Monday, 31 December 2012

A New Voice

So much has happened since I last wrote: I have changed my name, re-"married" and moved 265 miles from South-West London to North Yorkshire. It feels right to come back to blogging: happier and more confident, away from the home-ed community that has just started to blossom in Surrey and taking the first nervous steps of a new life.
My partner and I have bought a Grade II listed cottage in the tiny village of Low Row in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and all our windows look out across the beautiful fields of Swaledale. We are grappling with how to heat a large, stone-built house with bottled gas and wood-burning stoves and are planning how to balance work and life, travel to London to teach our students and catch up with friends, build contacts and business here in the North and wondering how school employment and global teaching might fit our life-style.
So many sentences in our family start with the words, "When we are in Yorkshire..." It is tempting to think that life will be different, that we will be different and that all that makes us unhappy will have been left behind. I know that is not true. I know that I have brought myself, my short-tempered, easily-overwhelmed, introvert and over-scheduled self, with me. But I also know that in surroundings like these it is easier to make different choices, to live more slowly, to take more time, to offer to put the kettle on when a neighbour calls. I want to have more home-made cake, more long walks with the children, more time reading by the log-burner. I want to enjoy the beautiful house I have, the idyllic location and the amazing people I share my life with. When we are in Yorkshire I choose to live a different way, a slower way and a happier way.





Happy New Year!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Silence

I have written 650 posts. But it's getting harder and harder to write. The holiday made it easier, something to write about. And my little girl's birthday. But other than that, the critical voices are getting too hard to ignore. I'm not sure if they're real. Some of them certainly are, but maybe many of them are not. Just in my head. Embroidered, embellished by real comments from real people. It's a temptation to argue with them through this blog and I'm beginning to think I might sound like one of those crazy people you occasionally see in the street, muttering and gesticulating, far away tangled in a dispute with no-one they can see.
My life has changed dramatically in the last year. I have changed my life. I opened my eyes to my own unhappiness and took responsibility. I have not blamed anyone else; I have chosen not to remain but have moved on. Many people are unhappy with me and have expressed it in different ways, from silence to outright condemnation, accusations to lukewarm words and withdrawal. I am sorry my actions have made others uncomfortable, it was certainly not my intention, but it has not been possible to rescue myself without having an impact on others. To those who condemn, I would ask: do you think I should have chosen to remain where I was unhappy? Do you think I should have denied how I felt or somehow made myself feel different? To those who judge I would ask: do you know of what you speak? Do you think that you know me better than I know myself? To those of you who have loved me, who have listened, who have asked with respect, and who have smiled with me as I have chosen life, I thank you. 
This blog is going to be silent for a while. I don't know for how long, maybe a little while, maybe forever. I wish you well with your journey as I continue with mine.Xx

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Nine!

My little one is nine!
She is such a big, grown-girl. She's handled some tricky stuff this year and come out smiling. She rises to a challenge and overcomes her fears. She's responsible, careful, compassionate and passionate. Fiery, fiesty: she'll make a great lawyer.
And she's just a little girl. She worries about it raining next week for her horse-riding lessons 'cos it spooks the horses and she's frightened. There are lots of words still too big for her to read. When I go in to kiss her good night, she is baby-like in her beauty.
She's nine: still young enough to be my baby.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Paris and Thiepval

Another lesuirely start with time to paint, paddle and put varnish on toenails, another pretty town and its boulangerie, and we arrived at St Cyr de Morin. Once again we were parked right by a playground and this time the boulangerie was less than a minute away!
The next day was our trip to Paris. After fresh croissants and brioche, we were very excited to board our train and head for the big city. It was cold, cold, cold and our first port of call was a cafe. Actions and a friendly manner enabled me to procure a straw for my little girl to drink her lemonade with, and the correct word for next time. My eldest opted for the very English Earl Grey.
In a whistle-stop tour we saw Notre Dame,

