Saturday, 30 January 2016

Favourite Audio Books

We have used audio books often in our family since the children were young, and they continue to enjoy them. They listen to them together while doing art or craft. We have a couple of small MP3 players, and my older two can often be found listening to stories while building Lego or drawing, or even while looking through another book. They are also essential for car journeys or bus journeys - particularly where children are prone to feeling queasy if they read. We have earphone splitters for when they wish to enjoy a story together. My older two can sometimes be found sat in the rocking chair together and listening.

We have a small selection of CDs that we have bought, and we have also downloaded a much larger number of stories from librivox, where books no longer in copyright have been recorded by volunteers, and are available for free.

Some of our favourites include:

Narnia Stories by C.S.Lewis (We bought these - well worth it as they have been listened to many times!)

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A.Milne (Not free either, but make everyone laugh)

Anything by E.Nesbit; Stories of Dragons was a favourite when they were young; The Magic City has inspired them to create many "cities" of their own out of household objects

The Oz Stories by L.Frank Baum

Sherlock Holmes Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

Alice in Wonderland & Alice Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Serving Without Sinking by John Hindley

This is a book I have heard recommended a number of times, but have only just read.

The title resonates; I feel like I am sinking in most areas of life - or almost sinking. Whether home education, or cooking for our home group, or writing meal plans, or leading at Young Church - I usually feel like I am just about managing. And only just.

Although there are many joyful days or moments - in general, life often feels like a slog, and my responsibilities feel like burdens.

In the midst of this reality - this book was a welcome, joy-filled encouragement.

I confess, I assumed that the book would contain "helpful" ideas about time management and so on - which always jars a little. I am organised - I just have a lot to do! I don't want to stop - I take on my responsibilities because I am convinced of my calling, and of the rightness of serving when it is costly.

What this book so helpfully did was point me right back to Jesus. It talks of his service first - gloriously displayed at the cross - then of our relationship with him - as a friend, a bride, a son.

What a joy it is to serve such a Master!

I am also reminded that joyful obedience will flow out of a greater love for Jesus.

I need to pray not for a break, or for a relieving of my duties, but for greater love.

If you are feeling burdened or weary as you serve Jesus - read this book. It is so refreshing, and will lift your eyes from your circumstances, from your deeds, and point you right back to the Son of Man [who] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

Monday, 25 January 2016

Home Ed & Poorly Children

One of our children has been quite unwell with asthma for the last few days. Although this has been unpleasant for him, and meant a few disturbed nights for us, it has reminded me how much I like the flexibility of home education.

When a child is too unwell for work, they won't get behind; once they are well enough to resume their studies, they can pick up where they left off.

In addition, once a child is recovering, then they can be eased gently back into work. Today, my eldest has been much better, though not up to full strength yet. He has had a reduced day, and interspersed his work with more restful activities. In the morning, he was still getting out of breath moving between rooms - and would certainly not have been sent to school. However, he soon began to feel much better, and small bursts of activity helped him not to get restless and frustrated.

I guess the downside is that some activities that the whole family would do together have to be paused as well. We've missed our walk today, and not done our usual history activities as he wouldn't have been up to it.

Also, when a child really is too sick to do anything - even read - tucking them up on the sofa with a DVD is quite a distraction for other children! I usually hold off on DVDs until as late as possible so they can all watch something together, and stick to audio books as long as I can. If need be, I will let a very ill child watch a film on my laptop in bed. My children are pretty good (now) at realising that they'd rather be healthy and working than ill and watching!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Bible reading & panda visiting...

Last week we finished reading the whole Bible to my 8 year old. He was really pleased to have finished after three and a half years (we started when he turned 5).

As we did with his older brother, we presented him with a new Bible, and I took him on a special trip.

He has always loved pandas, so I took him to visit Edinburgh zoo. This was quite an expedition, involving two long days of travelling and two overnight stays with family and friends - but he had a wonderful time.

Seeing pandas was the highlight of our trip to the zoo:

Panda walking...

Panda drinking...

Panda & my 8 year old...

Panda eating bamboo.
We also enjoyed watching the penguin parade:

Penguins walking past us.
And the koalas:

A koala - not asleep!
Although we went for the zoo, spending time first with some family, then with some friends, was also hugely fun for both of us.

We arrived home not long ago - and have both been missed! We'd love to return to Scotland for a longer trip sometime - but take the rest of the family with us.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Winter fun - activities for cold days.

