Thursday, 29 November 2012

Thank you, Christmas DVD!

Feeling a bit direction-less at the moment.  The boys are (mostly) happy carrying on with their 30minutes a day of Maths Whizz/ Reading Eggs, but they seem to have lost enthusiasm for other activities - and that may be at least partly due to my enthusiasm waning.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not going off Home Education - in fact the more I think about State Education, the more huge flaws I can see in it - and the more I am convinced I want better for my boys.  But within the Home Education that we are experiencing, I'm feeling a bit dissatisfied - as if I'm missing something.

One thing that really hasn't helped is not having my laptop.  I know it sounds silly, and possibly a bit shallow - but I hadn't realised how much I got done on it while being in the same room as and instantly available to the boys of an afternoon, while they learned stuff off the TV or read books/ played/ drew etc.  Now that the only available PC is in the study, I have to choose between being with the boys or leaving them to get on with what they're doing while I grab some computer time - and that makes for dissatisifaction whichever way I go.  It's not just the blog (which I can feel slipping), nor the quick (hopefully encouraging) chats on Facebook; it's all the research I used to do without noticing at the time - finding new resources to build on whatever the boys are learning at that point, or being able to look up answers to questions there and then, etc.  I only tend to get about 1 - 1 1/2 hours to myself in the evenings once all the boys are in bed and the hedgehogs weighed & cleaned out - I can't even get the Christmas shopping done in that time, let alone research, blogs and chatting.  And as for my beloved photos - well they're all backing up on my camera's SD card.  It's going to take a very long time to go through those when I get round to it!

Anyway, enough complaining.  I'm not trying to depress myself or anyone reading - just noting it down as part of our journey - this is a "warts-and-all" account, after all!

Despite feeling a bit unsettled, we've had a lovely couple of days since I last posted.  We had a go at an "Underwater Hippo" art project from the lovely Deep Space Sparkle website, using a paint wash over oil pastels.  Previously I had been sad to miss out on making my own 'art' because I was so busy helping the boys - so this time I made sure I attempted the project alongside them. The only problem was, Youngest got a bit impatient and just did his own thing.  Actually that's not really a problem at all: it's good for him to just get a chance to try out different mediums etc, in whatever way he wants.  I have to say though, his finished result does not really resemble the hippos we were aiming at - although he said he wanted to show all the blood inside the hippo, so with that in mind, you may be better able to 'interpret' his art!

Eldest's Hippo                                        Middle's Hippo
Mummy's Hippo                                   Youngest's Hippo

While Eldest's paint was drying he was still in arty mode, and decided he wanted to draw a Creeper from Minecraft.  I love how he got the pixellated effect - it took quite a lot of patience.  Then Middle wanted to do some more marbling, so we got the inks out again and created lots more sheets to hopefully use on our Christmas cards...

Also this week we've been following some more familes of wild animals on the CBBC series, Wild Tales.  This time it's been about cheetahs, wolves and zebras, and today Youngest decided he wanted to be one of the cheetahs because they're so fast.  We agreed that Mummy would have to be a zebra because they're the only vegetarians on the show.  Eldest and Middle wanted to be wolves because Eldest liked the extended family and Middle thought the wolf cubs' faces were the cutest. 

While Eldest and Middle have been on their internet curricula, Youngest and I have been reading together.  He got to another stage that was slightly beyond him, so I've been looking for ways to consolidate the learning he has done so far.  He totally gets phonics from the point of view of blending sounds together, so Reading Eggs has been great for him so far.  However, he has only mastered the simple phonic sounds so far (the short vowel sounds and single letter sounds b,p,t etc)  However, he can't progress much further in Reading Eggs without mastering the digraphs that he seems to have been blustering his way past (eg 'th' - two letters that make one sound - he would sound out the t then the h, making it impossible to read the word 'the').  If he was happy to re-do lessons from earlier in Reading Eggs, I think he would pick it up quickly, but he's not interested.  Anyway, while I was looking around I found the first of the new Oxford Reading Tree Songbirds books - written by the excellent Julia Donaldson, of Gruffalo fame (amongst many other fabulous books).  I'm not usually a big fan of reading schemes, but this first book (a collection of twelve simple stories) is exactly right for Youngest.  All the other books we had were beyond him, as they introduced digraphs etc almost immediately, but this one starts off blending simpler sounds, without him having to master more complicated ones.  He is starting to show signs of recognising common words by their shapes (such as 'the'), but there's no hurry: he's a bright little thing & I know he'll get there in his own time, so for now we're just enjoying sitting down with a book and him saying "I can read this one to you Mummy!"

