Jumping the first hurdle…

I’m sitting here wondering what to write. My last blog felt very full with activity and emotion. This has been one of those weeks where I don’t feel we’ve done much. On one day Jessy watched the entire series of Madoka Magicka, our favourite anime. At first I felt bad, but when I considered that it’s all in Japanese with English subtitles I figured it was actually very good for both his Japanese and his reading! Afterwards we went on Language Nut together and learned how to sing ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ in Japanese, so I decided that the day was an intensive Japanese studies day! It’s lovely to see how confident Jessy is at sight reading in Japanese, it doesn’t phase him in the slightest. He can’t read the words out loud like I can but he learns to recognise the words as a whole.

Madoka Magicka

Madoka Magicka

Mostly Jessy’s been enjoying a relaxed pace doing his favourite things: reading, drawing, building dens, playing Minecraft, watching films and playing board games. In between he talks incessantly about Harry Potter until I feel as if my brain might melt! . He’s racing through ‘The Worst Witch’ series. The reading level is very easy for him which makes them a nice relaxing read but he also finds them entertaining. I’ve enjoyed watching his competence around the house in small ways. He now confidently cuts fruit, uses the toaster, helps himself to breakfast and simple lunches as well as drinks. He fixed our Hoover-bot which needed the old broken brush removing and a new one screwing in.

After last week I’m very happy to report that Jessy had a really happy last day at Wood School before the summer. They implemented the excellent suggestion of my friend, and Jessy was asked to choose 3 places which he would be happy to use as his special private place that he can go to if he feels the need. The teachers then said which was their preferred choice and luckily it was the same as Jessy’s. We took his wooden sudoku set to Wood School for him to play with in his special place. As it turned out he enjoyed playing with the sudoku but felt very settled all day and didn’t need to use his new place. I think we’re all hoping that just knowing it’s there will help him feel less anxious and therefore less likely to need it too often.

In the absence of any relevant photos of this week please enjoy a random photo of my rather funky kettle!

In the absence of any relevant photos of this week please enjoy a random photo of my rather funky kettle!

I’m going to try and stay positive that by putting our heads together we can find a way for Jessy to keep enjoying Wood School without taking up too much teacher time. After the worries of last week I finally made a decision to go to my GP and discuss my concerns about Jessy. I feel as if the difficulties he has are having an impact on his life, and that more knowledge, and potentially support, can only be a good thing. I like and respect my GP. He never jumps to conclusions, but he listens carefully and has a good balance between being matter-of-fact and caring. He believes I’m on the right track and agreed with me that a lot of Jessy’s difficulties are not what you would expect in a child his age. He’s made us a referral. There will be a couple of months or so to wait. I’m glad to have jumped that hurdle. (not that I actually can jump a hurdle – my legs are too short and stiff!)

It’s never completely plain sailing, there was a disappointing evening when Jessy missed his Martial Arts lesson. As Wood School had finished I hadn’t registered that it was a Monday and didn’t remember until about 4.30 that he had Martial Arts. By the time I reminded him it was too late, it wasn’t in his mental plan for the day and he got very upset when I tried to encourage him to go. His uncle said not to worry and he relaxed a lot after that, but agreed to make a deal to go next week. It was a good reminder to me to actually use the tools that help. We have a large wipe clean weekly wall planner but I need to remember to check it with him each morning so he knows the plans for the day. I made sure to remind him about cubs the evening before and at regular points through the day. Once he knows he’s doing something he is usually happy to do it (unless it’s something new!).

We had planned a beach trip for today, but the rain seems determined to come along whenever we have a beach plan, so we opted for a soft play area instead where Jessy ran around with a couple of his friends and I chatted to a couple of mine. We’ll aim for the beach another day!

Woodschool Wobbles with a side order of Millipedes.

The lovely weather has made me lazy, so it seems a while since I wrote. The highlight of the week I missed out was definitely the Science Fair. It was a free event for children at Manchester University and was a great day out. My only criticism would be that most of the stalls seemed to take the same approach that sugar would lure children to science, to the point that even my sugar-loving son began turning things away because he felt sick!

The first stall we went to had a variety of creepy crawlies to hold: millipedes, cockroaches and stick insects. Jessy loved the millipedes so much he went back to the stall to hold them after every activity! We are now the proud owners of two of our own millipedes. They are low maintenance and they make interesting pets!

Holding a giant African millipede.

Holding a giant African millipede.

Ginny and Cho, our new pet African millipedes.

Ginny and Cho, our new pet African millipedes.

We went on a tour into the microscope labs and learned how an electron microscope works. Jessy, as the youngest attendee was given the privilege of using the microscope too.

