When were you most happy?

I mean really happy?

Can you think of a period of your life that you felt most contented?

Can you pin-point things that happen in a normal day that make you also feel that way?

That’s what I’m busy thinking about and researching at the moment. The science of happiness!

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What has prompted this, is that my daughter, L, recently spent 5 months in school and now she is back home, we are re-evaluating what we do and why.

I thought it would be useful to discover what our individual optimum environment is for enjoyment. When am I most happy? When are they most happy? What kind of environment produces the ideal backdrop for the learning process for each child?

Sounds a bit ambitious I know, but unschoolers are always doing this! It’s one of the coolest things about home educating. With so much personal autonomy we have this amazing opportunity for each family member to fulfill their potential and to generally love their life.

So back to the question that started me thinking, and the best place to start of course is with yourself.

When was I most happy?

I felt the happiest when L was about 2 months old. I remember walking down our street to the library with her in a buggy and this amazing feeling of contentment swept over me. It was a state of pure bliss, nirvana. I was a new mother, I was on maternity leave and I had nothing to worry about except for this little person. I was so in love with her and the focus was on simple day to day jobs of taking care of a baby. It’s all I had to do, I could focus my entire being on it and I loved it.

So why did I stop feeling happy and contented?

When L was 6 months old, actually just before, I went back to work part-time. Everything about this frustrated me. I had previously loved my job, but I now had a child and I felt torn in two. I couldn’t do either job justice. I had a constant stream of phone-calls from the nursery because L wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping or was ill. I knew L was unhappy, but I felt trapped. My baby needed me, but we couldn’t pay the mortgage without my wage at that point in time.

By this point I was already pregnant with T. Life was just about to go crazy, a kind of crazy-wonderful, but I wouldn’t have time to even think about whether I was happy or not!

L and T are almost 10 and 11 now, and those years have been amazing. Often really hard, at times stressful and unenjoyable but overall they have been happy years. I know that life cannot be fun all the time, but I also know that these years when your children are young, are so precious. That this opportunity of unschooling is such a gift, and I want to maximise it as much as possible.

My theory is that if I can tap into our family ‘joy’ as much as possible we will not just be happier but will create the ideal learning environment for our children to grow through their teenage years because it’s looking likely that school won’t be playing any further part in our lives.

The next step is to discover when those moments of joy are occurring, or what might be interfering with them.

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I guess when I analyse my own happiness over the years, the times when I’ve experienced joy have often been when I’ve been able to fully focus on the task in hand with no distractions.

That’s why holidays are so joyful. It’s not just the sun on your back or the refreshing post swim lazy drinks. It’s because all the distractions of life disappear for a while and you can truly be present in the moment.

Much of my life has great potential for joy, but I am constantly frustrated by competition for my attention. I don’t mean the kids either, I mean everything else: the mess, the telephone going, not being able to locate something we want, the emails I need to write, the to do list nagging my thoughts, the dog needing walking, the guinea pigs squeaking, worries and concerns piling up in my brain and sucking my energy.

Mental and physical clutter. That’s where I’m going to begin.

Wish me luck!

 

 

 

School’s out for summer!

Ok, it’s not summer yet but I’m back to two on the home front. The school experiment is over (possibly forever, but who really knows!) and lots has been learnt. I’m not talking school subjects, I mean life learning. We’ve all learnt a lot from L’s short few months in school. I can’t really add much here, we are all still processing everything, but one day I will write a proper post about it.

So that leaves another change. The focus of this blog will be more ‘bank of home ed resources’ rather than our personal journey. The main reason is that L and T aren’t too keen on having their life immortalised on a blog. I don’t blame them at all, and anyway I always found it odd to write about ‘us’ and our journey. All a bit embarrassing quite frankly. I nearly deleted every post I wrote.

It  has meant a bit of an edit of previous posts and articles, to take out any photos or words L and T were not happy with, which is why it went off-line for 6 months. So if you find something has changed or disappeared, it’s just because I value and respect my children’s thoughts and wishes.

