Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Easing Off

There was a much nicer feel to today!

After the strains of Monday and yesterday I deliberately kept the activities light and easy today: Mathswhizz for Eldest and Middle, as they enjoy it - and various maths ipad apps for Youngest (still trying to find a good one, but I'm not too bothered while he's so young).

We took the readings from the weather station again, with Eldest showing Youngest how to work out wind direction - that took less than two minutes!

I knew anything too demanding would be a no-go, so then I gave them some sheets I had found online and printed off, showing Viking runes alongside our alphabet, and asked them to write coded messages in Viking.  Well that was a great success - they all wrote something fairly simple and then enjoyed it so much they carried on doing more!  I can't show any examples here as they mostly used each others' real names, but it was a great success!

It was 11am by this point, and I just left them to their own devices - no further planned activities, just happily occupied quietness, right up until lunchtime when we watched two episodes of History Hunt (recorded from BBC2's learning zone), and then we all tidied up so they could play computer games when their grandparents arrived to babysit while I went to the GP.

What a lovely peaceful day it has been!  So much of Home Education is learning how to spot what season you are in, whether full-steam ahead or taking a breather etc - and it's been lovely to be able to just back off and still get things done, just at a different pace.  I've adjusted the schedule so we have a lighter workload to the end of this week, and then we will see how they're doing by next week.  I do love this life!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

To Cheer up Those who Torture Themselves with Comparisons...

Maybe it's not a fair comparison, given Youngest's dental traumas last week which caused him to refuse the actual tooth-pulling - but today certainly did end up feeling like the proverbial attempt to pull teeth.

We did OK to start with: I had prepared a Viking timeline activity, similar to the one I created for the Romans last summer, except this time, instead of asking the boys to write out the details for each date, I pre-printed it for them and they just cut out the information and then stuck it to the card with the matching date.  They were then challenged to work out a way to work as a team, to get all of the cards into date order.  After a bit of a wobbly start to the teamwork, they actually did pretty well!  We hung them onto a ribbon and then realised we had lost the sticky-tack, so it's not attached to the shelves yet (PDF available here for those interested).

As we finished the timeline, my sister and niece arrived for our second activity.  Part of our Wildlife Action Awards involve getting creative, so after the success of the winter poems a couple of weeks ago, we thought we'd write some poems about birds.  We used a similar format to last time (word banks, using our imagination and research, reading other bird poems etc) but this is where it turned from a bit of fun into a tortuous ativity. The word banks didn't seem to work so well and generally inspiration was very low.  Youngest started writing immediately about a chick, which was interesting as his spelling is still very much in the formative stage, and if I don't transcribe what he has written immediately, we both find it difficult to remember it in its entirety later - but as the others needed my input too he wrote quite a bit while I was distracted.  Not very peaceful!  Eldest decided straight away to write about a Kiwi and Middle chose a Lyre bird.  I suggested that a British bird might be more appropriate as it is the RSPB who are organising the awards, but Eldest was adamant, so he disappeared off somewhere quiet to do his writing.  Meanwhile Niece chose to write about a barn owl but struggled with writer's block and took a long time with lots of prompts to get going. Middle kept changing his mind about his choice of bird - he made several false starts while Youngest got carried away and started an illustration of a multi-coloured fantasy chick.  Niece was up and running, Eldest was occupied elsewhere, and Middle was on his second or third choice of bird so I turned my attention to Youngest, explaining that we were writing poems to celebrate real wildlife, and we started trying to unpick his writing.  As we were part way through, Niece asked what a barn owl sounded like, so I found a recording online to play her, including some footage of baby barn owls calling for food. Youngest was captivated by the owlets, so his poem morphed somewhat and became about a barn owl chick.  It was finished quite quickly, so I typed it up and printed it out for him to illustrate - only he decided that that was a totally unrealistic request and stropped off for a while, which gave me time to help Middle, now on his fourth or fifth choice of bird: a red kite.  He came and sat next to me and we found some video footage of slow motion scavenging kites - they really are beautiful birds!  Eldest came to show me his work and I said that while he had obviously done some great research and written a very informative piece on Kiwis, it wasn't really a poem - so rather than rewrite the whole thing by hand he wasked to rewrite it on my laptop, ready to print.  I typed out Niece's now-finished poem and handed it to her to illustrate, then passed my laptop to Eldest while I helped Middle.  By now I was already exhausted, and the next bit was the hardest of all.  Middle's poem took a LOT of prompts and suggestions and lasted a really long time, but we got there in the end.  Meanwhile Youngest had come back and very quickly drawn a super-cute owlet.  Eldest had typed up his poem, which I felt was still unfinished but he was in no mood to make any revisions so it was left as it was, and illustrated.  Middle's friends were by now arriving for a play date, so his illustration had to wait until teatime - it has just been completed now.

