I wasn't sure how much difference the summer holidays would make to us as Unschoolers, but it did seem to bring a change to our usual activities. Despite having the whole of the year to choose from in terms of holidays, we chose the beginning of August to go to Wales for a week because we went with my parents and they both work in schools! We all had a lovely time, particularly the boys who really enjoyed climbing rocks and mountains, and exploring ruined castles.
If I'm completely honest, the holiday wasn't as relaxing for me as I had hoped. With a ratio of four adults to three children I had hoped that the childcare workload might have been spread out a bit, but that wasn't something the boys were happy with! It was important to them that I continue to do the things I usually do, even the little things like putting their shoes on before we went out! I understand why that matters so much to them, and these years of high dependency will seem like they were over in a flash when I look back, which enables me simply to be grateful that they love me so much and to enjoy caring for them. The real reason it wasn't a relaxing holiday though was that the boys spent so much time doing potentially risky things; teetering on the edge of rocks, climbing steep banks, hanging over castle walls! They felt safe, and they had us close by to make sure that they were, but I remained on constant 'alert' to the potential risks in a place I didn't know.
This served to help me realise how at peace I usually feel in our life together at home, and what it is that helps me to be peaceful and relaxed. I don't need time away from them or to be relieved of my childcare responsibilities, peace and relaxation come from being in places where I know that they are safe, and can give them plenty of space to explore. We had a lovely afternoon at Criccieth Castle during our stay in Wales, where the boys played on a green within the castle walls and I enjoyed sitting and watching them. It was peaceful, they were very happy, and so was I!
Back home, we live on the coast and there is a lot to do during the summer, so we didn't take part in as many home-ed organised activities as we usually would because there were lots of summer events and activities to enjoy. In addition we have our beach hut, and we've been keen to get plenty of use out of it while the warm weather is here!
Probably the biggest difference for us over the summer holidays was the fact that the street we live in was full of children! There are lots of school-aged children on our road who play outside together, and the boys often enjoy playing with them when they return from school on days when the weather is good enough, particularly Callum and Joseph. During the summer holidays there have been children playing outside for most of every day, and so there has been little incentive for the boys to go out anywhere else when there are playmates on the doorstep! Callum is and always has been very sociable and loves the company of other children, Charlie mostly prefers to play quietly alone, but will happily play with others when he chooses to. Joseph, who has always liked a balance between playing with others and being alone, has loved the company of others this summer. Almost every day he has requested the company of a friend, which is hugely different to how he was only a few months ago. I wonder if now that he is not forced into the company of others every day as he was when attending nursery, he feels he has more choice about when he socialises, and therefore enjoys the company of others more.
There are a couple of girls in the street that Joseph particularly enjoys playing with and has spent a lot of time with this summer. Since they returned to school this week, we had a little party with them to see off the summer holidays, and celebrate what has been a lovely time for them all.
I wondered if Joseph and Callum might be bothered at all when the children went back to school and the street fell quiet between 9am and 3pm again, but it doesn't seem to have done. All three boys have lives that are full of the things they enjoy, so I guess there is no reason why it should. The things the boys enjoy have permeated everything we have done this summer. Joseph's World War Two interest followed us to Wales where he made air raid shelters in rocks and made dams for bouncing bombs to destroy in streams!
We have had soldier battles on the beach where the sand is perfect for making defences and digging trenches, and the mussel shells make perfects bombs! Charlie, who loves to play doctors, had a wonderful time being the army ambulance, picking up injured soldiers from the battlefield and taking them off to be treated for their wounds!
Callum loves trains, and in Wales we had a wonderful ride on a mountain steam railway. We sat in an open carriage, and were covered in soot and smoke every time we went through a tunnel! This really captured Joseph's imagination; he is interested in the London Underground because he knows it was used for air raid shelter during the Second World War, and so he was fascinated to know that steam strains used to run down there. After our sooty experience in the tunnels in Wales, he could really imagine how the London Underground would have been when it was first used.
Since returning from Wales, Joseph has been fascinated by mountains and how they are formed. He loves to give demonstrations in the sand at the beach, of plates pushing together under the earth. Sand is great for all sorts of things it seems! He loves to pretend he is climbing Everest, and we have seen some wonderful film from the summit, and even a man jumping from it in a wing suit! Joseph's interest in the world around him and desire to learn about it did not reduce for a second during the 'holidays'!!
For us, this has been NOT back to school week, and what a wonderful week for not going back to school it has been!
