Ebb and Flow

(Little late this one I’m afraid but I still liked it enough to post it late!)

Even if you don’t make a conscious effort to mark or celebrate the summer solstice or equinox, you are probably aware that the longest day of the year was last week, a signal that we are almost exactly half way through the year. If you are anything like me, you are probably enjoying the light-filled evenings (although perhaps not the early starts quite as much – my youngest seems to be a little bit like a farmer, rising with the sun…which at 5am is just a bit too early for me at the moment!) My evenings have been fairly languid and lazy, I’ve been going for evening walks with friends, watering the parched plants at the allotment and generally fully embracing this time of year.

However, it has taken me a little while to fully acknowledge the natural ebb and flow effect that the seasons have on other areas of our lives. Recently I’ve been fretting that the kids haven’t been doing enough ‘sit-down’ work and that we have been spending a lot more time outside, in nature and on organised home education day trips. It took me a while to remember that this happens every year and for us, is just part of our normal academic rhythm. Each winter, when the weather is unwelcoming and hostile, I throw them outside for Forest School once a week and then we spend the rest of our time hibernating and engaged in quite a lot of project-based work and more traditional academic learning. At some point in the winter I start to worry that I’ve overloading them with information and that we might be doing too much and then usually these worries are put on pause by the Christmas holidays.

As the weather improves each Spring though, our ratio of indoor to outdoor learning seems to slowly swing the other way and by late June I am worrying about our lack of time spent indoors at the table! Remembering this has filled me with relief and also allowed me to fully enjoy spending as much time as possible outdoors whilst the weather is still fine. So we’ve been at the allotment enjoying soft fruit season this morning, we’re off to Tiverton Museum for a field trip tomorrow and our regular hall-based group on Thursday is temporarily moving to the beach to make the most of the heatwave whilst it’s still here.

This realisation has been a reminder of two things for me. Firstly that learning can take so many different forms; the kids can learn through hands-on maths whilst we’re pottering at the plot or at the beach, through discovery at Forest School of new plant or animal specimens, can develop their physical skills through outdoors sports and can work on their social skills almost constantly through the people we meet. Secondly, that there is so much to be gained from observing the seasonal changes around us and not fighting against the opportunities they present. So this week, I’d encourage you to take any opportunity you can to get outside and be in nature, soaking up the sun or perhaps relaxing in the shade, before Wimbledon brings with it the inevitable week of summer rain (although at least the gardeners will be grateful)!

Going To Ground

Darker mornings and evenings have been steadily creeping up on us over the last few weeks and as they do, I am becoming increasingly jealous of those creatures able to hibernate until warmer days return. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about Autumn and Winter that I love; the gorgeous changing colours of the leaves, bonfire night, all of my children’s birthdays(!), having a good excuse to spend wet chilly days inside with a fire roaring in the hearth and endless mugs of hot chocolate to warm the insides. But, in my heart of hearts, I am a summer enthusiast. I love being outside, I love not needing to pack jumpers and coats when we go out, I love not having to wear shoes, I love salads and ice creams and summery cocktails… In the summer I have more energy, more enthusiasm and more motivation.

As October has unfolded I’m finding my energy levels dwindling as I become more tired, I don’t feel like working out and I just want to eat all the comfort food. Although I think a gentle slowing down is natural (especially as my intense half-marathon training is over now) I’m aware that if I give into these hibernation-esque tendencies, I might get into a slump that it’s hard to dig myself out of come Spring! Both in terms of my body and mind, I’ve been working hard all year to keep myself healthy and I don’t want to undo all that work with a few months of duvet-days and one too many mince pies. So I’m guessing the answer, for me at least, is to try and adjust my routine to the seasons outside.

Back in the day, we would have risen with the sun and gone to bed with the sun so I’m guessing going to bed a little earlier, now we’ve lost our long light evenings, would help. I’ll probably do a little less running over the coming months and a little more weight lifting , choosing to exercise in the warmth of my home rather than on the dark damp roads outside.  And as time outside with the kids will be limited by the weather and temperature (Forest School continues all year round but I’m less inclined to wile away 6 hours at the beach when we’re in single digits), I’m going to try and be inventive with things we can do inside that don’t revolve around a screen and that will entertain all three children. So yes, I might partake in a going to ground of sorts but I will aim to make it a healthy, happy hibernation this winter.

Enjoying Autumn at Killerton

Starting back

It’s been a busy week, this week. Sophia did her first full day at pebble house, forest school and dancing started for a new term, we managed a sneaky crotchet lesson and cloth nappy gathering mission at a friends AND we went to visit the last working water mill in Exeter today with our home ed group.

On top of this, the kids are yoyo-ing from playing beautifully together to screaming at each other. Normal sibling behaviour I’m sure but man it’s hard getting used to! I can see both sides and trying to help them reach a balance that is fair is tough.

20130914-134611.jpgHarmoniously sorting sunflower seeds!

Although she isn’t school age yet, a lot of Sophia’s friends from Topsham have started full time school or ramped up their time at pre school so our decision to home educate suddenly seems very real.

And I’m excited!

Our trip to Cricklepit Mill was a good example of what I’ve been envisioning in my head when I think about home education. A man from the Devon Wildlife Trust gave us a tour around the mill and enough water had gathered so the millers were able to release it to turn the wheel which in turn turned all the cogs and finally the mill stone which ground the grain (paragon) into flour. Sophia was really interested and captivated by the whole process and Isaac spent the whole time excitedly shrieking ‘WHEEL’ at all the moving wheels and cogs.



We saw the wheel from outside, were shown where the otters like to play and their hydro generator which they use to generate electricity when the wheel is turning. We also explored their garden with a special habitat for bees, fruit trees galore and lots of beautiful flowers.


We finished the trip by buying some bags of flour which we sampled in freshly baked bread this morning…yum!

After a quick lunch in the Cathedral Green we popped to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, partly because Sophia loves it and partly because I knew they had a box of cogs in the kids area. Sophia experimented making pathways with the cogs which was great in understanding how the wheel turning in the mill made all the others turn to make the mill stone grind. I felt that by actually manipulating the cogs and seeing how when she turned one the rest moved it would make the process easier to understand.

As we’re in the season of harvest I think we’ll look a bit at how the grain is planted and how it grows so we can complete the whole cycle from seed to bread. We’ve got a few blank scrapbooks so we’re going to do a page with some photos from our trip, some drawings and a bit of writing about what we’ve learnt which will be good as it’ll help practice her handwriting. I think we’re gonna continue to do this as we follow different avenues of exploration. Our next year or so will be quite gentle and child led as we continue in this style alongside the reading eggs and practice with cuisenaire rods that Sophia has been doing already.

Don’t get me wrong; I know many parents of conventionally schooled children will do these kind of things in their time together at home but I’m really looking forward to having the time and freedom to fully explore what the children are interested in and what is relevant seasonally as well as being able to facilitate all the other things small children like to be able to do (the park, playdates, swimming, reading ridiculous amounts of books, painting, play dough, baking…etc)!

Sophia is also obsessed with what time, day and month it is at the moment so I think a birthday/Christmas present will be one of those wooden or magnetic calendars that can be used year after year. I also want to make them a wheel of the year which my Mum found here. In fact, I need to get on with that!

So I’ve got lots to get on with and think about (as well as a growing mental list of knitting projects for new babies and the like!) but I’m feeling energised and ready to go and blessed to be in a position where I am able to embrace this lifestyle.

I’ll leave you with a picture of the kids discovering one of the many gorillas dotted around Exeter, I’ve promised Sophia and expedition with Dan to find be rest!