Friday, 30 September 2016

Friday Reflections - 23

This week we have had a mixture of better and worse days!

Last weekend, the older two boys headed off to Archaeology Club while I took the younger two to the park to watch Michael join in the Park Run before heading off to the playground and the cafe.

Michael also spent some time in the garden with the children. We have huge trouble protecting our crops from squirrels, who have eaten everything from unripe strawberries to the heads of the sunflowers my daughter planted (only one survived!). However, a tiny (!) supply of carrots made it through:

Carrots. Not quite enough to see us through the winter...

We are getting better at covering everything in netting. 

Michael also planted some bulbs with the children. And yes, in spite of the netting, a lot of them were dug up by the next day. Re-planting has happened, and more secure netting added - we'll see what survives. 

Gardening is not a strength in the Peach household - but we hope to improve a little.

We have had some pleasant times this week. The children are still enjoying our nature walks, trips to the park, and our art lessons.

Dragonfly Painting 

Painting in Action

Sketching a Tree

Park Fun

My daughter enjoyed making buns this week too. She enjoys cooking, and is very happy to get her hands mucky with some dough.

Happy Baker

A couple of the children were a bit under the weather this week too; nothing serious, just a bit of a temperature and a bit tired. They had a bit of extra rest, and I cut our work a little short on Thursday, and everyone is recovered now. They have been working pretty hard, so lightening up a little one day was good for them in any case.

On Sunday, my eldest will turn 11, and tomorrow he is having a much anticipated birthday party with a Doctor Who theme. I have spent quite a bit of today baking a Dalek birthday cake (with a cake mould he received as a present last Christmas), so we hope that all will go well tomorrow.

Dalek cake so far...

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Home Education Struggles

Our choice to home educate is something which sets us apart, and which, though it brings many joys, does come with sacrifices. Often, it is difficult to talk about these; perhaps because it is easy to feel that I need to defend our decision not to go the usual route, or because I don't want to talk down something that many can be critical of so easily. If I say to someone that I've had a tough week, the last thing I need is a suggestion that I send my children to school!

However, there are difficulties, and if you are considering home education, it is good to have a realistic idea of what you are getting into. If you are already home educating your children, I am sure that you will have struggled at times, and it is good to know that you are not alone in this.

So, here are some aspects of home education that I find difficult. I'm sure that not everyone will find the same aspects of this life a challenge in the same way, and many of these struggles reveal my particular weaknesses and sins, but here they are none the less.

Identity. Many of my contemporaries with young children (home educating friends aside) have jobs outside the home. Some are part-time, some full-time, but overall I feel in a minority. Many times, I have wished that I could have a better, more respected, label: "doctor" or "lawyer" or "civil servant". Instead, I'm an amateur trying my best at the tricky job of educating children.

Responsibility. The weight of responsibility for my children's well-being lies heavily on me. This is true of all parents - I know that my friends who send their children to school feel the same too - but the added pressure of choosing what to teach and implementing that can feel overwhelming at times. It is only September, and I am already beginning to make mental plans for next year. Even when the day's teaching is done, the term is over, the school year is finished, my brain never switches off from thinking about what we will be doing next with each child.

Time. As with any full-time occupation, teaching your children at home takes up huge chunks of time. This is, of course, a good thing - it is good to be occupied well and profitably. The particular burden is that there is no division between "school" and home, and there can be little respite from the intensity of life with young children - at least not without careful planning.

Weariness. I'm not just thinking about late nights marking books or close-to-the-midnight-deadline shopping orders (though this is certainly part of it), but about repeating "start with the verb" fifty times a day during Latin, or trying to teach my children to eat cake without getting crumbs on the floor yet again. Children need routine and repetition, and it is costly to be committed to being there for the boring bits, day in day out.

As I look back at what I have written, I see my selfishness and my worldliness. The answer doesn't lie in change of circumstances, but in change of perspective.

My identity is in Christ, not in my role. He has called me to himself, and, for this season, to teach and train my children in his ways. I may crave recognition for my gifts, but he teaches me humility.

My responsibilities for my children are significant, but I cannot do what only Christ can do - save them. I know I need to pray more, not worry in an ungodly way, and rely less on my detailed planning.

