Thursday, 31 December 2015

Persevering in Reading the Bible

A New Year, a new Bible reading scheme, right?

God's Word is precious to our family, and I have been reading my Bible devotionally since my teens (twenty odd years now!).

My experience has been - start a Bible reading scheme, read for a while, miss a day, or 2, or a week, or sometimes, sadly, a month.

Then - repent, pick myself up, and get on with reading my Bible again.

Rejoice again in God's Word and his goodness.

So, from this perspective- of my weakness, God's grace, and a conviction that God's Word is medicine for the soul and help for those who struggle:

1) Aim to read all the Bible.

Not necessarily in one year; though I have found this helpful, I don't do so every year. However, I've just finished the M'Cheyne reading scheme, using For the Love of God by Don Carson as a guide alongside it. It is wonderful to enjoy the riches of all of God's Word, and I love seeing echoes of one part of the Bible in another that I haven't spotted before, or seeing fresh pointers to Jesus in the Old Testament. The more I have read and re-read, the more I have seen. Only this morning, I noticed echoes of Malachi in the book of James that I have never noticed - exciting and encouraging.

2) Mix it up a bit.

By this I mean that I find it helpful to sometimes read big chunks of scripture (as I have done for the past year), and sometimes to slow down and read one book of the Bible slowly. I have particularly enjoyed Whiter Than Snow by Paul Tripp, which has 52 meditations on Psalm 51. Tomorrow I will begin a book of devotions on the Psalms that my husband bought me for Christmas after I mentioned that I wanted to spend some time in the Psalms this year.

3) Ask for help!

When I am struggling to be disciplined with reading the Bible, I have dear friends who pray for me, and a husband who will both pray for me and practically help me by handing me a cup of tea and my Bible in the morning when he knows that I'm struggling. I can talk to others who I know will ask me how I'm getting on, in order to spur me on to keep going.

4) Seek out good resources.

Ask godly Christians what they use; ask your Pastor (trust me, he will be thrilled!). There's lots of great stuff out there- though some less helpful things too, and it is good to be discerning.

5) Don't despair when you fail.

My experience is that when I get behind on my readings, I tend to try not to think about it for a while as I feel bad. I like the tidiness of reading the right readings on the right dates. I feel guilty and fed up. Then, I realise that I need the Lord! I turn to him in repentance, and begin again. Sometimes I catch up with my readings, other times I pick up where I left off. On some occasions, I have just ditched whatever I am using and begun afresh with something new - whatever it takes to get me started again. If I'm really struggling, I usually start be praying and reading a familiar Psalm or book of the Bible.

6) Talk about what you read.

Not to show off, but to encourage others. I will often mention to my children something that I have read or learned. My hope is that this will be of help to them, and also model how to keep on learning from God's Word throughout my life. In the same way, talking about what we have learned with other believers can be a help to them as well as to you.

Reading the Bible is something that we aspire to do regularly, and that we know we need to do so that we can know the Lord better and love him more. Our struggles can be hidden - by habit, or by shame. We need to help one another, pray for one another, and spur each other on to keep going in God's Word this coming year.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Christmas Fun

Our Christmas celebrations have ended, though we still have a few days of rest and a trip to visit some family to look forward to.

We have enjoyed time with family, and with our church family. We have had presents and food, and most of all we have remembered the birth of our Saviour.

Some highlights have included:

Christmas morning at church, where my husband preached on John 1, about how Jesus came as light into the darkness. By coincidence rather than design, the Christmas cake I made this year featured a key verse from John 1:

Great truth, not-so-great icing!

Christmas lunch was a highlight, according to the children. We were too busy to take pictures, though my eldest cheerfully suggested that they would happily re-enact the meal if that would help!

The children distributed the presents that they have been working so hard to make over the last few weeks. I was delighted (though not surprised!) to receive a homemade jam jar candle, some home cooked fudge in an origami box, a carefully decorated stone, and a beautifully coloured sun catcher.

My presents from my children.

