Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Why it is good to keep learning

I am trying to learn to knit. I knitted briefly as a child, and I still have the teddy bear's scarf to prove it! Earlier this year, partly as another fruit of The Artist's Way, I began knitting. It comes in fits and starts, so I have only managed to knit three scarves, all the same pattern. It was little more complicated than a plain scarf as it had a hole in it, on purpose, to thread the end of the scarf through to wrap around the wearer's neck. I made one for myself, one for my mother for Mother's Day and one for my friend's birthday, a couple of weeks ago.

So I felt ready to graduate to to something harder and I visited Jane, the lovely lady who runs my local wool shop, for advice. I came home with some cotton and a pattern for a hat for my son: the new skill I am to learn is decreasing stitches. I have not got off to a good start. The pattern has 104 stitches and after 4 rows on 3.25 mm needles, I have to swap to 4mm needles. My first mistake was to buy short needles, so the 104 stitches barely fitted and I gave myself a terrible headache casting them all on. They my eldest son had to be enlisted to help me count them to make sure I'd done enough. Although I started with 104, by the time I had knitted my first row I had 105! Then I discovered I was knitting with one 3.25mm needle and one 4mm! The other thin one was returned to me the next day, bent after a sword fight! Reluctantly I accepted the need to buy longer needles and return to the beginning. I have cast on all my stitches again and have knitted two rows. The tension is uneven, there are loose threads of cotton and I keep finding odd stitches that don't quite look right. I will be very proud if my son ever wears this hat although I don't think it will withstand scrutiny.

I really want to knit leaves like the ones I saw at Handmade Homeschool. I even found a pattern, but it is beyond me - I don't even understand the abbreviations although I'm sure Jane would interpret if I asked. I think I will make this a goal for next Autumn!

Experiencing the frustration of knowing what I want to be able to do but not being able to do it, of being able to see how well others can do something but not being able to do it myself, of making slow progress, messing up and having to start over - I have cried real tears over this hat, and I've only done two rows - helps me to empathise with my children as they learn. I believe it is important to keep myself in a place of learning new skills and to experience on a regular basis how hard it can be. Even when I want to learn, I don't always feel like it; even when I'm trying my hardest it doesn't always look like it; even when I'm trying to concentrate my mind sometimes wanders. Perhaps, when it is done, I will ask my son to wear the hat when I am trying to explain a difficult concept to him or teach him a tricky skill, hopefully it will remind me to go easy on him!

Monday, 29 September 2008


As I have mentioned before, we have two resident spiders. One lives in a hole in the back-door frame, (I guess the previous owners of the house had a cable running outside through the hole). You can see the hole on the right, just above the bolt.

In the evening, the spider sits with its front few legs sticking out of the whole, waiting, I assume, for prey to wander by. When I lock the door, the vibrations send the spider disappearing back into the hole. I must confess to sometimes jiggling the door just to watch the spider's vanishing act!

So I was a little sad to find what I at first imagined to be its corpse on the floor by the door. Always one to spot an opportunity to engage the children in a educational moment, I fetched some tweezers and a match box so they could look closely at the body. I then discovered that the spider had no middle! In fact, it was not a spider at all, just its skin! What I had taken to be the husk of a sunflower seed from the bird food caught up in the silk, was, in fact, the back of the spider, a sort of lid!

I was very impressed by my find. I love the idea of the spider extricating itself, one leg at a time and leaving this perfect replica behind. I wonder too, how I can have gone through so many years of life, presumably in houses full of spiders, and never seen one of these before.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Handmade Homeschool

In response to this post, JoVE suggested I look at Handmade Homeschool. Two posts in particular caught my eye, so clearly exploring the dilemma I, and clearly others, experience: Is the person I am, the mother I am, the educator I am, good enough? In Accepting your mothering type and Loving the mothers we are, she has written eloquently on the need to 'retune our thinking' and to grasp that 'it is important for us to understand that we can’t do and be all the good things in this world.'
This week I have not lived up to my own image of a good mother. I have heard myself yell at the children and speak to them in cutting and sarcastic ways. I have been unkind, impatient and uncompassionate. I find it easy to dwell on this.
However, I have cuddled them, listened to them, kept vigil over my son's knitting stitch-by-stitch, swum with them, discussed any number of subjects with them, read aloud to them and told them how much I love them.
I am not always the mother I would like to be but I would like to learn to love the mother I am.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Your most important bits

My children were discussing which is the most important bit of the body.

