Monday, 11 November 2013

Just because it's hard, doesn't mean it's wrong...

Standing listening to the trumpet play 'The Last Post' at Remembrance Day parade yesterday was very moving. As I watched my eldest solemnly carry the flag for his ATC squadron it made me think of all the grieving mothers who's sons have given their lives for us over the years in wars. I really felt respect for these men and women, recognising their sacrifice and honouring it.

I am personally grateful that Hitler was defeated by the allies,  as his views on parents having influence on their kids education are polar opposite to mine.  His fear that parents would teach their children something other than the Nazi party line was massive, forcing him to ban home education.  So yeah!  War is horrid, but when it comes to defending your nation and freedom I don't believe its wrong.

I have thought about this conundrum a fair amount over the last few years.   It took me a few years of growing up before I realised that just because some thing is hard, doesn't mean it's wrong. 

I think back on hard things I have done, child birth was one. I think the first weeks after my eldest was born were such a massive change of lifestyle it was really hard, suddenly this tiny person was your complete responsibility and I remember staring down at him wondering what to do next. I have never for a moment regretted having kids though, even if it has cost every ounce of energy and thought trying to muddle through this parenting thing.

Anyone who reads my blog would know I love mountains, that's another hard thing.  Climbing a mountains is hard work.

  I remember climbing snowdon for my silver Duke of Edinburgh award many years ago,  with my big racksac on my back we were half way up the mountain, it was a windy day,  and suddenly a massive gust of wind knocked me off me feet and sent me rolling down a steep slope over the side of a huge rock. My rucksack broke the fall fortunately. I still love climbing mountains though,  standing on the top of a mountain gives that sense of freedom and feeling of 'I can do anything'. As you breath in the pure mountain air and look around you, the world and its daily grind seem so far away and insignificant.

Home Education is another hard thing.  I know many people have observed me home educating over the years and said, may be only with a look, surely thats too much for you. Yes, it is hard it possibly the hardest thing I have ever done. At some points I have felt the full weight of responsibility on me,  with family and friends looking on with disapproval. Why on earth would you choose to wreak your kids opportunities in life and home educate, when there are so many perfectly good schools and qualified teachers down the road.

My husband and I chose this route not because of issues with our children in school or even for religious reasons,  as our church ran a church school. I just knew it made sense. A one on one tailored education in the world with life and friends around us. I knew in my heart that my eldest son could be different because of it, he could chose to think in a completely different way to a child that is instructed how to think and what to learn all day. I love the critical and abstract thought patterns of my unconventional boys.

At first the hardest thing about Home Educating is learning self discipline and patience,  especially if like me you went from school to polytechnic to work, so you always had to get up in the morning to be some where on time and work for someone else, to suddenly everything is totally your choice. Also being patient with your kids when you are with them all day is definitely a skill that takes practice. 

A few years down the road,  the hard bits are others expectations of your kids, suddenly you feel everyone is watching your kids to see if they are progressing fast enough.  Are they reading when their cousin two years younger is on to big boy books? Are they learning to behave in a sociable manner being shut at home with Mum all day? There is incredible pressure to present perfectly behaved high performing kids from an early age, else obviously home education is failing as predicted.

I am now onto a different stage,  getting to ready to send eldest on to further education. Exam nerves have attacked at regular intervals and lots of praying to try remain calm, well kind of calm (sorry Hubby :-P).

Do I regret this journey... NOT FOR A SECOND... the times of kids crying under the table over maths, times of struggling to understand what my kids need at different stages,  balancing home and outside life. All worth it. I love that it has been hard, it is worth so much more to me. Like that climbed mountain, the view from here is wonderful, the understanding I have gained of how people learn,  what motivates and what makes people tick.  I love that my hubby and I can look back on this time and say, it was tough at times but so rewarding.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Working with, not on your kids...

I am sitting waiting for my eldest to finish his iGCSE English literature exam. He was pretty nervous going in, mainly about how long the exam was going to be, two and a quarter hours sounds like ages. 

I have time to fill and I am feeling particularly philosophical,  thinking about my last fifteen years of home educating and what I understand now and wish I had known and believed when I first started this journey.

I can see so clearly now that the key to home education is believing in your kids and allowing them to be who they are and working with them to let that unique awesomeness blossom in them.

This week I signed my two Border Collies up for sheepdog training. I have learned a lot from my extremely clever dogs over the last 5 years. When my oldest dog was one year old, he is five now, I started sheepdog training and visited a true shepherd,  he has had international champion sheepdogs, brought up with farming, sheep and dogs. Was seen on 'One Man and his Dog' at a young age, many years ago. 

