Thursday, October 26, 2017

Random Information, Bullet Pointed

  • I think the new Taylor Swift song, Gorgeous, is possibly the worst song ever, and some aspects of the Taylor Swift experience are (more than) a little problematic; yet my children are really adorable dancing to it, so I keep playing it for them whenever they ask for it. Motherhood is for suckers.
  • I usually delete marketing emails from various businesses whose loyalty card I carry in my overly-full, cat-themed wallet, but if it says "new flavour" or "Christmas food" in the subject line, I open it. This is how I know that Costa has something called "Billionaire's Hot Chocolate" on offer, and Marks & Spencer has what is basically turducken bedecked with bacon available to order for your holiday festivities. I am not ordering the turducken, but I will have one of those hot chocolates.
  • I also open emails from Houzz, almost every time, for the purpose of ogling other people's refurbished Victorian and Edwardian properties. In my fantasies, we will not be renting forever, and I will need to know how to make my bathroom into a sophisticated yet functional space. Obviously.
  • My daily schedule includes coming back to bed to drink my coffee while my cats sit on my lap. This is for real something that I've built into my day. If you knew my cats, you'd understand. They cannot handle their lives if I do not offer them this service.
  • Which leads me to the point that I should probably mention that our cats do not roam the house at night. That's because two thirds of them because first rate jerks around 3am. I value my sleep more than I value my cats' need to connect with me while I sleep. They can roam the dining room, kitchen, and laundry room while they wait for me to wake up and allow them to be free range again.
  • And speaking of free range cats, there is a cultural difference here regarding the nicest way to care for your cats. In the US, I basically had to agree to keep our cats exclusively indoors to be able to bring them home from the shelter, as otherwise I was considered to be a potential CAT KILLER. Here, the shelters often require that the cats have outdoor space available; otherwise I would be considered to be a CAT TORTURER, denying my cats an opportunity to express their true nature. Well, we have some gigantic tom cats in our neighborhood that can be heard grappling every night, and our little guy is, well, little, so I'm going to go with the US cultural practices in this case.
  • E worries regularly about our little cat not getting big enough. He is nearly a year old (there will be a party, because: cat lady reasons), and it appears that he will remain on the smaller side. I don't mind at all, but there is a lot of hand-wringing from E followed by reassurances from me, and it's a little bit exhausting at this point. Teddy is fine! Just let him be who he is! We have bigger problems than our cat being small!
  • Speaking of problems, our new house solved so many of mine. My kids sometimes express that they miss the old house, and I really cannot comprehend that. But to be fair, most of the improvements affect me the most, as nobody was really lining up to help me wash dishes in the last house, nor cook most of our meals with minimal counter space to work with, and my kids didn't care that I had heart palpitations every time one of them leaned out from the stairs and risked falling to her death (or more realistically, to a broken bone or two at the very least) to the dining room below.
  • Christmas is coming. I have become one of those annoying people who is happy about the Christmas things appearing in stores in October. Because Christmas lights! And most importantly, Christmas food! (See random information, bullet point two, above.)
  • Half term week is nearly over. I've wiped down our kitchen counters every day, because I have time to care about the sugar my children spill every time they make a cup of tea. Time well spent! But next week, we're back to the usual, and I've got some additional meetings to boot. Welcome back to reality, in which a thin dusting of sugar will become the norm again.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Answer to an FAQ: Socialization in Home Education

My kids aren't always alone on a beach, I promise.

The question I get asked about homeschool more than any other is regarding socialization. I think most homeschool families would tell you the same. (Second in line is, "What about physics and chemistry?" but we can get to that later.) This seems to be the focus of most homeschool critics, and in some cases for good reason. (This article provides what I consider to be a balanced view.) Not all homeschoolers get socialization right. However, not all homeschoolers get academics right either, and we could say the same thing of schools. That socialization comes up more often than other questions baffles me a bit, but I am happy to give an answer as to what we do in our family and what our priorities are.

First, I want to point out that we consider socialization to have equal standing with other developmental and educational needs. As a homeschooling family, we need to be purposeful about everything we do in regards to raising our children to be part of their community and to contribute to the society in which they find themselves as adults. I will sometimes say that I am  not worried about a particular subject or need, but that doesn't mean that I'm not attending to it. It means that the method we are using is working, and I am confident in our abilities to change course if necessary.

I find that people hold up school as "normal" socialization, and this is for the obvious reason that it is what is available to most children. However, is what is the cultural norm truly the best for children? In some cases, it works fine, but in other cases, it does not. I value norms that lead to healthy development, but if that is not the case, then I am happy to do things differently. I don't believe that being in a group of similarly aged children five days a week, six hours a day, is necessarily supportive of healthy development for all children. It really depends on what other supports are in place, as well as on the child's individual needs.

