Monday, 31 October 2016

Celebrating Reformation Day

As we have for the last few years, we have celebrated Reformation Day.

This means we have eaten cake and read a short children's book about Martin Luther - it's good to keep things simple!


What should I do? by Catherine Mackenzie

As we have done this for a few years in a row, it has become a family tradition. Our 5 year old is now quite engaged in the story, and our 11 year old was telling us that he had read a more detailed account of Martin Luther in another book.

Perhaps we'll read that together next year, when the children will no doubt remind us of this tradition again.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Friday Reflections - 27

While most children have been enjoying a half term break, we have been working for some of the time. We are on holiday in about 10 days (yes, we're counting), so we have been getting a bit of work done this week.

The children are still enjoying their daily trips out to get some fresh air, though the older two are often taking books with them.

They found a good reading spot.

We have pressed on with our core work of English, maths, history, Latin and so forth, but we also had time for a more relaxed drawing lesson on Wednesday afternoon. Again, we followed a lesson from ArtAchieve, and the children drew dragons. They really look forward to these lessons, and I found them all drawing more dragons first thing the next day.

Dragon Drawing

On Wednesday evening, we watched the Bake Off final together. My eldest made pumpkin pie. I wouldn't of though of it, but he remembered trying some a couple of years ago and wanted to bake one. It went down very well - and tasted much better than I expected.


Pumpkin Pie

We took Thursday and Friday off. The children are tired, I'm tired, and it seemed like the right thing to do.

They spent time playing games together, or drawing, or building Lego. My 9 year old has completed his board game design for the Brainbox competition that he wants to enter, and, as ever, books have been read.

Settlers of Catan (with a hamster).

I have also managed to finish a crochet blanket, read some books, and make our Christmas cake - so I have some sense of achievement this week!

Finished blanket!

Already in use...
Christmas Cake

The highlight, however, was accidentally discovering an excellent rope swing in one of the woods near us. We all had lots of fun, and I suspect will visit this swing often.

11 year old in action

Yes, I let the children "look after my phone" while I had a go!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Friday Reflections - 26

We ended the week with our home education group, looking at Germany, which is always a positive way to finish our activities.

The children made black forest gateaux by sandwiching cake, cherries and squirty cream.

Black Forest Gateau 

They also made pretzel necklaces to snack on, and had some pictures of German castles to colour.

My daughter with a pretzel necklace. She discovered that she doesn't really like pretzels, hence the expression!

Castle Colouring

On Thursday, we joined other home educators for a trip to the Centre of the Cell. We visited "The Pod", where there were short videos which taught about cells in our body, followed by a chance to play various games which helped the children learn more. The children enjoyed the games, and when we came home they were able to explain some of what they had been learning about to Michael, so it was a good experience.

We then went on to a talk about how the heart works, which was entertaining and clear. The children had a great time, and my 5 year old enjoyed volunteering as a liver for one of the demonstrations.

This visit coincided with Michael beginning to teach the older children about cells in their science lessons, so it fitted in well. They have been using the microscope to examine onion. They also viewed a sample of the pond water we collected last week.

Using the Microscope

After all this my 7 year old has asked what he needs to do to be a scientist when he grows up. He was particularly enthusiastic when I said he needed to keep working at his maths, which he loves.

As well as our usual work, I have started to use a book called Bake Through the Bible with my 5 year old. She is very enthusiastic about cooking and has been asking to do more, and this book has lovely child friendly recipes, and also helps you to go through an overview of the Bible with them at the same time.

This week, we made animal shaped biscuits to remind us of God's creation of the world.

Bake Through the Bible


Cutting out Shapes

They looked good when we put them on the tray:

Looking good!

However, I accidentally put far too much sugar in as I misread the recipe (probably due to teaching spelling to one child and maths to another at the same time). The didn't really hold their shapes:

Not quite as we planned!

We talked about how God's world was exactly how he wanted it -"good" or "very good" - while our biscuits were not quite as we hoped!

