"It's amazing how lovely common things become, if one only knows how to look at them." ~ Louisa May Alcott

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Homeschooling Path I Never Thought I Would Go On

"Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths."
Psalm 25:4

In so many areas of my life, God has led me onto paths that I never would have expected. New ways of thinking or living have taken root by His planting a tiny seed of an idea. Sometimes it has been from a personal struggle and His answer has changed me forever. Sometimes it has been through reading a book and everything in my mind has fallen into place. Sometimes I have gone kicking and screaming onto a new path, not because I don't think it is from Him, but because it feels so out of my depth.

Homeschooling has been one of those last experiences for me.

Though I ran eagerly into homeschooling when He laid it on my heart, as I sought what I thought our homeschool life would look like, God began to strip my own ideals and Instagram-square dreams away, and for the past two years I have kicked and screamed a little

You see, I dreamed of a Charlotte Mason homeschool like Elsie's family from Farmhouse Schoolhouse:

I love the Charlotte Mason method and ooze over homeschooling families the world over who learn in the way that I would love to. But trying to implement a heavy CM-style of homeschooling into our lives has not worked at all. We do elements - like being outside a lot and reading good quality, living books - but it just does not work for our son. Any form of a lesson - even as beautiful as CM - just seems to drain away any sort of love of learning for our son.

About two years ago, I began to investigate unschooling. Though I had brushed it aside in the early days of our homeschool research for all the normal preconceptions people have against it, something began to intrigue me about it. As I read family blogs and read thoughts from mothers on Instagram, I could see how we, as a family, had been living that way since the children were born. I never taught them to walk or talk, and yet, they are made to do so and learned themselves.

"If we taught children to speak, they would never learn."
~ Bill Hull, teacher

Most parents tend to leave toddlers and preschoolers alone because we know, by instinct, that they will learn all they need to know for the stage they are at. But as our children head towards five, we begin to panic and, as homeschoolers, we feel an intense urge to "get serious" about learning and education. Suddenly, we believe children need to be taught and can't learn without us. 

This has absolutely been my own experience. 

I have tried on and off for a year to teach our son to read. But we have stopped each time because it was just horrible. Even when he wanted to learn to read, any time we sat down and did a lesson (of various kinds and curriculum), he would ooze onto the floor in frustration and boredom and tears (the oozing part is figurative!). 

Yet, guess what he has been doing for the last month? He has been teaching himself to read by his sudden passion for Asterix comics. And Garfield and Tintin. All of a sudden, he's spending an hour or more pouring through a book, sounding our words he knows and asking questions and crying out, "Mum! Listen to this!" It is so, so exciting. (This is a helpful read on children learning to read by themselves.)

He's been lit by inner motivation. He's found something he loves and wants to understand. And He has done it himself.

God just keeps humbling me and stripping away all sense of control I have over our children. He keeps reminding me that it is Him who teaches and guides and enlightens. I need to step aside and ask Him how I can facilitate that. And right now, it's taking Josiah to the library and getting four or five comic books for him to devour every few days.

I never, ever thought we would be unschoolers. 

I still struggle with it every day. The more I read about it, research learning, and see my children as evidence before my eyes, the more I believe in it. I see it's beautiful benefits of freedom and respect and joy. But it's hard! It goes against so much of my own schooling, my own ingrained ideas and experiences. 

Yet, I have continually asked God to show us the path He wants us to be on and, no matter how much I keep trying to do what's comfortable and what is normal, He keeps leading us back here. There is so much more I could share from this journey we have been on, and I will. But from here, I wanted to share a few beginning thoughts in case there are any other Christian mothers on a similar path.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference."
~ Robert Frost

Has God led your family down a homeschool path you never expected?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Happy Homemaker 6th May, 2019

Hosted by Sandra at Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

We are staying with my father in a remote bay for a few days. The children love it here and, being where I spent part of my childhood, I love bringing them here when I can. We miss Daddy, but he is busy working, and wishes us well.

W E A T H E R: 

Overcast, the clouds hanging over the top of the harbour hills like a blanket.

R E A D I N G: 

Almost finished The Last of the Mohicans by James C Fenimore . Even though I am not American, I can see why it is a classic. I have been gripped by it from the start and I am almost at the end. Is it worth watching the film afterwards?

M O V I E S + T V : 

Nothing in particular, really. 

