Friday, 19 May 2017

Friday Reflections - 56

Last weekend, the children put up their tent in the garden for the first time this year. They have spent much of their break times - rain or shine - in there with books or games. It has made for a quiet house at times!

We met with friends for running again, which went down well with my 5 year old daughter and my 9 year old son. They both managed further than last time, as did their friend who ran with us, but my daughter excelled herself by managing to run (without either walking or stopping!) a full 5K. Tomorrow I plan take her along to Parkrun for the first time, something she has been very keen to try.

My 5 year old and me after our run.

We have also managed to fit in one or two activities that have been squeezed out for various reasons over the last couple of weeks. One was a Nature Walk, searching for ants and drawing them.

Looking for ants.

Drawing ants.

My 11 Year Old's Drawing

Michael also taught a couple of science lessons, including one on convection currents using a pan of water balanced over our hob, some ice, and some food dye.

Convection Currents Experiment

The Food Dye Shows the Currents

Other highlights of the week included my daughter slipping on a banana skin (yes, really - she was utterly thrilled!), and my 8 year old moving onto a new maths book (he's very happy). Both of these events seemed very significant to my two youngest children!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Friday Reflections - 55

This week has meant the children enjoying some of their favourite activities - cooking, reading, park trips, and a birthday.

We began with our church lunch on Sunday, and my younger two decided to cook this time round. My daughter made chocolate orange cookies, while my youngest son made a lemon cheesecake.

Making Cookies

As well as our usual walks this week, we also met up with some friends in the park so that I could run with any of the children who were keen to do so. My 9 year old and 5 year old had a go as well as one of their friends - and we hope to try to run regularly together.

Our home education group met today, and we were looking at Peru. My youngest two were working together on a presentation, and they did a pretty good job. We did a little weaving, and made guinea pigs models out of fondant icing (so we could eat them!).

Simple Weaving

My 5 Year Old's Weaving

Edible Guinea Pigs

My 7 year old turned 8 this week. He has been so excited about his birthday this year - and he had a lovely day. Pancakes for breakfast, a dinosaur birthday cake, and a friend coming round for tea were highlights - as well as his presents, of course.

Opening the gift from his siblings - model guinea pigs in a hutch.

Birthday Boy and Birthday Lego

For me, of course, his birthday means remembering when he was born. My 8 year old was born on the day of my Grandad's funeral, which made for a very emotional day. I attended the funeral 6 days overdue in a difficult pregnancy (due to pelvic pain). I somehow dragged myself around on crutches while in early labour, then went home and had a baby later that evening! I'm glad I went, though.

My Grandad was a godly and kind man whose faith in Jesus was clearly central to his life, and remembering the day when my son was born reminds me of him; not so much of my sadness at his death, but all the good memories of his life. I especially remember going to stay with my Granny and Grandad a couple of times as a student when Cambridge life was a little overwhelming, and seeing for the first time the habit that my grandparents had of sitting and praying together for their children and grandchildren before turning in for the night. It was moving then, and is how I remember my Grandad now: quietly caring, godly, and faithful.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Friday Reflections - 54

We decided to make the most of a bonus family day on the bank holiday last Monday, and headed off for a walk along the Thames including a ride in the cable cars over the river. It didn't go quite as planned; one child was too scared to go on the cable cars so I took him under the river on the tube instead, then we got caught in a very heavy rain shower on a section of the path where there was nowhere to shelter. We don't normally mind rain, but we were less prepared than usual and it was a bit miserable for a few minutes! However, we still enjoyed most of our walk, and a trip to McDonald's on the way home warmed us and cheered us after we all got soaked.

A View from the Cable Cars

Smiles before the Rain

The rest of the week has been busy with our work, with a few walks and activities along the way. We have been in South and Central America for our history this week, and we had fun using the Mayan number system as part of this.

Mayan Numbers

One of our regular walks takes us through a small wood, which is an especially lovely place to walk at the moment.


Next week, we have our first birthday of the year when my 7 year old turns 8. He's anticipating his birthday with much excitement, including a request for pancakes for breakfast, and being allowed to help make his own cake. The other children have been working hard making presents for him, so we are all looking forward to the celebrations.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Day-to-Day Life - Home Education in Pictures

Often I am asked what a normal day is like for us. We have a fairly structured approach to home education, but this still leaves plenty of time for all kinds of fun.

In photos, here are some of the typical activities you might see in our day to day lives:

1) A Day Plan. The diary comes out at the beginning of the day as everyone likes to know how much we are hoping to get done. Ticking items off is very satisfying.

My Home Education Planning Diary

2) Book Work. This is my marking box at the end of a day's work - they manage to get plenty done, and this takes up the largest amount of time in any given day. This isn't all the work they do as some things just need looking over as they do them.

