Monday, 23 February 2015

The Value of Time Off

We're having a thoroughly lovely day today - we enjoyed a half-term week off, doing nothing much other than playing - and it has really paid dividends when it came to today, with all of us feeling ready for some more structured activities.  We got LOTS done!  Admittedly, this was in part down to the planning that I did over the half-term (it only took one morning to do my plan)  As I mentioned in my previous post, we are sticking to the format from last half term as it was so productive, so adaptable,  and so much fun...

So today I had planned some Bible Study, Maths and Art - and was hoping that we might also fit in a bit of History if we had time.  We did all of the above and more!  I just love the energy that results from a week off!

The Bible Study came about because of some sibling bickering that was starting to really bother me before half-term.  Although we do deal with this on a day-to-day basis as the need arises, I also wanted to address some specific character issues - kind of like PSHE lessons but with a Bible focus - so I asked around if anyone knew of any studies out there to do with brotherly love, patience, forgiveness, telling tales etc - and sure enough, I was directed to a "Brother Offended" checklist study with poster to colour in.  I took advantage of the boys renewed enthusiasm for structured activities this morning and we started the study.  It's far too early to know how much is going in, but we had some lovely discussions and prayer time.

Then the boys went online to tackle MathsWhizz - and again I saw the value of time off.  Towards the end of last year Youngest hit a wall in his maths and was finding it all too hard.  Having experienced this more than once I knew that he just needed a break to let his brain assimilate and mature - so he abandoned Mathswhizz and has been doing easy sums and playing whatever maths games he fancied since then.  Today he sat down with me to have another go, and had no problems at all!  True, the questions are not easy still, but he was just able to work them out without struggling.  This is one of the huge benefits of Home Education, that children can learn in their own natural seasons: work when they have the energy and enthusiasm - and rest when their brain needs a break.

While Youngest waited for his brothers to finish he found some Challenge Cards from Dyson, and asked if we could do the one getting the egg into the bottle.  I wasn't sure that the neck of the milk bottle was wide enough, but we had a go anyway.  It was fascinating!  We boiled the egg for ten minutes while immersing the bottle in hot water...

Then we peeled the egg and placed it onto the neck of the hot bottle - the theory being that as the air in the bottle cooled and contracted, it would suck the egg into the bottle...

It didn't work completely, but we were all fascinated by the process, checking peridoically on the progress...

(after about 10 minutes)

A while later - we were fascinated by the little bubbles.  

sadly this is as far as it got - I need to find a bottle with a wider neck to try again!

Then after they had all finished Maths it was time for art, and inspired by the TV series on Alaska that I have been watching with Eldest, we chose a lovely winter moose collage from Deep Space Sparkle.  First we read the book, "Ernest", then we painted the backgrounds, and sprinkled glitter on for the snow, then used pastels (oil and chalk) on separate pieces of paper to create our mooses with huge antlers, cutting them out and sticking them onto the backgrounds when all was dry.  A lovely, straightforward activity that all enjoyed - and having had several weeks of no painting or pastels, none of them batted an eyelid at getting the paints out once more.  More evidence of the benefits of time off!

Mummy's moose, "Frank"

Youngest's moose, "Loz" (complete with steaming pile of moose poo)

Middle's moose, "Brian" (also with poo, inspired by Loz)

Eldest's moose, "Moochie"

Youngest finished early again and went to look for something to do.  He found our magnet set and started playing happily, following the challenge cards included.  Eldest joined him before long, and then so did Middle, while I finished clearing the last bits of art up and got ready for our final activity.

And finally, with plenty of time to spare, we got to the history that I had been hoping to start.  Having finished looking at the Vikings (for now at least), we have now progressed onto the Normans and Middle Ages - so today was all about 1066.  I read the book, "The Battle of Hastings" to the boys (it also covers the Battle of Stamford Bridge), and then watched a couple of short Youtube clips - one from Horrible Histories on Hastings, and one showing the animated Bayeux tapestry.  The boys drew some pictures, and then we stopped for lunch, when we also watched the Horrible Histories "Measly Middle Ages" DVD.

Eldest's "Battle of Hastings" (well-ordered Normans on the right; Anglo-saxons on the left, with Harold dead at the very top)

Middle's "Battle of Stamford Bridge" (Harald Hardrada dead in a pool of blood with an arrow in his neck, while an English warrior spears a Norwegian through the foot from under the bridge)

Youngest's "King Harold" being killed -1, then trampled on - 2, then a ninja warrior (!) escaped - 3

Phew!  It feels like we crammed a whole week's worth of activities in to one morning!  The rest of this week is pretty full though with groups etc, so it's been nice to have a very productive day to balance out what is coming.  Also, I am under no illusion: the rest of this half-term is not likely to be this full-on as it's an unrealistic pace to try to keep to, but as a one-off active day, we have thoroughly enjoyed it!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Did the Planning Work?

