Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Home ed thoughts

I've been contemplating the nature of our home ed journey today, trying to decide what name might characterise our style. I suppose 'autonomous' is the closest, but it's not purely that as I do initiate things sometimes and also impose a little background structure as I find everything runs more smoothly and the kids are happier with that. My daughter, especially, has a great need to know what to expect.
When we first started on this path, I had thought about doing things with quite a lot more structure - of having a particular time of day where we sat down and did more formal educational things, but it doesn't seem to work, and so I am happy to let things go at their own pace a bit more. But I'm not sure where the line is drawn between facilitating, encouraging, and suggesting. My daughter is often reluctant to try something new as she hates not being able to do something and if she can't immediately master a skill she would often rather not do it. Would being truly autonomous mean that I drop it and trust that she'll come back to it later when she matures enough to see that some things are worth practising? Some people never learn that. Or do I push her gently to stick with it, knowing the joy and excitement she feels when she does master something she found difficult? I suppose it depends on the situation - I have reacted in both ways in the past.
I know some people call themselves 'semi-autonomous' and that others say there's no such thing, either you're autonomous or you're not. But does being child-led mean that you respond to their consciously stated wishes, or to their subconsciously expressed needs? Although I hate to say it, and I'll probably be shot for saying so - I do believe that being the parent does give me an extra dimension of knowledge and experience that my children do not have yet and therefore, dare I say it, sometimes I know best.
Home ed can throw up tricky decisions that are taken out of your hands if children go to school. Groups are something I've been thinking about recently. My daughter may be ready for something, but finding a suitable group is tricky. All the activities I've looked into seem to be very much based on putting on shows, taking exams or levels, or training for competitions. She's 5, can she not just do something for the sheer joy of learning a new skill? Plus they're so age-segregated. She and her brother are used to doing things together and he'd be upset if he couldn't join in too, and she she'd feel happier doing it with him there. They're a team.
We had such a bad day the other day that for a few hours I seriously contemplated sending my daughter to school. Later on, once she was in bed and I got a bit of perspective I realised that doing so as a 'punishment' was not the best reason for such a momentous decision. School, if it is chosen, should be a positive choice, not a last resort if you feel you're not coping. Also, as my husband kindly pointed out, it was a Saturday so she wouldn't have been at school anyway! Everyone has bad days and things have been fine since then, but I am still pondering introducing something new to the mix, either some more formal stuff on an ad hoc basis when the kids fancy it, or maybe a more formal activity or group if I can find something appropriate that the children want to do. There is a local HE ice-skating thing, but I'm not sure if I can make myself take a 3 year old and a 5 year old skating by myself. Oh well, just more to meditate on.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Skirts and cultural norms

Am in a bit of a quandary. Normally I don't succumb to those cultural norms with no real point, but I'm having trouble with the issue of skirts. My daughter has only recently started wearing skirts. Until a few weeks back she wasn't bothered what she wore so I put her in trousers as they're easier, warmer and better for playing/climbing. But then she asked for a skirt, so I got her a skirt. I hadn't anticipated my son would then also ask for a skirt. And therein lies my dilemma. I find that I'm not keen on the idea of dressing him in a skirt outside the house. Inside the house, it's fine whatever he chooses to wear, but I must be more conventional than I'd thought (what a horrible thought!) as I find I don't want to get him a skirt. He asks me why boys don't wear skirts and I have no answer for him because there is no answer. Maybe I'll have to compromise and get him a kilt! My grandmother was Fraser from Inverness so I could even get him a genuine clan tartan, but I think I'm just disappointed with myself for kowtowing to utterly groundless cultural norms.

Monday, 18 August 2008

A quick panic

Every now and again I have a quick panic that we don't do any structured education. I try to remind myself how much the children learn day to day, but have these occasional flashes of panic that we should all be sitting down for 'school-time' at a set time each day for a specified amount of time. Other autonomous learners out there - please remind me why it is we don't do this and that the kids are learning anyway!!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Disappointing book

I've just finished reading Panic Nation: Unpicking the Myths We're Told About Food and Healthwhich promised to 'expose the myths we're told about food and health'. I was drawn to its claims that it had a leading expert in the field give the genuine facts about each issue in a separate essay which would then enable the reader to sort the facts from the opinions of those who may be biased and thus be able to make up our own minds.

That's exactly the sort of book I could do with as I don't trust anyone these days. But sadly, it was very disappointing. Many of the essays were characterised by the kind of hysterical hyperbole that they condemned in those they disagreed with, and a fair amount of them presented no sources for 'facts' they quoted or else apparently presented merely a different opinion to their opponents without any more eveidence than those they condemned as 'zealots', 'health freaks', and even 'witch doctors'.

