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)

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Boys and early learning

I've been thinking again about differences between how young boys and young girls learn, and how these differences affect how we schedule our lives. There is still that questions of what is 'nature' versus 'nurture'. For example, our boys are extremely active. There is never a day that we do not go out for a walk, and on most days we have two walks one of which will be at least three miles long. If we don't have this level of activity, the boys seem to struggle to focus, there is a deterioration in standards of discipline and obedience, and things are just generally difficult. But is that because we have trained them to need this amount of time out of doors being active, or is it because they have a genuine biological need? And does that question really matter anyway?

Reading around the area, I've found some interesting evidence on how brain structure and activity differs between the sexes. This article is really useful. A PET scan is Positron Emission Tomography - it is used to determine which parts of the brain are most active during different tasks. So you could put a child in the scanner, and ask them to complete a verbal task and watch which parts of the brain light up. It is a relatively new technique and seems to be shedding a lot of genuine biological light into what parents and teachers have recognised for generations. Based on these, and other findings, leads some to recommend that schools educate boys and girls separately for educational (rather than social) reasons.

I have often been frustrated by the numbers of my friends' boys who are given a 'label' or diagnosis, when it seems that they simply have a normal, healthy, lively child who needs to have his energies focussed and channelled. Indeed, I read somewhere (cannot remember the source right now) that 25% of primary age boys in the UK are diagnosed with some degree of Special Educational Need, such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. It frustrates me especially because I can see how my own boys might risk such labels if they were expected to sit in a classroom for a whole day, with no fresh air and minimal opportunities for running around or choosing which activity they would like to focus on.

Several Home Schoolers have written helpful articles and blogs on how to bring the very best out of boys, tapping into all their talents, using their energy and creativity to enhance other subjects, and generally bringing them up to be men of the future. At 'The Encouraging Home', Mary Glendenin summarises 'must haves for homeschooling boys'. I've reached many of the same conclusions and have a similar approach in many ways, and wish I had read this post earlier. I particularly like the way she is honest about how being physical, getting grubby, being continually on the move and embracing non-traditional educational opportunities does not necessarily come naturally to her. Parenting is in many respects an act of sacrifice. It is not about 'me', about 'my needs', 'my choices', 'my preferences'. It is about using all our God-given resources to honour our calling to raise our children well in the midst of a godless generation. And I admit, that there are days when I would much rather curl up on the sofa with a massive pile of books than put on my waterproofs and go out in the freezing cold, but it is what my children need!

Once again, as I consider these things I am grateful for the choices we have made to homeschool. It is not always easy. There are days which are physically exhausting. Some days they can seem very focussed and do the more 'traditional' educational activities such as drawing, writing, being read to, playing games etc, but there are other days when they seem like unfocussed bundles of restless energy. My middle son can be particularly trying and perplexing at times - he will refuse to do things (such as writing) when he is quite capable when in the right mood, and there are other times when he cries and seems very upset and frustrated and we cannot work out why. Some days, we can see real breakthroughs and little by little he is gaining confidence. But I shudder to think of how he would be in a mainstream school without the individual attention, patience, gentleness and love that he needs.

It is often on the days that I find hardest, the days when I am tempted to think, 'I wish somebody else could step in here', or 'surely anybody could do this better than I am', that I realise that in fact these are the days when it is most important of all that we have the consistency, discipline, but also love and patience that the children need. And I do not imagine that our children are so very different from boys across the world.

I'd be interested to hear your comments about educating young boys!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

10 reflections

I haven't blogged as much as I would like lately. I haven't spent as much time as I would like considering educational theory, learning styles, resources, schedules, timelines and goals. And yes, there have been days when I have felt a little guilty about this, before remembering that this is one of the joys of homeschooling. And also, one of the reasons I have had less time to consider the theory is because we have been busy putting things into practice. When things have been busy, I find it really helpful to stop and reflect, even if briefly. So here are 10 reflections on the past weeks:

1) Enjoying watching their different learning styles develop and finding ways to tap into both. My eldest (aged 5) I find easier to understand. He likes learning new things. He enjoys copywork, and even though he is very energetic, can sit very patiently and colour in neatly. My second (aged 4) seems more complex to me, although I recently spoke to a friend who described similarities in her son who is exactly the same age. He can write all his letters, but he seems to pretend not to remember when I try and get him to write. He will say silly things, like 's' when it is clearly an 'a'. But for some reason, he really enjoys writing on wipe-off books with dry-erase markers, and when I sit him down with these, he will write and copy beautifully. I don't know why this is, but its been very satisfying to find a system that he embraces!

