Childhood and Rest.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

It was a breath-taking August afternoon.  The sun was hanging mid-sky and the breeze was warm with the remains of Summer's last days.  Our children were piled around me as we leaned up against our old fence.  Under the shade of the Walnut tree, we read.

We giggled through classics and spent time with Homer Price and his thousand donuts and a giant ball of string.  We were in a state of complete calm.  I remember clearly, the kids asking if they could rest for a while.  I remember nodding yes.

They grabbed sheets from the bathroom and set up a make-shift tent.  They curled up on blankets and pillows and spent at least an hour just being still.  Calm.  Quiet.  Recharging.  Imagining.  Thinking.  And yes, even dozing.

I watched them closely and thanked God for our humble little life.  The very thought that we can rest overwhelms me.  Because I know those that can't and I know some children around the world couldn't dream of such a luxury as an afternoon nap in a grassy, shaded backyard. 

As I gazed at my children, happy, comfortable curled together - I realized how deeply they need this rest.  This peace.  This togetherness and this time to wind down.

You know, it's ironic - in a cultural where children could easily enjoy all the freedom in the world to REST, most don't.  Or simply can't.

Because they don't have enough time.

There are so many wonderful aspects to the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education.  We were drawn to this style of homeschooling because we believed so firmly in her methods.  In fact, for the most part, we were doing many of them before we had ever heard her name.  Once I read through my first Mason book, I was hooked.  This woman knew what she was talking about.
One of the most beautiful things about adopting the Mason style of learning is this - it promotes giving freedom for children to rest.  We do all our 'formal' lessons, activities, etc. in the morning.  The afternoons?  They are for a time of nature study, exploring, individual learning, play, outings to the market or to see a friend, and yes - lots and lots of time to rest.
As I speak to so many parents both with children in school and out, I often notice a reoccurring theme.  Parents are stressed to the limit with how busy their children are.  I can't believe the schedules of some kids!  If I tried to maintain that schedule, I'd by exhausted.  And I have a high level of energy!
I mean, swimming lessons, after-school tutoring, Basketball, Volleyball, Hockey (especially here in Canada), Soccer, art lessons, church activities, social group activities, you name it.  So many children have school all day then head to an activity every single night of the week.  We're running around like crazy people trying to entertain our children with as many delights as their hearts desire.  Or maybe sometimes - as many 'experiences' as we feel necessary to check off that list.  The list of must-dos to 'grow a great kid'.

My question is, when do children have a chance to rest?

When can children sit and reflect?  Or curl up and quietly read.  Or create something out of nothing?  Or lay down and have a nap on a sunny afternoon?  When can children have a long, relaxed conversation with Mom about anything and everything?  How do they have enough time to truly develop into their own?  To grow, to imagine, to lay in a fort in the backyard and feel the cool breeze on their toes?  When do kids get the chance to be media-free, activity free, busy-work free, distraction free, PEER group free?  Expectation free?

When can a child just be a child?


For children who are schooled, determined parents have to fight for their child's ability to play, to rest.  I know them, those Moms who stand firm in their beliefs that kids need to be kids.  They have to wrestle for less homework and earlier dismissals and every possible avenue to allow for more freedom from the hectic schedule. We need to be fully aware of how the over-burdened child is affected by his adult-paced schedule.
 I believe we've been lied to.  We believe activities and events and kids' groups and clubs and classes, and apps on the ipad, and brain movies will all help grow our children into responsible, active, intelligent, successful human beings.  You know, the type of people who really achieve things.
Maybe not.
Here's my observation - 

We're so consumed with flooding our children with 'opportunities' that we are robbing them of the one, most fundamental childhood opportunity - to just be a kid.

