Little secrets

I sat there reading Little Lord Fauntlery aloud. Prince and Princess were listening quietly, and all thoughts seemed to be on the story. Suddenly, Prince interrupted. ‘Mommy – it seems to me that Francis Hodgeson Burnett wanted to make Cedric like a perfect boy. But…’ his voice took a crestfallen tone, ‘nobody can be perfect.’

I was struck.

Walking and talking together - what a blessing!

Walking and talking together – what a blessing!

It was the smallest of moments, but it contained a world of meaning. It was a glimpse into the heart of my boy; a revelation of something I had never noticed before. My Prince struggled with guilt? Suddenly several tiny moments of revelation over the past few months made sense, and I had become privy to a secret. A secret that Prince himself probably couldn’t even articulate and define, but which was causing inner distress. A secret which, now I knew, I could gently and lovingly resolve.

Knowing, is the key thing. If we don’t know a problem exists, we might never solve it. Even worse, we might exacerbate it. How easy it could have been to miss this vital insight. If we never took time to read together, I would have missed it. If I always simply told him off without allowing him to discuss mistakes with me, I would have missed it. If I frequently missed our morning snuggle time, or rushed through it with no chance to chat, I would have missed it. All these little opportunities throughout the days and weeks could so easily have been wasted. Thank God they were not.

We have our children for such a short, precious time. I am so thankful for the chance to see their hurts and struggles, and minister to their particular needs. I am so thankful for time to reassure, build up, encourage when they are down. I am so privileged to spur on, inspire and watch as they pursue their passions.

All it takes is time – the gift of our time.

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Layers of Education

They say that you need to see an advert at least seven times before it becomes effective. The first time you see it, you barely notice it. But with each successive exposure something builds inside of you, embedding a memory in your mind which can then be recalled at any relevant moment.

I think education might work in a similar way.

The first exposure to a new idea or concept can be overwhelming to a child. Long division, for example. (Actually, that was overwhelming for me too…) Or the significance or the bubonic plague. Or the location of key geographical cities. All new information is NEW. And however spongy our kids’ brains, it may take a few times before the neural pathways are sturdy and sure.

I used to get this a bit wrong. In my pursuit for excellence of education, I mistakenly thought that each time a child was given new information, they needed to remember it perfectly before we could go on. I would feel a failure if my five year old couldn’t recall every detail of our history story. I became frustrated when my nine year old couldn’t work out how to solve every maths problem in his book. I felt that 100% learning had to happen first time around.

But I was wrong.

Lunching on the beach at high tide (and trying to avoid seagulls!)

Lunching on the beach at high tide (and trying to avoid seagulls!)

I should have known it. Am I not exactly the same? I can read a chapter of Romans, and fifteen minutes later have no idea what I read. But if I read that chapter in the morning, talk about with my kids later, write about it the next day, re-read it the following day, mediate on it, look it up in different versions, hear a sermon on it, read a book that refers to it and watch a program that relates to a concept from it – THEN I know it.

And so it is with children. One of the oh-so-many beauties of homeschooling is the way we can engineer overlapping layers of education for our children. As they learn about the effect of the moon upon tides we can offer opportunities to reinforce this new knowledge. A trip to the beach to see tides in action; a documentary on the moon; a lesson in gravity; a game about moon phases; a conversation about forces; a library book on science; a poem about tides. As pieces of the great knowledge puzzle start connecting in their minds, the strength of learning is increased and a network of pathways are created which can continue to be traveled and built upon as learning keeps taking place.

Sometimes it’s as simple as redoing lessons or rereading chapters over a few times. Sometimes it requires a topic to be looked at through various depths – an overview, a narrowed-in focus, a detailed study. Other times it’s the combination of a variety of topics interlinking with one another, such as history and geography. Whatever it is, the one thing I have learned is that frequent, varied and passionate exposure to information creates a solid education.

The elusive love of learning

Princess crocheting

Self-directed learning can be SO CUTE.

There are so many reasons our family home educates, and many ideals we hold which influence our choice.

I have always noticed that children are natural learners. The curiosity of a toddler is hard to beat. You know, that wonderful ‘why’ phase? Kids are addicted to learning! They learn to walk, talk and play with amazing determination.

One of my homeschooling ideals has always been to harness this natural desire and keep it burning bright.

Some people think this is asking the impossible. How can you possibly keep a kid enthused about learning when you get to times tables? And don’t boys just hate writing? Besides, no-one can enjoy everything, and kids need to learn to get on with it even if they are bored, right?

The truth is, I don’t know exactly how long I can keep my kids in love with learning. And yes, they do need to learn to complete necessary tasks – like it or not. But what I do know is that at eight and six, my kids are more interested in learning now than ever before.

I haven’t always found it easy to keep this love burning, and there have been times I’ve been on the edge of snuffing it out with bad choices I have made. But by the grace of God, we have got past those issues and to a place I have dreamed of – where I sit back and hold my breath in wonder as my children embrace learning with abundant joy.

