Math for Homeschool

Elementary math is incredibly important. It’s the time to build a foundation on which all other math (and a lot of science) will be built. It’s also the last time math will be fun for many students (sad face).

Today’s math isn’t like it was for you and me. When I was in high school, I took Algebra, Geometry and Algebra 2, then I graduated the heck out of there. My high schooler will take Geometry, Algebra 2, and something else I can’t wrap my head around, just to graduate. Her eighth grade, pre-algebra text contains stuff I ether didn’t learn until college or have never seen. Our kids need to know more math, at a younger age, than we ever did.

Because of this, early math, and a solid grasp of elementary math facts, is vital to their success. The first four years are all about adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing; manipulating numbers in the real world. Memorization and drill have gotten a bad rap in recent years, but there’s nothing like having to count fifteen eights to solve your algebra problem to kill the joy of math in a middle school student.

Kids need to memorize their math facts.

They also should play with manipulatives and real-world objects, develop relationship with the material and understand why it works. But they have to memorize their facts.

We began our homeschool using Saxon math, a name that’s been around for ages and is trusted by public, private and homeschool alike.

Saxon worked well for us until my oldest was in fifth grade. At that point I was teaching fifth, third and second grades, with two toddlers. Three hours of math every day was getting hard to be a lot of work, and my oldest was getting frustrated with the quick progression. We spent a year bouncing from program to program (something I would not recommend) before settling on Khan Academy for two years. She is now in a classical charter for eighth grade and back to Saxon (Lord help us).

My next two, in sixth and fifth grades this year, also did two years of Khan Academy before switching to Christian Light for math this year. My first grader is using Singapore.

What has all this taught me? Well, first, pick a math program and stick with it. Unless it’s really not working, it’s better to slug through than to bounce around. Math programs are often different in scope and sequence, but they all build on themselves. Each move you make there is more of a chance you’re going to miss something. That said, I think our move from Saxon was a good one, given the sheer amount of time it was taking to teach it.

Which was my favorite? Well, they each had their pros and cons. Here are my reviews:

Saxon is rigorous, detailed, and has enough practice problems to satisfy the most math-hungry second grader you’ve ever met. It’s a shallow spiral, meaning new information is presented each day, with lots and lots of practice in following lessons. It’s also very teacher-intense. This doesn’t mean it’s hard to teach; lessons are laid out well and a teacher script is included. Any parent willing to devote an hour per day to it will be successful, but if you hate math or don’t have the time to give it, you may want to choose another program. A student who follows the Saxon curriculum through middle school will get an excellent, solid math education. On the other hand, I’ve had more tears with Saxon than any other program, probably because it’s the most rigorous. (*Note: Saxon was acquired by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in recent years and there are rumors it has changed, and not for the better. My experience is with the older Saxon books, which are wonderful.)

MEP is a free, printable math program out of Great Britain. It was the first program we tried after Saxon, partly because of the cost and partly because it was getting really great reviews in homeschool circles. It’s a different way of teaching math, with lots of real-world application and problems that make you think. I liked it, and the pace was more comfortable for my oldest, but it didn’t solve the time issue – I was still teaching three hours of math every day. In the last few years, the hoopla has died down and I haven’t heard much about it. Still, worth looking into, especially if your budget is tight.

Math Mammoth. I really wanted Math Mammoth to work for us. It’s a printable program (you purchase a download) and is student-led, rather than teacher-led. You can choose from grade-level workbooks or skill-based workbooks, and the kids work through them at their own pace, learning from the text. They are affordable, and if you buy the download you can print multiple copies, meaning more than one kid can use it. Unfortunately, it only took a few weeks for us to know this wouldn’t work for us. My kids immediately missed the ‘lesson’ portion of math and struggled with learning from the text. Also, Math Mammoth is definitely Common Core math. The first week, my then-third-grader was performing addition problems six different ways and getting very frustrated about it. (I’m not anti-Common Core, just giving a heads up.)

