Thursday, 18 April 2013

Choosing the Right Resources

We have decided that we want to learn about rocks. To be honest, this is mostly my decision, but based on things that I've seen the boys get enthused about lately (volcanoes, mountains, pebble collections, crystals etc).  I'm not expecting a project of deep and thorough academic investigation - just enough exploring every now and then to hopefully capture their innate sense of wonder in the world around them (and then stop before it gets boring for them... well that's the plan, anyway).  So I've been trying to prepare myself with at least some understanding (I know almost nothing about geology), in order to be able to help the boys learn. 

First I picked up a project book called 'Rocks and Minerals'  by Dorling Kindersley.  Given that it's aimed at ages 8-12 I wasn't anticipating too many problems, but oh my!  Did I feel thick after reading it...?! (yes I did).  I was really disillusioned and immediately felt that it was going to turn out to be too boring to be a fun project.  Fortunately it's not the only resource out there (although I'm sure those of you with children who like workbooks etc may find it really helpful).  Happily for us I also found the National Geographic book on the subject from the 'Everything' series... loads of photos and small amounts of text on the page are brilliant for Middle, my visual learner.  And my interest was re-ignited too!  We also found an 'Earth Science' DVD from the Rock n Learn series - the boys loved the Human Body DVD we had from the same series - and they all learn really well from watching TV, so I had high hopes for this DVD, although at £15 I hesitated to buy it without seeing the contents.  I'm glad we did though - another success; they loved it!  To be honest, it doesn't do much for me - but it's about what works best for them rather than myself.  Oh, and a friend recommended a lovely book called Geology Rocks, which has lots of ideas for little experiments the boys can do (eg sand sculpting, making glass out of sugar etc), that Eldest and Middle have already been through, sticking post-its on all the pages with experiments that they fancy doing.  'Hands on' projects are always a success - and memorable too.  I think we're all kinesthetic learners at least in part!  Of course, as this project was partly inspired by seeing how fascinated the boys were with the rocks on the beach while we were on holiday, I do really want to build up our own little collection - you can't beat being able to touch and handle things in order to learn!

With that in mind, we had a couple of 'hands-on' moments today, to see if interest would spark... and it did!  First we did an underwater volcano experiment from Middle's Booms, Bangs & Fizzes kit that he was given for Christmas.  Chemical reactions are always fun to watch!  Then we broke open some geodes that we had bought for just over £1 each online.  It's a lovely activity because the boys needed to exercise patience, and then finding out what was inside each boring-looking little rock was really exciting for them.  I found a lovely page on the web that explained a bit more about them too, without going into excessive detail.

the hammer and chisel (or in our case screwdriver) method was preferred over putting the geode in a sock and smacking it on a chopping board... safety goggles a must, though!

 The boys were all thrilled with their findings... obviously I had to share all of them on my blog!
 Eldest's findings

 Middle's findings

 Youngest's findings

Starting a new project has made me think again of the importance of finding out which learning styles most suit each little learner - they may not be the same styles as our own, of course - and they may all be different from each other too.  Having explored a few options now, I'm happy that the variety of resources we have should be enough to get us going... and then if their curiosity really takes off, we'll follow their interest wherever it leads!  If not, I at least have already learned things that I didn't know before, and we've all had fun - so that's got to be a success!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Seasonal Home Ed

It is just SOOOO lovely to have some decent weather!  I had almost forgotten the joyful sounds of children playing happily (well, mostly) in the garden, a chorus of birds twittering in the trees as if to say "at last, the snow has gone!"; trees rustling in the breeze (and the occasional back-door slammed shut by the wind where we forgot to close it... imagine feeling warm enough to forget to close a door!).

There are more signs too... in our garden have appeared not so much a crowd as a little group of golden daffodils (and the beginnings of some tulip shoots) - planted by Middle and myself back in September when the bare soil was already making us feel forlorn (see 'All Learning Together'). 

