Wednesday, 31 July 2013

African Beads and other Fun...

Hooray for the completion of all lapbooks!  I will try to post photos of them soon - all the boys are very happy - with their work, and with the chance to do no more "work" for at least a month.  Of course, they will still be learning all the time, I just get to have a break from the usual preparation etc, as they get to be entirely child-led for the Unschool Holidays!

I do have a couple of things on standby - but they are things that I know the boys will want to do at some point, so that's not so much me planning work as being prepared for the inevitable requests!  Take for example their "My Little Atelier" box, due in August.  I just know that as soon as it arrives they will be all over it, wanting to have a go.  We had July's box just over a week ago and they were so excited.  Middle remembered it from last time and said excitedly "ooh is that our art challenge?"  All three boys had stopped what they were doing to come and look, so it had to be opened immediately - and the contents had to be explored instantly - and the project commenced with instantly... lovely to see such enthusiasm.  As before the contents were excellent quality, and they had even thoughtfully included a variation for younger children, which I thought was great as technically it's a box for one child, so the fact that more than one child gets to play just shows what good value it is!

Anyway, this month's theme was African Bead Art.  Coloured pipe cleaners and pony beads were included for the little ones - and Youngest immediately set to work producing a bracelet/ wrist band for each of us (supplemented with a few beads from our own craft box)...

Middle had fun making a wiggly worm, and then used the kit's PVA glue (with brush), ceramic tray and seed beads to make a fish.  He went a bit overboard with the glue & it took 24hours to dry, but he was very happy with it.

Eldest - as usual - immediately knew what he wanted to do, and twisted the jewellery wire provided into a snake shape (complete with forked tongue), making the zigzag pattern with the seed beads.  It took him a while to get the hang of twisting the wire at the end of each section, but he stuck with it and did a really good job.

Of course I stayed with them and had a go too, as is my wont - I think it's important to experience new things together.  I try to go slow so as not to intimidate them by comparisons, but it's not a huge issue - they just love doing things with Mummy.  There was just one bit of jewellery wire left over so I used it with a pipe cleaner... I think this is what inspired Middle to do his PVA fish.

All in all, a simply lovely atelier... can't wait until the next one!

We're also looking forward to a group meet up next week where we have arranged to do a Science Bag Swap.  One of our local friends has organised it - allocated each of us an experiment with list of instructions and cheap inexpensive resources to make into 20 identical bags.  Then we will go to the meet-up and swap 19 of our identical bags for 19 different ones, so we end up with 20 bags containing different science experiments.  More "challenges" for Middle... we're all looking forward to that too!  Watch this space to see how we get on...

And just because we're on our 'Unschool Holidays', it doesn't mean I won't suggest things from time to time.  For example, yesterday afternoon I had to call 'time' to the boys playing Minecraft as they had been on it a while and their behaviour was deteriorating.  I didn't fancy the usual pouting and arguing session that often attends switching the computer off, so I distracted them with paints (it was raining, otherwise my usual port of call would have been the trampoline first).  We got out the oil pastels and watercolours and had a go, with the following results...

"Sun and Tree" by Youngest

 "Monster-thrower" by Middle

"Commander Cody's Helmet" by Eldest
"Waterside" by Mummy

For somebody who was told by their teachers I wasn't good enough to take an exam in art (and who is determined not to pass on that kind of crushing judgement to my children), I find art surprisingly therapeutic.  We never used to have time to fit it in when we were at school...I'm so glad we get to do it together now.  Here's to more arty days this holiday... and next 'term-time' too!

Deschooling FAQs

Questions about deschooling have come up a few times just this past week, so I thought I'd have a go at giving my version of the answers, at least...

You see, for many if not most home educators whose children were in school before being deregistered to home educate, part of the reason for choosing to do so was because they could see that their child was being failed or damaged by school.  This is not an exercise in teacher-bashing - I love teachers - it is just an acknowledgement that the school system is not good for all children.

Regular readers of this blog will know that this applied to at least one of my children, so I can empathise with the angst-laden deliberations over whether or not to leave a child in school... trying to balance the need for repeated conversations with staff with not wanting to come across as a pushy parent; the incessant arguing inside your own head, debating whether you're falling for some clever childish manipulation that your much-loved offspring is making up/ putting on, or whether your instincts are actually right and they are really suffering; the desperate wishful feelings of "maybe it will be better next term"...all of which deliberating delays the decision to remove them.