So what kind of home ed resources? The thing is, my mind races with ideas and thoughts about learning and education. I mean, I think about it pretty much all the time and so to stop me going completely bonkers and boring Sean every evening, I’m just going to jot it all down here, on this blog, and hope someone finds it useful! There will be lots of ideas of games to play, places to go and things to do. All tried and tested of course. I will blog on current ideas in education and also any books or other resources we personally find supports our unschooled life.

 

 

What Is Project-Based Learning?

Do you you unschool, but find your children need more structure or perhaps your unschooling doesn’t feel like it’s meeting their needs anymore? Does your unschooled child not feel like they’re learning enough?

 This is where a more deliberate project-based style can be a perfect fit.

Unschooling is a lifestyle; it is an intricate dance of providing just the right amount of social interaction, stimulation, experiences, materials, resources and relaxation. Whilst trying to achieve all of this the parent also has a home to run, meals to prepare, pets to walk and care for, family and friends to see, perhaps a business to attend to and so on.

It is easy to see how the unschooling train can derail.

When I started out home educating my own children, I knew I wanted them to have play-based early years. I think we did that part expertly, and it flowed well into them discovering their passions, learning to read, beginning to write and so forth. It was all very natural and organic. Then something changed; my daughter wanted more structure at about age 9 and I struggled to understand exactly what I needed to do to help facilitate that need.

I had a child who wanted more formal, structured learning, preferably with other children, but who did not really want to be taught. We already had many of the elements of project-based learning happening, but it was far from a fine art. We began experimenting with a Waldorf Curriculum, but somehow life just kept getting in the way!

Our unschooling didn’t feel like it was working anymore. A curriculum was not the way forward for us either. We still wanted learning to be interest led, to move at the child’s own developmental pace, to be mentored and facilitated. Project-based learning was our way forward.

Project based learning is about using strategies to help your children direct and manage their own learning. But how?

Here are 3 key elements to show you how to take a project-based approach to your child’s learning journey:

  1. The important idea with this style of learning is to remember that at all times, the child should own their work. You can start with directly asking your children what they want to learn about, but children cannot always articulate their thoughts that precisely. The best way is to observe your children over time; look for clues in their play and in the things they say to each other and to you. Be a detective! Keep a journal to record what you discover from your observations.

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I tend to write freely about our day and then create a short bullet pointed list at the end for ideas to action, these might include: questions they have asked; groups they want to try out; materials they have asked for; or my own thoughts on suggestions I could make based on observing their interests over time.

2. Make the environment your child’s teacher. Ensure materials are within their reach and they have a good range of resources to experiment and work with (they do not need to be expensive). Try to make the project area clear of junk and organised (note to self!) If possible give your children a dedicated workspace. Use bulletin boards to display their works in progress, sketches, notes, questions and so forth. Display their finished projects on shelving, walls, in portfolio’s or more formally in project books if that’s what they want. Children, especially as they get older, like to know they are learning.

3. Dedicate your time and support. It sounds silly to suggest giving your children your time when you home educate and are with them all day! The reality though, is that life can take over sometimes. Being a totally disorganised kind of person myself, I find the idea of timetabling project sessions really helpful. It’s not that projects and learning don’t happen at other times, it’s simply a guarantee to my children that I will have the materials they need and the time to help without any other distractions during those ‘blocks of time’.

Sometimes ‘projects’ might be one-off experiences, but I think the beauty of this style of working means you have all the tools to challenge your child to work deeply at times and extend their ideas.

Your children’s projects can be done on their own at home, with siblings or wider family, with a bunch of friends or within the community. Projects can also be 2D, 3D,indoor, outdoor, verbal, written, performed or even whilst riding on the back of a horse!

Stop thinking of ‘projects’ as something which must be recorded in a book.