We briefly considered Math U SeeThis is a homeschool standby, and many people swear by it. It’s a mastery based program, meaning you’ll do nothing but addition until it’s mastered, before moving on to nothing but subtraction until you master that, and so on. I personally felt it wasn’t comprehensive enough and I disliked the mastery focus. The issue I see is that unless you are absolutely sure you’ll be using it all the way through, you’re sure to move into a new curriculum with gaps. Since we knew that public school was a possibility as my kids got older, I didn’t want to risk them moving into middle school and not having encountered, for example, how to find the area of a circle, no matter how good at fractions they were.

Life of Fred is a completely different type of math program. Using the story of Fred, a five-year old college professor, the books present mathematical principles in the context of real-life problems. Fun and easy to read, each chapter has a few ‘try it yourself’ problems at the end, with answers on the next page. We have used these as a successful supplement, either when we’re waiting for the next curriculum to arrive, or when someone is getting burnt out on math, and the kids really enjoy them. I have heard they give a solid math education (at least for non-mathy kids), but my traditional self just doesn’t trust it as a stand-alone program. Make your own decision.

After flirting with MEP, Math Mammoth and Life of Fred, we settled on Khan Academy and stayed there for two years. Khan is really a brilliant program. Students start a course based on grade level. Mastery challenges are given to see how much the child already knows, and based on that information, new skills are introduced. Videos are available to explain each skill, and then practice problems are presented. Students move from level 0 to mastery, and mastered skills are presented randomly to make sure they haven’t forgotten what they’ve learned. Rather than getting letter grades, as the year progresses, students progress by percentage of mastery, hopefully reaching 100% by the end of the year. The programs are based on national math standards for each grade.

The pros: I love that the program consistently introduced new skills while reinforcing old ones. I love that students can work at their own pace, moving through the grade level as quickly as they feel able. I love that it’s a stand alone program, with no instruction from me (although they would frequently ask for help understanding things). I went from one hour per kid per day, to about 15 minutes per kid per day using Khan. Earning points and badges kept them interested in moving forward. Khan also has coding, science, art and history courses available. And it’s FREE.

The cons:  There is no drill of facts in Khan, so you’ll need to supplement with either flash cards or speed drills (or both!). It’s also possible to ‘master’ a concept (answer enough correct in a row) to move on without really mastering it, either because of lucky guesses or random easy questions. They can also skip skills they find difficult, which can provide some much-needed relief when a child is struggling, but can also allow them to avoid challenges, rather than persevering through the tough stuff. It also appears that Khan’s standards are below the standards of other curriculum. This was my reason for switching this year. My son, who had completed 75% of the sixth grade program as well as 75% of the pre-algebra program by Christmas break, has found the sixth grade level of CLE (our current math) to have many skills he’s not yet encountered. My fifth grader, who completed Khan’s fourth grade program and was 40% finished with their fifth grade, has been moved back to CLE’s fourth grade level because of gaps. Some of this is because CLE has higher standards, and I still think Khan is a great program, but as I’m trying to give my kids the best math education I can, I decided the switch was in their best interest.

But I’m sad, because I really, really love Khan.

Christian Light Education was the first specifically Christian curriculum I’ve ever purchased (apart from religious ed.) and I was skeptical. But, having heard good things about it from even non-sectarian homeschoolers, I decided to give it a try. We’ve only been using it a short time, but I am very pleased with it. It is workbook based, with 12 books per year. The first book is a review of the previous year; the following books slowly build on skills previously learned in a systematic, incremental way with plenty of review. Speed drills are included. I spend about 20 minutes per day per kid explaining tricky skills and grading their work. It is certainly more challenging than Khan and I feel more confident they are getting the math they’ll need to succeed in high school. As to the religious content, it’s minimal. Each workbook includes a brief information page on a non-Christian country and story problems revolve around the people who live there. There is a missionary focus to the writing, but there isn’t much of it and it’s easily skipped if you object to that kind of thing. Personally, I like that they’re getting a bit of geography as a bonus.

