Into the unknown…again!

It was almost exactly a year ago that we had just sold Pinafore, our floating home of the last 2 and a half years (making just enough money for a rental deposit), and were housesitting for friends in Brighton with a van full of belongings,  no furniture and the knowledge that Dan was starting a job in Exeter in March.

If you rewind four years you find us selling or giving away all our worldly possessions, fitting ourselves onto a 31ft sailing boat and about to move to a city where we knew no one.

Fast forward to now and Dan is starting a new (and very very different) job in a week, I am doing doula training in March and we are currently househunting and yoyo-ing between whether we should stay in Topsham or opt for somewhere more rural.

I’m starting to think the rumours of gypsy blood in the Watson family are true! (I don’t know what Dan’s excuse is) We seem to be incapable of staying in one place, one situation, one life, for too long. To be fair, this time we’re aiming for minimal disruption (for the kids mainly) but itchy feet we definitely have.

I have no idea what the longer implications of this for our family are or if it’ll wear off or if maybe we should just convert a bus and live in that! What I do know is that we seem to thrive on change and excitement. I can’t imagine our life in 5 years and tell you what it holds and I quite like that.

The one thing that is constant is our trust in God. We believe he’s got a plan for us and has our best interests in hand.

So although I have minor panics about where we’re going to live, how Dan’s new job will pan out in reality, whether me working as a doula is going to be compatible with our life…I know that in the end it’s all going to be alright.

And in the meantime,  we’ve got to maintain normality and get to just enjoy life, as it is, in this moment. Today that meant joining my parents for a play on Shaldon Beach and lunch to celebrate Mum’s birthday. We had a lovely time. Happy Birthday Ma if you’re reading this-love you!

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Two!

I couldn’t let the weekend slip away without pausing to savour the magic of a small birthday just for a moment longer.

Our gorgeous little man was two yesterday!  A group of friends and family kindly indulged me and we spent a very cold and wet morning at Haldon Forest doing the stickman trail (inspired by the Julia Donaldson book). We warmed up with hot drinks,  chips and a train birthday cake (not quite as successful in my mind as Sophia’s rainbow cake but equally well received) before heading home to chill and play with lots of new things!
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It was such a lovely day and I think Isaac enjoyed himself as he’s been singing happy birthday and muttering about cake all day today!

I can’t believe he’s 2 already.  He really is turning into a little boy in front of our eyes. He’s mellowed out after a rather manic first year although has recently started some spectacular tantrums but evens this out by just radiating cuteness!

Although he loves a bit of rough play he’s generally very sensitive,  gentle and a kind thoughtful little peeson. He’s a joker though,  loves to laugh and to make us laugh. He’s eager to be involved in everything (much to Sophia’s annoyance sometimes) and is a real delight to be around. He is such a blessing in our lives and just a real joy.

We love you so much little man. Happy Birthday (for yesterday! )

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Home Education: the 411

A lot of people have been asking me questions recently about the in’s and out’s and how’s and why’s of home education and I realised that unless you already know people who are home educating, it must be a totally foreign concept. So, I thought I’d write a post just to explain it a bit more and our motivation behind choosing this option for our children’s education.

Firstly, is it legal? Well the answer to that is obviously yes or there wouldn’t be so many people in the UK taking this road. HomeEducation.org estimated that in 2012 60,000 UK children of compulsory school age were being home educated, that amounts to about 0.6% so a significant minority. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 which applies to England and Wales state that it is the duty of parents to secure an education for their children which

‘shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable-

a: to his age, ability and aptitude, and

b: to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.’

Home educating is covered under the ‘otherwise’ option. To this end, what you choose to teach your child is up to your assessment of what is suitable for your child and what you would like to explore with them. Your local education authority may ask to visit you annually but it isn’t a mandatory requirement. Some families accept the visit (and may find it encouraging to receive feedback), some opt out but send an annual report of their child’s progress instead and some decline to do either. You do not have to follow a set curriculum and your children don’t have to do GCSE’s when they reach that age although some families choose to do one or both of these.  The world is really your oyster.

