Friday, 24 October 2014

.... Aaaand breathe

So in Herts at least, half-term starts here.  Not that we are tied to school holidays in the sense that we learn when we want to, go out when we want to, rest when we want to etc - but we do have a week of no groups to go to: no craft club, swimming, science club, animation class, topic group etc, as all have stopped for half-term.  I still have my physio appointment, but otherwise we have a whole week free of planned events... bliss!  I have never known a season as hectic as this one since we started home educating, and I am really looking forward to the rest!  I love all the groups etc, but part of me feels like we have been too busy for me to enjoy learning at home with the boys, and I miss that.

Hence the "aaaand breathe".  Time for a break - time to slow down and just enjoy being together - and take stock of the groups - which ones are really helpful and/ or enjoyable, and ask if any have maybe run their course.  It is that season where the temptation to retreat to our den and hibernate is getting stronger - as temperatures outside decrease, so the desire to stay inside our warm house and just enjoy a cosy pace of learning increases.

Like today - Eldest went out to animation and then we all went to Science club and had fun (Middle particularly) experimenting with making "elephant's toothpaste".  But my favourite bit of the day?  It was this morning when, snuggled up with Mummy, Youngest completed his last ever Reading Eggs lesson, and earned a gold certificate.  Such a proud moment!  He was a little concerned that he had cheated on one stage (it wasn't a deliberate cheat, he just got carried away hitting enter, which unexpectedly seemed to over-ride that particular lesson), but I was able to reassure him and say that he deserved the 'Gold Cup' certificate because the "cheated" bit wasn't involved in the final test - and anyway, he had worked hard to understand all the lessons and is now a Very Good Reader.

My other favourite part of the day, Middle's squeals of delight at the expanding elephant's toothpaste notwithstanding, was the "Autumn" poem that Middle wrote (dictated to me) and then illustrated. Again, he was snuggled up to me while I typed... I'm spotting a theme here!  It was such a lovely cosy moment, capturing everything that he loves about the season... really special!

So I'm hoping that next half-term will be a slower, steadier pace, with perhaps less clubs (and hopefully less poorly hedgehogs - nine at one point in September was quite overwhelming), and more time to simply snuggle while we explore the world from our front room - I cherish those moments as they are the stuff that anchor our relationships and that happy memories are made of.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

When I'm Not Looking...

One of the most frustrating things about home education is when I don't have time to give each of the boys my full attention.  This season started off with positivity and energy - and a degree of structure/ planning. However life always has a way of interrupting our plans, and although we have kept up with Maths and English, we have been so busy with clubs, trips and events that we haven't had time for many of my other more academic suggestions for the term.

I can't complain: we've been to Duxford to learn how planes are built and discover more about aviation history (including seeing the plane that my lovely grandfather flew in in the war); we've been to watch robots do battle in a live show; we've been creative in our local pottery-painting shop; we've had fun competing to see how high we can launch alka-seltzer powered rockets, and used similar explosions to create works of art; we've learned how to make animations; we've used forensic science to solve a (fictional) crime, we've joined a group exploring the seven wonders of the universe on film; we've invented games using computer-coding and on paper; we've been to the cinema to explore ten pieces of classical music, and then enjoyed listening some more at home; we've played with good friends, and made new ones...

In short, we've been busy!

So why then have I felt so dissatisfied with our home education this past month?  Well, writing all that down helps me to see that actually the boys really are enjoying a rich and varied education - but I admit I had fallen into the trap of focusing on the plans that we weren't fulfilling, rather than looking at everything that WAS happening.

It's all about focus.  When I am focused on the boys and involved in what they are enjoying (and making notes in the diary), it is actually pretty easy to be satisfied.  But I was distracted by organising trips and all the various medical appointments we have going on at  present (including babysitters for whichever children aren't involved), let alone dealing with poorly hedgehogs... and then add to that the inescapable spectre of housework that is constantly threatening to spiral out of control - well, it felt like it didn't matter how much the boys were "doing", if I was so pre-occupied that I didn't see it.

They hadn't stopped learning, of course - they were just doing it while I wasn't looking!  A nice little example of this that helped me to get things back into perspective was a few weeks ago in the boys' swimming lesson.  We had done lots of swimming over the summer holidays, and when we got back to "lessons", Middle had made real progress, to the point where he was moved out of 'Beginners' and up into the next group.  He was thrilled, Mummy was bursting with pride - it was just lovely!  Of course, that meant that I now had three groups to try to watch simultaneously - which meant that I wasn't watching the beginners class as much as I had been.  At one point I turned my gaze back from the middle pool to the beginners pool to try to spot Youngest, and briefly wondered "who's that small child swimming so beautifully in the youngest group?"  It is no word of a lie to say that I did a genuine double-take as I realised it was Youngest! (Cue even more Mummy-pride, right there!)  While I wasn't looking he had just taken off and decided he could swim.  And although it's tempting to feel sad that I missed the precise "first step" moment, I just choose to be grateful for the privilege of being part of it

You see, I have to give myself permission not to be involved with every single moment, especially as they get older.  Even if I was only responsible for the education of one child, it would be unrealistic to expect that I would be intimately involved every step of the way - and I have three who share my focus (as well as the house, hedgehogs, other responsibilities).  I want to raise independent children, so I need not be surprised when they are feeling empowered to just go ahead and learn something new.  They have my blessing to forge their way forward - it is a privilege to be as involved as I am, but this season has reminded me that although the boys' education is legally my responsibility, it actually belongs to them.  I can not control it, and to try to do so only brings frustration.  When they are learning independently I have actually done better at my job than if they continuously relied on me to tell them what to study

Which brings me to today's "lesson".  Lesson for Mummy, that is - in backing off.  Eldest was due to do some English.  He has gone off workbooks lately, and I am not forcing the issue as I figure there will be plenty of time for that style of study when it comes to exams.  So he's been reading, writing stories etc - enjoying his trademark surreal self-expression.  Today I had to do something else with Middle and Youngest, so I asked him what he'd like to do: workbook, Shakespeare cartoon, write a poem, carry on with his story, read a book etc.  He chose poetry.  I said in that case I would like him to read a few poems to get into the zone.  He said (twice, as I was a bit slow on the uptake) that he didn't need to - he already knew what he wanted to write.  I said OK but I would like to see something a bit longer than just a few lines of rhyme.  He nodded at me ultra-patiently and went to find paper and pencil.  It wasn't long before he came back, telling his brothers to come and sit down, close their eyes and imagine what he was talking about.  Clearly he had already been in the zone as soon as he chose to write a poem and I had just been a distraction.  I absolutely love his poem, and I am learning to love what my boys can do when I'm not looking...

"Nature", by Eldest

As I gaze across the hills
I see the wind rushing past
turning this way and that,
grabbing any leaves in its path
as if it was filled with some enchanted power.

I see rabbits jumping past helping the little babies learn.
I see the tall tree standing firm, swaying gently in the breeze.
I see bees flying by collecting nectar for the hive from a nearby meadow.
I see clouds flying past in many different forms.

I hear the tune from a bird chirping in the morning air.
I hear the chattering from a squirrel gnawing on an acorn.
I hear the croaking from a frog in a nearby lake.

I see some deer walking past and hear them talking to each other and I wonder what they're saying.
One thing's for sure - this is the place for me.