Monday, 30 December 2013

The Joy of Seasonal Learning

New year, new start - or so they say, and it works for me!

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions - as I said to a friend, there's something about setting a self-imposed rule that makes me almost immediately break it (perhaps it's a continuation of my allergy to 'should's!)  Resolutions aside though, I do love fresh starts - and especially at the beginning of a new year as it always comes hot on the heels of Christmas excess and chaos, just when I am itching to pack the decorations away and see a bit of peaceful order restored (well, as peaceful as this house gets, anyway).  It wasn't just Christmas this year, either - it's been the culmination of the whole of the preceding month's frustration, owing to my being mostly unable to do anything much except lie still.  The month before was pretty limiting too:  talk about itching to move on to a fresh season!

Today I was able to do a bit of sorting out and tidying up.  I can't do too much still, but I can do a lot more than this time last week even, and boy, am I in the mood to pick up the reins again!  I am thoroughly in the mood for a good sort-out, and a bit more structure.  Happily, I think the boys are too.  We enjoyed our season of total autonomy - it was what we needed at the time - and now I am seeing signs of them wanting/ needing a bit more structure (I don't think it's just me wishing it on them).  As always, we won't be too heavy on the structure, as none of them do well in that environment.  I think we will be tweaking the gentle plan from September - alternating days of MathsWhizz and Reading Eggs (or workbooks for Eldest as I think Reading Eggspress has lost its appeal for him) - and then plenty of hands-on activities available: science, art, baking, hopefully some learning invitations.  We may well start some new lapbooks too as the boys really enjoy them every now and then - and our groups of course, once I can start driving again.  I still want to have lots of time available for them to follow their own interests, but I have found that while in some seasons they thrive on being given space to do whatever they like, there are other times when it can get a bit heavy for them having to self-motivate, and they need me to give them a booster: point them in a general direction of learning that I think will stimulate them and require a little effort on their part.  It kind of primes their system and gets their engines running again.

The longer we home educate, the more I love the freedom of continual assessment - not in the school sense of targets and testing, but in the sense of "is this still working?" etc.  It's all utterly seasonal, and I am really happy that we get to change about and mix things up, to keep their learning fresh and enjoyable.  Happily for me, they all seem to thrive on change too, so we all get to experience the joys of new season together.

Hubby goes back to work on the 6th, so I think that will be a natural place to start a new loose routine.  That gives me a week to chat to the boys and find out their ideas for the coming month(s), and to draw up a new plan.  Exciting stuff!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Cheering on the Cheerleaders

One of the surprise blessings from our decision to home educate has been the abundance of simply lovely people out there who I have been privileged to meet.  I have made some really good friends through connecting on the internet (and then in person) over our shared commitment to educating our children.  We're not all the same: we have different backgrounds and different approaches to home education, but we know how to celebrate the differences and positively delight in the similarities.

I was chatting again to one of my awesome and inspiring friends this morning.  She has been following a mostly autonomous route and has, I think, been slightly surprised to find themselves heading into an area of some structure as her gifted eldest son has taken on a university-level course at home.  It is a subject that he absolutely loves, but is not so much in my friend's area of expertise, and we were chatting about how it's OK for home educators to not know and understand every subject to the highest level.  One of the most common questions fired at home educators is the one asking "how can you teach them everything they need to know, especially at secondary/ GCSE level?".  The simple answer is that we can only take them as far as our ability allows.  Most of the time this means learning alongside them (or just staying one step ahead for a time, until they find their own feet), but at some point it is inevitable that their interests and gifts will overtake us in areas, as they are not - and were never meant to be - mini versions of ourselves.  HOWEVER if we have done our jobs well, we will have instilled in them a love of learning, a confidence in themselves to be able to find out the answers to what they want to know.

At present there is very little that my boys want to know that I cannot easily find out, digest and pass on to them.  Their interest has not yet reached much further than mine.  But one day it will.  For Eldest, I can tell that day is only just around the corner in some areas, and I am learning to not be bothered about whether I can find out enough to be able to carry on teaching him.  I am more bothered with the concern of whether I have instilled in him enough confidence that he can find out his own answers - that if he hits a complicated patch he will have the strength within to hold on to his desire to learn and find his own motivation to work through the parts he doesn't understand until he has conquered and understood whatever it is that he wants to understand.  I will do my best to learn alongside him for as long as I can, but when he reaches a level that is beyond my ability and/ or interest, I'm not going to just leave him to it, or try to steer him towards an area that I am better acquainted with, I am just going to do my best to encourage him, support him and boost his morale.  I do not have to have all the answers, and I would be essentially limiting him if I led him to believe otherwise.

It is only in school where the focus is on increasing information: where it is the teacher's job to inform and the student's job to listen and memorise.  In home education the focus is on building the whole individual.  It is our role to stand alongside and encourage each individual to fulfil their potential, in whatever form that takes.  We are not teachers; we are cheerleaders.  My boys have their own lives to lead, their own destinies to fulfil, their own races to run - and those races are almost guaranteed to look very different to mine, their Dad's or each other's, but each of them still is not running a solitary race.   Hubby and I are there every step of the way, chief cheerleaders for all our boys.  We are the ones bursting with pride to see their abilities outstrip our own, the ones yelling at the top of our voices every step of the way, "you can do this!". 

Why did team GB do so well in the 2012 Olympics?  Training of course (we are our children's personal trainers, helping them to reach further in their chosen area than we ever could), plus they all acknowledged the enormous benefit of being on home ground where they experienced the tangible support of all the crowds cheering them on, boosting their energy when they needed it most.  I love that we can be personal trainer and cheerleader for our kids. 

And so today I want to acknowledge all you other cheerleaders out there.  I want to tell you that "you can do this too", especially those of you who are just starting out, or those of you who may have hit a hurdle.  You are doing an awesome job, cheering on a new generation of children who will grow up to believe in themselves, who will not be limited by what you don't know, but rather empowered to go further than you or they could have imagined.   And even more than that, by acknowledging and supporting each other in our common role as home educator regardless of individual style, we are all cheering each other on, and each others' children too - it's like a great Home Ed stadium, filled with an enormous roar of overwhelming support.

Good job, cheerleaders!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Training in Housework

If you've been following, you'll know I have back issues at the moment (a bulging disc pinching the sciatic nerve).  I'm not going to go on about it, because to be quite honest I am thoroughly fed up with the subject - but it has meant that for the last two or three weeks in particular I have been unable to do anything much except alternately laying flat and gently mooching about the house.  This has meant that my doing the housework has been all but impossible, so I have had to enlist the boys  help far more than usual.

Eldest has been an utter star.  He loves his rewards and incentives, and we had some Star Wars collecting cards  left over from when he asked for them to be used as rewards for completing his Maths Whizz & Reading Eggspress exercises.  I really dislike using incentives for learning: I think it is counter-productive when trying to foster an enthusiasm for learning, so we ditched them as reward a while ago.  Eldest found them the other day and asked if he could earn them any other way - i.e. by doing jobs over and above his usual job of unloading the dishwasher and keeping his bedroom tidy.  Talk about perfect timing!  Since then he has enthusiastically been folding up the freshly-laundered clothes, loading the dishwasher, making breakfast/ lunch for his brothers, feeding the wildlife, and other jobs.  He is totally thrilled with his cards, and I am relieved to have an ally in the housework.  He has also been utterly brilliant and reliable at helping with the hedgehogs every day since they first arrived, so please forgive this moment of Mummy bragging - I'm very proud of him!

