. Here are the other five:
NOTE: Before I start opining about the wonders of reading aloud to your children, I just have to tell you that Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader is killing me.
I tried to read a little tonight and things did not go well. Maybe it was the “Swedish pancakes” (rolled pancakes with sugar inside) the kids had for dinner; maybe they devoured secret hoards of espresso beans.  All I know is—they were bouncing all over the  place for the 20 minutes I read to them. I think we covered three pages.

And I skipped over long paragraphs of boringness.

I’m sure all the quirky jokes C.S. Lewis makes were amusing to kids at the time, or to adults now, but I’ve had to stop to explain nautical terms, what the British Consulate is, what “cheeky” and “chirruping” mean, and try to guess what “lodge a disposition” means. I would totally ditch the book if the kids hadn’t already seen the movie and decided it’s the best thing EVER. So we must soldier on. But I’m telling you, I’m going to
cut out a lot.

And I DO NOT recommend the later Narnia books (Any after 1 and 2) for kids under 10 or so. Feel free to disagree with me; I’m stickin’ with that. I’m changing our reading list to save the last two books for a few years from now.

Anyway, on to some real life reading tips, because I could use some…


6. Answer vocabulary quickly and move on.
Most classic chapter books are going to have more ”rare words” and complex vocabulary; that’s part of their value.  Usually I don’t stop to explain words unless my kids ask.  “What does swift mean?” I’ll say, “Fast,” and read the sentence again with “fast” substituted. Many times they’ll figure it out because of context.

(But again, this is why picking a book at their level is important, because The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has so MUCH hard or British vocabulary that it’s exhuasting.)

7. Simplify (or summarize) difficult passages while reading if needed.
Ideally, complexity of sentences is a good thing. It teaches kids to listen and understand nuances. But when we get bogged down (like tonight), I adjust.

a.  Make complex sentences simple. Some of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader sentences are ten lines long! I make the sentences shorter and simpler when I can.

b. Cut out long, complicated descriptions. Tonight I skipped over a few lengthy paragraphs on the boat layout. The kids don’t need to know that to follow the action. If they are losing interest, I skim forward to the next dialogue or action scene.

8. Make fun voices.  I try to use creepy voices for the scary parts, or deep voices for kings or whatever. When I remember.

Audio books are great for this, if your kids can follow the plot. We LOVED the audio of the Little House books.

(The Narnia books are way too complicated for us to listen to the audio books so we’re reading those.)


9. Encourage Imaginary Play. 
We don’t act out the books in a formal way, but I might just plant the seed of an idea in their heads.  We had friends over when we were reading The Long Winter and the kids were playing outside. I said, “Oooh, I think a storm is coming. You better get your hay in the barn and cattle inside!” After looking at me like I was nuts, the other children caught on quickly and they spent the next hour or so getting in crops.

When that friend came over months later, the first thing she wanted to do was get her crops into the barn!

This lets the kids learn about the situations, time, vocabulary, as well as helping them connect emotionally with the story and turn the characters into friends.

My kids often do this spontaneously and I just play along. If my daughter says she’s Lucy and her brother is Edmund, who am I to argue? (The picture at the top is my daughter pretending to be Lucy and nurse “Edmund” back to life. This is an almost daily occurance.)

10. Answer their questions. Sometimes I ask them questions later, but more often they learn by asking questions. Lots and lots of questions.

I realized one day that if I did nothing else but answer all my children’s questions they’d get a very in-depth and well-rounded education. I try, as much as possible, to answer their questions with thoughtful, honest answers. (When it doesn’t suck the life out of me with the volume of the questions. Tonight, I kid you not, I think my son asked about twenty questions ON ONE PAGE. And I just don’t know that much about the British Consulate or boatswains.)

The question is the teachable moment. That’s the real lesson, not whatever’s on the page.

“Yes, but what I don’t understand,” my daughter said the other day in the middle of Prince Caspian, “is how God was there before anything. How could he be?”

