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Month: April 2011

Making Spaces

Making Spaces

When I’m not complaining about my health or lying around feeling rubbish, I have enjoyed obsessing over the write up for this e-course which looks fabulous.  Not in my budget right now (those jabs won’t pay for themselves) but I will be investing in her book when it comes out in the summer.  I love the idea of allowing environment to shape experience and looking at the gorgeous pics on the Playful Learning website had me hooked on the idea of creating a writing centre.

One trip to the Dollar Store and Staples later I had set Huwyl up with a writing station in his bedroom where a certain toddler brother couldn’t reach and destroy.  I stocked it with new gel pens, a variety of cards, some stickers and some resources I printed off from the Write Start website (in the templates section).  I’ll add new things periodically to refresh Huwyl’s interest but already he has enjoyed making endless cards and writing little notes.  Most of the time he just likes to write To Mummy/Daddy love from Huwyl, which is very cute and always well received.

In comparison to the gorgeous spaces created by the people taking the Playful Learning e-course this is nothing but we are in a rental so this was the best we could manage!  Sorry about the rubbish photos it is really dark in Huwyl’s bedroom but he doesn’t seem to notice and the addition of a nice lamp gives it a cosy feel.  He really enjoys going up and doing some writing and I love that he initiates it rather than it being something imposed on him.

One of the other spaces I’ve created came about after I listened to a great seminar on The Waldorf Connection.  It was given by Janet Allison talking on the topic of boys.  She had lots of fascinating ideas that have really stayed with me and I’ve subsequently watched a couple of her videos and again found that she has great insights.  One of the things that really interested me was when she talked about how boys love factual books and really enjoying reading things with diagrams and instructions.  I’ve noticed how much Huwyl enjoys flicking through our children’s encyclopedias so I thought I’d create a little space where he could enjoy ‘down time’ and do some independent ‘reading’.   And so the Book Nook was born.

With the article I read about the Reggio Emilia schools (the link is in a previous post) and their belief in bringing art work into the work space fresh in my mind, I thought I’d create my own little sign.  So in some odd moments I managed to sketch up a sign for the book nook.  I always forget how much I enjoy drawing and though I lack real skill the joy of simply creating is such fun.  What a shame to deny ourselves this enjoyment because we hold ourselves up to an excessively high standard!  I’m no Monet but I can create a little sign that is cute and serves a purpose in my own home.

The last space I created was for our keyboard which, before this, was being shuttled back and forth onto the table.  I bought an inexpensive stand and a set of wall decorations that have all the notes and music info on that we need.  Our music teacher has the same set so I thought it would be a good bet!  I have never played piano so I’m hoping these will serve as a good reference for me when I’m helping Huwyl.

The other advantage of having this space properly and permanently set up (apart from a smoother rhythm in our day) is that Huwyl can stand up and play.  This seems to really improve his focus and comfort, allowing him to concentrate a little more on the music rather than shifting position constantly as his body demands that he moves.

Listening to Janet Allison talking about the differences in the male and female brains has been very enlightening and I want to pursue this line of thinking more fully.  I’ve also begun reading up a little on the temperaments after reading her vivid description, the first time I’ve seen the temperaments written about in this clear and helpful way.

I’m striving not to overload myself with too much information at the moment but I do feel these avenues of inquiry are so beneficial that they are worth me devoting the little spare brain power I have to them!  Creating a home that serves our needs and supports the way that we live can only bring us more feelings of peace and security as a family, something worth investing time in I think.

My house may never look like this or this but I can keep dreaming!

Good Better Best

Good Better Best

About a month ago I was diagnosed with something called Pernicious Anemia.  Basically this means I can’t process B12 which is A Bad Thing.  I’m not making enough blood and feel quite rubbish.  I’m still working on the treatment with my naturopath, the first try hasn’t worked out so we are now onto bi-weekly injections which I’m hoping will give me the boost I need. One of the side effects of this problem is fatigue and this week I have really been feeling it.  Along with this a difficulty to concentrate or even do basic tasks; I seem to have low points that really take me down, so one day I’m reorganising the house and the next day I can’t work how how to eat my eggs.  Frustrating it is.