I think in many ways, we're missing the whole point.
Childhood is a glorious time when we can afford to run free and wild and explore an insect for hours.  We are sheltered at home and develop our deepest bonds, values and giftings.  It used to be common for children to play outdoors, imagine for hours on end, and spend days at the stream.  Now - most children spend little to no time outside, have a full time "job" all day, and spend their evenings doing homework and taking part in endless extra-curricular activities.  Where is the actual 'childhood' in all this crazy busy-ness?
Charlotte Mason did not suggest that children shouldn't have full, rich lives.  She preached quite the opposite, actually.  But she was an advocate of allowing children the time to grow within themselves.  That means less time being taught, being coached, being led, being entertained.  More time walking independently, learning in a close-knit circle, experiencing a cornucopia of advanced ideas and concepts.  Advanced Math, Phonics, and Language Arts.  She believed children were capable of much and we ought to challenge them in every way possible. Oh yes, and plenty of time to draw, paint, pick flowers, discuss cultural topics, and experience real life. 
And after this - rest.  Play.  Nature study.  Laying under a tree, dreaming the afternoon away.  Every afternoon.  Every day.  She believe in the power of childhood.  And so do I.
We need to allow our children time to be children.  It is vital to their development.  I see so many children who are overwhelmed, over stimulated, angry, and exhausted.  I pray we could gravitate back to the natural, the far more 'sane' as Charlotte Mason would have put it.

We need to fight for our children to remain children for as long as possible.

We need to believe God made childhood for a very special purpose and trust children with their own calling - to be what God created them to be.  We need to allow time for children to rest in themselves and in the world around them.  Time to be at ease and time to get bored.  Time to snooze and time to  breathe. 
Time to just be a kid.

For when you FEAR. (How women hurt and meeting Ann Voskamp...)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I drive three hours to get there.  I pass red barns, cows, horses, little streams, field after endless farm field, bridges and wild flowers and one tiny country store.  There - in the middle of nowhere Ontario country-side, I finally make it to the church.

I breathe long and deep before climbing out of the car and stretching my cramped legs.  Part of me is simply relieved our shaky little car survived the drive.

Mom and Dad came at the crack of dawn to watch the kids and I came all this way to meet her.  To hear her words.  To express how much she had encouraged me - and now?  I was so nervous I could barely swallow.

I think it to myself, "Ann Voskamp herself invited me here - I better not mess it up."  Her sweet invite brought me all the way to her home church and her sweet words had brought me through the hardest times of my life.  She pointed me to the One who heals and hears when I most needed it.  And she still points me right - daily.  Her book has infused truth deep in my bones and pushed me to count my gifts and bow to God's grace.  To really open my eyes and live.  I mean really, truly live.

Yes, she was a role model, a mentor, a cherished friend and yet I'd never met her.  I was sure she'd think I was absolutely crazy.

She humbly squirms as she is introduced, then gathers all the women together and we sip tea and nibbled treats as she starts her talk.  She speaks of mentorship and women and mothers and the common fears in all of us.

Being laughed at.
Being different.
That aching feeling of just never being good enough.

I know them.  I know them well.

And she speaks of the reality that we need each other and we need community more than we know and more than we want to acknowledge.  She admits she has hidden behind far too many books in public places.  I smile and nod because so have I.  I don't hide behind my phone - I hide behind my notebook.  She says it's like a fence - like a barrier.  A safety zone.  "Don't come in here..."

Yes, women for women - we need community.  We need to build each other up instead of pulling each other's hair out.

She has us toss yarn in a circle and say 'me too' for every statement that applies to us. 

I remember it clearly:

"I have 3 kids."
"Me too."
"I homeschool."
"Me too."
"I love to garden."
"Me too!"
"I'm afraid of women."
*gulp* "Me too."

And the crossed string makes a colorful web, connecting us all.  Ann explains it with wide eyes - this web can be the foundation for how we hold each other up.  We are different, but we are all so much the same.  We all have the 'me too's.

She speaks of the girl who pitched a hard ball at the back of her head from a school bus window.  My stomach turns knots.  I can feel the humiliation, the fear building up.  Girls can be cruel and sticks and stones break bones and names dig even deeper.  I sit in awe as my mind is opened to the idea that 'hurt people hurt'.  Yes.  It is the hurting who hurt others the most.  Lord, help me stand firmly in the gap for the hurting.  Help me be overflowing with understanding for those who chuck hardballs and painful words my way.

Later, she asks us to choose a stone from the middle of the table and hold it in our hands. 

We pray and she tells us we're going to write a word on that stone.  A word that represents something that has hindered us from bonding with women.  A word that has been our stumbling block - our struggle, our fear.  The thing, the feeling that keeps us from genuinely connecting with the women we so desperately need.  That keeps us from really letting go and forming strong, real, and yes, vulnerable relationships.

