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, 27 December 2013

Priorities. A checklist

I think it is important to think carefully about choices we make in our lives, and choices that affect how we raise our children. If you are also home educating, you probably spend more time considering these things than many, and I may well be 'preaching to the choir'.

As we approach the start of a new year (and the start of a new academic year in most of the Southern Hemisphere), I've been thinking about what we do. Is there anything new we need to start? Has anything run its course? Are there any big gaps? Are there any areas which need a bit more work? Are there places where one child needs a bit more time and effort?

Rather than discuss specifics (that post will come), I would like to give some principles which help our family make decisions regarding day to day decisions:

1) Does this activity encourage us in our walk with God? Does it enable us to learn more about Him? There are many day to day activities which do so, although you might not realise it at first glance. Quickly thinking through a day, there are the obvious ones like Bible time, family worship, music (which overlaps), nature studies, biographies. Then there are those which help us understand more about the world God has placed us in - science, cooking, relationship building activities. There are things which build character traits, such as discipline (sport comes in here), attention to detail, concentration, listening, narration, description, use of imaginative language - these are skills and tools which enable us to appreciate more of God as revealed to us in His word, the Bible.

2) Does this activity discourage or distract us from our walk with God? Again, there are some things which might obviously fall into this category, whereas others may be more subtle. I think for Christian parents it is often those which are subtle that can be most damaging. I've previously considered my views on television (and referenced writings of others). Others whom I respect do not share my view here, but my concern is the subtle influences which are not immediately obvious. That is just one example.

3) What is my motivation for pursuing this? Why do I want my child to be doing X, Y or Z? Is it to gain essential skills (literacy, numeracy, linguistics, physical agility, etc)? Or is it to push them into an area where they may have success in the future? I think one has to be so careful here, as it is often difficult to work out what our motives are. However, at the same time I often read of 'helicopter parents', or the very focussed 'tiger parents' more prevalent in Asian societies, and of the long term adverse consequences these well-meaning approaches can have. My interpretation of some of these reports it that it is good to help our children focus and develop all the essential areas and any additional ones for which they show desire or aptitude. But at the same time, to keep coming back to the wellbeing of the child as central. At the end, what is our greatest desire for our children?

4) Do I feel a pressure to prove something as a homeschooling parent? I've considered elements of motivation in point 3, but I think a specific temptation for homeschooling parents may arise from skeptical attitudes of friends and family. I know I can feel this way at times. I can almost hear the voices of some of these people telling me that 'if only you put them in a normal school, then A, B or C would not be a problem'. At times I also feel a need to prove that our methods are working. Whilst one of the major benefits in homeschooling is that each child can progress at their own pace, and there is no pressure to have achieved specific targets by specific ages, many of us were brought up under systems where they only way something could be proven was through tests and targets. The fallacy of this is that any home educating parent will know how well their child is progressing, what his strengths and weaknesses are, and not need to constantly test. Indeed, a major reason for governments reliance on testing is large class sizes, insufficient individual attention and frankly not knowing the individual child; it is not for the child's benefit that the testing is done. But even knowing this, we must beware of the temptation to try and prove.

The Bible has much to say about our motivations, and I find it helpful to prayerfully consider my choices in the light of some of these exhortations:

'Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ' Philippians 1:27

'Search me Oh God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offence in me, and lead me in the way everlasting'. Psalm 139

'If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.' James 1:5

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas reflection

It's 7pm on Christmas Day. My boys are asleep (a little unwell, and tired from the excitement of the day). My husband is sleeping before his night shift. For the first time in a while I am sitting peacefully in my front room and taking some time to reflect. Sorry for the absence of blog posts in the past six weeks!

What is Christmas about? 

What really matters? What do we want our children to understand about this time of year? I've found some things challenging this year - we are in the UK, whereas last year we were in west Africa, working in a mission hospital; somehow there was a much greater focus on Christ, His incarnation, His salvation and the priorities were to honour and worship Him. Yes, we enjoyed special food, and exchanged small gifts, but the priority, the emphasis was on the birth of our Saviour. Here, even within the churches that I know, there seems to be a skewed emphasis. One of my four year olds was almost laughed at the other day, when somebody was asking what they thought the best thing about Christmas was, and he said 'Jesus dying on the cross'. I don't know if the laughter was because they thought he was confusing Christmas and Easter, or because all the other children were talking about food, toys, television and parties. But it made me sad because this took place in a Christian context.

How do churches portray the celebration of Christ? 

The preamble to a service might talk about gifts, maybe even ask the children what gifts they had recieved. That happened this morning, whereas we as a family do not open gifts until after church because our priority is worship. We want the children to know that God comes first, and that Christmas is primarily a celebration of Jesus. I'm not against gifts, or joyful celebration by any means! Today, we'd had a lovely morning, special breakfast muffins, a brisk walk across two frosty parks watching the pink and yellow sunrise, time together as a family. But it was confusing and distracting to have the pastor start by asking lots of people to tell the church what presents they had recieved. And then to conclude with remarks to the effect that its now time to go back to feasting and enjoying gifts - also suggests that God is somehow an added extra, even though the focus of the sermon was entirely the opposite. As an adult, I found this frustrating, and I was aware of how this may confuse children by sending mixed messages. On the one hand, as Christians we can really celebrate Christmas because we understand its deeper meaning, but on the other hand, we celebrate very much in the same way as the world.

