Saturday, 30 June 2012

Steady Saturday

A much better start to this morning!  No reading in bed first thing, but I awoke to the sound of children chatting happily and all playing together in their rooms, and when we came downstairs they just carried on 'learning'.  Hmmm, do all Home Edders feel compelled to permanently be on the watch for spontaneous learning I wonder?  Maybe I'll relax more about it when we've been doing it for longer - or maybe I just do it so I have something to blog about...!  Anyway, Youngest watched a recorded episode of Disney's 'Little Einsteins' (a preschool exploration of classical music and art); Eldest resumed the 'nose-buried' position with his new Star Wars book (you may not think sticker books are that educational for a ten-year-old, but it somehow prompted him to ask what DNA is, & we had a lovely little conversation about genes etc before he got reabsorbed into the world of droids, stormtroopers et al); and Middle's creative streak continued with drawing a cartoon picture of a lynx, copying it from a recorded episode of the TV programme, 'Deadly Art' (a spin off of our favourite 'Deadly 60').

Hubby was off for a long run with friends this morning, so we went to visit family while he was out, where Middle and Youngest had some games of 'pairs', they all played with lego and magnets, and Eldest drew some Star Wars battle scenes, completed with his stickers...

After lunch we had an 'at home' afternoon - there were lots of little 'around-the-house' jobs that needed doing, such as lawn-mowing, car-cleaning etc, and today was the day to tackle them.  We do like to have fun family outings planned on Saturdays and/ or Sundays, as it seems to help the boys to have some differentiation between weekdays and weekends - see Keeping Weekends Special - but last weekend was particularly full-on, and there are times when Mums & Dads just need to get stuff done - today being one of those days.  We do have fun plans for tomorrow though, and the boys got to help with Daddy's jobs and snuggle with him on the sofa during work breaks - and then had pizza for tea - so there was still a different feel to the day.  It may not have been the nost exciting weekend ever, in terms of new places to explore, but I think it was a more successful day than yesterday!

Oh, and I forgot to say: I got my HEAS (Home Education Advisory Service) subscription pack through, with membership card and other great resources.  If you're new to Home Ed, I really recommend you go and have a look at their website, I've found it really helpful :)

PS Added later... Eldest wanted a game of Battleships with Daddy today, so I took Youngest and Middle to bed after pizza so he and Daddy could play then.  A 'Mummy story' was requested by the younger two (yay), so lights went out & I made a story up again, this time inspired by Middle's two sand-filled toy lizards that he'd been playing with today, called Lizzie and Mike.  Lizzie and Mike went on an adventure in the desert with a friendly camel called Boris in my story.  Youngest had told his story before me, recounting the camping story from the other day, and then Middle went after me, with an epic story about his lizards, that got far more creative than mine, and added lots of his own ideas.  Next time I'm going to try to tape their stories - they're so much fun!  Love bedtimes :)

Friday, 29 June 2012

The restorative power of books

Today I'm starting with a request: If you're a fellow Home Edder and you've had a serenely beautiful day, gliding through from start to finish, please would you close this post and read yesterday's instead?  It's much better! If you're a Home Edder who's had a bit of a rubbish day and are somewhat trepidatious about reading yet another blog that makes you feel inadequate, fear not!  Come and join me in my inane ramblings - you'll feel so much better about yourself!
So - not a great start of this morning :(   I woke up with a nasty headache & really annoyingly itchy eyes (hormones & hayfever are a vicious combination!)  That really set the tone for the morning.  Youngest was obsessed with wanting to play on MathsWhizz, despite not having an account - and Middle was already on the computer anyway, but it only occurred to me to put my laptop on with the trial MathsWhizz games that Youngest previously loved, the second after he had just given up on pestering me and whining non-stop for a-g-e-s.  I needed Eldest to tidy his room before doing anything else - so the dirty clothes now covering his floor could go in the wash, and to eradicate the scattered landmines of lego bricks, just waiting to be trodden on in the dark when we go in to say goodnight.  However, Eldest wanted to do anything but tidy his room - hence much complaining about how l--o--n--g it was going to take him (complaining from him at that point, not me - yet).  Middle was just overtired and reacting to everone else without understanding why - he subconsciously picks up on emotions very quickly.  So I sent Eldest to his room anyway, checked that Middle was OK on the computer with Youngest observing (he settled for watching his brother on the CBeebies website in the end) - and as I popped my laptop on to check emails etc, I spotted a couple of blog updates, and thought I'd check them out to help me focus more positively on my day ahead.  Huh - I just felt even more miserable that "everyone else" was so articulate, insightful,  so great at parenting, educating etc - and all their children were angels!  OK I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the point: I was feeling sorry for myself (with no good reason I might add).  I even commented on another blog (Classroom Free - it's a lovely blog & well worth reading, despite my grouchiness) about how happy I was to have left my old bossy self behind (see Goodbye Sergeant Major), and then within five minutes found myself bossing the boys about!  So, in an effort to get myself back on track, I turned my laptop off and having made sure the boys were still all ok, I started cleaning the pile of mess that had accumulated in the front room, as I usually find tidying fairly therapeutic.  However, today I completely failed to get to the bottom of the mess (hardly made a dent in it) - which is not therapeutic at all, just annoying! 
Happily for Grumpy-grots here, and all her offspring, at that point there was a ring at the doorbell which heralded the arrivial of our rescue pack: our Book People delivery.  I love getting a parcel - even though I ordered it and paid for it, there's something about opening parcels that always feels exciting to me, like a celebration!  There was much delight all round - Eldest couldn't wait to get his hands on the Star Wars sticker book included, and suddenly found his motivation to tidy his room in ten minutes flat!  Middle was remarkably cheered up by a series called "I Wonder Why", and a beginners Italian dictionary (purchase inspired by their joyous exploration of the Yogi-Bear-in-a-foreign-language-DVD the other day) - which distraction allowed Youngest his turn on the PC (Reading Eggs).  Having the older two happily occupied, I joined Youngest on the computer for some lovely one-to-one time with him showing me his stuff... and I have to say, I am astounded by the progress in his reading!  He was recognising lots of letters, blending sounds and reading words.  He is three-and-a-half!  I was sat next to him, looking at the screen, every time thinking, 'he won't be able to do that yet', or 'no - he couldn't do that last week' - and then he just did it!  He totally blew me away!  You see, there's proof: books and reading have a magical quality about them, to help you escape even the gloomiest day!
So this afternoon, feeling a bit better, we went to visit some Home Ed friends, and had a thoroughly lovely afternoon playing with them and exploring the woods near their home.  Unfortunately, by the time we got back in the car tiredness kicked in and much squabbling was to be heard from the back seats on the way home - to the point where by the end of tea time I felt like morphing into Bonnie Tyler and belting out, "I need a hero, I'm holding out for a hero till the end of the night.  He's gotta be strong and he's gotta be fast, and he's gotta put the kids to bed all by himself..."
Well lo and behold my hero arrived, somewhat prosaically in a Ford Mondeo - no white steed or Harley Davidson here, but I could not have been more grateful for the rescue.   As he whisked the children upstairs to bed and my headache started to ease, I heard him reading the bedtime stories upstairs, and you know what?  I was a little bit jealous!  Contrary or what?  It's OK though - chances are, tomorrow morning I'll have some snuggly boys creeping into bed with me while Daddy goes off for his run, and we can catch up on sharing some good books again then :)

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Learning while Deschooling

Well, Middle got off to a flying start today!  Before he even got out of bed he was reading a book, and then as soon as he came downstairs he found two paper plates and decided he wanted to make his own frisbee.  He asked if he could do it straight away, and following my principle of not saying no unless there's good reason, I said that was fine - so before even eating breakfast or getting dressed he sat down with said plates, crayons, glue and scissors (for experimental 'go-faster' flaps), and made his frisbee :)   Another benefit of Home Ed: learning can and does happen at any time!

