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)

Friday, 31 May 2013

Babycarriers versus prams

This post is maybe a bit random, but I have noticed quite a few times over the past year that people comment on the fact we do not use a pushchair for the baby. Sometimes it is a concerned, 'Would you like us to pass on our old one?', but at more recently, people seem particularly interested in the carrier we are currently using (in case you are interested, it is a MacPac vamoose, and the reason we went for that one is because my husband and I are quite different in size (he is a lot taller and exactly double my weight), and we struggled to find one that was adjustable; many others were just fine for me, but caused blisters half way down his back. Also, we like proper hiking, and this is pretty much everything you need). Until our children are about one, we use a Baby Bjorn, for no other reason than this was what we had passed on to us. The combination of MacPac on the back and Baby Bjorn on the front is remarkably comfortable; I could easily walk 3-5 miles that way.

I've noticed some people can be quite strong in their views, that it is absolutely the only right and best way to transport a child who cannot yet walk. Babywearing is a word I have come across lately. I might not be quite so strong in my views, but I thought I'd list a few advantages. Here are 10 that spring to mind, but you may have others too.

1) For the newborn, it is simply that feeling of closeness. It is like a long cuddle. The baby feels safe and secure, the parent feels quite relaxed because the child is close, and you really do start to get in tune with your baby's needs

2) It is much closer for talking to/ singing to your child, which I think is an important part of bonding

3) You can breast feed in many of the slings. I even discovered you could do so with a baby bjorn (which I had previously thought impossible!), out of desperation as I was in the middle of a muddly field with two toddlers and nowhere to sit and feed the poor baby. It became very useful as time went on, as I could get out and about with the older children, and still be able to feed the baby on demand.

4) I found carrying the children strengthened my core muscles helpfully. I had pretty bad pelvic girdle problems in pregnancy (sacroiliac joints affected) and the well balanced position of a child in a sling was much easier than a cumbersome push chair

5) Public transport is way way easier. I can do journeys that I would not attempt with a pushchair. I never get stuck at stairs or escalators either.

6) As the child grows, it is easier for them to be part of the family group and join in the conversation (or their babbling attempts) than being a little at a distance in a pushchair

7) It really helped us when they started to walk more and more. We could hold hands and walk, and only use the carrier as a last resort. I have seem others struggle to push an empty stroller and help a child walk. Putting a child back in a stroller becomes a bit of an easy option, and it can be difficult to get the children to walk well at an early age

8) No enormous pram in my hallway (our house is not enormous)

9) Can climb mountains, wade through shallow rivers, slash in the sea, just generally be a lot more versatile and active than with a pushchair

10) Basically you never have to think, 'Can I get there?', or 'What about the pram?'. Off we go! You feel very free, and are not encumbered by lots of 'stuff' when you go out and about.

I am not being paid by any of the manufacturers to write this! But it's something to think about if you have a new baby, or even a slightly older one.

Have fun

Friday, 17 May 2013

A year of blogging

It is now a year since I started writing on this blog. It’s been a good year, and I have enjoyed taking time to reflect upon it, both the serious and less serious issues surrounding parenting in general with a specific focus on the home education of young children.

Life moves very fast. Sometimes we don’t take enough time to celebrate an achievement, a milestone, a habit defeated, an obstacle overcome; instead we can replace one current ‘problem’ with another. I endeavour not to do this. Early I posted about the value of an attitude of gratitude, and I have had reason to ponder those sentiments on many occasions over the past year!

A year ago, my youngest was two months old, utterly helpless and dependent. I was waking every hour or two through the night to feed him, still recovering from the difficult pregnancy and delivery both emotionally and physically, and the days often passed in a blur. Now, I have a sturdy young lad, who tries to join his older brothers in every way, and who can eat the biggest breakfast out of the whole family. The older two have also developed enormously, and I am frequently astonished by some of the things they say and do.

