Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Loving Lapbooks

It's such a relief having a sense of direction again!  The house is a complete state (owing to my back not cooperating with my need to tidy), but I'm still enjoying the week because we're having such a positive time!  Even when the car broke down on Tuesday, preventing us from going to our lovely craft club, the boys bounced back from the disappointment much quicker than they would have done otherwise, as they have been enjoying working on their lapbooks!  I know!  Project work actually gripping them with enthusiasm!  Even Middle who usually has an allergic reaction to anything that looks remotely work-like!

For those who don't know, lapbooks - as far as I understand them - are a kind of topic-based scrapbook/ folder with all sorts of flaps, pockets and interactive treasures.  It is much easier to show what they are than describe, so I will show you Middle's shortly (he finished his first one today), but there are lots of different ways to make them too.  Eg Eldest has one on the go that is a lot more of a book than Middle's folder.  There are some helpful ideas on Squidoo, and also on page 10 of this issue of EOS  (Education Ourside School).  Some parents make them for their child to interact with (especially those with preschool children); some get downloadable projects online for their chld to assemble - we love the Homeschool Share  website for great resources; some (especially those who are familiar with the concept) just let their child loose to completely wing it - make their own folder/ notebook/ scrapbook put in whtever they like.  Middle's first lapbook was based on his suggestion on Saturday that he wanted to learn about growing - he drew some pictures and diagrams, and I suggested we could make it into a sort of 'lift-the-flap' book (if I had called it a lapbook at that point he would have not understood what I meant and just refused on principle).  As we have gone along I have called it his lap-book, and he now associates the term with something fun, like making your own lift-the-flap book!  I have done lots of searching online for ideas to suggest, and found lots of great resources on the Enchanted Learning website.  He hasn't gone for all the suggestions, but the finished result I think is really impressive for a first attempt!

So here it is - pause for proud Mummy drum-roll - Middle's first lapbook:

front cover

inside front cover

middle 'page' (he's not a fan of colouring, but he was happy to do some with Mummy helping)

 inside back flap

back flap (final page)

"I want to be a dad like my Dad"

I simpy love it!  He s really proud of it as well.  Eldest is still working on his - like I said, it is a lot more of a book than folder - and his has more text and photos, with fewer flaps... but as far as I'm concerned, it's not about copying somebody else's idea of what a good lapbook looks like - it's about finding what inspires your child, and encouraging them in it.  So I will be equally proudly displaying Eldest's lapbook once he has completed it, too.

The older boys haven't just been working on their lapbooks this week - amongst other things they've been keeping up with their online curricula, watching interesting TV Programmes ('Your Paintings' recorded from BBC2 being a particular favourite of Middle's), and doing our own artwork... today's art was inspired by Van Gogh's "The Starry Night".  We looked at our Smart about Art book on Van Gogh, and then I showed the boys the Happy Hooligans link of a Van-Gogh inspired piece of art using paint and melted wax crayons.  We pretty much did as directed on the blog post - but I have to say, the first bit (using our fingers in the paint) was a lot more fun than the second bit which gave my hands cramp while grating crayons.  I think I preferred my painting before I added the crayons too - but the boys were all happy with their finished art, so it was all good!





Once we'd done our art, Eldest and Middle were on Reading Eggspress and Youngest decided that he wanted to go on it too! So after a break of several months, Youngest got back onto Reading Eggs (snuggled up with me, playing it in my laptop). Given that he took a break because it got a bit hard from him, he absolutely whizzed through the pages. Proof yet again (as if we needed it) that times to rest are just as important as times to work.  After he'd had anough for the day he was still looking a bit lost, with his brothers doing their lapbooks.  He says he wants to do one, but every time we sit down to do it he loses interest immediately - so I'm not going to push it.  Anyway, he was enthusiastic about baking chocolate muffins with Mummy, so that's what we did... just in time for lunch, yummy!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Finding Our Way

It's been a really good weekend - I feel like I'm starting to make sense of things.  As I mentioned at the end of Friday's post, Structure v Autonomy, a friend pointed me in the direction of a really helpful blog about what the author, Melissa Wiley, calls "Tidal Homeschooling", where home education flows in seasons, at times led by the mother/ educator on projects that she leads them all on, and at other times led by the children's freedom to explore and mull over things that appeal to them.  The post may have been a few years old, but I read it at exactly the right time for me!  In the post there is a link to all of the Tidal Homeschooling posts that followed the original, and they were also really helpful.  One in particular caused a lovely penny-dropping moment.  It was while reading her post Tidal Homeschooling, Part 3.  I recommend reading the whole post as I found it all so beneficial - but the bit that impacted me the most was a quote that obviously similarly impacted her...

