Saturday, 31 December 2016

Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work

This year I am taking part in the Virtual Curriculum Fair 2017, which is hosted by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts and Minds.

This week, the theme is See How We Learn.

Over the next month, these will be the themes for each week:

9th January - Playing With Words: The Language Arts
16th January - Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and some Science
23rd January - Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science
30th January - Seeking Beauty: The Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work

We have 4 children, none of whom have attended school. The eldest is now 11, which means that we have been officially home educating for a number of years now. The book that has helped me the most is The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, and many of my curriculum choices have come from this book.

This post, however, is not primarily about the core principles that have driven the educational decisions we have made, but some of the practical methods that I have honed over the last few years to make everything run as smoothly as possible. Of course, this doesn't mean that every day runs ideally - there are plenty of blips, and a few outright disasters - but in general we manage to work efficiently, and to have some fun along the way too.

Of course, some of the methods or principles which work well for us wouldn't be a good fit for other families, or for other home educating parents. Every family has particular circumstances or needs which will affect how home education has to be carried out. For example, my husband is a church pastor, which often has implications for how we run our family life in all sorts of ways. Also, my third son had significant speech issues which have had a large impact on how I could teach him, and also on how I have planned my day as he has needed so much one-to-one time. No doubt each of us can think of similar examples for our own families.

However, here are 10 ways that I have found make our lives run smoother; I hope they are a help to others too:

1) Independent Learners. I have worked hard to teach my children to complete their studies even when I am not watching over them. When they are little, this means teaching them to concentrate on their own for short periods, with work that I know that they can manage without me helping them for every step. For my 5 year old, at the moment, this is her mental maths sheets, 20 addition or subtraction questions that she has to do as her first piece of written work. If she does it in good time (under 5 minutes), then she is rewarded with an egg-cupful of raisins. As they get older, the amount they are able to do increases, and my expectations also increase. If they are slow, then they get less free time!

How much a child can manage on their own at any given age depends very much on the individual child, and we are best placed as parents to judge what is right for our own children. For some 7 year olds, 10 minutes of concentration would be a major achievement; for others, much longer is possible and could be expected. We need to make wise and fair choices for our own children, with the goal of independent learning in sight, recognising that different children will reach this goal at different points.

Of course, this doesn't mean that I don't spend plenty of time actually teaching each child - that's my job - or that I'm not available to help when they get stuck. What it does mean, however, is that I won't stand over my 11 year old and tell him to do each question in turn. He learned a while ago that I wasn't prepared to do this, and now is able to be pretty disciplined about his work, and can be very efficient on his best days (of which there are plenty!).

This didn't happen overnight; I think it's fair to say that a number of years of gradual improvement got us to where we are now. However, this is the biggest single factor in our home educating family that makes life run smoothly.

Independent Working (With a Hamster!)

2) Home Education Diary. I'm new to this method of planning - this is only my second year using a diary. I used to have weekly sheets for each child, but these were a pain to fill in and it was irritating to have everyone's work plan in their own folders. Last year, I asked my husband to organise me a diary of my own design, so he did. It is very simple, and written for our family, which makes it very easy to use. The children also like being able to see exactly what they have to do for the day ahead, and ticking off what they have done. This also helps them to be independent too.

My Home Education Diary

3) Marking Box. This is new this year, and has really helped me to keep on top of marking the children's work. It is just a file box where they put any work they need me to mark before the next day. I don't always manage it in the evening after a day's teaching as we often have church meetings in our house, but I can usually get it all marked first thing the next day.

This seems obvious, but it has taken me too many years to really sort this out (and I am generally pretty organised!), so I'm pleased to have a simple and effective solution!

4) Stuff has a home. Everything, from plain paper to watercolours to Lego, has a home, and the children know where it is. This means that when things are running optimally, everyone can find what they need quickly and without help, and put it away afterwards. Of course, things don't run optimally all the time, but most of the time we don't faff around trying to find the hole punch or the oil pastels. If a child (usually my youngest) doesn't know where something is, I will show them so they can find it for next time, not just fetch it for them.

5) Routines. We have a pattern to our day - we start with reading aloud, there is independent reading after lunch, a daily walk before lunch and so on. This basic shape helps everyone to know what they are supposed to be up to on a normal day. I have also shaped the order in which the children work so that each of them can have my full attention for particular subjects where they need it, and are working alone while I am needed to teach other children. Subjects that they study together are usually left for the afternoon.