We talked about it. Instead of being annoyed that we spent 10 minutes off topic, I thought, wow, this really is wonderful literature. It’s getting them thinking about the important things.

So, let’s do it together, shall we? Let’s just pick an interesting book and start. It may be slow going. It may take ten times longer than we thought it would, and involve more discussions of British slang than we ever thought possible, but let’s do it anyway. Let’s read these rich books to our children.

As these courageous, noble, strong characters come alive to our children, may they awaken something in their hearts. And in ours as well.

Our Favorite Chapter Books So Far
The comments to Part One and the Chapter Book Challenge had lots of great book ideas and reading tips. Be sure to check those out if you haven’t. Thank you all for wonderful ideas! (Did anyone else have the same trouble with Narnia or is it just me?)

Ages 5 and up

  • Little House Books
  • Pippi Longstocking (Kids loved it; she can be disrespectful to adults so we discussed that.)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Hundred Dresses
  • Pinnochio
  • (One of my son’s favorites was Danger at Quicksand Swamp. Not a classic, not particularly well-written, but a great boy adventure story!)

Ages 8 and up

  • Narnia books #1 and #2 (all others I’d say wait until they are at least age 10)
  • The Whipping Boy
  • Historical: Pilgrim Boy, Squanto, Childhood of Famous Americans (we did George Washington and Einstein), Sign of the Beaver

These are my two favorite books about reading aloud, and they have great book lists in them. Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, and The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Your library might have both.

Also, Ambleside online and the Sonlight website are great resources.
What did I leave off? What are your favorites for ages 5-10?

Also, a note: a big thank you to Carey Jane Clark, author of After the Snow Falls, for her kind review of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel last weekend:

“When it comes to novels, I want to be awed by the way the author puts words together, and I was not disappointed. But perhaps the most disarming thing about this book is the main character, Julianne Miller, and her very real life. Any mother who’s ever compared herself to others (and what mother hasn’t?) will relate to this down-to-earth character.”  Read Carey’s whole review on her blog >


10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 1

I’m doing this two-part series to go along with the Chapter Book Challenge. Come join us!

We all know we’re supposed to be reading volumes of great literature (“Living Books”) to our kids. It increases their vocabularies, improves attention spans, blah blah blah.

So why don’t I read as much as I would like?

Because it’s hard.

My kids fight over where to sit. They interrupt with a million questions. They whine and want to watch TV instead. Last year, my toddler invented an exhilarating game of trying to fling himself backwards off the couch during story time. Not exactly an ideal focusing environment.

When I read by myself, I can knock out a book in a few hours. When I read to my kids, I might as well settle down and get comfortable with the characters because I know we’ll be there a while. Like a month.

But that’s okay. It’s still worth doing.

Here are some real-life tips I’ve found for making reading chapter books less painful (and now, many days, actually enjoyable!) at our house.

(Picture books are wonderful too, but in this post, I’m focusing on chapter books, with only a few pictures and mostly text on a page. )


1. Read when the toddler is asleep or with the other parent. I’ve given up on trying to read chapter books with my 3-year-old in the room. He’s adorable, but a complete distraction. So I try to read to my six- and eight-year-old for 20-30 minutes during Tea Time when he’s napping. I also try read at bedtime for 20 minutes or so while Dad reads to The Great Distractor on the couch in the living room (or vice versa).

(I’ve heard rumors that there are toddlers who behave nicely and can actually be in the same room when you’re reading a chapter book. If this happens at your house, consider yourself in the 1%.  I’m very happy for you and only the tiniest bit jealous. Don’t mind me–carry on!)

2. Expect it to go slowly and be frustrating.

When I expect to get through a whole chapter, I get annoyed at interruptions. But if I resign myself to the fact that we’ll probably only get through a couple pages, I’m much more pleasant. We often only get through 2-4 pages in 20 minutes.

I answer questions as we go.  (If they ask totally unrelated questions, I’ll ask them to wait until we’re done.)

