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)

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Practicalities of Home Education on the move

As you may know, I try to blog at least once a week, and Sunday evening is often my time to stop and reflect. I find it helpful for a number of reasons:

1) Sometimes there are specific issues or challenges that need contemplation
2) Sometimes there are milestones to celebrate or record
3) Sometimes the week has simply seemed so hectic that there has not been much 'down time', and reflection is a helpful discipline.

When I blog, I try to consider:

1) Is there anything remarkable about the week (either good or bad)?
2) Is there anything that might be helpful for others to read about (or links to share)?
3) Has anything education-related occurred locally or nationally that deserves comment?
4) Have I had any significant conversations or encouragements?
5) Have I remained focussed on God through the week?
6) Have we kept to our main aims for our family?
7) Is there anything I need to be held accountable for? (I know you don't know me, but somehow by blogging it helps in this way, because the same issues tend to recur)
8) Is there anything I need to do differently in the week ahead?

These last few weeks have been busy with work-related trips up and down the country - and this is going to continue for about another month. We try hard to focus on the positive, but there has also been quite a lot of tiredness, and I can see the boys really need a few good nights of sleep in their own beds. On the one hand, they are accustomed to moving around a lot, to sleeping in cots/ beds/ floors/ sharing beds etc - and we hope they keep this up as a useful skill, but on the other hand, there is something about the ease and routine of being in one's own home, having the space to choose what to do and to take time over things.

Today I'm going to write about how we structure home education whilst on the move:

1) Firstly, it is a great advantage to be home educating, because our current lifestyle would simply not be possible if we were tied to being in a particular place at particular times. It is important to emphasise that we had chosen to home educate regardless - and probably in consequence we respond to different opportunities because of this choice (rather than it being the other way round, home education as a convenience to fit our lifestyles).

2) We have the same basic daily routine wherever we are. Breakfast, Bible, reading, writing/drawing/colouring and then out and about. Home for lunch/nap, and then more creative activities or field trips in the afternoon. Home for dinner, Bible, singing, prayers and bed. (Sometimes we make a full day outing, and the youngest nap in the car, but we try to break the day into two whenever possible). We take our basic materials (notepads, coloured pencils, some favourite books) with us when we travel. Currently we get the older boys (5 and 4) to write a sentence about something they have done or enjoyed in the past few days, and then to draw a picture of it. Sometimes we get them to write letters or postcards home. That way the writing and drawing has a real purpose, and we encourage them to start reflecting on what they have learnt, enjoyed and the reasons for that. It is interesting to see the differences in what they choose to focus on. Without discussing the educational methods in detail, it is important to note that the Bible is central to most of what we do, and in addition to Bible reading and prayers morning and evening, we often reflect on and discuss matters arising during the day in the light of Scripture; indeed in some environments the stories of the Bible acquire a new clarity (such as the woman at the well in the middle of the day, when we were living in a very hot, dusty land where women drew water from the wells in the cool of the morning or evening, but NEVER at midday!).

3) We even keep breakfast the same. We go through 1Kg of porridge every week. So, the day before a 5 week trip to Africa, we might buy 6 Kg of porridge to take with us. It sounds a little mad perhaps, but we have found at least having one meal of the day utterly familiar, at least at first, really helps.

4) Creative play using everyday objects. We've always encouraged them to be resourceful in their play. So often they make complicated games using sticks and stones and leaves. At the moment, a major theme is camping, hunting and exploring, so often there are imaginary fish being cooked on imaginary bonfires. To me this is beautiful for several reasons. Firstly it encourages resourcefulness, but it also allows their imaginations to really flourish. I find that these days children don't have much free time, and also that the entertainment to which they are exposed tends to crush imagination.

5) Plenty of physical activity, usually in the form of long walks. I often reflect on Deuteronomy 6 where we are instructed to teach our children as we walk along the road, and as we sit at home, and generally as we go about our daily lives. Often the richest spiritual and educational opportunities occur at random moments, flowing out of questions that the boys have raised as we walk along the road. The physical activity also helps them focus their energy and to eat better and sleep better.

6) Another huge advantage of regular walks around your district is that you get to know others in your community and to become known. This both helps you to settle and feel 'at home' more quickly, but also allows relationships to build whereby we can share our lives and our faith. And the children are very much a part of that. So whenever we land somewhere new, particularly if we are going to be there for more than a few days, we spend a lot of time exploring the neighbourhood.

