Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Screen-time - What We Do and Why

Deciding how much we let our children watch TV, or play games on the computer, or spend time in front of a screen is an issue that all parents have to consider. Families vary from those who allow their children unlimited access to the TV or a tablet or computer, to those who have almost no screen time at all.

We probably fall into the relaxed end of the more restrictive families! Our children have a limited amount of time watching the TV after tidying up and before tea each day (usually on catch-up, so that we can chose what they are allowed to watch), plus 10 minutes each a day to play on the ipad. We will occasionally watch films together too.

In addition, there are a small number of educational activities for which the children use the computer. My older two both do a little coding using Scratch, and also practice their touch typing. My 7 year old uses an online maths program called Maths Whizz to supplement his core maths curriculum. They all occasionally use the Squeebles app on my ipad, which helps them with their times tables, and my older two use a free app called Quizlet to help them revise their Latin vocabulary.

I'm pretty happy with the balance that we have at the moment. The children know what they are allowed to do, and almost never ask for extra screen-time in any form. This means that they have plenty of time for other activities - playing, drawing, making up stories, craft, going to the park. I don't want them to find that they have suddenly lost a couple of hours to Minecraft without really realising it, which is why we have pretty tight restrictions.

I don't, however, see any kind of watching or playing on the computer as a "necessary evil". If I though it was an out-and-out bad use of time, I hope I wouldn't allow it at all! So, here are a few of the good reasons that we let our children watch television:

1. It's fun. Letting our children snuggle up on the sofa together and watch something at the end of a busy day is good because they enjoy it. Often what they choose to watch makes them giggle rather than think deep thoughts, but that's okay - there is a time for both.

2. It's social. Our children watch and enjoy together, and are often still chatting about something they have watched the next day. Also, they talk to their friends about certain programs they have seen, and they bond over this shared knowledge and enjoyment.

3. It sparks creativity. From drawing pictures of Octonauts when they were little, to the make-believe games that they play together, the television that they watch together - as well as the books they enjoy - are a source of inspiration. My eldest is particularly creative, making board games and picture in abundance.

Dr. Who Monopoly board, made by my 10 year old.

Dr. Who Monopoly

4. It's educational. Although this isn't the main reason I allow the children to watch TV, it is clear that the television that they enjoy has had incidental educational value. From facts about the ocean to some great stories to new vocabulary, they have definitely learned while they have watched.

That's the balance at the moment. I'm sure we'll have to adjust as the children get older and circumstances change, but it works well for now. It means that screens, in various forms, are part of our lives, but don't dominate them.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Friday Reflections - 5

The highlight of the week was visiting my little sister and her newborn baby on Tuesday evening. He's (obviously) gorgeous, and managed to be born on his grandparents diamond wedding anniversary, which was well received. Escaping home for a few hours to cuddle a newborn was a lovely treat.

Ideally, I'd spread our busy activities, but the reality is that I seem to have very hectic weeks and slightly quieter weeks. This last week has been full of activity in our home, which has been exhausting at times, but good too. We have had church meetings on most evenings, and had visitors during the day too. Although it is busy, I actually really enjoy having lots of people in and out of the house, and the children seem to prefer it too.

In the midst of this, I have finished my first crochet project, a blanket. It is now being used by the children to snuggle under when I read to them. It isn't quite big enough for them all to be completely wrapped up, so that gives me an excuse to do more crochet soon. I have really liked having something I can do while teaching the children, or in a spare half hour, and it is satisfying to have a project to complete (unlike raising children).

Snuggling up in my newly finished blanket.

Summer holidays are not all that far away, and we can all see the end of our studies approaching. The boys are now doing double maths lessons a day to ensure that we do finish before the summer, and have taken it in their stride. They should all finish their maths a little early now.

Warm weather means that sometimes the children have worked outside. So long as they concentrate, this is a lovely way to work.

Working outside.
The older boys have been reading even more than usual. At our home education group, my friend running the book group has offered the children a Kitkat to share with a friend if they read a book that the friend has recommended in book group. My 8 year old ended up with 2 and a half Kitkats after reading two books, and after one of his recommendations was read by a number of other children. It has definitely been a spur to actually read each other's recommended books.