A year ago, I hadn’t really spoken much about home education to others, partly because there seemed no need, but partly also because I was admittedly anxious about how others might judge us. I was starting to get asked which school I had put my eldest down for, and whether we would be starting the ’15 hours’ of free preschool which is currently provided for in the UK. Now, we are more open. I don’t make statements such as ‘we will never send our children to school’, and even am a little reluctant to call it ‘homeschooling’ as I know it will conjur up stereotypes among many (for example, even see this article I stumbled acrosson the BBC website this morning!). But I am more confident in giving our perspective and to outline some of our motivations and the advantages in such a method of education. 

As with all years that we live, there have been encouragements, and also challenges.

Major encouragements:

·       *  Growing confidence that what we are doing is right; yes, as with all children there are difficult days, exhausting days, and times of frustration, but more and more we are starting to see real evidence of their development and thirst for knowledge. 

·        * Seeing the development of self-directed learning. Often it starts with a question, such as ‘How do you make breadsticks?’ and leads on to what could be described as an informal module on the related area – getting books from the library, perhaps watching a youtube clip if we are somewhere with sufficiently fast internet, learning about yeast, making a range of recipes, doing creative things with the dough.... Elsewhere I have posted on the diverse range of subjects which are covered through by following a curriculum of ‘daily life’, and pursuing the interests of the children. 

·        *   The clearly distinct personalities, preferences and learning styles of the boys. This reinforces to me that all children are different, and that a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum delivered to a class of 20 to 30 students is far from ideal in helping each child maximise their potential whilst overcoming their weaknesses.

·         * Meeting several other families who share our perspective and are choosing to home educate children of similar ages. Much of the literature on socialisation, and the plethora of blogs available to support home educators, speak of the value of networks and community. We have both the wider home educators network locally, and a smaller, more intimate group of Christian families with the same basic worldview. Networks both online and face to face have been a great encouragement.

·         * A ten week trip to rural Africa to serve in a mission hospital; this was practically possible largely because of the choices we have made regarding the childcare and education of our children. I was astonished at how formative these months were for the boys, and have seen them grow in understanding of different cultures, communities and worldviews; they understand what a missionary is, and why those of us who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and enables us to have a restored relationship with God see it as such an important role. During this trip, we were really able to function as afamily unit, and it brought encouragement to all of us; this has raised some interesting possibilities for the future.

·         * That my eldest has learnt his letters and some basic reading and writing without us ever sitting down and ‘learning letters’; I knew from what I had read that children learn through day to day experiences, through talking about things, through interactive play, but it was still encouraging to see this to be true!

·         * Their delight in learning languages. They are unusual for three year olds in that they speak some Chichewa, a little French and Swiss-German, can sing Christmas carols in Mandinka, and know one or two greetings in Jolla. We chose to focus on Spanish as our major foreign language because it is widely spoken and we have good friends who are fluent. It is just incredible to hear them master words and phrases which would take an adult far longer.

·        *  That we have a strong family unit, strengthened by the choices we have made regarding lifestyle, education and work. More and more I see people who are outwardly ‘successful’, however you may wish to define that, but are deeply lonely, craving community or family. I believe we are giving the boys an important secure foundation, which I hope will be of lifelong benefit to them.

These are just some examples that I jot down as I write....
Of course, there have been challenges also. 

·       *   Loneliness remains a problem. I find it easier to network online than face to face – often routines and schedules differ (for example, nap time, or families who eat together when the breadwinner returns from work compared to those who eat separately) and even when I am physically in the same place as my friends, I am often quite involved in supervising the boys and conversations are often snatched in between darting off in different directions. However, I already see changes. The older two are increasingly content to wander slightly further ahead of me on the paths we walk, and will explore the undergrowth together and talk about their findings; it is increasingly possible to have more of a chat with another person – if I can find a person who is willing to venture out on long walks regardless of the weather, and that is not always as easy as it sounds! There have been a few times over the past year where I would have valued having more of a ‘heart to heart’ with a friend. 

