Saturday, 7 January 2017

Hello 2017

Bliadhna Mhath √ôr, Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, and Happy New Year (that's Gaelic, Welsh and of course English, yes I am still in love with Outlander and I am half welsh)

I hope you are all entering the new year filled with hope for the fabulous wonders that 2017 may bring.

I am entering the year with slight trepidation.  I have honestly had such a wonderful year in 2016, it feels like it's hard to beat.  What if 2017 doesn't live up to it and is a huge disappointment? How can anything be better than 2016!

I know I need to shift this thinking to one of expectation of a fantastic year ahead.  To get my mind in the right place I am doing the Leonie Dawson Shining Life Workbooks again.  I loved them so much last year and they have really helped me to achieve a lot of my goals in 2016. I didn't achieve every goal, but I did achieve lots and I am so pleased about that, some were big (run a Gentle Parenting Retreat) and some were small (do a puzzle) and I know that writing them down, reviewing them and scheduling really helped me to achieve them.

I was so excited to get my workbooks in the post a few days ago that  I made a little video about them:


(That's my little boy chattering away in the background!  I feel bad watching back that I don't acknowledge him, I was just concentrating so hard on what I was saying for the video!!!)

A few years ago the way I set goals for the year ahead was so different from how I do it now. I wrote down ways in which I wanted my life to change but put no thought to planning how I would make them a reality.  The goals were not specific or measurable so not only did I not really know what the goal was, but I had no way of tracking how well I was doing or how near or far away I was from achieving my goal.  

I wasn't convinced by the workbooks when my friend Vicki introduced them to me a few years ago but she persuaded me to get on board and I am so glad that I did because they have totally transformed how I set goals and plan the year ahead.

What I didn't really explain in the video is how these books are so effective, particularly the life book.
To begin with reviewing the previous year is so important, it allows you to realise and think about what went well and what didn't so you can accept it and move onto the next year free from guilt and free from trying to drag unfinished business into the new year. 

In the next part of the book you begin to think about what you want from the year ahead, how you want to feel, what you want to achieve. It allows you to really dig deep and think about how you want the year ahead to look. 

Of course last year had it's ups and downs, there were parts that were really really hard, but knowing how much I achieved makes me feel so joyful and positive about the year ahead.  We can achieve so much, us mothers, and it's so important that we make time for our own goals, our own dreams.  It can be so easy to let that little light inside of us dim as we stoke the fires in our children, but we need that spark inside to glow and grow not just for our own well being and sanity but for the sake of those around us as well; because when we are the best versions of ourselves we can nurture others better as well. 

I would really encourage you do set some goals for the year ahead, break them down into steps then schedule them into your week so they become achievable. Maybe you like the look of the Shining life workbooks, if you do, then please click my affiliate link below.  (Leonie Dawson gives all her affiliates a little bit of money for every sale made through the link.)  

I wish you all a wonderful year ahead and hope you achieve everything you set your mind to.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Home Ed update

Since September we have been officially (unofficially) home educating out eldest son. Officially because he would have started school in September had that been our choice, unofficially because technically he doesn't have to start school until the term following his 5th birthday.

All my friends and family have been incredibly supportive of our choice to home educate (thank you all of you), most people say that they think it's great but not something they themselves could take on.  I think I have explained to most of my friends and family who are interested how home education works but when I meet new people and they find out that we are home educating they naturally ask questions, and in so doing reveal the many myths that surround home ed, which I duly demolish.
Here is a rundown of the top myths/questions and comments I hear and my response:

So you are getting visits from the local authority?
No, actually there is no legal obligation for home educators to receive visits from the local authority.  Some people find it helpful but it's not a requirement. Often the local authority want to visit to check that you are providing an education suitable to your children's age, ability and aptitude, but in my opinion I don't need to be checked on this by the Local Authority any more than I need the police to come round to check that I am not committing a crime. If you decide to have visits from the Local Authority (LA) then it's useful to remember you don't have to meet in your home, you could meet in a library for example. If the LA ask to visit us by letter I will respond to them (by letter) by outlining some of our home ed intentions and decline the offer of a visit. I recently read a really great home ed philosophy written by Ross Mountney in her book "A Funny Kind of Education":

"We plan for the education to be centered around their needs, for the most part autonomous, deriving from their own interests and daily pursuits, at times democratic, where their learning is shared, helped, broadened and encouraged by our parental input.  Our aim is for happy, self motivated  children who take pleasure in learning.  We hope to provide a stimulating environment in which they may do this, both in the home with materials, books, television, computers and in the community and further afield with trips to libraries, visits to places of interest, field trips and activities which encourage interest and curiosity about their daily lives and environment, all of which are sources of learning and educational opportunity.
We see learning as an integral part of our children's daily lives and not separate from it or segregated into subjects.  Therefore it is not timetabled or structured; this would be unnecessarily inhibiting.  It may take place from the minute their wake up to the  minute they sleep, over meal times, social times, unusual times, any time, by discussions and questioning, conversations, investigations and research, not necessarily normal in procedure.  We see it therefore as mostly spontaneous and unplanned.  Thus we can take advantage of the purest receptive moments when learning potential is at its peak.
We are quite confident that contact with family, friends, social event, clubs and activities of this nature provide our children with plenty of social interaction."

