Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Apple White and The Emperor's New Clothes

Ok, I'm still fiddling around with the blog colours.

It occurred to me that brown and blue don't really go, so I changed and went all-blue. Well, it shows up as blue on my p.c. However, on my laptop it just looks like shades of white. I don't want shades of white! White reminds me of when I was a teenager and the 'in thing' was to paint your walls with Dulux 'apple white''. It was all a con of course, an Emperor's New Clothes thing, cos to anyone walking into the room it just looked like you'd painted your walls with a tin of cheap white emulsion. Dulux must have made a packet ['Let's tell them it's white with a hint of green and charge them a rip-off price. Nobody will notice.']. Mind you, most people were desperate just to paint anything over the brown and orange flowery wallpaper left over from the 70s.

Anyway, I don't want my blog to be white. So is it just me? Does it look blue or white to you?

Today we were at the sailing club. The kids went swimming as the water is getting warmer at last. Last week I christened my new super fluorescent pink 'n' swirly swimming costume in the lake, but was feeling a little more self-conscious this week. I do like it. But it's not designed for people who want to slip their lardy wobbly bits into the water with minimal audience. I mean, this thing glows in the dark.

Ds1 and ds2 have been working on various animations and games. At the moment I can't upload them onto this blog cos they're made using Scratch which (I think) can only be uploaded to the Scratch website and I can't convert them into a different format. Will keep trying. I've booked the boys into the annual Summerscreen animation/green screen workshops this year, so maybe they'll pick up some more tips.

Knitting. Sigh. I have numerous projects on the go as usual. One arm and some borders to go to complete a cardigan. It's the first thing I've knitted for myself (apart from socks) for years. I am feeling rather wary about completion. Usually I would lose interest halfway through, or get bored, or just decide I don't like it anymore and unpick the lot. But I've only one arm and some borders to go. It is worryingly near the endpoint...

A friend is heavily pregnant at the moment. I don't envy her in this heat. In fact I don't envy her at all. I never did like the baby stage (or the pregnancy stage, or the toddler stage, or the preschool stage). Now my children are at the perfect age, the 7-10 age (well ok, I'm stretching it a bit: one is 6 and one is 11, but it's the best I'm gonna get). I just need to cryogenically preserve this moment. Fast-freeze my children straight from the field like baby peas. I wonder what I'll be doing when my eldest is 16 and my youngest is 11. What will life be like? Will I be celebrating my freedom, or mourning my loss? I guess only blog will tell.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Some Changes

As regulars will have noticed I've made a few changes to my blog.

It wasn't entirely intentional. I made the mistake of trying out a few of the new templates that blogger invited me to... why not, I thought...and then I found that those templates screwed up my main photo (the background of the blog title). So I thought I would change back to my original template, except that I couldn't because it appears not to exist any more(?).

So then I spent the afternoon fiddling with the few templates on offer, altering font size/colour and background and photo sizes etc etc, until eventually I got to something that didn't look like a psychedelic swirly bubbly scene out of 'Charlie and The Chocolate Factory' . And then I realised I had about 20 windows open because each time I edited the darn thing it opened yet another window. So I clicked 'save' only to realise that I'd clicked it on the wrong window. Sure it had saved, but it had saved the very first version that I'd created and I had to go through the whole process all over again! And this was after I told the boys I didn't want them on the computer today because when they get on there they spend all afternoon on it. Ho hum...

Blogger is annoying me. Why, to edit the various gadgets on my layout, do I have to click on to 'template', then click on 'back to blogger'? Whose idea was that? And why in the 'advance' bit of 'template' does it not let you do anything whatsoever advanced? I wanted to put a bit of text to one side of my blog title/picture. Could I? No! It all has to be put exactly where blogger wanted you to put it. And yes, I know I should learn html and then I'd probably be able to do all of these things. But life is short and I'd rather spend it wisely: like drinking wine, eating chocolate and shouting at the dog.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Workbooks, water and Romans (said with a Jonathan Ross voice otherwise the alliteration doesn't work)

Despite my feelings towards workbooks, they have seen on the conservatory table these past few weeks. Miquon maths, CGP maths and Sequential Spelling. They don't have a huge fan base among junior members, but they tick a fragile little box in my head and once that's ticked, it means that the kids can get on with learning the important stuff.