the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens, the Arc de Triomphe from a distance, picnicked by the Eiffel Tower and climbed the steps of Monmatre. After a quick stop for crepes we headed back to the Aire.
Next day we travelled through the heart of World War I territory. We visited the memorial to the lost of the Somme at Thiepval. The exhibition was just right for us as a family: plenty of information boards in English, displays and maps and a film for those of us who didn't want to read too much. There was a huge picture board of the faces of some of the men who disappeared in the Battle of the Somme and a computer data base with information about each man.My daughter used this to find soldiers with the same surname as her and then to find their photos. I grasped a whole new understanding of the nature of this war, played out in such a small area of the world. The place where this exhibition stood had  been in the centre of the action for the entire four years, passing back and forth and entirely devastated in the process.
We reached our last Aire, not far from Calais, where we were reunited with my best friend's brother and family and from where we departed for our ferry home. After a total of 1300 miles we delivered the motor-home to the hire company, marvelled at the tiny size and quiet engine of our car, and headed home!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Taking our time

So far, we had travelled quite a considerable distance each day, but by now we were deep in France and ready to take things a little slower and visit places along the way.
We stopped in Autun, which had amazing pastries but lousy coffee and gave us the opportunity to buy some Dijon mustard. We visited the church and admired the paintings and sculpture, had a look at Napoleon's school and went to the Roman Amphitheatre. We took it in turns to stand in the centre and address the crowd. The acoustics were astonishing!
We stopped again in a medieval fortified town and watched lizards in the sunshine for a while and then carried on to Flavingy, the walled village where "Chocolat" was filmed. Famous for it's aniseed balls and my son was very happy to purchase some.
From there it wasn't far to Laignes where pulled up in a grassy area by a river. The children paddled, lost- and found - their shoes in the mud and we settled down to our nightly game of "Angry Birds". This had  become one of the highlights of our trip: each night, after the children had washed up, we made tea, ate chocolate and played cards. "Angry Birds" was simple enough for all ages to enjoy, skillful enough to engage in, competitive enough to make us laugh and quick enough to enjoy a couple of rounds each night. It can be hard for young children (and grown-ups!) to lose a game and I was moved and impressed as my three showed increasing maturing, grace and humour in winning, losing and all the near misses. In particular, this was were my eldest shone, pursuing victory with passion, accepting set-back with aplomb and keeping us amused with his perfectly placed personality. Ten days and five people in a space no larger than my lounge could have been difficult and explosive but this holiday brought us all much closer together and Angry Birds made small contribution!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Religieuse

Nantua was one of the places where we were able to stroll into the town and buy croissants for breakfast. We were holidaying on a tight budget and there were a number of times I felt that maybe the children were missing out as we didn't pay for entrance anywhere. Perhaps we should have gone into the Uffizi?
But I began to realise that the whole experienceof the trip was of enormous value. I had many holidays abroad when I was young and it is the Boulangeries and Pattisieries which I remember: the exquisite cakes, pastries and cream buns.
As a child, I didn't like croissants or the crusty French baguettes but now I love them and it was a daily treat to have a pastry for breakfast and bread and cheese for lunch. We visted boulangeries across France, either where we were staying or as our first stop of the day. They won't have seen The Birth of Venus of Leonardo's Adoration of the Maji, but the children have experienced the beauty, fragrance and taste of French pastries, had the delight of choosing from the array on offer and many an opportunity to practice their "Bonjour" and "Merci". Now, as as adult, I would love to have more time to spend soaking up the art galleries and museums but the children were far happier that we arrived at our Aires in time for them to play in the playground. We chose our next overnight stop largely because of the description of an adventure playground in the woods. We found ourselves parked outside a closed Theme Park outside a small industrial town, the rides eerie and still, with woodland hiding a slide which the three children enjoyed for an hour, giving the adults time to read a few pages of a book over a beer.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Nantua

We left Annecy after lunch and drove not too far to Nantua. The huge scale of my map of France began to be apparent now. We had been lent a road atlas of France but had left it at home, confident that our van came equipped with maps. It did:one atlas of the whole of Europe. Some of the smaller roads weren't shown, some of the larger roads weren't numbered, quite a few villages were just not there. Even the lake at Nantua didn't make the cut! But it was there, and we found our Aire, and above is the view from the cab. I haven't really captured the huge height of the mountains beyond, they were in cloud when I started painting and the sun came out as I watched.
 Nanuta seemed like a town which had been left behind, once beautiful it has been forgotten as the "Autoroute of the Titans" skims through the mountains above.
It was faded and sad, but it did have a Lidl and we were able to fill our cupboards for the rest of the holiday for 16 Euros!
There was also a monument to those who had been deported in the Second World War; the area was stronghold of the French Resistance movement and the town had suffered harshly at the hands of the Nazis. A plaque recorded the names of around fifty Jewish children and their teachers who had also been taken away, I think to Auschwitz. A group of three siblings were the same age as my three children and we spent a few sober moments contemplating the devastating effects of the politics of a neighbouring country on this tucked away little town seventy years ago.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Annecy

