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.