Tag Archives: mornings

Building ideas

The unschooling diaries: week thirty-nine

Arthur is seriously into lego at the moment, and it is so awesome to watch him play.

He had been going through a bit of an in between phase with it all – his duplo was starting to feel a bit big and clumsy, but he didn’t quite have the fine motor skills to get to grips with the smaller lego bricks. He’d been bought a couple of kits as gifts, and loved the idea of the superhero worlds and vehicles he saw on the boxes. He couldn’t make them himself, but he watched enthusiastically whilst we did, and loved playing with the finished product.

I couldn’t help wonder what the point was though: lego was for creating, surely? Not just playing with things someone else had built…

And then suddenly things began to change.

It was sparked off as these things often are by a bit of a reorganisation of his toys. The drawers in his bedroom were full of things he’d grown bored of, so we decided to move the duplo up there. We grouped the bricks by colour, and suddenly they were much more inviting to play with.

The idea was that this might be a way to keep Arthur entertained in the mornings: he has a gro clock, which is set to the rather ambitious time of 7.30am to give me a chance to ease myself into the day. He’s generally pretty good at waiting till then to come and find me, but he’s often up a long time before, pottering and playing in his room. And his environment there really needed some enriching: we didn’t want to risk unsupervised play with the tiny grown-up lego pieces, particularly as Arthur often separates stubbornly tight ones with his teeth, but we thought this might just be a way to give the duplo a new lease of life.

And it’s really worked!


As soon as he’s awake in the mornings Arthur turns on the light and goes to explore the drawers, sitting happily on his rug for an hour or more creating worlds to entertain himself. When the sun comes up on the gro clock he’s quick to come and find me, but when I peer into his room later in the morning the evidence of his play is clear to see.


Last Sunday Leigh and I both went in to see what he’d been up to after breakfast, and Arthur delighted in talking us through his creations, from double-ended fire engines to a ‘sort of Snapping Banshank’, a curious creature that frequently reappears in his stories and drawings.


The early-morning exploration has given him confidence to experiment more with the smaller lego, too. That is stored in a very handy playmat that doubles up as a bag, so can move easily around the house depending on where he wants to play.


He’ll sit in the lounge whilst I’m preparing meals, or in my study whilst I write, and create robots and machines and lasers with the tiny pieces held carefully between determined fingertips.


He is loving the freedom to create exactly what he wants with his bricks, big and small. He often comes back to weapons – guns and blasters, mainly. Leigh and I were nervous when this world of violence first entered his play. We’d done nothing to encourage it, and had actively avoided stories and films with that kind of imagery. Well, until Star Wars at least…

By that time to be fair he had already begun to fashion guns from sticks or even just his fingers, and in the spirit of respect and freedom we are trying to nurture through unschooling we held back our judgement and held our tongues. My research reassured me that not only was this desire to explore the world of violence through play entirely natural, it is arguably essential for his developing brain.


And anyway, it might be that I was loading the guns he created with too much socially constructed significance anyway.

We’ve talked about why they make me feel uncomfortable, about the hurt and damage that they can cause, but that seems a bit irrelevant in the face of Arthur’s pride and delight at the creation of his colourful machines.


Especially because they might not be what they seem at all.

He built a gun the other day, a complicated construction which to me looked a bit like a dragon.


When I asked him about it he said:

“This is my idea gun. I actually made it out of ideas. It’s a gun that shoots ideas out, so you can make something.”

And I’m not going to argue with that.


Why early mornings are good for my wellbeing as well as my word count

My efforts to be an early bird have ground to a halt since coming back from holiday. It was only a week, but I clearly did such a good job on getting away from it all and relaxing that I have completely forgotten how to motivate myself to get up in the morning – and it’s not just my writing that’s suffering.

Before I went away I had a post milling around in my head about how many unexpected upsides there were to getting up early to write: now seems like a very good time to get it down, and remind myself of all those reasons in the process…


It makes for a much healthier start to the day

I’m not entirely sure why, but waking up earlier seems to reduce my desire for coffee. I find myself feeling all virtuous and full of good intentions, so my early-morning typing will be accompanied by hot water and lemon and a large glass of berocca – saving the all-important coffee for later. My mum has long extolled the benefits of lemon water first thing, and it certainly seems to have some sort of magical properties! It might just be that I’m taking time to hydrate myself properly before starting on the caffeine, but for whatever reason that just doesn’t seem to happen when I’m getting up an hour or two later with a toddler scampering around my ankles.

It lets me focus on writing before my head gets too full with everything else

I’ve written about the positive effect starting early has on my writing before, and in the six weeks since then my word count has climbed by almost 25,000 to 38,000 words. I’m not going to pretend those words have always been easy to come by, but they are a damn sight easier to put my finger on first thing in the morning than later in the day. The last two days, having wasted away those precious minutes with the snooze button, I’ve tried to sit down and write in the afternoon – but nothing. Not a jot. There is simply so much else going on in my world that even if I turn over my to do list it’s still glaring at me from the corners of my mind. First thing in the morning, it doesn’t get a look in – I’m pretty sure my brain knows that it should count itself lucky enough that I’m even awake, let alone tackling all the other things I should be doing.

