"Home is the grandest of institutions." ~ C.H.Spurgeon
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We have had an amazing start to the year, albeit a bit rocky with some of the building work going on around here. Living in a construction zone definitely adds layers to our days with noise, contractors, Mummy heading outside to help Dad etc. But, it is a blessing in the long run for the children, and we believe that God is using this to shape their character (as well as ours, obviously!).

So in between all the renovation work, here are some wonderful highlights from this month in January from a Christian unschooling family!




+ Family Visiting: Both my brother and Father visited over Christmas and into the New Year. Some friend's let them stay at their house on their farm to look after the house while they were away, so we were at the farm daily. Around this time the Australian bush fires were at their worst, and strange yellow clouds hung heavy in the sky all the way here in New Zealand. This created some good conversations and lots of prayer for Australia. There was also a lot of Pokémon card playing with their Uncle!

Later in January, my Mother visited also. Rosalie went with her to see Frozen 2 (the second time!) and we enjoyed visiting thrift stores and the beach. It was wonderful to spend time with her as we had not really been able to have a proper goodbye when we left Christchurch.


+ Otago Settlers Museum: The children had been wanting to visit this place since we arrived. Josiah has been so interested in the age of all the amazing historic buildings around the city, memorising which ones were the oldest. We were so impressed with this museum and I think our favourite room was the Gallery Room which held paintings and pictures of many of the early settlers. Josiah was fascinated with them.


+ Warm weather finally arrived and we have been to lots of beaches and enjoying our new natural home. Sometimes we have met up with other families, or we have just gone by ourselves. We've spotted creatures we've never seen before (shrimp!) and just enjoyed God's amazing world.

+ Homeschool Group: After Christmas break, our group is starting up again. We mostly meet on Fridays for sport and play, but this year I hope to start a nature/outdoors group from mid-February.



+ Meeting the Otago Highlanders: Rugby has been such a massive part of Josiah's unschooling over the last six months, so when we came across the 2020 Highlanders squad signing autographs we jumped straight into line! It was a dream come true! My Mama-heart was very thankful to the Lord for providing such a surprise for us and for filling Josiah's boy-heart with happiness. It makes learning come even more alive.

+ Big Cats: Anything to do with lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards - anything Big Cats! I can't remember how this began, but he has been reading many books about them and absorbing lots of facts and new ideas. We've watched a couple of BBC documentaries about cheetahs and jaguars, as well as some Wild Kratt videos. Josiah has read quite a few National Geographic Kids books and magazines, too.


+ Rosalie has been doing lots of art. This is not unusual but I have intentionally sought out art and craft books from the library, and we have had fun trying out new ways of doing art. I think our favourite has been using pastel and watercolour together. And we have enjoyed doing some craft activities, too.

+ Magic Treehouse Books: We have read about six MTH books this month. The kids have devoured them! And the adventures have often tied in with interests we have been looking into (eg. Sunset of the Sabertooth) and sparked new interests (eg. Afternoon on the Amazon). We love how short they are so our read aloud feels really attainable.

Of course, there have been so many other things that we have done, read, talked about, and seen. Much of life is not "documentable" and yet, is very much meaningful and all part of education. I love seeing all that we have lived in only one month and makes me thankful that our children are living such a full and joyous life!


What did you and your children enjoy this month?




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Have you ever thought about having a vision for your mothering? If you feel like you are floundering in your days with your children, and you feel lost in your role, I would love to encourage you to cultivate a mission in your heart as a mother.




"The more clearly you can define your vision for your children, and the more specific your plan for carrying out that vision, the more confident you will become at the daily process of building your home." ~ Sally Clarkson, Seasons of a Mother's Heart

I remember holding my week-old son, rocking in his bedroom, trying to get him to sleep. Finally I was a mother, but, despair filled my heart. Was this really motherhood? It was so mundane and repetative and, well, hard. The sunny ideals that I had unknowingly cultivated in my heart for so many years were not at all like reality.

Yet, my ideals were not misplaced. Coming from a broken home, God had created in me a deep desire for motherhood and marriage for His glory. Motherhood is a beautiful and incredible ministry for His kingdom here on earth. I was so thankful for my son (and then, daughter!), but I didn't know how to mother.

By His grace, I discovered Sally Clarkson. 

When I got my hands on The Mission of Motherhood, my heart was filled with joy and relief: here was a woman who wrote all that I believed about motherhood and showed me how! And, the first thing her book encouraged me to do was, not just to believe in the mission and ministry of motherhood, but to have a clear vision of its' worth and meaning.

