An ongoing challenge?

Here I am, yet another week in and our 30 days wild challenge in drawing to a close. We have enjoyed it, and learnt so much. We have no plans to stop after the 30 days are up and I am relived that a365 days wild group has been set up on facebook for me to keep up with other adventures and get the motivation year round, its been fab! So, a quick run through of how we spent our week and a few plans for the future?

Day 23 :We drove up towards Mansfield to visit some family for the day. At home our friends had torrential rain and my husband phoned me when he was leaving work to warn me of floods, but up there we had a lovely day. We went for a walk around a local lake, spotted tadpoles, a baby frog, ducks, ducklings, geese and goslings and herons. We paddled our feet in a stream and jumped across the stepping stones to cross the lake. Small thoroughly enjoyed throwing stones into the stream to make splashes and we were even lucky enough to see some rabbits on the grass.

Day 24: The day of the referendum results. We researched what the EU had done for nature and wildlife in the UK, and what we could continue to do. So much information and propaganda had been shared and spread regarding so many different issues but the environment had not been mentioned much and we found this interesting, and disappointing.

Day 25: The children were left with Nanny as I went to a wedding with my husband and wanted a bit of time out. It was a lovely wedding, in a gorgeous setting of a tree cathedral. The children spent time in the garden doing some planting and small played with a large bucket of water.

Day 26: A family fun day that I was working on saw me not spending much time out in the wild. But not one to be deterred, A went off and spent the day at a bbq with friends and we had fun doing some measuring of the garden, planning and designing where things would go and searching up ideas for what to include in our bug hotel. We have decided to include a water feature and a meadow in a barrow feature using wild flower seeds and an old wheelbarrow.

Day 27: We were late getting going but enjoyed doing some drawings and sketches, wildlife identification and bird watching. I was fortunate during my trip into town there was a Red Kite flying over the town centre screeching, I am unsure what it was screeching at or why it was flying so low in such a rural area, but it was certainly something new.

Day 28: We managed a paddle in the river and a ride on the miniature railway in the trees. It started raining, we got even wetter that the paddle in the river had left us, and the children noted the way that the wind picked up and the temperature dropped before the rain started so much so that they were able to tell me it was going to rain before I needed to tell them. I guess that is the overall outcome we are all chasing isn’t it? Allowing the children to become informed and aware of nature, to be aware and to spot the warning signs and to know in advance that nature is telling them to seek shelter. Usually it is me spotting those signs and calling to them while they seek to play as much as they can and ignore my warnings, this day marked the first time that they voiced an awareness of what was happening. Sure, it didn’t make us run for shelter immediately as we weren’t bothered by the rain or by getting wet, but it did encourage them to get out of the river to dry their feet and warm up before the rain started.

Day 29: Today, yet another day when we weren’t scared off by the rain. The home ed adventure playground meet. Some may have been put off by the weather but we had a great turn out and the children were not stopped from playing their games of chase, playing in the sand, or bouncing on the trampoline before deciding they wanted to be indoors playing with the gym mats, colouring, playing pool and table tennis.

Tomorrow will be the last day in the 30 day challenge. We currently have plans to spend it in the park, with a picnic and bubbles and cameras and sketch pads and fishing nets. Lets hope that the weather is kind to us.

And so we need to look a head, we have our caterpillars ordered ready to raise and watch turn into butterflies in July, we have resources gathered to get our bug hotel and wildlife garden area created or at least started and we have plans in place to make and create a nice outdoor space for small to play in, including table and stools and a mud kitchen.

I find myself looking back over learning journals, photographs and pieces of work to really look at how far we have come in our journey. It has been nearly 2 years now, looking back on my first ever blog here when I wasn’t even sure if we would continue after January 2015 and to think of where we are now.

One thing that I have noticed in the last two years is that however much you think people support you or behind you, there is always the question “do you think its time they went back?” It seems that people find it very hard to accept home education as a long term option. They can find it hard to understand how you can feel like you have no intention of putting your children into mainstream school. I have heard from others who have been asked “don’t you think you’ve done enough of all this nonsense?” or “why not just try them in secondary school, it will be different.” As home educators we are not allowed to have a bad day, we are not allowed to feel frustrated without cries of “maybe you should put them back into school?” Actually, as a home ed parent sometimes I even second guess myself and think maybe I should….. those moments last all of 2 seconds if that, and then I kick myself! The children are happy, they are learning well, they are emotionally a million times more stable. We have formed fantastic friendships based on respect and a joy and interest in our childrens achievements. School works great for some, but it does not work for me, my family, my children. We have bad days, but they are no where near as bad as the weeks, months and years that we had battling the education system and teachers. We wont go back to that, we know better now, and when you know better you do better.

