Thursday, November 12, 2009

Keeping Christ in Christmas

Before I had children, Christmastime was always so hectic--so many gifts to buy, special traditional foods that take days to prepare, parties every weekend of the month, and the house to clean for guests. In our family, it is important to celebrate the birth Jesus Christ at Christmas, but I found it so hard to find time to do that. After I had children, it became imperative. I loved the traditional Christmas morning devotional that many families have when they read about the birth of the Savior. However, this just seemed a little anti-climactic after all the hustle and bustle of the month. So I decided to combine this devotional with the setting up of the nativity scene and make it last the whole month. Here is what we do (songs are from either the LDS Children's Songbook (CS) or the Hymns):


  • Read: Luke 2:1-5
  • Nativity: Stable, Mary, Joseph, donkey: Place Mary, Joseph and the donkey in their “home” (a location far from the stable). This helps the child understand that they were traveling and Jesus was not there, yet.
  • Song suggestion: When Joseph Went to Bethlehem (CS, 38)


  • Read: Luke 2:6-15
  • Nativity: Add other animals to the stable. Move Mary, Joseph and the donkey to the stable and add the baby Jesus. Place the angel and shepherds away from the stable, but not as far as Mary and Joseph were placed in the first lesson.
    Song suggestions: Little Jesus (CS, 39), Once within a Lowly Stable (CS, 41), Away in the Manger (CS, 42), Mary’s Lullaby (CS, 44), Joy to the World (Hymns, 201), Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful, (Hymns, 202), Silent Night, (Hymns, 204), Once in Royal David’s City (Hymns, 205), O Little Town of Bethlehem (Hymns, 208), Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Hymns, 209), While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (Hymns, 211), The First Noel, (Hymns, 213)
  • Video suggestion: The Nativity (Luke II), Joy to the World


  • Read: Luke 2:16-20
  • Nativity: Put the angel away and move the shepherds to the stable. Talk about how important it was for the shepherd to be watching their flocks but that they left them to see the baby Jesus.
  • Song suggestion: The Shepherd’s Carol (CS, 40), Picture a Christmas (CS, 50), Angels We Have Heard on High (Hymns, 203), It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (Hymns, 207),


  • Read: Matthew 2:1-11. Point out that the wise men visited the family after they had returned to their house (v. 11).
  • Nativity: Move Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the donkey from the stable and to the original location they were placed the first week. (This is their home.) Place the wise men with them.
  • Song suggestions: With Wondering Awe (Hymns, 210) In our family, we use the discussion of the gifts that the wise men bring as a basis for exchanging our family gifts. We do it as our regular Family Home Evening, but it would also make a great Christmas morning activity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Truth about Santa Claus

When I had my first child, I couldn't help but wonder, even when she was still a baby, when was the best time to tell her the truth about Santa Claus. My own discovery that Santa is pretend is one of those unpleasantries of my childhood. You see, my mother had fallen asleep before putting the presents out. So when we woke up excited to see what Santa had left for us, there was nothing. I thought that surely I had awakened early, so I went back upstairs to my room. But then I heard my mother walking around. (It couldn't have been Santa, because he wouldn't be upstairs.) I opened my door to see my mother with an armful of presents going around the corner toward the living room where the Christmas tree was.

I was so disappointed and felt really betrayed. Of course, I reasoned that it should not have bothered me so. After all, I now understood why Santa's writing looked like my mother's. But the experience nevertheless left me with an empty sort of feeling.

So I have wondered if I would have felt differently if I had found out in another way. I'm sure if my mother had sat me down to break the news, it would have been better than finding out through her mistake. But after much thought, I have not been able to imagine a scenario where finding out that Santa Claus is not real is a good experience after having believed in him.

So before my oldest could understand about Santa Claus, I decided that I would always tell her the truth. We would pretend right along with everyone else that he was real. She would get presents from Santa and be allowed to visit the mall Santas, but I would tell her that it was pretend. The real benefit behind this decision is that when I tell her about God, she knows that He is not pretend. Perhaps she may someday disagree with me, but she will know that I believe in God and was not putting on a show for her sake.

Grasshopper is now 4yo, and I have not had a problem with this decision, yet. When she has expressed interest in seeing the mall Santa, we go and stand in line and wait our turn. But when she gets close and realizes that he is nothing more than a stranger to her, she wants to leave, and we do. (I want her to trust those instincts.) People ask her about Santa coming and what she wants, and I tell her that they are pretending and that she can pretend along with them. Since she loves to pretend, it all works out quite nicely. Surely, there will come a time when she is telling her "believing" friends that Santa is not real, and maybe those parents will not be too pleased with me. But for now, I am quite comfortable with my decision to be truthful with my kids.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Attachment and Homeschooling

I am reading a book right now that, although is not about homeschooling, has prompted me to make some changes in the way that I teach my children. The book is called Hold on to Your Kids : Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, M.D. The authors theorize that the reason for the numerous problems that parents have with children is that children are becoming more attached to their peers than to their parents, teachers and caregivers. They say that it is the attachment to the parents that commands children's attention and obedience and not in the discipline and imposed consequences. Furthermore, they maintain that since our industrialized society no longer supports children's attachment to adults, parents have to go out of their way to consciously "hold on to their kids." I am pretty cynical about the latest and greatest psychological and sociological theories, but this book just makes so much sense to me.