When we left Lake Maggiore, I was beginning to feel a little bit under the weather. By the time we reached our night's stop in France I felt terrible. It was a long day, a long - and expensive - drive, including the Mont Blanc tunnel. We arrived in Annecy in gathering gloom and spent nearly an hour trying to find our way through in the rush hour. We eventually found our Aire, to which the guide has warned us to arrive early, and found it to be a small car park with 8 marked bays and 8 motor homes. Actually, 9. And us. We pulled up in the middle, alongside the other extra, and hoped for the best. Before long there was a knock at the door and a friendly, bi-lingual conversation resulted in us setting our alarm for 7am so that we could move out of the way for the man to set off for work. We decided to chance a walk by the lake, the rain having stopped. Just as we decided to turn around and head back, and it started again. Having to shelter in a doorway, sprint back to the motorhome and deal with five soaking people was more than I felt able to cope with. I was overwhelmed with tiredness and the prospect of drying out our only warm clothes and awash with a cold.
But, as is so often the case, life is better in a team. And while I lay down and felt rotten, my best friend soon had the children in their pyjamas, hot drinks made, a bag of wet clothes and a plan to visit the laundrette.
Next morning saw us buying gifts, following the map from the man in the wine shop to wash and dry our clothes and eating French pastries from our first boulangerie of the trip.
I won't remember Annecy for its sunny lakeside shore, but we had fun
and life is always full of colour!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Northern Italy

We had planned to go to Milan next, but after a day in Florence, felt that we had had the city experience. We headed north, guided only by our guide to the Italian Aires, and found a beautiful car park. The continent embraces camper vans and dotted around the countryside are Aires, not just picnic spots or service stations, but places where mobile homes are welcome to stay overnight, and most have facilities to fill up with clean water and get rid of the used water from the sink and to empty what is politely known as the "black water". We were parked by a fresh water tap, in front of a children's playground and across the road from this abbey.
In the morning we set out to the village in search of bread. We asked a villager who impressed on us the need to go to Angelo's, but our lack of Italian and his lack of English meant that we had no idea how to achieve this. We found a high-class delicatessan selling mostly dried meat whose proprietor also did not speak much English but had some visiting clients who did. From her we learned a little of the local area and the produce of the abbey and, more importantly, obtained directions to Angelo's.
Before leaving we explored the Abbey. The cloisters were a concert hall of bird-song and there was a small exhibition about the work of the monks. We had not entered Il Duomo on Sunday as there was a huge queue; we were the only visitors to this church and were touched by the emptiness and sense rare and private experience.
Angelo's took a little bit of finding (not surprising that my limited Italian had not stretched to understanding the directions) but was more than worth it. A little bakery tucked around the back of a farmhouse we left with fresh, hand-made foccacia and it felt a true Italian experience.
The Autostrada conducted us north to Lake Maggiore, where we chose to stay in a campsite in Bareno and were rewarded by a lakeside pitch no more than five metres from the lapping waves. Undetered by the grey skies and chill temperature, the rest of the party opted to paddle and even to brave swimming, if only long enough to win a 10 second bet! I chose to sit quietly by and paint.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Florence

Florence. Il Duomo. The size and grandeur of this enormous building took me by surprise. I've seen photos of it and I've spoken to people who have been to Florence but I had no concept of the sheer hugeness of the cathedral.
We got back on Tuesday evening from a fabulous road trip driving a campervan from Florence to Calais.Our first night was in a hotel just outside Luton airport, 5 of us in one room, and we have spent 10 nights in a space smaller than my living room and yet we have come home closer and more loving than we left.

