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Secondary to nothing

I remember quite distinctly the day that Davies did not start school. It was just before his fifth birthday and was a real landmark day as it marked the beginning of our official Home Ed journey. The same is true of the day Scarlett didn’t start school. Over the years we have marked the first day of the new school year in September a few times with Not Back To School Picnics. Indeed during a particularly politically active period back in the days of the Badman review we were part of some high profile events covered in the media protesting at Westminster, holding mass bubble blowing flashmob events and large picnic gatherings.

These days the start of a new school year largely passes us by. In Scotland the terms are different to England anyway and having never really got my head around the year groups (I don’t care what P7 means, just tell me how old the child is!!!) I have utterly failed to grasp the Scottish system. But I did realise yesterday that Scarlett would be about to start secondary school in the next week or so if we were not home educating. This feels like something worth marking – neither of our children ever went to primary school, we have home educated them both to secondary school age.

I don’t wish to compare – it would be impossible to try. Had they attended school they would be very, very different individuals to who they are today, having trodden very different paths through life already and had very different experiences. They have not and now never will do but instead I just want to reflect a little on what they have had instead following the path we have traveled together.

Freedom. I think the biggest gift we have given our children is freedom. Freedom to be who they are naturally. Freedom to get up when they wake naturally, wear the clothes that they are comfortable in and reflect their personal taste, style, personality, lifestyle. Never have either of them followed fashion in terms of hairstyle, clothing or accessories. Aside from brief periods in uniforms for groups such as Rainbows, Scouts or Badgers they have only ever selected their own clothes and worn them in whatever way they see fit.

Passions and interests. We have never restricted TV or console use although these days we do not have a TV and very limited electricity so these things have become self limiting. Both children are very discerning at what they watch or listen to, not for them mindless channel flicking or constant gaming. Their passions and interests remain very similar to the things which captured their attention as small children – art, drawing, storytelling, films for Davies. Wildlife, the natural world, animals for Scarlett.

We made the most of the childrens’ early years living 10 miles from Brighton and 50 miles from London, close to large Home Educating communities with easy access to museums, art galleries, theatre, cinema, beach, nature reserves. The children took swimming lessons,gymnastics and tumble tots, were members of RSPB Wildlife Explorers, Guides, Scouts, St Johns Ambulance, Young Archaeologists Club. We made full use of the local library, had monthly visits to London for museums, had an allotment, kept chickens and ducks. We had membership of local attractions including zoo parks, educational centres, went to the circus, the theatre, the cinema, saw pantomines, musicals, plays, Shakespeare productions, science shows, ballet, orchestral concerts, puppet shows. We had family holidays camping, in holiday cottages, youth hostels, went through the Channel Tunnel and visited France and Belgium, saw the ice museum and rode through Bruge on a horse and cart. We went to theme parks, history festivals, national trust properties, kite festivals, safari parks, Legoland, ice skating, group holidays to Centerparcs. We had snowball fights, made sandcastles, took trips on boats, trains, rollercoasters, were part of the team of testers for the opening of Heathrow Terminal Five. We went to parties, hosted parties, made fancy dress costumes, had Easter egg hunts, took part in nativity plays with life animals, sang at carol concerts.

When Davies was interested in dinosaurs we went to the Natural History Museum, visited the coast in Sussex and Dorset and found fossils, joined the archaeology club and met experts, collected many, many plastic toy dinosaurs and learnt all the names, lined them up in families, baked dinosaur cookies, played with kits to build dinosaur skeletons, bought the lego T rex kit, watched Jurassic Park. When he wanted to learn about space we drew the solar system to scale and had it adorning our lounge wall for months, went to the local planetarium and gazed at the night sky to identify Mars. When it was Wallace and Gromit we scoured ebay and car boot sales for the memorabilia, watched all the films endlessly, had a themed birthday party, won a cookware competition with our themed cupcakes, met the costume characters, made papier mache and soft toy and needle felted Wallace and Gromit toys. When Davies wanted to do more art we encouraged, ensured he had decent art materials, secured display space at three local libraries for him to display his art work, assisted with the set up of a small business selling his postcards and artwork.

