A Reflection On Rest

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“Rest and be thankful.”
― William Wordsworth

I am totally your classic ‘always something to do’ gal; I would have been your nightmare manager at McDonald’s (never actually worked there…I was a Pizza Hut waitress through my university days though) singing gleefully on an early shift ‘if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean’ and all that – I’m a little exhausted just thinking about it! My University friend, Claire, would despair at me for never being able to relax and watch a film unless I was doing something else; writing a letter, writing in a journal, making my life goals etc.

A few weeks ago my son, Micah said “Mum, please come and sit with me and watch a film…and DON’T bring your book”. I laughed (cried a little inside) and met his request; we snuggled under a big Mexican blanket (which of course invites other little ones…and the dog) and melted into a film together. After a while Dave appeared at the door after being out, with a look of shock and awe on his face and said “wow, Mum is watching a film with you”!

Okay, okay – it’s not quite my jam to sit and watch any old film,  I really don’t like T.V and I am very intentional with my time – but I have had to learn to add into the baseline (and schedule) of my life a rhythm of rest.

And before you start to feel really sorry for my kids and plan to whip them off to the movies without me; I am with them 24/7 people! We sit with piles of books, we linger over tea and conversation at the table, we walk together and I hold them, kiss their little Boden faces and tell them emphatically that I love them many times a day!

BUT, I am learning to rest on their terms at times. We have a such a mulch of personalities and love languages in our home (moi: INFJ, Acts of service and time come out pretty high on my love tank needs) and as much as I need to be energised and fueled for life, so do my family – with me in the mix!

A few times a week I like to bring them over to my side (insert evil laugh); twice this weekend I planted myself sprawled full length on the sofa with Big Magic in hand and shouted ‘it’s quiet (book) time’! My 4-year-old grabbed a couple of Donaldson classics and found a nook between my body and the sofa we were on and wedged herself in; the dog snuggled on my feet, my husband read the newspaper, my (almost) teen flicked through Spotify on my Kindle Fire to plan her birthday playlist and while Joel napped upstairs Micah adventured through his favourite dinosaur book. I could hear a gentle hum of a child, the flicking of pages, the deep inhale and exhale of a black Bassadore heavy on my feet.

The left-overs remained on the table for a little longer, the dishes were piled up in the kitchen and who knows if anyone had clean underwear for tomorrow; that moment, right there is where I was fully present.

Over the top of Micah’s hum and Sienna’s quiet recitation of ‘The Gruffalo’, I looked up at my husband and said “this is a thousand times better than watching T.V”.

And it was.

5 Ways Charlotte Mason Has Impacted My Life #themasoneffect

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We should always have something worthwhile to think about, that we may not let our minds dwell upon unworthy matters – Charlotte Mason

My interest in the life and works of Charlotte Mason stems from early on in my research before embarking on actually teaching our children at home.

I often still feel in the early stages of discovery but have now been implementing her methods in our homeschooling days for 8 years. My interest isn’t purely to aid my ‘teaching’, I am fascinated by a woman who influenced the face of education in a time where children were ‘seen and not heard’, were physically punished for poor spelling and did not have the freedom to express their informed opinions or feelings about a particular text or subject. Charlotte’s work and life was ‘for the children’s sake’; she believed and fought for the plain fact that ‘children are born persons’ and wanted to give them all an opportunity to create a life long love for learning,  enjoy good ‘living’ books and an appreciation of God’s creation.

In 2012 I took a bit of a pilgrimage up to the Lake District (Ambleside) to visit her old stomping ground (she was actually nearly fifty when she moved to Ambleside, in 1891 and formed the House of Education, a training school for governesses and others working with young children) and her gravestone; I was saddened to see the buildings unloved and more or less abandoned over the years but glad they remained standing to tell some of the tale of her life and work. Her incredible legacy has and continues to impact so many of us across the globe.

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‘Scale How’ – Charlotte Mason’s ‘House of Education’ from 1894

My learning about her life and implementing her educational methods in my home have made a huge impact on many area’s of my life; here are 5 for starters!

