The light at the end of the tunnel

What a week? So many things cropped up to set us back, but we’re all getting back on physical form now so actually, we could work with it. Still not there on finding our feet, but definitely made an impact. Every day, before breakfast has begun, our plan is to work on our reading; snuggles and reading with Mumma before going down for breakfast. It’s meaning we’re getting closer to our commitment of once a day – which is great, and actually the children are focused and calm this way. Also once they know they’ve done it (and more importantly can do it) it sets them up for some real positivity for the day, in respect of their self-confidence.

The week began with a “go get” attitude on my part, I really wanted us to be mostly organised and all of our overdue “things to do” out of the way. For example, we had forms (quite important ones) that should have been sent off weeks ago by my counting, but the deadline was this week – I needed to get them done. We also weren’t there on our home-schooling storage solutions, and I felt this would hinder us somewhat, so that needed doing. And, horror of horrors, I had been so disorganised we had fully run out of toner – I hadn’t bought the replacement for the spare. Fire me now.

To add to our levels of need, my bedroom had become somewhat of a dumping ground – I can’t sleep in mess, it makes it impossible for my brain to shut down. I have always been an insomniac of sorts; I used to dress my brother up in dresses and put make up on him during the night when I was approx. 4, so it’s been as long as I can remember, but I have found things that help – like a clean calm room. And our garden is still in a bit of a state and I want it done. Yes, I think you get it. I was a woman on a mission this week.

So the first half of the week, reading was the only commitment I made for formal schooling, I even was lax on screen time rules; been very lax for the last several days actually, it’s only temporary, and so I don’t mind, they have such a healthy, outdoors-y, techo-free lifestyle so much of the time that for me, it is not an issue that we have periods of time where it isn’t. The second half of the week, I decided to make up for the lost quality time whilst I was on my mission for the first half. And we haven’t laughed as much, played as much and just had fun together like it for such a long time; I think the children were beginning to think that I was just this deranged lady that transported them from A to B and cooked and cleaned, with a bit of moaning thrown into the mix.

Saturday we had quite the adventure, to a pirate birthday party. A little boy from Caitlin’s Kindergarten. It was nice to see everyone from school and to show them we aren’t hiding, and we are still going to be about. But it was also nice to see how much the children love their friends. And how much they are loved too (by friends and parents alike). Logan was in his element, considering the children are 3-4 years his junior, it kind of reiterates how early his social levels are. Consequently, how right we are to work on that first, on our terms (along with their emotional development of course).

And Sunday, of course, was Mother’s Day. We had a lovely day out at the Sculpture Trail in the Forest of Dean. It’s a fair drive from where we live, but still is worth every second. Full review will be posted shortly, but in short: Beechenhurst Lodge, toilets, nice café, big play area with massive green for picnics (picnic tables) space for gazebos and some free range fun. There’s also a climbing tower and a Go Ape Junior trail, both look good but we haven’t used either. The sun made it so lovely.

In short, our physical health is getting better, our home is becoming more organised and our mental state is becoming more and more positive. We’re slowly getting there and small bits of routine are forming. The children are calmer, we’re all getting more sleep. This was definitely the right decision, the best move we could have made. I just need to get a little more routine in, and then I can start thinking more strongly about “me time” – won’t that be a fun topic to consider?

The Slump

Blog_review_pic_techniquest_01ARGH! What a week. I am officially naming the week, “The Slump” everyone has been so riddled with illness from tummy bugs to flu like colds, we have all endured all of it. And we are wiped out. It’s always the way though isn’t it? When you have been over-exerting and then you slow down. Sure is a hell of a motivation to not slow down, that’s for sure.

But despite all of the illness, and generally feeling sorry for ourselves, we’ve been trying hard with our reading. Logan has been sticking to phase 2 high frequency words and phase 3 digraphs. Caitlin has been doing phase 2 phonemes and some of the common words (that she recognises the grapheme/corresponding sound. They have both worked incredibly hard at it. Our aim is to practise twice daily, but so long as we meet once daily, we’re calling it a success. This is, after all, the beginning and we have a son who is afraid to take the challenge, so it can be difficult – no pressure on ourselves, just effort and satisfaction with knowing we have done what we could in a day.

On the most part, educationally, this is what we’ve done mostly – we started off the week with good intentions: puzzles, handwriting, reading etc. But the further the week went on, the more ill we have become and the less work has been done.