It takes us about a month to get through a chapter book.

That’s a long time, but it also allows the children to really get into the story, to get to know the characters, to dream themselves into that world. Some people might read more, but that’s okay. This is what we can do. I figure it’s better than nothing.

 3. Bribe them with food. My kids like Tea Time (i.e. Reading Time) so much better now that I give them warm milk and a snack. Our standard snacks are apples and peanut butter, Baked Lays, pretzels, or crackers and cheese.

4. Pick a book you actually want to read. I’m much more likely to announce, “Tea Time!” when I care about the book.  If I hate the book and have to drag myself to
read it, it’s just agony for all. And we don’t really need any more of that.


5. Make sure the kids understand what’s going on. I’ll often stop and ask, “Do you know what’s happening?” I let them ask endless questions about plot, character, time period, etc. If they need to do that to get it straight in their minds, I let them.

I’ll finish the other 5 tips in Part 2, and also list some of the chapter books we’ve loved.
Any tips to share for reading Chapter Books? I’d love to hear them!

Want to join in on our Chapter Book Challenge? (I also list out the chapter books I’m hoping to read with them this year.) Let’s help each other out with this! 

One of those days

This afternoon was a bit of a disaster. I let my 3-year-old talk me into NOT wearing a pull-up to co-op (and it will be the last time that happens until at least Christmas). He had been doing so much better this week!

His first accident was in the morning, so I changed him into his backup outfit. He had his second accident at Classical Conversations after lunch, and I didn’t have a 3rd outfit so I had to run him home. It was quite impressive: as I buckled him into his seat, yellow poop squished all over me, his shorts, and his car seat.

Went home; gave him a bath; changed clothes. Put pile of poop clothes in the backyard to be dealt with later. Our washing machine has been broken since Monday when it started billowing out acrid gray smoke. (You didn’t know washing machines could do that? Me either.)

We went back to the garage where I noticed a suspicious puddle, checked it out, and confirmed that the hot water heater was indeed leaking, so I’ll have to call about that on Monday.

We drove back to CC in our reeking car, and when we arrived I realized we were locked out. My cell phone was inside the building.

My great consolation in moments like these: this would be a fabulous disaster scene if I ever write another book.

Chapter Book Challenge!

One of my main goals this year is to sit on the couch and read to my kids. (I kinda dropped the ball last year.)  I thought this might be a way to both hold myself accountable and to share what books we love as we go.

Do you want to join us? Here’s my idea: I will post our year’s chapter reading goals. I’ll update it about once a quarter, letting you know if we did it and what we thought of the books. Sort of a mini book review.

And you link up, okay? You could do it two ways:

  1. If you have a blog – comment with a link to your blog post where you do the same
  2. If you don’t – comment with the books you want to read for the year, or what you’ve been reading and what you thought. A mini book review.

We’ll just try it and see how it goes. I know there may only be a few who join in, but I figure we can at least learn from each other and share what books our kids like.

Your goal may be to read one chapter book this year, or twelve, or twenty-seven. Whatever. But sometimes it helps me to write these things down and share them with friends as a way of encouraging each other.

Join in, won’t you?

My Chapter Book Goals for 2012-2113
(These are for my 8 year-old son and 6 year-old daughter. My 3 year-old gets mostly picture books. )

August Narnia: Prince Caspian
Sept Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Oct The Little Princess, Burnett
Nov Mary Poppins (1-3 books)
Dec Peter Pan
Jan Paddington Bear (1-2 books)
Feb Ben Hur (picture version)
Mar The Bronze Bow
Apr In Grandma’s Attic
May Narnia: The Silver Chair
June Narnia: The Last Battle

Extras, if done early:

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
The Story of Doctor Dolittle
Anne of Green Gables
James Herriot’s Animal book
The Door in the Wall

What about you? What chapter books do you hope to read with your children this year?

(I plan to do a two-part series on Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books later this week. Because this getting kids to sit still and listen isn’t fabulously easy, is it? But let’s do it anyway.)