The idea for this trip had come from my best friend's brother and we flew out with him, his wife and two children, went to the Italian supermarket with them and decided to stay on the same campsite as them for the first night. The two girls have a delightful and blossoming friendship, the just-about teenage boys are a little more wary of each other and are wildly different in character but are developing a relationship. My eleven year old is content to talk cars and football to both dad and son, and anyone else who'll join in! The children got muddy scrambling up the grass bank and the adults chatted over red wine and Tiramisu.
I took my art teacher's advice and tried a quick-sketch painting rather than a photograph. For me it captures not just the view but the feel of sitting on the grass, the sounds of the chidlren playing and the sense of the moment.
We spent Palm Sunday in Florence. We ambled around, ate ice-cream, crossed Ponte Vecchio, marveled at the living statues outside the Uffizi (our incomprehension of the English leaflet proffered us by Leonardo Da Vinci caused him to rummage deeper and offer us a German translation!), and admire the Cathedral. We paid 5 Euros to use the beautiful public toilets beside the Baptistry and were able to admire the model of the crane used to hoist the marble blocks to the top of the dome, ate our bread and cheese in the Piazza del Duomo and headed back on the bus to our mobile home begin the drive north.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sunshine

The sun has been shining and it feels like summer. It's been a long term, a long winter and we are all very excited about going on holiday on Friday. We fly to Pisa and are driving a brand-new camper van home through Italy and France. When the idea first came up, in September, it seemed a little crazy, but here we are, less than 48 hours away from setting off. A much needed break, much needed fun time together, and perhaps, a line in the sand as life moves on from the old to the new.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Water of Life

I am irritation personifed today. I ran 13.1 miles yesterday in 1 hour and 46 minutes exactly, an achievement of which I am very proud. It took me the same time (just 17 seconds quicker) than the last Half I ran but this was an undoubtedly slower course, as judged by comparing the winning times, due to a few narrow bridges and gates, which means I ran harder and better. My shoulders are sore, I have a raging thirst and the slightest difficulty makes me want to cry - all signs of a good race. My children are being patient and understanding, education has consisted of watching the last installment of BBC's "Great Expectations". Time for a hot chocolate and a lie-down!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Funny week

It's been a funny week. Endings and beginnings and uncomfortable waitings in the middle. Situations I can't change, control I don't have, frustrating obstacles to changes I'm trying to make, situations I have no idea what to do about.
It all felt too much on Wednesday morning; it all just got on top of me. So we cancelled the day. (Well, not quite but we did do a bit of rearranging and a bit of explaining). We got on a train to London and rode the buses. We went to Foyles and the Ferrari garage and Harrods. We saw Marble Arch and Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square and Big Ben. We had fun.
Today the sun is shining, the children are eating pancakes and we are off to the climbing wall for the afternoon. Some things won't change. Some things will change in their own time, no matter how much I fret. But I can enjoy today.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Nest Building

Monday morning. Chapter book, tea, cookies.
We watched a magpie flying to a from a pine tree, huge sticks in his beak, building a safe home to raise a brood.
We finished our book - Because of Winn-Dixie -  and reflected on loss, reconciliation and new beginnings.
We enjoyed the sunshine being warm enough to sit outside and we enjoyed a relaxed start to the week. We enjoyed each other's company and the gentle rhythm of our life.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Overload


I want to cry. My head hurts and I am fed up of being a person that regularly loses my purse and panics, even though I tell myself that I will just have to deal with it, and have someone else find it. Every time. And I’ve just told the children that I know it’s wrong to have my own issues and be taking it out on them but I am doing it anyway. I am tired of listening to my children’s feelings and trying to hold on to my own. We have been up to London today which was heaps of fun but I find travelling round London stressful with three little ones. Well, not so little really and much less likely to throw themselves headlong into the path of an oncoming Tube Train than a few years ago but I still can’t control the urge to insist they stand absolutely still and well back on the platform and to grab hold of their hands as the train approaches. I worry that they will skip into the road, walk headlong into a stranger or simply get swept away in the crowd. I am sure that I will give them a neurotic complex but I reckon I’m a pretty laid back mum about getting up on time, climbing trees and using adult scissors as toddlers so maybe I’ve got some slack. It gets hard to process the big stuff in the tumble-drier of day-to-day life and I am looking forward to some time out this weekend. In the meantime I will reflect on a fun day in Hamley’s, on the bus spotting McClaren sports cars and Classical Spectacular at the Albert Hall.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Happy