For most people, next week is a half term break. We are planning to work on as we are taking a holiday in November. However, I am going to give the children a short week next week as they are very tired, and a couple of extra days off will hopefully give them a bit of a boost. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Brainbox Young Games Inventor 2016

Board games are a staple of family life here, so last year my eldest had great fun designing a board game to enter for the Young Games Inventor competition. He makes board games as a hobby anyway, so this was an ideal chance for him to think of a new one. His entry (an Ancient Egypt inspired game) was shortlisted, which he was really excited about.

This year, all three boys have decided to enter the Young Games Inventor 2016 competition.

My youngest has completed and submitted his dinosaur game:

My 7 year old's dinosaur game.

My older two are still working on their entries. My 11 year old is making a game about caring for hamsters, and my 9 year old is creating a space themed board game.

My 11 year old's hamster game.

My 9 year old's space game.

The deadline for entries is 1st November, so there is still time for any board game enthusiasts to enter!

Friday, 14 October 2016

Friday Reflections - 25

This time last week, I was pretty weary after a full few days, and facing an even busier week ahead. This evening, I can look back and be glad that it was much better than I anticipated. Yes, I was, perhaps, a little over ambitious in my planning of what I could fit in, but we have had a generally successful week. No one was sick, which always helps, and we also tried to plan in some family time to take the pressure off us a bit.

Last Saturday I attended a training event for Sunday School teachers. I wanted to go, but didn't want to go, as is so often the case when I have so much on. However, it was a very helpful day, where we spent a lot of time in the Bible and thinking about how to faithfully teach the Bible to children. I came away with fresh ideas and enthusiasm for my Young Church responsibilities.

In addition to our usual work pattern this week, Michael and I took the children on a late afternoon walk along the Thames. It was well worth taking the time out of a busy week to spend some time together, and to get outside. We discovered some great playgrounds along our walk, so I plan to take the children back along the same walk again soon, but with more time to stop and play along the way.

A  Good Walk

The children had fun making sand pictures for our history activity this week.

Sand Pictures

We also went for a nature walk by a pond for our studies this week. We have a jar of pond water waiting for us to get round to looking at samples of under our microscope.

This Week's Nature Walk Spot

Happy Drawing

We've ended the week with my eldest going off to spend a couple of days with his grandparents, which he has been really looking forward to. I took the rest of the children for an afternoon in the park with their friends, which was a happy end to the week.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Friday Reflections - 24

As I look back at the week, there have been a mixture of highs and lows, laughter and tears. All the children are a little weary, as am I. I have been more snappy than I should be, and that hasn't helped.

The Lord, however, is faithful and there in the midst of sadness and frustration, and there in the funny moments and happy times.

As a parent, the hardest times often come when helping the children to grow up living for the Lord, and acting rightly. Day in day out discipline and prayer and hard work is weary, and often frustrating, work. It's been a tough week on that front.

We also celebrated a birthday at the beginning of the week, as my eldest turned 11. He had his friends round for a Doctor Who themed birthday party on the Saturday, and we celebrated his actual birthday more quietly on Sunday with presents before church. He had a great time, and we survived a party full of very excited children!

The Birthday Boy

Dalek Cake

On a less cheerful note, one night this week our 5 year old appeared in our room at 2 am and threw up all over the floor. I cleaned her up, my husband cleaned the carpet thoroughly. One now fairly perky 5 year old went back to sleep. Half an hour later, our 7 year old did pretty much the same thing, though he managed to be sick over a much larger area of the house!

Hideous though this was, we are grateful that both of them had made a complete recovery by mid morning the next day, and no one else was struck down. The children had a day off work (though I got them to watch a nature documentary, just to make sure that we were still doing some education...).

Before the sickness hit, I decided that a day at the zoo was needed, as the children are genuinely quite tired. We had a lovely day. The zoo was quiet, and we discovered a couple of sections that we haven't visited before, including a farm area where you can stroke the goats. This was very popular.

A goat!