It's finally properly cold here, and, with short days and darker afternoons, we have to work hard to keep busy and cheerful during our free time.

We make sure that we still go out every day. Our daily walks are so popular that the children wouldn't let me forget them! Admittedly, this is harder on days when I'd rather not get out from under my duvet (I do NOT enjoy the cold) never mind leave the house...but we do it anyway, and all enjoy it.

All of us love being outdoors (with enough layers), and the children need to burn off some energy.

The parks are often empty, and wet weather can bring unexpected fun:

Playing in a flooded sandpit.

Muddy walks are a favourite; I wear my wellies more than any other set of footwear at this time of year:

Muddy woods.

Den making at an activity morning today
- a great chance to get outdoors.

We live near so may hills, that the walks are worth it for the views alone.

Actually taken from our bedroom window
- but this is what we like to see when we walk near our home.

We still have more time indoors in the winter - due to the shorter days. Favourite activities include boardgames, Lego, playmobil and reading.

I also do art sessions with the children. I mentally divide these into messy art and non-messy art. Messy art  will usually involve either chalk pastels or lots of glue. Non-messy art is usually drawing, or I might stretch to watercolours.
Semi-messy art.

Listening to audio books is also popular. Sometimes one of the children will use an MP3 player to listen while they build Lego, and sometimes they will all listen to something together.

My children will also happily cook with me. We haven't done as much recently, but it is not unusual for them to bake cakes, or even just help me make the tea.

During the winter especially, there are days when it feels like a real slog to get on with different activities. I find, however, that even a small amount of effort to help my children find good, productive things to do can lift everyone's mood and turn a wet, gloomy day into a positive one.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

24 Hours - Highs and Lows

Low: 10 pm - I see a RAT in my kitchen.

High: Husband and fellow elders emerge from their meeting upon my request for help, and pursue rat with shoes. No result, but rat seems to have left...

Low: In general rat-anxiety, we forget to put the alarm on.

High: An extra hour of sleep!

Low: Aaaagghh! We're late! We'll never get everything done!

High: Only a bit late; manage to get some work done before heading out to the woods for the morning with an organised group.

Low: Children take ages to get ready. Aaaagghh! We're late!

High: Beautiful morning - all happy. My daughter is thrilled by the mud.

Low: I get us lost in the woods. Now even later to meet the group....

High: We're not the last! Only a few minutes late after all.

Low: One child is behaving badly...

High: Everyone cheers up, joins in well, and is enthusiastic about trees.

Low: Another child is now crying with cold.

High: All cheer up (again!) and delight in sinking into the mud with friends before we go home.

Low: Daughter falls in mud.

High: Daughter holds it together in spite of mud.

Low: Halfway home, the girl realises she is tired, cold and hungry. And covered in mud. She sobs.

High: Biggest boy carries his sister on his shoulders to cheer her up.

Low: Three minutes later, daughter crying again, insists on climbing down, and wipes her muddy boot over another brother. Both now sobbing loudly.

High: Get home! Chocolate biscuits all round before lunch...

Low: Still work to get done after there is a bit of moaning.

High: Everyone cheers up AGAIN, and gets it all done quickly.

Low: I ordered 6 bags of satsumas rather than 6 satsumas. Whoops.

High: Remember I can send excess food ordered in error back with the nice man from Tesco.

Low: I forgot to buy onions for the chicken stew this evening.

High: I have children! Eldest despatched to the corner shop to buy onions.


High: I made Battenburg cake - fun! Great use of limited time...

The rest is a blur of teatime, putting children to bed, a prayer meeting, and eating the aforementioned cake.

We made it.

What will the next 24 hours bring?

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Off we go again - a new term has begun!

We started the week with a wonderfully muddy walk at Box Hill with some friends. Our plan to cross the Stepping Stones was thwarted by the fact that the river had risen right over them, and we couldn't even use the bridge as the river had flooded so much. Our circular walk became a walk down and up the same hill!

Stepping Stones?

On Tuesday, we began in earnest, with our usual subjects. It is clear that the children are all working much more efficiently than at the beginning of last term, so we are getting though our work a little bit quicker.

History is still a highlight. The children drew some pictures of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Babylon Narrations and Pictures

Science lessons are still popular. The older two were studying the water cycle, and also what happens to water when it falls on the ground.

The younger two were learning to distinguish between living things, natural non-living things, and man-made items. Yoda the hamster was brought along by by eldest so that she could be categorised too.

Everything categorised - including the hamster (in her ball)!

