Saturday, 26 November 2016

Friday Reflections - 31

Last Saturday, I spent the day at an Italian cookery course with my mum, my birthday present from her. We cooked and ate some beautiful food, learned some new skills and recipes, and the washing up was done for us. It was a lovely day out, and something of a change from routine.

Osso Buco 


Afterwards, I went home and finished preparing for Young Church by making "ephod biscuits" for an activity - not quite the same level of skill required! I was teaching the later part of the story of Gideon, where he makes a golden ephod which the Israelites worship.

Ephod biscuits (good enough for the activity!)

The rest of the week has been filled with our usual activities, plus a visit for the afternoon from my sister and her two young children. It is fun to have a two year old around, and our children entertained her with the hamster and the guinea pigs.

My 7 year old has also just moved on to 4th Grade maths (for 9-10 year olds), and is still taking it in his stride and loving it. By way of contrast, my 5 year old is on her second week of the same maths lesson, as she really needs to practice some basic skills. Home education is great for both these situations. Incidentally, my 5  year old is actually really encouraged that the more she practices something, the easier it becomes. A little bit of struggle is a good thing in many ways.

Finally, Friday afternoon meant we met for our home education group, where we focused on Russia. I prepared three activities, but the option of making your own Faberge egg was the only one that was chosen! Sometimes it works that way - I can't always predict what will be popular.

My 7 year old's Faberge eggs.
Next week, Advent begins and the build up towards Christmas starts in earnest. We aim to not let things get too manic (though they will be busy) and to keep our focus on Jesus at the heart of all we do.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Children - One-to-One Time

Life at the moment feels pretty full. I guess that's partly due to the circumstances of life at the moment, and partly due to my personality; I have a habit of taking on lots of stuff at once, and making it work by willpower and organisation!

There are strengths to this, undoubtedly, but I also need to be mindful of the danger of turning our family life into a soulless, list-ticking, military operation. I try to harness my love of lists and planning to make sure that we keep the fun. If I write "art" on the timetable, it reminds me to plan an art session. The children have a couple of hours of creativity, and I can still mark something down as completed. Plus, of course, I make sure I actually leave enough time for our project, and that we have the right materials.

Another area that I know could become squeezed is one-to-one time with each child. This is a key opportunity for me to spend time with a child individually, and gives them a chance to have all my attention on them for a little while. It may be a moment for deep conversation, but usually it is just a time to show that child that I really care about them.

This is not easy to do. Our days are full, and, actually, most of our evenings too. One day a week is my husband's day off, but recently we have found these pretty busy - especially for me. I'm sure that many others feel similarly, and that slotting in one-to-one time with individual children is just one more task that is difficult to squeeze in. 

Here are some principles that we loosely follow so that we can manage to make it work:

1) Short and regular is better than infrequent big gestures. This is more realistic, and I find gives more opportunities for those special chats which are so key.

2) Short and realistic is fine! At the moment, I have a "special book" that I am reading with my 5 year old, and another with my 7 year old. It takes an extra 10 minutes a night with each child, but they really look forward to that time.

3) Under promise and over perform. For example, I have told my younger two that their "special book" will be read when I can, while mentally planning to read it every night. This means that they don't feel horribly let down when I can't manage it, and they are extra chuffed if I read a bonus chapter one evening.

4) Share the fun. My husband is currently watching an episode of Dr.Who once a week with our eldest. They both enjoy this equally, and it gives me best part of an hour to get stuff done while knowing that they are having a bit of bonding time.

5) Work together. Our children all love being on their own helping one of us. If my husband has to go to the supermarket or, better still, Pets at Home or Ikea, he will make a child very happy if they can accompany him. My 9 year old will always be happy to help me in the kitchen, and will enjoy any chance just to chat about his favourite books with me while we cook.

6) Be sacrificial. After a long week, a game of Uno may not be my first choice of activity, but it may be a few minutes of fun that is of great value to my daughter.

7) Share interests. Taking a child to a book shop or a museum is a joy - especially one child rather than shepherding four. I have done both these things with my older two occasionally, and they have been good times.

8) Big trips out have their place! They can't realistically be regular - but they create a wealth of happy memories. I took my 9 year old to see the pandas in Edinburgh zoo at the beginning of the year, and he will often walk with me and ask if we can talk about our trip for a while.

9) Look at photos together. Our children all enjoy a bit of time looking through a photo album with one of us - remembering happy times or special places, and talking with us about the good times we have had together. Particularly if one of the children is feeling a little sad, this can be quite a positive activity to do with them, and helps them to chat to us.

10) Everything for a Season. There are times when one child will need a special investment of time, and periods of life when I can't do everything. We do what we can, when we can, and accept that these things will ebb and flow a reasonable amount.

Fun with my daughter!

Spending time with our children is a great blessing for us, and for them. It will deepen our relationships with our children. Furthermore, I find that often it is in these short moments that I will gain insight into a particular need or struggle of a child, or that I will be able to talk to them about the Lord. This doesn't happen every time - most are fairly ordinary - but the more of these brief, special moments there are, the more opportunities there are for discussing the deeper issues of life and of our faith in Jesus. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Friday Reflections - 30

After a week away, I usually plan a full timetable of work. When everyone is rested, then it is a good opportunity to work hard, and still have the energy for getting out and about or doing extra activities.

This week, we have enjoyed our nature walk, looking for lichen then drawing it.