On the flip side. All this illness has left us unable to do a lot, so Mumma relented. We all climbed into my bed and between naps and cuddles, we watched a few films. The children really enjoyed it, it took the depression right out of feeling rubbish – getting TV time is a treat in this house. A treat they aren’t used to overusing. So it’s all very exciting. But also, it’s been quite nurture-full: the cuddles, the laziness, the slow approach to how we’ve done things. It sure has been much more calm.

ARGH! What a week. I am officially naming the week, “The Slump” everyone has been so riddled with illness from tummy bugs to flu like colds, we have all endured all of it. And we are wiped out. It’s always the way though isn’t it? When you have been over-exerting and then you slow down. Sure is a hell of a motivation to not slow down, that’s for sure.

But despite all of the illness, and generally feeling sorry for ourselves, we’ve been trying hard with our reading. Logan has been sticking to phase 2 high frequency words and phase 3 digraphs. Caitlin has been doing phase 2 phonemes and some of the common words (that she recognises the grapheme/corresponding sound. They have both worked incredibly hard at it. Our aim is to practise twice daily, but so long as we meet once daily, we’re calling it a success. This is, after all, the beginning and we have a son who is afraid to take the challenge, so it can be difficult – no pressure on ourselves, just effort and satisfaction with knowing we have done what we could in a day.

On the most part, educationally, this is what we’ve done mostly – we started off the week with good intentions: puzzles, handwriting, reading etc. But the further the week went on, the more ill we have become and the less work has been done.

On the flip side. All this illness has left us unable to do a lot, so Mumma relented. We all climbed into my bed and between naps and cuddles, we watched a few films. The children really enjoyed it, it took the depression right out of feeling rubbish – getting TV time is a treat in this house. A treat they aren’t used to overusing. So it’s all very exciting. But also, it’s been quite nurture-full: the cuddles, the laziness, the slow approach to how we’ve done things. It sure has been much more calm.

We had a play date, a recent class mate of Logan, early in the week, and thanks to this random bout of sunshine, the children were able to play in the garden without much fuss. They had a good time, it just gets spoilt a bit when Logan can’t just focus on safety, or at least enough to keep him and everyone else ok, he gets too excited (he can’t calm down) when he’s got someone new in the mix. He tries too hard to impress. It’s difficult because I basically end up nagging a lot, and honestly it’s not the way I want to parent.

Wednesday we were also treated to a play date, Max (my brother) is just under a year older than Logan, so he came over to play after he got home from school. He’s much more understanding of Logan’s and Caitlin’s behaviour than other children (he’s spent a lot of time with them); it makes me feel less on edge when they are playing together, not only does he understand, but I know he’s very comfortable with bringing it to my attention, and will also tell Logan when he thinks his behaviour is uncalled for. Or, with Caitlin, will tell her to back off – she’s a bit like a shadow, she follows them both everywhere, sometimes a little too closely.

On the weekend when feeling a little better we went to Techniquest, where the children (all three) were captivated by the science on show (see here for review). It was a really nice family day out to end a very long week.

That’s been our week. Not very exciting, but very real!

The First Hurdle

13580521_10100403911178401_2521915583892339517_oSo we are out of the starting gate and over the first, and biggest hurdle – the first week!

We’ve had some rest, not enough by a long shot (thanks to being so run down that we catch bugs simply by talking to sick people over the phone – well that’s how it feels). And we’ve had a period of deschooling, basically days of endless cycles of moving things around for home-school, and play, and some cleaning and some more play, upstairs, downstairs, outside.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about what we need to do. Caitlin has had little, to no, formal schooling. Logan has had some formal schooling but has been very rejecting of it. I don’t want to bombard them with lots of formal stuff, but at the same time I needed to know what levels they were at and what they were doing. Logan is year 3, Caitlin is Reception. Given the lack of work they’ve done, and how much Early Years education and development they’ve missed, I downloaded class Early Years tracking sheets.

