Regrouping after winter

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I’ve become familiar with a spiritual exercise called the examen. In a nutshell, you reflect on a period of time and allow yourself to notice, without judging, the moments that brought you life and the moments that, well, didn’t.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the notes I made a few weeks ago after doing a bit of an examen as I drove the kids home one Friday. Here are the notes:

What gave me life today

Hannah slept through. It felt quite early to wake up at 6.30 knowing I had to get up but that meant I had ages to get ready to meet friends at 10.30 and didn’t have to rush. I had a relaxed morning with Hannah, a big pot of tea with breakfast and afterwards Hannah made a jigsaw puzzle and played with her tea set. It was joyful to have the one-on-one time to really observe her and know her and give her my full attention as we played.

Natural rhythms
A 10.3o arrival time also meant Freya could sleep in , and she did. A massive benefit of home ed is she can sleep for as long as her body needs to and wake up naturally (about 8am is normal for her unless Hannah wakes her up).

Mixed ages
We spent today celebrating a birthday at a soft play centre with two other five year olds and also three almost-three year olds, a one year old and four adults. Siblings were able to pay together, apart, and in a group with other friends – making those decisions according to what they needed and how they were feeling at the time.

Physical activity
Climbing, running, pulling themselves up, squeezing through spaces, throwing a ball- developing their gross motor skills and their understanding of their physical relationship with the space around them.

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Reading, and responding to their own needs
I’d never been to this soft play centre so I was amazed to find it has a breakout room with toys,books, drawing materials and dressing up clothes (and a fish tank, to add to the calm vibe!) My sweet, introverted Freya does need her recharge time, and I was glad that she was able to respond to her own need and go and read in this quiet space. She also read a couple of books on the car journey there and a couple on the way home.

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Yes, she is wearing an enormous blue wig, which leads me to…

Imaginative play
Also in this playroom Freya, Hannah and their friends played at dressing up together and with a dolls house.

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Drawing, and learning from others

Freya’s friend drew a scene with insects and sky and grass and flowers. Freya doesn’t often draw as such, but inspired by her friend she sat down with paper and crayons. I looked over her shoulder after a while to hear her explaining to her friend that she was drawing “all my friends and family, like you”.

If I could go back and improve the day, I wouldn’t shout at Freya for proscrastinating so much over getting dressed in the morning, or make her cry by angrily saying we’d just have to leave behind the jumper she lost in the soft play. These are the kind of moments where I know my responses teach my children how to respond, but I don’t always act the way I want to.

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This day took place at the end of January but I’ve been reflecting on it this week because it has helped me to identify some of my core values around home ed. I’ve been feeling quite ‘wobbly’ about not buying the beautiful toys that I see on home ed blogs or facebook groups, especially Montessori ones, which I just can’t justify from a financial and  environmental angle (sometimes I just don’t need more stuff, however responsibly it was produced) and so I tried to refocus my thoughts on what I think my children actually need at this time. I do often experience a fog of “I just don’t know” what is the best for them, or what is the right thing to do, so doing a examen and identifying life giving moments can be very helpful. That day at the soft play shows me how a simple activity of meeting up with friends can meet so many of the current needs of my five year old and one year old.

In conclusion I feel that some key priorities for the next season are:

1. Reading! Even if nothing else happens, all will be well if we read.

2. Playing outdoors

Many of the toys and activities I’ve been feeling guilty about not owning are actually in some way substitutes for playing in nature – handling natural materials, using generically shaped objects for open ended play, playing with “loose parts”, developing gross motor skills in an uneven landscape (i’m looking at you, Gonge Hilltops). Outdoors my girls also seem to argue with each other less, are less dependent on me, and can focus on a game for a really long time! One of the great privileges of home ed is the opportunity to be wherever you want during the day, and I want to give my kids the chance to be outside much more often now that it’s spring!

3. Enabling more independence in the home

Hannah is now at the stage where she is very keen to do things for herself such as butter her toast and pour her own drink, and Freya was incredibly independent until Hannah was born, so I’d like to help her find that again.

Finally a note of gratitude to my home ed tribe. It’s so good to have people to take this journey with.

Linking up with Beautiful Tribe, Enchanted Pixie and Along Came Cherry for This Homeschooling Life.

This Homeschooling Life

This Homeschooling Life – February

I was ill on my last Day Off so I missed a blogging opportunity. At the time I was just so grateful not to have to be at work or, worse, looking after the children while I felt so ill! I think I’ll skip writing about January and move straight onto February, since we’re nearly at the end of the month anyway.

Scanning through the photos on my phone it seems we have had a pretty busy month!

