Sunday, 20 February 2011


Week three of home educating: the highlights.

On Monday James and I visited an animal welfare centre and spent some time hanging out with the cats, with a view to possibly adopting one. By the time we left we had fallen for a beautiful black cat called Angel. Fast forward a few days and Angel is now our cat. She is currently hiding under a cupboard in the conservatory and only came out briefly during the night to scale the windowsill and knock some stuff onto the floor. I think she must have scared herself silly as she's back under the cupboard with a look on her cute little face that says 'leave me alone'. However for a couple of hours when she first arrived home, she had a little nosey around the room and seemed, well, not too offended. James also dug out some cat-related books at the library on Wednesday and since then he's been discovering the best ways to settle the cat in to our home and how to look after her in general. (This will all help towards getting his Animal Care badge at Beavers in a few weeks' time.)

On Tuesday we got up dead early and drove to Plymouth, where we checked out the City Museum. There we found, amongst other bits and bobs, some mummified animals from Ancient Egypt, a Hippopotamus skull, various bird skeletons, and some African musical instruments and games which the boys enjoyed playing.

The rest of the week included a steady mix of maths (digital and analogue clocks), English (writing all about 'me') and science (the human body) workbook pages, diary writing, Beavers, and Gruffalo play preparation. James and I worked out how we were going to make the various set pieces - Owl's treetop house, Fox's underground house and Snake's logpile house, as well as the rocks, the stream and the lake, all out of large cardboard boxes. We found some pink fur for the mouse's ears and tail, some orange fur for the fox, and some brown fur for the Gruffalo. We haven't got to the filming part yet, as we are a bit behind with making the costumes. We're going to do lots of painting and costume-making this week, and I'm going to help James make the invitations on the computer for family and friends to come and watch the play later in the week.

There have been some tricky times, but I've decided not to focus on those. All in all, I feel that we have found a happy medium between the structure of the first week and the freedom of the second. It is still very early days, and we are both adjusting to the new pattern of living. We are finding our way, and it feels good. Challenging. But good.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The Gruffalo To The Rescue.

This week, thank the Lord, has been a much better homeschooling experience than the last. After wrestling with our routine for the first week,  I decided to take a different approach with James for the second - more 'hands off' (ie. less bossing from me). I let James choose what he wanted to do, play, read, and watch, making some gentle suggestions along the way, but not pushing anything. And two things happened. One, we both relaxed, which made a huge difference to our ability to communicate and have fun, and two, we actually got some stuff done!

Contrary to my fears that all James would want to do would be to play with Star Wars lego morning, noon and night, he actually surprised me by choosing to spend time listening to The Gruffalo story on CD (a firm fave in our house - thanks Auntie Lou!), watching the brilliant BBC animation that was on TV a couple of Christmasses ago, and then making plans to put on a house performance with Daniel as the mouse, Karl as the Gruffalo and James playing all the other parts (I'm the narrator). We had a 'planning meeting' on Thursday to plan the cast, costumes and set design. We're going to get the materials, make costumes and set pieces and practise the performance during the coming week, film it next weekend (for you lucky people, and for the express purpose of embarrassing James on his 18th birthday, hehe), and perform it for friends and family in half-term (they get no choice in the matter - tough pants!).

What a difference a week makes. We are all smiles here once again. For now.

(Check out the excellent Gruffalo website here.)

Monday, 7 February 2011

In The Beginning: Our First Week.

My son, James, and I have just completed our first week of homeschooling together. The whole process has really served to hold a mirror up to my parenting skills. And I find myself seriously lacking. Lacking patience, lacking compassion, lacking flexibility, lacking joy. I had made all sorts of plans, about how our week would look, and how each day would flow. I was dreaming about the fun we would have together.  But so far it hasn't quite worked out as I had hoped. It's mostly been tough. Tough with a huge dollop of difficult. Or perhaps that's just my perspective.

 We have had some fun, on some days. Like when James, Dan and I went to the woods, and did a nature collection, fed the ducks and swans and had lunch together. The next day James and I made a huge nature picture featuring photographs of our time in the woods, and some of our nature collection. We both enjoyed that.

But most days have been full of struggles. James has been quite out of sorts. He's been angry, confrontational, defiant. He's been cheeky, silly, and distracted. He's been really unenthusiastic about many of our plans (things we both had talked about and agreed on), and unresponsive to my attempts to direct him or challenge his behaviour. To some extent I think this is due to the disruption of the change from school to home. Perhaps he is just pushing the boundaries because I'm his mum and I am trying to carve out a new role as his teacher. Maybe he's reacting to the newness of the circumstances, and things will settle down. I hope they do.

I am trying to be flexible, to think about the options for different ways of learning and interacting. At the same time I am worried about what other people are thinking - how do I convince my husband and other family members that this is going to work out, that we can be adaptable and unconventional and still give our son a well rounded and effective educational experience? How do I convince myself?

I haven't behaved particularly well either. I've been cross and shouty, and too, too serious. I've been anxious to get things done in a certain way, to achieve my goals according to my timescales. I've been talking too much and listening too little. And the furrowed line in the centre of my forehead is getting deeper! I thought I was well prepared for last week. Now I think I've been flying blind.

Preparedness for me has always been about the external - the paperwork, the to-do lists, the right things in the right places, the materials and the books, the trips and the experiences. But I have not prepared myself. And I have not prepared James. Our relationship has taken a bit of a beating over these last few months, as he and I have struggled to navigate the ups and downs of school and home life, and to communicate in our different languages (that's what it feels like some days).

I thought that being prepared meant having the right plans for each day and each week's work, planned responses for this and that behaviour. Now I realise that being prepared is much more than that. It's about me being a mum, the right kind of mum for James. It's about my heart and his. It's about our relationship, our connection, our trust. I am not here to control him, but to nurture, not to boss, but to train, not to do for, but to show. My role is to care, to love, to bless. I am to raise him towards adulthood with care and affection. And our homeschooling journey is now a major part of that. I want to worry less about what he is achieving academically, and concentrate more on how he is developing as a person.

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is older he will not turn from it". (Proverbs 22:6)

I am going to spend some time thinking about what kind of character I would like James to become, and how I can help him to grow into that character. I'll be on my knees praying a lot - I need all the help I can get!