Sunshine Bloggers Award 2019

I am chuffed to have been nominated by the bare foot homeschooling mom for the Sunshine Bloggers award.

This award is given to bloggers by bloggers and is all about bringing light and creativity to the blogging world.

There are a few rules for the Sunshine Bloggers award:
*Thank the blogger who nominated you in your blog post and link back to his/her blog.
* Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
* Nominate 11 new bloggers to receive the award and write them 11 questions.
* List these rules and display the sunshine blogger award logo in your post and on your blog.

So the questions I was asked?

1. What made you choose to homeschool your children?

After mass failings from the school that my eldest son was attending to acknowledge and deal with bullying I felt we had no choice. I witnessed him getting assaulted and the school staff including the head teacher doing nothing. At the same time my daughter was struggling with her mental health and I had just had a baby who was receiving a lot of hospital treatment. So it fitted our family.

As we have grown as a family we have seen children (ours and many others) thrive in home education. Whilst at the same time we have seen endless damage caused by the mainstream school system. Having become aware of so many failings nationwide within the system we made the decision that we would not even try the younger ones in school.

2. How long have you been homeschooling?

I deregistered the older children just over 5 yrs ago now. It was in July 2014.

3. How many children do you have and how old are they?

I have 4 children aged 2, 5, 14 and 17 yrs. I also have another super star living with us who is 16, she moved in with us in January.

4. What is your favorite thing about homeschooling?

The freedom that it allows us as a family to meet all of our needs. I love that I have been able to see my children thrive. I love that we can take our time and observe nature, follow their passions and that I get to see that spark when they grasp something. Oh, and term time holidays and day trips.

5. What is your favorite subject? What about your least favorite subject?

We don’t do subjects as such. We link everything together. But I think if I have to pick a favourite it would be history.

6. Where was the last homeschool field trip your family went on?

Today we paid a visit to Wrest park to learn about Victorian crime and punishment.

As a family we did a big field trip to the isle of wight and to the Portsmouth historic dockyard in May.

7. Do your kids take any classes or lessons outside the home?

They attend science lessons at Airbus and attended weekly home ed sessions run by Youth Connexions.

8. What is your favorite read aloud book?

Wow, tough one. Favourite is possibly The Gruffalo. Though I love reading and we read all sorts. Julia Donaldsons rhyming is lovely to enjoy.

9. What made you decide to start blogging?

I wanted to keep track of what I was doing, I also get asked lots of questions. As well as that I find it helps me to get my thoughts out in writing.

10. How do you incorporate P.E. into your homeschool weeks?

The children are always mobile. Swimming, walking the dog, climbing trees, playing in the park, trampolining with friends, cycling, scooting etc… previously they have had skiing, paddleboarding and kayaking lessons.

11. What is one piece of advice you would give to new homeschooling families?

Trust yourself, trust your children and remember that no one approach suits everyone or has to be permanent. Some people fluctuate between structure and unschooling as their child’s needs fluctuate. That’s fine. Find what works for you and let it flow without comparing yourself to others.

11 blogs I would like to nominate and really recommend you pay a visit to:

Foraging: The Primal Wonder of Wildcrafting

11 questions I want to ask?

1) Why diď you start blogging?

2) Where is your favourite place in the world and why?

3) If you could sit on a bench and have a conversation with any celebrity (dead or alive)who would it be and what would you ask?

4) What inspires you?

5) What is happiness to you?

6) What animal would you most love to see in the wild?

7) If you won £10k what is the first thing you would buy/pay for?

8) If you could travel anywhere, where would you most like to visit?

9) What is at the top of your bucket list?

10) What do you feel is your biggest achievement?

11) Does ketchup go in the cupboard or in the fridge?


Are They Learning or Just Ticking Boxes?

Let’s talk for a minute about evaluating learning.

