The tiny spot that grew and grew…

This is Jess. She’s 9, almost 10 now! Where have the years gone?

I’ve written about Jess in lots of my other posts. Right now, she is healthy and happy, but about 4 years ago, something happened to her, which stopped us all in our tracks. It was a rocky ride for all of us for a while, and it all started with a tiny spot.

Please note – this post contains photos and details of Jess’s skin tumour, which some people may find disturbing.

Sometime towards the end of 2016, when she was just 5, Jess showed me a little spot on her arm. A little insect bite, perhaps. It wasn’t bothering her too much, she said, but sometimes it itched.

Here she is, showing me her wobbly tooth, in April 2017, just after she turned 6.


You see that tiny pink dot just below her right shoulder? That’s it. A tiny pin-prick-sized dot on her skin. I told her it looked like an insect bite and to try not to scratch it. It would go away soon.

But it didn’t go away. Most of the time it didn’t bother her either. Occasionally, she complained it itched, and we’d put a bit of sudocreme or calamine on it, still thinking it was a little bite or sting, or perhaps an ingrown hair follicle or something. As it didn’t seem to be bothering her much at all, we all put it to the back of our minds. In hindsight, I wish we hadn’t.

During the summer of 2017, Jess started to complain about it more. It was itching more and began to grow a little bit. The tiny pink dot grew very slowly into more of a bump, a small, firm round bump.

Jess, knowing that we’d advised her to try not to scratch it, almost never touched it. She was really good at resisting the itch. It still wasn’t causing us too much concern, and most of the time Jess said it didn’t itch at all, but as we could see that it was beginning to grow, we went to see the GP.

The GP examined it and said he wasn’t sure what it was, and that he would refer us to a dermatologist to have a look. This was in August 2017.

So then we waited. A couple of weeks later a letter arrived, asking us to book online, so I did. The earliest appointment available at either of the two hospitals we were given as options, was in November. I was cross that it seemed so long to wait, but I booked it anyway. The spot was continuing to grow, but very slowly.

A couple of weeks before our November appointment, a letter arrived, telling us that, due to unforeseen circumstances, the appointment had had to be postponed and a new date would be sent to us as soon as possible. At this point, I began to get concerned. We seemed to have been waiting a long time. And although Jess want concerned or bothered at all, I was very aware that she had on her skin an undiagnosed ‘spot’ that was growing, and I have to admit, I was beginning to worry. That day, I rang the number on the letter, and told them that I was concerned. The man on the phone gave me another number to call – a different local hospital in a different town, that may be able to see us sooner. Calling them, they booked us in, at their earliest available date, 20th December. I explained that I was concerned that that seemed like so long, and the lady told me I should call every Monday, to see if there were any cancelled appointments I could take, to get in earlier.

So then we waited again, and called on Mondays. Thankfully, one Monday, we were given a cancellation slot – an appointment for the following day. It was early December.

I messaged my mum and asked her if she could please come with me, knowing I’d have to take both girls with me, and not knowing what to expect when we were there.

The night before the appointment, Jess ran into a door frame at home and banged her arm. For the first time, the spot bled. It seemed to be bleeding a lot, and Jess, being terrified of bleeding, was beside herself for a while, until it stopped.

The first diagnosis – December 2017

Next morning, off we went. Mum waited in the waiting room with Amy. Luckily it was a children’s unit, with toys and some colouring things.The dermatologist looked at Jess’s arm and asked us a few questions, then said, “What you have is called a pyogenic granuloma. It’s perfectly harmless, but we will have to take it off.”

She seemed pretty certain in her diagnosis, and explained that it was a little cluster of blood vessels, would bleed when knocked, and might carry on growing until it’s removed. She explained that it would be “scraped” and cauterised, under local anaesthetic. She also checked another spot -a wart- that Jess had on her leg, which she concluded was unrelated, totally harmless, and she could freeze that one off now if we liked.

Knowing how anxious Jess already was, we declined. That spot wasn’t itching or growing, or anything like that, so we decided to leave that one alone for now, rather than leave her with a sore blister right where her clothes would rub.

We left the clinic, relieved that we knew the diagnosis, relieved that it was benign, and relieved that we’d soon be rid of it. We thought.

We waited for a letter to come through with an appointment date. The first letter we received, had a date in May, and my heart sank, thinking we’d be waiting another 5 months. But soon after, another letter arrived, with an appointment in January. Thank goodness! I asked mum to come with us again.

During that time, all through Christmas and New year, we kept plasters over the spot, mainly because it becoming was more and more vulnerable to bleeding, as she pulled winter clothes on and off. Each time it bled, it seemed to grow more, straight after. By early January, it had become about the size of a button, or a 1p penny. It seemed to be especially fragile since it stood out, not flush, on her skin, like a button on a cardigan. It was accidentally knocked often, slept on and bumped as she bounced around.

The worst part was dealing with the plasters. Jess, being so terrified of pain, and so sensitive to it, struggled massively each time a plaster had to be removed. It was such a battle every couple of days! She knew it had to come off, but she was terrified of the pain of peeling it back. Some oil helped sometimes to loosen the adhesive. I didn’t know at this time, that you can get little wipes that dissolved plaster adhesive. A nurse gave us some later on in our journey, and I wish we had known about them at the time! Every time seemed like a trauma.

The first procedure – January 2018

Eventually, on the 14th of January 2018, we went to the hospital for the procedure to remove the “spot”. By now it was about as wide as a penny, and stood out about a centimetre from her skin. When it wasn’t bleeding or scabbed, it looked a bit like a flat raspberry. But because it was so fragile and prone to bleeding, most of the time it was mottled with scabs.

Jess was terrified. There is no other way to describe it. She was terrified. We went to the hospital an hour early, so the nurse could put on Emla cream, then they wrapped cling film around her arm and we waited an hour.

Again, mum stayed in the waiting room with Amy. We’d been told the procedure would be quick and straightforward. When we were called in, we were met by a nurse, a doctor, and one other man, who was perhaps a student or something, I’ve no idea – I don’t remember and I didn’t care. He didn’t do a lot, just tried to convince Jess at one point – spectacularly unsuccessfully – to look at a Where’s Wally book.

Jess sat in the chair and the nurse tried to talk to her, but she was petrified. She could barely speak. I signed the consent form and sat beside Jess and held her hand. The whole time, Jess never took her hands away from her face.

The anaesthetic injection, the one that was apparently supposed to not hurt because she’d had Emla cream on – or so they had convinced her – hurt her like mad. She sobbed. And continued to tell them that she could feel The needle every time they prodded her skin to check. The doctor kept telling her, ” that doesn’t hurt, that can’t hurt…” And I wondered why she kept trying to convince Jess of that, when she was clearly being told otherwise. At the time I had no idea that for some people, local anaesthetics are not very effective. Another thing I wish I had known at the time so I could’ve advocated a bit better for her. Whether her pain was physical or psychological, it was traumatic for her.

Eventually, unable to continue until she knew the area was numb, the nurse sprayed a cold spray on her arm, a special ‘Elsa’ spray, she called it, which I think did help to numb it.

Jess continued to cry as the doctor removed the ‘spot’ and cauterised the wound. When Jess saw the pointed cauteriser, she grew terrified again – it looked like another needle. The ‘spot’ was put into a little plastic pot, a plaster was put over the wound, and we were ushered on our way. I’m not sure how long it had taken. It seemed like time had been standing still.

Jess had gone quiet and I’d done my best to comfort her and tell her how brave she’d been. As we walked back down the corridor to meet Mum and Amy, Jess was suddenly the most cheerful I’d seen her in weeks. A massive weight had been lifted from her. She was excited that she’d soon be able to sleep on that side again, that she’d be able to not have plasters anymore. She told me that after this, she never wanted to see another plaster in her life. She was so relieved it was done. It was over. We both were. Now when I think back to that moment, when we were oblivious of what was still to come, I feel sick.

We left the hospital and life went back to normal. We cared for her wound just as they advised us – cleaning and applying Vaseline daily. It was a little red blister. It seemed to be taking a long time to heal and the Vaseline that we’d been told to keep applying, seemed to be preventing it from drying out and healing. But we stuck with it.

Meanwhile, the spot that they had removed, was sent to the pathology lab for testing. The doctor had told us that it could take weeks to hear back, but if there was anything concerning, we’d most likely hear within a couple of weeks. So no news would be good news. We kept everything crossed for good news, but as no-one had seemed in the least bit worried about any of this, we had no reason to be worried.

The rest of this post is all extracts from my journal over the coming days and weeks.

Friday 26th Jan 2018

A fortnight ago, Jess had the procedure to remove her spot. They were pretty sure they knew what it was and that it was benign, but obviously they sent it off to histology anyway, to confirm diagnosis.
The surgeon on the day, said that if we hear nothing it’s good news, because they usually only contact you if there’s an issue.

Today I had a phone call asking us to go in on Monday morning to see a consultant. We were at Amy’s gymnastics, and it was a crowded room, and it was difficult to hear. I have to take Jess to the hospital at 9.30am Monday morning.

I’m terrified.

The whole thing has been so stressful, and going on for over a year, and Jess was so relieved to finally have it removed. Suddenly it was like the weight of the world has been lifted from her, and now I’m absolutely petrified about going on Monday in case they say it’s cancerous.

She’s been so brave. She really suffers with anxiety, and the last half a year or so has really tested her. Consultations, referrals, surgery, and all the time having to dress, clean, and redress this goddamn lesion as it gradually grew. I’m so proud of her, and at the same time I’m petrified for her.
The receptionist I spoke to at 4pm today, when I got the call, said it was too late to speak to the consultant on the phone, and she didn’t know any details, and I could try calling on Monday morning to speak to consultant… But that’s when the appointment is. Jess’s dad said to me today, “don’t worry, if it was anything really bad, they’d be calling us in really urgently…” I said, “it was 4pm Friday, they want to see us Monday morning. That is pretty urgent, I think.”

I’m praying it’s not as bad as I’m imagining. And I can’t sleep worrying.

Monday 29th Jan 2018

In the waiting room

A racing heart, a bag of nerves,

A tapping foot, my stomach churns,

Holding you, I feel your fear,

Brave face, deep breath, I hold you near.

I’m trying not to let you see,

the fear and worry that grips me,

relax my shoulders, look at ease,

Let this not be awful, please!

