Saturday, October 12, 2019

Tell Me, Darling




When I finished my first novel, Alex on the Edge, I wondered if I had another book in me. I wasn't sure - the idea for that first book had been in my head for so long. But I had enjoyed the process of writing it so much that I gave it another try. Tell Me, Darling was the result.

For this story I drew on my experiences working on a summer camp in England when I was in my early twenties. I had a rough time on the camp, mostly because I was lonely and very homesick! I don't make friends quickly or easily and everyone was so different to me. I was the only South African and the only Christian. I wondered what the experience would have been like if my personality had been completely different, and the idea for the story was born. Sadie is petite and extroverted and way more of a risk-taker than I ever was!

It's a sweet, romantic story and I think there are parts that are quite funny.  I especially love Sam the crazy Ozzie, Linda the uptight best friend with horrible taste in bridesmaids' dresses, Eleanor the interfering mother and Andre the Dermatologist from Pretoria. The title was inspired by this song, Waiting, by South African singer Majozi:


I love this song so much! When I hear it on the radio it makes me think of Sadie and ... oops, can't give away the name of her romantic interest!!!

And once again, if anyone is an Amazon customer and would like to read this for free in return for a review, let me know via the contact form.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Giveaway Winners!

Reposting from Se7en.org.za today. To read the original post, click this link
 Thank you so much to se7en for hosting this! If you didn't win, never mind, you can purchase a copy from me or download an e-book from Amazon. Alex on the Edge is also available to download for free from this link. If you read it, please consider leaving a rating or review on Amazon or Goodreads. Clink the Books tab above for details. 
From Se7en:
A couple of weeks ago we posted a Giveaway, and today I am posting the winners…
Two books gifted to two lucky followers, from my friend Kate Le Roux, who has written these fabulous books… easy weekend reading, set in sunny South Africa. Absolutely fantastic, easy reading. Alex on the Edge, the story of Alex, who is a bit of a go getter and Jill a serious and earnest gal, who is not interested in a relationship just yet. I am midway through reading Teacher, Teacher and I am really enjoying it. It is the story of day to day life of two teachers, Jack a biology teacher and Amy an English teacher, who work at a school in Cape Town. On weekends they volunteer at a school in Mitchel’s Plain on the Cape Flats, only to discover that you can’t easily separate your life into neat little categories.

And the Winners Are…

Mrs FF, you have won a copy of Alex on the Edge.
Sue, you have won a copy of Teacher, Teacher.
Congratulations to our winners!!!
And for all of you that are looking for a great weekend read… the books are readily available on Amazon… the images below are Amazon affiliate links.
 
Huge thank you to our author, Kate Le Roux, for gifting us with books to read and giveaway… all the best to her and looking forward to many more great reads in the future!!!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Rollercoaster



Writing for today's Five Minute Friday Linkup
where bloggers free write for five minutes based on a prompt.

Today's prompt is  start




When you start off on a rollercoaster ride, you know it's not going to be a gentle trundle down the tracks. You know you are going to feel scared, maybe just physically, even if you know it's safer than driving in the traffic down the highway. You know at the beginning that it will be hectic but there's nothing you can do about it. You want to do it, you bought the ticket and it's happening. But anticipating the craziness doesn't help you not to want to throw up when your stomach gets left behind at the top of the track. 

I haven't felt well lately - nothing serious, just a cold that took a while to get over. And in my experience, there's nothing like feeling weak to get those contemplations going. If anyone ever asks me what the hardest part of parenting, or homeschooling is, I will have to say this: that when you aren't WELL, when all you want to do is crawl into bed and obey your body's screaming plea for REST you just have to keep going. I knew that when I started these journeys, when I chose to have more than a couple of kids and to homeschool them. I knew it would be a bumpy ride and that I would not always be strong for it. I don't regret anything. I don't think I was naive. But parenting is pretty relentless, and when I think back I know that I had no idea at the start what it would really be like to be at this point on the ride. 

My precious children - filling my life so full that sometimes I forget there was ever a void I hoped to fill with mothering. I am so glad I began this journey with them and I am grateful that now when I am weak they help me, even as they still need me so much. This rollercoaster ride has been a journey worth starting, and even though my stomach has been left behind somewhere I'm still happy for it not to be over quite yet!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Testimony




Writing for today's Five Minute Friday Linkup
where bloggers free write for five minutes based on a prompt.

Today's prompt is Testimony


I seem to be feeling poetical again today ...


