Monday, 23 July 2012

Sunshine, Freedom and Creativity

Today has been all about the sunshine! Chalking in the garden, filling up a watering can from a bucket of water and giving the plants a drink, and then drenching the chalk in water and drawing on a wet trampoline!

They observed and enjoyed the changing properties of the chalk as it got wet, and then again as the sun dried off the trampoline....and made 'muddy puddles' of course.

I'd have felt pretty disappointed if I had been hoping for an impressive chalked mural, but I was simply hoping for a bit of joy on their own terms, so we had a great time! It's all about testing things out for the boys at the moment; using things in different ways and seeing what happens to them. When they do this they make the 'things' they are playing with their own, and are automatically creative :)

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Maths in everyday life

I'm not intending to sit the boys down and teach them any Maths, not unless they show a particular interest in doing that. I see Maths absolutely everywhere in our everyday lives, and I think the boys will pick it up naturally in a way that makes most sense to them. We talk about numbers and mathematical concepts all the time as a natural part of our conversation too, so I'm confident that the boys will get plenty of opportunity to explore maths in their own way.

Joseph often demonstrates his growing understanding of and uses for maths. We were going to the beach with some friends recently and stopped at the shop to get some goodies to take with us to share with them. Joseph found a packet of 4 cakes that he liked the look of, so we counted up how many children would be there and realised there would be 5. Joseph said "That's ok, we can get two packets!"

On another occasion we were walking home from nursery and he was hungry. We popped into a shop for a snack and he ran off and chose a small packet of popcorn. I told him that we had better get some for his brothers too, so he ran off again and came back with three packets. If I were to sit him down and say "Joseph if you had 1 bag of popcorn and your brothers also wanted a bag each, how many more bags would you need to go and get?" I'm fairly sure he'd be confused! In an everyday context though, he can solve this without a thought! Last weekend he went to watch beach volleyball with my parents and we were chatting about it at bedtime. He told me "There were two ladies on that side of the net, and two ladies on the other side of the net....that makes four!" What's great is that when he makes these connections and solves these problems he is doing this for himself and he knows it, that must be empowering! Joseph writes a capital H at the end of his name and his nursery teacher asked him who taught him to do it like this (writing in capitals is not considered a good thing). He told her "I taught myself". He knows he can learn for himself, I don't want him to lose this confidence. I think he learned the capital H from copying a sign of his name he has in his bedroom which is all in capitals. I feel no need to correct him; he knows that other people write the h at the end his name differently, and at some point I'm sure he'll adjust it. Teaching Joseph to write 'properly' is less important to me than preserving his confidence to have a go, and to enjoy putting pen to paper.

...Back to Maths! Joseph is interested in the size of things and often compares the size of objects. When we have dinner he likes me to serve up the drinks for he and his brothers in three different sized cups so that he can measure them against one another and distribute them according to size; he always gets the biggest, Callum the middle sized and Charlie the smallest, because that is how the boys themselves are sized...for now! At the moment the 'biggest' means the tallest to Joseph, but I'm sure that will change as his understanding of objects develops; he's already starting to compare the size of bowls by looking to see which has the biggest base! I think his understanding of size and volume etc will come from playing with objects, filling up pots and cups in the bath or at the water table for example, and seeing that the tallest vessel is not always the one that holds the most water. I believe that if I attempt to 'teach' him this before he's ready, I'll probably make it sound more complicated than it is and deny him the opportunity to discover it for himself!

Joseph is fascinated by really tall things and often stands by lamp or sign posts or church spires, looking up at them and talking about the height of them in relation to himself.

I have to admit it was a bit strange at first to see Joseph hugging lamp posts in the street and gazing up at the top of them, but then I realised what perfect sense it makes for him to gather information about the world in relation to himself! He doesn't know what a metre is, but he gathers a lot of information about the height of a lamp post by exploring its size in relation to him. In this way, I also expect he is taking in information about the structure of things, and the patterns they make. When we go to the supermarket Joseph likes to look through the lines of stacked trolleys, and seems interested in the repetitive pattern. He has been asking for a while to go on the London Eye and loves watching videos of the Shard being built on YouTube so last week we took all the boys for a day trip to London. What a sense of perspective it gives to look out from the top of something so tall, look down at the world you have left behind and observe how different everything looks!

