“Help, I’ve Decided Not To Send My Children Back To School!”

So theres the statement that I’ve read and heard more than any other in the last few weeks. So I thought I would address it in one go.

Firstly, hello and welcome to the world of home ed. The world that you are entering is not the same as the home schooling in isolation that you have been experiencing lately. Its vastly different. Though elements such as your own time schedule, natural rhythms, reduced anxiety, lack of bullying etc that has perhaps led to this decision will probably remain.

Home ed offers opportunities to learn about so many different things, in so many different ways. There are meet ups, work shops, trips out, online resources, discounts codes, courses and a whole shed load of advice!You will come across families who are incredibly structured following curriculums, and families who radically unschool and totally follow their childrens lead, and everything in between. So advice will vary, so allow yourself room to explore these different approaches. The truth is, that home ed is as unique as every family, and looks different for each individual. So you very much get to carve a path that works for your family.

Be flexible to the idea that your child may not learn best how you expect them too. Their interests may ebb and motivation may wane. These things happen. You may find that what worked for a while stops working, that’s ok too. Basically, it’s fine to be flexible and to shake things up. And there are so many resources available to you for minimal expense. Library, internet, games, tv, museums, galleries, zoos, farms, national trust, heritage sites….. the lost gos on.

It’s great to focus on a subject and follow where that leads. You may have planned to take the A road straight to the end of vikings and find your child turns off down a B road of dragons, mythical creatures or boat construction and ends up at the titanic! You get the idea? Trust that your child is learning, they are learning how to learn. Allow them time to discover how enjoyable learning can be!

Join your local home ed groups, attend some social get togethers. Home ed does not have to take place at home and building that social network will benefit you as well as them. Talk to other home ed parents, get that support system in place.

Dont rush into buying workbooks and resources. There may well be discount codes available, and you may not even use them. Take some time to explore the different option and for your child to discover their own interests to pursue. In the meantime it’s ok to focus on life skills and emotional wellbeing. Enjoy some time together, bake, play games, visit your favourite places and explore without the crowds. We have enjoyed fantastic and eye opening trips over the years and been able to speak to staff and really get a bigger picture of where we are visiting.

Trust in a childs natural curiosity. Remember, they learnt to walk, to eat, to talk etc……. children are built to learn!

Dont panic. You dont have to follow the national curriculum. You dont have to follow a 9 till 3 timetable. And despite this exams are still highly achievable. And you will be able to access help, support and advice about these when you need it. There is no point worrying about this too early, because things change year by year. But rest assured that your child wont have to spend 2 yrs studying for 9 subjects (unless they absolutely want to!) There is also, no actual age where exams are mandatory. Your child can sit them when ready. Older, younger, they can stagger subjects across several years. GCSE is NOT the only option! Arts awards, crest awards, iGCSE, functional skills etc, again, the list goes on. There are many equivalent level qualifications to explore. College and / or University is still on the cards if that is on your childs plan.

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Or you can find me on Instagram @freerangelearning where I share our home ed adventures.

World Breastfeeding Week: The “All Lives Matter of Infant Feeding?”

This week has been World Breastfeeding Week and across social media I have seen some wonderful, supportive and informative posts as well as photos full of pride in an effort to normalise breastfeeding. Because breastfeeding still is not considered the social norm, especially natural term breastfeeding.

The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding a child exclusively for at least 6 months and then continuing up to and beyond 2 years of age, yet the idea that children be breastfed beyond 6 or 12 months still seems to cause repulsion at times.

However, as well as the posts in support of breastfeeding, I have seen a huge amount of posts about other feeding methods, reasons why specific people have relied on formula and people posting their personal experiences and why they feel shamed about being unable to breastfeed. What really struck me, was that people who made the informed decision to formula feed didn’t appear to be amongst these so much. They were informed and made their choice which they are secure in, I am not writing this post to put those mamas (or any mamas at all for that matter) down in any way shape of form, informed choice IS the best choice there is and we are all ultimately just doing what we believe is right for our children.

