Thursday, 31 May 2012

resource: My Body

I made a resource for my visual learner, DS2 to accompany his 'My Body' Project - it's based on the Body Snap game that he loves, and is basically just to reinforce what he has learned through it... 12 pages (one page per body part - nothing too overwhelming)  he loved it :) 

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Attack of the Killer 'Should's

I have long since averred that the word 'should' needs to be banned from the English dictionary.  I'm sure language purists could present a good case for the importance of preserving the word, but it's the weight of condemnation behind the word that I really dislike.  I find it difficult to think of a sentence in which the word 'should' does not leave a negative feeling, as in "I should clean the toilet" - or at best, a feeling of uncertainty (eg "this experiment should work").
However, having been aware for a long time of the perils involved with allowing the 'should's into one's psyche, I still succumbed this morning, and had to fend off a full-on attack!  You know the sort: "I should be doing more 'proper work' with the boys"; "we should have achieved more by now"; "we shouldn't be enjoying ourselves so much" (where did that come from?).  I could bet every single person reading this can think of their own example to add.
What's more, the attack came out of nowhere, with no warning.  Yesterday was another lovely day (although admittedly I was feeling the desire to be doing more work - maybe because I tried to push that onto the boys, rather than taking my lead from them, maybe that triggered this morning's 'bleurgh').  I have been thoroughly enjoying HE - learning loads, seeing the boys relax - not a single regret.  And yet this morning, although I didn't threaten to send them back to school, I did end up shouting, and they did end up in more 'time out' than usual - partly because their behaviour was worse today, partly because I had less patience :(
Who knows what triggers a 'Killer Should' attack? - it could be hormonal, it could be too little sleep, it could be a full moon, it could be just a restless day on the kids' behalf, it could be a thoughtless comment from a friend, it could be a cold, it could be a million other things - but it can be pretty illogical too.  Actually today DS1 & 2 had both spent a good hour on Maths Whizz, DS3 had a lovely time with Mummy and some flash cards, DS2 & 3 both did some dot-to-dot puzzles, DS1 did some more experimenting etc etc... as Home Ed days go, we ticked lots of boxes... but it wasn't enough: I still couldn't shake the 'should's.  And 'should's really are killers - they kill your peace, they kill your enjoyment, they kill your confidence - and of course, the same goes for the children too.  I found myself feeing really driven - at one point this morning I said to them to choose a workbook to have a go at, and it was only when every single one of the boys had hit a problem with a bad attitude that I stopped to ask myself, "why am I doing this to them when my goal is to foster an enthusiasm to learn?"  We put the workbooks away soon after, and the Wii went on while I gave myself time to stop and think.
A wise Home Edder once said that when she gets swamped in doubt and guilt about what she is or isn't doing, she takes the time to re-focus on what her goals actually are - why she chose to Home Ed in the first place.  So here I am, doing just that, and letting you in on the process, because what's the point of a diary blog if I only write about the good days?  Existing home edders wouldn't be able to relate (actually, they probably just plain wouldn't believe me) and those considering HE would get an unrealistic expectation of what it could be like for them.  Besides, it's not my style: I am a pretty positive person I think, but I don't believe in hiding the negatives away.
Anyway, refocusing... why did we decide to Home Ed our boys?  And are we achieving those aims?  Well...
1/ We are confident it's the right thing to do for them.  That was the main reason, with a whole lot of extra stuff backing up that belief.  That confidence is still there - I am convinced it's the best thing I can do for my boys, and I'm grateful for that.  I may be having a bad day, but I'm never tempted by the alternative of school.  Tick.
2/ We want our boys to be free to explore what they want to learn about, not have to sit in a group where the subject is chosen by someone who, even if they are trying their best, can't be expected to give all their attention to just one child's interests and abilities.  Tick.
3/ We want our children to regain their confidence in themselves as people and as learners.  They're all at different levels with this one, but I have seen definite improvement since they came out of school, so... tick.
4/  We want our boys to be able to learn at their pace, without feeling pressure to perform, or feeling bad for making mistakes (which are after all a vital part of learning).  Well, apart from this morning's blip they have generally set their own pace - and are learning not to be put off by not getting everything right first time.  I hope they will be capable of attempting more in the future but am aware that they are still deschooling, and I refuse to put them off by adding pressure.  So - putting today aside as a lesson for Mummy, that's a tick.
There are undoubtedly more reasons that I could add, but now it is lunchtime,  and we are going to have a nice lunch together then go for a long relaxing walk in the sunshine and do exactly what we like.  I may be temporarily discouraged, but I'm not quitting.  Take that, 'killer should's!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

"What shall we do today?"

OK, I'm not sure if the drop in temperature has changed the boys' attitude towards work, but it's helped mine!  It's as if I have a switch triggered by full-on sunshine that says "we need to be outside now".  Now that it's clouded over again (although is still fairly warm out), I'm feeling like the boys ought to be catching up on their "learning" (though still not in a big way).
This morning DS2 was on Reading Eggs for an hour first thing, before we all went to craft club in Hitchin (more socialising!) where the boys thoroughly enjoyed doing some junk modelling.  DS1 had a go at making a working submarine using a plastic bottle, some tubing and a balloon; DS2 made a lovely space rocket, and DS3 also made a rocket, plus a lighthouse (photo below - I always try to take photos of the things they make as nothing lasts forever, but they put so much effort in it seems a shame not to have a record)...

Once we got home, DS3 straight for the computer to play on Reading Eggs, DS1 made a beeline for his library books, and spent a good while reading first about the lifecycles of different forest creatures, and then finding out which is deadlier out of a scorpion and tarantula (scorpion wins - just).  DS2 was looking a little purposeless, but jumped at my suggestion to do some baking - and made (with help) some chocolate crunch cake for lunch - yum!

One resource that I have found really useful is my list of  things we could do, for use when the boys get bored or just run out of ideas for things to do.  I'm actually really enjoying the challenge of thinking of things to pique their interest, before they even ask.  To be fair, they don't ask often, as they're getting much better at thinking for themselves... it's just for every now and then!  I keep a list on my laptop that I add to - for example every time they ask 'can we do such & such?' and I haven't got the necessary equipment immediately to hand (in which case I order the equipment and add the activity to my list), or when I'm reading a Home Ed blog and see something that looks really interesting and fun that I think they'd enjoy...
This is our list at the moment, but obviously it changes frequently.  The observant ones among you will have noticed that there are six items in each box, loosely grouped according to subject (art, science, miscellaneous, maths and english).  I have deliberately not labelled the subjects as - for example - if DS2 knew that sudoku was Maths, he might rapidly go off it! The six items per box are for DS1, who sometimes likes the game of rolling dice to decide what he is going to do (with the power of veto if he doesn't like what he has been landed with).  DS2 does NOT like the uncertainty, so he just chooses whatever grabs his fancy.  Today, that was baking - hooray!  Obviously not every thing in each box is appropriate for each boy (there is a big difference between a 3yo and a 10yo), but there is something that each of them can do in each box.  It seems to be helping so far...
Using this has also helped me to discover that DS1 particularly enjoys investigating the world around him, with science experiments etc., and DS2 also likes experimenting, but in a more 'creative' way - he's more likely to want to do an art project than science.  Without HE, I'm not sure I'd have found that out so clearly... one of the loveliest Home Ed benefits has to be the chance to get to know your children better, rather than them spending the best part of their days somewhere else!  It made me laugh today when I was getting my hair done, and explaining home ed to my hairdresser who obviously hadn't heard of it before... she asked how we did it, and after my reply she said, "I want to come to your school!  In fact I think everyone should come to your school!"  Now I do know it's not for everyone, but the more I do it, the more I wonder why more people don't home ed too...

PS For those who read my entry yesterday, having left the egg in vinegar overnight, the egg had finally developed a rubbery shell (well, sort of - it didn't bounce, but was definitely squishy), but I dropped and broke it, just as I called DS1 to come and see that it had worked... aarrgghh!  So we put another two eggs in to soak - one in brown vinegar, one in white, to see if it makes any difference - will check again tomorrow.  The flowers in food colouring have still not changed in the slightest - sigh!

