Saturday, 1 August 2015

August Inspiration

August is high summer and part way through the holidays. I think that already one of my children would really like to get back to a more structured day and learning. In the holidays, we don't have the structure that usually marks our days and this is missed. We are beginning to put something in place with a read aloud over breakfast (Jungle Doctor's Casebook) and daily trips to the park or library but I think, we should have more planning still. Of course, there are more exciting trips out but realistically, these can't happen every day!

Anyway, I have been doing some planning for next term. This involves some new books and Nelleke, at Education is a Life, helpfully posted a link to which searches for the cheapest books around the world. All that has to be done is to type in the title. The great benefit of this site is that it adds in postage to the total cost.

We are keeping up with reading aloud and the holiday has allowed more time for individual reading. I guess, like many mothers, I have struggled to keep awake while reading aloud and yes, have even fallen asleep so I thought that this post was relevant.

Years ago, when we only had little children and life wasn't quite so complicated, we had family worship every morning after breakfast and before the children went to school and we went to work. Fast forward, ten years and family worship should be easier: my husband works from home, I don't go outside the home to work and we home educate. The sad news is that it becomes more complex: not everyone has breakfast at the same time; carers arrive early; clients phone and children are out. We now have family worship usually after lunch but sometimes it works better after our evening meal. It often feels like an uphill battle which we may not be winning so I was encouraged to find this practical post by Tim Challies.

Wasting food seems criminal and yes, that makes me a criminal. I found the lovefoodhatewaste site recently which is full of useful ideas and some recipes. Broccoli stalk soup sounds worth a try.

Finally, for the holidays, making tangrams kept my children busy one morning.

How do you tackle the holidays? Do you carry on as normal or have some work for the children to do? How often do you manage trips? I don't think I have quite the right balance so advice would be helpful!

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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Four Reading schemes for the Summer

Each summer, there is at least one reading scheme available to try to prevent the reading slide that is said to occur over the holidays. This year, I have heard about four and doubtless, there are more. 

UK libraries have an annual Summer Reading Challenge. This year the theme is Record Breakers. The library scheme

  • requires only six books for completion. It is possible to finish the challenge in a week! Yes, I know from experience!
  • can include audio books or books read to the child
  • encourages discussion about the book when the child reports back to library staff about the book. One of mine was asked quite complex questions about characters in the book.
  • restricts books to those in their local library. 
This scheme has encouraged my children to use the local library and one of my children has started to use the online catalogue and has learned to request books (free for children).

I will list some books which we have enjoyed from our local library as it may be worth looking for these in your library. I know that the selection varies but we have found that requesting books which are within the borough is effective although the inter-library loan system has never worked well for us. Anyway, we have enjoyed
  • Jake the Dog series by Annette Butterworth
  • The Owl who was afraid of the dark and other animal books by Jill Tomlinson
  • Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo. However, Snug  by the same author caused great upset.
  • Alfie books by Shirley Hughes
  • Picture books by Marcia Williams. The Elephant's Friend and other tales from Ancient India was a popular recent find.
  • Usborne early readers although we have failed to find the non-fiction Usborne beginners series.
  • Audio books of the Chronicles of Narnia.
A couple of summers ago, the theme of the Library Summer Reading Challenge was a haunted house and in common, with some other Christian parents, we did not want our children to enter this. One mother kindly set up an alternative reading scheme, Wisdom House. For this scheme, parents or children note all the books read over the summer and certificates are awarded. Wisdom House also produces an occasional newsletter with reviews of Christian children's and adult's books. This scheme is run as a Yahoo group. To subscribe, send an email to

The Christian Bookshop in Ossett has a reading scheme with discounted books from a selection. There are three books to be read: the first has 1/3 off, the second is half price and the third is free. There are two main age groups: 5-10 and 11+ although there is also an offer on toddler books. This is ideal for anyone trying to build up their library of Christian books.

Finally, why not make up your own customised scheme? Lizzy at Peaches@Home has written about her family's scheme which includes the parents.

Do you join a summer reading scheme or do you find that it is a time when children tend to read more without incentives? We have found that, with appropriate books left around, our children have made some of their most major reading gains over the summer.  Yes, we do use reading schemes but I wonder whether what really matters is having access to plenty of books.

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Monday, 27 July 2015

Homeschooling with Many

Welcome to the fourth post in the series Home educating in different circumstances. The first three posts were

Today, Caroline  who blogs at the Joyful Keeper is writing about Homeschooling with Many.