Sally says,

"If your plan is based on clear biblical principles, you won't be easily swayed by the conflicting voices of other opinions that will try to convince you that you are not doing it right. And if you are secure in your vision and plan, your children will be more secure because of your confidence."

So, how to we create a clear vision and plan?


Ultimately, God will cultivate a passion for motherhood as you seek Him in His Word. Have you ever gone to the Bible and studied some of the many passages that speak about or image mothering? Here are a few of my favourites:

"He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who have young." ~ Isaiah 40:11

"I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am convinced is in you as well." ~ 2 Timothy 1:5

"But Mary stored up all these things in her heart." ~ Luke 2:19

These verses, and so many more, have built up in my heart the conviction that being a mother to the children God has given me is the primary calling, under being a wife to Tim, in this season of my life. Obviously, I will always be a mother but I will not always be needed as much as I am now. The hearts and minds of these two precious ones have been given to me to steward, and to no-one else.

When I realise the vital importance of this task and, especially that they are not mine, but His, then the vision God has for them becomes the vision for me as their mother.

"So, start with a good plan. Know where you want to go with your family, and what you want our children to become, and start building. That's how God planned it." ~ Sally

If you need encouragement and guidance from a beautiful mother who has walked this path before us, I so recommend starting with Sally's book The Mission of Motherhood. It is just amazing!


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A Little of My Story



Though I first loved the idea of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education when I began looking into homeschooling, I was soon drawn to this thing called 'unschooling' after getting over my initial (and typical) scepticism of it. But, as a Christian, I worried that unschooling wasn't biblical or something that would please God. I didn't know of any other Christians who did it, yet, no matter how much I tried other (more accepted) methods (like CM), we just kept coming back to what felt most natural. 


But, because it felt most natural, that got me worried.

I've always thought (rightly or wrongly) that, as Christians, if something was natural or easy, then it is likely not good for me. I had the idea that something was more biblical if it was harder or something I needed to "overcome". So, when we tried less natural approaches to learning (for us), I thought it must be the right thing to do because it was hard. 

There were tears and fights and frustrations. It was not nice. I felt like a failure and my son resisted my efforts, causing friction between the two of us. So every time I tried to "do things properly", we ended up quickly going back to what felt normal: exploring interests, hanging out together, playing games, talking, going out and about, and just doing life together. Basically, what our life together had been since they were born.

This has been my story for the last three, going into four, years since our oldest was four (he is now almost seven). I have swung between confidence and worry frequently, but I hear that this is perfectly normal, no matter how a mother works out homeschooling with her family.

But for any Christian mother out there who has a sense in her spirit that God is leading her to living a more relaxed, organic and whole life homeschooling experience with her children (unschooling), but she is worried or concerned or just plain confused, I really hope and pray this page might be a help and encouragement to you.



John Holt + "Unschooling"


When I began to properly look into unschooling (and not just read about it on blogs etc), I bought John Holt's How Children Fail, How Children Learn, and Learning All the Time. They were brilliant and insightful and deeply encouraging.

Firstly, the term 'unschooling' was coined by the late John Holt who advocated for children learning at home. As a teacher, he saw schools failing children by creating a system that caused children to figure out how to get gold stars instead of truly learning. That system created fearful and insecure children who were more worried about how they appeared and if they failed than about living a full life. He saw that school's could never, or would never, be able to truly help children get a true education, so he advocated homeschooling.

His idea of homeschooling was 'unschooling', that is, allowing the child as much freedom to learn that the parents could feel comfortable with. Children do not need to be taught how to learn to speak, or crawl, or walk, or any other of those vital parts of being a growing person. Why then, when a child reached five, were they suddenly incapable of learning on their own?

When the time comes for learning to read or count, for example, Holt encouraged parents to follow the child's readiness and to not become a "teacher". Instead, come alongside and, in time and freedom, walk with them as they naturally come across letters, words, sentences, books, numbers, animals, peoples, histories etc. The joy of discovering these 'Big People' things on their own is reward enough, so no need for charts and incentives.


I think fundamentally, however, unschooling to John Holt was about children learning from love. 


When they love the world, which they do from birth, they absorb and learn like sponges. They thrive and reach heights we believe they are uncapable of (at their age). It is only when they reach school that this innate joy of life and learning dies away.  


Can Christians Unschool?


Many unschoolers are not believers and much of the theory is based in humanism. So, understandably, many Christians are hesitant about unschooling. But, like Julie Polanco says in her book Godschooling (see link below), 
"Some people criticize unschooling by saying that it is unbiblical. Are the public school and its methods more biblical? Is reproducing the public school methods in the home more biblical...?"
So why do I trust John Holt?

