Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Importance of Holidays

I need a break - I mean, I really neeeeeeeeeeeeed a break.  Not from my children - they're gorgeous as always & I still love being with them.   I'm not so keen on all the mess they create, but I have plans to train them in the art of Tidying Up After Yourself.  Unfortunately I have so little energy at the moment that it's still more in the realm of 'planning' than 'reality' at the moment - so I'm going to have to have my break.
I think it was the official school holidays that got me thinking (again).  Before we joined the ranks of Home Educators, the summer school holidays were always a really big deal that we looked forward to for ages, and made the most of - squeezing as much enjoyment out of them as possible.  Now they really don't feel that different to every day life - especially as we don't really have any HE structure.  The boys get up, mooch, watch TV, play, read - whatever they like - and learn while they do all of the above - whether 'term-time' (weekdays or weekends) or 'school holidays'.  It's a bit like when we adjusted to weekends - there wasn't such a big distinction between Mon-Fri, and Sat/ Sun as there was when the boys (and I) were in school - and we had to find our own way to differentiate.  Having fun all the time is a definite benefit of HE, but somehow we still need to find different ways to enjoy ourselves at different times, otherwise even fun can somehow become monotonous (who knew?!)  Now we have the whole month-and-a-half stretching out ahead of us, and are feeling a bit restricted, as some of the HE groups aren't running, plus we are now pretty spoiled and prefer going to parks etc when there aren't huge crowds of other people around - and even more so, the holidays have lost that 'special' feeling.  So I'm feeling a bit restless.  Our search for a late break continues - hopefully we'll be able to go away at some point in the next month - but whether or not we go away I have decided that I'm going to give the blog a rest for a week or so.  You see, that feeling of needing to pay close attention to everything we're doing is exacerbated by blogging.  It's like I'm watching and learning all the time, because we're still in the deschooling period, and that's the sort of person I am anyway - but by having the blog (and blog readers) there to report to every night, it's a kind of self-imposed accountability to make an interesting observation on a daily basis.  And I think it would help me relax, to just have some time off feeling obliged to watch-and-learn.  Maybe I'll still be as vigilant, trying to assess how much or how well the boys are learning - or maybe I will actually chill and just veg for a bit.  If in a week or so's time you come back and find me rocking in a corner, it's possible that the boys have done nothing but watch Spongebob Squarepants - but I'm hoping to try and regain that summer holiday feeling (especially if the weather plays nicely).
Should anything interesting happen, for example caterpillar-wise, I'll hopefully pop in and let you know - but otherwise I'll be back after maybe a couple of weeks :)  Home Ed friends local to me - I'll still see you at the pre-arranged trips - I'm not actually going away (well not yet anyway)...
Happy summer holidays everyone!  Back soon...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Olympic Planes

Another beautiful day!  It got very hot very quickly today, so Mummy nipped out for some more oranges, lemons etc for the ongoing 'cocktail inventing' (any chance to encourage the boys to consume fruit!), while our fabulous lodger played with the boys, reading Spongebob stories and playing 'guess the Ocean Creature'... followed by LOTS of water play in the garden.
Not content with the hundred paper planes made from the Usborne book over the last few days, Eldest decided to make some more of his own design, decorate them according to the flag colours of different nations, and then host his own version of the Olympic games, called "Olympic Planes".  There were four events: Fastest Fliers; Furthest Fliers, Highest Fliers and Most Acrobatic Fliers.  The countries represented were China, Japan, South Africa, Italy, Germany and England (who unsurprisingly got the biggest cheers from the spectators (Middle and Youngest).  Eldest took on the role of educator to his brothers, explaining which plane was from which country :)

Italy won the fastest round, England won highest - and then there was a break for the essentials of trampolining and water-gun fights... after which Germany won the furthest round, and Italy won the most acrobatic.  Eldest drew up a nice chart (more writing - and maths) so he could work out that the over all gold medal winner was... ITALY!

By the way, we did discuss the fact that if you have two competitors in joint second place, you wouldn't usually award third place, but we thought seeing as it was England we'd make an exception! ;)

Then except for fruit-juice cocktail making, more water-play and other garden-fun (including finding a millipede, and slurping ice-pops while lounging around), that was pretty much it for today :)
Oh except for the day's caterpillar news: the Painted Ladies are now measuring in at 3.3cm and the Cinnabar enclosure has five new baby caterpillars (the chrysalis remains unchanged).
So that's all to report from us for the day - now, if you'll please excuse me, I'm going to go and make some more vitamin D :)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Proper Summer's Day

A much happier start to today!  No holiday booked yet, but Hubby is working on getting time off soon, so here's hoping :)
I woke to the most beautiful sound of children playing happily - Youngest chattering away to Daddy, and Eldest and Youngest playing Top Trumps (Bugs - of course).
They watched just one episode of Spongebob before breakfast, and then after breakfast and a burst of bouncing on the trampoline before it got too hot, they actually wanted to watch something other than Spongebob (hooray!), so Eldest put Deadly 60 on, followed by a special episode of Deadly 60, Behind the Scenes.  Behind-the-scenes specials are great - they're really interesting, and lead to all kinds of conversations and learning opportunities :)
Meanwhile Middle was having fun on Mathswhizz (he'd never have put Maths and fun in the same sentence before!), while Youngest and I played Alphabet snap.
By then Deadly 60 had finished and Eldest found an episode of Hermie and Friends that we haven't seen before (we've been recording them off the UCB channel): 'Buzby the misbehaving Bee', so we closed the curtains, fetched some popcorn and had a nice little mid-morning movie-time :)
Speaking of Hermie and friends, our Cinnabar caterpillars may not have such a happy ending as the cartoons they were named after.  It seems that the last batch of ragwort that we brought in had a hitchhiking spider on it, and Eldest was a bit concerned that the caterpillars may have become Spider-nosh :(  I got the spider out, but Eldest thought it may be too late, if it was indeed a caterpillar-eating one... however, we later found one little pupa lying on the ground, so it's possible the other two have pupated underneath the kitchen roll at the bottom of the cage.

Cinnabar chrysalis

The spider wasn't the only thing to come in on the last stem of ragwort either - we've also discovered two very teeny caterpillars that must have come in as eggs... "this could go on for EVER!" shouted Eldest gleefully... hmmm, I'm not sure I'm that enthusastic!  By the way, the Painted Lady caterpillars are now 2.5cm... five times their size when they first arrived, six days ago!