Groups are drawing to a close all over and summer parties are happening. We have camping and other trips to look forward too through July and Kayaking will continue through July and August. August will bring us news of As IGCSE Science results. Then September will be upon us. Time is flying!

 

 

 

A Big Home Ed (social) Picnic.

30 Days Wild, day 22:  Last Wednesday saw the day of the big home ed picnic local to us. The picnics are occuring across the country this summer in response to the negative media coverage of Home education recently as a result of Nicky Morgans attack and ignorant claims that home educated children are being abused and / radicalised away from the watchful eyes of society. There were some highly publicised cases and serious case reviews regarding children who had been removed from the education system which were unfortunately used to strengthen her claims despite the knowledge that these children were far from invisible, they had been failed by the professionals whose job it was to check and ensure their welfare, not because they were recorded as being home educated.

Anyway, these picnics were planned to get Home educators out there, being seen, a bit of positive publicity as well as a much loved and enjoyed social gathering (despite apparently not being socialised we do actually thoroughly enjoy just getting together to have fun. Shocking right?!)

On Wednesday the weather did not look all that promising, the sky was grey, the forecast was storms and we hit a number of showers on the way over. So much so that I almost didnt go. I posted onto the facebook event to ask who was about and who was planning on going and got a couple of messages back which spurred me on. I was totally disorganised and so had to go to Tesco to stock up on meal deals for our picnic in a hurry and then make my way over. I wasnt sure of where I was going, we had been to south lakes before, we go regularly as it is where the children have their kayaking lessons but news of a field and a hill behind the lake left me feeling confused. I followed the directions, past the cafe, and past the toilets and on to the field……. I looked up the hill and saw a crowd of families! That must be them!! I dont know exactly how many people came along, but the hill and the woodland was full of the happy voices of children, toddlers to teens. There was football, bubbles, den building, games of tag. Adults took turns in doing cafe trips to keep up the supply of hot drinks, older children roamed around enjoying the space with their friends and in the woods a group of children of all ages worked together to build a large and impressive den.

There was a lady there with her son who had literally only deregistered him effective at 9:30 that morning, I did not get to speak to her but I saw her post on the facebook page after the event and was touched at how warmly she was greeted and how at ease she felt. She informed us that it had been a tough time and that she was thankful for the picnic and being able to meet people and that her partner had not been sure about home education until he saw her face when she walked through the door upon getting home and he is now behind her 100%. This story made me smile, it is important to have family and loved ones behind your decision, it makes the whole experience so much more relaxed and enjoyable. I do also know of a lady whose family cant seem to except what she is doing and she is feeling under constant pressure regarding when to put her children back into school, she doesnt want to, she has no intention to because she knows that this is the right path for herself and her children, but she would feel happier if she didnt have to fight that corner so often. So the social meets, the adventures, the picnics, the playing, they are great for the children but they are not just for the children. Home education is growing so rapidly, people are deregistering their children every day for so many different reasons and these social drop in meets are a fantastic source of information, support and informal get togethers for the parents as well.

Sometimes as parents we also need that connection, the adult chat with people who can relate to us. Who can understand why we dont want to make our children learn about a specific subject, who can understand the moments of fear and worry that they arent doing enough and arent learning anything, people who have been there, come through the other side and can offer the reassurance and the reminders of why we do this, how it works, how our children learn on those days when we have forgotten all of our own deschooling. Then in return at another event down the line we can be there for that friend when they hit that slump and are feeling concerned. You see, that happens. Its no more common whether you are home educating or in mainstream education, as parents sometimes we get that worry about our children future and are they learning enough are they working hard enough?

I have a friend whose children are in mainstream school and I know that as their mother she has concerns. She worries that her son is not applying himself as best he could, she worries that her children may not achieve the grades that they *need* to enable them to study for the careers that they want. It can be tricky as a home ed parent to hear those worries without them rubbing off as it is human nature. I know that children learn when they are ready and that a child in school may spend two years being forced to learn a subject and struggle with it and look to be failing or they may do exceptionally well and thoroughly enjoy a subject,  a home ed child may have zero interest in a subject and never pick a book up until one day a random conversation, or a movie, or a book, will spark their interest, a passion, and they focus on learning everything that they can and six months later they will sit and pass an exam. I know that if my child is not interested in practising Maths (for example) at this point in the summer then no amount of pressure is going to help anything go into their head, so I may as well step back and allow them to do what they are interested in and know that when the time comes, when one of them wants to know something, they have access to the resources that they need to learn it. I have seen parents worry about their childrens reading and writing, feeling uncomfortable and doubtful about how their children will learn while being totally unschooled, then learn they do. Success stories and proud mama posts on social media, showing photos of work, videos of loud reading with the captions “totally unschooled” “self motivated” and “proud parent moment” are shared to inspire, motivate and reassure other parents. Our children. ALL children, are inherently designed and built to learn. They are natural learners, explorers and experimenters. I know this, most home ed parents I know know this, but sometimes, we all need a friend to remind us of this.