What a great way to learn this stuff! A while back I looked at some Maths resources for reception and Year 1 students on line, just out of interest. It included worksheets with pictures such as a drawing of two brooms next to one another, and a question asking the child to indicate which is longest. I won't bother looking again, I'll leave Joseph to continue exploring real objects in an everyday context in relation to himself. It seems to be working for him, and far more importantly in my mind, he's enjoying it!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


One of the most challenging parts of parenting for me has been facing difficult aspects of myself in my children's personalities! Joseph usually doesn't like to wait for things and expects instant manifestation; this has highlighted my own impatience!

I don't problematise Joseph, Callum or Charlie's behaviour, (although I wish I could be that kind to myself!) they are as they are at this point in time and my focus is on loving and accepting them rather than trying to turn them into something else. Our individual response to the world can have some great lessons for us, which is why learning without school seems so important to me.

There is so much to learn from nature. Joseph planted some salad leaves with his Uncle Andrew a few weeks ago and yesterday they were ready to eat.

Growing things takes time, and you need to wait for the results. I don't need to tell Joseph that sometimes it helps to be patient, he can experience this for himself!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Here and Now

It's been a difficult couple of weeks, no particular reason for it, some weeks are just like that! There is so much going on here all the time I often find myself thinking about what needs to be done next rather than focussing on what is happening at that particular moment. I've always been quite a day-dreamer and over the years its had it's benefits; I got through a period of 8 hour shifts sizing and packing avocados into boxes by writing novels in my head while travelling in Australia! I really enjoyed the job because I looked forward to a bit of time alone with my thoughts, but looking after the boys is different and I find I need to stay switched on and focussed all the time they are awake. When Oliver works away during the week as he been a lot recently, I think I stay 'on alert' 24/7 and it can be difficult to switch my mind off.

So during the last couple of weeks with little spare time to ponder, I've found my head buzzing with a back-log of things I haven't had time to think about and my mind drifting away, making the job of childcare more challenging. When the boys were smaller this was less of a problem because I could put them in the buggy and walk for miles along the promenade, letting my mind wander, listening to the sea and enjoying the scenery. The demands are different these days, the boys may not need breast-feeding every two hours but they need me constantly on hand to play, provide company, conflict manage and dish up what seems like a never-ending supply of food and drink among many, many other things!

I was sat at the the kitchen table the other day with all three boys eating granola and my mind in another place entirely, thinking something through or working something out, when Charlie's voice brought me back to the room saying, "Me on beach. Callum painting". I looked up and saw that he was talking about three pictures I have hung in the kitchen: one of Joseph digging up potatoes with 'Time' written underneath, one of Callum painting with 'Space' underneath and one of Charlie walking on the beach with 'Stillness' underneath. I put these up at the beginning of the year, long before I ever considered writing a blog, to remind me of my motivation for homeschooling. It was a lovely morning and the sunshine poured through the window where Callum sat. He looked beautiful; Charlie had brought me back to the moment, the only place where I could fully appreciate this!

I've been thinking a lot recently about the extent to which the boys exist 'in the moment' and how this impacts their learning. They are absorbed by whatever is going on at a particular time, and if they're not it's by something they desperately want in that moment! This is often the cause of any tantrums..."But I want it NOW!" Charlie at 26 months certainly thinks about the past; I know this because he sometimes talks about things that have happened before, for example when he's at my parent's house stood by their dining table he'll often refer to the time he took a dramatic tumble from the chair and bashed his head on the radiator. Generally though as I watch them going about their day, they are totally and joyfully absorbed by the moment in hand. I think this is probably why Oliver James recommended spending time with small children as an antidote to anxiety and depression in his book 'Affluenza'. Despite my attempts to allow my mind to wander or get absorbed by all the things I 'should' be doing or thinking about, the boys constantly bring me back to the moment as Charlie did in the example above. It could be a fall and need for instant comfort, a request for a particular toy or those dreaded words "Mummy I need a poo...NOW!" Whatever their interruption to my dreamy state they bring me back to now, where there is no need to think about anything else! It's almost always the happiest and healthiest place to be. I cherish the lessons I receive from my boys.

