Friday, 16 December 2011

Christmas. Holidays.

It's been a long, hard term. It's been a tumultous year. I am desperate for the Christmas holidays. So, we have started them early. How often have I had that experience of arriving at a longed-for break only to feel too exhausted to enjoy myself or to succumb to some lurking germ. So, I made a conscious choice to start slowing down. We finished Chapter Book and filed away the children's work. We have got out the art box and sat all together at the table drawing and painting. We have stopped over a cup of tea and read one or two poems. We have stayed in bed longer in the mornings and I have even stayed up late completing a jigsaw. It's 8.30 in the morning, the children are chatting upstairs in their rooms and I have drunk my first cup of tea, eaten toast with chocolate spread and am enjoying some quiet time on the computer. I'm still in my PJs. It's nearly the holidays and I'm relaxed and ready.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Chapter Book

Already it is time to be looking ahead to January, and that inevitably means looking at the term just gone and asking myself what went well, what we enjoyed as a family, what we long for more of, and what we can't wait to be rid of. Reading a chapter book has always been hugely important to me and to the children. Through all kinds of literature we have learnt so much, not only about historical events, geographical places, mathematical ideas and classic literature; not only about good writing, story structure and well-crafted sentences; but also about being a family, the value of all stopping and being together at the same time and the extra-special feeling of a long hug on the sofa with mum and the dog.
But somehow it hasn't worked so well this term. The book I wanted to read in September wasn't in the library and, although I placed a reservation, was a long time coming. I picked something unknown by a famous author and it didn't take long to realise why it was unknown! We tried and old favourite of mine and my eldest son's, but the other two children found it boring. Having a looser time-table and working more hours myself meant that we found it hard to make the time to read. 
However, in just the last few weeks, we began "The Eagle of the Ninth" by Rosemary Sutcliff, a book I had had on my "to read" list for a long time. After a slow start (oh please, not another to give up on) the story got going and is now racing along at an exciting speed. Today, for the first time, I had a request to go straight on and read the next chapter! Reading it has reminded me how important this shared experience is, how much I love reclining on the sofa, the dog's head in my lap, one son listening in stillness, two other children drawing and colouring, interrupting with the occasional question or observation. It has been warm and precious and not only contributed a huge amount to our knowledge of Roman Britain, but has deepened our emotional connection, soothed scratchy relationships and reminded me again of so much that I love about our lifestyle of home education.
Books for January are already on order!

Friday, 2 December 2011

All of a rush

I am definitely someone who does things in a rush. I sometimes think that I deliberately, though sub-consciously, generate lateness. I faff about, fiddle with things and waste time and then, all of a rush, find myself dashing out of the door.
Last September I thought it might be a nice idea to consider getting a puppy, perhaps in the spring. I had a conversation with a friend in which we agreed, on the Saturday morning, that it just wan't a good time to introduce a new dog. By Monday evening we had arranged to buy Coco!
My life has turned upside down this summer and starting back to term in September everything was totally different. Yet, at the beginning of July I had no real inkling of the storm that was coming.
Ideas often ferment in the depths of my brain and arrive, fully formed, in my conscious thinking.
Worries that have been hanging over me for weeks have finally come out into the light in the last week or so. I have faced up to and am with some tricky issues. Some have been easier than I feared, some much harder and many are as yet unresolved but I have been reflecting on a conversation I had recently, telling a friend of my progress in an area that, only a fortnight ago, I had been too scared and overwhelmed to face. Unexpected problems have come up, obstacles that seemed to be insurmountable, but I have come up with a plan, received love and support and am working, bit by bit, to bringing my hopes to fruition.
The reactions of others still causes me surprise, from the outright coldness of those I never dreamt would let me down to the unexpected solidarity from someone I hardly know. A close friend, whose initial reaction to the events of the summer hurt me and caused me to consider ending the friendship, empathised with and reflected back with a sensitivity and understanding that brought tears to my eyes.
As Christmas approaches and I begin to open the doors on my calendar I am shocked by how different my life it to this time last year and how suddenly it has all happened, but also excited about the new doors opening and the hope for all our futures.

Monday, 28 November 2011

New and Old

Old friends. Catching up with a special lady who has been there for me for eighteen years, with whom I have shared all the ups and downs of life as I have gone from newly-married, newly-qualified teacher and her as  single teacher, to us both mums of three. We chatted over mugs of tea and lit a bonfire in the garden for excited children to toast marshmallows before just having time to snuggle up on the sofa with my godson  and a favourite book. Connections. Roots. Love and support.
New challenges. North Downs Way under our belt, starting the South Downs Way. Happy dog romping in the fields, twelve rolling Hampshire miles, fresh air and warm late autumn sunshine, time out from busy life to talk and think deeply and to relax. New hope. New ideas. New future.

Friday, 18 November 2011


It's been a good week for home ed.We have had many of those meandering conversations which have lead us to all kinds of ideas and activities. We  have been following the Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat in our chapter book time and this has lead to many times of jumping up from the sofa to print off a tangram, to look at the work of M.C. Escher or to cut up a Mobius Strip. We are reading "The Eagle of the Ninth" and talking about Roman Britain. We have climbed and swum, the boys have been out to an evening with the writer of Dr. Who and my eldest has continued his enjoyment of an excellent science course at the National Physical Laboratory. They have worked independently and with me, played with friends and worked in the garden. My youngest explained the concept of heat in terms of particles wobbling and my middle son told me about absolute zero as we chatted about heat in the car. And we rounded it off with what is becoming our favourite day of the week, Friday: a lie-in and then free to do something all together. Last week we cycled along the Thames Path, this week we went for a walk in the woods, indoor climbing and had poetry tea in the cafe at the rock wall. Sometimes, when life is harder than usual, it is easy to lose my sense of what it is that I do, and enjoy: life, education, growth with the children. And that is what Home Ed is all about.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

So much happens ...

It's getting hard to keep up.There's the private stuff and the public stuff, the happy stuff and the sad stuff, the hard stuff and the easy stuff; there's laughter and tears, words that hurt and words that comfort. It has become harder and harder to find the time to blog, but also to work out where to draw the line between the deeply personal and the freely open. I decided to fix a regular weekly slot to post, but this week it came and went as I spent valuable time helping a little boy struggling with big emotions and changes in his life.
And home ed carries on. My younger two (I was corrected yesterday when I called them "the little ones". "Medium one" and "Biggish one" is more accurate, apparently, leaving my eldest as "Huge one"!) have received certificates for their horse-riding and stable management, and all three have been awarded swimming badges. They tried out a sports class (but didn't like it) and toured the archive of the Surrey History Centre (Where the old documents get washed in soap and water! Go figure!). My two eldest are studying for maths exams and my youngest continues in her progress to becoming a chess master! Yesterday, inspired by last week's success, we dug out the bike rack, took all five bikes to a local town and pedalled, with the dog, along the Thames Path, enjoying time outdoors and time together.
It's not all been easy though. I've been the subject of confusing and unhelpful allegations and it's taken time and energy to sort it out. I'm left feeling betrayed, hurt and judged. I don't know who made these allegations, or why and it's hard not to slip into feeling that everyone is against me, thinking things about me and condemning me. But I have to grasp hold of the simple fact that I don't know what people are thinking. Yes, someone has chosen to act on their opinion of me but that leaves everyone else who hasn't, or who doesn't hold the same opinion. I don't know how other people judge me, I don't know their minds and I cannot always look for approval, imagined or real. In the words of a dear friend who e-mailed me this week, I have searched my depths and found more truth in my life. To find your truth and live more authentically is always a great thing and I will continue to do this and try not to worry about what people think!