30 days wild, week 3.

It has been eye opening in another sense this week. There is a group on facebook for 30 days wild, full of lovely, nature loving people. Some completely new to getting outdoors and enjoying the tips and ideas, some old hats pretty expert at sharing photos and identifying plants and wildlife. There are all sorts of photos, from high quality, artistic macro shots through to a quick, blurry snap on a smart phone. There is all sorts on there. BUT there is no judgement, no nastiness, no referendum chat. Just friendly people from all over the place sharing a common goal. This week I got overwhelmed, with stress and worry of a coming up hospital appointment, with plans being cancelled and falling through and by Saturday afternoon I was in a bit of a rut. I browsed through the group and saw some amazing photos of a ladybird emerging from a pupa, and some gorgeous photos of a wildlife garden inspired birthday cake. I posted to express that I was feeling low and that all the photos had helped to motivate me even though I hadnt got outside and had a massive response from group members who didnt know me at all but who were quick to reassure me and send virtual hugs and support. It was just what I needed and after a day of feeling pants I was able to get out and enjoy myself again.

What a lovely bunch of people. Each of them recommended getting outdoors and making time for nature, get out, get grounded and take time to breathe. I know that I have found before that if we are struggling at home, feeling tense, feeling stressed or agitated or just not able to concentrate, if we as a family are snapping at each other, getting wound up and arguing, then a trip out to the woods always helps us chill out, relax and unwind. We always end up smiling and come home feeling refreshed and able to conquer what ever it was that was holding us back. So maybe thats it, thats the secret. Being outside, part of nature helps you to see that bigger picture, to make you an all round nicer and better person than if you were sat in your own bubble surrounded by material items all the time? I had a day staying in and felt pretty low and rubbish by the evening. What would have become of me if I hadnt been motivated to work through it and get outside? Would I have sunk deeper and lower? I think perhaps I would have done.

So what have we been getting up to this week, week 3 in our 30 day challenge, days 16 – 21?

Day 16: We stayed in through the morning as we had a meeting, we caught up on some missed episodes of spring watch and checked on the ladybird larvae in the garden, we are hoping that we get lucky enough to find a pupa to be able to watch it hatch but so far we havent been able to spot one, we will continue to check this though. We went to visit a friend in the afternoon, we had a very strange experience where we got out of the car and it was raining, we could feel the rain on our skin, yet the sky was blue with no clouds overhead!   A had a friend come round and they worked together to cook the family a roast dinner so that I could have an evening off.

Day 17: We explored nannys garden again, It changes each time we visit, a new flower  will bloom or she will be re potting something. This time all of her roses were in full bloom and smelling amazing. I took some photographs of them. Small helped rescue and rehome some worms from a pot that she had emptied, he was fascinated by their wriggly forms and how they seemed to stretch and shrink to move around.

Day 18: Was my moment of darkness. I got up, I went to work. We had plans for the afternoon. A man was meant to coming round to take a look at our gardne and give us a quote for something we are planning, he didnt turn up. Half an hour after he was meant to arrive we found out he had got the address so wrong he had gone to an entirelly different town over half an hour away. So apparently they will phone to reschedule. Being tired and aching after work, this knocked my flow somewhat. We had planned to go out to a great outdoors activity day, I knew we would be late but it was finishing at 4 and by 2pm no one was ready to go, I was hungry as hadnt had lunch after work, small had fallen asleep on me and my dad was sat drinking tea. It seemed that no one had any motivation, my husband tried to jolly us along but at that stage words were futile and I wasnt going anywhere. He ended up cooking dinner to stop me getting hangry. In a bid to be at least a bit more “wild”conscious by bedtime, I signed up as a distributor with Wikaniko (We Can Eco) a company that sells environmentally friendly products ranging from laundry detergent to deodorant, from shampoo and washing up liquid to plastic free sanitary towels.

Day 19 :We took a drive up the Birmingham to the NEC for the gardeners world and good food live shows. It was a fab day! The bonus of having a panoramic roof on your car is that you can watch the birds and on route we spotted a couple of common buzzards hovering overhead. We looked at all the flowers and plants and garden displays. Saw some inspiring uses for old wheelbarrows and novel ideas for giving nature a home and growing your own veg in whatever space you have. We saw some donkeys, chickens and bees and bought a butterfly kit from insectlore so that we can observe the lifecycle from caterpillars to butterflies and then release them. . I left there with a few new household items and a ton of inspiration. On the bus back to the car parks we saw a family of Canada geese, the goslings were exploring the grass verge and it appeared very obvious that the parents were standing guard when people walked past.

