When the Wheels Fall Off Your Life

Encouragement for Hard Times

An Island Family, By Grace

Up until now, I have mentioned  that we are a family, by God’s grace, but I have not explained what I meant by this. In fact the reason that I chose the name An Island Family By Grace is because 7 years ago, our family went through a very dark time indeed. The fact that we are still a family at all is, we believe, due to God’s grace alone.

I am not going to go into a huge amount of detail about what happened, as I do not believe it would be helpful to anyone involved, least of all our children, but I hope that in sharing part of our experience, and how I coped, that it might be of some help or comfort to others who are going through a particularly difficult period in their life .

Let me add here that in saying that our family has been restored by God’s grace, I am not judging or condemning those whose marriages and families remain separated, or single parents, whom I think are some of the strongest people I know. I also do not presume to know what it is like to go through the specifics of other dark times, such as losing a child after birth, or a spouse, or personally enduring a chronic or terminal illness. However, it is my sincere hope that this post might be of encouragement to someone who needs it, no matter what specific trials they may be facing.

When the Wheels Fell Off My Life

Around the time I became pregnant with our fourth child, my husband began a series of choices and actions which led to him turning his back on God, and ultimately leaving me and our children a month after our daughter was born. The hardening of his heart had obviously begun before this, but it was soon worked out in ways that had devastating and lasting consequences for our whole family.  What I did not know at the time, was that though I hoped our separation would last only briefly, it would not be until over 2 years had passed that my husband would return to live with us, and we would be reconciled as husband and wife.

Frankly, they were the worst 3 years of my life, our children’s lives, and in fact, my husband’s life. But God’s Word is true, and we can already see as a family that He has used that awful time for good, just as He said that He ‘works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). He has already allowed us to use our experiences and what we learned to help others in a similar position, our marriage is stronger and closer than it was before, and though I would never have chosen this path, I am glad that some good can come from it all.

I am not a naturally strong or resilient person. When my husband first left, I wanted some way to escape, to pretend it was not real- maybe I could move far away, or bring it all to an end, I thought, on really dark days. But those would not have been real solutions at all, and would only have caused more pain, especially for our children. What God did over the following 2 years was to show His strength through my weakness. I really believe it was Him alone who enabled me to go on and not give up, though the pain did not go away, and in fact increased, leading up to the time when my husband finally returned home.

When the Wheels Fall Off Your Life - An Island Family By Grace

7 Strategies for Coping When the Wheels Fall Off Your Life

So if you are going through something so painful, whether it be severe marriage problems or any other serious trial, what can you do to cope? The following are things that helped me. They are not really new or original but they made such a big difference in how I coped.

1. Stay in the Word

When this happened to us, I had been a Christian for about 9 years. I had gradually been learning more and more about what the Bible actually said- before accepting Jesus as my Saviour I had had very little knowledge of what was really in there, other than parables and what I had heard secondhand from people who did not believe the Bible themselves. God used this time in my life to learn more about who He was and what He had done on the cross. Other than reading the Bible for myself in a daily ‘quiet time’, (which for me was easiest to do when the children were out playing mid-morning and our youngest was usually having a nap), and the children’s ‘Bible Time’, there were lots of other ways that I could be encouraged by God’s Word throughout the day. For example:

  • A dear friend gave me a daily scripture calendar, which I kept on my kitchen window sill to read when I was doing the dishes
  • I kept a transparent plastic card holder on our fridge which held cards with quotes from Stormie Omartian’s Just Enough Light For The Step I’m On
  • I downloaded Scripture quotes to set as the desktop background on my laptop
  • My parents kindly looked after the older children one morning a week so that I could go to a women’s Bible study.
  • In the evenings, I watched or listened to sermons or Christian teaching for women, for example from OnePlace , Revive Our Hearts, or Sermon Audio.

2. Pray, pray, pray

People who say that hard times drive you to your knees are right, in my case anyway. At times I felt like a broken record, praying the same things over and over again for my husband, for myself, for our children, but I was encouraged by Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18), where that lady just will not give up. I found that praying scripture was really helpful, and I would insert the name of the person for whom I was praying into the verse that was appropriate. Stormie Omartian’s book The Power of a Praying Wife and Charlene Steinkamp’s book The Spiritual Journey Towards a Healed Marriage were helpful in finding ideas for this.

I prayed throughout the day, not because I am a super holy person, but because it was the only way I knew I could speak to the One who knows the beginning from the end, while everything was so out of control.

Related to prayer, is gratitude. In our dark times, it really helped me to thank God for what was good in my life, despite all that was not good at the time. I wrote down anything I could think of that I was thankful for, often at the end of the day, and this was a way of ending the day on a positive note, and seeing that there was much that I could be grateful for, even though that didn’t fix the negative stuff.

I also cannot tell you how much it encouraged me when people told me that they were praying for me and our family, in some cases every day. Some of these people didn’t even know me very well. If you are not going through dark times yourself, but want to offer support to someone who is, letting them know that you are praying for them, (and doing it!), is so important.


When the Wheels Fall Offe Your Life - An Island Family By Grace


3. Have 1 or 2 Close Godly Friends that you Share with/ Get Support From

I had several close friends at this time who were very helpful in allowing me to talk about what was happening, one of whom prayed with me in person once a week, and often sent texts to encourage and uplift me.

I must add a caution that over sharing about some situations will not be helpful. In some cases over-sharing will just cause you to feel more depressed because you are spending so much time focusing on the problem, or if it involves a situation that involves your relationship with another person (which obviously applied to me), and you have bad-mouthed them all over your community, (or worse, blasted it on Facebook), it will make reconciliation harder. Yes, even though it might be their fault.

4. Seek Out Biblical Ministries to Get Support/ Learn From

Ministries and organisations which have been set up to help people deal with their particular situation in a biblical way can be such a help. For me, Rejoice Marriage Ministries were a massive help. They have real life experience to draw on, and offer daily emails, books and audio teachings which were a great encouragement and help to me. I also found some encouragement on the Focus on the Family website, which has support for people going through all manner of different trials.

5. Listen to Good Counsel But Don’t Let Others Tell You What You Should Be Doing

It is good to listen to wise counsel, but you should not allow others to control you into doing what they want. At any time in life we should check what others tell us against God’s Word- if it does not match up it is certainly not from Him- and this is even more important to check when you are very vulnerable due to trying circumstances.

As an example, during my husband’s absence, I had various people tell me that I should not be standing for the reconciliation of my marriage, or that I should put my children back into school. These were all extremely discouraging conversations for me, and it took an effort to remember what I already knew and had decided, both with regards to my marriage, and our children’s education. The people who said these things to me were trying to be helpful, but they had not thought about what I was already trying to do before they spoke.