It means I can spend the rest of the morning playing without feeling guilty

Playing is a serious business in this house. Having taken the decision to unschool my preschooler rather than sending him to a childminder or nursery to engage in the early years curriculum, I know that I have a responsibility to tune in to his learning needs – which at the moment are all about play. He is getting increasingly good at playing independently, but he of course loves it when I join in – and we try to get out of the house as much as we can too, to meet friends or do group activities or just explore our neighbourhood. If I’m not careful, I can spend half of this time with my mind elsewhere or my eyes on my phone, trying desperately to fit in little snippets of work. But if I’ve already squared away a good stint of writing before he’s even up then I find it way easier to be fully present for this time, saving up the other tasks for when he’s chilling in the afternoon.

It lowers my stress levels for the rest of the day

This completely links to the point above, but I think it’s important not to underestimate how powerful starting your day with a good dose of achieving is for your self-esteem. When I don’t manage to get up to write, I spend the rest of the day chasing my tail, being eaten away by the niggling feeling that I’ve let myself down.

It makes me less tired

Now this one’s a bit counter-intuitive, but I guess makes sense when considering everything else. My justification for the repeated tap of the snooze button as 6am gradually disappears from view is that if I could only get a bit more sleep then the rest of the day would be so much more manageable. But that never actually seems to be the case. If I don’t take charge of my day, and instead fritter away the beginnings of it in broken sleep, then when I am finally forced out of bed by a hungry toddler I am way more weary than I would otherwise have been. And it doesn’t go away either – without the boost of confidence and everything else that comes from starting early I find myself sleepwalking through the rest of the day, counting down the minutes until I can collapse into bed again. Until the evening of course, when that second wind creeps over me and makes me stay up way too late. Again.

Now I realise that for those of you to whom early morning chirpiness comes naturally much of this will seem painfully obvious. But it does not come naturally to me: I have, for as many of the last thirty-seven years that I can remember, been a fully fledged night owl.

The time has clearly come for a shift, though. And I’ll be taking these words with me to bed tonight to make sure that at 6am tomorrow morning that snooze button doesn’t even get a look in.


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You Baby Me Mummy

Rejigging my routine

I’ve been really rubbish at taking my own advice this week.

The first draft of my next novel is still oh-so-nearly ready to go, but I have not yet taken the plunge. I have managed to set up a new project in Scrivener – the word count target is there, and the slightly cursory deadline of the end of April. Essentially those are both contrived by how much I know I should be able to write in a day: 1500 words. And if I could do that – if every day I could sit down and just write – then in three months time I would have a novel.

Except to do that I actually need to carve out some time in my day for writing.


People are always really impressed when I tell them I wrote two novels before my son was eighteen months old. But do you know what? That was easy. Sure I was sleep deprived, but he napped twice a day! And other than keeping this blog ticking over during novel number two I didn’t really have all that much else to do.

It’s different now.

I sat down yesterday afternoon to write. I told myself I had to make a start – it didn’t matter if it was rubbish, I just needed to get some words on the page. But they just wouldn’t come! I had the setting and the characters, I knew vaguely what was supposed to be going on in the scene – but there was just so much going on in my head that I just couldn’t focus. More than that, I just couldn’t hear what it was my characters wanted to say.

My mind kept shifting to my to do list, fretting about the press release I have to write for the Town Council, the GCSE specification I need to appraise for Ofqual, the increasing numbers of unread emails in my inbox. And in the midst of all that, my characters stayed silent.

If there is going to be a novel number three, I need to accept that things are going to have to be different this time round.

I’m really lucky that Arthur still has one nap a day – though the fact he’s finally shifted from the sling to the sofa makes it more tempting to use the time for things less static than writing! And even when I am at the computer there are so many other things I need to be getting on with. My life has taken on a new and interesting shape over the past year or so. Vague ideas I had when I first went on maternity leave – like getting more involved in my community and taking on some education consultancy work – have come to fruition. Alongside that my increasing interest in Unschooling, and general reluctance to rush Arthur into formal education, means that he’s still with me most of the time.

So I’m going to need to find some more time, somewhere.

I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to write in the evenings. I might yet be able to do that, but if my brain is starting to sag by mid-afternoon I’m not sure how much creativity it’s going to be able to muster after dark. Besides I do need to fit in spending time with my husband at some point…

So I think, despite this testing my own perception of my abilities to the limit, I’m going to have to do my writing in the mornings.

I am saying this here mainly so you lot can hold me accountable. Ordinarily, I am pretty useless in the mornings. But I figure with Leigh getting up for work at 6am and Arthur tending to sleep till 7.30 there is chunk of time crying out to be used more effectively.

It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m beginning to think it might not be impossible. And to be honest, it’s either that or something else is going to have to give. And I haven’t worked out quite what that might be yet…

So pre-dawn writing sessions here we come. Wish me luck!


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