Museum visits remain a staple of our family life. One Saturday we all went along to Verulamium Museum. Verulamium was the third largest city in Roman Britain and the museum contains incredible Roman mosaics as well as showing what life would have been like at the time. There are remains of a Roman theatre nearby – I remember visiting them in Year 3 on a school trip. Anyway we took Freya there for a talk called Archeology Apprentices. It started with a storybook about a clay dog made by a Roman potter for his daughter, which gradually becomes lost under the earth over the centuries and is eventually discovered. It was a very accessible introduction to the idea of archeology, how objects can end up underground, and how sometimes they are discovered by accident! The very engaging lady then simulated an archeological dig by removing layers of fabric that represented layers of earth, and allowing the children to examine different objects that might be found in those layers. For example, each layer included a coin from the era to show how objects can be dated if found in the same layer of earth. Freya was particularly delighted by the stoneware pots, and found the talk very interesting. (It was definitely a talk rather than a workshop, as there wasn’t much for the children to physically do beyond handle the objects.)

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After the talk we explored the (quite small) Museum. Freya enjoyed dressing up, using a guidebook to identify icons in the mosaics and completing a ‘treasure hunt’ worksheet provided by the museum.

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In other February museum news, the kids also visited Tring Natural History Museum twice (did I mention Hannah loves animals? She does) and, while I was off relaxing in an idyllic location with other mums on a retreat run by Chilled Mama, Jeff took them on an adventure around London. Freya was “in charge” so they did everything she asked for – went up the tower in Tate Modern to look over the city, lunch at Wagamama, over the Millenium Bridge, they tried to go in St Paul’s (as she had read about the Whispering Gallery in a great book from the library about visiting London – see pictures if you’re interested) but it was too expensive, then took a ride on a red London bus back to the station.

We went along to a kite-making workshop at Dunstable Downs visitor centre organised through a home ed group on facebook. This was an easy-going workshop: Hannah was allowed to join in and Freya didn’t feel under any pressure (except when I repeatedly suggested sticking eyes on her fish kite, which she didn’t want to do, sorry kid). The one improvement I’d suggest is providing chairs. We were all standing around the tables in our coats and scarves which made me a bit on edge, like we were all about to rush off instead of settle in for an hour of kite making. After the other families went outside to try out their kites, Freya hung about adding finishing touches and helping the lady to clear up, a situation she engineered so that she could talk to the lady one to one. Classic Freya. I had hoped the workshop would get us playing in the great outdoors, but it was so windy that Freya’s kite broke as she stepped out of the door. I would have persevered but the kids decided to run around in the visitor centre making their kites twirl around (luckily not too many other visitors there to be annoyed with us) and we had chips. Freya struck up a conversation with a Granddad about why he was here today and did he like going to coffee shops? Classic Freya.

We’ve also discovered a new place to have fun on a Friday – a freeflow session at a gym. My friends have been going for years but I was happy with the cheaper mininastics session nearer our house. Actually, mininastics is still good, but this other gym has a couple of big trampolines and a foam pit and A LOT of space for running around.

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We’ve been doing some baking. Here is Freya trying out that recipe I mentioned in an earlier post, that I developed to be simple enough for her to bake on her own. Turns out that even just mixing the ingredients together is “too tiring, mummy!” – time to do some muscle strengthening activities! Aside from that, with practice, I think she might be able to make these herself.

Hannah, suddenly this month, is passionate about jigsaw puzzles and Orchard Games type games. Every evening before bed (and several times during the day) she will demand a “Pushul! Pushul Mummy! PUH-SHUL! Come!” She’s observant and sparky, figuring out puzzles with a little bit of help but not too much, and is definitely getting the hang of taking turns with games and learning the rules. She enjoys the social aspect as well as putting images together. The girls have a lot of fun with Can You Guess?, a sort of charades game, raucously acting out the pictures on the cards together.

I’ve been making few birthday cards, exploring pop ups and using watercolours. Freya reeeaally enjoys watching me make these. After the first dinosaur card, she commissioned me to make one for Jeff’s birthday and stipulated all the criteria (which is why I’m pictured wearing my “wedding dress, but golden” and why cousin Anna is there too). It has inspired Freya to get arty again more often, and whatever Freya does, Hannah wants to do. I introduced Freya to the colour wheel (painting in a coffee shop, bliss) and she also made some pieces (the glitter glue-drenched ones) inspired by a Mister Maker episode. The blackboard side of the easel has been used more often this month that ever in all the time we’ve had it – a bit of drawing but mainly painting on it with water.

My dad and I took the girls to see The Bear at the local theatre, an adaptation of the Raymond Briggs picture book. I personally found the play fun and the bear puppet and puppetry incredible, though both girls were quite frightened. The bear did have a very loud and quite aggressive growl! Luckily Freya was enchanted by the lighting and the music “it’s so beautiful!” and the final scene of the bear at the north pole won them both over, so they came out of it very happy! We haven’t seen the book or the animation yet so I’m interested to see how the girls respond to those having experienced the play first.

