What if the future is even better than the past?

There’s something bittersweet about watching my children have these fleeting moments that are echoes of my childhood. I spent virtually every summer on the water, in the water, listening and smelling and loving the water. My grandparents had a boat, and I loved to sit on the front of it while the boat sped along the waves (and looking back, my life was probably at risk! But how wonderful it was.).

We are in America now. My children are on their grandparents’ boat, on the water, in the water. It smells like sunshine and water weeds. They are joyfully piloting the boat, asking to swim in the centre of a lake bigger than they ever knew existed.

It makes me happy; it makes me sad. What sort of life would they have if we lived in America? Specifically, this bit of America with water and huge lakes everywhere, lakes so big they look like the ocean.

I think nostalgia overwhelms me when I get on a boat. I could sit here all day. But I’m wary of letting that nostalgia put this life on a pedestal. Maybe one day my children will be watching their children live the life my kids had when they were little. No regular boats, no jumping off pontoons.

But maybe my future grandchildren will splash along rivers, play deep in the dappled woods, feel the magic of dancing around a campfire as the sun sets. And my kids will look, and sigh, and feel nostalgic and wonder what if, even as my grandchildren create their own childhood memories.

And so the cycle goes.

Unschooling in adults.

I know a man who exemplifies what unschooling looks like when you’re an adult. My friend’s husband is someone I think of when I think about how my life isn’t ‘unschooling my children’ – I’m not doing something to them, I’m providing space and facilitation for them to do it themselves. And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the framework and ideals of unschooling aren’t just great for kids, but for adults, too.

This guy I know? He sort of throws himself into trying things out and learning new ways to do stuff. He follows his interests and consequently is a very interesting person. I’ve not hung out with him loads, but I’m always impressed when I do. He doesn’t hesitate to grab any child’s hands to help them learn to roller skate. He brims over with enthusiasm and will talk to anyone of any age about mutual interests. He does what brings him joy, without seeming to care much what others think of him.

I hope these are some of the things I’m helping to instill in my children. The joy of following your curiosity, to not be afraid of being a beginner, the inner resources to know how to find outer support and knowledge.

I hope when they are my age they are excited about life and all the possibilities still open to them. I hope they are willing to try, even if they feel exposed and afraid and silly. I hope my children continue to have such a strong inner compass and the courage to follow where the needle leads, especially when the poles seem to switch places.

If only we all embodied these ideals, what a fascinating place the world will be. We all have our stories, and it’s great to try to enrich your own story….and to take the time to hear someone else’s.

Embracing the unknown is a tall task, but what better opportunity to learn what that feels like than right here and now? What have you wanted to try that you’ve put off? Who are the people you want around you when you do it? What can you do today to answer a question you’ve had, experience something you’ve always wanted to try, figure out a way to make a first step?

Mine was as simple as finding the right tool for the job. I spent £11 on a wireless keyboard and finding a lightweight, cheap way to write (using my phone as the computer) is filling up holes that were so big I thought I just had to learn to live with them.

In case you need to hear it: I believe in you.

Not Back to School week 2017!

Because it’s a bit of a tradition, and I like being able to look back, here we go. Usual caveat that every week is different, etc.

Monday

This week is when many classes and groups kick off again – and thinking about how this upcoming term is going to be the most scheduled term we’ve ever had (half hoping it’s great, half expecting it to break us so we all agree to go back to a more relaxed pace!), we thought we’d stay in.

Then we discovered Spider-Man: Homecoming was on in our local cinema, and it’s cheap ticket Monday, so that was much of our morning.

M is obsessed with Spider-Man lately (again); S was less keen and brought a book along to read in the cinema, but alas, she forgot a torch.

(S has become obsessed with graphic novels – the longer non-comic book ones aimed at 9-12 year olds. She heavily recommends El Deafo as well as anything by Raina T. If you have cash to burn, send an Amazon gift voucher. Our libraries and finances cannot keep up with her pace!)

Afterwards we came home and much Lego/Playmobil fun was had. Mondays from now on will involve S going to drop off educational provision in the woods, so it feels special to have time for the both of them to just play!