It is a horrible feeling to realise that a decision you once made in good faith for your child turned out to be the wrong one for them.  It is oh-so-easy to beat yourself up about it and wish with hindsight that you had woken up to what was going on sooner.  But that is completely unhelpful.  In this scenario the absolutely most helpful thing you can do for your child and for yourself is to deschool.

What is deschooling?
It is a period of time, usually immediately after the child is deregistered, when the child is given little to no required learning - when they are free to play and begin to get over the negative experiences they have had at school. 
If it helps, think 'detox'.  Detoxing is a tool used by people who have been on an unhealthy diet for a while, high in fats, sugars and other toxins that have been stored by the body.... so deschooling is needed by children who have been in an unhealthy learning environment, absorbing unhealthy attitudes towards themselves and learning. To leap from an unhealthy diet (or learning environment) straight to a more healthy one is sometimes not enough.  Old cravings and unhelpful behaviour patterns creep back in, often without noticing.  For some people, a detox is needed: a period of time when no toxic matter is consumed, to allow the body to get rid of the old negative influences.  The toxins are released into the body and expelled - and the person concerned starts to feel the benefits.  Hopefully you see where I'm going.  A child who has experienced a negative educational environment will struggle to go straight in to any other educational experience.  They need a period of little to no required learning, when they can heal from the emotional wounds and low self-confidence, and start to feel better about themselves - the foundation for any healthy childhood.
For the parent, deschooling is an invaluable period of time for you to reconnect with your child and rethink your own learned assumptions on what makes for a good education. 

How long does it take to deschool?
Hmmm.  That is as easy to determine as working out how damaged your child was.  A rough rule of thumb that I was given was to allow roughly one month for every year that the child was in school.  HOWEVER, that is a very rough rule of thumb.  Middle had been in school for three years.  It took him only a month or two to relax, let go of the over-riding depression and anxiety, and become the happy, chilled, loving boy that he had been before.  Then it took a further ten months before he was confident in his abilities as a learner.  Even now, sixteen months later, we still occasionally hit a blip and he needs extra help to get over a learned negative attitude to anything that looks like schoolwork.
For the parent, especially the majority who went through the school system themselves, deschooling can take much longer.  I still have to periodically stop myself from defaulting to old ideals of 'broad curriculum' and self-discipline (they have their place but are not the foundation of what we do), and remind myself of what I actually want for the children: confidence, enthusiasm about learning, freedom to explore their own passions etc.  When a home educator has a 'wobble' and questions 'am I doing enough?' or 'am I denying my children a better life?' etc, it is often because they are going through another level of detox, ditching old school-based ideals.

How do I deschool my child(ren)?
The answer to that is going to be different for every parent, every child.  It is whatever works for you.  However, key features of deschooling involve agreeing with the child that they do not have to do any school work for a given period of time (I recommend at least the rule of thumb as mentioned above, with a review at the end where you are prepared to extend the deschooling time).  Don't worry about them 'falling behind' their peers - learning is neither a race nor a competition.  That is some of the old-school thinking that you will need to detox from.  Your child has been disabled by a crippling emotional experience.  You wouldn't expect someone with a broken leg to run on it straight away - so you need to accept that they will need time to heal before they can handle any demands on their newly healed self-belief.  During this time the child needs to be given space to play, read, get outdoors, make things, hang out with you (and siblings), talk about their experiences at school (when they are ready) - whatever they want.  For some this may mean a lot of time on computer games or watching TV for a season.  Personally I would say not to worry about this too much - it really won't last forever, although I admit I did agree with my boys a screen-time limit, partly because of the deterioration in their behaviour after too long on it, and partly because I wanted them to reconnect with their imaginations and the world around them.  We spent a lot of time outdoors... still do, to be honest. 
The focus of the adult is to play with their child(ren), chat together, visit places and do things together, learn about them again: what makes them tick, what their preferred style of learning is etc.  It is also a time where you naturally find yourself starting to re-examine what you previously held to be true about education, and investigate alternatives (you will come across terms like 'unschooling', 'structure', 'child-led', 'curriculum-based', and authors like Charlotte Mason & John Holt (amongst many others).  Don't worry, it's not as heavy as it may sound - your own thoughts about education will naturally take you on your own journey of exploration and learning.

What if the Local Authority want to see what we're doing?
Legally as new home educators you are entitled to a period of time where you explore possibilities open to you before you commit to any style or form of education.  Even if and when you do choose your own educational philosophy, they still have no legal right to demand to see any work.  They are only entitled to make enquiries to satisfy themselves that an education is being undertaken - basically, that you are taking this seriously.  You do not have to have them round, and you do not have to show them anything.  I sent my LA a brief outline of our HE philosophy (our approach), and that was it.

