IMAGINE LIVING DIFFERENTLY,
LEARNING, CREATING, GROWING ....
WITHOUT SCHOOLING.


Friday, 30 December 2011

Making connections ....

It is fascinating to see the capacity children have to build knowledge webs, and to see how they connect ideas. When my eldest son was 3, on hearing the Easter story, he likened the death and resurrection of Jesus to a caterpillar disappearing into its cocoon and emerging as a butterfly. How profound, I thought. One of the problems I have with the current educational approach in schools is the fragmentation of knowledge, which does not encourage children to make connections. Subjects and information are separated rather than being integrated.

Over the last 3 evenings, we have been enjoying the annual Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution. These are always stimulating presentations with plenty of practical and interactive demonstrations and experiments. The subject for this year was "The Brain". One of the points the lecturer made was that, although all the neurons are present in a baby's brain, it is during early childhood that connections are made, and the brain develops into a neural network, based upon the child's experiences.

As if to demonstrate this, our youngest son (aged 5), watching the lectures, got out pens and paper and proceeded to draw and write out all the knowledge he has about the human body, starting with the brain. Not only was it interesting to see how he connected all this knowledge together into a complex whole, but (in relation to recent posts below) how he recorded this with his own free writing, a new development for him. His first page was somewhat disorganised and chaotic, requiring some decoding on my part. He also, as a left hander, continues to sometimes start writing on the right, and to muddle his lines. However, it was also late in the evening for him. The next morning, he continued his work, and produced some very clear writing, all in the right direction, on the same theme. He remains fascinated by the food tube and the process of digestion. A good look through his Usborne Body Book also followed the lectures - a mind clearly stimulated, connections being made.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Willing writing

Following on from the post below,"Encouragement ...", today sons 2 and 3 sat down willingly to do some writing. My middle son drew a comic strip, including text, and his younger brother decided to produce a new story in his 'Adventures of Alfie' series. Alfie is an imaginary friend, who appears periodically, and we have quite a collection of 'books' my son has produced about their adventures together. Usually, he has drawn a series of pictures and then narrated what I am to write. But today, when I suggested he did his own writing, he was more than happy to do so and produced 5 or 6 pages of pictures and text like the one shown below. A little help was needed with how to write some of the words, so I put those requested on to the white board for him to copy. It was great to see him enjoying writing for himself.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Bridge-Building and Rocketry

The last of our three science workshops at Stoke-on-Trent's heritage museums was at Etruria, and involved a morning of bridge design followed by an introduction to rocketry after lunch.

Thinking about design features, and considering the development of both bridge and rocket technology, was followed by the opportunity for the children to design their own bridges in teams (with KNex) and rockets individually (using cardboard and plastic) and then testing them, which was the highlight. The bridges needed to allow a small, plastic ship to pass beneath, and a weight to rest on top and then at either end. 3 of 4 were successful designs. To test the rockets we went outside, and launched them using an air pump with great success.

We were then given a tour of the museum which was where, from its position beside the canals, the raw materials for The Potteries were ground under steam power. The steam engine and the huge gear system it drove were impressive. Since the engine only works on monthly steaming weekends, before we left the children were treated to a demonstration with a miniature steam engine, which fascinated them all.

Encouragement ....

My boys do not like to write. Some months ago, I began to worry about this. Although I have come to realise it is common, and have tried to focus more on oral communication, I do not want the boys to lack the skills they need to succeed in life. One target which emerged from our visit in the summer from our County Council representative, was to help our eldest son, particularly, to express coherently all the great ideas that fill his mind. To this end, the boys have been completing a little Kumon work, which focuses on reading and writing, almost every day for the last six months.

Back in the summer, my middle son was very reluctant to write. Maybe he lacked confidence, perhaps he didn't have the skills to put the words and sentences together on his page. Maybe it was just too daunting a task, or too much like hard work. Even in September, I remember he was in tears over a piece of writing I was encouraging him to persevere with. What a struggle.

Well, recently there has been a real improvement. He has willingly been completing extra English activities in a workbook, reading a lot when I put him to bed at night, and twice this week, he has written a few sentences in his own words on to pictures for his literature projects. Before, he would have copied a sentence from the book, and that with difficulty, but what a difference! I noted this aloud today and, praising him, asked if he felt more confident with his writing. Affirmative!

His younger brother, who struggles as a left hander with reading and writing letters, words and numbers backwards, has also been steadily improving. This week, he moved from number formation to simple addition in his Kumon maths. "I can do maths now," he declared, "Look, my work is just like my brothers!" He has proceeded to write out his own much harder addition sums, all correct, to play on the BBC Bitesize maths programme, with his eldest brother's help and encouragement and to play far more complex board games, like Monopoly, with his brothers - easily adding up the die and dealing with the money.

He also just talks about numbers so naturally during the day and, notably, when he gets into bed and is trying to fall asleep at night. "6 and 6 is 12," he will say ... "10 100s is 1000", "60 - that's 6 10s" etc.

Home Educating when you feel ill ....

When you feel like the centre of the education process in your home, it is a worry when you feel too ill to do anything. Then what? If I am responsible for the education of my children, how will they learn if I am not well enough to get on with the work which needs to be done?

For a control freak like me, being ill can be a useful reminder that it is the children who are learning, not me teaching them. I hope I do sometimes teach them things, but it doesn't all actually revolve around me!

The boys are very good at playing together, looking after themselves and entertaining one another. There are not often declarations of boredom. This week, as we have suffered with horrid colds and coughs and sore throats, they have got on independently with their Kumon work, and with some of the other activities I have suggested. They have made a few things, sorted out what they are giving everyone for Christmas, played board games together and lots of imaginative games with their Lego, invented new games and, perhaps most importantly, helped with meals and jobs which have needed to be done, and looked after one another.

I am reminded of the breadth of home education, and also of the fact that when I take my foot off the accelerator and stop nagging them, I am probably a much nicer mother to have around, and we probably get just as much done as when I am feeling more in control.

Boyschooling: Berlitz Language Book Proves Homeschooling is Best!

Boyschooling: Berlitz Language Book Proves Homeschooling is Best!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Is this what we call "Education"?

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education and former head teacher, told the newspaper: "It is cheating... Sadly, for those in the profession, it won't come as a surprise.
"Behind closed doors, few doubt there has been a dumbing down of standards and that practices are corrupt."

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/teachers-tipped-off-help-pupils-pass-exams-005525061.html

Monday, 5 December 2011

Tales of Discouragement and Woe

In the last week, I have had a number of conversations with teachers who are leaving the profession. I have listened to their tales of discouragement and woe. There seems to be a culture in schools of criticism and demoralisation. This filters down from the Government through Ofsted to Headteachers, who are told to do better, to teachers, who are told the same, to children, who have to be pushed through the hoops of achievement deemed to be acceptable. The onus is very much upon schools and teachers to achieve the desired outcomes. There is little responsibility given to the learner. For those that succeed, whether teachers or pupils, great! I was one of those children who went through school as a success - in the top groups, doing well; one of those we celebrate at exam time, when newspapers praise the achievements of local pupils. There will always be those who do well, wherever they are. But what about the children who fail? And they are many ... One friend told me she had a Eureka moment, when suddenly everything became clear. She had been given the target grades she needed to present to her class. These were Bs. The school had decided these kids needed B grades, so that was what was expected. Slight problem ... The pupils in this class' predicted grades were Ds, Es and Fs. One boy looked puzzled, and piped up, "Miss, I'm an F, how can I be a B?" And that just says it all really. I am an F. How can I be a B? I told my friend, "Don't you know? You are supposed to wave your magic wand, transform these kids!" It is an impossible task, and as long as it remains unfulfilled, both this pupil and this teacher are deemed to be failing. For my friend, it was a moment of clarity. "I can't do this any more," she said. And it has nothing to do with pay or pensions. It has to do with integrity, wellbeing, mental health - and with being part of a system we can believe in. Nobody wants to be told they are continually failing.

