Adjusting

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Following on from the adrenaline rush of the move, starting school and getting the house functional we’ve now moved into a new, slightly unexpected phase, I guess you could say we’re a little bit ‘post-partumy’ if one were to continue the labour analogy from one’s last post which one just might.

We always knew that whilst we actively wanted to downsize, this house as it stands is too small.  And dark. And overlooked by 8 sets of neighbours. And bathroom activities can be heard from 4 of the 5 other rooms, and possibly by all of the 8 sets of neighbours, who knows.  And Vince and I can’t get dressed / undressed in our bedroom at the same time because it’s tiny, and either way we have to close the blinds because…well…the neighbours.  And we miss people.  And the Little Chap misses having a bathtub, and hates the shower and howls like a wolf throughout each and every one.  And our soon-to-be 5 year old wanted a Ninja Minecraft birthday party but we don’t know enough small people locally to make that happen.  He also wants a sausage dog and, just like the party, that ain’t happening either.

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Nope! Stop looking at me with those adorable eyes.

There’s an irony that the stress and disruption of a move like this means you want nothing more than to have your friends and family close by to help shore you up, but by moving we’ve geographically forfeited that particular comfort (although thank goodness for two very old friends who happen to live fairly close by).  All of this is totally of our making but that doesn’t stop us from feeling sad and a little isolated at times (there may have been a moment of me silently crydriving us to school this morning).

But apart from that…yay.

Sigh.

Today has just been a low one for me, but there are tons of positives that on most days shine through the negatives.  We LOVE the village and are making connections with the locals on our high street, people are unusually friendly here. I’ve started running again, motivated by the fact that there is a park outside our front door. Vince has joined a local running group which he loves, and he’s also started a training course to give him a professional qualification to help him set up a community-focused business.  The Little Chap is thriving at school and we couldn’t be happier with things on that front.  Every day he reports his day has been ‘brilliant’ ‘fantastical’ ‘all roses’; he’s been awarded ‘star of the day’ on several occasions, with his TA quietly saying to him he’d get star of the day every day based on his consistent good behaviour.  Out of nowhere he can write his name and is learning his letters with gusto. And he’s starting to make a couple of lovely friendships, completely of his own volition.  He hosted his first playdate yesterday which went swimmingly apart from me burning the pizzas and setting fire to the pizza oven. The children voted with their feet and ran off to dress up as a tiger and a helicopter pilot, leaving their flame-grilled pizza’s mostly untouched.

We’ve also just found an architect who’s totally on our wavelength, who will help us shape this house into something more loveable which feels SO exciting…and SO expensive!!

I continue to work via Skype with three clients a week who chose to migrate with me from our work together in High Wycombe, and the transition to online counselling seems to be working well.  I am really missing my lovely counselling room but the beauty of Skype is I can carefully frame out the fact that I don’t have a client friendly space yet thus retaining a modicum of my usual professionalism, at least on screen.

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And so on the low days, we have to remind ourselves it’s only been a month and a full on mother-fucker of a month at that,  and even so we’re still moving forward, making plans, making friends.  We need to give ourselves a period of grace to adjust to this smaller living malarky and continue to trust that we will find our feet and make this work.

As I am often saying to my clients, when they come with a sense of urgency, it’s about us setting a realistic pace for change to take place; when they realise it’s not all going to get sorted in a session or two I can visibly see them relax into the work and that’s when we can really get started.  I probably need to follow my own advice.

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Sweet puppy image source

 

 

Transitioning

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I feel like we’ve made it through a 9-month-long labour.

The time between making the decision to move and actually moving has been long and, at times, decidedly gruelling – we had a very complex property / business situation to untangle (I’m talking ‘SIX solicitors and two tax experts’ complex!) but we are thankfully down to straightening out the very last few threads.

There is a common point in many labours (right before a woman gives birth) that the mother-to-be panics and becomes certain she can’t do it – it’s called the ‘transition phase’.  There was definitely a point of crescendo towards the end of this process where we were hit with constant curveballs, each threatening to totally derail the whole thing, and we started to despair.  Tears were shed, stress-levels went through the roof right up until the very last minute and then the call came to say it was done.  ‘Done, done?’ I asked, ‘as in ‘we can pick up the keys’ done?’ ‘Yes, totally done’, confirmed my solicitor. And in that moment our tiny house was wrapped in a crocheted blanket and placed in our arms.

