Review: Different

I have recently finished reading Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Sally and Nathan Clarkson.

This book arrived at such a needed time in my life. While I think parenting in general is not an easy task, parenting four children ranging in age from 2 up to 10 years feels especially overwhelming most days.

Parenting children who are considered “different” certainly presents an additional layer of parenting challenges.

I have been working through several titles by Sally Clarkson (she’s one of my literary mentors for the year…) and if there was a word I would choose to describe her, I would probably choose “together.” This is such an incredible woman, a Godly woman who shares her experiences and wisdom for families and homeschoolers.

I was blown away with her raw honesty she poured out in Different. Along with her son Nathan, the pair talks about the struggles (and blessings!) of dealing with a child being different. They take turns sharing their experiences navigating a variety of issues, including OCD, ODD, and ADHD.

It was refreshing to read Nathan’s story from both his and his mom’s perspective. Reading this, you get an honest picture of the very real struggles that go along with dealing with behavioral  and mental health issues. Clarkson also was candid about their struggles seeking professional help and a diagnosis. Dealing with mental health issues is an ongoing process, with good days and bad ones too.

“But even in this broken world, where our differences often come with burdensome baggage, the imprint of God on our lives still gives value to each one of use as we are.” (p.7)

Clarkson was candid about the tension that can arise between spouses as they parent a child that is different.

“Most OCD kids, we have learned, have one parent who acts as the ‘confessor’ in their lives – the one they go to daily to tell their recurring thoughts and find relief from the guilt those thoughts carry, the one with whom they find acceptance and sense of safety. ” (p. xxv)

While she shared some of the more challenging occasions in their lives, she also discussed some of the techniques or strategies she found helpful in her daily interactions with Nathan.

“I learned to appreciate and celebrate (not just “cope with it”) because all human beings are a work of the Artist and have infinite value to the One who made them.” (p.8)

“I intentionally pressed in on issues that would affect relationships, character, and faith and tried to back off of other, less crucial issue…” (p.41)

And she spoke of the heart and attitude necessary to deal with out-of-the-box type children.

“If we accept the puzzle we have been given and ask, “What can I learn at this juncture, God? How should I be humble and glorify You in this place?” then we will become stronger, developing muscles of faith, wisdom, humility, and understanding.” (p. 121)

Clarkson addresses something that parents everywhere probably struggle with, a need to control. We want the best for our kids, and so there is a conscious or unconscious desire to control things so we can guarantee a positive outcome.

“In our broken world, there is – and will be – much that we cannot understand or control.” (p. 135)

“He [God] does not require us to control our children or friends, much less ‘fix’ them. But he does call us to pay attention, to love others, to be the ones who reach out as consistently as possible.”

It was so encouraging to read about these struggles with mental illness and behavioral issues both from the perspective of the parent and the child.

I could go on and on with the powerful words and encouragement I got from reading this book. But I’ll close with two statements and then encourage you to read the book yourself.

From Sally:

“My most important ministry would unfold one obedient moment after another as I learned to love and understand and serve those who were closest to me. Nathan or one of my other family members would push my buttons. And I would have to overcome my feelings and practice giving patient answers, to give up my rights one more time…” and “walking in the power of the Holy Spirit often means choosing to be patient and loving when you feel like being impatient and angry.” (p. 137)

And from Nathan:

“The truth is, we live in a deeply fractured world, and we don’t always have a choice about being broken. But we do have a choice about where we let our brokenness lead us. We can follow it into escape or addiction. But we can also follow it straight to God. To the One who knows us inside and out – with all our mistakes, broken parts, insecurities, and battles – and who still loves us. To the one who can not only handle our anger and our frustration and our questions, but can use them to transform them.” (p.186)

Review: A Handbook to Morning Time

I have struggled over the years to establish a morning routine in our homeschool that I am happy with.

What I envision – the children and I enjoying time spent together with good books, doesn’t always happen. While we have had periods where we would start our day with a basket of good books, life happens and our routines fizzle out.

Our morning time stack.

I need not just a routine, but a PLAN. And Cindy Rollins’ A Handbook to Morning Time came at just the right time for me.

“Morning Time sets the tone for the day by helping us focus on those things that we ought to love.”

Rollins, with years of homeschool experience behind her, lays out her morning time plan. She details each area that she strives to cover. But, she also acknowledges that sometimes, morning time doesn’t happen, and that’s okay!

