Every now and then I have a couple of days where life seems all too easy. I sit around, either chatting with friends while the children play (with offspring of said friends), or reading and book / spending time on the internet / following one of my own interests while the children play (with each other). I listen to friends with schooled children talk about their homework (particularly this last week or so after half term) for children as young as 7 or 8, I see children and parents come into the library looking for books or information to ‘help’ with homework and see that frantic look behind the eyes of the adults as they remember only too well the sinking feeling the night before going back to school knowing you’d not really done your best at something and were likely to get into trouble.

The autonomous style of Home Educating can in many ways be seen as the ‘easy way out’; no need for buying tons of resources, checking or marking work, coercing reluctant children to do things they don’t show any interest in or find too hard or simply don’t want to do at that particular time. No need to plan or timetable, no need to nag or cajole,no need for anything to feel like work for any of you really.

It can also be frankly terrifying! If structured education (at home or school) is like climbing the biggest flight of stairs ever to reach the top, with landings every so often to mark your progress and obvious levels where you can tell who is overtaking you and who is lagging behind and whether you are where you should be then autonomous education is like freefalling from a plane with no parachute and a random selection of materials to cobble one together on the way down. It’s fraught with danger but possibly more open to the possibility of a miracle! Not so much change of getting trampled over by others or worrying about whether you are on the same step as the rest of the world, but in a wide open space where only your own progress counts for anything. I see my role as the person who packed the kit bag really – and the one who is back down on the ground watching, biting my lip anxiously and ready to catch them if I need to.

Quite a bit of Monster and Teeny’s time is directed simply by the various things we do; visiting friends, going on trips to places, having friends visit us, days out, spending time at our allotment etc. but they equally have a fair amount of free time that they choose how to spend themselves. If we were to be more structured this is the time they would be spending doing formal learning or activties suggested and driven by me. Instead this is when I slacken off and do my own thing while leaving them to get on with theirs.

Sometimes this time is spent on pursuits such as playing DS or watching TV, often they will come and ask for my attention, either to help with something, or offer advise or simply to come and appreciate what they’ve done. We do spend a lot of our week out and about and it is easy to see the very obvious educational value of many of the things we do but they often ask for some time to ‘have a play’ when we get home so today I am leaving to their own devices while listening to them in the background to see precisely what it is they do when noone is in charge of their time.

First of all they are together. Monster and Teeny spent approximately 90% of their waking lives together. This does make for squabbles and days when they get on each others nerves but considering they didn’t choose to have each other for company in the beginning they certainly choose to have each other for company now.They would both consider each other their best friend and often gravitate back towards each other even in a group. They admire and like each other, appreciate the differences between them and are in the main very good at cooperation and compromise.

They have different styles of achieving their aims. Some of it is probably birth order, some personality. Monster is an obvious leader, he makes most of the suggestions, leads the games and often states things as fact which Teeny accepts merely on the basis that he said so. She however is better at bargaining, making deals and has a more subtle approach.

This morning they are still in their pjs even though it is nearly 1130am. They got up at about 7am and spent quite a lot of time dancing to a Crazy Frog dvd. Once they’d got that out of their systems they got breakfast for themselves and did some drawing. They turned the tv off whilst they were doing that. That continued until I joined them in the room at which point they decided to head upstairs (I’ll try not to take that personally 😉 ). There were odd noises of banging and crashing and blasts of air until Teeny arrived downstairs to bring me a penny and invite me to visit their ‘Air Museum’ which cost a penny for admission.

Upstairs Monster’s bedroom had been set up with various exhibits including a cardboard box with holes in it that they turned an air pump on towards and sent some tissue to demonstrate the air flow going to the box, hitting the surface and bouncing back (‘despite the holes, maybe we need to make them bigger?’) and a couple of other wind based experiments using hand and electric pumps. 

Next they got out the karaoke machine and Monster did some storytelling using the microphone. One of the stories was read from a book, he probably knows the story by heart anyway but I was pleased to hear him say he’d used to the book to refer to when he forgot a few bits. The second story was made up but ‘loosely based on the old woman who swallowed a fly’ and fully interactive as demonstrated when they brought the storytelling session downstairs to show me.It included sound effects, Teeny joining in with footsteps and actions and whilst it didn’t have any real props there were plenty of imaginary ones employed with mimes to show what was happening.

They have degenerated into craziness again and are throwing toys down the stairs. There is still an element of story telling to it and some level of scientific experimentation as they are commenting on how quickly things fall and what sort of pattern of falling they exhibit. That game lasted for ages before they decided they were hungry and came to find me. Fortunately I had anticipated this and already had some cheese scones fresh out of the oven. I’d made them with wholemeal flour instead of white for a change and although they ate them they were not impressed. Fortunately I had some chocolate chip cookies in the oven waiting for them to make up for it! Often one or other or both will help me with my baking, Teeny especially is quite accomplished in the kitchen.

After lunch they finally did get dressed, putting their swimming costumes on under their clothes in preparation for swimming lessons later. We spent some time at our allotment during which they played, chatted to a neighbouring allotment gardener, spent some time looking in our newly installed wildlife pond and checked the progress of the crops on the plot. I was contructing some raised beds so they wandered over to talk to me about that and decided to recreate the designs on their own plots, in ratio reduced size accordingly.

Swimming lessons give me a chance to have half an hour with them each seperately as they are in different lessons one after the other. Monster did some keeping pace with me while I swam some lengths and Teeny practised her jumping in, working with a float and swimming to me, back to the side and back to me again.

At home they watched some TV (their first of the day) while eating their dinner (beef stew and veg, they both like different veg so I’d picked out their favourite things for them both) having had a bath to warm up and wash off any residual mud from the allotment and swimming pool chemicals. Most nights we cuddle up for stories together before bed. This can either be a pile of picture books or a continuation of a chapter book, we tend to vary between the two but usually spend a good half an hour reading together. Tonight they had got into something on TV so decided to watch that inst
ead of a story.

Monster particularly is rubbish at getting to sleep and tends to have times of brilliance by way of bedtime avoidance 😆 Tonight he wrote me a lovely note (complete with emergent spelling) so I wrote him one back. While writing I was aware it was probably going to be a bit beyond him to read it but he shocked me by reading it very quickly and a reply note was thrown down the stairs to me shortly afterwards. Teeny is lying in bed with a pile of books herself. She’s not reading yet but she is still hungry for books and when she is reading will no doubt be devouring them accordingly.

So there it is, a day in the life of Monster and Teeny. There have been frayed tempers, yelling, moments of frustration and some of their time was not their own when I decided to uproot us all to the allotment (although they just carried on with their game in a different location) and some directed learning in the shape of their swimming lessons (although it is their choice to attend them and they love it). I have provided food, shelter, cuddles and a sounding board to bounce ideas off of and show things to and replied to notes. I’ve answered questions and driven the car to get them to places but during the time they claimed as their own, when noone was telling them what to do they demonstrated imagination, curiosity, energy, creativity and loads more besides. There was physics, literacy, numeracy (Teeny sat on the loo while I had my bath telling me all about how many fingers she has), storytelling, singing, dancing, information technology, making mud, getting dirty, getting clean again, entrepreneurialism (collecting pennies for admission to the air museum) and probably every tick box you could care to form.

I don’t blog here very often, not because I don’t have much to say or because we don’t do a lot, far from it. I do worry that every post is basically the same sometimes – we home educate autonomously, aren’t we great, ra ra for us, so I try and limit them to be not too frequent but every so often I either hit a wall of worry myself or I hear enough elsewhere that I am prompted to remind myself and anyone else who cares to read my blog of what and why and how we do it.