By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed

Teach Us to Pray
Good parents teach many good things every day: Share toys, tie your shoes, eat good food, and speak kindly. Good parents help children learn to read, write, and master arithmetic. Good parents teach children to love what is true, good, and beautiful. Yet we, too, must be taught. If we forget this humbling truth we may become discouraged, overwhelmed, or resentful, even as we plow ahead. We rightly look for help in every need, learning to pray and not to faint.

 

Christ Jesus our great high priest and our only fully atoning sacrificial lamb has won for us full access to the Father. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

 

 

At Home in Prayer
The other night my son, a young adult with mental illness and autism, asked how I was feeling. I had been resting with a sore throat and cough. I appreciated his thoughtfulness in asking.

 

Then from his 6’2″ frame, I heard these quiet words, “I have been praying for you every night.” My throat tightened with gratitude. I swallowed hard and looked into his face. “Thank you, Michael.”

 

He had been worried about me. I knew this. Michael had offered to wear a mask on his work van to avoid bringing home new germs, as I am susceptible to viruses and infections. I never told him to pray. I never asked him to pray. He knew, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, where help could be found.

 

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

 

This was my grandmother’s favorite passage. She taught my mother to pray. My mother taught me to pray. So too my father’s father prayed. In time of need, as with I am worried or ill, I know that even today my father at age 84 will pray for me. My father taught me to pray. We teach our children to pray.

 

Prayer is a welcome gift for all Christians in time of need and at all times. We are encouraged to pray “in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:18), “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)

 

Have you ever noticed that the older prayer books acknowledge the depth of trials of mankind in this life? When we are looking for just the right words for our own prayers or for prayers to share with others, we can turn to such collections for such topics as these:
– prayer when a child is born with a disability
– prayer when a child is stillborn
– prayer when a newborn dies before being baptized
– prayer for wayward children
– prayer for the blessing of children in a marriage
– prayer when the hour of birth draws near
– thanksgiving for a successful birth
– prayer when a woman has an unfaithful husband
– prayer when one spouse has abandoned the other
– prayer of a juror who is to decide a criminal case
– prayer of a soldier for his family at home

 

 

Through Christ Alone
How, then, shall we pray? We pray through Jesus Christ, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5)

 

If we do not know how to pray, we can take comfort. This, too, has been anticipated: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)*

 

Lest we focus back with discouragement on ourselves in our prayers, as we are so quick to do, let us remember the one to whom we pray, the one who prays for us. In Jesus Christ, we have One who “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

 

 

For Us He Prayed
The Lord Jesus Christ prayed through temptation, trial, and the ultimate efficacious agony on our behalf. If we can think of nothing more to pray with our children, we can pray with thanksgiving for this. In so doing, we teach ourselves and our children to pray.

 

O Love, How Deep

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471)

For us His daily works He wrought,
By words and signs and actions thus
͑Still seeking not Himself but us.

For us He rose from death again;
For us He went on high to reign;
For us He sent His Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

All glory to our Lord and God
For love so deep, so high, so broad;
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore.

 

“…love what is true, good, and beautiful.” – Cheryl Swope

SUPER SWEET HEADING

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A SUBHEADING

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By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed.

In some circles the word “curriculum” is anathema. It is far better, this thinking asserts, to take a relaxed approach to education, to teach a la carte, or to let the child decide what and when to study. We must not be “dogmatic.”

 

Different children must study different things—or so we begin to believe. We should not determine what is good for them to read or even to know.

 

It runs like this: all men are different; therefore, all men require a different education; therefore, anybody who suggests that their education should be in any respect the same has ignored the fact that all men are different; therefore, nobody should suggest that everybody should read some of the same books; some people should read some books, some should read others.

 

This dogma has gained such a hold on the minds of American educators that you will now often hear a college president boast that his college has no curriculum. Each student has a course of study framed, or ‘tailored’ is the usual word, to meet his own individual needs and interests.

 

We should not linger long in discussing the question of whether a student at the age of eighteen [or six or eleven] should be permitted to determine the actual content of his education for himself …. Educators ought to know better than their pupils what an education is.¹

 


Nourishing Children
Some of us remember our mothers or grandmothers who prepared, like clockwork, well-rounded meals with good sources of proteins, vegetables, and bone-building foods on our plates. We did not always like our food, but we ate. No debating, begging, or whining. No placing individual meal orders. We dined with both portions and nutrients predetermined, and we were nourished. Not only were we nourished by the food, but also by the conversations that accompanied the food.