The issue I have noticed, is that of those I see who are complaining if feeling shamed by World Breastfeeding Week posts, most begin their posts on social media with “I wanted to breastfeed”, “I planned to breastfeed”, “I tried to breastfeed” or “I was unable to breastfeed” and this seems to highlight the need for breastfeeding awareness and the purpose of World Breastfeeding Week more than ANYTHING else! Because the intention is not to shame, it is to educate. Not just mothers, but to push for greater support, training and education for professionals. To support mothers to be informed and to make those informed choices. The majority of these women making these posts in truth probably *could* have successfully provided human milk for their babies had they been given the correct information and support to do so.

This isn’t an argument over what is best, this isn’t the “breast is best” vs “fed is best” campaigns. This is the acknowledgement of the fact that human milk is the biological norm, a product, specifically created in nature, to provide everything that a human child needs. Formula is a fab alternative when human milk is not an option, yet it has become more acceptable in society to feed a child on formula over breastmilk.

The fact that social media has been filled with so many posts from women who WANTED to breastfeed and who feel so strongly about it that other women sharing about their breastfeeding success cause them insecurities, only serves to highlight the need for greater support for more women to be able to breast feed successfully does it not?! Because no one is saying that it is wrong to feed a child with formula. Just that mothers need to have access to support should they wish to use breast milk, and I am specifically stating “use breast milk” over “breast feeding” because I understand and acknowledge that not all babies are able to be breastfed for a number of reasons. But all children are fed right?

I was having a discussion on social media about this topic when another mum commented that it was like the “All Lives Matter” discussion. That really hit home with me and made sense and I wanted to share it with the world, I felt that mothers deserve to see and understand, that however they choose to feed their children is down to them. No one deserves to be shamed or disrespected for that, because the important thing is that children are fed and loved and cared for. BUT there are mothers being failed by a system that is not providing adequate support regarding choice of feeding, and that is what needs to change. Right now, mothers who make the choice to want to breastfeed, are struggling and need support. They need praise, they need encouragement, they need acknowledgement. Right now, World Breastfeeding Week is aiming to raise awareness of breast milk.

It isn’t right that professionals are so quick to turn to formula milk when a mother is expressing a desire to breastfeed and it doesn’t feel right that a struggling mother be put under pressure to feed her child artificially mass produced infant formula without providing her with support to breastfeed, or the means and support to express breast milk, or the knowledge of the community who assist with sourcing donor breast milk and the possibility of re lactation. If these things are provided and a mother chooses to opt for formula, there is no shame in that. That is informed choice.

I wish these mamas who have done their best, who are raising and caring for their children the best way that they know how despite some very difficult situations, would stop seeing breastfeeding posts as personal attacks and begin to acknowledge the utter truth behind the situation. You wanted to breast feed, and if there had been greater support available you may have still been able to do so. This is not an attack on parenting choice, this is a push for support and access to informed parental choice!

“Screentime”

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As lockdown continues and families continuously adjust to new norms of every day life I have found myself looking at how we pass our days.

I grew concerned about how much time my children were spending staring at screens, I felt that all encompassing mum guilt and I didn’t know how to shake it. We chose freedom, we chose being able to get out and explore, to play and to learn by doing. We did not chose sedentary learning on a screen, but that is what we have a lot of the time now. So what could I do?

Of course we continue cooking, baking, gardening and exploring our local area, but I can sense the boredom of a groundhog day scenario creeping in. I can detect the slightly more argumentative tones, see the subtle eye rolls and my heart feels their resistance.

I was worried, I have never really limited screen time intentionally. I believe there is learning to be found everywhere and I completely support the idea of children learning autonomously. My eldest son learnt to read by playing skylanders having been failed drastically by school teaching staff. He also knew all about how different rocks and minerals were used to create dyes for clothes which he learnt from playing ARK Survival Evolved, and I have been told enough random facts about all manner of subjects that they have aquired through films, tv shows, youtube and games to know not to doubt their value. However, previously we were going out, attending classes, social get togethers, workshops, museums etc… so I guess the screen time fit in around all those things and never caused me any concern. Now, it was becoming a huge part of our lives and it made me feel uncomfortable.

