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.

Adventure day. 

We’ve been so busy lately. Busy with all sort of ‘enriching’ things. Classes, time with friends, busy busy busy. Even though during the summer most groups and classes are off, we have been alternating our normal ‘busy’ with total crushing downtime.

Last night I thought it was time to get back to what life has always looked like for us – at least before the busy bug struck.

Time to explore new places, with no constraints to rush back to anything else. A day with just the three of us (though Suzy was missed); no friends to consider when we decided what to do.

Last night I had a little google, looking at English Heritage, the National Trust, the CADW, and plain old ordinary maps. That’s how I discovered we don’t live that far from a big ass chalk horse carved into a hill in Wiltshire. I decided that could be a loose destination, a way for us to be pointed in.

This morning I told the kids it was Adventure Day. As we drove, if we saw anything cool we’d stop. We did – at a garden centre cum pet supply shop, with a cafe charmingly named after the camp where Suzy and I met. We marveled at cactus displays, venus fly traps, compasses and swiss army style cutlery. Then we got back in the car.

Oh, white horse on the hill, how I love you. We drove up a very narrow, winding road to the top of a hill. The whole carpark was chalk; it was so white. We pulled out a blanket and had a picnic on the flat grass expanse, looking at books, chatting, laying back in the sun.

Eventually we headed off to see what we could see of an Iron Age fort and a white horse.

There were grasshoppers singing, blue skies, a gentle breeze rippling the long grasses. We had pastels and oil crayons, scavenger hunt books and a kite, and all the time in the world.  With nowhere to be, we found we were in exactly the right place for exactly the right amount of time.

We stood on the hill and searched for the other two white horses visible from the peaks. We walked ages along a chalky path (which made me feel sick at points, so high and steep were we!). We saw a train pottering along in the distance and wondered if the people onboard would notice the horse.

And I felt happy. Happier than I’ve felt in ages. It was just me and the kids, just me and this wild, gorgeous place, just me and all the time in the world. Never have I felt so enriched.

As we move towards September, we are rethinking how our days and weeks will be ordered. We are leaving some things behind, trying one or two new things, but largely – we will hopefully be exploring, be adventuring without having a specific day set for that purpose, wandering and thinking and making art.

We’ll invite friends along, and gladly go along with others, but I think we’ll try to have more time just us. More time drinking in the beauty of wild spaces, time lazy and ripe. Because, really, what could be better?

Perfect.

I posted this picture online, and I wanted to write the word ‘perfect,’ but I held back. I have so many problems with that word. Is it something we should aim for? Is it realistic? What does it look like, how does it feel, will I make others feel awful even as I feel suspended in the aftermath of a good day?

But you know what? There are perfect moments. And my children are lucky, perhaps, to not realise how perfect their childhood is.

Today we went to a friend’s house, and another family met us there. Three families, seven children, a few big fields and some time around a kitchen table. If that isn’t perfect, I don’t know what is.

My children have the freedom I felt every day after school and on the weekends, except I was mostly alone or with my sister. My children are mostly with other lucky children. And on this day, they strode through purple grasses taller than they were. They befriended caterpillars (and mourned unintentional caterpillar deaths), they climbed trees, they threw grass seeds at each other.

Of course there were small moments of drama, but there were these larger moments. Like the one in the picture. There they are, these small children in the picture, free and exploring and happy.

Perfect.

Reevaluating, cherishing. 

It’s easy enough to judge each other, but lately I’ve been feeling the need to take a closer look at myself. I started this parenting journey before I got pregnant, as we went to many fertility appointments, as I lay back on a table with two embryos freshly returned to my womb, as my belly grew tight and stretched over many months.

I started with a set of ideals. Some have slipped away, some haven’t. Some I don’t mind losing.

Sure, I wanted a life of only wooden toys, of minimalism. Can I live with, and even thrive, in our world of chaos, clutter, and toys of every conceivable variety? Sure. Gladly. Other things I thought were so instinctual, but they slipped away almost without me noticing. And for those things, those important things, I’m having conversations with friends, reading books, journalling (a lot!), and thinking.

It’s good to reevaluate.

Children are resilient, thank god. I find they are more resilient  than my own sense of well being, of guilt relating to choices I make (or don’t), of my ability to forgive myself and live in the moment. I’ve lost patience and peacefulness a lot – still nothing drastic, but much more than I wanted to, or expected to.

I remember when I was pregnant. I envisioned being huge and happy, frolicking through fields. The reality is that I was huge and happy – once the endless vomiting stopped and I became hydrated enough to remember I had a bladder. And for frolicking? I frolicking in a mofo wheeelchair, unable to walk, unable to stand while holding a baby…or two. Pregnancy was not what I expected, and that was difficult. But that being said, I couldn’t change pregnancy. It was what it was.

Parenting, now, that I have some control over.

In the last year we’ve met a group of people who have reminded me what I wanted to be, what I was. Standing around a campfire, I’ve had the honour of making friends with people who are who I want to be. More thoughtful, more deliberate, more considerate.

So many times I’ve found myself embarrassed, imagining that I am being judged for the tiny moments my children act like normal children. I’ve worried more about what people think than what my children feel – not always, but enough.

When the reality is that I’m so, so proud of my children for being exactly who they are. I cherish them.

And so, I enter a new season of remembering that my children are individuals, are kind, are funny. That they have freedom and choices, and it’s my job to respect that. All the things that came naturally to me when they were younger have silently begun to erode, and that doesn’t feel right.

Recently we walked on and among endless sand dunes. Some parts were sand, but they were largely supported and enriched by the stout, small grasses and plants that held the sand in place. We wandered in the sun and rain, not entirely sure which path to take but knowing the general direction we wanted to head in. We stopped when we needed, to eat or rest or examine flowers.