Monday, 28 May 2012

failed experiments and new friends

Well, the forecast was for lot more sunshine again today, so we set off to the library nice and early before it got too hot!  (there's nothing quite like new books to inspire interest in reading!)  DS2 was a lot more confident about choosing books this time, DS1 chose his selection really quickly (non-fiction of course - all on the natural world, animals & habitats etc), and DS3 was also really fast picking his books, but mainly because he just grabbed the first armful of picturebooks he came across, so we went through them and weeded out a couple of the less appropriate ones.  All three boys loved scanning their own books again and taking the receipts - very exciting :)  We also picked up some comics at the shop as they are a great way of inspiring reluctant readers.  Sure enough, DS2 loved his Club Penguin comic, and was more keen to read that that his 'new' library books, but I couldn't really get one for him and not the others, so DS1 & 3 got one each too - that was the best part of a tenner gone!!! When did comics get so expensive???
On the way back to the car we played hopscotch to avoid the cracks, and made echoes in the tunnel under the main road - then we stopped off to buy some white carnations and eggs to do a couple of science experiments on: with the carnations we put the stems in food colouring to see if the flowers would change colour, and the eggs were so we could immerse one in a glass of white vinegar for several hours and rubberize the shell (in theory)... neither experiment were particularly successful, but we'll check the flowers again tomorrow - and maybe try a different vinegar on another egg.  Ah well, an experiment that fails is just as important to learning as an experiment that works first time (even if it's not as exciting to an impatient child!)  We can try another egg tomorrow - maybe even boil it first - and we can use different concentrations of food colouring with the flowers, and DS1 & 2 can take notes to compare the different results - that's practical science for you!
Anyway, after our busy start to the morning, we had a mammoth house-cleaning session (weekends generate SO MUCH MESS, especially when camping trips and picnics are involved!), which involved DS3 practicing sorting skills on his toys, DS2 learning to use a hoover, and DS1 learning further lessons in the pitfalls of procrastination.  By then it was getting very hot, so it was time to stop for a rest & lunch, while we watched the 'love to learn' section on CBeebies... I've said it before, but I do love that channel!  DS1 is too old for it really, but DS3 - and even DS2 at times - really benefits from it, and it's good for DS1 to learn to consider his younger brothers' needs as well as his his own.
This afternoon we had some new friends round to play, and had an absolutely lovely time, with the children charging around together, playing (mostly) really nicely, and the mums thoroughly enjoying the opportunity for a good natter...  I must say, these socialising lessons are going really well! ;) There are different social skills involved when it comes to making new friends as opposed to playing with old friends, and I am really enjoying the fact that my boys are currently doing both on a regular basis.
Apparently the weather is going to change tomorrow and get cooler - it will be interesting to see how that changes the boys' enthusiasm for learning indoors over staying outside for the majority of their day, which has been the norm for the last week or so.  Not that it matters really - after all, I reckon today has been another really good day :)

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Educating Boys

Who in the world ever came up with the theory that the differences between boys and girls are a question of nurture rather than nature?  In all my days nannying, special-needs-assisting, teaching, and parenting, I have never been given reason to buy into that theory.  Yes there are boys who like playing dressing-up, and will play with dolls - at least, until they learn that it's socially unacceptable... and there are certainly plenty of girls who would rather play with cars, climb trees etc, which is less socially unacceptable (thank you women's libbers).  But there are some things that do seem to belong in the unique domain of parents-with-boys...
Take for example the question of the day from DS1: "Mum, when you go swimming, why doesn't the water go up your butt-hole?"  And when Daddy interrupted my careful but simple explanation, to assert that some people do manage to control their sphincters to 'suck in and expel water', it produced an awe-struck "Can YOU do that?"   The answer may have been 'no', but I guarantee the experiment that DS1 will be carrying out next bath-time...
... and then there was the enthusiastic description from DS2 of the compost toilets that he and Daddy used at the campsite - and who also, when he came home, headed out into the garden with a water gun to spray the trampoline so he could bounce in time to a loud song (sorry, neighbours) that appeared to be titled "get my bum soaking wet!"...
... and then again we have DS3 who obviously when he needs to wee would rather go outside, drop his trousers and sprinkle the lawn than use a flushing, hygenic toilet (I should be grateful I suppose - at least I stand a better chance of the seat being dry next time I need to use it).  He is the best raspberry-blower in the house, and is totally in awe of his big brother's ability to do "armpit farts".

I was chatting to a lovely friend today about the difference between educating boys and girls (she has two boys as well) - being very aware that these are all vast generalisations: of course there is no 'one way' for boys and another single way for girls.  However, just as boys are generally more prone to talking about bums, poo & other less-attractive bodily functions, there are also pithy truths that seem to apply to many more of them in comparison to girls...  (if these offend, or totally do not apply to your beautiful children, feel free to read this as just things I have learned about my own boys, compared to girls I have cared for/ taught)
  • Boys are more likely to get bored quickly (unless they're on the computer, in which case the opposite is true).
  • Boys are less likely to humour you when you think you're delivering an extremely interesting lesson.  It may be humiliating to have them walk off when you're just getting into what you're saying, but at least you get instant feedback on whether they're actually interested!
  • Boys are more likely to need frequent breaks for physical activity.  'Can't sit still' sound familiar?  I was amazed once when we met up with my sister and niece (at the time a 6yo) to do some pottery painting.  She sat still and painted for almost an hour!!!  DS1 (who was 8) concentrated nicely and produced a nice piece, but even he had had enough after about 20-30 minutes).
  • Basically, if you want to get a boy's attention, make the lesson/ topic as gruesome or hands-on as you can... or bribe him with computer games! ;)
Oh, and finally - a friend commented the other day that there seem to be more boys being home educated than girls.  It got me thinking, and I have to say this has certainly been true in the groups we have met up with so far... and I can't help but think there is a reason for this. I must try to find if anyone has done a proper study on this, but meanwhile I can only suggest that perhaps this is because the style of teaching carried out in our schools nowadays is far more suited to girls than boys (in this country they start them in school really early, before many boys' brains have developed enough to take on the communication skills they need to thrive in a school environment - and even in these 'enlightened days' of post-Victorian education, there is still a lot of desk-work required).  Maybe it's a coincidence, maybe it's just Hertfordshire - or maybe boys really are struggling more at school than girls.  The more I think about it, the more I am glad that I get to home educate my boys - even if that does mean I'm going to have to learn a lot more about poo, gore, bogies and other not-very-refined subjects than I might have liked!
PS It's OK - I was the mud-pie building kind of girl... I secretly love the gross stuff too! (maybe not as much as my boys, but enough to keep them happy and me sane).

Saturday, 26 May 2012

"Quality time"

Well, today has been a hot and grumpy one!  The boys and I are all pretty tired from all the socialising ;) - plus hot weather tends to sap your energy anyway.  They were all looking forward to having Daddy home (as that is the obvious highlight to our weekends), but he is understandably also tired from working hard all week, and isn't always as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as the boys, first thing (!)  We get to stay home and play all week - it's only fair that he gets down-time too, really - it's just working that into a weekend where Mummy could also do with a break, AND making sure we get some decent family time in - well, it feels like we're expecting too much really, even before we consider the things that need doing, such as mowing the lawn, or today's job - going to the Estate Agents to renew our lease on the house we live in!
So today ended up being pretty frustrating.  I took the boys out to see family for a while, which was nice (apart from a VERY-loud-though-thankfully-short-lived tantrum from DS3), but then when we got back there was lots of waiting around: waiting for different people to finish eating lunch; waiting for me to load & unload yet another load of washing (water-fights make much mess!); waiting for various children to finish having a strop/ argument/ time-out; waiting for Mummy and Daddy to actually agree on what we were going to do; waiting for DS2 and Daddy to finish preparing for later (more on that in a minute)... it felt like we spent the best part of 3 to 4 hours waiting, & failing to get ourselves synchronised :(  ( I bet no-one's feeling inadequate in comparison now, hey?)
Anyhow eventually, late in the afternoon we got ourselves together and I took DS1 & 3 up to the park on their bikes and we had a lovely time (except that the boys weren't at all interested in Mummy's amazing daisy-chain-making skills - hmph).  Hubby and DS2?  well, they set off on their big adventure!  For a good while now, DS2 has been talking about going camping on his own with Daddy, but the weather's not been entirely co-operative for a fun experience.  This weekend we finally got the time and the sunshine - so Daddy booked in at the campsite up the road (far away enough to be an adventure, but close enough to not have to spend ages travelling).  We have camped away as a family before, so DS2 should be fine - but the boys also used to camp in the garden (before we got the trampoline that takes up all available space), and it was not unusual for them to wake up in the early hours and decide they'd prefer to be in their own beds!  Hopefully going to a proper campsite will remove that temptation!
We all know the importance of spending "quality time" with our children (not that the rest of the day felt like it qualified as such, so my title today was a bit tongue-in-cheek).  For us in a family with multiple children, I think it's vital that some of those experiences are one-on-one, as they really strengthen individual relationships.  For example, DS1 will never forget the time he and Daddy climbed a mountain in Scotland together (and touched the snow at the top!)  Ever since then, DS2 has said he wished he could have done it too (he wouldn't have coped at the time), and I have wanted to find something that he could also do, just him and Daddy, that wasn't the same as DS1's achievement, but just as positive from DS2's perspective... a nice bit of male-bonding over an adventure outdoors has to be good for him, however tame the adventure may seem to us - if it excites him and takes him out of his comfort zone, it's got great potential for making the kind of memory that he can hold on to in later years - that's certainly our hope, anyway!
So who knows?  Maybe for DS2, today will go down in history as one of his favourite childhood memories, despite the general heat & grumpiness.  And the lovely thing is, the rest of us get another weekend day tomorrow for DS1 & 3 to enjoy having Daddy at home - hmmm, maybe hubby and I should talk about what we're going to do sooner rather than later!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Socialisers R Us