In addition to the book group, we had activities based around Australia, including making cookie dough maps of Australia:

Edible Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea

The children also had a go at producing some Aboriginal style art using dots of paint to make pictures:

Art at Home Ed. Group

We have had a good week, for which I am very grateful. Next week we will continue to work although it is half term for most people, as we are taking two weeks holiday in June. I just need to hang on in there and press on a little longer, and we can enjoy a couple of weeks complete break together as a family.

Monday, 23 May 2016

His Love Endures Forever by Garry Williams

Yesterday I finished reading His Love Endures Forever by Garry Williams. Life is busy - there are many calls on my time and energy - so I have to be intentional if I am going to read at all. This book was well worth the effort.

His Love Endures Forever is, as the title suggests, a careful exploration of what the Bible teaches us about the love of God. The truth that "God is Love" is unpacked within its Biblical framework, so that, as you read, you get a rich picture of the character of God, and of his love for his people.

Why was this book so helpful?

1. Engaging. I like to read books that make me think, but at the end of a long day, or in a precious half hour gap in the afternoon, picking up a Christian book rather than a novel (or flicking through BBC news) isn't easy. This book, however, I found hooked me in quickly every time I picked it up. Each chapter often begins with a story or anecdote which sets up the arguments that follow. which I found made it easy to settle into the book each time. It is written in an accessible and engaging way, although the content is deep and mind-stretching.

2. Rich Theology. I loved the careful Biblical explanations of the nature of God's love - such as how God's love is timeless, all-knowing, just. The arguments are careful, and rooted in scripture. Difficult concepts are explored, but in a clear way. Each chapter is broken up into manageable chunks by sub-headings, which I found made it easier to keep track of the arguments

3. Meditation. In this book, the reader is encouraged not just to study the character of God in an academic way, but to wonder at the love of God, to reflect on his love and meditate on the beauty of God himself. Each chapter ends with a section for meditation and reflection, including a prayer.

I found this an encouraging read, and I'd highly recommend it as a great book to get you thinking about God's love, and how his love is different from and greater in every way than human love, and to get you marvelling at our great God.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Friday Reflections - 4

We've just arrived back from another zoo trip, and 3 out of 4 children are in bed, while my 10 year old is enjoying his weekly Dr. Who episode with Michael - something they both look forward to! A long day on our feet, and it's good to collapse for a bit now.

I tend to look back on each week with a critical eye - what I haven't  done, or what went wrong. This can be a good thing - it helps me improve what we do. However, it can also mean that it doesn't take much to really get me down about how I'm managing! This week I managed not to put the bread-maker blade in properly when making pizza dough, so we had pasta and pesto rather than home-made pizza for tea. I know it doesn't really matter, but it frustrates me. Looking back at the highlights of the week, as well as some of the harder aspects, is helpful.

We seem to have been battling moaning quite a bit over the last few weeks, but looking back at this week, I think there have been some improvements. This is good to see! Of course, it is still an area we are working on, but I have been encouraged to see some progress, and children making a conscious effort to try not to complain too much.

In significant news, all our butterflies have hatched. Hoppy only emerged this morning, a number of days after the others. We plan to release them tomorrow.


The sunnier weather has meant that we have been in the garden a lot. Michael planted some sunflowers and some carrots with the children last Saturday. We hope some grow! The children also put up my 8 year old's tent in the garden. It is a favourite spot for reading at the moment.

A tent in our garden.

A good place to read.

We have managed to fit in some painting this week, with the younger two painting dragons (from the Usborne Science Things to Make and Do) and the older two painting turtles (from the Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas).

Painting turtles.

My 8 year old's turtle.

My daughter has enjoyed a bit of dressing up in a bargain "Anna" (from Frozen) dress that my Mum picked up for £1.

Dressing up!

My daughter and me.

Plus today we had a very enjoyable trip to the zoo. My husband had his day off today rather than Saturday this week, so he came too - more fun for everyone.

Glass Wing Butterfly

I have been appreciating recently how lovely it is to share a love of reading with my children. I carried two kindles, 3 picture books, and a copy of Stig of the Dump with me to the zoo today so that they could read on the tube. Next time I might stick a book in for me too! 

Reading on the way there...

...and on the way home.

