Friday, 29 May 2015

30 Days Wild

As part of this week's planning for the upcoming half-term, we were all immediately thrilled to find out about the Wildlife Trusts' new Challenge: 30 Days Wild which requires us to do something "wild" or nature-based, every day through the whole of the month of June.  Well that's right up our street, so we signed up right away!  Sad to say, we haven't received our pack through the post (they have had a LOT of interest, which is great), but all is not lost as the sign-up email also included downloads of the calendar wallchart (which we have printed off) and a booklet of wild ideas.

Having received the download links, I have to say I have been so distracted by trying to research IGCSEs that I had forgotten all about it, until I noticed today how close we are to the end of May, so I sat down and jotted down a few ideas, wondering how long it would take to come up with enough to keep us going for the whole month.  Well, I needn't have worried as I very quickly came up with 33 ideas. I typed them up, printed them off, cut into individual suggestions, folded them and popped them into a jar, so the boys can take it in turns to draw out a challenge for each day.  I know thirty-three is too many, but that allows for rejects according to weather (it's hard to make sun prints when it's raining) or not enough time or inclination that day.  Some challenges are more involved than others, and if the boys come up with their own ideas instead of my suggestions, so much the better!

Anyway, here's a PDF of my suggestions if you fancy the challenge but can't think of enough ideas (or like me, have left it to the last minute).  Most of the ideas cost little to no money, although obviously not everyone has a camera trap to hand, so feel free to reject some ideas or substitute your own.  If you are taking part you might like to join the Facebook  community page here, and share the fun!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Mysterious World of IGCSEs

We weren't going to have this "half-term" week off as it feels like we've only just got going after the Easter holiday.  However a combination of illness, sleepovers, and playdates with friends-who-go-to-school have meant that I have effectively written the week off as far as planned work goes; it would be far too stressful to try to force the boys to "do something".  This has at least left me with space to plan ahead, which I do appreciate, especially as the nature of our studies is changing.

We don't really have a background project this term: what is working so far has been lots of little projects and one-off studies such as those offered by Brain-pop videos.  We are looking at the possibility of some lapbooks as well though, since the boys discovered their old ones the other day and pulled them all out to read.  There was such a sense of pride in what they had made, I thought it would be lovely to have a go at making some more over the next half-term. Youngest has decided that he would like to do one on Weather.  It was my first suggestion as I know there are lots of lovely resources online that we could use - and he was clearly inspired by the idea, turning down any alternative suggestions made.  Middle is either going to do one on the Polar Regions, or just the North Pole, basically depending on how much he wants to include penguins.

Eldest, however, has refused point-blank to make either a lapbook (which he never made before anyway) or a notebook which he was used to doing previously. We discussed it for a short while to work out what the issue was, but he was feeling poorly so struggled to explain, and we agreed that instead of lapbooking or notebooking, he could start looking at some GCSE workbooks.  We're going to start with Geography, as that (alongside Biology) has most to do with his passion for conservation (the other current passion being Pokemon, which doesn't seem to appear in any GCSE syllabus that I have found!).  Some Home Educators start GCSE level studies with Maths, but I don't think Eldest is quite ready for that yet - and he is definitely not ready for English.  I still think it is annoyingly likely that he will need a tutor for English, despite the fact that I have a degree in the subject, as the way it is taught nowadays makes no sense to me and I think my dislike of the styles of questions etc will hold him back if I try to take him through it.

So, Geography it is (probably) for our introduction.  For the sake of keeping an honest diary I will say that I am finding this whole next stage really daunting.  I found a cheap used Geography GCSE syllabus on Amazon marketplace, so ordered that, and on initially flicking through it I found it interesting and accessible to Eldest - with certainly nothing there that I could foresee problems with, hooray!  However, on trying to find out a little more about the whole exam process from a Home Ed perspective I learned that there seem to be two main examining boards who offer IGCSEs: Cambridge and EdExcel.  As the coursebook I had purchased was from Oxford, that was that avenue scuppered (traditional GCSEs as sat in school are not really an option for us because they require an element of assessed course work, so we are pretty much restricted to IGCSEs).

I had a quick look at Cambridge v EdExcel and decided that the style of Cambridge's papers seem more suited to Eldest, so we will probably stick with that.  We will need to find a centre that will accept Eldest as a candidate and then somehow work out when to register him, how long to expect it to take him to study etc, how much it's going to cost etc (I am hoping to interrogate my experienced HE friend in person soon).  However, for the time being we are just dipping our toes into the water to test the temperature, as it were - having a look at GCSE level work to gauge where Eldest is in relation to it all.

