Gathering my thoughts

It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything.  There’s a few reasons for that, the first being that I have spent a bit of my usual writing time looking for paid employment.  I quit working after my maternity leave cos we are planning to home educate little monster and for me that starts from the beginning – the idea of putting her in childcare for a few years and then taking up the reins from there seems a bit daft.  Of course it could have been either one of us taking up that role but, classically, my male partner gets paid more than I was, so financially it made more sense to do it this way (it was a touch and go actually – we were pretty even for a while but he ended up with more hours than me, both our roles were reasonably gender balanced), and I am genuinely fascinated by child development and education theory and have more professional experience with children, whereas his experience in in working with adult minds.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, I’m fed up of being terminally skint (I want to do more activities, buy books and coffee and go to more places) and I’m not gonna make money with my writing any time soon.  I know there’s loads of advice around how to monetise blogs and what have you but I’m not in any way ready to do that.  My blog as it stands is very much like a personal notebook for thoughts around spirituality, gender and home education.  At some point I want to have something that’s actually worth publishing as a book, something that will be really helpful to people or that may influence education policy or something.  I’d love to get more feedback from people but I reckon that will come as my thought trains start to take more coherent directions.

The second reason I haven’t written for a couple of weeks is that the computers at the library wouldn’t connect to the internet last week so I had no way to use WordPress or to type notes to send myself later so I read instead.

The third reason is that my reading has been sending me round in circles and down rabbit holes.  Most of the rabbit holes seem to connect somehow in the great warren of metaphysics.  The world seems to be telling me that I need to sort out my beliefs around the nature of being and the nature of knowledge before I can make any real headway with writing ideas around children’s learning.  This is slightly in conflict with where I am in my druid studies (i.e. not on the druid grade which, I believe, is more philosophy based) which is currently centred around embodiment and perceptions of lived experience, it is also slightly in conflict with where we are on our parent-monster journey which is also very much around embodiment and lived connection.  The thing is, if I can’t conceptualise and write about where we are then I will lose my long term goal of writing about druidic parenting/ educating from tiny and that is one of the areas of literature that is really sparse when it comes to pagan parenting and home education and it really bugs me that those very earliest years are so neglected when it comes to education theory because it sort of implies that there is no importance to children’s learning before normal school age when the job is then taken on by professionals and that is so clearly untrue; children never learn more or faster than they do in those first few years and unless you’re a fan of attachment parenting (which I’m basically not, but that’s for another post) most of the help guides out there are just about behaviour training your kids ready for professional institutionalisation (and breathe).

So to stop myself from going down rabbit holes, I’m going to make a pledge, right here where people can see it.  (Thanks for the inspiration Nimue) .  I want to #showthelove by inspiring people/ policy makers to forge an educational/ spiritual path for our children that will lead the next generation to connect with and care for our earth and deconstruct the capitalist materialism that has got us into the environmental mess that we are currently in.  Right now, I am going to start with reading a book about Steiner (not by Steiner cos that leads straight down a Goethe rabbit hole and I’m not ready for that yet), finish the David Abram book “The Spell of the Sensuous” and write myself a proper mission plan to give myself some sense of direction.

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Birch Adventure

This morning, Little Monster and I embarked on our first birch adventure.