In Praise of Dirt and Sticks

Have you noticed all the great “summer fun” ideas floating around on blogs? There are some wonderful ideas, but a lot seem to involve quite a bit of time, materials, or preparation from the parent.

I’m not against any of that, but what would happen if we just let our kids play in nature?

Mine seem to think it’s pretty fun.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we need to entertain our kids. Often, some good dirt and a big stick will do. When we visited my sister in Texas (back in the cooler spring), we went a few mornings to the pond near their house. The kids found lots of ”fun activities” to do. Here are the things they came up with, with absolutely no adult interference.

  1. Throwing rocks into the pond.
  2. Throwing sticks into the pond.
  3. Gathering rocks.
  4. Gathering sticks.
  5. Having sword fights with sticks.
  6. Trying to find the frog we heard.
  7. Finding a tiny frog.
  8. Looking at butterflies.
  9. Looking at ducks.
  10. Digging with sticks in the dirt. (Making a river.)






12. Playing in the wildflowers
13. Pretending to be lost in the “Flower Forest” (those tall yellow ones)
14. Running and hiding and jumping out to scare the other kids.








It was a good reminder to me of how much they love being outside, how serene they are when they’re there, and how much learning can take place. We did several Nature Days in the spring, before it got too hot.

In the summer we tend to go outside in the mornings or evenings to beat the heat, or go swimming.

Some Nature activities we’ve done lately (some on cooler days):

-Blue Hole – a natural spring-fed swimming place, like playing in a creek. Awesome.
- Fed ducks at a nearby pond
- Went to a friend of a friend’s farm and fed the chickens, saw goats, and a donkey. This day was a huge hit.
- Went to a normal park in town, but the kids played down in the creek and tried to catch tiny minnows or crayfish.

Other Nature activities we’ve done in the past:
- Driven 45 minutes to a nearby lake with a state park for the day. Ate a snacky lunch and McDonald’s on the way, so I didn’t have to pack too much.
- a local museum is free for kids and has an incredible garden, some cultivated, some more wild. We just pay the adult fee, $8.50.
- gone to a sheep farm, Shepherd’s Cross sheep farm in Claremore (we go spring or fall)
- picked strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

As I plan out this upcoming school year, I have every other Thursday planned as a Nature/Science day where I’d like to get the kids out of the city, go to a lake or other wild place, and hopefully play, then do a nature journal (we are studying birds this year so I’m hoping to have them make a bird journal).

As you plan your school year, think about where you’d like to take your kids. Are there state parks within an hour’s drive? Mountains? Lakes? Even a duck pond in town can be a nice lunchtime break on a school day. Is there a way to incorportate whatever science you’re studying? A Nature journal is a great way, or looking at field guides to find birds or animals, or making a Tree or Bird Book of whatever they observe!

September and October are perfect weather around here. (If you live in Alaska, now might be the perfect time!)

How do you like to get your kids out in Nature?

For more reading on this, I highly recommend Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder.


What Summer Reading Looks Like at Our House

My son read to me while I cooked eggs.

Of course things aren’t as orderly as I planned, but we do get a lot of reading done in the summer. The long, hot days mean we spend extra hours inside most days, so July and August are some of our prime reading months. (January and February are also big reading months for the opposite reason.)

Here’s what that looks like at our house:

1. Before breakfast –  Whichever child wakes up first staggers out to the kitchen and groggily lays on the kitchen couch while I read.Lately it’s been my eight-year-old son and we can read a chapter book (right now, The Horse and His Boy, the 3rd Narnia book) uninterrupted.  Often we get a good twenty minutes in before someone else wakes up. Whoever wakes up first gets to pick the book.

2. During lunch – This does not happen every day, but a couple times a week I might read the kids a book during lunch.  I have been choosing picture books so everyone is interested, one with a story they know. I often retell it, using my own words instead of reading every word. (I eat bites while they look at pictures, or sometimes I eat before or after them.) I do this more so they’ll be quiet and eat and not bicker, but I’m sure there’s value in the reading too!

