Turning to Creativity In Grief

We’ve had a very difficult sixteen months and in early July, it was confirmed by Doctors, that our beautiful son, Benjamin had relapsed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, following last October’s stem cell transplant. This was a devastating blow, after he had been doing so well in the Spring and we’d had such a lovely, gentle time, once he was home just before Christmas last year in 2018.

Leukaemia is relentless and aggressive and left untreated, is brutal and quick to take control of the body. Ben underwent a further round of chemotherapy in the hope that he would be brought back into remission and for a few days, it looked like it had worked. However, I noticed that his gums were still swelling and slowly growing down over his teeth in the following few weeks and it was found that he actually had a refractory relapse, meaning that the Leukaemia had mutated again and differently and was therefore resistant to chemotherapy.

As I sit and write this now, it still feels so surreal. I do not want to speak of loss, or a battle, or fight. Cancer is indiscriminate, it doesn’t care who you are or how much potential you have. I haven’t lost Ben anywhere. If I had lost him, I would spend my life searching for him, knowing he will never be found. When people use the term battle for cancer, it feels like it is something you are suddenly thrust into a boxing ring with and in some ways, yes, by the reality of what happens, in some terminology, you are therefore fighting for your life. To me, fighting cancer isn’t necessarily the right wording. Cancer happens. It seems to be caused by many and any amount of ‘events’ that happen in a person’s life, by cellular changes, exposure to particular environments and sometimes made worse by a lack of nutrition. There seems to be no one thing that causes cancer, at least, not AML, although there are studies into the connection between Lyme Disease and cancer, something Ben also had running alongside the Leukaemia.

We were told that Ben had just been incredibly unlucky. I don’t like that terminology either; that makes it all feel like there was never a hope for him recovering. In my heart, there was always hope, right up until the point there wasn’t. I was not going to give up on Ben at any point and I hope, looking down from the skies, or wherever he is now, he knows I did all I could for him right up until he left us and I will never give up hope. Hope of a cure for cancer, hope of it never existing in the future. I will never give up on his dreams and will do all I can to ensure that I help others in whatever way I can to help realise Ben’s wish of helping others in his absence.

My son came home one last time on a Friday night, late in the evening and after a difficult night, he died in my arms the following afternoon. I cannot express the love and the privilege I feel to have been his mum and James, my husband and our two girls will never be the same again without him.

He was such a funny, warm-hearted, gentle and kind soul. He had just celebrated his 12th birthday in hospital with a few close friends and his family and six days later, he gained his Angel wings.

I am so heartbroken and full of grief and love for a boy who will never have the chance to grow up and who will never have the opportunity to live out his dreams of becoming a writer and director of films.

In the weeks that have passed, I have launched my debut novel, with a heavy heart and wondered what I can do to keep going. Some days it is near impossible.

Last week, I had the opportunity to head away for a few days to Devon and join the Urban Writers Retreat, which I did. I wasn’t sure how I would feel, given I spend some of every day at the moment in tears. However, it was very much the right decision and I have been able to really make some headway on Ben’s story and our family’s experience through childhood cancer with hope and into grief, while being surrounded by great company in fellow writers, creativity and fabulous food.

You can find more information on the Retreat here: www.urbanwritersretreat.co.uk

I never thought I would ever become a bereaved parent; it feels very much out of the order of life, but here I am, broken and feeling very alone some days.

I ran the Great South Run last week to raise awareness of DKMS, the charity who have supported us throughout and who work tirelessly to help bring more people onto the stem cell register. As I ran the course with my dear friend, Jane, we handed out DKMS Rocks, painted stones with Ben’s name on, to carry on his quest to help others in his name. You can find DKMS Rocks on Facebook.

It was just the day after, that I set off with sore limbs to drive the 3.5 hours to Devon and find solace in my writing.

Coming away really helped me focus and I am happy to be back home with my girls and hubby today. Writing is the outlet that I can really show my authentic self. It gives me the strength and courage to keep going through extraordinary times, in the desire to help others.

The hardest thing last night, was when I headed up to Ben’s bedroom, where the silence was deafening. I kissed his pillow, shed tears and promised to always do my best for him and his sisters throughout my life.

Love you, Ben xxxxx

Debut Novel

In amongst the complete madness and focus on health of the last year, I have finally managed to complete (properly) my first ever fully written novel.

It has been a very busy year, with our son in hospital and the family being both together and apart for some of the journey. The kindness of a stranger last year meant that our boy has been able to have a stemcell transplant and is now at home on the long, steady journey of recovery and we are so immensely grateful.

I have been writing my comedy novel for years, first as a screenplay and now as a novel, which has meant it has changed enough for me to want to rewrite it again as a better screenplay! It will finally be ready at the beginning of July - just in time for the summer; a good, fun summer read.

I’m very proud of this accomplishment and my next book will be about our son’s and our family’s journey through childhood cancer and I hope it can make a positive difference to others faced with walking this path.

