Category Archives: Sophie is educating

Raising revolutionaries

Sorry things have been a bit quiet over here lately, but I have some news!

I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to streamline my blog – focus in on a more specific area rather than the scattergun approach I’ve used so far. It’s been fun, and it’s been kinda important for me to work out where my head’s at.

But after more than three years, it’s time for a change…

IMG_1414.jpg

So I’ve started a new blog. It’s called Raising Revolutionaries, and it focuses in on an area that is becoming increasingly important to me as the world gets more and more difficult to fathom: that is, the ways in which the choices we make as parents and educators can influence a better future. I’ve borrowed from my archives here to chart my growing ideas in these areas since I began this blog back in January 2013, and I’ve finally written my first new post today too if you’d like to have a read.

I’ve been doing lots of reading about parenting and education, building on the masters degree I completed forever ago and thinking seriously about possibly moving towards a PhD. But in the meantime I’m going to play around with some ideas in this new little corner of the internet.

There will be politics, and some strong opinions on parenting (generally of the respectful and progressive variety) and on education (generally with a democratic and child-led air). There will be ongoing reflections on my journey as a mother, and the things that Arthur is teaching me along the way. And hopefully there will be lots of learning – for me, and for you if you’d like to join me.

It feels more than a little bit scary to be starting again from the beginning, so if you’d like to pop over and say hi then I’d really appreciate that. I have a new Facebook page where I’m currently rather lonely, so feel free to link up there too.

I’m going to keep ‘Sophie is…’ online for the foreseeable future but I’m not envisaging any new posts here. So if you’re interested in what I have to say about parenting and education then you know where to find me! And if you’re here for more writerly rambles then watch this space… Hopefully I should have my new writing website up and running very soon!

Global gaslighting

We are living in a world where the truth no longer holds any sway in the pursuit and consolidation of power.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the sordid beginnings of Donald Trump’s America: in the run up to the election the lies were so blatant that it seemed impossible that anyone could take them seriously, but they were dismissed in the name of political rhetoric.

Now that he has taken the reins of the presidency, these lies have become an accepted technique amongst those heading up his regime. There are his tweets, of course – dismissed all too easily as the ravings of a lunatic – but these are given brazen validation by the claims of his team. Sean Spicer insisting that Trump’s embarrassingly small inauguration crowd was the biggest ever seen. Kellyanne Conway inventing a massacre to terrify people into accepting their draconian travel bans.

These outright lies are bad enough on their own, but when combined with accusations of fake news levelled at those who disagree, and the patronising, scathing delivery with which Trumps and his allies address their critics, this segues neatly into classic gaslighting – and gaslighting on a global scale.

IMG_1831.jpg

Too many people I know – liberals, intellectuals, people concerned with truth as a foundation for society – are beginning to doubt their sanity. It seems almost impossible to believe that people in such positions of power can lie so brazenly and not get called out for it. This is, of course, part of the point – and is something which has been explored at length in publications as diverse as The Washington Post and Teen Vogue.

Something that I’m not sure people are admitting quite so openly is the extent to which this is happening on this side of the pond too. We all raged at the lies printed on the sides of buses during the Brexit campaign. We all shook our heads in disbelief as Michael Gove dismissed the opinions of experts, repeatedly calling into question the very value of expertise. Doctors rallied against Jeremy Hunt over the false statistics he used to support his calls for a seven day NHS. And then this week, when Jeremy Corbyn is still being hauled over the coals over his decision to whip his party into going against their instincts and vote in favour of leaving the EU, Theresa May sends a letter to the electorate in the run up to a crucial by election lying about both Labour’s clearly stated intentions and the voting behaviour of local Labour MPs.

Increasingly, as in the disunited states of America, our politicians refuse to acknowledge these untruths even when presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. And even if they do, the damage has already been done.

The media, with its almost entirely right-leaning benefactors, whips up these lies into something bigger than themselves, and our democracy is left gasping for breath at the heart of it with no-one knowing what to believe any more.

Increasingly an ability to analyse the media and move beyond the role of unquestioning consumer is a vital skill – and yet Media Studies continues to be sidelined and ridiculed. The internet provides us with almost endless news sources, yet at both ends of the political spectrum these twist and subvert the truth: even if you want to question the status quo, to seek out some sort of integrity at the heart of it all, it is all too easy to get dragged down someone else’s rabbit hole.