And two runs have appeared on the patio and decking, complete with snug little houses and bowl of food as Midge and Squidge, our rescued hedgehogs (see 'Feeling Prickly'), have at last woken up from their hibernation and have begun the 'soft release process' to acclimatise them to the outdoor sounds and smells again, before we set them completely free (probably feeling more than slightly proud that we have saved two little hedgehog lives that certainly would not have survived this long harsh winter at the weight they were when we found them).

Midge's den (run very kindly donated by a lovely friend) - he's been transferred outdoors from the shed today
Midge curled up inside his house (you can just see his spikes through the hay... I'll try to get a decent photo before I release them)
Squidge's run, put together today - it's a lot cheaper and flimsier than the donated run, so I'm just hoping she won't find a way to escape.  She was in the other run for almost a week already though, so if she does escape at least she's started getting used to being outdoors)

Oh, and there are signs that the nest box may - I repeat may - be being considered as a potential place to raise a little avian family.  Admittedly, I was hoping for the sight of something a bit more attractive by now than a few straggly feathers and lots of bird-poop, but friends of mine in the know insist that this is a good sign, so here's hoping...  It seems that everything is late this year because winter dragged on for so long! 

outside...                                           inside

Lovely friends of ours with a pond have said we can have some of their frogspawn that has appeared this week to study (we have a tank of rainwater in the garden to put them in... if I can just keep Middle and Youngest from emptying it to use in their waterfights).  Even the frogs are late this year - last year the local ponds were bubbling with spawn at the very beginning of March!

getting the tank ready for the frogspawn

As most of the boys' friends have gone back to school (the availability of friends to play with being a major contributory factor in our decision to ease off the structured part of our learning over the school holidays), I was thinking of gearing back up to some online curricula etc again... and we will, I'm sure (especially now we can actually get into the study again).  But I have to say - it's just so lovely being able to go outdoors, that I can tell there will be quite a lot of that going on for a good while. 
One thing I have really learned over our first year of HE is that it really does flow with the seasons.  We didn't spot it so much in our first term as we were settling in and establishing the very real value of deschooling.  Then in the Autumn we definitely noticed that gradually our HE friends seemed to be settling down and spending more time at home, ourselves included - the outdoor trips were fewer and further between; there was much more of a feel of snuggling down, staying indoors and having cosy family times... accompanied by lots of home-baking and wintry glittery crafts!  It was lovely, snuggly and special. 
Then at the beginning of this year there was a noticeable restlessness, as though we were ready to tackle something new - a feeling that being indoors had got a bit stale.  Of course, much as we in our centrally-heated house wanted to be up and about, starting new adventures, the hedgehogs in the shed (and the snow on the ground) showed clearly that actually the hibernation season was far from over - so reluctantly we stayed at home for longer than I think we would have done otherwise.  Yes, there were plenty of snowball fights and sledging trips, but still... that was a LONG cold season.  Happily for us, our need for something new was fulfilled largely by our discovery of lapbooks - lovely new projects to get our teeth into and make ourselves feel productive. 
Which brings us to Easter - and now... a very late-starting spring, and boy, are we ready for it!  So I am really happy at the thought of plenty of time outdoors, just experiencing nature and playing in parks.  We will keep up the online curricula; we do have a project or two that we fancy exploring - but we are going to make the most of this season and enjoy it as much as we can!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Pros and Cons of Home Education - from the 'horses' mouths...

As we've recently past the first anniversary of starting our home education journey, we've been reflecting on our decision, and looking forward to what is coming next.  I know a few people who are investigating HE as an option right now, so I asked the boys if they could tell other people what the good and bad things are about being educated at home.  So here goes...

Eldest (11): I learn stuff on the computer instead of workbooks
I get to choose what I want to learn about and not just lots and lots of other boring stuff.
Home Ed makes learning fun.
Home Ed trips and clubs are really fun - we go to loads more than at school.
I like learning from the TV.
We can have pyjama days.
We can go on the trampoline whenever we like.

Middle (7): I like it at home school because we don't have to drive for so long.
I get to be with my family all the time.
I get to learn new stuff that I want to learn.
I love it cos my teacher is my Mum.
I like the groups that we go to.
I love baking at home.
We get lots of playtime
Youngest (4): We don't have to go to school. 
Home school is better than normal school.
School is a bit boring.

