Thursday, 23 February 2017

When You Meet Your Heroes - Part 2

Back in November 2014, I wrote a blog post about hosting my hero, Sally Clarkson, in my home in Oxford, England, for a lunch date. This is a follow-up post after I attended her Renew My Heart conference in Dallas, Texas, last weekend.

Meeting Sally for the third time in my life

First of all, if you don't know who Sally Clarkson is, I would suggest it's time to get acquainted. She and her husband wrote my all-time-favorite homeschooling book, Educating the Whole-Hearted Child. She also wrote my second-favorite homeschooling book, Seasons of a Mother's Heart.

These were some of her earlier titles, first published around the millennium but now updated and re-issued.

Basically, her books were (and are) a lovely blend of experience, wisdom, and well-told stories, all based on a Godly foundation. She has since moved into a more supportive role for Christian mothers everywhere, releasing titles like Mission of Motherhood, Ministry of Motherhood, and her latest, Different, which is about nurturing that difficult child through the "dark years" and emerging with a beautiful butterfly of a mature young adult.

I've come across Sally in person on two separate occasions: the first was in 2005 when she was visiting a homeschooling friend of mine near Oxford, England, and the second was the lunch date in 2014. Throughout all these years, I have been privileged to share Sally and her work with my sister-in-law Holly, long distance because she has lived in Dallas and, until June last year, I lived in England.

Holly has also drunk deep of Sally's wisdom through publications, but also, she has attended two conferences in the past. Yet, it has always been our dream to go to one together, so this past weekend, we were able to share our love for Sally and her guidance at the Renew My Heart conference.

Holly and I avoid the book stalls

Sally's conferences are amazing. Yes, there are hundreds of people there, but Sally is walking around the book stall, signing people's dog-eared and highlighted copies, swapping stories, and in my case, renewing our old acquaintance. No prima-donna, but accessible and making time for everyone.

"What are you doing here?!" was the first question she asked me. When I said I'd finally made the move I'd been seeking for so many years, she was quick to praise God for His goodness!

The conference itself seems to be one of the last ones she's planning to do, hotel rental being expensive when compared to the new social media outlets available. I found it a wonderful chance to meet new people since it was based around table groups, but there was also plenty of guidance and space to go off by ourselves and listen to God's heart.

My own quiet time could not have been more refreshing. I took off down the footpath around the man-made lake, thinking how great it would be if I could find some trees and, if possible, a fountain of some sort. I didn't really believe that would happen, but next thing I know, I'm at the head of the reservoir where the spillway is chucking down a sheet of flowing water. The sound was powerful enough to drown out the sound of the highway nearby - a reminder that God's Spirit can drown out the noise of life if we put ourselves in the right place.

Refreshing Water and Quiet Thoughts

Two more revelations came out during this time alone. One was that I needed to remember my calling - to home educate my children. If I was putting other things in the way, then I needed to re-calibrate. This led to my re-think of the schedule I've got for teaching English online to other homeschoolers. The fruit of that re-think has been announced for September 2017: no more classes during US morning time (except the day when one of my children already has an online morning class for Ancient History - I had to make at least one concession to my students in Dubai!).

With five minutes left of the quiet time, I lay back and look up into the trees. "God, tell me something. Give me a word. A picture ..." Yeah, yeah. In five minutes. Now .... go!

God rarely works that way, I know, but He was very good to me that day. He did give me a word. When Sally visited back in 2014, I always said I felt like Zacchaeus, hearing that Jesus was going to come to dine at his house that day. This time, God said to me, "Look at the tree ... it's empty. Zacchaeus is no longer having to work at seeing Jesus, but is now one of His intimate friends." The flood of acceptance for myself as a friend of Jesus was immediately clear. I returned to my table group so full of God-inspired refreshing - RENEWAL, just as the conference was aiming to achieve.

If you want to go to one of Sally's conferences, there are still two more planned for the year: South Carolina in March, and Oregon in May. She's also in London on March 18th. At our conference, people had traveled from California, Canada, New York, so if you have the time, you should get to one of these before she doesn't offer them anymore, even if it means a weekend of travel.

You won't regret it. She is a living hero of Christian homeschooling parents everywhere.

Friday, 3 February 2017

BLAST from the PAST -- Remembering back to those Toddler Days!

I was cleaning out the hard drive on my computer today and came across this article I wrote but never published about getting jobs done around the house while homeschooling young kids.

The memory of those days with four kids under 7 is a hazy one, but reading my advice from then feels surprisingly relevant still today, and I can see a lot of the fruit from some of those routines and diversions.

Hope you'll be blessed by this if you feel unable to release those grasping hands from your "skirts" when all you want to do is clean a toilet or fill the dishwasher.

Trust me: this season will pass!


*This should now read: without resorting to electronics

As a home-schooling mum with young children, I’m often asked how I can get any jobs done with kids always around. I won’t lie and say it’s easy (I’m definitely no super-mum), but with my five sure-fire tips, you, too, can keep your house reasonably tidy, get dinner on the table, and even find time to read, sew, iron, or bake some homemade bread!

