Friday 28 December 2012

Lessons from home education in 2012

2012 marked our third anniversary of home education. In many ways we are still newbies and on the learning curve. I hope my children have learned something but what have I learned this year? Of course, some fascinating bits of information from the children's work and the revised Latin but what else?

  • Some materials work well for us but other, quite popular materials just don't. Being able to choose materials that suit us is the beauty of home education. We finished using Five in a Row with some sadness. I'm hoping to use it again from autumn 2013 for out youngest son but Miss Belle has asked if she can join in too. All three of us love these books. 
Ingredient map to go with "How to make an apple pie and see the world."
  • The most important work is the daily and steady. Every school day, we do maths and English/phonics.  The phonics has seemed particularly difficult; my knowledge of phonics isn't great and I've had to learn alongside my daughter. By the way, can anyone explain to me why the "ch" in Christmas and chronological isn't pronounced as in church and chime? I don't know. Presumably it is something to do with "chr". However, the long slog does seem to be bearing fruit.

  • I need a backbone text or curriculum. Without a backbone, I deviate and worry that I'm not being thorough or consistent. With a background text, I have the freedom to ignore it, add to it and decide to skip bits but it is there for those dark days in February and gives me confidence on jolly days in June.

  • To have maximum benefit from home education groups, we need to align our learning with group themes. This may seem obvious but it only really dawned on me when we were learning about the Ancient Egyptians while the group was learning about the Hundred Years War. Recently, we've concentrated our efforts on the late Middle Ages-easier and less confusing. 

  • I really miss continuing education meetings and conferences from my professional life. They are a source of inspiration and energy for me. The time has come to sign up for some on line educational conferences for 2013.

  • Seasons change-this year, trips have been so much easier without a stroller. Middle Son's programming is way beyond me and his German is taught by distance learning with a little help from my husband. My help is limited to making sure files are labelled correctly and that the distance learning term is the same as ours.

Trip to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
  • This end of the year, there seem to be a fair few new Christian home educators around and I'm thankful.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Christmas in review

Boxing Day, 26th December, is a good time to take stock. Christmas Day has happened but is still fresh in the memory. Here, in the UK, Boxing Day is a public holiday so there is a bit of time to think as we aren't on usual schedule.

So why do I need to review Christmas after the event? We had a happy, restful family day. We went to a reverent and helpful service. Later, at home, there was time to read and play board games.

We keep Christmas as a remembrance of the birth of the Lord Jesus. We exchange gifts and have a special meal but central to this, or should be, is thanksgiving for the birth of the Lord. As usual, I struggled with this.

The day that we are commanded to keep is the Lord's Day-a weekly celebration. Christmas isn't commanded and so has to be less important. The preparations for Sunday take a day or probably less-clean, best clothes, meal ready to go in the oven as we go to church and a special cake. Christmas isn't a command but the preparations can take weeks. To be honest, my focus can, and does, shift from the reason for the celebration to the practicalities: from a Mary to a Martha mindset.

It is easy to get so busy that the important is overtaken by what appears to be necessary-those presents that have to arrive on time, the newsletter, the cards, decorations, food and so on.

Home educating makes Christmas easier. I well remember, the years, when I sat, uncomfortable, in a church or assembly hall, struggling with whether I should be there in some semblance of worship that seemed to bring dishonour on the Lord.

I'm not going to be a popular person for saying this but I am thankful  that home education means we don't have a round of nativity plays. Nativity plays are irreverent, almost always break the second commandment, and probably the third. They are not God's way to present the Gospel, His good news, and tend to be an amazing blend of the holy and profane. I'm not proud of the fact that, in years gone by, my children have participated and certainly, as time passed I became more and more uncomfortable with having children in Nativity Plays.

Still, there is far more that we could and probably should do to make our celebration more Christ centred. Just being home educators doesn't sanctify our celebration-the challenges are different.

This is a time of opportunity for the children to learn of the place of the coming of the Lord Jesus in history and of the prophecies. We have spent time reading about the nativity of the Lord Jesus but perhaps, should spend more time on the foretellings and purpose of His birth.