I am often asked about how the children are doing. The question comes up about how do I know how they are doing when I don’t test them?and what about those periods of time that pass when no visible progress has been made? When we have been resting from academics or when “real life” has got in the way of book work.

“Don’t you worry that they aren’t learning?”

The short answer, is no!

Because learning is lifelong, and as days, weeks, months and years go by, we learn what we need to know. And we need time to process what we are learning, we need time to put knowledge into practise and into context, to really help it sink in. They are learning all the time, we just don’t always see it from the outside.

I don’t need to test this learning or Mark their knowledge. We have conversations, about what we watch, read, see, visit…. every day life includes these conversations.

I have read anecdotal comments and articles about children forgetting what they have learnt over the summer holidays. All that says to me is that what the children are forgetting hasn’t been learnt. Maybe they memorized it for a test, to tick boxes with knowledge that they have never been able to put into context. Focus on what they can learn outside of school, really learn, with an impact on them.

Children don’t learn colours by reading about them, they learn colours by using them! Children live to learn, all the time. They don’t live to tick our boxes, they don’t live to study books.

Social Energy: No More Forks to Give.

I have a lot of friends who refer to themselves as “spoonies” due to chronic pain and other conditions. I am familiar with the concept of planning for spoon usage and conserving spoons. However, it occurred to me that the same could be said for those with ASD or anxiety related disorders. Something that I have noticed over the years in my own teens and more recently I can see and acknowledge in myself also. I am putting it down to social energy, let’s call it forks instead of spoons, I think it works well for us.

So, for a person with ASD, Anxiety or any number of other diagnosed or undiagnosed condition the sheer effort of being “social” requires careful planning and consideration. Going “into the out” often involves masking what is going through your head and it can be exhausting. Even when it’s something you really want to do, a trip to the cinema, hanging out with mates, a shopping trip etc… So for arguments sake let’s say that each activity uses a certain amount of forks. And you only have so many forks in your social energy drawer. Perhaps a pop to the local shop uses 1 fork, a trip to the cinema only uses 2 because you’re essentially watching a movie in the dark. But a trip out shopping to a busy mall is going to use up 6 forks, a quiet theme park during term time only uses 4 forks but a weekend or summer holiday trip is going to ramp it up to 9 and you only have so many forks to use in a week.

You prepare your social energy for the things you want to do, but a change of plan runs those forks put pretty quickly. We are familiar with the melt downs when people cancel plans or when things go wrong, one of the early signs of ASD in J was him needing to be prepared, how changes to plans would throw him off, even when it was a change for the better. Me finishing work early and being able to surprise him at the school gates would mean that I would still need my dad to accompany me because he was expecting to see grandad, even an aunty visiting from over seas surprising him would not always result in happiness.

This has continued over time, though we are prepared and make efforts to manage when things don’t go to plan, it became obvious that even when the plans change at their request it still ends in tears. I began to notice that after having an enjoyable day with friends the request for “sleep overs” would commence. Now a sleep over, planned and prepared for, goes smoothly. A last minute change of plan decision tends to result in tears, drama and anxiety. Why? This leads me back to the idea of Forks. They have planned their forks needed for the day out, we have planned a day out taking into consideration all other plans for the week. A sleep over thrown in, unplanned, unprepared for, suddenly requires that rapid use of Forks. A change of plan plus a whole lot more hours without being able to retreat into your own bubble to rejuvenate yourself. A recipe for disaster. No more Forks to give!

I recognised this, I spoke to the teens about it, we saw it in themselves and in the 5 yr old as well. It all made perfect sense. If physical activity needs to be planned and “budgetted” for by those with physical conditions then why would it be any different regarding social activity for those with “social functioning conditions”?

It makes sense then, that a situation that causes increased anxiety will use up far more Forks.

Hospital appointments.

I have always had sever anxiety around hospitals, which is a downfall given how much time I spend in them with the children’s physical conditions. (I blame the hospital visits and seeing how sick my mum got when I was a child.) The appointments crop up, they trigger me, but I know they are coming, I prepare myself. I budget my forks.

