Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Lessons in Independence, aka "Back off, Mummy"

So much for this being an easier week!!!  I've had a couple of really big projects of my own that needed finishing off this week (that I think I must have been in denial about), and although they were my idea and I've really enjoyed doing them (and the recipients were/ will be really blessed by them), part of me was also a bit miffed by missing out on returning to the gentle pace of just hanging out with my boys, watching them grow and having fun together...
Still, the lovely thing is, we'll be able to get back to it next week.  It's not like school half-term holidays when I always used to look forward to having a rest but then the week flashed past in a whirl of 'must-do' activities, cramming in as much neglected housework, family outings and visits to friends as we possibly could, leaving us as tired, if not more tired, than we started!
Anyway, in amongst all my head-down-must-get-this-finished-ness of this week so far, there have been some absolute gems that I wanted to share.  As most HEd'ors discover at some point, when the 'primary educator' is removed, the learners don't fall into chaos as they would in a classroom setting where they rely on the grown-up to tell them what to do - no, they just adapt; they carry on learning in their own way, finding out what they want to find out for themselves.  Sometimes I think seasons of being prevented from helping/ educating/ interfering (!) are a really good thing as they allow us to see how resourceful our children really are.  Mine have been drawing, designing, doing workbooks, reading LOTS, watching fascinating documentaries (by preference over Spongebob & pals!).  Youngest turned himself into a tiger by use of a red felt pen (non-washable!)  Middle has crafter paper planes and other paper models, they have created codes, made up games with each other, and so much more that I can't remember (this is why I try to blog more often - if I leave it more than a day or two I forget all the 'wow' moments).  Oh, and on Monday Eldest finally got his wish to get on Minecraft. You know, I tried to make sense of it, I really did, but no matter how many lovely patient people tried to explain it to me, all my brain could take in was blah blah minecraft blah blah server blah single player blah classic blah blah.  The website wasn't much help either - in the end I decided it was easier to pay the £20 (just under) and just set him up as a single player until we've worked the rest out so he can play safely with friends.  Anyway, he's loving it - and it is causing his brain to learn new ways of thinking and strategising, so all is good for now.  His joy at getting Minecraft for himself may well have been the contributing factor behind my lovely start to the day yesterday...
I was about to come downstairs from getting Youngest up, when Eldest called upstairs, "not yet, Mummy - I am making a surprise for you". When I was allowed downstairs shortly after, I was ushered into the front room where Eldest and Middle assumed the "ta-da" position, pointing towards the armchair and the table next to it...

As if that weren't enough from my two biggest boys (Eldest had no sweets so Middle had freely and generously donated some from his, as well as his favourite hedgehog toy for me to cuddle), Eldest had also emptied the dishwasher without needing to be reminded AND tidied up a huge pile of mess that was on the sofa in the lounge! All for me...!  Unsolicited...!  Now, marshmallows in chocolate and sweets for breakfast aren't really my thing (not that I told them that of course), but oh boy, the love that went into that sacrificial surprise - well, I've been floating on the thought of it ever since. I have filed it carefully at the forefront of my memory to hold on to next time Eldest gets a bit hyper or pre-teenish! I have such sweet boys... :)
Eldest really is growing, and showing signs of wanting to do more things for himself.  I am used to Youngest being Mr "I can do it BY MYSELF" - such as just now when he ran into the study having taken the batteries out of his camera & telling me it needed new ones.  When I mentioned I would have a look in a minute, he decided a minute was too long to wait, so immediately went to get the batteries for himself, opened the packaging and was about to insert them without assistance.  I think I'm equal parts stressed and proud about the fact that he is only four and sees no reason why he shouldn't do everything a grown-up can - in this case I only really had to intervene because I didn't want the dead batteries getting muddled up with the new ones!  Anyway, as I said, Eldest is also now finding confidence to do things for himself - eg he showers himself now - and today he made his own Ready Brek.  I know, he's ten - some would say it's about time!  But when you have a child who's happy to let you wait on them (most often a male thing), and you have younger children who need you to still do things, you get used to just doing it all.  Anyway, all three are out there right now making their own sandwiches.  I'm not used to that yet - it makes me feel bit guilty - but I know it's a good skill for them to learn - and even Middle (who is usually really happy to let me do everything for him) likes making his own sandwiches.  I just need to bite my tongue a bit - after all, does it really matter if the butter dish looks like a grenade has gone off inside it?
Thinking about it, I guess the whole parenting (and therefore Home Educating) process is a balance of increasingly backing-off while they find their feet, while still being constantly as present as always, ready to mop up spills, comfort the disappointed, and cheer them on as they give it another go... it could be a bit sad if it weren't for the fact that I get so many cuddles, kisses, and general joy along the way...

Friday, 26 October 2012

And you think I'M mad...?

The Education System in this country is in crisis.  Insanity rules.  Take three stories from this week's news:

1 - Problem: school standards are slipping. Solution: introduce "rigorous" testing of those wanting to undergo teacher training, implying no confidence in the dedicated, over-worked and under-supported teachers we already have in place (well, Michael Gove did call them "whingers"), and also contradicting the bizarre recent suggestions that state schools should be free to employ unqualified teachers...?
2 - Problem: innocent children are being bombarded with highly sexualised images etc (you just have to watch an MTV track to acknowlege the soft porn that is rampant in just the popular music industry).  Solution: introduce 'porn' lessons in school (yes, even primary school) to help children learn to handle it!!!  I've had two days to process this particular piece of reporting and I'm still almost speechless at the stupidity of the suggestion.
3 - Problem: Ten thousand students were unfairly graded below a 'C' in their English GCSEs, negatively affecting their further education & career choices.  Solution: Do nothing about it, resulting in the exam boards being taken to court by an alliance of schools and councils, who continue to use the same exam boards while taking legal action against them!
I know many people think Home Educators are at best brave/ mad or at worst negligent/ abusive for keeping their children out of the state education system - but when I see news reports like this, I do feel vindicated.  The mischievous side of me sees a bizarre conspiracy theory: perhaps Mr Gove & pals are actually in favour of Home Education after all, and are doing their best to provoke parents to leave the struggling state system...

On a more personal level, I am glad to report we all survived Manic Week.  More than that - we all enjoyed it.  And most miraculously of all, my house survived too: I don't have to spend this weekend tidying and cleaning - now there's a result!  We're looking forward to a slightly less busy week next week... returning to our more typical HE life.  Of course, the boys have still been learning even while we've been socialising and having our version of 'half-term'.  We've had lots of reading, diary/ letter writing, drawing, exercising, creating, role play, counting - and lots and lots of playing.  Today at one point they were investigating how many revolting words they could spell out with the fridge magnets, prompted by Middle who usually leaves me loving little messages but today called me to the kitchen with suppressed giggles in anticipation of Mummy's reaction to the word he had spelled out - "vomit". He was thrilled when I dutifully hammed up my disgusted response, so of course had to work out more words to gross me out, with help from his co-conspirators!

Well, I'm off to pluck my eyebrows, lest tomorrow's photos show two hairy caterpillars crawling underneath my newly immaculate sleek & glossy fringe...  Happy weekend, everyone :)

PS just for you:  quote of the week -
"Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not a preparation for life but is life itself"
 - John Dewey

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Pause to Reflect

So we're half-way through manic week!