If we are are Christians and plan to celebrate Christmas then it needs to be a Christ centred celebration.  Everything has to go through the sieve of God's Word.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

You, your family and the internet

Like many parents, we've been a bit overtaken by the internet. We brought our first computer when I was expecting Eldest Son, over nineteen years ago. That computer had no internet access and was really just a word processor. Now we use the internet for work, shopping, education, listening to services and leisure. The children know more about the internet than I do. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but can mean that they may not be as protected as we would like. Yes, we've used filters from the completely unusable (so strict that we couldn't buy normal children's clothes on line) to more generic varieties but none of these can deal with the insidious worldliness of much of what comes in.

We've also encountered attitudes that anything to do with the internet must be wrong. One of our children was told that he shouldn't read his Bible on his phone. Why should this be worse than a print version? Maybe a scroll would be best.

So I was delighted to have the opportunity to review You, your family and the internet: what every Christian in the digital age should know by David Clark published by Day One publications.

 Mr Clark is an IT professional and has approached the topic of the internet on the basis that Biblical principles apply to this as much as to anything else. In doing this, he has been able to avoid mindless blanket condemnation but has been very challenging as to motives.

The book starts with a simple explanation of the internet and its history along with the encouraging statement that

Being effective parents has little to do with understanding technology. The Bible speaks of bringing up our children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). But how can we do this if we do not communicate and spend time with them? We must avoid the danger of only laying down rules and exasperating our children.

Chapters examine communication, Facebook and social media, pornography, advertising, internet games, gambling and news via the internet. Areas where the internet can be used positively or negatively are examined along with safeguards whereas the dangers of pornography and gambling noted without flinching.

The last couple of chapters cover principles for internet use. These are practical and include ways to be aware of the dangers of the internet both to ourselves and our children and also ways in which the internet can be used to the benefit of God's kingdom. Mr Clark gives the illustration of using e-mail, Skype and Facebook to make sure that missionaries and their families feel less isolated and makes the case for the internet being used as a tool in God's Kingdom in the way that Paul used Roman roads.

This is an important book to read for all Christian parents. You may find there is much to challenge you personally.

Appropriately the book has a website with a trailer from the author. Even better the e-book is available free until the end of the year from Please note that  I haven't ordered books from this site myself. Alternatively, it is available as a paperback from Day OneAmazon or Christian bookshops. This is the sort of book what you might well want to have lying around to encourage discussion so a paperback might be advantageous.

I was given You, your family and the internet as an e-book for review purposes. All views are my own.

Monday 17 December 2012

Three generations celebrate-12 thoughts

Celebrations are an important time for families. Many families become three or even four generational at Christmas and New Year even where usually only two generations live together.

 Last year, I wrote about some of the practical issues around managing. This post is more about making celebrations a happy time for everyone. Please note that we don't always get things right but these are some thoughts from experience.

  • Go to basics-why is this celebration happening? Christmas is coming and as a Christian, this is to remember the birth of the Lord Jesus. We try to focus on this-all three generations go to the service, health permitting, and listen to Bible readings. 

  • I guess that most people reading this are in the "middle generation". It is very easy to feel sorry for oneself-I know, I've been there. This isn't helpful and the celebration isn't about me. Other people can and should help but be realistic about what other people can do. An older relative may not be able to do anything; a six year old may not to able to peel vegetables but probably can lay the table. Children can be a great help and they need to know that the celebration isn't all about them either.

  • Allow plenty of time. Most of us rush around all year. It is good to have allowed enough time to talk, relax and even sleep. It doesn't matter if tea is an hour late.

  • Make the present opening accessible to everyone. Grandparents like to see children open their gifts. We try to make sure that this happens at a relatively reasonable hour for everyone although doubtless compromises will have to be made.

  • Keep a list of presents received. Do you need to make a tactful list for grandparents or greatgrandparents or will they remember who gave each gift?

  • Meals should be a time for everyone. This isn't always easy. The combinations of deafness, training children and disparities in rates of eating can be challenging. It is worth thinking beforehand about what will be difficult, for example, if one child hates Christmas pudding, it may be worth providing an alternative. 

  • Clearing up can involve as many as possible.

  • Everyone doesn't have to do everything. Children may need a walk whereas this may not be feasible for the frail elderly.

