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 months...it'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.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Feeling Thankful...

Callum has been on antibiotics these past few days for an infected sty and has to take them four times a day on an empty stomach. I started the week thinking this was a nuisance because he grazes all the time; I'm ending it feeling really thankful that my children never have empty stomachs. I enjoy these gentle reminders of how lucky we are; learning at home is about so much more than academics.

I make a conscious effort to be thankful as often as I can because I hope the boys will follow this example and feel good about the life they lead. When we're on the beach I tell them how lucky I feel to live by the sea, and when we've had a lovely day with friends I say how thankful I am to have such great people around us. I only say it about things I'm genuinely thankful for, but once I consciously began I saw things to be thankful for everywhere! Choice is almost always involved in my 'luck' it seems to me, but being thankful makes it easier to see that! It's wonderful to have goals and ambitions, but its equally wonderful to look around at my life and appreciate everything as it is. I believe Its important to appreciate my children as they are right now too, without focussing on a fantasy ideal of how they will 'turn out'!

I sometimes find myself too easily taking things for granted. We were going away camping recently I had become annoyed with Ollie for his disorganisation in packing the equipment up and getting us to our destination! During our time away we were at a park watching the boys play and could overhear a dad talking to his daughter. They were chatting about how she would soon be going to 'big school' and he was asking her how she felt about it. I turned to Ollie and said "I can't believe we have a child old enough for school". He replied "We don't! That's why we're not sending him!" I felt so thankful for him in that moment and remembered how lucky I am to have a husband who is so totally supportive, and as dedicated to learning at home as I am. When I'm feeling thankful I'm able to let the little things go!

The world is so busy telling us we don't have enough and that we aren't enough as we are, and that's not what I want my children to internalise. I can't wrap them up in cotton wool and I wouldn't want to, but I hope that by setting an example of feeling positive about all that we have and all that we are, they will regard the world in a positive light and step out more confidently into it. I find that because I focus on what we have, anything we don't becomes largely irrelevant. I know that the sense of wellbeing I feel from the choice to be thankful will ripple across to my boys, and I hope this will be maintained by learning at home without a focus on how they are 'measuring up' against their peers, or government criteria that is irrelevant to their individual development. To be measured in this way feels like the start of a lifetime of feeling as though they are not 'up to scratch' or 'performing' well enough on the one hand, or having a fragile sense of self based on someone else's positive assessment of them on the other. I don't want them to think that's how they should 'assess' other people either. They are worth more than that and they are fine as they are; that's how I hope they will view themselves and the people around them...at least as a starting point :)

I'm not thankful in a ceremonial or religious way and there are moments when I feel pretty rubbish, but they are just moments, and I'm genuinely grateful for the life I lead. I tell the boys at least once every day how grateful I am to have them. I always know this inside, but it feels wonderful to say it out loud!

Its amazing what a bottle of antibiotics can make you think about if you are always open to learning!