There were some exceptions - the essays on cholesterol, the sun and skin cancer, and salt were very interesting and presented new evidence with huge consequences for health decisions. The chapter on food additives was well-balanced and written without hysteria by the author of E for Additives and summed up well with a reasonable position of - some are harmless, some are helpful, some are harmless but also pointless, some might be harmful to some people, and some are dubious for most people.

The chapter about pesticides was utterly awful and didn't even mention at least half the issues surrounding pesticides, let alone engage with them. Apparently, pesticides are harmless, end of story. Oh, apart from if you're a poverty-stricken, illiterate third world farmer who has not training or safety equipment, in which case yes you get poisoned, but that's OK for us in the West. That seemed to be the main thrust of the argument. Concerns over disrupting eco-systems by wiping out whole species from a particular locale, salination of the soil, pollution of water-tables were not even mentioned, nor the fact that pesticides allow large-scale monoculture which has its own problems...

The authors seem to have a bit of chip on their shoulders about people being 'anti-science' and attribute every different viewpoint to their own to this allegedly dangerous tendency. NOw, I'm really not anti-science, but they managed to really get my back up anyway by talking of science as if it is infallible and omnipotent and as if anyone who is not a professional scientist has no right to hold an opinion on anything.

I had the idea that science was to do with asking questions and doing research to find answers or to learn more. But this book gave the impression that everything is known and anyone who questions it is being 'ludicrous'. I also felt they were setting out to 'debunk' things in a controversial manner, so they were hardly unbiased to start with, which is not very scientific. They kept saying 'there is no evidence for x or y'. That doesn't actually tell me anything. That could easily mean that no research has been done at all, or that the research which has been done doesn't support it. As my science teachers used to say 'absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.'

So, I am still looking for a book which sets out the actual facts of current hot topics, as far as they are known, with no hidden (or not so hidden) agendas and no axe to grind, which treats me as intelligent enough to understand science but that takes out the most impenetrable jargon. If you are looking for that book too, then this one isn't it.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Pox on it all!

I think my son has chicken pox. Actually, I'm pretty sure he has but I don't want to believe it as it makes me feel weary just thinking about it. He had it before but as he was only 2 months, the doctor warned us he may well get it again. I caught him scratching his scalp and he asked me what the bumps on his head were - closer inspection: classic dew-drop spots in little clusters. Only on his scalp so far though, which I thought was weird. I thought it usually started on the tummy, but maybe I'm getting confused. Anyway, it would explain the grouchiness and the constant feeding the last few days. Though ironically, he seems much better since the spots came out. The biggest pain will probably be keeping them entertained while we can't go anywhere there will be other people, or have anyone over that hasn't had it. At least my daughter was 2 when she had it and she got a fairly thorough dose too so I won't have them both ill at the same time.
Here's hoping it's a mild dose as before!

Monday, 11 August 2008

Crafty Mama!

I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, a crafty Mama and yet this last week or two, I've been feeling inspired to at least try my hand and some craft stuff. It's turned out better than I'd dared to hope so I thought I'd share the fruits of my labours!

After the success of our Lammas loaf a couple of weeks back, we tried our hand at a different shape. Not quite as good but still very tasty:

Then I got the idea to do some crafts from felt. Not felting, that sounds altogether hard, but just making things from felt which sounded just my kind of craft - mainly hand-sewing and not needing any seams or anything. So, I tried my hand at some felt food which seems to be all the rage on the net at the moment, and this is how it came out:

Then, of course, my daughter's teeth started being loose which set me on to the issue of what to do about the Tooth Fairy? We don't really 'do' Father Christmas in our house as we didn't want to tell the children that something was true when it wasn't. We do tell stories about him and have him as mythic character but presents are always exchanged between real people, to give the idea of reciprocity and that it is just as exciting to give presents as to receive them. So, in a similar spirit, I didn't want to have a literal Tooth Fairy, but neither did I want to destroy the magic of childhood or let such an important milestone as lost teeth go by unmarked. So I got the idea to make a Tooth Fairy which my daughter can have in her bedroom and for every tooth she loses, she can choose a beautiful bead or button to sew onto the fairy's wings. That way, each tooth is commemorated and at the end of it all, she'll have a personalised Tooth Fairy to remember it all by. And here is the fairy, though it does look rather more like a butterfly:

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Slowly does it

Although it's not a new book by any means, In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed has just fallen into my hands and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. Having read a lot of books on this kind of subject (and enjoyed them) including How to Be Free and Affluenza amongst others, I wasn't sure what there was to add. But Carl Honore proved me wrong by covering some aspects of the subject of living more slowly and mindfully that others had failed to mention, such as sex, gardening, cooking and music.

All in all, this was a delightful read and inspiring as well as fascinating.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Wobbly teeth!

