What children go to school to learn v. What my adopted child needs to learn

Two weeks ago we made the (brave? crazy? insane?) decision to withdraw Spiderboy from Reception and begin homeschooling him. There were lots of things that led us to this decision, but the main reason was that he was not emotionally ready for school.

Spiderboy has missed out on a lot of the building blocks that a baby needs to develop into a physically, mentally, emotionally healthy child. He’s a bit like a brick wall, but the bricklayer skipped some bricks on the bottom layers.

While he’s been doing really well academically at school, he doesn’t have the solid emotional foundation to be building on, and we were starting to see the cracks. Now, we don’t hate school at all, and I loved the school we were at. But there are things that Spiderboy hasn’t yet learnt, which the rest of his peers already knew when they started school. Homeschooling is his chance to catch up.

How to spell v. How to play

Most children who start school have spent four years prior playing and being played with. They’ve cracked the shape sorter cube years ago. They’re pretty expert when it comes to making a game with bits of plastic. Play is so important in the brain development and the critical thinking skills of young children.

And yet, in Spiderboy’s first years he didn’t have ready access to age appropriate toys, and he didn’t have anybody teach him how to play. When he came home he really didn’t know how to play with toys and we’ve had to go right back to basics with simple, ‘baby’ toys. (Anybody who thinks play is instinctive in children has clearly never met a children who hasn’t been taught to play!)

Last week Spiderboy spent a whole day playing with Lego. It wasn’t a complicated building project, he simply took the Lego figures apart and put them back together again – over and over again. But I couldn’t have been prouder if he’d spelt pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis (I had to Google ‘longest word in English’!) We are literally taking a break from school to spend more time playing, and it is absolutely the right thing for my son.

How to have friends v. How to have family

Most children who start school have spent four years prior belonging to a family. They have a secure base where they are loved, accepted and protected. And from that base they can go out to explore the world with confidence.

Spiderboy has spent more of his life without a family than with one. He’s suffered mistreatment at the hands of his first family, and great loss when leaving his foster family. Family is a tricky and painful concept for Spiderboy.

All of the skills needed to be a good friend are first learned by being part of a family. And so giving Spiderboy a chance to catch up on learning what that means is only going to help him understand what it means to be a friend. It’s really intensive, concentrated time with his mum (like most newborns get to have) and more time with his brother while we try to grow that into a healthy, loving relationship. Since finishing school Spiderboy has been much more open to nurture and affection – in fact he’s begun asking for cuddles, which he never did before.

How to respect authority v. How to respect himself

School is a great chance for children to begin learning how to respect authority, and it gets them ready for life in the big wide world with bosses, politicians and the like.

But for a child who has experienced the neglect and insecurity that Spiderboy has, there is often a great sense of shame attached to those early experiences. Spiderboy has very little self confidence – not in the cute, shy way a lot of his peers do, but in an overwhelmed-with-toxic-shame-because-I-wasn’t-good-enough-for-my-first-family-or-my-foster-family-so-why-would-anybody-want-me sort of way.

Homeschooling is giving us the chance to work on this in a way that school can’t. Filling our days with unconditional love and gospel truths is going to do more good than a day of learning to put up his hand and address adults correctly.

How to express what’s in their heads in written words v. How to express what’s in his heart in any words

Being able to recognise and name feelings is a pretty crucial life skill. Even more so if your heart is full of feelings that are too big for you. Spiderboy has experienced things a child his age should never have to experience. He is full of very big feelings without any tools to know how to express them.

In the past this has led to very violent meltdowns and I have felt genuinely afraid for my own safety, as well as his.

Since leaving school, Spiderboy has started to tell me that he feels like he’s “going to wreck things”. This is a HUGE step for us! He can actually spot when he’s becoming overwhelmed, and he’s learnt a way to express it! Now we have a wrecking box full of newspaper that he can wreck.

Would he have learnt to do this while at school? Maybe. Maybe not. But I am certain that having one-to-one help as he learns to process his big feelings is much more helpful than a day at school learning to write sentences in a class of 29 other children.

How to be independent v. How to be dependent

By the age of four, most children have the basic building blocks, the secure base and the tools they need to venture out into the world and gain a bit of independence.

On the other hand, Spiderboy has been taught by his early experiences that he needs to look after himself, he needs to keep himself safe, he can’t be vulnerable in front of other people. This leads to the exhausting task of hypervigilance.