If your brain just disappeared you would die instantly. Or you would at least fall over.

If your lungs vanished, would you die instantaneously, or would it take as long as you can hold your breath for?

But then there's your feet. Without them, you wouldn't be able to go anywhere.

Ah-ha, but snakes don't have feet!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace

I had a birthday day out yesterday. We went up to London and visited The Queen's Gallery.
We went to see the Amazing Rare Things exhibition and also Treasures from the Royal Collection. It was the Treasures that grabbed us the most. We loved best the sparkly display of Faberge and Indian valuables: there was one Faberge egg, which would have made the whole visit worth while for me, as well as a menagerie of animals carved from semi-precious stones with gold feet and gem-stone eyes; there were life-like flowers and plants which looked as though they would tremble in a breeze; there were crowns and swords and an emerald belt.
Elsewhere in the gallery were exquisite pieces of furniture and outstanding paintings. I had that special feeling I get when I have the time to spend with art.
The children were absorbed, helped by an excellent family trail. We talked about the monarchy and Greek Mythology and the changing architecture of London. I am only sorry that we did not discover this exhibition earlier as it closes this weekend, but 'Masters of Flemish Painting' opens next month and our ticket entitles us to free entry for a year so we will be back!
Hopefully in better weather!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Happy Birthday

It's my birthday today! Birthday cake for breakfast!

Presents from my family, including beautiful handmade gifts from my children - I am rich indeed!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Learning to Read

My little girl is five and a half. If she were in school she would be being taught to read; she often asks me to teach her to read. Initially I was enthusiatic: I bought a scheme I had heard about and we tried it; I used the books I had used with her brothers; I sounded out words with her. But she doesn't seem to quite get it. Random sounds and guesses appear, it all becomes hard work and I get frustrated and lose my joy. I never, ever, want one of my children to say that they hate books or that reading is boring, so I have backed right off. I cannot believe that a child would grow up, loving stories, delighting in books, surrounded by text, and not learn to read.

Yesterday, as I finished our tea-time chapter of 'Our Island History', she pointed to the last word: "S-E-N-D,' she sounded out, "send." She could see it. She had heard me read the word and she could see how the letters made it, even with the blended consonant.

So often, their learning reminds me of bulbs. You can't see anything happening, but somewhere underground, in private, in the dark, growth is occuring. Sometime those tiny green shoots will appear and all you really did was plant them and water them; they grew because that's what they do!

Monday, 22 September 2008

My Running Journey

I began running in the Summer of 1994, the end of my first year of both teaching and marriage. I was stressed and I was tired - more to do with being a 21 year old newly qualified teacher in a difficult Outer London state school than being a newly-wed. My husband suggested that I take up running which I initially thought was a daft idea. I barely had time to fit in life's essentials without taking up a physically exhausting pastime. However, I was persuaded to join the Reebok Running Sisters in Bushy Park and I took part in a six-week course with the goal of a three mile fun run at the end. To begin with I could run for about three minutes before I had to slow to a walk to get enough oxygen. Gradually I improved and I completed the final run without stopping. I would still say that is my greatest running achievement to date.

Since then I have run two marathons (a long time ago!) and probably a dozen half-marathons and many more 10 kilometre races. With each of my three pregnancies, morning sickness has prevented me from running at all and by the time I was over the sickness I was too pregnant and unfit to take it up again. So each time I have had to pick myself up and start over after the arrival of the baby.