Having made our way to the end of a half-term of being the most structured to date in our Home Ed journey, I wanted to review how it has gone.

I ended last year feeling dissatisfied as it felt like the lack of planned activities had led to us feeling somewhat stodgy in our Home Ed - I wasn't convinced that I was giving my best to the boys, and wanted to re-evaluate.  I realised I had been torn between my love of the theory behind unschooling, and the reality that we seem to work best (some more than others) with some form of structure.  So, with some trepidation that it might be a tricky balancing act to meet all of our needs in this respect, I decided to embrace my inner plan-maker, and draw up a plan for the half-term to start in January.

I have to say, it worked really well!  I generally scheduled in alternating Maths and English (both twice a week), plus an art activity, science activity, couple of activities on our project (at the time it was Vikings), and the odd educational game and several educational TV programmes - plus whatever the boys wanted to do.  I only planned two or three things per morning, four mornings a week, for six weeks, which was flexible enough to allow for days out and other fun.  The afternoons were mostly left for socialising and free-play time  If the boys had a slow day, we just ditched one or two of the planned ideas or saved them for another day, and if they had an enthusiastic day, we just factored in whatever extra activities they came up with. Sometimes we did something completely unplanned and spontaneous.  The end of the half-term was noticeably slower-paced than the beginning, but that's not surprising really, and certainly not a problem.  All-in-all it was the most comfortable I have felt about the Home Ed process since we started.  Of course, that may be because we've being doing it for a while now - but I definitely think the plan helped.

I am convinced that the key to it working was the fact that although I am a not-so-secret planner, I am very relaxed about whether or not the plans actually happen as scheduled.  It's just a guideline, to give us a focus and starting point each morning.  If the plan starts to take over at any point and stress us out, I think I will have to step back.  I may enjoy planning but I completely believe that a child who is stressed and resisting participation is never going to learn as well as the child who is relazed and enjoying whatever the activity is. So fun remains the priority, the plan is secondary - it just helps us to have a frameowrk to some of our fun.

Of course, after this half term we will be approaching summer, and then I expect things to change considerably, as home educators everywhere suddenly spend most of their time out of doors.  I'm not sure how the plan will cope with that, but for now I've just finished drawing up another 6-weeks of scheduled activities, flushed with the success of last half-term (success for me meaning that we all enjoyed it, we all learned stuff and the plan helped us to HE in a way that felt really positive).

Friday, 13 February 2015

Highlights Versus Out-takes

I am reluctant to share our whole week's highlights in one post because apart from the risk of it turning into a HUGE post, one of my favourite sayings (particularly relevant to those of us who spend any time on social media) is "stop comparing your out-takes to everyone else's highlight reel".

You know what I mean: having had one of "those" days when it takes until midday for everyone to be up (I won't say dressed as we all know PJ days rule!), when the baby has screamed all morning, another child has played computer games the whole time without stopping for breakfast, and the closest we feel they got to being creative was when we walked into the bedroom and found 'someone' had swirled mascara, bright red lipstick and electric blue eyeshadow all over the pale cream bedroom carpet... we stick CBeebies on for a bit of "educational TV" (not really because we have a slight crush on Mr Bloom) and then sneak on to the computer with a cup of coffee and big bar of chocolate, hoping for inspiration/ comfort/ a break!

What we find, whether through Facebook,  Pinterest or our favourite blog, is somebody enjoying a pristine and glowing example of Perfect Home Education: a dozen children all dressed (HA!), sat beautifully at a table (because they want to - not a snarl or complaint to be heard) having learned their times tables through an ingenious game they just made up, produced a family newsletter where every child contributed a stunningly creative and witty piece of writing, created a scale model of the entire city of London out of matchsticks and homemade saltdough, "popped out" (note lack of meltdowns due to not being able to find shoes/ teddy/ library books/ keys) into town to discover exactly what the local Edwardians' underwear looked like and then on return cooked dinner with homegrown produce from their organic smallholding...

Their highlights compared to our out-takes do not an encouraging picture make!

However, I have a whole week's worth of blogging to catch up on... so, before I launch into the highlights of our week this week, let me first state that today it took one of my children two hours (I'm not exaggerating) to eat their breakfast, another child almost the same amount of time to look up five words in the dictionary, and the sum total of the remaining child's "work" this morning was drawing three little pokemon figures.  Oh, and when I reached over to move one child away from another child who they were squashing, I accidentally hurt their ear myself.  Not a pretty day so far!  Still, we have friends coming over to play this afternoon, so at least I can write "socialisation" in my diary *ahem*...