1. If they can’t beat you, let them join you.

Pre-schoolers are incurable mimics. They are also desperate to be “big”, so when they see you hoovering, they want to help. Instead of evicting them, try involving them. You will probably have to accept that a chore will take twice a long with your little helpers, but there are other benefits, including:

  • enjoying each other’s company; 
  • making them feel useful; 
  • teaching them a skill that one day they can do on their own. 
Cooking continues to be a favorite pastime 

2. Share the load.

On the subject of responsibility, don’t be afraid to assign a simple task to them. Children are a lot more skilful than we often give them credit for. Sorting socks, folding towels, emptying dishwashers, and tidying away toys are all within the abilities of quite young children. Just don’t expect perfection. My boy was a little over a year old when he started helping with the laundry by throwing dirty clothes down the stairs, but lately he has taken to throwing the clean laundry down as well!

No longer "share the load" but DO the load! 

3. Discover audio books.

Audio books are tapes or CDs where actors read stories aloud, usually with sound effects and music as well. Children as young as eighteen months find them entrancing. Ladybird Books offer a whole range of fairy tales with accompanying tapes, such as “Pinocchio”, “Three Billy Goats Gruff”, and “The Gingerbread Man”. Local libraries also stock longer stories like “The Velveteen Rabbit”, and Amazon sell read-along soundtracks to favourite Disney classics like “Monsters Inc.” or “Snow White”. Two words of caution about audio books: first, you may want to preview material, as it may be unsuitable for toddlers; and second, you may prefer CDs to cassette tapes so you don’t have to keep coming back to turn the tape over.

We've moved from audio books to voracious reading 

4. Turn on the sink.

Sometimes, you need five or ten minutes for a concentrated effort, but there’s a danger of wallpaper desecration if you dare turn your back. That’s where the sink can become your ally. Using a sturdy stepping stool, park your child in front of the basin with a toothbrush in one hand and a small beaker in the other, turn on the cold tap to its lowest trickle, and then dash to your desperate duty. It may be the case that you spend thirty seconds wiping up the puddles when you return, but on balance, you will have come out ahead.

There's still something special about water on the skin 

5. Send them to the garden.

I’ve saved my favourite tip for last. I’m a firm believer in giving children as much fresh air and active play as possible, and when they can do that while I get some work done, all the better. Of course, you won’t want to leave your young children unattended, but should your kitchen sink look out over the garden (as mine does), then you will find that you can do quite a lot of chores while keeping one eye on the kids. If it’s your lounge or bedroom window, think about doing the ironing or folding clothes.

My teen has never outgrown a snooze outdoors 

Finally, let me offer a bonus tip for those times when you need utmost concentration, such as balancing your chequebook or paying bills. Find a reliable teenager – as young as 13 would be fine – and pay them a few pounds to play with your children for an hour or so. These are sometimes called “mother’s help” -- because they aren’t actually having to shoulder responsibilities like a babysitter -- but I think they a better name for them would be “mother’s godsend”.


1. Indoor trampoline. It may prove so popular, you’ll need two!

2. Lego. Choose a size that’s appropriate for the age of your children.

3. Toy kitchen.Mine doubles as a shop, with a much-beloved cash till.

4. Trains.Or any set of things they can unpack, arrange, and re-pack – hopefully, over and over again!

5. Puzzles. More for nursery-aged children. For toddlers, substitute shape boxes.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Planning for History in a CM way -- Texas History for High School

Let me take you on a journey - the way that I apply the Charlotte Mason method to a subject like history. In this case, it’s Texas History, a requirement for public-school children in this state at both 4th grade and 7th grade, and again, at university.

Of course, as homeschoolers, we didn't have to do this study -- ever. However, we decided that we would because my kids have grown up in England and only just moved to my home state in June 2016. It also would be a great way to invite along some other homeschoolers in a co-op, and widen our social circle.

In Texas - time to study Texas history!

The challenge was to map a well-documented study that's normally for ages 9/10 and 12/13, onto a more rigorous expectation for high schoolers. Further, to move away from the textbooks used at these years and even at college, and find some living books that would cover the sweeping timeline of the territory.

Just a reminder of what I mean by a living book — 

  • A book that engages the reader and draws him or her into learning more about a subject; it is typically narrative in style and written by an authority on the material. Living books are written by someone with a passion for the material or by someone who has experienced the story first hand. - Sassafras Science

Textbooks are not living books, in general. There are some exceptions, such as the Exploring Creation books by Jeannie Fulbright from Apologia Science.

Another criteria for choosing books was avoiding twaddle. Twaddle means probably what you think it means — books that are silly, babyish, basic, usually bitty, full of pictures without extended text. Texas History has a lot of this rubbish on offer, probably because it’s a school subject and publishers can get away with quantity over quality.

