Friday, 31 August 2012

Gentle Planning

A much nicer day today (not so flobberly!)  I was woken up by youngest bringing a little lego man into bed with me, who (the lego man) proceeded to shoot me while Youngest warmed up his freezing feet on my legs - yikes!!!  Apparently the lego man was shooting me to show how much he loved me, which seems a strange way of showing it - but actually it made for about fifteen minutes of really nice play-time together, before Middle and Eldest realised we were having fun and came in to bundle on the bed.  I could only take five minutes of being treated as a trampoline, so then we all had to get up, but I did appreciate once more the opportunity to get up gradually and have fun together, rather than having to stress about being up "in time" for anything.

Downstairs, I resisted the temptation to put the laptop on (lately it had become my first port of call for weather forecasts, news headlines and other 'necessary' information, invariably leading to e-mails, Facebook or other similar time-wasting opportunities), and had a nice breakfast with the boys before heading back up to their rooms for some much needed training in tidying-up.  Said tidying-up was a bit of a tortuous process - I kept catching myself putting things away instead of talking the boys through it.  Eldest's room wasn't too bad (it had been the guest room for our recent visitors), so I left him to it and he did a really good job once he got past the distraction of the lego on the floor that was crying out to be played with.  Middle and Youngest eventually did a very good job too, once I sat on my hands to stop myself doing it for them!  There was an awful lot of me counting "3...2...1..." out loud as a way of helping them to focus on picking something up and deciding where it needed to go - but I realised that actually they do know how to tidy: they knew where everything belonged, they just needed help with concentrating on the job at hand.  I don't think they could have done it by themselves yet in the same way as their big brother - if I'd left them to it I think they would instantly have got distracted & started playing... but they did tidy up their whole room with very little exertion from me (other than the frustration of having to keep counting aloud).  So that was a successful time from my perspective.

Once the bedrooms were tidy we all went out for a walk to the park, and they had a lovely time letting off steam in the sunshine.  I got to play with my gorgeous boys and had a bit of one-on-one time with each of them, and they generally had lots of fun in the fresh air, making up imaginative games and getting exercise - happy times :)

This afternoon I had a little chat with the boys about what they wanted to learn this term - it felt weird putting it like that: in retrospect I wouldn't have used the word 'term' as it feels too schoolish and restrictive, but never mind - they weren't too put off by it.  Middle was fastest to respond: he said he wanted to learn cooking and cursive, and when I suggested Maths Whizz he graciously condescended to agree to doing a "little bit" (!)... and some Reading Eggs too... and to learn reading, which surprised me.  When I pointed out that he already knew how to read (in fact he reads very well indeed), he replied "yes, but not big books like you and (Eldest) read... I want to learn to read big books".  While this might sound like it would be music to my ears, I am slightly baffled as to what the difference is in his mind - and what his perceived barrier is (is he discouraged by comparing himself to bookaholics?).   I couldn't press him on the matter too much as I didn't want him to think it's a bigger deal than it is - but hopefully I'll find out any issues he might be having as we go along.  Anyway, I'm hoping that by presenting him with books that will stretch him a bit, he'll be happy with his progress... watch this space!

Not to be left out, Youngest announced that he wanted to do "Reading Eggs and playing with things" - well that really is music to my ears: I think we can easily facilitate that ;)

However, Eldest wasn't as forthcoming as his brothers with things he wanted to learn next... maybe he needs more time to deschool?  Anyway, after a few prompts from me he did express strong enthusiasm for baking, experiments and anything to do with the World Wars - and agreed with less enthusiasm to do some MathsWhizz ("but not too much"!)

It does seem that Maths still holds negative connotations for both the older boys - maybe because it's the only thing we carried on with that looks vaguely school-related... it has made me question again how structured or autonomous I want us to be.  Our first term of deschooling (once I worked out that that was what we needed) was really successful over all, I think.  Through a bit of strewing and giving them the freedom to follow their own inspiration, they had many great experiences, learned LOTS, and most importantly, relaxed - and I'd be totally happy to carry on in the same way, but for this one small concern: is their current reluctance for Maths a result of my inability to lay it totally down last term?  I have to admit that even though we were deschooling, I did gently encourage the boys regarding MathsWhizz (and Reading Eggs for Middle - Youngest needed no persuasion), albeit with only occasional resistence.

