Hazy days and Mondays

It’s been an intense couple of weeks, with A abroad in the states visiting friends and B starting her new course at Dance City in Newcastle. There’s not enough of me to go around and I’ve been hugely grateful to friends and neighbours for ferrying kids and babysitting when I’ve been working. Hoping for more of a routine now A is back but also feeling the pull of the city as the drive down from rural Northumberland three times a week takes its toll.

I’ve always been a city girl, straining at the leash to leave home as soon as I turned 18 and spending 10 hectic years in London. We moved up to the North, where I had lived as a teenager, when B was not even 2, propelled by joblessness, post-natal vulnerability, a need to be nearer family and a mouse infestation in our Nunhead flat. Many times since I have wondered how I thought I might fit in to a small farming community after the edgy diversity of Peckham. Our proximity to the shiny, bare Northumberland beaches has done much to soothe my restless mind but I need lots of people around me and am enjoying the trips into Newcastle, despite the upheaval to the family timetable.

This morning was dank and hazy, and B was in a foggy mood. The very best thing for her is a race along the beach, so we donned wellies and drove to our nearest village by the sea for some coastal therapy. B and M enjoyed taking pictures – we talked about close-ups and landscape shots, while baby F pretended to be a fierce dinosaur chasing down the ever-speedy Little M. Dropping from the footpath down to the beach, we collected stones to paint and spotted some brilliant birds – a cormorant on a rock, its wings spread, creating a bold silhouette; a heron waiting to grab a fish, greedily eying the water; a massive black-backed gull that B willed to be an albatross;  sanderlings, oystercatchers and redshanks darting along the shoreline. Some colour returned to B’s cheeks as the sea worked its magic.

Home for music, as M tackled some theory to help with her piano and drumming and B selected some songs for her grade 4 singing exam in December. Little M has just started the piano, concentrating well for one who, for now, likes formal  learning in very small doses. I’m a big advocate of music as an enrichment activity for children. Even though Little M is still sounding out most of her words and learning the trickier blends, she is enjoying decoding the notes on the stave and listening to the harmonies of our duets, and she loves to sing. It’s all great for memory, hand-eye coordination, concentration and motor skills. I remember B really struggling to write when she first started school because her hand hurt when she held the pen. It made me wonder if she needed to be writing at all – maybe the pen was trying to tell her something?! Now she beavers away writing poems and diaries and song lyrics with no complaint at all, but it took some time to convince her that writing could be fun. This way, Little M can write when she is ready.

This afternoon A tackled earthquakes and fairies with the little ones while B and I took the train into Newcastle and spent a gorgeous hour in the Lit and Phil. This is possibly the best place in the world for a bookworm like B, and we crept up the iron, spiral staircase where the old maps and musical scores are stored to explore. An enthusiastic librarian showed us a metre-high linen map-book, hand printed in 1896, and we pored over the vast creamy pages, remarking upon tobacco factories and tramlines.  Next we examined a unique book of pianoforte music for ladies, printed at the end of the 18th century, as the librarian told us about Jane Austen’s skills as a musical composer – information devoured by us as we are enjoying reading Pride and Prejudice together at the moment. We discovered that the oldest book in the library is a 16th century book, and that it is also in possession of original writing by Galileo!  B found a book from 1825 and ran along the rickety corridor with wide eyes to show me the date etched inside the frail black cover.

A is working for the rest of the week, but Grannie and Grandad are visiting tomorrow promising adventures in the allotment and homemade curry for lunch, so I am spoiled for help this week. And I’ve just booked flights to Belfast for a child-free weekend in November with a dear old friend (more dear than old if you’re reading this P…!). A bright and breezy start to the week.

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Chemistry via breadmaking

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Embleton Bay gleaming

 

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Leaves on the ground

A gap of several months has passed since I last blogged here. Stormy clouds gathered over our house and it’s been a difficult time. Constant through all the turmoil though has been the energy and joy of my tribe of girls. The summer saw us camping in Paris, exploring the Bronte’s parsonage and youth hostelling in Cambridge. Everywhere we go people comment on how they have all grown, and they all look healthy with sparkly eyes and sun-touched skin.

