Thursday 8 March 2012

Interview with Jennie Chancey

I am delighted that Jennie Chancey has agreed to be interviewed. Jennie is the wife of Matt, home educating mother of ten and last year relocated to Kenya. She runs Sense and sensibility Patterns selling patterns for historical, wearable clothing and also  Ladies against feminism which is dedicated to publishing a thoughtful and Biblical response to feminism and to encourage women in their God-given roles. She has co-authored Passionate housewives Desperate for God.
Jennie is a friend and we look forward to her rather too infrequent visits to the UK. She is always a great fund of book ideas and has kindly given some book recommendations as part of this interview.

 Jennie, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Moving across continents must have been an enormous change for you and your family. Which differences have you noticed most? How do you think that those of us who live in the West can learn from Kenya?

I actually have to say that the move was about the smoothest we've ever had, even with two 8-hour flight legs, nine children, and 56 trunks plus carry-ons! We had a lot of people praying for us, and it just couldn't have been a better trip. I think God prepared us for this move for many years, as we'd moved before for Matt's work, and we've always whittled down our possessions with each move. I'm such an anti-pack-rat that I enjoy seeing stuff go to the charity shop! Once we were over jet lag, we just settled right into life here, aided by several friends who already lived here and had fantastic tips for where to get fruits and veggies, where to shop for staples, where to look for permanent housing, etc. I am so thankful for those wonderful friends and their assistance, as it made a very smooth transition for us.

Kenya is a beautiful country, and Nairobi's climate is amazing. The weather is perfect year 'round, even when the rains come. The children love being outdoors, and back in Alabama, that wasn't really possible for much of the year (March to October!) with the extreme heat and humidity. They have thrived here, climbing trees, riding bikes, and exploring all the amazing animal life. It's really incredible to be able to visit baby elephants and feed giraffes on a day out! The biggest differences from the US are the things we just took for granted back home--like all the nicely paved roads and traffic laws that people actually obeyed! Roads are potholed and narrow here, and Kenyan drivers take risks people would never take in the States (like driving down the sidewalk when the street is jammed!). This is, after all, the "developing world," and roads are still fairly primitive. But we manage to get around, so I have nothing to complain about.

One lovely facet of life here is that Kenyans value people and relationships to a very high degree. When someone meets you on the street, they will stop, ask after your family, talk to your children, comment on last Sunday's sermon, or whatever. Kenyans love, love, love to visit. We have enjoyed having a constant stream of people in our home, and the children always ask who's coming over. There's also no such thing as "hurrying" in Kenya, because that is equated with being worried or stressed. I thought we were pretty laid back in the States, but I've learned to let go of many things that just aren't crucial and enjoy an even slower pace of life. I think that's something I needed to learn. Even when we are committed to not over-scheduling, we tend to get too busy too easily. Here it is much easier to slow down and smell the roses, which is wonderful. And, of course, we've become so much more aware of how richly blessed we are. There's not a lot of in-your-face poverty in the States unless you live in the inner city. Here we see it almost daily, and it isn't something you can just ignore or pass over. So that has motivated us to find ways to serve the poor through projects like teaching sewing classes to ladies in the Kibera slum, having our older boys mentor young boys in the slum, doing food deliveries for orphanages, etc. This has been good for all of us.

 Can you tell us a bit about Matt’s work and what you are doing in Kenya?

Matt has been on the board of directors for the Persecution Project Foundation ( for about 12 years and has worked with them in Sudan since 2005. PPF digs wells (, provides pastor training, brings in medicine and other relief supplies to refugee areas, and raises awareness of the ongoing genocide in the Nuba Mountains ( and other areas through press releases and even personal testimony before the US Congress. Right now PPF is in the middle of building a training center in the Jebel-Lopit Mountains of Eastern Equitoria that can be used for conferences, farm training, entrepreneurial start-ups, etc. The idea is to come alongside the South Sudanese and support what they are already doing in their own country. One example is a greenhouse project that aims to help families run their own farms, learn to preserve seeds, and grow what will feed their own people. In all of this, the gospel is shared with the Sudanese (including providing Arabic Bibles to Muslims there).

Besides PPF, Matt also works with some fantastic pastors and businesses here in Kenya, promoting entrepreneurship and the household economy model. It's a delight to be able to do this as a family now that we live here year 'round. We're excited to see what doors God opens this year!

 I know that you and Matt were home educated and also home educate your children. Was deciding to home educate your children difficult? What have you learnt in your home education style by being a second generation home educator?

