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.

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.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Advent: The Jesse Tree Project

One of my biggest joys is the advent season, as we remember and celebrate the birth of Christ our Saviour, the fulfilment of so many prophecies throughout history. One of my biggest frustrations is how Christmas often becomes a celebration of materialism, excess, selfish indulgences and loses almost all of that true meaning. Whilst one would expect that of the world around us, who often simply do not know what Jesus came for, I find it especially hard in church when childrens' (and even adults'!) messages focus more on presents, fun, family, food and sometimes even have adults dressing as Santa in attempt to make the message 'contemporary'.

As a home educating family, how should we keep the focus on what really matters?

If your children are older than mine, you may have come across the Jesse Tree before. (A search engine will provide many helpful links to a range of resources based on this concept). I am surprised I hadn't come across it before, because it is just what I had been looking for.

The concept arises from Isaiah 11, where it is prophesied that a root from Jesse will ultimately be the Messiah. It then goes back through the pivotal events in the Old Testament that point towards the coming Christ, from creation, the fall, the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and their descendents) and other key individuals in the genealogy of Christ (Rahab, Ruth, Esther etc). Each day there is a short Bible reading and an 'emblem' which can be drawn, coloured or made to hang on a 'tree'. There is so much potential for how this can develop -  often our 'school' activities consist of some reading, writing including copywork, drawing and colouring, narration of a story, acting out a story, reading around the area using either the Bible or reference books, and sometimes watching short youtube clips such as biographies or childrens' Bible stories (the Beginners' Bible is particularly good as it is Bible based and does not have too many distracting features in it).

I am looking forward to starting this project tomorrow, and am much in prayer that the boys grow in their understanding of advent and what Christmas really means.

For each day, I have made envelopes with the Bible reference on the outside and the emblems on the inside. This year, I've printed them out and mounted them onto coloured card, and we have a simple branch that is spray painted silver that we will tie them onto. I will use that as the base, and then, depending on interest, energy levels and the schedule for the day, have other related activities up my sleeve. I don't want to push them to do too much, so am needing to temper my enthusiasm slightly with some realism too!

I wonder whether you do anything special for advent, and if you'd like to share some encouragements?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Book Review: Keeping the Kids

Keeping the Kids by David Cloud
Subtitle: How to keep our children from falling prey to the world.
Way of Life Literature

I was given this book by my mother in law which I appreciated very much. She does not always find it easy to talk about spiritual things, although she is a very committed Christian, and the fact that she gave me a book which she found encouraging meant a lot. She knows that this is one of the most important things in our lives, and one which influences many of the decisions we make regarding our lifestyle and the childrens’ education.

It was easy to read, and populated with many anecdotes from Christian parents and church leaders describing what they see as the most important priorities, and also what they see as some of the biggest dangers in both contemporary society but also within much of the contemporary church. I found these different voices extremely helpful to bring depth and perspective to what was being said in the main body of the text.

I will list the chapters, and some of my key reflections on these in a step by step manner – I wish to share some of my challenges and encouragements with you! I also have made a comment on what I found less helpful - and there were some subtleties with which I disagreed, or which I felt were expressed in a very old-fashioned or rigid manner. At times I had to fight to not get distracted and to focus on the majority which was good, helpful and Biblical!

Can we keep the kids? Here the discussion was on how we cannot MAKE our children Christian since this is a work of God’s grace in their hearts. Yet at the same time, there are both instructions regarding the spiritual education of our children and promises of fruit through scripture and it is clear that we can make certain choices which may help or hinder the process.

Priority. Child training must be a major objective, and takes much time, energy, resources, prayer and strength. I have considered priorities several times here on the blog (and here for tagged posts); one of the arguments people use against home schooling is that it takes away time we could use in other, more important ministries. As I read the book, and particularly when I considered some of the cautionary tales recounted, I felt affirmed that our priorities are right.

Conversion – this chapter was interesting as it cautioned against either assuming our children are Christians or assuming that a ‘response’ to the gospel at a young age was a genuine conversion experience.

