In pursuit of our passions

On Friday I handed in the final assignment toward my Post Graduate Diploma in Education (Guidance and Counselling). I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for completing it because it’s been pretty hard slog some of the time, what with home schooling three kids as well. But I made it. These types of achievements always make me reflective, and I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past two days. Last night I was lying in bed thinking about how this feels like a really long time coming, even though I only started this particular course of study a little under three years ago. I could look back across the years and see that really, this path started when I was a child, I just had no idea.

There are two strands that run through my life, stronger than all the others. One is my love of writing, and the other is my natural ability to be there for others. I was always the ‘buddy’ at school, never the aggressor, but never passive either. I was the confidant, the friend when you needed it, that person you could trust never to say anything, trust to still look you in the eye and respect you afterwards even when you weren’t sure you could respect yourself. I started my ‘career’ in counselling more officially when I trained to be a peer support person at school, and that unofficial role has followed me through life. I do it naturally, I find it hard not to. I strive to see the good in everyone and to help them see their way through the rough patches, see that they can move on, move forward. But that was just something you did in your spare time. It wasn’t a career. I was just a ‘good friend’ and there isn’t a job for that. Not one that would make me any money.

I can recall writing stories non stop as a child. I remember always going way bigger with my ideas than anyone else in my class, always being the one who spun the tale, invented the backstory and characters for games played with cousins across long summer afternoons. As soon as we got a computer I started using it, spending an hour or more writing novels as soon as I got home from high school. I can still feel the nervous excitement at printing one out and passing it to my art teacher to read, seeing that encouraging expression on her face which said she really wanted to like it but thought she might not, and then witnessing her genuine response when she handed it back and acknowledged that I actually had a good story there.

I have always told stories. But, I was always by everyone told that I could never make a job out of it, it could only ever be a hobby, so I better pick something else.

I never know what that was. Well, that’s what I believed anyway. I was told that the things I loved, the things I was naturally good at, passionate about, driven to do, were not good career choices. They were hobbies, or things to do on the side. I was not to put my future in the things that I love. My choices were not good enough. I had to pick again.

Is it any wonder that I’ve never had a real career? I left high school and enrolled in business studies through the local Polytech because my high school guidance counsellor saw that I was good with maths, so I should do business. For lack of a better idea, I did as he suggested – everyone was so proud. I HATED it. I finished the year out, even though it was painful and I was miserable. And then I quit and got a job at a supermarket. Which I also hated. I moved to Palmerston North and did a Diploma in Design and Multimedia, which was great fun, but not really my thing. I never had the flair that others had. My creative passion was words, not images. I cross-credited my business papers towards a BA and planned to major in English and History. I could be a teacher. I’d loved learning at school, had an amazing history teacher who really challenged me and helped me thrive. But it was all pretty dry, and I soon put it on hold as life fell apart for a bit.

I picked it back up again, and after my father commented that I’m always helping people out maybe I should get a degree in that so someone would actually pay me for it, that I opted to switch my double major from English/History to English/Psychology. And it was okay. I finished it. Graduated. But psychology was too much science for me, and not enough about being with people. Not ground roots enough for me.

I had kids, and I think that’s where things really changed for me because I began to understand that I didn’t want any of this for my kids. If they had a passion, I wanted them to follow it, but in order for that to happen I had to SHOW them the way. I began to write more seriously. In the days when they napped it was pretty easy to keep at it. I got some stories published. I won an award for my editing. I raised some funds for charity. I made the short list for a short story award. I’m actually pretty good at this thing I love so much, this thing which keeps me going even in my darkest days. And the kids can see the books on the bookshelf to prove it. They can see the award sitting on my desk. More importantly they can see the fire in my eyes when I talk story, when I engage with their worlds, when I want to hear what’s going on in their heads.

And then a few years ago I decided that I finally wanted to do something about becoming a counsellor for real. I started some training through Lifeline, but it was just after things started to go sour for Ivy at school, so as much as it crushed me I opted out of that – for all the right reasons if you ask me. However, it spurred me to enrol in Uni again and now three years later I am finished.