We impulsively jumped in the car, drove the 90 minutes to pick up the keys, our eyes wide with disbelief the whole way there.  On arrival at the house that hadn’t been lived in for nine months we realised we’d not thought to bring anything useful with us like cleaning products or tools so Vince went to the local independent hardware store and bought a selection of heavy duty gloves, bin bags, an array of cleaning products and a couple of sharp garden tools.  Having pointed out to the shop keeper that he was aware his basket contained the implements to both commit and clean up after a heinous crime, the shop keeper conspiratorially leaned in and said ‘just remember to ditch the receipt’.

NOW THIS IS OUR KINDA PLACE!

And so for the last week and a half we’ve forged ahead to unpack everything and get every room functioning as best we can for a first pass.  We moved in on the Tuesday and the Little Chap started school on the Thursday, talk about skidding in by the seat of our pants.  It’s been a huge change for us all but particularly for him and he’s handled it incredibly (not least nine days without internet access).  Of course there have been wobbles but we are super proud of his adaptability and willingness to start school after almost 5 years of being at home with us, it’s an incredibly nurturing school so we are confident he’ll love it there.

We have lots of plans for both the house and our work but as Vince put it when we were at a particularly low point in the lead up to the move, ‘it feels like we’re seeds ready to burst forth but we’re planted in the wrong pot’.  When I go all the way back to when I started ‘Operation Bloom’, this life change and move has 100% stemmed from that invitation to myself to be open, explore ideas and follow my gut.  Re-reading that first post just now, I realise I still get excited about the book idea I had back in Christmas 2016, and who knows maybe that will manifest but for now this move feels like exactly what we should be doing.  We’re finally in the right pot and are excited to see what unfurls.

Listen to your house, it’s got a lot to say.

 

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The passivity of waiting for the ‘right’ house to come on the market has, quite frankly, been doing my head in, so I quickly realised I’d feel a whole lot better if we were taking positive action in other areas. Thus over the last week or so, we’ve been doing a second KonMari pass through the house and its contents, and all the ‘non-joy-sparkers’ are leaving the building.  It’s amazing just how much has left the house despite us having maintained our KM mindset pretty well over the last couple of years.  Having a small child means there are lots of things that get out grown so that’s been one source of discards (I find the Little Chap’s things the hardest to part with).  Also just revisiting the things that made the cut the first time round and realising we’ve not used them, or they didn’t ‘spark joy’ after all has meant a further cull of certain categories.  It’s felt GOOD!

It’s no secret that for us the KonMari method, just as the title of the book asserts, has been ‘life-changing’.  The simple act of tuning in to decipher whether an object sparks joy or not, has been illuminating and transformative.  BUT just the other day a friend and blogger steered me in the direction of another great touchstone.  She recently invited me to join a Facebook group created for readers of the book ‘Goodbye, Things’ by Fumio Sasaki.  A Japanese minimalist, he takes minimalism to a whole new level (too far for me personally) but my friend Maria posted a quote from the book, which I’ve not been able to stop thinking about…

“Things don’t just sit there. They send us silent messages. And the more the item has been neglected, the stronger its message will be.”

Ever since reading this I’ve found myself really listening to what our things / our house is saying and do you know what, Fumio’s bloody right.  If you actually stop to ‘listen’ there is a cacophony going on.  To give you an idea, here are just some of the messages I’ve been hearing:

Small composting bin in the kitchen: “Thanks for changing my bag but don’t just ignore that bit of onion skin stuck to some gak in the bottom, or that bit of bean-juice mould developing on the underside of my lid, that just lazy and a bit gross even if no-one else will see.  Give me a wash and stick me in the sunshine to dry.  You’ll feel much better if you do that.”