Another totally lovely day!  DS2 & 3 were on the computer early on, and DS2 also drew a beautiful little hedgehog to go with his story from yesterday :)  DS1 spent all morning tidying his room, and leanred a valuable lesson in the process - he could have done it in 20 minutes but he procrastinated and ended up still doing it when his brothers had finished their Readng Eggs and drawing, and were playing in the garden.
This afternoon, it was off to Fairlands Valley Park in Stevenage... they have a lovely aqua park there which is advertised on their website as being open every day from May to September, but unfortunately when we got there the aqua playground was closed :(  Apparently the website information is wrong - hmmmmm.  Still - my lesson for today learned: next time phone ahead, don't just go on website information!
Happily though, the rest of the playground was open (and some was in shade), so we went ahead and had a picnic & play, with old friends as well as meeting some lovely new ones :)  It didn't take very long for my boys and the new (to us) children to make friends... once again, it was just so lovely to see them all playing happily.  It feels like DS2 in particular is startng to relax & lose some of the anxiety he picked up while at school.  DS1 has always been happy to play with anyone who looks friendly - and as for three-year-old DS3 - well, at one point this afternoon he barged his way into a group of five big school-children (aged about 10) and pushed them off the springy toy he wanted to ride on.  I've no idea who they were, but they were really sweet and just indulged him (I think they were a bit stunned by his attitude (as was I!)  No fears regarding his confidence then...!
All in all, it's been a really social week!  Visiting family at the weekend, low-key on Mon & Tues, out with friends on Weds, more visiting on Thurs, out meeting new friends today... and next week looks like being pretty packed too!  The only problem is, it leaves us with less time to get any 'work' done... :/  I had thought that I would get us settled into some kind of Home-ed routine before we started going to too many social events - find our feet first, so to speak... but then DS1 started mentioning missing his friends, and I didn't want it to turn our home ed into a negative experience for him, so we started meeting up with other Home Edders (as well as still seeing old friends after school hours).  Also I think now it's got sunny, we're all a lot more keen to get outdoors, and there are more opportunities to meet up that don't cost money, outside!  Fact is, we're all starting to make some good friendships, which I am more than happy about.  There will be plenty of time to consolidate learning still, and after a few days of playing outside the boys are usually happier to sit down and concentrate generally.
So, if I wanted to answer the Home Ed sceptics who are worried about socialisation, I would love to show them my six-year-old in particular, now in comparison to a few months ago at school.  I'm just so happy we decided to do this - and as I relaxed in my picnic chair this afternoon, watching the boys happily running around, I was reassured this really is what I was meant to do!  It's the good life, all right :)

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Hedgehogs and birthday cake

I've found another benefit of Home Ed... when your garden is visited late at night by a pair of hedgehogs, it is perfectly OK to wake your child so they can come and see, safe in the knowledge that they can sleep as late as they like in the morning :)  That is what DS1 and I were doing last night.  I was tempted to wake the others, but DS2 had only just gone back to sleep after having woken for a drink, and he's not a child that likes having his sleep disturbed - and DS3 would have been more than happy to wake, but I would have had a real job getting him back off to sleep again, so I decided to leave him asleep.  In fact, he slept through in his own bed until 5:30 this morning!  I don't think he's ever done that - all the fresh air & exercise yesterday must have really worn him out! :)  Anyway, DS1 and I had a lovely time snuggled by the patio door, watching Mr Hedgehog (who we named Harry) endlessly circling Miss Hedgehog (who we named Sally), trying to get a good sniff of her bottom (she wasn't having any of it).  It went on for hours, so eventually DS1 went back to bed, followed by me about an hour later :)  Anyway, that was the exciting topic of conversation this morning.  We made a trip to a large pet store to buy some hedgehog food to see if we could tempt Harry and/ or Sally back again (and of course we took the chance to look at the other pets while we were there, too).  In the car on the way home, I asked the boys if they could take it in turns to tell me something interesting about hedgehogs.  DS1 was bursting to share his knowledge, and got a bit carried away, so when I asked them if they knew what hedgehogs do late in autumn, he said, "I know!  The mummy hedgehog tucks up the baby hedgehogs in bed, reads them a bedtime story and they all go to sleep"  Great fun :)  This inspired DS2 to say "let's write a hedgehog story!".  DS1 wasn't keen though, and I knew DS2 would run out of enthusiasm for writing it on his own (it would take him too long), so I offered to type the story as DS2 dictated it, with the following result...

The Baby Hedgehog Who Was Born
Once upon a time there was a mother hedgehog.  It was nearly time to give birth to her babies.  One baby got out the first and that hoglet was called (DS2's name), and then another one came out and that hoglet was called (DS3's name).  Then another one came out and that hoglet’s name was (DS1's name).  One night the hoglets played water gun fights in the garden, because the night was pretty warm, until their mother told them to come inside the nest, and the babies sucked their mother’s milk out of her tummy.  Then in autumn they were cuddling up with their Mum and it was another night so they played water gun fights again but their Mum said it was too cold and she asked them to come back inside the nest, and my amazing thing about hedgehogs is that they sleep the whole winter, and then the whole family lived happily ever after.
The end.

I tried not to interfere too much, so as not to make it a negative experience for him - but as we went along I did make a couple of suggestions (eg he was going to have them play during the day, but I reminded him that they sleep in the day and play at night, and I also told him they live in nests when he suggested dens).  However, I left it there so it could be as much his own story as possible (I particularly enjoyed the way he mixed the birth order so that his older brother became the youngest hoglet... ).
So much of HE is about spotting the learning opportunities as they come up... we hadn't planned to learn about hedgehogs, but when such a perfect opportunity presents itself, it seems daft to ignore it!  Another perfect opportunity presented today was because it was Grandma's birthday... they had already made some lovely cards yesterday, and today DS1 had a go at wrapping a present all by himself, plus they all helped Mummy to bake a cake: DS 2 & 3 helped make the cake itself, DS3 also helped make the icing - and DS1 drew a design of how to decorate the cake with chocolate buttons and sprinkle stars, which all 3 boys followed - one doing the orange buttons, one doing the pink ones and one doing the stars.  DS1 cheerfully announced "I'm going D&T!" (design & technology) - he was right, too :)  Of course, cookery is also a valid life-skill to learn - and while I'm not sure baking is as vital a 'life-skill' as learning to cook a meal, in this house it comes pretty close ;)

DS1's design with the finished cake

So that sums up the highlights of our day.  A couple of friends who have read the blog have now commented how busy I always seem - it makes me laugh really, as I have just felt so relaxed since starting HE!  I do feel the pressure of needing to fit in some 'learning' at times, but I'm still tending towards deschooling & don't think the boys are generally doing that much at all!  Admittedly, today was quite busy - but that was mainly because we had to go into town to buy (amongst other things) kids' shoes, which took a-g-e-s!  There was quite a lot of TV watching today as well (I console myself with the knowledge that I made sure half of the programmes watched were 'educational' ones), a visit to Grandma's to deliver (and share - yum) the cake, and a good while messing outdoors, playing water fights - but really, all they essentially did from a vaguely 'educational' point of view was chat about hedgehogs (one little star invented a story), and they helped make a cake.  So this paragraph is for the other Home Edders out there, just in case anyone is feeling inadequate - you can write a whole page of 'what we did today', but it still doesn't quite shake the feeling that we didn't do very much regarding their education!  It doesn't really bother me to be honest, as if they'd been in school today I reckon they'd still have learned very little in this heat - I just wanted to point out that Home Edders everywhere (particularly those with little structure) all have 'not-doing-enough' concerns - it comes with the territory I guess!  But meanwhile, if my kids are learning to love wildlife and being outdoors as much as sitting indoors playing on the Wii, that will continue to count as a really valuable contribution to their education in my eyes :)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Rowney Warren

