We went back to Cornwall again this year for some fresh Cornish air, a little bit of sunshine and the restorative feeling of the wild Atlantic pummeling your body. I love it. I want to stay there forever.
I love camping too, but I am pleased not to have to walk a third of a mile to the toilet in the dead of the night now that we’re home.
I will miss the view from the tents though.
The kids always enjoy the campsite; they meet the same friends every year. Their cousins also camp at the same time as us, so they have quality time with them too, building memories to last a lifetime.
Their favourite thing this year was the giant rock pool they thought they had discovered. They were amazed to find out that myself and my sisters also used to swim there when we were their age.
I struggled to reach the rock pool myself; all my injuries conspiring together to make it a tricky feat. I was content though to see them having fun and hear their tales of adventure: the cold water; the rocks to jump off; the drama of jellyfish.
It is a wonderful circular perfection to watch them enjoy the same things I loved as a kid.
I did make it into the sea though on the sunny days and the miserable days. It’s funny how everyone of all ages wears wetsuits now, no-one ever did when we were kids.
I do get it. The sea is a cold 16 degrees and a wetsuit allows you to stay in longer. I’m kind of partial to the whole cold experience though, from numb feet to that shock wave as the sea hits those more sensitive body parts, to the feeling of not being able to breathe properly.
So we rocked the non-wetsuit look all on our own and it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that neither of my wetsuits actually fit me this year, and the kids have outgrown theirs! We just hate wetsuits and we love the cold sea because it heals you from the inside out.
It makes you feel alive.
I’m not entirely sure why making these wraps made me so excited! It’s possibly because making them has been on my to-do list for so long, that it was incredibly satisfying to actually get it done.
The purpose of beeswax wraps is to eradicate the need for cling film in your kitchen. Not only is cling film not currently recyclable, it also leeches chemical nasties on to the food you cover it with when heated.
Cling film is banned in the USA, but not currently in Europe, despite scientific research now proving years of claims that it’s bad for our health.
It’s also bad for the health of our planet, so I’m not sure why I waited so long to make these extremely simple natural alternatives.
To make your own you will need:
- Thin cotton (I used 100% organic cotton, think sheet thickness). Cut it into the sizes you want. I made mine 25cm by 25cm, but some bigger and some smaller would be handy.
- !00% organic beeswax (you can buy a bar and grate it, or buy it in pellets)
Here’s how to make the wraps:
Once your wraps are dry you can just leave them as they are and tie up sandwiches with string or you can make some sandwich pockets using sew on snap fasteners if you are handy with a needle and thread (I’m not). Avoid Velcro because it’s made from plastic!
Gently wash after use with a cloth and cold water (don’t use hot water, the wax will flake off).
I don’t think these are a perfect solution, the beeswax does flake in areas where you continually fold, but it has to be better than using cling film. If they start to look tatty where the wax is flaking you can simply fold out flat again and sprinkle on a little more wax and pop back in the oven.
So far I’ve only used them for wrapping food, but you could make smaller squares and cover leftover bowls of food with the addition of an elastic band to keep it all in place.
Unschoolers are not immune from bad days. Today started off as a bit of a non-event. I got out the wrong side of the bed (or more specifically, sofa……..hard bed=bad back). It doesn’t help that I’m not getting my full quota of sleep, since being downstairs means the dog wants to play with me at 2am and the light streams in the bay window at 5am and there’s a really big spider on the loose somewhere.
The day began with everyone reading and then I encouraged a get-together about 11am to discuss any plans for the day, but nobody seemed to want to do anything. I went into ‘suggestion overload’ and babbled on about our home ed science show, the upcoming voting, maybe a dog walk in the rain? ‘Remember those days’, I enthused, ‘when we’d dance in the puddles!’ All this over-enthusiasm with a constant background whirr of fidget spinners.
I wanted adventures in the rain, and they wanted to spin bits of plastic around on their fingertips.
I went to the kitchen to make lunch and sulked. They went back to reading their books, checking their emails and googling playstation joy sticks.
We ate lunch around the table together. I still hadn’t got the hint to just be quiet.
‘So the dog walk….I was thinking the woods, it might be fun?’ I said hopefully.
‘Well that sounds great Mum, but it’s going to be muddy.’
