Thursday, 27 August 2015

A new school year, a new diary...

I LOVE planning. It is one of the fun bits of home education - buying books, working out what each child will be doing, replacing worn out pens. 

This year, I decided I needed to shake up how I plan my children's work. I wanted something more convenient for me to use each day. For the past few years, I have written a week plan for each child. This has worked fairly well, but I think it would be better to have everything in one place for the day.

I looked at a few different diaries that you could buy, but none of them quite suited my needs. So, my husband has made me my very own diary. 

He created it in a Word document, printed it, and then had it bound at Rymans. Overall, including printing all the pages, it cost about £12 to make.

I have space each day to write what each child is doing in every subject. This means that I can see at a glance what we are supposed to be doing that day.

Now all I need to do is actually plan some work for my children!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

What does a young child really need?

What do our children really need?

There are many things that we assume are needed for our young children. It may be routine or a good diet or friends for them. It may be getting them into the right nursery, or having a big house so they can have their own room. Maybe we want them to start on the path of academic success early, so we buy flashcards and educational games for our toddlers, and take them to museums. Most of these are fine - though not essential - though it is wise to examine our hearts as what we desire for our children can reveal the idols of our own hearts.

Yesterday, my daughter turned four. Since her birthday is in August, she would be eligible to go to school in September. It feels like the end of a particular stage of bringing up children, and I have been looking back and reflecting on nearly ten years of babies, toddlers and pre-school aged children.

My daughter turns 4 - a new stage in our family.
We have a tendency, I think, to get our priorities upside down. It is easy to consider things which are definitely optional absolutely necessary, but to be flexible about things which should be essential. It is easy to be very concerned about weaning or toilet training or learning colours or how to ride a bike, while being half hearted about reading the Bible with our children and hurried when we pray with them. 

Paul writes in Ephesians 6:4, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." With all the pressures of life, all the expectations that are placed on us, we are wise to listen to God's Word. What will it look like in practice to do this for your pre-schooler? What do young children really need?

Correction. If we don't discipline your child, we're not showing them love (Proverbs 13:24). Early years are the time to start. Set high standards. Keep on and keep on correcting. Teach them the right way from the Bible. Give Bible reasons (age appropriately) for your discipline. One of things I have learned is that often you have to be prepared to deal with the same issue time and time again. This shouldn't surprise me - I have weaknesses that are a constant battleground. There is no behaviour strategy that will deal with sin, however; what our children need, from the earliest age, is...

Jesus. They need Jesus. I want to remove my child's sin. I want the path to be easy for them, but this is something I can't do. My job is to keep on pointing them to Jesus. I need to show them their need for forgiveness, and show them the One who can give them forgiveness. I need to talk to them about the cross and what it means. My prayer is that there will never be a time when they don't know Jesus, and they will grow in their joy in knowing Him.
Prayer. We must pray for our children - both alone and when they can hear us and hear what we pray for them. Teach them to pray simple prayers ("Thank you, Sorry, Please" has worked well for us with young children). Pray with them when they are afraid, when they sin, before food, before church, before a day out and so on. We need to show them our dependence on God for everything.

God's Word. Reading the Bible with young children is vital. Start when they are babies with baby Bibles and keep on showing them God's Word.  No children's Bible is perfect, so as soon as we could, we started to use a full Bible. We read short verses from the International Children's Bible from the age of about 2, while still continuing with children's Bibles.

Church. Not optional - and not just because I'm married to the minister! (Hebrews 10:25) God's people are commanded to meet together. We won't miss church for parties or other events. This is not to deprive our children, but because we believe that meeting with God's people under God's Word each Sunday is both something which we are commanded to do as a believing family, and also a great blessing to us, to our children and to our church family.

Love. Our children need our love. This is obvious - but love is costly. It's not presents and experiences, it is in prayer, in taking the time to discipline them, in teaching them God's Word. Love will mean taking an interest in their interests. It is wiping noses, getting up in the night, correcting the same faults again and again - forgiving your children again and again. It is taking them to church when you spend half the service jiggling a fractious baby at the back and you go home tired. Love will mean caring more about your child's godliness than about how many letter sounds they know at the age of three. It will mean costly decisions for you, as young children take patience and time - especially to do the things listed above.

Most of the things we want for our children are good, but when these good things crowd out a longing to see our children know Jesus, or a desire to teach our children the Bible or take them to church - then we need to repent and, with God's help, make sure our priorities are right. In my experience, this is something that needs to be done regularly, even daily. When I see that something has slipped - when Bible times are too rushed, or my discipline is functional rather than character training - I need to change.