  • Simple games can, theoretically, involve everyone although it never seems to work that way for us.

  • Photographs and reminiscences can help create ties between the generations. 

  • Don't plan too much. Frailer people and children will find hoards of people and a relentless timetable very tiring and being honest, so do most of us.

  • Things don't always go to plan. People do end up seeing the emergency doctor or you may end up collecting tablets from the 24 hour pharmacy. 
I do hope that you have a happy and restful holiday but that even if you don't, you will look to the Lord God for strength. If we love Him, we can rely on His promise

My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12 v9

Thursday 13 December 2012

Black Forest snow

Middle Son and my husband have just had a few days in the Black Forest so that Middle Son could have a chance to practice his German and have some exposure to German/Swiss culture.

They saw snow,
 more snow,
yet more snow, from the train this time,

and ice.

Chalets-this reminds me of Heidi.

A railway system that worked even in the snow.

I particularly asked for a picture of a clock shop-this has a bit of reflection as it had to be taken through glass.

The Rhine

Famous buildings

and churches

and more snow.

Thanks to Middle Son for the photos.

Wednesday 12 December 2012


I was delighted to be asked to review  Schoolhouse which is part of the Old Schoolhouse Magazine. The Schoolhouse Teachers site is so much more than "just" the magazine. It is an Aladdin's cave for home educators with children of all ages.


The site has sections for PreK/Elementary, Middle School and High School as well as Dailies, Library and Teachers. There are also sections for use with children with special needs. Schoolhouse Teachers claims that it can be used as a curriculum or for add-ons. We haven't used it instead of the rest of our curriculum but I have no doubt that it could be used in this way.

About 25 subjects are covered using a variety of methods including videos, lesson plans, writing prompts and suggested activities. Various teachers have contributed lessons. These cover subjects including high school maths (with videos), French, guitar, geography, history and literature. There is a fascinating 18 part series about helping struggling readers grade 3 and above. I haven't tried this but found some of the principles for teaching longer words useful.

The Daily section has so much to offer. We have used the spellings which are far superior to the lists that we were using. The spellings are divided into grade level from preK/K to High School. The Elementary lower list even has subdivisions of difficulty within it. However, all the lists seem to have a common theme-this week plurals which is useful  for discussion around the table with children of different ages. Some of the high school words are seriously challenging.

I suspect that the daily writing prompts is somewhere that I will frequent, probably not to use on a daily basis, but rather when a different type of title is needed.

Another feature of the Daily section is the Everyday Easels which also are linked from the sidebar as Noon Recess. This uses the Charlotte Mason idea of a picture a week with questions and activities from the picture. We have enjoyed using this. The early photograph of The American Barque "Jane Tudor" Conway Bay was a particular hit with children who love Wales where this photograph was taken and are fascinated by the Tudors.

I've been gradually exploring the downloadable planners. There five different planners: three for different grade levels, one for special needs and one for mothers. As well as a diary/planner function they contain lists of award winning books, lists of parables, a Bible reading planner and much much more.

Other features include reading lists, e-books which seem to arrive in batches every month. I'm almost relieved that they don't arrive in one go-there are so many books that reading them in one go would be overwhelming.

Photobucket I was really impressed with the contents of the site. There were a couple of technical things that would make it easier to use: it would be useful if the link to the picture for the Everyday Easels opened in a new tab making it easier to go between the picture and the day's activities. The preK/K section included "College Choice guidance" which probably isn't necessary for most children of this age.

Schoolhouse is like a resource library for home educators. I plan to return to it most days.
Costwise an annual subscription is currently discounted at $49 which is just over £30 at today's exchange rate. There is a special offer on the first month of a monthly subscription at only $1 which is great for trying out the site.

Disclaimer: I received a free annual subscription to Schoolhouse in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are either my own or those of my family.


Monday 10 December 2012


I've been rather absent from here as life has been busy: one child home from university, another on a trip with my husband and a third about to go on a trip. We haven't been doing nothing here: there have been trips and concerts as well as work. I'm not a great enthusiast for a long run up to holidays. Long anticipation seems to lead to over excitement. My Mother used to say "If you get excited and silly, you will end up in tears." I'm really sure this is true, at least here.