The church is full of sound
The singing is rich and heart-felt
I stand beside friends who raise their hands
My sixteen-year-old self-consciousness
keeps mine firmly by my side

Life has been kind of rough lately
I am busy and tired
School is hard and I am sixteen, after all
My heart is confused and lonely
I have so much but I am often discontent
I long for things I do not have

As I sing, the words begin to die in my mouth
My tongue will not form them any more
I am doubting
It swells in me like a dark wave
Is any of this real?
Do I really belong here?
God feels far away
I wonder for the first time if I am really a good girl
If he really loves me
And that thought is terrifying
I feel adrift suddenly
Out of the blue
something heavy and black is pressing down on me

I am nauseous
Afraid of what it means
Too confused even to pray
The service ends and I begin to walk out
A friend greets me
Asks me what is wrong
I confess - I don't know
I just ...
Words will not form
But he knows
Something tells him to say what I need to hear

Go home
Decide
Yes, Lord or No, Lord
Just that

I hold the words in my mind as I am driven home
I run to my bedroom and close the door
I open my journal and hold the pen above the paper
my cheeks damp with the gravity of this moment
There is doubt but there is also the grace of certainty
That there is no other way
But Yes, Lord

And in the years since then
He has kept me
There are still doubts but not about this:
That when the church is full of sound
I belong in his house
With his people
Singing his songs



Monday, September 2, 2019

For Inge

Sharing some poetry today.

Yesterday marked eighteen years since one of the students I taught was killed in a terrible, tragic incident that was part violent encounter, part accident. She was only seventeen, in the wrong place at the wrong time, a completely innocent victim of someone else's problem. There was a picture published in the paper the day after her death that showed her slumped in the car where she was shot, glass all around her, a thin line of blood visible beside her mouth - such bad taste and insensitivity on the part of the paper, an image that I wish I had never seen and will never forget. She was pregnant at the time too, with a little boy who was unexpected and inconvenient, I am sure, but would have been so loved and welcomed into her large family. Every now and then I see one of her four sisters around - she doesn't know me but whenever I see her the resemblance takes my breath away and takes me right back to the shock and grief of what happened eighteen years ago.

I wrote this poem shortly after she died. For a long time afterwards her name was in my book of marks/grades with all the numbers in a row beside it (before the days of recording everything digitally!), and seeing it there was always so jarring. She was there, in my class, writing essays and doing grammar tests, and then she was not. It was not okay then and it is still not okay now, eighteen years later, that she is not here on earth with those who loved her. I drew on the experience of her death and especially her funeral when I wrote Teacher, Teacher, and so was reminded of this poem.


For Inge


Fragile was your pretty hair
Your impish, laughing eyes
Fragile as a whispered tune
Fading as it dies

Fragile is the shattered glass
The angle of your head
I fear to see beside your mouth
That fragile line of red

It only took a second
A second - it was done
For a hand to squeeze a trigger
For the shot to leave the gun

So fragile were the doll-like hands
The tiny baby heart
Your life was taken much too soon
His never got to start

How strange to see the row of marks
Just numbers by your name
How strange that life for those you loved
Will never be the same.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Attitude Shmattitude


Hi there homeschooling parents! As promised here is Chapter 5 of 

I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT!

How to homeschool your young children without losing your mind

(And if you enjoy my writing, how about popping over to the "Books" page above? You might be interested in reading one of my Young Adult Christian Fiction novels for free!)

This will be the last chapter I'll be sharing on the blog. The other chapters will deal with topics like curriculum choice, how to keep going with a new baby in the house, the socialization issue, me-time, and a few others. The full short book will be available as an e-book on Amazon in September. 

Chapter 5: Attitude Shmattitude


Newsflash: Most kids don’t particularly like schoolwork. They want to play.  You are just Mom or Dad and they will let you know it.

There might be some little girls out there who love colouring and cutting out, who sit quietly while Mom or Dad reads them literary classics and remember to get their snacks when it’s break time. I never had any of those. My kids complained about Maths and Afrikaans and anything involving actually picking up a pencil to write. I have a child who desperately needs to go to the bathroom whenever we sit down to read, and is always ravenous the moment a workbook is put in front of him. My daughter, who is now happily writing fan fiction and entire novels on Wattpad, used to cry a river every time I gave her a creative writing assignment. “I don’t know what to write!” she would wail, rejecting every one of my suggestions as fast as I could make them. 

My kids all have their own ways of rebelling against schoolwork. One of my sons goes limp and silent when he has to do something particularly distasteful to him, and twenty minutes later all there is on the page are tears. Another one gets a scowl on his face and punishes me by jabbing his pencil onto the paper so hard that it rips, and the other one just flat-out refuses. “No,” he says, as if that is that. Teaching your kids school stuff is no easier than getting them to pick up their clothes and eat their vegetables. I admit it: the attitude battle is the hardest part of homeschooling. The tears that have fallen onto our dining room table … let’s just say that twelve is not too old to turn on the waterworks because your horrible parent thinks you should be doing something you don’t want to do. Yes, twelve. I know. I didn’t think so either.

I don’t worry about it these days as often as I used to. There are still times when I have to put my head in my hands and take a deep breath. The one who thinks he gets to say “No” to me is learning subtraction now, after all.

If homeschooling was the only thing in my life I might spend hours thinking of ways to make it all fascinating and fun. I could provide flour trays and playdo and kinetic sand every day and turn the seven times tables into a game that is so much fun they will choose it over playing Minecraft. That might happen every now and then, but contrary to what many may think, I am not a superhero just because I homeschool.

