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A Few Random Things I've Learned over these last two years homeschooling
And it's been "one of those days" So lets put it all into the soup pot! Here are a few random things I've learned during my first two homeschooling years...* Some days (such as today) everything will seem chaotic and seemingly wrong.
This is life.
The key is not to see these days as failures but as the workings out of a bigger picture. Remember the Navajo Rug?Many are the opportunities for my children and me, ( especially me!) to learn a little more compassion, tolerance and empathy toward one another during these "imperfect" days.
Even when I react in completly the wrong ways and I feel like a complete failure. I have found that we all kind of grow stronger and kinder when we have to stretch a little to reach one another.
All things can be redeemed!
Days such as these are far from wasted.
*Every experience can be embraced, remember childbirth! It might look like one step forward, two steps back at times but good things grow underneath the ground. Little shoots emerge if I give my love to the moment and leave the outcomes with God in trust.
I shouldn't shelter my girls from the messiness of life's lessons anyway. What I can try to do more is guide them on a viable pathway through the stresses, conflicts and disappointments of life. One benefit for having lots of siblings is it certainly gives many opportunities for them to learn these lessons right in their own home!So here I am after "one of those days" writing this as a message to myself as much as anyone else. I am still learning the best ways to navigate these emotional waters. I trust that God gave us to one another, just as we are, so that we can grow towards Him together. At least we are doing it "in love" and as a family rather than as part of a peer group in an emotionally detached playground, for this I am grateful.
Here are some of the positives, for there have been so many, I've gleaned along the way...
* Doing one thing truly well is better than doing 100 things, half heartedly, distractedly or poorly. Quality over quantity every time for us.
* I find my girls learn best when there is low stress levels in their environment. This has meant sacrificing some things in order to prioritise peace in our hearts and our home.
These things have often been housework related.
Sometimes it has also meant cutting out some extra curricular activities.
I have had to let go of some expectations, schedules, plans and curriculum choices that simply haven't worked for us.
* Customising our homeschooling life has been key to maintaining, balance, peace and harmony through the days.
What works for one family, will not work for every family.
Comparisons are never healthy.
Intuitively, I know what works for us but I have sometimes followed my insecurities instead of my intuition when I have done this things just don't flow.
I truly believe that home learning should happen without great strain or effort on a parents part.
If there is terrible stress or strain involved it is probably because I have been trying to fit us all into a mold made for someone else.
*I have come to see more and more that although fashioning long term objectives can be important, these objectives should not be fulfilled at the expense of daily peace and joy.
Real success is measured in soul fulfillment and contentment not pound coins and certificates.
* I've learned to let go of guilt! Some high ideals just need to be released back into the universe for safe keeping :)*For us movies and TV can be an enjoyable part of our life. However we choose what we spend our time watching carefully and if there is something controversial on, we freely discuss the issues involved as a family.
*We also eat our fair share of frozen pizza, take out Indian food or fish and chips!
Healthy food is a part of our day to day life but there are times when we need to be moderate and not create a religion out of our ideals however good they may be.
* Memories are more important and enduring than spotless surfaces.
* Ironing is also not a priority. I'll give that one it's own bullet point :)
* Good quality art materials are always worth investing in, even for the littlest artist!
* Over time, it seems that I have become much more flexible with our days.
It is good to maintain a deep level rhythm but the surface waters must keep on a moving freely and spontaneously or life will quickly stagnate.
* I really have tried to smile at the children more. Sometimes when I catch myself in the mirror looking serious and harassed I have felt really awful that the children have had to see me looking like that. I want to become more mindful of my expressions.
* I've learned that one of the best learning tools is letting go. Simply letting the children explore their passions as much as possible. I now let them have much more time for their own projects than for "regular" school.
*I've learned to facilitate rather than legislate. Present opportunities rather than objectives.
* I constantly aspire towards afternoons left completely free to simply live and be.
* I delegate household chores so much more now the children are older (real work is learning too!) Chores also give the children a sense of responsibility. I wish that I had learned more about what it takes to run a home when I was younger. That really would have been a practical vocational training!