Jessy using an electron microscope.

Jessy using an electron microscope.

I was very impressed at Jessy’s drawing of a part of his brain done from memory. He was given a couple of minutes to look at the picture before it was turned over. He was nervous about doing it so they suggested he didn’t look at the paper as it can help memory.

Drawing the brain using your brain!

Drawing the brain using your brain!

Here are a few of the other activities:

DNA - Gummy sweet style!

DNA – Gummy sweet style!

An experiment showing the effects and dangers of blocked arteries.

An experiment showing the effects and dangers of blocked arteries.

Examining pond life through a microscope.

Examining pond life through a microscope.

Holding a real human heart!

Holding a real human heart!

Placing animals in their correct habitats.

Placing animals in their correct habitats.

Painting with maggots!

Painting with maggots!

Non-edible DNA made by Jessy.

Non-edible DNA made by Jessy.

All in all, a great day out.

Here comes the part where I sigh and say, “I wish all our days could have been that good”. Truth be told, we’ve been having some problems. This time with Wood School. Jessy has been going to Wood School for two years, and I’m so glad he has somewhere to go which ties in with my ideas of how I like Jessy to learn and how I want him to be spoken to and treated. I value it immensely. I know Jessy loves going too. However, sometimes he goes and hides in the woods and doesn’t come out for a long time. A couple of times I’ve received a phone call saying they were on the verge of having to call the police. One of those times was this Thursday. The teachers worry, his friends and the other children worry, I worry and it takes up a lot of time and resources. Jessy seems unable to explain why he does it or why he doesn’t come out when he’s called. The teacher responsible for the running of Wood School expressed concern about keeping him safe and questioned whether he will be allowed to attend anymore. I felt so sad and worried too.

Then just a few days later we had a morning where a few very small changes to our morning routine led to Jessy being incredibly out of sorts. By the time we arrived at Wood School he was saying he didn’t want to go and refusing to go in. I was crying. I’d already been critisised several times by a random women at the bus stop while Jessy was walking off and throwing my things around in his upset. It meant I couldn’t concentrate on dealing with him. It feels hurtful to be judged and I was already very anxious after the hiding incident a few days beforehand. I stayed for two hours while the teachers and I racked our brains to think of a way to help him feel ok about staying, while Jessy got increasingly upset and destructive. I decided to just leave, hoping that once the transition was over with he would settle, but he became very angry and I got a call saying I had to come and pick him up. We all felt upset, feeling we’d made the wrong choice. All the staff at Wood School are so thoughtful and caring and I know they were distressed that we couldn’t find a way for Jessy to be happy. Yet again, a lot of teacher time and energy had been spent on Jessy which just isn’t a viable option long term as there are more than 20 other children at the school. For the second time in a few days the question was raised of whether he could continue to go.

I’ve talked to Jessy about this a lot. It’s clear he still wants to go which is a relief. I was a little worried he’d take this as an opportunity to try and be at home more. He would happily stay at home the majority of the time, where as I like to get out an about a bit more. We try to compromise. I had some great insights and suggestions from a good friend. She really seemed to get to the root of why Jessy hides. She thinks that he sometimes has an intense need to be alone, and that need overrides his knowledge of the rules. She said it isn’t that he doesn’t know what he is supposed to do, but it’s as if someone has said ‘the rule is that you have to hold your hand in the fire’. His instinct overrides him obeying because he knows it will be too painful. The problem increases because when he is missing, more and more people come looking and calling for him, meaning he feels less able to come out. When I suggested this to Jessy it seemed clear from his reaction that she had got it right.

Our next strategy, therefore, is to provide Jessy with a private space where he won’t be bothered or spoken to. It will be hidden away but somewhere the teachers can see him if necessary. He loves the idea. His teacher is a little concerned that all the children will want one, but she’s prepared to give it a go. I’m so lucky he has teachers who will take time out of their private lives to talk things through with me and do their best to help him. She was so pleased that he does want to stay. I really hope we can make it work.

As for the other problem, of not wanting to go, I think I have to realise that there will be occasional days where he isn’t able to cope. I’ve thought of a couple of things I could have done differently. Perhaps we could have gone home after the routine became disrupted, give him time to calm down and then start over again. He would have been late, but he may have attended the rest of the day happily. I need to lose my fear of sometimes saying, ‘I can see he can’t cope with this today’ and taking him home. I feel I’m making so many adjustments at the moment. Although I theoretically understand how difficult change is for him, I still get frustrated over the way a small change to routine or a bit of uncertainty can ruin a large part of a day. My mind gets it, but my emotions don’t always follow! I guess I don’t want these things to be so hard for him. I can’t make him a world without change or uncertainty. What I can do, is do my best to help him navigate it.

