Wednesday, 29 September 2010


There are moments in my day of pure bliss: my daughter snuggled up on one side, learning to read, and my new puppy with her chin on my leg, learning that we are her new family. There are moments of havoc: another puddle of wee on the kitchen floor, mud liberally spread throughout, one son trying to write a limerick and the Tesco delivery arriving, as always, five minutes early so my husband isn't home to help unload.
I am trying to emulate Brother Lawrence in the practice of the presence of God, and to this end I have begun a notebook in which I will write one Bible verse or inspirational quote each day to mull over and keep my thoughts turned towards Him. Today: "And I'm going to keep that celebration going because I know how it's going to turn out." (Philippians, The Message) I have not managed, quite, to celebrate all day, but I do know that God is good and that in His care this will all turn out well.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Becoming a Dog Owner

After a fun, but exhausting, weekend, being on the road from 7am 'til 8:30 pm on Sunday, we are now the proud owners of a beautiful, pedigree, chocolate Cocker spaniel puppy.Yesterday was spent in a blur of sleepiness, said puppy cried until gone midnight, and wiping up dog pee, desperately trying to find five minutes to upload my pictures and post, but failing. We did all get fed though and the children managed some work too. Coco is a delight, very excited but also already very obedient. She's very wriggly too, so that most of the pictures I took of her were blurred.
Until she fell asleep.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

British Wildlife Centre

Yesterday was my birthday and we had a lovely trip out to the British Wildlife Centre. I was particularly thrilled with the badger sett. I have never seen a live badger before and here was a whole family, sleeping and grooming and moving about in their underground tunnels which we could watch from 'inside' their sett (through glass windows.) I also saw a weasel, a pine marten and wild cats. The harvest mice touched me the most: so tiny and yet so perfect, little hands and beady eyes, smaller than my thumb and yet created and known by God, existing and thriving in their own grassy world.

Friday, 24 September 2010

My hero!

Gareth Malone is my hero! His 'Extraordinary School for Boys' finished last night and I was cheering him all the way. A primary school headmistress had invited him in to see if he could help their year 5 and 6 boys, aged from 9-11, with their below average reading scores. He was set the task of raising their reading ages by six months in only eight weeks. This struck me as a hard challenge indeed, and perhaps a bit cheeky of the school. After all, they had failed to raise the boys' reading ages by six months in six months, that's why they were behind. So Gareth's methods were not just to be as good as school, but much, much better. He had the boys outside in their self-made woodland classroom, he had them chasing him across the common dressed as a highway man, he had them competing in debates, visiting a bookshop and stocking up on brand-new boy-friendly books and, finally, writing and performing their end of year production in the local theatre. They were outdoors, exercising, dressing up and fighting as Romans, singing, reading aloud at the seaside and generally being boys. It did not surprise me at all that the average increase in reading age over his eight weeks of teaching was five months, some boys even improved by twenty months!
What did surprise and sadden me was the attitude of the staff. One teacher was filmed last night telling him that four of her colleagues had told her how badly he'd handled one particular discipline issue. They told him that that they had noticed the boys behaviour had deteriorated (although, from their description of said behaviour, I wondered improved confidence would have been a better description) and the headmistress, in a piece to camera, confided that she really couldn't see what the children were learning. They thought that he didn't know what he was doing and that it was important that he had more structure and boundaries and yet he had great relationships with the boys and they noticeably grew in self-belief as well as literacy. They were deeply intrenched in their own paradigm and were unwilling and unable to see any alternative. The pressure was on for the boys to do well in the reading age test, measuring one small aspect of learning and not, as Gareth said, the twinkle in a boy's eye when he is engaged, and they achieved all that was asked of them, so much more that the school had delivered.
I must have dozed off at the end, for I'm sure I missed the bit where the teachers ate humble pie!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Finding Others

Last night I sat in my lounge and shared coffee and brownies with seven other home ed mums, all of whom lived within a couple of miles of my house. A combination of friends, friends of friends and names from the Education Otherwise contact list which was published a couple of weeks ago, I only knew two of these mums before yesterday. Four of the group had just-teenage boys, three had only had their children home since the Spring. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of encouragement, the beginnings of friendships and a real sense of breaking down isolation. I travel quite a way to many of our activities, long ago accepting that the distribution of home ed families meant that I had to be willing to drive half-an-hour for swimming lessons, book club, social groups and skating. To find that I am one of perhaps a dozen home educators in my immediate vicinity came as a great, and happy, surprise. Having had the idea to try and get a group of us together for some a while, it seems the timing was right and people were eager to come. We left with a date to meet up again in a few weeks time and I am looking forward to seeing what will come out of this for us and for our children.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


