The Soul of Education

Extra curricular activities are always an interesting topic to discuss. As what exactly are they, how do they fit into our lives and days and why exactly are we doing them? Thoughts such as these often come spinning around my head late at night.

When we first began our homeschool journey and I was fresh out of the classroom these activities were viewed in my mind as something extra, something to add on after we had done “school”, something that was viewed as a luxury and as an added bonus – if time and money allowed. Yes, as all of life comes down to money, that is still a realistic constraint – however my attitude and views have somewhat altered over the past 10 years!

As I have spent more and more time researching Charlotte Mason, listening to Ken Robinson and partaking in other Learning Revolution discussions my understanding on what education truly is has changed. I see more and more the need for an education to fully embrace the mind, body and soul. In the past I viewed the extra curricular as something extra whereas it’s now become a part of what we do. A part of the child’s education, something as essential as maths or language.

Obviously it would sound fantastic if every child could partake in every activity that caught their attention however this is not practical or necessarily a good thing. As parents we need to wisely know our children and what suits them and when. We see these “extra curricular activities” as a personal extension of who each of our children truly are. It’s our hope that these experiences will capture their souls and their love for something that will carry them a lifetime. Our 10 year old son has always been passionate about birding, he writes a birding blog and has a birding website. We try to see that he’s able to volunteer at the Bird of Prey Sanctuary – as often as we can make the 45 minute trek there. This has not only allowed him to connect with the birds themselves but with many amazing people. Many of who maybe colleagues of his one day if he follows through with his dream to study ornithology. This “extra curricular activity” should therefore be viewed as fundamental as his writing lessons as it’s networking and connecting his passion with his future.

Each of our children may choose 2 (though sometimes it becomes 3) activities that they may partake in off our property. As all our children have an affinity for music, and I don’t, taking music lessons is a non-negotiable (which they love the idea of.) As our eldest is attends regular school and her time is tight she’s decided to find pieces off the Internet and teach herself using the online lessons she has found.The younger 3 attend musikgarten, which gives them an amazing grounding in music, and our 10 year old son has violin lessons.

Interestingly he has always wanted to play the violin and so he began lessons at the age of 6. His teacher came to our home every second week for 2 hours. During this time our boy not only played the violin but was submerged into listening to it, watching DVDs on it and above all learning to love his instrument. This year however he’s begun to talk about studying music after school and for this reason we’ve changed music teachers. The new teacher, known to have her students play beautifully, requires a much higher level of playing, as well as her students to be fully commited. Surprisingly he has absolutly taken to this and is loving the challenge.

Besides their music the boys also attend Lego lessons which have been fantastic for this mom who has absolutely no interest what-so-ever in anything that has to do with pulleys, levers, buildings and conveyor belts. By attending these lessons with a mom who’s as passionate about these, as I am about writing, has been a real blessing for the boys as they have grown and learned so much under her enthusiastic instruction.

Besides music the twins and our 15 year old do praise dance – an hour of fun dancing where they learn to worship God through their dance. The twins have been attending rhythmic gymnastics but I feel this season has reached an end for now. As hard as it is, as parents we sometimes have to make hard calls. They still really want to go but I see burn out knocking at our door as well as little foxes entering our home. For other children this is not a problem but the sweets at the end of the lesson have become an issue in the hearts of my gilrs and it’s my responsibility to guard their hearts.  Being so young the girls have begun to assosiate dancing with being rewarded for performing and now they won’t dance at home without me supplying them with a handful of treats. They are losing the love for simply dancing and are instead being drawn to the reward. Charlotte Mason warns up of this and now I’m seeing the true fruit of “what you draw a child with, is what you draw your child to.” This added to the fact that we’ve realised that gymnastics is a very individual sport, meaning that in effect our girls would be pitted against one another, we’ve decided to give it a break and that they may return, when they are older and one of them specifically wants to take this up as their “thing.”

Our 15 year old has recently taken up ballet. As her plate is full at school and she still has home responsibilities we have decided for her to attend the adult dance class that happen in the evening. There are no shows or exams but just fun ballet lessons. She’s really enjoying this approach and it allows her to decide if it is something she’d like to take more seriously later, whilst allowing her to catch up with her peer group.