‘I know but we can put our wellies on’.
‘Hmmmm, well actually I can’t really because I’ve just put my trainers on and tied the laces up 3 times really, really tight and it would take ages to take them off now’.
I got the hint. Looks like it was going to be a simple dog walk round the block, in the rain, on my own.
After lunch they resumed reading their books and I made the decision to just get on with my own thing, so I made banana cake and washed the dog and cleaned the floor.
At about 4pm the sun came out and they decided to go out and play with their friends around the corner, but by 4:10pm they had returned soaking wet and shrieking. There were huge thunder claps and lightening, the sky was dark and dramatic as the rain pelted down. They were upset they couldn’t play out, so I tentively suggested getting the paints out.
‘We haven’t done painting for ages, yes I really want to paint together Mum!’ We got the paints and paper ready and sat and stared at the empty page. I had no idea what to paint, but T knew immediately he wanted to paint the storm.
We started to paint, but T wasn’t sure how to paint lightning, so we looked through our science encyclopedia’s and found some great photos of lightning. We took turns reading out passages about thunder and lightening. T was very thoughtful, he knew a lot about storms already. He knew it was unsafe to shelter under a tree but didn’t know that it was because lightning will find the fastest route to the ground. He was excited to tell me all about the man he’d read about who’d been struck by lightning 8 times and survived.
His painting was beautiful, the way he uses paint so thoughtfully and in an abstract way but with such precision. He needed an exact shade of purple and remembered a few months back that he had spent half a day with L mixing paints and creating their own colours. The pot of purple had been waiting all these months for this moment. It was the exact shade he needed for his painting. Two magical unschooled moments coliding, when a lost afternoon of paint mixing gave precision to the electrical pulse of lightning being painted months later. How perfect. I couldn’t have planned it better.
And so, they will remember the storm today. T will remember the lightning and the way you can find safety inside a car not under a tree. He will likely remember the electrical impulses which create lightning and the thunderous sounds they make from the sudden expansion of air, a sonic shockwave.
And I will try hard to remember that sometimes the best moments come from keeping quiet and letting life evolve, and that even on grumpy days, good things happen.
I’ve always shied away from using any terminology to label the kind of home educators we are. Home educators, especially on the net, are very vocal and protective of the varying labels.
We have always simply called ourselves ‘home educators’ because it left most room for the kind of learning we did with no-body but ourselves to judge it. On the other hand, it makes it sound like we are actually ‘at home’, which for large chunks of the week, we’re not!
We have experimented with elements of a Steiner curriculum and group learning projects, but in our hearts we identified more closely with unschooling, we were about 95% there in our understanding.
Recently though, something big clicked in my brain. Maybe the mind-shift happened because my daughter tried school and everyday she downloaded her experience to me. It certainly pushed me to 100%, but I had also begun seriously thinking about the idea of consent in education.
I began to reflect on my experiences as a teacher, the aspects of the schooling system I didn’t feel comfortable with and the many children I avocated for in my role as SEN co-ordinator.
Whilst googling the idea of educational consent and children’s rights, I came across Sophie Christophy’s blog and her posts about Consent based Education. Finally I felt a deep connection to a label! Consent based education is actually the key principle of unschooling; it’s respectfully educating and on a wider note, respectfully living and parenting.
Respectfully educating, yes, that is what I strive towards.
I don’t think it means it must always be child-led either. It is not about sitting around, waiting for your child to come up with questions or great ideas about what they want to learn and do, it takes way more involvement than that. On the other hand, I recognise that I have been guilty at times of making too many suggestions and overwhelming everyone. I guess I get excited about the possibilities of life! The ideal I strive for is far more like an intricate dance between parent and child, where you cannot tell who is leading and who is being led because neither is, or perhaps both are!
Quite simply, for us, unschooling is a deep connection with each other, a partnership born out of spending quality time together living our lives. From this, interests arise and can be explored and questions are asked and investigated. When at home, we kind of just hang out together and stuff just evolves.
This week I really tried to break it down, this daily ‘what we do’ and it includes all of this:
- Books: We usually start and end everyday with reading, either together or on our own. We swap our library books most weeks. L and T choose their own books but I often add a few to the pile that I think they will enjoy based on a current interest or conversation. The books are a collection of both fiction and non-fiction. We keep our library books in a basket downstairs for easy access and so they do not get mixed up with our own books and incur huge fines!