6) Big Breakfasts: My children get ratty if they are inadequately fed, so we have pretty much given up on cereal for breakfast except as an extra, or for when I forget to do an online food shop. We eat boiled eggs, omelette, bagels, porridge, mini pancakes, or lots of toast. This definitely stops them from flagging too early.

7) Daily Walks: I like to have a full and fairly ambitious programme of study for our children, but they need fresh air, exercise, and fun. To be honest, so do I (even if I don't always feel like trekking to the swings on a grey, damp, wintry day).

A Regular Park Trip

8) Regular Small Changes: There are often aspects of our life that need a bit of adjustment, or areas of learning where a particular child needs help. Big radical curriculum changes are occasionally necessary, but most of the time I have found that small tweaks are more effective. If I change a whole curriculum, this is disruptive and often means that the children can't consolidate what they have learned so far effectively. However, if I make a small change to how I deliver a particular curriculum (time of day, for example), that can make a big difference. Also, if I find that a child has a particular area of weakness that needs a bit of work, then I have discovered that great gains can be made with just 5 minutes a day. For example, 5 minutes every day of times table practice, or of Latin verb memorisation can have a really significant impact on a child's confidence in either maths or Latin, and with very little time taken up.

9) Keeping up with Chores: This is so dull, but it makes a big difference if I at least keep on top of my general cleaning routine (and the children keep up with their chores too). Since we have quite a lot of church meetings in our home too, I find that I need to keep up to prevent any frantic panic cleaning. I have set days to clean each bit of the house so that no day has more jobs than I can manage, and no bit of the house is so disastrous that I can't use it.

10) Quick and Easy Fun: Not so much big elaborate projects (though we do these sometimes), or amazing trips out (which we also do from time to time), but small activities or treats which can add a little colour to a dull day, or a bit of a boost to a flagging child. I mean making popcorn half way through the morning, or taking a longer walk to a different park, or fitting in an extra art session one afternoon. I mean hot chocolate on a damp afternoon, or a read aloud by candlelight, or a nature documentary for a science lesson.

Dressing as Celts 

It's far from perfect every day, but these are a few of the ways that we try to keep some sort of order in a busy home educating household.

I invite you to see how my fellow bloggers learn in their homeschools (note: all posts will be live by noon EST, Jan. 2nd):

The Evolution of Our Homeschool by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Us-School Because We Are Us, Not Someone Else by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
It's All About the School by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays
Setting the Stage- the 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair! by Lisa N. @ Golden Grasses
New Year, New Goals, New School! by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Homeschooling - A Glimpse into How We Do it by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Spotlight on How We Learn in Our Homeschool by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
Our Unique Eclectic Homeschool  by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
How We Learn on the Go by Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning
Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Schedules, where would I be without them? by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Education at Our House by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Starting the Day Well by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Making a Change - Accountability and Responsibility Through Routine by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens
A time to be encouraged is coming.. the Virtual Curriculum Fair by Annette @ A Net in Time
Loving the Moment! by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind
Keeping Our Homeschool Organized by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
Homeschool Goal Setting – Looking Forward, Looking Back by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
How We Choose Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
This Is How We Homeschool by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
How we don't learn in our homeschool & how I don't plan {2017 Virtual Homeschool Curriculum Fair} by Meghan @ Quiet in the Chaos
Learning Our Way by Lisa @ McClanahan 7
Limping Along: Our Semi-Eclectic Approach to Homeschooling by Debra @Footprints in the Butter
2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair: See How We Learn by Dana L @ Luv'N Lambert Life

Friday, 30 December 2016

Friday Reflection - 36

We have had a wonderfully restful week, celebrating Christmas last Sunday, and spending time together and with some of our wider family during this week.

On Christmas day itself, we had a few friends from church join us for lunch and into the afternoon. Although I cooked most of  the dinner, my 9 year old contributed a delicious lemon meringue pie as an alternative to Christmas pudding.

Lemon Meringue Pie

The children gave out the gifts they had made: piggy banks decorated by my 11 year old. hedgehog shaped tea light holders decorated by my 9 year old, foam magnets made by my 7 year old, and drawings of bugs produced by my 5 year old.

My 7 year old was in charge of making pudding at another family gathering later in the week.

Making Pudding

For the rest of the week, the children have been resting, enjoying playing with their new gifts, or entertaining our visitors.

My 9 year old also made some mini sponge cakes using a recipe from a new cook book.

Mini Sponge Cakes

Today we visited the Museum of Childhood, particularly so that my daughter could look at the dolls' houses. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and we particularly liked the special exhibition about board games.

Riding a Rocking Horse (A Bit Nervously!)