I have learned a lot from running. In June I ran a 10k: It was hot and I wasn't well recovered from walking in Snowdonia the weekend before. I took a few minutes before the race to think through all my doubts: 'It will hurt, I will be thirsty, I will want to stop, What is the point? I'll be too tired to play with the children this afternoon ...' and I made a decision not to pay any attention. I put my metaphorical fingers in my ears and chanted 'I'm not listening' to that internal voice. And I ran. It did hurt, I was very thirsty and I was exhausted. But not once did I give into the voices. Although I didn't get a personal best time, for the first time ever I had run with absolute confidence and I was proud of myself.

In two weeks I will be going up to Newcastle with my running partner and dear friend Kate to run the Great North Run, which is 13.1 miles: a half-marathon. Despite getting my training off to a good start, the last few weeks have been hard going and I have not run as far or as fast as I would have liked. I have reached a stage in my life where I have realised that without a significant increase in training I will not get faster, I will not get a personal best.

In a funny way this ties in with blogging, because it is another aspect of my life where I never quite feel good enough. I belong to a club but am one of the slowest runners and so the winter evening run is a test of stamina and commitment for me as I try desperately to keep the end runners in sight so I don't get lost. My running partner is naturally faster than me and, although we enjoy a good natter on an hour long run, I always have the sneaking suspicion that she would rather be going faster. Paula Radcliffe runs a marathon at a pace faster than I can sprint. I always tend to look at those doing better than me, not those who aren't.

So I am re-evaluating my goals for running. I love running, especially after a full-on day with the children when I find the quiet, the rhythm of my feet and the space to think a blessing. So often I am tying up my trainers muttering about not wanting to do this and I come home invigorated and inspired. I like pushing myself physically and completing tough sessions. I like the fact that I can eat more cake and chocolate and maintain my weight than if I didn't run. I like to run with my running partner and catch up on all her news and share mine. I like racing occasionally because there is a fun atmosphere and it's interesting to see how I'm doing.

I guess if my sense of achievement comes from reaching my goals, it is very important that they are realistic. For the Great North Run, I will be switching my focus from the clock to the weekend away in a new city, the party atmosphere of a big race, the enjoyment of my physical fitness and wellness and the freedom I have to run.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Friday Feast

This week we started watching Dan Cruickshank's 'Adventures in Architecture'. I had bought this DVD before the Summer and I hadn't really figured out when to fit it in. This week I have had a cold and have felt really rough. Sitting on the sofa letting the TV entertain the children is just what I needed. There are a couple of sure signs that the children have enjoyed something: asking to do it again, and telling daddy all about it. So I knew I was onto a winner when, on Friday morning, my middle son was asking if we could watch some more architecture and, later, my daughter was recounting a Mayan bloodletting ceremony to her father over our evening meal.
I was expecting lots of beautiful buildings, (there's kind of a clue in the title!), but I wasn't expecting such a vibrant mix of geography, history and religion. In two episodes we have met Buddhism, Hinduism, Inuit culture, the Catherine Palace in St Petersburg, the Egyptian Pharaohs, Mayan human sacrifice and an artistic delight of a cemetery in Genoa.
(There was one building, a temple in India but I can't remember, that was covered in graphic sculptures of people, in the words I used to explain to my nine-year-old, 'kissing and cuddling'! Not sure what the younger two made of it, but my eldest did keep glancing at me sideways to see my reaction. I debated switching it off, but decided that this would make more of as issue of a subject that, I believe, benefits from being de-mystified and discussed openly. So I guess that added another 'subject' to the mix!)
One thing I love about Home Ed is the way learning all ties together, not divided along subject lines but all thrown in as one glorious feast to be devoured and savoured and digested over time.

Just Another Practice whilst wearing Smarter Clothes

My brother-in-law sent me such an encouraging e-mail yesterday. He likes what I write, and says:

Surely the important thing is you've enjoyed thinking about what to say and
what you'd like to tell people. When you don't, you'll stop.