Our mop: “Yes I looked like a good design when you bought me but the reality is I flip over every time you mop with even a modicum of enthusiasm which drives you mad and makes you less inclined to mop the floor.   Buy a better mop, the floor needs more mop time.”

Orange enamel coffee pot: “I’m a joy sparker.  My orangeyness makes you feel happy and reminds you of birthday teas where your lovely mum served coffee from me.  You’ve also discovered I look good holding a bunch of daffs.  I’m a keeper.”

Black rubber pad from the bottom of my laptop: “All I needed was a small blob of superglue and I’d be back where I belong, rather than on your bedside table mumbling away EVERY TIME you looked in my direction.  And see! Don’t you feel so much better now you’ve glued me back on and I’ve stopped nagging?  It took less than a minute but I bugged you for way more than that over the weeks.  You won’t leave it so long next time will you?!”

A chair I inherited from my mum: “You’re really only keeping me because your mum loved me, but we both know you don’t love me enough to take care of my prolapsed undercarriage nor dress me up in anything fancier than the dull green velvet(ish) fabric I’ve been wearing for the last 40 years.  I also know your head has been turned by the Ikea Benarp chair in Skiftebo orange. Go get her, with my blessing. And hey, perhaps your brother will want me??  But, seriously it’s okay if he doesn’t.  I’ll be fine. Really.  No I will. Don’t feel bad about getting rid of something your mum loved. Sob.”

Assortment of vitamins and supplement bottles: “We just wanted to thank you for corralling us all into a plastic box the other day.  We will now stop haranguing you each time you open the cupboard now that we’re not strewn all over the place.  You won’t hear a further peep from us.  Peace out.”

So you get the drift.  It’s not about setting unrealistic expectations of ourselves to live in show homes (hahahahahaha ROFLs x a trazillion), the messages I’ve described come from my own standards, not anyone else’s.  They want the best for me.  It’s that same voice that tells me to go to the gym, it really has my best intentions at heart even if I don’t always want to hear it.  What I’ve found without fail, is once I’ve heard the message and taken care of the item, it quietens down completely and there’s a greater sense of peace.  I highly recommend it.  It’s also fine to hear the message but decide you don’t want to take care of it right now; by listening and deciding it becomes a conscious choice rather than an avoidance, which again brings its own sense of peace.

So have a listen, and find out what your house is saying to you.  I’d love to hear.

Emerging

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This winter has been a real struggle, rounds of winter bugs, followed by bone deep tiredness and lethargy; I fractured my arm just before the snow hit and I didn’t set foot outside for seven days straight.  The slings and arrows of the darker months felt pretty relentless and I confess to feeling sorry for myself at times.  That said, the practice of mindfulness really helped prevent me from entertaining those unskilful thoughts for too long, and for that I am grateful.

In the midst of all the crap a truly unexpected new life-path opened up for us, we found a heart-soaringly lovely, Buddhist-ethos school for the Little Chap in Brighton.  We went along for their open day at the end of January with open minds and with much curiosity and, honestly, the minute we walked through the gate it was like falling in love at first sight.  I spent the entire assembly (Puja) choked up with emotion as I saw staff and students reflecting back at me many of the things I feel passionately about and desperately want to see prioritised more in schools: compassion, kindness, mindfulness, love, empathy, individuality, creativity, affection, gratitude, embracing of difference.  I could see it’s a place where children are respected and heard, and where individuality is celebrated, and lovingly supported.  Mindfulness meditation is part of the each school day which we both think is such a great tool to give children from a very young age.

Over the years we’ve thought long and hard about home educating and, as the deadline approached for state school applications we also looked at a couple of popular local schools, both of which no doubt would have been fine…but that was the problem for me, ‘fine’ didn’t sit right.  The Dharma School fills us with excitement, and feels like a great fit for our particular family; just as those two local schools will no doubt fit for those families that choose them. (I’ve found that sometimes when one makes a ‘different’ choice to the norm, some people can see it as a judgment on the validity of their choices.  It isn’t.  In the words of comedian Amy Poehler ‘good for you, not for me’.

