Monthly Archives: March 2011

Home Education ; children learning to read.

I have had a number of conversations about reading recently. It seems to be the topic of the moment.

One of the questions that those of us who admit in public that we are home educating our children get asked is, “How will you teach them to read?”

A friend has told me her health visitor has made another visit – we were all amazed as no HV we know will leave their desk. But my friend wonders if she is getting extra visits because she has said her children will not be going to school. The HV said in tones of careful admonition, “You will have to teach them to read.”

My friend managed to restrain her reply. She is a better woman than me.

Another mum who knows I have been using  a “scheme” has phoned on more than oe occasion to check out where in the scheme my 6 yr old is. As my 8 yr old is finished with those books, it makes it harder for her to judge ‘where’ he is. In our last conversation I explained that I move between books and scheme. Avila has finished the grade 10 Oxford Reading Books, so we have moved onto Stage 4 of Step Into Reading and then there’s a couple of ORT books at stage 11 for her to read and some Step Into Reading stage 5. She is reading other books as she likes. So I am not asking her to follow a set pattern of reading any more.

I know a lot of home educators believe that schemes are not a good idea, and I do understand their misgivings. The biggest problem with them is that it can lead to a sort of competition, where short cuts are made to ensure the child is ticking the correct achievement box, and if they are not, they will know.  The other problem is that Oxford Reading Tree books in particular are very expensive. Step Into Reading books are much more reasonable. Both lean to the gimmicky approach at times so you need to weed out the twaddle to find the gems. The advantage of them,  to me, is that they are very gradual in building reading vocabulary so the child learning isn’t overwhelmed by lots of new words. I like the fact that the Step Into Reading books are stand alone, so we don’t need a whole load of them. I like the ORT books because they were lent to me 🙂 And the children have enjoyed the Magic Key stories.

All three of the younger children started with Starfall alongside the Oxford Reading Tree books. I decided some time ago that Avila needed to come off the Oxford RT books for a while as they are mixed approach and she really needed a strongly phonics approach to help her decode new words. We went to the old McGuffey Readers for a while, until she was stronger and more confident in reading. It worked, and when she returned to the ORT books she read much more fluently. Those of you reading this for ideas on teaching reading – all I can say is, you will know if your child is struggling, and these days there are a lot of excellent old and free resources that can help.

If she went to school she would be in Year 1 (kindergarten for Americans). The other mother who wanted to know where she was in her reading thought that Stage 10 ORT was very advanced for her age (6). I wasn’t so sure. I have been out of the school loop for a while, so I just didn’t know (or care) whether she was advanced or not. I know she struggles to decode words and her perception of letters is somewhat off, and this has slowed her down; but she can read fine and enjoys reading. That’s what matters to me.

But more recently I have heard mothers say that their children (with no perceived reading problem) have moved to Year 2 while reading Stage 6 or 7 or ORT books. Aha, so my 6 year old is better than theirs? I really doubt that. And something in the conversations that comes up over and over again is that their children are becoming bored and more reluctant to read.  Some parents are by-passing the school and having their children read harder and more interesting books at home to keep the love of reading alive in spite of the “scheme,” and in spite the number of mums reporting that the teacher will not accept their child needs more challenge.

I have to say, I can’t really think that I have “taught” any of the younger children to read. I did have to re-teach Alex to read, and that was a very different process. But the younger ones just show interest in words and stories and then we read together, they read with me and then they read to me. It sort of happens, without a strictly formal lesson of any kind.

I do make sure they read to me  every day. But now they all spend independent time with books, even Heleyna, and they read to one another. They also get quite a bit of time to read to other people’s children. Even Heleyna has “read” to a baby, from one of the little books she knows by heart.

The important part of this process is to leave them with a love of reading. I don’t want them to see books as something of a chore, to do with boredom and banality. If they are stripped of their natural love of reading because I give them boring, poorly written books to read, very, very slowly – then they will have a huge treasure trove of thought, ideas and history closed to them.

So, if there is one piece of advice I would give to a home ed family starting out with younger children learning to read it is this; do not be trapped into the “What stage are yours?” questions. Go as fast or as slowly as your child needs and don’t stick with books they hate, just because you think they should.

Home Education; Book Basket

I have been adding books to the left sidebar to show which books we have been reading here.

But I thought I would add a post for weekly books, both hard copy and online, that we are reading.

Ronan (grade 2 year 3 age 8)  is working through The King of the Golden City. Although it is the study edition, he is just reading it, and we discuss aspects as he goes along. He likes to work out the allegories for himself. He’s been reading some Enyd Blyton books a fellow HE mum lent us, on and off as well.

Avila (grade K year 1 age 6) is reading The Ice Mummy, a Step Into Reading 4 book, which has led to her reading to Ronan because he’s as fascinated by the story as she is. It’s well written with lots of photos of Otzi and the work done to discover more about him. She is also reading an easier book (lent by K) called Best Friends by Brian Ogdan. They story is based around a school classroom where the teacher takes what is happening to the children and relates it to a Bible story.

Heleyna (age 3 nearly 4) is reading the Starfall books and has fallen in love with Zac the Rat.  We are still doing quite a bit of the More.Starfall stuff too. There are new additions to this website which are very useful.

I have printed off the first four readers for Heleyna, so she has a hard copy to read from too.

The Read Alouds this week (from last week) are the Amy Steedman Nursery Book of Bible Stories from the newly vamped Heritage History Site.  I reading Arabella Buckley’s The Fairyland of Science and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book from the Baldwin Classics collection.