B moved a mountain just before the summer when she was offered a place on the CAT scheme at Dance City in Newcastle. The terrified little girl who hid behind my leg at the school gate smashed her auditions and beat thousands to win a government-funded place on the course until she is 18. The dance teacher in the interview told us they love the ‘special qualities’ home-educated children possess, especially their mature interaction with adults. I spent Sunday night holding a weeping B as she sobbed, telling me she didn’t want to go to her first class, but it was all a little brighter in the morning and she ran out of the studio smiling, clutching her complimentary ballet shoes. It’s a huge commitment for the whole family – 2 evenings and a weekend afternoon every week, and it’s an hour away at least. Worth iit if it boosts B’s confidence, and I’ll be honest, I’m very at home in the city several times a week…

M has leaped back into home education with her characteristic energy and has taken up the drums. Not as hellish as I thought it might be in a smallish 3-bed terrace, although I’m grateful our neighbour is almost deaf. Found a great jazz drummer to teach her, and she seems really inspired by him, rocking away on her little second-hand kit.

Little M is now 5 and seems at last to have grown a bit taller, though she is still very skinny. She’s a very speedy runner, racing against her big sisters whenever she gets the chance. Totally different kettle of fish learning-wise to B and M, but that is the joy of a big family, everyone is so different. M can sit for hours working on a painting, meticulous with her details. She loves stories but needs lots of repetition to remember sounds and words. This week she has started writing a story so you have to admire her ambition. One sentence in so far…

Baby F is tough as hell and makes sure everyone knows exactly what she needs. She’s the only one at the little forest nursery now, chatty and exuberant, mostly to be found in her favourite brown flowery dress telling jokes.

This autumn we have signed up to the Crisis 50/50 challenge – hopefully an easy way to raise some money for homeless people and enjoy exercising together at the same time. At this time of year in Northumberland you still get the occasional little treat when the sun feels warm on your neck. The colours are becoming more bleached though, leaves are floating, curled, to the ground, and soon it will be dark when we wake.

And what about me? I’m trying hard to think about what is happening today, rather than cramming all of my ambitions into one overwhelming basket. I have no idea what is around the corner, I can just try my best to be healthy and as happy as possible.

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Fresh start

Sad to read this article today about teachers leaving the profession, but a little reassuring to agree with everything they say and feel validated in my decision to deregister M.

Last week, M and I spent a long time drawing a mindmap and talking about how and what she likes to learn. Turns out she will miss being at choir, which is where being a singing teacher comes in handy. Otherwise, she wants more time to be outside, build models, play the piano, sing, draw, write stories, do science experiments and number challenges, read books and play. When we finally decided to take the leap, her little face flushed red and her eyes filled with tears. For one awful moment I thought we had made a big mistake, but then she said “I think I’m crying because I’m so happy!”. Big relief and we have had a great week.

Sunday night was a sleepover with the grandparents. Games of Uno, clambering in quarries, stories with Grandad, Indian number investigations and family history. My Step-Grandpa died this month and the girls were in charge of putting together a collage of old photos for the wake. Later in the week, at the funeral, M was enthralled by the process of what happens after someone has died. She is fascinated by all things to do with the human body. It was refreshing to see death and mourning through the eyes of a child, so practical and uncomplicated.

Tuesday was swimming (just me and the two big ones, not beaten by the ratio issues because the little ones were at nursery), robot-building and piano. Wednesday was science experiments and potato-planting with Daddy while I worked, then Italian with my friend (skill-swap – I teach her two girls music) and dance at the local theatre. Thursday was the funeral – lots of time with family. Friday was a walk in the sun and a cookery challenge, where B and M both planned, budgeted, bought and made a meal for us all. The first time M has not moaned about doing the supermarket shop…In the evening they watched me conducting my choir sing Vivaldi’s Gloria and were delighted when their friend won a prize in the raffle. Music and chocolate, you can’t go wrong. Today was spent pondering Brexit (blame First News, then in the park by the sea with their little cousin and Uncle G, followed by litter-picking with conscientious pals and hot chocolate in Barter Books.

So far, so brilliant. It’s absolutely knackering working several jobs and home educating four small children, but for faces like this, it’s worth it.

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Renewal

My year so far has been shabby. 2017 did not bring the fresh start I had been promised, instead dragging remnants of a messy 2016 over its threshold and whipping up fresh mayhem. For a time I have felt bleak and vulnerable, struggling to combat the crap life has thrown at me. This week, though, a curious shift has occurred, an energy glows somewhere inside me and I’m ready to fight back.

The sense that I can choose my own life comes as a huge relief after many weeks of feeling     cocooned in some dark, stubborn world. The contradictions that inform my character have never been far away: I have been restless but needed stability, emotional but unable to communicate. I had been too much in my head, overwhelmed by personal challenges, and as a result I had lost sight of the here and now.