M E N U: 

Whatever I can scrounge up here at my father's!

T O  D O: 

Watch the children enjoy being in this beautiful place, spending time with Poppa. // Finding books I need for Five and a Row from my father's personal library (yes, he has a library of children's books of around 5,000). Found Make Way for Ducklings! // Do a lesson or two with the children when it seems right. 

C R A F T: 

I have set up a homeschool bullet journal. I tried a number of years ago, but I don't feel like I had the right tools and never felt satisfied with my creative work. But I am slightly less perfectionist and have tried various homeschool planners, and feel that a bullet journal will best suit. 

L O O K I N G  F O R W A R D: 

Seeing my husband again! But, mostly, enjoying this time with my father and keeping him company after he lost his long-time dog last week. I'm very thankful that I have the freedom to support him in this way, that I am not tied down to things that would prevent me putting family first.

F R O M  T H E  C A M E R A: 

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera with me, so this photo is from the last time we came here as a family on holiday. Isn't this place stunning? I love New Zealand and I am incredibly grateful that part of my childhood (about nine years) was spent in this beautiful place. And now, it's in my children's hearts also.

W E A R I N G:

It's terrible - a hoodie, slacks, and sneakers. 

S I M P L E  P L E A S U R E S: 

A good book, a fireplace in a cool morning, and apple pie.

C H R I S T I A N  E N C O U R A G E M E N T: 

G K Chesterton,
"There is nothing more extraordinary than an ordinary man, an ordinary woman, and their ordinary children."

Thank you for coming a long with me!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Five in a Row: The Blessings of Togetherness + Learning

In this post, I would love to share with you our experience so far with the homeschooling curriculum, Five in a Row. Released in 1994, it has been a blessing to families for many, many years. It may not look as exciting or nostalgic as other homeschooling curriculum/styles, but I promise you, it is well worth looking into for your family.

3 Reasons Five in a Row Will Bless Your Homeschool

Snuggles on the Couch with Good Books

Sitting down together with my children and reading good books is my number one favourite thing to do with them - and I think it is their favourite thing to do also! The closeness, the pouring over pictures, the words creating worlds in our minds, the giggles we have, the conversations that are sparked - books bring families together. And Five in a Row is based upon digging deep into books.

The books suggested by the makers of FIAR are excellent and picked for their beauty, depth, and perspective on the world. Of course, there will be some books that your children don't love as much as others, but as a mother, it's a blessing to be able to sit down with trustworthy and beautiful books.

Natural, Well-Rounded Learning

Five in a Row is essentially a literature-based unit study curriculum. This means that the book of the week, say Lentil by Robert McCloskey, is the basis of all activities of the week. When we read Lentil, because of the content of the story, music and the harmonica were something we looked into. The children had never heard the harmonica before, so watching some videos on You Tube was a great activity. For science, we studied a little about the tongue - the four main tastes we have - because Old Sneep sucked a lemon and made everyone pucker their lips!

There is nothing forced about the activities for each book. From art and culture to science and history, there are a broad range of beautiful and meaningful learning opportunities that are drawn from the story. And this is what makes the learning meaningful and lasting - the children can see how learning is, as Charlotte Mason said, a "science of relations".

The Freedom of Flexibility

I learned fairly quickly that I am not a super structured homeschooling mother. Though I like freedom, I am not so relaxed that I don't want some routine or intentional learning with the children. This is one of the reasons why I think Five in a Row has suited us - and me, the mother! - so well. 

Within each unit, there are around twenty activities to choose from. You can do as many or as little as you think will suit your children. Some people just use the manual and others supplement with Pinterest or lapbooks found at Homeschool Share. Some weeks you may be able to do a vigorous week of learning, other weeks only minimal. Sometimes we have gone a few weeks between books, and many times, we 'row' a book over two weeks and not just one. The flexibility of Five and a Row is one of it's best assets.

As you can see, we just love Five in a Row. My children are 6 and almost 5, and I can foresee that we will be doing it for the next few years. There are more volumes for older children also, which we may very well go on to. 

My favourite thing about our journey so far with Five in a Row are the memories we have been cultivating together, with the books themselves and the things we learn and do from them. Nine months since rowing Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel (our first book we rowed), we still talked about it. I loved hearing my kids giggle through Cranberry Thanksgiving and hearing them repeat fill sentences after reading The Story of Ping.