This week we have also taken the chance to clear out and tidy up my husband's study. We've all been guilty of using it as a bit of a dumping ground for stuff without a proper home, but it is much clearer now, and hopefully a more pleasant working environment for my husband.

Virtual Curriculum Fair 2017

This year, I will be taking part in the Virtual Curriculum Fair 2017. This is hosted by Susan from Homeschooling Hearts and Minds. There are over 20 bloggers taking part, sharing their experiences and ideas throughout January.

The themes throughout January will be as follows:

2nd January - See How We Learn
9th January - Playing With Words: The Language Arts
16th January - Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and some Science
23rd January - Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science
30th January - Seeking Beauty: The Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

Here is a list of all the bloggers taking part; I am looking forward to reading their posts and getting some encouragement and ideas as we begin the new year.

Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Laura H. @ Four Little Penguins

LauraOinAK @ Day by Day in Our World

Lisa N. @ Golden Grasses

Jacquelin C. @ A Stable Beginning

Jennifer King @ A Peace of Mind

Michele Pleasants @ Family, Faith and Fridays

Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool

Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Kym Thorpe @ Homeschool Coffee Break

Yvie Field @ Gypsy Road

Dana Lambert @ Luv'N Lambert Life

Debra B. @ Footprints in the Butter

Sarah J @ Delivering Grace

Annette @ A Net in Time

Lori H @ At Home: where life happens

Jeniffer @ Thou Shall Not Whine

Lizzy Peach @ Peaches @Home

Meghan W. @ Quiet In The Chaos

Amy L. @ Adorable Chaos

Kristen Hamilton @ Sunrise to Sunset

Kim @ Good Sweet Love

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

2017 Christian Reading Challenge (11 Year Old's Books)

Here are the books I have helped my 11 year old choose for this challenge:

1) A biography: An Adventure Begins: Hudson Taylor by Catherine Mackenzie

2) A classic novel: The Call of the Wild by Jack London

3) A book about history: The Story of the Romans by H. A. Guerber

4) A book targeted at your gender:  A Boy After God’s Own Heart by Jim George

5) A book about theology: Cross-Examined by Mark Meynell

6) A book with at least 400 pages: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

7) A book your pastor (Dad!) recommends: Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andy Sach

8) A book about Christian living: A Boy's Guide to Making Really Good Choices by Jim George

9) A book more than 100 years old: Five English Reformers by J. C. Ryle

10) A book published in 2017: The Painted Dragon: The Sinclair's Mysteries  (published 9 Feb 2017) by Katherine Woodfine

11) A book for children or teens: Humphrey's Ho-Ho-Ho Book of Stories by Betty G. Birney

12) A book of your choice: The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia De Luce Mystery) by Alan Bradley

13) A book about a current issue: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

The Books

Friday, 23 December 2016

Friday Reflection - 35

Well, we have finally finished work for the term, and are enjoying the build up to Christmas.

We worked from Monday to Wednesday this week, but I didn't plan as much as usual, and the children also spent an afternoon making Europe lapbooks with pictures of the crafts we did at our home education group this term.

Europe Lapbooks

The children have finished making and wrapping their Christmas presents. It is a huge task every year, though each time it gets a bit easier as they can manage more and more on their own. The youngest still needs a bit of help wrapping presents and writing tags, but the three boys are ok. Nonetheless, 4 children all wrapping presents up is a slightly chaotic experience!

Our presents are mostly wrapped too, so  I am feeling unusually organised. I have even covered the cake with marzipan today, which is ahead for me. I'm sure there are things I've forgotten...

Ready for Icing

Today I also took our 9 year old out to a cookery course, which is our Christmas present to him this year. He had a fantastic couple of hours, and came back with sausage rolls and fudge.

Sausage Rolls!

We also enjoyed one of our Christmas traditions today, which is to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol together. Michael cried, which is also a Christmas tradition!

And now, it is nearly Christmas. We are looking forward to some time off together to celebrate our Saviour's birth.

