Monday, 29 April 2013

Desperate parents plead for help

Appalled by this story. Please take a moment to email the Swedish Supreme Court on behalf of this desperate family whose son has been removed by the state because they chose to home educate him.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Nursery Reforms Threatened

My mum, who was an early years teacher her whole career, suggests the government might consider the 'nursery-fication' of school rather than the schoolification of nurseries suggested this week. Recent comments from Children's Minsiter, Liz Truss, sent a clear message that she does not believe nurseries are the best way of preparing children for school. Is that now the sole aim, then, of early years settings? Should we not be stimulating children's interest in the world around them and tapping into that amazing capacity for learning which young children exude? Is everything really just about preparation for school? Staff interviewed in this article - which you can read to find out more about this current discussion of preschool settings - say: "Bringing in formal teaching, which gets children to sit down and practise writing, for example, too early would be counterproductive. They have to push cars along the ground, push trains up and down a track. They have to have all those experiences before they can pick up a pen and write their name. If we force it we will, in the end, stunt their development." "We know when children are ready because they show an interest. Every child is unique and every child learns at a different pace." I would argue that this is not just true of the preschool years.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Cats ... & YouTube

Sons 2 and 3 (aged 10 and 7) and I have been reading "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot. We found a lovely copy in the library, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (of Gruffalo fame), whose drawings we love. We have also been looking at the famous stage production, "Cats", which Andrew Lloyd Webber built around the poems. I studied the score for GCSE music, and thought this project might appeal to my second son, who is musically inclined. When I went online to listen to the music, I realised we could watch the dances - as performed on the West End stage - via YouTube from the comfort of our living room. I was struck once again by the way in which, in this digital age, we can learn anything we want to at the click of a mouse. How easy it is to bring learning to life for today's children.

Son no 2 was not that taken with the stage production, describing it as "too dark and sinister". (He is a sensitive soul.) His younger brother watched with more interest. And both boys have enjoyed parts of the music. My 7 year old, on reading "The Old Gumbie Cat" - who "sits and sits and sits and sits - and that's what makes a Gumbie Cat" - said, "Mum, I think Garfield must be a Gumbie Cat", which made me smile!

After reading the poem and watching the production, the boys have produced their own artistic representation of each cat. Son no 2 has been doing this with particular care, on his watercolour postcards with his special paints. They have chosen their favourite bit of the poems and written these lines on to their pictures. Here is their work so far ...

Coincidentally, my Mum planned to do some cat prints with the boys, and we tagged this activity on to our recent marbling session. They put paint on to the table top and drew patterns into it. They then pressed a sheet of paper on top of the paint to make a print, and drew a cat on the paper. When the paint had dried, they cut the cats out and then drew eyes, nose, whiskers onto the printed side - with great results!

And talking about music and learning from YouTube, son no 2 received a dholak (an Indian drum) for his birthday, and has been learning to play using YouTube. Initiative and independent learning - All good!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Less good than parents ...

Yes, Minister, nurseries ARE bad for children, so why don't you do more for stay-at-home parents?

In this bold article, psychologist Oliver James is quoted as saying, "‘Studies show that daycare is less good for under-threes than child minders, who are less good than nannies, who are less good than close relatives, who are less good than parents.’

Let me just reiterate ... Who are the best care-givers? Parents. Yes, parents. Mothers, fathers ... Do not let the government, or the pressure of our modern society, or peer pressure make you believe otherwise.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Turkish Delights

Today we led a 2 hour session on Turkey for our local home education group of approx 26 children aged between 2 and 14. Planning it was quite a challenge but, once we were there, we delivered the activities as a family and had a great time reliving some of our wonderful memories of living in that amazing country.

We showed a slide show about our day-to-day life in Ankara - including looking at the weather, how we got around, places to visit in the city and further afield, the boys' experience of Turkish school! Our older two chipped in with some of their anecdotes, and all the children listened really well and were interested. We then did some Turkish language activities in a circle and the childen learned to say "Hello" (Merhaba), "I'm ____, What's your name?" (Ben ______, Senin adin ne?) and to count from 1-10. We practised this by throwing a ball around the circle and counting together.

I then divided the children into three groups and we had a round robin of three activity stations. Each group had about 25 minutes at each activity. There is never enough time to do all we would really like to do, but I always think these group session should give a flavour and inspire the children to go away and find out more, and I hope that's what today's session will have done.

