Friday, 14 December 2012

Setting off in a cupboard to a beautiful world!

The boys were playing in a cupboard as they often do, pretending it was a plane, car or some other vehicle taking them off on an adventure! They burst out of its doors and into the room saying "Look at this beautiful world!"

They seem to have a knack for reminding me, just when it seems I might be at risk of forgetting.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Good enough for me!

Joseph was doing some activities that involved writing down numbers and he needed to write the number 4. Recently he has been frustrated that his fours do not look to him like a good enough representation of the number 4, but on this occasion he wrote one while chatting away to himself saying...

"I do a 'L' then do a line through it - there, that looks like a number four to me!"

As I sat listening to him I thought how brilliant it is that Joseph's attempts at anything only ever have to be good enough for him! I don't judge or mark his drawing or writing and so as long as he is pleased with what he produces then that is all that matters. At some point in his life it might be necessary for Joseph to present his skills for critique by another person, (if he wants to take exams or be interviewed for a job for example) but I don't believe he needs to spend his childhood practising for adulthood. At four years-old he is occupied with the very busy and very important task of being a four year-old, and if his representation of the number four is good enough for him, then it's good enough for me too!

I am fairly sure that I could decipher one of Joseph's fours however uniquely it has been represented, in the same way that I know exactly what Charlie wants when he asks for a "fucker", otherwise known as a cracker, or that when Callum appears at his most energetic he is actually in the greatest need of peace, and sleep. As their mummy I make it my job to understand them where others may struggle; it's amazing what love can do :) By the time they need to write numbers, ask for crackers or otherwise communicate their needs without my support they'll have mastered these skills, and so no-one will benefit from knowing how they are 'progressing' in the meantime.

We were at a home-ed get together recently and some of the children were sat drawing at a table. Joseph's picture included a mouse. He turned to me and said,

"That's a mouse. It doesn't really look like a mouse does it?"

"I can see its a mouse" I replied

"So can I" said Joseph, and he happily continued his drawing.

I sometimes wish I'd learned sooner how important it is to be good enough by my own standards rather than worrying how I measure up against somebody else's. Thankfully Joseph is already way ahead of me on this one :)


Thursday, 6 December 2012

A little chat...and the great big world!

We were on our way to visit friends this week when Joseph remembered another friend he wanted to see....immediately! I explained to him that she is at school now, and that its difficult for us to see her during the week.

"I want to go to school" said Joseph.

"Why's that?" I asked.

"Because in school there are teachers and they tell you about things so you learn."

I have to admit I was a bit shocked that despite only ever attending nursery, Joseph has nonetheless absorbed the idea that teachers have knowledge they bestow upon others, and the sense that this knowledge cannot be gained without them. In response I told him that a teacher is just one person and doesn't know everything, and that in his life he has access to many people he can learn from; I listed my friends, his friends, our family, people we see around and other adults and children he knows. I also told him that a classroom is just one place, and that we are learning all day long, from all the different places that we go to. To this he replied,

"Ok. Well can we go to Africa, find a volcano and dig for dinosaur bones?"

Our little chat reminded me of two things; firstly how ingrained in our culture the idea of school and 'teaching' are, and secondly how huge the world inside of Joseph is. We talked about Africa, what we might see if we went there, what we would have to do to get there, why he thought he might find dinosaur bones close to a volcano and if there is anywhere closer to home we might be able to dig for bones! We talked about fossil hunting on the coast nearby and the following day I took him to a park with a big sand pit so that we could play at burying things and digging them up, giving one another clues in order to find where the 'treasure' was buried!

Joseph holds the Universe inside of him, and I aim to allow him to learn in a way that keeps it that way. Children think big if we allow them to and their ideas can be far bigger than classrooms and 50 minute lessons. While we save for our African Adventure (if this turns out to be something Joseph pursues!) I can find a way to bring the parts of Africa Joseph is interested in to him. We have made our own dinosaur bones and skeletons before, we can hunt for fossils, we can make our own exploding volcano, we can turn the back garden into a jungle...his interests and imagination can make all our lives more interesting if we let it!

His world is huge. I think that's how it should be.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Getting it wrong!

I have a maths iPad app that Joseph plays from time to time. This week I found him playing on it and finding it a bit too easy, so he started to deliberately give the wrong answers. He enjoyed seeing what happened when he did this for a while, and then moved on to another activity where he guessed the right answer rather than counting to find out what it was; he was never more than 1 or 2 away so he was estimating rather than guessing really. For a split second I felt frustrated that he wasn't playing 'properly' and then I realised that he was doing something far more important; making the game his own, testing how it responded and finding alternative ways of discovering the correct answer. The minute it became more challenging he became more determined to work out the problem and give the correct answer.

I learned a few things from watching Joseph play the maths game. Firstly, he wasn't afraid to get it wrong and try out different things just to see what happened. This feels like a positive approach to learning - feeling happy to try different things out rather than feeling afraid to give an answer because it might be the wrong one. I suspect that if too much value is placed being 'right' and giving the 'correct' answer, a child may become afraid to get things wrong and stifle their ability to test their own theories. They may even stop having theories, and prefer to wait for someone to give them the 'right' answer. A few days ago Joseph was looking in an atlas at a map of the world. He is fascinated by the way the earth looks from above, and the distinctions between land, sea, ice and desert. he found the UK and then said "...and this is London" pointing to Spain! I said "Thats actually another country called Spain" and Joseph replied "Yes Mummy but I don't know countries like you do, so I'm going to pretend its London!" He then pinpointed various London landmarks all over Europe. He didn't need the 'right' answer, he was testing out knowledge he already has and applying it to his growing understanding of maps, distance and location. His activity was a valuable one, and at this point in his life the confidence to apply his knowledge in this way is no doubt far more important than knowing where Spain is on a map of the world!