The Home: Consistent Christian Living. The title says it all – but if we are not demonstrating a living, vibrant relationship with God, then our children will not take our church attendance and Bible reading (and other spiritual activities) seriously. Consistent living does not mean that we have to be perfect – there will be times when we are tired, angry, emotional, apathetic or unkind. The point is that we are quick to repent, are honest with our children and apologise to them if necessary, and in all things ‘conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of Christ’.

The Home: The Husband-Wife Relationship. This chapter focussed on the Biblical order of male headship and female submission. This again is not popular in modern society and even in some churches today, but is how God made it. I find freedom in submitting to my husband and seeking to serve him and the family.

Child Discipline – this was similar to most of the books and articles I have read on Biblical discipline, emphasising the need for physical punishment (the ‘rod’), consistency but more than anything that this is executed in love and never in anger. It was helpful once again to read these truths because they are so different to today’s society. I have those in my family who consider us almost abusive for spanking our children or punishing disobedience because ‘modern’ parenting states that we should simply ignore bad behaviour and reward the good. It is encouraging to remember that the Bible gives us clear, timeless instruction, and that there are Bible believing parents around the world who feel likewise.

Separation from the Pop Culture – this chapter focussed on holiness, which I reflected on at the time I was reading it. By and large, it was helpful, covering areas such as television, internet, popular music, mainstream education, dating, unwholesome literature, and inappropriate dress. It was refreshing to read, and made me realise how some churches (probably including the one which I am currently a member of) do not emphasise holiness, purity and separation sufficiently. As I read this chapter, it reaffirmed our decision to not have a television, and to limit to a minimum the amount of ‘screen time’ to which the children are exposed.

Discipleship (once you are sure of Conversion). A reminder that our children are our disciples as we seek to show them how to live godly lives in all areas. Deuteronomy Chapter 6 is the classic passage which talks about the many opportunities which arise daily to teach, encourage, correct, rebuke, and generally illustrate the things of God. Homeschooling comes up often in the book, and is presented as a very positive opportunity to both protect the children from ungodly influences but also to embrace positive opportunities.

The Grandparents – and that they can either be a great blessing or perhaps a hindrance! The chapter would be an encouragement to Christian grandparents as to how they can influence their grandchildren for good, without interfering! (I had to be gracious when reading it, rather than feel bitter for the times when the Christian grandparents don't seem to be doing these things when the opportunity arises!)

There is an appendix entitled ‘How to Lose Your Child Before He is Five’ – this is adapted from a lecture given some 30 years ago, but there is much timeless wisdom there. This can be found in full here:

There were also very complete and helpful reference lists, which I hope to spend more time working through.

What was not so good? There was a tendency throughout the book to have a very black and white perspective. For example, if you do ‘X’ then ‘Y’ will result. I understand the emphasis towards separation and holiness but there were occasions when I felt this was taken a little too far. For example in the chapter on modesty, there would be anecdotes such as ‘I once knew a Sunday school teacher who wore trousers and had short hair. Not surprisingly, all of her Sunday school children grew up to be alcoholics or get divorced’. There were occasions were I felt that God’s grace did not fully come across. However, I do think this needs to be balanced against the very real danger of postmodernism where anything is acceptable, and the trend within some churches today that these things don’t really matter any more because all that matters is the heart.


It was a challenging, encouraging read which I would highly recommend.

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!