So I took to the ever supportive internet, home ed support groups of parents who can relate to my concerns, who may have experienced similar feelings and radical unschoolers who have no limits on screen time.

I asked “What can my 5 year old possibly be learning from watching these gaming videos on youtube?!”  The first answer, and the most obvious and basic, was “He will be learning how to play the game better!” 

This blew my mind, I am not going to lie. You see, he has figured out a way to learn to build bigger builds and achieve new levels on his game without needing to find an instruction book to read. Do you remember the days of getting a new game and studying the booklet that comes with it to figure out what does what? How do you learn to play a game if you cant read? well simple, find someone who can play it and get them to show you. His confidence in his own gaming has grown, I observe this when he excitedly wants me to come and look at the fantastic house he has built on Minecraft or when he cheers with excitement at completing a difficult challenge on Roblox. How could I have questioned that learning?

But I want to look a little bit deeper into this, because I know there will be others out there, like me, who ask the question “How is that going to benefit him or his future in any way?”  I think I need to consider one of the other more well thought out answers which came on my original question. “He is practising his skills in observing, in picking out the relevant information that he needs, in listening to what someone is saying while watching what they are doing. When he then goes away and plays his game he is practising processing what he has seen and learnt and putting it into practice.” Just like that! There it is. How can any one question how that would benefit him long term. Taking what you learn and putting it into practise. It is so simple.

I had a response pointing out perhaps it was *my* thinking that was the problem. This was a fair point that I also couldn’t disagree with. When asked “If he was spending his time reading, would you be worried about “booktime”?”  and I replied honestly, no I would not. My daughter loves to read and as a younger person would often be found with her head in a book and I never had any concerns, she went on to achieve high marks in her English. And several of my friends embraced their childrens love of books by assisting to create book clubs.  I think of my eldest son who would spend hours upon hours well into the night working on a drawing. I never grew concerned about his “paper time” Instead I allowed him to embrace that passion and enrolled him onto the Arts Award and was proud of him achieving both his Bronze and Silver awards.

Another answer that I also received was a consideration to those all important social skills that people want their children in school so badly to learn.  “He is listening to the way the players interact with each other on team speak. He is picking up on tones of voice, expression, he is hearing the way that friends joke and how their voices change when they are discussing a strategy.”  Yes, he is getting to listen and observe all of those things in a context that he doesn’t get inside the house amongst family, and at the moment while not going out and mixing with friends he doesn’t get anywhere else either. Understanding and being able to detect changes in a persons tone of voice is an important skill and I know that he has developed this because he will be talking to me through a video and will then know when he should return to concentrating when the tone of voice changes.

So I took the advice of some of these fellow parents and rather than go the route of strict monitoring of screen time and removal of devices I watched with him, I asked questions and listened to his answers, I joined his world. It was eye opening!

And he came off the device and snuggled under a blanket to watch a movie with me, and he enjoyed his walk out learning about false nettles which he proceeded to pick the flowers off of so that he could try and “prank” his older siblings, and he set the challenge of something new to bake (doughnuts) and he took the time to listen and watch the wind blowing the long grass in the field with me.  He didn’t seem to feel as if he had to chose between one or the other. Knowing that both were perfectly acceptable seemed to make everything that bit more inviting.

Learning Every Day: The Importance of Asking; “Why Does That Happen?”

I want to just write here to allow anyone reading the opportunity to break down a simple activity to show you the learning involved, often without even realising it,  and allow a bit of an insight into why taking an unschooling approach works so well for us.

Activity: Baking a cake.

Its something that a lot of us do right? probably something that you do with your own kids and take it for granted, its a bit of fun right?

Step 1) Decide that you are going to bake a cake, decide which type or flavour cake you want to make, check a recipe and that you have the correct ingredients. In this house this task is led by the 5 year old. He decides he wants to make a cake and is sent into the kitchen with his stool to check the cupboards. He now knows what he needs to go into a cake. He wasn’t born with this knowledge, he has learnt it. He can identify the flour and the sugar etc when they are in our cupboard.