In the meantime, Hatch, Match, Dispatch will be published on Monday 9 September. Details to follow.

A Journey of Recovery

Our home ed journey has been full of life lessons over this last year and summer brought us another journey, which we weren’t quite expecting and so, this summer has been one of time spent between hospital and home, looking after our children, as our son goes through treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. He was diagnosed in June of this year and during his first round of chemo, we found out he had also been coping with Lyme Disease as well, which he had picked up probably in the last two to three years and no bulls eye rash had appeared at any point. He's now going through treatment for a stem cell transplant and we are supporting him through this.

It’s not been an easy journey and our lives have been very much focused on love, kindness, support, being there for each other and trying to keep life as normal as possible in a very unusual situation. Home education continues to be there and thank goodness for flexibility in learning and my goodness, we have learned some incredible lessons this year through life experience.

My creative streak never leaves and through this journey, it has occurred to me as a parent, that there are some practical things you can do to help to manage expectations, emotions and see the positives in this situation, whatever is thrown at you along the way.

Cancer and chemo is not what you expect, the journey brings challenges and unexpected moments of magic along the way; relationships are strengthened, friendships are formed, connections are made and life is changed forever. Everything is brought into sharp focus and you are suddenly understanding all that really matters in life. Simpler times, laughter, love. I love my children more than anything in the world and this journey so far has been sprinkled with as much magic and laughter, as it has worry and tears.

I'm working on some ideas to help change how we view this sort of experience, this 'c' word and hope to inspire others along the way. If you are reading this and are a parent of a child who has gone through or is going through a form of cancer and you'd like to offer some words of wisdom, or share a positive quote, I’d like to understand ways parents and patients are affected by childhood cancer and put together a book about ways of coping, inspiring and standing up to cancer and finding some hope along the way, combining and reflecting on our own family's journey as well. In fact, if you have a child going through this sort of journey, who might want to voice their thoughts on the reality of the situation, how they might be feeling and what they might say to others who are on a similar journey, this would also be much appreciated if that’s something they’d like to do, whether it’s how to cope with a feeding tube or what the best thing to try eating is when the chemo affects your taste buds; or it might be a new book they’ve discovered or a game they like to play to keep them occupied through the moments of boredom.

If you are interested in commenting, or sending in some wise words, advice for the newly diagnosed, some inspirational thoughts and suggestions ... please email me at ginny@thegentlecreative.co.uk or comment below. You might also be interested to read the blog we set up for our son about his journey to recovery.

Thank you for your kindness and thank you for reading xxx


The Creative Space

A wonderful idea befell my soul and creative side and awoke my quietened mind this evening; the question came up between myself and my sister about whether or not a community ... could be anyone's community, but in particular, a local one(!) could need a community space for creativity.  Could it be done?  Could a space be found and would creatives and idealists, freelancers, writers, workshop creators and entrepreneurs come a flocking?

Well, my mind was alive with excitement.  I am always one for ideas and know that the simple version of doing one thing at a time is perhaps the more succinct way to do things, but I am a star, glinting in the spectacular glare of a million ideas at once.  I am resourceful, however, that does help and like a typical creative or entrepreneur, I enjoy the ideas process ... then comes the difficult part, but I have a determined nature, so that also helps at these times!

So, this evening, I found myself in my kitchen, enjoying the jasmine and bergamot aroma of the soaps I'd enjoyed making earlier today, dreamily drifting into the air from the bag I'd got my collection in, as I sat by my Mac and flip chart.  So, I began to list all the ideas of the groups, workshops, studio space, rehearsal space, etc I could think of that might use a creative space and felt very proud of my long list filling the large flip chart sheet and I wondered about creativity and the feeling you need around you in order to achieve those dreams and ideas.  What does a creative want from their space?

For myself, it's comfort, but I can seemingly write anywhere.  It's wonderful to sit in a cafe and enjoy the hub-bub of people around you, but on occasion, the sound and conversations, although great for ideas, can become overwhelming and distracting.  On the other hand, most of my writing happens in the middle of the night, when the house is quiet, the children and hubby are sleeping and the dogs and cats are snuggled up by my feet, or on occasion, right beside me, Roobarb, dear Tabby cat!

Does it matter as a creative to have things totally organised all of the time?  Is it necessary to have bold colours, or calm surrounding you through the process?  Is the comfort of a homely surrounding something you aspire to as you write, or paint with the soothing sounds of Mary Anne Hobbs on 6 Music in the background, or do you need silence, the old faithful, allowing your thoughts and ideas to spill out onto the page?  What makes that space the space you look forward to being in to be able to come up with all your amazing thoughts and aspirations?  How important is it?  It's something that I'm genuinely interested in myself, as this idea of a creative community speaks to me on a higher level.

