2013 Book Thoughts –> “Instructing a Child’s Heart” by Tedd & Margy Tripp

A different book on parenting by Tedd Tripp, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”, is my absolute favorite parenting book. So when I discovered he had written another, I was probably going to read it no matter what the content. However, the title was especially interesting to me because of my role as teacher in my children’s lives. In “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”, Tripp lays out a beautiful picture of practical, gospel-centered parenting. So I heard “Instructing a Child’s Heart”, and thought I’d found a primer on gospel-centered teaching! (Now, I’m not trying to overuse the catch-phrase “gospel-centered”, or claim that something has to be laced with Bible verses in order to be useful, because that’s far from the truth! However, God has lots to say about lots of things, and there is a way to do things in accordance with Truth, and in conflict with it. So I hope I don’t sound like I’m in the market for a more “gospel-centered” arithmetic curriculum. I was simply excited to hear Tripp’s thoughts on education, knowing his deep love of the gospel.)

Now, if any of you have read my other blog plots, you may be aware of my tendency to read the title of a book and jump to conclusions about its content. This is far from the first time I’ve done it. The book is not about education in an academic sense at all. What it is about is instructing our children in the ways of God. So although my guess at its contents was off, it was a fantastic book. Just as practical, helpful, encouraging, and -yes- gospel-centered as “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”.

I found it to be helpful for myself as well. There are things we are meant to learn as a child that, if not fully learned, will leave a hole in our maturity. I am benefitting greatly from absorbing his teachings on authority, the church, sufficiency in Christ, and other truths.

I’d definitely recommend this one.

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2013 Book Thoughts –> “Deeper Walk” by Marcus Warner

Warner asserts in this book that there are many things that work together in order to accomplish a deeper walk with God, and the basic format of the book is to spend a chapter covering an aspect of deepening your walk. Examples of the chapters include: The Power of Perspective, Sovereign Lordship, Listening to God, Watching the Enemy, etc.

There was a lot in the book I liked very much, and the part on forgiveness was very helpful. I’ve read, listened, and talked with others a lot about forgiveness, and I’m always surprised at how much the teaching and opinions vary: what forgiveness actually is, whether it involves emotions or not, what it should feel like if it does involve emotions, whether or not it’s a choice. Whether or not this book has it all right on forgiveness, I’m not sure, but certainly what it had to offer was helpful. Perhaps I just came across it at a time when I was ready to work on some unforgiveness in my heart. Or maybe it was the book itself that brought me to the place of being ready to work more…?

There are a lot of varying opinions on another topic addressed often throughout the book: how, and how much, we personally hear from God. When I read the book, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with all the ways of hearing from God that the author describes. The primary way that Warner recommends healing an emotional wound is through listening prayer, where we ask God to give us his perspective on the situation. We ask God to speak to us through words or pictures. My being uncomfortable with something certainly doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it, as almost everything unfamiliar is uncomfortable at first, so I’ve tried to find out more about this. I found that this issue is even more polarized than I originally thought. As far as I understand what I’ve read and discussed so far, on one end are those who believe God doesn’t speak to us at all outside the Bible, and on the other are those that believe that a personal relationship with God precisely means that we have two-way conversation with him throughout our lives, and that he directs us by these means in addition to the Bible. After all I’ve tried to find out since reading this book, I am no less uncomfortable or unsure. Perhaps more so. I am falling somewhere in the middle, although I’m aware that completely sounds like a cop-out. I believe this is just another instance of believers working out their salvation with fear and trembling. (There are those who disagree with this, and would assert that certain views on certain theology indicate whether someone is or is not saved.)

Another theory in the book is the theory that any overreaction to a situation indicates that we have a “button”. When our button is pushed, we overreact to the situation. Warner says that all buttons find their source in a wound. So healing the wound cures the overreaction. It was an intriguing theory, and I can easily accept that it is true in many cases, but I’m not sure I’m sold out on this always being true. Sometime when I overreact in a situation, I think it’s because I’m being selfish and I want what I want. And sometimes it’s hormones. Do I have undiscovered wounds causing these reactions, and I’m simply mistaking the cause as simple selfishness, fatigue, or hormones? Maybe…

Although there are things in the book I’m not totally in agreement with, there’s much in this book that is not dependent on any certain view on any of these issues, and is great, thought-provoking teaching on deepening your walk with God.

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2013 Reading with the Kids

Following is a list of books we read with the kids in 2013 and before.