Day 20: We had an early appointment at a London hospital which meant getting up ridiculously early, catching a very busy train and then a 20 minute walk in the pouring rain. But we did it and we got there only 5 minutes late. The appointment and the procedure went ahead, it was pretty stressful and took nearly an hour but all was well and they got the images that they needed to see. We were able to breathe a big sigh of relief and have some lunch in the hospital cafe before leaving. We were feeling more positive after the appointment, and after eating, so we took a walk despite the rain, to visit the London aquarium. We walked across waterloo bridge and in the rain, mist and smog the tall buildings looked quite frightening, only parts of buildings emerging through the clouds. The wind and rain whipped at us, trying to snatch the umbrella, but small was snuggled into my back with his hat on and my coat was over the pair of us so he was not disturbed at all and had a lovely close snooze. Its good to sometimes go up against the elements, to remind us how small we are in the world, how powerful nature is. All to often we are put off if the weather is less than perfect.

We got to the aquarium and small woke up to see all the fishes, sharks, sea horses and green sea turtles. Oh, and they have penguins there now as well which he thoroughly enjoyed watching how fast they swim and how they dive out of the water!

The older two children were not totally unwild  themselves. Left to their own devices for the day with support from grandparents some may be concerned that they wouldnt move from in front of screens all day. Well they used their pocket money to go ice skating, then bought themselves some lunch with the money I had left them and walked down to the sports centre  and used their membership cards to go swimming. They stayed active, stayed out of trouble and had a lovely day.

Day 21: The older children had a kayaking lesson. While they were on the lake small and I went and looked at the ducks, swans and geese. The Canada goslings are growing their adult feathers but havent lost all their baby feathers yet, as a result they resemble miniature, fluffy, canada geese which look quite cute and rather funny. At the end of their lesson all the children were out of their kayaks and splashing about laughing in the lake, and once they had got all the kayaks to shore and put them away they were given the opportunity to run off the jetty and jump into the lake. You cant get much more wild than that!

Today we have one of the Big Home Ed Picnics, these are events happening country wide as part of a positive promotion of home education. Whatever the weather. But Ill write up on that another time.

 

 

 

Mental Health and Instinctual Parenting

Instinctual parenting. Trusting your instincts and doing what you believe is right for your children. Attachment parenting, building strong bonds by responding in a timely & sensitive way, modelling behaviour and connecting with respect and empathy, relationship quality built on physical & emotional closeness, feeling your way with trust in your instinct and compassion for yourself.

Pretty normal right?

So why is it that from the moment we hold our babies in our arms we are encouraged to do everything opposite by our society? In some cases even before we hold our babies!! Pressure to have x y and z invasive testing and vaccines during pregnancy, pressure to fit into the time table of health professionals with the Expected Due Date (EDD) following by intervention if baby does not arrive “in time”…. Life becomes about routine feeds, weight gain, sleep training, sterilising bottles and which pram to get. “Put baby in his/her own room, dont pick them up every time they cry, they are just doing it to manipulate you.” “Oh that toddler is FAR TO OLD to *STILL* be breastfeeding!”  “Why are you wrapping that baby up in a sheet? you can get such cheap prams on ebay there really is no excuse, that baby could suffocate in there!!”

From near enough new born there is pressure to give bottles so that other people can feed the baby to “bond” and to attend parent groups to allow your baby to “socialise” with other babies. Baby groups, toddler groups, creches, preschools, nurseries. Then its over, and our children are “compulsory school age” and off they go, 9 till 3 (if they are lucky to still be on those hours!) to have what they wear, what they eat, who they sit with, what games they play, what they read all decided for them.

After their 6 hours a day of pre planned pre organised and dictated learning they then get to go home with their bags packed with homework sheets to complete, spellings to practise and books to read. They have to find time to complete all of this whilst also trying to find time for non essential things like eating, bathing and sleeping, playing with friends and spending time enjoying family would be a bonus as well! As if this is not restrictive enough we choose to test the children on what they learning. Not necessarily for the benefit of the child, but we need to know that teachers are doing their job right dont we? I mean, its not like they have been trained and qualified to teach, its not like someone can observe the teacher working with the children to find out who effectively she is doing her job? Lets pressure the children. Then we can complain about the rise in children and adolescents with mental health distress, we can act concerned at the number of children battling depression, anxiety and eating disorders. I know what we can do!!! We can offer parents classes to educate them on how to raise their children!!

