Friday, 29 August 2008

Soap Box warning

I was just settling down to write a post about the wonderful evening I spent with two of my oldest and very best friends last night and how special it is to be with people who know me and love me and have known and loved me for a long time, when my eye was caught by the BBC website headline: 'Preschool gives 'maths boost'.

None of my children have ever been to pre-school, or school for that matter, and I am always alert for news articles and research on the benefits of institutional education. So I had a quick read and could not resist another opportunity to pull out my soapbox.

The first paragraph states:

Going to a good pre-school nursery boosts a child's chances of achieving in
maths at the age of 10, experts say.

But the second seems to say something different:

A long-term UK study by academics found the biggest influence on a child's
achievement in maths at 10 was the education of their mother.

In fact it goes on:

They say what they call a good "home learning environment" is crucial.

and that:

Researchers found many examples where a mother's lower level of education was
more than made up for by parents creating a good home learning environment
through the activities they did with their children.

Once again, I am struck by the disparity between the substance and the conclusion. It seems to me that this article is saying that what I do at home with my children is just as important and effective as pre-school might be, that I have chosen a valid and research-supported alternative.

However, the final paragraph reads:

The study showed how focussing on aspects of a child's life which could be
changed - such as access to good nursery and primary schools - could improve
their education and chances in life.

I don't understand why supporting those mothers who choose to stay at home and create that good learning environment, taking on the responsibility of their children's education, is not seen as equally important as improving access to educational institutions. Despite the research on which this article is based clearly showing the home to be equal to the pre-school, it is being used as another piece in the argument to send children to school earlier and earlier. It reminds me of someone with their hands over their ears, singing loudly, "I can't hear you!" It's not that I think that all children should be Home Educated, but I would like to see Home Ed presented in the media as a choice which is valid and well backed up by both research and experience and one that should be embraced as a viable alternative.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

More of Julie's words of wisdom

I am a great fan of Julie Bogart and her Bravewriter progamme.

So much so that, when I was trying to explain it to my mother and I was struggling for the correct verb ('follow' seems to prescriptive, 'subscribe to' too dry). my son suggested 'worship'!

Julie's writing, her on-line classes, her lifestyle ideas and The Writer's Jungle have all been formative, supportive and inspirational on my Home Ed journey. I found this recent post of hers gave me both a great idea for next Monday (official 'start of term' in our house as my husband, a teacher, goes back to school), and a theme for my year. I may well print this out in colour, laminate it and pin it to my forehead (or perhaps over my desk!):

Let’s make this year the year of affirmation: noticing how truly amazing
our kids are and telling them so in as many ways as we can.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Another of life's mysteries solved

We spent quite a bit of time in the car yesterday. We drove down to Sussex to have lunch with my mum and then across the county to spend the night my dad's. During this journey, my daughter was obviously comtemplating life. Suddenly she declared,
"I know why we have shoulders!"
"Why's that then, darling?"
"Because if we didn't have them, our arms would fall off!"

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

August Bank Holiday on the South Bank

We had such a lovely day out on the South Bank yesterday. I have been keen to do this trip all year, but every Bank Holiday the weather has been too bad. The weather wasn't great yesterday either, but it was good enough. We caught the train into Waterloo and walked along the South Bank of the Thames to Tate Modern and then strolled back.
We enjoyed the outdoor art: We contemplated the Thames:
We drew pictures:

We watched some Japanese Theatre:
We posed with a living statue:
A good day was had by all!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Putting my foot in it!

I came across this quote this morning:

"Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he's not interested, it's like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating."
~ Barbara Lansing.

(I found this at Throwing Marshmallows, following a link from Here in the Bonny Glen)

My immediate thought was that I would remember these words to say to the next person who asked me what I would do when my children didn't want to learn (with the implied message that somehow school would make them learn whether they wanted to or not.)

However, if I imagine myself actually quoting this in conversation, I fear that I would inevitably sound critical of the choice to school children. So this, along with many of my other top reasons for Home Ed, will be filed away to be shared with my husband and the good friends I have who tolerate my eccentricities and, it would seem, the entire world if they care to read my blog.

This ties in with another subject close to my heart, breastfeeding. This is the connection: how do I state what I wholeheartedly believe when it runs counter to popular opinion, without causing offence or 'making people feel guilty'? Of course, I respect the choice of other mothers to do as they see right, be that a feeding, educational or other choice but the very fact that I have chosen otherwise because I believe it to be better for my children is sometimes taken as criticism and even judgement. Perhaps I am not very tactful, although I try hard to be I do have a tendency to drag out my soap box. Perhaps these are uncomfortable topics. Perhaps religion and politics would make for easier conversation!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

A little bit more camping

We all went our separate ways yesterday. My husband took my middle son camping, just the two of them, father and son. They went to a campsite only about 15 minutes drive away, but it is the experience that matters. My son was so excited after lunch that he gave up waiting for his dad and went to sit in the car! I had a call from the pub yesterday evening, apparently beer and lemonade were being consumed.

