Tag Archive | family life

Swinging along with the children

Half term brings a gaggle of buzzing children and families onto the streets, in the parks, the pool, the library and the shops. I love to see it. Love to see families swinging along together enjoying themselves. Those who are anyway.

There also seems to be a rash of parents who don’t seem to be enjoying it.

Although children and shopping don’t generally go together well, I still don’t like to hear the remark; ‘can’t wait for them to go back to school’. It’s like people don’t like to have their kids with them. These people make me wonder; why have children in the first place!

I suppose if your children are in school all day you might get out of the swing of doing things together. Not that this happened to us when ours were at school.

Then, when we were home educating, we had to get into the swing of doing the opposite. ; we had to practise not doing things together sometimes.

I was so into providing stimulating activities, of constant communication with the children, debating and hypothesising, coming up with ideas, I had to focus on doing the opposite and ignoring them at times.

Now, I would never normally advocate that parents ignore their children. I’m usually encouraging the opposite, especially when I see so many children who’ve been in school all the time trying to get the attention of a disinterested parent on their mobile phone chatting to someone else rather than the child at their side.

However, when you home school and are mostly together a lot you have to find ways of being separate, to have separate activities, to give the children time to direct and manage their own time rather than us always doing it for them. They need opportunities for their own pursuits, to make their own mistakes, to resolve their own problems, to interact, fall out and solve their own disputes, to work play and occupy themselves independently.

This is vital for developing independent maturity. And independence builds confidence.

Obviously we need to do this safely. And always in balance with other activities. But one mistake I made early on in our home educating life was to think I should always be in charge of providing stimulation, engaging and encouraging them to be busy, all the time.

Not only is this unrealistic – children need ‘down time’ as much as stimulation – but it also inhibits the development of other vital skills they will need to lead their own lives.

I see this in school children. Released from the control school has over their lives some are lost to know what to do without it. Many children also have their lives filled for them with out-of-school activities, play dates, workshops and courses organised by pushy and obsessive parents without consulting the children. So these children rarely have the chance to build the skills needed to organise themselves. To have a taste of leading their own life rather than being lead along a life someone else has mapped out for them.

As with everything, there needs to be balance and contrast in what we provide for our kids. Children need directed time and undirected time, they need engaged time and solo time, they need attentive parents and parents who’ll leave them be at times.

And this is true in all aspects of our parenting whether home educating or not.

Our children; keepers of the World’s garden

I feel terrific – aching but terrific – because I had yesterday outdoors, mostly in the garden. derbyshire.bluebells 032

I’m no gardener, although I suppose I do a pretty good show of dock and nettles! But I have patches of ground round the cottage that require something doing to it, even if just keeping the dock and nettles in proportion with other plants. You know me; ever mindful of balance!

And the best thing is; this gets me outside. When I’m under the sky, especially with fingers in soil or in contact with plants, something calm switches on and I get a super soothing from it.

I so fear for today’s children who never get their faces in the wind or fingers in the soil, they just get drugs to calm them instead. Yet it is so therapeutic – being outside, not the drugs – and I think many of today’s highly charged children would be less so if they had a larger proportion of outdoor time.

Not only would this settle their restless souls but it also gets them better connected with the soil, and the understanding that it is soil upon which the soul and substance of the everything depends rather than the concrete that’s normally beneath our feet.

As much as I have never really taken to gardening – I must have been a complete disappointment to my mum who raved about her glorious plantings and dragged me for hours round plant centres – I do understand its importance. Not necessarily that we do it, but that we all understand that, in a way, we are all gardeners. We are all keepers of the world’s garden.

The world’s garden is what provides us with everything we need to survive. Just like our own little veg patch might provide us with a few leeks and lettuces, the world’s garden – the earth – provides us with the rest. And just like we would never ever consider chucking litter, rubbish, plastic bottles or wrapping down in our own little patch we should also refrain from doing it to the wider garden of the world.

That’s something worth encouraging our children to understand, forever keep in mind and more importantly; practise.

All those fab little growing activities we do as we educate our children like sowing cress in eggshells, or planting giant sunflowers or maybe getting involved in an allotment is just the beginning of educating our children that, not only are they keepers of their own little patch, they are important custodians of the rest of it too. As we all are!

Laying the foundations for education – Part 2

…continuing a two parter started in my last post about education, how you can influence your child’s learning from home and what you might be aiming for in the future…

Learning through play

Many parents underestimate the value of play, even though in our grown-up world we adults use play in order to learn about something.

