Reflections on our home learning week 36/2

It’s half term in the world of schools for friends and family and so we have for once taken our week off to coincide so that we can catch up with friends on Tuesday and have cousins to stay Thursday to Sunday, along with mutual home educating friends on the Saturday as well. We are ready for a week off, well I am and so is Bob who has been working really hard the last 3 weeks. Zog’s brain though has just taken a massive developmental leap forward and he is now constantly wanting to write words and learn the alphabet and has no concept of the need for a holiday. Suddenly letters and words are beginning to make sense and there is no half term break for his brain. He simply wants to know what letter comes next and then what letter comes next and so on in an endless stream of animal names. I keep finding pieces of paper with words all over it that Zog has written. So different in approach to Bob, Bob asked the same questions but never to write them down but to imprint them on his mind. Bob lives his learning and life through his mind and thoughts while Zog always has a pen in hand and leaves a trail of papers behind him. Bob spends bed time reading factual books, Zog spends bed time drawing pages of bugs and insects. Zog wants to fill the world with beauty, colour; projecting his imagination onto paper. Bob’s learning of the world is internalized and comes out through the games he plays and in conversations. I love how different they are and at the same time the best of friends.

Introducing cursive writing at this point has definitely been the right thing to do and writing has become much less of a battle ground than it has been. Even when he is still using manuscript for actual copy work and dictation while learning cursive and all the joins he is happier writing. Having done some reading I am looking into finding him a wobble board and adjustable standing desk as he constantly needs to be on the move and this seems to be a way to allow for the wriggles to be handled while still helping him learn to focus in one place for longer than a couple of minutes. It will also help with his posture which I have noticed is getting tied in knots with his attempts to keep his body still while concentrating. I have found one company who make great look standing table for adults and office use so have contacted them to find out about similar ones for children.

That moment of re-reading The Well Trained Mind two weeks ago with the reminder that manipulatives are still so important for maths learning at this age has been a real light bulb moment. Maths for all of us has become fun again and while the others are not doing maths as such with us they are around Bob and I and it could get tense.  With manipulatives every one wants to join in so I always need to make sure Kanga has her own set otherwise I cannot be sure Bob is working with the right number so answers can very easily go askew.

It has also been a week to work on friendship dynamics and have conversations about feelings of exclusion and how to include others. How to include friends from differnet contexts in the same game when visits overlap. These are all great lessons to be learning now but that does not mean they are easy times for young boys either. Bob is blessed with  great friendships and yet he is still too young to really apprecaite that. He has alot to learn about how to navigate through choices and different expectations and inclusion and yet not being responsible for everyones reactions. Along with helping him navigate that is helping him to not be everyone’s best buddy simply because he lets them all do what they want in the belief that means that they will have had a great time. To help him stand up for himself at times and be confident of his own thoughts and boundaries. To help him make friends feel included while not being the doormat to all their activites and speaking up for his ideas as well and so in doing helping his friends learn, that they all learn to respesct one another and each others ideas. Teaching maths is definitely easier, and any reader of these reflections will know I often question my ability to teach maths.

He has also been working on what to do when plans fall through at the final moment and how to adapt and deal with disappointment and work out an alternative way of spending time. Again hard in the moment but so important to learn how to deal with those events in a safe place.

Kanga continues to entertain and keep us all on our toes and is in the midst of a developmental growth spurt and we are all looking forward to when she comes out of it and frustration levels settle down again for a while.

We are reading at lunch time Little Women and at bedtime the boys are continuing with their reading of Narnia and it is so much fun to see them wake up in the morning and take on the roles of Peter and Edmund with gusto and passion.

And now for some holiday time, time to breath, let all that learning perculate deep within us and to enjoy times with friends and family.



Behold Your God


There are some passages of the Bible that I love more than others, and some books and sections of books that I find more refreshing than others.  Somewhere near the top of my list has to be Isaiah, and especially chapters 40-55.  I’ve loved these chapters ever since I first read them, one week between Christmas and New Year in flat looking over the English Channel and Dorset sandstone cliffs as an 18 year old student.  I found in those chapters then, and have done ever since an overwhelming sense of the grandeur and glory of God, and of his mercy and grace to a sinful people.

Isaiah 40 marks a turning point in the book of Isaiah.  In 1-39 the book is addressed to the people of Judah while they are under threat from the Assyrians.  Then, at the start of chapter 40, the scene switches dramatically and the book is now addressed to the exiles from Judah who are living in Babylon, after the promised judgement of 1-39 has happened.