My daughter went for a sleep-over (or should that be wake-over?) at a friend's house. She was so excited that she had packed her own pink, spotty suitcase by 7 o'clock in the morning! She is a very social creature.
My eldest son and I caught the train to the local shopping centre to peruse a bookshop and spend some of his birthday money. After rejecting a number of books which he could get from the library he chose couple of hard-backs: one designed to inspire imagination with lots of room for jotting down ideas and The Boys Book of Survival. He also chose a popular science book and the latest in the Astrosaur series, of which he has the full set. We had tea and cake in a cafe and he has barely spoken since because he has been reading.

Three such different children. I have a good feeling today of having met each of their needs and honoured them as individuals.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Unintended spontaneity

(This actually happened on Wednesday, but I had some stuff to get off my chest yesterday so this got bumped down the schedule.)

I had just got my daughter tucked up, kissed good-night and had left her listening to Paddington. My sons were pyjama-ed and settling down for the night. I had a DVD ready and a glass of wine with my name on, when the 'phone rang.
"Hi, It's Hannah, from Bushy Park. Are you coming on the Night Prowl?"
"Oh yes, we're really looking forward to it. It's tomorrow night, right?"
"No. It's now. We've just started."
Did I really want to get the children up, dressed, out (in the rain) to walk in the dark? Sure! Much to the confusion of the whole family, we were clothed, had our wellies on and torches in hands and were in the park in less than 20 minutes!
We had a really special time. We saw a number of bats and were able to learn lots from Nigel, the man who knows all about bats, (I'm sure he has much more important role, but we missed all the introductions.) There was a moth trap set up and Tim, the man who knows all about moths, was there to explain it all. We also saw some toads, which I don't think I've ever seen before. The children found it very exciting to be out after dark, although my daughter expressed some concern over werewolves! We had mugs of hot chocolate when we got home and declared that we would not forget this Summer's walks in Bushy Park.
I am not someone who does spontaneity very well. I like structure, I like the idea of knowing what I will be doing weeks in advance. There was a moment when I thought, 'We can't possibly go out now, the children are in bed and I had other plans,' but, to steal Harry's words, "I feel like I'm really growing."

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Why do they publish this rubbish? A carefully reasoned critique

I don't read the newspapers often and when I do I usually end up shouting at them; which annoys my husband and leaves me with raised blood pressure. It seems to me that most, if not all, newspaper articles are just a lot of words for the sake of it. (Obviously, my blog is not this at all, but meaningful reflection on contemporary issues!)

I was sent a link yesterday to an article on Home Ed in The Guardian newspaper. It sounded good, with positive stories of 2 Home Ed families and publicising 'a book just published by academics at the Institute of Education, University of London' which is 'is highly controversial. It argues that home education is a viable alternative to school up to the age of 14.'

Already I'm asking, 'Why is this highly controversial?' It is, after all, my legal right to choose to Home Ed in this country. Also, 'Why up to the age of 14?' What happens when children turn 14 that makes Home Ed no longer viable? (My eldest is only 9 so perhaps there's something I don't know yet!)

It goes on to say that the authors,

'conclude that informal learning at home is an 'astonishingly efficient way to
learn', as good if not better than school for many children'
and that they

'marvel at the way one girl learned maths by "helping with the cooking and
shopping, and collecting supermarket-trolley money."'
'the chaotic nature of the informal curriculum does not appear to be a barrier
to children organising it into a coherent body of knowledge' and 'the lack of
information quality-control does not appear to lead to muddled, confused

(That's a relief for this sometimes muddled and confused mother!)

That sounds to me like 'We can't quite believe this, but this odd, uncontrolled, out-of-the-box, trusting that children can, will and actually love to learn, which we thought was a load of old rubbish, actually works? How about that?!'

'The authors discovered that these children absorbed information mainly by
"doing nothing, observing, having conversations, exploring, and through
self-directed learning". They liken the "chaotic nature" of informal learning to
the process that leads to scientific breakthroughs, the early stages of crafting
a novel, coming up with a solution to a technical problem, or the act of
composing music.'
Isn't that amazing? What more could you hope for in education than that it should emulate the processes of scientific breakthrough or the act of composing music? This brings to my mind Newton, Fleming, J. K. Rowling, James Dyson, Beethoven .....So you'd think the conclusion to all this would be along the lines of 'Yay for Home Ed!! It's fantastic! Why don't more people do it? What lessons can the educational establishments learn from this model?"