Phew - that turned out to be longer than I intended, oops.  I wanted to try to answer the main questions that crop up but don't want to overwhelm you - but please, please do reply with any questions if you feel unsure.  I love Home Ed, love helping others to Home Ed - and deschooling was such an invaluable blessing to us as a family, I would love to help as many people as I can to experience the same.

PS I deliberately haven't addressed the style of education that you will adopt after deschooling.  You may love it so much and realise that your children are learning all the time without trying, that you carry on 'deschooling' indefinitely - like unschooling.  Or you may decide that a form of structure with some required learning elements needs introducing.  Either way, it matters not - deschooling rocks (and gives you all the time you need to think about it).  Happy deschooling!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Unschool Holidays

So this is it: apart from the really unfortunate, children all over the country are now on school holidays.  And home educators - who spend their normal lives bristling every time somebody suggests that Home Ed'ors are unsocialised - are retreating from the favoured haunts of playparks and cheap days out as there are 'too many people there'.  Actually, it's not necessarily the volume of people that's the issue (although who wouldn't prefer to visit somewhere when it's not packed with crowds?) - it's the fact that the behaviour of some schoolchildren is distinctly anti-social.  So we head to quieter places and playdates for the summer hols.

I have to say, even though we do still observe school holidays mostly as the boys have friends who are at school, so there are opportunities to play that they would otherwise miss out on - technically, our "term" has not quite finished.  You see, at the moment, Eldest and Middle are still in the middle of their lapbooks (Youngest has finished his), so they are still doing a bit each day until those are finished (more because I want them to learn the character strength of finishing what they start than for an academic reason).  Personally I can't wait for the boys' lapbooks to be done.  If it were me I would just sit down and take as long as it took to get the whole things finished, all in one go.  Not Eldest and Middle though - they are still plodding on a bit at a time while Mummy grits her teeth and learns more patience!   But when they are finished?  Well, then, we will all be on our "unschool holidays".

Unschoolers, I believe, see very little difference between term-time and holidays as dictated by the local schools: all play is learning, and all learning is play - their children are free to explore, play, create, any time of the day, day of the week or month of the year.  However we, although we may not have much structure, we do have a very little as outlined in This is Our Home Ed Style.  And that little bit of structure is what we drop during the holidays.  

We will have six weeks (or maybe five if these jolly lapbooks take much longer) of no MathsWhizz, no Reading Eggs, no lapbooks, no 'educational' activities suggested by Mummy.  The boys will be free to play and I will be free to not think about what learning opportunities they are experiencing.  It will be our version of unschooling - a season of playing, exploring, creating etc, just as they like.  It may not look very different to our usual days - their required "work" really does not usually take them that long before they're off doing their own thing - but it will be different enough. 

And the thing that will make the most difference to me?  I will hopefully get the chance to get back on top of the housework.  There are a couple of mess-magnet areas that really need clearing, but I only usually have time free to just stay on top of the everyday housework - laundry, dishwashing, preparing meals etc (on a good day), not tackle piles of mess as well - because although the boys' required work doesn't take them very long, I need to be available to help all three of them every morning - and that is rarely conducive to getting any of my own work done.

So here's hoping that next time I blog the lapbooks will be done and we'll be on our Unschool Holidays! 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

You Can Do It Too!

It's that time of year again: Facebook walls covered with two main subjects: parents boasting on their children's unfailingly glowing school reports, and the onset of school holidays (viewed with great rejoicing or trepidation, depending on your age and/ or viewpoint).

I was going to write a "end of term report" for my boys, but all I could think to comment on was their 'creative' approach to school uniform, swinging as it does from PJs to Sith apprentice garb, to full-on nudity (what can I say?  It's been hot!)  Don't get me wrong: we've had a great year, I just don't have it in me to go back into teacher-mode as measurer of the unmeasurable (learning).  So no 'school report' here this year.

One of the other phenomena familiar to home educators is the glut of new people considering HE at this time of year.  It's like the 'back to school' signs which are already in the shops before the holidays have properly started have prompted some to say "Enough already!  No more will your new books, sharpened pencils and pristine school uniform tempt me to send my child back to school".  Their children's relief at the onset of the school holidays just shows how exhausted and discouraged they have become.  Obviously not all... some thrive in school - but many don't.  So this post is for those who may be considering Home Ed: to try to answer a few of the more common concerns, before the holiday is over and you fall for that malignant hope "maybe it will be better next term" (reality check: sorry, but that's unlikely).

