In between days

I always think of the week between Christmas and New Years as a bit of a no mans land in terms of time. It’s a funny period where most folk aren’t feeling particularly festive anymore but aren’t quite back to normal either. I’ve especially felt this this year. A combination of putting up decorations far too early in retrospect (1st December!) and then Christmas being marred by poor old Dan having the flu has left me feeling a bit all over the place these last few days. In fact, I’m pondering next year delaying the start of festivities until after Sophia’s birthday in order to have the oomph to observe the 12 days of Christmas and keep feeling festive until Epiphany on the 6th. Sophia is not so keen on this idea….

I also didn’t manage to take any photos on Christmas Day itself as Dan was still feeling pretty rough so I was trying to keep all three relatively well behaved and chilled at his parents in Surrey (am sure I failed miserably-sorry Chris and Paul!) I’m hoping others might have pictures to share in due course πŸ™‚

I think part of my restlessness is the break from normal routine. I miss our groups and seeing friends regularly, the novelty of lazy mornings is wearing off and cabin fever is setting in (a condition considerably exacerbated by the horrific weather). The kids are feeling the same and I think we’ll all be feeling more settled once we get back in the swing of things next week.

Reading back, I’m unintentionally coming across quite negative and reflective. I’ve had a lovely Christmas this year. It was wonderful to spend time with the Durdin contingent (even if it was cut short) and the kids enjoyed the run up to Christmas and the day itself without too many tears or tantrums. Sophia sweetly announced to me several times that although she was looking forward to getting presents, she was more excited about celebrating Jesus’ birthday which nade me smile. I think we got the balance right this year.

We’ve also very much enjoyed catching up with friends and family who are usually at work, school or university. Definitely a plus of the holidays! A beach trip with our old Brighton friends turned into soft play to escape the wind and a most enjoyable afternoon was spent catching up with one of the families we very much miss!

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Babies making friends πŸ™‚

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Impossible getting a good pic as always!

Hoping you’ve all had a great Christmas season and are feeling relaxed and peaceful.

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Christmas Eve Walk!

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'Traditional' stocking picture

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Without music…

….life would be a mistake. So said philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche over a 100 years ago apparently. And although he was somewhat of a controversial figure, in this case I would tend to agree with him. It was whilst listening to some incredibly talented local musicians at Hope Hall on Friday and then over the weekend as I pondered the point more, that I realised just how powerful music is. The audience was taken on a journey that at times had us despairing for humanity but at other times was hopeful for the future and grateful for the inherent goodness of people. It was a rollercoaster night that touched the soul, I defy anyone present to say that they weren’t moved by the evening of music.

On a related note, I read recently somewhere that small children are more responsive to music to calm down when they’re upset than being spoken to and anyone that has sung a certain song over and over (and over) again to a sad little one would be able to hold testament to this. It reaches places where mere words cannot. From day one, we respond to music. It turns our head, it gets toes tapping, it calms us when we feel fraught. Isaac was able to identify the ‘sad’ (minor) parts of music from ‘happy’ (major) at age 2, it seemed instinctual to him, it came naturally. When the kids are feeling grumpy, we put on some loud happy music and within minutes, the mood of the house has changed.

I guess the reason why I’ve been pondering the power of music is trying to wonder what place it holds in our lives especially in the current climate of political unrest and human tragedies that we read about on a daily basis. People talk of music as being a healing tonic for such things, as a motivator for change. I don’t disagree but I am continually amazed by how something as simple as music can affect us so much. Can a protest song drive a revolution? Can a love song help sooth a broken heart? Can a song teach more than we can with the written word?

I’d argue that yes, it can do all this, and much more. So when we’re feeling helpless at the state of the world around us or having some personal crisis, I reckon that a powerful step in at least being able to come to terms with the situation is by finding some music that encompasses what you’re feeling and connecting with it. It might not bring about world peace or an end to homelessness or reunite you with your ex but it might just help you feel a fraction more calm and help you come to terms with whatever is happening. As the well known quote (of author unknown) says ‘music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.’

15.12.15

A music lover from an early age πŸ™‚

Choices

I readΒ this post the other day which I found really helpful and encouraging. The author talks about how rather than trying to balance or juggle more than we can healthily fit in, we should make choices about what we can take on and incorporate into our life without putting too much pressure on ourselves or negatively imposing on our family life and relationships. And sometimes this will mean closing a door on some new venture (perhaps just temporarily) even if it is something we really want to do, could bring in some much needed extra cash or is something we know we’ll be really good at. At least that’s what I took from it anyway!

