Monday, 9 May 2011

Teaching My Children.

The Boys. (James, right, Daniel, left).
Following on from last week's post about focusing on one thing at a time and becoming good at that thing, I'm going to spend the next week or two really looking at home education. In particular, what I am doing with James on a daily basis. I've got lots of ideas, some more well-formed than others, about projects to embark on and trips to take, as well as weekly and daily routines. I've taken a semi-structured approach to James' education so far, partly because he likes to know what is going to happen each day, so a daily and weekly structure (I use that term loosely) is helping to keep things calm, and partly because I like the freedom of being able to 'go with the flow' of the day's ups and downs, and, if necessary, throw the routine out of the window and escape into the wider world or just veg if we need to.

Since we began home educating at the beginning of February, we've sort-of stuck to a general theme for each day -

Maths Monday (mainly maths, obviously)
Try it Tuesday (a chance to try something new - be it food, handstands, cycling uphill, or whatever)
Wordy Wednesday (reading, writing, listening to stories, talking, etc)
Thinking Thursday (sciencey stuff)
My Day Friday (A project or some such frivolity)

So far, this seems to be vaguely working, except when it doesn't. There are weeks when we get loads done at home, and weeks when we spend loads of time out and about. At the beginning of April, I did a little evaluation of what we had covered so far, and it was really reassuring, because in black and white we have actually done quite a bit of stuff, which put a stop to my panicking that we might not have made any progress. Since the Easter break, which for us was about two and a half weeks, I've been easing James in gently with some worksheets and games that basically reinforce topics we've already covered in maths (one of his stronger areas). He's especially keen on counting and spending his pocket money! (Who isn't?)

I would like to tackle some more challenging stuff, for me I mean. I feel I can handle the maths and English quite well (James is only seven, I should add). It's the sciences, geography, history and such subjects requiring a bit more planning and preparation that I need to get my head around. So I'm going to be doing some research and preparing some activities, as I really want to do stuff that captures James' attention and enthusiasm for learning. (I know it's in there somewhere, I've seen glimpses!)

This needs to be an area of ongoing focus for as long as we home educate, and that is why I'm choosing to start my 'one thing at a time' here.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Finding Focus.

Image credit

If you're anything like me, you try to do a million things in one day (OK, slight exaggeration, a thousand things). You succeed at doing no one thing very well, and end up going to bed each evening feeling full of inadequacy, with a side-order of guilt and a glass of must-do-better to wash it down with. On most days I have a 'to-do' list as long as my arm, consisting mainly of the mundane and the glaringly obvious (housework, appointments, shopping lists, bills, etc), and rarely do I get to cross off every item on it. 

Add to that the virtual 'to-do' list in my head for the bigger things I dream about doing with my time (reading, writing, creating music, losing weight, changing the world, that sort of thing), and it's a wonder I manage to stand up without getting dizzy from all of the buzzing thoughts and self-criticism whirling around inside my brain. 

Clearly this is not an ideal way to function. There is a perfectionist in me trying to get out and boss me around, and the me that won't stand for it is digging her heels in and refusing to co-operate, so I spend quite a lot of time bouncing from 'must get that done' to 'can't be bothered' and back again. 

I understand that someone looking in on my life might see things very differently. They might see that I am a mum and wife who home educates one child and looks after two full-time as well as working occasionally for the family business and staving off the 'Black Dog' of depression (it's currently in its cage, thank the Lord). I have a reasonably clean and tidy house, my kids and husband have fresh food and clean clothes, and most family and friends get birthday cards on time. I do loads of good stuff. I can see that. But I never see myself as being good enough. Good enough for whom I am not sure, but there you have it, the thought that crosses my mind on a daily basis. I'm not good enough. 

How do I counteract this daily tendency towards self-disparagement? 
How do I become 'good enough'? 

To my mind there are two answers to this, both of which, while seeming at first to be contradictory, are complimentary to one another. The first answer is that I can't be. No-one can be 'good enough' on their own. We are all falling short of God's perfection each day, and that is why Jesus was necessary -  to sort us out, to make us like him, like God intended us to be. That work will not be completed until the day he returns. The second answer is that I already am, in God's eyes. God sees me as good enough, because He sees me as I will be when I am made fully alive in Christ. So it is not by my own effort that I will satisfy my need for acceptance, but by the work of Jesus on the cross and afterwards, through the resurrection, and after that, through the work of his Spirit in me each day. 

There is, however, something I can do, requiring a bit of effort on my part, to make myself feel better (though I must point out this is not necessary for my being 'good enough' for God). In order to generate a feeling of achievement for myself, and thus contribute towards a sense of being good enough for my own standards, I must be realistic in what I can achieve. I need a sense of balance, not overload, to reduce the feelings of inadequacy I take to bed with me on a regular basis. In short, I need to do something, and do it to the very best of my ability. 