Between the three of them they could only think of one drawback to Home Ed, and that is that they don't get to see their friends every day.  But when I asked if that made them wish they were back at school the answer was a resounding "NO!"
And then I thought I'd add a few more of my own:
- children learn at their pace, when they are ready (this naturally seems to take the form of bursts of intense learning followed by times of slower, calmer periods where they absob and consolidate what they have learned, which can't really be catered for in school)
- absence of competition: peer pressure & league tables etc
- no homework battles!
- children's personalities flourish naturally
- the parent chooses how much is spent on resources etc, rather than being presented with a list of obligatory uniform, equipment, trips and 'suggested donations'

It's hard work at times, being a full-time mum & educator (totally worth it, of course - but I wanted to acknowledge that it's not necessarily the easy/ lazy way to go).

I'm sure there are other pros and cons according to others, but these are ours - for anyone interested, and also as a nice little record for me to enjoy of how happy the boys are :)  And now I'm off to chat with the boys about what they want to learn next (and also to clear space in the study for them to learn in... they do use the whole house in the course of HE, but the study is particularly loved because of the computer access ;) )  New term, here we come :)

Monday, 8 April 2013

Peaceful Parenting

I need to mention that there appears to be a movement called 'peaceful parenting', but until very recently I was unaware of it.  Until I educate myself on the movement, when I talk about peaceful parenting I am solely referring to my attempts to parent my children more peacefully!

As mentioned in my last post, I have taken on the Orange Rhino challenge, basically to stop yelling at my kids (Orange Rhino blog here).  I have joined a small group of awesome, honest and brave ladies who have also taken on the challenge, and it is largely with them in mind that I'm writing this post... and who knows? There may well be others out there who are encouraged by it too. 

So, sadly and frustratingly I have not held my peace since my last blog.  But the occasions when I did lose it have been teaching me valuable lessons that I want to write down.  It's not that I didn't know any of it before, but the more I have been paying attention to this issue, the more clearly I am seeing these things...

1) Most conflict arises because of a clash of wills: I want the children to do something that they don't want to do.  Often it is something reasonable, like for them to stop running in a shop, or to eat their vegetables.  Sometimes it is just something that makes my life easier, like them turning down the volume on their nintendo, or passing something to me.  However, realising that I am asking them to do something they don't necessarily want to do has made it easier for me to see it from their point of view - to give them a little longer to answer, or just finish what they were doing before they respond - and rather than getting annoyed with them if they complain, acknowledge that what I'm asking is inconvenient and help them to work through their attitude to a peaceful one.  Ultimately this one is about respect.  It is an easy trap to fall into seeing our children as extensions of our selves, who should just do what we say.  But they are not - they are their own people.  Yes, our job is to help them grow and develop in healthy ways, but we can't and shouldn't try to "make them" do anything.