He can even go so far as to identify other products he would like to use, chocolate, cookies, candy etc…. and he plans his cake accordingly.

The latest was a three tier “rainbow” cake, with a centre of sprinkles ready to fall out when you cut into it, topped with chocolate ganache and whipped cream. He got this idea and knowledge of making ganache from watching cake videos on youtube.

Step 2) Wash Your Hands. This is always and important step, but at the moment is so much more crucial. N doesn’t always need prompting to wash his hands any more (aside from sometimes he needs that reminder as he is a 5 yr old) He knows the importance of this task, he has learnt it. He wasn’t born with that knowledge. We have had the questions over the years; “why do we need to wash our hands?” and we have answered openly and honestly about bacteria and bugs.

This led to looking at books, and looking at things through a microscope. We watched some cartoons about illness and this progressed onto transmission and the use of medicines etc… We had a movie night to watch Osmosis Jones and checked out Once upon a time; life on Youtube. So the importance of good hand hygiene was learnt and understood.

Step 3) Weighing and Measuring the Ingredients. This is fairly commonly thought of as Maths. Sure it is, children actually sit in classrooms looking at weighing and measuring on scales, they study text books which ask the question “Sally needs to use 200g of flour to make 1 cake, how much flour does Sally need to make 3 cakes?” Well guess what? N needed to make 3 cakes for his design, so he had to do this calculation. Not in a book, not because a book told him to, he didn’t even write his answer down! Yet he used a calculator and he got the number on the scales to match that on the calculator. He knew that he needed 3 lots of the ingredients, so this was done with each part.

Step 4) Pouring into a Cake Tin. Now, before he could do this part, his cake design meant he needed to divide his mixture into 3 equal portions and colour them. To do this he used the measuring markers on his mixing bowl to know how much mixture he had and he was able to use the calculator again to divide it by 3. He was then able to pour the mixture in measured amounts into another 2 mixing bowls. Where he added food colouring.

Step 5) Food Colouring: Not strictly necessary for cake making, but for his grand design it was required. N wanted different colours and we only had blue and red, so he used these to make a blue and a red layer for his cake, then combined the two for the 3rd, purple, layer. He wasn’t born with the knowledge that red + blue = purple, but he has learnt it.

Step 6) Baking the Cake. So this is another one which should speak for itself. Cooking is a life skill yes? To bake the cake requires selecting the correct temperature for the correct length of time. You want the cake cooked thoroughly without burning. This, like hand washing, opens up some fantastic opportunity for conversation. “Why does the cake get bigger?” “What happens if its not cooked properly?”  “How can you tell when it is cooked?” What these questions actually cover are, not only important health and hygiene topics, but also chemical reactions. The rising and the solidifying when exposed to heat, this is also something that we have explored using yeast when making bread, and in fruit when making jam.

Step 7) Layering and Adding the Details; So N planned for his cake to have sprinkles and candy in the middle so they would fall out when the cake was cut into. This involved layering the middle on to the bottom and removing a circular section from the centre of the middle layer. He did this using a glass which he pressed down onto the cake and cut around it. He was able to look and see roughly where the centre was, and knew to use a glass with a knife and a spoon to scoop the section out. He then filled this space with the sprinkles before adding the top layer.

Step 8) Decorating. Well this can be bought back down to good old arts and crafts couldn’t it? We love letting our children lose with their creative streaks. Its a reaction to temperature the opposite way, because we had the chocolate as a solid and added heat to turn it into a liquid, unlike the cake mix. Then when whipping the cream you don’t warm it up or cool it down but whipping with the air makes a very real change in consistency.

The cake was delicious and his plan for the sprinkles to fall out when he cut the cake worked. Thankyou Youtube.

nicks cake

You see, “Why does that happen?” is perhaps one of the biggest sentences ever when it comes to education. It is what initiates nearly all learning. From baking to observing nature, to seeing the wind turbines from the roadside and everything beyond.