Late afternoon M had gymnastics class with a friend, while S played with hers. She then had her first non-recreational gymnastics class; she was on her own with girls much older than her, and it was much more intense than the recreational classes she is used to. She survived.

Earlier in the day M ran round the block with hand weights, pumping them up and down while running (lots of this sort of tiny thing happened this week – I didn’t document it as it would be too crazily long!)

M suddenly asked for ‘muscles training’ in the evening so I found Tae-Bo videos on YouTube (#billyblanksforever!) and he did two full length videos aimed at adults. He did these two weight lifting videos every day this week.

Tuesday

First day back to a very busy pottery class after the summer break. Clay, glaze, inspiration.

Afterwards we all had a picnic/play in the park. Was nice to be back! We were there till around 1:30, when I had to take S to Spanish class. A friend offered to have M round her house – he and his friend had some quality Lego time.

S and I arrived ridiculously early at Spanish, so we went for a walk. Happened to stumble across an awesome music store – she played some broken chords on the various pianos until we discovered there was an entire room devoted to percussion instruments. She’s thinking of giving up piano to have drum lessons, so it was great to get to try out some digital kits.

Spanish was Spanish – learning how to describe circus related stuff, this week. She really enjoyed it.

Then back off to pick up M – it was my birthday, and my gorgeous friend made me a cake (which she unfortunately dropped on the floor.) She left me and the kids alone while she ran to the store to get milk, and the four of us promptly fell on the cake pieces like wolves. Bare hands and all.

Wednesday

Normally we’d be at forest school on a Wednesday, but this week our lovely friends from London were down and staying in the local area.

We met them at Slimbridge Wildlife and Wetlands Centre – or whatever it’s called. We spent a full day in the soft play, welly boot land, and somehow missed out on seeing the birds – except for the geese and swans near the entrance, who swarmed the children once they realised the kids had grain to feed them. One of my friend’s kids may now have a permanent bird phobia. Whoops.

Driving to and from our meet up, we listened to Short and Curly. It’s a podcast about ethics aimed at children – and it’s totally awesome. Ethics is a fascinating area of study, full of critical thinking, morals, debate, challenging our own ideas. We all LOVE it.

Thursday

Thanks to Groupon and the friend who spotted a deal on there, we headed off to the Mendips winter sports centre with five other families. The kids got an hour of tobaggoning on the dry slopes – which were much faster than I thought they’d be.

Everyone loved it; no one broke their skulls open.

Afterward, we went to the top of the ‘alpine lodge’ for lunch. Very unfortunately, M had an airborne allergic reaction to … something?

He responsibly asked for meds and took himself outside for fresh air. It was minor at that time, nothing out of the ordinary.

About ten minutes later, my friend looked out the window and saw him gasping for air/coughing.

Queue a very tense twenty minutes. No epipen was given – and luckily a nurse was on the trip with us.

M proceeded to give all his friends a lesson on how to administer an epipen.

We elected to head home rather than carry on to Chew Lake with friends – closer to hospitals if needed.

Thankfully he was fine. We cancelled our emergency GP appointment, and Suzy took both kids off to Woodcraft Folk for the first session of term. Luckily it was an outdoors session with plenty of fresh air!

That evening S and I spent a good chunk of time reading our own books in her room. Was very cozy.

Meanwhile M took proud ownership over a new Spider-Man costume, courtesy of Grandma! Lots of running around outside with it on.

Friday

Crack of dawn piano lessons were cancelled as their tutor was ill – God help me, I was so relieved and happy for a chilled morning!

Back to Capoeira late morning. I cannot recommend this more – miles better than our previous martial arts experience. Kids remembered their moves from before summer, which was great. Lots of fun and excellent music on a very rainy morning!

S wanted to have friends back to ours after class, but honestly I was too tired! We went home – kids played, we watched Night at the Museum, etc.

Just a chilled out way to end the week.

I found during this week that car rides, as ever, are where kids continue to request maths challenges. M’s mental maths are off the chart – you know, if we used them!- and he particularly has been requesting more and more difficult problems. I’m still loving how we can cover a variety of topics within one thing – maths, ethics, language – and not even realise we are doing so until it’s reflected on later.