For a long time we’ve been considering moving to a new area that suits us better but when there isn’t a particular pull to a new area you’re left with pretty much sticking a pin in a map which didn’t feel right.  This plan came about through several strands coming together.

Last summer we’d had a really magical camping trip with family and friends in the South Downs and had loved the landscape and the nearest town of Lewes.  Alongside, I’d also been researching independent schools and had found a very cool one in South Devon.  Loved the school, didn’t love the distance it would create between our friends and families so dismissed it.  I’d also had a hankering to be nearer the sea and we felt we wanted to find a community that leaned more towards the arts and creativity, a little more bohemian than where we live currently.  Finding this wonderful school in Brighton brought everything together: a reason to relocate to this beautiful part of the world and a short enough drive to remain connected to the people we love.  There is a creativity and an open-mindedness to the people of Brighton which appeals too.

We’ve chosen to look for a house in a village just north of Brighton, this feels like a great option, closer to family than central Brighton would be but still with easy access to the city and all it offers…but far enough out to be able to afford a property that will work for us as a family.  The drive to the school is very reasonable and there seems to be a warm and welcoming village community.

There have certainly been some pangs of sadness at the inevitable loss that always accompanies change, I will miss being a stone’s throw from my local friends and the biggest wrench will be being further away from our nieces who are the Little Chap’s best buddies BUT I am confident that we can make up for it by spending quality weekends together, either us visiting them or having them come to us, where we can adventure through our new area with fun times at the beach, walks and picnics in the rolling South Downs, exploring Brighton and its restaurants together etc. Where there is love there’s a way!

We’ve yet to find a house, we’ll be downsizing – something that we’ve been wanting to do for some time – and we’re really excited about creating a home that is smaller in footprint but greater in functionality.  We hope to move by the beginning of August to give us time to settle a little before school starts (a bit of a tight deadline!) but rather than panic I’m trusting that the right house will present itself at the right time.  Pretty sure that’s how it works.

I came up with the name ‘Operation Bloom’ as it described a feeling I had about being on the edge of big change and growth, this next move feels like the manifestation of that very thing and I can’t wait to see what unfolds…

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Header photo copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_tomertu’>tomertu / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Slow Progress is Better than No Progress

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Since writing my last post, and reflecting on how I’d finally managed to break down a gargantuan task into smaller actions, I’ve gotten myself a new mantra: ‘slow progress is better than no progress’.  I realise this is already a well worn adage, but these past couple of weeks I’ve found this phrase SO surprisingly motivating.

I can be a bit ‘all or nothing’ and will get waves of productivity which I ride enthusiastically until they ebb and I jump out the water for a lie down.  With my new mantra I’m finding it easier to paddle in the shallows until the next wave of energy hits,  thus retaining some momentum.

Remaining gently active changes my psychology completely.  Where there would ordinarily be stultifying procrastination, there now remains an energetic flow. This is so much better for the soul.  It’s like keeping myself limbered up so it’s not such a shock  to the system when I need to really kick ass on a task.

Recently Vince was working hard on a literary competition submission and for two weeks I was picking up as much of the slack as I could to give him maximum writing time.  Ordinarily this would have meant I lapsed on some of my stuff, thinking along the lines of ‘there isn’t enough time for me to give those things my full attention so might as well ignore them for a bit’. This time however I kept my stuff ticking along.

To give you an example, I noted that since joining the gym a couple of months ago, I was struggling to commit to my former >30 mins of yoga every day.  So for a short while I was skipping the yoga or doing it sporadically or squeezing it in at the end of the day.  By applying my ‘slow progress’ mantra I’m now just doing 10 minutes of yoga on my non gym days and I’m finding that far easier to commit to.  Yes it’s less than I was doing at my peak, but I wasn’t going to the gym for three hours a week then.  10 minutes is better than no minutes, and I’m maintaining a positive connection with the mat.  I’m seeing these 10 minutes as my gateway into longer sessions in the future when time allows.

