Saturday, 18 April 2020

Life Under Lockdown - What's new?

More than once I've had comments that nothing much will have changed for us as a home educating family during this period of lockdown. This really isn't the case - it has been a huge adjustment for us too- though having a plan for the children's education (but without many of their regular activities) has been a help for us.

In addition, Michael's role as a church pastor has meant that he has had to implement a whole programme of on-line church services and Bible studies, as well as working out ways to care for as many people as possible, and all in a very short period of time.

Like many, we've had to go through a period of rapid adjustment!

What's new?

1) Virtual home education group. Our regular group can't meet, so we are moving our group online - with book groups and other activities happening regularly. We, and our children, are becoming more proficient in using zoom. 

2) P.E. with Joe. Yes, we've become enthusiastic participants in the daily P.E. sessions. The children enjoy watching their parents join is, and we all enjoy seeing my very tall 12 year old attempt to miss the light fittings. My 14 year old attempted one session armed with a wooden sword - also adding to the fun!

3) Sending post. Michael is regularly sending books out to church members, or delivering them by hand during his daily walk. I've been posting activities out for our Sunday School children, and my younger two made Easter cards for us to send to the church family (and their grandparents!).

Making Easter Cards

4) Recording Services for Church. We've tried a few ways of filming Michael as he preaches or leads a service, and have moved on from a phone balanced on a tripod (secured with blu tac) on top of a pile of books, resting on an ironing board, to a proper phone holding tripod, attached to a step ladder!

Ready to Record

5) Bible Studies On-Line. Again, we've all adjusted to meeting virtually via zoom. One advantage of everything moving on-line is that I can actually attend some church meetings, such as the evening service, where usually I need to stay at home with the children.

6) Virtual Church. We sit in our living room together and take part in the service that Michael and the elders have recorded in advance, and join in with the singing and the prayers. It's not the same at all - we really miss our church family - but it is still a blessing to us, and an encouragement. We've run a Sunday School group for the children before the service (again, using zoom), and this has been a chance for them to see their friends and learn from the Bible together. They complete their activity sheets once the class has finished.

7) Netflix Parties. The children watch a film with their friends on Netflix, using a program that means they can "talk" to each other using a chatbox at the same time. This has been a real hit!

8) Baking & Zoom. This has only been attempted once - but my 12 year old and a friend followed the same recipe while chatting via zoom at the same time. They are planning to do this again next week.

9) Haircuts. Actually, Michael (who has far more natural ability than me) cuts my hair, and the children's, regularly; today I cut his (as filming was over for the week). I think we got away with it - and the back-up option of me hastily crocheting a hat has not been needed.


Of course, many of the usual rhythms of life are still in place; Bible study over breakfast; maths and English, history and Latin; piano playing (though lessons are on Skype!) and messing around in the garden. The children are still making board games, playing with the marble run or the Knex, and reading many books. I'm still running (with lots of careful dodging of other pedestrians). planning work, marking books, and trying to get my Sunday School lessons together.

Games Continue

Above all, in the midst of uncertainty, in all the reminders of our human frailty and weakness, we know that God is sovereign, that Christ is indeed risen from the dead, and that our hope in him is secure.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

No school? A few thoughts from a home educating parent.

Many families will find themselves unexpectedly having their children at home with them for some weeks. I've seen a number of people asking for advice about how to home school their children for this period of time - and often feeling daunted by the prospect. Often they are looking for resources to use to tide them over until school resumes.

We've been home educating our children for a number of years now. None of them have been to school (though the three boys all had a morning or two at a small pre-school when they were little), and our eldest is now fourteen. From this perspective, here are a few thoughts on how families faced with looking after their school-aged children at home can approach the next few weeks.

Stonehenge - before everything closed!

1) It is probably best not to overestimate what you can achieve in terms of teaching your child at home. No parent - however capable - will be able to cover with their child what they would have learned at school. I'd suggest that most people would struggle to implement the kind of teaching a seasoned home educating parent can manage too. It is not possible to research curricula, gather resources, and create a culture of learning in your home overnight; these things take time.

2) On the other hand, don't undervalue what you can give your children as you care for them, and provide educational opportunities at home. Parents know their own children, and love them, and are best placed to know how to nurture and educate them. They will know if what their child needs is extra practice on long division, or more time to read novels, or write a book - and they can look for ways to help them in their weaknesses, and to nurture their strengths.