Reignited my love of books

Let their books be living books, the best that can be found in liberal supply and variety – Charlotte Mason

I’ve always been a reader, albeit a bit of a lazy one, but I’ve always loved and thrived on self-education (I wasn’t home educated). Over the past few years my love of reading, learning and getting lost in real, ‘living’ books has been rekindled and has enriched my life incredibly. I’m a true believer in modeling for our children what we’re labouring to implement in their lives; if you want readers, be a reader!

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The plaque on the front of Scale How

Habits are worth the work

“Let children alone… the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions – a running fire of Do and Don’t ; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose.”
― Charlotte M. Mason

Don’t skip this bit! I know habit-forming can be laborious, tedious and time-consuming but it is SO worth it. It’s incredible how doing the same thing every day, learning a simple skill (i.e. attention) can massively impact your family life and your personal life.

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A building known as ‘the beehive’ used for Miss Mason’s students to practice teaching in!

Every day nature study – brought it to life

Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life – Charlotte Mason

My childhood was full of nature walks and adventures in the Yorkshire countryside; my foraging mother would collect treasures, smell trees, point out flowers and admire God’s beauty like no one I’ve ever seen before. I’m so thankful for that heritage but it didn’t come to life in me until I started home educating my children and brought nature study into our regular rhythm. I have now become my mother (smile), only ten times ‘worse’ – and I love it!

I’ve learnt to trust the learning ability of a child

“Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”
― Charlotte M. Mason

This is a whole blog post in itself (I will do it), I never fully realised the full learning potential of a child if you just give them room to grow, discover, observe and breathe in this big beautiful world that we live in. With each child I have been ‘braver’ to not have every moment scheduled and schooled, to allow plenty of room and trust the ways of a child and Charlotte’s method. I’ve had incredible ‘results’ from my brave ways (wink) and thriving children who I thank God for everyday!

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The front door of Scale How – the beginnings of a great adventure for many young wannabe educators

Mother culture – exploring my own learning and creativity

“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play!”
― Charlotte M. Mason

With the combination of Charlotte Mason, Brene Brown and now Elizabeth Gilbert, I’m finally loving my creative self, believing in her and leaning into her. So much of motherhood is time given over to those in our households; loving, nurturing, feeding, nursing and guiding but I’ve learnt to realise that I am at my best from a place of rest! I need to renergise, read, write, walk, gaze at beauty and fill my soul in order for me to pour into the people in my life.

So mama’s – let’s go out to play!

How have the life and works of Charlotte Mason impacted your life?

The Practice Of ‘Morning Time’

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A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live

– Bertrand Russell

After 8 years of educating my children I can wholly confirm that the atmosphere and rhythms of our home are critical for the flow, discipline and peace in our day. My recent personal motto is ‘I’m at my best from a place of rest’, if this works for me, it must also work for my children and the atmosphere they are learning in.

I’m at my best from a place of rest

We all know that how we start our day is pretty influential to how it unfolds; whether you’re a ‘morning person’ or not, I’m afraid pleased to tell you that you mama are the culture creator and pace setter in your home!

Our morning routine was established early in our homeschooling life, I’ve only recently discovered that it’s a ‘thing’; not purely taken from a Charlotte Mason method or paradigm but it definitely fits with her ‘short lesson’ philosophy. I wanted to gather my children, capture their hearts at the beginning of the day, centre ourselves on Jesus and bring clear communication before the hustle and bustle of the day began. I can’t speak for a movement or whether this stems from the original PNEU timetables but I can speak for the impact of a morning gathering  upon our family and our home educating.

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“The habits of the child are, as it were, so many little hammers beating out by slow degrees the character of a man.”

– Charlotte Mason

What we do

Monday to Friday everyone must be up, dressed and beds made by 8.30am (often slips to 9am by Friday #keepitreal ); we immediately gather around the table after making smoothies/juices, eggs or toast and of course a pot of tea (and a complete mess of the kitchen!).