I can’t go out and work as a counsellor right now. I’m too busy home schooling after all 😉 But I have some invaluable tools, and I plan to do my Masters further down the track, and the kids have seen this example of their mother, following her passions, working hard, really hard, to achieve something. And the grin on my face, the pride shining in my eyes, that will stick with them. I can’t wait to attend graduation next year.

I want, so badly, for them to know that it’s okay to pursue their passions no matter what they are. I will never be the mother that says ‘no, that won’t make you any money’, or the one that says ‘you need a backup plan’, or any of the other lines I heard a million times. I’m going to be behind there, cheering them on, helping them make the right choices to get to their goals, and I know, without any doubt, that they’ll have this all figured out a whole lot earlier than I did. It doesn’t matter if they don’t earn a massive wage, because real happiness cannot be found in a large bank account statement.

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The Exemption Process – round 2

Yesterday I finally sent off my application for an exemption for Lauren. It’s been weeks in the making and between assignment pressure and the regular busyness of life it took a lot longer than I had wanted.

Let me tell you, writing one for the second child is no easier than writing one for the first. Of course, I am more confident than ever that our approach works. I’ve seen it in action, more so in this last year than in our first as home schoolers. I’ve watched our amazing children blossom and shine, and come into their own in ways I had not expected. These things however are not so easy to translate into a letter of application. An application which is written in a way that makes me feel like nothing I write is going to be good enough. Its intimidating, to say the least.

Which is sad really. I know these kids better than anyone else in the world. I can tailor their learning experiences to meet their needs in a very specific way that no regular school can. No matter how well intentioned or amazing a teacher is, they can’t give my kids the things I give them – freedom to move when needed, freedom to explore their interests until they’ve exhausted the well of questions or curiosity, a tiny teacher to student ratio, not to mention all the other benefits like hugs at any time of the day, or quiet time when they need it no matter where we are.

It makes me feel queasy that someone might deem my application not good enough. While logically I know it should be okay, I can’t help but worry. I do the same with assignments for University lol I haven’t failed anything yet (and I have just one assignment remaining in my Post Grad Dip in Education), but that thread of anxiety is still there, every single time.

Well, all we can do is wait now. Wait and continue to do what we’re doing. Keep enjoying life and learning every day.

Term 3 Swimming

Since beginning the term, we’ve managed to make all but one week of our new swimming session (and we only missed it then because we were all going to Chipmunks for one of our friends birthday parties). This regular time slot, swimming with our friends, has been amazing for the girls confidence in the water and every week I’ve been impressed to see them trying new things.

Ivy has stopped wanting to hold her nose when she’s under the water, improved her freestyle vastly and been enjoying lots of swimming in the deep end. She’s still working on mastering sculling, but she’s getting there. She’s also taken part in several sessions with a lifeguard and the other older kids in our group, learning how to do ‘safety jumps’. The lifeguards have been great since we’ve spoken to them about having time in the deep end, and it’s nice that our kids can splash around now without annoying any aqua-joggers.

Lauren has gone from being afraid to getting her head under the water, to being a little dolphin! She spends most of her time under the water now, learning new ways to move her body and travel. She loves to jump in and does so without needing me to catch her now. She’s spending time in the deep end too, though still needs my assistance – but she can get back to the edge on her own now which is awesome. The jump is too high for her to do safety jumps, but just last week her and a friend were doing their own version off the edge in the shallower ends. Love that they are copying what the big kids are doing in a way that is safe for them! She’s been a great motivator for one of her younger friends too, role modelling and encouraging her to go under the water as well and take some more (safe) risks. I have loved watching the two of them become so confident in the water over the term.

Natalie has been doing her own thing as well. She’s moving around a lot more confidently, and jumping off the side of the poo into my arms, and occasionally by herself in the shallower parts, though until just last week, was entirely unconvinced about a) wearing goggles, and b) putting her head under the water. This last week she decided to give the new goggles a better go and seemed to enjoy not getting water in her eyes as much. Funnily, it was after she discarded them that she decided to show me a new trick – putting her head under the water! I was so thrilled. She showed a few other people, and is feeling pretty chuffed with herself. I imagine that in another six months she’ll be just as active beneath the water as her sisters.

