Hello again! I’ve had to take a break from blog writing as I haven’t had my regular “days off” since the end of July, but I’ve got one today so here are some thoughts on the third priority that I identified (yonks ago now) for our home educating: enabling more independence in the home for our children aged nearly-6 and 2-and-a-half.
Thinking through a typical day, let’s start with breakfast. Both girls love it when we have cereal in, not just because of its sugar content but because they can get everything out and prepare it themselves completely. They’ve even had breakfast while I was still in bed a couple of times. Naturally I steer our family more towards porridge to avoid the energy peaks and troughs, and I don’t have cereal in all the time, so I would like to make it easier for Freya, at least, to prepare her own porridge. Is it ever safe for a five year old to use the microwave?
We are trying in general to give the children more autonomy in the realm of food and eating. We’ve adapted our approach to dinner times using the idea of the “division of responsibility” – basically, the parents decide what food to offer and when to offer it, and the child decides whether to eat it, and how much to eat. I admit I have pretty clear ideas about healthy eating (which then become muddy and I feel guilty and I don’t know what’s best for my children as with all ideas I think I’m clear on) and I also accept that forcing children to eat certain things or certain amounts is a bit disrespectful and doesn’t necessarily set them up for a healthy relationship with food long term.
Back to our dinner times. We now aim to eat as a whole family at 6 as often as possible, which is difficult but worth it.The children really enjoy laying the table. They now have little ceramic cups and glass tumblers for their drinks at home; the cake forks and teaspoons are the right size for them but Freya is choosing to practise with full sized cutlery; we’re trying out ceramic dishes and plates a bit too (I just need to get some I’m happy for them to break, rather than angst about my wedding crockery!) The food is placed in the middle of the table and I’m trying to let them serve themselves (cous cous EVERYWHERE). The idea is that every meal should include at least one ‘safe food’ for each person that they could fill up on if they didn’t want to eat anything else. I find this very, very hard and have often ended up cooking several separate things for Freya so that she doesn’t eat just a bowl of plain pasta or whatever. It’s easiest in that regard to do deconstructed meals like fajitas or pizzas where everyone builds their own meals from a selection of individual foods. But Jeff and I don’t want to eat like that every day! We will keep going with ‘DoR’ and see where it takes us.
From eating to cleaning: both children are keen to clean up by themselves when they spill something by accident (though more reluctant if they’ve done it on purpose!). At the moment I get them a rag or piece of kitchen roll but I’d like to set up some suitable bits for them to reach on their own. I just haven’t got round to it yet.
Dressing: Hannah goes through phases of wanting to dress herself, for example for a while she insisted on putting her own pyjama bottoms at bedtime. Recently she has started practising putting her tops on by herself. I’ve started thinking about moving her clothing down to a lower drawer so that she can have more independence there – I hesitate because I don’t want to be refolding everything every day if she pulls it all out. Maybe I’ll have a go and see. One of the girls’ favourite games at the moment is dressing up – Freya loves to be able to treat Hannah like a doll, and will often put layers of her own clothes onto Hannah. Shoe-wise, Hannah has a pair of wellies by the back door that she will often put on to potter about in passageway outside, but we’ve taken an unintentional step back with their day-to-day shoes, in that they both have trainers that they can’t reliably put on by themselves – oops. But they were both free/cheap and are barefoot friendly so I’m not getting them new shoes yet!
Play: Hannah likes to do jigsaw puzzles and boxed games every day, so I have changed the storage to enable her to reach them herself. At the moment Freya’s default activity at home is reading. I love that it’s her favourite thing, and I also wonder if I ought to encourage more variety and creativity. Our approach to home ed at the moment takes its cue from the unschooling philosophy, so I want to respond to the children’s interests and not force them to do activities that they are not interested in. Freya has easy access to various resources, activities, workbooks and art supplies, but doesn’t often choose them herself. Actually it’s Hannah who will go and independently find herself something to do, and then Freya may be inspired by what Hannah is up to, and leave her book for a while!
I do get the sense that Freya would enjoy a little more structure to her learning at home, but she rejects most suggestions. I’m experimenting with just putting stuff out, when I have the wherewithal to do so, to see if it piques an interest. To push myself in that respect, I have instigated Friday Art Afternoon, loosely linked with the Exploring Nature with Children curriculum that our home ed group loosely considers when we play outside together on Friday mornings. Last week was Pond Study so I showed the children some of Claude Monet’s waterlily pond paintings. We talked about the colours and brush marks, and they made their own paintings inspired by Monet. They were utterly absorbed in this and I was able to cook dinner while they painted, bonus. I like the idea of giving a starting point and seeing where they take it.
Well, I feel I’ve just rambled my way through this post but hopefully it gives a flavour of how we are trying to enable more independence at home. I’m up for a challenge so do share your ideas – how have you made independence more possible in your home?