* This saying has served me well over the last two years..."Don't worry about tomorrow, every day has enough trouble of it's own."
I can only so my best with the resources available at each given moment. It is a waste time regretting the past or fretting over the future.
* I have come to see that truly, given enough freedom for inspiration to take root, children will learn loads no matter what. It's what they are designed to do!
* Over time I have become more passionate about my own work! A parent's passion is the greatest inspiration. Children imitate more than they follow instructions. When I'm loving my work the children pick up on it and find joy in their own passions and projects.
* I try to follow Jewel's advice as much as possible and take time everyday to wonder at my children. Look deep in their eyes, stroke their hair, enter into their world.
* Our faith is our life. When we put God first everything else just seems to fall into place.
* Relationships are always more important than results.
* Creating a gentle ambiance in the home using music, candles and sticking to regular refreshing break times helps things run more smoothly.
*Tea, biscuits and blankets are cures for almost anything.
* So is bubble bath!
* Spending time alone with God is something I need to do every day.
* I have begun to take more time out to nurture my own creativity, whether that be writing, painting, sewing, knitting or baking.
* These days I read and consume (online or in Real life) only that which inspires and nourishes my heart and soul.
* Ann and her "thousand gifts" have helped me become thankful for the seemingly small and simple yet endlessly precious moments that each day has to offer. This has created an incredible new perspective for me.
* I have become braver during these last two years I think. I really want to try, day by day, to live the dream I have deep within me regardless of what others may think or say.
Each of our paths is unique. Little by little I am beginning to walk mine with a head held high. Our own splashes of unique colour only make the world a more vibrant place. We should all paint away!
* ... And as we paint our own canvases endlessly encourage our children to express their own uniqueness fearlessly too!
These past two years have been some of the most challenging, messy, joyful, spirit driven, beautiful, wonderful and vibrant years of my life. I wouldn't trade them or change them for anything. The ups, the downs and all the bits in the middle have brought us close as a family. I have learned so much about my children and myself. I have learned about my capacities, limitations, strengths and intuitions. I have learned to trust myself more. I have learned to be braver. I have learned not to worry about what others think and be true to myself, my beliefs and the life God has given our family to live. I have learned to be truly content with my portion. I have learned to extract joy from simple, everyday moments. This next year will have it's own set of challenges with a new baby on board. But I am so ready to embrace it all. Mess, glitter and all!
This little piece of Rumi's poem "Miles of Riverside Canebed" is making me smile at the moment...
"You think you are idling around town
on a donkey, or heading off
the opposite way, but you are not.
This caravan is a triumph
being drawn directly into God's reality."
Sometimes it seems like we aren't fulfilling any of the world's conventions or obligations. Certainly, our way is nothing of the fast paced production line modern life seems to have embraced.
Often there is no evidence to behold of what we have gathered and gleaned. but I know deep inside that this way, the way we walk is the right way for us...
... And I am enjoying the journey .
So I thought I'd write a little about why we unschool
However I must offer a disclaimer... These are just my own musings on unschooling and really just a way of clarifying my thoughts on the subject... The beauty of the concept is it is free, adaptable and open ended. Therefore... there are no rules (sheepish grin :)
For example...I absolutely love Rudolf Steiner's educational philosophy and we apply much of it to our homeschooling life. Maybe I'll write on that another day :)
I also embrace many of Charlotte Mason's ideas such as the value of learning through the use of "living books" as opposed to textbooks (though we have used the odd text book now and then when it has served a particular purpose....rule breaking and radical us see ;)
And her endorsement of outdoor learning is something I try to practice as often as possible (in other words, when it's not raining here in merry England ;)
But that is the beauty of it! For us unschooling is a non formulaic "way of living" rather than simply a homeschooling perspective.
For me, essentially, unschooling is a whole hearted, non judgmental embracing of life.
It is also a whole hearted, non judgmental embracing of children. Whatever their character, sensibility, temperament or interests, they are accepted unconditionally instead of moulded to fit any preconceived ideas I might have about who they should be, how they should be, what and when they should be interested in learning.