Middle and Youngest have been less desirous to help - they have been very sweet about helping when asked, but they are not motivated by incentives, and understandably just want to play if left to their own devices.  Today though it was time to tackle their shared bedroom - it was a total nightmare and just had to be done.  I knew they wouldn't be able to cope without supervision, but I was unable to do much by way of practical help, so I lay on one of the beds and came up with games to try to make it more fun for them and help them to stay focused on the task.  First we had the bulldozer game, pushing all the mess into piles.  Then we saw how many pieces of any particular toy (lego/ knex/ marble run etc) they could fit in their hands at a time, to carry to the box.  The last game that they loved, and saw them through to completion, was me calling out a couple items that I could see amidst the mess, and they had to find them and put them away before I called out the next couple of items.

Usually I don't have the patience for games like that - normally I help them sort things into more manageable piles for them to tidy away, and that takes much less time.  Today it took a good couple of hours to finish their room without me helping practically, but necessity being the mother of invention meant that we managed to find a way for the boys to do the whole mess themselves, and without much complaining too - hooray!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Dear Teacher

OK this post was written with some trepidation at how well it would be received, but a recent post in an online discussion prompted me to write this.  The vast majority of the comments were full of dismay at the school system but praise for their children's previous teachers, and echoed many of my own thoughts, so I felt the need to write this:

Dear Teacher,

Although we have made the decision to deregister our children from your school and educate them ourselves at home, we want you to know that it is not because of anything you have - or have not - done.  We know that you truly care about the children in your class and that your motivation is to equip them for a better future.  We see that you work ceaselessly and without a fraction of the thanks and recognition that you deserve.  We know that the little ones in your care are often the only factor keeping you going. 

We also see that your vision for educating these children is seriously hampered by a system that insists on endless planning and assessing, testing, targets, league tables - and that keeps moving the goalposts, with the decision-makers being hopelessly removed from the realities of educating.  We know that you are often overburdened with utterly unrealistic workloads, which do a lot to hinder you in the actual hands-on teaching that you love.  We have seen that the children who obviously (to us all) need extra help sometimes have to wait for years before being approved for extra help, placing a burden on you and the class, let alone the children who need it.

We removed our children because of the system, not you. Many children flourish at school, and that is thanks in no small way to you and everything you do for them.  But many other children just do not fit in the system, and need more individualised attention.  Very simply, that is why they are now being educated at home. 
This business of educating is not for the faint-hearted, and we just want to say: Teacher, you rock!

with love from a Home Educator

When writing letters like this I am always immediately concerned that those reading it will say "well, she's got that wrong" - but from my teaching experience and that of the many other teachers-turned-home-educators that I know, I don't think it's far off.  I guess it's just my way of trying to say that the vast majority of teachers are awesome - that it is the system that we have rejected, and not the wonderful people who work in it.


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Maths Invitation

Yesterday was a good day.  In terms of me not feeling quite so guilty for not being able to do much with the boys because of a pinched nerve in my back/ leg, anyway.
I was going to see my chiropractor in the afternoon, and he always enjoys asking me about our home education, so I probably paid more attention than I have lately to what the boys were doing, so I could tell him.  They did some writing (in Christmas cards), watched a programme on the Barrier Reef, and then played with Maths.

The Maths was down to an "invitation" that I set up in the kitchen.  Like the previous time though, Youngest came to see what I was doing before I finished, and I had to ask him to wait so I could take a picture before he got stuck in.  *Note to self: set up invitations when they are in bed, for them to find the next morning!*  I had seen this invitation online a couple of weeks ago, which prompted our previous invitation.  I didn't have all the same equipment as the original Maths invitation, but we had plenty of other bits; we just needed to buy some scales (I didn't want the boys playing with my digital ones and I knew they would appreciate the style illustrated as it was similar to one in the Post Office that they are always fascinated by).  So this was our version...

Contents (clockwise from bottom left): Tub of coloured giant lolly sticks; 3 pots of playdoh (sadly cropped out of photo); scales; bowl of coloured matchsticks; abacus; tub of glass pebbles; tray of Cuisenaire rods; egg cartons containing polystyrene eggs; box of tangram shapes; magnetic board with numbers; pipecleaners and bowl of pony beads, for threading; tub of 'sorting' animals; muffin tray.  I also wanted to add a tray with some glitter to draw in with their fingers but I realised I wouldn't be able to bend down to sweep up the mess.

I am always fascinated to see what the boys choose to play with first.  Youngest made a beeline for the scales, piling as much as he could in the dish.  Middle was drawn to the pipecleaners, threading beads on to make a pattern, and then turning it into a bracelet for Mummy.  Eldest (who I wasn't sure would be interested, being that bit older) grabbed the matchsticks and carried them to the floor - well there was no real space left on the table - and started making symmetrical designs, also inventing games involving glass nuggets.  I left them to it to just explore as they wanted.  Invitations in my mind are not the time to be alongside them giving instructions, placing limits or asking them questions about what they are doing - in my mind I want them just to enjoy experiencing whatever they are drawn to... just to have fun, without me ever mentioning the word "maths" - to activate their natural creativity.  It must have worked too, because after I went to the chiropractor (during which they played on the Wii with Daddy),  when we decided enough time had been spent on the Wii, they disappeared off and started designing intricate platform games - a lovely blend of their console experience and creativity from earlier.

Invitation are great.  When I came across them I thought they might be a bit too 'preschool' for my boys, but it turns out they all benefit from them - so we'll be doing more in future.  I just need to pick another theme now *heads off to browse for inspiration*...

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Advent Jesse Tree

Apologies for the lack of recent posts.  Problems with my lower back have left me unable to do much for a while, let alone concentrate on writing a coherent blog post. I do have a good chiropractor though, so things are improving!

I just wanted to share something that Home Education has allowed us the time to do this month.  When the boys (and I) were in school, we rarely had the time to instigate many traditions as life was just too full already.  Since then our pace of life is so much less frantic that we really do have time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.  We also have time to stop and consider what is important.  And at this time of year, what is important to us as a Christian family is that the true meaning of Christmas is not lost amidst all the commercialism and fables.  Don't get me wrong: we love the gift-sharing, feasting and sparkly lights as much as anyone, but without "the Reason for the Season" it can all seem a bit flat and futile. So I was looking for ways to help the boys look a bit deeper.  Enter the Jesse Tree.  I had not heard of it before, but in a Christian Home Ed group online, many people were talking about doing them by way of keeping their focus right.  Some friends kindly filled me in and sent me some links - and we have adopted it into our family's celebrations.

For those who don't know, the Jesse Tree is based on a prophecy in the book of Isaiah (from the  Bible) that says "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." Jesse was the father of David, King of Israel, and Jesus (the branch of new life) came from this family tree. 
We chose our 'branch', or small tree (some use actual branches, some draw pictures of trees on paper and use those), and every day in Advent we read a bit of the story of Jesus' ancestors - starting with Creation we remember how through the entire Old Testament the world was waiting for Jesus to be born, just as through Advent we are waiting to celebrate his birthday (and yes, I know it probably wasn't his actual birthday - it's just the day we choose to celebrate it).
So we read a bit from the Bible every day with a prayer, and hang an ornament on our tree/ branch that represents each part of the story.  This year our ornaments and readings came from this link that a lovely friend shared.  Next year I'm hoping that we might get to make some ornaments out of felt/ Fimo maybe.  Anyway, this is our tree, as photographed yesterday...