Now that judgement has fallen, and the exile has happened God’s Word to his people changes tone.  God announces that he will bring his people back to the land in an action that echoes his deliverance of the people out of Egypt.   The verses that caught my attention were these:

Is. 40:6 A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said,* “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty* is like the flower of the field.
Is. 40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
Is. 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Is. 40:9 Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;*
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;*
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”

Notice here that there are two voices.  One is “a voice” – God’s, the other is the prophet, who speaks for Jerusalem (v9) to the cities of Judah.  The ESV stops the prophet’s words at the end of the question in v6 “what shall I cry” – but I wonder if they actually go on to the end of v7 (Hebrew doesn’t have any quotation marks!) – as if the prophet is actually asking what the purpose of proclaiming this word is when people are so fragile.  God’s voice then breaks back in as he reminds the prophet of what he is to say.

At this point it is important to remind ourselves of the state of Judah – exiled in Babylon, miles from home. The temple is in ruins and everything has been taken from it.  Pagan nations have been able to enter the Holy Place and carry off everything from it with impunity.  The LORD has been shown to be powerless – by all the standards of the day.  What message would we give them?  How would we think they need to be talked to?

What about us when we are at our lowest?  What do we think people need to hear on a Sunday morning in church when life is crushing them?  Is it good advice? Is it techniques on how to deal with our problems better?  Is it just to be listened to and held?

The message given here is simple. In Hebrew it is in two words, in English 3. “Behold your God”.  We don’t use “behold” these days – and it means various things.  Here it means “look! pay attention!” – and in particular pay attention to your God.  The people need, above all else, a fresh vision of God.

To those who are in exile, miles from home, thinking that their God is defeated the prophet’s words come.  And this is what they say in summary:

Is. 40:10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.

Is. 40:11 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 that are with young.

The rest of the chapter goes on to unpack these words but their key message is right here.  From 40:10 – God is coming, and he is in charge.  He is the one who has power and he brings his reward with him.  God is able to deal with the exile. The songwriter of Mighty to Save got it from here – our God is indeed mighty to save.  Can God deal with the problem of the people’s captivity – and, as we see more and more in Isaiah – their sin?  The answer of Isaiah 40 is a resounding yes.

But a powerful saving God might still be a remote God, a distant God.  The message of 40:10 is that God cares. The mighty God is the God who cares.  He carries his lambs.  He gently leads the mothers with young.  He is good.  He is compassionate. He is faithful. He is kind.

This is our God.  In the midst of turmoil this is what we need most of all.  We need God. The chapter goes on to remind us of how creation shows us God’s greatness before finishing with these words.  Words we need to hear.  Words that need to sink deeply into our hearts.

Is. 40:27-31
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

It struck me here that the promise involves God’s people becoming more like God here.  God does not get faint or grow weary.  Even the strongest of people (youths and young men) get faint and weary and fall exhausted.  But those who wait for the LORD will renew their strength.  Here waiting for the LORD is not about some super spiritual attitude I develop by my own strength.  No, the one who waits for the LORD is the one who knows that they have reached the end of their resources, the one who knows they have nothing else to give and no-where else to go.  It is that person, the one who knows their emptiness and need of the LORD who goes back to God – it is that person who receives the strength to go on.

The last verse reads literally “They shall go up – wings like eagles” –  I don’t think the wings are ours.  Elsewhere it talks about God carrying Israel on eagles wings – the picture is of being lifted up by God.  We will receive new strength to go on.  Sometimes that new strength is the direct carrying by God when we can do nothing.  Sometimes it is the ability to run without being weary, and sometimes to walk without fainting.

I love that the chapter finishes with the idea of walking.  I think if we were writing it we’d talk of a victorious ascent from walking to running to flying, like an aeroplane.  But God’s way is that he lifts us up from the pit on wings like eagles, and when he sets our feet on solid ground we can then get through the seasons of running and the seasons of walking.  Maybe it is a bit like when I am walking with my children.  Sometimes one of them will be tired, and want to be carried for a bit.  So I lean down and pick them up.  We hug, we talk, I point out a flower or some feature, and they get down again ready for the next part of the journey, with a fresh spring in their step.

Walking doesn’t sound glamorous.  But this is what the power of the almighty Creator who cares for us with such love and tenderness does – it enables us to walk on with Him.

In a sermon I listened to online recently the preacher quoted these words of an old hymn – I was particularly struck by v2 so I leave you with this by Annie Flint:

  1. He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
    He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
    To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
    To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

  2. When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
    When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
    When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
    Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

  3. Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
    Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
    Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
    The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

  4. His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
    His power no boundary known unto men;
    For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
    He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.