Very Nearly Christmas

Thursday, 22 December 2016

2017 Christian Reading Challenge (9 Year Old's Books)

Here are my 9 year old's choices for the Light Reader challenge as we attempt this reading challenge next year:

1) A biography: After Darkness Light: John Calvin by Catherine Mackenzie

2) A classic novel: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

3) A book about history: Peace and Peril – Volume 1: Chronicles of the Ancient Church by Mindy & Brandon Withrow

4) A book targeted at your gender: Ten Boys Who Made History by Irene Howat

5) A book about theology: The Ology by Marty Machowski

6) A book with at least 400 pages: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

7) A book your pastor (Dad!) recommends: John Knox: The Sharpened Sword by Catherine Mackenzie

8) A book about Christian living: A Boy After God’s Own Heart by Jim George

9) A book more than 100 years old: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

10) A book published in 2017: To Be Decided

11) A book for children or teens: The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

12) A book of your choice: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

13) A book about a current issue: Case for Christ: Youth Edition by Lee Strobel with Jane Vogel

The Books

Monday, 19 December 2016

2017 Christian Reading Challenge - The Grown-Ups' Books

Michael and I are also hoping to manage at least some of this reading challenge. We've each chosen our first set of books, which are as follows:

For Michael:

1) A biography: The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond

2) A classic novel: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

3) A book about history: Millennium by Tom Holland

4) A book targeted at your gender: Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes

5) A book about theology: Why the Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves & Tim Chester

6) A book with at least 400 pages: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

7) A book your pastor (actually another pastor!) recommends: Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp

8) A book about Christian living: Mirror, Mirror: Discover your True Identity in Christ by Graham Beynon

9) A book more than 100 years old: The Atonement by Hugh Martin

10) A book published in 2017: He will chose one later in the year.

11) A book for children or teens: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

12) A book of your choice: Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall

13) A book about a current issue: What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

My books:

1) A biography: The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond

2) A classic novel: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

3) A book about history: Germany: Memories of a Nation by Neil MacGregor

4) A book targeted at your gender: First Wives’ Club by Clare Heath-Whyte

5) A book about theology: Incomparable: Explorations in the Character of God by Andrew Wilson

6) A book with at least 400 pages: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

7) A book your pastor recommends: The Salvation of Souls by Jonathan Edwards (Edited by Richard A. Bailey & Gregory A. Wills) - Michael resisted the urge to suggest a huge tome for me to read so that I wouldn't get too far ahead!

8) A book about Christian living: Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

9) A book more than 100 years old: Expository Thoughts on Mark by J. C. Ryle

10) A book published in 2017: To be decided!

11) A book for children or teens: The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

12) A book of your choice: The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

13) A book about a current issue: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Friday, 16 December 2016

Friday Reflections - 34

Last Saturday, we invited our church family to join us for Open House in our home. We have done this for the last few years, and it is a good chance for catching up with each other. We ate cake, drank tea, and the children brought the guinea pigs and the hamster to entertain our guests, which was well received.

On Sunday, we had an All Age Carol service at church, with craft activities beforehand. The children really enjoyed this, and we now have a number of new decorations for our Christmas tree.

I have lightened the workload for the children this last week as they really are very tired. We took one day out to go for a walk by the Thames with friends, which was well received. Fresh air, good company, exercise, and a number of different playgrounds along the way was just what was needed at this stage of a long term.

Today we have travelled up to Derby to visit Michael's family for an overnight stay in the run up to Christmas. It is good to see family, and also to get a break from home and our responsibilities there, albeit for a short while.

The Thames

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

2017 Christian Reading Challenge (7 Year Old's Books)

As a family, we are going to attempt this Christian Reading challenge next year. I've written about this here.

Today, I helped my 7 year old pick out his books. There are 13 books in the Light Reader challenge, and we have picked 12 of them; the 13th is a book published in 2017, which we will have to choose later. As my son is only 7, and will want to read other books as well, I am expecting him to read these over the whole year, and not to go onto the next level of the challenge.

7 Year Old's Books

Here are the books we have picked:

1)A biography: Carry On, Mr Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

2) A classic novel: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

3) A book about history: Julius Caesar by Rachel Firth

4) A book targeted at your gender: Ten Boys who Changed the World by Irene Howat

5) A book about theology: The Ology by Marty Machowski

6) A book with at least 400 pages: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

7) A book your pastor (Daddy!) recommends: Hudson Taylor- An Adventure Begins by Catherine Mackenzie

8) A book about Christian living: How to be a Bible Warrior by C.M. Mackenzie

9) A book more than 100 years old: Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

10) A book published in 2017: To be decided!

11) A book for children or teens: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

12) A book of your choice: Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

13) A book about a current issue: Case for Christ for Kids by Lee Strobel

Clearly I've had to stick to the categories loosely for this age, but I think we've kept to the spirit of the challenge. I'm hoping that he will enjoy working through them over the year.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Books, books, books - reading plans for 2017

Now that I have three good readers - my 11, 9 and 7 year olds - I am constantly on the lookout for more books for them, and more ways to inspire them to keep on reading widely.