What has been interesting to note is how what I’ve been learning about mindfulness meditation has informed the decision to scale back the yoga.  The lovely Joseph Goldstein talks about how it’s okay to have aspirations, the problem comes when we hold on to expectations.  I aspire to exercise at least 6 out of 7 days of the week, but I’d set an expectation that I needed to do at least 30 minutes of yoga every day when I wasn’t at the gym.  As I noted my resistance and tuned in to what my intuition was telling me, I realised that 10 minutes of yoga a day felt just right, for now.  I’d removed the struggle (dropped the expectation) and it’s become a pleasure once again.  There’s a whole lot to be said for tuning in to the authentic flow of what feels good and discovering which actions sit just right, rather than forcibly implementing an expectation.

Likewise with Item #1 on my Mr Worry List: my big mountainous ‘glob’ of a project (complex property reconfiguring), I’ve found that by releasing myself from the expectation that I need to tackle it as a whole or have a final solution mapped out before I take any action, I’m really enjoying focusing on the first couple of steps. Modifying my approach by making sure that even when I’m too busy to tend to something fully,  I still move things forward a little, has been a breakthrough for me.  Knowing the pot is simmering gently on the back burner stops it from becoming something oppressive and heavy hanging over my head.  It maintains some life, lightness and forward energy.

I can be impatient, once I have an idea I want to make it happen NOW, but in the last couple of weeks I’m discovering there’s a quiet joy to be had from inching along and letting ‘now’ take it’s time to arrive.  There is beauty in the process and it seems a shame not to enjoy that part of the ride.

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Photograph copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_juhku’>juhku / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Gliding

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Vince and I like to GLIDE.  We plan ahead and we don’t like to live life by the skin of our teeth; for some that’s exciting, for us it’s stressful.

One of the things we’ve identified that helps with the glide is to automate as much of our lives as possible.  This creates a structure around certain areas which in turn facilitates flexibility in others.

For us gliding is about figuring out which actions bring us closer to a sense of peace and ease, and which take us further away.

Some of the positive actions we’ve integrated into our days are:

Positive Actions: ‘Fully Integrated’ (these are actions we’ve been doing for a year+):

Positive Actions: ‘Work in Progress’ (these are things that don’t yet feel fully integrated but are well on the way):

Positive Actions: Next on the list:

  • Diarise a block of time each week for taking care of admin, ‘to-do’ list items, chores (approx 3hrs).

To back track a little, I noticed a big dip in my energy and motivation levels towards the end of March this year following a relay race of family colds.  For a good 2-3 months after that I continued to feel sluggish and let some of my established positive actions slide.  It didn’t feel good.  I needed to take responsibility for my energy levels and not just self-medicate with sugar and mindless trawls through Facebook.  As a result I’ve been taking the Ayurvedic supplement ‘Ashwagandha‘ which certainly helped reignite my spark.  The effects are super subtle but I noticed a welcome brightness and clarity of thought much later into the evening than I had without it.  After a few weeks of taking the tablets, alongside daily yoga I admitted to my reluctant self that I needed to introduce some cardio <insert fountainous crying emoji here>.

You see, I’ve always told the story that ‘I have a poor relationship with exercise because I never really saw my (naturally slim) parents exercise and I was terrible at sport’, but when I thought about it I was actually able to identify several pockets of time in my post-school life where I have had a good relationship with exercise. I needed to ‘flip the script’ and start telling a different story.  I’ve since joined our local gym and have committed to an hour three times a week. My energy levels have continued to increase along with my productivity, and motivation to ‘get shit done’.

One of the prompts in my Daily Greatness Journal is ‘What is going well and why?’ Consistently the ‘why’ is: ‘X is going well because I’ve made it a priority and I’ve psychologically committed to doing it’.  It really does come down to that.

I’ve mentioned here before that a great trick for me is to schedule these positive actions into my diary ahead of time, so for example I have decided I will go to the gym Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings first thing.  By making this decision in advance I’ve helped remove that internal negotiation each morning of, ‘shall I go to the gym today?  I’m feeling a bit tired, I could go tomorrow and then I’ll work REALLY, EXTRA, WONDER WOMAN-LY hard because of course I’ll feel less tired tomorrow…’  Without that pre-commitment I’d be extremely susceptible to talking myself out of it, kicking that can down the road.  Instead I’ve identified those slots in my week, and consider them set in stone.  The night before I also write it in my schedule for the next day to further commit.  When I wake up it feels like a done deal, I just get up and go with no shilly-shallying. It really seems to be working for me.

