Thursday, 30 January 2014

Eldest's Story

CHAPTER 1: Franky Foods the Fish
Once upon a time there lived a fish.  That fish was called Franky Foods.  One day Franky was walking through the supermarket when he saw... a giant pile of potato salad in the broccoli's place.  As weird as that is to you and me it was pretty average for Franky.  So he bought something else instead.  That something was a giant can of cheese spray.  When he got home everything was just right - same old toaster, same old bed, same old toilet with shrimp flying around it.  Yep, everything was normal.

CHAPTER 2: The Big Hole hole hole hole hole hole
The next day Franky woke up nice and normal (to Franky) at 3:00am and practiced the trombone much to the neighbours' amusement.  And at 7:00am he went to work at the Algae Co.  But wait, there was a big hole.  He went in.  It was very dark apart from the hole that let some light in.  All the Algae dollars were gone  And then, "Boo!", Freddy (Franky's best friend) jumped out of the closet.  When Franky got a grip he asked Freddy if he did this.  "Nope," said Freddy, "But I did see a strange guy leave here with a mysterious black case."

CHAPTER 3: The Extremely Large Amount
So Frankie and Freddy went in the direction Freddy saw the man go in.  When they got around a corner what they saw was not at al helpful, for what they saw was 204 people with black cases.  Wow, you should have seen the look on their faces.  Their bottom jaws hung so low they looked like they would fall off.

CHAPTER 4: A Looooooonnnggg Night
They decided to start.  One guy left, but surely it wasn't him.  202 people later it had to be that guy... nope.  It was now 8:00pm - their bedtime, but they kept themselves awake to follow that guy, but he escaped on the last bus to the town centre 8 miles away.  But then hope came with a glowing box on it with the word... TAXI.  They got on the taxi and sped off to the town centre.  They arrived just after the bus.  The guy could run very fast.  They hopped onto a tandem bicycle that Franky made out of his changing thing.  And the chase went on for 1 hour when the bike got a puncture.  The guy was still going but they caught up in a dead end.

CHAPTER 5: The Unfortunate Escape
They checked... and found the Algae dollars.  Just when they thought they had got him he grabbed something from his coat pocket.  It was a teddy with a string on it.  he chucked the teddy up a wall and climbed up the string to his safety and ran off.

CHAPTER 6: Back Home... Maybe
It was 3:00am.  Freddy was nearly home.  The rest of the neighbours had a party celebrating not being woken up by a trombone.  At 7:00am Franky got home... maybe... because the key he keeps under the doormat was gone!  Someone stole it!  Then he saw it, a slightly different guy had his keys and was running off with them.  Franky ran after him.  The second guy then ran faster and grabbed Freddy's Sunday paper from Freddy's fins.  Freddy then joined the chase.

CHAPTER 7: The Temple
They ran for 3 miles through the mountains and 2 miles next to a river they arrived at this giant temple on the mountainside (incredible that it didn't fall over).  They followed the guy inside.  Inside the whole temple was one room, everywhere high chairs.

CHAPTER 8: The Monster
One of the chairs was really high.  And on it sat Old Man Grumpyfsh who used to live next door to Freddy before (moving house). Under the very high chair was a door.  The door was very slowly, until, crash - it opened and out came a long, scaly and big monster.  It chased Franky and Freddy around the room.  Then Franky remembered the cheese spray.  he got it out and shot cheese at the monster.  The monster turned out to be scared of cheese and ran off - at the chairs, crashing a big hole in the chairs.  And Franky and Freddy escaped through the hole and slid down the mountain to safety.

For a minute it looked like they were safe.  But Old Man Grumpyfish wasn't going to give up that easily.  He sent some squid troopers to catch them.  Meanwhile Franky and Freddy were filling a smoke grenade with cheese spray.  And loaded it on the wooden cart they made... then Franky spotted the coming squid troopers.  So they got in the cart and sped down the mountain with the squid troopers chasing and shooting ink balls at them.  However Franky and Freddy were slowly getting away until they hit a rock.  Then with the cart's wheel broken they had no choice - they had to fight.

CHAPTER 10: Aaaaaaarrrhhh
First one attacked but they threw a rock at it.  And they kept throwing rocks until they ran out.  Two came and attacked but they jumped on them.  But now the last 15 attacked.  So Franky and Freddy chose to use the cheese bomb.  Franky chucked it and "kablamo" it blew up with hot sticky cheese.  The 15 were the last ones.  Old Man Grumpyfish didn't like where this was going and sent two boulders crashing down the mountain.

CHAPTER 11: Winning The Fight
Down down down went the boulders.  They were now going at 50mph.  Back down the mountain Franky and Freddy were preparing for the boulders by turning their cart into a ramp.  Down down down came the boulders.. then up up up.  All Old Man Grumpyfish had left to throw at them was a loaf of bread... so he threw it at them, and surprisingly he missed them by 2 inches.  At the jellyfish cop HQ the jellyfish cops noticed the ruckus on the mountain and decided to see what was up.

CHAPTER 12: Here Come the Jellyfish
Nee-nar nee-nar went the jellycar as it approached the battle scene.  First they found Franky and Freddy and asked them what happened.  As Franky explained how he was robbed, Old Man Grumpyfish chucked one of his old boots towards Freddy who dodged it just in time.  I whizzed past him but hit the jellyfish behind him.  Just then the just-arrived jellycar's brakes were knocked off by Old Man Grumpyfish's second boot!  The car sped off down the mountain.  Then the jellyfish got up the mountain and caught Old Man Grumpyfish.

CHAPTER 13: Back to NormalThe next day, back at the supermarket Franky was looking in the vegetable place and the broccoli was in the right place.  But he bought more cheese spray.. after all you never know when you may need it.  When he awoke at 3:00 he played exceptionally loud.  Everything was back to normal... "someone's at the door" went Franky's doorbell.  It was news-reporter Stingray.  So Franky told him what happened.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014


It all started when I was doing some research for Eldest.  As he wants to be involved in conservation as a career, and he is currently thinking along the lines of conservation in zoos, I thought I would have a look and see what sort of qualifications are needed to become a zookeeper.  No pressure: just so we both have an idea - there is plenty of time for him to change his mind still.  Anyway, there is no single route into zookeeping, it can involve GCSEs or NVQs etc.  I had a very quick look at some GCSE level work (not too in-depth as I don't think he's ready yet, but again, just to get an idea of what might be required in the not-too-distant future) and the first thing that I realised was that if he wants qualifications he will need to be confident in writing.  His lapbooks were all typed (with the assistance of spellcheck), and since he gave up keeping his diary last year, he has done little sustained writing. 

