Saturday, February 27, 2010

day fifty-nine: think of yourself as your children’s primary “faith” teacher—review of family bible library

“Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church.”
              Jonathan Edwards

When Joshua, our oldest who is now a twenty-seven year old husband, was first born, we were visited by a friendly college student who was selling a set of Bible stories. We let him in and listened to his spill—and saw the quality product he had to offer and, in spite of being two poor college students with a new baby, we bought. And it was one of the best purchases we made for our children’s first twelve years of Bible teaching.

Also about that same time, we were introduced to the concept that is summarized in today’s quote by Jonathan Edwards. We were instructed at a parenting seminar that our home should be a center—a hospitality center, a Bible teaching center, an education center, a healing center (where we should reach out to those who are hurting), and much more.

From these ideas, we decided that church should be an extension of our family—it should augment what we do at home (not replace it or even be the primary with family supplementing it). We should be our primary faith teachers—and church, Sunday school, and other outside sources can help us achieve our faith goals for our children. When we look at our children’s “faith teaching” in this way, we feel the true sense of responsibility that we have in our children. We do not become dependent upon someone else to do it for us. Yes, others have helped us greatly through the years—including Sunday school, Royal Rangers, Upwards, homeschool groups, etc. etc. But our children’s Bible teaching is ultimately our responsibility—and nobody else’s.

Family Bible Library and the idea that our home should become a miniature church, so speak, merged perfectly together. It was (and has been for twenty-five years) a tool that we have used to be a “little church” for our children—a place where they learn the Bible and its concepts every day through lifestyle, materials, song, prayer, discussion, and more.

The original Family Bible Library (the one we purchased twenty-six years ago) is the 1971 version. It is and was wonderful. In a nutshell, this is what you get with that version:

*10 hardcover books covering dozens and dozens of Bible stories in chronological order

*Pictures, charts, graphs, etc. throughout

*Text written at approximately at fourth or fifth grade reading level, though definitely children as young as age four can listen and comprehend the material

*Short two-three page stories with questions following each story

*Study skills types of material following each story, including maps, charts, diagrams, etc. that help the reader understand more about the story, the time period, the region, etc. (this was my two oldest kids’ favorite parts!)

We used these with our preschoolers and elementary children by me (Donna) reading through the entire series with each child. (Others could join us, but at least the child whose turn it was did it with me.) Then, when each child turned ten to twelve, depending on reading ability, he or she did the entire series for himself/herself (or in some cases had a daily read aloud with a younger sibling and the “reader” read it aloud to a little).

Additionally, because our teens have done a lot of Bible teaching of younger kids (our girls through their girls’ newsletter; our olders who taught character in schools; our boys now who work with cognitively disabled adults; etc.), the FBL came in handy to use as a resource for them.

I can’t say enough about this program—and recommend it highly for all families with four to twelve year olds as a daily devotional with parents (or for the child to read for himself for his own devotions). It spans multi-ages, especially with the study helps following each story. This, along with Character Sketches ( --upcoming review!) and a Bible, is a perfect Bible/character combination for using daily with children ages four to twelve.

Downsides: You’re gonna love me for this—but Southwestern Publishing is no longer printing FBL! There are some still available through various sources—and you can get it used for 25% or less of the original cost. People have these sitting around in basements and attics—they’re out there; you just have to look a little online. Training for Triumph (our homeschooling business/ministry) used to carry the new (2005) version, which is outstanding and more beautiful than the originals—if you can get that version, do so! However, we were told a year ago that they were not publishing more. (We have the1971 version and still love it and use it, so the new is not essential.)

1971 version link:

2005 version link:

Friday, February 26, 2010

day fifty-eight: create read aloud times that work for your family

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." Walt Disney

The question has come up about what our children do when we read aloud. Do they just sit for an hour and listen? Do they play quietly and listen? I will spend today's blog answering this question--and close with another "Joshua" story.