Friday, 4 November 2011

On Monday we set out on our sponsored Bike Ride:
Ready to go

First pit-stop

Resting on our way home

Still full of beans

Home and happy

Well done!
Over £100 raised!

We changed our route to remove the need to put five people and five bikes in the car so we cycled from home to Kingston, along the river, and then home again: 22 miles in total. I was impressed that I could cycle so far - it's a long time since I've regularly used a bike - and even more impressed that the children could! There was not one word of complaint and, in fact, they were pretty excited the whole way and we are aiming to cycle from home to Waterloo - around 30 miles along the river- in the spring.

The Bicycle Ride.

We get on our bikes, our feet on the pedals,
At the end of this ride there shall be no medals,
Just a nice happy feeling, and family glory,
(Unless we all die in an accident gory.)
Twenty-two miles on a bike! Golly Gosh!
Through mud that goes squish and though puddles that splosh,
Through fields of grass and paths all brown,
Out and in and out of town,
We go past locks, we go past houses,
We go past horses and, er, cow-ses,
All this for puppies, small and sweet,
And kittens with soft paws for feet,
For we’re sponsoring an Animal Home! (Mayhew,)
For cats and dogs and rabbits too!
At long, long last, we stop for lunch,
On chips and sarnies we happily munch,
Then back on the bikes and off we go!
(Starting, of course, a trifle slow.)
But our hearts are light as air,
Because, Great Scott, we’re half-way there!
We make light conversation, trying to ignore,
The noises coming from the floor,
Because our feet, beginning to ache,
(Though they’re just being lazy, as we know,
We only started five minutes ago!)
After many, many hours
Of passing grass, and flowers, and flowers,
We get back home! Hip hip hooray!
What a fun, but tiring day!
We are so tired we all fall asleep,
There is no need for counting sheep!

Saturday, 29 October 2011


156 miles of walking and we've made it! Sunday saw our final trek through flat and windy Kent to arrive stiff and tired in Dover. We were thrilled with the finish line, a tangible mark of our achievement, and continued just a few yards past it to wet our boots in the English Channel.

This week has been half-term and it's been, as always, busy. Too busy to blog and this seems to be becoming a pattern. Each week I go around the same loop, trying to fit it in, trying to figure out what to write, struggling with the balance of personal and public, general news and self focus, and it's getting hard. And yet I know that there are readers who value and enjoy keeping up with my family and the children's activities. The blog also serves a very useful purpose as journal of what we have been up to, a place to reminisce and enjoy and perhaps, one day, serve as evidence of the success of our home school. With this in mind I have made the decision to post weekly, a summary of the life of that week, a place for caring friends and family to have a little peek at our lives and a freedom for me from the drive to post more often.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Friend or Foe

Yesterday, in this very "dramatic" week of National Schools Films Week and two trips to see live shows, we went to the theatre to see Michael Morpurgo's "Friend or Foe".  Simply done, with one stage set and five actors, I was drawn into the 1940s, the joys and fears of evacuation and the test of loyalty when principles and prejudice collide with relationship and personal debt. I was fascinated by the way the one set of scenery - a bombed house - was a farmhouse, a moor, a train carriage, a fast-flowing river and an army jeep. I was intrigued by the questions posed and we had a good discussion on the way home about what our choices would be faced with such a conflict of interest, of how people confound the groups we try to put them in and the role of fathers and father-figures in the two boys' lives.
An afternoon at the theatre seems to me a perfect example of home ed working at its best: shared experiences, multi-layered educational opportunities, lively discussion all wrapped up in fun and relationship. Definitely something to go on my "works well - do more of" list!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


I am not very good at playing. It is not something that comes naturally to me. I have been working on pictures of rocks and of dry-stone walls all term in my art class but am missing something in my slavish copying. My tutor sat me down for a demonstration of different techniques yesterday: wax resist, oil pastels, ink, wet-in-wet, drawing with the paint brush. She encouraged me just to play around. It makes me nervous. I can look at the paper and grasp that is is a single sheet, worth perhaps 20p. It doesn't take much paint. It is one afternoon, time for myself, away from the children, and I don't need to achieve anything. But I still feel that I can't do it. I still feel that I'm going to mess up. With the courage it would take to jump off a diving board, I persuaded myself to try everything she had shown me, to work my way across and down the page, a few rocks at a time, deliberately playing with each method. Some worked, some didn't. Some were fun, some weren't. By the time I reached the bottom left of the sheet, I was pleased with what I had done. I worked back in to a lot of it, covering over what didn't look so good and using the styles that were expressing what I wanted. Taking away the pressure of producing something, seeing it as an exercise in playing, in experimentation, freed me to paint and to let go.
I went swimming today. Another activity that makes me nervous, makes me tense. I know I'm supposed to have fun, but don't quite feel it. Taking the children to the leisure pool, I was enthusiastically taken to the slide as my way in to the water. We played in the wave machine, tried out both slides, once even with my little girl on my lap. I found myself laughing, chasing, splashing and, yes, playing. Maybe it's not all about growing up, maybe it's about letting go!

Monday, 17 October 2011

National Schools Films Week

October comes around again and it's National Schools Films Week. This is the third or fourth year in a row that we've taken advantage of free screenings at our local cinemas and it feels like part of our routine. Along with  Primary Maths Challenge, National Novel Writing Month, Christmas School and Journey North, it has become part of the rhythm of our home education year. This time I've booked us in to four different films: one early showing last week and three this. Some films are old favourites and some are new to us - last year we took in some Bollywood, novel experience for us. The power of the story, the development of character, the geographical locations, the quirky song lyrics: there is so much to enjoy, to discuss and to learn from. It's fun to take a week to be and to do education a little bit different and this way we get to eat popcorn at the same time!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Busy Week

Every day  this week I have meant to blog. I have planned the day and put in some time with the computer, time to catch up with my e-mails and to update this blog. It just hasn't happened. This term is full of activities and I am also working more hours than I have done since I had a full-time job before the children came along. It feels as if I am trying to hold on to routine, to actively educate the children, to keep on top of the house, my running and life in general. And I worry that I let things slip. 
But when I reflect on the week, on all the things that have kept me too busy to type, I realise that the children have been discussing maths concepts, climbing at the rock-wall, swimming, to the cinema, horse-riding, playing with friends, planning a trip abroad, listening to a classic story, talking about their feelings, reading poetry aloud and attending a history workshop on World War 2.