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Image from lutonculture.com

Finally, we spent half term on holiday, first visiting friends in Exeter and then on our church’s weekend away in Somerset. In Exeter we went swimming, we walked in the woods and we played a lot in the house. The venue for the weekend away was Quantock Lodge, a nineteenth century Gothic revival mansion (thanks Wikipedia) – so lots of exploration of the house and grounds, plus running and dancing in the grand rooms and generally being surrounded by friends big and small. A good time was had by all!

By the way, those fantastic balloons are by Rich Oster of Balloons Inc. If you are near Exeter and need an excellent entertainer for an event or a party, check out balloonsinc.co.uk

I have felt the blackness of winter ease off a little this month. The lighter evenings and the appearance of flowers lift my soul. Next month Hannah will turn two, Spring will arrive more confidently and I shall feel even more hopeful.

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Linking up with Beautiful Tribe, Enchanted Pixie and Along Came Cherry for This Homeschooling Life.

This Homeschooling Life

 

A Typical Week, or, how this home educating lark is kinda ordinary and fits around work and is just life

I go to work on Mondays and Tuesdays. I teach Art in a secondary school in the next town. After my maternity leave with Hannah I cut my days from three to two. I wanted to shift the balance of my focus more towards family life, especially with the home education. This puts more pressure on Jeff financially so it was not an easy decision, but Jeff was very supportive and keen to make it work for us.
I feel guilty a lot of the time when I think about my job. I’m not doing enough, I’ve let go of some of the responsibilities I had, I’m not as present to my colleagues, I don’t give as much to them personally. I’m trying to focus on the five classes I have, my 150-odd children, and do the best I can for them, teach them great lessons, help them enjoy and achieve as well I can. I have taken on the piano-learning project which takes up a break time and time at home practicing (I know that’s more for me than for the school!) and I’m trying to get a feminism society up and running. I help with another project in school though I’ve reduced my role in it. I represent the faculty at meetings about provision for “gifted and talented” students. It’s about as much as I can fit into two days. If it sounds like I’m trying to justify myself, it’s because I am. Every day a constant stream of self-berating, defensive thoughts…I wish someone would tell me it’s okay and I’m doing enough but honestly I feel like that would have to come from the headteacher for it to mean anything. Who else has the authority to say so?

Hm, that went in a direction I didn’t quite mean it to, but I’ll keep it now that I’ve written it.
While I’m at work, my parents have the girls on Mondays and Jeff’s parents have them on Tuesdays. Hannah is always super excited to be going to her grandparents. Freya normally has to be woken up in order to get there on time so is groggy and sometimes grumpy, but always keen, and she never wants to leave at the end of the day!
With my parents, reading is the order of the day. Hannah will bring book after book to dziadzio’s lap (though she has the habit of discarding each book a page or two from the end!) Babcia will read to them while they eat breakfast, lunch and tea. Freya will ensconce herself in the playroom where shelves are filled with my childhood books and wonderful finds from charity shops – my mum seems to have a knack for this! They go to the park, to the woods, to the grocer, to the coffee shop in the new sports centre over the road. They do crafts and games and playdough. In the spring and summer they’ll play in my parents’ beautiful garden, where I played so many imaginative games in my childhood.

With Jeff’s parents the girls, similarly, have lots of opportunities for reading, creating, baking and other activities around the kitchen table. Freya has recently asked if Grandma can give her a piano lesson every week. Their routine at the moment includes going to a library where Hannah joins in with rhyme time while Freya puts her head in a book. Afterwards they play in the playground before heading back for lunch. Grandma occasionally takes them to London to meet up with Freya’s best-friend-cousin, if she has an inset day or some such.

I love waking up on Wednesday mornings knowing I can spend the rest of the week with my precious children. And it’s the best day too! On Wednesday we’ve had a fortnightly, and more recently weekly, home ed meet up for the last couple of years. I love these mums and these kids. It’s already been incredible seeing them grow from toddlers into children who are learning to play together and negotiate with each other and fall out and make up and be kind and seek their own space when they need it. Who says home schooled kids don’t learn how to socialise?! (Actually, who does say that?) My adults friends in this group are patient and gracious and we’re figuring it out together. It’s good to have tea together and talk. I love to see how others parent their kids. I learn a lot.
This meet has tended to be in the afternoon, so we attend a preschool group at my mother-in-law’s church (she’s the vicar) in the morning. The people here are kind and gracious too! It was a very good place for me to come throughout the early weeks of Hannah’s life, in my utter exhaustion, to have a reason to get out in the morning but just to sit and be given a tea and for grandma to hold the baby for a moment! Hannah would still love to go every week for the fun and story and craft and especially the singing, she loves singing!, but I am prioritising the home ed group so if our meet up starts earlier in the day we skip the church group.

