Shifting gears: home education and “having it all”

I’ve been doing a lot of multi-tasking recently. Anyone who knows me well, knows that this just means there’s even more background noise than usual. On paper it looks like I’m attempting to have it all. I’m continuing to build my freelance writing business, increasing my voluntary work, sharing in home educating our children, attempting to cooperate in keeping the house reasonable and the people in it fed and, somehow, getting ready to perform a collection of my poetry at Penzance Literary Festival in a couple of months. And that’s just the stuff on the surface, the things I’m able to talk about in this space.

It sounds like a lot. It is a lot. But I think, when it’s all laid out, everyone is doing a lot. Whatever it is, all home educators are spending a considerable amount of our days shifting gears between things by virtue of our children being with us at least most of the time. We’re being pulled out of a book with a seven year old by having to rescue a bottle of ketchup from a two year old intent on smearing it all over the kitchen floor. We’re prodded out of making plans for next week via email by the messy present around us. We may be struggling to shift gears from being with our families to spending restorative time alone to returning to these noisy people we love.

I’m drinking in a lot of Julie Bogart’s wisdom at the moment via her Brave Writer podcast and in the episode about adulting she refers to “the squirrel brain”, forever working on the other thing in the background and offers ideas on how to calm it, from better scheduling to carving out screen free time for ourselves in the day.

I do feel that need to be less connected to what’s out there and more connected to what’s right in front of me. The reality is that some of the other things I want to do involve being out there so I need to find time for that to happen in ways that don’t constantly interrupt my day-to-day life – like turning off notifications on my phone.

But what I’m finding a tough pill to swallow as a person who, I guess, really does want it all, is that with every new thing I bring in, something else needs to be set aside. I understand this rule for avoiding cluttering the house. I don’t always follow it but I do understand it. However, it’s taken me ages to understand that bringing new things into my life, into our lives, requires giving up or reducing other things.

Changing our work patterns as Laurence has gone part time on his design job to start Soul Farm has meant that we have to be more careful with our time and money. We have to not only say no to some of the kids’ activities but to give notice on others. There is less time so we need to prioritise more time at home and better plan those windows so we are making the most of them and doing the things everyone wants to do, even if that “thing” is having nothing planned at all.

This is all in process. I haven’t arrived at the ideal solutions, the perfect schedule complete with the spartan self discipline I am yet to possess. But I continue to discover and accept that while it’s brilliant to have lots of ideas, we can’t necessarily develop them all with the attention they each selfishly insist we give them. Our weeks will inevitably look different to what I imagine, partly because I’ve been throwing myself into each thing without much consideration for how it all fits together. I just need to keep taking that step back to look at the bigger picture.

How do we share our faith with our children respectfully?

Here at the grand crescendo of the Christian calendar, Easter, I thought I’d talk about how we communicate our spiritual beliefs, and perhaps our religious traditions, in ways that respect our children’s autonomy.

In the past, when I’ve mentioned that we read Bible stories or that we go to church, I’ve been asked by various people whether I was worried about indoctrination. If you’re one of those people, this post truly isn’t aimed at you and there have been quite of few of you. If I bristled when you asked, it was because you touched a nerve.

I’ve been on a real journey with this. There are many things we did in times past that we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing now. Both our faith and our parenting have evolved and in a sense, now the time is right for me to share what we’re trying to do because I feel at peace.

Encourage them to ask questions
Curiosity is powerfully wired into us. It can drive us to seek out the beautiful, the divine. It motivates us to listen to people who are different from us. It is energetic, creative and always in motion.

And children are naturally curious. They have questions about everything. We honour their questions by listening to them and actually grappling with them. Consider whether a prepackaged answer is designed for the adult’s convenience and whether it simply makes you feel safer.

Welcome their questions. Allow them to arrive at answers you don’t agree with. Nothing is too sacred to question.

