A garden to enjoy

 

In March I identified three key priorities for our home educating this season and last post I looked a bit more at the first priority, reading. Now I’m reflecting on some aspects of the second priority, spending time outside.

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My view with breakfast as I jot down notes for this post

I’m so grateful for spring and summer and being outside in my garden. I grew up in a home with a beautiful garden; it’s not huge but lovingly tended by my mum who takes care of the planting and my dad who takes care of the lawn. It has always been colourful and full f interesting spaces to move between: two, then three patios, the lawn with its flowerbed island, a winding path to follow, weeping willows whose umbrellas of foliage you could get inside of, a hidden space behind the apple tree where honesty plants grew with their mother-of-pearl like seeds. It was an ideal setting for imaginative play as a younger child and for just hanging out or basking in the sunshine as a teenager. Now, I love picking my kids up from my parents’ house on a Monday afternoon in spring, summer and early autumn, catching half an hour in this lovely garden with them before teatime.

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I painted this watercolour of my parents’ garden for their 45th wedding anniversary

So I long for my own children to have a garden to love. I’m supremely grateful for the Edwardian terrace home that we rent from friends. It comes with a steeply sloping back garden that was waist high with brambles and nettles when we moved in a couple of weeks before Freya was born. With help from friends, family and especially my mum and our next-door neighbours, we have battled to tame this space and make it usable and enjoyable. It’d bore you to hear the five-and-a-half year story of its transformation, and it still has a long way to go, but this I feel the garden is finally playable in. This is largely due to the lawn area that Jeff levelled and sowed with grass seed last autumn. We can put a paddling pool on it without all the water pouring out over one side whilst being empty on the other! We can play ball without it constantly rolling away down the hill! We’ve had our first picnic on it too.

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You can see the patch of long grass that Fre

It’s also very possible that the sudden feeling of “the kids can actually play here!” comes from Hannah being old and physically confident enough this spring to handle the uneven terrain and sensible enough not to go charging down the steep concrete steps that lead from house to garden. Freya has been able to manage for three years or so but there is no visibility from the house except from an upstairs window, so I couldn’t really let Freya play out while I stayed in with Hannah. Now Hannah is confident enough that I can even pop inside myself for short moments while they are both playing outside.

A new vision for this year is to develop a scrubby patch of the garden into a more ‘wild’ space for the children to use. A space for digging and scrambling and hiding and getting messy. That makes it sound massive. I wish. It’s an L shape patch within a roughly 3x2m area, not much but something. Two years ago Konni next door helped me transform it into a veg patch with a flat raised bed sort of area and paths marked out by old christmas tree trunks. Overall it was too shady and most of the crops there failed, except for the fantastic purple sprouting broccoli. This year I’m reducing my food-growing effort to potatoes, raspberries, beans and tomatoes in sunnier spots and I’m happy to repurpose the area for the kids.

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The site for the ‘wild’ area. You can see where I started making a ‘green’ path with speedwell, hopefully that will keep spreading. I’d like to built a fairy garden rockery in the top right of this area beside the tiny apple tree.

So far we have built a little trellis lean-to to serve as a den. Runner beans are now slowly inching their way up the trellis. A friend kindly gave us some cut off logs which the children have immediately used as chairs and table in the den, and I’ve got more that I hope to install as stepping logs to enable climbing and balancing. I’d like to create a little rockery as wild fairy garden. A little bench would be nice for the children to sit on.

 

I’m slowly learning how to engage my children more in the outdoors. I feel I lack an instinct for it and am fairy risk averse, so I have a lot of learning to do myself.

A nice thing I’ve done with Freya recently is to count bees for the Great British Bee count. I read about it on the awesome and award-winning https://makewealthhistory.org/ and downloaded the app to record our bee counts. Freya is afraid of bees (though this is something I have not passed on as I love bees, and don’t even mind wasps) and I’d like to help her become more used to them, and all insects generally.

A friend also helped us make tiny versions of the kids by laminating photos of them which they loved putting in funny places around the garden.

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If you have any other tips for easy ways to play outside with children in a small space, let me know!

This Homeschooling Life – Reading in March

In the last post I identified some key priorities for this season of home educating, with reading being top of the list. Today I’m looking at what Freya is currently choosing to read.

I’m not sure where Freya’s recent interest in fairies came from, but a few weeks ago, when I picked her up from my parents’ house she excitedly showed me a Rainbow Magic book that she had found in the charity shop. I have to say a had a little internal moment of panic – because when I worked in our local library, years ago, I developed a deep mistrust of that series! The series, about two girls and their fairy friends, is produced by a company, ghostwritten by several authors under one pseudonym, Daisy Meadows, which I felt to be quite a cynical, money-making approach to creating children’s fiction: churning out book after near-identical book. If they were brilliant, it might not matter so much, but the writing is not exactly inspiring (repeated use of the same adjectives for example) and I worried they might contain unhelpful messages for girls about what they should like or want to be like.

