Lisa Hassan Scott

Creating a Nature Kit for Outdoor Adventures

Tips for creating a nature kit for outdoor adventure #homeschool

For many families, “homeschool” is a misnomer—so much of our learning happens outside of the home. With the right materials, your family can make every trip out a chance to deepen learning, develop existing interests, and discover new ones. Some families fill a bag, and others fill the whole trunk. But when you lock the door behind you, what exactly do you bring?

It goes without saying that your family’s interests and the adventure ahead of you determine what you pack. The buckets and spades you take to a day at the beach may not be what you take to your local natural history museum. Nevertheless, there will be some items that you’ll want to take everywhere, and if you have them assembled and ready, you’re more likely to take them.

Some basics can make or break a trip. Spare clothes for children, if they are likely to get wet, waterproofs in the wet season, small bottles of sunscreen, and insect repellent and bite/sting cream during the drier months. You’ll need water and plenty of sustaining snacks. It helps to have a backpack to put it all in (children can share the load, appropriate to their size and age), but I know one family who takes it all in a basket on the hip, and another who pulls everything along in a wheeled trolley.

It’s a great idea to take some basic art supplies to record what you find and foster creativity on the go. Katie Pybus, who home educates her three children in the South of England, and has been blogging about it every day for the past four years, says that she never leaves home without a sketchbook for her youngest child, a keen drawer. If you’re not lucky enough to live near an art supply outlet like Katie, you could make sketchbooks by folding copier paper in half and stapling the fold. Bring along a pencil case filled with pencils, a sharpener, mini-ruler, crayons, markers, a glue stick, small scissors, and small roll of tape. If your children like to paint, a travel watercolor set makes the perfect pocket-sized paint palette, accompanied by waterbrushes (paintbrushes with a water reservoir in the handle). Having all of these small items assembled in one zipper-case has saved my bacon on more than one occasion when I’ve had to bolt out of the house at a moment’s notice.

It helps to have a backpack to put it all in, but I know one family who takes it all in a basket on the hip, and another who pulls everything along in a wheeled trolley.

If you’ll be spending the day outdoors, in addition to the right gear for the weather (and replacement gear for when socks get wet!), consider taking along a few light items to take your family’s learning even deeper. Very young children sometimes struggle to use binoculars, but a monocular is a lot easier to use and often cheaper and lighter to carry. A field guide for your area will help you identify flora and fauna, and you can keep a record of what you find with a camera or camera-phone. If you think you’ll be sitting down for a while, consider bringing a foldable sit-mat, but if you have a big family, an old shower-curtain makes the perfect water- and dirt-proof outdoor learning space. 

Dawn Suzette Smith, of the Mud Puddles to Meteors blog, and co-author of Whatever the Weather, recommends carrying a small tin container for collecting specimens—leaves, insects, lichen, feathers—whatever treasures your child finds can be popped into the tin for examination later. Luckily, even if you forget your tin, any secure container or baggie does the job. I’ve taken to collecting plastic hummus containers and juice bottles for my son’s collections. For a collector, anything will do. 

For the older child who loves the outdoors, a pocketknife and a length of rope can give great pleasure. Various kinds of pocketknives are on the market, from round-ended blades to clasp-less knives in leather sheathes. Once they know how to use a pocketknife safely, many children love to whittle and fashion walking sticks from twigs, and in an emergency, the tweezers are really handy for extracting thorns or splinters from little fingers. With a length of rope, you can make a tightrope between two trees to test your balance, play limbo, throw the rope over a sturdy branch to make a make-shift rope swing, or use it as a harness for a little tree-climbing. Or take a trip down memory lane and teach your children your childhood skipping songs and watch their eyebrows lift higher and higher as you demonstrate your skipping prowess.

Getting out of the house might be a great way of getting kids away from the TV or tablet, but don’t forget that those electronic devices can make excellent recording instruments. Most contain voice-recording software, so if your child can’t write yet, or is reluctant to, she can still take verbal notes on what your family is up to. The video footage and photographs your child takes can be brought home and spliced together to make a video of your trip out. For the naturalist, a photograph facilitates the identification and recording of species. Finally, photos can be printed and glued into a scrapbook—rather than only having snapshots of family vacations or holidays, you’ll have a priceless record of your day-to-day life as well. 

Speaking of scrapbooks, Dawn’s family has a neat idea for a homemade scrapbook kit for longer trips. She says,“Before leaving we create a small scrapbook that is held together with rings to easily add things we collect along the way. We keep our book in a bag filled with extra paper, a hole punch, glue dots, tape, markers, colored pencils and other supplies used to build our scrapbook as we go. After each stop we punch holes to add things like postcards or brochures to the book, we tape things like business cards and receipts to the pages, decorate borders and write a little something about the location.”