Oh, and other than all of the above, Christmas DVDs are now the order of the day - or afternoon!  We let the boys watch our new copy of Arthur Christmas on the long car journey to Exeter the other day, and that got them fully in the festive mood - so even though it's still only November (just), I'm going along with the holiday viewing.  I don't take much persuading really - though I still refuse to put up the tree until mid-December!  Still, thanks to today's Christmas DVD, I got to write in this 'ere blog - so not all bad, eh?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Questions, Food, and Mini-Blogger

Regular readers will know that we've been looking on and off at the topic of the Human Body, using games, online quizzes, TV programmes, books - and just lots of the boys' own natural questions.  Take this question from Eldest the other day (after seeing a trailer for a TV programme showing a live birth): "why does it hurt ladies to have babies?"  I love questions like that: they always throw the subconscious prude in me slightly and I have to gather myself to give a sensible answer that doesn't overload the asker with too much information, but does give them the information they want at a level they can understand without glossing over "the embarrassing bits".  Anyway, Eldest (and his brothers who were listening) got an impromptu chat over the kitchen table (why do they always ask these kind of questions while we're eating?) - we talked about contractions, with all the boys tensing their muscles for a long time to see who could do it the longest, and whether it hurt - we covered the size of the hole that babies come out of versus the size of a babies head, and and of course we had the inevitable comparisons with "the biggest poo I ever did".  I guess boys are fixated with showing off poo sizes because they don't get to boast about baby weights in the same way new mothers do!

All of this Human Body stuff has led nicely on to further learning too - the boys have been taking an interest in which foods are good for which parts of their bodies (especially the ones that help them grow big muscles!)  I have been concerned for quite a while about the food that they eat (or don't eat: Youngest in particular has a total aversion to fruit & vegetables), so I jumped on their curiosity as an opportunity to do something about it.  I think everyone must be aware of the government's "five-a-day" campaign for healthy eating - as you know, I intensely dislike governmental interference on a personal level (and actually, healthy living requires much more than five fruit or veg a day because modern farming methods have left the soil so depleted of nutrients that we don't get the same goodness from - say - a carrot, as we would have done fifty years ago) - and I have an allergy to shoulds (as in 'should eat five a day'!).  Anyway despite my loathing for all things 'nanny-state',  I have really been wanting to find a way for the boys to be aware of the dietary choices they make, so I started looking for a good resource or two to help us.  Having posted a request for recommendations on Facebook, a friend quickly passed this link to me: Nourish Interactive, with Chef Solus.  It's American, but I haven't found any vocabulary issues as yet - and the free printables are great; there are loads of them!  So we've used it as the basis for our own "My Plate" project.

Alongside all the learning we've been doing about food groups etc, we drew around some plates and made our own big plates, all different colours and border designs.  Next we drew up large sheets for each of the five main food groups (named and colour-coded a la Chef Solus), and found lots of clip art of different foods that we laminated and cut out to allocate to each food group.

The rest is simple: when we eat something, it gets moved from the food group onto our 'plates' - the idea being that at the end of their evening meal, the boys (and Hubby and I) will be able to see how balanced their meals were over the day.  Creating it all has taken us a week, on and off... we just need to use it now!  We started on it this morning, and quickly realised we need extras of cereal, and a variety of meats - among other things that I expect we'll discover as we go along - but hopefully it will prove useful!

Of course, that's not all we've been doing - there have been some lovely pictures made, books read, games played, online curricula completed, hedgehogs putting on weight, visits to friends, and diary written in.  I've run out of time though, - so I'll leave you with a bit from Eldest.  I'm just so pleased that he's kept his diary up, and made it something to treasure...
23rd November 2012
Going to J's house in Devon today!
look a..................................
my first wild hawk I've ever seen in my life!
I'm in J's house and playing nerf guns!
24th November 2012
I like it here.
Went to some place where Mummy and I bought J an early Christmas present
25th November 2012
Did the longest walk I've ever done in the rain with no waterproof trousers!..............
the house... why am I hugging the house?
going home
oh well.
27th November 2012
Woodpecker in the garden!
27 days until Christmas!
Wild Tales on in 7 mnutes!
happy me
I just saw my first goldfinch WOW
Grandma and Auntie A just got here
Just went to get a filling now I'm numb.  I like being numb.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Parenting Check-Up

Today I finally sent off my (scathing) response to the Welsh Assembly consultation on making the registration of Home Educators compulsory.  I'm a great believer in the Edmund Burke quote,
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing"
 - so even though I'm a bit embarrassed to have left it until the last minute (it closes tomorrow), I'm glad I've done it at last.  No, I don't live in Wales, but apart from the fact that if it is made law there, our own goverment are more likely to try again here sooner rather than later, it's just wrong.  Nobody should have to fight a state system for the fundamental right to bring their children up in the way they see is best. 
I don't get how people are so willing to hand over their rights and responsibilities.  There was an article a while back (apologies for the lack of link - I can't find it now, but I don't think I dreamt it!) where Mr Gove came up with another ridiculous plan to have every school child undergo an annual health check-up... all under the guise of "safeguarding".  I am beginning to strongly dislike that word - it is used to prey on all of our genuine concern for the children out there who are being abused and seem to be slipping through the system, but instead of addressing the real problem, which is a welfare service issue - it has been increasingly foisted onto the education system, as that is the only place where most of the nation's children can be observed.  And that is often why home educators are viewed with such suspicion - why would we take our children out of school if we didn't have something to hide?  Uh, well actually it's because the education system is failing almost as badly as the welfare system, and we are best equipped to provide our children with the individualised care and education that they need - but anyway, back to Michael Gove's silly proposal.  The thing is, I've worked in enough schools to know that the staff already know which children give cause for concern.  They don't need a health check-up to have suspicions alerted.  This is just one more tool in the arsenal at the social services' disposal, giving them the right to remove a child from their family if they see fit.  And the real problem I have is that this can often be down to the judgement (or misjudgement) of one person.  Because it's a safeguarding issue, though, we all bleat and go along with it, agreeing that it must be best to be monitored.  I have this nightmare that the way things are going, we're going to end up with this ideal picture of parenthood, and if we differ too widely from that, we will be judged even more harshly than we already are.  All you have to do is go onto a parenting website to see that although there are different opinions on childcare, there is a generally accepted consensus about the "best" way to parent.  Consider this questionnaire which is my take on public-opinion type judgementalism that I have found online and elsewhere, and then tell me if you have no idea what I'm talking about...