The thought of a place you could go to where you know you will meet like-minded individuals, where there is no shortage of workshops, a space for you to work in, whether it be hot-desking office space or a rehearsal space for your band, where you knew there was a decent kitchen and a sofa to relax in, once you'd finished going through the set.  A space for gentle events, talks and communities to come together for coffee mornings, a space to chat through ideas, have meetings, conferences or to study.

I know there are your standard community buildings, for a number of things, but I'm talking about something with that extra creative draw, something special to inspire and bring out that passion, that novel you've been meaning to write for a million years, that place you wanted to run an intimate self help group, a flower-arranging workshop, a brainstorming meeting, a home educator's set of workshops, some study time for your students, a retreat.

Please leave your comments below and let me know what you feel really makes a creative space?  What does it mean for you and how important is it to get it right?  Is it simple and classic, calm and insightful or bold and brassy, loud and assured?  Is it the familiar that's necessary or a new space every time?  Is it somewhere surrounded by beautiful views, or will a room with enough light and a sense of calm work best?  What does creativity mean to you and what sort of space would you need to allow that creativity to flow?  Answers on a postcard ... or below!  Happy creative blessings to you all!


Creativity is good for the soul ....

This afternoon, I took myself off for three hours of blissful, gentle creation; of inspiration and of learning ... just.  for.  me.  Today was all about learning, patience, creativity and concentration; the art of making handmade soap.

I headed off in my trusty vehicle and spent 35 minutes listening and singing along to Gloria Estefan, an album of up-tempo, salsa-type numbers with a Latin American and Spanish influence and slow Spanish emotive numbers.  It was one of those mornings where I just fancied listening to something I could sing my heart out to, so I did, much to the amusement, I'm sure of many other fellow drivers out on the A31 today.

On arrival, I stepped out into the light rain and then into the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the home of the person who would be teaching myself and five other women in this lovely activity.

We learned about the importance of temperature when boiling the base and enjoyed putting colour into the soap and the were gently informed that less is more in some cases.  The wonderful time spent smelling the incredible aromas of the essential oils we got play with and carefully not overdoing it in the liquid soap.  I picked Jasmine and Bergamot for one set of soap and an Ocean mix for another.  Lovely and light and not likely to make you go nose blind while using it.  Waiting for it to cool and sprinkling a little glitter into the colourful mix was great fun and layering up pieces in a block as well.

What I found most enjoyable was the gentle wit around the table, the understated humour of light-hearted conversation from people all there for the learning, new to each other, with busy lives, all enjoying the fun of being creative and switching off from the everyday mundane.

The day was informative and fun and I would highly recommend a workshop with www.englishhandmadesoap.com - it even inspired me to create my own workshops, too!




A Creative Juggling Act

Well, I made a promise to myself to have by novel finished and published by the autumn of this year (after many deadlines have since passed, I felt this might be something more achievable!) and by some miracle of science, I have finally reached the end of the novel and have officially completed the first draft and it now lies in the hands of an editor!

The original screenplay took me about seven years to complete and the novel has changed that screenplay, so I will inevitably be rewriting that, once I've worked again on the novel when it is returned with notes and inevitable changes in a few weeks' time!  Writing a novel is so different to writing a script.  With a script, you are just as visual, but you are concentrating on the dialogue and building the characters through that and movement, working on the physical situations they find themselves in.

A novel, as I've discovered, allows the writer to build a picture in the mind of the reader in a different way and it's been so interesting over the last year, starting out with one idea and realising over time that it's now become so much more; not least, with the loss of my Dad last October.  He was the inspiration for one of the main characters and though, being divorced from my mother when I was very young, we never had the chance to spend a great deal of time together in our growing up years, my sister and I got to know him more as an adult.  He was funny, kind, a bit lacking in the 'fatherly' department, hard-working and devoted to creativity and always trying to make a fast buck, though in all honesty, he was never a hostage to material things, something I am actually really grateful to know.

The father in my book, with his capable, crackers, exterior and his mushy inside, dotes on his daughter, something we did not necessarily recognise in life, though I know he was proud of myself and my sister in all our creative endeavours.  When I told him I'd written a screenplay, he was interested in the process and didn't know how I'd found the time as a mum of three and latterly, a home educator, but when he realised it was something that was actually coming to fruition, he saw the humour and I'd like to think right now, as it sits with an editor, that he'd be really chuffed to know that he'd meant enough to create this role, something he simply wasn't able to be in life.  In fact, with him now gone, it's amazing how the force of creativity and tenacity, two traits he displayed over and over again in his lifetime, now dominate my own life.

Other veins of creativity are reaching more into my life and I find myself creating new workshops for like-minded souls; I'm running my first Vision Board Workshop at the end of April.  This is going to be an afternoon of fun and gentle recognition of what we truly hope for in life.  The reality is, that most us never give ourselves time to ask and then answer that question from the heart.  An afternoon will never really be long enough to seek the answers from ourselves, but I hope that the lovely individuals who come along, will find kindred spirits, love and support for their ideas and a safe place to share their inner most dreams.