So this morning, when Eldest finally came downstairs from drawing multiple pictures and cartoons, I asked if he would like to do some writing.  I had been thinking of some free-writing, Brave Writer style - where the student sits down with a timer and just writes whatever comes into their head for ten minutes or whatever time limit is chosen.  However Eldest decided he wanted to write a story (the cartoons had obviously got his creative juices flowing), so I found him a new book to write in, and he was off!  Once again, I am more than impressed.  So far he has filled over two full pages of lined A4 paper with writing, and shows no sign of stopping!  He chose to come and show me each chapter as he completed it, and we agreed that I would write the misspelled words in a different little book so he could correct them himself without me making his story look messy.  I didn't correct any grammar today as I didn't want to discourage him by over-focusing on mistakes, but we will need to tackle it another day.  Still, I do feel a little bit silly for being concerned as he has clearly demonstrated that although he needs some help with spelling and grammar, his ability to write for sustained periods is really not an issue.  Happy Mummy!

Meanwhile Youngest and Middle were inspired and decided that they wanted to write stories too.  I asked Youngest if he would like me to type and him to tell me what to write, which he was very happy about.  It took a little while for him to get used to dictating, but once we got there his story flowed very naturally, with only a couple of prompting questions when he got stuck. (nb He used his and his brothers real names in the story - I changed them here on his behalf)

The Little Magic

“Oi! Get out of our room!” said Youngest.  And then Middle said “Get out of our room!” too.  Eldest was looking around and saying “Can I come in your room?” but his brothers said “No!  No!”, and Middle jumped out and said “No way”.  And then the magic came and all of the toys except the mean toys (like the lions and Bowser) came to life.  And then they said “Eldest, you can come in our room!” and then they shut the door and had a midnight feast with all the magic toys except the mean ones.  Mummy and Daddy came in too to have a disco and a midnight feast.  The magic animals beat the persons at the dancing competition.  And they had a happy day.
The End.

Middle is still in his writing-resistant phase, but now that I have experience of Eldest going from being a non-writer to an avid diary-keeper (and now story-writer), I'm not bothered at all.  So when he said he wanted to dictate his story for me to type up too, I happily agreed. His story was a kind of re-telling of his much-loved Captain Underpants books, which is just fine by me.  There's plenty of time for him to find his own voice and stories. (nb Same with the names.  The green was his choice)

Captain Underpants and the Baddie Bus
Once there were two children called Middle and Youngest.  They had a mean old principal called Mr Krupp.  He was mean to them – he made them sweep the gym for ten hours!  Then Middle and Youngest bought a 3D hypno-ring and they hypnotised Mr Krupp and turned him into their favourite super-hero, called CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS!  Then Captain Underpants flew out of the window and was ready to fight crime.  He clung on to the supervillain bus and then he climbed through the window and saw Professor Poopypants, Evil Dr Nappy, the Turbo Toilet 2000 and the Wedgie Woman.  He was so surprised that he needed help.  He blew the ‘need help’ horn and asked his superhero friends to help him, which were Super Diaper Baby, Diaper Dog, Ook and Gluk, and Middle and Youngest.  Then they fought Professor Poopypants, Evil Dr Nappy, the Turbo Toilet 2000 and the Wedgie Woman.  Captain Underpants grabbed a giant metal plunger, Super Diaper Baby and Diaper Dog grabbed their blankies, and Ook and Gluk used their kung-fu skills and Middle and Youngest used their hypno ring and shrink ray.
Then Captain Underpants hit Professor Poopypants on the butt with his giant metal plunger.  Super Diaper Baby and Diaper Dog used their super powers and flew and crashed Evil Dr Nappy.  Ook and Gluk used their kung-fu skills on the Turbo Toilet 2000 and Middle and Youngest used their 3D hypno ring and hypnotised Wedgie Woman into falling off a cliff.
They all beat the bad guys.  Then Middle and Youngest went back home and Youngest said “I wonder if we’re going to have another adventure...” and Middle said “I don’t know, but it’s time to go back home and eat tea.”


And Eldest's story?  I think it deserves a blog post of its own, once it is completed (not least because of its length)... I will post when it's finished!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Nurturing a Desire to Learn

I admit: when Eldest turned to me a few weeks ago and said "I don't want to do anything except draw" (see my post, Educating a Pre-teen), I was slightly dismayed: I know I am more susceptible to the wobbles when there is no obvious learning going on.  Happily for us all though, I held my ground and refused to panic - we've been doing this long enough now for me to know it was a phase, and the less I resisted, the less of a problem it would be.  I had no idea that it would be so short-lived (not that there won't probably be more such episodes, but I'm relieved this one didn't last for years)!

This morning he came to me and sat down very seriously and said "I don't feel like I'm learning enough" (my internal response: !!!!!!!!!!!!!) so VERY neutrally I asked why he thought that, and in short, what he said was that the things we do are good for his younger brothers but not appropriate to where he's at.  He has a really good point - especially since he stopped doing his lapbooks!

The issue I now have is where do we go from here?  He was going to a science group suitable for his age, but in his words, "there was too much sitting and listening".  He much prefers hands-on learning.  Unfortunately most of the groups that I am aware of locally are aimed at younger children.  He's really good at playing with younger children, but he is obviously ready to be learning more, and tackling subjects at more depth.  So "hooray" and "help"!  Watch this space as Eldest and I chat some more and come up with a cunning plan that meets his felt needs and desire to learn.

Meanwhile, Youngest in his sudden appetite for Maths workbooks hit a bit of a hurdle.  He has a natural ability in Maths, and really enjoys the subject, however his fine motor skills (eg writing) have not been so easy to develop, and he is not fully competent in forming his numbers yet.  That hasn't stopped him at all - he has still been whizzing through the workbook without waiting for help, but his number formation has consequently been a bit 'hit & miss'.  So yesterday, while reading one of my favourite blogs, "An Ordinary Life", I remembered that the blogger, Lisa, made a 'maths dinosaur' to help one of her girls when they hit a wall in their Maths.  Inspired, I made a number line from 1-20 (Youngest's current level) in the shape of a friendly caterpillar.  On each number I added a red dot to show him where to start writing the digit, as that was the bit he kept getting muddled with when I wasn't around to help.  Well I showed him his number caterpillar today, and he loves it - couldn't wait to get his workbook out and get going again without me - he is such an independent thing!