It happens. They live, they grow and they learn.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Dr Johnson's House

My eldest would have been much happier as a gentleman in the 18th Century. Here he is enjoying the opportunity to dress up at Dr Johnson's House on our visit this morning. Samuel Johnson wrote the first comprehensive English Dictionary containing over 42,000 and my son loved following the word "pig" through the dictionary: pig - a young sow or boar; sow - a female pig; boar - a male swine; swine - a hog or pig. So, none the wiser then! He spent £15 of his pocket money on a paperback, abridged version which he was engrossed in reading on the train home, occasionally sharing a gem with me. My son is a little unusual and I love that, and I love that he is free to be who he is without having to compromise or put up with teasing.
For me, and for my little girl, the biggest thrill was riding on a big, red, double-decker London bus!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Home Ed works

The children and I were in the car later than I wanted to be and hurrying to get to our History session. The M25 was moving nicely but as we pulled off we hit a traffic jam. Thirty-five minutes later we were still crawling along, the session had started and we reached the"road closed" sign and we were about to be diverted. I turned the car around and came home. One of the things I find hard is the fact that the children have done "nothing" for the morning. All my worries flood my mind - just how many hours a week are the children doing home ed?
We got home and I found the sheets I had printed of the egg tangram which we had read about in our maths book that morning. I left them cutting out the shapes and making birds while I went out with the dog to settle my mind. They were still busy when I got home, cutting, arranging, sticking and colouring.

I was working after lunch and the children got on with their own activities, including continuing with the Natural History series which they are following. My middle son spent a considerable time playing with his lego. When we met up for poetry tea, he excitedly showed us his models.
On the left is "Detonator" and on the right, "Rush", two of the rides at Thorpe Park where he is going as a Christmas and birthday treat tomorrow. Both models move, and you can see the little lego thrill-seekers!
I am seeing more and more how much the children fill their time with challenging and interesting activities without me having to organise them. I am beginning to see that they are growing up and taking charge of their own lives. I am increasingly trusting the process which is Home Education.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Hard Work

I was recently sent an article on the value of hard work, of practice, over and above the concept of talent. Talent, this article went so far as to say, was largely an illusion. Those who excelled in their chosen field have simply put in the hours and hours of practice to get that good. We all have the ability to be really good, if only we were to put in the work.
I am loving my painting this term, and indoor climbing. I don't get a huge amount of time for either and so I won't, I am sure, progress very fast. My painting tutor tells me that it is often necessary to paint 20 or 30 poor paintings before an amazing one comes along and I just don't have that much time to paint. I only have time to climb once a week. I could take that as depressing - I'll never get good so what's the point. But I enjoy them, and every bit I do I get better. I also don't need to feel intimidated by those who are better than me, they just have more time or motivation or passion, or less other interests, or work in that particular area, and so have done more and got better. Maybe I don't want to be that good at everything, maybe I will never have the time, or maybe it will  have to wait for another stage of my life.
There are plenty of other things that practice will improve in my life and life is generous enough to provide many, many opportunities for learning on the go:  patience, listening, self-control, pushing myself not to act out of habit but out of choice, extending grace, asking for help when I need it, seeing things from someone else's point of view. And skill in these seems of far greater value!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Lintel place

There are times when it is hard to blog. There are times when the self-doubt is overwhelming and when the tricky balance of trying to hear hard and uncomfortable truths without letting the unfair and hurtful attacks of others wound is almost impossible. When I am stuck what to write I ask myself, "What is most on my mind at the moment?" It's hard to write when what is most on mind is all that is on my mind and when it is deeply personal and private.Over the summer I was given the image of standing at a lintel-place. A place of transition from one state to another.
I was also given the image of a boy on a swing. Frozen by the camera's click at the high, back-point of the motion, hanging forever, an empty back-drop, waiting for the fall, the swing, the movement.
It's tempting to dwell, to focus on the hurt and regrets, to stay in the dark, to stay frozen. It's an effort to mine deep and find the energy to look ahead when the road is hard. But I have a future and I will look to it. I will paint, and run, and climb, and teach, and love, and laugh and grow. I will step out. I will swing.

Monday, 3 October 2011

New Bike

I've got a new bike! My life has been shaken up this summer and one of the goals that has come out of this is to try to use my car less. I am nervously embracing buses and gaining confidence with my Oyster card and I would like to cycle to more places. There aren't all that many opportunities to use the bike as I mostly travel with three children and I am always pushed for time, but I would like to cost the environment less, manage my time better, keep up an active lifestyle and spend less on petrol. So, I've got a new bike! It was a bargain: second-hand and I part-exchanged the old one I bought when I used to cycle to work before I had children. It came with all the bits I needed like lights and a little repair kit. (Not that I have any idea how to use that!) Yesterday was its first trip out. I went to the park and went round. This removed all the added difficulties of dealing with traffic, changing direction and having to do anything other than pedal -my companion had to use her brakes quite a bit as I couldn't keep up. My excuse was that I had already been running but in reality I was just a bit scared of going too fast so I just kept going. It's not much, plenty of people whizz on two wheels through central London in rush hour, but it was a baby step towards a big goal and I feel like I achieved something, that I am still growing.

Thursday, 29 September 2011


There are weeks like this one, when there just seems far more to do than hours to do it in, when my eight-year-old is crying about the cat while my ten-year-old covers every available kitchen surface in chocolate-chip cookie mixture while my private pupil sits patiently and waits for me to teach him and the dog escapes onto the front drive. There are days like today when, after two late nights of emotional conversations, tired does not seem a sufficient word. There are mornings like this when my pale brown carpet is a patchwork of muddy paw-prints as the over-excited and under-exercised dog jumps at everything and everyone and it is nearly 11am before I am thinking about what to try to do today and how to make my home welcoming for a transatlantic visit from my brother. And it is moments like this when the devil-voice asks how much my children can possibly be learning. I look around: my twelve-year-old is in a GCSE maths tutorial with two other young lads, so we are covering maths and social skills. My ten-year-old has just returned from church where he has delivered, and sold, his muffins for a charity coffee morning and has set off to the shops to spend his hard earned cash. I reckon that covers economics and citizenship as well as developing his independence, oh, and leadership - because the eight-year-old has gone too. She's learning teamwork and social skills and as she spent the previous half-hour washing her scooter in the sunshine she's been developing independence and responsibility. Chapter book (literacy, history, maths) snuggled on the sofa (social and emotional skills) and a dog walk in the park later (P.E. and animal care) and the day looks very different.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


I spent a very pleasant morning at the Surrey History Centre with nearly 30 students all excited and engaged with the impact of World War II on the local area. I have to say, I was quite pleased with myself as I had organised the session - the first of four - with the County Council staff and it was good to see so many active and enthusiastic children. They planned a civil defence system, looked at genuine newspapers from the time and completed a quiz about the Home Guard. I am frequently asked how my home educated children will learn to socialise and how I manage to teach such different ages. It was refreshing and encouraging this group of children, ranging in age from 6 to 12, laughing and working together.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


"Readiness can’t be rushed.  We can lay a groundwork.  But nothing we do can take an unready human and make them ready."