After lunch we went out to meet some local HE friends at a local splash zone.  It was lovely getting out (making the most of the sun while it's here) & seeing people, but I'm not sure we'll be going anywhere that busy again: youngest really didn't like the crowds & ended up sat on my lap for a long while not long after we got there (not at all like him).  The problem is, we're all a bit spoiled now - we're used to having public places pretty much to ourselves during the week.  Anyway, it was glorious weather, and the company was fabulous, as always, so I reckon that counts as another lovely (not to mention SUNNY) day :)

Monday, 23 July 2012

Confessions of Boredom

OK, I confess: today I got bored (I wasn't the only one).
As has become our habit, today - being Monday - was nominated 'pyjama day' (aka staying at home day) although in reality only one of us stayed in PJs all day, two of us wore clothes, and one (not me) went nudist for the day!  I had also arranged for two deliveries, knowing that we would most likely not be going out... which ended up just making me (and Eldest) feel frustrated at being stuck at home on such a beautiful day!
Also I let the boys keep the TV on for as long as they liked today, just to see if a term of deschooling had enabled them to find other things to occupy themselves with.  At first, they mainly watched back-to-back Spongebob for hours - urgh!  It may have been a term of mostly autonomous activities, but during that term I still had restrictions on how much TV they were allowed to watch , so I guess they just wanted a day to indulge.  It wasn't all TV though - Youngest did have fun measuring all sorts of things with my retractable tape measure, and all the boys continued their prolific paper plane making while the TV was on.  We also discovered that Hermie, Wormie and Frank (from Caterpillar Crazy) had all disappeared, so we're hoping that they're still alive, just in pupal form.  I don't want to go poking away too much in there, so we'll have to wait and see...
Fortunately for my sanity, the boys got bored of the TV at midday, and went outside.  I was hoping they'd have a bounce on the trampoline and burn off some energy but they don't seem to have much today - they got the camping chairs out ot the garage and sat outside in the sun, having a very civilised little chat!  At one point, Eldest came indoor to get some drinks and decided to do it 'properly', so he stuck some straws into their plastic cups, and at his request, I helped him slice some lemons to stick a slice on the side of each cup... very cute.  He then decided he wanted to make his own drinks from freshly squeezed fruit, and spent the next while experimenting with making juice cocktails (no alcohol of course), 'assisted' by Youngest... 

In the meantime Middle had found some cotton buds and was using them to make art...

Eldest then wrote down his cocktail 'recipe' (another page of spontaneous writing - yay!)...

Meanwhile Youngest realised nobody was on the PC, so immediately commandeered it for Reading Eggs, while Middle used cotton buds to pain a picture of a very long gold and silver caterpillar...

Then Eldest decided to bake some cakes.  We'd ran out of one of the ingredients for the spiced honey cakes that he wanted to make, so he made a chocolate sponge instead (no arguments here)...

So having had a really slow & quiet (boring) morning, they did pick themselves up after lunch and found themselves some things to do - it really wasn't a bad day :)

Basically, I realised that part of today's 'boredom' for me is down to needing a holiday.  Yes I love my children and am nothing but glad that I have them at home full-time - but that doesn't mean I don't need a break sometimes!  I'm not fed up of the boys, or of Home Ed - but I am getting a bit fed up of all the incessant tidying up, 24-7!  So anyway today I turned my boredom into the motivation to start looking for some last minute breaks.  It's bad timing I know: I regret not going away last month when we could have got away off-peak, for much less money, but then the weather was so bad we'd have needed to go abroad for some sun, and that's a whole other story (three children + airport = the opposite of relaxation).  Anyway, we live in such a fascinating and beautiful country, we're happy to stay and explore - even more so now the sun has arrived!  So bad timing or not, I'm really hoping we get a break sometime in the next month... a week at the seaside would be perfect to blow the cobwebs away...!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Busy Weekend

That was one busy weekend! 
Yesterday morning was time with family, which is always lovely. Younget particularly enjoyed drawing pictures for his grandparents and great grandparents with his new farm stencils, and Eldest and Middle took their paper aeroplane book to show everyone (and make a couple more planes, of course)
In, the afternoon there was a bit of a conflict of interests as Youngest really wanted to go swimming, but the older two wanted to go to the cinema - so Hubby took Youngest to the pool, and I went to see "Ice Age 4" with Eldest and Middle (the last time we took Youngest to the cinema was not a great success as he doesn't do sitting still for long periods very well - I vowed then to leave it for at least a year until we tried again!)  So even though we weren't all together, we made the most of the afternoon and all had a good time at our respective venues :)
This morning we went to our church group and had a good play & chat with friends, and then this afternoon we went to meet the boys' auntie, uncle and cousin at a local dog show.  My niece had a go taking a dog around the agility ring, but the boys weren't interested, so I didn't push it.  Eldest was more keen on the Reptile stand, so next we went over and everyone got to hold a snake each.  The corn snake that Middle was holding was surprisingly fast, so I helped him as he looked a bit alarmed at how quickly it was moving... :)  Next we found an area where pony rides were on offer, and all the children had a go.  Youngest absolutely loved it: didn't bat an eyelid as he went around.  Middle wasn't so happy, but he did have a go, with me walking next to him.  It was really good that he persevered and had a go, although it didn't help that his horse was half-donkey with a definite stubborn streak & kept stopping to eat the grass!   Eldest was a long way up on his tall horse, and he kept saying 'it's a bit scary' but with a big grin on his face.  Following that there was a good leap about on the bouncy castle, and then it was time to bring three sweaty boys home (it actually got hot today, which took us by surprise - we're so unused to it!)
So - more family time together (outdoors in the sunshine!) and more new experiences.  Not all of the boys liked all of the experiences - but that's the point of it: if you don't have a try, you'll never know what you do or don't like!  That's education right there :)

Saturday, 21 July 2012

End-of-term Reports

I put a slightly facetious status on my Facebook page yesterday,  saying "well my children all got a glowing report from their teacher... maybe we ought to go and buy her a pressie... ;)" - and then I got to thinking... 'why not? It could be fun'  So, please excuse the shameless indulging in biased pride at my gorgeous boys, but here they are: our family's 'school reports' from the first term of home education (I was going to do three separate reports, which would have felt more 'authentic', but there would have been a lot of repetition, plus my document settings kept messing about, so this is the best I could do)...


OK so I really got into that - but once I started I just kept thinking of more and more things that we'd done - I'm sure there's loads that I've missed out still.  And the best thing is, all of this (or most of it at least) happened while we were deschooling!  I'm kind of overwhelmed by how much education has been going on under my nose!  The only problem is (if you can call it that), if this is the end of term, what about all the learning that is undoubtedly coming up over the summer holidays?  Maybe we'll have to have End-of-holiday Reports in September too!  It's fine if I do though - I can honestly say that (apart from the technical battle over document settings) I've never enjoyed writing school reports so much! :)

Friday, 20 July 2012

Happy Friday

Another lovely day today, and another benefit of Home Ed noted: my boys don't have to do that horrid end-of-term transition that many of my friends who are mums of schoolchildren seem to experience.  I keep seeing Facebook comments about how now the children are off school for summer they've gone a bit loopy.  I'm grateful we don't have that to deal with - it's just life as usual in our house (or should that be "fun as usual"?).  My children don't have to adjust to being at home, and I don't have to adjust to having them around me all the time, because it's normal for us... and we LOVE it :)

Anyway, we went into town this morning for a hot choc (Mummy), milk-shakes (boys) and chai lattes (Grandma & Auntie) this morning, and the boys had some self-instigated maths practice with their 'dotty cookies': Eldest worked out how much 3 x £1.50 was (they were big cookies, but even so!!!), and when they counted the smarties on top of their cookies (I was relieved they all had the same amount as each other), Middle decided he was going to count his in twos! He's not done his times tables. "That's your two-times-table" I told him (cue him trying to get right balance between looking proud, then modest).  He then proceeded to count in threes!  Mummy's turn to look proud :)

While we were in town we had to buy some fizzy drink and Mentos to make our own volcano at home (the boys saw it on Backyard Science the other day).  We tried this yesterday afternoon but they all wanted to take it in turns to have a go at putting the Mentos in (any chewy mint will do - apparently it's the gum in them that provokes the reaction).  Youngest put one in first, to immediate but not excessive fizzing.  Middle put a few in next - more fizzing but only foaming over the top a little bit.  By the time it was Eldest's turn, it was all fizzed out - so him putting the rest of the tube in had very little result.  So today we bought another bottle of cherryade (the boys wanted it to be red, for that authentic volcano look), and we agreed that having learned from experience, Eldest would just drop the whole tube of sweets in, in one go.  Actually he missed and about half of them ended up on the grass, but those that did go in the bottle produced a much more gratifying reaction...

