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! 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Finding the Carpet

We are having a very rare thing - a free weekend! There were various vaguely tempting things on in the local area that could have made for a nice family day out, especially with the beautiful weather, but instead I dug out my Boring-But-Practical-Mummy hat and insisted we should stay at home and GET THINGS DONE. The housework has been bottom of the priority list for so long that I'm surprised I could even remember where the hoover was. Now, however, we have an old friend visiting tomorrow, I have a real live student actually coming in person on Monday (usually I teach on Skype and judicious positioning of the webcam can make the bombsite that is our dining room/office look positively minimalist), midwife visits happening every so often, and there will be the usual extended family dinner for Erev Rosh Hashanah. Plus the need for a bit more space to do the more formal home ed stuff we appear to have fallen into, and the arrival at some point of my grandparents' piano which will create a domino effect of furniture-shifting around the entire house. Oh, and a home birth some time around the end of the year. 

Not the best start as DH disappeared shortly after breakfast to run some errands. By the time he got back at midday, I had managed to clear off the breakfast things, get one child dressed, feed the kids a snack (about 45 minutes after they had finished breakfast!), cleared up after the snack, written a list and discussed lunch plans with Adam, who claimed to be hungry again at 11.30. At midday I was preparing lunch for everyone and had achieved absolutely nothing on the list. Oh, I had supervised Daniel doing some laundry jobs and put away some clean towels but that's everyday stuff. 

After lunch I went off to get Adam to sleep for a bit while DH and Daniel mowed the lawn, thinking positive thoughts about tidying and sorting while everyone was otherwise engaged in gardening or sleeping. Good plan, utterly foiled by me falling asleep with the toddler. We were both woken up after three quarter of an hour by the phone ringing next to us - a pre-recorded cold call. Those irritate me most of all because I can't even have a good rant at the caller! 

Staggered downstairs to make a coffee and sat nursing it, trying to persuade Adam not to park his trike in the middle of the doorway, especially as it's the one with a screw missing that comes apart in the style of a clown's car when you try to pick it up. I notice that the two year old has developed a technique for carrying it similar to the way one might hold a puppy, cradling all the pieces together, which seems more civilised if less satisfying than my usual technique of shoving it out of the way (sometimes rather harder than necessary) with my foot. 

By the time I reached the bottom of the mug and had managed to make a start by picking up a whole three things from the floor, it was mid-afternoon. DH suggested that he should take the kids out to play tennis at the park, as they clearly needed a good run. Thus my clearing momentum stalled once again while I helped to find shorts and sandals, held a long and garbled conversation with Adam about the ownership of Daniel's old toddler racquet, denied all knowledge of the whereabouts of tennis balls, and (in a superhuman feat of self-control) managed not to crack up at DH's disbelieving exclamation "It's taking forever just to leave the house!" Eventually they departed, leaving the front door wide open. 

In the next two and a half hours, I managed to clear one room out of the four I would like to sort by tomorrow. In fairness, it was the worst of the four and I did a properly thorough tidy that created new sustainable homes for various categories of things. On the other hand, it is now 10.15 and I am about to tackle room number 2. 

After I've had a cup of tea, that is...

Friday, September 01, 2017

When Do You Start Home Educating?

This is a question I have been asked a lot over the last year and a half, as if one day we will sit Daniel at the kitchen table, get out a blackboard on an easel, and start requiring him to ask permission to go to the toilet. For most HEers in the UK, however, this is just not how it works. We are not trying to create school-at-home; the school system is designed to get a pre-set curriculum into a large number of children at a time, in a trackable way. When working with just your own children, with every waking hour at your disposal, it really isn't the most efficient way to be learning. 

Having said that, some families find that a bit of structured learning works for them. Others choose (perfectly legally) to do no formal work at all but instead to learn through life. The important thing is to be flexible, to try out different approaches until you find what works best for your family, and to be open to change as and when needed. 