Looking at my children and their passions that are slowly, but surely coming to the fore, I have been realising that the Vision / Dream / Inspiration board journey may well be a help to many younger souls, who may also like to work on their dreams and ideas, their self-esteem and positivity.

With Easter weekend almost over, but with the holidays continuing, the children busy themselves with reading, relaxing, creating, settling down to watch their favourite movie or build a cosy den, or an incredible Lego design.  We have enjoyed visiting family and catching up, laughing and joking after a rough few months dealing with my Dad's estate and the laughter has been a welcome relief.

The rain doesn't always inspire walks with the children, though I, myself find the pitter patter of rain on the leaves rather soothing on a stroll in the outdoors and the dogs certainly don't mind, as they gallivant through the woods, darting from tree to tree, over bracken and through rhododendrons, getting steadily drenched and then inevitably lie down and roll in the muddiest puddle known to man, right before we get back to the house.  A thoroughly soapy wash and towel dry puts paid to the mud and the woofers are then ready for a well-deserved snooze in their drum beds; yep, drum cases turned into dog beds!

Next weekend I am looking forward to running another creative morning for children in a village nearby; an arty crafty morning covering Easter and Spring activities.  The children give me inspiration, as well as the lovely RedTedArt.com and my own inspiration from having fun with the children at home and running an art club a few years ago!

Still, juggling the creativity is a lot to manage some days when there are chores to do, children to entertain, (they also entertain themselves!) places and people to visit and it's fun and hard work, too.  If you're a creative soul, it's just something you seem to find a way to, or maybe it's your higher self expressing what you know is part of you anyway and was always meant to be?  Whatever the weather, I love being a creative and if you ever care to join me for a workshop, you will receive a warm welcome, or maybe find your own way to creativity with ideas that are all around you.  Everyone is capable of achieving great things, we are all born with potential, it's just slowing down long enough in this busy life to recognise something quite amazing when it's right in front of you and going with it ... 


The Meaning of Creativity

This weekend, on a rare weekend away - the second only in about ten years, with my darling sister, we headed away to the Cotswolds for a couple of days to restore, reflect and just be.

We visited Batsford Arboretum on Saturday and strolled in the brief sunshine and bitter cool air, laughing, taking many photos of flora and fauna and contemplating our lives; our childhood, our freedom and independence during that time and the ordinary and extraordinary events that have happened in our lives.

What is so wonderful in a period of 'downtime,' is that once your brain realises there is no need for a million thoughts a second, you reach this calm in your whole system, where your body and mind finally rest and all those aches, pains and worries fly away and in the quiet of those moments, creativity is born.

While my darling husband was running around with our three children, keeping them occupied, having fun and staying busy getting through the piles of washing, I was sitting in a tea room opposite a very inspirational soul, my sister, laughing and joking about nonsense and reflecting on the way we are as people.  We are creative and kind souls, wishing to create wonderful art in whatever shape or form it may come, through all that we do and make others happy by sharing that art, be it books, the written word, painting, photography, baking, it matters not.  What matters is how that makes one feel.

Creativity is something that is at the core of each and every one of us and by doing something creative, whatever that may be, it allows us to express how we are feeling, who we are and what we might wish to say to the world.  Creativity is inspiring, thought-provoking and gentle, it gives us cause, belief and time for reflection.  It makes us happy, as it feeds the person we are and gives enjoyment to others.

For myself, my focus is always on the children first and even through home education and our daily lives, I will always allow a lot of creativity and ensure there is always access to everything from paint and canvases, to colouring pens, paper, art and craft materials, should the desire to 'make' something come up.

And for me, on a personal level, I am always being given ideas, from a conversation, an image, a sentiment, a story.  They come to me and I write various things down, vowing to go back to them 'soon' and when I have time, be that at intervals during the day or moments of an evening, I love to write.

Staying away for the weekend allowed my sister and I to share ideas, progress our individual plans for our writing and come up with new ideas, too.  It allowed us to be our authentic selves.

Never underestimate the value in creativity and taking time for yourself, even if it is only a moment in any given day.  It is the beating of your heart, the vibration of your soul, the colour in your dreams, the undulation in your thoughts.

Take the time, it doesn't matter what it is, go with your heart, move with kindness, believe in yourself and create something wonderful, whether for yourself or for others and enjoy the process of creating something truly magical.


A Novel Approach

Something I've thought about through my grief, which, in all honesty, is only just starting to bubble to the surface, after months of focusing on my father's estate, is the need to not waste time.  I'm ever keen to engage my children in the pursuits and ideas they love and to find the same love of something creative for myself, once I know they are all set.

We've actually decided, after speaking with the children about they'd actually prefer going forward, to take a little step back from sending them to lots of workshops, as I find the children tend to shy away from anything remotely like a school / classroom environment.  We will still go to EtudEO, a wonderful home education environment, that focuses on a holistic approach, which seems to work well for my bears.