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One thing I’m trying to square is just how long it takes to fit in all the good practices into my day.  Much of it means time away from the Little Chap.  1hr of exercise + 20 minutes meditation + 5 minutes diary writing + 10 minutes YNAB update + 20 minutes on laundry – that’s around 2hrs a day.  For a while I was feeling like I must ‘get through’ those tasks so I can get on with my day but slowly I’m realising those things are my day, that they deserve the time required and that actually the positive effect will benefit the Little Chap.  I have more physical energy for play, meditation is making us calmer and more patient, I’m demonstrating the life skill of setting positive goals and tracking them in a journal, he’ll grow up knowing how to manage his finances, and in the meantime we won’t be overly stressed about money, he’ll see the benefit of keeping on top of things like laundry to avoid that clothes mountain overwhelm.  Of course some of these things can also be done when he’s in bed!  A major revelation to me was looking at how long I could spend on Facebook, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.  I’m sure across the whole day it could easily have been an hour.  That’s THIRTY HOURS A MONTH!  What could you achieve if you had THIRTY HOURS A MONTH to play with? Our introduction of a daily meditation practice was a no-brainer swap.  Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to prioritise new things and invest in the glide.

When we consider implementing a positive action we usually have to accept an initial sense of loss.  If we want to lose weight we will mourn those times of over-indulging , if we want to fit in exercise we may have to forfeit that delicious extra time in bed, sorting out our finances may mean we have to forego holidays, new clothes, meals out.

Of course ALLL the positive actions don’t magically weave a protective bubble around us and things do go wrong from time to time.  Just recently our car, fridge freezer, a wall of shelves and our loo all broke in the same week.  In the past we’d have felt like the Universe was against us but because we have our YNAB budget we had already, month by month, set aside money in several emergency funds to cover these things.  Of course we’d rather not have had to spend all that money but as it had already been given that specific job it really didn’t sting that much to get repairs and replacements sorted.

Before we make a mental commitment to introduce positive changes, all we can picture is that no-man’s land of restriction but without the benefits those positive actions will ultimately give us.  That looks like a sucky place to be, zero fun.  Emotionally we can be extremely resistant to taking up residence there even if we know it’s only for a while; this is where I’ve found it helpful to ‘fake it ’til I make it’, over-ride emotion by getting practical and make a concrete plan, put things in diaries, walk confidently past our whining doubtful selves clinging on to the takeaway menu like it was a jackpot lottery ticket.

Make deals with yourself on the really tough days:  don’t even think about getting on the treadmill, just focus on getting into your gym kit. Once you’re in your gym kit you might as well drive to the gym.  Once you’re at the gym you might as well do a few belligerent minutes on the treadmill. Before you know it you’ve done your hour and the virtue just drips off you (yesiree that’s glowy virtue I’m wiping off the machines after I’ve used them).  Keep showing up to the task, find your inner grit, accept you’re not gonna love it at first but trust that eventually you will (well you’ll love the after-effects at the very least).

Before you know it you’ll no longer be faking it,  you’ll feel that glide and then YOU’RE OFF…

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Clock pic: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_james63′>james63 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

No Man’s Land pic: courtesy of: http://tomtunguz.com/

Educating with Freedom

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Last month many of our friends found out which primary schools their 4 year olds had got in to. We, in theory, will be doing all that next year.  I was struck by tales of mums in tears because their child did (or didn’t) get in to their first choice of school.  There is so much anxiety around education and schooling in this country and I worry about how that transfers onto our children, the last thing we want is for their place of learning to become associated with anxiety.  I also worry that the school system is so rigid and test based that parents feel disempowered to take the lead in their own child’s education.

From way before we even became parents we’ve long admired the Finnish model of education with the ethos being to wait until the child is 7 before introducing formal education i.e. numeracy and literacy. In the early years the focus is on play-lead learning and developing social skills such as caring for others, empathy and self-care.  It’s also worth noting Finland has some of the best education outcomes in the world.