Don’t be afraid to let children experiment, don’t be afraid to let them make mistakes. Support them with their plans and encourage evaluation. Ask “Why did that happen?” and let them figure it out, offering help as required. This doesn’t need to be written down, it doesn’t need to be read about in a book. Live it, do it, enjoy it and learn from it. And let your children do the same. Don’t underestimate the power of conversation when it comes to a childs learning.

We Miss Our Friends. This Isn’t “Home Ed”.

I was on the phone to a health visitor yesterday, for the youngests 3 yr development check. A questionnaire that she completed over the phone, that told me nothing that I didn’t already know, but seemed to take no notice of underlying conditions or progress. Just another tick box, the realisation of how early we start these tick boxes really starts to set in. He has a downs syndrome diagnosis, but because it is mosaicism the health visitor does not understand it……. I explain he is visually impaired and has speech delay, to be asked if it is due to his condition, well we dont know, its possibly linked but no way to know for sure, but he is under the child development centre and receiving support… and so the questions and box ticking goes on.

Anyway, the tick box exercise continued till she was finished and all her questioned asked, she then read out a list of “scores” which I forgot and soon as I heard them. I was asked if I have any concerns (aside from those already covered, nope) Then I am asked how we are coping with lock down. There it is, that’s when it happens. The sentence. “You were home educating anyway weren’t you? So this isnt so much of a struggle for you, it’s normal.

Yes we were home educating. We have been home educating for nearly 6 years.

No, this isnt “normal” for us. Our home education is rarely done at home. Normally we have classes, groups, workshops, outings and social sessions. On average 7 or 8 regular lessons/ sessions per 5 day week. Science, RAF meet up, Scouts, Birds of prey, Special needs social, social groups, rocket science, swimming etc. All cancelled. Time with friends and grandparents, our time spent exploring English Heritage sites and national trust properties with our memberships, all cancelled. Our favourite places, closed. Being at home, is not normal for us.

Yes, this is a struggle.

Though perhaps not as much as for others, I will admit that. You see, as home educators, I am used to my children being around day in, day out. We chose this and I am used to *not* being a “teacher”, at no point during this lock down have I worried about “school work”. I am not used to packing them off for 6 hrs a day every day, so them being home isnt “getting under my skin”. I am used to juggling work with chores and children and education, not that I’m an expert or on top of it, but that particular struggle is not a new one linked to lock down. I dont have teaching staff sending us work and deadlines that makes me feel totally out of my depth, but remember that one. I dont have teachers sending set work. I have had to spend my time and money sourcing resources and planning how subjects are going to get covered, I have paid for classes which are now not going a head, I have had to chase online course providers myself to ensure that my childrens needs are met.

And my children are missing people too. They are missing family, friends, lessons etc… they are missing animals, missing the owls (they previously attended a weekly group at a bird of prey farm) They are missing practical experiments instead of learning straight from a book….. I’m fairly sure they are missing others just as much as a schoolie child. A home educated child does not spend their time sat at a table on their own learning from books alone, they rarely spend their time at home at all! Despite common opinions otherwise, they are not always learning in isolation.

The home education community has been quick to offer support and advice, the number of parents considering home ed full time is rising each day, and as a community we are all quick to express that *this is not the norm, the norm is so much better!* and have weeks have gone on I have had more and more people asking me about unschooling. Can they now “not be bothered to teach” ? Or are they seeing their children in a new light under these conditions?

Needless to say, this is an odd situation for everyone, no one finds this normal. Not even home educators.

Learning In Isolation: From a Home Ed Perspective.

We are now into week four of our lock down in the battle against Covid19. Schools are closed (except to provide essential childcare for keyworkers) many shops are closed, no cafes, restaurants or fast food chains remain open. We are instructed to only leave the house for essential purposes: To get essential groceries and medicines, to care for vulnerable relatives if we need to, to get to work where this is essential and can not be done from home and to get one form of daily exercise. We are not allowed to meet with anyone from outside of our home. I don’t know why I’ve detailed that, everyone knows. Even if there are still those who are choosing not to follow the rules, but that’s a whole other rant!