I'm particularly enjoying how the boys are coming up with their own thoughts on the stories, and am really encouraged that they each have their own faith - it is just lovely to share a family activity like this.  Maybe if we weren't home educating we would have found our way to this tradition anyway, but as it is, I'm just so grateful that we have the time to stop and think about what we are actually celebrating.  It just makes our lives so rich!  Bring on the gifts, feasting and sparkly lights :)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Invitation to Explore

A few weeks ago, before we entered our 'unschooling' season, the science book that we were loosely following had some experiments involving light that I thought the boys would enjoy, so I ordered a couple of bits of equipment, namely some mirrored tiles and a prism.  As our last vestiges of structure disappeared, the tiles and prism also disappeared into the science box, for future use.

I wasn't bothered by not using the equipment immediately - I knew from experience that it would be used eventually.  Take for example the electronics kit that we have had on the shelves for several months.  The boys found it a couple of weeks ago while mooching for inspiration, and it has been in almost constant use since.  That first day they were fully absorbed all afternoon, going through each of the circuits in the book and then making up their own, and it has been out frequently since - a definite favourite at the moment.  In fact I'm pretty sure they were playing with it the other day while I was browsing sites online and came across a lovely post from one of my favourites, The Imagination Tree.  In the post, the author had set up an area for open-ended maths investigation and learning - similar to the Reggio-inspired 'Invitations to Play' that we have come across before.  To me, these 'invitations' are a bit like strewing, just on steroids: not just leaving out say a book or game to maybe catch the eye of a passing child, but deliberately setting up an area with several interesting items, often on a theme, and making them look inviting for a child to dive in and explore.

Well, I did like the idea of the Maths zone, and am planning one of our own in the near future - but as I read, I remembered the prism and mirrored tiles lurking in a box, and thought they would make a great Invitation to Explore Light.  So this morning that is what I did: I set up the table with the mirrors and prism, and added some magnifying glasses, coloured cellophane sheets, shiny card, torches, a dish of sequins, another dish of coloured see-through counters and a tray of glitter...
The playdough was quickly added as Middle came to explore before I'd finished setting up, and immediately got stuck in with the mirrors, shouting delightedly "I can make four of me" - he wanted some way of holding the mirrors vertically in place on the table, so playdough it was. 

Youngest also found us quickly and got stuck in, particularly enjoying shining the torches and making reflections bounce off different surfaces. 

They played for a long time!  Following books is good, but can feel a bit too much like 'lessons', even with just a small amount of structure.  This way, rather than deciding what I felt the boys would benefit from learning, I had the delight of seeing them come up with their own questions, investigations, discoveries etc.  They had a lovely hands-on exploration time - we'll definitely be doing more "invitations" in future.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Beating the "Wobbles" at their own Game...

In more than one of the Home Ed forums that I belong to, I have noticed that many people seem to be wobbling at the moment.  For those not yet familiar with the term, "the wobbles" generally refer to those moments of self-doubt when we wonder if we're doing enough to educate our children, or if we "should" be doing it a different way... if we're meeting their needs, if we're stretching them where they need to be challenged, if we're boosting their self-confidence without giving them an inflated sense of their own importance, if we're providing them with enough opportunities to learn, and exposing them to a wide range of potential activities in the hope that at least one will ignite a life-long passion.  The "wobbles" are usually accompanied by a descending gloomy cloud of anxiety that we are failing our most precious ones somehow. 

In my experience, when the wobbles get me it is usually a sign of one of two things: either I have fallen back into schoolish ways of thinking and need to deschool myself a bit more, or we have hit a different season and I am picking up on some unmet needs.  But as I have often discussed before, any time I hear the word "should" cross my thinking, I know it is time to address a problem.  There is no space for "shoulds" in my life.  They are relentless, fruitless and insatiable task-masters.

So how do we beat the wobbles?  Well, as the lovely Ross Mountney of Ross Mountney's Notebook (not to mention author of several yummy books) has often encouraged me, the wobbles are usually a sign that you are a reflective and sensitive parent/ educator.  They show that you take your child(ren)'s education seriously, and frequent assessment of how well your style and strategy are working shows a creditable commitment and flexibility to your child's needs.  So firstly, be encouraged: the fact that you are wobbling shows that you are already doing a good job!

Secondly, if you wobble, check that you're not in need of more deschooling (I am talking about parents mostly, but this could apply to the children too).  Signs that YOU need more deschooling: you wonder how much work they would be doing if they were in class; you compare them to their peers, academically; you question how they will ever get GCSEs at the rate they are going (especially unnecessary if your child is still primary age).

Thirdly, check that you're still on track - that your style is still working.  It may be that you are picking up on a season change.  Children's learning is not linear and in this house we sometimes have seasons where plenty of work is evident (online curricula, lapbooks, educational games and art projects etc... sometimes we have fallow seasons where the children are not obviously learning a lot - there is more TV (and I'm not talking the BBC's learning zone here), more random playing, a lot less written output.  And the more I do this, the more I am coming to value the fallow seasons, as I have come to recognise that the periods after fallow seasons are usually infused with great leaps made in the boys' abilities, and a fresh enthusiasm for learning new concepts.
One tip that I was given to see if you're still on track is to go back to the values that made you decide to home educate in the first place (in our case it was to encourage a love of learning in the boys and give them the freedom to follow their own passions, all the way through to adulthood.  It was NOT about how many qualifications they could get).  Once you have those values in mind, see how that affects the way you are assessing your "success so far".

So anyway in October we hit a sort of wobble... I wasn't really down about it but was feeling unsettled in our previously loved mini-schedule.  I realised pretty quickly that not only were we experiencing a season change, but it had coincided with my need for some more deschooling.  So I went on the attack (like I said, the "shoulds" are not welcome in this house) and deliberately headed in the other direction.  The "shoulds" usually make you want to introduce more structure, more goals and pressure to perform... we turned our backs on that and rather than introducing more structure, we took the wobbles, or "shoulds" on at their own game - we interpreted them as incentive to rebel against the felt pressure, and relax even our small amount of structure and record-keeping... and so we nominated this half-term as our 'unschooling' half-term. Realistically, genuine unschoolers may well make more of an effort with strewing etc than I am right now, but due to various pressures I am not able to be heavily involved - and actually, by having very little planned (other than a couple of HE clubs) it's helping the boys to find their own interests without me furtively assessing everything for 'educational content'.   I am not planning to consider reintroducing any kind of structure until after Christmas - and its really helping.  The "shoulds" kicked up a right wobbly fuss to start off with, but a couple of weeks in and we are relaxing into not stressing about it.  The boys are happy reading, making up games, drawing, playing (and obviously are immersed in the world of hedgehogs - see my previous post) - they are generally doing just fine.  But I am not writing down what they're doing in my diary.  My organised self resists, and I may possibly regret it in future - but actually, none of us need that kind of pressure right now.

Never mind playing the "wobbles" at their own game - I reckon we're winning!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Hedgehog Tales

OK, some of you knew this was coming: it's that time of year again when wildlife lovers like us keep an eye out for visiting hedgehogs and make sure they are big enough to survive hibernation.  Most people who find underweight hedgehogs take them to a rescue centre, but last year our local centre was full, and I ended up looking after two hoglets (Midge and Squidge) over the winter.  It was a steep learning curve, and I was thrilled to successfully release them, happy and healthy, back into the wild in the spring.

