Thursday, 13 June 2013

Educating More than One Individual

It's been a really nice season lately - we've been pretty laid back about all the ebbs and flows of our home educating, and I'm increasing in confidence at our methods (or lack of method).  I don't even care much about all those who dictate that theirs is the one 'best' method to do this funny thing called Home Education.  It may be best for them, but I believe I am most qualified to judge what is best for us!

There's just been one cloud in the otherwise sunny sky... and that is the fact that I am educating three very different personalities at home (and elsewhere).  I was about to say three "little" personalities, referring to their age and size comparative to me, the big grown-up - but the truth is, their personalities are every bit as big as mine, and certainly more demanding at times!  Anyway, one of the many reasons why people, including us, turn to home education is the opportunity to tailor the learning to the needs, styles and abilities of the individual.  Only when you have more than one individual with different needs, abilities etc, that's when it can get more challenging.

Educationally speaking for us, it's not too bad: all three boys do Reading Eggspress and MathsWhizz with varying levels of enthusiasm on different days - and on the whole, that presents no problems, other than making sure they each get their turn on whichever computer is in use.  They also all enjoy doing project work and creating lapbooks, in their different styles: Eldest likes creating books with multiple chapters, doing a separate page for each sub-topic, researching information on the web, typing up what he has discovered and finding photos to include - he learns as he creates, but rarely looks at them once finished; Middle likes a simple envelope file with lots of fiddly bits and interactive pop-out bits, he will read books about his subject, and loves me to print off resources so he doesn't have to do too much writing - but he re-reads his lapbooks a few times after he has created them, learning more from them after the process of creating is complete; Youngest loves his lapbooks and takes them every bit as seriously as those of his brothers.  I am a lot more involved as he's not yet up to doing much research (he is just reading, but not fluently yet) - although this week he announced that he wanted to do a lapbook on Alligator Snapping Turtles, based on information he had learned from "Octonauts" on CBeebies.  He told me what he wanted to include - and I typed it up, found the pictures, and drew the dotted lines for him to write along.  He has only just started to learn to write, and I was so proud of him today - he really concentrated and his letter formation is already looking good, for a beginner! *Lapbook photos at the end*

Their further individual preferences are fairly easy to cater for as well: Eldest likes computer games (Grid club a big hit), taking photos, drawing, writing his diary, making up cartoon-strip stories - he needs little input from me as he is older, other than liking to share his findings with me; Middle likes anything creative - baking, art (especially collage), modelling, gardening etc - he positively glows when he gets to do things with me;  Youngest also loves computer games, imaginative play, investigating everything (whether it's his or someone else's - hmmmm) - he is quite independent by nature, but needs a fair amount of supervision still: if he goes quiet somewhere I still need to track him down.  There is a lot of overlap too - they are all happy to do science experiments, make cakes, explore nature, have a go at an art project, make up games together... and today they spent a good couple of hours all playing "Spin 'n' Groove" on Gridclub - a music sampling mini-program where they get to compose their own music from given samples.

So, as I said, educationally things are OK.  Yes I'm busy - there are occasions when one has to wait while I finish with one brother, but it's OK, we seem to have settled into a groove that works for us to make sure everyone is getting on fine, and nobody seems to have to wait for too long.  Part of the reason why this works I think is because we keep most of our mornings free for them to be at home, exploring whatever has their interest at the time, doing the more obvious "learning" - and we are all comfortable with that routine. 

So if not educationally, what is the issue?  Well, it's largely social.  Eldest is a proper people-person.  He loves playing with friends, and not infrequently mentions that he misses school - largely because he misses seeing his best friend every day - although he is always quick to add that he doesn't miss it enough to want to go back.  Middle however is more introverted.  Where at a social gathering Eldest will play with many people at once (the more the better), Middle tends to just make one good friend and focus on having fun with them - he doesn't handle big groups so much.  He is really very friendly to anyone, he doesn't hang back anymore like he did when we left school - but he is much less confident that people will want to play with him, and if he has a discouraging experience it puts him right off going back.  Meanwhile Youngest is mr. independent.  Totally happy playing by himself or with his brothers, he is happy for people to play with him if they want, but he doesn't go out of his way to invite them, and at the moment, wouldn't care if we never went anywhere social.