6. Keep Doing the Basics

This was not a season of my life when I took on new responsibilities, or did any extra major schoolwork projects with the children. Focusing on our ‘normal’ routine- making sure the children were fed and cared-for, basic homeschooling each day and getting to things like swimming lessons and Church- was enough to be getting on with.

Something I did not do well at the time, despite the advice of wise older friends, was to make sure that I got enough sleep myself. The children already had a reasonable bedtime routine, and our baby daughter eventually got there, but I was not careful at all in looking after myself sleep-wise. I did not like going to bed alone, and for some reason I found it easier to be up on my own than in bed. If you are currently going through an awful time, learn from my mistake and go to bed when you know you should- it makes it so much easier to cope when you have had a decent rest.

7. Don’t Expect Yourself (Or Your Children) to be Perfect

In terms of personality, I am not a perfectionist. (Real life friends, stop laughing!) I naturally tend towards messiness, laziness and procrastination. But I know that some people are really hard on themselves if they are not able to maintain the standards of cleanliness, organisation, cooking or level of activities that they normally have, when they are facing a crisis. If this is you, please give yourself some grace. God will give grace and strength for whatever He does want you to do, even though it seems impossible from your human eyes. Perhaps you need to lay some other things aside for the time being, while you deal with your current situation. Sometimes when we accept that we cannot carry on a certain activity or ministry, our current circumstances allow someone else to step in, where they may not otherwise have done.

Dark times in families are very hard on our children, and they also need to be given grace. Despite the assertion by many that children are ‘resilient’ and ‘stronger than you think’, our children were hugely impacted by my husband’s actions. This pain was very evident in their attitudes and behaviour, and of course I, being the one at home with them, was the one who bore the brunt of it. I still tried to maintain strong boundaries and high expectations for them, but also constantly reminded myself that any extremes of ‘acting out’ or anger was a symptom of something much deeper than misbehaviour or disobedience. It was important for our children, particularly the older ones, to be able to talk to me about what was happening and to know how much they were loved, in the midst of all that was going on.

Further Resources That May Be Helpful:

The following are some links to resources which deal with differing trials.

Amy Roberts offers a free ebook for grieving mothers, in the Grieving Mother section on her website, and also has a section in her Large Family Homeschooling ebook on homeschooling though difficult times.

Kathy Brodock at Teaching Good Things has a post for mothers for whom Not Every Mothers Day is Happy.

Kelly Crawford at Generation Cedar has an excellent series of posts on how her family coped when their house was destroyed by a tornado.

Sandi Queen of Queen Homeschool has a book on her family’s journey through her son’s cancer treatment.

How Things Have Turned Out for Us

In our specific situation, as I have already made clear, God in His grace and mercy has reunited and healed our family, and continues to do so. It was not an overnight turnaround- my husband ‘tried’ to come home for months before he finally repented and we were reconciled for good. The first months together again were particularly difficult for all of us, but gradually what was destroyed has been rebuilt. My husband is now a loving and godly leader of our family, and although his return has not meant the end of difficult times for our family, we have now been able to face things together.

Free Printable

I have made free printable sheets of Scriptures to Pray or Memorise When the Wheels Fall Off Your Life. Please go ahead and print them out for personal use, or to give away to someone you think would benefit from them.

Do you have any other good advice for when the wheels fall off your life? What has helped you cope when you have gone through a very difficult time? Please let me know in a comment below.

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Spring Chickens and Flowering Things


Spring Chickens and Flowering Things

First off, I discovered I had not used good proofreading skills last week when I published my Bread Machine Naan Bread Recipe, and it was missing one of the ingredients! If you tried it and the dough was too dry, it was completely my fault! Please have a look at the updated recipe here.

Anyway, spring has definitely arrived here, but it is a different kind of spring from the one we are used to! We have had a few laughs from locals, or others who have moved to the island quite a few years ago, when we have expressed surprise at how changeable the weather is! We knew that things could get a lot more stormy here, but until you’re living here and experiencing it, it’s not quite so real.

For example, last Saturday we took the children to a beach which is a couple of minutes’ drive from our house. It was sunny, blue skies and relatively warm when we left the house. We got in 10, maybe 15 minutes of kite flying, then the heavens opened and a curtain of torrential rain soaked the lot of us! Back at the house a few moments later, all was sunny and dry again. I, in my naivety, hung out some washing (somewhat suspiciously, on a clothes horse, rather than on the line), and continued on with some housework. Less than 10 minutes later, I was hauling the clothes horse back into the house, while being pelted with hailstones. It is possible that I may have learned my lesson this time, although I am not 100% certain. We had more 40-50 mph winds at the weekend, but certainly not as fierce as it was back in February and March, and I know we moved in here after the really severe storms of January.

Anyway, we do now have some lovely bluebells flowering in our garden, and we have been hearing two cuckoos nearby, something that reminds me of growing up in Argyll, further south on the west coast of Scotland. The leaves are opening on our trees and we have a grand total of two tulips which are flowering!

Spring chickens

View from my kitchen window- copper beech and bluebells


Spring chickens

Yellow broom and rhododendron bushes with my vegetable plots beyond

This leads me to update you on how our chickens are getting on. Said chickens, which I originally mentioned in discussing how were are planting a vegetable garden from scratch, yesterday took great delight in eating several tulips- flowers, stems, bulbs and all- where we had planted them in the part of the garden we have been allowing them to range in. Note to self: do not plant any more flowers in front garden. Apparently daffodils are poisonous to chickens, the bulbs in particular, but the chickens do not seem to have suffered any ill effects from the tulips. Yet.

Spring chickens

Our chickens having a rest

Another surprise from the chickens in the last few days has been that we think Mrs. Marans (yes, we have named them!), is actually Mr. Marans. He, (and the other cockerel), are not old enough to begin crowing yet, but we think from the size of him, and his large comb and wattles, that he is more likely to produce a “cock-a-doodle-doo” than an egg. I will keep you posted.

Spring chickens

“Mr.” Marans (we think) on the left, beside our other cockerel, General Bluebelle… yes, really.

The hens are not laying yet, but we are getting the hang of looking after them more, and are looking forward to actually getting something back from them soon. The free online ‘MOOC’ course on Chicken Behaviour and Welfare that I did through Edinburgh University has finished now, and I have found it very helpful. If you are interested in the course yourself, you can see more information here.

It has all been very encouraging, to see the beautiful colours of spring after a cold and dreary winter, and it looks like I will not manage to kill every plant in the garden, so hopefully it will be productive to a certain extent. I am not expecting us to manage to grow all our own food, particularly with this being the first summer after our big move, but it will be nice to be able to eat at least a portion of our summer salads and vegetables, knowing that we have grown them ourselves, and that they are not full of pesticides or whatever else.

Spring chickens

Bumblebee (bottom of the picture, centre) on our Scottish heather.