Section A - during pregnancy
1/  Did you smoke? (-1)
2/ Did you drink? (-1)
3/  Did you eat any of the foods that happen to be prohibited in pregnancy at that particular time? (-1 for each type of prohibited food)
4/  Did you do drugs? (-10)
5/  Did you talk to your unborn child? (+1)
6/ Did you attend every ante-natal clinic? (+1 for every clinic attended)
7/ Did you play Mozart to your belly? (+3 smug points)
8/  Did you find out the sex of your baby before birth? (-1)
9/  Did you join the NCT? (+1)

Section B - birth
1/ Did you give birth lying down? (-1)
2/ Did you have gas and air? (-1)
3/ Did you have stronger pain-killing drugs? (-3)
4/ Did you have a caesarian? (-3: sorry, but you know that's the way people are)
5/ Did you have an elective caesarian? (-10, however valid the reason)
6/ Did you make any noise? (-1 to -5, depending on volume - and that's me scuppered!)
7/  Was your partner present? (+1, even if he complained at the noise/ waiting/ lack of food/ pain caused by you squeezing his hand)

Section C - early years
1/  Did you breastfeed? (+10)
2/  Did you co-sleep? (-5)
3/  Did you put baby on their front to sleep? (-20)
4/  Did you go back to work? (-5)
5/  Did you wean them onto solids at 6months or later (+1)
6/  Did you feed them their allotted five-a-day? (+1, but -20 if you have no idea what I'm talking about)
7/  Did you ever give them crisps, biscuits or sweets? (-1)

Section D - school years
1/  Did you get your child into the best (as in 'Outstanding') local school? (+1, even though it really wasn't your decision)
2/  Did you help your child with their homework? (0 points - it's the least you could do)
3/  Did you do your child's homework for them to save them stress and get their scores up, cos you know they can do it when not overworked/ under pressure) (+1, I'm not kidding)
4/  Did you join the PTA/ Board of Governors? (+5 smug points)
8/  Did you fork out money you couldn't afford for every school trip and after-school club? (0 - again, the least you could do)
9/  Was your child the lead role in the Christmas pantomime? (+1, but only if they were also immaculately presented AND smiling in their school photographs)
10/ Did you home educate? (-50)

DISCLAIMER: The above is a complete load of tosh.  The above is not permitted to be replicated anywhere without said disclaimer. 
The fact is, there are many different ways to parent, and many different reasons for parenting in different ways - because there are many different types of children - and THAT IS A GOOD THING!  But the way our governement - our country - are going, I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibilities that we could end up being assessed on this scale.  And what if, like me, you ended up in minus figures?  Should we expect a visit from Social Services?

I wasn't going to write any of this today - I was just going to mention the Welsh consultation briefly before getting on to the interesting stuff - but that's going to have to wait until next time now.  I blame you lot - you got me going!  Nah, not really - but I am tempted to blame the government and the people who go along with their ideas without stopping to consider that as parents we are in a process of handing our rights over to people who don't know our children.

PS, I'm sorry to do this to you, but for those of you who think I'm over-reacting and exaggerating to score some kind of cheap point, check out this link - it's Scotland's National Risk Framework to Support the Assessment of Children and Young People.  If you're in Scotland, every professional you come across is already gathering 'tick-box' information about your children.  Come to think of it, how do I know they aren't doing the same here?  See how many boxes you tick, and then tell me you're OK with it.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Return to Pyjama Monday

Hooray for the return to "Pyjama Monday"!  We're definitely back to chilling in PJs - well, the boys are at least: I can just about manage breakfast in my PJs, then I have to get dressed otherwise I feel like I'm supposed to be ill or something.  I still had a relaxing day though, even fully-clothed!

We started off with Eldest doing the dishwasher (it's his job to empty it once a day, and although he does need reminding most days, he is getting much better at doing it without complaining).  Middle and Youngest also took it in turns to put stuff from the washing machine into the dryer/ empty the dryer when finished - so the lessons in household responsibility are going well!

After breakfast Eldest and Middle had turns on MathsWhizz while Youngest and I made some chocolate brownies...

