Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A moment of doubt

It's 7.30am and Joseph and I are almost ready to leave the house for his nursery trip and Callum and Charlie are happily getting dressed with Daddy. A little cloud of self-doubt just drifted past me as I thought, "Perhaps the school run wouldn't be that bad after all, maybe the boys would be fine getting ready to leave the house by 8.30am every morning and it wouldn't cause as much stress and rushing (and as little time, space and stillness) as I imagine. Then I remembered how eagerly Joseph had leapt out of bed this morning and asked to get dressed straight away, excited about his day at Wingham Wildlife Park...a far cry from the usual persuasion and games I need to use to get him dressed! Callum and Charlie have been told that they are off to see the Wolves at Wildwood with Daddy, and are very happy to cooperate in order to get there as quickly as possible!

This is not how a school run would be, although I've no doubt that it wouldn't always be as difficult as I imagine. The point is that I doubted myself, and I suspect there will be more moments like this in the forthcoming months.

All part of the adventure!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Thoughts on Daddy

It's Father's Day this weekend so I've been thinking a lot about Oliver and all that he brings to our home and family. I think he's a great dad and I'll always be proud and grateful that our children have him as a Daddy, but I'm not going to go on about that! In many ways I think its for the boys themselves to decide what kind of a dad Ollie makes so instead I've been focussing on he and I, and parenting together.

We don't have the 'perfect' relationship, children or family, purely because I don't think any such thing exists. We are real people and as such our lives are full of rough and smooth, ups and downs, ebbing and flowing. I like it that way, it's a huge and valuable part of our learning and growing as individuals, as a couple and as a family. Our time together since becoming parents has been a whirlwind, particularly with the addition of twins just before Joseph's second birthday, and the decision this year to learn at home makes it a poignant Father's Day for me as I think about Ollie's part in the decision.

Because I'm the one doing most of the talking and all of the writing about our decision I wouldn't be surprised if people thought it was made mostly by me. Its certainly true that it originated from my own belief system about people and children, my study of psychology and work with young people, and my political viewpoint to a degree. However I also know that it's unlikely I would have come to this decision had it not been for Oliver.

Oliver has everything he wants and needs, he always has and he always will! Some people are just like this and he is one of them! This has had a huge impact on me. When I met Ollie I stopped looking for what was coming next and began to enjoy the here and now, letting go to some extent of a need to control the future. Not long after we met I remember talking to Oliver about my own plans, and asking him about his...he replied "I just get up in the morning and see what each day has to offer!" I didn't believe him and thought he was mad, but now having lived with him for almost 6 years I know this is mostly true, and I think it's inspired!! It has it's downsides sometimes, he's not always that focused and is pretty untidy to live with but I let go of that for the benefits, and in case you're wondering if he's some new-age hippy then not in the slightest, and I don't think he has any idea most of the time that his approach to life isn't that typical!

Oliver has taught me to enjoy the world around us, especially the one right outside our front door. Not by telling me to, but by just enjoying it all so much himself that it becomes contagious! He is blissfully happy in nature. I remember being at his Grandma's house for lunch around 5 years ago and his sisters were talking about their travel experiences/plans when his Grandma asked him "Wouldn't you like to go travelling Oliver?" He replied, "There are parts of Kent I haven't seen yet Grandma!" This sums him up pretty well, Oliver can 'see a world in a grain of sand'.

I know that the approach we take to life has inspired the decision to allow our boys to learn without school. We want them to be outside enjoying and engaging with the world. We want them to make up their own minds about things, and we would like to give them a sense of the value of living and learning happily in each moment, without the worry or pressure of what they will achieve or become. We are not attached to an outcome for them, they are their own people and they will be what they will be.

Oliver is totally supportive and trusts me completely as a mother. Every instinct I have had, every decision I have made he has supported and he has shown faith in me even when I have been severely lacking any in myself! When we had to hand the forms in to decline our school place, Oliver was working away and I was feeling afraid and doubtful. He told me to write down all the reasons I would consider sending Joseph to school, and immediately the decision was made! He is stronger and more resilient that even I realise at times. Last year we went away to get married without telling our families first, and when we returned I felt compelled to explain myself to everyone and make sure they felt ok about it. Oliver reminded me that this was about us not anyone else, that other people's feelings and responses belonged to them and needed to be dealt with by them, and that we needed to give them space to do this. He is, among so many other things, calm and wise and I feel constantly grateful for this. I should tell him more.