Looking back, I can begin to make out some patterns – things that got us into trouble, and solutions God has provided; things that have worked so well I thank God for them daily; things I still don’t quite have under my belt, that I am searching for solutions to. But the journey so far has been fruitful.

If there is one piece of advice I would give to anyone who wants to foster a love of learning it’s this:

Know your child. Find out his learning style. Find out what makes him laugh, what he is passionate about, what he spends time doing when he’s left to himself.

This information is the key to winning your child’s heart for learning. Use it! 

Prince hard at 'work' - doing what he loves best in his free time.

Prince hard at ‘work’ – doing what he loves best in his free time.

Be ready to throw out your own preconceptions of what learning ‘should’ look like. It doesn’t have to be workbooks and tests (though some kids love these!). Find or make curriculum to fit your child, rather than expecting your child to fit the curriculum. Be creative! If your child loves music, sing educational songs – and let him indulge in music often. If he loves sport, recite times tables to the bounce of a ball – and allow him outside to play as much as possible. Pursue your child’s passions. I promise it will be productive if you look at it with the right eyes.

Make it your goal to provide a tailor-made education. This, I believe, fuels a life-long love of learning.

Tricks of the trade

Parents, over the years, find themselves picking up some useful ‘tricks of the trade’, and often wish that SOMEONE had told them this before. So if you are a new parent then consider yourself (at least partially) forewarned, because here are some that I have learnt along my journey as a mother:

  • Use distraction wisely. When you child scrapes their knee in the park, the pain can often totally disappear when you suddenly point out – in your most fascinated voice – that “That cloud over there looks just like a dinosaur!”
  • Most children respond better if given advance warning about things. My kids take it better if, for example, I say, “We are going to leave the playground in five minutes…. in two minutes… in one minute… okay, choose your last thing to go on and then we are leaving.”
  • Children love choice.  Instead of saying, “You can’t have a chocolate – have an apple” try, “Can you choose which apple you like best from the fruit bowl?”
  • Entertain their imagination. I am often amazed by how much better my kids will respond to instructions like “time to for bed” if it is said by one of their soft toys, race cars, Octonauts characters, or anything other than just plain old me!
  • Make water the norm.  Water is cheap and healthy. If you want your children to drink water without fussing, then make it their usual drink from young. It’s much harder for kids to enjoy water if they are used to the strong flavours in juice.
  • Use sign language to reduce early frustration. Both of my children could sign before they could talk. Signing is much easier than talking for babies, and it has been shown to reduce frustration and tantrums as the child has a way of communicating their needs and wants. It is also a very special thing, as you gain insights into their sweet little minds that you might not otherwise have had. If you live in Canada or the USA then I highly recommend the ‘Signing Time‘ series.
  • Use a toothbrush from early on.  As soon as the first tooth peeps up – or even before – get them used to having a toothbrush and paste in their mouths.  For some unknown reason, brushing teeth can be a real battle with little kids.  I recommend starting with something like this.
  • Speak gently. I find that children respond much better if spoken to in a gentle, positive way. This has its place, of course – I am very firm on disciplining when needed – but often I find undesirable behaviour can be avoided if the right tone and approach is taken by the parent in the first instance. For example, instead of saying, “Right – pack up those cars now” I prefer, “Okay, guys, we’re going to pack the cars up now, because Daddy is about to come home and we love to have a tidy house for him, don’t we?” This gets a faster and happier response 99% of the time.

I would love to hear some more tips from others; what tricks of the trade have you picked up as a parent?

10 things I’ve learned as a mother

In no particular order, here are ten of the many, many things I’ve learned in the nearly six (!) years I have been a mother:

Fun on a ‘train’ in the local park!

  1. You love your kids in a way that cannot be described or imagined until you experience it.
  2. It’s easy to let each day slip by without thinking, but a better way is to pray and parent ‘intentionally’ – thinking about who are you shaping your kids to be, and how your guidance now will affect both them and others in the long term.
  3. One-on-one time set aside to talk to and focus your attention on each child individually is so important, and can provide some really insightful feedback from your child’s perspective on how you can improve as a parent.
  4. It is essential to MAKE regular alone time for you and God. Even if it’s just reading a few quick Scriptures on Bible Gateway or following a short daily plan on YouVersion, regular spiritual food is necessary for you, and makes you a better parent too.
  5. Boys and girls are naturally very different!
  6. While it may take three times as long, it’s also usually three times as special to do everyday tasks WITH your kids rather than on your own – and they really love to help!
  7. Talk to your kids with respect and love, and never belittle them (e.g. don’t laugh it off when they are embarrassed in company).
  8. Don’t assume kids understand simple things. What is simple to an adult is not as obvious to a child, so take time to show grace and explain things to them.
  9. Be a playmate as well as a parent. When it’s possible, drop what you are doing if they ask you to play, instead of saying “in a minute”, “not now” or “later”.
  10. Let your kids see your relationship with God. Let them hear you praying, let them see you reading Scripture, them watch you worship – so long as you are not doing it for show, but as a genuine expression of your faith.

What have you learnt as a parent?

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