This brings home to me what this blog is for: it's for me, for my pleasure, for my writing development and for my record of what matters to me. If others enjoy it, and I hope they do, that's an added bonus.

It is very important to me what people think of me. Just a couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to take on a role in my church. I was excited by the idea and also pleased and flattered that I was considered up to it, good enough. It transpired that the job didn't need doing, and I was deeply disappointed. Underneath my good motives, was an agenda all my own. I wanted to be seen to be fantastic, I wanted to people to think and speak highly of me. It had become about glorifying myself. It was a harsh lesson for me. I thought I was over a lot of that stuff, but there it was, lurking in the background, just waiting for an excuse to come out. I find it easy to be flippant about my failings, to make a little joke of them, but to honestly confess is uncomfortable. A wise friend told me this week that one way to conquer such lurking sin is to bring it out into the open, into the light.

I have taken my stat counter off my internet bookmarks, (I'm not sure if I'm ready to take it off the blog altogether) and this will stop me checking it so frequently. I'm going to write about what matters to me, my children, my faith journey, my Home Ed journey and other stuff that catches my interest or makes me shout or laugh.

My brother-in-law plays in a band. He compared my blog to his performances:

It 's not the end of the world if the customers don't turn up - it's just
another practice whilst wearing smarter clothes !

Thursday, 18 September 2008

One Fine Day

We decided to make the best of a fine Autumn day and so abandoned swimming this week in order to get some fresh air. We went to Bushy Park, which is one of my very favourite places. We are so privileged to live near somewhere so beautiful, rich in history and wildlife and open to all.
We fed the ducks, made friends with a squirrel, (a relationship facilitated by some cashew nut my middle son had stashed in his pocket),

and just enjoyed being outdoors together.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


We have a new member of the family! He is nine and a half weeks old and we have called him Barney. I feel that he is a very precious gift from my heavenly Father who is delighting in my pleasure as I am in my children's.He is very confident and has had lots of fun playing with the children, which is clearly exhausting!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


I had a couple of lovely comments on yesterday's post. Kathy spoke of finding a niche and Jo of deciding what I want to write about and then writing about it. Putting these together I realised that I was slipping into a mind set of trying to please some unknown readership, trying to reach some uncertain standard, trying to be liked. I haven't figured out my niche yet, and I don't always write about what is important to me because I am afraid, afraid of offending, afraid of being too vulnerable, afraid of what people who know me will think. I have not allowed myself to settle into my very own niche and have instead tried to define my content to beign with and have written to that specification.
I have kept very quiet about my Christian faith and the incredible journey that God has been leading me on, especially in these last months, and perhaps that is why this blog has become harder to write.
I keep very quiet about my running, another important part of my life.
Since term started my husband has been working a six-day week and he is currently on a school trip. I feel bad even mentioning that as one of my very dear friends is coping on her own with three little ones as her husband begins a tour of duty in a war zone, but I do find it hard to get so little time on my own. In the last 36 hours I have sat with friends as they have needed to talk and I have spent time on the phone with two mums of newborns. I have raced for my running club and I have cooked for, washed for and 'educated' three children. I have not had the opportunity to have much time for myself.
Blogging has become a few snatched moments and I want to find ways of making more time for it because I enjoy writing and it is something just for me. It feels like growing.
So, this is what I'm going to do:
I'm going to find or make more time to write, especially when these mad first days of September are done.
I'm going to write more about my faith, my relationship with Jesus, my running as well as Home Ed and my children.
I'm going to explore what I want to write and see if I can find my niche.

