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 tag “unschooling”

One day at a time

It is another damp and grey green day here in our Cornish hideout. It has been a while since I visited this blog, I have been busy arguing with the teams of people who self identify as professionals down here in the land that time forgot and this home education blog seemed defunct – but maybe our time in the surreal world of mainstream is coming to an end. Jiggy has been in school for a year now, gradually building up to full time attendance last September.  He is usually in trouble, often punished, respected hugely for his story telling skills, tolerated by many, given a wide berth by most. He is acutely alert, academically able, socially inept, creative, chaotic, entertaining, endearing.  He knows all of this. He is now in year 6 and theoretically due to move up to secondary school in September.  Neither school, nor the educational psychologist, nor the CAMHS psychologist, nor I hold out any hope at all for this being the right environment for him but in the absence of any health department (CAMHS) input into our Education and Health Care Plan due to inefficiency, delay, failure to stick to policy and total lack of any democratic decision making we don’t really know where he should be or what to do with him. School has been a relative success (no medication, no exclusions) for this past year and we must be proud of that but I am increasingly aware that it might just turn out to be a sort of extended field trip.  A visit to mainstream. CAMHS and Cornwall Education Dept simply don’t have the interest, ability or desire to support and I can’t change that. Having Jig at home again would have very many benefits (and yes, to us both) but those pre-pubescent and early teen years are a hormonal cocktail that creates the sort of fireworks that make me slightly nervous.  I am teetering on the edge of quietly moving back into our home ed world, where we understand the simple commandments of educating children like Jig or bracing myself for the move to a very ordinary secondary school who show no sign of being able to adapt to the needs of the Jigs in their  community. I know what works in theory and I cannot find a place that might be able to apply the theory other than home and, to an extent, the small village primary who have worked hard to learn these rules of engagement.

  1. Relationships are key.  Nothing good comes of relying on social understanding of hierarchy.  Every interaction has to be built on an understanding of each other and an earned respect.
  2. Change is your enemy. Changing classes, changing people, changing sounds will all ratchet the adrenaline of an attachment disordered child up past the point of no return in a very short time.
  3. Rules must be tested to breaking point, immediately.  Even identifying a time slot is up for challenge (think of timetables, the foundation of secondary school days, and the  myriad of possibilities for disruption before you even get to your desk!) All rules must be chosen carefully and implemented with the full agreement of your Jig.
  4. Rewards and sanctions will never work and as they are the backbone of all mainstream behaviour policies you may as well not bother.
  5. Environment is everything.  A calm space in a predictable day, with controlled sensory input makes for a child who can and probably will, learn.

The local secondary won’t be able to achieve any of that. We must now decide if that matters enough to keep him out.  The local special schools all feel just a bit too special and seem like a step too far. So, after some really pretty high level complaining, emailing, threatening and politicking, we have agreed in principle that Jig can stay at the primary school for another year if we want him to.  This is obviously a holding pattern so that I can decide what we are actually going to do.  There is no support help or advice available from the local authority and it would be pointless to pretend differently.  It would waste my time and importantly it would erode my thinking energy.  Jig says he doesn’t want any of his options and I can see exactly what he means, neither do I.

So, what to do? Maybe in this dark time of the year we should just be hunkering down and waiting for the solution to break through the clouds.  A finger of God ray of sunlight onto our damp and grey Cornish moorland. It would seem that just taking a day at a time is easiest done when you have absolutely no option.





Up days and down days

We have had a wonderful few weeks – Jiggy’s big sister got married from home last weekend and the day was perfect. He rose to the occasion with elegance, empathy and enthusiasm – and how many other 9 year olds could you say that about?!  He also looked devastatingly gorgeous (which always helps!)


The days since the wedding have been oddly quiet.  We have nothing to organise or prepare for and today we were just exhausted.  Jig isn’t particularly well and I was bone tired.  Since my self questioning in the summer I am working on being  kinder to myself and trusting the ebb and flow of Jig’s days and natural intelligence and so today we simply walked on a practically deserted beach near us in beautiful North Cornwall.   We had the sort of unusual conversation that we often have (Fibonacci and cockroaches today) and I just know that he learned more in the five minutes of that chat than he would have anywhere else.  What I need to celebrate is the fact that I did too. I am learning, slowly, that my role as a learner is just as important as my role as his teacher. Yes, I want him to know maths and facts but I also want him to learn how to be kind to himself and to make the best of the down days alongside the exhilaration of those high days and holidays too. I know more about numbers and bugs this evening than I did but I also put a new theory into practice and it worked.

I think we nailed it. Yay.

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.



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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