I’m also using Singapore’s Primary Mathematics for my current first grader. After years of hearing how great it was, I had to try it. Singapore uses more of a mastery system than Saxon, spending several weeks on addition before moving to subtraction and measuring. Halfway through the year we have yet to encounter telling time or counting money, staples of Saxon’s first grade, but there have been logic and math puzzles that Saxon didn’t have. I would judge Singapore to be more of a depth, not breadth, curriculum, pushing kids into abstract, logic-stage math more quickly than is traditional, which can be an advantage given today’s math-heavy middle school years. On the other hand, there are fewer manipulatives, fewer concrete ways of touching, seeing and moving objects to develop relationships with the math. And no drill. I ended up using the Singapore workbooks with the Saxon teacher’s guide and Calculadders for drill for my first grader, and next year I’ll be back with Saxon, supplementing with logic puzzles.*

I almost forgot! We love Calculadders for drill practice. The tests are short (2-5 minutes) and designed to be done daily. Students repeat the same test until it is mastered before moving on to the next level. My kids love these and ask to do them if I forget!

Going forward, I plan to continue using CLE with my middle schoolers and Saxon with my elementary students, supplementing with Khan Academy and Life of Fred when they need a break or something different. At least until something better comes along. 🙂

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*Wait! You said Saxon took too long to teach! Yes, I did. The difference is that going forward I’ll only have two kids in Saxon at a time, and I can handle that. Plus, my older kids will likely all start public high school, so my numbers will go down as the years go on.

History for Homeschooling

Ah, history. The story of mankind and his struggles, joys and quirks. I love history.

From the time we began homeschooling, we have only used one curriculum for history (as you get farther along in this series, you’ll understand why this is so remarkable). The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer is hands down the best elementary history curriculum I have seen.

Divided into four volumes, The Story of the World moves from ancients to modern times in a clear, easy to follow manner. Each book is written to elementary students, the first book aimed at first through fourth graders, the second at second through fifth graders, and so on. The additional activities get more challenging as the series progresses, including outlining and writing assignments in the final volume.

The books read like a story rather than a text book. Students are encouraged to engage with the material, imagining themselves in a Roman villa or as a medieval knight. An activity book is available for each volume, offering review questions, activities, coloring pages, games and suggested reading selections for each chapter. Consumable activity pages are available (although you can make photocopies out of the activity book if you’d like) as are tests for each chapter. You can even get the book on audio! Everything is reasonably priced and all but the activity pages are reusable.

I’ve used Story of the World with my own kids through seventh grade, assigning extra reading and writing activities for the older kids as needed, and I’ve taught three of the volumes in a co-op setting. Each time we’ve had a successful and fun time engaging with history. The author has a separate series, History of the World, designed for high school, but I haven’t used it.

How We Do It

This year, I’m teaching volume 1, Ancient Times, in a co-op setting for my younger kids and volume 4, Modern Times, with my older kids. Because of this, we have a 90 minute class once per week, and assigned homework throughout the week. This is working, but I think next year we’ll go back to our old schedule:

For first through fourth graders:  I generally teach history twice per week, spending 90 minutes per session. We begin by reading half a chapter or more from the book and orally discussing the review questions. We’ll do our map work (included in the activity guide) and a project from the chapter, or additional reading. Then I’ll have my kids write or dictate to me a narration of the chapter. Additional books on the time period are available for free reading time.

For fifth through eighth graders: My older students read the chapters alone, then complete the test that goes with each chapter. We treat these as comprehension worksheets, rather than tests. The fourth volume includes outlining and writing assignments with each chapter, which they also complete. Once per week we sit down together and discuss the chapter, as well as their current literature selection, which corresponds to the time period we’re discussing. I also assign book reports and projects with the literature, but we’ll talk more about that in the language arts section. Because we are doing the modern history book this year, there are fewer projects but more documentaries. They will often watch a documentary or movie based in the time period as their additional work.