7) Not trying to do too much. As you will know if you are a parent with young children, there are some environments where they do not thrive. We find going to peoples houses, or spending too much time indoors can be challenging. As Christians, there are often evening meetings and Bible studies and other activities to get involved in, and it would be easy to take on too much. Sometimes we need to say no, and to prioritise settling our family. I used to feel more guilty for that, but it is our primary responsibility (see reflections on Third Culture Kids), and other areas of service and ministry are so much more effective if the family are well settled.

8) Finding the local markets, buying local food, trying new dishes and delicacies. I've reflected before on the vast curriculum that is involved in cooking - and this continues to be one of our main activities. One of my sons particularly comes alive in the kitchen, and when he is unsettled and not behaving well, sometimes the challenge of cooking or baking really helps him focus.

9) Embracing the unique opportunities of that environment - whilst keeping the general structure and routine of the day very stable, we usually have a short walk in the morning and then an afternoon activity out and about - so that can involve whatever is unique about where we are currently. And by having the other things stable, I feel the boys can really appreciate these things without being overwhelmed.

10) Sleep. Sensible bedtime routine (of course the children go through tricky periods like any others). And sometimes as parents, we need to accept that the most useful thing we can do with some evenings is get to bed early too.

For those of you who move around, or who are considering it, I hope some of this is helpful!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

An unusual experience

Today something surprising happened, and I would be interested to know what your thoughts are.

The situation: Middle child was restless and guests were due to arrive. So husband took son for a brisk walk of about 2 miles near the cottage where we are staying. About 20 minutes after getting home, the police turned up on the doorstep because of a couple of calls about a 'suspicious' man with a young boy seen walking in this direction.

What was suspicious? The police tried to tell us it was because they had been walking on the verge of an A road (a main road) which was unusual. My husband thinks it might be because of the speed they were moving at - our son was running most of the way to keep up, but this was intentional and enjoyed! What nobody wanted to mention was that my son is black African and my husband is white, so they do not 'obviously' belong together.

In four and a half years back in the UK, nothing like that has ever happened! I used to get the occasional sideways glance whilst breastfeeding, and we are often recognised out and about because our children are distinct, but no police visits!

My thoughts are jumbled:

1) On the one hand, I am relieved that people would report suspicious behaviour and that the police response was rapid
2) At the time, it was highly amusing (our friends who were visiting are white Africans)
3) It is sad that there would be a need for a concern to be raised (but I am aware this world is not a pleasant place a lot of the time)
4) I am glad that my sons are not old enough to really understand what it was all about
5) I can't understand why nobody was willing to admit that colour played a part in this - I was happy to say to the policeman that I could understand why a query was raised because of the differences in appearance
6) I am sad that race does still play a part. My sons are 'colour blind' in that respect, and we have friends of many colours, mixed race marriages, adopted children - for us it is totally normal for children and parents to look different, or for siblings to look different to one another. Clearly this is not the case in different parts of the country

What do you think?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Scottish History 'Field Trip'

We are enjoying an impromptu 'module' on Scottish history! I recently described the opportunities that come form having a slightly hectic and itinerant schedule. So I currently find myself in a farm cottage in central Scotland, and the boys and I are making day-trips whilst my husband stays home and works on various distance-learning tasks. It's been great!

Highlights so far:

1) Walking up a steep hill to discover two cannons and the 'beheading stone'. The boys of course wanted to know who was beheaded there, and I had no idea....

2) As well as checking on the internet for information (they boys still haven't realised we look up their tricky questions overnight to supply answers in the morning!) the following day we went to Doune Castle. If you had opportunity, it is a gem! Unique in that it represents a single period in history rather than having been refashioned through the ages, it was the hunting lodge of Kings James I-III. And whilst we were there, we found that it was Murdoch, earl of Lennox, his sons and father in law who were beheaded by their cousin King James I.

3) Stirling Castle itself is well worth a visit. High on a hill, overlooking much of central Scotland, you can really understand the strategic importance of the city as the ancient capital. It is one thing to explain military strategy in words, but so much easier and more captivating to stand on the battlements and be able to see for many miles and understand how one could see enemy invaders for miles around. (And I got to take an international teleconference about one of my studies at the castle, whilst my husband took a break from his work!)