Dd in the meantime has started a very small 'paint by numbers' picture, which we picked up at the roman villa (see later). Of course it's a completely useless set, with hardly any paint in the teensy paint pots they supplied. What paint there was dried up on contact with air, so she ended up using our own paints that were similar colours. It is still a 'work in progress'.

In between workbooks and more useful learning, we've been carrying on with a Roman theme. Ds2 seems to enjoy it, but ds1 has made it clear that he is far above all of this stuff. It doesn't stop him joining in though{g}.
I've been reading the book 'Across the Roman Wall', which is ok, but feels a bit as if it was written to fit in with the National Curriculum. It probably was. Having listened to book 1 on CD we've also been listening to a few more Roman Mysteries on audio CD ('Vesuvius' and 'Collossus of Rhodes'). Both v.good, though I do wish the author would find some more varied vocabulary. I swear EVERY CHAPTER starts with the phrase 'Presently, he...' or 'Presently, she...'

Last week we finally made it to the Roman Villa that we visited the week before (on the one day it was closed!). The little carry-around commentaries were popular and kept my 3, plus 2 other children that I took with me, interested for a while at least.

Ds1, forgetting for a moment to put on his I'm-miserable-why-did-you-drag-me-to-this-place face:

Ok, I spoke too soon:

He's in training for a life in the public eye (no comment):

Ds2 naturally fleeced me at the gift shop:

So what else? Well the garden/veg plot/allotment is a shameful disaster,so no photos. But here's a photo of what we found coming out of our pond, a dragonfly (I think) nymph, ready to transform:

Dh took the boys on a work trip to Stratford (which apparently didn't just involve eating food and drinking in the pub)

Ds1 tested out his home-made (from plastic fizzy bottles) raft at sailing club. He discovered that although it floated, it floated about a foot under water when he sat on it. Hmm...back to the drawing board then.

The boys show that you're never too old to play in a sandpit:

Dd tests my patience by doing some sewing. Omitting swear words I calmly untangle, mend, untangle, prod, untangle and nurture the sewing machine into action, with small person at the helm. I don't intend to make it a regular occurence. (Perhaps I should hide the sewing machine on the top shelf, like I did with those apalling Letterland books that my children insisted I read to them)

Dd shows how photogenic she is in her new hat that was free from the local swap shop:

A session on World War II at our home ed group.

Even my children participated (a bit). It will go down in history.

Ds2 finds out all about hot air balloons at cubs:

A sign of a fun day - straight to the bath with you missus!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

How Children Learn

Amidst my turmoil about workbooks and curriculum, about what my children know compared with other children, there are times when I have to just stop and see what is in front of me. Oh yes, it's LEARNING! And this learning is happening now: like a secret underground volcano, all this stuff all bubbles to the surface. And I'm gobsmacked. How did the child know that? Where did that come from?

Of course we never get to see much of the learning that happens: a child can go from apparently knowing nothing, to knowing lots; from not understanding, to full comprehension.

Perhaps in a school environment, under a routine of externally-imposed one-size-fits-all learning, many of these moments get lost, drowned, smothered or distracted. Perhaps they happen and nobody but the child is there to notice. But in home education, especially when children are left to learn without interference or well-intentioned teaching, these teeny bits of magic are revealed. And if you're still enough and resist interfering, you can tiptoe up and witness wonderful things happening.

The biologist in me would say it's those neurons firing off, making connections, links, mapping the world of information and making sense of it when nothing much appears to be happening on the surface.

When learning happens and I can't see where it has come from I realise what John Holt was saying about autonomous learning. I see how learning is not a direct route from a to z, or a series of routes a to b, b to c, and so on. Often it is a random, higgledy-piggledy, unplanned journey. It is like one huge 3-dimensional jigsaw that doesn't always need all the pieces to make sense, and you don't have to start at the corners or the sides to make out the picture. And, besides, your picture will be different to everyone elses.

Today, I've been watching my 6 year old make sense of maths. I've never taught her maths. She has doodled her way through a few sticker maths books because she begged to, but I do no formal, schooly learning with her. I don't sit and count with her. I don't read counting books to her. We don't have posters of numbers on the walls. We've never practised adding up. I have no idea where her mathematical knowledge comes from, except that it has somehow evolved from her personal experience of the world and the problems she needs to solve. I find it difficult to step back. Maths makes me anxious. I hate people saying 'but maths will come naturally, in day-to-day activities'. I think ' Yes, but I dont' care what you say about your children, I need to see it happening, in MY children.' And it does happen. If I stop worrying and just be still for a moment.