I write: "Fear of being judged" on mine.

Leave it to me to make a 'write one word' assignment into a four word answer.  But that's the deep, dark, honest, 4-word truth.  I fear being judged - by everyone, but especially by women.  Because I've been judged and it's hard and it's raw and it never really wears off.  I've been misunderstood and I fear the looks, the words, the back-talks.   I'm broken and I've been called the names:

Trouble Maker.
Pot Stirrer.

Then there's the ones I've called myself:

Bad Mom.
Bad Wife.
Bad person.

Oh yes, I know judgment and I fear it like a knife in the back.  So, when I walk up to Ann at the end of the day - I bring those fears with me.  I carry them everywhere, really.

And I'm also carrying her book - worn, missing the cover, hi-lighted and written in, a thousand page markers everywhere.  Sticky notes and bookmarks.  It's a mess but it's real.  I'm a bundle of nerves before I approach her.

She looks at me and smiles wide, her genuine love radiates across the whole of the room. 

I mumble.  I fidget. I play with the beautiful Three Cords stuff in my hands.  I tell her she's been a mentor to me in dark hallways where I leaned over her book in lamplight.  One Thousand Gifts in one hand and the Bible in the other.  I tell her she's pointed me to the cross time and time again and no words could really ever express it properly - how thankful I am for her.  For how she's allowed God to use her.

I finish my ramble and she cries with me and hugs long and hard.  She humbly lowers her head and holds her hands in front of her mouth as if praying.  She whispers it: "Thank you Jesus... thank you Jesus."  She's the real deal and I'm amazed at her humble spirit and her passion for Christ - how authentic she is in that moment and how God uses the broken.  And she reminds me how broken she is and I nod and squeeze her hand.

His love flows through those with open hands.  And Ann's are wide open.  And I want to live like this - like Christ. 

The stones we all wrote on - they're piled in a basket at the end of the day.  Ann asks us to take the stone of one of our sisters.  Yes, to pick up another woman's stone and hold it in our hands.  Then, take it to the river at the back of the church and toss it in.  Simple as that.

I cry again. 

Thinking of all those words - all those fears and roadblocks and lies that have held us back.  They'll be tossed to the bottom of the river and symbolically, they are gone.  We surrender them to the cool, murky waters and we surrender them to the God who makes all water flow.  Cleansing waters.

I walk out alone and I sit for a long time by the water's edge, old trees towering over me.  I hold a pebble with the word FEAR sprawled across it.  In my palm it sits while I reflect on all the fears that have held me tight.  Whoever wrote on this stone knows them too.  She didn't even get specific as to what kind of fears - just FEAR.

And I get it.  My fears still chase me.  Fear of being hurt.  Fear of failure.  Yes, of failing my family, my kids, failing in ministry.  Just failing at what really matters.  Fear of missing the whole entire point of this little life.  I stare at the tiny stone, unable to let go.  FEAR.  Another sister's pebble, but mine all the same.


I stand up and gaze at the river's flow.

I loosen my fingers and look at that stone one last time before finally tossing it towards the water.  It sinks to the bottom and rests in the loose sand.  There it is - FEAR.  All the way at the bottom of the muck.  And I pray letting go would be that easy.  Toss it away, watch it sink.  Done.

But it's a journey.  A long, hard journey.  But easier, much, much easier with Jesus.  The eraser of fear.  The bringer of joy.  The "I know the plans I have for you" Lord.

Yes, it's a journey.  But this day is a step.  Because someone tossed my stone in too and somewhere at the bottom of the river beside a beautiful country church lie the words, "Fear of being judged".  And how I pray the feelings would sink with the stone - but they don't.  Not always.

But women - we do need to stand together.  Because fear is a wicked thing and it can cripple and cage.  And so often we are the source of each other's fear.  Together, we are stronger.  We can choose to quit the criticism and stand united as messed up, redeemed children of God.  Kids - united by our likeness and strengthened by our differences.

We can wake up to the One Thousand Gifts around us and count each other as one of them.  We can choose to be deeply aware of others and vividly awake to the truth that we are all broken.  All fragile in some hidden way.  All in need of someone who understands. 