These are my first attempts to paint trees. I have joined a watercolour class - something I've wanted to do for a while. I was very pleased to find that my local Adult Education Centre was running one at the most convenient time possible. It's is an established class so I am one of just two new girls. We sit together and whisper about how we are not very good and how we will never be able to paint like the others. We sneak glances at each other's work and admire and say how we think it's so much better than our own. We are anxious about getting it wrong and, and I speak for myself here, are jealous of other's praise and eager for teacher to notice us.
It's a scary thing, learning something new. It makes the learner vulnerable. I really don't want to make mistakes, even though I know they will cost me nothing. I don't want to be seen as a failure and yet I am desperately looking for affirmation. I am easily discouraged and get tired quickly. A word of encouragement brings a smile to my spirit and a harsh word a tear to my eye.
I think it is an absolutely vital experience as an educator to put myself in this place, over and again, to feel afresh the vulnerablility of the learner as I teach my children

Monday, 20 September 2010

Flying under the radar

I am an 'unknown'. This means that I am not known to my Local Education Authority. When people ask me if I am inspected as a home educator and I say no, there is often a look or a comment of surprise. I am concerned that one day one of my children will get picked up by a truancy patrol and will have to give their name and address to the police officer. I have challenged our local community police on this and have been told that they have to take the details so that the Local Education Authority can check that the child is on their home ed list and is not truanting from school. There is no list, this check is impossible to make. My children have never been to school and have never been registered. I could inform my LEA of my existence but I choose not to. They have nothing to offer me but interference.
The argument that LEAs need to know about my children is that they need to make sure that they are being educated. After all, what about all those irresponsible parents who keep their children from school but do nothing with them? The Badman report did nothing to convince me that such parents exist and did much to convince me that those in authority are not necessarily informed about the difference in philosophy that, for many of us, is home ed. I am not a radical unschooler, I do not subscribe to autonomous learning and much of what I do looks a little bit like school. To be honest, I would probably satisfy any inspector. Maybe. But I don't have evidence of what Key Stage my children are working at, one of my children certainly has a 'below average' reading age and we don't cover all the 'subjects' on the national curriculum. But I am sure that my children will arrive at adult-hood literate, numerate, excelling in their passions and confident both as people and learners. People who know me and my children tell me that they are bright, interesting and sociable. If I need to prove myself to the LEA I would think it enough to provide some references: maybe from the local librarian who sees my children regularly and often helps them as they order books they have decided they would like to read; or my maths teacher friend who just assessed my son and found that he would be comfortable in a top set; or my son's Latin teacher; the neighbour who teaches chess to my daughter; her Brownies leader; their film club leader or the Church children's worker. All of these people would vouch that my children are educated and thriving. I do not need to jump through hoops, subject them to unneccessary testing or satisfy anyone else's paradigm of what education should look like. So I would rather not be subjected to an inspection, no matter how friendly. If the LEA want to help me they can save money on home visits and provide some funding for public examinations so that I can demonstrate that my way of doing things has worked just as well as theirs.

Friday, 17 September 2010


I can knit a little. A square is well within my capabilities, maybe a striped or textured square. I have even made a few hats. I look with envy on blogs like 'Handmade Homeschool' at the amazing creations - and so many! This is someone who can read aloud to her children and knit at the same time! However, without serious investment of time and effort, I will never knit like that. Today, she posted about knit-a-square. This is something I can do, a way to enjoy my simple knitting skills and know that something useful will come out of it, something to help me sit quietly on the sofa and relax without thinking I should be doing something else. This is something I shall be doing this Autumn.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


At the moment I am reading ''The Genesee Diary" by Henri Nouwen. His writing is rich and deep and I am savouring it, reading just a little at a time. I was struck this week by his description of feeling ''empty and fatigued" from the conflict he experiences around interruptions:
"Instead of simply accepting the good interruption and enjoying it fully, I am holding back."

Far too often people in my life feel like interruptions. I have something I want to do, an agenda of my own and others get in my way, prevent me from reaching my goal. I feel this especially with the children, and the busier and tireder I get, the more I feel it. It takes an effort of will to remember that they are my agenda, they are my goal, the situation in which I find myself is God's will for that moment and that interruptions can be fully enjoyed.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

How old are you?

