Growing in Confidence

Being a home educating parent can be frustrating at times, especially if you follow an autonmous route. Inevitably there will be times when your mind tells you the children should be doing more formal work (at least, if you’re quite new to all of this or if, like me, you’re an ex-teacher and can’t quite shake off the shackles of state education thinking, even whilst disagreeing with most of it!

But this isn’t a post about how frustrating it can be, this is a post about rays of light poke through that frustration and how reassuring those rays of light are.

Bean is 9 and like many children his age, he likes computer games and plays them a lot. More than I would like, but I keep reminding myself that there are skills in them too, and whilst he’s playing them his brain is still processing other things that he’s learnt by being. Just being.

Earlier this week, he put down his game very deliberately and headed for the Arts & Crafts supplies. After digging around he found a set we’ve had for ages, for making sand mandalas. We did one of these a while ago, and he enjoyed it, so I was pleased to see the set making an appearance again. He completed a mandala, closely following the “sand by numbers” formula and was pleased with his results. And then he said something that shocked me. He was putting away the instruction booklet and choosing his own colours!

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One of the mandalas made to the colour specifications. His “freeform” mandala isn’t finished yet.

This is a big step for Bean. When it comes to certain things, he has to play it by the book. If the instructions say to use number 7 in this section, then number 7 it must be. So to say he was just going to use the colours that pleased him was music to my ears. To put it into his words, he was “going freeform” with it (all the freeform crochet I’ve been doing has clearly had an effect!) He hasn’t finished that mandala yet, but he has been really happy with the results so far. He loves how the colours he’s choosing fit together and give the mandala he’s doing a different look to the colours laid out in the set. I’m really proud of him – I know that this is a big step for him.

And then later he came with me when I took Plum to her ballet lesson. Not because he has a particular interest in sitting in a stuffy waiting room waiting for his 4 year old sister to finish her lesson, but because the boys street dance class began straight afterwards and he wanted to give it a go.

Bean loves street dance. He loves watching it, he loves trying out his own moves at home. He has not, to this point, loved the idea of anyone seeing his moves, or of going to a lesson. What if he wasn’t good at it? But he finally decided to give it a go. And he loved it. He came out full of confidence, beaming like a Cheshire Cat. I was proud all over again.

And I can’t help but think home ed plays a part in all of this. He has all the opportunities he needs to stay safe in his comfort zones when that’s what he needs, building his confidence, bonding with others with similar interests, trying new things in a “safe” environment, and when he’s ready, he has equal opportunities to push beyond those comfortable spaces, and the confidence to do it.

When we first took him out of school, coming up to two years ago, he had none of that confidence. People thought he was a confident boy, but mostly it was an act. He’s managing to move beyond that now and not worry so much about what others might think or say.

It’s great to watch and be part of.

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Moment of Validation

Last week, I wrote about the constant questioning of the choices we make for our children, which come from a desire to feel that we are doing our best for them. I’m sure all parents feel this at some time or another, but I wrote about it in terms of having chosen to a) home educate our children and b) do so in an unstructured/autonomous way. I finished that piece with a lovely moment of validation and now I want to tell you about another, very welcome one which happened a couple of days ago.

Bean is perfectly capable of writing and of writing eloquently (if messily – that’s 9 year old, left-handed boys for you, if I may be allowed to generalise for a moment!), but he doesn’t like writing. He prefers talking. A lot. At school, his lack of writing was a problem and it came up every single parents’ evening. It was frustrating. We couldn’t physically force him to write. We talked to him about it. He felt he was distracted. We agreed, though he felt he was distracted by other children (and it didn’t matter who was near him, so either that wasn’t it, or he was very easily distracted!) and we felt he was a bit of a daydreamer (a lot of a daydreamer).

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Either way, the lack of writing was cited as a problem all the time. They had no evidence, you see. All his teachers, throughout the three years he was at school, agreed that he was bright, making good progress, coping well with school – and one even said he was the brightest child in his year group , but she couldn’t prove it because he never wrote anything down. That’s certainly a problem when the system you have to work within is geared up to measure progress and ability through written evidence for the most part.

The issue for Bean was that he never really saw the need to write things down. Things that interested him were remembered, without effort. He would take in every word that his teacher said, come home, do more research, remember it all. So what was the need for writing? Things that didn’t interest him didn’t need writing down because they didn’t interest him, so why bother? I can’t argue with his logic.

Once we took him out of school the first thing his father and I agreed on was that we would try not to worry about writing. We knew that to try and force the issue would create a problem which didn’t really exist. He would happily write a letter to Santa, or postcards so we decided to leave it to come naturally. We’ve had to remind ourselves of that a few times over the last 18 months, when writing has happened rarely. But that’s OK. And here’s why.

He recently read Diary of a Wimpy Kid and he got really into it. He talked a lot about it. We watched the film. He read the next book.  And then he asked me for a journal that he could keep his own diary in. He wants to write down his thoughts, write song lyrics, cool ideas …. HE WANTS TO WRITE!

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And so I bought him a journal. And he loves it. And he spent some quiet time designing a cover page for it and deciding what his first, important piece of writing in it will be. I’m so happy!

Questioning your decisions

I don’t know if it’s just our family, or if this is par for the course for families who opt for the unstructured root, but I often find myself questioning whether this is the right route for our children. Maybe it’s because we’re still only 16 months into home ed. I don’t know.

But it can be easy to wonder if there is “enough” learning going on when you formal sit-down work happens rarely (as an ex-teacher, I struggle with this aspect, even though I know the value of learning is not in the written work produced and even though I see my children are learning in all kinds of situations). Sometimes I wonder if it’s the right path when the choices made are for TV or computer games and I want to shout “but what about maths? What about science? Why don’t you read a book?”.

And then there are days when your son, with a completely free choice of what to do, opts for this.

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Bean designed and made me a wooden incense holder in his Dad’s wood workshop a little while ago. He’s now working on producing more, as well as some other small designs that he can sell. So he opted to leabe behind the computer games, the TV, football and join his Dad in the workshop so he could get on with his work.

And it’s times like this that make me tell myself to take a chill pill – things are going well, and he does plenty of learning (including maths, science and reading!)

What Happens When They’re Poorly?

Plum has been poorly the last couple of days. It began with a night of vomiting, followed by a day of lethargy and no eating. A very, very long night’s sleep followed, and then there was another day of lethargy. Plans were rearranged and we planned for a duvet day.

In fact, what happened was that she spent the morning feeling very sorry for herself and needing lots of cuddles. We watched a film, until she needed a rest from that. She managed a mouse-sized lunch and then she wanted to play the “Mmmm Game”, so called because the first letter learnt on Reading Eggs is M. She’s called it the Mmmm Game since she was 2. So we played it, taking little baby steps, but she managed twelve exercises and an end of map quiz, for which she earned a gold medal. That was enough for today, but it had raised her spirits and she was proud that she’d read a few sentences.

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After another mouse-sized snack, she wanted to do some planting, and so we got out the Strawberry Kit she was giveb for her birthday. She and Bean tried to guess what the seeds would like and decided, based on the intructions to plant six individual seeds, that they must be quite big. So when we poured them out, they were surprised at how tiny they were, until I reminded them that they see the seeds every time they eat a strawberry 😉

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Planting done (the idea of six individual seeds abandoned!), it was time for some TV and then some pretending to be a crab, penguin, cat, and tired out again, she watched the astrology on CBeebies before bed.

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