Ask your own questions
When you read or hear something together that doesn’t sit right with you, take time to say so and explain why. Ask them what they think. This is how we model critical thinking. It can be done in an age appropriate way.

Consider “when”
If you think your child isn’t yet able to look at a story or a concept this way, perhaps it’s worth saving it until they’re older. I wound up having to pass on a “child-friendly” translation of the Bible I’d bought my eldest because it dangerously oversimplified some very complex theological ideas and, looking through it, I realised that so much of the Bible is not age appropriate. Here I feel the respectful choice is to wait until she asks for it.

Don’t pretend you have it all worked out
It’s OK to say that you don’t know. You don’t have to hold all the answers to provide security. In demonstrating gaps in your own understanding, you admit that you and your child are on an even playing field rather than setting yourself up as the authority. If they’re in a space where they need more certainty, offer to help them find answers that they find satisfying.

Let them see your spiritual practice
The gentlest and most effective way to communicate what we believe is to simply live it. This might mean actively finding ways to help others. It may look like speaking intentionally about our choices. Taking time for silence and contemplation and allowing this to transform us speaks louder than any “shoulds” we choose to share.

Be inclusive in your choices
Read books with diverse protagonists. Veer away from a white Jesus. Having grown up as a person of colour with almost exclusively white Christian imagery, my perception of what was holy always came in lighter shades. Everyone benefits from seeing diversity early on so we can see where we all fit in God’s story. A favourite in our house is Matthew Paul Turner’s When God Made You.

I also think it’s time to consider moving beyond gender in our pronouns for God. My children understand that God is not a man. They’re comfortable with saying “He” or “Him” but they’re not phased by me saying “She” or “Her” or simply using no pronouns at all (“God calls us to God’s self”). I realise that this may be challenging for some but, if it is, perhaps it’s worth asking why? Many of us would say that of course God is beyond gender but if so, why then only use male pronouns? Is there something about the way this imagery has impacted our core beliefs about masculinity and femininity?

Recognise other beliefs
Whether other religions come up in our history lessons or we rub up against different world views in our friendships, we aim to always talk about what others believe, wanting to avoid demonising the other person for seeing it differently. For us, this is a natural outworking of where we are with our own way of seeing. We want to remain open-hearted in our stance, ready to learn from others and seeking to understand where they’re coming from.

We don’t always get any of this stuff right and I hope that if our kids look back and find we were off the mark that they’ll feel able to tell us so. If they do, that’s a perspective we’ll need to learn to be open to as well.

And if the garden is all we have: Ideas for nature play at home

When we talk about connecting with nature, getting ourselves and our children outdoors, we often imagine wild swims in hidden natural pools, challenging hikes along stunning coastline or, at the very least, a run around a National Trust property. But there are many reasons why people might find it difficult to get out like this. They may not have the time or funds, their location might make it difficult, their health may limit their mobility or their families may need to work up to spending more time outside.

This week I’ve been collaborating with Multicultural Motherhood on the #7daysofoutdoorplay challenge on Instagram (along with Wild Wood Childhood, Eagle Homeschool, The Family Collective and The Natural Montessorian) and I’ve had a lot of messages from people telling me that they wish they lived somewhere as beautiful as Cornwall and that it’s just not that easy for them to access wild spaces.

I totally appreciate that we are fortunate to live here, and to have a car and be able to afford fuel to go places. I’m also not going to downplay the benefits of spending time by the sea and in areas of natural beauty. However, I do want to encourage you that if you happen to have a garden, time spent out there matters.

In fact, when we lived in Bristol, our garden was our main outdoor space, partly because I was struggling with a lot of anxiety so going to unknown places or continually reaching out to make arrangements with people presented obstacles I was not yet prepared to deal with, and partly because I was either pregnant or in the baby haze for much of my time there. The garden had to count.

We still make the most of our (very small) garden now. If the weather’s not inspiring or someone’s unwell or we need to spend some time home for whatever reason, it helps to have a few ideas that will take us out there so we’ve still spent some of our day outdoors.

