Friday, January 15, 2010

Midyear Reflection - Day 2

Several of us are taking a brief journey here in January to prayerfully reflect on our homeschooling thus far this academic year in hopes of tweaking and improving the rest of the school year. Each weekday I am posting a few questions from this survey for us each to take to prayer and into our hearts throughout that day. By the end of January, we should all have successfully evaluated the State of Our Homeschools and begin implementing whatever changes we are inspired to make.

I encourage you to make comments below about the answers you feel comfortable sharing with others, so we can lift each other up as the Body of Christ and be vessels of inspiration via the Holy Spirit.

Today's question from the section on Personal Spirituality may be easy for some to answer and may be more challenging for others. Here is a great link Jen posted about identifying that fault if you need some guidance.

3. What is my greatest virtue and what is my greatest fault?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Midyear Reflection Survey

Here we go! Starting tomorrow, I will encourage each of us to take one or two questions from the survey below to reflect on throughout each day, regarding the State of Our Homeschools. This 16-question Midyear Reflection Survey is a super-condensed version of the original 61-question Personal Reflection Survey and will hopefully take us each on a short journey to ensure a successful semester/term!

This is the perfect time to subscribe to Heart of a Mother via whatever Email, Reader, or Feed that works for you, so you can get daily reminders of these salient questions.

And, if you are the kind of woman who likes to hold paper in her hands or needs to see the entire survey before beginning the first question, simply click the link below and print the whole thing. Just be sure not to rush through it, so you can get the full benefit of prayerfully reflecting on your homeschooling little by little.

Find a notebook or journal and a pen or pencil (or crayon) to keep by the computer and check back each morning for the questions of the day! Then, take time throughout the day to revisit the questions on several occasions in thought and prayer. I am praying we all are inspired and motivated through this little journey.

Midyear Reflection Survey

State of the Homeschool

(the first State of the Union given by LBJ in 1964)

Apparently no one knows when President Obama will give the annual State of the Union address. He is trying to squeeze it in amidst everyone watching season premieres of American Idol and Lost and, of course, the Superbowl, I hear. (and here is where I refrain from being political on my blog by not making snide comments about the President or our country) But, I think it is time to do a State of the Homeschool.

Most of us homeschoolers have started our new semester/term already. Amidst the scramble of the holidays, we tweaked and pruned a little here and there and now have plowed back into our daily routines of reading, writing, and arithmetic. This year, especially, I find myself wishing that I had an entire extra week after the rush of Christmas and New Year's where I could sit quietly and evaluate our year this far. But, alas, the children were antsy, and we needed to get started.

Anybody else feel this way?!

So, I guess I am going to have to do the serious reflection and evaluation little by little over the next few weeks. I certainly do not want to fall into the trap of continuing to do something that does not work, just because I do not have the time to find a replacement or modify its implementation. It sounds like Angela is trying to do this for her children, too! Will you join me?

If you remember, last summer, I posted about several opportunities for reflecting on our homeschooling years. Locally, I helped lead a group of women who met for this purpose. I also led a couple of webinars through Homeschool Connections and posted all of the information here at Heart of a Mother (free recordings of those webinars here and here). This material was extremely helpful and inspiring to myself and others, as we truly took the time to prayerfully reflect on and plan our homeschooling years.

For the next few weeks, I am going to pull a small component from that material to help me reflect on the State of our Homeschool. My goal is merely to divide the most important areas into small chunks on which I can prayerfully reflect while in the midst of schooling. Here are the focus areas...
  • Personal Spirituality

  • Struggles

  • Successes

  • Goal-setting

(If you're ambitious, you can find the entire Personal Reflection Survey here, but I will be simplifying it in the coming weeks for our Mid-Year Reflection.)

I will share with you these four areas of reflection as best as I am able to encourage you to take the time (even five minutes a day) to prayerfully reflect on your homeschooling. You do not have to make a speech before Congress, just an internal report in your heart before the Lord. :) Please join me for this time of prayer and assessment.