There are 7 areas of learning tracked in schools, I will list them below with my findings. But I did a quick run through of what I have observed, making sure I clearly mark items I have no evidence of so I know to be looking out for those (not pushing towards exactly, but just like “oh, yeah, so that’s fine”). So here’s how they rated:

  • Communication and Language – around the same level, mostly ok, meeting/exceeding expectations, or not evidenced
  • Physical development – mostly meeting, but both have some noticeable gross and fine motor delay, so aside from that ok
  • Personal, social and emotional development – both lacking in this area, though Logan more than Caitlin; Caitlin has had more inclusive social development opportunities (and Logan was exposed to trauma for a longer time) so this has been noticed, and expected all the way through their adoption. Meeting, or exceeding in some areas though.
  • Expressive arts and design – mostly meeting/exceeding, or not evidenced
  • Understanding the world –questioning and understanding what’s going on around them is meeting, or exceeding, across the board. Though, if you had been ripped from two families and placed into two new families within the first 6/3 years of your life, I think you’d probably question and notice a lot too…
  • Literacy – hugely different stages with reading, but for all else, about the same (explained in more detail below)
  • Maths – very basic, about the same, though Logan is slightly more confident that Caitlin. But above that, lacking confidence. So may as well scrap back to basics and go over that at the same pace.

Literacy, it’s a big area, handwriting, reading comprehension and of course, the actual ability to read. So, they both have some issues with fine motor skills; Logan, due to lack of practise and opportunity, though since living with us we can see the improvements have emerged slowly in that area… with practise he should be ok. With Caitlin though, she actually has a physical reason for the motor delay; her lack of care, well, lack of promotion of early independence, has left her with low muscle tone and hypermobility, so she can do everything, but it’s harder work and more tiring than that of her peers generally. Basically, her progress may be slower than with Logan, but again, anything we can do to build up those muscles and help her, the sooner it’ll happen.

So, handwriting practice, cutting practice, hama beads, beeswax/playdough, threading boards, finger knitting, sewing, fiddle toys, cookery. Anything play wise that’ll promote intricate hand eye coordination and fine motor development.

The reading side is in two parts – reading comprehension, which they are going to get from me reading stories and us talking about them, drawing pictures etc. And also from the stories we make up/play when doing role play. The other part is obviously the ability to actually read; I have done assessments this week. And they faired pretty well.

Logan is much further ahead than we’d anticipated, still not massively “on track” as far as the national curriculum would have it, but we don’t care about details like that. He’s got to get more confident on the phase 3 digraphs and trigraphs, is struggling between “s” vs “ss” and “f” vs “ff” and is gaining confidence on the phase 2 high frequency words (tricky and decodable).

Caitlin is at the beginnings of phase 2, but is able to blend and segment the sounds you give her, and is recognising all of the phonemes, and able to confident recall the sounds independently with all but 7 of them (the last 7 if you give her a few sounds she can identify the correct grapheme for the sound given).

So we’ve just been using flash cards to practise the sounds/words they have been struggling with: getting them to recall sounds, pick the correct flashcard that represents what we are saying and games based around those.

Been doing a host of stuff for fine motor… threading, playdough, colouring, stickers, puzzles. But we’ve also been doing a lot of nurture, attachment building (and rest) time: extended time in bed and pjs in the morning – snuggles in Mumma’s bed before getting on with the day, face painting, “spa” days (rubbing baby lotion on each other’s faces) and things like that.

So now that we’ve survived the first week, gotten ourselves in order, I think we have a rough idea of what we’re going to be doing. It’s just going to be a case of slowly building it up.

That’s it for this week… see you next week.

Ariella 😀

Making things official

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Telling the children was the beginning of it all. Logan was concerned as to whether, or not, he’d get to see his friends – once that was settled he was happy about the decision. Caitlin was even less concerned, when questioned about how she felt “I’m happy, I will still play with my friends Mumma… I don’t like being at Kindie… I don’t think you are coming back.”

The school were just as supportive as they have been all along, they understood our reasoning, there was no offence taken, they can see our decision is for the children – they have witnessed the emotional behaviours, the separation anxiety, the tiredness, the difficulty, the gaps in development. They can see we have been doing everything we can to make it work for both of them. And they know that we aren’t necessarily gone forever, that we may very well be back in the future.

Our family therapist, the social workers, our wider family and friends network, school friends and even our old network of home education families. Everyone has been told. On the most part people have been supportive. Which is fantastic. It shows not only how open we are with our family and friends about the difficulties we face, but also that the stigmas of home education are slipping somewhat, or at least in our social circles anyhow.

Also, I had a good chat with the Local Authority’s Home Education Officer, she knows us from our interim home-schooling last year. For those who don’t know, you are put in touch with someone in this role because they need to make sure that children are receiving a full time education, as it is compulsory for a child to receive a full time education. However, they cannot tell you how to teach, what curriculum to follow etc. Some home educators have issues with being checked up on, but we’re so used to social services, therapists and other professionals having to get involved that it’s like “hey, well, what’s one more?”.

