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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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...
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
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.
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.
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!
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!