Old Wisdom, Recommendations

A Charge to Parents from 1671

I found this little book called “A Token for Children” referenced in Elizabeth Gill’s obituary penned by her father, John Gill.  It was apparently one of her favorite books alongside The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The book is itself worth reading, but I wanted to share the introduction in particular. I couldn’t find a clean copy online.  I’ve added some linebreaks and modernized the punctuation just slightly.

~ * ~

To all Parents, School-Masters, and School-Mistresses, or any that are concerned in the EDUCATION of Children.

Dear Friends, I Have often thought that Christ speaks to you, as Pharaoh’s daughter did to Moses’s mother, “Take this child, and nurse it for me.” Consider what a precious jewel is committed to your charge, what an advantage you have to shew your love to Christ, to stock the next generation with noble plants, and what a joyful Account you may make, if you be faithful: Remember, souls, Christ and grace cannot be overvalued.

I confess you have some disadvantages, but let that only excite your diligence; the salvation of souls, the commendation of your master, the greatness of your reward and everlasting glory, will pay for all. Remember the devil is at work hard, wicked ones are industrious, and a corrupt nature is a rugged, knotty piece to hew: But be not discouraged: I am almost as much afraid of your laziness and unfaithfulness, as any thing. Do but go to work in good earnest, and who knows but that rough stone may prove a pillar in the temple of God?

In the name of the living God, as you will answer it shortly at his bar, I command you to be faithful in instructing and catechizing your young ones; if you think I am too peremptory, I pray read the command from my master himself, Deut. vi. 7. Is not the duty clear? and dare you neglect so direct a command! Are the souls of your children of no value? Are you willing that they should be brands of hell? Are you indifferent whether they be damned or saved? Shall the devil run away with them without controul? Will not you use your utmost endeavour to deliver them from the wrath to come? You see that they are not subjects uncapable of the grace of God; whatever you think of them, Christ doth not slight them; they are not too little to die, they are not too little to go to hell, they are not too little to serve their great master, too little to go to heaven; For of such is the kingdom of God; and will not a possibility of their conversion and salvation, put you upon the greatest diligence to teach them? Or are Christ and heaven, and salvation, small things with you? if they be, then indeed I have done with you: but if they be not, I beseech you lay about you with all your might; the devil knows your time is going apace, it will shortly be too late.

O therefore what you do, do quickly, and do it I say, with all your might; O pray, pray, pray, and live holily before them, and take some time daily to speak a little to your children, one by one, about their miserable condition by nature; I knew a child that was converted by this sentence, from a godly school-mistress in the country, “Every mother’s child of you are by nature children of wrath.” Put your children upon learning their catechism, and the scriptures, and getting to pray and weep by themselves after Christ: take heed of their company; take heed of pardoning a lye; take heed of letting them mis-spend the sabbath; put them, I beseech you, upon imitatating these sweet children; let them read this book over an hundred times, and observe how they are effected, and ask them what they think of those children, and whether they would not be such? and follow what you do with earnest cries to God, and be in travel to see Christ formed in their souls.

I have prayed for you, I have oft prayed for your children and I love them dearly; and I have prayed over these papers, that God would strike in with them, and make them effectual to the good of their souls. Incourage your children to read this book, and lead them to improve it. What is presented, is faithfully taken from experienced, solid christians, some of them no way related to the children, who themselves were eye and ear witnesses of God’s works of wonder; or from my own knowledge, or from reverend godly ministers, and from persons that are of unspotted reputation, for holiness, integrity, and wisdom; and several passages are taken verbatim in writing from their dying lips. I may add many other excellent examples, if I have any encouragement in this piece, which the author had done, in the Second Part. That the young generation may be far more excellent than this, is the prayer of one that dearly loves little children.


Janeway was a nonconformist preacher so popular and so hated by the Church of England that they attempted to assassinate him twice.  He and his brothers (all duly ejected from the Church of England) all died very young from tuberculosis – James at 38.  This book was read not only in the Gill family, but often by the Spurgeons as well.