This is largely due to the fact that as they have discovered in this first year of freedom, that they can take responsibility for their learning and decide more about the things they'd like to focus on.  There is little point in pushing an agenda that simply makes your children's effort, energy and enthusiasm recoil back into its creative shell, when that's what you want to see shining like the biggest and brightest rainbow.  It's been harder for me to take a step back, but I have done, because I know it's the right thing to do.

Two workshops / days out we have really enjoyed this year have been an amazing visit to the Warner Bros Studios to visit Harry Potter World and the Roald Dahl Museum.  The written word and imagination really does feed the creativity of our three, so the trips went very well.

However, our plans now are to continue with an autonomous approach, with some online learning and days out ... we'll still look out for the workshops and there are some lovely ones coming along in the diary, but the point will be to try and ensure that everyone is happy to do them.  It is hard to juggle everyone's interests when they are all so different, yet so close in some ways in age, but I have to say that being flexible on these matters is what I do best.

Life is about adapting and so is creativity.  It comes in so many forms and as it fills their imaginations, so we wait to see the blossoming ideas, beaming like a ray of sunshine as the Spring begins to appear.

As for me, I've finished the first draft of my novel (which was at first a screenplay) and I think I've found an Editor to take it through the next steps in the publishing process.  I'm so excited, as writing is a very precious part of my soul and I am so pleased to feel confident enough to be able to start to move this forward and I dearly hope, that this home educating mum will be published before the end of this year and that the next comedy novel will be well underway by the next few months, too ... then it's back to the screenplay again!

Everything I've learned myself in the last year has been a real baptism of fire, but the fact of the matter is, there's not much that frightens me anymore.  I am proud to be a home educator, I love the freedom it gives my children, I love the way my children are absorbing so much and their conversations that can lead to more creativity or real debate at the dinner table.

I've learned over time, that if they are interested, plough on and if not, change tack, but never give up - on yourself or your children.  It's amazing over this year just how much I've learned from them and I've grown fearless in my writing because of them and I'm the proudest mum of every step, every achievement, however small.




When something unexpected happens, whether home educating or not, it can take your heart and soul by surprise and leave you off balance for a while.

After a wonderful summer of fun and holidays, we were just starting out into our relaxed pursuit of educational and creativity, with me as parent and facilitator working on helping the children to find their passions.

Ben and Rose were growing their interest in Minecraft and engineering aspects of building and creating and Ella was starting to spend time volunteering down the local stables.

Suddenly and without warning we heard news that my Dad, divorced from my mother when my sister and I were knee-high to a grasshopper, had died in his sleep.  He was only 68 years young.  Thankfully, I was with my sister on the day and we heard the news together, though my youngest was also with us and took it hard.

Such a mix of emotions.  Our father had left us when we were young and now, both in our forties, my sister and I have spent four decades of our life watching the man we thought was part of our family unit, step away and have his own second family.  Words cannot describe the pain as a child of four years old, knowing you only get to spend a few hours at a time once a month with your dad when you're little, but not understanding why he is leaving you after that time - again and again.

The last few months has been difficult to navigate with our own thoughts about our childhood and what we'd missed out on, but holding on to the independence we'd gained through not having him around; something that my sister and I are both proud of, as we are fearless creatives and tenacious to a 't' - always trying our best to work on what we love, with love; perhaps because that element from a father figure was somewhat absent in our youth.  Still, my sister and I both worked on our relationship with him for all that time and made it the best it could be in difficult circumstances.

The children have dealt with things the best they can.  We've discussed death in its entirety, with gentleness, honesty, stark upset and all the emotions in-between.  On the day of the funeral, whilst my children were not present, my eldest wrote her Grandad a letter and I promised it would never be opened; to be shared between her and my Dad only.  It was her way of dealing with things.  She misses him a lot, but doesn't make a fuss, preferring to keep her trainers he bought her for her birthday, perfect, as much as possible and giggling at how he used to be around them all.  He was always light-hearted and fun.

My dear boy loved the fact that he had a Grandad like many of his friends.  For a few years, I kept my Dad at a distance from my beloved children because I'd felt he'd let us down so many times as we had grown up and I didn't want him to commit to being in my children's lives, if he was going to let them down.  He understood my cautious behaviour at this point and waited until he felt he could commit fully, before becoming a regular face in their lives.  It took no time at all for the bond to be made.

And Rose, the little elemental that she is, always felt a more creative connection with Grandad, on perhaps, some might say a spiritual level.

Our journey over the last few months has been gently undulating, as I've tried to manage sorting my Dad's estate, whilst trying desperately to keep things as 'normal' as possible, but inevitably, the children have seen me dashing away in the car to 'sort out a few of Grandad's things' ... meaning everything from the paperwork in his house, or the meeting with the accountant telling me I need to liquidate his business.