I don't normally like photos of myself but this one was taken by my friend this morning (the invisible drinker of the green mug!) and it says a lot.
The flowers are from a student who I spent a lot of time with last term. He just got an A in his A Level and brought gifts to say thank you. His mum said that he couldn't have done it without me and, while I am quite sure he could and he deserves to be very proud of himself, it is good to feel that I have made a difference.
The mugs are new, as is the tea-cosy: important parts of everyday! I love theses mugs (Kiwi and Teal) and I have two other colours, purple and yellow (Cassis and Dijon). I love the moment of choice every time I have a cup of tea: which colour for the mood I'm in right now? The bright colours make me happy.
The family organiser behind me is filled with activity and work: a busy, productive and fun life. The last box this month reads HOLIDAYS!  - a ten day camper van trip from Pisa to Calais.
And I am smiling. Spring is approaching, I have got a cup of tea and a friend to share it with, and life is good.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Crying Out

It's a familiar sight: she stands, weight on one leg, hip jutting out, eyebrows tense, not quite catching my eye. Her voice is hard and she fights her corner. I am, she claims, being just as rude to her as she is to me. I have two other children who need my attention, a few minutes left of the half-hour I had allowed myself for a coffee and catch up and I have not yet switched on the kettle. Water is trickling from the bottom of the washing machine which just spun as if it had a house brick in the drum. I don't have the patience. I don't have the time. I suggest, firmly, that she goes to her room, stops winding her brothers up and tries to calm down. She deserves my attention I tell her and I can see that she needs some positive parenting, it just isn't going to happen right now.
Later, flood abated, new washing machine ordered, bread rolls shaped by my middle son and dictation and graphs completed, I do sit down. I'm curious, I say, as to why she is in such a bad mood. She admits that she can see now that she has been very rude, but that it's hard to see in the moment. She is fed up and frustrated. Her eagerly anticipated bath was ruined by a fresh and sore knee graze and then she had to shower after anyway because she'd forgotten to rinse her hair. It can be tough being eight. I express sympathy, commiserate with her frustration and she softens. Her shoulders drop, her face relaxes and she slithers from her chair to climb on my lap. We all need to be heard.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Piano

It's been a while. Seven years apparently. Seven years since I've had the piano tuned. I feel pressed into it now not because it sounds too bad - although I'm sure that to a sensitive ear it must do - but because there is a tiny doll stuck under one of the keys. Or behind a string. Or somewhere else inside, somewhere that stops one note from making even a sound. As I explained to the lady on the telephone, the children were playing hide-and-seek with the doll. She's really well hidden.
The piano doesn't get played much. Mostly by young visitors. I used to play as a teenager. I practiced hard and I got pretty good and I got certificates to prove it, but I was never a natural. I have tried to teach the children to play but somehow it has always got squeezed out. When I read "The Artist's Way" a few years ago I began to play again, but it fell by the wayside. My middle son has been trying to teach himself and has asked a few times recently to be helped to play. I have been tempted to try a tune, but the clunky missing note is really quite a problem and puts me off. It's time to get it tuned and fixed and, hopefully, played again.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Titanic

It is 100 years since the tragic sinking of the Titanic.We took the trip to Godalming today to visit the exhibition in the town museum based around Jack Phillips, the ship's chief telegraphic officer. He was undoubtedly a brave man, staying at his post until the last, his final transmission cut off mid-way as the power cut out three minutes before the ship went down. I found the telegraphic transmissions sent and received by the Titanic especially moving - the simple descriptions of the increasingly desperate situation, the frantic responses of ships promising that all their boilers were at full steam, and the last few from the surrounding ships: nothing heard for half-an-hour, for two hours and then the Carpathia reporting that the Titanic has gone down with all hands.
The children all took a ticket from the reception desk, found "their" suitcase and dressed in character. My eldest loves the chance to look smart and enjoyed being William John Parker, ship's crew.
Middle son was also a crew member, although clearly not of such rank, and my little girl part of an upper class family's entourage. Their friend was a first class young master.
We stopped for a runabout and a tree-climb on the way home. Fridays are definitely fun!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Friday Fun!

Sunshine in the park.

Climbing.

Racing.

Looking good.

