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, 31 December 2014

New Year Reflection

Do you set 'new year resolutions'? I used to when I was younger, but over time I have come to realise that if something needs to be changed, the time to start is today. I also know that many goals actually take time to achieve, and to seek to suddenly change habits, bring in a healthier lifestyle, mend relationships, take up a new hobby and always to speak kindly and lovingly to others is simply a recipe for failure, disappointment and discouragement. I believe that as Christians, we are in a process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ - but that this is a lifelong process which will have triumphs and setbacks along the way.

Having said that, I do like to take time at new year to reflect on the year gone by and broadly consider the year ahead. Recently I've posted on some of the encouragements we have enjoyed; whilst I believe it is important to think and speak positively, like every family we face challenges from time to time (and indeed that was one of the reasons I started this blog a couple of years ago).

Areas of Encouragement:

1) I am pleased with how Bible education is so fundamental to the structure of our family life. Every day begins and ends with a time of Bible reading, prayer and often singing. No matter what we have planned for that day, or no matter what kind of day it has turned out to be, this is as much part of our daily routine as brushing our teeth or eating. When I read about challenges faced, I realise that many families find a regular family devotional time a struggle. For us, it is important that this never just becomes part of the daily routine with no deeper meaning or value, and it is something we pray about daily. If this is something you struggle with, here are some tips that we have found helpful:

  • It can be short. At first, we would just read a psalm together after breakfast
  • Whilst I try to have the boys sitting with me on the sofa, I sometimes let the two year old play on the floor whilst we read - there are times when it is more important that we have quiet for the older two than try in vain to have all three sitting perfectly. (However, we do try to get them used to sitting together nicely at this time - it reaps dividends on Sunday mornings in church because it is so much part of our daily life.)
  • I ask the boys what they would like to read - they are coming to know and love many of the Bible stories, and there are days when they want a particular story. When their attention is on it, they can listen for long periods
  • We use the 'adult' Bible - usually the New King James, but sometimes the NIV. I've commented on this elsewhere, but I think there is a tendency to dumb things down for children a bit too much these days, and if we use a childrens' Bible, they often get distracted by things that are not actually in the Bible (such as one where Goliath shouts to the Israelites, 'I am going to eat you on toast!') - we do have several childrens' Bibles with different levels of English and different styles of illustration, and I think these are a helpful adjunct and we often use these, but when it comes to family devotional time, we find it much easier and less distracting to stick entirely to Scripture
  • If there is a particular thing that has happened, or something we are struggling with, I try to find a relevant passage - this helps the boys to see that Scripture is timeless and applies to all situations. They realise that our God is a living God who cares about the details of their lives
  • We try to choose songs that tie in with what we have been reading
  • At night, we follow more of a structure, reading through a particular book
2) Their education is taking a bit of shape. For quite a while I wondered whether we should be using a curriculum or just maximising the opportunities in daily life. Without really realising it, we have formed a pattern that works well for us - so well that we keep going on Saturdays, or when we are on holiday, very much because (quoting Charlotte Mason), 'education is an atmosphere, education is a life'. Now, we have reached the point of looking at materials and we are quite excited to be starting Sonlight in the new year (we have not yet chosen the specific materials, but I've been enjoying their Forums and some local Facebook pages for advice). We have chosen this because our learning tends to be very literature based - we spend many hours cuddled up on the sofa reading, and particularly enjoy 'living books'. I am pleased when I reflect on how things have evolved, because one of the joys of home education is that each family is different, each child is different, and each pace is different - it would not be right to do something simply because others do, or to reach some kind of imposed target, but rather because it is what helps your children learn (and enjoy learning!).

3) I've written elsewhere about travel. For the past 10 years, we have been a mobile family, and to be honest have never really felt 'at home' back in the UK. When I reflect on this, I understand that as Christians, our true home is not really in this world at all. The boys are quite content to move between cities and between countries, and I particularly enjoy seeing them grow with a global worldview and perspective. We have some helpful resources from Operation Mobilisation (a map on the wall with statistics and figures, and a childrens' version of Operation World); the children understand how blessed they are with so much materially and a stable family home, and are learning that there are others who have far less. One of our sons was briefly in an orphanage, and now that he is five there are sometimes more questions asked. We receive calendars every year from the charity which tell the stories of other children who have been looked after by the orphanage, and I hope we are providing a balanced perspective of the situation.