How do you talk to your children about losing someone very dear to you, when in fact, you realise your relationship was very different and a lot more complex than you can ever explain to them.  For the most part, I have been honest and spoken gently of his love and adoration for them.  He loved them so much and being a Grandad was something I know he was immensely proud of.  When I look at my children, I see where they get some of their sense of mischief from; some of their stubbornness, some of their creativity and some of their determination.  I know he loved me and my sister, too and couldn't have been prouder of our varying achievements over the years, albeit from a distance.

Dad, if nothing else, was a great supporter of our decision to home educate and for that I'm so very grateful.  He had lots of questions at the beginning and kept saying, 'I don't know how you do it, Ginny,' but when he came along to a trampolining session with them in the summer and realised that everyone else there was also a home educator, he was most impressed.  He was always on about their socialisation and he knew at that point, there was no need for concern.  He valued the time he spent with the children and saw them blossom in this first few months out of school.  He couldn't believe the conversations the children were having with him and the knowledge they'd consumed by osmosis.  He loved Rose's artwork, Ben's creative builds with Lego and vast knowledge of history - which he tried to catch him out on on many occasions - and Ella's grown up view of the world and her love of horses, which he was pleased to see was not just a 'flash in the pan' as he once presumed it would be.  He was very positive about home education when he understood it.  He realised that many people have views based on their opinion, but no knowledge of the courage and determination it can take.  I miss him every day - especially when we go to a place where he joined us for visits or our walks locally.  He loved nature and got to meet our pup, Gus in September, so I'm grateful for that, too.

I lost my Nana when I was 12 years old and I remember thinking earlier this year, I hope we get the children through that age without us losing anyone ... Dad died on what would have been my Nana's 105th birthday when my eldest had just turned 12 years.

We talk, we reflect, we cuddle and reassure; we cry (usually me, from time to time) and laugh, too.  There's no easy or set way to deal with grief, your own or that of your children's or someone close to you.  It's a very unique existence.  It can be lonely, it can be tough, with moments of hilarity one minute and tears the next.  It is a journey, that can be helped and assisted by kindness, kind words and offers of help when needed, but space to just be at times, too.

The realisation is that we are all ok and we will be in time.  What matters is kindness, love and gentleness towards yourself and others and the knowledge that grief doesn't leave you, it becomes a part of you and your journey through this life, it becomes an experience, a story all of its own and a reminder of the love you had for the person who is no longer with you and yet, is still with you.

Unschooling and Engagement

Well, what's been going on these last couple of weeks.  Well, we've continued with study days for my eldest with a friend, which has been working really well.  She is working on Human Anatomy and Physiology, along with Maths and French, dependent on time and focus.

Our son is a mind of information when it comes to history and has eagerly consumed Horrible Histories in its entirety like a packet of sweets or a pot of icecream on a sweltering day!  He loves creating in Minecraft and is also looking at Micro-bit challenges.  We've also really enjoyed the story of Stephen Hawking's life and his thoughts and views on the universe in recent weeks, played in the car.

Our youngest is very arty and creative and aside from the Minecraft enjoyment, she loves to paint, make, draw and colour.  Sometimes we listen to a language CD while colouring ... at the moment it's been Japanese and Spanish, both being countries I have spent time in and are beautiful languages.

As a parent, home educating is a completely different way of learning; both for the parent(s) and for the child(ren).  Unschooling / deschooling is very different to school and home education and is very much about letting the children unwind from the constraints of a school environment and allowing them to explore what they really enjoy.  Some children don't even really know what their passions are at this stage, due to having always been told what to do from a young age and so it is important as a parent to allow plenty of time for them to adjust and just be and then once they recognise their educational freedom and they're off, make sure, as you are sprinting behind, that you have plenty of opportunities ready for presenting at any given moment, to continue the inspiration and excitement along their journey!

What is interesting, having been observing and encouraging the children these last few months to read, which they do, avidly, play and try new things (which they are not always so willing to participate in!) - it has been a learning curve to recognise when things are working, ie there is complete engagement and lots of happy faces, discussions and expanding of knowledge and delight in what is happening, or when things are clearly not working and you need to try a different tack.

Whether you are home educating, unschooling, learning automously, relaxed home educating or radically unschooling, it's the engagement bit that's really important, but where unschooling is concerned, it can be difficult time for letting go of control and concern and allowing trust into the mix and watch the child(ren) blossom on their own.  They will be ok and they will achieve so much and they don't always need a parent hovering over their shoulder telling them what to look at, press, write, draw.  They are people with their own imaginations and their own feelings about things and sometimes, it's the parents that need to reflect on their own academic journeys to be able to spot when to step back.  Our son felt bored at school and we spent many a meeting trying to find ways for the school to help engage him in class.  We realised our eldest was also becoming bored and that the amount of written work being completed, was minimal, so as a family, we wanted to try another approach and so we find ourselves here; enjoying the sunshine, painting furniture in the garden and bouncing on the trampoline.