And this is crucial. Time outdoors is essential for our physical and mental health as well as our children’s development. Even if it’s just a case of getting some sun on your skin (albeit through the clouds in this country) and some mud between your toes, time in the garden can go some way to countering the nature-deficit we’ve developed culturally.

With that in mind, I want to share a few things that we get up in our garden, which will perhaps give you some ideas to inspire your nature play at home.

Lead by example

Unsurprisingly, my children almost universally never respond to random suggestions that they go out into the garden. They might if I point out something really cool they might find out there (“Why don’t you check if there’s any frogspawn in the bucket?” For some reason frogs think that’s a good spot to lay them) but generally they’ll meet the idea with resistance, even though they like being out there.

That’s because they want to be where I am – or at least where the people are. I understand that. When I’m working at night, I prefer to hang out where Laurence is, though even his breathing distracts me. So if I want them to spend time in the garden, I have to go out there too, which means I need to designate a purpose for being out there. In warmer seasons, this is easy to do. I could take a book or some crochet out there. When it’s cold or wet… not so much.

So, I’ve taken to heading out to do some weeding. Not a lot, as my overgrown garden will attest, but enough to be out there and busy. Gardening generally has the benefits of putting us in touch with what’s happening in the natural world of our garden – surprise surprise. The more we do it, the more we want to do and kids have a habit of listening to what they see us value over what we tell them we do.

Even hanging the laundry or giving the patio a sweep will often draw my kids out, though, so you can start small if you need to work your way up to something like weeding. And if you do, you have my total empathy.

Get muddy

I know this is a tough spot for a lot of people but contact with dirt and mud is so good for all of us. Our microbiomes benefit massively from contact with the bacteria in dirt and spending time with earth between our fingers and toes has even been linked to helping fight depression.

This could look like gardening but it could also involve a mud kitchen. As someone daunted by the complex mud kitchens I’ve seen shared on Pinterest, I thought I’d encourage you with my relatively pathetic offering: a wooden table and some old stuff from our kitchen. It’s not at all picturesque but our kids love it. Many a happy mud cake has been made in our rubbish mud kitchen.

If mud making it into the house hits a pressure point for you, why not keep wellies and salopettes by the door and agree on some ground rules for taking them off when they come back in?

Share ownership

If you want kids to spend time in the garden, I think it’s so important to let them own the space. It’s easy for us as adults to get precious about gardens as an extension of our homes but children, rightly, do not respond well to control. Talk with them about what you want to do as a family, ask for their ideas and even write down what you and they consent to together.

If possible, give them a section of the garden to treat as their own. My kids really wanted to dig, so I’ve agreed with them on a spot that the limit the digging to. That said, they didn’t understand where I meant so the hole hasn’t wound up quite where I wanted it to but learning to let go of things like that is beneficial to me too.

We involve them in decisions for the garden. For instance, there’s an overgrown bush which really could do with cutting back but they’ve asked us to leave it because it makes a great hideout. They also help with choosing and planting flowers in pots and have requested a small wildflower patch as a garden of their own. We talked about painting a mural in our last house but I’m hoping we’ll actually manage it here. Being invested in the space makes them more likely to want to spend time there.

Give them real tools

So often, we share great ideas with kids but don’t give them the proper tools to really enjoy acting on them. Working with real tools like hammers and nails or whittling knives lend themselves well to being outside, with that bit more space and less worry about the mess. Ophelia got a shovel for her birthday and is finding digging with it truly satsifying.

Making things for the garden allows children to continue to own the space. We’re talking bird feeders, a bug hotel, wind chimes, weather stations, fairy houses – you could even design and build a playhouse together or if they’re game, they might even do it on their own. But if they don’t have real tools or are limited to kits that possibly don’t stand up to the elements, they’ll wind up frustrated and quickly lose interest.