There actually wasn't any "decision" to home educate, as both Matt and I were home educated and knew that was exactly what we wanted to do from the start. My mother was also home educated while growing up on the mission field in Brazil, so I'm a third-generation homeschooler, which is a great heritage. Home education is a lifestyle for us--not just an educational choice. We are both so thankful our parents chose home education and gave us the tools for lifelong learning. My mother started out doing "school-in-a-box" (from a national correspondence school) with my brother, sister and me, since she and Dad wanted to be sure they covered the state obligations. But as the years went by, they realized we didn't fit into boxes, as each child had a totally different learning style! So they relaxed more and more as the years went on and tailored our studies to address our weaknesses and build on our strengths. Our key focus was reading (history, literature, biography, etc.), and Dad taught us to write and revise. Dad also directed our history studies and held dinner table discussions. Mom helped us learn critical thinking and how to evaluate what we were reading. Mom has often said that education boils down to three things:

1. Teach them to read;
2. Teach them to think;
3. Teach them to communicate.

And all of this is to be done for the glory of God. The goal is to discipline our minds and apply them to learning the truth and communicating it clearly. We want to give our children a passion for learning that doesn't stop when they get a piece of paper saying they have "finished."

 As a home educator, I am fascinated by other people’s days and often “borrow” ideas. Can you give us an idea of how your days run?
Well, no two days are exactly alike, but we do follow a rough outline to keep things sane. ;-) Here's a basic "day-in-the-life" for you:

7:30am: Cook breakfast, set table

8am: Eat breakfast while Matt reads from the Bible.

8:30am: Children do "morning chores" (making beds, dressing, brushing teeth, straightening rooms)

9:00am: Children gather in the dining room to get started on book work. I sit between two of the youngest (my 5-year-old twins) while they do their math so that I can help each of them if they have questions. My 7-year-old daughter does math with Teaching Textbooks on the computer (I love this program, which was designed especially for home educators!). My 9-year-old daughter works on handwriting while her sister is doing math, and my 11-year-old son, who underwent vision therapy for 18 months before he could even recognize letters, also works on his handwriting (which is still his biggest challenge). When the 7-year-old is finished with math, the 9- and 11-year-old take their turns, also using Teaching Textbooks math for their levels. When the twins finish math, I do phonics with each for 15 minutes. Then they do some basic handwriting work and head outside to play. I call out spelling words for the girls and older boys before they put away their work. The oldest two boys (14 1/2 and 13) do not need much oversight, as they have weekly checklists of the work they need to do for all subject areas (math, science, literature, history, spelling, grammar). If they have any questions, they come to me for help, but they're pretty much self-motivated and do very well on their own (and sometimes they call out each other's spelling words, too!).

12pm: All the book work is finished by noon, and that's when we break for lunch and play time. This is also when I read picture books with the littles before their naptime.

2pm: When the littlest three are down for their naps, I read aloud for 1 1/2 hours. Three days a week I read from The Mystery of History and have the children work on their timelines. Two days a week I read from our current literature choice (right now it's a Freddy the Pig book by Walter Brooks).

3:30pm: After reading, it's snack/tea time for everyone, and then we have about an hour of quiet, which means looking at books, drawing/coloring, playing outside, quiet board games, etc. This is when I usually check email or even grab a quick 20-minute nap on the couch!

5pm: We have what we call "tornado clean-up," which means everyone whirling around the house to put away toys, clear the table for supper, put away clean clothes, etc.

6pm: We eat supper together, and Matt reads from The Christian Almanac or another historical work, and we discuss history. This is a favorite time of the day, and we often share this part with guests, which is even more enjoyable.

7:30pm: Family devotions (we sing together and pray), then the littles from age 9 on down go to bed, while the older boys are allowed to stay up another hour and a half to read.

This varies, of course, as we have errands to run or people over for visits. Our two oldest boys also work for a couple down the street, walking their dog and tending their garden three days a week. They do some of their book work before they go and finish up when they get home around 11am. We also try to do projects together as a family as much as possible.

 How do you occupy your little ones while the older children are working?
My 3 1/2-year-old and 2-year-old love playing with shapes, coloring, and looking at picture books. They pretty much want to imitate what they see the older children doing, so they're content at the same table for about an hour. Then they go outside and play with the twins or play with blocks and such in their own rooms for a bit. They absolutely adore books, and I often find them sitting with piles of books next to our hall bookcase. That's a huge blessing! When an older child is finished with book work and has a break, he will often take the littles out to play for a while before lunch, too. It's just great to have so many hands in our house!