You'd think....

But no....

'Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment
Research at the University of Buckingham, urges caution. Informal learning is an
adjunct, not a replacement for a formal curriculum, he warns. There's a case for
starting formal education later in this country, he acknowledges, but the
curriculum is still essential. '

In fact, it gets worse.

'Not all learning is pleasurable; some of it is painful and repetitive. Unless
children are in a social situation that makes them stay at it, they will lose
out. "It's very important that parents have the option to home-educate their
children, but I wouldn't advise it," he says.'

Did the guy not read book, or even the rest of this article? What is he talking about? What is it based on? And why does he get the last word?

So, once again, I am shouting at a newspaper!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Sometimes it's hard to be a man

The Leisure Centre where the boys are having swimming lessons has a giant inflatable shaped like a crocodile. It runs almost the length of the pool. The life-guard helps the children get on by pushing them over the gap on a floating mat. Then they slip and slide along, over and under and round various obstacles before climbing up and then sliding down with a splash into the deep end. On Monday there were some teenage lads joining in the fun and it made it more exciting and difficult to get along the cocodile as it was shook and wobbled.

I didn't see what happened, but after my middle son's first go he fished himself out of the water and hurried past me on his way to the learner pool. Seeing the look on his face, I asked him what was wrong. 'I always knew it was rubbish,' he told me, scowling but clearly holding back the tears, and jumped into the warmer water. After enough time, he came back to me and told me sadly that he'd fallen off and that it was too hard. I enquired whether he'd like another go and, somewhat hesitantly, he decided to give it a try. Second time he made it all the way over and after that he couldn't get enough!

I know that for myself, there is a time between an upsetting incident and the necessary perspective to carry on, in which I need to process what's happened and to deal with the uncomfortable feelings. So often, in my desire to support, love, help and sometimes downright control my children I stomp all over their moments. Yet, when I manage not to and when I trust them enough to work it out for themselves, they do.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Success at the Pool

Swimming was a great success.

My eldest son, who had been so worried, was in a class of 2 with another boy who appeared to be about the same standard. He thoroughly enjoyed the close attention from the teacher and the lack of pressure to perform in a large group. Even sitting with me while his brother had his lesson first, he was getting quite excited and asking how long until he could get into his trunks. It is something that I've noticed before, how necessary it is to feel safe in order to have fun and to learn.

My middle son threw himself, literally, into his lesson with his customary enthusiasm. His assigned teacher was off sick and so a young man, who I think is Lithuanian, was standing in. I haven't been to this pool many times, but every time I've been someone has told me what a great teacher this guy is, so I was really pleased. (Not that I would wish his regular teacher ill, but I can't help hoping she's off all week!) From my viewpoint on the other side of the pool I could see my son jump into the water and splash away leaving his teacher mid-sentence. Every time, his teacher would patiently stop him, explain something, and then off he would go again. I could see how hard he was trying to take on board what he was being told and afterwards the coach told me how much he had improved even in one session. So excited was my boy to keep practicing that he was back in the pool during his brother's lesson and I could see again how he was rehearsing what he had been taught.

At the end of the lessons a giant inflatable was brought out so they played for a while longer. They came home excited with their lessons and my seven-year old went to bed with a talking book for an hour. A morning well spent!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Learning from my mistakes

My two sons are beginning a week's crash course in swimming this morning. For my eldest, this has produced a high level of anxiety. Although confident in familiar conditions, he finds new situations much harder to handle. He has a deep dislike of the possibility of being the centre of attention, so he hates to be the new one in a group or to arrive late for any event. Last night he was telling me that he had changed his mind and did not want to have swimming lessons at all. I told him that I wouldn't force him to go but that I hoped he would and that we would discuss it this morning. He was feeling much better about it today and articulated his reasons for not wanting to go. These were:
  1. He has too much other stuff he'd rather do at home and that he felt it would be a waste of his time.
  2. He is shy.
  3. It might be too hard for him as he isn't always a good swimmer.

I listened and then we talked together. He liked the idea that I would read him a chapter of 'Treasure Island' while we sat through his brother's lesson so it would be time well spent. I reminded him that he is getting much better at managing his unease and tolerating the uncomfortable feelings of newness and shyness when he has a new teacher in order to reach the familiarity that follows. Also, he is in an 8+ non-swimmer class. I told the people at the pool that he is, in fact, a competent swimmer but they felt that it was best to start in an easy class and they would move him up if necessary. Thus I have every confidence that he won't struggle.

The very act of talking it through seemed to greatly improve his mood. He did in fact have 4 reasons for not wanting to go, but at the end of all this, neither of us could remember the last one! I have promised him that we will discuss again this afternoon whether he will go the rest of the week.