There is an important difference between socialisation (learning crucial social skills) and socialising (hanging out with their friends)
Your child will not experience socialisation (first definition) in school.  They learn to run in a pack.  They learn about peer pressure and conformity.  Some (more than we care to admit) learn about bullying and victimisation.  A child learns social skills primarily by the example of their family, and secondly by being given opportunities to mix with people of varying ages, abilities, passions.  That is a definite strength of Home Education.
They may well have more opportunities to socialise (second definition) in school, and for those sociable children (like Eldest) who thrive on being with their friends every day, HE can take some adjusting.  But in most parts of the country there are plenty of opportunities to meet and play with other home educators - just type your area into Facebook or Yahoo and you'll see what I mean.
PS If your child is not the obviously sociable sort that thrives on being with lots of friends, forcing them into a large group is more likely to make them even more introverted than bring out a previously unseen social side.  Some children - and adults - are happier with the company of a few others at a time.  That's OK.

Home Education does not have to be expensive.  Some of us (I hold my hand up here) don't always succeed in resisting the many bargains listed online by the Book People or in shops like The Works... and if you want to follow a certain programme (whether single subjects online or whole-year printed curriculum), then the cost can add up.  BUT it can be done at very low cost: you just need paper, pencils, and somewhere to store their "work".  A library card is a must-have, and I would find it very difficult to do what we do without an internet connection and printer.  But other than that, the rest is really up to you.  No uniforms, shoes, PE kit, lunch bags, school trips to pay for.  You may even save money (and don't forget, we get to take off-peak holidays... not to be sniffed at)!

Whose?  The child's?  It is perfectly possible for a child to be educated at home and still gain GCSEs, A-levels etc, if that is what you/ they want.  There are plenty of people out there who have done just that and can help you to do the same.  On the other hand some have skipped the qualification hurdle and gone straight into their area of interest/ expertise.  No other education provides so much scope for being tailored to the child's individual needs and skills, right up to adulthood.
If you (or those around you) are concerned about your own lack of qualifications to teach - don't be.  You can do it.  Home Education is just an extension of good parenting in my opinion.  You get to know your child: who they are; what their strengths are; how they learn best... and you do what you can to help them grow.  If, as they get older, they reach an age where their abilities have outstripped your ability to learn with them, well that is what tutors are for.  As long as you are interested in them, the rest just kind of flows.  And don't forget, there is a HUGE home ed community out there, just itching to help and encourage you if and when you hit a sticky patch.

I used to think (and say) that the parents who missed their kids when they went to school were the ones who were the most natural home educators.  And that may still be true, to a degree.  But a close friend recently confessed to me that they were always relieved to see their child go back to school - and I was confused because in my opinion that person is a great parent.  Then a conversation with a friend helped me to see that my view had been too narrow.  Yes, it can be stressful being 'on duty' all the time - pretty much every home educator I know dreams of having a couple of hours off every now and then. But the stresses of home ed are NOTHING like the stresses of parenting a child who is unhappy in school.  From my experience (and the experience of others I know), when a child is struggling in school, it changes their personality - and that in turn changes the whole family's home life.  When we took Middle out of school, within a couple of months he was a completely different person - relaxed, more confident, less "difficult", much less likely to argue or get upset.  My relationship with him changed from one where I was always trying to manage his behaviour, to one where I just enjoyed hanging out with him, and got to see all his lovely qualities again.  So although I never really experienced the relief of sending your children back to school (maybe because that always meant I was back at work too), I understand how people can feel a sense of gratitude for not having to deal with all the stress full-time.  It's just that once you home ed, it's never the same.  Life is so much more chilled now... and that's coming from someone with three young, very lively boys, and a husband who works long hours away from home.  Stress schmess - I wouldn't miss my kids' childhood.

So those are the four obvious areas that seem to come up often.  I'm sure there will be others that are more or less significant for different people, but as I said to a friend earlier, if you are getting stressed out about the negatives, you need to focus on your vision for your child.  What is it that you want for them?  To be relaxed?  confident?  free to follow their interests?  Happy?  Is their school experience helping them on their way?  If yes, great!  If not - then maybe Home Ed is for you... worth further consideration at least!

PS If further consideration is what you are after, I can gladly recommend Ross Mountney's excellent book "Education without School". As I have said before, it was the first book I ever read specifically on home education - it answered all of my immediate questions, reassured me that it was a viable form of learning, and encouraged me that I could do it.  And if I can do it, you can do it too!  Go for it!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Aboriginal Art

Having just written a huge blog post I thought I'd better stop where I was and do a new one on what we actually did today.  Now we have  rediscovered our groove, I wanted to share our day as it's been lovely.

