September is really here. This morning was first morning back at several of the local schools – including the one the cousins go to. I had to get up early as we were expecting a British Gas engineer any time after eight. I found myself glibly telling the kids that the "gas man" would be coming and they should get dressed if they were bothered about being seen in pjs. Opened the door at 9.20am to rather cute gas woman – and was shocked at my own lazy assumptions. There were days when I’d never have used such language! Anyway, she got tea and checked boiler and pronounced it fine.
I find it astonishing that it is three years ago that Pearl left junior school – two weeks into her first term. What shocks me most is the realisation that Leo is now, more or less, the age that Pearlie was back then. I think it may be the fate of the elder child to always appear to be ‘getting really grown up’ and for the younger to be seen as ‘still a baby’. I don’t think either does the poor child any favours – but it is hard sometimes to stand back and see where the kids really are.
Almost more surprising than the changes in the children over three years has been the transformation in our day to day lives. I can’t really say that we’ve been on a long philosophical journey – we were always drawn to child-centred and autonomous approaches to learning – even when P was going to school. But what has changed a great deal is the way that we can choose the structure of our week – how we spend our time. We do have far more external structure imposed on us than many home ed families – because of the way that D and I work part-time around each other and the fact that the children choose quite a lot of group activiies at the moment. But, that is nothing compared to the thirty hours a week school pattern that we lived for the years that P was at school. The mornings, in particular, I remember with some anxiety!
At the moment we have a big layout on our notice board showing the days of the week and the various combinations of activities and available people. We have been thinking over the summer about this. It does look rather busy – but still contains long stretches of hours where we are free to choose what we do – and more and more this is real choice for all of us – not just the kids! The more observant among you may have noticed that I often find moments to blog during the day now – in contrast to when the kids were younger. This is because they tend to need my input less these days – or in a less concentrated way.
Yesterday P spent most of the morning engaged in writing a letter to her ‘other pen friend’. He is an animal rights activist in jail in the USA. She first wrote to him at the suggestion of the young anarchist who is play worker at one of her home ed groups. Dani and I are very pleased that she gets input from young anarchists on a regular basis! In her last letter she asked him a little bit about his conviction and he told her about a campaign web site where she could find out more. She did this yesterday morning and we discussed the various issues involved in the case – and animal rights in general. My input in this was just to have a look at the web site and chat really! Oh, and to give up my computer use a little later when P was writing the letter so that she could check a spelling. We do, of course, have dictionaries, but P has found that the quickest thing to do is to Google the word and see what most people think. This appeals to me as an approach – sort of wiki spelling…
Leo needed a bit of help with cutting a window and door in a very tough cardboard box that he was using to make a home for his Dalek Sec Hybrid action figure. I also got some fabric down off a high shelf so that he could make him a bed with covers.
It’s not always that way. Some days I am wanted far more – if only to referee pointless arguments about who did what to whom. And sometimes I can’t resist the niggling worry that makes me stick my oar in and try to ‘check’ or ‘make sure’ about some skill or bit of knowledge. I must confess that I also do tend to ask the kids if “they have a plan for the morning/afternoon” if they are watching TV with a glazed expression. And I’m far more likely to ask that if the TV in question is a repeat of ‘Basil Brush’ than a history programme or BBC children’s drama! If they say “no” then I will go away – but not necessarily with an easy mind. I guess that there are some who would say that I am not really trusting in autonomous learning at that moment – and they’d probably be right. But I think that it would be very unhealthy if I didn’t sometimes have doubts. And I will usually just remind the child that I am available to help or participate if they need me for anything.
I guess there is a fuzzy area around offering, suggesting, implying and nagging! For me, as long as there is no insistence on my part, I don’t hold back from making suggestions. I hope that my relationship with the kids is strong enough that they are able to see the suggestion as just that. Personally I often like to be given suggestions of activities if I am unsure or aimless. I very rarely take them! But, other people’s ideas will sometimes kick start my brain – and I think the same thing happens with the kids at times.
An issue that we are currently dealing with is music practice. With a mixture of band sessions and occasional one to one lessons for Leo, we are currently spending roughly £100 a month. This does affect the way I feel about the kids’ desire to play – or not. That sort of money is very significant in our budget. I know (from music lessons as a child) that you can either pick up something new in your time with the teacher (if you have done some playing between lessons) or you can find that you are just treading water each session, getting back to where you were at the end of the previous one. And your teacher will get less and less motivated if you are clearly never playing between sessions. I am not very inclined to see that happen at such a high financial cost to us as a family! I will never insist that they play (life is way too short to treat music (music!) as a chore) but I have given them the message that they need to do that to make the outlay on lessons worthwhile. I’m all for intrinsic motivation but also think that my kids need to know the financial realities of our lives!
Anyway, the silent reading and painting going on here has suddenly given way to a slight spat! Someone’s head bumped someone’s chair… So, I’m off to offer a snack and make a cup of tea.