I've often heard it said though that most Home Educators start off a lot more structured than they end up, and it's not like my boys have been scarred-for-life through a little required Maths practice; they're just not as keen on it as other things, which is fine.  I figure we'll just carry on as we are and as we grow in confidence maybe I'll lay that security blanket of Maths-curriculum down - or maybe I'll stop fretting about it and grow in confidence that I do know what's best for my children.  Who knows?  I'm not going to let it stress me out though - I'm just going to keep an eye on it as we go along.  It's not like we're making legally-binding plans, I'm just making note of our ideas because it's nice to have a sense of gentle direction.  One of the things I love about HE is that if our plans turn out not to suit us at all, we can change direction in the blink of an eye.  Gently does it :)

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Fresh Starts

It was a bit of a flobberly day today (I think I just made that word up, but never mind - I like it).  I'm feeling dissatisfied now, probably because I got sucked into spending too much time on the computer today (editing the zillions of photos that I've taken over this past month) and not enough time with my boys.  I was keeping an eye on them, but it wasn't exactly quality time!  Time to renew my resolve not to turn the laptop on until after lunchtime - at least then we'll have the mornings to get some jobs done and have some time together with less distractions...

I was chatting to a friend today about the benefits of a change of pace.  The boys and I had a lovely first term of Home Ed, but as regular readers will know, by the end of it I was experiencing a sort of malaise/ exhaustion - and whereas I had seen no need until that point to do anything other than just carrying on the unstructured 'deschooling' through the 'school holidays', I really felt like I hit a wall and needed a break.  Enter a lovely holiday (booked last-minute), visiting friends and a mad camping weekend in the rain.  Those factors combined certainly provided the change of pace we all needed - and now I'm feeling ready to get into a nice steady routine again :)

So I've been thinking about what this next term is going to look like (I know, we don't have to stick to school terms, but this summer's experience has taught me that there is a real benefit to going with seasonal ebbs & flows). I haven't talked to the boys about it yet - partly because I want to pick my timing (time it wrong and it could turn into a 'big deal' discussion about learning, which could put them off), and partly because we've been a bit busy having holidays, visitors, and mad camping weekends ;)  I have a couple of things that I'd like to see: a return to the regular(ish) online curricula of MathsWhizz and Reading Eggs, with a little bit of an emphasis on handwriting too.  And as mentioned in a previous post, I do want to focus on training the boys in sharing jobs around the house as well.  All of this in a very gentle way though - I don't want to impose a heavy regime, I want the boys to be free to follow their own interests - these are just thoughts I've had.  It'll be interesting to see what the boys' thoughts are before we make any decisions... and of course, all decisions will be held very loosely anyway.  It is still of paramount importance that they enjoy their learning experiences!

So basically, I'm glad that flobberly day is over - fresh day tomorrow, and fresh term approaching as soon as we decide we're ready.  What with being refreshed by our holidays, that's all-round freshness! ;)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Can't Beat Experience

What a week!

Any feelings of boredom that were lurking from July are now well-and-truly gone!  I'm exhausted & ready for a nice mundane routine - but it's been totally fab and worth all the chaos!

Our lovely Dutch friend went home today - we're missing her already.  I was glad the boys loved her as much as I do :)  I'm hoping their interest in the Netherlands will continue: we're planning to go out to visit at some point, to Eldest's surprise, who had assumed that we wouldn't be able to go there as everyone speaks a different language - great learning opportunity right there!

We also had another friend stay over who is originally from Jamaica - cue an impromptu geography lesson with globe at the kitchen table, finding UK, Netherlands and Jamaica (and then other countries) - I just love the way experiences can spark interest and prompt learning opportunities, right in the middle of life going on!

Anyway, we took a trip to West Wales with our two friends, dropping them off at a B&B & then finding our campsite: cue MUCH RAIN!  Fortunately it was dry for long enough to get our outer tent over the inner tent - and then the heavens opened!  That first night we had a massive downpour of rain followed by a thunderstorm directly overhead and then heavy hail.  Apparently there was a river of rainwater running through the camp during the night, and when we woke in the morning we discovered more than one tent had been flooded... I' m so grateful our tent held strong!  I'm also really grateful that the boys slept through it all! (I certainly didn't).