Grasshopper is a very interactive person, and it can be tiring. Most of her schooling is done together, which is entirely appropriate for a four-year-old. However, since her need to interact is so pronounced, it can be very tiring for me. So I have developed her curriculum with the idea of getting her used to working on her own more and more. Previously, she was doing three worksheets per day--math, spelling and phonics (but not all in one sitting). During those times I would try to hover around doing my work but not actually sit with her. She recently started to tell me she felt like it was too much work. And after starting this book, I have begun to realize that while education is important, my first priority must always be to maintain my children's attachment to me.

Now this doesn't mean that I don't let them have friends or take classes or encourage independent work. What is does mean is that I need to pay as much attention to their emotional needs as their educational needs. In the case of Grasshopper, she needs her gym and library classes, as well her play dates, which we have always done. But of greatest priority is that we as her parents are the people that she goes to when she needs something. She has a great need to interact, and I need to practice not pushing her away, but rather, welcoming her approaches to me, no matter how laborious it may seem at times.

So for now, this means that I put less emphasis on the writing assignments and do more oral and interactive lessons. As we take our holiday break from Thanksgiving to New Year's, I am going to try having her do a little copywork to practice handwriting so that I can eliminate the rest of her writing assignments and do them orally instead. This will be challenging with Cricket running around. But he is a bit more independent than she is, so I am hoping that I can grab those moments when he is playing happily by himself and use them to provide Grasshopper with what she needs.

Can LDS members use Tapestry of Grace?

This summer, I read The Well-Trained Mind by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer and was very impressed with many of the ideas for teaching literature and history. I especially like the idea of integrating the two subjects. (I have taken classes that integrate different subjects and found them much more interesting and felt like I learned more and made more connections in my mind.) However, I am not much of a reader, and even with this great book, I felt overwhelmed with the idea of teaching through the classics.

Another concern was that I really wanted to find materials that use the Bible as a historical document. Our religion is important in our family, and I want my children to make connections between the doctrine that they learn and the history that they study.

Then I ran across a curriculum called Tapestry of Grace, which is a classical program that integrates history (including the history of science and fine arts), literature, vocabulary, writing, government and church history. It utilizes "living books" rather than textbooks (although sometimes texts are referenced), which you can either buy or get from the library. The Socratic method of teaching is emphasized, providing parents with discussion guides and lesson plans. It is designed to teach to multiple children at different levels at the same time. Consequently, when you buy one year of curriculum, you actually get all four levels. And since there is a four-year rotation, you will use the same curriculum with the same child three times-just at a higher level each time.

What more could I want? This curriculum will get my whole family reading the classics. And if you have never heard of the Socratic method, let me just say that this is a very powerful way to teach. It is the standard teaching method in law schools and involves a teacher leading the student to come to conclusions on his own. If I read a classic book, I may not even know what conclusions were intended or even what the book was really about. For example, one of the few classics I have read is Animal Farm. Because of a great teacher, I know that the book is an analogy of the formation of the Soviet Union. But I would not get that by just reading the book. Tapestry of Grace walks the parent-teacher through these important aspects of the classics and provides questions they may ask their students to lead them to draw their own conclusions.

But, alas, nothing is ideal. Tapestry of Grace, as its name would imply, is a strongly Protestant curriculum. As a Mormon, I have nothing against Protestants. I read their literature, listen to their music, and follow their radio programming. But one thing that I find distasteful is that it very common for Protestants to preach falsehoods about what other churches believe and to purposely engender bad feelings in people against other churches, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is always a major target. (For example, when I joined the Church, a Protestant relative told my mother that we did blood sacrifices, which totally freaked her out. Of course, we do no such thing, as we believe that Jesus Christ was the last and ultimate sacrifice.)

When I asked on an LDS homeschool list, every answer that I received was urging me to avoid it, although no one could say they had ever seen it or researched it in any way. But Tapestry of Grace was an otherwise perfect curriculum. I couldn't just abandon the possibility that this would work for us just because those who created it had some mistaken ideas about my religion. Furthermore, I don't want my children growing up thinking that there is nothing of use in others' beliefs, or that we are too different to work together for common goals. Those who developed Tapestry of Grace clearly had some great ideas about how to teach children while strengthening the family. So I set out to do some research and determine whether Tapestry of Grace could be tailored to my family's needs.

I asked on the Tapestry of Grace website forum, and someone kindly sent me a link to a chapter from a year 3 history book (1800's) for one of the upper levels. As expected, it was full of negative opinions about the LDS Church and its leaders, and omitted some very relevant details that would have given a more balanced look at this period of history. I wondered if this was just a result of misunderstandings of this topic in particular or whether all of the topics would be presented in such a one-sided manner. So I got every book from the library that they recommend for the first week, and I was very impressed with the collection as a whole. My husband and I talked about the subject at length and agreed that based on the quality of what we saw, and the fact that misunderstandings of the Church abound, this was likely an aberration and not representative of the entire curriculum. We also felt that this would be a good opportunity to talk to our children about how history depends on the view of the author and that every author is biased in some way. On the other hand, the part of the history that was based on the Bible, I thought was beautifully done. I loved the thought-provoking questions about the story of Moses intended for the upper levels.

So as of this writing, we are planning to purchase Tapestry of Grace at the beginning of next year so that we will be prepared to start in August with the Ancients. I want to see if I can use the books that we get under this curriculum for vocabulary and copywork (Charlotte Mason style). And when the kids are a little older, we may use it for spelling, as well.
Latter-day Homeschooling