How are things looking in your garden? Please feel free to let me know in the comments section.

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Knitted Headbands

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Knitted woolen alice bands

Our 11 year old daughter recently came up with the idea to knit woollen headbands (or ‘Alice’ bands). She had bought some chunky Rico Creative Filz craft merino wool (yarn), and used her large wooden knitting needles to knit headbands for her two sisters, and one to send to her friend. She made the knitted headbands using plain knit stitch, about an inch wide, and sewed the ends together with wool.  The headbands work quite well as the wool is stretchy, and they fit both her sisters’ heads. So far she has made one of the headbands using the blue and white wool, and several using the purple and green wool. Here you can see a few pictures of her lovely handiwork:

Knitted alice bands  Knitted alice bands








Our daughter was so pleased with our reactions, and her sisters’, to what she had made, that she now wants to make more knitted headbands to sell at craft fairs! It is nice to see her so enthusiastic, and keen to learn a bit of entrepreneurship! The headbands were very quick to make- she made each one in less than a day, so it would be easy to make a large number for sale quickly, if she goes ahead with it. In the mean time she (and her sisters!), are enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done.

Knitted Headbands

Do your children like to knit or sew? Which other items would be easy for beginner knitters to tackle? I look forward to reading your comments.

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Bread Machine Naan Bread Recipe

Naan Bread Recipes

Friday night is date night for my husband and me, and usually I will make a curry for both of us. We did often enjoy getting take away from our local kebab shop near our previous house, which was way more authentic than my version, but also a lot more expensive!

One of the benefits, in a money saving sense at least, of moving to such a rural area, is that take away is no longer possible, so I am forced to make our curry myself 😉 It also means that I know exactly what has gone into it, and can avoid a lot of added sugar and so on.

We both enjoy naan bread with our curry, and having found a bread machine naan bread recipe in a library book a few years ago, I have adapted it several times until it turns out the way I would like it to. If you don’t have a bread machine, you could easily knead the dough by hand, leaving it to rise covered for a few hours until it has doubled in size. Obviously our date night menu is not really Trim Healthy Mama compatible, but I’ve got lots of other meals in a week to work on that!

We occasionally also have homemade onion bhajis, but these are extra work, and also deep fried, so I wouldn’t want to have them too often. I will maybe post my onion bhaji recipe in future. Our preferred type of naan is garlic and coriander. So, with apologies to anyone reading who makes real, authentic naan, here is my recipe:

Bread Machine Naan Bread Recipe Bread Machine Naan Bread Recipe

Garlic and Coriander Bread Machine Naan Bread Recipe

(Makes 4 naan breads)

3/4 cup lukewarm milk

1/3 cup plain yoghurt

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 clove garlic, minced

2 TBSP oil

3 cups bread flour (I use chapatti flour to save money, but you can use your preferred bread flour)

1.5 tsp ground coriander (cilantro)

1 tsp fast active yeast

2 TBSP melted butter, for brushing

Put all the ingredients into the bread machine, in the order given. This allows the dough to mix better. Set machine to dough and switch on.

When risen, turn the dough out onto a floured surface.

Divide the dough into four pieces, setting 3 of them aside.

Shape the quarter piece of dough into a teardrop shape, and use a rolling pin to roll out to about quarter inch thick, keeping the teardrop shape.

Place on baking tray and brush all over with the melted butter.

Bake in oven at 200 C / 400 F / Gas Mark 6 for 15 – 20 minutes or until naan bread is golden brown and bubbling, but not over done.

Serve with curry and enjoy!

Garlic and Coriander Naan Bread

Please let me know if you tried the recipe and how it turned out 🙂

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10 Ways to Give on a Budget

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Frugal Giving

Several years ago, I was moved to make more of a concerted effort to be a giving person, and I wanted to encourage our children to be people with generous hearts, who were willing to share with others. We were already giving through our church, and by small monthly donations to 3 charities (Tearfund, Release International, and International Justice Mission), but it seemed that we could be doing so much more. How would we be able to give more, when we were already on a very tight budget? I read the book How to be an Everyday Philanthropist: 330 No Cost Ways to Live a Generous Life which gave me many ideas I was able to use, some of which I had to search online for a UK alternative. I also found various blogs with good suggestions on ways to give to others while spending little or no extra money.

Here are 10 ways to give on a budget that we still use today:

1. Cook for others– Make meals, cakes or biscuits (cookies) for those who are elderly, unwell, pregnant or people going through difficult circumstances. I have been blessed by others who have done this for me many times. Buying disposable food trays to keep in your cupboards for such an occasion means the person you are giving to doesn’t have to wash or give back your dishes. It almost goes without saying that giving your time to spend with the people you are delivering these gifts to is also precious, if the person wants that.

2. Write to or on behalf of others– This involves the cost only of writing materials and a stamp. I have always liked to write letters, and have sent advocacy letters since I was an older teenager, although not during very busy or stressful times.

You can write directly to people needing encouragement, for example to sick children through organisations such as Post Pals, sending Christmas cards to armed services personnel through Support Our Soldiers, or to those who are unjustly imprisoned or persecuted, through organisations such as Release International or Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

There are many charities for whom you can write advocacy or campaigning letters, and many of these also now have options to send emails or petitions online, in which case it will cost you nothing other than a few minutes of your time! A few examples would be Release International (UK version of Voice of the Martyrs), Open DoorsBarnardo’s, and Baby Milk Action (who campaign against misleading advertising by formula companies, and promote breastfeeding).

Matthew 26v40 quote

3. Do your own fundraising– This could be in the form of sponsored events, such as the Push the Pedal event for Gospel for Asia, that I mentioned in my post Encouraging Our Children to be Outward Looking, home-based coffee mornings, or tabletop/ garage/ car boot sales etc. Many charities provide materials to put on your fundraising event, such as posters, sponsor forms, flyers or invitations. We currently keep a coin jar for Barnabus Fund’s Children of Courage Campaign, which we and the children fill with spare change.

4. Sew or knit for those in need– Until recently, I thought that it was no longer possible to send homemade items to help others. I was wrong! When I was clearing out for our move last year, I discovered bags of knitted squares that I had made when I was pregnant with my son 14 years ago! They had been moved from house to house in various boxes since then, doing no-one any good whatsoever. I did an internet search and found that knitting squares or ‘pillowcase dresses’ to send abroad is still possible through organisations such as Knit a Square, in South Africa, to whom you can post your knitting directly, and Dress a Girl Around the World who co-ordinate sewers around the world who make ‘pillowcase dresses‘ to give to little girls who would otherwise never own a new dress.

Also, NICU units at some hospitals in the UK will still accept handknitted hats for newborn babies to wear, but they may have a specific pattern you have to follow, if you check with them. We did this one year with our homeschooling group.