I was reading a post at Handmade Homeschool yesterday and came across this.  As a mother, I would do well to remember. As a teacher, both of my own children and of other students, I would do well to remember. As half of any relationship, whether difficult or easy, I would do well to remember. As a child of God, learning to be gentle on myself, I would do well to remember. For if we are not ready, can we really do anything?

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Ben

I am reliably informed that true climbers refer to this mountain not as Ben Nevis, but "The Ben". I do not think that I really can lay claim to being a true climber - not at all in fact - but I gave it a go.
It was my 40th birthday on Saturday and to celebrate I, with my best friend, caught the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston station late on Friday night, arriving in Fort William on Saturday lunchtime. Sunday morning, in fairly clear weather, we set off to attempt the Ledge Ridge on the North Face. There is a route, the Tourist Track, which, while not as easy as its name suggests, is a straightforward walk, but I wanted to do something scary for my birthday so we chose to attempt a Grade II scramble. The owners of the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed were impressed that we were attempting the North Face, which confirmed my idea that we were indeed doing something scary.
The weather was against us: it was windy and wet and slippery. We made good headway along the paths and gained a good 600m but the steep and rocky scramble was dangerous and, after a good try, we decided that it was not sensible to keep going and turned back. We were now a considerable way up a boggy, slimy, rocky mountainside and it was certainly in the scary zone just getting back down. We considered the option of skirting the mountain to meet the Tourist Track but, with a train to catch, thought we didn't have have enough time. I was very disappointed not to reach the summit.
And yet I have been inspired by a quote in the Scramble Guide Book which we were using: The best mountaineer is the one having the most fun. I am certain that we qualified on that score! I am also learning to see the achievement in the attempt. We gained useful experience of difficult conditions, tried out new kit, practised our navigation skills and learned the lie of the land and the start of the route. As we sat in the supermarket cafe waiting for our train home we set ourselves the goal of achieving all six scrambling routes on Ben Nevis. We looked at what we would need to do to be skilled enough to attempt a route graded as Severe and drew up a timetable. It will take a few years but I think then we will have earned the right to call this mountain "The Ben" and this is just the kind of thing I want to fill my Forties with!

Friday, 23 September 2011


Instead of Watercolours, I am going to a Painting and Drawing Class this term. I have the same tutor as last year and she encouraged me to think over the summer of a theme I would like to work on: I chose rocks. There are a lot of rocks in the Yorkshire Dales where I spent my two week summer holiday: natural rock formations, stepping stones, dry stone walls, derelict barns. I took a lot of photos. Now I am faced with developing them into art. There is a programme of study, set pieces each week with a technique to focus on and I spent some time last session discussing with my art teacher whether I would be better off concentrating on following the plan and learning new skills or following my own ideas. She was dismissive of the scheme of work: I could bang out a few skies (this week's subject) if I wanted, she said, but could instead push my creativity far more with my own ideas.
I was surprised at my own internal sense of safety in learning technique, being told what to do, having a skill to learn, to, hopefully, improve on. Do I have any creativity to push? Can I really build up a body of work, push the materials to get the effects I want, create something personal with my subject? In short, is there really anything there inside me - do I have anything to say?
I am learning a certain sensation, a tickling feeling in my wrists, when I am challenged, when I am scared, when I am on the edge and about to jump. I have made big changes to my life in recent months, and playing around in new ways with paints does not compare, but it is the same feeling: a little voice daring me to step out, to push myself, to find something new, to be me.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Raising Money

The children have been keen to raise money for a local animal charity for a little while now. We have selected the end of October for a 21 mile cycle ride from Kingston-upon-Thames to Tower Bridge and the children have designed their own Just Giving Page. This is all my eldest's own work and I am very impressed with what he has done. I am also impressed by the children's commitment to an idea and support of animals. Do have a look at the page and see what they are up to, and if you feel like donating a pound or two we would be very grateful!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Not long ago, my eight-year-old daughter made up her mind to run away. I tried to stay relaxed and allow her to to talk through all her difficult feelings. She told me how she would sleep on the pavement and buy her breakfast from the corner shop. While I was confident that she would, eventually, calm down and not leave, I did wonder if I should lock the windows in her room. The thought of her wandering the streets, alone and vulnerable, gives me goose-bumps. She was so sure that she would be safe, that she knew the dangers and would be able to cope with them and she still is determined to be as independent as possible. As her parent, of course, I know how terrified she would really be and how utterly un-equipped she is to live alone; she needs to stay here, with me, to be under my protection.
That night she slept in a sleeping bag on the floor, denying herself the comfort of her bed in preparation for the hardships she would face when she left next morning.
I am facing some difficult decisions and I am frightened of the future. I am trying my best to foresee all potential outcomes and to protect myself against what might happen. It occurred to me this morning that I need to rest in my Father's house, to accept and enjoy his love and protection, to rest in the refuge he promises me. I am not equipped to see into the future or to control all the outcomes. I need to trust in him, his love and his provision. And I wonder how often I make myself "sleep on the floor" - uncomfortable with worry in the hope that this will offset some future problem, rather than resting now in the warmth of his Fatherly love.

Monday, 19 September 2011


My kitchen faces due West. In the evening, the sunlight pours in, often making tea-time a little too hot. In the morning it can be a cold and slightly dark room as the back of the house, the living-room and bedrooms are filled with sunshine. However, this morning, I caught this beautiful bouquet on my kitchen table reflecting the sun's rays and glowing with yellow light. The early morning sun was reflecting from the windows of the houses on the other side of the street and straight onto the sunflowers. By the time I had fetched my camera the brightness had faded a little and, as the clouds and the earth moved, the effect was lost. It was a the gift of a moment.
There are times right now when it's hard to find the sunshine. These flowers reminded me this morning that light, joy, beauty and love often catch us unawares and come from unexpected directions. I need to catch the moment.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Dust of Snow

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

The way a crow 
Shook down on me
The dust of snow 
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart 
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

To rue: To be sorry for, to wish not to have been, to regret.

There have been many days in the last month which I have rued. There has been much sadness, much pain. I struggle to understand what I am responsible for and what is not mine to carry. I cannot control how others respond, what they choose to think or how they choose to act. I remember a time when someone I loved called me from another country: she was in despair. I spoke with her for a long time, listened and consoled. After the conversation, I felt guilty settling down to watch a comedy, I felt as if it were wrong to laugh. But I cannot live in a state of sadness because others are sad. I care, and I listen, and I make amends if it is my responsibility and within my power to do so. But I can choose to live my life, to laugh, to be excited and to see the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


One new activity for this term is Horse Riding and this is my two keen riders before today's lesson. My eldest is old enough to be left at home alone for a while and had a maths lesson with a friend, which left me with a glorious hour with no children. I took the dog to the nearby forest and, while she ran free, I was free just to be and to think my own thoughts uninterrupted. Precious space, precious peace. And the horse riding was great too.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Black and Blue