Stay tuned for the Personal Spirituality reflection coming soon!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lessons from the Lord in 2009

As I begin 2010, I am reflecting on lessons learned in 2009, just like Jen and many others. Below are the significant things I feel the Lord wants me to remember. Will you join me by sharing your lessons learned by posting a comment below?

  • Be patient --- Both in my marriage and in my faith, the Lord urged me to wait. At the start of the year I had begun to begrudge the state of my faith and the toll three years of law school had taken on our marriage. I was desperate to move forward at full speed, but the only part I could control (or so I mistakenly thought) was my faith life. So, I tried to fit into a deeper spirituality that remains truly meaningful to me and seemed like a straight shot to God, but to my pleasant surprise, that did not work out. Silly me, after ten years of marriage, I thought I could pull my husband along on a string behind me towards God. Nope. I had to wait, and in time, our marriage healed, then soared, and our faith is taking significant steps together, as well.

  • Have confidence ---Some of the year was spent doubting my homeschooling abilities. We all do this. I listened to other mothers and compared my efforts to theirs. I questioned my curriculum choices and wondered why I could not seem to do as much as those moms with four, five, six, and more children. In my heart, though, the Lord reminded me that I love my children, and my choices of books and materials do not have to be perfect for them to learn. My daughter's annual evaluation forced me to see that we accomplished an enormous amount of learning, despite my constant worries. So, I was given the gift to let go of the comparisons and the doubts and simply enjoy teaching, knowing that I truly am the best teacher for my children, despite my inadequacies. And, you know what? Things went very smoothly after that, and I feel good about the remainder of the year.

  • Be content --- Suffering a lifetime of subfertility had really taken its toll on me in 2009. We had been TTC for two and a half years (this time) with assistance from the Pope Paul VI Institute, and mid-year, we decided it was time to let it go. I told the Lord it was okay if He only wanted me to have two children and that I would do my best to focus more of my positive energy on them in preparation for whatever else He had in store for my life (instead of the huge family I have wanted for so long). This summer, I felt a freedom and happiness I hadn't felt in forever, and I fell in love with my children all over again, truly enjoying them.

  • Trust me --- But, God kept whispering painful things in my heart. He seemed to be telling me that someday I would again have and nurse another baby, giving me hope that I was afraid to accept. I also heard a prompting to make a complete offering of my soul as a willingness to accept whatever trials God was planning to send me. I realized His plan for our family likely would include suffering, perhaps significant pain in the coming months or years, and I felt Him preparing my heart. With hesitation, I agreed to trust Him, knowing that whatever His will is, it is always far better than any plans I could make.

  • Be quiet --- You can read more about my initial lessons of silence and my hope to continue this instruction of my soul in 2010 here. I became very quiet in August, September, and October. I gave up a few outside commitments that pained me to cancel. My faith remained my rock intellectually, but externally and internally I kept God at arm's length from the door to my heart. Being sick for much of this time, it was hard to muster any prayer or much conversation. Some of the silence was good for my soul; it needed to heal.

  • Praise me --- Because of my decision to trust the Lord, He invited me to a mantra that became my strength during those quiet months. I firmly decided over the summer that I would praise God no matter what. Praying Morning Prayer from the Divine Office truly inspired this declaration, as the psalms chosen are full of words of praise. He is always worthy of praise, regardless of the ups and downs of our lives. I watched a dear family live this to the fullest, when their precious baby girl was prenatally diagnosed with many medical challenges and was taken to the arms of Jesus when she was only nine days old, and they still praised God. What admirable faith!

  • Be amazed --- This was truly the greatest lesson of 2009. To our amazement in August, we found out we were finally pregnant (without the aid of our fertility medications) but lost the baby only a week later at six weeks. Anyone who has ever lost a child knows a deep pain that will never go away despite the circumstances of the loss. I have been blessed with that pain and am amazed at its permanence and the fog of quiet in which I lived those three quiet months. But, God is not to be outdone in generosity, and to humble our faith beyond comprehension, He sent us another life immediately. I conceived two weeks after losing that precious little soul. Our little guy is due in early June, and he is gently kicking me now, as I write this. I am amazed (and will be forevermore) by every lesson of 2009. (I just saved the best for last!)