I am reading the Vision Books for Lent (some of them). Yes, I know they are children’s books, but that’s about my level this Lent; and anyway, it’s good to read ahead, so I know what the children will be reading. I’ve read St Dominic which is a nice, straight forward story of what the saint did and with some good history around it to put his work in context. There’s a bit in the story, I think, is mistakenly attributed to St. Dominic, when it is really about his contemporary St. Francis of Assisi. Beebe attributes the prophetic dream Pope Innocent III had about someone rebuilding the Church, and holding it up, to be about Dominic, but it was recorded as being about Francis. There’s some famous artwork showing the dream with Francis holding up the Basilica at Rome.  Other than that, however, the book is very good. She even touches on the Lateran Council.

Now I am reading Louis de Wohl’s Saint Joan, which he writes with his usual gusto and attention to fine historical detail. I’ve never read anything much about the Maid d’Orleans before, and I am very interested in why God was so upfront in His saving od France then, and ensuring the Dauphin was crowned. I have some thoughts on it, but I’ll finish the book first and read more about her.

Meanwhile the flower in the attic, Iona is reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

So, that’s our basket this week.

Home Education; teaching children how to be married.

I’ve got a half started post sitting in drafts about teaching sex education in home ed. But reading a few things recently has made me realise that it’s not sex education children need, it’s marriage education. In fact, looking at some of the more traditionally based curricula, I see things that lend itself towards forming children in such a way as to make them good parents when they are old enough. This learning also lends itself to making good priests and religious. In fact I remember Mother Angelica saying (and she isn’t alone in this view) that a woman who has never felt the desire to have children, will make a terrible nun or sister.

The reason I’ve been thinking more about preparing children for marruage, and the discernment of their vocation is because there is yet another bunch of statistics that show annullments in the USA are epidemic, and I am going to assume the problem is nearly as bad, or worse even, here in the UK. From vague memory, I don’t think Australia or Canada are doing well either.

As a whole, Christian marriage is in a mess, as more and more demoninations cave to the culture on divorce and remarriage. The Catholic church still teaches the Biblical law on marraige and still maintains it sacemental nature, but the shocking number of annullments granted begs a few questions:

Have annullments become Catholic divorces? That is, are ‘pastoral’  concerns over-riding truth and validity of marriages? And is this at the expense of children?

Or are these marriages really invalid? In which case an awful lot of people are entering into marruiage without the proper standards and freedom to do so.

Ot is it, as I think is most likely, a messy mixture of the two?

Whatever the root problem, there are some serious problems that need addressing urgently, to try and prevent more broken marriages and destroyed families. The Holy Father has already asked priests to be more aware of who they are marrying, because if these annullments are legit, then a lot of people are coming to the pastors and asking to be married when they have neither the knowledge or freedom to do so, and the pre-marriage preparation on offer at parish level is neither long enough, nor deep enough to root out those who are not validly entering the Sacrament.

Parents, as the primary educators of children, have a “right and duty” to educate our children for their adult life. It’s up to us, first and formost, to ensure out children know what marriage is, how to prepare for it, and what constitutes a valid marriage. And we have to face the fact that the biggest lesson our children will learn on marriage is from their parent’s marriage.

As both Pope Benedict and John Paul II pointed out, a man having a “mid-life crisis” and committing adultery is not grounds for annullment. The adults need to take responsibility for what is happening, and make valiant attempts to protect the children.

Jesus was firm that divorce was not acceptable to God (in fact the OT has the words from God “I hate divorce”, which I think is in Hosea) and Moses had only allowed it thanks to “hardness of hearts”.  Jesus said marriage is for life, unless it has been cotracted in “pornaea”.  A lot of English translaters put this down as “adultery,” but scholars understand Jesus didn’t mean adultery. He meant illegal marriages such as the pagans got up to, where siblings married or some other forbidden set up.  St Paul allowed divorce for those unevenly yoked – that is a Christian to a pagan who might otherwise hand them over to the authorities. This, today, is called the Pauline Privalege.

A marriage is valid when a man and a woman enter into it, freely, in understanding of the nature of the covenant and oath they are taking and open to children. They need to know what the vows mean and they need to know what it means to make a covenantal vow in God’s Name to receive the Sacrament and the grace that goes with it. If someone is standing in the face of God swearing in His name to take that other person til death do them part, and to be open to the children God wants to send, but has no intention of doing either – they are lieing in a very serious manner.

The sad, and scandelous information is that many people have no real idea what marriage is, when they enter into it – and that is what is getting them annulled. And  while it is certianly true that children retain legitimacy, the damage and pain to children in these situations is just as devastating as divorce.

I want any child of mine to first discern what life they are called t,o and if it is marriage to have a full understanding of what that means. There are times to talk and for questions to be answered. They must understand the nature of marriage and the dignity of the person. They must learn about service to others and putting the needs of another ahead of their wants and even needs at times.

They must learn to be responsible and independant, to have life skills and to have such a deep understanding of family life that they can “do family” themselves when the time comes.

I have not, at this point, bought any books or curricula on this, although my older ones have taken a great deal from the talks given by Jason and Chrystalina Evert: there are some good youtube vids which I think I may have posted here some time ago.

I haven’t even mentioned the horrible Wedding-consumer culture. That is truly yuk.

Marriage and Home Education (part IV) Inlaws and outlaws

The next challenge for all marriages and I am afraid I believe, especially for families who choose to home educate, is the place of the wider family, such as siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and so on.

The fourth Commandment is “Honour your father and mother”. It seems to me it is a “hinge” commandment between the things we owe God (worship only Him, Keep His Name holy, honour the Sabbath/Lord’s Day) and the things we owe in love of neighbour (no murder, theft, adultery, lies and gossip about others, envy of stuff and envy of  people). So it is a very important.

But what does it mean on a practicle level?

Marriage is the moment when a man and a woman leave their old family home under the authority of their parents and, to quote Jesus “Become one flesh.” This sets up a new authority, with the husband as the priest of a new household. The wife works alongside him and together they are the primary educators and carers of the children. That doesn’t mean we suddenly ignore the extended family, or start disrespecting the grandparents. But it does mean the spouse and children come first after God.