5. Use Click to Give websites – These are websites sponsored by advertisers, where you may click once a day to show you have viewed the page, and the advertisers will donate to the specific cause. I find that it helps me to remember to do this if I have a routine of always going to my click to give websites when I first open the internet browser on my laptop each day, before I do anything else. Some examples of click to give websites are Care 2 – Help Children in Need, The Hunger Site and Hungry ChildrenFree Rice is an advertiser-sponsored online spelling quiz which will donate 10 grains of rice to the UN World Food Programme for every correct spelling answer you give.

6. Search and shop online to give– Instead of using Google to search the internet, I use a UK site called Everyclick, which donates 1p to Release International, for each search I make. They also provide Give as You Live shopping, which donates a percentage of whatever I buy through their site to my chosen charity, and Easy Fundraising is another site that does this, or you can do it through Swag Bucks, then donate your points to charity.

7. Donate your online points to charityTop Cashback, Swag Bucks, Nectar – you can donate the points you earn through all of these to charity. I tend to donate my Top Cashback earnings to charity if they are less than £1, but save them to buy books or larger items if I have earned more.

Promotional points collection schemes, e.g. Cokezone, Nescafe, McVities, Yeo Valley, PG Tips etc also allow you to do this. As I mentioned in my Ways Our Family Saves Money post, I use my earnings from doing online surveys to buy books for our family, but you can choose to donate survey earnings to charity through most of the online survey companies. You can also donate a proportion of any items you sell on ebay to charity.

8. Recycling for charity– Currently our family recycles ink cartridges or mobile phones (the ones we have broken 🙁 ) for Mission Aviation Fellowship, through Recycle4Charity but there are many other charities through whom you can do this. Obviously you can also donate any unwanted clothes and household items you have to charity shops.

9. Donate your hair! – Two of our daughters have donated (some of) their lovely long hair to the Little Princess Trust, which accepts donations of hair to make into wigs for children who have lost their own hair due to cancer treatment. This could also be in the ‘do your own fundraising’ category, as the Little Princess Trust will also accept money from those who have been sponsored to cut their hair, which pays for the costs of having the wigs made.

10. Make gift bags/ care packages for homeless people – We have only done this once, as we had just moved out of our house, and in with my parents last Christmas. The previous year, I saved items throughout the year in ‘ziplock’ type freezer bags, which we gave to homeless people while we were Christmas shopping in Dundee. You can really choose whatever you want to go in the bags, but we included mainly travel-size toiletries, toothpaste, toothbrush and samples or promotional packs of toiletries etc. which I had received. We also put a Christmas tract in the bags too. One lady I spoke to said “this is just what I have been wanting- a toothbrush”. Makes our ‘tight budget’ seem extravagant, really.

Links to other ideas for giving and helping others:

Sheri Graham’s excellent series on How to Make a Difference When You Are a Stay-at-home-mom

100 Ways for Your Family to Make a Difference from We Are That Family

Help from Home is a microvolunteering site that has literally hundreds of ideas for ways to give to others, from home.


‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give,

not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver’.

2 Corinthians 9:7

Obviously our family is not using all 10 ways to give on a budget all of the time, but they are a variety of ways in which we are able to give to or speak up for others, even if we do not have a large amount to donate, in monetary terms. Living in Scotland, we are still residents of one of the richest countries in the world, and I never want our children (or myself) to think that we cannot give to others when our budget is tight.

Do you have a good idea for giving to others that I have not covered? What is your favourite way to encourage your family to be generous? Please let me know in the comments section.

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Preparing for the ‘Teen’ Years

Preparing for the 'Teen' Years

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I mentioned in my post about Planting a Garden From Scratch that we had set my son some challenges last summer, in the run up to his 13th birthday, and that I would write a future post on it. We got this idea from the book Suddenly They’re 13, by David and Claudia Arp. I have some reservations about this book, the main one being that the sub-title is ‘or the art of hugging a cactus: A Parent’s Survival Guide for the Adolescent Years’, which I feel is negative, and gives the idea that the teenage years will inevitably be an extremely difficult trial, to be survived until the child leaves home! Gladys Hunt, in Honey for a Teen’s Heart: Using Books to Communicate with Teens says ‘…it is possible to to have a growing friendship with our children as they mature,  rather than a growing alienation.’*

However, I did glean some ideas from the book which I found very helpful, the main one being this concept of preparing for the ‘teen’ years by setting your soon-to-be 13 year old some challenges, which is based on the Jewish Bar Mitzvah. It includes physical, intellectual, spiritual and practical goals, which we discussed with our son, and we agreed that if he was able to complete the challenges well, before his birthday, then he would receive a reward. In our son’s case, this was for him to have piano lessons, as he had really wanted to start lessons for some time.

Our son’s teen challenge

For our son’s physical challenge, he was to train for, and complete, a 20 mile cycle ride, on the route of his choosing. I think he completed this the week before his 13th birthday, and he really enjoyed it, although he and my husband got absolutely soaked in the pouring rain! We also challenged him to climb his first Munro. Munros are a list of mountains in Scotland which are over 3000ft (914.4m) high. He and my husband climbed a mountain near our home at the time in central Scotland, which our son thoroughly enjoyed, (my husband already loves hillwalking!), and it was challenging enough for him, but not excessively so.

His intellectual challenges were to read two books: Starting a Micro Business for Teens, by Carol Topp, (which I knew would appeal to him, as he was already keen of having some sort of business after listening to the audio CD How to Start and Run a Successful Business: Audio Session for Young People, from the Maxwells); and secondly DO HARD THINGS: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris, who were teenagers themselves at the time they wrote the book. They start the book by pointing out that the term ‘teenager’ was not used until the early 1900s, and that in our modern society we expect far too little of those in their teenage years. My son really appreciated this book, and I think that it has strengthened his faith, and encouraged him that he can accomplish things for God now, rather than having to wait until he is an adult.

For his spiritual goals, we asked our son to decide what his standards and convictions would be for his teenage years, and report back to us on what he had decided. We also asked him to study the book of Proverbs and identify some life principles from there, then to memorise Psalm 23, which has been a special chapter of the Bible for our family. These might sound like a lot, but he had several months over the summer before his birthday in which to accomplish the challenges.

Finally, the practical goals we set for our son were to practice and master lighting an outdoor fire using only his fire steel, and to plan and execute an overnight wild-camping trip with his dad. This involved him choosing a suitable wild-camping site, organising the supplies he needed, and buying appropriate food for their trip. Both my husband and son love the outdoors, so these challenges were ‘right up their street’!

We made up a sheet with the list of challenges on it, and a brief explanation of the purpose of the Teenage Challenge, we discussed it with our son after ‘presenting’ him with it, and asked that if he was happy to do it, if he would sign it to show his commitment to doing the challenges. In fact he was very enthusiastic about the whole thing- the challenges we picked were all things that we were pretty sure he would be keen on, and as he is already a prolific reader, we knew he would not have trouble with the books. Obviously other parents would have to tailor such a challenge to suit their own ‘teen’, and their particular needs and interests.