Consequently, I’ve been thinking about what I’m doing at the moment and assessing whether it is too much and if I’m stretching myself too thin. I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’ve got going on at the moment is manageable as long as my time management is spot on and I don’t take on anymore. Back in August I took on some work doing social media management for a friend and now have 3 clients which is great! I’m really enjoying the work and it’s nice to have a bit extra cash coming in as well. I was reassessing as my name has been passed on to someone else who might be interested in my services and I was pondering whether I’d want to take on another client or not. 3 clients isn’t loads in the grand scheme of things but put into context with home educating, a very active baby who’s entered the phase of separation anxiety, trying to fit in regular workouts, general housework, feeding everyone and writing, I’m wary of taking on too much.

Knowing when to say no is definitely something I’m still working on. But I think it is so important to know when to say yes and when to politely decline for the sake of your mental and physical well being (and those of the people around you!) I think this can apply to other areas of life as well. So this advent, I may not have prepared 24 meaningful and creative activities for us to do every day but that’s ok. I’ve realised that it’s alright to cut myself some slack. When the kids are older and more self sufficient, I suspect we’ll have more time for advent crafts and acts of well being to others but now, whilst the baby is crawling the stairs at every opportunity or trying to topple the Christmas tree, it’s not a problem that our festive activities have been a bit more low key and just spontaneously grabbed when he naps unexpectedly!

I’ve also been feeling guilty that I haven’t been doing more on this blog regularly other than just posting my weekly Express and Echo column. I didn’t even mark Sophia’s 6th birthday here. I had the best intentions but it just completely slipped by the wayside. I might try and do one after Christmas but it seems a bit redundant doing it late. We’ll see. However, in the spirit of not overloading my plate, I have decided to stop feeling bad. Lack of content doesn’t affect anyone but me so I’m going to relax and just post when I can, even if that is only once every 3 months at the moment!

So my advice this Christmas is to make smart choices about what you take on. Don’t make your life a juggling act, keeping all those balls in the air gets tiring after a while. Choose what you need to do, what you want to do, what is best for you and your family and don’t be afraid to say no. And I hope that you can do this and have a most relaxing, joyful and wonderful Christmas.

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Merry Christmas everyone!

E+E Column: An Evolving Strategy

I’ve been reassessing the way we ‘do’ home education in our house recently. Not in the sense that I’m considering throwing the towel in and sending them to school but just in terms of thinking about how much of our approach to education is one of structure and how much is one that still heavily revolves around informal learning and play based activities. As the old adage says, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and I strongly believe that what works and is best for family isn’t the same for another. Hence why some parents choose to send their children to state school, some choose an alternative like Steiner or a private school and some choose to home educate. And then within each of these spheres, there are even more offshoots, philosophies and ways of doing it.

We go to a few different home education groups in the area regularly and as such, spend a lot of time around all sorts of home educating families, from those that buy a curriculum and follow a fairly strict school-at-home approach to those that embrace the unschooling philosophy and don’t do much or any structured learning, preferring instead to explore opportunities to discover and learn as they naturally occur. I think it’s fair to say that we fall pretty much smack bang in the middle of the spectrum. With my only school age child being just about to turn 6, I’m still quite relaxed about structured learning, taking my lead from the European countries and educational philosophies that don’t start formal learning until 7. Said countries tend to have better levels of academic achievement and general well being for children so it seems to be that they are good example of the research in practice.

Having said that, she is a smart cookie and eager to learn so I’m eager to capitalise on that and keep her engaged and challenged appropriately. She’s a fluent (and avid) reader, a keen crafter and cook and absolutely loves maths and anything that takes her outdoors. We’ve tried a curriculum for two terms, a bit of unschooling when the baby arrived and now are kind of winging it with a mixture of workbooks, project based learning, day trips, groups and educational websites. It feels like we’ve been chopping and changing a lot and I was starting to think that maybe we should just choose one method and stick with it but today I realised that that just wouldn’t work. A child’s educational journey is a constantly evolving one so it feels to me that sticking to one rigid way of doing things would just result in stagnation and frustration all round. My job is to identify what is required in the stage that we’re in and change our strategy to suit it. In the summer, we spend a lot more time outdoors so maybe it’s about packing nature discover tools and spotter books in my bag and grasping the opportunities as we find them in the woods, in rockpools and at the park. In the winter, there is plenty more time for stitting at the table, working out maths, plotting science experiments and crafting together. It was a reassuring realisation for me and one that I think can be applied to many different areas of life. It’s ok to change our approach and method of dealing with things. Situations change and people change and we need to adjust and adapt to keep up with them. And I guess that is what makes life interesting…

7.12.15

A more traditional day of home education!