Also, last weekend I was ill, and it took at least until Tuesday for me to start feeling normal and healthy again, by which time there was a mountain of housework to tackle, as well as three restless boys.  We have had lots of visitors this week - just because that's the way it works out sometimes - and other things planned (eg swimming) have fallen through because of the car  battery dying etc.  It has been chaotic and full, leaving no time at any point to write in my blog.

As I share my week's highlights, just remember not to compare your week's out-takes, OK?  Just rejoice with me that it all balances out somehow to give our kids an awesome education and life...


Monday - the boys did their usual mathswhizz/ Todo math, we took readings from the weather station and the boys filled in some weather printable sheets that I found on Enchanted Learning.  We watched the rest of the Vikings series on TV, and (my favourite activity) we painted our little clay homes that we had made last week.  I particularly enjoyed this as I was so absorbed in my own little house that the boys had free reign over painting how they wanted, without me bent over them correcting strokes or details.  There's a time and a place for that, but it wasn't this day! PS We have ordered some electric tealights to go inside and shine through the windows (real candles wouldn't work with the lids on)...

Mummy's "Gnome Home"

Eldest's "Gnome Home"

Youngest's "Gnome Home"

Middle's "Toadstool Home" (front and back)

Tuesday - the boys did some pages from their handwriting workbooks, filled in some more of the weather chart, and drew some Vikings from a "How to" sheet I had found online, before spending the rest of the day socialising with their cousin and friends...

Eldest's Viking (with snow on his helmet where he had been standing still for too long)

Middle's Viking with added tool belt and pet dog (he decided it was a ceremony otherwise he wouldn't have had horns on his helmet)

Youngest found the "how to draw" instructions a bit too tricky so he went freestyle and drew a singing disco Viking complete with laser glitterball

Wednesday was our busiest day.  Youngest had a dentist appointment, and while we were out we left Eldest and Middle doing Mathwhizz with Grandma and Grampie, and when they finished maths, Middle played Angry Birds Ludo with Grandma while Eldest made a viking longboat from a kit we had bought when we were in York.  When we got home, after lunch (and watching the World's Weirdest Events on TV) we all played Viking Bingo (PDF download here). Finally Middle tried out a new (to him) Drama club in the afternoon - despite being out of his comfort zone he really enjoyed it, I hope he goes back!

Eldest's longboat

The boys like playing with sweets and keep going until they have a full house so they can have more sweets!

Thursday was supposed to be swimming but the car battery was completely flat and we were running late so had no time to orgnaise an alterntive way of getting there.  We went for a walk to the local shops instead, and then had a friend around to play.  Eldest managed to do some of his English workbook, but the younger two ran out of time before their friend arrived.  I found a 'decorate your ginngerbread man' kit that the boys had been given for Christmas, so they and their friend all had a go and enjoyed their handiwork for lunch.

And today?  Well Middle and English managed to do yesterday's English, and Eldest drew pictures (and read a Pokemon book).  Middle and Eldest are now out at coding club with Daddy, while Youngest plays and I am typing this up!

Eldest's Pokemon - he does take a lot of time over getting them just right!

Phew!  I'm so glad it's half term next week - we are all clearly in need of a structure-free week!  We didn't get to do all that I had planned for this half term at the beginning of January, but we have achieved a LOT that I'm sure wouldn't have happened without a plan - and most importantly, we have had fun doing it!  Lots of doing and learning, balanced with lots of resting, playing and thinking.  I wouldn't have it any other way, even if I am grateful for next week's break!

Happy half-term!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Two Different Kinds of Snow-Day

Any plans for this week have long since been abandoned!  As mentioned in my previous post, Monday was very low-key as the boys (and I) were pretty tired after our busy weekend in York.  I kind of thought they might be ready to get back into the swing of things on Tuesday, but that thought completely went out of the window as soon as they woke up, when they looked outside and saw SNOW!!!  It wasn't a huge amount, but it was more than we had had so far this winter, and definitely enough for snowballs etc so after breakfast we all togged up and went outside for a walk with some lovely neighbouring friends.  