It is also an embracing of the natural curiosity and interest in the world that we are all innately born with until perhaps we are told that we "should" be learning something else instead.
I believe that children have a fantastic ability to seek out activities that they know their own particular personalities "need" to develop a full understanding of the world and how they will fit into it.
My children and I enjoy following our passions wherever they may lead.... (and the day allows;)
In fact when I indulge my own passions and interests such as gardening, needlework, painting reading or writing it sparks their interest too. For example the girls started taking an interest in knitting when I was spending time in the afternoon and evening knitting baby clothes last year! Emmy has now well surpassed me in crochet!
It is often assumed that handwork is somehow inferior to academic work but I have seen first hand how handwork has helped my little girl Matilda who had speech delay to develop skills which have boosted her confidence and interest in what are percieved to be conventional academics.
Tilly absolutly loves stiching on embroidery hoops, knitting, latch hook, hand spinning and weaving and spends much of her day on these things. And I love that I am able to allow her the time she needs to do these things. She also spends an awful lot of time, playing imaginativly, drawing, obsessing about disney princesses and doing "not very much" at all :)
Yet all these things are important to her learning about the world in her own way I believe.
Unschooling is expansive.
It has no edges, no hurdles, no hoops to jump through, no scores.
It doesn't value one particular set of skills and talents for example... (maths and science) over others (art and dance) like the school system is often want to do.
Unschooling is flexible. It fits around momentous life changing events such as having a baby. It is able to thoroughly engage with the experience of the moment as it is not constrained by deadlines and timetables.
Unschooling doesn't measure an experience by it's educational worth.
The categories between play, work, learning and experiencing merge.
I find unschooling naturally takes nourishment from everything.
Then it moves, gently and organically to the next experience.
And maybe, this is the thing I like the very most about unschooling. It is organic. It is process.
It is not simply goal orientated, pass the test, earn that certificate, jump through that hoop!
It is all about journeying. Together. Parent and child.
It does not make education an imposition of schedule, task or curriculum. It is open ended and pregnant with possibilities. It is an unfolding, a becoming a discovering of self.
And in that sense it is actually very practical and applicable to "real life".
It is a learning how to live, function, make choices, manage time, life and normal social situations as you grow.
And the best thing? This learning takes place in a warm, nurturing, loving atmosphere of family and community.
When the day awakens me it feels like I am going on an adventure.
I don't know exactly where we will end up, but I do know that we will be enjoying the journey getting there.
Straight after breakfast and morning prayers Boo runs to the harp and starts playing "The Sally Gardens" which she picked up by ear after hearing Emmy play it on her Irish whistle the other day. Tilly goes upstairs and watches part of "Swan Lake" on you tube and rehearses her routine for the ballet show she'll be performing in July. Emmy picks up a book on anatomy, she wants to delve deeper so she does some online research. Fina finds her paint set in the craft cupboard and some white paper from the desk and starts painting a story she has asked to me to read aloud to her.
We flow on to lunch. Emmy finds a recipe for cous cous she would like to try.
We make it together, the little ones chop up some bananas and strawberries for pudding.
Emmy changes the baby while I do the dishes.
It's sunny so we go to the park, the little ones meet up with some other homeschooling kids and they play for a while. Emmy takes the camera, takes some photos that she will later edit on photo shop.
The girls watch a movie while I finish dinner.
Tani comes home we eat and chat about the day.
Emmy works on her blog and her Bush craft website. She irons her clothes and polishes her shoes ready for cadets.
The little girls take dip in the bath and get ready for bed. Boo reads the younger ones a bedtime story.
And so it goes...
And that pretty much sums up our days right now :)
Free flowing, full, fun and un-schooled.
Edited to add this link which has some fantastic articles on unschooling. How it works, why it works and even why it may not come naturally.
Learning How to Think
A couple of days ago we went to a big park we often visit close to our home.
The girls ran in the grass, pretended to fish in the river, played pooh sticks on the bridge and climbed trees in the meadow.
Seraphina had a lot of fun balancing on a fallen log.
The girls decided to put the money they would have used for a train ride into the Instead of Box.
