Tag Archives: learning

Now you are four

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Dear Arthur,

You know, you have almost got me lost for words.

I have been looking forward to writing this post, to reflecting on the wonderful little person who you have become, but now that I am here I have absolutely no idea how to contain you on this page.

Four really is the most magical age.

Over the course of last year, you began to shed the things I associated with your babyhood: the night waking, the nappies, the breastfeeding. That last one you only called time on in December – I was beginning to wonder whether you ever would, but I am so glad I left it up to you to decide when to stop. We were both ready, I think.

We still have the sling, used sporadically now but invaluable for long walks and hectic crowds. I love still being able to carry you when you need it, but more often than not you are charging ahead, leading the way – and I love that, too.

You are so confident out in the world – within our little town especially, but it doesn’t take you long to get your bearings wherever we are. We’ve taken lots of trips this past year, and you really are the perfect traveller. Curious and engaged and full of energy. I’m looking forward to all the travelling we have to come – and to learning Spanish with you, I know it won’t be long until you overtake me!

I know how privileged I am to still be spending so much time with you. By rights we should be gearing up to you starting school now, but we’ve decided to hold back at least a while – and for that I am very grateful. You love your forest school – and hopefully we will find another that will take you when you are deemed too old for that particular adventure to continue. The forest certainly feels like a more appropriate venue for your learning than within the four walls of a conventional classroom.

The forest, and the beach, and the gymnasium, and the theatre. The town you love to walk or scoot or bike through and say hello to familiar faces as we pass, your friends that range from 6 months to 60 years.

And then there are the worlds that you create at home. I thought your imagination was spectacular this time last year, but it really has exploded once again. You are fascinated by Star Wars – though you have only read the books so far. When we finally watch the films I think they might just blow your mind.

You do still love watching movies, but it’s playing out the roles yourself that you have really revelled in over the past few months. Luke Skywalker. Peter Pan. Buzz Lightyear. Woody.

You put on the costumes – at least the closest we can find – and leap around reenacting scenes and creating new scenarios. Or you use your lego to create ever more advanced vehicles for your characters to inhabit, combining the mini figures to create original narratives which can play out for hours.

Your lego has become your favourite tool for building, though you are fascinated by the construction challenge of your new marble run too, and cannot wait to make something with your new tool kit. A doll’s house, you said, inspired by the one I used to play with many years ago that you discovered at my parents’ house this Christmas.

There is something so alluring about those miniature worlds, and I am excited about the prospect of (re)discovering them with you.

I get waves of anxiety sometimes, worrying that we are doing the wrong thing by following the road less travelled. But there is no escaping the fact that our education system is sick, and I think if we follow your lead then we cannot really go wrong, feeding your curiosity and helping you access the world of grown ups as and when you are ready to do so.

It’s amazing how, as you grow, all preconceptions I had about this parent – child relationship begin to fade away. You have so very much to teach me.

And I still have so very much to learn.

All my love for always,

Mummy xxx

 

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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Presents for my almost four year old

The unschooling diaries: week forty-five

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

We spent last week in Lanzarote.

It was a bit of an unexpected trip. We never normally go away in the autumn, and apart from places where people we love live we never normally go back to the same place twice. But after an amazing visit in the Spring we could not resist a return when the chance arose – and the way this year is panning out I was supremely glad to have the opportunity for a bit of an escape.

I’m still digesting the photos and the memories, but these two moments stood out for me: admiring the expansively beautiful view at Mirador del Rio and studying the otherworldly forms at the Jardin de Cactus.

Arthur was simply in awe of so much that he saw. It really is a very special place.

Perfect pumpkins

The unschooling diaries: week forty-one

This is not a reflection on my amazing pumpkin-carving skills, but rather just a realisation of how the humble pumpkin makes a perfect vehicle for learning.

Our pumpkin journey began back in May, with three tiny plants from Rocket Gardens. Arthur helped me plant them, and over the weeks that followed we watered them and watched them grow.

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And grow.

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And grow!

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To be honest I had probably been a little ambitious with the amount of plants we tried to squeeze in to our raised beds, but the pumpkins soon made a break for freedom and found the space they needed by crawling across the deck.

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Arthur has been asking since August whether it is Halloween yet – he has been desperate to bring the pumpkins inside and carve them into lanterns. And this weekend we finally did.

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He was bursting with excitement as we cut the pumpkins open and scooped out the seeds and flesh from inside

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He had very clear ideas about what he wanted to create from his pumpkins: a ghost, a spooky dog, and an astronaut (we had to pilfer a squash from our veg box for the third one).

We looked online for images that fitted his vision, and then he guided me as I drew the outlines on the orange skin. We worked together to carve the shapes out, using Arthur’s ‘ghost knife’ that we’d picked up this time last year and a handy little saw.

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As soon as the lanterns took shape Arthur sought out candles to illuminate them, insisting that we took them somewhere dark immediately for a better view and staring full of wonder when night began to fall and he could watch the flames flicker at the kitchen table before we finally dragged him off to bed.

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This was only the start for the pumpkins, though.

Whilst Arthur and I had been carving their shells for Halloween lanterns, Leigh had been busy making pumpkin pie for Sunday lunch.

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And once the carving was done, we dried and roasted the pumpkin seeds for snacking on – a real treat in my nut-allergic world where every packet of commercially available seeds warns of possible cross contamination!

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There is even a portion of pumpkin puree left in the fridge, waiting to be cooked up into Halloween cupcakes this afternoon.