It didn’t occur to me to keep track of these until several months ago, when we’d obviously been reading for years, so I feel very confident that I’ve missed some. However, I love the thought of keeping the list to look back on, so here’s everything I can remember up until now. I’d love to write a little something about each book and create some links, but I just don’t have the time right now. I may come back to this. For now, I’ve put an asterisk next to the books that both the children and I would recommend. Some that aren’t starred the children didn’t enjoy very much, and some I didn’t care for. If anyone who happens upon this list is curious why I did or didn’t recommend any of the books, or needs more info on any if the books (I don’t even have authors on all of them, I know!), feel free to ask! Talking about books is *high* on my list of things I enjoy doing!

*Swiss Family Robinson, Children’s Adaptation (2X)

*The Wright Brothers landmark book (2X)

The Wheel on the School

*The Little House series

The Boxcar Children #1-17 (There are many more than 17. That’s just where we stopped. I’d recommend the first several only. Maybe the first 4-5. Not beyond that.)

*Paddington Bear

*Winnie the Pooh

*Stuart Little

*Charlotte’s Web (2X)

*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (I can’t not recommend this book, but I read it to them way too young. I think J was 3.)

*Stone Fox (2X)

Imagination Station 1: Voyage of the Vikings

Imagination Station 2: Attack at the Arena

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle

*The Littles

The Borrowers

*The House at Pooh Corner

*Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

*Wind in the Willows

Treasure Island, Children’s Adaptation

*My Side of the Mountain

*A collection of Beatrix Potter books

*Cricket in Times Square

*Cheaper by the Dozen

*Daniel Boone by Augusta Stevenson

* The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

*Trumpet of the Swans

*Paddington Abroad

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2013 Book Thoughts –> “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg

Since the moment I heard of this book, I’ve been anxious to read it. Much for the same reasons as I was interested in “Moonwalking with Einstein”: the idea of habit study, much like memory study, was interesting in itself, and interesting for its bearing on education, which is one of my primary roles. The study of habit was of particular interest to me considering the emphasis Charlotte Mason places on it, as Charlotte Mason influences our homeschool heavily. I read it with very high expectations, having enjoyed “Moonwalking with Einstein” as much as I did.

Part of the book was interesting, but much of it wasn’t. I think Duhigg really over-relies on his anecdotes, which are very, very long. Some of them are interesting enough (some are not), but in my opinion, they didn’t seem to be able to hold the weight he was trying to place on them of proving his point. Several times it seems he is really stretching, particularly in trying to categorize peer pressure as a habit. The other issue I had was that in his notes, he records several responses from subjects in his anecdotes to fact-checking questions, and very often they disagree with what he has said. Sometimes it doesn’t change the central point, but often it does.

I also think it’s worth noting that there are some subjects that will be more strongly affected when attempting to divorce the subject from God than others. For example, if two authors are writing about trigonometry, and one is an atheist and one is a Christian, the text will not likely differ much as a result of their differing beliefs. However, when you take a subject like habits– our behavior, our power to change, what is and is not our responsibility– those subjects are going to be very heavily affected by one’s worldview. While the author didn’t seem to be pushing any particular worldview or critical of any particular worldview, it’s clear that his differs significantly from a Christian worldview. It can be hard sometimes for what he’s teaching to be helpful, when he’s attempting to present it on its own apart from the creator and sustainer of the universe. Some of what he teaches seems to be true, but only part of the story. And when part of a story is presented as the whole story, it can be quite untrue. The author states in the prologue, “Each chapter revolves around a central argument: Habits can be changed, if we understand how they work.” If this were entirely true, we surely wouldn’t need a savior. At least not in daily life. To be sure, many habits do not fit into the category of morality (nail biting, for instance). But to leave out the spiritual battle that heavily affects our thoughts, temptations, fruit of the spirit, and the like just makes for a very incomplete story for someone with a Christian worldview. (However, very interesting to me is his assertion in the book that habits can never be broken or removed; they can only be replaced. It calls to mind the theory that idols cannot be removed, only replaced [by worshipping the true God instead of the idol].)

That said, his general explanation of how to change a habit was interesting and may prove useful. I’ll skip summarizing it here because, like the memory techniques, I’m sure it can be easily googled if you’re interested. Unlike “Moonwalking with Einstein”, however, I’d recommend googling it over reading the book if you do find yourself interested.

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2013 Book Thoughts –> “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer

This book was so completely fascinating. I enjoyed it very much and learned a lot from it. I am not usually a bestseller reader. Not that I have anything against them, just that I am not usually drawn to them. The subtitle of the book, “The Art and Science of Remembering Everything”, is helpful, because we don’t find out why the book is titled “Moonwalking with Einstein” until near the end of the book. In fact, I called the book “Moonlighting with Einstein” several times by mistake before understanding why the book was titled as it is. I was picturing him learning this new information on the side of whatever his real job was (“moonlighting”), from someone very smart (you know, an “Einstein”). This turned out to be almost entirely incorrect.

