Don’t Be Afraid to Unschool

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This post is directed to Christian unschoolers but I hope it will be an encouragement to all who read it.

When the Lord led me to unschooling, I was so afraid. In fact, I was more afraid of this than even homeschooling itself (which had seemed crazy when I had first thought of it).

Unschooling just seemed so…risky. What about math? Did it mean gaming all the time? Did I have any say as a parent? What if…?

The feeling I had, waiting to obey the Lord, was like I was standing on the edge of a bridge, ready to bungee-jump off, and I was absolutely freaking out. Even though I know the rope will keep me safe, it is the fear that is overwhelming and preventing me from taking the plunge, as I stand high above the river and rocks below.

It is fear, isn’t it, that keeps us from willingly follow the Lord.

So, if you are sensing the Lord leading you to unschooling with your children, let me encourage you not to follow fear and be kept back from unschooling with these three points.

1. God has got them.

It was Sally Clarkson and Edith Schaeffer that first helped me realise that my children were not, in fact, mine. Both their books The Mission of Motherhood and What is a Family? respectively, were what confirmed homeschooling as the right direction for us as a family. A huge part of that confirmation was God pressing upon my heart how precious are these children and how much He loves them.

He loves them because they are His. He made them for Himself.

Julie Polanco, in her book Godschooling, also confirmed this by pointing out that God knows their future, not us, and therefore, He knows what they need to know and love as they are growing and learning. So let Him lead their interests, passions, and curiosities.

I can only see this in my own life. As I look back, I can see how God directed me to books, friends, places, movies, and many other things that cultivated interests and passions in my life that direct me to this very day.

We can trust God with our children.

2. You will be a better mother.

Now, I am NOT saying mothers who do not unschool are bad mothers – at all. This post is directed to mothers who, like me, have sensed God leading their children into an unschooling life – but it is scary. Unschooling is not the only way to educate children. I absolutely believe that.

Just like our children, God has got us, as their mothers. He knows what we need to be amazing mothers for the children He has given us.

When I release my fear to God and trust Him with the children’s learning, He opens my eyes so wide to them. Their joy and their love and their interests fill me with love and joy and interest. I really look into my children and enjoy them. I am a free, at rest mother.

God knows that I need this unschooling life just as much as my children because He knows, when I ask him, “Lord, please help me love my children” this is His answer to me.

3. He is trustworthy.

It really all comes back down to that. It’s simple. Trust God.

We hate being so finite – we want to know what the future holds for our children. If we knew, we could let go and not stress so much.

We also hear the criticisms of others – well-meaning, or not – and we doubt. Even if we have had clear guidance from God in Scripture that this is the way to go, as well as from those we trust, we still doubt. It’s like the serpent in the Garden, “Did God really say?”

But, God promises to give us wisdom and guidance and understanding if we ask Him. He is the only one who does know the future. We can rest in His providence.

And, we can trust Him that, as we go along the unschooling journey, if He wants to change our direction to something more formal or traditional, He will lead us. We just have to keep in-step with the Spirit, listen, and obey.

So…

…if He has been leading you to this way of education, trust God with your children. And, just do it – unschool. You’ll be absolutely amazed by what God has in store for your children, for you, and your whole family life.

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Encouraging Podcasts for Christian Women

Podcasts are such blessings for Christian wives and mothers today. Sometimes we just don’t have time to sit down and spend a good chunk of time reading a good book and journaling about it. But, through the gift of technology, God has raised up some wonderful women who have one purpose: to encourage us in our walks with the Lord and to serve our families with our whole hearts.

There are so many podcasts out there. But there are a handful that I return to, even listening to episodes from years back, because they continually encourage and equip me. If I’m washing the dishes, painting the stairwell, or having a rest during our daily ‘quiet hour’, listening to these podcasts have fed my soul.

Here are my five favourite podcasts for Christian women!

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Thankful Homemaker

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Ah, Marcie is a true Titus 2 mentor. I love listening to her podcasts immensely. The Lord has used several of hers, especially about Self-Discipline in the Home, to really convict and edify me in my role as wife and mother. She has the wisdom, the grace, and the love of living a seasoned life. This is my go-to podcast.