I wish I had some pics to share, but I’m always in the water with them. It’s lovely to see their confidence blooming and their skills growing – every week at least one of them has tried something new. We’re looking forward to the weather warming up and doing some swimming in the sea and rivers around the area – which will mean a whole new set of skills!

The Cosmodome

WP_20140508_001Our homeschooling group organized some visits to a local school who had the Cosmodome show running. I’d never heard of it before, and there was a HUGE response.

We went on Thursday last week – it was a dreary afternoon, chilly and drizzly, so the kids made the most of the mostly empty hall to hoon around in and play games before we got started. It was a great way to burn off some energy before heading into the dome and sitting down for a chunk of time.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was super excited! We all piled in through the squishy door and sat down. The dome was surprisingly spacious on the inside and there was plenty of room. We started off by singing twinkle twinkle little star, and as we sang, the stars came up in the sky. It was pretty cool!

I didn’t take photos inside, so you’ll just have to trust me. I was more interested in having the experience myself, and sharing it with my kids. Ivy lay on the floor for most of it, while Natalie moved back and forth between me and one of her favourite adults. Lauren rested her head on my leg for chunks of it, and danced for other parts (they played Daft Funks ‘Around the World’ on our trip back to earth from the far reaches of the universe).

Natalie’s favourite part was when the dome was covered with constellations with the images of them overlaying (so, a scorpio, and Orion, etc), while Lauren and Ivy both liked the simulations best. I was really impressed by how well it was done – it really did feel like we were floating in zero gravity. Very cool. The kids are looking forward to visiting the observatory on a clear night now, and Ivy was creating her own constellations yesterday and flicking through the star book I got a few months ago. We’re planning on making our solar system at some point, and doing some star art.

Open2Study update

anthropology-page-001Ivy has finished her first two courses through Open2Study, so I thought that it was a good time to do a little summary of how that’s going for us.

She passed both, but what I found most interesting was that despite Anthropology being the harder of the two courses, this was the one she most wanted to do. Given the choice (and she always is) she always chose this over the Art class, despite the fact she got better grades and had an easier time with the Art one.

She has learned heaps, and was quoting facts she’d learned from Anthropology when we recently visited the Auckland zoo, I loved hearing her tell other people about the things we’d learned through the course. She has also been applying the things she learned in the Art class to artwork she has viewed, and also to the stuff she has been creating.

art-page-001More important than the things she learned has been the discovery of her passion for science. She loves learning about how the world works, which none of us knew prior to this. She’s come leaps and bounds over the last few months and it’s wonderful to watch. She’s even decided to be a scientist when she grows up.

She said to me the other day ‘[our neighbour of a similar age] just thinks science is when you put things together and they explode, why doesn’t she know about other stuff?’. I explained to her that the things she’s learning at the moment are well ahead of the other kids of her age, which made her feel pretty good 🙂 She was baffled by how little other people seem to know.

I love seeing her thirst for knowledge grow and am really encouraged after seeing that despite challenges, if she really wants to know something she will keep coming back to it – this is a massive thing for her because I vividly remember when she was still at regular school she would opt out as soon as things got hard, and trying to get her to engage with homework was like pulling teeth. It’s all changing now. She’s leading the way, she’s hungry for knowledge and I LOVE seeing that. The drive to learn, to desire to know, is one of the more valuable things you can develop and it’s there, growing within her.

An interest in reading

As seems to be Lauren’s nature, she has now decided that she wants to be able to read. She doesn’t really want to learn to write though, and isn’t interested in learning the letters and the sounds they make. She just wants to be able to read. Preferably yesterday.

WP_20140119_005This came on night two of our reading sessions – she always has a cuddle before bed, but after spending a few weeks reading Harry Potter with Ivy at bedtime, Lauren decided she wanted a book instead of a long ‘talk time’ so, we brought that in. The second night, she took the book off me and declared that she was going to read it, and then gave it back, admitting she didn’t know how.