We used a "bus stop approach" with our children for a lot of our read alouds. With that, we start with the easiest books that we are doing that day (with pictures), and the littles sitting close to me while the olders are around listening but not right there on the sofa, necessarily. Then, the littles "get off the bus" as we move into harder materials (i.e. out of a picture book and into something harder, like a biography or an adventure story chapter book). The littles then can stay and listen and color, play with little figures, build legoes, etc. They do not have to stay--and they can do quiet activities if they do stay. We continued in this manner, "dropping kids off at the bus stop" as the materials got harder and harder.

Now that is when we did/do a full hour or more of various books. When we just read aloud from a chapter book, the kids who can do other things and still listen, often do (our littlest peels potatoes, cuts up apples, snaps green beans, etc. while I read aloud!). (We have had a couple of kids who always chose to just listen; their listening comprehension was not strong enough to multi task like that.) The girls would often quilt, work on their newsletter for young girls (laying it out on the computer), etc. This is the way we do audio books as well (everybody listening while building with legoes or putting together a puzzle, Dad bill paying; Mom editing; etc.).

With story time (picture books only with under twelves), we are usually snuggled in Mom's bed doing a stack of story books--and each child gets to pick once, except the "child of the day," who chooses two--the first one and the last one.

Additionally, we would often do a book one-on-one with a child for "discipleship time." For example, Dad and one of the boys would do a book about manhood. Dad and a daughter would do a book, such as What Every Daughter Wants Her Dad to Know (not sure of the exact title, sorry!). Mom and a daughter would do a purity book (like Elisabeth Eliot's Passion and Purity). During these times, we just sat close and read and talked (not doing other things while listening).

There is no right and wrong way to do read alouds, and you will certainly want to do what fits with your family dynamics. Read aloud has given our family great joy--and I am so grateful that we were introduced to this type of parenting twenty-seven years ago when Joshua was a baby. Thank-you, Lord!

Now, my "Joshua" story. When Joshua was around twelve, he decided that he was too old for afternoon story time. (Our children still listen during our Bible/character read aloud regardless of their ages, but the kids do eventually graduate from story time since it is mostly picture books.) As story time rolled around, and we all gathered in my bed, I asked him if he was sure that he didn't want to join us. "No, I'll just stay out in the living room and read my book."

We started in with our first picture book, then the second. Before I knew it, I saw a shadow in the hallway. Joshua was standing in the hall--down a ways, but still within earshot of our reading. By the fourth book, he was standing outside the doorway. A little later, he was sitting on the floor inside the doorway. I asked him if he wanted to join us: "No, I'll just rest on the end of the bed. I'm tired." So he lay across the foot of the bed...and you guessed it, before the end of story time, he was snuggled up with us enjoying afternoon story time! Today, if he stops by the house, and we're lying in bed reading, he will still drape himself across the foot of the bed and just listen and smile...and that make me smile now, too--and cry, of course, as well.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

day fifty-seven: read aloud to your teen and tween children

“Because what you read when you are a child stays with you like no other reading you do in your life.” from You’ve Got Mail

Even die hard read-alouders have a tendency to stop reading aloud after their children turn a certain age. While the child at age twelve can read for himself. And while he might not be available to snuggle and read like he was when he was six. Reading aloud can be a life-long family affair!

We still read aloud to our grown children at Christmastime! We have certain Christmas stories that are endeared to all of us that we enjoy every year during tree trimming night and our family’s Christmas Eve. We listen to audio books with our teens and young adults when we travel together. And I still read aloud to our teens most mornings.

We have two different regular reading times with our teens now—Bible/character (devotional type materials; followed by our current chapter book read aloud) and history (for our homeschool). (I also have story time with Jakie, who is eleven, but the two other boys are usually working on order filling or doing their own assignments.) Since our kids do not leave the house each day for school, we have more time to just sit down and read before they start on their independent subjects or meet with me for subjects. However, even busy families with children who leave for school each day can fit in some special read aloud time—if it is a priority.

Additionally, we are almost always in the middle of an audio book together with the three boys, Mom, and Dad or a chapter book that we do together. It might take a while for us to get through an entire chapter book, but it’s always there for us to pick up and share together.