4) Climbing Dollar Gorge to Castle Campbell. This was interesting, because it was very hard, steep walking for boys aged 5, 4 and 2, even though they are accustomed to much physical activity. It made us question why on earth there was a castle in such a remote, difficult terrain. But hiking up to it really made the boys appreciate its situation (and it was breathtakingly beautiful; we are in the midst of a crisp, cold, colourful autumn.

5) That the boys are keen to record, in writing and drawing, their experiences and impressions of what they have seen and done. People sometimes think us harsh because 'school' never really stops, but my understanding is that this is in keeping with Charlotte Mason (and many other educationalists') philosophy that 'education is a life'. It doesn't start and stop. Technically we are 'on holiday' and yet this week has been more richly educational than many others.

6) Later in the week - plan to visit Bannockburn - apparently the new visitor centre has some great interactive activities that will be good for the children. (I'll report back - often I find that things that are described as 'good for children' are dumbed down and involve lots of media and flashing lights and displays which we find a little unnecessary and unhelpful!)

7) Living on a farm - I've written about this before, but we see many things which remind us of where our food comes from, the cycles of life (including animal slaughter), the seasons and help us understand some of the biblical parables about sowers and farming.

This post is mainly to encourage you - everything is an opportunity. We have not spent much time at the table (probably 20 minutes per day) but we've embraced many educational opportunities which I am sure will be more lasting than my attempts to explain concepts verbally would have been. Visiting the castles and talking long, challenging walks up to them has really brought a lot of Scottish history to light (and I must confess, I am learning more than I ever knew, even though I spent my childhood not too far from here!)

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Antipsalm: The wife of ignoble character

I've previously commented how much I appreciate the wisdom and encouragement from Jess Connell's blog; she cuts to the heart of contemporary issues facing wives and mothers, and draws perfectly from Scripture to challenge our heart attitudes. She writes with humility, gentleness and wisdom.

This evening I read her 'anti-psalm', a reversal of the 'excellent wife' of Proverbs 31. Sometimes by considering an opposite, you really start to appreciate more of the truth. This has both challenged and encouraged me because I find that our society (and even many within our churches) do not value faithful service in the home. Even within the church, there is a tendency to speak ill of family members (often partly in jest, but with disrespectful undertones), to crave 'me' time, to not appreciate the traditional activities of keeping home, cooking, mending, offering hospitality, being well organised, being frugal and thrifty (these words are often interpreted as a person being stingy or mean, but in fact are an outworking of stewardship of our God-given resources which enables us to be more generous and to be able to share and bless others with such resources). Often it is not considered the best use of time to aim to undertake these things to an excellent standard. So often there is an unspoken message that we would be so much better off using our talents outside the home, or perhaps that as home educating parents we are missing out on gospel opportunities which we might have if we were less focussed on our own family.

I won't say more, but simply (with Jess's permission) am reposting her 'anti-psalm'. Her full Blog post on this is here.

A terrible wife is a dime a dozen.

She is common– easily found.

Her husband feels tense; his heart is never fully at rest around her. She blows through his resources and squanders his contributions. There’s never anything left over, to invest or to give. The tight finances point to a larger reality: he can’t really trust her.

She spends more time and energy tearing him down than building him up. Every day of her whole life is spent making him worse off.

She sits around, aimlessly waiting for opportunities. Her hands are idle, because nothing magically comes her way on its own.

She does the bare minimum necessary to contribute to the nourishment and care of her family (and sometimes, not even that!). She can’t be expected to go to great lengths to bless her household.

She sleeps in, and uses her time poorly. Her household often gets to mealtime without anything planned or prepared.

She buys things on a whim– spending money on possessions rather than purposeful, long-range investments.

She’s weak-willed and weak-bodied, and thus, unwilling and unable to do the things God has put on her plate.

Her efforts are spent unprofitably, on things that don’t bring fruit.

If she’s up late, she’s doing impractical, useless things or spending her free time as “me time.”

Her skills are few, if any, and what she does do is careless and done poorly.

She can’t afford to be generous. The money’s all gone because she’s spent it on other things.

Her heart and hands are turned inward. Whatever her words say, the result of her actions and inaction reveal that her own desires eclipse the needs of others in her heart.

The thought of tragedy or difficulty makes her anxious and fearful because she hasn’t properly prepared her home, her family, and herself for these possibilities.