I am sure most of us realise that this will go down in history, children in schools in the future will learn about this, the time the earth stood still. When waters in Venice became so clear that fish could be seen, and wild boar were spotted in Italian streets. When cities in China experienced clear skies, the planet began to heal itself.  Children will learn about how everyone had to stay indoors to stop the spread, they will learn about the statistics, the total number of deaths and how we eventually won our battle against it.

But what are they learning now ? When lock down first became a very real possibility there was lots of comments, jokes and memes circulating about “home ed” becoming mandatory. There were those who laughed about this, there were home educators who viewed this as a positive opportunity for everyone to build a picture about this alternative lifestyle. Then there others, who expressed concern that there would be an increase in numbers of those claiming “I tried it, it didn’t work” and that this would only serve to exacerbate those opinions about home educated children being isolated. And so there became a movement amongst home educators to help support parents finding themselves in this situation, offering tips, encouragement and resources while continuing to point out that “THIS IS WEIRD FOR US TOO!”

I mean, sure, generally I am sure that most of us home educators are naturally far less worried about “keeping up academically” and we don’t have teachers setting our children work to do. But this is still strange. Normally we are out at workshops, classes, museums and social gatherings with friends. Our children are not kept inside learning on their own.

So, judging by what I am seeing across social media is that many people enjoyed an extended “easter break” and are now beginning to introduce home learning. I have had more requests for tips and resources and I have seen more stressed out posts and status’. I saw one mum respond to what  she thought was “a lovely suggestion” by explaining that the amount of school work that her children had been sent, there was no way that they would have time to do these fun activities. I think she absolutely failed to spot the highly educational real life value of these fun activities that incorporated maths, research, IT skills, presentation, budgeting, comparison (critical thinking is an important skill at higher education levels)…… all because they seemed fun, ie; plan your holiday for when lock down is over, your budget is X and must include travel, accomodation, food etc…..

A big struggle seems to be those parents with multiple children of different ages, and how to “teach” these different stages. My advice to you would be much the same as to an elective home ed parent. Stop worrying about “teaching”, you’re not a teacher, you said it yourself right? Think of it as facilitating and supporting. At school, most of the curriculum is repeated in varying levels of detail. Meaning, that its actually not that hard to tailor subjects to suit different ages. I have done this for the past nearly six years now. We started our home ed journey when the children were 12 yrs, 9 yrs and 2 months old. Now they are 18 yrs, 15 yrs, 5 yrs and 3 yrs. So juggling the age gaps is what I do!

Most recently we have been linking the 15 yr olds GCSE level biology and Rocket science with the 5 yr olds science and paw print badges. Germination of seeds is covered in nearly every early years setting, you are probably all familiar with the planting the beans in clear cups or bags to see the roots, and growing cress in different conditions? Well this stuff is repeated in the GCSE text book. So does the bicarb and vinegar rockets. So its fairly safe to say that these are suitable for all ages to do together. And its not as if there is a law to say that you are not able to introduce more complex topics to younger children in line with what their older siblings are working on, it may require a bit of forward thinking, but it is possible. For English work ideas I cant recommend Literacy Shed enough. This website offers suggestions for different ages and levels using the same original piece of media.

Wildlife inspired art, nature journals and observation is another activity which can be done together, adapting to different ages. There are all manner of documentaries available on various streaming sites, add blankets and snacks for a fact filled movie night!

We have been using paper mache and craft in our learning. Making a paper mache castle for fun from boxes and rubbish we had laying around opened up a whole world of learning about different castles and their defences. It didn’t take long to look through a book together and talk about what was used where, when and why so that he could decide which features he wanted on his castle.

We then used more junk to make a space man suit, a jet pack and a solar system, just for fun and play. But in doing so we looked at the size differences of the planets and which ones were closest and further away from the sun. As the space man (5yr old) reached each planet we were able to play our game using descriptive words to think about the climate on each planet. It really bought the learning to life and is something I expect we will revisit again adding more details.