Last week, we had an appointment at Great Ormond Street. Daddy got the day off work to accompany me, I felt the usual tension rising, but I knew i had to get to GOSH and the following day we had an eye appt for M. I was prepared. I had a day at home on the Tuesday and lounged by a river with good friends on Wednesday, conserving my forks.

Then Thursday evening struck. The trains went to chaos and we couldn’t get home. The journey took us 6 hrs, meaning we didn’t get in till gone midnight. It meant several changes to route and destination and we wouldn’t have managed at all if not for my life saver brother in law turning out to pick us up and drive us home. (He was the only one with car seats thanks to my niece). Fridays appt saw me leaving N at home with the teenagers because he couldnt face goi g out again, understandable, and life carried on with work on Saturday.

I am now on my 3rd day at home, debating a small trip out for the sake of the little ones, physically I am ok, emotionally I am drained and exhausted. I’ve barely managed to scrape together dinners and the black dog is looking overhead. But we have more hospital appts Wednesday AND Thursday. I have used all of my Forks! My head cries “it’s too peopley”. It is safe to say I have no more Forks to give.

So now I strive to be aware of these feelings. Not just in myself but in the small people who perhaps don’t recognise what they are feeling but when the 2 yr old just wants to lay on my bed with me and watch tv for a little while I will cuddle him and allow that time, there is a reaon he doesn’t want to charge around downstairs. When the 5 yr old states “no, I’m not getting dressed, I don’t want to go out, I want a pajama day!” I need to hear what he is telling me and be patient and work with him. Because the small children are humans too. In this day and age, with so much awareness of mental health and campaigning for it to be treated equally to physical health then if as teens and adults we are allowed to have days when it just feels too much effort to “people”, then surely the children are allowed to have days when they have no forks to give.

Year Round Learning: To Do Terms or To Not Do Terms? That is the Question.

Home education is great because you can completely tailor it to the needs of your family and your children’s interests. The law requires that children be given a full time education to suit their age and aptitude but doesn’t give much specification on what that looks like, though it is broadly acknowledged in home education that every day life has educational value so children are potentially learning all the time.

So the question gets asked a lot, do you continue to home school in the holidays? Firstly, let me say once again, I do not Home school. We home educate and it looks nothing like school. It couldn’t be further from school. And regarding holidays, well, it’s no different.

There are so many approaches to home education, and term times and holidays are no exception, every family will have their own way of doing things and what worked one year may not be the way they do it the next. For us, a lot of regular sessions and events stop. We don’t have our adventure playground meet ups, biology, youth connexions and swimming classes break, but as a home ed family we carry on.

You see, all Year round we do what we need to do. If an interest is sparked then we don’t need to wait until a time table or curriculum tells us that we can follow that interest and find out more. We go with it. We don’t have to wait until the government tells us it’s ok to go on holiday, so we book and we go when we want (and it’s cheaper and quieter as a bonus) When we are tired we rest, spend a day at home chilling out. When the sun shines we head out and enjoy it. School term times are no different. A fab time to catch up with friends and have adventures with people who are usually not available, equally, most of our favourite places become far too busy to really enjoy. Finding that balance is crucial to our peace.

So through the holidays you will see us out, exploring, playing and learning with friends. Behind closed doors book work and coursework will still be getting done, documentaries will still be getting watched and targets will still be getting achieved. In September we will see some of our best friends return to school, and our groups will start up again. Yet we will Take our time out with a road trip. There will be beaches, swimming, hiking and theme parks, and there will also be geography, history, geology, map reading, museums, nature and all manner of other experiences along the way.