It started with me reminding the boys that it was time to do Maths Whizz.  Youngest found a maths workbook that he wanted to do instead, so of course I said that was fine.  Eldest promptly went to find a workbook as well and chose to do two pages.  Again, fine.  Middle had to have a look for one, but came rushing back enthusiastically clutching a cursive handwriting book.  Well, I wasn't going to say no, just because it was supposed to be maths day (especially because he is usually a most reluctant writer), so he had handwriting practice instead.  All happy, all good!

Then I said we needed to go into town, but Eldest reminded me that we hadn't read their Bibles together today, so first we read from Youngest's Jesus Storybook Bible (which is totally lovely), followed by Middle's God and Me daily reading book (a bit young for him I think, but he loves it), with Eldest reading the passage that Middle's book referred to, from his Explorers Bible.  Today wasn't strictly the allocated reading for today's date, but Middle wanted to read one of the missed ones from previous days as it was about hugs.  We all appreciated that subject - plenty of opportunity for practical experience!

Then it was time to go into town.  We had a parcel to post as we have been taking part in a Culture Swap.  We'd not done one before, so started with a mini one, where we had to include three or four things that represented our summer here in the UK, and send it to our swap partner (this time in Germany).  Obviously there were a lot of outdoors things involved from us: seashells from the beach; a bug viewer and British bug ID sheet, sticks of ice-cream flavoured rock, and a recipe for Eton Mess (best if made with fruit from the local PYO farm).  We posted our parcel off this morning, and the boys were thrilled when they turned the TV on later to find that the Lingo Show (CBeebies) was in German today.

While in town we also popped into the bank to pay in a cheque, and I was thrilled when the cashier commented on how well the boys were behaving.  I confessed that the promise of a doughnut as reward for good behaviour was doubtless part of the reason - but still, it is always lovely to have people comment on how lovely the boys are (I mean, I know they are, but it's nice to have others notice too!)

When we got back we had an art 'session', planned the previous evening.  I didn't want to get paints out as the only available table was the one in the study (we try not to get paints near the computer), so I found some examples of aboriginal art and got our pastels ready.  When I showed the boys the art examples, the conversation went via a quick history lesson (convicts and the British colonies), followed by geography lesson (look at the globe, talk about the difference between northern and southern hemispheres, native wildlife), and then we got creative.

First we drew an outline of our chosen Australian creature (Youngest - snake; Middle - lizard; Eldest - great white shark; Mummy - lizard), and cut them out.  We chose a second piece of paper (contrasting colour) and decorated our creatures with pastels.  Then we glued our creatures to the backing paper and got busy with pastel dotted outlines.  All three boys needed a break in between 'dotting' but were happy to come back and finish their pictures without my needing to prompt them, and they were all happy with their finished pictures, so that was a real success - great work!

 Youngest's 'Snake'
 Middle's 'Lizard'

 Eldest's 'Great White Shark'

 Mummy's 'Lizard'
(if I had known Middle was going to do one too I would have done something else so as not to
put him off, but as it was he was quite happy to do the same as me)

This afternoon it was too hot for the boys to go outside, so they stayed inside in the cool and took turns playing Minecraft while I wrote my blog.  Oh, and Eldest and I watched a programme recommended by Daddy on finding the Giant Squid: a fascinating and strangely beautiful creature.  All in all, that was a lovely day!

PS While in town this morning I bought myself an 'academic year' diary (because it was the only sort available), so I can note down a quick summary of each day's educational exploits.  It really helps me to have a record of what we've been doing!

This is our Home Ed Style

There's a verse in the Bible that says "As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly."  I have felt like that lately regarding the so-called autonomy v structure debate.  I say so-called because as said often before, I do not believe that the two are mutually exclusive - but anyhow... Despite my conviction of the best approach for us, I have still been periodically vacillating, pondering, dithering and just plain running round in circles on the subject in my head, which is totally foolish because deep down I know what works for us and there is no need to go wobbling off on tangents, wondering if it would be better to do it another way.  The debate in my head is as messy and does me as much benefit as a dog returning to its vomit.  As I said in The good, the bad and the funny, it is one of the few drawbacks of being part of an active online community.  I love that Home Ed'ors are an opinionated lot: we need to be, to go against the flow of mainstream education.  But sometimes the opinions are expressed with as much subtlety as a steam-roller, and that is not good when despite being opinionated, we can also feel vulnerable, stuck out there on a pioneering limb (sorry for the shocking mixing of metaphors there - just shows how messy my head gets over this issue).