The first time I visited him we went out in to a field with sheep and he said absolutely nothing. He took my dog off the lead and let go. We stood and watched as my dog, having never seen sheep in his life, take off he flanked around the sheep went behind them and brought them back to us. It was so exhilarating and thrilling to watch. Here is the You Tube video of him doing this if you are interested.
  This pattern of saying nothing and releasing the dog was how this shepherd teaches. The lessons continued in this way with only the additional of myself and the shepherd walking backwards with the sheep in front of us and the dog behind the sheep. As we turned slightly the dog would shift so he remained behind the sheep at 12 o'clock to us, this gentle leading is called finding balance. 

I have also taken this same dog gun dog training.  This involves lots of retrieving and guns. I knew that my dog wasn't a natural gun dog but I was curious and thought it might be fun. It was fun, but I can declare official my sheep dog is the world's worst gun dog. His idea of retrieval is chasing the ball then possibly bringing it back, if it seems worth it. Also he really hates guns. We had a giggle, well I did, mainly at his complete ineptitude compared with the 'super duper' Spaniels who were definitely showing off, all stuck up with their long shiny ears and perfect retrieves. We left feeling slightly inadequate,  but 'hey' what did I expect!

All this got me thinking, recently been chatting with many new home educators,  that have chosen this path because their kids weren't flourishing in school.  It seems to be quite common that it is the very creative kids who love to dream and imagine that haven't fitted in to our traditional schooling models that are quite academic and rigid. These children seem to come out of school and really don't want to be squeezed back into structured learning.

I can see it so easily now, looking back, it seems so obvious.  Why do we try and make 'gun dogs' out of our 'sheepdogs'? We need to step on to this new field of learning and release these creative kids to dream and create,  work with their strengths,  believe in them , see their true potential,  not in terms of 'number of ball retrievals' (exam marks) or their ability to be tough when someone shoots a gun (strict timetables), but look on with excitement as they take off and be what they were created for and finding a gentle balance with them.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Week in the life of...

I try to get up before my boys in the morning, not being little anymore they don't leap out of bed at 6am and demand fun, so I need an alarm clock now. I usually assess my day the night before and try and see how late I can arise with out messing up my carefully planned morning routine.

So yes I spring out of bed full of vim and vigour (sarcasm) and start my day with a morning routine of folding clean clothes before leaving bedroom, get dress, carry dirty clothes, my gadget bag (contains essential to life electronic devices) and struggle downstairs slightly overloaded to my bathroom. I put on the washing machine, clean the bathroom, and prepare myself for the day. As we only have one bathroom, if I get interrupted in this routine I get stressy.

Then I go let the dog out into the garden and go start cooking bacon and eggs, or similar for breakfast. Make a cup of tea for me and the boys, plus empty my dishwasher. While the breakfast is cooking I go drag children out of bed. This is achieved with a 'Mum of teens' dog lick attack. I take the dog with me upstairs and get him in turn to leap on the boys and lick them awake. If this doesn't work, I have taken to lately dragging my eldest legs out of bed and sitting him up, then quickly positioning the dog so he can't lay back down. I have tried removal of covers, stealing pillows, suggesting the use of an alarm clock..well the alarm clock is useless he can have a siren going off by his head and sleep through it. I have tried leaving him to sleep in, but all this does is turn him nocturnal, which isn't good for productivity.

After breakfast, depending on how dozy the boys are we either go for a walk and do a strength workout or watch a documentary. We are going through different science/history/social studies/geography documentaries which we watch may be three a week on different days.

 Every week day morning we do maths (exceptional circumstances withstanding). Sometime my youngest does maths while I cook breakfast, they are both using the online conquer maths program, most days I like to sit with my youngest and help him find ways of thinking through the maths, I never answers the questions for him, but I do show him clever tricks for quick mental calculations. My eldest like to work by himself on maths, unless really stuck.

My weekly plan for structured work I would like us to get through changes termly, depending on our goals and aims. Its totally geared towards the boys ambitions and dreams.

Currently this term we are working on iGCSE Physics using this book, we are all working through it together, my eldest is making note cards with key terms and formulas for revision and my youngest is just making general notes. We all snuggle up on the sofa and I read through and explain, until they understand one topic or part topic if a complex one. I use real life examples they can relate to, for example, how would you work out the velocity of our dog as he runs from one end of the room to the other?