I am planning to attempt this reading challenge next year. I was chatting to Michael about it, and the boys were interested, and now they have decided that they'd like to have a go too. Clearly, they will be reading books appropriate to their ages and abilities, and the seven year old, at least, will only be aiming at reading at the Light Reader level. However, it has been fun thinking of appropriate books for them!

Boys Reading

Over the next few weeks, I'll help the boys get together a pile of books each to cover the first level, and I will do the same. Michael has also said that he will aim for the Light Reader level (mainly as he has lots of other reading to do). Once they have chosen their books, I'll write about their plans - and later on I'll let you know how they get on. I imagine that there will be initial enthusiasm, but we'll see if they manage to keep going.

As for me - I am hoping to manage the Committed Level - but realistically this will be a stretch for me if I want to read anything else as well! I will start alongside the boys, and I too will have to see if I can keep going.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Friday Reflections - 33

As our term concludes, and as Christmas draws nearer, we are gradually winding down our usual commitments. We had a fairly normal week, but I have tried to make it very slightly quieter than usual as the children are tired, and as they need a little extra time to make Christmas presents.

We also bought our Christmas tree this week. We usually decorate it with gingerbread shapes that the children make. This year, as well as stars, snowflakes, and our traditional Christmas dinosaurs, we also had daleks for the the first time.

Making gingerbread shapes

Gingerbread decorations

The tree!

Our advent calendar, which traces the story of Christmas through the Bible, has helped us keep our minds on Jesus each day as we read the Bible together.

Our advent calendar so far.

The plan for next week is to continue working, though I may cut most of the non-essentials. It has been a very long term, and the children have worked hard, and are ready for a break. I need a couple of weeks just to get my head around next term, and make have a chance to do a bit of forward planning.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Joyful Rest - The Lord's Day

The idea of a Sunday Sabbath seems so remote from our culture, and even, often from our churches. I remember when the law changed when I was a child to allow Sunday trading. I remember then a few Christians who still refused to use the shops or pay to go swimming on a Sunday, but most of us drifted into relying on being able to pop out for extra milk or go to the cinema or a meal out on a Sunday without a second thought. I was certainly one of the latter group.

Over the last decade, Michael and I have changed our convictions on the Sabbath. We have gradually become convinced that the creation ordinance of Sabbath (Gen 2:3) continues for believers today as we celebrate a New Testament Sabbath rest on the Lord's Day, the first day of the week. We are called to set aside one day in seven to rest; not idleness, but Biblical rest from labour in order to enjoy God, to meet with God's people, and to hear God's Word together. As we do so, we look forward to the New Creation, and that final rest for God's people with God forever.

This seems alien - we feel odd even among some of our Christian friends and family - yet it has been the normal practice of Christians throughout the history of the church. Sometimes it is seen as a burdensome belief, which makes Sunday into a day of weary duties and no fun. However, if, as Jesus says, the Sabbath is a gift to bless God's people, then this shouldn't be the case. We are deliberately positive about our Sunday rest, and this has been a genuine blessing to us as a family.

Furthermore, my husband is a pastor; what does it mean for him to rest on a Sunday? Surely he has to work! We've been thinking some of these issues through as a family over the last few years, and have settled on a framework by which we celebrate the Lord's Day.

Here are some things we always do, some things don't, and lots of things we are free to do:

We always: 

1) Go to church (even when we're on holiday).

2) Serve others at church and home.

We don't:

1) Do the washing....

2) ...or the the cleaning...

3)...or other housework.

4) "School" work

5) Marking

6) Admin. emails

7) Business meetings at church

8) Planning home ed. stuff

9) Shopping (work for us, and, worse still, needs others to work too).

10) Eating out/takeaways (see above...)

11) Pay to go to swimming/cinema etc etc. (see above...)

We are free to:

1) Go for a walk.

2) Eat croissants for breakfast (a tradition here).

3) Enjoy yummy lunch, with a good pudding.

4) Have friends from church over for a meal.

5) Take a sneaky nap.

6) Play a board game.

7) Read a book.

8) Watch a film.

9) Draw a picture.

10) Crochet.

11) Eat cake.

12) Drink tea.

13) Phone a friend for a chat.

14) Listen to music.

15) Rest.

Sunday Pudding!

How has this blessed us? Well, it is a relief to have the burdens of daily life lifted. I don't feel guilty not getting on with stuff on Sunday - I am convinced that this would, in fact, be the wrong choice. If I haven't marked my books for Monday, I don't think about it as I am freed from worrying about what I should be doing. This is a big deal for me!