In home educating families I know, so far I have yet to come across anyone who hasn’t had to face a very hostile reaction from someone.  It seems to me that it is better to remain silent on the issue as much as possible. You can quietly steer your children away from rude reli’s who set up impromptu ‘tests’ for your children.

I don’t advise getting angry (with them) as it will just cause family problems. Sometimes this can’t be avoided – as a friend of mine is discovering. It is very much harder to deal with this sort of thing when you are just starting out and having to find your feet in the great task ahead. The last thing you need at this point is the sense that you have to jump through hoops to prove you are doing the right thing. 

There is another aspect of the 4th Commandment that needs looking at. What is the duty of a home educating family towards frail or elderly parents. I know Dr Ray Guarendi has his mother in law living with them now. This is something many homeschoolers in America do and it’s something I believe is right. It is actually part of how the children learn. They learn to respect grandma even when she’s confused, frail.

In the UK, it is no longer part of our culture to automatically care for our elderly rekatives. They are put in homes, and left to the care of people like my son and back when I worked -me.  In most cases the older person gets less visitors than the average prisoner.

Part of the atmosphere of education – the culture of the home- needs to be that we serve others. That having younger children around all day, or sick childre, or an elderly relative, is a normal part of life.

I get increasingly uncomfortable with the “put I want my life” attitude that sadly has, in too many cases been handed down to use from our parents who imbibed the 60’s revolution big time.  We can’t turn the whole juggernaut around, but we can, in our little home educating mini-communities, try and ensure our children aren’t drowned in it.

There are obviously many practicle obstacles these days to having grandparents live with you. The major one is housing that is suitable, and the fact that the economy is so weighted against young adults that they can’t move out. But the fact that more adults live in one place, could work out to make it easier to care of a grandparent in their own home, by sharing the care.

Home Education; Language Arts – beginners

I am beginning to realise that there is an order for children to learn the language arts. Not just an order for their learning, but the whole process of acquiring, learning and using language has an order. For me this is a new discovery, but if I dig just a little into the history of education, especially the model set up in the schools of medieval Europe, I see, they already knew there was an order, and in fact they understood this from pre-Christian Classical times.

The Liberal Arts of classical days consisted of the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium is grammar, logic and rhetoric and it was taught in that order. Alongside this the  Quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

So how do I ensure my children have the language skills they need for all their learning and to work through life? The classical approach is to start with a Grammar stage.

Language in children begins before birth. Research shows that the language centres of a girl’s brain are already active well before birth. She is hearing her mother’s voice and tone and reacting to that. Boys language centres respond slightly later. Before the age of two children are not “learning” language, they are acquiring it. Research has clearly shown that the only way a child can acquire language is through interaction with his or her parents and family, especially the mother. Research showed that the silly way we mums talk to our babies, named Motherease by the linguists, actually helps the child acquire language. The constant touch and play and close face to face contact is all part of the process.

Conversely it has been shown that passive observation, such as with a TV, radio or even in a large group with no contact with the speaker – does not help a child’s language development at all. 

One of my Sign Language tutors told us about her baby. She and her husband are profoundly deaf and have no spoken language. Their son was born hearing, so they decided to buy a radio and have it on by his cot. One day her brother, who was  hearing, came to see his nephew and asked her what was the strange noise coming from the nursery. It turned out she hadn’t tuned the radio in, so it was just fuzzing. Even so, when her brother tuned it in properly, her son did not learn English. He learned BSL because that’s what his parents used with him. He began to pick up some spoken English from hearing family members, but he had to learn English when he went to school. His acquired language was BSL.

I have known a few hearing people whose first language is BSL because they were born to Deaf families.

Essentially, if children are going to have the tools for early language arts, they need to have been with their mother to acquire the language. From the age of two onwards they begin the process of learning. Through interaction with older children and adults they begin to correct miscues and mispronouciation and build their spoken vocabulary.

Oral and aural skills are important for children to be able to learn. Reading stories together, looking at pictures together and talking about what we see are all ways to help a child, listen and speak well. This seems to have been much better understood in the  late 19th and early 20 century as language arts books have a lot of discussion excercises in them for the elementary levels. The other thing I notice about these books is the higher level of language expected of the children than I am used to from modern English school books.

Grammar is important for children to learn the rules of language use and to lay the foundation for the future rhetoric stage, when a pricise understanding of how language works should mean the ability to clearly put forward an idea or arguement, both verbally and in writing.

I wish I had learned these things in school. As it happens I am having to learn with the children and a little ahead of them, just to keep up with it all. Fortunately we have Latin and Greek which works like the morter among the English bricks, so that, not only their vocabulary can grow, but their basic understanding of how language works.

The tradition Classical education provuded children with a very sound and broard language base to learn from. This is not about literacy. In fact the more I learn about how children use, build and structure language, the more I realise the “Literacy hour” every day in school is pointless. If the children cannot speak, they cannot write (as teachers are noticing).

Charlotte Mason’s writing assumes that children will spend the first seven years with their mother and family. She is appalled by the German idea that children should go to school much younger, pointing out that even in Sparta, boys were left with their mothers until the age of seven.

By the time children went to her PNEU schools, she expected children to be able to recite, speak and read at a fairly high level. She was not aiming at a certain section of society- this was the way children were supposed to learn.

We are getting something wrong these days aren’t we?

Home Education; Socialisation.

Like just about all home educators we have been asked the socialisation question over and over by various people in various ways. To be honest, in the beginning I think it’s a fair question. I remember wondering how I would handle various aspects of socialisation and social skills in my children outside of school – that is, me having to it, not someone else.  🙂

I have less sympathy with those who keep asking the question in a myriad of formats, despite all the clear answers they receive both verbally and through..well…socialising with the home educating family.