Right now I’m trying to juggle the normal household stuff, homeschool and project manage the building of our house.  This feels like a lot of different plates to keep spinning and the down times just make me feel under threat.  There are things that have to get done, I simply cannot fail.  And yet my body gives out, I am dizzy, breathless and exhausted.  There have been days where it was too painful to walk.  But the work is there and has to be done.  In these moments I really feel like I’m bashing my head against a brick wall.  Our future is within grasp but is feels under threat because my body isn’t working properly and apparently never did.  Or never will.

The thing that I have been struggling the most is not just the horrid feeling of the symptoms themselves but the restrictions this places on me.  I can’t do all the tasks I want to, I’m limited in my ability to be successful and frustration rides high in my consciousness.  I am thwarted and not happy about it. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading Adrie’s posts with much interest.  She has been talking candidly (what a blessing the honesty of other mothers truly is) about letting go of certain expectations and embracing some conveniences that make life easier and more pleasurable.  I have to admit I understand her dilemma.

I wouldn’t put myself in Adrie’s shoes, what she achieves is truly remarkable, but I understand the inability to cut oneself a teensy bit of slack. I grew up with hard working parents and with stories about their hardworking parents and grandparents.  My great grandmother had 10 living children, did all the washing by hand (her husband and 8 boys all worked in the coal mines) and cooked everything over a fire.  She pumped water from the garden and had a mangle instead of a dryer.  My Mum remembered doing washing with her when she was little and told me stories so vivid I felt I was there.  Somehow, compared to that, any complaints I may have seem trivial and my own difficulties feel like laziness.

For example.  I bake the bread for my little family, I enjoy it and do it happily.  I’m not hardcore and do use my kitchenaid stand mixer for a lot of the kneading making things quicker for me.  This week I wanted to do a quick rising loaf so used white flour bought from the store instead of wholewheat that I had ground myself.  I added pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds (I feel compelled to add this detail) but still I feel like I cheated, took a short cut and that I am being lazy. I’m aware that this is silly, that many people consider baking bread to be a bit of an achievement and yet I can’t feel too pleased with myself.

If I get praise it sort of rolls off, I’m pleased but embarrassed and sort of think it is undeserved.  I think if I can do it, then it is easy and nothing to make a fuss about.  I compare myself to others and think ‘But look at them, look what they are doing.’  I wish I could do it all and yet the time, energy, space, opportunity isn’t there.  But that feels like excuses, haven’t others done more with less, faced hardships and won through?  Am I not simply spoiled?  Will my life amount to nothing in the end?  Nothing really special at any rate.  Am I letting the boys down?  Etc etc. And then all this navel gazing feels self indulgent and I am irritated with myself, instead of complaining shouldn’t I be doing?  But the negativity is paralysing, it holds me in place like my feet are stuck in mud.  It creates doubt which creates inaction which feeds the doubt.

I ask myself “Why can’t I cut myself any slack?”  Partly there isn’t the opportunity, it is mostly just Stephen and I so we can’t call in the willing and helpful relatives, not without a plane ticket anyway.  When one takes a break the other has to step in and that is hard.  But honestly I simply feel guilty, like a big fat lazy slacker.  All very puritanical for a raving heathen but there it is.

So how can I break this cycle?  How can I learn to take pleasure in my own happiness?  It is partly a learned behaviour.  I know from what my Dad tells me that my Mum struggled with the same things when we were young, he had to force her to change her patterns and look after herself when she was making herself ill.  Luckily I have my own lovely man who has done the same for me (and my Dad on the end of the phone insisting on it too!), but I have to continue on myself.  Somehow I have to release the burden of guilt and invest myself in my own well being. In part I know I’m being prideful, wanting to hold myself up to a higher standard.  But I find myself being mean in this state and, honestly, envious when I see others free of this burden.  I don’t want to be a pinch faced meany casting scorn upon anyone who dares to enjoy life, so I need to lighten up.