Homeschooling, Recommendations

Our School Year, 2015

Julie / August 29, 2015

S asked me to put together a list of what curriculum we’ve found useful, and—overwhelmed at the magnitude of that task, it finally occurred to me that probably the simplest way to do so is just to explain what we’re actually doing, and a couple sentences about why.  One caveat, this is more like “this very month,” because different kids are in different parts of their grades… some of these we JUST started and some are almost finished. (more…)


My favorite bouncer.


Yes, it’s another product review.  I just honestly have been so impressed by this bouncer that I had to share. Smile  Someday I’m going to write an entry about pacifiers and breastfeeding, too, and then I think I’ll be all product-ed out.

Fisher Price makes “rockers” that convert from a stationary bouncer to a sort of rocking chair for toddlers.  This is what I asked for, and received, at the baby shower for our first child, and I’ve been very happy with it–it has made it through three children (often more than one at once) with aplomb.  It’s still going strong.  I had another bouncer, a much cheaper second-hand item, that I kept on the other floor, though, and it was biting the dust.

I should perhaps add here that I’m not a fan of swings.  A baby that’s happy in a bouncer will be equally happy on a pile of blankets at someone else’s house, or in a carseat; a baby that’s happy in a swing will be happy in a swing. That’s my experience, anyway, and so this time around we aimed our two swings at the dumpster and decided to invest in a second bouncer instead.

This is not my kid.I seriously considered getting a second one exactly like the first, but then I saw this one.  It’s a little more expensive, maybe simply because it’s newer, but I loved the idea that the toy bar swung out of the way, and also that the bouncer itself folds up for easy transport and small storage.  I was a little worried about its plastic construction–the cheaper bouncer-rocker is made out of metal–but it’s still rated for forty pounds, which means it can still easily handle our toddlers if they rebelliously venture into it. It’s also a little more matchy with our living room than the blue one is.

So I ordered it, sight unseen, and very excitedly pulled it out of the box and put it together.  We love it.  Baby and I, I mean.  What you can’t really tell from the picture is that it’s very broad.  It doesn’t seem to take up more floorspace than the other bouncers I’ve used, but it’s a lot more bed-like and supportive.  It has a pretty good range of tilt to the seat, too.  It’s also a lot more sturdy than I expected it to be, and the legs work well.  You can definitely drag it across the floor without the legs folding under, but it also has enough grippiness that it stays still when one of the girls knocks into it.  The toy bar folding away is every bit as convenient as I hoped it would be, and honestly I’m kind of glad that it doesn’t make a lot of noise like most bouncer bars!  (It doesn’t make any noise at all, in fact.)  The toy creatures are a little frightening–child the eldest asked why the bugs had so many eyes–but bright and colorful and positioned at a good height.  The whole thing is a little brighter than it looks in the pictures, honestly, which is one of the few negatives since I was hoping it would blend with our décor.  Also not obvious from the pictures is that the bouncer is quite low to the floor, much more than the other bouncer-rocker.  This too is a good thing with toddlers around the house: it would be really hard for them to purposefully or accidentally knock the bouncer over, but it’s still high enough and sturdy enough that they’re unlikely to fall into the bouncer the way they do with a regular, close-to-the-floor bouncer.  (Our first daughter occasionally flipped over her sister’s bouncer–happily I caught it and no damage was ever done to said sister–it was scary, though!)

In short, this is the perfect bouncer to have around when you have two under two, or three under three.



On swaddling and swaddlers.

4.16.08eliana 005

(a swaddled, newborn E)

So, I’ve had three little babies so far, and swaddled all of them to varying extents.  I’ve done blanket swaddles, which always make me nervous because it’s a blanket, which everyone knows you’re not supposed to have within 10 feet of a newborn, but I’ve mostly used the different swaddling products.