Once a fortnight on a Thursday I get to have a Day Off. This means no work AND no kids. By spring last year Jeff and I were already at our wits end. We’d had a year of no sleep. I went back to work on maybe four hours of broken sleep a night. I suggested that when I reduced to two days a week in the autumn term, perhaps Jeff could still take a day out of work each week (as he had done to cover my third day of work) but we could alternate who looked after the kids. That way we could each have a proper day off once a fortnight. Jeff agreed this would be a good way to try and look after ourselves a bit. It has been amazing and although a lot more self care is still needed, I feel a lot better now that I know it’s never more than 13 days before I can think my own thoughts or get a task done that I can’t seem to fit in around the kids and work. Often I do Konmari, or just housework, occasionally I go shopping (which is nearly impossible with Hannah though lovely with Freya, and the day I took Freya alone to buy a dress for a wedding was a really lovely day!) Every other Day Off, once a month, I write a blog post. I’ve been wanting to write something blog-like for about three years, but I’ve been too exhausted in the evenings, so it’s great to finally do that. I’m aware that Jeff may need to take over from his parents on Tuesdays at some point with their potentially changing work commitments, and that my Day Off is probably only temporary. But I’ll enjoy it while it lasts!

While I’m enjoying blissful solitude, the children are often investigating a museum with Jeff – he is on a bit of a mission to discover what’s near us and has found some real gems like the deHavilland Aircraft Museum, some that are a reasonable driving distance and others which include the adventure of a train into London – the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and Museum of London have all been visited in the last term. I’m so glad Jeff takes them. I would love to myself but I’m just not strong enough to manage both kids in a vast and busy space, or really I mean manage Hannah, who is fast and determined, whereas Jeff just pops her in the backpack carrier if he needs to.
Freya has had a huge passion for museums ever since we first took her to the Science Museum for her 2nd birthday and she gets all the more out of her visits now that she can read, and doesn’t depend on an adult to help her understand the exhibits. She also has a knack for finding a suitable staff member and asking them whatever she wants to know (or in the case of the blue whale at the natural history, “tell me EVERYTHING about whales.”) Then Jeff can leave her to it for a minute while he chases after Hannah who has, yet again, slipped under a barrier and is attempting to run off with an ancient artefact.

On the Thursdays I have the kids, we tend to have an unstructured day and that doesn’t necessarily work out for the best! I need something in the mornings to get the kids out to otherwise Hannah gets ratty but not tired enough for a nap, and then we have a grumpy afternoon and too much tv because I don’t have the energy to stage an activity. So getting out is good. I like to meet up with friends as often as possible, whether with other children or just one of my adult friends. Freya gets a lot out of spending time with another adult, it’s often the highlight of her day. I’ve not been brilliant at asking people to hang out, so that’s a target for this year!
If Hannah naps after lunch, Freya and I will have time to do one activity together: something arty or a workbook, some baking or a game like Tummy Ache. After the nap, because it’s Cold and Dark Outside, they will most likely play some kind of crazy game together like jumping on the bed or doing an assault course in the living room until they get too rough and need to be separated…and that’s when an early tea time comes in handy!

On Fridays I used to have the same grizzly-child problem if it was too unstructured, but now if we don’t make other plans I know I can take them to the Montessori playgroup in the morning, then they can play in the nearby park and then Hannah will definitely nap when we get home. Ah, I do like a nice predictable routine. I’ve just heard that a forest school may be starting near-ish to me fortnightly on Friday afternoons which we will definitely investigate. That would fit in nicely I think.
So…that’s what our week days look like at the moment. It is characterised by an emphasis on doing ordinary family life together, a belief that the children will learn through their self directed play and interests and everyday life, and being, hopefully, chilled out about ‘milestones’ like learning to write etc.

With better weather and more light I hope to get outside more, especially as the girls both got wheels for Christmas and they need some practice! The lawn that Jeff constructed has sprouted, patchily, and I hope very much that it will provide a decent, flat surface for the kids to play on in 2017! We’ve come a long way since waist high brambles but the garden hasn’t yet felt like an easy space to play in.

I hope to become better at identifying both girls’ interests and offering ways for them to expand on them.

I hope I can make more opportunities for Freya to play with friends.

I hope as Hannah grows it will become easier to do activities all together.

I look forward to time away together as a family – we’ve got plans for February half term, Easter, and the summer so far this year.

I hope to be less anxious and more present to my children. I hope I can see what’s important.