Drawing Lichen

My daughter still considers our Bake Through The Bible sessions one of the highlights of the week. She was very determined to manage as much as possible on her own when we made bread rolls together.

Making Bread Dough

In our history, we have been reading some of the stories from 1001 Arabian Nights, and made snakes as a craft to go with the story of Sinbad in the Valley of the Snakes.

Drawing Snake Designs

A Snake!

This afternoon, we went for a walk with some of the families that attend our home education group. We walked in the woods, had a go on the rope swing, then headed to a local playground for a bit. It is great to see children of a wide spread of ages getting on well and enjoying the outdoors together. 

My older two are currently at the theatre with their grandparents, watching Aladdin. I am pleased that this fits in well with our history this week (by chance, not design!), and they have been very excited about this special trip out. 

We are back into the thick of home life and church life this week; our days have been full, and our evenings too. Christmas planning is beginning in earnest, and I can see a hectic few weeks ahead. I find it all a bit overwhelming trying to keep on top of all the different aspects of life at times, and I am conscious that I need to make sure that I keep depending on the Lord through it all. Otherwise, I will become proud when I keep it together, despair when I fail, as well as a bit grumpy and possibly resentful of those I am trying to serve.

I read Matthew 20 to my daughter tonight, and hearing Jesus' words about his coming to serve, not to be served, and his call for us to have the same attitude was a helpful and timely corrective for me.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Friday Reflections - 29

We returned from our trip to Center Parcs a few hours ago, and are all feeling genuinely refreshed after a few days away together. We've had time to read, to use the swimming pool a lot, to cycle around or go for walks, and to have some extra naps. Perhaps because of all the swimming, most of us have slept better than average, which has been much needed. 

We've also fitted in a bit of bonus maths (Michael's suggestion, which was actually quite well received...).

Holiday Maths

We also went to see the fireworks one evening, which everyone enjoyed.

One lunchtime, we went out for a meal, and my eldest was particularly delighted to be able to eat from the adult menu. He has never been greedy, but his appetite is now bigger than mine by some way...



While we were away, we found out that two of our children, our 9 year old and our 7 year old, have been shortlisted in the Young Games Inventor Competition that they entered, which I wrote about here. They are very pleased with themselves! 

The children all fell asleep in the car on the way home, which is very unusual. I think this is a sign of a good holiday.

Sleepy Peaches

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Fireworks - Memories

Bundled up in hats and winter coats, squeezed in the crowd and pushed to the front by kind strangers, my children watched the fireworks together. One had his hands over his ears, though his enjoyment was evident. My daughter squeezed back to be held by me after a minute or two, then squirmed out of my arms to go to snuggle up with Michael instead.

Gazing up, half-watching the display, half-watching my children, crowds of memories of past fireworks displays pressed in too.

Walking up to watch the fireworks pushing a buggy with our eldest inside, just 5 weeks old. Weary with sleeplessness, though excited to be parents and anticipating the future firework displays our little boy would one day enjoy with us.

I remember as a child refusing to leave the house to watch the fireworks in our back garden as I was terrified of injury after a graphic presentation by a local fireman visiting our school. At about 5 years old, the pictures of burns received by those injured by fireworks had a deep affect that lasted a number of years.

Toffee apples were sold for bonfire night at my primary school. Sticky sweetness that lasted half an evening, followed by the crisp crunch of apple.

Later, I remember going to the display at the local rugby club. Mud everywhere, treacle toffee, the lighting of the bonfire complete with the Guy on top; trying to keep track of parents in the dark; the weary walk home in the evening.

As a teenager, I sometimes went with friends. We'd buy the over priced glow sticks that sensible adults had refused to waste money on when we were younger, and threw ourselves into the fun of the evening.

Our eldest is now 11, and we've had a decade of bonfire nights with our own children. One year, there was a mistake at a Beavers display that Michael took the older two boys to, with a firework going in the wrong direction. They all came home early and scared! This fear continued for the next couple of years. After my childhood fears, I had plenty of empathy for them.

Since we now live on a hill, we've also had plenty of fun together watching fireworks out of the window. Last week, two of the boys were watching together, with the 9 year old reading aloud to the 7 year old about Guy Fawkes.

Watching the Fireworks

Tonight, they were unafraid. Cheerful and enthusiastic, content to watch and chat to each other happily, they are storing up memories, shared family memories, of their own.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Friday Reflections - 28

Next week we are going away to Center Parcs, for a holiday - and we are very much looking forward to getting away for a bit. This week has been a fairly normal week, with a bonus trip to the zoo with some of my family. It was a glorious autumn day, and the children enjoyed playing with their toddler cousins as well as exploring the zoo again.

Going to the zoo on a lovely day.

We celebrated Reformation Day on Monday too, which the children now see as a tradition for every year. I may look for a new book to read next year, though I will have to be organised in advance.

Our 5 year old is still enjoying her cooking each week as we follow the Bake through the Bible book. This week we made cookies with Biblical promises in them to remind us of the promises that God made to Abraham.

Promise Cookies

The children have spent quite a lot of their time making gifts for Yoda the hamster, including a see-saw and a bridge to climb on. Apparently they are planning to make a winter wonderland for hamsters in a cardboard box!

A bridge for a hamster.

This week, I have managed to make our Christmas pudding, and start a new blanket for our 7 year old.

The next blanket.

We finished this week with our home education group, where we focused on Spain. The children made fans, castanets (using paper plates), and biscuits with the Spanish flag design on them.

Spanish flag biscuit.