Rhythm and Space

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This Monday marked the start of our new year proper.
We moved to London at the end of October when Husbandman started a new job, so between him figuring out what work looks like and when his days off will be, between moving and unpacking, discovering our new area and two weeks in, grieving our late daughter’s anniversary – what with making new friends, trying new classes and then the build up to Christmas  – our new normal life has taken time to discover.
There has been some rhythm, but there has also been a lot to digest, especially for Eldest.
This week, Husbandman goes back to work for his first full week, and we begin our new weekly timetable.
Something that I am excited about.

I love a good timetable!

We home educate our three children, unschooling them – which does not mean having no involvement in their learning and development, nor does it mean simply using more gentle and respectful ways of getting them to know and learn what we deem important – but it means we recognise that the whole world is a rich place for discovery, learning and understanding.  It means we see that children are sponges of curiosity, hungry for knowledge and understanding and desirous of being a fully integrated part of society, but it also recognises that as each child is different, with different interests, skills, talents and ways of processing, that no one way will suit all.

img_20181027_113722365856568.jpgUnschooling means allowing your children to discover who they are through play, questions, and opportunities to try new things, testing their strength as they mature.
It allows children to have the time and space to see how far they wish to pursue something without being either interrupted before they are finished, or forced to continue something beyond their capacity or interest at that point in time.
img_20181213_115205684311901.jpgIt’s really just an extension of the parenting you do with your baby and toddler – just as you don’t teach a child to walk, but you come alongside as they discover it for themselves- with unschooling, you provide opportunities to discover life and are on hand for when they need your help or encouragement.

This is a way of living and parenting that utilises trust above all – something that can be hard to do, particularly when you panic that your child is not developing in the way or at the speed you had hoped or expected. It also requires respect for your child as a unique person with their own unique perspective and timing.img_20181216_10030243145115.jpg
It can be messy and doesn’t always go the way you expect, but it is a joyful approach to life, yielding many discoveries.
 

You are free to share your loves and passions with each other, without insisting that they are taken on, refusing to judge the validity of any interest or pursuit, but respecting the equality of each person in the family.
This equality recognises the freedom for anyone to stop and start, practising at their own pace, until they are confident, accomplished or have simply explored as far as they want to go.

If something you deem important has been dropped through lack of interest, the hardest thing to do is to let go, but trust that when your child finds they need it, they will come back to it and be ready to learn. If they don’t, then they probably manage to get along without it, in which case – it doesn’t matter.

In our family, Eldest is hugely verbally articulate, whereas our younger two have additional needs (most likely autism, although this is as yet un-diagnosed).
We have to navigate nappies, some sensory issues and varying degrees of verbal communication – or the lack of it – in amongst everything else, so having some sense of rhythm and flow helps me feel more confident that we don’t drift through our weeks. Shaping a week in order to meet such diverse needs, requires some planning.

Which brings me back to my timetable.

In order for Husbandman and I to have some individual time to ourselves, as well as a couple, we need to plot it in, or the time will disappear.
The same goes for adventures out, leaving plenty of free space for them to manage their time and creativity, and one to one time.
I had great fun making a weekly timetable that is colour-coded and tries to allocate time for what we need. It is now stuck to the front of our fridge.
This makes me feel a bit more focused and gives me a framework to hang everything on, but it also allows me the freedom to know what I am throwing out of the window, when the present offers something more pressing.

Mondays are the day when Eldest and I will go exploring.

Now that we are in London, with its excellent public transport and a myriad of free or inexpensive places to visit, it’s a home educator’s dream and I intend to take advantage of our surroundings. This week Eldest and I met up with a friend, and went to explore the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

I don’t know how enthralled eldest was by the paintings, and she was a little put off by one exhibition which was both quirky and political, but she was able to articulate what she didn’t like about a couple of paintings and what annoyed her. I had a flicker of disappointment that she wasn’t buzzing from the gallery, but it reminded me that Eldest is still very young, and she doesn’t see the point in wasting her energy pretending that something is exciting, when it doesn’t appeal to her. Nor should she, I would rather she was honest, so long as she isn’t rude, which she isn’t usually.

