Thursday, 30 April 2015

April Read Alouds

We've had a bit of a Roman theme to our read alouds linked with coming to the end of the much loved Veritas self-paced history course on New Testament, Greeks and Romans.

Hostage Lands by Douglas Bond was one of the books in the historical literature part of the course. I've written about this book before.

We have just finished Hostage Lands and started the beautiful book by Simonetta Carr on Athanasius
which fits so well with the Veritas week about the Council of Nicea. Our reading is a bit behind so we have just started the book as we finished the history about the Council. It shouldn't really matter.

My husband reads to the children, in the evening, and has also been reading a Roman book: Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece. Younger Daughter tells me that this has been one of her favourite books so far, this year.

This year, we have read several Patricia St John books. This month, we read the lovely  Treasures of the Snow set in Switzerland and definitely one of her best books. Younger Daughter prefers Rainbow Garden but I'm torn between the two. Patricia St John seemed to understand what was going on in children's hearts and minds and produced real classics in the area of Christian children's literature. I discovered that we had a lesser known St John book on our shelves: Where the River begins. We are currently reading this story of a sad little boy from a troubled background.

 I've realised that I need to read more to Youngest Son. He was having plenty of read aloud time but this seems to have slipped a bit. He does listen in to some of the books but I need something that will really engage a six year old boy. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Famous Five and Adventurous Four have been very successful but he doesn't like the Secret Seven which is a shame as we have loads of these titles! Recommendations are gratefully received.

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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Ten Questions about Home Education

A friend of a friend recently asked some questions about home education. Several of these questions are those that interested me before I started to home educate and that other people have also asked me so, with permission, I have copied my answers here.

1.     What were the most important reasons you decided to home school?
 We started to home educate because we were concerned that the children were being taught from a secular humanist viewpoint; not a Christian worldview and not from a neutral position. I have written more about our decision here.

2.     What syllabus/curriculum(s) do you use/have you used? Would you recommend them?
We are eclectic Christian home educators so we use a mixture of curriculum.
Something that works well for one family may not work well for another. I guess that you are interested in curriculum for younger children so won't bore you with IGCSE choices.

We loved Five in a Row which is a literature based curriculum for young children. Basically, a picture book is read each day for five days and activities done from this. The books tend to be some of the best US children's books but there is a UK home educator who writes similar studies on UK books. She writes at Branch Out World. 

We read aloud extensively: Five in a Row books, picture books, chapter books (when they are ready) and poetry. 

We currently use Dancing Bears for phonics which is parent friendly and easy to use but like many phonics programmes not especially exciting. 

Initially, we do a fair amount of maths around everyday situations. Having a family of eight and frequent visitors leads to many simple addition and subtraction sums. We also use board games such as some of those from Orchard Games and Sum Swamp. The latter has sometimes been played daily. I now use the materials from Centre in Maths Innovation for my six year old but we have also used Mousematics (part of Mothers' Companion which can be obtained from Conquest books). 

We have used many other resources over the years and for different ages. We have some Bible memory work going most of the time and work on learning hymns that we sing in church, alongside a reading from the Bible or a Christian book. 

Our younger children do a fair amount of art. We have found the Usborne First Book of Art to have helpful ideas and there are loads of art ideas on the internet. We also try to make sure that they have exercise most days. This might be running in the park, using a scooter or bike or having swimming lessons.

3.     Have you ever had any concerns your kids aren’t “socialised” enough and how have you dealt with ensuring they are? How do you deal with negative comments from parents/friends about homeschool (you’re depriving your kids etc)?
Having had children in school and children at home, it seems, to me, that they tend to have the same number of friends. What I mean is that when children are in school they tend not to be friends with the whole class but with a smaller number. I do think that the children need opportunities to be with other children but that the artificial school year becomes less important. My home educated children have friends of various different ages. 

I don't really worry about socialisation but I do try to ensure that the children see plenty of other people. What does this look like in practice?

Yesterday: the children went to church and Sunday School. We go to a big church so they have plenty of friends there.
Today: One child had a science tutorial with a couple of other children. The younger children had lunch and a time outside with another home educating family and later in the afternoon went to their swimming lesson.
Tomorrow: We are due to have a child to play in the afternoon.
The rest of the week continues in a similar vein but I won't bore you with details.

