Saturday, 31 August 2013

Planning and Gearing Up

Way back in July I came downstairs from settling the younger two boys in bed, and found Eldest on the kitchen floor, surrounded by felt pens and crouched over a 6-page calendar that he was making (to the end of 2013), copying dates off our kitchen calendar.  He looked up at me and asked "When does the summer holiday finish?"  I was tempted to get all deep and philosophical, waxing lyrical about our entire lives being a holiday, not needing to put a "Start-of-Term" date in writing, but I knew that he - like his Mum - really appreciates planning ahead, as long as it's not too rigid... and it was his calendar, his idea after all!  So after a few minutes dithering I finally suggested the first week of September, with the option to review when we got there.  And onto his calendar it went.

Well, here we are (or will be on Monday).  And the timing is pretty perfect.  The boys and I are all gearing up, feeling ready to get back into the flow.  They've chosen their subjects for their next lapbooks (Eldest: food chains; Middle: dinosaurs; Youngest: sharks), and I've drawn up a little plan, with their help.  I love planning, and spent most of our first year of Home Ed fighting my natural desire to order and construct mini-curricula etc, out of a well-meaning but slightly misguided desire to give my boys all the 'freedom' they needed.  Then I found the blog posts mentioned in This is our Home Ed Style, and felt freed myself to incorporate a little structure.

So here is our plan...

You'll notice it's very sparse: just two or three ideas per day, which allows lots of space for the boys to follow more of their own interests for the rest of the day.  It is not a timetable as there are no times when things have to be done (other than the clubs) - it just helps us to have a broad outline to get us focused each day.  If the boys (or I) have an idea that they want to try in the near future, they can write it on a post-it and stick it to the planner, then we will make it happen at the next opportunity!  The subjects with smileys are the only parent-required ones (everything else is optional but stuff I know the boys like doing) - and I thought that seeing as they are "work", they can carry a little reward.  For a long time the boys have wanted some kind of box of goodies to swap their 'merits' for, like they had in school, and although I resisted, seeing it as a form of bribery that I believe has no place in fostering a love of learning, we have compromised on just the bare minimum.  So for every smiley subject that is completed, the boys get to stick a smiley sticker onto their colour-coded post-it (top of planner), and at the end of the week they can swap their smileys for some sweets/ wii-time/ whatever they choose to have in the smiley box.  I'm not 100% happy with it still, but we'll give it a go and see.

So there we have it: our sort-of-plan for the term.  We're all enthusiastic and ready to go... I'll let you know how we get on!

PS If anyone's interested, for our planner we used one of those magic whiteboard sheets that adheres to a surface by way of static - no adhesive needed... love it!

PPS To clarify, for anyone who really wants to know, on Tuesday afternoons a friend and I swap some of our children so she can take her son and Eldest to Science club, while I have her youngest here with my other two for fun with Science.  Oh, and Nature club is on alternating Wednesdays, so on the other ones we visit friends!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Compared to School...

I wasn't going to write this post (am trying to write another), but was prodded into it by two other blog posts posted on Facebook today, by two very lovely ladies.

The first was this one from the archives of Ross Mountney, encouraging just-starting home educators (but also encouraging to anyone HE'ing and needing reassurance).  It highlighted a train of thought I had earlier today about Home Ed compared to school.  I wasn't wobbling, just thinking about all the lessons they cram in to every day compared to the little we have on the planner (for said planner see my next post, coming soon...).  I get the need for Maths & English: they are vital skills - but history?  to a six year old?  (Sorry history lovers, it's just an example based on where the train of thought went next...)  I remember a history lesson from lower primary school about Vikings.  I remember it because I copied the picture that my neighbour had drawn and was subsequently told off.  I do not however remember a single fact that I was "taught" in that lesson.  And it just reassured me that there is no point comparing what we do with schools, because so much of the 'force-fed' education in school will simply be forgotten by those who weren't interested.  As a teacher I was always trying to find new ways to engage my students, to make lessons interesting etc, but had to accept that there was no way of guaranteeing that every student would remember everything I taught. Still, I persisted, and hopefully some of it will have gone in.  Now though, I am so relieved not to have to do all that stressful planning (sorry teacher-friends if that sounds smug)... I find fun ideas, and put them in front of the boys to pick up if they're inspired - but at least equally as often, they find their own fun ideas, and if I can't help, we learn together.  My kids may seem to spend less time learning (or in structured learning at least), but they will remember more of what they learn, because they want to know it... that's the plan anyway!