While it dried he had breakfast, and then asked if he could go on the computer.  On went MathsWhizz, and he spent a good hour 'playing' on that!  Meanwhile Eldest and Youngest were in a bit of a mooch, so I decided some strewing was in order (see my Covert Education post).  With Eldest it's more of a case of exploring interesting stuff in front of him, as he doesn't seem to notice stuff that's just left laying around in the same way that Middle and Youngest do.  Anyway, I went into their learning room and while I asked him what he fancied doing today, I started pulling things off the shelves for 'me' to look at.  The first things I found was a birthday present that he hadn't got round to looking properly at: a How to Draw Rainforest and Ocean Animals kit with instructional DVD.  He immediately grabbed hold of it and asked if he could do it (oh, all right then!)  Youngest could not be prised from watching Middle on MathsWhizz, so Eldest had the lounge all to himself, and spent the next hour at least watching, learning and drawing.  In fact he watched the whole thing, beginning to end, and produced four pencil sketches of a gorilla, macaw, shark and elephant...

Given that art really isn't his subject, I was particularly pleased at his ability to stick with it - if you've read my last few posts, you'll understand my current feeling of abashed-ness (did I just make that word up?).  I think he did just great :)
Once it was Youngest's turn in the PC (Reading Eggs and CBeebies), Middle got into the arty mood again - he is a big fan of the craft box - and decided he was going to make a collage of a desert camel, using lollipop sticks, craft paper, glitter glue and extra sparkly bits (and two fish in the bottom left corner to show that he made it for his big brother, who loves undersea creatures!).  I love his creativity :) 

After Eldest's DVD finished he resumed mooching and was quite quickly joined by Middle.  Time for Mummy to reveal what was in the mystery package that a lovely friend brought round yesterday - "Electronic Battleships" - to happy squeals and shouts of "Cooo-oool!  Can we play it now?" (oh I do love being able to say 'yes' so often!)  Eldest and Middle absolutely loved it - and of course, it's great for practising Maths skills etc.   The only problem was that they had only been playing for ten minutes when Youngest got bored of the computer and immediately wanted to play with his big brothers, which really wasn't viable.  The older two needed me to stay with them as they were still getting the hang of the game, and I now had a whiney little one needing attention too - so that wasn't my favourite part of the day, even though Eldest and Middle had such a great time.  Next time will be better now they know what they're doing though - it was only a temporary stress :)

By the time they finished (Middle won, to his great delight) it was afternoon, and it was getting seriously HOT! (high of 84C in our garden today), so we ate lunch quickly and headed to Fairlands Valley Park, to play in the aqua playground.  There were lots of little ones there, so I had to warn Eldest in particular to be careful not to knock them over as he ran around, but other than that, they had a fabulous time and cooled down nicely - no being stuck in stuffy classrooms for us - and we got away before the after-school rush began... perfect :)

So all in all, that was another lovely day!  A day to put concerns to rest (yes, Middle will regain an interest in learning - and yes, Eldest will be able to concentrate when he is interested), and most importantly, another chance to just enjoy being with my lovely boys :)  It's funny really, the less stressed I get about their learning, the more they learn - which isn't that funny at all, is it? In fact it's obvious when you think about it:  If I'm stressed about their learning, so will they be, with the result that they won't learn, and they certainly won't enjoy learning!  And most of all, I want them to enjoy learning, otherwise how will I expect them to want to pursue it?  Deschooling for us has really become a sort of prolonged 'unschooling' experiment (again!) now. I still have concerns, but our confidence is growing all the time - it's not about leaving them to their own devices; it's about providing them with an environment conducive to learning (we have just a few flexible rules, such as TV off for most of the day, one hour max on computer etc), and then letting them explore - with help when requested or necessary. Anyway, deschooling/ unschooling/ whatever version of Home Ed this is, we're all learning lots, and relaxing lots too... it just gets better all the time :)

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Bedtimes and Bug Hunts

This happened last night but was so lovely I had to share it...
Middle and Youngest were both late to bed, and ended up going at the same time, together - it was so late that we'd run out of time for a bedtime story (I had a friend coming round and needed to get downstairs to tidy up), so I said I would make up a 'Mummy story' to tell them with the lights out and Middle's "Star Master" on (it's a little night-light that projects stars onto the walls).  Thinking I'd keep it short., I made up a story about two boys who went camping and had a gentle adventure (the tent blew away and landed on a cow) before going home for hot chocolate.  It's not something we usually do, so I thought it was particularly cute when they both broke into spontaneous applause at the end of the story!  My 'problem' came when Middle asked oh-so-sweetly, "can I have my turn now please?".  I ask you, what mother with half a heart could have refused?  Well - maybe one with more resolve than me, but I'd far rather invent stories with my children than tidy up (it was a good friend and fellow mother coming: I knew she'd turn a blind eye to the mess).  Anyway, Middle started his story quite differently, with the Mummy in the story having three babies who all 'popped out' one after the other... (that features in many of his stories)... and then they all went camping - and the rest of the story was very similar to mine, wth a few embellishments, such as the tent landing on several animals.  Youngest was absolutely silent during both stories - surely, I thought, it was too much to hope that he might have fallen asleep... but no, when Middle finished (to our applause), he asked for his turn.  Again, his story was very similar to mine, except for the introduction of a 'normous' storm that crashed the neighbour's house down! (I'm still trying to work out where he got that bit from) - and instead of going home for hot chocolate, they went home for ham and sausages (he's such a carnivore - he gets it from his Daddy!).  I can't describe what an absolutely lovely and special time it was with my two younger boys.  I don't want to overcook it by planning to do it more regularly - but I do hope it happens again!
This morning we checked in on our caterpillars (as mentioned in Nature Projects) - they're fairly still most of the time so it's difficult to tell, but we think we may have a corpse as one is not growing at the same rate as the others!  (not surprising really - they tried to deliver on Saturday while we were out so took them back to the depot for the rest of the weekend... we didn't open the parcel until Monday!).  We've also had MathsWhizz (Eldest) and Reading Eggs (Middle and Youngest), and played zoos with Duplo - plus Eldest made a life-size model of himself lying on his bedroom floor - he was extremely pleased with himself when our lodger did a genuine double-take on her way past & told him she thought he'd been vaporised ;) 

Middle found the craft box, and grinned happily when I said yes he could make something.  He had a lovely time rootling around in it, and then found some 'animal pattern' card that I'd picked up in some sale a while ago - he made a sparkly snake and a 'cheetah-ghost'!  When Eldest saw what he was doing he quickly got inspired and made his own lizard-complete-with-habitat :)


This afternoon we went to Ivel Springs (near Baldock), for a gentle stroll and bug hunt with some other Home Ed friends.  I'd bought the boys some little bug viewers with cords that they can wear around their necks as I was getting a bit fed up of them losing them bug catchers, magnifying glasses etc, and this seemed like a good solution - it worked well and we had a really lovely walk, seeing lots of bugs: ladybirds, ants (Youngest was especially pleased to catch a fast-moving ant in his pot!), snails, honey bees, a red admiral butterfly, as well as some that we hadn't ever seen before - small green iridescent beetles and little striped crickets... we're still trying to ID them, but it's not easy!  An utterly lovely way to spend an afternoon though.  As we watched the chidren running happily through the long meadow-grass, my friend turned to me and said, "that's childhood!" - and she was right.  Opportunities like these are just the best :)


PS If you're interested in having a look, I've just updated the Royalty and Pottery post to include the boys' finished articles which they got back yesterday :)

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Stickability, Wobbles and Deep Breaths

We were all really looking forward to craft club this morning as we knew we were going to be having a go at decoupage - and cutting and sticking is always fun!  However, after Youngest had cut just a few things out and stuck them on, he completely ran out of interest, choosing instead to run around & explore.  I managed to cut a couple more bits and persuaded him to help me stick them on (he loves the messy stuff), but he really had had enough and I found myself doing it on my own in the end!  Eldest also needed lots of coaching along.  He didn't want to add a coat of PVA on top of the pictures, no matter how much I tried to persuade him that the finished product would look better.  I think once he'd stuck the biggest pictures on that he wanted, and saw Youngest running around he decided he wanted to be doing the same.  Middle (as usual) held his focus for the longest - he knew what he wanted to do, and he carried on until it was done.  He didn't want to do the final coat either though, so all three boxes still need finishing off really, although as long as the boys like them, I guess that's all that matters - not whether or not they look like my vision of what could have been achieved! 