This may seem quite a formal approach to learning, but my eldest son has goals which require certain exams, so we need to work through some set work for the exams. As a home ed. Mum I am always very aware of the balance between interest and driving the boys to achieve. If they are not interested they won't learn, so I drop the subject or find something that gives them the motivation to regain that interest. I am also aware of age differences between my boys (3 years), so obviously I don't expect my youngest to concentrate for as long and if it gets too technical and switches his brain off, its time for him to go do something else.

On top of the above formal work, my eldest works on English, which is set by his tutor. He is currently working on English literature iGCSE, having just passed his English language iGCSE.

All other learning is informal and autonomous, here is an interesting article on autonomous learning. Our days are full of spontaneous conversations, discussions on every topic you can imagine, for example, this morning we had a 'film studies' type discussion on about Star Trek and how the different aliens were supposed to be based on different stereotype national identities. This discussion also included the big question 'Do aliens exist?'. All quite fascinating, and as always learning happened whilst laughing.

My sons are both avid computer gamers, I gave up trying to turn them in to gardeners or chefs quite a few years ago, they love computer games, much like their father and myself. I can't really condemn this love of PC gaming, when one of my favourite ways to relax is to load up 'League of Legends' and play a few competitive online matches, trying to keep the 17 year old gamers on their toes! I have an extremely competitive streak and this is a fun outlet for it. Anyway digress slightly, my boys have found that role play gaming is fun, its basically drama online, so you act the part of the character in the game you are playing, this is usually part of a community of players, who you can chat to whilst playing. Its sounds mindless, but believe me its highly complex including flying realistic flight simulators whilst talking to a control tower, mapping flight paths and rescuing comrades. I challenge Mums and Dads to attempt to play these games, the multi tasking involved is huge. Both boys have become server admins for servers running gaming communities, to do this they had to write application  and submit them, they had to show maturity and responsibility, believe me there is nothing worse than an 'online gaming troll' so they both are learning to be polite respectful, but also how to deal with idiots (a useful life skill). Both boys have learn't internet safety, how to avoid scamming and how to keep a balance between real life and online life. I discourage night time gaming, so most of the time they go on the PC is in the afternoon, before dinner. This is if we are not out swimming with friends or visiting interesting places.

The boys evenings are jam packed. I guess this is my season as taxi driver, I remember my Mum and Dad taxi driving me about at this age too.  My eldest is very involved with the Air Cadets and is highly motivated to be a pilot, hence the exam work. He is also working on his Duke of Edinburgh award so he is helping to lead the local cub pack. He does many sporting and physical activities with the Aircadets and is also working through a BTEC in aviation. Nearly every weekend has some sort of activity, from service in the community to flying aeroplanes.

My youngest loves Scouts and the camping, archery, hiking, shooting and chopping wood with axes that this involves. He is also learning Karate, which is excellent exercise. He reads every night at bedtime, spy stories and wants to be a Ninja.

Then we all love to watch TV in the evenings together as long as it is an episode of Castle or Chuck, or similar.

So this is we roll...
Today's Pigeon rescue.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Who am I?

Happy New Year :)

Feeling sorry for myself today, but silly christmas movies are cheering me up.

This year is going to be good. I am determined to recognise what I already have so I don't miss anything this year. While I am not feeling too well the last few days I have spent the time day dreaming and planning in my head. Some might call it nest building, I guess they would be right, but its my way of not getting bored when my body wants a few days off.  I found a fun website to make mood boards and try and identify what it is I like.

A few years ago when I moved house for the first time in ages I realised I didn't know what I liked or wanted in a home or house. As a child I was always very happy to go with the status quo, just follow others lead and keep them happy. There is nothing wrong with this but it mean't I really didn't have a clue who I was....if given a clean slate today and freedom to choose, what would I do with it?

I have spent a while pondering on this. Who am I? What do I like? I have always found it hard making decisions when faced with a choice. I think because I never really thought about what I want. I think my christian up bringing is partly to do with this, where conformity was almost seen as a requirement.... but recently I have started to discover that my faith is about complete acceptance with out conformity, with out any requirements...scary thought to someone who's life has always been to conform....I can feel many voices from my past inhaling with shock at this outrageous thought.

Think about it though, when do you feel most loved by others? When they completely accept you warts and all..when they don't say "I will accept you when you change this bit or that of your life". How can I truly accept and love those around me, if I don't know that love myself?

So this year... I am going let those around me to be different, and dare to be myself...