While we were in town we picked up a couple of books and a comic (I usually don't do comics any more as they're almost the same cost as a book and usually get trashed, but this one had a decent freebie)  The comic was Discovery 'Explore your World' (with free bug viewer and tweezers - we get through a few in this house).  I can recommend it - it was absolutely packed with a wide range of fascinating facts and short articles - it had eldest engrossed.  Inside there was an experiment to try out involving putting drops of food colouring into a saucer of milk, then dipping a cotton bud with washing-up liquid on the tip into the food colouring - and watching with appropriate 'ooh's and 'aah's as the blob of food colouring suddenly dissipates.  I asked Eldest if the comic explained why it happened, and he said 'no' (actually it did - I looked later, but I can see why he missed it in his hurry to just have a go himself), and when I asked if he had any ideas about why it was happening he thought for a bit and then pretty much worked it out - yay!  Anyway, the boys all had a go with lots of different colours etc & thoroughly enjoyed it...

              green food colouring in milk          when washing-up liquid is added

We also picked some more ragwort on the way home for Hermie Wormie & Frank (see Caterpillar Crazy) and measured the Painted Lady caterpillars at 1cm long now - they have doubled in length in just two days! (the Cinnabar caterpillars are harder to measure as they're on the ragwort inside the net enclosure whereas the PLs are in a little tub, right next to the plastic wall & therefore easy to measure).
Finally this morning we got out one of our new books, 100 Paper Aeroplanes to fold and fly, and the boys had a lovely time making and flying some of the planes from the book...  Obviously Youngest needed considerable help, and I wasn't dure whether to feel pleased or patronised when Eldest told me I did a good job making Youngest's plane... I think I could have done without the note of surprise in his voice when he said it!  Anyway, they then played with their planes for most of the rest of the afternoon, having races and making up other games (even one involving the trampoline) - a real success :)

Oh, and to finish: in all my soliloquizing about 'presence' in yesterday's post, I forgot to share something lovely that happened first thing in the morning... Middle and Youngest were playing in their room while Mummy got dressed, but Eldest had already come downstairs - he usually switches the TV on for a bit, but yesterday he decided he wanted to write a story to read to Middle and Youngest - and he wrote an Episode of "Abney & Teal" (CBeebies), called 'The Frog'.  He'd noticed the little idiosyncrasies from the series, such as all the episodes starting with "It was a *** day" and ending with "that was an adventure wasn't it?" - and I loved the little musical notes to show where the theme tune comes in at the end.  Of course, I am biased - but I was just so pleased to see him spontaneously choosing to write, that I had to share it here... (translation follows if you, like me, find the photo quality offputting).  Happy weekend everyone! :)

The Adventures of Abney and Teal

The Frog

It was a quiet and peaceful morning, just right for counting.  Abney was counting his silver paper, Teal was counting the stripes on her umbrella, Neep was counting the poc-pocs, the poc-pocs were counting the flowers, Bop was counting his bubbles, when - BOING! SPLASH!  A frog jumped out of the water and over Bop, and swam to the island.  Neep was still trying to count the poc-pocs so he didn't see the frog jump in a Neep-hole.
Abney had finished counting so he decided to fill up all the Neep-holes.  He was about to do another when the frog jumped out at him and hopped to his house.  It jumped into his house and jumped out with his silver paper.  Then Teal came down.  "Hey Abney," said Teal.  "Catch that green thing, it's got my silver paper,"  said Abney.  The frog jumped to the lake where Bop got the silver paper.  When Abney got to the lake he said "Thanks Bop".  "That was an adventure," said Teal.  "Yes it was" said Abney.

The end.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Gift of Presence.

One of the recent buzz-words around parenting/ educational circles is the importance of "presence".  In today's increasingly busy society where children are spending more and more time in school and clubs or with child-minders, many parents and professionals are noticing the detrimental effect on these children, brought about by the absence of their parents (eg this article, The Importance of Presence).  Far from the 'socialisation' that children are somehow supposed to experience by being around large groups of non-family for much of their lives, experts are realising that what they actually need is just time to be with their family.  Family is where we first learn who we are, how to relate to others , how to learn from mistakes - it's where we get our sense of identity and place in the world.  School does not offer any of those opportunities to anywhere near the same degree.
So although I would never tell anyone that they should or should not put their child in school, the current trend towards leaving children in breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, weekend clubs etc does really bother me (as mentioned in Society Gone Insane).  Parents who want to give their child the best opportunities in life end up running ridiculous and exhausting timetables as they run from ballet class to music lesson to football club to Cub scouts etc - leaving their child(ren) with very little time at home to relax, play imaginatively, and just be with family!  I'm not anti-club per se: my boys used to do Tumble-tots/ Gymbobs and Sunday churchgroups - if they wanted to (they currently don't), they'd be welcome to join Scouts or other interest groups - but then, they do have LOTS of time at home to relax and find themselves - just to be (another Home Ed benefit: space for the children to just chill at home and find their own identity).  My concern for those who are away from home so much is this: when do they get time to relate to their family?  When do they get time to just hang out together, share meals or fun activities - even sharing chores can be an important validation of them as a family member as long as that's not the only thing you do together.
Enter the concept of "presence".  It's not just the opposite of absence in the sense of just being present in the same room as someone... it means to be FULLY present - to engage with your child in whatever activity has their interest, and give them your full attention.  In my mind when I think 'presence', I think "joining in".  I have a friend who's good at this - her boys are really into Doctor Who, so she's into it too - watches it with them, learns all kinds of cool behind-the-scenes details to share etc.  For us (with the exception of the lovely David Tennant), Dr Who holds very little appeal - but Eldest since he was very small has always loved wildlife, particularly undersea creatures.  I really wanted to encourage him but couldn't see how it was something we could pursue practically together (not being in a position to do deep-sea-diving trips as a family hobby), so we widened the field of interest: joined the RSPB (it's a wildlife conservation group, not just birds!), bought some bug books and started getting out there, exploring the natural world immediately around us.  He was already really interested in bugs and other wildlife as well as the undersea ones - and us joining in not only encouraged his passion but also sparked our own interest.  In fact, I discovered that actually I really love wildlife and being outdoors too - and in one or two areas my learning has even overtaken his (although he still knows way more about ocean creatures than anyone else I know).  All of this led to a lovely moment yesterday after I had put the younger two boys to bed, and I came downstairs to see how Eldest wanted to spend his pre-bedtime slot.  It tends to be about 30 - 60 minutes long, and he usually chooses either me reading him a book (even though he is a fluent reader there is still real value in snuggling up and sharing a story together), or watching a nature documentary with me, or watching Clone Wars with Daddy if he's home.  Yesterday however he surprised me by saying "I want to look at birds with you".  He'd put two pairs of binoculars on the sofa, and we snuggled up to see what we could see.  Of course, it was about 7.30pm, so most of the little birds had all gone for the day, but we did see a few woodpigeons - and most importantly, I was able to share some time with my son - one to one, communicating without words that he was important to me and what he cared about, I cared about.  Just being - just sharing the moment.  It may have been one of the least successful birdwatching sessions ever, but it was what HE wanted to do, and the invitation was put out there to join him in that moment... to be PRESENT for him.
Parents of schoolchildren can do this too - I'm not saying 'Presence' belongs exclusively in the HE domain - not at all!  All I am saying is that for us, when the boys were at school our free time was so insanely packed with chores (homework, housework, other work) that we had to work really hard to squeeze in some "Quality Time": ie to be present with them.  Even taking the family on a daytrip out doesn't guarantee moments of 'presence' - and that's coming from someone who LOVES family daytrips.  Whether at home surrounded by chores or out on a visit to the zoo, it's all about enjoying the moment with your child - washing the car together (but laughing, not shouting if they miss a bit) - or copying the monkey's funny faces together - or sitting on the sofa looking for already-gone birds together...
I'm spotting a theme: for 'presence' think 'together' - but not just together in the same room... (especially nowadays when you can have family members in the same room all experiencing different things: one on the TV, one on the laptop (I know what I'm talking about), one reading, one on the D/S or other games console etc)... it's being together in the same moment!  It's one of the most valuable gifts you can give to your child - and the best thing about this particular gift is that you get to share it too!  The special moments I share with my boys are always gifts to me as well!  When we are present in a moment together, we are both blessed by the gift of presence.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Caterpillar Crazy