Given the apparent irrelevance of the workbook I have, I decided to try to get some past papers to have a look at.  Apparently I picked the wrong time to look, as this is exam season so everyone is doing the same thing, resulting in the website that was recommended to me, Xtremepapers, crashing every time I clicked on the 'papers' link... I think I was clicking on the right bit, but really - if you don't know your way around, it is all so confusing!  Sigh.  I even find the Wikipage on taking GCSEs as a HEor really complicated and intimidating.  I joined a Home Ed GCSE group on FB too, but honestly, it's like they're all talking a foreign language that I don't speak yet.  If anyone out there knows of an idiot's/ beginner's guide, or ABCs of IGCSEs, please let me know!  Otherwise I may well end up writing one in a couple of years once I know what I'm doing!  I have every hope that it will all make sense to me once I've worked it out, and I will hopefully be fluent in the jargon too - but I don't want to forget this overwhelmed feeling either.  We home educators are generally not easily daunted, but this is something else!

Anyway, I digress.  Our workbook being discounted as from the wrong board, and past papers being currently unaccessible, I have reverted to what I know, namely online resources and particularly the fabulous BBC website.  I remembered from previous web-browsing sessions that they offer online GCSE revision guides, called "BiteSize" - had a look last night and discovered some lovely resources including summaries, video clips, and brief tests on each section.  I have no idea which syllabus they use, but it seems like a good enough place to start for now, just for Eldest to test the water while I try to get my head around what we need to do.  So we'll be starting with "Water and Rivers", and will see how far we get.

Friday, 22 May 2015

End of a Long Week

Super-tired mum, checking in to write the last blog post this week... just because today was actually a good day, despite my feeling pretty pooped.  It hasn't been the most peaceful of days, with a couple of run-ins with a boy or two, but all things considering, I am still pleased with how we did.

Literacy Planet was first this morning.  Youngest whizzed through his - he's comfortably completing all but one of the year three exercises (he would be year one in school).  The only one he has any issue with is putting words into alphabetical order, so we are going through that together.  He can do it, but not at yr 3 level yet.  Meanwhile Eldest took half an hour to get his computer booted up, for some reason - and Middle was distracted by all the fabulous Lit. Planet arcade games... I may have to supervise his exercises in real time if I want to know how well he is doing as I haven't found a way to review their work afterwards as a parent yet.  That would be frustrating though, and would take some juggling to be able to watch both Middle and Youngest.

Once the boys had all finished (Youngest played Medieval maths on my ipad while he waited) I let them browse through my art & craft board on Pinterest and see if they could agree on a short project to have a go at.  They couldn't quite decide between Minecraft-style selfies, a whale painting and Kandinsky-style tree... and then we stumbled on a related link of Kandinsky-style snails which we all loved, so although the Pinterest link didn't work, we made it up with our own twist (you can follow the steps we took in this link)...

Youngest's snail, "Bob"

Middle's snail, complete with oil-pastel slime trail

Eldest's snail amongst sharpie flowers

Mummy's snail

After our mixed-media art project the boys were all determined to do some more writing on the stories they had started on Weds (see below for today's chapters) after which it was time for lunch, and then time to release our butterflies!  As we do every year, we had raised some caterpillars from Insect Lore, which all successfully pupated, and emerged over the last two days.  I had taken them out into the garden yesterday to see if the first two to emerge wanted to fly free, but they refused to leave their habitat, so we left them until today, by which time the others had also emerged.  At first I was concerned that they were going to stay put again, but we managed to encourage the ones who had crawled onto sticks by oh-so-carefully removing the sticks-with-butterflies-on from their habitat, and leaving them (still on sticks) on our picnic bench to warm up in the sun, when it eventually came out.  It took a while, but they all fluttered away quite happily - another batch successfully set free!  What a lovely way to welcome the weekend!

our "Painted Lady" butterflies, still in their habitat

Youngest wanted me to take a picture of the empy chrysalises

Painted Lady on a stick!

Having a rest in the garden before fluttering away

The Potty, by Youngest 
(not a chapter, but another "story-poem")

Once upon a time there were three kids, two grown-ups and one baby.
That baby had a potty.
That potty was a special magic potty.
It shot lasers to get rid of the poo and wee in the potty.
One day that baby learned to use a toilet.
They tried to throw the potty in the bin but the baby didn’t want them to.
He said, “we could just give the potty to some other baby”
So the potty was sent to another baby.
The End.

