Mayhem and Stardust

We are the proud parents of, amongst others, Jig, who has a handsome collection of diagnoses (ADHD, AD, FASD) which probably mean nothing and a generous smattering of fairy dust which probably counts for everything. School was a huge challenge and so we decided, probably rashly, to move to the country and home educate him. No medication, no 'support', chickens, space, a farm on the doorstep and a beach nearby. What could possibly go wrong?

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

In your own time…

Concentration is such a big issue for us. I take a very laid back attitude to curriculum and schedule.  We take opportunities as they arise and we go with the flow almost all the time.  However, there are some times when you just need to listen and then do.  This is such a fundamental skill and it is so frustrating (for both of us I think) to be working in such tiny time slots all the time.  The projects we could be doing, the skills we could be learning and the conversations we could be having hang over me, taunting me slightly as the day goes on. As I began this paragraph he needed to know what 6 and 5 were.  He knows this.  He just can’t recall it.  He is blowing a piece of dust along the table, picking his nails, kicking the chair, throwing out random numbers, making himself cross eyed, picking up books next to him and reading them.  I am just typing.  If he can’t get to 11 soon this place value addition exercise is going to take all day. Literally.

You will understand then my joy at a pottery session yesterday when he painted a pot that he threw a couple of weeks ago, quietly and carefully for maybe four minutes.

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His pen is now ‘talking’ to his other fingers. Out of frustration I have decreed that he will not be doing anything else until these 15 sums are done.  He is talking out loud.  Every single thought that comes into his head is now flying out, buzzing around the room, battering hard against the quiet click of these keys. He is standing on the table.  He is lying on the floor.

Can you imagine how this would play out in school? He won’t be punished, sanctioned or excluded for this behaviour today.  He will simply carry on, however much noise he makes, until we have finished this revision session on Hundreds, Tens and Units. And that is that.

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Post script

In case you were wondering, two hours have passed and we have finished the sums.

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Snowdrops and shopping – a year on

Although it is over a year since we left our rather civilized life in the city in order to create an environment that would save Jiggy from ongoing medication and ‘intervention’ that we felt would inevitably fail it is almost exactly a full year since this Jiggy and Mummy home schooling adventure began rolling.  Moo and Titch have been at the local village school since March last year and are both genuinely happy.  They need and are getting extra academic help and we are managing Moo’s social angst “in-house”!

Jig and I are still entirely under the radar as Cornwall haven’t seen fit to check up on us.  Whilst I know that it isn’t really OK on a wider scale (and they really should have!) I am really grateful to have had this time off grid to work out how we do this thing without local authority “advice”.  Put it this way, I did my bit and I am not reminding them that we are here…

We have unusual double-headed snowdrops here and as they appeared last week on the newly cleared shrubbery patch in this wild Cornish homestead we are busy reclaiming I was struck by how pleased I was to see them.  Pleased that we have survived to see them again.  Pleased that there is a great deal to celebrate about this year and pleased that I can face this next year on much more solid ground, and not just because we have replaced the joists. Pleased that I could take Jig to Exeter yesterday and we achieved real shopping in an ordinary way. Pleased that he can do many more just as important things and that with every fall along the way there is a clutch of successes to offset it. The fact that the conifers fell over in the storm last night and squashed the snowdrops doesn’t mean that we don’t know they are there, underneath it all.

We have some great adventures planned for 2014.  One day at a time though.  One day at a time.

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How to learn

As the days and months and now year of home educating Jiggy go by I must confess that I swing crazily between wanting to sit him down at a desk and learn tables and declensions (well, not exactly declensions but you know what I mean) and the (for me) quite hard task of trusting to my own creativity and ability to teach as we go in a real unschooling way.  I don’t want to leave him without basic maths and language skills but neither to I want to argue with the wild boy who lurks just beneath the surface and shows his features the minute a maths book is opened.  I don’t want to pander to the undoubted weaknesses in Jiggy’s make up but I also don’t want to constrain him or pander to unworthy ‘rules’ and assumptions either. So, I am weaving a precarious path between the two. Maybe it is me that needs to learn how to really learn…

Anyway, while that stews away here are some pictures of a particularly great project that happened this week.  The theme for a while has been planets and this topic is phases of the moon.

Old tub with eight holes around the edge. Painted black inside. Ping pong ball glued to a stick in the middle. Flaps cover the eight holes bar one and a torch shines in that hole.

Old tub with eight holes around the edge. Painted black inside. Ping pong ball glued to a stick in the middle. Flaps cover the eight holes bar one and a torch shines in that hole.

Each flap labelled with a moon phase.  Lift flap to see the moon in that phase.