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class (1).
  • Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm (2).
  • There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68% (3).
  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time (4).
  • Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression (5).
  • Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression (6).
  • 72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society (7).
  • 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder (8).
  • The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s (9).
  • The proportion of young people aged 15-16 with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999 (10) 

( http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics )

What is going on here?!  Is it really THAT difficult to see the links? The young people that have formed the rise in mental distress cases in adolescents are the generation of the “Cry It Out” advice. These days studies have been carried out regarding the levels of stress hormones released into developing brains during sleep training, we know that babies cant be “sleep trained” we know that babies dont “learn to self soothe” we know that even when a self soothed sleep trained baby is quiet often their stress levels are still elevated, they just dont cry about it because they have learnt that no body comes to their cries.  This in itself breaks my heart, I am in my 30s and I know that if I am crying, even if its for no obvious reason, my husband or one of my friends will hug me. My daughter is 14, and I hope that she knows that no matter how old she gets, if she is ever sad, hurt and crying I will be there for her, I will hug her! Its what we do for those we love. Why would any parent ever want their baby to think differently!?

There are so many studies about attachment  and how secure attachment in infancy and early childhood sets the bar for secure adults.  Yet still we face pressure as parents to work, to put our children into childcare settings, to send them to school, to separate from them and send them crying and screaming into new environments before they are ready.

Preschool places are teaching nursery and reception level in order to prepare children for school, formal education is starting younger and younger. Yet its placed at the fault of the parents that children are experiencing more mental distress. It makes no sense.

For me, I always planned to breastfeed my youngest. I hadnt planned to breastfeed as long as we have so far, he is 2 with no signs of stopping. I breastfed his siblings but not for as long. I knew that i planned to babywear and cloth bum, I was prepared and knew i had these plans. I knew that I liked the idea of home education, that I hated my older children going to school miserable and that something seriously had to give for our family life to be a happy one. What I didnt know was how well the whole lot would fit together and become a complete lifestyle. As a family we have become so much more aware of nature, of products that we use, of ways we can help nature, wildlife and our environment. That all of this has been educational for me as well as for them.

Within home education I have found that instinctual parenting is pretty normal, its pretty common. I have met more breastfeeding, babywearing mamas who home educate than elsewhere in my life. Parents who allow their children to be autonomous, to feed when they are hungry, sleep when they are tired and learn naturally through play and exploration at their own pace. Funnily enough, it is the toddlers I have met who are raised in this way who are confident and secure and very curious. At a home ed meet up last week I watched my 2 year old charge around with an 18 month old. Neither were anxious or worried or looking for mum, they were just exploring the grounds of the adventure playground quite happily and confidently.

I guess that makes sense, the thing is, that so many young adults and teens who I know who are home educated following being in school now suffer from anxiety and depression yet are managing these a lot better without the stress of school. I dont think that adding to the class schedule to include lessons in mental health will really help those struggling within the classroom, and I dont think that parents are all to blame for the significant rise in cases over the past decade. I do think that parents need to be less scared to trust and follow their instincts and just go with what feels right instead of buckling to pressure from culture and society regarding what they *should* be doing.

A Childs Register?

Yesterday we had a visit from a children’s centre outreach worker. She was a very nice friendly lady, clearly coming round to tick boxes and do her job following a referral that she had received. She left, as expected, with the opinion that there was not much she could help us with as there was not much we needed help with. (apparently they don’t provide housekeepers or extra spending money) Obviously the centres are a great service for those in need of support in certain areas and they run a whole time table of activities, events and services for various different situations involving children aged 0-5. I was told that the aim is to get all children registered with their local children’s centre at birth and small was not yet registered so they asked me to do this. I did it without question, filled in the details and handed the form back, but why did I need to do this? Why is there this need for our children to be registered constantly?

There is call for home educators to register with their local authorities, this is being petitioned against and fought by many in the home ed community. The reason so many are against this is not due to widespread abuse or radicalisation, the vast majority of home educating parents are just doing what is honestly best for their children. Sure there may be some less than desirables out there, but exactly the same can be said for those parents who send their children to mainstream education. Generally if a parent were up to no good and not acting in the best interests of their child or was doing something morally or legally wrong I think its fairly safe to say that they will find  way around compulsory registration of home education anyway.  The concern that many parents are having is that with compulsory registration will come the checks, the monitoring, the enforced curriculum and structure. Along comes the very things that many home educating families have tried to escape from. There is no room then for unstructured, child led, autonomous learning. We receive no funding, no tax grants, no assistance as home educators. Local authorities fund free school places and the schools receive funding per student but we do not even get assistance with the costs of exams, there is actually no cap on what exam centres can charge us to enrol our children to set exams. We take full responsibility for our children’s education, physically, emotionally and financially. It is not easy, it is stressful, it is challenging, it is busy. To introduce a compulsory registration in to the mix only adds to the stress and work load of a  parent for no actual real benefit.