LUCAS' POKEMON ADVENTURE - Chapter 2 (by Middle)

In the morning Lucas got his pokeballs out of the drawer and he went downstairs.  His Mum gave him some new shoes because his old boots were getting a bit tight around the ankles.
After breakfast he got dressed and went outside to the forest, and found a Nutter pokemon that looked like a small brown nut.  He sent out Chickfire, and told Chickfire to use the ember move.  It wasn’t very effective so it didn’t too much damage.  The Nutter used the plonk move which did lots of damage so Lucas retrieved Chickfire and sent Bobble out.  The Nutter used plonk again but Bobble used the watergun move which was super effective and did lot of damage so the Nutter fainted.  Bobble got experience (XP) points, levelled up twice to level eight, and learned the flop move. 

Lucas was tired from the battle so he sat down and decided to have a better look at his new shoes.  He discovered a little pack at the bottom of the heel on the right shoe.  It had a little Bobble toy inside, which he put in his backpack, and found some lunch inside so he ate it, while lying on a log and looking up at a flock of majestic chickfire flying around.

He decided to go to town and ask the professor how to heal his pokemon.  Professor Brian said that there were three options.  Option number one was to use a healing potion.  Option number two was to use a super-potion which would heal him and give him more hit points.  Option number three was to go to the Pokecentre and ask Nurse Joy to heal his pokemon.  The professor gave him five potions and two super-potions and told him to be careful because they’re not unlimited, but they are good if you can’t get to a pokecentre quickly enough.  So Lucas went to the Pokecentre across the street and aske Nurse Joy if she would heal his chickfire.  Nurse Joy healed it in a couple of seconds and gave it back to Lucas.  He said “Thank you” and went home.

When he got home he saw his mum making tea.  Behind her was a great ball which he had never seen before…

The Silver Lake (by Eldest) 
Chapter two: Kukupata

Deep in the forest behind Rod, a greenish creature was being chased by some sort of half human half wolf things. The creature was called Kukupata. Kukupata was a weird thing to look at because he is one of those things that can’t be unseen. He was a weird sort of green colour like a green that decided it didn’t want to look green so it tried to look different but got stuck somewhere in middle creating a colour that feels like green  but doesn’t look it, and shaped like a hunch backed human with frog eyes. The wolf things chasing him was actually baby mice but I’ll talk about them further in to the book. Kukupata had just about lost the half wolf things when he hear someone on the beach. He looked out from in the grasses and saw Rod. Rod not knowing someone was watching him went for a sit in the sea to think, when Kukupata decided to scream really loudly. The reason why is that Kukupata is a seriously scaredy-cat who thinks the best way through life is to run away or scream at anything that moves. Having purposely ignored the scream Rod came out the water and looked for a hot place to rest and sunbathe but without luck because it had been raining there before had Rod arrived. Then Kukupata decided to take a closer look at this creature ( called Rod ) but tripped over a piginin which is just like a pig but because of strange reasons is very small about the size of your foot. Rod turned around to Kukupata who had large teeth and was obviously hungry, and said “wanna soda?” The creature didn’t know how to respond to that so it took the can from Rod and said “Thanksy” which means ‘thanks but I don’t know what to do with it’. He drank it though thanks to Rod accidently demonstrating what to do and ‘kindly’ encouraging Kukupata to copy by staring at him and shouting “why aren’t you doing anything?” But liking the tast of the soda so much made friends with him at least Rod thought he had because as they shook hands Kukupata had a slightly evil smile on half his face and a happy kind smile on the other half as he said “migs will be bappy with meees when meees bring molf some foody”

Mixed Media Kandinsky Snails

While browsing on Pinterest we found a picture of Kandinsky-style snail art which we all loved, but the link didn't work so we had to make up our own instructions.  It looked pretty simple, so we added our own twist of flowers in the background, echoing the Kandinsky-circle theme...

We started with the backgrounds.  Middle chose a plain sheet of single colour while the rest of us chose two tone backgrounds - ripping lengthways along a piece of coloured paper for the ground and glueing it onto another coloured piece for the sky...

The next step involved oil pastels to draw long stems and Kandinsky-esque flowers on top, to provide the backdrop for our snails.  We had started off using sharpies for the flowers, as the boys see it as a big treat to be allowed to use Mummy's sharpies (they are not washable, therefore usually off-limits), but then we decided that oil pastels would be brighter and look better - all except Eldest who chose to stick with his sharpie flowers, which still look great...