If you're looking into a gentle, literature-based curriculum that builds togetherness and organic learning, Five in a Row could definitely be the one you are looking for.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Quieting My Spirit in Jesus (So I Can Love My Husband)

Here is a story about God leading me to trust Him so I can love my husband.

There has been a possibility of us going to England for a number of years now. Tim, my husband, has a passion and gifting for apologetics, and there is an excellent school there. When we first applied in 2017 (for the 2018 year), everything was so hopeful - people were encouraging, provisions came from left-field, and we were easily accepted into one of the college's required. But then, the other university (Oxford, to be truthful) couldn't accept us for that year, but would hold a place for us for 2019.

Fast forward to this year, we reapplied for both schools. After months waiting, we found out that we were declined at the main apologetics school because of things out of our hands. So we had to turn away Oxford's place for Tim and, after two years of many up-and-down's, we were back to square one. It was so confusing and disheartening...What seemed clearly something the Lord wanted us to do for ministry, apparently was not.

And then, things got more confusing.

A friend, with connection within the apologetics school, communicated to us that there had been a mistake and we were actually supposed to be accepted. We just needed to reapply again (for the third time). This, we found out in early March.

By this time, everything seemed so unclear that we had decided not to pursue this door, even with this new encouragement. There seemed to be no strong direction from the Lord. Furthermore, in the up-and-down's of the previous year, both of us felt drained and thankful for a home to be rooted in.

I have an anxiety disorder and, for me, with all the uncertainties, my anxiety had flared up and I was struggling to even be open to going. Even though I had been the one to encourage Tim to do this, anything to do with leaving home (safe) and pursuing England (bad) caused me to shut down.

Overtime, I had built up in my mind all the negatives and, because stability enables me to function well, I began to see all the things that could cause me to find England very difficult. There was a source of tension between us as I could not even have a discussion with my lovely husband, who was so disappointed, because - in all truthfulness - all I could think about was me.

Turning to the Lord the other night as I went to bed early in a low mood, I opened my Valley of Vision, hoping for a prayer that would turn my heart toward Him and give me wisdom. I sensed that my resistance to England was only partly rooted in my genuine anxiety, there was sin lurking in my heart, and I didn't know how to find it out. It can get dark in there.

Turning to the page 'Shortcomings', the following lines lit up the lurking darkness,

"My sin is to fear what never will be; I forget to submit to Thy will, and fail to be quiet there. But Scripture teaches me that Thy active will reveals a steadfast purpose on my behalf, and this quietens my soul, and makes me love Thee."

My sin was not being anxious, but to fear what may never be. There are things that my brain does that I cannot control. But when I actively fear and train my thoughts upon what could happen, I sin. I forget to be quiet in the safety of God's will where there is peace, even with chaos without.

I forgot that God's will for my life as my husband's wife is to be his helper. In so many ways, I seek to be a pillar of strength for him, even in my weakness. Going to England causes parts of my brain to trigger off my anxiety, but my will shut down my heart to the possibility. God's steadfast purpose for me is to love my husband and "do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourself" (Philippians 2:3).

So, we have reapplied. A few weeks ago, neither of us would have believed we would. But our friend asked us again...and again...So, we are listening. It all may turn out, again, that this isn't God's will for us as a family. And that would be perfectly good (we are homebodies, after all). But, if it is His will, I don't ever want to not listen and follow it, despite my anxieties and fears. 

And that is what drives me, even with an anxiety disorder. I love my God, and I want to follow Him, wherever He may lead - even if it is a quiet life at home or flying to the other side of the world with challenges unknown. Sitting and submitting and trusting Him will always keep us quiet under the rest of His care, in those pleasant places.

friend, have you experienced something similar?

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Why We Don't Trust Children to Learn Without School

When I first heard about unschooling, I reacted like most typical parents, "That is irresponsible. Children don't know what they need to know. We need to teach them." This response was a symptom of an in-built belief I have had since a little girl: 

Children cannot be trusted to learn what they need to know to have a good life.

For me, some of this came from a particular Christian belief that because we're sinners we cannot be trusted, especially children (God has changed me on this in many ways). The rest of my belief, however, came from a general assumption within society. This assumption is that only experts - whether teachers, scientists, professionals etc. - know what is necessary to know. We must be taught this special, secret knowledge that has been discovered by the experts, especially children. We cannot be trusted to find it out on our own.