Michael is busy on a Sunday: leading, preaching, caring for people; lots of conversations, and sometimes people here for lunch. However, this does not mean that he doesn't rest on a Sunday. He leaves behind much of the work that occupies him most of the week, and is focused on these core ministries. He serves God's people, as we all serve each other.

The children look forward to Sundays too. They know that we are around for them, they look forward to church, and Sunday breakfast is a treat they anticipate eagerly.

Disclaimer 1:

Our Sundays are not always perfect! Stuff goes wrong, children are stroppy, I am stroppy...but, overall, we do look forward to Sunday, and we do genuinely see it as a day of rest and refreshment in the Lord.

Disclaimer 2:

I know that sometimes people can't avoid working on a Sunday (and that life is complicated); this doesn't mean that we can't take the Lord's Day seriously. It actually makes me more determined not to arrange my life so that other people need to work for me to enjoy the Lord's Day (so we won't be going out for lunch on Sunday to make life easier!).

Friday, 2 December 2016

Friday Reflections - 32

The beginning of Advent has been the most significant part of the week as far as the children are concerned.They are looking forward to their holidays, and are busy making Christmas presents.

Day 1 of our Advent calendar

Although we have a couple of weeks of teaching left to go, today was our final home education group meeting this term. France was our country this week, and we benefited from a presentation by one of the parents who is French, and also from her provision of a variety of French food for us all to try.

Some of the children were a bit ill earlier in the week. Not bad enough to be excused work altogether, but not well enough to get as much done as usual. We still had pretty productive days, and I am grateful for the flexibility we have to take the days as they come a little in these circumstances.

Last weekend, we had a family visit to the British Museum. We particularly went to see the Sunken Cities exhibition, about some ancient Egyptian cities found underwater. They all enjoyed this, though my youngest was particularly excited. I think she's just beginning to match up what we learn in history with what we can actually see. She told me she had been thinking all night about going to see the Rosetta Stone, so we made sure that we took her to visit that exhibit!

Looking at the Rosetta Stone with my daughter.

She was also very excited to see (in the Sunken Cities exhibition) a Greek jar like some that we'd seen in our history books, and of which they'd then tried to draw their own versions. When I told her there were lots more we could see, she was so excited that I took her on a special trip to see some more while Michael retrieved our coats from the cloakroom!

Greek Pots!

It has also been noticeably colder this week, which I find a bit hard to adjust to, but we have been enjoying frosty walks outside.

A lovely, frosty day.

Finally, I have spent this evening doing a little Christmas shopping. I don't often make it to actual shops due to lack of time, and the fact that ordering presents online is generally more efficient. One trip is usually needed, though, and I am glad that I have done that at this stage in December.

Tomorrow is a rare, free Saturday. I am very much looking forward to a bit of a quiet time as a family.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Advent 2016

Advent has begun, and preparation for Christmas has started in earnest. As I write, the children are sitting round the table making some Christmas presents, with Christmas music playing. It sounds very peaceful, but they are all talking and laughing incredibly loudly...

We have started our advent calendar once again. I made it last year for them, and am still slightly astonished that I made it myself (I am not gifted in craft of any kind generally!), and it looked even better than I remembered. We started our day with a family Bible devotion focusing on God's creation after the first decoration was taken from its pocket by our 9 year old.

Day 1 on the advent calendar.

The first decoration has been added.

I also started to read The Tanglewoods' Secret by Patricia St.John aloud this morning. This is not the first time I have read this book, and the older two remember the story well and with great affection. The younger two don't remember it, however, so it feels new to them. I'm pretty sure that I won't make it to the end without crying - but it is a beautiful book to share with the children as we approach Christmas.

Of course, in a ministry family, Christmas also means lots of church events and activities coming up. In addition to the usual busyness of Christmas, this can make it a pretty hectic time of year. Nonetheless, I enjoy this season in spite of all there is to do, and especially the many chance we have to slow down and think about the coming of Jesus. So familiar, yet still so astonishing and poignant, I love hearing again the moving narratives in the gospels, and teaching my children about the wonderful coming of our Saviour.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Friday Reflections - 31

Last Saturday, I spent the day at an Italian cookery course with my mum, my birthday present from her. We cooked and ate some beautiful food, learned some new skills and recipes, and the washing up was done for us. It was a lovely day out, and something of a change from routine.

Osso Buco 


Afterwards, I went home and finished preparing for Young Church by making "ephod biscuits" for an activity - not quite the same level of skill required! I was teaching the later part of the story of Gideon, where he makes a golden ephod which the Israelites worship.

Ephod biscuits (good enough for the activity!)