So here’s my morning tick list (it’s in my head, and also a habit):

  • Read the bible – we’re working through the Old Testament so after years of purely reading from an NIV or NLT I decided to try the Catherine F Vos’s ‘The Child’s Story Bible’, it came highly recommended by other CM educators and we’re loving it!
  • Scripture memorisation – we learn one a week and kind of use a similar system to the Simply Charlotte Mason ‘scripture memory system‘, I pick out a bunch of verses that I’d like us to learn and then we copy/type, print and stick them to an index card. I write one a week on the blackboard in our dining room and we recite it every morning until we all know it without looking.
  • Catechism – I’ve downloaded the app for the ‘New City Catechism‘ onto my phone and we’re going through the version for children. We just do one a week, recite the relevant one each day and recap on a Monday morning.
  • Briefing – for some of my children it’s really important that they know the details of what’s going on at each moment of the day, even down to mine and my husband’s plans for the evening, so I brief them every day on the next 24 hours. The clearer our expectations and communication is with our children the less their need for insecurity in the home and frustration is (for the most part!). We go through their work for the day (practical and academic) as well as details of any outings, meetings or additional work I need to do.
  • News/appreciation/thanks – especially on a Friday I like to encourage them on great things I’ve observed in their work and character throughout the week, I love seeing their huge smiles and it’s a great way to teach gratitude and to show them how important encouragement is.
  • Pray – everyone prays, we do it in age order and I use this time to teach my children how to pray, connect with God and each other, how to stay focussed and grow in their worship and expression. We always start with thanksgiving and I bring instruction/ideas of things we can be praying for as well as giving them an opportunity to share what’s on their heart.

The ‘items’ listed above always happen, the following list are things that happen occasionally, once or twice a week maybe depending on how close to 8.30am we started (smile!)

  • Worship –  YouTube is great for this; I just play a familiar worship song or teach them a new one over a few days. We sing along!
  • Poetry – I mostly read our poetry over lunch time and the children use poetry for their copy work every day but if we’ve hit a new season/month or we’ve observed something amazing in nature before breakfast (sunrise, Coal tit in the yard, spider on the window etc.) I’ll find a relevant poem to read and inspire.
  • Bible facts – I try to regularly teach my children basic information (often through song) about the bible; i.e. books of the bible, 10 commandments, names of disciples etc.

We generally don’t take any longer than an hour over our morning gathering and our time is followed by chores before everyone gets their heads down to study, but that’s all for another blog post!

So I’d love to hear from you – how does your morning gathering look? How has it impacted your learning atmosphere?

 

Why Home Educating Is Actually All About Me – Part 1

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It’s that familiar time of year again; the hedgerow berries are turning from red to black, the swallows are silent as they retreat back to Africa and my body and soul are eager to find that familiar, comforting rhythm of routine. I can smell Autumn in the air through the last attempts of a British summer and I’m starting to put my youngest two children to bed in the calming dusk light again. As much as I’m clinging onto the summer nights and late mornings I’m also ready to begin our happy habits of pencils and poetry around pots of tea.

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I’m not much of a curriculum hunter; in fact I’ve never bought curriculum per se in our 8 years of home educating but I do plan; I shop for second-hand living books and draw up a schedule of learning for each child (whether we stick to it or not is another thing!). I feel accomplished and satisfied with my perpetual planning and look ahead to that all important first September morning when breakfast is served with a smile, classic FM is gently playing in the living room and the books for the day are piled high on the table.

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But as we all know from the trenches of this parenting journey the ‘perfectly’ planned day can turn with an unexpected fever, a broken night’s sleep, a pre-teen clash of agenda’s or you catch the curve of a hormonal roller coaster; yep – we’ve all been there and I’m sure we’ll be there again!