The basket on the left is for library books; the one on the right is for our own.

3. After lunch- Often on the living room couch. Sometimes I read again that book we did at lunch, but I read the actual words, not my retelling.

4. Before naptime – This is pretty much mandatory. I read two or three picture books upstairs to my toddler before he goes down for his nap. (If the books are long or above his level, I paraphrase a bit.)

My toddler's books in the living room. There's another basket upstairs for before naptime.

5. Rest time 
My six- and eight-year-old read in their rooms during rest time, sometimes. I was planning for this to be when they do their 30 minutes of independent reading each day, but I need to enforce it, plus I’m out of easy chapter books right now for my son. So that’s my fault. But when I remember, my son sits in his beanbag chair and reads.

(My daughter is supposed to look at books and read what she can, but like I say, I haven’t been checking up on her.) Sometimes she listens to books with CDs when I am organized enough to get them from the library, but you know about my library issues this summer.

Our favorite easy chapter books we’ve found this summer are these Imagination Station ones. They are a lot like Magic Treehouse, but with actual Christian history mixed in.

6. When somebody’s sad – If someone has been crying and needs some Mommy attention, reading is a great excuse for a little cuddle time. Especially for my eight-year-old who often thinks he’s too big for such things.

Oh, those sweet sweeties. Melts my heart.

7. Before bed – this is almost mandatory as well. We skip it only when we’re running really late. My toddler gets two to three books out in the living room before bed with either Mom or Dad. The older two get a few pages of a chapter book, either read to them or on CD with the other parent.

The chapter book we’re reading now, The Horse and His Boy (3rd Narnia book), is very complicated with plot and vocabulary, so it would be too confusing to listen to on CD. We’re reading it a few pages a night, and stopping often to explain vocabulary or recap what’s going on.

8. Audio books In the car-  The other day we went swimming out at Blue
, and the hour drive out and back was enough to almost finish The Whipping Boy. My son had read it earlier this year, partially by himself, so this was a great chance to review and go over some things he hadn’t understood, and I wanted to hear it too.

I do have to say, the audio books work much better when my two-year-old is not in
the car or when he’s asleep. The other day I put in an audio book  and he slapped
his tiny baby forehead and moaned, “Not again!” He likes his music.

9. Waiting at the doctor’s office - We actually haven’t done much of that this summer, but whenever we do go, I try to bring a backpack with some books.

Okay, I think that’s about it.  And full disclosure, we’ve gotten very little math done. I was planning to do flash cards every day, but that has not happened. Sigh. I need to work on that. Oh, and I was going to work on some summer writing activities, which has not happened either. So many things, so little time. Anyway . . .

What does summer reading look like at your house? Any favorite times or places?

Drop Thy Still Dews of Quietness





Another of my favorite cabinet quotes:

Drop thy still dews of quietness
till all our strivings cease;
take from our lives the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of Thy peace.
- John Greenleaf Whittier

Why are our lives so often not ordered? I think when mine is not it’s often because I’m afraid to say ‘no’ or I’m afraid of what other people will think (failure). So, this year I want to purposefully say no to the things that are not highest on my priority list and focus on the things that are. That means, for me, less computer time, less writing. More keeping up with my house, more making soup, more sitting on the couch reading with my kids.

How about you? What things have you cut out to have a more ordered, less stressful life?

Mommy’s Having a Meltdown

I have my breakdowns in the spring. As surely as you can count on daffodils and the NCAA tournament, you can count on my very own Mommy March Madness.

My husband is a  CPA, which means from mid-January to mid-April, he’s working late and on weekends.

You wouldn’t think this is breakdown-inducing, but it really is. It means this spring I had responsibility for the children from morning, when I was awoken from my groggy stupor by a crying toddler, to bedtime, when I had to get teeth brushed and people into bedrooms all by myself.

