At the end of last year I wrote this piece for the Telegraph about our first 'term' of home educating.
This term I wanted to begin with more of a plan. Last term was very haphazard and I was conscious that Cherry in particular doesn't respond well to chaos and disorganisation. We also welcomed a puppy into our family which brought what routine we had created to a screeching halt.
Last term was very hard in places, and at one point we were considering both children attending a Waldorf-inspired kindergarten for three mornings a week as I genuinely felt I couldn't cope with the responsibility of full-time home education. For various reasons this didn't happen and I am now very glad.
I feel I have a better idea of what home education is and how it is working for us, and how it will continue to work in the future. Through all of this I have been able to look at my children and ask myself some fundamental questions - are they happy? Are they learning? Are they engaged in the world? Do they have discernible interests, passions and lines of inquiry? Are they interacting socially? Are they growing as human beings? Are we all, all four of us, learning and growing? Despite some challenges, so far, the answers are always 'yes'.
For a long time I have been really excited by the idea of inquiry-based learning - following children's interests and offering mentoring and guidance, and allowing these interests to unfold into self-directed learning. It's a simple concept that felt almost impossible to put into practice at several points in the last few months.
However at the end of the year some strong interests and obvious lines of inquiry began to emerge, disparate but connected.
At the same time, all the reading and thinking and learning I have been doing - exploring approaches from unschooling to Charlotte Mason to classical to Reggio-inspired - started to come together in a more holistic and connected way.
Finally, Noel and I began to address the environment. We converted the spare room, piled high with junk and clutter, into a playroom. This has been a long time coming - we decided back in August to turn the space over to the children - only now did we have the vision and the funds to make it a reality.
At the beginning of 2017 I feel in a good place and ready to plunge into home education with a refreshed and enhanced enthusiasm.
We will continue with some of the routine we created last year. Violet will still attend her preschool for three mornings a week. Cherry will continue with her sports class, her drama class and will start gymnastics classes.
One day a week we all attend a beautiful outdoor homeschooling community. We have made some good friends there and although I have struggled personally with my confidence, with social awkwardness and at times with my parenting in this space, I very much feel we belong there.
We will also continue to spend time outside every day, this is a top priority and won't change. Nature study will carry on, we started following Exploring Nature With Children by Lynn Seddon last year and we will pick that back up again.
Cherry and Violet are incredibly at home in the outdoors. They never struggle to occupy and entertain themselves and their play lasts for hours. The learning that happens is a joy to behold, as is their capability, confidence and resourcefulness.
But indoors they are less at home. They are more demanding, argue more and are less inclined to occupy and entertain themselves. They have long play cycles and do a lot of dramatic play and storytelling but they rarely sit and play constructively with toys - I hardly ever find them building with the blocks, for example.
I am hopeful having their own playroom will encourage them to explore materials and resources more. I invested in a little curriculum called Building Structures With Young Children that I plan to work through with them, but at the moment we only have a small bucket of wooden blocks at our disposal. I may leave this until we can invest in a couple of resources - I think they would absolutely love rainbow blocks, for example, and be far more motivated to explore them.
We used Christmas as an opportunity to invest in some resources like geometric shapes and puzzles and a maths set so we are well set up to begin some guided investigations into shapes, patters, measurements and other basic mathematical concepts.
They love to help me cook and both of them are highly capable in the kitchen. They love cooking and baking and so this year we will be branching out from our staples, trying new recipes together and building on their skills.
They have also started asking questions about nutrition and the general properties and content of food, so we will begin to learn more about food groups and the function of food as fuel for our bodies. As keen gardeners and cooks they're pretty au fait with where their food comes from, but we haven't yet really talked much about the ethics of food, packaging, production processes, eating meat and so on.
Cherry learned to read last term, to the level of being able to read a simple early reader by herself. We used a phonics-based programme which she initially enjoyed but later began to complain about. I also felt the reading material within the programme itself became pretty poor as it progressed. So this term we will add sight words instead of focusing purely on sounding out words.
In terms of inquiry and project work, Violet remains very interested in space and Cherry has a few interests on the go, including New York, tall structures and electricity.
Over Christmas they watched and fell in love with Ice Age: Collision Course and Cherry asked about friction, so this led to a short but enjoyable inquiry and they both completely grasped the concept and were able to make accurate predictions about the friction generated between various surfaces and objects.
Finally I invested in a Reggio-inspired arts curriculum for us to work through. We do a lot of art and Cherry and Violet love crafting and creating. Having a structure to follow and ideas of how to present provocations and talk about the materials with the children is really helpful to me as I struggle to overcome my perception of myself as 'not good at art'. It's a bit like having a friendly helping hand.
With children this age I think the main challenge of home education is simply being with them so much. They are still very young, although both are past the demanding dependency of toddlerdom. Violet is experiencing some big emotions at the moment and Cherry remains highly sensitive, extremely spirited and very demanding in new and different ways. She is quite simply a child who requires a great deal of attention and interaction - she always has been and I can't see this changing any time soon.
My relationship with both of my children is at an all-time high point. I feel extremely confident in my parenting at this moment in time, but I know how quickly this can change and Cherry in particular hits phases hard and head-on. There is always something new just around the corner.
Managing this, and retaining some semblance of balance so that I feel I have enough interests, get enough exercise and maintain enough of a healthy inner life, is the ultimate goal.
At the end of the day I'm also a housewife, keeping everybody fed, clothed and content is part of my remit too.
I am not a natural home-maker, I am not tidy or organised and I frequently procrastinate and try to avoid taking responsibility. But on the plus side I am extremely resourceful, creative and determined.
More and more I am finding ways to make home life work for me - for all of us. Rather than try and force myself into somebody else's model, looking to Instagram or self-proclaimed 'Monica's' or Marie Kondo I am starting to find a way of running our home that fits in with my personality and my true self as well as with the wants and needs of everybody else. Noel is strong in areas where I am weak, and more and more he and I inspire each other to be our best selves.
I am so excited for what this year may hold. I hope I can document it a bit more - already this year I have used my DSLR every day, instead of just snapping on my iPhone, and it's just a simple gesture but it feels significant in a number of ways.
Firstly it shows that I have my hands free enough to use the thing - a first since I had children.
Secondly, it shows that I am investing a more expensive and professional tool in recording our daily lives, which feels like it gives moments and experiences more weight and meaning. Life is to be lived, enjoyed and reflected upon, not just snapped in a rush.
And finally it feels like a representation of an awareness of being mindful and present, of observing my children rather than responding to predicted or learned behaviour. More and more I can step back and watch and learn, rather than constantly rushing about with my hands full. Much of this is a reflection of their age and capabilities, of course, but I hope that some of it is indicative of my own personal growth as a mother and as a person.
It's been a journey for me too - the most exciting journey of all. I can't wait to see where we all go.