I am a life learning Mama and this page is where I like to share things that resonate with me in some way along this wonderful life journey we are on ♥

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Slow Down

I just want to say having homeschooled my son through to the end of year 12 he is now coming to the end of his degree in software engineering at the University of Queensland.  We got there without any homeschool support groups, nor extra curricular classes.  It was a time before facebook connection and it was a much slower pace, but we got there all the same.  I say this not to critique what we have now which is a vibrant and buzzy community that has on offer a multitude of classes, groups and experiences for us all but rather to ease the minds of some who may feel overwhelmed with it all and I know from messages I have received that many are.  I certainly feel that way at times when so much is coming at us at breakneck speed, that often we wonder how are we ever going to fit it all in let alone afford it all.  The thing is you don't need to.  If you worry that you cannot find the time, money or indeed mental and physical energy to keep up I know that having been through it before with my son that you really don't need to do it all and they will still get to where they want.  Life is a continuous journey of learning.  My son didn't do any formal science classes until he was in year 11 and he still coped fine.  He had massive gaps in his maths according to some but he learned it as he needed it and ended up completing both maths B and C in year 12 as well as physics and computer science (having never attended a formal class before year 11 but just teaching himself online and from books).  When it had a purpose for him it clicked.  We are so very lucky and blessed to have what we have these days but just know that if all you do is hang out with your kids and learn stuff together from online classes, books from the library, chatting to friends, playing at the park and just tapping into the community at large you will get a rich education.  Don't feel pressure from these groups to do it all.  Happy Homeschooling lovely people <3 Xx

Blessed ❤️

You know one thing I love about our life is not being governed by the school timetable. If we want to go down and watch the sun rise on another beautiful day we can and often do. We don't have to rush back to get to school. I don't take this gift for granted. I treasure it and the amount of time I get to share these precious moments with my children. I know this lifestyle choice is not for everyone but it is for us and I feel so very blessed to live the life we do ❤️

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Do we need to teach children to write?

A reflection on children and writing for me today. Well actually not all children, but more specifically my child.  Last year my daughter was 7 and she told me she hated writing.  This year she is 8 and today she told me how much she LOVES writing. What a difference a year makes in the life of a child.  We have not done anything particularly different this year, but it just seems that she has found writing when she was ready to.  She was diagnosed with dyslexia at the end of last year and has had struggles with learning to read that had been a frustration to her.  I hated to see her struggle and her upset and we talked about ways we could support her. She wanted me to help her learn to read and I told her that I would find some things that were specifically designed to assist those with dyslexia and see how it went.  It turned out that the programs we tapped into were fun and the little bit of scaffolding I have given her has helped her immeasurably over a relatively short period of time.  She is able to decode words and read them by herself which is exactly what she wanted to be able to do.  Systematic phonics have really supported her and she feels empowered which is great.  I am wondering if this has had a knock on effect with her writing, or could it just be that she is surrounded by books, sees her Mummy writing and more importantly we have lots of conversation every day.  We are just through our everyday lives immersed in rich language and cannot escape it if we tried. We listen to many audio stories, she is read to, she reads what she can herself, she does drama classes, watches films and television, sings songs and from here she is able to imagine her own stories based on all of her own personal life experiences.  

We don’t focus on spelling.  It comes up when she asks and when we do Nessy which is a specific online reading program for those with dyslexia. Nessy helps us learn the rules of spelling which in turn can be very helpful to those with dyslexia.  Sometimes we forget the rules and sometimes not.  Dyslexia is a funny thing.  One day you can have a word's spelling seemingly concrete in your mind and the next it is gone or you can read a word on a page but not translate that written word to paper.  My daughter spells phonetically, which is very common with dyslexia and my son who is also dyslexic, still at the age of nearly 20 spells many words in the same way.  Does that matter?  Not for me. I have dyslexia too and spelling can be difficult for us. If someone can read it and it makes sense enough to understand then that is all that is important to me.  Sure support your child to learn the correct spelling but don’t make it a big deal if it is not something that comes easily to them.  Judgement of my spelling and writing really damaged my self esteem as a child and I don't want that for my children. I like to focus on what they can do.  Not what they can’t.  Their strengths are what may lead them on a path to their future careers.  My son is an amazing computer programmer and my daughter is a gifted musician for her age.  Whether they are great writers or not is not what is important to me but their love of learning what interests them is.  We do not do rote learning and I do not expect my child to learn spellings unless she asks.  What is interesting for me is that she does ask when it’s important to her and this has occurred whenever she is writing, so I don’t see the need for separate spelling tests.  

