The Starting Block.

My kids are writing their own books.  I’m talking full on chapter books, but also talking graphic novels, short sweary books, and the like.  One of them makes detailed animation based movies – he’s done stop motion claymation, strung together filmed segments, is gaining an amazing talent in sculpting and blocking scenes.  One of them is heavily immersed in the world of musical theatre, and they’ve written a script, drawn and labelled costumes, arranged songs. They are filled with joy both behind and in front of the camera, and have started drama school only to have realised there is a real possibility of working professionally doing the thing they love to do playfully.

Earlier this week, they had two friends over. One was specially coming over to work on a collaborative project with S – they’d had an idea for a novel, so of course they arranged a time to get together and work on it. M and the other child also joined in.

I stood in the kitchen, watching.  They were laughing, throwing ideas out, occasionally pausing to use spell check.  Their thoughts were thick and fast, their words were natural.

Did I feel proud? Yeah. But did I feel jealous? HELL YES.

I’m so pleased to give my children the opportunity to work on their creative ideas. I’m so relieved and grateful that this is a way of life for them.  There’s no crippling self doubt, no feeling they don’t deserve to pursue creative dreams, no thinking that they won’t succeed.  Their success, right now and from my point of view, is that they are simply doing it.  They are making.  They are creating, drawing, writing, singing, acting, exploring.

It’s no exaggeration to say I have a strong preference for the creative arts, that I wish I had realised at a much younger age it was a possibility for me.  That I’d been supported in that.  So something in my heart lightens and glows to see my children creating.  Something in my mind is deeply pleased when I read longitudinal studies stating that children who have been unschooled since the start are extremely likely to go into creative fields – artists, writers, actors, STEM fields.  In fact, four out of five kids grow up to work in those fields.

If M or S want to be that one in five who grows up to be an accountant, or a retail manager, or something not in the creative field – well.  All I really want is for them to be happy.  I want them to get joy from the life they create, I want them to do things to help make the world a better place, I want them to learn and grow and find peace.

I guess that’s still all I want for myself.  My kids just have a head start.

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Five years.

In September 2013, I watched my children play and climb a fountain on what would have been their first day of school.

Today, as they near the end of their fifth year officially being home educated, I sat in the same spot and watched the same thing.

What an excellent five years it’s been, and what a joy and privilege it is to watch my children ripen.

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!

Never say no to an adventure! 

About a week ago, a friend said, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Spain with us?’ A couple of days after that we were on a plane with her and her adorable kids. 

Today’s our last day here. After a few days of sun and heat, it’s cooler and windy. Obviously we feel at home on cold beaches. Ha. 

  
  
I was worried if I’d cope on my own with the kids. All the bedtimes, all the nighttimes, all the picky eating that new countries and food allergies bring. But you know what?

It’s been a joy. A time out from normal life which has reminded me a bit more of what I’d like normal life to be like, what it once was before all the classes and clubs and meet ups. 

A little bit slower, a little bit more joy and instinct led, a little more flexible. 

Of course, excellent company helps. So does Spanish sunshine and water with lemons picked fresh off a tree. 

  

Perhaps the biggest lesson (and reward) in these past few days comes from the reminder of how good it feels to say a resounding YES whenever you can. 

  

  

At her own pace.

When S was a baby, she spent most of her time upside down. I think even before she was rolling – or if she was rolling, it was only to flip herself onto her back. She got around by arching her back. The only things touching the floor were the top of her head and the bottoms of her feet. She’d do this mega arch and push herself around like an upside down caterpillar.

I can’t find pics of her doing it, though I’ve got a killer video of her moving across the whole lounge, but here’s a similarly themed pic from the same era:

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Around the time of her first birthday, before she was walking, she taught herself to do a neat little flip. I accidentally called it a forward roll the other day, and she haughtily gave me a demo of a flip versus a forward roll. We knew this was a kid who would probably adore gymnastics.

I think she’d just turned three when we took her to a local(ish) gym. It. Was. Amazing. It has everything from toddler classes to training elite athletes who compete (and win) international elite competitions. One of the young people there at the moment will probably be in the next Olympics. I say all this to contrast it with my childhood experiences of gym – namely a dusty mat spread on the floor of a school hall. S and M’s gym has all the actual apparatus. They are training on the same stuff the elite adult athletes use.

It is like the world’s biggest, most best, most dangerous soft play.

After about a year in the toddler classes (and a broken arm suffered at the hands of a giant hanging rope), I mentioned the ‘big kid classes.’ Namely, the after school classes adults are not allowed to accompany children to. She went CRAZY. Insisted she would not do it.