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The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom – Henry Ward Beecher

As Mr. Beecher puts it so beautifully; actually, when it comes down it to it, it’s not the seamlessly sharpened pencils or the record-breaking research into the most up to date learning tools that win our children’s  attention – it’s our hearts, our attitudes and our very present lives that hold theirs.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5, The Bible

It’s that unshakeable rock that we build our lives and convictions upon that enables us to press that all important ‘reset’ button and see greatness in every broken and imperfect day. His story becomes our story and our story becomes theirs – if we chose to embrace Jesus, then we’re hemmed in on every side.

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life – Charlotte Mason

In our hurry to fill our Ikea cupboards with art supplies and realms of paper, in our eagerness to line our shelves with books and pinterest printables, have we forgotten to prepare our hearts? Charlotte Mason challenges us as parents to evaluate the ideas that rule our lives and whether we like it or not, those ideas play a big role in what our children learn from us

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For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light – Matthew 11:30, The Bible

The atmosphere we create in our homes and learning environments, the discipline and daily rhythm of our lives and the constant devotional beat beneath our feet is the foundation of why and how our children learn at home. If my children delve into the depths of my heart to learn, love and live then that is what I must cultivate first.

What you say flows from what is in your heart. Luke 6:45, The Bible

In part 2 I’ll be sharing my 3 top tips for cultivating the heart so watch this space homeschooling mama…

7 Ways To Survive Summer!

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I know, I know, you’re thinking survive summer, I’m gagging for it, bring it on! Just hear me out mama; a few years ago, about 2 days into the summer break I overheard the desperate cry of a mother of 4 school aged children say “they’re driving me crazy already, I can’t believe I have 6 weeks of this”. I’m sure you’ve never felt exasperated 2 days into the summer break (ahem) but this romantically desired long break from ‘business as usual’, whether it’s the school run, homework and parent’s evenings or homeschool planning, curriculum choices and homeschool co-op taxiing around it can be tough on Mum when the honeymoon period (2 weeks days in…smile) is over.

Here in the UK we’re just winding down for our 6 week break; I know you US mama’s are well into your summer break, but here’s how this schedule loving homeschool Mum keeps sane.

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1. Make a wish list 

I’m pretty opposed to using the term ‘bucket’ list as I don’t intend to ‘kick it’ before the end of the summer but I get why people use it! We always make a summer wish list, it often has similar things on it year after year:

1. Go fruit picking

2. Visit Bourton-on-the-Water

3. Sit around the fire pit and roast marshmallows

4. Go visit the ________ family

Etc.

You get the idea; we make the list and we slot them on the schedule (see no.2) to make sure we do them!

2. Make a plan – print it out for all to see

Yep, I’m that Mum, but it works! I make a table on Word covering the 6 (or 7) weeks we’re taking off and fill in every day as much as I can. I then print it out and stick it in various places around the house. So next time they ask ‘are we going out today’ you can just point them to the summer schedule – simple (unless they can’t read of course…wink)

3. Talk about expectations

I’m all about the family meetings and ‘briefings’ – we can’t expect our children to behave a certain way or respond in a particular way if we haven’t first laid out our expectations right? So this is where you show them the schedule, talk them through it, explain that they’ll still be doing chores (see below), remind them that the word ‘bored’ is banned in the house (highly recommend that one!) and definitely have some clear boundaries around technology, but most of all lay down an expectation of fun. Summer needs to be memory making and journal worthy, for all of you!

4. Keep to some routine/rhythm

The first few summers after we started homeschooling I didn’t really do this and I found myself working harder than ever! Because our chores and household responsibilities are so much a part of our homeschool day I totally let them slip but of course who picks up the slack? Mama here! If nothing else I make sure we still ‘gather’ at some point in the morning to talk about the day, pray/read etc. and then we do our regular chores. We all need some kind of rhythm remaining in our summer, a familiar beat that helps us stay centred.

5. Plan a day in/day out routine or two days in one day out

When I’m scheduling our activities I try to make sure we’re not in the house for more than two days in a row. I have a lot of projects and personal work that I like to achieve over the summer and I love being at home, but half of my children are pretty extreme extroverts and have a need to be all go go go, so I try to keep a balance for all of us. Being out of the house doesn’t have to have a cost involved – it could be as simple as visiting a friend or taking lunch to the park; be creative!