Dawn’s rustled-up kit is a fantastic way to create a really unique souvenir of a family trip, and one idea I’ll definitely be using this summer.

There are two things I never leave the house without: a small journal with a pen. Jotting down what we see and do, along with my children’s questions and observations, has been invaluable in helping me to bring their outdoor learning back to our homeschool. As their mentor, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to remind them of what we did, encourage detail in their narrations for daddy later, and help them remember the questions they asked. We once spent an entire afternoon trying to figure out the difference between crickets and grasshoppers after a previous day’s walk when the chirruping creatures had been leaping around us at our every step. 

Whatever you take, the right materials for your family’s outing can help you dive beneath the surface and immerse yourselves in your not-at-home school.  

 

This article was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home | school | life as part of our big nature study feature. We’re reprinting it on the blog because (1) summer is a great time to have an outdoor kit handy, and (2) we really like it.


This House Is a Mess!

Yes! Homeschooling is messy—and that's okay. Great read. #homeschool

I once walked into the house after a two-week holiday and immediately thought, “The neighbors must have had a party in here! We couldn’t possibly live like this!” But alas, we do live “like this,” and the grime in the sink and the Lego blocks on the floor were wholly of our own making. 

Before I had children, when my husband and I both worked outside he home all day, the house was always clean and tidy. We hardly owned anything and our home only really consisted of a few small rooms. As our family grew, so did our possessions. I had less and less time to clean, dwindling enthusiasm for tidying up toys that would just get dragged out again, and I wanted to spend my time with my babies, not with my clutter.

It used to really bother me that my house was untidy. It bothered me a lot. I used to think to myself that I wanted people to walk into my house and feel relaxed, not stressed by having to move toy train tracks or Spiderman magazines off the seat before they could sit down. I didn’t want people to have to step over big bags of outgrown clothes in the hallway, waiting patiently to be given away to charity.  I wanted people to feel at home here.

Back on that day we’d just returned from our holiday, when my house was in such a state it looked as though it had been ransacked by burglars, I noticed how my children reacted when we walked in. The six-year-old put his pjs on then went straight into the living room, lay on the sofa and started looking at his Spiderman magazines. My 10-year-old stepped over those charity cast-offs and went upstairs to listen to an audiobook. My 13-year-old went to the kitchen and started baking cookies. They felt at home.

Noticing all of this inspired me to look again at my goals for my home. I wanted people to feel relaxed and comfortable here. Which people? Visitors who hardly ever come? People who might raise their eyebrows at my clutter or criticize me for having a messy house? Naysayers who question my life choices and shrink from the chaos of my life? No. The people who I want to feel relaxed and at home here are the only people that matter: my family.

I’ve taken to saying that my home is a “working home.” When you visit a “working farm,” you’d expect rather a lot of mud and straw and dust and mess, because it is a place of work. Similarly, when you come to my home, expect mess because this is a place of work and creativity and imperfection. And we embrace all of that. 

When you visit us you may have to cleave a path to the sofa, but I can always guarantee excellent reading material (particularly if you are a Spiderman fan) and excellent home baking. 


The Truth About Having It All

Must-read for homeschool parents: The truth about having it all. (Spoiler: You can, but only if you're willing to rethink your idea of what "it all" really is.) #homeschool

There was a time when I believed that I could do it all. I could work and be a mother and wife and also have my own interests—and importantly, I’d do it all dazzlingly well and my hair would look good, to boot. Way back, before I’d even had children, I think I imagined my future self as doing all of these things because that’s the yarn the 1970s and 80s spun for its daughters and sons: women can do it all, have it all, without smudging their blue eye shadow or putting a feathered hair out of place.

Imagine my shock when I actually had a baby in my arms: my own baby who needed and wanted me 24/7, who made rational thought seemingly-impossible, who made punctuality a thing of the past. Have it all? For goodness sake, I couldn’t even have a shower.

Later, when I began homeschooling my children, it became apparent that whatever career or other aspirations I had would need to take a back seat for a while longer than I’d originally envisioned. I felt excited about making homeschooling my full-time job, but also somewhat despondent that the ideas and enthusiasm I had for my work couldn’t come to fruition at the pace I’d envisioned. I love homeschooling. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also love my work, my interests, my hobbies, my passions.

I love homeschooling. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also love my work, my interests, my hobbies, my passions.

I look back and think of what I’ve had to release in order to be at home with my children. You might call them “sacrifices.” But I choose to frame them differently. Instead of thinking of what I gave up to be with my children, I am filling my frame with all that I have received. Instead of dwelling on what I could have been, I rejoice in what I am.