As I've navigated the world as an adult it has become increasingly clear how few situations can be solved with 'right' versus 'wrong' thinking or ideas. Life is full of grey areas, ambiguity and subjectivity and as I watched Joseph play I reflected on how problem solving in 'real world' situations is so often based on testing theories, estimating and using a gut feeling, rather than referring to external 'facts'. Parenthood has been a brilliant example of this for me; I have yet to find a 'right' way, other than the way that is right for this family. I hope to nurture a learning environment where the boys can become well equipped for problem solving in everyday situations, and navigating the grey areas of life. Allowing them to learn in an environment where there are not too many 'right' or 'wrong' answers feels like a good way to do this, which is why Michael Gove's plans for an exam system based on rote learning seems so utterly misguided to me. So much that I took on board as 'fact' in school is actually simply a theory, and there are things I needed to get wrong in order to find out what was right. There doesn't have to be an answer for everything....wondering is wonderful, and children are brilliant at it!

Joseph and I were walking the other day and he noticed a rainbow in the road. I told him how oil and water had mixed to produce this and he thought for a while as he walked and then said, "No Mummy, I think a piece of rainbow broke off and fell down from the sky!" Thank goodness he doesn't take my word for everything and is prepared to apply his own theory!

Long may it last!


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A little boy who loves numbers

I recently wrote about Joseph's growing knowledge of letters and sounds, although in actual fact his real interest seems to lay in numbers at the moment. I think this is because he is interested in the size and speed of everything and is constantly comparing objects, buildings, toys and just about anything else he can, in terms of which is the tallest, fastest and strongest! Because he realises that numbers are used to represent such things as speed and height he speaks about them quite a lot, and uses numbers to describe other things too, such as how strong a thing is, how much he loves a person or how friendly he feels towards them! Whenever I do something Joseph doesn't like he tells me "Mummy you are Zero my best friend now!"

Joseph is exploring numbers in a range of ways. He likes to write them in the condensation on windows and forms the shapes of numbers using his fingers. The other he day he asked me which '7' was best when he realised that the top of the 7 he was making with his fingers could point either way depending on how he did it. Making a number 5 using your fingers is quite a challenge, but Joseph has worked out a way he is happy with! He has created a game he will often play as we are driving along in the car; he asks me to guess what number he is making with his fingers and then when I guess the right one his hands pop out and he shows me. A number 6 and number 3 are photographed below!

I find this really interesting because it feels in a way like he is taking concepts from the outside world and literally making them a part of himself. Only a small percentage of the time Joseph spends thinking about numbers involves looking at them on a page or writing them down on paper, he is far more interested in using them actively; talking about them, playing with them in his head, using them for purposes that are useful to him, using them to help him understand other concepts that interest him such as time, height and speed and making them a part of his everyday world and language.

When we sit in the car Joseph is interested in speed limit signs and likes to read out the numbers. It's interesting that he isn't learning numbers in order; we were recently walking past a house and he told me "That house is number forty-four" and sure enough it was. Today he told me that Charlie has the number eighty-eight on his shirt, which he does. He's learning to recognise numbers in the way that makes most sense to him and once he gets over ten, recognising them seems easiest when they are paired up together...22, 33, 44 etc. Big numbers are what really interest him and he once had great fun writing a 4 on a piece of paper and asking me what it said, then adding more 4's one by one, asking what each number said until he had a whole row of 4's and we had reached the biggest number I knew how to say!! Sometimes if he sees a number such as 27 he'll call it 'twenty-seven-hundred', such is his interest in the really big numbers! Very often at bedtime he'll tell me he loves me 'eighty-thousand-seventy-eighty-eight-thousand'....or something similar!

In his head, Joseph is busily working out the order that these numbers fall into, and how 'big' they are relative to one another. During another recent walk Joseph asked whether seventy-six was bigger than fifty-four and then asked me to count to seventy-six while he listened to see where they are relative to one another. Yesterday he saw some Christmas lights and wanted to know how many 'sleeps' until Christmas. When I told him its about 50 he asked me to count to fifty and then complained "Oh! That's a lot isn't it!" Today I told him that Daddy's birthday is our next celebration and he asked how many sleeps, counted them under his breath and said "That's not too long is it!"

Adding, subtracting and dividing numbers happens very naturally all the time. Once again we were sat in the car recently having a dispute about how high the heating fans should be turned up. Joseph, who sits beside me in the front, likes to put them on number 4 because he is four years-old! I asked "and what if I asked you for it to be three less than that?" not because I was testing him, but because I wanted him to turn it down. He said without a thought, "It would be on one". While chatting about the fact that my God-Daughter would be coming to play a couple of weeks ago I reminded Joseph that he needed to be gentle with her because she is only 2 years-old. He said "She needs to have two more birthdays and then she'll be four!" Being one of three boys Joseph has lots of opportunity to divide...not that this always pleases him!

In response to the news that we are home-educating, several people have made comments like "How's your Maths?" or "I hope you're good at Algebra!" I didn't really struggle too much with the kind of maths we did in school, not that I remember the vast majority of it now! Instinctively I feel that if Joseph is left to play around with and explore numbers in the way he has been, using maths to solve real-world problems will become a natural extension of this. Whether or not he needs maths lessons to achieve this remains to be seen, for now I am absolutely confident that he is developing all the mathematical understanding he needs from going about his daily life, doing the things he enjoys.

Oliver recently told me that one of the biggest factors for him in deciding to home-educate our children was the fact he believed that if they wanted GCSE's (or whatever the equivalent is by the time our children reach that age) then they could learn all the relevant information in a short space of time and do not need 12 years of schooling in order to prepare them. He saw no need for them to spend all these years in school, when they could be outside of the system, doing things they enjoy and still gain qualifications if they want to. I have since found an article which backs up this belief in relation to maths. A group of teenagers in a school where no formal instruction was given decided they wanted to learn maths and learned the entire curriculum in 8 weeks!