For the snail's body we cut out a sausage shape from our chosen colour of paper for the snail's body...

Finally we used watercolour paints to paint concentric circles onto A5 sheets of watercolour paper (no outlines, just freehand painted circles).  If one of the colours was too wet, we left a gap and then painted another ring, and allowed them to dry before painting the circle in between, so there wasn't too much bleed.

Once the whole circle was dry we cut it out and stuck it onto the snail's body, adding a face with sharpies to finish.  For such a simple exercise, we were all really pleased with the result!

by Youngest

by Middle

by Eldest

by Mummy

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Quiet Day at Home

Today sees one very tired household here - me from the travelling and general emotional roller-coaster of yesterday's funeral, and the boys from the fun of having a succession of lovely people to play with/ supervise them, plus a late bedtime from waiting up for us to come home.  Happily I had been able to plan an easy day at home day for today, and we have really enjoyed it - it amazed me how much we did, despite just deliberately being quiet at home and not placing huge demands on our time!

We started in PJs with our Bible Study - we are still going through the "Brother Offended" checklist which we are taking our time over (it's more likely to sink in if we don't whizz through it too quickly)  I have started to see some good results from it lately, which is really lovely: like the other morning when Middle and Youngest came to me with a dispute to settle, and I asked them to look for the 'plank' in each of their own eyes instead of the 'speck' in each other's (Matthew 7:3-5).  Both Middle and Youngest were then able to identify their own part in making things worse - and once they had done that, apologised sweetly to each other without me having to ask them.  These precious moments may not be anywhere near as frequent as we would like, but are so encouraging when they do happen!

Folowing our bit of Bible it was time for MathsWhizz.  Both Youngest and Middle struggled a bit this morning - but just as I was thinking they were too tired and we should just forget it for today, they each suddenly grasped what was being asked, and completed their respective exercises quickly - hooray!  Then Youngest spontaneously told me that he wanted to write (dictate) a poem.  I wrote down the words verbatim, so the spellings and punctuation are mine, but the rest is entirely his (and is written in full at the end of the blog post)....  I'm not sure I'd call it a poem personally, but who am I to disagree with the author? 

I asked Middle and Eldest if they would like to write a poem or story with the same title, and they both said they would prefer to choose their own title (no resistance at all to the writing - hooray again!  Middle dictated his to me (no way did he have the energy to write this morning), and I helpe a little as we went along (eg leaving out all of his "and then"s, and prompting him to think of replacement words or phrases when he was repeating himself or unclear).  Generally though it is his work with only a little help from me, but we will have to wait and see if we get a "chapter 2".

Eldest took himself off to his room to type his own story, and then brought it to me to check over (at his request)  I suggested some minor tweakings - just one or two spellings, and a couple of places that needed clarification, but I love it.  He has such a strong voice as a writer, and a clear love of the surreal (those in the know may recognise hints of Douglas Adams, as Eldest and Daddy are currently enjoying "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"together at bedtime)  He is really enthusiastic about writing the next chapter so I think this may be running for a while - I love it when inspiration strikes and carries them along!

Then Eldest and Middle went on Brainpop (Eldest to learn about kinetic energy and Middle to learn about avalanches) while Youngest played with magnetic shapes, both of us very frustrated that Brainpop Jr is so much more expensive that his big brothers' UK version for older children.

Finally, just before lunch (and an episode of Horrible Histories) we had a listen to Elgar's "Nimrod" and the boys all drew pictures inspired by the music (pdf for template of the Music Appreciation sheet can be found in my free downloadable resources page) - I really find it fascinating what they come out with...

It made Youngest think of a house in the field with a dog (at night-time, in the mountains)

It made Middle feel warm and strange - in a good way

It made Eldest think of kids watching deer mating (!!!)

So currently the boys are all upstairs - I suspect Eldest may be writing the next chapter in his new story, Middle is getting dressed ready to go out to his drama club with a friend, and Youngest is playing (as he so often does) with his beloved Playmobil.  Chance for me to chill and sort some photos... I hope you are relaxing too, wherever you are!