 

Postmodern-parenting experts advise, by contrast, that if a child does not like the nutritious food he has been given, he should not be compelled to eat it. Let him choose. He knows best. How well is this working?

 

Many of us see young parents chasing their children around the house with “hidden” nutrients in squeezable green cartoon-character packets. Children and their parents seem exhausted and frustrated. Young children often eat large amounts of sugar, fast food, and empty calories, while learning little more than that they can control their parents at least three times daily.

 

Often it is the same with our school days, even among homeschooling families: Children are not compelled to complete their studies if they do not like them. Like full plates of uneaten food in the trash, stacks of uncompleted homeschool resources fill the homes of homeschoolers. Sometimes these were purchased by the same parents who once said, “I cannot afford a full curriculum.”

 

Perhaps rather than cost, the real driving force behind curriculum decisions is this: As parents, we don’t truly believe we should impose extrinsic standards. We scorn a prepared curriculum, even if it is one brimming with purposeful enculturation, the highest quality teaching resources, and classic literature. We trade this for largely hands-on projects, splashy entertainment, or following the child’s lead. When we do this, what is being lost is our communal, cultural birthright—the accumulated wealth of knowledge, beauty, and reason that a curriculum is intended to pass down to a student.

 


Different, Yet the Same
Learning differences of mind and body may necessitate more intentional teaching strategies, or a different pacing, but we can modify without compromising content. We need not let the child’s differences diminish the richness of his studies. We can reaffirm our devotion to an education founded upon our common humanity.

 

All men are different; but they are also the same. If any common program is impossible, if there is no such thing as an education that everybody ought to have, then we must admit that any community is impossible ….²

 

Let every child hear Charlotte’s Web to learn the beautiful art of self-sacrifice. Let him “live inside” the Little House books to understand duty to family, hard work, and appreciation for simple joys. Let him grow into greater works that will fill his days and his mind.

 

More than this, let him hear and learn Holy Scripture, for “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14, KJV)

 


A Curriculum for Community
A shared curriculum creates community. Community among those with special needs is not only possible; it is essential. Everything starts with the understanding that all children are similar. Hyper-individualization based on perceived differences or immature preferences will serve no one well, least of all the child himself. Let us read the same books, sing the same songs, and hear the same stories to the greatest extent possible.

 

In view of the urgent need for unity and community, it does not seem an exaggeration to say that the present crisis calls first of all for an education that shall emphasize those respects in which men are the same, rather than those in which they are different. [We need] an education that draws out our common humanity rather than our individuality. Individual differences can be taken into account in the methods that are employed.³

 

With a return to the intent of education, the Simply Classical Curriculum seeks to bring educational nourishment to children who may need modifications, yet whose humanity begs for the common truth, goodness, and beauty needed by all.

 

 

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1 Hutchins, Robert M. with Adler, Mortimer. The Great Conversation, Britannica Great Books (University of Chicago, 1952), 49.
2 Ibid, 50.
3 Ibid, 50-51.

This article first appeared in the free publication, Simply Classical Journal. Reprinted with author’s permission.

Looking a Curriculum Rich in stories, multi-sensory strategies, and gentle pacing? See the new Simply Classical Special-Needs Curriculum, twice voted #1 for Special Learners (OldSchoolhouse Magazine).

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By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed.

This morning my son and I discussed literature. Specifically, we noted a good author’s ability to challenge and strengthen the mind and character of the reader in ways mere escapist entertainment never can.

 


Steadfast Goals

Michael wants to protect his mind, because he fears the long-term prognosis of some of his conditions. He does not want to lose the ability to think or to read, as sometimes happens with degenerative disabilities. I promised him he will be well served to continue reading good books. Reading good literature will help protect his mind.

 

I pray for stronger minds for both of my children. As parents of special-needs children understand too well, my children’s prognosis is on my mind too. This helps keep me steadfast in teaching them, caring for them, and loving them.

 


Maintaining Perspectives

I recently spent several days in the Memoria Press office working on the new special-needs curriculum packages. My children were back home in Missouri. I thought of them often; however, I did not want to call so soon and make them miss me. Even as young adults, my children’s special needs often leave them feeling vulnerable.