This article  is interesting in that it is one more piece of evidence on the massive pile that shows homeschooled children in America are outstripping their schooled peers in all walks of life. Is it the same for home educated children in the UK? I have no idea; although I do know from  what research has been done here that home educated children do better or as well as schooled children academically. It seems that the sheer size of the homeschooling community in America is helping to produce more reliable evidence on outcomes, and those outcomes are good.

In her article Mrs Armstrong makes three very important points (imho); the first is at the end of her article when she reminds (Catholic) home educators that the whole process is sandwiched and founded on a proper prayer life. I concur that prayer is vitally important. It is the battery top up – the powerhouse, that enables us to keep going every day. It is the way we know which way to move in education and then it automatically leads to the second very important point she makes – that we want our children to grow with a formed conscience and good morals. This works best where peer pressure is limited, and where adults with questionable morals do not have free reign over our children’s time.

The finalimportant  point Mrs Armstrong makes, is about how homeschooled children are comforable in their own skin. They are not bothered about what “the culture” says they should be bothered about.They don’t get hung up over the latest trainers, ipod or how they are supposed to look, talk or behave. I am not saying this is true of all homeschooled children. I am quite sure there will be those who spend so much time being “socialised” that they do absorb the culture; but I have to say, I haven’t met many. Nearly all the children we have contact with are just happy in their own skin, and are therefore comfortable around a mixed group of people.

Having said that I have met a few home educated children at the beginning of their life in HE who are in a terrible state. Distressed parents insist that this mute, unable to make eye contact, frightened child is not the child they sent to school. Having been so badly socialised in school, the parents are faced with re-teaching their child to be with other people, and re-teach them how to learn. It can be a tough process- but from what I have heard and seen, it is one that generally works.

marriage (part III) Mother, father and children.

The subject of marriage can and in fact does, fill many a tome so I don’t want to get too bogged down in a few blog posts. What I really want to look at is how marriage should be for a family who have chosen home education.  We acknoweledge that God must come first or else we will start putting ourselves and our own ideas ahead of Him and His commandments; but what happens after that?

For a home educating mother like me how do I order my responsibility to my husband and children? I think Therese nailed it in her comment on my first post

a family flourishes when the person who needs to be served is served. We all get something from looking after everyone in the family.

If God is first He can guide us in discernment when we aren’t sure who should get the lions share of attention, care and love. Obviously, Therese and I have had the experience of a very sick child and that tends to take priority in a very in-yer-face kind of way. But what about the everyday home education set up? How do we – or how are we supposed to balance the place of husband and children?

I remember listening to a whole load of lectures about the Proverbs 51 wife and thinking “I just can’t do that!” I can’t make sure I am nicely presentable and the house is beautifully clean for when my husband gets home. Certainly I was always trying to keep the house sorted and the children presentable for his home coming but by the time all that was done I had no time (nor inclination) to put on make up and change the baby-sick dress for a nice one. The challenge is made far worse by the fact I am ill – fibromyalgia sucks the life from me, so that by the evening I am just about functioning. This is not to say I should be let off the hook of being a loving and responsible wife and mother; but it genuinely makes the process so very much harder.

 I read something Rita wrote some time ago about how some men had never had to sacrifice at all in their marriages because the wife did it all for them. Then, when she was dead he was left in a right mess, having never had to cope with difficulties or even boiling an egg before.

What about Ephesians 5 then? It’s one of those Scriptue passages that has become notorious. “Wives submit to your husbands…” is the bit that gets the most attention, and thanks to this unbalanced approach t over the years it got rejected by many women.  Let’s face it, how can a wife submit to a husband who is disobeying the next line, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church.” He loved the Church by His Passion, the pouring Himself out for her.

In home education the most common stumbling block in families seems to be that one parent will not support the idea nor process of home education. Now, I have frequently heard advice saying, the parent who wants to HE needs to wait until the other parent is on board, especially if it’s dad who is resistive. However, for some that simply isn’t a sensible or safe option. If a child is in a terrible state in school then a decision to withdraw them has to be made. Is that putting the children over the spouse? Is that breaking the command of Ephesians 5? I think it can’t be because the parents have a responsibility to the education and welbeing of the children. If a child isn’t getting an education and is in seriously detrimental situation then the parent’s duty must surely be to remove the child.

When I first started home educating I found the adjustment really hard. I wasn’t well and I had a baby and then I had to pull my son out of school and soon had my daughter home too. One HE mum on seeing how utterly exhausted I would get suggested I needed to hand over more work to my husband, She said she had read of HE families where the wife didn’t cook the meals because her life was too full of children’s needs. So the husband had to cook when he got home from work. Now, as it happens I too know of families who don’t HE where the husband cooks after work and so on, but I just couldn’t do this. While I was never going to make it as Proverbs wife I was determined that the house would be presentable and the dinner cooked when he got home. That was part of my agape for the family.

As far as I can tell the Church does not teach that the wife must put the husband over the children; this is a view coming from other Christian communities. The Church teaches that the family is a domestic church, made in the image of God. A wife and mother puts her husband and children before other people and a husband sacrifices for the wife and children before others. In doing this there should be enough love, time and support for the needs of extended family and friends to be met.

If God is kept first then the other love should follow, as St Augustine said something along the lines of ‘love God and do what you like.” He didn’t mean you can sin happily, he meant if God has His proper place in your life, you will choose to do right as He guides you.

The old darkness mystery of children’s literature.

One of the joys of home education is the kind of literature rich culture you can form as a family. The children read better quality books, and hear the old stories in all their rich colour, where real light casts shadows, and no one chokes on the sugar. So many ‘modern’ versions of these stories have been stripped of so much that they are a bland, sugary mush – almost unbearable to read.

I get the impression that while most home educators are using classic literature that other families are looking for it too, as some publishers (Usbornes for example) are publishing edited versions.