I need to focus

Years of juggling the acts of feeding, changing, cleaning and dressing both my children and myself, along with the numerous other trivial actions necessary for the maintenance of a credible day-to-day existence, have significantly reduced my ability to focus on one thing for any length of time. My finely-honed multi-tasking skills seem to have had an inverse effect on my ability to concentrate. 

So I am going practise. I am going to try and focus on doing one thing well, for one or two weeks. When I feel I am making some progress with that activity, I will shift my focus onto something else. I don't mean I'm going to neglect my daily routine and all the necessaries that it entails. I am merely talking about working at something until I am good at it, and then working at something else, and so on. I have an imaginary box full of things I would like to do well, and I am going to pick one at a time, and have a go. 

That's it. No pressure to be great, but just the intention to try.  

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Choose Your Words Carefully. (Reflections on Parenting: For My Family)

I've been finding the act of writing monumentally difficult lately, so I shall, for now, just borrow some words of wisdom from one far wiser than I. These words are about words, actually, and Heaven knows I need to work on mine.

"The one who holds his tongue is wise."

"Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

"Pleasant words are a honeycomb: sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."

"A (person) of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a (person) of understanding is even-tempered."

How are your words today?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Not A Monster After All.

Image Credit
Last week I had a visit from the Local Education Authority 'Home Education co-ordinator', who came armed with a form and loads of questions about our reasons for home educating James, and our methods for doing so. I was feeling somewhat trepidatious beforehand, as I wasn't sure quite what she would be looking for, and I was fully prepared to have to defend our decision to take James out of school and to present her with a well-reasoned argument in support of the approach we have taken so far. I was relieved to discover however that she wasn't offensive in any way, shape or form, that her questions were simple to answer, and that she actually had some helpful suggestions for topics and activities we could attempt in the future. She was complimentary about what we had achieved so far and her subsequent report painted us in a very good light! Phew. Panic over.

Many people choose not to allow local authority representatives into their houses and refuse to fill in their forms, preferring instead to supply their own format of evidence, or, in some cases to supply no 'evidence' at all, and just have an informal chat on the telephone. I didn't feel the need to draw the line at our front door, or to avoid the perceived intrusion of answering someone else's questions about what constitutes a good education, and I am glad I didn't, as I think I got as much out of our meeting as this lady did. In the end I came away with some good website links and project ideas, and Local Authority Lady went away with enough information to satisfy her curiosity until this time next year. It's actually a nice feeling to have someone say 'good job', to know that what we have done so far has not been wildly off target, and that we are free to carry on as we are. Not that I should be so desperate for the approval of others, but there you have it.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Our First Project.

James and I have been working on a little project about castles. Yesterday was a bit of a crazy day, with both boys at home, full of beans, and being sillier than ever, but amid the silliness we managed to produce this:

 It's a painting the boys did of Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, which we visited a couple of weeks ago, plus photos of our visit and some snippets of information about the castle. It's on display so I can look at it when things are going pear-shaped and remember that even on a bad day, we can still do something vaguely educational...

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Fear. (For My Family: In Search of Wisdom.)

Photo Credit: Savage Chickens
Everyone is afraid of something, right?

Spiders, burglars, stock market crashes, aliens, terrorists, politicians and all sorts of other random things keep many of us awake at night (or at least they should, according to some newspapers).

Not me.
I will not fear such things.

The only fear I have, the only fear I need, is the fear of God. He is powerful. He is just. He is everywhere. He is the beginning and the end. He is the creator of life. And as such I fear Him. He is God, after all. If I didn't fear Him, He wouldn't be my God, the other stuff would be, in His place.

I believe He is loving. I believe He is good. I believe He is compassionate and merciful. But I also believe there is good reason to fear Him. And it has nothing to do with thinking He may be some kind of unpredictable monster.

Lately I've been reading through the book of Proverbs, trying to uncover some gem of wisdom relating to parenthood, something that would underpin my days of stumbling awkwardly from one mistake to the next. I've become desperate in recent days and weeks, particularly since homeschooling James, to improve my mum-skills, to be the best parent I can be. I've wanted to do this job since I was a little girl playing with my dolls, and yet it leaves me feeling more inadequate and ill-equipped than anything I have ever attempted in my life before.

(Sounds dramatic - feels true!)

I should be enjoying this. I should be good at it. I believe God wants me to parent with knowledge and understanding, and not blindly, with compassion and kindness instead of automatic reaction. I want to be a good mum. I want to be better. And for that, I need to know what I should and shouldn't be doing. I need to be aware of how I can bless my children. I need to understand their personalities, their strengths and their needs.