I hope I can show them they are loved and they are awesome little learners, and that the world is good and fascinating and that they can have an impact on it, too.

 

 

Linking up with Beautiful Tribe, Enchanted Pixie and Along Came Cherry for This Homeschooling Life.

This Homeschooling Life

 

Home educating during advent and Christmas

Ah, the season of Advent. One of the most exciting, magical and also stressful times of the year! I took the edge off it this year by bowing out of wider-family gift-giving traditions. Sorry family. It definitely made a big difference to my month, both financially and in terms of time and headspace.

Hannah, at 20 months, was really getting into Christmas this year! She was constantly asking for her “sheeshus candar” meaning her picture advent calendar – the girls have one each for bedtime – and playing with “Sheeshus and Mummy” from the nativity, and getting excited about christmas trees, and they both played a daily game of pointing out the fairy lights when we were driving after dark.

I always like to have a real tree, a spruce rather than a fir, as they have that Christmassy scent. Normally B&Q will do but as they didn’t have small ones, this year we ended up having a bit of an adventure! Picture the four of us at a christmas tree farm, sliding over the mud as the rain soaks through our coats to the clothes below, the girls somehow finding it magical to run between the trees while waiting for grumpy mummy to identify the one that fits her exacting standards…

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Well, the tree was beautiful and barely dropped a needle. Next year we’ll go earlier in December, and we’ll plan to avoid the rain! I think it could become a nice tradition.

For our advent calendar we used a beautiful set of origami envelopes that Jeff made last year. Inside each one was an act of kindness/generosity/forgiveness, that kind of thing. I say each one…I didn’t get properly organised ahead of time so we ended up doing it on some days, and on other days I made a poor excuse to Freya about why we wouldn’t open it that day. Yeah. So, it was well-intentioned but poorly executed. I feel sad because what it really demonstrated was that being kind/generous/forgiving maybe isn’t as much of a priority to me as it should be if I want my daughters to grow up valuing those qualities! It has led me to reflect on how we can live out those values more as a family, in ways that involve the children. 

Since first discovering Milton Keynes Museum in October we were very excited about our fourth visit – for Victorian Christmas! Well – it was really busy and I think I’d recommend going on an ordinary day, the first time you go anyway! But after being too hot and crowded with mulled wine and carols in the drawing room, the girls loved making a craft in the victorian schoolroom. We then got tired/frustrated/grumpy (me most of all) until tea and cake in the cafe calmed us all down. The Jeff took Hannah off for a drive and a nap and Freya and I revisited the now-quiet kitchen. Here we toasted a slice of bread by the fire, and the kind volunteer showed Freya how to peel roast chestnuts. Then we swept the kitchen floor together while the lady talked to us about what the house used to be like when it was really lived in. The kitchen has such a large oven because it was the farm kitchen, baking enough bread to feed all the farm workers every day. The family had their own kitchen in what is now the toy room. The groom’s bed was in a nook over the bread oven – nice and cosy. These are Freya’s favourite moments in museum visits – she finds a way to chat to the staff one-to-one.

At home we’ve enjoyed a few Christmassy activities: making satsuma pomanders was extremely absorbing for both girls, and Freya made some puff pastry mince pies pretty much by herself except for rolling out the pastry.

She sometimes needs encouragement to see a task through to the end and I don’t always know whether to push her to finish it or accept that she’s had enough. I don’t want to force anything but sometimes she just needs an extra boost…I guess we have to judge each instance as it happens.

I enjoyed playing my parents-in-laws real piano on Christmas Day..my piano progress is slow but when I get to play a real piano I love it!

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After the busyness of Christmas we needed a few days for the kids to decompress. We took them to the RAF Museum in Hendon where they could run around to their hearts’ content. It was really quite awe-inspiring to stand next to all these enormous aeroplanes and contemplate the science and mathematics of flight! There was a large room that was once full of brilliant experiments for children to do, but all but a few had pieces missing or were just broken. One image below shows Freya examining a game with which you could experiment with where to make a plane drop its cargo so it would land in the right place. It all worked…except the cargo was missing. How fun that would have been! I imagine they don’t have the funding to repair them all yet. I hope they do someday. At the start of the visit I told Freya how my grandfather had been an RAF engineer. Later, she played at being an engineer fixing the planes:

I’ve been reading a blog series “30 days to transform your play” on An Everyday Story http://www.aneverydaystory.com/30-days-typ/ As with many things at the moment I have found it quite overwhelming as I try to assimilate all the things I should/could/want to be doing. However, I thought I’d just try one simple thing, and I made some plain play dough (see http://www.aneverydaystory.com/2014/04/07/30-days-to-transform-your-play-day-7/) I gave it to the kids along with some matchsticks. Hannah will often play with play dough for a very long time but on this occasion it particularly grabbed Freya’s interest. She was constructing this thing and getting frustrated by parts falling over. I talked to her about the concept of ‘trial and error’ and she really took it on board.

