Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Just as soon as ...

When life slows down a little, when I am through a current commitment, when I have finished a couple of projects I'm working on , I will sit down and figure out exactly what I want from this Home Ed life. I will cut out all the distractions, focus on what really matters, let go of unhealthy relationships and expectations and be clearer about what I want and need. I will spend more time just listening to my children, drawing alongside them in what they are doing, looking into their eyes, understanding their comic strips, stories and computer games. Perhaps next week? Next month? Next year?

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Half Term

So often I think that this job or that will wait until half-term. My husband is a school teacher and so blessed with plenty of holidays. I think that in these holidays I will be able to catch up on all the stuff I've found hard to fit in, plus have some time to myself, plus he will be able to do a few bits and bobs around the house and, of course, we will have some time out as a family. This is quite a lot to fit in and usually I end up both tired and dissatisfied at the end of his time off. I've planned it better this week and, while I feel that I would like to have got more done, we've had a good balance of the routine and the fun. I've begun clearing the big bed in the front garden and treated myself to a magnolia bush; I've cleared my in-tray, caught up with the paperwork and finally resigned as a Breastfeeding Counsellor (I've been on Time Out for the last year); and we've been to Hampton Court Palace, the cinema and the National Gallery. Today we are off to visit my great-uncle and great-aunt and to an old school friend's pancake party. Not bad for just one week, although it didn't leave much time for blogging!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Scool's Out

I have come up with an exciting new educational philosophy! Well, to be fair, it's the old one with a new name. And the idea of giving it a new name wasn't mine, but a friend's, a witty and intelligent man I was chatting with over lunch yesterday. I was explaining to him how I can come across as flippant when discussing Home Ed. I don't mean to, I get a bit nervous, and I feel a bit silly using words like 'facilitate' and I can hear all the accusatory questions in my head as I speak. He said that what I needed was an acronym. We had previously been talking about the word 'opportunistic' and how it applied to what I feel I do with my children. I was explaining how much I liked the phrase 'conversational learning'. And we hit upon it:
Conversationally-Orientated Opportunistic Learning - COOL!
And then we improved it:
Serendipitous Conversationally-Orientated Opportunistic Learning - SCOOL!
So, all I need to say is that I follow the SCOOL philosophy. I'm sure that will put an end to all those tricky questions!

Thursday, 11 February 2010


At the end of last term, I was left with a feeling of rushing towards the Christmas holidays and kind of collapsing into it. I didn't feel that I took the time to reflect with the children on all that they had done, or celebrate it. I made a note in my planner to do it differently next time and, with the half-term break next week, I set this afternoon aside for 'Celebration and Reflection'. I wasn't quite sure what I meant by this, but this is what we did.
We made muffins (what else!), a little early for Valentine's Day, but yummy nonetheless.

We filed any bits and bobs of written work into the large, years' files I keep (there wasn't a lot, which felt discouraging) and then we sat down with tea and candles and my planner and talked over what we'd done, making a note of it as we went. Soon the list was bigger than the box I'd begun it in: French, copy-writing, science kits, ice-skating, new friends, poetry tea-times, read-alouds and more. We rounded off with one 'old-favourite' poem each.

We were all surprised at how much we had actually achieved in these dark, cold, and energy-deficient weeks. Comparing the list to the objectives I had set for the whole term, I could see that we are well on track in almost all areas and a little bit more getting out of the house in March will see us through. Taking the time to reflect gave us something to celebrate and marked another milestone on our journey.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Am I In Control?

The subject of my children's social lives has been occupying my thoughts in the last week or so and I have been thinking about whether their needs for friends are being met and what I can do if I feel that they are not.
In the last four days, my little girl has been out on a swimming trip with her god-parents, had two friends (sisters) round to play when they came over with their dad for Sunday tea and is currently upstairs with the 'new' girl who just moved in across the road. Tomorrow, another Home Ed family is coming for lunch, with three little girls of around my daughter's age. The first three of these I had no part in initiating. The mum coming tomorrow was introduced to me by a mutual friend and, again, I had no part in causing this to happen.
I find it tricky to balance taking control and going with the flow, but I am reminded this week that I don't have to do it all, that God does answer prayers and I can let go and let things unfold.

Monday, 8 February 2010


Thanks to the commenter who raised the important difference between the two words 'socialzation' and 'socialise'. To make sure that I was exactly clear about these two often interchangable words, I have pulled out my 'Chambers English Dictionary'. This is what it says:

Socialization: the process by which infants and young people become aware of society and their relationships with others.

Socialise: to behave in a sociable manner, eg at parties, etc; to spend time in the company of others.

This led me, as it so often does when perusing a dictionary, to check out another word: 'sociable'. This means 'friendly', 'companiable', 'fond of others' company'. (It also means a type of open horse-drawn carriage. You never know when that might be useful in a crossword!)
So it would seem that, as an adult, I have achieved socialization: I am aware of society and my relationships with others and I can operate successfully in society. I have friends and I can get along and even work with people I wouldn't chose to. However, I do not always socialise. I like to spend the evening in by myself, just a book or a jigsaw for company. I am fairly sociable and I enjoy spending time with others, but I tend towards the introvert end of the spectrum.
I think that my children have also achieved socialisation and I am tempted to think that the fact they have friends is evidence of this. Socialisation is a skill that can be practised at home, especially with two siblings. I think this learning process can be more explicit and intentional with a loving, invested adult around, someone whose skills are more developed and so has something to teach.
I think the real concern for me, then, is whether my children have enough opportunities to socialise. This, of course, depends to a certain degree on how sociable they are. My eldest is more content in his own company as opposed to my daughter who is much more keen to play with friends. While my son has a 'take-it-or-leave-it' attitude to social gatherings, my daughter is always up for a play-date or a sleep-over. Again, it is about being intentional and noticing their individual needs, focussing my attention and efforts on what these particular, unique people require and not what 'children in general' might be perceived to need.
This is an issue I'd like to come back to and I'd welcome any readers thoughts. How do you manage with your Home Educated children. How do you think your children's school experience meets these needs? How did you learn socialization?