·        *  I have family members who have made their disapproval of our lifestyle very clear. It’s interesting, because some really object to the fact that we will spank our children when we consider the discipline issue in question to warrant it. For us, there is a clear biblical precedent, we never smack in anger, and we are always quick to praise and reward good behaviour. Yet, some (who themselves DID spank us as children!) seem to think we verge on abusive, and that the only disciplinary measure a child should ever receive is ignoring bad behaviour, or at the last resort, sitting on the ‘naughty step’ for several minutes. That is a major one which we have spoken of, but there are other more subtle disapprovals. The boys should be in nursery to socialise. We are depriving them by not having a TV. We are cruel for not allowing unlimited biscuit consumption. The boys aren’t happy (you should see my boys; they radiate joy much of the time!).... I know that the opinion of man counts for little, and it is to God that we ultimately must give account. But it is not easy!

·         * Few people really seem to understand us. That is for a whole number of reasons, and I don’t think I could say it was just our views on education. Rather, our views on education are simply the end result of our worldview and attitude towardslife. I think if you go through anything different, whether that be an unusual size or shape of family, a traumatic life event or a major success in an area, anything really, then you have fewer and fewer peers, and there are increasingly few people that you can really talk to about anything. I suppose that overlaps with my comment on loneliness... Increasingly I am seeing how our faith is utterly fundamental to how we live, and the passages of the Bible which speak of being ‘strangers and pilgrims’ in the world resonate deeply. At times, I can see this as an encouragement too; as a young Christian in the University Christian Union, I remember somebody commenting that if we never faced opposition, criticism, trial and perhaps even some level of persecution, it might be because our lives were so similar to the world around us that nobody noticed any difference. 

·          * Not having many other adults with significant regular input into the boys lives. I don’t think a stranger could do things better, but there are times when I do feel as though anybody could make a better job than the mess I am making! I tend to feel that way when the boys are tired and a little unwell (you know that kind of whingy-not-sick-enough-to-be-properly-sick, but just irritable stage). And when I think about it for more than a couple of minutes, I am thankful on those days that I am not sending them out to school or somewhere as they really do need stability, love, kindness, rest, nutritious easy to eat food and plenty of reassurance when they are like that. If in a nursery or school environment, I would have to choose between keeping them home (quite a bit it would seem at this stage!) or sending them out knowing they would struggle quite a lot.

Many of the challenges I face seem to be recurring themes, hence my post about ‘spiral curriculum’. I imagine there are certain areas which continue to be difficult, continue to be challenging, and continue to be areas of vulnerability. This reinforces once more the need to reflect on the fruit in the childrens’ lives, to celebrate the small achievements and victories, and to remember the fundamental reasons for making the choices we have.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

My life, a spiral curriculum

Sometimes I feel my whole life is a spiral curriculum! You may be familiar with this model, but it is one where the same topics are revisited in a circular manner, but each time with new layers and complexities as appropriate for the educational stage which has been reached. It is a model popular in medical schools across the UK.

But that perhaps is a very pseudo-scientific way of describing how I feel right now! Maybe other readers feel this way at times too, but it is the conflict between KNOWING something as truth, as fact, as being unquestionably correct, but simultaneously there occur undercurrents of questioning, of revisiting questions which you thought you would never have need to ask again, basically of DOUBT.

Almost every week I hear of friends who are facing trials of one type or another. Sometimes it is illness, sometimes the life-threatening illness of a child, sometimes it is a more external challenge for example financial or employment difficulties, sometimes it is a catastrophe, a disaster, a road accident. You know the situations, which could be described in terms of cliché. Sometimes a phonecall changes your life. This should not surprise me! We live in a world which is flawed, which is imperfect.

The Apostle Paul wrote beautifully of this type of thing. ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subject to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ (Romans 8:18-21). What do those words mean? But that not just our own sin-damaged lives, but also the very substance of this world, the very scientific forces that were set into place at creation, all of these are flawed, damaged, virtually groaning in anguish at times, waiting for the time and day when the Lord returns to restore all things. DNA within a cell replicates, but errors creep in. Children are born with life-limiting syndromes. Cells become malignant and spread. Even the beautifully created structures within a cell, the triple helix structure of genetic material, all are subject to corruption. To what end? Why? I once heard somebody say that a reason why so many elderly people are bitter and cynical is that life reaches a point where it is characterised by one loss after another. There are days when I would agree; there is little in this world to look forward to. But fast forward to the end of the book: ‘Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’. (Revelation 21:1-4 – but you could go on and quote so much more!).