Tune in to the little things

There is often so much nature to be noticed in even a concrete garden. Are the daisies out yet for making daisy chains? Can you spot any ants? Has a dandelion made its way into a wall? What are the clouds doing? What is that insect called? Even noticing where the sun is in the sky, measuring rainfall in a rain gauge or trying a snail race can help you get in sync with the many little changes that happen throughout the year.

We’ve dipped in and out of a nature curriculum called Exploring Nature with Children for a few years now and when I first started using it, we did none of the nature walks and instead tried to find everything in our garden.

This is really an area where leading by example goes a long way. If you spend time trying to identify the birds that visit your garden, you may just find your kids have questions about them you never expected. Keeping child-friendly guide books handy can help. Observing nature enriches children’s play by helping them engage all their senses.

It can help them maintain their impulse to pause and notice things, which will hold them in good stead when they grow up as they’ll be able to mindfully approach their environments, finding the bright spot in every day, small moments of beauty that could otherwise be easily missed. I truly think this is a cornerstone practice of longterm contentment.

But it can’t be forced or even taught in the conventional sense. We need to lead by example, encourage interest where we see it (“Shall we Google that?”) and give kids lots of uninterrupted time.

Move indoor activities into the garden

Could we move what we’re doing indoors out into the garden so kids are more likely engage with the garden and play there? This is easiest to do in the summer months but not impossible when it’s colder (though admittedly tricky if wet) once you’re suited up for the occasion.

Big sheets of paper or easels can be set up outside with paint. Toys can find new life outdoors among the plant pots. I sometimes take my guitar out into the garden, though not enough! Talitha will sometimes opt to practice her violin out there if we either come out or leave the door open. Our garden bench sometimes replaces the sofa for read aloud sessions and a picnic makes for a fantastic alternative to lunch at the dining table.

Go wilder

Sometimes it helps to really shake things up, especially if you’re all feeling a bit uninspired. I find outdoor adventure books or forest school and nature charity websites can throw up some brilliant ideas. Even thinking about what we’d do if we went camping is a good starter. In fact, you could go camping in your garden.

If you’re able to source a fire pit you could make dampers right in your backyard. Or you could get a tarpaulin and let them try making a den – particularly rewarding if it’s raining and you bring out a flask of hot chocolate. It’s easy to think that you need to go somewhere to have an adventure but there’s so much to be said for loving the place you find yourself in.

Creating meaningful birthday traditions for children

Last month we celebrated Ophelia’s fifth birthday. I am in no way used to her being 5 yet. She just yesterday started saying the “L” sound instead of replacing it with the “Y” sound. I’m going to miss all those “yions” and “yetters”, and I may not be able to quite cope with her being able to accurately pronounce all the names in our family. How have I noticed we have a theme of L’s in our names now that she can say them?

In the lead up to her birthday, I began making her birthday crown, sharing the progress in my stories on Instagram. It’s just a rectangle of felt folded in half, cut crown shaped on the outer edges, embroidered and sewn over a bit of elastic the size of her head. The elastic I upcycled from a pair of child’s leggings that were beyond repair. Previously, I appliquéd the decorations rather than embroider.

Without meaning to, we’ve fallen into a pattern with these crowns. Birthday theme on one side, birthday flower on the other. So she chose unicorns and as the crocuses are always in bloom for her birthday, she’s claimed them as hers. We love that her birthday is another marker that the world is waking up again – Spring is on its way.

I was surprised and grateful that so many people responded so warmly to the birthday crown and it made me think that it could be worth sharing a few more of our traditions in case you were looking for some inspiration. Repeatedly weaving beautiful touches into special days like birthdays can help deepen our memories as families. I don’t think it particularly matters what those touches are as long as they are meaningful to you.

It’s also not necessary to start early or not at all. I’ve never got around to making a birthday crown for Talitha but she has cornered me for one this year and I am certainly going to make it as she’ll be eight and who knows if she’ll ever want another? Perhaps at nine she’ll decide she’s too old for a birthday crown.