"Little Owlet" by Youngest

"Barn Owl" by Niece

"Kiwi" by Eldest

"Red Kite" by Middle

Apologies for the long-winded, rambling and confusing account - it was such a crazy session, I wanted to try to faithfully capture the chaotic nature of the activity lest anyone be tempted to think that our home education is always serene and intimidatingly perfect.  Yes, the finished results are still pretty lovely, in my opinion - but that was also a pretty exhausting session, and not one I am planning to replicate any time soon!  Funny how the previous poem-writing session went so well but this time it was so mad.  Undoubtedly it was different having the boys' cousin and auntie for them to mess around in front of - and we had the time pressure of further friends arriving not long afterwards, but I think it was also to do with their energy levels starting to flag as mentioned yesterday.  Anyway, the outline is available here, for anyone whose child(ren) are more inclined to have a go and less in crazy mode - help yourselves!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Taking Stock

I can't believe this is only our fourth week of the year - we've been getting so much done, it feels like January is going on for ever!  Actually I think Middle is starting to flag a little.  He is usually the first one to show signs of having done enough 'work', and that seemed to be true today.  Either that or he was tired and having an 'off' day, as everything seemed to be a huge effort for him today.

We started off with Maths as usual - and although he complained greatly about how hard it all was, when I went to sit with him it turned out it was really not difficult for him at all; he was just not in a good place mentally to start with.  A little encouragemnt and he was up and running, so no big problems.

After Maths we went outside briefly to take the readings from our weather station that we built a couple of weeks ago and had then promptly forgotten about!  I've now written it onto the planner to check it every day, so hopefully we'll remember.  The boys were all quite keen on that activity at least - and it was very brief, so all good there.

Following that it was time to do something arty. There was a bit of complaining from Middle and Youngest, which is not at all usual when it comes to art projects.  Once we got started though, they regained their enthusiasm, and it went well.  We may just need to change from paints and pastels to sketching or clay etc, but I do think today's pictures were very sweet...

Youngest's Polar Bears

Middle's Polar Bears

Eldest's Polar Bears

The final activity was probably a step too far, but I really wanted to look a bit more at the Vikings before our upcoming trip to the Viking museum, so I read them the story of AEthelred the Unready, and they drew a picture about their chosen part of the story.  Middle took a very long time to complete his - I think it was a combination of writing the sentence at the top (he is not keen on writing) and just the fact that he saw it as 'work'.  

Eldest's illustration

Youngest's illustration

Middle's illustration

So we may need to ease off on the parent-led activities for a bit - I'll see how we get on tomorrow, but am happy to rethink the schedule if necessary.  After all, if the boys aren't enjoying it they are unlikely to be learning anyway, and I don't believe in activity for activity's sake.  We'll just see how this week progresses...

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Struggles and Blessings

The lovely thing about having had a couple of days rest at the beginning of the week is that the boys now have plenty of energy for getting on with things towards the end of this week.  Usually by Thursdays they are starting to lag slightly and after swimming we mostly come home and crash, but today they were totally up for a bit more activity!

Youngest and Eldest did some handwriting first thing this morning.  There was a bit of a hiccup at swimming when Youngest - still processing his dentist traumas from yesterday - decided he couldn't do what the teachers were asking so promptly ignored them, resulting in him having to leave the pool early.  They seemed quite understanding, agreeing he'd never done that before, so hopefully he'll be fine next week.  It's a tricky one though as he's such a livewire it's not obvious when he's upset - it just looks like naughtiness.  I'm so grateful that through Home Ed I have been able to get to know all my boys so well, and I could see past Youngest's behaviour this morning to the invisible underlying struggles.  We just need to allow him time to recover - not letting him 'get away with' bad behaviour necessarily, but not blaming him for feeling out of control either.