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Adoption and Labelling

What does adoption mean? It is a legal process whereby an individual acquires the same status and rights as biological children within a family. It is a wonderful mirror of what God has done for us in Christ, and in several places the Bible uses the adoption analogy directly. (Romans 8, Galatians 4, Ephesians 1)

Several things have made me think a little more about this lately. Firstly was the observation of a friend that our family is often not included when people pray for families we know who have adopted children, even though our adopted child is somehow more ‘obvious’ in that he is black and the rest of us are white. Secondly has been attending several local networking events for families who have fostered or adopted children. What I have noticed is that many of these families are very ‘issues based’; virtually every child has acquired a label of some kind or other, and the families seem to face a constant battle to get the right provision made for their special child within the educational system. There may of course be a bias here; it may be that the families who are likely to attend such networking events are those for whom adoption is somehow a big challenge or problem. Conversely, families like ours, who really don’t think about the fact that one of our children was not biologically born to us (hence I think this is the first time in over two years of blogging that I've even mentioned it), may see no need. But a recent conversation with a friend who hopes to adopt in the near future raised some more alarm bells as she told me that a lot of the pre-adoption screening process warns you that there are very likely to be major psychological or behavioural problems with the adopted child, and that you are basically trying to fix something that is badly broken. She suggested to me that families are almost geared up to look for problems, and that if any problems arise, the tendency will be to blame these on a traumatic early life.

This bothers me for quite a number of reasons:

Firstly, I know some adoptive families who seem unable to move beyond anger and blame at circumstances, previous foster carers and the social work department for irreparably damaging their child. I find that quite hard, because if a biological child were to have special educational needs or behavioural/ psychological problems, one might consider potential underlying causes but the main focus of energy would be in accepting the limitations and helping the child to overcome these and function as well as possible as a member of our community.

Secondly, how does anybody really know what the root of a problem is? How can one be certain what results from in utero substance exposure, from a neglected infancy, from a specific traumatic event etc and how much is genetic or a propensity of that individual child? I see a tendency amongst families who have adopted to blame almost every problem on the adoption and somehow take a step back from it as though they are somehow absolved of responsibility. When I look at my adopted son, now nearly five years old, I can see some difficult behaviours that I find hard to understand – for example a persistent, wilful disobedience with an impish grin on his face, which he knows will lead to withdrawal of privileges (ie pudding!) that will upset him. He tends to hit out and not always understand physical boundaries. And at other times he can be quite clingy and insecure (my other two are quite happy to keep playing in a friends’ garden, for example, whereas he will follow me to the bathroom!). Much of this is probably normal childhood boundary setting, and we work with him to be more confident, to communicate better verbally rather than shouting and crying or becoming physically aggressive. We seek to find his strengths and encourage him in these. It doesn’t matter to me why he behaves as he does at times, but it does matter that we help him through this.

A third reason I feel frustrated by the labelling and potential attribution of blame is that it might really restrict the child in the longer term. As I child I suffered various kinds of abuse and was eventually taken into care; when I went straight from that environment to medical school shortly after my seventeenth birthday, I am very glad that there was nobody watching out for me as a ‘care leaver’ or a ‘looked after child’, or perhaps even worse, as an ‘abuse victim’ or maybe ‘survivor’ (personally I also feel frustrated by the term ‘survivor of abuse’ since although it is intended to express a powerful overcoming of adversity, to me it still forces a person to be defined by a previous bad circumstance). For me, such labels would have hindered me in moving forwards. Now I am a happily married mother of four, and enjoy a relatively successful medical and scientific career on a part-time basis. I don’t see myself as the mixed up teenager I once was, and am grateful that I was never forced into a box by labelling and low expectations.

But underpinning all of these points is something greater by far. Does a traumatic early life really have to lead to life-long challenges and struggles? Do our early years really shape us to the extent that we can never move forward and know true healing? I do not wish to minimise how difficult these issues can be, and I acknowledge that I struggled greatly with some of the more common sequelae of abuse during my teens and twenties. But the Bible does make it clear that ‘if anybody is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come’. (2 Corinthians 5:17) There are many passages where it talks about the ‘old man’ or the ‘old person’ or ‘your former self’ and many sinful activities and attributes are listed; I can identify with so many of these, and there were years when my life was full of darkness and futile attempts to escape from that. But what actually happens when a person becomes a Christian? A complete transformation from the inside. A changed heart. Power to overcome. The will and the help to resist temptation. Many people attest to the ability to change habits when they become Christians – perhaps smoking, swearing, some besetting sin that they have tried in vain to overcome in their own strength. This is evidence of the power of Christ. For some people, it does seem that a miraculous transformation occurs, and for others, the rest of their life is a process of gradually overcoming but sometimes continuing to really battle against the sinful world that we live in, and against the hurt and psychological damage from earlier life. But even in that struggle, there is always hope.