I’m learning to think outside the box a little when it comes to Lauren. She needs to make instant progress, and so I grabbed the tablet from beside my bed and flicked onto the Eggy Sight Words app. She’s not been overly interested in this until now, in fact, I think Natalie has played it more than anyone, but I figured she could learn a couple of words, and then read those ones for me when we reached them in the book. On her first night, she learned ‘the’, ‘and’, and ‘to’. Thankfully, there were a lot of those words in the book, and she had fun practicing reading them. She was full of smiles, and a beautiful sense of achievement, knowing that she could ‘read’ some words.

Eggy sight words is a pretty cool app, though it’s a little slow in some regards. You have a word to recognise, and it flies across the screen in eggs. There are other words flying around too, and items like potatoes, pans, regular eggs, and pigs. If you touch something that isn’t the word, you lose a life, and if you miss an egg with the right word, you also lose a life. Sometimes the eggs move so fast that even I can barely tell what’s on them, and other times you can sit there for a full minute without the word coming up. There are smiley face eggs that give you life back, and also puzzle piece eggs, and I think they also count as a word.

WP_20140119_009Lauren doesn’t need to get to 25 words (which is what it takes to win a level) before she can recognise them, and she is more interested in putting her new knowledge to the test than finishing a game, so typically I will tap away while she grabs the book we’re reading to find the words she has learned.

The main down fall of the game is that the flying pigs are just SO much fun to squish! lol she can’t seem to resist them. It becomes a game in itself, of her trying to catch the pigs and then counting her lives and making sure she has enough not to lose (and winning some back when she gets a smiley face egg).

Loosening the reins

I admit to being a bit of a control freak. I like things done a certain way – the easy way, normally, the most efficient way – so one of the biggest lessons for me in our home schooling journey has been letting go. Without room to breathe, and make mistakes, and find their own way, the kids can’t really learn what they need to know.

It isn’t something I have had to face with our eldest (Ivy, 8). She’d much rather I did everything for her, even if it’s something she could easily do for herself. The struggle there has been in encouraging her to give things a go, to make mistakes, to get messy. Teaching her that if you have an accident in the process it’s not a big deal because you can just clean it up, or have another go.

Our middle child (Lauren, 5) is a little different. Her early years were spent in my arms and she spent a lot of time surveying the world and the people who populated it, but she actually has more confidence to strike out and try things on her own, she is a determined soul and a fantastic problem solver – and her younger sister Natalie, at 3, is even bolder, and forever pushing herself to catch up to her big sister.

More and more, I am having to let things go. The most recent has been breakfast/lunch. It’s now a time of experiments, and taste testing. Lauren has been making sandwiches for herself and her sisters, and this morning she took the helm completely. There were some interesting combinations, that’s for sure, many of which were tested, but not eaten. I said yes, more than I normally would, because who am I to tell them what they want to eat? We all have different tastes and preferences, and so, they explore.

WP_20140104_005Lauren’s favourite is nutella with 100’s & 1000’s. Natalie just likes nutella or peanut butter. Or tomato sauce. Tomato sauce and 100’s & 1000’s was not so popular, nor was the marmite and 100’s & 1000’s. Actually, marmite isn’t popular at all.

And when all is said and done, it looks a little like this, and that’s okay, because it gives me a chance to guide them in learning how to clean up after themselves and take responsibility for the messes that they make.

WP_20140104_006WP_20140104_004And they look a little like this, and I love it.  Lauren looks positively blissed out on having the freedom to make her own breakfast of choice, and Natalie, while pulling a funny face, was thrilled to experiment with Lauren and have tomato sauce for breakfast, and more than happy to clean up the sticky finger marks she left on the chair and bench.

I love my little monkeys, and I’m getting better at loosening the reins and giving them the freedom to explore the things they want to. I’m just grateful that I can be here to watch them grow, even if at times I have to take deep breaths to calm myself! lol