The book is told as a narrative, a year of the author’s life, and Foer weaves all the data-type information into the story. It is very well written, in my opinion. The story keeps it from sounding like a lecture or a textbook, and does a good job of hooking the reader in to see what happens next as much as to learn more about memory.

I’ll not summarize the memory techniques, as I’m sure than can be easily googled, and because I recommend learning them through reading the book just because its a fun experience, but I will say a few things.

When Foer introduces his first technique, he presents a list of items, asks the reader to read the list, then to close the book and remember as many as possible. The list is as follows:

Pickled garlic
Cottage cheese
Salmon (peat-smoked if poss.)
Six bottles of white wine
Socks (X3)
Three hula hoops (spare?)
Snorkel
Dry ice machine
E-mail Sophia
Skin-toned cat suit
Find Paul Newman film–Somebody up there likes me
Elk Sausages??
Megaphone and director’s chair
Harness and ropes
Barometer

Go ahead. Try it now. Look away from the computer and try. It will make this more fun.

I don’t remember how many I could retain when I first tried, but I know it was sadly few. Then he walks us through the exercise he was first introduced though, encouraging the reader to play along; which I was a good sport and did, then asks the reader to close the book and try again. I remembered every item, in order. The next day, telling my husband about it, I remembered every item, in order, without opening the book. Then I wrote a list of things my kids understood (pillows, Daddy, mushrooms, umbrella, etc) ten items long and tried the exercise on them. The 5-year-old remembered 9 of the 10, in order, and the 6-year-old remembered all 10, in order. Here is the list again from above, as I tried to write it from memory just now, over a month since trying to memorize it. I’ve listed the real item first, the same as above, then asterisks, then my attempt from today to remember:

Pickled garlic ** Pickled onions
Cottage cheese ** Cottage cheese
Salmon (peat-smoked if poss.) ** Peat-smoked salmon
Six bottles of white wine ** 4 bottles of white wine
Socks (X3) ** 3 pairs of socks
Three hula hoops (spare?) ** Hula hoops
Snorkel ** Mask and snorkel
Dry ice machine ** ?? (I know there’s something here…)
E-mail Sophia ** Email Sophia
Skin-toned cat suit ** Skin-toned cat suit
Find Paul Newman film– Somebody up there likes me** Paul Newman film
Elk Sausages?? ** Elk sausages
Megaphone and director’s chair ** Director’s chair and megaphone
Harness and ropes ** Climbing rope and harness
Barometer ** Barometer

Surely had I reviewed the list even once a week I still would have it entirely correct. Totally fascinating to me.

There were other techniques in the books I tried with success as well. All of it includes visualizing images. The author states that we remember pictures more so than words or numbers (I’m oversimplifying).

Something interesting I found was that if I was visualizing something similar to something else I had visualized, they were easily confused. For example, I used my new tricks to remember where we had left off in our audiobook. Our family is listening to Pinocchio, and for some odd reason (that is actually very inconvenient), my phone does not save where we stop in the book. So when I go back I have to scan to where we left off. Which means I have to remember where we left off. I would normally need to write this down, but with confidence in my new skills, I pictured Pinocchio himself throwing up this two wooden arms and the jumping up and throwing out all 4 limbs into a big X. It worked perfectly. Days later, I had no trouble remembering we left off at 00:24. However, after doing this 2 or 3 times, I couldn’t remember which image of Pinocchio was most recent. He had done so much limb throwing and shaping himself into numbers and such, that I could no longer use those images to remember. I now need to write it down again. I’m sure I could find another way to make it visual if I tried, it’s just very interesting to me that this will work in a more straightforward way for some things than with others.

I have also had great success using techniques from the book for remembering people’s names, but I have found it to be very funny that I need to look at a person for several seconds while figuring out a way to connect their name to an image. Hopefully I have been pulling this off in a way that is not creepy… but sometimes I wonder.