Plenty of snowballs were made and great fun was had - Youngest thoroughly enjoyed "accidentally" slipping over repeatedly!  As we came off the road and started crossing fields we spotted a trail of drops of blood. We speculated that maybe a local dog-walker had a nosebleed, but we hadn't gone much further when we saw a patch of ground where there had clearly been a scuffle between a predator and its prey.  We had been spotting lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, including pheasant, woodpigeon, squirrel, plus fox-prints and those of a rabbit - we think the latter were the most likely culprits.  It would be nice to think that the blood spots were from an injured but escaping bunny, although it is quite possible that the blood was left by the fox carrying off its freshly killed breakfast.  Retrospectively it sounds quite gruesome, but at the time were were engrossed and fascinated, feeling like proper nature detectives!  When I got home I could have kicked myself for not retracing our footsteps, taking photos (we were too engrossed in the trail at the time) and clarifying the likely series of events - but we were distracted by some very friendly inhabitants of the field next to where the atttack evidence was found... 

We found some patches of grass to pull up and feed to them, then we made our way as the sky filled with more dancing snowflakes.

I can tell you, a country walk while it's snowing is one of my absolutely favourite things to do!  The last part of the walk was the slowest as we stumbled across a field that usually provides very little challenge but in the snow was quite daunting: we could not find our usual path between grassy patches and huge clods of earth, so we ended up clambering over and through seriously lumpy ground that frequently gave way a little unnervingly beneath our feet.  It was certainly a challenge, and as we knew we were close to home, it was a fun adventure.  Of course, one of the essential best bits about a winter walk is getting home to peel off soggy outer clothing and warm our noses, toes and fingers while drinking comforting mugs of hot chocolate!

Over lunch the snow disappeared quite quickly, which was good as the boys' friends were due to come and play.  No chance of any "work" getting done, but it certainly made for a fun day!

There was no chance of getting much done yesterday either, as we had our monthly trip to the local soft play centre - a great time for the children to run off some energy while the mums chatted and occasionally helped the kids to navigate the intricacies of their disputes!  We have such a great Home Ed community here - really lovely people who we all love to hang out with!

I didn't expect to get much done today either, as the boys have swimming lessons on Thursdays, and the whole rigmarole (getting up, fed and ready, driving there, parking, getting changed, swimming, getting dry and dressed and home again) usually takes over the majority of the morning.  However, I was woken to the joyful calls of "It's snowing again, Mummy!".  I checked online to see how the weather was predicted to develop, and found several people in our locality commenting that the roads were gridlocked as the gritting lorry that went along the road last night seemed to have run out of grit, leaving the road untreated.  Several others reported dreadful traffic with local journeys taking hours, and the snow continued until after 10am (the time we usually leave for the pool), so the decision was made: we were staying home.

Well!  What a busy unplanned morning we have had!  Having had a "fun in the snow" day on Tuesday, the boys weren't interested in going out to play, so warm and cosy we stayed indoors, while the boys did some MathsWhizz (Todo math for Youngest) and handwriting, followed by making some chocolate muffins with Youngest (I LOVED how the delicious baking smells filled our cosy home while the snow was blowing about outside).

Then we opened our new packet of air-drying clay to make some little gnomes and toadstool houses out of empty jam jars (now they have been left to dry for the next day or so before we can paint and varnish them)...

Youngest's Gnome Home

Middle's Gnome Home

Eldest's Gnome Home

Mummy's Gnome Home

they don't look like much, but they will be gnomes, honestly!

Over lunch we watched the Veggie Tales version of "Jonah" (I had been reminded of it yesterday but we ran out of time to watch it before bed), and then the boys all read some books (The Other KittenMy Brother's Famous BottomTitanic and Star Wars) and Eldest sketched a toucan before they finally turned on their computer games, leaving me to catch up with my blog.

It's funny how our days can turn out so very differently to what was planned - but I see the plans I made as being there to help guide us if needed, rather than creating dictatorial "shoulds" to slavishly follow - and so the flexibility of what we do is a total blessing.  I am intrigued to know how tomorrow is going to look, but I don't think I'm even going to bother looking at the planner until it's over - and then just for fun to compare how I thought the week might look with how it actually turned out!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Mellow Monday (no computer games)

 Back home after an exciting and busy weekend away in historic York, and today really needed to be low-key.  I was pleased to rediscover that the planner only had mathswhizz and an art project on it - and actually, after maths even the suggested art project was hjacked by the boys' own plans!  As I realised last week, they have had enough of making pictures with paints and/ or pastels, so I had been looking for something else anyway, but meanwhile Eldest reminded me of a craft he had found on Youtube a while ago, making Pokeballs. We had all the necessary resources apart from some white craft foam, but when I saw what it was needed for I suggested white card instead - and they were off!  I stayed out of the kitchen and they did it entirely by themselves, with Eldest telling his brothers how to do it... just lovely!