You would think that in order to do better, teachers would need to inspire more, to engage children's interest and open up new arenas of learning. Another friend told me how she had been told teachers could move from being good to outstanding ... By using the right jargon! By saying, "split diagraph" instead of "magic e"!! For goodness sake! Another story was of a staff room where lists were actually published of teachers deemed to be "outstanding", "good", "satisfactory" or not!! Again, super for those on the outstanding list! Outstanding, I add, by Ofsted's standards.

It occurs to me as I listen to teachers that there is something rotten at the heart of our education system. Too often, schools are not places where people are encouraged and thrive. And, just as expectations on schools and teachers are unrealistic and demoralising, so this same culture filters down to our children. For me, this is not a system in which I want to place my children to grow, any more than I would want to teach in it.

Ofsted attacks coasting schools

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16002484

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Worth striking for? & Working in the Public Sector (Re-posts)

I am re-posting two pieces I wrote in June this year, because they are relevant to the strikes we have seen today over Public Sector workers' pensions. My husband has recently left teaching to run his own business - a move from the public to the private sector. He is happier being his own boss, but our income is lower and there is no pension assurance. He is not alone in leaving the teaching profession. I recently heard that the average length of a teaching career is now just 5 years. Can we really imagine 67 year old teachers in some of the difficult classroom situations which exist in our country today? What about the rising number of people who find themselves unemployed - especially the young? What do they think of people in good, reasonably well-paid jobs - with what will still be a 'good' pension scheme (relatively) - striking today? With everybody feeling the pinch, and the current state of the economy, is it really the time for strikes? I think our whole mindset about work needs to shift, as these posts show ....

"Worth Striking For" (June 2011):

There are a number of issues in education I believe it would be worth teachers striking over:

1) The unquestioned authority of Ofsted which stops headteachers and teachers, through fear, doing what they truly feel would be best for the pupils in their care.

2) The SATs tests and the resultant 'teaching to pass tests' by which schools can prove they are 'successful'.

3) The autonomy teachers should have as professionals to make their own assessments and to make the right decisions for the pupils in their care without distant Government interference.

4) The teaching responsibility given to Cover Supervisors and Teaching Assistants which undermines teachers' professionalism, and exploits support staff.

5) The Health and Safety restrictions which mean teachers are too afraid to take risks, restricting educational opportunity and the broad and balanced curriculum.

6) The obsession with CRB checks, which do little to protect children, but put walls around schools and prevent good people in the community from being more involved with childrens' education.

7) Poor behaviour in classrooms and the lack of authority given to teachers and schools to be able to deal with this effectively, to the detriment of many pupils' education.

8) The disproportionate investment in 'average' pupils, to push their grades high enough to make their school appear more successful, without similar investment in very able or failing pupils.

Union representatives are talking on television this week about how their actions are for the sake of the children and their education. Why do the issues listed above not push teachers to the picket lines? It is not the teachers' pay scale or a handsome pension scheme which will attract good teachers, rather good teachers will leave the profession because of their frustrations with the list above. Or, they will keep teaching because they love it, because they truly enjoy being with children, because they believe they can make a difference, because they have found their vocation.

Teachers are striking this week in their own self-interest. I think they've picked the wrong issue.

"Working in the Public Sector" (June 2011):

Our school system should be good at producing public sector workers. Successful pupils can become successful graduates, and work in the public sector could provide a comfortable next step into another institution. Institutions do not like innovators, free thinkers ... not really. They like you to toe the party line.

It could be easy to slip into, it's 'something to do' ... but if work in the public sector is viewed as a sentence one must suffer until rewarded with a nice pension in one's later years, then haven't we rather lost the plot? Public sector workers are known for their griping and moaning (ask anyone married to a teacher!) but, actually, they have a pretty good deal, or they have had up to now. We have to face the fact that the days of 'jobs for life' are gone. Gone too are the days when we knew we could retire at 60 or 65, gone is the assurance of a good pension. Are these really the things in which our security lies?

Do you work in a job you hate day after day holding out for that great pension you've been promised one day? Do you dream of a comfortable retirement? What would you do with that retirement anyway? You'd probably soon get bored of doing nothing!!

I think we need to completely change this way of thinking. Teach because you love it. Nurse because you love it! Be a policeman or a fireman because that is what you most want to be! Perhaps do it for a few years, then do something else. See yourself as a verb not as a noun, able to change with the circumstances, move with the times. Why not work til you're 68, or 75, as long as you're doing something you're able to, something you enjoy. Be a portfolio worker - a bit of this, a bit of that. Make your own work. Use your gifts, skills, initiative, wheel and deal a little. Don't be stuck in a rut, doing something which makes you miserable, especially not for the promise of retirement at 65 and a fat pension. What then when the promises evaporate? Where does your security lie?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A Very Tasty Chinese Lesson

Having lived overseas, which provides the perfect opportunity for children to learn another language, I have been keen to build on those foundations. It is so much easier for children to learn a second language when they are young. In my opinion, even the Government's new scheme to introduce a second language at Key Stage 2, misses the key learning window for language development. This needs to start much younger. A challenge for me here has been creating a second language environment within our home. We do this by having a native Chinese speaker come to work with the boys once a week. She is wonderful, and through games, competitions and various activities, the boys scarcely realise how much they are learning, they are having so much fun. Today we had decided to have a practical Chinese lesson with this lady - making Chinese vegetable spring rolls. As they worked, she reinforced the language they have been learning, numbers and colours, as well as introducing the names of vegetables and cooking verbs. At the end of the morning, we had a very tasty plate of spring rolls to enjoy as well! More Chinese cookery lessons are planned for the future ...

Invisible Science

Measuring an oil molecule was the highlight of a second day of science workshops at Stoke's museums with our Home Education Group. Using scientific calculators and mathematical formulae, the children were shown how to calculate the size of an invisible molecule by measuring a visible drop and then watching what happened when that drop was placed into water. Led by an enthusiastic scientist, there was nothing patronising about this activity, and it was great to see the children (aged 6-13) engaging with the material at their own level. Later, they helped to isolate a molecule, and learned about measuring microwaves and radioactivity.

The afternoon of practical experimentation followed a morning of learning about health in the Potteries in the Victorian era, including exploring the health hazards in a mock-up city slum, hearing about the importance of the development of the toilet and sewers, and visiting a Victorian doctor's surgery.

These activities are offered FREE, but sadly few schools take up the opportunity, and the funding of such initiatives is soon to end. It struck me that Stoke schoolchildren particularly could learn so much about their local history here, but of course, schools follow a National Curriculum, with little opportunity to appreciate the local treasures on their doorstep. This is a pity, both for the children, and for the community around them which has so much to offer.

Power House

My husband doesn't work on a Tuesday, so was fortunate enough to take the boys on a home educators' trip to Ironbridge Power Station. He writes:

"Children had a go at turning things, pressing things and playing with the equipment in the education centre at the power station. Then we were given a talk about the history of electricity - from its discovery way back in time to how Michael Faraday was able to harness the power of magnets to produce electricity. The engineer then talked about the processes involved in the coal powered station from the import of low sulphur coal from Russia to the supply of electricity to the national grid.