Trundling from day to day, I have continued to home educate B, little M and baby F, whilst M has been at school. It has never felt right having one of our tribe elsewhere, but it has suited me to see M reasonably happy and she wanted to know what school was all about. My initial allergic reaction to her new and very different educational experience had to be diluted if only to save my sanity. I have tried hard, with M, to be positive about school. And it’s not all bad. There have been some good moments. But she can do better. And we should be doing better for her.

While life has picked me up and tossed me around, I have chosen to put M’s deregistration to the back of mind. Or certainly further from the front. But almost a year has passed now. My little girl is nearly 7. We have created a life where she can learn freely, be outside as much as she likes and just be a child. If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s that I am not perfect, but I am doing my best and I should have the confidence, once more, to step outside the box and do something brave.

Tonight we read a book about the universe and it blew M away. ‘It’s just so exciting!’ she breathed. ‘I have too many questions! I can’t wait for the weekend so I can do some experiments!’.

Now is the time, as the air feels warmer against our faces and the blossom winks at us from the side of the road. Instinct tells me that a summer spent on the beach, painting galaxies, reading books, singing songs, asking questions and visiting exciting new places will be one worth remembering.

I’ve kept my side of the bargain, we’ve given school a go. But now it’s time to make the weekend last a little longer.

 

 

A mother

It’s been a month of marching, head down, against the cruel weather that life throws at you from time to time. I’ve been followed by storm clouds that have threatened to engulf me, and woke from an awful dream last night where I was suffocating.

When life gets tricky, a gulp of fresh air is essential. It’s amazing how a few hours out in the spring breeze can soothe nerves and restore calm. Today I loaded my tribe of girls into the car and we drove out to Wallington, the stunning home to a bunch of bohemian socialists, the Trevelyans.

Feeling trapped inside my head, the wide expanses of Northumbrian landscape provided the perfect antidote. I  am usually drawn to the beach, only minutes from our home, when searching for solace. Today, though, we headed west, up into the hills. You can still see the sea from the heights of the national park, and today was clear and bright blue, broken up only by the aeroplane trails cutting through the sky.

For much of the journey, weaving around the bends and dipping up and down hills, we trailed an ambulance. M, especially, was fascinated by the flashing blue light – it has been her dream for several years to become a paramedic, and she chatted about what the ambulance might be doing. Imagine her delight when an air ambulance loomed into view in a field alongside the road, although we all hoped for a happy outcome for the poor cyclist lying on the verge.

Minutes later we drove into Wallington. It’s one of our favourite places, and since M went to school, we have avoided going there without her if possible because it’s just too special for her to miss.

Today was all about scones in the sun, clambering over dragons, marvelling at a narwhal’s horn, and hide and seek behind the trees.

Often, it is easy to miss the simple pleasures that come hand in hand with motherhood. There’s all the slog – the nappy changing, the night feeds, the clearing up, the endless mess. And there’s the guilt that you should be doing something else, clinging onto the person you were before you were a parent, or making plans for life when they are not babies any more. Sometimes, with home education, I feel that our time must have more purpose – a throwback from my teacher training.

But today it felt amazing to just wrap baby F’s arms around my neck and stand still, as she pushed her cheek against mine. It felt perfect to lift little M up to a branch so she could stroke clusters of furry new leaves. M leapt and ran, noticing everything and grabbing at life. And B was at home, as she always is when she is outside, listening to birds and inventing worlds.

I watched all of this, and after weeks of my mind feeling tangled and agonised, it was the relief I needed to just enjoy being a mother. I realised that the four little girls, running across the lawn, clutching hands in a line, was the tonic I needed.

Democracy

M clung to me, wrapping her skinny legs around my waist and crying noisily into my neck. Her sisters wanted to sit quietly and listen to an audio book, but M wanted to play. Half-term has come to an end and the girls have squeezed every last drop out of it, playing together from first light in the morning until they flop onto our duvet for a story at bedtime.

Earlier today, B sidled up to me with red cheeks signalling that tears were not far away. Transition is hard for B, and I’d been waiting for the inevitable meltdown as she pondered the return of her little sister to school. M is not sentimental: she can be very thoughtful, but she brushes away emotional baggage, always looking forward to the next thing on her agenda. I’ll never know if M’s little breakdown today meant that she was feeling sad that our lovely week had come to a close. She may wear her heart on her sleeve, but she rarely admits to any wobble in her strong facade – a feisty little contradiction.

