Tag Archives: freedom

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.

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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.

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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.

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

This one is so utterly bonkers it makes my heart sing.

We had a bit of a mission of a morning on Friday, getting the bus over to gymnastics which involves forty minutes of walking each way as well as the hour-long bus ride itself. Arthur did nap on the bus, but once we’d eventually made it home it was definitely time to chill and watch a movie.

Except, obviously, this was the position he wanted to adopt, just to get a bit of extra gymnastics practice in.

And he’s getting so tall!

But I’m trying not to think too much about that…

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

A question of balance

The unschooling diaries: week thirty-six

Finding balance is at the heart of any parenting journey, whichever way you choose to do things.

But I feel like having headed off down the unschooling path there’s a whole other challenge to be faced – because it’s not just your own views and needs and desires you’re trying to factor in, and those of the people whose opinions you value, but those of your child(ren) as well.

I thought, when Arthur was just a hypothetical, that I knew exactly what kind of parent I’d be. My experience as a teacher had taught me that I was likely to be fairly child-led, but I also knew (or thought I knew) that I would eschew screen-time in favour of more ‘wholesome’ pursuits, and envisaged hours spent elbow-deep in arts and crafts (to satisfy my own desires as much of those of my hypothetical child).

It turns out that, apart from in very special circumstances, Arthur’s not super keen on painting and gluing and sticking. And he really, really loves his iPad. I guess that’s partly my fault for letting him loose on it in the first place, but there was always a niggle in the back of my mind (birthed both by my genuine belief in the power of cinema (teaching again), and by the residual resentment left by my own television-starved childhood) that suggested that maybe moving image (and video games) has a potentially vital part to play in the development of a modern child.

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So he watches things. Movies, mainly – and more recently a few TV shows. I favour retro offerings: there’s something about modern editing that reminds me a little too much of the addictive appeal of drugs – hallucinogenic, exciting, but ultimately leaving you hollow and empty. And so yes, I curate the range of films and TV shows I give him access to.

I also refuse to let him sit and watch as much as he might like to. For most parents I imagine that’s not especially controversial – the idea of setting strict limits on the amount of screen time a child should have is pretty much a given – but in the unschooling community it’s enough to make me at the very best an outlier.

It comes back to the whole addiction thing though, for me. To that innate human tendency (maybe not all humans, but certainly lots I know) to do the thing that’s bad for you even when you know you’d be better off doing something else. With Arthur, I see the switch from real engagement to glazed-over eyes, the prickliness when I ask him if he would like to do something else, the closing down of perspective on the ‘real’ world as the virtual world becomes increasingly compelling – and it is then that, for better or for worse, I intervene.

I get the whole unschooling thing about letting kids find their own way through the multitude of distractions on offer. I get that it has huge payback for their self-efficacy to genuinely get to choose how they spend their time. I get that I might not always get it right when I make a choice for my son – and that the impact of that on him goes beyond my simple error to something deeper in his developing personality.

And yet, I will still push to get him outside. I will fight his desire to stay cocooned on the sofa on a sunny day, because I know that once he crosses the threshold he will remember how good it feels to breathe fresh air and have the space to run.

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We had a day like this last week. Arthur basically wanted to hibernate: stay in his pyjamas, cover himself in soft things, and hunker down in his nest. And we did that, for a bit. I hunkered down with him – because more than often when he wants to sit and watch a movie he wants one of us to watch it with him – and we watched Peter Pan, and we talked about it.

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And then he wanted me to to put something else on, and despite the fact it was getting close to lunchtime he wanted to stay in his pyjamas: and I said no.

So instead we got up, and got dressed, and got out of the house. We took the aerobie to the green, and raced each other through our giggles, and looked for blackberries. And it was awesome. And he loved it.

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And part of me thinks (or at least thought, in that moment) that we should be doing that all of the time, because of course being outdoors is way better than being cooped up inside with a screen. But then part of me knows that his imagination is relishing in the inspiration it is getting, day in day out, from its exposure to the Disney and Studio Ghibli back catalogue.

Ultimately I have to remind myself that it is all about balance. And my balance won’t necessarily look like yours, or my mum’s, or my friend’s, or my sister in law’s.

But that’s ok, because if there’s one thing that I am learning about this parenting business it’s that we all get to do it the way we want to – and it’s only when we’re persuaded to make decisions that we really don’t believe in that the trouble really starts.

 

 

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

I will never get tired of being able to just pop to the beach on our way home from whatever else it is we’re doing. And I love that this one thinks it is entirely normal: sand in his toes and the sea stretched out behind him, his world an ocean of possibilities just waiting to be explored.

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

Learning (loads) in Lanzarote

The unschooling diaries: weeks eleven and twelve

We spent a week in the Canary Islands over Easter, and once again I have been blown away by just how much there is to be learnt from travelling. We weren’t even motivated by anything more than the desire to get away somewhere warm and spend some quality time as a family, but the tremendous scope for discovery and new experiences that Lanzarote had to offer completely surpassed our expectations.

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We were especially lucky, I think, with the base we chose. We stayed in the most wonderful eco-resort in the North of the island, away from the main tourist trail. We slept in gorgeous yurts, which was an experience in itself. Our closest neighbours were chickens, ducks and donkeys, and there was a lovely solar-heated pool. Not forgetting the playground, which was right outside our little complex: it had a trampoline, and climbing frames, and a boat, and sand, and dump trucks, and little houses, and for Arthur it very quickly became home.