Spring was so very late this year that Midge and Squidge didn't come out of hibernation in my shed until mid April, presumably around the same time as the local wild hedgehogs outdoors. Consequently everything was late, and as hedgehogs often have two litters a year I knew there was a high probability of seeing young hoglets born too late in the year to survive again... which was borne out on Sunday evening as I looked up from what I was doing and through the patio doors saw a tiny hedgehog climbing into the bowl of hedgehog food that we always have out in the garden.  I scooped it up, and weighed it... 314g! (To survive hibernation a hedgehog needs to be a minimum of 700g by the end of October, otherwise they will still hibernate in December but their tiny fat reserves won't last and they will die before Spring.)  We called our new baby Hiccup, after the main character in the 'How to Train Your Dragon' book series that Eldest is currently enjoying. Out came the boxes from last year (large Really Useful Boxes with airholes drilled into the lids), and the downstairs loo was once again taken over as a hedgehog rehab unit.  The next day I got a good look at our first guest and established that Hiccup is a 'she', with a lovely personality - she snuggled into my jumper while I was checking her over and seemed quite happy.  She's a messy miss though - trashes her box thoroughly just like Squidge used to... it's a lovely thought that she might be one of Squidge's offspring.


So, one hoglet rescued, and an even higher probability that we would be visited by more 'Autumn Juveniles', as hedgehogs usually have three to four babies in the wild.  Sure enough, on Wednesday evening we spotted and rescued "Hero" - at 304g our smallest ever hedgehog.  Hero is very shy.  I sat holding her quietly in the dark last night after cleaning out her box, but she wouldn't uncurl and let me establish her gender, so I am calling her "she" based on no scientific evidence whatsoever...  I haven't even seen 'her' face yet!

Youngest's picture, "Smallest Hedgehog" (I love his writing)

We left the camera trap out that night and in the morning I was a little concerned to see we'd had another baby visiting at 4.20am!  I really didn't fancy having to get up at that time to go on hedgehog watch, so was very relieved hast night when "Harvest" appeared at 9.30pm, and no further hoglets were caught on the camera trap afterwards (just a cheeky magpie nicking the hedgehog food very early this morning) - here's hoping that's the complete litter as we have no room left in the downstairs loo!  Harvest weighed 351g, and is a proper grump - was storming around the box overturning the food and making a lot of noise - I reckon Harvest is a 'he'!

And while I'm the main carer for obvious reasons (they stink: the boys aren't keen to do the worst of the daily cleaning out), the boys are really excited about helping our new family of hedgehogs. So understandably we've gone all hedgehog-focused for a while.  Not in a "theme/ project" kind of way, asking the boys to write hedgehog poems or doing sums adding hedgehogs etc (as that's usually evidence of parent-led activity, and that's just not the season we're in right now) - but just naturally, day-to-day, as we do what needs to be done.  Yes, the boys are immersed in animal science, particularly Eldest who gets 'hands-on' with me, and helps with the 'cleaner' parts of mucking out, such as lining the cleaned-out boxes with paper, putting food in bowls etc (he also gets to gently handle the hedgehogs) - and they are learning by osmosis about nocturnal animals, hibernation, food chains, parasites, habitats, endangered species etc. They are practicing maths, as we're keeping a weight chart for each hedgehog (and if like last year I have to medicate them, those will need to be measured out too). They are using English skills, as we think of names (words that begin with 'H' that are not too obvious (such as Hedgie) and are suitable for either sex), and make up bedtime stories to tell each other with hedgehogs as the main characters.  They are learning compassion and consideration, as for the first few days after we rescue a new baby we do try to keep quiet (well, as quiet as the boys get) about the house while the hoglets acclimatise - and the boys now have to go upstairs if they need the loo, which none of them have complained about at all.  They have been inspired to get "Arty" and draw LOTS of hedgehog pictures...

 "Hedgehog Eating a Worm" by Eldest

"Hedgehog Hero" by Middle (I just LOVE it)

It's all just such a fantastic learning experience, without any effort to "teach" whatsoever!  We're all just sharing knowledge and increasing our understanding as we go.  And that's not even why we're doing it.  We're doing it because we love animals, and it's just something little that we can do without too much trouble to protect an endangered species in our own back garden. Eldest wants to be a conservationist when he's older - and what could be better than starting right now?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Brotherly Love

This morning I attempted to clear the mountain of mess that had gathered on the kitchen table.  My back/ leg were hurting quite a lot - I have an ongoing sciatic issue and I forgot to take the anti-inflammatories last night - I assume that's why things were so painful today.  Anyway, I really wanted to clear the table as that's one of the main places that the boys use for creating etc when they feel inspired, so I persevered and managed to reduce the mountain to a small hillock before I really had to sit down - hooray!  Meanwhile the boys were doing some of their own tidying and also playing, but by the time I was done it was obvious that they really needed to get outdoors and run off some steam.  So we all stopped for lunch and decided that afterwards we would go to the park (so they could run and I could sit).  Unfortunately, by the time we had finished lunch it was raining, and I was not in the mood for a cold wet welly walk.  So we went for a drive to drop something off at a friend's, and just for a change of scenery - driving through some of the local villages, along scenic country lanes and past places where we have happy memories... which was all lovely, but the the weather was still drizzly when we got back and the boys were understandably still in need of space to be physical...

We did their coats up and I said they could run the length of our cul-de-sac (about a dozen houses) and back again, once for every year of their age.  They started with enthusiasm, and then there was a fair bit of complaining, stitch and tiredness, but I encouraged them that if they could burn off some excess energy they would be able to sit nicely and play on the Wii afterwards.  Once Youngest and then Middle had finished I encouraged them to cheer their big brother on as he still had a few laps to go.  They cheered beautifully - and then did something totally unexpected.  Eldest had just finished his ninth lap and was now walking the tenth lap.  Middle (who shortly before had been dragging his feet because he was "reeeeeeeee-allllllllllyyyyyyy tiiiiiiirrrrred" yelled "come on (Youngest)", and ran up to Eldest, grabbed his hand (Youngest grabbed the other), and started pulling him along the road.  They loved it - it cheered them all up to be sharing such a lovely moment of brotherly love.  Obviously they were motivated by a joint desire to get indoors and on the Wii, but to go one further than encouragement and actually run the path with their brother, rather than just nagging him to get on with it - well, I was really blessed, and told them so.  The laps were completed with smiles all round.

Once indoors the boys sorted themselves out on the Wii extremely easily.  Youngest wanted to play a different game to the older two, so they agreed he could have half an hour on his first, then they would play theirs.  Well once he finished his turn they put their game on (with no complaints from Youngest at turning his off), and then Youngest decided he wanted to play their game too.  They kindly said it was "fair" for him not to play (which he wasn't so happy about), and I made a suggestion that maybe it might be kind to let him join in anyway... it might even be 'fair' as he wanted to play both games but they didn't... but I would leave the decision to them as I could see their point too.  Well they talked nicely and decided they were happy for Youngest to join in as long as he didn't ruin it for them!

There is no moral to this story (well if there is you can draw your own moral from it).  I'm not going to say "this is what I did, and if you do the same, you could have saintly children (ahem) like mine too" - because that's twaddle.  You've read the blog, and those of you who know us are aware that it is SO NOT true.  Like most siblings, the boys have times when they play really nicely together and moments when they don't play so nicely and I get fed up of refereeing.  But moments like today's deserve to be celebrated.  I want to remember today and treasure it in my heart - and I want to tell others too, that today - this afternoon - my boys did a lovely, lovely thing.  My back may still be grumbling but my heart is singing!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Educating More than One: It's Not Fair!