“The adults in the child’s life,” writes the Headmistress, referencing Charlotte Mason,
"have the ‘power of appeal and inspiration,’ and the responsibility to act ‘the part of guide, philosopher and friend’ to these young people with wonderful minds but no knowledge to speak of.
“Or… we can just abandon them to their uninformed judgment about what’s important and what isn’t, leave them to their own devices, and allow them to believe that their own judgment about what is and is not important to know is just as well informed and solid an opinion as Mortimer Adler’s, Thomas Jefferson’s, Peter’s, Paul’s, or…. yours. Leaving children to pick up what scraps of knowledge they think to ask about, willy nilly, is not doing them any favors. It isn’t respectful of their situation as newcomers to the world or to the adults they will grow up to be. And if we don’t do our job as the adults in their lives when they are small, the adults they grow up to be will have a malnourished background upon which to build.’ "
Reading that was like coming home!  It was like somebody had put their finger right on the area that had been niggling away at me since we started exploring Home Education and trying to find a balance that works for us. Once I read the above quote, and the subsequent comments made by the blogger, about the importance of guiding your children (in an autonomous setting that usually involves strewing interesting books, TV documentaries, day trips, experiences etc across their paths, that they would most likely otherwise not have noticed - and seeing what they choose to pick up and run with), I realised that at times I had fallen into the trap of thinking that autonomous education is about just leaving the children to it (it's not) - and it was at those times that I started craving more structure as it's the only way I am familiar with of leading.   

So clearly, for me now it is not so much about structure v autonomy as it is about parent-led v child-led.  And I have given us permission to be a delightful mixture of both.  Tidal learners in fact (thank you, Melissa Wiley) - at times led by Mummy's (and Daddy's) ideas of what they might enjoy or what would be good for them to be exposed to, with all the enthusiasm and fun we can infuse into whatever it is - and at times led by their own choices and decisions on what they would like to learn more about - with plenty of time just to mull over and play.

*Big sigh of relief*  I feel like my head is back where it needs to be!  Such a relief! Thank you for still reading and being patient while I sorted my thoughts out!

So anyway,  having given myself permission to be more pro-active in their learning (I know, it's embarrassing the silly muddles I can get myself in), I had one-on-one chats with the older boys on Saturday (I have no qualms about Youngest currently), to find out what they think about what we're doing.  It turns out one of the things they miss from school is "Merit Box": a box of small toys and treats that they would 'buy' with the merits they had earned for good work or behaviour during the week.  Much as I don't like a system that invariably falls into unhealthy comparisons (the "good" children always getting more merits than the "naughty" ones), I don't want to deny them something they enjoy - so we have started a small treasure box with the left over party favours from Middle's birthday (chocolate coins, glowsticks etc) - and now we just need to agree on what basis they get the treasure...

Also, I showed Eldest some lapbooks that friends had been kind enough to post online for me to see.  Well, he couldn't wait to start making one - about ocean life, unsurprisingly - but he wants it to be a big one, with chapters - so I taped a few square files together to give him ten pages to fill.  He has already designed and printed the cover, printed some photos and written the 'chapter' on endangered fish. When I say chapter, it was a sentence or two with photos under flaps, but it's his, and he's enthusiastic about it (and he's learning while researching) - so I'm happy!

Whe I asked Middle what he wanted to learn about his smile vanished and shoulders slumped.  "Oh poo" I thought - "he really is still deschooling".  I hastily changed the 'schoolish' terminology of "learning" and reassured him I meant was there anything he was interested in finding out about.  He thought seriously for a moment and then his face brightened a bit and he said, "we-ell, I could do about growing!" (still thinking in terms of having to perform).  I asked if he'd like to get some frogspawn later on and watch it grow into frogs, and he got much happier and started describing a "circle with arrows" (lifecycle) picture that he wanted to draw... and hopped down and ran off to draw just that.  When I showed him the lapbooks online his response was not so enthusiastic as Eldest (Middle seeing it as work to be done), but when I provided him with a folder today to stick his drawings in, he was very keen.  I just need to remember that with him it's all about momentum: just get him interested and the rest follows; if you present a task up front he finds it off-putting, regardless of how much he would actually enjoy it in practice.

So hopefully I'll have some lap-book photos to share in my next post - but for now, I just feel a lot happier that my head is settled and my boys are enthusiastic learners once more - we're still mooching round the woods, (see A Little Wobble from last week) but not feeling so direction-less any more... we're meandering wth purposeful enjoyment once again!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Structure v Autonomy

Can you hear my brain stretching from where you are?

Unsurprisingly, given the latest little wobble, I have been revisiting the old "structure v autonomy" debate that has permanent residence in my head.  Sometimes I manage to ignore it better than other times, that's all!  Maybe the whole of HE is just one big debate/ experiement on the subject - or maybe I will have an 'answer' one day, who knows?!

Part of me is incredibly frustrated with myself for still vacillating on the subject, but I still want to be true to where we're at on this journey, in case it helps others.  I guess anyone who's as bored with the subject as I am tempted to be just won't be reading - so it's just me and you then.  Pull up a chair and I'l fill you in... bear with me while I try to be patient with where I am...