I know this will benefit my family, I know it will give me the energy I need to be there for them.  That’s how I can justify it to myself, for now.   But honestly I’m not even sure what it would look like. So for now here is my little manifesto:

1.  Take time to rest during the day.  Occupy boys and lie on the bed, don’t look at emails or work on the house project.  Rest.

2. Make simple meals that are nourishing and quick.  Don’t feel guilty about buying lovely fresh foods that are health giving.

3. Try and do something fun like thrift shopping/ go for a tea with a friend/do some sewing etc once a week.  Find  a little time to be me.  BUT if this doesn’t work out I will try not to see it as a failing!

4. Work every day on letting go of guilt, see it for what it is, useless.  As my beautiful friend reminded me yesterday it does no good to hold it all in.  As always her wisdom inspires me as do so many wonderful friends and family that I’m lucky to share my life with.

5. If in doubt drop shoulders, try to smile and get out the paints/storybook/popcorn.  Be really present with the boys for some time each day, enjoy them, love them.

6. Let go of things that are not working right now, come back to them another time.

7.  Accept imperfection.  I’m doing my best and that is going to be my mantra right now.  I am doing my best.  Repeat ad infinitum.

That’s it for now.  My capacity to process B12 might be pernicious but I am determined my character will not become so.  My life is so full of blessings, I just need to look up and take time to notice.  And enjoy.

A Very Good Friday

A Very Good Friday

Today we fully savoured the beauty of spring on our own land.

Each hour we spend in this place, basking in the warming sun, exploring, playing, listening, being, it feels as though it belongs to us a little more.  And a little more we belong to it.

Art for Art’s Sake

Art for Art’s Sake

For the last few weeks I’ve incorporated a weekly art history study into our homeschool learning.  I recently signed on for a trial with the Simply Charlotte Mason Organiser, I’ve really enjoyed it and one of the amazing benefits is the bookfinder which can be used for free.  Because I use the organiser I can directly schedule things from the finder but it is a great resource for anyone looking to expand their reading list.

One of the books I came across using this tool is Art for Children, I requested it from the library and have been using it each week to do a picture study.   We do this as a narration exercise and it only takes 5-10 mins which is perfect for Huwyl right now.   The book includes a great variety of artists but I’ve chosen to focus intitially on ones I recognise and am familiar with.  As we go along I’ll get a bit more adventurous!

Each section has some information about an artist, one of their famous works and some questions to ask about the artwork and our reactions to it.   I’ve really enjoyed Huwyl’s reactions to the paintings and been surprised by how perceptive his observations can be.  He thought that a Jackson Pollock painting looked like a forest which I thought was really accurate!

Although I doubt that any of this information will stick in the long term what I really enjoy is the opportunity to share beautiful and interesting work with Huwyl on topics that excite my mind too.  So much of the ‘subject matter’ children are traditionally exposed to through school seems to me banal and lacking in variation.  It also bears no resemblance to anything they will encounter in the real world.

I read a fascinating article (link from Playful Learning) about the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy.  I found the author’s observations really enlightening especially in discussing the artificiality of educational spaces when contrasted with the Reggio Emilia schools.  I have never examined that idea before and had one of those ‘Wow of course!’ moments.

There is a particular “aesthetic” to this room. Just from the images on the walls we know at once we are in a kindergarten (or primary grade) classroom. This look, like the string paintings or string prints typical of school art (Efland, 1988), exists only in schools. [my bolding]

Although this is not stating anything earth shattering I found this concept mind opening.  When I first began our journey in September I bought a cute wall decorating kit from Scholar’s choice (my cool friend had a similar one and I was basically being a copy cat), it has the months on it and cartoon symbols of what the months represent as well as a useful calendar.   Unfortunately being the slightly scatty bird that I am it really hasn’t gelled and everything got a bit destroyed and mixed up in the move.  The bits that did survive are on the wall, unfortunately it still says February.