Each flap labelled with a moon phase. Lift flap to see the moon in that phase.

Crescent moon

Crescent moon

Quite a favourite - oreo moon phases, and then a snack.
Quite a favourite – oreo moon phases, and then a snack.

 

Mud, mud, glorious (colourful and interesting) mud

Didn’t we have a love-er-ly day, the day we went to Rosemoor.  We made dyes and paints out of plants and mud, the kids whooped and hollered around the out of season gardens and it barely even rained.  I love it when this whole thing works out.

Come to think of it, mud could become a bit of a specialty if this rain doesn’t stop.  Today paint, tomorrow a whole cob house…

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Post Script to a trying day

I worry sometimes that I write negatively about Jiggy.  I think what happens is that when I feel very negatively blogging is a bit of a release.  That means that he is not well represented.  Therefore I am writing this blog in order to give me a place to link to from every negative blurb.  When a bad thing happens I can always say – but then, ‘postscript’.

I lost my temper today and had a lot to say about it. Then the day carried on, as it does. I spent some time licking my wounds and Jig just picked himself up and got on with things. He went to the library, and behaved.  He played board games well.  He cooperated with Peter. He ate his lunch happily and then set off, having asked me nicely, to do his favourite thing which is to go to the farm. He loves being on the farm.  He says it is what he wants to do. Forever.

Luke was doing some digger work and Jig joined in.  As luck would have it he had written a poem for Luke earlier today.

There once was a Duke named Luke, who was a rascal who lived in a castle. He had a friend called Jake, who he threw in the Lake.

It is rare that writing a poem for a tractor driver is the way forward and we are hugely lucky that we have the sort of neighbours who love poetry on the move. Three hours later Jiggy came back in, ate his saved supper and announced that he was probably too old to go to bed at 7. Keen to accommodate (after my unedifying outburst today) I agreed.  So, while I put the younger ones to bed he got out his library books and read happily for over an hour.  It is now 19:55. I know for sure that I can go to him and say that it is bedtime and he will be perfect.

What I haven’t got yet is how this all happens.  How is this the same child?  Am I wrong to be asking him to apply himself to my home ed targets?  Could he just stay on the farm? What a conundrum.

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I find him downstairs recording a 4 minute long rap style serenade to the cat on my iPhone. “I’m not just rock and roll you know Mum”

Bad decision detector

read today that our brain has a bad-decision detector.  A region in the brain prevents humans making the same mistake twice. The lateral frontal pole is used to reflect on decisions and to answer ‘what if’ questions.  It is the part of the brain that remembers what we didn’t choose to do and ponders the validity of our choice, constantly measuring our decisions against what could have been.

I read it in the aftermath of a particularly provoking morning and as the article unfolded I found myself having ‘that’s it!’ moments, one after the other.  It was just so Jiggy.  We won’t dwell on the issue arising from our decoupage session this morning (takes deep breath) but, before things went very wrong I was chatting to Jiggy as we snipped away,  “Mum, please don’t talk, I can’t cut and talk at the same time”, he says.  How like your father I thought and almost forgot it.  Then later on I read that this frontal pole is also responsible for multi tasking.  It allows two trains of thought at the same time.  Like cutting and talking.

I shall blog about this I thought as I read the article (multi-tasking, making plans while doing something else – just saying) I am sure there is a link to ADHD and FAS type brain damage from this research.  Then, of course, I got to the bottom of the article and the bit where they say that it has huge implications for ADHD and other conditions.  Oh well, someone else thought of it too.

Back to cutting practice.  This rather nice profile was Monday’s output (OK, the more detailed cutting was mine – the fabric dyeing, first cutting and gluing Jig’s, Rome wasn’t built in a day you know)

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He looks rather angelic doesn’t he?! Bad decisions?  Moi?

Love me when I least deserve it –

– it’s when I need it most.  So says a Swedish proverb. Quite wisely. I am considering having it put on a T shirt to remind me that days like these are just as valuable as calm and productive ones as they give us the opportunity to address some of the influences that make Jiggy who he is and to continue to respect all of him.  I am not sure if I can still blame Christmas for the rocky road we are currently travelling but there is no doubt that Jig’s internal noise levels are currently really high.  The ‘noise’ that sensory overload or chaotic connections make must be horribly distracting.  We think we know what his noise sounds like, his individual play sessions are a continuous battery of spits and shouts and hisses and growls.  A clunking rattling sound like being in a ships engine room.  Its no wonder that it is hard to concentrate.  Or to be quiet. Or pay attention to anything that doesn’t itself create enough noise to drown out the background cacophony that I understand is the backdrop to his waking hours. Another son of mine has had tinnitus following a spell on active service abroad and is old enough to describe the stress of internal noise. I am quite sure that Jiggy’s scrambled thoughts are just as stressful, his newly acquired physical twitchiness is evidence enough, and it is my job to remember that and be kind whenever humanly possible. My current approach to our days together, where good humour and calm feature on every days target list is not just for his sake, it is to remind me too.