I found these mental agility tests this morning. I'm up early so I thought I had a little time to play (and prove to myself, of course, that I am supremely mentally agile!) On the first I scored a mental age of 18 - hooray! (I am a fair bit older than 18.) On the next, identifying the colour of space hoppers, I was quietly confident, I took it carefully and was pleased I didn't make any mistakes. I was planning my post as I completed the test and how I could say I have a mental agility of 18. I scored 43! (I am not quite that old.) 43! My pride was hurt, I was offended! I battled on and scored 18 on the next two tests, (yes, I am mentally agile and can be proud of myself.) So I went back to the space hoppers. Obviously I had got the idea wrong and just needed to do it quickly. Now I understood, I'd sort it out. Poised for speed I made two mistakes and scored 40, (still older than my actual age!) So, it turns out, while I have a good eye for detail, can plan ahead and remember things well, I can't multi-task very well: I can't filter out the irrelevant information from the important, at least, not very well.
This sounds about right. While, if you asked, I would say I multi-task all the time and am good at it, acually I'm not. I get distracted. (Which, I guess, is why I was playing mental agility games on the computer rather than writing the post I'd planned.) Just ask my husband, who has frequently accepted the offer of a cup of tea, only to come to the kitchen 10 minutes later to find a hot kettle, two mugs and an absent wife. Just ask my children who are often told that they have made me forget what I was doing or that I am not an octopus and can't deal with everything they are asking of me. I think today, I shall try and do one thing at a time and see how I get on. (And before I do that, I'll just have one more go at the space hoppers!)

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

All Change!

This is Coco Chanel:God works in mysterious ways! I rang a Cocker Spaniel breeder, a friend of a friend who is becoming a friend of mine, to discuss the puppy we saw on Sunday. I was concerned about the weepy eye and whether her tail had been docked properly and while we had said that we wanted her, we were not due to finalise this until the owner came home from his holiday next week. This lady had been my first port of call fo a puppy but all her Cocker Spaniels had been sold. Except one, it turns out: a beautiful chocolate girl, so lovely in fact that the breeder had been going to keep her. But, feeling overwhelmed with the number of dogs she has at the moment and with the opportunity to let her go to a friend, a home she knows will be good and someone who will visit with the dog, she agreed to let us have her! She took the afternoon to make the decision and to discuss it with her family and, while we were waiting, I realised that I was not comfortable with the owner we were getting a puppy from and how much safer I would feel with a breeder I knew and trusted.
There was delight and joy in our house last night when we were told that we could, indeed, have this very special puppy. She is already called Coco Chanel and we all like that, so the brewing upset over the Faith/Hope debate has been laid to rest.
The seed of the idea of actually getting a dog came on our return from our holiday in Yorkshire. We were so sad to leave, and I would happily relocate, but there are so many reasons to stay where we are and I do believe that God's plan is for us to be here. So I re-framed the question: how could I make life here, in Sunbury, match a little more how I imagined it would be in the Yorkshire Dales? Since our return we have headed out in the car a number of times to explore the Surrey Hills on our doorstep and the children are growing more accustomed to the idea of a Sunday afternoon walk, and I began to consider getting a dog. Little did I know that God already had our dog ready for us back in Reeth and, in fact, we must have seen her without realizing when we borrowed another Cocker Spaniel and a pair of Labradors for a walk when we were there! And, a week on Sunday, our own little bit of the Yorkshire Dales will be coming to live with us.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Impossibly Cute

This is Faith. That, at the moment is the name we are trying out, although there is some lobbying for Hope so it could change. (Muffin, Biscuit and Cookie were ruled out because they are not 'serious' enough.)
We met her yesterday and fell in love. Of course. I was well aware that meeting a puppy was like falling off a cliff, there would be no going back. All this in a week! We have loved having our dog guests and I missed them when I was away overnight on Thursday. I spent Friday night and Saturday morning discussing breeds and practicalilties with a more knowledgeable friend of mine and settled on a working Cocker Spaniel. One specualtive call to a breeder informed me that these dogs, being true working dogs, only have litters at a certain time of year, and those litters are available now. The next lot will be next year, and a lot of breeders are sold out. I heard, 'I sold the last one this week/this morning,' a number of times. Suddenly it became a nowmy brain had been doing in the background and in one crystallizing moment I knew that I or next summer decision. As with many of my major life choices, I realized how much processing wanted us to get a dog. She is expensive and will be hard-work and time-consuming, she will need house-training and she won't sleep at night for a while, but my heart is ready for this new personality in my life.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

