About Me

I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure (using font only to enable access in settings with poor internet)

Saturday, 25 August 2012

A response to the preschool post

Recently, I posted some of my deliberations about curricula or lack thereof for children of ‘preschool’ age. A very wise friend of mine (one of those women that every young mother wishes she had in her life) emailed me with some very encouraging, simple and practical advice. With her permission, I am drawing from that email to share with the readers of this blog:

God is SO gracious and has brought some joy and fruit from our feeble attempts to bring our children up glorifying Him and living for Him. But there are so many other things we see in their lives that are not the way we would choose, and yet in some cases it is now (apart from prayer and more grace!) out of our hands and control and I see how short and precious every opportunity was that we had with them when they were younger, and thank God that we had them in our care even though we did NOT do the job right or faithfully all the time/so much of the time.

You were talking about preschool curriculum, and I didn’t follow any of the links you put up, but just read your writing about it. Really, I think so much that if you are WITH your boys, that you talk to them, answer their questions, follow leads of things that interest them, read to them, teach them about God, discipline them, and love them....you are on the best ever curriculum. I’m not just saying that to sound cute, but YOU are with them, and you are answering their questions and reading to them, opening their minds to understand the science and geography and even history around them, you are teaching when their ability to comprehend is begging for it, and filling their minds with TRUTH and beauty and “beating out” the things that are not!!

Their deep emotional needs are to be connected, secure and safe and loved by you and your husband and you are providing that all the time. You just can’ begin to imagine all that is doing for them...actually you probably CAN because you know how it was not to have all those things in your life. God gave them parents and its more than obvious that that is their biggest need at this age-and the emotional health and security they get just from you BEING there is HUGE!! Sometimes in the past couple of years my older kids have commented how they realise by getting to know other kids their age, how messed up they are and how their parents have been distant, career minded, divorced or other sad things, and suddenly they have seen WHY that person is battling with life, and sad or messed up in some way, and have so appreciated that we have been strong parent influences and committed to them as they have been growing up-it is so obvious the strength that has given them, even though we have not agreed with them about everything etc, they can already appreciate the positive effect this has had on them. And I think most of the strength it gives children is not even tangible to them, but its forever.

But as far as “education” goes, you know, the thing is that YOU of all people know exactly what they can manage and absorb, because you are with them and know them so well...so you can follow leads that are applicable to YOUR child, and even if you find something called a curriculum, you would still pick and choose what is helpful, interesting and at a level suited to YOUR child, so in the end you are doing your own thing with them. I have 2 little 2 year old friends and they are both ADORABLE little boys but they are so different in what they are interested in! One can pretty much “do” and recognise and figure out anything at all to do with the alphabet, and counts into hundreds and really is thrilled with that! And recite all his books!! But the other would be bored stiff if you tried to make him learn that stuff!! But he knows about baking and lions and Thomas the tank engine...and other things! You know all that...!

But really, the closest I would get to a curriculum would be to do as you have done and now and then read through a list of things that a curriculum would aim to achieve, like learning manners and colours, and catching a ball...or whatever, and see if there are the odd ideas in there that you hadn’t thought of doing, just for inspiration for your boys’ activities! I remember asking a good friend about preschool things and him saying that I should not feel guilty when my friends kids came home from pre school with “amazing” boxes glued together and painted, and that there was a limit to the useful things you could achieve with a class of 20 three year olds, so painting boxes was a crowd activity that could be managed by one poor teacher, whereas being at home with your own children you could do WAY more useful things than that!! AND even slap some paint on a box too if you were desperate! (it really isn’t terribly educational anyway)

Another thing I would do, especially when we were past the first few kids who would get all our attention, and who benefited because I wasn’t tied up doing school things with older siblings, I would try and do the fun craft things in a big way for Christmas, Easter and at birthday parties, so that they would get the opportunity to do them, although we could never cope with fitting them into everyday life. Turns out that my most vociferous crafter is my youngest, who got pretty close to zero help or encouragement to do craft stuff as I was just too busy....but who has all the craft supplies at her disposal and just needs me to be reading to her and she starts producing all sorts of crafts at an alarming rate!