Opposition is a real issue especially at the beginning. We made a decision that we would explain once to the naysayers but wouldn't try to convince them beyond that. Ultimately, we weren't going to convince them and wanted to be able to continue to have a relationship with them. There are stories around about such people coming round to thinking that home education is the best thing since sliced bread. This won't necessarily happen.

4.     Are you a part of any home-schooling network (formal or informal) and are they helpful?
We go to a couple of Christian home education groups. Yes, it is helpful to meet with other families. The children need to know that other people home educate too and it is useful, as a mother, to talk to others who are sympathetic to the decision to home educate and know what it is like to be in the trenches. It can be as useful to meet with other families informally.

There are also some helpful on-line groups particularly, the Yahoo group Deut6v7 and the Facebook group, Christian Home Educators UK.

5.     Can you give an estimate of how much home educating costs you annually per child?
This is a surprisingly difficult question. We definitely spend most on our 14 year old who has several tutors for IGCSE work.

Another complicating factor is that our home education expenses include items such as swimming lessons and piano lessons. It is likely that we would pay for these if our children were in school. I also tend to throw in books that I buy the children, again, we purchased books for our children who were in school. It isn't always easy to know where formal home education ends and life begins.
Probably the biggest expense, for us, was that I stopped paid employment. 

At the beginning, my husband was setting up his business and we made the decision that we would prioritise spending on home education above having a family holiday. Thankfully, in recent years, we have been able to have both.

6.     How do you cope with home-schooling multiple children (different age groups, looking after babies etc)?
 This has become easier as time has gone on. When we started home education, we had an eight year old, a two year old and a three month old baby. I found that I needed to plan activities for the two year old but initially, the baby slept as we worked. As the baby grew into a very active toddler, we had probably the most challenging time. I have tended to begin the day, after Bible reading and prayer, with reading to the youngest. When I had a one year old, three year old and nine year old, I would read to the little ones first while the nine year old got on with some independent work. The three year old tended to play but the one year old needed a fair amount of occupation. Having a list of activities, toys for the little ones in the same room and doors that the littlest couldn't open helped. 

7.     How do you manage everything else inside and outside the home that needs to get done in the week (household chores, cooking, running errands etc)?
Probably, for us, some of the greatest challenges are around taking Grandma to medical appointments. As far as possible, I try to make these for the holidays or after we have finished working for the day. My husband works from home so I can sometimes leave the children while I take Grandma. If they have to be left in work time then I try to leave something easy to do, perhaps an on-line educational activity. There were times, when they were younger, when they had to come. I tended to take bags of books and read aloud.

Everything else, hmm, my house isn't best tidy or clean. I try to have a load of washing ready to go on the line first thing in the morning and put another load on. Cooking happens because we have to eat! The children like to cook with me.

 When we first started home education, I thought that we would have an hour for lunch, like in school. I hadn't remembered that school teachers aren't the cook and clearing up lady and don't have to feed and change the baby. For several years, we had a quiet reading time after lunch which worked well and probably should be reinstituted.

I try to run as few errands as possible. We shop on line as much as we can and try to do the rest on Saturdays or at the end of the afternoon.

8.     Does anyone else have any input with home schooling your kids (dad/tutors/part-time schooling)? If so, to what extent?
 My 14 year old has several tutors. Most of these come from our church. This has meant that we have been able to have choices around, for example, books studied in English literature. The younger two have swimming lessons. One has piano and art lessons.

9.     Do you ever get any me-time?! Have you at any point felt out of your depth? Have you any regrets?
It depends what you mean by me-time.

It is important to make time for personal devotions. I also find time for a cup of tea, often with a book, when we finish for the day. My husband kindly takes the children to the children's weeknight meeting at church and often takes the children out on Saturday mornings.

Yes, I do sometimes feel out of my depth-not really academically although there are things that I can't teach (swimming/sign language). Often, my patience is tested. Yes, I regret not being more patient when the children struggle to understand something that seems easy to me. Sometimes working out why something is difficult to a child can make me feel out of my depth.

Taking a child out of school was also a difficult step for all of us. Home education has been much easier for the children who have never been to school. 
The text My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Cor9v12 has kept me going on many occasions.

