Sunday, December 31, 2006
Festivities have continued here, for days and days, as they are wont to do at this time of year.
On Boxing Day, it was just the four of us. We had thought of a country walk, but the weather didn’t cooperate, so we had a lazy day at home. Quite harmonious, I think, though I can’t now remember much about it.
Allie’s dad and his wife came for lunch on Wednesday, after doing a grand tour of all the local family. We exchanged presents and played cards, and all was jolly.
While Allie and the kids popped round to play with their cousin B. on Thursday morning, I popped out for food and a new printer (still in its box, as the Christmas tree is taking up the computer table’s space). After lunch, we went to the pictures, to see A Night at the Museum. The film was good fun, but the twelve year old girls talking continually in the row behind us were quite irritating.
We had a big day out in London on Friday, where we met my parents, my sister and her family at the Science Museum. This went very well. We met in the basement where we swapped presents and the kids had several goes on the thing where you have to evade a laser alarm system, before venturing briefly into the chaotic Launch Pad. We all listened to an entertaining little talk by “Amy Johnson” about her solo flight to Australia, then went to see Deep Sea 3D at the Imax. Some people went on the simulator machines in the Flight gallery, then we wandered about in the materials bit for a while until it was time to go to Pizza Express for a lovely tea. After that, we hopped on a bus and rode into the centre of London to see the lights before going our separate ways. It was about 11pm when we got home and we were all exhausted.
Saturday was another family gathering – a birthday celebration for Allie’s brother. More rampaging about with cousins, and a round of the fiendish Yes/No game.
Nobody knew what to do with themselves today, as we didn’t have anything planned. The kids entertained themselves by bickering, and Allie and I retreated into our books and knitting. She has been absorbed for the last couple of days in ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, which is fascinating and thought-provoking. There were some games played too – Club Penguin, Monopoly, Uno - and peace was brought to the evening by a triple bill of Fawlty Towers on DVD.
Happy New Year to everyone!
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Yesterday was equally festive – we had our traditional family gathering at Allie’s mum’s house, where we all picked up a jolly good crop of presents, including some beautiful little dragons, a ferocious dragon t-shirt, and a box set of Horrible Geography for Leo, a silver locket, a set of endless landscape cards, and the 2007 book of Guinness World Records for Pearlie.
Saturday had the big Christmas food shop in it, but otherwise was not nearly as interesting as…
Squeezebox Rocks on Friday night. Pearlie was a total star, and her band were great. She enjoyed the whole experience, and stayed to watch all her home ed friends in other bands. Leo and his cousin B. also really got into it. We were so pleased that Pearlie really enjoyed the gig – she said it was scary but it felt good to have done it. My parents were able to come, which was great.
Thursday was the 21st, so we went to the wonderful ‘Burning the Clocks’. This is an annual event in Brighton, now in its twelfth year. People make lanterns of withy and tissue paper and parade through town with them. There are always some fantastic big pieces too – a dragon, an octopus and a collection of penguins this year. It is a solstice celebration and ends with a massive fire to burn the lanterns, a firework display and music – all on the beach. This year there was a giant burning star shaped structure that looked more and more like the sun as it burned. The fireworks were huge – bursting in the sky right above our heads. The kids really enjoy the event but it is quite tiring as it starts with a two hour wait in a hall, where everyone has to get their lanterns safety checked. It was a really chilly night this year but we all enjoyed it and got some chips from a seafront chippy to eat on the way home.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Playing out, and in: Leo had another Dr. Who themed playdate with an MMs friend last Tuesday, while Pearlie spent happy hours at home arranging her Sylvanians into a busy townscape.
They’ve both been keeping up with their Club Penguin habit too.
Tidying up: Somehow we’ve made enough space for a lovely, plump Christmas tree in the corner of our kitchen.
Going out: The kids and I (and lots of other HE friends) had a great time at The Bigger Bang show, where we enjoyed onstage high jinks with flaming methane, frozen flowers, and exploding balloons. We also had a fun family outing to see Eragon (slated by the critics, but Leo loved it).
Partying: Pearlie feasted at Kids Club on Thursday, Allie went to her work’s Christmas bash and colleague’s leaving do on Friday, and Pearlie and I popped in at the big home ed party yesterday. All were lovely.
Taking to the stage: P. put in an unplanned appearance as part of her Woodcraft Folk group’s end of term sketch show. This was a rather surreal and hysterical experience, with plenty of fake fighting and messy props. Preparation for the gig continues apace.
Decking the halls: Well, we haven’t decked much apart from the tree, but we’ve put lights in the window, and P. created a snowy window scene today, with cuddly reindeer and snowmen.
Scooting: Leo is bringing his scooter with him to local shops and park at every opportunity, and his technique improves with every outing.
Cooking: Leo invented and made (with my help) a delicious pasta sauce, then wrote the recipe down, entitling it “Leo’s famous veggie slurp”. Plus we’ve made lots of cheesy biscuits, mince pies and bread rolls for aforementioned feasts.
Making: An exhausting number of Christmas cards, only just in time for tomorrow’s last posting date. Plus some lovely watercolour paintings by the kids, and some secret Christmassy crafts.
Dismantling: Leo’s broken alarm clock was taken thoroughly to pieces today, and upgraded to a ‘cyber-clock’ by the removal of its ‘emotional inhibitor’.
Staying up too late: Now the cards are done, we’re starting on the wrapping. Meanwhile, both kids are already having trouble getting to sleep…
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Pearlie went to Kids’ Club and the grandmothers’ house, as usual. Leo and I went to MMs where people had a go at threading popcorn onto string to make decorations – it looked very fiddly. Other people made snowflakes and I made a rather rough paper chain. Most of this was sprayed silver and looked fab!
Was Dani’s birthday so she had a day off. Pearlie had made her some stitch markers – an entirely independent project. Leo had drawn her a picture of a sunset on a desert island – quite a change from his usual subject matter. We went to visit my dad and his wife, who entertained us wonderfully with delicious lunch and home made cake for Dani. The kids had a lovely time and particularly enjoyed playing with the kitten who lives there.
The kids and I had a productive morning making birthday presents for my mum. The kids went to capoeira in the afternoon – the last one before Christmas.
I went and did a couple of hours cleaning in the morning and then on to my real job in the afternoon. Kids’ Club was cancelled as the play worker was ill, so Pearlie and Dani had a bit of time together shopping while Leo was at the grandmothers’. Pearlie did drum practice – she’s getting really excited about the gig. Then Dani and the kids went up to the junior school to the rather terrifying Christmas Fete, which involves hundreds of people pushing and screaming around in a packed school hall. Cousin S was running a stall, which was useful as a place to dump bags. My mum was not very impressed at being made to stand in a long queue in the piss pouring rain while everyone filed slowly past an entrance table to ensure that no-one entered without being relieved of 50p. But the kids made some purchases and seemed to have fun.
Leo had an invite to play with his friend J. After getting all the way to the bottom of the hill I realised I’d forgotten the slip of paper on which I had written J’s address. Once we finally got there (in the heavy rain –again!) I thought they were out as I had written down the wrong flat number. We finally got sorted out, dropped off Leo and then Pearlie and I went off to return some library books. Once we’d done that we had to make a brief tour of shoe shops in search of something that was comfortable for P to wear while she plays the drums. In the end we found her a pair of baseball boots which she says are just the thing. They also happen to be Converse ones, which is very ‘cool’ apparently.
P had a Squeezebox session in the afternoon and L and I waited there for her. This meant we got to hear them play and it sounded good.
A sunny day so a trip to the park with scooters. Leo very enthusiastic and making great strides. I reckon the balance involved will help with bike riding later – it certainly seemed to for P. He was very stoical and determined as P whizzed past him. She really enjoyed the chance to bomb about a bit and especially to whiz down the hills in the park.
In the evening we went to see cousin S in a carol concert. Her choir were very impressive. P and L thoroughly enjoyed the event. L had never really been to anything similar before but he took to the singing from a hymn sheet like a star! Pearlie declared that she would like to join the choir but this needs serious thought as we are somewhat over committed with group things already. Cousin S’s brother D slept through the whole concert and was not happy when woken for ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’. My brother had to carry him home on the bus and we left them searching for a taxi to get their heavy, sleeping five year old up the steep hill.
The kids did more scooting in the street in the morning. Leo fell off and grazed his side but got straight back on.