What if I’m starting in the middle or have more than one student?

Just go with it. Begin with volume one and progress through the series, allowing each student to take in as much as they are able. Our progression has looked like this:

Year One: volume one with a first grader

Year Two: volume two with a second grader and kindergartner

Year Three: volume three with a third grader, first grader and kindergartner (didn’t finish it)

Year Four: finished volume three and did a semester-long in depth study of American history (I felt volume four was too mature for my first grader) with a fourth, third and first grader

Year Five: volume one again, with a fifth, third and second grader

Year Six: volume two again, with a sixth, fourth, and third grader

Year Seven: volume three, with a seventh, fifth, fourth and kindergartner

Year Eight: volume four with the sixth and fifth graders, volume one with the first and kindergartner

As you can see, they haven’t followed a precise pattern, but they’re getting chronological, steady history teaching. I have opted to skip modern history with my younger students, but they would probably enjoy it. My current first grader is completely enthralled with World War I.

What else can I use?

If you don’t like Story of the World, there are certainly other choices available. You could build your own program, selecting major civilizations or events from the four time periods and using resources available at your library. For example, for ancient times you might choose the Mesopotamians, ancient Egypt, China and India, early Americans (north and south), Alexander the Great, the Greeks and the Romans and spend about a month on each topic, reading, discussing, narrating, making crafts and watching videos. This requires more prep work on your part, but could probably be done for little or no cost.

You could also center a history curriculum around great people. Suppose you are doing Late Renaissance/Early Modern as your time period (third grade, or year three). You could select Mary, Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell, Rembrandt, Louis XIV, Frederick the Great, Benjamin Franklin, Qianlong, Catherine the Great, George Washington, Betsy Ross, Marie Antionette, Mozart, Captain James Cook, Tecumseh, Napoleon and Simon Bolivar. Spend 1-2 weeks on each person, reading a biography and discussing it. Add each person to a timeline, trace their lives on a map or globe and have your child give an oral report. Easy to implement, and probably free at your library.

Keep an eye out for events near you as well. Library programs and museum exhibits can be a great addition to your home study.

You’re insane. I don’t want to do it myself! Just tell me what curriculum to buy!

Mystery of History is another chronological, four volume history program, this one from a Christian point of view.

Guesthollow.com has free Ancient history and American history programs. We used the American history curriculum, as well as her chemistry program, a few years ago and loved it. Plus, free!

I’ve also heard great things about History Odyssey, although I haven’t used it myself.

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Everything I know about homeschooling

I knew I wanted to homeschool my kids from the time they were tiny. In 2005, I picked up a copy of the first edition of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind, and I was instantly hooked on the idea of classical education. That’s not to say we’ve always followed her methods – there was a two-year foray into the Charlotte Mason philosophy – but for the most part we’re unabashed classical homeschoolers.

What’s the difference between my homeschool and a typical public school? No social studies, for one. Not that the idea of social studies isn’t a good one, but I feel strongly that history is a necessary subject for every single person. As Ken Burns famously said, “History isn’t subject. It’s the subject.”

Anyone who has studied history in a systematic, in depth way, can tell you why ISIS has risen in the middle east, the reasons for the poor state of the Mexican economy and the root of the American governmental system (hint – we’re not a democracy). History is the story of people, how they interact with one another and their environment. To understand history is to understand people and to learn from their mistakes. Most of us owe a great deal more to old King John and Socrates than we know. So my kids study history, starting with the ancients and progressing, in a four-year cycle, to modern times. Then they start again, probing, seeking, questioning their way through middle school.; digging deeper into subjects they’ve already encountered to find connections.