So I am honest with them, the system failed Logan previously and Caitlin was affected too, it wasn’t working before… we’ve now changed the setting and it could have worked. However, there are too many things in the way, so we need to take a step back. It’s obvious we’ve tried. It’s obvious we’re not doing this for our own selfish reasons, this always has been, and always will be about what is best for the children. And they want to see we’re not just letting the TV babysit them… well, in fact, they don’t have a TV – it’s in my bedroom, there isn’t one downstairs – TV time for them is snuggles and a film not usually more than once per week. But basically, if you keep open with them and satisfy them that they are getting some kind of developmental input, there’s no issue. I have nothing to hide, and I am quite happy to moan to anyone who’ll listen about how rubbish our education system is. So yeah…

We aren’t sure quite how we’re going to be doing things yet – we know there’ll need to be a process of deschooling and recovery from the exhaustion we’ve created in trying to attend school. And then we’ll get more set into what we’re comfortable with. But we need to factor in that right now it’s not all about the academic attainment – it’s very early developmental stuff we need to go over too.

Although things are quite up in the air, my initial thoughts are:

  • There’ll need to be a routine in place (of sorts) as neither of them thrive without it
  • The routine will need to be basic enough to flex on our bad days, without it feeling like a punishment
  • We’ll need to incorporate a lot of Early Years development: motor skills, balance, sensory, social skills (sharing, playing together, handling conflict etc.)
  • Outdoor time, time with nature
  • Judgement-free socialisation
  • Attachment building activities
  • Basic reading, writing and maths skills
  • Scheduled therapies

The other stuff will come with time, these foundations need to be built, so we’ll do this first. We’re always doing real-world learning, projects to entertain us based upon what’s happening in the world around us anyhow.

For example, Rio ’16 we had a massive map of the world, surrounded by flags, talked about what happens at the Olympics, the values, designed medals and kits for our own imaginary countries, chose a country of the world to support, learned some facts about the country as well as ours and Brazil and then tracked the medal progress during the games. We went on an excursion to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (not very successful – got all the way there for Caitlin to fall over cut her lip up quite badly on a surface runoff drain and have to come all the way home again) and we even held our own mini Olympics (complete with opening ceremony, torch relay, Olympic flame, races, medals podium, closing ceremony and after party.

I can see us having something like this going throughout the year – calling it our “project”. At the current time our veg patch needs to be started off… so that’ll be our first one. Planning, purchasing, prepping, planting, maintaining and of course picking and eating – the most enjoyable part. From past experience with them I know that this will be something they enjoy, and I know that it’ll help reinforce those thoughts they are now starting to learn about nurture; if you love something, and nurture it, and treat it how you know it needs to be treated, not how you feel, it’ll develop, it’ll grow, it’ll flourish. But, it takes hard work, and time and a lot of commitment. Definitely the right message to be starting off on.

As they need to go through these crucial Early Years stages, I can see a lot of it being very child led, but I do know how much it means to both of them to be able to read so that may need to feature too, we’ve instilled such a passion for books, and I am so grateful that we’ve got that far; the children didn’t have bed time stories, get read to regularly or anything like that before coming to live with us.

That kind of summarises where we are up to with our first weekend.

Ariella 😀

The Beginning

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Hello world (whatever world it may be),

I have been meaning to create some kind of diary-blog about our family for a while. Keeping some kind of diary seems important, for when the children are older, and a blog version seems to make the most sense – it’s all in once place, I can access it on the move… and, of course, I’m more unlikely to lose it than the various journals I could keep.

So here it is.

Initially, I wanted to chronicle our lives from an adoption perspective, what it’s like to be a family with an adopted sibling group; as we were going through the process of adopting our 2, there was nothing out there from the perspective of adopting a sibling group. We looked, but there’s not a lot.

But then we got so busy, and chaotic, to the extent that I literally had to chop all my hair off cause I didn’t have time to brush it, let alone make an account of our comings and goings.

But now, we are about to start home-schooling, so actually, it makes sense to start recording how things are; I always struggle to see the bigger picture, so this will help for sure. But also, if I am saying what we are doing I have a record for us, for a paperwork trail and also for them – proof of what they’ve achieved.