Tomorrow I will post a dozen tips for reading aloud to tweens and teens, but for now I have to leave you with a sweet, sweet story that just recently happened—related to our family reading. Not long ago my twenty-seven year old married son and I got home from teaching our classes, and as he was waiting for his wife to pick him up on her way by, he spotted the Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Story that I read to Jakie lying on my table. (I used to read this five-volume series of character stories to our older kids every single day for at least ten years—and we carried one in the van with us for “those extra reading moments” we might encounter.)

Anyway, he picked it up and started leafing through it, commenting on the pictures and stories: “Every time I hear about an English constable, I think of this picture right here.” “Did you know that no matter how many scenes from movies, pictures from magazines, and descriptions I hear of crocodiles, when I think of a crocodile, I automatically think of “Swami and the Crocodile” and remember how he didn’t get eaten because the crocodile spat him out to save for later?” On and on and on he went, with me barely able to hold back the tears. He suddenly left the room and went to the bookcase and got the other four volumes and brought them back to the room and for an hour just pored over these books, telling me his favorites, what he remembered most about each story, etc. etc. for an hour. And this from a literature buff—whose favorite book is fifteen hundred pages long! Yet, he still loves Uncle Arthur. I think Meg Ryan was on to something in You’ve Got Mail when she said, “Because what you read when you are a child stays with you like no other reading you do in your life.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

day fifty-six: read aloud to your children

“So please, oh, please, we beg, we pray.

Go throw your TV set away.

And in its place, you can install,

A lovely bookshelf on the wall.”

Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Okay, true confession time. We have eighteen bookcases in our house and small schoolroom (in the garage) . We have well over a thousand books, though prior to ten years ago, when we sold half of everything we owned and moved to a small house, we had over two thousand books! (And yes, it is crowded with eighteen bookcases in fourteen hundred square feet, though some of those are small, stacked cubes.)

We have an extremely modest home and what many would call clunker vehicles—but we are rich with books. Our sixteen year old son just informed me that he is down to one pair of jeans that he washes and re-wears five days a week—yet we just bought him a fifteen hundred page book for literature and twenty new books for Christmas! Books are important to the Reishes!

Another true confession: when our older children were little, I read aloud to them three to six hours a day six days a week! (Ray and I combined did, actually.) My undergraduate degree was in elementary education and my master’s work was in Reading Education. I felt, and still do, that reading aloud to my children would do more for their spiritual and academic development than anything else I could do.

Research and book after book confirms what I believed about reading aloud to young children. “Research and practice show that one simple activity—reading aloud—is the best way to prepare children for learning to read and to keep them reading as they learn. Reading aloud helps your children develop the language skills that they will use in school and throughout their lives” (Reading Is Fundamental).

Obviously, people can give their children a good start without having a stay-at-home parent reading aloud to them for hours every day. And even parents who work full time can carve out the time to read to their children—if it is a priority. (Trust me, I have worked at least thirty hours a week for the past five years at home as a writer, editor, speaker, and cottage class teacher/tutor—and still made reading aloud a priority in our home. Other things had to fall by the way in order to make that happen—but again, that goes back to prioritizing and deciding that reading aloud is more important, than, say, a spotless house.)

As parents, we have to decide what we absolutely think are the most important things to us in our parenting and our family—and then we must commit to carrying those things out, even to the point of excluding other, less important things.

Reading aloud is one of those things worth doing. It is worth it for more reasons than this short post today. However, consider the following three advantages for now:

1. Heart tying between parent and child—My children and I have been drawn together through books and audios more than any other thing. When we’re all together except one child and that one shows up, I pipe up with “I knew there was another one” in reference to the missing mouse in Mouse House. I say one of the kids’ names over and over again then quote Adventures in Odyssey: “Josie, Josie, Josie. You are Josie, aren’t you?” If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Curious George, Morris the Moose—all of these warm our hearts as we recollect them and the afternoons spent in Mommy’s bed sharing picture books.

2. Teaching spiritual concepts—our daily read aloud now with teens and tweens includes spiritual and character teaching from a variety of sources. Reading aloud then discussing the information helps my children grow in their faith and virtue. When my kids were all little, Bible stories and character stories filled their days through my reading aloud and providing audios of the same.

3. Building a love for learning and a love for reading—the single most influential factor in a child’s success in school is his or her love for learning. Love for learning begins in Mama’s chair during afternoon story time and Mother’s bed for early morning snuggles and books.

