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 January 2014

Random reading and encouragement

Two weeks ago I had some major surgery to my stomach, and as a result I've been having to rest quite a bit more than usual. I've taken the opportunity to browse through some home education resources online, and thought I would share some of my findings.

One of the first places I turn for encouragement is to blogs. The reason I love them is because they are a reminder to me that no two families are the same, and that is one of the biggest attractions of home education. You can pick and choose from curricula and methods, according to the learning styles, needs and desires of each individual child, according to where you live, the resources that surround you, the time of year and other individual preferences. There are simply innumerable combinations in how this can be done. An article that inspired me was written by a woman who took her first child out of school early on because he was simply miserable and bored at school; she goes on to describe the next twenty years as an adventure of unique opportunity.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I was not aware of many other UK-based Christian home educators, so I was encouraged to find this list recommending 16 such sites. I particularly enjoyed Delivering Grace; I have much in common with the writer of that site, and we've been able to encourage one another in unexpected ways.

Another thing I consider periodically is the depth and breadth of subject matter that we cover. I would not say that we are following any particular structure at the moment, but are more child-led, spending time following a particular interest of theirs. Often it tends to become a bit of a 'unit study' - for example, they are interested in ancient history and castles, and so we will try and visit castles when we can, visit relevant exhibits in museums, get related books out of the library, and we built them a massive castle out of cardboard boxes  for Christmas (having recently bought a clavinova and some shelves, we had huge boxes!); this often leads onto role-play, and sometimes a discussion of the type of music and dancing that may have taken place.

Anyway today I was considering the Core Knowledge Sequence UK table which takes you through each of the major disciplines (language & literature, history & geography, visual arts, music, mathematics and science) for each Year group. I like to see where we are up to, and whether we are providing a reasonable balance and structure. What struck me looking at these tables was the amount of attention given to language (primarily reading and writing skills) and basic numeracy in the early years; the contrast with what we are doing is that we are exceeding all the recommendations in all the other areas except perhaps those two groups. But at the same time, through developing the other areas, there is a natural progression to include elements of numeracy or literature as we explore those topics. The difference then seems to be context; not only do we want the children to be able to read, write and have numeracy skills to a certain level, but we want these to be relevant and integrated into life as a whole rather than isolated classroom skills which may have little bearing on their daily lives. And as I considered this, I was again grateful for the path we have chosen.

I've thought quite a bit about reading skills lately, not least because my two four year old boys show quite different learning styles.There has been quite a bit of debate in the UK press about the use of phonics. I find it interesting to consider how the approach may benefit some children and yet be harmful for others, and think that having a unified approach to the delivery of teaching in schools has to be harmful. Yes, of course a good teacher will be able to identify different styles and needs within their individual children, but will a teacher of a large class of pupils really be able to tailor the delivery of teaching to suit each child?

Generally, I have found my reading refreshing. I have not had any major flashes of inspiration or desire to change what we are doing, but rather have been encouraged to keep going, keep taking one day at a time, to keep embracing the opportunities that arise through daily life, and to thank God for the gift of every day.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Why use a pseudonym?

I've been looking at quite a few Christian home education blogs over this past week, and enjoying the refreshment and encouragement that comes from seeing how others are seeking to honour God in every aspect of their lives. I noticed that there is a difference between this blog and some of the others, and wondered whether you had asked the question:

1) Why do I write under a pseudonym?
2) Why don't I post lots of photos?

There are probably quite a few readers who know exactly who I am, and it is not difficult to work out some key details from what I write. It is not so much that my identity be a secret, but rather I feel that being anonymous gives a certain freedom to write on topics which may be controversial, express strong opinions and at times to discuss challenging personal issues that arise. Many bloggers write under their own name, and that certain benefits too. For me, the pseudonym simply allows my writing greater freedom.

The second relates in part to the first. Would you read my writings differently if you knew I was a tall, slender blonde? Or a petite Irish redhead? Or a 'traditionally built' African woman? Would you consider the issues and points I seek to raise differently if my children appeared like models out of a catalogue, always perfect and pristine? Would you see things differently if they had obvious physical challenges? If we followed fashion, or if we wore strict home-school uniforms? I think these things can have a subtle influence (at least I can be swayed by such superficial things when looking at others' blogs - you know, the ones with the perfect looking mother with 12 adorable children lined up in order of height!) and I don't want our physical appearances to distract. They simply are not relevant to the aims of what I hope to do here.