You touch my hand and look at me,

“I’m worried and I’m scared, mummy,”

I stroke your hair, and hold your hand,

“I know, my love. I understand.”

When they called, we weren’t prepared,

I played it down, but I am scared.

“What ifs” are racing through my head,

Filling me with fear and dread.

“What if they say it’s not alright?”

Your face is pale, your eyes are wide.

You watch me as I try to find

An answer that will ease your mind.

“Well then, they’ll tell us what to do,

To make things right,” I say to you.

I kiss your nose, I hug you tight,

I tell you that we’ll be alright.

But deep inside, I’m terrified,

And pray to God, I’ve not just lied,

I close my eyes and hold you near,

I take deep breaths and hide my fear.


The consultation

We entered the room and sat down. There were 3 adults already in the room. I didn’t know who any of them were.

The consultant (Dr Rfidah) asked Jess how she was and noticed her missing teeth and made some small talk. Then he said he wanted to just check with me the history, so he asked about how it all started and I explained the tiny spot, not getting better over a year, then the GP appointment, and then referral, and how it gradually grew in between these times. He asked medical background questions, such as what kind of birth she had, if she got sunburnt, if we went abroad on holidays to hot places, if she was on any medication etc.  At the mention of sunburn and holidays, I knew it was not good.

Then he asked to look her over, took the plaster off her arm, and checked the lesion. Checked her arms, legs, back, neck, and asked to check the wart on her leg.

Then he asked if Jess could go out of the room, to play with daddy in the waiting room for a bit, so he could talk to me. Unimaginable fear gripped me. Desperately trying to hide it from her, I took her out.

When I sat back down, I was shaking. The doctor  said that he’d received the pathology results from the lab, and there were some things in it that were concerning. He said some of the results suggested it could be melanoma. They weren’t certain, but because it was a possibility, it would have to be followed up with a referral to an oncology unit. I think I felt numb.

He added that he thought it was highly unlikely to be that, because it is so rare in children, and in his 20 something years he has never had a case that HAS definitively been diagnosed as melanoma, but that he had had some come to him, like Jess, as suspected, but had, under further investigation, turned out to be some other kind of benign lesion.

But, as the possibility was there, he was recommending that this be treated as a melanoma, with a referral to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. The cancer hospital.

I asked what happens next, and he said he will call them and send them the report and specimens, and that they will quickly, within the week most likely, come back to me with an appointment for a consultation there. He said they will decide what needs doing, but it will likely be a wide local excision, where they remove a bigger area. I asked if they’d do that straight away and under local or general anaesthetic, as Jess would want to know what to expect when we go. He said they would decide that and talk to me about it, but confirmed that it would not be done in that first appointment, anyway, that they would, after a consultation, schedule it in, so we would go back some days later for the surgery. He asked if I had any other questions.

At some point during that, I cried, and one of the other adults, who I now know is a Clic Sargeant nurse, brought me tissues and came and sat beside me.

Dr Rfidah asked if I’d like him to explain to Jess, without using the words melanoma or cancer, and I said yes please. He said he can also talk to Dad to tell him the same as he told me, but I said if he comes in here like I am, Jess will just get more anxious, and I’d like to relay it all to him instead.
Then he asked if I would go and fetch Jess, and she happily came back in. He made some small talk about school, and home schooling, and then said that he’d just been talking to me about her spot, and that it perhaps wasn’t healing quite perfectly, and that he’d like to get another doctor to have o look, so was going to refer us to a hospital in London and they would decide if they need to do some more work on it. I checked with Jess that she understood what the doctor had said, about me taking her to London, (as the Dr had quite a strong accent), and she nodded. She actually didn’t seem too scared, she just nodded and smiled.

Then he turned back to me and said again, that the Marsden would contact me very soon, and in the meantime the Clic Sargent nurse was our point of contact if we had any worries or questions, and she gave me her card and reassured me that she was always available. She asked if I’d like her to ring me in a couple of days to check we are all ok, and I said, “Um, yeah, that would be good, thank you”. Then I thanked all of them (there was one other lady in there, perhaps a student), and came out.

Daddy was playing with Amy in the waiting room. He asked me what they said and, trying not to cry, I told him they were referring us to London because they aren’t sure about it. Not wanting to say too much in front of Jess, I mouthed the word “melanoma” and saw his face drop. “Possibly,” I said. “They’re not sure yet.” We drove home.

At the end of this long, emotional day

I lie here, listening to you breathe. I imagine the dream you must be having. This morning you grumpily told me I’d woken you from a dream about being in Barbie Land, and all you wanted to do was sleep and stay in the dream.

I wish I could have let you stay in that dream.

You shift and wriggle a little in your bed. You whimper. An hour ago, you woke up crying, because your throat was sore, and you couldn’t make it go away, and how could you fall asleep with a throat that sore?

This time you whimper and then fall quiet again, with just your steady breathing marking the passing of the seconds… minutes… hours.

I’ve not slept. A few times I’ve closed my eyes, and tried to empty my mind enough to drop off. But I can’t. I feel sick.

So many thoughts are in my head. So many emotions racing through my body. Too much adrenaline, cortisol, stress. Too much worry.
I feel weighted down by my worry. And I feel the burden of the extra worry that I am carrying, in order to stop it from falling onto you. I picture it cascading down, like the waterfall at the pool, that you sit under, and you like the feel of it in your back. But this cascade of worry must not find it’s way to you. It would break you even more than it is breaking me. Your fragile spirit would be torn apart, your heart and head would rage and despair. So I am determined to hold it for you. I’ll take it, I’ll pair it with mine and the two will become one. I feel its weight as I lie here in the small hours, unable to sleep.

Your deep breathing goes quiet. Calm. I wonder again about your dreams. I wonder which world you are in, tonight. I hope it’s a happy one.
And I wish I could join you there.


Tuesday 30th Jan 2018

Dear Jess,

Today has been a rollercoaster.

You woke up and your throat was so sore you couldn’t speak or swallow, and suddenly I felt like life will never be the same again. A sore throat is no longer just a sore throat… in my imagination at least.

In my highly anxious, paranoid mind, a sore throat threw up a load of morbid questions about weakened immunity, swollen glands, infected lymph nodes, metastasised melanocytes… And just like that, within minutes of waking, my mind is racing. What if you are ill and won’t fight it? What if your glands and lymph nodes swell up? What if they want to see you today, or tomorrow, and think you’re ill because you have cancer, when really you just have a cold, the same cold Amy has just had a day ago? What if they tell me you need urgent investigations to assess how far it has spread? What if it really has spread, and this is some kind of response to a widespread metastases?

I feel like life will never be the same again, because I know that I might never look at a sore throat, or a cold, or a fever in the same way again. From this moment, I will also see them as a threat.

You know those few seconds, when you first wake up and you’re brain is still sleepy and life is good. Those peaceful few seconds before you remember. Before reality hits you again. And then that sinking, sickening feeling, in the pit of your stomach, when it comes back to you.

Today, Daddy described it as a ‘tunneling’ feeling. And I knew what he meant. You lie on the bed peacefully waking up, and suddenly the world closes in, and you are pulled down the tunnel, leaving your stomach behind.

So this morning started badly, with the tunneling, and the intrusive thoughts about your sore throat. You wouldn’t eat, or drink. You wouldn’t play on your computer or your iPad. You said you wanted to sleep but couldn’t sleep. I have to admit, I thought about calling the numbers I’ve been given, telling them I was worried about you. For some reason I didn’t. I guess I wanted to trust in my instincts, which were telling me, deep down, that this wasn’t it.

For lunch, you ate 3 bowls of strawberries, drank a fruit shoot, and perked up. You played on your computer for a bit. You got up to the toilet and wandered around between the rooms.

As you sat in the bath this afternoon, I told you that I think you will need an operation to get the rest of the spot out of your arm. You cried. You’re fed up of doctors, and spots, and appointments and hospitals. And each step just seems to get worse. You think it’s all over, and then another hurdle appears.

And I saw this, and I heard this, as you told me that you feel like you’re unlucky and you asked me why no-one else has to do all this. And although I tried to tell you that some other children do, I know it means nothing. This isn’t about others; it’s about you. And what you’re really saying is, why do I have to do all this?

And I understand your frustration, Jess. You look after yourself so well. You are the one who avoids sweets, finishes your dinner, brushes your teeth, makes all the healthy choices. yet here you are – the one who has to see all the different doctors and go to all the different hospitals, and now face this scary, unknown, operation, that none of us were expecting. How is that fair?

We talked about what might need to be done – how they might need to do a different kind of operation to get the last bits out. An operation where they put you to sleep to make it easier for you. And you asked me why we can’t just heal it ourselves.

Of course, there’s no way I can tell you the full danger of leaving even the tiniest part of this thing in you. It would terrify you. So I’m desperately trying to convince you it’s necessary, and it’s a good idea, without worrying you. I feel like I’m on a tight-rope.

You asked me about how they would send you to sleep, and I saw your panic beginning to rise. You asked me about dreaming. What if you dream? What if you don’t dream? I don’t know how to answer. I don’t know if you dream under anaesthetic. But you needed to know, and it’s important, so I made a mental note to Google it.

Then you asked me about waking up. How do you wake up? What if you never wake up? Will you be asleep, not dreaming or dreaming, for ever? And why can’t I tell you? And why am I lying to you?!

But I wasn’t lying to – I just don’t have all the answers you are looking for. I told you everything I know about anaesthetic (which isn’t much). In fact, the only things I’m holding back, are the fact that this could potentially be life-threatening, the fact that this operation is a certainty and a necessity, and the fact that I’m terrified. I’m determined not to pile this all on you in an overwhelming way. Softly, softly.

Last night I watched a YouTube video for medical professionals, advising them how to administer bad news to patients. Softly, gently, small chunks, with time to process. And it stuck in my head. I’ve promised you I’ll be honest (and also that I won’t consent to anything that I don’t think is necessary), and I will keep that promise, but there’s no way I can give you that all at once. Small chunks… time to process.

By this evening you were playing tickling games and rough-housing with Amy. The difference was striking. Suddenly, I was saying to Daddy, “There’s nothing wrong with that girl. Look at her!”

When I said I wanted to walk round to the shop to buy more fruit, you jumped up to come with me. You put aside your sore throat and illness and happily came along. And suddenly I was optimistic again. Someone with so much energy and so many giggles, couldn’t be ill with a melanoma, surely?