So Freya has completed her first “term” of home education. I am feeling both hopeful and apprehensive about the year ahead. I worry I’m not doing enough. They’re both changing so fast and I worry that I’ll miss opportune moments in their development for certain types of learning. I’m looking forward to going away more as a family. I’m glad that we have good friends and good family. The evenings are already that tiny bit lighter.

Linking up with Beautiful Tribe, Enchanted Pixie and Along Came Cherry for This Homeschooling Life.

This Homeschooling Life

This Homeschooling Life – November

As a family of three, “going out for coffee” was a weekly activity. Freya, who enjoys a good old sit-still-read-a-book-observe-the-world-have-a-good-conversation session developed a love of the practice to equal her parents’. Hannah, however, being more run-around-climb-up-what’s-over-there? has not yet learned to enjoy the subtle delights of an afternoon spent cradling a warm mug.

So we don’t go out for coffee much at the moment. On one rare occasion, in our favourite place, a dad was sitting at the table next to us with his three teenaged kids. He was reading the paper, one child was using a laptop, the other two doing some handwritten work. Every now and then I’d hear the dad hashing out a maths question with the youngest. That scene gave me a beautiful vision for our home educating future!

A few weeks ago Jeff was away for a Saturday so it fell to me to take Freya to her ballet lesson, while my mum hung out with Hannah. We left an hour early and headed to the Polish bakery/coffee shop from where I’d written last month’s blogpost. They don’t make anything dairy-free so I brought her some hot chocolate from home and we read books and did some maths. Of course it was lovely, and Jeff has now continued taking her out for coffee before ballet every week. I’m so glad we found a time for them to do something together.

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Freya is very slowly becoming more interested in different kinds of artistic expression. She would come home from nursery twice a week with a huge daubed painting – here are two of my favourites…

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…but she has only recently attempted to represent objects, people or scenes. She has been inspired by CBeebies’ Get Squiggling to develop her control of the lines she draws and similarly has been keen to practice writing letters. This dry-wipe style booklet has been fun. She even wrote a message on the back of this painting she made for her brand new baby cousin. Her favourite part of the painting was “making rainbow colours”. I love to watch the focus on Freya’s face and her sparkling eyes when she is mixing paint and creating colours.

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This bath time activity was a big hit with both girls – I just mixed flour and water into a runny paste and added food colouring – the colours were very vibrant before they all got mixed together!

Freya really enjoys baking and I’m keen to find her a recipe that she can complete all by herself from start to finish (except using the oven, at this stage). I’d also like it to be free of refined sugar so I can worry less about how much of it she eats! We tried a muffin recipe but quickly discovered that although she can now eat eggs in baked food, it’s too tricky for her to mix them and avoid getting raw egg on her skin. And she won’t touch bananas, which this recipe used, though she liked the flavour of the finished muffins. So we tried it again with apple sauce instead of bananas but she didn’t like them and Hannah had to eat them all!

Next I looked for simple cookie recipe. They almost all involve creaming the fat and sugar which would be to much for Freya at the moment. I thought perhaps using oil would be the way forward for easy mixing, and experimented to create a  recipe myself, changing the quantities and cooking times. I felt a bit sick tasting even just a bite of so many cookies! Oops! Next morning Freya had a taste too and liked them very much. After all that, the first variation was the best by far, and it’s the easiest too, being a simple mix it up and plop it on the baking sheet kind of thing. Now to give Freya the recipe to try by herself!

Freya is developing an interest in history. This feels like a developmental stage thing, in that not long ago she couldn’t understand the concept of things being different when mummy/daddy/grandparents were young, but now she can, to some extent anyway. Our visits to Milton Keynes Museum really launched her interest, and recently I got her some library books about life in Victorian Britain. I checked thoroughly to see what the content was like and rejected some books for too-vivid imagery or content about ideas that would worry her and stick in her mind. We’ve been reading a brilliant one that uses photographs to explore how people from different classes experienced life e.g. school, homes, holidays.

I am struck by how Freya’s learning style at the moment seems to be largely via reading…and how that may not be the same at all for Hannah when she is the same age…who knows?

This Homeschooling Life: October

 

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I’m writing this from a Polish bakery/cafe on my local high street that I’ve finally gathered up the confidence to step into. The coffee’s fine and the music’s loud but I’m glad I managed it. I have also just bought bigos ingredients from the Polish supermarket across the road. It’s so nice to be surrounded by Polish voices, which I mostly understand, but I feel trapped inside my own mouth because I can’t summon up the vocabulary to engage with the staff…until I give up and use English.