I have cake and brownies cooling in the kitchen ready for my HE friends who are coming over tomorrow (NOT impressed with the kitchen scales that refused to work just as I started my third bake though - grrrrr)  Meanwhile the boys (and their two friends who are visiting) are currently sat having movie-time (Yogi Bear + popcorn).  I guess I could be tidying up (again!) but thought I'd pop in & update while I can...

On Monday my good friend and her girls popped in to say 'hi'.  We haven't seen them since we visited them in Scotland at Easter (just as we left school)  One of the first things she said was how much more calm this house and its inhabitants seems now.  It's true, too.  We've been doing this for a while now, and it's so easy to get caught up in the very minor stresses of HE and forget the much bigger stresses that we had in our pre-HE days.  The house was much messier, I was a lot more stressed, the boys were tense - life was generally much more chaotic.  We are comparatively so chilled now!  I was chatting to a friend online earlier this afternoon, sharing techniques that I have used to help my boys when they've had a strop & lost control of themselves.  It's made me so grateful that by Home Educating I've had the time to spend with my boys getting to know them better; I've had time to invest in them and help them through difficult behaviour.  Before, we didn't have the time as everything was so full (not in a good way) so we just lurched from one emotional crisis to another (including my own).  Now, although I am still really far removed from being a perfect parent, I have a few successful moments under my belt, and I'm so grateful for that!  Just a happy 'taking stock' HE moment :)

Yesterday we had our fabulous day at Legoland.  The journey there was a bit stressful as they were all really excited (it's over an hour's drive from here).  At one point they were really bickering and kept asking me to tell the other off (not filling me with hope for an enjoyable day), so I just interrupted (not very patiently) and said that no-one was allowed to say anything else until we had taken turns for each of us to say one thing that they liked about each other person in the car.  It turned into a really lovely time.  Even Youngest came up with some really sweet contributions, and Middle got so enthused by the idea that he asked to have another turn at the end :)  Peace was restored - at least until we got to Legoland where I was actually pretty surprised how busy it was, even off-peak - but of course we had a lovely time, and with only two or three queues all day!  It was Youngest's belated birthday celebration, so he got to choose most of the rides that we went on - that was one happy boy by the end of the day (actually three happy boys), hooray :)

Today the boys had their friends over to play for the day - there was lots of dressing up, trampolining and jigsaw puzzles (well, emptying the puzzles all over the floor at least, so then they all got practice picking up the pieces and sorting them into the appropriate boxes), and quite a bit of creative play.  Eg they all had a big bunch of grapes at the end of their lunch, and Middle found some wooden skewers and stuck a grape on each end to make a "dumbbell".  The visiting girls then decided to thread grapes along the length of the entire skewer and make 'caterpillars'.  Eldest then decided to make a bow and arrows out of the skewers, and then all sorts of creative chaos ensued involving stickers, string, shredded paper and lots of skewers.  The boys are pretty good at creating new things out of whatever they find lying around anyway, and they really enjoyed having others around to bounce ideas off, to inspire them towards new creative ideas :)

So that's the week so far - really busy, but in a really good way.  More fun planned for tomorrow's coffee morning, although with less cakes than I had planned, thanks to the scales going on strike - and then I get my hair done on Friday ready for the photos on Saturday.  It's AGES since I had my hair done, so a little pampering is going to go down really well :)

Saturday, 20 October 2012

More from Mini-blogger

Eldest (aka Mini-blogger) has been busy lately, so here are some more excerpts from his diary...

18th Oct 2012
Another normal day
/sigh/ Bored, bored and more bored /sigh/
I'll play... well I don't know what it's called I'll just play it
"OKAY Rocket 5 you're clear for lift-off"
5... 4... 3... 2... 1... blast off
"Hey what's that button do?"...
"Don't tou-beeep-ch that.
That was the self-destruct button"...
"Oh no"
boom boom kapow

19th Oct
I'm beyond bored.  I'm beyored.

That's me right now
"Phlpht" "chohct" "blemse"

I know I'll make a secret code
a - 1         
b - 2
c - 4          d - 6
e - 8          f - 10
g - 12         h - 14
i - 16         j - 18
k - 20         l - 22
m - 24         n - 26
o - 28         p - 30
q - 32         r - 34
s - 36         t - 38
u - 40         v - 42
w - 44         x - 46
y - 48         z - 50

16 - 26/8/8/6 - 8/46/4/16/38/8/24/8/26/38

shhhh.  Don't tell (Middle)
16'/24 - 30/22/1/48/16/26/12 - 30/34/8/6/1/38/28/34!
so shhhhhhhhh!
he he he.

As well as his diary, Eldest has spent a long time going through his photos, playing about with effects, and making his first very own photobook.  Initially he wasn't very discerning about which were his best photos: he liked all of them, even the blurry ones! I can understand his attachment, but I said I would only pay £5 for the smallest size photobook (which has twenty pages) - if he wanted more pages or a bigger size to fit more photos in, he would have to pay the rest.  That helped him to be more selective over the photos he chose!!  A few included here...


I have asked him if he'd like to have his own blog (for diary and photos etc) but he's still not convinced, so I'll just do the edited highlights here for a bit longer - for his fans, and also because it's really boosting his confidence to be told that people like reading what he's written (and to hear Mummy giggling at the funny bits).

Meanwhile, I've been reading A Funny Kind of Education - and finished it today (didn't want to put it down).  As I quickly discovered the other day when I started reading it in Normal Service to be Resumed Shortly, it was a lovely, humorous, moving & encouraging read.  I do recommend it, especially for people just starting out or considering Home Ed - but more experienced HEors will identify and enjoy it too, I'm sure!  The thing with being generously and warmly welcomed into someone's home like that is you really don't want to stop reading, so I'm really grateful for Ross's blog here, where we get to read about her girls' continuing success :)

Early on in her book, Ross mentions that she sent off for the BBC schedule of educational programmes, which prompted me to do the internet equivalent, and look up their TV programmes online.  I disovered that primary programmes are aired on BBC2 at 5am, so I've been through the next week setting our planner to record.  Not that we'll get time to watch any programmes before the week after, but I like having things lined up for when the boys ask to watch TV, to save me from the seemingly endless froth that is Spongebob Squarepants...

Anyway, it's really late now, so that's it for now.  I'll be back when I stop to catch breath in my busy week coming up!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Normal Service to be Resumed Shortly

Hooray for time off!  My brain is starting to return to normal again - we've had a lovely week just enjoying being together, with no pressure - I guess it was a sort of half-term, in that we had got to a point of needing a break.  It kind of felt a little naughty, as the schools here aren't on half-term for another week and a half - but then, the boys were gearing up their 'learning' before the schools went back in September, so it's not really surprising that we were a bit tired sooner.  And anyway, one of the many things that I love about HE is that we can just take a break whenever we need to, rather than dragging our feet for weeks until we get scheduled time off :)

So anyway, if you've been following, you'll know I've been thinking about restrictions, suggestions, structure etc, and I think I've decided on the 'tweaks' that I started suspecting we needed a week ago in Not-so-helpful Suggestions

Firstly, we had been running a "no-screen-time until after lunch" rule, which kind of bit me on the bum as it seemed to generate a desire for screen-time AS SOON AS allowed.  I'm going to tweak that so that although Mummy will still have no laptop time before lunch (otherwise blogging/ facebook/ photobooks would leech all my time with the boys), the boys are free to watch TV/ go on the PC whenever they like.  After all, it really wasn't an issue when they were deschooling: they watched less then than they do now.  The thing I do have an issue with is the games consoles.  A chat with my wise friend helped me to realise that PC time is actually OK - pretty much the whole time they are on it, they are learning something valuable.  Games consoles however seem to shut down their ability to think creatively.  They're OK for encouraging teamwork occasionally (depending on the game), but on the whole they seem pretty mind-numbing.  So I'm not going to ban them or place set restrictions specifically - but I am hoping to just try to distract the boys away from playng on them if they are mentioned - with the aim that maybe we'll save them for weekends/ holidays... we'll see how it goes, anyway.