Later you went back to your online games, right up until bedtime, when you went off to sleep, so much more peacefully than last night.

This evening I said to Daddy, “You know, even if this all turns out fine, and is all over and done with, and cleared, it will change her forever. She’ll always have to be monitored. She’ll always have to cover up in the sun and not tan. She’ll always have this mark against her.”

Wednesday 31st Jan 2018 (early hours)

As I came up to bed, I lingered a little longer at Jess’s bed, and put my face down to hers and breathed in her delicious scent. Strawberry soap and sleep. I kissed her head, holding my kiss on her for a few seconds, appreciating the moment with this little person who, 7 years ago, had changed my world beyond all recognition.

I remember when she was just weeks old, a moment, standing in her bedroom in our old house, holding her to my chest, her face nestled into my neck, her head in the palm of my hand. I remember the weight of her in my arms. I remember, not just that I was holding her, but her precise weight – the feel of her in my arms, on my chest, close to my heart. And how the weight of her felt so perfect, as if it was a part of me. And I was rocking, gently, as she fell asleep on me. And I was thinking about how strong that love was. That bond. And the one thing that I remember thinking right there, right then, was that if I ever lost her, if she died right now, I would make myself die too, to be with her. The thought was as clear as day. I would make myself die, to be with her. And in my head (and of course this was before I had Amy) that was the most logical, most reasonable of all thoughts. If she were to die, I would not think twice about going with her.

Wednesday 31st Jan 2018 (7pm)

We all slept late and woke up at 9.40am. Everyone needed the sleep after a stressful few days. Jess immediately said her sore throat has gone, though she is still sniffly and snotty.

Today I got a phone call from the Royal Marsden Hospital, asking us to go in, to see the doctor on Monday. They haven’t received the pathology specimens yet, but they want to see us anyway. They might take some blood tests, and they’ll do a physical examination etc.

Just as we sat down to eat dinner, Jess started to cry and said, “Mummy, I’m scared about having an operation.” So I pulled her to me and cuddled her, and listened to her worries. I tried to answer her questions, but some of it I couldn’t because I didn’t know the answers. Like, what’s the most common operation that children have? What’s the rarest? Which other children do I know who’ve had an operation? (None that I can think of.) I reminded her that Monday won’t be an operation, just a meeting to talk and get to know them, which helped a bit.

She’s still scared. I’ve found a couple of child-friendly YouTube videos explaining general anaesthetic and surgery.

But she still keeps asking why we need to do this, why can’t we just look after it ourselves. I’ve told her they need to take out the last bits, but it’s hard for her to grasp the necessity of it, when we are intentionally protecting her from the full weight of the issue.


Thursday 1st Feb 2018

Time is standing still. The days are dragging. They said it will all happen fast, but it doesn’t feel that way.

Today Jess still has a cold. She’s not bad, but it’s just enough to make me edgy. I find myself looking at her sideways when she is busy doing something, and wondering if she is sick or well. Wondering if there is something sinister hiding in her body.
It makes my stomach turn over.

The sun was out today, so we went to the park. It was still cold, but Jess and Amy both had fun. I stood for a long time, taking videos on my camera, capturing the joy, the oblivion. I got lots of really lovely video clips and photos, aware in the back of my mind that if things take a turn for the worse… well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Just determined to capture as much as I could.

She’s so beautiful. She has an innocent beauty. She is not a warrior. She is fragile and sensitive. She always has been.

Friday 2nd Feb 2018

I haven’t told Jess yet, that she might have to miss her gymnastics class on Monday, as we are going to the hospital. The appointment is at 12. Gymnastics is at 4. it’s a 2 hour drive (at least) and I think it’s unlikely we will be back in time. She will think it’s massively unfair. she’ll question, again, why we need to go. And why we can’t go another day. And why we can’t just look after this thing ourselves. And I hate that I can’t be truthful and tell her the urgency, but how can you tell that to a child?

I am finding myself wondering if this has always been predestined. I feel like deep down I’ve always known this would happen. That everything that’s happened in the past has been working towards this. It sounds strange and feels weird, but it’s the only way I can explain it. Is this why I’ve always felt like I need to protect her a bit more? Why I can’t imagine her as a grown up? Why she’s always seemed like an old soul, or like she’s out of sync with the world? And then I feel terrible because what if just thinking these things causes them to happen? My feelings are all over the place.

And Jess’s head is all over the place, too. She can’t sleep; she’s tired; she’s grumpy; she has mood swings; she’s anxious; she’s terrified. And although in reality, I know she is usually like this, and it’s probably worse because she’s full of cold, in my paranoia, I’m questioning whether her brain is malfunctioning and whether her emotions are affected by something more than just a bug. I know it’s stupid, but it’s a feeling that’s impossible to shake.

Friday 2nd Feb 2018


I’m waiting for my world to fall apart.

I feel like there’s a knife stuck in my heart.

I’m waiting for the hell on earth to start.

I’m waiting for my world to fall apart.

I’m reading more than I’ve ever done before.

Theories, studies, remedies and more.

I’m reading till my eyes are red and raw,

To help me cope with all we have in store.

I’m feeling sick with every waking thought.

I see you and I feel my breath get caught.

I feel the knife twisting in my heart.

I’m waiting for my world to fall apart.

Saturday 3rd Feb 2018

I’m tired. I’m grumpy.

The kids are both good. Jess is much better than she was a few days ago, with her cold, but she’s stressed and anxious and I have to keep reassuring her about Monday. Today we talked about blood tests – why she’ll need them and what to expect. She’s scared of another syringe.

I’ve been noticing numbers. 22:22 on the clock. £11.11 at the checkout. Lots of different examples, so I googled it and have been learning about synchronicity. Oh boy!  Now that made sense. My interpretation of what I read, was that it’s a way of connecting with your “spirit team” and a signal that you can reach out to them for answers or support. Well, since Dad died, and I had a couple of moments where I just knew that his spirit was with me, I am totally on board with believing this. In this – probably the most challenging time of my life so far – I can absolutely believe he (or they, or whoever) would send some signs to let me know they are there.

So with that in mind, I found a card-reading website. The only question I asked was, “Should I be worried about Monday?”

The cards came up with (I’m paraphrasing here):

  • 1) you are wise
  • 2) use the internet
  • 3) you are not ready yet

So I guess I have some more reading to do before Monday.

Sunday 4th Feb 2018

Jess has cried a bit today about all the things she is worried about tomorrow:

  • having to go in the car for an hour and a half
  • getting stuck in traffic
  • parking the car
  • not remembering where we parked
  • having an injection
  • them finding she has the wrong type of blood (?)
  • possibly missing gymnastics.

She’s gone to sleep now, but we had tears at bedtime.

I have reassured myself by reading more. I read over the pathology report again, and it didn’t sound so bad this time. I read about melanoma treatment, looked up wide local excision and sentinel lymph node biopsy. I steered clear of anything that looked scary.  But now that I have a much better idea of those procedures, I do feel reassured. I definitely feel more ready to go in there tomorrow and hear what they say. I don’t think it can feel any worse than this time last week. Whatever the outcome now, I won’t feel in shock.

This evening, as I laid at the end of Amy’s bed, as I do every night while they fall asleep, I thought about it, and said a silent thank you to my spirit team for guiding me yesterday and today. Without thinking I looked at the clock, and it was 22:22.

It’s everywhere. 2 days ago it was in Tesco, when the shopping that Jess helped me scan through the till, came to £11:11.

It was on the milometer in the car …1212

I feel reassured. I’m receiving their messages and it’s really comforting 💜

Monday 5th Feb 2018

We drove up to London, to the Royal Marsden Hospital. All 4 of us went. Jess worried and worried about the journey. I suggested using the dvd player, which helped. And we left early to calm her worry about traffic.

We arrived. We’d never been here before. We parked and found our way to the children’s department – The Oaks Centre – where the reception nurse led us around to the waiting area. I had to fill in the registration forms and Jess went off to be measured, weighed, bp-checked and nose-swabbed. Then we waited to be called in.

We were eventually called by Dr Julia, who was friendly and kind, and understandable and clear. She asked if Dad and Amy, who had stayed in the waiting room, would come in too. So nervously, I went and told them to come through. Dr Julia said it’s normal for the whole family to come in together here. She asked about the history of the spot, and a few other questions. She checked the family’s medical history. She looked at what remained of Jess’s spot and agreed that it wasn’t drying out enough to heal and we should stop applying Vaseline and she would get a nurse to swab and redress it.

She seemed surprised that Jess had had it removed under local rather than general anaesthetic, and was surprised at the size of it.

She checked Jess over thoroughly, including her back, neck, legs, arms, and also felt her glands in her neck, armpits and groin, which she said felt fine. Jess was quiet and anxious and wasn’t keen on the questions or the physical examination, but she was a star the whole time.

Dr Julia explained that although they now have the pathology samples they’ve been waiting for, they haven’t been able to finish studying them yet, so we are still unclear exactly what we are dealing with. It could be melanoma, or it could be an atypical spitzoid tumor, and because this is so very rare, it’s hard to say what the course of action would be. But because pathology has said the base has not been removed, it will definitely involve an excision operation, probably at the hospital at St George’s. Likely she’ll also need some scans, eg ultrasound of lymph nodes, CT and MRI to check further.

She has set up another appointment for a fortnight today, to go back to her, to discuss next steps, once the pathology specimens have been looked over again. By then they may be able to give more info about what happens next.

Jess was an angel. She was upset when we had to wait longer to have her arm redressed, as we told her we didn’t think we’d be back in time for gymnastics. She was desperate for Daddy to watch her do gymnastics today, as he’s usually always at work. In the end, after we left, I floored it down the motorway and got her there on time. It made her day, and I finally felt like a good mummy again.

Amy was an angel too. She just seems to be getting used to accompanying Jess to various hospitals now. She likes the play areas I think, but after a couple of hours of waiting around today, she’d definitely had enough.

So now we wait again, for a phone call confirming that they’ve finished with the biopsy review and hopeful indicating what scans etc might be needed when we next go in a fortnight. I made sure to ask to be told in advance as I know how anxious Jess will be if she doesn’t know.

At the moment, despite talk of melanomas and tumours and further treatments today, Jess is still only aware of things as far ahead as the operation to get the base of it out. We’ve not talked to her about scans and things, but I guess that will have to come next. That’s going to be tough.