Sounds unbelievable I know! Read here.

It's amazing what can be learned when a child is given time to develop the skills and space to develop the motivation. Our education system seems to work on the premise that a child will learn nothing unless they are made to. I think we underestimate just how much a motivated, inspired child can achieve!


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Joseph starts to read

The other day Joseph was playing on my iPad and called me over asking "Mummy how do I do a 'y'?" I glanced down at the iPad where he had already typed 'Anb' and he told me that he wanted to search for the 'Andy's Wild Adventures' game that he sometimes plays online. Ok so he was busily typing into Twitter, but he was having a go nonetheless! Joseph is learning to read and learning to spell out words not because I have 'taught' him, but because he has an interest and motivation to do so. He learns by observation and questioning. When he drew a dinosaur a few weeks ago he asked "Mummy how do I do a 'd'?" and so I showed him. I didn't push him to spell out the rest of the word, he simply wanted to write a 'd' next to his dinosaur! Its really important to me that Joseph knows he can ask questions without being given a lot of information he either doesn't need or isn't ready for, and without being bombarded with questions himself. I wouldn't want to put him off asking questions, not when this is such a useful tool for him to make discoveries.

When we read books together Joseph is showing a growing ability to sound out words and he recently read the 'track' on the front of a Tracker bar! Its ironic that his reading skills seem to have taken a leap at the very time he would have been starting school! No doubt if he had gone to school the credit for these growing abilities would have been attributed to either the school, the teacher or a phonics programme, but Joseph knows that he is learning for himself by looking around at the world and asking questions. He is empowered.

When as a baby Joseph started speaking, Oliver and I made sense of what he was communicating, responded and put his language into a context. We spoke to him and sang to him about anything and everything; he joyfully made sounds and we joyfully listened and responded. It didn't cross my mind to try and 'teach' him how to speak, I knew that when he was ready he would! Every sound he made was beautiful to me, regardless of how well constructed it was or how much sense it made and I didn't for a moment consider correcting him over and over again until he was trained to use the right sounds for the right words! Hearing and observing the unfolding language of all three boys has been wonderful and exciting. I hope that we'll feel the same as they all learn to read.

So here is Joseph aged 4 showing an interest in words, and a readiness to learn to read and write them. Rather than push full-steam ahead into a phonics programme or begin practising cursive writing, I'm simply going to allow this new found skill to unfold naturally in its own way and own time. I'll keep him surrounded with sounds and printed words in any form that may be interesting to him; posters, books, magazines, road signs, billboards and shop signs to name a few, making sure that I am always on hand to answer his questions and point out things that I think may interest him. Meanwhile, I'll allow him to persue the activities that feed his motivation to learn to read, for example when watching his favourite T.V programmes Joseph is keen to know what the title of the episode is at it flashes up at the beginning. He also likes to use the Internet to search for things he is interested in and will break down the words he wants me to type into syllables, for example "Mummy can you write Di-no--saur?" The beginning of this post demonstrates how eager he already is to do this for himself! I think if my sons are going to learn to read and write I need to allow them to find a genuine motivation to do so, and I'm not so sure that Biff, Chip and Kipper or the prestige of reaching the next level of the reading scheme would provide this motivation in the longer term. I recently met a mum who took her children out of school around a year ago and now home educates. She said that her son learned to read with no bother, but on finishing the reading scheme didn't feel that he needed to read anymore because he had "done it!" I hope now he has a chance to see that reading can be something pleasurable, useful and rewarding and not just a thing we are required to do to jump through hoops.

While Joseph's reading and writing skills are busy emerging in the background, he continues to engage in a whole range of other activities that capture his interest and imagination. It's really important to me that value judgements are not made about the relative importance of the activities Joseph enjoys. The idea that anyone would give him the sense that the things he enjoys and finds fascinating are less important than learning to read and write seems sad at best and cruel at worst to me. So while he is busy....

building bridges across the living room....

riding horses....

testing out his culinary skills....

building a train track to connect his toys together....

turning a tree stump into a pirate ship and going fishing with sticks....

finding ingenious ways to make cars look like they have smoking wheels....
building houses....
taking weird and wonderful photos of himself using my iPad....

Making what he calls "Zig Zag Goos" by burrowing tunnels under the living room rugs....

....and a whole range of other activites he is constantly engaging in, Joseph is learning, and no doubt accessing a whole range of skills that will prepare him for the task of reading and writing.

Everything Joseph does is of value to him, I believe that absolutely and as a result there is no rush to read. Just as happened when he learned to speak, everything is unfolding its own way and its own time.

A few links for anyone who is interested.

A recent study found that there was no difference in reading ability at age 11 between children who received reading instruction at age 5 compared with those who received it aged 7. In fact, those who received instruction at 7 showed better reading comprehension later on. For the abstract of this study click here.

To read an article on the above research click here.

For an article discussing the benefits of learning to read later click here.

For an article looking at brain-based developmental differences between boys and girls which discusses why boys in particular may struggle with early formal instruction in writing click here.


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Joseph's Unschool Photo!

If he were in school, we'd have had a picture of Joseph sent home around now to buy and give out to friends and family. We didn't want anyone to miss out, so we took our own!

This was taken on a sunny October day when we were on our way to a home ed get together in the park. Joseph and his brothers were leaping from benches, trying to see how far away from the bench they could land!

It's not the most beautifully composed photo in the world, but its Joseph as we know and love him; absolutely absorbed in something he loves, full of determination and acting from a place of joy! He currently spends a lot of his time flying through the air, so this is exactly how I want to remember my four year-old Joseph in the years to come!