The 'running around' that followed was encouraging from a 'socialising' point of view - they were totally relaxed and playing really nicely with the other children there.  However, the experience kind of reiterated my concerns of the last few days really - feeling frustrated by the shortness of the boys' attention spans, or their inability to stick to a task they have started - and my not having a clue about how to tackle it in a helpful and meaningful way.  The things is, it's not like being in school would help them - they just used to get bored by having to complete seemingly pointless goals, and would either daydream or get destructive - so I'm not thinking Home Ed is wrong for them, I'm just wondering how to try to deal with it... or if I should even bother.  As another Home Edder on Facebook commented, "the ability to stop when you are no longer interested in something is also important", and she's right, of course - I just think a few minutes (the average time that my lot seem to spend on anything new) isn't really enough to decide if something is worth doing... is it?  So I'm having a bit of a wobble. 

I do know that we are still in the "deschooling period", so there is no pressure *takes relaxing deep breath* - and I'm also aware that this 'wobbling' has been provoked by the responses to an article I posted a link to the other day: Seven Lessons I Teach.  I still think this is a really helpful article, but not all of the responses to it were so appreciative.  Admittedly only one of the negative ones (from an American professor) spoke from personal experience - the others seemed to be speaking from uninformed prejudice against HE, using personal attacks and insults.  However, it made me think more (not a bad thing) - it's the first time I've felt the need to justify Home Ed as a philosophy (I know, that's a rare thing, and I do appreciate how blessed I am to have the support of everyone around us).  The only argument that I felt had any validity was the afore-mentioned American professor who said that from his experience, home-schooled students "are very rarely competent or well-trained scholars... not infrequently have a wayward approach to study... and usually do not know how to deal with their peers when it comes to debate and group learning".  I have to admit that the thought of this proving true for my boys does bother me... but why?  After all, academia is not an end in itself.  Surely academic success is a means to an end: a qualification is lovely if it is useful, but what's the point of it otherwise?  Just to prove that you have brains?   I think it's the "rarely a competent scholar" bit that bothers me (the "wayward approach to study" - well, who cares how they study as long as it works for them?  My own approach was pretty wayward, and I went through the state system)... but I wonder what he means by competent scholar.  My immediate assumption is one who is disciplined in their approach to research and who can study until understanding is attained - but is that because it's at the front of my mind at the moment?  If I go back to my thoughts from this past weekend, I just need to remind myself that the point of Home Education is we learn as we go along.  Where my boys are at now is not where they'll be in five-to-ten years time.  As other more experienced Home Edders have reassured me, a reluctant learner can and will turn into an enthusiastic learner (or dare I say, 'competent scholar'?) when faced with something that interests them (and if it doesn't interest them - why bother?) *takes another deep breath*. The main thing is to find out what interests them, by presenting them with a whole raft of potentially interesting things, and then equip them with everything they need to pursue those interests.

So back to this morning... the fact is, the boys did stick with their sticking this morning - for as long as they wanted to - and just because it wasn't as long as I wanted them to, why is that wrong?  Well - it isn't.  Just because the venue is booked for two hours, it doesn't mean they have to fill that two hours with one designated activity, just to satisfy some strange sense of obligation.   In fact, having taken photos of their boxes to post here, I think they look really great!  If I insist that what they have done isn't finished when they think it is, I risk instilling a sort of disappointed perfectionism in them - a sense of it 'never being good enough' which can lead to 'what's the point of trying?'  And that is so far from what I want for them - boy, do I ever just need to relax!  So,*blows raspberry* at American professor with his academic point and *rolls eyes* at my own fretting.  Not only are we deschooling, we're also learning all the time - and we're doing just fine!

PS Having just posted this, I found a blog that could have been written especially for me today, by one of my favourite Home Ed writers, so I'm sharing it here: Imagine (Ross Mountney)

Monday, 25 June 2012

Lazy Monday

This past weekend was so very full, we were glad to have a lazy Monday today to just chill at home & recover.  As usual, we had nothing planned, just a few ideas up my sleeve in case the over-tiredness looked like it could degenerate into fighting.  We started the morning with Middle bringing an armful of books into my bedroom, for me to read with him and Youngest (Eldest was still asleep) - that kind of start to the day is one of my (many) favourite things about Home Ed :).  Then after a very slow 'getting up', after breakfast we decided to make some bread using this recipe that I found online.  The boys particularly loved having a good old bash on the dough, kneading & pummelling it thoroughly!  While we left the dough to prove in the airing cupboard, we watched this video on Youtube, demonstrating the reaction when you mix yeast and sugar with warm water, which they all thought was pretty cool.  Another 'bashing', then we attempted making small cottage rolls and plaited rolls.  Neither set came out looking particularly as planned, but they were all yummy!

For the rest of the morning there was bouncing on the trampoline (PE), feeding the birds (nature- science), playing with Middle's 'Club Penguin' cards, which are like a cross between top trumps and 'rock paper scissors' (maths and strategy), and watching Backyard Science on TV while we had lunch (science - obviously).  I know, eating in front of the TV is widely frowned upon, but it works for us.  They're enjoying themselves and learning, so it's fine by me :)  Oh, and I forgot to mention before - other TV-based learning that the boys have recently stumbled upon: watching a well-known DVD (in this case, 'Yogi Bear') having first selected it to play in a foreign language... they thought it was hilarious watching Yogi and friends speaking in Italian!

This afternoon we went to the Post Office to pick up a parcel, and were delighted to find that it was the tiny caterpillars for our Butterfly Garden, as mentioned in Nature Projects.  We're very excited here now - and can't wait to see the chrysalises form and then split open, revealing new butterflies!  We'll have to be patient though - the whole process takes up to a month apparently...

our itty bitty 'Painted Lady' caterpillars...

The boys played a bit on Maths Whizz (Eldest) & Reading Eggs (Youngest), and then went out in the garden for much of the afternoon, playing all sorts of made-up games on the trampoline, checking in on our baby plants and bug hotel (Middle tells me we have beetles, ants and ladybirds), and completing an obstacle course set up by Eldest for his younger brothers.  And just as I was about to publish this post, Middle came indoors and found the little poetry books that I had strewn (left out on the sofa, as mentioned in Covert Education), and quickly became absorbed in them - coming to read them to me without being asked!