In the afternoon (while I was at work) Dani took the kids across town (walking all the way) to a ghost tour at a local manor in a park. This was a treat for all the cousins, arranged by my mum, and it was very popular with everyone. Leo has been recounting tales to anyone who will listen. Pearlie got a round of applause (?!) for knowing who Anne of Cleves was. The tour guide ( in historical dress and meant to be a maid from the mid 19th century) made the point that this showed the value of schooling…
P had a very quiet session at Kids’ Club today where she made a Christmas card for a prisoner – as part of the crime and punishment theme they’ve been doing. The young playworker who runs the Monday sessions is an Anarchist who writes to ‘political’ prisoners and she asked if I minded if P made a card for one. P read some information about them and chose to make a card for someone. I can’t say I’d have backed all those people politically but it doesn’t hurt to make a card for anyone who’s locked up at Christmas.
The Children guard my morals and health
The kids are getting very clued up on all sorts of issues at the moment. One of my secret ( no more) vices is Coca Cola. I drink maybe a dozen cans in a year, but I do like it and the kids know I have it at Christmas and so on. The other day Pearlie told me I shouldn’t drink it as Coca Cola ‘take water from people in India, turn it into coke and sell it back to them.’ Well, I’d read about that and had been trying not to think about it – looks like I’ve been challenged to do the right thing there. So, I was telling Dani that I’d have to give up coke but that I could still have some other fizzy drink at Christmas. Leo chipped in then to tell me that I really shouldn’t drink those fizzy drinks because he’s watched a science clips programme and it showed that ‘they make holes in the coating on your teeth’.
Magical Mondays Christmas bash
We had a fun time at MMs Christmas get together today. I took along a parachute and we played a bit. This was fun, if a bit more anarchic than I hoped. Parachute games are something that work best when the people involved really get the idea that if you work together it is more fun for everyone. I guess we could do it again and maybe build up to some of the more complicated stuff.
Much food was consumed and presents were unwrapped. Thanks to everyone reading who came along and contributed – all the input was really appreciated. A from Where the Days Go brought ice lanterns that were wonderful and have inspired me to make some with the kids next week.
After MMS Dani took Leo home and I went off to get a haircut. After a couple of years of farting about with my hair I went back to the barbers where I’ve been going since I was seventeen and got a short back and sides again. When the guy had finished cutting my hair he said, ‘there, back to your usual self’, and I was! I felt so relived and have decided that I shall just have to face middle age as a sad old dyke with an 80s haircut as nothing else makes me feel at ease.
As well as blogging on this blog and her own, P has been writing a book. Leo is also writing one. I have been allowed to read Leo’s but not much of Pearlie’s. Leo’s is apparently ‘American’ so includes liberal use of the word ‘guy’. It also has quite horribly violent parents in it who cane and ground their children. It is very well written but a bit upsetting to see him express how much he knows of the violence some children live with. Pearlie is including a glossary in hers – she’s been using a dictionary for brief definitions to include.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Leo has been playing the keyboard quite a bit. He wanted to take it with him to Woodcraft Folk on Monday, but was persuaded it wouldn’t really go well with the planned activity, which was making lanterns for this year’s Burning the Clocks parade. This he accomplished very efficiently and with no need of adult help. He came home with a lovely lantern and another new badge.
He’s been drawing loads, as always, and is exploring new techniques and styles, and taking a renewed interest in art programmes like Smart. He was very pleased with the Jackanory version of Muddle Earth (Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell being an author/illustrator combination he is passionately, almost proprietorially, enthusiastic about).
There’s been a bit of a Doctor Who revival as well – he’s watched the whole Christopher Eccleston series on DVD this week. This was perhaps prompted by an excellent story from the Tom Baker era which we all enjoyed watching on BBC4.
He is becoming a confident capoeirista, and chose to go to his class on Wednesday even though cousins S and D (and P, as it turned out) decided to give it a miss. They both took the chance to do a bit of capoeira at the home ed group on Friday as well.
Pearlie is working hard on her drumming – her band has a slot in the Christmas gig and she is practising every day. She’s been putting in a lot of time on Club Penguin – today was the day she became a secret agent, and she completed her first mission.
As well as skipping capoeira this week, her Woodcraft Folk group was cancelled, so she was two groups down on her usual weekly total of six. Yoga was the last session of term, and Leo and I went to watch the second half. All the kids were impressively serene and competent, and the teacher was very pleased. P. and her cousin S. are both enjoying it and looking forward to it starting again next term.
In a rare moment at home and not on the computer, she did a bit of maths in a workbook aimed at 11-14 year olds. She seized the EO newsletter when it came in the post and immediately filled in the children’s questionnaire. Allie and I are being a bit slower to complete the adults’ one.
She’s watched a couple of interesting programmes with us this week: How Music Works, looking at harmony in western music, and a DVD borrowed from Allie’s work - Pramface, a Cutting Edge film about young single mothers.
Both kids had a lovely time at their cousin B’s birthday party on Friday. They also enjoyed a ‘just because it’s on’ trip to the cinema yesterday to see Happy Feet. Leo came out asking if we could look for tap dancing classes.
Allie completed our Christmas shopping by spending all day in town on Friday, some of it with her mum. They both enjoyed this and intend to make it a tradition. She is now busy making lovely Christmas cards.
I have been doing some cool (but secret) knitting. I had a day off work on Friday (to enable Allie’s shopping day) and went to the big home ed group with the kids, where I did a bit of origami and chatting. Today, I made the first mince pies of the season.
The house creeps closer to some kind of order. We spent a couple of exhausting hours rearranging furniture last night, to make more space and seating in our new living room, and came up with a solution to our annual problem of where to put the Christmas tree.
Monday, November 27, 2006
We have been doing continuing battle against Indian Meal Moths and generally being TOO BUSY of late, so we haven’t been blogging. It is hard to do a catch-up, so here are a few things we’ve been doing.
Dani and Pearlie went for a bit of bike ride. Sadly they were driven away from the cycle track by men playing football across it.
Pearlie and I tidied her room and we put a few toys in the loft – a compromise as P can’t bear to get rid of things. She actually seems pleased to have a tidy room and is planning to keep it that way – for a while at least!
Leo has been enjoying Maths Man on Schools TV. He suddenly finds all his maths puzzle books obvious, so we went to buy him something for slightly older kids. He understands fractions very well – was able to tell me what 50 reduced by one fifth would be. Interestingly he still isn’t very clear of some maths notation as he does so much in day to day life, so he wasn’t sure what 8 – 1 meant!
Pearlie (and Leo to a lesser extent) is really enjoying Club Penguin. She’s leading a busy life there and meeting up with real life friends in virtual spaces. She particularly likes the Astro Barrier game, which is a game a bit like space invaders but with a lot of logic too. If you don’t shoot the thingys in the right order you can’t get them all. The kids type to communicate with other penguins so they are getting bit quicker on the keyboard.
The kids did lots of running in the street where I had to time them both with their own stop watches!
Leo has been adding lots to his ‘Great Library’ of books and drawings. This is a box tied to the banisters half way up the stairs. We seem to have had about five years of things tied around the hallway. It is very narrow (we live in a tall thin little terraced house) and I have to confess I am looking forward to the time when I can walk around with fewer hazards.
Crystal growing – both kids have crystal growing kits and at the moment we have a window sill full of different coloured liquids with varying crystal growth.
Battle with meal moths has entailed the purchase of many tupperwares (hitting the credit card hard!) to protect our rice, pasta, bread flour etc. We have been reading of people who have to fight the damn creatures for years. I swear that the kitchen cupboards have never been so spotless – hovered, scrubbed, bleached and stacked with Tupperware boxes. Not a single crisp packet remains unprotected! Sadly, most of the rest of the house is a tip as we don’t have enough time to see to that too.
Pearlie has been knitting with Dani from time to time.
P has been continuing to look at crime and punishment at kids’ club. She told me today that people in prison sometimes get given a job of untangling headphones??
Pearlie had a really encouraging Squeezebox session. Her reduced band (now just drummer and singer) has been merged with a bass player and guitarist from another band. It looks like they’ve got a good chance of being in the Christmas gig.
Leo is now talking about returning to Squeezebox so we’re working out if we can afford some one to one keyboard sessions for him in the new year. Meanwhile he’s been playing his keyboard at home today.
Dani wrote a great letter to send to Alan Johnson about the DFES consultation on home ed.
Both kids are getting on well at Woodcraft folk. At Pearlie’s last session a guy came who taught them how to do stage fighting – which she loved. At Leo’s session today they were making lanterns to take to the ‘Burning the Clocks’ parade.
Lots of good conversations at the moment. One that springs to mind was about antibiotics, over use, and MRSA. This is something that comes up in our local paper a lot as our local hospital has the worst MRSA rate in the country.
We also had a great talk about approaches to HE – prompted by anxiety on my part over what the government is planning. Pearlie said that if we followed the National Curriculum just to make sure they had nothing to criticise then we’d be ‘faking our belief in not needing to use it’.
Leo has been doing a lot of pencil drawing. We have some nice big paper at MMs at the moment and he’s enjoying working his way through it.