3) Reading aloud to your children is one of the best ways to spend your time with them. I read both fiction and non-fiction to my children, and it is probably their favourite daily activity. It is a great way to learn about many different topics - science, history, geography, art - and a lovely shared family experience. Reading is usually a solitary activity, but the stories we have shared together have, in many ways, shaped us as a family. While I read, the children usually colour or sew or crochet. 1000+ dot-to-dots are popular with one of my boys, and sometimes they will get out Lego or Knex to build.

Reading Time

4) Audio books are also brilliant (and free you up to do other tasks). Again, the children will often do some kind of activity while they listen together. We have paid for some audio books on CD and I use Audible too, but the children have listened to many books via librivox before - out of copyright books read aloud by volunteers.

5) As a Christian family, we have always aimed to have God's Word central to our family. This means helping the children with individual Bible study and prayer, reading Christian books (see here for some suggestions) with them, and having daily family devotions. If family Bible reading habits have slipped, or if you've never had family devotions before, why not use this time to start some up? Michael has been using Long Story Short by Marty Machowski with us for a while now, and I can highly recommend it. However, just reading through a gospel together, and praying together, would be an excellent start.

6) Don't be discouraged by comparing your family with other families. Some children will be very happy to crack on with a pile of maths, or to embark on an ambitious reading plan, but many will not.  We have had some wonderful days home educating our children - and some really, really awful ones. Most days are somewhere in between. When I see a list of resources, or read about what another family is doing, I am usually tempted to panic about what I am not doing! If I see them as useful inspiration, that's much more helpful.

7) Routine helps - but it works better as a servant not a master. Meals at consistent times, chances to get out for some exercise (where that's still possible), a list of planned activities (or book work if you have older children or teenagers with set work) can provide a shape to the day. I'm planning to keep some routine as much as possible while all our usual groups are cancelled.

8) This is not what home education usually looks like! Our lives will be very different without groups or classes to attend, without meeting our friends or visiting museums. We will still be able to do our normal book work - but this is only part of the educational experience for our children.

9) When hard times come, when our plans are frustrated by events beyond our control, it reminds us that our hope is in the Lord. What better lesson can we share with our children than that, in times of uncertainty, we have a secure hope in Christ, and that we know that it is God who is in control of all things, and who cares for his people in all circumstances?

Friday, 3 January 2020

Looking Back - 2019

Well over a year ago, I wrote a little about the struggles one of our children had been going through. When a child is in crisis, it affects every aspect of family life. We are thankful to God, and to many who have supported us at this time, that he is doing much better now - though he is still some way from a return to full health. Along the way,  he has received a diagnosis of autism, which has made a huge difference in helping us to help him. One of our other boys also received an autism diagnosis at about the same time.

Although tough times have been part of our experience over the last year, there have been many good days too.

Running, and especially Parkrun, has been fun throughout the year. Four of us have now reached the 100 Parkruns milestone.

Peach Parkrunners

All the children enjoy baking, but my 12 year old has spent much of the year trying our new recipes. He's also made all our birthday cakes.

Guinea Pig Birthday Cake

Easter Cake

Michael has always enjoyed bird watching, and our daughter has become equally interested this year. She's become pretty good at identifying many birds, and was pleased to increase the number of different birds she has spotted during our holiday in the Lake District in the summer.

Bird Watching

We've had many trips out - to museums and parks, to the zoo and to Parliament.

British Museum Trip

Puddling in the Park

Zoo Trip

A Visit to Parliament

Furness Abbey

It's been a year of growing, changing, learning, and adjustment. God's faithfulness has sustained and strengthened us day by day.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Friday Reflections - 113

We have ended our week with a meeting of our home education group. Our session was focused on the Babylonian empire, with a number of activities on this theme. I was organising the children in coming up with their own laws to attach to junk modelled columns, imitating the code of Hammurabi inscribed on a stele.

They also made models of gardens, after learning about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and edible ziggurats from wafer biscuits.

The core book work of the week is what takes up most of our time (and is not generally photographed!), but we always try to fit in plenty of other activities day to day too.

My 11 year old enjoyed collecting and testing hydrogen using our chemistry set this week.

The Doctor Who cookbook was in use again, and I found myself making meringue bones one day, while Michael assisted our 13 year old in making fruit kebab dalek eye stalks another.

Meanwhile, my 7 year old daughter has discovered Spirograph, and has made many patterns.

We've been out and about to local parks during the week too. The cold weather has meant that we have had the playground to ourselves at times - though it was still a lovely day to be out.

