Monday, 18 December 2017

Contemplating Snowflakes

Whilst Lily and I were making paper craft snowflakes this evening loads of things occurred that I felt compelled to share!

Firstly, it was unanimous, amoung our little family at least, that the 6 pointed snowflakes looked amazing when compared with the 4 pointed snowflakes.

We asked eachother why and had a nice discussion about nature, Fibonacci numbers, symmetry, tessellation, fractions and probably a couple of other things too! Win, win with a spontaneous and cool Christmas craft!

The snowflakes also brought to light a few other things unrelated to the snowflakes themselves.

Lily found it really hard. Overall. Not just one part. She could not imagine the completed snowflake in her head and even after she had cut one, she had to refold it and study what she had done in order to draw another. She also could not follow a pattern. Whilst she was designing her snowflake, she constantly unfolded and refolded, indicating again that she was unable to imagine what it may look like in the end (when unfolded). She point blank (read - after a huge meltdown), refused to use the second method we found for folding the paper (the one that created the 6 pointed snowflakes) because she thought the first method was easier. And finally, she found the cutting really stressful. She was breathing hard and then holding her breathe. She was groaning and gnarling with frustration. She was terrified she would cut her design too far and ruin it. She did actually do this a couple of times and both were snowflakes were violently screwed up and thrown across the table.

However, she is now happily sat making her snowflakes, her way and she is improving fast! Oh, and they are being stuck all over the house! :-)

During the snowflake making, Dominik came into the kitchen with his office chair, tablet, hat and headphones so that I could do his daily neurodevelopmental exercises. Amazing. I didn't even ask him to come. He wandered in and was ready to get started.

Well, that didn't last long. It really was too good to be true.

Let me explain why I think Dominik then had a huge meltdown (larger than he's experienced in a fair few weeks).

On Wednesday, we're going to see Hamilton in London. I cannot recall if I have ever mentioned his obsession with the musical in this blog, but, it's been there, for probably around 9 months now. He knows all the words to a large chunk of the songs. He has researched it's performers and writer, read parts of the Benjamin Franklin papers, learned some American History, spent hours singing the songs and has generally been very Autistic about it!

It's heavily on his mind and is basically replacing Christmas as his 'event' this year. Everything in his life revolves around 7.30pm Wednesday night. He is excited, terrified, nervous, angry, thankful and anxious all the time.

So, back to the kitchen, the reason he was unable to even start his therapy is because he started talking to me about his sleep pattern. It is all over the place and he has been trying  to 'correct it' (his words, not mine). As he sat on his chair he asked me what I thought he could do to try and ensure he does not feel tired during our evening out to see Hamilton (which is in fact a late afternoon to an early morning in reality) and I answered him.
That was my mistake. He did not actually want to hear my suggestions (turn everything off, have a warm milk, put on the fan for white noise and stay in bed to relax and, hopefully at the very least, help his body understand that it is bed time now), what he wanted was a big hug and some empathy.

Soooooo, mine were not helpful suggestions in the circumstances. They were stupid, useless, a waste of time and obviously not going to work for him (his words). Sigh. He stomped off. Slammed his chair against the kitchen cupboards and slammed his bedroom door for good measure.

I probably should have seen it coming when I noticed that his actions were literally, 'too good to be true' but I didn't. I was worn out from calming and coaching Lily for half an hour. I was brain numb from talking about Fibonacci and geometry. I was excited that Dominik was doing something VOLUNTARILY that I have literally had to beg him to do every. single. day. since September. I missed the clues!

But, here I am now, analyzing what happened and seeing it all more clearly.

I think that's why I write this blog. Having no partner to reflect with means that I have to get the thoughts out somewhere! Ta-da! :-)

Dominik will be ok. I will go downstairs now and give him that hug and tell him that of course he won't feel tired and that of course he WILL NOT fall asleep on Wednesday! And that it is going to be perfect.

Thanks for reading!