Today I posted in a forum asking why it is that there seems to be laods of information available on autonomous HE, but so little on the structured side of things.  We decided between us that structured Home Ed'ors aren't necessarily embarrassed by the way they home educate - after all, it is what works for their family - BUT, there have been too many groups where anyone who mentions that they are structured in their approach then gets metaphorically jumped on and made to feel somehow inferior for not being autonomous (it's almost as 'bad' as saying you voluntarily accept LA visits - shocking thought!!!).  You know, I can't bear this kind of judgemental behaviour.  It's hard enough going against the flow of mainstream education when you choose to home educate, let alone arguing between ourselves about the 'right' or 'wrong' way to do it - surely we need to be supporting each other's freedom to choose whatever works best for us?!

Anyway, I digress.  Today we had a trip to Toys R Us to spend some Christmas/ birthday money and vouchers.  While we were there I spotted and bought an English workbook for 10-11 year olds approaching their SATs.  I mean, what was that all about?  Since when have I wanted to measure how any of them were "keeping up" with their peers in school?  I don't even believe in education as a race! 

Well, partly I think that when we started HE I knew we needed to get away from the intense structure of school, so we probably swung to the other extreme - and as the boys and I obviously needed deschooling, that was immeasurably helpful for all of us.  I think that now I'm just swinging back, and feeling the need to go over the issues again, to get a more balanced view - and that is manifesting as a stronger desire for structure at the moment.

Also, I have lately felt that Eldest is growing beyond the point where we can all look at things together - he is capable of taking subjects much further than we can go when we're looking at things together with his brothers (eg with things like kitchen science experiments) - but I don't think he knows how to take it further, so I'm feeling the need to "educate" him.  This is most likely the reason for my mind having been churning over how to HE three boys of different levels - because I can see Eldest is ready to be stretched.  (I'm still not resolved on that though... it's an ongoing issue...)  However, he may be ready to be stretched, but that doesn't mean he wants to be.  Similarly, Youngest is showing signs of being ready to start writing (his fine motor control is improving, he's drawing circles, lines etc)... but he's not interested if I give him a 'learning to write' worksheet.  So I'm not going to push it - I figure he'll let me know when he's ready.  And maybe I need to apply the same logic to Eldest: when he's truly ready to push himself, he'll let me know...?  It's a nerve-wracking game though, trusting your child to show you when they really are ready - and what if my instincts turn out to be correct (in that he really does need help finding direction)?  I do love the child-led nature of unschooling, but I don't like the rigid idea that the parents shouldn't "interfere".  As a mother I believe we can trust our instincts concerning our children, and as a Christian I believe that God leads us to the best for each of our children... and as both of those, I believe that I mustn't discard my concerns simply because they don't match up with a certain ideology.

So what am I saying?  Good question!  I think I'm saying that while I doubt we'll ever yield to a complete classroom-type structure, I suspect we may need a bit more structure in our HE journey - and I'm giving myself permission to explore that.  It doesn't mean I'm forcing my will on my children; and it doesn't mean they will have to stop having fun, just to meet my demands.  It means that if I perceive a need for a bit of direction, that's OK.  Just like when children learn to ride a bike: some steadfastly refuse any help until they've mastered it for themselves (I was always this kind of child); some need their parents giving them stability and helping them to balance before letting them go.  Neither is better or worse - both are just learning to ride in their own way.  With Eldest I feel like he's coming to a new area of growth where he might need a bit of stability for a while, until he takes off by himself again.  I'm sure if he gets fed up of being held up (or more likely, being held back), he'll soon say! And if it looks like I'm putting him off, you can be sure I'll back right off!  Generally it doesn't take long at all before he's raring to go at whatever the new thing is.

Does this apply to the others? Well, I'm really chilled with where Youngest is right now; I don't feel any need to push him or change anything for the time being.  With Middle, although I feel like if I tried to introduce any structure he would run a mile, actually I suspect there is a confidence issue.  Sometimes he needs a little coercion to do something until he realises he loves it, which then makes him feel really good about himself, so a bit of a nudge in the right direction could be a good thing - but in his case it's more about specifics (such as writing in cursive which he has expressed a desire to do but reluctance to practice) and therefore may end up being the most structured for a while, with Mummy cheering him on all the way.

So who knows?  that's where we are right now - happy to try something new and see how it goes, but not writing anything in stone!  No change then!

PS A friend just posted a link to a blog about "Tidal Homeschooling"that really fits with where I'm at - I absolutely love it!  So I'm sharing it here too :)

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Under the Sea...

My brain is still whirring on how to home educate three different boys with different skills, passions and styles of learning - so hopefully there will be more on that when I've found something approaching a solution! Meanwhile, knowing how much it helps me to write down what we have done in a day, here goes today's 'doings'...

First of all we watched Curious Cat on how electricity gets to our homes, and how sewage is treated.  Then Eldest got his brothers to sit down & watch a documentary on the Barrier Reef - going into more detail than CBBC's 'Barney's Barrier Reef' (which we also watched later). I loved ths way he asked them questions to get them involved... if he's learned that from copying my example, I 'll be happy.  At one point the boys argued about who got which blanket to snuggle under, and we talked about them finding peaceful solutions (not expecting me to intervene all the time)...  this is becoming a theme at the moment!