On the way back to the car the girls stopped at a huge tree stump. There were little green shoots growing out of the side of the stump.
It must have been around 1000 years old before it fell to the axe. Emmy tried to count the rings. The wide rings of wet years, the narrow rings of dry.
This tree could have told some stories. What souls may have taken shade under it's canopy of leaves in years gone by. What battles won and lost, loves found? How many children must have climbed it's once willowy branches?
Seraphina and Matilda became tigers immediately, digging and scratching in the dirt and grass. The families passing us by on the way to the adventure playground must have been bemused to see two little girls covered in dry dirt crawling on the ground and making a camp out of an old tree stump!
Emmy grabbed a stick and started to twist it on the log to make an indentation to make a fire with. The wood got really warm and smelled of damp charcoal after a little while.
The fascination and concentration with which the little ones played was wonderful. I felt bad dragging them away from their game.
I thought of how anxiously we tend to rush, at times, from activity to activity, sensual thrill to sensual thrill. We teach our children to follow a pattern, that leads from one organised activity to another. All the way from the playground to the theme park to the movie theatre.
We believe we are building our children's intelligence but we are force feeding a regime. One that they will be a slave to as an adult.
Pit stops of overstimulating pleasure that leave residues of discontent till the next thrill arrives to distract.
I remember seeing a little boy, the other day, trying to stop at a puddle, he kept letting his little hand slip from his father's grasp so that he could pick up a pebble and throw it in the water.
The father, intentions nothing but good, pulled his little son away. "come on we want to get to the swings don't we?"
The little boy just wanted a moment to fully engage with his environment, absorb it's limitations and integrate into it's capacities.
So we drag the child through the puddle they want to paddle in and over the tree stump that tells stories, across the bridges and over the fences.
The truly necessary becomes nothing but a hurdle to overcome.
I looked at my girls digging in the dirt, counting tree rings, building pretend fires and laying down upon the stump of a near 10000 year old tree, cut down for the sake of making a quick route into the playground and picnic area and I found myself saying out loud.... "You know they are learning how to think".
A few Thoughts on the Waldorf Approach to Learning
The idea of " ages and stages" particularly interests me as I watch my own children's development.
The traditional Waldorf stages are defined as...
- Hands/Will/ Angels, ( 0-7)
- Hearts/Imagination/ Artists (7-14)
- Head/Understanding/Scientists (14-21)
I really wanted to write a few of my "thoughts in progress" on the first stage of development the Will/Hands stage. I have noticed that each one of my children seems to have benefited enormously from spending time in this stage.
Still, all these thoughts are very much for my own mental consolidation as anything else :) I do love learning and pondering "aloud" as anyone who visits this blog for any length of time can attest :)
One thing that has become really apparent to me is how important the physical aspect of experiencing life is to very small children.
Yet doesn't it seem that many of a small child's immediate drives and needs are being more and more inhibited in modern culture?
I've thought of a few possible reasons for this.
Life has certainly become far more structured, micromanaged, sanitized, goal orientated instead of process orientated and generally intolerant of the kinds of chaos children can create!
One example of this, that immediately springs to mind, is the uneasiness many people feel about mothers breast feeding their babies in public.
Actually, I was watching a wonderful film called "Babies" the other day!
The film is a series of excerpts following the journey of four children from around the world from birth to toddler hood.
There were many similarities between the babies as you can imagine, but one thing stuck me.
The environments in which the babies of African tribes lived and played were so much more natural and intergrated.
Playing with natures own materials and simple tools in imitation of the adults around them was integrated into every day circumstance.
Music, dance, tradition, work and play all flowed in a gentle stream of natural living. The children "imitated" and picked up skills naturally without any pushing or prodding. Incidentally, I was particularly taken with how chilled out the children, and mothers were.
Small children are so tactile and it was wonderful to see these little babies splashing as their mothers washed clothes in the stream, playing in the mud, pretending to "work" with stones and twig "tools" as their mothers did their own work around them.
The Mongolian babies naturally played alongside, goats and chickens, sometimes with hilarious if precarious (to these western eyes) results.
