Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Knowing When to Hit Pause

So this morning I kind of crashed.  Eldest and I were supposed to be looking at a Geography past paper, Middle and Youngest were supposed to be practicing some handwriting, and the house was a mess. The puppy was going crazy and my stress levels were rocketing.  All I could think was 'I need a day off', followed by 'But I can't - Eldest needs to keep up'.  I know that when we get that driven it is really bad for our mental, emotional and physical health, so I forced myself to stop despite the persistent mini-dictator in my head.

First I gave Middle and Youngest the day off, and asked them to just tidy their rooms before they watched TV or played games.  Then Eldest appeared.  He had been doing a lesson on MathsWhizz in his room and came to say his brothers were distracting him.  I hugged him and asked if he'd like a day off - his shoulders relaxed and he looked so relieved: a rest was definitely in order.  I played with the puppy until he was worn out (thankfully it doesn't take long), and then got to work on my own agenda.

My lovely friends on Facebook all agreed that I should have a day off (I can always rely on them to be supportive!) but although they all suggested various forms of relaxation (tea, alcohol, TV, book etc), I decided I needed to catch up on some housework first.  NOT my favourite pastime at all, but if my house is a mess it can really affect my mood.  I can cope with a fair amount of mess - I have kids after all - but I was getting to the point of feeling overwhelmed by all the jobs that I'd been meaning to tackle for ages but never getting time.  So first I hit the front room and cleared all the junk-attracting surfaces, then the hall and some boxes that had been staring at me since we moved in - then the utility room which has just been gathering homeless junk.  It wasn't exactly a rest, but man, did it feel good!  I did make sure I got a couple of rests in between rooms as well, but as my fatigue was more mental than physical, that wasn't really the issue!

The thing I realised is that the GCSE studies are a long-term commitment that we are just beginning, and yesterday we were reminded that the end is a pretty long way off!  It can feel a bit discouraging to hit a bump like yesterday's, even though I am confident we will get there over time.  It just felt so positive to tackle the niggling practical jobs that had been lurking for ages but were lower priority than Eldest's studies. Being able to complete a few short-term achievements, however menial, just helped me mentally to feel more 'can do' about other long-term commitments, such as Geography exams etc. So now I feel utterly ready to get back to some GCSE studies etc tomorrow - with my house looking more ordered, my head feels less cluttered too, and ready to focus again. And with Eldest having had a surprise rest-day I'm hoping tomorrow will be smoother sailing all round...

Monday, 26 September 2016

Learning to be Tested

We hit a bit of a stumbling block on our IGCSE journey this morning.  So far Eldest and I have been reading through the the course text book together and making sure we understand the content.  We started off making notes as we read, but Eldest wasn't keen (it interrupted the flow too much), and when we realised there were re-cap type questions at the end of each chapter, we ditched the note-taking in favour of whizzing through the chapters and then taking time over the questions.

The problem we have hit now is that on Friday I was out with Middle and Youngest at Forest School, leaving Eldest to answer the questions by himself. When we went through his written answers this morning I saw that the biggest issue (as I previously suspected) is not whether he has the knowledge and understanding, but whether he knows how to convey that understanding in an answer to a question. Learning for the love of learning has always been our HE mantra, and as such it has been utterly fulfilling, but learning for the sake of being tested is a very different skill, and that is the hurdle before us now.

As I read his answers and explained that two-word answers etc would not get him the necessary points in an exam, he became very discouraged and said GCSEs are boring and he doesn't want to do it.  My heart totally went out to him - it's such a massive learning curve going from a mostly autonomous rich style of education to a prescriptive and narrow learning-to-pass-a-test style. He's right: it is boring, and I'm struggling to make it less so for him.  I posted a question online to those who have gone before, asking them how they managed this, and was reassured that it is all par for the course.  Eldest isn't the only learner here: I am having to grow and develop in confidence too; we are both IGCSE novices together, so I'm not fazed by the journey being a bit bumpy - it's just a bit tougher on him, bless him.

Anyway, we will get there - any journey worth taking has obstacles to overcome, and Eldest is not on his own in this.  He does see the need for taking GCSEs, so we just needed to reboot.  I suggested we press pause on the studying for the next few days, and print off a past paper to have a go at. Once he has done it we will look at the answer guide so we can get a better idea of what the examiners are after. We will get there, and meanwhile he is learning a valuable lesson in overcoming discouragement...

Tuesday, 6 September 2016


It feels like we've been gearing up to IGCSEs for ages.  And in one sense, you could say that we have been doing so since we started our Home Ed journey 4 1/2 years ago.  But I've definitely been growing more aware of the issues in the last year or so.  When I first blogged about it specifically, I admitted how intimidating it all was.  Not just because the state system makes them feel like the be-all and end-all of our kids' initial education, but it's true that these are significant exams, and for a home educator they can be pretty costly.  And more than that, it can feel like a minefield to get your head around the 'how to' of it all.  So as I am at the entry point of actually embarking on our studies I thought I would blog about what I have learned so far, before it all becomes familiar and I forget that I used to not know it.  So for a beginner, this is what the process has looked like for us so far.

A/ Getting an idea of future direction (and therefore potential exam requirements).
I didn't want to push Eldest into sitting exams for the sake of it as there are many exam-free paths to various occupations, so we needed an idea of what he wants to do.  The only HEors I know personally whose children have sat exams so far have been those who knew exactly what career path they wanted to follow so exam choices were easy for them.  It hasn't been that easy for us. Eldest has always been drawn to a broad area but within that area he does not know what precise job, so we did not know which specific exams to sit.  In the end we decided that as he has an interest in conservation - more specifically marine biology - it seemed to make sense that he may get a better paid job in the field with qualifications under his belt.  So in the hope that he will find his path becoming more clearer in time, we chose to pursue the related GCSE subjects of Geography and Biology - along with Maths and English which are required for most fields.

B/ Finding a local exam centre that will accept external candidates.
This felt like a huge task to me.  I am not a fan of talking on the phone anyway, and the thought of calling places to discuss something I don't really understand was quite daunting.  Thankfully, as with most places in the UK, there is a thriving Home Ed community in my locality, and when I asked on Facebook if anyone knew of any likely centres nearby, I was given a few recommendations.  I called those centres and I now have two to choose from, one of which is about a 20 minute drive away (Norton College), and one which is further but highly recommended by all who use it (Tutors & Exams, Coventry).  I don't need to book Eldest in yet (see point F) but it's good to know both centres are available.

C/ Finding which board of exams to use.
Some Home Educators recommend taking this as step B, and then choosing the exam centre according to whether they offer exams from your preferred exam board.  However, although I had a slight preference towards CIE, I did not see enough difference between them and Edexcel to really care, whereas proximity of exam centre is a bigger deal for us as health issues limit the distance I can comfortably drive.  Both Norton and Coventry use Edexcel, so that is the one we are using.