She doesn’t actively put her mind and creativity to work on improving the basic, everyday things in her home.

Her husband is ridiculed and thought ill of in their community because of how poorly she’s talked about him. Others don’t respect him, because his wife doesn’t either.

She spends her time and energies aimlessly and fruitlessly.

She puts money in the pockets of merchants, rather than the other way around.

Weakness, irresponsibility, and indecency are her clothing.

She churns with anxiety and fear about the future.

Her words are foolish; people around her are negatively influenced by her cynicism and critical attitude. Bitterness and judgments about others regularly spew from her lips.

She’s stressed and concerned about all manner of things, but oblivious to the realities of what’s happening inside her own heart and home. There, her exhaustion and stress boil over into laziness and inaction.

Her children rise up and can’t wait to get away from her. They curse her.

Her husband also, and he can’t find anything good to say.

A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised,

But this woman’s charm is deceitful, and her beauty is in vain.

Her hands are fruitless, and leave her nothing to enjoy or be praised for.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Travel and opportunity

These past few weeks have involved quite a lot of travelling around. Interestingly, I found a Facebook page called Home Education Travels, and it is a forum for people who move around a lot whilst home educating their children. Sometimes people ask us how we manage to juggle two part-time (but often ~30-40 hours/week) clinical and academic careers whilst homeschooling, but in fact I think it would be a lot harder to juggle if we were constrained by typical length school days and the academic calendar.

Recent opportunities have included:

1) A conference in Chester, which is a city in the north of England full of Roman remains, old city walls and beautiful architecture. Our hotel was directly opposite the Roman amphitheatre and on several occasions 'Roman soldiers' would pass through. My eldest in particular is fascinated by ancient Rome and so we packed some relevant books and his notepad and magnifying glass.

2) Medical education in Fife. For me the highlight was St Andrews - the ancient cathedral was quite incredible to behold; apparently it was once the biggest building in the country. I was encouraged when the boys wanted to go back to see it the following day, but in fact this was because they had found a dead pigeon, not to do with the magnificent architecture or inspiring history. Ach well... I loved walking along the beach at sunset - so peaceful, so beautiful. It was where they filmed Chariots of Fire, the dramatisation of the story of Eric Liddell who refused to run competitively on a Sunday. The boys know this story, and it brought it to life a little bit.

3) Wild camping in the English lake district. Due to some swaps in our shifts, the boys were able to travel up and pitch camp during the day, and I arrived after dark. We then climbed together with head torches, pitched a second tent in the dark and spent the night on a mountain. The boys have loved reading the Swallows and Amazons series of novels which tell of children who spent their holidays in the Lake District around 90 years ago. They found it exciting that they might be camping in the very same spot! I was impressed at how well they climbed, and how well behaved they were whilst tents were going up and down, and whilst climbing the steep parts. (We couldn't have done this if they boys had been 'in school' or if we were working completely regular hours).

What I love when I speak to other home educating families is how we are all different from one another, and have different patterns, different passions, different perspectives. For us, our life and work cannot easily be separated - it is our medical work that takes us all over the country and back and forward to Africa. Our motivation is to help and serve the most vulnerable, wherever they might be, and this is intertwined with the outworkings of our faith. The boys are involved in all of this, and it brings its own set of opportunities too. Probably all parents who teach have their own strengths - our boys love experiments, which are sometimes very scientific (such as making chromatograms of chlorophyll using filter paper and acetone) and sometimes just seem to involve lots of mess and tipping of water from one container to another. I am impressed by their enquiring minds. Writers such as John Holt really celebrate the natural curiosity and ingenuity of the child's mind, and I so much hope and pray that this hunger for understanding never gets stifled. I see them asking logical questions and searching for solutions, and this contrasts greatly with my own education where I simply memorised facts in order to do well in exams, or re-iterated material in beautifully presented, but completely unoriginal projects.

These past few weeks I have felt very tired, yet in the face of that, the boys have really flourished in some areas. I pray that we have wisdom in the choices we make, in the responsibilities we take on, and that we are able to respond to their questions as they arise. I remain utterly thankful that our family has made the choice to home educate, and even when feeling exhausted, I see so many benefits. Tonight I am simply pausing to reflect, and to celebrate some of the joys of the past few weeks.

My eldest (aged 5) told me the other day that he doesn't want to be a doctor when he grows up. He wants to be an explorer. That sounds good to me!