A good friend has told me that she has felt real pressure from the 'structured' branch of HE - that she with her autonomous style feels judged for being lazy and not taking her children's education seriously.  I was amazed by this revelation.  I have only ever felt pressure from the 'Autonomous' branch that if you have any structure at all, you risk ruining your child's freedom and love of learning and are effectively little better than a dictator/ imprisoner.  Of course, both perceived judgements are probably much more to do with our own insecurities than any actual person's opinion - otherwise an opinion wouldn't bother either of us.

Anyway, you get the picture: me on the one hand confident that I know what is best for me and mine, but on the other hand trying to swat away irritating and persistent niggles of "but what if you should be more ....., or less ....." (those dratted 'shoulds' again!).  This could be one reason why I have been struggling to blog regularly lately... I've been pestered by 'shoulds'.  They may be tiny, but in enough volume the buzz they create in your head can make it very difficult to think lucidly.

So when I came across a couple of blog posts recently, it was like a deep breath of fresh air - or to continue the theme, like a giant pair of pink fluffy earmuffs, blocking out the buzzing. 
First was a post from a blog that I read often - it's one of my favourites that I relate well to and am always inspired by: An Ordinary Life.  One bit in particular resonated with me, when one of the girls concerned made some new friends and was telling them about her home education, saying,
"I told them how I do an hour or two learning at the table and then spend the rest of the day playing, either outside, watching the telly or whatever I want (which includes arts, crafts and so many other things).  I told them that science is mostly experiments."I LOVED that summary - it sounded just like HE used to look here when everything was flowing nicely. (This year has had a few interruptions and we haven't fully got back into the flow since)
The second blog post was from
The Organized Unschooler - oh, how I love this lady already.  She - like me - is drawn to the ideals of unschooling.  BUT she - like me - has a pathological need to organise.  AND - oh joy - she has married them both when it comes to Home Education.  I love it.  It is OK for me to be making plans, drawing up curricula, having ideas and suggestions and dreams when it comes to what my boys learn.  And it is OK for them to not necessarily be interested, and have ideas of their own.  I probably require a little more of the children than this lovely blogger, but that's OK - I'm not trying to copy the Organized Unschooler, just be inspired by her!

Both of those blog posts combined to reboost my confidence.  As said in my previous post,  I do not have to align with any one style of Home Ed (apart from maybe the 'making it up as I go along' one).  So if you out there are in the middle, needing a confidence boost - or just interested in how one family does it, this is our style (which we have resumed this week, bolstered by the encouragement of some very fabulous home educating bloggers out there):

We have some parent-led aspects: I do ask the boys to do about 30 minutes (less for Youngest) of Maths Whizz or Reading Eggs every morning Monday - Thursday (though this morning they asked to do workbooks instead... fine by me!).  Fridays we play a board game in place of the online curricula.  Most mornings we have a Bible story and chat - I forgot this morning, but they soon reminded me!  And then the rest of the mornings are a mixture of Mummy's ideas and their own - but all depending on their level of interest. If they have a lapbook (topic work) on the go I like them to do some work on it a couple of times a week - but some weeks they do none, some weeks they complete an entire book, depending on their enthusiasm.  I like to get an art project, some baking, science experiment etc in at least once a week (note: I like to - it's not written in stone.  It depends on their interest and whatever else is going on that week).  If they want to watch TV in the mornings, we try to make it learning programmes - likewise computer games.  My aim is always to leave the afternoons free for plenty of exploration, playing, visiting friends etc.

So there it is!  I don't think you can put a label on that, but that's us: that's how we do it - for now at least.  I daresay I will revisit the old chestnuts of structure, autonomy, confusion, shoulds etc more often than is helpful - but I guess that comes with the territory of being a parent trying to make sure they're doing the best for their children.  For now I feel like I just needed to get it down on "paper".  I hope it helps you to read it - it certainly helped me to write it!


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Magazines and Mystery Boxes

Recently I saved up a bit of money and decided to order some trial monthly subscriptions that I had had my eye on for a while.  The boys love it when they get post, which isn't often, so I thought I would order a few 'educational' surprises.  For Eldest I ordered the 'Aquila' magazine (£20 for 4 issues), which I had been hemming and hawing about for ages.  For Middle, the National Geographic Kids magazine (£28 for 12 months), and for Youngest, 'Octonauts' (£24 for 6 months).  I almost ordered 'Horrible Histories' for Eldest as he enjoys it a lot, but wanted to satisfy my curiosity about Aquila first.