The following two days saw us meeting up with a group of friends (including those we travelled over with) to visit some nature reserves: Ynyslas nature reserve, RSPB Ynys Hir and Cors Dyfi.  Thw weather held off and we all had a fabulous time.  The boys were the only children there, but far from that being a handicap, actually they were a bit of a star attraction.  They were totally confident and comfortable relating to the other adults, and behaved really well (apart from the odd over-tired melt-down when we tried to get them into their sleeping bags at night).  Very proud Mummy here :)

beautiful Ynys Hir

So over the last few days and evenings Eldest has accompanied my friends and me on some evening nature experiences (a badger-watch where we saw eleven badgers, a fox, muntjac deer and rabbits, and a guided walk where we were hoping to see barn-owls but sadly didn't see any).  He loved it all :)  A couple of times he was 'shushed' by the others, but he handled it really well.  (That was the main reason for not taking Middle and Youngest: they wouldn't have been able to be still or quiet enough - and would have found the puddles irresistible too).

The younger two joined in the rest of the weekend's walks though - and especially enjoyed trying to catch lizards, as well as spotting slugs, newts, pond-skaters etc, not to forget their impressive acquired collection of sticks, stones and shells (including Youngest's king-of-all-sticks that was alternately a gun, a camera, and a musical instrument)  And then today we all had a fabulous shared experience when we visited the Shuttleworth Birds of Prey collection, where we listened to a talk on Eagles and saw various birds being flown - and then had the opportunity to hold a couple of owls.  The most keen (after Mummy) was Youngest!  He absolutely loved it, holding a tawny owl and then 'flying' a barn owl.  Middle also flew the barn owl (as did I - hooray).  Eldest wasn't in the mood, but I gave him a quick lesson in using my DSLR camera, and he thoroughly enjoyed getting some really nice shots of the rest of us holding the birds.  After a quick stop at the shop where the boys all bought a little owl each, it was home-time (via the airport to drop our friend off).

So today was pretty full-on, with not much chance to "teach", but the boys absorbed so much! Eg after putting them to bed I went to check on them and found two of them in bed wearing a single knitted glove each on their 'flying hand'.  It was so cute when I realised they had been trying to replicate the bird flying experience, hawkers glove and all - using knitted gloves and cuddly toys.  Eldest even whispered to me that he's found some feathers to stick together to make a 'lure' that he could spin around to train his (toy) bird.

So that's my quick catch-up from the last few days - I wanted to write down how grateful I am for the boys' increased confidence around adults they'd not previously met, and for the opportunities that are expanding their minds and their imaginations.  Given the choice between having them stuck in a classroom being force-fed facts or being out in the fresh-air (in all forms of weather) meeting new people and having new experiences - well, I know which form of education appeals the most!  We may be tired but we're all very happy: it's been a great and memorable week :)

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Cleaning Classes (and Cake)

I rain out of time to post yesterday, but we had a lovely day & there was something that I wanted to write down...

This week's been a bit tricky so far because I've been feeling pretty unwell with some kind of summer virus thing, and I knew we had a friend coming to stay (she arrived yesterday) so I wanted to get the house ready for her.  Unfortunately the illness left me feeling to drained to do anything so I spent two days just trying to supervise the boys from the sofa as much as possible (LOTS of Wii-playing and TV-watching - oh well, at least they enjoyed it, and it was only a couple of days).  Yesterday I finally started to feel halfway back to normal but quickly realised I still wasn't up to cleaning the whole house in a single morning, so had to make do with doing the bits the boys couldn't safely do, and then sitting on chairs/ beds and directing the boys.

You know what?  It was actually a bit of a revelation.  A friend and I had already been chatting about how we both felt the need this "term" to be training our boys (she has two boys too) in practical things like cleaning, tidying, general housework.  As I blogged the other day, I just can't carry it all by myself - but it's not just using the boys as free labour; I really want to train them in positive life-skills.  While I was sat on the bed talking Eldest through making his bed I realised that I have been doing everyone a huge disservice by assuming the role of she-who-does-everything.   It is actually ironically lazy of me to wear myself out doing all the work - just because it's EASIER than training the boys.  It's much harder to train others to do what I can do without really thinking about it - it takes an investment of time and patience to impart practical hands-on skills - but it is so worth it!  Somewhere down the line it will save time and stress when the boys are in the habit of tidying up after themselves.  Right now I have to accept it will take an input of more work to teach them - but that's OK, there's purpose to it :)

Anyway, so yesterday morning we between us got the house not perfect as I would have liked, but clean enough to welcome a guest.  In the rest of our time we chatted about the Netherlands (my friend is Dutch) and made an awesome (if I do say so myself) welcome cake in the shape of an owl - recipe here...