Eldest and Youngest then played a board game while I helped Middle with a bit of Maths that was intimidating him.  Once he saw the pattern in what he was doing, he loved it.  It's like he sees it as kind of cheating once he gets that the technique is the same every time.  For example, today he was subtracting 9s, and once he realised that he could just take one off the "tens" column and add one to the "units" column (my words, not his), he whizzed through it.  He didn't really need me to help - I just function as a kind of cheerleader, helping him to focus and just being there believing in him, ready to celebrate when he gets it.

Once Maths was finished with and the groceries had been delivered and put away - with the boys helping of course - we got out our most recent acquisition of some marbling inks, and had a go.  None of us had tried marbling before, so when we turned over our first pieces of paper and saw the results, we were all really impressed that it was so easy. Youngest got in a bit of a muddle by squeezing too much ink onto his tray of water when I wasn't looking, creating more of an oil slick than a beautiful marbled effect - but that's all part of the learning experience, and for those of you who read my last post, Craftboxes and Cocktails, the phrase "don't waste it" only crossed my lips once or twice, despite the inks not being as cheap as, say, pipecleaners!  We did lots of pages, but here are some of our favourites...



We had a 'picnic lunch' in front of the TV today as Eldest was desperate for us all to watch the "Wild Tales" programme that he had recorded from CBBC.  So we munched while we got engrossed in the tales of some baby leopards, brown bears and meerkats (we all agreed the baby meerkats were especially cute).  If your children don't like cliff-hanger endings though, with baby animals in peril, I recommend you record the series and then watch back-to-back!  Following that we 'visited' Weymouth with William Whiskerson for a gentler experience, and then enjoyed some 'Horrible History Gory Games', at which point Youngest lost interest and went off to do a lovely little line drawing of a hedgehog wearing a santa hat...

Speaking of hedgehogs (and as some of you have kindly said you are enjoying our hedgehog adventures), I was pleased to discover that my assumptions based unscientifically on facial appearance and gender stereotyping turned out to be correct - Midge is indeed a boy, and Squidge a girl as supposed.  I only get them out once a day in the evenings when they would naturally be waking up: to weigh them, change their bedding, food & water, remove ticks, administer meds etc - they're wild animals and it wouldn't be good to handle them too much.  But I have to say that even handling them just once a day, the longer we have them, the better I'm getting to know them. 
The bigger Midge gets, the lazier (and grumpier) he gets.  He tolerates being handled with a resigned air, sits like a lump on a log while in the weighing scales, and rushes to hide when I put him back in his clean box.  The bigger Squidge gets, the feistier she is (that's my girl!).  She resists being handled at first & is much more active while I'm trying to weigh her, but when I was trying to sex her the other day (lift her up to get a look underneath without her balling up), she started snuffling inside my cardigan, and was just utterly cute!  She does a lot more rushing about & investigating when I put her back in her cleaned box.
Midge is now very near the magic 600g limit at which a hedgehog can most likely survive hibernation (Squidge will probably take about another week).  Even if he hits 600g tonight though, I can't release him until he's finished his course of meds in just over a fortnight's time, & by then it will probably be too late for this year, so we'll have to keep him until spring.  I think there might be a way of letting them hibernate in our shed though, so we might just get our downstairs loo back by Christmas...!
So finally, for our fellow hoglet fans, here they are: Midge and Squidge...



Friday, 16 November 2012

Craftboxes and Cocktails...

I may have gone overboard a little yesterday, so today I will refrain from mentioning the spiky creatures today (but they're doing very well, thank you for asking).

As I was saying in yesterday's blog, it feels like we're returning to our version of 'normal' this week -having lots of fun together, with the pace slowing back down to a more bearable one.

The boys have been making some lovely wintry collages - Youngest's was inspired by a piece of corrugated card that he found, & things just progressed from there.  This in turn inspired Eldest to make his own wintry collage, and then Middle just got all enthusiastic about the contents of the Craft Box, making a colourful piece of experimental art out of silver card and cellophane.  By the way, the Craft Box is given capital letters because of its near-hallowed status... we all love delving into it to see what it contains, and what we can make out of its contents.  However, I have observed in myself a curious phenomenon, and I wonder if others might identify (I hope so, otherwise I am exposing myself as a total freak-show).  I call it craft box stinginess.  I love craft; the boys love craft.  I find lovely things online in shops, in catalogues, and buy lovely things to put in the craft box, imagining all the beautiful things that can be made out of them at a later date.  And then when the boys find them and want to use them, do I enjoy the process?  To be honest, not entirely, no.  I get all twitchy, thinking "don't waste it!"  I mean, come on!  What is the point of buying craft stuff for the craft box if not to be used for craft...?  I'm not generally a stingy person I don't think, but when the boys get excited & enthused about things they can make, I really have to bite my lip to stop myself from saying "don't use it all/ don't ruin it"!  For goodness sake - it just makes no sense.  I am trying to train myself to encourage them to use as much as they like (as long as they tidy up afterwards: big Craft Box issue!).  Case in point: yesterday Eldest found the pipe cleaners - we have a bag of at least a hundred. He promptly got creative & made some kind of headwear incorporating jutting-out-things that looked like antennae but were actually lasers, so I was reliably informed.  Did I enjoy his creativity?  No, I asked him how many he had used!!! (I know, I am embarrassed to admit it)  Maybe it's a throw-back from the classroom where we had to make things last, or give each child an equal share.  Whatever, it's an alarming characteristic that I would like gone.  I mean, why on earth would I need to hoard multi-coloured pipecleaners???  If he uses them all we'll get some more - or something else.  I bought them for craft - he used them for craft: that was a lovely bit of D&T with imaginative play thrown in, I reckon.  Sometimes I could really gag myself! Anyway, enough stupidity on my part - here is the lovely art...