As I walk forward in this life, as myself and as a tremendously lucky mother of two amazing children, I gather stout grasses around me. People I trust, a well worn and loved notebook, the ideas and practices of those who have come before me. I have flowers and dandelion clocks and some well worn paths leading surprising places. I may not always know which is the right path to take in any given moment, but I remember the general direction I want to head.

 

Eight hours. 


Earlier this week we spent eight hours in the woods. I’m not entirely sure what the kids got up to – I didn’t see them most of the time. 

We try to spend one day a week at Forest School. We come early, we stay late. Way late. 

The kids climb trees, make dens, chase zombie farmers, play at the mud kitchen, get stung by nettles, cook over the fire, fight (and make up) with friends, swing on a tyre. 

What do I do? A lot of laughing by the campfire. 

Because at Forest School, kids are friends with kids who are friends with adults who are friends with adults who are friends with kids. We’re all on a first name basis. 

There’s some babies, some toddlers, quite a few kids roundabout M and S’s age, and some older kids too. And mums, dads, aunts, grandparents, dogs. 

The whole place is an autonomous romp through the woods and the afternoons- everyone chooses what to do, what delights them. 


It’s a chance for kids to be totally reliant on imagination and nature. 

They get to take risks – starting fires, using knives, drilling holes in logs. They get to do big stuff – giant net forts, huge screaming games of running wild through the trees and fields, collaborative projects like the ‘summer house’ that’s been being created over the last month or so. 

But more than that, it’s full of tiny magic moments. Those are the ones I think are the most important. 

Two kids side by side on a swing, chatting. Someone playing alone with a bowl of water and some sticks. Sitting surrounded by friends while we eat lunch on the ground. 

This week we spent eight hours breathing deeply in the fresh air. Eight hours laughing. Eight hours with campfire smoke and drama and sunlight. 

It’s days like that I feel so grateful and connected and at peace. These moments are not tiny pieces of their childhood, it’s what most of their childhood is like. 

As a friend said after this week, how lucky the children are. 

Really, how lucky we all are. 

Growing tall and bright. 

I read this crazy article the other day. It can be summed up like this:

The school system is awful and needs a complete overhaul. Home education can be awesome.  Yet it is more important to go to school so people can learn to fit in among the mediocre. Many people flourish best when in someone else’s shadow.

Um, what?? 

I flourish in sunshine, with space to grow, with fresh air and fresh ideas. 

My goal is certainly not to have children who live in the shadows, functioning adequately. Being moderately happy. 

My kids are my kids. They’ll be whoever they are. 

Yet, how glorious if we all grew tall, faces toward the sun, and when we reached those heights we held out a hand and helped others into the sun, too. 

  

Awesome places to visit, galore!

We have recently been doing a lot of little road trips and travelling. Here’s just a few of the places we’ve been in the last few weeks – we definitely recommend visits!

Sand Bay, near Weston Super Mare

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This is one of our go to haunts. It’s got a bit of woodland, a bit of rocks, and a whole lot of beach. There are mini sand dunes to explore, a nice firm sandy beach, and rarely other people. There’s even a little pub opposite the beach.

We have actually been here twice in the last week or so. We stayed well past sunset to see the elusive tide come in, and every second was worth it. 

Stourhead National Trust property 

  

This place is overflowing with magic. Yes, actual magic. The trees are what really do it for me – so many different kinds, all growing a little bit crooked, all old abs magnificent. You can climb them, slide down them, do bark rubbings, or just take endless pictures. 

It’s also got little pagan temples scattered around, watery grottos, amazing flowers,  a big lake, and an excellent pub courtyard to get ice cream at. 

Caerphilly Castle, Wales

 
  

A truly fab castle to visit. It’s got a giant dragon statue (complete with smoking nostrils!) emerging from the ground, an oddly challenging children’s trail to follow, an unexpected statue man holding up a turret, and a film you should not let younger children – or sensitive ones – get within a mile of. There are also tonnes of Canadian geese outside in the large and free park. 

Of course all castles in Wales are free for home educators – I’ll have to write a post explaining how to access that!

St. Fagan’s, Wales

  

This is officially called the National Welsh Living History museum. Or something like that. 

It’s a bunch of very old buildings – thatch roofed cottages, a gazillion year old church, stables, etc set in a gorgeous, huge outdoors space. (Free to enter for all, barring carpark charges.) You can easily spend all day wandering and playing – and still not see everything. 

We particularly like the village green, bordered by ye olde shoppes and businesses. 

Kenilworth Castle

Near Birmingham and Coventry. And other places. 

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Flipping fantastic!!! We had a mini trip to Birmingham for a few days, and hit up this castle on the way home. Largely ruins, but with an excellent, kid friendly visitor centre museum place. Lots to see and explore – our kids were absolutely wowed by a massive hill at the rear of the castle. This is the steepest, highest hill. Pictures cannot do it justice.

They climbed and rolled and played for literal hours on the thing while Suzy and I sat at the top and watched as the sun set. Pretty near bliss, I’ll tell you. 

 

We have been a few others places and done a lot of other stuff, but that’s all best left for future posts, perhaps. 

Hopefully this post has given you some ideas of places that are great days out….and please, if you guys ever go anywhere fabulous, leave a comment! I’m in the mood for new places. 

Tick!!

  
Every year I make a list of 100 things I’d like to do that year. Big, small, silly, dead serious. 

Every year for the last three years I’ve had ‘go on a mini break adventure alone with the kids’ and never managed to get around to doing it. 

While this may not quite count as ‘alone’, it does to me as Suzy wasn’t there and she’s definitely the more adult/responsible one. 

So that’s a big tick off 2016’s list.  We had such a good time I think I can probably backdate my tick to 2014. 

Score! 

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.