So that was my thoughts from yesterday - and hey, I managed to keep it brief! *pats self on back*  We're off out for a walk now, so until the next time...

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Entertainers not Required

I haven't blogged much about the educational side of things lately - and there's a reason for that.  What with having time off from intense analytical thinking, plus a week away camping, plus planning (and cleaning) for visiting friends, plus feeling a bit poorly, I have pretty much left the boys to their own devices this month.  I haven't assessed so closely what they've been doing, haven't suggested any "work" etc - and there is a definite difference between their (non-directed) days at the moment and their days before the 'holidays', when they weren't exactly directed, but I was definitely more involved with asking them if they'd like to do things, reminding them that they could have time on the educational computer games, and generally strewing.  So I guess even though I didn't expect the "summer holidays" (as defined by schools) to feel any different to our usual life during "term-time" - in practice it has actually been different, with a lot more TV-watching and Wii-playing than we were having - and it looks like we'll be getting ready to gear-up in our learning a little (just a little) at about the same time that the schools are starting back.  Maybe I'm still influenced by school-thinking (It's certainly hard to ignore the 'back-to-school' adverts etc), but it's not necessarily a bad thing - we're all still learning all the time.

One of the things I have learned from these differences is that I do see a need for a little guidance in their learning - albeit very gentle guidance.  I like them to do a bit of Maths & English practice regularly, and I like to be able to observe some learning outside of that as well - but it's all very low-level, and nothing is demanded of them.  I want them to enjoy their learning, and fortunately they do enjoy the computer-based curricula (courtesy of Maths Whizz and Reading Eggs).  Eldest in particular is very proactive in choosing and pursuing the things he is interested in.  I feel very confident in his style of home learning - it's easy for me as a parent/ enabler to follow.  Middle is an entirely different learner, and I'm trying not to push too much or to expect him to follow his brother.  I think in a couple of weeks we'll be reintroducing Maths & English (he has started to show an interest in learning cursive writing again), and other than that, giving him lots of space to choose what he wants to do.  Where Eldest will grab a book and get inspired, Middle is a lot more inclined towards hands-on exploraton, such as art or construction - which is absolutely fine; just a different learning style.  He also likes playing games together, and there are plenty of educational ones available for us to enjoy :)  Youngest is easy - he'll be four next month, and really, as long as he carries on the way he's going with Reading Eggs, he'll be learning to read in no time (at his own pace, which is the important thing).  He goes through phases of enjoying workbooks, so I've got a few of those on standby too.  I do regret not signing him up to Maths Whizz when we registered his brothers simply because it was advertised for 5-13 year olds - I now realise as he is very numerate and loves their entry-level sample games, I could have signed him up too.  Anyway, it's not a problem - there are lots of counting & sorting games etc on sites like CBeebies, which he loves - and of course, lots of maths games that we can play at home - so there will be no lack of stimulation.

I have to say here: I realise that the whole 'providing stimulation' thing is a big con.  I am not responsible for keeping my children entertained, despite the overwhelming advice provided by parenting magazines, websites & experts.  As most Home Educators know, children have awesome imaginations and are more than capable if finding things to interest themselves with, indefinitely. However, as demonstrated by a radio-programme that I was listening to at the beginning of the holidays, there is a general consensus that it is parents who have to keep their children entertained over the summer (I would suggest it is that responsibility that cause so many of them to dread school holidays).  Why is this?  Personally I think it is largely because while they are at school children get used to being told what to do and when to do it.  When they aren't in school they often have a day or so of enjoying the time off, but then having lost their day-to-day usage of self-directed exploration and imagination, very quickly get bored.  Certainly when we came out of school at Easter we did hear "I'm bored" every now and then (but a LOT less frequently nowadays, if ever).  