A Full Marking Box

3) Cuddling Pets. The hamster is out most of the day, keeping my eldest company while he works. The guinea pigs are outside at this time of year, but still receive plenty of cuddles.

My 11 Year Old with his Hamster

4) Cooking. Not every day - no one could manage that much cake - but baking is a very popular activity.

My 9 Year Old and a Cake He Made

Baking Fun

5) Board Games. The children often get board games out to play together. Even the 5 year old is remarkably competent and even beats her brothers at times. I've written here and here about some of our favourite games.

Ticket to Ride

6) Hands-on Learning. Usually this happens in science or history, where the curriculum has good ideas for activities (so I don't have to think of any!). 

Science - Learning about Friction

Practising Mayan Numbers for History

7) Mess. Mud or paint or glue or cake mix everywhere. Or, on one unfortunate occasion recently, pictures in permanent marker drawn on arms. 

A Particularly Sandy Trip to the Park

8) Multi-tasking. My recipe book stand often has a child's text book on so that I can teach and cook at the same time. With 4 children all working at the same time, I'm often needed all over the place at once. Sometimes I can deploy children to help each other for a while, or arrange the work so that I can help one at a time, but often it is an opportunity for children to learn patience.

Ironing and Teaching Spelling

9) Day Trips. Again, not every day or every week, but we often make trips to museums or other places of interest as an important supplement to our learning. We make the most of being able to make visits during term time when places are often a little quieter.

British Museum Trip

10) Books. We all love to read - which is a real delight to me. It is rare that we go anywhere without at least some children taking a book in readiness for a quiet moment. I also set a wide range of books for the children, and spend the first chunk of time after breakfast reading aloud. This is a very popular bit of the day.

Books at the Park

11) Outdoors. We aim to go for a walk daily. Sometimes this is just a trip to the local playground, sometimes a longer nature walk. Even when we are all a bit tired, it lifts us all a bit to get some fresh air.

A Walk in our Local Park

12) Bible. God's Word is at the heart of what we aim to do in our family - from morning devotions over breakfast to conversations in the park, from formal sessions during our home education day to Bible reading at bed time. 

Psalm 1 Picture

Friday, 28 April 2017

Friday Reflections - 53

Michael has been away this week, which has made things a bit busier at home. He had an encouraging and helpful conference, though, and now the children are older - and less work and more able to help - it is not nearly so hectic as when he went away and I had a house full of toddlers and babies! Nonetheless, I will have to use the bank holiday weekend to catch up on a bit of reading and some of my home ed. related admin.

Although I have had less time to read, both my 7 year old and my 9 year old have finished the first level of their reading challenges this week. My 9 year old had already started the next level too, so he's a bit further on than his younger brother, but they are both doing well.

In a couple of weeks, my 7 year old will have his birthday, and his brothers and sister have had sudden inspiration for presents that they could make for him. My 11 year old has adapted a pattern he found on Pinterest to make a guinea pig out of mini-hama beads. My 9 year old and 5 year old have been working together to make a set of guinea pigs and their feeding bowl, tunnels etc. out of Fimo. My eldest is hoping to make a hutch to go with their little models - we'll see if it all comes together. I think they will be popular birthday presents!

Mini-hama Bead Guinea Pig

Fimo Guinea Pigs

They were also able to exercise their creativity at our home education group this afternoon. We have started our final term of activities based on each of the continents, and South America is our focus this term. We began in Brazil, with a series of Amazon rainforest inspired activities.

Pink Dolphin (Amazon River Dolphin) Craft

Dragonfly Pegs
Now Michael is back, we are looking forward to a weekend together. We have nothing in particular planned (though the boys did ask if we would pay them to wash the car, so I guess that may happen!) - so a quiet day tomorrow should be very pleasant.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Engaging Children In Politics

A couple of months before the last general election, Michael and I bought a television for the first time since we were married. We are both interested in politics, and staying up to watch the results come in is something we enjoy; since we weren't going to be on holiday as we had been for the previous election, we bought a television.

We also made an effort to engage our children, particularly our older two, in the event (although we didn't let them stay up!) and in thinking about politics in general. This made quite an impression, and we often have discussions about government and political parties and what we believe the role of the state is in our lives. This isn't always very deep, and certainly not always serious, but they are becoming better thinkers in this area.

We want our children to be responsible citizens, and to apply Biblical principles in this too. We also want them to see that doing this will mean careful, nuanced thinking, and a gracious attitude. We model this imperfectly, and teach these things in a flawed way at times, but they are growing up aware of many of the issues at stake as we consider our role as Christians in society.

Here are a few ways that we have helped this to happen:

1) Conversation. We talk about politics with the children, usually over a meal table. Often, this begins with Michael or I making a comment to each other, and one of the children asking for an explanation.