Today dd wanted to find out how much money was in her money box. She emptied the piggy on the floor and spent an hour of counting out piles of tens and piles of pounds, coming to me with occasional questions:
'What comes after twenty?'
'How can I add these ones to these twos?'
'Do these make ten?'

She made a dog design on the floor with the piles of tens and pounds and, satisfied with her work, left them there for us all to trip over.

She never did find out how much was in her money box. By the time she'd got to that part, she'd built on whatever knowledge and experience she already had: her curiosity was satiated. The journey had been far more important than the end result.

Therein lies a lesson for all of us.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


Today I looked at some curriculum workbooks. And then I looked at some more. And then I made the mistake of comparing their content with my children's current ability. So there I am asking other home edders 'So what age is year 5?' 'Is this really Key Stage 3?!'

As a hardened long-term home edder I should be immune to these moments of doubt. So here I am faced with it. I duck as the tsunami of 'my children will never be able to do THAT' threatens to overcome me, and cling to my copy of John Holt, which I hope will keep me afloat long enough to reach the island of home ed confidence again.

But one good raft amidst the Tsunami. Ds2 came up to me yesterday and said you spell 'Tsunami with a T first, don't you?'.
I said 'yes, but I dont' know why.'
He said 'It's because it's a japanese word mummy.'
'Oh.' I say, realising sometimes that even as an adult I am learning all the time. Mostly from my children.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Ok, we're screwed...

Middle Income Earners Lose Child Tax Credits

"Although the Chancellor mentioned only cuts in tax credits for those earning £40,000, a table at the back of the Budget information book showed that those earning over £30,000 with one child would receive no tax credits from April 2012, while those earning £25,000 would see their entitlement cut.

The move looks like a compromise between the Tory and Liberal Democrat policies. Both parties went into the election pledging reductions in tax credits, but the Lib Dems wanted to go much further, cutting all payments to families with a total income of more than £25,500.

The Budget table shows that a family earning £50,000 or more would currently receive £545 a year in tax credits if they have one child over the age of one. This amount will fall to zero next year, while a family earning between £25,000 and £40,000 will continue to receive the payment. However, in the financial year between April 2012 and 2013, families earning £30,000 and over will receive nothing, and those earning £25,000 will see their entitlement cut to £460 a year...

...Families will also see child benefit frozen for three years. The allowance is currently paid at a rate of £20.30 a week for the eldest child and £13.40 a week"

So let me get this right: the two payments that go directly to the carer of the child will now be frozen/reduced/cut. Well that's gonna do a lot to get rid of child poverty, isn't it?

The thing is, it isn't about how much the family earns, but how much of those earnings get to the children. And Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit get to the children.

Makes me wonder how many home edders will now have to put their kids in school and go back to work full time.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Freezer trauma

I'm wondering if you can refreeze viennetta icecream. We've already lived on everything else from the freezer since it defrosted itself and all the contents last week. Well it didn't exactly defrost itself, someone (not mentioning any names) left the freezer door the south-facing conservatory...on a very hot day...all day.

So, we've eated the veggy sausages (3 different types). We've eated the veggy burgers. We've eaten the blackberries (though I have no idea how old they were, could have been donkey's years). We've eated 2 of the 4 tubs of home-made soup (sorry kids to inflict this on you, there's another 2 in the fridge).

So what's left to go now? Well we haven't eaten the frozen peas and sweetcorn, but we're working on it. And we still have some veggy pies to get through. The ice cream was beyond rescue: it had separated into its constituent parts, namely thick sludge and thin sludge. But the viennetta...

I'm gonna test it out on the kids this evening. I'll let you know if they survive the night.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Ofsted...go boil your head...or something else more constructive than what you are doing right now.

Couldn't face posting the articles from Guardian and Daily Mail about the x*!!$! Ofsted Report , but here's a more soothing response:

'The new chair of the House of Commons education select committee, Graham Stuart, has slammed a report by Ofsted on home education.

The report, Local Authorities and Home Education, was published today and calls for more legal rights for local authorities to access home-educated children and monitor their progress.

But Stuart criticised the report and said that comments made by Osted's chief inspector Christine Gilbert in response to the report were "deeply concerning".

