Monday, March 29, 2010

What do in the holidays?

This is a friend's show and we've seen it a couple of times now, we were lucky enough to be a test audience at Kirsty and Ken's lovely home last year. Ken Harper has a passion for this most traditional of shows and has made all the puppets himself. It's a little bloodthirsty and the stock characters may be a surprise for parents used to giving their kids a diet of Peppa Pig and Angelina Ballerina, but our kids LOVE Mr Punch. They were fascinated by Death and the Devil and 'swossages swossages I love swossages' has entered our everyday parlance (well, not that we have sausages EVERY DAY mind you. Just many days.)

Ken does a quick 'meet the puppets' session afterwards, as a way of breaking the spell, and it's really interesting to see the children on that edge of belief, where they know they are empty puppets and yet continue to invest life and consciousness in them. I've talked before about my ambivalence in steering the kids away from belief in the fantastic towards the real and this has been one of my favourite experiences in both embracing the real world and the facts of it, while letting a trace of harmless magic linger.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Una's List

Watch television
Eat a lolly
Draw a scary picture

Get the washing in
Do the dishes

Do a painting

Lie in the hammock

Eat biscuits

Play on the computer

Notice play on the computer is hastily added in in another colour. This was a non-sanctioned activity and was added in about halfway through the day, but she was very insistent that, as it was on the list, it HAD to be ticked off. She is sneaky my Una.
Freddy had a list too, and the day passed by beautifully, one of those sunny, slow-time Sundays, perfect for gardening and reading a little in the sun, and a walk down to the roadside plant stall looking for inspiration and a play with the next-doors and a bit of housework too.
The sort of days you might want to capture in a blog post, because they are full of the textures of autumn, and the pleasure of domestic life and the bliss of family living, and yet in themselves are so unremarkable that they could easily slide away, forgotten on other, busier, angrier days.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ideas from the wind

Una (dreamily): Imagine if we had a big tin of silver polish.
Martin: Why do you want silver polish?
Una: Then if I had a friend around to play and she had silver shoes I could say (casually), ‘Your shoes are very dirty. Would you like a polish? We have some silver polish in the barn.’ Imagine.

This morning Fred said, 'Can I use this pen?' She had been up for over an hour, I had only just risen. Martin and Una had driven off to creche, and were having the above conversation.

'Sure,' I said and probably something grumpy about not losing it.

And she went outside to write poetry, and get ideas from the wind.

Incidentally, Fred has always loved the wind. When I used to take her outside at a few months old in the Baby Bjorn she would open her mouth and swallow it and gasp in delight. Wind is her element, and her energy.

notes on a small school

This started as a comment on someone's Facebook status (a friend who has just started sending her previously homeschooled kids to school), until I realised it was a) very long and b) all about me. So I thought I'd write it here instead. Sorry if it all appears a bit random.

Fred asked this week who works the most (meaning out of me and Martin) and I told her, quite honestly, 'you do'. School is intense and as we come up towards the end of term I can see Fred is tired. Our school isn't big on homework (yay), but Fred is constantly building on her skills, reading, writing, working out maths problems, partly because we encourage her to (we make her do her own tuckshop bag for instance), and partly because, like most kids, she is constantly seeking out opportunities to flex or hone these skills.

Fred really does love school. This year there are 48 kids in the school (prep-6), ten in her grade and fourteen in her class (a combined prep/1/2). In a way it kind of offers some of the supportive nurturing of homeschooling, but it is still institutional, a purpose built school with three wings of double units (all of which, I think, can be sectioned off, allowing for three or six class groupings, this year there are three).

Fred works differently at school. At home she is a very motivated 'self learner', setting herself little projects, like writing in her diary, or making books, or measuring things, but at school she responds really well to structure and routine. Her teacher says she has a quick, little mind, which is a relief because once I thought she was so impossibly scattered and flyaway that I feared she would actually fly apart into pieces like a dandelion clock.

We worried about which school to send her to (the big shiny, recently rebuilt school a short drive down the road, the smallish well set up school, a short drive down another road, or the extremely small community-minded but definitely not shiny local). The local school is struggling (you may have worked out that there is only a handful of preps and grade twos, in fact there is only one prep), though it doesn't FEEL like a school that is struggling. It feels like a school that is bursting with life, honestly, with dynamic kids and good ideas. Fred is thriving. It's only when parents and teachers get together that you feel this urgency, that the school population is dwindling, that the already small staffs' jobs could be at stake, that - for us - Una may be going to a school of 38 kids, and the next year it might be 30 kids as the older grades graduate and leave and the prep numbers stay low.