D/ Finding the right study materials to buy.
This was more complicated than I expected.  There are so many online that it's hard to know what you're looking for.  Again though, veteran home educators are so generous with their hard-earned knowledge, and Facebook makes it so easy to ask questions of them.  I discovered that the materials would change depending on whether we wanted to sit the exams in 2017 or 2018 as the coursework is changing in between.  We have decided to attempt Geography and Biology in one year (Eldest's favourite subjects), and Maths and English in two years - Maths because he still has a fair amount of ground to cover, and English because we expect that to be the hardest for him.  We are hoping he will learn essential exam skills to help in the harder subjects while studying the easier ones.  With the advice from those online and local friends, I tracked down the right coursebooks for Geography and Biology so he could get started asap.  I will be buying the Maths and English ones soon but want to get into the groove with the others first.
*UPDATE: there has been some confusion over the dates of the new Edexcel exam syllabuses.  I turned to my FB posse and yet again a wonderful lady posted a link to a page with all the details here.  Home Ed'ors past and present totally rock!

E/ Dividing the material into time available.
This is where basic arithmetic skills and a cool head help.  My mind was a little frazzled and I was not fully confident that I was doing it all right, so I was really thankful for an experienced friend who was happy for me to send her my workings out to check.  She had previously advised me to divide the year into months available before the exams, and then take two of them off to leave for revision at the end. There are 9 months until May (the first Geog exam), so we have 7 months of study available - basically, until the Easter holidays.  That makes two full terms.  I allowed six weeks per half term, which makes for 24 weeks of study (I know there are more weeks than that but am allowing a good margin for contingencies).  Twenty-four weeks of five days is 120 days.
Now, there are 265 pages in the Geography study book.  Divided into 120 days is 2.2 pages per day - or divided into 24 weeks makes about 11 pages per week.
There are 255 pages in the Biology book.  So again, we will be studying 2-3 pages per day or 11 pages per week.

F/ Make a note of the deadline for exam application.
For Eldest to sit the two exams in Summer next year, I don't need to book him in to the exam centre until the beginning of 2017 (by February).  I considered booking him in now, but I value having a whole term to get an idea of how well he is coping with the studies.  So the date is on the calendar.  Applying is definitely part of the process, but as long as I know the date, I don't need to do anything else about that practical bit for now.

HOW we actually study is going to take time to work out as we do it and gain the hands-on experience, but my wonderful friend advised reading through the material together and answering questions, plus discussing and thinking of real life examples to put it into context, and that is what we have started. Eldest has also started with writing a few sparse notes on the key points as we go. I am sure there will be follow-up posts on the subject as we work it out, but for now I am feeling much less daunted by the task ahead, and having leafed through the course books I am reassured that it's nothing we can't handle together.  You could almost say it's exciting!  Or if that's overstating it, at least it's not as terrifying as I thought when I had no clue what was involved. Either way, I'm kind of looking forward to the process now!

Monday, 5 September 2016

New Season

A group that I belong to were sharing our Home Ed styles recently, and I stated that my family's style is very seasonal: swinging between unschooling and semi-structure.  This last school year the boys were largely unschooled: moving house twice within seven months was pretty disruptive, and our brief spurts of structured activities were overtaken by the mundane business of house-hunting, box-packing, form-signing etc.  Over the summer holidays we all began talking about and planning what was coming next, and we have moved naturally into a season of semi-structure, for however long it lasts.

Well, I don't know how long it will last with Middle and Youngest, but I am pretty confident that Eldest's season of structure will last up to 2 years now, as we have embarked on his GCSE studies - I will blog about that separately soon, but today we sat down together with his Biology and Geography textbooks, and I have to say, studying it together was just so straightforward and easy.  I think I made it a much bigger deal than it really is: we are used to enjoying learning new things together, and this doesnt have to be any different, other than the few hours of exams at the end of it all!

So that was a lovely time with Eldest, feeling so proud of him as he breezed through it and made it fun.  My biggest challenge of the morning was splitting my time between him and the younger two, as they both got stuck on MathsWhizz.  Previously they have tended to get on with their own thing, needing no input, and they very rarely got stuck at the same time, but today just seemed to be that day.  Timing could have been better, but hey ho!

After they finished Maths, and Eldest was occupied with copying out diagrams, we did a little art project (courtesy of Deep Space Sparkle) inspired by a book they like, called 'Are You Blue Dog's Friend', based on the art of George Rodrigue.  It felt really lovely to get back to 'arty farty' as they call it.  I get such a thrill out of them wanting to do art projects, with nobody telling them they are doing it 'wrong'.  It was fun, and I loved having a go alongside them too.

by Youngest

by Middle

by Mummy

After that it was almost time for lunch but the boys had asked if we could do cocktails first.  It's something we did over a year ago, when I gave the boys a selection of fruit juices and they played at mixing them together to see which tasted the best.  I bought some straws with cocktail umbrellas attached (the most essential element of the whole game - it wouldn't be half the fun without them) and several cartons of juice.  This morning before the boys got mixing I set them up a challenge: poured juice into several glasses/cups for them to take a sip from each and see if they could work out what fruits were in the juice.  Even Daddy joined in.  They all guessed some but nobody guessed them all.  I was most pleased that the power of the cocktail umbrella helped Youngest (who will not eat any recognisable fruit and veg) to try a sip from every cup and was very positive (unlike Eldest and Daddy who pulled 'yuck' faces and declared one or two to be disgusting!).  

Was that a structured activity?  Maybe - it did require some planning and preparation, but the boys asked to do it, so it was autonomous too.  It's not important - I have made peace with the fact that we will never fit into any labelled style of HE (other than my own self-declared label of 'seasonal'), and we are just enjoying the enthusiasm and fresh feeling that comes with a new season of learning - until the next one, that is!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

No means No

A friend and I were talking about the word 'no' lately.  In the past I have beaten myself up for using the word: there are many among the Home Ed community who subscribe to the philosophy of 'yes' parenting (brief overview here).  I have come to admire the concept and have allowed it to challenge my assumptions on parenting.  And yet 'no' remains a word that I use regularly.

I say no to people who request/ invite me to do things when I am already overloaded and don't have the physical/ emotional energy to join in.  I have no intention to change this, even in the face of a culture where so many peers are obscenely overworked but keep compulsively adding to their workload for fear of appearing lazy/ unhelpful/ not good enough. I say no to the new puppy when he is trying to attack the furniture/ chew my feet/ steal the boys' food - though most of the time I am also frantically waving a distraction in front of his unreasonably cute face to divert him from whatever forbidden object he is momentarily fixated upon.  I say no to my children when they ask for things that I don't think are good for them or we can't afford - sometimes I say 'no' even when I could say 'yes, when...'.  I do ask myself if this is a symptom that I am entrenched in negativity, but then I have a week like the one I have just had and decide that the word 'no' is every bit as important as ever.