Challenging Areas

Whilst seeking to focus mainly on that which is good, there are some things which remain quite a challenge:

1) Discipline. There are days when it seems that the whole day is devoted to correcting and disciplining the children. Sometimes it seems we can't even move on with the more interesting educational activities I have planned because there is so much need to talk to the boys as individuals, spank when necessary, sit them on the bottom stair, have them tidy up the messes they have made and so forth. It can seem that we are just getting over one problem when something else happens and round and round it goes. I find these days quite exhausting. I also know that these are the times when I have to watch my own attitudes and motives, particularly if I am tired or unwell. I must take care not to discipline in anger. What reassures me (at least a little) is when I read other blogs or home education pages and realise that other families feel like this at times too. And whilst there are days when I find myself wondering whether they would not be better off out at mainstream school, when I actually think about it, I realise that one big advantage of home education is that we can devote the time that is needed to character formation. And that as Christians, we can pray about all these things and teach the children to rely on the strength that God can give.

2) Loneliness. I think some of it is simply a phase of life. My husband and I both work part time (which can be 30-50 hours in a week, involving antisocial shifts and quite a bit of work in the evenings).  (This itself can make us seem a bit different, in both our church/ Christian communities and also in the workplace. The key thing is, that we are 'fully persuaded' that this is the right pattern for our family at this present time) The children are still young and quite dependent, so it can be difficult to have a conversation (by phone or face to face) when they are around, and often once they are asleep, there is other work, or tidying/shopping or planning to be done, so we don't spend much time in relationships. We moved church about a year ago after returning to the UK, and although it is on our doorstep, don't really feel that we have deep, encouraging relationships there either. I don't know how much is because we are a bit different, how much is the pace of our lives, or whether there is something we also need to change. With the coming new year, both of our jobs will change, perhaps becoming a bit more regular. We are praying for wisdom in how we use our time, and that we can build relationships with those around us.

3) Sleep/ tiredness! I have always thought we had quite good sleep patterns (all 3 have always napped together, and have the same bedtime). But over the past year (or maybe a bit longer?) the middle boy has woken shortly after 5. And once he is awake, he decides the world should be awake with him, and will sing at the top of his voice, make frequent bathroom trips and try to wake his brothers. We spend the next couple of hours periodically getting him to go back to bed until it is really morning. It sounds a small thing, but over time it does get quite exhausting. (We are usually up in the night with the youngest too, but that isn't quite as irritating because it is just for a toilet trip and he then goes straight back to sleep). It is something that can try our patience, and we need to be careful that we get enough rest (and if worn out, try hard not to allow this to make us grumpy!). We don't tend to talk about tiredness (because who isn't tired? And it can so easily degenerate into moaning, self-pity and competitive 'I'm more tired than you' type conversations that never helped anybody). But these past couple of weeks, whilst we've all had a succession of viral illnesses, it has been tough!

There have been more challenges and encouragements and there is plenty more to reflect upon as the New Year beckons. But for now, I am going offline and plan to enjoy a peaceful evening with my husband! Happy New Year!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

5 More Advent Encouragements

As with last week, we have been busy enjoying Advent and preparing for Christmas. I have not had much time for reading, but as I stop and reflect (sitting by an open fire and listening to beautiful choral music), I am thankful for many things. Some specific encouragement this week have been:

1) Last night we had two other families round to sing Christmas carols. This was quite a new experience for one of the families. Nine children aged five and under played various kinds of percussion instruments, and it probably sounded quite unusual to anybody who heard. But we did not care, but rather enjoyed rejoicing together as we celebrate the greatest event in history.

2) Our local Christian home educators' group had a Christmas party. I have greatly enjoyed the fellowship that this group provides. We come from a fairly wide geographical area, but try to arrange something every fortnight. Between us, we have a range of ages of children (probably more younger than teenagers) and use a variety of curricula and teaching methods. Our lives are often quite different, but we share the desire to raise our children to know the Lord and to have a biblical worldview, and it is sometimes encouraging simply to know there are others who choose to live this way in our godless society.

3) Our boys' first Nativity play. A nearby church attended by many of our friends held a 'Nativity from Scratch' today. We dropped the five year olds at 10am with a packed lunch and returned to watch the play at 3pm. This was great for several reasons. Firstly, it was very relaxing for my husband and I to have a day with just our two year old. We were able to talk! Secondly, it was the longest time our boys have ever been without us, and they managed well - this is good for their confidence. Thirdly, it was a lovely, simple, Christ-focussed Nativity play, and the boys really enjoyed being part of it (they were angels)

4) Peace and security. Listening to the news has been horrible for the past few months - it seems there are so many awful things happening in many parts of the world. Ebola. Terrorism. Ruthless murder of children. Fear. Racial and religious hatred. I am thankful that I can enjoy comfort, warmth, peace, choice, freedom and relationships. It is easy to feel guilty, but I think a better approach is to simply live one day at a time. I know so many families where life has changed overnight. It has happened to us, and could do again. But for now, I can rest and be thankful. And we can pray that as we approach Christmas that the message of peace and hope would not be empty, but that it will be heard as a powerful and life-transforming truth to those who are lost.