School (rightly) encourages children to develop their independence in healthy ways. But what Spiderboy needs first is to unpick his whole world view, learn to depend on other people and, only then, will he be ready to learn healthy independence.

Since leaving school we’ve had a lot more cuddles, a lot more carrying, a lot more ‘babying’. But until he has learnt to be a baby, can we expect him to learn to be a 5 year old, a 15 year old, a 25 year old?

Our days now are filled with picnics on the beach, picnics in the park, picnics in the woods, picnics at the allotment. They involve lots of cuddles, lots of talking, lots of mud.

Is it hard work? YES. Is it good fun? YES.

Will we go back to school? Never say never. But for today this is right, and tomorrow we shall see.

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Heaven v. Disneyland

We have a new favourite song as a family at the moment. It’s called Home in Heaven by Slugs and Bugs and we sing it at the tops of our voices wherever we’re driving. I find it really encouraging personally, and it’s something I really want my boys to trust in.

I’ve got a home in heaven,

And my Lord will be there too.

I’ve got a home in heaven,

He is making all things new!

It’s based on Revelation 21, a passage that speaks about a time to come when God will remake this broken world.

There will be no more death, for He has made it so,

No more pain, tears or sorrow.

Write this down, He says these words are true,

He is making all things new!

It is a massive promise, from a God with a track record of promise keeping. As Christians it is a hope that we cling to. That one day there will be an end to suffering and to sin. That the world will be made perfect, and so will His people. The way it was meant to be.

But how easily I doubt God’s Word! disney

It feels like at the moment, everybody is going to Disneyland, Florida – my most favourite place in the world. And then the grumblings start deep in my soul. If only we had more money… if only we prioritised family holidays abroad… it’s not fair… grumble grumble grumble. And before long I find myself believing that a fortnight holiday to Consumer Central will satisfy me. The truth is, I’ve been there before. 5 times.

How many times do I need to go before I am satisfied? Or maybe, just maybe, I will never be satisfied. C.S. Lewis once wrote  “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” How true! And yet how easily I forget!

Do I really, deep down in my heart, trust that the world God has promised for His people will be a disappointment? Do I actually believe that Disneyland is better than the New Creation? I know in my head that this is not the case. But how easily my heart forgets and yearns after worldly pleasures that cannot offer lasting satisfaction. I was made for another world. A world where I live in perfect relationship with my Maker, and perfect relationship with His world and His people. I long for that Home in Heaven. And while I wait I will keep pointing myself and my sons to a place that is better than Disneyland.

At times like this, all I can do is cry out with John (the writer of Revelation) “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Lazy weekends, walks and wine.

During half term we decided to really knuckle down and get on with some of the decorating. In February we had a loft conversion done, adding another bathroom and bedroom to our 3 bedroomed terrace. We also plan to dig up the concrete yard, lay turf and plant flowers. We also have various cupboards to build, rooms to sort, things to fix. Half term seemed like a good time for some ‘nesting’, getting the house ready for the arrival of our little ones.

DSCF4837.JPGOn the first day we spent about an hour painting before we gave up. Now, that sounds kind of rubbish. But let me explain why. Preparing the house is really important, I had visions of a perfect haven for our children when they arrive, with a red front door and milk bottles on the step. In the real world, we’re realising that preparing ourselves is much more important.

Our children aren’t looking for a forever house. They’re looking for a forever family. Yes, of course, the better condition our house is in, the easier it may be to parent. Good storage, a safe outdoor space, carpeted stairs, it will all help. But what our children need even more is parents who are united, who love each other, who are a team.

And so instead of decorating, that afternoon we went back to our old university campus, where we first met, where we got engaged and had our wedding reception. We wandered around the library, sat in the sunshine, ate curly fries and ice cream and reminisced. It was a really wonderful afternoon. We didn’t write lists of jobs. We didn’t talk about paint colours or cupboard interiors. We just enjoyed one another. (And then went to the cinema to enjoy the new X-Men).

As committed as we are to making our house a safe, welcoming, comfortable home, we are also committed to spending time together, talking, laughing and relaxing. Remembering why we fell in love, and learning to love each other more deeply. Having fun together! Once our children arrive there might not be much opportunity for a long time to be just the two of us. But the basis of a strong family is a strong marriage. And so I will make no apologies for lazy Sunday afternoons spent in the pub, snuggly Saturday mornings watching DVDs or spontaneous trips out. We’re doing it for the kids!