First up, we have the SwaddleMe, which was all I’d heard of or seen in stores when our first daughter was born.  We thought it worked just fine, but then other swaddlers came out and I began to wonder.  There are three main points I think it’s important to make about the SwaddleMe: 1) it’s a pain with a newborn, because you have to unswaddle to change their diaper.  Not something I want to do in the middle of the night.  2) the different fabrics result in very different swaddles. The bamboo is the stretchiest one I’ve used, and consequently works the least well–although it is very nicely lightweight.  The cotton one seems the stiffest and best overall, but I’m currently using the fleece and that is working okay as well.  Lastly, 3) you have to swaddle tightly to have a tight swaddle. I’m convinced this is where the “but my baby wiggles out of it” negative reviews come from.  I don’t just wrap the baby up like I’m trying to keep it warm, I wrap it up like I’m squeezing all the life out.  (And, obviously, I check to make sure that I’m not really accomplishing that!)  None of my three children has ever, a single time, come out of their SwaddleMe.  Their arms don’t escape, and they certainly don’t end up near their face.

I’m still a fan, in other words.

But what about those newer, better swaddlers?  First up is the infinitely expensive Woombie, but let me conflate it with what I presume is a total imitation product, the Swaddlepod.  They’re more or less identical, except the Swaddlepod has a zipper closure I like much, much better (the top zipper disappears under a tiny flap, with MUCH less bulk than the Woombie’s velcro-over-zipper at the top), and the Woombie definitely has less stretch (which is a good thing).  I find both these swaddlers to be great for newborns, because they make it a breeze to change diapers in the middle of the night.  It’s worth it just for that.  I like the Swaddlepod better, thanks in no small part to its lovely price tag.  They’re also much cooler than even the lightest SwaddleMe, because there are so few layers.  But my son wiggled out of them before he was even two months old. The swaddle is just not tight enough.  It got to where every night his hands were stuck up through the neck hole, and they woke him up. So back to the old SwaddleMe we went, and since he makes it through the night without a diaper change now, Mommy and baby are both sleeping much better.

There’s yet another type of swaddler on the market, made by the same company as the SwaddleMe, which seems to be the best of both worlds: a bottom-opening zipper matched with the custom fit of the SwaddleMe’s arm-like wrapping.  I haven’t tried it yet, and it only comes in larger sizes, unfortunately.  But if they made it for newborns, it’d be just about perfect.  Until then, I’ll keep using a Woombie/Swaddlepod-like wrap while the nighttime changes persist, then switch back to the old standby SwaddleMe (I have a bajillion of them in the baby closet anyway!).

Recommendations, Studying God, Toddlers

Bible books and music

Julie / September 22, 2010

It turns out that it’s really difficult to find good Bibles / Bible books / devotionals for toddlers, especially ones that are reformed!  I just wanted to run through some of the ones we have found and are extremely happy with.  Notably, most of these are by the same author/publisher, which I think is more a sad commentary on what other publishers are up to than anything else.

My 1st Book Of Questions and Answers

This is a catechism book for little ones, based on the Westminister Shorter Catechism but generalized enough on the baptism questions to work for Baptists too.  Endorsed by R.C. Sproul, John and Noel Piper, and some other major people.  It’s not a terribly pretty book, but it’s pocket-sized and in a kid-friendly type.  This is one of a series–the others are books of memory verses, church information, etc.  This one’s a real gem.

