Saturday, 27 February 2016

Push ahead or hold back?

Running our home and teaching our children is a constant exercise of evaluation and adjustment. This could be anything from shifting a meal time by 15 minutes, or changing round the chores that I give the children, or (rarely) ditching a curriculum or activity completely as it clearly isn't working for us.

This is also true for each individual child. Making sure that I am stretching them where they need to be stretched, or holding them back where they need more practice, is a key part of my job.

In the past, I have had a term where the older children really focussed on times tables for half an hour every day, as I realised that I hadn't spent enough time on this. It made a huge difference, and makes it much easier to do, for example, all the work on fractions that they have both hit recently in their maths.

Just this term, I have also asked my 8 year old to sit in on his younger brother's spelling lessons in order to go over some of the basics again. I am using a different curriculum with my 6 year old too, so this is particularly helpful. It's not that my son's spelling is dire - it's generally pretty good - but he sometimes struggles and I think it would be helpful for him to be more confident. He's actually quite enjoying the extra sessions.

On the other hand, my 6 year old has clearly been finding his maths very easy for some time. My husband has been suggesting for a while that we try to race him on a bit, but I have been reluctant. They are all working about a year ahead of the suggested Grade levels in their maths curriculum anyway, and I am not convinced that being miles ahead is necessary. However, in this case it was clear that the extra challenge might be good for him. So, I asked him if he'd like to do two maths lessons a day.

He cheered with joy.

The way ahead, in this case, was pretty obvious really. Sometimes, I even let him do three lessons in a day now.

Intent on his maths book.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Wedding Anniversary - Remembering Jesus

Thirteen years ago, my husband promised to love me in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty, and in good times and bad.

Of course, we didn't know really what that would mean.

My dear husband has held my hair as I have been sick many times (mainly in pregnancy!).

He has cared for me in illness.

He has pushed me in a wheelchair (pregnancy again).

He has listened to my worries - some trivial, some less so.

He has been there through many undignified moments, such as gallstone attacks.

And childbirth.

He didn't complain when I bit him when mistaking his hand for a pillow (first baby). Or when I screamed so loud that he winced (second baby).

He was amazing at delivering our fourth baby when the midwife didn't make it.

More than that - much more - he has seen me at my worst.

Quick tempered.






He has been kind, and faithful, and generous.

He has corrected me gently when I am wrong, has forgiven me quickly, and never dwelt on my faults.

Instead, he sees the best in me, and loves me.

And he makes me cups of tea.

When we were married, we had these verses read at our wedding:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. Ephesians 5:22-28

Of course, in this day and age, the command to wives seems shocking. Actually, it is the command to husbands that is the more amazing; Christ gave himself up for the church by going to the cross. A call to follow the example of Jesus is a high calling. When my husband loves and forgives me as he does, I know that his gracious treatment of me flows from his love for Jesus, and his knowledge of how God has shown such grace to us.

Christian marriage isn't a hark back to old, uncomfortable values. Submitting to a husband's leadership is one half of a good relationship that God has created to reflect his relationship with his people. The kind of marriages we are called to are supposed to be living models of the beautiful relationship between Christ and his bride, the church.

I am grateful to my husband, for his unstinting, unwavering love for me, in spite of all he now knows about my many weaknesses.

I am more grateful still to Christ, who knows the worst of me - my hidden sins and blackest thoughts - and yet loves me, and loved me to the cross.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ dies for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Half Term - Rest Time

Half term has arrived, and, although this is a short term, we are all relieved to have made it.

The first day of every holiday usually means slightly exhausted children wandering round not quite sure what to do with themselves. They work hard in term time, and are ready for a change but don't quite know what to do. From experience, once they are through the first day, they all quickly settle in to doing all the things they didn't have time for during the term.

Yesterday - the first proper day of the holidays - they were all a bit restless. I never resort to TV on day one - it only postpones the restlessness! I encouraged them to do a bit of craft and reading; they played games together, and had swimming lessons in the afternoon. There was a bit of moping around, but they managed okay.

Today, they are visibly more rested, and are happily doing craft or reading at the moment, all sitting together with Prince Caspian playing in the background. There are occasional sharp words, or calls for help, but it is generally peaceful.

My ten year old is sewing.

My four year old is making a butterfly mosaic.

My six year old is weaving a crab!

My eight year old is engrossed in a fact book.