Speaking of independence, while I was writing the above, Youngest was just working on a maths page in a new book that I was going to give away as it's now too easy for him, but he found it and wanted to do it... and he has impressed me again.  When he showed me what he had done I was puzzled as the instructions said to "count the pictures and circle the number", but looking at the diagrams I couldn't work out why they had showed him a picture of five fish and only given him a choice of numbers 1-3 to circle.  In my mind I would have assumed it was a printing error or a trick question & left it blank, but he engaged his little problem-solving brain and circled 2 and 3, because that makes five.  Just a little seemingly insignificant act, but it spoke volumes to me.

As for Middle, he is just pootling along in his own sweet way, not particularly enthusiastic about Maths or anything that looks like work (although he is reading voraciously, and growing tremendously height-wise) - but that just goes to show yet again the benefits for home educating more than one: you can treat them all as individuals and cater to each child's specific needs at any given point.  Each of my boys may be at a different season in learning, but each season is precious, and more importantly, each season lasts as long as it needs - they can't be rushed or artificially prolonged - at least, not for long.  If we pay attention to our children's needs in each season they are in, and if we live in tune with the learning seasons and cherish each one knowing that the next season is just around the corner... well, it makes for a very contented way to learn.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Our Week's Highlights

There have been lots of random bits going on in the past week, and I just wanted to take the space to record some of them...

Middle received some pet gerbils for his birthday.  He named them Goldie and Badger.  We have put them in a "gerbilarium" (tank with cage top) and put organic compost in for them to dig tunnels in.  The boys have all enjoyed watching them tunnelling and generally being cute.  Middle has been a very responsible pet owner too - I haven't had to remind him once to feed them.  He's a bit nervous about holding them because he doesn't want them to hurt the scratch on his hand (and they are pretty speedy), but I am very happy to help get them used to being handled!

Last week we also did some painting.  We had a look at Klimt's "Beech Forest" and talked about the colours and the fact that we couldn't see the tree tops etc, then we used some metallic paints (and a few other colours), and then all painted our own tree pictures.  Sadly Youngest's has gone missing - I will add it later if it turns up...

Eldest's "Autumn Minecraft Trees"

Middle's "Apple Tree"

Mummy's "Autumn Beech Trees"

On Thursday morning we were supposed to go swimming, but had to stay home, so we did something different and the boys sat round for me to read them a story from our British History story book.  We read about the Great Fire of London - they were all engrossed!  History lends itself so naturally to story telling, it's great!  Later we looked up a youtube clip of a Horrible Histories sketch on the same subject - HH always goes down well with my boys.  Then Eldest was inspired to indulge in a spot of baking (happily not burning down the town as a result) and made some orange muffins decorated as Angry Birds.  I didn't go into the kitchen once - he is now a fully competent baker by himself - and the results were yummy!

At the weekend we took part in the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch.  It is tradition for us to position the sofa right in front of the patio doors so we have the best view of the whole garden - and we indulge in some hot chocolate and doughnuts while we record the birds we see.  Middle was only really interested in the doughnuts this year as he was engrossed in his book - but Eldest came and helped me spot birds for a while, and Youngest stayed for ages, wanting his own pen and paper to note down his findings.  I wrote the words for him and then he read them back every time he needed to add a bird.  He's getting very good at identifying our feathered visitors.

The book that Middle was engrossed in was Captain Underpants' Extra Crunchy Book O' Fun.  For some reason I hadn't realised when we got it that it was an interactive book so I wasn't expecting Middle to do a spot of creative writing in it (probably just as well, as he is happiest when he is not being watched).  In the book there are lots of puzzles etc, and a mini story with spaces for the reader to fill in.  Every time there was a blank, they would give a hint, such as 'adjective'/ 'your name'/ 'body part' etc, and Middle filled it in.  I was so busy watching birds that I didn't even register him asking me for spellings or what an adjective was - I just told him and carried on trying to count the great tits on the feeder.  When I saw the story he had co-written and illustrated, I was thrilled!  He loved reading it to me, checking to make sure I laughed in all the right places (of course I did).

Yesterday Eldest found a box that we were no longer using and asked for some scissors and sellotape.  He took himself off into the kitchen and came back about an hour later with "Mario 3D world".  I just loved his creativity! And made a mental note made to buy some more sellotape!


Meanwhile this weekend Youngest has had a lovely time playing lots of games, especially enjoying playing Top Trumps (Wonders of the World) with Daddy, who was suitably impressed at his ability to read 4-digit numbers.  Youngest also sped his way through a Maths workbook. He got stuck a couple of times and really wanted to complete the whole book, so I gave the help he needed and then he was away again.  It really wasn't long before he was finished and asking me to buy the next one in the series (thank you Amazon).  It has since arrived and he has started already!

Oh, and Middle made some origami star wars characters, prompted by the Origami Yoda book that Daddy has been reading to them at bedtime...

Today the boys received their new DVD from the Rock n Learn series, which they love.  It's the new "Life Science" DVD, and Middle and Youngest watched it this morning while Eldest was tidying his room.  It's great - goes through plants structure, life cycle of a butterfly, characteristics of animal groups, ecosystems, and even touches on genetics, all in a way that the boys engage with easily.  Some of it was a bit beyond Youngest's comprehension I think, but he happily sat and watched it... who knows what they take in when we don't expect it?!

Then Middle got to grips with one of his birthday presents, a Star Wars Shaker Maker, while Youngest looked on and offered "creative advice" before doing a jigsaw (Eldest still 'tidying his room', aka playing with his 3D Mario world).  It was a great present - Middle loves it!

 So you see why I wanted to make a note of it all?  It was actually a fairly low-key week for us as the boys picked up a cold and weren't up to do anything much that was structured.  And yet it still turned out to be a really lovely week!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Postcards from around the World

We received our first postcard via Postcrossing the other day, as part of our background project on World Geography.  As it was Middle's birthday over the weekend, it kind of got overlooked, but we found it again today and were able to have a nice little 'Home Ed' moment...

