Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Why We Don't Need LA Visits

I have said before that as long as visits from the Local Authority are not a legal requirement for home educators, I will not have them.  A few misguided individuals in the last government tried to force the matter and lost - and although some HEors are fortunate enough to currently have LA workers who are friendly and well-meaning, for me it is the principle: I am not prepared to yield any ground that was fought so hard for by the HE community just a few years ago.  I wrote politely to our LA declining visits, and they have been fine with that.  No problem.  But occasionally the subject comes up again, and I read two articles this evening, back-to-back, that set me off on a bit of a rant.  I posted opinions online, raged mildly at hubby, and decided to get it off my chest here...

First, this article from the Guardian, about the home educators in Westminster having to take action against their council who want to enforce monitoring visits etc, despite there being no legal requirement to do so...

Second, this (seemingly unrelated) article from the Telegraph, about the compulsory promotion of Marxism in Chinese universities.

Actually I had also read an article this morning written by an unschooler in Canada.  With the inspiring words from the Canadian writer still ringing in my ears, the contrast between that and the Chinese system was so extreme.  I asked hubby incredulously how the Chinese could hope to produce world-leading inventors and creators if they don't allow free-thinking - and then realised that our own state system is not so different, with even primary schools being so tied up in targets, tests and league tables that the child has ceased to be seen as an individual and is rather just a statistic; an impersonal product - successful or otherwise - of a desperately over-burdened and hyper-legislated system.

Home educators in Westminster and all over the country have turned their back on the education system: some had high ideals and principles right from the very beginning of their children's lives, but many chose the HE route because their children had been badly let down by their school experience, and there was a sense of "we have no choice: we can't do any worse than leaving them in school".  As I have often said before, I have nothing against teachers - I have many teacher friends who are all diligent and dedicated professionals doing their very best for each child in their care, as evidenced by the children who do succeed in school.  BUT.  The system is broken.  It does not work for every child, it is not designed around the well-being of children, and it certainly does not work for most home educated children.

So - given that I have chosen to pursue an education for my children that I believe is better than the government can provide (not because I am so great but because they are so bad), where is the sense in my submitting to a Local Authority assessment on how I'm doing?  Even if I did somehow manage to satisfy their tick-box inspectors, how can I possibly accept advice from those who work for a system that I - and many, many experts and professionals - can see has failed?

Some of our friends do have visits from the LA: most are a rubber stamp; occasionally in specific circumstances they are helpful; many are a stressful and unproductive intrusion.  But as far as I am concerned, the LA team have nothing to do with my boys' education - they have no expertise in the style of education that I aspire to and no understanding of what drives us, as it is completely at odds with the targets set by the Government.

The education received by those two boys in Canada is so whole - so free - so healthy, it is utterly inspiring.  But can you imagine what a Chinese official would make of them?  Surely they would deem them to have completely failed, by their own narrow academic and ideological diktats. It may not be a fair comparison, as the two examples that fell into my lap appear to be so extreme in their opposition to each other - but in my opinion right now, sending a government official to assess home educators is as meaningless as a Chinese assessment of Canadian unschoolers.  And that is why we don't need LA visits.

Experimental Structure

Over the last few years we have enjoyed the odd foray into total unschooling or using as little structure as we can.  I think that is because we had so much structure at school that we all needed to experience different ways of 'educating', and we have appreciated the benefits of chilled-out flexibility.  We have never gone to the other extreme of full structure though - yet...

Last 'term' (I still think in school terms so there is clearly still some structure in my mind) we started off with loose plans and ideas rather than strict schedules, and we had a very enjoyable active start of term.  By the beginning of December however it all fell to pieces, partly due to the time of year - it's not practical setting high expectations for children who are getting increasingly hyper about the Christmas season - and partly due to a family bereavement that quite frankly floored me.  I was grateful for the festive distractions that kept the boys occupied while I dealt with the practical details (and churning emotions) that ensued.

I confess though, that I am uncomfortable with the complete lack of structure that we experienced this month.  I know it was understandable and even necessary, but it has left me craving a bit more structure.  In fact, while going over my thoughts for the coming year I found myself wanting considerably more structure than before (control issues?  you don't say!)  In theory if I have it all laid out in front of me up front, the boys will know what to expect and I will not have to do any significant planning as we go along - well, that's the idea anyway.  Spring term traditionally lends itself to more at-home HE, so it's a good time to be trying it out!

I'm not going for a purchased complete curricula as I already know the boys don't respond well to that.  And I'm not going to cram their days with so many demands that they have no free time to be creative and follow their own pursuits.  But I am going to write out a plan for the coming half term - with specific subjects/ activities for each day - gleaned largely from the internet and our own resources.  I am going to plan probably four mornings a week for six weeks, leaving one totally flexible day a week (weekends don't count!) plus all afternoons for either social activities or the boys to do what they want.  Oh, and my planned activities will still be based on ideas that I know the boys will find fun, as it doesn't matter how precise my plans are, if the boys think it's boring it is all pointless anyway!  And if we fail to achieve the activities allocated to any specific day?  Well who cares?  That surely is the beauty of HE - its flexibility!

So it will be a new structure for us, but I'm looking forward to it.  Who would have thought that nearly three years into our HE journey we would still be experimenting with the best way to structure (or not) our learning?  It keeps it fresh and interesting though - I love it!

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Death or Life of a Favourite Subject

Thoughts today have turned to next year's Home Education, and one thing in particular is on my mind: English (urgh).  It is more than ironic that an English graduate should have such a reaction to the subject, but that is how it now is.

Eldest, age 12, is getting to the age where we are thinking about the possibility of iGCSEs.  He is not ready yet, I know that, but we are still mulling over options in the hope that we will have an idea of how we want to progress when the time is right.  It is highly likely that we will follow the iGCSE route within the next couple of years, and Maths and English seem the most obvious subjects that are generally required whatever path he then pursues.


He hates English.  Middle hates English now too - and I hate their English workbooks.  We've abandoned them in favour of reading and writing for pleasure.  All three boys love reading and are quite happy to do the odd bit of writing, but all of the National Curriculum type workbooks (from KS2 onwards) that we have attempted are absolutely and dreadfully off-putting.  It is not just about basic grammar: they dissect and pull apart the construction of a piece of writing until it becomes meaningless.  Many of the questions are so vague and often subjective that I can't even answer them - and I have a degree in the subject!

How are we going to get Eldest through a qualification in my specialist subject when the way it is taught is so repellant to both of us?  I love English: I love grammar; I love books; I love writing... but I cannot abide what the National Curriculum has done to the subject.  I heard a teacher recently comment that the way English is taught nowadays has smothered our children's creativity and robbed us of our inspiring readers and writers, and I couldn't agree more. English as a subject has been dissected to death; the Government have killed my favourite subject!

So this is my dilemma: do I try to teach English in the way required for Eldest to be able to gain a qualification in it, and risk putting him off the subject for ever - or do I do my best to encourage him in the love of literature and language that I enjoy but risk him never gaining a generally required qualification?

I'm stumped.

All I can do is move on to planning other subjects for now and hope that one of my fellow home educators has a genius idea.  If so, you can be sure I'll share it!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What works for you

A lovely friend posted a question on Facebook today, and as I typed my answer I realised that it was getting a bit long, so I turned it into a blog post! (Thanks for the inspiration, lovely friend!)  She was trying to find information on how different HE families plan, facilitate or structure learning and spend their time, so apart from sending a link to my downloadable planner, my thoughts were as follows...

