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Five simple things I’m committing to this summer

Tuesday was the first day of our summer break! I can’t tell you how ready and just how seriously excited we are at the prospect of eight weeks of relaxation, with abundant time for exploring our own interests and spending long glorious days outside in the sunshine (hopefully the beautiful weather we’re getting at the moment will stay for just a little bit longer!).

There are so many ways different ways of planning your work/break structure when home educating. Many people swear by year-round schooling, with a small amount of work a day; others learn through life (known as unschooling, this is where you follow the lead of the child and support them in their interests and passions); some do a month on and a week off; others take a month off at Christmas and in the summer or just when they need it; and yet others have a similar break structure to those of schools. That’s the beauty of home educating; having the flexibility to do what works best for your own family and your unique learning styles.

For us, along with regular breaks throughout the year, we relish the opportunity for an extended break to allow us all time to assimilate our learning, rest thoroughly and delve deeply into projects of our own. But that doesn’t mean the learning stops; far from it in fact. And what better time to have a rest than when the sun is shining! Our summer break is slightly offset against the school holiday (who finish towards the end of July) to allow us time to explore castles, museums and parks in relative peace and quiet, but also plenty of overlap so we can spend days playing and exploring with their lovely school friends & cousins.

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Over the eight-week period, apart from 30 minutes per day (where they do (strictly) 10mins each of piano, Spanish & maths practice), their days are entirely their own to spend just as they please. Hours and hours of playing; creating; climbing trees; reading; swimming; writing stories, comics & magazines (their latest craze); discovering; exploring the great outdoors; relaxing and just being. It’s our favourite time of year.

I get a chance to tackle all those jobs that have been building up for months and start to feel a little more in control. But that being said, sometimes I get so engrossed in my own projects, that I lose touch with what they’re up to. I miss them. I know that sounds odd as we’re together all day every day, but we’re all so intensely focussed on our own ventures, that we don’t always make the time to connect. So here are five simple things I’m planning on doing this summer to increase the opportunities for connection with my beautiful Beans.

1. Daily dose of nature and exercise together

This could be a walk, a bike or a scoot together. We’ll search for fossils along the coast and climb hills inland. We might decide to go for a row along the canal, a kayak on the sea, or a swim in the pool. Or just play a game of football in the garden. It doesn’t have to be a long session and we don’t have to go far. The important thing is that we make time for it. Every day. Together. Outside.

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I don’t intend to spend hours queuing at theme parks, or on expensive days out, but I do intend to spend hours exploring local woods, beaches, canals and meadows with the children. Getting our daily dose of vitamin N. And I’m going to try and channel my inner child again this summer and revel in the wonder and beauty of our natural world alongside my own children. For that time together, I plan to stop thinking about all the jobs I need to finish and be present in the moment: climbing a tree with them and appreciating the view from our new perspective; getting excited about an awesome rock discovery; pondering on how that grain of sand got there; marvelling at the elegance of a rose flower; musing on which species of bird is making that call and how in fact young birds learn to sing at all; being in awe of the diversity of insects crawling around our feet and wondering what their roles are in the complex web of life.

For “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”  Rachel Carson

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2. The art of strewing: providing a daily draught of inspiration

Put simply, this is the scattering or laying out of interesting items that arouse the curiosity of the child and ignite the flame of inspiration. Which is just a fancy way of saying: leave stuff out for them to be creative with! An open-ended invitation to play and explore, for which there should be no predetermined end goal other than to watch where the child takes it. The objects could be anything from a collection of leaves, to a measuring tape, to a bird book or science set, or just a plain old box. So quick and simple to set up, but often with powerful results.

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If I take a book or game that they haven’t read or played with in a while, and leave it out on the kitchen table, or sideboard, or even just in the middle of the floor, there is nearly a 100% chance that one of the two children will come down, discover it for themselves, exclaim in delight and want to dive into it right away.

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Last week, I was trying to clear out some books for a charity shop run and so had made a pile in the middle of our lounge area. The children chanced upon them, spent ages reading and categorically refused to let me take them away, citing all sorts of reasons to prevent their removal. Now, if I had asked them to read those books, they would have sat there unread for months. Discovering and driving the activity for yourself makes it a hundred times more compelling!

For us (or maybe just my own sanity), I find strewing works best if everything else is cleared away apart from the chosen items which are to be artfully strewn across the worktop! The provocation can be simple, like leaving a new box of oil pastels on the table, or more complex, such as collection of different building materials (sticks, string, playdough, magna tiles, Lego etc), a few toy cars of different weights and a book about bridges.