I'm still at the slightly restless stage; I'm older, and it takes me longer to recover! I have a list of stuff to sort while things are quiet- mainly craft projects to photograph and tidy away, marking to do, and planning for next term. I also want to read a bit and bake a bit and sew a bit. We'll see. If I am refreshed and ready for the next half of term, it will have been a good break.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Clean House (A Confession)

I have a confession to make: my house is usually clean. And usually tidy.

Not showroom tidy - that would be weird; if you arrive in the middle of the day, there will be books over the table, toys out, cooking happening, piles of washing, but by the end of every day, things will be where they should be.

I say confession, because I sometimes feel a bit awkward about this (oddly). I worry that some people may think that I judge others who have different approach (I don't!) or that sometime there is a general feeling that a messy house means more fun is being had. That may be true, but I wouldn't be happy!

I fairly frequently get asked how I get my housework done. This is a good question, as we have a busy home. This means that our home is used much more heavily as we are all here, and that I have no time during the week when I don't have children around when I can get cleaning done. Evenings are out too as we have a number of evenings in the week when we have church meetings here, though I usually manage to find one evening when I can do the ironing.

So, how do I do it?

1) Hard work. There's no getting around it; if I want to clean my kitchen every week, then the slot I have is between children's bedtime and the prayer meeting in our house. Sitting down would be more fun, but less productive. Bathrooms are cleaned while the children play on Wednesday afternoons -and so on.

2) Routine. I have a mental plan of which bits are cleaned on which days every week. It is spread out evenly, and there is nothing planned for the weekend (though I do sometimes catch up on Saturday).

3) Children. The children help - with daily tasks (from feeding the guinea pigs to opening curtains), and regular responsibilities (from putting their clean clothes away to cleaning their own rooms). They are also expected to do odd tasks, such as quickly hoover the hall, when asked to. 

The most significant expectation on them in terms of the difference it makes, though, is that they tidy up after themselves. So coats are hung up, and shoes put away neatly; banana skins go in the bin; toys go away in the right boxes; clothes are sorted into the washing basket or folded for the next day. They don't even see these as jobs, but it helps a huge amount in terms of keeping the chaos at bay.

4) Sabbath Rest. I don't do housework on Sundays, beyond preparing for meals. I find this very freeing; however big my washing pile, it will wait until Monday (unless it is a genuine child-has-vomited-everywhere type emergency).

Perhaps the other question is why do I do it?

1) Personal Preference. We find it easier to cope if we feel ordered - all of us! My husband and I are both happier if we are in a tidy environment. Either by nature or nurture, our children are similar. They like tidying up the displays in shops. Though less enthusiastic about putting their own toys away, they do prefer to keep things ordered.

2) Hospitality. We don't tidy up for guests - we tidy up anyway. However, I find that this means that when considering having people round, I don't need to think about getting the house ready. It will be good enough anyway - which is all I'd ever aim for! It frees me up to have people round. Also, we won't tidy/clean around guests, and we really don't mind if people make a mess. We clean to free us to serve, not so we have a pristine house that must be preserved at all cost.

3) Rest. Oddly, I find that running our home in this way actually means I can rest better. I am not constantly worrying about when I will clean different bits of the house. If the kitchen is looking less than spotless (as it does when you have a houseful), I don't worry about it. I know when it will get done, and I only think about it then.

Having said all this, there are plenty of days when the right decision is to leave a particular task for another day, or even to miss it out for that week. This could be because I am genuinely exhausted, and need to rest a little if I am to be able to keep going. It could be because we have extra visitors who we want to spend time with, or because a child is ill or unhappy and needs my attention. I actually find that keeping the house is fairly good order helps me to do this, as I know that I am on top of things enough to let it go a little without it being awful.

In addition, I genuinely don't do it because I care about appearances - though I realise that this would be a problem. I don't mind if people turn up at whatever point - I just need to know that I am serving our family well by keeping our house in a functioning state.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Museums & Children

We have had a very pleasant afternoon taking our children to my favourite museum, the British Museum. We particularly wanted to visit a few exhibits that fit in with the history we are studying at the moment - lion hunting friezes from Nineveh, Greek pots, and Egyptian mummies among others. Even our four year old enjoyed herself; her favourite bits were the Egyptian mummies and the books from the library of Nineveh.

Taking children to museums - particularly ones which are primarily geared towards adults - can be fun or disastrous. We have taken our children to museums since they were very small, and have developed a few strategies to help us all to enjoy ourselves and (hopefully) learn something.