Two Steps Forward

We had settled nicely into our routine of home school with me, projects with Peter, home ed group socialising and Forest School  as a first step back into group education. Our week had a balance that I was happy with. I would go so far as to say that we felt quite optimistic!

Christmas wasn’t great, in the end.  It really is a tough time for families like us. We had several fairly wild days.  I was holding on for the return of our sanity in January, what little we ever had! I was therefore doubly disappointed that Forest School didn’t feel that they had enough staff to manage Jig any more. They have often had extra pairs of hands around when he visits but he was doing so well that I had hoped that staffing dips wouldn’t mean he couldn’t go. I don’t blame them for not having him back but I am a little dejected about it. It feels as though we are a little bit more alone than I would have wanted.

Ice sculpture tea light holder - last day at Forest School
Ice sculpture tea light holder – last day at Forest School

Anyway, here we are, back to a new normal. The slight change in our routine has made me focus on how to replace some of the experience he had at Forest School.  I can’t replicate some of the group discussion and socialising but I can take on some of the fine motor skills and problem solving. We have a barn next to the house that, in warmer weather, we use for craft activities.  Taking a leaf from Forest School (!) I think we will have to do more art and crafting here, in our own barn. We are making it more weather proof and hoping to be able to warm it slightly.

Bring out the thermals and call up the friends!

Hoping for Ordinary

December is such a tricky time for families.  Adoptive families particularly. I read many blogs about how hard this time of year is for children who come late to their forever family and for whom this time of year is a minefield. The sense of overwhelming stress, loss, failure and pain sit really uncomfortably with the tinsel and glitter. Sadly I don’t read much about any sort of understanding support for families who are under siege in this way and I wonder how some of them are even putting one foot in front of the other at the moment.

Last year, when we had all three of the young children at home full time, I noted that even in the midst of the stress of house moving and renovation that taking school out of the December mix was a massive relief.  This year, with two (very happily) back in school,  I could almost see the jagged shards of stress overload sticking out of them as they burst out of school at the end of the day.  Jiggy and I have spent the last ten days being calm so that we can absorb some of these spikes.  We haven’t done anything that we know will set either of us off on some sort of melt down.  We have walked more, played more and to be honest, kept Christmas at bay.

Now here we are on Christmas Eve.  Feeling sane.  Feeling as though we might even have an ordinary day tomorrow.  Success!

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Unschooling

I occasionally feel the need to tally what we do.  Being off radar has its own responsibilities and one of these days some sort of grey bureaucrat is going to find me out and demand to see towers of dusty leather bound documents which detail, in perfect latinate script, our achievements on an hourly basis for the last year.  Hold on, this might be a dream I had…

Nightmare or not it really doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on what you do.  An article in the Daily Mail (my guilty little secret indulgence, an addition caught off my very erudite friend S who seems none the worse for it and is exceptionally good at quizzes) this week slammed a woman in Scotland for “un-schooling” her children.  There is a slight misunderstanding here.  I think un-schooling means the period immediately after you take your children out of school, during which they get the whole mainstream education bugs out of their system.  Autonomous education means allowing the child to direct the curriculum, trusting that abandoning any sort of structure will in fact be freeing rather than plain lazy.  Anyway, the Mail rather typically found a couple of polarised views and dressed it up as news. It made for interesting discussion at the home ed group Christmas party yesterday though and, as you saw, some uncomfortable dreams for me. The majority of the children in our group are raised on a mix of styles.  Some old fashioned learning; arithmetic, spelling, times tables, fractions etc usually ‘taught’ alongside workbook work and web based support backed up by much more project work, in much more depth, than schooled children experience.  Most home educated children do more craft, reading and self directed specialist activities than school children.  They visit places of interest and interact with people of all ages on a more regular basis. They travel more.  They cook, shop and manage their days more independently.

I smiled yesterday to watch the receptionist at the party venue reach for a calculator to work out 3 times £9 and caught the glances between the 8 and 9 year old home educated children who were waiting nicely (rather unlike the school party who arrived in a crashing wave of swearing and shouting a while later) They didn’t say anything and as we walked away one said to the other – “Did you round up or just know it?”

‘Un-schooling’ in action!

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