A year of reading aloud | 2018

Reading aloud is a big part of our daily homeschool life. Our children love to be read to, and we love reading to them. Through the stories we read, they encounter epic themes, gain cultural literacy, witness heroic and dastardly deeds, and learn empathy. They also gain access to books which are above their own reading level, which enhances their vocabulary and deepens their love of reading.

Last year our eldest turned six years old so we have had a lot of fun beginning to explore longer stories, alongside our existing diet of picture books. Our four year old also joins in with listening, and his grasp and understanding of the story frequently surprises me!

I try to select books that present ideas to their minds, rather than being merely entertaining. The 19th-century educationalist Charlotte Mason called these ‘living books’ – books which spread a feast of ideas and invite an encounter with truth, goodness, and beauty. Sadly this criterion rules out a lot of the books on the shelves in our local library… Happily there are plenty of lists of such living books to be found on the internet. I have found these invaluable as starting points for choosing what to include in our read-aloud time.

Our read alouds in 2018 included:

  • Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder (actually in 2017, but this was the first ‘chapter book’ I read to the children, so it warrants a special mention!)
  • The Oxford Treasury of Fairy Tales, Geraldine McCaughrean
  • Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
  • Sophie’s Tom, Dick King-Smith
  • Sophie Hits Six, Dick King-Smith
  • The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  • Stories from Around the World, Heather Amery
  • A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
  • The Impressionists, Rosie Dickens
  • The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
  • Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
  • The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes
  • The Borrowers, Mary Norton
  • Many, many picture books!

I am looking forward to even more reading aloud in 2019!

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A year of reading | 2018

Despite the challenges we’ve faced in 2018 (bereavement, pregnancy sickness, pregnancy plain and simple), I have actually read more this year than the previous two or three years combined.

How?

Simply by making it a priority.

In the daily business of homeschooling, feeding my family, cleaning up, church, community, and growing a new baby (hello, exhaustion), it would be easy to push investing in my own mind and heart to the periphery, making it a luxury rather than a necessity.

But I’ve learned several things this year which have convinced me that this approach simply won’t do.

When it comes to my own wellbeing, and especially my walk with God, no-one else can make this a priority for me. So if I don’t make the effort to look after myself, there’s no-one else who’s going to do it.

The topic of ‘self-care’ has a lot of traction on social media and blogs and podcasts, but it’s often framed with an emphasis on ‘getting away from it all’ and spa days and indulging yourself. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with those things, but they aren’t actually by themselves going to expand my mind and heart, help me deal with the things that I’m facing, or cause me to turn to God in gratitude and in dependence.

Reading is time to dig into big ideas, time to listen to God, time to expand my horizons and thinking and experience. Reading the Word, reading novels, reading non-fiction – these things engage my intellect and enhance my mind and encourage my heart.

I cannot pour from an empty cup. So I need to fill myself with good things in order to be able to lavishly share them with others.

The art and heart of education is imitation. Educating others is, at root, leading by example. In my own home, as I raise and educate my children, I want to be someone who is worthy of being imitated. So I strive to model to them my aspirations for them. (I frequently get it wrong, since I too am a work in progress.)

I’ve also learned this year that it’s really OK to be me. I don’t have to feel bad because I wish I loved the same things that all my sophisticated friends and acquaintances do. Life is too short. I am me. I love what I love. When it comes to reading, I don’t have to force myself to finish (or even start) books because everyone else says they’re amazing. This has been very freeing and has allowed me to relax into reading.

I used to read voraciously as a child and teenager. Getting back into reading was not as easy as I had hoped. I got distracted easily, I put it off, I couldn’t concentrate. The antidote to this problem has been to simply read, just a little, as many days as I could manage, and to rebuild my reading muscles over time.

And it has been worth it.

Other people will have read a lot more books than me this year. I hope that I will read more next year. But right now, I’m just pleased that I read more this year than I did last year.

So, without further ado…

The best thing I read this year:

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

And the rest:

  • For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine l’Engle
  • Nurtured by Love, Shinichi Suzuki
  • The Read-Aloud Family, Sarah Mackenzie
  • An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Yellow Wallpaper & Selected Writings, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
  • Raising Boys, Steve Biddulph
  • The Secret Life of Cows, Rosamund Young
  • The Christmas Box, Richard Paul Young
  • Teaching from Rest, Sarah Mackenzie
  • One True Story, Tim Chester

And three books that are topping my list for the coming year:

  • A Many-Splendoured Thing, Han Suyin
  • Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  • Mere Motherhood, Cindy Rollins

Oh, and The Hobbit. I haven’t read that for years 🙂

Happy reading everyone, and happy new year.

Limitations and leaning {reflections on pregnancy}

We are presently awaiting the arrival of our third child, a blessing indeed. We have much to be thankful for – not least that my pregnancy has now entered its 33rd week, surpassing our second child’s preterm birth at 30 weeks and now only a few days shy of the 33 weeks + 5 days that I gave birth to our first. Our visions of an even earlier birth have not materialised. We thank God. And we thank Him for this new child joining our family.

This has been a year of growth and blessing and gifts.

And yet, it has been a hard, hard year.

For me, pregnancy is not a time of blooming or blossoming or glowing. This summer, I had extreme pregnancy sickness which rendered me almost entirely bedridden for three months, leaving my husband to deal with the responsibility of children, home, and work. The emotional toll this took on us – as individuals, as a couple – could easily be understated. We were simply overwhelmed, and miserable.

Many times I asked myself why this was happening to us again. Why couldn’t my body get it right just this once? Why couldn’t I harness mind over matter, and overcome the sickness? Why had I wanted another child, knowing that it would in all likelihood confine our family to months of gruelling struggle? Why couldn’t God just take it away?

I felt guilty for bringing this on my husband and my children. I felt ashamed that I was unable to do life as normal. I felt heartbroken that I was missing out on so much that my children were doing.

(I should note here that we were not alone in our struggles. My parents in particular were a fortress of support, taking us in to their home, caring for our children when Nick was unavailable due to work, and serving us sacrificially in so many ways, all while dealing with other difficult issues which cropped up in our wider family at the same time.)

Even at this late stage, I still experience daily nausea, as well as fatigue, insomnia, and pelvic pain. Suffice to say, my body does not react kindly to growing babies.

Through my whole life, I have almost always felt capable. I was top of the class at school. I pushed myself and practised hard to become an accomplished musician. I attended an elite university and succeeded in my studies.

It is so difficult for me to accept that I am not perfect.

Being pregnant for the third time has placed limitations on me. I have had to change my behaviour, adjust my expectations, and slow right down. I have had to accept that I cannot do it all, that our homeschool cannot be everything that I envision, that all the lovely things that I want to do with and for my children and others will have to wait, that my house cannot be entirely clean and picked up all the time.

I have had to ask for help from others.

What a humbling experience for this proud, self-sufficient, capable mama.

In our home, we currently have a four-year-old child who is learning, in baby steps, to ask for help instead of whining when things are tricky or upsetting to him. This is a little picture of how I think God uses our limitations to cause us to lean into Him. When we encounter barriers in our lives, we can either whine, or we can say ‘Lord, this is so hard; I need your help.’

God has profoundly used this time to create in me a heart that realises I am limited, and He is unlimited. He is the one on whom I can depend, all the time, in everything.

May I never forget that He offers rest to those who come to Him. ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’