In the meantime, I need to make a confession.
We have two resident spiders and I am getting quite fond of them but my husband would rather we removed them to the wild outdoors. One lives in a hole in one door frame and the other, at the opposite end of the room, in a worrying large crack around the another door frame. They come out in the dark and are obviously 'jumping on things' spiders rather than 'catching things in a web' spiders.
Yesterday, I found one in the sink. This was proof to me of what I have heard, that they do not come up the drain pipe but fall in and can't get out: it tried over and again to scale the shiny walls but slithered down each time. The children and I had a look at it and then captured it with the cup and card technique. This, surely, was a perfect moment to introduce it to its natural environment.
After some thought I put it back on the wall next to its crack. It stopped for a while, cleaned its feet (that was interesting to watch - I guess they had something from the sink on them) and then disappeared into its home with, I like to think, a sigh of relief.
Sorry love. Yes, I did have it in a cup. Yes, I could have taken it in the garden. Yes, I put it back. What can I say - you love me 'cos I'm a softy!!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Uphill struggle

I'm finding the blog really hard work at the moment. It is 3 months since I started blogging and I have had fun: it has made me laugh and I hope it has made you laugh; I have looked at life through a different lens as I have spotted 'bloggable moments'; I have enjoyed grappling with words to try and describe a moment just so; I have been thrilled to receive comments and to know that someone, somewhere is enjoying what I write.

But I recently my doubts have coming flooding back. 'Why would anyone be interested in you?' says the accuser in my head. If I write about how I've messed up, it feels like self-pity; if I write about how good things are it feels like showing off. If I sound off about Home Ed I wonder if I am strident, opinionated, defensive. I read other blogs, blogs that get dozens of comments, and wonder how they do that and why I don't. I have a stat counter so I can see how many visitors I have and I know that I have a handful of regular readers, and I wonder who you are. I wonder why so many first-time vistors don't come back. I chastise myself for trying to measure the success of this blog by external criteria, by judging myself by the reactions of others. Even writing this is causing me anxiety: am I just feeling sorry for myself? Exposing too much? Being, heaven help me, needy? Is this all just self-indulgence?

There is more to think about here, but it feels good to have got some of it out. I have no witty remark to end this time, just another morning with the children to begin and another day to live.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

National Schools Film Week

National Schools Film Week is on in October. I discovered this last year and was amazed to find that you can just go along to the cinema, with your children, for free! We saw Laura's Star and The Ant Bully last year. This year I'm not around for the week in question but my husband is taking the children to their grandparents and I've found The Spiderwick Chronicles and Dr Seuss's Horton Hears a Who for them.

We had quite an adventure last year and we piled out of the house to get in the car to go to the cinema to discover that my husband, with my full knowledge, had taken the car to work! I'd just completely forgotten that we needed it! Thanks to my great neighbour and a local taxi firm we made it there and back and I'm sure the drama made the journey as exciting as the film!

Friday, 12 September 2008

My Little Girl is Growing Up

After months of a wobbly tooth, she was finally free of it yesterday. She is very proud and my husband and I reflected on the fact that we no longer have babies...

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


It is Autumn. I love Autumn. I love the coolness (although this year, that does not really distinguish it from the Summer) and the dampness (likewise). If it does happen to be warm and sunny, that feels like a bonus, a treat; if it is dull and grey then it feels OK, normal, right to stay indoors and drink hot chocolate.
One thing I really notice in the Autumn is these guys:Can you see the spider in the middle?
I think she is an orb web spider and there are hundreds in our garden and in the bushes along the pavement: we found seven in one bush on the way home from the library. The children are fascinated by them and were very excited earlier this week when they found one in the process of building her web on the climbing frame.
I have often idly wondered where they go the rest of the year, but in looking for the link above, I have discovered that once the eggs are laid, the female dies. The eggs don't hatch until May and I guess it takes all Summer to grow this big.
The appearance of these spiders, and the squirrels burying walnuts all over my garden, are sure signs that Autumn, in all its peace and beauty, is well and truly here.

Poetry Tea

We love Poetry Tea Time:I was so proud of myself yesterday. On Tuesday I was actually organised enough to make cookie dough in advance so that all I had to do was slice off cookie shapes and bake! The boys read poems they have written for a local library competition and my little girl 'read' from her handwriting book. We all chose a few from books, my middle son liked 'Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble' and I just had to get a picture of him reading Shakespeare:
This is the best part of my week!