Well, that was another very lovely day... I could get used to this life! :)
This morning DS1 was first on the computer (Maths Whizz) - I think he was playing the bonus games that he'd earned with his credits, but that's fine by me - once he's spent them he'll have to earn some more by doing more Maths :)  DS3 was next on, doing Reading Eggs - I was quite impressed that they automatically emailed me to say he had finished a level.  I was also impressed that as he didn't pass the test at the end of the level, the next level will remain locked until he passes, meaning he has to keep on doing the lessons he's taken so far until he has mastered them (I was concerned that he was whizzing through a bit quickly & not grasping everything).  That said, I was also impressed by how much he had mastered - he got 6 out of 10 questions right, which for a 3 year old is quite impressive, I thought!  DS2 was next on - Reading Eggs today as he wanted to play the games he's just seen his little brother doing, but as with DS1, once the credits (or eggs) are spent - he'll have to work for some more - so it's all really positive.  As well as the computer programmes they all took some time to make some really lovely birthday cards - it's nice for them to have the time not to rush it :)
We had an earlyish lunch, and then drove out to Rowney Warren, a woodland area in Bedfordshire, to meet up with some of our fab new Home Ed friends.  It was utterly lovely wandering around in the dappled sunlight, breathing in the freshest air, watching my boys have freedom to run, investigate and play... I love being in the woods, can you tell?  DS1 brought his bug-catching pot and had a lovely time catching, inspecting, showing everyone & then releasing an assortment of minibeasts. DS3 got lost at one point near the end of the afternoon, after he tried to follow his big brother who had ran off, not realising the littlest was behind - and that was a pretty horrid few moments while we all looked for him.  I sent up a quick prayer for help, and was pretty confident we'd find him, but it was the thought of him crying while we looked that did me in :/  Ah well, he's learned that lesson now... hopefully...!  The rest of the time he had thoroughly enjoyed himself - was first out of my boys to have a go on the rope swing, which he did with a huge grin on his face... and he even had two bites of a strawberry (a hitherto spurned fruit).  He didn't eat it all, but I was impressed that he tried it at all - that's really unusual for him!
However, my absolute favourite thing about today was watching ALL my boys thoroughly socialising.  They could not have socialised more if they'd read a textbook on how to do it!  All the children there were happy playing across the ages, chatting to adults etc, and my three fitted right in.  DS2 was a little reserved to start with, which has been the norm lately, but once he recognised some faces he started to relax, and was soon running around, playing and shouting joyfully with the rest of them.  Even DS3 made a little friend (as well as joining in with all the big kids).   For me, that is what I will remember from today.  My stress levels from losing DS3 are nearly back to normal and will quickly be in the past, but what continues to make me really happy, is remembering my boys' relaxed, happy faces :)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sunny Day

Ah, what a lovely day :)
We started off the morning with the two youngest snuggling into bed with Mummy, and DS2 read DS3 a story :)  Initially DS2 said "this could be for my English star", which I agreed it could... and did he want to do his star chart today?  He promptly answered with a very clear "No."  It made me laugh - I didn't expect him to want to do it, just thought I'd ask as he was the one who brought it up!  In my mind I was ticking English off anyway ;)  DS3 then pootled off and I asked DS2 what he DID want to do today... he looked very thoughtful, then replied "playdough and computer stuff: Reading Eggs, MathsWhizz and GridClub".  Well, that was easy!  DS3 also wanted to do Playdough today - they played with it for a-g-e-s, while DS1 had a go on his MathsWhizz.  I had to ration them all to an hour each on the PC this morning, so DS2 only ended up doing MathsWhizz as he got so engrossed it lasted the whole hour.  DS3 spent his hour doing Reading Eggs (of course).  DS3 wasn't interested by Playdough today - but he did spend a long time in his room, happily constructing things with lego.  They then remembered that they had forgotten to play on the Wii yesterday (well, I wasn't going to remind them!  So on it went - but not for long as it was time for lunch.
After lunch DS1 (who had been hopefully watching the thermometer all day) announced that it had gone past 21C... (I said they could play water fights in the garden if it was warm enough, and that was the temperature we agreed on)  Unfortunately, all the old water guns had been broken, so I agreed they could spend their pocket money on some new ones, and off we popped to the shops.  An hour later (!)  we were back, and they promptly spent the reat of the afternoon shrieking with laughter (and the odd indignant yelp) and getting very wet.
What a lovely day!  Enough 'brain work' to satisfy me while it was still chilly outside, and then a blissful opportunity to enjoy the sun while their peers were still sat in a stuffy classroom :)  It made me grateful all over again for the amazing opportunities provided by Home Ed.  Let's face it, the sun hasn't made much of an appearance lately - I'm so glad we could grab the chance to enjoy it while we could :)  Happy, sunny day!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Motivating individuals

Well after our week of 'doing nothing' last week, we had a very busy weekend, travelling across the country to visit family, & back again.  We had three very tired boys this morning, and a houseful of tidying up to attack.  (Would somebody please explain to me how it is that being away from a house leaves you with more mess to tidy?)
So anyway, we had a very easy day today!  DS1 started the day watching Deadly 60 on TV (his all-time favourite programme), which his brothers were also happy to watch - and Mummy started on the washing.  Then there was a fair bit of trampoline bouncing... making the most of this weather as we're still a bit suspicious that it's going to start pouring down again as soon as we relax. This was followed by more playing with the big box from last week (today it morphed from a coffin into beds and then a train), and some arty time, and DS1 did a bit of a Maths workbook - nothing too arduous!
I decided not to go straight back to the Star Chart this week, as I wanted to talk to the boys and see if they had any ideas for how we could introduce a bit of 'structure' (not that I called it that, I just asked them how we were going to decide what we wanted to do every day).  DS3 was the first to contribute, gleefully shouting out "PAINTING!", and nodding emphatically when I asked him if that meant he wanted to paint every day!  Ah, the enthusiasm of a 3-year-old ;)  DS1 got right into the spirit of things, coming up with all sorts of elaborate schemes involving things like my writing sums on bits of paper and then him pulling some out of a hat to complete.  He loves making up games, so that appealed to him, although I think I may have to modify the suggestion to involve less work on my part ;)  He also liked the idea of writing down a list of things that we could do, and then rolling dice to decide which to do at any given time.  DS2 on the other hand had distinct reservations about agreeing to any scheme where he doesn't get to choose what to do for himself .  He is still very suspicious of doing anything that looks like work or that he doesn't want to do, and needs to feel in control of his choices.
So, unsurprisingly there is no single system that appeals to them all!  I have to say, DS3 is pretty easy - he has no qualms about making decisions, so I just have to have a short list of options up my sleeve for him (mostly Reading Eggs, art & craft, educational games, & doing anything with Mummy) - he'll tackle most things if presented to him in an enthusiastic way.  DS1 & 2 are very different, though, and whereas I think DS1 will be OK with any structure that allows him enough freedom to pursue his own interests (he even wrote down a list of things he liked, in case I forgot!), I think DS2 is going to need me to keep things varied and fun - not forgetting he is still clearly in the process of dechooling.  The biggest thing I think we need to tackle is breaking the mindset that we have to treat the boys all the same (I can feel the family star chart being rendered useless even as I type).  In school there was one system that every child had to fit into - some it suited, some it didn't - DS2 it definitely didn't!  The problem is, even though DS1 is quite happy to do 'school-type work', I think he would rebel altogether if he thought DS2 was getting away without doing any at all.  However, as long as I don't present it to DS2 as 'work', but something fun to have a go at with no expectations, I would think he'll be happy to have a go.  Regular readers will know he's been my biggest concern since we started this journey - it's so hard to see such a bright little boy lose all interest in learning, and at such a young age too! I just have to keep reminding myself that it's still early days, and hope that he will get there as long as I take the pressure right off him: it may feel like we're not making much progress - but at least we've halted the downward spiral.  Hopefully once he's stabilised & is feeling secure again, he'll find his groove :)  He really reminds me of the famous quote by Henry Thoreau:
"If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away. "
Anyway,  DS2 had a really good day on Maths-Whizz today - he was really motivated to get enough points to spend in the 'store' on games and personalising his room etc.  He is familiar with that concept from playing Mario on the Wii and accumulating enough points to unlock extra gadgets etc, so for once I'm grateful for the time spent on the Wii, as he can be quite unsure about traditional incentive charts - if he's not in the right mood he can see them as an opportunity to fail :(  Happily, Maths-Whizz incentives obviously fall into the same category as those on Mario Wii games - so he spent a long time playing and in the end I actually had to ask him to stop to let one of his brothers have a turn!
DS1 did really like the Star Chart though - he generally has more confidence to be able to tackle a challenge if there is something he REALLY wants at the end of it.  I don't want him to expect a reward for every single thing he does - he needs to know that sometimes doing something good is its own reward - but as he is motivated by incentives like star charts, I don't want to rule them out altogether either. 
So, this Mummy is doing more thinking: and instead of thinking "how do we as a family do HE?", I'm switching to "how do I encourage DS1 in HE?" - and ditto for DS2, and again for DS3.  It's certainly not an easy life, but my incentives are seeing each of my boys grow - and that is a reward that's worth no end of investment!