My children won't wake up one day as perfect children who have finally learned to obey all the time; they need ongoing discipleship. In the early days, I think I thought that at some point it would become easier. Actually, I now know that bringing up children means keep on doing the right things each day. Sometimes we see big moments when big change happens. Often, it is slow, with bad days as well as good. Overall, I have much to thank God for in the work he is doing in all our lives.

I won't wake up one day as a perfect parent with great priorities and endless patience, but I can keep on praying and keep on trying, with God's help. One of the blessings of parenting is how much I am reminded of what I can't do; it keeps me praying for the work in the hearts of my children that only God can do.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Bake Off and Simple Fun

I'm a big fan of simple ideas which don't take a lot of work or effort, but which are fun and help build shared family memories.

This year, we are allowing our older two boys to stay up and watch The Great British Bake Off with us. In case this alone wasn't exciting enough, I decided that it would be fun for the boys to take turns baking for the evening. We had a lovely Victoria sponge from my 8 year old for the first week, delicious shortbread last week from my 9 year old, and hedgehog shaped rolls from my 8 year old tonight. They are planning to bake to fit in with the theme of each week's episode.

Hedgehog Rolls


They are really enjoying it, and learning new skills. They are also aiming to do as much of the cooking on their own as possible (and they are both pretty competent) so it isn't much work for me either - and gives them a great sense of achievement.

Of course, the main advantage is that we have suitable refreshments to sustain us during the show, as watching people making cake always makes us hungry!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Jam Disaster...

This morning I took the children to pick blackberries. In spite of a few scratches, they all had a lovely time, and we came back with enough blackberries to make a small batch of jam.

I haven't made jam before.

This was not my most successful attempt at cooking. I was worried that my jam wouldn't set, and overcompensated somewhat. I produced 3 rock solid jars of jam, now consigned to the bin. I also burnt my finger.

It is not the first disaster I've had when cooking, but I am generally fairly competent in the kitchen (though not amazing) so I don't like it when it all goes wrong.

The real issue, however, is not my inability to make jam. The real issue is that I tie my identity to my success at whatever I undertake.

I want to be a good wife, a perfect home educating mother, a model follower of Jesus. So when I fail at whatever criteria I have set for myself that day, I tend to respond unhelpfully: "I'm RUBBISH at everything! Everybody else in the whole world can make jam except me! I'm such a terrible mother!"

I need to learn:

1) It is ONLY jam. Failing at jam is not failing at everything. It's not even failing as a cook, let alone failing as a human being.

2) It is ONLY jam. Actually, if the standard I had to meet was this low, I could probably meet it. The reality is that I really do fail daily - pride, anger, selfishness, impatience are attitudes I have to battle moment by moment with God's help. I am saved only by the blood of Jesus.

3) It is ONLY jam. My identity is not wrapped up in what I can do or how I look or how well behaved my children are. My identity is found in Christ. I am a forgiven child of God (not just a jam-failure).

In addition, I get to model what I teach my children - making mistakes shows we're learning something. They've agreed to pick more blackberries at the weekend so I can have another go. Hopefully I will come out of the next attempt at least unscathed, even if I don't produce any edible jam.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Science Curriculum - Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

Our aim as home educating parents is to give our children a rigorous education. We want them to have a healthy fascination with the world we live in. With this in mind, we have chosen a science curriculum that is thorough, which gives our children a solid understanding of science, and which teaches them to think carefully about what they discover.

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding is a science curriculum in three volumes. The first two volumes are aimed at primary school aged children. It is made up of a series of science lessons to be followed in a logical order, which gradually build up a thorough understanding of key scientific concepts. These concepts are taught clearly, with lots of practical ways to demonstrate the science.

For example, we have looked at magnetic fields using a magnet and iron filings. We have demonstrated that air has weight using a balloon and a simple home-made balance. The children have made a sundial in the garden as they learned about the rotation of the earth and how this relates to time.

The lessons fall into 4 categories: Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science and Earth and Space Science.

The idea is that you move through these areas at a broadly even pace. At the front of each book, there are 4 flow charts which show the order in which each section should be studied. This is important, as some lessons rely on knowledge learned in a number of other lessons. It looks a bit overwhelming at first, but once you start it becomes reasonably obvious which lessons need to be done together.

