We’re not odd, it’s everyone else!

A Home Educator, particularly one like me who didn’t use curriculums, phonics schemes or fret about key stage development milestones with my pre-school and early years educational provision is often heard using the phrase ‘Learning Through Play’ to justify why colouring, playdoh, lego, jigsaw puzzles, splashing in puddles and finger painting is more than sufficient.

I’m not sure if we borrowed it from the education system or whether they nicked it off us but I hear it all the time in my current (temporary) incarnation as someone who sits in a school four mornings a week.

I know that children do learn through play but I also think they play through learning. Children who are ‘let be’ and left to explore their world with more autonomy and control over which direction things take are fascinating creatures to observe. I mentioned in yesterdays post how much our wee piglets are reminding me of Dragon and Star in the early years. It’s a behaviour that happens naturally in all mammal infants – kittens, puppies, fox cubs and our litter of piglets. Exploring their world, testing, interacting, building the skills they’ll need to survive and navigate their way through their life. [As an aside I have a whole other rant about how we have this dreadful tendancy to step in with our children in a way that animal mothers never do – ‘share’ (why should you, if it’s yours, it’s yours!), ‘say sorry’ (even when you’re not remotely sorry), ‘don’t shout’ (but you want your voice heard and no one is listening so it’s natural to make it louder) but that’s for another time.]

I can’t be the only parent who has watched and listened to my children ‘play out’ their lives. From the very early copying parenting to their toys, to making their characters have the same experiences they have ‘today we’re going to Legoland! For a picnic! To the beach! Today we’re going to the doctors for an injection, to the supermarket to do the food shopping, to the bank to pay money in.’ Even at 10 and 12 Dragon and Star (when not plugged into tablets or games consoles, or listening to music and watching youtube clips – they are pre-teens just like many others) spend hours each day playing. A current passion is Minecraft – something I happily confess makes me feel old because I don’t really get it and find myself saying things like ‘isn’t that clever, you couldn’t do things like that in my day!’. Lots of their time is spent on Minecraft building houses and then showing us their designs and features. They also keep animals, breed them and scoff at how limited the scope for a pig on Minecraft is when they are so aware of the full possibilities. They used to play games where characters lived in a campervan and traveled around. I also recall how books I’d read them or films they’d watched would have a similar impact on their games. See ‘play through learning’ along with learning through play. They have never yet played ‘schools’….

So back to my title – I’m not really suggesting everyone else is odd, although sometimes I am heard to mutter that when I hear the traffic report on the radio or scary news coverage or think of people working in jobs they hate so they can buy a bigger plasma TV or nicer car. I’m just reassuring myself that despite different stimulus and inspiration the same process is being ‘played out’ with Dragon and Star as with kids everywhere. They take their lives and experiences and rationalise them, get them straight in their heads and manipulate them into ways that make sense to them and enable them to extract the most from them. Last week Dragon and I spent a couple of hours making charts and graphs because he’d not previously understood how to create them or what they meant. We used hours of sunshine per day as our data. He is learning about supply and demand, market research and various other business skills with his postcard sales and both have been party to current discussions about getting another sow to increase our piglet yield now we know we have a market. Star has been busily planting and tending seeds with me and we’ve had long conversations about the ethics of meat eating. Basic skills, learning what they need to get through their lives. They know about gathering firewood, food and water, growing crops, rearing livestock and are learning along with us about building shelter. They are finding ways to use their skills and their time to earn money for the things they cannot provide themselves and they are getting daily examples of working with others, being a neighbour, helping where you can as is the nature of life on Rum.

Those piglets are getting perfectly equipped for their lives, learning all they’ll need to know. They would struggle if suddenly they were expected to dwell in trees or live aboard a sailing boat. I asked Star yesterday who’s life she looks at and thinks she might like to one day have and her answer was back like a shot ‘well our’s of course!’. On that basis I think their current training is pretty much perfect.

Bad, good, learnt today

 Every year in January Ady, Dragon, Star and I sit down and make a list of the things we’d like to learn, achieve, see, experience, visit in the coming year. Although we Home Educate we don’t follow a curriculum or have a structured approach to education, viewing our role as facilitators rather than instructors, cheerleaders rather than coaches, fellow learners rather than teachers. It’s true I seek out things I think will interest Dragon and Star, introduce them to ideas or concepts, arrange visits to places I think will inspire them but it is very much a partnership with them asking questions and me helping them find the answers rather than something driven by me. This sitting down together talking about hopes and dreams and plans for the year ahead is a really valuable exercise for us and one we replicate to a lesser degreee throughout the year with regular conversations about how life is going. The whole Wondering Wanderers Adventure has been talked through in this way over many hours in the last nine months.