At Home With Sally

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Sally Clarkson has been influential in my walk as a mother. It is through her that the Lord spoke to the desires of my heart of being a whole-hearted mother. It is through her that He planted the idea of homeschooling. Now, seven years into motherhood, Sally continues to encourage me and speak to my heart. Sally calls us higher and that is something I am so thankful for.

Confidently Called

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Jennifer has had a couple of uears break with her podcast (and I think blogging too), but there are still so many gems there that her podcast just keeps on feeding! However, she has recently released two new episodes and they are fantastic – especiallu the one about Home with guest speaker, Jen. I also loved the one with Amy Roberts about creating anchors in our homeschool days.

Raising Arrows

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Speaking of Amy Roberts, I just love her grace and wisdom. There are so many pressures today for us to just have it together. Do you feel that too? With put together pictures on blogs, or stunning images on IG – there are unspoken messages everywhere for women to just be perfect. I have gone off IG for that very reason. But Amy? She is a mother of a lrage family and she knows that life is not perfect. Yet, she encourages us to just keep moving forward. I love that about her. She is like a warm hug!

Risen Motherhood

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This is one of the most popular podcasts out there for Christian mothers – and I know why! It’s Christ-centred, Word-rooted, and plain od’ encouraging. I haven’t listened to tonnes of episodes, because they tend to be slightly longer, but the ones I have listened to have been just such a blessing. A recent interview with Jani Ortlund (her book Fearlessly Feminine is one of my favourites) was just so rich and heart-warming. They have a book too, and many resources for your walk with Christ.

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 So here they were! Have you listened to any of them? Do you have any suggestions?

worship encompasses all of me

“Our devotion results in a conscious yielding of every part of our personality, every ambition, every relationship, and every hope to Him. Submission to God’s will is the true heart of worship.” ~ Barbara Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Woman

Have you ever found that you have lost your way before the Lord?

It comes on slowly, I believe. Sometimes it stems from struggles, from trials, or from big life events that suck us into the pressing needs of the moment. Sometimes it comes over time, the flower has lost it’s bloom, the fire it’s spark.

I have forgotten that, to worship my God, it encompasses all of me. Sometimes I think that one area of my life can be hidden from Him, or I tell myself that it doesn’t matter if I am slack in this way because in other ways I am doing my best. Sometimes I think that worship is just when I read my Bible, or sing a song, or pray.

But no. The Bible is clear that, when Christ fulfilled the Old Testament sacrificial system, worshiping God no longer was contained in one place, by one animal. Worshipping our God and Creator requires all of my life.

Let All That I Do

Have you drifted away from this truth? Have you held back parts of your life that you believe don’t come under His rule?

Friend, like me, we need to submit all of our life to our Father. All that we have is from Him and, because we were bought with a price, our sacrifice of thankfulness and gratitude is pouring out our own lives to Him.

How I eat needs to be worship. (This is a big one for me.)

How I spend my time needs to be worship.

How I wash the dishes, smooth out the bedspreads, pull up the weeds, wipe away the soap marks in the shower all need to be worship.

How I homeschool the children needs to be worship.

How I respond to my husband and be a pillar to him needs to be worship.

Even what I watch or read or listen to needs to be worship.

“Every single time I confess my self-reliance and submit my life to God’s will in a particular area, I am worshiping God – as surely as any sincere Israelite offering a lamb in obedience to God’s plan.” ~ Barbara Hughes

The worship of our God and our Saviour must encompass all of us. There can be no place for stubbornness, self-reliance, self-delusion, or ignoring of truth. It is hard to face sometimes, in moments it may feel impossible. But true worship to our true God is a whole life, whole body, whole spirit sacrifice and service.

Let us start this new week, humbling our hearts before Him, confessing our self-reliance or the hidden things (that are not so hidden to Him), and submit all of ourselves once again to Him.

Let us truly, and deeply, and consciously worship God in our daily life, offering all that we do with thankful hearts and willing hands.

 

remember: education is life, and life is education

This week I have seen several articles in national newspapers about schools being in lockdown and how people/parents are worrying that their children’s education is going to be stunted. There was even a live Q & A with a principal  where parents could get help with all their concerns with lack of schooling. Thankfully, the principal was wonderful and essentially said ‘Relax’ over and over again. But, I couldn’t finish reading the session because I started to feel frustrated and sad.