I would probably use a statement similar to this to describe our home ed intentions.

But you have to tell them you're home educating don't you?
Actually no.  So long as I am fulfilling my responsibilities to provide an education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude I need do nothing more.  As above, the Local Authority would like to have a list of all the children being home educated because they have concerns that any children not in state or private education are being hidden away for some nasty reason.  Again, as above I don't need the LA checking up on me any more than I need the police checking up on me (I can't see the population as a whole agreeing to be checked on by the police to make sure they aren't committing a crime can you?)  We aren't hiding away or doing anything nasty, so unless the LA has reason to believe we are doing something amiss they have no reason to put us on a list or pay us a visit.  The onus is on them to prove we AREN'T providing an education, not on us that we are. Therefore they have to have a good reason to believe we aren't providing an education in order to make a visit to check that we are.

Oh but you used to be a teacher so that's ok, I wouldn't know enough to teach my children.
Well yes this is true, but to be honest being a Secondary School Art and Design teacher doesn't help me all that much in teaching literacy and numeracy.  Also lets not forget that the teachers in school learnt what they needed to teach the children, so we too as parents are quite capable to learning what the children need to learn, In fact learning alongside my children has been really exciting.  And here's another thing, we all managed just fine to teach our children everything they needed to know before they reached school age so I see no reason to believe we can't teach them the school stuff too.  Teachers aren't taught all about Anne Frank or Florence Nightingale or how volcanoes work or metamorphosis, they learn it as they have to teach it. As home educators we are facilitators of learning not jugs of knowledge than need to be decanted in to the little brains of our children. We help them to learn by providing the resources, environment, information etc that they need.
I also want to mention at this point that I know not everyone wants to home educated their children.  Just because I am doesn't mean I think you should.  I am not anti school, I think there is most definitely a place for it in our society, it's just not a good fit for our family at the moment.

Do you have to follow a curriculum?
No you don't.  You don't have to follow any curriculum or you can follow one if you want to, the National Curriculum or any of the other free curriculum online, or the many you can pay for.  We are choosing to loosely follow the National Curriculum because, if for any reason we feel it would be right for our family for any of our children to go into school I would like them to have equivalent understanding to the other children in their year group.

But don't the Local Authority send you the Curriculum and everything you need to teach at home?
No they don't.  As far as I know they don't send you anything (possibly a link to the National Curriculum online at the most)  Which is another reason why I feel no need to have the Local Authority involvement in our Home Education.  It should be a two way relationship and as far as I can see it is more about proving to the LA that we are doing enough than them providing support and help.  I don't need their assessment, as it is of no value to me and my children.

But what about socialisation?
This is the question I am asked most often.  We socialise nearly everyday (probably a bit too much actually) We go to groups, meet with friends at their houses and have them at ours, we see our families and we socialise with members of the public at playgrounds, shops, church, National Trust Houses etc etc etc.
The funny thing about this question is that, as a pupil I was always led to believe that at school I was "here to learn not socialise".  Ironic really.

So you've had to sign a register then?
As above, no there is no requirement to be on a register.  If your child has already been in school and is then withdrawn then they will be known to the Local Authority, if they have never been in school or Preschool then they won't be known to the local authority and won't be on a register.  A register of home educated children in the thin en of the wedge in my opinion.  You start with a register, then they insist on visits, then there are boxes which need to be ticked and with boxes come requirements, and there begins a process of enforced curriculums, visits, examinations etc etc.  No no we don't have to sign a register and I would not be in support of any kind of Home Education register.  I am aware that people feel that there should be one for child protection issues and I would like to remind those people that all the children who have been involved in high profile child protection issues in the media were already known to the local authority. We are no more a threat to children by home educating them than anyone else in school.  I also resent the implication that by choosing to home educate we must be doing something nasty that our children need protection from.  I heard on the radio the other day that the equivalent of one girl PER DAY is raped IN SCHOOL!!  So please, spare me the child protection concerns and concentrate on those children who are being abused on a daily basis actually in school!

What will you do when they have to take exams?
Well we don't HAVE to take exams.  There are many careers which do not require exams for you to be successful in them.

But what if they want to go to University?
Not all Universities require you to have previous qualifications particularly if you go to University after the age of 25.  However we are still able to take exams as and when we choose (i.e. we could do two or three GCSEs a year for 4 years rather than 10 in one year as in school)  we just need to find a Centre which will take us on as an external candidate (which I am led to believe is not difficult)  The only downside is that we would have to pay for the exams, although some Local Authorities will help Home Educators with these fees.

I don't know how you get your children to listen to you, they only listen to their teacher and wouldn't sit still for me.
My children don't know any different than me being their facilitator of their learning.  They don't see it as a teacher being someone who teaches them stuff and I am this other person that gives them food and takes them places.  Some children who have previously been in school can find it difficult to adjust to the change in relationship with their parents, there is a different dynamic between them, but it is my view that this can easily be altered by a period of de-schooling and with the provision of lots of interesting learning opportunities.