Morteratsch, the Swiss Alps

First of all the boys really liked the fact that Pingu was on one of the stamps (apparently "Pingu" was a Swiss-UK production). 

We looked up some photos and agreed that Switzerland is a beautiful country and we'd love to live there.  We also looked it up in an atlas (Middle learned how to use an Index) and online, and found out a few interesting facts (eg home education is legal there but heavily legislated - maybe we don't want to live there after all!). We decided to make a little folder to put our received postcards in, and did a collaborative effort making a page to go with the postcard (just to get a little writing in there).  The page was Mummy's idea, but I kept it very low-key, and the boys were all happy to humour me and go along with it!

Youngest wrote the title (and put lots of kisses underneath to show how much he loves "Switland" as he calls it.  Middle wrote down the continent, and Eldest was asked to choose two interesting facts (he chose the capital city and currency).  Finally Middle drew the flag... simple!

We could have gone into it a lot more, but I don't want them to dread receiving postcards by associating them with work, so I deliberately kept it light.  I'm really pleased with the whole Postcrossing idea.  We currently have four cards travelling, and once each has arrived at their destination (Russia, Belarus, Taiwan, & Ukraine) we will be sent some more - so hopefully they will arrive nicely spread out.  Such a lovely, fun project!

Magnetic Invitation

I've been wanting to do another 'invitation to explore' for a while, and as we had nothing planned for today, and it is a pretty murky day, I thought it was a great opportunity.  I was going to set it up last night but ran out of steam, so I did it this morning while the boys were occupied in the front room (I wanted to get it all set up before they found it just so I could get a photo - usually they get stuck in before I have the chance!)

The boys were recently given a magnet kit, so that formed the basis of the Invitation: ring magnets with a pole; horseshoe magnet; ladybird magnets on a thin plastic tray; bar magnets with plastic cars that snap on to them... and then I added other bits to it: a tray of random bits - some magnetic and some not; box of paperclips; magnetic board and letters; plastic box with metal shavings in, a few other magnets.  Actually the box containing shavings came as part of a book on magnets, but I deliberately did not display the book as I wanted the boys to be free to come up with their own ideas.  Similarly, the Primary Magnet Kit came with some very nice looking simple project cards - I reckon we will definitely use them another time, but this time I wanted them to be able to put their naturally enquiring minds to good use, without limiting the opportunities by giving directions.  I want to encourage them to come up with their own questions, not just follow the experiments that they are told they should do.

Sure enough, they had only been exploring for a couple of minutes when Youngest got inventive and started gently swinging the magnetic pole around to pick up things on the table - like a little scrap yard magnet.  That wasn't in the book or on the cards - and I with my years of conventional training hadn't thought of doing that either.  Just that little action there made me happy!  Then he appeared in the lounge and started trying everything on the shelves to see if they were magnetic.  Fortunately the gerbils that Middle was given for his birthday are not magnetic, as I with my limited imagination had not foreseen that Youngest would want to find out.  We did very quickly have a chat about live animals not being part of any of our experiments!

All the boys were interested and had a good explore, which was lovely.  Middle really enjoyed the ladybirds - getting them to travel around the maze, and enjoyed playing with the magnetic pole on a string - as they all did... cue a quick revision of the sharing rules!   Eldest also had fun with seeing how many paperclips he could stick together with one magnet, as well as explaining 'north and south' to his brothers and making a 'repelling magnet gun'.  At one point Mummy was invited to join in, and we played "attract or repel" with the ring magnets (Youngest had already told me that the magnets either stick or push each other away if they are a certain way around, so I simply and naturally added 'attract' and 'repel' to his vocabulary while we were playing).

I just love these Invitations to Play.  Most of the Reggio-type invitations that I have found online are aimed at pre-schoolers, but I love the concept and the few that we have done have gone down really well, so I will keep trying to find ways to apply it to older children too.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Problem of Socialisation

OK, some of you may not approve of what I'm about to say, but it's true: socialisation is one of the big issues of Home Education.  Taking the experience of my now eight-year-old and comparing his social experiences while at school and now he is home educated, I have concluded that children can be put at a serious social disadvantage - if you send them to school.

Middle's personality is very loving, very willing to be friendly to all and very sensitive to the moods of others.  In school he really suffered.  His friendliness expressed itself in wanting to hug people which the other kids found irritating.  I understand that, and we did talk to him about not hugging people who didn't welcome it.  However, his classmates turned into a hostile pack, led by one particular little girl who took against him, and he became anxious and depressed, aged just 5!  I am not exaggerating.  By his now infamous 6th birthday (sorry if you have heard this before - I am obviously still scarred by it) the pack had become so hostile that the little girl who despised him persuaded the class to boycott his party and only go to hers, even though they were on different days of the same weekend.  

There was one beautiful and shining exception of a little girl who he has always been best friends with.  She came to his party two years ago, and she came again to his eighth birthday party today - as did eighteen other children!!  It was wonderful.  He is now Mr Popular.  His confidence took a while to recover from the bashing it received at school, but now he is home educated, he is free from the merciless pack mentality so often found in school.  His home educated friends (of different ages) are much less likely to gang up against somebody "different" - in fact I've never seen it happen over the last two years, and we've been in a lot of different social situations.  Of course some friendships are stronger than others - there is always an element of those who just click, and those who have nothing in common - but his willingness to be friendly to anyone has meant that very few children, if any, actively dislike him.  He is still very affectionate, which can need reigning in a little, but his peers still want to play with him.  There is no sense of 'picking on the weakest', no 'alienating the different' - certainly no victimisation.  If they want to play together they do; if they'd rather play with someone else, they do that; if they want to be left alone for a while that's fine too.  It is healthy, and he and I are happy.

You know, next time somebody with children in school asks "but what about socialisation?"  I am tempted to say, "well yes, that is a concern - I feel for you: how do you think you'll handle it?"  Just don't feel sorry for Home Ed children - they generally have a great social life and make for really well-balanced and lovely sociable adults.  It's the children in school I feel sorry for: herded into a pack where they have nothing in common except age - and then left to figure it out by themselves and survive as best they can. 