It has been a long journey for both of us to reach a point ewhere he will try out new classes and I am able to tolerate his angst without trying to coerce him into joining in. Three Summers ago he was booked in to a week of trampolining classes, having enjoyed trampolining at the leisure centre in weekly classes the term before. He was a little nervous of the first session and my mother-in-law took him as I wasn't able to. He came back adamant that he didn't like his teacher and didn't want to go back. I took him the next day to try and sort things out and to let the coach know how my son felt. The teacher was rude and abrupt. He told me that all Home Educated children find it hard to settle with new teachers and that he would only shout at my son if he did something dangerous. During the class he reduced at least one child to tears.

Oh, how I wish that I had told this man that I thought his attitude was unacceptable and his manner with the children bullying. How I wish I had complained to the management. Instead, I tried to tell my 6 year-old son that sometimes you have to work with people you don't like and he needed to get on with it. I will spare you the grisly details of the shouting, browbeating mother and the crying, distressed child but I reaped what I had sown in the following year. As I mentioned in this post, it took him weeks to feel confident enough to join in his Gym classes, to which he is about to return for the fourth year. It was at this time in his life that his worry and apprehension levels had reached new heights and he suffered with real separation anxiety for over a year. At one point he would check that I was still in the house every 5 minutes or so if he couldn't hear me moving about. He has always been the most highly strung of my children, partly, I believe, due to a fairly traumatic first week of life but also this event made it so much worse.

I have since told him how much I regret this incident and what I wish I had done. I hope he has been able to hear the lesson I have tried to teach with hindsight, that it is ok to say if he is not comfortable with a particular adult and that I will protect him and support him. I hope he really knows that he is safe to tell me this afternoon if he really does not want to continue with lessons and that, despite my internal frustration at money spent and an opportunity to improve passed over, I will support that decision without coercion.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Apparently an elephant did it!

(Can you see the sugar crystals on her face?)

Friday, 15 August 2008

Fantasy Houses

We had a family day out today and returned to the National Portrait Gallery where we had such a great day last week. One of the ladies on the Information desk invited us to attend a family workshop. She said that she'd seen us in the Gallery before, which makes me wonder what impression we make if we are so recognisable!
The Gallery's theme this week was families and we were led to grand, full-length portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After discussing both pictures, the children were encouraged to sketch copies. My eldest son was overwhelmed by the impossibility of the mission, but rapidly warmed up when I re-framed the task as an exercise in helping us remember the details so we switched it round to him dictating a description to me. Once sketches and notes were complete:

we descended to studio where the children decoratated fanatasy homes inspired by the settings of the Victoria and Albert portraits. They come up with some colourful creations:

Bringing these home on the train was not easy, but the children are thrilled with their creations and I am under instruction to remove my daughter's toy farm from her room and replace it with this royal palace for her dolls. I think that Victoria and Albert will live on in their memories and will join Richard III, Charles I and Oliver Cromwell as old friends to visit.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Chapter Books

Part of my Grand Schedule is the plan of Chapter Books to read. It seems to work out that we read around one chapter book a month and I already had a number of books sitting on the shelves earmarked for this purpose. I have to tell my eldest in advance what we are planning on reading together because otherwise he might read them himself and then he is bored listening. I have tried to organise a plan for the coming year so that I can tie in issues of The Arrow. The Arrow works well for us. I like the fact that it is based on books we have read and enjoyed and the children are learning so much from using it: careful handwriting, punctuation and grammar, good writing skills, literary appreciation. I have woven together some of my book ideas with some gleaned from the Arrow backlist or 2008/09 list to create this reading schedule:

The Secret Garden
Little House on the Prairie
Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Why the Whales Came (This is on at a local theatre in February and I plan to take the children to the show.)
On the Banks of Plum Creek
The Trumpet of the Swan
Tom's Midnight Garden
The Eagle of the Ninth
Just So Stories

As with my Grand Schedule in general, I strongly suspect we will wander off this path before the year is out: I am bound to find some irresistible book on the shelves of a charity shop or have some title recommended which I just can't wait to read, but I feel so much more confident knowing that I have a clear route to follow if inspiration does fail me!