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The overall theme of parent’s concern was this: ‘How is my child going to learn enough when they aren’t in school?’

It is one of the fallacies of our age that people believe that a human can only be educated in school. I believed this too, until I felt drawn to homeschooling, and I began to see that education is far bigger, broader, richer, and more beautiful than most schools can offer. Through the writings of John Holt, I was able to see that children are learning all the time and hunger for it, as their stomach hungers for food. Yet, it is the very practices of school that stunt this joy and desire.

Our eyes are blind to the fact that schools are production lines. As adults, my husband and I are still stripping away the tangled mess in our minds over what constitutes work and learning and worthwhile pursuits. As we are raising our children, we see our own schooling upbringings coming out in how we speak and act and what we require of our children. By God’s grace, the scales are slowly falling away and we are able to be different.

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The second concern I saw in the Q & A was this: ‘I am just their parent, I am not qualified to teach my child’.

This saddens me all the more. Mothers literally give their children life, yet we can’t guide them into the wonderful world of reading or numbers or art or physics or, well, the world? Somewhere in the last one hundred years, parents have fallen for the notion that only professionals can teach. We’ve become less confident in our ability and our position, and defer many things to those who apparently know better.

But some of us know better. At least, we know what is better for our own individual families. We see that education is not always found in a classroom. In fact, we can look back at our own schooling years and wonder if any educating happened at all? So we’ve decided to do something different with our own children. We want them to pursue life to its fullest which, in essence, is education.

 

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If you look through some of my blog, you will see that we tend towards Christian unschooling, which essentially means interest-led learning. For us, we are fully alive as a family as we gently embrace life and learning, intertwined and inseparable. I can see how they are thriving and it brings me, as their mother, joy as I guide them, provide them with opportunities they love. It is such a privilege and honour.

Through this Coronavirus, I am hoping and praying that families would realise that they can teach their children and that home life is a rich environment for learning. I pray they gain confidence in their position as parents and enjoy being with them. I really pray the western world wakes up to what they have been missing.

Monthly Unschooling Highlights: January

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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?

Having a Vision For Motherhood

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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!

Christian Unschooling: Is That Possible?

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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.

 

You Can Always Start Fresh: On Purpose, Daily Life, and Moving House

This past Thursday, we moved out of the house we have lived in the past ten years. Even though I have spent weeks slowly packing, decluttering, and cleaning, the day was ginormous and exhausting – but we did it. Tim, my lovely husband, drove the truck down south to the new city we are moving to – Dunedin – and our new house, the derelict 100-year-old villa on a hill. The children and I have come out to my father’s, a beautiful bay in a harbour. Very few people live here. It’s just the sea, the native birds, and clear and clean time.
I grew up here from about nine. Though born in the city, I quickly adjusted to quiet and slow country life and it has been in my blood ever since. I remember days at home, reading or writing, walking the hills or throwing rocks into the sea. I remember days at the beach doing nothing but play. I remember fishing, and exploring farms, riding horses, and just spending a lot of time in real life. By real life, I mean that which God has created and which has been life for people for thousands of years: slow, day-by-day living, anchored by the rising and setting of the sun and the meals eaten.
I have longed for country life ever since I moved back to the city. But, as yet, it is not what God has for me or our family. That is something I have to often lay down at His feet, trusting that He knows the yearnings of my heart. Though our new home and our new life is still in the city, Dunedin itself is a beautiful harbour city, situated over bushy hills. It isn’t a large city, and it has the old-New Zealand feel still. Our home on the hill overlooks a valley. And it feels as if God has given all of the family a piece of their dream altogether: convenience of city living, the beauty of hills and valleys and views, the relaxed way of Southern New Zealand, and a home with history. Honestly, we are just blown away by God’s kindness to us.
But here I am, still in Wainui for a few weeks, enjoying time in my childhood home with the children enjoying all the nature and stunning surroundings that I did. I am thankful for this time and I see it already as a time apart, ordained by God for us to rest, refresh, and restart our home life together. There is literally almost nothing modern to do here. It is only time outside, or books, or conversations, or walks, or helping Poppa garden, or kicking the ball around, and a little television.
For me, I am relishing time focused on the Lord. I have had a difficult year in my faith, and only in the last few weeks do I see Him easing me out of several valley’s. Hunger for His Word is coming back and I am seeing clear answers to my pleas in the passages I read, thrilling my heart and lighting that flame more fiercely. I also see God helping me to step back from all the busyness that has been these last few months and enable us to reset our purpose in homeschooling together and our daily life.
I’m asking myself,
What do I believe about our home learning?
What do I want for the children?
What do I need for me as a homeschooling mother?
What do I want to anchor our days together?
What am I failing in?
What am I strong in?
Where do I need to speak Truth to doubts?
What do I continue on in?
It is easy to get stuck in a rut, or to feel like you cannot get a hold over your days. It is easy to feel like we can’t do anything different because the term is half way through and we’ve hardly done anything we wanted to or we need to complete the workbook. But, actually, none of these things really need to determine how we spend our days. We can never kid ourselves into thinking we are in control of our lives, yet, God’s Word exhorts us to make the most of each day – to “number” them – so we are responsible for our purpose and our daily life. And we can always start again.
And, even though moving house – and city! – is the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate daily life, I am reminded that each and every day is a fresh start. We can always re-evaluate, or start anew, or be refreshed. We are not bound by anything – not even the philosophy or curriculum we love. We are bound by the Saviour of our souls and every new morning is fresh with His mercies (Lamentations 3:21-25).

“Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” ~ Psalm 9:10

How Books Are, and Will Continue to Be, Our Main Homeschool Curriculum

All links in this post are to Amazon Associates.

 

“What better education can we offer our children than the shaping of their hearts to love others as we have been loved by God ourselves? Charlotte Mason, a nineteenth-century educator, said as much when she taught that it’s not how much children know that matters – it’s how much they care. Education is put to its best use when it teaches us how to love.” Sarah MacKenzie, The Read Aloud Family

I’ve always known the importance of books.
Growing up, my father was a Professor in Children’s Literature, and in our home there was always a library. Thousands and thousands of children’s books at our finger tips. Of course, when I finally got hooked into reading, it was through The Baby Sitter’s Club (much to my Dad’s despair), but hey, I was reading, right? Those girls were my friends, got me through some lonely, friend-less years at school. And, they got me into other books, so I knew – first hand – what meaningful connections books could give.
Watership Down, The Halfmen of O, Snowfall, My Friend Flicka – those books had lasting effects on me as a child. When I left school and went to university, history and books were what I pursued. Words and literary worlds are my thing. So, of course, I knew that they would be my children’s thing also. I don’t think my father would let it be otherwise!
Becoming a homeschooling family has taken this to a whole new meaning.

“It’s tempting to idolize certain aspects of education. We value good grades, high test scores, elite college degrees, and lucrative careers. But our obsession keeps us from remember what education is for. Education is for love.” ~ Read Aloud Family

Starting to homeschool brought me a lot of fear. The invisible standards of our school system, peer levels, and my own lack of confidence meant I have yo-yoed through philoshophies and ideas and what works for us. But one thing has been a common thread these last two years: books.
Whether we are pursuing interests, rabbit holes, or I am planning my own lessons for the children, books are the centre of our learning. Often a book will be the anchor of a unit study. Sometimes, a book will spark a new interest in the children. More often than not, we’re just reading all the new books we get from the library each week. And we’re talking and thinking about those books.
Through all these books, and all the love we have pouring over them together, I have come to see what Sarah MacKenzie says above: education is about love. It isn’t about tests or grades or how much my child actually knows. It is about helping them care about themselves, their family, the wider community, and the world beyond.
“Is the main reason we want an excellent education for our children so they can outperform their peers? So they can rank higher, get promoted faster, become more financially successful than their collegues and friends? Or do we want our children to become educated so they can follow the two greatest commandments: love God and love one another?” ~ Read Aloud Family

 

Why do I think books, as a core curriculum, will provide a better education than anything else?
I think, above all else, books and stories enable the world – people, history, experience, ideas, scientific facts – to truly and deeply come alive to children. Charlotte Mason’s term ‘living books’ is so apt – if a book is written well, anything and all things can come alive in a child’s mind and heart.