Yes, the socialisation issue can be a big problem - for those in school.  Not us!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Essential Nature of Play

I have always been a morning person.  Well, definitely not a night person anyway - my brain shuts down at about 10pm & I am rarely good for anything after that.  Since having children it has definitely become less easy to wake up feeling refreshed early in the morning, but that is still my best part of the day by far.  How frustrating it is then that in order for me to get out of bed comfortably nowadays I have to take painkillers as soon as I wake up (owing to the same ongoing back/bum/leg issues), and then just lie there waiting for them to take effect.  Fortunately, as with every gloomy cloud there is always a silver lining to be found - and today I found a good one.  Of course there are the treasured good morning cuddles - each of the boys invariably comes in for a snuggle and chat (and sometimes a book to read), and then wanders off - and today they all wandered into Eldest's room, where they proceeded to play together, collaboratively building their own imaginary "Underwater Playzone".  Blankets (and occasionally clothes) marked out different zones where various plastic sea creatures lurked behind atmospheric rock caves (boxes) and "HQ"s (toys) were strategically placed to offer protection to the various lego men who were diving there to explore the aquatic world.  The boys had a lovely time playing, and I had almost as lovely a time just listening to them all using their imaginations and successfully negotiating their way around the 'rules' of their make-it-up-as-you-go-along game. It was lovely, and lasted long after I was up and about.  I even had to peel them away to go to swimming lessons on the understanding that they could carry on as soon as we came back.

There seem to have been many articles coming across my path lately, some discussing the vital importance of allowing our children to play - such as this brilliant must-read article here - and others emphasising the necessity of giving children space to talk, such as this excellent article.  It is well documented that girls take more naturally to social skills, so I am extra keen to allow my boys whatever time they need to work on their communication - and for children, what better opportunity than when playing?!  In a family you really see the best and worst of each other: on the one hand you are with people who love you no matter what... the boys may squabble between themselves, but if an 'outsider' takes one of them on they generally rally together - and I like it that way.  Family bonds are the stuff security and confidence are made of.  However on the flip side, if you don't work out your differences with a sibling, you are much more likely to get thumped, and there are few places you can go to have a break from the person who is irritating you.  With friends outside of the family, at the end of the day they live somewhere else - if there is a communication difficulty it doesn't come home with you and you have space to think it through.  More restraint is generally (thankfully) exercised - less thumping, more consideration of the other person.  It's great for social skill development, but harder work than just being yourself at home with the ones who know you best.

I'm so thankful that we have both: we have friends outside the family where we meet for groups and playdates - and the boys get to learn to relate to people who may not share our family values.  That in itself is quite a tricky skill, and it's important that they learn to respect differences without feeling threatened by it.  And of course they have each other - for playing at home where they have common values and where they can relax and be fully themselves.

So there we have it.  I was thinking I might not have much to say today as all the boys really did was play (with an interval for swimming lessons)... and then I realised.  Their playing was all they needed today.  For sure, Maths and English are important skills to learn - but if I want to equip them for success in life, I must not forget the essential nature of play.  And of course, I don't have to have a enforced lie-in for them to exploit their opportunities to play - I just need to remember the lesson I learned during this season.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Messy Monday

To be fair, most of the mess here today was created over the weekend (why is that?) - but you know how it is: mess multiplies faster than bunnies in springtime!  And of course it would coincide with a flare-up of whatever the heck is going on in my back/ butt/ leg.  So I had a choice this morning: get stressed about the mess, or accept that I just can't sort it all today, rope in the boys for some help and ignore the rest.  It worked pretty well really - though we'll see how positive I feel about it when tomorrow comes and the tidy-up fairy has failed to visit again.

Anyway, my decision to take the cheerful route of denial was doubtless helped by Youngest writing me his first ever note.  He has written things before: his name in birthday cards, and words in lapbooks if I have done dotted lines for him to trace over.  But this was the first message he has ever written to someone off his own back...

(it translates as "I love you Mummy" - just in case you couldn't work it out)  Having a heart-melting message of love first thing in the morning really is a great way to start the day!

Youngest really got stuck in today - he did several pages of his Phonics workbook while Eldest read yet another book (How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse), and Middle and I spent a lovely half-hour or so reading through some poetry books that we have, taking it in turns to read the poems that we particularly enjoyed aloud to each other.  He has a naturally good sense of rhythm when reading poetry, and it was good fun.

Then to my delight, Youngest and Middle chose to play Scrabble together!  I had my doubts as it's the full adult version and they've only just started learning to play - but they were keen, so I let them know I was available to help if needed.  They actually needed very little help, I was really impressed.  Youngest needed a bit of help spelling certain words, but he was really good at spotting words that could be made with the letters available.  And it was good Maths practice too: not just adding up the scores (which Middle did brilliantly), but also working out how many new tiles to take each time to make a total of seven - great stuff.  They didn't play to the end of the tiles - just until they had had enough - and that was fine.  Happy Mummy!

Following that I asked if they'd like to do some painting.  I know: more mess - but we haven't done anything arty together for ages, and I thought it would be fun to play some classical music (they chose the Nutcracker Suite), and paint while we listened - painting either a representation of how the music made us feel or painting pictures that the music made us think of.  It went really well and was interesting how different the interpretations were.

Eldest painted a new image for each movement of the music

Middle painted one picture (of a field with sheep, seen from above), adding different bits with each different part of the music

Youngest stared off with the green grass, blue sky and black 'outer space' above - and then added more abstract shapes as the music changed

I wanted to join in, but I was quickly needed to take photos, deal with the music CD etc, so didn't finish my painting properly

Middle was engrossed and carried on painting afterwards while Youngest found a pad of dot-to-dot puzzles and completed the lot, and Eldest disappeared off to do some drawing...

 Middle's 'Snake with a full belly'
When they asked to watch TV this afternoon I said I'd like to choose the first programme - we watched 'Curious Cat' (recorded from the BBC2 school zone early in the mornings) and learned about sewage, steel and electricity.  They watched a bit more TV of their choice afterwards (Penguins of Madagascar) and then Middle and Youngest played Globetrotter on the Wii again while Eldest disappeared for some more drawing!
Eldest's Clone Trooper

Super Battle Droid

So the house may still look pretty messy, but that was a lovely day of home ed.  The mess will always be there to some degree as long as we live here, but rather than fret about what needs cleaning, I would much prefer to have a day like today, focusing on enjoying my boys and noticing their achievements, however small.  That said, should you bump into the tidy-up fairy and not need her services yourself (!), feel free to point her in this direction...