We felt that this Teenage Challenge was really successful- it was character-building and faith-building for our son, and made him feel that his 13th birthday was the start of a special time in his life, when he will be preparing for adulthood, rather than a stressful nightmare that his parents are enduring before they gladly wave him goodbye! So far since our son completed the challenges for his 13th birthday, he has set up a new blog, and is now planning to start a business selling eggs from his newly acquired chickens. We have also given him more responsibility and increased his privileges, for example extra chores, and being able to stay up later.

An Island Family By Grace - chickens

Two of our new chickens!

Despite my reservations about the Suddenly They’re 13 book, I have really appreciated the ‘Teenage Challenge’ idea that the Arps have given. We would definitely like to use the same concept with our daughters, although I think they would appreciate some of the challenges to be different!

With our 11 year old daughter, I read Beautiful Girlhood, edited by Karen Andreola, and  we have (slowly) been working through Dannah Gresh’s 8 Great Dates for Moms and Daughters, which I got after reading Six Ways to Keep the “”Little”” in Your Girl by the same author, which is aimed at the mothers of ‘tween’ girls (shudder- there is even a name for children between the age of 8 and ‘teenage’ now!?). I have found these helpful in dealing with issues that come up as she is growing, but I am on the lookout for books that will be suitable for her ‘Teenage Challenge’ in 18 months’ time.

Other Resources to Help Preparing for the Teen Years

With regard to other resources that I have found particularly helpful in preparing (myself!) for our children’s teenage years, I am almost finished reading Age of Opportunity, A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Resources for Changing Lives), which I mentioned in my Reading List for 2015 post. This book is very positive in tone, and encourages Christian parents that they should look upon the ‘teenage years’ as a time when discipleship can be built upon, and communication between parents and child deepened, rather than the stereotypical picture of estrangement.

My favourite quote from the book has been from a chapter I have just read in the past few days, on ‘Leaving Home’. Mr. Tripp says, ‘But I want to encourage you to set your standards high. Don’t give in to any perspective on parenting that convinces you that the promises and goals  of the Gospel are beyond your teenager’s reach. Believe that God is able to do more than you could ask or think, through you and in them.’ **

Preparing for the 'Teen' Years quote

I mentioned above Honey for a Teen’s Heart: Using Books to Communicate with Teens. If you are unfamiliar with this series of books (there is also Honey for a Child’s Heart, and Honey for a Woman’s Heart), they include book lists on quality, character-building literature, but also sections on why and how to use them with your children.

Some free online resources that I have found helpful:

Teaching Good Things has an excellent section on Skills for Real Life, which has a huge list of links to practical skills for children to learn before they leave home, some of which have video tutorials.

Amy Roberts of Raising Arrows has a helpful post on Transitioning from Child to Adult Finances and another one on Boys and Their Attitudes.

Embracing Destiny blog has a post on Discipling Our Daughters: Resources for little girls, teens and their moms

We so far have one ‘teenager’ and I have described a little bit about how we have been preparing for the teen years for him, and now thinking ahead to our next oldest child. Do you have older teenagers or grown up children? How did you prepare for their teenage years? Is there anything you would do differently? Or do you have younger children and are looking ahead to their ‘teen’ years with an idea of how you will approach things? I look forward to learning from your comments 🙂

* P.12, ‘Honey for a Teen’s Heart: Using Books to Communicate with Teens’, by Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton.

** P.201, ‘Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens’, by Paul David Tripp.

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Making Time for Fitness

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Exercise for homeschooling moms

Let me say from the start, I am not a super-motivated, super-fit person.  In fact anyone who knows me in real life knows that I am not really qualified to write about fitness at all! I am qualified to write about how a normal, low-motivation exerciser can try to fit exercise and fitness into their day as a busy mum, though.

How I got to where I am now

When my son was born 13 years ago, after we got through the initial no sleep stage, I would do a postnatal Pilates exercise video a few times a week, while he had his nap. I walked him in his pram through the city park we lived next to at the time, and my husband and I went for longer walks with him at the weekend.

After our daughters were born, and my son was at toddler group, then playgroup, nursery and eventually school, I would be walking in and out of the town we lived in at least a couple of times a day. It was about a mile each way, and my husband had our car at work, so I was getting a reasonable amount of walking in each day, just by doing our normal daily routine.

Enter homeschooling. The children got plenty of exercise each day, but when they were out running around or riding their bikes, I was doing things that needed done in the house (not necessarily things that burned a lot of calories or strengthened my core muscles!), or frankly, sitting down for a cup of tea. When they were at swimming lessons, I was sitting with the younger ones. We met up with our nearest homeschooling family once a week for a 4 mile walk, and I would occasionally use a Davina McCall exercise DVD, but I knew I needed to be doing more.

I have realised, particularly in the last couple of years, that I have to intentionally make time in my day to exercise, or it will not happen at all. Last year I read a book about perimenopause (the ten years or so leading up to menopause), called The Change Before The Change, which woke me up to the fact that I need to be looking after my body more if I want to continue to be strong and healthy to look after my family, and have a healthy and productive life as I get older. I also know that my core muscles are not strong, and this has contributed to some sporadic back pain I have had over the past year, so I want to improve that too. Doing regular exercise also keeps my mood positive, so that is another motivator for me.

So, what am I currently doing to stay fit, and how am I making time for fitness?

1. Fitness Books

First off, I asked others for recommendations of what they used and enjoyed. I know I do not enjoy running, or team sports, and I don’t want to make a huge time commitment to a particular type of exercise, so I know the sorts of things that will not work for me. A dear friend recommended Peggy Brill’s book The Core Programme, which for the most part, I really like. It is written by an American physical therapist, and is designed to take only 15 minutes a day, which obviously appealed to me. I had not used a book for exercises before, so I wasn’t sure how it would go- would I have to stop every few seconds to read the next part of what I had to do? The answer was yes, but only for the first few weeks that I used it. Brill’s book has a picture summary at the end of each exercise regime, so once you understand what is involved in each exercise, you just keep the book open on the photo page and this reminds you of which exercises you are to do. Obviously these are exercises specifically designed to strengthen your core, and arm and leg muscles, so you would also need to be doing other, more aerobic exercise to keep your heart healthy or burn calories, if that was something you wanted.

Another book I have used since last summer, after realising that using a book for exercises does work for me, is Fit and Fabulous in 15 Minutes by Teresa Tapp, also known as the T-Tapp system. I had heard about T-Tapp through several other Christian mums’ blogs, and decided to give it a try. It involves exercises that use the resistance of your own body to strengthen all muscles, and get your heart rate up, so it is good for both core and cardiovascular fitness. Again I like it because it only takes 15 minutes, (once you have got the hang of it and can move through the routine quickly), and you do not need a lot of space or special equipment.