She started using the word adventure a few weeks ago when big sis Mimi was staying with us over the winter holiday. Mimi asked when I was planning for us to go on an aquatic adventure. She asked this way so as to avoid using the word ‘swimming’ as she has got to grips with the toddler sense of things only existing in the present and did not want to over excite her with something I might not be planning to do immediately. Monster instead latched on to the adventure word and demanded to go on one. To satisfy the demand, we then went on an adventure to do something like going to the woods, or maybe the supermarket, I’m not sure now. All the way there she shouted ‘I need adventure! I need adventure!’ then worryingly with her characteristic flourish of drama she gasped ‘Oh, no!’ putting her hands over her face ‘The police!’ This of course was absolutely hilarious, but just what?! At this point I had no idea what she understood by the word adventure and what she might be expecting from the car ride. I have since identified a possible source as a television program that she watches only very occasionally as it comes on earlier than her fairly regular bedtime tv slot; Abney and Teal. It’s a lovely little show about two people that live out in the open on an island in a river near a city surrounded by strange creatures such as an animate turnip. Their idea of adventure usually involves trying to make or do something and hitting upon a problem that they have to solve and at the end they declare ‘That was an adventure!’ I still have no idea where the bit about the police came from. Having established that the conceptual demands of adventuring are not too high, I now use the word regularly to encourage little Monster to cooperate in getting ready to go out (she is a marvellous procrastinator).

Yesterday, we had been in our garden playing around our silver birch tree. The hair like branches of this tree fill most of the view from her bedroom window so it is one of her most familiar trees, although possibly not at a conscious level yet. I named the tree for her several times during the conversation. We collected several sticks and touched the trunk. There was no easily peelable bark on our tree and I wondered if it was because the tree is quite old (I think it has probably been there since the house was built in the fifties). I remember peeling birch bark as a child; it was not something that required any effort, it was just fun to do and very similar to peeling off satisfyingly huge sheets of skin after getting sunburnt (no lectures about skin cancer please, factor 15 was totally appropriate for kids in the early eighties – I have friends not much older whose parents put suntan oil on their skin to give them a healthy glow, so I reckon my family were probably quite forward thinking). Anyway I had high hopes of being able to gather birch bark to make a vase with, but no. Having now researched this a bit, it turns out that gathering birch bark is a spring activity – it peels easily when the sap is rising. The dance visualisation didn’t really happen, I think we need a song to do a dance to, as the spoken visualisation didn’t quite cut it. However once she picked up a couple of large twigs and got one in each hand she was quite happy stretching her arms up and pretending to be a birch tree –so close enough I guess. We didn’t stay long in the birch groves. In autumn they are basically bramble thicket, which means that the ground is actually really hard to walk across without stumbling when your legs are only tiny and that’s quite an impairment to free play, but we had long enough to talk about some of the features of the trees.

Tomorrow we will go somewhere that I am told the first snowdrops have blossomed and just look out to see if we see any birch trees rather than me trying to do anything so specific.

At home we read the poem about the silver birch and she wanted that again so I reckon we can get a few repetitions of that in over the week, and our collection of twigs is going into a jar on our spring display so that we can cover it in bark in a few weeks maybe to make a table top birch tree.

Imbolc Activities with a toddler

I am starting these activities as the Yule celebrations have come to a close.  I have taken down my Yule display and replaced it with a stark, simple display comprising a couple of brass water vessels and candles on a crisp white linen cloth.  As Spring begins to manifest, we will add to the display.

Anticipating the coming of spring, we have done some simple planting: re-potting a supermarket potted herb and planting some early carrot seeds to place in the window.

The planting was great fun.  We got out the messy mat, a big bag of compost, a pot for the parsley, a trough for the carrot seeds, some spades and a dibber.  We transferred the mud eventually from the bag to the intended receptacles.  Lots of it ended up on the messy mat and little monster kept removing mud from the trough to fill the pot and vice-verce but we got there.  She was pretty good at trying to pick up the mess from the mat too, although I did have to scrub the bottom of her slippers when we’d finished.  After we’d done all the putting of mud into pots, we put the parsley plant in its pot and used our hands to stuff in more mud round the edges to stop it from being wobbly.  Then we got the dibber out to make holes in the mud in the trough and little monster took pinches of seeds from my hands to put in the holes.  The holes are not evenly spaced and there are probably too many seeds in each hole so I have no idea how well these carrots will grow but I am confident that we will get at least some growth of leaves even if the carrots themselves don’t thrive so she will be able to make a connection between seed-sowing and growth if nothing else.