Here is a great website to help you get loads more information about how project-based  learning can work: http://project-based-homeschooling.com/about

Project-based learning can be for anyone. An unschooler might use this style of working full-time, whereas a more traditional home educating family might carve out a chunk of time each week for projects. Even a school going child can benefit! My own daughter has just recently entered the school system at age 10, and we still use a project-based style at home because I feel now more than ever, she needs to remember her own learning goals.

Project-based learning is about your children being valued, respected and celebrated as learners.

My final thought on this is actually the most important aspect. Project-based learning is not just for children, it’s for you too! Get involved! What do you want to do with your time? Now is absolutely the time to follow your passions. So dust off that guitar, pull out that canvas, write that book. When your child does project work, you can too.

 

Now What?

 “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
Alexander Graham Bell 

The first week L was in school, I think that’s how myself and T felt. We lost a bit of purpose I guess and all we could see was the closing of a chapter in our lives and the gaping hole it would leave. Ten years of being together every day, learning, laughing, loving and yes a bit of arguing too (and a lot of wrestling, L and T, not me!).

We kind of looked at each other when we’d waved her off into the unknown, ‘What now?’ were the silent words in our puzzled smiles. However hard it felt for me, I know if felt a hundred times worse for T. His best friend in the world, his side-kick was now going to be gone for a large chunk of everyday.

The first day was weird, though we had a familiar home ed group to go to thankfully. T got stuck in with the activities, but he was so quiet.

When L got home on her first day, she was full of stories and excitement.

The next day T decided to try ‘school at home’. He rummaged around and gathered workbooks, set up a desk and sharpened pencils. He spent the day doing ‘book work’, but by the end of the day he decided our normal days were much better, he definitely didn’t want to go to school himself or do ‘school at home’.

We chatted on the sofa about how our days should work now and it was decided that we’d keep everything the same for now, but aim to add in a few things he wanted to try on a gradual basis: cubs, an online engineering course and some volunteer work with animals. We’d continue to build up his basic skills at home using the ‘project-based’ style we had adopted over time and keep up with our normal home ed groups.

I think the time L is in school, however long or short, could be a brilliant opportunity for T. We’ll continue to miss her I’m sure, but we must seek the positive. So with that in mind we set off on a day trip to a Butterfly Park & Farm and concentrated on the kind of learning that really matters to T.

“Let me tell ya. You gotta pay attention to signs. When life reaches out with a moment like this it’s a sin if you don’t reach back… I’m telling you.”
Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook    

Off To School

L started school after half-term, on Halloween, which is kind of fitting! She is 10 now and has gone into year 6 having completed all her primary years at home. It’s been coming, we’ve talked it over together through the years, but then during the summer she made a categorical decision to give it a go. Part of the reason is that we are applying to secondary school for her (to have the choice) and she wanted to get in the school groove beforehand, maybe meet local school children going to the same school. She also knew it was her last opportunity to try out primary school.

She is growing up and changes are a natural part of that process. Of course I’m sad, it changes things in a big way and changes are difficult, but they also offer a chance for growth and quite frankly I think she’s amazingly brave. She’s left behind many happy years of home education and some very close friends to try out something completely alien, where the class have known each other for years.

Two weeks in, what has she learnt so far?

*That reading is now homework rather than something pursued for pleasure

*That she hates maths, when previously she had enjoyed it

*That even though she did NO formal learning before the age of almost 8, she is not behind on the whole, in fact her reading/writing is actually above average

*That PE in school is disappointing, you spend most of it sitting down

*That the whole class gets punished when kids are naughty (today the whole class wrote ‘lines’ instead of their PHSE lesson because one kid was behaving really badly)

*That a classroom is a VERY noisy place to be

*That there is no time to eat

*That it’s a jungle out there, kids are mean to each other! You have to be tough and fight back (which sometimes means being violent to make them stop)

*That playtime is fun, you get to chase lots of boys!

*That school shoes hurt your feet

*That you have no time for yourself anymore because even when you get home you have hours of homework

*That life has become one big rush, from stuffing down a bit of breakfast, to memorizing spelling lists on route to school, to having 15 minutes to eat some lunch and cramming as much information into your brain as possible.