5) That my boys do seem to be developing a Biblical worldview that often surprises me. I've mentioned the Jesse tree project in several places, but this has been one of the most worthwhile things we have done, and has taken on a bit of a life of its own. It will certainly become a family tradition. My five year old was asking about the exile to Babylon earlier, and is starting to understand that through history, God had a plan to preserve His remnant, and that even now, in days which can seem dark and godless, His perfect plans have not changes. Jesus would often speak about 'little children' and how we can learn a lot from their innocent trust. I am learning from my boys as they grasp concepts which many older people struggle more with. There have been days when home educating is tiring, and even times when one might be tempted to question whether it really is worth the investment and whether it really is the best thing for the children. Some of the conversations, comments and insights over the past few weeks have encouraged me greatly that there is fruit developing in their young lives.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

5 Encouragements

It's a busy time of year for most families, and we ran into it from a fairly itinerant schedule over the autumn. But amidst some tiredness, and several weeks of back-to-back viral illnesses, there have been some great encouragements!

1) Children celebrating the coming Christ! Last year we enjoyed preparing for Christmas and the boys learned songs and verses, but somehow they didn't really seem to 'get it' (the eldest was only 4). This year there has been a real shift in understanding, and it has been wonderful to see. Our firstborn never saw a Christmas, and I used to watch other families enjoying noise, mess, craft, songs, and general childlike enthusiasm with a wistful longing; yesterday, as a friend visited with her firstborn baby, I realised we had become that chaotic (but hopefully fun!) family. Having known sorrow and loss somehow makes each moment seem even more precious.

2) Alongside the excitement, seeing how the boys have a grounding in what Christmas really means. This brings me great encouragement because there are so many conflicting messages from the world around us, and even as we try to avoid exposure to the more blatent of these, there are constant bombardments (the person on the bus who asks them, 'Have you written to Santa yet?', or 'Have you been a good boy this year, so Santa brings your presents?', or 'What are you going to get for Christmas?'; billboard advertisements; conversations of friends and their children.....) It encourages me that it is possible to instill a Biblical worldview even in today's world.

3) Friendships - I particularly love the way Christians from all over the world are our brothers and sisters. We have recently had two families (each with three similarly aged children to ours) move to our city from different cultures, and yet we immediately can share rich fellowship. I often think of the descriptions of heaven in the Book of Revelation - that God's people will come from 'every tribe and tongue and people and nation' (Revelation 5:9); one day we will be united with our true family from all around the world and the rejoicing will be incredible!

4) Health. For these past three or four weeks we have all been generally unwell. Nothing serious, but enough to need time at home to rest and the youngest has lost a bit of strength. As parents, we have had to try and find enough rest ourselves in between our jobs and looking after sick children. So basically everything non-essential has fallen by the wayside. But now we are on the mend, and as I recover my energy and enthusiasm, it makes me thankful that in general our family does enjoy good health. It makes me appreciate how difficult things must be for parents with chronic, debilitating illnesses, or for parents who are nursing chronically ill children.

5) The way children seem to learn in a step-wise manner. It probably is not truly that way, but sometimes, after weeks of working on something or trying to explain something, the penny suddenly drops and they embrace the concept. This happened with my older five year old about six months ago regarding drawing detailed pictures of things. It has happened this week with my younger five year old regarding writing - he suddenly sees the value of it, and there have been several times I have found him sitting at the table doing extra writing just for fun. It is a reminder that we need to persevere  and continue consistently even when there aren't obvious immediate results.

I know this time of year can almost become too busy. I pray that you and your family are able to focus on those things that really matter, that Christ remains at the centre of your Christmas celebrations and that you are able to enjoy precious time with loved ones.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Jesse Tree

I recently posted about our plans for advent and to try the Jesse Tree project. Four days in, I am really delighted with how well this is going, and would recommend it. The boys come downstairs excited to open the envelope for the day. On a couple of days, I have put extra activities and colouring sheets in with the 'emblems' for the tree, and that has worked well. I have also been surprised and encouraged by how well they are starting to understand Scripture in context. There have been several times where I have reflected that we can tend to stereotype our children in terms of what they might find interesting or what they might understand at a certain age. When talking about the shoot from the stump of Jesse, we started to discuss genealogies, and he absolutely loved the genealogy of Christ in Matthew Chapter 1. In fact he has asked to read it several times. I must confess that this is a portion of the Bible which does not always excite and inspire me (although if I really think about it, I am of course amazed by the perfect plan and sovereignty of God throughout history, throughout the dark times). But my son really seems to understand something from it, and that encourages me. This type of occurrence reminds me of all the reasons we are home educating, and I look forward to seeing how they progress in their understanding of the gospel as we systematically look through the lineage of Christ and learn more about God's redeeming work.