It has been a hard week. Two of my children are busy in the kitchen as I type, preparing for poetry tea. We have the unexpected gift of Cornish Clotted Cream so they are getting a traditional Cream Tea ready to share; my middle son is upstairs writing a poem. This time last week we had poetry tea. Since then I have spent hours and hours in long, emotional, difficult  and often tearful conversations trying to make progress in some important personal relationships and defending home education for my children. Today I received an e-mail from a friend whom I have inadvertently offended and I am saddened by it.
The children are muddling along fine but I feel that my planned start to the academic year is having some trouble getting going. The suggestion to focus for the next couple of months on their emotional education: the expression and management of  big feelings, being gentle and compassionate with each other, listening and talking, has proved hugely helpful. They are unlikely, many years from now, to remember the details of the curriculum they followed this Autumn but I  will do my best to make sure that they also don't remember this term for the emotional stress. We can still drink tea, write poetry, take the dog out for a walk and enjoy living this life and being part of this family.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Autumn Colour

Start of term. Start of art classes. Two and a half hours to play with colour. There's a lot going on for me. This is just what I needed!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


It is good, even essential, to have friends. Friends bring light and fun to everyday, but it is the hard times that the essence of our friendships is most apparent. There are some who, in the hard press of circumstance, flow with the oil of love and unconditional acceptance. I have often been concerned in the past that I have not had, or made, the time to offer deep friendship when someone I know is in distress. This summer has shown me that something as simple as a single text, full of joy, encouragement and respect can touch a sore spot and bring comfort.
Lucinda sent me just such a text last month. She is another home educating mum, we get on very well and morning coffee never feels long enough to catch up on not only each other's news but the feelings and concerns of life, children and home education. One new innovation for her  this term is the introduction of a planning board, you can read more about it here, and I was excited to see her 10.00 entry: "Friends". That's us!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Yesterday saw us in Aldershot at a Lego building workshop with a Certified Professional Lego Builder. Professional Lego builders? Who knew? Apparently there are only 13 of them in the world. These are not the designers of the new sets, but people whose job is actually to build stuff out of Lego! The designers apparently all work in Denmark and you need to study Art and Design and 3D Modelling to become one. My eldest came out asking where he could study these subjects ...

They started by building bridges out of all one type of brick and then went on to make their names with guidance sheets showing how to make each letter of the alphabet. After that they went back to all one type, the basic 4x2 and were to be creative. My little girl built at boat and my eldest a foot with five toes. My middle    son constructed a tall and fragile spiral which he then doubled-up to make it stronger. The workshop leader asked him what it was, a string of DNA he replied. I had no idea that he even knew what DNA is!

A boat, a foot, a strand of DNA: three products of a life of home ed. I have my moments of fear, what am I doing, keeping them out of school?, but it seems that they are quirky, independent and leaning about the world. Doing alright, I think!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Running Away

My little girl settled down to sleep on Sunday night in a sleeping bag on the carpet. Bedtime had turned fraught and she had begun gathering her belongings to put in her bag ready to leave. We sat down to talk about and discuss her plans. I suggested that her godparents, to whom she was headed, would probably bring her home so she decided that she would just take a sleeping bag and sleep on the ground. She agreed that she would likely be found and brought home if she slept on the pavement and thought she would have to find somewhere to hide. She had her pocket money and was going to buy breakfast at the corner shop. After chatting some more, and me letting her know that if she did choose to run away I would have to call the police, she agreed to stay overnight (after all, it is cold out there) and reconsider in the morning. I left her packing her bag with her eldest brother. She decided that she'd have nowhere to re-charge her Nintendo DS so it got left behind but I  did notice that she had sensibly included a toilet roll. She wanted to try out sleeping on the floor and we agreed it would be good practice. She also agreed that she would wait until our friend flew home tomorrow night and discuss it with her before she made any decisions so I felt safe not locking her windows.
I find it hard to deal with her anger. She has always had a fiery and passionate temper and we often end up shouting at each other. She is particularly angry about daddy leaving and my broken promises. She is also fed up of being eight, being the youngest and not being allowed to do whatever she wants - as grown ups are, or so she sees. She very much dislikes being told what to do but listened with some interest, as I explained that I do things that I don't want to do, like washing up and laundry, and that, while there is no-one telling me I have to, if I do not do these jobs there are natural rules like dirty dishes and smelly clothes.
I, too, would like to run away at times, from the hard work of home ed, of running a home and of negotiating difficult relationships. It is often easy to perceive that others are better off or have an easier life. I have been challenged over this and my personality trait that looks at the dark clouds and not the sunshine and I am gradually learning to internalise this challenge. Yes, life is hard but it is fun, and blessed and full of joy and I can cuddle my daughter and watch old sitcoms and dance in the kitchen.

Friday, 2 September 2011


Every day has its unexpected moments. I am a natural planner and prefer life to come in its expected form, on time, on timetable.
I received an unexpected invitation last night for an event today and, thrilled to be included, re-planned my day. I received an unexpected phone call this morning needing my attention, time and a lift to Accident and Emergency, taking a couple of hours out of my schedule. I was stuck in an unexpected traffic jam on the way home and our journey was over an hour long.
I had an unexpected cuddle with my little girl, a tense knot of anger at the moment, and she told me that I was the best mummy in the world.  I had an unexpected connection with nature as I picked a tomato from the garden and breathed in its scent. I unexpected soaring of my spirit as I marvelled at my dog's speed and joy as she chased a bird across the park. I had an unexpected moment of peace as, taking some rubbish out, I saw the almost new moon smudged by a cloud.
I am also a natural pessimist and find it easier to dwell on the difficult unexpecteds, but I am beginning to notice the blessed ones. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011


Since I last posted, my world has been turned upside down: I have asked my husband to leave and he moved out this weekend to stay with friends until his new flat is ready. 

I have tried to let friends and family know before they read this here, and if I've forgotten you then I apologise. My dad heard the news in a less than ideal way and I hope that doesn't happen to anyone else.

We waited until this weekend to tell the children. It was important that they heard it as definite news and not frightening uncertainty. It was important that they were with me and at home in the days immediately following so that their shaken world seemed as stable as possible. There have been tears and many questions, not least why I have broken my promise to them that this would never happen.

It's a question I have had to ask myself, to look at hard, to face with open-eyed courage. I wonder now why I ever felt the need to say it to the children: perhaps I was bolstering my own belief that I could make it true. I truly thought that I could make my marriage work by sheer effort. I knew through years of evangelical Christian teaching that love is a decision, all relationships require effort and marriage is forever. I thought I could do it. This summer I realised that, although I could, I am still sure, have kept it together, the personal cost was becoming too great. Much in the last half-decade has brought about personal growth and a much stronger sense of who I am and I began to see that I could not be all that I am within this relationship. I know that there are those who think I have made a selfish choice, but I believe that I  have chosen life, I have chosen a path that will enable me to me more who God created me to be and I think that is what God would want. I think the children will benefit from seeing me happier and more free and, perhaps one day, from seeing their parents in genuinely loving relationships.

