Lately, I have been astonished by how fast my boys are growing up. Perhaps every parent feels this way. You get used to one set of routines and activities that work well, but then things move and change, and what forms a ‘typical’ day is transient, gradually changing, shaping, evolving. All this is good! One of our main aims as parents is to help our children to grow, to develop, to learn, to become fully rounded people who will make the most of their strengths and opportunities in this world. But I still marvel at the development! A year ago, my older two were still in nappies, had somewhat limited speech, and required constant supervision both inside and outside the house. Now, I have two little adventurers who communicate freely and often surprisingly eloquently, can entertain each other for hours in the garden, playing complex games involving sticks, leaves, stones, any other objects that they find during their explorations, and have very clear and distinct personalities.
My three and half year old loves using words in different ways, trying out the sound and taste of each. He talks of ‘torrential downpours’ rather than rain showers, ‘glorious sunsets’, ‘fabulously delicious food’, and many other detailed descriptions which really bring joy to the hearer. He is sometimes very solemn, with very accurate attention to detail; sometimes this can cause him to become upset and frustrated, for example when somebody neglects a detail or has not noticed something he has seen. For example, the other day, as we passed many mango trees (and this is not the mango season), he saw a low hanging fruit, but for a while nobody listened to the slightly agitated little boy trying to tell us he could see a mango. He was of course right, and delighted when we all stopped and took notice! My three year old has a more explosive personality; he has a laugh which is sufficiently infectious to make a busload of gloomy-faced adults smile, a delight in singing wholeheartedly and gives hugs which involve his whole body. He gets equally upset at times, and requires firm discipline and support as he learns to control his passions. Lately, he has become more interested in books, but one of his main enjoyments is drawing and painting. He can sit for a long time, patiently putting great detail into his delicate squiggles, taking delight in using and mixing colours. I love to let him do this freely, and develop the creativity which I think can be so easily squashed. The baby is ten months old now, and desperate to be running around after his brothers. He has a very placid temperament, putting up with a lot of very physical affection from the older two, and not even objecting too much when he gets sat on or covered in sand by them, as was the case this morning. However, he does get annoyed when somebody else’s food looks more interesting than his, and shows this dissatisfaction very clearly. He does not laugh often, but when he does, it is a wonderful sound. Yesterday, he tried to climb his first tree (not very successfully).
How does all of this affect home education? In some ways it doesn’t. The overall aims we have set ourselves as a family have not changed, yet the precise ways in which these aims are best achieved will certainly change as the children grow. One of the beauties of home education is that you can move at the pace of each individual child, and development of ‘curricula’ and teaching methods and materials is a natural extension which flows from day to day activities, questions and conversations. This is a far more gentle and natural approach than assuming that every three year old should be able to do X, Y and Z, and should be interested in A, B and C. It is ideal as you can embrace the strengths and interests of each child, whilst supporting and nurturing them to overcome their weaknesses. My three year old needs encouragement at times; his default reply to something he sees as challenging may often be, ‘I can’t!’ but you should see the delight on his face when with encouragement he is able to achieve a new task or activity. It takes time, it takes effort, but for all of us, it is rewarding! But I may well be ‘preaching to the choir’ here, as I imagine many readers are well aware of these benefits.
But specifically, there will be changes. Some of the ‘toddler’ activities we have been involved with are no longer helpful or necessary for the boys. They certainly prefer to be outdoors, and the free exploration that comes from running through parks and fields, collecting leaves, fruit, grasses, spotting and describing birds and insects, coming home and reading up on the things we have seen – these type of things are ideal at the moment. I have some friends with similar aged children who are also home educating, and we should aim to join together more regularly now the children are of an age where they are keen to develop relationships and imaginative play which requires many participants. One constraint we have found has been to do with schedules and routines; my boys still nap for between 1 and 2 hours in the middle of the day, and this is a routine which serves us all well as a family. However, a drawback can mean that full day excursions, or things taking place around lunchtime, are not ideal for us, whilst they are often best for others. Again, I think I should be more pro-active in inviting others to join with things that we are doing anyway, such as mornings at the museum, afternoons in the park, walks around the docks, singing and music times at home. It is easy to feel frustrated by your own limitations (whether these be personal or practical) rather than seek imaginative ways to overcome them (and not to see them as limitations, but differences).
Another big change for our family is that my maternity leave will come to an end. My husband and I will revert to working half the week each. This suits us well too; we have quite different strengths, and by choosing this flexible working pattern, the boys benefit from the best of both worlds. As parents, we also feel more refreshed, both at home and at work. For both of us, work this year will involve periods in Africa, and one question we still need to answer is how long one parent should be away for before we choose to make it a family trip; this can also be logistically challenging in terms of the other person negotiating holiday and study leave to cover the same period. But it is fun – and our current two month stint in West Africa, which initially felt like a somewhat mad idea, is proving just how possible and worthwhile this kind of model can be. Sometimes I find myself getting anxious. I can start the year thinking that what we hope to achieve seems simply impossible. But I look back over many events in the past few years which I thought would be impossible, and see God’s faithfulness and provision. I particularly need to remember that if something is truly what God wants us to be doing as a family, even if it initially seems impossible, He will open the necessary doors to make things work out. I don’t get anxious when I take things week by week, or even month by month; the worries start when I think beyond about six months. An important lesson for me to remember this year is contained in the words of Jesus, recorded in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 6 verse 24: ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble’. This must be balanced with other passages of the Bible which speak of wisdom, of prayerful deliberations and planning; it is not a licence to embark upon foolish endeavours and trust that God will mop up the mess! Bearing this in mind, it brings comfort and encouragement that as we seek to do the will of God in our family, He will provide all we need, whether guidance, physical and material provisions, or logistics which enable us to work together as a family rather than becoming fragmented.
One thing which has excited me most over the past year is hearing the boys spontaneously talking about God, and the Bible verses which they have learned. One morning, just before he turned three, one of the boys was anxious about going somewhere. The night before, he had learned the admonition that God gave Joshua, ‘Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1:9) I discussed with him what ‘wherever’ meant, and he reached the conclusion that God would be with him and therefore he had no need to be anxious on that particular morning. On other days, I have found them spontaneously praying or giving thanks to God for things which are beautiful or unexpected. They have an astonishing ability to tie together the various different sections of the Bible which they have been taught, and seem to be developing a rounded understanding of these truths. OK, there are also times when they say things like, ‘In the beginning, God created cheese on toast’, or want to spend long times thanking God for all the different vehicles they have seen on the roads that day, but the general trend is encouraging. I have previously commented on how this memory and understanding should not surprise us. We expect three year olds to be able to remember the words to nursery rhymes, or be able to recount details from their favourite books or television programmes, yet we somehow do not expect a similar recall and understanding when it comes to matters of far greater importance. Even though I have thought about this for some time, it is still extremely exciting to hear the words coming spontaneously from them. I look forward to watching this develop over the year ahead.
So overall, I start 2013 feeling hopeful and excited about continuing to educate our boys at home. I am slightly daunted, and often feel aware of my inadequacies. But I can look back on God’s faithfulness, provision and guidance, and put my confidence fully in Him for the year ahead.