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, 28 September 2013

A typical day (housework??)

Recently, I described a typical day in our home as we home educate our boys aged 4, 3 and 18 months. Then afterwards I wondered whether I really answered some of the questions you might have in mind. Reading blogs, and talking to friends, one question that comes up is 'when do you find time for housework?'

It makes me smile to think I am writing a blog post on housework. If you know me, you will know that my home is often quite 'lived in'. I remember once somebody telling me that I encouraged them because we 'don't wait until our home is perfect before showing hospitality'. That's one of those compliments that can be taken both ways! But in seriousness, our home is always open and we always have plenty of food, drink, a listening ear and a place to sleep. What else is necessary?

I think we need to beware our motives. If I had a choice, I would prefer my house to be very tidy. I'd like my books and music to be arranged by category, and within each category, alphabetically. I would have everything neatly labelled and arranged, and my kitchen would be spotless. I would probably not have people over very often, and I would not do anything too experimental in the kitchen. Things would be tidy, but I would not really be living. I would be putting the appearance and order of my home before its real purpose. What is the main reason that you want a tidy and clean home?

Yes, there is a basic standard. You do not want chaos whereby you cannot function, or where significant delays occur as you locate things that you need. You want standards of cleanliness which are safe! You do not want guests to feel uncomfortable or to have nowhere to sit. You do not want your home to be characterised by chaotic disorder, to the point whereby you cannot offer hospitality or refreshment to those who need it. But is it really necessary for things to be spotless, to be perfect?

You can involve the children. Even my 18 month old will get plastic bowls out of the cupboard and put them on the dining room table each morning. My 3 year old loves to sweep up. My 4 year old needs a bit of encouragement, but loves to help hang the washing outside, counting the pegs and passing me things. They all know that one book must be put back on the shelf before another one can be got down, that one toy should be put away before the next one is got out. They have also learnt that a little time spent tidying up after one task in fact allows a greater range of options as to what to do next. I find it delightful to see how much they want to be helpful and want to be involved in the life of the home; I wonder how much of this attitude (or indeed the converse) is taught? For example, if I convey that helping in the home is important, helpful and very much part of family life, then of course the children will want to be involved; by contrast, should I grumble and groan about the tasks as though they are dull and burdensome, then my children may well catch that atttitude too.

The boys love cooking. I happen to have an extremely adventurous husband, and the boys know the basic principles of how to make their own bread, cheese and chutneys as well as more 'conventional' cooking. Yes, it makes a bit of mess. Yes, sometimes when they crack eggs, everything ends up in the wrong place. Flour gets on the floor, hands get sticky, aprons need washing. But its both educational and also a valuable life skill. Already, the older two can help as much as they hinder, and the whole experience is so much more satisfying than having a perfectly tidy worktop and no mess! Not so long ago, I was visiting a friend who spent a long time in the kitchen making cakes whilst her children played restlessly elsewhere. I could not understand why the children weren't in the kitchen too; but it does seem that there can be an attitude that either children will not be interested in this type of thing, or that perhaps it generates too much additional work and effort to involve them. Surely one of the delights of home education is that it encompasses the whole of life, and the manifold lessons that are encountered therein!

In terms of schedule, we probably do the housework in 10-15 minute sections throughout the day. After breakfast, they will help me clear the table, and then maybe read books by themselves for another 5 minutes whilst I finish off. In between focussed tasks such as stories, art, music or writing, we will do a task (such as hoovering or hanging the washing). And so it becomes part of the day, without this looming question of, 'When can I do my housework?'.

I have to remind myself of what is important. People are. Serving God is. Especially when I am tired, or when I have been to visit somebody who has a really beautiful home, I am tempted to covet. I am tempted to think, 'If only I had this or that - usually space, tidiness, order...' But I take my eyes of the path God has given our family. When I look back over the past few years, I remember the highlights - long walks, laughter, new discoveries, first steps, milestones, cuddles, conversation, journeys, experiences. I do not remember for a moment whether or not my kitchen was tidy when such and such a thing happened! If I were to look back wistfully, it would be that I had not made the most of these abundant times of the children's lives; I would not for a second look back and wish I had chosen to spend more time keeping my home immaculate.