Our relationship with God, through Christ, is described as an adoption. We are no longer lost, confused, helpless, damaged orphans, but now are established into His family, with God as our Father and Christ our Brother. What could be greater than that? In the spiritual realm, we have a perfect inheritance waiting for us, through His gift of grace. Many Christians who have endured all kinds of trauma and trial can attest to the great things God did through those times, and how His love enabled them to stand in the face of it all. The Apostle Paul described it as ‘light and momentary afflictions which are not worth comparing to the weight of glory that will be revealed in us’ 2 Corinthians 4:17. Elsewhere we are told that we, ‘with unveiled faces are being transformed into the glory of the Lord’ 2 Corinthians 3:18

The adoption of children into our families cannot ascend to this degree of perfect restoration. But it should reflect some elements of it. The child is no longer in a bad situation, but is safe within a home and within a family. The child no longer needs to earn love and try to manipulate for attention or approval, but should come to see that they are loved unconditionally, just as a biological child should be (I use the word should – because I also accept that in our fallen world, not all children are loved unconditionally by their parents). The child should be able to change, and to grow in an atmosphere of grace and forgiveness. I am concerned that some of the attitudes towards adoption that I have recently encountered place a stumbling block in the path of such ideals. Certainly families should know where to turn for support and encouragement, and medical and psychological help should that be needed; but I think the pendulum has swung a little too far to the point where the child becomes defined by their pre-adoption life, rather than the newness and restoration of their ‘forever family’.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Encourage one another

I recently posted about contentment, and recognising that God gives each one of us sufficient grace every day for our unique circumstances. When feeling under pressure, there is nothing better than to take time to reflect on what the Bible teaches us about God's amazing, father-like provision.

We spent the afternoon with some of our friends who also home school their children. There is much to be said for finding a community who can encourage and strengthen you as you make choices that often seem strange and foreign to many of those around you. We spent most of the time just keeping an eye on a lively bunch of children aged six and under as they climbed trees, dug in the soil for worms, harvested wild apples, travelled to a far off land on a Viking longboat (that part being imaginary, the rest real!) and got into the occasional scuffle. We talked a bit about phonics (some of us very against the method, others in favour, others neutral!), elementary mathematics for boys using objects that can be manipulated visuo-spatially, overseas travel and relationships.

These friends were surprised when I commented that I felt isolated. They then both admitted that they felt similarly, but hadn't realised I did. Their reasons were that I seem well organised, seem to know a lot of people, seem very active and generally get on with life. But in some ways, can this be a reason for isolation at times? There have been quite a number of occasions over the past few years when I have tried very hard to tell people I have a need of some kind or other, but it seems as though I am speaking a slightly different language and I am not heard. Today, we talked a little about how as home educating families, we are often pro-actively involved in our churches and communities, often (at least aim to!) have an open and welcoming home with plenty of food on the table and listening ears (or if not the ability to listen wholeheartedly, plenty of opportunity for distraction from the troubles of life!). These are all good things that we should not seek to change. But can it make us more isolated?

I don't have an easy answer or a neat, punchy conclusion to this post, and I'm sure it is something I will revisit. But here are a couple of thoughts to start with:

1) We really do need community! One of my temptations when feeling different and misunderstood is to isolate myself further, and thus ensues a vicious cycle. This is not right, not biblical, and can lead to feelings of bitterness which are sinful.

