Gazing outward.

I’ve always loved labyrinths, ever since I was little.

It was only as I grew older that I learned more about them, that I was able to ascribe deeper meaning to my own truth.  I remember a number of years ago reading that they can be symbolic of a journey inward, for deeper understanding of self, before using that knowledge to then return outward again.  I have the feeling I’ve written before about how I think this relates to motherhood.

It does.  Generic parenting, home educating, all of it.  When a baby is born, everything turns inward.  Your only focus is keeping this little being alive.  Changing shitty nappies, feeding, feeding, always feeding, cuddling and marvelling and sleeping.  That’s it.

When that baby is a toddler, it becomes so much more intense – or it did for me.  Two babies running in opposite directions, one falling on a plant pot and the other eating cat poop.  There was a lot of frantic blood wiping, comforting, but also a lot of getting out paints only to clean up and put them away ten minutes later.

And so it carried on.  But now, my babies are somehow nine years old.  And only now do I really feel the possibility of coming away from the centre of that labyrinth.  This blog doesn’t need to detail my children – while they don’t mind being online presences, I am starting to mind on their behalf.  But you know, I’m learning that so much of unschooling and parenting is actually about the parent, not the child. We are a part of the equation.

We have all the worries and wobbles.  In what specific and glorious ways am I messing my children up?  Should we be doing more math and less mess?  What life do I see for my children, am I doing enough to help that become reality? We have the anger, the assumptions, the awful second guessing and doubt.

But also, just lately, just now, I have something other than all those things.  Oh, they are still there, but my capacity to hold them seems to have widened and I’m left with the most precious gift of all: space.

I’ve done something right, I’ve made some good choices along the way.  My children know what to pack for each day and just get ready for that adventure without prompting or needing me to double check (though I still do). The house is a hideous mess of Lego and playmobil and endless things I don’t understand – bits of wire, rocks shoved under the couch, papers full of drawings and plans and sharks about to eat unsuspecting surfers.  But when I can’t take it, when I ask, they’ll tidy.

I’ve been brave and made friends.  A really good circle of friends who are also trying to create space or forgetting that they ever had space or are pretending they don’t need that space.  We’re in the same boat, even if we educate differently, even if we parent differently, even if we are just so exhausted it’s hard to see where we overlap or miss the boat entirely.

I’ve made a lot of bad decisions, too, but the good ones, the ones that are buying me this bit of safe space, means that I’m no longer in the middle of that labyrinth, stupidly hopeful but drowning in despair. I’m actually, sort of, kind of, thinking it’s time to start facing outward again.  Maybe taking a step or two in that direction.

There’s a lot I want for my children.  But you know what?  There’s a lot I want for myself, too. And that’s okay, even if it’s hard to imagine just what ‘myself’ might look like these days.

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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.

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!

All the time in the world. 


Should we make shields, should we make flags? Where are the bamboo sticks? I found the sticky tape!

Let’s play a card game. Let’s have a battle. Let’s swing from the chin up bar, hold the baby, spend an hour or two out in the drizzle. Ew, I found a dead earwig!

Where are the pencils, can I have some toast? Do you like the bread? I made it! Bring your teddy, everyone being the teddies upstairs. 

Let’s have enough popcorn that our stomachs explode. I’m doing Lego, let’s do that imagination game. Can I see the baby’s fingernails?

What’s this thing (abacus)? Look, I’ve made a pattern. Watch me, I’m pretending to fall to make you laugh. Hey, I read this sign hanging by your bed, why is it there?

Five and a half hours. They did stuff outside with paintbrushes, while we talked about the lies our siblings told us and the lies we told them. (I told my sister squirrels lived inside green beans when we were kids.) 

Five and a half hours of noisy shrieking, with interludes of peaceful quiet and absorption. Playing, creating, filling entire plates with mounds of popcorn. 

Not bad. Not bad at all. 

The cool kids. 

We all knew those cool kids. Perfect hair, always in the right clothes, walking down the hallway like they owned the place. It was a relief to say goodbye to them. 

And a joy to usher in the new wave of cool kids. 