God Never Changes (Learn about God)God Is Faithful (Learn about God)God Is Everywhere (Learn about God)
This is a series of board books exploring God’s attributes.  I think these are my favorite little board books–they’re very simple and give concrete examples of how, for instance, God is everywhere.  These are the only books on this list that aren’t strictly Bible stories, but I actually like them better for younger children because they’re very basic and simple to follow.
Missing Sheep, The (Stories Jesus Told) Selfish Servant, The (Stories Jesus Told) Lost Coin, The (Stories Jesus Told)
These are also board books.  Each one very simply retells one of Jesus’s parables.  They do leave out things, obviously for the sake of space (they are board books), but stay accurately to the text otherwise.
These are part of a series called “Biblewise.”  The next three sections feature very similar books–they’re all the same size (which is kind of like a large, full-color booklet–they’re stapled instead of having a perfect-bound spine), all very inexpensive ($3 or less), all well-illustrated, all strictly Bible-based, and all avoid depicting Christ, which I find an interesting choice (and a fairly good one, considering that children tend to believe what they see exactly).  These ones seem to be geared, very slightly, to the oldest audience.  There is quite a bit of text on each page–although certainly not beyond the attention span of, say, a four-year-old.  I expect that with all of these books, we would read them aloud to our children and then when they are older, have them read them by themselves, or even incorporate them into schoolwork.
These are a series called “Bibletime.”  They are VERY similar to the “Biblewise” books, except perhaps geared to a slightly younger audience.  But the difference is minute.  They are very thorough–the “Ruth” book, for instance, pretty much goes through the entire book of Ruth.
Jesus The Teacher (Bible Alive) Jesus The Storyteller (Bible Alive)Jesus The Miracle Worker (Bible Alive)Moses the Leader: Used by God (Bible Alive)David the King: True Repentance (Bible Alive David) Moses the Child: Kept by God (Bible Alive) David the Shepherd: A Man of Courage (Bible Alive: David) David the Soldier: A Man OF Patience(Bible Alive David)
And the last series we have is called “Bible Alive.”  As far as I can tell, this series only covers Jesus, Moses, and David, with quite a few books devoted to each.  I really like this configuration, though, because it breaks each story down into manageable segments that you can actually read in one sitting, but with all the books together they provide a fairly thorough outline of each life.  All three of these Bible series seem to be geared to a similar-aged audience, but these ones seem to be slightly more appropriate for the little ones.  The pictures are still full-color, but don’t stretch to the very edges of the page (less distracting) the way they do in the other two sets, the illustrations are a little more simplified, and there are fewer words to a page.  I believe, though, that this is the only one of the sets that devotes more than one book to each person.
My Bible Story Book
And at last we come to the book that we’ve settled on so far for our family reading time.  This is a hardcover book with stories from all throughout the Bible–a very standard storybook in that respect.  It tells the stories fairly simply and accurately, with an extra kind of “food for thought” question on almost every page (out from the main text).  We’ve really been enjoying it.  The biggest downside, in my opinion, is that the illustrations aren’t terribly good compared to many other Bible storybooks (or, indeed, the books by the same author that I’ve mentioned above).  They’re very cartoony.  One positive, though, is that there’s been a noticeable decrease in “What is that?” questions about the illustrations, because there aren’t very many extraneous, irrelevant things in the pictures.  And that’s a very good thing if you have a two-year-old.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name Jesus Storybook Bible Deluxe Edition
Finally, a different author!  😀  This book is also reformed, and its primary emphasis is to show how the entire Bible tells the story of Christ, so each story comes back to Christ whether in looking forward or in looking back.  The illustrations are gorgeous, and the theology is sound.  I think I first heard of this from Al Mohler, but it’s quite popular in general amongst the reformed crowd.  It’s a beautiful, sound book.  It just has way too much text per page to hold the attention of our toddler, and I actually appreciate the simplicity of Carine MacKenzie’s books a little bit more, although I know we’ll be reading this one too as our kids get older.  I will say that E loved it when she was a newborn–the artwork really is amazing.
Seeds of Courage 1Seeds Family Worship: Power of Encouragement, Vol. 5Seeds of Faith 2Seeds of Purpose 4Seeds of Praise 3
These CDs are fantastic. They’re just Bible verses.  Nothing else.  Just Scripture, and references, made into cheery kids music.  Musically, they’re more along the lines of Sovereign Grace kids or Absolute Worship kids than, say, Maranatha Kids–they’re not annoying or embarrassing to listen to.  They repeat a lot, obviously, because the whole point is to learn the verses and repetition goes along with that, but they’re really quite brilliantly done and fun to listen to.  More importantly, though, they WILL change your day if you have them going in the background!  It’s great to listen to worship music at all, but there’s really something significantly different about listening to straight Scripture and having the lyrics of the Word wind their way into your heart.  The only negative thing I can think to say about this wonderful series is that it isn’t free, because I wish everyone could own a copy!
So, as far as Bible learning goes, this is some of what works in our house!  Linked to Works for Me Wednesday.