10. What are the top 3 best things (for you) about educating from home?
-Being able to talk to the children about the Lord.
-Seeing a child learn to read particularly, when this hasn't been an easy process.
-Educational trips.

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You may also like to look at my page on UK Home Education Resources.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The Bible is God's Word-the Evidence

I was delighted to be able to review a children's book about the Bible. The Bible is God's Word: The Evidence has been written by Catherine MacKenzie and is an overview of the structure and claims of the Bible. It is important that children understand why the Bible is important, how it is different from other books and how its claims stack up.

The chapters cover themes from God's Plan, who wrote the Bible, inspiration, structural unity and unity of the two Testaments. Issues such as supposed contradictions; prophecy and archaeology and the Bible are covered.

The chapter on prophecy detailing some of the prophecies about the Lord Jesus and His life on earth from the Old Testament was particularly striking. The archaeological evidence was also fascinating including some details of customs as well as actual discoveries. 

The book is presented by a fictional Librarian who uses a conversational style. There are also evidence and fact boxes in the text.

I used this book to read to my six and eight year olds. We read a chapter each morning and had a very short discussion about what we had read. The book states that it is suitable for reading to 6-7 year olds and for 7-11 year olds to read to themselves. This assessment seems reasonable although this is the type of book that benefits from being read and discussed.

This book is recommended. It is easy for children to learn about the Bible in a piecemeal way. It is helpful to cover this important topic in a systematic way.

The Bible is God's Word is available from Christian Focus for £5.99.

I was provided with The Bible is God's Word for the purpose of this review. The opinions are my own. I was not required to provide a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way

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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Shakespeare Resources for Children

Shakespeare Week led to one of my children wanting to know more about some of the plays. We have used two resources to help with this but I have looked at a couple more in order to explore the plays in more depth.

The Shakespeare Stories
These are short paperbacks by Andrew Matthews and illustrated by Tony Ross. Each book can be read aloud in a sitting and are also suitable for early readers. I don't have a complete set of all of these books but there are 15 in all-a play per title. Each book also has notes about Shakespeare and the Globe and about a feature of the particular play.
It was these books that really piqued my daughter's interest.

Mr Shakespeare's Plays and Bravo, Mr William Shakespeare
Marcia Williams wrote these in her usual comic strip style. These are popular with my children but not easy to read aloud. Each book covers seven plays. These books are particularly attractive to flick though and a big bonus, are available in our local library.

Shakespeare Stories
This book is by Leon Garfield and is a step up from the previous two: the tales are longer and contain more real quotes. This book covers 12 plays but there is also a second volume which I haven't seen covering a further nine plays. I plan to read Shakespeare Stories, with my daughter, when we start to look at a play in more detail.

Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare

These are two much older books and are available free from the Guttenburg Press. They date from 1807 and were written by Charles and Mary Lamb, a brother and sister team. They are a little dated. The preface talks about boys being generally permitted the use of their fathers' libraries at a much earlier age than girls are, they frequently have the best scenes by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book; and, therefore, instead of recommending these Tales to the perusal, of young gentlemen who can read them so much better in the originals, their kind assistance is rather requested in explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest for them to understand.
Aside from the preface, Lamb covers more plays than the other volumes and is free. Each tale is longer than in the first two sets of books but shorter than in the Garfield.

Have you used these children's Shakespeare resources? Would you recommend any others?

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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Sandwich Generation-are we Kidding Ourselves?

While I was preparing the lunch, I listened to part of a call in to You and Yours about people who care for adults and children in their family. This is now available on iPlayer. Like many others, I fit into the definition of the Sandwich Generation-we care for an older relative and have children at home.

Yes, it is busy. There isn't much free time. Many people have children, a job outside the home and an older relation for whom they care. Yes, it can be stressful but we are kidding ourselves if we think this is new. The past was a bit different in that there were more children (think-more work and more help); fewer domestic conveniences (think-no washing machine), fewer women working outside the home but less access to care workers for the ordinary family.

There are two sides of the coin: the caring family that is there to help out. We all want that. On the other hand is the hard work and often, stress. 

Perhaps, my generation thought that we could get out of this. I remember, as a child, hearing people talk about the welfare state caring for older people. But God's Word always applies-it is easier to see this now as it is so obvious that the system can't provide for all of our needs. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the welfare state and that there is basic care for older people without families. However, its provision for the elderly doesn't set the solitary in families. 