The question is, how then should we live? (Sounds like the title of a Francis Shaeffer book!). How should we live in the light of a world which is full of corruption, anguish, pain, sorrow, loss, frustration, suffering, death? What hope is there? How can we raise our children, knowing that at some point they too will see this? That one day they will face a turning point, a crossroads, a realisation that life is not all sunny days and adventures, that there are things which daddy and mummy cannot fix or make better? 

These are some of the most fundamental questions of humanity. As a Christian, I KNOW a lot of the right answers. Many authors have written at length, in various styles and from diverse angles on ‘the question of suffering’, ‘the problem of pain’, however you might choose to pose the questions. I KNOW some of the answers I could point another person towards. But there remain times when I question again. I don’t always formulate the question fully, but it is more like a pang deep in my heart, a deep call of ‘Why?’

The Psalmist knew and understood some of these things. How many Psalms start in anguish, ‘As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul for You, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, ‘Where is your God?’’ (Psalm 42:1-3). Who is ‘they’? For me, it is these deep uncertainties which stir within me. When Job was faced with suffering, his wife wanted him to ‘curse God and die’. I have known others who have suggested similar to me, perhaps wanting a display of anger or reckless behaviour, or some other evidence that I have inwardly cursed God.

My sons are enjoying learning about ancient civilisations, and the eldest is intrigued by the elaborate burial customs of the ancient Egyptians. In particular, he is fascinated by buried treasure. But he also knows about tomb robbers and decay. The other evening, we reflected on this, and read the words of Jesus: ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and here thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6:19-20). Simple, but profound. What are treasures on this earth? I suppose all those things which the world values – this may be material goods, but for others, it is health and happiness, relationships and fulfilment, personal satisfaction and status within the community or society. Many of these things motivate us, but Jesus warns, that all are risky, all will not last. There is the parable of the rich farmer who build bigger and bigger barns, with the desire that he could then retired and live a comfortable life of ease. But he was decried as a fool, as his life had neglected God. 

How should I live today? Should I waste time weeping for what is lost? (NB: I am not saying that it is wrong to weep, to grieve to mourn; by no means. But rather I am referring to choosing despair rather than laying these things before God). Being anxious for that which I cannot change? Fretting over failures, missed opportunities, clumsy words and foolish choices? I could do that. It would be quite easy really, and I could descend downwards into despair. I think many people do choose to do likewise, even if that choice has not felt like a conscious decision. Sometimes there seems no other option, especially to those who live without hope. Or I could consciously choose the opposite – I could run as far as I can from pain, from anything that reminds me of these things. I could live fast and hard, close down any conversation that seems to be verging on discussing such matters, and rid myself of any reminders of the past, of loss, disappointment or any other thing I would rather forget. I know those who live this way too.

Thankfully the Bible does help me today. ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’. Colossians 3:1-2.  (I have underlined the verbs, the choices, the positive actions which we can pursue). What does that mean, other than that we should live with our focus on what really matters. We are to expect trial in this world. ‘For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me’. Philippians 1:29-30. It is not a problem of ‘the modern world’, but an age old quandary.

Today I can choose. I can choose to set my mind, my focus, my energies on eternity. I can bring my concerns before the Lord, yes with weeping at times, yes with groans that words cannot express, but to the One who fully understands. That is why the Apostle Paul, having discussed suffering, can go on to write, ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’. Philippians 4:6-7.

And do these things affect the education of my children? Absolutely! One big reason people choose to home educate is so that they can work through these type of spiritual and philosophical questions with their children as they arise, in an age appropriate manner. We can equip them with the right tools from an early age. Often I still struggle with a conflict between the secular humanistic worldview under which I was raised, and the true perspective given me by my faith in Christ; I pray that my boys will have less of this conflict.