Once I established the kind of book I was looking for, it was time to scour Amazon. I love Amazon because you can input a book title - for example, even the textbooks — and check out the related titles that come up in the search bar.

In some ways, though, I got to cheat on this step. I knew a living book that we used years ago, when I touched on the history of the Alamo with my children almost ten years ago. The book was called Journey to the Alamo by Melodie A Cuate. It’s one of those stories where modern-day children get whisked back in time by a magical trunk, and find themselves in the midst of the battle. Not especially strong for the high schoolers I was teaching, but a favorite for the middle-grade kids, and helpful for the search threads on offer when looking on Amazon.

I also googled Texas History and homeschooling, to get the way that other parents have navigated this subject before. No reason to reinvent the wheel, right?

Finally, I went to my library to expose myself to the bigger picture of Texas history than I remember from my own 7th grade education. I’m lucky that my local library has a very creditable collection, its shelves fairly full of Texas-related living books in the adult section. It was here that I hit on the best find: my spine book of the year.

“Good-bye to a River” is a memoir by John Graves. He wrote it in the 1950s after taking a canoeing trip down the Brazos, stopping by many of the homesteads of people whose family traced roots back to the 19th century. He picked up lore and legend, myth and hearsay, and as he floated down the river, camped on the shores, fished and hunted and tried to keep his puppy warm and dry, he took the experience and turned it into a repository of some of the last memories of people who had been there in Texas’s early days of settlement.

That is, settlement in the northwestern part of the state, a place that remained wild and dangerous until almost 1880, and rarely included much in the narratives of the southeastern portion and its famous six flags.

The only problem with the book is that it has its moments of gruesome raids and scalpings, so it’s in need of some editing and generous warnings about certain chapters that one should probably skip entirely.

My second book of choice was Sam Houston’s Republic. It came highly recommended on homeschooling sites, and the first pages seemed promising. Definitely a living book, but ever since buying it and trying to push through it, I’m backtracking. It’s not very well written, extremely digressive, and the kids literally groan whenever I open it.

Not a good sign.

These two books are working as our spine - the books that I use to take information from and discuss in our meetings. We also lapbook/scrapbook our sessions, building up a picture of regime change as we journey from Indian ranges, to Spanish and, to a lesser extent, French territory, Mexican colony, independent Republic, and the difficult years of unity and war. The overall idea is to vist the six flags of Texas while acknowledging the ever-present danger of the Comanche peoples to the north.

Six flags of Texas - with a Seventh!

We also have a bank of books that we’re reading and enjoying as bedtime reading or independent reading.

These include the remaining titles of Cuate’s Mr Barrington’s Trunk series, of which Journey to the Alamo was first. She followed this by San Jacinto, Goliad, Gonzales, Galveston, Plum Creek and La Salle’s Settlement. If you have middle schoolers, you could do your whole year of Texas history by reading this series. The only problem is that it’s expensive to buy, so make your library do it for you!

Another series that we’re using is written by Janice Shefelman. Titles include Comanche Song, Spirit of Iron, and Willow Creek Home. She also writes a book about German immigrants who arrived in Galveston (A Paradise Called Texas), one of the most important eras of Texas history when it comes to my own family! 

The Cuate and Shefelman books are great for 5th-7th grade, but not really great for high schoolers. We read them anyway as a family for fun, but sometimes the way to push the older students is to turn them loose and make them discover their own info. We’ve completed one sub-section of our study when, over Christmas, they had a bird-watching project to complete.

Big Boys do Scrapbooks

Next, because we’re entering the era of the Republic, we’ll be exploring origins of our Republic luminaries like Travis, Crockett, Bowie, Houston, and Fannin, each high schooler responsible for researching one of them. We’ll also be combining the middle schoolers and high schoolers for a salt dough recreation of the Alamo.

A trip to San Antonio is de rigueur as the weather improves, too!

I hope this blog post has accomplished two things: first, given you insight and perhaps encouragement that you can choose your own era of history and make it part of a Charlotte Mason education, particularly with its emphasis on living books. I should say here that I’m not saying that this alone is “the Charlotte Mason method”, but part of a whole philosophy that includes all the other subjects and various hallmarks like copywork, dictation, nature study, etc.

However, people often ask on social media about how to design their own CM-style history curriculum, so this post will probably give you an idea of the process.

Second, if you need ideas for Texas History, this should give you, at worst, a head start!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Bicycling with Teens -- Why is Homeschooling Them so Hard?

When it comes to homeschooling teens, I’ve come to think it’s the same as riding a bicycle. However, I don’t mean that in terms of never forgetting how to do it. 

Instead, it’s like those pivotal moments in a child’s life at 6 or 7 or 8 when the training wheels come off but the rider is still unsteady.  Do you hold on? Do you let go?

Sometimes, I just don’t know.

What should I do???

I’ve been homeschooling four children for nearly thirteen years, but it’s just now that I realize that homeschooling teenagers is hard.