We have also found certain areas that we are passionate and interested in assisted greatly by outside input. Our eldest son has just joined Cubs where he is learning so many vial skills that we simply don’t have the time to get around to.

But I’d say the greatest “trick” we’ve learned is to host or do as many extra curricular activities from our home as possible. Having studied drama and my husband being a microbiologist we host drama lessons and a science club from our home. This is great as our children are able to have lessons for free and we actually do them because others are paying to come! From the drama lessons we discovered one teenage boy has amazing soccer skills, so after drama he coaches soccer, in our garden, for half an hour. We have also said that the money we make by running these extra murals from home is the amount we’ll set aside for the children to use for other activities they want to take part in.

Having 5 children does limit one’s ability to get to everything they would love to partake in and often the lessons cost more than they child is benefiting form the activity. We do therefore use the Internet a great deal to. We have found free drum, art and piano lessons and then we also buy DVDs that have lessons. My twins favourite being one with ballet on it.

As mommy to 5 very different children I have learned one thing that remains the same – extra curricular activities need to not only entertain a child because they enjoy it but to rather be firstly something I cannot teach them and secondly something that suits them and grows them personally into all the were created to be. As our children learn and embrace new skills, these activities are the part of our curriculum that develops our child’s body as well as their soul. This happens as they are connected to beauty and are able to partake in the creative world around them.


This post features on the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers (SACH Bloggers) where South African home schoolers share experiences, ideas, philosophies and much more.  You can join the carnival too by heading to the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers sign up page. We hope you enjoy the carnival as much as we have!

SA Home Schooling Blog Carnival June 2012 ~ Extra Curricular Activities

Best Fish Lesson Ever

For the last few weeks we have been reading all about the ocean and fish in our Sonlight  PreK and Core A programs. The children have sat pouring over the pictures and even my – almost 10 year old – has been creeping over to listen.

Well last night I remembered that a while back my brother-in-law had been spear fishing and had given us a fish and it was still in the freezer. After lunch we set up our little tables and laid out the fish.

Firstly Reid had to measure it with his ever present tape measure – once the length had been anounced we could proceed with! It was then so interesting to watch how at first everyone pressed and poked gently as we looked at the different parts and tried to remember what they were called. We found the gills and how the water would wash over them. Raine then took out his penknife and took on the manly job of scaling the fish – which we will be eating for supper!

I popped inside to get a bucket of water only to come out and find 4 little pairs of hands pulling off scales, opening and closing the mouth, trying to dig the eye out. And the questions that flowed, “why’s the eye stuck, is this the tonge, I think I found the throat, can we cut off it’s tail? I need a torch.”

At times like these I find it best to simply step back, and move right out the way. Simply because I realise that to most of these questions they don’t want me to give them answers and if they do they’ll ask them again later, instead they are simply voicing their thoughts.

Their senses are allowing them to access so much information and so many thought processes are taking place that me adding more to it will spoil the moment. As Mom I often have to learn to take a side step and let the learning just take place all on it’s own. As they managed to take out the eye, scrape off the scales and feel the teeth I know that no explanation of mine will match the pure wonder, physical touch and smell of doing this for themselves.

As they keenly ran to meet Dad and helped him prepare the fish for dinner whilst telling him all about what they had discovered I knew that today we’d experienced the best Fish lesson ever!


Rediscovering True Learning

So this week was different, good, troubling and beautiful. As we were painting the twins room the house was a jumble – I don’t do well in a jumble! The children each have their work box and they continued with their maths and language arts, we still took time to read together, eat together, sing and pray together. But I was not in a place to sit and “teach.” As I was wandering around the house trying to sort through the muddle, the kids were pretty much left to themselves.  Yes I did sit with Reid for an hour to train him in using a timer to keep focused on his whatever activity he had at hand, I did try sound out a few words with the little ones and every night I set out some interesting games, puzzles or activities for the children to do the next day. Other than that they were pretty much left to themselves.