Of course, presents brought much excitement. We particularly enjoyed my 6 year old dinosaur-loving boy wearing the dinosaur costume that we bought for him:

Thrilled with his dinosaur costume...

...he claimed that he never wanted to take it off!

A number of new board games have also been received. They have all been played already - great fun for the whole family.

New games!

Boxing Day included a chance to go for a walk with our church family. We were particularly pleased that we were able to spend quite a lot of the walk in a stream!

Peaches in the water again.

I'm "supervising".
As parents, we also get a lot of our pleasure from seeing our children happy, but even more when we see them act kindly, or show patience when it goes wrong. It was lovely to watch the four of them happily sharing their presents on Christmas afternoon, or (in one case) cope really well when a favourite present broke soon after it had been constructed.

Of course, not every moment has been perfect! A favourite present did break on Boxing Day (now fixed with glue and cotton!), sometimes it has all been a bit loud, there has been a little grumpiness on occasion, and it has been a busy few weeks for both of us parents so we have been a bit tired at times.

None of this can take away the real joy we have in our salvation, though, and we rejoice that we are able to have Jesus at the heart of our celebrations.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Happy Christmas?

We love Christmas here - a chance to focus on Jesus coming as our Saviour, special family times, guests in our home, giving and receiving gifts. We are conscious, though, that Christmas can descend quickly into stressful busyness (and grumpiness!), or become unhelpfully focussed on receiving presents.

We haven't got this completely sorted by any means, but here's a few ways we try to keep Jesus at the centre, and keep frantic busyness at bay:

1) Advent Devotions.

We have used a variety of advent calendars over the years which help us to remember the events around the birth of Jesus. This year we have used the Jesse Tree that I made, and this has been great fun and really helped us start the day focussed on Jesus.

Our Jesse tree, now nearly completed.

2) Christmas Day Service.

Getting out of the house, praising God with our church family, and hearing from God's Word is a key part of our Christmas day celebrations.

3) No Santa.

Controversial, I realise, but we have never done Santa with our children. We have stockings, we give gifts, and we love Christmas - but don't want to tell made-up stories about someone who could take the place of Jesus as the focus.

4) Special Christmas Book.

Each year, I choose a book to read aloud to the children during Advent. In the past, I have read Patricia St John's Treasures of the Snow or The Tanglewoods' Secret, or Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen L. Taylor. This year, we have been reading The Biggest Story, a children's Bible written by Kevin DeYoung and beautifully illustrated by Don Clark.

5) Making Presents.

Each year, the children make presents for family and friends. They genuinely get a lot of pleasure from giving them out, and really helps them to focus on giving rather than receiving.

6) McDonald's on Christmas Eve.

Not civilised, but great fun for the children, and much easier for me!

7) No Christmas lists.

We buy surprises for our children. It wouldn't work for everyone, but we have had almost no conversations (ever) with our children about what they would like to get for Christmas. Of course, they are excited about presents! However, the focus isn't on what they are going to get.

8) Cutting Corners.

This will be different for different families! One year, I bought a Christmas cake, though I usually enjoy making one (and this felt like a big deal, when it really isn't!). I make a good Christmas dinner, but other meals are pretty simple so that we can all rest at Christmas.

9) Realistic Expectations.

We are really looking forward to Christmas Day. It won't, however, be perfect, whatever plans we make. Last year, my poor eldest dropped the pudding he had worked hard to make the previous day. Tears were shed, but he got over it, and we continued with the day.

10) Jesus First.

Remembering that neither Christmas, nor presents, nor family time, nor a brilliant Christmas dinner can take the place of Jesus. True joy is found in knowing our Saviour. The other stuff I good - blessings to joyfully receive as we celebrate Jesus - but should never take the place in our hearts that belongs to Jesus. And yes, I remind our children each year that however great their presents are, they will not satisfy them as only knowing Jesus can.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Monday, 21 December 2015

Why Home Educators Shouldn't Be Registered

Our freedom in this country to home educate, without interference from the state, is a freedom which we home educators value greatly. Once again, it seems that this freedom is under threat. The news about illegal Muslim schools, which are believed to have been "radicalising" children, has once again pushed politicians and the media into discussing some sort of registering or regulation for home educators.