More of the same next week I imagine - plenty of work, outdoors when we can, and a fair amount of baking.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Friday Reflections - 112

It's been a bit grey and grim much of the week, but here are some Peach highlights:

Post-parkrun tree climbing. My daughter is demonstrating that she can get down the tree on her own if she only climbs up halfway; yes, she is better at up than down, and I've rescued her numerous times!

Wintry walks at dusk. We have a favourite loop we walk on a Sunday afternoon, and the light at this time of day in the winter is stunning.

Doctor Who baking. My eldest and I made these slightly alarming brownies together this week.

Sewing and crochet. My daughter and I searched through the local charity shop for a t-shirt for her to turn into a skirt: £3.50 well spent. I also got my 11 year old and a friend started on learning to crochet. He's beginning to get it now - we'll have to see if he continues to enjoy it.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Friday Reflections - 111

The start of term has coincided with me reaching the halfway point of my marathon training plan (I've signed up for a marathon in March). I imagine that I will be pretty tired by the end of this half term - but at the moment I just seem to be ravenously hungry all the time.

Home education is mentally consuming, so running is a great way to relax, to leave the house alone for a while, and occasionally to come up with plans for the term ahead. I entered a half marathon last weekend, which was fun - though I received a text from Michael on the way home telling me that in my absence he'd allowed a child to buy a crossbow!

The beginning of term has gone fairly well for the children. We seem to be settling back into our usual pattern of work and outings. We try to get outside in the middle of the day when we can, when it is sometimes a bit brighter and slightly warmer. We even picnic outside with friends most weeks all year round after running together - and I think being outdoors is cheering for all of us. It is good to get inside and warm up afterwards, though.

My daughter also had a chance to complete another sewing project this week when Grandma (my mum) came to visit. She has been helping my daughter make a patchwork cushion cover, and it has turned out beautifully.

Finally, we have met today for our first home education group of the term. We are beginning a series of sessions focused on various civilisations, starting with the Assyrians. We had an excellent presentation given by one of the children who attends the group, followed by a treasure hunt (with clues found by answering questions about the Assyrians), a chance to build siege towers from Lego, and an opportunity to make clay tablets with cuneiform writing on.

It's been a pretty positive week all in all - time to start getting ready for the next one!

Friday, 4 January 2019

Friday Reflections - 110

The Christmas season is certainly finished in the Peach household; the tree is down, gifts have been carefully found new homes, all the decorations have been packed away for another year. We still have enough biscuits and chocolates to last for weeks (or possibly months!), and half of my 11 year old's delicious Christmas cake to munch our way through though, so there is still evidence of December's festivities to be found.

My 11 year old with the Christmas cake he made and decorated.

I really enjoy Christmas. It's a hectic time for everyone, and the extra church services and activities add to this. Nonetheless, a chance to remember the incredible truth of the incarnation, to spend some time thinking again of what it means for Jesus to have come as our saviour, and to celebrate his birth with family and friends is a genuine joy.

My younger two as Mary and Joseph at a carol service (as the other children all wanted different parts!)

While we have not been following our usual studies over Christmas, the children have found plenty to keep them occupied. My daughter has loved learning to use a sewing machine, and used some beautiful Christmas material given to her by my Nanny, her Great-Nanny, to make a little Christmas tree.

A Mini-Tree

My 11 year old completed the cooking challenge he set for himself with a friend this year. His finale was a three course meal, with a melting chocolate ball pudding for dessert. It was dramatic, and also delicious!

Our pets are very important to our children, so my 13 year old made a special present for his hamster, including a Christmas tree covered in hamster food for her.

A Christmas Gift for a Hamster

Running has also been a feature of our Christmas break. Michael and I ran a 10K race together in Greenwich Park just before Christmas, and the younger 3 children all ran a Christmas Day parkrun with us, before we raced home to ensure we made it to church on time for the service.

10K race in Greenwich Park

Ready for a Christmas parkrun - in matching parkrun 50 T-shirts.

We also ran parkruns on New Year's Day, with our 9 year old joining Michael and me in running two parkruns in a row. His legs were aching the next day!

Aside from these activities, the Christmas break has given us a chance to play some board games, work through some necessary household jobs, and to get a little extra sleep - all much needed. Now the new term is about to begin, and I think the children are ready to get back to work. My 9 year old said he was missing his maths today - so I had better make sure that I am also ready for them to get back to work on Monday!