A few more traditions we’ve accrued over the years:

Wrapping presents thoughtfully
We have a collection of play silks the kids have been given over the years and they are used for all sorts of imaginative play but the night before the birthday they become gift wraps. Scarfs can be used in lieu of play silks, picked up at a charity shop if you don’t already have any. They make fantastic play things in their own right between birthdays if you’re newly acquiring them.

We also have a fabric gift wrap that my mother-in-law made with cloth printed with Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile one year. It comes out for one of Ophelia’s presents every birthday and Christmas and she looks forward to seeing it. I will try to update this post with a picture of it as I’ve realised while writing that we forgot to photograph it on her birthday.

I was in a quandary about how to wrap the surfboard we bought her this year. In the end I wrapped it in some mermaid fabric from The Cornish Haberdashery. I will sew into something for the girls soon.

Laying the birthday table
After the kids go to sleep, we lay a table cloth or runner, get lots of candles out and generally make the table as fancy as possible. We’re limiting our use of balloons but blew up a single balloon a friend had given her, which made it quite a treat. That, too, waited on the table alongside all the gifts, ready for the morning.

In future, I’d love to also include a framed baby picture of the birthday child. Some people include a train of photos from every year of the child’s life, which I love the idea of but I know would be too intense for me, especially if a party is also involved. I printed a unicorn-themed “Happy Birthday” banner to stick up in the dining room last minute but I’d like to perhaps make some birthday bunting that we could reuse every birthday. We have red and gold bunting a friend made for our wedding that comes out every Christmas but Laurence, justifiably, balked at the idea of getting the decorations box down again so we could put it up. And actually, I think the kids would have argued that it’s not Christmas, had we managed it.

Something to plant
Without meaning to, we’ve fallen into a tradition of giving something to plant most birthdays, whether it’s a potted plant or a pack of seeds. I’d like to more intentionally make sure we do this every birthday because they get so much enjoyment from planting it the next day and then having something of their own to tend to and take note of in the garden afterwards (that sounded very Secret Garden!). This year I picked up a pink primrose for a pound in a farm shop.

Mindful presents
We make a point of ensuring that at least most of the presents we give are genuinely useful and we try to buy things second hand (like the surfboard) or from small, ethical companies. This year, Ophelia’s presents included an Opinel knife, a shovel and a knitting fork. Useful presents are gifts that keep giving as children have the satisfaction of accomplishing real tasks and contributing to family life in meaningful ways. The knife, in particular, was a much longed for request and Talitha got it for her in pink, her current favourite colour.

Funnily enough, after Ophelia’s birthday I won a copy of Whole Family Rhythms’ mini ebook Whole Family Birthdays in a giveaway Meagan ran on her Instagram. It’s great little read if you want some more inspiration after reading this post.

PS: The cake looked a dream, tasted nice enough but was a really weird texture because I somehow managed to misread the ingredients and put like ten times the amount of almond milk required! Just, you know, keeping it real.

Jackson Reece compostable wet wipes and green skincare – review and giveaway

Jackson Reece have sent me products for the purpose of this review and are supplying prizes for this giveaway

Disposable wipes are realistically part of most parents’ lives. Even though I use cloth wipes, I still find it useful to have a packet of disposables with me when on the go. I only began to seriously wonder about them when talk of the government banning wet wipes to protect marine life hit the news last year and I reckon so many of us would welcome a valid alternative to wipes that don’t break down for hundreds of years, putting more microplastics in the ocean.

So I was intrigued, when Jackson Reece asked me to review their skin care products for kids, amongst which their completely biodegradable and compostable wet wipes headline. In fact their wipes are made of natural wood pulp, decomposing after just 12 weeks in landfill and breaking up in the sewage system, should they find themselves there.