PS In case you're wondering, DS3 did get to do his painting today - we had a lovely time getting messy together while his brothers were occupied elsewhere - happy days! :)

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Who's afraid of the LEA?

When I first tracked down & logged on to online Home Ed groups a couple of months ago, apart from being excited to find a whole variety of people offering advice, encouragement and friendship, I was quite taken aback by the ferocity of feeling against the Local Education Authority, also known as the LA (Local Authority).
To my mind at the time, they were there to do a job, and I didn't foresee any problems (other than maybe nervousness in preparing for them to visit - which I considered would probably be less stressful that an Ofsted inspection at school).  However, I have changed my mind as I became aware of more of the surrounding issues.  Bearing in mind I am still very definitely a novice (so apologies again to those who have studied this area in more detail than me), a few things have become clearer...
One of the reasons that Home Edders are so reluctant to make themselves known to the LA, is that there is an alarming tendency amongst many officials, to assume that Home Edders are much more likely to be involved in child abuse.  This has no foundation in reality whatsoever, and there are plenty of studies out there that have shown this to be the case... take this Guardian article as an example.  Most of us have read enough scare stories about Social Services having the power to remove children who they consider to be 'at risk', and unfortunately since we personally started our Home Ed journey in April, we have already become aware of a few cases where the removal of children was attempted, apparently purely on the basis that they were home-educated.  No wonder home educators are worried by intereference on any kind of official level.
Also, there are no clear guidelines for Educational Welfare Officers (the most common title for those employed by the LA, but they are often given other names) on how to deal with home educators.  In fact, it very much depends on where you live, as to whether or not you are in a 'good' LA.  Fortunately for me, the reputation of the two EWOs in our area is a really good one - they are both in favour of Home education (shouldn't that be a basic job requirement?), and they are really encouraging when they do visit, from all accounts (I haven't met them yet).  Sadly though, there are plenty of LAs who appear to employ EWOs mistrustful of and even aggressive towards home educators.  And yet they still want us to have them in our homes?  Legally, there is no need AT ALL to accept a home visit.  The legal requirement of the LA, according to sections 437 to 443 of the 1996 Education Act is that
"437. - (1) If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education."
 ... which basically means they only need to approach us if they have reason to believe a suitable education is not being provided.  Simply home educating as a choice should not in itself be cause for concern.  So why do they generally insist that Home Edders have to have a regular visit from them to inspect our facilities, plans, achievements etc? (this is standard LA practice - I've seen the websites).  For more information on the law regarding Home Education, there is an excellent website here
For me, I think I was so brainwashed into accepting the need to answer to a higher authority, that I saw nothing strange in the people "in charge of education" wanting to come and make sure that I am educating my children properly.  But having been privy to some really thought-provoking (and at times heated) conversations in the HE community, I have myself been educated (again!).  The plain fact is, it is the PARENT's responsibility to ensure their child(ren)'s education - whether that is by sending them to school, or otherwise (eg Home Ed).  It is NOT the government's responsibility.  Why then as a nation are we so happy to accept power-hungry petty bureaucrats assuming control of a role that is our unique privilege as a parent?
So, I have been on another 'journey' - from a place where I had no problem letting inspectors come round & check up on us (after all, I have nothing to hide and am planning on being rather proud of what my children have achieved!), to a place where I have no intention of disclosing anything to any 'authority' unless requested.  There are some Home Edders who feel that it would be letting the side down to accept a home visit at all, as legally, all I need to do if approached by the LA is write a letter stating that I am taking my children's education seriously & providing them with stimulation to learn by means of a variety of resources - and (they say) the more people who accept home visits, the more it encourages the LA to carry on with their tactics of intimidation.  I don't think I would go that far myself... I can see their point and am sympathetic, especially if they have had a bad experience personally with their LA, but I also feel for the few people who haven't the confidence to 'go it alone' - and IF (it's a big 'if') they have a good, supportive EWO, it could make their HE experience so much better.  I guess I'm just not comfortable telling other Home Edders what they should do - but I know what I will do, and that doesn't involve having an LA visit!
Basically, where I am at right now can be summed up by a statement I made to another HE newbie who asked in a forum the other day why she shouldn't make herself known to her LA:

I think that there is no more need to invite the LEA to be involved in my children's education than there is to invite the Social Services to be involved in my children's upbringing. If they NEED to come round, I have nothing to hide, and would hope to be courteous (unless they got hostile) - but why would I invite them? 

I have nothing against working with the LA in the future when I have a bit more experience under my belt - but my purpose in doing so would be to educate them!  As more and more parents are becoming disillusioned with the education provided by the state, wouldn't it be great if Local Authorities were on our side, aware of the law and happy to support and empower parents who choose to educate their children themseves? That's only going to happen if we work with them.  However, let them interfere with my children?  No thanks.

PS As I finished writing this entry, I came across another great blog post on why not to accept LA visits, so will share it here

Friday, 18 May 2012

Experimental Unschooling Day 5

Well, what an interesting week this has been - considering we haven't done any 'work', I at least have learned a lot!
We were out most of the day today so have very little to 'report': first was a trip to town where we failed to get what I was after, then a trip to see family, then home for a quick lunch and out again to play with old school friends, including DS2's friend - it was sooooo lovely to see my middle boy relaxed and happy :)
When I consider what I have learned this week (apart from the realisation that unschooling isn't actually something you can experiment with - it's a lifestyle that you either embrace or don't), it's mostly just helped me to consolidate my views on where I am at. 
Firstly - I haven't the confidence or complete belief that unschooling is for us right now.  As mentioned yesterday, I do love the ideals, and can see that we may well end up travelling that route - but for the time being, I am still going through the process of getting 'school-thinking' out of my brain - as of course are the boys, or at least the older two.
Secondly, I definitely want the boys learning to be as autonomous as possible, within a loose structure that will enable me to reassure myself that they are learning the "important" stuff (ie English & Maths) - and I want them to have the freedom to discover and explore their own interests.  I'm not sure what that structure will look like, but I like the idea of having them discuss in the morning/ each week what they would like to do (not including games consoles until they have done something more 'constructive').  Maybe we'll experiment with that next week...
Thirdly, we're still deschooling (that's not a choice or decision, just as an acceptance of where were at), so whatever structure we do play with, it will remain just that for a good while (i.e. play).  Everything will be held loosely, and if the boys need a day or two or even several off, that's fine.  I want them to learn to love learning.  That is not something you can force on anyone via a schedule - in fact if you try to, you will achieve the very opposite.  So, flexibility is the name of the game.
I am really glad we had this week of 'experimenting', even though it feels like I've ended the week with pretty much the same immediate aims for Home Ed as I started with.  I just think I have more confidence now to pursue the next step, without feeling like I'm committing to anything for life.  That confidence in not having to have all the answers but just enjoying finding out... that is what I want to pass on to the boys :)

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Experimental Unschooling Day 4