Reading aloud to the children is one of the few consistent things in my Home Ed life and I place the highest value on it. The benefits are manifold: hearing good literature, enjoying fantastic stories, sharing the experience, discussing the plot and characters while we wash up. All these make a rich vein to mine. However, I am blessed with a 'kinesthetic' learner who loves, even needs, to be doing something with his hands. It used to be a real problem for me how much he wriggled and fiddled and played with things while I was reading and I would take away his toy and tell him to sit still and concentrate. Much grief could have been saved if I had come across Julie's wisdom earlier:

For kids with busy hands, dump out a box of Legos or blocks and let your young
ones build while they listen.
It was a moment of revelation. Using his hands enabled him to concentrate, it did not distract him. Now I encourage him to have something to play with while I read. I have produced yet another A4 sheet and pinned it up in the toy cupboard:

What can you do while listening to a Chapter Book?
A jigsaw
Threading Cards
Screw ball or Rubik’s Cube
Nuts and Bolts
French Knitting
Blik-Blok (building blocks)
Pattern Blocks (coloured blocks which fit in a tray)

He discovered it with delight on his return yesterday. I think this, of all my lists, may be the one used the most!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

My Grand Schedule

I have spent the last three days in a paper storm and everything is now sorted out. One of the fruits of my labour has been the construction of a Grand Schedule which I can now follow daily for the rest of the year and a perfect Home Ed Curriculum will be delivered to my children.

Or, at the very least, I can go into September believing that to be the case, yet secretly knowing that I will probably re-write it a number of times before it gets forgotten.

In front of me is a pristine piece of A4 paper. It is not yet smudged, scribbled on or decorated with tomato sauce spatters from being looked at while I am cooking. I have optimistically titled it 'Year Beginning September 2008'.

First come my goals. These are somewhat loose as I firmly believe that the children will learn what they want to, regardless of what I think.

  1. General reading and writing skills: for my eldest son I would like to see him writing neatly on a more regular basis. He can write a beautiful cursive script but always chooses to print. Does it matter? I guess I feel that the more he used joined-up, the more naturally it would come and what he writes would look the way it deserves to, a bit like dressing smartly on appropriate occasions. I would like my middle son to move onto reading more fluently and also to spell better. I think that as reading comes more easily for him, he will read more and so become more familiar with the look of words, but I may do a little spelling work with him. I would like my daughter to be reading by the end of the year and to be forming all her letters correctly and neatly.
  2. Some routine work. I think that we all feel more comfortable with some structure as well as plenty of freedom and I think there is a valuable lesson in the discipline of getting on with something even if we don't feel like it. I also know that I don't find it easy to live spontaneously the whole time and that having a routine means that I can relax knowing that all bases will be covered.
  3. A lot of variety of exposure to different ideas and concepts. I always feel a stab of envy when others talk of 'projects' which they are following but so far that has not worked for us. I have a personal image of Home Ed being like a buffet meal. It is my job to present a wide and balanced spread and the children's to choose what they would like.
  4. A mix of outdoors, indoors and trips. Left to my own devices I do not go outside much. I run, often first thing, and then I'm happy in the house. By building in time outdoors I won't have to decide if I want to, it'll be on my Grand Schedule so I will have to!

Then comes the Schedule itself, in all its glory.

Each day comes in two sessions apart from Thursday which will be our Day Out. I have plenty of ideas of where to go, sometimes to visit friends, old favourite haunts and a few new places thrown in. We like the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum , the National and National Portrait Galleries. I love the Victoria and Albert Museum and I'd like to introduce the children to Tate Britain and Tate Modern. My middle son has been promised a trip to Tower Bridge and so far I have failed to deliver so that is on the list too. Perhaps one Thursday we'll have day home and just watch DVDs and play games!

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings we will do 'Table Work'. This will meet my first goal, largely through the boys doing back issues of 'The Arrow' from Bravewriter and my daughter completing mini-books from Enchanted Learning. We'll also do some maths. In October we will be doing a One Thing workshop at Bravewriter.

On Monday afternoons we will finish the Art Course I bought in the Spring and then begin 'Exploring Creation with Botany' which I bought after being inspired by Kathy at Restoration Place. In the Spring I am hoping we will do the Mystery Class project at Journey North again, but I didn't really allow enough time each week for it in 2008 so it will get 2 afternoons in 2009.

On Tuesday mornings we will do the Green Hour Challenge. I know it's probably the wrong time of year but I thought it would be helpful in my efforts to get outside more often. If it's too rainy/cold/miserable I have all of David Attenborough's Life series on DVD. That should keep us going for a while! In the afternoon my parents-in-law will come every fortnight, visits we all look forward to. The alternate Tuesday will be Movie afternoon!

Wednesday afternoons will be for cookie baking and Poetry Teatime. Friday's we will write, first working on a poem for a local competition, then freewriting. We might study a Shakespeare play and when Journey North starts we will give Friday afternoons over to that too.

I'm also hoping to read a chapter from Our Island Story after our evening meal if we all eat together. The children also have Gym, Beavers and Swimming (one activity each). We always have a chapter book on the go too.