To be honest, this doesn't surprise me. In our times, we expect the government to oversee every aspect of our lives, and to fix all problems in our society. Every tragedy is followed by questions about what the government should have done to prevent it, then action from the government of the day to prevent it ever happening again. Almost every conversation I have with others about home educating leads to incredulity that we don't have to register as home educators. We think, automatically, that the government needs to be involved to make sure that the education our children receive is up to scratch, and that children are protected from harm.

So, why do I think that the state should leave us alone? Wouldn't it protect children if they were "known" to authorities? If we, personally, have nothing to hide, then why does it bother us if someone inspects the education that we offer our children?

Here are some reasons:

1) Education is biblically primarily the job of parents.

Look at the book of Proverbs, or Deuteronomy 6, or Paul instructing the Ephesian Christians to bring up their children in the "training and instruction of the Lord". We often view education and parenting as separate entities; I see no Biblical reason for doing so. We can choose to send our children to school - but we never lose our responsibility for their education, and I know many parents who send their children to school but are (rightly) very involved with all their children learn.

2) Education is legally the responsibility of parents. Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act:
Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age. 
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—  
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and 
(b) to any special educational needs he may have, 
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
3) The state should not overreach into areas where it shouldn't have authority.

The state's role, surely, is primarily one of restraining evil (Romans 13). The state has no right, under God, to determine exactly what I teach my children, unless I am training them to steal or to kill or to break the law in other ways.

4) There is already enough legal protection for children.

We already have plenty of laws which mean that parents are not allowed to harm their children, or encourage them to break the law. We don't need new laws or regulation - there are plenty already, including those which prohibit inciting others to violence.

5)  What actual evidence is there that home education is a factor in harm to children?

Imagine, if as a result of the finding of illegal Muslim schools, we suggested that all Muslim families should be registered as such. We'd be outraged - and rightly so! Similarly, registering home educators would be intrusive, and based on suspicion, not on evidence. There are often stories in the news about young people who have suffered horrendous harm from people who should protect them. Sadly, we often hear of many who are taken up with the ideology of Islamic State. Was home education a factor in many cases - or any cases? It is a false assumption that if home education is regulated, then more children will be protected.

6) Registration is a step towards regulation.

I don't want the state to tell me what to teach my children. It isn't competent to do so. Ask teachers who are fed up of the government telling them exactly what to do all the time. We have freedom to teach well our children, who we know better than anyone - I don't want to lose that.

7) I'm suspicious of "British Values".

These are undefined - and seem to involve every church group or school or family having to agree to a government approved set of views and values. Seems pretty sinister to me! How long will teaching a biblical view of marriage, or telling our children clearly that only through Jesus can they know God be permissible?

We are not hidden away from society and doing something sinister. I work hard to give my children a good education, and am happy for anyone to know what we do or to look at the work my children produce.

We are, as it happens, "known" to our local authority, and have been visited at home by a lovely and supportive member of their team. She sent me a copy of a very positive report about what we do at home - including the fact that we choose to home educate our children in order to give them a Christian education. I have no personal axe to grind - but I am still convinced that the government has no place overseeing our homes.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Winding Down for Christmas

Well, it's the last week of term, and we have definitely been winding down. Winding down for us means shelving the usual schedule, and finishing off projects that have been lingering for a while due to lack of time.

We begun the week by making Asia lapbooks, and also working on some Egyptian death masks:


The children have also finished off an art project involving glue and chalk pastels:


We have continued our history studies as usual, and also made a history timeline for what we have been learning about this year:


In addition, we have visited the Geffrye Museum, where there are rooms furnished in the style of different periods. At the moment, there were also Christmas decorations to enjoy.

Yesterday we finished the death masks - which looked slightly creepy:

Finally, I took the three boys on a trip to Parliament, where we all very much enjoyed our tour. We couldn't take pictures in most places, but here are the boys in Westminster Hall.