Our school curriculum (Sonlight) didn’t do a preschool or kindergarten curriculum when I started school with the eldest two. But now they do have a curriculum, as people have begged for it- but it is basically just loads of great books! Great stories to read and sciency books to enjoy. If people ask me about school stuff for that age, I suggest that they just order all the books, put them on their shelves and read them whenever the child wants a story...until they have had enough! They are just lovely resources and are real books not “text books” or “work books”.

Also, I think hanging out at home and NOT feeling you have to dash from one activity to another is very helpful- I could see kids that did that not benefiting, whereas being home more you have to get on with your siblings, because they are always there and not always being entertained...and being a bit “bored” and having downtime to just find their own entertainment, and let their imaginations run is really important too. And of course you get the home things accomplished as well, and keep to a schedule.

I have a feeling that I am telling you everything you completely already know!! But maybe it will encourage you anyway! This morning we heard teaching from Matthew 28 v 16-20. V 18 says that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth...and he mentioned how hugely believing this will affect our choices, our handling of our treasures, our use of time, etc etc....and it certainly effects how we love and train our children too...if Jesus IS in authority, then it SO okay to move in a direction different to those around us if Jesus calls us to, and in so many ways I was challenged (as he went on to say how we should be taking the gospel to others...)  to question if Jesus’ authority over all had been and was actually changing how I was doing life – and of course feel that I am not submitting to HIS authority enough, and rather use human logic too often and seek for comfort again and again...but it so does apply to how we spend the time we have with our children, Jesus has spoken about how they should live too....and we are given the job of passing on those directives and lifestyles to them...its not easy, it gets harder...but it’s the only way!

I really wanted to share this email here, because this comes from a mother of seven whose children are all well balanced individuals, secure in who they are, able to weigh up opposite sides of a discussion and form their own view based on evidence, and are extremely well socialized. It was this family who caused me to question many of my views on home education, family and parenting. I hope it also brings encouragement to others who are at an earlier stage in the adventure. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

'Pre-school': should I use a curriculum?

Recently I have been considering the relative benefits of following a curriculum or schedule, and those of having a very relaxed, ‘every day is different’ kind of approach. My eldest son, aged 3 ¼, has reached the age where he would receive 15 hours per week of nursery or pre-school education, and so many of his friends are doing so. I have noticed how increasingly aware he is of days and schedules and routines; almost every morning starts with, ‘Is it Tuesday? Are we going to the adventure playground today?’ or a similar remark relating to another day. He seems to have found the summer ‘holiday’ time quite disruptive, as he clearly appreciates having some kind of routine. And yet, one of the great advantages of home education is that we are not controlled by a schedule, and have the flexibility where we can change plans at the last moment, following through an idea (for example, reading about Egypt in the Bible, then going to the museum in the afternoon to see and learn more about ancient Egyptian culture. Or reading a book where the main character bakes a loaf of bread, to then bake in the afternoon and take loaves fresh from the oven to a friend’s house). 

I am aware of several pre-school curricula that exist, and my questions as I read around the area included:

1)      Is there any great advantage (or otherwise) of using a curriculum?
2)      What curricula are in existence?
3)      How should I approach ‘schooling’ over the next six months?
4)      Am I already covering the areas considered to be important?
5)      Am I missing out on any essential areas of learning?

This article from another mother with similarly aged children was interesting:

Basically she reflects that many of her contemporaries enrol their children in pre-school as they are simply unaware that an alternative exists, or consider that it must be a good thing if it is being provided. I could relate to a lot of what she was saying. 

I found this website has some very helpful resources: http://www.handsonhomeschooling.com/index.htm
Whilst the author has developed a curriculum that you can purchase, the part I found helpful was where she lists the key areas and key skills that you would expect a child of a certain age to have reached. 

Broadly, the areas considered are:

  • Core academics: Phonics and reading, writing and penmanship, arithmetic, science and health and social studies
  • Electives: Arts and crafts, music, physical education 
  • Growth and Development: Manners and helping, personal care 
  • Support courses: Bible and spiritual growth, and ‘readiness’ skills
I found these checklists quite interesting, and generally reassuring. There is no major area that we are missing out on. There are some areas where the boys might be considered ‘advanced’ – for example, by the age of two, they can walk about four miles and are very physically active. In others, they are less so – perhaps some of the ‘craft’ activities which involve sitting and cutting and glueing. And she does make the observation that boys are likely to lag in some of those areas. 

