Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Nothing Doing...

What a funny, lazy day today - no matter what I tried, I just couldn't get the boys going.  In fact, Youngest still hadn't eaten breakfast by 11.30!  They were all just about dressed by lunchtime, which doesn't make much difference as we're not going out today, but the house was too cold this morning for just PJs.  Once they had finally eaten breakfast I did mention Literacy Planet, and they all wandered off, but I doubt the computers have even been switched on yet!  If I was rigid in our structure I could try to force it, but what would be the point?  You can't make someone learn if they are not interested.  So this morning they have mainly been mooching about, playing with lego, playmobil etc and generally going s-l-o-w-l-y.  We've sorted through some things for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes - I thought we had missed the opportunity in the general house-moving chaos, but it turns out a local church is still filling some boxes, so we are donating some goodies that they can parcel up for us.  In the past we have done boxes for children of similar age to my own - or children of similar age and gender to my Heaven-babies who I miscarried, but this year we talked about the fact that teenage boys get the least amount of boxes as they are not so much 'fun' to buy for as children who like teddies and dolls etc - so we bought stuff for teenage boys this year, and I'm glad we still managed to join in, albeit at the last minute!

Most of the rest of the morning we spent watching wildlife in our garden - a pair of rabbits who are getting increasingly bold in their hopping about and exploring the garden, and plenty of birds who are becoming regular visitors to the feeding station we put up when we moved in.  As well as the usual blue tits, great tits, coal tits etc that we used to see in our old house, we are also now seeing goldfinches and greenfinches who never visited us in Herts... very exciting!  We've been leaving food out to see if we can tempt foxes or badgers to the garden, but although it's been eaten, we won't know for sure if that's down to a local cat or something more wild until we can set up a camera trap.  That won't be this evening, due to the forecast gale-force winds, but I'm hoping soon - there can't be THAT many unpacked boxes left to search...

welcome goldfinch

cheeky chaffinch

reliable woodpigeon

pretty bluetit

greedy starling

Happy hoppity rabbits

bold squirrel (he came right up next to our patio doors)

we watched the crows and magpies for ages, all fighting over the pile of peanuts and trying to scare each other off.  The crows were quite aggressive but I think the magpies managed to carry off the greater stash in the end

Lunchtime is already upon us, so we are going to have an indoor picnic while finally watching "The Secret Life of Four-year-olds" on catch-up (it's working now, hooray!) so I'll leave you with our pictures from Monday which we all enjoyed creating.  Can you tell the boys are hoping to get some snow soon?

"Snowman looking up", by Middle

"Snowman looking at the Moon" by Youngest

"Snowman in the Night" by Eldest

Friday, 13 November 2015

Settling Slowly

My head is definitely settling back into the Home Ed groove now.  In some ways it's a shame as the house could probably do with a bit more attention, but hey - such is life!  I can't do it all, so I will just focus on the most important stuff, and my boys come over housework anyday!

I've even started thinking about IGCSEs again - eek! Today I heard about a scheme called "Interhigh" - basically an online secondary school through which Eldest could theoretically do his GCSEs from home.  I love the idea, particularly the part which would mean it was all taken care of and I could hand over responsibility for his studies, the marking, organising the exams etc. BUT I don't think it will work for him - it looks like he would have to commit to doing at least eight subjects at once, and he would be tied in to a two year course culminating in all of the exams.  Tempting though it is, I don't feel that's right for him.  I think he is going to do better starting with one or two subjects that he really enjoys, and easing himself into exam culture through those, probably with the help of a tutor. The other main drawback of the online school is the cost - it would be just under £2,500 per year for two years!  That's a lot of money, even if we could be sure that that style of study would suit Eldest, and as I said, I'm not convinced anyway - so I'm back to (almost) square one: looking into tutors, exam centres etc.  There's still no hurry as he's not quite ready yet, but I don't want to leave it until he's ready for me to have to catch up and learn everything I need to know with an added time pressure - so I'm just trying to prepare myself with finding out what I need to do first.

Meanwhile we're back in our comfort zone of following structured-but-ultra-flexible curricula in Maths and English, and mooching through other subjects as interest arises.  This week, after our first day back of MathsWhizz and painting, we spent Weds (11th Nov) first on Literacy Planet and then reading a book together on Remembrance Day and watching various Youtube clips summarising World War 2 from a kids' perspective and enjoying some war-themed Horrible Histories songs, before the boys each drew a picture inspired by the wars...

by Youngest

by Middle

by Eldest

The boys then really wanted to watch "The Secret Life of a Four-year-old" over lunch, but we couldn't make catch-up TV work (it should be fixed later today), so they wandered off and found other entertainment.  Then on Thursday it was back to MathsWhizz, followed by some Brainpop videos (Eldest choosing an easy one on camouflage, Middle found one on 3D printing, and Youngest did patterns).  Youngest is in that tricky period where Brainpop jr is too simple for him really, but the Brainpop UK films are still a bit advanced.  He's probably going to pick and choose from both for a while.  After the Brainpop videos Eldest spent ages working on a stop-frame animation involving his lego people, while Middle started work on a script for a puppet show he wants to put on for the family at Christmas, and Youngest baked some biscuits with me.  We're still getting used to the oven, so the biscuits were a bit overdone, but lashings of icing and decorations later (courtesy of all three boys), and nobody minded...

In the afternoon we had some new friends over to play, which was really lovely - we all like having people visit; it makes the house feel more like a home once we can invite guests round.  It's just as well I'm not the house-proud sort who has to have an immaculate home before I can let people in, otherwise we would never have guests.  The best sort of people either don't notice or don't care anyway.

And today we had our local Friday morning Home Ed group to go to.  We usually keep mornings free at home for learning etc, but it's a lovely group to go to, and a great venue for the kids - plenty of space with lots of things for them to do.  Youngest was gloriously filthy by the end from rolling down the grassy (muddy!) bank in the garden... hooray for washing machines, I say!  We're all getting to know people now and not feeling so completely alien as we did at first.  We knew it would take time and things are settling slowly.  So we've made it to another weekend.  I wouldn't say we've completely found our groove yet, but we are definitely getting there - it's all progress!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Getting Back into the Swing of Things

OK so screens are definitely back to stay!  The Wii U is fully installed and in regular use; the boys' computers are wired up and running; the DVD player is connected once again to the main TV.  No Sky TV as yet, but only a few more days to go until that is due to follow.  With almost all screens fully functioning we need to reset some limits, so gaming has been restricted to an afternoon activity once again.

There is still an awful lot that needs to be unpacked and organised around here, but although it would be incredibly easy to keep focusing on the house until it is all organised to my liking, I am not comfortable being inattentive to the boys' education any longer.  They have started to show signs of restlessness and needing more input from me, so I informed them that today we would be resuming Mathswhizz and other "learning stuff".

Middle sat and did his maths with me while Eldest got on with his on his own as usual. Youngest also did his alone in the Den - I'm not convinced he achieved/ understood much, as I had a look at his exercises later and he had taken a long time to get only low scores.  It doesn't matter - he is young and according to them he is still ahead of where they would expect for his age, and today I felt it was more important to help Middle get refocused into Maths zone.  It was a good strategy - he was able to focus and regain his confidence where left to himself I think he would have really struggled to do anything.  Next time I will spend more time with Youngest and we'll see how we get on.

After Maths I asked Eldest if he'd like to choose an Art project for everyone from my Pinterest board. He chose this one, using shades of colour to paint a wintry tree scene.  In retrospect I think I may have been better off choosing one myself, as this one proved to be more technical than it looks, which resulted in me needing to suggest they re-did some parts where they had misunderstood the technique (such suggestions are not always well received!).  For their first day 'back' it would probably have been better if they had been free to express themselves with no sense of getting it right or wrong, but just enjoying themselves. As it was we would have got better results if we had left it to dry between each layer, but there's no way any of us had the patience for that today!  It was a nice little project though, and the end results are sweet...

by Eldest

by Middle

by Youngest

by Mummy

After Art, and while I was getting lunch, Daddy found a slowworm outside on our drive, so we all rushed out to have a good look.  The boys gave it a very gentle stroke each, and then I relocated it to some leaf litter where it could hide safely (rather than under our car where it had been headed).

It looks like this is going to be a good home for continuing to enjoy wildlife, not least because we had a little hedgehog visitor on Saturday evening who needed rescuing. At 350g he was too small to survive the winter and he also just looked a bit poorly (after a while of looking after them you get to recognise a poorly looking hog).  I was a bit concerned as I'm not geared up to receive prickly patients yet - no vet or meds, and most of the necessary gear still packed somewhere, but happily I know a friend nearby who also rehabilitates wild hedgehogs, so I took little hoglet (named "Teazel" by Middle) in to keep him safe for the night and arranged to take him to my friend the following day. She has already started giving Teazel treatment for various found parasites, so I'm glad we took him in.  Hopefully once he's finished his meds we can have him back to fatten up for hibernation - we'll see.  It's a bit sooner than I was expecting to get involved with hogs again, but we couldn't ignore him in his hour of need!