- Chatting: we spend a lot of time chatting as a family, so much natural learning opportunities come from our chats. Take this week as an example; one of us mentioned that a watermelon was a vegetable, not a fruit, according to one of the weird fact books from the library. This led on to T wanting to know what the differences between fruits and vegetables were. Somehow this led on to nuts (which are fruits), and lastly the problem of peanuts which are legumes, which we assume is a vegetable, right? It was a bloody confusing conversation and I’m not sure the original watermelon question was completely solved……but I’m sure they learnt something, even if it was just that Mum is clueless about fruit and vegetables, she isn’t even sure what a legume is, she had to google it, DUH!
- Random resources and suggestions: Someone will have an awesome idea of something to do or somewhere to go, which might be L or T or me. I don’t always wait for the kids to come up with the ideas, sometimes I make suggestions, but mine aren’t that random really, I know my children pretty well by now. We then try out the awesome idea because it’s fun and we want to! Yesterday the awesome idea came from L and was a card game which no-one knows the name of but which we named ‘Target’. It involved picking up groups of cards, figuring out the values using multiplication, then adding it to your total score. Closest to 100 wins. This led on to games of ‘Go Fish’, ‘Top Trumps’ and ‘Mancala’.
- Pinterest boards/real-life ‘project’ boards/ideas box: Both L and T have a folder on my pinterest board which they add ideas of things they’d like to make, do, learn about etc. They also have a project board on the wall, where they stick their real-life pins of inspiring pictures, ideas, works in progress and so forth. L has recently made an ‘idea’s box’ and asked us to post suggestions to be emptied every Monday morning and then decide together which ones to do during the week ahead.
- Structured Learning: Most unschooled kids go to some structured classes in something they love to do. Currently L has dance, horse-riding and multi-sports and T has tennis and multi-sports. Unschooling is not about never doing structured classes, it’s about choice and freedom. Sometimes my kids also love me to help them with ideas and ways to structure their academic learning too. At times that has meant setting up a group to work on a specific skill or subject area. Occasionally that will require me finding a suitable adult to share a skill, but sometimes that adult is me! For example, L has asked me to help her with her writing, for now we are doing that in 2 ways: working with her and her friend on creative writing and also supporting her to plan, write and edit her own stories. Just today T told me he wants to ‘do more science because he loves it’. We discussed ways he would like that to happen. He wants to do ‘fun’ experiments and so we sat and looked through our resources together to select ideas he would like to try and then we planned to do one straight away because wherever possible I try to make the learning they have asked for happen before life takes over again and we all forget our goals. I have learnt that capturing the moment in this way helps my children to feel supported.
- Home Ed Groups: We have a few regular groups we attend so that L and T see their friends often. Home ed groups have been trial and error for us, and we are picky about the ones we invest our time in these days. The group has to fit with our ethos and values.
- Experiences: I love this part:) The trips, the hands-on activities, the chunks of real-life action. T picks up leaflets from everywhere we go with ideas of places or museums he wants to visit. He pins them on his ‘project board’ as a reminder or carries them around for days. Sometimes L wants to come too and we do it together or occasionally she would rather not and so we organise it at a weekend when she can stay at home.
- Play: Play has always been a huge part of our week. It takes many forms: playing with the pets, with toys (a favoured pastime currently is playing with their shared doll collection, they do this sometimes for hours at a time), shooting hoops at the park, loads of board games and playing with friends both home ed and local. Playing on their tablets or gaming on the PC.
- Modelling a life: I try to be conscious of how I spend my time, and make room for things which are important to me. I want my children to see me do more than washing dishes and taxi’ing them around. I want to find my passions and I want to keep learning too! I try not to have a huge agenda for my children’s learning and lives, but if I want to encourage any particular habit (such as keeping their space tidy), I start with myself. Children are big imitators, they will learn from us whether we are aware of it or not. With this in mind, I have a ‘project’ board too. It keeps my own personal goals in mind and I share with my children my plans to achieve them. They see me make mistakes, learn new things, take risks and work hard to achieve what I set out to do. Most of the time they join in!