This week the boys are going to start swimming lessons with the local home ed group.  The minimum age is five years, so we've waited until Youngest was old enough - I didn't want to keep him sat in the viewing area watching his brothers swim, a) because he is such an bundle of energy it would take all my focus to keep him from running off and leaping into the pool fully clothed, and b) because he LOVES swimming and it would have felt unfair for his brothers to be having fun doing something he loves in front of him while he's not allowed.

We haven't been swimming for quite a while, so we went swimming for fun as a family this weekend, primarily because Middle was expressing anxiety about the upcoming lessons, and I wanted to give him chance to build his confidence in the water beforehand.  The whole experience made me realise some things about this idea of fairness...

My boys - as with all children - are very different to each other.  Yes, there are some similarites, whether because they share some genes or because they are being brought up according to the same people's standards - but over all they are their own characters.  It often amazes me that Hubby and I produced three such very different personalities - and I know it's the same for most parents of more than one child.  And where I have a compulsion to be fair and treat my children equally (I am a middle child - it was a big deal growing up), Hubby is less concerned.  And in some ways I agree with him.  Take, for example, swimming.  Eldest responds really well to reason and verbal encouragement.  He always has, even when he was little.  If he was worried about trying something I could just talk him through it and encourage him to trust me and let me help him learn this new skill.  Middle, however?  Not at all.  Whatever he is focused on has his full attention.  If he is worried and I try to reason with him he will be incapable of listening until he has dealt with his worries himself.  So yesterday when we were at the pool and I was focusing on helping him, I quickly realised I was trying to treat him like Eldest, coaxing him into taking his feet off the floor and reaching towards me etc.  You know what?  It didn't work.  The more I tried to persuade him, the more he heard what I was saying as impossible.  When I realised what I was doing I gave myself a mental shake and deliberately backed off.  And what happened next was beautiful.  In his own time, on his own terms, he built up his confidence until he was swimming again (with armbands).  He joined his brothers going down the flume (he hadn't wanted to AT ALL when we got there).  He voluntarily put his face and then his whole head under water.  All without my interference - he just wanted the security of having me standing by, ready to applaud at each achievement.

I know this to be true about him.  He is and always has been a child who has to be allowed to do things in his own time.  Trying to encourage him is more likely to set him back than make progress.  It is enormously frustrating to a 'hands-on' parent.  But he is the argument for autonomous learning in this house.  Eldest likes structure, Youngest seems to do well with structure, Middle absolutely does not (which is why he became so depressed at school).  He was happy enough with our small amount of structure over the last couple of months, but this next season of increased autonomy will be perfect for him - and that has made me think again about my having to treat them all the same.  I know Middle needed more autonomy, and I believe the others will benefit from it too, so we're all going for it together.  But I can foresee a time where Eldest may need more structure again - and I need to be prepared to be able to let them all find their own different ways to learn.  I suppose that's what this next season is mostly about for me (as we all learn through home ed - the parents just as much as the children).

And so back to swimming this week.  Now that the "unfairness" of learning is re-established at the front of my mind - that as each style suits different children, asking them all to do the same thing can actually be unfair - my focus will be less on the "fairness" of them all getting to join in, and more on which of my children are actually benefiting from the swimming lessons.  It is true, Youngest would have found it enormously unfair to not be allowed to join in, so I'm still glad I waited - but it may be that Middle finds it 'unfair' to be asked to do something he doesn't enjoy (a structured lesson), when his brothers are loving it.  Ultimately, it is a "class-style" scenario - albeit doing something they all like (and an important life-skill too), so it's going to be another learning curve for all of us.  We will see.

The most important thing to learn, I suppose, is that treating them "unfairly" may turn out to be the most fair thing to do...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Season Change

I confess, I turned the heating on yesterday... I woke to a little nip in the air that made me delay getting out of bed, instead snuggling further down under the duvet, where the boys quickly joined me - giggling as they made Mummy shriek with horror at their icy feet homing in on her toasty warmth.

It's that lovely season change as the mild weather gives way to the inevitability of early nights, frosty mornings, country lanes bulging with hedgerow fruit, and leaves crunching underfoot (not to mention steaming mugs of hot chocolate when we get back from a ramble).  I love Autumn. I think there's something to love about all of the seasons actually - I never could choose a favourite - but it's maybe the change in seasons that I love, and Autumn is such an obvious change, even when it's late, as this year.  I just love it.

And the season change evident in the great outdoors is reflecting a season change inside our home...

There's a Facebook meme that I've shared before, and it's pretty apt considering where we are right now.  It goes:

"I love routine...
Until I'm bored, then I love excitement...
Until I'm overwhelmed, then I love routine"

It's that bit in the middle, when we're starting to get fed up/ restless that expresses where we've been for about a week.  We've had a couple of months of semi-structure (well, structure by our standards anyway), and I've just lately been getting signs that the boys are ready for something else.  Children (and indeed adults) do learn in cycles, or seasons... and just because a style or method works for a while, it doesn't mean that it will continue to work indefinitely.  The lovely and experienced Ross Mountney shared a post today, "Fallow Seasons and Learning Leaps", that expresses so well the truth about seasons in learning - and now that we have over a year of home educating under our belts, I can say from personal experience that I know this to be true.

So I have been mulling over the question of what season we are heading into.  Initially I got my planner out because there are things that I felt were lacking from what we're doing compared to what I'd like us to be doing, such as incorporating ideas from the inspiring Brave Writer website, advent activities (not quite yet, obviously), swimming lessons etc.  Next I noticed an increasing reluctance in the boys to do activities involved with their online curricula (maths, english etc), and I don't want to ask them to follow any set curriculum if it doesn't interest them.  Then this week I was thrilled to discover that Middle seems to have discovered his inner bookworm.  I can't say he's a confident reader (although he is a fully competent reader), but I can say that if he goes quiet, as he is increasingly doing, it's becoming less likely that he is "up to some mischief" and more likely that he has his nose in a book somewhere.  I am such a happy Home Ed Mummy!

All of which has led me to the conclusion that we need a season of more autonomy.  Eldest generally does well with structure and is happy with his curricula/ workbooks etc - but lately he seems to have been lacking in creative ideas for things that he would like to do, and I'd like to give him a bit more space to think and dream and get inventive.  Middle is obviously coming into his own as a reader, and with all my heart I want to encourage that - just give him the space to read and read and get lost in new worlds of imagination and fascination.  Youngest has been doing well on his Reading Eggs and Mathseeds - he often asks to 'play' on them (I try to avoid words like "learning", "lessons" or "work" - I prefer "explore", "investigate", "imagine" and "play") - but I have noticed that some of the activites lately seem to confuse him and he gets a mental block over things that I know he is perfectly capable of doing instinctively in a natural scenario (as opposed to a theoretical sum on a screen).  So I want to back off before he gets frustrated, and give him the space to play more and just let his learning flow naturally, as he is making immeasurable (I use that word deliberately) strides in his development right now.