Just one day

After feeling that not much has been happening on the activity front. Jessy surpassed himself today by being super busy! It also feels like a natural balance to the extra screen time we had for a while, and as you’ve probably noticed by now, I do like to notice the balance on our journey. So I thought I’d do another micro-focused blog of our one quiet little day in the world of autonomous education.

Jessy has been really enjoying creative writing recently, particularly first thing in the morning when it’s quiet before I’m even out of bed. He’s working on a story called ‘Jessy McAlister and the Secret Monster’ where he imagines a Hogwarts School for younger witches and wizards. He wanted me to fold the paper out to take the photos, but it folds up into a nice little book. He’s also been ingenious at using both sides of the paper by refolding it to get to Part 2!

Jessy McAlister and The Secret Monster.

Jessy McAlister and The Secret Monster.

The ongoing story.

The ongoing story.

I’m so happy that Jessy loves writing. It isn’t something that has come easily to him and if I were to hazard a guess at his future career based on his hand writing I’d say he’ll be a doctor for sure. 😉 We have done some brief work on letter construction and lower/upper case letters etc as well as punctuation, although he doesn’t seem to apply much of this theoretical knowledge in practice. I honestly don’t mind though – he is writing more and more and enjoying it. He has the rest of his life to neaten it up!

Moving on from Literacy to Numeracy (I want to giggle just writing that!) I found a wooden Sudoku set in a charity shop yesterday and thought Jessy would enjoy it. He didn’t want to go to bed last night because he wanted to carry on with it. He went back to it this morning.

Sudoku

Sudoku

Jessy's first completed sudoku.

Jessy’s first completed sudoku.

He swears he completed it himself, although I have a suspicion there may have been copious amounts of checking the answers. Either way he’s finding it compelling!

Late morning was given over to his invention. It was apparently an invention that allows locks to be opened using a tin opener. It involved destroying several of my newly acquired hair bands (I have literally bought hundreds and they all disappear!) I didn’t quite understand all the thinking behind it, but he worked on it very seriously for quite sometime. We talked about inventors and the importance of learning from failure and persevering.

Getting the band positioned correctly.

Getting the band positioned correctly.

Comparing cutting the band with a knife with the cutting action of the tin opener.

Comparing cutting the band with a knife with the cutting action of the tin opener.

Nimbus keeping an eye on the invention.

Nimbus keeping an eye on the invention.

Success!

Success!

After lunch he began creating a robot out of smoothie boxes and cartons after seeing the idea on the back of the box. It’s been a beautiful sunny day, so we went outside.

Making a robot.

Making a robot.

The Jessy ZOM-BOT 3000.

The Jessy ZOM-BOT 3000.

Our cat Nimbus has spent all day with us, and after he began chasing flies comedy style, I suggested he might enjoy Jessy playing with them, so he ran around the yard with a big vine for a while!

Playing with Nimbus in the back yard.

Playing with Nimbus in the back yard.

050720131469

I asked Jessy to do some of his Home Ed Fund scrapbook. He’s always reluctant to do it. I guess he’s just not used to having these kind of activities insisted on! We use it to keep a record of the things we have bought with the money my Aunt generously gives us to help with Jessy’s home education. I agreed to buy him ‘Munchkin’ (a card based game he loves) with the fund on the condition he would do some work to bring the scrapbook up to date. (He finally got dressed at this point, but only because he was actually sweating in his sleepsuit!)

Doing his Home Ed scrapbook.

Doing his Home Ed scrapbook.

After that we played Munchkin. It’s very entertaining. It was devised by Steve Jackson who wrote the Fantasy books where you choose your own story that I loved as a child. Jessy enjoys them now. After dinner I felt we could both do with a bit of chill out time, so Jessy went on Minecraft and I watched a documentary about Ina May Gaskin who wrote ‘Spiritual Midwifery’.

This will be a good blog to look at when I’m having one of those ‘we don’t do anything!’ days! Bye for now!

