Monday, 24 June 2013

"Chez Nous" (Our home restaurant)

For some time our three older boys have been promising their grandparents a meal for which they will each prepare a course. There has been much discussion as to the menu and who will prepare what. Well, last night, our conservatory became the restaurant and the boys spent the afternoon preparing the great event. Our 7 year old carefully made menus, and they laid the table and chose some music with the right ambiance. Our 11 year old - inspired by his recent Chinese cookery session - made a starter of crispy Chinese vegetarian spring rolls

The main course was our 7 year old's signature dish - moussaka with Turkish style pilau rice. Dessert was rhubarb crumble, cooked by our 10 year old using rhubarb from his own vegetable patch.

A lovely meal, and a very nice evening! I think Grandma and Grandpa enjoyed it too!

Community Mentors and Wood-carving

Sometimes people ask me how I can have all the skills and knowledge required to educate my children. This seems to be an especial concern as we move towards the secondary school years. But it doesn't have to be all down to me, or even my husband and I. Our boys benefit from having their grandparents on hand, and each child goes for a morning or afternoon a week for some one-to-one attention. Being with their grandparents and conversing with them regularly teaches the boys so much. Grandma's skills include art and textiles, cooking, gardening, French whilst Grandpa is a wonderful source of historical knowledge and always has a book on the go with each boy. He also undertakes woodwork projects and model making with them.

One of my tasks as a home educator, particularly as the boys grow towards their teenage years, is to find them good mentors in our community, particularly men who can get alongside them with shared skills and interests. The boys have an hour a week with a Chinese friend of mine who teaches them Mandarin and they have made a great connection with her, and enjoy this very much. She is great fun and uses lots of games, songs and rhymes in their sessions together - and sometimes cooking too, such as this week's tasty lesson preparing Chinese and Vietnamese spring rolls. Yum!

Our eldest son has an hour or two each week with a neighbour of ours who is a scientist with a specialism in organic chemistry. He leads our boys' group at church sometimes, and our eldest son enjoys these sessions especially. I think he can relate to this man's natural curiosity about the world and his quirky spontaneity. Noticing our son's developing friendship with this man, and knowing of his scientific background, my husband and I approached him to ask whether he would be able to give us an hour a week to undertake some scientific enquiry and discussion with our son. As he lives so close to us, it has worked very well. He enjoys sharing his interest and passion with an interested youngster, and our son benefits from his expertise and mentorship.

Another relationship has developed from a chance meeting at a local fair where we met our local woodcarvers. It turned out the man we spoke to about his work that day lives just up the road from us and agreed to do a taster session for home educated youngsters. As a retired head teacher, he was wonderful with the children and the 8 or so who attended enjoyed it very much and all produced a beautifully carved fish.

So taken were our eldest two boys with this new hobby that, ever since, they have weekly run up the road for a short woodcarving session in this man's workshop before the adult woodcarvers assemble. He has been generous with his time, and has lent the boys tools and encouraged their interest, with wonderful results ....

Most recently, a fellow home educating Mum has offered to have my second son an afternoon a week because he and her son are such great friends, and she is encouraging them to do some creative writing together. This works brilliantly as he doesn't write enthusiastically for me, and I am enjoying seeing what he brings home from their sessions together. He stays for tea and they go on to cubs together, too, which has boosted his confidence and gives so many great opportunities.

So, if you are a home educating parent and feeling rather daunted at all that is expected of you, do not fear. Look around you and you'll be surprised at the human resources in your own community, and the opportunities to tap into rich, inter-generational relationships which can be so enriching to our young people.

Self-initiated research

If it is hard for me to engage with the boys' interest in computer games, it is equally challenging for my husband to see the point of small, furry pets! Following the demise of our two 4-year-old guinea pigs over the winter, sons 2 and 3 have been very keen on acquiring a new pair. Our second son, who is not keen on number work, rose to his Dad's challenge to work out the cost of keeping these pets for a year / month / week and had no problem in applying his problem-solving skills to work out the figures. He also researched various breeds and decided which type of guinea pig to choose for our new pets. We then tracked down some local guinea pig breeders on the web, and enquired to see whether any litters were expected. Finally, last month, some baby boars arrived and the breeder kindly invited the boys over to see the tiny newborns.

It was an interesting field trip, seeing how this lady kept her guinea pigs and learning about breeding small animals. One guinea pig was very pregnant and son number 2 was able to feel the babies moving inside her tummy. He was thrilled to hear that the babies were born that evening, not long after we left.

Six weeks after their birth, we brought the two baby boars home this week and sons 2 and 3 have been delighted with them. They are very tame and placid and seem quite happy to sit on their laps, even tolerating the occasional prod from youngest brother. Very cute. This is the first pet for our third son and he is taking his responsibilities very seriously. Guinea pigs make good pets for young children as they are fairly easy to take care of and are quite hardy. Also, they can be kept outside, which makes them acceptable to my husband.