For example we ‘play’ with our new mobile phones in order to get used to them and understand how they work. We ‘play’ with any new technology or gadget for the same reason. What we’re doing is learning through our real experiences of these things. And it is exactly the same for children.

Children like to ‘play’ at being grown-up. Especially games that involve role play like mums and dads, or hospitals, teachers and schools, shopping, going on ‘adventures’ (even if it’s just a den under the kitchen table or behind the sofa). It’s a kind of experimentation. And whilst they do it they are learning, practising skills, gaining experiences. This works particularly well if they can do an activity in a play way, alongside what you’re doing.

They can have their own tools and plants and ‘play’ at gardening. They can have their own bowls, cutlery, pans etc and wash up – or just stand there endlessly filling containers with water. This simple play activity teaches them a huge amount. For example they learn about capacity, about the properties of water, about the properties of the containers and how their size and shape governs their capacity in relation to other sizes and shapes. They learn about volume. They probably chat to themselves all the time developing language. They’ll be thinking and working out. They’ll be exploring, experimenting and building confidence. They’ll be developing hand eye coordination and the skills needed to manipulate tools.

They won’t know they’ll be doing any of that they’ll just be aware of getting their arms soaked. But these playtime experiences teach them much more than they’d learn from either being told or looking at it in a book. Experience provides the building blocks for more formal knowledge and academic skills later. And this is just one example.

Other activities that have the same educational impact which you can do at home with kids can be built round anything you do.

Here are some examples:

  • Cooking or preparing food (or ‘playing’ with pastry, mixing substances, using tools, cutting things up, warming or freezing etc.)
  • Cleaning or washing, in and out of the home.
  • Dealing with waste and rubbish.
  • Helping with other jobs outdoors, gardening – or den making whilst you do them!
  • Looking after the pets.
  • Using technology and the Net.
  • Managing a budget and money.
  • Looking at and enjoying books and magazines.
  • Dressing – dressing up especially in things they wouldn’t normally wear and using make up.
  • Playing games as a family.
  • Family outings and journeys.
  • Social occasions where there’s a mix of people and ages.
  • Anything creative that you do; making things, home decorating, rearranging a room, craft work and all creative activities like painting, collage – with anything at all, junk modelling, card making, drawing, colouring, cutting out, making scrapbooks, collecting and grouping, etc, – builds skills. Just let them have a go and make a mess and they learn loads simply from their minds and bodies being engaged.
  • Any constructional, experimental or inventive activities indoors and out.
  • Talking with you about anything and everything

Basically anything you do to live your lives and do your work your child can be involved in either through conversation and explanation, helping at their level or playing alongside. Involving your child with your activities teaches your child all about living a life.

And through these life experiences, where learning is something which is part of what they do day to day often without even realising it, they begin to see how learning is not something separate from life but something that is a natural part of it.

If learning is a natural part of it then they will be motivated to continue their learning throughout their life whatever form it takes, motivated to hopefully use education to develop and enhance their lives and give them greater access to the things they might want to do later on.

What are we aiming for – later on?

Many parents, when they think about what they might want their children to achieve in their education later on, tend to think about academic gain. They think about their children being good at the academic exercises that will get them good grades.

But other parents think more broadly and more holistically than that. They think about their child being happy and having confidence in themselves and academics fitting in around that. They think about their child having the skills to enjoy good relationships and social activities. They think about their child’s wellbeing; mental and physical, emotional and spiritual. They think about how their child’s personal strengths and interests can be developed; how they can get to know themselves well so they will be able to make informed and relevant lifestyle choices.

The ideal is perhaps to aim for a mix of both. And to maybe think through your priorities, keeping a holistic balance throughout.

Holistically, we need to be aiming for an outcome that is relevant to the whole child and within the perspective of the whole of their lives, not just the time they may be of school age, or the exams you want them to pass.

Sometimes it is best not to think too much about ‘later on’. Because you can never know what will happen. Far better to show your child the real relevant world on a daily basis.

Each day you spend with your child is a natural opportunity for you to help them develop and learn. And to make learning enjoyable.

Aiming for enjoyment in their day to day lives, for them to be stimulated and engaged in the activities they do at the time, is far better than having an agenda outside or ahead of the child. They soon suss it’s irrelevant to them right now and switch off. Switching off to things is the last thing we want them to do, because it switches them off to education too.