What lies beneath & Musical Manchester

It’s a good job that I have complete faith in autonomous education as the ‘learning’ continues to seem less intensive in obvious ways at the moment. We’re busy and active and getting lots of fresh air and good company, but to a casual observer it would probably look like we’re just on holiday. To be honest, it kind of looks that way to me! As I said last week though, we’ve both had a lot to think about and work on lately. Underneath the relaxed surface my mind is buzzing! I’ve not talked much in the last few weeks about the thoughts that arose after the ‘Sinking: Quicksand and Beyond’ week. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it. It’s difficult to write about something when I don’t feel ready to be this public about the exact nature of my thoughts. I have shared my ideas with people close to me, and the staff at Wood School where Jessy goes twice a week. I’ve had mixed reactions. Those who see him most often or have known him longest seem to agree with me. Others have told me they blatantly disagree. The staff at Wood School seem keen to just take people as they are but are also open to new information. One teacher in particular seems keen to prove me wrong but I think her intentions are good. I’ve gone up and down about going to the doctor. In the end I decided to wait until I’ve finished my Shamanic Women’s course as I feel that each part gives me a new insight and I’d like to feel I am making a decision from a rounded perspective.

What I have been doing is a bit of research. Whatever the final outcome of all this speculation, I feel that there is useful advice I can find to help us with specific difficulties. One of my main goals was to reduce the conflict in our home and that has certainly happened. In fact, I’ve been absolutely amazed that a few simple changes can make so much difference. I’m adjusting to talking to him slightly differently when something needs to be done. I’m working on being more understanding over his upset at small changes but I still find myself getting frustrated. This week I’ve realised that he might manage one change, but two is just too much. He got terribly out of sorts the other day because I’d said he didn’t need to put his waterproofs on for Wood School because it looked sunny. (change no.1) It then started pouring down during the journey and he just couldn’t adjust to needing to put them on en route. (change no.2) I really need to learn that it is much easier to have him wear his waterproofs in the morning whatever the weather as we’ve had problems with this one before. On another day our plans changed and then changed back again and it took him hours until he felt ok again. At one point he  just sat under the covers and cried. It’s hard to strike the balance between being understanding and being firm, which often helps him more in the end, even though it can initially cause more distress. We’ve got a big wipe clean weekly wall planner to help Jessy keep track of what we are doing each week. He loved it and filled it all out himself. I keep it on the wall at his level and remind him to check it.

I have talked to Jessy about some of the things he finds difficult and some of the things I’ve noticed about him that are interesting and unusual. In particular I’ve talked to him about his sensory issues as I worry sometimes that he might harm himself so I would like him to be aware of what is happening. Jessy is under sensitive to temperature and mild pain and doesn’t ever appear to feel unwell. He seeks out strong sensations by doing things like putting sticks and stones in his boots and walking around on them all day. He will wear layers of thermals on a hot day but not want a coat on a cold day and although his body shows signs of being too hot or cold he seems to barely notice. He has had throat infections but said his throat isn’t sore. I’ve explained to him that some of the messages from his brain go missing so he doesn’t feel things in the same way most people would. Explaining it makes it easier to give him guidance as I can say for example, “I know that you don’t feel hot but I can see you are red and sweating, so your body is hot”. I’ve been really proud of him making attempts to dress more appropriately for the weather which has often been a problem.

So we’ve both been doing a lot of ‘work’ in terms of learning to understand new things and make adjustments in our everyday lives. I’ve felt like I haven’t been ‘on the ball’, but I think I’ve been playing with an entirely new ball and that’s where my focus is at the moment. I’m already feeling more settled, less anxious and more positive, so the work is paying off. I know that in time, I’ll have more energy for picking up all those little ‘educational opportunities’ again. As I said to a friend today, ‘at the end of the day I think happiness is the key’. The way I see it, happy people are the people who go out and make things happen, happy people are more likely to achieve their goals. Ultimately if I can help him be happy then I think I’ve done half the work for him.

It’s also worth remembering that it’s impossible not to learn. Jessy is still reading and writing every day. Just this morning he wrote pages of his latest story. Manchester city centre this Sunday was like a music festival in it’s own right!

This band played soothing melodies with a beat on African instruments.

This band played soothing melodies with a beat on African instruments.

Native American style pipe playing.

Native American style pipe playing.

A young singer. Jessy liked her so much he gave her £1 of his pocket money!

A young singer. Jessy liked her so much he gave her £1 of his pocket money!

Drummers

Drummers

There was also a guy playing a saxophone. We stopped to listen to them all for a bit and they certainly livened up our shopping trip!

Today we went to the beach on the suggestion of my ever optimistic friend. The complete coverage of grey clouds were giving me a clue as to the upcoming weather and sure enough we had a rainy beach picnic! We all laughed and sung ‘I Will Survive’ although I think my friend feared that my shivery stares might be the death of her! The kids ran and dug in the sand anyway.

Our beach picnic!

Our beach picnic!

020720131449

To make up for the wet day we got doughnuts, candy floss and chocolate belgian waffles. Yum yum!

Belgian waffle chocolatey treat.

Belgian waffle chocolatey treat.