A new home educating friend of mine was recently telling me about Piaget's discussions of children's drawings; preschool children tend draw people in their air and the inside and outside of objects simultaneously for example, but begin to represent the world around them with greater realism when they start school and when they reach the concrete operations stage of development. Quite literally, their representations of the world become grounded. It feels to me that there is something wonderful about the way preschool children represent the world in drawings, as if they are seeing an object for all its possibilities and assuming that anything is possible. Theirs is not a black and white world with right and wrong answers or a world where the grass is always green and the sky is always blue. This week Joseph drew a picture with the sun in several places representing its movement through the sky towards evening, and when talking about what he would like for Christmas the other day he said he would like our hometown's beach, but in different colours!

I don't plan on dragging my children into a world of rational, logical thought where everything is limited by what we perceive to be the 'truth' of it. How wonderful to see the world and everything in it for all its possibilities. Joseph flying through the air is a wonderful sight, he'll become 'grounded' if and when he's ready.

What I love about this picture the most is that this is how Joseph knows and loves himself :-)


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Six months of Time, Space and Stillness

It's six months today since I first posted on this blog and I can't believe how much has changed in that time! When I first posted, we had yet to decline Joseph's school place and really felt as though we were stepping into the unknown. We were aware that local home education groups existed although we hadn't attended any, and although I was certain about our decision and excited about the adventure we were embarking on, I was also nervous about how people would react to us as a family learning without school.

It became quickly apparent to me that learning at home would be a whole lifestyle choice, and every area of our life would be impacted by the decision. Obviously we anticipated aspects of this; we knew that there would be a financial implication for example. What I couldn't have anticipated though is how much I would learn, and how much my view of the world would shift as a result. I didn't relish the thought of stepping away from the mainstream but it was necessary in order to do what I truly believed was best for my children, and now that I have done it, I view the world from a different place. I have shifted, our lives have shifted and things won't ever look the same again. That's fine, the view is a good one!

None of our friends or family has ever criticised us (publicly at least!) and I am extremely grateful for this. We have never expected people to agree with our decision, but we hoped they would understand and respect it regardless of their own opinions. Some people have said very little, some have said nothing at all and that's fine, people are entitled to react as they wish. So thank you to anyone who disagrees with our decision, but respects us enough not be openly critical.

I've been really overwhelmed by the amount of support and encouragement we have had. Thank you to everyone who has contacted me or spoken to me after reading the blog to say they are enjoying it, that it has been useful to them or to offer encouragement, it really means a lot to us. Those who read my blogs might think that I am naturally comfortable with sharing myself and my family in this way but that's not the case! Writing about us actually feels like it takes more guts than it did to decide to home educate in the first place, but writing this blog was something I felt compelled to do. Maybe one day I'll write about all the learning and insight I have gained from writing here, but not now! It has been brilliant for me, and I'm growing more comfortable with the process as the months go by. I'd like to say a special thanks to a few people who have helped me along the way in my new found pastime as a blogger!

Firstly, my very good friend Zoe. We've known one another a long time and I'm sure she'd agree that despite the length and depth of our friendship, we are very different people! She reads everything I write, is absolutely supportive and is a brilliant sounding board for reflections. I admire her because she has made different choices for her children, but remains so open to the perspectives I write about here. To open yourself up to ideas that may challenge your current belief system takes courage. Thank you Zoe.

Secondly my friend Helen who has urged me to write without fear of what others may think or what reactions I may provoke, and who has helped me feel brave enough to share this blog outside of my immediate network of friends and family. This is helping me make some wonderful connections with other families who home educate outside of my local area. Thank you Helen.

To my Mum, who despite spending her life working in education has never questioned our decision and has been utterly supportive. I know it must have been difficult for her to find her daughter making decisions that challenge the very nature of her life's work, so I am grateful that she has been so open to our choices, and so understanding of our family life. She mothered me in a way that enabled me to make decisions for myself, and because of that I was confident enough to make the very important decision to allow my children to learn without school. Thank you Mum.

Finally my husband Oliver who is always open, always interested, always there and like me, willing to accept that he is always learning!

The decision to learn without school is so far giving our family plenty of Time, Space and Stillness, just as we had hoped! Thanks to everyone who reads this blog, I am loving writing it :-)

Friday, 12 October 2012

Learning at Home....a few days in pictures.

I thought it might be fun to share what we've been up to over the last few pictures! Click below to view a montage! :)

Learning at home...a few days in pictures.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


It's getting chilly outside and the boys have been in need of a few additions to their wardrobes, so on Monday morning we all went clothes shopping. We spent what felt like a lot of money until I reminded myself that we haven't needed to buy a school uniform, PE kit and school shoes, and then I saw the clothes we were buying as kind of an alternative! Alternative clothes for an alternative education!

During August I felt a sense of relief that I hadn't had to go uniform shopping; relieved because it was something less to think about, but relieved also because I wasn't keen on the idea of Joseph in a uniform anyway. I understand that uniforms can lend a sense of identity, but at the tender age of four I'm more interested in Joseph establishing a sense of his own identity and the essence of who he feels he is before he identifies too heavily with any outside structure. The uniform for me represents the subjagation of the unique, individual child; I realise this may sound extreme but it is truly how I feel, and I know no other way to express it! When Oliver and I went to look around a local primary school last year the head teacher told us "the children put on their school uniforms and they know they are here to work!" WORK!! She didn't even say learn! I didn't want Joseph to develop the idea that this is what life is all about when I feel so strongly to the contrary, so I was relieved not to be buying bundles of grey and white school clothes, and instead to be filling his cupboards with colour!