On re-reading that paragraph I notice I used the word 'space' regarding my hopes for each of the boys.  The little structure we have been using has been really helpful - for the right season.  Now, however it is starting to feel a little stifling, so I want to remove those constraints and move into a season of more freedom.  I don't doubt for one second that it will change again at some point - but the more we do this, the more confident I am in the seasons all flowing into each other naturally, and as much as I love the changes from Summer to Autumn, Winter to Spring etc, I am starting to really enjoy the seasonal changes in our home education too.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Social Skills

Anyone who has been home educating or even just considering it for any length of time will know that one of the big "concerns" over home education is the 'socialisation' issue, ie "How will your child socialise?".
I have explored this issue fairly regularly in my blogs over the past year or so, and have come to the conclusion that although it is true that there are more opportunities to socialise or hang out with friends in school (despite education spokespeople saying that this is not a school's purpose), it can work against a child as well.  In the ideal scenario a child goes to school and makes friends.  Great.  It has worked for some I know, and it's lovely to see.  But some children are bullied, some are not naturally gregarious and struggle to bond with others, some are subject to negative peer pressure etc, and they lose their identity or become withdrawn.  When a child hits relationship issues (what parent hasn't heard "so-and-so isn't my friend any more"?) the theory is that they learn resilience... but the fact is that many children don't, they just suffer.  I know: I was one of those children.  You could say that I went through it and I turned out all right - but bear in mind that I am over forty now.  It took me the last twenty years of my life to undo many of the damaging lessons I 'learned' about myself and how to deal with people while at school. (I wrote about it in "My Learning Story" for those who are interested).  So social opportunities?  Yes, for children like Eldest, for whom life is just one big social opportunity - but definitely not for those like Middle who although willing to be friendly to everyone, finds relationships a more complicated obstacle course to navigate.

Then again, when some people bring up the 'social' issue, they seem to assume that this means a child is "socialised" in school.  The Oxford dictionary defines socialization as "the process by which somebody, especially a child, learns to behave in a way that is acceptable in their society".  This is where I lose sympathy for the "socialising" argument.  Do children learn social skills at school or at home?  To my mind it is obvious: at home!  Who teaches children to say "please" and "thank you"?  We (the parents) do.  Who teaches them to share, or apologise for causing pain?  We do... all of these ideals are being taught from toddlerhood onwards.  Who teaches them to wait in a queue (this is a British blog after all)?  We do - as we queue in shops with our precious ones in buggies, way before we need to start thinking about registering for school.

Social skills are learned at home.  School is one big opportunity to put those skills into practice, and refine them - but not exclusively so.  In our house this month we have been having a big "social skill" opportunity.  Not because I sat down with my planner and decided that it was time for some PSHE lessons or Citizenship classes - no, it was because for some unknown reason the boys have become increasingly snarky with each other lately.  There has been an increase in fighting, name-calling, tale-telling, teasing etc.  We're a family.  It happens.  Maybe it's hormones, maybe a growth spurt or two, maybe they're picking up on parental stress - who knows?  Most likely a combination of the above, plus the weather... but more important to me is that I do know this: it's an opportunity to help them learn how to deal with difficult social situations.  
So we have been chatting a lot about the importance of forgiveness; we've been discussing the best way to resolve disagreements; we've been talking about the power of words.  Not as an abstract theory, but as and when each issue arises.  I've been letting them argue and try out their own methods, and I have stepped in with guidance when I felt the situations warranted it.  If one of them has lied to me I have stopped whatever we were doing and lovingly challenged them, because teaching them honesty is more important to me than most other learning opportunities.  As home educators we are now used to taking the time to address whatever is needed and important at the time - and lately that has been less about academic subjects and more about practical life-skills.

So there we go: another blog post on "the socialising issue", because it still seems to be the main stumbling block that people come up against when telling their loved ones (and random strangers who feel bizarrely entitled to interrogate them) about home educating their family.  The primary source of training in social skills is - and always will be - home.  But if you want to know how I ensure my kids get plenty of chances to practice those social skills, not to mention just having fun with their mates?  Well - we attend a few clubs a week, some small, some large, some where they have freedom to mooch, play, and run about, some where they need to listen and follow instructions.  We visit friends and have friends visit us - widely ranging in age and outlook on life - and the boys interact with all of them, with increasing confidence.  And of course, even home on our own there is nothing like sibling rivalry to provoke some really good opportunities for honing those social skills!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Perfectly Imperfect

Today was one of those days, familiar to many home educators, where I had to make a choice between 'educating' and housework.  One of my biggest HE frustrations is that there just isn't time to do it all.  My head tells me it should (gah - that swear word again) - that it "should" be possible to give the boys my full attention with whatever they are doing, and also keep on top of all the housework: laundry, dishes, cooking, diary-managing, clearing up mess from whatever mess-making activity we have been engrossed in, planning more activities, getting outside, resource-finding, having friends visit, keeping track of what the boys have been doing at least partially etc - not to mention training the boys to do all of the above.  Sadly my head persists in being deceived.  It isn't possible - at least not to me, other than the freakishly rare days when we do manage to hold it all together - I know not how. Well, I do know those days start with a tidy house amongst other factors.  Unlike today.

Anyway, fortunately for me (I think), after the boys had finished with Reading Eggs (and Eldest with his workbook), they because wholly engrossed in a series of history-based games on Grid Club, including 'Stone age survival', 'Suffragette City', 'Roman Retreat', 'Brunel's Britain' - which enabled me to sort out some of the mess at least while they played (and learned).  Following that Middle wanted to come and read to me from his Angry Birds book... and I know my priorities, so I ignored the rest of the housework and sat down for some time together with Middle.  Eldest did some more drawing (he's been drawing Angry Birds Star Wars figures all weekend) and Youngest mooched about trying to think of something to do.  Eventually he and I made some "Chocolate Crunch" traybake together... baking always goes down well!

We ate some with our lunch while watchng Deadly 360, and then after lunch the boys realised we hadn't done any art yet, so we had a go at a little project that I hadn't been able to resist from the Yellow Moon catalogue.  The trees behind our house are finally starting to shed their leaves now, and as we live on the edge of woodland, the leaves are everywhere!  This inspired us to do the autumn leaf activity kit, weaving ribbons through foam templates to make coasters.  It was more fiddly than we thought, but we were impressed that the coasters provided came in each of our favourite colours, so there was no fighting over who got to do each one.  Youngest needed help, but the others managed fine on their own, and the finished coasters are very pretty.  I'm not sure how long they'll last, but it was a nice little project anyway.

(red - Mummy; orange - Eldest; green - Middle; yellow - Youngest)

Of course by this time there was lots of baking things to clean away, and ribbon cut-offs scattered about... sigh: back to housework and time to get tea ready... after an interlude of mopping up Eldest's split lip (he had been headbutted by on over-excited youngest brother).  Once the blood was all wiped away and boys calmed down, the TV went on (I don't care who disapproves - I needed the boys to be settled while I got on with tidying safe in the knowledge that they weren't making a mess in a different part of the house) and I got back to work in the kitchen.

Perfect days like the ones in my imagination (where the children have behaved beautifully all day and made noticeable strides in their learning, and the house is immaculate at the end of it, and Mummy has serenely glided through the day's activities) are few and far between, if they exist at all... but there are still many joys to be found in the imperfect days. Days like today where the day starts stressed because of a backlog of work, and learning opportunities inevitably create mess, and the boys' enthusiasm gets out of control enough that someone gets hurt, and we don't get half as much done as we wanted to... days like this are still OK. Because we're home, safe and sound (cut lip notwithstanding - at least I was on hand to give comfort and tend to it immediately).  The boys are still learning - what they want, when they want (their exploits on Grid Club led to a fascinating discussion on the Suffragettes and why the police were chasing them)  And the mess that was made was a by-product of fun and creativity.  No mess = no cakes or art.  And at least I have a house that is dry and warm and has a working oven and well-stocked food cupboards, and money to buy inspiring craft supplies. And it is a bit irritating having to rake up mountains of leaves from the back garden, but if they weren't there that would mean no woods, and no deer to watch when the trees are bare.  It would take a lot for me to willingly give that up.  And no, I have not glided serenely through the day (the point at which I turned the tap on too fast and caused a huge splash-back that covered the entire window and sill was particularly lacking in serenity), but we have had fun amidst the chaos, and fun counts for a lot!  No, today was not perfect, but it was good.  And I'm happy with that.