We don't have to do all the hands on care ourselves. The woman in Proverbs 31 had other people to help. Still, the family is responsible (1 Timothy 5) and we need to be prepared to care for our older family. We learn about caring for our children but rarely for our older folk. 

Perhaps, our major problem is that we aren't prepared for our relatives to become frail. Yet, whilst some people are still working into their 90s, there are  others who will have to have almost everything done for them to maintain their dignity.

How can we be ready?

  • We need to be aware of the fact that parents and other family members are getting older and at some point we may have to help. That help may be a number of forms: supporting them in their own home, having them to live in our home or helping them find, move into and support them within a care home.

  • While people are well, we can discuss their wishes. If they had to go into a home, where would they want to go? Would they like to live with the family? Would they like to be in a Christian home? Have they visited it? It may be strange having this discussion with someone who is fit and well but this is the easiest and best time for the conversation. 

  • We need to prepare ourselves. God has made us to serve. This may involve the less than glamorous helping of someone who is older to live a happy and fulfilled life. 

  • Talk to those who are already caring. There are plenty around! I was greatly encouraged by an older lady, now in Glory, who had had a large family, a job, was busy in church life and a carer for an older relative. Just knowing that she had managed, was a help but when I asked her how she had survived those years, her reply was By God's grace. There are many things that carers need but none so much as God's grace. 
Please join the conversation. Are you part of the sandwich generation?

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Thursday, 9 April 2015

Reading Schemes for Struggling Readers

Some children seem to learn to read effortlessly but for others, reading is one of the most difficult things they have to do. I have posted before about some pluses and minuses of reading schemes for home educators. This post is about reading schemes for children who find reading challenging or who are likely to find reading difficult. I mean children who have
  • siblings/parents with dyslexia/reading/spelling difficulties
  • speech challenges

I'm no expert just a home educating parent in the trenches!

This isn't about getting advice as to why a child is having difficulty although for peace of mind and help to know the extent and nature of a child's difficulties, it may well be wise to have a formal assessment.

Anyway, onto schemes. I have only had experience of the first two but have added the other two as these may be useful for comparison. These are reading schemes not spelling schemes.

Toe by Toe
Toe by Toe is a UK produced book for parents, teachers and anyone else working with children with dyslexia and other reading problems. It is designed to be used by the non-specialist and starts right from the beginning, with the letter sounds. It is not designed to be used as an initial reading scheme for a 4-5 year old and is recommended for children 7+ and has been used with adults who need a remedial scheme.

Toe by Toe is pedantic and insists on being used as instructed in the book. Everything has to be read correctly three times with each reading being 24 hours apart. There is loads of practice including nonsense words. The book is logical and structured. Yes, and it seems to work. The book claims to work for dyslexic people who improve "toe by toe" and the book does what it says on the label. The time to complete the book varies but one year is said to be about average.

The book is designed to be used for 15-20 minutes a day. I don't use a timer but we work for that sort of length of time.

  • The book works and doesn't assume that a child has understood or can read better than they actually can.
  • Slow and systematic. No introducing of three concepts in a day. 
  • There is space for extra practice where a word is causing trouble.
  • Toe by Toe isn't exciting. It works but it is daily drill. We use it after I have read a book aloud and before we do some collaborative reading. Keeping up interest seems to be almost as important as working on the mechanics.
  • The book is consumable. I would beware of a second hand book unless it is absolutely unmarked.
  • The font isn't large. It might be wise to make sure that eyesight has been checked first.
At £25 Toe by Toe seems expensive but for children who may otherwise need tutors, this is a small price to pay. One lesson with a tutor might outweigh the cost of the book.

Dancing Bears is part of a series of books from Sound Foundations Books.

This publisher produces a variety of books for teaching reading. Dancing Bears is where I would start if I were teaching another child to read and is designed for young children. This part of the series can be used for children with and without a specific learning difficulty.

 Dancing Bears works systematically through synthetic phonics and CVC words but does assume knowledge of letter sounds.

Other parts of the series include Bearing Away which is a manual to use with children with learning difficulties who haven't learned basic letter sounds and Bear Necessities which is the "industrial strength" version of Dancing Bears. 