Secondly, language arts takes precedence over all else. We live in an age when STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (add art for good measure) are all the rage. These are great programs, don’t misunderstand me, and I have taken advantage of several programs to help my kids understand coding, robotics and engineering, but anyone with high-level reading and writing skills can go on to learn engineering. A high-school student who can code and build robots but can’t communicate effectively has essentially been given a beautiful gift to unwrap, and then had his hands tied.

“For we let our young men and women go out unarmed in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them to read, we have left hem at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do no know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects.” – Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”.

Reading, writing, grammar and spelling form the bulk of our instruction. We read and write about history and science, we memorize grammar and spelling rules (more on the importance of memorization later) and we write (or tell, in the younger grades) about everything.

Science is handled in much the same way as history. We take science subject by subject, slowly moving through biology, earth science, astronomy, chemistry and physics in a systematic way, over four years. And then, as with history, we start again, learning more, doing more, exploring more deeply. Biographies of scientists and hands-on experiments round out our lessons.

Math is also given an important place. They work through their curriculum, supplemented with flash cards, memory work, speed drills and living math books. (Not making sense? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that).

Math, language, history, science. The building blocks of education, laid out clearly and systematically, nothing left out, nothing piecemeal. A compete, rigorous education, like a cake. A thick, dense, chocolate cake. And then, frosting!

Poetry, artist study, composer study, Latin, logic, Shakespeare, fairy tales, great books read aloud, foreign languages, music, art, sports, clubs, hobbies, passions. All these have been incorporated into our days at some point to enhance their education.

So how do we do it? If it sounds difficult and intense – it is. In the last few years more than ever as we’re balancing multiple grades. This is one reason my 8th grader now attends a classical charter school. But it’s possible to do it, and do it well. Over the course of this series I’ll lay out what we do and how we do it, as well as reviewing different materials and curricula we’ve used.

Let’s start with history!

A look at math.

And reading.

And the writing and language arts post is up!

More coming soon! You can subscribe so you don’t miss out on more titillating curriculum reviews.

Are you a classical homeschooler? I’d love to hear from you!

Fighting a Great Battle

This post was written in March, 2014.

I’m on a bit of a kick about bad stuff lately, since that seems to be what I wake up to each morning. It’s interesting how the stuff you’re going through changes the lens through which you see the world.

One of the good things about my dad’s cancer diagnosis is that I feel gentler toward people. Every time I get off the phone with my dad or his wife I’ve received bad news. Sometimes it’s really awful (we didn’t get into the clinical trial we were hoping for) and sometimes just bad (he lost another three pounds) but either way I hang up the phone feeling oddly out of place in the world. It’s astonishing to look around and see the world functioning as it always has. It seems like something should be different. There should be some acknowledgment in the world at large that BAD THINGS ARE HAPPENING TO ME.

But there isn’t. And I can’t walk around oozing my angst over everyone so I smile and go through my day as though the edges of my life weren’t falling off and disappearing.

And then I realize that this is happening all around me. Every day, people get the news that they or a loved one are sick. Or dying. Or dead. Every day, people are wounded through divorce or betrayal. Or the more routine hurts – job loss, choices poorly made, words said in anger. All around are people whose worlds just got tilted a little, but you’d never know it. They smile and speak politely and hold the door for you at the library because we are civilized people, darn it.

I wish I could say this has changed my perspective entirely and that I don’t get irritated at other people’s stupidity because maybe they just found out they need a heart transplant, but it hasn’t. It has, however, made me more aware that there might be underlying reasons for people’s rudeness or seemingly unnecessary self awareness.

And that’s a start.

What the Holy Spirit Does

This is the difference between six-years-ago me, and today me.

Tonight was my son’s 12th birthday party. I assumed five nearly-teenaged boys would eat a lot of pizza, so I ordered a lot of pizza, but they didn’t. I can’t stand the way leftover pizza makes my fridge smell so I asked my husband to take it down to the garage fridge. He said he would.