Aren't you worried they'll turn our weird?
No I am not.  My hope is that they will turn out with their love of learning in tact (children are wired to learn from birth), celebrating their individuality not hiding it, (Boris loves pink, My Little Pony and doesn't see any difference between boys and girls, I wonder how long that would last in school?), their energy and enthusiasm enhanced, a good ability to socialise with people of all ages, an understanding that creativity is more important than knowledge.  I hope that my children will question and challenge the status quo, stand out, not blend in, know that they can make a difference in the world, have the potential to lead the revolution, and above all know that experiencing and showing love and kindness are the most important lessons we can learn in life.

(A painting I did recently for a friend)

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Revelations en France

Yesterday I returned from a week’s holiday in France with my husband and our boys.  There are many things that are really great about going on holiday, here are a few:

Having my husband to help me.  My poor hubby works in London so has a long commute to work and back every day, I am thankful that he is around in the evenings and at weekends and am well aware that many mothers don’t even have this, but to have him there 24/7 to help is really great.  (I also quite like him, you know, so it's nice having him around!)

Having only a few possessions with us.  I love this part of being on holiday, it always reminds me of how little I need to get by, be happy, have a good time.  I took a few luxuries with me like my Kindle for reading, my laptop so I could catch up on some writing, my journal, a hair dryer, that sort of thing, but not having to look around my house thinking about everything that needs doing, and not having so much stuff to tidy away daily provides such a break and a rest.

A change of scenery.  Being in a different place is great because you get to see different sights every day, being at home, although we get out and about a lot, it is often to the same places week in and week out, and seeing different types of buildings and streets, flora and fauna is really exciting.

Being more relaxed about what we eat.  We usually eat pretty healthily and I make about 80% of our meals from scratch but on holiday I excuse myself from this (although I like to eat healthy food, I do not particularly enjoy cooking it) and use frozen and easy to cook food when we are on holiday.

Sitting in the car.  As sad as It sounds this is probably one of my favourite things about being on holiday, we travel by car to visit different places, usually by the scenic route to enjoy the views and I get to read my book, the babies sleep and I can enjoy looking out of the window at the different sights, I find this most relaxing.

Enjoying my children more.  Although I am with them all week, they are often off playing in playgrounds, playing with friends in their bedrooms or taking part in activities, but on holiday there is a much more intensive closeness because we are doing things for them and with them.  So for example walking round a museum requires much more of our attention in stopping them running off/climbing on the exhibits/getting they to focus on something and we therefore get to experience them more.  I realise I am not selling this so far, it is hard work, but the things they come out with that I might otherwise miss, or might not be said are brilliant, (Biscuit said one evening “When I am older I am going to get a motorbike, then I will be the best man in the world, like Jesus!”) seeing them achieve new things (Boris went down the water slide in the swimming pool for the first time, he was really brave, he was scared, I could see by his face, but he did it anyway and I felt so proud) and watching them play together is priceless.  We also didn’t have TV or internet connection so were far less distracted than we would be normally.


I am sooo glad to be home.  Begin away makes you realise the things you miss doesn’t it, and it’s make me immensely thankful for some things that I haven’t really considered before. Here are some things I am newly thankful for:

Speaking English as a first language.  How lucky am I that I speak English??  It’s spoken in so many places around the world, and although I do make attempts to speak the language of the countries I am lucky enough to visit, I am not great at it and we can often ask “parlez vous Anglais?” and continue an otherwise disjointed and confused conversation in my native tongue.

Being born in the UK.  I am so thankful for being born in the UK, it has given me so many opportunities that people from other countries might not have had, we are so lucky to live in the UK with so much freedom and relative safety.  Also being able to speak the language of the people who are native to the country is so wonderful and I have renewed sympathy for people who have moved here and are not yet able to speak the language.

Access to lots of delicious vegan food. The French are great at food, but they aren’t great at vegan food!! And by vegan food I am talking about processed food because the fruits vegetables here are really great, fresh, tasty, huge variety, seasonal and without all the packaging you are encumbered with in the UK.  However if you are after a Linda McCartney sausage, and tin of baked beans, a carton of oat milk or some dairy free cheese you will be out of luck.   There is a growing variety of convenient vegan food in the UK which is so liberating and exciting.

Having a sofa to sit on.  We have spent this week in a static caravan and there is no sofa, just a bench round a table with a soft-ish pad of it.  I miss my sofa, it’s big and squashy and soft and fluffy and I love it and I am so happy to be back snuggled up on it with a big cup of tea (only small cups here, sad times). I realise that being able to afford a holiday at all is the height of luxury relatively speaking so I am well aware how ungrateful it sounds to be complaining about a lack of sofa, but you know #firstworldproblems.

So yeah, we had a great time, but I really am glad to be home. Now where’s my cup of tea?

We got caught in a downpour one day, Boris gave me two giant leaves to cover myself and Nut!