This year, I thought I was doing better. I’d been making myself go to the YMCA twice
a week for a break, and trying to focus just on the basics. All was going well. I made it through March, Praise the Lord!

Then I started thinking about roses. I had a friend over from church to help me
figure out what to do with our backyard. I’m not sure why I thought this was a
critical activity that week, but for some reason I did. I had this vision of my
backyard fence covered Nantucket-style in climbing roses. It was far, far from that. But something about spring and seeing buds and flowers, and the gorgeous roses I did have on the few struggling plants made me want to get things going in the backyard.

That was a bad idea.

Because when my friend came over what she did was gasp in alarm at the current soil, and weeds, and bushes growing out-of-control, and then recommend lots of amending the soil and digging, and replanting, or hiring someone to do all these things.

Although I’m sure she’s right, I cannot imagine trips to the nursery, and lugging home big bags of pine fines, whatever that is, and the kids “helping me” and getting covered in dirt, and then not only having landscape items on my to-do list, but adding floor-cleaning and many, many baths. It was starting to stress me out even thinking about it.

That same week I had to make calls to get tax receipts that I had somehow misplaced (or thrown away); try to make dinner, which always seemed to be a problem; stay caught up with school to finish out the year; try to be nice to my children who were fighting again; think about when I was going to go to the post office; and when was I going to return something to Macy’s; and when was I going to get shoes for the kids for Easter, because all we had was old tennis shoes and outgrown ones from last year, and you all know a five-minute errand without children takes about seven hours with children; and I had too many things on my list and no time in which to do them.

I got very, very impatient, because you know, I had ten thousand things to do. My
children seemed to be so incredibly sloooow with every task, and my son wanted to stop in the middle of math to tell me about R249768APq99 or whoever his favorite Star Wars droid was. And I tried to make myself care, while I tried to ignore my toddler throwing puffballs from his Busy Bag all over the carpet. I tried.

And then I tried to calmly explain for the two-hundredth time to my six-year-old that forty-two came before forty-three.  Before.

“What do you mean, before?” she asked, as if I were speaking Latin. “You know,” I said,
trying to breathe deeply, “before.” That same “before” as it was yesterday, and the day before.

None of this was my children’s problem or fault; I fully realized this. It was all
totally mine. They were just being kids. But what happened after that
particularly long and painful math time is I start comparing myself to others.
I started thinking, “She’s six. She’s finishing kindergarten. She doesn’t know
that forty-two comes before forty-three? My oldest knew that at age 3. I’m sure all the other kindergarteners know that. Have I not taught her anything this year? Have I been totally overlooking her? I’m a terrible teacher. She would have learned much more in school.”

You know those thoughts. So those were brewing under the surface, and I was
feeling so tired and stressed, and probably just needed a good cry, but instead
I soldiered on, grumping at my kids to hurry, and sort of whining at them, “Why are you guys fighting again?” So of course they were whining back. It was a cranky, miserable houseful of people.

But here’s where the story changed. Usually I would keep going until we were all
miserable, and I yelled at them and they felt like I didn’t love them, just
like Julianne in the book in December. This doesn’t happen that often, but it
usually does happen around March/April at least a few times. I hate that it
does, but it does. So, Praise the Lord, this time, I actually listened to my
own advice. Here are the things that helped me that day:

1. I vacuumed. Okay,  this is weird. But, it did a few things. One, it got me moving to get some of that adrenaline out. Two, it was loud, so I couldn’t talk for a while, which forced me to be quiet and try to pray. Three, it made at least that room look better, which helped me feel a bit better.

One of my friends and mentors said she used to go in the closet until she could calm down.

2.   I gave the kids some chores. I left my toddler strapped in the
high-chair, and had the older two work on the mountain of clutter I had scooped
into the Clutter Basket, and put one thing away, then come back and say, “What’s
my next job, Mom?” and put another piece away, and so on. They were glad to
have something to do to help, because they knew I was stressed, and the room
ended up looking better, which again made me feel less overwhelmed.