"Antarctica" by Youngest

"Snowman" by Eldest

"Art" by Middle

Now I know TV isn't everyone's cup of tea, so if that includes you, feel free to scroll down a bit.  Here, although the thought of no television at all has a genuine appeal, we've never gone as far as throwing it out (especially since we were generously given a lovely big HD one).  As I mentioned some weeks ago, while I was reading Ross Mountney's new book, "A Funny Kind of Education" one of the tips I picked up there was to check out the BBC's school programmes schedule.  It's easy enough to do, you can find it online here.  The primary programmes air at 5am, Tuesday - Friday on BBC2, so I have been setting our sky box to record them - and boy, have we been enriched by them!  So far, amongst other things we have learned lots about space - planets & stars, the Bloodhound (designed and expected to be the world's fastest car), we've 'visited' London, Somerset & the Scilly Isles with a mouse called William Whiskerson, and we've learned about how wool, paper and glass are made with Curious Cat.  Also, not in the 'Learning Zone' programming, but still inspiring, is Junior Masterchef (currently on CBBC).  The boys love it, especially Eldest.  Today it helped to build a learning moment that was initially prompted by my ongoing efforts to get the boys to eat enough fruit.  Remembering how they loved making "cocktails" a while ago, so I bought some cartons of different fresh juices, and today we had our own Cocktail Hour, just before lunch.  First we poured each juice into a cup and all had a taste (getting Youngest to try new things is often an up-hill struggle, but in this case 'hooray' for his brothers' enthusiasm that carried hm along).  The boys all gave the juice a score of 0-5 to show how nice they thought it was.  They were unanimous on disliking pink grapefruit, but enjoyed the others...

Next the boys made up their own blends of different juices and we all had a try (the lemon slices in the photo below are an essential part of Cocktail Hour - and they also squeezed some fresh lemon into their cocktails)  Eldest even experimented with putting the pink grapefruit in a drink to see if other juices might make it taste better.  After that we mixed them up and had a "Junior Masterchef" taste test to see if we could tell which fruit juices were in each cocktail.

Finally they tipped the remaining juices into one glass, and decided that Mummy could finish it off.  They (and I) had all had quite a lot of juice by that point, so I was happy to oblige.

Educational, tasty and healthy!  Happy Mummy!

So generally, like I said, it's been a lovely week.  We've had friends over to share the delights of Slimy Slugs with, and enjoyed a lovely woodland walk with them too (even if we didn't find the cones we were after and had to go home too soon); we've played a Christmas game together (at a moment where things were getting crazy and I needed to calm them down - out came the first Christmas game of the year).  Some of the questions and answers got a bit surreal and giggly (You may have thought the virgin Mary had a baby called Jesus, but according to my lot she had a mammoth called Pete?); we've played on Reading Eggs (and printed off some of the 'collectors cards' that Eldest has earned on Reading Eggspress); we've been on GridClub and all enjoyed the 'reduced' version of Frankenstien, as well as watching Michael Rosen playing with words... oh, and finally today we did a spot of baking as well - I'm saying nothing about the theme...

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Hedgehog Fever

With two rescued hoglets in our downstairs loo, it is not really surprising that hedgehogs are creeping into much of our learning at the moment.  Particularly (but not exclusively) when it comes to craft!  This week Eldest worked patiently on making a pompom hedgehog (fiddly things, pompoms!) while Middle and Youngest did a potato printing of hedgehogs and owls, adapted from a project in this book.  As I was helping them all to do different projects I didn't get to join in myself this time.  This made a noticeable difference in that I couldn't demonstrate what I meant to the younger two, which made it significantly harder for them to understand what I was trying to explain (eg when saying to Youngest to put the potato down and lift straight up again, he interpreted that to mean dragging the potato down the page and back - a totally reasonable interpretation but one which had the opposite of the desired effect).  Lesson for Mummy: explaining something is okay but is just a one-dimensional way of teaching (auditory only) & open to confusion.  By using demonstrations as well you include a second dimension (visual) which provides a better foundation for letting the learner have a go, adding a third dimension (kinesthetic) - all of which together give a much more stable learning experience.  Anyway, I think the finished works of art were really sweet...

 Pompom hedgehog by Eldest

 Middle's "Night-time"

Youngest's "Night-time"

Middle and Youngest also made some cute hedgehog collages - Middle's were obviously getting into the festive mode!  (nb you can tell what season is fast approaching by the amount of glitter liberally scattered about this house)...

