Friday, September 30, 2011

Homeschool Life, Early Reading Myth, and Gospel-Reading Homework

The new Bible Study homework is to read and journal Luke 15 - 25, which finishes the Book of Luke. Sorry for getting behind on this. This homework is due on Friday, October 7.  

The next assignment is to read and journal John 1-5, which is due on Wednesday, October 12.  

If you want the Thanksgiving books for reading the Gospels along with us, please e-mail me or comment on any post on Wednesday, October 12, letting me know you read and journaled along with us. If you are the first to comment or e-mail on that day, I will send you the books. Just e-mail me with your address. Thank you. 


This post explains why we decided to read all the Gospels consecutively.


Homeschool Life & And The Early Reading Myth

No matter what life looks like in any given week, homeschooling must go on; consistency is key. In traditional school if the teacher is sick or otherwise down, a substitute shows up. 

In a homeschooling environment learning depends far less on a teacher being constantly present. Children take control of their own learning early on, because often Mom is changing a diaper, fixing a boo boo, helping someone else, or shuffling laundry. 

I've found homeschooling to be far easier and even richer, when it doesn't depend on packaged curriculums, which are full of teacher scripts and endless things the parent must lead. If you've never taught, a packaged curriculum is a good place to start, but you'll quickly find that less is more

Structured time engaged in reading, writing, speaking and arithmetic serves best to create a life-long learner....not worksheets about these disciplines, but real engagement with books, pencil and paper, and a solid arithmetic resource.

Then, kids will explore and do the hands-on on their own, if you leave them enough time for creative play.  Don't inundate them with assigned work, and especially rethink any busy work.  When they need you for one of their hands-on schemes, get involved. If not, just keep materials available for their explorations and interests.

I just heard today, for example, from Mary, who came into the house with a handful of leaves:

"Mommy, I'm going to start a leaf collection. I need some tape to tape them down."

We've already checked out a book on identifying leaves, because this happens to also be a regular fall passion for my Peter.  I'll follow up on Mary's lead by looking through the book with her, so she can try to identify her own leaves.

Simplicity and consistency make learning happen everyday, no matter what this sin-cursed earth throws your way...aging parents, chronic pain, disease, financial crisis, whatever. 

Have them read for an hour (or half-hour for beginning readers), then have them speak or journal about their reading, and later, dictate some words to them to foster sound-family acquisition, assign some math, have them choose something science- or social studies-related to read about, get them moving, and give them time to create something. 

When you have five minutes, pull them aside and do a writing conference, going over what was great, and possibly weak, about the day's writing sample. Always follow a positive, negative, positive sequence when critiquing any work.  A lot of teaching isn't necessary. Sprinkle it here and there, while being a good facilitator (not being afraid of messes :))

Pleasure reading. We are huge Eleanor Estes fans. They've been through Ginger Pye, Pinky Pye, The Hundred Dresses, The Moffats, Rufus M.(Moffats sequel), and now, The Middle Moffat (another Moffats sequel).

I don't do formal schooling anymore before six years old...and I believe seven years old is fine too. Enough research shows that there's no advantage to early reading (early means starting reading instruction at age 5). And if precious playtime is stolen trying to drill these things, the child is perhaps worse off, because young kids learn best through play, not through instruction. Yes, it's hard to quantify play-learning, but we must trust it as God's design for young children. Language acquisition, in all its forms, happens naturally through play.

Here is an excerpt from an article entitled, Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?:

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

Have games and activities around that include letters and numbers, but never take the lead with these materials. I had one child, Paul, fixate on letters and numbers even before turning two, and while we never denied him the use of materials, we were careful to stay out of the way. 

Recently, Miss Beth, 33 months, wanted some letter play, so I went with it and gave her pointers. Since she loves singing so much she already knew the ABC song, and it was a natural leap for her to want to point while singing. She may not display any further interest, but this week, it's her passion.

Mary, five in December, began making letters on pieces of paper recently. I've found them all over the house, full of her chicken scratch. I got out the Handwriting Without Tears items and showed her how to use them, in case she had real interest in learning to print. She was thrilled, so today she learned how to properly make an E and F. 

Again, this may be the end of it for now, but today it made her happy. 

Here is Paul, learning to type using a program Jess blogged about.

Here Beth is measuring how many things she can find that are as tall as her pointer.

Beth is moving better yesterday and today. I am encouraged, because the best indicator of active disease is the morning stiffness and stiffness after prolonged sitting. That hasn't disappeared, but any day it appears better encourages me that maybe a remission is on the horizon?

Here she's rolling down the hills during homeschool soccer class.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Grief and Fright

I'm frightened now. Very frightened. 

And grieving so much that sometimes it hurts to take a deep breath. Beth had short-lived low-grade fever Tuesday and Wednesday, indicating the second most serious sub-type of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, called the polyarticular type, which affects many joints and can lead to severe arthritis that persists into adulthood for some people. It requires aggressive drugs and in some cases many different physical therapy devices to help people gain self-sufficiency (due to the impairment of small joints involved).