We had a great start to the day today... hero hubby and I had put the trampoline net up last night (almost as soon as he got in from work - what a star), so the boys were very excited to get dressed and go out to play on it together first thing.  I gave them breakfast first (we NEED a meal routine as none of them are great eaters), then they had put the TV on so I expected them to be engrossed with Spongebob for an indefinite amount of time - but no, DS3 decided he wasn't watching, he was going to bounce, and as soon as his brothers saw they ran out to join him and ended up playing non-stop on the trampoline for over an hour... happy boys make for a happy Mummy (especially when they're being happy outdoors)!  There were a few squeals of indignation when they bumped up against each other, but generally they were so determined to keep bouncing that they resolved it quickly by themselves :)  DS2 was the first to come off after 75 minutes, to play on GridClub... DS1 & 3 followed 10 minutes later, but all of them spent the rest of the day in and out of the garden to continue bouncing :)
Anyway, when they weren't bouncing, DS1 wanted to bake a cake, so we had a quick trip to the local shops to buy a missing ingredient (and pick up our dry cleaning).  Once home, it was DS3's turn to go on the computer (Reading Eggs, of course!), and DS2 flitted in between the kitchen (where DS1 was now happily mixing ingredients for the cake) and study, watching his brothers.  That brought us to lunchtime, and we sat down to eat in the lounge while Mummy (tried to) put on our 'Come Outside' DVD... I had the episode in mind where Auntie Mabel & Pippin go to the dry cleaners, as we'd been there earlier.  However, the DVD refused to work, not surprisingly considering the greasy fingerprints all over the disc... (hmmmm, today DS3 also learned how to pick up a disc by the edges!)).  Finally we got it to work, and I had a nice snuggly time with DS3, watching TV together.  DS1 & 2 had vanished outside to bounce again as soon as they finished eating.
It got me thinking about why I'm happier letting them spend the best part of the day on the trampoline but not the Wii... I think the thing about the trampoline is it involves fresh air and a little sunshine (today at least), and physical exercise - all of which are vital to good health.  The comparison between boys and puppies still holds for me: give them some exercise outdoors to burn off some energy, and they are much happier for the rest of the day!  When they have played on computer games all day, they get tired in a whiny, irritable kind of way, borne - I think - out of a restlessness from not having really done anything other than hopefully stimulate their minds. Trampolining or other physical exercise - particularly the fresh air kind - seems to tire them out in a much healthier way, and leads to much better sleep, and greater ability to concentrate, from my experience. 
As for lessons learned from today's 'unschooling', well - while the boys were happily bouncing again this afternoon, I had a really encouraging and thought-provoking conversation with some other Home Edders, chatting about the importance of not comparing yourself to other HE families or even an idea in your own head of the 'perfect' way to Home Ed.  Unschooling particularly seems to lend itself to these kind of struggles.  Home-schoolers or those with any kind of structure have at least some frame of reference so they can follow how much their child is 'learning' - but unschoolers have nothing.  It can look as though nothing at all is going on education-wise, which is an incredibly insecure place to be for people who love their children and are passionate about giving them the best.  There is nothing really to show if the 'dreaded Local Authority' come round to measure your child's learning.  In its purest sense, unschooling is just a completely different philosophy and can't really be mixed with any form of structure as far as I can see.  However, autonomous learning (child-led rather than parent/teacher-directed) can happily work alongside some kind of structure, which is probably where I am. 
I love the ideals of unschooling - I do believe children are by nature inquisitive, and learn best when left to their own devices.  For example, take a toddler learning to walk or talk - if you interfere or try to get them to do it to your own schedule, you just get frustrated and can make them miserable.  If you trust in their own inherent ability to grow and learn, they get there in their own time with a lot less stress all round.  There is no reason why that learning shouldn't carry on naturally if un-interfered with.  However, putting that kind of thinking into practice is an enormous leap from where I currently am.  I am just not used to thinking that way - I was in full-time education for 23 years of my life - and then later went on to teach others in a 'learning establishment', so school as the 'norm' is pretty well embedded in my mind.  Admittedly, the school where I taught on and off for the past decade (and the boys attended) was independant rather than a state school, so I have become used to thinking slightly outside the box when it comes to education.  We weren't tied to the National Curriculum, for example, although we did use another set curriculum, so the problems of institutionalised learning turned out to be not that different after all.  Considering that background, the way I find myself thinking now is pretty radical.  I have often read experienced Home Edders stating that people new to HE commonly start off with much greater structure than they end up with, so that encourages me that even though I'm not confident enough right now to make the leap into full-on unschooling, that doesn't mean we won't end up there.  Everything is possible :)  But for now I feel like I need that security blanket of having regular Maths/ English input for the boys with other subjects pursued as dictated by interest - and am happy for them to be autonomous as possible within that hopefully small degree of structure.  And of course, I'm still keeping a weather eye on the need to deschool, so am not planning to enforce anything just yet anyway!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Experimental Unschooling Day 3

Ahh, a much more enjoyable day, I think!
None of the boys put up any resistance to the nintendo ban today - I think they were all a bit in awe of how much time they had spent playing on it yesterday.  I still haven't asked them to do anything though - just to see what they want to do if left to their own devices.  The only time I got involved was when DS1 & 2 wanted to do the same thing (trampoline - the net has only just arrived & not ben put up yet, so it's still strictly 'one-at-a-time') and I made an alternative suggestion (reminding DS2 that he said he wanted to do Reading Eggs) which was immediately agreed to :)
Anyway, they've been much more creatively employed today - there was the inevitable Reading Eggs for DS3, plus he watched some more 'Diego', and made sitcker pictures, DS2 spent ages building a railway track on GridClub with DS1 helping at times - and had his own time on Reading Eggs as mentioned above.  DS1 decided he wanted to play pass-the-parcel, so wrapped up some of his own sweets, recorded some music from a toy guitar, and roped everyone in to play (without much resistance, it has to be said!)  Then later he had his nose in his science exeriment book, planning what he wanted to do for the next couple of weeks (have just ordered some mirrored card so he can build a periscope), and experimented with bicarbonate of soda mixed alternately with honey, oil and lemon juice (don't read further inside these brackets unless you have boys yourself or are not easily grossed out...he helpfully suggested that if we ran out of lemon juice we would wait until one of his brothers was sick and use that instead to get the same result as both contain acid, but did concede Mummy's point that apart from hoping nobody would be sick for a long time, foamy vomit might not be the nicest thing to have around!... sorry, but, I did warn you!)
Anyway, the sun was out all day (!!!) so there was lots of trampoline-bouncing all round as well - hooray!  Lots of free-play also: most notably when I gave them the empty box that the trampoline surround had come in, and the first game that came to their minds was 'coffins' (it was the perfect size for DS3 to lay in - DS2 & 3 had to squeeze a bit). 'Coffins' led to 'zombies', and then thankfully for me it turned into a fishing boat game ;).  Hmm - such is life with boys ;)
So, amidst the vomit conversations and coffin-zombie games, what have I learned today?  Well, as Sally commented on yesterday's post, I have realised that my boys and I are really benefitting from a period to detox from school (aka de-schooling).  The school-type structure is probably more in my head than theirs, and I'm finding this week really helpful to step back and think about ways to help them learn best, outside the 'box' of traditional learning.  Also I am becoming more confident in my belief that a little bit of structure is a helpful thing - or will be once we've de-schooled.  I don't know if we will resume use of the star chart, but I do know I am most drawn to the style of Home Ed where the children are expected to do a certain amount of  'academic'-type learning, but with as much freedom of choice within that as possible.  So for example in our case that could be as simple as a set amount of English/ Maths per day/ week, and within that, letting them choose on a daily basis between computer-based curricula such as Maths-Whizz or Reading Eggs, or a workbook, or just writing their own story/ making a graph etc.  Outside of that, I would like to think they'll have as much freedom as they need to explore whatever else interests them (I like playing different sorts of music at times, and leaving fascinating books around such as this Science Experiments book or this 365 Things to Make and do book, to spark their interest).  It feels like I'm coming full-circle to where I started, really - but I have to admit, it's still very early days :)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Experimental Unschooling Day 2

Hmmm, that was really not my favourite day!  We did have a nice trip out this morning - well, I could have done without the SatNav running out of battery five minutes down the road when I didn't have a clue where we were going, but hey ho - eventually we reached our destination and joined in a craft club with some other HE families.  DS1 & 2 did some T-shirt painting and glass painting, while DS3 played with playdough and drew pictures.  DS1 was starting to chill a bit in a smaller group, although DS2 was still quite uncomfortable around others.  Anyway, that was the good bit of the day.  Once we got home I dutifully stuck to my plan of letting them do whatever they liked - just to see what would happen.  No surprises that they made a beeline for the Wii.  I have to admit though - after 3 1/2 hours I lost my bottle.  The play had degenerated to petty squabbles, and I got to the point where I couldn't bear any more whining and fighting.  Of course, once I turned the Wii off (having given them time to finish what they were doing), the arguing instantly increased as they had nothing immediate to distract themselves with, so it was then a quick hunt for something to occupy them.  DS1 filled in his weather chart and then played with his Star Wars fighter pods, DS3 wanted Reading Eggs, and DS2 mooched for a while before Mummy found his chocolate factory - winning suggestion of the day!  Obviously DS3's Reading Eggs is yet another computer game, but at least they weren't fighting over it - and I was trying to let them do what they liked :/
So, lesson learned from today: no more unlimited games console time!  In fact, I think tomorrow will be a nintendo-free zone altogether, and we'll see what that brings.  The home PC will be available - although as always they will have to take it in turns on that, so no-one will be able to spend 3 1/2 hours on it in one sitting!  Even if we did ever end up 'unschooling', there will be boundaries in place - which will at least concern games-console time.  So far though, the experiment seems to be steering me towards the philosophy neatly described by a friend as "kind of unschooling/autonomous - but with gentle encouragement with maths and english!"