 "Hedgehog" by Youngest

"Mummy and Baby Christmas Hedgehogs" by Middle

Of course the boys aren't the only learners here - having sent the hedgehog poo to be tested (a learning experience in itself) & having received the results, I have been to the vets to learn how to remove ticks, apply topical treatment and give sub-cutaneous injections! (Note to anyone considering caring for juvenile hedgehogs: it's not as straightforward as you might think!)  Eldest came for the 'lessons' with me, but Youngest had been too excited by the vets' waiting room & just wanted to play at being puppies with Middle, so the younger two went to Grandmas.  Hedgehog Midge was looking a bit poorly yesterday & possibly feverish, so I was quite concerned when I went to bed last night.  I even woke up thinking about him - I think I've also got more than a touch of hedgehog fever!  Anyway, he has put weight on again today and I have hedgie anti-biotics on order to collect tomorrow, so hopefully he'll see improvement soon.  My next project is to see if I can sex them.  I believe Midge to be male and Squidge to be female, based on nothing other than Midge having a whopping appetite and being a bit more aggressive, whereas Squidge has a prettier face and is feisty in a less butch way.  I'll be fascinated to see if my gender stereotyping bears any reflection on the true state of things.  However until they uncurl in my hands I won't know, so it could take a while!

In other news, we have written and posted our polite letter to the LA, declining their visits and including our Educational Philosophy, as blogged about in Feeling Prickly.  I'm relieved to have that done, and am hoping to hear nothing more.  I think we'll still go out next Weds though (their proposed date to visit), just in case...

This week (other than the hog fever) has been quite nice and calm.  Craft club on Tuesday saw all three boys making a hanging mobile each.  The proposed theme was insects or undersea creatures, which is usually Eldest's favourite subject, but this time he decided he wanted a mobile of something else... no prizes for guessing, but suffice it to say they're spiky & live in our downstairs loo!  Anyway, I've mostly regained my equilibrium, and feel like I am getting to grips again with this Home Education lark.  We've got into MathsWhizz and Reading Eggs again, are playing games together, investigating together etc - as well as giving them space to do their own thing where they want to.  I'm sure the boys haven't suffered for not having had my full attention these last few weeks: they have studied, played, learned etc on their own, which is a good thing.  However I do take my role as facilitator seriously, and I like it best when I can focus properly on it, rather than being distracted from it with too much busy-ness.  Autonomous learning is all well and good, but I think it's better if it's a conscious choice rather than a side-effect of a preoccupied parent.

Speaking of autonomy, I made the 'mistake' of suggesting an activity to the boys today.  It wasn't really a bad thing - they all agreed quickly enough, and we got some nice results - but I was kicking myself for having forgotten that I was trying to avoid suggestions because I want the boys to be able to think for themselves and find their own inspiration rather than relying on me.  Anyway like I said it wasn't a bad thing, and I haven't suggested anything for ages, so I've stopped kicking myself now.  I asked if they'd like to write some poems.   I wrote one too (remembering my earlier lesson about demonstrating), and they were all keen, although Eldest ran out of interest very quickly, and Middle's poem turned almost immediately into a story which he dictated to me (he got totally discouraged by the time it was taking to write a few words, so Mummy helped!).  I will leave you with our finished pieces of writing.  If you can't spot the theme I suggest you go and lie down in a darkened room somewhere... or should that be me...?

Our Hedgehogs - by Youngest
We have some hedgehogs named Midge and Squidge.
They are a bit little and like their food.
Midge and Squidge like doing poos.
They don't hit; they're friendly hedgehogs.

Our Hedgehogs - by Eldest
We've got some hedgehogs
They stink like a dog
One's called Midge
Another's called Squidge
They're a bit tiny
But not whiney
They're very happy
Even without a nappy

Hedgehogs - by Mummy
Spikey, pokey, pointy, prickly,
Snuffly nose that feels so tickly.
Two little eyes, all black and beady,
Four little legs, surprisingly speedy.
Nestled in leaves, they sleep through the cold,
(curled in a ball, they're not easy to hold!)
Some think they're gorgeous; some think they're pests -
but we love our little hedgehog guests.

Hedgehog Adventure - by Middle
Once there were three hedgehogs who were friends for ever.  One night they went on a walk to the park and they saw some people who were going to see fireworks.  They wanted to know what fireworks meant, and the people were very gentle and kind and they knew all about hedgehogs so the people told the hedgehogs what fireworks meant and the hedgehogs wanted to see the fireworks with them.  Then they went to the festival to see the fireworks.  They saw loads of different coloured ones.  The hedgehogs loved the pretty ones but they didn't like the noise.  Then it was getting to daytime and they needed to go back home to sleep. Then the people said goodbye.  The hedgehogs went back home and their mother said, "where have you been?"  The hedgehogs explained all about their adventure to the festival and the fireworks, then their Mum tucked them into bed and kissed them goodnight.  The End.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Feeling Prickly

Working on the principle that I am never given more than I can bear, obviously I can bear more right now than I thought!  Maybe I was a little spoilt by the lovely season of routine and gentle activities that we were enjoying before everything got busy!  Anyway, I'm not feeling quite so overwhelmed this week - all projects are complete and fabulous, and more importantly Youngest has not had any more asthma episdodes, so I am relaxing a bit more.  We are working to get him into our GP's asthma clinic.  It seems a bit ridiculous to me that a newly-diagnosed four-year-old sufferer has to wait over a month before getting help with ongoing care, but hopefully once the surgery releases their December dates we will get somewhere...