"It is astonishing that the chief inspector of schools should stray onto home education and get it so wrong. In Ofsted's official press release she [Gilbert] says that 'it is extremely challenging for local authorities to meet their statutory duty to ensure children have a suitable education', when they have no such duty," he said. "Parents, not the state, have the statutory duty to ensure that their children have a suitable education."

The report claims that many local authorities struggle to obtain comprehensive information on home-educated children in their area, accusing some families of being uncooperative. It recommends that parents should be legally required to register with local authorities if they home educate, and should be subject to compulsory annual home visits.

But Stuart argued that in order to ensure all children get a suitable education local authorities should "serve and support" home educators rather than "catalogue and moniter" them.

"The obvious and correct answer is for local authorities to improve their support for families so that more families make contact with them voluntarily," he added. "If they did this and made sure that they employed sympathetic staff who built good reputations, then the number of 'unknown' children would be reduced." '

Support? Good reputations? Methinks it's a bit late for that now. home edders are a reasonable bunch, but after the past couple of years...Pah! Like we'd welcome the Local Authority back!The LA could be offering me free beer and chocolate and exotic holidays (or even free exams and books for the kids) and I still wouldn't touch em with a barge pole (though I could think of an interesting place to stick that barge pole). Whatever the LA say, whatever they offer, I don't - wont - trust them. And I don't think I'm alone among the more experienced home edders. I trust the LA, and all the polititians, as far as I can tiddle. And even after alot of free beer, that wouldn't be very far.

So, much as I respect you, Graham Stuart for your support of home edders, I think you could be way off on this one. And Ofsted...BUTT out of home education. IT AINT YOUR JOB! Go away! We don't want you! You seem to forget...we are not some nursery or educational establishment providing a service for parents...we ARE the parents.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A day in the life of a home educated bear

The day starts with a bit of bear bouncing:

Then little bear finishes off a mosaic (bears like butterflies):

But some bits are fiddly to do with bear paws:

Then little bear likes to join in with her bear brothers:

And puts her bear brain to the test with some copying (bears like writing):

Then little bear cycles to the park and goes elderflower picking with big bear brothers:

Bears like elderflowers:

And then little bear cycles to the library (on a bicycle that is much too small for her):

And strips the library of their entire collection of 'bear' books (bears like bear books):

Little bear listens to her bear brothers on the keyboard (bears sometimes get bored doing this):

Then removes her coat to make some elderflower champagne:

And finishes off the day with a bit of bear dancing (bears really like dancing):

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The rebellious seamstress

You know the saying Life is too short to make peg bags..? Yes?

Well actually that isn't really a saying, I just made it up. But if it were a saying it would be a jolly good one.
Anyway, life really IS too short to make pegbags. But I like to take up those few useless seconds that I would otherwise squander on drinking wine, daydreaming and writing a bestseller. Besides, when your peg bag gets to looking like this, drastic measures are needed.

So I get some of this (impossibly thick, fades easily, and which coincidentally is exactly the same covering as our futon cover):

And some of this (bright orange and smooth with lumpy velour leopard patterns on it):

To make one of these:

And yeah, I know that the flower isn't even, and the sewing is wonky and, well just don't look too close. But it does function as a peg bag. It holds pegs slightly better than a carrier bag would and may have a slightly longer life-span. What more can you ask for?
Of course if Carlsberg made peg bags they would make peg bags like this. Actually they'd probably make beg bags that looked like cans of Carlsberg (never one to miss out on a promotional opportunity). But you get my drift.

I was never born to be a seamstress. At least not a conventional one. Let me give you a few reasons why...

1) I never use a pattern. Well I've bought loads and I have used one once. But once in 40 years doesn't count.

