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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Family Traditions Part one: Poetry

Random reciting of poetry is somewhat a tradition in my family. My Grandpa Popsie, used to sing, recite quotes and poetry to myself and my sisters. It gave him such joy, and his face would light up as we listened eagerly. He’d pick the same favourites to recite aloud from memory and it was comforting. I miss Popsie and the comfort blanket of his poetic words. One evening at bedtime all those years ago, I recorded his singing and poetry on cassette, which I still have, but can’t quite bear to hear now that he has passed away.

My Dad has taken on the mantle for my own children. He will turn up on our doorstep and recite limericks and poetry, all created by him. Sometimes he wakes in the night with poetry whirring round his head, or thinks up crazy rhymes as he walks the 20 minute journey to our house.

Here is Dad’s latest offering, which he wrote in 15 minutes in the middle of the night this week, especially for L and T. ‘Big Brown Bear’ is his alter ego, a persona he acquired when the kids and their cousins were just toddlers. He used to switch into ‘Big Brown Bear’, which the kids would find both scary and utterly thrilling. This particular poem is based on the ‘spy’ games L and T play, following him halfway home, ducking and diving behind parked cars and lampposts, trying desperately not to be seen.

The Stealthy Trackers

 If you follow in the paw prints of the big brown bear,

You have to use much guile and take great care,

Be as nimble as a newt, as quiet as a mouse,

When you follow his tracks from house to house.

 

If you walk in the shadow of a big brown bear,

You have to glide like a ghost and sprint like a hare:

You need the strength of a lion and the eyes of a cat,

And the ultrasonic senses of a vampire bat.

 

So heed this warning from one, who knows,

Be on your mettle; be on your toes,

For if he turns and catches you there,

You’ll feel the force of the big, brown bear.

 

Robert Esau

 28/06/2016

Dad is a big part of my children’s home ed life, and I love the enthusiasm for life, the knowledge, the jokes and of course the poetry that he brings into our home.

A Solstice Baby and Other Adventures

Our week in pictures:

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Cuddles with Legend are the best way to start the day!
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We spent the morning making food for a Solstice celebration lunch. L made summer cupcakes and T made a sunshine loaf. We invited Papa (my Dad) to join us.

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We had another reason for celebrations; the birth of L and T’s 8th cousin! Welcome to the world baby William! A solstice baby, how incredibly special.
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It was a magical day but meeting their new cousin would have to wait a little, so the guinea pigs just had to do!
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Legend looked on as T played with numbers on Tuesday morning.
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Ninja nine! T worked on a story to help him remember which way round 9 goes.
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Books, books and more books this week. L has been the family book worm for the past 2 years, but T is catching up and I have had to be open-minded about some of his choices! Goosebumps anyone?
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A freshly baked banana cake and some roses from our garden for our visit to meet baby William on Wednesday. O’h my goodness, what a beautiful little boy he is. L wanted to sneak him home.
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Thursday brought fun and games in the woods at our woodland group. L and T had hours of running about with their friends, whilst the grown-ups chatted and cooked around the fire.
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L has requested more structure and more ‘work’, so some of what we do now looks a little more like traditional learning. Meanwhile, T likes to keep moving, casting spells on all of us as he rushes excitedly around the house. Expelliarmus!
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And me? This week I’ve been making summer jams in my spare moments, and slowly digesting Britain’s vote to leave the EU. What a week!

A Perfect Birthday

SDC11832Well, as a dear friend told me, I’m another year wiser!

My birthday has been simple since having the kids. It has usually involved our normal day, and then a takeaway, a bottle of wine and a film in the evening. A bit uneventful really.

This year my birthday came at the end of our holiday in Portugal to see Mum, and it was perfect. I awoke to handmade cards from L and T, plus a special plate of gifts carefully selected by T: 2 favourite shells collected from the beach, 3 special stones he’d found and 1 juicy nectarine. No-one could have chosen a better present for me, and I’m not just saying that! The nectarine was the sweetest, most delicious piece of fruit I think I’ve ever tasted and I love sea drift treasures. It certainly beat my present from him last year, which was my own sieve from the kitchen cupboard wrapped up!

My only birthday request this year was to swim in the sea, our little family of four together. It was freezing, but weirdly that’s how I like it! I love the buzz of a cold sea swim.

For the past 3 years I have entered charity open water swim events with my youngest sister, but she is due baby no.3 imminently and so we’ve decided not to do one this year. It was actually nice just enjoying the sea without the pressure of having to train.

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We then went back to the villa complex and had a pool swim before lunch at the pool bar. More swimming= my perfect birthday!

Lastly we popped into town so the kids could spend their holiday money and Mum insisted on buying me some shoes she had spotted which she thought would be perfect for summer dog walking.

The evening was spent travelling home, which we reached at 1am. Tired, but happy.

Of course our holiday is not a break from home education, life and learning just goes on. However, the sun, sea, change of scenery and having Sean around for a week has revived and energised me.

Home Ed, I’m ready for you!

 

Ebbs and flows

Learning……it’s a bit like a stream…..sort of. The ebbs and flows, the times of constant swirling activity and the times of still, serene waters which to an onlooker may appear as if nothing much is happening. There is an under-current of learning happening all the time however, yet we cannot always see it. Our job as parents, is simply to trust.

On a hot day, a week or so ago, I took Land T to a nearby park. The idea was to walk our dog Legend and play in the park, but they had other ideas! They took off their shoes, rolled up their trousers and got in the stream which ran along the edge of the park. Legend followed, jumping in excitedly, then coming over to me to shake dry whilst I tried to enjoy 5 minutes of peace on a nearby bench.

It was futile of course, and I was wet by this point anyway, legend had made quite sure of that. I dutifully ditched my shoes and rolled up my own trousers and slipped down the muddy bank into the freezing water. L and T love me to join in their adventures and so I followed their lead: upstream, under the bridge we had played pooh sticks from earlier, through the shallow and deep. It was fun and I felt brimming with something…….aliveness!

The next morning T awoke excited about the stream,’we need to go back today Mum!’ and we did. We went back 4 times in all, until eventually they had explored a huge section of the stream. Towards the end of the fourth visit, they were waist high in freezing water and had to use a fallen tree to lever themselves out.

It was a great adventure to them, and they were learning. I couldn’t be sure what exactly, but years of living alongside them has taught me to have faith. I assumed of course, that the learning was centred on the stream itself. Not because it mattered much what the exact nature of the learning was, if it was important to them it was important to me, but because the world which children inhabit fascinates me.

L got out of the stream first and was shivering, then T got out and declared ‘well, we’ve done the stream now Mum, I’ve reached my limit with it’.

As it turned out, they were learning about themselves, their limits. Pretty important stuff I’d say.