My tips on housework and homeschooling are therefore thus:

1) Keep it to the minimum.
2) Keep your priorities; pray that God shows you what is the best use of time
3) Involve the children, and embrace the lessons that present themselves
4) Don't make your home an idol
5) Don't compare yourself to others
6) Live for today

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A typical day

About a year ago, I read quite a number of home education blogs discussing schedule/ routine/ typical days etc. Some of them were helpful, but others (which probably intended to encourage) were frankly discouraging to me as they showed photos of beautifully coiffed women with at least half a dozen smiling children discussing how they rise before the family at 04:15 in order to spend time with God before starting preparing dinner at 05:27, and then doing the first load of laundry before the children start to wake at 06:30. (I think you may have read blogs like that!).

But in fact, one of the beauties of home education is that you can fit your schedule around your strengths, the needs of your family, the place where you are living, the ages of your children, any unusual circumstances etc. We do well to remember the dangers of unfavourably comparing ourselves with others. Nobody else has the same family as you do. Nobody else has the same strengths and weaknesses. It is to you that God has entrusted your children, to raise in the way you believe to be right and best. I've written more on this in the linked posts.

Even if you don't realise it, you will have some form of schedule. I notice it most when my schedule gets interrupted! On the days when I am home with the children, it will be a bit like this:

05:30 Middle boy wakes for the toilet. We persuade him it is 'still the middle of the night' and pray that this manoevre is successful. It works about half the time, and the other half, he gets up every 20 minutes thereafter until his brothers wake. (When we were in West Africa, I used to just get up and use this hour or so as time before the Lord. It was always worth it, as I read the Bible and prayed whilst the fresh beauty of the African dawn unfolded; somehow this is not a habit or routine I have managed to continue in the UK. Even writing this challenges me that I should try again!)

07:00 Get the boys up and dressed

07:15 Breakfast. Always always a variation on porridge

07:30 Bible. Always a Psalm, sometimes another story at the boys' request. Singing. Prayer.

07:45 Baby (18 months old) goes back to bed for about an hour and a half

08:00 'Table time' - painting/ drawing/ writing/ 'educational' games (the ones which are tricky with a toddler)

09:30 Baby gets up, we get ready to go out

09:45 Morning adventure. Often a 2-3 hour walk in a couple of parks, exploring nature, studying wildlife, foraging, climbing, running and jumping, maybe having a picnic lunch. Sometimes a trip into town, to the museum, art gallery, docks. Occasionally we do more home based activities - cooking, craft etc, but we feel a need to be outside for at least an hour.

12:30 Home. Snack (often cheese on toast)

13:00 Nap. May last between 1-2 hours. 4, 3 and 1 year old all sleep. Mummy does some work.

14:30 Lunch

15:00 Afternoon adventure. If we haven't walked much, we will do that now. Sometimes see a friend (but a tricky time for those with school age children). Sometimes cooking/ baking. Reading books. Singing

18:00 Dinner

18:30 Bath (if having it)

19:00 Bible (we alternate a book of the old and the new testament), singing, prayers, bed

(19:00-20:00 Sometimes bedtime antics. Currently a tricky spell!)

19:30 - 21:30 Parents do some work

There will be variations in what we actually do, but the basic structure is there. The variable bits are what we do during the morning and afternoon - and that's where I try to keep an eye on things, making sure we cover a broad curriculum, that we do a wide range of different things, and that we spend enough time with others too.

Friday, 20 September 2013

'Normal'. What is 'normal'?

Recently we spent time with friends who are missionaries in the area of south eastern Africa where we previously lived. They live and work in a remote village, in a very tough area spiritually and have a real passion to see Christ glorified. Their four children are home educated, initially perhaps because there were few other options available in that part of the world, but now also because the family see the huge advantages in this style of education.

It was a very encouraging weekend. So many times, my husband remarked that it was wonderful to be with 'normal' people. And this led me to reflect on what 'normal' might happen to mean!

Lately, I've posted a few times about living as strangers and pilgrims in this world, whilst longing for our true eternal home which is in heaven with God. I've felt lonely, at times isolated and often misunderstood. There have been times when I have yearned for some form of comfort or security in this present world, whilst at the same time I've known that this is a futile dream, a chasing after the wind, something of little eternal value. But this last week, spending time with this other family, brought encouragement, refreshment and a renewed challenge. We are not of this world.

The children played beautifully together. Our boys (aged 4 and 3) taught the others about horse chestnuts and hazelnuts, and the different stages in the life of these seeds. Their son (aged 8) taught ours about his Egyptian ducks, the chickens he plans to raise as pets (before perhaps eating them), and other things to do with village life. Together, they conspired to chase the mallard ducks which were feeding nearby, with a desire to skewer them and then roast them on the barbecue (or should I say braii?), and make the livers into pate. And they also fell in the mud. To me, this reflects a 'real' childhood, a freedom, an imagination and an understanding of the world that surrounds us.