For a moment, its difficult seeing everyone going back to school, simply because its a reminder that we are different from the 'norm'. But then I look at the boys, how full and happy their lives are, and the time and space they get to explore the things light them up and spark their imaginations, and I can only feel wonderful about our way of life.
Joseph asked me the other day,
"Are two tens twenty?"
I barely had time to answer before he was counting his fingers to confirm it for himself and then counting to see how many 5's there are in twenty. We soon established by simply looking at our hands that there were four fives in twenty, which then led Joseph to wonder how many fours made twenty, and after a bit more finger counting we had the answer.
Joseph doesn't know what times tables are, or that in answering these questions for himself he was beginning to understand them. The Education Secretary tells us that children need to learn times tables by rote, and that certain times tables should be mastered by particular ages. I think I learned my two times table first, but the fact that Joseph has gone for the 10s and 5s seems to make perfect sense when you can look down and see them on your fingers and toes.
I've no idea what motivated Joseph to ask those questions but something triggered his interest, and so he has taken another step on the adventure that is numbers! Maybe he just looked at his hands and realised! I don't remember most of my times tables by rote, but I don't have any problem working them out when I need to.
I find it wonderful that even times tables can be stumbled upon while playing at home doing nothing that looks remotely like classroom maths, and it is even more wonderful to see a child discover for himself a piece of knowledge and understanding, at precisely the moment he was ready for it!
I've been struggling to believe lately that if we had sent Joseph to school he would be finishing reception year in the next few days! We've had a wonderful year, and it has flown! Children up and down the country are coming home with school reports, and so I thought it would be nice to capture just a little bit of what has been going on for Joseph since July last year when he last attended nursery, and 'officially' became unschooled! I'm not writing this in an attempt to replicate school in our home, because for us learning and life are not separate. I'm writing this for him, as a record of his life and learning. Perhaps it'll be something I do for all the boys every year, maybe not, I haven't decided!
Joseph's Unschool Report - July 2013
What a year its been! I hardly know where to start!
You are almost 5 years and 3 months old and you are happy and seem to like yourself. In fact I recently found you sat on the floor in a moment of reflection, and you looked up and told me "Mummy, I love myself. I love me, and I love you!" This made me smile, and it was sweet to hear. Feeling good about yourself seems like a wonderful foundation for learning, and I suspect that all of life and its learning would be a little less rich if you didn't.
As a happy boy who feels good about himself you make wonderful, thoughtful company. We were in a book shop some months ago and you were chatting away to me as you often are, bringing me things to look at and putting them back again. A shop assistant commented on how lovely you were and what wonderful company you must be for me! I'm glad she did because I really hadn't thought about it like that before (I guess I have always been more focused on being good company for you!) and ever since I have made a point of really appreciating the reciprocity in our relationship. You have an eye for beauty and often share this with us. I remember driving along a road that we use a lot not so long ago, and you pointed out something you found beautiful. It made it feel like a different place! You seem to know when a bit of beauty might be called for too; you often draw attention to something lovely when you sense its needed by those around you! These appear to be useful skills, and no doubt maintain your own happiness nicely!
You have played an important role in the lives of your brothers (and vice versa) this past year, as the three of you have been together all the time. You all enjoy one another's company and create fantastic imaginary worlds together, often inspired by the things you are interested in at that time. As the oldest of three you have developed some very impressive skills in negotiation and persuasiveness and are very articulate generally, but particularly when it comes to communicating your ideas to others. You are easily frustrated when you don't feel you are properly listened to or when your ideas are misinterpreted, and you struggle when others prefer to persue their own ideas over yours. Love and understanding appear to be a good antidote to this; your single mindedness may prove to be one of your most important characteristics in life so its not something that is problematic to my mind. Our everyday lives are full of occasions where things do not go our way for one reason or another, so life will give you lots of opportunity to feel this, think about it and adapt if you choose to. As a big brother you seem to enjoy the opportunity to teach your brothers the ways of the world as you understand them, and to share your knowledge with them. I recently overheard you and Callum chatting while sat on a step by the beach. You told him "Callum, what goes up must come down. Look!" and you stood up and jumped off the step to illustrate your point! You are eager to care for them and soothe them when they are upset. Occasionally this also leads to frustration when they don't want to be helped, or when only mummy will do, but you won't always be five and they won't always be three, and its lovely that you want to help.