On Wednesday we will attend our ‘assertive mentoring’ session with M’s teacher. A can barely say the phrase ‘assertive mentoring’ without using an expletive; M can’t say it at all. It’s basically a parent/teacher meeting but with the added joy of meaningless targets and highlighted grids. I hate how cynical I sound, but at the last meeting, M’s targets were pointless, being achievable for her in the 15 mins we spent discussing them. Anyway, A and I agreed that we would see how this meeting goes before leaping to any drastic decisions about M’s education. I am the queen of drastic decisions, famous for changing my mind three times in the space of a minute as my brain flicks from one erratic conclusion to another. A is the opposite, requiring weeks of thinking time. I call him a conservative socialist – radically leftwing in his thinking, but he has to talk everything through rather than leaping in head first.

It has been good for me to work to a slower timetable – we really don’t want to screw this decision up. Sometimes I kick myself for re-entering the bear pit that is mainstream education, but my mum reminds me that if M hadn’t given school a go, she would still be nagging us now and wondering what all the fuss is about. We have done what we have always tried to do as parents – listen to our daughter. It might have backfired slightly, but I’m confident we can regroup and move forward  – stronger and wiser as a family.

I am interested in democratic education, where children have a voice and take control of their learning. It’s what we believe in as a home educating family. The word ‘democracy’ has become tainted for me by its shoddy usage in post-Brexit politics. Lumped in with ‘will of the people’, its meaning is losing value to me. In today’s ugly, cruel world, democracy feels exasperatingly far-removed from our lives. Next week we are taking the girls on a March for Europe. M is excited about having her say. She is making a banner saying ‘Brexit Smells’. Which sums it up nicely I think.

 

So as M bobs across the park to school, at home we will be busy as usual. Little M and I are making word games and attempting to read a book about bats. B is finalising her song choices for her Grade 3 singing exam, then tackling a number investigation about volume, based on a chart she wants to make to ensure we are all are drinking enough water. Baby F will be making mischief. I hope I’ll find time to sit at the piano and play, as I’ve been doing more often recently, and try some of that slow thinking that A recommends…

Breaking the rules

It’s half term and absolutely lovely to have M back in the tribe full-time. I am battling with feeling enlightened and progressive as a home educator whilst watching my 6-year old becoming part of an education system that I don’t believe in. I am only managing the reality of her being in school because in my head I can deregister her at any time. Of course, it’s not that simple.

Last week, M told me she had an idea for a story, could I create a ‘story challenge’ for her to do at school? The background to this is that the work at school seems to be too easy for her, and a while back I offered to send in some resources similar to those I use with the girls at home for M to use as extension exercises. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I wonder what possessed me. Anyway, of course I told M I would draw a story planner that she could complete and her teacher said that was fine, she could do it if there was a gap in the day. Well there was time, because M tells me she always finishes first and goes to the book corner (nice, but she says it’s a bit boring to do every day) or goes on the iPad (not ok, no need for the screen, she’s only little).

After school she showed me her story plan, which was funny, detailed and illustrated (how much time had she had?!). She then asked B and I why she couldn’t use connectives such as ‘because’ at the beginning of her sentences. ‘You can write what you like, it’s your story’, replied her thoroughly deschooled big sister. Why is M being taught that she cannot play with language and be experimental? I read recently that this rigid approach to learning can be detrimental to children’s confidence, and it’s easy to see why.

Having her at home again this week, I can see with fresh eyes that M needs to be constantly busy. She flits from activity to game to chat to drawing in much the same way I know I am prone to. I understand why she is drawn to school: she wants to be where the action is and she wants to be given a job to do that she can easily achieve and quickly do another one. I’m onto her now. Now my job is to establish what the positive parts of her school day are (I’m guessing seeing her best friend and being part of a community – I also think M likes being part of the crowd) and try and meet those needs as a home educating family.

With my new eyes, I can clearly see that M will benefit from more space to explore her ideas. More sleep will be good for her too. We declared today Official Lazy Day, and the girls stayed in their pyjamas being anything but lazy all day long. There was dressing up, singing, building a model bridge, drawing, telling jokes, musical instruments, puzzles and books. Home education can be intense, but, to me, it’s the stronger education model at the moment. I think it’s time to be the grown-up, dig deep and break the rules again…

Being a child

When  article after article I read this month questions the ridiculously busy lives children today lead, and when I’m running a fairly successful alternative model to that frenetic lifestyle (for the kids at least), I have to wonder what the hell I am doing sending my six-year old to school.