N x

PS - Snowflakes also made me think of a friend who lost a loved one this week and send her a little extra prayer. Life is just so precious and fleeting, much like snowflakes themselves, so love each other and be kind. <3

PPS - Lily is writing her first manga! Just giving it a mention because otherwise I will never remember when she wrote it!

Monday, 27 November 2017

There is ALWAYS more to learn.

The home education community is currently feeling under attack once again. (There is a pattern.)

Lord Soley's bill had its second reading in the House of Lords last week and is proceeding to the committee stage whereby amendments and changes can be made before it is presented again.

My mood is wobbling between screaming, "I told you so!" to anyone who will listen/hiding from all social media/springing into direct, offensive action or, starting some process of family defense!

Amidst all of this angst though, I think the above title is vitally important.
I am desperately trying not to lose sight of what I love about my family life and why we choose to live as we do.

The title of this post is the reason why I LOVE home education, and especially unschooling.

We are all always learning and we know that there is ALWAYS more to learn. We are never done.

In my house:
  • We do not kid ourselves that it is only during 'lesson time' that we are learning something important. 
  • We do not wait for someone else to suddenly impart the knowledge we need upon us.
  • We do not believe that all there is that is worth learning comes in bite-size chunks in age appropriate categories and can only be delivered by 'qualified' teachers.
The thought of having to teach my children a prescribed curriculum and subject them to standardised testing, just sucks all the joy, spontaneity, creativity and desire OUT of our learning experience and therefore our family lives. If they wanted to learn in a traditional way, they would all choose to be in school (yes, they have the choice and their voices are loud and clear let me assure you :-D).

If the Lords wish to have a larger say in how I educate my children (or how they educate themselves for that matter), they had best be providing the funds for me to do it! This is of course in the same way that they would fund a school! If the Lords want that right then they need to accept the financial responsibility too. I am almost certain that this is not something they would consider.
I perhaps would not be quite so bothered by their interest if it weren't for the fact that modern science has demonstrated over and over again that active, effective, long term learning does not happen in a classroom style environment!

Academics have also proven that delaying formal learning IMPROVES long term results.
We know that intrinsic motivation is key and yet we push more and more external rewards.
We also know that homework has no significant, measurable effect on results and yet it is still mandatory in many schools.
We know that our school population are in the poorest mental health EVER in history and yet nothing is being done about it.

Obviously nothing about the bill is set in stone (indeed it may come to absolutely nothing, although I highly doubt it), and I am largely speculating about what might happen in the future, but I think it is safe to say that child led learning (that looks entirely different than 'mainstream' learning) will be more difficult to 'justify' to the local government representatives when they come around for their mandatory home visits.

I find the notion of my children studying a curriculum completely baffling. Why would you want your children to learn facts and information that come from limited and biased sources? Why would you want your children memorising information and 'facts' that are at best of date and at worst incorrect? Why would you want them to be basically the same as every other child? Why would you want to risk their mental health and well being as well as their curiosity and enthusiasm? (NB - I am speaking ONLY for myself.)

I am aware that I am using broad strokes when speaking about school and school children.
I am aware that there are many children who love school.
And to that I say, "Thank goodness!".
Please do not think for one second I am hoping to ban schools or discourage those who love it from attending. I most definitely am not.  Each to their own provided there is no actual harm.

What I am doing is defending my right to make different choices, and the rights of my children to follow their interests, talents, skills and hobbies in their own time and in their own way.

Speaking only for my family, we are active, self-motivated learners. Our minds are waiting all the time to glean some nuance we missed before. Or to hear a new word or explore a new idea. Our lifestyle facilitates our learning.

We embrace our lives as a part of the whole 'lesson'. To spend these precious years in a government institution seems like a huge waste of time and opportunity to me. Again, just speaking for myself.

There are many lessons in this experience too I'm sure and I hope we can all explore them together.

Please, when the time comes, stand by me and my family and help us protect our right to learn in a way that is most meaningful to us.

Join the discussion. This affects us all.