Local authorities *should* have all the information that they require. We register our children when they are born. Nationwide, and have done for many many many years, with no major complications. We have to register births in order to receive birth certificates, our babies first ID, without which we can not get passports, bank accounts or any kind of financial aid. The government has the initiative to ensure all children are also registered with Children’s centres (though the fact that small is 2 and was not registered until yesterday clearly shows the success rate of that idea in practise). Generally though, from the children’s centres they would be able to record which children attend nursery places, pre school and start school and which children don’t. GPs, health visitors, play workers etc are all equipped to discuss with parents plans for their toddlers early “education” and to raise any welfare concerns regardless of that decision.  All children who have been enrolled in a school at any stage, once they are being de registered will be on the local authorities system as it is the schools responsibility and duty to inform the local authority that a child has been deregistered to be home educated. So once again they will already have the information, no need to “register”. Sadly many children suffer neglect and abuse regardless of whether they are in formal education or not and some of the most high profile cases where home education has been mentioned also clearly state that workers and agencies had known of the children, so clearly they weren’t “under the radar”, so again a register would not help those cases either.

So I am left wondering what is the purpose of this need for registration. My youngest is registered with a GP and a dentist. He sees his physiotherapist at The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Stanmore. He sees the clinic registrars at Great Ormond Street Hospital for his check ups. We have contact with our health visitor. So he is known and seens, the Children’s centres haven’t been able to offer anything that we need, we aren’t missing out. I am aware of their time tables as they are readily and easily available. So why did I need to register him, and why did I do this without thinking? Am I just creating that rod for my own back with the thoughtless signing over to organisations who ask me to?

I wondered, as I know that I am not alone amongst home educating parents, if this lady was going to recommend I take small along to some of their sessions. I was ready and prepared to hear her tell me how much he would benefit from social interactions with children his own age. How important these stay and play sessions are to development. It is something that I hear all too often, the big S word, “Socialisation”……. But it didn’t come. She chatted with me, she chatted with small, she observed him playing, singing, counting and messing around with his sister. She heard me explain our commitments, our activities and my priorities. We spoke about rules, about routines, about rewards. And I explained my thoughts around natural consequence and freedom of choice. She nodded. She didn’t even make any notes. She made no suggestions, no recommendations, simply told me that it was lovely to meet us and that she had enjoyed our chat and she asked if she could come back again in 6 weeks to see how we were doing. So he is registered with a service that we haven’t needed for the past 2 years, with no suggestions or ideas of how they can be of benefit to us, just to tick another box.

Week 2 of 30 Days Wild.

Nature and wildness is everywhere. When you are doing something like the 30 days wild challenge you find yourself appreciating every little detail, spotting that bit of wildlife wherever you are. A snail on a patch of nettles, the birds circling overhead, the bees hard at work and the amazing weather that we have where one minute we are basking in glorious sunshine and the next we are soaking wet and being battered by a storm rapidly followed by a beautiful rainbow. When you pause to admire these things, as part of a month long challenge you really do notice the beauty in the every day things that normally you may not see.

We have completed our second week and are loving every minute of it. As well as our own experiences and observations we have learnt new things and have enjoyed the photos and posts on social media from others across the country taking part.

Day 8 : We had a friends birthday celebration as Chessington world of adventures. While there as well as the usual theme park rides we met some life like animatronic baby pandas (we were told they were real 6 month old baby pandas and only research upon getting home made me realise we had been had! still, it was fantastic!), we watched the otters splashing about and we played in the rain when a storm hit and all the rides were temporarily closed.

Day 9: We took a trip through a local safari park with friends, the lemurs were sitting on the railing of the walk through so we were able to get up close with them. We spotted the bear cubs, baby elephant, baby giraffes, tiger cubs and a tiny baby monkey still clinging to its mama. The sealions were out basking on their rocks which we dont often see as usually they are swimming around and the penguins were sat on nests in the nesting area.

Day 10: We went out for a walk to collect Elder flowers. There’s a lovely woodland walk quite near to our house where we have done a lot of foraging, usually for berries during autumn. We used the elder flowers to make cordial and fritters, experimenting with sugar / sweetener and methods of cooking.  While on our walk we spotted a snail in the middle of the path so we moved him into the safety of the undergrowth. Small was fascinated by the snail so I made a point to remember this interest for future exploration.