Our new 'Painted Lady' baby caterpillars arrived today... they are super tiny!!! The last set we received had been in the Post Office depot for a couple of days by the time we got them, so we never saw any this teeny weeny (5mm long - Eldest measured them)!  For some reason Insect Lore decided to send me a huge 'pavilion' net (which I hadn't ordered) as a thank you.  I would get rid of it as clutter is the bane of my life, but I have a feeling it is quite likely to come in handy soon - you see, not content with having a new set of  baby caterpillars in the house, we now also have a second little net cage with caterpillars in!  We had the spare enclosure already from when Eldest used to have Stick Insects a couple of years ago, so the tiny Painted Lady ones will have their own home next to our newbies that have taken up residence...

caterpillar corner

the new teenie weenies

As yesterday afternoon was nice and dry, we went out to one of our favourite bug-hunting locations, Mardley Heath and had a glorious time there, just enjoying nature & the big outdoors :)  Mummy caught a little froglet which delighted the boys, and we saw LOTS of bugs including bees, snails, soldier beetles, wolf spiders (we think) carrying egg sacs, and some beautiful stripy caterpillars!  There were loads of these caterpillars everywhere we looked, so I was confident they were probably not an endangered species, and we brought a few home with us along with some stems of ragwort that they were feeding on (ragwort being a weed so we were OK to pick it - and I made sure we all gave our hands a really good wash when we got home as it is slightly toxic, but only really to horses and cattle who eat it in vast quantities).  Anyway, once home we discovered to our delight that our newly-acquired caterpillars would turn into Cinnabar moths.  I'd had a feeling that as the caterpillars were so beautiful, they would probably turn into boring moths - but although I happened to be right about the moth bit, Cinnabars are actually really pretty - I do hope they make it!  Of course, we're not experts, but we're keeping the habitat topped up with fresh ragwort - and we can only hope that they will pupate and emerge given time.  I was concerned about whether they would need something special to hang from before assuming chrysalis form, but it tunrs out they usually pupate on or under the ground - so they should be fine :) Obviously, as wild creatures I'm drumming it into the boys that assuming they successfully metamorphosize, they will be released back into the location where we collected them.
Wild creatures or not though, the boys have given them names (the five Painted Lady caterpillars are named after the five members of our family).  The cinnabar caterpillars are now called Hermie, Wormie and Frank, from a series of films that the boys love called "Hermie and Friends", about a Caterpillar who thinks he's too common and boring, until he realises that God made everything special in some way.  It's a nice gentle lesson for the boys in accepting themselves for who they are, and of course it was especially enjoyable because of the boys knowing all along that he was going to turn into a beautiful butterfly, such is their expert knowledge now ;)

Hermie (so I'm told)

So with all our new creepy-crawlie friends in the house, this afternoon went a bit caterpillar-crazy too!  Middle and Youngest had a lovely time making a giant caterpillar made of paper plates to display above our caterpillar habitats (seen above), and Eldest made some smartie cookies that were quickly displayed in caterpillar shape before being hastily eaten :)

cookie caterpillar

You know, even if we were structured in our approach to learning, I'm not sure I could have planned this as a 'project'.  Maybe I'm just not confident enough yet in the boys' willingness to go along with my plans - but whatever the reason, the fact that we're 'deschooling' still helps me to stay chilled about what we do - so any suggestions I make (like the paper plate caterpillar) are presented very casually - if they want to do it, great - but if it doesn't appeal to them, that's fine too.  My suggestions are a kind of verbal strewing: I put the ideas out there and just stand back to see which ones (if any) are picked up and enjoyed.  If they don't pick any up, I don't take it personally - I just go hunting for more ideas.  And actually, as they did pick up these ideas, I'm still going to hunt for more.  Once I've posted this, I'll be spending this evening surfing for further caterpillar inspiration!  I'll just keep going until they're ready to move on.

PS for the sake of keeping records (in case I wish I had, in future), today the boys also played on Maths Whizz (Eldest and Middle) and the CBeebies website (Youngest), made playdough models, turned paper plates into frisbees, and watched Deadly Art, Alphablocks & others on TV, read books, played games... and generally had fun!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Benefits of Home Education

Hooray for my one-hundredth blog post!  A very minor thing indeed, compared to all the excellent blogs out there that have been running for years, but it's an achievement for me - especially when I consider how far we've come already!  Anyway, as it's a sort of special post, I thought I'd dedicate it to focusing on all the benefits of Home Education that we have experienced for ourselves over the past one hundred days (listed in order that I originally posted them, not in order of significance or anything else)...

Insert long pause here while I trawl through all my blog posts, to find the benefits I have logged so far...
Wow!  Even I am quite impressed by the length of that list - I hadn't realised I'd logged so many benefits.  And the lovely thing is, there are so many more - not only those that I never got round to mentioning, but we've only been doing this for a few months - there are bound to be more yet to discover :)  Here's to the next hundred days... and the hundred after that... and after that... etc etc :)

Monday, 16 July 2012

Tidying Up (but not too much)

Just a quick one today...
My laptop charger cable died a sudden death yesterday evening without me noticing until my laptop was out of power :(  I am grateful to have our ancient old PC in the study/ learning room - but the boys are usually on it, & it's pretty slow, poor old thing!  Anyway, I'm hoping my new charger cable will arrive soon - I feel lost without my laptop (probably a sign that I rely on it way too much)!