Anyway, after swimming we came home and Youngest helped me to bake some brownies while Eldest tidied up and Middle started his handwriting...

Then Youngest asked if they could do our Vikings jigsaw, so I suggested we do our art first, then the table would be free for the jigsaw which would probably take longer.  We did the 'Colour Wheel Giraffe' from Deep Space Sparkle, wth lovely results.  Despite being aimed at grade 2, it was pretty easy even for Youngest (the boys are all very familiar with mixing paint colours), so it was a nice gentle art activity to round off the morning...

Eldest's Giraffe

Middle's Giraffe

Youngest's Giraffe

We ran out of time to start the jigsaw as we had friends here this afternoon, but happily it is on the schedule for tomorrow anyway, so once they've done Maths and English in the morning they can start on the jigsaw, and we will have caught up with everything that was on the planner for this week!  I'm not quite sure how we managed that, but am very happy about it!

Incidentally, I have had some lovely comments about my blog over the last couple of days, and I just want to thank those of you who have been so encouraging.  I always hope that I am somehow helping someone somewhere by keeping it up, and it's so lovely to hear that it seems to be working that way!  Long may it continue :)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Nothing Like According to Plan

It was my lovely Middle's birthday this Monday - his choice of party was to have friends over to play on the Wii U and eat pizza, his only problem being that he now has too many friends to be able to invite them all: what a lovely reversal from when he was at school!  Anyway, I had allowed Monday as our week's day off on the planner, knowing that nothing was going to get done - and it all went to plan: lots of noise, fun, and no work at all!  However I hadn't factored in the fact that because he had his first ever sleepover that night, none of them got a lot of sleep.  Late to bed and early awake left all the children too tired to attempt any work the next day, even after sleepover buddy had gone home!  So Tuesday was written off work-wise as well.  Ah well, flexibility is one of the big blessings of HE, so I let go of my planner and enjoyed a day of doing very little other than refereeing tired squabbles and sorting out some of my old photos while the boys played (a treat that I rarely get time to do).

This morning I was hoping to see a return to our planned schedule, although as Youngest had a denstist appointment first thing I wasn't sure if he would be in the mood to get anything done afterwards.  I left Eldest and Middle with Daddy with instructions to complete their mathswhizz exercises for the day before we got back to do some further work.  Basically it didn't go to plan at all.  Eldest did do his mathswhizz, but Middle 'forgot', and Youngest's appointment turned into two hours of him trying and failing to pluck up courage to have the second of two numbing injections.  We gave up in the end, but the morning was already gone by then.

I had a look at the schedule to see if we could attempt any of the activities, and was pleased to see the Horrible Histories Vikings DVD was set for yesterday, which the boys were happy to watch over lunch today.  Following that, we had a new book delivered in the post that I had been looking forward to, it being by one of our favourite picturebook authors : "The Day the Crayons Quit" by Oliver Jeffers.  So we read the book together, and then the boys drew some pictures to make the crayons happy - lots of fun!

by Middle

by Eldest

by Youngest

So it may not have looked anything like what we had planned, but given the way the week has developed, I'm pretty happy with today's work!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Catch-up Chaos

The second half of this week has been a bit madder than the first two days, mainly because of the unexpected additional pressure of Youngest needing an emergency dentist appointment, picking up antibiotics for an abcess, and generally dealing with the pain the poor little chap has been in, resulting in him being a lot less lively or resilient and needing a lot more attention than usual. Anyway we shifted priorities to work around medicines and cuddles, but still managed to have a busy week.