Also I do think it's an issue that has grown in recent years - there is so much modern pressure in parenting generally: how to do it "properly" (eg who hasn't been to a toddler group where the assembled parents looked on disapprovingly if someone dared to give their little one crisps, or snacks other than raisins and rice cakes?) - and 'properly' seems by general consensus to include providing them with endless clubs, games, day trips etc when not in school.  If I think back to my own primary school years, I don't remember any sense of expecting my parents to roll on the entertainment.  School holidays were spent playing in the garden, playing in our rooms with our toys (no computer games then, which makes me feel like a dinosaur), playing with siblings, friends and neighbours.  Yes, there were a couple of clubs (that did NOT run for the whole holiday), and we had the odd trip to the seaside or the park, but generally we made up our own fun at home... and my parents weren't negligent; there just wasn't the same sense of obligation from what I can remember as there is nowadays to be a full-time entertainer.

And actually I think his is really unhealthy.  Why do so many of our teenagers hang around aimlessly in gangs?  Why do they seem to feel that society has a duty to lay on things for them to do?  How often have you heard "but there's nothing for us to DO..."?  Surely it's because they are leaving a childhood where their surrounding adults were expected to constantly stimulate them - to the point where they have lost their ability to think creatively for themselves. If we think back to the years before teenagers were invented (they are a Western phenomenon, only occuring in this last century), admittedly there was far more child labour than we would accept nowadays - but the hedonism and rebellion that seem to be expected of normal teenage life nowadays, just didn't exist.  Children grew into adults with no pause - they were expected to gradually lay down childish behaviour and taken on adult responsibilities.  (There are some great articles on the modern phenomenon of "teenagers" - you can find some here and here).  There wasn't the expectation on society to hand ready-made entertainment to them on a plate - rather the expectation was that young adults would be learning to contribute to society.  So by training them nowadays as children to expect their parents (or teachers) to stimulate them, no wonder as teenagers they struggle to find their own healthy entertainment.

Incidentally, one of the reasons why I'm glad to have turned to HE when we did is that none of mine have entered their teenage years yet - and I hope that by having more of a steady home influence, we will be better placed to help our boys through the tricky adolescent period - rather than losing them to the packs so often created at seconday school.  Not that they won't have friends - of course they will - but they won't have all the unhealthy peer pressure that seems inevitable in secondary school.

Anyway, all of this brings me full circle to where I started: I've not been doing as much with/ for my boys this month.  Modern parenting "experts" would probably gasp with horror - but actually it's been really good for the boys.  They're not being neglected - they are all clean, fed and loved; we've had lovely times together reading, playing etc; I always know where they are and what they're doing (especially Youngest) - BUT I am not their full-time entertainer (actually I never am - but even less so this month).  They have found their own entertainment.  Yes there has been more Wii-playing than I would usually allow, but they've been working together as a team to defeat the baddies in Indian Jones, and have been drawn closer together through that.  There's been more TV-watching than I would normally be happy with - but most of their chosen programmes have been education-based, such as the current favourites from the POP channel: 'Finding Stuff Out' and 'Lab-Rat Challenge'.  They've also been making their own games up on the trampoline, leading to a few incidents where I had to intervene, but generally being active, healthy, having fun in the fresh air without having to be told how to do it.  They've built some amazing lego models because I gave them space to work out for themselves what they wanted to do, without providing suggestions at the first hint of listlessness.  They are learning that the world doesn't revolve solely around them - sometimes Mummy can't drop everything to be at their beck and call: if I can stop what I'm doing to play, I will - I just love being with them - but the times when I have to pack for holiday or just need a few minutes rest to get rid of a headache aren't a total disaster.  They can have fun by themselves too - and you know what?  That's been a good lesson to learn.

Friday, 17 August 2012

What Socialisation Issue?

Pretty much any Home Educator that you come across will acknowledge that one of the most frequent questions they are asked by non HE-ers is the "But what about socialisation?" one.  It was even one of my concerns before we took the leap into our own HE experience and came to realise what a complete non-issue it is.

One of the reasons behind the fallacy of a socialisation issue is that, as a Facebook friend wisely commented in her blog here, there is a difference between the meanings of socialising (as something you do with someone) and socialisation (something you do to someone):  socialising is mixing socially with others in a friendly way; socialisation is a process that a person goes through where they learn how to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. 

The problem most people have with HE when they talk about socialisation is actually not that of learning to behave in a socially acceptable way.  I think (I hope) we all acknowledge that children learn socially acceptable behaviour primarily at home.  Home is where they are taught to say 'please' and 'thank you'; home is where they are taught to share, to respect authority, to treat guests with courtesy, to put rubbish in the bin, to be gentle with those younger or more fragile; home is - in the UK at least - where they learn how to queue (I'm thinking of trips to the shops with your toddlers, in case you were developing a mental image of me making my children queue for dinner like some modern-day Oliver Twists).  The list could go on and on.  Yes, teachers in school sometimes need to step in to referee, eg when on playground duty in primary school, but they expect their duty to be reinforcing social skills that children have already been taught at home.