 

So I had some quiet time on my hands in the evenings. Unaccustomed to quiet time in the evenings, suddenly I needed a book to read. (I learned that when you find yourself in Kentucky with no book to read, Martin Cothran will reach into the trunk of his car and give you a book or two by Kentucky’s own novelist and essayist Wendell Berry.)

 


Continued Blessings
That first evening back in my suite, instead of calling home, I entered Wendell Berry’s stories. The forced slowing of thought, where reading yields to contemplation, led me to welcome those hours. The characters spoke with such a casual wisdom, they reminded me of gentle insights my 100-year-old grandma shared with me without ever intending to be wise.

 

In “Pray Without Ceasing,” a conversation unfolds in a farm kitchen. The grandmother describes a horrible day long ago, when she had learned of a tragedy. “Oh,” she said, “I felt it go all over me, before I knew it in my mind. I just wanted to crawl away. But I had your mother to think about. You always have somebody to think about, and it’s a blessing.”

 

As long as our children live, especially our children with special needs, we’ll always have somebody to think about. And it’s a blessing.

 

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This article first appeared in The Classical Teacher, Memoria Press.

Reprinted with author’s permission.

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By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed
 

At a time when many of our friends are becoming somewhat reluctant “empty-nesters,” my husband and I are in the process of realizing that we need to continue homeschooling our children even beyond their graduation. At 19, neither of our special-needs twins are able to attend college, yet both want to continue learning. Over time their difficulties have not lessened but increased. We have learned to relax our expectations, but not the quality of our courses or methods.

Cultivating Beyond Conditions
My son has embarked on Introduction to Logic, Introduction to Music Theory, Introduction to Composition, and other classes at home. He learns slowly, but with Socratic questioning and purpose. As his medical conditions progress, he hopes his continued education will strengthen his otherwise weakening mind.

We required years to master Latina Christiana I, but Michael told me, “Latin is so meticulous and systematic, I think it takes my boggled mind and sorts it out.” He added, “I want to study Latin forever.” His twin sister Michelle chimed in, “Me too.” Most of my daughter’s academic abilities never progressed to the level of her brother’s, but she enjoyed beginning elements of each area in the liberal arts, all bathed in truths from theology, the queen of the liberal sciences.

Cultivating Between the Lines
As classical teachers, we want to help our children love truth, goodness, and beauty. We encourage this through the liberal arts, sciences, and the great literature of Western civilization. Each of our children have been able to grasp different aspects of this.

One day we read The Merchant of Venice together. My concrete-thinking son understood very little, but Michelle loved Portia’s famous speech on mercy. She played Portia in each scene. When Bassanio (reluctantly played by Michael) noted that outward appearance does not always indicate inward beauty, Michael paused at the wisdom of this insight. In the play, Bassanio references Troy and Hercules, so we recalled our beginning classical studies.


Cultivating From the Heavens

Hours later the same day, my husband located some star guides and gathered the children. Equipped with binoculars, we all settled in on a big blanket for an early autumn evening of stargazing. On such occasions, we see how all learning comes together in gratifying ways. Lying still in an open field near the woods that night, we marveled at the numerous clusters of stars in our country sky. My daughter recalled Abraham and the promise about his descendants. My husband identified the constellation, Aquila. Michelle said she knew from Latin it would be an eagle. We smiled to ourselves. My husband pointed out various constellations and the planet Mars. The names of constellations prompted stories from Greek and Roman mythology, and our children know these far better than we do.

Cultivating Shared Experiences
As a family that evening, we all relaxed together, captivated by one of those rare moments that instantly beautify family life. When the darkness deepened in the sky, we spotted the Big Dipper low on the horizon. My husband noted the trapezoid shape of its ladle, and my children agreed. They knew the shape from early geometry studies. He pointed to another constellation, “forty-five degrees from the bright star overhead.” As the children followed his finger, I remembered all of the protractors from our many years of basic geometry lessons together. We searched the rugged craters of the moon through our binoculars. My son surprised me by noting the half moon’s appearance as “a perfect semi-circle, with the diameter bisecting the whole.” Then for a moment, we fell silent.

Cultivating Unceasing Joy
A fall chill descended under those stars. Snuggling our fragile daughter to keep her warm, I appreciated the richness a classical education offers even children such as ours. If their abilities continue to fade with the progression of their illnesses, we can still enjoy the opportunity to homeschool our children into their adult years. “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all.” (Psalm 104:24)

Copied, with author’s permission, from Memoria Press

 

 


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By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed

Homeschooling is hard sometimes. Parenting is already a challenge because in our fallen states, both we and our children war within ourselves to do what is good and right every day. When we decide to homeschool, we may feel as if we have added another heaping load onto our shoulders. Our own failings, the relentless temptations of the world, and the devil and his evil minions attack our purpose and thwart our efforts. 

