“I would love to home ed but………..”

I sit with a slight feeling of confusion, given how much attention home education has had in the media and across social media, that there are still parents facing fines for a childs poor attendance, still parents concerned about the mental health of their school refusing children, parents expressing anger and fear around issues regarding bullying and anxiety in their children and parents expressing sadness at the end of the half term. When asked about considering home education I see the replies of “I would love to, but I think they do need to go to school to learn to socialise” and “I wouldn’t be able to teach them everything that they need to know”. Am I, as a home educator, more aware of the stories covered by the media? am I more aware of the common hash tags used across social media to highlight the diversity of home education?  Are parents who are struggling with their children in mainstream school missing these things?

There still seems to be a common misconception that a childs life needs to be focused around grades and exam results. Fears that without excellent SAT results they will be held back in “lower sets” through secondary school, without brilliant MOCK results they wont be supported to achieve the much needed GCSE results without which they will surely never get onto their chosen college courses and without attending school they will never learn how to get up, put on a uniform or function in employment as an adult. *insert eyeroll*

I have spent time talking to employers, self employed parents, company directors and educators. It is eye opening to know how many of these don’t have GCSEs, how many of these when looking at CVs with a view to employ someone don’t actually even get as far as looking at GCSE results. How many even when they have glanced at them have never actually asked for evidence of this. As an adult, self employed, home educating mum who has an hons degree, I have no GSCEs. I played truant and dropped out of school before my year 9 SATS.  I managed to work up and gain employment as senior housing support staff before going on maternity leave and choosing not to return and to become self employed instead, never once have I been asked for GCSE results (fortunate, as I have none). I have spoken to university graduates and have looked at the figures of how many are struggling to find employment in their chosen fields, with many employers favouring experience over qualifications.  I spoke with one manager who was in the process of recruiting a new member for his team, and was told that when looking through CVs he was focused not just on qualifications but on interests and hobby’s. When working in IT then to find an applicant who has included IT, computers, technology etc in their interests and hobby’s has a higher ranking than someone who studied it at GCSE 3 yrs ago and has shown no interest in it since. I mentioned my lack of GCSEs and how I went about studying with the Open University, to then be informed by one employer that they would look more favourably on that because it would show that I had chosen to do it, that I had the time management skills to complete assignments at home in my own time and that I had been working and gaining experience at the same time.

I discussed college entry requirements when A was planning to apply to a hair and beauty course at college. She had no English or Maths GCSEs which were being requested, yet she attended a taster session with the tutors and had excellent feedback. She was working on her English and Maths functional skills and the college informed me that she could absolutely apply using those and that she would benefit from putting together a portfolio of work she had done as she had experimented and gained experience in this area. We were also informed that tutor feedback from the taster session would play a part in the application process as well, so she stood a very good chance of getting onto her chosen course without the exam results.  She chose not to apply in the end, her decision. She has been attending a training centre for her functional skills and whilst working towards the highest levels she did a free taster with the motor mechanics tutor and surprised herself at how much she enjoyed it, so signed up for that and is staying where she is, along with her work experience in the office of a local large construction firm.

I have spoken to home educators whose children have grown, a home educated young lady who gained a place at her chosen university for a midwifery degree. A home educated young man who attended a circus skills session and it sparked a passion and he now travels the world with a circus company.  A young man who gained A home educated young lady who runs a production company running shows and travelling to fringe festivals etc. The list really does go on. Of course not all home educated youngsters make such big steps. But I think its safe to say that nor do all children who attend school? our world, our society needs shop assistants, fast food workers, cleaners etc. We need carpenters, construction workers, plumbers…… there is also absolutely no shame, nothing wrong with these professions, so let’s not discount them in the grand scheme of success! Its ok to raise the free spirit who is happy to get any job they can to allow them to save up to travel the world.

My message to those parents who “would love too but couldn’t” ….. WHY? There are single parents working and home educating. Its a juggle, but they are out there. The fact that learning can take place at any time assists with this.  There are parents who arent formally educated themselves who home educate, many who learn alongside their children, I have spoken to a mother and daughter both working on their GCSEs alongside each other! Home education isn’t about recreating school at home, there isn’t the need to teach to a curriculum, to know all the answers. Allow your children to learn how to find the answers! once a child knows how to learn then there are no limits! Trust them. Have you ever looked at a computer game they are playing and thought “I dont know how on earth they do that!!” but look at them go, watch them smashing it! Did you teach them that?  Have you ever watched your child climb a tree and jump off, landing it with a roll preventing injury? did you teach them that? Children are natural born learners, they are curious little sponges and they learn through trial and error. Home education gives them the space, time and freedom to develop their skills and knowledge.