All in all, a great week -next week even more things start back up. I have a feeling I may revert back to drinking caffeine!

Wednesday evening. 

Tuesday evening on the drive home from gymnastics, we saw a funfair being set up in a local spot. We decided to check if it was open the following evening. 


Wednesday evening, we checked. It was open and mostly deserted. 

You asked if we could go after dinner, and we said yes. 


The joy you both felt while there, in the summertime setting sun, was worth that yes….and a few pounds spent on rides. 

(And did we stay till they closed? And did you go back Thursday evening? *wink*)

The antithesis to settling. 

  
I like to think that my children won’t ever settle for an okayish sort of life. 

They aren’t learning that they have to do stuff every day that they hate. 

They aren’t learning that they have to squelch their creative ideas to better fit in with the norm. 

They aren’t learning that they need to just ignore their own needs and wants, otherwise they will potentially get in trouble. 

No, because they have this childhood of freedom and choice, they are learning that it is possible to live this way. They can pursue their passions, they can work hard at what interests them, they can create meaning from play. 

They’ve got a lot of joy, and no one is taking that away anytime soon. 

Seize the moment!

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Friends were round this morning, and we were lamenting the lack of snow. None last year, and none this year either, really.

I was wrong.

Just now, we had a heck of a hailstorm. Then I hear M shout from downstairs (S and I were upstairs, stretching hands out a window to feel the hail), ‘IT’S SNOW!’ And it was. Snow. Real snow.

We ran downstairs, flung open the door. M dashed out in crocs and a t shirt, bare bum flashing the world as he yelled a barbarian yell and ran. ‘Look, when I run, it makes the snow go faster!’ He continued yelling and running, while S was leaning forward to touch the show, tilting her head to the sky. ‘I can’t believe it!’ she said.

It only snowed fifteen minutes. We were out there, in pyjamas (or not, as the case may be!), the whole time. Catching snow on our tongues, marvelling at the thick flakes. Whirling and twirling and just being happy.

When we came in, I thought, wow. For all the moments I worry I’m not as good of a mom as I can be, there are these other moments. No hesitating, no preparation (and thank goodness, if we’d stopped to get ‘properly’ dressed we’d have missed it!), no worry about anything. Just standing in the snow with my kids, arms wide open, and appreciating what feels like a small miracle on this simple Thursday afternoon.

Joyful fun for everyone. AKA the good stuff about being a home educating parent!

I hear it all the time. I couldn’t be around my kids all the time, I’d go crazy. Do you ever get time for yourself?

Yeah, home education is time intensive. But if we forget about the children for a minute….there are so many benefits for the parents. Benefit one?

Going to visit the local fire station with friends and getting to dress up in an actual firefighter uniform.

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Yeah, you heard me. I got to wear a skin protecting head wrap under that helmet. Feel what it was like to walk in those heavy boots. Look so awesome all the other people on the planet want to be me! Ahem. But seriously, can you want or need anything more than that?

If so, here’s a few excellent things about being a home educator, from the purely parental point of view:

Getting to finally learn that there’s another way to learn. Maybe starting to find a deeper well that’s been hidden all these years – one filled with longing, individualistic passion, curiosity. You get to see the proof that this well is real because, you know, your kids aren’t getting their wells filled in or covered up.

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Laughing. Really, really laughing. Parenting can be divisive even among friends you’ve known a long time. But if you are choosing to live a freer life outside of the mainstream, you have a much higher chance of meeting like minded people. People who view life similarly, people who appreciate and celebrate wackiness, people to adventure with. I’ve laughed so hard I’ve almost pissed myself on occasion. And I get to spend hours with these people. And not in an office. No. We are walking through gale force hail storms, we are exploring in Wales, we are playing dangerous little games with actual firefighting hoses.

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Consensual living. Some people view radical unschooling or totally autonomous education as the kids ruling the roost. Not in this house. We make decisions as a team, we compromise, we try to find good solutions that everyone is happy with. That means if I’m having an overwhelming time, my kids are practiced in the skills of discussion and debate….and I get time to wear fleece pajama bottoms and read if I need an afternoon in.