I know some people avoid activities like this at home because of the mess. I’m not a big fan of mess myself, as it can get quite chaotic.  I don’t mind that we make mess but I need it to be contained.  My usual trick here is to ensure that only the particular things that we are using at any given time are within reach of the small child so we work on the floor or sometimes on a low table and I have everything that’s needed in my reach on a high table or worktop.  We clear up together in between each section of the task (or I clear up and she waits).

In my new year mode, I am quite determined to engage little monster more in my druidic learning and to get a bit more organised about how I plan on doing that so I’m trying to plan toddler activities around each seasonal marker that stretch out over the entire year rather than just being concentrated around each celebration.

I’m curreltly trying to learn more about trees, and the ones that I have chosen to start with are ; beech, ash, and birch.

Birch is associated with anticipation and so is perfect for this time of year as we anticipate the first stirrings of spring.

We have three weeks until Imbolc so I’ll be working with one tree each week.  I hpe that by the end of that three weeks, little monster will confidently be able to identify the three trees and that we both will have a little more knowledge of and sense of connection with them.

Our activities will include dance visualisation of the tree, playing around and with the tree, sitting with it, climbing it, finding souvenirs, craft material etc., reading related poetry or stories and doing craft activities.

This week, we’ll start with birch.  We have a beautiful silver birch in my garden and live not too far away from two birch groves which are home to myriad blackberries in autumn and cockchafers and blue-jays in May.

My plan is that on three days of the week we will take time to go and find and play with the trees and do a dance visualisation in their presence, then to come home for a snack and drink, read some poetry, repeat the dance visualisation and then have a nap before doing some crafting or arranging our morning’s finds for our Imbolc table.

One craft idea that I found in Penny Billington’s book ‘the Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew’ is to make a birch vase by covering a jar in bark.  The best toddler friendly poem I have found so far is The Birch Tree at Loschwitz by Amy Levy – if you have any birch poems that you have written or any recommendations, I’d love to see them – thanks.

Journeying with Toddlers – some more musings.

From The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abrams 1996 (first ed)

But in genuinely oral, indigenous cultures, the sensuous world itself remains the dwelling place of the gods, of the numinous powers that can either sustain or extinguish human life. It is not by sending his awareness out beyond the natural world that the shaman makes contact with the purveyors of life and health, nor by journeying into his personal psyche; rather, it is by propelling his awareness laterally, outward into the depths of a landscape at once both sensuous and psychological, the living dream that we share with the soaring hawk, the spider, and the stone silently sprouting lichens on its coarse surface. (p10)

Magic, then, in its perhaps most primordial sense, is the experience of existing in a world made up of multiple intelligences, the intuition that every form one perceives – from the swallow swooping overhead to the fly on a blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself – is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations, albeit sensations that are very different from our own.(p9-10)

 

I came across the first of these quotes while listening to Philip Carr-Gomm on CD reading some of the OBOD course material.

For some time now, I have been wondering how to introduce journeying to little Monster and have found very little by way of literature to work with. Part of the reason for this is that very young humans find it so easy to slide between fantasy and reality, outer and inner or spirit and material worlds. Partly, also, it is a function of language development (or the lack of it); although language is not necessary for journeying because so much of journeying experience is potentially non-verbalisable, setting up the opportunity to do it and talking about it afterwards do generally require some sophisticated level of linguistic interaction. Partly, as well, it may be that in the very early years the idea of working with and teaching children is by and large ignored because it has no dimension of professionalism to it – this infuriates me slightly because those earliest years are so important in child development and the work that parents can do with regards to nurturing conscience and creativity goes unrecognised – instead they are seen only as love givers, carers for physical health and behaviour trainers readying their child for the real work of schools or professional educators. One of my concerns as a druid parent is that I am so aware how easy it is for children to lose this ready access to the world of imagination as they grow. As adults, many of us try to recapture it or re-learn the skills that enabled us to enter those hidden places, but in parenting consciously in a druidic way, I want to ensure that the connections she makes are not lost in the first place. Because of that, I want to be able to make space for journeying and prioritise holding on to that as little monster grows and I also want to be able to articulate how I hold that space so that other parents following similar paths may be able to more easily find what they need to start this work from the earliest opportunity.