Today we're having another lovely lazy Monday - just to uphold the stories about HE kids doing school in their pyjamas ;)  Youngest and I made some brownies first thing (sorry, no laptop = no new photos), and then the boys took it in turns on the computer, either on MathsWhizz or Reading Eggs.  The rest of this morning has been spent mainly having a good clear-out of their bedrooms, that now look MUCH better!  They also helped with sorting washing, making lunch & general tidying (I think we even have a bit more space to put some books away in now), and once Middle and Youngest's bedroom was tidy, they had a lovely time turning their now-visible carpet into a safari park with all the toy animals we had found :)  Youngest also made some sticker pictures, and Eldest and I checked eBay where he is currently trying to sell off some of his much-loved lego in order to buy an even more loved Star Wars Wii game.  It's a great lesson for him in Maths, not to forget beginners' level finances, marketing, business studies etc.  I was a bit sad when he told me the other day he's 'grown out of' Lego Atlantis (he used to be passionate about it) - but I have to accept that he's growing up, and I was really glad that he was open to the idea of selling some off to raise his own funds, rather than expecting to have everything he wants handed to him. He used to want to hold on to everything, but our house just isn't big enough, and one thing I have learned from moving house as often as we have, is that you can't afford to hold on to stuff that you aren't reasonably going to use again.  Being a frequent mover has made me a bit of a ruthless anti-hoarder.  I definitely aspire to the William Morris quote,
 "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautfiul"
Of course, having three gorgeous small mess-creators (not to overlook contributions from the adults in the house), I'm resigned to the fact that my house is never going to look anything like a show-home - at least, not until they've all flown the nest - but who wants to look forward to that?  Definitely not me!!!  A friend posted this lovely saying on Facebook the other day, that sums up my attitude pretty well:
"My home is filled with toys & has fingerprints on EVERYTHING & is NEVER quiet.  My hair is usually a mess and I'm always tired, but there is always LOVE & LAUGHTER HERE.  In twenty years time my children won't remember the house or my hair but they will remember the time we spent together & THE LOVE THEY FELT."                                                (from the 'I LOVE BEING A MOM' Facebook page)
So, that said, I'm not going to spend any more time on our faithful but slow old computer, I'll just say that seeing as the weather has taken a turn for the worse again (sigh), we're going to snuggle up for a 'cinema' afternoon, where the curtains are closed to make the room cosy and dark, and we eat popcorn & watch a DVD (Happy Feet 2).  I do love Mondays :)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Unrainy Day

Hooray for a day of no rain!  we've been outside for most of the day, and feel SO MUCH BETTER for it!

Before I go on, for those who read yesterday's post, The Parable of the Butterfly with a mind of His Own, I am pleased to announce that our last butterfly has today flown off into the big wide world (sniff - I was quite fond of him by the time I finished writing yesterday's blog entry!)  Knowing that we were going to be out all day, we put his net enclosure out into the garden and opened the lid just before we left this morning... when we got home at teatime he had gone.  So, we were a little sad to miss the big moment, but pleased for him that he'd made the most of the privacy that he obviously liked, and fluttered off to freedom :)

Anyway, back to today.  We were seriously overdue a lovely family day out in the fresh air, so I'd had a search online yesterday and found the Ashridge Estate, Berkhamstead.  We took a picnic and had a good explore, including all climbing 172 steps up the very tall (33 metres) Bridgewater Monument to enjoy the views from the top.  Well, I say 'enjoy' - I really am not good with heights, so I was hugging the wall at the top somewhat, but was determined to set a positive example to my boys (Eldest and Middle weren't keen either) so did it anyway and tried to concentrate on looking ahead to the horizon instead of down!  Then it was time for an icecream and wander through the woods, taking lots of time to repair a falling-down den, and practice balancing on fallen logs (and jumping off them).

All relaxing at home now - Middle and Youngest are engrossed in Richard Hammond's Blast Lab on TV (nice bit of Science there), which Eldest is also half-watching while assuming the usual 'nose-in-book position.  Something has changed in him by the way: he's gone from being a boy who almost exlusively read reference books, to really getting into fiction - such as the 'Secret Seven' book that he read start-to-finish in one afternoon the other day!  Middle has also started picking up books to read for himself far more frequently lately, rather than bringing them all to me.  I think his confidence is slowly growing - it's so great!
Anyway, we're pretty tired now - but in a healthy way: not the tiredness that comes from being a bit fed up of our confinement indoors for most of the week, but the tiredness that comes from stretching our limbs and stimulating our minds with new experiences outside in the fresh air :)  If we hadn't had our day out today I don't think even I would have enjoyed our traditional 'lazy Monday' at home tomorrow.  Now, I feel my equilibrium has been restored by our un-rainy day :)

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Parable of the Butterfly with a Mind of His Own

So yesterday the butterfly that had emerged two days behind its siblings was given the opportunity to fly free, but it remained in the 'cage'.  I presumed that as it was still walking everywhere, maybe its wings weren't fully ready for flying - so we left it until today.  This afternoon, after the rain finally stopped, we took the butterfly habitat out into the garden, and opened the lid, leaving the butterfly free to fly away.  When we did this two days ago, its siblings got the hang of things immediately and flew straight out (just one of them conveniently landing on the net rim so I could get a photo).  This one, however, just flew to the bottom of the net cage and stayed resolutely put.  I daren't try to pick it up for fear of hurting it, so the boys went to find a stick to put in its habitat that would poke out of the top, so it could crawl up to the top of the stick and then fly, if it so chose.  We even put some juicy fruit outside the net, to tempt it out!  The final straw was when Youngest, clearly not understanding and getting bit fed up, decided to pour some water into the net!  (I'm not sure how he thought it would help - maybe he thought the onset of a flood would prompt it to flee, maybe he was testing a pet theory that seemed like fun - maybe he was just bored and therefore started interfering)  As soon as I saw him doing it I dashed for some kitchen roll to soak up the water (fortunately it was only a fairly small amount of water).  Shortly after that the poor butterfly climbed to the top of the net (under the half of the lid that didn't open, hiding in a corner.
The longer it stayed put, the more puzzled (and even a bit frustrated) I was getting: the boys had steeled themselves for it being be set free, but this was turning into a bit of an anti-climax.  The longer the butterfly took, the later it was getting, and I knew if it got too late (and therefore cold), it wouldn't want to fly anyway.  Frankly, it was getting a bit inconvenient, not having it conform to my expectations.    Then the penny dropped, and I remembered some wise words written by a friend of mine about expectations lately (if she had a blog I would link to it, but it's a work in progress...).  Her name is Jai, and she wrote that,
"Adult expectations of our children can be a damaging thing, because if they do not meet them, we can feel disappointed and pass this onto our children, which can damage them for life ... I am a firm believer in the fact that if children are supported and encouraged along their own path, they will grow into confidant and happy children who will feel able to learn and do anything and ultimately this is what will help them succeed in life ... It is not just the school system that can restrict our children, but our own expectations too. Maybe we should come with the warning, “BEWARE! ADULT VIEWPOINT IN OPERATION”! " (Jai Daniels-Freestone, The Freedom Journey, Facebook)
Maybe it's stretching the point a little, but this tiny insect just made me stop and think.  When we got them as tiny caterpillars, it was the one that was always slowest to move (at one point we wondered if it was actually alive) - and it was the last to pupate (it finally worked out what it was doing two days after its siblings), the last to emerge from its Chrysalis, and the slowest to leave its home.  Basically - it was just different.  If insects can be said to be marching to a different drumbeat, this one clearly was!  Sometimes butterflies just have a mind of their own, and that's OK! (It's almost 5pm at time of typing, and it's still not left - the air temperature is dropping, and I'm going to have to take it back indorrs and try again tomorrow - at least it's supposed to be nicer weather then).
Anyway, I'm hopng you've already picked up on the parallels that I was seeing between butterflies and children, but just in case...: Next time I'm looking at my child and getting frustrated because he's not doing what I expected him to - or because his refusal to comply is getting in the way of my plans, I hope I remember our little individual butterfly, and remember that while it is good to offer encouragement in motivation, and it's good to offer physical support, (not so good to experiment when ignorant of needs), you can't force it!  Sometimes he might just be his own person, and if I let him be, he'll get there in the end, in his own time...
For now, I'm going to fetch the net in, put some new fruit in for overnight... and I'll keep you updated tomorrow ;)