The cooling towers that we can see at a distance may seem quite ugly and uninteresting, but when you are at the power station the sheer scale of the place grabs your interest. The boys could have learnt these things at school but by the next day they would have forgotten. Instead, the trip created the experience needed to have an interest in electromagnetism. Coincidently but not unusually, my eldest son and I had read about Michael Faraday recently. It is often surprising how things come together in home education in ways you could not have planned for. Our reading was no doubt reinforced by actually doing the same experiment Faraday did, and seeing the practical application of this on a huge scale.

You could learn all about power stations in the classroom, or from books - but how much better to have actually seen all this! All I can say is I look forward to more trips like this!"

One of our objectives in home education is for our boys to see different people at work in different environments, and thus to understand the range of work opportunities open to them in the future, and to stir their interest. In primary schools, most children see mostly women teachers - We want our boys to see many different people working in many different jobs, and to understand what those different roles may entail. We believe this will enable them to discover what they truly want to do in the future, and to make good choices - rather than drifting through the school system unsure of where they are headed. Today's trip exposed them to a very different working environment and to a particular type of engineering opportunity. Conversation this evening has focussed on energy sources, oil supplies and renewable energy for the future.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Redefining our Direction

As a home-educating parent, I am sure it is normal to go through periods of frustration and disillusionment, when we wonder if what we are doing is alright, or if our children are achieving enough. In our achievement oriented culture, it can be difficult to redefine our priorities, to look at the positive gains in broader terms, character development, for example, or family relationships, rather than just a focus on academic success. There are days when the local primary school suddenly seems a very appealing option! These are usually times when I myself feel tired or overwhelmed, and as though I am not on top of things. It is in fact, at times like this, that I begin to realise what home education is really all about - and it is not about me being in control the whole time! The boys surprise me by doing things altogether unexpected, which actually tick the boxes in my head, though not in the way I might have planned it.

An example of this was when I recently decided to take them about 40 minutes drive (longer because we got lost!) to a drama workshop, which had been organised by a specialist drama teacher for home educated children of all ages. The boys didn't want to go, but I had booked and paid for it, so I pulled them away from a game with their friends, and off we went. Well, they didn't really engage with the activity very well, although what was on offer was fine, and it was a long way to go. I thought it would be a good idea to take the opportunity to try something new, but the boys just weren't up for it at all. When we got back, they were anxious to get back to their game with their friends, and I realised that what they were doing was making a spy movie, acting their own story out in costume, whilst my eldest son directed and filmed it. This was being done with great delight and enthusiasm, and all on their own initiative. What a lot of time and effort I had wasted getting them to go along with my agenda - what I thought best - to achieve no better objective than that which they were achieving themselves.

When I feel a little disillusioned, I find it helps enormously to revisit some of my books on Home Education, to find inspiration and encouragement, and to remind myself why we have made the decision to home educate. Thus week, I have been re-reading "For the Children's Sake" which focuses on the ideas of educationalist Charlotte Mason. In the first two chapters, two particularly important points are emphasized:
1) The importance for children of free play, without adult interference, and
2) The importance of exposing children to great story and literature.

Our boys seldom say, "I am bored". They do not look to be entertained, but are great at making their own games and playing together. Sure, they have their quarrels, but it is easy for children in our culture to lose their ability to play creatively. This is because so much of their time is adult directed - at school, and at after school clubs. We must remember to leave time for that most important of a child's learning activities - free, creative, uninterrupted, inventive play.

My reading also reminded me of the importance of reading to children ... Reading engaging, captivating, intelligent books; books which would perhaps be beyond their own reading ability but which, nevertheless, provide wonderful food for the imagination. So mush of what is on offer to the children of today is rubbish - what Charlotte Mason would call "Twaddle". It patronises children and fails to recognise their capabilities. Mason encourages the art of 'narration' in young children, that is encouraging them to retell the stories they hear in their own words.

I have one son who is very reluctant to narrate. Having redefined the objective of reading great literature, such as that outlined in the Ambleside Online curriculum, I read "The Story of Dick Whittington and his Cat" to him and his younger brother, then asked him to narrate it. I admit I was frustrated by his reluctance, then I had a bright idea. rather than getting annoyed, which is easy to do, believe me, I suggested they re-enact the story with some Lego men or soft toys. "Ooh, yes, can we get the puppet theatre out?" he asked. Well, an hour later, I was treated to a performance of Dick Whittington utilising a selection of puppets, soft toys and props found around the home. Two birds with one stone - free play and great story. Two things to remember.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Scouting for Boys

My eldest son - who will soon be 10 - has come rather late to scouting, expressing a wish to join a local cub pack with only six months until he will be due to graduate to scouts. Nevertheless, I was pleased as I have been encouraging him in this direction for some time with no joy. Having attended the group for several weeks, he decided to proceed with his investiture, after thoroughly questioning the meaning of the promise, and in particular, what exactly his duty to the Queen might entail. He returned home with several badges to sew on to his new jumper, as well as a pack explaining the opportunities available in scouting, and the cub badge work. He immediately set about reading this manual and ticking off badges already attained, as well as those he might work towards, with great aplomb, announcing this could be his new homeschool curriculum. And there is indeed an array of learning opportunities within this book for a small boy with initiative and time on his hands. So far, he has studied ordnance survey maps, the Highway Code, a little astronomy and World Faiths - with a particular interest in Diwali. We have discussed environmental issues, and issues of poverty. He has interviewed a local friend about his life, and times when he had to try his best. And he has undertaken woodwork projects with my Dad, making a fine toolbox and nesting box. I think his objective is to get as many cub badges as he can in the shortest possible space of time! And with such productivity, long may it continue!


Little Scientists

Yesterday we went to The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent to take part in 4 science workshops with our local Home Education Group. This was a wonderful, FREE opportunity for the children to become little scientists for the day, with a range of varied activities imaginatively presented by engaging staff.

I took my older 2 boys (aged 8 and 9) and we travelled up by train and bus, which turned out to be reasonable and straightforward. We were welcomed and given a brief orientation of the Museum before being ushered into our first session, all about beetles. The main activity involved the children using a key to identify a selection of beetles, and then drawing their favourite using careful observation skills.


We were then moved down to the archaeology lab to learn about microfossils. The task the children were given was to look at rock samples from the Kent coast and to search for microfossils from a particular time period to determine whether it would be worth mining the area for oil reserves. Our little scientists loved dressing in their lab coats and using the precision microscopes to conduct their survey. It was amazing to see the shapes and detail which emerged beneath the lenses, and many microfossils were spotted and aged using an identification chart. It is so important for young people to be exposed to people working in varied professions and to have the opportunity to try their hand at different tasks. One of my sons was much more taken with this line of work than the other. Asked whether they would like to pore over hundreds of samples like this for weeks and weeks in order to provide sufficient evidence to an oil company, the children were divided in their enthusiasm!


After lunch, our third workshop involved the children pretending to be curators at the museum. They were issued with digital cameras and told to go round the galleries photographing their favourite exhibits - items they liked or which grabbed their attention. They had then to narrow their choice down to three, then to their very favourite exhibit and to think about why it appealed to them, whether it would appeal to a wider audience and, ultimately, whether it would be worth the museum's investment. It was interesting to see what varied selections the children came up with, and encouraging to hear them discussing and arguing their item's appeal.