So I’ll summarise our beginnings:
About 2 years ago, 3 painstaking years after we began the process of adoption, we met our amazing (and quite large) bundles of joy (and heartache). Our eldest, Logan was 6, and youngest, Caitlin, was 3. They had left their birth family, who were unable to grasp how to parent safely, not long before. They had been to 1 foster placement, where the decision was made that, as their birth parents were unable to turn things around, adoption was their plan.

It took 4 months from the initial “we want to pursue you as their parents” to the final official “yes, you can be their parents” and we still hadn’t even met them – but it didn’t matter; much like a babe in utero, we loved them long before we met them. They came to us in the summer, so after an expected settling in period, school was pretty much out of the window until after summer holidays. We didn’t know much about them, the Foster Carer didn’t leave us with much to go on, so we had several months of trying and doing everything from food, to days out, to stories… all of it.

We started to get settled and get a good routine going – then school started. There was a brief honeymoon period, followed by more anxiety and issues than we had encountered thus far with our son. Night terrors, bed wetting, anxiety attacks. It just wasn’t right – we had concerns about the school, and then an incident occurred and the school didn’t make us aware of it – another parent approached me, after their child had mentioned witnessing it. That was all we needed to solidify our beliefs that it wasn’t going to work. So we pulled him out and home-schooled for a while.

In the interim, Caitlin was at nursery school, she was doing ok making friends etc., but she too was struggling with aspects of the day. But she was only going 2.5 days/week and it she seemed to be coping with things. We headed forward with the plan to get them into an alternative school, one without competitive learning and testing. All the while home-schooling. They both got accepted, about a year ago, and we have given it our all, fully flung ourselves in. The school was very supportive, and tried to do all they could for us. But the emotional issues, development gaps and physical issues all just piled against our attempts, and essentially left us feeling that what the children truly need is family time, early years’ development, nurture, removal of social and classroom pressured and a relaxed approach to learning, tailored to their pace, bad days and issues.

So this blog is us now, in our present day.

We hope you enjoy our journey, we sure will, trials and all.

Techniquest

Techniquest Blog_review_pic_techniquest_01 Cardiff Bay, Cardiff. http://www.techniquest.org

Before our children arrived, I have been to Techniquest several times as a child/young teen myself and with other children (friends and family). And I have to say, it’s consistent in capturing the audience. Child, and adult alike, are captivated by its play-based approach to science.

Yet, for all of its play focus of the main exhibition, there is so much to be learned. Even if you forget the additional educational shows. There is a bit of information about each interactive experiment, and many questions and suggestions to get you thinking as you play. It opens even the most educationally shy child to a world of possibility, which is something we struggle against (with our eldest) on a daily basis.

Then there are the shows in the planetarium and science theatre; different themes run at different times, which can all be checked on the website. There’s usually a show in the science theatre, where they offer a series of short and engaging experiments that fit the theme of their show. And then 2 shows in the planetarium – one suitable for the younger audience (under 7s) and one aimed at over 7s.

Whilst we were there, we attended the science theatre show (Switched on, which was an exploration of light) at no additional cost. And also the under 7s planetarium show (Space Hunters – a planetarium, show that had an interactive and fun story involving a treasure hunt in space to get the children involved and interested, before having a look at some constellations), which was about £1.50 each extra. There was also a group in, from the University I believe, educating children on healthy eating with some fun games and activities to show them about being hydrated, making healthy choices (low fat, low sugar) and gave them some information to bring home too.

The exhibition itself was very entertaining, and could easily form the basis of a very fun few hours out (or by utilising the wrist band to pop out and back in, going in the morning, popping out for a lunch and explore of the bay and then having a few more hours after lunch). Experiments range from things to do with light, to the physics of movement, to biology and human evolution. A popular section is always the water area, where the children can manoeuvre objects through a little stream, fill up various household objects to see which uses more water etc.

The entry fee wasn’t too bad we went as a family group of 5 (2 adults and 3 children) and the price was £25 for all of us. There is a small gift shop, as well as a coffee shop selling pre-packaged sandwiches, hot and cold drinks and snacks, 2 hot drinks, 5 sandwiches and 5 packets of crisps cost us £16. And there’s a car park directly opposite the back of the building (Mermaid Quay), 5 hours parking cost us £7, though if you are making a day of it, the Red Dragon centre is only a 5-minute walk away, and if you spend £5 (dinner/drinks/bowling/cinema) parking is free.

It’s somewhere we always come back to, and would always recommend to others for a bit of educational fun.

PS. I couldn’t add more than the initial picture as all of ours captured other people’s children too… difficult not to get photobombed in a place as busy as that.