By this morning, everyone was back to strength, and able to have a normal Friday's work. We normally have a slightly lighter workload on Friday, so this was about right. This afternoon we had our home education group meeting, and we focused on Lithuania. We enjoyed a fantastic presentation about this country presented by a Lithuanian family who are members of our group, enjoyed Lithuanian snacks provided by the same family, and had a couple of craft activities.

The older children voted for which they thought were the best science books, concluding their work as a judging panel for the Young People's Book Prize, and the younger book group enjoyed discussing Emil and the Detectives, albeit with a couple of games thrown in to keep the children attentive.

We've made it to the end of the working week. I have a busy day tomorrow at a training event for Sunday school teachers, and Sunday will be fairly full as ever. The week after that looks unusually busy. Right now, this feels pretty daunting off the back of a difficult few days.

Hard as that feels, it also reminds me again to lean on Christ, to entrust the week to Him, to serve my family in his strength.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Home Education - The Best Bits

Last week I wrote about some of the aspects of the home educating life that I find more tricky. It hasn't been the easiest of weeks in some ways: two of our children have been sick, I have had other discouragements which have made me feel a little down. However, in spite of all this, perhaps because of this, it is good to reflect on some of the bits of our current life that I personally find the most uplifting.

Stroking goats: One of many highlights of home education.

Freedom. I love being able to choose what we teach, unrestricted by the national curriculum, but governed by what we think is best for our children. I enjoy taking days out to the zoo or afternoons at the museum when we feel like it, or when it fits in with what we are doing. Each day we go for a walk, and I watch the children collecting leaves, or running up the steep hills where we live, or climbing through brambles to look for a good spot for a den, or learning to propel themselves on the swings in the playground. The fact that I can do this daily is a highlight.

Happy Learning. Watching a child be enthusiastic about what you are teaching is great fun. Of course there are plenty of times where they just slog through stuff that needs be mastered (though that's okay too - they still find this satisfying), but there are also regular moments when they are unashamedly excited about what they have to do. This varies - sometimes it is art or science; for my 7 year old, it is maths, for my 5 year old it is cooking. At the moment, my 11 year old is loving Greek, which I am thrilled about.

Sibling Friendships. There are times when they don't get on, but they are great company for each other most days. They enjoy our walks more because they can play some elaborate make-believe adventure together; they take pleasure in a younger sibling reading a book that they have always loved for the first time; they argue, but make up quickly; they learn to repent and to forgive.

Community. Though I can feel isolated at times as a home educator, many other times I draw strength from others who are in the same boat, who know first hand the struggles, and who offer wise words when times are tough. Trips out with friends are fun for me as well as for the children, and there are many opportunities for us to meet up with other families for activities or trips out, or for our home education group.

Conversation. Chances to chat throughout the day are very precious. Though there are times when I would love a moment of quiet, the fact that I am the first to know when a child has been moved by a book so much they almost cried, or when they have just thought of another terrible pun. I love it when they hear the news on the radio and we have a long discussion about conflict in Syria or politics in Westminster. I enjoy snuggles on the sofa or random chats on the bus.

Bible. The key reason that we chose to home educate at all is so that we could have a Christ centred approach to education. Rarely do I feel that we come even close to what I would like this to look like, but, nonetheless, our children open their Bibles a number of times a day, and we often have the privilege of seeing them grasp a truth for the first time, or listening to them pray about what they have read. When I am weary, this is immensely uplifting.

Books. I love to read, and sharing this pleasure with our children has been an absolute delight. I remember reading  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my eldest for the first time, and seeing just how gripped he was by the story when he heard it; what fun to see your children fall in love with stories that shaped your childhood. We've also discovered new books together, and had lots of fun reading them and chatting about them together.

This is not a list of the greatest benefits of home education for the children - there is much more that I could write about that - just a brief reflection on some of the best bits for me, personally: the things that make me smile when I've wanted to cry all day, or which cheer me up when I am otherwise discouraged, or which give me the boost to keep going when I'm wondering why I'm attempting to teach my children each day.