Dani and I are getting a bit tired of our weekly schedule of work and groups. We need our Christmas break now…
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Friday was a bring and buy sale in aid of Children in Need. About fifty home eddors from Sussex met up and exchanged toys, books, games and home made cakes. The total raised was nearly one hundred quid – not bad. I am not actually a great fan of things like Children in Need. I suspect that those kind of big charity events waste a hell of a lot of money once you take into account all the admin necessary in grant giving. And they do tend to rely on pity a fair bit. But, then again, money does get to all kinds of good causes.
After that the kids and I went to a library so they could have a quiet read and my chocolate cake induced migraine could ease. That was really nice.
In the evening we watched a bit of the Children in Need telly thingy and it happened to be a local segment featuring Allsorts youth project, which runs in Brighton. Pearlie seemed astonished that kids get grief from family and community when they come out as lesbian or gay. We tried to explain a bit, which ended with this exchange.
Allie: “So, that’s something you don’t need to worry about. Whoever you choose to love and live with, that’s fine by us.”
Pearlie: “Which, in my case, will be cats.”
So, that’s all sorted then!
I spent the evening reading Julian Clary’s autobiography. I then hunted through a lot of old sentimental stuff (letters, cards, tickets and so on) looking for a ticket I thought I had from a ‘Joan Collins Fan Club’ show I saw in Brighton in about 1988. I didn’t find it but I had a nice time looking through stuff.
I went to work. Leo had a pyjamas day working on a space ship that landed upstairs. He also filled a bag with lots of drawing and writing to be his ‘barkscrolls’. Pearlie spent a lot of time on the computer. She was using a free cd from the Independent to work on her family tree. This was an interesting task, involving lots of gender re-assignment and surname alteration. Pearlie also looked at Flash Earth – finding lots of family homes round the country. Dani knitted and aided children when asked.
Dani finally finished this bag!
I went to work. Dani and the kids went to the Rockery for a bit.
Autumn colour at the rockery.
They had to stay in for Leo to have a big strop for a while. He is suddenly very aware that Pearlie has a fine bicycle and he doesn’t. We are not really keen to get him a bike yet as he is nowhere near being ready to ride one. I don’t think he really wants one but he just wanted to point out the unfairness. Eventually he changed his demand to a ‘shopping basket on wheels, like Paddington has.’ He is having a little flurry of enthusiasm for Paddington at the moment, which is nice. When I was looking through old stuff the other night found my Paddington note book - a Christmas present when I was five or six.
We had our usual Monday morning rush of Dani to work, Pearlie to Kids’ Club and me and Leo to MMs. After MMs I had to go on to work. MMs was good, but is definitely in something of a transitional phase as it adjusts to the recent influx on new members.
When I got home from work I heard about Pearlie’s day, including afternoon at the grandmothers’ where they had a Scrabble fest and she beat my mum. She’d also done some French. Leo showed me his new Woodcraft Folk badge and told me about a singing session.
We waited in for Tesco this morning – their van was broken. My mum came round with emergency supplies. Pearlie spent lots of time on the computer again. She is enjoying a website of riddles – really enjoying the lateral thinking involved. Leo got involved with plastic animals and dinosaurs who are launching an attack on some Sylvanians. My mum tried to encourage him to get them to enter some kind of negotiation process but he wasn’t interested.
After lunch I took Pearlie to the hospital for her appointment at the gait clinic. This involved a long wait but nothing more invasive than a useful conversation about padded insoles and foot structure. It also involved some inevitable exchanges – “no, she doesn’t go to school – she’s home educated…Yes, she is very thin. She does eat…” But he was a nice enough bloke and Pearlie was pleased that he didn’t ban heelys outright – as long as she doesn’t wear them all the time! Looks like the Christmas budget needs restructuring if she wants a pair of those. They are something of a craze among Pearlie’s home ed friends.
Politics, Religion, an’ all that…
I have to say that I don’t, repeat DON’T admire Robert Kilroy Silk – or agree with everything he says. I am well aware that he is a racist, sexist, patronising idiot. What I was attempting to record was the bizarre experience I have watching political progs on the telly these days. I find myself agreeing with the words coming from the mouths of all kinds of unlikely people. I find myself nodding along with the words of Portillo on ‘This Week.’ This is not something I could have predicted! The world is all loopy these days. What I realise is that people speak clearest when they’ve got nothing to lose. Kilroy is the kind of person who has nowhere to go – he is a joke and even he probably realises this now – so he just speaks out. Portillo does the same, probably for the same reasons. It’s that ‘speaking out’ that I like. I think that ten years of mealy mouthed non-speak has made clear opinion very attractive.
Nic posted something interesting the other day about beliefs and tolerance and so on. I agree with a lot of what she said. I think I was brought up to scoff at religion – not helpful or sensible, or even kind. I caused quite a ripple in the family by winning the RE prize at school. I liked the O level course we did – which was split into three sections – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I actually learned some useful stuff that has helped in life, albeit pretty superficial. So I don’t encourage the kids to scoff. They understand that people have religious beliefs, and that they matter to them. But it is a complicated business explaining religion when you don’t have any, and when you truly believe that it is a negative force in the world. I believe that more and more with every year that passes. Of course, there’s not a lot to be done about it!
It is also hard to explain that “yes, we have to respect X’s religious beliefs but we don’t have to agree with them because they include the belief that your mummies should not love each other and that we are not a family.” Like anyone else, we don’t like having to discuss the fact that some people hate and despise us for what we are. But we try to make it part of explaining our belief that no-one should be despised for who they are – for their colour, religion, nationality, sexuality – anything. And for children this is pretty obvious. When we talk about Palestine, or the Holocaust, or slavery, or the suppression of sign language, the children see the injustices so clearly. It’s a shame that children don’t have more power in the world.
I also have had dear friends who have been brought to the brink of despair through trying to reconcile their faith with their sexuality. They’ve had to deny themselves a partner, companionship, love and sex because they thought they were damning themselves to hell if they had those things. And they thought that the people who professed love and care in the name of religion would withdraw that if they told the truth about themselves. Such is life. I know that. But I look at the lives of friends who had all that to deal with and then I look at my godless family and I want to promote atheism – on street corners, with loudhailers!
And one of the things we do have, in this country, for now at least, is some freedom of speech. If I want to shout loud and proud about our godless lives then I can. And so sometimes, just sometimes, I will.
Monday, November 20, 2006
The first problem was that eye colour didn’t seem to fit their categories. If someone had greeny/grey eyes then should they go under ‘green’ or ‘grey’? Now I can see that as a positive learning experience about the reality of people – people don’t fit categories well and when we try to categorise people it usually involves some distortion of the truth. But at seven this was a major worry.
The second was the fact that I had never tried to get information from a large group of people before so I just started randomly recording colours without noting down who I had asked. This quickly became impossible as I wasn’t sure who I’d asked and who I hadn’t. Now this too was a valuable learning experience, as anyone who has attempted to take accurate tea and coffee orders for a large group will tell you. But it added to the mess in my notebook and the general confusion in my mind.
I do remember the confusion, but the overwhelming emotion that colours my memory of this maths investigation is panic. The kind of sick panic that keeps re-surfacing in your mind when you are trying not to think about your worry. I can remember sleepless nights and the inevitable note from my mum to explain to my teacher that I was ‘a bit worried’ about my maths. And then the horrible moment of having to stand by her desk while she inspected my book and all the messy evidence of my failed attempts.
Getting things wrong was not a common experience for me at primary school. I have one or two other memories of similar situations, but no more than that. You see, I was ‘clever’ and ‘good’, which in school terms meant that I found most of what I was asked to do obvious and that I did as I was told – to the point of obsession. I could write a whole separate piece on what ‘good’ meant and the fear that bubbled inside me for years, fear of accidentally breaking some rule I didn’t know about. But the ‘clever’ bit was just as powerful, and possibly more so, as it persisted throughout my years in formal education.
I can remember the hot tide of blush sweeping up my face when I was faced with a blank look from my RE teacher in answer to this exchange.
“Now, who knows what a missionary is?”
My hand goes up – as usual.
“It’s a person who is paid to go to foreign countries and kill people.”
Well, I’d been listening to my big brother’s records and had asked him about the song “Oliver’s Army”, by Elvis Costello. So he’d given me a nice simple explanation all about mercenaries…
I was about eight when that one happened, but I can remember one even younger – when I was in reception, aged five. I had to write some sentences and for some reason, that day, I couldn’t get the letters to go small. I can remember looking at my book and willing the letters to get smaller as I wrote them. But, that day, they just wouldn’t. I went to queue up at the teacher’s desk and waited, the same sick feeling rising in my throat.
“Annalie, dear me, now what a mess this is. What would your mother think if she saw this at parent’s evening next week?”