- Nature: Time outside has always been important to us as a family. We try to make room for this everyday, whether it’s a simple dog walk or a big adventure.
Here’s a list of things we did on a day at home this week to show how the above kind of melts together into a day of learning and life: discussed the news; discussed how media can influence you; drew our yearly self-portraits (which also involved a lot of measuring of faces and eyes, which led on to measuring bottom widths, I have the biggest bum in the family apparently); played with dolls; read from the new science encyclopedia; read fiction; cooked lunch together (L learnt how to make a cheese sauce); went swimming; played with friends and learnt to roller-blade.
Some of those things were planned (using L’s idea box), such as the swimming and the self-portraits, everything else was spontaneous.
Is our life perfect? No.
Does it challenge my parenting skills? Yes, often.
Have I got this unschooling malarkey down to a fine art? Nope.
Do my kids like being unschooled? Definitely.
Do I love it? Yes!
I can honestly, hand on heart say I never wish my kids went to school. Sometimes it’s exhausting, sometimes I’d love a little more time to myself, sometimes I’d quite like to earn a bit of money and sometimes I dream of having less responsibilities and running away with the circus (true)
…………………………. but only if my kids can come too!
Do you you unschool, but find your older children need more structure or perhaps your unschooling doesn’t feel like it’s meeting their needs anymore? Does your unschooled child not feel like they’re learning enough?
This is where a more deliberate project-based style can be a perfect fit.
Unschooling is a lifestyle; it is an intricate dance of providing just the right amount of social interaction, stimulation, experiences, materials, resources and relaxation. Whilst trying to achieve all of this the parent also has a home to run, meals to prepare, pets to walk and care for, family and friends to see, perhaps a business to attend to and so on.
It is easy to see how the unschooling train can derail.
When I started out home educating my own children, I knew I wanted them to have play-based early years. I think we did that part expertly, and it flowed well into them discovering their passions, learning to read, beginning to write and so forth. It was all very natural and organic. Then something changed; my daughter wanted more structure at about age 9 and I struggled to understand exactly what I needed to do to help facilitate that need.
I had a child who wanted more formal, structured learning, preferably with other children, but who did not really want to be taught. We already had many of the elements of project-based learning happening, but it was far from a fine art. We began experimenting with a Waldorf Curriculum, but somehow life just kept getting in the way!
Our unschooling didn’t feel like it was working anymore. A curriculum was not the way forward for us either. We still wanted learning to be interest led, to move at the child’s own developmental pace, to be mentored and facilitated. Project-based learning was our way forward.
Project based learning is about using strategies to help your children direct and manage their own learning. But how?
Here are 3 key elements to show you how to take a project-based approach to your child’s learning journey:
- The important idea with this style of learning is to remember that at all times, the child should own their work. You can start with directly asking your children what they want to learn about, but children cannot always articulate their thoughts that precisely. The best way is to observe your children over time; look for clues in their play and in the things they say to each other and to you. Be a detective! Keep a journal to record what you discover from your observations.
I tend to write freely about our day and then create a short bullet pointed list at the end for ideas to action, these might include: questions they have asked; groups they want to try out; materials they have asked for; or my own thoughts on suggestions I could make based on observing their interests over time.
2. Make the environment your child’s teacher. Ensure materials are within their reach and they have a good range of resources to experiment and work with (they do not need to be expensive). Try to make the project area clear of junk and organised (note to self!) If possible give your children a dedicated workspace. Use bulletin boards to display their works in progress, sketches, notes, questions and so forth. Display their finished projects on shelving, walls, in portfolio’s or more formally in project books if that’s what they want. Children, especially as they get older, like to know they are learning.
3. Dedicate your time and support. It sounds silly to suggest giving your children your time when you home educate and are with them all day! The reality though, is that life can take over sometimes. Being a totally disorganised kind of person myself, I find the idea of timetabling project sessions really helpful. It’s not that projects and learning don’t happen at other times (seriously I know that learning and life are intertwined), it’s simply a guarantee to my children that I will have the materials they need and the time to help without any other distractions during those ‘blocks of time’.
Sometimes ‘projects’ might be one-off experiences, but I think the beauty of this style of working means you have all the tools to challenge your child to work deeply at times and extend their ideas.