Six weeks ago, I had a normal, lively child. Now I look at her and see a regressed toddler who wants to nurse several times an hour and cries when I'm out of her sight....even for fifteen minutes in the shower.

I'm a caregiver by nature and I've always loved caring for sick children. It's only a burden when I'm also sick and weak. So Beth needing me more now isn't a problem for me, which I guess is a grace in all this?

This disease is cruel and variable. Some days she can't walk at all until late afternoon, and on other days she can walk and dance within a few hours of waking, but then a few hours later she'll no longer stand up. Every day is different.

Yes, she still laughs at times. She's still silly and lovable and a huge, indescribable blessing. But she has moments, perhaps those of greatest pain and grief, in which she just wants to nurse and nurse and be wholly comforted. It's such a blessing that through nursing I can provide something for her soul that comes straight from the heart of God. Nursing was His idea and I'm praising Him anew for the gift. This kind of comfort exists in no other form on earth, save for maybe a filling of the Holy Spirit. And years spent long with a faithful husband?

One of the reasons I never weaned her is because I always wondered....what if my sweet girl gets cancer and needs to nurse through the horrible pain? If she had bone cancer, I believe it would have shown up on the x-rays, so I've all but ruled that out. Lupus is possible, but rare in someone so young. I don't suspect Lyme Disease--which can cause arthritis--because there was never a bulls-eye rash. There are two aunts and two cousins on my mother's side with auto-immune diseases (lupus and MS). Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is also an auto-immune disease.

I read that parental grief is always there, in one form or another, with this disease. Sometimes relief comes with remission, but then fresh raw grief arrives with the flares. Some kids have continuous trouble for years and never experience remission.....a prospect I can't imagine. The emotional stamina would only come by miracle.

I'm working on developing the mental framework for a new normal. But not knowing how bad it will get makes that extremely difficult. I won't know for possibly another five months if she has the very destructive type (systemic), the semi-destructive type (polyarticular), or the most common and less serious type (oligoarticular).

I know the core of my problem right now. 

I want to believe she's mine. 

But our children are never ours. They're His and He writes their story

We don't know how long they'll live, how well they'll live, or how much pain they'll endure. We can only cling to the notion that the journey and the outcome are for His purposes......Holy and mysterious.

We must daily give our children to Him as an offering, as Abraham did with Isaac.

Genesis 22:9
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.

James 2:21-22
Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Just a quick note:

Beth's other knee is now involved and her ability to get around is more impaired. Today, Monday, she crawled around until 4 pm, whereas other days the stiffness subsided in a couple hours. I cried for much of the morning over her invalid status and her apparent depression. She asked to nurse about every twenty minutes. Thank God I never weaned her. 

I've been using ibuprofen twice a day, but today I gave a third dose at 2pm, (6-8 hours apart) which helped her get around finally at 4PM. Perhaps she rode her bike for too long yesterday? It's important to balance rest with exercise and it takes trial and error to find the right balance. Ibuprofen is not a benign drug, but this disease used to be a horrible life sentence for children and drug therapy has changed that. I can't be afraid of these drugs....especially since she might need steroid injections in her knees.

I called the orthopedic doctor and asked for a pediatric rheumatology referral, due to the other knee involvement. Calling the referred doctor's office, I learned that Beth would have to wait until November for an appointment. I made the appointment but asked to speak to a nurse about Beth's reduced quality of life....sleep problems, depression and poor eating, poor mobility.

I also put out a call for prayer via e-mail. An hour later, a nurse called and moved Beth's appointment up to October 4.

Thank you for your prayers. 

Today, as I watched my 33-month-old girl crawl around--Miss Beth, who has been walking since 8.5 months old--I was reminded of the full wrath of God. Of course, disease is a result of the sin curse (we couldn't have prevented this and we didn't do anything to cause it). When disease and pain manifest in your own innocent child, it's impossible not to come to terms with the wrath of God.

He is faithful, mighty, merciful, loving, forgiving....yes. All of that. But he is to be feared. He is Holy.

You don't truly know God until you come to terms with both his extremes....his work on the cross (his agape love) and his wrath.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

oligoarticular JIA

I'm fairly convinced that Beth does have rheumatoid arthritis. She keeps her affected knee slightly bent, which is characteristic of the disease. She also has morning stiffness and stiffness after periods of inactivity, accompanied by nighttime pain and sleep issues and daytime neediness.

Children with the most benign and most prevalent subtype of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, oligoarticular JIA, present as girls between the ages of 1 and 6 years old (with 1 to 3 years old most common), with one knee involved (or another weight-bearing joint).