I couldn’t imagine that my mum would care, my mum would be hugging me if she was here, I wouldn’t have this sick feeling.
“Now, we’ll stick this piece of paper over the messy writing and you can go and do it again.”
And the worst, the worst part of this memory is that the same thing happened. I looked at my hand, I willed the writing to be smaller, and the letters kept coming out big, round, blobby. I had to go out to play knowing that the teacher was disappointed in me.
Now I can’t believe that anything so small, so silly is lodged there in my memory. I can’t help but wonder if the teachers involved had the tiniest inkling of what their words, their looks, felt like to me.
It is often assumed that it is not the ‘clever’ kids who suffer in school. I wouldn’t want to claim that I had a worse time than the children who couldn’t read or write, who never knew the answer, who were told off every day. But it has taken me years to realise that being labelled ‘clever’ was not healthy for me. The acute anxiety I felt until I was eight or nine was like carrying a weight around. I can remember the overwhelming joy of Friday walks home from school. At home I was just me.
Even if I became more confident later on I still felt the pressure not to make mistakes, to know the answer, to live up to the teacher’s expectations. By secondary school I was in a stream of ‘clever’ kids. People in the ‘x band’ did Latin, got hours of home work and were constantly reminded that we were the ones who were expected to get good ‘o’ levels and so on. I got increasingly bolshy, but that was often a cover for the persistent fear that I would ‘let someone down’ by revealing all the things I didn’t know.
When I started my first Saturday job I was diligent, as expected, and I could get those ladybird books sorted into alphabetical order quicker than you could say ‘knife’. But it took me years, literally years, of shop work to be confident in my interactions with customers and colleagues. I’d answer the phone before I’d even picked up a pen, and in my panic fail to take in anything that the caller was saying. I didn’t realise for a long time that you could say, outright, that you didn’t know the answer to a question but that you would find out. I’d stand there, filled with shame because I couldn’t remember if we took Berlitz travel guides and I knew I had been told. It took me a while to realise that the customers just wanted me to be helpful, not give them perfect answers!
I think that it is only really in the years since I have become a parent that I have let go the anxiety of being a ‘clever girl’. I now care very little what people think of me. I know what I know and I can do what I can do. When I don’t know I just ask – it’s so simple!
What makes me hopeful is that my children don’t seem to have much anxiety about how ‘clever’ they are. They don’t judge their friends by ‘cleverness’ either. Both children have friends who can’t read yet and it means little to them. In school it took Pearlie about a term to get firmly settled into a peer group of other little ‘clever’ girls – all in the same group for literacy and numeracy. In the world of home ed she just accepts that people have different skills, talents, interests and desires.
It has to be healthier for children not to be constantly ranking themselves and others. It has to be healthier for children to feel safe to ask questions, to make mistakes. In school life gets made into a race and I think it is a race that everyone loses, even the ‘winners’.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Having a strange time watching Question Time. I really dislike Robert Kilroy Silk but just found myself agreeing with him… And he makes my skin crawl, and everything, eeww… And he’s an ignorant fart too... But it is refreshing to hear someone saying that he finds religion silly.
Anyway, here’s a catch up.
Leo and I took Pearlie to Squeezebox. She came out very bubbly after a good session.
In the afternoon the kids went to Capoeira and both had good classes.
At bed time last night Leo noticed that Dani had changed the smoke alarm for a new one. I told him that she had done that because the old one wasn’t working properly and he said:
“Yes, we don’t want to be incinerated.”
Love that boy’s command of the language!
In the evening Dani and I watched a DVD of Brokeback Mountain. Somehow we had managed to miss it at the pictures. It was a really great film and left us both feeling very lucky.
I had about ten minutes from waking up to get to my morning cleaning job. Dani had the same time to get both kids dressed, fed and out the door with the right stuff.
Pearlie went to Kids’ Club where they had a visit from someone who is going to be coming to do some sports workshops with them. Not sure what else they did, but she came away happy.
Leo went to the grandmothers’ house where he apparently made a ‘dance mat’ for his toy gecko and pot bellied pig.
Pearlie also had yoga and Woodcraft Folk later in the day. The three groups in one day thing is a bit much for her and she’s very tired tonight.
I got home from my real work tonight and found a lot of playmobil on the kitchen floor. I really like all those little people with their snap off hair – better go and play.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Pearlie went to the theatre with her cousin S. They saw a comedy improvisation show, which they both declared brilliant.
Leo and I went in to town to get some stuff for our Home Ed group – and general bits and bobs. It was horribly busy and I realised that it must be the start of the seasonal rush. We had to faff about for ages trying to find the right ink cartridge for our printer.
The printer turns out to be dead anyway. I had a look on the internet and found a long thread of chat about how this printer thingy just conks out after a while. It seems it has a fault where dried ink inside eventually blasts a tube off. This is why it doesn’t happen gradually, suddenly it just doesn’t feed any ink through. It’s out of guarantee now and I guess it really isn’t worth getting it fixed if this is just going to happen again. Another irritating expense – and creation of a big lump of waste. I did send an email to the manufacturer who told me to do the head cleaning process! Oh yeah, I’d never have thought of that… Well, Duh! (As Pearlie would say…)
I went to work and Dani and the kids went to the park for a bit. They found some cousins and some local home eddors, as usual!
I arrived home to excited kids bounding around telling me “we are infested”! It turns out that the inoffensive little brown moth that fluttered out of the guinea pig food was an Indian Meal Moth that had then found a bag of nuts in the back of our baking cupboard and set up a family. YUCK!
So Dani and I spent a happy evening cleaning the whole kitchen – even the bits we never get to, like behind the cooker. We had to throw away quite a lot of open bags of stuff that we couldn’t be certain hadn’t been got to by the little white caterpillars.
Pearlie went to Kids’ Club, where they are looking at nasty punishments of the olden days. She has spent some time talking about cutting off noses, and so on, since then. She actually knows quite a lot about that stuff from Horrible Histories. After Kids’ Club she went on to the Grandmothers’ house and did a bit of French, as well as learning some killer Scrabble words.
Leo and I went to MMs, where it was another busy session. I’d taken along some play maize stuff, which we’d never used before. Leo managed to string a few bits together but most of the younger kids just melted it in bowls of water. I think they quite enjoyed doing that but I was a bit disappointed with the product.
In the evening Dani was running Leo’s Woodcraft session. Because Leo’s Elfins group is parent led she has to take a turn on the rota. They made Christmas pudding – all taking a turn to stir it and make a wish.
Pearlie and I watched a Cadfael mystery on DVD. It is such luxury to get to watch things I really enjoy, after all those years of Teletubbies and Postman Pat. I knew Pearlie would like Cadfael - mystery, history and herbs are all popular with her.
Both kids were tired today. Pearlie is setting an early alarm so she can watch Arthur on TV. Leo is just tired – maybe it’s a bug. He also seems very hungry though, so it could be he’s growing a lot.
Anyway, we started the day with a full on screaming row before breakfast – which was not the best start to a rainy, indoors day. But once we had all eaten, we started a surprisingly successful morning of games. Leo bought a second hand set of Uno the other day, and we played that for a bit. Then we played Scrabble.
Scrabble is such a good game. I think we did own a junior scrabble once but it wasn’t a patch on the real thing. Leo is doing very well, starting to find and place his own words. Pearlie is getting really good – and she won’t accept even the tiniest hints of help.
After lunch we watched an old video of Campion. Pearlie wanted to know ‘how famous’ he is, as a character. I told her he wasn’t as well known as Poirot but that people who like murder mysteries would know him. I told her how Margery Allingham wrote the first Campion book when she was only about fifteen. She told me that Mary Shelley was very young when she wrote Frankenstein.
Leo started making a lap book about Pot Bellied Pigs. He is very pleased with these pigs since he found a toy one at the weekend. He has made it a bed, which it shares (rather strangely) with a gecko! He also spent some time Googling for pictures of very cute ones. We had to email the pictures to Dani so she could print them out at work. I don’t think we can live without a printer for long.
Pearlie made a lovely little quiz book about tapirs – an animal she particularly likes. She made the whole thing herself, written by hand because she had no printer, and it took a few hours. When Dani came home with pictures she added them. She’s really chuffed with it. She tested all of us and told us our scores. For an autonomous HE child she really likes tests – as long as she does the testing!
Over tea we talked with the kids about the possibility of government plans to challenge our HE freedoms. That turned out to be an interesting conversation that covered all sorts of things.
We have finally finished a report of the little survey of local home eddors we did with a friend– asking about LEA contact. We shall be distributing them to local home eddors and sending it to the LEA. Recent news makes me worried that all this effort will have been pointless. We’ve taken the line that their policies and practices need to follow the law, consistently. But if they manage to change the law…
No - trying not to get gloomy.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Pearlie went to Squeezebox in the morning. Both kids went to capoeira in the afternoon.