When I first met Oliver he told me I was colourful and that felt like a nice thing to be called! In allowing the boys to learn outside of school I guess I'm aiming to encourage their lives to be colourful, and filled with rich, diverse and interesting experiences, things, places and people. I aim to allow them challenges and adventures that are meaningful to them and to encourage them to look around at the world, wonder at it all and ask their own questions rather than the ones someone else (who already knows the answer anyway) wants answers to. I don't need to provide them with these things because this is the life they naturally gravitate towards, I just won't stop their magical interaction with the world from taking place. Of course as their parent I influence where we spend time and the type of people we come into contact with. For example this week we went to visit a beautiful garden; I provided the transport and the admission fee, but the garden provided the colour, and the boys provided the wonder!

Ollie and I enjoy amateur dramatics so our life is full of colourful characters! Those we call our close friends vary in age from 20 years to 64 years and all have their own interesting lives and experiences to share with our children. I'm so pleased I haven't spent my life socialising with people within a 12-month age-range of myself as most of us did in would definitely lose a bit of its colour if I did!

When I became a mum I was struck by the colour that each of the boys brought with them; colourful toys and clothes soon filled every corner of our home! It has been about more than colourful things though; their laughter, ideas, enthusiasm, fascination and energy have made our home a beautiful and colourful place to be, and as for their is technicolor!
Learning is not work. I know from watching my children that if I allow them the colourful life that is so natural for them, learning will never cease! I can let them be, they know how to learn!
Recently Oliver and I were talking about how learning at home with the children has impacted me and he said, "You're just more peaceful these're still colourful though!"

Phew! That's good to know :)


Friday, 28 September 2012

Charlie and the cutlery drawer!

It seems from speaking to parents with older children and teenagers that at some point, some children stop wanting to be helpful around the house!! Knowing that this could well be heading my way, I try never to discourage them from joining in! Ok it can take twice as long to get anything done (hoovering with a 2 year-old 'helping' is not that easy) but my children are fascinated by the things we adults do and it makes sense to me that they are given the chance to have a go.

Yesterday Charlie saw me unloading the dishwasher and sorting the cutlery, pulled up a chair and asked to help. He finished the job, closed the drawer and wandered off to another activity. I went to sort the drawer expecting it to be a bit jumbled and was surprised to find everything perfectly in its place!! Even Oliver can't manage this feat....but then we do have an ongoing battle about which way round knives and forks should be organised! Charlie asked to do the same job again this morning, and this time I watched him carefully sorting knives, forks, teaspoons and dessert spoons, remembering that the plastic knives forks and spoons live separately to the others.

If he were at nursery Charlie could play games where he sorted objects by category, colour or shape. I remember taking Joseph into nursery one day and the children were sorting coloured beads into pots of individual colours using tweezers. He seemed to enjoy it! The only difference I can see with Charlie's game of 'sort the cutlery' is that Charlie's game was performed in an everyday context and has real value within it. Sorting beads is done to practise skills; when Charlie sorted the cutlery he was using skills for a practical purpose. It was a truly meaningful activity. The coloured beads would have been jumbled up again ready for the next game and Charlie's cutlery will end up jumbled and dirty in the dishwasher again...but I'll give his helpful task a happy thought every time I reach for a spoon between now and when the drawer is empty again!

In one of Tom Hodgkinson's hugely entertaining books (it would have been either How to be Idle or The Idle Parent but I don't recall which) he suggests that if you go about everyday tasks joyfully then there's little reason for children to grow adverse to doing them. It's an interesting thought that has been backed up in discussions on Sandra Dodd's brilliant Unschooling discussion group, Always Learning.

If you have to do the housework then why not do it joyfully! I suppose if I'd have been making the unloading of the dishwasher look like a boring/frustrating/unpleasant task then Charlie wouldn't have wanted to join in. We can learn a lot from children about turning the mundane into fun!


Thursday, 27 September 2012

September etc...

September is here (and almost over) and 4 year-olds all over the country have been starting school. I can't pretend it hasn't been a little strange knowing that Joseph could have been going and isn't, regardless of how certain I am about the decision not to send him. As far as I am aware Joseph is unbothered by the fact that others are starting school; a while back he randomly told me that he'll go when he's about 10, so it's not something he's currently keen to do anytime soon! I have actually felt a few twinges of sadness over the past couple of weeks, I suppose I've felt a bit like perhaps I'm denying him a rite of passage; starting school is a feature of most childhoods in our culture after all. Ultimately I know that I'd be denying him things I feel are far more important if he did go to school, and there are so many of those that I won't even start to list them here!

I had been nervous about the arrival of September and was worried that I would feel a sudden weight of the responsibility I had taken on; as an acquaintance of mine recently pointed out, at least if you send them to school you can blame the school if anything goes wrong! As it happens nothing has changed and we're continuing to enjoy lots of unpressured time together. Ollie has built a cupboard to store toys and art and craft supplies, I've signed up to lots of online home ed communities and we've been making an effort to spend more time with other local home ed families but other than that we've flowed into and through September without a lot of thought about the fact that we are now 'officially' learning at home.

Joseph spends most of his time happily engaged in games and activities of his choosing. He is still very interested in dinosaurs and the size and speed of everything!! He is interested in reading numbers, putting them together to make bigger numbers and playing around with them in his head, comparing quantities and comparing the speed and height of things with values he has attributed to them. He has developed his own measuring system which involves counting how long it takes him to run his finger from the bottom to the top of he told me that I am 18 tall!!

He also loves doing 'tricks' although you and I would probably call this gymnastics! He takes all of the cushions from the sofas in the living room and lines them up to make crash mats for himself and practises rolling, jumping, leaping and tumbling over them. He has mastered a forward roll with no hands and is getting pretty good at cartwheels! He enjoyed watching the Olympics this summer, and has told us that he's going to be in the Olympics and win a gold medal!