We finished up with a trip to Trafalgar Square and then Waterstones, where the children each choose a book as a gift from their generous great-great aunt each Christmas.

All in all, a productive week, which was also somewhat more restful than usual - very much what we all needed.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Geography - Asia Activities and Lapbooks

Over the last term, our local home education group has been doing activities and stories about Asia. We have focussed on one country a week - Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, India, China, Japan and South Korea.

We have cooked Korean pancakes, painted Thai fans, drawn the Taj Mahal and made Sri Lanakn peacocks out of paper plates.

Thai elephant made from a milk bottle.

Thai fans made from paper plates.

Taj Mahal Picture
The older children have loved discussing books together in a book group. All the children have enjoyed listening to a wide variety of books to fit with each country.

Today, I helped our children put together all the maps and flags they have been colouring each week, as well as pictures of all the creations they have produced. They have each made a lapbook - a way of presenting a whole project in a folder. 

Although they all had similar material, they put them together in different ways.

My four year old's production:


My six year old's:


This is my eight year old's work:


And my ten year old's:

Africa next term - I need to get thinking of some activities!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Surviving the end of term - and still having fun!

It's the end of term, and everyone is tired. Grumpiness is a definite danger!

Here's a few ways we try to make the last couple of weeks both productive and still fun:

1) Take the occasional morning off. Our children have a reasonably heavy workload, so last Friday we took the morning off so they could catch up on some Christmas present making, and relax a bit.

2) Start a little later. Our start time has moved from 8:30am-9am over the last couple of weeks. The children can catch up on a little sleep, and are more able to enjoy the day.

3) Take some trips out to museums. We visited the Science Museum and Natural History Museum a couple of weeks ago, and have two day trips planned for next week. They both give a welcome change of pace for the children, and give them something extra to look forward to.

4) Back-to-front day! We did this today, and it worked really well. We have simply done our work in the reverse order to what we normally do, so that we have started with science and history, and ended with Latin and maths. Almost (but not quite!) like a day off! An added bonus is that they were able to get more out of science because they were doing it first when they were at their freshest. I may do this reasonably often.

They enjoyed writing their science notebooks this morning.

5) Don't skip the fun stuff! They still appreciate a daily walk, and various crafts and activities. They still went to the park today (and every day this week), and we are currently boiling blueberries so that we can make some purple cloth as part of our history lesson on the Phoenicians.

Purple dye - blueberries, not snails!

The Christmas break is nearly here, and we hope that the last couple of weeks will be enjoyed not endured!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Homemade Advent calendars - past and present!

When I was a child, my mum made a special Advent calendar for us. Each pocket contained a character from the Christmas story (plus a few animals and a palm tree to make up the numbers!), as well as a Bible verse to read. Each year, we enjoyed making up the picture and remembering the story together.

When our children were born, my mum passed it on to us for our family to use. The children have loved it.

My eldest using the calendar my mum made (3 years ago).

My mum's calendar completed.

However, there have been a flurry of babies born in my family over the last few years, so it seemed like it would be fair to pass the calendar on. My sister and her family will enjoy it for the first time this year.

I have spent the last few months sewing our own calendar, a Jesse tree. As we go through Advent, we will pick out decorations which work though the Bible from creation, showing how the Old Testament points forward to Jesus. We have are using the helpful Advent family studies which are in Disciplines of a Godly Family by Kent and Barbara Hughes as a guide.

My eldest and my calendar!


My calendar, 3 days into Advent.

It is fair to say that I am not naturally talented when it comes to craft, so this has been a major undertaking. I enlisted my husband to draw patterns for the ornaments and for the tree (no way could I have managed this at all!), while I have done the planning and the sewing. I don't have a sewing machine, so this has taken quite a while to make by hand!

So far, we have had Creation, Fall, and Flood. The children are having fun guessing which Bible story may come next.

We hope that this will become part of our own family traditions for Christmas, and also give us another opportunity to see how the Bible is a book about Jesus.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord –
 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 11:1-3