Oliver is also a brilliant hands-on dad who always has time and energy for his children and I often watch him throwing the boys around (heart in mouth) thinking about all the things his presence and way of being at home must teach them. I particularly remind myself of this when I feel an urge to interfere or tell him how he should be doing things!! Just as I have instincts as to how I should mother I know that he has his own, and the boys will be benefitting in ways I can't even imagine! I think it was in Steve Biddulph's book 'Raising Boys' that I read about rough and tumble and how boys learn from this their physical limits and how to use and understand 'stop'. Oliver does all this for them so naturally, and no doubt better than I could...only this week at the park I was pushing Joseph on the swing and he said "You're getting better Mummy, but Daddy is still better!!" When Callum and Charlie were very small Oliver would get all 3 boys out of the house, to the park and home again by 8am some days, leaving me to doze! I would ask on his return "have they eaten/been changed/been dressed" and the answer would always be "No!" The boys however were always rosy-cheeked and happy, and this taught me a great deal about the pressure I sometimes put on myself to do things the 'right' way. Oliver doesn't always do things my way, but he knows what he's doing :)

Oliver is fun-loving, happy and peaceful (not in the quiet sense...he's pretty noisy in that respect). He doesn't take himself or the world too seriously and is mostly optimistic and fearless. He is kind, patient, forgiving and generous among many, many other things. I know I nag him more than I should which is silly, because secretly I want my sons to grow up to be like him. Sshhh, don't tell him I said that ; )

There is so much more I could write and perhaps one day I will, but I wanted to end on an important memory. I was emotional one day a few months ago, looking back on when Callum and Charlie were tiny, feeling like I hadn't been 'ideal' enough and comparing myself to how I had mothered when I only had one child to think about. I recall telling Ollie how I remembered changing and feeding Callum and Charlie while so exhausted that I didn't talk or sing to them while doing it. Writing it down makes it sound trivial, but as a guilt ridden mother it upset me deeply. Oliver told me:

"Think about what you were doing though Lou, you were making them comfortable by changing them, making them feel safe by holding them against your skin and easing their hunger by feeding them. They will just remember the feeling, and that feeling was one of being made more comfortable, safe and content."

Exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. Oliver has always told me that an important part of being a good dad is supporting me to be the best mother I can be. The above is just one example of how brilliantly he does this.

Thank You Oliver, from all four of us xx

"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour."
- William Blake

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A little moment of learning

This morning Joseph and I were having breakfast together while his brothers were upstairs getting dressed with Daddy. Joseph said "Mummy I've made a flower for you, it's got pollen in the middle" and showed me his 'Blueberry Wheats' creation!!

As he ate bits he talked about bees collecting pollen and making honey, and rearranged his cereal to make the same pattern with a reduced number of 'wheats'. I'm sure this would constitute Maths and Science if categorising were important to us but since telling Joseph or myself what subject he is learning won't make any difference to what he actually learns, we won't bother!

It got me pondering on the ways in which Joseph digests information. Bees are a hot topic at home at the moment, I guess it's because there are more of them about outside at this time of year. He also loves to eat honey, so he has some motivation for knowing a bit about them! Joseph doesn't just take something in, learn it and then keep this knowledge, rather he seems to test knowledge out in lots of different scenarios and via different means. Using bees as an example, Joseph takes part in such activities as,

Talking about honey, pollen and how bees collect it.
Watching bees and other insects buzzing around flowers.
Going to see the bee hives at Wildwood.
Pretending to be a bee buzzing around the house 'collecting pollen' to turn into honey.
Role-playing being a bee stinging people.
Watching YouTube videos of bees collecting pollen, and working in the hive.
Looking at books or pictures of bees or honeycomb.

If he's drawing or making things with play-doh he might create something related to bees (as with the breakfast cereal this morning) or he may pick up small, hard, sharp looking things around the house and say "this is a sting!" A role-play game he created yesterday involved me being an owl who needed to swoop down and catch the mice (Callum and Charlie) and then he (the bee) came along and stung them!

Joseph isn't being 'taught' about bees and doesn't seem to simply take in information about bees and add it to a 'store'. He uses what he is learning in an active way, looking at them, talking about them and even being them! He tests out the same element of understanding over and over again, through various means and then seems to incorporate it into a wider knowledge, for example what he knows about owls and mice. I assist, add information when it seems appropriate and help him to access the information he is interested in. He will ask the same questions over and over again, perhaps simply testing whether the answer is still the same! Often the questions shift but still require similar information, for example "How do bees get the pollen?" may become "Why do bees get pollen on their legs?" He wants to be actively engaged with the information he is seeking.

The chat at the breakfast table this morning made me think about the fleeting moments of learning that occur for Joseph. He doesn't sit down for an hour and learn about bees, he may just ask a question that leads onto another activity, or simply have a passing thought that he shares with me. Bees have been an interest for a couple of months now, and he is busily gathering information about them as he goes about interacting with the world. He has as much knowledge and understanding as he has sought or requested so far. When he is ready for more I'm sure he'll find it or request it.

This feels like a very natural and empowering way to learn, happily feeding his own fascinations.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Learning from the everyday...

It's pretty clear if you've read any of this blog that I believe my children are learning all the time, and are learning from everything they do. This morning we were playing a game of running up and down the hallway having races (very typical here) and I got thinking about something I read somewhere once about stop/go games and how they can prepare children for understanding punctuation, perhaps I'll find the source some time! I started to film them with this in mind and just let it run for about 4 minutes. It captures a very typical glimpse of life in this house and really reminded me just how much learning is available to children of this age in any given moment. It also reminds me of the flow to their learning that I think is so important. Play flows from one activity to another, one thought flows to another if they are given the time and space for this to happen. The boys had been eating breakfast and we were about to start drawing when the running game started. Have a look at the video below...