So my problem is always this: where can we go to 'socialise' (for Eldest's sake at least) that isn't too academic (the range between an eleven-year-old and a four-year-old is really quite a stretch and usually leaves at least one of them uninterested), that is on in the afternoons (to protect our little routine while it is working for us), and doesn't threaten Middle, confidence-wise.

We do have craft club - which is so lovely we make an exception to the 'afternoon' rule.  As it's on Tuesday mornings it follows pyjama day (which is set in stone: the boys are passionate about protecting PJ Day at home), and they boys physically need to get out fairly early. Heather who runs it is lovely and flexible, happy for the boys to do their own thing, which they often do, and there are always children there to play with after they have finished creating.

Other than that, there is a sports group which we used to go to and Eldest loves.  Youngest is ambivalent, but Middle had an off-putting experience when I encouraged him to have a go at something he wasn't sure about, it didn't go well, and he was crushed - I didn't realise how badly until he refused to go back.  I don't see the point in forcing him back - he's the sort of child who needs to be allowed time to be ready himself - if you force him, you just set the process right back.  However, I really need to find another place for Eldest (and his brothers) to have the opportunity for socialising in larger groups (we frequently have playdates with friends in their houses; socialising in general isn't an issue).  Happily for us, a friend has had the genius idea of setting up a fortnightly nature group.  I mean, what could be more perfect for us? (I can't believe I didn't think of it myself!)  So we have our first outing planned next week, and a few more ideas for following that.  I am very excited.  So watch this space: here's hoping it goes as well as I foresee...

Finally, before I leave you with Youngest's lapbook, I was introduced to this blog post today, from tutorspree blog, and am sharing it for anyone interested in reading more about educating individuals.

And now (if you've stuck with me thus far, thank you - that was a bit of a mammoth post!)... Youngest's lapbook.  I admit, it's not a subject I would immediately have thought of suggesting, but bless him: he knew everything he wanted to say, and he did a great job!

Friday, 7 June 2013

I need to read this again if I wobble...

It was a funny day today.  We had a delivery coming from Ikea - the shelf set we bought a few months ago worked so well, we ordered another one to try to bring order to the study.  Therefore I needed to spend most of the day sorting things out of the study so that we can get the shelf unit into it once assembled... and then filled of course.  Consequently the kitchen table is now buried under study stuff & there has been no space anywhere for the boys to 'do anything much' - except of course watch TV, draw pictures, play on the computer, pore over photos, tell each other stories, do a bit of baking, read books, make masks, and play games in the garden (and that's just the bits I noticed)!

It's something I have really appreciated about this 'term' - we've had so many interruptions to the rhythms & patterns we had been in, but in each of those interruptions, every single time I have just been easily able to spot the blessings of unstructured time.  We do usually like a little bit of structure - it works for all of us; but I am now so chilled about days without structure when needed - they are still so rich, just in different ways.

So I thought I'd share some of today's lovely little highlights (in between moving books, boxes etc)...  While the boys were watching 'Absolute Genius' (about Brunel), there was quite a bit of footage of the Clifton suspension bridge, and I was able to tell them about an ancestor of ours on my father's side who tried to kill herself in the late 1800s by jumping off the bridge, but her crinoline skirts opened up like a parachute and she floated harmlessly down to the mudflats and was rescued.  They were happy to hear that she seemed to cheer up afterwards, and lived to be an old lady.  She had a poem written about her and even has her own page on Wikipedia... The boys were enjoying the TV programme as it was, but even more so after they realised we have family links to the bridge, and such a great story too!

I also uncovered our wedding album, & had a lovely few minutes looking through it with the boys.  They loved looking at all the family twenty years ago & working out who everyone was.  There is such strength in knowing you're part of a big, supportive structure like a family - it was lovely to be able to share that with our boys today.

