30 September 2013

Two Weekends of Festival Delights

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Last weekend we spent a fair bit of time at the Woodland Festival, and most of our time there was listening to the Wild Man of the Woods. The atmosphere in the tent, as he sings and tells stories of ancient forests and encounters with nature, is spellbound.

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We also headed to the closing of the Wirksworth arts festival, and saw a beautiful dance/music/drama/poetry performance including these great collaborative art quilts. Talia was happiest sitting in the sun wearing only her nappy. :)
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This weekend, more festival-ing. :) Feste opening night, and the most incredible, moving, shocking, inspiring, beautiful, haunting aerial performance: As the World Tipped, about climate change and man's dependence on this gorgeous planet, and on each other.
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The stage began to move, leaving the actors clinging on for dear life at the very top, high above us. When they dropped, Jenna gasped (in spite of moments before telling Morgan that it was OK "I'm sure they have harnesses!")
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They danced and spun, acted, performed gymnastics, all on those wires, with performers in black racing up and down the sides of the frame as their counter-weights. Afterwards a cast member came and chatted with us about the thrill of cartwheeling across a wall in the air, and about the bruises they got when learning to use the structure, and on the joy of doing work that moves and inspires you every day.
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Furthest From the Sea craft fayre: what a great day! :)
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While I was at my craft fair, the children were exploring Derby Feste with daddy (and the frequent company of Ashleigh, and an hour or so with my Dad too).
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The trolley ballet:
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Then later, fire dancers:
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Talia got tired at the Bollywood party and started trying to strip again, but was forestalled by some milk and a cuddle in a quiet dark corner. :)
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(Ashleigh kindly snapped me some toddler nursing pictures, evidence of this time in our lives.)

Sunday was an amazing reenactment event at Sherwood, with performers and reenactment groups from a wide range of time periods.
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We spent a lot of the time watching skirmishes and parades, folk dances, archery displays... Staff fighting followed by demonstrations of loading and firing weapons from the First World War (the first loud bang sent Talia scuttling for Martin's legs to hide).
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Then there were the camps, where we watched spinners and weavers, and Jenna found another girl her age who uses a drop spindle. The nuns at the infirmary tent showed us old medical texts and the range of herbs they had, explaining what they were used for. Rowan amazed them by correctly identifying many of the herbs they had on display (mostly by smell).
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(Photograph of Morgan's turn at archery taken by the lovely Ashleigh.)

I enjoyed a few quiet little opportunities to sneak away and enjoy the tents selling antique and replica wares, incredible costumes, leather flasks, Norse jewellery, tiny glass vials, rune stones, crossbows, amber, bone cups, and all manner of interesting things.
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Martin went back later in the day and bought a tiny bone crochet hook for me. :)

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We reluctantly headed home, returned the ever-patient Ashleigh to the train station to head back to Lincoln for work, and pretty much ate leftover picnic for tea. The children slept like logs last night, even the tiny usually-rampaging one. I am officially declaring a PJ day, and breaking out the DVDs!

29 September 2013

Seven Days - colour, and that cheeky baby

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1. Watching a spider eating
2. Bubba has a drink
3. Yarn love
4. Best toy in the world
5. Best friends
6. Blue skies over Cathedral Green
7. Craft stall

27 September 2013

Autumning (and trying to look up)

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Usually when I feel low, I walk through my life absent - just about responding to the people around me but feeling so disconnected and empty. The depression creeps back not in misery, but in not-bothered-ness. For all I get better at avoiding anxiety triggers, for all I get better at carrying on with the daily care-of-self and care-of-others, I still don't have any answer, any magic fix for avoiding the slide into depression.

It helps to look to the small perfect moments of beauty in the ordinary. Experience true wonder, look at the awesome world. It helps to remember to take deep breaths, eat good food, drink plenty of water. It helps sometimes to honour the tiredness, the sadness, the grey fog, and write it down, and just *not* go out, and *not* care if the kitchen is a mess, because that's what you need right now.