I am planning to review some books for read aloud for various ages—starting this weekend, so I wanted to introduce the idea of reading aloud—and reinforce its importance now. Throughout the year I will tackle various areas of reading aloud, such as:

1. Reading aloud to various ages

2. Fitting in read aloud time

3. Reading aloud with tweens and teens

4. The effect of reading aloud on “natural readers” and other reading progression in children

5. Using audio books as a family for “read aloud”

6. Bible and character read alouds

7. Reading aloud to build your child’s background of experience and listening comprehension (and the relationship of that to your child’s school success)

8. And much more!

So stay with us as we continue to learn how to parent our children positively—and give them a love for God, a conviction to help others, a curiosity and love for learning and growth, and godly character. We can do this Christian parenting thing—and we can even do it well with the right tools and the right priorities.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

day fifty-five: give your children time warnings

Another Preventive Parenting strategy, which goes along with Explaining Expectations, is that of giving children time warnings. It is such a simple concept, yet one that can ward of many, many problems—especially in preschoolers or with children who are enjoying group activities.

When our older children were younger, we often had care groups, prayer meetings, homeschooling meetings, etc. in our home. People would often bring their children to these meetings, and all of the children would play together in our family room or basement (depending on which house we lived in at the time). When it was time for people to leave, they would often yell down the stairs or down the hall for their kids to clean up and come. More often than not, this would result in tear-filled, or sometimes even fit-throwing, kids.

We tried to steer the families in another direction by doing as a group what we had always done with our children: give them time warnings. Nobody likes to be interrupted—told to come right now at this very moment, regardless of what you are now doing. Children are no different! To us, they might “just” be playing; but to them, they are deeply involved in whatever it is they are doing.

Therefore, we always gave our children time warnings. “Five minutes until clean up” for when the group would have to break up and clean their messes. “Fifteen minutes until bedtime” when our children were engrossed in play and bedtime was coming upon us. “Ten minutes ‘til dinner” when kids had their school spread out all over the living room. And, the ever popular, “Twenty minutes ‘til Dad gets here” to warn everybody to get their chores done because Daddy would be home to check their work soon.

Now our kids ask us to give them time warnings. “Can you let me know fifteen minutes before we’re going to play cards, so I can end my project in plenty of time?” “Can you wake me up fifteen minutes before the first person, so I can have the shower first?”

Along with that, our children also have the liberty of asking us for more time. They might ask if they can have an extra fifteen minutes before bed because of a project they are busy working on. They might call from someone’s house and ask if they can have “an extra half an hour because they are starting another game” or “Can we stay at McDonald’s an extra twenty minutes; it took longer to clean up Bible study tonight than it usually does.” And you know what? We’re usually happy to give them the extra time. (We have always told our kids that we are happy to give them more and more freedoms as they show themselves responsible with the freedoms they currently have—more on this later!)

So much about parenting is simply treating our children the way we would want to be treated. So much about having a peaceful, love-filled home is about warding off trouble before it begins. Put the two together—treat our children well and prevent problems before they occur—and it adds up to Preventive Parenting—and specifically for today’s subject, giving our children time warnings.

Monday, February 22, 2010

day fifty-four: create learning hooks for your children by explaining expectations

“It must be remembered that the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts…it is to teach them to think…” Robert Hutchins

Yesterday I introduced the concept of Explaining Expectations. Today I would like to take those thoughts further by describing what Ray and I call “learning hooks.” We like to think of a child’s “moral mastery” as a wall filled with hooks. These hooks are just waiting to have lessons “hooked” onto them. Every time we teach a child about godly character, proper behavior, appropriate treatment of others, etc., we are giving the child more information to attach to his learning hooks. The more times he encounters lessons about those things, the more his “moral wall” is filled—and the more character learning takes place.

The beauty of learning hooks is that the more hooks that are created—or the more information and experiences that are “hooked” onto the hooks—the more lessons the child has to refer to in future situations. Repetition is a strong teaching tool—but with learning hooks, it isn’t only repetition that is aiding the moral lessons, but the fact that you keep building on the concepts with real life applications and experiences that can be attached to hooks that were created in previous lessons.