I asked Una if she minded the idea of being the only prep next year (which so far seems likely), for the present she finds the idea quite appealing. I am concerned about how this will play out longterm, one of the disadvantages of our area is that there are few regular groups organised locally, if she was to look outside of her school for a social group (Brownies, ballet etc) we have to do a lot of driving around, and she won't be mixing with kids who live a short walk away. I grew up with lots of kids within a 10 minute walk and I grieve for Una that she won't have this as part of her childhood. Oddly, it is not just that parents are taking kids out of the area for school. There's simply not that many kids Una's age in the area. I know that the positives of this are that Una will be more self-sufficient, and she is that way inclined anyway. And she will get a lot of teacher attention! She'll be able to work at her own level. And she will make friends with kids who are older or younger than her, which will present its own rewards. But isn't it sad, if she won't have the opportunity of having a best friend in her own grade, someone she can travel through the school with?

This wasn't meant to be a panic about the school (I am easily diverted into anxiety on this topic). Because we're happy there. We really are. It seemed so important which school to send Fred to, and I worried about her missing out at a small school. (By the way, the thing that clinched it for me was reading a study that said kids that go to a small school are more likely to LIKE school, which seemed an excellent foundation for further education).

I think for me the big surprise about school is how much you still 'homeschool' even when your kids go to school. Though there's lots to love about the idea of it, homeschooling full time was never an option for us, for logistical and ideological reasons. And besides, when I explained the concept of homeschooling to Fred she was visibly appalled. She learns well in a group, and benefits from the combined ages - both as peer support to the younger kids and by working with older kids. This year she is reading a year above her grade level, which is easier because she is in a blended class group. Her written comprehension is still at the same level as the other grade ones, so this is good too, she can swing between grade one and grade two work without there being any disruption. One advantage of a small school is that they can tailor to kids individual needs, while still having to remind kids that their needs aren't the only consideration - which is important too.

Sometimes I worry if Fred is Missing Out on vague, abstract things that I imagine are at bigger schools - a more immersive music education, a second language, and that Una in turn will also Miss Out. But then we go to the sport's carnival, or get a notice about an excursion the whole school is going on, or she makes a play date with a girl in grade three, or she hugs the cleaner on the way out of school, and I think about the things other kids miss out on, in bigger schools. Not that they're missing out, no one's missing out. It's just the shape of a childhood, that's all.

Friday, March 05, 2010


Most milestones take us by surprise, though none usually happen without warning. When Freddy took her first steps, we knew it was something she'd been working up to for a while, ever since she started cruising the furniture, or making failed to attempts to launch herself into the centre of the room. Still when it finally happened, the surprised delight was genuine. I remember going to bed that night buzzing with the possibilities. O brave new world.

This morning Fred asked if she could walk to school by herself. She is six, seven next month. Martin began walking to and from school alone in second term of prep. I am not sure, exactly, how old I was, though I was walking or catching the bus with my sister in prep and I know for sure by the time I was eight I was walking alone and I had to cross two main roads, and a couple of smaller ones. Again this was not entirely unexpected, a few times this year Fred has run so far ahead of me and Una that she may as well have been on her own.

Fred's route involves two road crossings. The first is a small road, not busy but cars can come down quite quickly, and this road is the reason I said no this morning, though she is a careful crosser, and I no longer hold her hand, encouraging her to do in her own time. The second crossing is with a crossing guard.

Apart from the roads, there's no other big risks. It's a clear route, one I know Fred wouldn't deviate from. There's a few other kids who walk, enough to look out for each other. And it's not far, maybe 1km, perhaps even a little less.

This morning after we'd crossed the first road, and walked a little way together she latched herself onto two slightly bigger boys, grade threes perhaps. They were discussing the finer points of The Force, and benevolently ignored her.

And suddenly I thought, You know what? She's fine. She's so fine. And I said 'Fred? Fred? Freddy?' and she pretended not to hear me because you know, she was with the big boys. And I said 'Freddy, will you be right from here?' and she nodded and I kissed her, and I watched her walk away.

Thirty seconds later, first bell went and Fred took off at a run over the crest of the hill and disappeared from view. The boys walked a few more lazy steps and then took off after her. (In this case I think Fred was a good influence.) Martin driving past after dropping Una off at her creche beeped-beeped his horn as Fred ran up the slip road towards the school. He beamed at me as he drove past. I was still watching the empty road, I turned away before I saw her cross the road.

But she would have made it inside for second bell, just in time.