When I realised that this was true within society, it was like a veil fell from my eyes. Suddenly, I could see learning and education differently. I began to see what true education is - the breadth, the depth, the variety, and meaning of learning, growing, and expanding as a whole person - and not the end of year marks on a piece of paper. This understanding led me to realise that education doesn't necessarily start and end with schooling. Sometimes education has nothing to do with schooling.

That was a scary and unnerving place to come to. But so exciting and enthralling. Can I bring you there, too?

As I write this, my daughter cried out in frustration because the magnets she was playing would not fit together the way she was wanting them to. No matter how hard she tried, the ends she wanted to put together in order to make a boat just would not meet. 

As I came down next to her, I showed her how the poles within the magnets would always fight each other if they came together in that way. We watched as one rolled furiously away from the other. But when we changed one of them round, they sat snug together like eggs in a nest. Her eyes were alight with wonder.

This simple moment was a drop in her life-bucket. This was learning at its purest form: natural, organic, unforced, and un-coersive. There were no need for workbooks or science manuals or ticking off "magnets" in a science curriculum. This was me, as her mother, helping her come to understand a truth about the world.

Most importantly, Rosalie won't forget this new idea about magnets because the moment had meaning for her: her frustration was appeased when the answer clicked in her mind before her very eyes. Research, over and over, shows that when learning is centred on meaning and intrinsic motivation for the learner, the knowledge is at it's highest likelihood of being retained.

This is essentially unschooling. 

Simple, isn't it? Yet, deeply unnerving to a traditionally-schooled parent.

John Holt, a man dear to my heart, once wrote in How Children Learn:

"All I am saying in this book can be summed up in two words - Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple - or more difficult. Difficult, because to trust children we must trust ourselves - and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted."

When I first read that passage, so many things fell into place for me. Internally, a resounding Yes! echoed throughout my heart and mind. Memories of my childhood, feeling stupid, not good enough. Very few teachers or parents mean to distrust children and a child's ability to learn, but most children experience this anyway. It is, however, unavoidable in a society that bases a child's learning worthiness by a generalised standard, set by the experts on schooling.

This is where curriculum comes in. A body of experts and professionals diagnose what the job industry/government/economy need from future workers. They then create the prescription: a scope and sequence on what children need to know, when and at what age, with regular testing to make sure the children are getting it. Teachers are then trained to teach this curriculum, whether it is good for the children or not. 

Schooling then becomes a system by which everything must fall into place, in order to work the line, for the product to come out at the end. Because we, as parents, went through the system, we cannot imagine there could be any other way for a child to be successfully educated. And if university is our goal for our children, then we buy into the schooling system hook, line and sinker.

But we all know that human beings are not machines to be cogs in a educational system. We are living, breathing people - with ideas, feelings, thoughts, imaginations, dreams, goals, and souls.

So how do we shed the baggage we have as traditionally-schooled parents and move into the freedom that comes from a place of trust and respect for our children? 

John Holt says that it must come from a "leap of faith". And for me, as a Christian, believing in the intimate sovereignty of God in my children's lives, the trust I have for them is based foundationally on the trust I have in Him. 

God made our children in His image and has a distinct and unique plan for both of them. Only He knows what their future holds, what they need to fulfill His plans for them, what kind of people they need to be to serve Him. Can any expert or curriculum have that foreknowledge of a child's life?

What I am learning is that children can be trusted to learn because God has made them that way. All people are built with an insatiable need to know because God is Knowledge and we are made to know Him. Math, physics, words, language, art, music - it was all made by Him and for Him. When we are learning and engaging in these things, our minds are being filled with the good things of Him. 

So, though school can be a place of learning, it isn't the primary way children are educated. They are educated as they do life and follow that unquenchable thirst to know everything about this world we live in. I believe that children can live a life without school and grow up to lead wonderful lives. We just have to...

"...break this long downward cycle of fear and distrust, and trust children as we ourselves were not trusted. To do this will take a long leap of faith - but great rewards await any of us who will take that leap." ~ John Holt

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

See a Little of New Zealand With Me: Our Family Trip to Queenstown and Paradise

This past weekend we took a 7-hour drive down south from Christchurch to Queenstown. We had a wedding to go to which would span three days, so we were down south for five days.