I don’t mean hard because the level of work is hard. After all, I’m an experienced secondary teacher, so I’ve educated teenagers before. I’ve run more than four different youth groups in the past twenty years, so I’ve mentored teens before.

I mean, for goodness’ sake, I even WAS a teenager, once upon a time! I know they can be hormonal and fickle, over-tired and grumpy.

So why am I finding it so hard as my own daughter creeps toward 16 1/2 years old? Because it has just hit me: 



Blooming before my eyes!

Yes, yes, yes … I know that we never stop learning, we never stop growing, and that even when she leaves home for college or work or whatever, we’ll still be connected. My own mom and I are closer than we’ve ever been, so I’m not afraid of losing her once she packs that bag and heads out the door.

But it is hard. The time frame, for example.  In just a few years, she will be DONE with homeschool. My chance to guide her and share her studies and explore what she explores is nearly over.

It is hard. The choices — OH, the choices!!! Whether SATs, or AP classes, CLEP or honors courses, online MOOCs or dual-enrollment, or bog-standard curriculum and our beloved Charlotte Mason approach to our studies. I’m sure I haven’t even touched on all the options, so I’m trying to stay true to our family mission: love to learn and learn to love.

Our Motto: Love to Learn and Learn to Love

But you know what makes it hardest? She is starting down the path of being dogged and determined about the vision she has for her own life. She is wanting to put her stamp on things - create her own narrative - and it’s causing friction between us that’s never been there before.

It’s not altogether a bad place to be. Standing back and watching her, I know that it’s the start of a really good phase. Like riding a bike, she has told me to take off the training wheels and give her a push. But if I let go and she falls, then I’ll be blamed for letting go, even if she asked me to do so.

So homeschooling teens is like riding a bike. I provided her with the best one I can afford in terms of time and money, and now I have to let her ride away on it under her own power, on her own path, steering her own course.

A Path of Her Choosing

And I’ll watch her from the side lines, with tears of pride in my eyes.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

When You're On "The Struggle"

This October, I had the great privilege of meeting up with about thirty home-educating mums in the UK who use the Charlotte Mason method. We rented rooms in the youth hostel at Ambleside, and stayed up late in the conference room, sharing ideas, swapping stories, and sipping wine.

A sub-set on the great CM retreat

Our final day, we took a lovely ramble around Rydal Water and topped off the adventure with a pub meal at the Kirkstone Pass Inn.

The Grotto at Rydal Hall

The only problem is that the way to the inn was up a narrow, steep lane called “The Struggle”. It’s in honour of this little lane that I’m writing this blog post.

A Wikimedia Image, capturing the drama that lies ahead

You see, I have been having my own “struggle” over the past six months or so. While it’s true that I’ve been homeschooling for over thirteen years, have appeared in the UK newspaper and on the radio as a “with it” and “together’ home-educator, have my vision and my approach really sorted out, things haven’t been quite going to plan this year.

It all started when I decided to move back to my home state of Texas after living in the UK for 25 years. 

Suffice to say, a huge upset like an intercontinental move is indeed monumental, and takes months of research, applications, arrangements, etc, until one finally makes the physical re-location, and then having to do it all over again in the new locale. Insurance, car purchase, mobile phone plan, supermarket preferences, kitting out a home all over again, and then navigating the crazy health-care system, are all time-consuming activities, some of which seem never ending.

Add to this that my hubby has stayed behind in the UK for the time being, making me in effect a single mum, and that I lost not only my puppy in the first few weeks of arrival, but my grandmother, too, and felt bombarded by both the Brexit and the US Presidential election votes to the point of feeling as though I’d been bludgeoned by a topsy-turvy world …

Face-Palm Summer

I am struggling.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. We all have our challenges, our distractions, our obstacles, so I thought I’d try to create a step-by-step plan for encouraging any of you who are struggling, too.

The first thing we need to do is appreciate our surroundings. What are the good things that you are thankful for? At the bottom of that hill in Ambleside, it would be the quaint little buildings, the amazing Highland Cattle in the fields of heather, the soaring hills and broad lakes, and the advantage of such clean air.

Magical Landscapes

Appreciating my surroundings here in Texas, I see these things: I am only five miles from my mother and my brother. We have found a fantastic church nearby, and a terrific swim club. Petrol prices are really cheap, and my car is a Prius, so gets about 60 miles to the US gallon. We are slowly making friends, and we are juggling about the right number of activities, though I have to keep a very close eye on my calendar.

Supermoon in November

The next thing we need to do is consider the route ahead. The Struggle is a 3 mile road that often is one lane with passing places. It rises up nearly 500 metres or 1500 feet. Some of the gradients are 20%. This thing can get pretty hairy at times.

Ready for Adventure!

In Texas, my biggest struggle is about supporting my kids in their homeschooling while I continue to teach my online classes in English. I anticipated the conflict of timing by telescoping my business onto Mondays and Tuesdays only, but that means the children need to be independent in their studies on those two days. I feel as though these two days are the narrow lane where we’re looking for the passing places ahead.