Having said a sad goodbye to Tiny last week as he went to a hedgehog hospital, my boys obviously prayed for another prickly lodger, as the very next evening (just after I wrote the last post) we rescued another juvenile hedgehog from our garden - this time called "Midge".  I wasn't surprised really as I had seen another small one in the garden previously, and I had been advised to look out for siblings from the same litter who would be about the same weight.  I'm happy to report that Midge is doing really well - he has put on almost 100g in the last four days!  We are in touch with some really helpful experts and are now familiar with the process of sending hedgehog poo through the post to be tested for worms etc!  So we've gone from being complete rookies and not sure of the best to do for Tiny, to having our confidence boosted by Midge - just in time for another sibling to appear last night.  This one has been named "Squidge" by a hedgehog-loving young friend.  So now our downstairs loo is out-of-bounds again, while Midge and Squidge pork up for the winter!  The boys are happy again (and I'm quite chuffed too, to be honest) - so although it is extra responsibility and pressure, it's really OK... Hooray for cute hedgehogs!

The other "big" news that happened straight after my last blog entry was that we had our letter from Herts County Council.  We are now 'on the radar'.  Actually I don't mind this at all - it puts paid to the ongoing wondering of "when will they find out about us?" or "is this person going to report us?".  What I do object to is that the initial letter they sent out was really quite misleading - if I wasn't already familiar with the law and confident about my rights and their responsibilities, I could have been easily intimidated by it - presumably some are.  The letter stated that it is county policy for an Attendance Improvement Officer to make an initial visit to see parents, after which visit an education adviser from the LA will meet me/ us to discuss the arrangements we are making for the boys' education.  This 'policy' is ultra vires (beyond their legal authority), and I resent the way they expressed it as a done deal, with no suggestion that these visits are optional.  Further, the date they gave me for this preliminary meeting was for ten days after I received the letter.  In my opinion that is not enough time for a person to receive a letter, educate themselves on where they actually stand, and reply in time - I assume they are hoping that the recipients will not understand the law and so just go along with what has been presumed upon them.  Anyway, despite the fact that my local HE friends who have met them have nothing but praise for the education advisors here, I object to the system, and will be declining both visits.  I will be as polite as I can, as I have no wish to be antagonistic... although actually I had to leave the initial draft of my letter for 24 hours so I could review it when I was less annoyed by their letter.  I felt as prickly as our hedgehog guests after reading it!
You see, the Local Authority are legally permitted to make initial enquiries to see whether or not my children are receiving a suitable education at home.  Other than that, they are only entitled to demand specific evidence of suitable education if they have reason to believe that a suitable education is not being provided.  So we will be replying asap, refusing the visit from the Attendance Improvement Officer (I do not wish the boys to attend school, therefore their attendance does not require improvement!), and refusing the visit from the education advisor - not because they are "the enemy" or some kind of bogeyman to be feared, but because I object to being assessed and monitored by people who have no responsibility for my children.  I think my boys would probably enjoy seeing a new person who is interested in everything they have been doing (I doubt she'd get a word in edgewise) - and I would really enjoy chatting to someone who understands HE (as apparently the Herts advisors do) - BUT I cannot reconcile myself to a system that at best undermines, at worst usurps my parental position and responsibility, so for the time being I have no plans to agree to the demanded visits. 
Other than declining the visits we will also not be filling in their forms of many questions about our educational plans - but we will be including an "Educational Philosophy" (a brief outline of our thoughts and plans conerning educating our boys at home). It could be argued that technically this is above and beyond what we are legally obliged to do, however I know of some Local Authorities who have used the 'grey area' of having a suspicion that a suitable education is not being provided as an excuse to hound Home Educators, some going as far as serving a School Attendance Order that legally demands for the children to return to school.  In the case of people who are using HE as a cover for not caring for their children, this is not unreasonable - but there seems to be an assumption among some LAs that this applies to most Home Ed'ors.  It doesn't.  I don't think our LA is like that, but if I stubbornly refused to cooperate in any way, just saying 'no' to the visits but giving no other information (potentially giving them reason to suspect the validity or suitability of the boys' education), I could be making enemies where there is no need for hostility.  By including an Ed. Phil. I hope to reassure them that we are taking our children's education seriously, and give them no cause for concern.  There is being right, and there is being wise - and we really want to get the right balance.  Those who have gone before and have plenty of HE and LA experience seem to agree that an Ed. Phil. fulfils all demands that can be legally placed on us by the LEA.  Ideally then, once they have received our letter, they will have no valid reason to contact us again - we will see.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Routine, please...