We have days here where the level of engagement, is a bit south of the river, but when you get that smile or that excited question about something you didn't even realise had been acknowledged, whether immediate or some time after a bit of learning has occurred, it's amazingly rewarding and you know you're on the right path.  I am constantly reminded by our eldest, too, that we are unschooling and so she can enjoy indulging in a readathon for hours without me interfering or watch Junior Bakeoff and make notes of her favourite recipes to try!

So, the last few weeks has been about getting out and about.  We've had trampolining, rock-climbing, dog walks, trips to the park and museums, time seeing friends, birthday parties and garden time. We've had days of baking and painting, or just pure indulgent reading.  There are so many ways to learn and we are embracing it all.

Over the next fortnight, we have a visit to The Weald & Downland Museum, a Soap Making workshop, a HE group meet at the beach and a trip to the Roman Baths and Jane Austen's writing territory planned.

The point is to ensure fun is part of the equation, as my son informs me.  Our period of adjustment after being in school is ongoing and when I've spoken to other home educating families and groups, what you come to realise, is that it will be ongoing for some time and your role is to support, encourage, enable and offer up opportunities when you see that wonderful spark for learning appearing.  It was disappearing at school and over time, it will slowly start coming back.

The summer holidays are fast approaching and we will enjoy camping in the garden, maybe a holiday somewhere at the last minute (as ever!), lots of fun with friends and sleepovers, trips out to visit amazing places, quality family time and then look forward to September where we can start having lots of educational fun!



Making Connections

This week has been busy in Home Education land.  In the recent few months we've been away from school, although I've tried to push the written work ethic to my three, I recognise the different and similar wishes in each of them - in that, workbooks are not the only way of learning. Having tried to push workbooks time and again, I am realising that it's me that feels pressure to get them writing things down and although my eldest is happy to cover some work in the written sense, much of the time, all of mine are reading, playing, chatting and researching ... or out and about with their mum!  I tried recently to enroll them in a language class and my eldest words were, 'Mum, you just don't get it yet.  We learn in a different way now.'  So I cancelled the class - for now - and paid attention to her words.

This week's adventures have included strolling with the woofer in the woods and at our local Heath, where there is plenty of opportunity to play at the park there, too.  This week there were a load of scouts learning to canoe, which was fun to observe.  My three were happy to comment and my two eldest were keen to advise they preferred kayaking to canoeing.

We loved going to AirHop in Guildford with other HE families and for the first time I noticed my children all felt bold enough to include themselves in play with others, properly.  They all enjoyed Dodge Ball and bouncing and dancing (my youngest) 'to make sure you avoid the balls being thrown!'  She contorted herself into different shapes as the music played and the balls flew in her direction!

My eldest was leaping off a trampoline into a foam pit and was chatting to a lovely boy, a budding dancer.  After that hour of fun, we were saying our farewells and I got chatting to this young man's mum.  It was lovely to know she was still fairly new to home ed, but had been considering it for a long time for her boy.  As we chatted, the children bundled around in the car, giggling and making up games.  It's amazing how a 'hello' and a positive attitude and open heart can pave the way for friendship.

Later in the week, we enjoyed an amazing tour round the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.  The gentleman leading the evening was superbly knowledgeable and the children were all engaged. It was great to have hubby there with us, too and we enjoyed looking inside the first ever WWI submarine.  It was quite incredible and we can't wait to go back!  My son is still unkeen to sit in a class environment, but the moment we were out and about, the level of connection he made with all that the information he was being given, was great to see.  My eldest also made a friendship connection and as the evening ended, I asked her if she'd like to make the effort to stay in touch with her., so we joined her family and politely asked if it would be ok to arrange a play date and her parent agreed.  It was a lovely moment to see my eldest's face light up, realising that she can still make friends outside of the school gates and forge friendships away from the classroom.

Yesterday, we enjoyed an amazing trip to Marwell Zoo - a place we've not been for a few years, but all the memories of them all being so tiny reappeared in my mind as I strolled round with them and the group of HE children.  They all enjoyed the train and were enamoured by the leopards, cheetahs, penguins, zebras, flamingoes, rhinos and meerkats giraffes amongst many others.  What I noticed most is that now they are that bit older, the journey round was slower, so they could look at the animals, read about them and ask questions as we wandered along.  They were engaged and happy and the play areas that have been created were a welcome space to let off steam and challenge their climbing and teamwork skills!

Friendship and socialisation seems to be the one big myth about home education.  Your children can be as social as they want to be.  There are so many groups and there is so much support, that you can't really go wrong.  There are sports groups, activities, general social get-togethers, events, you make connections quickly, as you're all in the same boat, so the option for play dates is there almost immediately.  We are looking forward to meeting our new friends from the AirHop gathering again in a couple of weeks.  It is massively important, the socialisation bit.  However, it's really nonsense to say that children who are not in school miss out on the social aspect.  That's the fear of the person speaking those concerns.  They don't miss out, but they do have a choice about the friendships they make.