One activity was cooking sigara boregi, crispy rolls filled with white cheese and flat leaf parsley. You mix the cheese and parsley with a little beaten egg in a bowl. Cut filo or spring roll pastry into long, thin triangles. Spoon a small amount of filling on to the wide end of each triangle, fold in the outer corners and then roll up towards the thin end. Stick the tip down with a little beaten egg or water and lay the finished rolls out on a plate to stop them sticking together. They can be shallow fried in oil until crispy and lightly browned, and eaten fresh and hot. Delicious. We also had some yaprak dolma (stuffed vine leaves) which we had bought from the supermarket for the children to try, but we didn't even have time to get them out. I also planned to buy some squares of baklava, but the supermarket didn't have any this week, and to make ayran, which is a refreshing yoghurt drink made by mixing yoghurt, water and salt. There wasn't time. I have made all these things in the past, but they are pretty fiddly. I recommend this book - "Turkish Cookery" by Gulseren Ramazanoglu if you want to try any Turkish cooking for yourself.

The second activity table needed to be one at which the parents and children could work independently, so I laid out several atlases, - including The Barefoot World Atlas, which I love - and other books, information, maps, guides, postcards from Turkey. I had printed off the outline of a map of Turkey with bordering nations and seas for each child to fill in, and I prepared a list of questions / suggestions / things to look at .....

Which countries and seas surround Turkey? Can you label them on your map?
Why does Turkey have earthquakes? Can you find out about tectonic plates and faultlines?
Can you find and draw the Turkish flag?
Ask our boys about Turkey's most popular football teams.
Who was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk? Can you find out why he is still so important to Turkish people?
What was the former name of the city of Istanbul?
What is the capital sity of the modern Turkish Republic? Can you mark it on your map?
Why did the country's capital move?
In central Turkey is an interesting region called Cappadocia. See what you can find out about it.
Maybe you could find out about an anumal or bird native to Turkey. Can you draw a picture of it?
Many people go on holiday to Turkey's beautiful coasts every year. Can you find out which are the most popular resorts?
Maybe you could conduct a survey of people here today to find out who has been to Turksy and where they went.

I tried to include different topics so that something might appeal to everyone, and also to cater for the different ages and stages the children are at.

I laid out a couple of Turkish carpets and had a traditional folk costume, which our son had to wear once for a school performance. Alongside, I placed "The Wise Fool" - a book of traditional tales from the Islamic World about the folk hero, Mullah Nasruddin Hodja. My boys love these comical tales, and our eldest son read a few to some of the younger children during the session today.

The third activity was an art table. I showed the children various examples of Turkish ceramics, tiles and carpets and we talked about the colours and patterns. They then had a go at designing their own "Turkish style" plates on paper plates or carpets on pieces of paper using pens or watercolours or whatever medium they chose. I also showed them the youtube videos (in this post below) demonstrating the Turkish art of ebru (marbling). Each child had a go at marbling using acrylic paint on water. Their faces when we lifted the paper out and they saw the magical transformation were a picture!

At the end, we had a few moments to round up, so I put on some Turkish music by Tarkan and showed those that wanted to how to dance in a line using a basic four-step rhythm. The girls were particularly engaged by this, and spent some time practising the dance, moving in a line around the room. It was lots of fun. All-in-all, a successful day's work and well received by all attending. It was a lovely opportunity to share a little of who we are with our friends.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Different but Wonderful!

It's National Autism Awareness month this month. Jen Wojtowitz was inspired to write "The Boy who Grew Flowers" because of her brother, who has autism. She dedicates her unusual story - about a boy who lives on Lonesome Mountain - to her brother "because you were there to show me that what makes us different is what makes us wonderful."

"The Boy Who Grew Flowers"


Our family is preparing to lead a session for our local home educators' group on our time living in Turkey, and we have been planning activities to share. We have become very interested in the Turkish art of "ebru" (Marbling). If you type this into YouTube, a whole load of videos come up showing you this delicate art of painting on water. The boys and I are fascinated. Their favourite video is here. I like this one where an artist from Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul demonstrates this art form to a group of children.

We decided to have a go ourselves. In looking for a simple starting point, which might be possible with a group of children, I found this demonstration on the similar Japanese art of suminagashi. Since we didn't have any specialist marbling inks (though I have ordered some in the hope of developing our skills), we used watered down acrylic paint spattered and dropped on to a tray of water. I must confess I was not overly optimistic about oru chances of successful results, but I was pleasantly surprised.

We then decided to have a go at this method of marbling using shaving foam. I wondered whether it would be easier for younger children. Again we used the mix of acrylic paint and water, and our results were pretty good. However, it is impossible for children not to get their hands into the shaving foam, and as the cream has to scraped off the finished paper, there was considerably more mess than with the water method. Fun to try at home, though!