For example, many years ago we were on our way to visit Ray’s grandparents who lived in an assisted living apartment. On the way, we talked to the children about how Grandma and Grandpa Rager are not used to having children around and their house is not arranged for children. We reminded them that they should not run or be rowdy because it could cause one of their grandparents to fall, etc. We told them that they should play quiet activities, like the things they brought in their “busy bags.”

Now, they all had been there before, so we were just hooking new lessons onto an old hook. They already had a hook on their moral wall entitled, “Behavior when around elderly.” Anything we explained or taught them further about this, they could simply attach to that hook that was already in place on their moral wall since they had been trained over and over not to run when elderly people, handicapped individuals, or small children are around. They can easily fall, so we should walk carefully around them. Of course, we reminded them of those past lessons—and related tonight’s lessons to the learning hook that they already had in place concerning appropriate behavior in situations involving elderly.

A few days later, we were on our way to our cell group when we heard Joshua (then eleven) explaining to the girls that tonight they should play quiet activities because the couple hosting the meeting was elderly. Then he went on to say those words we love to hear—the ones that tell us that the learning hooks are having things attached to them and doing their job: “Remember, this is just like the other night when we were at Grandma and Grandpa Rager’s. They are not used to having children around just like Grandma and Grandpa, so we shouldn’t be rowdy or run around.” Gotta love those learning hooks!

Learning hooks work in many other teaching situations, of course. Academically, anytime we say to our children, “This is just like when you learned….” we are relating what they are learning now to something that is already on their learning wall. (This is one reason it is important to explain concepts in more than one way whenever possible.) We are attaching more experiences and scenarios to the hooks they have in place. Explaining expectations over and over again—with real life scenarios and applications—is a great way to create and add to learning hooks for our children’s moral, character, and academic development.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

day fifty-three: give your children the expectations in every situation you can

We were on our way to the first of five graduation parties in a row. All seven of the kids were loaded up, faces washed, and smiles on their faces. We were almost at the first party--and it was time to do what we had been doing ever since we became parents fifteen years earlier: verbalize our expectations of the children for the upcoming event.

"Now, remember, we have five parties in a row to get to, so we can't stay long at each one. The first two will be short, so we can make it around to the other three before they end. Do not go off and play with other kids at this first one. We are just going in, honoring JaNon, and then heading out."

We unloaded all seven children from "Big Blue," and made our way in to honor the graduate. Thirty minuteslater, we were on the road again, on to the next graduation party.

Suddenly, Josiah, age three and a half, spoke up: "We have to go back...we have to go back. I forgot to honor JaNON!"

Even three year old Josie understood the expectations for the first event: no playing; hurry but with good manners; honor the graduate. And he was truly upset that he forgot to do one of the expectations. Oh my word, he was so cute and sweet!

Our number one Preventive Parenting strategy is the topic of today's blog post: explain your expectations to children ahead of time. Explaining expectations helps children adjust their behavior to fit the expectation, wards off myriad problems, aids in avoiding anger and nagging by parents, and much, much more.

Explaining expectations isn't hard--it just requires a different mind-set. Again, rather than being a fire fighter who is constantly putting out fires, we become the builder who builds with fire repellant materials, installs fire alarms throughout, places fire extinguishers in certain places, etc. We are practicing Preventive Parenting--parenting in such a way that we prevent problems that are preventable.

This week I will be discussing Explaining Expectations more thoroughly, including, but not limited to

1. Giving time warnings to young children

2. Explaining Expectations as we travel in order to warn/prepare children for the environment and surroundings they will be in

3. Using Explaining Expectations to build family unity and sibling loyalty

4. How Explaining Expectations creates Learning Hooks for future scenarios

5. How Explaining Expectations is a teaching tool that aids in utilizing teachable moments

6. How Explaining Expectations helps you as a parent to develop your family's acceptable and unacceptable behavior and character list (or mental list)

7. How Explaining Expectations puts you in control of situations rather than situations controlling you

Start today thinking about how you can Explain Expectations in various situations. Look at the things that bug you the most today--kids not cleaning up after themselves, homework not done before tv, no help cleaning the kitchen after dinner. Can any of those things be warded off with careful and thorough Explanations of Expectations? And, of course, meticulous follow through.