Although every day has something both morning and afternoon, some of these things will only take an hour, so I hope I have left plenty of time for 'self-directed activity', both for them (Lego, drawing, engaging in complicated imaginary games) and me (blogging, keeping the house tidy and everyone fed, relaxing on the sofa.)

My life is sorted - bring on September.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

What am I Blogging for?

I was pondering what to post about today - nothing much happened to me yesterday, just filing and trying to avoid filing! I signed into Blogger and I read 'Spice up your blog with Google Gadgets!' Gadges are little things I can add to the sidebar maybe to tell a joke every day or display a Vincent van Gogh work's or keep me up to date with the news from Montenegro. In the desire to embrace new ideas and to make my blog eye-catching, I explored. I dallied briefly with the idea of National Geographic's 'Photo of the Day' but I didn't like how it looked and I wasn't sure if it was really what this blog is about. Which led me to the question: What is this blog about?

On my train journey on Sunday, I gave thought to the question of my goals for this blog. I love having goals. It makes me feel that I am going somewhere. The reality of getting there is seldom as much fun, but choosing a destination always excites me.

I came up with four distinct aims:

  1. I started this blog after reading 'The Artist's Way', as part of 'discovering my creative self'. I had never before thought of myself as a writer and as the germ of the idea that maybe I could be grew, I wanted to find out, to practice and to experiment.
  2. I have let many of my friends and family know about 'Navigating my the Stars' so that they can drop in occasionally and see what we're up to. I try to post pictures of the children often and they enjoy reading about themselves. I hope it will be a record of our days, perhaps to be looked back over on birthdays or at New Year.
  3. I have found an unexpected benefit in that writing about the incidents in my day, or the books I've read, or the thoughts I've had has led me to be more reflective. To consider my reactions and perhaps to learn from them.
  4. I have been blessed and inspired on my Home Ed journey by a number of other blogs, (the ones I visit most regularly are in the sidebar) and I aspire to offer something back to other Home Ed families, my ideas, my thoughts and my musings. I would like to think that someone new to Home Ed would find the 'Day in the Life Of' aspect what I write helpful as one picture of what Home Ed looks like. I also hope that those further along the jouney would be interested in my travels, find new perspectives and that we could encourage one another along the way.
If you read and enjoy my blog, I would be interested to know what it is that you like and maybe what you'd like to hear more of.

Monday, 11 August 2008

The Sound of Silence

It is eeriely quiet around here. I am listening to a CD and the washing machine has just started to spin, but behind this there is silence. I have not been interrupted and will not be until Wednesday!
We drove up to the West Midlands on Saturday to celebrate my father-in-law's 70th birthday and I came home by train yesterday while the rest of the family stayed on for a holiday. I have come home to have three days of peace and quiet to plan next academic year's schedule and to sort out and file all the paper work that goes with my role as a Breastfeeding Counsellor. I have been looking forward to this time and it is time much needed for organisation, but I am finding it hard to settle. Instead of having a quick half-hour to grab and squeeze an accomplished mission out of, I have two and a half days to fill and a lot of self-motivation to find!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The Monster Game

It is about a 10 minute walk to my local library, which isn't too far but can seem a very long way with three children when the youngest doesn't want to walk and is capable of protesting loudly the whole way. So a while back I invented the monster game as a way of passing the journey. I have been surprised by its enduring popularity with all three and even my eldest son asked to play as we walked home yesterday, even though it was just the two of us.

It's very simple (hardly deserving of the term 'invented'!): If you had a pet monster....what colour would it be? what kind of skin would it have? what would it eat? where would it live? how many legs/heads/eyes would it have?/how big would it be? and so on. We each have a go asking a question and then everybody takes turns answering for their own monster.

It began as a technique to keep little minds away from tired little legs but has developed into quite a family favourite. The part of my mind that likes to feel that what I do is educational is satisfied that it is a game that stimualtes the imagination as well as encouraging turn-taking and listening skills, as well as the conversational lesson of keeping to the point! I must confess that I too enjoy making up monsters and find that the monster in my imagination is quite varied depending on my mood, (sometimes huge, red and fire-breathing , sometimes small, golden and fluffy.)

Today's photo is of one of my very favourite monsters of all!

Friday, 8 August 2008

Wet and Wetter

We are lucky enough to live close to Bushy Park, one of London's Royal Parks and both last Summer and this we have been on some great Summer Activities there.