I saw a cartoon last week that goes as follows:
"I love routine.
Until I'm bored, then I love excitement.
Until I'm overwhelmed, then I love routine."
I can't think of any other way to sum up my experience of Home Education so succinctly - and right now I am well-and-truly in the 'overwhelmed & craving routine' phase.  For weeks I have been saying "next week we'll get back to normal"  Now I know there's not really any such thing as normal - but some good ole reliable routine is what I've been after - and no, I still haven't got it.  A series of downright inconvenient interruptions have conspired to keep me away from the routine I'm hoping for...

Firstly, my laptop broke down.  This is the main reason for my not being on here for so long.  I can use eldest's computer in the study, but this removes me from the front room where the boys do most of their hanging out, learning, playing etc - so that's not so good until after they are in bed, at which point I have had LOADS to catch up on & not enough time. 

Then the project I had on last week took even longer once my laptop died - finally being completed early this week, so I will hopefully have spare time again (well - spare time as in time to blog, clean, plan etc)...

Also, last week we had the most gorgeous interruption to routine that came in the shape of a hedgehog.  Knowing that hedgehogs are generally in trouble in this country, and being the lovers of wildlife that we are, we have been keeping an eye out for our regular nocturnal visitors, and weighing them (they have to be 600g or more for them to survive hibernation - if interested in helpng hedgehogs, you can get good advice here).  The first hedgie we weighed was over 900g, so no worries there - but the second one was 407g & therefore not big enough to survive without help, so we took him in & started phoning round for a place to take him.  What we hadn't realised was that there have been a great deal of late litters this year, and all the local shelters were full - so we realised we'd have to give it a go looking after him ourselves.  I wasn't keen on the responsibility of rehabilitating a wild animal with no previous experience, but we all fell in love with "Tiny" as we named him, and promptly researched as much as we could, drilled holes into the lid of a plastic storage box, lined it with newspaper plus hay and leaves, added some water and cat food + hedgie food - and committed to weighing him & cleaning him every night until he reached the desired weight.  Unfortunately he just didn't put weight on, and after a week without real success I regretfully decided he would be better off in a proper 'hedgehog hospital', so we rang around some more and finally found someone to take him in yesterday.  I'm relieved that he will be getting expert help, but we really miss him - and Eldest has been leaving forlorn little commemorations around the place. Talk about tugging at the maternal heart-strings!

As if that wasn't enough upheaval, we had a fun weekend away visiting some lovely friends, which was planned - so all well there, and much fun was had with tractors, fireworks and exploring the beautiful Pensthorpe Nature Reserve - but on Sunday Youngest started having problems with his breathing. I resolved to take him to our local out-of-hours surgery on the way home, but when we phoned them they wanted to send an ambulance.  As we were by then only ten minutes away we drove to A&E ourself, where I spent the next six hours while they stabilised his breathing again.  He had never been diagnosed with asthma, and it seemed to appear out of the blue... it was pretty horrid, really, even though it wasn't what one would call a bad attack.  Hubby has lived with asthma all his life, and we know it's manageable, but it still upset me.  Hopefully I will learn to resist the temptation to become an obsessive, over-protective Mama - but right now I'm still slightly traumatised from seeing my baby in a hospital bed, unable to breathe clearly.  Still, children that young don't know how to do 'being ill', so despite his wheezing etc he had a lovely time using the disposable sick bowl as a hat, charming the nurses, putting stickers over his new inhaler spacer, and eventually trying to work out what all the knobs and levers did on the bed - at which point I knew he was about well enough to go home!
Incidentally, while we were there one of the nurses made some comment about whether Youngest was in school yet, and when we mentioned home education there was a slight awkward pause - I could almost hear him mentally writing it on our notes for follow-up.  If we get a call from the LEA shortly, we'll know why!
Anyway, Youngest is doing much better now (my emotions are taking a bit longer to recover - I coped fine while we were there; as usual it was only afterwards that I just wanted to cry - delayed shock I guess), and he was thrilled when we went to the chemist today to get a new inhaler, and we found & bought a cheap toy doctors kit.  Bring on the role play!

So, all of the above has left me craving some "boredom"!  I haven't been paying attention to the boys' learning, so feel like I'm failing them somehow (not too seriously though - I'll get over that feeling soon enough, I'm sure).  Eldest has been devouring books and documentaries on TV; Middle has been reading too, and drawing endless pictures, and Youngest has just been exploring everything he can get his hands on.  I'm not sure I dare suggest that "next week we'll be back to normal" - but it would be nice!

"Iceberg Land" by Middle
- prompted by "Operation Iceberg" that we watched on catch-up TV today. 
You need to have seen the programme to appreciate the detail that went into this - eg that's not scribble on the left; it's an artist's impression of the enormous dirty, crumbling glacier about to give birth to an iceberg.  The fish, whale, narwhal & submarine are all artistic license, but proud Mummy moment for his putting them in the correct habitat ;)
"Owl for Mummy" by Middle