If the disease involves four or fewer joints in the first six months of presentation, it remains a mostly benign condition with good prognosis (no long-term disease or problems), but eye involvement must be routinely tested for, as a complication of this subtype can lead to severe eye damage and blindness.

The earlier the disease is treated, the better the outcome. Judging from changes in Beth's personality, I would say she's had mild signs of arthritis for at least two to three months.

The MRI, which I don't think will show any injury, is still about two weeks away. In the meantime, to understand how best to care for her, I am taking her to see her regular doctor as soon as possible. She needs ibuprofen to control inflammation and pain if she has arthritis, and she needs daily exercise--preferably bike riding or swimming. 

The number of weeks involved, the approximate time of presentation, and the number of joints affected (a thorough physical exam can identify affected joints), all must be carefully recorded and monitored to ensure an accurate subtype diagnosis and subsequent treatment, with the goal of maintaining an active, normal lifestyle, controlling pain and inflammation, and ensuring psycho-social well-being. The sooner she can get a referral to a pediatric rheumatologist, the better, as controlling the inflammation is essential in protecting the joints from permanent damage. This starts with drugs classified as NSAIDs (ibuprofen and naproxen).  If these don't work to control inflammation, steroids have to be used, which have stronger anti-inflammatory action.

If the disease goes on to involve more than four joints after six months, or if smaller joints such as fingers are involved, the prognosis is more complicated.

I have to carefully avoid overprotecting her--something which typically occurs in parents dealing with the chronic pain of a child. The other siblings can grow resentful, and the affected child is less prepared to deal with things autonomously, as he or she grows older. 

I wish this were a case of jumping to conclusions after too many Internet searches, but the signs are too obvious, and frankly, I think the orthopedic doctor was pretty sure she was an arthritis presentation. He only ordered the MRI to completely rule out an injury.

Part of me wants to scream and cry and throw things, but I think I'm stronger than that now. The best thing for Beth (and the others) is that I take this in stride as quickly as possible--while still praying vigilantly for her and holding her through the pain. 

She will be better for this.......more sympathetic to others, softer around the edges, stronger internally.

What is God using to make you stronger these days?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Miss Beth

Miss Beth went to the orthopedic doctor today, who took another x-ray to rule out a break. Like the other two x-rays, this one was also normal.

He can't understand why she isn't better by now from a sprain (almost five weeks), so he ordered an MRI, which will take place on October 6th, unless she improves before then.

He scared me with more talk of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The fact that her hospital blood test didn't indicate this doesn't mean we're free to rule it out. Not all children with this auto-immune disease test positive via blood sample, especially in the early stages. Truthfully, an arthritis diagnosis would explain night waking with crying, indicating pain. It would explain morning stiffness, and the horrible after-nap mood she wakes with in the past few months.

Some children with rheumatoid arthritis grow out of it at or before puberty, depending on how many joints are affected. It usually affect joints in a symmetrical way, so the fact that only one knee is affected seems to make it unlikely, though in some cases it manifests this way at first.

It's a scary diagnosis no matter how you look at it. She wouldn't lead a normal life unless she was blessed enough to have a short-lived case--like several weeks or months.

Please pray?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Paradigm Shift; Just Enough

Reading Shaun Groves' blog this afternoon, I came across the most beautiful story written by a contributor at the Living Proof Ministries Blog (The lpm Blog).  This is Beth Moore's blog and the two young women who contribute are Beth's daughters, one of whom, Melissa Fitzpatrick, went to Bible College with Shaun Groves, and accompanied him on the 2009 trip to India with Compassion Bloggers.

Please take the time to read Melissa's story. The power of the cross, the grace of the Almighty, is seldom this evident.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Clutter-Free Living

How much time do you spend, as a mother, taking care of possessions, versus taking care of your family?

In the last couple years I've spent countless hours downscaling. While my home features large living spaces, the bedrooms and closets are small. Too, it has neither basement nor garage. Since mice are known to inhabit the shed, I no longer consider it storage space for anything but lawn gear.

Few homes need downscaling more than ours did, in short.

Today, as I continued processing clutter I pulled from bedroom closets, bookshelves, toy bins, the linen closet and the kitchen junk drawers (not done with the draw-junk yet), I realized that the bulk of my time goes to managing things, versus investing in the hearts of my children.

What a tragedy! And how profoundly I will regret it if this doesn't quickly reverse.

Birthing baby after baby without much extended family around created a mode of living devoted to moment-to-moment tasks. Smart living was something I could only dream about.

Yes, organizing and decluttering create temporary havoc, but they must be done if we hope to raise Kingdom-minded children capable of changing the world for Christ.....for a world-changing mindset leaves no room for clutter, neither physical nor emotional.

How I wish a Titus-2 woman had been around twelves years ago, when I married and began setting up a household! How I needed someone to pull me aside and speak truth into my homemaking soul.

Pray about every single thing you bring into your home. Every item has the potential to steal your time. Thus, take in only what you need to create a haven of rest and renewal.....and not a thing more.