Scary Moment at the pool

Tuesday is swimming day on my Grand Schedule. It has, so far, been too rainy/cold/miserable for the intended Green Hour Challenge (although I may well go back to this idea in the Spring), and, having enjoyed the pool so much over the Summer, the children are keen to keep up with their swimming.

Last week was still school holidays and the pool was busy. This week it peaceful and quiet. There was a school group but they were in their own lane and the four of us had an edge-side lane all to ourselves. We headed up the deep end and they had lots of fun diving for toys on the bottom. The bottom at the very deep end is 2 metres down and my daughter was having trouble getting there so we shuffled along a bit to the middle of the pool. My daredevil middle son was happy at the extreme end and continued to play. With only my family in the whole lane I had no trouble keeping my eyes on them all and I was, for me, feeling very relaxed. I was chatting and splashing with my little girl and watching my middle son. His face and arms broke the surface and then under he went. Again he appeared, splashed a bit and disappeared. By this stage I was paying very close attention. He wasn't swimming, or diving, just popping up, gasping, waving his arms and going under. He did it one more time and I took off up the pool, grabbed him around the stomach and hauled him onto the side.

"Are you ok?"

"Yes mummy, I'm fine," he told me, somewhat suprised, "I was just pretending to be a drowning person!"

I will leave you to imagine my answer!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Give someone you love a hug

I came across an article yesterday on how chimps conslole their friends with a hug or a stroke if the friend has just lost out in a fight. This, according to the scientists, reduces the stress level of the victim and is evidence that chimps can experience empathy.

"This is something often thought to be a unique trait to humans, so
understanding the link between consolation and stress reduction in chimpanzees
is an important step towards understanding whether or not chimpanzees are
capable of this level of empathy."

It strikes me that understanding the link between consolation and stress reduction in humans is important too. As a Breastfeeding Counsellor, one thing I make sure I bring up plenty in the antenatal sesssions I lead is the importance and benefit of skin-to-skin contact with new-born babies. It's not just that it feels nice, but it has a measurable effect on calming a baby's heart-rate, temperature and level of crying. It releases soothing hormones in mum too.

Steven Biddulph, in his book 'The Secret of Happy Children', discusses the post World War 2 problem of caring for the thousands of orphans whose parents had either been killed or permanently separated from them by war. Some were put into field hospitals with state of the art facilities. Some were left in remote mountain communities and left in the arms of the village women. The children left in rural homes thrived much better that those left in the hospitals.

"The infants in the field hospital had everything but affection ... the
babies in the villages had more hugs ... than they knew what to do with."

He goes on to say that in an audience of 60 adults, they all raised their hands to say they got less affection then they would like in daily life.

A friend of mine has had the experience of visiting a Romanian orphanage where adults with learning difficulties have been institutionalised since infancy. She tells me of their desperation for physical contact of any kind. She would massage their hands and told me how they would hold their hand or even their feet out to her whenever they saw her, so important was it to them to have a loving, gentle touch. Any touch.

I'm going to give my children a big hug. I'm going to hug my husband when he gets in from work and my friend when I go round for supper later. I need hugs and I'm sure they do to!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Breakfast with a side order of education

'But some of the greatest gains from home education are not easily measured or
tested. They come from the daily flow of conversation - the times when your
child asks you a question and a conversation follows.'

This is quoted from an article in The Times and it summed up neatly my experience. Since our 'term' officially started last week, we have had Classic FM on the radio while we have eaten breakfast. As I said on Friday , we have heard some of the music of Handel, leading us to find out where Sheba actually was (Yemen, apparently) and which of the King Georges Handel wrote for and what happened when the Firework music was first played. Today, the Waltz from Swan Lake was on and this led us to remember seeing The Nutcracker last winter and to look up Tchaikovsky in the encyclopedia. Little snippets of random information but, I'm sure, understood and remembered because they come out of interest and in context.