It totally varies with the seasons here (the family's seasons, not necessarily the seasons of the year, although the two are often closely related).  Currently what is working for us is an agreed amount of time (eg 30 minutes) or pages (usually two) in Maths/ English every day.  That is the obviously parent-led bit for us: I have been known to refer to it as my Home Ed blanket - if they do nothing else, at least I know they have the very basics of literacy and numeracy.  We also play a lot of number and word games, write stories, read poetry etc.  Brave Writer is a favourite resource.

After that come project ideas found by me on Pinterest/ Facebook subject groups/ general browsing/ our own resources.  Sometimes, if I'm inspired, we will have a "background project" running with lots of activities around the same theme (although they still learn whatever grabs their attention whether on theme or not).  Sometimes the boys will choose their own topic to explore, and if I am stumped for where to begin, lap book sites such as Homeschool Share can be a real Godsend!  At the moment there is no single idea from any of us (Christmas is looming: I reckon it's going to be all festive baking and glitter crafts for the next month), just lots of ideas that they boys can invest in as much or as little as they like.  I have found as time goes on that I seem to approach different subjects in different ways...

If it's Art-related, I can generally suggest a project from Pinterest or Deep Space Sparkle (my favourite art lesson website) and the boys will almost always be happy to give it a go. Sometimes they choose their own project - and they draw a LOT of their own pictures etc.  I think most children are born with a natural interest in Art, and as mine - unlike me - have never had anyone tell them that they are 'no good at it', they still approach it with enthusiasm.  I really cherish that!

History tends to be more story-based.  We have LOTS of history books here, some of which are great for reading aloud, such as "Kings and Things", and "The Story of the World".  I like to choose a story to read to them, and then step back and see where it leads us.  Often it inspires all sorts of questions that I hadn't anticipated which can take us on a wild Google surf, or to other books, or even days out.  Sometimes the boys will draw a picture of an aspect of the story - I find it fascinating to discover the bits that grasped their imagination.  When there is a particular subject that I think they would enjoy looking at (such as Romans, last summer) I make sure I have a good look around for resources (craft ideas etc), and possible places to visit for as long as their interest is sustained.  Thank God for the internet!  It makes a home educator's job so much easier!

Geography was not very appealing to me until recently (a throwback to dreary school lessons I guess).  Ideas and links from fellow HEors led me to Postcrossing, a free subscription site where you can send a receive postcards, all around the world.  We have a globe, and a big world map on the world, so we can instantly reference which country we are posting to/ receiving from.  This is often a fleeting reference but can lead to further conversations.  We also like jigsaw maps and games like Mapominoes, for finding out where countries are  The boys likes watching "Wild Earth" type programmes (volcanoes, crazy weather etc) on TV.  Again, we have lots of books on the subject, that are never looked at while on the shelf, but if I just leave them hanging around, one or two at a time, it's surprising how quickly they are picked up and devoured.  Strewing, oh-so-subtly, can inspire all sorts of interest.

Science is generally more hands on (though we haven't done many experiments at home lately as the boys have been going to a Science club lately where the planning and preparation was all done for us!)  Then they absolutely love nature documentaries on TV, and there are plenty of ideas on Pinterest, not to forget science kits in the shops.  The electronics kit is a particular favourite here!  I think I need to look through the experiment books again soon, and get some bits in for our own kitchen science... maybe in the new year...

Generally, as with most things, I think it's all a matter of experimenting until you find a method that works for you (and be prepared to adapt it with time).  I still find my planner helpful as it gives me an overview of ideas that we can choose to follow or not, and drawing it up prompts me to browse for ideas when I am running low in inspiration.  Usually I sit down with it on an evening over the weekend and come up with ideas for the coming week.  It doesn't rule us though - if we end up doing something completely different to what is written down, that's great!  It's just there to give me ideas if the boys have nothing in particular that they want to do.  it can feel quite parent-led at times, and what usually draws these seasons to an end is when the boys are showing signs that they want to be less directed, or if I feel that their innate desire for learning is being quashed by my leading in certain directions.  At the moment, though, I am careful to only choose a couple of activities per day - and the afternoons are always the boys' to choose what to do with.  lately there has been a bit of a computer-gaming feel to the afternoons, but that can change in time - we often have a 'no computers' rule for afternoons to make sure that the boys are still engaging their brains creatively in other ways too.

So that's what works for us (for now, at least!)  I'd love to know: what works for you?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Who Is Deschooling For?

With a lovely sister who is just a few months into her HE journey with my niece, I have been reliving all of the newbie Home Ed questions and issues with her... and I find it fascinating how different my responses are nowadays to when we had first started ourselves.

Take 'deschooling' for example: in the early days, as evidenced by my blog, I wasn't even convinced that it was necessary - just a 'good idea' for those who choose it, perhaps especially the children who had a bad school experience.  After several months I acknowledged that it is invaluable for anyone coming out of school... to the point now where my most recent comment to a new HEor was as follows:

"My boys de-schooled far more quickly than I did! It takes a good while to get your own adult head around a different way of learning, so it's wise not to set any expectations or demands on them/ yourself until you've had several months of just chilling, reading around on the subject and generally enjoying playing and being with each other"

You see, I am now totally convinced of the following few points:
  • Deschooling is an essential process that all PARENTS (and children to a lesser degree) need to go through when they take their child(ren) out of school. 
  • It is vital for radically resetting preconceptions on how learning works, particularly as pertaining to the individual child's personality and the family's needs. 
  • Basic requirements are lots of play, rest and relationship building, as well as reading up on HE styles and chats with other home educators on the practicalities involved etc.

It is also my opinion that structured work or evidence of learning demanded by the parent can really hinder the deschooling process.  A child who leaves school and starts HE wanting to do workbooks is less likely to be a child who naturally learns that way, and more likely to be a child who has forgotten how to learn in any other way that having their work planned for them.  Many times now I have heard new HE parents happily claim that they don't need to deschool as their child wants a timetable with workbooks etc, only to be bewildered by hitting a wall weeks or months later.  If a child demands work I would go along with that happily, but be prepared that at some point probably not too far away, said child is quite likely to suddenly turn their back on the workbooks and laminated timetable.  This is the daunting bit for new home educators that requires the adult supporting the child's rejection of traditional school-based learning methods, and embracing the "de-schooling" process - for as long as it takes.

In our experience, we have had seasons of happy, parent-instigated learning (most often the boys take over quickly and run as far as they want to with it), followed by more clunky seasons where the boys suddenly ("suddenly" usually means I didn't spot the warning signs) don't want to do anything I suggest, or I start to wobble about what we should be doing.  These are the seasons that usually signify another wave of de-schooling: time to take the foot off the pedal and free-wheel a bit while the children find their direction and enthusiasm again or I jettison another chunk of irrelevant school-based assumptions.  The lovely thing, now that I have a good couple of years experience under my belt, is that I know these are seasons: they come and go.  An 'out-of-the-blue' week refusing to do any maths does not mean they will never get any GCSEs and will be lucky to get a job in McDonalds - it just means they are fed up with maths for now, but will regain their interest in a couple of months or so.