3. Called a friend to babysit the kids.
I hate to do this. I hate to admit I can’t do everything, and I need help. It’s hard. But I know from experience that if I ignore these warning signs of snapping at my kids and being impatient that I’m going to yell or hurt someone’s feelings and we’ll all end up in tears. Sometimes Mommy just needs a little time away to get herself together.  

My friend did watch the kids, and I paid her, but I know she would have done it even
if I hadn’t paid her. I’m so thankful to have friends like that. If I didn’t have a friend to watch the kids, I probably would have given up on school or taken the kids to the park, just to get away from the house and change the scene.

4. Cut things off my list.  Once all my errands were done, I sat and ate lunch and prayed about what was going on and what I was feeling stressed about. I knew I needed to lower expectations of myself and cut some things off my list. Here are some things I decided I was not going to worry about:

  •  Backyard landscaping. I had to take roses and backyard off my list. I was feeling like a failure because I had placed these expectations on myself that I had to fix our disaster of a backyard right then. I decided it was not a priority right then and needed to wait. I gave myself permission to ignore it again.
  • Fancy Dinners. My kids would be delighted if I’d serve them pasta and baby carrots every night, so why did I feel like I wasn’t doing my job if I didn’t prepare
    inventive dishes nightly?  My husband wasn’t home for dinner, I was fine eating soup every night, and for the rest of the month, I decided that was okay.
  •  School expectations for next year. I was already thinking about fall and how we could possibly do more. I was considering adding another co-op because it sounded so great. But too much of a good thing stops being a good thing. I decided I wanted to leave some margin in our days: time for playing, reading snuggled up on the couch, and exploring outside. I adjusted my expectations of all of us to be more realistic.

5. Pray! I should have done this earlier! I prayed during lunch about what verse I should repeat to myself when I start feeling all overwhelmed again. I decided on

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30.

Because that’s the real issue, isn’t it? God’s burden is light. It’s all my burdens of
pride I pile on top that become heavy: have a perfect backyard, have a spotless
house, cook an elaborate meal each night, have my children be above grade level
in every subject.

But my children don’t need that, do they? They need a mother who knows Who’s really in charge of all this anyway, who listens to their hearts, is patient with them when they need help with counting, and who will stop barking orders and sit down and give them a hug.

As I looked out on my backyard later that spring, I adjusted my focus.

I chose to ignore the weeds and focus on the blooms.

With my children, and backyard, and life, let me choose to focus on what is there, what is beautiful, and choose joy in that instead of focusing on what isn’t perfect.

I’m so thankful God is patient with me, gentle and humble in heart. He is so gracious to teach me about being a gentle mother, despite my failings, and help me adjust my focus.

Oh Lord, will you lead us mothers to walk humbly with you, not focused on what we
think we need to do to prove that we’re good enough, but accepting your grace,
rained down on us. And help us see it when we need to stop and be refilled, so
we can rain down your grace on our precious children. Help us model love, and patience, humility and grace, so our children can act that way with each other.

In our lives and with our children, help us ignore the weeds and focus on the blooms.


Question: What helps you when you are stressed out or overwhelmed? What things have you given yourself permission to not worry about for now?

Happy Birthday America!

Colonial flag cake we made a couple of years ago.

Fun question to ask your family on July 4th: How many of the  original 13 colonies can you name?

If you need a fun family movie to watch over the holiday, might I recommend Pollyanna (the Disney version with Hayley Mills)? I always think about it on the 4th of July because of the bazaar where Pollyanna dresses up as part of the flag and they sing “America the Beautiful.” It also teaches wonderful lessons about being choosing to be “glad” in any circumstance. And wherever does she get that crazy idea? From her father’s study of the Bible as a missionary. I love it.

America the Beautiful
Words by Katharine Lee Bates
Melody by Samuel Ward

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice, for man’s avail
Men lavished precious life!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!