Years ago, I was a bit aghast to discover that your standard wet wipe could clean away just about any mark from anywhere, which makes me dread to think what’s actually in them. I’m much reassured by the ingredients in Jackson Reece wipes: purified water, organic aloe vera, vegetable plant extract and preservatives and pH-balancer derived from sugar beet. Having used them for a few weeks now, I find them as effective as any other wipe. Delilah is out of nappies so admittedly I’ve not tested them on any poonamis but my kids have a habit of attracting enough mud and clay for us to give them a good run nonetheless.

I tried the Natural Baby gift box and which also included Jackson Reece’s shampoo, bodywash, moisturiser, nose nuzzle wipes and hand spray, all untested on animals and free of nasty chemicals, alcohol and parabens. I love that it’s all unscented as I and two of my kids react strongly to scented products. Artificial scents make me feel a bit sick since having kids, for some reason. I also have to be careful what products we use as eczema is an issue in this house. But we’ve found it all non-irritating and effective. The moisturiser is neither runny nor too thick – a big win here.

Within the gift box everything is recyclable (the wipes’ packaging can be recycled dependent on how your council processes plastic material) and all of the packaging is made in the UK.

While we are increasingly reducing our waste, we do currently use products like this and I know many of you do too, so I think it’s helpful to know that there are options for those looking for convenient alternatives to brands that show little regard for the environment.

I’m giving away one Jackson Reece Natural Baby gift box each to three readers. This giveaway will end on February 15th. UK entrants only. Just fill in the Rafflecopter widget below! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Home educated children are not missing education or invisible

Like so many home educators in England, I watched the much discussed episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, “Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids” earlier this week. The episode itself I didn’t find compelling viewing – a bizarre soup of tenuously related issues thrown together, overwritten with repetitive commentary, meant both to get the audience worked up and force some meaning on this mess. However, I know that many watching the programme won’t see it this way.

The Children’s Commissioner’s report referenced in this documentary is part of a bigger conversation around home education that has become difficult, and even dangerous, for home educators like me to ignore. The rally cry for home educated children to submit to compulsory registration and monitoring may well carry.

And so, in an attempt to engage with this a little, I want to ask a few questions of Dispatches, which will likely form the basis of my feedback to Channel 4.

Was the brief to slap on the most incendiary title?

To be fair, they didn’t have to try. They used the title of the Children’s Commissioner’s publication. Did no one at any point stop to ask whether the phrase “Skipping School” was likely to paint the children it was discussing both inaccurately and in a dim light as truants?

And yes “Britain’s Invisible Kids” echoes the report’s “Invisible Children” but that they chose to adopt it without evidence that any of the children discussed (yes even in the desperately tragic case of Dylan Seabridge) were invisible to authorities smacks of propaganda.

If children are indeed getting lost in the cracks between services and professionals when processes to avoid this are already in place, how is a compulsory register and monitoring going to help?

Why are we even looking at home educators here?

Both the Children’s Commissioner’s report and the programme reflect the enormous failings on the part of schools, local authorities and the system at large. Yet the show unwaveringly focuses on home educators, insisting that we must get children back into schools.

Certainly, many of the parents interviewed say that they’re not home educating by choice and one child makes a list of what her ideal school would look like since she wants to go to school.

So surely Dispatches should take a look at what the government needs to do to properly support schools? But it doesn’t really. A quick look at an inclusive school struggling under the strain of decreased budget and unrealistic standards acts as a set up for another fraught look at the menacing alternative: education outside of school.

If schools are “off rolling” children at GCSE level, pressuring parents into deregistering so their children aren’t formally excluded, shouldn’t we discuss how this unethical practice is dealt with? When children are deregistered from schools, school are legally bound to inform the local authority so wouldn’t questions around the circumstances at least identify where it’s happening? And apart from preventing schools from absconding their own responsibilities to students and supporting schools so it doesn’t come to this, why not look at providing more alternatives to GCSEs for students for whom they’re not a fit?

And seriously, why are you even including an OFSTED inspection of an illegal school here?

By the way, WHERE are all the long term home educators?