We like this curriculum for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is logical. Rather than looking at science as a series of disconnected ideas, there is a careful progression through the four different areas. My eldest boy loves to read, including reading factual science books. He would know a lot of science even if we never taught any formal science. However, this curriculum makes sure that he doesn't have important gaps in his knowledge, and gives a secure framework for his reading.

Secondly, it is good science. The concepts are taught simply and appropriately for children, but care is taken to explain them accurately so that you can pass them on to your children correctly. In particular, this curriculum aims to avoid passing on misconceptions which may cause confusion later on. Furthermore, proper scientific words are introduced.

The lessons are also very hands on and practical, which makes them a lot of fun to do. There are both experiments you can carry out and activities you can do to reinforce the points. My children enjoyed playing a simple game where they had to pretend to be particles and change there behaviour depending on whether I called out "Solid!" or " Liquid!" or "Gas!".

Finally, it encourages the children to think and to ask questions and to come up with logical and careful answers. There are lots of good tips for how to do discussions.

If you are considering using this curriculum, it is worth noting that is requires some preparation in advance. It is a book of lesson plans for you to use, not a book to read with your children. However, the vast majority of materials that are needed you will probably have in your home, though we have bought a small number of things for these lessons, such as a good quality magnet. It also doesn't take that long to prepare; my husband (who usually teaches this subject) reckons it takes at most half an hour for him to read through the chapter and get his resources together.

One decision we have made for our children is not to do any written work for science yet. They do a lot of writing in other subjects, and have retained well the science that we have do so far. I may introduce writing a science notebook next year as I think this would be a good skill to learn, but I haven't decided yet.

We have all enjoyed this curriculum. The children have learned about the nature of solids, liquids and gases. The have discussed how muscles work and the structure of plants. They have studied different kinds of energy. They have learned to distinguish between energy and matter, and between weight and mass. They have remembered much of what they have studied, and had a lot of fun along the way.

Monday, 3 August 2015

I couldn't do what you do...

"I couldn't do what you do!"

I hear this surprisingly often, and, no doubt, for a whole variety of reasons. It's hard to know how to respond. The thing is, most of the time I'm thinking, "I can't do it either!"

Sometimes people have said, with great honesty, that they don't think that they could cope with being with their children all day, every day.

How do I manage being around our children all the time? Do I find it easier than other parents? Of course not!

I get overwhelmed.

I feel like I need my space and can't face another conversation about dragons ever, never mind right now.

Sometimes I find it frustrating.

Often I feel like I'm barely keeping my head above water with the housework - and having four children around all the time means the house is more heavily used, and I have children around whenever I'm trying to get stuff done.

These are some of the ways that I manage:

1) Conviction. I am convinced that quantity of time (as well as quality) with my children is important. We can instruct our children at unexpected moments. In particular, I can be there to pray with them when they are afraid, to instruct them in godliness when they don't know how to act, to rebuke them when they sin. I can listen to them and share their enthusiasms. I can take every opportunity to point them to Jesus. Just because it isn't always easy or fun or noticed or paid doesn't mean it isn't good.

2) Habit. I am used to it! My expectations are different, so having my children with me feels entirely normal.

3) Practice. It gets easier as time goes on. The children are better at occupying themselves when I need to get on with stuff. I am better at running our home now, as I have been trying new ways of organising my week for a few years. What we do now works well for us (at the moment!).

4) Outdoors. Getting out of the house helps. Waiting for four children to appear out of some undergrowth (and having a mental break) is surprisingly restful.

5) Joy. It is actually fun sometimes! A child may say something funny, or start a conversation about something interesting. I get to watch my children be excited when they master a new skill. I see them grow in character, or demonstrate a growth in their faith in Jesus.

6) Planning. Housework is well planned, and the children help out in various ways - both to make the house run smoother and to give them opportunities to serve in the family. I meal plan for the month ahead. I plan the children's work termly and weekly so we all know what we are supposed to be doing. This means that I am still able to get necessary chores done even when we have a busy house.

7) Rest. I do get out on my own from time to time; a trip to the park with a book and my thermos mug full of tea once in a while is hugely refreshing. My mum also babysits for us every few weeks so I can go out with my husband. These chances to escape the busy home help me to go back and serve my family with renewed energy.

8) Quiet Time. All the children spend a while after lunch on their own. The older two read, my 6 year old listens to an audio book while doing craft, and my 3 year old plays on her own. It gives us all a rest and a chance to get a bit of space.

Above all, I need to keep Jesus central. When I am focussed on serving him, and serving my family out of love for Jesus, this encourages me to keep going, even if it is hard work and overwhelming at times.

Fun in the woods.