Charlie is busy potting training after telling us that he intended to use the big boy toilet! He really loves drawing and often asks for paper and pens or paints. Callum continues to explore the world in a very physical way by jumping and climbing over everything!! He likes playing with cars and trucks and likes attaching vehicles together and taking things apart!

There have been many mornings lately when it's been around 9am and they are all in pyjamas jumping on Joseph's bed, building pirate ships out of cushions or having races up and down the living room and I step back for a moment to remind myself how wonderful it is that they are able to do this. I'm so glad I don't have to rush them around or interrupt their flow to get dressed and get out of the house five days a week. So many people use the 'but what about socialisation?' argument against home educating yet it seems so much more important to me that at 4 years-old Joseph is given a chance to explore and enjoy the relationships he has at home. The thought that after only 2 years at home together he and his brothers could spend most of every day, five days a week for the rest of their childhoods, in separate places seems sad to me. Mixing with other children is really important and we do a lot of that, but it's important to me that they are given a chance to really know each other too.

Despite the fact that we have spent most of it ill with the usual seasonal viruses, September has been lovely! Even in the illness we are learning to listen to our bodies and rest, and to care for and nurture ourselves and one another. If he were at school Joseph wouldn't have been able to accompany Charlie to his doctors appointment this morning, where he was proudly able to push his brothers along in their buggy telling a poorly Charlie....

"The Doctor is for you Charlie. You just need to sit and wait for a bit and then go in when your name comes up. The Doctor won't give you a needle just have a look at you. Mummy had a needle once but she didn't get a sticker because only boys get stickers!"

He really made me smile! Joseph gets to take the day at his own pace usually, but this morning there was a lot of rushing around to get to the early appointment on time. He was brilliant about it; he knew we needed to get his brother to the doctor and he made no fuss. Perhaps when your mum doesn't spend too much time rushing you around to places you don't want to go, you trust that when she does rush you its because she needs to.

There is not a day that goes by when I don't see all the boys learn something new, just from going about doing the things they all love to do. A while back I wrote about Joseph's natural learning of Maths and the fact that I knew that playing with water would eventually lead him to compare by volume rather than just by the height of the vessel (see 'Maths in Everyday Life' July 2012). Well yesterday when he and his brothers were playing with water at a friends house I overheard him persuading Charlie to swap an interesting looking can for Joseph's jug by saying "I promise you Charlie that this one holds more water!" He led himself to this understanding; learning is unstoppable :)

I wouldn't want to idealise the decision to learn at home or make out that it's all a bed of roses; some days are hard work and I have no doubt we'll face plenty of challenges along the way. This is a long journey and we are only at the very start of it, and I'm reminded of this every time we attend a home ed meet up and mix with families who have teenagers - these people can speak about home education with far greater authority than I can! I've never wanted to speak for anyone else though, this is about the five of us learning together at home. I've joined a group on Facebook called 'The Freedom Journey' where home educating families can share their stories and experiences. Freedom is exactly how learning at home feels to me. I understand that freedom for some mums comes from knowing that you have more time alone now that your children are in school, but freedom for me is about living in a home where we decide what our priorities and commitments are and together set the pace of our own lives.

Some people believe that parents who home educate do so because they want to control what their children are exposed to which is funny, because it's always been the opposite of that for me! I hope they'll grow up living a life where it's normal to spend your time doing things you enjoy with the freedom to choose the topics, people and places that interest and inspire you. Of course they'll face obligations along the way, but these will be real obligations in the real world rather than false ones made up for practise. September has brought a greater sense of freedom for them and for me.

One day last week we were heading out in the car and I was waiting outside the house for Joseph to emerge. Out he came wearing an eye patch and holding an oar in one hand and a tennis racket in the other...

"Mummy" he said, " I've got my eye-patch, my sword and my shield!"

"Wonderful!" I replied, "What more could a little boy need!"

"Erm...nothing else!" said Joseph.

Nothing else :) Let me know when you need anything else then Joseph!


Thursday, 6 September 2012

Feeling it!

I took this picture last week when there were strong winds and a high tide. We walked along the coast, got covered in sea spray, saw rainbows on the promenade as the sea splashed over it, watched some boys clinging to the railings allowing the sea to crash into them...and ate ice-cream of course!

I love the picture, Joseph really enjoys the feeling of the wind in his hair and face. We talk a lot about how things work and what they do, but how things feel is really important to us too. What better way to learn about the weather than to stand in it and feel it! In many ways it's the things the boys feel first that they are more interest in knowing the 'how's' and 'why's' of; the feeling (physical, emotional or spiritual) often prompts questions, and natural scientific enquiry begins.

I love the quote from 'Winnie the Pooh'....

Piglet: "How do you spell love?"

Pooh: "You don't spell it, you feel it"

I can think of so many questions I didn't ask because I didn't allow myself to feel something. Not any more, feeling is a huge part of the learning environment I hope to nurture here :-)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

On watching T.V

I read on an Unschooling discussion group a while back about a grandmother who, when she came to stay, would not let her grandchildren watch T.V during the hours that they would have been at school were they not homeschooled. That won't be happening here, if the boys want to watch T.V when we're home they can do, although I'll be offering lots of opportunity for other activities too.

All three boys love a T.V programme about a baby and his family who live in a windmill. The baby goes on lots of adventures, and the boys think he is very funny! We have a few windmills nearby, and whenever we pass one they all shout, "It's baby Jake's windmill!" so when I saw that a windmill not too far from us was going to be open last Sunday afternoon, we took the boys along.

They enjoyed climbing the ladders, looking up and down the chutes, handling some grain and looking out of the windows.