And if they are joyfully living and learning in the here and now, I suspect "picking up something where we left off yesterday" or "making the octopus body today so we can stick its tentacles on tomorrow" might not make that much sense or be that beneficial to them unless it is led by them. Of course Joseph can carry an idea forward; a little while ago at bedtime we were discussing whether Big Ben or the London Eye is tallest, and said we would find out in the morning...he didn't forget! These are things he is interested in and motivated by though, rather than someone else's idea of what he 'should' or 'needs' to be learning. When I watch the boys happily and thoughtfully exploring the world in the moment, it seems unfair to thrust them into a world where proving that you remember things you learnt in the past or contemplating the future are important. There will be plenty of time for that, and they will get there when ready if it's necessary at all. When Oliver and I went to look around a local primary school last year the head teacher was only minutes into her speech before she was talking about all the jobs our children may grow up to do, and what bags of untapped potential they are. I'm sure this was reassuring for some parents. I felt sick, I hate to sound dramatic but I did.

Our children are happy being, and we are happy letting them be. When we are able to enjoy each moment with them as it flows past, life is peaceful. We don't want a great deal more than that!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A motivation to read

We walk past the Shell Grotto in Margate regularly and Joseph often likes to stop, have a look through the window and ask if it's open or not. Yesterday when he asked I had already walked past the sign so said "has the sign got a 'c' for Callum or an 'o' at the beginning?" He told me it had an 'o' so I said that the word says open and that if it's closed it will have a 'c' at the beginning of the word like 'c' for Callum. On we went with our day.

Today as we walked past he said "Look Mummy it's closed, 'c' 'c' closed!"

Just a few moments of the day, talking about something he is interested in and wants to know about. I have always retained information better when it's relevant to me and makes sense in the context of my every day life. Why would Joseph be any different?

Monday, 2 July 2012

Boys & Reading

This BBC article below is interesting, especially for anyone with sons. Books in this house are read every day, not because we have 'reading hour' or 'book corner time' or any other prescribed form of learning, but because our boys will come up to us at any time of the day and ask to be read to. Neither do we 'teach' our boys how to read, instead we will sit them on our lap and read to them, answering any questions about the letters or words as they are asked. When they are bored of reading they will go off and play with their toys, watch a bit of TV or whatever they feel like doing. It is this laid back approach that I feel has resulted in Joseph wanting to learn about letters. He spots 'J' and says 'that's J for Joseph' and spots 'ch' and says 'thats 'ch' like Charlie'.

Joseph loves silly books; any references to poo or pants is always a winner. Callum likes pictures, be it kids book with pictures of apples or cars or my large hardback of 20th century war planes (yes I'm a bit of a nerd!). Charlie loves short story books and will happily sit and listen over and over again to different stories and never get bored.

I can't help but wonder how forcing children to read set books, at set a time with a view to always reaching the next level can be useful. It certainly isn't useful for boys who probably just want to run around outside and have fun. I for one will be at work whilst the Sun is shining outside longing to be out on the beach, getting some fresh air rather than sitting in my car on the motorway, why would my boys be any different??

All that said, I should like to point out that this isn't the fault of teachers. Far from it, I'm sure any teacher would want to see their pupils progress. The problem comes when you try to measure that success. The government gives money to schools and has an obligation to ensure it is being put to good use. How do they do this, or rather how can they do this without making reading boring? How can this ever be done in schools between 9 and 3 with all those other lessons being squeezed in? I would love to answer this question but I cant, I simply don't have an answer.

The answer for my family is to allow our children to learn at home. The home where they can play outside on mud, even when its raining. The home where we (nearly) always have time to read books when asked. The home where lunch is when the boys are hungry, not at designated times. Writing is when Joseph scribbles his name on the wall and blames his brothers. Science is learning that the orange bowling ball is lighter than the pink one. Maths is that if I knock down 8 pins, there are now two pins remaining. And that sods law is that the two pins will be the two furthest apart and that the bowling ball will sail straight down the middle!