Staying up until midnight making puppets and mazes and treasure hunts would not be good for my family, my marriage or my sanity. Yes, there was that time where we wrapped up a teddy as an Egyptian mummy and the time I made up a song to teach them the provinces of South Africa. There was a day when we mapped out the distance between the planets in the Solar System with toilet paper in the garden, and once my son was in ecstasy when Science turned out to be a bug hunt. I have been known to print out huge maps and get out the paints, and once I even baked cookies to teach fractions. But most days are ordinary, and they have to learn things the good old way, by reading, thinking and actually picking up a pencil. I try to see it as a lesson in itself – there will be many times in their lives when they have to do things they don’t like, and they won’t get to moan their way out of it. There will be plenty of times where they don’t understand WHY exactly they have to do something, but they need to submit to authority and get on with it. It’s an important lesson, to do what your mom says and to do it without complaining. I won’t say my kids have learnt it yet, but we persevere! Homeschooling is part of parenting, after all.

But … there’s the kids’ attitude, and then there’s mine. I can’t control their moaning, but I can control mine. It is so important that I don’t get into a cycle of feeling sorry for myself and bringing everyone down. To a large extent, my attitude determines theirs. It’s the same in traditional school – an enthusiastic teacher who actually looks happy to see her class is more likely to have a good day than the one who clearly does not want to be there. Unfortunately that is true for the rest of family life too.

I believe there need to be consequences for bad behaviour. We probably all do, it’s just putting that into practice that is hard! For some kids, a stern word is all it takes. Others are bulletproof until privileges are taken away. For us, three chances and then an appointment with Dad when he comes home usually does the trick. “Do we need an appointment?” The instant effect of those words when my husband says them is almost magical.

If your kids are really struggling with attitude it may be worth looking at the amount of work they are doing. It might genuinely be too much for them. Many boxed curriculums provide a huge amount of work for kids who want or need more than others. In my experience, less is usually more, and I feel nothing for taking two years to get through a year’s worth if it’s working for us. I have been a teacher in a school and I know how little actual work gets done in a day. Younger kids do not sit for five hours straight poring over their books in traditional schools. There is assembly and lining up and homework-checking where they are not “working”. There are whole chunks of class time devoted to getting one unruly kid under control.

My kids spent about an hour or two a day on formal schoolwork in the first few years, and we never really did schoolwork past lunchtime. We read aloud and did lots of other things for the rest of the time and it worked well that way for us. When I had a fussy baby and a needy toddler I used to worry about my older kids and think I would have to catch up when we had more time, until I realised how much they learn in the rest of the day too. When one of my kids was learning to write, he hated sitting down at a desk, but on his own one afternoon he set up a shop and wrote out inventories and stock lists. He cut up paper to make into money and figured out the change when his siblings bought apples and peanuts and plastic animals from him. That is gold, people, the stuff of a teacher’s dreams! He was motivated and interested and he was learning like mad all afternoon without realising it. It’s called playing! Don’t give your kids so much work that they forget how to play.

That said, there are ways to improve the mood on a bad day when nothing is going right.
·         Turn on some music and have a dance party.
·         Switch things out. Put down the Maths and do some Art or baking or Pilates on the carpet.
·         Take a break. Call time out and give the miserable kid a hug and some non-school attention. Walk the dog, unpack the dishwasher, whatever. Stop and come back later.
·         Bring out the snacks! Hangry kids are no fun.

And if all else fails … cancel school for the day. Yes, I have done it. Sometimes finishing some work on schedule is not worth the fight and your own sanity. You will, however, have to do this in a way that does not make them think that they have won, and you have given in! So I wouldn’t suggest playing this card too often. It might come back to bite you!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Chapter 4: The Daily Grind














Hi there homeschooling parents! As promised here is another chapter of 

I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT!

How to homeschool your young children without losing your mind

(And if you enjoy my writing, how about popping over to the "Books" page above? You might be interested in reading one of my novels for free! I'll be sharing the first few chapters of this book over the next while but the whole (short) book will be available on Amazon in September)



Chapter 3: Curriculum isn't quite ready so it will need to wait for another day. So here is 

Chapter 4: The Daily Grind

If homeschooling is going to work for you, you will have to be proactive about setting up your days to make that happen. I think the most important principle when it comes to what happens daily is this:

A little every day adds up to a lot.

Teaching young children to read or write is an amazing thing. You sit with them for ten minutes a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. One day you are showing them “a” and next thing they are spelling out words. Little by little, it starts to sink in. It’s incredible to watch and I feel so privileged to have witnessed that four times over.

My son just finished a phonics program. I remember when he began it at the start of his Grade 1 year. On the first day he wrote cat and pat and sat. I skipped to the back of the book and wondered if he would really be spelling skunk and twist and stick in a few short months. All it took was a few minutes a day and we got there. If you establish a routine where your children do just a little of something every day, or most days, they will amaze you with what they learn over the months and years.

