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.

Friday, 4 March 2011

The End of Month One: Is My Boy A Right-Brained Learner?

Well here we are at the end of our first month of home educating our seven-year-old son. I think he has learned something. I know that I, however, have learned a LOT.

I've learned that getting cross with him doesn't get me any results whatsoever, except to increase my own, and his, stress levels. (Duh - you'd have thought I'd have learned this years ago, but no. I am a slow learner!)

I have learned that when he is enjoying an activity, he absorbs a lot of information about that activity. The opposite is also true. If James really hates the idea of something, or struggles with it, I have to weigh-up the value of actually making him do it, as it seems at such times that all potential for learning temporarily takes flight. There are some things I feel it is important to strongly encourage/bribe him to do, such as writing a daily diary. In fact, some days I don't mind if that is the only writing he actually does. I have seen some improvement in his written expression, and his handwriting, since we started this daily exercise. I view it as a valuable tool for recalling the things we've done together, and for reflection, and an opportunity for James to see that he is actually making some progress, and having lots of fun while doing so. It's something he protests against on most days, but he always seems pleased with what he has written afterwards, and when his Dad walks through the front door it's usually the first thing he shows to him. It's akin to getting James to go to bed on time - not something he really wants to do most evenings (unless he's feeling particularly sleepy), but something that we see as necessary, something that will benefit him in both the short- and long-term, and something that, generally, James seems pleased with once it's over!

I've learned that James's capacity for assimilating information is huge. When it comes to Star Wars, that is. He has read through the whole of his Star Wars annual, which recounts the stories of all six film episodes, as well as giving loads of biographical information about each of the characters. He's completed quizzes, word searches and anagrams. He can pretty much answer any question about the films and characters (although he hasn't seen Episode III - a bit too much burning if you ask me). You might think this is all a bit inappropriate, obsessional, perhaps. To me it speaks of James' potential for learning and his mind-boggling ability to understand the complex world of imaginary intergalactic warfare. Which is amazing to me when I consider that he struggles to go through the mechanisms necessary for successful teeth-cleaning of a morning.

I've been pondering the nature of James's learning style as we've embarked on this new phase of life, and in all my digging and hypothesis-positing I have uncovered a couple of possibilities (and they may be very closely linked) that I feel warrant further investigation: The first is that James may have a mild, and specifically inattentive, form of ADHD. Gasp. I know little about such things but from the bits of research I have done (initiated by an inkling of mine) I have discovered enough to justify getting an assessment appointment for James. And that is what we have done. More on that later. The other thing I have had an inkling about for some time is the idea that James may be a completely different kind of learner from me, and indeed, from most of the children that formal education systems and tests, etc, seem to cater for.  I have been reading about right-brained (or 'visual-spatial') learners at Throwing Marshmallows blog  (her son is a visual-spatial learner) and also by following some of the links she gives. (This person has also written an excellent post a couple of years ago about ADHD, homeschooling and the olympic swimmer Michael Phelps here. I like her blog muchly.) I think James may be a predominantly 'visual-spatial' learner. The other main type of learner is called 'auditory-sequential'. I think I am one of those, with a bit of the other thrown in, just to keep things interesting.

Now, I don't have any of the answers to my questions about James's learning style and attention 'needs' yet, but I feel like I am making some headway into understanding him better.  I look forward to discovering more about him, because the more I get to know him, and try to do things in a way that suits him, the better our relationship gets.