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.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

I guess this is me?

Home Ed was a topic for debate in Parliament this week. Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools, said: "The Government's policy remains that parents are responsible for their children's education. They have the right to choose to fulfil that responsibility by educating their children themselves, rather than by sending them to school, and we have no desire to interfere with that right." - Well, that's a relief. What is more, he went on to say of parents who had "reluctantly decided to home educate, against their own better judgement, that "that group is not typical of the majority of home educators, who in my experience are determined, committed and passionate people." I know he has never met me, but I felt strangely boosted and encouraged to read this!

Friday, 13 May 2011


We've done it. There have been tears and tantrums - and not just from the children - and cheers and exultations. My younger two have completed their year's curriculums on Mathletics. We had a bit of a push this week and have all sat there, hunched over the keyboard, multiplying, dividing and working out the time 109 hours and 51 minutes later. It was made tougher by the bar being set at 100% (I'm not sure if that was my doing or not) so there was a lot of frustration over getting the very last question wrong but they have both completed every single exercise and got every single question right. Well done kids! No more maths 'til September!

Thursday, 12 May 2011


It's hard to see what other people see. I admire a fellow student's painting and he will tell me what is wrong with it. He compliments mine and all I can see are the mistakes. Someone suggested propping the piece up when I get home and looking at it afresh in the morning. Another idea is to take a photo or look at it in a mirror.Another way of looking at things, a little distance, an alternative perspective - separated by time or space.
Reflections on art; reflections on life. It's the distance that helps me think. A cooling of emotions - despair, anger or fear. The opportunity to look at the details, to see the colours, the light and the dark. To see more clearly what is good, what doesn't work, what could be changed.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Maths and Running

Two big things last week. On Friday, my eldest son took part in the Junior Maths Challenge. He dressed smart and I dropped him at my husband's school where he took an hour-long paper in a large hall with a hundred other students. He has never done anything like this before. He was nervous but he did well although I have no idea yet of his mark. While I hope it is a good one so that he can feel proud of himself and I can feel as if he is at a good level with his maths, what was important to me was that he got the "proper exam" experience and he coped very well with it.

On Saturday my middle son won the cup for most junior points at our local parkrun. Points are awarded based on position in each race completed and he has missed very few in the last year. He was surprised and incredibly pleased and proud. We have a large cup to show off for a few months and a small one to keep forever. He has completed 68 5k runs in total - 340 kilometres!

Although this falls into the Christmas newsletter style posts - proud mum with her son's achievements - it also reminds me that, while my children are not in mainstream school, they do have "normal experiences" and take part in the kind of thing that any other school-aged child does. They may be home-educated, but most of the time, they're just kids!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Back to the Reasons Why

I am finding it hard not to feel rejected. In a very real and concrete way, I have been. I put myself out there and applied for a job and I was not selected for interview. The job would, I believe, have suited me perfectly: based at home, choosing my hours myself, periods of busyness and periods of quiet, working with home-educating families and using my writing. I am not really qualified for it though, and so, I have not been chosen. I had given this blog as an example of my "writing voice" and have been aware of the potential of watching, reading eyes for the last few weeks: I have felt the possibility of each post being scrutinized. Now, I am finding it hard to care. I want to withdraw, to lick my wounds. Like a snail, I want to retreat into my shell and hide away. I do not want to write.
But I was reminded that I set myself clear goals for this blog and not one of them was to be a showcase for my writing for potential employment. I have lost my direction and motivation.
My first goal was to practice and experiment as a writer and that I am certainly doing. By setting myself a standard, by placing myself under close observation, I have lost the sense of writing freely. I do hope that people like my blog, and a number of you keep coming back to read more so I guess you do, but my first goal for this space was as a writing place, somewhere for me.
Secondly, I wanted to record the children's activities and achievements. I dread my posts becoming interminable "Christmas newletters", those increasingly colourful A4 sheets stuffed in with a quickly autographed card, full of every detail of every exam and activity the sender's offspring has taken part in over the year. However, I personally find it useful, at birthdays and ends-of-term, to have one place to refer to to see what we have been doing. I know that grandmas and grandpas enjoy reading the ins and outs of our lives and seeing frequent pictures of their growing grandchildren. If you are not part of my family, or a close friend, I am sure you will excuse the occasional newsletter post and perhaps will enjoy a moment to reflect on your own family's daily doings.
Certainly, looking at life through "blogging lenses" adds a different perspective, which was my third aim. Little moments take on a greater significance as I consider their humour or teaching. Time to type out what happened is time to ponder and to think about what was good and what could have been handled differently. Blogging helps me to process and, I hope, therefore to keep becoming the mum, wife, friend and person I'd like to be.
One thing that makes my life different from "the norm" is that I home educate. I only have my experience, I only have my three children, I only have my way of doing it, but it is a picture and it does work, in its own way. For those out there, like myself, navigating this unusual, outside the system, poorly understood world of taking on our children's education ourselves, my fourth goal is that I hope this blog offers ideas, thoughts, a portrait in minature of one way that it can look. Maybe it will encourage, guide, suggest, and comfort. Maybe it serves a value in highlighting what would not work for your family, but I hope that it acts a little like one route in a walk book of an area. Not the only way, but one way. My way.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Nothing to do