Life in our house is interesting.

“Why?”, you may ask.

Well. We have 8 children, and two adults. That’s ten of us, in our house.

Not only that (and this is the one that makes people gasp louder, when they are told…), but we HOMESCHOOL!

That elicits many a response, when people find out, but it usually involves words like “wow”, “are you crazy”, “you must be patient”, “how do you do it?”

 Let me respond to those things.

Well, I guess it is a bit “wow”, but for us, it’s just normal life. We have always home educated our children, so they don’t know any different, and I don’t know any different. It’s more “normal” to us, than “wow”.

“Are you crazy?”  
The jury is slightly out on that count. But, that’s got less to do with our educational choices, and more to do with my general personality.  Are we crazy to choose home education? Obviously, I don’t think so. It was a prayed-over, well-thought-out, seeking-to-honour-God decision, that we firmly believe is right for our family.  If it’s crazy to want to do what you feel is best for your family, whilst following convictions laid upon your heart by the Lord, then, we are crazy. Happy to stick my hand up and be counted on that score.

“You must be patient”
Hmmmmmmm. Ask the children to answer that, or certainly my husband. I am NOT the most patient person, and simply making the choice to home educate doesn’t magically mean you are! I am LEARNING to be more patient, but I guess everyone is! We should all live and learn. It TESTS my patience, but many things in life do that. And, according to the Bible, patience being tested leads to more godly attributes, so it’s all good!

“How do you do it?”
Now, I think this is the part that Sarah wanted me to handle. I need to clarify something, first of all. What we do for our large family is NOT what will work for every large family. The same applies to ANY size of family. Don’t try and copy others just BECAUSE.  Look at your own situation, and work out what is best for you. It might be the same as us, it may be totally different. It doesn’t matter.  
Let me give you a run down of who we are, and our own situation. I have 8 children aged from 13 down to 1 (it will be 14 and 2 by the end of the year). We have always home educated, and they never went to school at all. As I said, they, and I, don’t know any different than the way life is now.
We started our home ed journey as really enthusiastic parents of a pre-schooler, who were DESPERATE to get started! There’s this excited passion that parents have when they begin their journey like we did, and it usually involves a “keen bean” element, that has you desperate to jump in full force, from as early on as possible. I look back at myself, and I laugh and groan simultaneously! You DON’T need to do anything formal too quickly. I think we ended up trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, by forcing formal schooling too early. 

That, however, is a whole other blog post.

 We used ACE to begin with. We knew some people who used it, and as a first-timer, it seemed easy to follow and all laid out for us. Both of those things were true. It took us about 4 years to realise that crying and torture on every school day was NOT necessary, and we could do something different! It was one of the most freeing things I have ever done – choosing to stop it, and think about other options. We took a couple of months to research and find something that would suit our family.

Now, THIS is where my “How do you do it” comes in. Here is what I look for in curriculum, to make it work for US.

I wanted something that inspired my children to learn, and especially with living books. Not just prescriptive text books. I am an avid lover of learning, myself, and in order to keep the “Love of learning” fire lit, *I* needed to feel passionate about it. Whatever you choose, as a parent of lots of children, it needs to suit the parent, and their needs. We aren’t in a busy Church situation (my hubby is a Pastor), so we don’t have lots of extra activities we need to work around. Each day is ours to fill as we please, and I wanted to relax and enjoy learning. With ACE, it was all about “pages completed”, or books completed – all tallying up and pressure to do “x” amount. I didn’t want learning to feel like that.

I wanted something that was multi-level. When you have lots of children, I think there are maybe two main road to take. Either, something that is workbook/textbook based, that each child just works alone on, or, multi-level learning, where you can work on the same topics together, at the level appropriate for that child. That’s what we chose. There are two exceptions. Maths, and grammar. Children need to work on those at the right level for their learning curve, so we chose Math-u-see and we are currently using Rod and Staff for English. For everything else we use a multi-level, cyclical approach. Our main curriculum is Tapestry of Grace. I have written other posts about that, which you can search for on my blog. WE use Answers in Genesis for science. I do it as a read-aloud, and they all then join in with various associated activities, as they are able. WE use read-alouds in a general sense, too. I have recently been reading aloud a missionary story, which we are ALL loving! They all learn together, and it’s a great way to learn.

