The last month has been a tough one. We are expecting baby number four and i have been experiencing morning sickness that doesn’t quite understand the word ‘morning’. It has been non stop for a while. I have also had a sickness bug and the family enjoyed me passing that on to them too (NOT!). So home education has taken a bit of a break. Before this began we were in the throws of Christmas. We decided to use December as a time for learning about the purpose of Christmas and getting crafty making Christmas gifts and decorating cakes etc. So we didn’t specifically chase after any maths or literacy opportunities – we just enjoyed reading winter themed books and covered everything in Christmas stickers. So it has been a long break really since we specifically sat down with some kind of ‘lesson plan’ (although i don’t really like that term; it is too structured for our way of working and we always deviate!). Yet despite all of this our five year old daughter has learnt to write her name, can read her level one and two phonics books and is able to confidently recognise numbers one to twenty (and often creates her own sums with just about anything-sweets/crayons etc). She loves workbooks and she loves her new gymnastics class. She is definitely an academic child. She likes to know how things work and why. She likes to investigate. And she still loves to play. Her imagination is incredible. So i do have to say that actually so far this has all been fairly easy in relation to how much i have to push myself to provide opportunities for her; she is often finding her own!
As a family we had already concluded that we didn’t want to sit down for so many hours a day looking at workbooks. We have always known this would be impossible because there are other children in the house. We have to work around nap times and the inevitable concentration lapse in the middle of the afternoon. There are meals to prepare and jobs to do. There are sick days, tired days, rainy days, no car days, children arguing days…so many variables that you cannot predict. When i am well and functioning i choose a variety of toys, objects, workbooks, themed stories and activities out throughout the home (my son…not yet school age…loves sensory activities and our youngest is almost 18 months and so also loves sensory activities, and so they get to engage in various bits and bobs whilst our oldest is delving deeper into other things). When i am not able to get up from the sofa or remove my head from the toilet she is able to find those opportunities herself and i LOVE this about her. We have an A4 pencil case that she call her ‘i don’t know what to do with myself’ bag. I pop things in there for her to do when she is bored and not appreciating the extra thinking time (i read recently about the importance of time for thinking for children-time to develop their opinions and process their thoughts…not really sure how you integrate that to be honest but the example i read was that one girl enjoyed making mud pies because it gave her time to think. Perhaps finding our daughter’s ‘thing’ that helps her to think might stop her lying awake for ages at night because she can’t quite slow down her mind!). So when she doesn’t want to use those moments of ‘boredom’ for thinking time she goes to her i-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself bag and finds some unfinished pages from a children’s magazine, some stickers or some lose worksheets. She is quite good at being independent in this but i do love cuddling up with her on the sofa to work together when time allows.
Looking at her achievements so far since September i am so encouraged. Even when it feels like i am close to doing nothing towards her education i remember that
a) children (everybody in fact) have a natural desire to learn. Even when you don’t formalise it, they somehow learn exactly what they need to when they need to. The natural hunger to find out ‘why’ or ‘how’ or ‘what’ will flourish providing you tap into it and encourage it
b) she is abounding in character that cannot be learned in such depth in the classroom. Morals and behaviour learnt simply from spending time with children and doing life together is so important
c) she loves. Our daughter genuinely loves people. I consider this to be such a blessing. She has so much input from people who love her abundantly that she knows how to give it out to others; even strangers…let me share something with you on this point:
Last weekend i took her to her monthly gardening club at the local garden centre. She has a wonderful relationship with the lady who runs the club which is in an incredible blessing also. After her club i like to take her to the cafe for a mother daughter date. As she stood in the queue ready to choose her cake for desert, two older ladies turned to her. They chatted with her about cakes and complimented me on how polite she was. She was able to hold a full conversation with adult strangers. She happily pottered away and chose our table. As we were waiting for our food she picked a colouring sheet and some crayons and set to work on her piece of art, colouring in the pirates as she does every month. A family arrived and sat near us and a young girl, probably around our daughter’s age sat down in tears because there were no colouring sheets left. Our daughter did not hesitate to pass me her own sheet and she said ‘can you cut this in half mummy please’. I followed her instructions and watched she got down from her seat and took half of her colouring sheet to the girl crying. I did everything i could not to cry myself in that moment of genuine kindness demonstrated from a five year old girl. She ran to collect her some crayons and then came and sat down, her face beaming as she looked at me and said ‘my dream just came true;i helped somebody else’. My eyes filled up and i stroked her face and told her how special and kind she was. She had such compassion on that girl and i was so proud of her. We ate our meal and she enjoyed her cake and we got up to leave. As we left another elderly couple came to me and said that they just wanted to say how lovely my daughter was. She was so well mannered and lovely. To which i replied i was so grateful at such lovely words. The first two ladies who had met Lydia by the cakes came to her and said they hoped she had enjoyed her cake and it was nice to meet her. They asked her how old she was and which school she went to. She replied that she didn’t go to school-she learns at home with mummy. This is always a tense moment in today’s society! So many people have differing opinions on home education and most do not hesitate to tell you what a terrible decision you are making! But they replied to her ‘well that sounds just right. You stay home and learn with mummy. That’s the best place to be’. I just could not believe my ears. I could not believe what encouragement had come to visit me that day. In all the pregnancy sickness, the sickness bugs, the overwhelming tiredness and the never completed plans for tomorrow’s education, here was my proof that we are exactly where we are meant to be, doing exactly what we need to and seeing our eldest daughter flourish. You see, whilst we know that reading and writing is so important, we also know that her walk with her Saviour is so much more important. That when she stands before Him it will be her kindness, her compassion, her respect, her morals and behaviour towards others that will have eternal value over her ability to do algebra or speak a second language. I saw that day as my heart was flooded with even more love and thankfulness that God was and is doing a work in her (and all our children) far beyond what we see in day to day living.
Just a quick note for those who may be reading this and who wanted something practical to implement regarding home education…
We have developed different roles within our home education. I try and follow interests as much as possible and facilitate the daily bits. This might involve baking or workbooks or jigsaws or experimenting with magnets etc. Dad does the reading books, exercise, experiments and engineering bits. On his days off he might take them to play football or swimming or for a run around at the park. We have engineering books tailored for little ones because our oldest loves to invent and investigate and so they usually choose something to do together from those resources. He also tries to read a phonics book every night around five nights a week. He was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child but it doesn’t stop him. He likes to learn with her. I tend to do the basic phonics with her in the day and she transfers those skills to her time with dad reading after our evening meal. We still highly encourage play and so as the parent who stays at home i do not sit our daughter down at the same time every day for the same amount of time. It depends on where her interests lie at that point in time as to what we do. There are occasions where i might say ‘this is what we are doing today and there is no deviation’ but more often that not i try to judge what would be successful depending on whether she is tired or super interested or bouncy or tactile. As i already mentioned i do try to put a mixture of bits out so she can choose some days. We are fortunate in that i have managed in the past to organise a lot into boxes so i might decide that we should look at something to do with science and so she has free reign over what she takes from that box and the same goes for maths, literacy, sensory exploration (sand, water beads etc) and fine motor activities (threading, felt boards etc). We might do these focused activities for half an hour or it might extend to a whole afternoon – we see how she goes. I also am in the process of putting together DVDs that are educational (Barny the dinosaur is our current favourite) or teach Godly morals. This is useful when you feel like you are not ‘achieving’ much because they feel they are having extra TV time but they are also learning at the same time. I also would like to get better at playing music in the background at home as i love to hear them singing worship songs and even nursery rhymes for the younger children as this seems to be a dying art these days!!!
So i hope to encourage you, whatever your aim for reading this-for spiritual encouragement or for practical examples of what we do here-i hope you have been blessed!