Day 11: We did some work in the garden. We tied back our over grown honeysuckle and noticed some strange looking little beetles on it. Upon researching these we found out that they are lady bird larvae which we all thought was pretty cool. We collected a couple of snails into a pot with some leaves for small to watch for a little while, and spotted a rather large spider. We found caterpillars, and moth pupae buried in the soil. The challenges of being a home ed mum had me marvelling over the experience that the children would have in watching these emerge if I had reburied them in a jar vs the fact that I am absolutely terrified of moths! My fear won out over education on this occasion. Hey, I have managed to take them into butterfly houses and supported my sons enthusiasm for learning about the Atlas Moth so its not all bad!

Day 12: We were hit by yet another day of rain, add to that the fact that I was working…… but small enjoyed a lovely afternoon getting soaking wet splashing in puddles with daddy and we spotted a beautiful rainbow after the rain. A had her first practise expedition for her Duke of Edinburgh award. Not an over night trip but a day out hiking and cooking lunch on camping cookers so she was out being as wild as she could be.

Day 13: Not very wild with a trip to the RAF museum, however even at a museum you still cant beat a game of “it” outside on the grass to burn off some steam, followed by running across the car park in a sudden downpour! We took a visit to nanny’s afterwards where small played with the water features in the garden and then upon arriving home we set our snails back out onto some nice wet dock leaves.

Day 14: We paid a visit to an exotic pet shop where we saw a large black throat monitor lizard out having a walk around. We had a look at some of their dangerous animals including a black mamba, rattle snakes, a red headed spitting cobra and an American Alligator. Along with checking out their bearded dragons. There was a bearded dragon there who had been looking for a home for 12 weeks, he had a stumpy tail and was missing part of a toe due to old injuries, probably he had been put in a vivarium with lots of other babies and not fed sufficiently so they attacked each other. He is a big boy, approx 4 years old and we fell in love with him. I paid for him and arranged to go home and get the set up ready to collect him at the end of the week, (we didnt wait that long and returned the following day.)

Day 15: A day of wild and free play in the local adventure playground. Picking daiseys, splashing in puddles and running up and down hills. Followed by collecting the new addition and making him at home. He settled in right away and has been hunting and exploring his viv and seems happy being held and stroked.

Without guidance, would children be lazy?

Its been an interesting time here and I pause for reflection, not on any particular matter but life as a whole. We were focusing on exams, on college applications, on the 30 days wild challenge. Pre occupied with smalls hospital check ups and friends birthdays and trying to get some order in our garden. We had events going on to the extent that I had t make the choice to cancel some things just so that I would have the time to be at home and catch up on housework and laundry. This, I have come to realise, is a home ed summer. There is so much going on!

We are approaching two years now, my children were deregistered in July 2014, and we have looked forward the whole way. It began as a temporary solution to an extreme situation but very quickly became a way of life that we were immensely happy and satisfied with and we haven’t looked back. I was asked recently if J would be going to school to “try” secondary school and I actually didn’t even need to pause for consideration before giving my answer.

There are several issues that just have come up and have me pondering things, not in a sense that what we are doing is wrong, because I am 100% confident that we are on the right path for us as a family, but more to do with why, given all the goings on, the headlines and the bullying and assaults within mainstream school, alongside the success of home education, is it still widely considered such an “alternative” or “scary” option, not normal and in need of hostility and discrimination?  Is it really so wrong for a family to take the path to education that suits them for various individual reasons?

Firstly I want to address the ongoing battle I am having with the local college with regards to my teenage daughter. After signposting them in the correct direction regarding funding and detailing the process and rules regarding funding for home ed teens to attend college, and giving them the contact details of our local Elective Home Education Adviser I received a decision from them that they were not going to be accepting applications from home educated young people this year. This is due to the funding changes implemented in Sept 2013 which means that home ed young people receive college funding from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and that the college apply for this funding with an Individual Learning Record (ILR) for the young person. This also makes it possible for home educated young people to attend college on the full time courses alongside older students. It would appear that our local college doesn’t want to find its self in a position where they are being expected to accept home ed teens onto its full time courses and so are unwilling to apply for the funding for my daughter to do one of the part time head start courses. The thing that I have found most disappointing in all of this process has been the knowledge that funding has been this way since 2013 and the college were unaware of the process. Why are educational bodies not up to date with funding? And why would they have such an issue with having home ed teens on their courses? Generally if a home educated young person is applying to attend college it will be because it is their choice to attend, that they have an interest in the subject and have probably acquired a larger amount of knowledge, experience and skills in that area than their school aged peers as they have been more self motivated and free to explore their interests in more depth. Take it from the top universities and their approach to accepting home ed applications!  I will continue to fight this in the hopes that even if it does not benefit my daughter in time it will help to pave the way for others in the future.