Independence ... sometimes ...

A second section of the narrow lane is concerned with use of electronics. My business is based on the internet, and I feel keenly aware that I need to be on the computer a lot. So my kids are modeled a computer-based life, and they are quite happy to follow suit. This goes against my whole belief system of broad brain development. If I’m vigilant, I’ll park their ipods on the kitchen counter at bedtime … and check they’re still there before I close down the house for the night. If I’m not … well … it’s not like they’re driving off the edge of a cliff or anything. They tend to be involved in fairly innocuous activities (usually jokes, magic tricks, and politics), but anticipating the dangers ahead is part of my anxiety when traveling down this road.

A third concern is where this road is actually headed. It’s easy when you’re driving on The Struggle: you can see the pub waiting for you at the top, and you can breathe easy to know that there’s plenty of parking, a cold pint of beer, and a lovely hot dinner of roast beef waiting for you.

Good Things Waiting Ahead!

It’s not that easy when you’re homeschooling, is it? You have a vague idea of where you’re headed, but your children are unique and will be carving out pathways that you might never dream were possible. The worry is that you’ll miss the turn, or you’ll aim for the wrong destination, or you’ll skip some important step.

So, that brings me to the final point. We’ve looked at the good things around us, the obstacles in front of us, and now it’s time to look at trusting our equipment. 


When driving The Struggle, a car in good condition is really important. You absolutely want to avoid breaking down partway up a 20% gradient, or having your brakes malfunction, or — as did happen once to me in the past — your turbo give out on your van so it drove only in “go slow” mode.

For me, keeping my equipment tuned up relates to my faith life. I find that ensuring I re-charge each morning, and park up safely at night, the more equanimity I have in the daytime. My devotional of choice is the Celtic Daily Prayer books, available in two volumes and covering four years of daily meditations.

Finding Encouragement in Faith

Even if you’re not religious, you should build some quiet time into your day. A time when you just sit and let your brain rest, your heart get still, your breathing, deepen. A time when the kids respect that you want to be on your own, and unless little Jimmy’s head is bleeding profusely and 911 needs to be called, you are not to be disturbed.

Not everyone can zoom down a four-lane highway without any traffic, and especially not homeschooling families. There will be bumps and diversions, road works and re-surfacings, traffic snarls and near-misses. It’s the way we take these challenges as part of life that will teach our children something, even when the books are being ignored.

We may struggle, but we will overcome.


Friday, 30 September 2016

Boyschooling Named in Top 100 Helpful Homeschooling Blogs

I'm so pleased to hear that my blog, which has been running for about five years now, has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Homeschool Blogs by Healthy Moms Magazine.

Woo-hoo! Boyschooling soars!

I started the blog because, like all the hiking we do as a family, it's so much better to travel along paths that are already worn than trying to create new ones in the tangle and undergrowth of life.

Homeschooling can be challenging enough,
so following a path worn by those who
have gone before can make it a bit easier.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not averse to being a pioneer, but when a lot of us find ourselves in a battle with boys who won't write, struggle with our son's anger issues, fear we're succumbing to the pressure to try this curriculum or that style, then it seems silly to re-invent the wheel, family by family.

So thank you so much to Healthy Moms Magazine, and all you who have followed me over the years, shared my musings and encouragements, and benefited from the posts in any way.

You'll find us listed at NUMBER 31 on the following website link:

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Three Pathways of Homeschooling

This is going to be a long post. I apologise in advance, but I encourage you to read it, and read to the end: it could fundamentally change how you educate your children at home.

You see, every August/September, I have a crisis of direction.
  • Even after doing this for 13 years.
  • Even after becoming a firm believer in the philosophy and fruits of the Charlotte Mason method. 
  • Even after applying all the good parts of public school that I learned as a teacher there, and knowing what to discard and what to bar completely from entering through our doors.

You’ve probably felt this way, too. In August and September, everyone starts shouting what they’re planning to do for the year — singing the praises of this curriculum, or that program, or about exams or credits or dual-enrollment or American style or whatever, and you think:

… maybe … I’m … doing … it … wrong.

Chances are, you are doing it wrong. Almost all of us are. Me included.

Let me explain.

First of all, I think there are basically three pathways to education, particularly home education. You can see from the introduction that I have certain biases, but we’ll probably all agree on the general principles I’m going to run through.

Number One Pathway: the school-at-home way

I call this the “world’s pathway” — that is, following the way that most people’s countries go about this whole education thing, and the fall-back position for most homeschoolers. It’s what we know, right? The bottom line of this pathway is that students are drilled in an effort to achieve pieces of paper. In some cases, they’re not even drilled: they just end up with pieces of paper because they’ve signed up for something and then proceed to teach themselves. Let me explain:

My teen has just signed up for her first “dual-enrollment” course at a local college. It’s an online English class, and it consists of reading some chapters of a book, writing a paper, and emailing it to the teacher. The teacher them writes back “accepted” or “not accepted”. If you’ve ever read T H White’s Once and Future King, this might remind you a lot of the ant colony where things are either “done” or “not done”. This seems the pinnacle of factory education to me, where a teacher runs a course only in name. All the real learning has either been done by the student before, or the student doesn’t get any real learning or … surprise, surprise … Mom does it! However she gets there, her ultimately outcome is simply this: Done.