Two hours later we all ate cake and ice cream and soda, and the pizza was still on the counter, so I asked him again. He said he would.

Two hours later he left to take our daughter to a sleepover and the pizza was still on the counter, so I asked him again. He said he would.

A few minutes after he left, I walked into the kitchen to find.. pizzas on the counter. Six-years-ago me would have had a knock-down, drag-out fight in my mind and started nursing a bitterness that would have lasted until next week. I would have taken the pizzas to the fridge myself, but I would have made sure my man knew about it when he got home.

Today me is different. Not only did I not do those things, I had no desire to. I felt nothing but compassion. He’s been working hard; he’s tired. Everyone forgets things sometimes. I genuinely didn’t care.

I put the pizzas in the fridge. NBD.

That’s what the Holy Spirit does.

Praying for Paris

We should continue to pray for Paris, not because we want Parisians to have ‘more religion’, but because humanity is at its best when people come together.

Let me give an example. Suppose you believe in a Great Green Dragon in the sky who is able to bring peace and joy to the world, if only he’s asked. Suppose I’m going through something really sucky, and I could use some peace and joy, so you offer to pray to your Great Green Dragon for peace and joy for me.

I have two options. I can go the hardcore atheist/fundie Christian route (yes, today they’re the same) and rebuke you for your faith in the GGD. I can tell you that, because I don’t believe in this funny story of yours, your prayers will either do no good (atheist side) or damage me because you’re praying to someone other that God (fundie side). Either way, your attempt to intercede for me is offensive, divisive, and disrespectful of my special, special belief system and/or intellect.

Or, I can say, ‘thank you’. Go ahead and pray if you’d like. If there is no Great Green Dragon in the sky, then I nothing will come of it, for good or evil. But there is strength in unity and compassion. I believe that when we lift up our voices and hearts on behalf of one another, our own hearts are changed. Empathy is powerful, action is even more so, and the act of praying for others makes us better people, and more likely to turn sentiment into action.

Besides, if you really believe that this Great Green Dragon has the power to help me, but you don’t or won’t pray for me, what must you think of me?

While there may be some who are praying for more religion in Paris, the majority of prayers being offered up are for healing, peace, wisdom for leadership, and strength for the weary. We’re praying for compassion. We’re praying for the needed resources to be in place. We’re praying for music, kisses and life. We’re praying for people, because people have value, no matter what they believe. Do we hope that more people will come to faith in Christ? Of course we do. But if they don’t, we will love them all the same.

So, to my atheist friends, I hope you aren’t offended, but I’m going to keep praying. I’m praying because the people of Paris, and around the world, need us to grab them by the hand and pull them up in whatever way we can. #prayerisaboutlife

Brieana

P.S. Yes, I still believe in God and miracles and Jesus. I believe that prayer works. The above is also true.

Why We Celebrate Halloween

This post originally ran on October 24, 2013. Apparently, I am currently a one-post-per-quarter kind of blogger. I don’t mean it to be this way, but it happens. I have many, many ideas and thoughts I’d love to share with you, so if you’re the patient type, stick with me. And if you’re working on a mind-to-blog app, could you speed it up a little? 

Love, Brieana

Don’t mess with Halloween Jesus.

Around this time of year there are always questions about whether or not Christians should participate in Halloween activities, due to their pagan roots. It’s true that Halloween has a rather sordid past, with pagan-practicing communities performing rites to ward off evil spirits. Here’s a quote from history.com:

It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating.

Many Christians feel it’s not okay to participate in Halloween festivities because they were, originally, decidedly un-Christian. Before we start in on Halloween, let’s look around our culture at some other customs that have pagans roots.

Let’s clarify – I’m not saying we should now spend the weekend Googling to find the pagan roots of common things in our lives and then purge ourselves. My point is simply to give perspective. There are many things in modern American culture that were at one time part of pagan worship, but the spiritual aspect of those acts has long since died away.