All the families we meet in this episode are in their first weeks and months of home education. We meet two families just four weeks after deregistration – that’s not a long time to settle into things, work out what’s out there, find who’s around or discover how your child learns. I realise a month sounds like a long time if school is what you’re used to but the move to home education is a lifestyle shift.

I’d have loved to meet families whose children were grown or who had at least home educated for a few years, perhaps even from the start. How different the picture could have been. And I imagine it would not have fit the show’s overarching message.

Why is education continuously conflated with safeguarding?

We’re constantly told that home visits and monitoring should be allowed. But why? When children are under the age of four we don’t invite supervision and inspection of our own homes. What happens at school age that suddenly puts a child at higher risk of abuse or neglect?

Councils may well feel that they don’t have the powers to ensure safety but safeguarding is not a home education issue. If a suspicion is raised then Social Services have the authority to investigate the home life of any child, regardless of where they are educated or how old they are.

The argument goes that the visibility of children in school allows vulnerable children to be identified. Yet schools too often miss children at risk. There have been some devastating cases of child mistreatment where children were not in school. However, these children were known to professionals.

Compulsory registration seems unlikely to prevent these cases where existing procedures did not. The call for it may even distract from finding effective solutions.

Meanwhile, insisting that home educators should all accept home visits recommends an invasion of privacy that the average person would find violating. Yet we’re meant to welcome inspection if we have “nothing to hide”?

Why assume that schools are better at educating children?
I felt for mother Sam when she struggled to pronounce the word “cataclysmic” and admits that she didn’t feel confident in her ability to home educate. Honestly, I regularly Google the pronunciations of words and I have a Masters degree in English Literature. If school is the option families feel happier with, they absolutely should have access to settings that meet the needs of their children.

Yet the underpinning assumption in this segment is that if you have gaps in your own education or are neurodivergent, you’re not fit to educate your own child, even if you want to.

This simply isn’t so. For a start, you probably went to school. So, if you feel unable to help your child gather the tools and develop the curiosity to do the things you want and need to do then school may not have been the most effective teacher.

Parents who want help should have the option of support. Making contact with a local authority rep with a holistic understanding of home education and a wealth of information could be an incentive of voluntary registration. Sadly, this often isn’t the scenario parents are met with.

Beyond that, there are so many online resources, many of them free, and Facebook makes it easy to find real, live home educators in your area with whom you can discuss your options or discover what workshops and activities are available locally.

And children do find what they need with parents who are engaged, even if it takes a while. In fact, despite her concerns about being able to educate her son, Sam helps him learn to tell the time, which he’d never managed in all his years at school.

Is academic achievement the most important thing and is home education incapable of achieving it?

I felt the segment with Sam was positive overall but Anne Longfield keeps us on message, asking whether he’ll achieve GCSEs. Why is the focus on GCSEs at this point, when he’s just learning to tell the time?

And why isn’t his happiness deemed an important part of his future? Throughout the programme, school is presented as the norm that home educators are potentially robbing their children of and yet school is not a happy place for so many children. Repeatedly, the parents interviewed tell the camera that their children are more confident and happier since leaving school. This is never commented on.

Why assume that qualifications are necessary to achieve employment? What kind of last-century thinking are we reverting to here in a world that is rapidly changing? A survey of unschoolers in America showed that many respondents were self-employed and considered themselves polymaths.

Certainly, we can’t know what careers our children will want to pursue later on but there are other ways of achieving qualifications if they need them or even accessing higher education without following the standard pathway. People who have learned how to learn and have not lost their love for learning may well find creative ways to get to where they need to go.

Did they intend to make all home educators appear isolated?

Obviously, there would have been issues around filming home educated children in group settings with other children but could they not have included quotes about what they get up to with others or what’s available in their area?

Again, if they’d interviewed long term home educators it would have inevitably come up somewhere. But who knows if it would have been included as it didn’t fit the programme’s agenda? Is that really cynical of me to wonder?