I was confused, as this was a child who happily jumped into an eight foot pit onto a mattress without blinking. She loved the full height balance beam.

Silly me. It wasn’t about her actual athletic ability; it was about her feeling secure and confident. And those are the most important things, despite my crazy urges to push her into the older classes. I held myself back and she did another year in the toddler and parent classes. Late last autumn, she started the big kid classes. It was when she wanted to do it, and M signed up with her. A couple of months later, their best friend also joined in.

It’s been interesting. While adults aren’t allowed in the gym any longer, we are allowed to cram into a small room with smaller windows that overlooks the gym. Every week my friend and I watch S. She GRABS M and their friend and does not let go. During warm ups, if she finds herself slightly moved from their side during stretches, she quickly scootches back. When they sit on the side and get put into smaller groups, she clutches their hands and none of them volunteer, so they can all be together in the last group.

A couple of months ago M asked to do a second class of martial arts. I asked S if she wanted to, and she said she wanted a second gym class. It was established that she’d be doing it without her brother or friend, and was she really sure? She shrugged and said, ‘Yep.’

Yesterday was the first class with her flying solo. I think I was more nervous than she was. Because more than her continuing to develop her gymnastics, this class had her confidence in the palm of its hands. If she went up, I knew she’d be fine. If she didn’t, I thought it would put her off any future solo things. She said she was scared, she didn’t want to do it. But when the coach came down and announced it was time to go up, she ran and joined the group without looking back.

And she volunteered (and was selected!) to be the group leader of the first group.

She chatted a lot with the boy in her group, and afterward pragmatically said that while she’d made a friend, they might be in different groups next week. She was really proud and happy.

So was I.

What would have happened if I’d pushed her when she wasn’t ready? Made her leave her safety and forced her to do a class she would probably grow to fear and dislike?

I don’t know. But now she’s learned she can do this. She’s had the opportunity to choose when she was ready, and have this huge accomplishment of training with thirty nine strangers. And being so confident and strong she was the leader.

All those things aside, I think I’ve learned a lot more than she has. This morning over breakfast when she announced she was going to be a gymnastic Olympian, I didn’t start planning how to make that happen. I smiled at her, we kept eating, and it was simple. We are who we are, we are who and what we choose to be and do, and this upside down baby of my heart can do anything she pleases. I just want her to be happy.

Brown bear, brown bear……why are you here?!

My kids really like their martial arts class, particularly S. Up till now it’s been a standard thirty minute class each week, with the slightly annoying sticker reward at the end. I know, I know, I’m such a sticker hating hippy. But seriously. At four, five, and six, why can’t the joy of the sport be enough? Little kids shouldn’t need to be bribed. But if there is a week when the stickers are forgotten, every bloody kid is upset. And why? Do they actually cognitively link the sticker to anything? Every kid gets one, so they are not merit based.

My kids like the stickers, so I’ve squashed my anti sticker sentiment. I don’t want to make them give up something they enjoy. And as we used to say when I was back in the therapy world, everything is ‘grist for the mill.’ We can have lots of discussions about these things. Fine.

But then talk of the reward charts entered the scene. Myself and a couple of other parents weren’t pleased, and that included parents of schooled kids. These reward charts are to get them to do things at home that the parent might normally have trouble getting them to do. Oh, there is so much wrong with that last sentence I don’t know where to start! We don’t have continual problem behaviours. Nor do we have to (often) coerce the kids to do things. We have a lot of freedom and choice, and both kids have taken on growing responsibility for stuff – their own personal care and toys, as well as helping pitch in around the house. There are no obligations, no punishments if someone doesn’t want to help – because they only help if they offer to. I know some of you may think we are crazy. That’s okay. Maybe we are. But it is working for us.

I just don’t get why martial arts should be rewarding kids for doing nightly reading, brushing their teeth, etc. I wonder if it is because it is trying to instill some mystical martial art thought processes or something? But surely martial arts are an inbuilt meritocracy – you earn belt/badges and progress to different levels depending on how much you train. Fair enough. That’s the nature of it.

Then why The Bear?

The Bear is a giant bear neither of my kids has cared too much about. He’s a relatively new thing, only making an appearance twice so far. The ‘best’ kid gets to borrow him for the week after class. I’ve been very lucky in that neither of my children has had a breakdown over not getting The Bear, though other poor souls have.

Until today. S worked her arse off. There was lots of (brilliant, really brilliant stuff) about heart rates, being healthy, etc – and she participated more than anyone. Did she win the effing bear? Nope.