Because, for us,learning can’t be split into “terms”. It isn’t a Monday to Friday 9-3 adventure only. Learning is a constant, lifelong adventure. We have a spark of interest, to always gain more knowledge, experience new things and explore new places. And right there, at the centre of it all, is our family, our needs and our desires. No government issue break times, no time off from learning for life to happen, no scheduled time for the children to be free and act their ages. This is life. They are wild and free and rested and learning and living in the absolute real world. 52 weeks a year.

5 Years of Home Education: A Summer Focus on Nature.

We are in a state of climate emergency. It has been declared. Our spring and summer saw news of protests and strikes across the country. I took the children to some. I let them admire the banners and posters, I let them draw on the pavements in chalk. We talked about what the protests were for, what could we do to help.

We completed our 30 days wild challenge and became very aware of all the nature and wildlife all around us. We have continued to feed the birds, provide garden access for animals, we have pond with frogs and newts and have a toad who visits regularly as well.

We paid a visit to a forestry commission location that had replica training ww1 trenches. As we explored, ran and played it opened up Ns eyes to another side of history and he returned home and watched an animation about ww1 dog Sgt Stubbie with interest.

We planted lots of flowers, we built log piles, made bird feeders and put bee and bug hotels out. July saw us wanting to take it further so we opted to reduce our plastic. We bought steel straws, started visiting a refil shop for pasta and rice etc and buying fruit and veg without any plastic from the local market. We now haven’t bought bread for over 3 weeks as we discovered a joy in making our own. N enjoyed watching the yeast in action and seeing it rise and all the family are enjoying home made bread.

We watched the war on plastic as a family, and resolved to continue making changes where we could. So my Sun cream was bought in a metal tin and shampoo, conditioner and soap bars were purchased. Cloth wipes stocked up as the next step for when our supply of baby wipes runs out and our stash of cloth nappies are pulled out of bags.

Our end of term summer picnics were plastic free and at our last home ed adventure playground meet we all made our own beeswax wraps.

It is wonderful doing this with them, allowing them the opportunity to choose and to learn, and we go shopping like people use too. Actually talking to butchers and green grocers and N loves helping to choose which seasonal fruit and veg he wants and helps me to fill our produce bags with pasta and rice while talking to the shop staff. These places have no self service check outs, and it’s lovely.

I watched the BBC drama Years and Years and I found it sad, disturbing and eye opening. Yes it was only a drama, but it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility which bought home the importance of conversation about the world with the children. We talked again about Extinction Rebellion, I drew on some comparisons between these protests and those of the suffragette movement of the past. Because it is important to remember the roles of history and how they shape the present, and the future. The children don’t have to do written work to understand this, it’s just a matter of conversation and awareness.

In other news, after 5 yrs my days of home educating the eldest is over. She is 17 now, will be 18 in October and along side her acquired sister (age 16 who lives with us now) has secured her self a job. Both teen girls applied together and both were successful. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Overcoming anxiety in so many ways after being the 12 yr old girl who was removed from school who honestly told me one day that had she been made to stay in school she probably wouldn’t be alive! Mental health comes first.

Attendance awards?

Here we are. July 2019. 5 yrs since we took that leap and detegistered the older children. Now N who was just a tiny baby back then is compulsory school age…. half a decade.

Over this time I have watched with interest school trends, headlines and experiences of friends. I have answered questions, offered reassurance and even assisted in letter writing and complaints procedures. I know that there are many people unsatisfied with the education system who feel helpless to do anything about it due to their own circumstances.

One thing I continuously see every year is attendance awards. Children being celebrated for 100% attendance in schools and being rewarded with trips out, certificates and trophies etc… This isn’t a new thing. My husband still to this day has his attendance awards from his days at primary school. At the expense of missing both of his older siblings getting married, but hey, his choice.

But do these attendance awards acknowledge the effort that a child puts in whilst at school? What about their annual progress? Their behaviour? One word, no! But should these things not be valued and rewarded far more?

A child who receives their award for 100% attendance is being rewarded for good luck. That is all. They didn’t get sick. They didn’t suffer a bereavement. They don’t have disabilities or long term conditions that require hospital visits.