From within, then, and not just head-knowledge, will a child be educated.

A child can experience a time in history that could otherwise just be facts, say in Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. The reader can understand, not just what life was like in the late 1930’s, but what it was like for Anna, a Jew, escaping Germany and learning to adjust to a new life for being ‘hated’.
A child’s creative ideas could be planted and grown through reading all the Harry Potter books. Imaginary worlds and characters that spill out into play and creative pursuits expand a child’s mind far more than the typical reading comprehension exercises. Not to mention the inner warmth the reader has as they read Harry’s courage, good characters against evil ones, and the difficulty of choosing what is right when the odd’s are against you.

I could go on and on about how truly wonderful and life-giving books can be for children. And I think really using books – picture books, novels, reference books – can be absolutely sufficient for a homeschool curriculum. (I have already reviewed the Five and a Row curriculum, which is literary-based and which we love and use.)

“We read with our children because it gives both them and us an education of the heart and mind. Of intellect and empathy. We read together and learn because stories teacg us how to love.” ~ Sarah MacKenzie

If you need some more encouragement, I highly recommend the Read Aloud Family book that I have quoted – it is excellent.

Homeschool Mama, Have Your Forgotten This Important Truth?

As I continue to figure out what this homeschooling thing looks like for us as a family, and as I figure out what I believe about education for our children and what that looks like for me as their ‘teacher’, a thought has niggled at me…
In my earnest desire to be a ‘good’ homeschool mother, and as I have pursued this new part of our lives with vigour, I have forgotten something far more important than curriculum, or philosophy, or co-op’s, or our daily routine. As I look around in real life and meet new friends online, I wonder if many of us have forgotten it too.
In my homeschool-earnestness, what have I forgotten?
I have forgotten that I am my children’s mother.

I believe that the most essential thing that we, as home educators, must never forget – but which we do, easily – is that, before all other things, we are mothers.

I think this is easy to forget this because we are all eager and earnest and jump into homeschooling guns ablaze. This isn’t a bad thing – we need to be this earnest. By choosing to swim against stream, we need to believe deeply in what we are doing and how we are doing this – because it is different, it is hard, and it is a responsibility we by no means take lightly.
So, we read all our books and blogs and educational tomes. We follow inspiring mamas all over the internet. We implement practices that speak to us. And this is all good, and true, and beautiful! This earnestness is what gets us through each day.
But – and we do really need to stop and think about this –  when we’re starting our day, pulling out our planner, and seeing all the boxes we want ticked by lunch, are we approaching our children as their mother or their teacher?

I am realising this: I am not their teacher.

I am not their educator, or facilitator, or any other form of imparter-of-knowledge. These may be things that I do for my children as part of our learning life at home – but they ought not be what defines my relationship with my children.

And now, children are pushed and pulled, tested way too early, expected to perform well for the sake of the mama’s self image and developing anxiety at far too early of an age. Sally Clarkson, Give Your Children the Gift of Loving Who They Are

And this is what I am learning: one day, when my work as an active parent is done, what will really matter? Will it be the curriculum’s we finished, or the list of books we read aloud, or that we followed Classical education to a ‘T’? Will it be that our children got into university, or that they graduated school at fifteen?
No, of course not. What matters will be the condition of the relationship my children have with me, their mother. Not me, as their teacher, but as their mother.

So, ultimately,  our relationship is the highest priority for every single day of our homeschooling life together.  

Perhaps this is why unschooling, or whole-life homeschooling (as a friend and I penned it), drew me in. When I try and do homeschool any other way (even in a lovely way, like Charlotte Mason), I end up treating my children like students and not my little ones.
Instead, when I see them – not only as my children – but as unique, respect-worthy people, with their own timetables of learning and interests and passions, my entire mindset in our days change. I remain Mama. There is no drill-sergeant in the house. There is (mostly) joy, rest, slow, calm, and appreciation between us (mostly, again – we’re not perfect!).
When I am Mama, and my children are children, homeschooling is a joy. So, if there has been strife, or dreariness in your home lately, could this be why? How do your children see you? And, more importantly, how do you see your children?