Lastly, I would always urge parents who are considering home education but who feel unable to support their children’s learning to question themselves. Did you go to school? Are you putting your faith in a system that has ultimately left you feeling unable to even educate your own children?

This blog isnt about trying to claim that home education is right for everyone. I know and have said many times before that some children thrive in and love school. For some families it is the best option. But for those who aren’t so sure, don’t discount home education as a viable option because you doubt your own abilities. The mental health of your child is more important than grades.

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Mental Health Awareness Week. Home Education and Us.

Mental health awareness week, a rise to break the taboo and to highlight that it is OK not to be OK. No one should have to put a front on their emotions and feelings for the sake of others.  There has been a dramatic rise in young people experiencing mental distress, depression and anxiety. There are so many lifestyle choices that it would be impossible to blame the increase on any particular specific factor, but there is no denying that the pressure young people are put under probably plays a huge part.

I was struck by the irony on social media that the same week when I saw the posts about mental health awareness week, I was also seeing the posts from parents about exam week. Young people nation wide are sitting their SATs and GCSEs this week. I have seen posts written by young people, and discussed with parents and teachers and have my own personal experience of the pressures surrounding these tests,  it is clear that the pressure to succeed and do well is high, and who is benefiting from that?

Of course when there is a career path that a young person is choosing to follow, then they work to achieve what they need to make that easier such as achieving requirements for college entry. But for young people sitting their SATs, and those older teens who are sitting GCSEs in subjects that they hold no passion for but the school insist that they have to “pick one from each box”, what of those young people? A college does not require 6+ GCSEs for entry, so why are children put under this level of pressure to achieve? Why are these young people not being supported, encouraged and reassured? Why is there not more emphasis on health and wellbeing amongst school children, instead the focus is on attainment, averages and attendance.

A child performing “below average” is cause for concern but the rule of averages itself means that some children will be below that mark. And this testing and scoring starts so very young. Children are expected now to be able to perform academically upon starting school. Children as young as 3 and 4 being expected to be learning to read and write without the fun of being free. I see parents worrying that their very young children are behind their peers, while older children sit their Mocks and are estimated to get poor marks and told hard to work harder and do their best, when they already did their best in their mocks and so it is instilled in them that their best is not good enough.

I have a 16 yr old. When she was at school in year 6 doing her SATs she was admitted to hospital with chest pains and struggling to breathe. This marked the start of her anxiety. I am sure there were markers before this, looking back I can see the signs were there but until we reached hospital admission and diagnosis it was unclear to me. She was removed from school in 2014, as was my now 13 yr old son, and things that have since become clear left me in no doubt that school would not be the bet way forward for my younger children.

My 13 yr old is a very talented artist, he is working towards his bronze Arts Award and is trying new techniques, he is mostly self taught and is completely self motivated with his practise. At school he was totally turned off “art”….. copying other peoples work did not appeal to him, and being compared to others knocked his confidence in his abilities. I experienced the same in him with regards to creative writing, he is a brilliant story writer and yet he thought he hated writing as for him at school it would be cause for complaint.

My 16 yr old has had to work hard to overcome her difficulties. She has been hit by ill health on top of her depression and her anxiety. She has achieved her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, she has work experience, has sat iGCSEs, is gaining qualifications in English, Maths and IT and is learning Motor Mechanics at a training centre. However, th damage done in school by bullying took its toll and there have been many ups and downs, it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing. I don’t think that this will change quickly or ever really completely go away, but she has found copying strategies and has determination to not let it affect her the way it once did. Nor do I think it is something that we are experiencing alone.

More and more parents message me each week, children refusing school, schools failing to deal with bullying issues, failing to provide for Special Educational Needs (SEN) children, failing to acknowledge or accept mental health issues, Children self harming. The list goes on. The waiting list for any kind of therapy or counselling for young people is bottomless. Parents feeling that they have no choice but to home educate, it becomes a life saving measure. It shouldn’t come to that, but in far too many cases, it does.