As the UK is not set up for a delayed start we would either need to ‘home educate’ or find the funds for something along the lines of Steiner so his early learning is play- / creativity-based and child lead. Every fibre in my body feels we start formally educating children far too early.  I also feel culturally there is a rush for our children to hit every milestone as soon as possible, when there is much to be said for letting their childhoods and achievements unfold at a natural pace, lead by them and facilitated by us.

In terms of our approach to parenting our instinct has been to sit back, and let the Little Chap take his time in discovering his capabilities and the world around him. For our family this has worked very well.  For example he stopped wearing nappies a couple of months after he turned 3.  Some of his male peers were considerably earlier than that.  But what I can say is that we never had any tears, there were no battles, and pretty much nothing in the way of ‘accidents’ because we gave him the time and space to do it when he was ready, there was no ‘training’ involved.  We had no need to rush that transition.  It’s been totally stress free, and actually a real pleasure to tune in to his pace and watch him succeed in his own right.  And I want to offer him that same approach to his early years of education.

There seems to be a huge shift between how our infants learn and how our pre-schoolers and beyond learn.  We didn’t sit down and formally teach our chap to roll over, to reach out for toys, to crawl, walk, say his first word. These things happened naturally through us playing together, him watching us, through his own biological imperative, through him testing things out in his own time, through us gently encouraging and facilitating.  None of his progress has happened as a result of us sitting down and making a lesson out of it. It was his own curiosity / frustration which lead him to try to roll over (and fail) and try again until he figured it out.  And then suddenly this style of learning stops and learning through play becomes ‘learning to the test’ and little fidgety children are expected to stay seated, to focus on one topic; and just as they are in the flow, the topic changes and they’re expected to switch gear and with it their focus.

Currently Little Chap is in the very common phase of asking a million questions every day; How is the sky made? (ask your father). When I’m bigger can I fly my helicopter up to heaven and bring Granny Anne down? (if only!), How is poo made?  Do foxes eat poo? Does anything eat poo? (I googled that one, it’s a surprisingly large list).

A recent non-poo-based question was ‘how are volcanos made?’.  I’m not even sure how he got to hear about volcanos but it prompted him and I to sit down and watch some videos on volcanos.  Vince went out and bought a book on volcanoes and a volcano making kit which they made together. In that one project they got to learn about mould making (by using plaster of Paris to create the volcano), they did some painting to make it look realistic and then some chemistry in the form of mixing store cupboard ingredients to make the erupting lava.  The Little Chap also asked his Uncle Grant to tell him about the time he was filming at a Volcano and they sat together and looked at the pictures of that trip as the stories unfolded.

None of these activities felt like ‘education’ to any of us, they were fun, we all learned stuff and we had the time to follow these activities through until he was ready to shift focus.  But the point is he expressed an interest, he chose the topic and therefore he was totally engaged.  This is what I want for his early education.  I want him to be able to immerse himself in a subject, an experiment, the creation of a piece of art until he’s done.  I want him to freely follow an ever unfolding thread of learning.  I want him to learn to learn for the love of it and not because he’ll be in trouble with the teacher if he doesn’t.

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I know there are benefits to going to school and for some children it’s a place where they thrive but it’s not for everyone.  One of the most common things I hear when I tell people we’re thinking of home educating is ‘but what about socialising him, won’t he miss out?’  Well yes and no.  He will miss out on seeing the same people every day and forming friendships (and potentially enemies) on that basis but home educating doesn’t mean staying at home all day.  We would meet up with other children (of all ages) being educated outside of school.  He will have playdates once school is finished for the day with his friends who do go to school. He will hang out with his beloved cousins and the whole host of adults he encounters in his life.  He’s currently not in school or even pre-school and yet already he’s one of the most social three year olds I know.  He instigates conversation with his peers and adults alike.  I don’t think his socialisation will be a problem.