Since beginning this journey of parenthood I have learned so many things. I’ve taught myself how to cook, to knit, to crochet. I’ve learned how to communicate with compassion, to respect others’ needs and appreciate my own. I’ve learned to look myself in the mirror and accept myself regardless of what I look like or how much sleep I’ve had. I’ve come to measure my worth against my own balance sheet rather than my employer’s, or anyone else’s for that matter. I’ve learned that I have instincts and I’ve adjusted my antennae so I’m tuned into them.

I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I opened my hands and released all that I held, and into those empty hands fell different, unexpected gifts. I do have it all. It’s just not the “all” that you might expect.


"Homeschooling Must Be Really Hard."

Love this! All the things that run through your head when someone says "Homeschooling must be so hard" or "I could never homeschool my kids." #homeschool

Today we spent an incredibly satisfying hour sitting beside our brand new wildlife pond, watching dragonflies lay their eggs in it. A few weeks have passed since we dug this pond. It appears that wildlife has discovered it now, and it’s teaming with little squiggly things. To anyone who claims that children have a short attention span, I wish they could have seen the attention my children gave these dragonflies today. Magic.

Those of us who home educate (homeschool) our children are used to hearing inquisitive and somewhat incredulous comments like, “But are you a teacher?” And, “How do your children socialize?” Or this beauty: “Is that even legal?!” People have all sorts of things to say about home education, especially where I live, because it’s fairly unusual and a lot of people have never even heard of it.

Sometimes people say, “Wow. That must be really hard.” I don’t think they necessarily mean that teaching primary level skills is a challenge. What I think they might mean is that being around your children all day, and carrying the weight of responsibility for their education, must be hard. They usually follow up their comments with something along the lines of, “I could never do that.”

It’s awfully nice of them to try to commiserate with me, but I think the thing that’s missing here is that, believe it or not, I am actually choosing to home educate my children. And most of the time I love being around them. But whenever I hear people say, “Wow, that must be hard,” I think to myself, yeah, it’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

Then I find myself thinking all sorts of negative thoughts about home education. And I wonder where my joy has gone.

It’s been a few weeks since anyone has told me how hard my life must be and I’ve noticed that my life is not actually the vale of tears everyone thinks it is. I have a renewed sense of clarity and I wonder how I got talked into the idea that home education is a penance for martyrs. I remember that there are some glittering moments in every day when I think, “This is why we do this.” Today’s dragonfly magic was one such moment.

Of course there are other times when I so desperately want to be alone, I can feel it beneath my skin. I have a list of interesting ideas and projects I want to sink my teeth into, yet round every corner I meet a new needy person who wants me to do something. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. English, maths and spelling. Build a Hot Wheels track with me, edit a film with me, help me feed my caterpillars. Predictably, I sit down at my computer or unfurl my yoga mat, and it’s as though I’ve rung the dinner bell and everyone comes running.

This is what they’re referring to when they say it must be hard. What I’ve found is that the more I focus on the hard the less I focus on the magic. When I fill my mind with what I don’t like about it, I forget about the gratitude I feel that I am fortunate enough to be able to do this for my family. Being held in awe or pity, or commiserated with means I am a martyr, or worse, a victim. I am neither.  Sure, home educating my children can be hard, but it is a joyful kind of hard, like a diamond in all its surprising, sparkling brilliance.


Taking a Step Back to Embrace Change in Your Homeschool

Great homeschool inspiration read: Sometimes you need to take a step back to move forward. Love this essay. #homeschool

The jet lag is tough. Four days ago we flew home to Great Britain, after a long holiday in North America where we visited friends and family. We’ve unpacked the suitcases, thrown several loads of laundry into the washing machine, been to the supermarket, and are now trying to get back into the groove. Well, almost.

Taking a holiday has always been an opportunity for my family to reevaluate our rhythms and routines. Stepping away from our various projects and commitments, leaving behind the pile of homeschool books and resources, is a chance to think about what we want for our family. Usually we don’t discover new goals, we simply come back to our family’s core values. Time together. A love of learning. Curiosity. Discovery. Fresh air. A concern for nature and our fellow human beings. Helping others. Love.

It’s not so much that we stray from these values and need to come back them; more that I forget that they’re there, and they become buried beneath the making­-breakfast­-practice-­the­-piano­-where­-did­-you­-put­-my­-shoes­-ness of daily life. I like it that I get wrapped up in the everyday, because to me that means I am present to my family. On the other hand, I don’t want to lose sight of what we as a family believe because I want everything in our lives to draw us closer to our core values.

To that effect, I apply my mind every summer to thinking about what we do and how we do it. Do we still want to have family games night on a Wednesday? Do our agreements about screen time still make sense? What direction do our projects seem to be taking, and how could I tweak things to better support the children in their work? Are we socializing enough, or perhaps too much? And the question of questions: are we happy?