E+E Column: Festive Musings

Although I can be fairly grouchy about the earlification of Christmas, I have to admit that since certain small excitable people entered my life, I’ve been starting earlier and earlier each year. As we hauled out our Christmas box to find our advent calendar on November 30th I only just resisted the urge to get the decorations out as well. My resolve lasted a mere 24 hours and by the end of play on the 1st December, the tree was up and decorated and our house was oozing festive cheer.

In amongst the stockings and baubles in aforementioned box is our rapidly expth anding Christmas book collection. This is arguably one of my favourite parts of the run up to the big day and I was happy to see Sophia’s excitement being on a par as we unpacked them for the season! This being her first year as a competent reader, I’m so thrilled that she’ll be able to discover some of these books for herself and heart warmingly, she’s already been reading them to Isaac, whilst they curl up together under a quilt.

Tonight amongst their story offerings at bedtime was The Grinch, one of my favourite Christmas books of all time (possibly only beaten by the sentimental attachment that I hold to Lucy and Tom’s Christmas and The Night Before Christmas). It’s a relatively new book to us all, Sophia was given it as a present at Christmas 2012, a mere three years ago. But a combination of the clever rhymes, the illustrations and the wonderful moral message makes for a winner of a Christmas book if you ask me. In the face of an ever increasing commercialisation of the season, it’s refreshing and encouraging to focus on that which touts a more genuine and heartfelt meaning of Christmas that everyone can embrace. One that encompasses kindness, compassion and thinking of others.

With that in mind, I’m trying to think of those outside my own bubble this season. I’m not a fan of the traditional Elf on the Shelf but do like the evolved version of a Kindness Elf who suggests something kind to do each day, from taking mince pies or gingerbread to neighbours to doing the shopping for an elderly relative or taking the time to donate some food to your local food bank. With protests about tax credit cuts, junior doctors, the environment and Syria, we are living in pretty sad times. What better time to try and make a difference on a small but still significant scale? With minimal effort on your part, you could vastly improve someone’s Christmas this year. And all it might take is a few mince pies and a smile!

E+E Column: Without so much as a backwards glance…

(I’m a little behind with posting these on the blog so there might be a few this week so I can catch up! This was in the paper a few weeks ago)

Today was Isaac’s first day at nursery. This morning as I hurried to get him, the baby and myself dressed, cleaned, fed and out the door by 8am, I felt a combination of nervous, excited and emotional. Isaac has always been much more of a ‘velcro’ (aka clingy) child than Sophia was. He still won’t go out to Sunday School without Dan or I, he can be nervous even in groups of kids that he’s known for a long time and up until about 3 weeks ago, has categorically refused to go anywhere without me or Dan, his grandparents or one or two very close friends of ours. However, he is also a very boisterous young man who thrives on being outdoors, running, shouting and climbing trees.

Consequently, ever since I heard that Exeter Forest School (where we already attend for a home ed group) were setting up a kindergarten for 3 and 4 year olds I’ve been trying to persuade him that he might like to go. Up until recently, he was adamant that he didn’t want to go. I kept asking him though, sure that a day away from me would do him the world of good and that it would also facilitate me to have some one-to-one time with Sophia to concentrate on some more formal education that she is requesting.

And all of a sudden, he said he’d give it a go! Jumping on his tentative yes, we went for a visit last Monday and he seemed very keen so we kept the ball rolling, booked him in and he started today. Since the visit last week I was sure that he’d change his mind or that at the very least, that he’d need a long settling in time today. So it was with utter shock that I watched him run off, happy as anything in the icy woods without so much of a backwards glance to me. I stayed for half an hour and then he basically told me to leave! So leave I did and he had the most wonderful day, building fires, colouring in a cosy safari tent and playing with other kids in the woods. I picked him up at 3 to find him raving about how much he loved forest school and declaring that he wants to go there every day!

Dan laughed at me embodying anxious mothers everywhere in being more upset about the separation than Isaac himself was but I am happy that it was that way round. I’m really pleased that we waited until he wanted to go rather than forcing it before he was ready. I’m not going to lie, I had started to wonder if he’d ever want to do things without me (silly I know!) but he obviously just needed more time to ready himself than Sophia did. I think by letting him take the time he needed and following his lead, it made the first experience a completely and utterly positive one. So, a very public Thank You to Chris and Emma at Exeter Forest School for being so wonderful and holding such an amazing kindergarten in the wild! He can’t wait until next week!

23.11.15

Happiest outdoors!