Following the programme, Eldest and Middle decided to do some Barrier Reef art of their own making.  Free reign of the craft box was permitted, with the usual rule that they tidy up after themselves!  Youngest was enthused by the craft box contents, and had a merry old time exploring and creating.  No set plan - he was just enjoying himself.

Eldest's "Manta Ray from Above"
(he put a lot of thought into how to get the right effect of the waves over the  top of the ray).

Eldest's "Black-tipped Reef Shark"

Middle's "Undersea World" 
(using sellotape and glitter to get his under-water effect)

... and another little pictoral note for Mummy from Middle, showing both of us and a love heart

Youngest's arty creation
Then they all wrote some sea-themed poems (Youngest dictated - as did Middle, who wasn't in the mood for writing today - he still shies away from written 'work', although he loves leaving me little "I love you" messages).  Poems included at the end...

Middle found some leftover party balloons and played with static electricity making his hair stick up, sticking it to the wall, and then using it to move water like this...  it was quite tricky getting the right strength flow of water, but we did see it work in the end...

We've also been watching birds in our garden & hoping they all come back on Saturday morning when we do the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch.  This morning we had ten long-tailed tits and a female greater spotted woodpecker, among many others.  I also took some photos of the prints in the snow to see if we could work out what they belonged to... it's not as easy as you'd think!  We did see some nice wing prints though...

 mystery prints (the big trainer prints are mine, for scale - I'm guessing the first ones may be squirrels...)

 we think these are blackbird footprints...

 can you see the wing prints on the right?

Oh, and I've discovered Pinterest.  I joined a few weeks ago, and am really getting the hang of it now.  I love having a one-stop place I can go to to stash all the ideas I find online, neatly grouped, and easy to find again... perfect for Home Ed!  My back hasn't been feeling good this week (especially today), so I've been spending a lot of time sitting still - and Pinterest is making me feel better about not being so active as usual, as I can track down ideas for future HE projects and store them somewhere where I know I can find them all again - it's great :)  In fact, the static electricity/ water experiment above was one that I had pinned earlier this week, so it's working already - hooray!

That's it for now - I'll leave you with the boys' poems while I go & top up the hot water bottle for my back ;)

Sharks - by Eldest
The goblin shark
lives in the dark
The mako shark is fast,
It moves with a blast
The great white
Likes a big fight
The whale shark
is bigger than a park
The sleeping shark is blind
Like most sharks it has a tail on its behind

Sea Poem - by Middle
I like it underwater because there's not any thunder.
It is pretty and peaceful.
There are beautiful fish all different colours and shapes, like the silvery sunfish and the spotty clown triggerfish
The jellyfish come in all sizes, some small and some big.
They are see-through and pinkish.
I like the beautiful coral that makes lots of beautiful fish come towards it. 
It makes me feel calm and joyful

Under The Sea - by Youngest
I would love to be under the sea
but not the sea with sharks in it.
I want to go in the sea
but not with piranhas in it
I want to be underwater in the sea
Just with lovely fish that don't eat us - that's all.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Little Wobble

I don't ever seem to get major wobbles - you know, the sort that make you seriously consider if your child(ren) would be better off in school.  Because mine have already done the school thing I am completely confident that they are better off with me (for reasons that regular blog-readers will be familiar with, so I won't take up space by repeating it all here).  However, the little sneaky wobbles where you just catch yourself wondering "am I doing this right?"; "is my child ever going to get interested in anything other than Minecraft?"; "should we be doing X Y or Z?" (argh, "should"... *smacks head*  shoulds are never far from the wobbles!)... yes, I get those! 

So I've been thinking about this again, and I've concluded that I'm feeling a bit directionless.  One thing I liked about teaching was having it all laid out before you - the national curriculum clearly showing the way; a nice broad path, clearly marked out, heading ultimately to one goal: GCSEs (or equivalent).  Subjects, Topics, Workbooks, Attainment Targets, Lesson Plans, Assessment Forms - easy peasy (apart from the phenomenal amount of work involved in creating and maintaining all of the above!!).  Of course, the main problem was guiding groups of different children with different abilities and different passions along the same path.  It wasn't in fact a production line where you could put each child through the same process and get the same results at the end.  Some children flourished, some struggled, some were ruined.  Hence the perceived need for Home Education: the chance for us to walk a different path; one of our own making... a little adventure.  No nice straight path here - more of a meander through the woods, exploring whichever openings take our fancy, with some openings leading to dead-ends, some possibly getting a bit boggy, and some leading to absolutely glorious, soul-flooding places of wonder where you just want to set up camp.  Best of all, getting to share that path with the people I love most in the world.

But... do you see the problem?  Wandering in the woods is lovely - truly; it's one of my favourite things to do.  It's just that sometimes you can get a bit lost.  And at times like this you can find yourself longing to be back on the straight open road with signposts everywhere, and the reassurance of millions of other people all doing the same thing...  No?  Well OK, maybe not - but at least a map would be nice!