Family life changes over time: babies become children who learn to read. Those children become teenagers: all limbs and mobile phones. Husbands turn grey and take up home brewing. For me, life seems too busy and I find myself hatching plans for how I can retreat to my rocking chair with my crochet. It all sounds like a slightly skewed Norman Rockwell painting, but you get the point: what worked for my family last year may not ring true for us now. Though most of us hold in our heads the idea that things are static, in fact they are in a constant state of flux.

The idea is to embrace change. I work at seeing it as my friend. I ask myself what I can change to lead us toward a greater experience of happiness. I attempt to make those changes. Sometimes they work. Other times we go back to the way things were and chalk it up to experience. Change can be hard to swallow and for the change­-averse needs to be gradual and ever so gentle. But if the alternative is to be stuck in a rut, I know what I’d choose. Right now, we are figuring out where our ruts are.


Finding Out: Curiosity as a Way of Learning

Love this: Why curiosity is the ultimate homeschool resource

In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s caterpillar season. The leaves are bursting forth from the trees, grasses are growing taller, birds are building nests, bats are waking up and they’re looking for food for their young. My youngest child’s insect project is ramping up and we are spending more time with our hands in hedges than sitting down and holding a pencil.

When we first started home educating, I kept a mental checklist for most tasks we’d do. Running around in the park? That counts as PE or recess. Baking a cake? I’m sure that counts as math. Making bracelets? Definitely good for fine motor skills. Looking for caterpillars in hedgerows? That must be science. It felt good to think that every aspect of our lives could “count as school.”

If my five-year-old son was in school, his teachers would be helping him work on his pencil grip, form letters and understand phonics and the basics of mathematics. At home, my son only holds a pencil or pen for about 15 minutes every day. Maybe I should worry. Maybe he will never learn to write his name!

That skill—the ability to find out is the key, for me, to being a successful learner.

But I don’t worry. I don’t worry at all about his writing. The reason is not that I’m ultra-confident. I’ve got all sorts of worries about my children. But when I watch my son gently lift a caterpillar from a leaf and hold it with precisely the correct amount of pressure and grip to keep that caterpillar safe from harm in his hand, I know my son has all the fine motor skills he needs to write his name. When he pulls out one of his nature books, turns to the index and asks me to look up that caterpillar’s food plant or when he opens the tablet and pulls up a document about caterpillars, I can see that he understands about letters and language and what they are intended for. He knows where to go to find out what he wants to learn. In short, he knows what he needs to do to find out. That skill—the ability to find out is the key, for me, to being a successful learner. The thing is, he knows what he wants to learn and he knows how to find out. Gradually he will arm himself with the skills to find out, perhaps by asking me for help or by figuring it out himself.

He will eventually learn to write, because he wants to find out.

He will learn to read, because he wants to find out.

He will become numerate, because he wants to find out.

I am here to mentor him, to help him learn the skills he needs, to encourage and support him when it’s hard. I want to nourish his curiosity and support him while newer and more exciting doors open to him.

I used to box-tick and think about whether what we were doing “counted as school.” Now I hardly think about school. I simply wonder what he’ll be finding out next.


What's So Special About Homeschooling?

what's so special about homeschooling? one mom's answer to the "homeschooling must be so hard" misconception

A few weeks ago I gently ripped open a little paper packet, tipped some seeds into my hand and dropped them into the earth in an even line. Using the flat of my palm to pull some soil across the row, I breathed in the sweet smell of dirt, bathed in birdsong and allowed the sun to drape itself across my shoulders like a familiar shawl. In a few moments, the children came tearing out into the garden, rolling over each other like a pair of lion cubs, tugging at each other’s ears, pressing their thumbs into the other’s arm pits, cackling wildly. Soon the youngest was in tears, as red in the face as the radishes I’d just sown. Their play-fighting had inevitably, painfully, turned into real fighting.

It was time to stop parting the earth and start parting the children. No longer could I crouch and sow, pushing aside worms and soil. Sighing deeply and brushing the dirt from my hands, it was time to return to the other ‘dirt’ of my life—the sweet and fertile soil of being with my children all day, every day, with all the laughter and tears that brings.

In the UK, homeschooling is still very much a novelty: it’s something unusual and special. There are only two homeschooling families in my town, and at home ed meet-ups we see the same faces, the same handful of families who are striking out on this uniquely less-trodden path. When I tell other people we meet that my children are home educated, their eyes fill with wonder and they usually breathe, “That sounds hard.”

Maybe they think I’m ringing a bell in the morning and teaching my children subject after subject of material I haven’t seen since my own days in primary school. Maybe they’re wondering how I manage to teach two children of such different age and ability. Maybe they can’t figure out how I can stand being with my children all the time. In their eyes I can see what they’re thinking: I must be incredibly patient, intelligent, even martyr-like. I must be able to do things and maybe I even know things that they don’t know. I must somehow be special.