We’ve also looked at chemical reactions (blasting off rockets, elephants toothpaste) infusion (food colouring) and air and water pressure, all through play!  This is how children learn best, all these things can be taught from books, but how engaged are the children? How much really goes in and stays with them if they are not engaged in the fun of learning? Do you ever pick your children up from school and ask “what did you learn today?” to be told “nothing” or “I don’t know” ?

Remember that school learning is done from books because that is easy to monitor and organise, real learning does not have to look like that at all. Learning in real life is still learning and, it could be argued, is more valuable a learning experience.

The important thing to remember if you are at home feeling stressed out, is that there is nothing being set by schools that the children wont cover again, so relax about that. Your children are not going to return to school academically behind. Remember that stressed out parents can not teach stressed out children. No one will be learning much in that environment, so breathe and focus, if you can, on something fun.

Allow your children at this time to explore what interests them, if that is gaming, then why not ask them to show you and teach you, and play with them? You will be amazed at the level of problem solving, coordination, reading and in some cases even physics and chemistry, etc is involved in playing that game that you’ve been so worried about. Allow one interest to lead in to another and make way for that conversation. Converse on their level, about what is interesting to them. Remember, they are as isolated as you are. There is no point or need to try and recreate school because at school they have their friends, social interaction, as well.

These are worrying and unprecedented times. None of us really know how long these restrictions are going to last or how things will be when they are lifted. So try to make the most of the situation, get to know your children on their level and remember that this is not home ed, my children re missing their classes and friends just as much as yours are, but you can get a much closer feel of it by focusing on the learning that is happening away from the schooling.

What Happened: I Lost My Dad.

Its been such a long time since I updated here. So much has happened, things got busy, life got in the way. I will try to update and explain a little bit, fill you in on some goings on and try to explain the world inside my head.

It may be long. So if you are interested in reading perhaps make a cuppa, get comfy and Ill see you on the other side.

 

August was when I last wrote, it wasnt a bad month as far as things go. Summer holidays mean that we get to chill out with schoolie friends and family. As always there are those who don’t like that, there was jealousy and fall outs which we dealt with, and what came after made sure that there was no returning. Because real and true friends are there for you when your darkest times come calling, they don’t walk away. So in the dark times that followed August anyone who wasn’t prepared to brace themselves against the storm with us confirmed their absence from the rest of our lives with no argument.

But I digress, we had a good August, a lovely summer. We went on numerous adventures with different people. Then a stomach bug hit the household. Starting with the youngest it wiped us all out gradually, before finally hitting my brother and my dad while they stayed with us.

However, while we recovered my dad seemed unable to shift it completely. After about 2 weeks he visited his friends at his church and they made the decision to call an ambulance for him after a near collapse. I drove to the hospital and my brother also drove up and met us there. Dad seemed in good spirits and they were treating him for dehydration, but there was some concerns regarding his blood pressure which could not get stable. The drs suggested that this was a result of his dehydration upsetting his medication and they made the decision to keep him in and monitor him. I returned home feeling not to concerned, this was a Monday and we were booked to go on holiday on the Friday, a holiday that dad had been looking forward to coming with us all year.

Tuesday we went out to meet some new friends, a local home ed family whose children got on brilliantly with my little ones, we enjoyed a lovely afternoon in the park while I awaited news that my dad had been discharged. That call didn’t come. That afternoon I received a call from him that I think will stay with me forever, he didnt think he would be out to come to Scotland with us, because the tests had found cancer.

The rest is a bit of a blur, I got to him on Wednesday and we spoke some more, I spoke with the drs about discharging him, but in the end it wasnt possible, they still couldnt get his blood pressure or his diabetes under control due to the type of tumors, they also wanted to keep him in for a biopsy. We made the very difficult decision to continue our holiday plans as he insisted that we still had to go ahead and get lots of photos.