You see, the friend who was discussing the 'no' word with me has children who don't always take 'no' for an answer.  She was acknowledging that it can cause problems, such as when a child pesters her to change her mind and she gives in against her will just to keep them happy, thus perpetuating the 'pester power' cycle.  I am not comfortable with this myself as it seems to go against my desire for my 'yes to mean yes and my no to mean no' - to be a person whose word is dependable.  But I also want to be a reasonable person who can change their opinion/ decision when presented with previously unknown information that sheds a new light on the matter, so in parenting terms I don't want to have children who can wear me down with their whining, but neither do I want to be so stubborn that they have no hope of changing my mind in really important matters.

I was mulling over all of this when the aforementioned friend asked me to do something.  It was nothing sinister, just a silly bit of fun, but not something that I personally wanted to do, so I said 'no' in the nicest way I could and changed the subject.  A little later on the friend asked again.  She was obviously more keen than I, but I still did not want to do it and saw no value in changing my mind, so I said 'no' again.  She did not want to accept it, so pressed the matter while making a joke out of trying to change my mind.  I'll be honest, I was starting to feel uncomfortable.  We are good friends who go back a long way, and she is no bully, but I felt pestered into a place where I had to say 'no' very firmly.  It was awkward.  I asked myself if I had just been stubborn and pointlessly unreasonable. Now, she is lovely, and we moved on: all is well, and it wasn't a massive deal.  I only mention it here because the 'no' word came up again today in a different scenario...

We had other friends over for a play date.  One of the visiting children has ASD.  During the game play one of my children did something reasonable that the other child did not like, and it led to an autistic meltdown.  During this meltdown he went to my child's room and put a fair amount of pressure on my child to give in to what he unreasonably demanded they do.  It was really uncomfortable, but my boy didn't give in.  He said 'no'.  We Mums intervened and the situation was resolved.  Again, no big deal. They are good friends of ours and lovely people - there is no residual offense.

I mention it here because it all contributed to a thought process that has been chugging round my head for the last couple of weeks since I noticed an increase in Facebook posts about consent.

As a Mum of boys I feel the weighty responsibility of teaching them about consent.  There are too many men in the world who apparently still don't get it, and I don't want my boys to be in any doubt. Yet my seven-year-old at least is too young to discuss rape with, surely.

But today, as my son refused to give in to the demands of someone who wanted him to do something he did not want to do, I felt proud.  And I felt hopeful that he understands the value and importance of the word 'no'.  It wasn't a big issue, but he showed even through fairly trivial conflict that he gets it.  I like to think that my (and their Father's) example of saying 'no' to them sometimes and sticking to it in the face of pestering has contributed to that.

And as I reflected regarding my friend who is struggling to instil the importance of the word 'no' in her own life and those of her children, I felt glad that I had said a repeated 'no' to her harmless request. Glad for my own self-respect, glad for my children who may have witnessed it, and hopeful that it somehow might have helped her to have me stand up for myself.  Because she is worthy of such self-respect too.  We all are.  We all deserve to be able to say no when asked to do something we do not want to do, and to have that word respected.

'Yes parenting' rocks, when done properly (it does not mean just giving in to everything your child demands).  But 'no' is still a very valuable word - perhaps today more than ever - and when necessary, I intend to keep using it.

Friday, 12 August 2016

The Socialisation Deception

The first question that most people ask when they meet a home educator is, "What about socialisation?" I have written on this before, here and here, and there are many excellent articles on the subject of why home education usually equips children with better social skills etc, so I'm not going to go over that here.  However there is one aspect that I really wanted to write about today.

A comment that I have heard often and even used myself is that "socialisation is something you do to dogs, not children" - the idea being that as humans, childrens needs are more sophisticated than dogs.  It's a nice little idea that trips off the tongue, but not something I had really experienced - until now.  You see, we have recently gained a new four-legged member of the family. Puppy is an eleven week old labradoodle and has more than his fair share of cuteness, alongside sporadic bouts of nipping, chasing, and general what-is-he-eating-now insanity. He is gorgeous and we are all totally besotted with him (apart from when he widdles on the carpet).

The thing is, among the many (and I mean MANY) YouTube clips that I have watched on puppy training in the last couple of weeks, there have been plenty on socialisation.  My goodness, I had no idea how complicated it is! When you introduce your puppy to other puppies, you need to take them to a safe, neutral area.  You need to keep them on the leash so you can swiftly remove them if they get overwhelmed, to avoid setting up any associated anxieties that could damage them for life.  You need to do your best to ensure that you are not introducing them to an anti-social dog.  You need to know your puppy and pay close attention to all of their body language during the session: play-bowing, rolling over, sniffing and licking are generally good; barking, turning away, lip-licking etc may show that they are becoming unhappy - and you need to know when to intervene.  And that is only as much as I have gleaned so far as a total newbie.  Basically, it is a massive deal!  It is intense and very hands-on and involved for anyone who wants to be a responsible dog-owner.

This got me to thinking: I am pretty sure that whether they prefer the approach of Cesar Milan, Victoria Stillwell, ZacGeorge or another chosen doggy guru, dog-lovers of the world would agree that the worst way to socialise your puppy would be to find a group of about 30 puppies the same age, leave them all in the same room as each other - sometimes without any supervision at all - and let them figure it out for themselves.

So now I have a question rattling, or rather screaming, around in my brain.  I do not mean to be inflammatory or disrespectful in any way, but I am now asking myself this: if puppy socialisation is this involved, this heavily supervised, this fraught with potential disaster - how much more so for our precious children?

Edit: To be clear (I hope)...
If our puppies need a safe neutral place to be introduced, how much more our children?
If our puppies need to be kept on the leash (ie right next to us so we can intervene if they are overwhelmed), how much more our children?
If we need to be closely watching our puppies body language and other cues, how much more our chidren?
If we need to ensure our puppies are not playing with anti-social dogs, how much more our children?
And if we wouldn't throw our puppies into a large group of other dogs who are not fully and closely supervised and leave them to work it out as a pack, why on earth would we do so with our children?

Of course there are many differences between children and animals, and many reasons why some children can do well in school - but in the context of being "socialised", I firmly believe school is not necessarily the best place for success.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Emotional Literacy

One of the many things that I appreciate about home education is the ability to spot needs and challenges, and address them as they arise.  Lately this has included an increase in one of my less-loved aspects of home education and parenting in general - refereeing sibling squabbles.  It's just a season, I know that, but one that can have me gritting my teeth and trying not to tear my hair out at times when these boys who are usually such good friends have a spate of "Muuuuuuuuuum, he said...", and screaming/ yelling/ blowing disagreements out of all proportion.  Emotions have been running strong and powerful, and they clearly need some help to handle it all.