Last year, when Daniel would have started school, nothing much changed for us. He was happy and learning, so there was no need. As this September approaches, though, I have been very aware that he has now reached CSA ('Compulsory School Age') and I am extremely conscious of our responsibilities to make sure he is receiving a suitable education. Again, that wouldn't necessarily have changed anything in our approach, except that Daniel has suddenly had a massive developmental leap in the last couple of weeks and appears to have grown up hugely. He has also been rather difficult to live with, but that's a separate issue, and may be partly to do with me being 6 months pregnant and all the upheaval that threatens.

Anyway, for a variety of reasons I decided a couple of weeks ago to see how he got on with a trial of Reading Eggs, an online programme used by a lot of HEers. He has had a good grasp of most of the letters and their most common sounds for a long time but seemed to lack the confidence to start putting them together. Well, there is only one problem with Reading Eggs... getting him off it! He blitzed through around 18 lessons in three days and was reading sentences confidently by day 2. A week and a half later and he is still asking to do it every day, so we're carrying on (though not at quite the same breakneck speed as the start). We have also just started the companion programme, Maths Seeds, and we'll see how he gets on with that. The biggest problem I have at the moment is keeping Adam occupied while Daniel and I work on the computer, so I am having to be rather creative with 'work' that Adam can do with us at the table at the same time. Today it was some magnetic shape-matching and scissor practice; tomorrow, who knows? Jigsaws and plasticine, perhaps. 

I'm slightly startled to find us doing something so structured, and it all seems to have happened very suddenly. A few weeks ago I would have sworn that we wouldn't have been doing this kind of thing for a long time yet, if ever, but that's life with children - in the blink of an eye, they grow and change and need something different. And as long as we can adapt and find the new balance, it's all good. 

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Just Answer The Question!

Yesterday evening my husband expressed concern that "Daniel is so resistant to learning anything." When I had stared at him in disbelief for a few moments and then checked we were actually thinking about the same child, I did a bit of digging.

It turned out that Daniel had been looking at his Flags of the World poster and asked which country one of them belonged to. DH then tried to prompt him to read the word himself, letter by letter. Daniel was not in the mood and said very firmly that he has no intention of reading until he is 10!

So let's unpick this. Firstly, I bought the poster (and a couple of others) in Lidl last week, intending to stash them for the future. Daniel spotted the flags one and asked to have it up in his room, chose a spot where he could see it easily, then experimented with the relevant efficiency of blue-tack versus sellotape (and had a conversation with us about the possible damage excessive use of the latter could do to the wall). He looks at it several times a day, frequently asks for the names of the countries, has learned the concept of a capital city, can recognise a few of the flags by himself, now knows one or two capitals too, and has, on occasion, been persuaded to sound out a name. He has also learned the idea of alphabetical order and how to find a country's flag that way. On this particular evening, he had asked a simple question that required a simple answer - maybe it was part of a more complicated train of thought - and his response sounds like a 5 year old's version of "Just answer the damn question!" It is all too easy to get so caught up in what WE want them to learn that we miss all the other things they ARE doing. 

To be fair to him, DH did see my point. I also reassured him with an abridged version of our day. He eventually begged for mercy - before I had finished! Just for the record, here it is:

(After Adam's music class we decided on a whim to go to Buckfast Abbey - about half an hour away - for lunch and a wander. This is just what we discussed in the couple of hours we were there, and only what I can remember.)

Passed some building work being done to prepare for their millennium next year. Discussed the word and its meaning, and what the area looked like when I visited as a child.

Saw a mural in the cafe showing monks building the abbey. D started listing the various bits of equipment he could see - ropes and pulleys, horse-drawn cart, hammer and chisel, and so on. Talked about how, when they arrived, the monks didn't know how to do any of those building things but they found people who could teach them. Thought of some examples of him doing the same with people we know; e.g. when he wants to know how to fix something, he often asks my dad to show him.

He referred to the abbey as a 'castle', so we talked about the difference. Talked about monks and nuns, how they live, what they do, why they do it. Discussed why Judaism doesn't really have an equivalent.