My daughter has her first wobbly tooth! Or teeth actually as both the middle bottom two are wobbly at the same time. I was quite surprised at how emotional I felt on discovering this. It feels like such a big milestone somehow - the start of getting adult teeth. I wasn't really expecting it yet either, though I suppose she got her baby teeth quite early too and she is a tall girl for her age. She's been going on 25 ever since she was born.

I've been dreading this stage - both of my children were absolutely AWFUL with teething as babies and small children. I tried everything from camomile tea, camomile powders, Ashton & Parsons Teething Powders, amber necklaces, cold things to chew on, constant breastfeeding, cranial osteopathy, right through to the dreaded Calgel and Calpol and still there were times when nothing could soothe them and they just screamed. I dreaded every tooth though my daughter tended to do them in batches of 6 which made them worse at the time but at least over relatively quickly in total.

As my daughter is Highly Sensitive and in particular finds pain and blood very difficult to deal with, I had been wondering how she'd deal with the idea. We have talked about it already and read books with wobbly teeth in so she'd know what to expect and it wouldn't be a shock, but sometimes no matter how much we prepare her, the reality of a situation can still overwhelm her completely. So far though she seems sanguine about the wobbliness and I'm just hoping the new teeth when they come through are a bit easier to deal with than the first set were!

And don't even ask me if we're going to do the Tooth Fairy thing, I'm having enough trouble processing it all as it is!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Strange things you find yourself saying...

...when you're a parent. Today I have said "Yes, even Luke Skywalker has to go to the toilet" and "right, so I'll experiment with a fried egg and then progress onto making a banana" and "please don't shoot people, they might not like it" as well as "wow, I've never seen a pumpkin with a tongue before!" and then finished by arbitrating in an argument involving the existence or otherwise of certain colours in each child's imaginary world in which my son had laid claim to blue and refused to allow my daughter to have anything blue in her world.

Being a parent has to be the strangest thing you can do with your time!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Making friends?

How do you make friends? It's a weird process. When you're at college or work or hang out with a crowd of friends it can be an easy and organic process, but when you are at home with children, it becomes a bit more awkward. Recently, I have tried the contacting random home educating families nearby method, which was odd. We've met quite a few people through that but the genuine friendships springing from shared interests and outlooks still grow quite slowly and it's a nerve-racking process a bit like answering a lonely hearts ad and going on a blind date.

So, I've started going to LLL meetings. This was my second one and though everyone was friendly and chatty, I find big groups of people quite stressful and it's hard to pick out individuals who you might have something more in common with. And then when you do feel you might click with a particular person, there's that awkward part where you try and transfer the friendship to a one-on-one thing rather than a 'see you at each meeting' kind of thing. Instead of being a blind date, it's now more akin to asking someone out on a first date.

Now I've never really 'dated' as such so I'm not sure how valid this comparison is, but it certainly feels quite weird to me. There's so much potential for feeling rejected or for feeling obligated to people you don't actually like, or both! I find people tricky at the best of times so I'm feeling quite exhausted now at making such a huge effort and speaking to lots of people I don't know trying to be friendly and chatty and open. I know it's the only way, but phew...

Monday, 4 August 2008

Book reviews

I've been doing a lot of thinking the last few days about the computer and the world of the internet and I've come to the conclusion that I need to revise the way in which I use them. It's hard to really get to know someone properly online unless you're exchanging real emails on a one-to-one basis, but it is easy to *think* you know people and then be disappointed and disillusioned. I need to withdraw from virtual worlds a bit, even if that means feeling a bit isolated for a while. Better honestly isolated than feeling the delusion of support.

And so to books. Reading and writing are huge parts of my life which I ahven't really alluded to much on my blogs up until now. So, more discussion of what I'm reading and writing. Recently, I read Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics which was a very dense and thoughtful read and has caused me to reflect on some aspects of my life and think very hard about others. In broad terms, I generally agreed with many of the author's points as I have in her previous books. I've also seen her speak on various occasions so I felt her voice and her passion come through the text which may otherwise have become rather too mystic and abstract. I'm still struggling with some issues raised by the book, which is usually the sign of a good book - sanctity and the practical consequences of animist views are areas I've always struggled to get my head round, but I'd really recommend the book, not only to Pagans as many of the issues raised are relevant to any person of faith, especially perhaps the more environmentally-based faiths such as Buddhism and simple ones such as Quakerism.

I've just finished The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crime Adventures 2) which is the first Jasper Fforde book I have read. I've always been a science-fiction fan but this is different from most I ahve read before. I suppose the nearest other authors to compare it to are Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams in that it is stuffed full of puns, jokes and allusions to all kinds of literary and general knowledge. However, unlike those two authors, I felt that Fforde sacrificed characterisation and the flow of the story for this humour. The characters' post-modern awareness of being characters in a book and comments of the author's skill or otherwise was very jarring for me, as I like to lose myself in a book and its world. But it is a valid literary device which others may well enjoy, so for that reason I would recommend it.