Rollins uses morning time not just for reading to her children, but also working on spiritual growth as well as memory work. As I read through this book, I felt truly inspired. While I made sure to have quality reading picked out for us (often choosing titles from Beautiful Feet Teaching Character Through Literature or Five in a Row), I think there was still a lack of direction to our morning time. To be honest, there were subjects I was trying to hit later in the day (like artist or music appreciation) that Rollins covers as part of morning time, and her approach seems more comfortable and natural.

“Morning Time is a liturgy ordering our affections towards those things which are true, good, and beautiful – it is a liturgy of love.”

Since I finished this quick read, I have already worked to implement some changes to our morning routine, and plan to incorporate more of her plans as the year progresses.

The older children have been memorizing various poems from Robert Louis Stevenson – one of our favorite poets!

In the beginning of her book, Rollins lays out the elements of her morning time. These include:

Morning Meeting

Family Worship including prayer and hymns

Composer/Artist discussion

Bible and Theology reading

Bible Memory

Shakespeare/Plutarch rotation

Folk Song

Poetry reading and memory work

Miscellaneous memory work

Grammar

Read Aloud

She then expands a bit on each area. I won’t go into detail on each section, but several stood out to me and are worth mentioning here.

The morning meeting is just what it sounds like, a meeting before the day starts. This is a time to mention any plans for the day, upcoming items of interest, just to make sure everyone is on the same page.


In addition to our longer reads that we are slowly working through, we also have shorter books that are included during our Read Aloud time.

During worship time, there are prayer requests and singing. Rollins discussed singing and learning new hymns. This was something that grabbed my attention immediately. After finishing the book, I printed out the sheet music to one of my favorite hymns, Just As I Am, and we have been singing it joyfully all week. I love the idea of making a family hymn book, with printed copies of those hymns we have learned.

For Composer and Artist studies, Rollins suggests using the schedule provided by Ambleside Online. We have previously studied composers and artists when Kyri was younger, using Harmony Fine Arts. We have not done anything formally in a few years though, and I do like the schedule that Rollins uses. We may adopt the Ambleside Online schedule for composer and artist study in the new year.

We have, over the course of two years, been working on Bible Road Trip, but I think Kyri wants Bible time to be more reading and discussing and less notebooking-type work. So I like the idea of having a routine of reading some scripture, followed by a chapter or segment from some Christian text. Nothing elaborate, just a page or two depending on the depth of the reading.

Bible memory is something we love around here. The children are active in AWANA, and so they are already used to learning and reciting scripture. We could incorporate verses from their AWANA books as morning time memory work, or follow some of the suggested verses that Rollins includes.

We’ve started memorizing scripture together and learning hymns as well.

Rollins’ suggestion of alternating between Shakespeare and Plutarch really intriqued me. Earlier this year I was able to participate in a members’-only author event with Read Aloud Revival, featuring Ken Ludwig, author of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, and this event really ignited an interest in reading through works of Shakespeare with my children. But we just haven’t gotten started yet. According to Rollins, it’s as simple as one scene, another scene, an act, and finally the entire play. One step at a time. Why should I even bother with Shakespeare? According to Charlotte Mason, it is “good for the instruction of the conscience and the molding of our judgements.”

While I have read a little Plutarch, I hadn’t really given it much thought as a component of morning time. But Rollins explains, “Plutarch can provide us with a way out of the red state/blue state divide and into the clear air of individual responsibility and the consequences of ideas.” So reading Plutarch can be used for teaching citizenship as well as training a child’s judgement. She suggests reading three lives a year. She does suggest that this be reserved for older children but than younger children could benefit from sitting in while it is being read.

One component that I am really excited to incorporate into our morning time is Memory Work.  Rollins suggests well known speeches and historical documents, among other things. I’ve already got a small list of documents that I’d like to start with, including the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

I also recently finished up Mere Motherhood, Rollins’ earlier offering, and it was such a lovely compliment to A Handbook to Morning Time. While Mere Motherhood was published first, I am glad I read Handbook first. Having a firm grasp on Rollins’ morning time routine was really helpful as I was reading through her memoir, where she mentions her morning routines regularly but not in a super detailed fashion.

You can also keep up with Cindy Rollins in her podcast, The Mason Jar, at the Circe Network.

Cindy Rollins books are available through Circe Institute.

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