 

Yet as redeemed children in Christ, we bring our children to the waters of baptism and teach them at home, that they may be thoughtful, service-minded, academically strong, and eternally secure in Christ Jesus. 

 

Looking back now that my children are young adults, one simple truth could have made all of this less daunting for me: All is His.

 

 

Doubts

In our family’s homeschool from infancy through high school, some days were smooth, even idyllic, but many days prompted several overarching concerns that sounded like this in my mind: “Am I hindering my child? Is there a better way to teach this? Are my children picking up my bad habits? my husband’s? How will I ever get my son from where he is today to where (I think) he needs to be as an adult? How will I care for all of my daughter’s needs and still teach her effectively? How do I fulfill my other vocations as daughter and friend, neighbor, worker, and congregation member? Am I ever doing enough? How do I know?”

 

 

What I wish I would have known can be expressed in that simple reminder: All is His.

Luther writes, “‘All things’ that have being—obviously also all of our wisdom and abilities—derive not from themselves, but they both have their beginning from Him, are preserved through Him, and must continue in Him” (LW 78:15). As Paul says in Acts 17:28: “In Him we live and move and have our being.”

What does this mean? Nothing happens “by chance and accidentally, but everything comes from and through His divine counsel and good-pleasure. He cares for us as for His people and sheep; He rules us, gives us good things, helps us in danger, preserves us” (LW 78:15). I taught this to my children, yet I did not always know this for myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mysteries

The mysteries of God will yield comfort to the believer, and His Word in Genesis through Revelation reveals His power that is far beyond our own. More than omnipotence, which would be of little comfort on its own, the very mercy of God comes to us in the person and work of Christ Jesus for us. And by the working of the Holy Spirit, we believe. He holds all things together. This comforts me; thus the recent emphasis in my thinking: “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

We may worry excessively or think we do much on our own, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).

Lest we find this knowledge too abstract for our everyday moments, Martin Luther explains the great mysteries in small details.

 

 

 “Who can ever learn or explain how it happens that a leaf grows out of a tree, or a grain becomes a root, or through wood and kernel a cherry grows from a blossom?” (LW 78:16).


Similarly, he teaches in the Small Catechism’s explanation of the First Article that God “has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have” (emphasis added). 

A master of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, Luther was both a recipient and proponent of what we now call Christian classical education. Note especially the expert use of details and of the word all to bring us great certainly in God’s great promises.

Luther continues his First Article explanation by saying, “He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil” (emphasis added). This is a helpful reminder for us in our instruction of our children.

 

 

 

 

All Is His

He does all of this. He has given; He also gives. He richly and daily provides; He defends. (I do not do this. We do not do this. He does this.) And He does this because He loves us in Christ, and He is good. “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me” (Small Catechism, First Article).

In those many doubt-filled and prideful moments in which we look to ourselves or begin to trust in our own abilities, we only make things worse for ourselves. We feed our doubts and coddle our pride. However, when in prayer we commend our children, their education, lives, and all things to His care, we can know that He gives us all we need. He already has given us all we need in Christ, and He will continue to do so.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).


As we confess our lack of trust, our fear, and our pride, we have One who forgives us. Jesus died for even this. On earth, Jesus alone trusted God in all His ways, and Jesus alone always prayed, “Thy will be done.” Just as our dear Savior, Jesus, comes to our children, so He comes to us. He prays for us even now. All is His, given to us.

We can see this clearly when we confess the Apostles’ Creed. While our theologians today may wrangle about the Third Article of sanctification, our pastors must faithfully bring to us through Word, water, bread, and cup the Gospel of Christ as confessed in the Second Article of redemption. Perhaps now as loved, forgiven, redeemed, and daily cared-for parents, we can reclaim the proclamation of the First Article promises of creation.

“He causes all created things to serve for the uses and necessities of life. These include the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens, day and night, air, fire, water, earth, and whatever it bears and produces. . . . So we learn from this article that none of us owns for himself, nor can preserve, his life nor anything that is here listed or can be listed. This is true no matter how small and unimportant a thing it might be” (LC II 14, 16).