Generally by the time I am up and busy with making breakfast they are already in the work room, doing their box of work, building puzzles, drawing, building websites, practicing typing on the computer, playing an educational
computer game, doing Rosetta Stone French, cutting, sticking, tracing or building Lego. Without me interfering, all this dynamic, organic activity was happening around me. Wow!

At breakfast we read the Bible, stories and poems. We talk about these, recite Bible verses and sing.  In the shambles I asked God to help me to show more of Him personally to my children. We then happened to read a story about prayer and we spoke about hearing God and praying to him. We spoke about how God really hears when we pray. Very soon the clouds covered the sun and as we sat shivering we naturally asked God to please let the sun shine through the clouds again – and make the other clouds scoot around the sun. And He did. Something else to talk about dinner tonight, God heard us when we prayed, and He himself revealed himself to my children. Wow!

We had to deal with our son being bullied – as Sunday school – he was pushed against the wall, kicked and hit. How to we forgive? How do work through this emotionally? The child came to our house to apologise after which the two of them they spent the next hour skidding down our bank on boxes. “Mom, they must come and play again!” Wow!Gracie doesn’t like to listen to stories or learn from anything 2D. She does however love granny’s Boggle. This week I found a kids boggle – where they have picture cards with the word written and the child just needs to match the picture and letters. I just left I the new game lying around and sure enough in no time Gracie pounced on it and brought it to me. We spent a short time together looking at the cards, building words and seeing how it all worked. Since then she’s spent hours with the lettered dice twisting, turning, matching, sounding. That afternoon she spent ages turning a soup packet round and round saying, “Sooooop, sooop,” whilst looking for the word she was sure must be there. Never having sounded words before her encounter with kids boggle… Wow!

Music lessons are always a highlight in our week and the children come home glowing and inspired from the Musikgarten’s gentle and yet incredibly mature approach. Dancing, Science Club, Drama Club and Soccer have filled our home and afternoons. Friends visiting till late, Little Pilgrim’s Progress and David Attenborough’s movies keep us all company in the evening. Bindi, the Jungle Girl and Steve Irwin have inspired many a game and the “doctor’s box” has been used greatly to save all sorts of animals (usually dried branches) from near death. The imagination, creativity and passion inspired by these activities, friends, movies and books have left me in awe. Wow!

Today’s breakfast was unusually long – we had a lot we wanted to read, we found ourselves discussing the holy spirit and the power of Elisha within us and that Jesus is a king.  We sang a lot of songs. The children left the table ready to embrace the day. Reid, my child who never wants to do any “school work”, dashed off with the timer to do his desk work. Raine started to teach Rose’s 16 year old friend a Richard Clayderman’s piano piece he’s been working on. The boys then set up their puppet show that they had wanted me to film for them. For months they have been writing the script, making characters and developing the props. While they set this up the girls decided they needed to make crowns for a princess party they are going to tomorrow. Interesting that Summer broke the toy crown I bought her, she spend days trying to convince me to give her Gracie’s crown and finally today she woke up and announced that they needed to make crowns. Quite a thought process for a four year old to work through.  We filmed the boys and realised they needed to ask dad for his microphone as their voices are lost behind the screen. Something we’ll work on this weekend. We made birthday cards for their cousin’s birthday. Inside which they either wrote their own message or traced what I had written.I realised that every child does in fact want to write! Rose’s on half term, she should be studying but spent the morning sitting in the sun – “just thinking.” 

The twins helped our house cleaner to tidy their bedroom, they picked flowers and arranged them beautifully. They saved a locust from the dog and made a little house for it. They found a worm living inside a tiny stick “house” and stood in awe as it popped it’s head in and out. We made butterflies from crepe paper, zip lock bags and pipe cleaners.Lunch time found everyone gathering in the kitchen cutting home made bread, spreading jam, cutting avo and mashing bananas. A CD was brought in and we all found ourselves scattered upon the shelf, chairs and floor listening to the Adventures in Odyssey. I look around at five content, relaxed, glowing children. Five happy souls all busy enjoying a lunch they had made either for themselves or that was made by a sibling and my heart want to shout from a mountain top… WOW!