I worked all day. Pearlie did Kids’ Club, (they’re working on a mock tv advert for their new chocolate bar, P is in charge of a flying pig??) she then had a bit of time at home with Dani before Yoga class and then Woodcraft Folk. She was pretty tired when I got home.
Leo spent a happy few hours at the grandmothers’ house. My mum had a really bad back but she worked with him on one of those puzzle books where you follow clues to solve a mystery. Dani finished that with him in the evening.
Friday at Wilderness Woods
Today one of the local HE mums had a booked a guided walk at Wilderness Woods. This is a lovely managed wood – sweet chestnut trees that were dropping nuts everywhere, and a Christmas tree plantation. The woman guiding the walk showed us quite a lot of interesting fungi, and pointed out other stuff. I don’t think she’d had much dealings with HE kids before as she was quite keen on telling them what she wanted to tell them next, and less keen on getting diverted by their questions! I have noticed that lots of HE kids really don’t respond well to that fake style of questioning where you know the questioner has the answer. She even tried to get them to chant back the answer when she had given it – all a bit odd! I suspect that what would have worked better would have been to plant herself in a central place and be ready to answer any questions that people had.
Anyway, it was a beautiful wood and the play area had a rather fine flying fox thingy, so the kids were happy. P was a bit under the weather today. I gave her a dose of Calpol before we left as everything was making her cry (tv progs, hair tangles, breakfast…) and, as L and I have both had a bit of a cold this week, it is likely she is battling something off. P is so rarely ill that we tend to forget it is even a possibility! P was pretty jolly during the visit as two friends she wasn’t expecting to see were there. Leo did the whole walk with his rucksack full of Edge Chronicles books…
We stopped at a fine old church on the way home – not one I have ever been to before. It was a Thirteenth century church with lots of lovely stuff in it – a vestments chest from about 1260 and a wonderful carved pulpit from the 1600s. I like old churches because they remind me of long, summer country walks with my dad, when I was about Pearlie’s age. The kids were enthusiastic too.
Thanks to the mum who organised it and took us in her car!
In other news…
Well, murmurings on the home ed email lists are indicating that the govt may be gearing up to deal with the ‘anomaly’ (as they put it) of our freedom to determine the nature and content of our children’s education. Great. The Every Child Matters agenda that is sweeping through the agencies of the state looks set to be translated into ‘make sure every child’s education is controlled by us’. This is really bad news for home educators. One of the best things about the law around HE in this country is that it does give us the freedom to define education in our own terms. Sadly, of course, this really can’t be allowed in this era of the ever present ‘expert’ and they are bound to try to pin us down to make sure that our children are ‘achieving’.
It really would make me laugh it wasn’t so sad. The government spend half the time telling us children are badder, sadder, less fit, less able to communicate, more dangerous – and the other half telling us that the answer to all these woes is yet more of their bloody initiatives, more control, more punishment. They want all the credit when things go ‘right’ and then blame all the bloody feckless parents when things go ‘wrong’. Not for one moment does it occur to them that the constant badgering, controlling, patronising garbage they hand out is in any way implicated in the negative things.
It is clear that the people who are best placed to ensure that their children are well cared for and loved are parents. And the people best able to build happy lives for children are those children themselves. Yes, people get trapped in shit lives and problems – many of them caused by government policies. If they want to help families then how about some decent affordable housing and a health service that isn’t being slowly bled to death? How about a minimum wage that is somewhere approaching a realistic living wage. How about you stop pouring our money into weapons to kill other people’s children. Stop it with all the ‘help’ that people didn’t ask for and don’t want – like that fantastic boost to family life, the jailing of parents whose children won’t go to school. Rather than the baby curriculum for children under three how about you actually make sure that all midwives and (yes, I know this is laughable) doctors have proper training on breastfeeding. Why not actually fulfil your obligations by providing the services we pay for in our taxes and keep your controlling paws off our freedoms?
When I was young, in the 1980s, the Tories did shitty things. And we knew they were shitty, and they knew they were shitty. They said, ‘we don’t care if people are losing their jobs and whole communities are dying’ and ‘we have no regard for the people sleeping in the gutter’. It was nice and clear. What this lot have done is to never once admit that they are heartless bastards. They do everything because it is honourable and noble – even making war. They can take the death of a child at the hands of people who were supposed to be caring for her, and who died because the systems that had the power to save her were under-funded and confused, and use it to push their own agenda of ‘help’. What they think will ‘help’ is to monitor everyone, to make sure we all pursue their one ‘common sense’ definition of a healthy, safe, achieving, contributing child.
Well, pardon me while I exercise some freedom of thought here.
Here’s a nice John Holt quote that I read some time ago and seems to be ever more pertinent in this country.
“The nightmare state of the future, if it comes, and it is well on its way, will be above all a tyranny of ‘professional helpers’, with an unlimited right and power to do to us or make us do whatever they (or someone) considers to be for our own good.” (John Holt, 1974)
Yep, 1974. It is from ‘Escape from Childhood’, which is an amazing and refreshing antidote to the current dominant model of what constitutes a healthy childhood.
The last ten years in this country have seemed to me to be the triumph of the process of ‘gilding the shit’. Substance has been thrown away and presentation is all. It really doesn’t matter if the schools are full of sad kids and depressed teachers – with violence at every turn, or the hospitals full of filth and desperately over -worked staff, because there is always a shiny new programme or initiative that is being poured over the whole stinking mess and buffed up to a sheen. There will be a new logo, and lots of expensive consultants can make a packet, and everyone can ‘get on board’. And then, lo and behold, it will turn out to mean nothing.
I am not about to just give away my children’s freedoms. We have seen the world of the National Curriculum and the SATS, we have tried to be ‘good’ parents, helping you shine up the shit. But we are not going back to that. I won’t trot my kids through anyone else’s curriculum – no way. The last few years have made me realise that the freedom we have is like fine wine for free. Our children just bubble, so busy doing and being. They are clever, clever, clever. They see through it all, they ask more about everything, they are so sure that they can do anything, go anywhere, be anything. They make up their own definitions of themselves and they won’t accept other people’s. I won’t label them up as ‘level three’ – nonsense, ridiculous, forget it.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Today the kids and I decided to spend a day doing Viking related activities. I’m a bit tired to go into details but here’s a list of what we did.
The kids dressed as Vikings. Pearlie got fed up trying to fashion a long dress style of costume so she decided to go with more practical battling gear. One of the things we read about the Vikings is that women did fight in battle and to defend their homes.
We took the names Ragnar (L), Thora (P) and Ingrid (me).
We worked together to make a Viking quiz book. This was a really good thing to do. We took it in turns to contribute questions and Pearlie started typing it up on the computer. I’ve taken that on as her typing speed meant that she got tired out before the end.
Pearlie performed the story of Wolf Mountain to Leo and me. She made cardboard scenery, read aloud the story from ‘The Saga of Eric the Viking’, and acted out the events with a selection of cuddly creatures. It was great and included make up for a cat playing the part of a wolf, a shower of real gravel for a rock fall, and several nice comic touches, not least the fact that the Vikings were acted by cuddly seals.
Leo and I used dipping pens to be a couple of monks making some notes after a Viking raid. These notes had a mathematical theme – eg. If the Vikings have stolen half of our 12 chalices how any do we have left?
Leo then did more drawing with his dipping pen, saying that he was a monk working as they used to in those days.
Pearlie and Leo played chess, which we believe Viking people would have played.
We ate home made Viking oatcakes, cheese and apples for our lunch. I suspect that Viking cheese was probably more like cottage cheese, but we ate cheddar! The oatcakes were nice – the kids said they were like chapattis.
We played a little Viking themed game with counters and a die. This was on the back of one of the library books we have been reading. Leo won and got the honour of marrying a farmer and settling in Greenland!
We mucked out our pig – in this case a guinea pig.
I mopped the kitchen floor using not very authentic products, but I reckon the Vikings did have to clean their homes.
We talked LOADS.
In the evening we were all Vikinged out and the kids took it in turns to play on Club Penguin. This is a new discovery for our kids (lots of the local HE kids play there) and it looks like becoming a craze.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Thursdays now involve me delivering and receiving children turn and turn about throughout the day. In fact, there’s so much of it that I’ve only now realised I completely forgot to take Pearlie to her Woodcraft group in the evening! Mustn’t do that next week. Anyway, I did manage to get her to Kids Club in the morning (where they designed packaging and advertising posters for their newly invented chocolate bars), then dropped Leo off at the grandmothers’ for a happy day of Edge Chronicles related play. I had an hour or so to do some shopping and grab a bite to eat, then picked Pearlie up for a couple of hours of just her and me time at home. She had a good drumming practice then we played a game with her Doctor Who Battles in Time cards. Before we knew it, Leo was brought home and exchanged for Pearlie, who went up to school for yoga with cousin S. She was collected from there and returned to me by one of our local aunts, and the rest of the evening is a total blur.