Our eldest son didn't want a guinea pig, but his latest interest poses more of a challenge for both my husband and I. He is asking for some degus - small creatures rather like large gerbils - which would need to live inside and jump around their cage in a lively and entertaining manner. They seem to be slightly more complex pets and are recommended for older children. So engaged is our boy with this idea that he has conducted considerable research in our local Pets at Home store where he has questioned several members of staff at length about these small animals and how to take care of them. He has researched all the necessary equipment and compared prices in various stores and online and is now set on saving up for it all. The set-up costs are quite high, so I have suggested this might make a suitable birthday gift. We will see if the interest persists until November. (His Dad will be hoping not!) But what was interesting to me was the way in which our son conducted this research, not because he had to for a homework assignment, but just because his interest prompted it. And our current leanings towards unschooling mean both my husband and I are trying to be more open to the boys' own interests - even if we do not share them!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

GCSE Reforms

"From 2015, GCSEs will move from coursework to exams at the end of two years and will be graded from 8 to 1, rather than A* to G." Ah, Mr Gove ... Is this the best plan you can come up with? Some people say I oughtn't to 'experiment' with my children. Is it a safer bet to let the Government 'experiment' with them instead?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Thursday, 6 June 2013


I have been really challenged by the unschooling idea of following your child's interest even if it is not one you share. We are all so different. My children are so different!

My eldest son is very interested in gadgets and computers - like his Dad, and unlike me! He has been so engaged by the Minecraft game on the computer over recent months. I confess - in common with many mothers, I am sure - my natural tendency is to discourage him from spending hours sat in front of the screen looking at these strange (to my eyes) cubic graphics. I began to wonder what it is about the game which makes it so captivating to youngsters, and decided to dig around on the web to see what other more technically minded folks than I are saying about it.

I met one home educating parent who had built a whole 'project' around her son's Minecraft interest involving a dig into geology and visits to museums with various rock sample displays. I was in awe! I was intrigued to read, as I researched, how creative this game is seen to be, with children creating and adapting their own worlds and then sharing them with one another. I am trying to open my mind to the possibilities ...

Minecraft game being hailed as teaching tool

5 Lessons to Learn from Minecraft in Education

Learn Free

Last month I had the privilege of attending the second annual Learn Free conference for Christian Home Educators, and I was particularly inspired by the talks on Unschooling by Cathy Koetsier.

Cathy has a website ( which I find so refreshing and encouraging.

Some of the key thoughts from Cathy's conference address ....

- what you want
- when you want
- in the way that you want
- for as long as you want
- for your own reasons

"Learning is to people what swimming is to fish" (John Holt)

IDEAS are food for the mind > Read, read read!

We can be fearful. Fear can lead us to TRUST ... God, ourselves, our children or to try to CONTROL ... through testing, rules, regulations, external measures.
Perfect love casts out fear.

Freedom and Responsibility ... Cathy talks about the lambs enjoying their life in a delightful pasture with a strong boundary fence around. She expounds this image on her website (Click on Limits on Freedom) where you will also find some revelationary insight on Shepherding Hearts.

The basis of good unschooling is connection, relationships. Give your children SPACE & TIME to learn according to who they are. The uniqueness of ME. Discovering WHO I AM & WHY I AM HERE.

It was lovely to hear from two home educated young adults (One of whom was Cathy's second daughter) talking about their experience. Although they were very different personalities, and had had very different educational experiences at home, they both came across as being self-assured with a good understanding of who they were and how they worked. Incidently, in their early twenties, they both had their own businesses and were continuing in their journeys of lifelong learning.

My unschooled child

In recent weeks, I have been fascinated watching my 7 year old unschooled child. He seems to spend hours in focussed, self-initiated, independent activity - moving seamlessly from one challenge to the next, setting his own goals and just getting on, quietly, with intent. In particular, he has been doing a lot of drawing. He is interested in perspective, and has been practising this technique repeatedly.

The other morning, he announced he wanted to do a self-portrait and asked for a mirror, which I provided.

Whilst we were away recently, he kept trying to make his own bow and arrows and was looking for suitable sticks, string and rubber bands etc. In the end, we bought him an archery set from a castle we visited, so he has been dressing up as a piratey Robin Hood and practising his archery skills. The interest in pirates has also resulted in many drawings of pirates and ships, model boats made from junk, stitching his own pirate 'puppet' with his Grandma, making a map of his imaginary world and recording his own stories using his brother's old MP3 device.

I have seen a number of articles recently about parents filling their children's lives with many after-school activities and clubs. There seems to be a focus on the often unacknowledged importance of time and space for children to imagine and create. I know that during school holidays, many parents worry that their children will be bored, and therefore work heard to entertain them. However, my boys seldom complain of boredom, and my unschooled boy is showing me that he is a capable master of his own learning.

"Why Alone Time is So Important to Boys and Girls" by Dr Peggy Drexler