So it's been a good day again - though everyone's still pretty tired & a bit short-tempered.  We're going to go for an easy dinner (pasta - with some homemade pasta sauce that I got out of the freezer this morning: making in bulk can be such a sanity-saver!), then bath and early night.  Happy sigh :)

And by the way, I just had to pass on a comment from another Home Ed Mum on Facebook, regarding encouraging children to persevere with work, as blogged about this weekend... "When ds stopped working on something, I usually tried to determine what the sticking point was -- sometimes it was lack of proper tools for the job, sometimes it was needing some other kind of knowledge first in order to finish it, and sometimes I found that he'd already learned what he was going to learn from the task and it really was time to move on to something else."  I really appreciated her words of experience, & wanted to share them here too.  My concern with Eldest is still that we're dealing with a fear of failure, but actually I think I just need to chill about that too - as he has proved that he can sometimes stick with things that he really cares about - as long as I stay patient and engaged, he can do so too.  It's just another life lesson that we can and will tackle as it comes up.  Yet another benefit of Home Education: parenting and education go hand-in-hand - it just makes it all so much easier and more natural. :)

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A Bit More Thinking

So, following on from yesterday's post, I've been thinking, and bearing in mind the question that arose in my mind while writing, I asked some of the Home Ed community on Facebook what they thought about encouraging children to persevere when they feel like giving up.  As usual, I was really encouraged by those who replied... and yet again I come back to the difference between 'encouraging' and 'forcing' a child to persevere.  Really, I suppose you could strike 'persevere' from that statement and replace it with 'do their Maths', or anything else that I want them to do when they don't.  Home Ed is such a completely different mindset from the one I used when teaching in school - my mind (conscious and subconscious) is undergoing such a huge change in how I view learning, and what is valuable within education - I feel a bit lost for words as I try to take it all in (not that that's a bad thing, unless trying to write a coherent blog...!)
So all I have left right now are two links that I have found really helpful this weekend... the first, Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity isn't new: I saw a few years ago, but my brother brought it back to my attention this weekend - it's a total classic regarding the importance of giving children the space to be creative - and the second, Seven Lessons I Teach, is a brand new article (I believe) that just helps to reinforce what the most important things are that our children learn in Home Ed.
Once I've had time to digest those a bit, I might have some more to say...
Oh, and by the way, in case anyone was wondering - yes we did manage to plan this weekend's activities - a totally awesome day-trip to Colchester Zoo yesterday, and visits with friends today!  It's been a lovely weekend, although I hope not all weekends are so full-on... next weekend will hopefully be planned a bit more gently!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

I've been thinking...

Lately I've been thinking (have been doing a lot of that since we left school)...
I've been thinking about the week of experimental unschooling that we attempted.  You see, a friend of mine with an autonomous (i.e. led by the child) approach to home ed recently said that when she started, her 6yo spent the first week on compter games... and then he got bored of being on it all the time!  What a lovely thought!  I totally bottled after just half a day of non-stop Wii-playing - as blogged in Experimental Unschooling Day 2.  Maybe if it had just been one child involved I could have lasted longer - it was all the squabbling between the three of them that did me in!  Anyway, the thought that a child can get to a point where they just get fed up of mindless playing all the time is encouraging.  I just couldn't handle the fall-out from letting mine find their own games-console saturation point.
So anyway, I've been thinking that maybe I shouldn't write it off: maybe we will end up doing our version of unschooling.  After all, that's pretty much what home ed looks like round here at the moment anyway, since I made the decision to take the pressure right off, and just let us all deschool.  I do like structure, and I greatly admire certain friends/ bloggers who use structured learning really effectively... but it is also really important to me that the boys follow their own interests free from a structure that they may resent & could hinder their enjoyment of learning.  I also really admire other friends/ bloggers who have had the courage to risk (it seems to me a risk at least) their child(ren) learning absolutely nothing, for the sake of enabling them to find where their passion lies.  To allow a child to pursue what is most valuable to them - that appears to me to be the holy grail of HE - and autonomous learning seems the most complete version.
However, I've also been thinking that there are some things that seem really important and that I would like the boys to have a broad understanding of - that if left to their own devices, I'm not sure whether they would ever want to learn.  Take, for example book reviews - it may not be an obvious example to you, but that's where my brain went for some reason, maybe because English is 'my subject', but anyway - I was thinking about how I used to teach book reviews in class, and took delight in my students being able to produce a good piece of work... and I was thinking that I really can't see any of my three being interested in pursuing that ability, particularly Eldest who is the same age that my book-reviewing students were, and my immediate thought was how sad that would be.  But I then had to ask myself why: how would it really benefit him to be able to write a good book review?  I mean, nobody ever taught me (I sometimes wonder what I was taught in school). I taught myself - and if I wanted to become a professional book-reviewer, I would set about properly learning how to do it.  The first attempts would doubtless be clumsy, but I would keep going, keep learning, keep refining, until it was an aquired skill (for the sake of argument - let's just go along with the pretense that I'd be excellent at it).  So if Eldest or either of the others ever wanted to know how to write a book review (or do pretty much anything, for that matter) they could find out.  And when you are motivated by a real desire to know something, the information sticks so much better! 
There are just two things then, that I need to 'teach' (or share with) them.  One is the thirst for learning.  The second thing is linked, and is vital: it's the ability to discipline yourself to learn.  Learning the vast majority of things involves first acknowledging what you don't know - or what you want to know (and if you're lacking in confidence, acknowledging that you don't know something can be disheartening in itself).  If you have the motivation to learn, this will overcome most discouragements on any learning curve... but if you have never disciplined yourself to pursue learning despite not understanding straight away, thus possibly losing the 'fun' aspect of whatever you're doing - well, I think this is the risk in my head regarding unschooling.  You see Eldest, as is often the case with first-borns, is quite hard on himself.  If he can't do something easily he can be tempted to give up too quickly for fear of failure.  As we are currently, my concern would be that if I just let him do what he wants (as is my perception of unschooling), he would have lots of great ideas but give up at the first sign of discouragement, and miss out on a whole raft of things that are easily within his grasp if he could just overcome that first obstacle.  So my goals during Home Ed are expanding - I want to enable my children to find what it is that they love; I want to help them to learn perseverence - to know that failing to understand is just the first step on the journey to understanding, or that if something is hard work, that is not necessarily a bad thing.  And finally (for now) I want to help them learn how to think.  Hubby and I have been growing in confidence that whatever we're doing, we can chat about it to the boys.  It's not just giving them experiences, it's helping them to think about them.  At school, a lot of their learning (whether by workbook or lesson) relied heavily upon them being told what to think - or learn.  For me, the concept that they are learning how to think for themselves, to question and work things out - well that is really exciting.
So, what have I concluded from all this thinking?  Absolutely nothing - we're still deschooling, after all!  I'm just letting you in on my thought-processes.  All of my thoughts are still coming back to the same general place though: I want my children's learning to be largely autonomous, but if I feel the need to wade in and be a little directional, I'm not going to rule that out, whether it's requiring that they follow an online Maths curriculum or practice their handwriting (both of which I'll try to ensure are as enjoyable as possible), or encouraging them to persist with something that has lost its appeal due to being harder than first anticipated.  No decisions here though - like I said... I've just been thinking.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Covert Education

The boys were awake far too early this morning - I think they were excited that their friends were coming to play after school.  I'm flagging a bit by now though...
I found a lovely online magazine yesterday, called Life Learning Magazine. (thanks to a Home Edder who mentioned it on Facebook).  It's a great resource for all Home Ed familes, but is particularly aimed at 'unschoolers'.  I read a great article there by Wendy Priesnitz called The Art of Inspiration, talking about the role parents play in unschooling their children, and basically saying that it's not a passive way to educate as people think.  I particularly identified with the Sandra Dodd quote, where she said: “I just strew their paths with interesting things.”  Education really doesn't have to be obvious, or forced!  As we are still in the deschooling period I am trying not to request that the boys do any 'work', but I love seeing what piques their interest - it's like a little challenge to myself to see what I can come up with covertly to entice them to explore - and this 'strewing' is a great way to do it.  I have already been in the habit of leaving interesting books out where the boys are likely to see them and flick through.  Some of our favourites include  Childrens book of Baking Cakes, 365 Things to Make and Do (Usborne),  and Richard Hammonds Blast Lab Science Experiments (particularly as the boys have recently discovered the 'Blast lab' TV Series that spawned the book - they love watching it - a nice combination of education (science) and gunge-filled competition).  I  realised though, that I need to rotate the books that are left out, or strewn - as it gets to a point where the boys ignore the books they've already seen, and also ignore the many books and games that we have on the bookshelves.  So yesterday evening, for a change I left out our set of old Oxford Reading Tree books - the very thin paperbacks - just left on the side, not in an obvious way that made them feel I wanted them to do some reading (can't have any hint of obligation while deschooling).   Middle found them very quickly, and all three of the boys sat for a good while, going through them.  Because the books are so thin, they don't look at all intimidating, and Middle in particular just kept going trhough them one after another - result! He even brought a few upstairs for his bedtime story :)  Today I was looking for a particular book on the shelves that I thought Eldest would like, but I couldn't find it.  However, as I was looking, he walked past, and just the sight of me hunting intently was enough to interest him.  I told him I was looking for a book that I thought he might like, but wasn't sure it was there - and fortunately I didn't tell him which one, as after I'd gone elsewhere he went back to the shelves and found not one but two books that he promptly sat down and read in one sitting! (one on the Great Fire of London and another on the Battle of Britain - neither of which were what I was looking for)  I loved that I didn't even get as far as strewing this time - just looking as though I was doing something interesting was enough to spark his interest :)
Books work really well for us hen it domes to strewing them about for covert education - and we do have quite a decent selection of children's reference books as well as fiction.  It can be a bit intimidating building up a mini library for Home Ed - especially if you don't follow a planned structure - but one of the ways that works for me is via the fabulous Book People. They are absolutely one of my top Home Ed resource sites... not a traditional bookshop in that they carry a very limited stock, but that stock changes regularly, and at any given point they always have some amazing offers on sets of book - for example, Eldest's 'Battle of Britain' book was one of a set of ten history books that I bought for a few pounds when I was browsing for bargains once!  You don't have to sign up for a minimum spend each month either - just a great resource :)
Other educational moments today included drawing, Reading Eggs (computer) and Deadly 60 (TV) - and seeing as it was such a soggy day and the boys needed to expend some energy, we fished out our old Boogie Beebies DVD, bought when Eldest was a toddler!  I can't think why they don't make the programme any more - it was fab!  Anyway, the boys all got to choose one 'boogie' each (Youngest chose one on diggers, Middle, one on monkeys, and Eldest, one on ocean creatures) - and we had a great (lively) half hour dancing about like loonies.
We're off to pick up their sleepover guests from school in a few minutes, & I seriously doubt I'll have chance after that to update the blog - so that's it for today.  Happy Friday everyone - have a good weekend!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Learning through soft play

This morning I took the boys to 360 Play, a huge soft play centre in our area.  As mentioned yesterday, one of the benefits of Home Ed is the option to go to places while others are at school/ work, and we certainly enjoyed being there when it wasn't hugely busy.  I had not planned it as an educational trip per se - just a chance to let off some steam on a rainy day, and also get some socialising in with other Home Edders.  Yet again though, now that my eyes are more tuned in to notice learning opportunities that just come up through play, I was surprised when I took a vague mental tally of the things that I saw them learning...
I immediately noticed all three boys learning and refining their gross motor skills as they tore around the enormous multi-level play frame & slide.  They also enjoyed the dodgem cars (I have to accompany Youngest as he's too small to go on his own, but he's still insistent that he steers the car!  So, co-ordination practice for all was very much in evidence - particularly as Eldest and Middle were enjoying the benefits of having the track mostly to ourselves, so they had the space to practice 'doughnuts' and other fancy steering techniques, without the supervisor telling them off for causing confusion on the track.  Later on, Youngest and Middle found the 'shooting balls into holes' games, and spent quite a while enjoying target practice (hand-eye co-ordination etc).  There was even a bit of science involved in the ball room, where three balls seem to float on their own, actually suspended on columns of high-pressure air - and the younger two loved getting the balls into the collection tubes as quickly as possible (learning to balance speed with accuracy).
Those were just the obvious points that I noticed... I'm sure there are many more ways that active play helps children to develop - research has shown that the benefits are physical, mental, social and emotional.  I was just happy to see them having a good time, and expending some of that ever-present energy.  I don't really feel the need to justify their play - I just find it interesting to take note of how much learning is going on all the time.
This afternoon the children watched some nature documentaries, and other educational programmes, then Eldest spent some time on MathsWhizz (he has automatically carried on doing half an hour of that, followed by half an hour of Clone Wars) while Middle, Youngest and I got to grips with their bedroom, and we actually uncovered the floor!
So, on the one hand it could be said that all we did today was basically played, watched TV and tidied up - and even if that were entirely true, I would just revert to my mantra from the other day: "and that's ok because we're deschooling".  However, it's all about how you look at it.  I am greatly encouraged in this deschooling lark, that an absence of learning structure is nowhere near the same as an absence of learning - I've just got to learn to see it through different eyes.  I may not be putting pressure on the boys (or myself) to perform to my preconceived standards of learning, but that has not stopped them from learning - far from it!  And I am learning at least as much too!  Learners are us :)

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Garden Fun

It was a glorious day today, so we spent most of it in the garden :)  We have decided that we want to build a bug hotel, so we got outside first of all to see what we could collect.  We made a good start with plant pots, pine cones, stones, leafy cuttings, and LOTS of sticks!  We really wanted some bamboo canes as well for ladybirds to hide in, so as we needed to go to the garden centre anyway, we thought might get a couple there - but sadly they refused to sell us individual canes - we would have had to buy a pack of ten 7ft canes for £5!  Needless to say, we came away without bamboo... we'll just keep putting the word out there, and see if anyone we know has any to spare!  Actually, we've posted a 'wanted' on our local Freegle online site.  If you've never heard of Freegle (also known as 'Freecycle'), I can't recommend them highly enough.  It's run by Yahoo so is free to sign up to, and as a member you can offer your unwanted goods to other members, or you can post a 'wanted' notice for anything that you need that you think someone else might feasibly have to spare.  It's just a great way of recycling within the community, and saves money too!  So here's hoping that someone local to us has some unwanted bamboo canes :)  The garden centre wasn't totally a waste of time though - we got a couple of other bits that we needed, and we had a bit of impromptu science while we were there.  Eldest and Middle were running around between the ornaments (Youngest had asked to go in the trolley, much to my shock and relief!) and they particularly loved stroking the large smooth stone globes.  When they stroked the black ones they found they were almost too hot to touch, but were surprised at how cool the white ones were in comparison.  Cue Mummy asking why they thought it might be, and chatting about which colours absorb more light, energy etc... we've only been home edding a couple of months, but I'm glad I'm getting better at spotting the learning opportunities :)
Anyway, when we got back from the garden centre (sadly without bamboo), we did a bit of gardening.  We had bought some lavender to go outside the front door, and we used some pansies that we already had to go in pots with the lavender, to make the front of the house look and smell pretty!  Incidentally, we found a lovely resource online for Easy plants to grow with children: I don't know about the children, I need them to be pretty easy too as I'm not really a gardener, I just believe the garden is a great place for learning :)  We also potted on some of the little seedlings that had grown from the seeds planted ages ago in our blogged-about nature non-lessons.  To be honest, not many of them grew, so after we potted the seedlings on today, we planted some more carrot seeds and two avocado stones left over from Daddy's lunch recently - no idea if they'll grow, but that's the fun of experimenting!  Eldest was most keen on today's gardening, but Middle and Youngest enjoyed it too... not least because they got to play with trowels, dirt and water!
Once that was done it was time for lunch, which we ate while we watched a DVD from a set that a lovely Home Ed friend had brought over.  The DVDs are called Mathtacular (an American product), and athough Eldest was pretty unimpressed, all three boys sat and watched for a good half an hour.  It was most appropriate viewing for Middle, really, and the presenter explains things really clearly, so I think we'll use it again - Middle is such a visual learner, and he definitely learned some new things while watching :)
After lunch, we finished our potting, and made a start on our bug hotel.  It's not complete yet, but this is what we have so far (Grampie is going to help build a bit more of a frame - and of course there will hopefully be the addition of some bamboo tubes too, amongst other bits)...