As I sit and type the boys are playing soccer on the trampoline interjected by multiple trips to Google to research different players, teams, countries, outfits, national anthems and flags. Rose chats away to friends whilst doing an Afrikaans project (multi-tasking seems to be a 15 year olds gifting, especially when it comes to friends and projects), Gracie is asleep and Summer is making a shop – with all our fruit and vegetables.  As Gracie emerged from her sleep she joins in Summer’s game.

The boys tire of jumping – yummy they want to make chocolate brownies.  Rose moves on from the computer and soon I find we are all gravitating toward our 4 year olds’ shop buying apples and bananas for afternoon tea and vegetables for supper. I sit and just watch, listen and try to learn from these amazing little creatures. At the end of this week void of a curriculum and structure but filled with new adventures, deep friendships – with God, people, subjects and books, creations, sums, plays, making movies, maps, writing books, puzzles and locusts, I find myself asking did any learning really take place? And all I hear resounding within the deepest corners of my heart, mind and soul is, “Wow! And I get to be a part of this! Wow, wow wow!”

More Than Just a Burger

This week a friend of mine sent me one of those emails that just keeps floating around and around in ones head:

 Yesterday, I was chatting to a guy who is busy finishing off some painting work around our house. He started off saying that he and his family went out to Spur for dinner for the buy one burger get one free special. And because of the number of kids in the family, they ended up with one extra burger to take home. Then he said, his wife packed his lunch this morning and gave him peanut butter sandwiches, packing the hamburger for herself for her lunch. “You know what,” he said “last time she did exactly the same thing. I thought she would give it to me, you know, like it was my turn. At least she made me lunch, I guess.”

Phew! This makes one want to cry, jump up and down or do something for this wife to realise that her husband goes off everyday to serve his family and she took the whole burger and gave him peanut butter, not even something else yummy. She didn’t even just take half – but the whole thing! What sort of wife is she anyway?

Well, she’s probably a lot like most of us in many ways. Maybe this is why this rings so true and so deep to us wives. How often do we prefer ourselves above our husbands? This maybe in the area of food, such as eating the one biscuit left or buying a treat for oneself but not for him. It could be in the way we put our clothes away and not his or we serve the children their food and leave him to serve his own. We tidy the house but never offer to wash his car or we organise a holiday around where we want to go and what we want to do.

We are all human and a core element of our humanity is selfishness. It’s something we try to work out of our children but if we are honest with ourselves we will agree that it is rather suppress than conquered. Daily we need to choose to die to ourselves and think of others before ourselves. Ever time we put our men before us it is a conscious – and often difficult – decision and yet it is something that has the power to change lives and save marriages.

A few years back, whilst reading Created to be His Help Meet” by Debi Pearl, I was struck by the stories of these women who chose to keep serving their men through the most horrific circumstances. I was infuriated by them and yet inspired. Yes, it was only through the strength of God that they could do what they did but hey, we have access to that strength too.

Recently we out for dinner with six couples. The moms are all friends and the husbands are just beginning to connect. Suddenly the one husband – probably the youngest in the group – says, “you know what I love about my wife, what I really love about her is that I can call home at any time of day and tell her I’m bringing some friends around and tell her what we want to have for tea or lunch and you know what, when we get there she has it all ready! I’ve even done it a few times just to show off to the other guys.”

Wow what a testimony to the power that lies within the way we serve our husbands. So let us be encouraged and inspired. Let this painter’s sad experience be turned into one of victory as it has a hand in making many of us have a hard look and reevaluate how we are preferring our husbands. Guaranteed serving and preferring him will not only increase his love and affection for you but you will become a “wife of noble character (who) is her husband’s crown” Prov 12:4 and as he “has full confidence in her and lacks nothing,” Prov 31:11 “he is respected at the city gate.” Prov 31:23

So yes, we may think it’s just a hamburger but really our husband’s pride, honour and crown are at stake. So let us all take that deep breath, look deep into our hearts and see just how we are able to daily prefer our husbands and watch a transformation take place within our homes.