I have my wobbles about my educational choices for my children, I am not always sure I'm getting it right and there are times I worry that will have disadvantaged them for the rest of their lives. I try hard to remember that learning does not stop at 18 and that much of what I have learned has been since I left school and that the most important thing that my children need to learn is that they can always learn. What I hope they see in me, at least sometimes, is someone who is willing to try new things, to embrace new experiences, who is willing to learn. I hope they see it in me as I, with no experience of dogs, take on two King Charles Spaniels and muddle through the day-to-day routine, as I take them to the rock wall climbing and they can climb higher than me but I'll give it a go, as I figure out how to put a horse-rug on a nervous horse and as I start adult ed Watercolour classes next week.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


There really doesn't seem much else to write about in my life at the moment than these two dogs. Discussions are running high as to whether we might get a dog of our own. As we let them out in the sunshine of Bushy Park yesterday afternoon and the children and I tramped through the bracken enjoying being outdoors, I was ready to head straight to a puppy breeder and hand over cash. After it had rained and we came home with the smell of wet dog filling the car and two muddy dogs in my utility room-come-office I was less sure. As I went to bed and stroked my cat (who is camping out upstairs so now I have cat food in the bathroom) I was relieved by his complete indifference to my presence. At last, someone who didn't want something from me, but was soft and fluffy and purred.
With the start of term, laminated time-tables and all, and two energetic dogs, it feels as if my life has gone into fast forward. The dogs are proving a draw to the neighbourhood children too and so both my middle son and my daughter had friends to play after school. From waking up to putting the children to bed feels like one long sprint, always five minutes behind where I should be. I successfully exhausted the dogs yesterday, by a quarter to nine they were flopped on the floor, the only problem was that so was I!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Foster Mum

On Sunday, two King Charles Spaniels, Lexie and Ivy, arrived at our house, to the delight of my youngest and the horror of my eldest! My little girl has always loved dogs and never misses an opportunity to ask a passing owner if she may stroke his or her pet. While five years ago my response to the suggestion of dog ownership would have been, 'over my dead body', repeated interactions with all sorts of breeds and friendly owners, and a little dog-sitting in Yorkshire, has mellowed me. I love my cat dearly, but he does not love me and he is aloof and stand-offish. That's fine, he's a cat, but there is something about my arrival causing a tail to wag that warms my heart. So I am beginning to consider the issue and we are having a trial run. Even if we decide against, having dogs for a week occasionally is better for my daughter than never having dogs.
Lexie and Ivy are high maintenance! It's not the practical needs that worry me, feeding twice and day, letting in the garden to do their business and walking round the block, it's the emotional need. They look up at me, their eyes pools of earnest desire, wagging their tails in unison, and I have no idea what they want. The door is open and they can go play, I have fed them, I have exercised them, I have tickled their ears. I am failing them in some way. When their owner left on Sunday, she reminded me not to feel guilty about how much activity or attention they got. 'In the kennels,' she told me, 'they would be in a concrete cell and have three lots of twenty minutes exercise.' I am doing much better than that. They have had the run of the garden, three children to play with, the sofa to sit on (yes, really, I am such a softie!) and two walks a day - even in the pouring rain. But I can't quite escape the feeling that I am a disappointment!
Perhaps I need to find my affirmation from another source!

Monday, 6 September 2010

First Steps to a million!

My middle son has set up business as a baker. He sat outside our house this morning with twenty excellent muffins, which he had cooked himself, and sold them to the neighbours. I had hoped for a few passing school children and there were none but the comings and goings, and kindesses, of those who live around us soon cleared his stock. He thinks cookies might sell better, and a friend has offered her garden close to a local school as a pitch so we'll be trying again. He made three or four pounds profit, and still has plenty of ingredients towards next week. He'll need to repay the initial investment, plus a 10% return, and will need to buy more chocolate chips for the cookies, but should see some profit if he sells them all. His aim is to make £100 for kestrels, which we learned this summer are in decline across the country.
It was hard work and I was nervous for him, and grateful to the neighbours for helping him out, but it was good experience. He admitted that it was more work than he'd realised. I have set him the task of planning for next week and presenting me with an action plan: there will be no reminders. It has played havoc with my carefully planned timetable and sticking to a start time of 9:30am meant that nothing else got done this morning, hence the late post, but he is proud of himself and his achievement and I am proud of myself for stepping out of my routine and comfort zone and letting him begin to follow a dream.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Toy Story 3