The programme on its own is just a programme that I've no doubt they learn something from anyway, but our trip brought it into the 'real' world for them. I guess this is why it won't bother me if they watch T.V during the day when they might otherwise be at school; T.V is just another means I'll use to gather information about things that ignite interest for them, and then we'll follow these up with books, play, visits to places, art and craft activities, chats...whatever seems relevant and fun to them.

Funnily enough I was thinking about this post and how I should get around to writing it earlier today and Joseph was playing with play-doh. I could hear him chatting away to himself about windmills while playing with one of those play-doh presses that produces long 'snakes' or 'spaghetti' of various shapes. He told me he had been a combine harvester, had cut the wheat, taken it to the windmill (his play-doh press) turned the grain into flour and then turned it into breakfast cereal! He did this by mixing the 'flour' up in a pot and putting it in his toy oven. This self-directed learning suits him really well, and I love following his interests with him.

This evening he watched a short programme in which a teddy bear did some fishing and then Joseph went upstairs and did some fishing in the bath. Perhaps we'll try making some rods over the next few days, I reckon that would be a good way to use up some broken coat hangers and give them a game they can all enjoy together!

A bit of T.V can inspire some interesting stuff it seems!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The highs and lows of a trip to the cafe!

Yesterday I took the boys to a local cafe with my friend and her two children. It was great; we chatted, the kids ran around close by and we all had a good dose of sugar! We were sat outside, it was fairly busy and at one point a group with two babies in pushchairs came and sat close by. Being a people watcher I tend to be pretty aware of the mood of those around me, so when my two-and-a-half year old god-daughter brushed past one of the buggies giving it a very slight knock, I noticed the mother bristle. Not long afterwards Callum approached the other baby with this group who looked around 10 months old, with the intent of making himself known to her! He loves babies and enjoys stroking their hair and hands...he can have a tendency to get a bit too rough in his excitement, so I made sure I was close by. The group made it clear they didn't want him near the baby, so I took him away. A little while later he tried again, and the mother turned the buggy away from him.

Callum wasn't bothered, I felt hurt. I couldn't help thinking "C'mon, these are small children, just smile and tell him your baby doesn't want to say hello today....maybe turn to the toddler who has knocked into your buggy and see if they are ok". I felt that our toddlers were being seen as careless, boisterous or out to hurt other children and I know that's not the case, then I realised that I was being unfair to these other people too. Maybe that mother was exhausted and had just managed to settle her child when they were knocked. Perhaps the parents of the other baby knew she was nervous around bigger children, or perhaps they were feeling particularly anxious that day. It doesn't matter, the point is that I have a choice how I perceive things, and I can choose what to focus on.

When I'm out with the boys and Joseph asks why a stranger has acted in a certain way I try to give him a sense that people act with good intent...we all know that not everyone does all of the time, but I don't think it will serve them well to hold this belief as a default setting. When you look for goodness, that's what you see. It seems to have rubbed off; Ollie told me that he was walking to the shops with Joseph and had a moan about some dog poo that someone had failed to clean up when Joseph said "Maybe they didn't have any bags with them, or maybe they were in a rush!" Just another lesson that son had for father that day!

When we were ready to leave the cafe yesterday Callum was having fun running into and out of the shop, and I went in to get him. He was climbing on the chairs near to a young chap (probably around 19) who was sat waiting for his girlfriend to finish work and seemed to be enjoying watching Callum who, grubby and sticky after a cupcake, climbed from his chair onto the young man's lap. I apologised and commented on how much he likes to make friends. The young man smiled and said "Thats ok, he's really cute" and gave him a wave as I led him out of the shop, not even glancing down to see what a mess Callum had made of his chino shorts! Goodness everywhere :)

I'm glad I had that moment of feeling hurt at the cafe yesterday; I don't think I'd have appreciated how kind the young man was otherwise. I often tell a story about a day when Joseph was only a couple of months old and I was breastfeeding him on a bench in the middle of town. It had been a challenging day and I was feeling vulnerable when a lady approached and said "He's a lucky baby, and you're a good mum." I managed to mutter a "Thank You" as I welled up in gratitude, but I wish I knew who she was so I could thank her again for her kindness in my moment of need! I often think about her and feel grateful, even now 4 years on. It can be a challenge to see these people some days, but they are always there.

Someone once suggested that if I don't send my boys to school and allow them to be surrounded by bullies or people who may be unkind to them then they will be ill-prepared for life. I believe they'll be best prepared for all life might throw at them if they can seek out goodness and focus on it, regardless of whether they are at school.

I know I'm getting older because when I thought about that young man at the cafe afterwards it wasn't about how good-looking he was, (although obviously I noticed that at the time!) I just thought "I hope my boys grow up like you....your mum must be proud!!" :-)

Friday, 24 August 2012

Our Treasure Pot

We have a big glass pot that we put treasure in. We put anything in it that we name treasure found at home, at the park, on the beach or anywhere else. At the moment it contains among other things: shells, stones, feathers, random bits of plastic, sticks, coins and a nectarine stone!

We've been doing this for a few's a big pot so it will take a while to fill and we sometimes forget about it! We don't pretend these things are treasure, they are treasure because we decide that they are valuable. There are so many beautiful and fascinating things around us all the time and keeping that in mind makes me very happy. I suppose that's what I hope the boys may take away from this; there are some lovely things in the shops, but there are equally brilliant things just laying on the floor, waiting to be noticed.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

"Have you started yet?" - The ongoing process of learning with our children

I've been asked a few times recently whether we have started homeschooling yet, so I thought I'd write a bit about my perspective on this. I'm really grateful for the interest people have shown and the questions they have asked, it always give me a great opportunity to go away and reflect on how I'm feeling about things; this blog post is a result of some of that reflecting I guess!