The way that home educating families ‘do’ school is incredibly varied and ranges from those that practice unschooling or an autonomous approach and believe in child-led education with parental encouragement and access to a wide range of resources to those that do ‘school at home’ with a bought curriculum and a timetabled day.  From the many families we’ve encountered in the last few years I think it’s fair to say that most fall somewhere between those two extremes in accordance with what works best for their families. A lot of families are influenced by people like Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, Rudolph Steiner and John Holt and their respective (and very different!) theories and approaches to education. It’s a wide and interesting world to explore! I also think that it’s not too broad a statement to make to say that a large majority of families choose to delay any formal learning until their children are 6/7 and keep the emphasis on learning through play until that age.

So why do people choose to home educate and not send their children to school? Again, the answers to this are varied and differ depending on every family and their circumstance. Some parents believe that children start school too early in the UK and so opt out of at least the first few years, some withdraw their children from school after problems with bullying, some do so because their child has asked to, some think their child will struggle from either being too far ahead or behind of their peers and some parents simply want to take charge of their child’s education and share that experience as a family.

And the big one that always gets asked, how do you manage the ‘social’ side of things (or lack of it as the question implies)? The majority of home educated children that I’ve met have been articulate, confident and enjoy spending time with people.  In most areas of the UK you can find home education groups where children can meet up with friends and parents can chat and share ideas and there are a wealth of ‘extra curricular’ after school activities that children can get involved in from dancing or sports teams to french classes or chess club. Rather than spending every day with 30 other children the same age as them, children who are educated at home are likely to have a wide exposure to children and adults of all ages and from all walks of life. It is often observed that home educated children get on better with a larger age range of children and are more confident with adults. A brief overview of some research related to this issue can be found here. I really think question is almost a non starter.

So why did Dan and I choose to educate the children at home? I think there isn’t one clear cut answer for us. I think that 4 is so young to be starting school and that is a driving factor for me to at least delay starting school for a few years, even if we don’t home educate for the long term. A lot of European countries don’t start school until 5 or 6 and research seems to show that this is better for the success both academically and emotionally of children. We also want to have the freedom for Sophia and Isaac to learn at their own pace, rather than having to keep up with something they aren’t ready to do yet or be bored by having to sit through lessons designed to teach them things they already know.

Aside from the three r’s (reading, [w]riting, [a]rithmetic) the national curriculum is both fairly arbitrary and also constantly changing. For example, there is no way one can study the entire world’s history as a child so why do certain moments or era’s deserve our attention more than others? Why do we study one style of art but not a certain type of music? By educating the children at home we’re hoping to be able to follow their interests and expand from there into different subjects that apply. One example that I think is great is that a child’s love of trains can result in a project that could include the mechanics of trains, mathematics regarding movement and speed, the history of trains and literature that includes trains! Subjects don’t have to be taught individually, they can all cross over and become intertwined.

Lastly, we’ve chosen to home educate as we’d like to continue the learning that is already done in the early years. I love spending time with them and watching them grow and we are loving the fact that we will  be able to explore and pursue passions and interests with them and actively participate in their educational journey.

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I hope that this post might have been of some use or interest to people and if anyone has any thoughts they’d like to add or questions to ask, I’d love to hear from you!

The Bright Side

Today I am mostly angry and quickly realising how easy it is to ‘do’ parenting right when things are going well. When every other area of my life is going swimmingly I am excellent at spending quality time indulging the kids at play, diffusing tantrums and quarrels without snapping and being fully engaged in my job of educating and raising them to the best of my ability. But if something else is veering off course, my patience quickly disappears and I just want to shut myself in the bathroom.

Today I am angry at our landlady. I’m angry that we are being rushed into moving by a fairly arbitrary and unnecessary eviction notice (she could have just chosen not to renew our contract as the dates for that and her notice coincide). I’m angry because although we were going to move this year anyway it wasn’t going to be now when our resources (both financial and time) are so limited. I’m angry at myself for being so disappointed that our application wasn’t chosen for what would have been (we thought) the perfect house for us. I’m angry that the right house that fits all our specifications doesn’t seem to exist. I’m angry that my bad mood has seeped out and is affecting the kids. Sigh.