Deschooling may not be for everyone - I guess a home educated parent who has never sent their child to school would probably be far ahead of the curve of most of us - but even so, I am now quite passionate about the benefits - even the necessity - of deschooling... and I'm so happy to be able to share that with my sister, with new contacts, and anyone else who could use the encouragement!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Time to Remember...

November is a great month for Home Ed ideas!

First we had Bonfire Night: "Remember remember the fifth of November..." - so we read a lovely little book on the Gunpowder Plot together, simple enough to hold all the children's interest, but detailed enough to explain a bit of the background, then they all drew a related picture.  My 10 year old niece was also visiting - she is also home educated now, and my sister was working, so she joined in with what we were doing...

Niece's "Bonfire Night"

Middle's "Gunpowder Plot: the plan"

Youngest's "Queen Mary" (explaining the reason behind the plotting)

Eldest's "Gunpowder Cellar"

Then this week we had Remembrance Day, which has prompted some lovely conversations.  We focused on World War One because of the centenary.  We watched some original footage, courtesy of the free Royal British Legion education pack, talked about a huge range of topics, from how to tell the difference between your army and the other army on the battlefield, to fighting families, and why we have a day especially for remembering.  We observed two minutes silence (well, Youngest almost managed it), painted poppy pictures inspired by some we found on Artsonia, and we played "World war one bingo" (PDF file available here), with me taking a question card at random, asking it, and then the boys putting Haribo on the square showing the correct answer - when they got four in a row they could eat them, although they preferred to wait until they had a full house!




For both topics we really appreciated the opportunity to use a 'starting point' resource, whether a book, website or other idea, and then springboard off that with naturally occurring questions, leading to further activities wherever our interest leads.  It's a really natural style of home education that suits us most, and I love it!

Friday, 24 October 2014

.... Aaaand breathe

So in Herts at least, half-term starts here.  Not that we are tied to school holidays in the sense that we learn when we want to, go out when we want to, rest when we want to etc - but we do have a week of no groups to go to: no craft club, swimming, science club, animation class, topic group etc, as all have stopped for half-term.  I still have my physio appointment, but otherwise we have a whole week free of planned events... bliss!  I have never known a season as hectic as this one since we started home educating, and I am really looking forward to the rest!  I love all the groups etc, but part of me feels like we have been too busy for me to enjoy learning at home with the boys, and I miss that.

Hence the "aaaand breathe".  Time for a break - time to slow down and just enjoy being together - and take stock of the groups - which ones are really helpful and/ or enjoyable, and ask if any have maybe run their course.  It is that season where the temptation to retreat to our den and hibernate is getting stronger - as temperatures outside decrease, so the desire to stay inside our warm house and just enjoy a cosy pace of learning increases.

Like today - Eldest went out to animation and then we all went to Science club and had fun (Middle particularly) experimenting with making "elephant's toothpaste".  But my favourite bit of the day?  It was this morning when, snuggled up with Mummy, Youngest completed his last ever Reading Eggs lesson, and earned a gold certificate.  Such a proud moment!  He was a little concerned that he had cheated on one stage (it wasn't a deliberate cheat, he just got carried away hitting enter, which unexpectedly seemed to over-ride that particular lesson), but I was able to reassure him and say that he deserved the 'Gold Cup' certificate because the "cheated" bit wasn't involved in the final test - and anyway, he had worked hard to understand all the lessons and is now a Very Good Reader.

My other favourite part of the day, Middle's squeals of delight at the expanding elephant's toothpaste notwithstanding, was the "Autumn" poem that Middle wrote (dictated to me) and then illustrated. Again, he was snuggled up to me while I typed... I'm spotting a theme here!  It was such a lovely cosy moment, capturing everything that he loves about the season... really special!

So I'm hoping that next half-term will be a slower, steadier pace, with perhaps less clubs (and hopefully less poorly hedgehogs - nine at one point in September was quite overwhelming), and more time to simply snuggle while we explore the world from our front room - I cherish those moments as they are the stuff that anchor our relationships and that happy memories are made of.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

When I'm Not Looking...

One of the most frustrating things about home education is when I don't have time to give each of the boys my full attention.  This season started off with positivity and energy - and a degree of structure/ planning. However life always has a way of interrupting our plans, and although we have kept up with Maths and English, we have been so busy with clubs, trips and events that we haven't had time for many of my other more academic suggestions for the term.

I can't complain: we've been to Duxford to learn how planes are built and discover more about aviation history (including seeing the plane that my lovely grandfather flew in in the war); we've been to watch robots do battle in a live show; we've been creative in our local pottery-painting shop; we've had fun competing to see how high we can launch alka-seltzer powered rockets, and used similar explosions to create works of art; we've learned how to make animations; we've used forensic science to solve a (fictional) crime, we've joined a group exploring the seven wonders of the universe on film; we've invented games using computer-coding and on paper; we've been to the cinema to explore ten pieces of classical music, and then enjoyed listening some more at home; we've played with good friends, and made new ones...

In short, we've been busy!

So why then have I felt so dissatisfied with our home education this past month?  Well, writing all that down helps me to see that actually the boys really are enjoying a rich and varied education - but I admit I had fallen into the trap of focusing on the plans that we weren't fulfilling, rather than looking at everything that WAS happening.

It's all about focus.  When I am focused on the boys and involved in what they are enjoying (and making notes in the diary), it is actually pretty easy to be satisfied.  But I was distracted by organising trips and all the various medical appointments we have going on at  present (including babysitters for whichever children aren't involved), let alone dealing with poorly hedgehogs... and then add to that the inescapable spectre of housework that is constantly threatening to spiral out of control - well, it felt like it didn't matter how much the boys were "doing", if I was so pre-occupied that I didn't see it.

They hadn't stopped learning, of course - they were just doing it while I wasn't looking!  A nice little example of this that helped me to get things back into perspective was a few weeks ago in the boys' swimming lesson.  We had done lots of swimming over the summer holidays, and when we got back to "lessons", Middle had made real progress, to the point where he was moved out of 'Beginners' and up into the next group.  He was thrilled, Mummy was bursting with pride - it was just lovely!  Of course, that meant that I now had three groups to try to watch simultaneously - which meant that I wasn't watching the beginners class as much as I had been.  At one point I turned my gaze back from the middle pool to the beginners pool to try to spot Youngest, and briefly wondered "who's that small child swimming so beautifully in the youngest group?"  It is no word of a lie to say that I did a genuine double-take as I realised it was Youngest! (Cue even more Mummy-pride, right there!)  While I wasn't looking he had just taken off and decided he could swim.  And although it's tempting to feel sad that I missed the precise "first step" moment, I just choose to be grateful for the privilege of being part of it

You see, I have to give myself permission not to be involved with every single moment, especially as they get older.  Even if I was only responsible for the education of one child, it would be unrealistic to expect that I would be intimately involved every step of the way - and I have three who share my focus (as well as the house, hedgehogs, other responsibilities).  I want to raise independent children, so I need not be surprised when they are feeling empowered to just go ahead and learn something new.  They have my blessing to forge their way forward - it is a privilege to be as involved as I am, but this season has reminded me that although the boys' education is legally my responsibility, it actually belongs to them.  I can not control it, and to try to do so only brings frustration.  When they are learning independently I have actually done better at my job than if they continuously relied on me to tell them what to study

Which brings me to today's "lesson".  Lesson for Mummy, that is - in backing off.  Eldest was due to do some English.  He has gone off workbooks lately, and I am not forcing the issue as I figure there will be plenty of time for that style of study when it comes to exams.  So he's been reading, writing stories etc - enjoying his trademark surreal self-expression.  Today I had to do something else with Middle and Youngest, so I asked him what he'd like to do: workbook, Shakespeare cartoon, write a poem, carry on with his story, read a book etc.  He chose poetry.  I said in that case I would like him to read a few poems to get into the zone.  He said (twice, as I was a bit slow on the uptake) that he didn't need to - he already knew what he wanted to write.  I said OK but I would like to see something a bit longer than just a few lines of rhyme.  He nodded at me ultra-patiently and went to find paper and pencil.  It wasn't long before he came back, telling his brothers to come and sit down, close their eyes and imagine what he was talking about.  Clearly he had already been in the zone as soon as he chose to write a poem and I had just been a distraction.  I absolutely love his poem, and I am learning to love what my boys can do when I'm not looking...