I will say this, though: being in the hospital today and seeing such tiny children hooked up to chemo drips, some with no hair, and walking around with tubes in their noses, it certainly brought perspective. Kids go through this. Kids come out of this. And the kids today were just taking it in their stride. I know we only saw the best of it, the day care and the outpatients, not the inpatients and not the ones that were terribly ill, but still, it was reassuring. And I could have nothing but praise for the staff, who were making everyone so comfortable and welcome.

Tuesday 13th Feb 2018

Had a phonecall today from St Johns Hospital (which is in Tooting) asking us to go in on this Friday at 9.30, to meet with a Professor Powell. Well that’s going to be a nightmare getting there for that time in the morning! It’s a 2 and a half hour drive, in London rush hour. Darryl says he can’t take another day off either, so looks like it will be only me on my own, and the two girls. Eek!

Wednesday 14th Feb 2018

Suzie, the Clic Sargent nurse, rang today (for the first time, though she said she had called a couple of times with no answer… hmmm) and asked how we are all doing. I had a chat about our trips to London (the one we’ve done and the one that’s coming) and also how Jess is frustrated that she feels like she’s the one that’s hard-done-by. Some days, especially when she’s tired, she asks, “Why me? Why doesn’t everyone else have to do all this?” I’ve tried to explain that many children have all kinds of health problems, we just don’t hear about them, but to be honest, I do get her point. It just makes no sense. She’s the most cautious, careful, and healthy-seeming one out of all of us. It just doesn’t seem fair.

Friday 16th Feb 2018 

So today we (Jessica, Amy and I) were up at 5am. Well, technically I was, and Jessica begged, “Please just 5 more minutes?” so I left her until 5.15 before I went and shook her awake again. We managed to leave the house before 6am, by some miracle. No -one had eaten, do I chucked some cereal bars and fruit in my bag, and off we went.

The roads were mostly clear until we got inside the London orbital. By that time, the traffic was getting heavier, just as we were driving through all the south London boroughs, but still not too bad.

I couldn’t figure out how to turn the satnav on (because I’m really stupid sometimes) so it was a good job I had written out my own directions last night (one of my ways of trying to reduce Jess’s anxiety about today – her fear of getting lost).

Anyway, we got there in good time, and parked exactly where a friend of mine had advised us to park, near a pedestrian entrance at the back of the hospital. Expecting an hour’s wait, since we were there at 8.30 and our appointment wasn’t until 9.30, we walked the short way to the building we needed, checked in and sat down ready to get comfortable with tablets and snacks.

But almost immediately, a smiling nurse came and called for Jessica, and walked us round to Professor Powell’s room.

I have to say, I think he is the nicest, and definitely child-friendliest, doctor we’ve seen yet. He immediately put us all, including Jess, at our ease, and chatted and smiled in a way that looked and felt really genuine. Along with the fact he was seeing us an hour earlier than planned, it just felt great to feel so welcomed and cared for and reassured.

So, once the small talk was done, he asked all the usual history and background questions: sun exposure, how moley she is, any family history of skin complaints, major illnesses, allergies etc.

Then he took a look at her arm and drew a little picture in his notes.

“Well,” he said to Jess, “your tissue sample has now been studied by 2 pathologists at Margate, 5 pathologists at the Royal Marsden, 2 pathologists here at St Johns and we’re still not entirely sure what we are dealing with. So it’s now on its way to Paris, for genetic testing!”

And my jaw dropped.

“At the moment,” he continued, to me this time,  “we’re still not sure whether we are dealing with a melanoma or an atypical spitzoid lesion, because… let me put it this way… if this had been on you, an adult, we’d have instantly called it a melanoma and treated it as such. But because of the rarity in children before puberty, and the clinical history, we kind of think it *just can’t be*, hence the extra pathology.”

I nodded, wide eyed and speechless.

“But whatever is the outcome of that, we still need to schedule this surgery, because that’s still going to need doing, whichever it eventually comes back as.”

So this is where we are at so far. He’s scheduled a wide local excision surgery, under general anaesthetic, for Tuesday 27th Feb, the week after next. We have to be there, at St George’s, by 7.30am, which will mean an even earlier start. Yikes!

But he explained we will most likely be done and ready to come home around lunch time (providing she doesn’t take longer to recover from the anaesthetic).

It will leave a long (about 10cm) scar down her shoulder/arm, which he explained to Jess, and showed her on her arm what he meant. She’s relieved because he said they will use the gas to send her to sleep instead of the injection.

Before we left, he again reassured me, that he’s confident that this will turn out to be benign. I’m pinning my hopes on that at the moment. He’s a top melanoma expert, and he’s the one doctor we’ve seen so far, who has left me feeling reassured. I can’t put my finger exactly on why. I think I believe him.

It was all done in about 20 minutes, and we came out, walked back to the car and started the long drive home.

One other thing I remember him saying, was, like the doctor we saw in Margate, and the consultant we saw at The Royal Marsden, that he was surprised that the initial surgery had been performed under only a local anaesthetic, rather than a general one.

Now, we can enjoy our weekend (we have Geek Festival to go to tomorrow) before we are due back at the Royal Marsden on Monday for (hopefully) a better update on the pathology (must ask for copies!!) and ultrasound on jess’s neck and armpits to check her lymph nodes, I think. Jess’s concern there, is missing her gymnastics class (which she knows she will have to do).

Sunday night 18th Feb 2018

Tomorrow we are going back to the Marsden. I wonder if they’ll have an update on all these 9 different pathologists’ findings. Jess is impressed that her spot is currently in Paris. She understands that it’s now rare, not common. She knows that tomorrow she’s having “pictures” (ultrasound) taken of her armpits, to check it hasn’t spread under her skin. She said, “Oh my god – I’d rather not have spots under my arms! No way!”

Bless her heart.

I love that kid to bits.

Monday 26th Feb 2018

Tomorrow I will be taking Jess to at George’s for the wide local excision surgery under general anaesthetic. My plan is to leave at 4.45am. Heavy snow is forecast. I’m scared of getting stuck in the snow. I’m scared of getting hit by a skiddy lorry on the motorway. I’m scared we won’t get to the hospital in time. I’m scared of Jess going under the knife. I’m scared of the anaesthetic. I’m scared of the wound she’ll be left with, and the scar she will live with for the rest of her life. But all I can say to Jess, is that I’m not scared. Because if she knows I’m scared, she will be scared. And as difficult as it is to keep my fear from her, the prospect of passing that on to her, is ten times worse.

So no, I’m not scared.

Sure I’m wishing we didn’t have to go, but I’m not scared.


Photo: The day before the wide excision surgery

Tuesday 27th Feb 2018

As I write this, Jess is in theatre.

We left home at 4.30am. In the snow. The motorways were snowy and slow. As we got near to Maidstone, everything ground to a halt and we crept along in the snow, wheels slipping on the ice underneath. The windscreen was filthy, and the screen wash or the jets must have been frozen solid because nothing was coming through. I was actually thankful when, every so often, a truck overtook me and kicked up a load of spray, because at least it allowed me to clear my windscreen for a moment. Most of the way the thermometer on the dash said -2, -3 or -4.

Once we were onto the M26, the road was clearer, the verges less snowy and it had actually stopped snowing. We stopped at Clacket Lane services to switch on the sat nav and splash some water on the windscreen to clear off the ice and grime.

I stopped again just after we came off the M25 and began heading into London. The traffic was heavy, not helped by roadworks that took the two lanes down to one, and as the time went on, the roads got busier.

At last we arrived at the hospital car park, and walked around to the main entrance, went in and found out way to the ward.

It was 7.45 when we arrived.

The anaesthetist was the first to come and talk to us. He was young and a bit jittery, which didn’t help my nerves, and Jess found it hard to answer his questions so I did most of that. He reassured us that she could use the gas to go to sleep instead of the injection.

Next a nurse, Sharon, told us that Professor Powell would be over to speak to us soon, and sure enough, he arrived with a couple of other men. He used a black marker to draw the outline around her spot, and a big black arrow pointing to it. He reminded her what we are planning to do, and put her at ease again. Another consultant sat beside me and talked me through the consent form. I checked with him about what we should do if the wound wasn’t healing very well (go to gp) and signed the form.

Jess was smiling, but quiet.

Sharon, our nurse, was great. She came to talk to Jess and do observations. She walked us to the place to be weighed and measured. Then she walked us back to the bed. She put the thermometer under jess’s arm, put the clip on her finger to check her oxygen, took her blood pressure and pulse and then asked all the questions she needed to. Things like allergies, illness, wobbly teeth. Jess proudly showed off her wobbly tooth. I took a couple of photos.

She put wristbands on Jess’s wrists and said she would print some off for her 3 teddies as well. That was Doggy, Eeyore and Tauri. She brought over a gown for Jess to wear to theatre and Jess was pleased to see it was a pretty fabric one instead of a white papery one. And she was pleased that Sharon said she can keep her pants on.

Once Sharon had finished all that, she said we wouldn’t be waiting long, as they were planning to start theatre for the day soon after 9 (it was about 8.30 by this time). I spotted the sign above the bed showing how to get free WiFi, so Jess was happy on her tablet for a bit and I messaged Daddy and sent him a photo. Jess was being super brave. She didn’t seem worried at all.

We looked through the chart that was at the end of the bed, that showed what role all the different staff had, according to their shirt colours. We decided Sharon must be a “Deputy sister or charge nurse” but Jess pointed out that the band around her collar and sleeve were white instead of red, so we weren’t 100% sure.

A lady, whose name I can’t remember, came and introduced herself as a play therapist. She asked Jess questions, but to be honest, by now, having been asked the same questions over and over, Jess had had enough of answering. She reminded us that there is a playroom and said to let her know if we need anything. Jess was happy just playing on her iPad, so she went away.

At about 9.20, the anaesthetist came and told us they were ready. Sharon pulled our curtain round, so we could get Jess into her gown. I put her hair into a band. Sharon and one other nurse came to check Jess’s details again, and put bands on Doggy, Eeyore, and Tauri. Jess decided she’d keep Tauri in theatre with her, and I’d look after the other two. I picked up the blanket, Jess put her Crocs on, and we followed Sharon round to theatre.

We walked down a corridor with lots of staff coming and going, and past a couple of prepping rooms before we reached ours. The anaesthetist and another man and another lady were already in there.