Scarlett’s love of animals has dictated her every birthday and Christmas gift – she has been zoo keeper for a day, seen dolphins and whales in the wild, watched every documentary David Attenborough has ever made, hatched ducks, chickens, bantams, quails from eggs, had a pet hamster who traveled the whole of the UK. She now lives on a National Nature Reserve with access to natural scientists, students studying wildlife here, the home of one of the longest running animal research projects ever, a community ranger, the place where white tailed sea eagles were released back into the wild in the UK, a marine protected area of sea abundant with seabirds and cetaceans, home to a quarter of the world population of manx shearwaters. She regularly volunteers for monitoring projects including shearwaters, bats, cetaceans and has breeding poultry and pigs here on the croft.

Our Home Educating status enabled us to take our year off in 2011 and travel the UK volunteering. We stayed at 14 different hosts all over the UK giving the children an amazing insight into how other people live. We stayed with families, communities, couples and individuals and lived in a campervan, tent, yurt and houses. Davies and Scarlett have learned tolerance, respect, an appreciation of the beliefs and lifestyles of other people. They have amazing social skills and are experts in relationships, conflict resolution, negotiation and discussion. They have strong views,opinions and are able to debate and hold conversations at all levels. They are patient, understanding and mature. They are respectful, appreciative and polite. Their lifestyle to date has given them maturity and capability along with a broad world view and a strong sense of environmental and ecological responsibility.

Both the children have a range of practical skills from chopping firewood and lighting a fire to growing their own food from seed, animal husbandry, running a house including baking bread and cooking a meal, managing a budget, dealing with emergencies, survival skills and excellent communication skills. The modern world has not passed them by and they have good IT skills and as all self respecting teens should they are far more adept with mobile phones and computers than their parents are! They both have a very broad general knowledge on all subjects from politics and geography to music and history. They are curious and love to learn, interested in the world around them and interesting people to talk to. Both have strong personalities, are very funny and engaging and able to hold a conversation with anyone they come across.

It has been an unconventional journey to secondary school age it is true. It is not the path we first set out on on that first day that Davies did not go to school back when he was five. They are not on track to be announcing their clutch of GCSE results in the next 2 and 4 years (although should they wish to do so I have no doubt whatsover in their ability to) but I do not think it could be considered lacking in any way, shape or form. I know that Ady and I have certainly learned far more than we would have done if they had been in school!

Bring on the secondary – if primary was anything to go by there is a whole lot of learning ahead!

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Taking Stock

This week we have been regaining focus on the croft, on getting (as) ready (as we can be) for the winter, in making plans for next year, working out how we can make a living from the croft and coordinate some sort of house build for next year.

We are revisiting our original business plan for the croft and have been talking about how the things which first brought us here to Rum are no longer the things which hold us here. Way back in 2011 when we were deciding where life should take us next we had a fairly short list of essentials:

  • We wanted to live somewhere beautiful. Rum is always, ever beautiful. Beautiful in all four seasons, in all sorts of weather conditions. It ticks every single box for wildlife, landscapes, coastline, river side living…
  • We wanted to have land. Enough land to grow most of our own food and excess surplus to sell. It is a challenging but true fact that we used to grow more food in our allotment and back garden in Sussex than we have managed to grow on our entire 8 acres here on Rum. The soil is poor and we are starting from nothing, working to condition the ground, battle with the elements, protect crops from deer, birds, rats and mice. It is a long, slow process and although I can see how far we have come and how much progress we have made with our raised beds and walled garden, polytunnel and herb spirals I can also see the long hard road ahead. The market for selling excess produce is small, possibly even non existent as the people here who care about home grown produce over imported food from the mainland already grow their own in their large gardens. The tourist market for produce is very small too although we are hopeful that with increased visitor accommodation on the island moving forward that may increase, particularly if we target our growing accordingly for cash crops and dual purpose or long lasting crops (eg soft fruit that can be sold as fruit or turned into jams, herbs that can be sold fresh or dried and stored).
  • We wanted to rear our own animals for meat and dairy and egg production. We have done a fairly good job of this but have also lost a lot of young animals. We have learned not to take piglets through the winter, now know the signs of Barbara pig in labour and that we need to check her more regularly to assist with any piglets who need attention while she is still birthing subsequent litter mates. We have lost more baby birds than I care to count to rats, crows, ravens and quite possibly an owl this year. Chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese have all been predated on as young birds, either hatched here on the croft or bought in as poults. We are getting better at creating good housing for them and knowing how to keep them as safe as possible but this knowledge has come at the price of bitter experiences.
  • We wanted to live somewhere with a sense of community. We have certainly achieved that. It is true that sometimes the intensity and hot bed of living here and being part of the community comes with challenges and difficulties. Certainly being a director of the community trust is no picnic with many hours every week of voluntary time spent on tasks associated with the role, often wondering whether it is a worthwhile endeavor and one which is best use of my time. But it is the community as individual people which has kept us here on Rum. It is the hands of friendship, the camaraderie of being one of the people who live here, who have made it through two winters, three summers, winds, rain, 18 hours of darkness a day, ferry cancellations, midges, ticks, clegs, tourists…. the in jokes, the knowing that we all look out for each other and all care, tolerate, accept, respect and think about each other which has made Rum feel more like home than anywhere else we have ever lived.