This train of thought then had me thinking about the 'gaps', or subjects that we don't cover, not having a prescribed programme of study such as the National Curriculum - but before I had chance for it to develop into even a hint of a wobble, I saw this post about Homeschool gaps, shared by a good friend.  The point that the author rightly makes, is that in raising enthusiastic, self-directed learners, we are empowering them so that when they reach an area that they don't know about but need or want to, they will simply find out for themselves.  And of course, there will be gaps in any education, no matter how comprehensive the curriculum.  A history-loving HE friend (read her blog post here) was recently bemoaning the difficulty of studying subjects like the Bronze Age at home, because its exclusion from the National Curriculum means that resources on the subject are not perceived as in demand enough to be stocked in shops.  Et voila: a gap in the education of every state-schooled child.   Quite simply, no education is ever going to cover every single thing that your child is ever going to want or need to know - but home educators are privileged to be able to cater for the interests of the individual in a way that school education would never be able to do, and for that I am enormously grateful!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Pinterest and Pretty Shells

I confess, I am a teeny bit addicted to Pinterest.  If I have the time, I can spend hours just browsing and pinching ideas - baking, art, other home ed plans.  And ever since my Lakeland catalogue flopped through the letterbox with its jam-making goodies on display - making me think inevitably of autumn and beyond - I have even found myself browsing for Christmas ideas!  You see, yet another of the fabulous things about home education is that for us, our pace of life is so idyllic, compared to many - we get to do all the little crafts and things that I always wanted to do but never had time for before... so my Pinterest board is now nicely filling up with Christmas ideas and other fun.

I was having a little browsing session the other day, when up popped a recommended board.  I'm not sure how the recommendations work to be honest, but I don't really care - it was such a lovely post that it grabbed my attention immediately, and I just had to share it here.  It was called 'Invitations to explore, create and play with shells".  Those who are familiar with the Reggio approach may well be familiar with this concept, but it was the first time I had heard it put like that: an invitation.  Not written or verbal - just the act of putting the enticing treasure out was an invitation to play.  There were no instructions, no diagrams, no guidance at all: just the provision of some shells and other equipment, left in a place where the children concerned would find them and let their natural curiosity and creativity take over.  Read the post - you'll see! There is also a really good link on their page to follow for further information on "Invitations to Play", which although quite purposeful in its methods, reminded me of the joy to be found in "strewing" - a not dissimilar approach to stimulating young minds.  Anyway it all prompted me to get out our own hoard of seashells this morning.  I put them out on a tray with several sheets of A3 paper on the kitchen table while the boys were occupied elsewhere, and just started playing myself, arranging them in different designs...

Mummy's "Crab"

Mummy's "Snowman in the Woods"

It wasn't long before Youngest twigged on that Mummy was in a different room, and came to see what I was doing.  I didn't say a word, he just hopped up onto the bench and started playing.  Eldest came next, then Middle - and very quickly all three boys were having a go.  Eldest didn't stay long - just made a couple of pictures, and then disappeared off...

 Eldest's "Narwhal"

Eldest's "Snail" 

Youngest quickly deemed his masterpiece to be finished and went after him, no doubt hoping to be allowed to play Star Wars lego with Eldest.

  Youngest's "Shell Mania" (his title)

Middle however was engrossed for considerably longer, and made a picture with Mummy.  Not that he needed my help - he was just enjoying some one-on-one time, being creative together.

 Middle's "Crab"

 Middle's "Crown of Shells"

  Middle's "Turtle"

Middle and Mummy's "Under the Sea"

So thanks Pinterest, for however you came up with that inspiring suggestion - and for the fact that alongside all my lovely new Christmas ideas, we were given a lovely seashell moment, reminding us that summer's not over yet!

July Lapbooks

OK yes I am feeling a bit guilty - it's half way through August already, and this is the first blog post for this month!  I've finally got around to taking photos of the lapbooks that the boys finished in July - sharing here for anyone who's interested...

Youngest finished his first.  His chosen subject was 'Owls'.  We did a lot of it together as he is not really writing yet - so I drew dotted lines for him to draw over, and when a bit more text was required, he dictated to me and I typed.  He loved the cutting and sticking, and created the whole lapbook really very quickly (he would have finished sooner had I not been needed by his brothers as well).  Downloads were courtesy of Homeschool Share's 'Owl Babies' resource ('Five Little Owls' poem with illustration and 'What do Owls Eat?')

Middle's was next.  He had chosen to do his lapbook on the Solar System.  I love the way he seriously considers his chosen subject and then comes up with something apparently completely random!  As usual, he wanted lots of printed out downloads - from Enchanted Learning ('Our Solar System' booklet), ('Planet Riddles'), and Homeschool Share (all the rest).  A slight drawback was that their material was a little outdated in places, with Pluto was still included as a planet - but it didn't cause any real problems, I just explained to Middle that Pluto had been downgraded since the resources were designed.  He put a lot of work into this one - but the information was pretty easy to find as Homeschool Share included some information sheets along with their printable templates, so it was a nice little project for him...

Finally, to Eldest.  Having had an experience in June where he hand-fed Humboldt penguins, he liked my suggestion that he do a lapbook on penguins.  Bless him, he did a really good job too!  Up until now his lapbooks have all been on wider subjects - usually on whole habitats containing several living things to write briefly about.  This time he did considerably more research on a more specific subject (single group of creatures).  I showed him how to do a spider diagram while he roughly planned his lapbook - and gave him lots of tips on how to most easily research the different types of penguins, and where they came from (he seemed to want to group them according to geographical location, which made sense).  The four-page chapter on all the different types of penguin took him the most time, but I am so proud of the way he persevered and finished with a good attitude - that's as valuable a lesson as anything he learned about penguins, in my opinion!  It may not be a traditional lapbook with all the flaps and interactive bits, but it's a really nice project book that he is rightly proud of...