Sometimes the “little” that ends up happening in a day feels like too little. There are not many areas of homeschooling where my teaching experience has helped me, but this is one of them. Let me tell you a secret: children at school do not sit at their little kid-sized desks for hours each day working, working, working. Maybe they did in Little House on the Prairie but those must have been a different kind of kids! It takes time for a teacher to get them settled, to get their books out, to check their homework. Then someone needs to go to the toilet and someone is pulling someone else’s hair. Finally the worksheet is handed out and they begin, and when some have finished someone is only just realising that he doesn’t have a pencil. Your ten minutes sitting with your child reading or doing sums might be as productive in terms of learning as an hour in a classroom – maybe even two or three!

Consider this list of things that in my experience can be learned in 5 – 10 minutes a day over a year or two:

  • Reading
  • Maths facts
  • Handwriting - both the initial learning to write and cursive
  • Spelling
  • A second language
  • Drawing skills


Homeschooling happens in a HOME. That means that there is laundry and cooking and postmen at the door happening at the same time as school. The dog will bark and the cat will puke on the floor. The baby will cry and the dishwasher will need to be unpacked. A totally fascinating truck will be resurfacing the road outside and there will be no way to drag your five-year-old son away from the window without causing a meltdown. For years the arrival of the rubbish truck outside our home caused an immediate halt to all educational activities that happened to be in progress at the time. Life is happening all the time; home is not, and by its very nature cannot be an environment dedicated to formal education. If I expect to have five hours of dedicated school time where I am not distracted by the other things that need to happen in my home, I will only be frustrated.

So should you make lists? Should you have weekly goals that take priority over everything else? When your sister is sick and needs you to take care of her baby do you turn her down because you must do schoolwork?

This is my advice: Plan your year, your term, your week and your days however you want to. Make lists and schedules if that is what makes you feel in control. But leave room. Leave LOTS of room. Expect interruptions and disruptions and don’t be put out by them. If you are using a boxed curriculum schedule, don’t let it rule you. You can leave some books for next year, or for the holidays.

An example of the (very) flexible schedule that works for me at the moment:

About 8.30 am: All three do Maths and one other workbook such as phonics, handwriting, Afrikaans or vocabulary. I do a spelling programme with my middle son which takes about ten minutes. Youngest needs breaks every five minutes so he is going from the desk to the garden and back again all the time. He is also constantly hungry (especially during Maths) so he is regularly fetching carrots and hunks of cucumber. My oldest child at home is reading a book about materials engineering so he reads a chapter, or practices his trumpet. If someone finishes early, he can play a Maths game or carry on learning the map of Europe using an online game.

10am: We watch a ten-minute Bible Project video and talk about it. Kids read aloud to Mom. Youngest reads his readers, middle one reads a bit of the Bible or our read-aloud. Oldest reads Afrikaans library books. (Sometimes!) Mom reads aloud, a chapter or two of a History or Science book and whatever novel we are reading. The youngest is free to go and play if he has by now lost his energy for keeping still and can’t follow. Afterwards we might search YouTube for a video about whatever we have been reading.

11.00: Everyone back at the table (after a snack break) for more formal work like Afrikaans, creative writing or Science. Or not. Sometimes we have gym or our homeschool group.

12.00: Let’s do some Art! Where are the paints? Okay, after you make yourself a sandwich. Yes, you may hammer some pieces of wood together instead.

1.00: We are done. Unless we are not, in which case we carry on or leave it for tomorrow. 

Afternoon: Chores, playdates with friends, visits to the Kids Gym we have joined, the occasional reluctant trip to do errands with Mom, walking the dog. And more playdates with friends.

Evening: Catch up whoever didn’t read aloud, maybe to Dad. Show Dad the Maths worksheet/story/picture of the day.

This is what is working for us at the moment. There were times when this would not have worked for me. When I had small babies, things were different. When I had a three-year-old who thought my sitting down to read to the others meant I was rejecting him, and chose that time to climb all over me and wail, things were different. When we were doing renovations to our house and there were angle grinders deafening us all morning, things were different.  Just as you figure out a way to do things, something will probably change. And that’s okay.

And don’t forget that your homeschool “schedule”, if you have one, is just one part of your “home” schedule. It is very important, but not more important than other things that will crop up. It may sound corny but it’s still true: the more flexible you are, the less likely it is that you break when something hits you.

Remember:
  • A little every day adds up to a lot
  • Work out a flexible schedule. Leave room in it. LOTS OF ROOM
  • Expect to change it when life changes
  • School is important but not always the most important thing in a day

Friday, August 16, 2019

Five-Minute Friday again: Hospitality

This post is part of the Five-Minute Friday link-up :)

Today's prompt is: Hospitality



I'm feeling poetical today so here goes:


My little car chugs up the steep hill to the gate
Open for us, waiting
I walk up the familiar crumbling driveway
past the old green VW Beetle
Inside the door and into a room as familiar as home
I know all the pictures on the wall
The little sculptures on the shelves
I know the fringed tablecloth and the comfy old couch
I know the blue bathroom and the photos on the fridge
In all its wood-panelled old-fashioned glory
Your home feels like home to me

There is warmth in the busy kitchen
Steaming from the pots of chicken soup
There is love in the wooden bowls of crusty rolls
The glass jugs of sweet juice
The endless mugs of tea
You open your home
It is full of all of us
Its welcome does not discriminate

Years of meetings, workshops, bible studies
Years of lunches, dinners, planning days
Have made this house more than your family home
It is an extension of the church building down the road
It is a home for lost hearts
For searching minds
It is a picture of your humility

Through your open door
Through your open hearts
God has loved me.