I didn’t want to communicate those feeling of mine to Freya, and risk making her feel her interests or preferences were wrong, so I’ve kept quiet and let her get on with it while having a read myself and bit of think about what I really think!

Since that first encounter she must have read about 12 of the things. I mean really read – I was astounded when we picked up a few at the library (of our 30 books, 15 on each child ticket, I was going to allow one to be a Rainbow Magic book, but expanded it to three on Freya’s insistence), and she’d already finished one by the time we’d driven home from the library. It had 77 pages! I assume she’s properly reading them, since she talks about what happens in the stories. But flip, how did that happen?

It has become her first genuine obsession. She has strong interests in princesses and outer space and ballet and specific tv shows, but the excitement she feels about these books is at another level. She says “I can’t WAIT to go to Babcia’s tomorrow, because I can read the book about Ruby the Red Fairy I started last week!” “I DON’T WANT to get out of the car yet, I have to keep reading this book!” She reads them over breakfast and over dinner and basically at every opportunity.

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The current selection at Grandma’s house

In my thinking and reading I came across a blog post entitled “Why I don’t hate the Rainbow Fairies” and I found myself agreeing. Do read the post yourself (https://rarestkindofbest.com/2012/01/14/why-i-dont-hate-the-rainbow-fairies/) if you’re interested, but the main points include that all the stories are age-appropriate, the main characters are all kind towards each other, and there’s little conflict/peril. All of this is just right for Freya at this stage. She doesn’t enjoy reading about things going wrong, people getting hurt, unkindness or danger, and I’m glad that she is absorbing examples of friends solving problems together and helping each other.

The author also notes that despite the huge success of these books (wikipedia tells me they were the most borrowed children’s books from libraries in 2010) there doesn’t seem to be a hard-sell on merchandise – I certainly haven’t come across any, and I really appreciate that.

The daftest thing is that I still haven’t read many of them myself. I’ve read one all the way through and a few bits in some others, and I wasn’t so offended that I had to pursue it much more. I actually looked for Freya’s stash today before I started writing this blog post, to write from a more informed position, but she’s obviously taken them all out with her for the day.

So for now, I’m happy to borrow a huge stack of them to keep Freya busy on our long journey to the Lake District next week!

 

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In other reading news…

We finally started The Enchanted Wood. I’d been wanting to read the Faraway Tree series to Freya for ages, but couldn’t find the first one. The peril-level is just too much for Freya to want to read on her own but she asks for me to read it to her. Hannah doesn’t really tolerate it yet (too many words, too few pictures) so we normally only manage a chapter at a time before littl’un kicks up too much of a fuss. Enid Blyton is another one that I’m having to have a good think about, in terms of the gender roles and other attitudes. I need to reread a few myself and ponder.

At Christmas Freya was given a beautiful large book with excepts from famous stories like The Borrowers and Tom’s Midnight Garden. Overall these are a bit too old for her still, and she has found it hard coming into a story without its beginning to contextualise the characters and places, but the other day we read the excerpt from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory together and it left it on a real cliff hanger! Charlie had just found the golden ticket! So she’s keen to continue with that, and I think it’ll one for me to read to her, to mediate any scary bits!

Freya’s confidence with reading is helping with her independence in every day life. She weighs the fruit and veg at Tesco and presses the right buttons to get the barcode stickers. She can take my shopping list or to do list and feel more involved in errands (handwriting is obviously more tricky than printed text but it’s good practice right?). At museums, as well as engaging with the knowledge content on display, she enjoys using maps and signs to navigate and make decisions.

Hannah is starting to recognise letters, “Huh for Hannaaaaaah!” obviously being the favourite. She sometimes “reads” a word based on a letter she recognises, e.g. every word beginning with H is Hannah to her, but also words that have a H or an A and N in them at any position in the word, they are all “Hannah” to her. In the car, where she has the most stamina for reading – at home she doesn’t spend long with any one book – she’ll tell us about what’s going on on each page, with a particular focus on emotions at the moment “Peppa happy there! George not happy.”

And finally:

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I love this photo. While Hannah is receiving cards and gifts at her family birthday gathering, Freya is getting stuck in to a book that was just given to her by Uncle Tom and Aunty Jess. It’s about Degas’ (“I thought it was Deggass!”) ballerina sculpture 🙂

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Are there any books you would recommend for us at this stage? What are your children enjoying reading?

 

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?