So that's where I am: a little bit lost.  Yes, we're dong the English & Maths curriculum.  My twin safety blankets of Reading Eggs and MathsWhizz - the equivalent of those little yellow arrows you get in the woods, giving a vague sense of direction (and a little sigh of relief: "oh good, a yellow arrow: at least I'm on a recognised route; even if it's not the one I started on, it'll take me somewhere civilised!").  If sometimes I get a little concerned that the online 'work' is getting too boring for the boys, or it's going against my desire to have them following only their passions, I give them a few days off (like we have this week), and reaasure myself that half an hour a day is hardly going to stop their brains working for themselves.  And yes, I have given myself permission to make suggestions, to invite them into the things that I think would be interesting.  They make suggestions too.  It's nice; we have fun; we learn... I'm just feeling a bit 'where-next'-ish.

OK then, so when I'm lost what do I do?  Well first I try to work out where I am. In HE terms, this is like taking stock of where we are.  Take Eldest this morning.  I didn't think he'd done anything much except mooch, but after a lovely little chat (I wasn't interrogating him honest, just taking an interest!) it turns out he had...
1/ written a poem for Mummy about Mummy
2/ learned about the Tudors and pirates on 'Horrible Histories Gory Games' (TV)
3/ drawn Spongebob cartoons for Middle
4/ built lego constructions
5/ experimented with building a tornado machine using plastic bottles
6/ learned more about wildlife on 'Barney's Barrier Reef' and 'Natural Born Hunters'
7/ read a few books:  the Ultimate Official Guide to Club PenguinWaddle On Joke BookProfessor Bumblebrains Bonkers Book of God
For a mooch, I'd say he's been quite productive!  What a little star!
And as for Middle and Youngest?  They played together really nicely all morning!  Marble runs, Kid K'nex constructions, imaginative role play... and more.  They were playing so nicely I didn't want to interrupt.  Yes I would have liked them doing things I could more easily tick off as 'subjects', but I know better than to try to make them confirm to my wobbly insecurities.  Personally, yes, I would like a bit more structure (not least because a few of my friends are having very successful structured times of it at the moment, which always brings it to my attention again) - but I'm fairly sure that Middle at least would balk at the idea. Eldest might go for it for a while, but he's doing OK without anyway. Youngest has lost any interest in workbooks etc - but he's easy in the sense that he's very definite about his likes and interests. If he wants to learn something you won't stop him, and if he doesn't want to, there's no point trying to persuade him.  Generally, it's quite clear to me that there is still some deschooling in process.

If I know where we are (we're doing OK, learning, and to a degree still deschooling), we can't be totally lost!  The next question then is: do I know where we're going?  Not in terms of having signposts and maps, or tickboxes no - but generally?  I need to remind myself of why I'm doing this - what's the goal?  Basically, we're aiming at producing happy, well-adjusted individuals, capable of discovering and pursuing their own interests.  Exams are not our goal.  When you've been in educational surroundings for as long as I have, it can seem that exam results are the be-all and end-all of education - so forgive me if I'm stating the obvious... I just need to remind myself so I don't go into autopilot.  You know that feeling when you're an experienced driver - you're driving along and realise that you weren't paying full attention, you're just on auto-pilot, following the familar roads that you're used to, to get home or another well-travelled-to destination?  Well in educational terms, exams are my auto-pilot. I need to periodically remind myself that that is NOT our destination any more.  True, they may well be a valuable stop off along the way, to help any of our boys get to where they want to go, but my focus is on producing enthusiastic and capable learners, and eventually adults who are fulfilled in their lives.  The boys don't yet know what they want from lives occupation-wise, so there's no point looking for a map to follow.  We're back to meandering, exploring & looking for the next inspiration to strike.

To go back to where I started I still feeling lost?  Um... well, still a bit directionless, but given that none of the boys have expressed any desire to learn/ achieve any one thing at the moment, that's understandable.  We are heading in the right direction - and I'm pretty sure at least some of us are still deschooling (I certainly am).  Whatever we do, while writing this post I have come to realise again that the hardest thing about HE for me is that I can't use any one method with all three boys.  I think I need to focus again on the best way to help Eldest, the best way to help Middle, and the best way to help Youngest - and see where that leads us.  Following three individual paths at once? Now there's a challenge!  And a whole other blog post!  Excuse me while I go & let my brain whirr...