On Wednesday Niece was with us, and the weather was cold but bright, so after the boys did some Maths we went for a lovely walk to buy eggs from our local smallholding.  Walking instead of taking the car is another tick on our Wildlife Action Awards checklist, but it's always a pleasure anyway.  We found icy puddles and frosty leaves, squelched through lots of mud, spotted a gap in the fence where a fox or badger has pushed through, tracked horseshoe prints, watched a red kite wheeling overhead - oh, and bought some lovely fresh free range eggs, dropping past to say "thank you" to the hens before going home again.  Then our wildlife-spotting got even better over lunch as the children spotted two muntjac deer and a fox roaming around the woods behind our house  We all had a happy time watching them with the kids keeping track of where they all were and pointing them out so I could try to get a photo (not great results:  too many trees in the way!)  That was it for the day though - according to the planner we were due to read "The Snowflake (a water cycle story)", but I had to take Youngest to the dentist, so it was left for another day.

On Thursday we all had a late start to the day after a disturbed night, so we skipped the scheduled English and went straight to the boys' swimming lessons (Youngest wasn't feeling up to joining in).  When we got home they did some English then: Youngest on my ipad,  Middle continuing with last week's test, and Eldest did a little handwriting rather than his workbook (he really does his best work first thing; I was pretty sure if I had pushed the matter it could have turned into a big trauma for both of us).  I got to choose the first TV programme of course, so we watched "All Over the Place" - a CBBC programme about different countries that the boys enjoy, this one covering the UK.  In the afternoon Youngest just wanted to snuggle and play on my ipad (he particularly enjoyed "Clouds and Sheep", and listening to the stories on the Bible app).  I was very thankful when the antiobiotics seemed to have started working by bedtime and he was giggling like his usual self before he went to sleep.

So this morning was scheduled to be our 'nothing planned except maybe a game' morning - the idea being that we would just leave lots of space for the boys to do their own thing.  As it turned out, Middle, Youngest and I spent quite a while tidying and sorting their bedroom, ready for a birthday sleepover after the weekend, and Eldest did the English workbook that he missed yesterday. We watched "Nature's Weirdest Events" on TV, which Eldest loves, finally read the Story of the Snowflake, and played the game "Exact Change" that I had earmarked for today.  Eldest and Middle then went to try out a Raspberry Pi/ coding group with Daddy that they both seemed to enjoy, while Youngest and I stayed home.  His mouth is still sore, but he's a lot better in himself now, thankfully!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Poetry Morning

After yesterday's super-full day, today was much less busy.  It had to be really as the boys had friends round to play this afternoon!  So we had a little Bible reading, then for English we wrote winter poetry.  I had written out some guidelines in my preparation phase a couple of weeks ago, and added some examples of winter poetry to add inspiration  (if you're interested, the pdf file can be downloaded for free here).

So following the sheet, first we had a brief discussion about poetry, talking about using language to inspire feelings in the reader, especially using descriptive language, rhyme and rhythm (or not). Then the boys wrote down some word banks, guided by some questions helping them to think about the topic.  Finally I read out the pre-chosen poems before sending the boys off to separate rooms to help them think without distraction.

Youngest obviously needed a lot of help.  He did manage to write down his own wordbank and then read it to me (I totally love emergent writing but I admit it's not always easy to interpret!), after which he dictated his poem to me to write down, with just a couple of prompts.  For someone who said he didn't think he could do it, he was really happy with the result (as am I of course)...

Youngest's wordbank (from what I remember he said it was, "freezy night; forest; yes there is trees; it feels cold; it looks beautiful; birds")

"One Freezy Night" by Youngest

Meanwhile Middle had started writing a SNOW acrostic but only got two lines written and was completely stuck on the others.  I gave him a couple of prompts but he wasn't inspired, so he went back to square one (the word bank) and started again.  Inspiration hit while he was gazing out of the window into our garden, and he very quickly had his poem finished (he wanted to type it up at the end) - I love it...

Middle's Word bank

"The Robin and the Snow", by Middle

Eldest reappeared while this was going on, with his finished effort.  He had no input from me at all after going through the initial guidelines, and he also did really well.  He was a bit concerned that he hadn't used all of the words in his wordbnk, but I reassured him that it was just there for inspiration, not as a tick-list...

