The Joy Of Planning

One of the things I was looking forward to about home educating both my children was having more flexibility to travel.  In a year or so I’d love to spend a month exploring Europe by camper van or train, and driving home from Centerparcs I made a shortlist of places I thought we could “practise” on: Italy (culture, sunshine, food), the south of Spain (I spent a year in Granada in my 20’s), and Paris (culture, French, Eurostar).

It was therefore with great excitement that I booked for the three of us to go to Italy for three days in April.  I had had in mind Florence, a beautiful and managably-sized city I fell in love with when I was lucky enough to visit on a business trip.  C fancied Pisa, for its famous tower.  J was happy to go anywhere there was pizza, pasta and ice cream!  MyItalian geography isn’t great, so I was thrilled to discover that not only is Pisa a budget-airline destination whose airport is ten minutes walk from the city centre, but that Florence is only an hour away by train.

With flights and hotels booked (two nights in Florence, one in Pisa) I am now ridiculously over-excited!  The Earworms Italian app is on my iPhone; I have tracked down second hand copies of Pippo The Fool (a children’s story about the eponymous architect considered to be the father of Renaissance architecture, and whom we have to thank for Florence’s famous Duomo) and Leonardo And The Flying Boy (“an exciting introduction to the great genius of the Italian Renaissance”); I have added some wonderful blogs like CiaoBambino to my google reader; and I have even started reminding myself what the Renaissance was all about, thanks to some excellent children’s history websites!

So – very inspired, and extremely appreciative of the instant and free resources the internet provides – and the people who put them up there, of course!

The South Bank

As most of C’s old Y2 school friends seemed to visit the Florence Nightingale museum over half term, we thought we’d go up today to see what it was all about for ourselves.  Even J was enthusiastic, on the promise of a gruesomely realistic black “toy” rat like the one a friend had brought back  last week.

The museum is lovely, with plenty of thoughtful little touches  – peepholes, a treasure hunt,  stethascope audio guides – to engage young children.  It seems to work best with where we are in our home ed journey if I allow C and J to experience places like this in their own way without too much up front discussion beyond some basic context-setting.  I then enjoy noticing, over the following weeks and months, how they begin to refer back to what they experienced, prompting lively discussions on all kinds of subjects; it’s a delight to watch and listen as their mental maps are created, amended and connected.

We escaped the cold and wet of the last day of February (winter is back) by picnicking on the London Eye, eating our sandwiches as we admired the views of the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey (you couldn’t see much further than that! We didn’t mind though as the trip was “free” with our Tesco-points Merlin Passes and there was no queue; we’ll go again soon when it’s sunny).

Our South Bank adventure was rounded off with tea and cakes at the Royal Festival Hall.  I’ve never been an arty-type, though I’d like to be  –   not enough to actually do much about it, but enough to experience a pleasant wave of wellbeing in places like the Festival Hall.  Today I was rewarded with a double feel-good hit: as we enjoyed the “Shoebox Living” exhibition that had attracted me (colourful junk-model shoebox rooms made by children), some sort of public professional ballet class was going across the lobby. I’ve no idea what it was all about (the children were hurrying me back to Waterloo Station by this point), but there was good-sized audience and I do like the thought of all this Art going on, and being appreciated – even if I, for the time being, am otherwise engaged!

What Learning Greek Dancing Can Teach Us About Life

I love supercoach Michael Neill‘s coaching tip this week, in which he tells a story about learning the art of Greek dancing (from his mentor George Pransky):

“”What my teacher told me,” George said, “is that all you need to do is get in line.  If you fall out of line, get back in line.”

When George pressed for more details about the specific steps involved, his teacher explained that as long as he stayed in line as best he could, he would pick up the steps naturally as the dance progressed. While he would no doubt have numerous stumbles along the way, before long he would be dancing comfortably and well.

This is reminiscent of how we learned to walk and talk. We hung out with other walkers and talkers, made our mistakes without dwelling on them or consciously trying to learn from them, and before we knew it, our parents couldn’t shut us up or get us to keep still.

This is also in direct opposition to the way many of us try to learn as adults. We want to have the entire process of whatever it is we are trying to learn explained to us up front, and then we want step by step instructions for implementing it.  Generally speaking, this is because we approach learning as an exercise in “mistake limitation”.

While we theoretically understand that we will not do most things well on the first try, when we are learning something new we seem to keep score like golfers – whoever makes the least mistakes wins. Instead of “getting in line”, we try to avoid getting it wrong. And unfortunately, at some point we stumble across the ultimate strategy for mistake limitation and failure avoidance:

If we don’t play, we can’t lose.

The only downside is, if we’re not careful we can wind up without much of a life.  This points to another thing George mentioned in passing that jumped out at me:

Success is more a function of what you take on than the results you achieve.

So what do we do with this information? What is the equivalent of “getting in line” when it comes to the rest of our lives?

For me, it all comes down to our state of mind on a moment by moment basis. Whenever we approach life from our natural state of clarity and well-being (“in line” with our innate health and wisdom), we will make our way through things as best we can, adapting as we go.

From time to time, we will lose our bearings (“fall out of line”) and get caught up in our thinking. In those moments, we obsess about keeping score (i.e. “how we’re doing”) and life seems hard. But as soon as we regain our bearings (“get back into line”), we resume the process of happily stumbling towards higher levels of success and achievement.

Worst case, we enjoy the journey.  Best case, we arrive at some level of what people call “success”.  Either way, we are having fun, learning heaps, and dancing each day from a place of comfort and well-being…”

Lots of lessons – or rather, reminders  -there for me!  The main one – as usual –  is an always-welcome reminder be kind to myself.  In the game that is life, I play pretty big (eg in choosing to home educate my children), which means I lose my bearings quite often.  Those are the times I find myself worrying (and yes, sometimes yelling) that J is never going to learn to write and C will still be having tantrums when she’s 30 (no idea where she gets them from, ahem). It’s good to be reminded that instead of obsessing about the score, all I need do in those moments is get back in line and resume my happy stumbling – most of the time, I love the dance.

Art For Sale

C, a prolific creator of every kind of art, decided yesterday that she was going to “make a picture to sell”.  I don’t think her motivation was financial (she tends to forget to spend birthday and pocket money, which accumulates in piggy banks and purses around her bedroom) but I’m not sure exactly it was, perhaps curiosity – to test the market?  Her father and I exchanged furtive anxious glances and then fixed encouraging smiles on our faces.  “Who would you like to invite to buy it?”, I asked.  C looked around, scanning her environment for purchasers. “The neighbours?” she suggested.  At this even I, committed to letting our children explore and experience the world without imposing the restrictions of my own limiting beliefs and “socialisation”, felt a bit panicky.  And that is how my daughter’s “Beautiful Flower” picture was put up for auction on  eBay.

C's first eBay auction

"Beautiful Flower"

My Library Thing

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