Many years ago I went through a kind of group counselling course in a church that I was part of, and it was helpful both then and ever since in giving me a better understanding of my own emotions and those of others, and learning healthy ways to deal with them.  I've seen this in friends of mine who have also at some point been through some sort of counselling - they all seem to share an emotional strength and ability to process their feelings that I really want to be able to pass on to my kids where at all possible.
"Emotional literacy is made up of 'the ability to understand your emotions, the ability to listen to others and empathise with their emotions, and the ability to express emotions productively" (Wikipedia).  When I use the term 'emotional literacy', it is this that I am referring to, not the entire pedagogical approach instigated by Steiner, interesting though that is.
So anyway, at the same time as the kids were hitting an increase in out-of-control emotions, I noticed an advert popping up on my Facebook page for a new book, Emotionary.  You can click the link to find out more, but basically it's like a dictionary of emotions with a page to each feeling, illustrated and defined for children or adults.  I don't actually agree with all of the definitions.  For example, it says that anger is not useful in a civilised society.  I disagree: I think "righteous anger" at social injustice can be really helpful if channelled productively into bringing about positive change.  However that in itself turned into a really helpful discussion with the boys, and nit-picking aside, it is a really helpful book given the season we are in of pursuing emotional literacy.  It was published in order to help kids (and adults) identify and express their feelings - the first step in emotional literacy. I have it strewn (ie lying about) in the lounge at all times and today we did our second exercise specific to using the book.

Firstly, last week I had asked the boys to imagine they were creating a page to go in the book - to draw/ paint a picture and write a short definition of their chosen emotion.  We all tried to guess from the pictures which emotion was represented before the definition was read out... some were easier than others!

"Sleepiness" by Eldest, who added,

"Not to be confused with tiredness, 'cause that's more droopy-like, sleepiness makes everything/ everyone else seem dull except the odd thing that pops up to grab your attention.  Usually it arrives just before bed but can go away if you get a story or watch an exciting progrmme on TV.  It helps you to get to sleep."

"Excitement" by Middle...
"usually appears when something really happy is about to happen soon.  Excitement is the opposite of boredom but should not be confused with joy which is just really happy straight away"

"Joy" by Youngest

"Joy is like happiness, just the short way of saying it.  Joy is the opposite of anger"

Then today I asked the boys to do a spot of creative writing: could they write a poem or a piece of prose describing how a certain emotion feels or how they might visualise it - without using the actual word. Similar to their definitions of last week, but giving them a bit more space to be expressive and explore the feeling some more.  We had a brief chat about similies and metaphors (eg I told them instead of saying "Anger is like a fire-breathing dragon" they could say "It's like a fire-breathing dragon" or even "It's a fire-breathing dragon"), and then they were off!  Eldest had a flick through the Emotionary for inspiration, and then rattled off his poem almost instantly.  Middle struggled to focus at first but after referring to the Emotionary he got there too.  Youngest needed help getting to grips with the idea, so I sat with him and gave some prompts asking what made him feel his chosen emotion or what could he see that made him feel it.  He got it quite quickly then...

It's like a bright yellow ice lolly
Or like breathing in fresh air
Like baby squirrels chasing each other for fun
And me jumping up and down, shouting "hooray"
(Joy - by Youngest)

It is like a raging ball of fire
It is like killing your heart and love for life
It is like an evil wolf tearing at your insides
It is like completing a game then it crashes
(Anger - by Middle)

It is the uncontrollable buzz from the centre of your mind
It is the grey that turns to red at the strangest of things
It is the feeling inside shouting at the world to 'shush' or 'stop that'
It is the swarm ganging up on you
It is the slightly wrong path on the road to anger
(Irritation - by Eldest)

I found their chosen emotions interesting and was really pleased with how well they expressed themselves.  Eldest's and Middle's poems in particular I found really quite powerful and will hopefully provide a springboard for further conversation.

Incidentally, the book is helping, but another helpful resource that we have enjoyed is the film "Inside Out" which we watched at the start of this year, well before we got the book - I can't recommend that film highly enough as a lovely natural way into exploring feelings in a non-threatening way!

All of which makes it sound a little heavy and over-structured.  Actually it has all arisen quite naturally, and even the suggested activities have been quite spontaneous and fun.  I have no real idea where we are going next with this but am just hoping that we keep learning.  Emotional literacy is every bit as important and helpful as the type of literacy (comprehension, SpaG etc) taught in school. In fact, thinking of the current Yr2 and Yr 6 SATs, I would venture that lessons in emotional literacy are far more valuable - but that's another issue ;)

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Day of Fun Learning

I am a bit conflicted about today's school strike.

A large part of me wants to jump up and cheer for the parents who are protesting the inane Year 2 SATS by taking their children out of school for a day of "fun learning".  If my boys were in school I would totally be doing the same thing.  Standardised testing for six-and-seven-year-olds is unhelpful, unnecessary and unkind - and some of the tests (SPaG, anyone?) are quite simply nonsensical.  I totally support all the parents and teachers who are behind this strike and wish them every success in their endavours to have the SATS dropped.

However, I am also feeling a bit sad for them.  Because this day of "fun learning" is just one day out of the school-lesson-and-extra-curricular-programme-packed lives of these young children.  It will be a lovely day I have no doubt - they will be relaxed, have fun, be inspired, be happy... and then they will go back to school tomorrow.  I am trying so hard to find a way not to sound smug or judgemental, but the truth is that my kids will have another day of fun learning tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, and the day after that - and so on.  Home educated children all over the nation will do the same.

Many people do not have the option of home educating their children, I get that.  And many parents believe that school is the best place for their child(ren) to receive a good education.  That is their prerogative and it is true that many children do flourish in the school environment, including members of my own extended family.  BUT - how many parents are there in this country who have no idea it is even an option for their child(ren) to spend their entire childhood enjoying endless days of "fun learning"?  That's what makes me really sad: not the children who enjoy school and thrive there, but that some of these children would do so much better in a more natural learning environment but they and their parents have no idea it is even possible.

Anyway, the "Let Our Kids be Kids" campaign is one that I fully support.  Our nation's children are overworked and overtested, with nowhere near enough importance placed on their welfare, happiness or enthusiasm for learning.  They are not little machines to be force-fed information until they somehow regurgitate enough of it to tick the right boxes.  They are beautiful, creative, thoughtful, imaginative, intelligent bundles of sheer potential.  Childhood is an essential part of their development and we need to protect their freedom in that, not work them like automatons, test them far too often, and continue to work them harder and harder until the potential to do anything other than fit into a system has been squeezed out of them.

So hooray for everyone taking their children out of school today.  May your campaign be fruitful, may you have beautiful days of fun learning with your children, and may those of you who have never heard of home education find your way to the beautiful happy childhood that it offers.

PS to any teachers reading: I hope that didn't sound unsupportive to you.  I may not be a fan of the school system but I am a BIG fan of any teacher who chooses to work with such a soul-destroying system, for the sake of inspiring and developing our children.  You all rock, and I hope for your sakes as much as the children that the Government wake up and bring in the much-needed improvements to let you do your job as you know to do it.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Return to GCSEs

We've had a good few months since my enormous GCSE-induced wobble that caused me to back right off until I had deschooled some more (you can read about it here).  This last week I seem to have de-toxed enough to be able to think about it a bit more clearly again, as well as talking it through with Eldest and hearing his thoughts.