The one almost entirely positive depiction a home educating family – whom Anne Longfield admits is delivering home education well – includes a line from the child saying that he misses not seeing his friends every day at school.

Fair enough, that’s how he feels but to choose not to follow that up with a look at how he socialises or indeed how any of the children in the programme mix with others seems a deliberate choice.

Perhaps if we knew too much about who they see and where they go outside the home, we’d know that they aren’t, in fact, “invisible”.

OrganiCup – a menstrual cup review and giveaway

OrganiCup sent me a menstrual cup for the purposes of an honest review. They’re also supplying one as a giveaway prize for my followers. International entries welcome.

I’ve been using a menstrual cup for twelve years. Posters on the inside of toilet stall doors on my university campus first introduced me to the idea and I was game, mainly because it meant saving money in the long run. I also didn’t like the idea of putting bleached products that essentially dried up my insides into my vagina.

There was a bit of a learning curve, granted, but once I’d got the hang, I was in love. Dealing with my period was genuinely more comfortable than when I used disposable pads and tampons. I felt cleaner and fresher.

It’s somehow easier for me to think about menstruation in positive terms with the visual of my blood collected in a cup. I can literally see it as something of value and can appreciate that my body and mind need to rest because something big is happening.

That’s why I’ve pictured the OrganiCup in this post alongside a book of poetry and some brownies I made – using a cup is another way I honour my menstruating body. Actually, I misplaced my cup some months ago for one period and I must have bored Laurence complaining and complaining about how strange it felt menstruating without it.

Soon after I finished Instagramming my menstrual cycle back in October, OrganiCup got in touch and asked if I’d like to try one of their cups. I admit I didn’t think it would be much different from the one I was using. I hadn’t felt the need to shop around as I felt it was working well enough but out of curiosity, I thought I’d give it a go and give you the opportunity to win one too (details at the bottom of this post).

I’ve used it for a few periods now and am happy to have switched. From the start I found it much softer, which not only makes inserting and removing it easier and more comfortable but I think it makes it easier to remove it too. It’s also a slightly longer cup, shaped for better suction in my opinion, which works well for me because I prefer to cut the stem off my menstrual cups which can sometimes make removing them a bit annoying if they migrate upward. So with this cup I don’t have to hunt around.

Because it stays a bit lower, I don’t have to think as much about getting the suction right, which means I don’t have to rely on a backup cloth menstrual pad on heaviest days, though I do sometimes still do that if I know it’s going to be tricky to get to a loo and I always do overnight the first two or three nights as I often bleed a lot. It’s generally fine without a change but anyone with a heavy flow knows it’s better to have the peace of mind. OrganiCup claims to offer 12-hour protection when the cup is placed correctly, which is probably accurate for me though I prefer to empty my cup more frequently than that.

They’re a Danish brand that focuses on sustainability. The cup is 100% FDA approved medical grade silicone and is vegan, cruelty-free and hypoallergenic, and they focus on creating products and packaging that are as environmentally friendly as possible (my OrganiCup arrived in a cream cloth drawstring bag inside a simple brown cardboard box).

They also focus on removing the taboo around menstruation work with NGOs like The Cup Foundation, WoMena and WiseEconomy to provide girls living in poverty with menstrual cups along with any necessary training and education. In this country they’re tackling period poverty with UK charities No More Taboo and Freedom4Girls which teach girls and women in need about periods, puberty and empowerment. Pretty radical, much needed work.

I’ve also got to say, their website offers lots of great info on how to use the Organicup but also gets all into periods and the menstrual cycle (follicular, ovulation and luteal phases, and menopause are all there), accessible for younger readers but useful for anyone.

All in all, I’m pretty impressed and if you’re looking to try a menstrual cup for the first time or make a swap, I think they’re worth a look in.

To win an OrganiCup, head over to my Instagram post and follow the instructions there. International entries welcome. Instagram is in no way affiliated with this giveaway.