We are all fearful of something.

I get into the car at the end of the day and flip open my cherished book to where Ann signed but I was too nervous to read.  My heart warms and my lips curl into a deeply genuine smile.  I choke back tears.

Her words mean more than she can ever know.  Me?  Radiate Jesus?  I can only swallow hard.  How anyone could see that in me, I don't know.  But that's just it - when we live wide open, we see the best in each other.  We see the best and we say the best.  We speak life, not death.  And yes, God is ALWAYS good and I am always loved.  And so are you, friend.

My simple prayer is this - that fear would sink and love would rise up in its place. 

That living waters would flow and living words would be quick to leave our lips.  That we would stand together instead of turning our backs or hiding in fear.  That we would come to deeply know the God I AM, the God who meets us in our darkest moments and in our scariest places and sits close.  Who enters right in with us and never leaves.  The God who beckons us to enter in to every day, every moment without fear.  The God who whispers soft and still that we are loved, He is here, and we are to embrace each other the same way He holds us. 

And by His grace, we can do it. 

As Ann so often says, All Is Grace...

xo  Cassandra

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Simply Delicious Black Bean & Brown Rice Salad

Monday, September 23, 2013

This is such an easy Vegan, Plant-based recipe to throw together.  Works great for an easy lunch, a snack, or to bring along to a pot-luck.  (I actually eat this for breakfast...)  I've provided the ingredients I usually use, but you can add your own ideas too.  Peppers, olives, various types of rice (stick with brown and wild rice) and different types of beans all work well!

Just make sure to keep to softer veggies (ie: not carrot chunks) to make eating more enjoyable! 


2-3 cups of cooked brown rice (1 cup uncooked)
1 cup(ish) of black beans (one can, rinsed well)
1 cup diced tomatoes (or more, depending on how much you love tomatoes!)
1/2-3/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup of sugar-free salsa

Make It:

1. Cook rice normally, allow to cool completely.
2. Rinse black beans and toss with diced tomatoes, green onions, cilantro.
3. Add cooled rice, lime juice and salsa and toss all ingredients until well mixed.
4. Add pepper to taste and ENJOY!

*Add a few slices of Avocado to your salad for added flavor, color, and some healthy fats!  (Don't pre-mix the Avocado unless you are eating all the salad right away... the Avocado will go brown.)

This is my favorite go-to salad for any meal of the day!

Henry the Castaway (Five in a Row)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It's time for the first 'row' of the 2013/2014 homeschool year! 

This literary study was so much fun but took a lot of work to put together.  I find with Five in a Row Volume 3, there are far fewer ready-made resources than there are for Volume 1 and 2.  We have to get a little creative!

I hardly found any bloggers who had done an extensive study of Henry the Castaway, so I hope this post can be a resource for Five in a Row families out there.

What I have always loved about Five in a Row (and continue to love!) is the complexity of the topics studied.  Sure, you start off with a simple children's book - but then, you go on a journey studying concepts and topics you never could have imagined!  Henry was no exception!


The books we used for our study of Henry the Castaway...



All About Explorers

Some of the topics we covered included:

  • Who were the first explorers?
  • Why did people go exploring?
  • How did early explorers use astronomy as their guide?
  • Why they often got lost
  • When East discovered the West
  • The Silk Road
  • Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas
  • How Columbus' discovery played into the slave trade in South America

Maps and Going on an Exploration Journey

Map skills are something we've been consistently working on for a couple years now.  Mostly because our life depends on it.  We have spent a lot of time exploring and walking trails.  AND... we have a son who loves to know where he's going, when he'll get there, and how long we'll be walking.  This unit was yet another opportunity to work with the children on this vital life skill - how to read a map!

This was a great excuse to go on a couple journeys in the woods - something we LOVE to do!

Reading a local map with Daddy.  This was from our Flag Walk (see below).  We made it all the way to the edge of the woods and traced our journey on the map to show where we had actually walked.

On another walk in a beautiful area near our home.  Simon and Daddy were trying hard to find a location they had once seen where there were caves.  Unfortunately, we didn't find it - but it was a fun activity, anyways!


A Flag Walk...