Recently it has become important to her to write her own narratives and she has been doing it non-stop all morning today.  It started with her enthusiasm for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that she has been learning at her Musical Theatre class and she then decided that she wanted to write her own version.  It has made my heart sing seeing her enthusiasm for writing and her joy in sharing every single sentence she has written with me.  She reads and re-reads each time she adds to her story and she comes to share with me in whichever place I am in the house.  I am followed by my own little story teller.  She writes wherever she finds herself, her bed, my bed, the kitchen table and the study.  It has really made me stop and think today. Do we just over time become writers if we are interested in writing and are surrounded by rich language in all its forms?  No specific teaching but just as and when the want arises in the child and just from observation, hearing and doing.  That is what seems to have happened for my own daughter and I am wondering if I had forced her to write when she wasn't ready would I have turned off her desire to ever learn to write?

So many children in school hate writing and they get forced to do it every single day as part of the curriculum.  Sure writing is important in life.  It is a good skill to have but is that worthy of forcing it on a child that is not ready to learn it?  I have never taught her handwriting either.  She has just learned as she has gone along and I think her writing is lovely, especially her little curls on her y and g and the butterflies she draws above her i.  Her handwriting is a reflection of her.  A little piece of her individuality. The more I lead this life of natural learning, unschooling, child-led, life learning or whatever you wish to call it the more I see that it works.  It worked for my son who is now 19 and whom I removed from school when he was 9.  He is now in his final year of University studying software engineering and doing well. It also seems to be working for my daughter who has never been to school.  

I cannot help but question the need for all that is “taught” in school and of its necessity.  My daughter is showing me her growth in learning to write all the time and without the use of curriculum, coercion and bribes.  She has paper, a pencil and her imagination readily available to her.  She has access to the computer to type if she wants and she has me to support her on her path and to listen to all her questions, observations and ideas.  Not force her and not follow what someone else has said is the right way to teach writing and certainly not to make her write when she doesn't feel like it, nor critique her spelling and grammar ever step of the way.  I have often questioned whether I am failing my children in not covering all that they do in school but I can see that I am not and it makes me smile. A lot.  Her happiness is what is most important to me and damaging our relationship in the name of academics is not worth it for me. She is happy just the way things are and so am I.   

Monday, 6 April 2015

I want to shout it from the rooftops! He found his way without school ❤️

Proud Mummy Moment! I just want to shout out about my son Samuel who has just phoned me with some wonderful news. Many of you know of him and his early struggles in school and that we ended up unschooling after a long and often hair raising journey to get there. He is now at 19 in his final year of his software engineering degree at the University of Queensland. As part of the work for one of his papers he has been going into industry to interview people and after one day he received a call from a company that said they had an internship going and they thought Samuel should apply if he was interested. He was not looking for work but the sound of it was something that really interested him. The date of application closure was the day they called him. He furiously filled the application and sent off his CV (which for someone with his executive function issues is huge to get himself into gear and organised to do this!) and was then called for an interview with 40 other applicants and he being the only homeschooler. He went for the interview and felt that it had gone well but was up against some other very talented young programmers. However, he got a call last week and was told that he was wanted for a second round of interviews. The interview happened on Tuesday and he was called last night offering him the internship!! Tears of joy from this proud Mama! He will be going in one day per week paid and taught all that they can teach him and then at the end of his degree has the offer of a full time position. My out of control (to others!) boy diagnosed with ADHD/ASD/ODD/Gifted and with learning difficulties (namely dyslexia and severe dysgraphia) who was suspended from every single school bar one (and he went to quite a few schools), who we were told needed serious psychiatric help by one school principal and who left the school system crushed, depressed and with little to no self esteem has just proved them all how wrong they were about him! I always knew that they were wrong but he didn't! He came home and was allowed to be the wonderful, smart human being that he is and always was. It was just that school didn't always see that and tried to "fix" him when he was never broken! To all those parents who worry about their children - please have faith. I know sometimes it is a huge leap of faith but Samuel was allowed to follow his passions and do things HIS way and I am so very proud of the young man he has become and his achievements today. He has proved to me that you don't need others to teach you, tell you what you need to or should be learning. Having a passion, interest or aptitude in something and being allowed to follow it really does work - well it has for my family anyway and I am sure it will for most heart emoticon

Thursday, 26 March 2015

What does unschooling look like for us?

