Monday, May 28, 2007

Up catching

This will be in the nature of a v. sketchy catch-up - with photos!

Bank Holiday Monday

Today was peeing down with rain here – and cold enough to be November. I enjoyed something of a Busman’s Holiday and re-arranged/tidied our non-fiction collection.




Dani and Pearlie did some Greek together.

Leo pottered about and talked about rats a lot. He drew a design for a Robo-Rat.

This afternoon we went to town to grasp the nettle and get P a phone. Seems a bit strange as she was a toddler just yesterday but we now often find ourselves in situations where it would be useful for her to have a phone. Leo was not happy for her to get a phone and for him to get nothing. He doesn’t need a phone but he apparently needed a Cult of Skaro, so he got that instead.

P and I watched a fab Greek myths video – from the Jim Henson storyteller series from the late 1980s. It was Perseus and the Gorgon, directed by Anthony Minghella and told by Michael Gambon. I liked it so much I went on ebay and found a region 2 DVD with the complete set, which I bought with the my ‘jobs money’.

Sunday

I was at work.

D and the kids spent an ‘up and down’ day at home. Kids spent time on various writing projects that they have underway at the moment. D did some work on a response to the HE guidelines consultation.

Both Kids’ bedrooms got tidied – HOORAH! - you can walk across the floor.

Saturday

I was at work.

D and kids stayed in and kids bickered for a bit as they were trying to use wheeled toys in the (small) kitchen – then all went to the park.

We had roast dinner and watched Doctor Who – as usual.



Friday

D was at work.

P went to play at a friend’s house.

Leo and I had a cooking and baking day of foods L loves.

We made a big pan of risotto – onions, garlic, courgettes, borlotti beans, black-eyed beans, tinned tomatoes. Leo chopped the courgettes, chose beans, “can we have borlotti and black-eye?!” lit the gas and did a lot of stirring.




After we’d eaten lunch we made a banana cake. This was a truly gorgeous one so I’ll share the recipe:
6oz soft brown sugar creamed with 6oz butter
Two beaten eggs and 2 mashed bananas
Fold in 6.5 ozs of self-raising flour
Bake at gas mark 4 until skewer comes out clean




Dani and Pearlie went on Critical Mass in the evening, which P really enjoys.

Thursday

I was at work (cleaning and real job) all day.

Dani was on the rota to help at Kids’ Club, where the kids are doing various things. They are planning a fund raising sports event. They also read a letter sent to them by some kids in India. Dani took Penrose Tiles, which people explored a bit. They played football.

P went to Woodcraft in the evening where they had a discussion about swearing!

Wednesday

Wednesday was a pretty horrid day in patches (kids had a huge row in the street!) but did include some happier things.

P and D made soup – carrot and potato. P enjoyed the making, but not the soup. I thought it lovely and had some on my return from work.

There was also a trip to play in the park where weird black fungus was found, maps were made, and rabbit holes discovered.

Tuesday

Kids had a Squeezebox session where L got carried away and stood on his stool while playing the keyboard. Can anyone guess what happened next?

After that we went up to the park where a friend (J) was having his 8th birthday get together. There was a super Dalek birthday cake and I drank lots of tea.

That’s it – caught up!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Girls and Boys

Way back in the mid seventies, when I was five, I had a best friend - a boy called Michael. My most exciting play-mate - we were spies with walkie talkies, we parachuted little toys out of his bedroom window, we filched cup cakes from the freezer and de-frosted them in the sun. Michael’s family were American – lovely people. Their home was relaxed and easy to be in. His dad was an academic – some kind of researcher in computing. He was one of the few dads of my acquaintance that didn’t scare me – he spoke so softly, with a strong accent.
“Keep your bikes on the sidewalk, kids.”
His mum was studying part-time and loved to garden. He had a big sister who was quiet and studious.

One day when my brother had dropped me off at first school (like infants with an extra year) I found that it was closed because of a boiler emergency. I was seven or eight years old. With trepidation I crossed back to the middle school to look for my brother – but the kids had all gone inside. I was too scared to walk into the big school, so I was stuck. My mum was at work – half an hour walk away, across big roads. With a wobbly lip and enormous butterflies I decided that I’d go to Michael’s house – just a couple of minutes walk. I couldn’t reach to open his back gate, so I went up to the front door. It had a bell-pull – a round brass knob that you pulled and then pushed back. When Michael’s mum opened the door I was so relieved I burst into tears. She led me inside saying, over and over, “you did the right thing, you did the right thing.” She made me welcome and Michael and I played all day.

I never had an issue with the fact that Michael was a boy. I had two brothers at home – one of them my closest sibling in age – as well as boy cousins. Michael was sparky – in fact he had the kind of startlingly fast and analytical mind that causes many adults discomfort. In the playground at school we played Underground City and he developed an outdoor version of a computer game he had designed with his dad – called ‘Hunt the Wumpus’. Sometimes the dinner ladies would blow the whistle and we all stood still. They’d say that the boys were all being too rough and take Michael away to line up against the wall with the other boys. I was outraged on his behalf. When I tried to talk to the dinnerladies they’d just send me away to play with the girls.

Our friendship lasted all through first school without too much trouble. But once we were in middle school it got harder and harder. If we played together there were taunts from all directions, “he your boyfriend, then?” And it was constant. I found it unbearable – humiliating and inappropriate. So, I played with him less. He was lonely and pretty miserable, I think. Most of the other boys played football. I played with girls, which was fun – but I missed Michael. Then he went away to France for a year.

When Michael came back I was almost eleven. We still had two more years at middle school. We didn’t really play together at all any more. But we were both told that we would be going to ‘Middle Schools’ Orchestra’ – once a week, after school. I don’t remember making an arrangement, but Michael and I would leave school separately and meet up a few streets away. We’d walk down to orchestra together, go our separate ways (him to the percussion section and me to woodwind) and then casually meet up again afterwards. Michael told me to bring some money one week and introduced me to the joys of a chilli burger at a new burger place nearby. It was a good time. Then one day our class teacher announced to the class, with glee,
“I saw Annalie and Michael out together last night…”
“Whooo! Oooh… He your boyfriend, then??”
We were eleven. He was one of my oldest friends but I felt that everyone was determined that this should not and could not be so.

Soon we were at secondary school together. After a year or two the pressure to ‘get a boyfriend’ was intense. Who was the only boy I really liked? So, Michael and I ‘went out’ – not a great success! Another blow to our friendship – it was embarrassing to be around each other for a while.

Eventually, at about sixteen, we ended up in the same social group. In this big, mixed group we could actually be friends again. It was good to talk to him. He had a great sense of humour and a lot of talents. We used to go round to his house when the summer fruit came in and eat his family’s raspberry and redcurrant harvest, piled up on French crepes that Michael had learned to make in Brittany.

Michael went off to Cambridge, a doctorate at Oxford and now he works for Microsoft in Silicon Valley. I went to Leeds Uni, came back to Brighton and never left again.

Michael was a great friend. I am glad that we had a chance to re-kindle our friendship in our sixth form years but I wish we’d been free to let that friendship grow and develop throughout our childhood. If Michael had been a girl then I think we would have been given that freedom.

I don’t find it cute or funny when children barely out of nappies are referred to as ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’. I don’t like the ‘jokes’ and teasing. Quite apart from the assumptions being made about those children’s future gender identities and sexualities – it gives the message that there can be no real friendship between boys and girls, and so, presumably, men and women. That is certainly the message that I received (loud and clear) in my childhood. It also implies that the most significant fact about a person is their gender and helps to re-inforce a simplistic, rigid gender model. I don’t think that does anyone any favours – and for some children it is positively painful.

In our family we are noticing that the home educated children we know are not as rigidly divided on gender lines. Pearl, in particular, is not being harassed out of her friendships with boys. She is happy up a tree or swinging on a bush with a group of boys or girls – and often her group is mixed. That is good to see. I really hope that she continues to have that space and keeps the freedom to define her own relationships, rather than being pushed into someone else’s idea of reality.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

There's this meme doing the rounds, called The Thinking Blogger award. Sharon tagged us – in a very charming and complimentary manner too, so thanks for that. If she hadn't tagged us I would have included her in my five - a lot to learn there.

The official rules for participation in the Thinking Blogger Awards meme are as follows:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.
(Skipped that bit !)

I am something of a creature of habit when it comes to blogs and often think I should venture further afield. But here, in no particular order, are my five blogs that make me think.

Gill’s blog is very important to me. From the first day I found it I realised that it was going to be a source of much food for thought. I think Gill has impressive synthesising and analytical skills and I love the way she is never shy of her own conclusions. I think she has a very wide readership because of that.

Woman of the Tiger Moon is my second nominated blog. I find a lot here to learn from and love the photographs that Beth includes – like looking out the back door of a friend who happens to live on the other side of the world. I find Beth’s reflections on gender constructs to be particularly fascinating as this is a subject close to my heart.

Carlotta at Dare to Know gives me all the vital campaigning gen in the home ed universe.

I am also a regular reader at Homely Education – another home edder outside the UK. EF documents the pleasures and perils of life in the country, which is all highly educational for a city girl like me. She’s also great for a larf…

The final blog is not one I’m really tagging, as such, as I am a confirmed lurker there! This blog makes me think because it’s a home ed blog that feels like it is from a parallel universe – rather than just another country. The blog author is clearly someone with an immense devotion to her children and a determination to do right by them, which I find interesting and admirable qualities. I have no doubt that we would disagree on more or less every aspect of parenting - in fact, perhaps more or less every aspect of life! But I think it is healthy not to surround yourself with the words of people who agree with you - and you have to admire this lady’s baking too!

So, there’s my five picks. I could have given you many more but I hope I’ve gone for contrast. Ooops! Except that they are all home edders. Ah well….

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Home Edders go mad in France

So, our day trip to France…

On Monday Pearlie, Leo and I had to get up at 5.30am. I woke a couple of times in the night as I was a bit anxious. Then I spontaneously woke up at 5.27am and had to stand over the phone waiting for it to ring with the reminder call I’d booked!

Everyone was on time, so we were off by 6.50am. There were thirty home ed kids on the bus (aged between 7 and 15) and 17 adults. Pearlie sat up at the back with friends and Leo and I managed to get front seats, just behind the driver.

It was a fairly mammoth day out – five hours on the coach each way – for just under four hours at the destination. We went under the tunnel – a very strange experience we’d not had before. There is something about sitting in a coach as it rocks like a train, that is just so wrong!


Picture is blurred because he wouldn't stop jumping!

Because we were on a tight schedule we only had a couple of ten minute breaks on the way – and none at all on the way back.

Our destination was a park place called Samara. We were treated to fantastic guided tours (in English) by park staff. Our group was first shown how to make fire - a hot spark from a flint and a stone with iron in it, some material from the middle of a tree fungus, and then dry grass. It was impressive and led to a lot of stone striking by kids as we went on!



We were then shown around various dwellings, reconstructed to be as close to prehistoric dwellings as possible. There was a lot of interesting discussion about how much of the evidence has been destroyed by time and how the guesses they have to make are influenced by knowledge of various factors, such as climate at the time. There was also a chance to throw spears at a hay bale ‘reindeer’.


After the tours there was just time for a quick bit of gift shopping. Pearlie bought her own ice lolly and was pleased that she managed that in French – even with a choice of two flavours!

Then it was back on the coach and home in time for late pasta tea – and we fell into bed.

The trip was a fabulous opportunity for us as home edders – basically completely paid for by The European Union!

It was great that a local home ed mum managed to organise everyone at short notice so we were able to take advantage of the opportunity.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Toute seule a la maison

I’ve had the bizarre experience of being alone in the house for most of the day – everyone else has been on a home ed day trip to France. I’ll let them blog about that tomorrow when they’ve recovered – they all had to get up at 5.30 this morning!

I’ve used the time to repair our ailing laptop – put in a new hard disk, reinstalled all the software, recovered all the files we backed up, etc. All seems to be working so far :-)

We had a very literary weekend. Leo and I went to see Chris Riddell on Saturday. He showed slides of pictures from his sketch books and talked about how he works. A lot of what he said reminded me of how Leo is with his drawing – very interesting.

Allie and Pearlie were in town getting haircuts and new glasses, and we all bumped into each other by chance and had lunch together. As we’d found each other we decided to swap mummies – I took Pearlie to the home ed rollerblading meet while Allie and Leo went home for a rest and a potter.

The kids went to their cousins’ house for Dr. Who and a sleepover and we had a very pleasant evening in.
On Sunday Allie had to work, and the rest of us went to two more author talks – first Jamie Rix, who read several very grizzly tales, then Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (again!). In between the two, we popped to a nearby Greek taverna for lunch. Both kids bought books and got them signed.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Blah, blah, blah

Just written a really tedious account of the last few days and deleted it all because it was too boring to even finish. Here’s highlights and lowlights:


Dalek Sek got his eye stalk broken and mended (twice).
P had a friend round to play.
We wrote our article on cars and play space for the local community newsletter.
We hosted a productive meeting of the local group of home edders working with the local authority.
Groups (various).
Leo has a cough/cold.
Leo trod in a massive dog poo in a park– both trainers and his trousers got dirty.

This is still boring – ho hum…

Here’s some pictures Leo drew today.





Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tuesday in the rain

Tuesday was another rainy day here. I don’t mind this as I think we need the rain – but the kids are getting a bit fed up with lack of outdoor play.

Leo started the day with a couple of scrambled eggs. He made them himself – with a bit of support from me. Pearlie had some Weetabix and they both helped drain the orange juice lake that had formed in the fridge!

Leo added some new creations to his Doctor Who toys. He used an old cereal box to make the interior of the Tardis, old silver foil to make a destroyed Cyber Controller and he drew a destroyed Dalek and a Cyber Leader. He made an exhibition poster inviting people to see his display.

Pearlie is spending a lot of her time adding things to her new personal organiser. She bought this herself and loves it. This reminds me of Dani – a love of schedules, diaries, and organisation generally.

Both the kids put in some time practicing their instruments. They are both feeling quite confident about the gig at the moment.

After a quick lunch we set off in the drizzle for their Squeezebox session. We called for another band member on the way and the drizzle turned to serious rain before we got to the studio.

Their band is sounding good. They are playing a mix of stuff at the gig – ‘Patience’ by Take That, ‘Holiday’ by Green Day and ‘Hardest Button to Button’ by The White Stripes.

Back at home I helped Leo work on a Cyberman and Dalek poster – by finding images on the internet. He cut those out, glued them to his poster and added text and drawings.

Pearlie went to watch TV but accidentally missed the Roman Mysteries – much to her annoyance.

I was working away on some pasties for tea (lazy shop bought pastry but home made fillings) when Leo revealed, tearfully that he thought I’d said I was making pasta – which he fancied much more than pasties. I decided to be accommodating and made him pasta (using the pasty filling as sauce), and two different kinds of pasty for me, Dani and Pearlie. Pearlie likes cheese and potato pasties and I also made a veg version with black eye beans, tomato, onion and courgette. I made some little tartlets with spare filling and some cheesy pastry too.

After that we were all full!

Pearlie, Dani and I planned out an article that we are going to submit to our local community newsletter. We have measured the street (got one of those wheel thingies and P did most of it), cars, pavements and so on and done some interesting calculations. We want to highlight the way the streets have become dominated by cars – and how the traditional play space of local children has been lost as a result. We have found an account from a 1930s childhood of a local child, which talks about play in the street. We live in an area with terraced houses that open straight onto the street and back yards/gardens of about 6m by 5m. There is no way the children can run in the garden, or play in a group of more than two or three – so in previous generations they played in the streets. Sometimes I feel our children are literally hemmed in by cars. Cars park bumper to bumper so sometimes we cross the street and find we can’t get back on the pavement. Anyway, I’ll save all that for the article!

I also followed a link that someone had put up on a list. It took me to some revision site for KS3 SATS, which I think are the ones people do at 13/14. Leo seemed perfectly able to manage most of the questions in the ‘English’ game. This was spelling, grammar and name the punctuation stuff. I was struck by the fact that several of the questions were no challenge at all to a middle class, southern, seven year old – just because they reflected the way he speaks. If he happened to speak differently he would have found them more of a challenge. What is really being tested?

I printed out an algebra worksheet and was looking through it. I was interested to see what I could remember and quite pleased with the method recommended to solve the equations. It was a typical maths moment for me – finding that I had was challenged by something that I must have done hundreds of times. I worked hard at school and got an A in my maths O level – but I never really understood much beyond simple arithmetic– just memorised methods. Pearlie came to see what I was doing and astonished me by looking over my shoulder at this equation:
39=3(2x-1)
and announcing, “x is 7”. It seems algebra is something she enjoys – no method, no writing, all in her head. We looked at a couple more and she solved an equation that involved negative numbers, and one where the answer was less than 1. Then she went to do something else.

Anyway, having trouble working on this pc – keeps struggling to be a pc! New hard disk should solve it in the next few days.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Medicated, magical, somewhat manic

At the end of a long day…

Dani went off to work this morning. I woke with a threatening migraine – nauseous, thumping head, dizzy, watery eyes, saying the wrong words – the lot. Luckily I managed to catch it in time and took pills, drank tea, ate toast and moved carefully and got rid of it.

Pearlie went to Kids’ Club – lots of playing and drawing her comic.

Leo and I went to MMs, where we had a good time. There was biscuit making, junk modelling, tabard making and a certain amount of rampaging. I was very glad that the migraine had gone and I was able to take part properly.

I deposited Leo with Dani and Pearl at a bus stop, changed to another bus and went on to work. Finished work at 8pm and had to run for my bus home.

It was the AGM of Leo’s Elfins Group (Woodcraft) this evening during his session. Pearlie was allowed to join in with the session so that Dani could go along to the meeting and end up as secretary for another year!

My big brother was on the radio tonight – talking about the Labour leadership campaign. It is about 13 mins in to the programme. He is a John McDonnell supporter. I thought he did brilliantly. Not my party these days so not really my business but I was pleased he made a good case.

Finally finding some time to blog. I have worked both days of this weekend. This evening Dani made dinner and two hours later I made Leo a second dinner! He must be having a growth spurt. Today he has eaten:

  • A home made roll (Dani makes these with wholemeal and white flour, linseed, sesame seed, poppy seed, sunflower seed and oats – so they are pretty hearty!) spread with cream cheese.


  • A pear.


  • Baked beans on two slices of home made bread.


  • Half a home made roll with cheddar cheese.


  • Oven chips, peas, two Quorn sausages and big dollop of sauce made with courgettes, tomatoes, onions, and borlottti beans.


  • One bowl natural yogurt.


  • One bowl natural yogurt with tinned apricots.


  • Big bowl of pasta and pesto.

Does that seem like a lot of food for one willowy seven year old? It looks like it when it is disappearing!

Friday

On Friday I took the kids swimming at the pool in town. We stayed in for ages and I managed to swim around quite a lot. As Leo is only seven I have to be ‘supervising’ him at all times, so I daren’t go to the adult pool, but I think I got some real exercise avoiding the babies! Pearlie was perfecting a swimming style called ‘monster’, which involved diving low and circling our legs.

We saw a couple of ‘Streets of Brighton’ performances – a metal horse and a signed drag act. But it was raining and that is not really the weather to enjoy a leisurely mooch round the streets, so we came home. Pearlie went to yoga with cousins and Leo and I had a quiet hour at home.

In the evening Dani and I went out – my brother came to babysit. We had a fabulous evening watching Jackie Kay give a performance of two stories from her latest collection. The audience for the reading was very heavy on middle aged lesbian couples and one of the stories was about the break up of a long term lesbian relationship. It was so well-observed – full of little truths that elicited a sort of collective wince on each occasion. Then we went to the pub and had a couple of drinks. It was so enjoyable to get out for an evening and spend some time together.

Saturday

I went to work and Dani and the kids tried again with the second day of ‘Streets of Brighton’. The weather was better but Leo wasn’t that keen on being there. They saw a striptease and balancing act with a tandem (?) and a band - but didn’t stay for that long.



They bought cakes to eat at home.




When I got home from work I made roast potatoes, pies and assorted veg for tea – and then it was a Eurovision fest. Dani dipped in and out (she can resist the charms of hours of musical dross) but the rest of us were dedicated. Pearlie rang in with all our votes. I voted for the little lesbian from Serbia who was backed by Charlie’s Angels – and she won! Dani voted for a bizarre drag act wrapped in tin foil – from Ukraine, I think. Pearlie voted for several people – drummers from Bulgaria, the Greek entry and the Irish one. Leo voted for a singer from Belarus who was apparently ‘wheeling’ ("I'm wheeling, yes I'm wheeling...) – which reduced Leo to hysterics.

Sunday

Another day at work for me. Before I left, Dani, Pearlie and I listened to Fiona and Theo on the radio (on at about 10.30am) - taking on a very irritating man who seems to be on a one man crusade to badmouth home ed. They did well but it was Radio Five Live – perhaps enough said? D, P and I had a good conversation about people’s assumptions about home ed and the power of language. The irritating man (who I do not want to publicise further!) said that people were ‘pulling their children out of school’. P spotted that that was a very emotive word and implied unwilling children being wrenched away from somewhere. She pointed out that home ed is her choice – not something that ever really gets considered by home ed critics.

Leo is very interested in fruit bats at the moment. Before I went to work I printed him a page from Enchanted Learning. It mentioned that they pollinate fruit trees and I started to explain what that meant. Leo said:
“I know, like bees.”

The kids had a row, made it up, wrote diaries and then found a lot of beloved old cuddly creatures. This led to some sewing. Pearlie sewed a leg back on a little cloth creature we call Moon Baby and then made her a skirt. Leo made a mattress for his old musical bunny.

The cousins popped round a for a quick play.

This evening Leo was asking us about water – and where it came from. Big questions always seem to come crop up when we are very busy – I was cleaning out Bunny and Dani cooking the tea!

Another good conversation was with Pearlie, when we were looking at our map of the world and chatting about the Victoria Wood programme on empire. We talked about the way the UK is in the middle of the map and how there is no ‘right way up’ for the world – just convention in the way it is represented. Leo said he wants a world with one country and a law against war.

Dani’s knitting is coming on very well. She is making a Penrose tile blanket with gorgeous wool she got with gift vouchers on her last birthday.

Leo drew this picture of a forest in the night.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Allie Needs

Put your name and 'needs' into Google - see Merry's blog. This is what I got:

Allie needs help getting her pants off

Allie needs to walk through a greenhouse full of fragrant flowers

Allie needs a lot of personal attention to make her feel more secure

What a surprise when the frog shows up again, right when Allie needs it

Allie needs to be with someone who will exercise her daily

Allie needs her bottle

Allie needs to improve her acting

Allie needs all her detective skills

Noah says Allie needs to do whatever she wants

This "thing" we call Allie needs to get over herself!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sick pruter

Our laptop is very ill. The hard disk is dying (quite gently, which is giving us time to backup all sorts of things) so we've ordered a new, bigger hard disk. We get our computers from the fabulous Ergo. They have a straightforward phone support service where you get to speak to a helpful person. They will also talk you through things on the phone. Once they searched their records for us to get details of a purchase when we needed to make an insurance claim. All round they offer a pretty amazing service when compared to the big name suppliers.

In a few words we have been:

Theatrical ! - We went to see a fabulous story telling event 'Them with Tails' which included a joint story - with character and plot suggested by the audience.

Doing capoeira - the kids made it to their class and both had a good time.

Experimenting - Dani and Leo diverted a stream of water using static electricity on a balloon.

Doing French - My mum came round today and she and Pearlie looked at the latest edition of the magazine they have been using.

Playing - lots!

Diary writing. Pearlie and Leo go off to do this together - we know nothing more.

At Woodcraft (Pearlie) where they are designing a banner to take to camp.

Getting wet. Often.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The conveyor belt

In celebration of the fact that it seems we are not now facing a threat to our freedom, here's a bit of reflection on it!

I was very interested to watch some John Taylor Gatto on Gill’s blog the other day. I’m sure there is a great deal in his world view that I wouldn’t agree with, but I found myself nodding along with much of the video. At one point he asked a child for their response to a proposal and the child asked for time to think it through. Gatto made the point that children are given very little time to consider in our current system. That struck me as very true.

One of the most liberating things about home education is the feeling of having stepped off the conveyor belt. The years pass, the children grow and learn, but there is no sense of panic or deadline – unless you want to invite that into your lives. I have been noticing this a lot recently, as people have started to ask us what we are going to ‘do about secondary school.’ It is a strange thought that Pearl’s old school mates will all be filling in forms this autumn, agonising over the likelihood of one school or another. Secondary school admissions are a flaming potato in this town. There have been threats against councillors, fervent demonstrations, letters to the paper and even mentions on the national news. What has struck me is that families feel their children to be trapped, trundling along on the conveyor belt, fearful that the local politicians will suddenly change the direction of the chute and deposit them in a reject bin. There is panic – and no surprise really, given the endless measurement of the schools and the terrifying stories of bullying and chaos in some. We sit here, looking in from the outside, and wondering how it can be that we just jumped off that conveyor belt. It trundles on and we are free to wander.

When I look back at some of the parenting choices we made early in the children’s lives I am struck by the fact that we were influenced by the timetable of the schooling system – almost from the start. One of the most painful and stressful experiences we had was when Pearlie started nursery school. We were so anxious that we get ‘separation’ sorted out before school started. It seems so insane now that we pushed our three and a half year old child into forced separation for hours of every day. Because we were worried about what would happen when she was four we made her miserable when she was three. That tendency to always be looking ahead to the next ‘milestone’ is an essential element in the education system. An issue like ‘separation’ becomes a non-issue when you get off the conveyor belt. Clearly, children take steps in independence when they are ready – and without a looming deadline to ‘be happy to be left’ there is no need for all the stress and suffering. We have been too busy living to think much about whether or not Leo is happy to be left anywhere! Perhaps as a consequence he takes calm, gradual steps in independence and the lack of pressure has been a liberation for all of us.

I hope that we can keep our distance from the conveyor belt as the children get older. I know that some home edders feel a sudden panic when their children get to their mid teens and start to get stressed about qualifications. I hope that our children will be able to decide if and when they want to get some bits of paper. Whatever choices they make it is very unlikely that they will face those ‘summers of hell’ when doing heaps of exams in a single year.

I wish I had taken more time to think when I was younger – more time to consider what I wanted. Of course, I can do it now – and I am. I get to spend my time writing things like this, talking to my kids, learning about things I never thought I was interested in, questioning my politics, burbling on with Dani – and so on. But when I was on the conveyor belt I was always under pressure to get through the ‘stuff’, meet the deadline and start revising. If I found something I was interested in, that I wanted to give my time to, I was always wondering how much time I could give it before I must get ‘back to work’. I have heaps of diaries and writing from my teens and early twenties but it was never my ‘work’ at the time – it represents the hours I was ‘skiving’. But fifteen or twenty years later I realise that the ‘work’ is all gone – most of it passing through my head and away and most of the paper binned – and the writing I’ve kept is all that ‘skiving’.

It would be a lie to say that the journey along the conveyor belt brought me nothing. The bits of paper got me the job I do now. That job gives us the money to live the lifestyle we have now. But, actually, only the last qualification I got matters now – everything before it is irrelevant. All that teenage stress, those late nights, forcing the words onto the page – they count for nothing now. I hope that our children give themselves more time to try things out, follow their hearts, take a break – do whatever feels right.

The government seems determined to start the conveyor belt ever younger and keep it going ever longer. Many children these days pass through puberty at ten or so but they are to be denied adult status for almost a decade more. It seems to be all rush at the beginning – cut those apron strings – and then all delay, refusing to allow people of sixteen any more liberty than they had at six. And the defining feature of the conveyor belt is the deadline, the constant movement forward, the lack of time or space to stop and reflect.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Wicked Weekend

Saturday

My new swimming costume arrived – ordered in the early hours of Friday, so pretty impressive service from this shop! I really like it – it holds everything together admirably. I was looking at photos from Australia the other day – early 1994 – where I am posing about in a bikini. I just got comfortable with my body before pregnancy reduced my tummy to a soggy tea bag and middle age spread added a stone to my hips. Ah well, I’m happy to be a bit cuddly – mums should be!

I had to go to work but Dani and the kids went into town to watch the Children’s Parade – the opening event of the Brighton Festival. There was no home ed contingent this year but they enjoyed watching for a while. They saw three cousins – and lots of great costumes.

They joined in a capoeira roda in the street near the library. Both the kids played in the roda – very brave in a busy street.

After the roda they went to a book shop to get a birthday present for a friend. P had a birthday book token or two to spend. She was thrilled to find the new Roman Mystery book – “The Slave Girl from Jerusalem” – she’s read 100 pages or so already. She also got another “Lady Grace” book too. Leo bought a Grizzly Tales book – “Nasty Little Beasts” – which he is enjoying.

Doctor Who in the evening, of course. I made roast potatoes and stuff for the occasion and we all thought it was a fantastic episode.

Sunday

We had an adventure on Sunday – heading off to a friend’s birthday party in the country. It was O’s 8th birthday. He and his mum, J, used to live in Brighton but have moved out to a village in East Sussex. We got a bus to the nearest town and then worked out a cross-country route to the village. There is a bus to the village – but not on a Sunday! It was a great walk, through woods (caught the end of the bluebells), across train tracks (nerve-wracking) and up lanes – to find the little row of cottages where O and J live. It was about a 50 minute walk.

J and her partner had constructed the most wonderful dragon hunt through the woods. Each child found their own party bag as we went along, and we collected magic tokens and numbers to help in the dragon hunt. The dragon (of the egg box variety) was lurking on the river bank. O had to pierce its black heart (the evil one) but leave its red heart beating and then we carried it back to the house in a net. This whole hunt probably took about an hour and half – lots of running about, climbing, falling over etc!

It was great to see O and J again, and chat with other friends.

After some lovely food we set off back to the town, in search of the last bus home. P managed a spectacular tumble down a bank on the way – a backwards head over heals – but was uninjured. We finally got home at about 9pm and all fell into bed. We’d spent 3 and a half to four hours walking (in the kids case climbing and running too!) and were all whacked.

Monday

I managed to wake up last this morning – at 10.40am. I’d slept about 12 hours! Pearlie was first awake – she always needs less sleep than the rest of us. We packed up sandwiches again and set off across town to the circus – Cirque Surreal.

It was a thrilling show – as circus should be. Pearlie liked people dangling on high ropes, Leo liked a fabulous football juggler and Dani and I enjoyed a Flamenco stylie man who whacked poi-pois on the stage. There were also two blokes who did terrifying things in and on some big spinning cage things. I can't describe it but I certainly do recommend the show.

We walked home via the takeaway and got chips and vegeburgers for tea. Flopped in front of the TV we all watched Victoria Wood in Ghana, Jamaica and NewFoundland – all very interesting. Both the kids did some practice of their instruments and I helped P tidy her room a bit. I can feel an urge to do something biggish in the house. We urgently need more book shelving, a clothes sort out and a kitchen re-jig.

Dani is working on a new knitting project based on Penrose tiles. This means she is spending lots of time doing calculations on paper and is currently tessellating like mad with our cardboard tiles!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Strange objects in the sink

End of what has felt like a very long day – in fact, three long days. We are having something of a cull of group commitments – in an attempt to re-energise knackered mums and give a bit more balance to our lives. This is not before time. One morning this week I was snatching up breakfast debris off the table and hurling things in the sink when I found myself washing up a blue coloured pencil??

Ever since P was a baby we have both worked part-time and been at home with the kids part-time. We have never believed that the person at home had any particular duty to get housework done, prepare food for absent partner or get food bought etc. But often, of course, the person at home has found moments to do those things. The trouble with our current schedule of groups and park play is that it has led to very limited time actually at home – for anyone. When we are at home we tend to be a bit tired (in Leo’s case – very tired) and so not overly keen on clearing up, laundry, cooking – let alone shopping. As well as house chaos we have been suffering from frustration about half-finished projects and lack of time to unwind.

When we decided to home ed we never envisaged the problem of having too many social and group options on offer. I know we are very lucky to have such a great, well established community of home edders here – and I do appreciate everything that people have set up over the years.

It is hard to cut back. Different family members of the family have different priorities– and none of us has wanted to let anyone else down by reneging on a group commitment. But we have decided to drop our weekly sports group for a start and see if that makes us feel less pressured. The kids don’t lack opportunities for team play (often playing footie after Kids' Club) and get LOADS of exercise rampaging in parks.

So, what have we been doing, apart from reaching ‘erk!’ point in our daily lives?

Campaigning
Dani made another newsletter about the current state of the work being done with the local authority. This seems to be a long process. I have had to stop going to the meetings because we couldn’t manage childcare, but we talk a lot about the issues involved. Leo was asking me about it today and I tried to explain child protection concerns without being too worrying.

Folding
Dani went to Kids’ Club as an extra parent helper on Thursday and shared some origami with the kids. It went down very well.

Imagining
Leo has been getting masses of enjoyment out of a build up of empty loo rolls that he found in the bathroom (so there are advantages to neglecting the house work) that he has declared to be a Dalek army. We have, of course, spent lots of time making Daleks in the past and lots of money buying two remote controlled ones. But Leo is getting so much enjoyment out of these tubes and his imagination! He does combine them with his toy Daleks and other Doctor Who toys, but I think they are as satisfying to him as any toy could be.

Drawing
Pearlie has been enjoying a new issue of Aquila. She was inspired to draw this lovely pastel picture, based on the view from Devil’s Dyke – across the Weald. She is going to enter it in a competition in Aquila - as an impressionist style picture.




Writing
I have finished and submitted an article which has been accepted for publication in a parenting magazine. I’ll boast more fully when it is actually published!

Shopping
I stayed up way too late hunting bargains in things the kids need for various hols and trips – sun suits, raincoats etc. The wonderful Little Trekkers came up trumps with reduced items - as it often has before. More spending is on the horizon as P would like a new pair of Converse boots for the gig…

Talking
Dani and Pearlie had a conversation about our voting system. Dani invented a simple model council and printed out figures for this imaginary council to show P how it worked. They discussed turn out, as P asked about the number takers at the polling station.

Voting
See above!

Reading
I am reading Pearlie a new bedtime book called Eleanor, Elizabeth – set in Australia in 1960. It was one of a whole heap of fiction withdrawn from our stock at work that I couldn’t help but bring home. So far the heap has provided two excellent reads – and I’m hopeful that there are further treasures to discover. I’d like an excuse to stay in bed and read my way through the lot!

Tomorrow is the start of the Brighton Festival. Last year we took part in the opening Children’s Parade, but this year the kids and D are going down to watch. I’ve got work but have done a swap to get Sunday and Monday off – hoorah!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Camping, blading, digging, creating, thinking...

The weekend was a great one – for all of us.

Dani and Leo went on a Woodcraft youth hostel camp to Alfriston. They did canoeing, den building, pond dipping and a walk up to a white horse on a hill and listened to local legends. It was all very exciting and involved Leo getting soaked three times and bumping his head while fleeing from a wild chasing game. Dani said he was not the only casualty – she doled out a lot of plasters! They got home on Sunday – exhausted and with a pile of washing to do.

I had managed to get a weekend off work. Pearlie and I went off to investigate a home ed rollerblading meet up, which was near our family beach hut. Pearlie did really well – only one tumble – and she is keen to go again. It was lovely to spend some time at the beach hut. I hope we’ll get to spend lots of time up there this summer. Pearlie and I made pancakes for tea, watched Doctor Who and then Fawlty Towers.

On Sunday P and I ended up back at the beach hut, in the company of cousins. Poor cousin S fell over and got a long graze down her arm. The weather was amazing – like high summer.

Sunday night saw me making paper plate snappers to share with everyone at MMs, and Dani making flexagons for the Woodcraft session. Both went down quite well. Leo made a Dalek evolution flexagon, inspired by this week’s Doctor Who.

Monday was a lot of rushing about for everyone. Leo and I went to MMs, while P went to Kids’ Club and Dani to work. In the afternoon I went to work, Dani and Leo prepared for a Woodcraft session, and Pearlie went over to the grandmothers’. She did some French vocab revision and caught eleven newts in the neighbour’s pond. After Woodcraft they all came home but were tempted out again by the sound of the Morris Dancers from the pub at the end of the street. I missed my bus home and eventually got home at nearly nine to find them rolling in!

Dani was at work today. Pearlie and Leo both started the day with some music practice, while I ordered some food online. Leo then settled down to some book making – ‘The Dark Night of Death’ and ‘The Shadows of the Graveyard’. These are fact books about such charming things as zombies and vampires. I helped by finding ‘facts’ on the internet! Pearlie and I then looked at one of our maths books together. P decided she’d like us to go through a page on ratio. This became a good hour and a half, discussing ratio, fractions, decimals and percentages.

Then we realised it was lunch time.

After the kids’ Squeezebox session we went to the park, which was alive with home edders – at least ten families. It was hot and sunny again (yawn!) and the kids played for hours. Eventually they got involved in a lovely, collaborative sand creation. This was a mixed sex, mixed age creation involving digging and building and trips to the toilets for cups of water to add to the creation. In the end we stayed until Dani had finished work. She came to find us and we all ambled home.

Got to get some sleep now – another busy day tomorrow – but we’ve got seduced by ‘Dead Poets’ Society.’