Since Joseph finished nursery at the end of July things certainly feel different and Oliver and I were only commenting yesterday on how much happier and more relaxed he seems. There were aspects of nursery he enjoyed but Joseph was never too fussed about going, he's just the type of child who prefers to be with his family and at the age of four that seems to make perfect sense to me. It's lovely knowing that we don't have to watch the clock and work our day around nursery runs, we're all enjoying the flexibility this brings to life. So far Joseph has spent much of the time he's usually at nursery watching films and having naps...he's loving his lazy afternoons :)

Learning at home won't be 'starting' as such. The truth is that although I didn't realise it at the time, our learning at home adventure began the moment Joseph was born, and probably even earlier. I had no idea when I became a mum that I wouldn't send my children to school and in all honesty I had some pretty stereotypical ideas about homeschooling and the type of people that chose to do it! Nonetheless, the three of us began learning together in the moments after Joseph's delivery. I remember Oliver carrying him through to the recovery room while I was stitched up, and by the time I was wheeled through only a few minutes later Ollie was telling me "He likes being tapped like this, it really soothes him!" Already father and son were learning together...beautifully and naturally :)

I was in hospital for four days after Joseph was born and remember that in the two hour 'breaks' in the afternoon when the ward was closed to visitors, I learned how valuable our time alone together was. That's still the case for Joseph and I; we still benefit from time out alone together, away from the interruptions of the rest of the world! We started off 'tuning-in' to one another that way, and we still do.

In the weeks after becoming a mum I learned about my own vulnerability and felt it intensely, probably for the first time as an adult. It was the first and only time I have ever felt concerned that Ollie would leave me, not that there was ever any sign he would, I just felt an overwhelming need to have him close by in a way that I hadn't before. Allowing myself a sense of vulnerability has been a wonderful learning curve. In becoming a mum of twins and three boys under three I learned not just to slow down but to stop! I don't think anything else would have made me stop, but in stopping I have learned what matters to me.

Parenthood has exposed the best and worst in Ollie and I and we've learned endless amounts about ourselves and one another. The five of us have learned both individually, and together as a family. There are plenty of books around to help us understand what babies learn and how they develop in the months after their birth but I don't know if there are any about what parents learn, or what couples and families learn about one another! I'm sure no two individuals or families are impacted in the same way and I doubt we are even aware of much of what we learn, but nonetheless learning happens, whether we realise it or not.

So yes, we have started learning at home but in this home learning is not 'schooling'. Learning is what happens here all day every day in everything we do, regardless of how consciously it is taking place. The 'subjects' we learn and the things we learn about the world are a natural part of this and occur because we allow ourselves to be curious, fascinated and mystified by the world around us. All I have needed to do in order to feel convinced of this is simply to watch my own children interacting with the world. They have smiled, laughed, moved, enjoyed food, walked, talked, made friends, taken risks, recited songs, role-played (I could go on!) when they were ready and in their own way. Joseph is interested in and shows a good and growing understanding of sounds and mathematical and scientific principles; I am convinced that he and his brothers will develop all the skills they need, why wouldn't they when they have all managed it so well until now? To learn in the place where you are valued the most also makes absolute sense to me too; I'd like to think about this more and write about it separately though. And learning for us has also been about our relationships, our home and family life...the way we are together and learn together. For us its not about league tables, exam results or careers. Because this is the view of learning I hold sending my children anywhere else to do it makes no sense to me, and so for now we will continue to live our lives together, learning happily as we go.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

RAAAH!! - It's all about Dinosaurs!

Like many children his age Joseph loves dinosaurs. He currently makes daily requests for information about dinosaurs, much of it from watching films, animations and snippets of documentaries. He has dinosaur toys that he uses to act out battles, comparing their varying physical attributes and requesting predictions as to which dinosaur will win from Ollie and I. We play role-play games as dinosaurs too, acting out 'fights' with a bit of rough-and-tumble.

Joseph is interested in the way the earth looked when the dinosaurs were around and is fascinated by volcanos and extreme weather. When he draws, he often depicts scenes of stormy clouds and flashes of lightening that break the trees, with erupting volcanos and dinosaurs roaming.

A couple of days ago Joseph was making his usual request for dinosaur related videos on YouTube and asked to watch people going to see dinosaur bones in the museum. Afterwards we decided to make our own dinosaur bones. We collected sticks at the park and the boys all had fun painting them white.

I had planned that we might make a dinosaur skeleton picture by sticking them to black paper, but Joseph had other ideas and was determined to make something 3-D! We constructed a head, neck and body by tying the sticks with string. This was as much as Joseph wanted to do, he didn't feel a need to give his model any legs so we didn't! He said it was a Duckbill Dinosaur and that it's head was a crest. He put his dinosaur on a pile of blue wool and said this was the water! Joseph is a fan of Julia Donaldson's book 'Tyrannosaurus Drip' and it seems that he was inspired by the Duckbill Dinosaurs in this!

Joseph said he'd like to make a land for his dinosaur to live in, inside a box with volcanos! I'm sure this will be our next project. After the dinosaur was made he wanted me to film him playing with it, and then filmed me talking about it. When we made puppets recently at a workshop at our local gallery he asked to film his results in action there too. I'll upload these videos in a separate blog post.

The huge asteroid that hit earth during the time dinosaurs roamed the earth fascinates Joseph, and this weekend sees an impressive meteor shower in our skies that he has been talking excitedly about. He has asked us to set an alarm for the middle of the night so that he can watch them!

In just a few days Joseph's fascination with dinosaurs has touched on elements of history, biology, geography, literature and astronomy as well as role-play, art and craft and physical activity, just at a glance! What I really love about this is that I feel as though I am simply playing with him, enjoying his company and helping him peruse his ideas. We're simply having fun together, and this is possible because I know that wherever this play and his ideas flow, he is learning something thats meaningful for him.