The rest of the week has been filled with our usual activities, plus a visit for the afternoon from my sister and her two young children. It is fun to have a two year old around, and our children entertained her with the hamster and the guinea pigs.

My 7 year old has also just moved on to 4th Grade maths (for 9-10 year olds), and is still taking it in his stride and loving it. By way of contrast, my 5 year old is on her second week of the same maths lesson, as she really needs to practice some basic skills. Home education is great for both these situations. Incidentally, my 5  year old is actually really encouraged that the more she practices something, the easier it becomes. A little bit of struggle is a good thing in many ways.

Finally, Friday afternoon meant we met for our home education group, where we focused on Russia. I prepared three activities, but the option of making your own Faberge egg was the only one that was chosen! Sometimes it works that way - I can't always predict what will be popular.

My 7 year old's Faberge eggs.
Next week, Advent begins and the build up towards Christmas starts in earnest. We aim to not let things get too manic (though they will be busy) and to keep our focus on Jesus at the heart of all we do.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Children - One-to-One Time

Life at the moment feels pretty full. I guess that's partly due to the circumstances of life at the moment, and partly due to my personality; I have a habit of taking on lots of stuff at once, and making it work by willpower and organisation!

There are strengths to this, undoubtedly, but I also need to be mindful of the danger of turning our family life into a soulless, list-ticking, military operation. I try to harness my love of lists and planning to make sure that we keep the fun. If I write "art" on the timetable, it reminds me to plan an art session. The children have a couple of hours of creativity, and I can still mark something down as completed. Plus, of course, I make sure I actually leave enough time for our project, and that we have the right materials.

Another area that I know could become squeezed is one-to-one time with each child. This is a key opportunity for me to spend time with a child individually, and gives them a chance to have all my attention on them for a little while. It may be a moment for deep conversation, but usually it is just a time to show that child that I really care about them.

This is not easy to do. Our days are full, and, actually, most of our evenings too. One day a week is my husband's day off, but recently we have found these pretty busy - especially for me. I'm sure that many others feel similarly, and that slotting in one-to-one time with individual children is just one more task that is difficult to squeeze in. 

Here are some principles that we loosely follow so that we can manage to make it work:

1) Short and regular is better than infrequent big gestures. This is more realistic, and I find gives more opportunities for those special chats which are so key.

2) Short and realistic is fine! At the moment, I have a "special book" that I am reading with my 5 year old, and another with my 7 year old. It takes an extra 10 minutes a night with each child, but they really look forward to that time.

3) Under promise and over perform. For example, I have told my younger two that their "special book" will be read when I can, while mentally planning to read it every night. This means that they don't feel horribly let down when I can't manage it, and they are extra chuffed if I read a bonus chapter one evening.

4) Share the fun. My husband is currently watching an episode of Dr.Who once a week with our eldest. They both enjoy this equally, and it gives me best part of an hour to get stuff done while knowing that they are having a bit of bonding time.

5) Work together. Our children all love being on their own helping one of us. If my husband has to go to the supermarket or, better still, Pets at Home or Ikea, he will make a child very happy if they can accompany him. My 9 year old will always be happy to help me in the kitchen, and will enjoy any chance just to chat about his favourite books with me while we cook.

6) Be sacrificial. After a long week, a game of Uno may not be my first choice of activity, but it may be a few minutes of fun that is of great value to my daughter.

7) Share interests. Taking a child to a book shop or a museum is a joy - especially one child rather than shepherding four. I have done both these things with my older two occasionally, and they have been good times.

8) Big trips out have their place! They can't realistically be regular - but they create a wealth of happy memories. I took my 9 year old to see the pandas in Edinburgh zoo at the beginning of the year, and he will often walk with me and ask if we can talk about our trip for a while.

9) Look at photos together. Our children all enjoy a bit of time looking through a photo album with one of us - remembering happy times or special places, and talking with us about the good times we have had together. Particularly if one of the children is feeling a little sad, this can be quite a positive activity to do with them, and helps them to chat to us.

10) Everything for a Season. There are times when one child will need a special investment of time, and periods of life when I can't do everything. We do what we can, when we can, and accept that these things will ebb and flow a reasonable amount.

Fun with my daughter!

Spending time with our children is a great blessing for us, and for them. It will deepen our relationships with our children. Furthermore, I find that often it is in these short moments that I will gain insight into a particular need or struggle of a child, or that I will be able to talk to them about the Lord. This doesn't happen every time - most are fairly ordinary - but the more of these brief, special moments there are, the more opportunities there are for discussing the deeper issues of life and of our faith in Jesus. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Friday Reflections - 30

After a week away, I usually plan a full timetable of work. When everyone is rested, then it is a good opportunity to work hard, and still have the energy for getting out and about or doing extra activities.