I found a fantastic article from Grace Communion International outlining some Biblical perspective on dealing with paganism. A few excerpts:

In Deuteronomy 12, God, through Moses, tells us: “Be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, `How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.’ You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”

Do these verses mean that we cannot do anything pagans did in worship? Of course not, for pagans prayed, sang hymns, played musical instruments, and some baptized by immersion. They also had priesthoods, special garments, temples, altars and sacrifices. They had annual festivals in conjunction with the agricultural seasons. None of these practices are wrong. Some are even part of Christianity.

Pagans also had many funeral customs, such as embalming, ceremonies and giving of flowers. Even though these common customs were shaped by non-Christian ideas about the afterlife, and these customs continue to be used by non-Christians, we may, and do, use them in Christian ceremonies without indicating any agreement with the originating beliefs.

In the United States, no one would think it odd for a Christian to have a small ornamental figurine of a bird or animal. In Moses’ day, however, such statues would have been inappropriate. Whether something has pagan connotations is often cultural. What is acceptable in one nation or century may be frowned upon in another. But we do not have to be restricted by erroneous concepts of the past.

We can make decisions about embalming, burial, caskets, crypts, cremation and flowers without having to investigate which of these customs originated in paganism. It is even possible to use these things in religious ceremonies without fear of contamination or compromise.

Of course, some people are uncomfortable with customs such as wedding rings and cremation. Others are not. Different people draw their “lines” in different places, but they need to respect each other’s beliefs. The advice of Romans 14:6-13 applies to such matters: “He who participates does so to the Lord. He who abstains does so to the Lord. So then, why do you judge your brother? Each of us has to give our own account to God. Therefore, do not pass judgment on one another, and do not put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Halloween. I have a deep dislike for scary, gory stuff. Last year I offered to buy each of my kids a bag of candy and pay them $10 to skip it. Sadly, they passed.

For us, Halloween is a great chance to get to know our neighbors and build relationships in the community. Here’s the line our family has drawn – we let our kids dress up, but we don’t allow frightening costumes or those that appear evil (demons, witches, etc.) We usually carve pumpkins. I’m not worried that by dressing up and carving pumpkins we will be worshiping the devil because you can’t accidentally worship something. Carving pumpkins doesn’t make me a pagan any more than sitting in church makes me a Christian. Now if all our neighbors were carving pumpkins as an act of worship to something demonic, we wouldn’t do it. But in our culture the act is purely traditional.

If you live in relative solitude, on a farm or in the country, it’s easy enough to ignore Halloween altogether. But in a neighborhood like ours, it’s impossible. There are pumpkins on every doorstep and skeletons in some of the trees. I don’t know a single family that won’t be out trick or treating. We have a choice to make, and it comes down to that 90’s anthem: What Would Jesus Do? He told us to be in the world, but not of it. This is a very important line to draw. If we’re going to say we’re set apart by God we can’t rush in to do everything the world does. But remaining ‘not of’ the world doesn’t mean shunning the people around us. There are plenty of examples in scripture of Christians setting aside their objections in order to love their communities.  Would Jesus hide in His house with the lights off and ignore all the little children knocking for candy? Even if you don’t participate by following the usual customs, buy a bag of candy, turn on the porch light and meet your neighbors! If you are worried about exposing your little ones to demonic-looking costumes, put a sign in the drive way that says, “Small children at home, no scary costumes, please.” Will a few teenagers defy your sign? Maybe. But rather than being seen as the ‘odd family who goes to church’ you can be seen as the ‘really nice and friendly family that goes to church’.

Let’s be clear, if you feel strongly that your family shouldn’t celebrate Halloween – don’t. If your church community or family would be offended by your participating, don’t put a stumbling block in their way. In the end, none of this is about our personal feelings and desires – it’s about behaving toward others in a way that points them to Jesus.

Happy Halloween,

Brieana