Thanks for reading my tired, our of practice ramblings.

N x

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Irritating timing.

Every time I get a little distracted and disheartened with life in general, it turns around.

It is literally like I need to hit my version of 'bottom', (which isn't very low!) in order to turn it around.

I have been feeling truly disappointed with my lot lately. It is fairly uncharacteristic for me to feel pessimistic and frightened, but I have been.

On the surface everything is great though! I honestly cannot complain.

We have all that we need and we are healthy and (mostly) getting along well with each other happily.
The weather has been wonderful!
We've had a lovely family holiday in a lodge in Norfolk and were able to visit dear friends.
Lily is managing life so well it means she must be happy and stress free. Yay!
Harriet is pushing every limit she encounters in true 2 year old style! It is exhausting.
Hannon is designing games and creating his own redstone circuits whilst having agreed to go back to Scouts. Exciting times.
Dominik went to the cinema alone today (at his request), gave Hannon permission to use his PS4 whilst he was gone (arghhhhh, never happened before), had a shower before he went and loved every minute of it. So, so proud of his achievement.

The children have all been talking about their passions and what they see in their respective futures. They are all enthusiastic about their options and seem to be approaching the subject in unique ways.
Hannon is focused on being a game designer and is flowing with ideas of projects to work on with his friends.
Lily is drawing and offering her 'chibi' portraits for sale.
Dominik has asked to attend voice coaching tuition to improve his chances of becoming a professional voice actor.

Such wonderful, genuine aspirations that will allow them to live authentic lives and hopefully remain happy and safe. They all want to generate their incomes from their own talents.

They are all conscious that their choices allow them to travel in the future whilst they continue working! And they also know that they will be able to determine their own schedules to a large extent!

I've been talking about creating an income from one of my passions too, so I can completely relate to their emotions. I sometimes wish that I'd been encouraged to follow my instincts and had the freedom to develop my passions at their ages.

But I think that all of the above happened exactly because the last few weeks, until today, have been dull!

Since we returned from our holiday, we have kept our socialising to a minimum (and our spending) as we all needed to recharge, but it has made life a little quieter than usual.

Today was clearly the end of that cycle. It feels almost as if we flat-lined for a moment and then rebounded afresh!

I now realise, that for our family, a natural 'lull' is absolutely necessary in order for us to coalesce the knowledge we've each been gathering.
It's like the moment before you are finally able to make a decision about something you've been procrastinating over! And on a family sized scale!

The learning is happening for all of us all the time if we would only slow down enough to actually process each moment.

I feel so lucky to be able to offer my special needs children such a varied and interesting life.

N x

Sunday, 11 June 2017

It's the moments that take your breath away.

Tonight I connected with my children in my favourite way.

We each spent some time reflecting on our day and listening to it from a different perspective. I would love to say we do this every night, but we don't! We often discuss particular events but we rarely talk about our entire day as we did tonight.

Lily came to tell me that she'd let the cat out, locked all the doors, turned off all the lights and folded up her clothes. I must have had the most dramatic change in demeanor because suddenly Lily was beside herself with joy! The feeling that engulfed me when she listed all the things she had just done (as well as being in her pajama's and having brushed her teeth) was one of utter love. I felt cared for, loved, heard and appreciated all at once.

Lily had done all of those jobs, in her own words, "Because I am getting older now and I need to learn to look after myself more." without any prompting at all from me.

My children are asked to help when needed, but are rarely required to do something for me when I ask (under threat or bribe). Lily has simply observed me and listened to my questions if she comes upstairs after I do, and learnt what jobs must be done before coming up to go to bed.

Of course she has!

In my deepest, most secure place I know my children are learning these things all the time, but at a shallower level, I still shit myself regularly that I'm doing this mum thing all wrong!

As Lily and I were talking, we discussed something that had happened when we had guests over this afternoon. Lily, plus 3 other children including Dominik, had been playing on the trampoline when Dominik pushed Lily and she fell into another child.