Reflections on our home learning – its been a while, up to week 35/2

Last week was one of those weeks I have only dreamed of in regard to how our week of learning and life goes. This time last week is definitely a dream, “a did it really happen like that week?” This week, Bob and Kanga are congested and I have been like a box of firecrackers that accidentally got set alight, a monthly event, but when mixed with children under par than things can get rather crazy round here. Suddenly my levels of confidence nose dive, I grab my schedule, cross examine every inch of it and work out how to fit triple maths and grammar and spelling in to catch up. I re-examine our diets and panic over our sugar, grains and whatever else we are consuming intake and dread the thought of facing the dentist. Screen time for the children gets banned while I dive into Facebook, blogs on the perfect home educating styles and the perfect way to raise perfect children and hide.

Today though I am listening to the gentle whispering voice ‘download the photos’, remember what you have all done this past while, remember this is not a forever moment. This week is not forever. The fireworks while stop again and we will have another even keeled 3 weeks. Maybe in those 3 weeks we as a family can come up with some better tactics for these weeks.

Weeks like this one I feel clumsy, I feel stuck, downloading photos is time consuming, words I have feel empty and shallow. Everything is taken personally, I am reactive and frustrated. Last night after a horrendous time with maths in the morning I sat there in the evening wondering how to do it differently and I was reminded that at this age manipulative are still a great tool. So I prepared the lesson using lego. Something that last week would have been obvious but this week it was all dry and black and white. So armed with blocks of tens and singles we navigated our way through addition, subtraction and then in blocks of varying sizes through multiplication and division and he got it, it made sense. Bob is still very much at the visual tangible point of learning. He needs to hold it in his hand take it apart and rebuild it. He needs to understand it before he can accept it. Learning the times tables means nothing till he plays with lots of lego pieces that carry the same numbers as the tables he is doing. I just want him to remember that 2×3 or 3×2 will always be 6. Today, yesterday and tomorrow that fact will not change.

We have also stepped up writing over the last two weeks as we are beginning to introduce cursive which he loves but at one level it feels like we have taken a step back. His manuscript was becoming neat but various articles I had read and others had said to me was that he might well find the flow of cursive less frustrating and overall I think he does but he is adapting to a new style of writing so letter size feels like it has gone out the window again. The material we are using from ‘Anything Left Handed’ had said that might happen but the apparent lost steps would be quickly regained so to speak. Bob definitely is more willing when it comes to cursive writing practice than his usual handwriting practice.

Zog has developed definite learning hunger and I cannot give him enough projects to work on. He has decided that letters are something worth discovering and he loves for me to write out names of African animals for him to write using scrabble tiles. He is also enjoying practicing writing the Alphabet and is very confident of his use of the pencil though also left handed.  This is no real surprise as he has always been a prolific artist and loves colouring and is physically more co-ordianted and confident than Bob.

Kanga, never one to miss out, as soon as I say it is time for lessons gets all the reading books down and ‘reads’ to us all and has a definite order of subjects we will cover. She has also shown us that with 3 nouns, her name and Mum and Dad and plenty of prepositions and colours than that is all you need to be able to say to communicate perfectly well. Her brothers are referred to by prepositions depending on where they are. So if I am hanging out the washing she has to name who all the clothes belong to even every pair of sock. And so when it comes to one of her brother’s items of clothing then she will point to it and say ‘up there’ if that brother is upstairs ‘ or ‘down’ if downstairs or ‘over there’ if somewhere in the garden and she can see him to point to.

Due to Bob’s hip recent hip issue our Nature Wanderings group have been wonderful and come to us most Thursdays which has been a highlight for all 3 children. We have been in competition with the Nursery school next door for number of children and volume of noise. One of the highlights as been seeing them use the space and find objects to create games with. Two weeks ago on a really hot afternoon Bob and one of his friends worked out that if you out a plank of wood over a roll of wood and stomped on one end you could jettison an object up off the other end. This very quickly was adopted by all of them with large empty yoghurt cartons filled with water and soon it was a case of what was the best angle to have the plank at and the position of the cartoon to get the water the highest, furthest, to stay dry or get soaked. Thanks to the amazing news we had last week from Bob’s latest X-rays that all was clear we are now going to resume going to the park as he is now free to run around and be a fully active 7 year old again.

We have started a medieval time line, Zog gave a talk on Buffalos to our home ed community, we have built castles, the group has cleared a large area in the garden and sown wildflowers, we have learnt about ants and grasses, made our own weather front, read, drawn, had time with friends, lost another tooth, made jigsaws, started learning the times tables and the list goes on, continued to work on our character – the children’s and mine. Imaginations have roamed far and wide across African plains and through far flung planets, through this world and worlds I was unaware of. The garden has come to life with foliage and colour and our hearts and minds are loving it. Just sometimes like this week we need to be reminded to take a second look and see it all for what it is both in this moment and in the bigger story. .