Honestly, who would have thought a simple vegetable could bring so much joy – and so much learning? I think we’ll all be sad to see the pumpkins go once this week is out. I’d best get thinking about what we can grow next…

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

Over the summer Arthur made a Cartesian diver with his daddy.

It was part of a science experiment kit he picked up in the shop at the Eden Centre: a bit grown up for him, but irresistible for Leigh. It has sat in Arthur’s learning corner in the kitchen for the past few weeks, and every now and again he has asked for it, and tried to make it work.

The bottle has been too tough for his little hands to squeeze, but over time the tension has eased up and when he picked it up this weekend he was finally able to get the diver to sink deep beneath the surface.

Watching this nifty little science trick in action was pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as watching the wonder in his eyes.

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

What History of Art A-level meant to me

I have got used to shaking my head in disbelief when the government’s latest education initiatives are announced, but when I read this week that A-level History of Art had been removed from the options lists forever it hit me harder than I was expecting.

This is not the only subject to have been made a relic by the Tories after all – the full list of opportunities that are no longer available to our young people filled me with fury. But twenty-two years ago History of Art succeeded in saving the dying dregs of interest in academia from the apathy of my sixteen year old self – and it is no exaggeration to say that without it my life could have turned out very differently.

I moved from Birmingham to London for my sixth form studies. I didn’t want to at the time – nothing against London per se, but my mental health was fragile and I couldn’t see a way forwards without my small but trusted circle of friends by my side.

My academic record was strong, but the ‘A’ grades hid a complete lack of interest in my studies – and a complete lack of confidence in my self. I selected my next raft of subjects pretty randomly – A-levels in History, English and Biology, and AS level in French. I wasn’t much more inspired by these than any of the other, mainly traditional, offers on the table, but I figured I’d be able to see them through.

Then in my first week at my new school, and my very first lesson with my new French class, I mustered up the confidence to speak and was laughed at by the stranger who was my teacher because of my (admittedly pretty dodgy) French accent. I walked out of the lesson through a blur of tears, and after a brief conversation with the administrators switched to an A-level in History of Art – one of the few subjects still with space, and something that piqued my interest with its novelty.

It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

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Our class was small – there were six of us I think, meaning that in today’s cash-strapped educational climate the course probably wouldn’t have run at all. I couldn’t be invisible in that room though – not like my other classes where I often slept behind a carefully placed hand propped on the desk.

I learnt so much more than was contained within the confines of the subject. I learnt how to plan an essay – techniques which I applied to great success in all of my A-level subjects and have used endlessly since as a student and as a teacher. I learnt how to revise, and how to organise my time. I learnt that it was ok to be interested in something that not many people saw the value of – and that in fact sometimes the most obtuse pursuits can bring the most personal reward.

The subject itself, it turned out, was so much more than I could have ever hoped for.

There was an interplay between art and science, which appealed to the way my brain works: I never have been very good at putting things in boxes. This was particularly true with our study of the history of architecture, with the exploration of classical forms bringing mathematical certainty into the sometimes nebulous analysis of artistic endeavours, and the ways generations of architects riffed around them giving me concrete examples of how creativity evolves.

Understanding how buildings and towns were designed made me think, too, about the way our society is structured – something which we also discussed animatedly when we looked at the work of artists who protested explicitly against the societies they worked within, comparing that in turn with those who played by the rules to fit into the canon. Generally I learnt loads about our culture, and that of other countries. We went on a group trip to Paris (where finally I got to work on that French accent) and wherever else I travelled then and since I found myself looking at the world through a new pair of eyes.

Beyond the studies, my personal self was developing too. I had found my first intellectual tribe – a very necessary counterpoint to my emerging new social group who whilst they would go on to include lifelong friends did not encourage the healthiest of pursuits.

Weekends of clubbing, house parties and festivals meant that (at least) the start of each week often passed in a blur – but I could not let myself let things slip entirely because I didn’t want to sacrifice the learning and the community that my History of Art lessons gave.

This motivation, and the skills I learnt as a result of it, carried me through to another surprisingly good set of grades, and from there on to university – to study History of Art, along with Philosophy.

My History of Art A-level taught me that I am on a fundamental level an intellectual, but that the intellectual study I enjoy is one firmly rooted in society. It taught me that I respect those who know when to play by the rules, and when to break them. It gave me the confidence to express my opinions about the world around me and the people who inhabit it: that even if my opinions are not the same as those shared by others my ability to explain them is more important than just fitting in.

I’m not saying that every teenager would respond the way I did to this particular subject, but I honestly think that the fact that it was not as ‘pure’ as the other subjects I was studying, not quite so epic in its scope, made it easier to delve deeper into it, to create links for myself rather than having to regurgitate the views which were expected of me. It gave me an outlet for my stifled creativity, and the confidence to think.

Studying History of Art gave me the skills to collaborate with a friend to put on art exhibitions, to develop my photography, to teach Media and Film. It enriched my analysis of literature, and ultimately gave me the confidence to put pen to paper myself and give voice to the stories in my head.

It makes me so sad that because besuited politicians in Westminster cannot see the value in this subject future generations of teenagers might not have the opportunity to ignite the spark that might propel them along an unexpected path.

Like so many of the educational reforms that make me angry, this reduction in options seems to be driven by a misplaced certainty in what our society needs. What we really want is the space to make that decision for ourselves.

 

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