Yes, being with children all day is demanding. The intensity of being forever on call, available, responsible is tiring. In some ways, things were easier when my older children trotted off to school and I could canoodle with my baby. But I missed my children; oh how I missed them. When they came home with their tales of playground pettiness and teacherly impatience, I’d suffer and seethe with indignation and impotence. Now that we are homeschooling the responsibility firmly resides with us. I prefer it that way.

Yesterday my youngest child and I tipped his little troop of caterpillars into a tray and sat side by side with our chins resting in our hands. We watched them wiggle about and crawl over the leaves. My nine year old, reciting her seven times table under her breath, stopped to watch the caterpillars too. “Wow, those are amazing,” she said.

“I know,” my son replied with shining eyes, resting his cool hand on the back of my neck. “They’re so beautiful I can hardly resist them!” Then he made two little fists and squealed in a way that made my tummy cartwheel.

I’m no martyr. Being with my children, taking responsibility for their education, guiding them into a life of contentment: it’s what I choose and enjoy. That’s not to say it’s easy. But it’s definitely something special.


"I Have All the Time I Need"

We Have All the Time We Need: Slowing down and enjoying the journal in your homeschool

Back in the days when two of my three children were in school, I lamented the morning time, when we were rushed off our feet to get out the door on time. Packing lunches and bags, making sure school uniforms were clean (well, cleanish) and homework completed felt like a herculean task. I wasn’t really very good at it, and it made me feel incredibly stressed. Often, I ended up shouting at the children and the day started on the wrong foot. I’d wave them into school, then I’d squirm uncomfortably all day as I waited for them to come home so we could make up and start over.

It’s an unpleasant memory. I’m glad we don’t have to do that anymore.

That said, sometimes I catch myself being that manic, stressed lady who wants to get out the door on time, but just can’t seem to get each of the planets into alignment. Turns out, school or not, I find it hard to get everyone dressed (and keep them dressed) (let’s not talk about the child who likes to take everything off minutes before we leave the house) and out the door. Turns out I overfill the day and we end up rushing from one thing to another. Turns out that even as a home educator I find myself shouting at the children because of the pressure to be somewhere.

Fortunately, we can start over a lot sooner. I don’t have to wait all day to say sorry, take a deep breath and just calm down, for pete’s sake.

When I’m doing that hare-brained thing I do when we’ve got swimming at 9.30 and violin at 11.10 then a meet-up with friends at noon, followed by clarinet at 4.30 and a run scheduled straight after, I have to stop for a moment and say, “Lisa, what on earth are you doing?” Kids are overscheduled, yes, but what about mothers? I’m overscheduled and I hate it! (Someone do a research study about us!)

So I take a deep breath and I step back and think about my priorities. I imagine what my ideal day would look like, and I think about what my children love doing most: cycling around nature reserves, going pond-dipping, reading books on the sofa, drawing, watching documentaries together. And I wonder why I’m doing any of that other stuff. I slow this tightrope walk down, circle my arms in the air for a bit, rock from side to side and attempt to regain balance. I want this to be enjoyable. I want it to be graceful. I want it to be fun.

I think we can easily achieve a consensus that rushing and getting stressed is not fun.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a yoga teacher. As such, I believe in the power of thoughts. My latest mantra (repeated words or phrase that shapes our thoughts and distracts us from unhelpful ones) is, “I have all the time I need.”

I have all the time I need.

Because I do, don’t I? We have time to read books on the sofa. We have time to cycle around nature reserves. We have time to draw. We have time to lie on our bellies and stare into ponds.

Sometimes it’s worth just taking a deep breath and reminding myself. I have all the time I need. And so do you. Let’s go stare into a pond together. I don’t mind if you’re not on time, because, really, I can’t guarantee that we will be.


Helping Children Cope with Fear

How to help our children cope with their fears

“Nooooooo!” he shouted, a fearful tone in his squeaky voice.

If you read my last installment, you will know that when my five-year-old son and I discuss what we’re doing each day, he sometimes sees the glass as half empty. But this wasn’t one of those times. Today we would be seeing friends he’d been asking to see for weeks. Today we would be going to a place he loves: a skate park and playground halfway along a bridge that crosses the bay. Until recently, he’d ask me every day whether we could go to that skate park. We go there a lot!

I was surprised at his reaction. This wasn’t a complaint. He explained, “I’m frightened of going there!” You see, partway along the bridge, the road lifts up to allow boats to pass through. A loud siren sounds, barriers come down, red flashing lights warn everyone that the bridge is about to open…. In the many years since it was built, it has never once swallowed anyone up. But still, it is a little disconcerting to have the ground that was, only moments ago, beneath your feet form a great chasm and lift into the air.

I remembered that the last few times we’d visited the bridge park, my little boy expressed worries about falling through into the fathomless sea below. The last time we went, he crossed over with his eyes closed, while I led the way. Today his fears peaked, and he asked plaintively, “Please can we not go there?”