And actually the reality of the direction our education system – and thus our society – is taking could not be further from harnessing that ability to question and challenge. Our childrens’ minds are being suffocated with pointless facts, their teachers’ creativity and professionalism stifled with the relentless drive of ever-increasing ‘standards’. Schools themselves are in very real danger of becoming nothing more than factories which churn out young people chastised into obedience and so desperate to carve out their own little place in the world that they will sacrifice all their dreams of a better world in order to do so.

We owe our children more than this.

We have to give our young people – our society – the tools to survive, morally and intellectually, in this post-truth world.

Of course this is not in the interests of those in power. As parents we need to act, to show the young people in our care that they are valued, they are important – and they are powerful.

So much of what is accepted – expected – in modern parenting is about championing compliance above all else. We need to fuel the fire in our children’s bellies, give them the strength and the confidence to be active members of society, and above all move away from the idea that it is by being ‘good’, and by doing what we say, that they are most valued, most loved.

It is pretty clear that, however much it might be painful to accept, our generation is not doing such a great job at building a society that we are happy to live in. I’d like to think, though, with thoughtfulness and care, that there is hope our children might.

52/52

img_1810

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

This boy turned four – four! – this week. I will hopefully find the time to reflect on that properly in the next few days, but in the meantime I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on his awesomeness.

We had a Peter Pan party at home on his actual birthday – it was a little bit crazy, but lots of fun. Then the day after we went to see a theatre production of his current favourite story in Exeter.

Arthur dressed up for the occasion, and sat spellbound as a talented cast of actors brought the story to life. I was so proud of him as he perched on the front row, eyes and ears open to this new experience and emotions kept in check just enough to be able to enjoy it all, right to the end.

I am so very proud of him, always.

Christmas stories

The unschooling diaries: weeks forty-seven and forty-eight

The countdown to Christmas has been speeding along this last couple of weeks, accelerated by the party planning for the celebrations of Arthur’s fourth birthday three days later. I genuinely wouldn’t have him any other way, but a different birth month? I think I’d take it.

img_1772

That aside, the whole rapidly approaching festive season has brought with it all sorts of interesting discussion topics – for me and Leigh as well as for us and Arthur.

First off there’s the whole Santa thing. I love the magic of the Santa myth, and got totally sucked into it as a kid. I can see that, with his powerful imagination, it wouldn’t take much for Arthur to get completely swept away by it all too. But I don’t want to lie to him, and I don’t want his trust to be shattered when inevitably the truth is revealed.

So I am trying to find a middle ground – to get him to understand that imagination can be just as real as ‘truth’, and that what you choose to believe in the moment can totally shape your experience.

We have indulged in the ritual of writing to Santa, sending the letter off in the post and receiving a ‘reply’ a few weeks later.

img_1779

We’ve been to visit Father Christmas too – on the Santa Express on our local steam train line.

img_1784

But Arthur is aware that there is not just one Father Christmas, and we have taken to referring to his various incarnations as ‘agents of Santa’ – physical manifestations of the spirit of giving that is an important part of this time of year. I’m hoping that when the time comes it won’t be too much of a shift for Arthur to see us as agents of Santa too, and to accept that the truth behind the games we play is rather more abstract.

To be honest my main concern at the moment is that Arthur is a little bit too obsessed with the giving of gifts – or rather the receiving of them. For the last couple of years the whole festive period was a bit of a blur, with a seemingly never-ending flow of presents for Christmas and then his birthday. Now that Arthur’s a little bit older I’m trying to pre-empt this year’s bounty by engaging him in the process of gifting to others.

We started with cards, which we made together – heading to the woods to collect ferns which we brought back and used to print little Christmas trees, decorating them with glitter and gemstones.

Arthur helped me take these to the post office, along with parcels for family and friends – which hopefully in some way will give him a context for his excitement when yet another delivery arrives at home!

img_1781

I’ve tried to get him to think beyond our friends and family too, to the wider context of goodwill at Christmas time. This is something we’ve tied into the Santa myth: I am utterly uncomfortable with the manipulative rhetoric around the idea that Santa or his elves are watching his behaviour, that if he’s ‘naughty’ there won’t be any presents, but I am trying to engage him with the notion that this is generally a time of year for taking stock, realising how lucky we are, and being especially kind to the people around us.