Finally, it was back downstairs for our last session on our Active Planet, learning about volcanoes and earthquakes with a geologist. The children enjoyed working together to construct a huge puzzle of the continental plates, and likening the Earth to a creme egg!

It was interesting for the staff involved to work with home educated children, and they commented on their ability to work under their own initiative, to ask good questions and to figure things out for themselves. We have several days of science activities booked with Stoke's museums over the next few months, and I wholeheartedly recommend them!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Free trip to the cinema anyone?

As part of National Schools Film Week, schools and home educators are invited to take children to their local cinema for free. There is a selection of films on offer for both primary and secondary age groups and, on the website, lesson plans built around each film. We were able to see 'Rio' - the story of a blue macaw, who returns to his native Brazil to court a female in an attempt to save his species from disappearing. It was a colourful, feel-good film with a lively soundtrack, and a great way to spend a Friday morning! Our discussion in the car home centred on bird trafficking, and the geography of the film. We later followed a link on the website to find out about an associated competition to write a film review. Knowing what reluctant writers my boys are, I encouraged them to have a go. We looked at a few reviews to give us the idea, and they sat down to try to write. It is always painful, and often involves high drama from our eldest! I know that we need to work on their ability to communicate the great ideas in their heads with others through the written medium ... This is something we continue to work on!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Sunshine

One of the great things about Home Education is the freedom it gives you to react to the weather and plan activities accordingly. The British weather tends not to comply with school holidays, which can be especially frustrating for families. Last week we enjoyed some unusually warm autumn weather, and it was great to be able to enjoy being outside in the sunshine. The boys were booked to attend a day's fishing with our Home Education Group, and with the weather so beautiful, this proved to be one of the highlights of all their Home Educational experiences. They received one-to-two tuition with a coach, and successfully caught fish large and small. I was surprised at how patiently they sat all day, enjoying the sunshine and the tranquility. It was difficult to get them to stop for lunch and to come away at the end of the day.


Forest School took place as scheduled with shelter building outside in the sunshine, including testing how waterproof their constructions were by pouring water over them. I was tempted to load the camping gear into the car this week and head up for a few days in the Peak District, but I couldn't quite summon the energy, though I love the idea of being so spontaneous. Instead, we decided to make a camp in our garden, so we pitched the tent and had a barbeque tea outside. As it was so mild, I thought the boys might enjoy sleeping out in the tent, but after an hour out there together by torchlight, they radioed in to say the younger two didn't like the dark and they were coming in!

Another day, we took a family trip up to Dovedale in the Peak District and enjoyed a 5 mile walk up the river and a picnic lunch. My eldest son also had a great day out with the cubs at a local scout camping ground. They built rafts and tested them (getting soaking wet in the process) and then built dens from natural materials in the afternoon. I took my middle son to a workshop at a local museum where we learned about Food Chains on the Galapagos Islands. He then had a lovely afternoon in the park with a former schoolfriend.

And then the rain began to come down, and we are back to more normal autumnal climes!

Forest School

Forest School is being offered free to our Home Education group on Thursday mornings this term by a local Power Station. The boys thoroughly enjoy it, and it is great that there is another boy the same age as each of them who they team up and work with on the various activities. As well as games and team building exercises, and discussions regarding health and safety in the forest, activities so far have included making clay 'blobsters', building tarp shelters and today, to the children's delight, using strikers to make small fires.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Visiting the Buddhist Temple

As our studies of Marco Polo's travels take us into China, one of the topics we have covered is Buddhism. I had heard, through contacts at the International Women's Group, of a Buddhist Temple not too far away, so I pursued a few contacts to try and arrange a visit. The monks were very happy to accommodate us, so the boys and I arrived for our morning visit, with another home educating family. It was surprising to find the Thai Buddhist Centre on the edge of such an English village, and the monks in their saffron robes came from several countries including Thailand, China, Nepal and Laos. We were very graciously shown all the different rooms in the Temple, and our guide explained all about the various statues we saw, the pictures on the walls, books on the shelves and various rituals. We were fortunate that, as we sat in the main room, a woman came to make an offering, so we were able to quietly observe this ceremony involving her and one of the monks in the Buddha's own tongue.

As a former R.E. teacher, I always think there is something awesome about visiting faith communities in their places of worship. It is important for children to experience a different environment and to absorb the feel of a place. This is not something that can be taught from a book, or learned in a classroom. The boys commented on the softness of the carpet, and the appearance of the statues. They remembered the tree and the thread close to the Buddha, and what these things represented and symbolised. And they sat so quietly and politely, observing and listening to all our guide had to say .... until the gong sounded loudly, and it was time for all the monks to assemble for lunch. We were given a drink, and a selection of literature to take away, and the boys came home and painted pictures and wrote cinquains, short, 5-lined poems, based on their experience.


Sunday, 18 September 2011

All in a week's work ....

This has been a week in which we have all been ill with a cold and sore throat bug, yet we have still been busy with lots of activities going on.

On Monday, after our daily Kumon work, and completing one of the boys' weekly readings each - These include history stories from the book, "Our Island Story" by H.E Marshall, and other suggestions from the Ambleside Online Curriculum - we continued our Marco Polo project journeying across Afghanistan, learning the legend of the Old Man of the Mountains and the origin of the word 'assassin'.

On Tuesday, the boys went with their Dad to Enginuity, the science museum in Ironbridge, and took part in a workshop to design and test buggy racers. This was with our Home Educators' Group, and the boys had a lot of fun. Our eldest brought his buggy home, and has continued in subsequent days modifying and redesigning it.


On Wednesday, the boys really weren't well, so we had a quiet day at home completing some readings and playing a lot with Lego in the hope they would be well enough for Thursday, which saw the launch of our Forest School on a piece of land at the farm we meet at fairly regularly with our Home Educators' Group. The sun smiled upon us, as we got to know our patch of forest, marking out hazards (Health and Safety!!) and making Journey Sticks from things we found in the woods decorated with thread, beads and feathers. The evening took all 3 boys out to chess and karate clubs.

On Friday, there were things I needed to do and the boys accompanied me and amused themselves, though we completed our readings and work for the week, which made me feel we are getting back into the swing of our routines. Street dance and cubs in the evening. Then a busy Saturday. In the morning we went to a Heritage event at a local canal, with vintage cars, candy floss and puppet show along with woodcarvers and soap makers who were of interest to our eldest son, the entrepreneur. In the afternoon, the boys went with their Grandma to a felt-making workshop, creating colourful patterns inside felt balls and then making these into creatures using pipe cleaners, feathers and buttons.

Sunday afternoon, we went to a local museum to make hobby horses from canes and cardboard at our middle son's request. Along with a bike ride in the sunshine, this was a relaxing end to a busy week. Sometimes I think people wonder what home educators do, or imagine that we are stuck at home keeping our children isolated from reality. From this week, you can see that we are busy, out and about in our community, making the most of the many opportunities which are open to us - most of them for free!

Friday, 2 September 2011

My unschooled child

My youngest son is 5. He hasn't been to school. The other day, he said, "Mum, how do fish's gills work?" This followed up on a conversation some weeks ago about how fish breathe underwater. "Well, I don't know exactly," I replied, "We can look it up on the Internet."
"Or in that big, purple book," he suggested. (The Encyclopedia)
So I got out the Encyclopedia, and we looked it up. My eldest son (9) read to his brother all the relevant pages.
My youngest son has said in recent days, amongst other similar statements, "8 is the same as 2 4s, isn't it, Mummy?" and "8 and 8, that's the same as 4 and 4 and 4 and 4."