They asked Jess to jump up onto the bed, did all their questions again, took her shoes off and handed her the mask to breathe into. They showed her the balloon, a green balloon with a hole in the top, that the nurse held up. I sat on the edge of her bed and put my hand on her tummy. I told her to blow up the balloon and well done, and nice big puff, and good girl Jess, you’re doing really well. The nurse asked her to try to make it squeak with a really big puff. Her eyes were beginning to close, and then suddenly she pushed the mask away, pulling both hands free to grab it and push it away from her face. Suddenly she was agitated and fighting it. I reminded myself that it’s her body’s natural reaction. The anaesthetist reassured me that she won’t remember it, and even though I’d read that it is completely normal, it was still hard to watch. Then her eyes closed and her hands went still.

“Ok, Mum, she asleep now,” said the anaesthetist, and Sharon said to me, “OK. Let’s go.”

“How do you know she’s properly asleep?” I asked, terrified that they might start the operation while she was still conscious. Sharon reassured me, “She’s definitely asleep and they won’t do anything until they are certain.”

I gave Jess a long kiss on her cheek and said “I love you, Jess,” then I came out. Sharon led me to a chair in an area outside that corridor. And I cried. She told me it was normal to feel emotional, and that it always gets you. She brought me a pager, and told me where to come back to when it beeped. So now I’m waiting. An hour has already passed. They said she’d probably be asleep about an hour, so I’m expecting a beep anytime now.

Part 2 Coming Soon!

(But just to reassure you, we are now 3.5 years into the 5 year follow-up, and all good at the mo 👍 Phew!)


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​Learning to read and write, without being taught: Jessica’s story


This is Jessica.

She is 6 years old and has never been to school. She has never had a reading or writing lesson in her life, yet she is a fluent reader and a competent writer. No-one has ever sat down and taught her. Instead, driven by her own motivation to communicate through text, she has taught herself: discovering her own strategies, finding joy in experimenting with language, and feeling a profound sense of pride in becoming more independent.


Some people believe that children can’t learn to read or write without being taught. Jess is proof that they can.


From a very young age (probably before she could even talk) one or other of us parents has sat (or lain) with Jess in the evenings to read stories. As a baby, we’d choose the stories for her – picture books or board books – but as she grew into a toddler, she’d choose the ones she wanted to hear herself, from the bookshelf or the boxes we had scattered around the house. She would often choose the same books, night after night after night. She would listen, and learn the stories; she learnt the rhythm and the sounds of the spoken words; she noticed if you accidentally read something wrong or missed out a page, and she would pull you up on it. She wasn’t technically reading the printed words on the page, but it was all groundwork, and it was all her own.

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When she was about three, she started to play around and have fun with the text in her favourite books. She’d place her thumb over the last word on a line, so that I couldn’t read it, and would giggle when the sentence ended up making no sense. She would ask me things like, “Where does it say crash, mummy?” and she would point to words that started with the same letter as her name, and ask what they were. She would trace along the lines with her own finger, moving it faster or slower, and would whoop with delight when I changed pace to match her as I read aloud. Over those 2 or 3 years, she went from passively listening to stories, to being able to recite whole picture books by heart, and experimenting playfully with text and language.


Around the same time, she began to recognise a few words by sight, like the big ASDA shop-front sign, which she’d also spot on food packaging, and like the titles of her favourite books and TV programmes. I knew that she was recognising them because of their characteristic visual appearance (the bold, capital, green letters of ASDA, for example), but alongside that, just like with the learning of her picture books of by heart, she was creating associations (albeit likely subconsciously) between the way words and letters looked in print, and how they sounded when spoken.


Because she seemed to be fascinated by words and letters, we picked up some alphabet cards, and I blu-tacked them to a cupboard over out kitchen table, where we sat every lunchtime to eat together. I can’t remember how the game started, or who initiated it, me or her, but she ended up asking for this game every day. While we ate, I would point to a letter, stuck on the cupboard, and she would say its sound. I started easy: the J in her name; the M in mummy; the S that looked like a snake. She’d ask me for more. One day, when she knew a few of them, I moved them over to a strip of wall beside the cupboard, to get them out of the way, and so began ‘the tower’ of letters that she knew. From them on, each time we played we’d build the tower of alphabet cards as high as we could, up the wall, and almost to the ceiling, eventually. It was her game, her motivation. It was her asking to play.




At about 4, she began asking if she could read the bedtime story, instead of me. By this time, she was familiar with so many picture books, and knew many of them word for word. We changed how we managed bedtimes (we had a 3 year old and a 4 year old that we had been reading to together) so that Jess could be afforded the time and patience needed without frustrating Amy. She would choose a book, one that she knew inside out, and as she turned the pages of the book, she would tell the story. At first, she would do it from memory; some of her wording was different to the words on the page – she was retelling as best she could remember, rather than actually accurately reading the words. But I let her, because I could see the value in her feeling of achievement and independence, and I could sense the damage I would do if I were to stop and correct her. And besides, even we adults don’t always read things accurately: we make mistakes; we skim read and fill in the blanks. At that stage, technical accuracy was less important than the pride and self esteem I could see that she was getting from being the reader instead of the listener.




As time went on, she began to pay more attention to the actual text on the page. She would often spot when her own remembered words didn’t match up with the words on the page, and she’d look at the text more carefully, sometimes figuring it out from initial letters, sometimes asking me to read it instead. At some point, she stopped asking to be the reader, and wanted instead to go back to being read to again. And of course that was fine – we went back to all snuggling up together with me in the middle, reading. We followed her lead and went with it.


It was also around this time that she started to want to type words into her tablet. She’d ask me to type “surprise eggs” into you tube, or she’d ask me to type in the name of whichever creature she had just created in an app. She started playing Minecraft, and asked me to help her write signs, or name her worlds. For a long time, I was her tablet scribe, which at times seemed endless and relentless and frustrating (for me and her!).


Playing Minecraft was one of her big motivations in learning this new-found skill. I’d join her in her world, from my own tablet, and we’d build together, sometimes working on the same structure, sometimes creating our own separate ones. She’d ask me about the names of the items in the inventory. She would read my signs I wrote around my Minecraft house… bedroom, bathroom, upstairs… ones she could easily figure out in context, even if she couldn’t decode the whole word through its letters. She began to write in the in-game chat – things like “hi” or “hello” and of course, things she found funny like “poo” and “wee”. And I’d write really simple lines back, simple one-syllable words, that I knew she’d be able to figure out: “look up”, “take this”, “I love you”.


Soon, despite the fact we sitting on the same sofa, we were chatting back and forth through text on in-game chat. Jess would often tell me off if I said something out loud instead of writing it. She loved it.




She started writing more of her own Minecraft signs, to explain what something was, or to welcome you to her shop, or to label different people’s aeroplane seats with their names.



She started playing on Roblox and also on Minecraft minigames servers. She loved the games in which she’d be given a category and have to either build something or design an outfit to fit that category, which would then be put to a vote. Time and time again, I was called on to read the category to her, so she could compete. And I’d grit my teeth and read it to her, for the 29th time that day, trying not to sound exasperated. Then, one day, on Roblox, she suddenly found a way to do it without me. She would look at the word (winter, for example), and even if she couldn’t understand it, she’d type the letters into the search bar on the clothing inventory, and see what came up. The array of clothing in the results would give her all the clues she needed to then figure out the word. Suddenly she was independent.


With books, she had begun to enjoy hearing Mister Men and Little Miss books. She’d previously loved the Biff and Chip series, but had been looking for something different, and Mister Men books seemed to hit the spot for her. She loved the humour; she loved the layout and format, and she loved the fact that there were words that she hadn’t heard before, like nincompoop and calamity and curious. She suddenly found joy in exploring a whole new range of vocabulary  (something that’s conspicuously missing from any phonics reading scheme). At some point (the first time I remember it was on a short car journey) she started to read the books to herself, in her head.


Back online, she grew desperate to chat to other players in-game. Both on Minecraft servers and in Roblox games, she watched the chat. I never managed to get the hang of Roblox, but she didn’t need me. She played role-play games and would write her messages to other characters in the game: the shopkeeper, the school teacher, the baby she was adopting. Suddenly her ability to read words and sentences exploded, and she was writing messages back and forth in full-on dialogue.


By this time, we had set up a Skype account, to allow Jess to talk out loud, across the ether, to her friend that she often joined online. It wasn’t long before she started writing messages on Skype, too.


Offline and away from gaming, throughout those couple of years, she also began to add words to her drawings. Simple names came first, then speech bubbles and signposts. As she grew – and her ideas and her stamina and her patience developed – her drawings became more like comic strips, with multiple speech and thought bubbles, leading on to cartoon-strip sequences, with some text in each picture. When she was 5, she had been given a DanTDM graphic novel as a gift. After asking me to read it to her in the beginning,  she had confidently read the rest of it independently, and I’m pretty sure this was a big part of the inspiration behind her comic-strip drawing style developing.

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Jess is now 6. She loves to draw, but almost every drawing has some writing on it: a speech bubble, a thought bubble, a signpost or a caption. In her mind, there is no distinction between drawing and writing; they are two sides of the same coin – a natural progression in communicating the idea that is in her head, onto paper, to show others. She sometimes plays online games for hours, always socially, communicating with fellow team-members, competitors or role-playing playmates. She recently whispered to me (proudly but not boastfully) that she’d just read a whole chapter book in one go. And most recently, she brought her tablet to me, to show me the most amazing story she had typed into a book on Minecraft – a wonderfully crafted suspense story, complete with beginning, middle and end, of two sisters stranded in a haunted forest, and the horror that befell them.


One day recently, Jess asked me, “How did I even learn to read? Who even taught me?” And honestly? There’s only one answer I could ever give her… “You taught yourself. You wanted to be able to read, so you figured out ways to learn. No-one taught you.”


Of course, to her, it feels strange. She doesn’t remember the particular steps along the way. Her progress in learning to read and write was never a part of anyone’s laid-out plan. She was never told, “Let’s learn about full stops,” or “Great, now you can read 12 sight words,” or “You can’t read that book – it’s too babyish/too hard”. Instead, she was given the time, the space and the opportunities to pursue it as she wanted; as she needed. When the desire or the need arose, she seized it and never looked back.


Nobody else ever taught her to read. It wasn’t someone else’s teaching success. This was all her own accomplishment, her own achievement.
One that I hope she will always feel proud of.