However, the overall verdict on week 2 is that school is awesome. Right now L is living the ‘Horrid Henry’ dream and getting to practise all her ‘secret spy’ skills, which she has been researching for years! Her download each day is mostly about how boring the lessons are and what she does to make some fun, like passing notes and writing silly stuff on her whiteboard when she’s supposed to be working.

We laugh along, for now, but there are serious undertones to what she tells me. So far the education part feels more like quantity, rather than the quality of home education. The social side sounds more like survival than true friendships.

It’s early days though, so I am determined to keep open-minded. At the end of each day I try to give her space to download without any judgement, but I feel glad that she will not be at that particular school too long. It is not a school I would have chosen for her, but it is our local school and therefore the reality of where we live.

I feel glad that she has experienced a strong foundation of love and learning at home for 10 years before entering the school system, I am hoping it will see her through the challenges. I feel she is lucky, whether in school or not, as she has family who are supportive and ultimately that is what makes the biggest difference.

I have given her strong roots, now she’s testing out her wings.

 

 

Become a Global Guardian

This term we have taken on a new subscription to ‘Global Guardians Project’, a monthly learning capsule which takes you all around the world. It is a perfect blend of inspiration and ideas for action regarding world sustainability issues and animal conservation. It is aimed at children aged 4-8 years, but I use it as a starting point to explore certain topics in more depth depending on what areas my own kids find interesting. We don’t tend to use their art ideas, instead finding projects to suit the ages of my own children who are 10 and 9.

You can find further information about the ‘Global Guardian Project’ by visiting their website: http://globalguardianproject.com/

Alongside the actual learning capsules, I have set up a ‘real-life’ group for my children, so that they can share their knowledge and complete engaging art projects on global themes with other children. The idea was two-fold, to give my daughter the social learning experience she wants, and to explore animal conservation which is deeply important to my son.

To begin, we downloaded the capsule on ‘Oceans‘. We learnt about the complex eco-system of our oceans, focusing on sea turtles and their particular plight. Although my children are pretty aware about the impact of rubbish, they were surprised to learn how much of it ends up in our oceans. We discussed the impact of plastic on marine life, which of course they found sad and shocking.

Taking action with my children felt like a really important part of this project. I wanted them to feel empowered and to know that they could make a difference. So this September we spent a day volunteering with the Marine Conservation Society and completed a beach clean at Warsash. Photos coming soon!

We are also taking part in The Last Straw, which sets the challenge to request ‘no straw’ in restaurants etc and also to share the challenge with others, which is why I’m telling you all about it!

In our ‘real-life’ group session on oceans we had a go at 2 types of printing: mono printing & collagraphs. The mono printing using glass didn’t work brilliantly on the day, but children are very forgiving and most used the materials to do their own kind of artwork. The collagraphs were very successful and definitely an activity I would recommend.

The idea is to use collage materials stuck onto a strip of card which give ocean textures. You then paint over the top with sea colours and print on paper or fabric. Our best prints were made on calico. One child in the group took theirs home and sewed a sea turtle on top, it was beautiful. You can also block or mono print sealife on top of the finished print for added effect.

 

The second learning capsule was focused on Brazil and the Amazon. We began our group session with a ‘sharing’ time and I was blown away by the amazing art and poetry some of the children had completed at home following the session last month on ‘Oceans’. Some children had some great books and knowledge to share on the Amazon too. I shared a beautiful book of photography with the group, which I totally recommend: ‘Rainforest’ by Lewis Blackwell.

We also looked at Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings and recreated selected areas of his paintings in oil pastels. I set up a ‘free’ table too with some ideas and various materials and the children could then create how they wanted.

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Our group challenge this month was to research palm oil and attempt to be better consumers by eradicating 5 items containing palm oil from our shopping list. When we got home and looked in our cupboards, we couldn’t find anything containing palm oil, so we are doing OK on that front already.