Last week we went on a deer walk, led by the man whose job it is to look after the 350 deer who live in the park. He was full of tit-bits of interesting information and I think for the first time I have really got the difference between Red:

and Fallow deer:

Yesterday, we went on a guided bird walk. The forecast was for showers, so we took the children's little rain coats, but ours are big and bulky and, after weighing up the benefits of rain proctection against carrying our coats around in the humid heat, my husband and I left ours behind. One heavy shower came and went and we sheltered under a tree. However, on our way back and about 10 minutes from the cars, the heavens opened. It was the type of rain that you think can't rain any harder, and then it finds a whole new level. I have never been so wet and fully clothed at the same time. We were dripping and squelching and sodden - even the children in their 'shower-proof' coats! The kind of wet when you can't get any wetter and you might as well just laugh.

We did see some lovely birds,

but I am sure that in years to come we will have forgotten which birds we saw and still laugh about the time we got wet through to our underwear in the Park!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The National Portrait Gallery

We had a very cultural day yesterday, visiting London's National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. The National Gallery is one of my very favourite places to be and I am often guilty of pushing the children's initial enthusiam into tired and whiney boredom by suggesting that we look at just one more painting. A Home Educating Friend had organised an Educational Talk on Medieval Paintings so my husband took my daughter to look at a few favourites and then to run round Trafalgar Square while the boys and I went on the Talk to look at three lovely paintings and learn all about them.
After this, we were pretty tired and, as we're in the middle of a very busy week, I was all for going home. My middle son very much wanted to go to the National Portrait Gallery to see Richard III (whom he believes to be a much maligned victim of Tudor conspiracy) and Oliver Cromwell (whom he despises as the destroyer of Corfe and Pembroke Castles and many stained glass windows.) My eldest was vociferous about his desire to go home. Arriving at the gallery, we were enthuastically greeted by a 'Tour and Draw' guide inviting us to join him. Excusing ourselves on the basis of flagging energy, I asked if he could direct us to the portraits we'd come to see. He kindly took us there himself, as that was the gallery he was going to, and so we ended up joining him at Sir Francis Drake to listen and, it turned out, join in. My daughter was captivated and more than enthusiastic in her questions and answers. Afterwards, the children were encouraged to draw. My middle son went off to another gallery to draw Charles I and my daughter drew Sir Francis. Even my eldest was enticed into putting pencil to paper, which is no mean feat when he's decided not to enjoy something.

Do click on the links, if you haven't yet, to see the originals. I am so proud of these pictures and the careful observations they demonstrate - the stance of both men, Sir Francis's buttons, hat and globe, Charles' legs, boots and beard.
I was surprised and pleased at how we had all been re-energized and motivated. We came home hapy and satisfied after a good day out!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Prince Caspian

We should pay close attention to the things that make us cry, for there we
are not far from the heart of God or our own.

Fil Anderson

I went to see Prince Caspian at the cinema yesterday. It was a stunning and gripping film and although it wandered far away from the narrative of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. At the end of the final scene, as the Pevensie children emerge in an underground station in war-time London, I found tears streaming down my face. Less and less do I dismiss such tears as silly and more and more do I remember the above quote and ask myself what has resonated in my heart and brought tears?

How would it be to discover that you were really a king or queen, capable of great courage and leadership, to have witnessed and partaken in momentous events, to have been gifted with and earned authority and power, only to find yourself once again a school-child? I was filled with the sadness of a passing glory. If it were me, I would want to shout it out that I was no ordinary child, but a Queen of Narnia, that I had led troops in battle, that I was not what I seemed.

Reflecting more on this, I began to wonder if such self-belief, such personal authority, such tried and tested integrity would be a hoard of secret treasure, of internal resources and produce a deep sense of specialness. Perhaps if we knew what we truly were and were truly capable of, rather than regretting the passing of one adventure, we would be relishing the next in the ordinariness of our every-day lives.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Blogging for Dummies

I finally started reading 'Blogging for Dummies' yesterday. It is full of great ideas and I discoverd a whole chapter about RSS feeds. Not that I read the chapter, mind, but I know it's there! I did read the chapter called 'Ten Cool Tricks for Making your Blog Shine' and soon felt pretty overwhelmed and inadequate - again! Twittering, Mapping, Tag Clouds, Big Footers, Digging. It conjures up images of a fantasy novel, rather than anything I will ever be able to get my head around and actually use!

In the afternoon I spent some time trying to wrestle my photos into submission. At the moment I have them all in My Pictures on the PC. Although this doesn't take up as much room, in reality it is little different from a few shoe boxes of muddled photos. I thought getting techy and downloading Picasa might help. This has had the equivalent effect of ordering re-prints of all my photos and dumping them in boxes too! I think it is a glitch on my nearing-retirement PC or technophobia on my part but I can't actually get Picasa to do anything. So I tried Photobox. After discovering that it would take 13 hours to upload my photos but that I could do it 'quickly and easily' from Picasa, if only I could get Picasa to work, I just uploaded one 'box worth'. This seemed successful. But when I got overambitious and tried to make a photobook, my internet server gave up the ghost and shut down! I really don't know if it was a server problem or that, as my husband keeps telling me, my PC is old. (It is much younger than my youngest child, but perhaps I should be thinking in terms of hamsters rather than cats!)