Monday, 14 May 2012

Experimental Unschooling Day 1

The more I thought about it last week, the more I wanted to try a week of no structure - just to see what I (and the boys) could learn from it...  so today was day one :)
Today DS2 & 3 are still shaking off the tail end of the cough they picked up last week - and I've had a persistent headache for several days now, which is very rare for me - so I'm guessing it's a nasty virus that I thought was just a cold but has hung around longer than expected.  Not that that's a bad thing - it's so lovely just to be able to go at our own pace rather than forcing ourselves to carry on regardless - it just means that whatever I deduce from ourexperimental unschooling week, I need to take into account that we were a bit 'under-the-weather' & possibly had less energy/enthusiasm than we would normally have.
Anyway, we started today with the sole request (as last time) of no Wii or d/s until after lunch - but I think I'll drop that for the rest of the week... after all, I'm kind of intrigued to see just how much screen time the boys would choose if left to their own devices.
DS3 was in mega-cuddly mode today - he wanted a 'Go Diego Go' DVD on (which we watched all the way through and then some more), and was really happy snuggling up to me and smothering me with kisses while we watched (I would not swap this job for anything!).  So his first bit of learning-without-trying was via educational TV - picking up facts about wildlife and learning some Spanish too.
DS2 spent A-G-E-S on Reading Eggs.  As I've said before, I think he's on a level that's far too easy for him, which would bore me rigid if it were me... but he really does seem to enjoy it, so I'm happy to go along with it for as long as he wants to.  After all, what's most important to me is that he gets his appetite for learning back - and if this is what it takes, then so be it.  Maybe he is just being lazy in taking the least challenging route, but it seems more likely to me that he's just lacking in confidence & this is his way of rediscovering it.
DS1 found a Star Wars colouring set that he had been given, lost, & then found again while tidying his bedroom on Saturday - so he spent a nice long time colouring in his pictures and then showing them to DS3.  I've noticed that whatever he works on, he wants to show or tell as many people as possible about what he's doing.  I count it such a huge privilege that I get to be one of the first people he involves :)  He then went on the computer once DS2 had finished, and had some time on Grid Club which he loves, playing games about food and outer space.
Later we all went out to post some letters and drop in at the local shop.  I did ask DS2 to find the prices, and DS1 to add up the total as we went - but in retrospect that wasn't really autonomous learning as I doubt they'd have bothered if I hadn't asked, so I'll try not to do that again this week, with the purpose of the experiment really being to find out what the boys would CHOOSE to learn if it were entirely up to them.
Anyway, once home DS3 helped Mummy bake a cake (a banana & pineapple cake, which he nicknamed "smooshy cake" because he so enjoyed smooshing the fruit in the mixture), DS1 & 2 had fun playing with fridge magnets, & they all played some games quite nicely together, with very little intervention needed from me, which is always a bonus :)   Inevitably the Wii & d/s went on in the afternoon... it will be interesting to see how much time they spend playing on them when the restrictions are lifted.
So, one day into our experimental week, and it was a nice day mostly - until late afternoon, when they did get a bit bored & restless (after the Wii and d/s went off).  Games consoles seem to rob them of a/ social skills (once it's switched off there sems to be an increase in fighting & screaming) and b/ the ability to think creatively for themselves (switch it off and - unless they're fighting - they are more inclined to wander round aimlessly instead of engaging in other play).  For those reasons I can't imagine not having restrictions in place, but I do want to see if they have any sense of self-regulation - and if they notice the impact of spending large amount of time on games consoles.  Up until then we'd had a lovely day though, so it's proving an interesting week so far.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Wimpole Hall

Well, with a view to making the weekend more 'special' for DS1 (and the rest of us), we had a lovely day out today :)
We went (not only with Daddy but also with some lovely friends) to the National Trust's Wimpole Estate, where we had a picnic in the glorious sunshine and an explore around their Home Farm.  Sunny weekends are absolutely made for getting outdoors - it was so lovely to see all the children running around in the wide open space while the grown-ups watched and had a lazy natter, just soaking up the sunshine.  It was especially lovely because there were some older girls (early teens) in our group, who love playing with DS3, so hubby and I were free to not have to watch him the whole time, safe in the knowledge that he had such loving subjects, happy to entertain him.  Such are the benefits of socialising with people of mixed ages! :)
There were some interesting moments on the farm, such as when in a pen full of young male pigs, one of the pigs was determined to mount another, who protested very loudly!  There were in fact lots of different breeds of pig, and cows, donkeys, miniature Shetland ponies, turkeys, ducks, chickens, sheep, goats etc.  Our boys particularly liked learning to 'milk', using a fake udder (made of a bucket and rubber teats).  Farms are such a lovely place for children to explore and learn without trying - we've had a really lovely day!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

keeping weekends special

One of the things DS1 has said he's not so keen on about Home Ed is that, in his words, 'weekends aren't so special any more'   To my way of thinking, having every day feel like a weekend day is a pretty compelling argument in favour of Home Ed - but I can see his point.  It certainly made me wonder how other HE families face the same issue.  In the case of a home-school type of structure, I suppose weekends (with in theory no schooling) would still feel like having time off - but that then by implication makes the rest of the week feel like work, or somehow less enjoyable, at least.  And I'm not sure that I want to divide our weeks into blocks of days that are more or less enjoyable than each other - certainly not if it's the presence of 'learning' that is the more negative defining factor.
For me the obvious differnce between our weekdays and weekends is that Daddy is home at weekends, so I think we need to look at ways of maximising the impact of that... if any Home Edder reading this feels like commenting how they 'keep weekends special' (if indeed they bother), I'd be really interested, and grateful for the input :)

Friday, 11 May 2012

tempted to unschool

Well, we were all getting a little stressed about the star chart again, so I suggested a no-star-chart day today.  DS1 was a bit concerned about whether he would still get a reward, but I said I could bless them just because I wanted to.  I think it's unhealthy for them to grow up expecting a certain reward for everthing they do and thinking everything has to be earned - this is one of the reasons why I'm not 100% happy with on the whole 'incentive' method of learning.  Probably one of the reasons why it appeals to my boys is because their previous school used incentives a lot, so maybe I need to back right off and give unschooling a bit more of a chance - after all, they are still technically still in the 'deschooling' period (so it doesn't matter if they learn nothing! ;) ).  Hmmm, don't know... it's tempting...
I know it doesn't have to mean them sitting around being bored all day. One of the lovely ladies I met yesterday rightly commented that if a child chooses to do workbooks, online curriculum etc, that still counts as 'unschooling' - if it comes from their choice, it's autonomous.  That's my dream: to have the boys learn what they want to learn.... perhaps I could do a week of experimental unschooling just to observe?  I have to admit though, my main concern is whether they would choose to do Maths or English (as those are the two main subjects I want them to progresss in)  If there are any 'unschoolers' reading this, I apologise - I know that's not how it works, segregating subjects like that - my teacher brain does tend to take over still - which is why I'm thinking of trying it for a week to see what they choose.
Anyway, today's unschooling was certainly encouraging  I only had one request: no wii or ds until after lunch.  DS2 cried out "that's not fair!" (which is his default response to anything I say that he doesn't like - well, he is six!), so we had a calm chat about why he thought it wasn't fair ("because it's what you want, not me" - fair point), and why he thought Mummy suggested it.  We talked about it not being a total ban - just a request to save it for later so he and his brothers could have some time to think of other things that were also fun, to do first.  He was actually happy about that, so it was nice to successfully diffuse what could have easily turned into a sulk (phew, 'good parenting' moments are so encouraging!)
The boys very quickly came up with things they wanted to do.  DS1 wanted to build a robot hand he had seen on 'Backyard Science', DS2 wanted to create a collage out of his own imagination, just using bits he had found in the craft box, and DS3 asked to do some painting, which I said we would do as soon as DS2 had finished his picture - trying to contain the mess & prevent any 'he-got-paint-on-my-picture' type arguments.  Fortunately DS3 was happy to wait, watching DS2 for a while until he was inspired to 'decorate' one of Mummy's lists (I have many) with tissue paper, stamps, hole punches etc.  Once DS1 saw the painting we were doing (blowing paint into alien shapes) he had a break from making his robot-hand to join in, but didn't stick with it for long.  DS3's initially promising alien shapes were obliterated by his finding a brush and getting carried away, turning them into the inevitable page-sized muddy blob that happens not infrequently when he gets his hands on paint.  DS2 however, spent a good amount of time, experimenting with different colours unil he was happy that his painting was complete (and Mummy joined in too as it's always good for them to see grown-ups having a go - well, that's my excuse!)  We also had fun with jigsaws, trampolining, marbles, TV & Wii (in the afternoon, as requested). 
The only sticky point to the whole day was with DS1's robot hand - not just sticky because of the amount of sellotape he used while trying to make it work (which was a LOT), but because he became frustrated when it didn't work immediately, and I  had to try to encourage him not to give up on it.  Perseverence is an absolutely essential life-skill, but I didn't want to bully him into completeing it regardless of whether he wanted to or not - that would ultimately be counter-productive. I just wanted him to not throw it away after the first (failed) attempt. Anyway, I mentioned how inventors always have prototypes that they have to make many adjustments to as they progress with their invention, and rather than sending him away to finish it, we came up with ideas together for how we could improve it (even roping in his brothers to hold a bottle still while we tried to pick it up with the robot hand).  I really enjoyed being able to work with him on that one-to-one basis while his brothers built a jigsaw - it took quite a while and I'm sure he'd have given up at the first hurdle without the continuing support.
So, no maths or english today (apart from DS3, who LOVES doing his Reading Eggs - yay), but lots of arts & crafts - and a lesson in persisting.  That unschooling trial is looking very tempting indeed...

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Lessons in socialising

We had our long-anticipated meet-up at the local soft-play centre today :)  About 10 families (I think) came, and it was really lovely for me, as I got to sit and chat to lots of other Home Ed parents while the children played :)  It has got me thinking about the whole socialising thing some more though... I was a bit sad for my boys, as I had hoped that they would be able to forge some new friendships, forgetting that as with all things, you have to allow them time and space to do it in their own way.  DS3 couldn't care less about friendships really - he has that blissful confidence to just charge around & do whatever he feels like doing  DS1 took a long time to make overtures of friendship, but I think I saw him playing with one or two of them at the end.  DS2 played with his brothers almost exlusively.  I suppose it was a bit intimidating for him really - there was a core group of children who obviously already knew each other & played together, and since school DS2 has no confidence at all when in that kind of scenario.  I think the way forward is to continue going to gatherings regularly so that once they start seeing the same faces every week or so, they will hopefully start to relax.  Also I'm hoping to set up some smaller playdates with only a few other children - it's much easier for them to make friends in that kind of setting (especially as all of my boys are naturally very friendly, they just lack confidence in a big group... a bit like their mother, I guess)
It just made me question the whole 'going to school to socialise' thing even more.  Yes, DS1 has said that he misses his friends at school, but that doesn't mean he learned to socialise there.  Friendships are often spawned at school simply because they spend so much time with the same group of children; they inevitably find out who shares the same interests.  But what if your child relates to children who are a bit older or younger?  What if nobody in their class shares their interests (or it's just not cool)?  DS1 used to be entirely confident at playing with anyone who happened to be in the same room... sadly not any more.  DS2 is the most loving & accepting little boy I have ever known, and yet he is so used to being rejected, he won't even try at the moment.  So did school help my children to socialise?  Frankly, no. 
And for me, when I think about the lessons I personally learned during my own school experience(primary and scondary) re: socialising, it went along the following lines
1 - put yourself down if you want to make people like you, or at least feel sorry for you (I vividly remember the exact time, place and people involved in that one)
2 - don't let anyone know what you really care about or you'll be ridiculed
3 - don't be too clever or stand out otherwise they'll resent you
Let me reassure you, I don't hold to those any more. I now have too much self-respect, and once I stopped trying to please people (sadly it took me until I was 17) I actually met people who shared my interests, & was able to make proper friendships. They were hard, hard lessons to unlearn though.

So what exactly IS the socialism issue that people are bothered about?   Is it just exposing your child to a large enough group of people that they will hopefully find some people who they get along with?  Or is it putting them into a group of other people diverse enough that they have to learn to 'get along' by learning to co-operate, tolerate differences etc... if so, I'd like to say that my boys get more than enough conflict opportunities at home!  OK, that is a bit flippant; I know it's good to learn to get along with different people who haven't necessarly been brought up with exactly the same values - that's an important life-skill.  But why is it assumed to belong exclusively in the school domain?

Anyway, here we are in a novel position: learning a lesson in socialising & what it means to us... Obviously putting oneself in a social situation (ie with other people present) is a good start.  As to the rest - that's one more area where I am privileged to be able to learn more about my own children, and to share in their ongoing education :)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Absence makes...

I know I was hoping I might get some 'time off' occasionally - but leaving the children with Daddy while I go to a relative's funeral isn't exactly what I had in mind...
Still, they all had a lovely time today, and I got to enjoy the best bit about having time off, which is when I get to see my boys again... there I was, sat in the armchair being cuddled by one, while another brought a drink to me and tried to tip it into my mouth, such was his concern that I might be thirsty, and the third showed me a picture he had drawn for me while I was away.  He had written a note on it, which read: "Dear Mumy, I missed you so much that if I could choose beetwen you and a lifetime suply of chocolate I would choose...... drumroll...... You"
How blessed I am :)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How to Home Ed and other quandaries

This morning the two younger boys were both fighting off the sniffles - and first of all, I had to rejoice that I didn't have the old quandary over whether they were well enough to cope with school: do I write it off as a little cold, send them in and risk them becoming more poorly, or do I keep them at home (and take time off myself) so I can watch over them and risk them missing something important for no reason?  Hooray for the end to that dilemma :)
However, just because we're not at school any more, it doesn't mean an end to soul-searching questions.  Home Educators just have a whole new set of questions to dwell on.  At least for us, unlike those in school, most of it is done without the scrutiny of anyone else... unless you write a blog of course!  (hmmmmm, it seemed like a good idea at the time).
One of the things I maybe didn't take into account enough when we embarked on the adventure that is Home Education, was that it would be me who had the most learning to do! It's OK, because I'm loving it - I'm learning about my children (three of my very favourite subjects), myself, all kinds of different things about educating at home that had never occurred to me - and so much more! And I love it all :) It's still a huge learning curve though - and a bit overwhelming at times.  I keep reminding myself to take it easy, and just have fun with them, all the while observing and learning. But maybe it would have been easier if I could just make a choice between structured and autonomous? Would they actually make the choice to learn if we went totally unstructured?  Would they go off learning altogether if I enforce school-routine at home?  What if I'm messing my children around - or worse, holding them back - by not sticking to one single method...?
I keep reminding myself that these questions are normal, and not to get stressed by the not knowing.  Hubby and I are 100% convinced that we are doing the right thing in educating the boys at home - and that confidence goes a long way (there are many Home Edders who don't have the same surety or even support from their partner - my heart goes out to them: this is not an easy option).  Yet even with that conviction, once you have made the decision to Home Ed, there is very little guidance on how to go about it.  Don't get me wrong, there are lots of really helpful books, websites, blogs etc out there that are an invaluable resource, not to mention the support of other Home Edders - but when it comes to finding out what style of learning suits your child, and how to help them achieve the best for them, you are the only one who is going to work that out - as you go!  And if you have more than one child (they are all SO different), well, your work is really cut out for you! 
Of course, I could have just gone for a pre-packaged curriculum, which might have seemed like it would have made life a lot easier and taken the dilemma out of what to teach them - but would it have stimulated them?  I really don't think it would have worked for my boys, so here I am, on the road full of questions, reminding myself of advice that I would give to any Home Ed novice: "By all means, read the books and blogs, chat to other parents - but don't be tempted to compare what you are doing to what they are doing.  Their children are not your children.  Their family's needs are not your family's needs.  It is good to be inspired, but the moment you allow yourself to feel inadequate, take a break and focus on what you have already acheived" (keeping a diary is great for recording the good bits to encourage yourself with later).
And if all of that sounds a little heavy, well let me reassure you I don't feel that way: I am still loving it... even the unanswered questions!  I just want to record my thoughts & questions as we go along - hopefully to encourage myself when I look back on our beginnings, and also I hope it might encourage someone else in a similar boat. 
So anyway, back to the here and now... we've had a tricky week of bereavements and illness, and that has made it hard for us to find our groove for the past few days, so we went for the star chart today, just in a gentler way (I dropped the amount of stars required to allow them to play Mario, which was today's incentive).  DS1 chose a science project found in his Science Experiments Project book, which involved reading, writing and - unsurprisingly - science; DS3 could not be removed from his Reading Eggs 'game' (that is, until Mummy asked if he wanted to help bake smartie cookies...); DS2 despite feeling poorly spent a good half an hour on Maths-whizz, and then had another go at Reading Eggs (am still not sure it's the right level for him, but he's enjoying it, so I will probably just go along with it).  They watched 'Come Outside' and 'Our Planet' on CBeebies, had time in the sunshine on the trampoline (yay), and even got their rooms tidied up!
So, quandaries and questions notwithstanding, I reckon all in all today was another pretty good day :)