This has of course brought us back to the original Christmas story, one which for me is as much of a metaphor as Santa given that Leigh and I are Humanist rather than Christian in our beliefs, but one which I think it is important for Arthur to know about.

He started asking questions when we were at a christening last weekend, curious to know who Jesus was. So we told him what we could about what Christians believe, and found a couple of books at the library to help bring the story to life a bit more.

We have even had a go at making our own nativity – something I have never done before, but which Arthur has really loved – and well and truly made his own.

IMG_1782.jpg

He was interested in the characters, in the angel and the shepherds and the wise men, but as soon as he started to understand that they had all come to see the Baby Jesus he wanted to give his favourite toys a chance to meet this special baby too. Soon the stable was inundated with lego superheroes and Star Wars characters, arriving in their spaceships to see what all the fuss was about.

I was wholly resistant to this at first, dismissing his hijacking of the Christmas story and wanting to make sure he understood the ‘real’ version. But then I realised that perhaps he’d actually found his own truth at the centre of it all – and that, ultimately, is what this is all about.

IMG_1783.jpg

Lego love

The unschooling diaries: week forty-six

It feels like I’ve been writing about Arthur’s love of lego a lot recently, but it is such an important part of his life at the moment that it’s hard not to.

It’s actually been about six weeks since I first focused on his growing interest in lego in depth, and reading back over where he was then it is quite astonishing how much his play has developed. He has fully embraced his small lego now, and will spend literally hours building increasingly complex creations.

IMG_1766.jpg

In terms of our unschooling relationship, it’s a really important development: suddenly spaces have opened up in the rhythm of our day when I know Arthur is actively engaged in something he is passionate about and I can turn my attention elsewhere guilt-free. Occasionally I have to take him along with me to meetings, and now he actually has something to do – something that isn’t entirely reliant on the iPad.

Intermittently he will want to show me something he has created, and we talk through his ideas and how he’s brought them to life, and then he will bounce off to develop something else, new stories and whole worlds emanating from the plastic blocks.

He likes it when Leigh or I build with him too – and that as well is opening up a whole other angle on the parallel learning that is central to our aspirations for our unschooling journey. There is something about focusing on those little blocks that tunes out distractions and makes it easier just to be in the moment, together. Occasionally, especially when new lego finds its way into the mix, that togetherness is centred by the attempt to build something that follows instructions, but actually mainly we just use the jumble of pieces from all the different little kits to build the structures in our imaginations.

I think it’s kinda important that Arthur doesn’t feel overly bound to the rules, that he embraces the freedom to make what he wants rather than what he’s ‘supposed’ to. The other thing that’s I love about the way he plays is that he totally accepts the transience of his creations. There were a few hairy moments in the early days, when he would drop something he had made or press too heavily on a brick causing the whole thing to fall apart, and his world would fall apart too. Now, though, he will play with something he has made for a while before choosing to transform it into something else – and if he accidentally breaks it he is starting to see it as an opportunity rather than a disaster.

IMG_1767.jpg

He’s starting to articulate this process too. As well as his own advent calendar, he is enthusiastically sharing Daddy’s – a lego Star Wars one. I heard a squeal of delight when they opened yesterday’s window, and a few minutes later he came running in clutching a small TIE fighter. He was so pleased with it, but said unprompted “If it breaks I can make it again – or it can turn into something else!”.

This potential for open-ended play is one of the things I love most about lego, and which elevates it from everyday toy status to something approaching perfection. Coincidentally I came across an article yesterday which was claiming exactly that – celebrating the longevity of lego in the toy market and exploring the ways in which it has changed.

There was much about the author’s enthusiasm that I agreed wholeheartedly with, but her conclusions were not unreservedly positive – honing in on a particular family, she lamented the move towards the very specific kits that now dominate lego’s sales.

It’s a concern I had myself before I watched how Arthur played. Lego was a big deal in our house growing up – my brothers and I would while away whole days building together in the specially constructed playroom Dad had built to maximise the potential of those little bricks. But I don’t remember ever following instructions. I’m not even sure if there WERE any instructions – and there certainly was only a fraction of the variety of bricks that Arthur now has at his disposal.

I worried that by being exposed at such a young age to these complex kits, ones which enabled him to build Spiderman’s lair, or a scale model of a space shuttle, he would not be able to see beyond them to the infinite potential this toy held.