I'm not using a curriculum for learning and this video reminds me why I don't need to. I love the moment when they open the front door, that moment of stillness as they all stand with the wind blowing their faces!! There they are, just taking it in for a moment before Charlie comments about how it is moving his hair. But they don't just want to look at it, talk about it or read about it, they want to get out there and be in it, experience in it! I'm not going to pull apart everything they may have learned in the 4 minutes of this video, I sort of think it's up to them to decide what to take away from any experience, I just enjoy stepping back and watching them as I'm able to do with this video, pondering the hundred-and-one things they could have been thinking in any one of these moments. The moments they become interested in can shape the whole day if we want them to, getting dressed and standing in the wind just being there, or chatting about how it moves the clouds or takes our breath away.

This was four minutes of a single day. As it happens we spent the rest of the day going out in the wind to play with friends, and then while his brothers had a nap Joseph made a picture of volcanos and lightening to put his dinosaur stickers on, started making a model car and liquidated some roasted veg to make a pasta sauce! When Callum and Charlie woke we had dinner and read a Thomas the Tank Engine book about a hot air balloon. The boys were interested in the balloon, so we watched some YouTube videos of hot air balloons filling up and taking off and even saw some films of people free-falling from them. I don't need to point out the amount of science involved in the casual chit chat that accompanied our viewing!

The interest and fascination my children have in the world around them never fails to amaze me. When I take their lead and see the world through their eyes it's clear there is learning everywhere.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The community that supports our learning

It's been another busy week for our household, with plenty of friends and family passing through! We're fortunate to have a lot of people around who want to be involved in our lives, and these relationships are going to be really important as we embark on our learning at home adventure!

I've realised that these relationships haven't been all about luck though, and it's been important to acknowledge the role Oliver and I have played in bringing these people and relationships into our lives and maintaining them there. I don't mean that in a 'wow-look-how-great-we-are, aren't-we-good-at-having-friends' sort of way! I mean that over the years I've realised that I create the environment in which my relationships play out, and as such the impact they have on my life. For example, we welcome help and support here (we have twins, we've had to!) and as a result we have some really helpful and supportive friends and family. If we didn't welcome this, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't be this way! I hope our children will absorb from our attitudes the idea that we value the people around us, their skills and interests, and value the role they play in our lives.

Because Oliver often works away during the week and we don't want him having to work too much at home at the weekend too, we decided about a year ago to hire a gardener and this has been a brilliant decision! Not just because we can potter about in our garden and enjoy it rather than seeing it as a chore, but because our gardener has become a really valuable part of our lives. We know nothing about gardens and he has taught us a lot because we've been interested and keen to learn from him. We've shared with him our thoughts and hopes about what the boys will get from the garden and he's responded to this by creating areas especially for them, bringing cress for Joseph to grow on his windowsill and bringing fruit and veg for them to help plant outside. This week it was tomatoes!

If we simply asked him to mow the lawn, prune and pull up weeds we'd all be missing out on some great learning experiences, and our lives would be a little less rich! Our friends Andrew and Rita also came this week, and spent time in the garden with the boys planting runner beans and topping up the bird table!

On Friday we had an impromptu trip to the beach and were fortunate to have timed it just right for a root around in the rock pools! My parents came to meet us and spent a happy couple of hours with the splashed about with them while mum shared her interest in the shells and sea life!

This is just a glimpse at the people who have been around this week. There have also been the friends who came for lunch and watched the hail storm with us, the family and friends we spent lovely time with over the Jubilee Weekend, and the friends I've been out with for a bit of adult time! All of these people contribute to our lives and our learning whether they realise it or not and it's great to watch the boys' relationships unfolding with the friends and family around us. We are part of a community (people and places) that plays a huge role in our learning and we like it this way. Each and every one of us has value, and knowledge is located everywhere, not just in teachers and not just in books. I hope the boys will go about their lives with their eyes and minds wide open ready to learn from anyone and anything, because the best learning can sometimes come from the most unexpected places! I think willingness is the key.

I hope to share plenty more examples of how we learn from the community around us as this blog unfolds. A few people have asked me whether I feel concerned that my own knowledge is limited and the boys may want to learn about something I don't know much about. This happens all the time and I find it exciting, it's great to think about something new and go looking for information. I don't feel anxious about not knowing all the answers, I don't think I have to. I think it's ok not to have a clue, to want to test out different theories or even to simply decide that you don't give a monkey's!! I can use the community around me to find things out and get help and support if I need it, I hope the boys will to. I don't have to know everything I'm asked, I don't have to give the 'right' answer all the time and neither do Joseph, Callum and Charlie. No ticks, no tests, just a wonderful process of ever-evolving, constantly unfolding knowledge, perfectly unique to the perfectly unique individuals we are!

A huge and genuine thank you to everyone who plays a role in our lives, however small it may seem. We are learning from all of you, all of the time.