Outside of our little idyll, there was a whole new world to explore.

Unsurprisingly, the sea was central to much of our experience: admiring it, travelling across it, eating its many fruits, and of course swimming in it. We found an incredible lagoon, and some magical tidal pools. Between those and the pool Arthur well and truly shook off any wintery reluctance to jump right in, and his confidence and skill in the water came on in (literal) leaps and bounds.

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He was mesmerised by the little fish that swam around our ankles as we paddled and splashed, but it didn’t stop him enjoying them on his plate, too… I’m not sure how many three year olds would demolish boquerones with quite as much relish as this one did. I like that he’s happy to eat fish that looks like fish, though – and that it gave us the opportunity to talk about where it came from and how it had been caught. I don’t want to freak him out about the food he eats, but I think it’s useful to be able to make the connections and understand our world better – especially when it’s him asking all the questions!

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Away from the sea, there were of course the volcanoes. In the run up to our trip we’d watched some videos and talked about the volcanoes we were likely to see there, and wherever we went Arthur was full of questions about the nature of the mountains around us. We took a (very windy) trek into the lava fields, climbing up to the top of one volcano to peer into the caldera and walking into the depths of another. Both were long dormant, but that didn’t stop the incredible power of nature being evident everywhere we looked.

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One of the other highlights of our trip was completely unexpected. I had never heard of Cesar Manrique, but he was an inspirational artist and architect who through his work and his vision had an enormous impact on the infrastructure of the island. We visited several of the sites he created, and Arthur soaked up the paintings and the sculptures and the unusual spaces, as well as being fascinated by the exhibitions about the landscape around us.

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Last but very much not least, inspired by an advertising board that caught Arthur’s eye in the airport, we took a trip on a submarine. It was the first time any of us had been on an actual submarine voyage, and it blew all of our minds a little bit – but especially Arthur’s. Just the whole mechanics of it was pretty exciting, watching the little screen at our seat compute our depth, the pilots with their illuminated control panel and the propellers at the rear. And out of the window we saw wrecks, lots of fish, and even a diver feeding a huge ray. It was pretty cool.

It was all pretty cool, actually. And it really got me thinking about how we can work some longer trips into the next few years. It’s one of the main reasons I’m not super keen about getting stuck back into the constraints of the school system any earlier than I have to, and why I’m trying to evolve my working life into one I can take on the road with me.

We shall see…

For now, though, we have plenty of memories to be mulling over. I’m going to make a photobook for Arthur so that we can pull it out from time to time and be inspired afresh by our experiences. It’s a lot to compute for a growing mind after all!

 

On first drafts and freedom

I realised a few key things today – about my writing, and about me as a writer.

It was three years ago, almost exactly, that I began to write the first draft of my first novel. In the time that has passed, I’ve written in the region of 200,000 words of fiction. They have, collectively, taught me an awful lot; and in doing so they have liberated me from some of the self-imposed rules that may previously have held me back.

Not just the words themselves, or the processes by which I came up with them in the first place, but also – perhaps mostly – the reworking that has happened along the way.

Most of 2015 was taken up with editing and redrafting my second novel. I didn’t enjoy it much – not as much as the heady excitement of the first draft anyway. And I’m still not entirely convinced that story is where it needs to be. But as my third novel gathers pace it is clear to me that it was an incredibly valuable learning process.

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I am loving being back in the unknown territory where a new adventure is beginning to unfold. One where I know the final destination (or at least I think I do), but still have much to discover about the intervening terrain. And having spent so long agonising over the details of second, third and fourth drafts last year I really am relishing the freedom that comes with the first.

I realise now that this is where I get to try things out. That I need to be bold, and follow my instincts. If a scene wants to be written in a particular way then I need to let that happen – even if it doesn’t entirely fit with what has gone before. Last time round I think I worried too much about the finished product, even at this very early stage. I didn’t want things to be inconsistent, but in avoiding that I might have fallen into beigeness – I didn’t let myself  pursue my whims, figured I’d save that for later. But there is no better time to be true to your characters and their voice than the first time you hear them speak.

I’m letting myself be freer with the plot, too. I sort of know which way I’m going, but when I come to an unexpected fork in the road I’m more confident now to follow my instincts even if it means taking a different path to the one I’d thought I would.

And in fact the most important path – the overall structure that will eventually lead the reader through the narrative – is hardly featuring in my mind at all. In the past I remember deliberating for ages about where chapters should start and end, whether what was happening in this particular scene would fit with what the reader already knew. Now, though, I’m relinquishing control to the narrative itself. I’m letting that lead the way, and I know I will have plenty of time to mould it into a structure later.

I think that what I’m ending up with is more authentic, more true to me and my voice. It’s rougher round the edges than my previous first drafts have been, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing – potentially quite the opposite.

More than anything I am not allowing myself to be paralysed by the pursuit of perfection – either in what I’m writing, or how I’m writing it. This whole thing is just the latest phase in this epic learning journey I’ve entered into, and if I can trust myself and the words that want to flow then I’m pretty confident I’m heading in the right direction.

 

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