Another thing that stood out for me was the apparent lack of any "real" toys. The children simply played with what they found in their immediate environment and let their imaginations do the rest!
The babies of industrialised countries were absolutely beautiful to watch too of course.
They were lovingly lavished with many varied experiences by their conscientious parents. However, one thing struck me in particular. The level of effort it took these parents to re-produce, what were for the African babies, "natural" learning experiences.
It seemed like the babies were being "channeled" into these experiences and that these experiences were in someway, detached from their natural everyday home based realities.
It was as if they had to fit into their own little compartments labelled, "music and movement time", park time, art time etc...
For example, music, dance and socialization was introduced through groups and classes which they had to be "taken" to.
Activities such as art, sand play, water play and general "messin around type play" were likewise often set apart from the everyday home environment.
There was less of a sense of relevance to these activities than there was in the tribal community.
This lack of integration may be partly why it is becoming increasingly hard to bring up families in the modern world.
There is so much pressure for parents to make sure their child hits all the milestones, is popular socially, academically on target and self confident to boot. There is, of course, a huge industry geared toward our children acquiring all these skills.
Due to external work pressures parents also often lack the time needed to integrate the wild, messy play of small children into everyday life and experience.
Modern life calls for perfectly clean surfaces.
Modern life is also very masculine, technological, fast paced and industrial. These aspects of life conflict with the feminine, intuitive, patient, earthiness that nurtures the small child in their hands/will/angels stage.
Now that preschools are replacing play with the practice of the three R's the time for nourishing this developmental stage in children is becoming thinner and sparser.
According to the Waldorf philosophy, as far as I can gather, pre-academic skills are acquired primarily through use of the hands. Children must have real and relevant contact with the physical aspects of everyday life before being able to transfer this knowledge to the symbolism of words and numbers on a piece of paper.
Children have to "feel" and experience before they can begin to think symbolically.
Handicrafts, painting, percussion, dance, movement, poetry, sand, water, mud, sticks, cotton reels, spoons, bowls, balancing, climbing, texture.
We know small children are drawn toward these things.
Maybe if we lengthen the time at which children are given to explore this first stage of development they will be better equipped emotionally and mentally for the next stage.
It has been interesting for me to read studies which indicate that introducing academics to children before they are ready can ultimately hinder rather than help them learn.
Unschooling has definitely helped me to trust my children more. I can see where their natural interest takes them and encourage and nurture that particular path regardless of the "normal" standard.
Children have to be given the time to grow as whole people, mind, body, heart and soul.
We tend to place a lot of emphasis on the mind even for the smallest of children.
Yet isn't every facet of the personality equally important, some parts more than others at different stages?
I think what I'm trying to reach for in all this is the word integration.
I want to reach for it more in our life.
I've noticed, since my 13 year old has begun homeschooling, she has been drawn so much to handicrafts, textural experiences and play, almost like a small child.
I think that she is trying to make up time that was taken away from here when she was younger.
Funnily enough, I've also noticed that the more time I give her to explore these things the more "alive", focused and enthusiastic she has been toward her more academic work.
It has been a journey of trust, a groping toward the light of heart living where decisions are made from a place of soul integrity instead of fear or conformity. Fear of not hitting the superimposed targets that tell us and our children that we are doing everything "correctly".
My children lead me more and more into exciting and interesting places of insights and questions about what life is really about and what matters most at the beginning, middle and end of it all.
Okay, the girls and their Daddy have just come back from ballet so this particular ramble is over :)
High fives if you made it this far ;)
Filling pages ( A homeschool plan for the year)
"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)The new school year is ebbing closer to this little shore. Pencils are being sharpened, books are being stacked and cupboards are being cleaned out and restocked.
This year I haven't begun to write any plans. I am officially plan less.
It could simply be, that this is the "unschooling" ethos, or maybe it's just me, but I find that my detailed plans and lists have always got in the way of the big picture the one God holds in His hands.
These plans and lists (much like workbooks) have often become a trap that once caught up in, can't be easily wriggled out of. And wriggled out of they must be when pregnancy, sickness, interuptions, toddlers and just plain life itself grabs a big chunky crayon and scribbles all over their tidy margins.