Monday, 21 January 2013

Party Weekend

Wow, busy few days!  It was Middle's birthday this weekend, so since Friday its all been about getting ready for the celebrations.  He had a party on Saturday afternoon - I don't know whether that was more for him or me, as last year's party for him was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for me, regarding school.  It was when he invited his entire (small) class to his party - he's not the sort of child to leave anyone out - but to cut a long story short they basically (with one beautiful exception) boycotted his party.  That was my penny-dropping-with-a-loud-clang moment: I knew of Home Ed and definitely liked the idea, but I had bought into the socialisation ideal of school life - and at that point (when I heard that one of his "friends" was persuading their peers not to go to the party) I realised what a fallacy the socialising argument was - I had sent the boys to school so they could make friends and have fun social experiences, but for Middle at least it was quite the opposite.  It was tortuous to watch and obviously I still haven't quite got over it.  Judging from his behaviour (showing increased social anxiety) in the few days leading up to his party I would guess that he hadn't forgotten either.  So it was such a joy to have a really lovely party this year.  Considering the dreadful weather and road conditions, the fact that only one of the invitees couldn't make it speaks volumes.  He had so many people he wanted to invite, I even had to restrict numbers, as there's only so much our house will take!  And they were all happy to come, happy to join in and make it a lovely day for Middle. Perfect!

Other than the party planning there have obviously been lots of wintry excursions: snowball fights, sledging etc.  And speaking of making the most of the weather, a few weeks ago we made some giant ice marbles to put in the garden when the temperatures dropped below freezing - and we used them this weekend to decorate outside for Middles party.  Making them was a bit trial-and-error - we eventually got them to work by putting a squirt of food colouring directly into the deflated balloon, then putting the neck of the balloon over the end of the tap and filling it with water that way (holding it so the weight didn't pull it off).  We tied knots in the balloon necks and put them in our freezer.  Friends who have also made them have tried freezing theirs in the garden once the temperatures dropped below zero, but I have heard that freezing them this way takes several days, and you can still risk having them explode due to not being fully frozen - so we recommend the freezer route (although of course, they may take several days in the freezer too)!

When not outside we've been enjoying lots of snuggly time indoors, including TV time, which led on Thursday to a lovely little project.  As you may well know, we record plenty of programmes from the BBC2 learning zone, as well as CBBC and others, for learning purposes.  Then it is up to the boys to choose whatever takes their interest.  Last week it included an episode of "Finding Stuff Out" on volcanoes.  Well that set off the day's activities nicely for Eldest and Middle.  They drew some volcano pictures, they read the books we had at home, Volcanoes and Horrible Geography's Violent Volcanoes - and I found a lovely workbook resource on Volcanoes, from the TES website.  (You have to be a member to download their resources, but it's totally worth joining for hundreds of great ideas, plus it's informative those of us who like to keep up to date with education in this country...).  I said to the boys that they could do as much or as little as they liked of the workbooks, I just thought it would be interesting for them.  Eldest whizzed through his, and loved it.  Middle took his time and stopped when he'd had enough - he can pick it up again later if he likes.  We could have made our own volcanoes (we have a bottle of red fizzy drink and mentos in the cupboard), but with all the snow on the ground expected to stay for at least a week, I didn't want the garden to look like a bloodbath for that long with red splashes all over the once-pristine whiteness! It sounds silly, but I know it would bother me... so we will be revisiting volcanoes at least once again soon, after the snow has all gone!

 Eldest's 'Volcano' (sadly we cant find Middle's)
Following on from the theme, there's a programme on CBBC at the moment called "Fierce Earth" - the episode we watched today was about hurricanes,and we had a good chat about why the eye of the storm is safer than being on the edge, ranging from spinning tops to centrifugal force etc.  Also today we watched some clips of my favourite owl, the great grey owl, like this one - and then we got the sketching pencils out.  We've got a set ranging from 5H - 5B, and we definitely need to practice with them, to get the full benefit of the range.  Youngest wasn't really in drawing mood today (he was off playing with some of Middle's birthday presents), but the others loved experimenting with the soft smudgy look, and produced some lovely pictures of the owl hunting in the taiga.

 Middle's 'Great Grey Owl Hunting'

 Eldest's 'Great Grey Owl and Lemming'

 Mummy's 'Great Grey Owl'

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Not-so-boring Routine

We're fully into our "normal" routine now (if there is such a thing as normal).  That said, we didn't make it to to craft club yesterday:  I just couldn't get the boys all ready in time. Well... I probably could have, if I'd reverted to the Sergeant Major alter-ego of our school days, hustling them and barking orders to get them all up, dressed, fed & ready in time.  But the truth is, I really don't like the shouty version of me - I'm trying to lay her to rest!  And anyhow the boys are usually up and ready in time, so I guess there must have been a reason for their lethargy yesterday morning - most likely how cold it was outside (I found it hard to leave my duvet too!)  Once we were all up, there was the usual MathsWhizz for the older two while I played a Maths game with Youngest.  This time we played Bus Stop, helping him to master counting skills, spotting the patterns of dots on a dice, counting on spaces as he moved around the board, recognising the plus and minus symbols etc - and he got Mummy to himself, which always goes down well!

After that it was time to pop to the local shops for a few bits, so we got wellied-up, hats & ski-gloves on etc, and off we went.  There's something about snow that just transforms a normal 'boring' walk; they loved it (again).  Once home again, it was Youngest's turn to do some baking: gorgeous choc chip cookies...