The Far Away Forest
by Youngest
There were two kids.
Those two kids were looking for a forest but they just couldn’t find one.
They tried again and again but they still couldn’t find one.
They asked their Mum.
The Mum told them that there is a forest somewhere but you need a boat to get there.
So the kids and their Mum got in their car, and went on a ferry to a forest.
The kids were very excited because they had some kid-axes, so they chopped down some trees that were too old and needed to grow into a new one.
And they got that wood to the paper factory and gave it to them.
The End

(by Middle)
Chapter 1
Lucas was a normal child who made a strange mistake.  It all started when he accidentally dropped his 2DS and it created a dark void and he was sucked in…

He was fast asleep in a bed, and when he woke up he found a chickfire staring right at him, making him jump up in shock.  It flew off outside, and Lucas went downstairs to see his Mum making him breakfast.  He asked his Mum if he was dreaming but she said “You’re wide awake, dear”, so he decided to sit on the sofa and watch TV to take his mind off the chickfire.  His Mum brought his breakfast to him.  It was egg on toast, his favourite.  She also gave him a letter.  It was from the professor in town, and it said,

“Dear Lucas, could you please come over because I’ve got a surprise for you in my lab.  From Professor Brian”

Lucas got dressed really quickly and ran to the professor’s lab.  There in front of him was the professor, smiling right at him, and Lucas asked what the surprise was.  The professor opened a suitcase and inside were three pokeballs.  “These pokeballs have Hedgelett, Bobble and Flant inside” he said.  Lucas just stared at him.  “Go on,” said the professor, “take one”.  Lucas took the one he wanted, which was Bobble.  Then the professor also gave him some spare pokeballs in case he found any other pokemon to catch.  Lucas was amazed.  He said “Thank you!” and ran outside.

He was on his way back to his house, but then he came to a halt and saw the chickfire that had been in his bedroom earlier.  He decided to battle the chickfire so he could catch it, so he sent out Bobble, and told Bobble to use the watergun move on the chickfire.  It was super effective so it did lots of damage, and the chickfire was obviously very tired.  Lucas threw a pokeball and caught it.  He carried on running back home and when he got there his mother gave him a big hug and kiss.  He told her all about his adventure and she said she was proud of him.

So he went upstairs, got into his PJs and put his pokeballs in a drawer near his bed.  He got into bed and went to sleep.

by Eldest
Chapter one: A Very Bad Day

Mr. Rod Deen is a peculiar boy for many reasons. One is that he changed his name a bit to sound like a adult. Another is that at school he spent most of the time standing outside and looking at the tree in the playground (which got him in a lot of trouble). Thirdly if someone’s ball accidently got thrown over his garden fence he would paint the letter F on the ball then give it back.
One day Rod woke up to feel cold sand underneath him. He woke with a start as he got pinched by a crab on the bottom. He picked the crab up and got out his large pen that he kept in his pocket for emergencies. Because to him this was an emergency. Still holding the crab who made it quite clear he didn’t like being held up and stared at by pinching him again, he put the pen to the crab and drew the letter F on it. Then quickly put it down because it was trying to pinch him again. While the crab walked off he remembered why he was here.
It had all started when he woke up earlier that morning. He had woken up to his alarm clock at 4am. The reason why is simply the fact he set it to go off then to annoy himself. Then came breakfast which by the way did break fast when he accidently dropped it on his foot. Then when he just about beat his friend on super space fish 2 when the house got a black-out, so he went to the beach. There on his new raft that he had bought with his pocket money, he decided to take a nap. When he woke for the second time that day he saw the beach,very far away. He thought he must be dreaming so he went back to sleep. When he woke again on his raft he could only just see the beach but still thinking it was a dream he went back to sleep. And the next time he woke again he found himself on the beach I mentioned earlier. Then he suddenly realised (the crab pinch helped) that it hadn’t been a dream - that he was drifting away onto this island that just so happened to not be discovered yet. He knew it wasn’t discovered yet because he checked his map of the world. A sudden feeling came over him and after a very long pause shouted out “I just discovered a new island; I am going to be famous”. Nothing else really happened. No, he didn’t feel scared that anything could jump out the bushes and eat him alive at any moment. Not because he is brave, more of the fact he isn’t very bright.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Of Structure and Science

I've said many times before, I don't agree with teaching for the purpose of passing tests or exams - I don't believe it's an efficient or effective way of learning for life.  HOWEVER it does look like Eldest at least will be heading the way of GCSEs, so I am having to consider set curricula more seriously than thus far in our HE journey.  At present I think I will be taking the rest of the school year and probably the summer holiday too, to research and plan the next academic year's curriculum a bit more seriously (as always, making sure there is lots of in-built flexibility, at least for the younger two).  Happily for me I have a lovely friend who has gone ahead on the exam route with her HE boys, and who I am hoping to meet up with soon, to get an idea of what we need to do.  It seems very complicated and daunting to me as I am just starting to investigate what's involved... I'm so grateful for the wider community, always happy to share their experience and hard-earned wisdom!