After my last pondering on journeying with toddlers, I re-read Imelda Almquist’s ‘Natural Born Shaman’s’ to see if I could find the inspiration I was looking for. I couldn’t; she really doesn’t cover the baby/ toddler years and when she put up a request for blog suggestions on her Facebook page, her response to my request was disappointingly just to tell me to spend time outdoors.

So when I came across the David Abram quote, I was lit up by it. It still points at spending time outdoors (which we do anyway) but it makes, for me, a conceptual link that was either missing or not fully formed in other stuff that I have read and gives me a much more solid platform to work from when I am reflecting on my own parenting practice.

Having been lit up by the first quote when I heard it, I went and tracked down the book that it came from. My luck was in; an archive copy of it is available as a free download (several formats available)

I am only on chapter two now and already I am coming to a much deeper understanding of both animism and magic and have a million thoughts popping around in my head. Yay!!

After the mid-winter hiatus (and toddler solstice ritual)

Today I dismantled my Yule display. It was made up of a large oak log with candles on, placed on a sparkly red and green table-cloth and surrounded in bits of spruce, ivy and holly with some little wooden ornaments in amongst the greenery.

The mid-winter hiatus is all finished now. We spent this weekend with my family and it was mostly lovely, if a little chaotic. Today was down time.

We have done pretty well this year at keeping the midwinter festivities in a way that suits us, and not getting sucked in to the dramas and commercialism that can seem so inevitable at this time of year.

After sweeping and polishing, I replaced my Yule display with a white table cloth on which I have placed two ornamental brass jugs, a gorse-wood candle stand with a little clay goddess in, the felt sun that goes on all my table displays and the green man painting that my friend made for us as a Yule gift. The display is pretty empty and stark at the moment, as is the season. I will add more to it as the first signs of spring start to emerge.

One of the things that I like about neo-paganism is that there are eight seasonal festivals so when you are getting rid of your Yule decorations, you are not leaving emptiness but moving forward to preparing for a new season.

Each of the seasonal festivals marks a point of reflection, looking back on what has been lost or gained (with a different emphasis each time depending on the particular celebration) and looking forward and planning what to sow, grow or nurture in the coming season. This feels quite different than new years resolutions, which have always, for me felt a bit like a pass or fail process that you only really assess a year later. Dividing the year into eight seasonal observances gives a more realistic sense of growth and nurture and allows more acceptance of obstacles or slow growth as just being a part of the natural process.

The winter solstice was the first time that I have made a ritual specifically for little monster, and it worked beautifully. I have previously either had her with us at adult rituals which has generally worked out tolerably but she has only been a passenger, or I have tried to adapt ideas that have been suggested for older children.

The ritual was incredibly simple: we had unlit candles set up in all of the downstairs rooms (including the ones on the Yule log) and a teeny fire set up in the grate (a cluster of candles would work just as well if we didn’t have a fireplace). We turned off all of the lights and sung a solstice song that I wrote (adapted from the sleeping bunnies song )

The winter sun is dying
There’s darkness all around
The broadleaf branches empty
Their leaves all gone to ground

Oh so dark! Not a spark!

Ssh

Ready? Wake Up!

Wake up sun baby dance and sing
Wake up sun baby dance and sing
Wake up sun baby dance and sing
Dance and sing

At the end of the song we lit a tiny candle with a card circle round the base to prevent dripping wax and then used it to go round the house and light all the other candles and then the fire which we snuggled in front of with hot milk until bedtime. We might have read a bit of Luna moon hair but the fire was far too exciting for that to happen – maybe we’ll have stories round the fire next year.