Secondly, I was concerned that by making suggestions so frequently, the boys were depending on me for ideas instead of thinking creatively for themselves, and finding their own inspiration.  Where I had viewed suggestions as just a verbal kind of strewing, it turns out that actually they carry more weight than books/ resources just left hanging about, as the boys perceive that I want them to do the things I'm suggesting.  And it's true, I do - although usually just because it looks like fun, and we do usually have fun - but by relying on my suggestions every day they were making noticeably less effort to discover their own interests.  It's not the worst thing in the world in terms of Home Education, but it's just not what I want for them.  So I think I'm going to restrict myself.  Some kind of schedule really does help me, albeit a very gentle, flexible one - so I think I'm going to limit my suggestions to my favourite days, Mondays, and see how it goes.  Tuesday - Friday it will be all about the boys finding/ developing their own ideas, but that still leaves me with a day when I get to suggest things that I've seen that I think they'd like that they otherwise wouldn't have thought of.  I'm not totally convinced about this, but we'll give it a go and see what we learn :)

Thirdly I was thinking about structure: the small amount of online curriculum that I ask of them.  I never get into a fight about it with them - if they really resist, I don't push it - but I do ask them to do an hour each of Reading Eggs & MathsWhizz per week, and I still feel that for us, that is about right.  I've been reading comments from people who home educate in a much-more structured way, and I have to say, it does appeal to my routine-loving teacher-head; I'm just not convinced that the boys would go for it...  actually, I'm convinced one of them would really struggle - so we're going to keep it light and do the minimum that I am happy with, leaving them the rest of the time to be as "autonomous" as they like (as long as that doesn't involve games consoles!!!)

So that's where we're at now - hooray for wobbles that cause me to step back and reboot :)  Tomorrow we have our regular '360 soft play' HE group trip, which is always lovely, and then next week is going to be really busy with Legoland (hooray for them letting Home Educators visit at school prices!), visiting best friends, HE coffee morning & Usborne book sale, barbers visit and non-school photos - so all of the above is on hold until the following week anyway, but I feel better for having had the chance to sort my brain out!

Also, today I received my copy of A Funny Kind of Education by Ross Mountney.  Ross wrote the first book I ever read on HE, Learning without School, when we were first serously considering Home Education early this year.  It was absolutely the best book I could have read at the time - answered all of our practical questions and encouraged me that we could do it.  Ross's experience as well as her practical, humorous, non-judgemental style makes her one of my favourite Home Ed authors (she has a brilliant blog too: here), so I'm really looking forward to reading this new book, a more personal account of her HE journey with her own family.  Actually *whispers* I read a few chapters earlier when the boys were occupied with other things - I couldn't resist - and I can already see that it's going to be a fun and encouraging read.  Having met Ross online since reading her first book, I know she is such a lovely person that she often reads other HE blogs and offers encouragement, so I'm fairly sure she'll be reading this, blushing away (Hi Ross, *cheeky grin*) - but this isn't flattery: I honestly and strongly recommend her books!

Finally, mini-blogger's fans will be pleased to know he has written some more in his diary (so much for my concerns in September that he wasn't interested in writing) - so I'll leave you in his entertaining little hands...

13th October
played predator with (Middle).  I was
     1st - snowleopard
     2nd - octopus
     3rd - lion. 
     Yep, (Middle) was the prey and would not survive in the wild.

17th October
at the 14th, 15th and 16th I didn't feel writey!  Feel a bit writey now.

normal day.  I did
two days ago - waking up, eating, sleeping
one day ago - waking up, eating, sleeping
today - waking up, eating, sleeping
tomorrow - waking up, eating, sleeping
Where's entertainment when you NEED IT!

calmed down
Bored, have a cold, and MESSY room.  "BOOOO!"
I'm so annoyed that my room is a mess, I'm reduced to a puddle.

froze to normal shape, no longer puddle

18th October
at night, hedgehog in garden - amazing
morning, woodpecker in woods - amazing
5 min ago, tidy up - not amazing

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Time to Chill and Play

We had a lovely trip to a Fire Station today, organised by one of the local Home Ed mums.  Blue Watch showed us inside all the different storage parts of the fire engine, had a chat about fire safety at home, and then *cue much excitement* took us outside where all the children who wanted to had a turn at squirting water through the hose, sitting in the fire engine, and wearing a firefighter's helmet and jacket.  My boys all wanted to, and were suitably thrilled with the opportunity.  Eldest is starting to feel a bit big for those sorts of thing, and wasn't sure if he wanted to join in, but I said if he liked, I'd take a photo of him that he could then edit later at home, and he was very keen on that idea -of course, once he had his turn he thoroughly enjoyed it :)

While we ate lunch we watched our newish Human Body DVD from the Rock n Learn series.  (We've had it a while, but the boys decided they wanted to watch it yesterday & then ran out of time - so lunchtime today it was).  It is American, so many of the spellings/ pronunciations are different, but the boys really enjoyed it, so I'll be looking out for more reduced-price dvds from the same series.  Conveniently for this Human body topic that the boys are all interested in at the moment, there are TV series on both CBeebies (Get Well Soon) and CBBC (Operation Ouch!), so we've been recording those and watched some today as well :)

This afternoon Eldest was back on the computer editing his photos (like mother, like son!), and Middle wanted to cook some shortbread with me that he'd found on the CBeebies website yesterday - here (minus the glace cherries).  It was a simple enough recipe, but as we're used to following 'grown-up' recipes, the quantities made were a bit on the puny side!  Next time I'd double the ingredients.  They were yummy though, so no problems there!

Other than that, today was another lovely restful & happy day - lots of stories, cuddles and giggles, singing silly songs and experimenting with our voices, games on CBeebies, measuring each other's heads (why are retractable tape measures to irresistible to the male of the species???), watching Deadly 60 and other programmes, playing with money and so on.  And hopefully more laid-back laughter to be had tomorrow.  What was set to be a really busy week has thankfully turned out to be no more busy than normal - and it's lovely having the time just to play & have fun with my boys while my brain reboots from its most recent wobble :) 
In fact it's so much fun I am making a philosophy of it: wobbles = time to chill and play.   Just focusing on fun rather than on assessing what they are learning (even in a low-key way).  Trying to measure the immeasurable is so stressful - not to mention guaranteed to be inaccurate!  So I'm not bothering this week.  I doubt I'll be able to stop myself watching out for learning progress on a permanent basis, and I'm not sure that would be healthy anyway - I just need to make sure it's not stressing me out - and more importantly, that it's not stressing the boys out.  We're not in school, we don't have to wait until half-term to have a week off if we need it... have I mentioned lately how much I love this Home Ed life...?!

Monday, 15 October 2012

System is Rebooting...