Next month the focus is on Rwanda, I can’t wait for this one personally, it is such an interesting country and the focus will be on the plight of mountain gorilla’s, which should be really fascinating.

I’ve been thinking about the ‘Global Guardians Project’ a lot recently, and I honestly cannot think of a more important issue for young children to learn about. The Earth’s future is in our hands, and also in theirs. I think we all hear so much about endangered animals and the awful state of our world, but the difference with this particular project is that it focuses on the beauty that is all around us and the small actions we can all easily do to make a difference.

We ARE nature! Nature is our true home.

Family Traditions Part Two: Camping!

Looks bliss, doesn’t it? Well, I’ll be honest, it is. This particular camping tradition has become a yearly event ( before the schools break-up) and is shared with extended family. There really is no-where on earth more beautiful than Cornwall in the sunshine and for four years in a row, we’ve had sunshine.

If you’re thinking I’m being all smug about our brilliant camping experience, then rest assured we have had many camping disasters. Here are just 3 rubbish camping trips we’ve had to show that we have in fact earned our camping stripes:

  1. A weekend years ago when we decided to ‘wild camp’ in the New Forest. Turns out I have a very over-active imagination, but at the time I really did think there was an axe murderer on the loose. In hind-sight it was probably a pony rustling around in the dark, but I was so terrified I made us abandon the tent in the middle of the night and sleep in the back of the car instead.
  2. This one was so dreadful I’ve even blocked out where exactly it was from my memory. The kids were aged 2 and 3 and they weren’t exactly a barrel of laughs to take camping. It rained the whole time, and we were so desperate for things to do with the kids that we played football in the tent. It was a pretty small tent too.
  3. Hmmm not sure which one to go with here, the festival where I had a serious stomach upset & we were camped a long way from the toilets, OR the one where it rained so much the tent leaked and we had to pack up in the middle of the night OR the one where I had  to get around on crutches with a badly damaged knee……………..

Our yearly camping trip to Cornwall is the glittering jewel in a very rusty crown. There’s a lot of family history here as my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents lived in Cornwall. Many summer holidays, sometimes the entire summer holiday were spent there. I was even named after a fishing boat in the harbor, thank goodness it was Sarah Louise and not one of these totally stupid but real boat names: Tip Sea; Shipfaced or my personal favourite, Breakin Wind. If you’re as immature as me and find that even a teeny bit funny, then discover loads more really stupid boat names here: http://messingaboutinboats.typepad.com/sailing/2007/10/really-stupid-b.html

There are so many memories attached to Cornish summers for me, that I wanted my own children to have some of the same experiences. Mum found this absolute gem of a campsite and from our little patch (pitch) of heaven we indulge in the following pleasures:

Cycling to the seaside town for lunchtime pasties; kayaking on the estuary; bodyboarding at Treyarnon; sandwiches at Constantine; taking the ferry to Rock (even swimming over to Rock once as part of the Padstow to Rock swim); supporting the National Lobster Hatchery; hair wrapping on the harbor wall; clotted-cream icecreams; evening drinks on the campsite whilst the kids play with friends they meet every year; time with extended family (1 of my sister’s also camps every year, 1 visits for the day from Devon and the other needs a little nudge…..it will happen!); drinks at a harbor view pub/hotel to mimic the times we spent there as kids ourselves playing in the games room; rock climbing; dodging low flying seagulls; post beach drinks at The Cornish Arms………and a new one to add after this year, dancing in the harbor square to The Floral Dance with the kids and their cousins (after a few drinks). Note the drink theme, maybe that’s the secret to good camping?

Suffice to say, this part of Cornwall steals a little more of my heart each year. I hope the kids will grow up with equally fond memories of their summer trips.

On the journey home, T piped out from the back seat ‘Are we back in England yet?’ Part of my brain thought ‘Blimey I need to get a map of the UK out and teach some basic geography’ and the other part thought ‘yeah, I know exactly what he means. Cornwall does kind of feel like some wonderful foreign land’.

Happy Camping!