Friday, 10 January 2014

Barely Structured

Just a quick one today, to sum up our first week "back" (sort of).

We haven't been able to get out much, due to still-painful backside and car being at garage (although we did walk to our little local park yesterday, where Middle conquered the art of swinging all by himself, hooray) - but it's been a good week nonetheless.  Actually, having a quiet week at home has been lovely as it's given us the space to gently ease into our little bit of structure.  Far and away the biggest benefit has come from the "no TV before lunch" guideline.  The boys and I have all achieved so much more with it off.  We've even managed to keep on top of the laundry and dishwashing etc - it's such a lovely (if rare) feeling!

The older boys have been reluctant to resume their online curricula so we have stuck with reading 'real' books and playing maths games etc for now instead.  Youngest is very happy to play on Reading Eggs and Mathswhizz still (he would prefer Mathseeds but I'm having issues installing it on my laptop, so Mathswhizz it is).  We had a lovely reading moment with his own "real book" today too: I have some books from the Usborne Very First Readers series, and we snuggled up with one today, called Dog Diary.  The book is written so that the pages alternate between the parent reading a page and the child reading a page of simpler text, together making up the story.  Youngest loved taking it in turns and has again made progress in confidence and fluency.  Proud Mummy!

Meanwhile this morning Eldest had announced after breakfast that he wanted to bake a Minecraft Creeper cake, so he found a recipe for chocolate cake that he could decorate with his design idea, and got to it almost entirely by himself.  The finished cake is delicious, although he now says he doesn't want to bake again for a while because the cleaning up afterwards is boring (I'm not doing it for him - it's an important lesson to learn). We'll see which is stronger: the desire to bake or the desire to avoid cleaning!
(the icing was greener than it looks here)
While this was going on, Middle had been drawing a host of cute characters from his latest book, The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby (he couldn't find any pencils, so used biro instead!)

Eldest then did some drawing too: a picture of SpongeBob and Patrick after they had eaten too many Krabby Patties...

We also played a game of Globe Trotters, from Wii Party.  It's a little frustrating as the globe used in the game is very basic and stylised, but it does use some flags and a few other details that tie in with our general world geography theme.  Speaking of which, we made our jigsaw map of Europe today too.

It's funny, if I focused on the fact that the boys are resisting the curricula that we were successfully using before, or Eldest's not wanting to do lapbooks etc as shared yesterday in Educating a Pre-teen, I could be quite discouraged - but how can I be, when I look at everything else we've done this week?! They've had to get used to not automatically switching on the TV in the mornings, but they haven't complained or missed it.  They have been really enthusiastic about my choice of background project, and they have been reading LOTS - as well as drawing, playing imaginatively, socialising with visiting friends and helping around the house. 

Next week is going to be a bit busier - especially if I am well enough to drive - and it will be nice to be out and about a bit more again, but I am thankful for this week and the chance to ease ourselves back into a sort-of-structure so gently that it is barely there.  It feels good to be back.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Educating a Pre-teen

I do love talking with girl-friends - especially the invaluable type of friend who lets you talk your way to your own conclusion when you have thoughts whizzing round your head, without trying to tell you what to think!

I was chatting to one such friend today and it really helped me to crystallise a few trains of thought that my mind had been on lately, especially regarding Eldest.  Up until now in our Home Ed journey he has been really happy to produce endless lapbooks on animals, habitats etc, but when we were discussing the possibility of lapbooks the other day, he announced most determinedly that he doesn't want to do anything now except draw! He's not outstandingly gifted in drawing as far as I can tell, but if that's how he wants to express himself right now, I need to take him seriously.

So I suggested that he might like to follow a drawing course that I have, to help him to learn techniques and sharpen his skills etc.  He immediately said "no thank you, because doing a course to make me a better draw-er is like saying I'm not good enough already".  Well you can't argue with that logic, especially as he is coming at it from an emotional point of view (needing to express himself) rather than a logical one (wanting to improve).  I tell you, I was just so impressed that he was able to see that so clearly and articulate it too; I'm proud of him!

You see, I remember being his age (first year of secondary school).  I went from being one of the very brightest in primary school to not thriving in any way in secondary school. But as I was sharing with my friend today, I'm not now and wasn't then that bothered about whether I was as intelligent as my classmates.  Undoubtedly there were some very smart people there - the sort who aced all their exams and went on to be doctors and lawyers etc - but it's really not about competition (Sorry Mensa members or wannabes: I don't believe intelligence can be measured that easily).  With hindsight I believe that I floundered at secondary school because what I needed was not academic training, but rather emotional support.  I was a very emotional person - have always felt things deeply and doubtless always will.  Hitting puberty for me was the equivalent of an emotional bomb going off, and academia was nowhere on the horizon as I tried to navigate my intense feelings of anger, loneliness, injustice etc.  

I fondly remember my lovely Mum sitting me down when I was about Eldest's age and having a chat about the effects of puberty with hormones whizzing all over the place.  It helped me to know I wasn't going entirely mad, although I'm sure it was still a massive relief to all when my hormones started to calm down.  The point is, I know it's coming, and while I wholeheartedly believe that home educating Eldest puts us in a strong place to be able to provide the kind of emotional security needed as he goes through the process of growing into an adult, I do know that it is still his journey.  I can't do it for him, I can only be here for him.  And so if he wants to do nothing but draw for a while, I'm fine with that.  

Another very lovely and inspiring home educating friend has two sons, one of whom is mid GCSEs, and the other (who is a year older than Eldest) has been mostly autonomously educated until now, when he has just started 'formal-style' learning, at his request - because suddenly he is motivated.  I confess, despite the fact that she is the least competitive home educator I know, and gives nothing but genuine encouragement, I wobbled slightly: "Maybe we should be doing that with Eldest"... ARGH!  (Did you spot the 'should'?  Where there's a wobble, there's usually a should).  Eldest is NOT motivated in the same way - he is just the opposite.  Can you imagine what would happen if I tried to force it when his desire to 'work' is at its lowest?  I can, and it's not pretty.  I refuse to pressurise him to work according to my agenda.  It's just a phase driven largely by his age - I know he won't lose his ability to learn if I give him time off - in fact, it'll help while his brain rewires itself to more adult workings.