I look at my son who will be 4 in less than a week. He would be starting school in September. He cant read, but he loves books. He cant write but he loves pencils and colouring.  He is happy, he is knowledgeable, he is confident. These are traits that I don’t want him to lose, I am not prepared to sacrifice his individualism, his curiosity or his confidence for the sake of forced academics when I am 100% sure that those skills will also come in time, when he is ready. Just like walking, talking and all the other skills he has already mastered. I do not need to have my children compared to a classroom full of other children their age, I do not need an annual report of their progress and I do not need to put pressure on my children to achieve something that is of no interest or long term benefit to them.

It is the job of a school to mass produce paper success and once each year group leave the school they are no longer schools concern, therefore the focus is, understandably, on that paper legacy. The exam results. My job as I see it, is to raise secure, stable and happy young people who know how to learn, who are able to learn throughout their lives and who can succeed at being happy.

 

 

 

 

International woman’s day; our mothers, sisters, daughters and our menfolk.

Thursday March 8th 2018, also known as International Woman’s Day. A day to celebrate achievements and progress of women through history, a day to praise the strong women who we admire and a day to campaign and press forward for more gender parity. So what is not to love about these things? I understand seeing men question “but what about international mens day? (19th November if you care to look rather than just complain) but why was it so common for me to see other women and girls questioning and dismissing this day that they should surely benefit from?

Should a day with such deep roots over the past more than a century really bring about such a dismissive attitude? I take pleasure in being able to drive my children around, having the option to remove them from school and take responsibility for their education, in being able to choose to work, to be able to follow the news and to vote.  I love that my daughter is growing up able to choose what she wants to study,  that we are able to go out on a cold day wearing jeans and hoodies and big boots. I love that she will never be in a job that will require her to wear shoes that cripple her feet.

I long for her to live in a world where women are spoken to in a professional manner in the same way as men. I long for her to live in a world where if she chooses to have children and then go to work she wont constantly be asked “who has the kids” while her male colleagues shake hands and greet each other with jokes. I long for her to live in a world where mothers don’t have to ask their partners to “watch the kids” while fathers are able to come and go.  I want my children to live in a world where access and achievements in education, training and employment are not affected by gender.  Isn’t that what all parents of daughters want? Isn’t that something to strive for?

The history of how women were treated is clear and plain, women have faught and died for the rights that we so take for granted today. There are so many greats, so many makers of history, game changers.  There are movies about them, books upon books written about them. Emmeline Pankhurst and her suffragettes, Katherine Johnson and the other “hidden figures” of NASA. Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart, Katherine Hepburn, Indira Gandhi, Marie Curie. even, love her or hate her, our first female prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Are these world changers not worth a day to celebrate? Are we as women, our mothers, our grandmothers, our daughters, not worthy of a day to acknowledge and celebrate our freedom from past oppression and to campaign for that bit more progress world wide? Men, do you not want a better world for your daughters, sisters, nieces?

Sadly I think that some of the posts regarding international women’s day across social media serve only to highlight how much further we as a nation have to go to achieve widespread gender parity.

So what about international men’s day? Celebrated on 19th November to  focus on men and boys health,, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting male role models.  It is an occasion to highlight discrimination against men and boys and to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular for their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care. There is the recognition of the number of absent fathers, and of those families where even if the father is around studies have shown that the average father spends less than 10 minutes a day one3 to one with his child. Because in the same way that so many women in the workplace are discriminated against, so too are men in the home. My own father experienced the discrimination as a widower left to raise me and my brother. We all see the “dad dressed the baby” jokes, the dismissive depiction of men being incapable around the home. Why as a woman am I told that I am lucky that my husband helps with childcare and housework? We both live here, we both use stuff and the children are ours, we both made them, It isn’t lucky, it’s how it should be. Lets stop putting our menfolk down, because if as women we know that we can perform equally academically and in employability then shouldn’t we also acknowledge that our menfolk are equally able to parent?

Learning together

Quite often I see comments from people saying that they would love to home educate their children but they worry that they wouldn’t know what to teach them, or that they aren’t confident enough in their abilities to help them. I’ve seen comments about parents being unable to even help with school homework so how would they ever be able to home educate.