Being the best version of yourself. I’m still learning, but what can be better than joyfully saying yes to as much stuff as possible? Evening marshmallow roasting, flying kites in the midst of ancient stone circles, making vegan chocolate cakes and throwing a pretend birthday party. It doesn’t get much better than this. (Except if you’re in a fire fighter outfit. Seriously.)

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Trying new stuff. Many home ed classes or groups are a happy mixture of people of all ages – toddlers through adults. Just recently, I’ve got to sculpt with real clay, walk along a balance beam, learn new songs in various languages from Africa, and picnic in the rain. As the kids get older, I look forward to signing up for classes geared more toward me and bringing them along if they are interested – maybe the local acting group? Harmonica lessons? Hiking meet ups?

And the best bit. Being there. I get the zany questions, the little lips blowing raspberries on me, the hugs and every day moments that are so filled with magic. I get to throw my arms up and be loudly me, loudly their mother, loudly a friend. I get all those explosions of wonder and happiness and love.

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There’s nothing better.

Pumpkin carving.

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Design: drawing, ideas, imagination, creativity, art.

Cleaning: sensory play, motor control, sorting seeds from guts.

Carving: fine motor skills, strength, safe knife handling, history and religion (why do people carve pumpkins? What is Samhain, what is Halloween?)

Seed baking: maths (the timer, measuring ingredients), science (temperature), literacy and research (googling and reading recipes), cooking.

More seeds: taste testing, maths (volume, finding suitable container), motor skills in pouring or picking up seeds.

It’s all there, all the time. Everywhere you look, everything you do. You are learning. So are your kids, if you have them. You can’t help it.

But I maintain the most important lesson is joy. Sniffing pumpkin meat, adapting and sharing when one pumpkin is too rotten to use….and making an excellent two face pumpkin. Being brave enough to stick your bare hands into a sloppy, unknown mess. Laughing as you squeeze slippery seeds between your fingers. Trying to pull a knife out of a pumpkin, a small King Arthur and his orange stone.

Joy, joy, joy.

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So, you educate them…yourself?!

‘So, you educate them yourself?’ she asks brightly.

How do I say, no, no, not me.

They are educated when the wind bends the trees and blows their hair. They are driven by their interests – archeology, game design, writing words, telling stories. They ask an awful lot of questions, we have discussions hundreds of times a day.

They are educated by their friends, especially the ones who have something extra to help us all learn – like our friends who help us learn about difference and emotions and navigating friendships in an intensive crash course in human relations. They learn from the adults in the community and in our friendship group – we’ve learned about mud rescues, water pipes, roman times.

We learn from strangers we bump into in the woods – what it means to be lonely, how it feels to be friendly, about the way it makes everyone feel warmer when you smile.

She studied the poster counting up to twenty for ages and taught herself. The day she spied the poster up to 100 that I stuck to a door, she counted to a hundred no problem! She can do verbal maths problems in no time flat. I didn’t teach her that.

He creates fantastic characters and storylines for games he’d like to design. He knows all their specifics, how he’d build them, what their purpose would be in the game. I didn’t teach him that.

She draws beautifully. She copies letters from other pieces on paper onto her own paper. She’s making letters out of puffs and potato waffles bitten to size, arranging them, asking what they spell. I didn’t teach her that.

He’s suddenly ready to trace, and when he asks to make a card for his grandparents, he writes ‘nice’ across the front as if it is no big deal, as if it isn’t the first time he’s traced letters so perfectly. I didn’t teach him that.

I answer a lot of questions, but they decide what to ask. I might help them look up youtube videos on how fog is created, how to modify computer programmes…but they are the ones soaking it in, clicking related videos, and days later astounding me by some of the leaps they’ve made.

They are educated when they are ready, when they are interested. They are learning all the time.

Sometimes they need me, sometimes they don’t. I may think of ideas or materials and have them ready and available, but everything we do is fueled by their questions, their imaginings, their ideas of what is possible. They haven’t learned that learning itself is a duty, a bore, a struggle. They are just living, just playing, just doing what interests them and….well, they become more immersed in their ideas, more robust in their critical thinking, more excited about the wonders of life every day.