One of the things that strikes me about the classics is that their appeal to such a broad age range. They are not aimed at “grade 2” or Key Stage 1 or age 6 or whatever  – they are simply stories to be read in families.

Our read alouds at the moment are The Fairy Land of Science by the wonderfully named Arabella Buckley and The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Now, anyone who writes on the “fairyland” of anything is going to lean more to the romantic, but it is done with fine language and good science. There is no talking down to the children, nor stripping the language because otherwise the poor dears wouldn’t understand it. It is properly written and has fired up the children’s interest and conversation about all sorts of subjects.

The Jungle Book is a much darker tale than Mr. Disney would have had us believe. The language is harder and I admit I have transliterated the “thees” and “thous” at times to make things less dense. But that is about all I have done and the children love the story.

It occurs to me that if we want children to expand their vocabulary and language skills, we have to expose them to language that stretches them a little.

The Andrew Lang fairy stories are also well written and many of them are quite dark, confronting children’s terrors of the night with monsters, witches and other scary things.

These older stories will deal with things that most modern writers would never speak of in “children’s books”.  Tomie dePaola stands out as an exception. He will talk about virtue, about God, and about death.

I do wonder why so many of the children’s classical stories have been sugarfied and blandified to a grey pulp fiction. Then when children reach the age of 8 or 9 the books that seem to be the cultural mainstay are really awful “how to be an obnoxious twit” kind of books, with an added dash of “because this is normal behaviour for children” cynicism.  This is another moment to sigh with relief that my children are not in school. At least I can give them some real literature and what Charlotte Mason called “living books” and avoid what she called “twaddle”. Sadly I think she would have much harsher and more shocked words to describe what passes for children’s books these days.

Literature like any other media introduces a culture into the readers mind. Those books which are so popular and which I personally can’t stand, introduce the idea that children should not get on with or respect their parents, that especially fathers are pretty useless. The idea that children have no role in the adult world and are justified in treating adults  as fools at best, and enemies at worst  is set out for children to incultrate their lives. But these same stories avoid too much “life” as though that can’t be offered to children. In some ways I think the stories of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, The Ugly Duckling and the Jungle Book have more depth and reality to them, because they explore how we really are- they are, in fact, truthful. They speak across time and cultures of those truths we all carry with us, the natural law that is written on our souls.

I have always had the theory that the reason Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings remains so continually popular is because he was telling the truth. We can’t help but be attracted to something that has such a basis to them. It is the same with C S Lewis but in a different way.

I predict that in a hundred years children and young adults will still be reading Lewis, Tolkien and of course Chesterton (Fr Brown rules!) while Wilson, Pullman and probably even Rowling will have been forgotten.

Home Education – toddler day.

Lots of mums who are either starting out in home education, or have been doing it for a while but find they have a toddler or two makiing their presence felt, ask, how do you home educate with bababies and toddlers?

It seems to depend a lot on the toddler. I did go through a phase of wondering if it was humanly possible to get the older ones learning while a tornado lived with us. However, she is three now and has calmed down to mild-hurricane, making life much easier.

My main strategy with little ones was always to make them feel part of the action. They had paper, crayons, manipulatives or whatever the others had in some form and could do their own thing while the others did lesson time. Gradually, as they got older they would do more of their own learning, sort of, as they went along. So Heleyna has learned shapes, numbers,, some letters and so on, just because she has played with them and learned as she went along. We have taught all the children to count to 15 fairly early simply by counting up and down the stairs.

A lot of things are made much easier by these considerations: we have a wooden floor where a lot of the messy work happens; it can cope with glue, paint, play doh, chalk, yoghurt and squashed grapes with ease.

We had a cheap plastic high chair from Ikea which could also cope with all that was thrown at it.

If you haven’t got this I recommend a large plastic sheet for the floor. We have one for the table which has been used on the floor for some stuff and even out on the lawn. It can be wiped down or put through the washing machine.

Toddlers with paint and other such things can be naked – it’s easier to put them in the bath afterwards, than get clothes clean.

I tended to do the really messy stuff in the summer so that some of it could be done outside – chalking, dying things, making volcanos and so on.

Now Wednesfays are  for the younger ones. The older ones get to play all day while the little ones get together and play. Then we do two short lessons. the girls are aged 2, 3 and 4. We do Geography. I have printed up a large map of the world and backed it on good contruction card stuff. It folds up neatly for storage.  The girls have to find which ever country we are talking about today and colour it in. Gradually the map will be coloured all over. Then I tell them a story from that country. Today we did Ireland and so I read them Tomie dePaola’s Patrick book- as it’s his feast day tomorrow. After that we do a page from Maps, Charts, Graphs A.

The other lesson we do is music. I had started with nursery rhymes, some rythmn and showing them what notes look like. Now I am using the workbooks from Kinderbach with some added bits and they are doing the Aventus lessons together at the keyboard. As they do more I will have to give them one lesson each – but at the moment it works well as a shared lesson. It also means they are learning to take turns as well as share and cooperate.

The older ones often help out. I think it’s good for them to have a day that is more focused on the little ones. For those who might be wondering how I keep my 8 and 6 yr old on top of their work if they only do four days a week of “formal” learning, let me reasurre you that they are still learning plenty. I do try and avoid the “What are they doing in school?” mentality. Why do so many of us go through this form of self torture? However from what I can gather they are both way ahead of where schools would expect them to be for their age. If they weren’t i admit I would be having guilt trips – which is silly, but thankfully for my silliness, they are.

Lent: Very dead and very alive and eating the right food.