In his books, I clearly understood that, though he wasn't a Christian, his belief about learning came from truly loving children and desiring children to have the respect they ought to have. Acquainted with his ideas, I saw that he wasn't as radical as I thought he must be (from my experience of radical unschoolers) and I clearly saw that his fundamental principles of how children learn were aligned with Christianity - that is, God made children to learn.


God is Knowledge. All things come from Him and are for Him and are about Him. We, made in His image, are born to seek Him. And children do this naturally and fully.



As my research unfolded, I began to discover other Christians online who unschooled. I couldn't believe it! Could this way of life I felt drawn to be possible? Then, in 2017, I met a kindred spirit who had the same desires as myself: giving our children the freedom to become who God had made them to be. Together, through so many discussions and joining our families together, we picked unschooling apart and back up again, accepting and rejecting what we believed to be biblical or not. She was a gift from the Lord and I treasure the work He did in us both through our times together. (Love you, Lucy.)

And then, over a space of a year (2018) I read four Christian books that changed my life (click title for link):


Each book spoke deeply to me as a mother and as a follower of Jesus. Though letting go of control over my children is still scary and difficult, these women gave me the encouragement, the confidence, and the joy of stepping out of the status quo and giving our whole family the freedom to be our family. 




Through these women and their words, there are essentially two spiritual principles that lay the foundation for Christian unschooling. They are:

1. Jesus Modelled It.


What do I mean by that? Simply put, He didn't sit them down at a synagogue and school them on what it meant to be an apostle. The apostles didn't understand what was going to happen to Jesus nor did they know what was going to happen to them after He was gone. Interestingly, Jesus didn't even tell them His plans for them in the future. 

Rather, as they walked along the way and watched Him and talked with Him and were taught by Him in conversation and experience, they learned exactly what they needed to know. Then, when the Holy Spirit came, He fully equipped them for the task He had uniquely called them to do.

Now, I'm not saying that because Jesus didn't "school" them that children shouldn't be schooled. I mean, essentially, that the education Jesus gave His disciples was holistic and organic. And it was complete for them as they needed it.

2. We Have the Freedom To Unschool


"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm then, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ~ Galations 5:1

Just as we are free, when we seek His will for our family, to educate our children the way we feel called to, so when we homeschool, are we free with how that looks. I truly believe there is no one "right" way to homeschool our children. When a particular way is blessed by God, how richly wonderful it is! And, of course, we want to share and encourage other families with that joy. 

But, when a particular teaching or dogma becomes a yoke under which we adhere religiously to, judge others against, or hold too tightly on, then we are not walking in the freedom of Christ. And, even though I use the term 'unschooling', I am not bound to it. I do not have to 'unschool' like others do or obey another person's unschooling rules. I am free because I am Christ's. 

On a personal level, when I look at our children and all that they accomplish through their joy and interests and questions and passions, unschooling makes the most sense for our family because the children have the freedom to grow up to be who God made them to be. 


Just as the disciples did not know what their future held, neither do we as parents for our children. But God does. And unschooling enables me to lean on Him, and not myself or a curriculum or a leader's ideas, and trust Him with His children

Whether an interest or love for something seems "legitimately educational" or not, I actively trust God that He has planted that in their heart for a reason. My love for writing came from The Babysitter's Club, something my father despaired of. But God had a purpose in all those books I read and pictures I drew and stories I wrote.


"If God has prepared these works for your child to do, then won't He make sure that s/he is adequately prepared for them? Doesn't He prepare you to do His will in the most miraculous, mind-boggling ways that have very little to do with your own efforts? Do you think that the Creator of the Universe would leave your child's future, His future, entirely in your hands?" ~ Julie Polanco







So, friend, be encouraged. Unschooling doesn't have to be something scary and radical. If you have been thinking of trying it, stop all the bookwork and see what happens in a week of trialling unschooling.

  • Pray each morning that God would guide your day.
  • Have a simple routine of together time and free time.
  • Partner with your children in their interests.
  • Answer questions and, if you don't know the answer, try, "Let's find out."
  • Fill two bags of library books that relate to topics you know your children are interested in.
  • Watch some YouTube videos or documentaries.
  • Sit down and play board games, even Pokemon!
  • Snuggle, talk, laugh, tickle, and enjoy your children.
  • Pursue your own interests in front of your children.
  • Go on walks, visit people, go the museum.
I promise you that, if for a week, your write down everything your children do and say, you will be amazed at how much they are learning. And, more importantly, how much you are all enjoying your days. My heart regularly cries out in joy to the Lord with all the amazing little things He is doing in the children. 