I don’t say any of this to the stranger at soft play who is so curious about a family that doesn’t have their children in school. I smile warmly and say, ‘Well, yes, a bit. But they also learn from other people we know, from places we go, from things we do.’ She smiles back. I think to myself, they learn from themselves and from each other, too.

As we turn to tend to our individual children, I marvel at the things my children know and all they have yet to experience. But mostly I am inspired by how not knowing something doesn’t make them feel discouraged or confused – it makes them enthusiastic to learn. And their education has one prime, basic truth about it: they may not know everything, but they are learning how to find out.

 

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Play is the most basic human way to learn, to be, to experience joy.

We met some families at a local place this afternoon. One of the benefits of being a home educator is having great museums, local attractions, etc all be crowd free during school hours, so my heart sank a bit when a school group of thirty kids walked into the reception area. Our plan was to head to the soft play first, and I imagined all the ‘big kids’ totally dominating the space.

When we showed our membership card, I hesitantly inquired to see if the staff member knew the school group’s schedule, so we could avoid the play area when they were there. She brightly said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. They are here to do only educational things, so they won’t be doing any playing.’

Things we (meaning any of the three adults and seven children in our little group) learned today while just playing:

the definition of friction
What happens on a slide of you are barefoot or in socks? Is it easier to go up or down with bare or socked feet?

bravery
A boy in our group desperately wanted to attempt the death slide, but found it too scary. With us cheering him on and his mum offering some physical help, he did it. It took a lot of false starts, a lot of courage, and some clever adaptations and he succeeded like a champ.

trust and friendship between ages
M also wanted to go on the above slide, and did so with the help of his grown up friend. She held her toddler on her lap, and M’s hand, and both boys had HUGE smiles on. M went down the slide three times with her, happy to take the steep leap of faith and joy while trusting another human to be there with him.

what an allergic reaction looks like
I was asked this in regards to M, as someone was eating something with sesame in and wondered what would happen to M if he had any. We talked about hives, swelling, airway constriction, and what would happen if any of this stuff occurred.

joy
Death slides with friends, chasing each other, racing down not so scary slides.

cooperation
The kids needed to work out how to share two tractors that had no power source. This proved no problem, and they took turns riding and pushing each other.

imagination
Balls from the ball pit were diamonds. Various colours were worth more or less, the ballpit alternated between a cave and a deep diving pool, people pretended to be miners or animals guarding the diamonds.

physical dexterity
Trying and accomplishing new feats, sometimes on their own, sometimes with advice or encouragement for others.

dealing with hurt feelings
One child was confused and hurt by the actions of others. They had to talk through their hurt, and the others involved needed to understand why they had hurt someone, and how to reassure that person it wouldn’t happen again.

reading
What does that sign say? Does this sign say this?! I knew because of the picture, and there was an R and I know what sound that makes.

maths
How do we divvy up the diamonds fairly? If only two people are allowed on the big slide at once and there are three of us, how can we suck another person in to our game so no one goes alone?

self belief
My ideas are good ones. I will try them out. Others might like them and join in, or they might not. I’m having fun. I can try this new idea and see what happens. I’m awesome. And if I need help, I know I can ask without getting laughed at or ridiculed.

basic tasks
Can I get these waterproof trousers off alone? If I cry will someone help me? Is it possible to actually do this thing? (Yes!)

freedom
I can choose to play alone, with one other child, with lots of my friends, with the grown ups. This can vary throughout the day, depending on my mood. I can choose what I want to do and who I want to do it with.

friendship
My friends are all different ages. They all have unique quirks, and my relationship with each of them is different. Some are grown ups, and I get frustrated when they want to talk to each other (!), but this is part of learning to respect other people’s friendships, as well.

generosity
I worked on colouring this picture for a half hour, and I made it for you. (I, Alison, was given an amazing picture by a child, and it will be going up in our kitchen! Our whole house is full of blue tacked pictures and projects stuck to the wall and hanging from the ceiling, and each one is valued. They are even more special when given in friendship!)

…..

I could go on and on. Literally probably for the next hour. Playing, and the use of imagination and conversation, encompasses so many things without even trying. And it stitches them all together so effortlessly and with such joy. It is impossible to be engaged in play without learning, often on a very deep level.

Play is a miracle.