Chocolate Crunch

Way back in the day before the PC-mongerers got their hands on school tuck shops and healthified them, one of the highlights of my secondary school was the occasional appearance at the tuck shop of  "Chocolate Crunch".  As we poured out of another boring lesson in a miserable classroom on a freezing winter day, the aroma of this yummy chocolate traybake, still warm from the oven, was enough to lift the spirits of a gaggle of not-easily-impressed teenage girls.
And so in my last days at sixth form I pled with the long-suffering dinner ladies to share with me the recipe of this divine food - and they took pity on me and shared it (scaled down because I really don't need to make the quantities that they made for an entire secondary school)!  Over twenty years later I am going to share it with you - because quite simply it is almost insultingly easy to make - one of our most regular bakes if we have someone coming over or just fancy a snack and have nothing handy.
My boys call them Brownies, although they are actually nowhere near as rich as brownies.  I call them Chocolate Crunch as that is what the dinner ladies called them all those years ago, although they are not very crunchy.  Whatever you call them, they're just easy - and yummy.  Enjoy!

270g butter/ margarine
225g granulated sugar
30g cocoa powder
370g self raising flour
1 small egg
few drops of vanilla essence

1/ Grease and line a tray-bake tin (mine is 18 x 28 cm)
2/ Heat oven to 180C
3/ Heat butter with vanilla essence until just melted (do not boil)

4/ In small glass, beat egg

5/ In separate bowl. mix flour, sugar and cocoa

6/  Add melted fat to flour mixture and stir
7/ Add beaten egg and stir until fully mixed in

8/ Press mixture into prepared tin
9/ Bake for 15-20 minutes.
10/  Cool in tin, and cut into bars before turning out

The aroma may not transport you, as it does me, back to frizzy eighties hairdos and pink & white striped uniforms (yes, really), but you've got to admit, they smell and taste g-o-o-d!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Fungus, Lego, and Other Fun

Another slightly manic week, though not as crazy as last week, thankfully!  This week saw me back at the hospital with my sister and niece, plus joining in with our usual HE groups, plus having relatives visit us here, laden with lovely presses for the birthday 'boys' Youngest and Daddy... and even some gifts for me and the older two boys - hooray!  One of the family gifts was the game "Creationary" where players have to build items out of lego and other players have to try to guess what it is.  We had a go today - the only problem was that the boys weren't keen on dismantling each model as soon as it was guessed, so I had to take photos in order for them to consent to breaking them into pieces to be reused...

Youngest's bed

Middle's canoe

Eldest's binoculars 

Youngest's bus

Middle's cannon

Eldest's circus

Although it's quite a slow-paced game, the boys were all greatly inspired, and continued building long after the game was finished!

In fact today we have enjoyed staying home, other than a quick trip to the barbers first thing this morning to tidy up some haircuts that the older boys had decided to give themselves! (Eldest hadn't done a bad job on his fringe although the barber did tell him it made him look like a lego man, which I don't think was supposed to be a compliment!)  Youngest and Middle finished their lapbooks today - Eldest's is still a work in progress which is fair as he puts a lot more effort into his lapbooks.  We also read some books, played Sum Swamp, made some Christmas cards (!), played more games and watched some Muzzy DVDs that I have borrowed from a friend (the younger boys have been asking to learn French, but I had no intention of doing the current "free" trial as I have no doubt it will involve me having to sign up for an expensive package and then cancel it before they automatically take my money).  Anyway, the boys seemed to really like the DVDs - I was impressed by how long it held their interest, given that there is not a single word of English spoken throughout... we only turned it off because the disk needed cleaning.  Anyway, we'll see if their interest in French lasts!  I hope so, as languages is one of my better subjects!

So all in all, it's been a lovely indoors-y day, contrasted with Weds when I was visiting hospital in the morning, we all ate out with relatives in the afternoon and I was out at a church meeting again in the evening... and then yesterday when we had to go shopping in the morning, had a nature group trip out in the afternoon (a lovely, if damp fungus hunt), followed by delivering a parcel before bedtime.  We particularly enjoyed getting out in the woods yesterday, despite the rain - there were plenty of different fungi to spot, and there's just something about the woods that always makes me feel recharged!

Outdoors, indoors - we've had more fun times.  Admittedly my head doesn't seem to know whether it's coming or going, but I'm do glad we have the planner to fall back on - it's been invaluable in helping me to keep some kind of focus - and the planned activities have combined with the unplanned surprises to give us another lovely week!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Picasso in Pyjamas

Phew!  Crazy week, busy weekend... Monday mornings might be met with a groan in many other households, but here there was a sigh of relief this morning.  We all know where we are with Mondays, and what to expect: pyjamas, snuggles, staying home and having fun together.  Admittedly I was a bit frustrated being at home today while my niece is still in hospital (and my sister with her), but I knew there was no way of going to visit today so I tried hard to just make the most of the time I have with my boys instead, allowing for part of me being a bit distracted and sending 'get well' prayers throughout the day...

So we started the day as usual with Bible time, snuggled up in bed, then as soon as Eldest came downstairs he headed straight for his workbooks to do some English (today learning abut riddles)  Youngest also beat me downstairs and started on some writing, while Middle decided I ought to have a 'take-it-easy' day, so brought me his Spongebob blanket and made me sit in the armchair with his blanket over me.  Of course, the 'take-it-easy' day didn't last, but what a sweet boy he is to think of it!  I felt very blessed.

Middle did some time on Reading Eggspress, then came to join in with a game of "Scabs n Guts" (played at Youngest's request). I'd forgotten how much the boys enjoyed it... obviously the gruesome details hold particular appeal, and they were most delighted when Mummy had to act out having a shower or being sick with food poisoning!  I learned something new too: apparently there is such a thing as "Housewif'itis", caused by having to do too much housework! Hmmmmm - we stay-at-home-mums and home educators need to beware!

Once the game was done we headed to the kitchen for a bit of art.  We looked at a little book on Picasso (read excerpts and looked at the pictures) and looked at some of his work online - we talked about his paintings that were in blue or sad colours, and what happy colours might be; we looked at how he used lots of straight lines in his pictures where we might expect curvy ones; we talked about why he painted things that didn't 'look right' - facial features in strange places etc, and decided that maybe he was trying to say something about how he was feeling rather than just accurately painting what he saw with his eyes.  Then with all of that in mind we had a go at our own portraits (we used oil pastels as we wanted strong colours)...

Youngest drew a face in blue and added in some 'unusual' features in different colours...

I started quickly as I wanted to help the boys see what I meant about drawing a face that was looking straight ahead and profile.  As we had talked about showing feelings rather than just what we could see, I did one half of my face blue and sleepy to show the tired part of me, and the other half bright and smiley because I'm happy to be with them (with the addition of some slightly psychotic-looking eyeshadow)...

Eldest drew a portrait of Middle (green because it's his favourite colour and orange because he's happy)...

He followed that with a self portrait.  He said his two most important characteristics are happiness (yellow) and excitedness (orange)... that is a pretty fair summary of his character I'd say!

Middle decided against the portraits altogether as he had obviously been inspired in a different direction while looking at Picasso's work - so he did a lovely picture of a vampire bat...