Lily hit her mouth and a massive meltdown ensued. She screamed at the top of her voice and listeners would have thought she was dying! Dominik simply climbed off the trampoline and said quietly that he was going inside.

I calmly tried to reassure Lily that she was ok and that she could have anything she needed to help her calm down. She was insistent that Dominik had hurt her lip on purpose. She did not comprehend that it was an accident. She assigned blame for her poorly mouth to the push from Dominik. She was inconsolable. :-(

When we talked about this before bed tonight, Lily said that she had acted childishly and that she was sorry for screaming. We decided to risk disturbing Dominik to tell him that we were both very proud of him, that we loved him and that Lily was sorry.

We first checked that all the doors were indeed locked (!), and then knocked on his door. He said we could come in and Lily, calmly and kindly, said she was sorry for what she did and that she knew he did not do it on purpose. He was visibly relieved and thanked Lily for coming to tell him.

Dominik interacted with two young men today, neither of whom are associated with particularly positive memories, and he did it amazingly well. I am so proud. He has had an abnormal sleep pattern again recently and has been really struggling to live with us all (and vice versa) but, the effort he has put in is paying off. I think he has realised, for the time being at least, that he does enjoy life when we spend more time together and that he can exercise some self control if he is able to pay attention.

Lily also played hostess today and loved it! She asked more than once if everyone was having a nice time (asking for a show of hands!), put food on plates and brought almost everything outside, all by herself. She was so proud to have been a help. It was amazing.

Hannon played happily with both of our visitors and didn't eat all the pizza before anyone else had had some! :-D He was also an amazing host. Polite, friendly and fun.

Harriet, and my lovely friend who babysat for me today (hey Sharon!), looked to have had an amazing time together too judging from the pictures! Harriet had looked forward to Sharon and Pepsi arriving all day so was quite happy for me to toddle off to my roller derby course without so much as a backwards glance!

Today I was so blessed.

Good friends. Lovely food. Fresh air. Roller skates. Love. Gratitude. Understanding. Learning. Happiness.

I'm pretty sure I could not ask for more.

Hope you all have a blessed week

N x

PS - UPDATE - Dominik has made some huge developmental leaps as a result of his brushing and movement therapy. For the first time ever he is becoming self-aware. The egocentricity, notable during toddler hood, is finally abating. He is starting to see that he is a part of a system and not alone in this place. He is taking better care of his immediate environment and is being more considerate than I had ever dared to hope for.

Small steps. Kind words. Patience.

Baby-wearing (28months, so not really a baby anymore!) my way through painting my garden furniture and cutting the grass!

Monday, 13 March 2017

UNschooling Life

This past week has been an enlightening experience.

We've felt energised by the warmer temperatures and the first signs of Spring so we've been out of the house more than in it I think. Just amazing. At last!

We've been to a park almost everyday and visited Wrest Park yesterday, (all with the Slackline). We even went swimming today. All 5 of us! It was so fun and it went so well. Proud moments.

One trip however, does stand out because it involved a life changing discussion for us all.

My youngest son and I went to 'town' (rare event) to visit the library and collect my new glasses. The other 3 children stayed at home with their nan so it was a treat to be out, just us two for a change.

We ran our errands and then decided to go to CEX and look at the games because H had some birthday money to spend (from his Dad!). He spent £6.50 on two games and decided to give his change to the homeless man that had asked us for some just before we had entered the shop.

As he walked up to the man to give him his money, a lady walked past and shouted, "Get a f*C^ing job.". I felt so sad and angry and disappointed all at once. My stomach took a nosedive and I felt sick.

After several seconds, I realised that I was truly outraged. That someone could show such little compassion almost floored me. H didn't hear what she had said, but I was upset, and I repeated it to him. He was easily as angry as I was.

This event has led to several discussions over the following days about how this could have happened. When did it happen? Has it always been this way?

We have now discussed it at length, and we are all in agreement that the next time we should witness something like this, we should say something.