About 2 years ago I got Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison’s book Trim Healthy Mama. It is a huge book and involves quite a big lifestyle change in terms of eating as well as exercise. Although some people don’t like it, I have found it helpful, and the year I started using it, I did lose a reasonable amount of weight. One of the things Pearl and Serene are big on is using short intervals of exercise, (which research has shown to be more effective), which obviously fits in well with the busyness of homeschooling, and the fact that I am able to be flexible and choose when I exercise. So one of the things I will now do, (if it’s not snowing!), is take the first 5 to 10 minutes of our children’s morning outdoor time, and before I have a coffee, or do something else, I will bounce on my mini-trampoline/ rebounder (which I got from Freecycle), or use my skipping ropes. It’s not a pretty sight, but it gets an exercise interval in for me 🙂 I will often do this after lunch too.


2. Exercise Classes

Since moving house to the Hebrides, I have started going to weekly fitness classes. It had been a LONG time since I had done this, (we’re talking about 20 years here!), so I felt feel a bit conspicuous at the classes, but they have allowed me to meet some local people and to get some more aerobic fitness in, as well as extra strengthening exercises. The classes are in the evening, and although I am tired by then, it is a suitable time for me.

3. Walking

I have tried to go for a walk with the children at least every second day since we arrived here, and as I mentioned above, we met our homeschooling friends for a longer walk once a week at our previous house. This year I also bought a Highlander Easywalk Pedometer with vouchers I was given for Christmas, so I can at least see which days of the week are better or worse for me, in terms of activity level. I note the number of steps at the end of each day on my household planner, which also has a ‘Get Moving’ space to record if I have exercised each day, which I find works for my personality in terms of motivation.

4. Online Resources

Finally, there are some online resources I have found helpful in motivating me to make time for fitness. Clare Smith has had several fitness challenges that I have taken part in through her site, which always involve paying attention to your spiritual and emotional fitness as well. You can also see Clare Smith’s you tube videos here.

Amy Roberts from Raising Arrows has a Fit Mom of Many series on her blog, Claire from Angelic Scalliwags has a Wibbly Wobbly Weight Loss series, and Charlotte Siems and Trisch at Be Youthful ‘n Fit are T-Tapp trainers. The Healthy and Fit Homeschool Mom site also has photo tutorials of her exercise routines.

I have in the past used SparkPeople, which is an online tracking tool where you enter all your daily exercise and what you have eaten. However, I have not continued with it, as it was way too time consuming for me, and I want to be active and eating healthily, but not obsessed about what I am eating.

If I am feeling in the mood for it, I will use some you tube videos for an aerobic type workout. I like the ones from REFIT Revolution, (who also sell their workouts on DVD and online subscription service), which have contemporary Christian music on them, such as this one:

I have a list of these videos on my internet favourites list, so I can do as many or as little of them as I like, depending on the amount of time, (or energy) I have.

An idea for being active as a family, which I haven’t tried yet, is to do geocaching together. You can see a post from Life Off the Paved Road on Geocaching as a family here. I think my family would enjoy doing this together, and it would be another way of adding exercise to our time together, and allow us to get to know the new area we have moved to.

What I have shared above are the ways in which I try to make time for fitness, but I have a long way to go in terms of being consistent.

So, how do you make time for fitness? How do you incorporate exercise into your daily schedule, or perhaps more importantly, how do you stay motivated? I would be grateful for any additional ideas you can give me below 🙂

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Planting a Garden From Scratch

Planting a Garden From Scratch -  An Island Family By Grace

Having just moved to our new home in February, we have had just about enough time to get settled in before spring! The weather for the first month we were here was very stormy (and wet!), and of course it was still getting dark early when we first moved in. For the last couple of weeks, we have had much nicer days- a fair bit of sunshine, and no midges (yet!), and light until about 9pm. However, we have definitely not had the heat that there has reportedly been in England- 25 degrees centigrade a few days ago! On that day here… we had snow and hail!

Nonetheless, things are beginning to grow a bit in the garden. Our daffodils have flowered this week and the buds on the trees are beginning to open. For the last 10 years or so, we have learned how to grow vegetables in the gardens of the various houses we have lived in. We are definitely still on that learning curve, but now with the biggest garden we have ever had (half an acre), we would like to be able to grow more.

Our new house was part of a croft (Scottish smallholding), which was broken up into smaller parts prior to us buying it. So, although the larger area of land here has been used for crofting (mainly livestock but also vegetables), for nearly 100 years, the garden land that we now own has a few flowers and trees, but is laid mainly to grass. Hence we are in the position of planting a vegetable garden from scratch for our new home.

I was therefore really pleased to hear about the Home Grown Food Summit that was held online last week. There were audio and video presentations from 4 or 5 speakers each day, on a variety of subjects from growing your own veg to rearing chickens or rabbits for meat, to permaculture, food forests, and even which insects are good to eat (no, I didn’t listen to that one…)

The summit was very timely for me, and has got me all enthusiastic about planting our garden, and also getting some chickens, which we had already hoped to do. You can still get access to the  Home Grown Food Summit, but unfortunately not for free now- you can pay to download or buy a flash drive of the presentations.

In terms of planting, so far we have got seed potatoes from the Grow Your Own Potatoes Project in a potato bag, and I have started out seeds in trays indoors (our dining room which needs a new roof is acting as the perfect cold frame at the moment!)- broccoli, cabbage, beetroot, peas, broad beans, pak choi, perpetual spinach, and courgettes (zuccini), and my dad kindly had a whole box of snowdrop bulbs sent out to me from a Scottish country house that sells their snowdrop stock off at the end of the growing season.

On Saturday I was able to move 4 runner bean plants outdoors, and some peas, although I’m not convinced about how long they’ll last, given the snow earlier last week! The soil is not deep, with bedrock not far below, and of course with this being the west highlands of Scotland, it is damp, and we are going to be making full use of a system of ditches for drainage 😉

Planitng a garden from scratch

Baby pea plant with attractive milk bottle cloches in the background!


Planting a garden from scratch

New veggie plots with my lonely bean plants at the ends!











I had some very exciting news this week, in that my parents have offered to buy me a polytunnel greenhouse for my birthday! I don’t know what that says about me that they knew I would like that, and that I’m very excited about it, but there you go. It will mean that for the first time I will be able to grow tomatoes that actually turn red (although we have enjoyed green tomato chutney for the past two years!), and hopefully some other things that it is otherwise too cold to grow here.