Later on, while I was doing some housework upstairs, my middle son called me with that distinct note of urgency in his voice. I hurried into the kitchen ready for blood or broken crockery or both.
"Mum, listen! It's the music for the Royal Fireworks!" he told me with a big grin.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The healing power of milk and a cookie

Like I said, yesterday I was tired. By the middle of the morning I had talked my eldest back from the edge of total meltdown over a maths problem; researched the Greek Monarchy with my middle son and then discovered that the word in his question was 'monetary' (as in 'what is the monetary unit of Greece'); cleared breakfast; put on a load of washing; cleaned the bathroom and I was in the process of teaching my daughter addtion and subtraction signs which were frustrating her to the point of tears. At the same time I was sewing Beaver Badges on to my son's uniform. I had just suggested my little girl take a snack break when I stuck a needle hard into my finger. I burst into tears. Big snivels and inarticulate sobs about being tired, having too much to do, my finger hurting and needing milk and a cookie. It wasn't pretty.
A moment later my beautiful little girl re-appeared to tell me that she'd poured 2 glasses of milk, one for me. I sat at the kitchen table with her. We drank our milk and ate our cookies. Crisis over.

Friday, 5 September 2008

One Week In

The first week of term is nearly done, except that this week, being the first week of September, isn't because my husband has to go into school tomorrow, and I am tired. After almost two months of school holidays with my husband home, I had forgotten the reality of being with, and trying to meet the needs of, three children all day. In addition, lots of other stuff gets going in September, I have begun the Research Module of a BA in Educational Studies (actually as part of my work as a Breastfeeding Counsellor) and I have taken on a new role at my church. Plus I'm training for a Half-marathon!
But it's been a good week. So much learning happens as if by accident. My little girl indentified a boat as a canoe, much to my suprise. Where had she heard of a canoe? On the Ray Mears DVD apparently. We've discussed the music of Handel having listened to 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba' and 'The Water Music' on the radio. We've seen a model of the insides of a horse (introducing the word 'gross' to my daughter's vocabulary!) at the Science Museum and discussed Newton's Laws of Motion following the show on Rockets there (a good excuse, should I need one, to settle down in front of 'Apollo 13' this afternoon). We've chatted about Islam having seen a Mosque from the train window and printed and coloured a number of books from the fab site Enchanted Learning.
The children are tired too: my boys are still in bed as I write this. My eldest son said to me last night that he would like a lie in, and then plenty of time to read today. Sounds good to me!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Road Not Taken

One of my favourtie parts of our Home Ed schedule is Poetry Tea. Yesterday, we make peanut butter cookies and had our first tea time of the year. The children brought some poems which they had written and I chose a couple from books. I had to share one of my all-time favourites, 'The Road Not Taken' and I tried to explain to them that this, for me, speaks of my choice to Home Educate.
I asked my children if they had any idea what it was about. My little girl told me that the man wanted to chop himself in two so he could walk down both paths. My middle son explained that you couldn't go to school and be Home-Educated. Seems to me they got that pretty well.

Having looked for the link to post here, I found in Wikipedia that my literal understanding may be naive and that there is an ironic interpretation - oh shucks!! However, I still prefer to think of it as a 'a paean to individualism and non-conformism' and it still inspires me as I walk the path I have chosen.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


I took all three children swimming yesterday - an experience that always leaves me gasping for Valium or gin and tonic. My imagination goes into overdrive with scenarios of the children drowning in the pool or cracking skulls on the edge and even extends into planning their escape from the car and wondering if they could swim long enough to be rescued if I ever were to veer off the motorway into a gravel pit! I have to try very hard to be a fun mummy in the pool!