So a mixed bag going forward then. Some victories, some opportunities to do better. Some real glowing positives and some hurdles to overcome. We have a plan, or six…. in coming posts I’ll be outlining the various things we have come up with to try and make things work for us here on Rum. Some new ideas, some revisiting old ones,some creative ways of approaching things. Watch this space!

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A little bit country

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There are many indicators that a human has finally matured and become a grown up. Could be leaving home, getting your first paycheque, getting married, becoming a parent, finding that first grey hair or fine line of a wrinkle in the corner of your eyes. Is it when you start making an ‘ahh’ sound as…
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After Ever After

I’ve been thinking recently about what ‘happily ever after’ is supposed to look and feel like. I know the idea has been the concept of a few clever books and films – what does happen when the credits roll and the last chapter’s words run off the last page?

Arriving on Rum felt like it was maybe supposed to be happily ever after for us. It felt as though the music should play and the picture slowly fade off the screen as we got on with our dream life, finally found after our big adventure and soul searching and interview on Rum and epic move up here.

Then it felt as though it should surely be the end after the mini sequel which was Getting The Static On To The Croft.

Maybe after the trilogy of Surviving Our First Winter. Even if Surviving Our Second Winter became part of the dvd bonus features on a second disc….

Recently we thought we may end up taking on a proper employed job. Ady and I would have shared the role, it was far from what we originally came here to do but the benefits and security would, we thought, outweigh the obvious compromises in terms of being away from the croft and the children and the stresses and commitments of what the post would entail. It was not to be. Which when you have spent several weeks convincing yourself into doing can be a bit tough to talk yourself back out of again.

There is something about Rum which pushes you to your absolute limits, like a jealous lover asking you to prove, over and over again that you really, really love them. Treating you cruelly just to challenge, to test, to ensure this is definitely what you want to do and where you want to do it. Just as you are on the very brink of deciding that actually this is not for you after all the sun breaks through, the blackberries ripen, kind and thoughtful words are said, new chicks are hatched in the old washing machine and a huge pod of dolphins swim close to the shore at ferry time, leaping out of the water and making a whole crowd of excited onlookers point, exclaim and cry out with delight and sheer joy and life.

I’m not always sure but I think this might be what happily ever after looks like.

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Transition Times

I was reading a blog post earlier that talked about August being the month of ‘transition to Autumn’. I like that. Autumn is definitely in the air with nights drawing in and a nip to the evenings, brambles starting to ripen and a new wave of colour coming on Rum as yellow summer flowers fade and the more purple autumnal ones start to bloom.

Suddenly we have done a third summer and are facing a third winter. Life and time marches on and I look at pictures of our early days here on Rum and am already marvelling at how much Davies and Scarlett have grown, how Ady and I have aged….

Life looks set to change again with new possibilities and opportunities on the horizon, shifts in ideas, re shaping of plans and ambitions. The cast of characters for this winter on Rum looks rather different to last year. As ever, taking stock, rationalising responsibilities and being realistic about the capacity for the number of hours in a day is something to be considered.

For now though we’re picking brambles, making jam, feeding animals and enjoying the light evenings while they last. The 18 hour night times are not long around the corner…

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Need to know basis

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In my last post I talked about how much I have learned about birds and wildlife since moving here to Rum. As a Home Educator I am often to be heard talking about how we don’t learn everything we need to know in childhood and how humans should be lifelong learners. About how I have…
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Walk on the wild side

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I got distracted while on the phone to my parents late this afternoon – Happy Birthday Dad! – by this short eared owl putting on a fly-by display over the croft. He was hunting all over the croft and we walked around while he flew over our heads for a good half an hour. He…
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Game for anything

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There has been a distinct lack of ‘here’s what we’re doing on the croft just now’ on the blog of late. Mostly because it has been majorly midgey this year – by far our worst summer of midges here and it’s our third on Rum and actually our fourth on the west coast of Scotland….
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