2) I never buy material. Unless you include the pennies I give the scrapstore for their eclectic bundle of offcuts. Well actually I did buy some material once, and that was to go with the pattern that I used, once.
3)The material that I do acquire is always completely useless for making anything that anyone sensible might want to or need to make. You know, I go for the weird, quirky, wacky stuff. The stuff that is too thick (needle-breaking) or too thin (needle-skidding) or just too damn shiny/bright/small/furry/glittery/boring/patchworky/skinny/fraying/odd-looking to be made into anything.
I choose material by looking at a pile in the scrapstore and going 'Ooh that looks like a tarts underwear, I'll have some of that' and 'that looks like a shredded piece of chainmail, I'll have some of that' and 'that would glow really well under UV light, I'll have some of that'.
You see my problem?
4)I never use the right thread. I mean I never use the right colour thread. Because if I've managed to find 10 minutes and a small space on the table in which to haul my machine out, then the last thing I want to be doing is running out to the shop to buy the right colour thread. If it goes through my machine without my machine jerking to a halt or spewing bundles of thread-spaghetti from under the needle, then I'll use it. So what if I'm using black thread on white material I LIKE CONTRAST!
5) And I can't be faffed with winding bobbins. So if the only bobbin with anything on it happens to be bright orange, then bright orange it is. Of course it goes without saying that this bobbin thread never matches the top thread, but there is an advantage in this: it lets me know (in bright orange) when the tension is wrong and the bobbin thread is coming up in big loops on the 'best' side of my sewing. It's not always orange. Sometimes it's purple. And on rare occasions it has been red.
7) I don't change my needle unless it breaks. But because I often use the inpenetrable furnishing material, my needle breaks at least once a year and so I probably change it as often as more conscientious sewers (that's people who sew, not those victorian pipes for chanelling your doo doo from your chamber pot to the English Channel).
Oh and I only ever use those needles labelled as being for 'jeans material'. Well, my logic goes that if the thick needles will go through thick stuff, they will also go through the thin stuff, so why buy a different set of needles for the thin stuff? (seamstresses all over the world will be turning in their little seamstressed coffins now)

6) I don't look after my machine. Once or twice a year it comes out onto the table. At regular intervals during sewing I blow the fluff from out of the bobbin compartment because otherwise the bobbin jams up. Often I bemoan the fact that it needs oiling and it's rattling so much that the table is vibrating. I remember that I still haven't replaced the bulb, so I can't actually see what I'm sewing. Then I put the cover on my machine (which is torn and needs replacing) and put it away for another 6 months.
8) No matter how often I ask for advice about sewing, I'm either too impatient, too arrogant or too damn lazy to take it. Am I bovvered? Probably not. But next time I ask you for advice, maybe you should just come over and do my sewing for me.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Boys and girls

Boys and girls. The truth is, even though we want to deny it with all our might, and even though it is the politically correct thing to be gender neutral, boys and girls are different.

Rcently I've been having discussions with other home edders about the 'feminine' (or 'feminised') environment of home education. To me it is plain to see. After all, the majority of home educators are women. Why? Financial reasons, the natural progression from childbirth to childcare or due to some other reason that make the universe turn.

I know personally of only two home educating families where the mums are the main income earners and the dads do the home education (plus one other family on a home ed list that I do not know personally). There may be more out there, but there is only one dad who participates regularly in home ed activities. I guess it's not an environment that dads feel comfortable in...

Because of this lack of 'man influence' at groups, activities, workshops, there is (to me) an overriding feminine influence. This is not a bad thing as such, particularly in the early years when children thrive in any communal environment that is nurturing. But when you have boys growing up this lack of maleness in their everyday life does concern me.

For instance, there are times when I look at the home education activities and how they are presented and I think 'Well that's ok for the girls, what are the boys going to do?' As anyone with boys know, one or two boys together is fine. Get 4 or more boys together with nowhere to channel their energies and they are quickly recreating scenes from Lord of the Flies! It doesn't take long for nature Walk to find flowers to press to turn into set up a base camp, give blood-curdling cries, and brain anyone who approaches with very large stick.

Now don't get me wrong. Of course, girls are capable of doing this too, it's just that mostly, for whatever evolutionary, social or cultural reason, they choose not to. Boys, however, tend to gravitate towards the loud, messy, and destructive end of any activity.

Is acknowledging this the same as having a sexist view or gender stereotyping? It's not like I decided to make my boys behave like boys (on the contrary, at first I tried hard to fight the testosterone-fuelled behaviour). A good friend of mine finds my views on this mildly offensive. I think she's in denial {g}, she thinks I'm trying to gender-pigeonhole the world. Perhaps we're both right. I'm not sure that we'll ever agree. (At least not until her 5 year old boy is 11 or 12 and she is in the same predicament as I am! lol). When you have an 11 year old boy whose natural desire is to find his place in the pack (the whole alpha male thing) and who desperately needs male role models around him to work out who he is and what he needs to do to grow into a man, then a feminine environment is just not enough. Nope. It's not enough.