So, here is the thing, we don’t suddenly reach an age where we are only able  to learn from books in a classroom, nor do we reach an age where we are no longer able to learn new things. See the huge number of mature students in colleges and universities, studying from home and completing training courses in the line of work, it’s very clear that we are never too old to learn.  So what is stopping you learning alongside your children if they want to cover something you are not confident in? I have met home educating mums who are maths whizzes, coding experts, fantastic bakers and palaeontology experts due to their childrens passions.

While home educating teens I have learnt more maths than I ever remember learning in school, I have been able to learn it and master it in ways that work for me, and then support my children to do that same, long division, long multiplication, algebraic equations etc all make far more sense to me now than they ever did before I removed my children from school. I am able to spot and identify birds of prey as we pass them perched on fences by the fields or soaring in the skies overhead and just this week my 16 yr old daughter and I had our first sewing lesson together.  I think its also safe to say that I have learnt far more about British history and politics since home educating than I ever learnt at school. The great thing is, I have learnt all this casually alongside my children, we talk about things together, if something comes up that we don’t know then we look it up, google is used frequently on all of our phones as often in the car one of them will look something up while we are talking.  They absorb knowledge like sponges, more than I even realise we cover, at times it isn’t until I hear my children talking to someone else in casual conversation that I realise how much has clicked. Observing conversations that my son has had with staff at the natural history museum, at nature reserves, zoos and even at the tower of London, seeing the speed with which he can identify cars and tell me about their value, top speed etc really draws attention too  how much knowledge he has stored.

I love that I am able to see their faces and be there when it clicks, when they learn something new. I also love seeing their face as they watch me learning, knowing that we are in it together and they are learning from me that it is ok to say “I don’t know, but lets find out.”  With that in mind one of my biggest bug bears with home education is when other adults ask them something and then say “something for you to look up”….. they don’t need to be challenged to look something up that is irrelevant to what they are focussing on just because you want them to find out for you, my  children know that it is ok for adults to look things up for themselves.

So there we go, don’t doubt your own abilities, don’t doubt yourself. No one has to have all the knowledge or all the answers straight away.

The freedom to learn

When I took my 9 and 12 year olds out of school it was an emergency temporary measure. They had been bullied and were suffering. They were angry and hurt and as a family we were on eggshells and it felt like the only way out of an awful situation.

No family should ever be made to feel like that, it is demonstration of serious failings by the education system. Failure to provide adequate services, failure to keep children safe, failure to comply with their own “home/school agreements”. Home education hadn’t been on my radar up until the point when it was there staring me straight in the face, but as soon as we took that huge leap into the unknown suddenly lots of people began asking me questions. I wrote this post at the time back in 2014 to try and answer some of the most commonly asked questions as best as I could.  But back then it was all very new to me, we as a family had been thrown into it and we have all learnt so much along the way.

I know now that we would not look back, home education has been wonderful for us as a whole family but still people ask questions. Still people appear shocked that the younger two children will not be going to nursery or school “just to try”. The older children have thrived and are growing into wonderful young adults. They have their interests and passions and work with those, they have experienced so much and gained so much knowledge and gained practical life skills along the way.

There still sparks interest and confusion at the apparent lack of formal subject work that the children have done over the years. Because society seems to want us to believe that children learn only from formal lessons and books. It is hard to imagine a child learning and working o important English skills by writing about a subject of their own choice that they are passionate about instead of a set task. The common idea still places English, Maths, Geography, Science into their own boxes far from fun and social get togethers.  A common idea that children need to be sat at a desk to learn then leads to the  question about the all important socialisation. And then, if you get past all of those questions you get the “children need a routine so that they learn to function in the adult world, how on earth will they learn how to get up in the morning and do as they are told at work?”

The idea of unschooling hit the headlines a few months ago with the channel 4 documentary and cries for law changes and stronger measures and more powers to monitor home education within parliament and the house of lords brings all the negative media to the forefront once again. So I want to take this opportunity once again to reflect on where the last 3 and a half years have taken us, the lessons, the improvements and to answer some of these questions and expectations once again.