It is a beautiful place to be, in a place of trust: Trusting God, and trusting my children.





In October 2019, we sold our house in Christchurch and moved five hours down south to Dunedin. Caught up in the whirlwind of when God (seems to) finally act on all your prayers and petitions, we hardly tapped on doors and they flew open. It shocked everyone, not just ourselves, how quickly everything happened. Even three months before we moved, I would have laughed if someone had told me we would be living in a very run-down house on a hill in Dunedin. I would have laughed hysterically. Perhaps we should name our house 'Isaac', from Sarah's surprised laughter.


The first weekend our brick home was on the market, we had five offers on it. Within in a month it was sold to one of those buyers. In fact, it was sold exactly ten years, to the month, of when we had originally bought it. Suddenly we had to find a house to live in, quick smart. So we drove down to Dunedin one weekend to see what was on the market. Unfortunately, not much and what was for sale was way overpriced. Tim was going to be studying for three years - how could we afford such places? And then, we discovered the green house.

The green house is over one-hundred-years-old. The floors slope downwards, the roof leaked, the foundations had sunk, the front right-hand corner drooped. The title of the real estate ad was 'DETONATE OR RENOVATE'. We found out later, once we bought the place, that we were the only ones at auction that were not destroying the house.

Tim has had to put 21 new piles into the foundation of the house because it had sunk so badly.


When Tim wanted to look at the house one more time before we left that weekend, I thought he was joking. It smelled horrible, there was graffiti on the walls, it felt like it was going to fall in. But, that second time through, I cannot explain it...We had prayed and prayed for the Lord to guide us and help us find the right house for us. The only other house we thought was possibly good was a 1.5 bedroom home, on a busy street, and pushing our financial limit even without the necessary renovations that would be needed. 

As we walked around, though we saw how bad it was (though I really don't think we knew how bad), it is as if we both saw the house in the future. We saw it revitalised, restored, redeemed. We saw love in it again and family life. 

Honestly, as I thought about it afterward, it felt as if this house was a Gospel-picture of every sinner and what happens when Christ saves him. The sinner's rotten brokenness is forgiven, wiped clean and, not just that, but every aspect of him, from his very core, is given new life. I believe God gave us that vision for this house.

The kitchen is usable but needed a good clean before we felt safe using it. The floor slopes toward the window.


Fast forward three months, with two-and-a-half months of living in it, as beautiful a picture as that Gospel-vision is - the reality is still very broken. The days have been long and hard. In fact, quite easily, this has been one of the hardest external things Tim and I have been through together. 

We have had some dark moments, literally lying in the dark, wondering what possibly could have God been thinking of when He led us here. My darling husband, who bears the brunt of restoring this house, has been going through the Refiner's Fire and it has been a joy and a heartache to see him through it. I, too, have struggled deeply with living in mess and dirt and cold and, well, discomfort.

But, this life is so good. Eight weeks with no hot water - God was good and provided. Ten weeks without a shower in our own home - God was good and provided. No carpet, wonky floors, draughty windows, rats in the roof, bad weather, and anxiety and fear and vulnerability. BUT, I could list the blessings and joys threefold more than the struggles. 




When a Christian follows the Lord and genuinely walks in obedience where He wants him to go, this does not mean that it will be easy. But it does mean it will be incredible. Your sins and weaknesses will be exposed, and the lies you believe about comfort and rights and needs are laid bare before you. Something as little as how the weather affects your mood will be from the Lord and is an opportunity to submit to Him. Yet, there is so much grace in Him and I have found so much deep JOY and REST in Him, even as I eat ice cream and mint biscuits every night.

We cannot see into the future, of course, but something in our spirits tells us that we will be here much longer than the three years of Tim's theological study. This house, as it becomes restored, will be an enormous part of our family story - especially the children's childhood. How they see their parents tackle hard things and awkward living and plain rough days will echo into their adulthood. Our school mornings around a table that leans with the front of the house. Playing on plywood floors that constantly have a layer of dirt on them. Watching their father sweat and battle and accomplish. Seeing their mother help, support, and make do with what they have...



Though this house and our living in it and making it new is now, I can see that this has eternal significance for our family. Eventually, all this work will pass away when Jesus returns to call us to our True Home, the sweat and tears and frustrations will be investments in something bigger, better, and more beautiful - in Tim and I, and our children. But that is something to rejoice in as we persevere and endure and believe in hope.

For now though, we battle on daily in grace. Each day, we make a little progress and genuinely rejoice, however small it may seem in the grand scheme of things. But one thing we are learning very clearly from the Lord in this time is this: we only have today, let us be faithful with the little things.