What lessons did you face from the Greatest Teacher in 2009?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Joy at Christmas

These ideas were developed by me for my local group and are not a part of the official Little Flowers Girls Club ® created by Rachel Watkins. To purchase the excellent materials and begin your own local group, please visit

I had truly hoped this would be posted sooner, despite the busy-ness of the holidays. Oh well. In December, our Little Flowers Girls Club met to discuss the virtue of JOY! This was so appropriate as we approached Christmas and completed our Advents of prayer and preparation. So, here is my very detailed description of our meeting for those who missed it or those who just really want to know!

What a miserable rainy day it was! We had heavy thunderstorms all day long with some flooding, even a tornado warning in the morning. Because the forecast looked like things would settle down for the afternoon, though, I decided not to cancel the meeting. A few moms called me, doubtful they would be able to get their cars out of their driveways or down their streets, but all were safe, and our meeting went well.

After our usual opening prayers (offering, spontaneous prayer, Hail Mary, St. Therese Song), we began to talk about this virtue of joy. I chose to use the whiteboard this day to illustrate a few things, so I wrote JOY in large letters at the top. The girls shared with me their thoughts on joy and then I shared my thoughts on the differences between happiness (usually based on material things or experiences) and joy (a much deeper feeling). We also briefly touched on mirthfulness, since the manual uses that word. I kept that simple, explaining that mirth is like having a positive attitude and being of good humor.

Then, I went back to the large letters at the top and told them that I had learned a secret to how to live the virtue of joy your entire life. We discussed how joy, like any virtue, is a gift from God and that for the gift to grow, we have to practice using it. Writing "esus" under the J, "thers" under the O, and "ourselves" under the Y, I shared that the secret to practicing joy lies in remembering these three things in order. First, we live for Jesus. Second, we live for others. Last, we live for ourselves. I had the girls recite "Jesus, Others, Yourself" several times to remember this unique acronym.

To get the girls moving, I invited them to imitate "If You're Happy and You Know It" and clap their hands if the things I said made them happy. My ideas included ice cream, candy, vegetables, new toys, spiders, sharks, funny movies, playing games, etc... Then, I told them there is an old saying about jumping for joy and asked them to jump if the things I said gave them joy. My ideas included new babies, family times, funerals, the Eucharist, getting lost, Jesus, etc...

By the end everyone was laughing and smiling, so I used the opportunity to ask the girls if laughing and smiling always indicate joy. We talked about how these can be outward signs of joy, but sometimes people laugh or smile at material things (or bad jokes) even when deep down they are not full of the joy that comes from God. I mentioned briefly the Ecclesiastes verse regarding a time to weep and a time to laugh to illustrate that sometimes, even when we may be very joyful, it is not an appropriate time to laugh, especially loudly (such as at funerals or in the middle of Mass).

Finally, we talked about whether it was possible to be joyful even during hard times in our lives. We discussed that one does not have to be rich to have joy and that even a homeless person might have true joy. I reminded them that many of the saints have found joy in mundane tasks or difficult circumstances, like St. Therese and Bl. Teresa of Calcutta. I also told them the flower for joy is a tulip, because tulips are found in the spring when everything is fresh and new and inspires great joy!

Our craft was simply to color this adorable nativity scene below with markers. As you can see, most of the girls did not finish, but I was glad this would give them an opportunity to pull out their posters the last week of Advent to remind them of our meeting and the joy of Christmas.

Before snack, I wanted to let the girls work up a bit of an appetite and move around. I taught them the song "I've God the Joy" and motions to go with it. Here are the lyrics and my motions are below. This mommy was worn out from all the up and down and spinning!