When it comes to socialization, as with most other things, I ask the question, "When could my children use support, and when is it better for them to figure it out on their own?" There is certainly value in learning to resolve conflict, but that doesn't come naturally to everyone. One of my children is very good at it with very little support, whereas my other child has needed additional help in reading others' cues and figuring out solutions that work for everyone. I prefer situations in which there is a supportive, trusted adult available to assist my children when they are struggling. I also think it is important that we adults make note of ways in which our children may be approaching situations in a way that is inappropriate or unkind and help them make better choices. The idea isn't to hover and micromanage, but to be available and to use observation in order to make sure that guidance is given when necessary.

I also ask the question, "What is working for my children in terms of their desires for socialization?" In our family, we have one introvert and one extravert. This certainly presents challenges, and I will be honest that it can be hard work to make sure that what we are doing works for everybody. At school, there is a one-size-fits-most method, and this is geared to those who are extraverted. For us, we have a fits-for-our-family method, geared toward both introvert and extravert needs, and I am constantly observing and adjusting to make sure that it continues to work.

Beyond just knowing how to interact with various people they will encounter in their lives, I also want my children to be comfortable in situations in which their socialization preferences are not possible. For my introverted child, this means figuring out how to navigate being in large groups of people. For my extraverted child, this means becoming comfortable with sometimes doing things alone. I don't want either of my children to grow up only recognizing their own needs and point of view, and we talk about this a lot in regards to socialization, then give opportunities to practice. I want each of my children to have time in their own comfort zone as well as opportunities to grow and expand their skills.

Right now, we are able to balance both girls' needs with a combination of activities. I sign E up for group activities that also meet her needs for sensory input. Currently she is in a ballet class and is on a wait list for tumbling. I am supplementing with extra playground time until she gets into the tumbling class. We have a playground around the corner where she quickly finds a friend and will happily play for hours. (Z often brings a book for this.) Z is in a small group violin lesson and a larger group theatre course. These are the classes we do weekly, which are not homeschool specific. We also attend a semi-weekly home education group that I now organize, as I found it so beneficial to both of my children that when the original group leader had a baby and decided not to continue organizing, I was happy to step in. Through this group, we have met many families with whom we meet up regularly. There are also myriad one-off group activities organized throughout London for home educators, and we frequently sign up for those as well.

For both of my children, I find that familiarity is a good thing. I think this is where school makes things easy, as children get to see the same group of kids each day. However, there are certainly ways to ensure familiarity for my children. Obviously the regularly scheduled classes they attend provide this. In addition, we arrange to meet up at parks with other families that we've met in various activities, and we visit each other in our homes. My children ask to see particular friends, and I make arrangements. We also attend church two to three times per month and do additional social activities with church friends. We are truly not lacking in opportunities to socialize, and sometimes even my extraverted child finds it to be too much and wants to stay home.

Really, there is a ton more I could write about this, but I fear it would become incredibly boring if I droned on. If you have questions about what we do and why, please feel free to ask them in the comments. I know there are some holes in what I've written that may need to be filled, and I am happy to clarify, whether just in the comments or within another blog post. I've got it in mind that I want to write a bit more about family life, which may cover some things that are socialization-related. For now, let me know if there is anything that you would like to know. Perhaps if homeschool socialization is less shrouded in mystery, and if those of us who home educate can answer less defensively and more straightforwardly, there will be enough information available that we can put this question to rest.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Half Term Happiness

Here in the UK, the school year is split into three terms. Each term lasts twelve weeks, with a one week break halfway through each one. This is called half term, and I'm often asked, "What are you doing for half term?" The answer is usually much more boring than for families who have children in school. Because we spent a week on holiday early this month, we continue on with our usual curriculum routine. E is learning to read, and Z is progressing with maths, and it would seem silly to not do it when we're in our groove. Plus, we have more time for study in half term, and we can do it in a more relaxed way.

Let me explain.

While we do workshops and go to some regular meet ups with other home educators, most of the activities that Z and E are involved in are open to all children, and thus the scheduling tends to align with the term dates. Additionally, most places we meet with other home educators will have special half term activities, and so those spaces are not available to us. Half term becomes a week that we have nothing in particular to do. And I love it.