Eldest's word bank

"Winter", by Eldest, with illustration 
(apologies for the poor quality photo - poem written out in full at the end of the post)

So that whole exercise took quite a long time all in all, but poetry does often require considerable thinking/ mulling over time, so that was our morning happily complete.  All that was left was for Mummy to choose some TV to go with our picnic lunch, and today it was the first part of Neil Oliver's "Vikings" series.  It was great - the boys seeing things that they had already read about in one of their books, and then getting to share something that none of the rest of us knew.  Individual and collaborative learning in action: fantastic!

"Winter" by Eldest
Leaves falling off the trees, gently falling down.

Children making snowmen dressed as a funny clown.
Big dark clouds dropping cold wet diamonds onto the ground.
People caught in the snow marching and running, shouting "Homeward bound!"
Sitting round a fire having a hot chocolate treat.
Snacking on candy canes and marshmallows, everything so sweet.
One thing's for sure: winter is here.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Cats, Canute and Colourful Imaginations!

The boys got all of their scheduled work done really quickly this morning, so we did an extra activity as well - the only problem was, that then led to something else, and it all ended up taking AGES!  Never mind, they're off playing again now while I write this post.  It made me realise though that some extra activities lead too easily into even more extra activities, so to try and choose more closed-ended ones next time (if that's at all possible)!

Anyway, we had started (after a group snuggle in bed with a bit of Bible) with MathsWhizz for Eldest and Middle.  They were thrilled last week to discover the new 'jump' feature that allows them to jump to the end of an exercise if they get the first several questions correct with no mistakes - happy boys!  I discovered an ipad app at the weekend for Youngest. He didn't want to play it over the weekend but was more than happy to do it for his maths lesson!  It's called Todo Math, and although most of the questions are very easy for him, it is helping him to learn to form his numbers, which he had been struggling with, so that's great!

After Maths came Art, and a lesson from Deep Space Sparkle called "Cat and Bird", inspired by the art of Paul Klee.  We read the book "The Cat and the Bird", and then sat down with our black oil pastels, trays of watercolours and drawing instructions.  The DSS lessons always work well, and this was no exception.  Youngest took a couple of attempts to get the outline in proportion, but it was plain sailing from then on.  Mummy even had time to have a go too...

Eldest's Cat and Bird

Middle's Cat and Bird

Youngest's Cat and Bird

Mummy's Cat (I forgot the bird bit!)

When the boys had finished their art (all at different times), they went to do some of their Viking sticker books.  I had been really pleased to be able to get them a different one each, and they seem to be enjoying them.  (If you want the links, they are these: Youngest's, Middle's and Eldest's).

...and that was this morning's schedule finished - by about 11am!  We could have stopped there, but as they were all sharing snippets from their sticker books I thought we could read one of the Viking stories that I had earmarked when I was planning in the holidays.

So we read from a great book on "Kings and Queens" (Tony Robinson) about King Canute (or Cnut), with a postscript about one of his earls, Lord Leofric who promised lower taxes if his wife, Lady Godiva would ride naked through the town.  The boys were delighted and horrified - and we agreed that Leofric was a very silly, rude man, and joked that I wouldn't do it if Daddy told me to do it - in fact I might even just say he could do it himself.  Of course Youngest couldn't resist this mental image, so when I asked the boys if they could write/ draw a bit about King Canute, Youngest had to first draw a picture of Daddy naked on a horse.  For the sake of propriety I won't post it here, though I think it will be treasured - especially as Daddy was, shall we say, very favourably represented!!  Following that were several representatons of Canute by Youngest: one completely naked, one as a zombie, one as a little boy, and finally one as the king, shared here alongside his brothers' work...

Youngest's final version (he dictated the writing bit)

 Middle did his writing and illustration on separate sheets of paper...

Eldest struggled to get going, but I think he did just fine!