We made it to the cinema yesterday, after our failed attempt on Tuesday, to see 'Toy Story 3'.
We all enjoyed it and had a great discussion over lunch around waste-disposal, the rise and maintainance of dictatorships, whether a character damaged by rejection can be described as evil and the nature of mercy.
I was expecting a proper tear-jerker and had ensured that I had a good supply of tissues in readiness for the ending, having heard tales of the final scenes making grown men cry. It was not, however, the final parting of teenaged boy and his faithful toys that moved me, but the near destruction of the gang as they battled to reach their owner. Despite knowing that this would not be the end (after all what kind of kids' film climaxes with the heroes incinerated?) I had to wipe away a few tears.

"We should pay close attention to the things that make us cry, for
there we are not far from the heart of God or our own." ("Running
on Empty" Fil Anderson

So, in a moment of unexpected prickling in my eyes, I ask myself, what is it about this that is moving me? In this case, deep friendship, trials endured, victories won, growing up, real connections, acceptance of the end? Stuff close to my heart.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Waterloo Road

There had been some mention of 'Waterloo Road' in the Home Ed e-group, about how the BBC1 school-based drama was to open the new series with a story-line involving two home educated children, about how prejudiced and ill-informed this was going to be, replaying a typical stereotype with no regard for truth. I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch, after all I have better things to do than deliberately let myself get wound up, but I didn't want to miss out on the ensuing discussions, so at 8pm last night I settled in front of the TV. Sure enough the portrayal of the home educating family was ridiculous, exaggerated and like no family I have ever come across in the Home Ed world. The children really were, in the words of one of the other pupils, 'home ed freaks'. However, the school seemed to have a staff of around 7, including the ex-pupil, pregnant, teen-aged Head's PA and the highly unprofessional and over-emotional Headmistress who, apparently, had nothing better to do than sit in her office and deal with naughty children who had been sent out of lessons for talking too much.

While the younger of the newly-integrated home ed siblings was determined to get herself expelled by making a smoke bomb in Biology and aggravating another student into assaulting her, the older lad was more philosophical. His turning point came when, while watching some other lads kicking a ball around, the Head drew alongside him and let him know that the way he could thank his dad for all his hard work was by "being your own person, doing your own thing." This inspired the boy to join in the football game, a symbol of his new found freedom from the shackles of his father. At the climax of the episode, this boy shouted at his dad, "you made us too different, like we were supposed to forget about having mates, going out, talking to girls."

One of my primary reasons for my educational choice, and I think many of the home ed mums I know would say the same, is to let my children discover and delight in who they are, to do their own thing, free from the shackles of imposed curricula and intense peer pressure. Part of that is meeting a wide variety of other children, experiencing all sort of places and, even, talking to girls! We spent yesterday hanging out in the Hampshire countryside with a crowd of other home ed families, playing, racing, riding tractors and enjoying ourselves. There were no families there remotely like the one the BBC would have the world believe we are. Although, I guess, if they did exist, somewhere, they would be locked away, indoors, on their own!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


September is here again. I’ve had a break from the blog, but have been starting to miss it. An unexpected stab of jealousy when one friend told me that she would be starting one, and again when another mentioned hers, led me to think about returning. So I’ve changed the look and come back fresh. Only I don’t feel so fresh. It’s been a tough few months with a close family member having major surgery. The op was six weeks ago and yet the situation currently seems worse than before. I keep thinking that we have ‘turned a corner’ but it’s not the case, at least not yet.
My husband went back to school yesterday (in August!) and I thought I’d take the children to the cinema. I am used to the cinema being empty on weekday, on the rare occasions I go, and had not accounted for the fact that most children are not back at school yet and that I was not the only one with “2for1” vouchers from Tesco. It was full! Three disappointed children and our end of holiday treat, well, just not.
I am planning to ‘start term’ on Monday but I don’t want the next few days to drift by. I now have a DVD film to watch (we rented a couple as a ‘making up for missing the cinema’ treat and it seemed right to get two at the time, but I can’t remember why!) and repeat cinema trip to fit in. We have a Sports Day to go to and a Home Ed group to return to, but it all feels like rather random pieces. I really want to get some rhythm back. Following this desire, I have laminated individual time-tables for the children to start crisp and clean on Monday, but my middle son wants to sell muffins to the school kids passing and we will have two borrowed dogs to walk. In my efforts to achieve order and routine, perhaps what I really need is school!

And yet, I have all this to remember: