Friday, November 17, 2017

It takes a village

One of the things I most love about getting out to places is the opportunity to learn from people who are passionate and knowledgeable about their particular area. We tend to frequent places at quiet times during the week and so get the chance to monopolise these wonderful experts for as long as we want. 

There are the old codgers at Men In Sheds, the Age Concern shop that sells reconditioned tools, who will discuss with the deepest seriousness with a 4 year old the relative merits of various designs of hand drill. 

The volunteers at Bristol Museum who took the various groups in the HE session and each brought a different style and approach to the activities. 

Then there are people like Harry at Escot's Anglo-Saxon village, who will answer any question about the Anglo-Saxons (turns out Daniel had been listening to me after all!), gets small children involved in using hand-carved mallets to split kindling and build up the fire, recruits their help to cook a full meal for the other staff, and just so happens to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of dinosaurs.


The friend with a degree in Classical Civilisations who will happily answer urgent questions about Roman emergency services via Facebook Messenger at 11pm. 

The restorers working on an obelisk we came across on a woodland walk, who told us all about steeplejacks, safety ropes, repointing and guilding. 

The lady at the Dulux centre who took the time to explain and demonstrate the colour-mixing machine to the boys. 

Craftsmen, academics, amateur enthusiasts. All so generous with their time and knowledge. Where would we be without them?

And, of course, there are the people we see regularly - other parents, forest school leaders, extended family. 

The grandfather who will drop everything to make quill pens using a real pen knife, or introduce a 5yo to soldering by helping him fix a broken police siren using parts from a pocket torch from a Christmas cracker. (Incidentally, that same grandfather is just as likely to produce Tibetan singing bowls or bagpipes, or answer in-depth questions about British Roman archaeology!)


The uncle who is THE person to ask about all things lego or medieval knights and castles. 

The grandmother who explains the life cycle of a coddling moth while collecting apples for juice, or helps them identify a frilly parasol mushroom, or provides a real working stethoscope and blood pressure monitor when teddy falls out of a tree. 


There are times when the term ‘home education’ seems like such a misnomer, and ‘community-based education’ would far more accurately reflect what we do. Whatever we call it, I am so grateful for our ‘village’. Our lives - and our children’s education - are so much richer for having these amazing people around us. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dinosaurs and Elephant Poo

Life has felt rather ploddy and un-blog-worthy for the past couple of weeks but I was looking back through the photos on my phone today and realised we have been on some cracking trips recently.


Depending on how far you are able and willing to travel, there is an incredible range of one-off educational sessions, visits and trips on offer to home educators, usually with group discounts to fit in with the average HE family's tight budget. Two in particular stand out for us. 


First, we went on an adventure on the train with some other families to learn about dinosaurs at Bristol Museum. In the space of an hour in their education room, we learned about teeth shape and what they say about an animal's diet; the topography of the Bristol area in the Jurassic period; the tools used by palaeontologists; and what ammonites looked like before they were fossilised (basically squid with snail shells). Then we were let loose in the pliosaur exhibition with an eight-foot model called Doris and several toy medical kits with which to bandage a gashed flipper, find a heartbeat and give dental care that was enthusiastic if not efficient. Definitely somewhere to visit again, preferably on a weekday when we have the place more or less to ourselves. 



A week or so later, we were pootling up the M5 with friends to Noah's Ark Zoo Farm. I'd seen the signs before but never been and it was brilliant! The first zoo I've been to where none of the enclosures felt too small, and with plenty of space between animals so the kids could play and think about each thing they had seen before moving on to the next. 


It took us the first hour and a half to get past the play area by the entrance - a massive complex of wooden pirate ship, high rope walks, climbing walls and tube slide. Not only did this shake out the wriggles after an hour in the car, there was also some lovely interaction between the kids. Daniel struggled at first on the climbing wall but after encouragement from his friend persevered and finally mastered it. Adam got stuck on a ladder and was a bit wobbly when rescued but happily accepted a hug from the other mum and told her all about it - always nice when they have other people they consider to be 'safe''. The other toddler wanted to come down the big tube slide but was a little unsure and Daniel spent a good 20 minutes or more gently coaxing him and going round the place with him, never crowding but always close enough to be a reassuring presence. I absolutely love this photo of the two of them up on the high rope walk (credit to the other mum for the picture!) Oh, and the coffee from the cafe next door was great too :-) 



The educational session saw us handling/admiring fur from a lion's mane, part of a rhino horn, an elephant's thigh bone and a massive snake skin before the live animals were brought round - Colin the cockroach, Sidney the African land snail, a bearded dragon, a corn snake, and two guinea pigs (by far the most popular!)



And there was an elephant poo slide - genius! 



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

An Ad-Libbing Gruffalo

It has been a packed couple of weeks and most evenings have disappeared in a fog of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, followed by sod-it-I'm-going-to-bed. No apoogies for not blogging instead of taking every available opportunity to sleep. I have reached that stage of pregnancy where the average night involves anything up to 4 sleep-befuddled staggers to the loo, and the near-vertical tower of every spare pillow in the house that is required to stave off vomit-inducing heartburn also makes it ridiculously difficult to get to sleep in the first place (or second/third/fourth on my return from the toilet). That is a lot of hyphens in one paragraph. I'm not apologising for those either. 

Despite all that, we have managed some really cool stuff in the last few weeks. If I try to write about all of them at once we'll end up with a dissertation, so you'll get them in installments. This one is set nearly two weeks ago.

We introduced Adam to the theatre for the first time at a performance of The Gruffalo. This was a schools' performance with a big group of other home educators, who stood out just a teeny bit (!) next to the uniformed school groups. Both boys were hailed by friends before we even got into the building and by the time we got up the stairs they had both disappeared to hang out with various kids they knew, chattering like starlings, while we grown-ups drank coffee at the bar and enjoyed watching the long lines of identically-uniformed schoolchildren being herded to their respective doors. Those of us who have ever worked in schools looked on with a large dose of sympathy, though we had to laugh at the staff member insisting that her charges could not possibly talk while they walked (they seemed to be managing perfectly well but maybe there had been a near miss with a lamp post on the way in and Miss was feeling twitchy about the impending accident report paperwork). I wonder if the National Curriculum covers breathing and walking simultaneously? Presumably not until Key Stage 2. 

The performance was brilliant, very funny and interactive. Adam was intrigued by the changing colour of the sky on the backdrop (I love how small children notice details adults don't clock at all!) He was also fascinated to realise that the words were the ones he knows. I was instructed to put the audio book on as soon as we got back to the car. 

As with many children's theatre shows we get down here in the sticks, small budgets make for a very creative approach, and we had a good discussion about it afterwards. Daniel noted that there were just 3 actors covering multiple parts, and the staging was very simple and multi-purpose (he particularly liked the bright orange butterfly that was flown across the stage by the actors at various times and then parked in special slots on the trees, disguised as a pair of leaves). We talked about the costumes (also simple, multi-purpose and very clever), which ones we liked and which we didn't. I was interested that he had noticed the Gruffalo changing his mind about running up into the audience when he saw a little girl clinging to her teacher in terror, and ad-libbing his way back down and along the front row instead. Daniel felt this was very kind and considerate. It was done extremely smoothly so I was surprised he had realised it had happened. 

The performance had started late thanks to several schools who had either arrived late or taken too much time walking-not-talking to their seats. As a result, they were all herded out at top speed at the end in order to pile into coaches and get back to school by 3:15. We HEers had come well armed with snacks to get through the inevitable delay (and take advantage of the lights still being up). At the end, several of us took refuge from the manic herding on the stairs and relaxed with a drink in the cafe again, then nipped out the back door and admired the fountains on the way back to the car park. 

Anyone would think home educating was fun...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

This Is Our Normal

The last couple of days have felt pretty mundane and unexciting (no bad thing). But, of course, that's because they are 'normal' - as far as that is a thing in this family - for US. Other people have their own normal, and in a few years/months/weeks our normal, too, will have shifted and evolved. So maybe even the boring days are worth recording! Don't say you weren't warned. 

Monday's story really starts on Sunday night, when Daniel chose The Twits as his bedtime story. Now, just to be clear, I LOVE Roald Dahl. I particularly enjoy reading them aloud, and I am very very pleased that Daniel enjoys them so much (the coloured editions were the deciding factor for him). We have read most of them several times over, just missing The Witches and Boy for now. 

On Sunday evening, it took ten chapters to get the boy to sleep. I can live with that. But when a further 19 chapters were required at 3.30am due to a sudden attack of insomnia, my enthusiasm was significantly reduced! It would have been more than 19 chapters but we ran out of book and I went on strike. There followed a couple of hours of musical beds which left me a bleary-eyed zombie over the breakfast table in the morning. 

Adam's music class had its first session of the term at some (for us) ungodly hour in the morning. For once, every traffic light was kind to us and there was a parking space just round the corner, so we made it in record time. We fell at the final hurdle when the council parking app refused to work several times, wasting time before I finally shoved my overpayment into the machine (at least they now take the new £1 coins, which they didn't last term) and ran for it. We only missed one song, so I count that as virtually on time for us. 

Then off to kill some time in town before meeting some friends for lunch. We had to dodge some torrential rain showers (no coats because they still need washing post-forest school) but found a cheap umbrella for the kids to share, which went considerably better than you might expect. The high point was trying out an RNIB pod with simulations of four different kinds of visual impairment. Daniel was fascinated and the resulting conversation took us all the way down to the other end of town to the cafe. So that was our bit of home ed for the day!

Not much else to report for the day. I managed a nap with Adam in the afternoon, cobbled together a reasonably nutritious dinner and then we curled up in pyjamas for a movie before bedtime. I was mostly still smiling by the end. 

Tuesday we pottered. Daniel did Reading Eggs and some writing, and we all made tomato soup for lunch and smoked mackerel & potato pie for dinner. Many apples were eaten, lots of noise was made, lego was built and destroyed. And in the evening, when DH was late back from work, I got both of them to sleep with only 18 chapters of James and the Giant Peach. 

I have ordered some Dick King-Smith for a change. 

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Saturday, September 09, 2017

Home Ed Burn-Out

As often happens after a period of intense home ed activity, I hit a slump this week. Like many home edders, when the kids show an interest in something that I also enjoy, I have a tendency to get a bit carried away and go all teachery on them, which is a pretty guaranteed way to turn them off. In this case, it was history and the slightly manic obsession with matching up museum visits, bedtime stories, recipes and day trips. So after a tense few days while Daniel tried to tell me he didn't want to be beaten around the head with Anglo-Saxon rye bread and I refused to listen (because I WAS interested, damn it!), I finally realised I needed to chill out. When I need to stretch my brain I can read books myself, do some baking, or even finally get on with the beginners' Latin course I have been promising myself for months. And we will make that Anglo-Saxon rye bread and apricot conserve, and probably take our apricot conserve sandwiches to the Anglo-Saxon village at Escot. But we will do it when the mood takes us - all of us! 

After a few days of feeling pretty despondent, I can now look back at what we have actually done in the last couple of days. 

On Thursday we finally made it out to a local-ish honey farm. There wasn't much information to be seen about how honey is made but there was a lovely cafe with some big photos that triggered memories of making honey in Germany two years ago, so we had a chat about that over drinks and cookies while admiring the beautiful flower garden outside. Then we investigated the 'shop' (a few shelves at the end of the cafe) and chose honey and beeswax candles to use at Rosh Hashanah. 

The afternoon was spent with my amazing mum, in my case mostly offloading and drinking tea. The kids, however, did all of this in our quiet, chilled-out afternoon:

  • Found a large patch of feathers in the garden. Listened enthralled to my mum's fairly gory account of a sparrow hawk eating a pigeon on the front lawn. Looked up sparrow hawks in the bird book. 

  • Did some digging together. Found a worm and examined it carefully, then found a safe place for it under a tree and carefully covered it with soil. This took several trips with their trowels before they were satisfied with the medium-sized molehill they had provided for their new friend. 


  • Painting. 

  • Made scotch pancakes, with all the associated weighing and measuring and turn-taking. 


  • Played with building blocks, lots of rough-and-tumble, some intensive training for their future joint career as a pantomime horse by ricocheting around the house with a large blanket over their heads. Astonishingly, there were no casualties. 

  • Daniel decided to do some work on an old newspaper. This involved a verbal analysis of the different sections (property, sport, weather etc), colouring in, doodling and letter formation. Lots of techniques from some free time with a newspaper and some pencils! Now he wants to make his own newspaper and deliver it to people. We'll see if that happens over the next week or two. 

  • Adopted a cooking apple from the orchard. It was named Appley and had to come home with us. 

Friday we were back in forest school, catching up with friends, toasting marshmallows, making elder beads and generally enjoying being back. In the afternoon we watched a film, braved the supermarket, came up with a Plan B for dinner as we'd run out of time for the original plan (let's call that nutrition) and made crumble together with Appley. 

Not bad for two days of doing nothing...

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Tomorrow Is Also a Day

The plan:

  • Reading Eggs. 
  • Museum with another HE family to see the Seaton Hoard (Roman coins found near here) and look for Roman cooking pots as a follow-up to the Roman honey cake we made a few weeks ago. Also find some Anglo-Saxon things in preparation for the next lot of historical cooking. 
  • Library to return some books (not overdue for once) and find new ones. 
  • Shop for ingredients for Anglo-Saxon recipes (rye bread and apricot conserve). 
  • Home to make the rye bread and conserve with appropriately educational conversation about the period.

Well, the Reading Eggs happened, though we were all tired and lacking in patience. And we did make it to the museum - half an hour late, grumpy and frazzled. Various things were looked at and played with, especially thanks to having company, but Daniel made it very clear that he had no interest at all in what we had planned and really wanted me to shut up about it. Thanks to the other mum we did see the Sealife exhibition (which I would have missed completely) and the kids were fascinated by the tank of sea urchins, star fish and prawns, and the shells and microscope in the other room. 

We had forgotten our library books so gave up on that and decided to try out a nearby chocolate cafe instead. Also gave up on shopping as it was obvious no one was in the mood for either history or cooking. Went home and chilled out with a movie instead. 

I don't know why but we were all tired and grumpy today. There was a lot of squabbling, shouting, nagging and snarling, and not even the cafe helped. 

On days like this, with no curriculum to keep up with or boxes to tick, sometimes the best thing to do is park the activity until some later date when everyone is in the mood. In hindsight, even the museum should probably have gone by the wayside today but I needed to get out and see another adult! 

So we will save the Anglo-Saxon cooking experiments for a better day rather than wasting an interesting and fun activity by doing it when no one feels like it. 

Let's see what tomorrow brings!

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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Not Back To School

Every year around this time, our Facebook newsfeeds are full of uniformed children off for the first day of the school year. Some are going for the first time, others are off to a new school, others moving up a year. This wave of photos has become such an event that home edders often decide to post their own versions, usually clad in pyjamas doing something very not-schooly! HE groups across the country arrange Not Back To School Picnics (ours is next week) and even the most unstructured feel a compulsion to share stories of their not-first days. 

Exactly when the first day is depends on the school. Around here it seems to be today or tomorrow, which is quite precise enough for me. So if today doesn't quite meet your expectations of what we 'should' be doing, just hang on until tomorrow!

After such a busy day yesterday, we didn't have anything particular planned for today.  This morning Daniel took one look at the rain coming down in sheets and announced "I don't think we should go anywhere today." This was possibly to ward off any ad hoc suggestions I might have been contemplating - he knows me well! 

We started with Reading Eggs and Daniel bashed through four lessons to get to the end of the map (set of 10 lessons, after which the child must pass a quiz to be allowed to continue) and get his certificate. The games allow him to collect eggs which can then be spent in the 'shop' to furnish and decorate a virtual house. That got a bit obsessive at the start so we agreed with Daniel that he would save his eggs until the end of each map and then have some time to go on a spending spree with them. 