My next “how-to” would be about how we physically get it all done. It’s been a bit of a gradual process, finding what fits for us. We do a 4-day week, as my hubby has his day off on a Monday. Home-ed is great for flexibility like that. I spend the first part of the day working one-to-one with my youngest learner. Whoever that may be needs to have extra support, until they are a fluent reader. The next one up stays nearby, too, so they can ask about anything they struggle with. Everyone else does their maths and English first, and works independently on that. Our other subjects get spread out through the week. Our reading – history and lit – gets done on a Tuesday. Different children working at their own level, but on the same topic. When we start back, we will be studying from the days of the early Church into the medieval times, and onward from there. We do science one or two days a week, art and music one day, geography one day, and then the worksheets and activities that tie in with history and lit get done through the week.
I realised that for me to stay sane, we needed a relaxed day of learning. We don’t rush, and it takes us all day. As we don’t have anything or anywhere to rush TO, it doesn’t matter! I also have “room time” for an hour after lunch. They go off and play, and burn off steam, before coming back to do the activities we do all together. I could squish it all into a shorter space of time, but why bother? It would create more stress and the joy of learning would be supressed. 
Another thing I have had to LEARN, and trust me, I’m still learning - if I plan to do something, and we don’t do it, it DOESN’T MATTER! No person can learn everything! I find I need to be more laid back and open minded about what is necessary to be getting a solid and well-rounded education. Some things can be dropped, and it won’t harm anyone.  It’s so easy to get stressed and caught up in jumping through hoops, that someone else has set the height of. Who says you need to do “X, Y and Z” at a certain time, or by a certain age? I try and do what suits each child best, and our family as a whole.
The thing, above all else, that I try and hold onto, is remembering who we seek to honour in every part of our lives – God. Keeping the focus on character, and learning about the truths of scripture, woven into life. THAT, for me, is the joy of educating at home. Talking of His greatness as we rise, walk and lay down again.
I thought I would finish with a “Top Tip”, that I have particularly had to learn about when teaching so many children. Don’t be afraid to say “this isn’t working for us”, and do something else. Maybe you chose it because it was advertised well, but it’s not working for you at all. Sell it, move on. Maybe it worked for you to start off with, and now it doesn’t. Sell it, and find something else. Maybe you LOVE it, with a passion, but it doesn’t suit your family’s needs any longer? Find something else, and move on. You can’t live and die by one choice you make in your home educating journey. You’re not a failure because it doesn’t suit any more. It just means you are wise enough to respond to the needs of all your family, and provide the best for what you need right here, right now. Change does NOT equal failure. I am so glad I learnt that, but wish I had learnt it sooner.

If you want to ask me anything else, feel free to contact me through my blog, or ask questions from this post. Above anything, love your journey.

 "Caroline is wife to Robert, and mother to 8 wonderful children. They live in rural Bedfordshire, where her husband is the Pastor of a small Reformed Baptist Church. Life is busy, but very blessed, as they live and learn together. She enjoys blogging, where she shares the lessons the Lord lays on her heart, along with a dose of how they live life in their home. Crocheting, knitting, reading, and spending time with her family, are her favourite pursuits, but more than anything else, she loves to walk closely with her Saviour, and learn of Him. Find her at"

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Thursday, 23 July 2015

Learning about the Middle Ages: Abbeys

My younger children have been learning about the Middle Ages and, of course, that includes monasticism. The role of monasteries and abbeys in life in the Middle Ages is fairly difficult for twenty first century children to appreciate but actually seeing the remains of one towering above the surrounding countryside does give an idea of their importance and also their wealth.

I find that teaching about the religious life of the Middle Ages is complex in terms of balance. As a child, I read many, many stories about the Reformation and why it was needed but really lacked an understanding of the importance of many religious houses in the education, health and social life of the times. One way to begin to understand this is for the children to see the size of some of these places and to talk about their other roles. 

The Abbey which we saw recently was Bayham Old Abbey, on the Kent/Sussex border. This Abbey belonged to the Premonstratensian Canons who kept to an order reputed founded on the rules set by Augustine of Hippo. Like Wenlock Abbey which we saw last year, this Abbey has extensive ruins.

 As well as the remains of an old gatehouse, The Kent Gate. It is assumed that there was a Sussex Gate but nothing remains of this.

This site is large and there were relatively few visitors when we were there-ideal for children who want to run!

There is also still a fair amount of detail.

Plus a much more modern, eighteenth century house on the site. A couple of rooms have been renovated to show the eighteenth century features and not surprisingly, are reminiscent of some of the rooms in some Jane Austen films.

Having romantic remains in the garden was fashionable.

In the distance, is the third related building, Bayham Abbey House which was built in Victorian times.