It helps, sometimes, to fake it - to do happy things and fun things and creative things even though I don't feel it, to push through the fog to do the things that usually lift me. It's not magic, though.

It isn't like you can tell yourself, "today I will be positive, and the black pit of despair will take the hint and go away, because I don't have any *reason* to feel this way and I know that my life is really actually precious and amazing, so I will just DETERMINE not to feel like crap!" Well, you can. But honestly, if you can wish yourself out of depression, you weren't depressed. Positive thinking is a great thing, and so is going through the motions because other people don't stop needing you, the children don't stop needing me to be mummy (and more than that, to be their resource, their facilitator, their bringer-in-of-interesting-things).

My life is amazing and beautiful and I have every reason to be thankful. My children are bright and healthy and precious, and they need me. If it were possible to beat depression by sheer force of will, anyone who has ever argued with me would tell you it would have no chance. It doesn't work like that. But believe me, I'm fighting anyway, with everything I've got. I don't have time to sink back there again, my children don't have an infinite childhood, and I'd much much rather we spent these precious years dancing around the living room and cutting butterfly shapes out of the turning Autumn leaves and colouring in fractal patterns.

So yesterday, we danced. We played music LOUDLY and raced toy cars and ate biscuits with chocolate spread. I didn't want to, but I made myself. And for a while, that was enough. It will be enough today, too.

26 September 2013

More Unschool-y Writing Down

Yesterday was filled with Little Big Planet and Webkinz, chopping of vegetables for stew, journalling, and some writing of a script for a play they are working on together.
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Lots of drawing and colouring and conversations about Greek mythology. Squeezing of orange juice, watching of Octonauts, My Little Ponies, and yoga time for Rowan and I when the older two went for a play date. Drama group for Jenna.
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Lots of conversations about politics, what MPs do (or are meant to do), immigration and asylum and justice and law.

Today has been just as busy and interesting. The ingenuity and range of interests amazes me sometimes, these explosions of doing and thinking and figuring things out. First aid and what to do in various disaster scenarios, bandages and splints and slings and how to improvise them. What to do if someone is having a stroke, or a heart attack, or an asthma attack, and how to tell. CPR, the recovery position, how to ask for and get help quickly.
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Oil pastels and painting, Paul Klee, light (and dark) in paintings. Henri Matisse and Miffy rabbit and papercuts and Icarus. More script writing, prop (and den) building, and painting of posters. Colour mixing, and how it works differently with dye pigments vs paint colours. I love the rabbit trails of conversation, following the bit that is most interesting to them right here and now.

Belly dancing around the living room (oh my goodness Morgan can do such an impressive figure of eight now!) and lots more listening to music of various genres. The baking of a delicious seasonal crumble including all the rest of the foraged elderberries from the freezer, yum! Stories and fairy towns made from washi tape and colour grading challenges.

I may still be in a bit of a funk, but apart from bickering over craft supplies and dressing up costumes the children all seem to be carrying on as normal!

24 September 2013

In Progress

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Photographs from as we were still moving things back in to the room and re-organising bookshelves and so on. But ta-daah! New carpet. The room feels twice the size. :)

23 September 2013

What's Wrong with School?

Every now and again, someone asks me this question - occasionally in a defensive way, assuming that I will have criticism for their choice to use the school system as part of the education of their own children (I don't - you're you and I'm me, there's no judgement-of-motives coming from this quarter). Sometimes the question is phrased in terms of what the ideal school would or could look like. Sometimes it's curiosity - if I don't send my kids to school, I must think there's something seriously wrong with the system, right?

The primary reason we initially chose not to send our own children to school had nothing to do with any ideas about school. We just saw what was already working so well, and could not bring ourselves to change things without good cause. That good cause didn't materialise for us, so we kept on learning as we were. Jenna was a thriving, curious, interested, articulate, intelligent, sociable little four year old, and we enjoyed having her around so much and being available for her on pretty near a one-to-one basis. Why switch that up for school runs and teaching, unless we could see a benefit for our child or our family in doing so?