One recent trip was to the Science Museum-no photos of this as the camera is currently away! This is a great place to take children-we did the Garden which is billed as being for 3-6 year olds as well as the Launch Pad which is said to be for 8-13s. The younger two aged 3 and 6 were with me and yes, the age for the Garden was about right.

 I'm not convinced about the age range for the Launch Pad-there were a fair few younger children there and many of the activities were quite suitable for slightly younger children. The explanations may have been a bit over their heads but it is definitely worth trying with children younger than 8. The Space section was a big hit with a certain boy who wants to go to the moon one day.

I'm wondering whether we should do the Sketchbook Project next year. Half of me says that I'm such a lousy artist that it isn't worth a go and the other half says that it could be a joint effort with the children/nothing venture and all that.

The Christmas pudding is cooking-a bit late, yes but we had a bit of a disaster last year with a pudding that I hadn't kept in the fridge. No alcohol means poorer preserving properties. I've updated the recipe with some advice on storage. This recipe was my most read post for about a year-it has been overtaken by several other posts now but here is Grandma's Christmas pudding.

The Ice Hotel is an amazing concept and one that seems to have caused a fair amount of discussion here. We aren't planning to go but the pictures of the cold accommodation are fascinating.

The Old Schoolhouse Crew review home education products. I'm delighted that I've been invited to join the 2013 Crew and look forward to reviewing some different products.


Wednesday 5 December 2012

Mummy reading

Like many mothers of young children, I read aloud picture book after picture book.

As a home educating mother, I read aloud many chapter books. Initially, I read these to Middle Son. It was fun rediscovering the Thirty Nine Steps and the Little House on the Prairie series but Middle Son doesn't really need me to read to him now. Now, I read aloud to my six year old daughter, mainly shorter chapter books including some from my own childhood. There is a little list in my head of more books to read her.

Last, I read to myself.  I've just been evaluating this and thinking about what I should be reading.

So what do I read? The Bible is first and far, far the best. I use the M'Cheyne reading plan. (I know nothing about this site just that it has a link to the plan)

What else?

  • Biographies
  • Children's books so I can discuss them with Middle Son or to see whether they are suitable read alouds.
  • Christian books
  • Novels-hmm
  • Home education books 
I would like to get through more "weighty" reading especially around theology, Christian living and education. 

So why are certain books easy to read? What would it take to get me reading heavier books?
For me, a successful book 
  • has large font
  • is easy to read after midnight
  • breaks into sections 
  • Isn't too long

My best reads from 2012 are

  • Christian living: Friends and lovers by Joel Beeke

  • Devotional:The secret of communion with God by Matthew Henry
I have a list of books that I hope to read but am always looking for more suggestions. What should I add to my want to read list?

Monday 3 December 2012

7 thoughts about a God centred education

We've had to think through what a Christian education really is.  Please note that these are aims that we consider right but we are sinners and fall far short of these.

Some of these points are completely contrary to much of popular educational philosophy. Many of these philosophies have some great practical ideas which we use but we can't espouse their underlying principles.

For anyone who is interested, I have put references to the places in the Bible that we find these ideas.

  • A Christian education is God centred. (Matthew 22 v37-38) 

  • Education should be God centred but that doesn't mean that children are unimportant. Children should be treated with dignity and respect. (Ephesians 6 v4,  Mark 10 v14)

  • Children need to be taught to show respect and love to others. (Matthew 22 v39)

  • Education is a 24/7 process. (Deuteronomy 6 v7)

  • Biblically, parents are responsible for their children's education. There is nothing in Scripture to say that parents can never send their children to school but they still retain that responsibility. (Ephesians 6 v4)

  • A child isn't a blank sheet or intrinsically good. The Bible makes clear that all have sinned and that includes little children. (Romans 3 v23) However, they are image bearers, even though fractured, of the Lord. (Genesis1 v26-27)

  • Children should be taught the right way. (Proverbs 22 v6)

  • A Christian education doesn't make children Christians. (John 3 v16, Ephesians 2 v8-9).  

This, earlier post, is about how we became convinced that we needed to give our children a Biblical education. Yes, a flawed education because we are imperfect but one in which we try to point them to the One who is perfect.