There is also a practical consideration: blogs which contain multiple photos and images are very challenging to access in areas where internet is poor, and you will know from some of my posts that we move back and forward between low-resource settings. I want to have a blog that remains accessible even with limited internet.

When I started blogging, I was not entirely sure how things would evolve. But I lean towards reflective writing, considering what others have written, what the Bible teaches, how things are best worked out in practice. I tend to consider the bigger picture, rather than the very specific nitty gritty of tasks that we do day to day. In contrast, some of the other sites which I enjoy are the precise opposite, and categorise activities subject by subject and then provide intricate detail often with an accompanying photo-journal. This is quite a different objective, and although I may describe activities from time to time, my outlook in writing tends to be more holistic.

I continue to pray that the blog brings challenges and encouragement, whatever stage in child-rearing or education you may be at. I pray that through the collection of articles posted here, that you find something which spurs you on towards love and good deeds today.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Do not become weary in doing good

Do you ever cease to be amazed by how children learn? Recently, all of my boys have grasped new concepts, the light of new understanding bringing with it huge amounts of energy and further desire to learn and to explore. It is quite remarkable.

The eldest has suddenly learnt to read. Or, perhaps better put, has suddenly grasped that the letters on the page represent words and that he can work out what these words say by applying various things he has learnt here and there and unlock the meaning for himself. He sits for long periods hunting for ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ in the Bible, and just as it was with speech, every day is acquiring new words and putting together more and more. He is so excited by this that all he wants to do is spend longer and longer reading the Bible and learning more words. (He is also spurred on by a kind of game. I was in hospital last week, and as a distraction, daddy set him the challenge of ‘learning to read to surprise mummy’; he doesn’t realise I know he is doing it, and the element of surprise makes it even more fun).

The next boy has learn to draw. For a long time, he would have great fun making splodges of colour, and he would invest these with meaning; however to anybody else, all they would see would be a mass of colours, perhaps a bonfire or a sunset. But suddenly, he realised he could draw objects, and make a story come to life by drawing the shapes and the structures that go with it. Now, he likes to sit and draw the Bible story we have just read. It’s been a huge jump, and it is fascinating how the changed just seemed to occur overnight.

The youngest can clearly understand  lot although he still speaks in monosyllables. He has grasped some games, such as snap, and takes delight in pointing out things that match (for example on the pattern on the tablecloth). He is absolutely overjoyed to be able to show these new skills and join his brothers in his games.

But the thing is, we haven’t done anything different or special this week. It’s just been a rewarding time for us, seeing each child developing in a specific area, but in terms of our structure, methods, daily routine, discipline, motivation, spectrum of activities etc, nothing has changed. And I think it is important to reflect on this as a home schooler. Not every week feels like an achievement. But the harvest comes as a result of months of faithful, ongoing, faithfulness in the small, everyday tasks.

I remember laughing out loud the first time I started to read some of the original writings of Charlotte Mason where she described things of value and others which are flashy but of little worth, such as spending a morning making a brightly coloured collage to bring home. (I am not saying, and I do not think she was saying, that creativity and craft are to be stifled, but rather used the example to make a point). Children who attend formalised early educational activities often return home with some kind of ‘product’ of their labours, and parents can be easily satisfied that the child is ‘achieving’. As homeschoolers, we may be tempted to compare. (At least I can! I can be impatient, and quick to forget all that God has taught me about patience, perseverance, trials etc)

The joy is that children learn at their own pace, and when they are ready, it just seems to fall into place. This is often cited as a major reason for choosing home education, but whilst we may state those words, is there a little part of us that worries if child X has not achieved Y by age Z? These past couple of weeks have been helpful to me to remember that each child is unique, and progresses at the right rate for that child. And the greatest encouragement of all is the absolute unashamed delight in each of the children as they grasp the new concept, such that they are hungry for continued learning. The jaded apathy that I have observed amongst mainstream educated children is something which saddens me greatly, and again reinforces to me that for our family, to help the boys acquire the necessary skills within a real life environment and develop the tools for lifelong learning, the choices we are making are right.