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One day, in the future…

 A  little poem from me, to my beautiful daughters, Jess and Amy…



One day, in the future, when childhood is done,

And all the realities of adulthood come,

We will lie close together and remember the fun,

Of the childhood we spent, when we played in the sun.


We’ll get lost in our memories, and talk of the days,

Of beaches and parks and long holidays,

How we ran through the garden, we climbed and we played,

How we chased all the wintry darkness away.


We’ll remember our evenings, snuggled up tight,

Reassuringly close as we slept through the night, 

How nightmares would jolt us awake with a fright,

And how comfort and love could put everything right.


We will whisper and giggle and share all our thoughts,

Our memories, our wishes, the battles we fought,

Our intertwined feelings and glimpses we caught,

Of the deeper connections that we always sought.


We will lie on our backs and gaze at the stars,

And remember the barbies and legos and cars,

And we’ll know that as beautifully close as we are,

Nothing on Earth could keep us apart.



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​​Government-led home-ed? Here’s a few reasons why Lord Soley needs to rethink his home education bill…

There is a parliamentary bill, currently working its way through the readings and committee stages, which is, quite understandably, angering home educators.



The bill, proposed by Lord Soley, originally called for:


 “local authorities to monitor the educational, physical and emotional development of children receiving elective home education”. 


Lord Soley then apparently had second thoughts, and realised that perhaps he was being rather too ambitious: before his second reading of the bill, he backtracked, saying he would seek to amend it, to take out the “physical and emotional development” aspects.


So… presumably, once it’s amended, the new bill will read, “local authorities to monitor the education of children receiving elective home education”.


It involves:


– compulsory registration of all home educated children with the local authority;

– monitoring and assessment of their education;


with parents possibly obliged to:

– provide information to their local authority when requested;

– allow officers to enter their homes to assess them;

– allow officers to interview their child alone, away from parents;

– provide evidence of children’s work.


The bill also makes mention of “supervised instruction in reading, writing and numeracy”.


But why then, if this is purely about monitoring and assessing quality of education, did Lord Soley continue to talk in parliament, about abuse and neglect, and other (quite blatantly) welfare issues?  About children apparently disappearing and being abused (not home educated)? And about how “clever, intelligent and incredibly manipulative” he has known abusive parents to be? And that we need this bill (in his own words), “because it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything is all right and that the black eye came from the kid falling down the stairs or something of that nature”? 


No, Lord Soley isn’t concerned with the quality of children’s education (if he was, he would surely find many more pressing issues to write bills about, concerning schools and how they are consistently failing some children). 


He is actually concerned about child abuse and radicalisation (which he also mentioned in his speech). And, frustratingly, the home education waters have been so muddied by the media’s portrayal of us (as neglectful, abusive, selfish or extremist pariahs), that this false association of the two totally separate ideas, has become deeply entrenched into the minds of so many. 


And it’s deeply upsetting to so many home educators, many of whom have battled through confrontations with schools and local authority staff (who often have had neither the time or resources to properly support their child) in order to get the best possible education for them. And those who love and care for their children deeply enough to know that the data-driven, exam-factory school system is not the kind of future they want for the entirety of their loved one’s childhood. These are not neglectful or abusive parents. They are simply parents who are going above and beyond what society normally expects of them, to ensure the best for their child. Is it any wonder we get angry when Soley declares to parliament, “I knew then that the parents of children who took them out of school seeking to abuse them, knew that they could hide the child.”


Is it any wonder that we find it insulting?


Yes, it is right to be concerned about child abuse, neglect and radicalisation. But why does he (along with countless others) continue to link these problems to home education?


Children from all educational backgrounds are vulnerable to abuse or radicalisation, and of course measures must be in place to try to prevent or intervene. But in home education, these measures already exist, and work well. Social services follow up reports (which might come from anywhere – relatives, friends, neighbours, even strangers) of abuse or neglect. The one case of neglect that Solely mentions specifically, that of Dylan Seabridge, a child who died of suspected scurvy, was complicated by the way the family was supported (or not) by social services. Concerns were raised about his welfare,  and could have been followed up by social services, but never were. Instead, only an education officer was sent to assess his education.  Since then, home education has been systematically used as a scapegoat. Could his life have been saved if he had been seen by healthcare or childcare or social care professionals? Quite possibly, yes. Did he die because he wasn’t assessed by an education officer? No. Social services should have checked on that child, and didn’t. It was nothing to do with his home education.


And the sad truth is that being in school, or being “visible” to authority figures, does not prevent or stop abuse. As the NSPCC acknowledges, 1 in 10 children have experienced neglect.  And the figures for abuse of all kinds are startling.  Like Soley himself said, abusive parents can be clever and manipulative. It remains hidden. How on Earth does he think a once-a-year meeting and educational inspection will prevent or alert authorities to abuse? 


And the misconception that we are doing this in order to neglect, abuse or radicalise our children, is not the only reason we are enraged…


By law, the responsibility to ensure that an appropriate education is being provided, lies with the parent. Section 2 of this document, gives really good run-down of the legal position (Lord Soley himself might do well to read this!). Often, families choose to delegate the task to a school. Otherwise, as the law stands now, parents are trusted with that responsibility, in much the same way that they are trusted to keep their children safe, healthy and fed. Of course, if a concern is reported, on any aspect of a child’s rights or welfare, to a local authority or social services, then they currently have (and usually do use) powers to investigate and intervene. These provisions and powers are already in place, and regularly used.


But no part of parenting responsibility is routinely and indiscriminately monitored like this bill is proposing, on an annual basis. 


You would not expect a welfare officer to demand access to your home to inspect your living arrangements once a year, to check you are raising your child correctly. You wouldn’t let a stranger come in and check your kitchen cupboards, fill in an assessment form detailing what foods you are planning to feed your child, demand evidence to prove they have been fed correctly, and demand an interview, alone with your child, to interrogate them on what they have eaten over the last year. 


Nor would you expect to have an officer turn up at your door once a year, to inspect, interrogate and document your child’s sleeping arrangements, or their hygeine or health, or that you are providing them with love, or water… or any of the other things that are considered to be rights of children. Parents are still – thankfully – trusted to be parents.


And so in that same way, we should not expect an “education officer” (a stranger who knows nothing meaningful about our family, or children, or our situation) to show up once a year, interrogate us about our child’s education, demand to see evidence, demand to speak with our child alone (even police officers do not have that provision), before filling out a form and making a judgement on whether we are doing all this well enough to be able to continue.


It’s just simply absurd.


Home education is hard work, and demanding, and there will inevitably be families that struggle or need support. But that provision is already in place. The local authority are already on hand to support as needed, and should they have reason to be concerned that a home ed child’s education is inadequate, they have the powers to make enquiries or investigate (though in reality, even now many families find the local authority education officers to be anything but helpful).


Interestingly, this week, BBC Breakfast ran a week-long series covering Special Educational Needs, kicking it off with a look at how enormous numbers of families feel let down by the school system, and turn instead to home education, as the only real way to support their child’s learning.


When many home educators have taken on this role as a result of desperation with the inadequate support provided by schools, it’s no wonder that we find the idea of a local authority “education officer” making this ‘adequate or inadequate’ judgement, rather concerning.


In schools, trained teachers, SENDCOs, educational professionals, with access to a multitude of outside agencies to call on, are failing to support many of our youngsters. What on Earth makes them think that a local authority “education officer” will suddenly become an expert in all these complex and diverse children’s needs, and become capable and competent at judging whether the education we provide for them is suitable. If it wasn’t so devastatingly serious, it would be laughable.



And what about providing evidence? Home education doesn’t – and shouldn’t – involve the gathering of evidence. Unlike schools, who gather evidence on our behalf, since they are providing the service of educating our children, home educated children often learn in a more natural, organic way. Learning is driven by purposeful, real-life experiences, not by worksheets or study books or portfolios of evidence. Who is to say that an “education officer” will understand that a lack of worksheets or exercise books doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of learning? Who knows what criteria might be set by local authorities, in order to tick that box? 


Lord Soley himself admitted that he had little knowledge of education. He also probably has zero knowledge of the thousands upon thousands of home educating families. And because he has no knowledge, he is afraid. But his fear is misplaced. 


Home education is not the dangerous beast that it’s been made out to be. It is simply a widespread community of families, who have chosen this path for a wide variety of reasons, determined to provide the best possible opportunities and learning environment for their children. And they are doing it in a peaceful, non-confrontational way, just minding their own business and raising their children into well-educated, well-rounded  young adults that are motivated and successful.


If a bill is needed, it is nothing to do with home education. The focus needs to shift. A home education bill is nothing more than a big white elephant.


By all means, let’s turn the spotlight onto abuse, neglect and radicalisation. But if you think you’ll find it in an annual home education inspection, then you are seriously misguided. The only things you will find there, are anger, reluctance and wariness.


We don’t want government-led home ed. 


All we want is to get on with things ourselves, without unnecessary bureaucratic interference, putting pressure on our children.


And to not be misrepresented as abusive, neglectful, manipulative extremists.


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You are the child

That will see the pain

That man has caused

That the earth has felt.


You are the child

That will grow in time

To learn the truth

That hurts your heart.



You are the child

that will wonder why

And wonder how

It reached this far.



You are the child

That will dare to dream

Of other paths

To heal our world.


You are the child

That will make the spark

That will fuel the fire

That comes from your heart.



You are the child

That will light the flame

That will burn with desire

To make the change.



You are the child

That will light the path

To teach the world

To heal the earth.


You are the child.


© All rights reserved,, 2017


Don’t forget – I’m now also on Facebook. Find my page here  Hope to see you there!


You are the child.


You don’t HAVE to send your 4-year-old to school

All over England, parents of 3- and 4-year-olds are thinking about school. Local schools are advertising open days; local authorities are sending out mailshots, detailing the deadlines by which “you must submit”; there are even radio adverts telling you that you need to apply for a school place before it’s too late.


But if you are one of the (increasingly) numerous parents who feel uneasy with the thought of sending your young child to school, it’s important to know that you CAN choose not to.


That’s right. Your 4-year-old does NOT have to go to school.




I realise that for some families, it seems absolutely the right thing to do, and I totally understand that. But I know there are parents out there who, like I was, are uncomfortable with the idea of their 4-year-old going off into full-time school, for whatever reason. Maybe because it feels like too much when they are still so tiny. Or because they feel like they need to be in the loving care of close family for a bit longer. Or maybe because, like me, since watching their children learn freely and naturally, their whole outlook on institutional education has changed.