After a number of weeks with no intentional learning because of packing up our house and moving, we are settling into a week or two visiting Poppa in a harbour bay. What a perfect way, I thought, to start up school with rowing Five in a Row's mini-unit, Hello Lighthouse (by Sophie Blackall). FIAR released this mini-unit in early October, and through their Instagram page, you are able to receive a code to get it for free indefinitely. 

We have taken a break from FIAR, but I'm excited to get back into it. I've missed the gentle structure it provides, as well as a beautiful way (and our favourite way) to start the day, reading a book together. We first began FIAR a year ago in 2018, and the first three we rowed are still fond memories and favourites, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Glorious Flight, and How to Make Apple Pie and See the World. Since then, on and off, we have rowed most of Volume One's books, though we have one or two left. This next year, I plan to be more faithful and consistent in using FIAR most weeks.

Aiming to record our weeks as a help to other mother's on the blog (as other blogs have been for me), this is how we rowed Hello Lighthouse.




DAY ONE (MONDAY)


We read through the book.

Today's focus was on getting to know the book and learning about lighthouses

Questions:
  • Did you have a favourite part or a favourite page?
  •  (look at p.1-2, and fold-out page) Where are lighthouses located? Why do you think they are there? (Islands, cliff edges, hill tops near the sea - to keep ships from crashing on the rocks, guiding them to port)
  • In New Zealand, lighthouses have always been important - why do you think this is? (We are a country made up of three major islands.)
  • (Relating to where we are at Poppa's) Did you know there is a lighthouse in Akaroa? Why would being at the head of the harbour be more important than where the lighthouse is now, within the harbour? (To guide the ships into the harbour mouth.)
We then did our narration page (where the children draw something about the story, tell me about it, and I record their narration).


DAY TWO (TUESDAY)


We read through the book. 

Today's focus was on the life of the lighthouse keeper. We searched through the pages again, pointing out answers as we went.
  • What was a lighthouse keeper's job? There were many things he had to do...
  • What were the hard things about being a lighthouse keeper?
  • What were the wonderful things about being a lighthouse keeper?
On YouTube, we watched three short videos about lighthouses, chatting about what we saw:

FIELD TRIP


Blessed to be staying with my father in a harbour, we visited the local lighthouse and learned a little of it's history. It is great to add that real-life aspect with this book, as many we haven't been able to due to lack of local resources. Afterward, Rosalie and I cut and paste some newspaper clippings of it for our scrapbook.

Source

DAY THREE (WEDNESDAY)


We read through the book. By now, the children are repeating lines and we're noticing more details, and enjoying the illustrations more and more.

Today's focus is on the author's clever writing and language skill. The author did some special things with some of the words to match the story.
  • On the first page of the story, why do you think the words "Hello...Hello...Hello..." are like that? To match how the light turns round and round. Are there other words and pages that have this?
  • On the page where the lighthouse keeper is sick, why is "everywhere" stretched out? Why are the words "up and down the stairs" up and down? To match how the wife is busy doing many things and running up and down the stairs.
  • On the page where the wife is having a baby, why is the sentence curved round the picture of the lighthouse? To match how the wife walks round and round the room, labouring.

We then did some of the math suggested in the manual. We looked at the spiral staircase and all the steps to climb. Amazingly, at Poppa's house, he has spiral stairs, so we compared the difference between the 14 steps in Poppa's house and the 100 or so steps of the lighthouse (and how exhausting that would be!).

Source

DAY FOUR (THURSDAY)

We read the book.

Today's focus was about coastal weather.

Slowly, we looked through each page and noted the different types of weather:

  • Calm and still - how does a lighthouse help in this weather?
  • Dark and stormy - how does a lighthouse help in this weather?
  • Quiet and foggy - how does a lighthouse help in this weather?
  • Freezing and icy - how does a lighthouse help in this weather?
We also read The Lighthouse Keepers Lunch (which the children absolutely loved and giggled all the way through). We noted the similarities and differences between the lighthouse and keeper in each book.


DAY FIVE (FRIDAY)


We read through the book one last time. I asked the question: We have read the book five times now, has your favourite part changed?

Today's final focus was art. Originally, I had planned to do some watercolour painting of lighthouses, but in the move, our paint was packed away accidently. So, instead, we did the Art activity in the FIAR teacher's resource, drawing their own daymark on three lighthouses.



All in all, we had a wonderful week with Hello, Lighthouse!


EXTRA RESOURCES:



This is how we rowed Hello, Lighthouse!

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