"Nature", by Eldest

As I gaze across the hills
I see the wind rushing past
turning this way and that,
grabbing any leaves in its path
as if it was filled with some enchanted power.

I see rabbits jumping past helping the little babies learn.
I see the tall tree standing firm, swaying gently in the breeze.
I see bees flying by collecting nectar for the hive from a nearby meadow.
I see clouds flying past in many different forms.

I hear the tune from a bird chirping in the morning air.
I hear the chattering from a squirrel gnawing on an acorn.
I hear the croaking from a frog in a nearby lake.

I see some deer walking past and hear them talking to each other and I wonder what they're saying.
One thing's for sure - this is the place for me.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Number Table to 100 (times tables)

Phew!  Talk about busy!  Lots of hedgehog inpatients at the moment, combined with same old back issues and an unprecedented amount of social stuff and groups to go to - I'm not sure whether I'm coming or going!  Hence the lack for blog posts lately - it's as much as I can do to stay on top of the rest!

Anyway, I wanted to share a resource that I made yesterday.  Youngest seems to have gone up a level in MathsWhizz and the exercises that he is being given are now proving more of a stretch.  This is not really a problem - as long as he's enjoying it, he can carry on, but if he hits a wall I'm fine for him to take a break if he needs, while his brain simultaneously rests and assimilates what he has been working on.  We've experienced this before so I'm happy to take my lead from him.  He seems OK to continue for now, and as one of the questions showed him an example of a 1 - 100 number table, I thought I would whizz one up for him to use.  He used the old 1 - 20 caterpillar a lot, so this is a natural progression.  He is currently learning about odd and even numbers (2x table), and counting in 5s and 10s, so I colour-coded those on the number table - and noted the prime numbers too.  While I was there I thought it probably wouldn't be long until he reached the other times tables too - Middle certainly has - so I did a few more number charts, one for 3x 6x and 9x tables, one for 4x 8x and 12x tables, and one for 7x and 11x tables.  I think they will really help Middle seeing the patterns etc as he is such a visual learner.  Anyway, I thought I'd share the PDF download here as well in case anyone else can use them too.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Balancing the Busy-ness

 Well this is turning into a busy term!  I'm trying to keep track of all the different groups that have started locally - we are so fortunate to live in a place with a thriving HE community, there is always something going on, and it would be very easy to take on so much that we completely overstretch ourselves!  It's such an important balance: having enough time socialising, enough time enjoying group learning, and enough time relaxing and learning at home, at our own pace (not to forget looking after the house and hedgehogs).  At the moment we have two weekly groups and one monthly group, with regular (but not scheduled) socials & playdates.  There are opportunities particularly on a Monday that I was tempted by, but we all still really benefit from keeping Mondays dedicated to PJ days.  It just seems to anchor us, having a day a week when we know we will be home with no demands.

Having said that, this week Monday was not a PJ day as it was my niece's birthday party.  The boys had a great time with friends, bouncy castle, cake etc, and once in a while it doesn't hurt to give up PJ day for a good cause.  I still wouldn't commit to anything regular on a Monday though.

Of course, yesterday's "day off" meant we didn't get maths done etc, but the boys were all up for it this morning, & they all not only completed their Mathswhizz thirty minutes, but also did their English (Eldest's workbook, Youngest's Reading Eggs and Middle's Madlibs (his choice after the workbook issues last week).  They wanted to do art next, and instead of the planned Cave Art project that I couldn't find the paper for, we did a Pop-art project instead, courtesy of Deep Space Sparkle. The lesson involved doing a repeated pattern of flowers on grass, but the boys decided they wanted to do sea-creatures instead...

Youngest's "Fish"

Middle's "Piranhas"

Eldest's "Jellyfish"

Following that we watched the second episode of "Operation Cloud Lab".  I asked if the boys wanted to watch it another day, but they were determined, so we went ahead.  That was one busy day!  A the end of the TV programme the phone went - it was someone who had found hoglets, followed by another caller with another hoglet... and then another!  So my day got distinctly busier, but the boys' day became less so.  So I am writing this finally at 10.45pm, about to head for bed now I have finished the last item on today's "to-do list": write in my blog!  Good night all! 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Me On The Map

When I was preparing this morning's activity last night it took quite a while, and I wasn't sure how well the boys would take to it... lots of fiddly drawing.  However, they spotted my 'example' and were intrigued, so that made for a nice bit of enthusiasm after Maths.

We started off reading "Me on the Map", which we all really liked, and it gave us lots of ideas (I think we'll return to it next week too).  Then I got out my pre-prepared activity.  It is a craft using concentric circles pinned together to show where the child lives: their house, their street, their town, county, country, continent and world.  I had seen it on Pinterest initially, but all the versions I found were American based (talking about what State you live in etc), and I couldn't find a UK version, so I made my own here.

It's really an activity for young children, so I was confident that Youngest would like it - and Middle.  I just wasn't sure if it was too simple for Eldest.  I let him decide for himself though, and I think it helped that he saw I had done it myself.  The lovely thing is that although I had prepared printed maps for the younger ones to cut out and stick on the right 'page', Eldest decided to take the more complex route of drawing the maps by hand - and he did a great job!

I printed off the sheets and the boys cut out their own circles...

Then they wrote and drew/ cut and pasted onto each page as appropriate, and pinned the circles together in order with a split pin ...

Youngest's                   &                    Middle's

A few of the "cut & paste" maps used...

Eldest's craft, shown in full as he was - rightly - proud of his "detailed" work...

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

So Far, So Planned (ish)

Well the "plan" has been really helpful so far!

Yesterday the boys were all eager to get back into the swing of things. Mathswhizz first, which they all enjoy (after Mummy did the morning hedgehog clean-out of course), and then Youngest spotted the 'Deadly Defenders' game on CBBC while I was trying to find some information for a friend.  His brothers were still occupied with maths, so he had a play - it's great!  They all ended up having a go - it's quite addictive, and as it comprises wildlife knowledge with math skills and strategizing, I didn't mind at all!

We then got to our Art activity.  I had planned to do the 'Cave Art' module from our Deep Space Sparkle curriculum, but the book I ordered hadn't turned up, so we chose one from the Grade 1 curriculum, based on the book, "Up Tall and High", which we do have.  It was a lovely activity, and was definitely enhanced by the video tutorial as she explained (in simple terms) the techniques used, and demonstrated what to do.  The boys all enjoyed it and were pleased with the result...