Children are frightened of all sorts of things. It’s understandable. The world is large and they are only small. If you can’t swim, the prospect of falling into a grey, churning sea is terrifying. Come to think of it, even if you can swim it’s pretty scary.

When my eldest was very young, mannequins were high on her list of fears. Spiders; the wind; sudden, loud noises; sleeping alone; the creaking of the radiators as the heating kicks on; the dark—all of these have been my children’s fears at one time or another. With my first child I didn’t know that I couldn’t logic her out of her fears. I didn’t know that I couldn’t convince her to let go of fear and be brave. I didn’t know that I couldn’t just explain that the mannequins wouldn’t move and haunt her with their empty eyes (even though I wasn’t really sure of that myself, you know). I tried all of those things, and still she cried. Still she clung to me.

Today my son’s older sister felt frustrated with him. She’s grown out of many of her fears, and the prospect of missing out on seeing friends was too much for her. “Oh, stop being silly! It’ll be fine.” Her reaction was all too familiar. From the experience of saying similar things in the past, I knew it wouldn’t work. “Ugh. You always ruin everything!” she raged. And although I’ve never said those words to my son, I have certainly experienced the exasperation of having to go to considerable lengths to work around the fears of a small child.

Fortunately, we can be completely flexible in our plans. So, sure, let’s go somewhere else. Fortunately, our friends are flexible too, and they were happy to change the location of our meet-up. Everyone was happy.

Two summers ago my family went for a camping holiday on a remote and beautiful Scottish island. We did a lot of hiking, and on one such hike, the steady wind picked up to be gale force strength. We walked along a hillside, the land sloping steeply and dramatically down into the dangerous blue and white swells of the angry Atlantic Ocean. It’s not only children who have fears. I, too, have fears. I am frightened of cliffs, of falling into the sea, of my children being dragged off a hillside by a strong wind. Normally I am able to use coping mechanisms to get through my fear and enjoy a hike. That day, the wind was too strong, the ocean too threatening, my children too small and vulnerable… and I… I realized I was impotent in the face of such forces of nature. As the wind picked up speed, tears wicked from my cheeks. I knelt with shaking legs, and pressed my body to the hillside. Beneath my tear-stained cheek, tiny blades of grass and resilient flowers shook as my body spasmed in fear. “Just get them to lower ground,” I shouted. Paralysed with fear, ashamed of what my children were witnessing, my dry mouth clamped shut and I cried.

Minutes passed slowly as the wind whistled and gusted around my bare head. After taking the children to safety, my sure-footed husband returned to me, knelt beside me and uttered soothing words. So close I could feel the warmth of his humid breath on my ear, he told me everything would be fine, to just crawl down the hillside toward the valley. I could take my time. The children were fine. Gradually, I moved. I crawled down the hill, shielding my peripheral vision from the sea’s threatening breakers and made it to the valley. My children hugged me. They offered me chocolate. They told me they were fine and I would be too.

Nothing they could have said would have stopped me from feeling afraid. They didn’t tell me I was being silly. They didn’t explain why my fears were irrational. They accepted me and respected me and reassured me. They knew that, just like my son and his fear of the bridge that opens, I might get over my fear one day, or I might not.

Because, as with so many things, the antidote to fear is love.


Carving Out Time For Yourself as a Homeschool Mom: Writers Group

On Tuesday I mentioned to a friend that I’d gone back to a new-to-me writers group on the previous night. She smiled broadly and said, “Congratulations!”

The word, “congratulations,” normally reserved for engagements, wedding anniversaries, promotions and the arrival of a new baby, might seem inappropriate in this situation. But you and I both know that I deserved that congratulations from my friend. She, a seasoned mother of five children and a fellow home educator, knows that it can take a military-style operation to get out of the house alone. She would also know that it takes a huge amount of bravery and derring-do to step outside one’s comfort zone and go into a new situation, especially when you half expect that there are toddler-snot trails on your shoulder and your most recent conversations center around the prize in a Kinder egg, rather than the latest literary prize.

The first time I went to the group, I changed into my pajamas, lay down with my youngest child (as usual) and waited for him to go to sleep. Then I got up, re-dressed into my jeans and fleece pullover, and drove across town to the group. If my son had known I was going, I doubt he would have gone to sleep. There would have been too many questions, tears about unmet expectations, and his need, ever-present need, for me.

The next morning we talked about it, and it turns out he’s okay with my going out to the group. The next Monday I gave him a kiss goodbye and walked out the door, and his dad lay down with him instead. That was the day I got caught in construction traffic, then drove round and round the patchwork of streets near the group’s venue, couldn’t find parking and after 45 minutes drove home. On the downside, I didn’t get to go to the group. On the upside, 45 minutes alone was rather a novelty.