Life is going to look very different. Making this choice, causing pain to people I love, has been almost unbearably hard but underneath the tiredness, sadness and fear, I cannot help but find excitement. Life is going to look very different, yes, but life is good, life is full of possibility, opportunity and love. The start of September always feels far more like a new year than January and on this "New Year's Day" I am looking forward to all that life will bring.

"Sometimes, though, it’s really important to ask whether or not what is happening is actually a problem." (August 30th:  Handmade Homeschool)

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Great Grandfather

Ron was a good deal older than my mother, and in this picture of him holding my baby daughter he is 87. His eldest great-grandchild was born just six weeks after my little girl. My children all remember riding on his back around the living room and snuggling up close to him as he read them Mr Men books. Friday is his funeral and we are travelling down today to help my mum prepare. We will return home late on Friday, pack up the car on Saturday morning and head north, to Swaledale, for two week's peace, quiet, rest and relaxation.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Twelve Today!

My eldest child is twelve today. He is a responsible, funny, witty, imaginative, creative, caring, sensitive and trustworthy young man. He is good company, with a passion for words, animation, manga and Dr Who. He is very much his own person and I am proud of his individuality. His presents reflect his character: a "cool dude" mug, manga pens, puzzles, a hard-back, beautifully bound copy of "On the Origin of Species".
Another milestone on the road of parenting.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Dr Who

Dr Who is a big character in my house. I lost interest when David Tennant regenerated, but my two son's have deepened and extended their passion, pored over many books, watched numerous clips on the internet and hold obscure conversations about particular episodes and the finer points of alien species. As his twelfth birthday is tomorrow, my son's present from grandma was tickets to the Dr Who Experience in London and we headed up into town today.
Despite the humid and sapping heat excitement levels were high and the exhibition lived up to all expectations. The interactive experience to begin with thrilled the children and caused just enough terror to bring them all close to my side but not enough to result in tears. The display brought exclamations of delight as we saw the costumes of all eleven Doctors, two TARDIS consoles, Daleks, Cybermen and Slytherines and more.
It was amazing to see my eldest so excited and passionate and I was reminded again of the need to engage with what interests my children, rather than trying to interest them in what I think is worthy; to enter into their worlds and to see life through their eyes.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Big Brother

My big brother flew in from the States on Saturday to be alongside my mother in her bereavement. It was good to see him and we both valued his support. He's working at his UK office today and stopped by yesterday evening for a bed for the night and, with a couple of friends, we headed to the rock wall and climbed. It was great fun: my arms still feel weak this morning and I've a couple of bruises, but I'm smiling. It's a long time since I taken part in any kind of activity with my brother: we both left home when we went to university and haven't spent much time together since, he's been in the US now for over 15 years. It's not always easy keeping up a transatlantic relationship but in recent years we have begun to get to know each other better. As I hung on the end of a rope, 20 feet off the ground, and he lowered me carefully down, it felt like a new place of trust and friendship. I even offered him some of my chocolate in the car on the way home. Now that wouldn't have happened thirty years ago!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

What have we achieved?

It's coming up to the end of term and I am beginning to review what we have done this year, what has worked well and what has not. I start out feeling that we've not done much but, little by little, begin to see the full picture of all that has happened.
Sorting out my daughter's folder I found the list of 100 essential words that she needed to be able to read and could only manage a handful of in September. All 100, hardly a pause.
One of my goals this year was for my son to learn more poetry by heart but I have done nothing about making this happen. Asked if he knew any poems, he quickly recited a humorous but short verse. "But I can do something longer," he said, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? ..." Word perfect, a Shakespeare sonnet.
Job done I reckon.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


It was recently brought to my attention that I have tags for both the dog and the cat but none for our three gerbils. We bought the gerbils last summer on a trip to the pet shop to research the logistics of getting a rat for my eldest son. It quickly became apparent that the space necessary for a rat was beyond our ability, but a gerbil, well that might work. This quickly escalated to three gerbils, one for each child, and despite a my insistence on a trip home to check with dad, the decision had already crystallized. And so, Argentum, Hat-trick and Bumble came to live with us. All the children adore their little pets and they are regularly taken out to be cuddled. My eldest son loves to write poetry and although Jonathan is not one of ours, apparently he was inspired by Bumble:

A radical rodent is Jonathan Gerbil
He doesn't drink water, but tea that is herbal.
Will he eat seeds and vegetables? No!
He'll eat boiled eggs and asparagus though.
He will not chew tubes made out of cardboard,
But instead smokes a pipe like a small English Lord.
In spare time he rolls not in a plastic ball,
But visits his uncle, who's six inches tall!
He has all his fur, but on top of that,
He wears a frock coat and a splendid top hat.
If you went to a pet shop, he wouldn't be there.
He lives quite comfortably near Coventry Square.
(Though you won't find him there at this time of year:
He'll be visiting his cousins in West Bedfordshire.)
And though a gerbil should sleep in a cosy little nest,
A four poster bed suits Jonathan best.

Monday, 20 June 2011


In the early hours of Saturday morning, my step-father died. Friday was his ninety-sixth birthday and he had been well enough on the morning to listen to my mother read him the many messages of good-will that had been sent, but throughout the day he became progressively weaker and was struggling to breathe. By the evening, it was clear that he was in his last few hours.
He and my mother met at Whitsun thirteen years ago. He was eighty-three. They married just over a year later and have been very, very happy together. They have travelled the world on many fabulous holidays, my children have loved riding on his back around our living room and listening to him read Mr Men stories and I have learnt much from him on the art of gardening. He will be sadly missed but remembered with much love and thanks for all the blessings he brought to our lives.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Goodnight kisses

It's a wonderful thing to be a treat for someone. Last night I was lucky enough to kiss my god-son goodnight and he thanked God for my visit. His mum had only told him and his brother and sister that I was coming half-an-hour before my arrival and they were full of excitement to see me. I was enveloped in hugs, showered with stories and had fancy-dress costumes thrust at me for my amazement. I did not bring gifts, I was not going to take them out anywhere, they were just excited to see me and wanted to hug me. I do not have to worry about the million minute decisions that make up their lives in the way that I do with my own children and was free to enjoy their affection without concern for their bed-time.
Their reaction to me spoke deeply of my being loved just for being me. It is hard for me to hold on to these simple feelings in the midst of my own family life, my own tiredness and sense of responsibility, my own fears and failings. Last night helped me to see what those around me who love me and tell me that they love me, not for what I do but for just being me, really mean and, maybe, will help me experience that just a little bit more.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

We'll always have Paris

Way leads on to way, and that's what I love about those Home Ed moments. We all feel engaged, connections are made and I am sure what we encounter will be remembered.
In an effort to produce something on paper to show for this term I have had the children working on a short piece of writing. My middle son, still in a war phase, has written a succinct history of the beginning of World War II, my daughter has written about her doll and my eldest a dramatic tale of the three gerbil musketeers rescuing a pedigree spaniel from the clutches of a wicked cat. They exit the story singing La Marseillaise and we needed to check the spelling. Google threw up YouTube and so we listened and marvelled at quite how bloodthirsty the lyrics are, and tried our lips at learning a few phrases. One clip was a stirring moment from "Casablanca" as Rick leads the cafe clientele in drowning out the German Fatherland. We went on to look at a few more scenes from this classic film as we had only at lunchtime been discussing famous misquotes such as "play it again, Sam." I indulged in the farewell moment, "We'll always have Paris," and, wiping the tears from my eyes, left my younger two back with the French National Anthem and the French National football team, spotting players they knew.
Connections, life, emotion, home ed.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

It must be lovely being a dog!