After a Summer of swimming, mostly with their dad who is not as sensitive to the horde of dangers waiting to engulf my precious babies, the children's confidence levels were a great deal higher than mine. They wanted to go to the deep end. By deep, I mean 2 metres, so even I am out of my depth. It took me a while to feel ready to shepherd (or would 'fishherd' be a better word?) my little swimmers to the far end, where they proceeded, with great delight, to jump in and try to touch the bottom with their feet - even my five-year old girl who has only been swimming independently since July. In fact, she was proudest of all. As soon as we were in the water she wanted to show me the sign reading 'No Armbands Beyond This Point'. "I can go past the sign mummy, I don't have armbands anymore," she told me.

I was discussing incentives with a friend yesterday. How do you encourage and motivate children to do well and to try hard? While I do believe that noticing and praising a child's achievements means a lot, just as ignoring or failing to appreciate an achievement can discourage and cause pain, deep in my heart I believe that true motivation comes from within and that the purest incentive is to reach a personal goal. I am proud of my daughter learning to swim and have told her so long and loud, but I don't think any words of mine beat the joy of jumping in the deep end and touching the bottom.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Extreme Survival

We began to watch Ray Mear's Extreme Survival over the weekend and yesterday. I put this DVD on my Lovefilm list after my moment of realisation earlier this Summer that my middle son is one of life's adventurers and risk-takers and, instead of letting this stress and worry me, I need to embrace his nature and equip him to be prepared for the scrapes I have no doubt lie ahead.

These programmes are very exciting and we are all enjoying watching them. I do find myself trying hard to remember what Ray has said about how to survive in the jungle with only a machete or in the artic winter with just and axe and a spruce tree, before I consider the chances of me ever needing to survive in such a situation are decidedly low.

I was struck yesterday, in the episode 'The Psycology of Survival', at the helpful advice in case of emergency:to STOP. That is Stop, Think, Orientate yourself and Plan. I discussed this with the children and how helpful it would be if they were ever to get lost in a shopping centre, for example. I made a mental note that it also might be useful in those overwhelming moments of three hungry and tired children all needing help with different things just when I'm trying to cook a family meal.

The whole episode was about the importance of believing that you will survive, of not giving up. Survival, he said, is not a big task, it is a long series of little tasks.

Two survivors also told their tales. One, an adult woman, told of her experience when she was 12 and had been left alone with her sister on a remote Alaskan Island in the depths of winter for 13 days as her father and brother made a desperate attempt to reach help. She spoke of how much she had been back over events in her mind, condemning herself for not trying harder, how she could forgive the others, but it took so much longer to forgive her 12-year-old self. The other was a man who had lived in a life-raft for over 2 months in the Atlantic Ocean. He told of the mistakes that he felt he made and how he "just had to keep repeating to myself, you're doing the best you can, and that's all you can do."

While my comfortable, suburban life bears little resemblance to these extreme situations, I could see parallels that gave me insight into my own attitudes.

My son loved the programes. While he admitted he was unlikely to ever end up lost in the jungle or ship-wrecked, with a shy smile he told me that 'five out of ten' he'd quite like to! Well, I just hope he's remembering all of Ray's lessons, just in case!

Monday, 1 September 2008

First Day of Term

I am very excited.

My husband went back to school today so this is our first official day of the Home Ed term. It is particularly satisfying that it is also the first day of a new month.

Now, I swing between worrying that I am too structured and that I should go all out for unschooling and then worrying that I'm not directing the children enough, that they will never learn anything and that I need to have more projects, workbooks and a timetable. This year I have devised my Grand Schedule, which I am hoping is a good compromise and we are all set to go: I have written First Day of School notes for the children and printed them with colourful borders, I have bought new pens and folders, sharpened the pencils and got out everything we will need for the morning's activities. I have promised the children a suprise this morning (which will be the notes and also a chocolate brownie) and they are eagerly awaiting our 10 o'clock start.
My middle son is at my feet with his Brio Builder System waiting for me to finish on the computer so we can get started. He tells me that he likes holidays, as daddy is home, and that he likes term too. I guess that just about says it all!