If your child can't build or create or problem solve with a toy, don't buy it. If you already have four or five good quality toys, you're set. Mine don't have game systems or handheld electronics or non-academic computer software...and they're none the worse for it. Don't add more toys, and especially not toys that lead to addictions, like electronic ones.

The more toys your child has, the less blessed he is.

Don't buy more books than you have room for...or more than you can practically display. Tightly packed books rarely get read. Use book tubs and rain gutters so that enticing book covers are visible, not hidden.

Books should beckon, not clutter and collect dust.

Keep linens to a extra sheet set for each bed. Wait until your children are older to buy a nice tablecloth, or buy just one for holidays. Do you really need placemats or tablerunners? Do you really need more than one bud vase or flower-bouquet vase?

Are you thinking you need to be organized to keep a low-maintenance home?  Wrong. You just need less stuff!

What advice can you add?   Share, please.

And maybe try this book, written from a Christian perspective by the creator of Simple Mom. There's also the FlyLady, but I found that hard to follow with a lot of littles around.

Organized Simplicity (Spiral)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It came in the mail today, eagerly awaited.

Raphael, age 11, from Burkina Faso (landlocked country in west Africa), lives with his father and his mother. He is responsible for running errands and cleaning. His father is sometimes employed and his mother is sometimes employed. There are 3 children in the family.

Soccer, playing with marbles and running are Raphael's favorite activities. In primary school his performance is above average and he also regularly attends church activities and Bible class.

Raphael lives on the plains of Pissy, home to approximately 180,900 residents. Typical houses are constructed of dirt floors, adobe walls and corrugated iron roofs. Most adults in Pissy are unemployed but some work as day laborers and earn the equivalent of $20 per month. This community needs income-generating activities and tuition assistance.

Burkina Faso, with a population of 13 million, is one of the poorest countries in the world. With no coastlines and ports, the country has few natural resources, fragile soil and an unequal distribution of income. About 90% of the population is engaged in agriculture, (mainly subsistence) which is vulnerable to variations in rainfall. 

Paul checks the mail everyday, with Mary by his side, holding his brotherly hand as they cross the street. He knew what this envelope contained and they ran all the way back to the house, eager to open it with me.

Our Compassion account showed Raphael's name and age and country over the weekend, but we hadn't received his packet until today.

Burkina Faso, with a population of 13 million, is one of the poorest countries in the world. This sentence, more than any of the others, brought me to tears. One of the poorest in the world. Our new son, my children's new sibling, comes from one of the poorest countries in the world.

It's been twelve hours since the mail came. And I already love him. I already think of him and wonder what he is doing and wonder what he is having for lunch. I wonder if he carries water to and from the house many times a day. I wonder if he will be able to go to university through Compassion's tuition assistance program. Students showing promise in their studies are offered this opportunity. I wonder if he's a good runner and if he can get a scholarship for sports.

My boys already respect him, since he is older than they are. And because he does well in school.

We will be each other's graces, this boy and my family. Brought together by God.

I am so thankful. His birthday is September 29 and we made nearly the minimum child gift of $15.00 at our garage sale.

Happy Birthday, Raphael.

I pray we can come and see you one day. Being your friend, I know, will bring many happy days into our lives.

Hearing about the Compassion Sponsorship or Correspondent Program isn't something most people respond to right away. First, you hear it and think what a good idea it is. We should do that, you say. But then life gets so busy and you forget to make the call. Next time you hear about it, same thing. It probably takes three times before most people actually do the physical act of picking up a phone and getting involved.

Writing to these wonderful children is a blessing.....the likes of which I can't adequately describe. It isn't just some do-gooder activity that gives you a temporary high. Instead, it's a relationship that transforms your heart in ways you have no control over. God takes over and makes it powerful, life-changing, thrilling, joy-filled.

Don't spend another minute thinking about it. Call today, to set up a sponsorship or correspondence.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The State Of Things

Well, we had our garage sale and decluttered in the process, but it wasn't very successful. This is a quiet, hard-to-find street. Nevertheless, the children very much enjoyed being hosts and hostesses to our neighbors. They were elated every time someone stopped.

With the help of Mary's expert insect-hunting skills, Peter successfully mated his female Chinese praying mantis. Now we're awaiting an egg sac, which takes two weeks. More to come on that fascinating experience.

I need a few more days to finish up the decluttering process. Miss Beth needs to be carried around and entertained due to her bum knee, so it's slow going. I've stopped relieving her pain with ibuprofen, so she is now staying off her feet most of the time...and asking to nurse about ten times a day, and several times a night, probably for extra comfort.

One positive aspect of her convalescence is that her attention span has increased manyfold, and she now enjoys sitting with a stack of puzzles, a stack of books, or watching the entire Richard Scarry's Best ABC Video Ever. Why is this product suddenly so expensive, by the way? Something produced in 1989 is now a collector's item? Thankfully, I have two copies!