Youngest's bird

Middle's bird

Eldest's bird

After Art, I got to choose the first TV programme of the day: there was a little complaining that they didn't get to watch "Rabbids Invasion" immediately, until they realised I had recorded a special episode of Mythbusters based on Star Wars (I found it on Youtube here for those who like the sound of it)... it went down really well!  The afternoon was then free for them to choose their own activities - well, Eldest did (choosing Minecraft), but Middle and Youngest needed to tidy their room first, so it was a while before they were able to play "Five Second Rule" together.  I love it when they ask to do something as a family.  Eldest joined us and we had a good giggle playing.

Today was English, as per our weekly planner.  Youngest loved being back on Reading Eggs, and Eldest got on with his workbook with little problem - hooray.  Sadly Middle was in a funk about his workbook as he decided it was too hard (actually not hard at all - it was just a page of writing definitions), so it took AGES of cajoling.  I need to rethink this one with him.  On the one hand, he is still primary age, and I want him to just enjoy reading and writing freely without demands or restrictions.  On the other hand, as Eldest and I are starting to discover - if he wants to take qualifications, Maths and English will be the basic requirements, and the English curriculum is so rigid, I don't want to put him at a disadvantage by getting behind.  Who'd have thought I'd still be agonising over this in our third year of HE?!

Anyway, once Middle eventually finished, we were able to do an experiment making a cloud in a bottle, as found on Youtube.  It was quick, easy, and most importantly, it worked!  We followed up by Mummy's choice of TV: a recorded episode of "Operation Cloud Lab", which my Dad had watched and recommended.  I recorded it and we watched the first episode today - considering it's made for adult viewers, the boys all stayed with it really well.

I love it when a plan works!  This afternoon the boys had friends over to play, so I was able to write in my blog.  On the whole the gentle structure is working well for us - but I do need to reconsider Middle and his dreaded English workbook.  Any ideas, feel free to share - and otherwise (as always) watch this space...!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Home Ed Planner PDF

Following on from yesterday's post on all my planning thoughts, and it's taken the best part of the day, but I have come up with two fill-in sheets: one general sheet of ideas (not plans) for the next HE season (not term) - I was careful with my choice of words as I really don't know how long it will take and I don't want to set even subconscious expectations that we "should" keep this up until Christmas!

The second sheet is a weekly planner to fill in (spaces under the morning subjects to write in more specifics) and in the afternoon blanks for socials, one-offs and whatever the boys choose.  I deliberately allowed two boxes per afternoon to encourage the boys to do more than one thing (especially if that thing is watching mindless TV!)

Anyway, here it is, for anyone who can use any inspiration (and with an extra blank weekly page included for those without breadmakers and hedgehogs!): my home ed planner

September Structure

Well I think that is probably the longest that I have gone without posting on my blog!  Oops!  We have had a properly long "summer holiday" - the kind of holiday we used to have as kids - no plans, no homework or projects to complete or catching-up to do.  Just a lovely long rest. Well, the boys all rested anyway.  I split my time between tending to wild hedgehogs and trying to get to grips with the "embarrassing" areas of the house - too many areas where temporary storage had become general dumping grounds!  I do dream of the old adage "a place for everything and everything in its place", but whether or not I shall ever achieve that is entirely another matter!  Still, we have a bit more order again now, so that was a nicely productive summer!

Incidentally, if you are interested in my hedgehog rehabilitation adventures, I have a (much shorter) blog about that now too!

Anyway, we got back from a week at the seaside this weekend, and after a day spent washing and resting, my thoughts have turned to next term.  Well, actually I was going over the calendar making sure I had everything marked on it that I didn't want to miss, and it got me thinking about the subjects and activities that I would like to look at in the coming months.

I started writing a list...
Art - cave art, watercolour birds, Rousseau, Keith Haring (thanks to the Deep Space Sparkle curriculum that we have just purchased.  It wasn't cheap, but we got a discount by ordering early, and we have used DSS lessons many, many times, with great success - so after lengthy consideration we have decided that it will be worth it in the long run as despite my enthusiasm for 'having a go at art', I am woefully lacking in understanding the history, techniques etc)
Geography - drawing maps, me on the map (from browsing my Pinterest wall and finding inspiration in links that I had previously pinned)
History - Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and the Battle of Hastings (we visited Hastings while on holiday, so interest is already sparked)
Bible - a memory verse/ song, Youngest's Storyteller Bible
Science - human body (Youngest wants to know how hearts work) and weather (clouds, fog, wind etc)

Of course Maths and English will be ticking along with MathsWhizz and the English workbooks, but we will also be supplementing that with more practical board games, budgeting, poetry and story-telling - not to forget lots of reading!

All of this planning was making my head spin - and then I remembered a free printable planner that I had pinned a couple of years ago.  Not all of the pages are applicable to us, but some are really helpful and it is helping to get my head together.  I am under no illusions: I realise that I'm on a big fat "new-term' induced, parent-led planning spree - and that said spree is unlikely to bear much relation to what we end up doing for the rest of 2014.  I don't even know how long the parent-led-ness of our next HE season will last - it could be months, weeks, days...  but I do know that we are all gearing up and ready for some structure and some fun.  So watch this space, it'll be fun to see how far off the mark my plans turn out to be!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Diet Drama

We don't 'do' diets.  Not in the trying-to-lose-weight sense, anyway.  What's the point, when they're all about what you can't eat?  Depriving yourself of something just makes you think of it as a treat or reward, when the truth is, most such things are usually pollutants to our bodies and not a treat at all.

However, our diet as in the food that we consume on a regular basis has become very restricted and not particularly healthy, with far too many processed foods for my liking.  I read an article on food phobics (not that any of the boys are - they're just fussy to various degrees) and read of a little boy who was hospitalised with malnutrition because all he would consume was yoghurt.  It certainly jolted me into wondering how nourished - or otherwise - our bodies are.

So for example, the other day I made an effort to cook a good sausage casserole. The vegetarian sausages were processed, but the rest was all good food.  Sadly the boys didn't think so.  One refused the vegetables, another didn't like the spices used, and the third decided that he no longer likes sausages!  They moaned and complained, and I'm sad to say I lost my temper.  I am not a 'foodie', and dislike cooking generally - I just do it because I love my boys and want the best for them.  So after all the effort of making something good, to have them reject it, I was at the end of my tether.  Anyway, after we all calmed down, we had a chat and I told them how it made me feel: that I hate cooking, I do it for them, that giving them only the food they like (processed stuff like pizza, fish fingers etc) all the time makes me feel like I'm not doing what's best for them.  I wasn't trying to emotionally manipulate them, just to calmly explain why it upset me so much, and to say that we need to look at what we eat and why we eat it, and improve our general diet.

Since then I have been trying to educate myself further.  It is a huge deal for me as a fairly fussy vegetarian who does not like trying new food myself, so I know I need to improve my thinking, and I do that the only way I know: by immersing myself in positive information.  I watched "The World's Best Diet", researched hidden veg recipes online, sorted through my recipe books to dig out some old favourites, and generally am musing over ways to help the boys (and myself) eat better.  I am not going to cut out all treats, like cake etc - but I am going to try to make it at home rather than buying in processed, mass-marketed stuff.