Coco's life is not very complicated. If she sees a bee she chases it. She is not self-conscious and does not worry that she looks a bit daft, or that she has never yet caught one. When she loses interest, she sits in the sun, eyes closed, relaxing. She does not worry that she is wasting time or not achieving anything. When she hears the door, she hurries up to see who has come, fully expectant that it will be someone fun, who loves her and will tickle her or play with her. She does not worry that she ran away at puppy class or obsess about whether she could have performed better. She just is and she is happy. I could learn a lot from my dog!

Monday, 13 June 2011

What's the score?

Quit keeping score altogether and surrender yourself with all your sinfulness to God who sees neither the score nor the scorekeeper but only his child redeemed by Christ.
Thomas Merton
I was once told that I am not agile. This caught in my mind like a fish hook and is repeated in my head every time I climb over a stile or skitter down a steep path. Walking the North Downs Way has provided plenty of opportunities for me to trip up and I do, frequently. I am always rather pleased when my best friend and walking companion stumbles and I keep a running total in my head of who has tripped the most. It's not loving, or helpful, but it happens nonetheless and I tend to feel better if I am winning - or at least not losing too badly.
I keep score with most things in my life - how often I shout at the children, how often I snap at my husband, how often I am brusque instead of offering a kind word and, again, I tend to feel better if I am winning - or at least not losing too badly.
It's not a comfortable place to be and I don't think that it makes me a nicer person.
When the children were learning to walk, and to swim, they did not berate themselves for every trip, stumble or spluttering grab for the edge and I certainly did not; I did not keep score. I did not compare them to Olympic athletes but was pleased and proud just to see them developing. I did not rush them or test them: I delighted in them. If I could grasp, if I could truly understand and know that I know, that God is looking at me that way, that he is not keeping score but is delighting in me then that would be a truly comfortable place to be. That, I think, would be the way to live.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Daddy's Girl

Sometimes even a Mr Man story isn't enough to keep you awake!

What a picture of safety and love. Of prayer.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Another Day on the North Downs Way

Two more glorious days and two more long walks. We didn't set out until lunchtime on Friday, intending on "only"doing 13 miles. It was hot, it was long, we were tired! We stayed away this time, intending on setting out early the next day, but a 4.30 fire alarm left us less refreshed than we had hoped. Twenty miles ahead of us and temperature rising nearly as fast as the contours, I was beginning to wonder if we had taken on more than was wise, especially when our first designated stop-point, a village where we planned to have lunch, had only one - closed - pub. A muffin- and water-break on the side of a hill revived us and the rest of the day passed, mile by mile. We saw some interesting,

and amusing things.

The views were beautiful,

and we are pretty proud of how far we have walked.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


My friend Lucinda calls it making up a story. You see something, or overhear a comment, and your imagination takes over. Before you know it, you have constructed a scenario, ascribed motives and you know exactly what someone else is really thinking. Or not. Too often I am way down this road, my fantasy is fact and I respond based on what I believe, without ever having checked in with the truth.
My head is full of dog training and I am homing in on the last few exercises which Coco need to perfect to get her gold assessment, so when I saw another woman in the park today, standing resolutely some distance from her stationary dog, I assumed she was training him. After a few moments, the dog ran a quarter of a circle and settled down again, much like sheep-dog trials. I was impressed, especially when he repeated the trick. After a while the dog came over to play with Coco and I approached the woman to express my admiration and to pick up some tips. She was quite surprised when I congratulated her on her dog's obedience. It turned out that my whole story was exactly that - a story. The dog would not come back to her. She had let him off the lead to play and now he would not return. Yesterday, it had taken an hour-and-a-half to get him back!
As I walked away, calling my dog to heel, I chuckled to myself about the absurdity of my feeling so easily intimidated and bested, how quick I was to interpret what I could see as a sign of my own failings. It's not about comparison and I can never know what is going on for someone else unless I ask. It's about doing my own thing as well as I can and being happy with that.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


Yes, my amazing dog has passed her silver assessment! She played, stayed, came and walked to standard and was presented with her certificate at the end of puppy class this morning. She is a very lively and bouncy dog and usually elicits comments about craziness or being a live-wire when she meets people in the park, but I can really see how she is developing her obedience and she is a pleasure to walk with. I no longer find myself dragged along the pavement or fear that she will not come back to me. I have struggled at times with the work that training her has been, and continues to be - after all, there is gold to aim for now! - but I am pleased and proud that all this work has paid off, not only in her behaviour but also in our relationship and my confidence. I was surprised how much anxiety I felt about her failing, and I knew that I would be deeply disappointed, no matter how much I told myself that no-one else even needed to know and that we could always try again in a couple of weeks. As my children grow up and exams loom on the horizon, there are few tangible markers of their progress and I am feeling that deeply and finding that hard at the moment; to have proof of achievement and success in a task I have taken on was sweet indeed this morning.

Monday, 6 June 2011


I am an introvert. I think this is pretty clear to anyone who knows me and I was not surprised to find that I scored as "clearly" introverted on a Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator years ago. What I did discover during the MBTI day was that it is not as simple as liking parties or not, but to do with gaining and being drained of energy. For an introvert like me, other people are great fun but take up energy. It is alone time, silence and personal space that recharge me. My friend Lucinda embraces her introverted nature and takes steps to order her life in a way that takes that into account. Inspired by her, I purchased "Introvert Power" and it has been a revelation. Much of what I have read has describes me and makes sense of behaviour I have thought of as, at best, quirky or, at worst, socially awkward. This paragraph in particular made a lot of sense to me:

"In 1967, Hans Eysenck published his "arousal theory" of introversion and extroversion which predicted that ... introvert brains would be more stimulated on an ongoing basis; ... this would explain why introverts pull away from environmental stimuli while extroverts seek out more."