We live close to a very nice school – I doubt I could find a better one nearby. The staff seem motivated and interested in the kids, and they work so hard. Many of the activities are lovely and my little girl seems happy. Which makes it all so much harder. I have never felt more of a grown-up. I’m not scared of the educational consequences; I think that home education smashes formal education out of the water. It’s the emotional fallout that terrifies me – M turning round in ten years time and screaming at me that I ruined her childhood. A says she will do this anyway, and with her huge, fearless blue eyes and big heart that spills over with emotion, I know she won’t pull any punches. If it’s not the day I take her out of school, it will no doubt be something else that rips her world apart.

Child psychologist, Dr Sam Wass, recently carried out a study with Centre Parcs that concluded that primary-aged children in the UK have too little downtime. According to Wass, over three hours each day should be dedicated to time outside, imaginative play and reading. I am really struggling to find those three hours. M has four pieces of homework each week. I recently filled in a homework survey for the school, adding a long message about the importance of family time and free time for small children. I can almost hear the headteacher tutting at me in her office across the park. Yesterday, M was filling in a book review as she shovelled porridge into her mouth at 8am. And all because the previous night she lay down on some cushions and read a book before tea instead of doing her homework. I’m not going to force her to do her homework, but equally I don’t want her multi-tasking manically as I am sometimes forced to do.

I am increasing my hours as a music practitioner in schools and as part of community events, and it strikes me that artists are now raising the funds for arts projects in our schools when the government should be footing the bill. Artists I know feel so passionately about the importance of music, dance and drama being part of the curriculum that they are painstakingly putting in funding bids in their own time. I could have wept today when I discovered that M’s reading group takes place during her art lesson. SHE CAN ALREADY READ! LET HER BUILD A BLOODY BIRD BOX!, I wanted to shout. The legacy for our young people, starved of creative opportunities, cannot be underestimated. The arts teach so much more than how to pirouette, or clap a rhythm. On Wednesday we pulled the percussion instruments onto the carpet, pilled up cushions around the piano and sang and sang and sang. I could feel the energy and happiness bursting out of M as she joyfully banged on her lollipop drum and sang Yellow Submarine at the top of her voice.

As time ticks by, A and I are heading for another big decision. The question becomes less ‘what education do we want for our child’, and more ‘what childhood do we want for her?’

Hamster wheel

This week has been marginally less jampacked than usual, with most after-school activities not starting until tomorrow. I have still found, though, that the pace has picked up and I have to ask whether all the dashing about is necessary.

When I was growing up in the 80s, you went to school and then you came home. Having checked with my mum that I haven’t misremembered my childhood, she agrees that ballet on a Thursday and a lunchtime piano lesson shared with my brother were the only organised activities outside school. Mum says we used to play with friends in the evenings, and I can remember pelting up and down the lanes around the village on my bike and building dens in the trees at the bottom of the field. There was a concrete slope at the back of the cottage and I can still feel the vibrations tingling through my feet as I slid precariously to the gate at the bottom on my little metal roller skates.

Over the years, parenting has become less something that you just do, and more a competitive art-form. It seems to me that we need to regain trust in our own ability to parent instead of filling our children’s days with activities led by other people. Our kids go to school for at least six hours, where the timetable is filled with objectives and very little time to breathe and ask questions. Evenings are then packed full with Brownies, swimming lessons, dance, sports clubs and, of course homework. Even weekends can quickly be lost if you engage with theatre club or football. Don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to be exposed to lots of different opportunities, but at what cost? If children are told what to think at school (because it’s more about measuring progress than considering process and wider thinking skills these days), and follow structured activities after school, when do they just muck about and play? When do they invent things or dream? How do they find things out for themselves? And when do they rest?

I was annoyed on Friday to receive a letter explaining that M would have to complete weekly homework on an education website. I’m fiercely protective of the time we can spend with M outside school, and once reading prescribed texts, spellings and now this other homework are done, there is even less time for her to dress up as a fierce eagle for a dance show with her sisters or make a toilet roll Leaning Tower of Pisa. Come on people, what’s the priority?!  It’s clear we are heading towards a mental health crisis (if we are not already in one) if children are not given the opportunities to develop vital thinking skills, creativity and resilience.