2) My eldest learning to read. This is interesting. Some days seem really positive and exciting. Other days, gets quite upset when we ask him to read to us, and refuses to do it. I think part of it is frustration, perhaps being so close, and yet so far. It is difficult at times to know whether to push on, and tell him not to be silly, and that many good things require hard work to get there, or whether to leave it for another day. I probably use both approaches at different times, and can't pretend to have it all worked out yet!

3) Watching them learn to play well together, including the 2 year old. They love races. We often do staggered starts so that they all end up at about the same time. We send them on paths that form a triangle or a square, and its great to see them understand rules and competition, and to enjoy being physically tired from the effort. We've recently started going to an athletics club for 5-8 year olds, and I enjoy seeing a healthy form of competitiveness, and also discipline developing.

4) Frustrations with some of the online forums I am part of (mainly Facebook groups). I get particularly frustrated by some of the Charlotte Mason ones, which prohibit discussing any other method. I also get frustrated by those that wish to adhere so very rigidly to what one woman may have thought - for example, questions like, 'What would Charlotte Mason have thought about X, Y or Z (in modern life)?' or 'when Charlotte Mason suggested short lessons of about 20 minutes, did she mean to have a break between these or not?' - my frustration is that people seem constrained by a particular method, as though it is the gospel truth that must be adhered to with 100% accuracy. I feel grateful for the ability to embrace the best of several different methods and adapt things to our specific family dynamics. (And I have been restrained and not made comments to some of the frustrating posts,  although I think I will remove myself from some of the groups soon!)

5) Meeting a new home educating family this weekend, who have just moved to our city, who have children of similar ages to ours, and who are involved in similar professions to my husband and I. This was a great blessing and encouragement  - and also made me thankful for Facebook and forums and 'modern' ways of meeting others.

6) I've been surprised and encouraged lately by about five conversations where I have told people that we are home educating and had a very positive response. Indeed, I have not had a negative reaction for a long time. People from various walks of life have been positive about the benefits it brings, and have been very interested to know how things work out in practice. It has made me realise that we can sometimes bring our own baggage and preconceptions into conversations. I hadn't really mentioned home schooling much before, because it almost did not seem relevant. However, now the oldest two are both 'of school age' people are asking where they go, or whether they are starting in September, and so it is an ideal time to explain what we are doing. Maybe it is partly our own confidence now, maybe it is because they see the children as normal, lively, healthy and well-adjusted, I don't know what it is, but reactions seem quite different than they did two years ago when I started writing here. (Indeed one reason why I started the blog was because of feeling isolated and misunderstood!)

7) Relating to the comment above, I've been surprised by how many people have said, 'Oh, you are homeschooling' as though this was a completely normal and acceptable option. In fact, maybe it is. I am familiar with some of the data, that increasing numbers of families are choosing to home educate for a plethora of reasons. In the UK, there have been recent teachers' strikes and there is increasing disillusionment with the system. But its surprised me that people see it as a perfectly reasonable option.

8) Starting to plan the future. I've reflected before about being 'strangers and aliens' in this world, how we are simply pilgrims passing through. For some time, and particularly since the death of my daughter, I've been aware of how we can't make presumptions about tomorrow, and that the only day we are really responsible for is today. Jesus speaks about that when He tells us 'do not worry about tomorrow, for each day has trouble enough of its own'. Whilst living for today, we are aware of a transience of our situation here. Another year, and it will be another big move. The real benefit of this is that we embrace every opportunity, make the most of every day, take each moment, each relationship, each activity as it comes because we know that these things won't always be possible. Later on, we might feel sadness and loss, but right now it just enforces that we are living for today, and that feels good.

9) Long summer days, days of freedom, days of long walks and picnics, of adventures outdoors, of butterflies and barbecues, days when we pack our books and a picnic blanket together with plenty of sandwiches and just head out to where-ever we end up. These are lovely days. Often older women tell me that these were the happiest days of their lives, when they had young children around them all the time. I hold onto that - there are times when I feel so tired I am almost dizzy, but there is an innocence, simplicity and freedom that I wish I could capture and hold forever.