That done, we finally made it to the barbers - and I have to say it was SO MUCH nicer an experience that last time we went, during the school Easter holidays... yet another Home Ed benefit (maybe I should write a list): you can have haircuts during the quiet spells when everyone else is at work/ school - hooray for no queues!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Surprise Education

I was totally caught out by Eldest this morning... in the car on the way to Craft Club we drove past the place where we had waved at the Queen last week - and it prompted a string of questions leading from where she lives (not in Hitchin!) to a discussion about the Commonwealth, the British Empire, decolonisation, and more.  I was totally out of my depth - and loved it!  It means I have to look it up so I can explain it better.  I never did very well at History in school, despite it being a subject that has always fascinated me - I think there was too much focus on memorising dates, rather than getting to grips with the personalities and the stories.  In fact my poor history teacher didn't do well at all - I can vividly remember the class being so bored once that they had a competition to see who could predict the amount of times she would say 'Holy Roman Empire' in the course of one lesson (I lost count).  Anyway, my mission for this evening is to try and get my head around the basics of the British Empire, so Eldest and I can explore together - as long as he's still interested tomorrow (if he was older or more internet savvy I would set him off researching on his own, but that's really not his style, he just wouldn't do it).
Meanwhile, we had a lovely time at Craft club again today.  The boys were really looking forward to it as today's theme was 'insects', and they totally got stuck in!  What I love about our craft club is that Heather (who runs it) always brings great ideas, provides lots of different materials for them to rifle through until they find something that sparks their creativity, and is always ready to give a hand if needed (which I particularly appreciate as I can't help all my three at once).  Eldest as usual was pretty definite about what he wanted to achieve, and pursued that until he was done (with a pause in the middle for his painted dragonfly body to dry).  Middle just loved getting creative and exploring all the different possibilities - he enjoyed himself so much that he ended up making two bugs!  Youngest had a whale of a time too, not least because there was paint, glue, sticky tape and scissors involved.  He's not usually bothered about the completed product - he just loves the experience :)  Anyway, all three were really pleased with their finished bugs...

Eldest's dragonfly                   Youngest's butterfly

Middle's 'rainbow fly' and dragonfly 

I love seeing them explore possibilities, and spotting the moments when inspiration strikes etc.  Craft club today wasn't just about the art though - it wasn't even just about the socialising, although we all enjoyed that aspect of it too (we took a big box of lego bricks for them to play with while whoever finished first waited for the others - and that proved to be a big hit with all the other children there as well).  It was about the unexpected learning opportunities too.  The weather was lovely today, so the doors were open, which is as good as an invitation to Youngest to explore outside - and explore he did.  At one point he came running in, saying "Mummy, come and see, come and see... run!"  His excitement was over showing me a dead fledgling blackbird that Eldest and he had found outside (Eldest named it 'Dead Larry'!).  I'm not sure why dead things are so fascinating to children - especially boys, it would seem - but they are still a great learning opportunity.  The boys got to have a good up-close look at the bird (I tried not to let them touch it), and they were particularly fascinated with it's long legs and claws.  Eldest wanted to bury it - which if we had been at home I would have had no problem with (you just can't really do it in someone else's garden!) - I think a healthy curiosity about death is a good thing, and can help them to learn to deal with it, hopefully before they encounter it in people who they love.  Youngest was making us smile, at his dismissal of the theory that it had been killed by a cat - he was determined that it had been 'lasered' by Spiderman.  If that was the case, poor little Dead Larry didn't stand a chance!
Once inside again, and after the bugs had all been made, Eldest and Middle were thoroughly enjoying themselves playng lego with the others in the side room while Youngest and I helped tidy up (as you can imagine, a LOT of mess was created today).  He absolutely loves tidying things, importantly putting rubbish in the bin, wiping tables, sweeping into the dustpan, and he even 'helped' to fold down the tables (thanks to the lovely Home Ed mum who was so patient with him, making sure his fingers stayed out of the way, and helping him to safely work out how the table-collapsing mechanism worked).  He really does like to think he can do anything an adult can do.
Then it was time to go home for lunch - after which the boys wanted to watch the extra bits on their Spongebob Squarepants DVD.  I wasn't overly-impressed with the idea, but I have to admit, I was surpised and impressed by how informative it was!  They learned a load of new words (eg 'avaricious', 'denizens', 'curmudgeon' etc), they learned about the different jobs involved in making an animated film, such as writers, director, 3D model makers etc... (and they particularly enjoyed matching the actors to the characters whose voices they provide).  There were even cameos by David Hasselhoff and Jean-Michel Cousteau (though I had to tell the boys who they were), and a chance to learn about real undersea creatures, the importance of ocean conservation and the invention of Scuba equipment.  Who knew that even Spongebob would end up being educational?!  In fact it was so fascinating that we ended up watching the whole thing & running out of time to go out to the barbers as planned.  Ah well... they can always get their hair cut tomorrow!
So, craft club may have been planned (not too structured though - it's geared to allow them to pursue their own creativity), but the rest of today's education - well, it was all a surprise bonus.  If this is unschooling, I love it!  In fact, I just love Home Ed more and more all the time :)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Housework, Slimy Slugs and Grassy Bugs

After yesterday's rejoicing at our successfully organised weekend, I woke this morning to realise we had failed to 'organise' any cleaning etc into the weekend.  Result: one really untidy house!  It's not the end of the world though as Mondays are usually pretty relaxed - we rarely have any 'first-day-of-the-week' plans (another benefit of Home Ed: Mondays are not a thing to be dreaded - in fact I quite look forward to them!) - so this morning was mainly about teaching the boys how to do housework.
Incidentally, I've been trying to think of ways to differentiate between the boys on here as I really dislike referring to them as a number (ie DS1, 2 & 3).  It works for some people, but I'm not really a numbers person, I'm more of a word person.  I am a bit paranoid when it comes to internet safety, so I refuse to use their real names.  Nicknames would confuse me, and I was thinking of calling them Big, Middle, and Small - except that my youngest really isn't small, never has been (was born weighing 10lb11oz!), so I wasn't entirely comfortable with that either, hence I resigned myself to using numbers when I started the blog.  Anyway, having chatted about it to a friend recently it was in my head again, and I thought of a possible solution, so from now on I will - assuming I remember - refer to them as Eldest, Middle and Youngest.  It works for me (as long as we don't have any more babies, but that's highly unlikely, and anyway that would be a whole other blog!), so I hope I haven't confused anyone out there!Anyway, enough procrastinating: back to the housework (how many times do I think that in one day?!). Eldest has been half-heartedly playing about at tidying his bedroom for a couple of weeks now, without ever completing it, which meant that any progress he did make was very quickly lost again.  This morning I went up with him and helped him to clear all of the mess into one area (on his bed) so the rest of the room looked good which gives a psychologically boost, and gave him a more confined area of intense mess to deal with.  Possibly the bed was a bit intimidating, but actually less so than having an entire room to deal with!
The laundry basket was in full 'erupting volcano' mode, so I gave Middle the job of sorting all the clothes into three separate mountains of whites, darks and reds (we wear a lot of reds in this house).  He loves sorting, and there was some semblance of art involved as he had to work out which colours had red in (we also wear a lot of purple and orange).  While Middle was sorting the dirty washing, I got the 'lonely sock' pile out of the airing cupboard where it was threatening to take over, and gave Youngest the task of match-making.  He's not got the hang of folding them together yet, but he loved handing matched pairs to me faster than I could fold them :)
After the younger two had helped Mummy with the washing - or at least made a start on it - they were still keen to help, so they emptied the dishwasher for me (I took the knives out first), and then they were thanked with a piece of Daddy's 'Father's Day fudge' which he had promised them  (we made sure Eldest got some too).  Middle & Youngest were still keen to help with more housework (yay), so we sorted the chaos in the lounge.  While sorting they came across the Horrible Science Slimy Slugs kit that Middle had bought with his pocket money the other day, so once we had finished tidying the lounge, we called Eldest downstairs for a break, and had some science fun with slime in the kitchen.  Middle was particularly pleased as he got the green slime that looked like a giant bogey.  It was so much fun!  We stretched it, tried bouncing it, blew bubbles in it (the farting noises that it produced were hilarious, even to Mummy for once), made slugs out of it... generally had a great time with a fab little resource!  There was a recipe included for making more slime, so I'll share that after I've showed you the boys slugs...