Your children’s projects can be done on their own at home, with siblings or wider family, with a bunch of friends or within the community. Projects can also be 2D, 3D,indoor, outdoor, verbal, written, performed or even whilst riding on the back of a horse!
Stop thinking of ‘projects’ as something which must be recorded in a book.
Here is a great website to help you get loads more information about how project-based learning can work and how to support your child in being a self-directed learner: What Is Project-Based Learning?
Project-based learning can be for anyone. An unschooler might use this style of working full-time, whereas a more traditional home educating family might carve out a chunk of time each week for projects. Even a school going child can benefit by encouraging them to remember their own learning goals.
Project-based learning is about your children being valued, respected and celebrated as learners.
My final thought on this is actually the most important aspect. Project-based learning is not just for children, it’s for you too! Get involved! What do you want to do with your time? Now is absolutely the time to follow your passions. So dust off that guitar, pull out that canvas, write that book. When your child does project work, you can too.
This term we have taken on a new subscription to ‘Global Guardians Project’, a monthly learning capsule which takes you all around the world. It is a perfect blend of inspiration and ideas for action regarding world sustainability issues and animal conservation. It is aimed at children aged 4-8 years, but I use it as a starting point to explore certain topics in more depth depending on what areas my own kids find interesting. We don’t tend to use their art ideas, instead finding projects to suit the ages of my own children who are 10 and 9.
You can find further information about the ‘Global Guardian Project’ by visiting their website: Become a Global Guardian
Alongside the actual learning capsules, I have set up a ‘real-life’ group for my children, so that they can share their knowledge and complete engaging art projects on global themes with other children. The idea was two-fold, to give my daughter the social learning experience she wants, and to explore animal conservation which is deeply important to my son.
To begin, we downloaded the capsule on ‘Oceans‘. We learnt about the complex eco-system of our oceans, focusing on sea turtles and their particular plight. Although my children are pretty aware about the impact of rubbish, they were surprised to learn how much of it ends up in our oceans. We discussed the impact of plastic on marine life, which of course they found sad and shocking.
Taking action with my children felt like a really important part of this project. I wanted them to feel empowered and to know that they could make a difference. So this September we spent a day volunteering with the Marine Conservation Society and completed a beach clean at Warsash.
We are also taking part in The Last Straw, which sets the challenge to request ‘no straw’ in restaurants etc and also to share the challenge with others, which is why I’m telling you all about it!
In our ‘real-life’ group session on oceans we had a go at 2 types of printing: mono printing & collagraphs. The mono printing using glass didn’t work brilliantly on the day, but children are very forgiving and most used the materials to do their own kind of artwork. The collagraphs were very successful and definitely an activity I would recommend.
The idea is to use collage materials stuck onto a strip of card which give ocean textures. You then paint over the top with sea colours and print on paper or fabric. Our best prints were made on calico. One child in the group took theirs home and sewed a sea turtle on top, it was beautiful. You can also block or mono print sealife on top of the finished print for added effect.
The second learning capsule was focused on Brazil and the Amazon. We began our group session with a ‘sharing’ time and I was blown away by the amazing art and poetry some of the children had completed at home following the session last month on ‘Oceans’. Some children had some great books and knowledge to share on the Amazon too. I shared a beautiful book of photography with the group, which I totally recommend: ‘Rainforest’ by Lewis Blackwell.
We also looked at Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings and recreated selected areas of his paintings in oil pastels. I set up a ‘free’ table too with some ideas and various materials and the children could then create how they wanted.
Our group challenge this month was to research palm oil and attempt to be better consumers by eradicating 5 items containing palm oil from our shopping list. When we got home and looked in our cupboards, we couldn’t find anything containing palm oil, so we are doing OK on that front already.
Next month the focus is on Rwanda, I can’t wait for this one personally, it is such an interesting country and the focus will be on the plight of mountain gorilla’s, which should be really fascinating.
I’ve been thinking about the ‘Global Guardians Project’ a lot recently, and I honestly cannot think of a more important issue for young children to learn about. The Earth’s future is in our hands, and also in theirs. I think we all hear so much about endangered animals and the awful state of our world, but the difference with this particular project is that it focuses on the beauty that is all around us and the small actions we can all easily do to make a difference.
We ARE nature! Nature is our true home.