Meanwhile, I think the rest of this year's HE will be continuing in our default pattern: parent-led Maths and Literacy curricula, mixed with projects based on the boys' interests (parent AND child-led, as agreed between us), and plenty of free time for the boys to be entirely self-led.

For example, this morning we had MathsWhizz and Literacy Planet (as the boys have the day off tomorrow), followed by their choice of BrainPop video (Eldest chose Mountains, Middle chose Eclipses, and Youngest, on BrainPop Jr, chose Classifying Animals)  Youngest was thrilled to get five out of five in his quiz, and even more so that he got to print off a cetificate to show Daddy later.  It's just a shame that Brainpop Jr doesn't appear to have a UK version, and the US version is prohibitively expensive.

Following that we had a hands-on science experiment that I have had my eye on for a while.  Niece was with us this morning, so I wanted an activity that was quick, easy and interesting, and I had pinned this one on Pinterest, exploring density.

I set up the experiment and then called the children in to the kitchen one at a time to talk it through. It really helped doing it individually (except Middle and Niece who came in together) as each time I could discuss it at their different levels, plus then they were less likely to copy each other (the boys usually copy Eldest as they assume he knows more, whether rightly or not, and I wanted them to think for themselves).  I wrote out the names of the liquids to test (writing is an issue for three of the four children involved, so I wanted to avoid any negatives), and they cut them out and stuck them in order that they expected/ guessed the liquids might settle.  I emphasised that it wasn't about being right or wrong, but just having their best guess and then carrying out the experiment to see what we could find out...

The set-up (and Youngest's word sheet)

Niece's and Middle's word sheets

Eldest's word sheet

We added the various ingredients all together to see what would happen - and as usual it didn't go entirely to plan, but at least that show the boys the importance of testing theories.  The honey and golden syrup behaved as expected, sinking to the bottom, as did the oil, floating on top - but the milk (we only had semi-skimmed) and washing up liquid seemed to mix, rather than quickly settling - and then the milk that was nearest the top mixed with the water too, so the middle three layers were a bit confusing.  Middle, Youngest and I decided to carry on experimenting by isolating those individual components, so I dug out our chunky test-tubes and just put two ingredients in each tube.  We tried putting the washing-up liquid and milk in, in different orders to see if it made any difference - the one with the milk in first did settle nicely into disctinct layers, but the one with the washing-up liquid (Fairy) first had the layers merge.  Eventually the milk settled at the bottom of the detergent, which was a different result to the one experienced by the Science Sparks guys.  The test-tube with just milk and water showed them mixing completely, which is probably why we got such a muddled result in the original experiment, as although the milk turned out to be more dense than the detergent, we had put the water in and allowed it to mix with the milk before it had settled to the bottom of the detergent.

oil at top, followed by red water/ milk/ detergent mix, then golden syrup then honey

L - milk added first; R - detergent added first, taken a while later after it settled

milk and red-coloured water, completely mixed, next to detergent on top of golden syrup, just because Youngest couldn't leave the last test-tube empty!

Conclusion from our experimenting: the order from least to most dense was sunflower oil, water, washing up liquid, milk, golden syrup, honey.  The middle two were not what we expected, but we guessed that either semi-skimmed milk is surprisingly more dense than whole milk, or Fairy liquid has magical floating powers that the Science Sparks' detergent is lacking! (OK so that bit's not very scientific).  It was a good "fun-and-educational" activity though, and I particularly loved that it spawned further investigation.  Even Niece, who had been reluctant to join in at first, agreed afterwards that it had been a fun/ interesting morning!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Art with Wolves - more peaceful than it sounds!

OK so that was two days of Art in a row, but it does feel like our 'happy place': something we can all do together that is almost always relaxed, enjoyable and productive.  I knew 10yo Niece was coming to us for the day today and I like to have a couple of ideas up my sleeve.  She had already asked in advance if she could do some baking today, so that was one - and knowing that she likes wolves, I went to the Deep Space Sparkle website to see what handy lupine ideas Patty had for me, but I found none!  I think that may be the first time that has happened.  Anyway, it worked out fine as it forced me to get creative.