This was so much fun!  In the book, Henry makes a flag with his initial on it out of an old piece of material.  He uses several flags to mark his path along his journey.  It is the flags that help his parents find him in the end of the book.

We decided to make our own flags using construction paper and small dowels.  (We covered them with baggies because the kids didn't want to get them dirty... ha). 

We then took the flags and went on a walk in the woods.  As we walked, we marked our trail with the flags at every turn.  On our way back, we located and removed each flag that was placed.

This really reinforced the concept of marking a trail for survival skills.  It was also just a great outing and loads of fun for the kids!

Scavenger Hunt!

My hubby was so awesome to make a great Scavenger Hunt for the kids.  He made up several 'hint' cards and had the kids follow them around, looking for their prize.  Each card had a little riddle on it.  I had high hopes of putting together 'back to school' gift packs but it didn't quite happen.  Instead, the kids got a little gift card at the end of the hunt.  It was a great way to start the morning and added a fun touch to the unit study.  This really emphasized the idea of using clues and information to find a destination, something explorers certainly have to do!



Rivers and Natural Water Flow

An Early Morning River Walk

One of the most beautiful times to walk beside a river is very early in the morning.  We surprised the children one morning and took them to the river at 7am and went out for breakfast at a local coffee shop afterwards.  This was a introduction to Henry and the Castaway - I read the book while we munched bagels and I sipped coffee.  I'm sure explorers needed coffee...

We were also observing 'mist' and fog on the river edge in the early hours.  Beautiful.  Tranquil... just wonderful to do this with the kids!  I was able to capture some quiet moments:


A trip to the River to Play Pooh Sticks!

One of the books FIAR suggested reading for our study of Henry was Pooh Invents a New Game, a classic Winnie The Pooh tale by A.A. Milne.  We enjoyed the book together over lunch and then headed to the river for our own version of "Pooh Sticks".

Instead of pieces of cloth, we used pipe cleaners to mark the sticks.


Making and Sailing Popsicle Stick Rafts

This was by far my favorite part of our Henry study.  What a beautiful day!  We started off by making these simple rafts our of Popsicle Sticks and glue.

Then we headed to one of the most breath-taking waterfalls in our area.  We spent the afternoon playing with water flow, floating rafts down the stream, and soaking in the last of early September warmth!

"Here it comes, Simon!"

Changing the water flow by moving large rocks in place.

Parts of a River (Living Water Systems)

We had a lot of fun with our hands on learning for Rivers but we also sat down and discussed how rivers flow, the different parts of a river and why we have rivers.  (Where do they come from and where do they go?)

Learning about the parts of a River and reading from The Usborne First Encyclopedia of our World.

Ways we learned about water flow:

  • Observing a natural river
  • Taking photos of river flow
  • Rerouting the flow of a river using rocks and stones
  • Observing an object (rafts) moving through water
  • Charting and labeling river worksheets

How to Draw a River

I was excited to find this click through tutorial of How to Draw a River!  We worked through the step by step tutorial and then the kids added their own details from the book.

Audrey's River

Simon's River

Alex's River

Drawing Facial Expressions

Henry has such great facial expressions throughout the book.  We practiced the expressions we saw in our own way.  I printed off outlines of heads for the kids to add faces to and helped them by sketching my own simplified versions of what the illustrator had done with Henry's face.  Each child 'interpreted' the expressions in his or her own way.

Audrey's Expressions

Simon's Expressions

Alex's Expressions... made my day...  ha!

Dogs and Dog Breeds

We didn't focus very much on this aspect of the study because there was SO much to fit into the week.  We did, however, enjoy some beautiful stories from James Herriot's Favourite Dog Stories and read about several types of breeds from a couple great books.  We looked at print-outs about Scottie Dogs and enjoyed trying to spot one while we were out and about!

Henry "Lapbooks"

This year, I've decided to simplify.  We are keeping all our studies in one binder per child in order of study.  This will act as our working 'Lapbook".  It is so much easier than having 20 little Lapbooks everywhere.  We may do a few separate, but we can easily slide them in the plastic folders and keep it all in one place!

Learning about Maps - The Compass, Longitude and Latitude, and Legends.

Learning about Explorers and profiling Christopher Columbus.

"What does it take to be an Explorer?"

Some Easy Resources

 Thanks for reading!

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