I think we have forgotten that children are designed to learn. They have enquiring minds, they ask questions, seek knowledge and understanding about the world around them. We have made education a mystical realm, best left to the experts. We have set teachers up as fountains of knowledge who will pour into our children the learning that is required. My youngest son is interesting. The questions come from him. The learning starts with him. A 6 year old friend of mine asked me recently, "How do you know all about learning?" Well, I bet she knows a whole lot more than me! But she has been led to believe, already, that there are experts who will teach you what you need to know. Knowledge doesn't (cannot) come from you, but from "them". So, the spirit of enquiry is slowly dampened.

Autumn's here!

Well, the leaves on the trees are starting to turn, the evenings are drawing in and the air is cooler. Soon the children of our neighbourhood will be back to school, and it will be time for us to get back into routines, which have been rather lacking over the summer. It has been great to see our three boys playing for hours in front of our house with friends from our new neighbourhood, a group of girls and boys of mixed ages, making up little plays and filming them, dressing up as different characters, building dens, riding bikes ... All the things kids should be doing during the summer. Even though the weather hasn't been that warm, it has at least been dry, so playing out has happened almost every day and left me rather at a loose end. This has not been unwelcome, as I am pregnant, so have been thankful for the chance to take a backseat and take it easy. But with the new term, we will need to think about how we organise our home learning once again.

The boys have expressed a preference for being given a list of their weekly tasks and then organising for themselves when they do them. This allows the flexibility to fit their work around outings and other things that crop up, and will also hopefully encourage them to organise themselves. I need to encourage them to be more independent before the new baby arrives in the spring. I also need to involve our youngest son in topic work and other activities, joining his brothers in their weekly Chinese lesson, for example.

It is also the time when we think about what clubs and activities the boy want to participate in during after school hours. Last term, they didn't seem keen to do very much at all, but our eldest went along to the local chess club last night, which he enjoyed very much. He learned to play chess at nursery in Turkey, where the game is central to the curriculum right from preschool, and he is very good at it. The local club here is mostly comprised of older men, so he went along with his grandfather, but there are a number of new junior members this season, which is good to hear. I am hoping that by playing regularly with older, more experienced players, he will develop his game and his strategic thinking skills. He also wants to join the cubs. His brother is considering this or street dance. The youngest wants to do football, and they will all continue with their karate. I can see we will be doing a lot of ferrying about, and am glad to have grandparents close by to help with this too.

A local power station have offered to run Forest School for our Home Ed Group at the farm this term too, so that will be a weekly commitment the boys will enjoy. Forest School is a popular educational phenomenon at the moment, encouraging children to be outside, using tools and developing their team-working skills in various activities.

I did not intend our home education to break for the summer really. I suppose by its nature, organic education never really ceases, as every experience and opportunity a child engages in can be a learning one. Certainly, as people often worry about the socialisation of home educated children, plenty of playtime with friends during their school holidays, is an important part of the whole experience. Here are some other highlights of our summer since I last wrote:

The boys and I had a week in Devon, including time at the seaside and on Dartmoor, and a fabulous day out at Morwellham Quay where we took a train down an old copper mine, watched a potter at work and helped to make rope and a barrel;
The boys took part in a holiday club for primary aged children at our church. They attended 4 mornings and took part in a special service on the Sunday morning, and had lots of fun with Captain Ketchup and his crew;
The boys attended a 5 day coaching course at our local tennis club;
We went to see the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon Treasure, which was found very close to our city in 2009, and the accompanying exhibition at our local Cathedral;
Our middle son finally got to go on his first sleepover with a friend from his former school. He was very excited!
Our eldest son attended the next level swimming course each morning for a week at our local leisure centre;
Kumon continues ... Our youngest son has learnt to read, but has not yet made the jump to reading books for himself. He still doesn't seem ready for that, but is figuring out what text says when he is out and about ....
The boys have been taking part of the local library's summer reading challenge but not with as much enthusiasm as last year. I have insisted on harder books being attempted, and they haven't had time to finish more than a couple each. We will complete it, even if we are late in doing so!!

Bring on the new term!!

Friday, 29 July 2011

A New Home

Well, we moved house ... 4 weeks ago! New place, more space and slowly emerging now from the chaos of the upheaval. It feels as though any home educating has been on the back burner the last few weeks, and now the schools have broken up, the boys have a new bunch of neighbourhood friends around them and spend a lot of time playing out in front of our house, which is also an important part of childhood. They have seen us in disarray, dismantling one home and establishing another. There has been furniture to move and arrange, boxes to unpack, new rooms to fill and personalise, and plenty of flatpack to assemble. Alongside all this, we have:

continued with the Kumon programme (almost daily) and our youngest son has made great strides in his reading;
signed up to the local library's summer reading challenge, which we so enjoyed last year;
attended our small city's annual arts festival, highlights of which, for us, were the arts and craft tent where this year we made textile birds, and a ukelele workshop;


attended a World War 2 workshop at a local RAF museum (eldest son with his grandfather) where he learned about evacuation and made his own gas mask box and ID card;
enjoyed days at our local wildlife trust, hunting bugs and looking at food chains one day, and conducting river studies on another;
taken a trip up to a farm festival in Derbyshire to see the Theatre of Widdershins' latest production, "The King's Got Donkey's Ears" before it hits the Edinburgh festival;


noticed on the web that the Birmingham Stage Company were performing 'Horrible Histories' which our eldest son has become very keen on lately on the TV. When I saw that the show was 'The Egyptians', it seemed too good to miss as a finale to our studies of the Ancient Egyptians, so I sent my eldest son off with his grandfather again to see that. He was very impressed, especially interested in the mummification, part of which was done in 3D!! ...
joined our home education group on their annual Shakespeare excursion to see "A Comedy of Errors" performed in the open air at a nearby castle. We read and acted out the story beforehand with Lego figures, and the boys enjoyed the performance very much!
continued our Marco Polo project by making mosaics from ceramic fragments, and learning about how camels are specially designed as desert travellers. This involved writing, and I noticed vast improvements in the boys' writing confidence and ability, which I am sure comes from the daily practise of Kumon ...
enjoyed a day out on a farm with our home education group, where we got to meet lots of the animals and learn about food and farming, as well as enjoying a wildflower meadow walk on a sunny afternoon;
visited Plantasia and enjoyed exploring the mazes, building shelters and getting up close to a stag and learning about antlers;


observed and taken in to hedgehog rescue a young, dehydrated hedgehog from our new garden ...


It's funny how once I start writing it all down, in a month when I consider we haven't done very much, it turns out we've done loads!!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Working in the Public Sector

Our school system should be good at producing public sector workers. Successful pupils can become successful graduates, and work in the public sector could provide a comfortable next step into another institution. Institutions do not like innovators, free thinkers ... not really. They like you to toe the party line.

It could be easy to slip into, it's 'something to do' ... but if work in the public sector is viewed as a sentence one must suffer until rewarded with a nice pension in one's later years, then haven't we rather lost the plot? Public sector workers are known for their griping and moaning (ask anyone married to a teacher!) but, actually, they have a pretty good deal, or they have had up to now. We have to face the fact that the days of 'jobs for life' are gone. Gone too are the days when we knew we could retire at 60 or 65, gone is the assurance of a good pension. Are these really the things in which our security lies?

Do you work in a job you hate day after day holding out for that great pension you've been promised one day? Do you dream of a comfortable retirement? What would you do with that retirement anyway? You'd probably soon get bored of doing nothing!!