Some people really don’t seem to understand what unschooling is all about.  I once went on television with my family and was filmed in my home and our lives were discussed and quite frankly ridiculed by many, including a Dr of Education who felt that unschooling was putting a child at a disadvantage and that their interests would become too narrow if we just allowed them to dictate what is was they wanted to learn about.  He felt there was a real need for a national curriculum to give a child a broad and valid education.  I disagreed with him.  I think the way we live our lives is valid and that my children get a very broad education.  What is unschooling like for us? Every day is different but today it went something like this and to be quite honest I don’t even like to be called an “unschooler” – we just live our lives and learn along the way:-

My daughter Poppy woke early and had got herself some breakfast. It was a beautiful morning so we decided to take her dog for a walk and Poppy would ride alongside on her bike. Her Daddy slept on so she wrote him a little note to leave on the breakfast bar to let him know where we had gone and off we went to watch the sun rise and take in the waking morning together. On our walk we met so many lovely people that Poppy somehow managed to strike up a conversation with. She has such a knack for doing that!  She has no problems with social skills, communication and relating to people of all ages. It is actually a joy to see her in deep discussion with someone maybe six times her age with no inhibitions, just passing the day as she would with anyone whether old or young. Talking about her dog, their dog, the beautiful sunrise that we witnessed or whatever else captures her thoughts.

This morning was interesting as on the path as we walked along (well she cycled and I kind of ran/walked!) there was a top to tail procession of hairy caterpillars crossing in front of us. Where they had come from we did not know and where they were going we didn't know either, but they caused a real and captivating interest to us and others who happened to stumble upon them this morning.  They became another thing of interest to Poppy that we would have to find out more about later.  We continued on our way stopping to take photos of the majestic sky and marveling at its colours and the cloud formations. On we went, chattering all the way until we came to our favourite cafe where we stopped for a drink. Whilst I was inside ordering our drinks, Poppy waited at a public bench with Lily and her bike. I could see her through the window chatting away to a fisherman both animated and enjoying each other’s company. When I joined her we sat for a while watching the ocean enjoying our drinks and taking in the start of this day as the swallows swooped in front of us with their wing tips just skimming the ocean before sweeping with speed back up into the sky again.

Now for our homeward journey we set each other goals on how fast we could get from point to point. Lessons learned about time and distance and all with purpose and meaning to Poppy. When we got to a park Poppy had a play, swinging from monkey bar to monkey bar, soaring high into the tree tops on the swing, before joining me laying down on a bench to gaze through the branches at the clouds above and describe to each other what we saw in them. There were bears, dragons and dogs all moving with speed and elegance in the deep blue sky. Shimmers of sun flecked our faces as we sunk into the day happy and content. The last leg home involved more chats with fellow dog walkers, watching silver fish leap from the water and scurrying crabs across the rocks as the heat from the sun increased with the hands of our watches stretching to 8 o'clock. 

When we got home Poppy and I juiced some oranges and shared it between ourselves in tall glasses with lots of ice. We noticed that we were low on fruit so Poppy wrote out a shopping list of things that we would need to buy and then she fed the dogs and guinea pigs before heading off downstairs to play some music. Poppy is very musical and it is a big part of her life and I love that she can play her music whenever she likes and for however long she likes. I love the sound of music that fills our house - beautiful melodies drifting up the stairs whilst she plays her piano - it really lifts your spirits. She calls me down to listen to what she has composed. I sit in awe of her creativity, self-belief and confidence of which I was so lacking at her age. I watch her little face deep in concentration and at one with the music as she played. She asked me if I would like her to teach me what she has been playing and I smile knowing that my 8 year old will do that for me and do it well and that I will learn something new with her guidance. She may not have a graduate diploma in teaching because she doesn’t need one.  She just knows stuff and so she shows me and I learn from her passion and interest and it works for us in the same way as if maybe I know something she doesn’t and I share it with her if she wants me to.  We spent a couple of happy hours messing around making music together before our stomachs growled for food. We didn't need a bell to tell us when to eat.  We just listened to our internal body clock and off we went making lunch together as a team. Poppy deciding how much pasta we would need for us both, filling the kettle to boil the water and setting it upon the stove. We ate our lunch together in happy company with always something to chat about. Today it was Spain and how she would like to visit there.  She has been learning Spanish and she was testing out her little phrases on me and seeing how far she could count.  