2) I am much more likely to 'lose it' if my attention is elsewhere.  When my attention is given to the boys, focused on what they are doing, how they are feeling etc, everything goes a lot more smoothly.  When I am distracted by my own stuff (usually something absorbing such as phone calls, reading a book, emails or facebook) I get irritated when the boys need my instant attention.  Thinking about this, this is the reverse of the prior situation (me interrupting the boys) so I can see how irritating it is for them too!  Anyway, it helps if I manage my expectations of what I can reasonably achieve during the day.  Generally I do not make or receive phone calls, as we have long since established that Mummy on the phone is an instant cue for screaming, fighting and general chaos.  Also I tend not to turn on my computer until after lunch as I do get fully absorbed, (and the mornings are more usually taken up with home ed work that needs my input).  For example, today I switched my laptop on this morning as I had some things I had to sort out asap from being away.  The boys were allowed to play on their nintendos, so I was confident that they would be equally absorbed, and once I finished with my online banking etc, I thought I'd try to catch up with a spot of blogging.  As I wrote the above sentence about not making phone calls, Middle started complaining and whining.  Immediately I could feel myself getting irritated & then realised the irony of writing about the need to give my children full attention, while not giving them my attention.  So I forced myself to put down my train of thought and focus on Middle.  His needs were quickly and easily sorted out, but that could so easily have escalated into my snapping at him - it kind of proves my point.
Of course, the draw back to this kind of full-on attention is that it can be pretty exhausting. Home Educators and stay-at-home mums are on duty all the time.  As the children get older, the hope is that they will become more independent, but for now while at least some of mine are still small, it's all-emcompassing, and that's not easy.  Don't get me wrong, it's totally worth it - and I'm not complaining.  But just because we do the best thing for our children, it doesn't mean it doesn't cost us.  And when energy levels are low it's much harder to manage our own emotional responses.  This is why I protect my 'grown-up time' so much.  I need that space in the evenings after all the children are in bed: to watch TV prgrammes of my choice, read a book uninterrupted, edit my photos, and generally just switch my brain off from full-on attending to the boys.  It's not that I can't do my own thing while they're up: I just have to be prepared for them to need to interrupt at times - and I'm still learning how to peacefully switch attention from my stuff to theirs!

3) Shouting triggers more shouting.  I know this sounds obvious, but it's made me think.  When the boys were babies, their crying would generate immediate and physiological responses in me: the milk letdown was a pretty obvious one, as mothers who have breastfed will know - but also the stress levels would shoot sky high until I attended to my baby's needs.  This is why men find it easier to let babies 'cry it out': they aren't hard-wired like we are to respond to a crying baby.
Well in the same way, if I hear my children shouting and screaming at each other, I have noticed that my stress levels rocket, and it makes me immediately want to shout at them to be quiet (as if that would work!)  It's just a vicious cycle.  They are only shouting at each other because they have learned that behaviour from me, so the only way I am going to help them stop shouting is to show them how.  I have to respond peacefully & calmly if they are shouting.  When my babies screamed I didn't scream back (tempting though it was to my sleep-deprived & addled brain on occasion) - no, I cuddled and soothed.  Well if I could do it then, I can do it now - it's all about that moment taken to remind yourself that they're not the enemy: they just don't have the words/ ability to ask for their legitimate needs to be met.

4)  Remember the reset button.  If I have messed up and shouted at one of the boys or spoken unkindly, it obviously takes its toll on our relationship.  I am learning not to beat myself up about it, but rather take a deep breath and start again... but not just reset my attitude - reset the relationship.  The other day (the last time I yelled) there was a conflict between Eldest and myself.  He had been in a fight with Youngest; they were both crying and needing comfort, but he was physically pushing me over in his insistence that I cuddled him first.  It was hurting my back so I yelled at him to stop - and then he disappeared off, feeling rejected.  It took me about five minutes to get up, make sure Youngest was OK, and calm down - and then I went to find Eldest.  He was obviously upset still, and very quickly started shouting over what I was trying to say.  All I could think was how hurt he must have been by my not hugging him back, so I managed to stay calm and explain.  After a while cuddling, he was happy again, and went off to play.  I do find though that after such upsets, even when peace has been restored, relationships can stil be a bit fragile and extra work is needed to stay close.  Often the next morning, as children will process the day's emotions while they sleep - so I try really hard to find positive things to share in the mornings, to reset the day, in case they've woken up feeling unsettled.  It just makes for such a lovely day when I remember to find a book to read together or a little snuggle and chat about what we'd like to do... or sometimes they like to look through our photobooks at pictures of us having fun together.  whatever it is, the reset button is a deliberate (on my part) choice of positive time together, to remind them that all is well - and it's amazing how much easier the rest of the day seems to flow afterwards.

I have been learning a lot more besides these points, but these four things in particular I'm finding really helpful to keep in mind while I retrain myself.  It's kind of risky sharing stuff this openly, but I've been so inspired by the Orange Rhino and her brutal honesty, that if I can help encourage even one person, then I figure it's got to be worth it.

And of course, for my boys it's totally worth it: four days in a row of not snapping, and hopefully many more to come.  Happy days!