For the first time since we returned from Nice, I am caught up on washing the laundry and the dishes. Not having to drop everything to prepare a child for a class or lesson meant that I worked straight through the day, adding school readings into the rhythm of the day between the first loads of laundry and dishes and the remaining ones. Not only that, but I didn't even have to take time out to get dressed. It was all pajamas, all the time. Fantastic!

Tomorrow we'll make a leisurely trip to the library. The days after that, who knows? Perhaps I'll finally organise the homeschool group art supplies. Perhaps the children will set up a Lego city in the dining room. We can do what we like, with no schedule to keep, and it's grand.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ignorance is Bliss

We are in the middle of an at home day, sorely needed after two days of being on the go. Sometimes I feel a bit weird about taking these days, knowing that many (maybe most?) people around me do not see the value in it. As much as there's been a cultural push to simplify, hard work is still held up as the standard. If we are not busy constantly, aren't we just being lazy or indulgent?

But we are busy in our own way on these days, and there is value in rest. I say this having mostly emerged from seven months of stress-induced severe heartburn. I tried a variety of interventions to help, and now that things are mostly stable, the thing that keeps me comfortable is rest. If I miss even a couple of hours of sleep at night, or if I have too many days jam packed with activities, I don't feel well. So I rest. I make time for it. I see very, very clearly how important it is.

I have for quite some time been looking for work to do part time from home, something I could do for five or ten hours a week to boost our income a bit. So far, nothing has worked out. It is work to find work, and mostly my days go by with few moments to spare. But I do find some spare moments to write, and that is partly why I am here, to do this small bit of work, to keep my skills somewhat sharp in the time I have.

I also come here to write because I have read others' writing, and it has helped me. I hope that these small things I share might be of help to others. Sometimes it is good to read a new idea or a different perspective to what is culturally popular. Sometimes I have been prompted to ask questions that I wouldn't have guessed needed answering. Mostly, I have felt less alone by finding others who are also choosing to live their lives in a way that is different than what the mainstream culture dictates. And I love that we give that to each other, for free.

Which brings me to this bit of awkwardness. I am in the process of putting a PayPal button on this blog. Not many people read this blog since I let it lie dormant for so long, and I'm guessing most people are in the same position we find ourselves in, of needing to be careful with finances. I am planning for that button to be wholly ignored. But I'm putting it there anyway, just in case. Because you never know. I do it in the same way that I "like" and comment on every Boden Facebook post that offers a free coat or dress. Expecting nothing, but knowing that if I don't try, I definitely will not win.

I am going to continue writing here, whether I ever get paid or not. I like doing work for free if it benefits others, and indeed this is what I do in real life also. It gives me joy to give my time and efforts, and so I want the few of you who read to know that the PayPal button does not exist there because I expect anything from you. I gladly give away these thoughts, and am all the happier if they are of some benefit to someone who might not read them elsewhere. I'm glad you are reading. As you were. Carry on.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Same Song, Different Verse (Our Holiday in Nice)

We keep going back to Nice. We can't help it. It suits us. We have visions of traveling elsewhere, but in my mind it is in addition to and not instead of. Nice has been good to us. We know how to be there, just be. At this point in our lives, other trips we are committed to making regularly are a lot of work, and none of us want to make that sort of effort for what is supposed to be a trip purely for pleasure.

There were some snags in our relaxation plans this time. E's nose met with the corner of a coffee table in a way that was rather alarming, so we have added "ambulance ride" to her list firsts. That was on our first full day there, and it was surely not the best way to begin what was to be a relaxing week. However, we soldiered on, and by the end of the week, we'd managed to enjoy ourselves despite some restrictions on water play.

Thanks to two other big trips in this past year, plus our move to a new house, our budget was a bit low, but we still managed to make the best of things. Because we get an apartment for the week, we could eat most of our meals in and eliminate excess food expense. Our one big splurge was ice cream every night, which is a mainstay of our holidays in Nice. But all our activities were free. Picnics on the beach, a walk up to the Chateau, playing in the fountains of the Coulée Verte both day and night - these things were easily accessible and truly fun. We had a good time, even though we were a little bit broke.

Now we are home again, and that holds its own kind of pleasure. Going to Nice in early October seems perfect to me, as we get all the sun with temperatures that suit us, plus lower prices than in the high season, and then we come back to autumnal London, to dig into the coziness that the shorter, colder days can offer us. I'm sitting here in a wool cardigan and fake fur lined boots, happy as a clam. My children are dressing up in multiple layers and are not disappointed.

Next comes Halloween, then we enter the lead up into Christmas, with all the lights and foods and mulled wine and everything that we love about those dark days that are made to sparkle. I'm ready for it.