6. Make a list of household projects all the family can get involved with

Summer is a great time to sort out the school room, the plastics cupboard or even paint that old chair you’ve been desperate to up-cycle. Make a list, make it realistic (says she, the absolute overachiever) and slot them into the schedule. Get the whole family involved and make it fun – it feels great ticking off that list!

7. Do your ‘back to school’ prep earlier rather than later

As a child I used to hate seeing the ‘back to school’ supplies in the supermarkets just as classes were finishing for the summer, but now it makes sense to me. Give yourself a break mama, lose the stress and prep early. Instead of running around Asda the night before the first day back, grabbing at the pencils and uniform, do it now! Do any shopping, planning, book buying, bag packing, organising of the school room etc as early in the summer as possible, pop it on the schedule and don’t procrastinate!

Believe me, you’ll relax so much more knowing it’s done.

So what do you do to make sure your summer break is memory making and stress free?

Cautious Bravery – A Reflection On Introversion

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With glistening skin and sandy toes we’re slowly emerging out of our camp cocoon into the reality of laundry and the glaring need to valet the car!

Watching my children by the water was revealing for me and forming for them; from extreme caution to fearless bravery they all approached the same ‘task’ in such different ways.

Hoping that their appetites might be the homing call for dinner I lovingly prepared spelt bread (made at home), slow cooked lemon and herb chicken (yes, even on a camp site) and salad; but instead I had to send out a search party for my eldest two children which unsurprisingly led me to the water where they were so immersed in fun and community that they barely heard their stomachs rumbling. I watched them run and jump repeatedly off the jetty, high into the sky and come down with a jubilant splash!

As I walked my youngest two to the waterfront, one with little hand tucked into mine, the other child running ahead; even their clothes spoke of their glaring differences. One in full swimming attire, fully intending to dive right in – the other still in shorts and t-shirt with swim shorts in hand ‘just in case’! They were both cautious of the cold water, dipping toes and running back to base. One face lit up and let out squeals of delight, the other pondered, straight faced, considering the cost.

After a delicate process of entry one wannabe water baby lay fully in the shallow water, head safely above chin level and shouted ‘I’m swimming mama’; and with every subsequent ‘dip’ said child took less and less time to get brave on the descent.

And my cautious child went waist deep after much cajoling and he finally smiled; we cheered and whooped and high fived him on his exit. He grinned all the way home.

 …and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep.

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I was starkly aware of my own personality peering at me with mocking eyes; not the diving and repeating but the caution and the toe dipping.

I was the shy, compliant child; desperate to please, then I was the quietly adventurous traveller walking this lonely planet; scaling the streets of New York city with new found plane friends but loving the alone.  Then I was the mum at the theme park holding the coats and the baby five year old. And then there are the times when I don’t want to answer the phone or go to that party; I can talk to hundreds but struggle with the one. I like books and stillness; they bring fullness to my struggling fuel tank. Apparently I ‘push the red‘ and my seeming extrovert self is dead.

You see introversion can walk the path of shyness and ‘the quiet one’ but passion and creativity push through that wanten personality and we become who we are with that familiar recharge of still and silent and quiet.

“It’s not our experiences that form us but the ways in which we respond to them;” ― Pico Iyer, The Virtue of Stillness

I have this friend; she’s the run around the park with the kids, dragging shore line introverts into the water, stay late around the campfire, join in the water fight, include everyone party mum and I love her. I love her for many reasons but one big reason, between you and I, is that I want to be more like her. We so often admire qualities in people because we see them in ourselves. In my case I see the possibility of those traits in myself. I have to make those possibilities a reality, it’s my choice.

So where I used to dip my toes reluctantly into the braver aspects of life, I’ve been around long enough to know that you eventually acclimatise to the cold water and it becomes fun, and easier – and then you can go a bit deeper.