When the 'socialisation issue' is raised, I think what people are actually concerned about is the opportunity for them to make friends and play together (as if by keeping our children out of school we are cloistering them, making them dependant on us, their parents, and depriving them of the chance to meet people they can get on with - all of which couldn't be more untrue).  Certainly my concern for my boys was that I wanted them to have "friends their own age".  As I wrote about in The Socialising Myth, where this 'issue' was my main reason for originally choosing to put my children into school, it became the catalyst for us taking them out of school: one of them in particular had become depressed and anxious, largely because of his inability to handle the school social dynamics.  Also, if I take my own experience, I have to say that the socialising aspect was the thing that made my school life so miserable.  I was not comfortable in my own skin: was insecure and completely baffled how people seemed to make friends so easily.  As mentioned in Lessons in Socialising, the socialising lessons I remember learning were almost entirely negative.  I still have to overcome self-doubt when in social situations - but at least I think my own experiences at school were why I recognised the damage being done to the boys (Middle in particular), and why it was then such an easy decision to remove them from school.

So the next time I'm asked "what about socialisation", first of all I'm going to try to establish what is meant by the term: socialising or socialisation?  Depending on the answer, I have answers ready (some may call them rants)...

Regarding socialising, it's true that the only time my boys ever say that they miss school is when they miss seeing their friends every day (although this isn't enough to make them want to go back to school, I hasten to add!)  However, they still have friends.  All the boys have friends over to play - some friends that they made at school, and they have also made some new friends who they get on with really well (wouldn't have met them outside of HE), and we tend to meet up with different friends at least once or twice a week - plus they have each other, and their bond as brothers is generally getting much stronger (allowing for fraternal squabbles & such like).

Regarding socialisation (brace yourselves), I have a question: what positive social skills do you think children learn at school nowadays that they don't learn at home?  I can think of many negative ones, but not a single positive one.  As part of our Home Education, they are learning to relate to people of all different ages, which will be far more useful in the real world than being segregated into groups of a narrow age-margin; they have frequent opportunities to meet new people, which has helped their confidence in entering unfamiliar situations, rather than being restricted to the same group of people for several years and being generally stuck with the identity given to you by group consensus from the outset.  They are learning to form their own opinions and are developing their own interests, rather than feeling to obliged to follow the crowd or the latest trend.

Finally, at the start of the summer holidays I was introduced to a new phenomenon: I was fairly used to parents complaining about the school holidays - what were they going to do with their kids etc etc - I never related, but I was used to hearing it; the new bit was the amount of Home Edders who weren't looking forward to the school holidays either (including me).  There was one reason for this negative feeling: we had to share the parks and public play areas with schoolkids.  This isn't just cos we selfishly don't want to share - well OK, it is a little bit: we are pretty spoilt when it comes to having the play areas to ourselves and a few preschoolers - however it's mainly (speaking from my own experience) because so many of the big groups of children in the parks have such bad social skills!!!  There is so much more pushing, shouting, insult-throwing and general showing-off than we are used to, so much pack-mentality.  It's horrible, at times almost feral - and certainly not what I call 'socialised' behaviour.  In fact I'm now so convinced that the social skills the boys are learning through HE are better than otherwise, I kind of feel a bit like asking those whose children go to school, "but what about the (so-called) socialisation?".  Of course I wouldn't ever say that really, I have a horror of sitting in judgement over the decisions of others that are none of my business - but it makes you think...

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Why so Stressed?