The fussiest eater of us all is Youngest, but I think it is mostly down to familiarity.  He refuses to eat all vegetables on principle (I have to hide them in pasta sauce etc), but he will eat my lentil bolognese, which has chopped carrots, celery, onions etc in it.  He eats it because he always has since he was weaned and is familiar with it.  So part of my strategy needs to be to familiarise him with other food.  If his diet improves, the range of meals that I can give the whole family will improve a lot!

Other than that, we are doing a lot of talking about why we eat certain foods - what we benefit by eating them - and I have asked the boys to help me plan the week's meals to make sure we are regularly getting the main nutrients that we need.  This does feel like a mammoth task though, so if anyone out there has any tips etc, I'd love to hear your comments.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Space to Notice, Space to Think

This morning we had a lovely visit from my sister and niece who are right near the beginning of their own home education journey.  I'm really enjoying our chats about HE, the pitfalls (wobbles) and benefits (oh so many).  She had found an article talking about the five main types of education, which we were discussing. Personally, I said I think there are an infinite number of ways to home educate, as there are an infinite number of combinations of personalities and needs of those (parents and children) on the home ed journey.  Here, we swing between semi-structured, project-based, unschooling and others, but I think if I had to choose one way to describe our style it would be "seasonal".  For us, it provides the best of all worlds.

As mentioned previously in my Summer Wind-down post, we have entered a season of unschooling - not doing any led or structured work, as the energy levels in the house made it very clear that that was what was needed now.  And as I said to my sis, although the challenges of this season are that the wobbles seem to be more of a temptation when not doing any obvious work, I am already thoroughly enjoying the benefits of seeing what interests naturally spring up without any coercion at all.  Already I have noticed lots of drawing, many games being invented, and several bookworm moments, including one beautiful one last night, when Youngest and I were waiting for Middle to finish in the bathroom, and Youngest brought a book to show me while I folded laundry.  While he waited, he started reading the words - and continued reading the words until he had finished two pages, exclaiming in surprise "I can read!"  Of course I knew he could read - he has been reading the stories at the end of each Reading Eggs lesson to me for months.  But apparently he did not know.  He had not equated his ability to sound out the words on the computer screen with the ability to pick up a story book and just read it, start to finish.  Last night he read his whole book out loud, and then ran and joyfully told his big brother, "Finally!  I can read!"  I can tell you, I would not have missed that beautiful revelation moment for anything.

I am also enjoying our conversations.  For example, this afternoon we went for a short walk to our local shop and back.  Not all of the boys were thrilled to be walking, so we started off chatting about our need for fresh air and exercise.  By the time we got home again, our conversation had ranged through a mind-boggling range of topics: the green cross code; the importance of asking dog owners if a dog is friendly before you approach to pet it; how God can be so big that the universe is inside Him, but he can still see things as tiny as germs; maths and shortcuts to tricky sums; language development and how two countries can share a common language but have different words for the same things; slug anatomy; evaporation, and how a narrow path partially sheltered by trees will stay damp after rain for longer than a path through open grassland; starlings and how they feed in small groups through the day then gather into large groups to roost at night including murmurations, spatial awareness; hedgehog habitats and wildlife corridors - and probably more that I have already forgotten.  It's so lovely to see them enjoying free time for just thinking and chatting.

It made me wonder again: do we have widely-ranging conversations like this during our more structured learning periods too?  Maybe it's just that I have more time to stop and notice when I am less preoccupied with writing achievements in the HE diary, or maybe all the free time really is giving their brains space to just ponder the world around them.  Either way, it makes me really satisfied with the seasonal style of Home Ed that works for us - each season so different, but every season such a joy!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Boy-Friendly Education

Way back near the beginning of our Home Education journey when I was blogging as Home Ed Novice, I write a post called "Educating Boys": a fairly light-hearted look at the qualities we have noticed that may not be exclusively male, but certainly appear more common among boys.  Almost as an aside at the time, I wondered if the reason for there being so many boys entering home education could be because the education system in our country is skewed in favour of girls.

Over two years later, I am more firmly convinced that this is the case.  Actually in our area there is a good number of HE girls as well as boys now - home education is becoming increasingly popular/ necessary regardless of gender.  Nevertheless, I think state education is harder for boys to deal with than girls: outdoor time is decreasing; time spent indoors sitting still and writing is increasing.  The age that children are expected to enter full-time education is getting younger and younger, which puts boys at a real disadvantage - it is widely known that they generally do not mature as quickly as girls when it comes to social skills, fine motor skills, listening skills etc.  And for a child to find himself behind when he starts school, the system is such that he is highly likely to spend the rest of his school life playing 'catch-up', which is bad for the self-esteem, which in turn makes it less likely that he will catch up - and so on.

When a friend posted the Youtube video, War on Boys, the other day, I knew I had to share it.  It may talk about the American school system, but it is really similar to ours here in the UK - and is really helpful for anyone responsible for the education of boys.   In my opinion, every educator needs to watch this video.  It is not long, but it is very clear and very helpful.  I can't recommend it enough.

I know that talking about male/female differences is a minefield of trying to find a path between absurd political correctness on one hand, and stereotypical generalisations on the other.  Speaking as a feminist, I have to acknowledge that one of the problems which seems to have risen from the feminist movement is that some people have taken the view that boys and girls or men and women are the same.  I completely disagree.  Men and women are equal, yes.  Men and women are neither better nor worse than each other.  Men and women have - or should have (yes, I said SHOULD) - the same rights, same opportunities, same pay for doing the same job.  Yet we are different.  If we fail to acknowledge and celebrate our differences, we are failing our children, in my opinion.  Every man is not the same, just as every woman is not the same.  To say that generally men are built for physical strength is not to deny how strong many women have proved themselves to be.  To say that women are generally more nurturing is not to deny the caring compassionate side of many men.  Generalisations are just that: general.  They are not absolute truth, but they still have a place, it does not mean we need to throw them out completely, otherwise how can we acknowledge that for many (not all, but many) boys the system is failing them?  And then how can we address the issue?

Anyway, I digress.  My boys are no longer part of the system, and their education is less about tailoring to their gender than it is about tailoring to them each as individuals - because we can.  For example, literacy: Eldest has always liked books, I was never really bothered on that count - but Middle took a while to come round to the idea of reading for pleasure (he associated it with "work", until he happened upon the Captain Underpants book series).  Eldest took longer to show any interest in writing, until suddenly (prompted by some diary-style novels that he had read) he decided to write his own journal, and kept it up for several months.  Middle still has not demonstrated any enthusiasm for writing, but I am confident it will come when he is ready.  Youngest is still in the 'learning to write' phase, but his confidence is increasing with reading.  I don't think it will be long before I find him tucked away in a corner with a chapter-book.  He has never experienced any kind of pressure to read or write, and he is showing the most signs of being ready earlier than his brothers - perhaps because it was not demanded of him before he was keen.

Something that I appreciated about the video linked above was its suggestion of encouraging boys to read by providing the right sort of books.  My boys actually all love fiction as well as information books, but it did prompt me to search out some more books for them. One visit to, and a further visit to Amazon provided us with a very well received parcel today, containing books on adventurers, Pokemon, sharks, Star Wars etc.  In fact, until the parcel arrived, the boys had been asking to play on their computer games.  I had said they could do so after lunch, and they were hastily munching away when the Amazon delivery arrived.  Once the boys had seen the contents, the games were completely forgotten - and that love of books makes for one happy home educating Mum!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Summer Wind-Down

As you may have noticed, I do like my Home Ed diary.  It only takes me filling in two or three completed activities per child, to leave me with a feeling of "look, we are busy; we must be doing OK" satisfaction.  I know it's false; I know that activity does not necessarily equal learning and that true learning is impossible to measure - but it's fairly innocuous and so I humour myself with it.  If I ever got to the point where a blank diary caused me to majorly panic, I would have to rethink my reasons for keeping it.