What about the need for a schedule? Perhaps unsurprisingly, if you do an internet search on home education, you see a whole range – from extremely tightly scheduled days, through to an almost complete lack of structure. One resource which I may well use is an approximate weekly timetable, with the days listed along the top, and the ‘key’ areas listed down the side:

or for slightly more detail,

And then I generally looked at some blogs of families who are home educating their children, looking for tips, wisdom and inspiration. On this occasion, there was nothing that had a huge impact on me, but if you are interested, the following link summarises many such pages for your perusal:

So, how do I plan to approach the coming months? I aim to make an approximate plan week by week. There are certain daily activities that are rarely missed – reading, walks in the park, Bible time. Other activities feature several times per week, such as cooking, music, art and letter writing. Then there are ‘special’ things that we might do once every week or so – the museum and art gallery, the docks, the library, other day trips out and about. And somewhere in between those, are the ladies and toddlers Bible study group, the home education meet at the adventure playground, the church toddler group, the home education forest school and so on. I think these are the makings of a balanced curriculum, but I must take care to spread things evenly through the week. Practically, the boys still all have a nap for between one and two and a half hours in the middle of the day, and this is beneficial for many reasons. So full days out, packed with activity can be counter productive. More usually, we try and do one out of the house session per day, and do home-based activities for the other. This allows maintenance of sleep and mealtime routines, and also encourages better discipline.

I plan to keep browsing, and keep reading. I will write about helpful resources (and maybe critique some less helpful ones!) as I come across them. I’d be interested to know how you navigate (or navigated if you have been at it for longer) these early years.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Mentorship and Modelling

‘Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God’. Titus 2:3-5

In another post on this blog, I made reference to this passage in Titus Chapter 2. It is an interesting section of the Bible, and it is teaching us how we should set an example for others who are walking a similar path, providing guidance, mentorship and encouragement. I think these are a few verses which are sometimes misapplied, and given an incorrect emphasis. 

Who is it written to?
Titus Chapter 2 refers to many groups of people – to Titus himself, as a leader in the church. Then to the ‘older women’, then to the older men to ‘encourage the young men’, and then finally to ‘slaves’ (many people draw parallels between the biblical passages referring to slaves and masters with modern day employees and employers). So it is written to Christians in all walks of life.

Who is an ‘older woman’?
Not many women would like to think of themselves as ‘older’ women! And I think that is one reason why the passage can be misinterpreted. What it is referring to is women who have learnt through life’s experiences and have grown wise through these. I might be considered an ‘older woman’ to a student, for example, or a newly married woman, or a first-time mother. But it is not simply a matter of chronological time or events; I might be considered in this way to a woman much older than myself who faces a trial which I have endured, such as the death of a child. To me, the ‘older women’ are those who have walked through similar life events in faithfulness to God; they are women I seek to emulate. 

What are these women to teach one another?
This is where I think over-emphasis on one section of the verse can bring confusion. We are to draw on our own experiences of trusting God through life’s circumstances and events, living by faith. The examples given here are loving our husbands and children, being self-controlled and pure, being busy at home, being kind, and being subject to our husbands (I have discussed the issue of biblical submission in a marriage elsewhere, and will not go into detail about it in this post). Some interpret this passage as directly saying that women must only work within the home, but I do not think that is what it is saying. But rather, it is telling us that we should not neglect our first responsibilities, and that we should learn from and be encouraged by other Christians as we seek to do so in a society and culture which throws so many other messages at us.

Why is the passage written?
It is written so that ‘no one will malign the word of God’. What that means, is that we should be consistent in how we live, in a way which shows that we really believe what we talk about. Of course none of us will be perfect whilst we live in this world; if we could be, there would have been no need for the salvation which comes only through Christ. But we are exhorted throughout the Bible to live lives which give honour to God in all things. And this is another such example. And this principle is expanded towards the end of the chapter: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good’. (Titus 2:11-14)

So what is it asking us to do?
A lot of what the passage talks about might be summarised by the word ‘mentoring’. This is a process by which somebody (usually, but not invariably, with a certain set of skills or experiences) seeks to facilitate another individual in maximising their own potential in those same areas. To me, it implies a close, honest relationship where regular, open discussions take place, and specific challenges and suggestions may be given. It is something which may occur informally, and ideally should occur naturally within a church setting, but could also be formalised (as is often the case within the workplace or in education). The type of relationship described is one where an ‘older’ woman shares her life, her faith, her challenges and her encouragements with a ‘younger’ woman, with the goal of spurring her on towards love and good deeds (ref Heb 10:24). 