This week, we have enjoyed our nature walk, looking for lichen then drawing it.

Drawing Lichen

My daughter still considers our Bake Through The Bible sessions one of the highlights of the week. She was very determined to manage as much as possible on her own when we made bread rolls together.

Making Bread Dough

In our history, we have been reading some of the stories from 1001 Arabian Nights, and made snakes as a craft to go with the story of Sinbad in the Valley of the Snakes.

Drawing Snake Designs

A Snake!

This afternoon, we went for a walk with some of the families that attend our home education group. We walked in the woods, had a go on the rope swing, then headed to a local playground for a bit. It is great to see children of a wide spread of ages getting on well and enjoying the outdoors together. 

My older two are currently at the theatre with their grandparents, watching Aladdin. I am pleased that this fits in well with our history this week (by chance, not design!), and they have been very excited about this special trip out. 

We are back into the thick of home life and church life this week; our days have been full, and our evenings too. Christmas planning is beginning in earnest, and I can see a hectic few weeks ahead. I find it all a bit overwhelming trying to keep on top of all the different aspects of life at times, and I am conscious that I need to make sure that I keep depending on the Lord through it all. Otherwise, I will become proud when I keep it together, despair when I fail, as well as a bit grumpy and possibly resentful of those I am trying to serve.

I read Matthew 20 to my daughter tonight, and hearing Jesus' words about his coming to serve, not to be served, and his call for us to have the same attitude was a helpful and timely corrective for me.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Friday Reflections - 29

We returned from our trip to Center Parcs a few hours ago, and are all feeling genuinely refreshed after a few days away together. We've had time to read, to use the swimming pool a lot, to cycle around or go for walks, and to have some extra naps. Perhaps because of all the swimming, most of us have slept better than average, which has been much needed. 

We've also fitted in a bit of bonus maths (Michael's suggestion, which was actually quite well received...).

Holiday Maths

We also went to see the fireworks one evening, which everyone enjoyed.

One lunchtime, we went out for a meal, and my eldest was particularly delighted to be able to eat from the adult menu. He has never been greedy, but his appetite is now bigger than mine by some way...



While we were away, we found out that two of our children, our 9 year old and our 7 year old, have been shortlisted in the Young Games Inventor Competition that they entered, which I wrote about here. They are very pleased with themselves! 

The children all fell asleep in the car on the way home, which is very unusual. I think this is a sign of a good holiday.

Sleepy Peaches

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Fireworks - Memories

Bundled up in hats and winter coats, squeezed in the crowd and pushed to the front by kind strangers, my children watched the fireworks together. One had his hands over his ears, though his enjoyment was evident. My daughter squeezed back to be held by me after a minute or two, then squirmed out of my arms to go to snuggle up with Michael instead.

Gazing up, half-watching the display, half-watching my children, crowds of memories of past fireworks displays pressed in too.

Walking up to watch the fireworks pushing a buggy with our eldest inside, just 5 weeks old. Weary with sleeplessness, though excited to be parents and anticipating the future firework displays our little boy would one day enjoy with us.

I remember as a child refusing to leave the house to watch the fireworks in our back garden as I was terrified of injury after a graphic presentation by a local fireman visiting our school. At about 5 years old, the pictures of burns received by those injured by fireworks had a deep affect that lasted a number of years.

Toffee apples were sold for bonfire night at my primary school. Sticky sweetness that lasted half an evening, followed by the crisp crunch of apple.

Later, I remember going to the display at the local rugby club. Mud everywhere, treacle toffee, the lighting of the bonfire complete with the Guy on top; trying to keep track of parents in the dark; the weary walk home in the evening.

As a teenager, I sometimes went with friends. We'd buy the over priced glow sticks that sensible adults had refused to waste money on when we were younger, and threw ourselves into the fun of the evening.

Our eldest is now 11, and we've had a decade of bonfire nights with our own children. One year, there was a mistake at a Beavers display that Michael took the older two boys to, with a firework going in the wrong direction. They all came home early and scared! This fear continued for the next couple of years. After my childhood fears, I had plenty of empathy for them.

Since we now live on a hill, we've also had plenty of fun together watching fireworks out of the window. Last week, two of the boys were watching together, with the 9 year old reading aloud to the 7 year old about Guy Fawkes.

Watching the Fireworks

Tonight, they were unafraid. Cheerful and enthusiastic, content to watch and chat to each other happily, they are storing up memories, shared family memories, of their own.