Last year for a while we did an exercise where all four of us would share something new we had learnt today with the others. These nuggets ranged from interesting factoids to startling new discoveries. Sometimes they were more ‘life lessons’ than trivia but it was an interesting exercise that we all enjoyed. Somewhere along the line life got in the way and the ‘what I learnt today’ sharing got forgotten but one of the suggestions Dragon made when we sat down this January of things he’d like to do this year was to reinstate it. I added to that with a Good and Bad thing too. I’d read a book recently which talked about sharing one good thing and one bad thing about the day with the rest of the family at dinnertime each day and I really liked the idea. I like the focussing on the positives, sharing the negatives and the realising that in every day when you summarise it there are good and bad bits. So for the last month or so we’ve been sharing a ‘Bad, Good, Learnt today’ chat before bedtime. I do record what we all say on a private blog and they are interesting to read back over.

Anyway in the same spirit of Bad, Good, Learnt today here is an update as we hurtle ever closer to Leaving Day.

Bad: Willow is still at the garage. Apparently a part is needed for the exhaust manifold. A part that is no longer made so will need to be sourced second hand and doesn’t appear to be available anywhere. The mechanic has had the van now for over 2 weeks and I went from congratulating myself for getting it packd off there nice and early with 5 weeks still to go before we head off to panicking madly that it won’t be ready to go in time. I want it back parked on our drive, MOT’d and ready to start packing stuff into. Instead I’ve been ringing the mechanic every couple of days for updates and getting nothing other than ‘nothing to report’ responses. Ady has now been along and talked to him and he’s doing a couple of minor other things and getting the van back to us. Un-MOT’d and without the manifold done. We have another mechanic (who serviced it for us back last year) in mind to see if he can get it through an MOT and sort the manifold out but I am really very twitchy about it all being ready in time. We’d not really reserved any funds for the van before we go either, so that will be coming out of the ‘contingency fund’ we were hoping to keep more or less intact for emergencies along the way.

We are finding it tear jerking saying goodbye to family and local friends, knowing that seasons will have passed, life will have moved on, everyone will have had birthdays and other special occassions while we’re away.

Good: Everything else really I guess! 🙂
We are getting such touching and supporting emails, texts, phonecalls, facebook messages and things said to us by friends, colleagues and people we know. It’s so lovely to know we have people encouraging us and cheering us on, it really does mean the world to us.
The tenants are all still on track to move in, their references, credit checks and other paperwork is all coming back satisfactorily, the TO LET board outside the house has been changed to a SORRY, IT’S LET board and the agent is drawing up the tenancy agreement. They want to keep some of our appliances and the chickens which means we don’t need to rehome them.
We are kitted out with waterproofs, thermals, boots, warm socks and other such essentials. Three have supplied us with a MiFi to try out (which I will blog more about once we’re actually using it) so we’ve got our internet access in hand for the beginning of the journey.
We have pretty much filled our three zones with willing hosts. We have the odd week here and there empty which was always our intention so we have some flexibility built in to change plans or stay longer in some places, to take some down time and find a campsite or even pick up some casual farm or fruit picking work to boost our finances a bit if required. we have had some overwhelmingly positive responses from some hosts and we are so excited at the prospect of meeting people who we already feel a connection with having exchanged a few emails.
We’ve made great headway packing everything up. The house is starting to get put into boxes. With the exception of a couple of things still to be listed on ebay I think we have gotten rid of everything that isn’t about to be boxed up or put into the van.

Learnt: I’m sure we’ve learnt loads already. I know my UK geography is already massively improved just by all that plotting on maps, trying to coordinate a route and book in with hosts. We’ve not learnt but have certainly experienced mass decluttering, carboot sales, living with less, letting go of the ‘stuff’ and working through what we actually really need and how little that is. I know the list of ‘good and bad’ will grow and grow throughout the coming year but I reckon the biggest list by far will be the ‘learnt’. I’m hoping that the phrase ‘live and learn’ will be an equal ratio of massively enhanced learning via massively enhanced living.