The authors of these books (I imagine specifically Bear Necessities) claim that they will work for children for whom Toe by Toe works less well. According to them, these are low-ability pupils, younger children, and pupils with more severe learning difficulties. 
Dancing Bears only uses real words although some are fairly obscure! I find that my children prefer real words to random nonsense words.
I've only used Dancing Bears but this includes daily phonics practice, gradual introduction of new sounds, plenty of word practice, some rather zany stories and use of a cursor so that a child has to read letters in the correct sequence.
Dancing Bears A costs £18. Books B and C cost £15. The set can be purchased for £47.

This is US based programme devised by the home educating mother of a child who has dyslexia. It is also used by many people whose children do not have reading difficulties as it can be taken at any pace. This book is suitable for young children learning to read.
I haven't used this programme although we do have its companion All about Spelling. All about Reading was a main contender when we chose Toe by Toe.
All about Reading is multi-sensory and also builds in plenty of review. There are accompanying readers. 
It is rather more expensive than Toe by Toe but would be a better choice for a child learning to read from scratch. Several components are necessary to use the scheme: Interactive kit, Teacher's and Student manual and readers.
It can be purchased, in the UK, from Conquest Books. 

I haven't seen this book but this is designed for use in adult literacy. The book is said to be suitable for learners from 8 to 80 and uses a phonics based programme. Again, this is designed for the non-specialist. Children have used this book to teach their parents or other children.
Yes, we can read costs £35.

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Monday, 6 April 2015

April Inspiration

Yesterday was Easter Sunday. 
Why seek ye the living among the dead? 
Luke 24v5
Today was warm and felt like Spring. I've planted some vegetables although whether they germinate remains to be seen! 

As always, I have a large pile of books to read and a home that is littered with books. As a home educator, I would like my children to love reading too. Recently, I came across this post about establishing a reading culture in the home. 

If you have a child who is learning to read and finds sitting still challenging, then this post about Hands-On Activities for Beginning readers is for you.

 Marianne Sutherland has produced another must read article about Best Spelling apps for Children with Dyslexia. 

I can't quite bring myself to do this activity, yet, as it involves play dough made out of sugar but do take a look at these circuits made out of play dough. Does anyone else find the thought of stickly play dough made from sugar rather off putting?

While we were away recently, we discovered some lovely colouring postcards from Johanna Bashford. They are sold as adult colouring books but we have found them ideal for children who love colouring. The gallery features inspirational colouring.

Last, I've recently found a new UK Christian home educator's blog: An Island Family by Grace. This comes from a family who have just moved to a Scottish island. Posts include frugal living, home education in Scotland and moving. 

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Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss.
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the cross of Christ my God,
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet.
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Isaac Watts

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Three Read Aloud Series

Reading aloud seems to just increase. Currently, I read aloud in the afternoon and at bedtime. Sometimes, we squeeze some extra reading in at the end of the morning. Train journeys are also prime read aloud time. The children also persuade my husband to read to them every evening. 

These are three sets of books that have won approval recently. 

The Jake books by Nick and Annette Butterworth.
These are short chapter books about a mischievous dog and his owners. Right, and Jake, always prevail! These are great for children who are just starting to read chapter books, and my initial intention was for Younger Daughter to read these, until her brother decided that he wanted to hear them read aloud. We have found some of this series in the local public library.

Shakespeare stories by Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross.
Again, very short books but with a synopsis of a Shakespeare play. The books only have one or two quotes from the actual plays but have generated interest in seeing the plays.

Patricia St John books
I suppose that strictly speaking these are not a series but a set of books for children by a Christian author. We have devoured Rainbow Garden,
Tanglewood Secrets and are currently reading Treasures of the Snow. I have to admit to pulling out my copy of Twice Freed, a story based around the Biblical character Onesimus and rereading this. When a friend lent us Treasures of the Snow, I read it through within a day or two. I had to check it was suitable! Hmm, I don't think my daughter was taken in. 
All the books that I have mentioned, except Twice Freed, are ideal for children from about 6 and above. Twice Freed is aimed at a slightly older audience. I would guess about 10+.

I love to know about different books and series which we will enjoy. Please share.

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