So what do you do when your kids get to 11+ in the home ed world, when the home ed groups don't meet their needs? If they are into sports or drama or dance or gymnastics or scouts etc then there are other avenues they can move in, but if they aren't then what do they do then? In our area it seems that after the age of 11 most of the children disappear. Where do they go? Perhaps some go back into secondary school, or private education. Perhaps some are at home doing increasingly academic work. But what about the others? What about the non-academic, non-sporty ones?

My children are part of a large cohort of 7-11 year old home educated children. I was hoping that we could continue with the same circle of friends and companions at least until the children are in their teens. But having spoken to other home edders this just doesn't seem to happen. But noone seems to know why.

The only solution I have come up with is to design some activities specifically with the age 10-14s in mind. Social events - bowling, pizza evenings etc - and guided hands-on activities with an end product (maybe bicycle maintenance?). Will this work? I don't know, but it's worth a shot.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Great Outdoors

A woodland walk in the trees on Tuesday:

Camping with friends Friday to Sunday:

With a trip to 'The Blowing Stone' on Sunday:

And some kite flying:

A trip to a Roman Villa on Monday (closed, but we had a woodland walk instead):

And a bounce on the logs:

And found real Roman Snails:

And discovered some fossils...

...for real:

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Ok, not 'what do you do', but 'how do you do it?'

So, how DO you home educate three very different children who are at three very different stages of development, with very different needs and an unpredictable, sulky and disorganised mother?

The truth is, I don't know.

For a while, when I had a baby, a toddler and a young child, it was horrendous and to be honest no observable home education took place (although miraculously lots of learning did). Then, finally, when I had a 5, 7 and 10 year old, it became manageable: the youngest was old enough not to be a constant drain, the 7 and 10 year old were reasonably interested in some things some of the time and we could do stuff, whatever that 'stuff' was.

But now I have a 6 yr old girl who is very precise about what she will and wont do, an 8 year old boy who is at the right age to be led to the water to drink, but is lacking from maternal time and focus to feed the sponge-brain, and I also have a slightly sulky, show-off, but lovely really, 11 year old teen-child who is beyond being 'led' to the water to drink and wants everyone to know it.

As a friend of mine said - as soon as you focus on one child and take your eye off another they stop thriving. It's true. I am constantly flickering like a manic torch from one child to another trying to fulfil unmet needs (or work out what those needs might be), while putting the others on hold.

Now if I was a rigid, non-autonomous, or even slightly more structured home educator, then perhaps it would be easier. But though I like the idea of routines, somehow, according to some unwritten law, my routines, systems, timetables, plans etc always go udders-up. Sometimes it is because my stubborn group of goats are digging their hoofs in and refusing to budge. And often it is because of my inability to screen out all the other distractions of life. I I really want to supervise, half an hour of maths, half an hour of literacy, half an hour of French etc especially when it takes certain children exactly 1.5 hours to find a pencil, sharpen it, lose it, break it and go looking for another pencil, then lose the piece of paper, tip over the chair, feel hungry, raid the kitchen, then burst into tears when I ask them why they haven't written anything... No this is not what I want.

But neither can I, with my natural unpredictable personality, easily accommodate total autonomous education. I don't want to be on call 24/7, ready and willing to be interrupted (whatever I'm doing) and keen to provide an answer to a question, help to make a cardboard looroll tower, fix the pc, find a missing jigsaw piece, play snap, make chocolat muffins with a child (arggh!), discuss whether Roman Centurians wore underwear, buy wax for candlemaking, or play football. I like my children to discreetly disappear for at least part of the day, so that I can have some semblance of a life. GIVE ME A MINUTE, I'M THINKING! is a common phrase that emits from my lips. Is that too much to ask? I mean, even in paid employment it is a legal requirement to have a break during a working day.

Anyway, a while back I came across this article about Eclectic Home Education, which is a way of describing that place on the spectrum between autonomous and non-autonomous. And the article struck a familiar chord with me. Of course I aspire to have wonderfully autonomously-educated children, but I just can't seem to achieve it. It's not through lack of trying, or even lack of not trying. And I have for the most part deschooled now (apart from the occasional psychotic twitch).

Anyway, here is an excerpt from the above article:

"Our detour into "school at home" nearly derailed us entirely as homeschoolers. By the time all was said and done, I was ready and willing to send my kids to school, any school, just so long as I no longer had to be responsible for their education. Disillusioned and weary, I was completely confused about homeschool in general, and my own methods of homeschooling in particular.