What I realised is that I am not a systematic person so rotating displays etc isn’t my forte (I wasn’t even very good when I was teaching high school so I don’t stand much chance now).  I was trying to conform to an aesthetic that I thought would bring a feeling of authority to our home school, I wanted to make sure that Huwyl wasn’t missing out on the ‘school experience’ so wanted to bring some of that systematic order into our ‘home experience’.

Now I see that being authentic to who we are is much more important, sharing with the children books, art, music that I love and find fascinating.  If I am to ignite my passion and teach my children with genuine enthusiasm I need to have subject matter I feel enthusiastic about.  As we go on we will add in history (we started but have called a halt as we approach the warmer outside months), science and maths in ways that are concrete and vivid.  For example working on some of the activities in The Story of the World activity book was enormously fun and has stuck with Huwyl over many months.  We made the double crown of the King of Egypt and he still remembers which colour represents which area, which is more than I can!

We’ve also found that the Shepherds Crook of the Pharaoh can also come in handy for pirate kings.

So what does all of this rambling mean?  Well I’m not sure.  I love art and art history.  I love sharing that with my children.  I think that is a good thing.  And I think that education has to be, at least in some part, about being exposed to what is great and good in the world.  Yes I want my children to read, that sort of goes without saying.  But I also want them to be exposed to ideas rather than just information.  It is not enough that they know the colours, can name them by rote or point them out and paint with them.  They need to know what the colours can do, the myriad possibilities when in the hands of a creative soul with something to communicate.

According to the standard schooling Huwyl would have received had he been educated outside our home, art history would not have appeared on the curriculum.  The focus is on the skills needed to face the rigours of first grade and beyond, to learn how to attend school and work within the systems in place there.  One of the freedoms we enjoy is the time to focus on other things; the time to explore the wonderful possibilities that the world has to offer, the joys there are to explore.  Right now they have no preconceptions, no barriers.  We can look at a Jackson Pollock painting and wonder ‘what would it feel like to paint like that’ or ‘what do you see?’ without worrying that it is modern art not classical, without concern that Art (with that capital A) is to difficult or too ‘boring’ to think about.  They see everything with fresh eyes and open hearts.

I know a misconception about home schooling is that the children are often sheltered from ‘the real world’ but I am beginning to see that in many ways the opposite is true.   We are connecting to art, music, history, science, mathematics as they exist not in an artificial state.  I want the boys to be exposed to the real deal rather than a manufactured version of something, designed to ‘teach’ or more likely ‘assess’.  They are learning that the world is filled with beauty, with amazing artists and creative minds that are discovering the multiple possibilities of the universe, of life.

And I wonder, what will they make of it all, these little artists of mine?  Where will their creativity take them?

For My Seester

For My Seester

Who loves vintage pyrex?  Come on, you know you do.  The beautiful colours, the fabulous patterns, the opaque milky goodness and knowing it is environmentally friendly to boot.  Well my sister and I share something of a pyrex fetish obsession interest so when I was out on a bit of a flea market mission yesterday (that was where I took the picture of the fabulous green and orange barstools, oh yes they will be mine) I took some piccies of the pyrexy goodness to be found there.

And because I’m nice I thought I’d share them.  But mainly this is a pyrex lovin’ shout out to my most favourtest seester in all the world.

Some of these shots are not great, the light was rubbish and I was trying to stop Huwyl from breaking anything/being adopted/stealing shiny jewellery/breaking anything.  Also if you notice a predominance of aqua that is because it is the best colour in the world.  If you don’t believe me ask my sister.  Though for the non aqua lovers (dark and corrupt souls that they are) never fear, we love us some orange too.

There were many more lovely things I didn’t get to take pics of on account of the ‘Huwyl Factor’ as it could be known.    But hopefully this is a little taster of how much yumminess there was.  And yes I do deserve a medal for not buying it all, thanks for mentioning it.