But they say that a problem shared is a problem halved and as I tap away I’m feeling less angry and more just weary. I’m also realising how self indulgent my anger today has been. At the end of the day, we will always have a roof over our heads and food in our kitchen regardless of what house we live in. We have money coming in, freedom of expression and have good health. Most importantly we have each other. I know it’s all relative but usually I err on the side of seizing the positive and think that’s definitely what I need to do to pull myself out of this funk. A verse I keep coming back to is from Jeremiah 29:11 ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare, not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ I find it so comforting to remember and links in nicely with the age old ‘what will be, will be.’

We were just getting the kids into the bath when Sophia announced ‘no accidents today! Hurrah!’ Might not sound like much but an achievement for my forgetful, easily distractable girl. A moment to share her jubilation, one I could have easily missed but that brings her a sense of pride. The key is definitely (for me anyway) to keep rejoicing in those little moments. Those moments occur in their droves when around children and on their own might not seem like much but accumulated are enough to beat the blues.

I haven’t read many parenting books and Dan and I tend to just parent by instinct and roll with the punches. But one of the few things I have read that stuck with me was a guy talking about working out the motivation behind less than desirable behaviour. He posited that it usually came down to childish immaturity or wilful disobedience. The latter might require correction or discipline (positive and gentle in our household) but the former needs our patience, grace, love and maybe an occasional quiet kind word or reminder.

They aren’t trying to annoy us when they spill their drink for the third time that day, they aren’t being vindictive when they traipse mud through the house and they’re not trying to tire us out when they wake screaming from a nightmare and can’t calm down. They are just being kids. This is something I need to remind myself of daily, sometimes hourly! If I snap every time they inconvenience me I’m going to squash their bright, loving spirits. I need to gently guide them, encourage them and build them up. They are so eager to please and desperate to join in. I don’t want that fire stamped out by my grumpy adult impatience and particularities.

So having morphed from angry and ranting to being annoyingly optimistic in the space of 1000 words (give or take), I might as well end with the lyrics immortalised in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, altogether now…

Always look on the bright side of life …

(You’ll be humming it all day now!)

The Best Laid Plans…

…gang aft agley.

But nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about our plans for the education side of life this year. I remember at the beginning of last year vaguely thinking about what we’d like to achieve and then being pleasantly surprised recently when I realised that we’d pretty much done everything I’d hoped to but without any timetable or direct sit down ‘learning’. I had wanted Sophia to get a better grasp of the alphabet, to approach reading if she was ready and to practise handwriting. I’d also hoped we could start exploring time, the seasons and days/months. This year she pretty much taught herself to read, there was some help and guidance from me but it was most definitely driven by herself. For her 4th birthday she got a oxford reading tree first readers book (by Julia Donaldson who we love!) and she’s having lots of fun attempting to read the stories to me (and has successfully read the first 4). She has got a real grasp on the concept of time and seasons and to my surprise has started doing simple addition and subtraction. The joy of learning through play! She just casually told me one day that if a train had 3 wheels on one side and 3 on the other it had 6 altogether. From there we played games where I had x cakes and then gave one to her and how many were left and so on. We’ve discussed life cycles a lot, from acorn to oak tree, frogspawn to frog, caterpillar to butterfly. We’ve had conversations about the movement of water and she’s talked a lot about the earth moving round the sun and how the sun rises on the other side of the world to us when it is her bedtime. She really noticed stars for the first time and was absolutely awestruck by them as well as amused that they were just round ‘not like the shape they are in pictures’. Really, it’s been a year full of discovery. 

What I’ve loved is how much has been learnt simply through questions and conversations we’ve had. I find it really reassuring that there isn’t one formula for successful education and that are so many approaches, depending on what suits your child. Given that I’m a big talker and Dan’s a big thinker I guess it was only natural that Sophia would want to think about a lot of things but to explore them through incessant chatter.

I haven’t looked at the key stage ‘goals’ for her age as although she is 4, she doesn’t technically have to be in full time education until she’s 5 so I didn’t want to look and then get stressed if I thought we weren’t at the right stage. I’d much rather continue as we are with the emphasis on learning through play (which has been in the media a lot recently as they’ve been discussing the school starting age and our approach to early years education) and then evaluate this time next year when she has turned 5. Having said that, the childminders she sees on a Monday at Pebble House are always full of praise for her which is lovely to hear and good to dispel any worries!