Allie took the kids to the big drop in HE group, where they did some capoeira with a visiting teacher, and P. did some knitting with her friend I. They joined a small group of people who moved on from there to our local park, to make the most of the winter sunshine we’ve been having this week.
It was a working weekend for Allie, and she left the rest of us in our pyjamas at 11. 30 both days. Nice to have the opportunity to slob about a bit, after all the commitments we have to get up for in the week. Slobbing about was positively encouraged this weekend by it being Poirot weekend on ITV3, and we’ve been making the most of our new living room to enjoy it. The kids and I did go out yesterday afternoon to buy a cosy rug and some fabric to cover the opening to an unattractive storage space in that room. We made it home just in time to go out again to a lovely neighbourhood fireworks party on the field behind the grandmothers’ house, where we met Allie, hotfoot from her day at work. All the people in the row of houses had contributed fireworks and food, and it was all very friendly. All our local cousins, aunts and uncles were there, and the kids had a great time.
More Poirot and slobbing about today, and another evening outing for me and the kids, with cousins S. and D. and their parents, to the seafront to see an extremely low tide. We walked on the sand where there is usually water,
saw an extraordinary number of dead fish washed up on the beach (discarded from a fishing boat, perhaps?),
got much closer to the wreckage of the West Pier than we have ever been before, and witnessed a stunning sunset.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Pearlie coped admirably with being away from home for two nights, and enjoyed the activities at the camp. These included a short walk to some nearby woods (via fields with actual cows in), decorating masks and story sticks, making and icing cakes, and telling spooky stories round the camp fire. They were very lucky with the weather and the forecast day of rain never materialised. She was very brave to do it, I thought, and I was proud of how well she handled it.
All three of our Monday groups marked Halloween. Pearlie and her friends put on a suitably surreal show at Kids’ Club – I managed to get away from work for an hour to watch it – and played some nice games, including pumpkin bowling. Meanwhile Allie and Leo were carving pumpkin lanterns and making pumpkin soup at MMs. Leo designed a beautiful cat-like face for his pumpkin, and did lots of the scooping out and punching holes work too.
While Leo and I were at his Woodcraft Folk Halloween party in the evening, Pearlie carved a lovely face in her own pumpkin – entirely unaided. The party was pretty wild, and included apple bobbing, some lovely glittery bats and paper plate masks, lots of yummy food, some uproarious games, and a tour de force by one of the parents as a terrifying witch, with a box of gruesome items (severed fingers and the like).
After all that, I was a bit Halloweened out by the night itself, but we put on our costumes again and set off for a lucrative evening of trick or treating, with a couple of local cousins and a friend. All the local kids were out, and we had to do two emergency runs to the shop for more sweets before the evening was over.
Our new living room is finally operational, after a sofa and two chairs arrived yesterday. We spent yesterday evening and this afternoon assembling them. Pearl and Leo worked hard on the second chair and both scored top marks in their first lesson in assembling flat pack furniture – surely an essential life skill!
The last few days have also included:
- The birthday party of P’s now 11 year old friend, I. They watched a film and P. bonded with one of their cats.
- Capoeira, only for Leo this week as Pearlie was at aforementioned party
- Preparations for a future performance of part of the Saga of Eric the Viking as a puppet show, starring Pearlie’s cuddly seals
Saturday, October 28, 2006
It’s very strange here this weekend as Pearlie is off at her first ever Woodcraft camp without one of us. I’m sure she’s enjoying herself but the rest of us are all missing her.
Here’s the briefest of catch-ups.
Tuesday 24th was a day at home for me and the kids. We have a current interest in the Vikings and spent most of the morning reading aloud (me), learning Futhark (Pearlie) and making silver finger and arm rings from foil (Leo). We are planning to spend a day in costume doing Viking things and eating Viking food – as soon as we have another free day!
Wednesday 25th had Squeezebox for Pearlie in the morning. As the weather was poor Leo and I waited around at the studio and Leo did some reading and writing. Pearlie had a good session, as usual.
Pearlie and Leo spent a happy afternoon playing together. They have big sticks that they are using to fire rubber bands around the place – inspired by Robin Hood. Dani also read them lots from 'The saga of Eric the Viking.'
My mum came round for the day and she, Dani and the kids went to the park. There happened to be a biggish clutch of home eddors in the park – so the kids were pleased. I went to work as a cleaner, and then as a librarian.
Dani and Pearlie set off for the camp site. Pearlie had been pretty stressed (in her usual cryptic way!) about going but was happy when she got there and got stuck in to pitching tents.
Leo and I went to town for a fabulous back stage tour of the Theatre Royal where a local home edding dad is performing this week. He had generously sorted out a tour for local home ed kids. It was really interesting and such a treat for me to see the back stage of somewhere I love so much – all surprisingly pokey and fairly grotty really! One of the strangest things is that the theatre expanded at some point and swallowed up a small fisherman’s cottage – and it is still there, inside the theatre! To get to the dressing rooms you go in the front door and up the stairs.
After the tour Leo and I went to the shoe shop to get him some decent winter shoes.
We took a few books to town today to sell in a second hand shop. This boosted the family coffers a bit and we treated ourselves to some takeaway cakes from the gorgeous tea shop.
Leo also thrashed Dani in a game of Casino, while I slept off a threatening migraine.
Tomorrow Leo was to have been looked after by cousins but he has decided to go with Dani to fetch Pearlie from the camp – so he can, ‘see her as soon as possible!’
Books and reading – an aside
Leo is deep into his current passion – The Edge Chronicles. He has now written about ten books in his ‘Corner Chronicles’ series and he draws, talks, plays Edge Chronicles things. He has read two of the Edge Chronicles books by himself and we are reading him others at the same time. The books he has been reading are really dense – complex plots and long passages of description. At first I was not sure that he could really cope with them alone but he tells us things about plot and character and it is clear that he is coping fine.
I have been reflecting on this whole reading thing quite a lot recently, as there has been debate on some blogs and lists about autonomy and learning to read. I think I have probably been somewhat guilty of misrepresenting our approach to reading in the past. When people ask how Leo learned to read (they don’t ask about P as they assume she learned at school – actually she started reading before she went to school) we tend to say that he ‘just started doing it’. We didn’t teach any phonics systematically, we didn’t follow a reading scheme, we didn’t ask him to ‘practise’ reading with us. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t ‘do anything’ to enable him to read. I realise more and more that what we think of as just normal life involves a passionate relationship with the written word – and especially with books.
We started reading to the kids pretty much from birth. I guess lots of people do that but I don’t mean a book or two, I mean ten or twenty a day, or more. Even our whippet child would sit still for hours if we read to her. I can remember her standing on her head on the sofa as I read to her and she watched the book upside down. We’ve got a photo of me reading to Pearlie while breastfeeding Leo and a second one of him turning round to look at the book over his shoulder. We probably read to the children for three or four sessions a day when they were between one and three. Sometimes the stack of finished picture books would topple over beside us.
So, maybe it’s no surprise that both the kids seemed to read by magic. I guess it isn’t inevitable that that will happen - children may have dyslexia or some physical impairment that makes reading difficult or impossible. But I think if you make something a central feature of day to day life then children will identify it as significant and try to find out about it.
I have seen small children (all boys, if I’m honest) who have skills with a football that I have never mastered. These are children of three or four years old. I guess that the minute they found themselves on two feet a ball was placed in front of them. They took to kicking it about as this was clearly ‘something you do’ – in the way small children learn everything. If the adults in their lives love football, play football, watch football, become animated around football, then children will think football is very important. I think we did the same thing with reading. Dani and I would read, read things aloud to each other and start laughing, or arguing, or get tearful. We turned to books to cheer the children, to comfort them, to re-assure them in new or frightening situations. We did that for a period of years before they ever read anything for themselves.
So, in all the debate around methods of teaching reading – phonics and all that stuff – I am always drawn back to the place that reading has in our lives. I think that this central place that reading occupied was the most significant thing we ‘did’ to enable our children to read easily and with confidence. I don’t claim that this is ‘the way’ for people to learn to read. I can only speak from our experience. But I think that it is a shame that this approach is not promoted more in the world.
It would cost very little in terms of a lifetime to give children four or five years of complete freedom and joy in the company of books – preferably enabled by people who love them. I used to despair when Pearlie’s reception teacher (a very nice woman in many ways) would destroy a book by ‘simplifying’ the vocabulary, or stopping to point out things she deemed important. She would even do that with a story that bubbled and flowed with rhythm and rhyme – chop it up and try to make it ‘accessible’.