Rebooting my internal system that is (not a schedule kind of system) - just a complete "switch off and restart".  When my laptop/ PC freezes or starts 'throwing a wobbly' (usually because there are too many processes being computed - hmmm...), the first thing I do is switch off and start again.  So I'm doing the same for myself after my HE wobble last week - just switching off and starting again.  Switching off = no restrictions, no expectations, no suggestions - as mentioned on Saturday's post, Deschooling Top-up.  And just enjoying my boys and celebrating who they are... that's what I call starting again: focusing on the main thing, which is my beautiful children.  So I'm deliberately avoiding looking at the so-called "educational achievements" of today, & focusing instead on the fun we had together (none of which, I hasten to add, was instigated by me - hooray)...

I had some lovely cuddly time with Youngest: enjoying tickles and giggles; reading 'Percy the Park-keeper stories (his current favourite); playing at puppies and tigers; and having quite a surreal conversation where our socked feet turned into aliens who had got here from space via a flying van.  We also spent some time together on my laptop, printing off pictures to colour in, and playing the Alphablocks game on the CBeebies website, which he loves.

Middle and I had some cute little chats (very sincere on his part while I just tried not to kiss his serious little face) about when he can go camping with Daddy again and have a campfire - and also about thinking we should do some more cooking (sadly no baking possible until the groceries arrive tomorrow)... and we had a lovely snuggly time making up stories with each other - starting off fairly innocuously with a a hedgehog who farted his way almost to the moon and back (inspired partly I think by the awesome Felix Baumgartner's stratosphere jump that we watched live yesterday - altough I suspect his fuel was a little more refined).  Our story then progressed to a whole new level of surrealism.  I'll spare you the details, but just mention that it involved shrink-rays, butt-holes and exploding eyeballs.  It was such a precious time with my boy, having him giggling so much that he was struggling to get the words out to finish the story :)

Eldest has spent most of the day on the computer, which is not as isolating as it sounds.  He has a little notepad computer that has a broken screen so he hasn't been able to use it for a while.  Clever Daddy hooked it up to a normal monitor for him yesterday, so he can still use the laptop & all the things he had saved on it.  So today we spent some time together uploading all of his photos, and I showed him how to edit them & play around with effects etc in Picasa - my favourite free downloadable photo-editing (and sharing) software.  He had a great time - has been waiting to do it for ages, so it was lovely to get some time to spend helping him make it happen.  This was one of his favourite works of art, called "my alien Daddy"...

At one point today I did ask them to come away from their respective screens, so they could rest their eyes - otherwise they'd have stayed on the various computers etc all day which would not have been healthy.  Not a set restriction, just common sense in my opinion...  Anyway, Youngest found my set of cuisenaire rods and they all played with those for a while, then Middle and Youngest went and jumped in the leaves that are accumulating rapidly on the trampoline (hooray for fresh air) while Eldest found more things to take photos of.  He also drew some comic-strips that beautifully capture the juxtaposed realities found in his beloved Calvin & Hobbes, but the first one of which sadly I can't share here as he mentions himself and his brother by name.  I will have to transcribe & hope you catch some of the fun:
box 1: picture of snow leopard, with caption: "(Eldest) the snow-leopard creeps up on his prey"
box 2: picture of snow leopard leaping, with caption: "and then pounces on his prey"
box 3: picture of snow leopard on top of deer, with caption: "he grabs his prey tightly"
box 4: picture identical to box 3, except it is two boys, named as Eldest on top of Middle
Hmmm, it definitely loses something by not being able to see it. Well, here's his second one...

Before you ask (not that you would), I'm not sharing this as an academic achievement - I'm sharing it cos it's my blog and I'll brag if I want to... because he's my boy and he makes me laugh :)
In fact, laughs have figured highly in today's rebooting session... so that's the rest of the week planned out then: laughter!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Deschooling Top-up

So, following on from my ponderings over structure/ suggestions/ screen-restrictions etc...

The only conclusion I am prepared to make so far is that we need a little time to top-up on our deschooling.  I am fully prepared to admit that it is I who needs more deschooling, rather than the boys - but hey, they're not going to complain if I back-off on my expectations a bit.  I still don't think we are very structured on a daily basis, but I caught myself thinking something that shocked me a bit & made me realise how much deschooling I still need (or maybe not deschooling, maybe just a slap round the head with a wet kipper...).  Prepare yourselves, perfect parents, for a shocking admission.  I was mulling over the whole quandrary of whether or not to restrict TV; whether or not to set expectations of even a small amount of time on curricular work; whether to suggest activities or let them find their own learning fun... and while it was all spinning round inside my head, I heard the thought flit across my brain: "but how do I make them learn anything?"  Aaarrrggghhh!  That is totally NOT what I want for me or my boys.  I don't want to MAKE them learn - in fact, I don't think it's even possible to MAKE someone learn something.  I suppose certain facts can be artificially imposed onto one's conscious thought by mind-numbing repetition and brain-washing - but that is not what I mean by learning.  Learning is experiential - it is expanding how we think, by way of new surroundings/ materials/ scenarios, by being exposed to different people, different ways of thinking...  and I do believe all of that -  so where did this insecure little mini-dictator spring from inside me?

Some may call this a wobble - and I do understand that the 'wobbles' are a normal part of Home Educating, that come in all sorts of guises.  Well - mostly normal: I have one friend who never seems to wobble - I think it has something to do with the fact that she was home educated herself as a child - and she just seems to radiate this confidence that her boys will be fine - because she knows she is fine, after all she survived Home Ed without being socially unskilled or incapable of finding a career :)  I would love that confidence, rather than the feeling that to Home Educate is to reinvent the wheel!  I am absolutely confident that Home Education is completely right for our family - it's just un-nerving to have little mini-dictators appearing in one's inner thought life! So, my way of dealing with my wobbly dictator (hmm, interesting image) is to ignore it.  Not deny that it is there, but pay it no attention, as to focus on it would be the quickest way to go up my own exhaust-pipe.

So my plan is as stated, to deschool myself a little more - back off on the small amount of restrictions, suggestions & expectations that we have - and just spend a week or so just enjoying my boys and reminding myself why we chose to Home Educate them.  Instead of focusing on what they are/ are not doing academically, I will celebrate their achievements and focus on true learning - giving them space to push past any boredom, discover their own enthusiasm and just value my time with them - what better gift can I give them than to enjoy being with them and enjoy what they are enjoying?  What can they possibly learn that is more important than to know that they are valuable just as they are, and that the things that they care about really do matter...

I quite like this wobble - i'm looking forward to the week ahead now :)

PS Having just read this blog post - Remember You're a Parent (Ross Mountney), the whole blog seemed to confirm what I have been thinking - thanks Ross! - and her last sentence really resonated with me: "it’s relationships that build happy and educative lives!"  How blessed I am, that I get to invest in relationships with my children.  That, above any educational philosophy, is the thing that will set my children up for a successful life :)

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Not-so-helpful Suggestions...