It is time to stand up and be heard.

The misfits. The hippies. The carers. The children. All of you (us).

It is incumbent upon us to act now. It is time.

We're not advocating anything other than being compassionate and empathetic during your daily lives. We should all be sharing our goodness and shining our own individual light on dark places and dark people and dark acts. Things have to change.

I have always wanted to be kind but I guess it is presented as something meek and gentle (not very me!), so is consequently seen as a weak characteristic.

I think it is time that 'being kind' was seen as also being a courageous and (sometimes) loud characteristic!

Why not? Why can't we be kind, loudly? Share your good deeds! Spread your fortune and count your blessings! Speak out against injustice. Don't just sign petitions! Use your voice.

Let's face it, we are the peacemakers! I know that it is so difficult to invite conflict into our lives. It is uncomfortable and stressful for us to 'draw attention' to ourselves. I truly understand. But it is time now.  

Has society become so lost that it cannot even recognise kindness anymore? What if it has?

The following quote keeps me searching, learning, speaking out and acting.

For me, this is what unschooling is all about. The impromptu lessons and experiences that are immeasurable in their impact.

What happened during these conversations is life long learning.

This week my children and I realised that being kind and empathetic are the lock and key to true happiness.

Sending out lots of love tonight,

N x

PS - A friend shared this with me once and it seems pertinent.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017


Just wanted to add some pictures for a change.

Here are our bookcases! I have been thinking a lot about our journey and the prevailing theme is literature.

If you all read together, for pleasure, you can't go wrong.

Harriet's book box.

Lily's/family book shelf

Hannon's book shelf

Natasha's book shelf

And Dominik's to come (of course). :-)

Natasha x

Monday, 30 January 2017

Update on the neurodevelopmental therapy.

I thought I should write an update on the 'brushing' therapy.

In case you're not up to speed, my oldest son Dominik (PDA, SPD etc) had been receiving neurodevelopmental therapy since June 2015. We have been visiting Bob Allen in Windsor roughly every 6-8 weeks. Dominik has been slowly releasing his retained infant reflexes (please see Sue Hyland's blog for an excellent synopsis of what these are) and today we found out that we are on to the next stage in this process. We no longer have to brush twice daily (on various different body areas for a varying amount of strokes), but now Dominik has to take charge and complete one exercise per day which consists of getting in and out of one position. I think Bob called it the 'baby' position. The process will integrate Dominik's left and right hemispheres (brain and body) whilst also improving the communication between his upper and lower body parts. Dominik was confident that he could do this and I think he is even looking forward to it.

He was also excited to see Bob today! Bob is funny, charming, trustworthy and calming. He has a positive effect on Dominik and I think he might even care what Bob says to him!

Dominik is very proud of his progress and has even seen an osteopath (suggested by Bob) after being discharged from his successful physiotherapy sessions!

Dominik and I have been massaging his scars, brushing twice a day and doing exercises recommended by both the physiotherapist and the osteopath. As those of you with PDA children (partners/friends/parents etc) already know, placing any demand on them is difficult and could result in a huge meltdown depending on various factors, but for a boy like Dominik (who basically lives with no demands placed upon him at all), I was worried that this would be a particularly big deal!

When we left the osteopath with a list of 8 new exercises to do every day, I wanted to cry.

I'll be honest, my anxiety went through the roof and I felt so overwhelmed that I thought I was actually going to vomit.

Domink has been amazing when it comes to cooperating with all of these interventions but that does not mean that he will always be able to be that cooperative! I am hyper-vigilantly searching out the next source of 'too much' for him all the time. I am constantly anxious that the next request could be one request too many. It can be exhausting doing mental gymnastics at this pace. Kudos to all my fellow warrior mums.

Well, guess what? I'm proud (and more than a tad relieved), to say that he has been consistent in his cooperation and on the occasions where I have been reluctant/and or felt too tired or busy, he has requested his therapy and I have done it.

When something has true importance these children, (and adults) with PDA pull out all the stops.