I think we need to completely change this way of thinking. Teach because you love it. Nurse because you love it! Be a policeman or a fireman because that is what you most want to be! Perhaps do it for a few years, then do something else. See yourself as a verb not as a noun, able to change with the circumstances, move with the times. Why not work til you're 68, or 75, as long as you're doing something you're able to, something you enjoy. Be a portfolio worker - a bit of this, a bit of that. Make your own work. Use your gifts, skills, initiative, wheel and deal a little. Don't be stuck in a rut, doing something which makes you miserable, especially not for the promise of retirement at 65 and a fat pension. What then when the promises evaporate? Where does your security lie?

Worth striking for?

There are a number of issues in education I believe it would be worth teachers striking over:

1) The unquestioned authority of Ofsted which stops headteachers and teachers, through fear, doing what they truly feel would be best for the pupils in their care.

2) The SATs tests and the resultant 'teaching to pass tests' by which schools can prove they are 'successful'.

3) The autonomy teachers should have as professionals to make their own assessments and to make the right decisions for the pupils in their care without distant Government interference.

4) The teaching responsibility given to Cover Supervisors and Teaching Assistants which undermines teachers' professionalism, and exploits support staff.

5) The Health and Safety restrictions which mean teachers are too afraid to take risks, restricting educational opportunity and the broad and balanced curriculum.

6) The obsession with CRB checks, which do little to protect children, but put walls around schools and prevent good people in the community from being more involved with childrens' education.

7) Poor behaviour in classrooms and the lack of authority given to teachers and schools to be able to deal with this effectively, to the detriment of many pupils' education.

8) The disproportionate investment in 'average' pupils, to push their grades high enough to make their school appear more successful, without similar investment in very able or failing pupils.

Union representatives are talking on television this week about how their actions are for the sake of the children and their education. Why do the issues listed here not push teachers to the picket lines? It is not the teachers' pay scale or a handsome pension scheme which will attract good teachers, rather good teachers will leave the profession because of their frustrations with the list above. Or, they will keep teaching because they love it, because they truly enjoy being with children, because they believe they can make a difference, because they have found their vocation.

Teachers are striking this week in their own self-interest. I think they've picked the wrong issue.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Letter Formation

I had noticed that, when my middle son (8) was writing, he formed his letters awkwardly and his writing didn't flow. As we were abroad until he was 5, he started school in England at the beginning of Year 1, so had obviously missed some of the foundation work on letter formation which children presumably do in the reception year. It seems no-one picked up on his problem. In fact, his teacher always used to tell me what beautiful handwriting he had - "The best handwriting in Year 1" - and, as he is such a careful and conscientious worker, he continued to work at his writing, but with incorrect formation, which became a habit.

As we have this week started on the Kumon programme, I had high hopes this would be a means of breaking these habits and helping him with his writing. One of Kumon's principles is to give children an easy starting point and work on their concentration and study habits before the difficulty of the work increases. My middle son's starter sheets therefore involve a lot of letter tracing and word formation. He complained this was too easy, but I was pleased as I hoped to iron out his problems.

As I closely observed him working, which is another principle of Kumon, I noticed it was not all bad news. It seemed to be a particular family of letters, those starting with a downward stroke - like l - which were causing problems. Many other letters, including those which begin with a 'c' formation were fine. I pointed this out to my son, who was at first discouraged. "But that's the way I write them," he protested. I told him he would find his writing much easier if we could correct this habit and form the letters correctly. On his third day of Kumon, after he had finished the set work, I asked him to write the letter 'l' from top to bottom repeatedly. If he was shoddy or careless, or if he wrote it in the old way (bottom to top), he had to do another line. He only did about 3 lines before he managed a whole row of correct 'l's. I left it at that for the day, but my plan was to work through the troublesome letters in the same way - one each day - t, r, m, n, k, h, b, i, j, p, f.

Imagine my surprise the very next day, when he sat down to do his Kumon, and began working through his pages for the day. Based on the remedial work we had done with the letter 'l', he was forming every single letter correctly! Of course, I was delighted and praised him for this. He was over the moon ... "I can do it!" he said, "And writing is so much easier". He flew through his work, and was so pleased with himself. "Didn't anyone tell you this at school?" I asked. "I don't think anyone noticed," he said and, of course in a class of 30 children, I am sure that is sadly true.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sports Day: love it or hate it?

Are there certain things you imagine you would miss if your children were not in school? The mad rush to get everyone out of the door by 8.35 in the morning? Shopping for school uniforms and sewing (ironing or sticking) name tapes into everything? The gossip at the school gate? School photographs - the annual happy snap of siblings in their matching uniforms? School sports days? Were you one of those fortunate, athletic people for whom this annual event was a highlight of the school year, at which you collected a number of achievement stickers - 1st, 2nd, 3rd - and your team won the house cup repeatedly year on year? Or was this, for you, more a day to loathe, the thought of which was enough to make you feel sick, a day when you hated your sporting incompetence displayed for all to see, as you traipsed across the finishing line to the derision of your classmates? At primary school I was on 'the red team'. We were a motley crew of assorted sporting unfortunates, destined to come in last year upon dreary year. For me, and primary school was the peak of my sporting career (I did play centre on the netball team, and once ran in a hurdles race at the County sports!), sports day was an occasion to dread.

I do wonder, still, if there are things the boys miss about school, and I ask them sometimes ... I wonder, in particular, whether they miss their friends. Their responses surprise me. "I can still see my friends whenever I want," they say, "I can just invite them over". On days when I am bad tempered, I wonder if they would not rather be away from me. "Teachers have bad days too," they say. "Teachers often shout." Would they like to go back to school, I ask. A resounding "NO" from all three!

What about sports day?
This year I saw advertised on one of the Home Educators Yahoo groups I lurk on, a sports day for Home Educators in the West Midlands at a park in central Birmingham, so I asked the boys if they would like to go. "YES" from my eldest son, "NO" from the other two. So, I signed us up, figuring the younger two could decide once there whether to join in or not.

There was quite a large turn out, probably 40 or so children aged 2-13. One or two parents had taken responsibility for organising events, so the morning ran smoothly and was well thought through. The children were divided roughly by age group and ran a running race, an egg-and-spoon race (with plastic eggs, much to my middle son's disappointment!), a sack race, which was lots of fun, a welly toss, and 2 relays - one which involved moving plastic balls from one bucket to another, the second involving wet sponges and the movement of water, which was a fun idea.

My youngest son spectated, though he did participate in tossing the welly with his older brother. But my middle son joined in right from the start and the older boys seemed to enjoy the event very much. After the races, there was a bring and share picnic, and an amazing spread of food materialised from everyone's carrier bags onto a blanket on the grass. After eating, the children enjoyed running round the park together, playing various games. One of the things I always like to see at home educators' events is the way in which children of all ages, boys and girls, play together, the older ones helping the younger ones. This is one of the things other people worry home educated children miss out on without school .... socialisation. I wonder if being stuck in a classroom with 29 same-age peers is really the best socialisation we can give?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Potato Harvest

I was very glad, back in February, to hear about the Potatoes for Schools project, and that this opportunity was open to Home Educators as well as to all primary schools. Having registered online at www.potatoesforschools.org.uk we received our pack of resources in the post. It included a sheet of directions including the key dates for chitting, planting and harvesting, 2 large grow bags and labels, as well as several varieties of seed potatoes to be used. Duly following the schedule, we chitted and planted our potatoes back in March, and today enjoyed harvesting them. What would normally be shared between a class of 30, our three boys had to themselves and they enjoyed emptying the grow bags over our patio and hunting through the compost for potatoes. We had a fairly meagre crop - about 800g of potatoes in total. We also took the opportunity to harvest the overgrown spinach in our veg box, and it was very satisfying to come inside with our own home grown food to cook up for dinner. The elder two boys and I prepared the vegetables, and made a pie with the leftover chicken from yesterday's roast. People always say home grown vegetables taste so much better, and now we know for ourselves that this is true!