Beth so loves to sing! She's memorized more lyrics than any of my other children at his same age. Even early morning, she wakes up with a song in her heart and on her lips. So precious to me! Her favorites are those with hand and foot motions.

We had to miss Beth's orthopedic doctor's appointment last Friday because my husband's car wouldn't start (failing starter, which we're fixing Monday). The appointment is rescheduled for this Friday and I will emphasize the need for a cast to help keep her knee stabilized. It's so hard not to worry about her knee. It almost seems worse and I think the weeks of relieving her pain were the culprit. I was only following doctor and hospital orders, which went against my instinct as her mother. I could see she was using it too much due to lowered pain, but I kept thinking I'd better follow their directions. If an MRI means she has to go into a machine, fully covered and tunneled, I dread it. They might have to sedate her just to do this. Anyone know anything about MRI's? Do they always require going into one of those tube things? The doctor may suggest one since her knee is taking so long to heal.

Back to the car now. We both feel acquiring the car was a mistake. Something new goes wrong almost weekly. It's hard to fathom why God allowed us to make this costly mistake.....but then sometimes, I wonder if he allowed it precisely so that we'd have to visit our unsaved mechanic four or five times a month. Maybe Gary knows very few Christians, and the Lord wants as many as possible to cross his path regularly? I hope he comes to know Christ soon!

I'm slowly learning that God doesn't guarantee my comfort. His purposes are far higher than that....and his graces stabilize even the worst of times.

Two dear friends helped us with the smog repair money, so it looks like we'll continue to have use of the van after replacing a catalytic converter and getting it re-registered. Our temporary tag expires on September 27, so we're blessed to have this help. What a load off our minds! Every time we managed to put aside money to repair the van, another thing went wrong with the car.

I never realized how great the need for car ministries. What about all the people who lost their jobs because they couldn't maintain a reliable vehicle?  It makes me so sad!  So many details work against low-income people. Pulling themselves up from their bootstraps is far harder than the wealthier segments of the population realize. They live in a state of near-constant discouragement.

Though my nerves are frazzled, I can still say I'm blessed to be in these circumstances. A whole different world is opening up to me. So many needs are present in even this, our own country....far more than I ever realized. And no easy fixes. Nothing equips us to help others, to empathize with others, more than sharing their circumstances. Low-income people need more than monetary help. They also need to be understood and valued, despite their lack of upward mobility.

My husband comes from a different perspective in all this. He begs and pleads to be able to support his family better than this...without needing help. He loves theology and would be happy to talk about it for hours. And yet, God hasn't given him the ability to organize and prioritize and do all the other things vocational ministry requires. He tried once in children's ministry and couldn't keep up with all the requirements.

The pressure is greater on him than on me, not to endure this experience and glean from it, but to get out of it. A husband's burden to provide is huge. Our job as wives is to respect and love our husbands for richer for poorer, as our marriage vows state. They deserve our respect not for succeeding--success is a gift from God--but for working hard. So no matter how badly we need a haircut, or new shoes, we must be content and show respect for our husbands--not complaining or grumbling.

How can you bless your husband today? Blessing our man empowers him to be all that God intended him to be.

I hope to get back to this space soon, but judging from the state of my living room, it may be several days.

Have a wonderful week enjoying fall beauty!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Blessing in Disguise

In regards to our upcoming yard sale, Peter asked: "Can I charge people $.05 to look at my praying mantis?"

I'm still chuckling about this three days later, ahead of our September 17th sale. I usually give everything to Goodwill and to relatives, but with the smog-work money not yet procured for the van, it seemed time to try our hand at selling.

What I regarded as a nightmare, God turned into a blessing

My children can barely contain their excitement, and I'm enjoying the prospect of starting the school year with decluttered closets and cupboards. The teamwork involved continues to draw us closer together. 

What's more, the children have loosened their grip on things as they've evaluated what they truly need to have around, versus what they might only use on occasion. The value of a dollar is not lost on them either, as they help decide what we should charge for each item.

In other news:  Peter, off school since the second week of August, desperately needs his routine back. His ADHD and OCD symptoms worsened with the absence of a schedule. Thus, we're starting school two weeks earlier than I'd planned. My own headache situation--and our lives in general--will improve as he approaches a more acceptable equilibrium.

My appearance will be spotty here this week as we continue to prepare sale items, and as I work on writing a daily school schedule.


In case I don't get back on here before Wednesday, the new Gospel-reading homework is Luke 4 to Luke 14.

Have a good week!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Broken for the Broken...It's God's Way

Sometimes you feel like saying, "You kids should go play in the rain."  

This statement never fails to amaze.

Is she the coolest mom ever....or is she about to have a nervous breakdown?

Either way, they hurry outside before you change your mind.

After Peter came in from the rain he watched Mary out the window, catching her favorite thing. Butterflies.