The devil’s first sin took place in heaven before the very throne of God -and he was cast out.
God made a garden in Eden and the garden was a temple. Knowing there was an enemy to watch out for, God planted a thorny hedge around the perimeter of the garden-temple. Then He made Adam. He put Adam to sleep – like death but not death; and He made a wound in Adam’s side, near to his heart – to make Eve, the bride; flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone.
So Adam awoke to find himself made a bridegroom by the wounding of his side.[The Second Adam would receive a wound in His side for His brdie too] They lived in the temple together; he as bridegroom and going-to-be-priest and she as the bride and going-to-be-mother. At least that was the plan. God provided them with all the food they would need. There were two special fruit trees in the centre of the garden; the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now God commanded Adam to guard his garden and told them both that they could eat of any tree in the garden, all the food He had given them – but not from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit of that tree should not even be touched. Why not? Because, God explained, they would “die the death.”
Just how dead can you get?

Well, they soon found out.
Satan got into the garden. He got through the hedge and made it right to the centre of the garden-temple, and there at the Tree of Knowledge he confronted the Bride and Groom. He began by using just a smattering of truth to put them at ease. But once things were going his way, he simply lied. “You wont die,” he said – saying God lied, “You will be like gods.” The terrible irony of this is that God was to make them like gods anyway; they were already made in His image and likeness. But they forgot all that and Adam did nothing to prevent his bride reaching out for the fruit. He failed in his priesthood to make the sacrifice for the life of his bride.
So they ate the fruit and…..apparently lived. Just how dead were they?

First of all, and most seriously, they had spiritually killed themselves. Heaven was now shut to them. They were left with sheol (place of the dead) and hell (Gehenna- the place of the even deader). Something horrible had happened to their bodies as well. They sewed fig leaves and we all know what those leaves had to cover – everything to do with the life giving aspects of being a bride and groom. Something in procreation – that is man’s cooperation with the creation of new persons in His image and likeness- was damaged or dead.
And so they were sent from the garden-temple. Having eaten the poison all food would be more difficult to come by and they would have to kill animals and eat them too.

Finally along comes the Second Adam, the new Bridegroom and He goes out into the desert – no garden here. He fasts – no food here either. Then the devil comes along and just like in the garden he uses a bit of truth to lie – he quotes Scripture. He uses the Word of God to tempt the Word Incarnate. He begins with a straight forward “turn stones to bread.” He is speaking to the Bread of Life- the Lamb of God and Jesus answers from Scripture, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”
So, not live- is dead. Bread alone wont save us from being very dead. If we want to live- to be very alive to have “life abundantly” as Saint John wrote, then we have to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life for that fruit IS the Word of God.

If we go to receive the Word in a state of Grace then we will have life in us, a life that will teach us right from wrong as it is truly because He is Truth. We cannot then make up our own version of knowing what we would like to be good and what we would like to be evil.
But the devil isn’t done. This is not the holy place, even if he is facing the Bridegroom. So he takes him to the Temple and again Jesus resists him.
Finally there is an apparently absurd temptation of earthly power to the very Word that caused it all to come into existance. It is another temptation to “bread alone.” It was a moment where Jesus was faced with the temptation to be the messiah they wanted him to be; the one who fed 5000 with bread and fish- but who would never have give the discourse in John 6 telling those same people “Eat My body,” and “drink My blood” – and have to stand there while so many of them walked away.
They just wanted bread you see. With their bellies full, they were no longer interested in the Truth.
Jesus sent satan away – and He never called back those who chose to walk away. Long before this moment God spoke “I place before you life and death; choose life therefore.”
Lent is a time to choose life. Those ashes remind us of the very deadness we have been choosing and gives us a nudge or even a good kick, back up onto the straight and narrow.

And Adam and Eve? They had to wait for the Second Adam to be the priest and make the sacrifice, receiving the wound in His ribs and heart to save His bride-and then Heaven could be opened for death was overcome.

Traditional paintings of the Harrowing of Hell always show Adam and Eve being taken from death to Heaven.  So we too can have hope.

home education and the parenting of adults continued…

So, where was I? Ah yes, how to avoid the problems of jealousy among siblings if you, as the parent, give more support to one child than the others.

I think part of this is to do with the family culture. Part of it is also the personality of the children.  I think I have been very blessed that none of my children have (as yet) shown signs of jealousy towards a sibling. So, unlike some parents, I have been let off the hook somewhat in having to deal with it. I am grateful. When Avila was born she was ill and continued to be very ill for over three years. She and I spent an inordinate amount of time in hospital away from everyone else.  It was terribly hard going – so I am grateful I didn’t have jealousy to handle too.

I assume that if all the children know they are loved, they accept more readily that one child or the other may have more need of parental time, energy and material support than they do. It might also be a good way of showing them that should they ever be in such need they will be supported to the extent that they need it.

To be honest, I think the parenting decisions over adult children when they are sick are easier to make. If your child, no matter how old they are, is ill, you would automatically want to support them. So my friend spends all that time with her daughter’s family because her daughter is ill.  A couple of friends of mine have even moved house and one of those gave up her vocation to religious life to go and live near sick adult children to help care for them and the grand kids.

But what about the more difficult choices we might be – and many are faced with. Anyone who has anything to do with people  with addictions will know that there is a fine line between support and enabling. It is very destructive, of course, to enable an addiction – but many parents are faced with the awful emotional blackmail of bail me out because you should attitude of the addict.

Fortunately, at this stage of my parenting journey I am not faced with many very difficult decisions. The most difficult times have been when a child was seriously ill. When  Josh became seriously ill, I was in the fortunate position of having him still living at home, so while he had got gradually sicker and not realised how ill he was, I was able to spot it and take him to get medical help.  His dad and I were there when he was very unstable (the first year of type 1 diabetes) and helped keep him just about well enough to stay out of hospital. We hardly need to help it at all now – he is an adult who has taken over care for himself.

One aspect of having adult children, especially those still living at home, that many parents struggle with (it seems to me) is how to hand over more and more responsibility and autonomy to them as they get older.