Chapter 2: Comparison sickness



Hi there homeschooling parents! As promised here is Chapter 2 of


I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT!

How to homeschool your young children without losing your mind

(And if you enjoy my writing, how about popping over to the "Books" page above? You might be interested in reading one of my novels for free! I'll be sharing the first few chapters of this book over the next while but the whole (short) book will be available on Amazon in September)


Chapter 2: Comparison sickness



“You’ve chosen not to have regular school goals, so don’t expect to have regular school achievements.”
-Se7en

This could perhaps be the wisest thing about homeschooling I have ever read. (And so is almost everything else this homeschooling mama says. Check out her blog at se7en.org.za) It makes so much sense, but I suspect many of us homeschooling parents could make a sport out of stressing over whether or not our kids measure up to kids who go to school.

I have felt deep stress about my kids’ Afrikaans and their handwriting. I have felt genuinely embarrassed of atrocious spelling. But when I remind myself that I chose to focus on other things, I don’t regret those choices. I chose not to begin teaching my kids a second language at the age of six just because that’s how it’s done at school. It made no sense to me to confuse them with a different set of phonics rules before they could even write in their home language, so I chose to delay that. I can’t expect them to be sprouting Afrikaans like their friends; there is a pay-off for everything. I choose not to push my kids into the tantrums-and-tears zone. I choose to keep the volume of written work low and give them more time to play and be kids. I can’t expect them to have perfect cursive skills by age ten if this is what I choose. Our children cannot enjoy the benefits of both home and traditional school at the same time.

Every term your friends’ children who go to traditional school get a report card with a list of numbers or symbols on it. But you know, I am sure, perhaps from your own experience at school, that the report card is not an exhaustive summary of what a child knows. It cannot report back on everything he has learnt or all the skills he has developed. In many ways, reports are for teachers more than they are for children and their parents. One of the wonderful advantages of homeschooling is that your child can learn and grow without being measured against anyone at all except for himself.

I don’t think that grading and marking and reporting are useless. When academics becomes more important, at a high school and tertiary education level, they are necessary. Marks can be a great motivator. But I don’t believe that younger children benefit from knowing how they measure up to each other. They will most likely do it in their play. They have a natural interest in how they compare to each other. But they do not need us to do it for them, and as parents we need to focus on the progress they are making and the areas they need help with, and avoid comparing them with other children, homeschooled or not.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t have conversations with our fellow homeschoolers or our non-homeschooling friends where we talk about what our children are doing. We love talking about our children. We need encouragement and support from others and to get that we need to talk about our successes and our challenges. The key is not to let it bother us when another child can do what ours can’t.

When my kids were babies I had a book that was permanently beside my bed: Marina Petropolous’ Baby and Childcare Handbook. I pored over that book so much that it was dog-eared and breaking by the time my fourth child was past the toddler stage. I wanted to know: is my child doing all right? Did she smile at the right time? Is she crawling early or late? When will she start playing with toys? Is it all right to give her solids yet?

I wanted to know if my kids were doing all right, and I wanted to know if I was doing all right. That book was wonderful; it was so gentle and helpful and encouraging that I needed it even when I was doing the baby thing for the fourth time. We tend to want the same when we homeschool, and there is nothing wrong with that. A list of milestones that extends beyond the baby years is useful. Cutting a straight line with scissors, writing a whole paragraph, being able to spend ten whole minutes concentrating on a Maths worksheet – these are all “milestones” just like the baby ones. And the advice when you have a baby is almost always that you needn’t worry, your baby will get there in her own time.

We all took our babies for check-ups just to make sure they didn’t have challenges that needed special attention. If you’re anxious about something your child seems to struggle with, then there is no harm in getting advice and help. Schools are good at picking up eye problems, hearing loss and learning challenges like dyslexia, because there are so many children for comparison! If you think your child is struggling with something more than you think he should be, then do what the school would tell you to do and find an educational psychologist or a friend who is a teacher to talk to. There are many people out there who offer assessments to homeschoolers, and they can be invaluable to parents who are feeling they need someone else’s perspective and wisdom.

Think of “school” milestones in the same way as baby milestones and it will cause you less anxiety than if you think in terms of grade levels. There is no law that says a child must learn to read by six and must be subtracting with borrowing by seven and a half. You have the luxury of being able to take a year and a half do finish a grade’s worth of Maths, or to get through it in six months.

It’s easy to say all these things but often the reality is difficult. It’s hard to swallow when your child’s friend who is the same age can read when he can’t even remember his letters. It’s even harder when a younger sibling begins to outpace an older one! This is an area where we have to reflect the attitude we want them to have. We want our children to do their best and be satisfied with that, but still desire to learn and grow and stretch themselves. We want them to feel encouraged when they achieve something or learn something new. But there are so many things we can spare them: the “dumb kid” label, the disappointment in themselves, the frustration of having tried their best only to discover it wasn’t good enough. I think we can combat this by applauding little milestones as they are reached, whether they got there at the pace of the tortoise or the hare. I think this is what a child who is behind his peers needs to believe: I could learn that if I tried. I haven’t tried enough yet, but if I do I can learn it. I’ll get there. There are lots of other great things I know and I can do.