Sadly many school type activities switch children off to learning because they are often dull and the children cannot see the relevance of them. Adults might think they’re relevant to the child’s future, but are they really? How can we really predict a future which is so far away?

Taking care of the little times, making them good times, will make a good future. This is a much more natural way to build a future and the foundation for a natural and holistic education that will serve the child for life.

Together again and home educating the dog!


home educating the dog!

Aw! We’ve all been back together again and I didn’t get a picture.

Charley snapped this one of Chelsea educating the dog about what’s in Vogue – I wonder where she got the concept of that from – and we had a good laugh over it!

We’ve just had a few days all together and it’s been so lovely. Not something you can ever imagine when you’re immersed in raising little ones; that one day you’ll be all adults together, rather than adults and children. I’m not so sure who’s the more adult now, to be honest!

How different from when the four of us were growing up here all those years ago, which I described in the story ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. I say the four of us growing up because we parents did as much growing as they did.

Well, you do as a parent, don’t you? You do as a person really. You grow and change throughout your life – all experiences teach and change us. If we’re open enough to them, of course.

I’m having to be open enough to brace this new stage where my children give me as much inspiration and advice as I give them. For I’m still growing too even as I watch my two younger family members do the same.

We have to keep adapting as parents; we have to keep adapting as family, as the dynamics constantly shift like the silt on the marshland where I walk, carving out new channels as the tides of life come and go and alter our direction.

Nothing ever stays the same; an idea both comforting and nostalgic.

Whatever life throws at us – it won’t stay like that.

I watch these two amazing young people so full of energy and ideas and am inspired. I remember the little people they were and how we negotiated our way through tricky stages as we all have to do all the time with all relationships – negotiate the tricky stages, whether personal or circumstantial.

So this is just a little post to remind you of that.

Nothing stays the same – ever! And it’s worth making the most of each stage of family relationships, however tricky.

And enjoy yourselves, learn, be inspired and keep love up high on the agenda! Your family now will be a different one by tomorrow, by next year, in ten years.

And I hope, like mine, it just gets better and better.

Muesli and Molehills!

Whilst I was eating my breakfast I watched the robin doing the same. robin 010

Mine was only muesli, but served up in my favourite bowl.

His was served up in a molehill which I couldn’t help observing looked the same consistency as the stuff I was eating even if a shade darker.

I like to pick my bowl with care. I’m not keen on crusty bits left over from ineffective washing up.

The robin clearly chose his molehill with the same discernment – knowing where the best breakfast was to be had. For suddenly the earth under his toes started to shuffle upwards and spill over as a mole pushed from underneath turning up a fresh living breakfast for the robin.

He gobbled down a grub and waited for the main course in the form of a succulent mini worm. I suddenly imagined a similarity in texture between it and the sultana I was chewing. At least my sultana wasn’t wriggling.

He bobbed about from molehill to molehill as I watched and chewed, absorbed in him, until my bowl was empty yet the robin was getting afters! How is this fair?

However his vibrant buffed up plumage brought a flash of delightful living warmth to what looked like a lifeless January morning.

And as I scrubbed my bowl of crusty bits it made me think of these natural soap operas going on around us every day if we just take a moment to observe and appreciate the world, so full of wonderful things.

Perhaps you can find your own to share with your kids today. And maybe have a discussion about who prefers their breakfast wriggling!

And don’t forget that next weekend is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch and an opportunity to really observe your garden birds and get involved with valuable research.

Creative solutions for January!

January and good old gales and rain.

Am I the only one who feels it’s a bit of a challenge to get through it? Especially when there’s a need, after maybe too much indulgence, to spend less, eat less and sit on backside less as well as endure the weather. I want to be a dormouse and hibernate. My inspiration seems already to have curled up and gone to sleep.

Seeing old things in new ways

Seeing the light

My daughter and I swap notes on how to get through it. We’re people who struggle with motivation at this time of the year especially when SAD kicks in. And both being involved with creative work this can be quite daunting.

‘We need some creative solutions’ I say as we chat on Skype. I know from experience, of both myself and them as children home educating, that creating or achieving something promotes energy and enthusiasm….if we can just crank ourselves up enough to find the light!

We’re both believers in creating answers to life’s challenges, rather than buying answers, which it’s easy to fall into the habit of doing. But making your own solutions gives you such a buzz.