Friday, 17 June 2011

A Visit from County

It is a year since our last visit from the County Council's Home Education Officer (See Blog Archive, July 2010 "Engaging with County"), so a few days ago I received a call to arrange her visit. The man who came last year has since retired, so it was to be our first meeting with the new person in post. Anxious to make a good impression, though still quietly confident about what we are doing, the boys and I spent yesterday finishing off our outstanding art projects and assembling a display of our work for this year. It was good to do this 1) because it pushed me to get all the boys' work organised and filed reasonably well - something I needed to do before we move house in the next few weeks, and 2) because it reminds us of all the wonderful things we have done and learned this year. When we look back at it all, it is encouraging to see how much we have achieved, and I can see how much the boys have progressed since last year.


Today's visit went well, and was the beginning of what I hope will continue to be an interesting and profitable dialogue - in both directions. The boys love to have the opportunity to showcase their work, and to talk to an interested audience about all that they have been doing. They all spoke confidently and proudly about their work and achievements. The Education Officer was affirming and encouraging, which boosts our confidence and helps allay my doubts and fears. She was with us for 4 hours, talking not only to each boy in turn, but also to myself and my husband throughout, listening to our reasons for doing what we are doing, and also to our questions and concerns. I find this a helpful interaction as I feel if I was in need of guidance and support, there is someone who understands what we are trying to do whom I could ask for help. She had some insightful comments to make about the boys, and some helpful suggestions for ways forward, which I will be happy to take on board. In particular, she noted that we need to give our eldest son help in mastering the skills which will enable him to share with the world clearly and coherently the many great ideas that flow through his sharp little mind. The Kumon programme which all three boys will commence this month will help develop discipline and mastery of study skills. Our youngest son - our unschooled child - was noted to be especially bright and articulate.

Overall it was a positive day. My subconscious desire to achieve a Number 1 on her scale of 1-5 shows me how my schooled self is still so extrinsically and grade motivated, but we were again told we were doing an excellent job and exceeding expectations, so I feel all the hard work is affirmed and have the confidence to go on for another year. Other than that, feel completely exhausted!
Work based on 'Pilgrim's Progress'

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Art of Storytelling

My youngest son has been listening to a story CD every night recently of a wonderful puppet show we saw last year, an adaptation of "The Arabian Nights" by The Theatre of Widdershins. He has been retelling the story with great expression, and today he asked me to film his production, which he acted out with teddy bears. The language, as the lead character travels 3000 miles from the city of Baghdad to Samarkand and back again in search of his fortune, was rich and the intonation, expression and humour he used in his storytelling was wonderful.

My theory is that with such evidence of oral language development, though their writing might not be comparable with their schooled peers at present, as the boys' fine motor skills develop, what is coming out of their mouths will one day flow out of their pens. It is different at home, with more focused interaction with adults and rich conversational opportunities, to a school classroom where children's chief interaction is with their peers, and a lot of teacher speak is directional.

Solar powered boats and circuits

A nearby power station came to run these two workshops with a group of home educated children at the farm where we meet regularly. My husband took our 2 elder boys along. Here are his thoughts ...

The focus of the day was electricity. Students were asked to build simple circuits consisting of a couple of wires, a battery pack and a bulb. While, on the whole, the girls waited for instructions, the boys just got all the components out of their plastic boxes and proceeded to build complicated circuits. They tested for conductors and insulators, used buzzers, switches and motors. They made 'jitter bugs' and, again, the boys ploughed in, not waiting for instruction. Despite the different learning styles, the learning outcomes were the same. I have been aware as a secondary maths teacher that boys generally learn in an entirely different way from girls, and the traditional style of explanations from the front suits boys less. Generally it was wonderful to see a natural love of learning and discovery through learning during these workshops. The activity in the afternoon involved designing a solar powered boat using milk bottles, rubber bands, a solar panel and a motor with a propeller. This was a fantastic activity where the kids learnt so much through trial and error, building on the things that they had learnt in the morning. People got very competitive. If only schools operated like this. Sadly, broken or incomplete kits and lack of resources make activities like this rare. And often there are time constraints at school. A whole day of fun science with highly motivated kids - I'm definitely going again.


Releasing froglets

The nature notebooks have been well utilised in drawing the tadpoles we have been observing, and documenting their development into froglets. It has been fascinating to watch this process, to bring the frog lifecycle to life, and also to learn about life and death and to see why animals and birds have so many young. We brought about 20 tadpoles home, about 7 survived to become froglets, and we were able to return 3 to the pond they came from. It was really fun to watch the survivors leave the tank and hop and swim away across the pond.


Our friend also fished out some newts for the boys to observe and handle. They remembered quite a bit about newts from the workshop we did with The Newt Man at the Home Ed group last year.

Exploring the Llyn

The rather cool June weather meant our planned week's camping was upgraded to a late-deal cottage holiday on the Llyn Peninsula in West Wales, a beautiful and quiet part of the country with plenty of rugged coastline and numerous sandy beaches to explore.


The weather was kind to us and meant the boys spent lots of time outdoors playing on the beach and in the super garden at the cottage, as well as learning to boogie board. We had a day out in Snowdonia on one of the great little trains of Wales, and also a visit to Caernarfon Castle.


The boys gathered video footage of highlights of the week from which we will put together a 3 minute promotional video for a competition on 'The Best of Wales' website. Staying on a farm, the boys also got a pony ride around the garden and the chance to see newborn calves and learn a bit about cattle farming. The slurry pit was a sight of intrigue!

There was one moment where my youngest son came running in from the garden asking for his nature notebook. "I've spotted some nature," he declared and carefully sketched a number of flies which were sunbathing on the bonnet of a plastic toy ride-on!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

A School Free Family

My husband has now left the teaching profession, with great relief and celebration. We are now a school free family, and will be taking immediate advantage of the fact we no longer have to take our holidays at peak times!

It's interesting how the home education philosophy infiltrates all areas of family life. From the beginning of July, we will be taking on a Kumon franchise, which is more in line with our educational philosophy. A system which originated in Japan, and was designed by a father for his son, Kumon is now a global maths and English programme. It is a long-term programme which aims to foster good study habits and encourages students to progress at their own pace. Crucially, it is an independent learning programme, where children learn without the direction of a teacher, progressing one small step at a time.

We also have a house move on the cards, so there is a lot going on in our family life at the moment. It is easy to feel as though the home education has to go a little onto the back burner, but by it's very nature, that is not true. The boys just have to get involved in all that is going on ... So they joined the party last night for Dad's exit from school, the eldest setting up a Nerf gun shooting range for the entertainment of our guests. And they will have to help too with packing up to move. But that's what life is like!

You can do it!

As a home educating parent, there is a constant tension between getting the children to do what one feels must be done, and wanting to make the most of the flexibility, freedom and 'unschoolishness' which home education allows. It is so hard not to threaten them into getting on with things and end up ruling with fear. For me, this tension is most often experienced in relation to my eldest son (9). He is very able. He can also be lazy. He likes to stay within his comfort zone, so will always (if given the choice) choose activities he knows he can do relatively easily. I struggle to know how far to push him, yet I know if I don't, no-one else will.