This was a beautiful, and relaxed day out; vaguely educational but with plenty of space to run. The site would be improved by some information boards but perhaps, that would detract from imagining the Abbey in its complete state, some eight hundred years ago.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Big Butterfly Count

The Big Butterfly Count makes a great, short summer holiday activity. 

The charity Butterfly Conservation is doing a survey of butterflies and moths in the UK. They want volunteers to spend 15 minutes on a sunny day surveying. They seem to be very flexible as to the areas used. We used our garden but it seems that most open spaces could be used. The date is also flexible, anytime from 17th July to 9th August although they prefer a sunny day. I guess that increases the probability of actually seeing butterflies. 

There is a handy identification tool on the site although we found that butterflies don't keep still for long so identification was a bit challenging, at times.
Butterfly on the potato plants.

The survey led us to look at other insects. We saw dragonflies and watched bees and bumble bees collect nectar, and hopefully, pollinate our pumpkin flowers.

The children were very keen to catch a butterfly but soon let it go.

Over 15 minutes, we saw three different types of butterfly and several other insects.

Definitely recommended!

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Monday, 20 July 2015

Green Ember free today!

I reviewed The Green Ember, last week and wanted to let you know that it is free on Amazon today.

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Home Educating and being a Carer

This is the third post in my series about home educating in different circumstances. The first two posts were

This is about home educating whilst being a carer. 

I will primarily focus on caring for an older relative on a long term basis as this is what I know about but many of the principles will apply in other situations. We have had an older relative live with us for over eight years now. Our younger two children either weren't born or don't remember life before we were care givers. 

Why be a carer?
-We are living in a society where people are, on average, living longer. Some of those people may well be our parents and grandparents and may need help as they get older.

-If we are Christians, then the injunctions from 1 Timothy5 about caring for older family members apply to us.

Verse 4 if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.

 Verse 9
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

Verse 16

 If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.

Yes, for some people that may mean supervising the care of an older relative in a care home and making sure that care is optimal but for some that means having a relative to live with the family.

-Sometimes, it is easier to have an older relative close by than to try to help them from miles away. I know, we have been there!

There are many benefits to having an older relative in our own home or close by

-It is much easier to help them, for example, with doctors' appointments or with post.

-They will, almost certainly, like to see the grandchildren.

-They may be able to tell the grandchildren about the history of their lives. My children were able to hear, from their Grandmother, about her parents and their role in the First World War.

-This is a really tangible way to demonstrate love and show Christian kindness.

-Living in a family can be a remedy against loneliness.

But, and this is a big but, there are challenges:

  • Appointments can interfere with learning. OK, appointments and caring are part of life and probably learning but there is a limit! 
  • It is really difficult, probably impossible, to go on a spontaneous trip and arranging holidays can reach nightmare proportions. 
  • While you are giving children independence, an older relative may well be losing this. It is easier to judge when a child can learn to do a new task than to know when an older person is no longer able.
  • The doorbell seems to ring constantly and carers, social workers, therapists will see that your children are being educated at home. 
  • And, yes, it is difficult to keep the house clean. There is more to do, more people in the house, more possessions and more mess.
How to manage being a carer and home educating?

  • God's grace is sufficient. One of my favourite verses is 
My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12 verse 9
  • Try to arrange routine appointments outside times when you would want to be doing more formal work with children. This isn't always possible but surprisingly often does work.
  • Would a telephone appointment work for something routine? Again, a big time saver.
  • Think of other time savers. Will the pharmacy deliver? Can grocery shopping be done on line?
  • It isn't possible or even wise to clean the house before every caregiver visit. 
  • Have a plan. We front load our day with English and maths so that if things go wrong, at least that is covered. Let older children know what they should be doing so they can get on with work while you deal with the care agency review. Have something for each child to do when you are busy-this may be Duplo, a book, handwriting or whatever they can handle on their own.
  • Don't try to do everything-it just isn't possible. It is better to be relatively relaxed with a messy house than stressed out.
  • There needs to be some balance between the generations, including the middle generation! This may mean that the children can't go on every trip but it does mean that they should be able to go on trips and to home education group meetings. It means that the older generation should also have a chance to go out and that their hospital appointments are prioritised. For the middle generation, too busy is not having time to read God's Word or get to church or to the doctor when necessary. Sometimes, it is necessary to ask for help!

    I do hope this is useful. It is possible to home educate and be a carer. God gives grace and strength for the day. Please feel free to ask questions or email me.

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