My 7 year old received Stig of the Dump  as a gift for his birthday, and has been diligently reading it to himself. He's still reading everything out loud (I think this helps him to hear the sounds properly), but has read, in his words "about 2/5" of the book. I'm impressed with his perseverance, and delighted that struggling to speak and having to work so hard to read hasn't stopped him loving books.  

For myself,  I have been enjoying crocheting my blanket, and it is close to being finished. I like having something I can do while reading out spellings or listening to a child read to me. 

When life is busy during the day, staying alert and ready for an evening meeting in our home is not always easy. However, it is always good to open up the Bible with others, and I was particularly encouraged as we looked at John 20 in our home group last night. It is always encouraging to read about the events of the resurrection, to see the joy of those who met Jesus on that first Easter morning, and to know the blessing of believing in Jesus, and receiving life in his name.

Monday, 16 May 2016

End of Year Planning

It is part way though the summer term, and I am at the stage of working out if we will actually be able to finish all the work that I had planned for the year.

Overall, we are on target, and should finish most subjects with time to spare. The children always appreciate the gradual lightening of their workload as the summer holiday approaches.

However, we are a little short on time for finishing the maths books for the older two, and for finishing their grammar work for the year. The plan (which they have agreed to) is to double up maths lessons until their maths books are finished, and then to double up on grammar once they have finished the work for some of their other subjects. This should be enough to finish on time, and hopefully a little early for most subjects.

Counting available work days.
My 7 year old is already ahead in his maths, but when given the option of doing extra maths like the older boys, he insisted that he wanted to do so. This should mean that he will finish his current book before the summer.

In the past, they have voluntarily doubled up on their work so that the summer break can begin earlier. This works well as by this stage they are usually finishing their work quicker as they are confident at working at the level they are at. The sunny days and warmer weather also act as a helpful reminder of how much they are looking forward to the long summer break, and they are happy to work a little harder to gain more free days.

Enjoying the sunshine.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Friday Reflections - 3

Over the last week, we have celebrated two birthdays. We visited my husband's family last Saturday to celebrate my mother-in-law's 70th birthday. It was good to spend some time with the wider family, and for our children to see their cousins.

Later in the week, we had a 7th birthday. My third son clearly takes after his father, who studied maths for his first (3!) degrees, and requested a maths themed cake. He wrote down the sums he wanted, all of which make 7 as the answer:

Birthday Sums

I then iced them onto cupcakes (his favourite cake), and arranged them in the shape of a number 7. This is definitely one of the easier birthday cake requests we've had!


He invited some of his favourite people from church, two older ladies who he is very fond of, and the husband of one of the ladies was also included. I'm not sure who enjoyed themselves more. It was also an easier that average 7 year old's party; two octogenarians and one ninety year old are somewhat easier guests than a lively bunch of 7 year old children.

Now 7, blowing out his candles.

This week has also featured visits from friends and trips to the park.


...and digging.

Our caterpillars have all become chrysalises.

All 5 caterpillars did make it to chrysalises.

In between these activities, we have managed a fairly full week of our usual book work. Our history has now reached Rome again, so the children made mosaic coasters.

Mosaic Coasters

We had our home schooling group again today, and focussed on Papua New Guinea. This was a tougher country to find activities for, but the children had fun making collage pictures of birds of paradise.

Bird of Paradise Collage in Progress

The warmer weather has been much appreciated, and we are already out in the garden even more than usual. This evening my eldest re-stained the decking outside our back door for us, while my husband cut the grass.

Painting the Decking

Although we have had plenty of visitors this week, and two birthdays, we have had a relatively ordinary week in terms of their work, and we have made some good progress.

Tomorrow, I am hoping to check that we can actually manage to finish all the work I aimed to complete for the year by the end of this term. I'm pretty sure we'll make it, but I like to make absolutely certain at this stage when there is still time to make necessary adjustments.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Home Education & Bible Teaching

We home educate our children for a number of reasons, but primarily so that we can give them a Christ centred education. I have always planned for Bible teaching to be part of our formal curriculum. This is in addition to the morning family devotions that my husband leads, or to our Bible reading with our children at bedtime.

It took me a little while to settle on exactly what we would use when our older children were little and we were starting out as home educators. I used Sunday school material of various kinds, as well as reading through children's Bibles. However, I found that often material designed for Sunday schools covered a few sections of scripture very well, but that much of the Bible was left untouched.