So, first we chatted briefly about where wolves live and what their behaviour is, and I then said we could make some silhouette art using wolves howling at the moon (that behaviour had been mentioned by the kids).  I had found some silhouettes on Google but when I tried to print them for the children to use as templates, the printer decided to go on strike, so I had to trace them myself off my laptop screen... not easy!  Still - we managed, after a bit of fiddling to make sure I got the images to the size they wanted, and off we went.  We didn't have any 'night-sky' coloured paper for the background, so we quirkly mixed some dark blue paint and covered some lighter blue card with it, to get the right colour sky.  Eldest and Youngest didn't want stars, but Middle and Niece did, so they used the toothbrush technique to splatter their paper with silver dots.  Niece's desire for stars was temporarily scuppered as she couldn't bear to get her hands dirty, so we used a pencil to rub along the bristles rather than her finger - problem solved!  Then we cut out the moon out of white/ light grey paper, and the landscape and wolves (using the templates) out of black card.  We could have done freehand drawing for the wolf outlines, but I think they found the templates challenging enough - and actually it was more of an exercise in composition: I wanted them to think about what difference it would make having a larger or smaller moon, larger or smaller wolf; one wolf or more, background details such as trees or starts... and the positioning of all of the above.  I think they all did really well and am particularly chuffed because it was a made-up project lacking handy online instructions to follow but the results look great!

by Eldest
 (the background was darker and sadly didn't come out as well in my photo but if you look closely you will see a cute wolf cub and forest trees)

by Niece - note the excellent stars

by Youngest (with only a little help cutting out the gaps in the legs)

by Middle - love how different his looks!

So including the Art, it has been a nice peaceful day.  All the boys went on MathsWhizz and Literacy Planet first thing, and Niece also went on Literacy Planet on her own computer which she brought with her (laptops make HE so easy!).  Following that, I could hear Niece watching some science videos which sounded really good, so I asked what it was and she told me it was on BrainPop, so of course I had to investigate (not least because the boys rarely complain about ANY work I ask them to do if it is computer-based).  A friend did have a discount code that I hoped to use, but unfortunately it expired today.  Still, at £40 for a year, considering the wealth of brilliant resources on there, I decided it was worth it, and paid up.  Middle came in to have a look and ended up watching something on Black Holes (his choice), followed by a quiz.  He chose to do a graded quiz, which surprised me as I thought he would go for the option where he could just keep going 'til he got it all right - but there was no problem anyway as he got nine out of ten at the first attempt!  We are definitely liking BrainPop and hoping to use it a lot in the future!

Finally over lunch we watched a TV program on Burmese wildlife (animal programs are a no-brainer when Niece comes round as she loves them as much as the boys), and then Niece and I got baking. The boys were all baked out after yesterday, so we had a nice quiet bit of girl-time in the kitchen making Toffee Squares while the boys tidied their rooms and played Pokemon games...

What a lovely day!  I am feeling the need to get outside tomorrow as we've been indorrs for two days in a row now, but what lovely days they have been - I'm not complaining at all!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Just Not an Unschooler

If anyone was wondering where I've been, I apologise for my lack of blog-presence recently.  Further soul-searching about the developing educational needs of my family (as discussed in my previous post) collided with the sudden serious illness and subsequent death of a good friend, resulting in the part of my brain that I use to blog just abandoning me!  I am a Christian and so was my friend: she knew where she was going and I am glad for her sake that she is in Heaven - but the fallout here on Earth is still impacting us all.  Consequently I have struggled to focus in any insightful way on our home education for the last week or so, not even managing to make a note of what we have been doing, let alone strategise for the next season.

Anyway my mind, however preoccupied, has clearly been mulling over HE stuff in the background - and I have come to the conclusion now that I am just a rubbish unschooler.  I love the theory, the relaxed style, the friends who are great at it, the glowing examples of unschooled graduates - but I'm no good at it myself.  Whenever we try full-on unschooling it seems to end up with me not paying attention to what the boys are doing/ experiencing/ learning and we all get a bit listless and moody... and although an unschooler may probably say I am missing the point, it just doesn't sit well alongside the knowledge that I am the one legally and morally responsible to provide my boys with an education. My conscience says I need to be involved and encouraging them to fulfil their potential - and I personally don't seem able do that by unschooling.

What I am good at (just to prove I'm not being unduly harsh on myself) is planning, knowing how to play to my boys' strengths and weaknesses, and finding creative ways to make dry academia fun and appealing.  We have to stay casual with our structure because none of us do well with rigid timetables, shallow incentives, monotonous worksheets and the like.  We all like space for plenty of autonomy, but we also all thrive on having an idea of where we're going and what we're doing - as long as we are free to change it if it doesn't work for us that day.