Youngest's Pokeball

Middle's Pokeball

Elddest's Ultraball

I love it when they have their own ideas and are equipped to just run with them!  Anyway, after that, and some other general tidying and playing, it was time for lunch - and Mummy's choice of TV.  Frustratingly our DVD set on the Vikings (by Neil Oliver) has gone missing - but happily, on catch-up TV  I found an episode made of excerpts from the whole series, which was perfect, so we watched that today, and the boys loved spotting the Jorvik centre and other facts that they already know!

For the rest of the afternoon I decided that we needed a computer-free day as recently they have got into the habit of playing on the Wii U or 2DS every afternoon, and it seems to overstimulate their brains in a way that isn't healthy when they are tired.  I've been pleased by how well they've done today actually - there have been a few complaints about not being able to play their console games, but not as many as I half-expected, and they have generally just entertained themselves with no suggestion of the B-word ("bored").  They've played board games (Sum SwampAngry Birds Space Race, Rubiks Race, watched some TV (mostly 'You've Been Framed' and 'Riders of Berk'), Eldest read his Pokemon handbook (again), Middle read a book on Cezanne and Youngest read a story about foxes and then spent a while playing with our human body magnet set...

For a day without the boys' beloved console games, that was remarkably peaceful... I am definitely going to have to try this more often!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Jorvik Viking Centre and York's Chocolate Story

We've just got back from a weekend in York.  It's a good three hour drive from us, so not exactly a day-trip - well not for us anyway - but we had a really good time there.

Our main reason for going was the Jorvik centre as we have been learning about the Vikings - and it was so much better than I expected!  I really recommend it if you are at all interested.  When we first got in there was a large room with a glass floor showing the reconstructed Coppergate excavation works underneath.  It was interesting, although the boys weren't entirely grabbed by it, despite there being kid-friendly maps for them to find their way around.  They were excited to find mention of Alfred the Great though, as they had learned about him already.

From the excavation reconstruction room we climbed into a 6-seater "time capsule" ride that gently moved around the set of the viking village, with animatronic vikings, realistic smells, and a commentary throughout the ride.  The boys particularly liked the viking on the toilet!  After the ride we came out into a room with many artefacts, including two skeletons found during the original Coppergate dig.  Best of all was a living breathing "viking" who was more than happy to talk to the boys (and adults) about the artefacts that he had with him, some of which we were allowed to touch.  He was brilliant: engaging and fascinating, and made sure to point out the fossilised viking poo in the display next to him.  Finally we moved into a room with even larger displays and holographic vikings telling us about their own particular area of expertise: housewifery, blacksmithing etc.  From there to the gift shop where the boys bought a shield and some bows and arrows (with suction cups at the ends, not real, sharp arrow tips - happily for Mummy's peace of mind!)

Viking Poo!

It was simply excellent.  Museums aren't normally the boys' kind of thing and although there is usually a way of engaging them, they are always finished before the grown-ups - but even so, we were there for a good couple of hours, and all really enjoyed it.  Like I said, I really can't recommend it enough - but one word of advice if you are planning to go: BOOK ONLINE!  We arrived as they opened and the queue wasn't too big, but we jumped to the front anyway as we had pre-booked, and when we went past later there was a very long queue - no fun for anyone, let alone those with children!

After a refreshment break we headed up to the "Chocolate Story" and booked ourselves in on a tour for later in the afternoon, then while we waited, wandered up to York Minster for a bit of a nosey, especially as hubby has family links with the cathedral.  It is huge - really impressive, but when we went inside it was very busy with a long queue, and we felt the boys would not handle this as well as the other visits, all in one day, and we probably didn't have enough time to do the tour before we were due at the Chocolate Story anyway, so we only stayed long enough for a few photos.  I'd love to go back for a proper look another time...

Finally we made it back to the York Chocolate Story - and again, what a brilliant experience!  A friendly tour guide took us through various rooms where we could taste samples, watch short videos and generally learn about the history of chocolate from the discovery of the cocoa bean in Aztec times, right up to modern day confectionery. (nb you have to have the tour - you can't go at your own speed, which may be a drawback for SEN families).  It held the boys' attention really well, and they particularly enjoyed the hands-on parts, not least because we all got to make our own chocolate lollipops to take home!  I would share a photo but as I'm sure you will appreciate, the chocolate was consumed long before I remembered my camera!  Again, I strongly recommend this place: well worth a visit!

So, what a great time we had in York!  I'd love to go back for more some time - the whole city is just packed with history and brilliant places to go!  Do visit if you can...