So, firstly unschooling is not for lazy parents who can not be bothered to discipline their children, Nor do children grow up wild and disrespectful. Its a total misconception that is easily resolved by taking the time  to talk with some of these families. Children learn to be respectful because they are respected! Its mutual, they are allowed to make decisions and learn from their mistakes in safe and supported environments. Parents facilitate learning opportunities around their childs (at times fleeting) interests. Far from that learning being table top bookwork based it may come in the form of screen time, computer games, watching films and documentaries, stories, trips out and the often forgotten yet most important learning resource: conversation!

A simple trip to a local zoo in our case incorporates masses of learning opportunities, seeing the children engaging with and talking to staff about the animals, getting their questions answered while also building their speaking and listening skills. Practising not only their reading but their comprehension by looking at the animal fact sheet boards around the enclosures. Basic map reading skills, prioritising and time keeping to be able to work out where to be and when to be able to attend the various feeding times and talks which in themselves offer so much knew knowledge to be absorbed.  Make it a visit to London zoo with friends and there we also have some social time, more map reading and time table reading and navigation. All important learning.

We have covered so much of British history through various documentaries and drama series. From the back in time for dinner series,  to call the midwife, reign and tudors to spark an interest and then fact checking and documentaries about British castles which we then visit to enhance that learning. But this time is bursts of an hour or so in an evening usually on the sofa after dinner.

We have done so many trips and visits, some have included work sheets, some have been followed up with certain viewing, seeing a location in a movie and then seeing it in person sparks a greater interest in both scenarios. Having fun in optical illusion houses cover the same science of light and reflections etc without the text book diagrams, and taking a visit to the coast in less than ideal weather can show so much of the water cycle in one go, accompanied by conversation as children see the water running down the rivers and streams back to the sea and that’s a whole chapter in the school geography text book covered. Children learn so much more successfully when interested, engaged and receiving the close attention that just isn’t often possible in a school environment.

There was a calculation I read in the early days of our home education journey, all about how much work should the children be doing to class as full time education. I will try to recreate it here from experience and memory.

An average school day = 9 till 3 = 6 hrs per day.  5 days per week, 6×5 = 30 hrs per week.    But a lunch break is approx. 1 hr,  and most schools also have a 20 minute morning break, so I need to deduct 1. hr 20 minutes a day. 6 hrs and 40 minutes a week? Lets add on to that the amount of time it takes to get the class settled, in the morning, after break and after lunch. Say another 10 minutes each day? 50 minutes, lets round that up to another hour to make way for any other random disruptions in the classroom? Perhaps an assembly? another hour? So our 30 hrs a week – 8 hrs 40 minute = 21 hrs 20 minutes. Im going to take away that 20 minutes to allow for pencil sharpening, getting books from drawers etc….   But theres about 30 children in a classroom right? So 21 hrs divided between 30 students =  42 minutes.  Divide that by 5 and it gives you 8.4 minutes of 1-1 in a day!  (That’s assuming there are no students who require more 1-1 attention and the teacher is not distracted elsewhere) It is amazing how much a child can cover in a short space of time when they are engaged and inspired. Even without it looking like they are learning.

Our formal learning has ebbed and flowed, sometimes being very full on and busy, other times we spent more time on days out and hands on experiences. Yet their learning has never suffered.

So if you are just starting out, and worried about work books, and formal work, and your child not being motivated then take a breath and relax.

 

 

A February update.

I find myself in the middle of February and yet it feels as if I only blinked. How fast do these days and weeks fly by.

My daughter, at the age of 16 went and spent 4 weeks away from home in Australia. She was able to travel 2 weeks in the outback and see some amazing sights. She is back now and will be spending the upcoming months focusing on gaining qualifications in Maths and English before seeking employment. She has had a shift of focus and wants to work to save money to travel more, this is fine by me. For years her goal has been hair dressing, isn’t it funny how adults always ask “what do you want to be when you grow up?” this seems to come up more and more when you are home educating, this assumption that you have to be working towards an end goal, that all home educated young people are ambitious and career driven or else their education is failing. Isnt it odd? I reached 33 years old and still am not ambitious or career driven. When asked what I wanted to be when I grow up my answer was always “a mum” and now I just desire happy children, a happy family. Children with lots of lovely memories is my ambition. And yet when my daughter expressed to me that she was no longer all that interested in hair dressing, her dream was to travel more, she seemed as if she expected me to be disappointed. Far from it! I expressed that I have never met anyone who grew old and said they regretted travelling when they were young, I have met many who say that they regret not travelling, seeing the world is not something that people grow up to regret. This path does not leave us with no direction, focus on basic maths and English, CV writing and interview skills to gain successful employment alongside languages gives her something to work towards and we have found a learning centre nearby where she can be funded to gain qualifications and attend to study part time so we are hoping that it is as positive as it sounds talking to the staff on the phone.