While Daniel worked and then played on the virtual shop and a few other bits, Adam played some number matching and shape games with me and wandered in and out. He seems to have grasped the idea of Daniel's work time and knows there are various things he can do if he wants to join in, so he is less desperate to stay with us for every minute in case he misses something. 



After lunch, Daniel and I spent ages with the lego rebuilding part of his fire station. When Adam woke up from his nap he 'helped', patiently redirected by Daniel who strategically fixed the wheels on a vehicle he could broom-broom round the sitting room. Eventually we got stuck thanks to some missing pieces. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to a movie and hot chocolate! 

This evening Daniel and I put together his new pop-up fire station book (thank you Lidl!) and discussed the plan for tomorrow. Watch this space! 

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Friends Are Awesome!

Some days don't go so well. Others are better. And sometimes you get one that is just perfect. Today was one of those! I promise to redress the balance soon with a completely candid account of the next nightmare day of squabbles, meltdowns over the wrong coloured spoon, and lego-induced warfare. 

Sunday's tidying went considerably better than Saturday's and at least the downstairs is (for now) respectably clean and tidy. So when Daniel suddenly announced in the afternoon that he wanted to hold a dressing-up party the following day (i.e. today) and invite his friends J and A, I was more than happy to send the required invitations. It fitted very nicely that I had already been talking with both mums about meeting early this week so was reasonably sure they would be up for it, and as an added bonus I hadn't mentioned the discussions so Daniel still got the magic of having an idea and seeing it through. 

The dynamics of this three-person party (not counting the two toddlers) were a bit of an unknown as they have never all played together. Daniel has known A since they were babies, and A and J have known one another literally since birth. Daniel and J, however, have only known one another by sight until this summer, when two camping weekends nearby with her family cemented close friendships not just between us parents, but also between the children. Massive kudos to J for completely ignoring Daniel's reticence about starting a new friendship and making friends with him anyway! He came back begging to see her again. However, adding A into the mix (being an old friend of both Daniel and J) was an interesting experiment. 

(If you followed the thread of that explanation I am deeply impressed. Drawing a diagram may help.)

So in other words, the three kids together could have gone either way, but actually worked like a dream! A arrived with handmade party bags for the other two; I could have hugged her, as Daniel looked like everything he had dreamed of for his party had just come true. All five children disappeared the minute they arrived to play shops with the contents of the play kitchen. In true home-ed style I suggested that we should make some paper money for them to use in the game but this excellent educational idea was summarily dismissed on the basis that they had a credit card. Damn you, John Lewis toy cash register!!! 

At lunchtime I threw together some pizza dough for individual bases and the kids gathered round the table to add toppings. Then out to the garden, at Daniel's suggestion, for more attempts at the world record for the amount of noise produced by 5 children, and back in to consume the pizzas in the sort of deafening silence only ever achieved with food (or gagging, but I hear Social Services get a bit upset about that method). 

The afternoon was more of the same. We mummies, meanwhile, sat in another room drinking tea and eating cake. We chatted, exchanged ideas, laughed, and generally had the kind of soul-warming time together that makes life with small children feel much more manageable. 

It was a bit of a revelation being able to simply look forward to friends arriving rather than racing around trying to do some last-minute tidying (or avoiding it, which takes more effort but is invariably the more attractive option). We had a leisurely breakfast, polished off some Reading Eggs, played a couple of games and did an emergency wash-and-dry of Daniel's police shirt which he had carefully excavated from beneath his bed where I absolutely did not hide it when it started getting too small for him. Ahem. I even managed to sort out some flowers that were looking distinctly Addams Family and made them look pretty again. The last time I did anything other than plonk flowers in a vase was probably a past life or two ago. 

Daniel went to bed still glowing from the success of the day, and I will do the same when I have finished writing this. So in the words of Daniel as our friends left this afternoon: Thank you for coming, I very enjoyed having you here! Please come again soon!