I think in our culture and our times we feel entitled to time for ourselves, time to fill with idle pleasure. When I think about myself, I can resent the sheer amount of time my children take up. However, I need to look again to Christ, who gave himself for me. He gives me real rest in him if I seek it - better than any number of lie-ins, or quiet hours with a cup of tea and a book that I often long for.

I am weary - but lifting my eyes to Christ refreshes.

I am weary, but serving my children and my family is worth being weary for.

I am weary, but I follow Jesus who calls his disciples to come and die to self, and live for him.

My children - who do bring so much joy!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Friday Reflections - 22

Last Sunday, we celebrated Michael's birthday. The children made a variety of cards with bugs on them, and I produced chocolate cake - which hopefully makes up for the fact the one of the presents I bought for Michael didn't arrive until after his birthday, the other small gifts were wrapped in leftover Christmas paper from last year, and his birthday card was a postcard from the British Museum with a picture of the Codex Sinaiticus on it. With limited free time, I thought he'd like a decent cake most!

Birthday Cake

We are settling into a reasonable rhythm of life this term. One change from last year is the addition of a "marking box" where the children place any completed work which I need to check. In the past, this has happened less regularly than I would like, so knew I needed to fix that this year. It now means that their work is marked daily, and they do any corrections while they still remember the work that they were doing.

We have a fairly full timetable of book work, which is stretching for them. They are meeting the challenge well, though, and working hard to get through all I set them each day. So that we don't get overwhelmed, I make sure that we have sessions each day which are more relaxed, though still profitable.

This includes our nature walks. This week we had a picnic to celebrate the autumn equinox. Sitting, looking, chatting, drawing, drinking hot chocolate; we had a peaceful couple of hours outside the home, which everyone appreciated.


Sipping Hot Chocolate

The children also enjoyed writing with quills and colouring in an illuminated letter as part of our history this week. We used gold and silver paint pens too, which worked well.

Using a Quill

Today we had our home education group meeting, and we were focusing on Greece. We made mini Parthenon models using cake, marshmallows and biscuits. Some children made bookmarks with their names written in Greek, and there was also the chance to decorate plant pots with black markers.

A Finished Parthenon
After the group, we usually go home and collapse for a bit and have a quiet evening, but today we decided we really ought to take our children to buy shoes. All four children have very wide feet, which makes this a more complicated job than it should be. The boys managed to find shoes in the second shop they visited, though I had to take our daughter to three different shops before we could find anything to fit her at all. Job done, though, and it should be a while before we have to go through this again!

Tomorrow is looking like a quiet Saturday for me for a change, so I am hoping to have a bit of time to catch up on a few household jobs, a little bit of planning for the week ahead, and hopefully a little rest too.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Friday Reflections - 21

We are at the end of our second week back this term; we've had walks, work, church evening groups beginning at our house again, and a trip to Legoland.

Our Legoland trip was today. After a week of unseasonably hot days, we managed to pick a pretty damp day for our trip, but we quite like the rain, so that was no problem! Perhaps because of the weather in part, and certainly because it is September in term-time, the queues for rides were extremely short, and the children were able to go on their favourite ones a number of times. All our children are now big enough (and brave enough) to go on everything, and the two older boys are tall enough to be unaccompanied, which meant it was a straightforward trip. We all had a good day out together.

Other highlights of the week included our nature walk again. We went first thing on Wednesday before it got really warm, and spent some time hunting for bugs, and then drawing them.

We continued our bug theme with out art lesson this week. We used the Hungarian Insects lesson from ArtAchieve. This was very well received, and after the lesson, they have been using every break possible to draw more insects. There are now pictures of bugs all over the house.

Another week passed, and I am pleased it has gone well. I am also really tired, and I know I need to make sure that I can sustain my energy levels over the term somehow. Tomorrow, my Mum has the children for a few hours so Michael and I can go for walk together, so I am hoping that we hit next week a little refreshed and ready to go again.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson

We bought On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the first in the Wingfeather Saga, as a birthday present for my 9 year old. I hadn't read book myself, but it had been recommended often by a friend, and it seemed like a good fit for a boy whose favourite book is The Lord of the Rings. He is also incredibly hard to buy for, and special books have gone down well in the past.

He loved it, and proceeded to spend his birthday money and vouchers on the rest of the series. He got his older brother reading it, and they both urged me to read the series too. I'm glad I did! The books had the three of us gripped over the summer. As my son bought them one at a time, we had to wait for them to be delivered, which took much longer than usual (agonising). Once they arrived, we had to take turns reading them, and since I was the last to read the final book, they were banned from talking about it near me in case they gave anything away.