Right about now I hear the chorus of voices crying, "Unschool! You needed to unschool! Relax and let life take over and allow things to proceed naturally. Allow your children to be responsible for their own education!"

But the problem was I had tried unschooling. While it may be natural education for many, for my family it was a natural disaster. I am not by nature an interactive person. People, including my own children, get in the way of thinking and creating. I begin writing, and everything else goes out the window. The house is a mess; the kids are unwashed and unfed. My husband wonders if and when his wife will check back in. It's not natural for me to focus on providing educational and learning moments for my children any more than it's natural for me to stop and clean the toilet the first or fifth time I notice, vaguely, it needs scouring.

Nor am I able to leave my own pursuits and follow someone else's at the drop of a hat. That sort of demand tends to make me cranky. My kids, curious as they are, given the choice to be responsible for their own education would quickly choose Lego blocks and computer games over biographies of great world leaders. In short, nothing about me or my family translated well into an unschooling lifestyle.

In my desperation and guilt--after all, I'd now failed at two of the "best" methods of homeschooling, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum - I took Hermione's advice and went to the library...

...And when I was done, I had drawn what was for me a clear generalization of unschoolers. Most folks who adhere to a true or complete unschooling method are naturally outgoing, with entrepreneurial personalities. They're organized and scheduled from within, not without. Me, if I don't draw up a schedule for basics like housework and cooking, they never get done. If they're not highly scheduled people, unschoolers are flexible, able to go with the flow, adapt their course and accomplish necessary tasks without a schedule. (See above comment on my life without a schedule.) In many ways, I believe unschoolers are born, not made. And the evidence from my life and my five years of homeschooling was irrefutable: I was not born an unschooler...

...My trip back to the homeschool drawing board took well over a year. In the end, as is usual for such trips, I wound up about where I began. A little higher up the spiral, and a little more confident of my decision to honor my own personality and my children's, more certain of my ability to create a method of homeschooling that fit my family's individual learning styles and beliefs.

...Despite conventional wisdom, unschooling isn't the answer for all homeschoolers. Most families better define their method of homeschooling along a spectrum than in a box. Many unschoolers use curriculum here and there with their children; many structured schoolers study at least one or two subjects that are completely driven by the child's interest. There's no shame in not unschooling, and there's nothing wrong with not using a school-from-a-box program. The only shame is when homeschoolers are left feeling like they are less than other families because they follow a different path for their learning adventure."

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Part two of 'So What Do You Do?'

(which rhymes quite nicely, don't you think?)

Ok, so continuing on yesterday's subject of how we define ourselves, (and in some cases defend our definition of ourselves), I thought I would start/continue the ball rolling.

So who am I? What do I do?

Well I've covered the 'I-stay-at-home-with-my-children-but-please-don't-patronise-my-heroism-at-looking-after-my-own-kids' bit and the 'I-home-educate-but-really-dont-want-to-discuss-it-RIGHT-now-thank-you-very-much' bit.

Is that all I am? Is that all I do?

Well I work as well. Yes work. By that I mean not real work, but PAID employment. I have a job: I keep a seat warm at a desk in a library and I smile pathetically when people ask me questions that I - almost always - can't answer. The questions I CAN answer are:

'Where is the photocopier' (yep after 3 years I've worked that one out!) and

'Where are the toilets?' (the first part of the answer to the latter question is 'Not here', the second part is more tricky as it involves directions and emphasis on the 'down the INTERNAL stairs' which nobody asking the question listens to and inevitably gets lost but is too embarrassed to ask again 'where are the toilets?' and probably sneaks off to have a wee by the beautiful trees outside the library or, alternatively, they wet themselves.

And in between keeping the seat warm and giving not very helpful directions to the toilet I watch dust gathering on books. And library dust has a particular smell (particularly academic libraries), which you really couldn't replicate in a laboratory. But now I'm getting offtopic...