I know that all this technology is wonderful and I love the world of blogs and e-mails but I do struggle to keep it in its place as slave rather than slave-driver. I fantasize about being this lady - I cannot imagine her stressed because her letter-writing table had 'crashed' or she had 3o letters in her 'inbox' after a weekend away!

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Cave of the Yellow Dog

I belong to one of those online DVD rental services. It started as a free trial and then we signed up for just 2 discs a month and then it grew to unlimited discs, 2 at a time so I could run one list for my husband and me and one list for the children. I select which films I'd like to see and I get sent them in a random order. It is possible to label some as high priority, but I like the element of surprise. Most of the films on the list are just films I think will be fun to watch. Occaionsally I get a bit 'worthy' and start putting 'classics', 'gritty' or 'educational' films on the list. When they land on the doormat, I tend to feel slightly disappointed and have to make the effort to watch them.. One such film was 'Ocean's 11' : not the one with the gorgeous George Clooney, which I have seen and loved a number of times, but, in an effort to improve my film-buff rating, the 60s version with Frank Sinatra.

So, it was with a wry smile that I told the children that the latest DVD to arrive by post was a Mongolian film entitled 'The Cave of the Yellow Dog'! Yes, Mongolian! I cannot remember where I saw it recommended, but I was taken by the fact that it was made by the same people who made 'The Story of the Weeping Camel'. This I saw a while ago in a tutorial when I was still training as a Breastfeeding Counsellor. At the time I really could not see the point of it, but I have been surprised how often it has come back to mind and I have pondered what I saw. 'The Cave of the Yellow Dog' was a beautiful film and the children were absorbed. Although there was little dialogue, I did have to summarise the sub-titles occasionally for my not-yet-reading daughter. She, in particular, was engrossed in the story and in tears when the dog was left behind (but that was not the end ...) It was a fascinting insight into a lifestyle so utterly removed from our own in a gentle and engaging way and the narrative was satisfying, with climax and ending, enabling a brief resume of plot basics. The family portrayed were completely natural and although some scenes were clearly 'acted', much, I imagine, was spontaneous. Disney it was not, but I think this comment on 'Weeping Camel' sums up 'Yellow Dog' perfectly too, 'This spare film provides a visually enchanting and unique learning experience.' And, I would add, a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon with the family.

Sunday, 3 August 2008


I have just returned from 48 hours retreat at a local convent - a blissful and peaceful time.

As I settled in on Friday I took the first of many strolls around the extensive gardens and sat by a pool for a while. I hoped I might see a frog. I don't know why, I just thought I'd like to. I had a good look in the pond for the eyes just above the surface, but there was nothing. I sat on the bench, kicked off my shoes and relaxed in the sun. For a while I watched a robin take a dust bath, and then I just sat some more.

And with a plop, a frog jumped into my shoe! He paused and then continued his journey into the pond, where he sat in the cool water staring up at me, before diving deeper to rest on the bottom.

In trying so hard to find a frog, I had drawn a blank. In kicking back and sitting, he'd come right to me.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Still learning

Following on from yesterday's post, Kathy has kindly commented that she does subscribe on Google Reader. This, I'm guessing, means that it's not something I have to set up to enable people to do, which is a big relief. It also emphasises how little I understand about this subject.

As I have mentioned before, one of my mottos, since reading 'The Artist's Way', is 'It's impossible to get better and look good at the same time.' Along the same lines are 'Progress, not perfection is what we are after, ' and 'Mistakes are necessary.'

I am reminded of something that I tell expectant mothers in the Breastfeeding Classes I teach: Whenever you see a mum out and about breastfeeding with discretion and confidence, it's important to remember that she's probably been doing it a while and had plenty of practice with her little one. As they begin their breastfeeding experience, in the first few days, it is unrealistic to expect it to be as simple and easy, but that doesn't mean it won't be after a few week's practice.

I guess blogging is the same. As I read some other blogs, I notice things that I wish my blog had, but I haven't yet had the time to work out how to do. And I remind myself that some of these blogs have been going a few years now and I have plenty of time to learn.

While I was pondering what to write today, I skipped around my regular blog-reads and I came across this at Farm School:

“People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential
because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But
people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push,
stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”
I tentatively hope that the latter would describe me: willing to believe that I can still learn, still develop and still grow.

I hope, too, that this, above all else educationally, is what my children will learn about themselves.