I knew some Canadian missionaries who did not celebrate Christmas Day at all. I think that approach misses the point too, because it is a time worthy of great celebration. But I can also understand some of their reasons. In the UK, it seems to me that 'Christmas' often becomes a celebration of materialism, of the family, of feasting (which can turn into gluttony and drunkenness) and often brings much of the opposite of what Christ brought into the world. But at the same time, is it not a real opportunity to challenge people to consider what they are truly celebrating, and who Jesus was and what He did? I don't think we should not celebrate. But I would also urge caution. There can be a tendency amongst the church to think that because they are not as extreme in their excesses as those in the world, that it is somehow OK. It is true that we are called to be 'in the world but not of the world' and that we need to understand the people around us to be able to know them more, and to love them more. But at the same time, we are told to be 'holy' - to be set apart for God, to be different. Often, I come to think of what it means to be in the world but not of it, to live here but never fully belong, to be a 'stranger'. The motivation is that we are longing for our heavenly home, the place where we will truly know rest, the place where all things will be restored and made new. And that is the celebration of Christmas.

How can we truly celebrate?

I hope what I have written above makes sense. I am not a miserable, joyless, legalistic grouch! But I feel concerned when churches seem to bend over to reach the world to the point where they almost seem to forget what their highest priority is. People long for something more. In the book of Ecclesiastes, it is written 'You put eternity in the heart of man' - there is a longing for something higher, purer, better than this corrupt world that surrounds us. And Christmas is a time to remember that glory and to truly rejoice!
Pondering these things, I came across another Christian parent with similar concerns.

So, you might wonder, if I feel a bit conflicted by some church activities, and if I am anxious not to celebrate in a way which is too worldly, and if as home educating Christian parents we are seeking to instill in our children a greater understanding of God and what it means to rejoice in Jesus' birth - then what have we done over the advent period?

1) Memory verses/ passages. I've reflected before that young children are expected to be able to remember nursery rhymes or songs from TV shows, but that somehow Bible memory is seen as too serious an activity or too advanced for them at this age. We were first challenged by this when we celebrated our first African Christmas with a family who home educated their seven children. Each of them had prepared something, right down to the three year old. This year, our four year olds learned most of Luke Chapter 2, the passage from Isaiah 9 proclaiming, 'Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace'. They now get extremely excited when they hear these words spoken in church, and have been writing their own songs with them in!

2) We baked cookies and sweets, made cards, and then took them round to friends as gifts. It's difficult these days - most people have everything they want or need, but there is something personal about a home made gift, and few people don't enjoy something nice to eat. Also, it makes it tangible for the children to see that effort goes into making something good, but that it brings real pleasure. Again, it reinforces the importance of relationships and community, which sometimes seem lacking in current society.

3) We've done music. Lots of it. Recently we got a new piano (having left our old one behind when we left Africa). I've brought down my saxophone (which had been hiding upstairs for too long) and the boys have various percussion instruments. We gather round the piano most evenings, and over Christmas have had extended singing times after dinner. Its a really special thing to do, to be able to worship God together as a family. (It also has the added bonus that the boys become more accustomed to times of singing/ bible reading/ prayer and so cope better with Sunday church services). Through the words of some of the great Christmas carols, we've all been able to reflect and know something more of God.

4) Making decorations. We've collected pinecones, holly and ivy, and some of these we have spray painted silver. We made a large collage of shepherds out in the fields, watching over their flocks by night when suddenly an Angel of the Lord appeared to them. We've asked the boys to think about what they've read in the Bible and what needs to go on the collage. As well as being fun and making a lovely decoration, they've thought quite a bit about how it must be to be out in the fields at night - hence we lit a fire for the shepherds and made them some warm clothes!

5) Visiting family. We live quite a distance from most relatives, but were able to visit a large section of the family last week. Like I said, I'm not against visiting friends and family, enjoying meals together and having fun - its just that I think the emphasis needs to be on why we are having the celebrations.

6) Lots of baking. Cooking is a big activity in this house, in that we do plenty of it, but involve the boys and embrace the many educational opportunities that present themselves as one follows a recipe. Sometimes I stick to things I know are simple and will work well, but this month we've experimented a bit more

7) Singing carols in a nursing home with a group from church. This was a very special thing to do. Many of the old people in that home were confused and suffering with memory loss, but their faces lit up as they started to sing along to the old carols that they remembered from their youth. It was good for the boys to be involved in this, and to seek to share some of the good news about God with those who may not know it themselves.

In all these things, my prayer is that the boys know and love God more each day as they grow. Somebody recently told me I was thinking too much about things, maybe being a bit 'hard on myself' when I was reflecting on mixed motives and whether we truly live to serve and honour God in all things. But as a parent, what is the most important thing of all? What is your priority? Truly? Is it simply to get through the day, or to do the things that everybody else does without thinking about it? Or is it worth stopping and thinking a little more. 

'And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.' 
Colossians 3:17