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2013 Book Thoughts –> “Crazy Love” by Frances Chan

The subtitle of this book is ‘Overwhelmed by a Relentless God’. I was drawn to this book because of some particular things I’m trying to work through. (These beginning thoughts don’t have anything to do with the book and everything to do with why I picked up the book in the first place. But hey, it’s my blog, so here I go.) Basically, I am trying to get to the root of some problematic symptoms in my life. I heard a quote once (which I currently cannot find!) that says all sin is simply not believing God. Meaning, If we truly and fully believed God in everything, we would never sin. Sin is truly irrational. And regardless of one’s thoughts on sin and the nature of God, I think most people would agree that getting the the root of a problem is more effective than hacking at its manifestations. All that is to say that I have traced a few of my problematic symptoms (we all understand that, for some reason, I’m using a euphemism for my SIN, right…?) back to a root problem of not believing that God loves me the way the Bible says he does. I seem to think that God loves me the way one “loves but not likes” someone. The way you may love a perpetually annoying/obnoxious/disrespectful/pick-your-most-distasteful-attribute niece or nephew. You love them alright, because they’re family, but you don’t really like them or have affectionate feelings about them or want to spend any time with them. How I got to believing such things, I’ll leave alone for now. The important thing for now is that once I realized that my view of how God feels about me was not accurate, I set about trying to make it right. Because, usually, beliefs that are that deep aren’t just a matter of deciding otherwise. So I’ve set about to do lots of things to help convince myself of truth. And I came across this book, with its enticing subtitle. And I read it, thinking I would be affirmed and taught and reassured of the relentless love that God has for me.

Interestingly, only the first and third chapters were anything like what I expected. The bulk of the book is about what it looks like if and when we really love God, and what it looks like if and when we don’t. I fear my reading of the book was a bit tainted by what I wanted it to be. I’m not sure I read it as thoughtfully as I ought to have because I was wanting him to be writing about something other than what he was. Several chapters in, however, I was able to let go of my ideas and read the book for what it was. He really writes very well about what it looks like to take God seriously. And even though much of what he does would qualify as an admonition, he is excellent at describing the difference between acting out of love versus out of a motivation of needing to earn something. (As in, he’s never laying on a guilt trip.)

Both the subtitle and title make sense, of course, because when you’re overwhelmed by the love of God, it will show in your lifestyle. And when you’re not, it will show also. So I don’t particularly recommend this book as an affirmation of how God loves us, but I certainly recommend it for lots of other reasons. Particularly if the abundant life seems rather elusive, this book may help to understand ways which Christianity is commonly and sadly misrepresented that interfere with the abundant life.

My only negative reaction to the book was, interestingly, addressed and rejected in the last chapter. I did a study a few years ago called Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. The study was very good and both I and the women I did it with benefitted from it in ways we could point to even today. However, we started almost every discussion after our weekly reading by airing out our complaints. Airing out complaints is a poor way to say it, but I cannot think of a better way. Basically, all the examples he uses are moving to Africa-and-saving-a-thousand-babies kind of stories. Or check-arriving-5-minutes-before-payroll-is due stories. All true stories, all good stories. But in a room full of women who spend the majority of time changing diapers, rocking babies, folding laundry, doing dishes, and trying desperately to shower at least every other day, we had to do a bit of translating. Blackaby never insinuates that what we do is not important, there’s just such a gap between his experiences and our reality, that we couldn’t always take what he said as it was. There was a lot of “so what this means for people like us is…”. Once translated, like I said, it was very helpful. I found Crazy Love to be similar in its extreme examples. Chan’s examples differ in that the extreme examples could apply to any Christian, where Backaby’s weren’t even possible unless you already had some sort of influence or were presented with an big opportunity. The similarity is in the lack of non headline-worthy examples. The examples are all things that are easily recognizable as “big things for God” by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Let me tell you something: any day that I wake up and I am patient and kind to both my children and husband until the moment I fall asleep that night, a miracle has occurred. I do not say this to water down what a miracle is. I say this because it is truly a miracle. God himself has taken up residence inside of me, is working to crucify my unkindness and impatience, and growing and cultivating fruits of the spirit in me. And I believe with all my heart this is the big stuff for God that I’m called to right now.

Very often, I talk with God. Not at him, but with. There is interaction, including listening. If he tells me to sell my house and give the money to the poor and live in a yurt, then I will be grateful for the reminder from Chan that dismissing this command calls into question whether or not my first love is God (which I believe it really does). But I’m telling you, most days what I’m hearing is this:

“I’m here. It’s true you couldn’t do this without me, but you aren’t without me. Love your children. Be respectful to your husband. Listen all the way before talking. Stop thinking of what you will say in response while listening. What you are doing matters. It makes a difference. Not because you are so super-awesome, but because your diligent efforts are some of the tools I am using to shape your children. And your husband. And anyone you come in contact with. And since we established that you are not super-awesome, you can relax in knowing that nothing depends on your super-awesomeness. Be anxious for nothing. But in everything, by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present your requests to Me. Be thankful. If you get to a point in your day when you think you have nothing to be thankful for, come see me. I will remind you. If you cannot complete something today because disciplining and/or discipling children took more time than usual, or because of something out of your control, I did not mean for you to do it today. Trust that all things work together for those who love me and are called according to my purpose. Trust that the idea you’ve got in your head about how something would have been better your way is uninformed. I’m here.”