I have also been pinning lots of things to my Crofting and Homesteading board on Pinterest, which you can see here if you like, and reading lots of articles and blog posts on growing useful plants, such as Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth’s current herbal blog hop on Calendula. Through following a link from one of the Grow Your Own Food Summit speakers, I have been taking a free online course on Chicken Behaviour and Welfare through Edinburgh University. Today my lovely husband and son have been sawing and hammering away to build our first chicken coop, and we are looking forward to picking up our first hens and a couple of cockerels next week. I will let you know how it goes!

Our son hopes to start his own business selling eggs from our front gate, so he is going for pure breed chickens, but our elder daughter and I are starting off with four Rhode Rocks, which are a hybrid from Rhode Island Reds and Black Rocks. We gave our son a series of challenges last summer in the run up to his 13th birthday, (an idea we got from the book Suddenly They’re 13), one of which was to read the book Starting a Micro Business for Teens, {affiliate links} which he really enjoyed, and it gave him the idea of an egg-selling business to look forward to when we moved. Maybe I will write a full post about the challenges he completed at a later date.

In the long term, I would like to plant fruit trees, and more perennial vegetables and fruit bushes. We don’t have a lot of spare cash for these just now, with our roof about to be fixed, so I have used my most recent Amazon voucher (from doing online surveys), to order an elder tree sapling, so we can look forward to more of the elderflower and elderberry cordial our 11 year old daughter made last year. In the mean time, I will be sowing some more seeds- lettuce, purple sprouting broccoli, carrots (I have never succeeded with carrots so far), and doing a bit of research on polytunnels.

Which plants would you recommend for planting a garden from scratch? Are there any ‘must have’ plants in your garden, or plants you would like to have, but don’t yet? Please let me know in a comment.

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6 Fun Kids Car Journey Activities


6 Fun Kids Car Activities - An Island Family By Grace

One of the things about Our Big Move to the Scottish Hebrides islands has been that we have had a lot further to travel if we want to visit family or we have need of going back to ‘civilisation’ (!) to buy things that are not available here, and cannot be delivered. Obviously we have chosen to do that, so I am not complaining! My lovely sister also lives down in England- about a 12 hour drive without stops, so when we next do that journey, I will need to be well prepared.

Our children are pretty good about long car journeys- maybe because we don’t do them too often, and also we take along some activities that they would not normally do, so there is a bit of novelty value about it. Obviously these activities could also be used on a bus, train or plane journey too. Here is a list of the 6 kids car journey activities that usually keep our family happy on a long trip:

1. Read alouds

– We enjoy reading aloud as a family at home anyway, so I continue this on car journeys too. Our recent favourites have been Johannes Kepler: Giant of Faith and Science (Sowers), (which you can also get on audio CD), a children’s abridged Oliver Twist, and Goodnight Mister Tom, (although I must mention there were some elements of it which I felt were unsuitable for younger children). Currently we are reading Spring Days with the Moodys, by Sarah Maxwell, which is the eighth book about an American Christian homeschooling family. It is available in the UK from Rainbow Books, or elsewhere directly from the Maxwells at titus2.com.

We also enjoy reading aloud ‘Another Home Scholar From The Past’ articles in Home School Enrichment magazine, which we are subscribed to through a UK distributor.

2. Personal reading books

– Our children all love reading, and as none of them is prone to travel sickness, they will spend some time out of a long journey reading their own books. Some of the personal reading books they are currently reading are:

13 year old: Kingdom’s Dawn: (The Kingdom Series) – this book was a ‘reward’ for reading a book he was struggling to get through for his English curriculum!

11 year old: The Hallelujah Lass: A Story Based on the Life of Salvation Army Pioneer Eliza Shirley (Daughters of the Faith) – she read this very quickly. It is not a thin book with large writing, so it is hard to keep up with her!

8 year old: ATTACK AT THE ARENA (Imagination Station) which is an Adventures in Odyssey story.

6 year old: she has only recently begun to read books by herself rather than just when she is reading aloud to me. Currently she likes A Packet of Seeds.

6 Fun Kids Car Activities


3. Audiobooks

– Our children love audiobooks, and at the moment Brinkman Adventures is their current favourite. It is an audio drama rather than just a reading of a text, and features true stories from a real life American Christian homeschool family, including their missionary trips. You can listen to a free episode on their website to see if you like it. So far we have downloaded the first season, and my husband and I enjoy it along with the children!

On our recent trip back down to my parents’ house, which takes 5 hours, we listened to a download of Under Drake’s Flag by Heirloom Audio Productions, who also produced ‘In Freedom’s Cause’ about Wallace and Bruce. They are both narrated by Brian Blessed, from the original books by GA Henty (both of which original books can be read for free on Kindle: Under Drake’s Flag A Tale of the Spanish Main,  In Freedom’s Cause : a Story of Wallace and Bruce ).

Another favourite of our children is Your Story Hour, which is good for both audio Bible dramas, and stories of well known people in history, and you can also listen to it online for free, when you are at home!

We also own some of the Adventures in Odyssey CDs, particularly the Life Lessons CDs. Some of the other Odyssey stories can involve a bit too much ‘peril’ or high school romance for younger children.

You can also download many public domain audiobooks for free at Librivox, for both children and adults. The most recent book we have used this for is Anne of Green Gables.

Our younger two really enjoy picture books with CDs, their favourite series being the Katie Morag stories, read by Mairi Hedderwick herself.

 4. Games

– Our family does not own personal video games like a DS or Leap Pad, so for games we usually take a selection of card games that are relatively easy to play in a moving car; UNO, Boggle (no cards in this one!), Top Trumps Horses & Ponies, Children’s Bible Trivia Card Game, and our current favourite by far, Monarchy, from Witty Inventions games, which is available in the UK from the home education supplier Icthus Resources.

6 Fun Kids Car Activities

Monarchy Card Game from Icthus Resources

  5. Colouring Books

– Our son is past the stage of being interested in colouring books, although I did get him this Boys’ Doodle Book for the day we moved up here. The girls are all still into colouring, when they are in the mood for it, and they particularly like to more detailed ones available for older children. The most recent ones I bought were the Doll’s House Colouring Book  for our 6 year old, The Victorian House Colouring Book for our 8 year old, and Colour Your Own John Constable Paintings for our 11 year old.

In the past I have also bought them sticker books, but now we only usually have them if a generous relative buys one 😉

6. Verbal memory and spotting games

– I’m not sure if my title here properly describes what I mean, but our family loves those kind of games where each person has to remember a list of items and repeat them back on their turn.

The Minister’s Cat – my sister and I used to play this game with my grandpa in Inverness when we were wee 🙂 It goes “The Minister’s cat is a ____________ cat” and you insert an adjective beginning with A, for example “angry”, the next person uses an adjective beginning with B and so on.

I went to the shops – Each person says “I went to the shops and I bought a ______________”, inserting an item they bought beginning with A and so on, except they must also remember what each previous person bought as part of their list.