What does it look like?
An interesting blog item discussing this very issue can be found here:  
My husband just reminded me of a recent example of where I may have served in this role, but not exactly as I would have intended! We had a younger female Christian staying with us for a week. I had recently given birth to my fourth child, was vomiting frequently, and so was in and out of the hospital having medical tests which required me to not eat and drink for long periods of time during the week she was staying (whilst breastfeeding, which made me quite dehydrated and unwell). A couple of times, I was very fragile and tearful, and did not feel I was the ‘perfect Christian hostess’ I sought to be. However, this friend commented that it had actually encouraged her more, because sometimes she would think that life would be so much better were she married or with children; my struggles encouraged her as she saw that our faith and testimony were real, but that just like her, we faced trials. And so, through opening our home, and not being ‘perfect’, we had some very helpful discussions about living as Christians through trials and suffering.

For me, the women who have become ‘Titus 2 women’ in my life, have been those who have radiated a vibrant relationship with Christ, a desire to know Him more, a humility and openness, and a loving concern whereby they sought me to know Christ better. 

Does it actually happen?
Sadly, I would say that in my experience, it does not happen nearly as often as it should. I am thankful to God that He has provided me with some older, wiser Christian women from whom I can learn so much through simply spending time with them. But one lives in Malawi, another South Africa, and another a distant part of the UK; I pray for such a relationship closer to home. Reading the blog reference above, you hear echoed time after time women yearning for such a relationship and for such guidance as they seek to raise their families for the glory of God.

Why doesn’t it happen?
I think part of the problem may be that women don’t think of themselves as ‘older’! But also, in many churches, women are not really empowered to make the most of the gifts they have. I realise that by using the words ‘women’ and ‘empowered’ in the same sentence, that some may raise their eyebrows and consider me a feminist. But my point is serious. In churches that interpret the Bible (correctly in my view, but I have good friends who disagree) that women should not preach or have church leadership roles, the women can become quite passive, and not see the many opportunities they have to teach other women, to teach within their homes, to facilitate discussions, to model through their lives, and generally to be the godly woman described in Titus 2. Also, we are all aware of our own shortcomings. I remember in my early twenties hearing of how a teenager in my home village saw me as a role model, and I was horrified! I could see so much wrong in my life, and thought she could find a far better person to encourage her. But I was a young Christian who was growing and seeking to overcome challenges and obstacles through His strength; and in that respect, I was probably an ideal role model. The precise challenges faced do not matter; to be a mentor and to inspire others, you do not need to have been through exactly the same circumstances, but rather be seeking the power of God in overcoming whatever this world may throw at us. A third reason may be that not enough of us have known this kind of wonderful relationship for ourselves. I have mentioned that I have women who have greatly helped me, perhaps more than they will ever know. And so I can see the value of simply opening one’s home and inviting others to walk alongside, through the good days and the bad. And I seek to emulate these women, and encourage others as I myself was encouraged. But it is not something I have ever been encouraged to do through my church! 

Why is this relevant on this blog?
As I have mentioned in many posts, I find it difficult to separate out parenting, educating my children, living as a Christian. Interestingly, all three of the women I have mentioned as role-models to me have educated their children, both formally and informally. What drew me to spend time with them was seeing the godly way in which they raised their families, opened their homes, and shared their faith. As we grew to know one another more, and I asked the questions about home education (at first, I knew very little about the idea and was intrigued), I came to see that it was simply an outworking of their faith in all areas of life, and it was completely consistent with their lives and testimonies. 

Why am I writing this now?
Raising a young family in a godly way in today’s society can be lonely. People do think you are strange. With young children, it can be difficult to have a long enough conversation with anybody to really get into the nitty-gritty of a discussion. It is tiring. And there can be few encouragements greater than having an older, wiser person talking of how they faced similar times, and that yes, it is not easy, but all so worth it. ‘Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10:24-25)

I'd love to know your thoughts on this! Have you been encouraged by an 'older woman'? What do you think are the main obstacles preventing us all from living according to these verses?