Anyway, while keeping the seat warm (and answering, or not, customer's questions) I have another very special job: at half-past eight in the evening - or sometimes 8.45pm if I'm looking at a particularly good web site or trying to finish a blog post or, as I was last night, researching the very interesting subject of temporary marriage in Iran (more about this later) - I go and count the people in the library. Which is A VERY IMPORTANT JOB [said in my best Winnie the Pooh voice]. Not only does it involve the skill of counting and finding a pencil sharp enough to tally the figures, but it also involves the challeng of finding the shortest route around the library. I've been working on this challenge for - ooh - around 3 years now and think I am close to cracking it. There are many many staircases in the library where I work, and 3 floors. So, there must be millions of combinations of ways I could complete the task. I have the secret method whereby I can cover all desks, bookcases, computer rooms etc in the shortest distance. If I had a pedometer I could prove it too!

Yes it's a sad life the librarian lives.

Anyway, back to the issue of temporary marriage in Iran. It really is a very interesting and contraversial subject. Google it if you want to know more.

And if you wish to answer the question 'What do you do?' feel free to comment (as long as it's not in Chinese with links to websites where the girls really could do with a sweater or two)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

So, what do you do?

I often blog about home education and more frequently about the dilemmas of parenting, staying at home with kids, bringing up boys, and maintaining some semblance of mental health and wellbeing. And of course about the chaos that any of the aforementioned subjects brings to my life.

But, today I was thinking about being a proper grown-up and what you do when you go to proper grown-up places. You know, like work meals and proper events that you can't avoid and where you get introduced to proper grown-up people.

Over the years I've observed these proper grown-up people at proper grown-up events and have noticed that the conversation mostly follows the same polite pattern (unless of course everyone is hideously drunk, in which case it wouldn't count as a proper grown-up event and my conclusions wouldn't apply).

One of the things I've noticed is that the first thing these proper grown-ups say after 'Hi' or 'Hello' or 'Nice to meet you' or 'I've heard so much about you' (very scary phrase)...the first thing they always say after these polite niceties is 'So, what do you do?'


So, what do you do?

This is the phrase to strike terror into every right-minded-stay-at-home-not-employed-as-anything-worthy-of-a-mention-and-certainly-nothing-with-a-salary-oh-god-why-did-you-have-to-ask-THAT-question-mother.

I never used to have a problem with this phrase. In the days when I was a student I could talk about my degree (or just buy the person questioning me more beer until they stopped asking and started talking about themselves...for hours) and in my grown-up working days bc (before children) just being in paid employment - as long as it wasn't in burger king or other fast food depot - counted as a valid passport into the world of grown-ups. The 'Oh I work for...' or 'Oh, I'm a ...' deserved the response 'Oh that must be interesting'. It never was (interesting), but at least you could fake it and in most cases, were expected to.

But now. Well.

So, what do you do?

Talking about home education is fine in certain circles. But, having to explain the whole
'No I'm not a teacher',
'Yes it's legal',
'No, he's only 8 so let's not worry about GCSE exams yet',
'Actually spending time with your kids is not as horrendous as it sounds',
'No I don't get inspected',
'No we're not weirdos',
'No I don't need permission to do it',
'No I'm not religious',
'Yes my children do speak to other children and are perfectly able to socialise',
'No I don't TEACH my children',
'No they are not missing out, well not on the best bits of life',
'Yes I'm sure they will be perfectly able to compete in the tough world of work without spending 14 years of their life being bullied and belittled, even though you swear it didn't do you any harm'

can get a tad wearing after a while, especially if the questions are being fired at you while you're trying to slide unnoticed through the grown-up people on the way to the toilets where you fully intended to wipe off the baby sick/playdough/3-day-old cereal/red felt-tip/warhammer paint from your one-and-only grown up item of clothing before anyone noticed.

And of course talking about home education is the perfect way to attract all those 'My little Jonny is doing SO well at school and just LOVES it, he REALLY does, in fact he was reading Shakespeare at the age of 18 months, so what do your children do?' grown-up people. GRaaAAGHH!

Saying 'I'm a mother' doesn't cut it either. I speak from experience. The usual comment (almost always from those who don't have children and don't ever want to come into contact with them) is 'Oh that must be almost a full-time job'/'Oh that must be a rewarding job' [at which point I want to smack the patronising pillocks in the face and prove how un-grown-up I am]. In the US you can get away with putting 'Mom' and 'rewarding' in the same sentence as long as somewhere in between is tearful poetic content. In England, the land of stiff-upper-lips, well, maybe it's just me, but I'm not using Mum and the 'r' (or the 'j') word in the same sentence until somebody starts paying me what I deserve as a parent. And trust me, they can't afford it.


what I really want to know dear blog readers


What do you do?