The problem with the world’s pathway is that the outcome of “done” is what’s important, not the process along the way. Children can cram and vomit out the expected answers, then go on their merry way, none the wiser.

This is true of so many homeschool approaches, too. Don’t kid yourself: if it’s short answer, fill in the blank, multiple choice, the level of learning is minimal, and the aim, at the bottom of it all, is to be “done” or “not done”.

Number Two Pathway: focus on the process of learning

Now we come to those home educators who have opted for the second pathway, that is, learning for learning’s sake. There is no sense of “done” and “not done”, but of “doing”. They have eschewed the hoops and hurdles of someone else’s idea of success, and focus instead on the process of learning. There are different ways of achieving this aim, and some are very rigid while others are very loose; however, they don’t settle for “done” and “not done”, but are pushing the learning outcome to something lasting. This would be more your Classical Conversations, your Charlotte Masons, your Montessoris and other “living” approaches, including (to some extent) your unschoolers. Curricula and texts and activities work on the nurturing of the learner.

Clearly, as a Charlotte Mason advocate, I find this approach preferable to the first. I’ve been in the done/not done environment as a teacher, and I can spot a done/not done curriculum from a mile away, even if it’s dressed up as something else. The second pathway is clearly a higher level of learning for the student. It takes students further, deeper, broader; expands their level of brain development, motivation, retention; and turns them from “done/to done” or input/output machines into organic, holistic creatures made unique and, theoretically, more adaptable to what life throws at them.

I’m constantly trying to encourage newbies to leave the first pathway and branch out to the second one, because the first one usually leaves them feeling burned out or insufficient teachers, leads them to lots of shouting fights with their kids who find it boring and uninspiring, and therefore, prevents the warm, fuzzy feelings one was expecting to have when teaching one’s children at home. 

Almost everyone who has changed from pathway one to pathway two, if they were having problems, is happier after the change, because it suits their vision of what homeschooling would be like when they were thinking about doing it once upon a time.



(Pardon my analogies … I’m doing my best!)

However - and grab onto your seats - BOTH PATHWAYS ARE WRONG!

The right pathway is pathway three. If you’re religious, it’s God’s pathway, but even if you aren’t, don’t give up … I’m not going to cram the gospel down your throat. I’m going to tell you something amazing about how to educate your children at home.

Or, maybe I should say “WHY” you educate your children at home.

You see, your educational philosophy — whether religious or secular — has a spiritual or philosophical or at least a moral element to it. I mean, if you’re trying to sit down and read a book with your kids or make them read a book, but they’re fighting instead, and you just say something like, “For goodness’ sake, can’t you just get along like good people do?!!!”

What about, “It’s not nice to hit.”

“Don’t call people names — it’s not nice.”

“Only bullies act like that.”


You see, the fundamental things that homeschoolers do — all of us — is instill our absolute values in our children.

Does that make you shudder? Maybe it should. You know, a Neo-Nazi white supremist family who homeschools will be inculcating their Neo-Nazi white supremist values to their kids. A free-love naturist hippy who homeschools will be passing on their free-love naturist hippy values.

Maybe they’re Muslim extremists, Christian extremists, atheist extremists, socialists, drug-heads, welfare “spongers”, Asian Tiger Moms, or even Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, monarchists, anarchists …

Hopefully, you’ve got the point.

Just to be clear. I am absolutely not making the point that the government should “do something” about all these different isms and ists who are homeschooling their children. For one thing, no government could possibly succeed in preventing parents from passing on their values short of removing the children from the family. Even sending children to school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week isn’t going to stop the family values from creeping into a child’s moral fabric. 

Perhaps naysayers would argue, “Well, at least they’re getting an alternative view to their parents’ weird ideas!” No, they’re getting a whole new set of ideas, few of which are helpful or preferable. More on this in a minute.

Schools, because of the plurality of the student body, can’t espouse any unifying message of morality beyond the most diluted “be good” (ie, shut up and be quiet and don’t make any waves). Clearly, it can’t put forth any religious position of absolute truths out there, or there would be major ructions. It can’t be wholly secular, either, because there are no agreed guiding principles if you have no agreement on “absolute truth”.

All the schools can do is hope that their “be nice” message and “work hard” hopes will filter down to some sort of general order, but we all know how well that’s succeeded. Even if you personally haven’t been struck down by major tragedies like mass shootings, you or someone you know will have been badly hurt by bullying — this might not be a national tragedy, but it’s darn well a personal tragedy for millions of children, all of whom relied on the school to teach a value system.

No. Schools aren’t where the value systems of worth are found.