Whilst the children played, the adults talked about how life had been over the past three years (since we moved back to the UK). We reflected on how life is full of challenges, sometimes difficult and painful trials and that the Bible makes it clear that these times will come. Yet God does not change, and His faithfulness is certain. We talked of our desires for our children, and our priorities in raising our families. And it felt so 'normal'.

Does finding others who live their lives with a similar purpose and direction mean that what you are doing must be right? No, not necessarily. Does seeing other children being raised with freedom and a desire to understand the world that God has created mean that your educational principles are sound? Again, perhaps, perhaps not. Does it matter whether you feel alone or supported? It shouldn't. I think we all need to beware not to base our security on the opinions of others. But from time to time, God does provide us with encouragement. Indeed, He created us to live in community and to enjoy the special blessings of 'fellowship' (a word which is may become cliched but refers to a really precious relationsip with one another). In the letter to the Hebrews, we are encouraged to 'consider how you may spur one another on towards love and good deeds'. This past weekend was such a time to be encouraged, and I thank God for that.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Run with perseverence

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:19

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 1 John 2:15

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1

As Christians, we are called out from this world. We are called to be holy. We are called to live as 'pilgrims', or 'strangers', or as the King James Version would put it, 'aliens' in this world. We will be different, and there are times when this will not be easy. There will be times when you face challenges, sometimes even opposition or conflict, because of the choices you make as you try to live your life in a God-honouring way. And it seems to me that decisions regarding how we raise our children can seem like a minefield.

I could write about discouragement here. I could describe challenging conversations with friends and relatives. I could discuss misunderstanding from within the church, where one would expect to have a similar worldview to the majority. But chances are, if you home educate your children, you know enough of these type of things. It is better not to think too much about the specifics, to try and anaylse conversations or seek to change the opinion of those who are opposed. I find this tiring, discouraging and often futile.

Instead, I'd encourage you to look up.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

Men and women of faith have walked before us. Some we know of, through the Bible, or biographies. Others faithfully lived and died in obscurity. But none was obscure to God, and we are encouraged to remember those who walked before us and to run with perseverence. Jesus endured the greatest hardship of all - how can I complain I feel misunderstood when I think of what He went through? How can I complain I feel isolated when I think of his anguish on the cross, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'. And the writer to the Hebrews knew we would face opposition, discouragement, doubt and despondency. Look up. Look to Jesus. 

Several analogies compare our faith to training for and competing in a sporting event.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Corinthians 9:25

I used to run for my city, and at one point was training more than once per day. I remember several things well:

1) It was tough. At times it was painful. But I knew it was necessary to be able to win
2) It required discipline. I didn't always want to train!
3) It required sacrifice. I wouldn't participate in as many social activities because of training
4) It was lonely. Running mile after mile.
5) People did not understand. They thought I was mad!
6) Focus was necessary. Keep the goal in sight. The race. The finish line
7) I could not get distracted
8) The reward was worth the pain. At least, that was how it seemed then

How much more important it is to exercise spiritual discipline, and to keep focussed. There are times when it is difficult, painful, lonely, exhausting. There are times when there are temptations to look elsewhere, to take it easy, to doubt one's previous convictions. There are times when it is easy to crave comfort and understanding in this world.

Am I talking about home education here, or about the Christian walk in general? Both really. For us, as for many Christian families, the decision to home educate arises out of our convictions regarding how to raise our families and live our lives in accordance with what the Bible teaches. And so, often when people comment or criticise our choices, they are commenting on our faith. The world doesn't mind so much when faith is a 'private' matter, one which doesn't have implications for how you live. It doesn't mind when you look the same as them on the outside, when you have the same goals and motivations, the same concerns and frustrations. With our children, as we seek to honour God, there will be times when the world hates us.

I'm not going to write much more tonight, other than to encourage you. If you can relate to what I am writing, then take heart. Seek comfort and rest in the One who can truly comfort your soul. 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30

PS: Just read an encouraging quote from Heidi St John on a similar topic:

Parenthood is demanding. It’s iron-man-marathon building, this thing we’re doing.  This thing that carries with it the weight of eternity and the promise of a new generation is worth every ounce of time we put into it. Raising children is a privilege denied to many.  Don’t take it for granted.