If you want to make your own slime you need half a cup of white PVA glue, some cornflour and a few drops of food colouring (and a sealable container to keep it in - if you don't want to keep it, throw it in the bin, don't tip it down the drain, unless you don't mind calling a plumber out).  Pour the glue into a bowl, add cornflour a little at at time (you don't need a lot), stirring all the while, until the slime is a good consistency.  Add few drops of colouring, & voila!

Our other science-based experiment that the boys particularly enjoyed today were some Grow Your Own Bug kits with grassy heads that they had been given lately.  We started on the kits a week ago, and hadn't really paid them a lot of attention this weekend as we were so busy - but when we looked this morning the boys were thrilled to see that they've all done really well.  Grassy hair-cuts may be in order soon!

And that was this morning.  Lunch with CBeebies again (Middle did a particularly cute dance with the Numtums), and then this afternoon Middle and Youngest took it in turns playing on the CBeebies website while I helped Eldest finish sorting his room.  Hopefully he'll keep it nice now - at least for a few days... until the next housework bonanza day, anyway!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Swimming and Barbecuing

... And another successfully planned day - hooray for us!  (I know, the rest of you probably never have these issues, but for us lately it's been a big deal to get stuff planned in advance for when Daddy's home... so please bear with the celebrating!)  I think some of the issue has been that when we were in school, the boys really needed the weekends to 'veg out' and have some 'down-time' at home.  Now that the pace of life (at least for the boys and me) has become so much gentler, we're all up for more trips etc when Daddy's home (good job he's up for it too!)  So it's still quite new for us, having weekends to plan instead of just having to recover from the week before, but it's important, as I shared in Keeping Weekends Special.  So as long as hubby gets chance to rest as well (which he did today - it being Father's Day and all that), having him here to join in playtime really makes the weekends special.
Anyway, back to our planned day: Daddy got a lie-in, and then when the boys really couldn't wait any longer, they jumped on him with cards and presents to open (including models of him that they'd made in craft club).  

Once everyone was up and dressed, we went to the local swimming pool.  We've been promising to take the boys swimming for well over a month now... DS3 in particular has regularly been getting the armbands out of the drawer and clutching them to himself hopefully (how could we resist?).  The problem with swimming trips is that I am not at all happy taking our boys on my own as two of them are non-swimmers - I really need hubby there to tag-team with, so our visits are restricted to weekends and holidays, and recently we've had illness and other issues that stopped us going, so this weekend I was determined we would somehow fit in a trip to the local pool!  All the boys love going there... DS1 was a slow-starter with regards to swimming, but after regular lessons through school, he now swims like the proverbial fish.  DS2 is more hesitant - if we don't go at least once a month he loses a lot of confidence (although I was pleased today that after an initial panic he got the hang of it again quite quickly, and swam a width wearing armbands.  He has swum unaided once before, but that was when we had been going every 2-3weeks.  He's regressed a bit since then, so it's high on my priority list to pick up the frequency of our swimming trips and build his confidence back up.  DS3 absolutely LOVES being in the water.  The first time we ever took him to the pool, we popped armbands on him, and he was off, floating about, and just naturally swimming without being taught (although it is a more vertical than horizontal affair... needs a bit of work!)  I think he'll take to swimming without armbands really well - and now we've started going again, we might even be able to come up with a plan for who gets to teach which boy!  Anyway, I was really glad that today, after weekends where we had to keep postponing, we finally made it happen!  I'm going to schedule it in on the calendar more often now, so we don't have to wait so long until next time!
This afternoon I went to visit my own dad (we saw hubby's dad last weekend as he lives quite a distacne away), and I enjoyed having a bit of 'grown-up time' while the boys had some time with Daddy, culminating with a barbecue in the garden once I was home again.  They loved watching Daddy light the barbecue - safely watching from through the patio doors as he does it with lighter fluid (or similar - am showing my ignorance here), and it makes some impressively high flames for a few minutes, and they were very happy to eat in the garden as it wasn't too cold today (hooray, maybe summer is on the way...?), and they especially loved toasting marshmallows and sandwiching them between digestive biscuits for 'pudding'.
So - that was one satisfying weekend.  I am already coming up with ideas for next weekend... watch this space to see if we can pull it off again!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Accidental Educating

Well, this weekend we've started in a very organised way (unusually for us)!  Hubby and I had actually managed to make plans before the weekend arrived, and we'd agreed that we wanted to do an all-day trip to Hatfield Forest (National Trust) - all-day as it's quite a trek for us, being about an hour's drive away - and as the forecast for today was mostly dry, we packed a picnic and headed off.

It really was a lovely visit!  On the one hand it was just a lovely family time - which is what our main aim was, but I've also been thinking just now about how much curriculum can be covered in a simple "walk", without even trying.  Most obviously perhaps, there were some great Science opportunities: we took magnifying glasses (unfortunately we lost one - sigh), and much time was spent finding bugs and identifying them.  We also saw some ducks, geese and a grebe on the lake - and we were delighted to see that all of them had babies.

DS1 took his camera (there's Art for you) & learned the importance of patience when photographing living creatures... there were quite a few blurry shots before he caught this lovely one (first of the four), and when we got home he had a play on our photo editing programme to try out some special arty effects on it. I think they look great!



We also had a Maths opportunity, working out if we had enough money for certain souvenirs (yes) or to buy everyone a hot chocolate (no); we did some English, reading signs and talking about what they might mean (eg 'concealed hazards' in the lake), and Design & Technology, discussing why they thought chickenwire had been put on the wooden walk-ways; we played frisbee with DS2's purchase from the gift shop; we also played hide & seek in the woods, made dens, and used fallen logs to balance on and then jump off. And we walked for miles! In fact, we didn't stay all day as we ended up walking further than expected and we were all too worn out to go any further, so we got home by 3pm, at which point we all collapsed in the lounge with a hot chocolate :)
So considering we were just after a nice family walk in the fresh air that we'd been longing for yesterday, we managed to accidentally cover an enormous amount of 'curriculum' at the same time!  None of it had been planned (unless you count grabbing the cameras & magnifying glasses on the way out of the door), it just came up as we were wandering round... what a great start to the weekend though - we must try this day-trip organising lark a bit more often!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Nature Projects