Numberplate words – When another vehicle goes past, everyone has to think of a word or a sentence using the letters of the vehicle’s numberplate, in order.

‘I Spy’ – the classic, which we used to change to “I spy something {of a particular colour}”, rather than beginning with a letter of the alphabet, before the children were able to do that.

Links to other resources for long journeys:

Sarah from Delivering Grace blog has a post with Six thoughts about children and trains. This Reading Mama has lots of free printable Car Games and Activities.

What does your family like to do to pass the time on a long journey? Any good suggestions would be most appreciated for our future trips south! Please let me know in a comment below.

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Home Education in Scotland

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Home Education in Scotland

Source: www.freeimages.co.uk

We have been home educating (homeschooling), since 2007 when our eldest child was six. He had gone to nursery school for a year, and then primary school for one year. Our daughters have always been educated at home. Not having considered home educating before that time, I thought it would be good to write a post about home education in Scotland, partly to give information to other Scottish parents who might be considering homeschooling, and also to let people from other countries have a glimpse of how home educating in Scotland is similar or different to home educating elsewhere in the world.

Now I have the benefit of hindsight, and if we were able to do things over again, I would have aimed to homeschool our children from the start. However, as things are, I am so thankful that God graciously brought us to the decision to home educate our son, through circumstances that at the time were not all easy.

Legal Stuff

In Scotland the law regarding home education is similar, but not exactly the same as in England and Wales. The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 states ‘It shall be the duty of the parent of every child of school age to provide efficient education for him suitable to his age, ability and aptitude either by causing him to attend a public school regularly or by other means.‘ (Italics mine).

Here in Scotland, if a child is already registered at school, the parent(s) need to write to the local authority for consent to withdraw the child from school. This sounds more complicated than it is, and the Scottish home education support charity Schoolhouse has a lot of helpful information on their website on this, including a checklist of what to cover when letting the local authority know how you will be providing for your child’s continuing education.

If a child has not attended or registered at a school however, contacting the local authority in this way is not necessary.

Thanks to the help from Schoolhouse, we really had no problem at all withdrawing our son from school. We were asked to provide information on how we planned to provide for our son’s education with regard to various different categories, and once we had done this and the local authority had accepted it, we were able to relax and ‘officially’ start homeschooling our children.


During the summer holidays after our son finished his first year in primary school, after having found out more information about homeschooling and praying about it, my husband and I decided we would go for it. When we asked our son how he would feel about it, he was very enthusiastic!

We did not buy a huge amount of curriculum to start off with- I bought the Jolly Grammar Handbook 1, as this followed on from the Jolly Phonics reading and writing programme that our son had already been using in Primary 1 at school, and we were happy to continue with the same material- not because we had to do things the same as ‘school’, but he was learning well with it, and it was easy to use.

For maths at the start, we used the cheap maths practice booklets, like these ones, that you can buy in supermarkets and book shops, and I also made up worksheets for him. We read a lot of books together (which we had always done), and did unit studies on ‘minibeasts’, went for nature walks and took lots of opportunities for educational trips to historical and cultural sites, both with our local homeschooling group, and as a family.

Home Education in Scotland

Our family on a nature walk

As I read more about home education from authors that my friends loaned me, we added in techniques that I had heard about, such as narration or ‘telling back’ what the children had learned, and reading quality fiction on the same subject as a topic we were studying. I also downloaded a lot of free stuff from the internet, that other homeschoolers kindly shared.

Finding our new ‘normal’

We later bought curriculum for maths, history and science, as I found out about them from newly-made friends at the homeschoolers group we attended monthly, and in the past couple of years we have added curricula for geography and music.

I found books such as Sally and Clay Clarkson’s Educating the Wholehearted Child, Educating Your Child at Home by Allan Thomas, and One-to-one: A Practical Guide to Learning at Home Age 0-11 by Gareth Lewis helpful in working out how we would ‘do’ home education as a family.

We are probably what people describe as ‘eclectic’ homeschoolers, using a mixture of different curricula and styles of learning. I do particularly like Charlotte Mason’s style of education- lots of reading aloud, narration, nature study etc, but we also enjoy workbooks to a certain extent, and unit studies or lapbooks. You can find out more about different methods of home education here and here.

There is no legal requirement in Scotland to keep records of our schoolwork, but since withdrawing our son from mainstream ‘school’ 7 and a half years ago, I have continued to keep a simple spreadsheet with columns for each of our children and what they do each day that could be defined as ‘education’, (although of course this could really cover most of life!), in case the local authority ever want to see it.

You can see how we started our term after summer last year below. We were reading one of Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries Series, The Enemies of Jupiter, and after a guided tour of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, we began a ‘Government Topic’ in the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum in September. As a family, our homeschooling is relatively structured, but we do not have a ‘timetable’, (more of a usual routine), and we are flexible about changing what we are doing when, if an opportunity comes up for a trip, or meeting up with another homeschooling family.

Home Education in Scotland

Our first week of ‘schoolwork’, 2014/15

What next?

Our 13 year old son is now at the stage of choosing the subjects he will study for the next two academic years- what would be called S3 and S4 if he was at a state school in Scotland, (the ‘S’ being for ‘secondary’). In the UK it is usual, although not compulsory, to sit exams at the end of each academic year for age 16, 17 and 18, in order to gain entry to college, university or the job market.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has recently changed the system for 16 year olds to ‘National 4’ and ‘National 5’ exams, but 17 and 18 year olds still sit ‘Higher’ and ‘Higher Still’ exams. Unfortunately these SQA qualifications are not amenable to home educators studying them from home, due to their continuing assessment component, which would be marked by a teacher at school, but thankfully we are able to do iGCSE examinations instead, which are used in English and international schools, and in some private schools in Scotland. This is because most iGCSE results are based on the exam only, and do not require the pupil to submit continuing assessment. The home educated child can then sit the exam as an external candidate at an exam centre or a school that has agreed to it.

There is an excellent HE Exams Yahoo group for UK home educators where you may ask questions and take part in discussions on doing exams from home, and they have made a Wiki page with a lot of information on the different subjects and exam boards available to homeschoolers.

Home Education in Scotland

Source: www.freeimages.co.uk

Of course there is a huge diversity of different ways of homeschooling within any one country itself, and amongst all my home educating friends, there is a wide range of homeschooling methods used, which fit each particular family. You can see some Frequently Asked Questions and answers regarding homeschooling on my Home Education in Scotland FAQs page, including links to some of the UK homeschooling organisations.

This post had covered some of the details of how to start home educating in Scotland, and specifically how we do things in our family. How does homeschooling differ where you are from? How is it similar? Or are you a home educator in the UK? Let the rest of us know what homeschooling looks like where you live in the comments below.

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