Tag Archives: unschooling

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

 

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“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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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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Writing at the end of the world

Let’s just take stock of where we’re at.

The UK is hurtling towards an ungainly Brexit, voted for by just over a third of the adult population and headed up by an unelected Prime Minister who is swiftly making Margaret Thatcher look like some sort of socialist saint.

The US, not to be outdone, has voted in a billionaire who openly gloats about tax avoidance and assaulting women. The percentage of the population who are happy about this is even lower than the ‘overwhelming mandate’ leading our country into disaster, and both of our nations, who can thank for their successes generations of immigration and open-mindedness, are battening down the hatches for an extreme right-wing orgy of which Hitler would be proud.

Alongside this, the world is still facing (if not yet facing up to) the worst humanitarian crisis since World War One, military leaders from Russia to China are seemingly putting things in place for yet more global conflict, and our media is having a field day in this post-truth age which has never been less interested in the facts of the situation where there’s a good story to be had.

And don’t even get me started on the travesties that are quietly being played out on our doorsteps behind this international shitstorm. The health and education services that are being dismantled and sold off to the highest bidder, the fat cats getting fatter whilst the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are living hand to mouth, or dying behind a smokescreen of spin.

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It is hard to know what to do.

It is hard to know what the point is of doing anything.

And yet…

I was reminded the other day about why it is I am a writer: why I love books, and art, and culture. Why it matters even more when everything else is falling apart. It was one of those rare moments when the different parts of my life collide: I was at a Torbay Culture Forum meeting to discuss ideas for the future of Shoalstone Pool, and I found myself surrounded by a table of inspiring, talented people who have an unshakable belief in the ability of culture to affect change.

I do, too: that’s why I was passionate about teaching literature and drama and film as well as the more functional elements of literacy and media studies. It is why I trained as an actor many moons ago, and is why I have spent so very many hours over the last few years carefully crafting three novels whilst learning what it is to be a mum.

It is easy to forget, though, at times like this. It is easy to think that it is only by addressing politics head on that you can really make a difference, and that artistic endeavour is frivolous and self-indulgent. I think I’ve been stuck in that space for a while now.

But it’s time to break out. Something clicked when I was away last week, and I have come back with a renewed sense of what I’m doing and why.

I have an idea for a collection of short stories, inspired by this impending sense of doom but altogether more hopeful than that sounds. I’ve been putting pen to paper, playing around with words, and finding the whole process quite therapeutic. As stories emerge I’m planning to set them free into the world and see if any of them can find a home, but I’m feeling strangely liberated by the fact that I’m envisaging this as a collection too, a cohesive work that I might be able to put out there myself someday soon.

I say soon, but I still have no idea where that bigger picture of submissions is taking me. What I do know, though, is I need to own this writer hat, to separate it out from the new-mother angst that spawned this blog. So I have a separate writing blog in the works, which hopefully will be ready to launch in the new year.

This links in to another realisation I’ve had, about what it is that ties together all the stuff on this blog that isn’t about writing – and that is, surprise surprise, linked closely to that sense of creeping armageddon too.

It’s all about changing the world, basically. About nurturing a new generation – as a parent and a teacher – that will do things differently. Do things better. And I think I want to explore this more explicitly, with a blog dedicated to this idea of child rearing as a quiet and determined revolution.

It fits quite neatly with all my thoughts already about parenting and education, but I think the time has come to own that side of me too – not just to voice my thoughts and apologise afterwards for failing to embrace the status quo.

So.

Change is afoot.

Time to silence that demon who has taken a break from criticising my writing to laugh at me for believing that I can make a difference, however small that difference might be.

Because if not me, who? And if not now, when?

Writing Bubble