Whatever the reason, the option – the perfectly valid and legal option – to NOT send your 4-year-old to school, is relatively unknown, and rarely talked about. Local authority literature often makes little (if any) mention of the fact that education at 4 is not compulsory. Nor do they publicise the fact that school – at any age – is optional. Instead, they seem, in many cases, to keep this information hidden away in a corner of their website, that you might only find if you type in the right search term.


So here’s the information you might find helpful, if you have (or know of) a 3- or 4-year-old, that might not be suited to school right now.


Firstly, in England, a child’s education is only compulsory from the beginning of the term after their 5th birthday. (For more legalities, see this link.)


This means that if you have a child who is 4, you are under NO LEGAL OBLIGATION to begin any kind of education at all, let alone send them off to full-time school. Of course, in reality, your 1-, 2-, 3- or 4-year-old has been educated in one way or another since birth, since it’s in their inherent nature to learn through their own self-motivation to explore and connect with their surroundings. But legally, you do not have to do anything at all. And you don’t have to inform anyone either (see below).


After your child has turned 5, you then have a legal duty to ensure they are receiving an appropriate education. And the law says you MAY use school for this. You don’t have to; it’s your choice. But it’s a choice that many people don’t seem to know about.


If the thought of school for your little one doesn’t feel right, or if it just feels like too much, too young, you’re not alone. A growing number of families are turning their backs on our ridiculously young school-starting age, and doing things their way, to suit their family.


Before coming to a decision, it’s worth taking time to think it through, weigh up the pros and cons, talk to trusted friends or family, and even do some reading about alternative education options.


Then, if you DO decide NOT to send your 4-year-old to school, your next steps will depend on how far along you are in the school application procedure.


If you have never submitted an application for a school place for your child, you do not have to anything at all. You can simply continue as you are, providing for your child in a way you choose. School is an opt-in system. You do not have to respond to the letters telling you about the application process (if you receive them – some do not), nor do you have to inform the local authority, or anyone else, that you won’t be using a school. Some local authorities “recommend” that you inform them or register with them as a home educator, as they like to be able to keep their records up to date, but again, you are under no obligation to do so.


If you have already submitted an application for a place in reception, and then decide you do not wish your child to go, you should let the local authority know as soon as you can, that you no longer require the place. You could wait until nearer the time and then decline or deregister if necessary (see below), but retracting your application as soon as you’ve made the decision, means that place may be offered to another family at an earlier stage.


If you have already been offered a place, or had one assigned for you, or if your child has already started school, you will need to formally deregister by notifying the school in writing (there are sample templates available for this). From that moment, you need not send your child, anymore.


For some people, it can be a huge relief to know that you (and your child) do not have to do this. If it feels unnatural or uncomfortable, or goes against your inner gut feelings, then trust in your instinct. You know, instinctively, what is right for your young child.


The decision you make now is not a permanent, set-in-stone, irreversible decision. You can always take it, as we and many others do, year by year, deciding as a family what feels right. There is always the option of entering school later on. Some families end up never using schools at all, but for many others, it’s simply a case of delaying it until their child is ready. If you decide to home educate for a bit after your child turns 5, there is plenty of community-based support to help you. A quick search on google should bring up  national and local home education pages, which are a good place to start.



There are a few other points to bear in mind as you weigh up your options:


1) Having a place in reception, usually means a guaranteed place at that school in a child’s future years. If you decide not to enter your child in reception, there is no guarantee that in future there will be place available at your local/preferred school, if you later decide that your child is now ready. Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 classes are often fully subscribed. You may find yourself having to look further afield.


2) Although at 4 you are under no obligation to provide an “education” for your child, from the beginning of the term after their 5th birthday, you are. This means from that point on, it would be unwise to ignore any letters from the local authority making enquiries, which they are entitled to do if they have reason to believe an education may not be being provided. Ignoring enquiry letters can give them more cause for concern. Instead there are a number of helpful websites that provide template response letters.


3) Some parents with “summer-born” children have had success with requesting a “deferred entry”, in which schools have reserved places for the child until the following year, or even allowed them to enter reception a year later than they would have. It’s worth looking into, if you think this might suit your child.


4) Some schools may agree to the option of “flexi-schooling”, which involves part-time attendance. I have never personally known anyone to have success with this request (it is at the discretion of the head teacher of a school to allow it), but it may be worth a try if you think it could work.


5) Although, legally, non-school education is the default option, and despite the growing numbers of people not opting-in, in wider society, school at 4 is still by far the most common choice, and as a result, you may find yourself feeling like you are swimming against the tide when met with wave after wave of curious (but usually well-intentioned) questions and comments from onlookers. Feel proud of your choice to stand up for what you know is right for your family.



Parents of 3- and 4-year-olds agonise over choosing the “right” school for their child. A tremendous amount of thought, time and emotion – quite rightly – goes into making the decision, weighing up all the options and picking the best schools for their application.


It’s just a shame that so often there is this ONE option that doesn’t enter their thoughts, or is not even known about, or is too easily dismissed.


The option to NOT send their 4-year-old to any school, but to keep them close by them for a bit longer.


It’s definitely an option worth considering.


Please feel free to forward this to anyone who you think might find it useful.


Don’t forget – I’m now also on Facebook. Find my page here  Hope to see you there!


The freedom that I hope they will always have…

Tonight, as I lay beside my daughters and watch them peacefully fall asleep, I think about the freedom that I hope they will always have:


The freedom to stay up that little bit later, playing, or reading that extra story that they ask for, before they fall asleep;


The freedom to sleep late in the morning if they need to, because there is nowhere that we absolutely must be by a certain time;


The freedom to play whatever – and whenever – they want;


The freedom to spend their time as they wish;


The freedom to be whomever they choose to be, on any given day;


The freedom to think and learn for themselves, and not be forced to fit somebody else’s vision of what they should be;


The freedom to grow up knowing their true self and what is in their hearts and their minds, and to follow that;


Freedom to choose, freedom to explore and learn in their own way, and freedom to be themselves, to pursue their own individuality.


I hope they will always be free spirits.


Don’t forget – I’m now also on Facebook. Find my page here  Hope to see you there!


Life Learning: how education happens in our family

In England, education is compulsory for all children from the age of 5. Many people assume ‘education’ means ‘school’, but thankfully we still have the choice (unlike some other countries) to educate our children ourselves. And it doesn’t have to mimic school. In fact studies such as this one, although only small in scale, have shown that non-school-like learning is actually incredibly effective.


So here’s how it looks for the children (aged 5 and 6) in our family.


Please note: I speak only for our family, and only for this moment in time. All families are different, and have their own priorities, philosophy and methods. I am not speaking for the home educating community in general. Only for us. It’s also possible that in the future, our circumstances may change, in which case we’ll adapt if we need to.

1) They learn about things as they arise


We don’t plan ‘topics’ or ‘themes’ or units of work. There is so much inspiration that arises naturally from our everyday lives, that it doesn’t seem necessary to plan things out in blocks. If something in particular sparks an interest, we talk about it, ask questions, find answers, go and visit somewhere that’s related to it. But it’s usually all quite spur of the moment. And often, the interest is fleeting, with them moving pretty quickly onto an interest in something else. It’s natural, it’s fluid and it’s personal to them.


This is also true for reading, writing and maths. We don’t sit down and ‘do lessons’. Our children have learnt to read through normal, natural, everyday experiences – signposts, cards in games, computer games. Our board games and family games often involve some reading or writing or maths. But we play them for fun, usually at their suggestion, not in order to teach them something.


Sometimes they decide to draw pictures with speech bubbles or labels on them, or they write messages on little cards or notelets they’ve made. Sometimes Jess, 6, will write a whole letter or story, without being asked. Sometimes they ask how to spell words, or how to form specific letters, but it’s on their terms. If they don’t want to, they won’t.


Often, mostly before bed, they ask for us to read books together. They sometimes decide to follow the words with their fingers or their eyes as I read to them. Sometimes they ask to read. Sometimes Amy (who’s 5 and not a competent reader just yet) “reads” the story by telling it from memory or from the illustrations, and feels dead proud of herself for it. They stay there as long as they want to, and they ask questions about the words or the story whenever they think of them. It’s in their hands.


More recently, Jess has been learning LOTS of writing skills on social online games. The in-game chat features (with appropriate supervision and internet safety education, of course) and writing opportunities on games like Minecraft and Roblox, have been a massive motivation for her.



2) They mostly learn through play
My two girls will play for hours, on their own, with each other, with friends, or with us. Role play, board games, fantasy games, computer games, guessing games, pretending-to-be-daft games, tickling, play fighting, trampolining, drawing games, tree-climbing…


Natural learning opportunities arise all the time during proper, self-directed, free play. As well as the obvious ones, like co-operation, friendship and turn-taking, there are more subtle or incidental learning experiences involving sciences (like hunting for woodlice, balancing the seesaw and exploring how liquids behave with water play), maths (like keeping score, sharing out cards, estimating time, budgeting in-game finances in computer games), writing (like letters or notes in role play, score-keeping, in-game online chat), and loads more.



The things that are important to them as children, the necessary elements they need for their lives in that moment, occur spontaneously and naturally. If they, at this time, have no necessity for – or interest in – learning about a particular historical time period, or a particular region of the world, or a particular abstract mathematical idea, then I see no point in pursuing it right now. We’ll wait until the need arises, or until their natural curiosity leads them down those particular routes. But for now, they’re happy to play.


3) We don’t do tests, mark work or keep records of attainment


All those tests that schools are subject to – the ones that you hear of in the news, as children’s-rights groups and teaching unions oppose them – are totally unnecessary for home educated children. Formal school tests, ie the national curriculum (sats) tests, are designed to measure a school’s success, not to give useful information about the student. Baseline tests and phonics tests are also for the benefit of the school, not the child. But even informal tests and worksheets – for us – are not necessary. While they may be invaluable in giving a class teacher an impression of their students’ learning, in the one-to-one learning environment outside of school, we can see, directly and on a daily basis, what our children can and can’t do. Likewise, marking and record-keeping may help a class teacher to keep track, but with just our own children to educate, there really is no need for it. Instead, we do stuff, we enjoy it, and we move on.