Friday, 5 February 2010


Friends. I have begun to realise this is what ‘everyone else’ worries about for my children. ‘FAQ number 1’ in Free Range Education is ‘How do they socialise?’ The answer in the book is pretty short and punchy, the kind I would love to offer the inquiring lady on the Tube, but know that I can’t bring off without being rude. Almost everyone I speak to about Home Ed asks this question in some form or other: How do they make friends? Where will they learn to mix with children their own age? and other variations on the theme. Other people ask out of a desire to learn more about a new idea, disagreement, curiosity. I have to admit that I am afraid of what other people think, I am quick to perceive criticism, and part of my desire for the children to have relationships is so that I have a defence against other people’s questions.
On reflection, it is obvious that, for most, it is simply the first question that comes to mind about a subject which they may never have come across before. To me, it feels like a constant battery, weight and import increased by repetition. I have absorbed this worry, this questioning, and it undermines my peace and confidence. So I have decided to re-frame the question: What evidence do I have, about my own children, that they lack friends or have trouble making friends?
‘Exhibit 1’ On our last two camping holidays, all three of the children have made friends with whom they have cycled, played in the playground, hung out in the tents with, and continued a pen-pal relationship with when we’ve come home. Clearly, they have the necessary skills to get to know other children, to interact with them, to build a relationship with them and to have fun together.
‘Exhibit 2’ All three belong to, and have belonged to, ‘extra-curricular’ groups: Cubs, Rainbows, Climbing, Gym, Film Club. While they have not always enjoyed every club they have been a part of, they have all been a member of some kind of activity group with children their own age for a number of years. Clearly, they are able to fit in to, and function within, a group setting.
‘Exhibit 3’ My eldest went on a group holiday this year, a week away from home, not knowing anyone else that would be there. He had a fantastic time, enjoyed every part of it (except the cold swimming pool!) and came home with increased self-confidence and a handful of friends’ addresses to write to. Clearly, he is able to make new friends and cope well without my constant presence, guidance and protection.
‘Exhibit 4’ In the last couple of weeks, all three of my children have had a local friend to our house or been to play at a friend’s house in our neighbourhood. Clearly, they have friends and the opportunity to play with these friends.

So, I will practice my answer to the question, “How do they make friends?” : “Very well, thank you.” And I will re-read this post when I feel wobbly!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

A Fun Afternoon

We met up with some old friends yesterday, a mum and her two sons with whom we used to spend time but have lost touch in the last couple of years. She had invited me over to meet some new friends of hers, a home educating mum and her three daughters. We had a lovely time, tea and muffins. The children met the dog and the chicken, bounced on the trampoline, played Lego and looked at books. I caught this moment with my camera. My nine-year old playing a board game with her three-year old. It was a beautiful sight. Despite the huge age gap, they played together peacefully and respectfully and communicated clearly. Although I do look out for opportunities for my children to make friends of their own age, it feels good to see that they are quite willing, indeed happy, to cross those lines and form relationships with children outside of their school-year.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


I am spending a lot of my time doing jigsaws at the moment. Each one I do passes through a time in which I cannot imagine that all the little shaded pieces will ever form one, complete, meaningful image. 'This one', I think, 'I just can't do. It'll never happen.' And each time it does. The picture emerges and all the pieces have somewhere to fit.
My life feels a lot like a jumbled jigsaw. Perhaps, in this concrete acting-out, this parable, I will find the confidence that all my little pieces will fit too.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

When it works

It's a funny thing how some days just come together, and some don't! Today has been one of the good ones. In order to clear some space tomorrow morning, I decided to try to fit in three 'academic' activities this morning rather than our usual two. I have also chosen this week to start training the children in 'household tasks' ('chores' being too miserable sounding apparently.) I have planned three weeks of coaching the children in the art of dusting, washing the kitchen floor and cleaning the bathroom. Then they will take over the week-to-week administration of these necessary jobs. It's not supposed to be fun, I have told them, it's about responsibility. So, I dusted for twenty minutes with my little girl this morning. I don't actually dust that often and, with two of us doing it, I found places that I'm not sure I've ever dusted in three and a half years of living here. Then we did freewrites, and each child wrote something original and creative, listened carefully to the others and offered positive feedback. We moved on to copy-writing and my youngest copied thirty words of 'The Owl and the Pussy-Cat', twenty more than I had asked of her. We had a chapter each from each of our chapter books, the children constructing Hama bead patterns and drawing, and I still had time to put a few pieces in my puzzle before lunch. This afternoon we have watched the first episode of 'The Seven Ages of Britain': history, art, geography, all in one hour of beautifully crafted tv. Everyone is happy and I am content that 'education' has really taken place today.
If only I knew what it is that makes days work this way, I'd do it every day!