Having said all that, Sophia does like the idea of ‘doing school’ so we have started a simple routine at the start of our day which she has been enjoying. I noticed that although she can write every letter of the alphabet, like a lot of small children, she was getting some mixed up with others and some the wrong way round. So we are currently practicing a letter a day so I can show her the correct or easiest way for her to draw letters to ensure she can write them correctly. I figured it was something she enjoys and it was good to nip any bad writing habits in the bud. After we’ve practiced writing the letter several time she’s been coming up with some words that start with that letter and sounding them out then writing them down. We’ve finished the half hour by her getting one of her early readers to read me and Isaac a story or two. The whole thing only takes 30-40 minutes but it’s a good start to the day and makes us all feel productive! Once I’ve researched a bit more about how I can use cuisinaire rods I think I’m going to add in an invitation to play with them once or twice a week as well.

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This year we will also continue her scrapbook that we started in September. Whenever we go on a home ed outing or special trip, we’ve been sticking some photos in and writing a little bit about what we did. It’s good handwriting practice for her and good practice to recall what she’s been doing to reinforce what we learnt/experienced. It’s also a good way for us to keep a record of what we’ve been up to for when I have those moments where I think ‘oh my goodness, we’ve done NOTHING useful for weeks’!

Alongside these we will just carry on as we have been. Sophia is still adamant she’ll be a chef when she grows up so we do lot of baking and cooking together. Isaac helped us for the first time just before Christmas and now wants to ‘mixy mix’ every time I’m in the kitchen with a bowl and spoon so I have two willing helpers now. They both love to do crafty activities and play board games. We experienced water beads courtesy of our lovely friend for the first time recently which was a hit and soundtracks, a fishing game and frustration are the favoured games of the moment. Soundtracks should get a special mention, Mum got it for them after remembering us playing it as children. You each have a board with 9 pictures on and then you play a CD with various sounds and you have to match the sound (e.g. fireworks, cat mewing, someone playing piano) to the pictures on your board. It’s so simple but they both love it. Isaac’s also been working on his hand eye coordination and fine motor skills (not that he knows it!) by getting thoroughly stuck into a box of brio trains and track which are on long term loan to us from one of my oldest friends. And I finally got Sophia out on her bike without stabilisers and she was going in no time – all the practice on the balance bike paid off, it was amazing! Unfortunately though, it’s temporarily out of action as I need to take it to a bike shop/ friend with lots of bike experience. But hopefully we’ll be out on it again, a lot, soon!

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My only other definite plan for the year is to make a model of the solar system (a good friend linked me to an amazing one which  I can’t find now but will!) to further explore that with Sophia while she’s so interested in it but I’m sure that many more things will crop up along the way for us to explore and create.

I was finding it tough in the weeks leading up to Christmas with the smauls and starting to doubt myself. They were both being quite full on as Isaac was cutting 4 teeth at once and Sophia was ridiculously overexcited at the combination of her birthday, Christmas and family and friends visiting. This meant they were both prone to silly tantrums, screaming and lots of crying. I felt touched out and a little trapped. I was talking to a friend about the new Steiner Academy in Exeter and despite my previous negative experience of a Steiner school I was intrigued. Apparently they are open to the idea of flexi schooling and I love their emphasis on nature, the arts and the gentle start to formal education. I was planning on going to their open day to look round and I think I will do that but not with a mind for them to go quite yet (Isaac of course, can’t anyway). But I’d like to know if the option of flexi schooling is open to us in years to come. A Dutch friend of mine reminded me how lucky we are in the UK that home educating your children isn’t controlled in terms of restraint or restrictions from authorities and that it doesn’t have to be forever. It was a timely reminder. Home education is what we are doing now and as far as I can foresee, will be doing for a good few years to come. But it doesn’t mean we’ll do it for all of their school years. I just need to focus on the here and now, for that is where I’m needed.

 

A Year in Review

Happy New Year people of the internet!

I can’t believe it’s 2014 already, so much has happened in the last 12 months. We moved off our floating home, not only onto land but 200 miles west to the lovely Devon. The kids have changed so much but especially Isaac, that leap from 1-2 is just magic to watch. And most recently Dan has succeeded in getting a new job which will be a complete career change and I’ve booked onto a doula training course to hopefully become a doula.