I think this is where home education has a massive advantage over schooling. Home educated adults begin to take more control over their own learning from early teens onwards. As they are very much more part of the family than a schooled child who is away all day and then has a pile of homework each night – home educated adults get to take more responsibility for their own life skills. For example, while I am aware that nearly all the schooled peers of my children cannot cook or budget a meal, nearly all home educated young adults (that I am aware of both around here and from online) have been cooking family meals since their mid teens and are very aware of the cost of food and how to budget.

The other mine field that we have to face as out children become adults is sex, relationships and discernment of vocation.

Next time…

Home education and the parenting of adults.

You may wonder why Home Education is in the title – well, this is part of the education I am trying to give my children. They need to learn how to be parents whether they end up having biological, adopted, spiritual or no children.

There are not many aspects of life that are eternal. Marriage, for example is only “til death do us part.” The two aspects of life that are eternal are the priesthood and parenthood. Of course both of those things are about parenting. Being a parent is eternal, I assume, because God the Father is eternally Father and God the Son is eternally Son.

There seems to be a view even among Christians that being a parent ends at some arbitrary age of the child -16 seems to be the common one. After that the mum and dad can more or less shrug their shoulders and say, there’s nothing more to be done. As with all ideas that swing off badly in one direction there is the opposite bad swing in the other. So people phone in radio programs or talk among their friends about parents and parental in-laws who are too interfering and generally difficult to be around. I think I mentioned that trap in one of my brief thoughts on the order of marriage.

But if we accept that once we are parent then we are always a parent – what does that mean when the children are adults? I have three adult children aged nearly 22, 19 and 17. It is a terribly tough time in our culture to be those ages. They are adults who can make their own decisions, but their options are seriously limited by the economic climate and lack of opportunities. So, they must endure. But it also means they must continue to live at home. How then do we all adjust in the family home so that adult children can be adults, but parents are still parents? In some ways it seems to happen sort of organically. I think anthropologically we are designed to live in extended family situations. It is how so-called primitive people still live. In agriculture based cultures adult children were part of the running of the family lands. There were no “tweens”, “teens” or “emerging adults” back then. There were simply families with children and adults in them.

I assume there was some kind of shared responsibility for task, household and children, that made treating each person according to their needs perhaps somehwat easier.

There has been an unspoken “rule” that all children must be treated equally – meaning “the same”. I am not altogether sure where this idea came from, but it seems rooted in the ‘same-i-ness’ view that has taken over many institutions. By treating all men as equal, we must treat them the same. However, I am sure most parents when asked would acknoweldge that all children are not the same. They have different personalities, differnet needs, different developments. How then, can we treat them the same? Well, we can’t and we shouldn’t.

A few of us mums have talked about this issue  and how we have seen it play out in families.  We all have examples where treating children “the same” may have helped one child but enabled and given tacit permission to another to behave badly. For example; one adult child is struggling seriously with financies because of the current economy. The husband is doing his best to work whenever there is work – but there isn’t always work. Tbey budget sensibily and try to keep above water but it’s a shocklingly expensive country. So dad steps in and pays one of the scary bills.  The other adult child is in full time protected employment with a spouse who also works and loves to shop for stuff – lots of it. Does the parent of these adult children hand over the same money to them; knowing it will be misused?

In another situation a son went to his parents for help. He had the budget and they couldn’t afford to eat. Now, instead of handing over money the parents insisted they made some very stringent cuts to their lifestyle – no car for example. To an observer this looked mean. The parents had the ability to help and it looked at first as though they wouldn’t. However they knew their son very well and knew he needed to take full responsibility for his family before they would help – or he would simply sit back and let them bail and bail. In the end they did bail – but only when it was truly needed and the adult child had learned not to expect a certain standard.

In some cases giving “the same” to adult children would be impossible. My friend comes to her daughter and stays four days a week, travelling quite some distance to do this because her daughter is ill. My friend cares for her grandchildren and helps with household tasks (all made more difficult for her at the moment as she has broken her arm!) She has another daughter and grandchildren there. She couldn’t possibly do the same for her – and that is fine because that daughter doesn’t need the help.

I also know another grandma who spends far more time supporting one child’s family than any of her other children. Why? Becuase they need it.

But then, you might wonder, how do you prevent jeolousy, envy and resentment from the adult-children who are not getting the same attention or financial support?

I am aware that the future needs of my adult children and of course the little ones, could be very different.  My first admonition to them is that they should take care of one another. They are their brothers (and sisters) keepers. Now, don’t get the idea I am just trying to pass off my responsibilites as their mother. I’m not, in fact it is my responsibility to ensure they DO take care of one another. But they also need some discernment in doing so.

I’ll con tinue this later…

Frugal Friday Freebies – more audio.

It seems there are a lot good free audio places.

There’s Robinson Crusoe from Homeschool Radioshows but I think they are time limited so grab it when you can. I also liked this audio on Fire fighting and ice  from Freebie of the Day.

There is also these very good audio lectures via Sonitus Sanctus from Ave Maria Uni. I like hearing in depth studies from people who really do know the subject on which they speak. I highly recommend Rosalind Moss. Her conversion story is an amazing journey from her Jewish roots, through Messianic Judiasism to Evangelicalism (pretty anti-Catholic end) through to entering the Catholic Church is well worth hearing. I always remember with some astonishment how her pastor at her evangelical church warned her against reading the Early Church Fathers because he knew that would make her Catholic! If he knew that – what was he doing?

Her astonishment when her brother David took her to Mass for the first time because it was so Jewish is a touching reminder of where we Christians have really come from.

Finally check out That Resource Site blog for all your Lentern needs

Anyway – enjoy.

Ash Wednesday, Lent begins.