Much as I love our little routine that we've been getting into, I feel it needs a tweak.  The problem is, where we've had a "no TV or games console until after lunch" rule, it seems to have created a false appetite for those things that I don't remember being there before.  Or maybe it was there - I can't remember if they actually watched a lot of TV & played on the Wii a lot over the holidays, or if that's just how it felt at the time...?! Anyway, regardless of that, we do now have the rule in place, and it does seem that as soon as we have lunch, the TV now goes on automatically.  So I'm just wondering: have I brought that about by having the rule in the first place?  You know how it goes: if you tell a child "don't touch that" they are immediately tempted to touch whatever it is, even though they may not have even noticed it before.  Perhaps by restricting TV access I have made them more aware of its appeal...?
Further to this, I have also noticed that they have not been so forthcoming with their own ideas of things they want to do as they were before the summer.  I have a feeling this has something to do with the slight structure that we have in place.  I ask them to do a bit (about an hour in total) of MathsWhizz and Reading Eggs every week - but other than that we are generally fairly unstructured.  Also, I've been making more suggestions this 'term', which is more of a habit than a structure but still significant.  You see, when they first came out of school they found it very hard to think of what they wanted to do - they were totally used to having entertainment/ learning processes set in front of them.  Through the deschooling process they learned more about themselves and where their interests actually lay: they learned how to think for themselves - they worked out what they wanted to learn about, and just got on with exploring, finding, enjoying etc - and we all loved it.  This term (our first real term of HE if you discount the deschooling) I have asked very little of them, but have made suggestions based largely on things they have previously mentioned or things that I think will interest them.  I saw it as a kind of verbal strewing - just putting the ideas out there and seeing what the children pick up on.  To be honest though - they generally like anything I suggest (I do try to suggest fun things!); we have been busy, learned lots and had lots of fun.  I am just a little concerned that they aren't thinking for themselves so much again, but rather depending on my suggestions before lunch & reverting to screen time after lunch.  It's certainly not a disaster as far as Home Education goes - but it is food for thought.
So I'm off again - pondering; musing - not wobbling exactly, just considering... and thinking we may have our 'half-term' now: we have a VERY busy two weeks coming up anyway, so we may just use that time to back right off from any structure again, and see what happens.  I don't want to extend the 'no TV' hours, or ban it totally, but I really do want to encourage them away from depending on it to entertain them. (Learning on the TV is another matter - we love that!) We currently have nothing at all planned for half-term, so maybe we'll resume a bit of structure then - it depends what I learn from the next week or two...

Meanwhile we've been having a lovely week.  Craft club on Tuesday saw the boys painting the clay models they made earlier this month, and then making "fossils" (as they called them) out of clay, plaster-of-paris, and little toy creatures.  Their clay models are being re-fired, but we were able to bring the fossils home - and today we used a paint-wash to give them a bit of colour (one of just two suggestions that Mummy made today).  The boys are all really pleased; they look great :)

     Middle's "Fossils"                                Eldest's "Fossils"  
Youngest's "Fossils"

Yesterday we went to visit some new HE friends, and had a really good time with them.  It took up most of the day, so we had no time for anything else, but we didn't care - it was just lovely for me to see the boys socialising so easily... and of course, Mummy and the other grown-ups had a lovely natter too!  I realised that one of the things I have really appreciated since we started our journey has been the support of people around us who haven't tried to tell us what to do (even when the experienced Home Ed'ors could doubtless see all of my naive mistakes right here in my blog), but have just stood alongside us and encouraged us that we could find the right way for us. Thank you everyone!

Today has been lovely too.  Apart from the fossil paint-washing, my only other suggestion (I am going to try not to make them for the time being) was to ask Eldest if he still wanted to do some baking (he did) as I had some soured cream to use up, so we made some gorgeous Cinnamon Squares - it made the kitchen smell all Christmassy and we got to eat cake at lunch-time - hoorah!

Also today Middle has been making different types of paper aeroplane.  He has somehow memorised how to make four different types ('bug', 'dart', 'glider' and 'super-cool short plane'!) - three of which were in a book he had months ago, and one of his own invention.  I am really impressed that he's remembered all the differently precise folds - but he's such a visual person, I needn't really be surprised.  He even taught our lodger how to make her first paper plane this morning!  Now that's mastery - when you can impart a skill that you have learned to someone else!

As I deliberately stepped back from making suggestions today, the boys found their own activities - and there was a LOT of imaginative play going on today - Middle and Youngest spent a lovely long time playing with playdough, making all sorts of things - meals, planets, animals and using them in role-play.  Eldest spent a long time in his room, making things with his lego and orchestrating battles etc.  Once upon a time my teacher-brain would not have handled them "just playing" like that (except for maybe Youngest), but the further we go on this journey, the more I see how vital it is: for them to be able to explore in their own worlds causes all the little neurons in their brains to make new connections, and can lead to who-knows-how-many fascinating discoveries.  This is genuine learning.  As Albert Einstein said,
"Imagination is more important than knowledge"
It is not an indulgence, nor is it a cop-out to try to justify them playing as if we feel they "should" be studying (in a more academically acceptable way): it is VITAL  that we allow our children the space for imaginative play.  How else can we provide them with the opportunity to naturally expand their minds?  Feeding them facts is OK if that is what they are interested in, but in encouraging them to explore their imaginations and the world around them, we are presenting them with endless possibilities.  Another one from Einstein:
"The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent or absorbing positive knowledge"
Finally, speaking of Neurons, I thought I'd share Eldest's quiz question for Daddy that he left stuck to his bedroom door yesterday:

For those who didn't already know, the answer is (a) - and I tell you what: if we have that many neurons, and learning new things causes them to connect in new way, no wonder I can feel my brain stretching!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


I wasn't going to blog today, mainly because we've been busy & I'm still recovering from yesterday.  But my ten-year-old had other ideas, and presented me with his diary on his way to bed, asking me to put it in my blog.  So here I am, on behalf of my mini-blogger - just popping in to share his joy...

9th October

played Star Wars Lego with (Youngest)
Got dressed
Stink-bombed (Middle).  Fun FUN and more fun...  well getting dressed isn't fun.

Created recipe for (Eldest)-cake.  It is very chocolatey, yum yum.Now I need to tidy up.  COME ON NOW.  This Diary should be called the TIDY UP DIARY! "sigh"

I think that is such a fab little blog entry I'm going to leave it at that!  But for those who have been kind enough to ask: yes, I am feeling better than yesterday.  Not fully there, but much, much better!  Thank you for caring :)

Monday, 8 October 2012

Lovely Morning, Not-so-lovely Afternoon

A lovely start to the day today :)

With Eldest feeling much better, and my antibiotics working, everyone was much more energetic/ enthusiastic than we have been for a while, so after breakfast we got creating straight away.  First of all we made some dough for bread, then while it was proving we got straight on with painting today's pictures.  "Mummy, this is art!" Youngest told me seriously while covering his paper with broad strokes :)  We painted a background of grass and sky, then while it dried we cut out some elephant shapes from the sheets of painted paper that we made last week.  The shapes were glued onto the background sheets, then details added with oil pastels.  We got the idea from (surprise surprise) the Deep Space Sparkle website, and were again quite pleased with the results...

Eldest's Elephant                              Middle's Elephant 
Youngest's Elephant                                   Mummy's Elephant

After cleaning the paint away, the bread dough was fully proved, so we then made our bread rolls.  We were thinking of making one bigger loaf, but all the boys enjoy kneading and shaping their own bit, so rolls it was :)

nom nom nom

After those two 'all of us' activities (suggested by me, based on recent comments made by the boys), I busied myself with some washing and waited to see what the boys would choose to do next.  Middle got on to Reading Eggs while Eldest read some picture books to Youngest.  Then it was Eldest's turn on Reading Eggspress, and Youngest was obviously inspired by his brothers so I put my laptop on to sit with him and have another go at the Reading Eggs level he had last got stuck at.  Obviously he was in the zone today, because he whizzed through and finally passed the level - hooray!  The level he is now on requires proper reading skills - some word recognition and some phonic blending..  It is definitely a stretch for him, but he can do it!  And of course, doing it with me on my laptop just added to the fun, especially as Mummy kept marvelling at how well he was doing!  Eldest then found some of his books to read - including The Terrible Tudors, Middle did some drawing, and Youngest found our Magnetic Anatomy Set to play with again - he has barely stopped playing with it since we got it last week :).  Next Eldest made a Treasure Hunt and gave the rest of us clues to hunt around the house for some little darts (mini-planes) that he had made with left over card and pastels this morning!  Home-made bread rolls for lunch, and then we were looking up some obscure facts so that we can quiz Daddy when he comes home.  This is a new game that the boys have started: see if we can learn something during the day that Daddy doesn't know (I LOVE this game!)