We arrived in Queenstown - an alpine/lake tourist destination - in the late afternoon and were thankful for some good rest at a motel. The next morning we took an hour-and-a-half journey further south of Queenstown around the lake to Glenorchy, and then another half hour drive up a long gravel road.

I found a few photos that do better justice to this stunning place than I ever could (though I will be putting some personal ones up on Instagram over the next few days with some more thoughts about our holiday).




My husband's longest friend was getting married in a very out-of-the-way off-grid farm where some of The Lord of the Rings and Narnia movies were made. It was absolutely stunning to say the least. We stayed in a one-room cabin that had no electricity, only a coal-range for heating, and a long-drop toilet out in a shed. It was eye-opening for the children to say the least!

The cabin on the left is the one we stayed in. If you click on the 'source' link above, it will take you to the site of the place where we were. I so recommend it if you are ever that way down south in New Zealand. The people who run the Trust are friendly, caring, and don't mind a four-year-old girl following them as they feed their animals.

It was great living like this even just for a few days as it added real-life understanding to so many things we have learned in all our homeschooling so far: how people lived long ago, how much we depend on electricity each day, and how much we love warm heaters! It is quite cold down south, even this early in Autumn, and the cabin overnight got very chilly! We wore many layers until about lunch, when the sun got too warm, and we were back to summer clothes.

After the wedding was finished, we left back for Queenstown for one more night and then drove the seven hours back home today. It is a long drive, but so beautiful. My heart was filled with thankfulness to God many times - not just for His creative beauty and artistic work, but also His goodness to our family.

Mt Cook

I also wanted to add how incredibly grateful I am that we are homeschooling. I love the freedom it gives us to not only go somewhere, but that in becoming a homeschool mother and learning all about how children grow and learn, I see them soaking up all the things we have seen, done, and experienced. I see all the connections that are linking up in their mind to things we have talked about. I see their minds awake and thriving. I see the impact these two little ones have on other people and their perception of homeschooling. And I love, love, love that we can do this life together and that there is no separation between our family life and their educational life. It is so beautiful.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

New Season, New Life at Home

Autumn. It truly is a wonderful time of year. The strong heat has lessened. Flowers bloom their very last. Mornings are crisper. All the rich colours of the leaves. And, the very best, the warm sunlight that pours inside, inviting me to rest whenever I move through it.

My thirty-third birthday is coming up and I am in a new season of life. Our two sweet children are no longer super little. Josiah is six and Rosalie is speeding toward five. We're learning to read, growing as people, and there is nary baby paraphenalia in sight. Goodness, it feels like opening the window to a warm sunny day after a long winter.

Life is no longer survival and getting through. There are hard days and weeks, yes! Oh, yes. Both children seem to tag-team struggles like a never ending relay race. But we're all sleeping, and moving through our days with (most of the time) purpose and enjoyment. I am so thankful.

Just as our family is in a new season of childhood and homeschooling, I am changing, too. I have found myself deeply hungry for slow living and simple living over the last year. I can see how it is a long process of change. But I need it. I need a new level of being rooted. Not just rooted to our home (now almost ten years here), but also rooted to this life. Rooted into the rhythm of the days, of the months and seasons, living in a way that is in tune with all that surrounds.

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing." ~ Annie Dillard

Summer brought much time outside. The beach, walking in the forest, playing outside, digging in the garden (still so naively), just enjoying life in the outdoors. With Autumn comes more time inside, more reading on the couch, more time to see the state of the home and, dare I say it, my homemaking habits and skills.

For Christmas, I bought myself The Made From Scratch Life. I have always wanted to live a quiet life, but in the last year or so, I have had a seed slowly growing with the desire to live a simple life. To take notice of everything I do. To watch my hands and slow down as I wash dishes or fold laundry. To enjoy good books and learn about good and beautiful things with the children rather than rushing through a curriculum. To keep learning to grow our own vegetables and relish making a home.

Much of the time, this can feel overwhelming. There is so much to learn and understand. Often my mood cannot be bothered and I don't know enough to just push through that feeling. There are also many places to start living simply, where do I begin? 

But I know that Rome was not built in a day and neither is a good life. So, slowly, slowly, I'm reading and doing little things, getting into a better rhythm as a homemaker. We made the big decision to not sell and buy a new home (giving us a bigger mortgage), so we're beginning major renovations on the home. It really feels like a new season and new life, at home.

What season are you in at home? Please share.