Knowing he enjoys painting, especially on big canvases, and as it has been some time since his last canvas painting project, I decided it was time to have another go. This is quite an undertaking. He was enthusiastic so I bought a canvas, and gave him his subject matter. To stretch him, and to bring together several strands of our learning, I proposed he paint the picture seen by the character 'Christian' in Bunyan's 'A Pilgrim's Progress'. I also suggested he look again at the work of Michelangelo, whose life we have been studying, and draw inspiration from that Renaissance master.

Now that might seem rather a tall order, but I know that he is perfectly capable of this task. However, a battle ensued. He declared, "I can't do it." I replied, "I know you can, which is why I have suggested it, so why not get started?" There were some tears, and he told me, "I feel like an idiot. I can't do it." I told him that is not at all the point of home education and, if that is how he feels, he may as well go back to school. I know he isn't an idiot and that is why I have given him this task. "I know you can do it," I pressed.

Well, it turned out that, although we had re-read the description of the picture from the book, he was struggling to envisage the pose, so he needed a model. I therefore sat for him holding my hands in the required position, whilst he sketched. His youngest brother watched, fascinated. "That is really good," he said, which was a boost to confidence.

And it was good. Now I am waiting to see how the finished painting looks. The artist is also a dreadful perfectionist (like his mother) so I was encouraged that he was able to rub out his sketch and rework it until he was happy with the result. "What would Michelangelo have done," I asked, "if he had made a mistake on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?"
"Painted over it," was his guess.
"Well then so can you," I told him.

Ancient Egyptians

A day out at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry's exhibition, "Secret Egypt" stirred the boys' interest in The Ancient Egyptians. I am always intrigued by how knowledge is integrated, and by how able the boys are to apply knowledge acquired in one area to something else. This is something the subject divisions, now evident even in primary schools, do not encourage.

As part of this topic work, we looked at hieroglyphics, and the boys created their own cartouches, and coded messages. We read about the gods and goddesses of the period, and one son drew his favourite, the other created his own. We learned about the archaeological history and geography of Egypt, the flood plain of the Nile and the Aswan dam. When our eldest son was a bbay, we visited Egypt and have pictures of him on a felucca sailing down the Nile. This fitted in well with a book we have from Barefoot, "We're Sailing Down the Nile". Barefoot Books always contain readable reference material which is useful. Conveniently, there is a television programme on Egypt's Lost Cities which will tie in nicely as well.


Most fascinating to my eldest son was the idea of mummification. Having persuaded him that mummifying one of his brother's guinea pigs was not a suitable project, we decided to make death masks based on the famous image of Tutankhamen, the boy king, using plaster bandage. We made a cast of their faces and then they sculpted the rest of the mask using newspaper and bandage. It is great to use different media and explore their potential. My eldest son is particularly interested in sculpture and design.

Tadpole Tank


A friend of mine offered us some tadpoles from her pond, so we took a field trip to her garden where the boys enjoyed equipping a tank & catching the tadpoles to take home. Quite a number died in the first few days, but we have around 6 left which are now grosing legs and looking more frog-like each day. I have left the boys' nature notebooks, pencils and a magnifying glass next to the tank so they can observe and draw the developing taddies. My youngest son produced a nice drawing of the life cycle of the frog, too.

Monday, 9 May 2011

A nest to watch

Having noticed several pigeons gathering sticks in our garden, we began to keep an eye out for a nest. I wondered whether the pair were building in our chimney, but whilst the boys were outside this morning, they spotted the nest high in a tree. Now we know where it is, there is a fine view direct from our kitchen window, so we can keep an eye on the birds' activity.

When the rain poured down this afternoon and turned to hail, the boys wanted to see how sheltered the birds were. The pigeon pair were both sat in their nest, close together, looking reasonably dry.

We read about pigeons and discovered they are loyal mates, sharing the incubation of the eggs. There are normally two 'squabs' (young) in a brood. We shall be watching the nest for developments. Nature on our doorstep!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Parachuting Parcels

This week we attended a workshop at Enginuity in Ironbridge. There were 10 home educated children there - aged between 5 and 11. The task was to bring an egg safely down from a height without damage, as slowly & gently and as close to a target as possible, whilst also creating an eye-catching parcel design.

The children looked at packaging, especially the importance of air cushioning and shock absorbers. They then worked alone or in a pair to package their egg and to create its landing gear.

Back together again, we looked at different sizes and designs of parachutes. The children then chose which type of parachute they wanted to use for their design, and worked to make & decorate it.

Each group was now given an egg to insert into their parcel ready for the final test.


The parachutes and parcels were hung onto a girder and hoisted about 8 metres up in the air. One by one they were launched by their creators, and their descent timed. Distance from target was measured and then the egg was checked for damage. All the children managed to bring their eggs safely down. My middle son achieved the slowest descent of just over 4 seconds. Two girls achieved closest to target - little more than 60cms away. And my eldest son proudly took best design for his quirky lollipop stick contraption - The Road to Crunchington!

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I have just read a book by Amy Chua entitled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" which looks at the difference between Chinese and Western parenting styles. Fascinating read.

Amazon.co.uk : Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Amazon.co.uk: Amy Chua: Books

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Bluebells

In Maytime, we visit the bluebell woods. The boys aren't keen, but I tell them, "We are going" ... No choice. Once they are there, it is beautiful and they enjoy running in the fresh air. Even my eldest son, the most reluctant, manages to smile.


A lesson in anatomy

Our home education group plans a session on anatomy. Each family chooses an area to research. My eldest son is very definite in his choice for us: "Joints and Muscles", he declares.

It can be difficult to get the boys to write, but I am beginning to insist. "I want it to be the best that you can do," I say. The eldest begins, but it is sloppy work. He starts again. He and his brother draw beautiful diagrams of the knee and hip joints, muscle cells. They write facts and information. The younger works very slowly and precisely, the elder rather more haphazardly. Their work is so different, yet both do well. We then construct 'arms' out of toilet rolls with tennis ball elbows and rubber band muscles. The models move and show how muscles - here the biceps and triceps - work in pairs.

My youngest son, listening in to all this learning, studies his Lego Bionicles (robots). He notices and point out to me all the ball-and-socket joints. We talk about how these joints move and where the ball and socket joints are on our bodies.

At our group meet-up, each family presents their work. My sons are eager to go first. Despite all their research, they have not planned the presentation at all. It is rather waffly and the audience cannot really see their carefully drawn illustrations. Eldest brother is very dominant, though the younger two chip in. There is no shyness, no embarrassment. They are keen and stand up and speak confidently to the group.

Other presentations follow. Some involve Mum, some read a lot of information, some use question and answer format. There are X-rays of bones to look at. One girl gives all the children a card with the name of a part of the ear on it. She lines them up from pinna to brain and shows us how sound travels through the system. Another group show us how to measure lung capacity using a lemonade bottle and a straw. There is a length of string which represents the length of the intestine. There are some wonderful visual aids and pictures used. There is so much information. And not nearly enough time.


We drive home, and I ask the boys how they thought their work had gone. They are pleased, but we begin to discuss the presentation, what we liked about what others had done, how we might plan it better next time.

The next day, as an evaluative process, I have the boys plan the presentation and I video it. It is much better. They make larger visual aids, and plan what they are going to say. When they watch it back, they critique it themselves. Middle son realises he is blocking the pictures with his body, and talking with his back to the audience. They can't see or hear him. It is a valuable exercise, and next time we will do a better presentation!