I’m delayed in writing this month’s This Homeschooling Life post because two weeks ago, on my last ‘day off’ (no work and no kids) I spent the entire day clearing out my utility room, instead of blogging. More on Konmari in another post possibly…

When I stopped to reflect on the last month I felt a dark fog settle over the images in my mind’s eye. It has been a hard month; my mental health took a bit of a(nother) plunge – not sure why…the dark evenings are a factor – so it has been a month overshadowed in my head by guilt, anxiety and inertia.

One guilt-inducing scenario, as always, is my inability to prepare and provide activities for the children. Sometimes my best laid schemes go agley when Hannah won’t nap and fusses her way through the afternoon when Freya and I might have been having a nice time with a workbook or something arty.

Anyhoo, to remedy this a little, I took the kids to a Montessori playgroup that welcomes even school-aged Freyas. It was very friendly and nicely arranged and Hannah got stuck in straight away. Freya took a while to warm up but soon enough was pegging the socks on the ol’ Montessori clothes line, painting with interesting implements and, her favourite, washing up. She’d wash up all the time at home if I let her (unfortunately the water and suds aren’t kind to her eczema-prone skin so we ration it). Another home ed family we are getting to know was also there which was lovely. Afterwards we went to a local park together. The sun was shining and the colours in the park were beautiful. I really needed a morning like that and so did the kids. Freya is keen to return to the playgroup. I’m a bit worried about the cost but Jeff’s attitude is more “they’re only little once” and Hannah hasn’t had the opportunity to attend all the lovely groups that Freya did as a toddler, so I think maybe I can relax about it and take them when I want to. Maybe it’s a way of being kind to myself too.

When I do manage an activity at home, I have found that pitching it first at Hannah’s ability works quite well. That way it’s something she can easily join in with, and Freya will inevitably want to do it too and will develop it up to her own level. For example here is a Montessori-style (this post isn’t sponsored, honestly) fine motor skill/sorting activity aimed at Hannah, and when she got bored and Freya had a play, she was interested in forming patterns with the different items in the tray, and then it became a recipe that a witch/princess was cooking.

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Freya has told me that in this year of being 5 she would like to learn French. I asked what the success criteria are, and she said “I will be able to speak to a French person in France.” Which is a pretty good goal. She has been vaguely interested in French since her fourth birthday (when I first suggested learning a language) so we’ve been doing little bits. (Once when my dad and I took the girls swimming, Freya was swimming through “la mer” to “la plage”  where she would eat “une glace au chocolat”.) We’ve been reading and listening to some Max et Mathilde books, although we took a break for  while – now that she can read so well I wonder how she will engage with them differently? She has been choosing French children’s vocabulary books at the library, so now that she is pushing the agenda more herself I’ll up my input.

Our home ed community continues to be a highlight of the week. The merry band are growing together, learning how to play together and to make space for each other. Most of all I love to watch them running together on the grass.

 

 

We tried out Rainbow Guides a few weeks ago. I wonder whether Freya could do with a small amount of time doing her own thing away from family, and when she talks about missing nursery she always relates it to her beloved teacher Miss Wing, so I think she’d enjoy having another teacher-type adult to see every week. Maybe her ballet teacher is enough, except that they don’t have time for conversations, so probably not. Anyway we went along. I sat at the side of the hall. The children sat around a table making a craft. Freya was the only kid who talked! She tried to engage all the leaders and the two girls next to her. It seemed pretty hard work. Then it was time for games, and the tables were turned. All the other girls were very enthusiastic about the games while Freya was immediately out of her comfort zone. My heart went out to her as she became rooted to the spot on her turn of Duck Duck Goose. Everyone just stared at her, until eventually the leader said “don’t you WANT a turn?” I beckoned her to come and sit with me until she felt ready to join. She didn’t join in. Because I know her, I know she was anxious about getting it wrong. The leader had made a point of “remember, only four ducks before a goose” – presumably some kids go round and round and it slows the game down! I could see Freya angsting about exceeding the four ducks accidentally. I could have cried when no-one reached out to her in her obvious discomfort.

On the walk home I asked if she wanted to go again, trying to make it clear she didn’t have to. She said “I’d like to get to know the girls better.” In the end I’ve decided to wait for her to mention rainbows again, and in the four weeks since, she never has. Maybe she’ll be ready to enjoy it when she’s older, and maybe not. The best bit was walking together in the dark down the hill and down the high street and being able to have a chat, just us. I’d told her that if she ended up doing Rainbows weekly, Daddy would pick her up on his way home from work. I think that’s what she was most excited about. So maybe what we actually need to do is make time for a weekly or fortnightly Daddy-Freya date.

