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Making Lessons Simple

By Diane Ryckman


    Sometimes life is challenging. Whether dealing with sickness, or pregnancy, or new family members (either by birth or adoption), or moving, or death, or loss of jobs, or children with special needs, or toddlers, or care of aging parents…there are times when streamlining school becomes necessary in order to keep up with the rest of life’s demands. Here are ways we’ve simplified our schooling through some of those extra busy seasons of life.

     For our children who are just learning to read, we cover the basics step by step. Teaching reading is the priority (and the most time consuming for mom), and math is a close second (easier to teach a math concept and have the child practice it on his own over and over). Handwriting can be taught along side reading and math by showing a child how to form a letter or number as it is required.

     At times our schooling has been off and on, especially for these youngest students. When life is very busy we do school in snatches – I snatch a quiet moment to teach or review whatever I’ve planned next. Sometimes these quiet moments are very short, and sometimes they are very rare. I’ve found, though, that when I reinforce and build on the learning that does manage to happen - by emphasizing it, or pointing it out, or bringing it up as the day (week?) goes on - it really does begin to stick.

     As a matter of survival, once our children have learned how to read they’ve been pretty much on their own with their studies (our children have ranged from 6 to10 years of age before they’ve really begun to read and enjoy it). In the elementary school years, this has again meant sticking with the basics.

     Ensuring that our children are reading daily has never been a problem for us – the problem becomes getting them to stop reading! Besides reading novels of their choice (approved by Mom or Dad), our younger readers also read history books, science books, or other books that follow their interests. Providing them with a wide selection of books written in various historical or geographical settings helps to widen their understanding of the world, and encourages their curiosity about other times and cultures. They also love to be read to, something that makes for great school some days, at all ages. As a minimum “school” requirement, I have the children keep a book log including the date a book is begun, and the title of the book.

     Our children have always kept a daily journal. Through their journals they practice basic grammar, learn to express their thoughts and impressions, and learn to spell words as they ask for help. In the elementary years, our grade one students write (or dictate) one sentence, grade two write two sentences, grade three write three, etc. When I read their journals I try to refrain from correcting them so I won’t discourage their writing. Instead I make a note to myself of what I need to teach them in the future.

     When I know that the children are at least doing math daily, I know we are still moving forward. Math doesn’t require a lot of help once a child is able to read and understand a lesson on their own. And because math builds on itself, when a child doesn’t understand a concept and does need help, it quickly becomes apparent without my needing to keep a close check on their work – that call for help is a good indicator of when one-on-one teaching is necessary.

     For the teen years, our schooling has branched out to include history, geography, the sciences…At the beginning of the year I set them up with their courses and figure out what pace they need to follow in order to be done in the year. Then they set the pace they are comfortable with.

     When we began simplifying our schooling, I would often worry whether the children were getting the education they needed. But now that two have graduated, I have confidence that their education has been more than adequate, and realize there have been many other benefits as well. By keeping school simple our children have known what is expected of them without my needing to be super-organized, or even up yet! They have learned to work independently, and are motivated to get things done so they can follow whatever their current interest is. Sticking with the basics has provided them with the tools they need to keep on learning, and allowing them the freedom and time to follow their own interests has cultivated their joy in learning. But by far the greatest benefit of going through those days that seem too much to handle has been mine as I’ve had to learn to lean heavily on the grace of God.

     The grace of God…It’s one of those well-used phrases that are hard to define. Last year when preparing a lesson for a teen Sunday school class, I was mulling over the grace of God, thinking of a way to explain it. One of the Bibles in our class used the phrase “undeserved kindness” for grace. To me the word kindness doesn’t seem adequate to describe grace, but the undeserved part – that got me thinking.

     Grace is undeserved – totally undeserved. None of us deserve any of the good things God gives us daily. We’re all deserving death and eternal separation from God. But God…“who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…” (Eph 2:4-5). And that’s only the beginning. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…” (Eph 1:7). Totally undeserved! God has given us so much through that ultimate act of grace, the death and resurrection of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.

     But grace isn’t only a thing of the past, it’s also available here and now. We are told to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may…find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16), and that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor12:9).

     So with my mulling, this is the definition I’ve come up with:

     Grace – God’s undeserved (kindness, goodness, strength, compassion, wisdom, power, attentiveness, provision…) to me, right now.

     No matter what my need, His grace will meet it. Those challenging days when life feels so overwhelming – so many things to be done, and only one me to do them; stretched so thin that things which usually don’t bother me become huge frustrations making me feel I could snap any moment – those days are when I know it’s time to unburden myself before the LORD, and find in Him the help I need to carry on. Days when my strength isn’t there…but His strength is. Days when I just can’t do it…but He can. Days when I need to remember to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1).