1) Chocolate biscuits. Before we go in, everyone has a biscuit to prevent tiredness grumps setting in after a few minutes.

2) Less is more. We prefer to see a few things and enjoy them than to slavishly look at everything. Of course, this is easier if a museum is nearby rather than a long visit away. However, I think it is better to have thoroughly enjoyed a few interesting objects and want to return than to have done a museum to death and never want to visit a museum again! I aim to leave while the children are still happy.

3) "One More Thing". Having said that, once children start to get restless, we may suggest one more thing that they will particularly enjoy looking at. They know that we won't make them stay forever, and we get to fit in just a little more.

4) Purpose. We usually go with a clear idea of what we want to visit that day. It may fit in with a current interest of the children, or with a particular area of our curriculum, or it may simply be that we feel that it has been too long since we visited the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum. Of course, if any of us want to visit an extra gallery, we will probably fit that in too.

5) Bring a Picnic. Museum tea shops can be expensive, but lots of museums have nearby parks where you can eat a sandwich and let children run and make a bit of noise. We've had picnics in the dark before, and in the rain! The children love this - and we can afford to go out more often. Some museums (such as the Science Museum in London) even have picnic areas inside.

6) Silliness. No need to be too earnest - or not all the time! Children will enjoy looking for weird things, or asking silly questions - and this doesn't mean that they won't be interested in more in depth discussions too.

Posing with the lion hunting frieze.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Home Ed Without Losing Your Head...

Home education is an all-consuming life. Over the last six years, I have gradually developed a few strategies for keeping going while keeping it together. Sort of.

1) Organisation. Not everyone's cup of tea - but I plan and plan and plan. Meal plan, lesson plan, activities plan. This doesn't mean that we live a serene and ordered life (Ha!), but that I am just about holding back an inevitable tide of chaos. If all else fails, I know that I will clean the bathroom on Wednesday. And that I have planned chicken dippers for an occasional easy Friday tea.

My Home Ed diary.

2) Hobbies. Home education is, as I said, all-consuming. It is rare for me not to be mentally tweaking our schedule or our curriculum, or considering how to stretch my maths-y child, or help my daughter with her phonics - and so on and so on. I try to have stuff in my life that gives me a mental break, or a sense of completing something. Raising and educating children is not a task I can tick off, so I bake cakes, and more recently have started doing cross stitch again. 

Cake! Finished - unlike my children.

3) Exercise. I don't really feel qualified to talk about exercise...but, for me this means pilates once a week, using our exercise bike, and lots of walking the children up hills. My only goal is to feel a bit stronger, and fit enough not to die when we climb mountains in the summer.

4) Reading. I suppose this is a hobby too, but for me this is in a category all on its own. Reading helps me to use and stretch my mind - both modelling to the children a love of learning, and, hopefully, better equipping me to help them. This year, I am keeping a record of what I read, just to get a better sense of the breadth of my reading, and where I could supplement it.

5) Other Home Ed. Parents. I find it a great encouragement to talk to other parents on the same journey that we are. It is a helpful to share our experiences - and you can rely on them not to suggest that sending your children to school is the best solution to every problem! I have invited parents here for an evening a couple of times over the last year, and time to chat without our children around was refreshing.

6) Friends. Seeing good friends (not just home ed. friends, and not just other parents) is absolutely vital for me, and can keep me going through many tough spots. Meeting up face to face is ideal, but emails or chatting on Facebook, or even exchanging the occasional text can be a real boost.

7) Bible Reading & Prayer. These so easily get squeezed out in very busy lives, but time with the Lord is vital for each of us to keep going as Christians. If I want to raise my children in the training and instruction of the Lord, I need to spend time with Him daily.

8) Discipline. By this I mean making sure that our children know that we expect them to obey us. Still a work in progress here, of course - but they generally do what we say because that is what we have always insisted on. It means that I can be confident that they will get on with their maths or Latin as much as I can expect them to brush their teeth or make their beds.

9) Leaving the House. We walk daily, and also often visit friends and family or make trips to museums. For the last few weeks, we have spent Tuesday mornings in the woods doing a wildlife course with other home educators. It keeps us all happier if we get out for a decent amount every day. I also find that getting out means that they are less likely to argue or annoy each other - even once they're home.

One of many walks.

10) Rest. I also need to get a total break every so often. This might be as simple as a walk on my own for an hour. I also sometimes escape for an evening or afternoon out with my husband. In addition, I go to a couple of conferences for ministers' wives each year; one of these is three nights away - a real blessing!