(As an aside, did you know there are programs on the radio that are specifically aimed at adults? Yeah, crazy. Oddly, none of them feature “The Wheels on the Bus.”)

This week, I made it to the group, struck up a conversation with the person sitting beside me, and even shared something I wrote without running panic-stricken from the room. On reflection, I realize that I struggled to make eye contact with my fellow writers because for me, writing can be like a dirty little secret—something I do alone and rarely discuss with others. Talking about it somehow feels like uttering a profanity. It’s just not the done thing. Certainly not in mixed company.

I suspect that going to the group is going to be good for me, even if it does take a lot of organization and effort to get there. It’s stretching my skills and taking me out of my comfort zone. It helped me realize that maybe my son is ready to be left with his dad and have a change of routine now and again. It’s reminded me that I am an adult with many gifts and roles: mother and home educator being only two. And it’s reminded me what it’s like to be a learner again.

So when you congratulate me, I’ll say just smile and say, “thanks.” Because we both know there’s a lot more to it than just going to writers group.


Homeschooling Isn't Always Easy—So Why Do We Do It?

why, exactly, am I doing this?

Today has been one of those days when I feel like a tragic hero. Nothing I’ve laid my hands to seems to come out right. I open my mouth and the wrong words come out. I lift my hand and I break a glass. My children resist all of my suggestions; I’m at odds with everyone. I put a dishwasher tablet into my mug instead of a teabag. We’re having one of those days. And it’s not even a Monday.

Some days as a home educator are absolutely fantastic. We are going with the flow, bouncing off each other, getting our projects done, learning from one another, finding new things out together. On those days I’m striding along with confidence and feeling on top of the world. What’s more, I feel at one with my children, like we are flowing in the same direction. They’re enthusiastic and excited about what we’re doing, I can see their progress and we are all having fun. If you could make a commercial about home schooling, we’d have a starring role, but my hair would be a bit tidier and my clothes would be ironed. (You’ll have to imagine that.)

But today, like “those” days when things don’t seem to be going my way, has been hard. It started with arguments and bad feeling, moved onto irritation and resistance, and finished up with some yelling, resignation, and my head firmly resting in my hands. Ugh.

On days like this I wonder whether we are doing the right thing. Would they be better off in school? Wouldn’t my life be easier if they went off in the morning and returned in the afternoon? Then I could apply myself to pursuits where people actually value (and pay!) me.

When I feel the resentment building and I’m feeling bad more than I’m feeling good, I know I need to change something. I either need to make a change in what I’m doing or in what I am thinking. Or both. Let me explain.

On days like this I wonder whether we are doing the right thing. Would they be better off in school? Wouldn’t my life be easier if they went off in the morning and returned in the afternoon?

At the end of the day I will sit down and evaluate how it went. I’ll write in my journal, note down what I am grateful for and consider what could have made things better for all of us. The most common causes of difficult days in my house are too little sleep, too little nourishment, too little quiet time, and too much rushing around. Oh, and I’ll be honest: one of the things that really consigns our day to the dustbin is if I get into a bad mood at the start of the day, wallow in victim thoughts and can’t snap out of it. There, I said it.

What could I be doing differently? Could I rush less and make more space in our day for connection, snuggles on the sofa, read aloud stories, art? Could I commit myself to ten minutes (or possibly—hopefully—more) of quiet time after lunch in which I could journal, read a book, sit in meditation or simply lie down? Could we all go to bed a little earlier?

How could I be thinking differently? When things aren’t going very well, it’s so easy to feel like a victim (“Why am I doing this?” “This isn’t what I expected.” “Why are they doing this to me?” “How did we end up like this?”). It’s tempting to let the grey cloud expand, to let The Nothing absorb us and give in to desolation. For me, it helps so much to step back and find my agency in each day. I remind myself that I made these choices. I recall that they are good choices and that we are just stuck in a moment, but we will find a way out, as we always do. I practice compassion and try to see life through my children’s eyes. I meditate and allow unhelpful debris in the mind to dissipate.

I remember when my children were in school several years ago. We’d start the day on the wrong foot, then I’d wave them into the school and that would be it. For the whole day. There would be no opportunity until the end of the school day to rebuild connection, to try again, to say sorry, to hug. I try to recall how bad that felt, how I couldn’t wait to see them in the afternoon and start over, how hard it was to focus on anything in the day with that pall of bad feeling hanging over me. Now I’m lucky, because when life is dishing out moldy leftovers at 7 a.m., I have a chance at 7.01 to chuck it all in the bin and start over. I can say sorry NOW. I can hug my child NOW. We can start over NOW.

Why am I doing this? I’m doing it because I love it and believe in it. And even things we love can be challenging. That’s actually part of their allure.