I phoned him every day. It was a good holiday all things considered. It was a 10 day road trip which took us up the East of the country to Beamish Museum, Alnwick Castle to Edinburgh. We rode the Falkirk Wheel, then travelled up to the Highlands. We made it to the Isle of Skye and then back down via The lake district, Blackpool and Chester Zoo.

Tests confirmed cancer in his liver, lungs, bones, pancreas…… there was nothing to be done. He refused treatment to prolong the inevitable and we all supported his decision however hard that was. We were able to book and take him to see the Harry Potter Studio Tour as he loved it there and he had not seen the gringotts part yet. I am so glad that we were able to do that. He saw his eldest grandchild turn 18, he attended all their birthday parties and was here for Halloween. We worked hard to make memories and to enjoy as much time as we could together. 

In November he had a fall, my best friends husband had called in to visit him and phoned me to let me know that he had needed to call an ambulance. As it turned out, that fall broke my dads back. We don’t know if this was due to the fall or due to the cancer weakening his bones, but  from then he was bed ridden and unable to get up. The Orthopedic drs at the hospital made the decision to focus on his comfort rather than his recovery and discharged him on to the palliative care team. He was moved from the hospital to the hospice of st francis. He had known them there for many years The hospice had cared for my mum in her final days 25 yrs previously and my dad had done many years of charity work for them, noteably, as Santa, how he was known by many all over the town. When he arrived at the hospice we found his room had already been decorated with a christmas themed blanket on his bed and “Welcome Santa” written on his door.

I can not praise the hospice enough. They were warm, welcoming, loving and supportive. There is a lounge and they were able to wheel dad in his bed through so he could still see the children playing with the toys and play kitchen there. There was no limit to visitors, no visiting times and food was what he fancied. He phoned me very happy that he had been given Lemon sorbet for breakfast. The salvation army band came and played for him in the lounge and family and Friends visited from Mansfield and Birmingham. Guests were allowed to eat as well so my brother was able to stay and join him for dinner.

But he grew tired, he was done, he had enough. Saturday the 7th December he was drifting in and out and said he had enough and was ready to sign the paper work and go, we all assured him there was no paperwork to sign. Sunday while I was there he didn’t wake much, other than to shout “shut up” when I was chatting to another of his visitors. Now it seems strange to think, that was the last thing I heard him say. I didn’t manage to get to him on Monday because I had hospital appointments for the children, i planned to spend Tuesday with him. But at approx 2am Tuesday morning my dad passed away.

I cant say much else, I am sure you can imagine how broken hearted I was and remain. He was a huge part of our world.

We have been in a bubble of the practical stuff, sorting his flat etc…. which we returned the keys and ended his tenancy on the 10th Feb. His car was collected a week later on the 17th, and so life continued for us.

But I am without my biggest supporter and one of my best friends. I no longer have him turning up here in the morning and making me tea before we head out on a random adventure. I run the adventure playground social meet and he isnt there to chat to everyone. I am no longer able to phone him when we come out of hospital appointments to update him. This month N learnt to swim underwater, and I wasn’t able to get straight on the phone to let him know.

I see little towns that I drive through, and I know that in another lifetime we would have gone and walked around, just to be nosy. We would have stopped and he would have bought us ice cream. Now I have no one to explore with, it takes a special kind of someone to pass time visiting somewhere without an end goal, just for the sake of “seeing whats there”

Its taken a while and a conscious effort for me to start trying to get out the house again, to try visiting new places. Its a strain but I know that we must try to keep going. And so I am back. I am sure I will write some more in time.

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:

https://rossmountney.wordpress.com/journalblog/

http://thetouringtribe.co.uk/

https://gosocratickids.com/

https://loveandletgrow.wordpress.com/

Foraging: The Primal Wonder of Wildcrafting

https://www.vidaecoshop.com/blogs/news

http://picdeer.com/just.us.living.life

http://homeeddingwithbellson.blogspot.com/?m=1

https://musingsmiddleagedmum.blogspot.com/?m=1

http://www.bushcrafteducation.co.uk/?m=1

https://www.buslifeadventure.com/index.php/blog

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.