Or you could cover the art table with butcher paper, draw some circles and other shapes of different sizes and leave out a compass set, ruler and protractor and just step back and watch. Your weighing scales could be positioned next to the box of Schleich animals, along with a notepad and pen. What child would be able to resist jumping into an impromptu science/art lesson when left a present of a tray of ice cubes, cups, salt and food colouring?

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As you’re strewing these provocations, you inevitably have an idea in your mind as to how you think the kids will use the resources. The trick is not to say anything, but instead just watch and see what they do. Kids are awesome; I guarantee they’ll find a way to play with and explore the strewn items in a way you’d never have contemplated in a million years. And therein lies the beauty of strewing. The objects pique their interest and open a doorway to their curiosity and creativity.

Sometimes however, the objects don’t intrigue them, and they’ll be left in situ, untouched. That’s not a problem, just put them away for another time and start afresh with a new provocation the next day.

My plan for our summer break is to leave a daily provocation strewn somewhere in the house, taking at most 5 minutes to set up the night before. Minimum input for maximum return – my husband’s favourite mantra!

3. Lunchtime readathons

Despite the fact that both my children read voraciously, it doesn’t stop them loving being read to. It’s always been part of our daily evening routine: before they go to bed, we snuggle up together and I read a chapter or two of our latest read aloud. But in the excitement of summer, with long days spent outside, playing hard until the late hours, often the read aloud time gets missed, as they come inside so exhausted they’re unable to focus on even the simplest of books and just need to crash straight away.

So, I’ve decided this summer to take time over lunchtime to read to them. This may be in addition to or instead of the evening session depending on the day. My children are slow eaters, and, although I’m ashamed to admit it, I do find it deathly dull sitting waiting for them to finish. I tend to nip off and start the tidy up process and leave them to finish off together.

In the summer, I’d like to make mealtimes more of a together affair, an opportunity for a touch point before we all disappear off again to work on our own activities. They love it when I read to them over mealtimes, so it makes for the perfect opportunity to connect in the middle of the day, and what better way than with a lovely story. And we won’t just stick to our read aloud. To the mix, we’ll add in poetry; non fiction science, history and geography books; stories in Spanish; magazines and a whole plethora of picture books (because you’re never too old for picture books!). I’m looking forward to having time to search through our book collection and pull out those gorgeous books we never quite have the time to get to during the rest of the year.

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4. For the love of playing

My mum is amazing at playing with my children. She’ll happily get into character and spend hours play acting with them in a make believe world. I’m pretty much in awe of her ability to do this to be honest, as truth be told, when it comes to imaginative play, I find it hard. I love playing games with them, or reading together or doing science experiments or exploring nature, but imaginative play is not really my forte.

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And yet, they love it when I do get down on the floor and play with them. They giggle in such excitement when I’m silly and childlike. And their happiness is infectious. So, this summer, for a small period a day, I’m committing to shedding my outer adult sensible shell and releasing my inner child! I’m going to ditch the to do list and be free to have fun. Who knows what adventures we’ll have together!

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5. Documenting our summer adventures

In the past, I’ve encouraged them to keep a diary of all their ventures over the summer period. This year, I really didn’t want to give them another task to do. Summer is about freedom; being blessed with the space and time to do exactly what you want. Having to write a diary would feel like a chore. If they choose to write a diary, then that’s a different matter. But recently, they’ve been inspired by a fellow home ed friend who has written and produced a brilliant comic for people to buy. They’ve decided they’d like to follow in his footsteps: Bean7 is keen to produce his own comic (called Tar Tours!) and Bean8 is collaborating with Bod10 to write a magazine together. So, I suspect there will be little time left for diary writing.

Nevertheless, they still delight in poring over those old summer diaries, reminiscing over all their experiences and escapades. So, I’ve decided to keep a diary for them, in the format of an Instagram pictorial journal of our daily lives, along with a brief summary of the highlights of our day, scrawled down late in the evening, long after their bedtime. Nothing spectacular, but a record nonetheless of our life through the summer of 2018.

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Something that makes me stop, really take notice of what they’re doing and reflect on all their learning in order to properly document our days. Something for us to sit down, share and enjoy together at the end of each week. A conversation starter which will no doubt elicit a torrent of discussion about what they’ve discovered or mastered. An inspiration for them to revisit some of their earlier projects and explore more deeply. A stimulus for new enterprises yet to be undertaken.

What are your plans for summer?

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