Unschooling can be hard when you are naturally didactic, as I am, because if I am honest, it’s both my enthusiasm to share, mixed with the desire to hang on to the sense of control and authority that makes me try to ‘teach’ her, and learning to let that go is a challenge for me. img_20190104_150755120558774.jpg
It is not my job to decide what she should like or know. I can only invite her to share my perspective and passions, and hold my parental authority lightly, respecting her autonomy and trusting that she will learn to value others’ in return.
When I butt in with a teaching moment, Eldest switches off, her eyes glazing over, and I will realise once again, that I am trying to impose my thoughts on her and circumventing her own learning process, which is far more effective.

Monday’s trip wasn’t a waste. Eldest happily bought an impressionist-themed colouring book with her pocket money, after which we walked around Convent Garden enjoying the historical buildings and street performances, eating lunch by the opera house and fending off the pigeons. It was lovely, cold, and part of the hustle and bustle of life.

Having the space to spend time with my daughter, discovering more about what she thinks, not only builds our relationship, but helps me to follow her lead more effectively. Knowing what you don’t like and why, is a major factor in discovering who you are. And through creating a rhythm in our week, I can fully give myself to these moments, without feeling that frustrating sense of guilt that I should really be doing something else.

img_20181102_160204414705143.jpgWithout rhythm we lack a sense of meaning, because it anchors us to each other and to our place in time. Why else do we come back to religious and family traditions, and relish the changes in the seasons? Even our hearts beat a steady rhythm at the very core of us.
But equally, without space to dream and stare out of the window, or to simply pootle about as time allows, it is very difficult to connect with our inner life and know ourselves.

If we are too busy to stop, how will we hear our thoughts and ponder our feelings enough to know whether we are truly pursuing what matters? How will we learn to hear what God might be saying to us, if we don’t stop long enough to listen for his voice?

On the bus ride home, eldest dived straight into her new colouring book and spent a good 40 minutes engrossed in her own art. I didn’t have to prompt her to make the most of the journey, she just got on with it, chatting to me occasionally. She knew what she needed, and I had space to ponder my own thoughts.

It was lovely. And we get to do it all over again next week.

 Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

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Ethical, Eco and Effort Series – Part 1.

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It has been hard to miss the conversations about Ecology and the Ethics of our spending.
From single-use plastic, waste production and food waste, to the anti-health and anti-environmental chemicals in many of our household cleaning products and cosmetics, to sugar and obesity, and the impact of unethical food and clothing production. These conversations are everywhere, frequently generating heated and emotional reactions.
They can feel shaming, insurmountable. too expensive and frankly too hard to do much about.

I understand.
We are a family of five on a single income. We live in an affluent area, but where there are a good percentage of people who are nothing like as affluent as the area suggests, and the cost of living is expensive.
We rent our home, are grateful for the child benefit and tax credits that the state supplies, and whilst we are solvent – praise God! – we have very little margin.
Holidays are rare and always done on the cheap/free, and going out for a meal or even to the pub is a treat rather than something we can do on a regular basis. If we are able to treat ourselves, we will be far more likely to have a takeaway, or a ‘Dine In For Two for £10’ from a supermarket – it is far cheaper than going out.
We are very happy and richly blessed, but we have to be frugal.
I know that many of us are in the same situation.

From this perspective, the idea of paying more for our food and clothes in order to be ethical and ecologically responsible, can seem like a waste of precious resources and a case of putting other faceless people before our own children.
The financial, qualitative and convenience implications of choosing this approach can be very off putting – however I would argue that starting with a little at a time, it is not that hard or expensive to do.

Before Husbandman and I were married, he announced that as a matter of principle, all the tea and coffee in our house would have to be fairly traded.

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I responded that I was happy to do that, but that he would have to find me a very tasty loose-leaf tea. I like a properly brewed cuppa and many of the Fairtrade teabags I had tried were pretty disgusting. I didn’t (and still don’t) see the point of buying substandard products, just to support people, without the option of feedback, but I would have been reluctant to give up tea altogether.
Thankfully he succeeded and we found a few, and 9 years later, I am still drinking my favourite.