Of course your relationship with your brothers is not a bed of roses! You are very mischievous and at times take great joy in tricking and annoying others! This mischief however is born from a wonderful sense of humour and enormous sense of fun, and you seem to be able to use your humour to bring your brothers (and at times your parents) back from the brink of an emotional meltdown when you have almost gone too far! You are all learning about and testing one another's limits all the time! At the moment, being 2 years their senior, you seem to have an advantage over Callum and Charlie when it comes to mischief and manipulation, but that age advantage won't last forever! All of us at home, and no doubt many of those who know you, appreciate your great sense of humour and contagious, filthy laughter, and you bring a happy, buzzy energy to the home that none of us would be without!
Aside from relationships inside the home, you continue to enjoy a wide variety of friendships and relationships away from home too! I've watched you grow over the last year in terms of your ability to form and enjoy relationships with others, and you take part in and enjoy lots of activities with our home ed friends. We are very lucky to live in a street where children play outside together, and you often leap at the chance to play out or invite children in when the opportunity arises. Much of the time this play involves acting out the roles you see taken on by those around you. Playing at being mums and dads or animals, and caring for babies are the favourite games often played with the girls in our street. One day a couple of weeks ago you were playing mums and dads with our 10 year old neighbour and you and she (mum and dad) were caring for your babies (Callum and Charlie) who were pretending to sleep. Your playmate said "I'm going to tidy up while they are in bed" and you joined her saying "We're a mummy and daddy so we help each other don't we!" It made me realise how much you are learning from the example of those around you, and therefore how relevant the environmental context of your learning is. You mostly prefer one to one interactions or small groups, and often need a bit of space and alone time when we have been very busy socially; it's easy for me to recognise this, I'm the same! I'm impressed by your ability to make choices about when you would prefer the company of others and when you would rather be alone to rest or play quietly, and I'm pleased that you get to exercise this choice. You play with children much younger and much older than you, and you are equally comfortable and happy with both. You have some lovely relationships with the adults around us too, and a variety of lives to observe, become a part of and learn from. You are kind, generous and loving and value your relationships a great deal.
The 'learning' bit of the last year has been far more simple than I could have imagined because you are very interested in the world around you and give us a constant stream of activities and interests to persue with you. You are self-motivated and enthusiastic about learning, and show a very high level of focus and concentration when persuing your interests. It would be impossible to remember everything you have learned about in the last year, partly because there is so much but also because I can't see inside your head and know there will be things you are learning that I know nothing about! I'm often surprised by something you say or do, and ask "how did you know that?" to which your usual response is "I just know!" I guess that's how learning in the real world happens, we can accumulate skills and knowledge without anyone 'giving' them to us! Anyway here's a snapshot...
You love running jumping and climbing around and spend a good deal of each day doing this, both inside and outside of the home. You love to challenge yourself physically and to feel the strength of your body, and you often ask me "Mummy do you think I'll be able to do this?" just to hear me say "No way, not possible!" before confidently performing some physical feat! You seem really comfortable in your body, take great joy in using it and show an ever growing ability to listen to its needs in terms of food, water and sleep. You love speed and the feeling of moving really fast. Since we got our beach hut on your birthday you have loved scooting up and down the promenade as fast as you can! You are fascinated by vehicles and the speeds they travel, and like to have discussions in which you compare vehicles and make predictions about which would be faster based on your knowledge of them. You love to ask questions like "Which would win a race, a Vulcan Bomber or a Spitfire?" and "Mummy could a human run as fast as this car is going?" These questions have created lots of great discussions about fuel, engines and the ability of a vehicle/animal/person to maintain their top speeds over a period of time as we make our predictions! We have watched film of supersonic cars and you are fascinated by Concord and the idea of breaking the sound barrier. Sometimes when you are scooting along the prom as fast as you can you shout out a sound and tell me "Mummy did you hear my supersonic boom? I broke the sound barrier!" Learning is everywhere that you are having fun!
Recently you have become really interested in World War 2, and Daddy and I think we traced this back to when you watched 'Captain America' at Nanny and Grandad's house! Since then you have been attracted to anything war related, and have really enjoyed an iPad game where you take part in various air battles of WW2. We have followed this up with visits to our local air museum and air show where you have seen some of the planes you like to play at flying for real. You have toy soldiers that you enjoy setting up battles with, and through these you have developed an understanding of geography, the nations that fought in the Second World War, and the allegiances they held. We've explored some books about the war, and you have become interested in Germany and have even asked how to say a few words in German! You enjoy hearing about the espionage that took place during the war and sometimes like to play 'spying games' where I pretend to be a Nazi planning to attack Britain, and you are a spy who listens in and then runs back to tell Churchill the plans! Your interest has rubbed off on your brothers too, and even Callum likes to show people 'V for Victory' and say that this is what Churchill did! You ask thoughtful question that are constantly expanding your understanding such as "What started WW2?" as you asked in the car only a few days ago.