10 Little personalities that develop and surprise me. Yesterday morning, by husband had gone to a 6am prayer meeting, and my 5 year old said, 'Mummy, I promise you, they won't be singing. Not the men. Their voices will be like 'uuughh, ugh, ugh' [excellent impression of what a man might sound like trying to sing at 6am]. It made me laugh a lot, and also conveyed quite a lot of his understanding of things. I love the fact that every day, even the hardest of days, is filled with a reasonable amount of laughter. And at the end of the day, those are the moments I hold onto.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Each day unique

One thing I love about Home Education is that no two days are identical. There is so much flexibility to respond to situations within the family (ie discipline!), to the weather, to energy levels or lack thereof, to celebrations, to the interests of each child. I know that readers who already home educate will know exactly what I mean, but I'd like to share some recent examples:

1) Applying the Bible to current situations and challenges. We've spent a lot of time working on 'The Fruit of the Spirit'. The boys have learnt Galatians 5:22 and can recite 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control' (although the two year old struggles to pronounce 'self-control' and comes out with some amusing attempts). But more than that, we're really trying to teach the boys what these traits mean, what they look like, what they most certainly don't look like, and that we need God's strength within us to develop these fruit. We have a 'fruit of the spirit tree' where each branch is one of the fruit and they boys can each add a fruit when they achieve a good example of that fruit during the day. It is still quite sparse.... It's nice that we can stop here and look at the Bible in depth, look at other passages about development of godly character, and keep revisiting things rather than feeling the need to keep up with a schedule.

2) Plenty of time out of doors. This is always a great advantage of home education, but I think during the summer months we appreciate it more than ever. We have taken a pile of books and a picnic blanket and sat in a beautiful garden near our home, and have been thankful that we do not need to stay inside. We’ve done relay races that involve counting and other tasks. We’re working on playing together as a team and sharing – lessons that could be learnt in many ways I am sure, but can be useful taught with a football and a Frisbee. The there are all the specific trips that can be done alone or in groups.

3) Some friends from another country visited mid-week, and we were able to take them on a tour of the city including many of the typical tourist activities. This wouldn't have been possible had the boys been in school, and it was really interesting to hear them describing certain things about the city and the things they enjoy much. I suppose this was a form of 'narration' in some respects, as sometimes you don't realise what a child has absorbed until you hear them teaching it to others!

4) We went to Yorkshire, hiked across moorland and enjoyed both watching and riding on the steam trains. It was fabulous to see the excitement of the boys at seeing the workings of the engines, the great clouds of steam, being allowed to climb up into the engine compartment with the driver, watching them fill the tank with water etc. We spent a whole day around the railways, and because there were not so many children around, the boys were really able to make the most of the opportunities to see and explore much.

5) During our trip to Yorkshire, we visited a Baptist Church. It brought great refreshment and encouragement and my five year old was keen to come for the evening service (it was his first time of coming to evening church, as where we currently attend does not have an evening service). It was such a wonderful encouragement to sit with my son hearing the Word of God and worshipping together, and it was a delight to see his hunger for these things. An added encouragement was some teaching on the Sabbath, which was much in keeping with my understanding of things; I think God put that there, just to specifically encourage us on that point. 

6) Planning for the future, we now know that we will move back to East Africa next year, for several years. It is great to consider how our education will continue to build on what we are already doing, and to feel confident that by home educating, we can keep this area of their lives relatively stable in the face of much change. Partly because we know we will be moving on, we are keen to make the most of the opportunities which are so abundant in the UK – libraries, museums, art galleries, exhibitions, festivals, sports lessons etc. I think when you live between two very different worlds as we have done, and will continue to do, the glass is always ‘half-full’ as we embrace the unique opportunities that exist where we currently are.

7) Dressing up. This is something a little unexpected for me since we never did it as children, but I’ve been astonished to see how the boys get ‘into character’ with costumes, and start to act out things they have read about in their books. At Christmas, we had built a giant castle in the living room, out of the three-ply cardboard box that the electric piano arrived in. We had several fun lessons making shields and armour, and then they boys would often act out the roles of king and visitor, of attacker and defender (and yes, occasionally got a little rough at times). This week, one of the boys dressed up as Henry the 8th in the art gallery, and rather than bouncing off the ceiling as he normally does, he was very stately and regal for about an hour. He was particularly thrilled to be allowed up to see the painting of Henry the 8th whilst in his costume, and also told other visitors to the gallery all about what he was doing (quite factually correct). The only downside was that the only costume that fit my 5 year old was a dragon costume, and after having crawled around the art gallery, the dragon then ate King Henry. History has been rewritten it would seem… But in seriousness, I’m going to put together a ‘dressing up’ box before our next big move.

It's been a busy time lately, with big decisions being made - this is why I have written less in depth here. But I was keen to share an assortment of encouragements to remind you of the benefits of a method of education which can be tailored to the needs of your family and to each individual child.