Friday, 13 July 2012

Individuals playing together

This morning our solo chrysalis was the first thing on our minds when we woke up, and we dashed downstairs to see if it had emerged... it hadn't - phew!  I went to sort out some laundry and came back into the kitchen (with a basket full of washing), only to find the butterfly now out of the chrysalis!!!  How do they do it so quickly???  I called for the boys to come quickly, and took a photo while its wings were still semi-folded.  Eldest was sad about having to set the last one free in the garden, so we've ordered some more baby caterpillars to have another go with. (I'm not going to keep doing it indefinitely though - it's not cheap!)

just emerged... wings still unfurling

We had a park trip planned for this morning with some of the local Home Ed mums, but unfortunately the weather wasn't cooperating, so we ended up with three families at one of their homes (eight children (seven of whom were boys) and four adults... that was one busy, noisy house with a very generous hostess!)  The mums had a lovely time chatting about all sorts of things while the children played nicely, with only the occasional incident (I hope the carpet dries out before bedtime...).  The children who were playing have all sort of issues, from those with autism to those recovering from being bullied or ostracised - and yet they all got on really well, considering.  One of the things that I really love about Home Ed kids is that they are generally so tolerant of people's differences.  I personally haven't felt the need yet to talk to my boys about any particular child being "different", because as a family we really value individuality anyway - I believe every person is unique, and it's good for us to practice consideration of others.  As with adults, some children are really easy-going, while some are very decisive on what they do or don't like - which is fine, and it's good for us to be aware and sensitive to the varied needs of others.  I really appreciate that on Home Ed play dates the other parents (and therefore their children) are usually really switched on to the needs of the individual.  I have never seen that kind of consideration in schools, where 'unusual' children stick out like a sore thumb, which increases their anxiety and exacerbates any underlying issues.  Um.. tell me again how HE kids are missing out on learning socialisation skills...? (that was me being ironic, in case you missed it).

Anyway, back home again, and the boys were treated to a few sweets after lunch.  Who knew that even sweets were educational nowadays?  Eldest had a few Starbursts (Opal Fruits to those of you like me who are having difficulty adjusting to the modern tendency for constantly rebranding).  These Starbursts had individual wrappers containing different instructions, such as "Make a paper plane out of the (tiny) wrapper"; "Do 5 press-ups"; "Say a sentence repeating every word twice"... wow!  An educational curriculum in a packet of sweets! (Yes I'm being flippant, but I did think it was a sweet idea - no pun intended).

So, now the boys are playing on the Wii, playing a lovely cooperative game on 'Club Penguin' (I particularly loved watching them do all the dance moves in unison) - and I fully intend to make the most of the time while they're occupied, to tidy up a bit before we have some grown-up friends over this evening :)  Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Sunshine and Food for Thought

What a difference some good weather makes!  Not that we've had a bad week in itself, 'cos we haven't.  It's just that we've all really had enough of being stuck indoors.  Twice yesterday I looked out of the window to see the sun shining, but as soon as I told the boys they could go outside and play on the trampoline, it started raining - the first time it rained the exact second that eldest stepped outside (I'm not exaggerating), the second time they didn't even get their shoes on before the rain started again :(
So this morning (as with most mornings) it was with trepidation that I checked the forecast to find nothing but white clouds and yellow suns!  Hooray!  When I told the boys it was going to be sunny all day, Middle looked at me with wide incredulous eyes and asked, "really?"  Bless him - I felt like saying "when I was a little girl they used to do real summers when the sun shone nearly every day!" That may be rose-tinted nostalgia for you, but I don't ever remember a summer as wet as this one has been so far...
Anyway, we were all heartened by the good weather and decided today would be a good day to let our butterflies out into the big wide world (rather than tomorrow when the forecast is less bright). So even though we still have one left in chrysalis form, we set the others free - it felt mean keeping them trapped indoors now they have beautiful wings to use. Before we let them out, we did get to see them using their long curled proboscis to drink from the orange segments we put in their 'garden', so we felt we'd probably learned as much as we could for now.
butterfly feeding from orange       remaining (very dark) chrysalis

being released: posing on edge of net...    before flying to the nearest hedge

Being in positive sunny mood, we also re-attempted the bread rolls that went so badly the other day.  No problems this time - perfect result! Even better, they had cooled down just in time for lunch - yum!  Warm, buttered, freshly-baked bread has to be one of my top favourite foods :) 

While the dough was proving, Eldest went on Maths Whizz while Middle, Youngest and I played on Middle's Brainbox 'My First Pictures' game.  It's basically a memory game - they do a whole series of games about Nature, Maths, History etc etc - you have to memorise the facts or pictures that appear on the cards then answer a question about it without looking.  Lovely games, but not that easy!  Both the boys did really well (we allowed Youngest double time to look at the picture because of his age) - I think we might get some more from the series - their brains were well exercised and it was fun (they especially like it when Mummy gets one wrong). :)

This afternoon, we left our single chrysalis behind and went to the park.  It was a risk, because it (the chrysalis) had gone really dark so I felt it would be emerging any minute, and we did really want to see it come out, as we'd missed the others.  There was no way we were going to miss the only few hours of sunner this week though (we'll get more caterpillars if necessary), so we headed to one of the boys' favourite local parks with some friends... it felt really good to see them running about and playing together while us Mums (and Dad) chatted, all soaking up the sunshine and getting some fresh air... at LAST!  And of course, it wouldn't be play outdoors if they didn't get completely covered in mud from the puddles there... I am so grateful for baths and washing machines!

So anyway, once the boys were all in bed and I settled on my laptop with the rain pattering once more (sigh) against the window, I was going through my usual kind of mental checklist to see what we'd covered while deschooling today (not because I have to - just because I always find it encouraging): Biology: nature project, D&T: baking, Maths, & memory skills, all as mentioned above, plus there was Art: pictures the younger two drew for me, and English: LOTS of stories being read...
Then a lovely friend sent me a link to a really encouraging post, called What Is Deschooling... it's a great blog post in itself, which is why I have included the link, to encourage any of you who want a read.  In the post the author links to another post by Sandra Dodd, called Unschooling: You'll See It When You Believe It - and I was really drawn to a comment at the end of that post by Pam Sorooshian, who said she used to jot down what her children were busy doing, but not worrying about sorting them into subject at first.  She used to jot things down under simpler headings, such as Reading, Doing, Making, Writing, Watching, Listening, Talking, Visiting, Thinking (and she explands on each 'heading).  Some of those fit into 'school subjects', some aren't so obvious - but I can feel my brain stretching again as I ponder on how helpful it could be using those headings.  You see, I'm told that if the Local Authority contact you, they require some kind of 'Educational Philosophy' from you - some idea of how you will undertake your child's education... and as far as I'm concerned, if I cover all the traditional subjects using one method, whether it be books, computers, or me telling and the boys listening - it feels a little stifling, and would probably put me off before too long, let alone the boys! The more methods used the better - particularly when I'm still experimenting to get to know the boys' learning styles better.  So I think every now and then I might also do a quick mental checklist of the different types of learning, as well as different 'subjects' - so for example today we had Reading (in the morning and at bedtime), Making (bread), Doing (MathsWhizz & Reading Eggs on the PC, plus the boys made up a song in the car - which I had forgotten until I asked myself what 'doing' might cover), Watching (Spongebob and Backyard Science on TV), Talking and Listening (Eldest telling Middle about centrifugal force as he asked me to take the corners sharply in the car), Visiting (playpark with friends), Thinking (we have a learners clock in the kitchen from which (as I often do) I asked Middle if he could work out the time)... and more.
So, another lovely day; another train of thought to follow and see where it leads...  This is why I call Home Education a 'journey' - we are already so far from where we started, and I know we have a long way to go before we're done - but although the end destination is definitely of interest (ie all three boys being grown and equipped to pursue whatever it is that they want to do), that will then become their journey - my job IS the journey, and I fully intend to enjoy every minute of the ride!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A Day of Small Celebrations

What an exciting start to the morning!