Somehow cardboard boxes are even more exciting than conventional toys, as the children can turn them into just about anything. Here my three-year-old son plays "robot" in his box

 You have a large number of roles with being a wife and mother of ten, home educator, running two websites and your company. What are your top tips for getting things done?
To quote a veteran homeschool mom, "Do the next thing!" My dad was famous for his to-do lists and taught all of us to keep them. That has been a tremendous help to me. He told me to put down the three most important things I needed to accomplish that day, then put down several little things I'dlike to accomplish but didn't have to. He said to focus on the most important things first, then see where I could fit the smaller things in. So, for example, one day's list last week looked like this (* items are the most important):

1. Take baby to embassy to apply for passport *
2. Call T. to arrange help for her move *
3. Prepare guest room for two overnight guests *
4. Sew up ripped seams in girls' dresses
5. Organize school cabinet (This has to be done about once every two weeks!)
6. Check email

On that day, we went to the embassy, I made the phone call, I stripped the sheets in the guest room for washing (and later remade the beds), and I checked my email. I didn't get the girls' dresses sewn, nor did I organize the school cabinet, so those items went onto the next day's list. By the end of the week, the school cabinet was organized, but I'm sewing up the girls' dresses tomorrow! You just move the non-pressing items to the next day if they aren't checked off -- and don't stress over them. Getting the most important things done is key. Just do the next thing and move on! And, of course, a lot of important things don't even go on the list but are not put off -- like hugging your children, praising someone for a good job on his room, eating meals together, etc. :-)

As for my home business, the physical side of that (folding, packaging and shipping patterns) has been handled by a homeschooling family back in Virginia since 2005. All I do is update the website from time to time and answer email. With our slow Internet here in Kenya, I've done a lot less updating, but I still manage to stay in touch with customers, friends, and family. It helps to just set aside a specific time to tackle computer-related work (like when the children are asleep or it's quiet time).

 I value your book recommendations highly as the source of some of my children’s favourite books. What would be your favourite books for older children? And what would you recommend we read about Kenya and Africa?
Oh, you have been a marvelous source of book recommendations for us, too! We've worn out two copies of Peepo thanks to you. ;-) We have a lot of books. In fact, the first layer in all the trunks we brought here was made of books! Here are some of our favorite picture books:
  • Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
  • The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
  • Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  • Mary Geddy's Day: A Colonial Girl in Williamsburg by Kate Waters
  • Exodus by Brian Wildsmith
  • Castle by David Macaulay (and City and all his other marvelous line-drawing books)
  • Diary of an Early American Boy by Eric Sloane (All of his books are marvelously detailed and a delight to read, but this one tops the list for its intricate look at early pioneer life in the States.)
  • WeatherFossilsArchaeology and other books in the "Wonders of Creation" series from Master Books
When it comes to chapter books for read-alouds, we have too many favorites to list, but here's a kind of "Top Ten" for you:
  • The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Betsy/Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace
  • The Milly, Molly, Mandy series by Joyce Brisley
  • The Freddy the Pig series by Walter Brooks
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  • Jean Fritz's books on American history (Some are picture books; all are fantastic.)
  • Genevieve Foster's books on world history (Augustus Caesar's WorldThe World of Columbus and Sons, etc. These are the best history resources for 8-14-year-olds I've ever come across.)
  • Douglas Bond's historical fiction novels, including the Crown and Covenant series on the Scottish covenanters, the Guns of War series and the Mr. Pipes series, which covers the history of Christian hymns and hymn-writers
  • G.A. Henty and R.M. Ballantyne's historical fiction novels (all free online!) are big favorites with our oldest son, and I've read a few aloud as well.
  • The Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen Taylor (a retelling of the original that is written in simpler English for children)
It's harder to recommend books about Kenya for children, as the ones we have in abundance here just aren't available outside East Africa. We have a store called Textbook Centre that carries all the books used in the local schools. That means I can easily get my hands on children's picture books written in Kiswahili (which we are learning together). Kenyans are very proud of their heritage, so they have a lot of excellent resources for children. Two books you can get outside of East Africa are Kenya ABCs: A Book About the People and Places of Kenya by Sarah Heiman (an illustrated ABC book filled with Kenyan animals and places) and Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings, which covers a lot of common Swahili words and has beautiful illustrations.

For adults, I recommend Beryl Markham's famous book, West with the Night, which chronicles her growing up years in Kenya and the flying she did in the early days of aviation. Many of the chapters are appropriate to read aloud to older children to give them a feel for what it was like to live here in the early 1900s through the 1930s. A lot of the descriptions still ring true today, as many of the places she mentions are still here and mostly unchanged. Another fascinating book that covers not just Kenya but Congo, Borneo, and other remote locations is I Married Adventure: The Lives of Martin and Osa Johnson by Osa Johnson. This is the amazing story of a young couple who traveled the world together in the 1920s-1940s, filming animals and working together.

Reading together is such a vital part of our life, so we are always thrilled to find new "treasures" for our bookshelves. You have introduced us to so many excellent books as well, so, as we say in Kenya, "Asante!" (Thank you!)

And "Asante", Jennie, for sharing with us.


  1. Such a lovely interview! I've always been amazed at how much Jennie gets done. : ) She is a true Proverbs 31 woman.

  2. I'm glad to have found this interview. I was wondering how she came to live in Kenya. She really is a wonderful, Christian woman.