It wasn't what we had to fear from school, or thought was bad or wrong with it. Only about the good things we saw already happening in an arrangement where one parent or the other could be available to facilitate full time education in the world outside of school. Mostly so far that has been me, with my husband as the main wage earner, simply because I have frequently been breastfeeding younger siblings. We're not unschoolers out of a hatred of schools and schooling. We're choosing to follow what is good and joyful and working for us.

As Jenna has grown up we have become more sure that school is just not the ideal environment for her, though I've mentioned the compromises often enough (eg that as an extreme extravert it's often tricky to meet her social needs - although I doubt that school would solve that challenge entirely either). Importantly, given the choice, she has rarely had any interest in school. Apart from a brief phase of asking lots of questions about it aged around four to five, she has always stated clearly that she likes being educated outside of school. (When adults quiz her, she tells them that she doesn't want to go to school, because nobody should have to ask *permission* to go to the toilet. I honestly didn't teach her that answer! It came from a certain passionate and unconventional school teacher we know.)

While I do believe that unschooling is a great way to support children to follow the educational path uniquely suited to them, and I do believe it could work for any child, I don't believe it would work for every family. There are plenty of loving, involved families, with literate parents, who would not or could not choose to unschool because they are balancing a different set of family needs to those I am responsible for. There are also those children for whom school is vitally necessary because they *don't* have parents who could or would provide a healthy environment for learning at home.

(In times when I have struggled with depression, I have considered seriously whether our home environment is offering advantages over a school environment or not. This includes talking the situation and our feelings about it over with people outside of the family - one of the hallmarks of depression being that it lies, and the introspection attempted whilst under its influence is rather flawed. I want to state very strongly that parenting when depressed is especially hard work, and home-ed is not the cause, nor the problem, and I'm very grateful to have friends and family around me who don't treat it as such.)

There have been times when it has been a struggle (financially, emotionally) to make that work, and times when I have considered using schools to make our lives balance differently. We have never been on a large income, in fact we have frequently lived on less than benefits. No matter how often I've revisited, we've always ended up adjusting things somehow to make our nest better and more comfortable for everyone rather than opting in to the school system.

Lot of schools are bringing in many things I strongly support, and am pleased to see. Some are using outdoor classrooms, training to offer options like forest schools, and finding other ways to take lessons out of the classroom more often. Some school models I really admire choose to use project-based models. I think for the children and families who need to use the services of public schools, there are some creative and wonderful options.

I know this is a terrible analogy (please forgive me, it will have to serve), but although I don't personally use formula, I want it to be as good as humanly possible, and for the people involved in producing it to genuinely care about and be interested in the people using it, not as a target market to push something on but as real people with needs beyond the minimum that can be given. I feel the same about school. I want the curriculum to be more varied and children and parents to be respected more. If you see me complain about something I see in or about schools, it's not a criticism of *all* schools, of schooled children, or of parents who have children in school. It's just a desire for life to be as good as it can be for every child, for every family. If I'm criticising anything, it's the government wheels that too often grind along the same old tracks.

For me, for our family, I'm happy to be learning the way that we are, and I'm confident that we're making thoughtful choices for good reasons - even if there are *always* compromises. If you feel the same way about your different choices, I'm happy to celebrate with you. :)

22 September 2013

Moments from this week

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1. Visiting family
2. Bus home from the Not Back to School meet-up
3. New beads!
4. Playing with the Ostheimer animals
5. Museum trip followed by pretending to make phone calls
6. Packing up the living room for new carpet fitting

I'm quiet in that exhausted kind of way where I'm afraid if I start writing I'll never stop. I need more sleep. I can't breathe. The new carpet, the living room, the meeting lots of lovely people this week; that's all good. Very very good. But I'm drowning. Tomorrow really needs to give me a break. Tonight I feel whiny and grey.