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.

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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!

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.

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. 

  

From sea to shining sea.

Last September, my children were ‘due’ to start full time school, mere days after turning four years old. Instead of going to school, we went to Italy.

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We ate a lot of gelato, learned a bit of Italian, and explored the always wonderful Boboli Gardens. I’d been there years before, alone with Suzy, and it was a curious experience going back with our children. So much the same – things unchanged that had been so for hundreds of years, but interacting with them in new ways.

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We wandered small alleyways, rode tall busses, ate even more gelato. We stayed in a big old amazing, secret wonder of a place with twisting hallways and low ceilings. It was lovely.

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That first week of official school time was spent immersed in another country, melodic words flowing around us, chatting to people and touching old statues.

We are now approaching what would have have been their last week of the school year. We’ll be spending that time in America. We’re here now, awake since 3 am, in that curious black space of nighttime jetlag. Lightening strobes the sky, thunder has been rumbling for six hours. I don’t know what this trip will bring, but I know it will add to our lives more than any other thing we could have been doing with this time.

What an amazing blessing. Starting this ‘school’ year in Italy, exploring England and Wales throughout the months between then and now, and ending things here, sitting at my mother’s kitchen table.

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When past and present collide.

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Even when we go back to places we’ve been many times before, it always feels new.

Last October we were here, barefoot with woollen hats on our heads, feet buried in mud. Today we were here and, yes, played in a stream, but we also went out into the river. People were puppies, people were putting on performances, people were getting splashed by exuberant dogs.

I look at my children and think about the wonder of their childhood. It’s all the best parts of my childhood…except, and this is the important bit, it’s just best bits. Not only what I consider the best, but what each child chooses to be the best. With no time constraints or pressures to achieve certain targets by certain dates, we are free to be flexible and explore.

Explore ourselves, explore friendships, explore our passions. These things might happen under a bridge, naked, in the woods. Or they might happen snuggled on a beanbag watching a bit of Stampy.

I don’t want to live vicariously through my children. I want them to have their own lives, discover and pursue their own joys. But while they are still little (though they’d not agree they were little!), I’m lucky enough to journey with them much of the time.

And happy when their laughter and games remind me of my own childhood. So much of it was spent wading up streams, or alone deep in the woods, or creating crazily dangerous games with my sister. These are the golden joys of my past, and I’m so lucky my memories are prompted by watching my children jump and splash in the present.

Living every day as the hero/ine of your own story.

I like stories. I like telling them to friends, I like writing them down for strangers. For a long time, I was paid to listen to people tell their stories. It was an honour to sit with them, to just be with them, as they figured out what it meant to be who they are.

Telling your story, finding the tiny nugget of truth (or sometimes the huge, hulking beast that won’t go away), can be one of the hardest things. As a counsellor, I was awed time and time again by the courage people showed in unearthing their truths, and then speaking them aloud.

Therapy is, at a very basic level yet profound level, trying to experience what it is to truly be yourself, to share yourself, and to be cared about anyway.

Learning to be yourself is a common theme in many of our lives. People are always going on about ‘discovering themselves,’ or ‘waiting for life to start.’

We spent this morning among friends, in a pottery class. Hands wet and slippery with clay, smoothing and poking and sculpting. Afterward we wandered across the street to the park. It almost looked like we were surrounded by a light fog, but it was a constant mist drifting down.

My kids were barefoot almost instantly.

They ran with their friends. Climbed up to the top of things – once M getting stuck and yelling for help, pretending to be cats and lions and vets, scrambling under holes in the fence, all muddy knees and elbows and feet. The highlight had to be when they and their friends (and me and some of mine, it must be added) crammed under an outdoor pingpong table to shelter from the weather/play houses/etc.

Ten or so children laughing and roaring and clapping hands over their ears screaming about how noisy it was. Like little puppies, nudging each other out of the way, leaning on each other, exchanging stories and ideas and animal noises fast and thick.

None of these children are waiting until they grow up to be who they are. They have every day to choose what they want to do, how they want to do it, whether they will be a cat or a person or a gazelle. Some days they are an artist, others an actor, others just tired and cozy lying under a pile of blankets and watching tv.

I think M and S are awfully lucky. I also think I am, too.

I miss being a counsellor, I miss the stories my clients told but mostly I miss their faces, their eyes, their way of being. Counselling – both as a client and as the counsellor – taught me so much about who I am, how I relate with other people, how tricky it can be to just accept your own pile of crap and be okay with it.

It’s all about the here and now – learning what it feels like to not live exclusively in the past or the future, but to see what it feels like being yourself RIGHT NOW.

My kids get to do that every day, and my realisation of that as we walked back to the car today, soggier and happier than we were when we arrived, felt pretty profound.

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