Bonfire in the garden.

One of the best days!

Friday, 2 March 2012

University

Sometimes I don't feel that I am "doing" home education very well. It all feels a bit random, a bit unpredictable, a bit "colouring-outside-the-lines". I worry that I am not "doing" it as well as I was. I don't feel quite as on the ball or as if I know what the children are doing, learning, all the time. They are growing up, increasing in independence, becoming more and more themselves, the way they were created. My idea of their future seems hazy, but I so strongly believe that they will propel themselves into it. One of my children has his heart set on an English degree at Oxford. I'm not sure if he'll make it, he is unlikely to have A* GCSEs in double figures, but he will have something special, something different. He will  have a strong idea of who he is; hours of reading, writing and film-making; Self-motivation, direction and discipline.
Someone asked me this week if I thought my other son would go to University. Possibly, probably, but maybe not. I replied that I could see him happily working at the local climbing wall, doing something he enjoys and earning enough to live a life he loves: outdoors and adventuring. Would I really be happy with that? Yes, if he was; far happier than to see him trying to live up to anyone else's expectations, having an office job because he thought he should, even studying for a degree because he thought that was the right thing to do.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Migraine

Migraine is a concept I am just beginning to grasp. My second-hand experience of migraine is of a debilitating "bad headache" leaving the normally unshakeable patient pasty-green, vomiting,  incapable of anything and even having to take the morning off work. I can remember nothing else that ever caused time off work.
Any headache that I might have paled into insignificance in comparision. But I can't deny that I get, very occasionally, really bad headaches. In the past I have avoided pain-killers, in the hope it would go away on its own. I  have ignored the headache, as best I can, but no-one else would be able to because I would be in an impossibly bad mood and unwilling, or even unable, to do much.
It has come as something of a revelation to me to have it pointed out that these are migraines. Perhaps the fact that I would prefer to be lying down in a dark and silent room sleeping should have suggested it to me!  Taking it seriously has helped: letting myself lie in the blissful dark; explaining to the children that, on a grand scale, I am fine but just now I have a very bad head and need some peace; cancelling my work so I could rest for a whole day, buying migraine specific pain-relief. I have spent two days in a bright, painful haze and woke this morning to find that I could think normally, interact with more than one person at a time, teach Physics and tolerate day-light comfortably.
All this has left me reflecting on taking my pain seriously: naming it for what it is and taking responsibility for looking after myself. I fear slipping into hypochondria, attention-seeking or plain sorry-for-myself-ness but I am learning that honesty about pain is important, and is the first step in healing.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Chelsea

A Day Out in London! It's a long time since we had one of those.
A London wide art installation.

Always a chance to be silly!

Meeting a Chelsea Pensioner.

Handling a musket - or was it a rifle? We all learned loads of history through a talk on the wars of the Nineteenth Century.

And more eggs!


Thursday, 23 February 2012

T-shirt Thursday

Two mornings in a row I have drunk my morning tea in the garden. Underneath the chill breeze is a warmth, a scent, a freshness and it feels as if spring might just be here. The morning DJ told me that it would be 16 degrees today and was T-shirt Thursday.
My two youngest started a Level 2 horse-riding course this morning, following last autumn's Level 1 and I was back in a place that I haven't been since early November; the first of last year's course was in September. And so, like finding forgotten train tickets in a coat long unworn, I found memories in the pockets of this morning: meeting up with the other mums and sharing something of my summer break-up; hearing that a process had been set in motion which would cause me personal pain; take up hours of my time and cause me and my children to question who we could trust; training for a half-marathon which would represent getting my life back on track after the upheaval of the previous months.
These times of re-visiting, when memories appear unbidden, allow me to reflect on the life-distance travelled in six months. New, softer and subtle emotions surface as more stormy ones blow themselves out. I find that we have passed through what felt overwhelming and survived. I find that, with the warmer air and the first daffodils, I am beginning to plan for a future on which I really believe I can stand.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Sharp

New sharpeners: sharp pencils, sharp colours.
Children's self-expression valued: what they draw matters, how they draw matters, having sharp pencils to draw with matters. They matter.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Little Tryfan