We have come to the agreement that as he is not very clear on what he would like to do career-wise, the best way forward would be to keep his options open.  He knows he would like to do something in conservation, but he is also aware that there are very few conservation jobs that pay well, so he has a conflict that I don't think is likely to be resolved any time soon.  It is a learning curve for me as I knew what I wanted to do from a very early age and simply pursued that throughout my school life.  I am now realising how blessed I was and how rare it is to be so certain so young and not waver (well, not until later life anyway).  However, taking into consideration Eldest's uncertainty about future career paths, he and I have agreed that there are currently many jobs and courses that do require GCSEs, and that although he may well end up not needing them, the risk of spending time achieving qualifications that he may not need is preferable to risking not having the qualifications that he may need when the time comes.  So we are back onto the track of pursuing GCSEs, but now with a better understanding of why we are doing them (ie because Eldest may well need them, rather than because I always assumed he would take them).  Maybe we didn't need those months off to figure that out, but who cares?  We now have a much clearer understanding of why he is taking the course, so he is far more likely to be committed to his studies, and that is invaluable.  Anyway, that's where we are now, and we have a way forward so it's all good (and - it probably goes without saying - it's all subject to change anyway!)

English is still far from his favourite subject (and if I were in school nowadays I think it highly unlikely that I would have retained my love of the subject either), and he is not yet up to GCSE level in Maths, so we are looking at Geography or Biology (or similar subjects) which he enjoys the most, to start with.  I am hoping to find a tutor group or one-to-one tutor to help him as he will not only be learning about the subjects concerned, but also learning the necessary exam skills that he has been blessed to not need thus far.

We will probably start the studies in earnest in September, as it looks like we may have another house move happening in the near future and I know from experience that moving house interrupts all concetrated studying - although you would think we were 'pro's at it by now!  I am just relieved that we have a path to start following again, even if we are going at a very gentle pace.  I do enjoy unschooling, or as close to it as we ever get, but I am much happier when I can make plans, even if they are utterly flexible.  So off I go to do some more research and planning, back on the iGCSE journey.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Riddles and Models

Trying to be quick today because it's late and I still have stuff to do (such is motherhood)

So we had a lovely week last week celebrating Eldest's 14th birthday with a visit from his best friend and family, involving a fabulous welly walk through our local woodland stream, plus lots of gaming to keep the teens happy.  Then we had another visit, this time from my lovely 'besties' (and an assortment of their family members) both of whom live in very different parts of the country, so it was utter bliss for me to have them both visit at the same time and get some long overdue quality time together, including a lovely walk through the woods and rock houses at Kinver Edge.  So not much was done by way of structured work last week: it was just wall-to-wall socialisation with some of our favourite people

This week I was unsure whether to attempt any structured work as I have still not officially moved on from my "back-off" status, but we have decided to continue with our fun standalone activities for now, unless I feel it starts taking over.

So today we started with MathsWhizz, then quickly moved on to some creative writing.  I found an exercise online describing 'five senses' poetry, but unfortunately I can't find the link now - will add later if I find it.  Anyway, I thought it would be fun to have a go at writing riddles using the five senses so I made our own adaptation (PDF here).  I wrote a couple of examples so the boys could get the idea, and then asked them to come up with one.  Middle struggled for a while but after hearing his brothers' creations, he found his inspiration.  They all made me smile.  I'll post them here, followed by all three answers so anyone interested can try to guess what the 'answer' to each is.  If anyone guesses Eldest's quirky one, I'll be mightily impressed!

By Youngest...
I see lots of trees
I hear hooting
I smell apples
I taste grass
I feel a breeze

By Middle...
I see fire
I hear swords clanging
I smell smoke
I taste raw bacon
I feel angry

By Eldest...
I see mostly black but sometimes white
I hear crunches and thuds most of the time
I smell something awful
I taste fabric
I feel slightly wet

Youngest - a forest
Middle - a pig battle
Eldest - feet (!)

After our riddles we decided to do some modelling.  We got out our 'jumping clay' which is coloured air-drying clay that is soft and blendable like playdough - and we simply had a lovely time creating until we started to run out of clay! Models shown below...

Youngest's camouflaged snails, rainbow, whale fin, tree, tadpole, worm, and wreath in the middle

Middle's fire flower, 'cheeky blob who stole Mario's hat', lochness monster + baby, and gnome

Eldest's sheep, Turtwig (pokemon), duck & ducklings on pond, and racecar

Mummy's monster, pig, gnome toes, and orca

After that it was time to go to our first session at some local Home Ed trampolining sessions with Sis and Niece.  All the kids really enjoyed it, although Eldest started to get painful sinuses towards the end so had to sit out the last ten minutes - something to keep an eye on, but otherwise, that was another lovely day!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Poetry Picnic

Friday seemed like a great day for a poetry picnic (our version of Brave Writer's poetry teatime)... end of the week chilling and all that.  Of course, I did forget that I needed to allow enough time and energy for three lots of baking (four if you count my little one at the end), so our picnic lunch was a bit late by the time all the cakes were finished.  I may need to plan it better next time!

Anyway, the baking was all successful - the boys had chosen their recipes a couple of days ago so I made sure to have the ingredients in.  Middle wanted to bake a chocolate fudge cake, Youngest made some sticky toffee squares and Eldest made some strawberry cheesecake muffins.

By the time they were all made and looking temptingly delicious I realised that I needed to make something gluten-and-dairy-free so I could enjoy baked goods too.  I tried this recipe for cinamon roll in a mug and although it looked a little uninspiring (microwaved cake always does), it tasted fab!  And Mummy was happily saved from sulking because everyone else was eating yummy cakes.

My sis and niece came to join us for (late) picnic lunch, and we ate cakes and read poetry.  Middle and Youngest found their poems on the internet and printed them off to read, while Eldest and I read poems from books that we have.  I lost my original choice of poem so had to find another last minute. Fortunately the book I used had lots of good ones to choose from.  It really is a very civilised way to have lunch!

After lunch my friend and fellow hedgehog-rescuer came over to collect Pickle, our overnight hedgehog guest.  Pickle had some nasty diarrhoea overnight and was very shaky this morning so I gave her a couple of doses of sub-cutaneous fluids and by the time my friend arrived to collect her she had perked back up again.  Still very much in need of treatment for internal parasites, but I was glad to have been able to help as if I hadn't been able to give the fluids today it is very possible that it would have been too late by the time my friend arrived. Basically it was a nice little 'feel good' moment to have been able to make a real difference.  The boys always love to have hedgehogs around and I'm glad of the chance for them to learn compassion for others, including creatures of any size.

Somehow from being a day of planned low-key activity it ended up being quite a long day, and I am now writing this at bedtime!  It was a good day though, I think poetry picnics may well become a regular experience for a while to come!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Boardgame Bonanza (with bonus hedgehog)

This morning the boys had all done some exercises on Literacy Planet before I was even ready to get going myself and we decided that today as a fairly quiet day would be a good opportunity for a board game tournament.  We chose a game each and played them one at a time.

First of all Youngest chose Labyrinth which we all enjoy.  It's great for strategy and problem solving, understanding sequencing and cause & effect etc ...

It was won by Middle.

The Middle chose Alpha Animals for us to play.  It's a lovely simple concept which builds literacy skills as well as exploring animal classification...

Youngest was the winner this time.

It was Eldest's choice next, and he had selected Angry Birds Space Race, which is a fairly modern take on the old-fashioned game of Ludo - again good for basica counting and strategy (and forgiveness/ learning to deal with frustration when a sibling sends your piece back to the start!)  I won this time, probably because I avoided sending anyone back where possible, so none of the boys were trying to get revenge! There's probably a life lesson in there too, on reaping what you sow, 'doing unto others' etc!

Finally it was my game.  I chose Wing It simply because Middle had already selected it but then changed his mind.  We removed the 'impede' cards which have the specific purpose of being played tactically to scupper your opponents.  I thought we'd had enough of that!  It's a lovely game from the RSPB, and you don't have to have any bird knowledge to play.  It is good for geography, being based arund the UK, and negotiation skills as there is a degree of card-trading at the beginning, as well as encuraging identification of native birds...

It could have been the deciding game that crowned Youngest, Middle or me the clear winner, but happily Eldest won the final game, making it an unusually (but very thankfully) even tournament, with each of us winning one round each.  We love board games, even if things sometimes get a little heated and some players need to take an occasional break!

We finished playing quite late after lunch as there had been an unexpected turn of events this morning when a fellow hedgehog-rehabilitator called to see if I could take in a local hedgehog overnight.  I haven't been caring for wild hedgehogs since we moved as there didn't seem much point finding a local vet etc if we were just going to move again, but I still have all my equipment (just not any meds), so I was happy to help out overnight until my friend can fetch him tomorrow to give him the treatment he needs.  So Middle, Youngest and I drove to get some cat food and newspaper (the phone call came two minutes after the rcycling lorry had taken all our papers away!), and collect the hedgehog.  It's a juvenile hog, named Pickle by the finder, and is significantly underweight, but hopefully not beyond the point of help.  Anyway, it took about an hour out of our morning to sort out but we were glad to help, and the hedgehog is seriously cute as always...

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

STEM Challenges and Other Fun

We managed to lower our stress again today and have fun too - back to our usual MO, thankfully!  Admittdly we started with MathsWhizz which didn't go so well on Monday, but was much better today.  I did still have to ask Youngest and Middle to sit with me in turn and do it on my laptop as Youngest went into 'fear-of-maths' mode and needed some hand-holding despite the exercise being well within his ability.  Middle also needed my supervision as he had found the calculator mode on his computer in the den (out of my sight) and couldn't resist using it to make the sums even easier.  As I told him, that's not exactly wrong - we all use calculators - but it does mean that he would get to harder levels of exercises without necessarily learning how to work out the steps needed to do the harder sums - so we sat and he did his exercises with me, and he had no problems at all.

While Youngest was doing his Maths, Middle read a book on "Disgusting Digestion", and then while Middle was doing his Maths, Youngest went to get a book but came back with a jigsaw map of Europe and proceeded to do most of it by himself, with Middle helping just at the end.

By this point Eldest had come downstairs from doing his Maths, so we went into the kitchen and had fun doing some STEM challanges that the boys had chosen from our Dyson Challenge cards.

Youngest did an experiment on inertia which involved boiling an egg and seeing how easy it was to stop it spinning compared to a fresh egg which continued spinning after he spun it and then stopped it briefly....

Middle was inspired by the card detailing how to make invisible ink, so got some lemon juice and wrote a secret (gorgeous) message for Daddy and me to discover when heated...

Eldest's experiment was acknowledged by all to be 'AWESOME!' as he made a lava lamp using oil, water, food colouring and an alka-seltzer...

Afterwards we listened to the 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba' by Handel, and the boys drew pictures inspired by the music.  Eldest said that his was too detailed to be coloured in - plus it was in the 'olden days' when photos were black and white anyway!  He certanly worked hard on it - and even wrote a list of random things on the back for us to look for in his picture...




And finally we found a couple of episodes of "Your Paintings" (BBC2) on Youtube, on Henri Rousseau and Paula Rego to watch before an episode of the boys' much-loved Mythbusters while we had lunch.

So generally that was a busy but fun morning - just the way we like it!  We're back to fully enjoying our holiday from autonomy.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

New Week, New Mood

Last week was lots of fun and very busy in a structured Home Ed kind-of way, with all of us fully engaging and enjoying ourslves.  However this week started with a very different vibe.  Eldest really struggled to get out of bed yesterday which slowed his morning right down.  Middle was just in 'mooching' mode, and Youngest hit a huge wall which conflicted with my own stress.  It was over MathsWhizz, which is never usually an issue, but Youngest had been struggling with a particular lesson for a while, and doing everything he could to avoid it, to the point where it had become an insurmountable beast in his mind.  The thing is, I knew he could do it, and although I had been using the 'back-off until he's ready' method which usually works, this time it was making it worse and I knew we just had to push through to overcome.  Man, was that painful?!  It took over an hour of him whining, complaining, resisting and doing everything in his power to persuade me to let him off.  Eldest and Middle finished their maths and watched a Brainpop UK video each with test at the end, while they waited for Youngest to finish (Eldest got 8/10 on Exoplanets, and Middle got 10/10 on Internet Safety).  We did a sum at a time, and each time I had to draw on untapped levels of patience, sometimes through gritted teeth, to help him to just read the questions without his defenses of "but I can't do it".  It has to be said, my patience ran out repeatedly, but not as often as his did.  We did get there in the end though.  Sadly I am far from convinced that he has the confidence to know as I do that actually he can do that particular type of sum, but at least he has passed it in the programme now, so he will move on to other questions that he is happier with.  We were all exhausted by the end, so it was a relief to have a lovely art project to turn to.