Like I said, in the last chapter, Chan does affirm that God is not necessarily calling everyone to sell their house or open their doors to the neighborhood homeless. We just need to be willing to do whatever God asks and not rule anything out as too extreme or have a category of things we are unwilling to surrender (physically, emotionally, or otherwise). I guess I understand the absence of the diaper/ laundry/ shower example. It’s not very sexy; I get it. So as long as you’re solid about less glamorous callings being equally God-glorifying as the African orphanage starters, I think the book is a fantastic read.

Completely unrelated note: I am always surprised by which of my ‘Book Thoughts’ come out short and which come out long. I guess that affirms one of my reasons for writing about them: I am not fully aware of all my thought about them until I write!

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2013 Book Thoughts –> “Uncovering the Logic of English” by Denise Eide

The author of this book taught a workshop at an ICHE conference, which I attended in 2012. She teaches that the English language is not nonsensical (as she says it is often taught), just complex. She says several times (in the book and when I heard her speak) that using her method of teaching English will allow for 98% of words in the English language to be taught phonetically.

The book was very fascinating and educational. In discussions with others, it seems that whether or not this would be a lot of new information to you would depend pretty heavily on how you were educated. Most of it was new information to me, and it will completely change the way I teach reading and writing. Two of my children already read very well, but I will still teach them from this book to improve their reading and when teaching them to spell. I will teach reading differently to my third child because of this book.

In short, the book teaches phonics and spelling rules. The rules are just more intense than are usually taught now. For example, students are never taught that ‘s’ makes the /s/ sound. They are taught from the start that ‘s’ can sound like /s/ or like /z/. The book notes that if you count the sound ‘s’ makes when making a word plural, ‘s’ makes the sound /z/ more often than /s/. Similarly, students are not taught that adding a silent ‘e’ at the end of a word makes the preceding vowel long. According to the book, this fails approximately 50% of the time. (Actually, its incorrect to say this is what the book teaches “in short”. The book also teaches root words and other very helpful, more advanced topics. I think I’ve only overlooked this because more intense phonics and spelling is already so much new information for us. I’ll go back for the rest!)

I’d recommend this book to any parent, teacher, or anyone who still struggles at all with reading or spelling. I am certain my spelling will improve as I learn this better with my children!

The only downside, for me, was that I think it got my hopes a bit too high. Eide is so passionate both about what she teaches, and what she teaches against, that I think she may overstate her case at times. I’m surprised, since trying to implement this in our homeschool, how often the 2% of words still comes up. As in, I’m surprised how often I’m still telling my children a word isn’t phonetic and just telling them what it is. Far, far less often, to be sure; I just came away from the book with the impression that I’d only be saying that once or twice a year. Also, some phonemes map to a lot of sounds (up to 6!). So words may very well be phonetic, but you’re still memorizing which of the 6 sounds ‘ough’ is going to say in any given word. This can feel as labor-intensive at times as just memorizing what words are, but it is surely not when looked at on the whole.

An addition, she explains the schwa sound and “correct” pronunciation. (The schwa sound was an entirely new concept to me. If it is for you, too, i recommend looking it up in the dictionary for a quick explanation.) These 2 things basically mean that even if you have all your phonics sounds and rules memorized, you’ll still have to finagle some words to make them fit. For example you’ll need to learn ‘again’ as /ay-GAYN/, because the first syllable ‘a’ is the schwa sound and is properly pronounced as a long ‘a’ and the phonogram ‘ai’ is always pronounced as a long ‘a’. So when teaching your children to read, they would need to sound out ay-GAYN and then know that we usually pronounce the word ‘again’. (The British at least have less of a stretch.) I don’t have a problem with this, and actually think teaching this way will do much of the work for spelling later. The complication is that I have not already figured out which sound all the phonemes in the words I read map to. So when I’m reading with my child and he doesn’t know a word, I need map it out in my own head before I guide him through it. Does that make sense?? If it doesn’t, read the book! It just means I did a poor job summarizing! And if it did make sense, read the book anyway. It was an excellent book. Definitely do not let these last 2 paragraphs talk you out if it. I just had my hopes a little too high after experiencing her enthusiasm. I will still use this book as my primary source for teaching reading and spelling.

(Note: I will not use her accompanying curricula, but that is simply a matter of price and teaching style. I am creating my own lessons based on the book.)

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