Does a child who struggles with their health, who has to undergo treatment in hospital but who continues to work hard and progress alongside their peers not deserve as much if not more praise and acknowledgement as another child who in perfect health has been dropped off in school each day by parents.

Should children be encouraged to attend school through periods of sickness, putting the lives of immune compromised peers at risk mearly for the sake of a certificate and maybe a cinema trip at the end of term?

The delivery of attendance awards like this is a prime example of a schools priorities. Making it ok to praise attendance makes it ok to shame those who aren’t so fortunate. Just one more example of how the system is failing so many in so many ways.

I am relieved that my children aren’t in school, they arent judged in this way, their lives are based around their health anr progress emotionally, physically and academically. I can safely say thatif they were in school we would not accept an attendance award, it isn’t earnt, it is gained solely through luck or negligence towards others.

Make the schools reward something of value to the student body as a whole.

Unschooling in Action, An Early Observation.

In July we will have been a home educating family for 5 years. But the decision to unschool the smalls ones has been fairly new. Or at least, the decision to put that name on the child led approach that we were obviously taking has been fairly new.

I came to the realisation over recent months that N was learning brilliantly whatever interested him. He wasn’t having formal lessons or structured learning time but he was observing, exploring, questioning and working things out for himself. He was asking for different topics on YouTube (bee keeping being the latest biggest) He was helping in the garden and observing minibeasts and tadpoles in his bug catcher under magnifying glass. He was asking incredible and fascinating questions about poop, baking, the water cycle ….. whatever idea pops into his head.

So we made a decision to carry on and go with it, totally following his lead.

On Sunday we visited Fort Knebworth and played at the adventure playground. Part of the fort was a series of logs across a raised platform. There was no instructions on how to get across, and it was quite high and looked daunting. I was worried for N as he approached it, he looked once and turned and ran away thinking better of it. But it wasn’t long before he returned to the challenge. I watched from a close enough distance to respond quickly if he fell but made a conscious effort to sit on my hands and allow him the chance to try. He sat on a log, he looked down and around trying to figure out his next move. He watched a child step log to log holding on to the fence, but he was too small to try that. His legs wouldn’t reach, and he couldn’t reach the fence. Without even trying he seemed to know that was not an option for him. Slowly, he crawled under the log beside him, putting his foot on the lowest log and reaching across to the next log level to him, and he made it. I was right there to see his face light up and his method click. From then there was no stopping him! He wound over and under the remaining logs, jumped onto the rope net the other side and with a loud cry of “later suckers!” He was off around the fort. Soon to return with his big sister in tow to challenge her.

I watched children for quite some time on this equipment. I was interested to see that it was mostly older children that seemed to turn and walk away, or slowly and awkwardly try to clamber across the top. Younger children seemed far more fearless and figured their own paths out when left to it. I found this to be a really interesting example of how unschooling works, how children have a natural spark and curiosity and that once children are institutionalised this is often forced out of them. These children appeared unable to problem solve their own way, so all struggled across in the same manner.

Yesterday I made another eye opening observation. A wooden balancing scale set that I ordered arrived. And the children got to play without any instruction. They were placing the different sized weights on, one after the other and having fun playing. When N turned to me and said “mummy look, the red one is the biggest and is heavier than the others, but if I put these three smaller ones on it is the same!” And what an observation!! He hasn’t had any lessons about heavier than, lighter than etc. Nor was he shown or instructed in how to use these balance scales.

The brilliant thing about home education is that we can review and adjust to suit the needs of our children. So unschooling perhaps won’t last forever, in time we may find the craving for structure comes along. Hone education in general and especially unschooling places a lot of emphasis on trust, trusting your child to learn what they need to learn, I know a lot of parents have wobbles and moments of doubt sometimes and I am hoping that the brilliant online unschooling community will help with these if and when they arise, because right now it is working and the children are thriving.