You might need to pause and examine your own deep beliefs and motivations here. Are your children’s achievements connected to your own sense of self-worth? Are you rushing them to finish Maths books, paint wonderful pictures and master new skills for them or for yourself? If you feel deeply distressed about your children not measuring up, you might be guilty. I know I have been. But this way of thinking is so unhelpful for everyone. Your children are not extensions of you. They are their own unique, individual people. You are there to guide them to adulthood, and although their behaviour may reflect on you, their God-given talents and challenges do not.

And remember how it was with babies: your baby may have crawled at six months but only slept through the night reliably at the age of eight. Someone else’s baby happily ate broccoli and spinach but took a year to learn to use the toilet. That doesn’t change when children are older. So talk about your children, get advice and tips and encouragement from others, even your traditional-schooling friends. But don’t feel like the worst mom in the world when your kid doesn’t seem to measure up. Again: you have chosen not to have regular school goals, so don’t expect to see regular school achievements.

Is there someone you stalk on the internet or social media because she seems to have the homeschooling family/routine/workspace you wish you had? We all know blogs and Instagram usually only show the good times. Be inspired by what you see out there on the internet, but don’t let it make you feel like a failure. That’s not always easy to do. You might need to do some unfollowing for your own sanity’s sake.

    How not to fall into the trap of unhealthy comparisons:

·         Remember that you chose the benefits of homeschooling over the benefits of traditional school
·         Compare for encouragement and support and don’t let any "shortcomings" distress you
·         Ask a professional for help if you are concerned
·         Think of school milestones as you thought of baby milestones
·         Don’t make it about you
·         Watch who you are watching

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Chapter 1: Everyone has an opinion



Hi there homeschooling parents! As promised here is Chapter 1 of 

I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT!

How to homeschool your young children without losing your mind

(And if you enjoy my writing, how about popping over to the "Books" page above? You might be interested in reading one of my novels for free! I'll be sharing the first few chapters of this book over the next while but the whole (short) book will be available on Amazon in September)


Chapter 1: Everyone has an opinion

 Your first challenge might begin before you even start googling your first curriculum. If you have even breathed a word about the possibility of homeschooling to anyone then you know this is true: everyone has an opinion on this. I could say to you that the only opinion that matters is yours, but we all know that’s not strictly true. Opinions can be valuable, especially when they come from people you respect, or people who know you and care about you. But at the end of the day you get to decide whether your baby sleeps in your bed or a crib, if you start solids at four months or nine, or if you let your toddlers play on iPads or stick to wooden toys carved by hand out of trees from sustainable forests. In the same way, you decide how your children will be educated.

(Some governments, in the name of protecting children, may disagree. This is an issue I won’t get into in this little book. Fortunately in South Africa our right to choose our children’s education is in our constitution, and although that right is in peril at the moment because of a new Bill, we hope and pray it will stay that way.)

If you are fortunate enough to have grandparents in your life, you know they have an opinion on your choice to homeschool, whether they are saying it out loud or not. It’s wonderful when they are supportive, and it can be heart-breaking when they are not. Our children are growing up in a very different world to theirs and it can be very difficult for them to understand our choices. If you have school-aged kids right now, chances are that your parents and in-laws are part of the Baby Boomer generation. They might have a stronger sense of faith in formal education than you do. When my parents had small children, homeschooling was not a thing. To go to school was a privilege and a right. It can be really hard for grandparents to understand why you would want to keep your children at home.

Every family has to figure this out for themselves. Chances are your parents love you and your kids and have only the best intentions in voicing their doubts. Take that for what it is, and if your mind is made up you should make that clear as gently as possible. You might want to give them a few things to read about homeschooled kids who have succeeded in life and have not turned out to be thirty-year-old nerds who don’t know that the earth is round.

If you know your parents or friends aren’t happy about your decision that can put pressure on you to make sure you “succeed”. You might find yourself trying to get the kids to perform with reading or Maths facts so you can prove to your critics that you made a good decision. I am sure there are more than a few grandparents and friends who have fully come around to the idea as they watch homeschooled kids learn and grow, and realise that they are not being damaged by not going to school. There’s no harm in showing your kids off a little – in fact grandparents have been very useful for us when it comes to a little motivation to get something done. My kids have been motivated to practice a music piece to show off to Granny, and have enjoyed the praise they get for a great painting or story they have written. I read once that often one of the reasons grandparents are doubtful about your decision to homeschool is that they will miss out themselves – they won’t be invited to graduation days or get to boast to their friends about how well their grandkids are doing at school. They might feel concerned about how they will explain homeschooling to the rest of the family and their own friends.