And then there are the many times, I don't/can't, fulfil/ cover/navigate/ balance and leap over the plans and checklists and maps and diagrams and workbooks and tightropes and hurdles I've laid before me and my family. And like watching the white frosted crest of a wave fall in slow motion blur over pages full of running ink. So the swirling out of organised into disorganised chaos left a breathless, stunned and washed up me upon a suddenly silent and undiscovered shore!
And I was afraid to take the first step upon the smooth sand, afraid to leave my mark.
Maybe that's the point though. Maybe I was never meant to be taking the first step alone in the first place. Maybe, it was never my job to draw the map into this uncharted territory, maybe I was simply only ever asked to follow the one already waiting for me to unroll.
Staring at the empty pages of hours, days, weeks, months, years stretched out before me and I admit that I tremble a little. Yet I know from past experience that I can't superimpose my plan onto God's. His plan is bigger and better than mine. His plan takes account of not only the years ahead, so distant they are hidden by the narrowness of my perception, but my moment by moment choices, actions and attitudes.
So maybe I do have a plan after all. A plan of prayer, that will carry, lead and feed me when I become weary, lost and low on blood sugars.
A prayer that will lead, guide, form and shape the days and years ahead.
My scripture for the year was based on Jesus's parable of the vine. I have returned again and again to this truth. He is the vine. His father is the gardener. We are the branches. We can do nothing apart from Him.
So daily, we feed and grow on The Word. In prayer He grafts us to His side.
And that is where our plans for the year will begin.
First they will seem as small as a seed, we may hardly believe that they will transform into anything close to the flower we dream of. Yet slowly they will begin to form a little green shoot. One day I know they will blossom.
One day we may look around us, and see that a garden has grown up around us all the time.
I'm not good at growing naturally. I can't dig the soil, sow the seed, water it, shade it and plant it out on my own, with my own plans. I have to give the moments I have as a gift to God. Let Him do with them what He will. Let the gardener intervene.
And when I struggle to loosen my hold on my worries. As they wrestle me to the ground, and at times, somehow I am drawn toward them as if they would offer some protection. I will remember the gentleness of His touch.
Faith doesn't pull, or plead or grab, it just holds out it's hand.
So tentatively I will stretch out my fingertips and cling on, like a tendril round a cane.
Till the sap of life, which, runs through this cane, this staff of faith, begins to run through me too.
And around it our days might grow, flourish, bloom.
Our empty pages may be filled with memories and lessons learned.
Undulating landscapes built of trial and joy. Peaks and valleys carved out with both the laughter and tears of learning, walking, living, growing and trusting together.
It doesn't have to be all about, activities, or shoe-horning the children into over demanding schedules.
A little bit of talking, connecting, natural conversation and reading aloud goes such a long way with helping the girls to internalise knowledge.
Instead of being "outside" of the learning process, almost as an overseer, I am trying to get "within" the learning process with them. See things through their eyes.
This is so helpful for both myself and the girls and it is creating such bonds between us. Memories too.
It is not hard to learn when learning is a joyful experience for all involved.
I have found that they pick up on "my vision" too. My feelings and general attitude are reflected by them. They really are little mirrors, polished to reflect and interpret the world around them.
This is why I feel so much responsibility to teach them the most important things in life.
Finding joy in simple things, giving and serving others and most importantly, knowing, loving and remaining in God through each and every day, moment by moment.
My scripture for the year is Jesus's parable of the vine where he reminds his disciples that he is the vine and they are the branches. To receive life, truth, strength, peace (all the gifts of the spirit) they must learn to remain "in Him."
This can be so hard when I keenly feel a thousand different tugs from every side of my life.
I feel like Jesus is trying to pull me down into the deep waters, while I am often fearfully trying to scramble up to the tempestuous surface for air.
My mind is on dinner, activities, expectations, a clean house, responsibilities, ....
And I forget that non of these things will reach true fulfilment unless I remain "in Him" As a branch connected to the vine of life.
To remain at peace in the deep waters of His life is what I want the children to learn about first.