I was scared witless. I don't think I've ever been as totally terrified in my life. It's not me in the picture, but it could be.
This is Little Tryfan, my second ever attempt at out-door climbing. Last year I had a couple of days at Harrison's Rocks: simple, roped climbs, one pitch, belayed from below, just like the rock wall only outdoors, in the sunshine. This year I was on Little Tryfan, a fairly easy (Moderate, a climbing standard whose scale ends at Extreme 10) but multi-pitch climb in the pouring rain.
Multi-pitch sounds innocuous, but what it really means is that when you have conquered your fears, struggled up the greasy rock, balanced on your toes with a sprained ankle in great walking boots - but you are beginning to understand the difference between these and rock-boots - you have to stand, alone, holding the life of someone else on the end of a rope, fifteen metres high on a ledge on the rock face, freezing and wet, contemplating the fact that you are about to have to do it again. And again.
I cried and I cursed, I hyper-ventilated and I panicked. And I put one foot above the other and I climbed. It was scary. And I did it.
Sometimes there isn't much choice; the moment of choice has been and gone and it is just a case of keeping going. Every step is a question of trust and I have to trust my choice. I have to trust my ankle to hold my weight. I have to trust the instructor who tells me I can do it. I have to trust my friend who holds the rope. I have to trust myself and find that I do have the resources to continue on this climb.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Creating a path II

My middle son is not such a natural writer, he does not have such a natural affinity for words, he does not particularly like to read and seldom spontaneously writes. It’s not that he is reluctant, but just that it isn’t something he feels passionate about.
He is a funny and happy child and likes to put humour into his writing; he tends to write as if he is chatting to a friend and tends to put in jokes and asides. He does not delve much into ideas or expand on his topic but his is quite happy to free-write for 10 minutes. He can write (or at least print) very neatly and is happy to do copy-writing, although he would always prefer a shorter passage and it takes him quite a time. His spelling in freewrites is very original but he can usually spot and even correct mistakes.
I would like him to write in joined-up writing and then to work on writing a bit quicker but still neatly. I would like to see his automatic spelling improve. I would like him to develop his ideas and write more about one topic or point. I would like to encourage him to write about factual things (his interest in cars or what he learned about in his history lesson or how to play his favourite computer game) in a more ordered and logical, “followable” way.
I think this last goal is a good one to focus on. I think that talking through the topic with him, encouraging his ideas to be more step-by-step and slowing down his free-writing would be the way forward. Perhaps I will start with post-it notes, and then alternate sentences, then move on to him writing three or four sentences before I interject, or me adding words to his sentences to encourage more idea development and I think lots of good conversation before-hand will be key as I try to understand what he wants to write so that my writing makes sense and encourages him.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Creating a Path I


Our four week course is drawing to a close and we have been encouraged to reflect on each of our child writers and to look into the future as to how we will continue to work with them. These are my thoughts today on my little girl:

My daughter is a natural story-teller. She talks and talks and talks. She loves to tell stories and she loves to listen to stories. She usually asks for CDs from the library to listen to and is usually very engaged in our chapter books. Her reading skills are not yet strong enough for her to be able to enjoy the kinds of stories in books that she likes to listen to. Her writing skills are increasing daily. She enjoys copywriting and is happy to edit her work.
I would like to support her in developing her concrete skills (spelling, handwriting, punctuation) so that she can comfortably write the stories in her head. Also, she needs to learn to type so that she can edit her work on the computer and publish it more easily. I would also like to help her begin to develop more complex or deeper ideas.
I loved doing both the alternate sentences and the dialogue with her. We both had fun and it felt very connecting. She commented on my spelling which showed me that she was reading what I was writing as well as listening to it, and noticing how I wrote. By being "in the middle of her writing" with her I can encourage her to develop her thoughts, I can draw out more of her ideas and gently challenge her.
I am committed to returning to copy-writing and will approach the editing of it more systematically, encouraging her to hunt out her own spelling mistakes and gradually to look for punctuation errors (5p a mistake found certainly increased motivation!). I will also gently and lightly edit her free-writes: a quick once over for tricky spellings and tidying up the punctuation.
I will move on to the idea of introducing words to her sentences, words such as “therefore” or “for example” or “but” to help her extend her ideas. I would like to move on to her writing three or four sentences and then me adding one to encourage more writing from her while keeping it focussed.