She wants some new clothes – she’s going to create some with what’s already in the cupboards. I need a new diary – I’m going to invent a way of putting one together with whatever comes to hand. My study needs a bit of a makeover too. Again, that’ll be achieved with re-thinking old spaces and pieces rather than spending. I’ll make my mind do the work rather than money.

It’s not always possible to create solutions in this way. But once you get your head round that way of thinking it’s amazing what you can come up with, how much you can achieve, what resources you can save, what pennies you can keep in your purse and what rewards you can reap in that personal sense of achievement.

We will not be beaten down by January!

How about you – have you any ideas to share? I need as many as I can get! :)

Merry Christmas!

xmas14 009A Christmassy extract from ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ to put you in the mood….

…The girls were so excited in the back of the car on the way to their first Home Ed Christmas party the books were abandoned.

“Are we there yet?”

“Not far now.” I was quite excited too. We were meeting at a garden centre where there was a Santa’s Grotto, a place for them to have lunch together and a feast of decorations.

The children all sat together round one table and the parents sat at another one. The children behaved impeccably raising many smiles from the groups of old folks also on their Christmas outings. The parents got dirty looks and disdainful glares because of all the giggling they were doing.

I think I enjoyed the walk through the magical wonderland they’d created even more than the kids because I could more readily accept that the reindeer were stuffed and the kids were a bit superior about it. But at least the older children kept the Santa secret alive for the younger ones, unlike at school where Chelsea had her dreams shattered very quickly. Then at the very end there were real reindeer all soft and sad eyed and reeking of animals, a smell that always brings nostalgia having kept a horse for years.

The best bit was the camaraderie and friendship that circled the group in a mutual feeling of care and support. We’d found our community.

We swapped the still sticky, glitter shedding cards with our other home schooled friends and left with a trail of crafty bits dropping in our wake.

The girls sat contentedly all the way home clutching their present and a little Christmas tree sapling ready to plant. The minute we got home we had to go out in the dark and find pots and soil and get them planted. I sniff them occasionally as they take me back to childhood and the smell of pine. Our plastic tree just doesn’t smell the same.

I was thinking that the party would mark the end of our first Home Educating ‘term’. Time to relax, stop pushing education at the kids every day, and just coast till Christmas.

Actually, I doubt life will be different as education is just so much part of it now.


I so rarely got a moment to myself that when I did I revelled in it. Whilst he girls were out for an afternoon walk with Charles in the remaining frost and I sat down to write about not education but the essence of Christmas.

It curled round the cottage as evocative as the smell of wood smoke and cinnamon. The real fire burned with orange flicks and exuded a comforting warmth far exceeding anything a radiator can do. The tinsel on the Christmas trees, (one big plastic one, two tiny real ones), moved occasionally in the inevitable draughts in this old cottage and sparkled magically. The presents underneath were stacked ready.

The oven thermostat ticked as the stew cooked ready for their return. The cupboard was stocked with homemade cake (grandma’s) and mince pies (me and the children) and multi coloured shortbread with finger prints in (just the children). The cat sprawled in relaxed warmth on the vacant hearth rug usually taken by restless children. The fire murmured gently, all was peace…

“Is it ready yet?” My reverie was interrupted by the door bursting open with a flurry of cold air and giggles and rosy cheeks and sniffing.

“Not yet,” I said closing my notebook.

“Boots off, girls,” said Charles keeping his on.

They put their soaking gloves on the hearth, kicked wellies into the kitchen corner as a gesture of putting away, dropped coats on chairs, outmanoeuvred the cat for the best spot in front of the fire.

Peace shattered, but actually it was their happy childish voices which completed the Christmas atmosphere.


On Christmas eve we put on our layers, filled a bag with goodies and went and sang a carol outside mum’s cottage door.

“Oh, it’s you! I thought it was the cats fighting,” she said winking at the girls. She glowed with happiness at seeing us and as brightly as her roaring fire. We jostled for prime position in front of it while mum got her coat on ready to come to ours.

xmas14 010Christmas day was a jumble of torn wrapping, turkey smell and too much chocolate. The pristine piles of presents were rent and became real objects to be ooohed and aaaahed over. The fire burned brighter than the telly and mum’s cheeks even though she was burnished by the sherry. We watched films, figured out how various constructions fitted together and sat on settees nursing groaning tummies. Treasured presents were clasped tired to bed.

Boxing day brought a sprinkle of snow. There’s times when you think it couldn’t be more perfect…


Read the book for more of our family’s home education story – there are lots of tips and ideas to help with your home education or family life in general!