I’ve recorded a lot of what’s gone on in our lives here but not as much as I’d like. Especially recently, we’ve been on 2 home education trips to the farm and visited the zoo for Sophia’s birthday which haven’t reached this blog and I didn’t even post properly about her birthday. But such is life with 2 little ones in tow and a handmade Christmas to organise!

This time last year I didn’t know what to expect and was very nervous about our plans but I think I can safely say, it was a good decision for us. Of course we still really miss our friends from Brighton and I’m so chuffed that we are able to see them as often as we have this year and long may that continue but Devon has got our hearts. The quality of life down here feels better, the moors and numerous beautiful beaches are within 30 minutes, the home education community seems fuller and more active, the pace of life is slower and feels more genuine, more real. And the fact that we get to see my family more often and the kids are building a lovely close relationship with them is a massive added bonus.

Highlights from this year include wild swimming on Dartmoor during the heatwave, a late evening trip to the beach and swim during the same time, camping in Dorset in our new bell tent, playing several gigs in and around Topsham over the summer, having good friends coming to stay, visiting Brighton, reconnecting with one of my oldest friends who lives down here, seeing her more regularly and the incredible night that was her second album launch show (shameless plug…check out Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin here) and my amazing weekend away to Big Sky Retreat with Dan for our 5th wedding anniversary whilst my lovely parents had the kids.

So, what does 2014 hold for us?

Another move is on the cards as Dan’s new job is work from home so we need (would like) a 3 bed so he can have an office and not work from our bedroom. This time it won’t be far, we’d like to stay near Exeter though we are aiming for a village, rural or coastal location and a large garden. I’m enjoying that there is no rush to move this time so we can really take our time and choose wisely rather than doing our usual trick of rushing in feet first and moving in before realising there’s a gaping hole in the roof or no hot water (ok, ok…so it’s never been that bad but we do have a habit of choosing houses, usually won over by some eccentricity or cuteness, before realising it’s probably not the best choice). We’re also hoping to reduce our rent so we can actually save some money rather than using all our hard earned money to pay someone else’s mortgage off! So possibly a tall order but we shall see.

I’ll be hopefully attending the nurturing birth doula training course in Crowborough in March which I am very much looking forward to. I’ve wanted to do it for the best part of 2 years but had various niggles or constraints stopping me but I think I’ve covered as much as I can in preparing and deciding whether it is compatible with home education and Dan’s new job and the only way to really find out now is to get on and do it. I’m aware that a lot of people haven’t heard of doula’s and I will write a proper post about what they do and what has led me to wanting to become one but for now, you can find some information here if you’re interested.

In terms of the children, I want to make some time every day for a little Bible study with Sophia as I was given a lovely daily reading book for children so we did the first one today which was well received. Let’s see if we can stay on task! I also want to sit down and do a bit more ‘educational’ things with her this year than I have been recently (but I’ll do another post on our home education goals so I’ve got it saved and recorded somewhere in case I need to look back later in the year) and I want to facilitate more play for Isaac. Basically, I want to switch off from everything else that my head is telling me to do and make sure I spend a good amount of time really engaging with them and their wonderful little worlds.

Finally, Dan and I have decided to really try and live a more healthy lifestyle. We want to eat better, exercise more and be a bit (ok a lot) more regular with our ‘quiet time’ (bible reading and praying together). I think we’d also both like to try and be more musically active. I’d also like to be a bit more consistent with growing things. After an active spring and summer, I never got going with planting in the autumn so I want to try and be an all year gardener, not a fair weather one. Though, knowing we’re moving makes me reluctant to do too much with the garden here. I should at least tidy the beds and maybe plant some flowers – I’ll aim for that in the next few weeks!

Other than that, 2014 for us is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The only way to see what is going to happen is to be in it, to live it.

So I wish you all dear readers, a most blessed and exciting 2014. May it be full of laughter, adventures, peace and love.

One of the few family photos of us from 2013, perhaps a mission for me - to get a few more in 2014!

One of the few family photos of us from 2013, perhaps a mission for me – to get a few more in 2014!