Went to look around the abbey, having a brief chat with both of them on the way about how to behave inside. Both were amazing - held my hands, talked in whispers and didn't mess around.

Spotted a nun praying so pointed her out (discreetly!) with reference to the previous conversation. A service had just finished so we also saw a couple of the brothers.

Lit a candle together at the Lady Chapel with an explanation about why they have them there, and why I tend to light one (in memory of my godmother, who was a regular churchgoer). 

Daniel spotted a large chandelier above the high altar that looks like a crown. Talked about the idea of God as a king, with reference to our own Hebrew prayers that he is starting to learn.

Saw the massive stained glass window and talked about how it was made. Admired the colours for a few minutes. Spotted Moses in  smaller window and noted that he was carrying tablets just like those above the ark in the synagogue.

Saw some historical photos on the way back out and had a quick look, discussing building techniques.

Saw the font (hard to miss!) and explained baptism and what we have instead.

Back outside and off to investigate the gardens. First was the physick garden, and Daniel pointed out a plant that looked like lavender but wasn't. Having found the real lavender, he wanted to know why one variety had flowers and the other not yet.

The garden was divided into four - household (dyes etc), medicinal, culinary and poisons (i.e. to be used with care - planted on an island with a shallow channel of water around it). Daniel remembered that we use fennel for tummy aches and chamomile for headaches. Talked about how to use bay leaves in cooking. Enjoyed spotting different alliums (they have come up a few times this summer), from the massive ones down to little chives. Wanted to know the names of all the plants we saw and what they could be used for. Wild strawberries were in the medicinal section and he theorised they were for "hard tummy aches" - I think this might have referred to constipation, combined with warnings in the past not to eat too much soft fruit in one go or he would get a runny tummy. If so, good logic! Smelled various herbs.

Adam was very excited to spot meadowsweet, which he has learned to identify along the walkway to forest school. He went off to explore and came back to get us so we could admire the pond skaters on the water channel around the poisonous plants.

Long chat about the medieval period, when it came relative to the Romans, Saxons and Vikings, and what characterised it (knights, squires and castles). How there was a lot of fighting and people were busy trying to stay alive, so most people couldn't read or write. The role of religious communities in keeping literature alive and in caring for those who were sick and couldn't pay for doctors. How the herbs grown in the physick garden provided medicines for treating people. 

Off to the sensory garden. Admired the roses, talked about the pebble feature and why it was there. Daniel found some bamboo and remarked that pandas eat it, at which Adam (who I didn't think was listening) fished his plastic 'Pando' out of his pocket and 'fed' it some bamboo. Daniel then said experimentally "Pandas eat bamboo... and rocks", so his brother immediately departed for the pebbles and started making Pando munch on those too. Daniel exploded with giggles! Psychology and the power of suggestion? 



On the way back up towards the car park, Daniel insisted on a detour through the large lavender garden. Watched the bees for a bit and generally enjoyed comparing the different colours and varieties. 



Went to the monastic produce shop and looked around. Talked about what is made at Buckfast (including honey, with reference to our German holiday the year before last when Daniel got to have a go making some) and how other places might make different things according to what grows well in their area.

Sat down on a bench while Adam went off for a run and admired the decorative iron work on the big doors to the abbey. Talked about blacksmiths and how that iron work would have been made, and remarked upon the stone carving around the door. Then discussed the word 'skill' and its relationship to 'clever' and the importance of having both people who are good at thinking about things and those skilled at more practical jobs.

Phew! All of that came up in the space of about two and a half hours (including lunch) and all was completely led by Daniel. This wasn't me lecturing at him, it was proper interactive conversation, with genuinely relevant thoughts and references from him. You could clearly see how all the new information was fitting neatly into things he already knew and was likely to stay there, being added to as and when.

My point is that this was pretty standard. Daniel never STOPS learning, asking, talking, making connections! Maybe not related to the phonetic properties of the letter E, but that will come when he is ready - exactly like everything else.


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