Well, Eldest and Youngest had theirs turn up first, and Middle had to wait over a month before his arrived - so I did tell him there was one on the way, but he didn't know what it would be.  Currently, Eldest has received three issues of a monthly magazine (they seemed to send him the previous month's issue when we subscribed), Middle one issue, and Youngest two.

So anyway, here is what we think of the respective contents:

From my point of view, Eldest seemed a bit uninterested in Aquila at first - the magazine is more packed with stuff than normal comics, and it took him a while to familiarise himself with the format (more articles, less cartoon strips).  Also, his first one being largely sport-focused probably didn't help (not his thing).  However, he got increasingly more interested with each successive arrival.  I don't know how much he gets out of them, but he says he enjoys getting them. Eldest on Aquila: "I especially like the ones that have animals in it; I like the stories and the creating things".  I like the cross-section of subjects that the magazine covers, and it is always interesting - but I have to say the text is a bit small and might be offputting for someone with low confidence/ motivation when it comes to reading.

National Geographic Kids was a big success for Middle.  The only problem is that his brothers are desperate to read it too, so I have to make sure he gets time to read it all first before one of the others grabs it.  He's only had one edition so far, because of the delay in starting, but he especially loves the posters, and I think the articles etc are perfectly pitched for him.  There are a lot of adverts and promotional competitions though, which is a bit irritating from an adult point of view.  Middle doesn't seem to care.  He says "I like the back cos it has Yoohoo and friends" (a full-page advert for a toy he wants - great...) and I like all the lots of funny pictures"

Octonauts for Youngest was a no-brainer.  He's a big fan of the CBeebies TV programme!  I find anything produced by the BBC is usually good quality, and their preschool magazines can mostly be relied on for sound educational content. He likes the stories (we read them together).  I won't quote him because what he said took some deciphering and went into quite a lot of detail on the intricacies of a particular storyline - but suffice it to say that he gets fully engrossed in every part of the magazine - the arty 'makes', the stories, the puzzles... it really is perfect for him.

Other than the magazines, the other subscription that we took out was to the fabulous "My Little Atelier" boxes from Woodland Children Natural Toys and Games.  It's a monthly price of £15, for which you are sent a 'mystery box' once a month, containing a mini art studio - everything you need to  create an art project based on the work of a famous artist.  Well our first box arrived today - slightly late for June, but I think there was a new courier service involved, so apparently July's box will arrive a bit sooner.  It worked well for us anyway, having been away last week, so we wouldn't have got it had it been posted earlier.  Anyway,  the box was lovely: sturdy & thoughtful packaging, with information sheets about My Little Atelier and this month's artist (Georgia O'Keefe) and an outline of the project.  Also included were 4 good-sized jars of paint granules with instructions of how to mix it (easy), 2 paintbrushes, a palette to mix colours on, a colour wheel to help with blending colours, several sheets of good quality paper (looked like watercolour paper), and photos of flowers, taken close-up.  It was really good value.

The boys loved the idea of a mystery box.  There was much excitement all round when we opened it.  Once it was opened, they were't 100% keen on the idea of painting flowers, especially Eldest, but I told them it was like a secret challenge, and they soon came round once we started looking at the details of the photos.  The only thing that I felt might be lacking from the box were some pictures of O'Keefe's work to show the boys, which we had to look up for ourselves on the internet - but that wasn't a big problem.  So then I talked to the boys about how the artist and her flower pictures, and then looked at the given photos, and some other photos from our own collection, and some flowers from a vase in the front room - and then we got to work.  I mixed the paint, and they enjoyed shaking the jars.  They drew pencil outlines of the petals, as I felt that would help Middle and Youngest in particular to control where the paint went.  We talked a lot about the flower details and the variations on shade of colour etc - and I think they all concentrated well on spotting the differences.  Once Eldest got into it, his objections to the subject were forgotten, and he produced a lovely piece of art.  Middle struggled a little with painting what was actually in front of him - he had an idea in his head that he wanted to do, but I encouraged him to look closely at the flower head and different colours etc, and he was fine. I thought he might do his own version afterwards, but he seemed happy with his finished painting, and ran off playing.  Youngest did really well, considering patience in art isn't his forte.  He looked closely at the photo and pointed out the different colours and shades to me - and then focused well on his picture.  I had a go too (choosing a different flower so as not to put them off with comparing their work to mine) & it was hard!  I hadn't used that paint before and found it a bit grainy, but once we got used to it, it was fine.  I'm not an Artist-with-a-capital-A, as you know - so it was a good learning experience for me too.  All-in-all, it was a lovely experience, and we're already looking forward to July's box - they are so well thought out, and really good quality.