For the sake of super easy access to 25-30 other children his age on a daily basis I’m not prepared to accept unquestioningly the structure and ethos of school.  Why are primary school aged children getting homework when research shows there is little benefit and a very real risk of negative psychological effects?  The school day is long enough, I believe they should be playing, or doing recreational activities they love, spending time with their families.  And yet I regularly hear parents talk about the nightmares they have getting their child to do their homework, how there were tears, tantrums, bedtime anxiety over homework not completed, how the parent spent the evening finishing the homework etc.  As the young people say: WTF?? The more empowered amongst my friends send the homework back to the school, unfinished, with a note to say they are not putting their child through that level of stress aged SIX, and I applaud them for this.  Why are we doing this to our little children?  If primary aged children want to continue working at home then happy days, let them do it with joy in their hearts, but at this tender age, and where there is resistance and anxiety, we run the risk of turning our children off learning completely if they feel forced.  There is plenty of time for them to develop self-discipline around study when they are mature enough to understand the benefit.

And why are we testing them so young?  It is absolutely not for their benefit.  Teachers are saying they don’t want to be doing it, it’s box ticking, it’s for the stats, not for the healthy development of our children.  These tests aren’t measuring a child’s self confidence, self-esteem, creativity, wellbeing, love of learning, ability to engage in a topic of their choice, life skills, social skills, vocational skills, empathy, dexterity, and these are some of the vital skills we need for a healthy, happy adult life.

Not all children are destined to be academic so what about them?  Where do they get their educational and personal validation from if all the tests are about academic ability and demonstrating you can commit a bunch of facts to memory?  We each have our own set of valuable talents and abilities, and when we emerge from the school system (for many of us) that is where we begin to learn who we are and how to be who we are with confidence (I’m still learning), how to figure out where we belong, what we are good at outside of whether or not we know how to do quadratic equations.  It’s a worry.

School never suited me, I did well enough academically but even in primary school I used to look at the cars driving past the school and long for the freedom of those drivers…I was eight!  It’s therefore little surprise that I’ve spent most of my working life as a freelancer or self-employed.  I find institutions stifling.  I never wanted to be a sausage in a sausage factory. The current school model is based on the early days of British industrialisation when children were being primed for life in a factory.  That is just not the future our children are facing.  With the rapid growth of Artificial Intelligence taking over the human workforce we are going to need to get creative career-wise.  And therefore we need to be teaching our children how to be adaptable, free-thinking, self-directed, entrepreneurial individuals with a life long love of learning.  This way they will stand a chance of finding their place within a fast changing world.  I simply don’t feel confident our school system is going to do this as well as we can, for our specific child, particularly in the earlier years.  As a side note, some years ago I came across an exciting alternative to mainstream secondary school (unfortunately as is always the case the fees are ££££) but the style of learning they offer would have suited me to the ground.  I’m certain I would have flourished there and I would love the same for our Little Chap.  I highly recommend a watch of their video.

We will certainly visit our local schools, we’ve by no means made up our mind (although having written this post my gut tells me I may have!) but I will remain open to what our local schools can offer.  Taking the unconventional route feels both liberating and daunting, taking the conventional route feels societally simpler but at right angles to our values and how we choose to live our lives.  We’re a way off needing to make a decision, thankfully, but these things creep up and I want us to glide into this decision feeling well informed, and not rush it because a deadline is snapping at our heels.  So watch this space, I will post an update once we are clearer about the path ahead.

Hey friend,

I am aware this may be an emotive subject for some, and this post is not designed to be a critique of your own choices around education, we are all striving to do the best we can for our own children.  I’m still trying to figure this stuff out and I’m choosing to do it here because if I’m honest I have been fearful of negative reactions and people telling me we’re going to fuck our child up or turn him into a weirdo so I needed to walk through that fire and put my thoughts out there.  Fear can be a crippling voice in one’s head, but my gut tells me we’ve got a lovely boy so we’ve done a good enough job so far, and there’s nothing to say we can’t continue to do so.  I’m inclined to listen to my gut over fear.  I can see pros and cons about both routes and I would love you to share your thoughts and experiences, whatever your choices have been.

Header image courtesy of: www.homeschoolersanonymous.org