As I sit here today, planning the week ahead and listening to my children giggling downstairs, I am content to know we are truly on the path that is right for them, whatever lies ahead and we will continue to make more connections along this journey.  You see, we have the freedom to do that now, properly and it's a gift.  Really, it is and if you are a parent considering this option for your children; yes, think about it carefully and consider all the pros and cons.  Then discuss it with your children and involve them in the process and at the end of the day, if it feels right for you, then it probably is.


A New Way ...

These last few months, after taking the children out of school have been a wonderful education in itself.  Our three children are each two years apart and have similar and very different interests. What to do first?

I had been doing so much research in the last year, that my head and heart were overflowing with ideas.  In the first couple of days, we got out to enjoy a talk about tea and coffee and where it came from and went to a wonderful Home Education Creative Group in Sussex to learn some brilliant new board games with new families.  My children were shy at first and my son struggled to feel comfortable in this new space, although it's something he'd been asking us to do for months. It was undoubtedly a big change, but not one we were afraid of making for them.  Having now been there a few times, my children love this group and opportunity to learn in a gentle, yet stimulating environment.

The difference in the children in the first couple of weeks was phenomenal to see.  The stress disappeared almost instantly and the feeling of realising you could actually take time to get up slowly and play, research, learn through things and experiences around you, was only the beginning.

As a parent, new to a different style of learning, it's been very interesting.  The more people I have spoken to, the more I have been told 'slow things down, unschool, don't rush them.'  The tendency is to continue the level of bombardment of ideas and things to do to keep the children engaged as much as possible.  To look at the curriculum, to put study books in front of them to keep them motivated and challenged; in short, to continue in a similar vein to the education they have been receiving at school, so they don't lose momentum in learning.

But Home Education, the home education I am offering my three, is not about emulating a school education.  Home Education is not school.  It's an alternative way of learning.  It's about allowing the children to learn about themselves, to know themselves, to know their likes and dislikes, to follow their hearts; to be mindful and kind.  It's about allowing them to discover the world for themselves, to question without hesitation every single thing about it.  To explore the abundance of knowledge that lies at their fingertips at their own pace in a way that suits them.  Every single child in this world is unique and it's only through researching an alternative to the school education system, that I've realised just how important it is to recognise this.

We have tried books around the curriculum and the children have been bored, so we have watched documentaries, adored Horrible Histories, live lessons with the BBC and other online groups, visited friends, visited groups, the library, read loads, watched DVDs, learned with friends, visited the Tim Peake Exhibition in Chichester, journeyed to country parks, played on swings, bounced on trampolines, seen an Anglo-Saxon exhibition in Oxford, painted pottery, visited a living rainforest, visited the Science Centre in Winchester, spent endless time walking the woofer in the woods and making dens .... this week, we are visiting the Royal Naval Submarine Museum in Portsmouth.  Education does not have to start and finish behind a desk.  That's what we are all learning.

When stepping away from the social norm, it's been amazing how much support we have had - even some teachers we have spoken to are in admiration for our decision, with some offering free resources, should we need them.  It's also been hard to hear some of the concerns from others, who simply don't understand our rationale behind the decision.  It's not for everyone and most of the negative comments or questions come from those who do not fully understand what home education actually is and that's ok.

My hope for our children is that through this journey together as a family, they will grow in confidence, harness their passions, find their creative spirit and run with it.  I hope they will trust in their instincts, know and show kindness to every person they meet, to every creature, to the environment.  I hope they will enjoy learning through play and feel the sense of freedom around them, without unnecessary stress or pressure.

If they have the desire or when they are ready to go back into the system, it is there for them.  In the meantime, we are fully supported by this wonderful home education community we have now connected with and will enjoy every minute of this path and all its quirks and experiences.


Commitment to Creativity

How wonderful to be able to write!  This weekend, I had a bit of an awakening moment with my writing and motivation around that.  I went off to a wonderful workshop with my illustrator and writer sister and enjoyed a day talking about money and understanding my relationship towards it where writing is concerned.  It wasn't what I expected and I was amazed to realise how negatively I have spent my life thinking about money.

It was also fantastic to acknowledge that something you really love to do 'when you have a moment' between jobs, or time with children and life in general, could turn out be something you actually do 'for a living.'  It was quite the revelation!

So when I returned home last night, I did find that twenty minutes to get back to my edit for my screenplay and then today, I did the same - I focused on my editing for a whole hour!  I've made a commitment to myself and to my creativity that means I will continue to do this until I've actually finished the screenplay now!  Watch this space!

What inspires you?  Do you have that creative spark of an idea that you'd love to turn into a reality?  Don't wait.  Do it!  Make that commitment to yourself and your creativity and watch your ideas blossom.