First of all, Eldest's tooth fell out.  This may not seem much of a celebration to you, but it had been wobbling away, hanging in there for AGES!  So long in fact that the second tooth had fully grown into place behind it!  We kept having a poke, loosening it a bit at a time, and this morning it finally gave up.  Of course, Eldest is also very pleased about the £1 that the tooth-fairy-who-he-doesn't-believe-in will be bringing tonight! 

Anyway, even more exciting than that, our 'Painted Lady' butterflies emerged this morning (well, four of them did).  Three of them were already emerged when we came downstairs, and we kept popping into the kitchen to see if we could spot the next one coming out, but it did it when we weren't looking (and we were looking at least about every twenty minutes).  We were amazed by how quickly they pop out - and a bit frustrated to have missed the experience!  Ah well, if we miss the last one we'll probably get some more - it's been a fascinating experiment, and you can buy replacement caterpillars online direct from Insect Lore.  The only problem we've had was today after the butterflies had emerged, when we had to figure out a way to get some chopped up fruit into their habitat without them escaping when we unzipped the lid!  It was fun :)


Next we had a delivery in the post that I'd forgotten I'd sent off for - our free How Nature Works booklets from the Open University, linked to the recent BBC series, "Secrets of our Living Planet".  OK so it's a little thing to celebrate, but Eldest and I loved the TV series, and nice glossy nature booklets that we didn't have to pay for - well, they're more exciting to get through the post than bills!

Following that I received a link to a 2-for-1 offer for entry into Knebworth House (the park and gardens anyway) this weekend.  Exciting because I was after inspiration for somewhere to go, and we've been to Knebworth House before and loved it - the boys all really enjoy the dinsoaur trail, maze, train, adventure fort, giant slides etc - and now we can get in for a reduced price!  I'm holding back the excitement on this one for now though - the weather being the way it has, there's really no guarantee we'll be able to go... a Mummy can hope though...?

Finally we were inspired by a friend to do some baking.  Freshly-baked cakes are always cause for celebration in this house.  Incidentally, I love how much Maths goes into baking: Eldest measured out 70g of flour and then the electronic scales reset themselves (!) so he had to work out how much he now needed in order to have 115g in total.  Then he had a 200g bar of chocolate and needed 50g so (as the scales were failing) he needed to work out what fraction of the bar to use - and how many squares that equated to (out of 32 total squares)... great mental maths moment! Anyway, having looked through my recipe books, Eldest had decided to make Choc/orange cupcakes and Middle wanted to make Vanilla cupcakes... and as no mother likes having to referee (that's my excuse), they made a batch each!  Not convinced on the celebration front?  Let me tantalise you with some photos, so you can see why we were excited to get them into our tummies...

PS The boys may not have been particularly excited by their turns on Reading Eggs, watching Backyard Science, reading their books and playing card games etc - but I was!  Well, maybe not excited exactly, but I do love seeing how their learning is progressing naturally - especially since we're still deschooling so we are completely free from any obligation to 'work' at learning.  I do hope I can remain this chilled - we're learning LOADS as a by-product of all the fun we're having :)

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Coercion versus Encouragement

I have many teacher friends, and to a person I have to say that they are dedicated, hard-working, professional, lovely people.  I have no axe to grind with teachers - I think they are doing an already difficult job in an increasingly close-to-impossible system.  The system however - well, that's a different matter.  It will be obvious to anyone who has read my blog posts that I consider the boys and I to be well rid of the 'system'  So, if I say negative stuff about school nowadays, I am absolutely not putting down the teachers involved, particuarly those who I personally know.
That said, (you knew this was coming, right?) I've been thinking... from an HE point of view, the modern education system uses what seems like a kind of lazy way to train children.  Bear with me: remember I said all the teachers I know are hard-working etc etc - and I believe that.  However, a conversation I had yesterday brought me along a certain train of thought (it's quite lengthy as I've been trying to dredge up some sort of coherence amongst all the thoughts spinning around in my head - but hold on and hopefully we'll get there in the end)...

You see, education and life in general are basically one-and-the-same.  You can't put your child's education in one box, and 'how we bring them up' in another box.  It's all the same.  The more I learn about how my children differ from each other, the more I realise that it impacts everything, not just how I take responsibility for providing each of them with an education.  Just as most parents can see the physical differences between their children, so most of us can tell the differences between what they like or dislike (eg one is dark and enjoys science; one has blue eyes and enjoys art; one has a mischievous grin and enjoys computers - etc).  That much I would consider to be fairly basic knowledge.  However, since we started out on our Home Ed journey, I have had the luxury of time to spend getting to know them on another level - ie what makes them tick; what motivates them; how do they learn.  This is NOT easy!  We've been doing this for three months now, and I feel like I'm just beginning to scratch the surface.  This is why I think deschooling is invaluable - it gives time to get to know your child again more deeply.  It's an intense (and totally rewarding) learning curve - but every time I get a new little revelation about one of the boys, it impacts everything: how we relate, how I can best inspire him, how I can help him etc.

For example, take Eldest.  Having been at school for the longest, there were many things I felt I needed to rediscover about him.  In the last three months I have realised more clearly that he is one who likes to share his experiences - he really values connection.  This impacts everything about the way we relate: if I need to deal with bad behaviour, he needs to know that I'm still on his side (so we often hug while chatting as he finds it much easier to accept what I'm saying, even when it's a correction); if he's struggling with a concept he's learning and sees me as the one with superior knowledge, it puts him off and he gives up, not even asking me - but if I draw alongside him and we learn together, he is really encouraged to persevere.  However, Middle is different.  He is Mr Focus.  Whatever he is focusing on has his entire attention.  If I need to deal with bad behaviour, I have to interrupt his pattern first - to get his attention.  I can hug him and chat as much as I like, but if I haven't helped him to switch off from whatever he's locked on to, he simply won't hear me.  Once I've helped him to switch focus (eye contact helps a lot), there is usually little else that needs addressing.  If I can get his focus on any one thing, he'll generally stick with that - whether academic learning or behaviourally.

So - there is no 'one system for all' mindset: there are as many variations in ways to train children as there are children, it would seem. And this is hard work. Even with just three children to educate, learning what makes them tick, what they like or dislike, favourite subjects, how to motivate them etc - this is all really time-intensive. Multiply that by the amount of children in an average-sized school class, and it instantly becomes untenable - and that's even before you add in all the lesson plans, evaluation forms, SATS preparation & other endless administrative demands.  So there has to be a 'one-size-fits-all' system in place to allow teachers to focus on their class's education.  Practically they just can't make allowances for individual personalities.  Even in my last school, where there was a real emphasis on treating children as individuals academically (using workbooks and one-to-one tutorials where needed to allow them to progress at their own pace), when it came to character training, they were all expected to confirm to the school system.  And basically, most school systems come down to the same system of coercion (behave as we dictate or be penalised with demerits/ time-outs etc) and bribery (if you behave well by our standards you will be rewarded with merits/ stars/ smiles).  There just isn't the time or space to allow for a child who had a sleepless night or has just hit a developmental slump, let alone someone whose personality doesn't fit easily into the acceptable-school-behaviour box.  Even SENCOs have a limited amount of leeway regarding their students' behaviour.  And this is what I consider 'lazy' (by Home Ed standards): imposing one basic system on a group of widely-differing personalities.  Forgiveable in school?  Yes: it's pretty much impossible to treat children in the class as individuals in the same way that I am learning to at home.  In class you can't have a system of demerits for the handful of children who respond to it, plus a different system for a few more etc etc.