2) We need a small group of friends with whom we can be honest. The book of Proverbs has much wisdom about the choosing of friends or advisors, and also cautions against being too open with too many people. But we should choose friends that we can share our burdens with honestly. We should be able to pray for one another. And sometimes we don't support one another in their needs because we simply don't realise they are there. I wonder as home educators whether there are times when we feel we need to project an aura of capability? One thing we talked briefly about today was how it can be difficult to ask for help with childcare, such as to visit the doctor, or even to spend one on one time with a person who might benefit from that. We hear the unspoken, 'If you would just put them in school, then you wouldn't need help here' or occasionally comments to that effect. But the fact is, just because we homeschool does not make us super-human or immune from human frailties and needs. Indeed, one could argue that we perpetuate the myth by being reticent to share our needs! Similarly, it can be difficult to admit that our children are testing our patience at times. I was somehow reassured to realise I was not alone in this, but became more aware that it is a real problem at times.

3) We should seek to bear one another's burdens. This means thinking about those close to us, and how we can better encourage them. Jesus tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Luke 6:31). We are reminded to go the extra mile with others (Matthew 5:41). We are to encourage one another, and consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)

4) Jesus tells us that through showing genuine love for one another, others will recognise the truth of His saving grace in our lives (John 13:34). Ways of showing this love are getting to know one another properly, listening carefully, actually asking how we can help and support, looking for ways to do random acts of kindness for one another

5) I'm aware that in churches we can often focus on those who are obviously 'needy' in some ways. I am not saying that these people should by any means be neglected, but that we must also remember to pray for and seek to serve and encourage those who seem to be strong. If I can feel isolated and struggle and not even my closest friends have realised, then there are probably many others in the same situation.

Like I said, no easy answers but some issues that those of us who are involved in communities of home educators should be aware of as we truly seek to encourage one another on this adventure which is so very worthwhile, but at times also the biggest challenge we have ever known.

If you've got experience of this, or wisdom to share- please do leave a comment!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Contentment

1 Timothy 6:6 'Now godliness with contentment is great gain'

I've been thinking quite a lot about contentment lately. Previously I've considered how we can make a positive choice to be thankful, and how we can choose how we talk about things, particularly our children.

Right now, I feel a temptation to be discontent. I have been feeling envious of others who seem to have on-hand grandparents who take an active role in their grandchildrens' lives and who try to help the parents get some rest/ time together/ enable them to attend doctors appointments without the children etc. For us, both sets of grandparents live 250 miles away. One set will willingly travel to us for the day and help if there is a specific need, but it does feel like a big thing to ask (and so we would only ask for big things, like interviews or operations). The other set are not interested at all, and never seem to consider how my husband and I manage to get our schedules to work out so that one of us is always home with the children. Lately, we've both had heavy workloads extending into most evenings, and it seems too long since we've really had much time together. And with the tiredness comes a tendency towards self-pity.

And as you may know, that starts a nasty downward spiral of negativity that helps nobody.

'Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord; looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled...' Hebrews 12:14-15

There is a lot in there. I am very struck by the link between missing God's grace, and the emergence of a root of bitterness; in my life this is very often the case. Bitterness often comes when one feels wronged, as though somebody has owed something but not paid up. I can feel bitter because I feel that some of our family somehow owe us something, relating to help and support with the grandchildren (or just generally, an interest in our lives). But the truth is, they don't. And there are many children who don't even have living grandparents, or families where the father or mother has died. But more than that, more than looking at the situations of those who have difficulties in this present life, there is a far greater and more positive challenge to consider:

'Now I say that the heir, so long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba Father!'. Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ'. Galatians 4:1-7

There is nothing greater than that. To be adopted - to have the same rights as a biological child. So whilst my parents might not provide any comfort or encouragement, I have a FATHER in heaven, God Himself who gives abundantly more than I could ever ask or imagine if I only would look to Him and receive that precious gift of grace. You see, I think when we look at those things that we don't have, and start to feel sad about these, we miss the much greater blessings that we have in the spiritual, eternal realm.

'When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me'. Psalm 27:10

I remember the first time I read that, coming from a broken and dysfunctional home. God knows that some of us feel hurt and rejected by our own family, but He will receive us and give us the right to become His adopted children. How can I feel self-pity when this is the reality?

'Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal'. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Tiredness, loneliness, chronic aches and pains, repeated disobedience from the children, endless sweeping up crumbs, constant interruptions, broken nights - all these things are 'light and momentary afflictions'. In fact, more than that, I see them as exactly the type of challenges referred to by both the Apostles James and Peter, which develop in us all manner of godly characteristics. Because parenting truly is teaching me to deny myself, to not be selfish, to love unconditionally, to go the extra mile. It humbles me. It draws me to my knees. There are days (the days we all prefer to blog about, the ones when we put photographs on Facebook) when we see the sweet, rich rewards of investing in our children. But there are days when it feels more about endurance, peace, perseverance, patience and trying to continue to demonstrate joy, love and gentleness throughout (cf Galatians 5:22!)

These things are not unknown to the God who is our adopted Father. He knows our pains, tears, frustrations. He knows the wounds that broken relationships may bring. He knows the desires of our heart. Yet this same God, back in the early days of history, told the children of Israel 'do not covet'. 'You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wide, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything else that is your neighbour's' Exodus 20:17. That list would include your neighbour's circumstances, their social network, the time they seem to have with their husbands, and so on. I am sure you may have your own list where you are tempted - but the bottom line is, God says 'don't do it'. James tells us to 'flee from temptation'.

And so, I choose to look to where my hope lies. 1 Peter 1:13 reminds us to 'set your hope fully on the grace to be brought to you when Christ is revealed'. Fully. Not to set our hope on worldly comfort, or on relationships, or on our children's futures. Fully on Christ. Fully on His grace.

Today, I choose to be thankful that I am an adopted child of God, and a co-heir with Christ. As you ponder this amazing truth, may God give you a true perspective and contentment with where you are today.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Vocabulary

I've recently enjoyed my boys using very descriptive language every day. For example, the two year old telling us that his meat was 'succulent', or the four year old describing his pudding as 'marvellous'. There have been times when they have used an unusual turn of phrase, and I've wondered to myself, 'Where did they get that from?' only several days later to realise it comes from one of Edward Lear's poems or from a book we are currently reading aloud together. And as I have considered this, I have made one or two observations.

Childrens' books today seem to have a very limited vocabulary. It is almost as though the author has thought that she must use simple language to be comprehensible to young children. I would disagree with such a presumption! My boys have loved Laura Ingalls-Wilding's stories of children growing up in pioneer America, which use beautiful and often elaborate descriptions of the activities which took place in their day to day lives. Arthur Ransome describes adventures on the high seas in his Swallows and Amazons series, and again, uses words which are often complex. It is interesting how the children rarely ask for a clarification, but rather are often able to understand new words from their context. And when they do stop to ask, they enjoy learning the new words. Has there been a change over the past 50 years? Comparing Ladybird books from the 1960s with those from recent years shows a huge change, and I see it as a sad loss.

I wondered whether anything had been written on this area. Much of my searching discussed oral communication, and the adoption of very colloquial and often simplified language. Other papers discussed childrens' language development in terms of parental interaction, educational status etc. Yet others refer to the increasing use of electronic forms of communication, the increasing numbers of children who are in childcare from young ages and so have less one on one interaction with their parents and insufficient time being read to as factors in stunted language development. But I am not really thinking about 'abnormal' language development, but rather a general decline in the use of English in our society, and in particular in terms of what is expected of children.

I wonder whether some of it has to do with the rise of phonics as the main method used to teach reading. The English language is notorious for having many words which do not obey the rules of phonics, and so if you stick to words for which the pronounciation can be deduced easily from the spelling, then it is easy to miss a great many words. Personally, I find phonics frustrating - whilst I can see the benefits, I am yet to find any 'early readers' using a phonics approach which are not completely 'twaddle' as Charlotte Mason would term it. Some time back, I was reflecting on what John Holt had noted about how children learn to read, and would agree with his observation that some children simply find it patronising to be given dull, simple material when they yearn for more. My children certainly do fall into that category, and would much rather I read a 'real' book to them aloud, and then they will point out the words they recognise and sometimes even start to read a little by themselves spontaneously. Furthermore, from what I understand, nobody really understands how children learn to read, how much is phonics, how much pattern recognition, how much the personal drive and desire to interpret the 'code' etc. Separating out one single element of this seems to me educationally naive.