We were stuck at home again today - Hubby has my car while his is at the garage being serviced. There was lots of rain this morning so DS2 & 3 were delighted to have a pyjama day!  I am getting to really enjoy these days at home (especially after busy days out such as yesterday)
DS1 had a busy morning - had some time on MathsWhizz, drawing a lovely underwater picture, and starting a new project...  in his 'Bird Life' magazine from the RSPB, he received news of a nature diary competition where the first prize is an ipad.  Now he would really, really like an ipad (wouldn't we all?!), so he decided he was going to enter.  I was really pleased as this will be a great project for him to do - but he'd only just started when he was already complaining that he was bored (having written the grand total of six words!)  I'm not happy with him giving up so easily, but there's no point forcing him either, so I just said it's up to him: if he wants to have a chance of winning the ipad, he needs to keep the diary - as simple as that.  To be fair, it's a subject that he really likes, he just finds it hard to translate his enthusiasm for the concept into something more concrete - so once he'd said yes he definitely wanted to do it, I asked him a few leading questions to give him an idea of how to get going, and he finally made a good start (that ipad prize is great motivation for him!).  I have no idea if he will keep it up though - it's only for ten days, and I need to see if I can find some other nature diaries online to give him a better feel for the project... but ultimtely, we'll just have to see if he completes it.
As for the others, well DS2 spent some time on both Reading Eggs and MathsWhizz, and made some yummy banana muffins with Mummy (to use up the over-ripe bananas we had that they all refuse to eat) - and DS3 also had a long time on Reading Eggs, as well as lots more fun playing with playdough, and joining DS2 to learn how to make sandwiches for everyone's lunch, at their request ... the rest of today was spent looking at and talking about a family project (or two) which could be coming up soon... DS1 and I have been watching Springwatch where they had some chrysalises hatching on camera. They said that butterflies have had a bad year this year, so we thought we'd do our bit to help - and have bought a Butterfly Garden which was on special offer from Amazon. It arrived yesterday & we've just ordered the live caterpillars... we're all very excited & can't wait until they arrive!  And as nature is such a part of our lives, we may also be having a go at the Wildlife Action Awards (also courtesy of the RSPB), as we've done lots of the activities before and thoroughly enjoyed them... I just rediscovered these awards this morning & thought it was a lovely idea to recognise what the boys are achieving :)
So basicaly, we may have been stuck indoors for the day, but that didn't stop us dreaming about being in the great outdoors... ;)

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Royalty and Pottery

Today was a busy activity day, with not much time spent at home.  This morning we went to Hitchin for the Queen's visit.  We got there in plenty of time to get a parking space, but the crowds around the market square (the Queen's destination) were far too packed for us to get through - so we made do with joining the people by the side of the road where HRH's car was due to drive.  I was so proud of the boys - they waited in one spot for fifty minutes (no mean feat for three bundles of energy!)  Admittedly, I had provided them with sweets (handed one to DS3 every few minutes in the hope that they would last), and we bought three long stripy furry things on sticks (red, white and blue of course) which were much more appealing to the boys than flags, and they thoroughly enjoyed waving those at the vast mjority of cars that drove past while we were waiting.  Other highlights were the friendly PCSO who jokingly told DS2 not to poke that stick-thing up his nose, and the town cryer who DS3 thought was Santa Claus as he was dressed in red, was rather large and had a beard (I'm not sure why DS3 thought he was blowing a horn & ringing a bell, but he was happy to see him anyway).  Unfortunately, by the time the Queen's car passed by us, there was such a swell of people from behind that I had a job to keep the boys from being pushed into the road - and the people who did step into the road blocked our view, so we saw very little - it was quite stressful.  We decided there was no point trying to follow the royal car, so we went back to our own car to go home.  On the journey back we realised there were more people lining the main road, but more spread out, so we found a place to stop and got out again where it was far less crowded.  This time we had a much better view of the car and the Queen inside - and the boys got to wave their stick things again :)  It seemed like a lot of fuss for something so little - but I hope the boys will remember it as a good experience.
We just had time for lunch when we got home, and then it was straight out again to paint pottery with some local HE friends.  DS1 chose a snake, and painted it really carefully until he got fed up and wanted to play, DS2 chose a dolphin which he was even more careful with - he reassured me he did enough layers, but I wasn't able to help him much as I had to supervise DS3 whose choice of a turtle was secondary to the fun he was having squirting the paint onto his tile.  He did make a good effort to paint carefully, but it looked pretty splodgy by the end as he got carried away with all the paint (he's only three - I'm not expecting high art).  We won't get them back for a week or so as they need to be glazed and fired, but I'm looking forward to some interesting results.  The nice thing about pottery painting is that glazing process always makes things look so much better - so even DS's 'creative' splodgy painting on his turtle should look good.  And after the painting there was a chance for a good natter with some other HE mums while the children played, which was lovely too.
All in all, that was our day filled, with just a bit of spare time for some trampoline bouncing at the end... DS3 is desperate to do a somersault now that DS2 has done one, and DS1 is pretending he doesn't want to - I suspect he'll practice when no-one's looking, until he's got it perfected ;)  So anyway, that was a good day - a bit stressful and busy, but definitely worth it!

Updated on 27th June - photos of the finished articles...

Snake painted by Eldest

Dolphin painted by Middle

 Turtle painted by Youngest

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Mummy Joins In

Our days seem to have a much more enjoyable pace when we stay home in the mornings, and go out in the afternoons - when we go out in the mornings the boys seem to struggle to get into their groove for the rest of the day.  For that reason I decided first thing that even though we had shopping to do (which I would normally try to get out of the way early on), we would go into town after lunch, giving us the morning to relax & ease into the day, as mentioned in Finding our Natural Rhythm - and we really had a lovely morning. :)
DS1 wanted some computer time today, which presented me with a dilemma.  You see, Daddy found a great 'Clone Wars' game online (and DS1 LOVES Clone Wars) - so ever since then, he has only wanted to play on that rather than look at any of the educational games I had set up for him.  So my dilemma was: do I let him play what he wants in the spirit of deschooling, and miss out on my comfort blanket that is MathsWhizz, GridClub etc, or do I ask him to play MathsWhizz (or other educational game) and have the reassurance that he is doing something constructive, but go back on the decision to deschool?  Well, we had a brief chat about it (nothing heavy) so I could try to establish where he's at with it all, and he was really happy to split his computer time in two - first half on MathsWhizz and second half on Clone Wars.  So that's what he did.  I think as long as the boys are happy with learning, it would be daft to avoid it altogether just because we are "deschooling" - and I have to say I was relieved, not least because Maths Whizz was not cheap and I didn't want to waste the money we'd spent on the subscription!
It made for a lovely moment for us too, because somehow he got stuck on questions that he didn't understand (converting metres to kilometres, using decimal points - ie 2,450m = 2.45km)  He must have skipped the tutorial bit somehow, but it gave me the chance to sit down and explain it to him with pen & paper.  We went through a few examples and he got it easily within five minutes.  It was just a lovely one-on-one teaching moment, which was really successful! I've tried teaching him before when he had Maths homework he was stuck on and it didn't go well, largely because he had a defeatist attitude.  This time his attitude was so much better - he was relaxed, paid attention, & got it really quickly - it made my day :)
I also had a lovely time with DS2 & 3 this morning, making a zoo out of playdough and generally indulging in imaginative play.  There was a great assortment of randomly-sized animals in our zoo, (not to mention a giant bowl of soup and a "knocked-over dessert"), and three dinosaurs called Fred, Boris and Boris (!) who were having a lovely day out, until one of them did an enormous poo that got stuck to his bottom (lots of brown playdough involved).
Yet another benefit of Home Ed: I have time to play with my boys and to listen when they want to talk.  I read a quote today that goes as follows:
“Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”  - Catherine M Wallace
I always knew this was true, but while they (and I) were at school, there never seemed to be enough time to spend with each of them, just enjoying them, chatting together, and getting to know them better.  I LOVE that we get to hang out together most of the time now - and I believe that's one of the reasons why they're relaxing & becoming more secure :) 
Once we got home from our afternoon trip into town, the icing on the cake for the day was when DS3 learned to say 'humonguous' (relating to a very long piece of spaghetti), and the point when DS2 called in from the garden, "Mummy, look at this!" and I was able to go to the window immediately to see him triumphantly completing a somersault on the trampoline.  Little stuff or big stuff - however you see it, for me it just doesn't get much better :)