What if the children could not read by age ten? Or draw by eight? Or grasp the concepts of ‘pairs’ at all? Would that negate my enthusiasm for home education? Would this prove that our ‘method’ was failing and that the children would be better off elsewhere? By no means. In fact, that too would confirm the need for an individualised approach where the children were not made to feel that they were failures for not achieving at a set rate. In any normal distribution curve, there are outliers at either end; some children will naturally read at age 3, whereas others may be 9 or 10. That is illustrated in our own family, where I was reading Enid Blyton under my bedcovers before starting school at 5, whereas my husband was unable to read properly until about 10.

The reason I am writing today is to encourage you. In our current society, we are encouraged to seek instant gratification, quick results. For example, how often these days do you hear of somebody who has ‘saved up’ for something? How often do you see people working tirelessly, year after year on the same thing? I believe we can seek quick results in our parenting too, and if we are home educators, in our childrens’ progress.

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, ‘And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart’. (Gal 6:9) Whilst this applies to the whole of our Christian lives, it is particularly pertinent to the responsibilities of Christian parents, whether home educating or not.

Be encouraged. Keep going. Be faithful in the small tasks. And in the right time, God will bring the harvest.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Importance of Play in Learning

One big reason that people choose to home educate is to allow children the freedom to learn naturally, and increasing amounts of evidence show that 'play' is an essential tool to develop many skills. This article is comprehensive and well-written. I hope it encourages you:


Friday 3 January 2014

2014. Subject by Subject

I like to pause at New Year and reflect on the year gone by and pray over the year ahead. I don’t see this as ‘new year resolutions’ because I believe that if there is something that needs to change in your life, then God will convict you all year round, and change should not wait for a calendar date. But I see it more as a time of personal reflection. This year, we’ve seen some real changes in the boys and some of these might mean a change in how we approach their education. We plan to keep the basic structure of our day the same, but specifically:

1)      Reading:

I always thought we would leave reading until a little later. Indeed when considering home education in the first place, we were encouraged by some of the Scandinavian countries where formal education does not start until about the age of seven. We noted that the evidence in favour of a later formal start was more marked for boys. We have appreciated the wisdom of Charlotte Mason, who again suggests that formal structures are best left until the child is about six years old. However, our eldest, currently aged four, is just so hungry to be able to read. He spends long periods intently ‘reading’ books to himself, and is constantly asking for stories to be read. Over the past six months, he has enjoyed stories with few or no illustrations (such as Swallows and Amazons) and I can just see how being able to read will unlock a whole new world for him. I was able to read from about four, and remember reading books like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was six or seven; reading was a great part of my childhood, and I can’t really imagine not having had this available. So, steadily, we are teaching him to read. Our second son, six months younger has a different sort of enthusiasm. He loves to ‘read’ the Bible, and points to words and recites the passages of scripture he has memorised. He ‘teaches’ the toddler how to read. He too is increasingly hungry to have this door opened.

We aren’t using a particular method, but I keep my eyes and ears open with regard to what other friends are doing with their children. Instead, we are just reading out loud often, and with some books, starting to encourage them to recognised words and sound them out. 

2)      Writing

Similarly, I didn’t think too much about writing at this stage, but the boys have asked to learn to make the shapes of letters. Interestingly, they are more or less equal in reading and writing, whereas I often thought that reading would naturally come first. Even more interesting to me is that the younger, more impulsive boy is better at focussing and writing beautifully neat letters, whereas the older one who can sit and look at books for hours at a time seems to tire quickly. It just goes to show how each child is a unique individual, another huge advantage of home education being that we can move at the appropriate pace for each.

We intend to base our ‘writing curriculum’ around letter writing, so have started the new year with our Thank You letters for Christmas gifts. We have many friends and relatives, and there is often a reason to send a card or a note. It seems much more real to have a purpose for writing, rather than just making nonsensical sentences. John Holt speaks much about this kind of thing, and again for us it is a huge benefit of home education.