So if Eldest wants to express himself by drawing, that is what he's going to do.  Yes, I will still ask him to do a little Maths or English each day (today we played Smath - like Scrabble but with numbers), and I hope he will continue to have fun with us doing science experiments, background projects, trips out etc etc.  But at the forefront of my mind is that he is coming into a period of intense change - and I want to give him all the emotional support he needs.  The rest can wait until he is ready.

Now I'll leave you proudly with this quick biro sketch of R2D2 (apologies for the shadow in the photo) that Eldest whizzed off yesterday while I was putting the younger two to bed.  Here's to many more such pictures coming soon...


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Quiet, happy learning

Another day at home today - sadly I didn't even manage to get out for my 'constitutional', but it was still a nice, chilled day.

We had the required element of English to start off with: Eldest chose to do a "comprehension" on Reading Eggspress this morning (apparently he has read all of his books!), while Middle read more Captain Underpants, and Youngest chose to do some of his phonics workbook.  Actually he did about half of his workbook - he just gets into the zone and keeps going!

Following that Youngest wanted to help me much out the hedgehogs.  He's been asking for days, and seeing as it hadn't rained today the garden wasn't too swampy, so I said he could squelch across to the shed with me to feed and clean them, especially as Eldest was busy drawing comic strips and reading them to an appreciative Middle.  Just as he was putting his boots on we had a delivery of some parcels that had to wait until we were done... nice motivation to be quick, not that Youngest ever really needs speeding up!

Once the hedgehogs were all sorted (Hiccup is still flirting with the idea of hibernation; the other three don't seem even remotely interested in a good sleep) we came back indoors to open the parcels -  so exciting!  The biggest one turned out to be a great pair of second-hand jigsaws that I had found on ebay: one of the British Isles and one of Europe.  Youngest didn't hesitate - just ripped into the bag and tipped all the pieces out!  We did the edges very quickly together but then it got harder so we called for reinforcements from the bigger brothers.  It was such a lovely HE moment: lovely teamwork, problem solving and geography practice too...

We also received a second-hand book bought from Amazon marketplace or the Usborne Children's World Atlas.  Middle was inspired by the picture of the compass on the jigsaw, and went through the atlas, working out compass-related facts such as Africa being north of Antarctica etc.  Eldest whispered conspiratorially to me that actually everywhere is north of Antarctica, but I was glad he was sensitive enough to whisper - Middle is always so pleased when he grasps a new concept and his confidence can still be quite fragile!

I was happy with that contribution to our background project, and thought that they would have had enough "educational play", but the boys thought otherwise and got out the Top Trumps game from the other day.  We had a good game but it ended up going on for AGES.  Youngest and Middle were eventually out, but Eldest and I kept taking it in turns to have a winning streak - even when I started trying to throw the game it took longer than expected!  It prompted some lovely questions though, such as "why is the Grand Canyon more dangerous than Mount Fuji?" etc.

Then it was time a spot of TV: "CBeebies Stargazing", that we have been recording, and a couple of episodes of "Animals at Work" that the boys are particularly enjoying right now.  Surprisingly they are watching very little of what I would call 'Mindless TV' at the moment - and I am certainly not complaining.  All we need now is to stretch our legs in the fresh outdoors air, and this week will be turning out to be pretty marvellous!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Less TV and a Tiny Bit More Structure

Today was the first time in months that we resumed a degree of structure.  Not a huge amount, but just enough for us.

One thing that I had decided during our last autonomous season was that we needed TV restrictions again.  It's not that I dislike TV - on the contrary, I think it can be an extremely useful method of learning, especially for my visual learners - it's just that before Christmas it felt like the boys were watching an awful lot of 'rubbish' programmes that may have been amusing their minds but weren't necessarily nourishing them.  Mindless TV is to the brain what junk food is to the stomach: fairly harmless every now and then, but not healthy if that is one's staple diet.

Anyway, as our most positive days have been ones where the TV did not get switched on first thing, we are going to have TV-free mornings (at least), for a while.  The boys didn't miss it today: apart from their habitual request to turn it on first thing (answer: no), they didn't get round to turning it on until 4pm, as there were too many other fun things going on!

First of all, I had mentioned to the boys that we would be starting again with daily alternating MathsWhizz and Reading Eggs, but when this wasn't met with full enthusiasm, I quickly added that we didn't have to use computer-based curriculum: we could use workbooks or other activities if they preferred.  They did prefer!  Today - being Monday - would usually be an 'English' day, but only Youngest was interested in Reading Eggs (he "played" on it for over an hour!).  Eldest and Middle both jumped at the chance to read a "real book" instead... more than fine by me!  Middle read five chapters of Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People, and Eldest read "How to Betray a Dragon's Hero".  Actually Eldest has been reading it all day, pausing only a few times when other things were required - he's almost finished it as I type.

The only pauses in Eldest's reading were for us all to take a walk to the postbox (lovely to get some fresh air), for the boys to all tidy their rooms, and for Eldest to help me muck out the hedgehogs.  He really is very reliable and helpful on this front - he sometimes complains about his other jobs, but not about caring for the hedgies - what a star!  Today we were delighted to find that one of them (Hiccup) has started to hibernate - we're really hoping the others follow suit soon, but the weather has been so mild, they're in no hurry.

For the rest of the day while Eldest had his nose firmly in his book, Middle and Youngest had lots of fun learning while playing.  They had a game of SpongeBob Monopoly together, then as we happened to walk past our new world map at the same time, Middle showed me places where Daddy has been and I showed him places where family friends live.  Next there was a delivery of a parcel for Youngest of a late Christmas present: a Playmobil recycling truck that he spent the rest of the afternoon playing with, while I showed Middle how to play Yahtzee (we have a bag of about thirty dice that I bought a while ago because we kept losing ours, and as the boys seem to be fascinated with the dice I realised that Yahtzee would make a good maths game, so I found the rules and some score sheets online, and away we went).  Oh, and a friend popped round to pick up a couple of bits and the boys were thrilled that she and her son (who they have only met once or twice before) could stay and play for a bit.  I love the way that children don't know how to stand on ceremony: anyone who turns up at our house is an instant candidate for friendship - just lovely!