"Isn't she so cute, Mommy? You're a good mom, Mommy. You're raising some really nice kids."

It never fails. God's grace pours down on me when I'm busted and worn. Tattered and torn.

Late last night Husband began work on a broken toilet. He accidentally turned a valve the wrong way and water--a whole lot of it--exploded everywhere, flooding the bathroom and seeping into the hallway from underneath a wall.

It wasn't pretty.

And it wasn't the only thing wrong with our lives....but it was the last straw for my nerves. 

I cried like a baby from the stress of it all, wondering why God hated us so much. Yes, self-pity looks like that. Ugly

Around here lately, one thing after another goes wrong with the cars, the house, the children.

When my head threatens to explode, I only have to see Divya's picture taped to the cupboard. She keeps me grounded. My first-world greed shames me as I gaze upon her lovely face. Her dirt-floored, thatched-roof brick house reminds me to give thanks and pray.

I'm allowed to have three Compassion correspondent children. I have one, to whom I write weekly with the greatest pleasure. 

As most involved with Compassion would say........I love her like my own

We all do. The children pray for her at every meal, that she would have a belly as full as theirs.

Yesterday as life overwhelmed, I picked up the phone and asked for another correspondent child. From anywhere, I said. Any age

God chose perfectly last time, and I knew he would again. These children need my prayers, my letters, my declarations of love.

But not as much as I need them. For they remind me. God is enough. As I gaze upon their lovely faces, I remember. 


The kids and I took Beth to the ER this morning for a follow-up on her sprained knee. They took blood work and inserted an IV just in case. She didn't even flinch. 

An hour later we learned she doesn't have arthritis or an infection in her joint. Thank you, Jesus.

We're to follow up next week with an orthopedic doctor. It's just not healing after three weeks, though she has full use of it after morning stiffness and limping. It's all very puzzling. 

Anyhow, as we were leaving, the nurse practitioner told all four of them, "You kids behaved very well."

My life is in shambles. Yes.

But I'm raising some really nice least according to Peter, who's always been wise beyond his years. 

I think I'll take his word for it. He speaks God's grace for me. This week.

I learned from this post (see the comments section, especially) that children who never receive sponsor letters sometimes leave the child development program, which is administered by Compassion using local churches. These children leave from a broken heart.

Won't you please call this number (800-336-7676) and ask for a Compassion correspondent child?  It's not the same as costs you nothing...though if you have an extra $25 for a family gift, it might help the family buy a goat to milk, or materials to eventually start a small business. A Compassion employee helps the family decide how to use the money. A gift for a child is $15 minimum and a family gift is $25 minimum.

When you call Compassion you are assigned to a child who is not getting any letters. You can write online as often as you'd like, which is the easiest way to keep up regular letter writing. Soon, we'll be able to send pictures through the online system, which is very exciting. You just sign in to your account and start typing. 

The letters defeat the power of poverty's lie.  You are worthless. Good for nothing. God doesn't love you. You'll never get out of this. There's no hope. You're unlovable.

Please help defeat this lie. I've felt it myself and I know its power.

After I got off the phone, I told the children we were going to get another packet in the mail, introducing us to another child. 

Peter said, "But I don't know if I can pray for another child!"

My own thoughts were similar, all these months. Could I love another child as much as I love Divya?  Would it be the same? Would I have enough time to make them both feel special?

The truth is, the more you struggle yourself, the more the flood gates of compassion open. It's God's way. He allows brokenness in you, so you can be a love offering to the broken.

2 Corinthians 1:4
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

When that packet comes, I know there will be enough love. And I know from Whom it will flow.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


The new Bible Study homework is to read and journal Mark 11 through Mark 16, and Luke 1 through Luke 3, due next Wednesday, September 14.

Here are details about a giveaway associated with the Bible Study homework.

This post explains 
why we decided to read all the Gospels consecutively.

I hope to get back on here late tonight and journal Mark 1 through Mark 10...last week's HW.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Comparing Lexile to Accelerated Reader: A Guide for Parents

Reader Terri and I briefly discussed in the comment section the difference between AR (Accelerated Reader) reading levels and Lexile Framework reading levels. I've delved into this lately and thought many of you could benefit from learning about the two systems. Whether you homeschool or use traditional schools, you'll eventually encounter one or both of these leveling systems.

At one time school districts had little choice in adopting leveling systems designed to match readers to books. Most used Accelerated Reader or nothing at all, until a plethora of choices entered the educational market.

School districts that previously used Accelerated Reader are finding the Lexile Framework attractive because it's free--tight budgets are pushing AR use out. In addition, some standardized testing companies across the country are reporting student test scores using Lexile Framework numbers, making adoption of the Lexile Framework more attractive to school districts.

Another point increasing the attractiveness of the Lexile Framework is their involvement in developing Common Core Standards across the country. Here is an excerpt from the Lexile website explaining how and why they are involved in this endeavor. Full article here.

