I realised it is about five months since I started this blog. I have been encouraged to see I have readers in the UK, USA, Russia, Germany, France, Guernsey, Latvia, China, Malawi and South Africa. But more than anything, I have been encouraged personally as we move forward in the early phases of home education. What I wanted to do today, is just reflect on some of the key moments of these past five months.
1) Having a young baby. In May, when I started blogging, my youngest son was two months old. As with every child, it has been wonderful to see him progress through his early milestones to the point where he is now, crawling into corners, exploring the world, and frequently requiring rescuing from underneath chairs and sofas. Equally wonderful to see is how excited my older boys are to see his changes. ‘Mummy, he’s picking something up!’, ‘Mummy, he’s crawling, he really is!’, ‘Mummy, he’s trying to talk!’ and so on. At first, I felt a little guilty that I didn’t have the one-on-one time that you have with your firstborn (of which many of my friends seem to have because their older children are in nurseries or at school). But the benefits of growing up in the family are immense. The older boys have learnt a lot about kindness and gentleness, have learnt about how babies develop, and have generally enjoyed the whole experience (I can honestly say, I have not seen even a flicker of jealousy towards the baby). From the other side, any one-on-one stimulation and interaction that I might not be able to give my baby is more than compensated for by two older, extremely attentive brothers. They bring him appropriate toys, sing to him, try to massage him (quite amusing that one), show him pictures in books and help bath and change him. Already the three of them seem to share some fun games without much input from me. Is that relevant to home education? Yes, most certainly, as at first I really felt a pressure that I was somehow depriving both my older boys and my baby of something by not putting the older ones in nursery, and yet as I reflect, the converse is true.
2) Shared activities. There are many times when I have reflected on how the fun is multiplied when you have more than one child. Some activities are simply far more rewarding when there are a couple of children (and I would imagine this is something that the much larger homeschooling families I have met and read about experience even more). Things like messy painting, cooking, running through leaves, building things out of sticks and stones – all are more fun with more players. Again, this is relevant, as I feel strongly that current society seeks to fragment the family into separate divisions, with each member having their own circle of friends and activities. People have urged me to separate the older boys who are as close as twins in many ways, because it is somehow thought to be to their benefit to have separate friends, and to learn to be individuals. I have no question that they are individuals, and neither do they! They clearly have different temperaments and strengths and weaknesses. But they love to do things together.
3) Imaginative play. This is where having them together at different ages really comes through. The boys have some secret games with made up names which seem to bring them great joy. I think imagination is something which can really become stifled through the conventional education system. Personally, I experienced that when I went to secondary school. Before the age of twelve, I loved writing adventure stories, where I could really immerse myself in the plot to the point where I felt I knew the characters as friends and could vividly describe the scenery and conversations. At secondary school, English took the form of assignments, such as critical essays, or responses to set texts, rather than allowing free creativity. It is only now, as an adult, that I am starting to reclaim an element of that, and it makes me sad. I enjoy seeing the freedom my boys have in truly entering in to their play. I have noticed it on occasions with other children in the park for example, that my boys will invite others into the ‘jungle’ (which is often the undergrowth beneath closely positioned trees where it remains dark and damp even on sunny days), to be met by responses such as, ‘That’s not a jungle, it’s just a boring tree’.
4) Hospitality and ministry as a family. At first, it was a temptation to see the children as occasionally ‘getting in the way’ of more important things, such as adult conversation and hospitality. (In honesty, that can still be a temptation!). But what I have seen is how your ministry changes, but is no less valid. Perhaps somebody who needs intense, one-on-one time might struggle a little during an afternoon in my household, but there are many – especially single or lonely people – who are blessed by joining in with whatever is going on – whether that be art, or reading, or a walk in the park, or splashing in a paddling pool. We have got to know many people in the neighbourhood simply through our daily lives (we travel mainly on foot, or using local public transport, and so meet many of our neighbours round and about). And, given that they go to bed quite early, if we really feel the need for ‘adult conversation’, that can be done in the evenings. When I first had children, I was blessed by the writings of Edith Schaeffer such as 'What is a Family?' which described much of this. Later, I came to see how the Schaeffer family were influenced by the works of Charlotte Mason. It fits together beautifully and biblically, and is a model I seek in my family. This week I was sad to hear of a missionary family whose boarding school educated children are bored and restless when they return to the mission station for school holidays; I was saddened because there was little concept of ministry as a family, but rather that family has been fragmented. Each individual may be thriving, may have a vibrant faith and strong ministry, but something beautiful has been sacrificed.
5) A refreshing perspective on life. There are so many simple pleasures and simple beauties in daily life which I had previously rushed on past with barely a second thought. Seeing things anew, through the eyes of a child experiencing something for the very first time, is incredible. It takes time. If we did not have that continual dialogue, taking time to listen carefully to what the children were saying – which any parent will know can be difficult when there is a lot going on in the background, the child is excited and speech is a little indistinct – then I might miss a lot. I would have thought (from my former outlook on life) that I would find this phase a bit trivial and mundane, repetitive and dull. However, God has blessed me greatly, in showing me much of Himself through the details in His creation that the boys notice and enjoy, and also as I reflect on His great patience and kindness towards us (that would probably be a whole new post for another occasion).
6) The involvement of my husband. Again, this requires a separate discussion soon, but I am struck by how so few fathers are really actively engaged with their children. Often much of parenting is delegated to the mother, and ‘traditional’ roles are adopted (such as the busy father working long hours, then being too tired to really enter in to family activities at home whilst the mother looks after home and children) without much of a second thought. Especially within the church, and I have touched on a little of this on my post regarding the passage in Titus Chapter 2. But the fact is, much of what the Bible says about parenting, it says to the fathers. And God made us different. We have different strengths and weaknesses and skills. There are some things I do better with the boys, and others that my husband does; and we all benefit. I am greatly blessed to be in a family where my husband encourages, supports and challenges me in all I do. I have a husband who is willing to go against ‘convention’ and work less than full time in order to be hands on with his family; we believe this is something more families should consider. On a good day, it is nothing but a wonderful blessing. And on the days I struggle, it is every bit as wonderful to have the support and encouragement of a husband who has shared priorities and commitments.
There will be more, but these have been some of key discoveries of the past five months. I will continue to blog as we move forward, and I will continue to share the challenges and the discouragements too.