So that was a lovely exercise, even if it took quite a bit longer than expected, what with nudity-induced hysteria and discussions about why Canute tried to stop the waves etc - and when we read the acccount of Canute & the waves in Wikipedia with the empasis on Canute's claim that only God had the power to rule the seas, the boys started talking about the people in the Bible who did what Canute couldn't, because God was with them - among those being the account of Moses parting the Red Sea. So as it was now lunchtime (when Mummy gets to choose the first TV programme), I fetched our "Prince of Egypt" DVD, and we watched that.  The film finished at about 3pm, and at first I felt a bit awkward about having "made" the boys do a full schoolday's work, when we usually aim to leave afternoons for their own choice of activities, learning etc.  None of them complained though (except for a bit earlier when they got stuck on how to start their Canute writing), and really it was just such a lovely time with the boys in PJs/ onesies, and us all snuggled upon the sofa to read etc, there's just no comparison with school.  Good times!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Adaptability is the Key

Today was definitely more flexible : we did use the schedule, but adapted it as we went along (I am not slave to my planner: it is there to help and support us, not drive us against our wills!)

This morning the boys were due to do English workbooks/ sheets first.  Youngest was only interested in doing one of the sheets that I had printed off for him (nothing too taxing, jut identifying and writing the beginning letters of certain words), but that was fine.  Middle has gone right off workbooks as I mentioned last week, so I showed him a test that I had found online, downloaded and printed.  I explained that he did NOT have to do the whole thing, just as much as he wanted - and not to worry about being scored, as I am not interested in stressing him out just for the sake of a grade.  If I had said I want to find out what workbooks we need next, or what he still needs to learn, it would have put him right off, but I told him that as he seems to have inherited my intuitive approach to English, just picking up good grammar and spelling as he reads, my goal was to find out what he already knew and what lessons we could skip.  Well obviously that way of looking at it appealed to him greatly, and he set to work on the test with a really lovely attitude, stopping only when he was getting tired of it, eight pages later.  He did really well, and we had a lovely time going through it together later, with me explaining anything that he hadn't quite grasped and marvelling with him over how much he did know - just great!
Eldest was feeling a bit poorly this morning so he had a lie-in while his brothers were doing their English, only getting up as we were about to go swimming.  He didn't come with us because of his cough - stayed at home with Daddy who was working from home today - but unfortunately we didn't communicate about my expectations.  I did not expect him to do anything while I was out, but he decided to do ten minutes of handwriting as he knew today was 'English' day, before chatting to Daddy about house designs.  When I came back and explained that I had a new KS3 English book that I wanted to try with him, he was distinctly unimpressed, so I had to alter our plans and offer him the choice of the new workbook or Mathswhizz, so we could do the workbook together tomorrow morning instead of maths.  He was OK with that, so we just agreed to adapt our plans to suit us.  Mathswhizz went fine, especially as we got to sit together for a bit that he was finding tricky.  He didn't really need my help, just the encouragement of my company - and that's more than fine by me!
Nb the new English workbook has been recommended to us by a fellow Home Educator who hit similar issues as us (mentioned in my recent post on the subject) with her son at the same age - this book (from Galore Park) seems to be a lot less confusing and subjective, and more focused on the essential grammar, comprehension and spelling skills that he is likely to need approaching GCSE level.

So that was it, as far as our planner was concerned: all scheduled activities ticked off.  BUT - Niece was with us again this morning, so as we are tackling the Wildlife Action Awards together, we decided to do another of the challenges while she was here, and we all sat down together to make bird feeders.  Youngest and Niece chose to construct seed dispensers out of old plastic bottles, while Middle and Eldest opted for the messier version squishing lard, birdseed and grated cheese into empty yoghurt pots to hang up with garden wire.  Great fun was had by all - and we've completed one of next week's activities early! (I'm sure I can choose another challenge to do by then)...
making sure we have everything we need
(including instructions which we downloaded from the RSPB website here and here)...

lard, seeds and grated cheese for the yoghurt pot feeders...

go on: give it a good squish!

Niece cutting out the feeder access 

...and Youngest doing his 

filling the bottle feeders

threading wire through the yoghurt pot feeders 

and attaching wire to the bottle feeders 

filling the pots as much as possible

Niece hanging up her feeder

Youngest hanging up his feeder

Middle hanging up his feeder

Eldest hanging up his feeder

So flexibility really is the name of the game - yes, my six-week schedule is helping me to stay calm and organised, but when things come up (as they always will), it has enough 'give' in it that it to remain a stress-free experience and allow for spontaneous creativity.  Still loving it!