Any words in red are excerpts...not my words.

MetaMetrics is proud to be an "Endorsing Partner" of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. This historic endeavor was sought to establish a clear set of K-12 standards that would ensure all students graduate from high school "college and career ready." Initially, 48 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia signed on.
The teams charged with drafting the Common Core Standards asked that we share our collective research on text complexity and the reading demands of college, careers and life in general. This research was conducted over the past 20 years using our widely adopted Lexile® Framework for Reading and is embodied in much of Common Core'sAppendix A. Today, Lexile measures are used at the school level in all 50 states, and 21 states report Lexile measures statewide on their year-end assessments. Each year, more than 30 million Lexile measures are reported from reading assessments and programs, representing over half of U.S. students.

To follow are some key points of our research which are fueling the need for common standards across the states.

  • The text complexity of K-12 textbooks has become increasingly "easier" over the last 50 years.The Common Core Standards quote research showing steep declines in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks.
  • The text demands of college and careers have remained consistent or increased over the same time period. College students are expected to read complex text with greater independence than are high school students.
  • As a result, there is a significant gap between students' reading abilities and the text demands of their postsecondary pursuits. Research shows that this gap is equal to a Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). (Read more orwatch a video about Lexile measures.)
Based on our research, the Common Core Standards provide text complexity grade bands and associated Lexile bands that are intended to put students on a college- and career-ready trajectory. These grade and Lexile bandsare the basis for determining at what text complexity level students should be reading—and at which grades—to make sure they are ultimately prepared for the reading demands of college and careers.

So, what is the difference between Lexile and AR?  And is it negligible or significant? To answer this question we have to understand how each system derives its levels. First we'll read about Lexile's system and then look at the AR system.

How is a text's Lexile measure determined? source here
Within the Lexile Framework, the readability of a text is determined by examining the whole text to measure such characteristics as sentence length and word frequency - characteristics that are highly related to overall reading comprehension. The word-frequency and sentence-length results are then entered into the Lexile equation to compute the Lexile measure of the book.
  • Word frequency is based on the frequency of the word in a corpus of over 300-million words taken from a variety of sources and genres. Knowing the frequency of words as they are used in written and oral communication provides the best means of inferring the likelihood that a reader would encounter a word, and thus become a part of that individual's receptive vocabulary.
  • Sentence length is determined by counting the number of words per sentence. Specific editing rules are used to ensure consistency of editing/analysis from text to text. Research has shown that sentence length is a good proxy for the demand that structural complexity places upon verbal short- term memory.

How is a text's Accelerated Reader Level determined?

The Accelerated Reading levels are based on a formula ( the ATOS) developed by the parent company, Renaissance Learning. The formula uses sentence length along with grade-level vocabulary lists to derive reading levels.

The paragraph below, describing ATOS vocabulary lists, is from a document distributed by Renaissance Learning.

Vocabulary list. (source here)
The ATOS  formulas use a unique measure of word difficulty compared to other readability formulas: grade-level difficulty of the words. This is computed by looking up the difficulty of the words in a book on a special vocabulary list containing more than 23,000 words developed specifically for ATOS. This new, improved graded vocabulary list reflects temporal change in the vernacular lexicon and incorporates the derivatives of words. Derivatives of words have been typically omitted from such lists in the past, or assumed to function at the same grade level as the root word, either of which might have skewed the outcome. The new list is a synthesis of several sources, including the revised Dale familiar word list (Chall & Dale, 1995), the Educator’s Word Frequency Guide (Zeno, Ivens, Millard, & Duvvuri, 1995), and the Renaissance word frequency corpus. Words from these lists and their derivatives were painstakingly reviewed by vocabulary experts to determine correct grade-level placements, which were then validated through comparisons to words used at various grade levels on major standardized tests.

Now that we've read the technical stuff, what can we take away from all this?

First off, the information about texts becoming easier over time concerns me. We do need a universal leveling system as a tool to ensure that students are adequately prepared for college. Lexile isn't perfect, but if it's widely distributed and well understood by educators and parents, it will certainly help prepare students for college.

It's important to note that the Lexile levels use a 75% comprehension rate in their figures (link is to a comprehensive article on Lexiles). This 75% rate assumes a student is reading the text under the direction of a parent or teacher. A 75% comprehension rate means the text is challenging but not frustrating. New vocabulary is being presented which should be explained by a parent or teacher for maximized learning.

A student's independent reading level would be about 90% comprehension, so subtract 250 Lexiles from your child's Lexile reading level to find a book your child can comprehend without help, for independent reading time (subtracting 250 gives you a 90% comprehension rate).  Adding 250 Lexiles gives you a 50% comprehension rate.

