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, 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!