And as I recently wrote, I can choose whether to lament that which I feel I have lost,that which causes me to grieve, or I can choose to look forward and fulfil the responsibilities which I have been given today. And in all things, I can focus on heaven and seek every opportunity to give Him glory in my speech, my actions, my priorities and my attitudes. Children learn as much through what is not directly spoken as the ‘lessons’ we provide. I pray that my attitude and responses to trials will teach them much, rather than causing them to stumble.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Creativity in everyday life

I recently smiled as I read this viewpoint that we should ‘allow children to be bored’ to allow creativity to flourish. I am increasingly convinced that there is too much stimulation for children today, and that they should instead be allowed to let their imaginations wander. Charlotte Mason wrote a lot about this issue, remarkably in the days before ‘modern’ entertainments such as television or computer-based activities. 

Over the past few weeks in particular, I’ve enjoyed watching my boys develop their creative play. One favourite activity at the moment involves climbing up a gnarled tree trunk in a nearby park. Except, few people have realised that this is in fact a pirate ship. We go on adventures across the raging seas, travelling to countries far and wide. Before we leave on our voyages, it is necessary to stock up with provisions, and in true three-year-old-boy manner, they tend to request rice, bread, bananas and lots and lots of sweets! Then, we check all our equipment, and off we go. We need to remember which trees and animals to look for in the country where we land, and we have to use all the snippets of language that we have aquired in various places. It would seem that this particular pirate ship is also capable of time-travel, since we have found ourselves in ancient Rome and ancient Egypt. From time to time, we abandon the pirate ship and head to the Viking long boat on the other side of the park (a fallen tree trunk). Occasionally, a battle takes place between the two vessels, fought with bows and arrows (sticks), and various other primitive weapons. Hours can be spent here, regardless of the weather. But to many passers by, it is simply the remains of a tree, and barely noticed.

(A huge range of topics are covered here – history, geography, drama, music, English, foreign languages, probably others also...)

This morning, we were in a playing field even closer to home. You would be amazed (although perhaps if you have been educating your children for longer than me, you may be quite familiar with these kinds of thing) at just how many activities can spring from the painted lines on a football pitch, the goal posts, a Frisbee and a football. Counting games, jumping games, acrobatics, ‘challenges’ and races, I could go on. Again, easily several hours can be spent here, without any particular equipment to hand.

(And the topics covered would include physical education, arithmetic and strategic thinking, just for starters).

I feel as though I have had less time to write on this blog lately, partly because the boys are keeping me so busy, and partly through another relocation and several interesting new projects at work. But I hope I can encourage you that a good, broad education can be provided without huge expenditure and large amounts of equipment. There IS an investment needed, but it is an investment of time, of patience, of thinking creatively, and of seizing the opportunities that present themselves every day. The children benefit greatly, and as a parent, I see a whole different side to life, a freshness and creativity. Yes, there are tricky times, and I sometimes feel tired to the bone. But every day is an adventure, for which I am greatly thankful!

Language learning

A few months ago, I asked some questions about language learning and young children. I've been so amazed at how the boys pick up phrases in whichever country we are visiting, and I realised how ideal it would be to learn a langauge at this age.

My first question was, which language? The three largest spoken languages worldwide are Mandarin, English, and Spanish. Mandarin might open some very exciting opportunties in the future, but we did not think that the parents would be able to keep up - we would not necessarily know what our children were saying, and it would not necessarily be a language we could easily learn as a family. However, Spanish seemed more realistic.

Then, the question was what kind of method. We found this:


Basically, this was something which was being offered locally (once again, we are on the move, and living in temporary accommodation for a few months). The boys seem to love it. I think I realised that we could spend so long contemplating the different options that we missed the chance altogether. So this was our decision.

And lately, we have met many native Spanish speakers, or non-native speakers who love the language and culture. So we are encouraged in our choice.

Has anybody else moved forward in this area?