2) Predictions. Often this will be simply going round the table with everyone saying what they think the outcome of an election will be, and maybe why. For the last general election, Michael produced a large table which we filled in with how many seats we each (Michael and I) thought each party would win. We made several predictions leading up to the election so we could adjust our suggestions according to the polls (ha!), or gut feeling. The day before the election, our older boys each had a guess too. After the result, Michael did some clever maths to find out that the boys had beaten us both (they paid less attention to polls!). We will be doing the same again this time.

3) First News/The Week Junior. We subscribe to both of these for the children at the moment, (though I think The Week Junior is a bit better so we may stick to that alone soon). Both cover the major political events in the UK. Often we'll start talking about something to find that our children have been reading about the issue already. After the last election, we were having a conversation with friends trying to remember the make up of the new cabinet when my eldest wandered off and reappeared with his copy of First News opened to a page with all the new cabinet members listed. He'd clearly been reading it, and absorbing at least some of what he read.

4) Thinking About Thinking. Again, much of this might happen informally. Today I showed my children a Star Wars themed internet meme featuring some key political figures. Talking about the point it was making, how it was making it, and if it was, in fact, using valid reasoning (No in case you were wondering!) was a good exercise in critical thinking.

My eldest has also recently read a book called The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn. It is a book written to help children spot bad reasoning. I put it on the kindle so that we could study it together, but my oldest son worked through it before I had chance (with permission), has re-read it a number of times, and has read many, many examples aloud to us over dinner at various points. Some guests have also been fortunate enough to be introduced to it too! He loves this book, and we've had some great conversations using it. Already, my 9 year old has spotted a politician using a red herring when answering (or not answering a question) thanks to the instruction he has received from his older brother.

5) Visit to Parliament. Clearly this was a special trip, and not possible for everyone, but a couple of years ago I took the boys on a trip to parliament organised by another home education group (our daughter was too young at the time). We took part in a session which is offered for school visits, which included a tour around the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and a workshop about making laws. The boys still remember this as a fantastic trip, and actually remember a huge amount of what they learned too.

The Boys in Westminster Hall

I imagine that there will be plenty of opportunities to continue our conversations over the next few weeks, and our younger children (particularly our 7 year old) are beginning to join in the discussions too.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Friday Reflections - 52

Our Easter break has been a good rest in many ways, although it has been somewhat marred by all of the children being ill at some point. Colds, tiredness, diminished appetites, and conjunctivitis have all featured. With this in mind, we started back to our term time work with a gentle day on Wednesday before we hit the books in a more serious fashion for a couple of days.

The week began, of course, with Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, I had to miss our Sunday service as our 7 year old was too ill to attend. He was so disappointed not to go to church on Easter Sunday, but we remembered how good it is that Jesus has indeed risen, and how we look forward to our own resurrection bodies which will not get sick.

On Wednesday, we went on a nature walk, and completed an art lesson. This was a lovely way to begin our term, and being able to take our time and not rush through everything made it all the more pleasant.

Drawing on our Nature Walk

Our Usual Nature Spot

Drawing and Painting Horses

As well as being back to work, I am just about back to running three times a week again. I had been limiting myself to 3 miles a run and only twice a week, so it is good to be able to do more again now that my knee seems to have recovered. Running in spring weather with blossom and bluebells to look at has been especially pleasant.

I have also been doing both crochet and cross stitch when I have the chance. It has been a couple of years since I decided that I needed to make sure I had some hobbies if I was going to stay sane while immersed in home education, and it has been very satisfying for me to make stuff - especially as I am not very good at creative things in general!

A Blanket for my Daughter

Cross Stitch
I'm still keeping up with my reading; the Easter holidays has made this easier. In particular, I have enjoyed Luther in Love by Douglas Bond. I will have to make sure that I keep on making time for books in the midst of all the more obviously urgent tasks that need to be done.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Avid Reader Books - Children's Choices

The boys have been steadily work through the books they chose for the Christian Reading Challenge that we are working through this year, and are all about to embark on the second list of books. The 9 and 11 year old have managed this fairly comfortably, and have also read lots of other books too. My 7 year old has surprised me by finishing the books on his list (he has a small chunk of one book left to complete). He hasn't been reading lots of other material too, but has really enjoyed the challenge and was very keen to continue.