It was a Deep Space Sparkle project on flamingos, so first I showed the boys a Youtube clip of a flamboyance of flamingos doing a mating dance - very amusing.  Then we watched the clip from Fantasia 2000 set to Saint Saens Carnival of the Animals, and then watched the video instructions from DSS.  It's part of her sixth-grade (year 6 here) curriculum, so I knew it might be a stretch for Youngest, but he was fine.  I didn't get to do my own picture this time as there wasn't space at the table (the boys were using A3 card) so I was free to help Youngest, and he did really well.  I never tell the boys what level the art lessons are aimed at as I don't want to set limits on their expectations - it's all about enjoyment and freedom in self-expression anyway.  As usual, I love the finished results...

by Youngest

by Middle

by Eldest

Today has been a much gentler day.  The boys all started with Literacy Planet, which they set to whatever level they want, so they can do super-easy lessons if they want/ need to.  They also did a book quiz (free PDF here) on "Weather" by Catriona Clarke, and then we did a spot of creative writing.  We started off by doing an exercise on 'cliche-busting', as found on the internet.  As part of the exercise we all had to come up with new ways of looking at and describing things.  We particularly liked "eyes like beach-balls" (Youngest), "rough as the road" (Middle),"spiky days" (Eldest), and "as soft as Mummy's tummy" (me).  Then I asked the boys if they could write a poem or piece of descriptive prose using at least one of their new phrases.

Night is Lovely
by Youngest

Night is lovely
It's black like an 'off' TV
owls, hedgehogs, badgers come out at night,
suspicious about our black camera-trap.
Stars and the moon come out as well,
making it feel a friendly black.

Where Rain Comes From
by Middle

If you have wondered
where rain comes from I'll tell you.
It comes from men driving clouds
When they are sad
they cry sky tears
which turn into rain

The Man on the Other Side of the Road
by Eldest

There's a man across the road
Who claims he's friends with a toad
He wears a top as white as sheep
He walks down the hill without making a peep
From inside his room
He makes quite a boom
From a machine he won't show anyone soon
He wears an odd hat
That holds a sleeping tail-less cat.
You could say he's bizarre
When he's driving a car
Especially when he doesn't take it that far.
Despite being weird he's quite a nice chap
Who takes care of a snake that likes to sit in his lap
An in case you wondered, the man across the road
Is actually friends with a toad.

Any resemblance to anyone is purely coincidental and I apologise if I offended anyone :)

I do love the writing they produce - it's one of my favourite bits of Home Ed, getting to see and enjoy their creative 'masterpieces'!

Finally today we watched a DVD on Earth Science while we had lunch (the boys really like the 'rock' song on the three types of rock), and now Daddy is taking the boys out.  That was a much better day - here's hoping the rest of the week stays this way now!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Catching Up

No, NOT the sort of catching up deployed in school, where children are deemed to have "fallen behind" and have to struggle to reach the same level as those who have naturally reached their learning targets sooner.  I find that whole idea highly offensive.  Learning is neither or race nor a competition, and children should - yes, you heard me - they SHOULD be allowed to learn in a way that comes most naturally to them, at their own pace.  Sadly that is no longer possible in our increasingly mad school system.  But anyway, I digress.

I'm catching up with the bits and pieces that we have done this week during our 'holiday from autonomy' that I haven't blogged about so far.  I want to keep a record of them, so here I am, catching up on things that I WANTED to write, not forcing a harsh schedule on young people (oops sorry - can you tell I have a bee in my bonnet on the subject? ;) )

So anyway this week, other than the nature walk and writing mentioned previously, we also read a chapter of the Bible together (John 6) and agreed that Jesus really is a lot more patient than any of us would be.  It's the chapter where he feeds the five thousand and then loads of his disciples get offended at him for not just being the kind of leader who exists to heal them and feed them for free, and decide following him is too hard.  I love the open conversations we have together and the honest questions that the boys ask - none of us have all the answers, and I enjoy seeing them think about the big issues of life; their words often enlighten me!

We played a board game ('Wing It' from the RSPB), and listened to some music: firstly Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart.  Youngest decided it made him think of someone asleep upstairs while someone downstairs listened to an opera outside through an open window.

Eldest and Middle struggled to find inspiration in the music, so once Youngest was done we had another go, this time with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.  Middle said it reminded him of ghosts and ghouls...

... while Eldest was inspired to draw a picture of night falling - very apt, especially as he had no idea what it was called before he drew his picture!

Then on Wednesday we fancied a bit of what is known in our house as 'arty-farty' so we made some very simple spring bunny collages, inspired by the rabbits that we saw on our walk the day before.  I had seen a simple art project on Pinterest and we adapted it to show a springtime field as background to our bunnies. Nothing too demanding, just a nice little piece of work...

"Awesome the Bunny" by Youngest

"King Alfred the Bunny" by Middle

"Benedict Bunny" by Eldest

"Flopsie Bunny" by Mummy

Yesterday we had a book-quiz based on The Story of Chocolate (Usborne) - the boys received a small chocolate reward each for getting the quiz answers right.  Then we had friends coming to play in the afternoon so we had a bit of a baking session: Youngest made some ginger-hogs, using a hedgehog cookie cutter and a gluten-free vegan recipe that I found on Pinterest, while Middle made some cinamon crunch muffins and Eldest made some chocolate crunch from a favourite recipe, just replacing the vanilla essence with orange essence (chocolate orange is his favourite combination)  I made some cheese scones for lunch too!

With all of that baking done, it seemed a perfect opportunity for our 'poetry picnic'  We got the idea from Brave Writer's 'Poetry Teatimes', but as the boys are usually off engrossed in their own play by the afternoon, we thought lunchtime would work better - especially when it is as sunny outside as it was yesterday.  So we all chose a poem each and carried the books (Read Me First, Little Book of Poems for Young Children, and the Glow-worms poetry collection); and lunch outside to eat while we read to each other.  It was very civilised and we definitely want to do that again!

And finally this morning, while I have been catching up, the boys have been carrying out a challenge to build an engine-free car (basically using stored energy)  It took them a couple of hours but all managed to produce something that worked in the end.  Frustratingly for Middle, he had a working model (made of lego and a balloon) within minutes of starting, but in the process of 'refining' it he ended up using up the working part (balloon) from the original and taping it to the point where it no longer worked.  He did manage to use a sort of catapult-propulsion in the end though, so he could see it moving in the end.

Youngest also used a balloon and the inside of an easter egg box with some wheels from a 'connect straws' kit.  There seemed to be a leak letting the air out (not through the straw) so although it did move, it didn't go very far...

Eldest took the longest but was really happy with his design in the end: using part of a cardboard box and wheels made by hand, with an elastic band twisted around a rod that was then released - he won the "how far can it go" race, but they all got a small prize for completing the challenge.

I love seeing the different ways the boys create designs and solve problems - the only issue was that I couldn't help all of them at the same time, but Daddy was also on hand, and they all got there in the end - lots of fun!

So that turned out to be a really busy week.  In actual fact, it was probably no busier than the previous weeks where they boys have been following their own interests - but because I was more 'hands-on' and involved in the direction-setting, I have had a lot more to blog about  So if you anyone might be feeling inadequate by comparison, give yourself a gentle slap for comparing yourself in the first place - not a good move! - and remind yourself these are my highlights of one intense week... from the lack of blogging in previous weeks you can feel superior in comparison. Happy days!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Holiday from Autonomy

Since my wobble-inspired "back-off" revelation back at the beginning of Feb, the boys and I have dutifully been doing Not Very Much by way of structured HE activity other than a small amount of Maths Whizz and Literacy Planet curricula.  As mentioned in the other day's post (here), they have still been growing and learning autonomously, and I have deliberately focused on other things to allow my subconscious mind to get used to the idea of rejecting the exam mindset and being able to take a fresh look at Eldest's learning needs without preconceptions.  I am still deschooling.  It's proving a stubborn mindset to shift, but I am determined.  So I have had little to blog about as the boys have been very much in charge of their own learning and I have forced myself to leave them to it.