Pearlie learned to read like someone cracking a code and she loves to read to squirrel out facts. I can remember the first word she read – in the street. At four years old she announced, ‘if B is buh and U is uh and S is Suh then that must say BUS!’ We had thought she just watched ‘Words and Pictures’ for the stories while we sorted out Leo’s nappy or breakfast – but it turned out she liked the phonics. Now she does read fiction but she prefers things she can skip about in – noting stuff down and linking up things she knows. She will often fall asleep surrounded by different editions of the Guinness Book of Records. She uses books like tools primarily, but still loves to be read to, and in a moment a crisis will be comforted by a book. One night recently I took ‘Mole goes to bed’ into her room and offered to read it to her when she’d been really upset and cross. It was like a balm on everything that hurt and we ended the book with a hug.
Leo loves books as objects and for the stories they contain. At the moment he often carries a small rucksack full of books on his back. He says he is Cowlquape – a character in the Edge Chronicles who carries his barkscrolls wherever he goes. He loves the pictures and the covers, and the way he can collect a set. He loves the world he can find in the books and the fact that he is an expert on that world. He reads words he doesn’t know and he learns them – he speaks those words to test them out – and he writes them. He swirls in a world of words that carries him through every day. He says that he will be an author and illustrator. He asked for a study this week – a desk where he can work and create his books. He owns books with such confidence that I think he will never be intimidated by the written word. And I think that this gives him great power, as well as joy.
Of course I love it that my children have this close relationship with books – because I do and it’s nice when you can share things with your kids. It is part of our family identity – something that defines us. When I say that the children ‘just started to read’ that doesn’t really tell the story properly. People often look at me as if that is hard to believe. But I find it hard to explain what happened in a few words. I can’t say we used a particular book, or scheme. I can’t say we made sure they had good knowledge of phonics. We didn’t ‘teach’ them in a formal sense at all but that doesn’t mean we didn’t do anything.
Monday, October 23, 2006
The bus tour arrived back at our local Indian restaurant, where there was free food laid on, but we had to leave to get to our next engagement, so they gave us a couple of takeaway boxes of delicious rice and curry, which we ate while walking along the street on the way to…
… our afternoon activity, which was a birthday outing to the Sea Life Centre for seven year old C. with an assortment of (mostly) home ed friends. Sea Life Centre was interesting – Leo surprised me by looking at a creature in a tank and saying “that’s a common cuttlefish, I think”. It was – he had learned it from the collage we made of that Guardian poster, which was hanging on our noticeboard for several weeks. We saw them feeding giant turtles and several people got quite into the rockpool display, where you can touch the animals. Afterwards we went back to C’s house for cake and rampaging.
On Sunday it rained all day. I was hoping for a quiet day in, but Leo discovered he had exactly enough pocket money for a new Metal Ages dragon, so we had to go to the toy shop. P. spent some of her savings on a fluffy dressing gown, and we picked up some milk and stuff while we were out.
Apart from that, there was quite a lot of archery with improvised rubber band and stick bows (inspired by Robin Hood), some breadmaking, and some bickering.
It’s still raining today (Monday). The kids went to MMs with Allie this morning and I don’t really know what happened there, because we did a swift bus stop changeover before she went to work and there wasn’t time to pass on any information. We have run out of cash, so the kids and I raided the penny jar for sweets money and they are now comatose in front of the telly.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Dani went off to work and the rest of us got up slowly. The kids are spending quite a bit of time doing secret diary related activities in Leo’s bedroom at the moment. I am forbidden to read these (of course) so all I can say with any confidence (from evidence on hands!) is that Pearl is doing quite a lot of writing with a very leaky blue pen.
We watched some schools tv progs. This has been something of a feature this week and P, in particular, has been quite gripped by a series on different religions.
In the afternoon the three of us played Scrabble. Leo needs quite a lot of support as he can sometimes find reasonable words in his hand but finds it tricky placing them on the board. I was in the awkward position of not wanting to help him so much that I was essentially playing for him, but not abandoning him either. I think I got the compromise about right – and played pretty generously myself – which enabled Pearlie to win, Leo to come second and me to come third! I was impressed that they both saw the whole game through and I am more pleased that I can say that Scrabble can now be a family game.
In the later afternoon I took Pearlie and her cousin S over to yoga. This was the last such trek we shall have to make as the teacher has started an after school class at cousin S’s school (much closer to home) where Pearlie has been able to get a place. It is a bit odd for her to be going to her old school for an after school activity but it is much less tiring than the three hour trip across town in the dark and cold.
Dani went off to work and the kids and I got up tired and grumpy. Somehow we managed to get out the door to Pearl’s Squeezebox session where P enjoyed a really productive practice. This is often the way with P, she finds focus through working hard and cheers up. L needs the opposite usually – quiet chilling time at home.
We picked up various Doctor Who magazines and came home where P got very frustrated by a missing Tardis. The state of the house means that things are going missing, just lost in the junk. I try to sell the idea of a clearer, easier space, but neither kid is keen on getting rid of anything. Pearlie hates the idea so much that she would rather never bring another new item in to the house than entertain getting shot of some stuff. I guess this will get resolved somehow…
I went to work in the afternoon and Dani took the kids to the dentist. They both had some sealant put on back molars. Dani managed to get me registered there, which is a weight off my mind. I have wisdom teeth that need sorting and had ended up with a dentist I didn’t like or trust – not a good position to be in. The practice the kids go to is a big NHS one and they have always been fine there, so I’m hoping I can get all sorted without it costing too much.
The kids both did their capoeira classes, during which Dani left to go to the AGM at her work - she was giving a speech. Pearlie and Leo went home with their cousins after class and were minded by my brother until I came to pick them up after my work. They had feasted on Chinese takeaway chips and prevented their little cousin D from getting to sleep, so they were on a high!
We watched ‘Who do you think you are?’ which was interesting as usual. Both kids watch this programme in total silence every week, which I think means they are getting a lot out of it.
I did my usual Thursday of morning as a cleaner and afternoon as a librarian. Dani rushed about taking P to Kids’ Club (must watch that apostrophe!) and L to the grandmothers’ house. Pearlie is looking at chocolate at Kids’ Club at the moment, and this week she worked with other kids to design a chocolate bar. Next week they are going to make adverts.
Dani spent some time on a home ed stall at a local community event. This was actually being ably staffed by some home ed kids, so she got to do some all important chatting.
Pearlie and her cousin S started the new yoga class at the school, which was fine.
Dani was at work today and the kids and I did a home ed group and a trip to the library. The group was a big busy one where people of all ages mainly rampage and chat. We stayed for a while but then headed off to a favourite branch library - two buses in the pouring rain.
I had stupidly timed it so we got to the library halfway through the lunch closure period, so we ate sandwiches in the bus shelter and played ‘Curate’s Cat’ until they opened again. The kids wanted some quiet reading time in the library and they did their best, in spite of two rather loud kids (of about ten) who were looking up ‘sexy boys’ on the internet?? Almost more distracting was a father who spoke like a foghorn and read his child picture books with extremely exaggerated voices.
We picked up some books on the Vikings as we think we might do a day a bit like our Roman’s day last year, with appropriate dress, food, games etc. Not sure if this will happen – we shall see. I don’t really know much about the Vikings, though I think Pearlie knows quite a lot. Dani was very fond of Norse myths as a child so she is keen to read some of those.
I retreated into a book once we got home. The book is ‘Name all the animals’ and it has been really unsettling for me. My mum came across it in a charity shop and read it first, before passing it to me with the cryptic message that I must read it. I almost couldn’t get through it; such were the parallels with my own experiences. It is about a girl whose brother dies when she is fifteen, in 1984, and it charts her grieving and coming out experiences through the next few years. My sister died when I was fourteen, in 1985, and I grieved and came out too, over the next few years. The people in the book live next to a suburb called Brighton. The book has a lot of stuff about religion that doesn’t parallel anything in my life, but it is incredibly well written and speaks some truths about sibling bereavement that I’ve never seen written down before. It was such a strange experience reading this book that I feel a bit like I’m dreaming at the moment. I know it will wear off but it is odd while it lasts. I remember my mum getting close to removing ‘The Bell Jar’ from my fifteen year old hands when I got all wrapped up like I am now. Sign of a good book.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Friday the 13th brought us ‘The End’. This is the last Lemony Snicket book in the ‘Series of Unfortunate Events’. This series has been a wonderful experience for us all. We have shared all 13 books and delighted in the resourceful Baudelaire children. I won’t say much about the book in case there are people reading who are followers yet to complete ‘The End’. Suffice to say I was moved to tears at one point and was left feeling strangely satisfied.
But we weren’t able to pick up our book until the afternoon, so we spent the morning at home pottering. Leo did another fab dragon themed picture, and Pearlie did a bit from her Alpha maths book.