I've got the --- point to self
joy, joy, joy, joy --- clap four times
down --- squat to ground
in my heart --- stand up, hold heart
(where?) --- shrug shoulders with arms extended in questioning
down --- squat to ground
in my heart --- stand up, hold heart
(where?) --- shrug shoulders with arms extended in questioning
down --- squat to ground
in my heart --- stand up, hold heart
I've got the --- point to self
joy, joy, joy, joy --- clap four times
down --- squat to ground
in my heart --- stand up, hold heart
(where?) --- shrug shoulders with arms extended in questioning
down --- squat to ground
in my heart to stay --- stand up, hold heart

And I'm so happy, so very happy. --- twirl with a partner, linking arms
I've got the love of Jesus in my heart. --- switch partners, twirl
And I'm so happy, so very happy. --- switch partners, twirl
I've got the love of Jesus in my heart. --- switch partners, twirl

We all needed snack after that and were blessed by a special treat of cupcakes for our holiday meeting. Then, we sat down and talked about St. Clare. I read the first part of the story of St. Clare from my beloved worn copy of Sixty Saints for Girls by Joan Windham inserting the word joy wherever it was appropriate. We discussed how Clare had such a deep joy that giving up all her riches and struggling to lead her sisters did not discourage her. I also read this amazing story about St. Francis, reminding the girls that it was St. Francis who taught St. Clare, and so his explanation of perfect joy was her understanding of the virtue. This sparked some wonderful discussions on having joy in miserable situations, both those the girls encounter in daily life and more devastating trials.

I asked the girls to tell me how we can make sure we stay joyful even when life gets difficult, and they remembered Jesus-Others-Yourself. Then, I told them I had one more secret to share with them that day, the key to staying joyful. This is modeled after this game I found online. The girls lined up in two lines facing each other and stood about five large steps apart. I gave each of the girls in one line a Hershey kiss (for the holidays). They threw the kiss to the girl across from them. Not very many were able to catch the kisses, chasing them to pick them up, and I asked them how easy it was to catch that sweet treat being so far apart. Of course, they said it was not easy, so I told them to take one giant step towards each other. Then, the girls threw the kiss again. This time I had them raise their hands if they caught the kiss and only about half of the girls did. So, I told them to take another giant step towards each other. At this time, they were only about a step apart. They threw the kiss one last time, and pretty much everyone caught it.

I reminded them how much easier it is to receive something sweet the closer you are to the one giving it. I told them the kiss was to represent the sweet virtue of joy and asked them from whom we get joy. Since God was the answer, my next question was to ask them how they can stay close to God, so it would be easier for them to be joyful at all times. The girls had many wonderful answers from going to Mass to helping the poor to saying prayers. I was impressed how the Holy Spirit took this simple, quick game and made it a very meaningful object lesson. And, yes, at the end I gave all the girls kisses to eat and put a few more handfuls on the tables to eat during our next activity.

While enjoying those sweets, the girls completed their virtue pages on joy. You can see the quotes and images I chose to include below. Now that the girls have done several of these, they are getting quite creative and beautiful.

As the girls were finishing their pages, the electricity went out in the church where we were meeting. This caused a bit of excitement and worry among the girls, but fortunately, the room we were in has excellent emergency lighting. The light was dim, but we were not in the dark. Our biggest difficulty was having to sing the Scripture song without the accompanying CD. I had to call on other moms to help, as I am not confident in my ability to teach a tune.

All ended well, after we sang the Scripture song, we said our closing prayers (St. Therese Prayer, intentions from the girls, asking the saints of this wreath to pray for us), and I distributed patches for Mercy and Courage to those girls who completed their patch projects. Most girls did not get to finish Courage due to the busy Advent season. They took home their Patch Project Sheets and Practice Pages, which you can see below. Some families are really enjoying the Practice Pages and some are not using them, which is great! I wanted to add them as an optional component this year and am glad it seems no one feels pressured to add them where it would be too much for their family and/or daughter(s).

Also, as they were leaving one of the moms had brought goody bags for the girls to take home for Christmas, and I gave each girl this ornament pictured below wrapped for them to open whenever they wanted and hang on their Christmas tree, as the perfect reminder from where true joy comes!

Per the request of the official Little Flowers Girls Club ® I have removed the downloadable patch project sheets and practice pages. If you are interested in learning about how I used these documents in my group, please contact me directly.