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!