Here are the books they have chosen for the next stage:

11 Year Old's Books:

1)     A book written by a Puritan: The Holy War by John Bunyan
2) A book by or about a missionary: Jungle Doctor Meets a Lion by Paul White
3) A book about Christian living: Commanded by L. H. Martin
4) A commentary on a book of the Bible: Introducing Acts by David Cook
5) A book about the Reformation: When Lightning Struck! by Danika Cooley
6) A book about theology: The Ology by Marty Machowski
7) A book recommended by a family member: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
8) A book with a great cover: The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart
9) A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers: The Adventures of Dog Man: Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
10) A book about church history: The King’s Arrow by Douglas Bond
11) A book of 100 pages or less: The Black Island (The Adventures of Tintin) by Hergé
12) A book of your choice: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
13) A book that won a prize: The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett

9 Year Old's Books:

1) A book written by a Puritan: Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
2) A book by or about a missionary: Jungle Doctor Meets a Lion by Paul White
3) A book about Christian living: A Boy's Guide to Making Really Good Choices by Jim George
4) A commentary on a book of the Bible: Introducing Acts by David Cook
5) A book about the Reformation: When Lightning Struck! by Danika Cooley
6) A book about theology: Cross-Examined by Mark Meynell
7) A book recommended by a family member: Look Into My Eyes (Ruby Redfort 1) by Lauren Child
8) A book with a great cover: The King’s Arrow by Douglas Bond
9) A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers: The Adventures of Dog Man: Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
10) A book about church history: The Rebel’s Keep by Douglas Bond
11) A book of 100 pages or less: The Black Island (The Adventures of Tintin) by Hergé
12) A book of your choice: Take Your Last Breath (Ruby Redfort 2) by Lauren Child
13) A book that won a prize: The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett

7 Year Old's Books:

1) A book written by a Puritan: Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen L. Taylor
2) A book by or about a missionary: John G. Paton: South Sea Island Rescue by Kay Walsh
3) A book about Christian living: A Boy's Guide to Making Really Good Choices by Jim George
4) A commentary on a book of the Bible: The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung & Don Clark
5) A book about the Reformation: John Calvin: After Darkness Light by Catherine MacKenzie
6) A book about theology:  A Boy After God’s Own Heart by Jim George
7) A book recommended by a family member: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
8) A book with a great cover: Running Wild by Michael Morpurgo
9) A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers: The Adventures of Dog Man: Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
10) A book about church history: Peril and Peace by Mindy & Brandon Withrow
11) A book of 100 pages or less: The Black Island (The Adventures of Tintin) by Hergé
12) A book of your choice: Paddington Helps Out by Michael Bond
13) A book that won a prize: The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett

Friday, 14 April 2017

Friday Reflections - 51

The children have been very much in need of a break this week, and though we have been out and about, they have enjoyed the chance to rest at home too. Most of us seem to have had a cold at some point this week, and have been pretty worn out, and my 9 year old has conjunctivitis. In addition, Michael managed to have another fall while running so has sore legs too.

Despite all this, we have had a good week. The children have been building Lego and puzzles, reading, playing games together and pottering about at home.

We've still been for a few walks, and had some fun trips out. My 9 year old went on a cookery course for a couple of hours (before he got conjunctivitis), which he paid for himself as he enjoyed the course he went on as Christmas present from us so much. He had a great time.

The archaeology club that the older boys attend had an extra family session, a trip to the Thames foreshore. We found lots of bits of pottery and animal bones, and learned about London's past as we looked at maps of the area from different stages of history.

Thames Foreshore

A Mosaic of the History of London

Today, Good Friday, we went to church together, and ate homemade hot cross buns. 

Hot Cross Buns

We have been opening our Resurrection Eggs each day, and reading and talking about Jesus' death and resurrection. 

Resurrection Eggs

In the midst of colds and illness, it has been good to look at the great salvation that Jesus has won for us. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

Friday Reflections - 50

Last Saturday we decided to make the most of the zoo membership that we have had this year by making a trip to Whipsnade Zoo. A family day out, and out of London, was good for us all. Our eldest enjoyed taking photographs, and our 9 year old brought his sketch book so that he could draw.

From butterflies to rhinos to red pandas, from elephants to wallabies to giraffes, it is always amazing to see the variety of creatures that God has made.

Drawing a Giraffe




Since most schools seem to have begun their Easter break this week, we have taken a rest too. We finished off some last pieces of their work on Monday, then on Tuesday the children made lapbooks to record some of the activities we have been doing about North America at our home education group. Now we are officially taking our Easter holiday.

North America Lapbooks

So far, this has meant one day of chores (interspersed with Lego building and other fun), a day out with friends to a park (with a duck race which the children took part in), and a trip to a chocolate museum with some other home educators.

9 Year Old Tree Climbing

7 Year Old in a Tree

Chocolate Hands!

We seem to have plenty planned for next week too! I am hoping to get some time to plan for next term, and maybe even get a bit ahead with my reading - we'll see how it goes.

Finally, we have begun our family countdown to Easter with our resurrection eggs. The children anticipate these each year, and it a lovely, simple way to remember the events of Jesus' death and resurrection.

Resurrection Eggs