We have also visited our local museum, the Horniman, one afternoon. It's a great resource to have just down the road from us.

On Friday afternoon, we began an art project.This is the second time we have tried a glue and chalk pastels picture. Last time it worked fairly well, but I think the children found it a bit easier this time. We've also worked out that disposable icing bags work very well for this project - much easier than holding a whole bottle of PVA glue.The children also moved the glue bags a bit quicker, so ended up with fewer pools of glue on their pictures. We'll see how they turn out once they have added some colour next week.

Glue pictures so far

I finished up the week with a special trip to the British Museum with my 8 year old and one of his friends. We visited the Celts exhibition which is ending soon, and then had a brief look at some of the permanent displays. My 8 year old particularly enjoyed seeing some of the books from the library at Nineveh, which we learned about in history recently.

Clay tablets from the library at Nineveh
All in all a good week- just need to keep it up next week too!

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

"What's In The Bible?" DVDs - A Review

What's In The Bible? is a series of DVDs which take you through the whole of the Bible. There are a number of different characters, performed by puppets, who explain the content of each book of the Bible, and how that particular book fits into the Biblical story of redemption.

I was very pleasantly surprised at just how good it was! Having never been a fan of VeggieTales, I only looked at the particular series after a few people had recommended it. My husband and I have now watched all the episodes with our children, and these are the best features of this series in my opinion:

1) Summary of Each Bible Book

Every book of the Bible, from Leviticus to Luke, is accurately covered, including an explanation of its place in the canon, and how it fits into the overarching story of the Bible.

2) The Redemption Story

From the beginning, it is made clear that the Bible is not just a collection of disparate books, but a book which tells the story of God and his plan to rescue people.

3) Theological Terminology

Words such as apocalypse or canon or justification are explained clearly. It is gratifying to watch something that expects children to be interested in more complex ideas, albeit explained by a pirate puppet!

4) Tricky Questions

Rather than dodging all the difficult questions, these are addressed head on - and very helpfully.

5) Fun To Watch

Without being irreverent, the jokes are genuinely funny, and the characters are engaging. Our children can quote sections of the script!

This an excellent series, and I have only a couple of slight cautions. One weakness is that there is less emphasis on how Christ is foreshadowed in the Old Testament than I would like. This is by no means absent - but I think could have been done a little more.

My other caution is that this is an outstanding supplement to studying the Bible with children, but certainly could not be a substitute for it (and I'm sure it is not intended to be). What's In The Bible? is an excellent guide to scripture - so long as we don't use it as a shortcut to actually opening up the Bible with our children. This is actually only a problem because it is such a high quality resource!

We have had a lot of fun watching this, and it has definitely helped our children gain a better framework for understanding scripture. They can tell me if a particular book of the Bible is from the Writings or the Pentateuch; they know what apostasy means; above all, they are enthused about the Bible, and about God's plan to redeem his people.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

A Quiet Day

The last remnants of the trappings of Christmas have nearly gone; our tree went yesterday, along with our Jesse tree calendar and all the Christmas cards. We still have most of our huge Christmas cake to work our way through, but otherwise our home has returned to normal.

Our partly-consumed Christmas cake.

Most of us have a (rare) free day, which has given us a chance for some peaceful activity for the children, and some catching up for me. My husband is writing his sermon for tomorrow - so not a quiet day for him, however.

The children have had a restful day; my six year old is listening to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (he's nearly finished the whole book!), while my eldest has been building a meccano set that he received for Christmas. My other two are happy pottering about with different toys, or watching the meccano coming together. After a late night on New Year's Eve for the older two, who stayed up for the first time, and came with us to watch the London fireworks from the top of a hill near our home - this is probably much needed.

Snuggling up and listening to Narnia.

For me, this is the last quiet day before term begins again, and I have been in planning mode. I have filled out my diary for next week with all the plans for the children's work. I have also been trying to choose craft or cooking projects for our Africa themed home education group next term. It is quite easy to find  generic "Africa" crafts - but somewhat harder if you are searching for activities to go with specific countries. I think I'm about there, though.

I have also had time to look through my new Mary Berry cook book and bookmark the recipes I'd like to try. There are more than I have time for in the immediate future, but I am planning to make a lemon cheesecake for lunch tomorrow. We may just have Christmas cake if I run out of time; visitors to our home may be fed up of Christmas cake soon!

Days like this provide a welcome rest. I am looking forward to the coming term - but it is good to have one quiet day before it all begins again.