These books are fantasy, and have all exciting elements of that genre: dangerous beasts, fantastic landscapes, battles, monsters, trolls. Toothy-cows were particularly popular in the Peach household. Humour is also a key element, which lightens the book's tone at times, and is appealing to 9 or 10 year old boys.

The story-telling is compelling, both in terms of the plot, and in terms of the central characters. At the beginning, we are introduced to the three children at the heart of the story: Janner, Kalmar (Tink), and Leeli. These brothers and sister live in a small town filled and ruled by the Fangs of Dang, fearsome lizard-like creatures. The children have to flee their town, with their mother and grandfather, and their adventures begin.

The three children at the centre of the story have different gifts and strengths, and also weaknesses. As the tale progresses, we see them grow in character through the hardships and difficulties they face. We also see them make mistakes - sometimes serious ones - and having to both face the consequences, and to learn about forgiveness.

One of the major themes, one that I think is a particular strength, is of a family which loves and serves each other. This is not a tale about children shaking off their parents' help as they learn to manage alone, but of children who learn to take on their responsibilities and duties with the help, guidance and support of their mother, and their grandfather (whose pirate-past means he is a great help in the battles they face!).

Finally, the books are shaped by the gospel. They are written by a Christian, and the children and their family rely on The Maker throughout their trials. Redemption is beautifully illustrated - especially in the final book - and I was sobbing real tears by the end. I want my children to see what it looks like to trust the Lord in every circumstance, to understand that there is hope even when they mess up really badly, to see that it is not weak to rely on and serve others; although they will never meet a toothy cow or a snickbuzzard, they will still need to be strong and brave and kind and selfless as they follow Christ, and it is good to have books which show these characteristics in such an admirable way.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Friday Reflections - 20

First week back at the books this week - and we have survived!

Every family is different, but I find it works for us to start in with a full week while the children are fresh and enthusiastic (for the most part), then lighten the pressure a little when they get increasingly tired as the term goes on. By the end of the school year, they are usually getting through their work quicker too, just because they are more adept at working at that level.

All in all, I think this is probably the best first week I've had since we began, which is encouraging; however, the second week may well be dreadful, which is a scary thought. We managed to get through all I planned, though there was lots to do, and, in general, attitudes were pretty good. My eldest got a bit bogged down in his Latin one day, probably because he's a bit rusty after a summer break, but he cheered up a lot when we broke off for a while to go on a nature walk.

Going for walks each day has been a staple of our routine for a while, but this year we are using Exploring Nature with Children as a guide one day a week. We set off for a local hill which is covered in trees and brambles and plenty of wildlife, bringing our sketchbooks and bags for samples with us. Everyone enjoyed looking for seeds, though my 5 year old daughter was particularly enthusiastic about finding as many acorns as possible. The children all love drawing, and the boys in particular enjoyed illustrating a page in their new nature diaries.

Happy Sketching

My 9 Year Old's Drawing

My 7 Year Old's Drawing

We have also started a Nature Table, following directions from Exploring Nature with Children:

Nature Table

We are still working through The Story of the World, and this week we were reading about the Celts in Britain. The boys remember dressing up as Celts 4 years ago as a highlight of our history programme, so we did it again. This time, our daughter was able to join in too (with relish!).


My husband has continued to teach science to the children. I thought my 10 year old was being silly when he told me that Daddy was going to get them to lift the piano, but it turned out that that was exactly what Michael was doing. This was a memorable experience, and a great visual demonstration of what they were learning about levers.

Lifting the Piano

In the middle of this slightly hectic week, was Bake Off, and I helped my 7 year old make a white cottage loaf for bread week. It tasted great, and he loved making it. Typically, my maths loving boy likes weighing out the ingredients best when he is cooking.

Happy Baker

The Bread

Today was our first home education group meeting. We are in Europe this term, and this week our focus was on Norway. We made Viking shields and brooches, and decorated reindeer cupcakes. The older children met for their book group, and I started up our new book group for younger children. I'm still feeling my way a bit with this, and I think I will be honing the sessions over the next few weeks - though it seemed to go okay.