So, legislate as they might, governments will never replace the moral compass of a child’s home. That means the only place that your child can set his or her moral compass is at your hearth, and that means the chief end of homeschooling — whatever your religious or philosophical beliefs — is a moral one.

If you’re a Christian, this is a clear-cut direction. You use the Bible to study more of who God is, who you are in God, and how that impacts on your unique mission in life. According to R C Sproul in his excellent book called When You Rise Up, this will include equipping your children to teach their own children, who in turn will teach their children, etc.

It is an impactful pathway!

If you’re not religious, then you may like to use the two fundamental principles of natural law as set out by Richard Maybury in his Uncle Eric series of books:
  1. Do all that you say you’ll do
  2. Do not encorach on others or on their property
These two fundamental principles will get you a long way amongst fellow humans in the world.*

So let me re-cap:

PATHWAY ONE - Homeschool in a way that follows input/output methodologies, where study is a means to an end like credit hours, exam grades, degrees, and a good job. This way serves a purpose.
PATHWAY TWO - Homeschool in a way that seeks learning for the sake of learning. Qualifications may happen along the way, but you’re mainly trying to equip your children for skills they’ll need throughout their lives, come what may. You focus on process more than you focus on outcome. This pathway also serves a purpose.
PATHWAY THREE - Homeschool in a way that’s mindful of the moral messages that you teach your children, both by study and by your life in words and deeds. You set the bar of what success actually means, both in terms of academic and personal success. You know a child can always learn from a book, even after having left home, but the moral compass is set when they’re young and at home. Your studies, therefore, are not taken in a vacuum. Even something like Texas History can discuss the moral issues regarding clashes of cultures and needs/wants, and these discussions can help them tease out the hard choices when they’re adults. This pathway not only serves a purpose, but serves a society.

So, if you don’t take PATHWAY THREE, does that make you a bad homeschooler?

I think it’s the wrong question to ask. You signed up to pathway three the moment you started having children, so it’s not a matter of “if” but of “when” you start walking this way.

Parenting is about journeying with your children.
Setting your child’s moral compass is a fundamental purpose of being a parent, and therefore, you should look into using every and all resources for fulfilling that purpose. Of course, moral compasses will differ from family to family. That’s the problem of our having free will because we’re human beings. I mean, clearly it isn’t for us to decide whose free will is allowed to be free, and whose isn’t.** 

Just by focusing on principles, you’ll be teaching your children that there are such things as absolutes, and that’s a eye-opening lesson in today’s relativistic world.

Having a generation of homeschoolers who know that there’s such a thing as right and wrong will be a great influence on future society, and possibly position them to be world changers.

Be careful: you’re not nurturing them so that they can be world changers … instead, you’re nurturing them first and foremost to be moral/kind/godly, and then they CAN be world changers.


*Of course, religious people would urge you to think beyond the tangible and limited world that we see, and consider the spiritual world beyond — but that’s another topic to save for another day.

** It’s easy to get self-righteous and judgmental here. Remember to take the plank out of your own eye before you point out the splinter in your neighbour’s.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Best Job in the World

Back, back, w-a-y back in about 2001, I was researching the idea of home-educating my daughter who was then only a year old. I was a teacher, and she was going to a child-minder three days a week. Out of the blue one day, it dawned on me: why was I leaving my own child with somebody, while I went out to teach other people's children?!!

Teaching your own has intrinsic rewards.

Sometimes, we parents get into home-education because we fundamentally disagree with the education system; or because we are torn to pieces about what a certain school or even a certain collection of children are doing to our own precious one; or because we don't find traditional schooling a good fit. All of these are perfectly good reasons, but they're kind of negative ones -- we reject the norm to embrace the unusual.

But what if the unusual were the RIGHT way, and that we embrace it because it's been the best way all along?

Learning in the "field" with the whole body

This became clear to me one summer’s day, right after I’d left that paying job. It was such a luxury to just sit on a bench and observe my toddler. She was pottering around in the grass, shaking my soda bottle and watching the bubbles, and I was amazed how I wasn't feeling the usual urge to put her on the swing for five minutes, then help her down the slide for five minutes more, wobble the wiggly bridge for five, then take her back home for a nap so I could get back to my "real" job.

The very moment it dawned on me

Instead, I could just sit there. I could just be. And let my daughter just be. 

Just let her stand in the field
and ponder the world ... that's fine.
This was when my perspective completely changed. My job now was to watch her. What made her tick? What excited her? What was difficult for her, what was easy?

The moral of this tale is this: home-education is often seen as a "running away from" or "opting out" of traditional schooling, but I want to encourage everyone who's involved in it to see it with new eyes. Not running away, but leaping into, soaring through, bounding ... or, if you're a quiet and methodical sort ... ambling/walking/tip-toeing along the path that you were made to follow. 

Clearly, we don't all learn the same way!

It's a path that you travel WITH your children, not a direction you point them in!

Life and learning are journeys ... together!