 ...and then we got the paints out to do some snowy paintings inspired by our wintry walk.  We started with these Easy winter landscape instructions, that I had bookmarked a few days ago, and added a few extra bits of our own, using strips of cardboard to make the trunks & branches, and lastly adding falling snow by dipping paintbrushes in watered-down paint, and tapping the paintbrushes - another tip found on the Deep Space Sparkle website.

Mummy's snowy landscape

Eldest's snowy landscape (using a brush to paint the trees, not cardboard strips)

Middle's snowy landscape

 Youngest's snowy landscape
(he wasn't inspired by the snowmen, so he painted a red snail with a scarf instead.)

After that Eldest was still in full arty mode, so took himself off to do some sketching...

"Winter at Night"

"Robert the Owl"

Today we had a bit of reading with Youngest while Eldest and Middle were on Reading Eggs. Eldest was pleased to find a book to read on there today about three hedgehogs.  He's also very happy that he's collected 58 out of  214 printable animal collecting cards on the program.  Middle's favourite at the moment is the 'Quote Quest' part... well, anything that looks like a game is a winner for him!  After that we had another wintry walk, this time round our local park, to feed the ducks and geese (with peas out of the freezer - bread is really not good food for them when it's this cold).


Then we came home for the obligatory mugs of hot chocolate, while watching recorded episodes of "Got to Dance" (Sky) - because the boys love it, and it shows a great cross-section of different dance styles - followed by "Winterwatch" (currently showing on BBC2 each evening this week) which I had recorded last night.  There was a sad bit where a baby seal died (or was about to), but the boys coped OK - they're getting more used to the harsher side of wildlife documentaries, I think.  They loved the shot where the humpback whale breached behind the guys on the boat, who were all looking the wrong way.

At home we have our own mini-version of Winterwatch too... we were hoping for some visitors to find our new nesting box, and this morning we had our first one (as far as we know).  He had a good look round, and we even got some video footage, although unfortunately it picked up my calling one of the boys (by name) to have a look, so I can't post it here.  I can show you a couple of stills though...  it's very exciting!  It is too soon for them to be making a nest and getting broody, but still, it's nice to know that they've found it!

So we may be back into our "routine", but it's anything but boring.  We're having lots of fun - long may it continue!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Snow Motivation

I couldn't get motivated this morning.  At all.  I think a lot of that was to do with the fact that having looked forward to having Hubby home for the weekend, we then ended up with him having to go out a lot, so I was on my own with the boys again for most of Saturday and Sunday, with them waiting for him to get back from the various places he had to go to.  Don't get me wrong, I totally love being with them - but I ended the weekend more worn-out than revived.  Also there was an accumulation of mess over the weekend, and as I have been learning since we started HE, that really, really affects me: it just depresses me to be surrounded by mess.  That makes me sound terribly houseproud - I'm not at all.  I suspect I'm just too lazy to be really house-proud.  But it's true: messy rooms get me down.

It wasn't all bad though: when we woke this morning it was to see a beautiful layer of snow everywhere, which is always exciting (I'm as childish as the boys in that respect) - so they all got dressed (instead of staying in pyjamas - well it is Monday) so we could go out for a walk in it.  Having checked the forecast I saw there was more snow forecast for the afternoon, so we stayed in in the morning and tidied up while the boys also did Reading Eggspress etc, then after lunch we went out for a glorious walk in the snow: throwing snowballs, trying to catch snowflakes on our tongues, making snow angels and patterns in the snow with our footprints etc.  And then to have a tidy house to come back to after having fun outdoors in the beautiful, soul-restoring snowy countryside... well, I felt much better!  They're now snuggled up together under a blanket on the sofa, hot chocolates in hand, watching the Tigger Movie (the snowstorm on the film matching the snow still falling outside our window) while I go through the photos I took... lovely jubbly!

Another benefit of the cold weather is that finally Squidge has decided to join her brother Midge in hibernating.  (If you're a newcomer to my blog you may not know that we have two rescue hedgehogs in our shed, waiting to be released in the spring)  Hooray for hibernation! Midge seems to wake slightly about once a week, have a little snack and then return to his nest - so I check on them every day to see if I need to refill their water and dried food, and to put more hay in their boxes in case they need to make their nests warmer.  Generally though, they take very little work now they're both hibernating, so that's a blessing!

Anyway, I took loads of photos (of course!), but most are of the boys (again: of course!)  However, to give a taste of our lovely walk, here are a few that I'm happy to share - 'til next time... xx

Friday, 11 January 2013

Mini-Structure and Pop Art

I love Facebook.  I was in a conversation on it the other day, and identifying with that familiar HE struggle between the heart's love of the unschooling philosophy, and the head's need for a degree of structure, for sanity's sake.  This term, although we're only a week in, I feel like we've struck a balance that works for us.  Every day that we're home, the boys (particularly the two older ones) do half an hour (or more if they like - they sometimes do) of Reading Eggspress and MathsWhizz, while I do some reading or maths games with Youngest.  He stalled on Reading Eggs last term, and is still consolidating the skills learned and building his confidence to be able to go back to where he left off.  Also, most days we do an activity of Mummy's suggestion (the boys have the power of veto) - from a list of ideas.  Eg yesterday we played Middle's brilliant new game (another Christmas present), Scabs and Guts.  It's a board game with lots of questions on the body, healthy living etc - it seemed that every other question involved poo, snot & other not-so-refined topics... the boys loved it, of course, and Middle was particularly delighted when one card asked him to do a demonstration of someone with food-poisoning... his acted-out vomiting was very convicing - yeuch!