Finally, in what has been a good and encouraging week, a major highlight for me was teaching my first Classical Greek lesson to my 10 year old. He absolutely loved it, which is not surprising as we are just learning the basics of reading and writing the alphabet at the moment, but it was such fun for me.

Learning to write - Greek alphabet

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Summer Reading Challenge 2016 - The Books

Today we celebrated the the children completing their reading challenges for the summer with a trip to see The BFG at the cinema. The children had all completed their original challenges early, and had been given an extra platinum award to work for each. The cinema trip (a very rare treat for us) was their final prize. Michael and I, however, both only just completed our 8 books each!

I have spent quite a bit of the summer getting ideas of books for them to read - especially the eldest - so I thought I'd list what they read in case it is a helpful resource for others looking for ideas.

Challenges Completed

7 Year Old's Books:

Usborne Reading Series: The Railway Children; Jason and the Golden Fleece; The Wind in the Willows

The Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl

The BFG by Roald Dahl

The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl

The Mighty Slide by Allan Ahlberg

The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson

The Cat who Wanted to Go Home by Jill Tomlinson

Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton

Five Go Adventuring Again by Enid Blyton

Five Run Away Together by Enid Blyton

The Diary of a Killer Cat by Anne Fine

9 Year Old's Books:

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

North or be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson

The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson

Sheepdog in the Snow by Lucy Daniels

Foals in the Field by Lucy Daniels

Tales from China by Cyril Birch

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

More About Paddington by Michael Bond

Celtic Mythology by Fiona MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher

Pool of Fire by John Christopher

When the Tripods Came by John Christopher

The Starlight Barking by Dodie Smith

Gold of the Gods by Bear Grylls

Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo

The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green

Skellig by David Almond

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

The Wandering Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford

Truckers by Terry Pratchett

Diggers by Terry Pratchett

Wings by Terry Pratchett

Ingo by Helen Dunmore

10 Year Old's Books:

William the Fourth by Richmal Crompton

William's Happy Days by Richmal Crompton

William by Richmal Crompton

The Kestral by Lloyd Alexander

Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

The El Dorado Adventure by Lloyd Alexander

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

North or be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson

The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hornblower Goes to Sea by C.S. Forrester

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

When the Sleeper Awakes by H.G.Wells

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Green Ember by S.D. Smith

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff

Truckers by Terry Pratchett

Diggers by Terry Pratchett

Wings by Terry Pratchett

Ingo by Helen Dunmore

The Tide Knot by Helen Dunmore

The Deep by Helen Dunmore

The Crossing of Ingo by Helen Dunmore

Stormswept by Helen Dunmore

Carrie's War by Nina Bawden

Itch by Simon Mayo

Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo

Itch Craft by Simon Mayo

The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie

C.T. Studd by Janet and Geoff Benge

The Owl Service by Alan Garner

One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

The King of Shadows by Susan Cooper

Friday, 2 September 2016

Friday Reflections - 19

Last Saturday, we moved the boys back into their new bedroom. The highlight was a new desk, bought for my 9 year old as a surprise; he was thrilled and had a happy afternoon arranging his belongings on his new shelves. All the boys are very pleased with how their room looks now.

The Finished Bedroom

Most of the week has been a mixture of quieter activities at home. I have been finishing off my summer jobs, and preparing to begin teaching next week. The children have all finished the extra reading challenge we gave to them, and spent time playing at home. We've also been out picking blackberries together, and I have made blackberry and apple jam.

Blackberry & Apple Jam

We also enjoyed our weekly viewing of The Great British Bake Off (except for our daughter - still too young to stay up), and my 9 year old decided he wanted to make a gingerbread pyramid, complete with a sarcophagus inside. It took an entire afternoon, but it worked out well, and he was pleased with how it turned out.

Gingerbread Pyramid

Inside the Pyramid

The highlight of our week was a trip to Whipsnade Zoo. We were particularly keen to visit over the summer holiday period as they have a special display of model dinosaurs, including a brachiosaurus (my 7 year old's favourite dinosaur!). They didn't disappoint!

My 7 year old with a brachiosaurus - very happy!

We also enjoyed seeing the elephants, especially the baby elephant.


The butterflies were stunning.


The bird display was a highlight.

Bird Display

We will back to work on Monday. I have all my books ready, and in many ways I feel ready to get on with it. No doubt there will be ups and downs during the first few days as we all adjust, but we have had a good break, which has provided a chance to rest and recover.