Furthermore, I started to think about exactly what I thought was helpful for our young children, and we decided that having a broad knowledge of the content of the whole Bible would be a great benefit to them as they grew in their understanding of the scriptures. We already read through the Bible with each of our children, but we wanted to take our time going through the Bible in a slower way, focussing on the overarching stories and themes, and in particular how the whole of the Bible is about Jesus.

To do this, I decided on a simple pattern that I would follow: first, reading a chunk, then asking the children some basic comprehension questions to get us thinking about the content of the passage, and as a springboard to further discussions. The children then draw or colour a picture, and write a caption to summarize what we have learned from the passage that day. We have done this for the books from Genesis to Esther, and it works well for these largely narrative sections of the Bible. We have studied Job a little differently, but back in the Psalms I am finding that drawing a picture and writing some key verses from each Psalm has worked well.

A picture from 1 Samuel.

A page of my (unpolished!) notes, selected at random.

A recent picture from the Psalms.

It isn't perfect, and they don't remember everything, but we have had some great conversations and we have seen a gradual growth in their knowledge of God's word. I have found it particularly encouraging to see how excited they get when they see how a passage of scripture points to Jesus. They still love to talk about the parallels in the life of Joseph and the life of Jesus, or how Samson saved God's people as he died.

Although this is a simple format, it still took some time to prepare, and I am glad that it is now ready when I come round to starting this with my younger two in September. I am looking forward to beginning in Genesis again, while continuing in the Psalms with my older two.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Friday Reflections - 2

Friday again; always a relief to make it!

This week has felt a bit uneven; we have had restful days, ordinary days, and busy days. The variety is fun, but I find it all a bit exhausting too.

On Saturday, the children enjoyed a trip to the circus with their grandparents, while Michael and I went for a gentle walk, and visited tea shops for refreshment.

Sunday was particularly busy for me, as I was leading Young Church. It felt a bit disastrous, which is always discouraging - but we press on! We also had church lunch, which was our first church picnic of the year. I forgot to make a meringue for pavlova (not my finest weekend as a pastor's wife...) so cobbled together an Eton Mess. My eldest made profiteroles, which were more successful! In hindsight, getting everything together for Young Church while lightly supervising a ten year old making choux pastry was probably not the best plan.


We didn't work at all on the Bank Holiday, except for piano lessons and swimming lessons, which was very pleasant. Michael took the opportunity to hack back some of the bushes in the garden, while I did a few chores in the home and caught up with my marking and planning, and we all relished a slightly slower day.

Highlights of the week have been enjoying the sunshine, including playing with the guinea pigs.

Feeding Wilma...

...and Pumba
 Remarkably, the clematis we planted last year is flowering at the moment (we are not natural gardeners).


Four of our caterpillars are growing, and are just getting to the chrysalis stage. One is looking a bit small, and I'm not sure it's going to make it.


My eldest has been loving having a hamster recently, and often appears carrying her after he has finished a piece of work. She has recently become much more tame, after a lot of patient handling by my 10 year old.

We also joined with a number of other home educating families to visit the Bank of England Museum. We went round the display, and there were also two workshops, one for the younger children which my 4 and 6 year olds attended, and one for the older children, which I went to with my 8 and 10 year olds. The children really enjoyed the museum, and, I think, learned quite a bit too.

After we came home, my six year old headed off to stay with his grandparents overnight. They have each of the children on their own once a year, and it is a really special time for each of them. He is now back, and full of all the fun he has had with them.

Today, Friday, was our home education group, where we focussed on New Zealand. The children listened to a book about kiwi birds, coloured maps and flags, made fridge magnets of kiwi birds or sheep, and made cupcake sheep too.

My daughter carefully cutting foam to make a magnet.

Sheep Cupcakes

Kiwi Bird Magnet

So, we made it. In all honesty, it hasn't always felt like a great week at times. However, as I look back there have been many good things. More than this, I can see again the sustaining work of God in our lives in the midst of weariness. I have been reading His Love Endures Forever by Garry Williams this week, and this has been a great help to me, as it has brought me to focus on the steadfast love of God. I was particularly struck by a quotation from Robert Murray M'Cheyne about the changelessness of Jesus:
"How sweet, that Jesus ever liveth. He is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness. Then he is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation - a rock rising above the storm."