This afternoon I had the delightful (spot the sarcasm) experience that is root canal treatment, so the boys were very happy to have their grandparents visit while I went to the dentists.  Lego Star Wars on the Wii, followed by a Wildlife documentary that Eldest had previously recorded (Land of the Lost Volcano) - and Mummy was home again :)  I have to say, once the anaesthetic wore off I was feeling very sorry for myself indeed & was just trying to stay sane, so I dosed myself up fully and the boys quietly watched more TV - this time 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the Gene Wilder one).  It was lovely having them all engrossed (they hadn't seen it before) - especially once my painkillers started working! 

If memory serves, I should be feeling much better tomorrow, so I'm thinking the boys will be having an early night this evening, then I have a date with the TV and a bar of chocolate!  Oh, and some photo books to work on...  Anyone who knows me will know how much I love my family photos (I have been called 'obsessed' by some) and in case anyone out there feels the same I'm passing on my recommendation: not really to do with Home Ed, but hey... The best photo books I have ever found are those made by Snapfish.  Being 'the best' (in my opinion) means they aren't cheap, but for the next two weeks they are doing them at half-price - so that's me busy for a while ;)

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Getting there...

Happily, things seem to be improving here now, although it wasn't immediate.  I took Eldest to see the Doctor again first thing yesterday (was given a new prescription) while Hubby took Middle and Youngest to the soft play meet, and enjoyed meeting some of the lovely HE people I've been talking about.  Eldest really wilted when we caught up with them there though, and couldn't even handle sitting with us - he just needed to be at home, so he went back with Daddy, and I stayed to chat with my friends while the younger two played.  My painkillers seem to be working most of the time, so it was a nice time (trying not to think about Root Canal on Monday though). 

I'm relieved to say that Eldest's new prescription seems to be really helping now: he slept really well last night and is definitely looking brighter and showing interest in things again, hooray!  I can handle my own pain (admittedly with the help of drugs at the moment), but I really don't like my boys being so under-the-weather!

We were also cheered up yesterday evening by the delivery of our most recent Book People order.  I can't recommend this bargainiferous company enough... Eldest was very happy to receive a lovely set of ten Horrible Science books, Middle was really excited about his set of ten Star Wars readers books, and Youngest even got a bag included with his set of ten 'Winter Wonderland' picturebooks - he was thrilled :)  That was thirty books that cost us less than £30, and felt a like a bit of Christmas had come early - mind, it always does when we get new books :)  All of the books were delved into immediately, read for snuggly bedtime stories, and carried on with today - perfect!

Oh, and for further medicine, my most-loved of invisible friends, the Kitchen-fairy (who I suspect looks a little bit like my lodger) came and tidied the kitchen while I was asleep.  I LOVE the kitchen-fairy :)

So anyway, today has been a gentle day with Eldest and I needing to pace ourselves. We actually managed a bit of a lie-in this morning (!), followed by a lovely visit to family.  Then the boys had some nintendo time this afternoon while I had a good giggle with friends online - based largely around this most excellent book : Pants, by Giles Andrae and Nick Sharrat (it is one of our most read books here, and is so loved that we haven't ordered the sequel in case it just doesn't match up to the genius of its predecessor). I am getting restless though - gorgeous books & hilarious online chats notwithstanding, I really want to be outside, wandering in some misty Autumn woods!  Still, hopefully once Monday's over we'll be feeling more active again...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

To Plan or Not to Plan

Uh - that would be 'not to plan' this week!

Sometimes things just don't go according to plan, so it is generally a good thing (for us) that our planning is very low-key.  This week we had a Home Ed coffee morning planned at a friend's house yesterday, which was lovely, as expected - much socialising done by children and parents, and an over-all fun time was had by all :)  Monday was a planned PJ day, as always - interrupted by a visit to the doctors, but otherwise lovely.  Tuesday we did hardly anything, which was unplanned but nexessary - and our only other 'planned event' was to be a group visit to a soft play area tomorrow... organised by myself.  I am now in the frustrating position of possibly being late to my own event (am really hoping we won't be stopped from going).  Eldest has had a couple of health issues left over from his nasty virus last month, and for the last couple of days he has really not been himself.  I can't leave it over the whole weekend so I'm going to have to try to get an appt tomorrow, at whatever time they can give me (probably in the morning).  Ah well, these things happen - and I will be soooo glad to get my sunny, happy biggest boy back again once he has recovered.

So Eldest has not been sleeping well at all; Youngest is still getting used to no pull-ups in bed, though I do simply have to boast that he went all night last night with dry pants & sheets (he still woke a few times, but no accidents, clever boy)!!  And then at some point during the night (I've stopped looking at the clock every time I'm woken up as it's too depressing), I developed severe toothache :(  I had an emergency appt this afternoon & am now armed with antibiotics and more painkillers, and an appointment for a root canal on Monday - urgh!

So that said, I wouldn't have expected to have anything to write about today.  Knowing that Eldest was struggling (and I was exhausted), I deliberately did not plan anything for today, except a bit of Wii-playing (if anything can rouse Eldest that would be it), but we just gently carried on with whatever presented itself (not least to take our minds off how rotten we were feeling in our respective ways), and surprisingly ended up doing quite a bit.   See, distractions can be positive!  So Eldest did a bit of Reading Eggspress (he loved the trial fortnight so he is now fully subscribed) and MathsWhizz, and Middle did a LOT of Reading Eggs.  Youngest wanted to play Body Bingo (we made our version last week - see All Learning Together), but when I got out the counters he looked disappointed and asked to play it the "old-fashioned way" (ie using chocolate buttons like the first time as we didn't have the proper counters when we played it last week).  Bless him - we stuck to proper counters but he still had fun shouting 'Bingo' in the appropriate places (and a few inappropriate ones)  Middle and Eldest joined in too (Eldest was reluctant to leave the sofa at this point, so he just answered the questions).

See, another nice thing about HE is that where I thought Middle might have finished with the 'Our Bodies' project that he sort of pursued last term, he's actually still very interested, and Eldest and Youngest are getting involved as well now: we don't have to ditch a project just because we've 'done it' for a term already!  So there was much excitement today when a parcel arrived for me, and when Youngest asked what it contained, we opened it to find "my new body game" - here  (I always call them mine as it immediately makes them want to try it, plus they are also slightly more likely to treat it carefully than if it were their 'own' property!)  It's great: a magnetic board with cut out magnetic shapes showing different body organs, with a little write-up on each organ's function.  All the boys enjoyed working out where each organ went, so I hope it'll turn out to be something they return to again and again.  In fact, Eldest was interested enough to go on to then have a go at this little Interactive Human Body, courtesy of the BBC.  We had fun trying to work out which way round the gall bladder went, but other than that, he did very well :)

All three boys enjoyed watching 'Deadly 60's Top Ten' on the TV at lunchtime, and then Middle and Youngest were inspired to get arty today too... I had noticed on the inspiring Deep Space Sparkle arty website that they do quite a bit Eric Carle - style art using painted paper.  Knowing how much my boys love splashing paint onto paper, we got out a few sheets and had fun mixing colours and covering the sheets with broad brush strokes, that we will save and use for coming projects. I still only have paint in the primary colours + white and black (and a little gold and silver), as it saves on storage space, plus it's a really good way to reinforce their understanding of how to make the secondary and tertiary colours etc.  Well anyway even after painting about a dozen sheets, they still weren't ready to put the paints away and Middle decided that he wanted us all to do something together, so we found a big piece of paper and got to work.  Eldest did a cloud but really wasn't in the mood today - the rest of us painted a big landscape of sky, grass & trees, then once it was dry (which took a while!) the younger two boys stuck on some Autumn stickers that I'd almost forgotten we had, and made a lovely woodland picture.  There was a little disagreement over whether or not a hedgehog should be fying in the sky, but in the end they both embraced the surreal and decided to have a whole host of flying creatures!