Another, slightly sad observation has been how others react to young children who use complex words. Often it is laughter, and occasionally even comments like, 'They'll get picked on at school if they speak like that'. It seems that blending in and being average is considered more important. On other occasions, adults have misunderstood the boys, and when I have repeated what was said, commented, 'Yes that was what I heard, but I didn't expect it from them' because  it is not typical. I find that sad, and also slightly concerning. We are home schooling our children for many reasons. We read to them and speak to them in rich vocabulary, not to make them different or 'precocious' but simply to enable them to use good English and to enjoy rich colourful descriptions. But how many children in mainstream education have this delight stamped out of them by peer-pressure or through being fed material which is 'suitable for KS1' etc?

I wonder whether you have any thoughts on this, or what your experiences have been?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

'Summer holidays'?

'Do you take a break for the summer?' a lot of people have asked me lately. I wonder what your reply is, and what your reasons are. For us, because the boys don't really know that they are learning or 'doing school', then there seems no need to take a break or do anything differently. Quoting Charlotte Mason, 'Education is a life', and in summer there is plenty of life about to learn from.

Some examples:

1) Summer storms. Why? Why does the weather do that? What is thunder? Why does thunder come after the lightening? Why are thunderstorms most often in the afternoon? Why do we get more rain in the summer? Examples of 'educational' activities: Dancing in the rain, and making comparisons with the rain in Uganda. Books describing weather. Rain guages (made out of just about any kitchen recepticle they can find!). Watching plants grow and fruit ripen. Describing different types of cloud and learning which ones are rain clouds.

2) Walking between some farmers' fields, watching the harvest. Comparing ripe and unripe grain. Gleaning amongst the edges of the fields (and explaining how in the Old Testament there was a provision made for poor people that the edges of the fields would be left, and that the harvesters would not return to collect the gleanings. The story of Ruth comes to life as you walk through the edges of fields on a hot day!). Collecting enough wheat to thresh and make a small harvest (enough to grind and make a loaf of bread). Discussing the impact of farm machinery on the lives of individual farmers and the economy in general. Linking wheat and the harvest to the weather conditions as described above - comparing this year with last, for example.

3) Ripening fruit. Earlier than usual this year, as a result of the different weather conditions. Ample time to start foraging and dreaming up new recipes. And as always, cooking brings with it a whole multitude of literacy and numeracy tasks, in addition to art and science!

4) Taking a picnic blanket and a pile of books to a park. The activity (reading) hasn't changed, but summer affords the opportunity to stay outside for longer and enjoy the warm weather.

For us, to take 'breaks' in accordance with a traditional school calender might not be a helpful thing. One of our reasons for home education is that we don't want the children to lose that love and zeal for learning that they currently have. It doesn't feel like school, and doesn't usually feel like 'work', because they are exploring the areas of life which currently fascinate them. To say, 'Now its time to take several weeks off and have fun' might communicate a message that what we are currently doing is not fun. However, we do take breaks at other times - for example when we travel or are visiting friends or family, we do a scaled down version of our normal activities. Whilst attempting to maintain the usual basic structure of a day, things will change. And so we communicate that there are times of celebration when life takes a different pace; this seems healthier to me, that there is a specific and positive reason why we have not read so many books today, or have not done any experiments or so forth.

This summer is proving less frustrating than previous ones - perhaps my expectations have changed, the boys are that bit older so the range of things we are doing is changing, perhaps also I am learning to be content and celebrate the unique opportunities we have as a family. The autumn will bring several trips to different parts of the country, and I look forward to these with eager anticipation. In contrast, I hear of other friends feeling frustrated by being constrained by the academic year. Contentment is a wonderful place to be!