You might never get full buy-in from grandparents. But if you make an effort to involve them in their grandkids' education and use the extra freedom and time you have to build relationships, you might find that the concern and disapproval evaporates over time. If your kids do extra-curricular activities, invite them to concerts and recitals, to sport matches or boy scout hikes. If Grandpa knows a bunch about birds or geology or racing cars, get him to take the kids on an educational outing or read them a book about his favourite topic.

My dad, bless him, didn’t say much about our decision to homeschool when we began. But it makes me smile when he launches into long explanations of politics or economics, takes my sons off to his workshop to teach them carpentry, or teaches my kids cheeky rhymes in Afrikaans. All of my kids’ grandparents have been part of their education in so many ways that they don’t even realise. I remind myself that this was one of the reasons we decided to homeschool in the first place – we have definitely spent more time with them than we would have if the kids had gone to school.

If you are feeling sad about unsupportive family and friends, all I can say is that things will probably improve, and I hope they do for you. People often feel that your decision to homeschool is an attack on their decision to send their kids to school, and your parents might be hearing that you don’t appreciate the schooling they provided for you. Be sensitive to that, and remember there will be no benefits in hitting back and criticizing. Be patient and value the relationships in your family. Your kids won’t thank you if you start a feud over it.

So in conclusion, if you are struggling with the opinions of other people in your life, remember:

·         This is your decision
·         Be sensitive to the concerns of grandparents and others who care about you
·         Don’t sacrifice relationships for this if you can help it
·         Be patient – things will probably improve!


Looking forward to your comments and feedback! 
Stay tuned for Chapter 2








Saturday, August 10, 2019

I Don't Know How You Do It



I've been homeschooling for seven and a half years now so of course I know everything there is to know about it. My days run smoothly and I never suffer from self-doubt or anxiety ...  ha ha ha. Not true at all. Homeschooling is a journey and I am in new territory every single day. But the years have given me some insights and wisdom, I hope, and for a while now I have been wanting to share them. This is the first of a series of posts from my short book:



I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT!

How to homeschool your young children without losing your mind

The full book will be published as an e-book in September. I am looking forward (I think - be nice, please!) to your comments and insights! 


Introduction


So you have decided to homeschool your children. You have thrown away the school registration forms and announced it on Facebook. The grandparents have had their say and some of your friends are looking sheepish around you. You know they think you are either nuts or saintly, and you think you might be both.

Maybe this was an easy decision for you – you were homeschooled yourself or you read a book about it when you were high on oxytocin and carrying your newborn around in a baby wrap. Most likely, though, somewhere along the line you have come to the decision as you face that question every parent of a child over two is asked: So, where is she going to go to school?

I used to be a schoolteacher. I spent ten years in classrooms with chalk dust on my hands and piles of books on the back seat of my car. I thought of all the studying I did and all the experience I had and concluded that parents who homeschooled were deluded and yes, arrogant to think they could do it all themselves. A few years later when I had a toddler and a baby of my own, I read a book someone lent me that made me realise that homeschooling was not the same thing as school at home. I realised that it was a lifestyle of learning, an extension of the parenting my husband and I were already doing, and I began to envisage a future where my darling children and I would spend our days discovering things in the garden and snuggling up to read stories. They would be best friends with each other and by the time they were adults they would have graduated from the high school of life knowing how to solve quadratic equations, sew their own clothes and make jam.  But then I had another baby and there was a cute playgroup up the road, and without thinking about it much we began a journey towards traditional school. It was only when we needed to make that decision about Grade 1, that homeschooling became an option again.

I remember staring into my mirror one day thinking that it wasn’t too late to change my mind quite yet. The deadline for school registration had not yet passed, and although we were planning a fourth child he had not quite begun to exist just yet. I could still send my kids to school, shut the baby factory and keep life simple. And that thing that I had been daydreaming about ever since my first child was born might actually happen – I could pack lunchboxes, wave goodbye to my husband and the kids and have the house to myself for a few gloriously peaceful hours every day until they came home.

Maybe I was crazy, but I put that dream aside for a while and we went ahead with both homeschooling and having another baby. If I wasn’t crazy, my poor mother certainly thought I was! That was a long time ago – the fourth kid arrived and our homeschool journey began on a warm January day when the three-month-old wouldn’t stop crying and the house was a hot mess. But it happened – a bit of Maths and handwriting and reading and colouring was done despite the needy little brothers, and now that little girl who put on her favourite dress and brought her soft unicorn toy to “school” with her on her first day is putting on a uniform every morning and happily going off to high school where she has slotted in better than I expected and is surprising me all the time with how smart she has turned out to be!

Maybe you are reading this and hoping that at last someone has discovered the secret to successful homeschooling. Maybe you are hoping to find the key to successful, happy, stress-free kids and parents within the pages of this book.

Alas! There’s no secret formula. There’s no recipe, no curriculum, no daily schedule that will make it easy and guarantee success. But chances are you picked homeschooling because the idea of a sausage-machine education for your children jarred somewhere. You have decided not to take the well-trodden path, and that means you are going to have to actively find your way along this journey. You chose not to use the same map everyone else is using, so expect to get lost a couple of times along the way. Expect to hit some dead-ends and detours, and even to fall into a few heffalump traps along the way.