*WARNING: this blog post contains vast generalisations - do not read if sensitive to such things*

So, having had a lovely holiday - change of scenery, glorious weather, the lot - and having had a few days back at home of not doing very much in particular, I've been mulling over why I felt so stressed before - after all, if I can change anything so it doesn't happen again, that would be really helpful for the sake of my own sanity, and the well-being of those around me (because nobody benefits when Mummy is being a grumpy old bag)!  There are a couple of things that have stood out to me that I can change:

Firstly, housework.  I realised I've never before been in the position of being at home with three lively mess-makers full-time.  I absolutely LOVE having them here, and wouldn't change that for the world - but the mess situation (i.e. having to deal with it every day) - well, I know how poor old Sisyphus felt.  Home Ed is not an eternal punishment, but the housework sure feels like it.  So I figure we need to find new ways of dealing with it.  A friend of mine is a big fan of Fly Lady - and I have to say, I am looking at her website again with interest.  I had a go at using her system before, but I really struggled with her obsession for polishing taps and wearing shoes to do housework.  I have always preferred going barefoot (didn't wear shoes at all for several years in my late teens) and last time I attempted a Fly Lady routine I had enamel taps - so we just got off to a bad start.  This time I figure I'll just ignore the shoe obsession, and see what other help she can give me.  Whether I stick to a Fly Lady system or not though, I really do need some kind of routine.  Eg I find if I don't make a habit of loading the dishwasher & laundry first thing, it doesn't happen.  I also neeed to get the boys used to helping as routine, not just on the occasions when I remember to ask them.  That's probably going to be my next project.

Secondly, I have left one or two HE forums that I was member of but which I realised were dragging me down.  Don't get me wrong: I'm still an advocate of finding support online - Facebook groups being my most loved method - I'm still member of a local group where the Home Edders who I have personally met also belong (to a person they are lovely and encouraging people who are great to hang out with).  I'm also a member of a national group which is really helpful for keeping up to date with important news, like the current proposed developments in Wales, putting a large group initiative together such as this HE Awareness campaign (thanks Chez for organising us all), and also when in need of general advice/ encouragement.  However, there was another group where there was some interaction that was getting me down, as I felt I couldn't say what I thought without others 'having a go'.  Healthy debate I have no problem with, but I won't stick around if it feels personal.  You see, people who choose home education for their children are generally pretty strong individuals - they have to be, to be willing to 'go against the flow' of what is considered normal.  This strength is an awesome gift, but has its negative side.  Strong opinions and forceful personalities can come across as intolerance online, where no matter how many emoticons you use it's still really easy to misinterpret the perceived tone of voice behind the text.  Anyway my life is 'interesting' enough without stressing myself out by arguing with people I don't really know.
There seem to be four main groups that Home Educators fall into: the "hippies" or free-thinkers (many of whom never put their child into school); those with Special Needs children; those whose children were let down by the school system (which often includes but is not exclusive to children with special needs); and those doing it for reasons of faith.  Obviously there are also those who don't fit into any group, and those who fit into more than one (including my family).  Forgive the vast and loose generalisations, but I wanted to avoid going into unnecessary detail, just to make my point.  Point being, we may have Home Education in common, and the necessary strength required to be able to follow that path, but that doesn't mean we will all agree.  Those who have a strong faith may well clash with the free-thinkers; those with special needs children may feel misunderstood by those with "normal" children (whatever normal means).  Also within all of these groups there are other sub-sets - those who see the LA as the enemy; those who believe monitoring has validity, and those who are ambivalent.  The nastiest fights I have seen online has been when the LA issue was raised, so I'm going to say no more on that subject for now (though I have blogged about it before, and doubtless will do so again another day).  There are also differences between those who follow a structured course of HE; those who are completely autonomous, and those somewhere in the middle.  This brings me to the third area that caused me stress - NOT (I hasten to add) because of any individual person demanding that I conform to a particular way, but because the perceived over all impression that fully autonomous is the "best" way to do it.  It's hard to put my finger on how or where I deduced that, but for me it was summed up when a friend decided to go vegetarian for a while (excuse the seeming digression), and was quickly told by some presumably well-meaning but judgemental friend (my words not hers) that she wasn't doing it 'properly'.  It's like there is a kind of hierarchy where the bottom tier is made of those who eat meat but make sure it's all organic, free-range etc.  The next tier up don't eat meat but do eat fish... then come those who don't eat fish but do eat dairy... and then on the top are the morally superior vegans who (if they choose) can look down on the rest just trying to do their best and live their lives the way that works for them. (Sorry vegans, those of you who I know are lovely and non judgemental - again, I'm just trying to make a point).  Anyway, when my friend shared her struggle with the 'vegetarian' label I realised that I have been struggling with the whole "autonomous" label.  I don't want to announce that we are Autonomous Home Educators, because I have this feeling that people will be watching (partly my own fault for having a blog and inviting people to watch), and will judge that we're not doing "autonomous" properly - enter another moral hierarchy, starting with those on the bottom who are 'using structured curricula but at least their kids aren't in school', to those at the top who are fully autonomous, don't tell their kids what to do, yet still have beautifully behaved, rounded, well-educated children.
Let me just pause to say I KNOW this is utterly ridiculous.  None of the Home Edders I have met have given me any reason to believe that they are judging the way my boys are learning (apart from one light-hearted comment about being watched to see how a 'teacher' does HE).  So why do I feel criticised?  Yes there's the blog (again, my own fault) - but it's not just that.  I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way - I've seen other people almost apologising for using a kind of structure, Anyway, blah-de-blah...  That was a long-winded waffle about why I got stressed.  Somehow I had formed a perception of a general consensus that there is a moral rectitude in autonomous education that gets diluted the more structure you introduce.  I know this is utter piffle, but I know others have felt it too - and that is my reason for writing: to expose it as the bunkum it is - so I can come back to this next time I get stressed and read the following note to myself (and anyone else who needs it):