day fifty-two: play family card games—reviews of dutch blitz, pit, and uno

“A vonderful goot game!” from the Dutch Blitz web site

One of our daughters is home on winter break from college, which means that our three boys are up all hours of the night playing games, baking cookies, watching movies, having lively discussions, book sharing, and working on Kayla’s Ancient Greek Geography homework with their big sister! Specifically, it means some lively rounds of Dutch Blitz, “Full Contact” UNO (don’t ask!), Chess Four, Blokus, and Sequence. Thus, in honor of Kayla’s time at home this week, I would like to introduce you to three family-friendly card games: Dutch Blitz, Pit, and Uno.

Dutch Blitz

The Dutch Blitz website describes this game as “It’s kind of like solitaire. But with multiple players. And a lot more speed. And color. And fun.”

That sums it up. It is one of my personal favorite card games for two to four players, ages eight and up or so. (However, you can get a second deck and mark the four “suits” with a check on each and instead of being “buckets,” the player who is that suit would be “buckets with a check.” Large families are extremely creative and resourceful, you know!)

Dutch Blitz was created by Werner Ernst George Muller, a German immigrant and optometrist who thought the game might help his small children learn about colors and numbers more easily. (That really isn’t true since it is so fast moving, small children can hardly play it much less learn from the flying cards!) At any rate, Muller’s game caught the attention of gamers in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania and has since spread throughout the world and is available via two hundred different vendors.

This card game can be purchased for around ten bucks, is portable, and can be learned in a few minutes. Players each take a “suit,” and make stacks in front of them from which they play on the board simultaneously, trying to be the first one to put their Red 1, Red 2, Red 3, etc. in the red stack; Blue 1, Blue 2, Blue 3, etc. in the blue stack; and so on.

It is a game of high speed (my kids’ grandpa does not like it at all!), laughter, and fun. We love it so much that I just got each of my “grown” children a deck for Christmas to be sure that they have it to play with friends and not just when they are home visiting. I don’t think your family would be disappointed with Dutch Blitz!

Btw, for you current Dutch Blitz players, the website touts a “card replacement” policy for lost cards—and it looks to be free. Imagine that!

Dutch Blitz link:


Pit is another favorite card game of my crew for ages eight and up, from three to eight players. It is a loud, rowdy game that boys, especially, love! Do not play this if you have a headache or do not like a lot of noise!

The website describes this game as “Pit Deluxe is the ‘Corner on the Market’ card game! Shout your deal and trade your cards to ‘corner’ the market. Be the first to get all the cards of one commodity, ring the bell and you’ll win the hand.”

In a nutshell, each player is dealt a certain number of cards and then everybody begins shouting out “two, two, two” or “one, one, one” (or three or four) to trade a pair, trio, etc. of the same card to try to accumulate all one commodity (rice, corn, wheat, etc.). You alone can see the cards that you are trading, and when somebody else also has the same number of cards to trade, you swap those cards. The game continues in this loud, crazy manner until someone shouts “Corner on the Market” or rings the bell, signifying that he has all of the same commodities in his hand.

If you’ve got boys who like card games, your family will enjoy Pit. If you have a shortage of nerves, you will not! Takes a couple of minutes to learn. Check out the link below.

Pit Link:


The Uno website heralds Uno as one of the world’s most popular family card games, with rules easy enough for kids, but challenging and exciting enough for all ages.

This colorful card game is similar to “Crazy Eight” in that you go around the table playing a card if you have the same number (or color)—or you play a WILD card (in place of the crazy eight) that causes your opponents to have to draw four cards, skip their play, etc. The object of the game is to get rid of all of your cards.

This game, for ages seven and up, also takes a few minutes to learn—and has the added advantage of being for up to ten players. Great for large family play! This game is the most widely available of the three reviewed today and can usually be purchased at Walmart and other local retailers. Good for new readers or even smart non-readers, it is one of the most “family friendly” games as it is appropriate for fairly young children and even grandparents.

Uno Link: