Monthly Archives: February 2016

Creative construction

The unschooling diaries: week seven

The fascination with all things construction (and demolition) that last week led us to the library has directed lots of Arthur’s play over the past few days. He has gathered his motley collection of construction vehicles with the kinetic sand in the tuff spot, brrrrming them round his little building site which I sense still has further to evolve.


Whenever we’ve been out and about he’s been drawn to diggers and steam rollers and cranes. There seem to be plenty around – way more than I’ve ever noticed before. But maybe that’s just because I wasn’t looking properly.

Back at home, he has taken tremendous delight in directing me to build increasingly complex creations using duplo and his train track only to smash them to smithereens, scattering pieces across the lounge and declaring an emergency as he brings in the nee naws to sort it all out. I’ve had to resist the primal urge in me to get irritated at this wave of destruction – I know it’s important that he explores how things break as well as how they come together.


His impulse to understand how things work has been focused on the vehicles themselves. We’ve found a great selection of YouTube videos that he watches with studied concentration as they break down the complex operation of an excavator, for example, into language that a preschooler can understand. The vocabulary is precise and the mechanics stretches even my understanding.


The most fascinating aspect of this play for me, though, has been how he has taken it into his whole body – a kinaesthetic exploration of the engineering concepts underlying the things he observes. He stretches his arm out like a crane, his movements slow and robotic as he fashions his hand into a scoop, all the time replicating the mechanical noises he has heard with his voice. He loves it if I join in too, both of us together forming a human construction site.


If I were taking the lead on his learning, I’m not sure I ever would have thought to take this topic in all these different directions. Even with my background in physical theatre I don’t think I’ve ever stood and worked out how to move my body like a crane. He is literally consumed by learning – and the power of that is more than a little awesome to behold.




“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

There are times when not driving really does have its advantages. Take last Friday for example.

Once I’d got past the trauma of having of leave the house within half an hour (ish) of Arthur waking up, the rest of our hour and a half long journey across the bay to gymnastics was pretty close to perfect.

I wore him for the walk into town – his little legs just wouldn’t have been able to keep up the pace – and as he snuggled into my back he chatted away, telling me about all of the things in the world he was worried I might be missing. When we got on the bus he was excited at first – especially when we got the best seats.

And then he just settled in for the ride. We sat, side by side, and admired the view, nothing in particular to do, our journey taking care of itself whilst we savoured the time it gave us.

It might take longer getting to places without a car, but I hope that when I do eventually learn to drive I don’t lose that wonder at the journey in my pursuit of the destination.

A lesson for life, really. And one that Arthur has got the hang of very nicely.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

In praise of tired

Early morning writing vibes have been strong this week. The word count is creeping up (13, 423 at last count) and I actually quite like most of those words. My characters are continuing to lead me through their story, opening my eyes to new aspects of their world and the people that they are becoming as they embrace their teenage years.


Admittedly I have not exactly been leaping out of bed at 6am: it’s been more like 6.30 by the time I’ve got to my desk. But I’m beginning to realise that there are definite advantages to writing whilst I’m still not quite awake, and I’m hoping that embracing that might make the task I’ve set myself ever more achievable.

I remember when I was working on my first two novels, both written (the first drafts at least) before Arthur was 18 months old, I had a sense that the sleep deprivation was actually working in my favour. As long as I had a vague idea of where I was headed in each writing session, the constraints put on my brainpower by being utterly exhausted were more useful than you’d think. It meant I kinda had to focus on the task in hand: my brain did not have the energy to wander, nor to get caught up in battles of will between creative confidence and the demons of self-doubt. I just wrote, and worried about whether it was any good or not later.

I think I’m getting to a similar place by writing first thing in the morning now. I’m tired, but it’s not the (much less helpful) end of the day tired, where all the things I’ve done (and haven’t) have secreted themselves amongst my brain cells thus stripping them of any useful function. At 6am (or 6.30) my head is emptier. There is space for my narrative to spread itself out, for my characters to wander round and find their paths. But still not quite enough spare energy for my psyche to put up its niggling barriers against that story being told – that my ideas and/or my words are not worth spending precious time on.

In fact when it comes down to time, the only other thing I would be doing in that time is sleeping. And whilst I do (really, really) love my sleep, I reckon this is worth the sacrifice.


Writing Bubble




“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

Another day, another box.

This time, just such complete and utter delight at being able to get inside and close the lid. He played for ages with it yesterday, climbing in and folding down the cardboard flaps, giggling until we ‘found’ him.

We discussed our ideas about what we might be able to make with it today. He decided he would like to make a flying train. After breakfast though he turned it upside down and it became a house, complete with doorbell and chimney and window and carpet.

It didn’t last long before the ‘wrecking ball’ demolished it, but it was fun whilst it did.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Library love

The unschooling diaries: week six

I used to visit the library all the time as a kid. I loved to read, and it was the perfect way to feed my insatiable appetite for books. My mum tells me that she used to take me and my three brothers every week: we’d each choose our books, and when we got home I’d power through my selection before hoovering up everyone else’s.