3)      Numeracy

The boys have mastered basic counting, and gradually we are introducing concepts of addition and subtraction. Often this is to do with following a recipe (I have six eggs. If I use four for the pancakes, have I enough left to make the cake?), or shopping. Sometimes it has to do with chasing pigeons. We are starting to write numbers down, and have some flash cards with numbers on and some games of snap where the written number has to match the number of objects on another card. We are not doing much more than this at present.

4)      Swimming

We’ve struggled with this. Where we live, the public pools insist on a 1:1 parent: child ratio when children are less than four, and so we were never able to go. Now we have two four year olds who have not had much experience in the water. However, they should start swimming lessons in two days time. More comments on this may well follow!

5)      Spanish

Whilst living in a different city in the spring we enrolled the boys in a Spanish class. They seem to have retained all that they learned, and we are looking for a Spanish speaking student who would like to spend an hour once a week playing with the boys and just talking to them in Spanish. Its been our intention for a while, but we haven’t managed to get anything organised yet...

6)      Science

They are such little investigators. Everywhere they look for ‘evidence’ and love to do experiments. Our favourite is the one where you take the liquor from cooking red cabbage and then use it as a pH indicator. They love to turn over rocks and look at the insects underneath, and they recently have acquired magnifying glasses which they take to the park to look at leaves, bark, insects and other things of interest. I love the way they don’t see this as work, but an extension of their natural curiosity. We try to build the science into day-to-day life, making the most of opportunities that present themselves. So many principles are best learnt in this way, such as some of the basics of physics and mechanics. Once more, this is an area where home education is absolutely ideal

7)      History

We try to find out the history of places that we visit. One of the reasons we home educate is because we are on the move quite a lot, with both long and short trips around the country and overseas with work. So we read up on places, visit places of specific interest, try and understand the different perspectives from which history was recorded. We built them a castle out of cardboard boxes for Christmas, and they love to play at kings, knights and soldiers. It is a natural extension of their games to get books from the library discussing a byegone era, and we look forward to visiting some castles soon.

8)      Music

Over the past few months both the four year olds have really started to sing. I’ve commented elsewhere about their ‘new songs’ of praise, but they also are learning more well known songs and hymns at an astonishing rate, and showing appreciation for different ranges and harmonies (one of the boys is more of a tenor, the other an alto). Even the toddler (twenty one months) tries to sing the Hallelujia Chorus, and is enjoying the choruses with actions. We recently bought a piano (having sold our old one in Africa), and we’ve had some great times around the piano in the evenings. We have a box of instruments – triangles, tambourines, xylophones, recorders – and an African drum, and although it sounds quite cacophonous at times, they seem to be learning more about rhythm. We do not plan to formalise their instruction yet, but instead continue to get them familiar with music, rhythm, harmony and to enjoy the range of music they can create. I brought my saxophone out (haven’t played much since the children were born) and the second son can make a fantastic noise from it.

9)      Social activities

We’ve got a bit involved with a Christian home education group about 15 miles from here, and will join them for events from time to time. Closer to home, there are four or five like minded families and we try to meet every couple of weeks, although there have been several babies born lately that has made this a little challenging. Now the boys are getting older, we see the benefits of regular time with friends. We need to spend a bit more time considering our goals as a group – what do we intend to do together, is it just for free play or should we do some group activities that are more difficult for a single family (some messy crafts, certain team games etc). But its a start, and its encouraging to not feel alone!

10)   Life

The only real difference is that we try and sit the older boys at the table for 30-60 minutes every day for writing/ painting/ drawing and to increase their concentration. But other than that, we enjoy the flexibility, the long walks outside, the field trips to libraries, museums, art galleries, on the ferry, train rides, bus trips, going hiking when both parents are free, adventures in the kitchen, craft, and plenty of time for imagination to develop.

I haven’t set specific goals for this year, partly because I don’t want to feel a pressure (or perhaps more pertinently, I do not want to transfer my own feelings of pressure/ desire for achievement onto my children). It would be wonderful if the older two could read, write and swim at a basic level by the end of the year. But more than anything, we want to celebrate each day, and embrace the God-given opportunities to learn about the world He has created and where we fit within that world. And I pray that God gives us the energy, grace, strength and wisdom to discharge our parenting responsibilities in a way that brings Him honour.

Happy New Year!