Clothes they picked themselves, wandering a museum (often independently), little treasures traded and freely given. 

These are the kids who roam these halls, who walk freely in the city in the middle of the day, who can talk about whatever they want with whoever they want. 

These kids, these deeply cool kids, don’t have to do anything more than be themselves. They are celebrated for that, and they accept each other. They’ve achieved the sort of self confidence, empathy, and freedom   (most of the time, anyway) that many of us don’t know about till at least our mid thirties. 

These kids don’t know how cool they are. They don’t fully understand how joyful, exploratory, and full their lives are – at least when compared to being in a school setting all day. They (usually) don’t have a lot of outside pressure put on them, they have the chance to explore internal motivation, they are all in the same place but might be doing different things. 

These kids are sketching. Or looking at mummies. They are playing in the children’s area, marvelling at ores, hiding around corners to jump out and scare each other. 

They do what they do, they are who they are, and really, what could be cooler than that? 

Getting there. 

A little less than a year ago, S picked up a Dr Suess book and…just read it. Yes, she needed a bit of help, but she read all sixty pages of Hop on Pop like a mofo. Was I relieved? That was the understatement of the century.

Sure, all the unschoolers who came before me said to just relax and trust things. But, you know, literacy is a bit more complicated than potty learning. I was relaxed about that, I did no ‘training.’ (Though I had potties everywhere, explained what they were for, and made myself available if needed. Much like books and reading!) At age 2, S decided one day she was through with nappies. Three weeks later, M followed suit. I think each had one accident in the two days following getting rid of nappies, and never again. They were ready.

So I clutched our urine free carpet memories to my chest, I held tight to the words of those with older children and teenagers. I read the blogs of adults that had been unschooled. And I held tight.

What does unschooling look like when you are learning to read? We’ve never done lessons or anything formal. And that, my friend, takes courage.

Did I go nuts and order like four different sets of beginning books? Sure. Did I download Teach Your Monster to Read (WHICH IS AWESOME!)? Of course. But did I ever make the kids do any of those things? No.

S learning to read was a quiet event, right before my birthday bonfire. She read a book; we went outside and made s’mores. I wasn’t too surprised as she’d been writing for ages, had begun to sound out searches for youtube videos, etc. But still. Relief.

She’s read signs and various things over the past year with this sort of prideful glee, but not cared too much about books. But in the last three weeks? She’s bringing books to read in the car. I’m finding her in various corners of the house, reading. She’s showing me books for older children in bookstores and double checking she’s reading the sentences right. BOOM.

So we were 50% there. I relaxed quite a bit – now I had proof I could see and touch, it was easier to believe. But M is very different to S. He doesn’t do a lot of fine motor things, he doesn’t care about writing things down, he rarely draws. We recently read The Neverending Story to the kids and it totally captured his imagination. He’s always liked advanced books; his bedtime book for a good few weeks was a history of WWII book written for adults.

So how was he to ever match his intellectual brightness with the stupidity of most beginning reading schemes? I kind of thought he’d be one of those unschooling kids who doesn’t read until ten, but then is suddenly reading Ulysses in a single gulp.

Then I heard about another set of books recommended by another home edder. And because I hoard books and love getting stuff in the mail, I ordered them. He picked up the first one AND HE JUST READ IT.

What?!

What the actual?!

No stumbling, no hesitation. Then he read the next one.

Today in the car, S offered him one of her books. And he read that puppy, too!

MY GOD I CAN FINALLY EXHALE. Thank you, gods and goddesses of literacy, thank you books illustrated with stick figures sitting on each other while a freaky deaky sun looks on in horror.

It’s easy to retrospectively trust in the process, now that we are there. But getting there? I’m here to say it’s okay to worry, it’s normal to doubt – but my god, is it worth it to hang on. Because it’ll happen. And when it does, it’s truly at the right time for your child. They can do it.

But you know, YOU CAN TOO. Stay strong. *love to you all*

Now I’m off – probably to worry about when they’ll start reading more and more and more…at higher levels…with greater ease…It’s not easy to step of the merry go round of parental worry and guilt, but each little joy and success makes it easier.