THEN CAME CHOCOLATE.
I really miss Snickers bars and many other types, but I cannot justify buying and eating chocolate that is both directly and indirectly involved in slavery – and to be clear, when a company has committed to good practice and transparency  – they really shout about it. It has been a bit of a sacrifice over the past 10 years, but not that hard, and as the awareness has grown, so have the ranges of things I can buy.

Fairtrade, Tradecraft, Rainforrest Alliance, Cocoa Life, Ubuntu, UTZ  – are all massive clues. They are regulated and follow certain standards which are open to scrutiny. They are not perfect. But they are transparent, and they are a crucial step in the right direction.

If there is no symbol, then it is UP TO US to research the company before buying from them, not to turn a blind eye, telling ourselves that it is probably ok.

 

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Because as much as I might like them, how can I possibly justify the expense of human indignity in order to enjoy a treat?

We are all selfish, this is one of the factors of being human. One of the most selfish comments I ever heard about this issue, was from a woman who would argue that she definitely supported social justice, but who when faced with the evidence said,
“Well I like Mars bars, so I am going to continue eating them”.
It was an honest response. There was no BS about it. But it wasn’t good enough.

Our pleasure is never of more value than someone else’s dignity, or their fundamental human rights. We may be selfish, but we are all capable of change, and the first step is to start with ourselves.

This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
Zechariah 7:9-10

For us, this past decade has been a journey of committment and awareness. With Husbandman and I growing in our understanding of Human Trafficking, where our food comes from, what we are using and consuming and why we buy what we buy.
So over this series, I will share some of our discoveries, the way God has broken our hearts for justice, challenging us to see where our treasure and hearts really are.

As far as food shopping has gone, we started with tea, coffee and chocolate, and as our budgeting adjusted,  it became easier to add things like bananas, avocados, pepper corns and spices, cotton wool and wine (from some South American and African countries, where there is less worker protection) to our Fairtrade groceries list.

We haven’t finished, are definitely not perfect, but we are committed to putting one foot in front of the other.
It has taken sacrifice, but has also grown a deeper heart of compassion for our brothers and sisters around the world, a desire to uncompromisingly do what’s right and to more fully become who God has called us to be.

I know that you too can do the same, so I encourage you to begin where you are, and move forward from there.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

 

Sneaky Veg Flapjacks

I struggle to get my youngest daughter to eat any vegetables, except for peas – for some reason these are enjoyable! She is 3 and would prefer bread and cereal, or cake and biscuits, to most things and since heading into this especially fussy season, it has made dinner time quite frustrating.

So, the other day I decided to adapt a recipe for savoury cheese flapjacks that she loves, and see if I could hide some more vegetable goodness.

I made these flapjacks with grated courgette, ground up linseeds and ground pumpkin seeds. Amazingly they were a hit and she has devoured them.

Sadly The Boy and Eldest don’t like them, but Husbandman and I do. They make a great snack or sandwich alternative for a lunchbox, and are jam-packed with energy, as beside the cheese, pumpkin seeds are almost 30% and linseeds 20% protein, and oats are a slow release food which therefore keep you fuller for longer.

This recipe is quick and easy to make, even quicker if you can use a food processor to grate your cheese and courgette, and the nut/coffee grinding attachment to grind the seeds. You could leave the seeds whole, if you prefer for extra crunch, but I suspected that Mini One would be less inclined to eat them.

As the courgette is quite a wet vegetable, these flapjacks are less dry than usual, but softer and more cake-like, which is good too.

Feel free to experiment with other soft veg and see how it works out.

Cheesey Courgette Flapjacks

(makes 12-15)

Ingredients

150-160g Grated Courgette

100g Grated Cheddar (mature)

50g Grated Mozzarella (I buy this pre-grated. You could use all Cheddar, but it makes the flapjacks much saltier, which is not so good for children. Alternatively you could just use a very mild Cheddar.)

2 Eggs

45g Butter

140g Porridge Oats (not instant oats)

2-3 Teaspoons Linseeds (ground optional)

2-3 Teaspoons Pumpkin Seeds (ground optional)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.

2. Line a shallow baking tin with grease proof paper.

3. Mix everything together in a large bowl, until everything is well meshed, then press into a tin, roughly an inch high.

4. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

5. You can cut them into slices, once they are cool.

Enjoy.