Recently I have had the opportunity to check that I am not too dependent on having a full diary as life has gone less structured again.  It has a habit of doing that every now and then, just to keep me on my toes!  All of the hedgehog rescuing and family emergencies have coincided with the children generally running out of steam for planned activities, and so we seem to be entering the period known as the Summer Wind-Down.  In school this might take the form of tired and restless children doing less activities while the teachers try to get all of their paperwork up to date before the school holidays.  At home - or our home at least - this takes the form of everyone running out of enthusiasm for anything other than being outdoors or on their computers playing. It has been like that for at least a week if not two.  I have managed to maintain focus on the Maths and English curricula, but otherwise I do feel like the proverbial horse is dead - further flogging (ie trying to keep it up until the "end of term") would be pointless.

A lovely friend of mine and experienced home educator blogged recently about Mastering Home Education.  Like me, she sees Home Ed as a seasonal experience: one where changes in season are to be expected, even celebrated.  In her post she uses insightful sailing analogies, and it helped me to identify that we are experiencing the educational equivalent of a spring tide, where despite working hard the tide pulls against all your efforts and you make little to no progress. So I figure, why fight it?  Sally's advice in such situations is to "get a tow or change direction and land somewhere else".  A change of direction sounds like exactly what we need!

So I'm going to embrace our lack of enthusiasm for planned activities, and have some time off the structure. No Maths or English (gasp!), relaxed restrictions on screen time (although still limiting the amount that the younger two go on for any one time as they do seems to suffer without breaks), and we'll focus on having fun, being outdoors and generally enjoying the summer - in whatever form it takes.  We just to change tack and give our minds a rest - chance to recharge and enable creativity to flourish.  I'm not sure where this change of direction will take us as it wasn't planned, but that's absolutely fine.  Even if it's less impressive/ reassuring to not have anything written in a Home Ed Diary, I love these seasons where we just meander and take in what's around us before we find a new direction and follow that enthusiastically once more.  For now, I'm just grateful for spring tides!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Do You Have a Naughty Kid?

I'll give you a clue - the answer's "no".

I read an article today about Pastors' Kids, and the pressures unique to them.  One of the things that struck me was when the author wrote that many Pastors' Kids feel a pressure to be better-behaved than their peers, so they don't make their parents look bad - and that many pastors feel they are being judged for their children's behaviour.  I find this really sad.  I used to be an Assistant Pastor, and the thought that I could stifle my children or lay harsh laws on them, just to try and force them to become a "good" little performing robot to please the judgemental types looking at our family - well, it makes me feel ill, to be honest.

My boys have been labelled "naughty" in the past.  Especially Middle and Youngest.  I take real issue with that label.  Middle as a five year old in school was many things: anxious, emotionally unskilled, depressed, bored - and his behaviour was not always that of a "model student",  but he was not - is not - a "naughty child".  Yet he, and most of his classmates would have said that was what he was.  If Youngest were in school I can only too well imagine the labels that would be pinned to him by now.  But again, he is not "naughty".  He is active, confident, inquisitive, vocal.  In my opinion, "naughty" is a label given to children by adults who try - and fail - to control them.  There is nothing respectful about the term.  Children are not "naughty".  They may do things that you consider to be naughty, but that does not define who they are.  There is no such thing as a "naughty child".

A local friend is trying to arrange a trip to London to see a stage show inspired by a children's film.  It sounds lovely, but I'm told that children under six are not usually allowed, and children over six have to be VERY quiet. There is an autism-friendly performance where you can take noisier children apparently.  This just made me so sad!  It all feels more and more like we are stifling a whole generation.  It's not bad enough that they are funnelled into schools earlier and earlier, subject to a whole battery of tests and assessments, with demands placed on them that they "should" meet certain standards when said standards are arbitrary and unattainable by every single child anyway - now they have to be quiet even in their leisure time.  Don't get me wrong - I appreciate that theatre audiences would not appreciate having the performance drowned out by a child who won't stop screaming - but all I have heard lately seems to imply that a "good" child is a quiet child who sits still and obeys instructions, passes all the standardised tests put in front of them, and takes part in so many extracurricular activities that they have no time to JUST PLAY.  All of the above without whining, complaining, arguing, lying, crying, fighting, procrastinating, sulking - or doing any of the normal healthy range of behaviour demonstrated by a small person still learning to find their way.  THEN they will be a "good child". *Shudder*

The other day a young friend told Youngest that he was naughty.  "I am NOT," Youngest stated confidently.  I was so proud - so very glad that among all the mess and confusion that parenting can be, I have managed to communicate one truth into his soul: he is not a naughty boy.  He is a boy who does naughty things some times - just like every single person on the planet, but naughty as an identity?  No.

I am not interested in raising "good" clones.  I believe obedience is rooted in trust - that if I ask them to do (or not to do) something they trust me to be looking out for what is best for them and those around us.  It is not about "do as I say" control.  I am not an Assistant Pastor any more, but even if I were, I genuinely hope that I would reject the attempts to judge and stifle my children just because of some random job title.  I would hope that a Pastor (or their Assistant) would set a great example of love, love and more love - and nowhere in that love would I expect to see people making their children "perform" as anything other than free to be who they are.  As it is, I have been entrusted with three fascinating, unique and beautiful boys.  I refuse to try to mould them into anyone's idea of what a "good" child is - Yes, I want to provide a moral compass based on love, respect and truth - but mostly I want to help them to be free to find their own identities and to know that whoever they are, they are loved.  Nowadays it seems that is becoming a rare thing indeed.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Too Clever to Ask for Help...?

I have a very lovely friend who has three lovely kids.  One of them is diagnosed 'gifted' (he's a full on fabulous genius), and he and his siblings are home educated, which I think is a big reason why he is still sane. Anyway, his Mum and I were chatting the other day about how difficult it seems to be for him to ask for help if he gets stuck on - say - a Maths problem, and as it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, I thought it might be worth a blog post...

So, it was established fairly early on that I was "bright":  I was reading fluently age two; at primary school I was entered into a national maths competition and I got one of the highest scores in the country (bear with me: there is a point to all this apparent bragging);  I was first in the class to finish the reading scheme; I was effortlessly top of the class in most things; when the school did logic testing I was told I had an extremely high IQ.

So that was it: I was definitely and officially a smarty-pants.

Why then did this smarty-pants struggle at secondary school?  Why did I find student life so difficult that I dropped out of college?  I have thought about it often, and I am coming more and more to the conclusion that it was because of my inability to ask questions - to ask for help when I was stuck.