This explains to me my extreme sensitivity to background noise. I cannot have a conversation while there is background music, either I need to turn the music down enough so I cannot hear it, or I want to listen to the lyrics and I find another person talking to me irritating. I love to have music on in the kitchen, but often find my tension levels rising and have to switch it suddenly off.
My desk has been in a busy part of the house and there are many times I have found myself yelling at the children or the occupants of the next room for disturbing me. Last week, we bought a refurbished lap-top and I have turned my bedside bureau into a desk. It is my space and my lap-top and I am typing this sitting on my bed in the peace and quiet of my own room.
As I get to know myself better and accept who I am, I am finding ways of living that suit me better: embracing my introvert nature, understanding it and allowing myself to be this way.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Great Result

A few weeks ago, my eldest son took part in the Junior Maths Challenge and yesterday we got the results. He got a bronze certificate! To put this in context, the competition is aimed at the top third of pupils in his school year and the one above, and only the top 40% get a certificate, which puts him in the top 13%. He was a frustrating one mark below silver, putting him well in the top 10%! I am a proud mum, especially as it was his first exam and the whole experience of sitting in a hall with many other children with adults he didn't know invigilating and the pressure of a time limit. I am also a relieved home educator. Whatever I am doing, it must be ok and increases my faith that it will continue to be!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Going round in circles

Does your day ever feel like this?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Hepzibah's Kitchen

Hepzibah's kitchen was always like that, and not only that evening. Coming into it was like coming home on a bitter cold day to a bright, leaping fire. It was like the smell of bacon when you were hungry; loving arms when you were lonely; safety when you were scared ...
Carrie's War by Nina Bawden

I would love my kitchen, my home, my presence to be like this. I would love to have a place like this in my life. When the irritations and demands of everyday life get too much for me, my kitchen, myself, are not good places to be, not for me nor for anyone else. I am trying to learn, and I am trying to be gentle on myself when I don't succeed, how to create more of this in my home and my life.

Monday, 23 May 2011

North Downs Way

We started in Farnham ... We are heading for Dover.
This sign was at the beginnning of yesterday's leg, meaning that we are now over half-way. My legs ache today and I am irritably tired, but it feels good to be achieving a concrete goal. It feels good to look at a map of South East England and see quite how far we've walked. It feels good to be out in the sunshine (and we've been very lucky to have four days of sunshine) with my best friend, talking and laughing and experiencing England from a different viewpoint.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Maths on my mind

I thought we had done with maths for the year but instead, free from the tyranny of sitting by the computer with a frustrated child on their second go through a mathletics activity just because, months ago, I told them they had to get all the questions right, I find that I have room to think. Coincidentally I had tea with a good friend yesterday and she, too, is exploring how maths could look home-ed style. We are both aware of the concept of living maths and Charlotte Mason's ideas and how we embrace natural learning in so many areas but are afraid to in maths. My children are good at maths, maybe even ahead compared to their schooled counterparts, but it lacks joy and interest and that seems wrong to me.
My eldest son has never been to school which makes eight years of formal education that he's not had, yet he is literate, engaging and awe-inspiringly knowledgable. Whatever we have done for those years seems to have worked, and the cornerstone has been chapter book. It is the one part of home ed I have never changed, never let go of and have always prioritised. We have learnt a huge amount through the various books we have read and it has been a nourishing and nurturing experience to cuddle up on the sofa, or to let them draw and build, while I read. So I have made the sudden, and yet long-brewed, decision to let maths become part of chapter book and not to do any kind of formal teaching.
Well, I wish I was quite that brave. My eldest would be in his second year at secondary school and I am too scared to completely ditch his curriculum so he will continue to do some kind of formal maths, but my younger two will do none. None at all. If our books lead to "lets' do this" kind of moments, like the solar system, ellipses and siphoning sprang from Mathmagicians, then we will follow those leads but otherwise I will only read to them. Just that. My safety net comes from the fact that they are both of junior school age and if they reach the end of the year having learned nothing, I have time to catch up. But somehow, down in my home ed guts, I just don't think that will be the case.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Siphon sucess

We have a love/hate relationship with maths in this house. I have always liked maths and considered myself to be fairly good at it at A Level. I was rapidly disabused of this notion when I reached University and, although I was a Physics student, had to study pure maths for a year. It was then that I realised quite how complicated and abstract maths can be - give me pencil, ruler and trigonometry any day!
Maths is the one area of the school curriculum I get nervous about. It's not that I find it hard to understand or to teach, but it doesn't seem to flow out of life in quite the same way that other "subjects" do and we have always studied "maths" separately and quite methodically. It is the one subject area that my children will say they don't like and I do feel there is a connection here! I would love to have the courage to back off and see what they would learn naturally but I just don't think that everyday life throws up opportunities to practice trigonometry, algebra or graph-plotting. In an effort to lighten things up, in addition to following Mathletics, (my younger two) or a Year 7 school textbook (my eldest) I have introduced a page or two of Mathmagicians to our chapter book time. It has been quite successful. Today we read about Roman measuring techniques and the amazing aqueducts which they built, leading on to a discussion on siphons. Fortunately we have a plumber in at the moment to lend us hosepipe from the back of his car and it wasn't long before we were in the kitchen siphoning water from sink to bucket.

Each of the children had a go at sucking the water through the pipe and were thrilled with the water pouring through. I can still remember seeing a siphon working for the first time and, judging by the applause and laughter, my children will remember it too!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


We were in Woking this morning, at the Surrey History Centre, enjoying an Introduction to Archaeology. It was a fantastic session, with 30 children learning about archaeology, handling artefacts and taking part in a mini dig. It is the second time I have taken my children to an event like this and both times my daughter has come out buzzing with enthusiasm, telling me that she'd like to be an archeologist. Looks like it's time to join the local Young Archaeologist Club!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Maths - again?

Last week we had one big push and my younger two finished their maths curriculums for the year. On Monday, my middle son told me of his relief at getting up in the morning knowing that he didn't have to do any more maths. Although this was an end to our formal maths studies, I have been sneaking in a few pages of Johnny Ball's Mathmagicians into our chapter book times. We all squeeze onto the sofa so that they can see the pictures and we talk about anything that comes up. It doesn't usually take up more than five minutes. Last week, we ended up in the garden, my eldest: the sun, my middle: the earth and my little girl making herself dizzy as the moon. Today we grabbed coloured pencils, garden twine and a pair of compasses to draw circles, ellipses and hexagons. It was fun. Just don't say the word "maths"!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Why is it hard to be easy?

Like I am most other Sunday mornings, I was out running yesterday. Richmond Park had the pleasant hum of cyclists and runners out in number enjoying the sunshine, the open space and the chance to get some play-time in before getting on with whatever else Sunday held.
I am back in training after a break following the Hastings Half-Marathon in March and I am relishing the sense of grounding I have found in getting clear in my head what I like, and don't like, about running and setting myself realistic goals for the year. This is week three of the schedule that worked so well for me earlier this year and it's an easy week - it says, quite clearly, 90 mins (easy) - but I just couldn't do it. I pushed the pace, ran hard up the hills and, having added a there-and-back section to the beginning of the circuit to take up the distance, challenged myself to complete the course I'd set in an hour-and-a-half, despite having slightly over-estimated it. I could have just stopped at the 90 minute mark, but no, I ran hard to try to beat the time and then carried on for the extra five minutes it took to reach the end.
Why? It won't make me fitter: the running plan is well designed and easy weeks are essential to rest the body. No-one else cares how fast or far I run: it is something I do entirely for myself. But there is a habit in always pushing, running too hard to think properly, running away from the stuff that bothers me. If I go slow I don't feel as if I'm achieving anything and that subtly transforms into not being worth anything. I am trying to learn that I am just as much loved and valued if I am lying in the sun dozing, and that when I am rested and relaxed and I am nicer person to be around, truer to myself and maybe that, in itself, is the real achievement.