"You do not have to choose any one method of Home Educating.  In fact the most effective form of Home Education seems to be utterly flexible, moving between autonomy, structure and anything else that helps each child to find, develop and express themselves.  You do not have to limit yourself to any one way of learning - nor restrict each child to a certain way of learning.  Just as with age they change and grow into different sizes of clothing, the older they get so will their learning needs change.  Read the blogs and books that encourage you and that give you ideas to try - but hold it all loosely.  You do not have to copy someone else (education is neither a race nor a competition).  Follow your instincts and your children's needs at the time.  You'll never have this time with them again - enjoy!"

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Back After a Lovely Break

Well I do feel much better for having had time off!  We did get our holiday - a glorious week camping on the Isle of Wight, where we were blessed with fantastic weather.  I even got a bit of a tan, and that's no mean feat for me!  Camping isn't my favourite kind of holiday, not least because our younger children struggle to sleep when it's light, and can end up cranky - but we all had a fabulous time anyway, and I do love my fresh air and wide outdoors :)
I've been trying not to think too hard during the past couple of weeks, as my brain was pretty frazzled, but I have realised a few things which will doubtless come up over the next few posts.  One thing I have realised is that I was feeling obliged to write a blog post every day - and being the sort of person that I am I frequently found myself taking time that could have been more productively spent elsewhere.  This sense of obligation came from no-one but myself.  There are lovely people who have been kind enough to comment that they found my little blog encouraging, but nobody ever stipulated a command to write every day - that just came from my own desire to maintain a good habit.  Anyway, I've given myself permission to not have to write every day - and not have to write loads either (although my problem will be keeping it brief - I do find it hard to stop sometimes; there must be an art to it).
So, in the interests of brevity, I am not going to go into everything that has happened over the last couple of weeks, but just sum up a few of the highlights...

The Cinnabar moth cocoons had to be returned to the wild area from whence they came before they had chance to emerge, as we knew we were going away and wouldn't be able to look after/ properly release them.  Our Painted Lady butterflies all emerged while we were away and our lovely lodger released them in our garden for us - much more straight forward :)
Eldest discovered our books on the First World War and the Second World War, and has been totally gripped by them.  He read them both through back-to-back in one sitting before we went away - has been buying army tanks and little plastic soldiers with his holiday money, and even today was still coming out with facts about what the various bombs were nicknamed in WW2!  All I did was leave the books out to be discovered, and he has started his own project!
We are also becoming fans of the Basher Science series.  I originally bought the Oceans one for Eldest, as that's been one of his most loved subjects, but it turned out Middle was the most interested - so we've now added the Human Body one to our library.  I was told they were suitable for older children, but if my six-year-old finds them totally fascinating, there's no way I'm going to object! 
Youngest's speech has taken another leap forward.  He always tended to see himself as a mini-adult, and he just keeps adding big words to his vocabulary, with an even bigger attitude!  We loved the way he interacted with many adults while on holiday, particularly when said adults took the time to enjoy a chat with him, most memorably a fire-breather who was very patient with his act being interrupted by a three-year-old bent on sharing a conversation!

OK so I'm going to have to work on this 'keeping it short' malarkey.  But there's so much I haven't said!! ;-)  Anyway, I'm back, feeling really rested and refreshed - and have plenty of time in the days ahead to catch up on my thoughts at a gentle pace.  That was a goooooood holiday :)