As I washed up afterwards Poppy listened to Brainpop on her iPad learning so many interesting things that launched discussions on Greek Gods, Homer and poetry. I was amazed at how much she knew from listening to an audio story in the past of Troy and the Greek Legends.  She has dyslexia and does not read these books in the traditional way but ear reads them and it sticks for her.  That is how she learns best.  Her strength is in her auditory ability and her memory.  Being at home she can learn in the way that suits her best, unlike at school where she wouldn't have access to all these wonderful stories in an audio format.  From her listening about poetry she decided she wanted to write a poem herself so off she went and wrote one.  I didn't need to teach her how.  She just did it.  She asked about rhyme and this led into more discussion and reading of other poems that rhymed.  We talked about the descriptive words in her poem and how they were known as adjectives.  We looked at the form poems can take and the different kind of poetry and she was alight with it all and engaged and wanted to write more.  I scribed for her and she then typed it out all by herself.  She wants to continue with it and illustrate it with a view to writing more and putting them together in a book.  All of these are her ideas and not from any set curriculum or schedule that I have imposed.  It is just interest led learning coming from her and therefore it has meaning for Poppy and in doing so is more likely to stick in her memory.  On top of the bulk of our day I heard her playing Nessy on the computer which is a reading program for children with dyslexia, I heard her playing the steel drums on an iPad app, I heard her playing with her dog, I saw her doing some knitting and to end her day we went off to the pool where she played with a bunch of other kids and afterwards full with a day of rich and wonderful experiences she fell asleep still talking about her poem to me and what she wanted to do with it tomorrow.  

Does this unschooling way (if that is what you like to call it) sound like she is not learning? Does it sound like she is neglected or that I am not involved in her learning?  Does it sound as though she has narrow interests? Not in my eyes and I would be surprised if others thought so.  This is real living and learning and it works and we are happy with our life choices and for those who doubt it then I have to think that they are the ones who have not truly lived it and nor do they really understand what this way of living and learning is all about.  We all of us cannot help learning just by being alive and this was just a typical day in our lives amongst many loving, living and learning together and I wouldn’t change a thing ❤️

Sunday, 22 February 2015

We need to be who we are...

Every time I read this story I feel emotional. It resonates with me so much. I was that child and I too wish someone had intervened. I am so glad that I have been able to intervene for my children and let them fly with the things they want to fly with. Let them follow their passions and be in their "element". That for me is what school crushed. I am sorry if some people think that I go on about this too much but I feel so passionate about it! We all have our gifts, likes, passions, interests or whatever else you wish to call them. Maybe if schools focussed on allowing children to follow them we would have a lot less disaffected kids with low self esteems coming out of the education system. I do not make this stuff up. It is real for many, many children and I know lots of these kids and their families and hear their frustrations and hurt. I only have to read the huge number of stories in support groups to do with children diagnosed with ADHD, ASD, Gifted, Dyslexia (the list goes on!) to know that school for many is just not working. Diagnosis or not many of these children are struggling in the system and feeling like failures when maybe all they need is to be allowed to shine in whatever it is that lights their fire. Many of them would not need these lables either. They just are who they are and if allowed to be just that there often are no problems. My son was one of these kids. In so much trouble at school. Meeting after meeting, specialist after specialist to "fix him" when he was never broken. Just misunderstood and caged. Unschooling for him was a lifeline. He got to follow his passion which was computers and programming. At the age of 19 he is in his final year of a software engineering degree and happy. School did not get him there. He got himself there.....  