I’ve never stopped loving books, but somewhere over the years my enthusiasm for the library (at least as a source of stories) faltered. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with all the fines I managed to amass as a teenager…

And then libraries began to fulfil a different need as I began to study. I savoured the quiet and calm they offered in the midst of my frenetic student life, but I would use them to sit and pore through piles of reference books instead. Before Arthur came along it had been many, many years since I had given the fiction section more than a passing glance. And it has taken us until very recently to begin to see its full potential.


We signed Arthur up to the library when he was tiny of course, and enjoyed several sessions of ‘rhythm and rhyme’ until somehow other things started to take over. There were so many other activities to go to, playdates to be had – and that’s all before the irresistible pull of the beach come rain or shine. He’s always loved books, but there have always seemed to be plenty at home.

Except when I started to think seriously about unschooling the library started to take on a whole new significance. What better place to let Arthur loose on the captivating potential for human learning? A place where he was not restricted by prior choices I’d made on his behalf and could truly follow his instincts to find the things he was interested in and wanted to learn more about.


On our first visit a couple of weeks ago that meant mainly playing with puzzles and looking at the globe whilst I picked out a few books I thought he might like to read at home.


But this week was different. To start with the trip was initiated by him – he’d been flicking through a ‘Thomas and Friends’ magazine we’d picked up and come across an advert for ‘Bob the Builder’. He’s never actually watched or read anything about the eponymous handy man, but still somehow he was on his radar, and he wanted more. I said maybe we could go and see what we could find at the library, and his eyes lit up with enthusiasm.


He gravitated straight for the board books when we arrived, finding one all about construction which he began to read to himself. We then went together to the longer picture books and found a brilliant book about demolition. The new concepts and vocabulary he learnt has influenced his play all week, and talks are now afoot with his dad about building a crane…


We chose some other books together too, read one on the sofa in the library and took the rest home. Not only has he enjoyed the ones we picked out, but he’s also found a renewed enthusiasm for reading his own collection. It’s made bedtime a bit more of a protracted process, but I reckon on the whole it can only be a good thing.


Peaks and troughs

After a positive start, I’ve been feeling a little less optimistic this week about the beginnings of this new novel. It’s not that I’m not enjoying the writing – I really am once I get into the flow. But between me struggling to get myself going in the mornings and Arthur deciding that maybe 7.30am is a bit late to start the day after all it’s been trickier and trickier to concentrate.

Instead of the 1500-ish words I’ve been aiming for, I’ve been managing about 800. And there’s been one morning again when I just couldn’t face getting up to write at all, partly because that target suddenly seemed just so completely out of my reach.

The business of target setting is a funny one, and one that (for me) is so important to get right. I am fully aware that there is an awful lot more to this novel-writing business than just getting the words out. But if you’re not even getting the words out then the likelihood of ever writing a novel is, well, slim at best. And I find that the words are much likely to be forthcoming if I have a sensible, achievable target to aim for each and every day that I sit down to write. It can’t be too low, because otherwise this first draft would drag on forever: I’ll lose momentum and consistency and probably never get it finished at all. But it can’t be too high either because otherwise (as I’ve proven to myself this week) I’ll get all defeatist about it and begin, little by little, to give up.

I had to have a serious chat with myself this morning to avoid the situation spiralling out of control. And in doing so I decided I should probably cut myself some slack.

There was no way I was going to be able to magic any more time out of the ether – not in the immediate future anyway. And with the way I’m working with this particular novel – feeling my way through it rather than sticking to a rigidly worked out plan – there was little chance that I was going to manage to squeeze many more words out of my mornings. The only solution was to aim to write less – to put back my self-imposed deadline just a little.

This means my daily word count target is just a little less daunting, and hopefully therefore will be able to do it’s job as a motivational tool rather than scaring me off. It worked this morning: in fact so much so that I wrote more than I was aiming for, building up a buffer for days when things don’t go quite as well.


My new deadline has the added advantage of coinciding with an extended weekend trip we are taking to Florida to celebrate the wedding of one of my bestest friends: I’m hoping that in itself will be enough to motivate myself not to push things back any further.

We shall see…

But however things unfold, I think an important part of keeping going when the going gets tough is knowing when to keep on pushing forward and when to ease off a little, to allow yourself to ride the waves and find solace in the troughs as much as you revel in the peaks.

I think I’ve got the balance right now – and if not, well, I guess I’ll just need to keep tweaking until I do.


Writing Bubble



“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

We don’t get much snow down here in Devon, so when I woke up on Sunday morning to pictures of Dartmoor blanketed in white on my Facebook feed I knew we were going to have to go on a bit of a mission.

It takes about an hour to drive there from where we are on the South coast, but every time we do we tell ourselves we really should do it more often. And this time was no different.

We were not the only people whose minds had been captivated by the romance of some Valentine’s day snow: in fact we were beginning to think, as we wove our way up onto the moors behind lines of traffic through decidedly unsnowy scenery, that maybe it wasn’t such a great plan after all.

But then we turned a corner and up ahead of us we saw higher ground. Higher ground with an unmistakeable icing sugar coating, which became more convincingly wintery the further up we ventured.

Ok so it wasn’t Iceland. The ground was wet and muddy in between the patches of snow. And there were an awful lot of other cars. But this being the moors we found our own expanse of ground within minutes of parking up, and Arthur couldn’t care less that it was less than perfect. It was snow!

I got pelted with this snowball seconds after this photo was taken, but it was most definitely worth it.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project.