Sorry to anyone who is bored by many, many pictures of pyrex but I think the title of this post was clear.

This one was for you tiny bean.  

Nature Deficit Disorder

Nature Deficit Disorder

Since I saw and loved this trailer for movie called Mother Nature’s Child, on Lola’s blog, I’ve been preoccupied with some of the ideas explored even in this short segment.

While not all of these situations could be applied to our life, I think that it is interesting to consider the significance of outside time and time in nature.  First I would draw a distinction between simply outside as opposed to in nature.  While time on a playground or playing sports can be wonderful and enriching, I think that being fully in nature, with no boundaries, rules or constructs is a very different thing.

One of the many blessings of connecting to other homeschooling families has been the opportunity to share outside time.  Our group has regular nature walks, even in the very cold of winter, and our Friday get together is now outside too.  It’s a chance for all of us to blow away the cobwebs and embrace the outside.  Even if the weather is not fabulous the temptation of connection and some relaxing time is too good to miss!

Something that never fails to fascinate and delight me is how ‘at home’ the children are in natural environments.  Their imaginations are boundless, they are never bored or stuck for ideas.  They work co-operatively (most of the time) on projects and often seem to be playing about 3 different games at once in order to accommodate the dream of each participant.  In the woods things are suddenly very simple.

Now we are not a screen free family, we enjoy some (selective) tv and movies as well as some computer time.  These tend to diminish as the spring and summer warm up but are invaluable during the longs days of winter.  But as we emerge, like the new leaves, into this season it is the outside that calls to us the most.  That is where I see my boys at their happiest and most natural.

The pictures above were taken on a recent get together, the day was very cold with a bitter wind but the children really didn’t seem to notice!  They played their games, warming themselves with their activity.  After a couple of hours (and frankly when the grown ups could take no more of the cold) my clever friend Steph produced a lovely story to round off our time together.  The children happily sat along a tree looking so perfectly content, like little pinecones all in a row.

I don’t mean to suggest that there are never any challenges during our outside time.  They fall over and hurt themselves, there are conflicts that sometimes need a Mummy to help resolve, I am forever chasing after Neirin and trying to prevent his imminent demise.  But those are all things I have to do inside too.

What is different is the effect upon the children, they come home more relaxed and peaceful; their bodies and minds are calmer even though they have been active and busy.  As someone says in the video above we are a culture focused on information, saturated with it even.  This preoccupation with filling children up, packing them as full of information as possible is one of the reasons I wanted to homeschool.  As he says connection is so much more important.  This I believe wholeheartedly.

If there is a message that really needs to get through when it comes to children it is ‘let them play’ or even better ‘let them play outside’.  The lessons they learn are not the kind learned in a classroom, it is the kind that creeps in through the bones.  They learn, I hope, to be comfortable in nature and to see it as a refuge, a home, a provider and a playground.  Perhaps when we become a culture that sees nature in this way we will finally begin to care for it properly.

For my part I look forward to cultivating a life outside, I think we will be happier for it.

Afternoon at the Museum

Afternoon at the Museum

A blissful afternoon at the Agriculture Museum sharing time with lovely friends, watching children explore and absorb.  All around is evidence of this new season, life bursting everywhere, energetically charging the world around.

Close ups…

Baby love (the goat babies were born less than an hour before, we watched one take milk for the first time)…

Big eyed beauty…

Unlikely friends…

As Huwyl said this afternoon, after playing in the blazing sunshine outside “Summer is finally here!  Summer is upon the whole of Canada!” (yes he does really talk like that and yes I think it is cute).

I hope you are enjoying all the joys Spring can bring where you are.

A Single Moment

A Single Moment

Captured in images, a single moment from the week.  A moment to treasure and savour from our ordinary and very special life.  Joining Amanda in this Friday ritual.

We’re off to look at tractors this weekend, wishing everyone fun adventures!