After that the boys all went in different directions: Eldest watched "Supergiant Animals" which I had recorded from TV, Middle played Music-maker on Gridclub and Youngest played on the Tap-the-Cat app (from Reading Eggs) on my ipad... it's free to install today and tomorrow only.  Eldest and Middle then watched their new Rock n Learn DVD on Physical Science (we love the Rock n Learn science DVDs) while Youngest played Mathseeds on my laptop (I have finally subscribed - I was reluctant because we've already paid for a MathsWhizz subscription, but I got a good Home Ed discount on Mathseeds too, and it's really helping Youngest at the moment).  Then Eldest and Youngest disappeared upstairs to do some dressing up and role play, while Middle decided to write a diary and asked for my help.  I was delighted but also surprised, knowing how little he enjoys writing usually.  Well he wrote "Still in my pyjamas" (asking me for help with spelling) and then started complaining that he couldn't do it.  I was baffled!  Another barrier in his mind that seems to have come from nowhere.  He seemed to be frustrated by his own preconceptions of what he was 'supposed' to be doing.  I tried explaining that a diary is a totally personal thing, that there are no rules (although writing the date/ time for each entry is generally a good idea), that he could write one sentence or even one word if he liked - that he could fill it with pictures instead etc... it took about fifteen minutes of me trying to be patient and understand the reason behind the negativity before we finally got there and he settled back down to it.  Funny little sausage - he does get set ideas stuck in his head that don't need to be there at all.  Still, I'm happy that (I think) we managed to resolve it pretty quickly today.  He hasn't shown it to me like Eldest would (the boy who likes to share his work with everyone), but that's totally fine, because I think he would feel pressure to make it presentable, and as I said to him, a diary is a private thing for him to do whatever he likes with. But oh, I am so intrigued to see how it finally looked - I must be good and stay away!

So there we go: another lovely Day In Pyjamas.  I was told at school once that wearing uniform was important a) to remove one-upmanship caused by the privileged having better clothes etc - as if we still couldn't tell who the privileged were - and b) to dress smart as a way of wearing a subconscious reminder to think smart and behave smart.  Well other than being able to slightly facetiously report a distinct lack of one-upmanship between the boys when wearing pyjamas, I am also happy to note that the subconscious reminder sent to my boys by what they wear on Pyjama Mondays is that when they wear relaxed, they think relaxed, and behave relaxed... and how very interesting it is for me to note that on their most relaxed days they seem to achieve the most...!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Flexibility Rules

I've just realised that I wrote this on Friday and then forgot to post it!  It's just been one of 'those' weeks this week... it's certainly been a very different one!  My niece went into hospital for a scheduled operation, so I had two days off so I could go and be with her and my sister.  Daddy stayed home with the boys both days - on Tuesday they had their usual clubs (craft and science) so Daddy was introduced to the more sociable side of home educating, and on Thursday there were no groups or outings scheduled so the boys had a pretty easy day while Daddy got some work done.  Eldest, being the one who craves structure the most, carried on with MathsWhizz and handwriting practice as usual.

Wednesday saw us celebrating Youngest's fifth birthday.  We went to soft play in the morning and then had a party in the afternoon.  Sadly not all those invited could come owing to illness, but those who did come made a very merry party for my lovely boy.  Occasionally throughout the day he would come up to me and say "I'm having a lovely birthday!  Thank you Mummy!"  Talk about heart-melting!  Sometimes it's so easy to just get frustrated with the boys' bouts of fighting and squabbling, but on Wednesday all of that was forgotten and Eldest and Middle were just so happy to celebrate their brother's birthday.  No sibling jealousy at all - it was really sweet.  Eldest's behaviour did wobble a bit in the afternoon at the party but then he confessed he wasn't feeling well so I dosed him up and things improved after that.  Sure enough, the next day he and Middle were coughing away, apparently having picked up Youngest's germs from the previous week.
So today, having had quite a disorientating week, we were all ready for a bit of structure again (but just a bit as the older two are still somewhat lurgified).  Middle and Youngest did some handwriting practice and Reading Eggs(press), and Youngest also did some more Mathseeds... he loves that program; I can see I'm going to have to fully subscribe!  Eldest chose to do workbooks instead of Reading Eggspress or MathsWhizz.  It's interesting how he is drawn towards workbooks again now.  Middle is still very wary of workbooks, but I think he was more traumatised by school (which was heavily work-book based), so maybe he'll come round eventually, or maybe he'll always prefer computer programmes.  It really doesn't matter to me as long as he's happy learning.

Also this week we've had an ongoing fridge challenge.  I make a topic word out of our fridge magnet letters (thank you Innocent Smoothies!), and the boys use the other letters to build a crossword around it.  I think they've done pretty well so far...

And Middle (the very reluctant writer) was inspired by something he saw on the computer, and wrote out a little story for Youngest...

There have been lots of games, drawing, playing, exploring and learning - some in a different guise to what we are used to - and hooray for that - and some more of the same as the boys are used to, just not as noticed by me.  It's all fine - I know that they are learning and happy, which is all that counts.

I am so thankful for the flexibility of what we do.  We do appreciate a little structure (just a little), but if we can't flex that structure to suit us when necessary then it has become a hindrance instead of a help.  When people say that they are structured, semi-structured/ slightly structured etc, others sometimes assume they know what that means.  Many autonomous educators (if that isn't an oxymoron) feel that structure equals rigid rules, such as 'we must get XY or Z done' - but for us that certainly isn't the case.  We have a general idea of what we would like to explore during the week - hence the 'planner' - but none of it is really rigid.  There is just one over-riding rule to our structure: it is flexible to our needs at any given time.  And this week I particularly appreciated the value of an utterly flexible structure.  Just as well, as I can see the need for more flexibility coming up in the next couple of weeks or so...!

Monday, 23 September 2013

My Little Atelier: Block Printing

It being "Pyjama Monday", and therefore our favourite day to get creative, I was strangely unprepared with any arty ideas today.  It's not usually a problem - the boys often have ideas of their own - but before we even got that far the postman rang the doorbell to deliver September's edition of "My Little Atelier"... now I call that perfect timing!  It wasn't long before I had three little bodies crowding around trying to get a look at the contents.

This month the theme was Woodblock Printing, using Hokusai's "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" for inspiration.  Out came the box contents immediately, and I had to out the brakes on just long enough to get the kitchen table covered ready for paints.

We looked at Hokusai's work and talked about how the best designs were the simple ones.  We drew our designs onto paper first - this is Eldest's design...

Then we copied the designs onto the polystyrene tiles provided (they were A4 size, but I cut them in half to we could all have a go).  I helped Youngest and Eldest to make the lines wide enough and deep enough to hopefully show through - Middle just seemed to have the knack...

The idea was then to put paint into the paint tray, followed by the created block stamp, but sadly our paint tray had somehow broken in transit.  'Woodland Children' are sending a replacement, but still, the boys weren't bothered as they wanted to colour in their designs with multiple colours, so we painted straight onto the tiles...

Then turning the tile over we carefully pressed it down onto the blank paper and just as carefully lifted it up again.  Trying not to wiggle it wasn't easy for the younger ones, but they did just fine...

We all printed at least two copies so the boys could see the variations with each print - and then picked our favourites to show here (print tiles shown alongside the 'best' prints).  All in all, a lovely activity - another 'My Little Atelier' hit!

"North Johnson" by Youngest
(North Johnson is a character invented by Youngest and who appears in many of Youngest's stories)

"Rainbow Slug" by Middle

"Anakin's Jedi Starfighter" by Eldest

"Hedgehog" by Mummy