For now though, here they are - our 'Little Atelier' pieces of art...





Monday, 1 July 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Funny

Back after another absence... this time because we have just been away for a week, camping at a really lovely site in Weymouth, where a great time was had by all!  I'm feeling quite refreshed (which was much needed) although the washing machine hasn't rested since we got back on Saturday.

I was wondering what to blog about - and if indeed I feel the need to keep going.  I don't feel so much of a "home ed novice" any more.  Not that I'm an expert in any sense of the word, but I do feel I have a bit more confidence on what we're doing now & a bit less of a need to write down all my thought processes.

Still, my attention has been grabbed by a few things this week, that I felt the need to comment on.  Some good, some not so good, and some just amusing.  While on holiday I got chatting with a lovely lady, bonding over the fact that she also had three boys.  Hers were closer in age (all preschool), and she asked how the age range was for us (6.5 years between Eldest and Youngest).  I said that the biggest challenge was home educating, finding things that they would all enjoy, but somehow it works (sneaky me - slipping it into the conversation: I like to spread awareness of home education as a viable way to raise children where possible).  Anyway, we had a lovely chat about it - she seemed really interested, and shared a lot of concerns about school as provoked by her sister's current experience teaching in primary school.

So that in itself was lovely - that I got to share with her all the positive things about home education: my children are happier, healthier, somehow managing to learn and grow at an impressive rate, despite our unhurried approach.  We are all less stressed, appreciating the chance to stop and 'smell the roses' - or just appreciate whatever detail grabs us at the time.  Looking back I do ask myself how I managed to keep up the pace of life that we were living in before.  It didn't do any of us any good, with hindsight.  The lovely thing about talking to someone new to home education is that you realise afresh just how good Home Ed is.  And that's important, because I have to confess that before we went on holiday I was feeling a bit jaded.  Not by home education in itself, but tired of one of the few negative aspects of being part of the Home Ed community online.

You see, despite the fact that I am more secure in who we are and what works best for us, there does appear to be this need in some online groups to pigeonhole people.  And if you know me, you'll know that I detest labelling people for the sake of it.  I can't abide being shoved in a box by people who don't know us, so they feel they can judge whether they approve or dislike our approach.  It's my own fault I suppose - I feed it by trying to describe what we do in an attempt to help people - that's kind of what this blog is about, let alone chatting on groups.  But anyway we're too structured to be "Autonomous", so I am told, and apparently we're too relaxed to be "Structured".  If it weren't for this incessant need by others to define, I couldn't care less.  I don't want to be in either gang, as both can be pretty intolerant at times.  However.  It's not as big a deal as you might think reading this now - it just got a bit wearing at the time.  And that is another reason why I have been questioning the need to blog: do I want to keep trying (and failing) to explain ourselves to others when actually I don't think there is a need?

But then I came across this link, the Ten Most Annoying Homeschool Questions Ever Asked.  It made me chuckle (just don't take it too seriously, OK?) - and the bit I found the most amusing was in the comments at the end, where someone said that they were asked how their children would learn to stand in line if they didn't go to school!  At first I found it such a bizarre thing to focus on, but on reading further it spawned a whole new conversation on the validity of the question - people saying this had been a real issue for them, others saying it was never a problem - and all sorts of different perspectives in between.  It was so refreshing, and reminded me again of the joy of Home Education: the variety of individual experiences.  There is no one right way to do it, because there is no one type of child.  There is absolutely no point getting caught up in a "Autonomous v Structure" battle, because some children and/ or parents need structure while others work better without.  Actually as I have said before, I believe it is possible to be autonomous and structured, if structure is what the child chooses - and many do - but that's another can of worms.  Some people like the security of a label, and far be it from me to remove that from them.  Wanting to belong/ attach yourself to a particular philosophy is fine of course, and I admire those people who have such clear and strong convictions that they can clearly define who they are and what they want.  It's just not me.  Home Ed wasn't something we had a firm conviction about from day one of parenthood.  I was eventually convinced that it was right for us to do, and I knew there had to be a better way than what the boys and I had experienced in school - but the rest is a glorious kind of winging it - soaring like birds on the thermals of self-motivated interest, and at other times coming down to earth to rest and fulfil the more prosaic needs.  I am simply committed to doing whatever I believe to be best for the boys at any given time.  I don't think you can stick a label on that.  It is all just home education, and regardless of style, every parent who does it because they have their children's best interest at heart is doing just great in my books.