School districts give students reading tests to assign Lexile reading levels. If you homeschool, find a book your child can read to you with 90% accuracy (10 errors per 100 words--don't count dialogue, just prose). Next, look up the Lexile level for that book, and then add 250 Lexiles to that number. The resulting number will be your child's individual reading Lexile. As you're recording/counting your child's reading errors, make sure the errors are truly words your child doesn't know the meaning of, and not words she just can't pronounce correctly. Pronunciation of words doesn't correlate with comprehension, most of the time. For example, when you're reading the Bible, does it bother you when you can't pronounce a Hebrew or Greek name?  It doesn't lessen your comprehension of the passage, right?

Once you have your child's reading Lexile, help him pick books within -100 Lexiles and +50 Lexiles of the target number. For example, if your child's reading Lexile is 800L, she should read books between 700L and 850L.

I would expect the AR system to break down across the genres of literature because its 23,000-strong, grade-leveled word bank simply can't encompass enough words to adequately cover all genres and time periods. The Lexile system, with its 300-million-strong word bank, would seem to give a more accurate picture of vocabulary difficulty, however, this system would break down when a text contained infrequent words that were nonetheless easy to decode.

Another crucial point is that leveling systems tell you nothing about the quality of a text. Quality of writing is most important to me; I now use leveling numbers as reference only. To adequately prepare for college a student must learn to construct grammatically correct, smooth-flowing, complex sentences. Poor quality literature does not prepare students for the demands of college-level reading and writing, no matter how high the Lexile or AR level is. Parents and teachers must always open a book and read it to decide if it's worthy. Leveling systems are not shortcuts....just tools.

Lastly, if your child is highly interested in birds, she'll be able to comprehend non-fiction bird text well above her reading level, due to increased motivation. Topics students find uninteresting are harder for them to comprehend, due to lower motivation.

Don't say no very often to material your child is highly interested in, just because the reading level seems too low. Reading should remain a pleasure. Perhaps you could assign something harder for a prescribed amount of time...say twenty or thirty minutes, and then allow your child to read his favorite material?

Here are some comparisons of the two systems using many Newbery and classic titles. At the bottom of this list is another look at how Lexile levels compare to grade levels.

The Sign of the Beaver (an AR level of 4.9 refers to 4th grade, 9th month)
AR = 4.9
Lexile = 770

Caddie Woodlawn
AR = 6.0
Lexile = 890

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (unabridged)
AR = 6.6
Lexile = 980

Farmer Boy
AR = 5.2
Lexile = 820

The Wheel On The School
AR = 4.7
Lexile = 710

The Cricket in Times Square
AR = 4.9
Lexile = 780

Old Yeller
AR = 5.0
Lexile = 910

The Courage of Sarah Noble
AR = 3.9
Lexile = 610

Little Women
AR = 7.9
Lexile = 1300

The Hobbit
AR = 6.6
Lexile = 1000

Ginger Pye
AR = 6.0
Lexile = 990

The Moffats
AR = 5.2
Lexile = 800

Thimble Summer
AR = 5.7
Lexile = 810

Pippi Longstocking
AR = 5.2
Lexile = 870

Island Of The Blue Dolphins
AR = 5.4
Lexile = 1000

Turn Homeward, Hannalee
AR = 4.9
Lexile = 830

Sing Down The Moon
AR = 4.9
Lexile = 820

To look up an Accelerated Reader level, click here.
To look up a Lexile level, click here.

Source for the following tables can be found here.


GradeReader Measures, Mid-Year
25th percentile to 75th percentile (IQR)
1Up to 300L
2140L to 500L
3330L to 700L
4445L to 810L
5565L to 910L
6665L to 1000L
7735L to 1065L
8805L to 1100L
9855L to 1165L
10905L to 1195L
11 and 12940L to 1210L

Data for the first column of text measures came from a research study designed to examine collections of textbooks designated for specific grades (MetaMetrics, 2009). The "stretch" text measures (defined in 2010 through studies related to the development of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts) in the second column represent the demand of text that students should be reading to be college and career ready by the end of Grade 12.


GradeText Demand Study 2009
25th percentile to 75th percentile (IQR)
"Stretch" Text Measures
25th percentile to 75th percentile (IQR)
1230L to 420L220L to 500L
2450L to 570L450L to 620L
3600L to 730L550L to 790L
4640L to780L770L to 910L
5730L to 850L860L to 980L
6860L to 920L950L to 1040L
7880L to 960L1000L to 1090L
8900L to 1010L1040L to 1160L
9960L to 1110L1080L to 1230L
10920L to 1120L1110L to 1310L
11 and 121070L to 1220L1210L to 1360L
Notice that there is considerable overlap between the grades. This is typical of student reading levels and texts published for each grade. In addition, the level of support provided during reading and reader motivation have an impact on the reading experience. Students who are interested in reading about a specific topic (and are therefore motivated) often are able to read text at a higher level than would be forecasted by the reader's Lexile measure.