So that was it: our first day of picking up the reigns again, albeit ever-so-gently.  We simply loved it - this is such a good life.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Shuffling, Strewing and Surfing

I love the fact that no matter what plans you make in Home Education, when you are even partly child-led, they have their own agendas.  My plans have to be flexible, and fortunately I thrive on that.

Following on from the decision during the week to do a background project on World Geography, I had ordered a few supplementary items that I thought would help kickstart the project.  In my mind I was thinking that we would "start" on Monday as that's when Daddy goes back to work, but in reality, as I should have known, as soon as the mysterious packages arrived and were opened the boys wanted to get stuck in.  In fact, they were engrossed well before the ordered goods were delivered...

We have a lovely big IKEA shelf unit, largely filled with HE type goodies (books, games, other resources), and thanks to my slight OCD tendencies, the shelf contents are arranged methodically by subject.  Having had a sort-out the other day I shuffled some of the contents around, which unsurprisingly made it all look fresh and appealing to the boys (apparently supermarkets deliberately use the same 'shuffling' technique to get shoppers to spot things that they had previously walked past without noticing).  While I went out of the room for something the boys discovered a set of ten "Horrible Geography" books that we have had for ages without any interest being shown.  When I came back each of the three boys had their nose firmly stuck into one of the books - even Youngest who is not a fluent reader yet.

Of course I was thrilled - and if nothing else it verified that I was on the right track with my chosen background project!  So when our large map of the world arrived today it went straight up on the wall (it turned out to be too big for the kitchen door), and I left the other bits just 'strewn around' (ie deliberately but 'casually' lying in places where I knew the boys would spot them).  It really wasn't long before Youngest picked one up and asked if we could play.  It was Top Trumps, "Wonders of the World" - quite a quick game, as they are all tired from a sleepover last night so it did descend into competitive squabbling quite quickly, and was put away for another day - but they were all keen on it, so I count it a successful purchase.  Next they spotted the book that I was most pleased at finding: Angry Birds Playground - Atlas.  Angry Birds are a big hit in our house at the moment, so I was pretty confident that this would grab their attention, and sure enough they were quickly snuggled up together, Eldest turning the pages and Middle reading aloud to Youngest, all squabbles momentarily forgotten.  Lovely :)

Never mind that I wasn't mentally prepared for them to be "learning" again just now - that's just proof that this is their education, not mine.  Home education is the most fulfilling when parent and child are in tune with each other, such as being able to predict what background project would be appealing at any point, but even then I can get caught up in the planning, and I have to be willing to jump on board with them as soon as they're ready, whether I feel prepared or not, else I risk holding them back and stifling their interest as it is just appearing.    If I try to control them and limit them to 'my' way of doing things in my timing, they will quickly become frustrated and disinterested.  So leaping on board at a moment's notice it has to be!

In my mind it's like taking the boys to a beach where I know there are decent waves, but they are the ones who choose when they're ready to get surfing - and being young enthusiastic creatures, they just leap in when I would naturally still be paddling in the shallows trying to prepare myself.   There is that split-second moment of "hang on, I wasn't ready" before I realise if I want to do this with them I'm just going to have to go for it, ready or not!   In reality none of us are actual surfer-dudes, but that doesn't stop the exhilaration of spotting a wave of learning opportunity and leaping on together.  Some waves fade away fairly quickly, with others we just lose focus and fall off, and with some we ride the glorious crest for ages.  I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Making Geography Fun (Background Projects)

Apologies to lovers of Geography who were offended by the title... it's just that Geography is not my personal favourite subject.  My memories of school lessons on the subject mainly involve deep boredom, so it is not something that I automatically turn to with thoughts of "yay, let's look at this" in mind.

That said, I may be about to change my mind.  One of the many joys of home education so far has been the opportunity to fill the gaps in my own knowledge while learning alongside the children, and now we have another good opportunity for this in an up-coming world geography project.  While mulling over possible plans for the next HE season the other day, I decided it was time for a new "background project" (my invented term).  These background projects are usually chosen by me, and usually kicked off by a large poster on the kitchen door, followed by a few fun activities and games around the theme, and they usually last several months, just doing the odd activity when we feel like it - nothing too heavy or structured.  Our first background project when we started HE was on the Human Body, our second (and most recent) one was to do with rocks.  It feels like now is a good time for a new one, and I have been drawn to the idea of a world map, based on a few conversations and questions that have come up recently.
Naturally this led me to consider what we could do to facilitate natural and fun learning along this theme, and I have come up with a few ideas that I am enthusiastic about (when choosing a parent-led aspect of HE it has to be something that I find interesting and inspires enthusiasm, or I may as well not bother - even something as low key as a background project has the potential to be soul-destroying for all concerned, not to mention utterly fruitless, if imposed as law rather than shared enthusiastically). 

So firstly, having done a mini culture swap in the summer, I thought how lovely it would be if people we knew around the world could send us some little bits representing where they live, so I put out a plea on Facebook yesterday and we already have lovely people offering to help.  I'm thinking we can put markers on the world map, showing where all of our friends live. (We already have a UK map marked with all the places we have visited over the last few years - this is an extension of the same idea I suppose).

Secondly, and in a similar vein, I have signed up to Postcrossing, where we send and receive postcards to and from people all around the world.  My boys love hands-on learning, and I think this will grasp their imaginations.  I can't wait to start receiving the cards anyway!

Thirdly, I was looking for a related board game that they could play, to assist in the 'fun' aspect of things.  'Risk' would be good if they were older, but otherwise there aren't many that I think would appeal to them that are currently on the market - so I came up with my own idea and am in the process of making it.  Details will follow if I get it working!  While I was planning it, I naturally found some things out that have inspired further interest on my part, so hopefully the boys will like it too.  Next time I'll involve them in the planning, as they love making games!

Fourthly, I asked the boys what sort of things they would be interested in finding out about our friends who live in other parts of the world, and they came up with some good questions - so we may even get writing to our friends - much more fun than just research for the sake of it, and a little writing practice to boot!

And that's it for now - I don't want to get carried away, just have some ideas up my sleeve for an appropriate moment.  What usually happens is that the boys start to enjoy 'my' games and activities, and then come up with their own ideas and take it further that I initially thought, in the directions that particularly interest them.  Of course, if and when this happens, I will fill in the details here :)

So for now I'm just enjoying being in the novel position of looking forward to learning about Geography!  If home education can do that, surely there are no limits to our learning fun.