A girl named Elsie.

Julie / September 13, 2010

41eVIBgvLEL._SL160_I’m very sorry to say that the first time I read the Elsie Dinsmore books was just this summer.  I say “sorry,” because I rather would have liked the experience of reading them as a child, along with Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, and Jo March–the Elsie stories are so very similar to these which I’ve known so much longer, and yet very significantly different.


Little Miss Elsie Dinsmore is eight years old when her series opens, and she finds herself in dire circumstances: her mother has died, her father is gallivanting around Europe having never met his little daughter, and she finds herself in her grandparents’ rather hostile home, with a grandmother who dislikes her, a grandfather who is fairer but still prefers his own children (who are Elsie’s age), a schoolteacher who is cruel to her specifically, and a horde of fellow-children aunts and uncles who torment her.

At this point Anne Shirley is escaping into her elaborate world of make-believe and wishing for parents while quoting Tennyson.  Elsie, on the other hand, is busy praying for the salvation of her heathen companions, quoting Scripture, and bemoaning her own imperfections in responding to the persecution that surrounds her.

Finally Elsie’s father returns from Europe, and in some ways her life gradually improves–he takes up for his daughter against his siblings and parents–but then Elsie’s in for the darkest days of her life when her father (who is not a Christian), who insists on always being obeyed, asks her to do something she thinks is wrong.  The resulting battle of wills between an eight-year-old and her father is fascinating and horrible to read.

The story ends happily, as every believer’s story eventually does, but not before trekking through adolescence, romance, marriage, and children; the Civil War, slavery, criminals, and business ethics; and the ways little girls should choose their friends and the influence friends and companions can have over us.

In short, these are books full of endless thought-provoking dilemmas and assertions by the main characters, who are relentlessly portrayed as flawed and fallen humans.  The books have one very major (although rarely surfacing) flaw in their treatment of race; the Union is subtly presented as the “right” side in the War, but the issue lacks some of the clarity we could wish for, and at one point Elsie assures her slaves that they’ll be white in heaven, which was really jarring, to say the least!  Theologically the main thing that stuck out to me was Elsie’s obsession with observing the Sabbath in a way that we certainly wouldn’t hold to today; I don’t know enough about the time period to know if her strictness would have been more appropriate back then,  but especially since the Sabbath was the heart of the issue Elsie had with her father in the first book (i.e., I agreed more with her father when clearly the authorial intention was to agree with Elsie) this was a hard issue to ignore.  I honestly couldn’t tell on my first read-through whether the books were Reformed or not–they were kind of like A.W. Tozer that way!

Lastly, it’s difficult not to find Elsie’s very goodness a literary flaw: what eight-year-old could ever be that holy and consistent?  And she does come off at first glance as a goody-goody.  But the more I think about it, and especially in these many weeks since I first read the books, I’m becoming convinced that this isn’t a flaw at all: rather, it’s a deep illustration of how very different Christianity and Christian lives should be from secular.  One of the major themes of the Elsie books is the difference between being moral people and being true believers, and it strikes me that, as believers, we really should be a little more reserved in our praise of books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women.  I’m the first to admit their artistic superiority, but I think they invite us to confuse morality and common values of bygone years with spirituality.  Anne and Jo’s behavior really should perplex us; both girls, however brilliant and intoxicatingly fascinating, were clearly on their fictional way to a fictional version of Hell.  Let’s not miss the full impact of that.

51gaQz8GcmL._SL160_Someone wrote an overview of the Elsie books that pull out some of her “virtues”  and make an instructive book out of them.  I haven’t read it and I have no plans to–but isn’t it significant that it’s even possible to do that?  And have the resulting book be not only about what is “kind” and “moral” and “good citizenship,” but about what’s biblical and what pleases God?  I could read some pretty boring books (and the Elsie ones aren’t boring!) for that kind of trade-off in quality that goes far beyond the surface.

So, stop reading my blog and go check them out.  🙂  Here’s the first book online.