We spent much of the afternoon, and evening, reading the book aloud. We worked late in the night sorting out the comments we got from our recent survey of home local home eddors. D and I managed to get them sorted into part of a report we are going to circulate locally, and share with the LEA… Debate on lists at the moment has me very edgy about the future of HE in this country. I hope that we manage to keep the freedoms we currently enjoy so much.
Pearl and Dani set off early - on the train to Chichester, with bikes. They rode the seven miles to West Dean gardens where they enjoyed the apple day event. Pearlie was particularly taken with a machine that had revolving blades that peeled apples. Dani was taken with a swish apple corer that also cuts the apple into slices. They also picked up a lot of different varieties of apple, for a Woodcraft session Dani was running today.
Leo did some pages from a maths workbook in the morning, which was all very straightforward. He is ever more confident with maths these days. I presumed to tell him what diameter meant and he cut me off with ‘I know!” He also amazed me the other day when he casually said that he liked something ‘about fifty percent’. I asked him what he meant by that and he said, ‘you know, about half.’
In the afternoon Leo went to the theatre with his uncle J and cousin D. It was a short play - ‘The Sea Demon’s Heart’ – a cast of three and a large puppet. Leo told me the whole story when he got home, so it was obviously done very well.
I popped in to town to get the nose pads on my glasses replaced – again! This is the third pair that I’ve had on these frames.
In the evening I went out with my good mate A to a gay, Christian karaoke evening. This was a fascinating blend of Christian (lights full on in church hall and free quiche) and gay (‘YMCA’, ‘I am what I am’, and identically dressed lesbian couple singing duet). Dani had to stay home as we were without babysitter, but she gets edgy when people may assume she is Christian so she may have found it hard to relax anyway.
I had to work on Sunday but Dani and the kids had a nice day at home. The kids did a lot of dangling their cuddly owls out the front windows on long ribbons, and swooping them along the street. Dani baked bread so I came home to the smell of warm rolls.
In the evening I went through the teetering heap of drawing, writing and so on, that was balanced in our kitchen. I filed quite a lot in our filing cabinets and felt virtuous for a bit!
Today was Kids’ Club for P and I am woefully ignorant about what she did. She then went on to the grandmothers’ house, where she did quite a lot of French and played cards.
Leo and I went to MMs – another busy session. A plumbing crisis meant that it was a pretty tiring session. There was also a bit of overly wild play involving plastic hockey sticks that led to someone getting hurt. Leo told me that it was ‘The Brightonian Revolution’. Whatever it was we diverted some people towards ‘Junior Monopoly’. Sad to see me admitting the inevitable violence involved in the overthrow of the state and steering children towards capitalism…
Dani and Leo went to Woodcraft this evening where they made badges promoting apple eating, and played Apple themed games, and ate apples! Dani was pleased that all the planned activities went down well.
Pearlie and I watched a DVD of Cadfael, which she enjoyed.
Now I must go and get a child in a bath…
Friday, October 13, 2006
One of Leo's bed time drawings. We find these in the morning. This is a rather fine beast of some sort. I know I had a full explanation but I can't remember it.
Both kids have been doing a lot of this - P wasn't so happy to be photographed. This shows off Leo's new pjs - and the sheer amount of clutter in our house!
Another bedtime picture - a city on 'kind of scaffolding' - influenced by the 'Edge Chronicles'.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Dani and Leo went to the South of England show of the Amateur Entomologist’s Society – we now have stick insects! Pearlie went to Stanmer Park and flew kites with cousins. I went to work.
Dani and kids went in search of a farmer’s market but failed to find it. Pearl got new Roman Mystery book and Leo new Edge Chronicles book. – much walking along pavements with reading children… I went to work…
Leo and I went to MMs where we made finger puppets for a little while and Leo rampaged with friends for a long while and ate a big bowl of stewed apple. Apples had been brought in by lovely home ed mum who had climbed the tree in her pjs to pick them for the group. I had some nice chat with other parents and then went to work (again….)
Pearlie went to Kids’ Club where she played wild games and did some arty thing related to the current theme – vampires! She also took her book as she cannot be parted from it at the moment.
Leo went to Woodcraft in the evening and was soon joined by Dani and Pearlie who had to perform a mercy dash with a tape player. They all did folk dancing, which was very popular.
Dani went to work all day. The kids and I had a quiet day at home:
· I read the kids a fairy tale from Leo’s lovely illustrated book.
· This led to calls for story consequences – so we played for an hour or two. The resulting stories were enough to reduce the kids to hysterics – much mention of bodily functions. Quite a good parallel with fairy tales which are often the product of many story tellers over the generations. They sometimes have a strange little unconnected bit in the middle!
· Lunch and news and interesting conversation with Pearlie about North Korea. Pearlie’s plan is that all the countries should write a letter to North Korea, telling them that we are not all out to get them, so they should stop the nuclear testing. She decided that China should give the letter to North Korea, as they would be most likely to re-assure them. It’s as good a plan as any I’ve heard.
· Then a sad conversation about what happens when kids commit crime. Leo was horrified that a child could kill someone ‘What kind of child would do that?’ Hard to answer. Bottled out and turned news off when story of serial rapist of old women came on…
· Arty stuff. Leo made a two colour fimo slug. Pearlie made pictures with wax crayons and water colour paints.
· Car racing. Pearlie invented a system to determine the fastest car and recorded the results on charts.
· Then off to yoga for Pearlie and her cousin S. I fitted in some good thinking time on the beach while the girls did their class.
· Leo played with cousin D for an hour or so until Dani picked him up on her way home from work.
· Evening of tv – Doctor Who, Autumn Watch and Horizon. Late bed for kids and still later bed for me…
Saturday, October 07, 2006
As no day of the week is now complete without a home ed group activity, Pearlie went to Squeezebox in the morning. Allie and Leo cunningly went to the library while she was there and continued reading their bedtime book where they had left off.
We swapped mummies at lunchtime, and I worked solidly in the house for a couple of hours, making no visible impact on it at all. I took Leo and cousin D to capoeira, then gave them tea at our house while Pearlie and cousin S did their class, accompanied by S’s mum.
Spurred on by the powerful incentive of dog poo all over the bathroom floor (from cousin D’s boot), I finally made an impression on the house, while the kids helpfully watched Doctor Who and Autumn Watch. Allie was home in time to watch Who do you think you are? with us, so we all learned something about the genocidal persecution of the Armenian population in Turkey in the early twentieth century.
Yesterday seemed to disappear in a blur of rainy journeys. Allie took a much needed day off work, and I took both kids to Kids’ Club, as it was my turn on the rota. We went birdwatching in the local park, where we were led very rapidly through the undergrowth by an expert eight-year-old in the group, to discover robins, blue tits, blackbirds, and even bats (though I didn’t see any!).
After we got home, Pearlie and I set off in the rain to buy wellies and some food at the big out of town supermarket. She added up all the prices on the way round the shop, and pretty much agreed with the till at the end. On the way home we suddenly realised we were going to be late for her doctor’s appointment, so we had to rush back with heavy shopping bags, then sit in the doctors’ waiting room for twenty minutes.
We got our referral to the podiatry department, dashed home for a bite to eat, then out again to drop P. off at Woodcraft Folk. They made sandwiches in rehearsal for a weekend camp planned for the end of October. P. is not sure whether she wants to go to this or not. She’d kind of rather I came along too, which I could do in terms of practicalities, but it’s not that kind of camp – nobody else will have their mum there – and I don’t want to be looking over her shoulder all the time and thereby deprive her of the actual experience. On the other hand, I went on a school camping trip at about her age and was terribly homesick, so I’m a bit worried that she’s just not ready to go without us yet.
Meanwhile, Allie and Leo had been reading the Edge Chronicles – they have now finished The Winter Knights, and are a bit stuck without a copy of the next book, the newly published Clash of the Sky Galleons. They also did a jigsaw of the British Isles together, he did some writing, and he enrolled both of us as dragonology students, giving us the task of making notes on each of his dragons while P. was at Woodcraft.
I was at work all day today, so my knowledge is a bit sketchy. The kids worked hard on getting completely soaked in the rain as often as possible, in celebration of having new wellies. Leo managed to achieve this even before having a wee or eating any breakfast this morning.
They went to the big home ed group, getting soaked in the rain on the way, then played outside in the rain in their dry change of clothes while they were there. Then they got soaked in the rain on the way home.
The evening was a Doctor Who fest, as I had managed to track down a copy of Doctor Who Adventures for Leo and Doctor Who Battles in Time for Pearlie in my lunch hour. No Autumn Watch, so we followed Doctor Who with Say No to the Knife – unsurprisingly, women who had access to some decent talking therapy chose not to have plastic surgery after all.