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Of course the highlight and grand finale of October was Freya’s 5th birthday. She asked for a family day out Milton Keynes Museum, where Jeff had taken the girls for the first time two weeks previously. She was very keen to show me everything! It’s a hands-on museum “where history comes to life”. It was BRILLIANT! Highlights included toasting our own bread in the Victorian kitchen and doing sums in the school room on a slate. I’ll dedicate another post to describing it in all its brilliance…probably in December after we’ve been back for a third visit for VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS when you can go dressed up! Cannot wait!

Linking up with Beautiful Tribe, Enchanted Pixie and Along Came Cherry for This Homeschooling Life.

This Homeschooling Life

 

Our first month of home educating – what did it look like?

In my first post about our home ed journey I explored some of the reasons why we’ve made this decision and what we hope might happen. Today I’m looking back over our first month and trying to remember what we actually got up to!

September has seen a pleasingly slow transition from summer to autumn. I get anxious about the arrival of autumn; the start of a new school terms forbodes of grey weather, dark evenings and the squeezing of the enjoyable part of the day into a tiny window, the rest of the time to be spent shivering under a blanket unable to spark myself into action. Every year I forget though, that September and October are often beautiful months and indeed we’ve had many enjoyable days outside, albeit in coats some of the time (except Freya; she’s determined to stay in her summer dresses). 

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We caught the splash park for the last time before it closed for the season.

We attended one of our first facebook-home-ed-group-organised outings, to Pitstone Windmill, a National Trust site. My dad came too (good job too as I couldn’t have managed both kids on the steep steps!) It was a relatively quick visit as we had to vacate the tiny carpark for the next group, but it left an impression on Freya and now I’m looking for library books to follow up the experience. To make the most of the gorgeous sunshine we headed over to nearby Ashridge estate where the main priority for both girls was squelching in muddy puddles and poking the ground with sticks. Freya turns almost everything into an imaginative game; I think this time she was the queen mixing up muddy potions, and then she was Rapunzel and was exploring out from the tower into the woods.

Our home ed circle also continues to enable weekly opportunities for outdoor play (and outdoor tea-drinking for the mums. We even have our own mugs now…which the kids couldn’t resist helping us decorate.) These friendships are essential to my own general wellbeing, and I also love the easy-going environment for the children to play on their own, or together, or in pairs, or with their mum, or someone else’s mum…

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Immersed in a lovely play invitation set up by Tanya – play dough and sticks and little figures.

As a family we’ve been taking little steps over the years to make our garden easier to play in.  Our garden is steep, brambly and stinging-nettly! This autumn we’re finally going to try and create a level lawn. Jeff and my brother have dug a patch over and we now have to get some support in to hold the soil in the right places before we can sow seed. I really hope it works. I long for the kids to have grass to play on next spring. 

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This year, every other week my husband Jeff is taking a day to be with the children. The other week Freya said she wanted to see planes, and after a quick google Jeff discovered the de Havilland aircraft museum not too far away. Here the children spent the day climbing into fighter jet cockpits and pretending to be business class passengers in the 60s!

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The kids have, of course, been doing all sorts of things with their grandparents every week – visiting the library, playing in the park, baking, reading…I’ll have to invite them to write a guest post sometime!

In my personal journal last month I noted that a priority in my eyes for our home ed journey is to develop our family relationships, especially the bond between the sisters. Freya hasn’t found it especially easy, losing her only-child status and discovering that this other child demands a lot of her parents’ time and energy. However, Hannah is changing at a rate of knots, as tiny ones do, and her language development is definitely helping Freya to enjoy her more as playmate. I’ve tried to allow lots of time for simple silliness and laughter between them to aid the bonding process. Freya invented a game called The Oopsie Club where they run in circles on my bed then fall on their backs “oopsie!!” It has them in hysterics. These times almost always turn into aggressive roughness from Freya towards Hannah. So we’re still learning. I’m learning how to help Freya release whatever’s in her in an appropriate way. Freya’s learning about gentleness. Slowly. I’ve learned these times are best in the morning (and getting out of the house does take ages!) as in the afternoon the roughness takes over much more quickly and Hannah is much less resilient to it too. I am also aware that we still haven’t found ways to give Freya time with one or both parents on her own, not often enough anyway.

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What’s coming up? More of me coping with the change in the seasons – I’m in the process of writing an autumn bucket list inspired by a friend. I want to share this with Freya and instil a cosy ‘hygge’ feeling of autumn to help me stay upbeat! Freya will turn five, so I’ll be in the thick of party organising in a couple of weeks. And hopefully lots of snuggles, cuddles and reading (and even watching tv).

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Linking up with Beautiful tribe, Enchanted Pixie and Along Came Cherry for This Homeschooling Life.

This Homeschooling Life