And that's why, of all the jobs I've had, homeschooling my kids is the best job in the world!

(This article first appeared in the Home Ed Gazette, an email newsletter available by contacting the editor at homeedgazettegmailcom)

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Schedules, Schedules, Schedules

It’s that time of year. Facebook and blogs and Yahoo groups and forums are full of people’s schedules. I used to write mine up in great detail on Excel — talk about Throwback Thursday (even though it’s Saturday!)

Here two of my schedules from the past:

Best laid plans of yesteryear

And what about now? How do I home-educate four children between the ages of 8 and 15? Well, now my schedule looks like this:

My plan for this year

How have I gone from ticky-boxy to book-stacky? Basically, three things have changed in the past two years:

  • I have fully embraced the idea that homeschooling is as much as about a relationship among the family as it is about a relationship with our studies, and therefore, I’m committed to teaching the kids together as much as possible.

Homeschooling is so much more than just studies

  • I have fully embraced the idea that recording what we’ve done is as successful an approach as planning what we will do: more so, in fact, because the stresses of “falling behind” are gone entirely, and the joys of “capturing the moment” are here to stay.

Recording what you've done is less
stressful than planning what you might do

  • I have fully embraced the stage of the children’s lives that they can both work together, and work independently; this means that we study together in the morning, and the afternoons are free for play/handicrafts/Spanish/music lessons/hobbies, or further studies for the older two.

Afternoons are free for hobbies

Sometimes, my friends accuse me of being very off-hand with my approach, as though it’s as easy as falling off a log. I think I give this impression because I’ve been homeschooling for twelve years now. With time (and children’s maturity), one tends to grow into their individual rhythm.

However, if you want to embrace an all-together policy of home-education as I have, then it's possible for you to start now. Here are some suggestions.

First, following a flexible educational philosophy like the Charlotte Mason method. Sometimes, her method is made to seem overly complicated if you look at various websites. The hoops to jump through are made to seem overwhelming, as though each child has to have his or her own complete curriculum, and therefore, you have to spend your entire day in leaping from one child to another to support their studies.

To me, that’s the way to madness.

This is what madness looks like

Look — what they tell you is that their way is a CM curriculum, and I say to you that my way is a CM curriculum.  In fact, both ways — all ways of homeschooling — are curricula, because the definition of curricula is those subjects which you study. If you happen to study the lyrics of Janis Joplin songs 24/7, then that’s your curriculum. It doesn't have to be someone else's pre-set way of educating your children.

It’s a bit like saying you’re on a diet. Everyone is on a diet. Diet is what you eat. Some people are on a low-fat diet, or a low-protein diet, or a low-Starbucks’-vanilla-latte diet, but a diet is just describing that which you eat. Period.

That's the English Cream Tea diet

So my curriculum is the collection of subjects that we’ve chosen to study, and we do so by using the Charlotte Mason method.

Charlotte Mason, by the way, was a Victorian teacher whose forward-thinking ideas about education continue to be ground-breaking when it comes to churning out thinkers instead of hoop-jumpers. (She would have abhorred today’s focus on teaching to an exam rather than igniting interest in a subject)

In short, the CM method is characterised by:

  • short lessons
  • use of living books as opposed to dry textbooks
  • employing narration, dictation, and copywork for Language Arts skills
  • nature study
  • art- and music-appreciation
  • free afternoons to work on handicrafts, outdoor pursuits, or other personal interests

Our CM-inspired timetable consists of reading really good books for about 20 minutes each, sometimes getting to six or seven of them in a morning. We rotate through about twenty books at a time, and generally they have a similar theme. 

This autumn, we’re focusing on North America at the time of the early explorers, including the indigenous peoples who already lived there. Our science is botany with a focus on trees. We use Life of Fred for secondary school, and a mixture of Singapore and Shillermath for primary. We’ll also dabble in artist study, composer study, quantum theory, Shakespeare, US politics and economics, character study, and of course, biblical history and Christian faith.

We’ll work our way through this whole stack of books in the year, supplementing with great documentaries like Crash Course, local workshops, trips to museums, concerts, plays, and even creating a lapbook or two.

Most of these supplemental activities are reserved for Fridays, because we only “school” four days a week (see my blog post about the importance of Free-Day Fridays for us).

Free-day Fridays are just plain fun!

I realise this has been a really long blog post — probably the longest I have ever written — but I wanted you to know that it’s possible to combine your kids for a great learning experience. If you have babies or toddlers, you will be a few years away from this luxury (I used to employ a lot of Montessori-type activities to keep the toddlers busy: Tot Trays is a great website for ideas), but start getting everyone into a routine of learning together in the mornings, and it won’t be long before your youngsters are right in the thick of it, discussing which Canterbury Tales is their favorite, or arguing whether light is a particle or a wave, or saying they're sad because we'll only be in the penumbra and not the umbra of the solar eclipse. 

Honestly, with a diet of great books and great thoughts, stuff like this really happens!