However this week things shifted a little.  We suddenly felt ready for a bit of structure, and I looked at our calendar and could see that we had a window of two fairly uneventful weeks before lovely friends come to visit and our life gets more distracting again.  What a lovely opportunity to enjoy a few parent-led fun activities without fully committing to our usual lightly-structured style (there's nothing wrong with that in itself - I am just very wary of slipping back into the old way of thinking still and need to be sure that the exam mindset is well and truly exorcised before re-embracing anyother structure)

So it turns out that whereas we used to roughly run alongside school terms and holidays just because it usually suits us that way, we have now done a complete reversal and have had almost no structure for most of the last term but now that schoolkids are on holiday for a couple of weeks, we are having a sort of holiday from autonomy with two weeks of planned fun.  Following our reverse holiday we will then go back to no structure in time to enjoy the empty parks and attractions!

We enjoyed our nature-walk and creative writing, and I sat with the boys yesterday and we wrote a list of the 'learning-type' things we would like to do over the next fortnight. It was a lovely list and is going to keep us busy, though as with our usual plans it is all subject to change!

Our ideas included but are not limited to...

Poetry Picnic (like Poetry Teatime, but earlier in the day!)
Board game
Creative Writing
STEM challenge (using the Dyson challenge cards or making up our own)
'Arty-farty' project
Trip to Park
Baking/ Cooking
PC/ ipad app challenge
Nature walk
Bible chapter
Book quiz
History story
Documentary-type TV/ Youtube programme

If we try to do each of those once a week, that gives us at least three items per day.  We've managed to get quite a few done this week (details to follow tomorrow hopefully) and are looking forward to having another go next week.  It's been lots of fun, not least because of the novelty factor and because we all had a say in what we wanted to do, so although it probably counts as parent-led (because I suggested making the list) and definitely counts as structured activity, it's still pretty autonomous.

I love the concept of having short structured activity breaks in between longer stretches of child-directed learning - it certainly flies in the face of the current trend of overloading the nation's children with lessons, tests, homework and even extra-curricular activities all crammed in with no space for them to just have unstructured fun.  It reminds me of an article I read earlier this week (here) explaining how simplifying childhood can have significant benefits for their mental health. The Home Ed lifestyle may not be for everyone, but when I think what an increasingly rare gift it is to be able to bless our children with the space and freedom to just be kids - I wouldn't swap it for anything!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Nature-inspired Writing

This morning after Mathswhizz I really wanted to get us all out of the house, but wanted the boys to do something literacy-ish too, as I've been pondering on the subject for a while.  I have no worries re: their reading abilities as per yesterday's post, but was recently remembering the fun they had writing stories and poems last year, and thought it would be nice to give them a prompt again.  A friend had posted some springtime photos online and it inspired me to take the boys out for a walk through our neighbouring fields, specifically to prompt them with ideas for a bit of creative writing.  So that is what we did.  I shared the idea with them, and asked them to look out for things they could see, hear, smell and feel on the way.

Once we were outside they went into usual 'running-about-like-puppies' mode, so I pointed out some bursts of yellow daffodils dotted about the grassy fields, marshmallow-like clouds puffing across the sky, woodpigeons clattering out of the thickets as we walked past etc.  I didn't labour the point too much though - after all, the outdoors is to be freely enjoyed and I didn't want to turn our jolly jaunt into an onerous task.  The boys certainly enjoyed themselves, particularly Youngest who couldn't resist rolling down a hill and sliding in a patch of mud.  We were intending to visit our latest discovery of a little dingly dell complete with bridges over a stream and bluebells getting ready to flower, but as we entered the wood we discovered the path downhill was covered with a steady stream of water oozing out of the hillside...

(the downhill slope into the woods - highest point where we were standing is confusingly at the bottom of the photo)

As we were only wearing trainers we changed plan and walked to the next patch of woodland a bit further on, inside a sort of pit inside the field. At the bottom of the pit was another little stream, and Middle decided that he wanted to try to build a dam, as inspired by the "50 things to do before you are 11 3/4" booklet that he was given at a National Trust property over Easter.  He and Youngest had a few attempts, with Eldest helping, and found it trickier than they expected, but lots of fun...

trying to use rocks to dam the stream

When we got home Middle and Youngest decided to write a poem each, and Eldest chose to write a descriptive piece of prose.  It was soon lunchtime though, and as Eldest was finding it tricky to get started and Middle had got stuck halfway through, I shared a famous poem with them over lunch: Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud".  It helped that we had visited Acorn Bank in Cumbria a couple of years earlier (one of the places where Wordsworth was said to have been inspired to write the poem), so I found our photos from that holiday and showed them to the boys before reading the poem...

Middle was clearly inspired by Wordsworth's poem and rewrote the first half of his own poem accordingly. Eldest was still struggling so I suggested that he just start by describing the journey as we left our house, and take it from there - once he got started he came up with a very descriptive piece. Youngest wrote his own poem on the PC.  It really made me smile, but then I asked if he could have a go at one that was a bit longer too - he dictated that one to me after a couple of prompts asking him what we saw or did.

We all love being outdoors and after a false start or two, the boys enjoyed writing their pieces too - that was one lovely morning!

Spring (#1) by Youngest
Aaah I love it owt dors evry thing abot it
The end

Spring (#2) by Youngest
Daffodils dancing in the breeze
Building a dam in the forest stream
Birds shooting like a torpedo above the trees
And buds growing on twigs
Dog poo in a big dark pit near a field near a road - and rabbit poo too.

The end 

Spring by Middle
I went for a walk in Spring
I was lonely with droopy flowers near me
Also quite chilly and I could feel my heart frozen
with loneliness
And I could feel a strange feeling
A sort of feeling that you have when you're really happy
And the flowers around me were now yellow, yes I'm happy now
and I could feel the gusts of wind in my face
and a sea of grass moving like waves
I wished it never ended.

The Walk near our House by Eldest
Next to our house there is a path, and if you follow that path you wil find yourself in the lushest of green fields.  The sweet song of birds fills the air.  The glare of the forest next door seems to draw you in with its hypnotic ways.  The twists and turns of this wooded labyrinth tries to keep you in to enjoy its beauty even more.  At the end of such a maze it opens out, almost in relief, to the fields of which you came, with rabbits looking as if to say "welcome back" before darting off in some sort of hurry.  So do not forget of this mystical site beyond the path next to our house.