I am excited about next half-term's writing!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Thoughts. Feelings.

 Over dinner, thoughts and feelings:

I am going to ... because ...
"I am going grow up because of hormones from my pituatary gland."


I admire... because ...
"I admire one of my students because of all he has had to overcome."

When I ... I feel ...
"When I eat mustard I feel as if my nose is going to explode!"


One day I will ....To be sure, right now I am ...
"One day I will climb Everest. To be sure, right now I am going outside without my coat to get used to the cold."

I love ... because ...
"I love Coco because she is soft and cuddly and bouncy and cuddles me when I am sad."

Monday, 6 February 2012

Dialogue

My kids are amazing. Every mum says that, and I'm sure yours are too, but today I have really seen and felt and enjoyed that.We are continuing on our journey of Dynamic Revision and one suggestion for this week's assignment was to write an imaginary dialogue. My little girl chose the cat and the dog. She wrote from the dog's point of view and I from the cat's. It made us both think about writing in character, how would the cat reply to our dog? Not very nicely. It's not what I would say, but our grumpy feline wouldn't mince words! With my boys we chose people from the chapter book we have just finished and wrote "behind-the-scenes" dialogues, what might have been said but we, the readers, were not privy to. We extended our sense of audience by reading the conversations aloud to a lunch-time visitor. My children have been witty, careful and fun. Their spelling and punctuation wasn't too bad either! Much more that "good" pieces of work, these were fun times, a joint effort, a connection between mum and child. It is experiences like these that make me love home ed!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Conduction

There are times when I worry about whether my children are learning anything. There are probably times like this most days. And yet they seem to know a fair amount and to surprise me with odd pieces of information or understanding, yet sometimes it seem that this has come about by accident. I am a Physics teacher by training and my eight-year-old daughter decided it was time that she learnt some Physics. She has been badgering me for a while and I had promised her some on Monday morning. I had given it no thought,perhaps hoping that she would forget, and it seemed easiest to start at the beginning of the GCSE course which I have been teaching two private students. Heat transfer. She has a good idea of what heat actually is - the small particles of which matter is made wobbling - and so we started from there and talked about how this wobbling would be passed along, one particle bumping in to the next and causing it to wobble too. We acted it out in the kitchen, she wrote a few sentences (hand-writing practice covered too!) and we filled a flask, a thermal mug and a coffee cup with water from the kettle. An hour later we came back to see if they were cool. Simple, quick, effective. So often I am anxious about all that I miss, but it is these grabbed moments that make up the patchwork fabric of their education.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Partnership


Partnership writing:  a Bravewriter idea. The family on-line course is refocusing me, reminding me that it’s about being alongside my children; about figuring out what they need and how I can support them in their writing. It’s about letting them dictate or doing conversational freewrites where we take turns to write back and forth or by taking time to read what they have written and engage in their work or seeing what they are doing well and building on it  andseeing their areas of weakness and looking for activities to strengthen them. Alongside – my children’s cheerleader, partner, guide.
My eldest gets in quite a state about maths. He can motivate himself to write 20,000 words in a month , finding the time each day, holding the entire story arc in his head, making himself sit down and type day after day but maths is another story. It is clearly painful and his description of it as pointless and dull does not seem to me sufficient to explain the depths of anguish he genuinely seems to feel. Maths has always been something of a problem especially at this time of year. I have noticed that all maths books seem to be arranged in the same way: number comes first which is simply adding up and the like and then comes algebra. This totally throws him. He can’t see the point and finds it hard. This is the time of tears and of wanting to give up. Once we’re through this we hit shape and space, which seems to make so much more sense to him: home strait, all the way to summer.
So yesterday had us having one of those, “You just have to try harder...  if you were in school...you don’t know you’re born,” type conversations. Not really a conversation:  me telling him and him gradually shutting down and feeling more and more a failure. Finally the voice of sanity managed make itself heard above the panic that my son will never get a maths qualification, will fail in life and it will be all my fault. Sanity reminds me that he is my little boy; and I love him; and he needs my help. He needs me to partner him: to sit next to him, to model solutions, to talk it through and to explain: Partnership Maths!  He needs me alongside, not the adversary but the friend, the supporter, the cheerleader. 15 minutes a day I have promised him throughout February. Alongside.