Anyway, with slow worm successfully relocated, we decided to revisit our old tradition of having a "learning lunch", aka picnic lunch on the lounge floor while watching an educational TV programme.  Today's viewing of choice was "The Hunt" on iplayer.  Middle deliberately closed his eyes and ears briefly while the baby humpback whale fell prey to the Orcas, but other than that it proved to be completely gripping.

So that was it, our first day making an attempt to resume a degree of routine.  All things considered, it went quite well, but given that I still have half a house to sort out, plus Christmas things to start planning, plus GCSEs to start considering again, I don't think we will really settle for a good while yet.  Happily we are very familiar with the need for flexilbility, and that is the beauty of Home Education, that it works best when it fits around the family's needs, rather than us trying to fit around a rigid routine.  It's a bit of a crazy ride, but we love it still!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Home Ed on the Move - Part 2

Well, we've done it!  We 'upped and moved' to our new home in Worcestershire a week ago, and it all still feels very strange.

During the build up to the move the boys were doing some structured HE work - mostly stuff that took little preparation or strenuous involvement from me, as I was focused largely on decluttering, sorting, packing, finding a house and getting here!  They kept up with MathsWhizz and Literacy Planet, and did some painting, listened to stories from history, drew pictures inspired by music, watched programmes on science and inventions etc - I may not have kept immacuate records of what they were doing, but I was encouraged by their activities, especially given the upheaval all around.

Now that we have arrived, it is - unsurprisingly - taking a while to settle.  We are still waiting for our internet service to be installed (I am currently piggybacking off my phone signal, but my mobile is old and the battery runs out quickly, so that is not viable for prolonged use by multiple people).  No internet means no Mathswhizz, Literacy Planet, Brainpop etc - not to forget the boys' beloved Minecraft, so I am feeling a little frustrated in my desire to settle back into a routine.  However, I am enjoying the different blessings of this season.  We have no satellite TV, resulting in the boys hardly watching anything (CBeebies and the other few freeview channels don't really cut it with them any more), and the Wii has not been installed yet, so they are effectively limited to playing on their 2DSs or finding alternative entertainment.  And at the moment, with no structured Home Ed in place, they have a lot of time to fill. You know, they are doing so well!  At the time of typing it is currently 2.30pm and I have not had to referee any fights yet ALL DAY!  They have mostly been playing together in Middle's bedroom wth his lego - they tried to explain their invented game to me over lunch, but I'm not sure I grasped the intrciacies of the set-up.  They were all enjoying it though, and have happily gone back to play again now, not a screen in sight!  We've also had some lovely chats about fires (no idea what prompted that), staked out the bird table outside our new lounge window to see who was stealing the fat balls whole (a very greedy magpie), explored our beautiful new surroundings, visited our first Home Ed group, shared experiences in assembling flat-pack furniture (no mean feat) and bidding on auctions.  There may not have been much by way of structured learning (not that we do that much anyway), but the richness of this season can't be overlooked.

One change that I hadn't really expected was the practical impact that a different house would have on our day-to-day Home Ed life.  We are enormously blessed to be living in a bigger house than our previous one (the benefits of moving away from London), with the result that we now have a room entirely devoted to the boys' learning (and gaming!).  We've called it the Den, and it houses the PC for computer work, the Wii (we are scanning auctions & pre-loved sites for a TV to go in the Den with the Wii), and a whole wall filled with shelves for their books, games, kits etc.  The only thing not in there is the painting and other messy Art stuff as the Den is carpeted, so Art will still be a kitchen affair.  The ex-teacher in me is excited by this new space, and hugely grateful for a whole room to store all their learning stuff... and yet part of me is finding it a bit sad too.  In our old house pretty much all of the learning revolved around our shared living space, and I loved that - loved being together, sharing our experiences.  We didn't need a dedicated HE room as our whole lives were taken up with learning.   And to be fair, that's not really going to change.  What will take some getting used to will be a feeling of almost segregation.  It's not that I won't be involved in their learning any more, but it's just not as obviously integrated with every day life, and I am going to have to find a new way of working around our available space so I don't end up spending days without getting time with my boys.

It's just all going to take a while to get used to.  Hopefully once we have internet, Sky and the boys' den up-and-running we will be able to work out our new routine, and that's the kind of challenge that I usually thrive on, so watch this space - it's going to be different from here on in, but hopefully with lots of fun.