She hung her head and asked me, ‘Why didn’t I win the bear? I tried so hard.’ In my head I was thinking, I don’t know, dude, but you totally should have. Ha.

She is the sort of person who does try very hard. She wants to be perfect. That worries me, but that’s a post for another day. Bottom line, though, my daughter cares a lot about stuff like this. And while The Bear is supposed to build children up, for kids like S, I think it only has the potential to do more harm.

So as we walked to the car I told them the truth – a little something I picked up from other mothers who also had bears in their children’s activities (wtf is up with these bears?). I told the kids that The Bear would likely just be rotated, that everyone would get a turn. I’d rather break the mystique of The Bear than have it break my kid’s spirit.

She loves martial arts. The exercises, the kicking, the punching. Her face glows while we are there.

And I wish that could be enough. Her joy, her getting to try new things, her working hard to progress.

Perhaps this is an inevitable problem – as we are now the only home educating family in a class of children who are daily offered rewards (that may not logically link to anything! I’m a rant girl!), use behaviour charts, are daily forced to do things they do not want to do. It makes me happy that we are not living that way – not that I judge people who are. Each to their own.

A few months back I took the reward chart issue to an online group filled with experienced, wise unschoolers. I read and deeply considered everything that was discussed, and it has helped us move forward. My kids can choose whether to do the charts. I won’t be signing my name in the squares – they can put happy faces in themselves. But The Bear?

You don’t need him, S. You are strong and smart and you may feel you are not sure, but I am. I can hold the sureness for you until you are ready to rise up, magnificent, and claim it for your own.

follow up post

The way things change.

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Today was magic. Mayhem at pottery class, all day at the park (including a three hour grass fight with friends old and new!), Tang Soo Do in the evening. The sort of day where you have a million moments of laughter and are too happy to actually notice how much you are enjoying yourself. But you can tell.

It’s in the skin dyed green by endless grass rolling. The way we all look a bit disheveled, and in fact that one of us was nude when we arrived at marital arts, and had to quickly don the uniform in the car park. The endless bags I’m lugging back into the house – freshly painted and fired pottery pieces, carrier bags full of cheese toasty plates and banana peels.

Today S went up to another girl we’ve seen around a bit. She got it in her head that this girl ought to join the grass fight. She went up again and again, introducing herself and her friends. Extending an offer to play. She wasn’t too upset when the girl didn’t respond….and she was overjoyed when she eventually ran over, handing S handful after handful of fresh, soggy grass. S also noticed another girl hanging around the edge, hope in her eyes and grass in her hands.

How things change. This is the child that has said on multiple occasions that she doesn’t need any more friends. She has enough! The girl too unsure to reach out. Today she did. She pulled two kids into a large game, and everyone was happy and running and laughing. And I saw my glowing child, and I noticed her noticing what it was like to help make other people feel included.

Yesterday we had swimming lessons. S swam unassisted for the first time, not quite believing she was doing it. M said on the car ride there, ‘I can swim with my face in the water. Today I will try to do it with my whole body under water.’ And he did.

How things change. This is the boy who three weeks ago could not swim. Now he’s diving underwater and swimming lengths and willingly practicing, joy streaming off his body like the water droplets he leaves in his wake. This is the child that effortlessly charms people, and it’s a good thing he does, because he doesn’t like instructions, constrictions, repetitive things. He likes to soar. And there in the water, he’s found a place he can fly, he can be free, he can accomplish exactly how much he wants to accomplish. I see his joy at doing this powerful thing on his own, how his confidence grows even wider and deeper, and how he will willingly do this thing over and over, because he’s the boss of this very wet success.

Last week both kids had their first grading at martial arts. S passed her purple belt easily, as we thought she would. She loves Tang Soo Do and takes it seriously, her face shining the whole time we are there. M also earned his purple belt; how proud they are of these tiny little badges to sew on their uniform. And the focus badge they earned, despite M yelling out in the middle of the grading at watching friends, ‘We gonna get a badge! A focus badge!’

How things don’t change. M’s friendly exuberance. S’s perfectionist leanings.

But how things do. They grow up, out, sideways, upside down. They are trying new things, spending whole days splashing in water, throwing grass and making beautiful large clay bowls shaped like leaves.

How my life has changed, changed from what it could have been.

And all I feel is happy. And lucky, so lucky. We have this much freedom, this much joy, all these people to laugh with. We have grass to throw, and miles to swim, and stuff to kick.

This, my friends, this is the life.