J continues to work on his art, sketching for people on request. He is looking to expand this further and will be working towards his Bronze Arts Award to gain a qualification in Art. He continues with his main interest being animals and wildlife and he has been putting a lot of work into a project about animals of the world. He has looked at different species, their adaptations to different climates and habitats around the world. This has involved colour keys and colouring areas of blank world maps, he has looked at population rises and declines, zoos and the part they play in conservation. He has watched nature documentaries and written reviews and summaries of them.

He continues to attend his weekly science class, even recently describing science as “cool” which amazed us. I never thought I would see the day that he would be so enthusiastic about a “subject”. He is taking on a Sunday morning paper round in the village with a view to earn a little bit of money while joining the village community. He attends lego club fortnightly and both he and his sister attend the teen skills session run by connexions on a weekly basis. They completed their recording studio work and bought home their cds, and have spent the first half term of the year focusing on health and fitness. This has reignited Js spark for health and he is taking more care over what he eats and making the effort to be more active. He acknowledged that seeing less of certain friends meant he spent less time running around and went about resolving that by exploring our new local area.

The  small people are hard work but a constant source of enjoyment for us all. Both always learning new things. N is showing a keen interest in numbers, his independence is increasing and always something new to explore. M has learnt to walk, we get a very clear mum from him and his older siblings love the way he walks to them giggling.

We enjoyed a lovely few days away in Scotland, we learnt a lot about the Jacobite rising and the boys got to experience sledging in the snowy mountains and spotted red squirrels.

The snow drops are starting to peep out, spring is on its way, and with it, more adventures.

New house.

Ive been very quiet on here so wanted to come and jump on with an update of what we have been getting up to.

Its all been very busy, we finally moved house. We have been in here for a whole month now which is kind of shocking. We have moved out of the town that my husband and I grew up around, away from family and friends and all things familiar to have a new adventure. We are now 45 minutes drive away, and its fine. We are back seeing everyone for other commitments a couple of times a week but we have our own space which has been lovely.

We have a large garden, and a play room and space to relax, a separate office space and an open fire place. We have put our christmas decorations up and have been able to buy lights and decorations for out the front of the house as well which the children have always wanted.

Its been big changes, from packing and unpacking, the children (and I) have been mastering cooking on gas. We have been feeding the birds and enjoy being able to watch them all as in the old house we rarely saw anything other than urban pidgeons.  J is looking forward to his spring learning project being much more hands on as we have given him the job of planning and landscaping the pond area of the back garden (currently a large hole filled with plant life where the former pond once was, nearly the whole width of the garden, allowing for a 2 ft pathway, and over 3ft deep!) to allow for wildlife but to also make it usable and enjoyable for us, and safe for the small people I guess. He has been wanting a wildlife area and a pond for years and now he is able to have it.

J has been attending his science class which this term focused on space, he has continued to attend his lego club as well. Both children have been continuing with the youth connexions home ed group where they have been in the recording studio making a cd for the past few weeks. They have been learning to use the studio equipment, play instruments, record individual parts and mix them all together. They have loved doing this and in the new year plan to do some more AQA unit award study followed by some time in the media studio learning film / photo editing and green screen work. So I am watching that space eagerly.

A was awarded a young peoples award at county hall. She was among 50 young people from across the whole county (aged 13-19) who achieved this recognition for progress and achievements with youth connexions. We attended a buffet reception and award ceremony with her where she had her photo taken and was gifted her certificate and a photo frame.

Other than regular sessions and a small amount of online work and carefully selected tv viewing, we have not been focusing on formal work so much, a lot of books and stationary were packed up and we have had a lot to organise to prepare for Christmas. Then in January A goes off on her 4 week adventure to Australia with her uncle.

Everything else is beginning to wind down for Christmas and we feel like our adventures are only beginning.