Gillian was only eight years old, but her future was already at risk.  Her schoolwork was a disaster, at least as far as her teachers were concerned.  She turned in assignments late, her handwriting was terrible, and she tested poorly.  Not only that, she was a disruption to the entire class, one minute fidgeting noisily, the next staring out of the window, forcing the teacher to stop the class to pull Gillian’s attention back, and the next doing something to disturb the other children around her.  Gillian wasn’t particularly concerned about any of this – she was used to being corrected by authority figures and didn’t really see herself as a difficult child – but the school was very concerned.  This came to a head when the school wrote to her parents.
The school thought Gillian had a learning disorder of some sort and that it might be more appropriate for her to be in a school for children with special needs.  All of this took place in the 1930’s.  I think now they’d say she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they’d put her on Ritalin or something similar.  But the ADHD epidemic hand’t been invented at the time.  It wasn’t an available condition.  People didn’t know they could have that and had to get by without it.
Gillian’s parents received the letter from the school with great concern and sprang to action.  Gillian’s mother put her daughter in her best dress and shoes, tied her hair in ponytails, and took her to a psychologist for assessment, fearing the worst.
Gillian told me that she remembers being invited into a large oak-panelled room with leather-bound books on the shelves.  Standing in the room next to a large desk was an imposing man in a tweed jacket.  He took Gillian to the far end of the room and sat her down on a huge leather sofa.  Gillian’s feet didn’t quite touch the floor, and the setting made her wary.  Nervous about the impression she would make, she sat on her hands so that she wouldn’t fidget.
The psychologist went back to this desk, and for the next twenty minutes, he asked Gillian’s mother about the difficulties Gillian was having at school and the problems the school said she was causing.  While he didn’t direct any of his questions at Gillian, he watched her carefully the entire time.  This made Gillian extremely uneasy and confused.  Even at this tender age, she knew that this man would have a significant role in her life.  She knew what it meant to attend a “special school”, and she didn’t want anything to do with that.  She genuinely didn’t feel that she had any real problems, but everyone else seemed to believe that she did.  Given the way her mother answered the questions, it was possible that even she felt this way.
Maybe, Gillian thought, they were right.
Eventually, Gillian’s mother and the psychologist stopped talking.  The man rose from his desk, walked to the sofa, and sat next to the little girl.
“Gillian, you’ve been very patient, and I thank you for that”, he said.  “But I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient for a little longer.  I need to speak to your mother privately now.  We’re going to go out of the room for a few minutes.  Don’t worry; we won’t be very long”.
Gillian nodded apprehensively, and the two adults left her sitting there on her own.  But as he was leaving the room, the psychologist leaned across his desk and turned on the radio.
As soon as they were in the corridor outside the room, the doctor said to Gillian’s mother, “Just stand here for a moment, and watch what she does”.  There was a window into the room, and they stood to one side of it, where Gillian couldn’t see them.  Nearly immediately, Gillian was on her feet, moving around the room to the music.  The two adults stood watching quietly for a few minutes, transfixed by the girl’s grace.  Anyone would have noticed there was something natural – even primal – about Gillian’s movements.  Just as they would have surely caught the expression of utter pleasure on her face.
At last, the psychologist turned to Gillian’s mother and said, “You know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick.  She’s a dancer.  Take her to a dance school”.
I asked Gillian what happened then.  She said her mother did exactly what the psychologist suggested.  “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was”, she told me.  “I walked into this room, and it was full of people like me.  People who couldn’t sit still.  People who had to move to think“.
She started going to the dance school every week, and she practiced at home every day.  Eventually, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School in London, and they accepted her.  She went on to join the Royal Ballet Company itself, becoming a soloist and performing all over the world.  When that part of her career ended, she formed her own musical theatre company and produced a series of highly successful shows in London and New York.  Eventually, she met Andrew Lloyd Webber and created with him some of the most successful musical theatre productions in history, including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.
Little Gillian, the girl with the high-risk future, became known to the world as Gillian Lynne, one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time, someone who has brought pleasure to millions and earned millions of dollars.  This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes – someone who had seen children like her before and knew how to read the signs.
Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.  But Gillian wasn’t a problem child.  She didn’t need to go away to a special school.
She just needed to be who she really was.

From the book “The Element – How finding your passion changes everything” by Ken Robinson