So other than half an hour of online curriculum in Maths or English, and one activity from Mummy's "what shall we do today" suggestion box, the boys are free to explore, watch, play etc as their interests dictate.  If the TV goes on they watch something that we have recorded (from BBC2's Learning Zone, or CBBC and CBeebies).  Horrible Histories is a particular favourite of Eldest's, and the younger two are currently enjoying William Whiskerson (geography) and Curious Cat (design & technology), which we recorded last term. There are a few great programmes on the internet too (we really like Grid Club) but more often than not, they're just off creating or having fun - not so much evidence of screentime this term ('hooray' says Mummy!)  Sometimes they need/ want my involvement, often they are happy to just get on with whatever it is.  It certainly all seems to be working so far :)  People who are purely unschooling may well suggest that we're not doing it properly by having any structure, and those who are fully structured may be horrified at my doing "so little" with the boys - but it works for us.  At the moment, anyway.  When it stops working, we will find what works better, and adapt.

So yesterday our learning (that I was aware of) looked something like this: Eldest and Middle were on Reading Eggspress while Youngest and I read a few small books from the Oxford Reading Tree - him sounding out & blending the simple words, me reading the ones that he couldn't/ didn't want to read - and of course, having fun chatting about the illustrations, to keep it fun (given the choice of 'sharing a story' or 'practicing reading', I know which seems more appealing!).  Middle baked some smartie cookies, but somehow they all got eaten before I remembered to take a photo - oops; Eldest read his new book, "Predators" (Steve Backshall); we all played the aforementioned delightfully disgusting board game, 'Scabs and Guts', and then Eldest (and Middle) played camera challenges where I had to give them a challenge of something to take a photo of  (eg something with a triangle in it, something with spots/ stripes, something shiny etc.   All in all, a lovely day!  Like I said though, that was just the learning that I noticed - so much of a person's learning just cannot be quantified.  They were off playing and creating for hours - who knows what they were absorbing while enjoying themselves!

And today? Well, we've had MathsWhizz; Horrible Histories and William Whiskerson on TV; Youngest has been further exploring the CBeebies website; Middle counted the bones in his foot (then we looked it up to check the "real" answer); and Mummy's contribution was to make some Pop Art.  I showed the boys Andy Warhol's 'Marilyn' prints in our book, "Famous Paintings."  Eldest remembered it from the from the Art programme they watched last term (recorded from the BBC's learning zone), and they were all keen to get the paints out and have a go at our own version.  I looked online to see if there were any instrictions to follow (I'm not totally confident when it comes to teaching art), but as I couldn't find any, we worked it out as we went along.  In case you fancy a go, this is what we did...

Pop-Art Self-Portraits

We wanted to do four colour variations - and four x A4 would have been too big I felt, so I folded an A4 page in half, to give us a smaller starting area each.  We each drew a basic head (and shoulders) self-portrait.  We are blessed with a photocopy function on our printer, so I made three further A5 copies of each self portrait.  If you don't have access to a photocopier, you could just trace the simple outlines.

Next we mixed six colours of paint (I only keep paint in the primary colours plus black and white at home - partly because of limited storage space, partly because it provides plenty of practice at mixing colours).  We decided the best look would be to limit ourselves to using five colours each.  We laid our four identical self-portraits out in front of each of us, and started painting.  It worked better for us to do a kind of production line: rather than completing one self-portrait at a time, we each did all four faces first (making sure each was a different colour), then each mouth etc...

That was as much as Youngest could handle really (ie just colouring his faces in with different colours on each page).  With Eldest and Youngest we looked at Warhol's colour variation and talked about how they weren't all uniform - in some of them the eyes and lips were the same colour; in others it was the lips and hair etc.  As we went along we tried to not only vary the features that were the same colour on each self-portrait, but also make sure there was a balance of colour across all four pieces. 

When we had finished filling our faces with colour we looked at how Warhol used colour to make bolder backgrounds than just leaving them white - so (with the exception of Youngest, who declared his to be finished), we assessed our faces so far and looked at which colours would work best as backgrounds to tie the four mini prints into one work of art (that sounds more pontificatory than it actually was).  Most importantly, it was fun, and we're all really happy with our completed "artwork"





And then this afternoon we had a play date with the boys' old school friends at a soft play area - so now they're all nicely exhausted and happy from another lovely day.  And what's more, it's now the weekend, so we get Daddy at home too - hooray!  I'm off to enjoy the weekend - hope you have a good one too!