This afternoon I realised it was teatime and I hadn't prepared anything, being preoccupied with the study contents.  So I hastily grabbed some home-made hidden-veg sauce from the freezer and we all made our own pizzas.  We didn't have any mozzarella cheese handy, but we're all perfectly happy with cheddar - and they worked a treat.  Eldest's 'boomerang' pizza turned out particularly large, but he was happy to eat every last crumb, so no problems there! 

 top left to bottom right: Youngest, Middle (heart-shaped), Eldest, Mummy

 Afterwards we enjoyed the chocolate brownies that I had made with Youngest as a distraction from something the older two were doing earlier that was leaving him out.  Whenever one of the boys gets left out of a game I always find baking is a very acceptable consolation!

Oh, and of course we had the camera trap photos to explore.  There was quite a mystery attached to last night's photos.  The camera trap is triggered by motion, via a PIR sensor, so every time anything goes past, it is set to go off & take a quick succession of 3 pictures.  Well last night we know it was working, because first we had several lovely shots of our resident fox - and then there was a gap of an hour before another photo was taken.  Nothing unusual there - there are often gaps between creatures passing by.  However, when we checked the next photo, which seemed to have no visitor in the frame (it happens occasionally that the photo is taken a split second too late), a large number of the peanuts that we had sprinkled on the ground had mysteriously disappeared!  What a puzzle: we were baffled by how something managed to take the peanuts without triggering the camera trap.  A mouse was suggested as the culprit, but we know mice do trigger the sensor as we have a few photos of mice (well, photos of their eyeshine, anyway - they're too tiny to make out otherwise).


this is where the peanuts disappeared...

 and a visitor in daylight today... muntjac deer!

in fact not just one, but two!

Finally, as promised, I managed to take photos of Middle's fabulous lapbook that he completed the other day.  We used a combination of the excellent Homeschool share volcanoes lapbook templates (Middle loves the ready-printed ones), and some that we made ourselves. He is rightly proud of his work, as am I, so I'm glad to be able to share it here...

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Focusing on the right thing

I've been feeling a bit flat lately.  Not in the run-over-by-a-steamroller way - although I have had my moments - but just less sparkly or enthusiastic than usual.  If course, there are some very good reasons for this as regular readers will know - it's understandable & I'm not beating myself up over it - just noting it.  My reason for sharing it here is that I think while all home educators have seasons of real energy and vision (by nature we have to be visionaries, to go against the flow of mainstream education), at times we also have seasons of less energy; maybe less confidence or direction.  And that is OK.  It's natural - in fact, I think it's healthy.  I was sharing with a friend recently the seasonal nature of a child's learning: periods of intense obvious growth and enthusiasm, followed by periods of quiet reflection when there appears to be no interest in anything much - but after which season, when learning becomes more active again it becomes apparent that great strides have been made in their understanding while they were resting.  Well, as with children, so with us adults: I think it's healthy to recognise the seasons in our own motivation and energy, and to run with the strengths of each season - whether the energy & drive of the high-vision moments, or the consolidating strength of the resting periods.

So that being said, I've been focusing on the strengths of where we're at.  I could give in to my slightly dissatisfied feelings of 'not doing enough'/ 'are they learning anything'... the usual wobbles - or I could acknowledge how much is actually going on.  If I was feeling negative I would say 'they just watched TV this morning'.  In actual fact, they were watching "Artzooka" (an excellent art & craft programme that really inspires their own creativity) and "Finding Stuff Out" (this morning's episode learning about the sun, solar power, solar system etc) - and "Octonauts" which helped Youngest to learn about the Mariana Trench (deepest part of the ocean).  I could be discouraged that it's taken Middle a couple of months to finish his latest lapbook - or I could rejoice that his interest in the chosen subject (volcanoes) has continued for that long, despite not having the desire/ opportunity to work on his project book... and indeed rejoice that he completed his lapbook today, still as eager to share what he knows as he was at the beginning!  (*lapbook photos to follow soon hopefully - I ran out of time this evening*)  I am occasionally tempted to worry if I am "forcing" the boys to do their online curricula, and thereby ruining their natural love of learning, despite knowing that they chose MathsWhizz and Reading Eggs themselves - but today I am just so encouraged that Eldest has finally managed to conquer an area in maths that he had come up against a few times and was finding a challenge.  He hadn't complained about it (apart from the first time when he hit the issue and needed me to reassure him that "failing" wasn't a problem: as long as he kept practicing he would get there in the end) - and today, his look of accomplishment was a joy to behold!   And I could, if I was feeling really low (I'm not actually this bad), feel guilty about the amount of time that we're spending outside, and not "doing lessons" - not that we do lessons anyway, but you know what I mean - but actually it's been such a long, cold and hard winter/ spring, we are just rejoicing in the opportunity to top up our vitamin D, to go for long rambles, interacting with nature, often while socialising with friends, before it gets cold and wet again, and we retreat to our cosy home.