But take it from me, tea made with dishwasher tablets is definitely to be avoided.


Welcome to My Salon: A Different Approach to Everyday Learning

Everyday Homeschool: Welcome to My Salon

Today at 2 o’clock, I found myself lying down and having my toe nails painted. My eight year old daughter, donning a shower cap for the full spa-lady treatment, polished my toenails, teal on the left, hot pink on the right. As I lay there, I wondered what a fly on the wall might think about this snapshot of our day.

Some might wonder how painting toenails is in any way “educational.” It doesn’t look like school, so in what way does it benefit my daughter? Was it just a sneaky way for me to have a lie down and a spa treatment after lunch? I admit it was very nice (that is, until the five year old started jumping on my stomach), but it was so much more than a pedicure.

We have a wonderful picture book on our shelves that tells a story backwards, using the word previously to lead the reader through preceding events right back to the start of the story. If you want to know how painting toenails benefits my daughter, you’d have to look at the whole picture, tracing our day back to the beginning.

Before painting my toenails, my daughter arranged her bedroom to resemble a beauty therapist’s office. She changed the lighting, donned a costume (the shower cap, remember?), set up chairs and blankets, bowls of warm water and wash cloths, bottles of unguents and colorful polishes. Pretending games and role play are still a huge part of her life at this age.

Previous to this, she asked if she could make a homemade face mask in the kitchen. She used the stove independently, set up a double boiler, measured ingredients with weighing scales, read the recipe, then cleaned up after herself when she was finished. All the while, she narrated what she was doing, as though making a YouTube video. When she’s ready to write a description of what she did, she will have all the necessary elements in place: beginning, middle and end, all the important details and the step-by-step instructions.

Previous to this, she spent a good hour reading through the homemade natural beauty products book she’d just checked out from the library. My reluctant reader (“reading’s boooooring”) actually read. She decided what to make, she made a convincing case for what ingredients she would substitute, I agreed and she got to work.

Earlier in the day we took our scooters to the library for some fresh air and exercise, where she used the library computers to find books about interests. She used the library catalogue to find her book on the shelf, and checked out the book without help.

If you want to tick boxes, as far as I’m concerned, they’re all ticked. But one of the many things I love about home/school/life magazine is the life part. Education isn’t just about worksheets. It’s about life. It’s about having the tools to figure out what you want to do, how to do it and to be equipped with the confidence, independence and wherewithal to actually do it.

Maybe the principle way my daughter benefitted from painting my toenails was all the work that went into getting there. But don’t forget about the home part to home/school/life. I love having my children at home because we have so many opportunities to connect as mother and child. As I approached her room today, my daughter welcomed me like a real beautician. She made small talk about the weather and upcoming vacations. She rubbed my feet and we laughed together. Her little brother came in the room and climbed over the top of me as she tried to paint my nails. Afterwards she said, “Will you recommend me to the rest of the family?” Of course I would. We hugged.

Connecting with my daughter, building a strong relationship with her and showing her that I trust her—all of these things matter so much to me. To me they are just as important to her education as all the stuff that happened previously.


Meet the Team: Lisa

Meet Lisa Hassan Scott, one of our new bloggers. She is an American who married a Scotsman and has been living in Great Britain for 18 years. She's a Yoga teacher, breastfeeding counsellor, writer and home educator with three children. She blogs at www.lisahassanscott.co.uk. We asked her a few questions so that you can get to know her better.

 

What a typical day looks like in my life right now:  My eldest daughter recently chose to go to high school, so the rest of us get up early with her to have a family breakfast and walk her to the bus stop. It’s a great way to get fresh air early in the day, and is especially good for helping the younger children to focus on the work we do together when we get home. Sometimes we stop at the Post Office or the greengrocers, but we always make it a longer walk and talk about the nature we find along the way. At home I normally make myself a cup of coffee while the children get a snack, then we do letter and number work, read together, go through our moth trap and record what we’ve caught overnight and plan the rest of the day. Later in the day we might go out to home ed groups, meet up with friends, or scoot to the skate park. I always try to have at least 10 minutes of quiet time for reading, writing and Yoga, but that doesn’t always work out.

Favorite readaloud:  We recently finished all the Little House on the Prairie books and are now working our way through all 12 of the Swallows and Amazons series. But my favorite read aloud, especially for slightly older children, is Uncle Dynamite by P.G. Wodehouse—such witty and clever writing.

Favorite driving music:  I haven’t chosen the driving music in our car for nearly 12 years!

Things I like:  Language, nature, enthusiasm and a have-a-go attitude, compassion, cooking, running and cycling, Yoga and meditation, writing and alone time.

Guilty pleasure:  Margaritas.

What I love about homeschool life:  freedom.

What I love about home/school/life magazine:  The focus on learning as a family culture.