Right now I have nothing to do. It is an uncomfortable feeling, alive with anxiety and restlessness. Who am I if I am not defined by busyness? If I am not providing, what am I worth? It is easy to see in those around me proof that what they do is important in some way: a pay-cheque, professional clothes, a blog with a thousand readers, a public role in the church. It is not easy at the moment to see that I am important, especially when I am horrible to the children and upset them, when I am difficult to be around. I hope that one day the children I have chosen to keep out of school, to educate on a wing and a prayer, who have had to live with me day in and day out - whatever my mood - will be glad that I made this choice but they may not. They may regret what they have lacked and what I hope they are gaining may not mean as much to them. I hope that what I am doing is important but there is no guarantee.

Friday, 6 May 2011


Yesterday we learned Bushcraft. We were lucky enough to hear of the opportunity of a free workshop where new instructors are trained and members of the public were invited for the recruits to try out their teaching skills. We spent the whole day outdoors and came home reeking of woodsmoke, the children grasping things they had carved themselves and all talking about the new things we had tried. My group tried our hands at making fire using a traditional bow-and-drill method. Despite being told that it had taken the instructors days to master the technique, some of us managed to make fire within half-an-hour (although I think having pre-prepared kits helped!) Not me though. I would have been the demotivated, disinterested, won't-stop-talking one at the back. It was too hard and I didn't really care. I couldn't conceive of a situation in which I would ever, ever, use this skill. If I was in a true survival situation, I would as likely have a box of matches as a knife, and if I did have a knife I would be dead from exposure, dehydration and hunger before I had managed to construct a working bow and drill. Getting some smoke excited me a little, but after that I just couldn't do it at all. When the instructor told me that there was a correct way to light a match - well, that caught my interest! A correct way to do something is right up my street, and I could see the purpose (not snapping that match and protecting it from getting blow out by the wind). I spent quite a long time practicing. Similarly with the knots. While I could not see myself stringing up a tarpaulin and hammock between two trees, setting up a washing line or needing a tight guy-rope on a tent seemed possibilites. My exercise partner told us that the knot we used to hitch up the ridge line taut and yet release easily (a style known as a slippery knot) was the knot she used to tie up her dressing gown, so she would undo it quickly! I imagined her as some kind of Wonder Woman, ready at a moment's notice to shed her urban lesuire attire and race out to save the world.
It was a fun day and we have the chance to go again. The best bit for me was the kettle. I would love to have a kettle like this hanging over my hearth.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Healing Tea

It has been over a month since I have felt we are "doing" home ed. I would argue my case strongly that the children are learning all the time and that it is catching the moment, noticing the interest, deepening the conversation that counts. But I do feel better when I am intentionally educating them at least some of the time. We started our new, eight-week, shiny, colour-coded, laminated time-table yesterday, but this week is already out of the pattern with a Bank Holiday, a day out at Bushcraft School and a maths exam for my eldest. We have managed chapter book for the last two days, at its new time of 8.30am, hoping to beat any distractions. We did a short free-write and I've overseen both boys doing maths, but, as always, it didn't feel like much. I start to find myself rationalising that bouncing on the trampoline counts as PE.
And then we had Poetry Tea. My little girl read a new poem - new to being read aloud by her, that is, so a mixture of memory and reading skills. We laughed and ate fresh lemon drizzle cake, we discussed pirates and rain after long days of sunshine and farm implements. We enjoyed each other's company and added another stitch to the embroidery of our home ed life together. And I felt better about it all.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The North Downs Way continues

The weather forecast was deceiving. Yesterday was predicted to be sunny but on the cool side, a mere twelve degrees. I packed an additional base layer, fleece, woolly hat and even gloves. The sun shone all day and much of the time I was hot and sweaty, compounded by carrying so much extra weight in my rucksack. But the wind blew. It was strong enough to make me tie my bandanna a bit tighter and loud enough to make conversation hard work. Not that that puts us off talking. We have walked from Farnham to near Sevenoaks and still not nearly run out of stuff to say.
Most of yesterday's route was within the London Orbital Motorway, the M25, and yet, in twenty miles, we did not pass one shop, nowhere to buy chocolate. We took ourselves off the Way to a pub which served us a cool cup of tea and a cooler welcome. We also headed into a village, to a nearly-closed garden centre where we bought chocolate raisins and toffee popcorn which fuelled us with enough sugar for the last couple of hours. We walked a number of miles parallel to the M25, through beautiful fields - grass and oil-seed rape - which I have motored passed with barely a glance. We saw country lanes bordered by thick mixed hedgerows, we heard birds singing and all day long the sky was a clear blue. Quintessential English countryside only half-an-hour's drive from the city centre.
Today I am tired, my legs ache and my feet are sore, but I have something of the newly-emerging summer on my inside, views for my "inner eye" that bring something green and blue and yellow to concrete suburbia and, as I spend some of my carefully carved out blogging time looking up train times as I excitedly plan the next stage, something to look forward to.