You see, I was "clever". That was who I was.  All of the evidence pointed to it, all of the grown-ups around me agreed: it must be true.  It was, if you like, my label.  Let me clarify: my parents, though proud of me for being me, were never pushy or bragging - it was just universally acknowledged that I was clever. And somehow subconsciously it became my defining factor - my strength, my identity.  For me to ask a question or acknowledge that there was something I didn't know or couldn't do wasn't simply a matter of being afraid to show weakness... it just didn't occur to me.  It wasn't pride - I got no sense of inflated ego from it - it was just who I was.  Maybe I subconsciously didn't want to let everyone (or myself) down, but I think it was more that I was "clever" therefore I had to know the answer.  I was "clever" so if everything wasn't easy there must be something wrong with me.  If I had been able to consciously acknowledge that I couldn't get something right first time, it might have rocked my whole world off the Richter scale.  That is not to say though that it was a conscious thing though - not at all.  It was just somehow two sides of the same coin: my cleverness and my inability to not 'get' something.  The first was something I absorbed from the people around me - the second was a wholly inaccurate deduction that my immature brain assumed.  So when I came across something I didn't get, (which didn't really happen until secondary school) it was like a glitch in the mainframe - my programming just did not compute.  My subconscious literally could not accept it, so I guess I went into unwitting denial.  That's easy at secondary school - you just stay quiet at the back and scrape through with good-enough grades.  It doesn't really work at degree level though - hence the dropping out of teacher training college.  Even then - even at the point when I dropped out, I was utterly confused as to how it happened.  I knew I could teach but somehow I hadn't done enough.  It was only later that I connected my failure with not asking for help when I hit an issue.

It was when I got to my mid-twenties that I gave myself permission to not be perfect - to not have all the answers.  It was a huge and liberating deal for me - I can still remember where I was and what I was doing (I was praying) - and it changed my life.  I started to enjoy not knowing because it gave me the freedom to ask questions and find out answers.  I was suddenly hungry to learn - and I was probably nicer to those around me who weren't perfect either.  It was like a fog lifted - the denial had gone and I could function better.  Of course, that much wasn't obvious at the time, it is only with hindsight that I can see better what was going on.

I guess I wanted to write this for people out there who may have gifted/ genius/ intelligent/ "clever" children.  Like all labels, even the unofficial ones - it has its benefits and its drawbacks.  And one of the drawbacks to the intelligence label can be - not in all cases, but some - a total inability to accept not 'getting' something.  It is not conscious.  Asking this person "why don't you ask for help?" is as effective as asking a depressed person "why don't you just pull yourself together".  It's like being stuck.  A glitch in the mainframe that needs reprogramming.

So.  A few ways that you can help re-write the program, from my experience...
  • If your "clever" child asks a question at any point, a good first response is "That is a SMART question".  It really helps to equate asking questions with intelligence.  After all, we know there really is no such thing as a stupid question if you don't know the answer, but a child with the "clever" label may not get that at all.  
  • Try to find other 'labels' for your child as well.  There's nothing necessarily wrong with them knowing they are "gifted", but it helps for them to also regularly hear about their kind heart/ sense of humour/ perseverance etc, so that their intelligence does not become their whole identity
  • If you see your child struggling with something they clearly don't 'get', proceed with caution.  Failure is actually a very important experience for them to have - don't feel you have to soften the blow of them not 'getting it' - but it really helps if you can be there to help them see the learning process as a positive experience.  Learning is not about exposing the weaknesses in their intelligence - learning is a chance to flex their intelligence muscles.
If anyone has found any other ways to help their "clever" child, please do comment below - I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lessons from an 80g Hedgehog

It's a good job Home Ed is so flexible!

Yesterday I had all sorts of plans for things we could do, but I had a phone call in the morning from a man who got my number from the BHPS - he had an abandoned nest of baby hedgehogs in the garden (mum had been run over), and could I take them in?  Of course I said yes, and then spent the next couple of hours running around like a mad thing making sure I had everything I needed and that it was all disinfected (+ feeding equipment sterile)  The boys did their Mathswhizz and then just got on and played, all day, doing who-knows-what (I have nothing written in my HE diary for yesterday as I was up to my ears in cleaning gear and newspaper)!

When the hoglets arrived I was relieved to discover that they are about 5 weeks old, and therefore capable of self-toileting (tiny babies need help) and feeding ( I'm giving them a mixture of puppy formula and liquidised catfood - yum!)  The boys all had a good look, a collective whispered "Aaaah", and were then ushered back out to play so I could check, weigh, sex and settle the hoglets.  Three are over 140g, but one just 81g.  The little one has been named "Minnie".





All hoglets came through their first night, but this morning Minnie was a bit colder and weaker than the others, so she has been put into an incubator by herself (with two cuddly toy hedgehogs to snuggle up to). So, the downstairs cloakroom has been taken over as usual for the three siblings (Tig, Pip and Star) - and as there are no electric sockets in there, the kitchen is now also out-of-bounds to the boys while Minnie's incubator is in there.  We need to keep the room as quiet as possible to minimise stress for her.

It's not ideal: the boys now have to keep the noise level down outside the kitchen and cloakroom.  They are pretty good at this actually (fairly used to it), and it helps that the weather is nice so they can go outside to play often.  It can be tempting to feel guilty about disrupting the boys' life like this, but actually I think it is such an enriching experience for all of us, and they learn so much from it.  For a start they have seen a hedgehog, which is more than most children, and they have held a hedgehog (one of last year's bigger ones - not one of our current babies).  They all know about nocturnal animals, and they know that hedgehogs love to eat worms and beetles.  They know that the average hedgehog litter is about four babies

But more than the basic obvious facts, they are learning that all animals grow at different rates: the boys will not be able to leave home and look after themselves for a good many years yet; the hedgehogs will most likely only be with us for a few weeks before they can fend for themselves.  They are learning that different animals have different needs - eg cows milk will make a hedgehog very ill, but certain puppy formula is close enough to hedgehog milk for them to thrive.  They are learning about survival of the fittest - it is only humans who pay extra attention to help the weakest ones survive.

AND, thanks specifically to Minnie and her siblings, they are learning that sometimes the needs of others (eg for quietness, urgent attention etc) trump their own.  My boys are young, sure - and they are my overall priority, I'm not going to neglect them - but it is good for them to learn to think about the needs of smaller, weaker creatures.  They are learning consideration: I sometimes need to remind them to be quieter or be noisy somewhere else - they do forget - but they all understand and agree that it is important, and they love the little hoglets, so although it does not come naturally to be quiet, there are no complaints.  (I'm just grateful for the good weather and outdoor play!)  They are learning to be caring - to find out and meet the needs of another (in this case specific food, warmth, more quiet!) - not for personal gain, but just because we love them and want them to do well.  They are learning responsibility: if we do not feed, water and thoroughly clean them out daily, the hoglets could die.  It's not just something we do for fun when we feel like it - they are depending on us.  They are learning compassion - the desire to relieve suffering of those in difficulty. They are learning about hygiene while I scrub the hutches with disinfectant and sterilise equipment.  They are learning kindness and gentleness (which is why I won't let them handle Minnie until she is bigger - the older ones they may be able to handle in a day or so).  They are learning about sacrifice - while the hoglets are so needy, we're not having friends over to play (happily we can go out to socialise still).

So although I could feel guilty if I was just looking at the academic side of things, education is all about the whole child developing and growing into a well-balanced person - and in that respect our little 80g hoglet and her siblings are proving to be pretty good teachers, and my boys excellent learners!

DISCLAIMER, just in case: I wrote this post as a way of reflecting on our own journey - I am in no way advocating the taking in of a wild animal as a project.  It is illegal and could cause unnecessary suffering.  Anyone who finds abandoned or poorly hedgehogs (or any wild animal) needs to phone their nearest rescue centre.