Somehow, though, in the space of a few short weeks, he has decided that whilst the official creations are cool, the things he can create by putting their very specific components to new use are way, way cooler.

And I can totally get on board with that.

img_1765

48/52

IMG_1761.jpg

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

This boy is so fascinated by cameras.

I suppose it is only to be expected, given that his life has been so carefully documented. He is particularly drawn, though, to the older cameras in my collection – the ones which don’t get used as much as they should since I have discovered the wonders of the iPhone.

I’m not sure he’s quite old enough yet to manage my digital SLR, but I’m tempted to let him have a decent go…

Presents for my almost four year old

The unschooling diaries: week forty-five

Christmas has been creeping in determinedly to our house this week.

IMG_1755.jpg

We spied a little tree when we were out and about last weekend, which Arthur and I decided would be perfect for my study – we spend so much time there after all, writing and playing by the fireside, that it’s nice to make it festive.

IMG_1759.jpg

It was there Arthur wrote his very first letter to Santa this week. Well, I say wrote – he dictated, and I scribed the words. He added pictures too – the bow and arrow and the spaceship, and a little self-portrait with a woolly hat.

IMG_1758.jpg

He very rarely wants to draw – it’s one of the things that niggles at my brain as I worry that he should be doing it more often. It was lovely to see him pick up a pencil for something other than scribbles, and he was so proud of his pictures that I think he might just be tempted to do it more often…

We actually made another tree too, this time for Arthur’s bedroom. Again it’s somewhere he spends a lot of time – often playing there for at least an hour in the mornings before he emerges to start the day. There was a large cardboard box waiting to be recycled in the kitchen, so we decided to put it to better use.

IMG_1756.jpg

So far it is decorated with a fairy and some glow stars, but creating some sparkly baubles is top of our list for the week to come.

IMG_1760.jpg

Alongside all this, my mind has been mulling over presents. it’s not just Christmas we have to prepare for – Arthur’s birthday is only three days later, so I need to get myself organised for that too!

I’m really keen to add to his inspiration bank at home – it feels especially important because he spends so much time there. His interests have flourished over the past couple of months, so he’s given me lots of ideas.

These are just a few of them…

A book of poems

Arthur is developing a real love for poetry, which began with listening to poems read by Daddy during his bedtime baths.

I love the idea of this book, which has a wonderful selection of classic poems, one for every night of the year.

A little friend

Whilst Arthur’s social skills are coming on in leaps and bounds, he is also very happy to play alone. Recently, though, he’s enjoyed chatting away to his dolly – a Waldorf doll I made him for his first birthday.

I think he’s going to love this Finn doll, from the makers of the child-friendly Lottie. Especially because he’s small enough to not only play with at home, but also to come out and about with us on our adventures.

A marble run

Arthur discovered marbles a couple of months ago, and we’ve experimented with making marble runs from cardboard and networks of tubes in the garden.

This set from Hape looks incredible though – giving him the tools to create his own structures to send his marbles whizzing round. He’s really into building too, so I think he’ll relish the challenge.

A lego community

This love for building has recently exploded with the discovery of ‘grown-up’ lego. He still enjoys his duplo, which we’ve moved to his room to keep him entertained for those early-morning wake-ups, but he will spend literally hours piecing together tiny bricks to give shape to the forms in his imagination.

His selection of mini figures is essential to the process too, inspiring him to create new structures for them to inhabit. I reckon this set of community figures would be a brilliant addition to his kit, and give him all sorts of new ideas about what to build.

A kid-safe knife set

Arthur is always keen to help in the kitchen, especially if it involves cutting things. We bought him a child’s knife last year, but the blade is really not sharp enough to be much use.

This chef set, which includes a peeler too, looks much more effective. And might just have the added bonus of him taking over peeling the potatoes!

I know that too much of a focus on ‘stuff’ isn’t healthy, but I really do take pleasure in selecting gifts for Arthur which he will enjoy and which will help him learn.

(And I’m sure I can help Santa find a fire engine and a spaceship and a bow and arrow too).

I can’t wait for the start of December so Christmas can begin in earnest: choosing and decorating our main tree, and putting up Arthur’s advent calendar!

I do love this time of year.

IMG_1757.jpg