To Chore or Not to Chore

In our home we choose to chore 🙂

From the day a child can walk – without falling over – they start to help pick things up, put away dishes and do anything a little person is able to do. From about aged 2 or 3 (depending on the child) they are given specific “responsibilities.”

Changing the term form “Chores” to “Responsibilities” changed the whole attitude and feel in our home. The little ones may need to feed an animal whilst the older ones have either more responsiblities or more demanding ones. The children love having responsibilities and will become quite upset if someone does one of theirs. It makes them feel needed, rooted and that they have a place within the home.

When our children turn 13 we have a evening to celebrate their “pre-adulthood” and with this comes greater responsibility. So at present our 14 year old is responsible for the washing. Well, I ensure it is washed and hung up and then it’s up to her. She need to bring it in, fold it and put it away. I love how she’s begun putting on CDs so the little ones all want to listen and then she gets them to all fold the washing with her. This is great as it teaches her to not let the washing (or anything in life for that matter) pile up and how much hard work it takes to truly be responsible for something as well as many other life lessons. She also has a number of other responsibilities such as washing the breakfast dishes and clearing the kitchen after supper.

The other children have responsibilities such feeding animals, making beds, putting clothes away, putting dishes away. Sometimes children require some direction and help such as I may need to place their duvet at the bottom of their bed neatly so they can pull it up to make their bed. Other times they may need to be given a more specific task such as – pick up all the red blocks. Often children become overwhelmed when given a task too big and therefore their reluctance to help is actually that they don’t really know where to start.

For these responsibilities our children are not remunerated. We all have a part to play and a role to fill to be apart of the family. This is also a chance to train them in loving others. If someone is sick or away we step in and help each other out. If however they are asked to do something that I would usually employ someone else to do such as mow the lawn we will show our appreciation by giving them some money towards something they are saving up for.

We do also try to make it fun. So we’ll often play Amazing Race where I give them tasks to complete in a set time (these can range from washing dishes, to scrubbing a wall, to peeling and freezing bananas.) If the task is completed they get a small prize – raisins, a snack, or such and the next clue. If it isn’t completed in time once it is completed they need to run around the house, miss the treat and then get the next clue. I find they don’t cope with more than 5 activities in a game so after the 4th or 5th task they get a grand prize – an ice-cream (or my favourite: to watch a DVD – in the middle of the day – and I get to have a quiet cup of coffee:)

Another game we play is the “Post Box Game.” I put some tasks into a box. The children then need to sneak up and get a clue and do the task without me seeing them. I obviously know where they are but pretend to not hear them and then I suddenly turn around or jump out at them. We all have great fun with this and yes the chores get done too. Otherwise music is good on a whole. Listening to worship songs or stories helps them to not dwell on the fact that they are doing chores. Oh yes and we also sometimes have everyone folding washing while I read to them.

This may not work for every family but for us it’s been a great balance and an opportunity to teach our children about responsibility, love, running a home and what being a family is all about.

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Spectacular Spring

With spring upon us we have had a wonderful time outdoors. Our pre-schoolers have stood in awe of all the amazing mysteries happening around them. As we’ve played outside we’ve been drawn towards the new flowers budding or the tiny leaves poking through the dry earth. Leaves of all shapes and sizes are bursting off our trees and insects galore have taken up residence in our garden. Finding time to stop and look at all these amazing miracles not only leaves them with a sense of wonder and awe that will be carried into their adult lives it also helps develop a host of other skills.

By looking at these tiny developments and bursting of nature they develop an eye for detail, their visual discrimination and visual figure ground and visual constancy  skills are honed. As you compare different flowers and leaves they will be developing their sorting skills. They will begin to notice different patterns and similarities and differences on the various objects. Notice how all the caterpillars walk differently and how one bird runs along the ground whilst another hops. Take some time these next few days to just enjoy being outside with your child and they will be developing a host of preschool skills that you are not even aware of!

Take time to stop and look at the little things in life. These include flowers, bugs, stones and leaves. By learning to stop and notice what is around us we learn a host of skills including the development of the habit of attention, observation and detail. Take a few minutes out of each day to “stop and stare.”


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