I need wisdom.

Throughout the first few chapters of Proverbs, we read the words of a father teaching his son about life. He pleads with his child to seek knowledge and understanding. It is as worth searching for as precious silver, he says.  He tells him that the starting point should be the fear of God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." It is the very foundation upon which wisdom is to be laid.

What is this fear of God? Are we really to be afraid of Him?

Some people play down this concept of fear. They explain it away by downgrading it to 'awe'. A sort of breathless wonder, or extreme regard for something we love but don't quite understand. The trouble is, the word 'awesome' is applied to so many things these days (waves, hair styles, hot dogs) it's hardly fit for talking about how we should feel about God.

I feel there is another way to understand this call to fear God. I think that we humans are naturally fearful, and that God knows it. And so He gives us the option: we can choose to fear Him (as we are also called to love Him) or we can choose to fear the world's violent, unpredictable evils. I believe that the fear of God is in direct opposition to the fear of man. One cancels out the other. When you truly fear Him, you begin to understand Him, He honours you with His wisdom, and we see that the world can do nothing to us that God cannot deal with.

What does Jesus say? He tells his disciples not to be afraid: "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world" and also tells them to "fear the one who has the power to destroy both soul and body". Is it possible that the two are connected? Could it be that as you fear God, the fear of man leaves your heart? I think we need to hold this fear within the context of our knowledge of God's character as shown to us in Jesus - his compassion, his relationship, his mercy and his healing. But I think we need to hold it all the same.

Proverbs 14:26 says "Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress. And for their children it will be a refuge." A refuge. A place of safety. A place to run to in times of trouble. In fearful days, we can feel safe in the knowledge that the only one we need fear is God. We fear God because He is truly awesome, we love Him because He is truly good, and because of this we are afraid of nothing.

And so my search for wisdom continues. For now I feel like I am starting in the right place.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

For My Family.

Day One.

I don't usually do Lent, being as I am from a more non-traditional, less 'religious' Christian background, and I have never really understood why people do it. I mean, I know why people do it, in a religious sense, as a commemoration of Jesus' 40 days fasting in the wilderness, and as a period of reflection and repentance in advance of Holy Week and the Easter celebrations that follow it. But I've not really got to grips with the benefits of observing Lent, spiritually, and personally.

I always thought that people did it because it was expected of them, it was traditional, it was customary, and perhaps even believed to be required for God's approval. (I definitely don't believe that). I've regularly (annually, in fact) dismissed Lent with a casual 'no need for that' and a shrug of the shoulders.

Until now. 

Recently I have begun to notice that there is more to Lent than the ritual fasting and penitence, spiritual shoulder-lashing and theological navel-gazing I had previously (wrongly) assigned it. Today, as I find myself in the midst of one of the most turbulent, challenging and revealing chapters of my life as a wife and parent, what with all the home-educating, house-churching, own-business-running, and depression-overcoming that's been going on, I have to acknowledge that I need to stop. I need to disengage the autopilot, I need to think hard about what I am doing on a daily basis. I need to get before God and be completely transparent before Him, or very quickly the bottom is going to fall out of what it is I am trying to do (and be).

Conveniently for me, this realisation is emerging at a time when Christian tradition dictates that a season of contemplation has begun, and wouldn't it be a good idea to take stock of one's situation, think about how one approaches life, and change things that are wrong or out of sync, perhaps even give some of them up?

I have, rather surprisingly, given that I am, well, me, decided first and foremost to give up chocolate as this year's Lenten sacrifice. I don't think I really thought it through (ha, story of my life!), but the decision has been made, and I may as well stick to it. (My husband laughed in my face when I told him. But then, he does that in response to many of the things I say.) I'm assuming it will do me some good along the way.

More importantly as far as I am concerned, I have decided to focus on doing something positive, on building something good. A model, in fact. A model of parenting, of wife-hood, of family-being-ness (if I may say that without it sounding too, y'know, blech).

I am going to spend this season searching for a deeper understanding of how to do these things well, and in a way that God maybe has always intended for me to do these things.  I have two children, aged seven and four, and at some point in the future my husband and I hope to take care of some more, via fostering and/or adoption. So I believe this exercise is long overdue. In fact, I feel I am going to be catching up on many years of missed opportunities to meditate on things in this way, and building a measure of understanding that I have needed many times before, but never really had.

So, to cut a long story short (!) during the next 40 days or so, I'll be looking to God's word, to my own experiences, to the words and experiences of other parents, and to my children, as we build something together. And I hope you won't mind if I share it with you.

For my family.