So – as I have said, there is no perfect formula. I will not wait until the last chapter of this book to make that clear. What works brilliantly for the mama whose blog you read, whose kids always look so happy in the photos, who seems to fit way more into her day than you can ever imagine and still look gorgeous at the end of it all, will most likely not work the same for you. What I am hoping to do is to help you see that just as your family is different to the family next door, your “homeschool” will be different too. It must be. You choose the groceries you buy and the meals you make. You choose the rules and the boundaries and the consequences. The formal schoolwork that is going to happen in your house is another one of the things on that list. You must choose it and you must choose what works for you. It’s going to be hard. This is parenthood, after all. But I hope I can help you to shake off expectations and assumptions that can prevent you and your family from remembering the homeschooling years in a positive light. I don’t want my kids’ number one memory of homeschooling to be of Mom getting tense and stressed and yelling at them. If I’m going to do this homeschool thing it needs to work for me, and the same applies to you.

So let’s do this. Let’s look at what’s important, and what is not, and how to begin thinking of homeschooling in a way that will make you look forward to your days and stop lying awake at night worrying that your ten-year-old will never get the hang of fractions, or your six-year-old will never learn to read.

That said – this book will focus primarily on the primary or elementary years. We have decided as a family that our children will attend high school. We have recently begun that journey and so far, we have no regrets. As a former teacher, I have never preached homeschooling as the only right way to educate children. Homeschooling can give children advantages that traditional school cannot, but depending on the child it can work both ways. They will miss out and benefit either way.

So as I take you through some of the different aspects of homeschooling your children, let me introduce the key concept behind what I plan to share with you:

Homeschooling needs to work for you and your family.

Everything I am about to discuss hinges on this idea. It seems obvious, but many of us do not remember this in the many, many decisions we make and the habits and practices we put in place. Not paying attention to this extremely important fact could result in all kinds of problems. Ever experienced any of these?
·         Temper tantrums (children and parents!)
·         Sleep deprivation
·         Depression and anxiety about school
·         Constant sibling conflict
·         Constant parent-child conflict
·         Feeling overwhelmed and burnt out
·         Feelings of failure and self-doubt
·         Embarrassment and shame

Notice that there is one thing not on this list:


  • Children  not meeting standardised requirements for their age or grade


Think about it – which is worse? A burnt out, stressed-out mom and a kid who says he HATES SCHOOL, or a happy kid who is behind in Maths and really good at climbing up the rope in the garden? You know the answer. If your family life is a tangled disaster of bad attitudes from both the kids and you, nothing else will go well. Maths can be caught up. Kids who learn to read late often read better. Your homeschool must, on the whole, work for you and your family. This is not negotiable. If there is no way to make it work then you are all better off sending the children to school. My hope is to help you to begin to think about how that can happen.


Stay tuned for Chapter 1:Everyone has an opinion ...



Saturday, August 3, 2019

Teacher, Teacher Cover Reveal


I love my cover. The process is a little bit like getting a piece of art commissioned just for you! This was done by my cousin Patrick Latimer who is a well-known illustrator in Cape Town. Every now and then I see a picture in a magazine and think it just has to be Patrick's. I have always loved his quirky drawings and I feel very privileged to have my own special artwork now! 

I can't wait to see it on a real book soon! 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Five Years of High School



Posting again as part of the Five Minute Friday Link up!



The prompt this week is FIVE


My daughter has recently started high school after being homeschooled. In South Africa, high school begins in Grade 8 and goes on until Grade 12 - five years of your life, from thirteen to eighteen. She's half a year in, and walking this road with her brings back memories of my own high school years at an almost a hundred-year-old traditional girls school more than two decades ago now.

What do I remember?

I remember being UNCOMFORTABLE in my uniform. Scratchy stockings, an ill-fitting skirt that got shinier each time it was ironed. A shirt with a collar and a tie. A blazer - blazers are NOT warm. I could have had a scarf but I never did, and I mostly rode my bike to school. I was so cold in winter. In summer we wore blue dresses that buttoned up the front and belted at the middle. Almost exactly the same style as the dresses my grandmother wore to play bowls. Ick. And the girls at that school still wear them now!

I remember being bored a lot. Waiting around in corridors, waiting before exams, listening to long announcements in assembly.

I remember rushing to Afrikaans because the teacher would lock us out if we were late. I remember loving Art and wishing the bell would never ring. I remember my amazing friends and how we sat in the sun at breaks.

I remember knowing for sure I was not a cool girl, but not the worst of the rejects either, and in the self-absorption of youth didn't feel too guilty about thinking other girls were rejects. I remember wanting to obey the rules and dreading getting into trouble.

Five minutes are up! Those years weren't terrible. My daughter's experience is very different - Apartheid was abolished while I was at high school so I was in a class with thirty other white girls. My daughter is one of  two or three white girls in her class! (I think. I don't notice as much as I might have in the past!) The rest are boys and girls of various other colours of the wonderful South African rainbow. My five years weren't terrible, but they sure as anything weren't anything like a picture of the real world!