Finally, after a bit of Wii-play (Lego Star Wars), with all the boys enjoying killing a variety of droids, today it was Middle's turn to do some baking - and with it being Daddy's birthday, we decided to make a cake to welcome him home from work.  By this point my poorly tooth was playing up quite a bit, but Middle and I managed between us - and after all, you can't go without cake on your birthday!!!

So I was quite chuffed with today's acheivements - although I have to say, my lauded housework routine has slipped in all the 'feeling yucky'ness.  I'll just have to take it a day at a time - hope for a lovely time at Soft Play (eventually) tomorrow, a lovely weekend, and (after the necessary evil that is a Root Canal treatment on Monday), hopefully a lovely week next week with us returning to our usual joie-de-vivre.  Bring on the joie!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

LA Wars

We were all really tired this morning, due to Eldest having trouble sleeping, Youngest (who has decided he doesn't want to wear pull-ups to bed any more) waking with wet sheets several times, and Middle just waking very early.  Of course, all of them felt the need to come and wake me up every time they were awake, so I was feeling pretty rough & sleep-deprived when I got up this morning too!  I'm so grateful I didn't have to try to get them out to school: that we can just adjust our days around how we're feeling - and being realistic, I wasn't expecting any of them to have much energy for anything much today).  Middle was quite jolly and spent a good amount of time on MathsWhizz, followed immediately by Reading Eggs.  Youngest had a go on Reading Eggs with me, but is still discouraged by the game he has got to where even if he gets the questions right, if he doesn't do it fast enough he has to repeat the exercise - and he finds that instantly discouraging.  He did enjoy watching Middle though - and he built a lovely train-track in the lounge while we bent our 'no TV before lunch' rule for Eldest, who just wanted to flop on the sofa, watching back-to-back wildlife documentaries - and I was happy to be part of the couch-potato zone!  So, not much to report today.

However, that doesn't mean no blog (obviously) - there's something I've been mulling over for a while, and with the appearance of two very different blogs yesterday, it made me think some more.  I don't have answers, just musings - but as always, you are welcome to join me in my pontificating...

I first blogged about this issue in May (Who's Afraid of the LEA).  We had only been Home Educating for a month and I could already see that LA involvement is an enormous issue in the HE community.  It is still the single issue that makes me feel the need to steel myself every time I see a post about it, as I know that feelings run so high, there may be a row any minute.  I have even been witness more than once to what in my opinion constituted online bullying, when individuals mentioned that they were having an LA visit, and were then ganged up on by those who refused to accept that anybody should ever let the LEA into their houses.

Now, my personal attitude remains the same as stated in the aforementioned post: "I think that there is no more need to invite the LEA to be involved in my children's education than there is to invite the Social Services to be involved in my children's upbringing. If they NEED to come round, I have nothing to hide, and would hope to be courteous (unless they got hostile) - but why would I invite them?" 
That said, because I detest bullying and greatly dislike being told what we "should" do, I have even been known to stand up for those who have no problem with being monitored by the LA.  And let's be honest, those of us who believe that Home Educators should be left alone to fulfil what is in fact OUR parental responsibility to educate our children would be horrified if that way of thinking then led to a child being abused because nobody knew what was going on!  Not that that is reason enough for LA monitoring - I don't believe it is at all - I'm just saying, let's not pooh-pooh the idea that it could happen.  It is nowhere near as high a risk as the powers-that-be seem to suggest - but we need to be part of the answer, and actually consider the issue.  The fact is, schools usually are the primary point of contact outside of the home for children - and they do have a duty of care.  It is not as simple as an education system operating separately to a welfare system.  Anyone who has worked in school will have been on Child Protection/ Safeguarding training, which has nothing to do with educating them (or very little) - but it is acknowledging that as a society, we all have a part to play in looking out for the vulnerable.

I guess what I'm saying is, why do we need to make enemies of the LA?  I have come across those who are ambivalent towards them (usually like me, they are quite new to HE and are sometimes fairly ignorant of the whole 'Badman' furore of a few years ago whch caused so much bad feeling), and I have come across those who are vehemently opposed to LA involvement, and will not tolerate any alternative opinion (including this blog post I guess - oops.  I have a feeling I'm going to tread on some toes however hard I try not to); I have even heard it said that ALL LAs and their representatives are evil!!!    Now my husband says that I am a very black-and-white kind of person, but I have to say that even though I also disagree with monitoring, I don't see it as 'baddies' and 'goodies'.  I have yet to meet a parent who is home educating for any reason other than to give their child(ren) the best start to life that is possible - but that doesn't mean they're not out there. To be honest, if someone were abusing/ neglecting their child, they wouldn't be as likely to be out meeting with others, so it's highly improbable that I'll meet any.  BUT it would be naive of me to suggest that there are no people out there keeping their children off school because of neglect rather than the more noble motives of the majority of us.  Happily, I also haven't yet met an LA official whose sole purpose in life is to persecute those with an alternative lifestyle - although it is true I have heard many more accounts than I would like of petty officials acting beyond their remit and placing ultra vires demands on innocent people just trying to bring their children up.  The difference for me is that while others may see those officials as the 'baddies', I see them most likely as people who believe they are doing what's right, but are unfortunately really ignorant of not only the law, but also the positivity of Home Education.  And even if they were 'baddies' persecuting innocent people, which would be terrible and rightly need addressing - there is still no need to project that onto every LA employee on the country.  Yes, quite a few of them do seem to have control issues (officialdom doesn't like things that can't be neatly labelled and kept in a box), but more often than not, they are suspicious because they just don't understand.

A clear example of this to me, was the first of two blog posts that I read yesterday, here - by a retired 'official' who obviously has an axe to grind against certain Home Educators.  You may think that she has a valid point, given the cases that she shares (although I was sad that she chose not to balance her article with some positive HE cases) - but then I read this excellent 'reply' here which just showed to me the danger of putting someone (especially if unqualified) in a position of judging someone else.  None of us can know the actual stories behind the cases mentioned, but we can clearly see the importance of understanding the full picture.