He gives all. So even today as we teach and raise and love our children, we remember, know, and trust this truth: All is His.

 

 

 


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By Cheryl Swope

One hot Missouri June when my children were very young, we decorated our front porch with a large white container of flowering impatiens. The pink and red petals with deep foliage cheered our doorstep. At the time, I knew that impatiens needed shade, but I hoped they would thrive in the full sun like other people’s front-porch flowers. 

 

We closed the door and walked inside. Anyone who knows about shade-loving plants knows what happened next. Over the next few days in our blazing Midwest sun, blossoms shriveled. Foliage burned. Sobered, I carried those flowers to our shaded backyard. Few would see them now, but maybe we would witness the plants’ return to life from our family’s backyard swing.

 

The Dangers of Full Sun
As I was raising my young children, local playgroup friends talked about their able-minded children who earned ribbons, juggled extracurricular activities, and made good grades. I already knew my experience was not like theirs. In the afternoons after our homeschooling lessons, my children played in the backyard pretending to be Henry and Violet from The Boxcar Children in the large wooden box my husband nailed to a tree. They collected eastern tent caterpillars in glass jars. They learned, with much practice, how to have conversations. 

 

Like the impatiens, my children thrived in the sheltered retreat of our backyard. My children did not attend a different scheduled activity every day. My daughter, especially, seemed to need far more attention, supervision, and protection than most children. She also required specialized therapies, physicians, and extra help to learn.

 

Sometimes we pushed our young children more than we should have, and invariably we then witnessed dangerous or odd behaviors such as wandering, nightmares, playing with matches, and even eating laundry detergent. I did not know much, but I knew that our children would not thrive in the bright hot sun of excessive rigor, complex social demands, and overbearing pressures. 

 

To this day, the memory of those pink and red petals guards me against overtaxing my children. It also enlivens my desire to provide a beautiful, incremental, and purposefully gentle education for all children with challenges. Our children with challenges need the richly prepared soil of readiness, the shaded warmth of encouragement, the fertilization of regular practice, and the steady watering of good, clear instruction. With this, our children will grow and thrive, even if few ever admire or notice.

 


Two Sisters
Over the past twenty years or so, two sisters from that first playgroup furnished a similar lesson for me. One spunky little girl with short hair, Susan, evidenced an astonishing intellect from the age of three. My own children’s distracted minds had become so familiar to me, that I marveled when I saw the orderly block designs Susan created. 

 

Little Susan spoke well, attentively organized her playthings, kicked balls with ease, and even opened her own bananas without squishing them. Suitably, young Susan received a full, rigorous education at our town’s only private school from award-winning teachers. By graduation, Susan had earned honors and scholarships in speech, mathematics, and athletics. She now attends a small liberal arts college hundreds of miles from home and studied a semester in Italy.Outgoing, intelligent, and capable, Susan needed full sun from the very beginning of her life.

 

By contrast, Susan’s big sister Amanda had long hair and a clear singing voice, but she cried easily, worried much, and preferred to play at home. She loved kittens and anything small. We marveled that the two girls were so close in age, yet so different. As a teen, Amanda had migraines, unexplained stomach aches, and social fears that kept her parents linked to their phones waiting for her anxious calls.

 

While her sister Susan thrived in the demanding and highly social private high school, Amanda wilted. The girls’ parents chased doctor appointments and medications, and they finally decided to bring her home. Amanda began sleeping at night again. Her parents insisted on a strong education at home but allowed Amanda time to rest, read, and play with her favorite cats. Removed from the intensity of her private school, Amanda slowly regained her strength, color, and vitality. She graduated a year after her peers, attended a small college near home, and this past summer began teaching music and theater to young children. Children warmed to her, and she to them.

 

The Flowers
Far into October that year long ago, those backyard flowers grew into bushes of color with bright pinks and rich reds. Still delicate, they would never thrive in the bright heat of our front porch. I knew this now with certainty. I still remember that day. When I carried those tender, shriveled flowers to our backyard, the metaphors spoke to me in a sudden and deeply personal way. The flowers needed shade. I could not change that. My growing understanding of my children’s needs brought silent emotion as I made my way to the backyard. Yet somehow the understanding also brought a glimmer of contentment. I did not fully understand the implications, but I began to accept the truth: Some children grow best in the shade.

 

Reprinted with permission from Memoria Press. Originally published in Simply Classical Journal Winter 2018 edition.

 

 


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