Anyway, you get the point: I'm learning with my children that everything about Home Ed is seasonal and there are different strengths and weaknesses to each season.  Oh, and finally, speaking of seasons, I couldn't go without sharing Eldest's latest photos from his camera trap (inspired by the very seasonal Springwatch).  We got some more lovely photos, this time from pointing the camera towards the woodland behind our garden... we were very excited to see the results, and hope you enjoy them too...

 hooray, it's a fox!
Foxy's spotted something...
whatever it is, he's not happy about it... 

and the biggest squeals of excitement saved for...

the badger (or its bum, at any rate)

Monday, 3 June 2013


Apologies for another long absence... last weekend Hubby "generously" brought home some nasty germs, and boy, did I ever succumb?!  I was completely floored for most of the week.  It was as much as I could do to get downstairs so the boys had some semblance of supervision.  They were little stars though - helped a bit more with housework, and tried not to be too noisy.  Eldest and Youngest were also fighting the lurgy for some of the week, so that slowed them down too.  So instead of the week of socialising with friends on half-term from school, we ended up at home all week, watching a lot of TV and the boys playing a lot of games.  As I said in Accidental Unschooling last month though, these kinds of hiatus are nothing to worry about.  The learning doesn't stop, just because of a change in routine.  In fact I am firmly convinced that rigid routine is more likely to hinder learning, than enable it.  It's been nice to refocus today - I think changes in routine seem to help us appreciate the routine even more...

A nice little example of this was today's MathsWhizz.  The boys - at least the older two - still have attitude issues regarding Maths from time to time - they really were put off it at school.  So today when I suggested they have a turn and they all readily agreed, I was pleased.  What I wasn't expecting was that Eldest and Middle would still be engrossed a couple of hours later on their respective computers.  They had done a few activities, and then both of them gravitated toward a kind of design board, that each of them played on for ages, coming up with quite involved games and patterns.

Eventually they left their computers to come and play with lolly sticks with Mummy.  I had read instructions in one of my favourite blogs, An Ordinary Life , for a potential & kinetic energy activity using said lolly sticks.  I knew we needed to do it asap because the minute the boys found the lolly sticks, they wanted to use them for art/ craft/ general playing.  Anyway, we laid them out as per the excellent instructions (see link above) - but didn't get all hundred sticks in place as many had been squirrelled away into secret hoards elsewhere - so we had a layout of about fifty, I reckon.  Still, it was enough - the boys were delighted with the springing action, and although I didn't get a decent photo, I think I've saved enough sticks that we can have another go soon :)

Very happily though, we do have photos of something else.  Eldest has been really inspired by watching Springwatch this year, and has got a camera trap (also known as a trail cam) - which is basically a camera, triggered to take photos when something moves past.  We gave it a trial run in the garden, and once we got it to work (it's not an expensive model), we got some lovely shots from a couple of nights ago.  Eldest is very excited (as am I!), and we can't wait to see what else we can capture on it next.  For now though, we're just pleased to have it confirmed that our local hedgehogs are still visiting the garden & it's not just the neighbourhood scavengers eating all their food!  Hopefully we'll have more exciting photos to share soon, but for now, maybe you might enjoy seeing these...

our first, naughty visitor...

hooray for the first hedgehog shot...

we had lots of hedgehog shots - I think two or three different hedgehogs, judging by the time stamps...

last one of the night (morning) - a surprise for us...