Not having experienced our LEA for myself yet, I can only go by what my HE friends have told me - and apparently here in Hertfordshire we have a good LA - that is to say, the letters that they send out are unnecessarily officious and reflect little understanding of the law, demanding visits as a legal requirement etc (when they are not) - BUT the actual people who come out to visit are really helpful, encouraging and positive, enthusiastic about HE.  I am sure that if I met them I would find them the same, although I don't plan on meeting them for a good while, because I believe the system needs to change.  And this is the issue: how is it ever going to change if we draw up battle lines, assume the defensive position - or offensive for that matter  - and slug it out?  Surely somebody somewhere needs to start talking sense.  If people are operating out of ignorance, isn't the best way to deal with it not by labelling them as ignorant and therefore justifying our antipathy towards them, but to actually help them to understand what they don't yet understand.  We are not victims - we have a choice.  If they send an officious letter (or worse, door-step us) we can choose our response.  We can send them a snotty reply (or be rude to their faces), using the law as a weapon to get rid of them; we can choose to let them in (which regardless of whether or not it is a positive experience, does send the message that it is acceptable to make ultra-vires demands, in my opinion), or we can reject the interference but in a more polite/ positive way.  I actually heard of some HE mums whose offspring had grown-up and who were looking into taking on positions within the LEA so they could help other Home Edders - but (and I find this utterly self-defeating and short-sighted) they were pressurised out of it by those who judged that by doing so they would be 'siding with the enemy', thus removing a great opportunity for some of us to actually get involved with the LA and start to turn the system round. 

Fighting achieves so little - I always was a bit of a pacifist, although I don't think I'm backwards in coming forwards when I believe in a cause.  If they pick a fight, by all means fight back - but let's not delude ourselves that by being stubborn & just refusing to comply because the law happens to be currently on our side, that that is winning the battle (actually that is more likely to annoy them into trying to change the law).  Whether it's an officious letter from the LEA or a full-on change in law such as the one currently being attempted in Wales, the best way to fight is by doing what we know best: by educating!  We know from experience how to provide an environment where learning is unhindered... we don't ram it down out kids' throats against their wishes.  We are nurturing and helpful.  If their behaviour gets out of hand, we maintain the boundaries that exist for their or our good, but we remain positive.  We explain what needs to be understood, and we remain involved, because we care.   Is it just me, or are there some genuine parallels here...?

Monday, 1 October 2012

Abusive? Moi?

What a surreal evening I had yesterday!  As many of you know, I usually post a link to my blog on my Facebook page,  and a friend sent me a message yesterday teatime to say that when she clicked on the link it had sent her a warning to say that it (my blog entry) had been reported as potentially abusive!  When I asked a few others to check for me, most of them also received the same warning - although some (on Chrome and Firefox) didn't, and a resourceful few managed to ignore the warning and read the blog post anyway!  It had been shared on two other pages that I know of, and on one page the link refused to work at all, while the link on the other page worked easily with no warning!  All too strange for my non-technical brain!  The big question was: was it a Facebook glitch or someone playing a prank?  I found it quite funny, given that the post was about Housework: it is conceivable that some reader was either bored half to death or deeply offended (I jest) - but then a link to another blog post seemed to show the same warning, and it wasn't even about housework!  All very odd.  Anyway, it seems to be sorted now, but I just want to say thank you to you gorgeous people who helped with the "investigation", joined in with the indignation, and ultimately logged on to my blog so many times that the reported post and yesterday's test post turned out to be the most viewed in September!  You are all wonderful :) 

So anyway, on to today (assuming no warning is given that stops you logging on this time)... our usual lazy Pyjama Monday wasn't quite to order today as I had to take one of the boys out to see the doctor.  Happily, our awesome lodger was able to stay at home with the other two who had lots of fun making badges and decorations, playing with our Slimy Slugs kit, dressing up and generally having fun :)  After that, once the patient and I were home again, we all enjoyed what has been my favourite craft so far, in terms of simplicity and finished result.  A friend shared a link (sorry, I can't find it now) to a blog where a stained glass window had been made over time by glueing tissue paper directly on to a window.  I commented to my friend that as we rent, I'd probably find a way of doing it onto sticky-backed plastic so it wasn't so hard to remove when we move house - and so we could keep it for posterity!  Well, today was the day (step by step guide included at end of blog if you fancy having a go)...

 Window art: Eldest's fish and Middle's slug

Mummy and Youngest's Heart (he enjoyed it, but needed quite a bit of help)

Also today we had computer time: Eldest on MathsWhizz, Middle on Reading Eggs and Youngest on the CBeebies website. Eldest is still working his way through our set of Horrible Histories books that we've had for years, but he's only recently discovered. It just goes to show - it's all about waiting until they're ready. He wasn't interested for ages but is loving them at the moment, and really enjoys quizzing us from whichever book he's currently reading (today it was the Barmy British Empire). Oh, and we mustn't forget the baking: Youngest made some yummy cinamon shortbread today, cut into owl shapes...

There were a couple of things that I wanted to share from the weekend too... while we were in the car travelling somewhere, Middle, who hd been quiet for a while, suddenly announced that two-times-tables are just the same as three-times-tables really!  Well, Eldest wanted to correct him immediately (it's a first-born thing), but I asked Middle out of interest why he thought so.  It turns out he had done the two-times table in his head as far as six, and then the same with the three-times table.  Well that led to a lengthy conversation that covered not only the afore-mentioned times tables, but also odd and even numbers, addition techniques, patterns and other mathematical concepts.  My little man who had developed such a strong antipathy to Maths while at school was actually spontaneously working it out in his head for pleasure, enjoying finding patterns and such!  It was a lovely HE Mummy moment :)  Another one was noticing how Eldest's vocabulary is increasing rapidly, thanks at least in part to his love of Calvin and Hobbes (I included the link there in case anyone exists out there who has missed this genius comic-strip)... I particularly enjoyed it when Daddy came downstairs marvelling that Eldest had just accurately explained to him the meaning of the word "anthropomorphise" :)
So that was our day (and some of our weekend)!  And for anyone who fancies trying out our window art, here are the guidelines to our craft that I promised earlier (sorry I didn't take photos of every stage - we got a bit involved!)...

Stained-glass effect Window art
resources: sheets of sticky-backed plastic; tissue paper in assorted colours; black paper or thin card; scissors, pencil, an uncluttered table (very important)

1)  Take an A4 sheet of black paper and draw an outline of a large simple shape (heart, fish, slug - or something else...).  Draw an identical shape, about 1cm smaller inside the original shape.  Cut around the inside and outside of the shape, leaving you with a thick shape outline...

2)  Peel the backing off the sticky-backed plastic (keep the backing paper), leaving the plastic sticky-side up on the table.  Place your shape outline in the centre of the plastic.  Cut an even number of 1cm wide strips to act as spokes, radiating out from the central shape and dividing the outer area into an even number of sections.

3)  Roughly cut/ tear the backing paper and replace it onto the plastic (shiny side down), leaving only the central shape exposed.  This is really important - it seems like a faff, but if you dont do it you are highly likely to get random bits of tissue/ other stuff stuck to the bit of plastic that you're not working on (and it's really annoying!)...

4)  Choose tissue paper in 3 complimentary shades of colour to fill your shape with (for our heart we used shades of yellow/orange).  Tear into small pieces (e irregularity of torn pieces is more effective than if cut with scissors) and place onto the exposed plastic inside our outline.  Fill the shape (leaving no sticky bits exposed)

5)  Remove backing paper, a bit at the time to complete the outer area.  Choose two sets of two complimentary shades which contrast with the colour in the shape - eg for our heart we chose two shades of green and two shades of pink/purple.  Complete an outer section at a time with small ripped pieces of tissue paper, alternating colours between each section..

6)  When the entire piece of plastic is covered with tissue paper, you may like to use scissors and trim the edges off the plastc as the tissue paper can look a bt tatty.  The finished product can be stuck to the window using blu-tack :)