PDA children value the truth.
They value quality.
They value authenticity.
External rewards are, in the main, disposable and transient and our children seem to instinctively know this.

When it is important to them (and they are intrinsically motivated), they will do it and they will do it to the absolute best of their ability and with the same degree of enthusiasm with which they undertake everything else that they choose to do! (I know...I wish he wanted to wash/change/brush his teeth/sleep too!)

The very qualities that make them so vulnerable and anxious and the very same qualities that will cause them to soar.

I could go on all day but I won't. I'm sure you get the idea.

Dominik has started to find himself. I have evolved in my role in his life too. Perhaps I'm even finding myself.

Felicity Evans told me recently that these children (our children) are here to help us heal ourselves and our family trees through their energy. I have no doubt that she is right. Please do visit her website and especially take a look at the Resources page. It if fantastic.

Dominik is surging forward and he is pulling us all along in his wake. I am so proud of him.

There is one final thing I wanted to say:

I am currently looking for a family to volunteer some of their time to me so that I can develop my support and advocacy skills with a view to establishing a family support and advocacy business aimed at families living with PDA (perhaps this will expand with time but I dont know yet). I would love to meet a new family and see if I can help facilitate some positive changes in their lives.

Please do email me if you'd like to participate.

N x

Saturday, 7 January 2017

An explosion of new learning.

I am astounded by the capacity my children have for learning new skills and developing their personalities.

Dominik has tonight told me how he recently advocated for a friend in need. He described himself using, 'intellectual language' and said that although he had been nervous and had lisped, he felt as if he had communicated his points really well. He felt that the person to whom he had spoken had heard him and was considering his/his friends position.

He followed that up with throwing around the bottom halves of his crutches (that have only previously been used as weapons!) in the manner of a juggler/baton twirler. He was surprisingly good! He could do a lot of stunts all of which he had taught himself. Now in search of juggling pins!

I think that perhaps the most beautiful thing he told me was that he actively tries to make me laugh! He said I have a very serious face and that it transforms instantly when I laugh. I told him I thought of myself as a fun person...and he laughed! We are all going to have more fun and laugh even more in 2017, I know it.

Since the year began, Harriet has said; bed, poo, boo, up and hot! Incredible changes happening for her too, Her self-awareness, empathy (yes, she really is empathetic at 23 months old so it must be possible), joy and love, know no bounds. She can crack any silence with a 'yeah' and she can soothe any tears with her small hug and gentle pat on the back.

Lily is now actively learning to skate backwards and she was joined today at the roller skating disco by her two cousins (and step-cousin?!) which meant the world to her. She was patient, kind and fun even when confronted with the fact that she was now effectively a lone skater, because I wanted to spend time with the (as yet) non-skaters. Cheer leading reconvened today too and given that Lily has been under weather and not sleeping, she met and exceeded her own expectations with her management of the whole day. So happy for her.

Hannon, I am finally going to submit, is Autistic too. He has been stimming a lot. He has been very insular and hyper-focused too. I have always known he has an ASD but right now, it is challenging for him to manage. I think that having acknowledged it is there, he is going to manage better we all will I'm sure. Bless him. So emotional and confused. He is currently dreading returning to Cubs due to an incident and series of events that I have yet to share here so that is undoubtedly contributing to his sensitive state. He also still does not know what he would like to try this term...argh! Oh, and he is very focused on food.

And finally me! So far this year, I have begun adopting a paleo eating style, I've picked a yoga class to attend at last! I've begun my first cross stitch. I've picked up my Spanish. I've started having counselling, I am also researching the following subjects - 'screen time', violent and fantasy based play and cooperations vs competition.

Oh, and the children and I have started to plan some trips! A new soft-play, a climbing taster session, a shooting taster and a potential weekly Spanish meet with a Peruvian lady are all in the planning.

We've had a quiet couple of months, which we definitely needed after the whirlwind that was 2016, but now that is done, we're good to go.

N x