It’s Lent. There are plenty of good Lent resources for y’all HERE and they are, of course free,

It’s time to do a bit of penance. Interestingly lots of people seem to think they don’t need to give anything up – just do a bit extra, such as reading a good book. I have to say I became very uncomfortable with this over the years because even when we are struggling a bit, we have so so much more than most people in the world. Giving something up is a reminder that we have so much. And for me at least extra reading is a treat and something that is rarely possible. hehehe.

marriage (part II) Putting God First

It is generally agreed, even if only theoretically, by most Christians that God must be first in life and that means He comes first in marriage. But what does that mean? Well, I suppose on a basic level it means we do what He wants  us to do and so we had better find out how He sees marriage and what He expects married people to go.

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The order of marriage. (part I)

Listening to some of the homseschool workshops and to a recent Catholic Answers program I am interested by the reminders given out about the order of marriage.

The order of love in a healthy marriage, we are told, needs to be God first, spouse second and children third – anything else after that. The warning that is put out to us mums is to beware of putting the children first. This is a particular temptation to those of us who home educate- because we are with the children so much more than anyone else (including God).  The warning to fathers was to never put work first- which is a very common dad temptation.

Something not mentioned, but which does come up on a pretty regular basis on Catholic phone ins, is the business of putting the in-laws first. I think anecdotally this tends to be a problem with husbands and their mothers, although husbands with their fathers can also be a huge stumbling block. Less often, but often enough that I think it merits notice is a wife putting her mother or father above her husband and children. This often leads to terrible friction over how the children should be treated. All of these problems get mentioned often in Catholic discussions (Dr Ray Guarendi deals with a lot of this).

The order of marriage as God first, spouse second and children third is something I have heard from many Christian homeschooling mothers. However when the question of the order of marriage came up on Catholic Answers recently, it became apparent that the Church has not put this order in place in her teaching.

Certainly God must come first. Putting other people or things over God breaks the first commandment and will inevitably lead to the other nine getting compromised in some way.

But what about the order of spouse and children? The Church teaches that they come together. This interested me because I have to admit the “rule” that the spouse must come before the children worried me. Like many mothers I have had to deal with a very sick child on more than one occasion.  There was no other option, that I can see, than to put the needs of that child above the needs of everyone else in the family (including, in fact especially my own). The idea that on top of my own really bad health at the time I was supposed to take care of a dangerously sick little child and STILL put my husband’s needs above that strikes me as asking for more than is reasonable.

So I am relieved to see that the Church does not teach this order of marriage. But we must remember always to put God first. Only in this way can we hope to know how to live as a family. We have to know what He says and how He says it – and then we have to do as our Mother commands (at the wedding); “Do whatever He tells you.”

Marriage was elevated to a Sacrament so that in receiving grace from God we could love one another and our children even in the hard times – and we are to bring each other and the children to heaven.

The question then is, how are we to do this? In what way to we keep God first and how do we balance the needs of our spouse and children? Does home educating the children upset or improve that balance? And I think I need to look at that modern problematic business of authority and power – whose is the head of the family?

Next time…

Jamie Oliver’s Dream -Nightmare-school.

We watched the first episode of Jamie Oliver’s Dream School on Channel 4 last night. (I am guessing it will stream on Ch 4 Youttube at some point). The premise is that for 2 months Jamie Oliver will run a small school of 20 disaffected teenagers who have all left school without the GCSEs of life. Various famous people are then called in to teach them.

The mix of students is so obviously “planned” that it’s irritating from the start; There’s the mix of black and white, boys and girls and then the usual token gay person and token posh-kid-dun-badly. It seems that more than one had been excluded from mainstream education and/or had been through a Pupil referral Unit. I haven’t seen any children there who lost out at school because of bullying or identified learning problems – the group are just the “naughty” kids. I can only assume this is because that’s better “viewing”.

Even though all 2o youngsters have failed and been failed at school and that at least two had been in a PRU it was deemed right that all 20 should be in classes together. I couldn’t work out why.

The best lesson was the sailing one where only about 5 went on the boat so it was manageable and there was a definite goal and reason for being there. Brilliant stuff.

Rolf Harris as the art teacher did much better than I was expecting. I got the impression he was in this because he genuinely thought he could offer the children something worth while – and he got some very good results. One or two of those children have talent in that area. I hope he gets the chance to bring more out of them. He was sad at the end of the lesson because he – rightly- pointed out there were two many to get around to.

I think an opportunity to offer something to other children who haven’t been “naughty” has been missed here because of the weird insistence of a massive group. Having said that; when I worked with youngsters like this one thing struck me; those who had a probation officer did better than those who just had a social worker or no one. Crime does pay it seems.

The rest of the program was pretty awful. The famous actor Simon Callow did ok, but I did wonder why he chose such a huge, broad and difficult to read subject as Shakespeare for a starter lesson.

Lord Winston was arrogant, childish and crass. After dissecting a pig sending lots of them off to throw up the poor kids were told THEY were the ones being disrespectful! No – he was. He plainly wanted the session to be “The Shocking Winston Show!” and it was. There was nothing there for the students. Even the rat dissection was mishandled. It came across as a powerful man wanting to stamp on those he saw as useless sub-kids. Sad.

Starkey was no better. I can’t say if he was worse. His blatant rudeness to a boy he deemed “Fat” was truly naff. I did smile though when the “fat-bad” kid talked so maturely and sensibly with his mother about how he had behaved and how he intended to speak properly with Starkey. Of course he didn’t get the chance (yet) because the man refused to do the next lesson. A “nobody important” came to teach jousting which got very little air time – but looked like a good lesson.

I would like to believe that Jamie Oliver’s motives are genuine. However, the school system was designed to fail as many children as possible- read Gatto, Mason, Holt, etc.- and has done so marvellously. Why does Mr. Oliver want to get the youngsters to repeat the broken system but with  clever-celebrities?

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