Firstly, artists, teachers and parents need to recognise the huge danger in eradicating arts subjects from the primary curriculum and fight back. My six-year old has no music lessons – how is that acceptable? Artists are applying for grants to go into schools and deliver workshops, hoping that the schools will scrape together some match funding to eek the project out. This is not good enough. Our schools should be offering a curriculum that embraces the arts and promotes their worth.

Next, let’s make flexible working a reality for more families. It’s a nightmare trying to find a job that fits in with school hours, and if you can’t, any financial incentive has to go on the extra childcare. Job-shares should become the norm alongside affordable, high-quality childcare to make it worth going to work in the first place.

Finally, and I’m as guilty of this as the next person, we shouldn’t be afraid as parents to say that enough is enough. We are all cramming our days full as if there is no tomorrow. Admittedly, at times over the last year it has felt as if the world might soon end, but rather than buy into the hype, why not spend some time during these winter months retreating into a book or stomping through mud? Call me a hippy, but in these dark times I am finding much joy in slowing down and walks on the beach. If you don’t want to venture out, just delve into the recycling and start on that toilet roll Leaning Tower of Pisa…

 

Breathing space

“I don’t want her to go back to school!”, sobbed B as I tucked her up in bed on Boxing Day. A week into the Christmas holidays I am inclined to agree. The space to breathe that comes with the absence of school has been welcomed by us all, even independent M, though she would never admit it. There is none of the reluctant peeling back of the duvet and whispering in M’s ear that she must get into her uniform; instead, a warm little daughter drags her chewed old blanket behind her and snuggles into our bed. She wakes when she wants to, sleeping for twelve hours solid. M has always been the best sleeper, giving her shut-eye the same amount of commitment that she gives everything else.

Even before home education was on the cards, I struggled with the endless trips to and from school. In many regards I struggle with a regular routine, preferring a spontaneity that meets the needs of my whirring mind. With four little girls to consider now, A and I have to put our heads together on a regular basis to ensure everyone is in the right place at the right time. Before school reappeared in our lives, I relished the long days. A question about snakes could turn into a morning making models of anacondas, or writing poems. M keeps asking what percentage means, and I want to plaster paper across the wall and create a bright, visual display with her. We bought her Happy Harry’s Cafe by Michael Rosen for Christmas, at her request. She said how much she loved the font, leaving me with thoughts of illuminated lettering and medieval scripts. I have loved watching her squirrel away at little projects, spend hours understanding the science of energy with her Lego constructions, play the piano and design posters for festive concerts for relatives.

Of course, there is nothing stopping me from learning at home with my schoolgirl. And that’s exactly what I did last term. M would rush through the door and demand an activity, and I would try and find time just to be with her, follow her interests. As the term went on, she got more and more tired, and eventually time after school was for rest. And that’s the reality of primary school now. The day is filled with targets that must be reached and objectives that must be taught. There is just so very little time for children to breathe and to question what is going on around them. M has had some really great experiences at school, I can be big enough to acknowledge that, but I’m just not sure they outweigh the freedom of a more autonomous approach to learning.

Next week, M will head back into year 2, and, after meetings with very helpful staff, she will access areas of the year 4 curriculum in spelling, reading and numeracy. A and I will also put together a file of ‘challenges’, for when she finishes activities quickly or is at a loose end. This is an improvement on the academic work on offer last term but I can’t help but think that very little of this will actually be taught, she will be working on her own, and I wonder if that matters.

I can tie myself up in knots weighing up learning at home versus school for M, just as parents all over the country no doubt question their child’s progress and happiness. I guess the difference is that I feel confident in our ability as a family to learn and see home education as a real and, in many ways, better alternative. I’m careful to remember that over the years there have been times when I have been burned out – life has presented challenges that have pushed me hard, and our unsuccessful school experiment in June was the result of a particularly stressful few months. But as the babies grow, and I grow up, the waves seem to get smaller and don’t always threaten to smash down the sandcastle as they might have done in the past.

Time to talk over Christmas and a catalogue of house sale disasters, along with a fresh perspective on what is important to us have led A and I to realise that there really is no place like home. For the cost of a new sofa bed and another set of bunks, we can happily stay in our little house near the sea. We will have less debt, be able to continue home educating, work on interesting artistic projects and may even go on holiday a bit more. I just need to remember to head for the beach or my local amazing bookshop/writing hole when the cabin fever kicks in.

So feeling a little more settled, we approach 2017 with optimism and hope for a productive and happy year. I still have so many questions that don’t yet have answers, but next year I am going to use my tendency to overthink to my advantage. Curiosity is a good thing.