And it’s in the depths that I want to live; learning to swim freely through the open waters of God’s love, freedom and opportunity.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:7

So next time you see me trying something new and I’m not smiling (yet); give this introvert a minute or two, keep cheering me on; I’ll get there eventually and make sure you high-five me on the way out.

(And then leave me alone for a while…)

Smile.

Mashed Potatoes and Parenting

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Have you ever been deceptively deceived by food in disguise?

I have.

In 2010 I traveled to Zambia with my husband, an 8 week old Sienna in utero and a team of young people; in one of the locations we stayed we were served up the good old British ‘delicacy’ of mashed potatoes with a delicious Zambian sauce poured over the top. I was at the back of the line waiting for food but the servers confidently assured me that there were mountains of mash in the kitchen. The few students in front of me were served from a fresh tray of ‘said’ mashed potatoes when all of a sudden there were cries of “blargh, what’s this?” It became apparent that what seemed like copious and extra amounts of creamy mashed potatoes were actually trays of nsima (n’SHEE-ma); a delicate mix of maize and water. This is a wonderful Zambian staple served daily in their homes but it is incredibly bland on its own (in my opinion) – especially if you thought you were eating mashed potatoes. The students were disappointed, the servers were embarrassed and I had my first experience of nsima.

Parenting can be a bit like this. Have you ever felt ‘this is not what I signed up for’? We see the cute babies and gorgeous tiny clothes, glossy magazine shots of glamorous parents laughing whilst rolling around their immaculately made up beds dressed with white linen and scatter cushions, and then we give birth! And we don’t sleep and we drink cold tea and we walk and work in a daze and life goes on beyond the magazine cover.

Maybe we expect it to be hard but I don’t think anything can prepare us for how much it will truly rock our world forever.

But just because something isn’t what we expected, or is hard or different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Here are 3 little things they don’t tell you in the parenting books:

1. There Are No Experts

No matter how many people claim to be a ‘leading expert’ in the parenting field, they probably haven’t spent a day with your children. Here’s a newsflash, YOU are the leading expert on your family; try putting that in your twitter bio. No one else in the world can love, nurture, disciple and lead your children the way you do. God made you for them and them for you. Be proud of your position and lavish in that glorious game changer!

2. You’ll Experience An Emotion Explosion 

You’ll feel love so deep that it will scare the pants off you. The bravest of warriors will go into that quiet and darker place when their child is hurting or suffering; there’s not even a word for that one. You’ll feel lonely at times in your personal parenting journey. You’ll feel guilty a million times and guess what, you might once in a while feel like you don’t even like your child (what?!). And that’s ok. But please don’t stay there. Emotions are meant to be felt, it’s a reminder that we’re alive and sensitive to words and actions and reactions. But it’s how we respond that is the power tool right here. When you feel love deeply, show them; when you’re afraid, talk to someone and pray, pray hard. When you’re lonely, reach out and when you feel guilty,  process and move on. And if, or when there’s a moment when you feel like pushing your child away, draw them in – hold them, hug them, tell them you love them.

When it’s hard, do the hard thing.

3. Children Don’t Need Everything

All they need is love (and food and shelter, oh and a bed…and books!)

But really, we do over complicate it! Do you remember that list of ‘must haves’ that you made when you were pregnant with your first child? That list your husband almost took a second mortgage over…and when your second baby arrived it radically shortened…and with subsequent children you merely breast-fed for 2 years and bought nappies (and even they were cloth)!

Don’t worry too much about what the ‘book’s’ say, I guarantee you won’t use half of it!

Maybe we need to spend more time preparing our hearts for our children more than our homes?

I can’t live your life and you can’t live mine but I can give myself the gift of freedom by not judging you; I want to be the best version of me I can be. So as the saying goes ‘free mothers, free others’.

Moments On Mothering

Have you read Moments On Mothering yet? Available to download on Amazon Kindle; individual creative essays on motherhood that should take you no longer than 10 minutes to read each. Check out the reviews here – enjoy the read!

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