Apologies if such educational navel-gazing isn't your thing, although I can't imagine there are many home educators who don't frequently review their progress as they go along.  I always wanted to be honest with my HE journey, and I have been blessed by people kindly saying that they have been encouraged by my random thoughts - so I keep sharing!  Hoping to get back to the day-to-day practical stuff soon though!

For example, today we reverted to our previous style - agreeing up front on the thing we wanted to do, and mixing it with some essentials like Maths, making it as fun as possible thanks to a friend's recommendation of the Medieval Maths Challenge app.  We ended up with a mix of maths, minecraft, music-inspired art (we listened to the Firebird by Stravinsky and then drew or painted pictures that we had imagined as we listened - suitable PDF here), and baking (muffins by Middle and Youngest) and an experimental three-part cake made by Eldest...

Youngest's interpretation: a wolf in the hills that got wounded and then an angel healed it (painted on the back of the watercolour paper because he likes the texture)

Middle's interpretation: a field of sheep with a river (during the peaceful start to the music)

Eldest's interpretation: a pirate island where everyone is going about their business before pirates attack and then the goodies win and everyone has a parade

Mummy's abstract interpretation: trying to show the boys that sometimes music can make you think in colours and patterns, not necessarily clear pictures

Youngest's chocolate muffins

Middle's "Fudgins" (fudge muffins)

Eldest's "Pinwheel cake"

I strongly suspect there is more planning needed, however, with the awareness of incorporating distinctly different levels of learning.  In order for our HE to remain flexible and fun, it is inevitably going to get a bit more complicated.  I thrive on that though - and for today at least we had a good, fun day - the boys were active and learning, and I was aware of it.  Those things combined make for a happier Home Ed family in this house!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A Home Educator's Prerogative...

Well it was an experiment worth trying, but I have to say I am not happy with just strewing/ inviting/ provoking.  The boys are all happy enough, but I am not, and successful Home Education has to be about meeting the needs of the whole family, not just the children.  Yes, they are happy, but I also feel they are cruising in a season when they could be stretching themselves a bit more, and not getting as much out of this season as they could.  So, if it is a woman's prerogative to change her mind, how much more so a home educating mum?   After all, it is our responsibility to assess how everyone is doing as we go along, and alter our course if we feel we are veering off too widely from where we want to be.  I really value the freedom of being able to change my mind, not on a whim, but as a direct response to observed needs.

I think one of the main problems right now is that I feel we are a bit purposeless, and that is not a feeling I am comfortable settling with.  I don't like waking up in the morning without knowing what we are doing and why we are doing it. Yes, I can set up invitations so the boys all have something stimulating to do, and to be fair, so far the boys have joined in with every provocation I have placed before them - but all the activities are just feeling a bit too random.  Ultimately, as always, I am very aware that it is my responsibility (and Hubby's too, but I'm the one writing this blog!) to be sure that the boys are getting a suitable education, and at the moment I'm not sure enough that that is happening.  It feels too much like accidental learning, and I don't feel that 'accidental' is the best I can give my children.  I dare say this proves that I don't understand unschooling, but regardless, that is where I am at right now.  You could call it a wobble I suppose, but really I'm just rethinking (again) our approach.  This is an essential part of HE in my mind, so I'm not worried by it, just refining - yet again - the way we do things.

In particular I am conscious of Eldest's changing needs.  The older he gets, the wider the gap appears between him and his brothers.  They are still good friends and love to play together, but their learning needs and abilities are becoming more different all the time - which is probably why I feel the need to keep reassessing so frequently.  I do want to help Eldest to increase his ability to think creatively, and boost his problem-solving skills etc - but I don't want that to be our sole focus.  IGCSEs are on the horizon, albeit still quite distantly, and I think that mentally he does need the stimulation of studying something consistently (ie over a period of time, rather than jumping about between unrelated one-off activities).  It just needs to be something he enjoys. Maybe it is time to revisit notebooking as a way of looking at project-based learning without all the fiddly flaps etc involved in lapbooking, that Eldest was never that keen on.

That said though, the provocations etc have been successful and enjoyable, so I don't want to write them off, just to find a way to incorporate them into our weekly vague-outline-of-a-plan (I almost wrote schedule, but that implies something far more rigid than what we actually enjoy).  Time to go back to my six-weekly planner I think (well, the two and a half weeks that are left of this term) and think about including some more structured learning (such as one morning a week to work on lapbooks/ notebooks) as well as the more open-ended learning (eg invitations to explore) that have been so much fun to date.