During the last year we have been camping a few times and you have loved this, we have travelled on some work trips with Daddy and since we got our beach hut in May you have enjoyed splashing in the sea, rock pooling and floating about in your boat! You really love the outdoors and having lots of freedom to explore in nature...particularly where there are trees to climb! You really love being at home though, and if ever I say "We have nothing planned tomorrow, what do you fancy doing?" your answer is always "Pyjama Day!!" You have always loved being at home ever since you were tiny and so because we are often out a lot, I make sure you also get plenty of time to just be in the house and spend your time as you choose. As I've said, I think this time is valuable to you in being able to recharge, and it helps you reenergise for our next trip, activity or outing.
You've enjoyed watching films, documentaries and TV shows, and playing iPad games this past year. You often bring the themes of these into your play, where you test out new knowledge and understandings. You love creating your own 'real life' iPad games where you set up a game with rules that others have to follow. One was a train game, where I had to select and build a train, and then control it around the lounge using various different hand signals that you had created, and which you interpreted and used to move the train for me. I had to collect toys that you had left around the room, and once I had collected enough I could 'upgrade' my engine in order to move faster!
Your enjoyment of films has included an interest in the theme music used to set the mood of the film. Your favourite theme music is probably Jurassic Park, and you often sing this to yourself! You have watched film of Orchestras performing the music, and enjoy seeing the various instruments and the roles they play in creating the sound. You particularly enjoy watching the conductor, seemingly because it appeals to your interest in cause and effect and how one thing can control another. Classical music seems to have an impact on you; we were in the car recently and you flicked through all the radio stations until you hit Classic FM and then said "Ahh that's better!" You enjoy the mood and emotions that music can stir, and you'll often listen to music and ask me what feeling it is attempting to evoke. You like to strum your ukulele, saying things like "Mummy listen to my creepy music" as you make sounds that you hope will have me acting frightened!
As many of the examples of your learning have probably illustrated, you enjoy making connections between things and pointing these out to me. Your interest in war has led you to think about camoflage and how this is used by armies in battles, which has led you think about how it is used by animals in nature. You've had plenty of opportunity to see this up close as we watch crabs in the rock pools by our beach hut. You find connections anywhere and everywhere; you recently asked me what the 'sharp corner' on the TV was called, which led to a chat about right angles, and then you were finding them in all sorts of unlikely places, even in your food!
You are very competitive, but really enjoy co-operation, collaboration and teamwork so you have really enjoyed joining a soccer school over the past few months. You are interested in deception and trickery, and therefore enjoy magic and jokes! You like tastes and smells; at the moment you are a big fan of mint so we grow this outside, try out minty flavoured things and stock the house with minty smellies! You are imaginative, sleep well and have lots of dreams that often inspire you. You recently told me that you had dreamt you were a pilot flying in the Battle of Britian, and that you had created a new plane called the 'Crabwabber' that had pincers which stretched out to catch incoming bombs and store them in its wings! In your waking life you have since drawn this!
I could no doubt find endless more examples of your learning to talk about, because learning is everywhere that you are! Even when we had a BBQ in the park with some home ed friends last week you showed me some letters you had made out of sticks! The beautiful thing is that this is life for you, and learning is simply a natural result of that life.
In conclusion, you are a happy and vibrant 5 year-old boy who appears to have all the skills and knowledge that he needs at this moment in time, and to be constantly gaining more. Given the wonderful, whole person you are, it would feel pretty demeaning to now start grading you on your ability perform tasks that someone else has decided children your age should be able to perform. I find it ironic how much adults need reminding that it is how they feel about themselves that's important and that ultimately it doesn't matter how we measure up against others, when throughout school life children are constantly compared to and critiqued by others. You are free to define your own goals and decide what matters to you and we'll continue to follow your interests wherever they go and try and keep one step ahead, opening doors to things we think might help you expand these interests where you'd like to.
I'm excited for the road ahead, and to see where you take us! We started the year without any objectives for your learning or goals we hoped to reach and yet I can confidently say it has been a success. We only need to look at you, how engaged you are with life and how naturally you learn, to know this is the right path! We're very, very proud of who you are.
Love always, M & D xx