But now we are at home?  Well, much as an easy start to the day with a lay-in and pancakes for breakfast may sound lazy to those who have to do the sergeant major bit every morning to get everyone out of the house on time, home education is not for those who like the easy option.  I feel it would be lazy of me to resort to coercing compliance out of the boys - kind of taking the easy way out by dictating obedience rather than being involved with them and encouraging them as individuals on a daily basis.  It takes dedication, hard work and patience to stay connected with them... but boy, is it ever worth it!  There may be times when I need them to respond to a short sharp "no", but generally we're in the process of renewing our minds - turning our backs on the old 'lazy' system of coercion and bribery - and instead putting the focus on encouragement.  How can I encourage my boys to overcome weaknesses, whether academic or character-wise?  Do I penalise, threaten or bribe?  Well I can, if I want to train them to conform.  But I don't - I want them to grow.  That's not to say that Hubby and I will neglect their social training either: they will be taught how to eat with cutlery, to share their possessions, to be kind etc - because all of those values are really important to us.  But when they hit difficulties as they grow, the way I behave will have a big impact - and I want to be one who has taken the time to find out how each one of them is best encouraged, whether by goal-setting, or by learning alongside, or any number of other ways that I haven't yet discovered.

Easy?  Not at all - it'll take a lifetime. I've got to say though: what a ride!

Monday, 9 July 2012

shopping... experimenting... painting

Well, our 'quiet' day today started with me being woken up by Eldest playing electronic battleships in his room... so, not so quiet then...!
The boys had all expressed an interest in making bread again, so we made the dough and then tried to find something to do while we waited for it to prove.  Eldest got onto MathsWhizz on the computer, and the other two decided they wanted to play shops, so we got out the junk modelling box which has lots of empty grocery packaging in it, and my box of small change. 

the 'shop'

We used to have play money when Eldest and Middle were younger, but when Youngest came along with his penchant for putting things in his mouth, the play money (coins at least) was removed.  Still, they had lots of fun with the real coins today (with Mummy watching youngest like a hawk).  We had a break in the middle of the shopping game to finish making the rolls, and then they carried on playing shops until the rolls were baked - so that was well over an hour of playing with money - adding, subtracting, and just getting used to recognising different coins :)  Unfortunately, we were having so much fun that the rolls got a bit over-baked (that's the second time this week!  I really must invest in a kitchen timer).  Still, it was really nice having a tidy house - it gave me more time to just enjoy playing with the boys :)
Once the rolls were (over)done and the money was put away, Youngest and Middle took turns playing and watching each other on Reading Eggs, and Eldest went into a bit of a mope, so on went the TV for Richard Hammond's Blast Lab.  He (Eldest, not Hammond) seemed to be having an 'I'm bored' morning... I'm not thinking he could be being better stimulated at school ... but was wondering if maybe he just needs a bit more structure in his day...?  The truth is though, he's usually very good at finding things to do, I think he's still a bit under-the-weather - he and Youngest still have coughs that I had thought were about gone, but seem to have got worse again since standing out in the rain yesterday to see the olympic torch.  I'm glad Mondays are so laid-back - no pressure to do anything :)
Anyway, after lunch, Eldest decided he wanted to do his own science experiment - so instead of copying one he'd seen in a book or on TV, he used the principles he'd learned so far to create his own:
1/ mix bicarbonate of soda with water in the bottom of a glass
2/ pour some oil into the water - wait a few seconds for them to separate
3/ add some vinegar...
The theory was that the bubbles would fizz up through the oil - and they certainly did!  Initially when he tipped the vinegar in, all we could see was foam, but then as it died away, we could see the smaller bubbles still forming and pushing their way through the remaining layer of oil :)

 you can just see the oil layer under the foam

 the pockets of fizzing bubbles pushing through the oil

It may not seem particularly ground-breaking or exciting (although acid + bicarb is always an impressive reaction to a young boy), but I really enjoyed the fact that Eldest made the progression from watching and copying the experiments of others to extrapolating his own theories from what he had already learned (and they worked too).  I thought that was a significant moment in his scientific journey.  Once his own need to experiment was satisfied, he very quickly found the Blast Lab Science Experiments book that had been casually left out near the sofa, and lost himself in it - maybe even cooking up new theories and plans to try another day :)  Given his droopy morning, I was really pleased by the small but important progress of his afternoon :)
Once that happy moment was done with, it was time to get the paints out, as promised to Youngest yesterday.  Everyone wanted to join in, so we had a chat up front about what we were all going to paint.  I took part too, because I believe that inspiring learning is more about demonstrating enthusiasm than skill (just as well where art and I are concerned) - I painted a picture of a confused badger and fox (confused because they're nocturnal animals, out and about in the daylight)...

Mummy's 'art'

Youngest was definite that he wanted to paint an elephant - and he did.  Sometimes he has a plan up front, sometimes he just likes experimenting - but either way, with him it's a case of getting the timing right so he can decide when his picture is complete.  Realising that he just wanted to carry on painting, but not wanting him to keep going until the 'elephant' picture was just another sheet of paper swimming with paint of a nondescript colour, I showed him another piece of blank paper so he knew he could carry on painting.  That way we got one picture of an elephant as planned, and only one picture of 'grey goo'...


grey goo (complete with squished in kitchen roll, top left)

Middle started off wanting to draw a mountain but got carried away looking at Youngest's elephant, so changed it into a picture of a 'decorated' elephant, surrounded by footprints showing where it had been.  Middle tends to prefer the style of art that evolves as he goes along - he goes on a journey with his creations, starting off with a 'sort of' idea, and seeing how it develops.  He is much more definite about when his piece is complete.  As well as his decorated elephant, he also experimented with our glitter paint, and produced a picture of a glittery 'Noah's ark' (quite difficult to photograph - sorry)

Decorated Elephant

glittery ark

Eldest has another approach - he likes to have a plan up-front of what he's going to do, and usually only makes minor modifications as he goes along, having a clear idea of when he's achieved what he set out to do.  He was really happy that the finished product was pretty much the 'log cabin in the woods' that he had planned (with sunlight peeping through the trees).

log cabin in the woods

So, we all had a happy, messy, fun time.  Because of limited space, I only usually buy paint in the primary colours, plus black and white (the glitter paint was a gift) - so every time we do painting the boys get to experiment with mixing colours to get their required shade.  Admittedly, by the time we'd finished, the rest of the afternoon was spent clearing up, but that's fine - we didn't have anywhere else to be :)
PS I've found an online treasure trove of art lessons for kids from Deep Space Sparkle (can't remember how I found them, so if someone out there passed on the link - thank you!) - I'm really grateful for the website as the boys and I often run short of art ideas (painting, drawing etc, as opposed to craft, or construction-type art).  Now we have more ideas, hopefully the art adventures will be continuing in the near future!