Secondly I want to address the thoughts of other people. Yes I know the saying “what people think of you is their problem not yours” and generally I wholeheartedly agree with that. I also realise that someone expressing a “concern” or a belief that if a child is left to make their own choices about what to do day to day with no instruction from adults that the result will be a generation of lazy, dumb individuals who cant do anything except play computer games says more about their experience with their children than anything else. But it can still be pretty soul destroying to see children referred to in this manner by parents who wake their children up, make them get washed dressed and in to set organised clothes to match all the people that it has been decided by someone else that they will be spending their day with. To go and spend 6 hours a day with people who are dressed the same and are the same age but that they have not chosen to spend time with. Working on subjects, many of which they have no interest in, that they wont remember the following day, and on the occasion when something does really spark their interest they are only allowed to look at it for a short time anyway.  Then after their 6 hour day their after school activities are still pre planned with set reading times, home work, spellings etc that need to be done. All this, 6 hours and more a day, 5 days a week. So tell me, why is it so bad to allow these children free time during those school holidays? let them play their computer games should they wish, let them watch tv and movies for a day. A key part of our deschooling involved letting the children do what they wanted until they were “bored” of that, general advice for deschooling was a month per year that they had been in school, and was just as important for me as it was for them. Actually once they got it out of their system they very very rarely actually get “bored”. They are experts at self motivation and self directed learning. Of course sometimes we do have a day when J will sit in his room and play his xbox, and A will sit and watch crappy tv while faffing about on snapchat. But actually I have those days when  I stay in pjs and get a blanket on the sofa and watch movies, or when I achieve nothing more productive than checking facebook and meeting a friend for tea and cake. As an adult that its fine, I dont consider myself lazy for having a “day off”. I dont need someone looking over me telling me what I need to do to make sure it gets done *ok granted, my husband may argue that* Children are not a totally different species to us, sure sometimes they may need general guidance around the importance of dental care and personal hygiene, as parents that is our job, but generally why do they need every minute of every day being accounted for to prevent them growing into a generation of lazy slobs? Why is there this concern amongst families whose children attend mainstream education?

As part of the home ed community I have met so many children and young people. All have their own interests and goals. I have met families who use structure and who seem to be incredibly busy most of the time, through to those who radically unschool and are totally child led and all sorts in between! The key thing that all of these youngsters have in common is that NONE of them are what I would describe as lazy! Get them together at the social meets and just get chatting with them and they are great. They know their stuff about where their passions are and they know so much about day to day life and skills they need for living! I can watch them playing with boys, girls, older and younger with no worries, no concerns, no bullying and no arguing. They learn from each other, and help others to learn from them. I have watched a group with ages ranging from 7 up to 14 (not including my own 2 year old who was also joining in and following the bigger ones around) in a hands on area of a museum doing various activities, explaining to each other what they need to do on each area, why some parts weren’t working, and what other bits did. None of them were directed in this, as parents we stood back and let them get on with satisfying their own curiosities until they had enough, then we took them outside to play “it”.

I have heard the argument about school preparing them for adult life and if they arent used to having to dress in a certain way,  or be somewhere at a certain time, or get on with people in a certain way they wont be able to cope in the adult world. Well, in all of my adult life I have never been restricted to spending my time with people just my own age. In fact for as long as I can remember I have always mixed with people older than me, in both my personal and professional life. When at work, yes I have had to wear uniforms or dress smartly and be on time, my lack of school attendance did not disadvantage me in these areas. I have had to behave in a civil and professional manner with colleagues, some I really have not liked. But you know what? I have been able to excuse myself, get a cup of tea, leave the room for a breath of fresh air or just outright tell them to get away from me at times. I have not had to sit and be tormented for 6 hours of my working day being unable to do anything about it. If I have approached a manager complaining about the way I was treated by another member of staff I know that I would never have been advised to “stay away from them” or to not “give them cause to annoy you”. Advice that was given the children in school. I know that if a colleague got me in a headlock and punched me in the face in front of witnesses they would suffer major repercussions for doing so. Ultimately if I hated a job, if it made me really uncomfortable, affected my mental health and my self esteem, then I could leave. I would be free to make that decision and hand in my notice. Find another job that suited me better.And not once, in my adult life have I had to raise my hand and ask publicly for permission to go to the toilet!! So no, school did not prepare me for adult life! Yet I believe that home education is 100% preparing my children for adult life, by allowing them to enjoy and learn from their childhood!