4) Learning happens anywhere, any time


For all the reasons I’ve explained above, there’s no such thing in our household, as ‘school time’ or ‘learning time’. Instead, it happens any time of day (and yes, often late at night), any day of the year, at home or out and about. So don’t be surprised to see home educating families out shopping, playing, running errands, visiting theme parks or play centres, or anywhere else, during conventional school hours. School time and term time mean nothing to us (except the opportunity for visiting quieter, less crowded places, and more affordable holidays, of course).



5) They have ownership of it


Because we don’t force any school-type learning on them, our children have real ownership over the things they do choose to do. They come up with ideas and put them into action. An everyday occurrence or a random question, can spark a journey to discover more, or a desire to create, or the curiosity to delve deeper. And it’s their ideas, their creations, driven by their curiosity or imagination. And when they’ve had enough, or satisfied their curiosity, or lost interest, they are free to let it go.


6) Sometimes we have to say no


From the outside, looking in, it may look like we let our children do whatever they want, all the time. And while there may be some home educators that work this way, where the child’s autonomy and freedom extend to all areas of everyday life (sometimes known as radical unschooling), we are not in that place.


As a family, we do our best to live in a way that is respectful – to all of us. Although we try to take the children’s ideas and inspiration and run with them, sometimes it’s just not possible. When the kids genuinely want to do something, or go somewhere, or purchase something, we try to be open-minded and say yes. But sometimes we have to say no.


Money is one reason. For example, both of our children want their own computer. And while, in a radical unschooling family, the response might be an enthusiastic yes, and while I can see the endless educational value in it, the truth is we just couldn’t afford it; we are already tightly budgeting. Instead we have to make do with what we’ve got, taking turns. Which of course, sometimes causes frustration.


Also, with two young children, neither of whom are old enough to be left alone at home, it’s impossible at times, to agree on activities. Sometimes we have to say no, and one or other -or both- has to concede.


And sometimes, simply for the sake of my own sanity, I have to say no. When the thought of doing whatever they are asking fills me with dread, through my own exhaustion or stress, out of respect for myself, I say no.





Education in our family is rooted in respect: respect for our children’s autonomy and freedom, and equal respect for all members of the family. In my title, I called it “life learning”, but some may call it autonomous learning or unschooling.


In the most recent edition of John Holt’s book, Teach Your Own, co-author Pat Farenga says:

“When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.”


I feel like that sums us up perfectly. Our family certainly feels full of freedom – and trust – for our children to be in charge of their own learning.


A quick note about the future


Sometimes I’m asked about what we’ll do when the kids are older, when it comes to secondary school age… exams… qualifications… higher education…


At the moment, if I’m honest, I don’t know. Things may change. But I’m hoping they’ll stay as they are. I’m pretty sure, by the time they are teenagers, my children won’t still want to be playing doctors or barbies or orchard board games. They will find other interests and pastimes, and maybe even find something they are passionate about that will lead them down a path to a career. They will learn what they need to learn to get there, just as they are doing now, and just as we adults do. Maybe that will mean exams and qualifications; maybe it won’t. Maybe it will mean hours of study; maybe it will mean hours of doing whatever they are passionate about.


The beauty of this kind of education, is that it’s not mapped out. It can go in any direction at all.


And THAT is exciting!


Don’t forget – I’m now also on Facebook. Find my page here  Hope to see you there!



Unlearning what I’ve learnt: why my teaching qualification doesn’t help me home educate

When I tell people I home educate, I can often predict how the conversation will go. When I also tell them I’m a school teacher, it’s even more predictable. A typical conversation goes something like this:


“So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a primary school teacher…”
“Ah, I guess that’s a big help then!”

Actually, it’s not.

In fact, if I’m 100% honest, I’d say it’s been more of a hindrance, than a help. There’s a widely held misconception that qualification or experience as a school teacher, would make the job of home educating easier. I’ve even seen parents asking if they ought to train as a teacher before they home educate, believing it might help.

It won’t.

I worked as a teacher long before I even thought about home educating; long before I had children of my own. And it wasn’t until I had my own and watched them grow from babies into young children, that I began to realise how contrived and unnatural school education is. Now that my two are both compulsory school age, the difference between how children naturally learn, and how children learn in school, is even more obvious; it became so glaring in fact, that it made continuing in my job as a school teacher, increasingly difficult.  In truth, teacher training and classroom experience, give us very little understanding of the way children learn if they’re not in school.

I wrote recently, about why home educated children get along just fine without needing qualified teachers, and really, the reason that home educating is no easier as a teacher, is just an extension of that. School experience taught me how to help children learn in a school setting, under specific school conditions, with a specific curriculum and resources. But it is no help at all in understanding how my own free children learn, which is totally different.

Some people assume it would help with specific subject knowledge, that you could then teach your child. It won’t. You can’t learn every subject in detail. Even primary school teachers don’t do this, despite having to teach the whole lot. They often teach outside of their knowledge comfort zone. Teaching isn’t about knowing all the facts.


Some people think it helps you understand how children learn. Again, it doesn’t because, as I mentioned earlier, learning in school is nothing like autonomous learning at home. Admittedly, some home educators follow very ‘school-like” plans and procedures, and I would guess that maybe, in this case, teaching experience might be of value. I suppose if you’re choosing to run your home like a mini school, it could be useful to know how schools operate – how they get children to learn. But for unschoolers (or autonomous home educators) like us, who use a totally different approach to learning, school procedures and institutional pedagogy are pretty much redundant.


Maybe it gives me more inspiration or more ideas – more exciting ways to help my kids learn?  No.  Because a lot of school learning (not all, of course) is actually pretty dull. Classrooms, unit plans, textbooks, worksheets, PowerPoints, partner-talk, chalk and talk, extended writing, guided reading…. Compare this with the freedom of taking the learning anywhere, anytime, going off on tangents, following a dream, meeting new people, seeing and experiencing things in real life rather than on an interactive whiteboard screen or on a handout. Compared with the opportunities that home education offers, the classroom experience is really quite uninspiring.


Or maybe it helps to have worked with lots of different children? Still no. The only children you really need to know in depth, in order to home educate, are your own. The experience of having taught other people’s children is of no value whatsoever. Why would you need to know in-depth how other children learn? It might be useful to look into alternative learning styles if you really can’t find things that work for your own child, but there’s plenty of reading material freely available that will help with this. You certainly don’t need to have been there and done that.

Some people think it might make it easier to find (or make) resources… no. I use Google and YouTube, mainly.


It isn’t just me saying this. I see, all the time online, home educators who are NOT school teachers reassuring others that they manage fine, that teaching experience or qualifications are unnecessary, that you can learn alongside your child. I’m not saying everybody would feel confident or able to educate their own children: it’s a big and scary step away from the norm. But being a teacher doesn’t suddenly somehow fill you with confidence. In fact, I suspect in a lot of cases it does the opposite, leaving teachers stressed and anxious.


Teaching provides skills in classroom management, crowd-teaching, curriculum planning, lesson planning, scrutinising data and results, behaviour management and report writing. But these aren’t helpful in the slightest for unschooling. And even if we were using a more structured approach, I’m pretty sure we would get by without a certificate or a whole load of school experience. It’s just too different.


But here’s what it HAS helped with…
It has shown me how not to do it. I’ve seen too many 10- and 11-year-olds (as well as plenty older and some younger), totally disillusioned by school, reluctant to learn and reluctant to behave. Years of having curriculum forced on them, and erosion of their opportunity to play and develop naturally, has taken its toll. I looked at them and the environment they were coming into every day, and thought, “There has to be a better way…”


Thankfully, I found it.


More valuable than any previous teaching experience or qualification, is the time spent watching and working with your own kids; following their lead, their interests, their dreams; the freedom (and unpressured and space) to respond to their needs; and a few books about how children truly learn if they’re not tied to school.

It is true that a lot of home educators are, or have been, teachers, but it’s not because being a teacher makes it any easier. There are thousands of home educators who are not teachers, who do an amazing job.


Has my teaching qualification and experience been useful in home ed? No. In fact, I’ve had to consciously unlearn everything I learned about… well, learning.


Children leaving the school system for home education are encouraged to “deschool”. We home educating teachers need that just as much, to unlearn everything we learnt about learning.

Don’t forget – I’m now also on Facebook. Find my page 
here  Hope to see you there!


Re: Home education

**A friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, has asked me to share this publicly, so others can also share it with their own friends and family. Please feel free 💜**

Dear all,

Re. Home education

Many of you will start to see articles/hear radio progs/watch tv series’ showing home education in a negative light. This is going to be ramped up quite a bit at the moment due to a Private Member’s Bill, started in the Lords, that’s going for its second hearing in Parliament. A Bill that wants to introduce Ofsted-style regulation to those that choose to HE (which is often one of the many reasons we choose NOT to send our children into the state school system). Aside from the fact that there is nowhere near enough money in the government’s pot (Brexit, anyone?) to start regulation, home ed will, for the next few months, take a battering in the press in an attempt to get the public angry and on board.

To my friends and family that don’t wholly approve of our choice, this coverage is designed to encourage those negative feelings you have. To make you feel angry about how unfair it is that you get fined for taking your child on holiday in term time and we don’t; that your children are subjected to tests and ours are not; that we can choose how our children learn – in fact, our CHILDREN can choose how they learn – while those in school have no choice but to learn the national curriculum. The list is endless. Obviously, as we all know, different horses for different courses. School and home education are different and each works well for different children. But lots of people don’t like that there is a choice and don’t like that many people choose to opt out of state education (this also includes those who choose private education, by the way). 

Those of us who home educate are actually saving the state around £5000 per year, per child. That’s the average amount a school place costs annually. We get no funding – it is entirely self-financed – and that’s a choice we make. So, while many people often mistakenly believe they are financing this way of life for those that choose it, they couldn’t be more wrong: By our children NOT attending school, we are actually saving the state thousands of pounds and not costing YOU a penny. 

If you know my husband and me, and if you know our son, you’ll know we’re just a regular family. And you may then be able to appreciate that the overwhelming majority of home ed families are not like the ones portrayed in the media. In fact, those being portrayed negatively are, in reality, probably not like that either! These people have no media-training and don’t understand how context and words can be easily twisted and edited. In the same way that most schooled families are not like those featured on programmes that show school-kids in a negative light. An illusion designed to get a reaction.

Don’t fall for it! It’s a ploy to get a Private Member’s Bill through government. This is how the wicked web of deceit works. 

Thanks for reading 😉