Thursday, 28 January 2010

Magical Muffins

The children have been excited about these muffins coming up for a while now. There was something about the name that put me in the mind of the hallucinogenic 60s, but the kids has no such qualms!

This is the muffins prior to their magical transformation. I have to say it was an odd muffin recipe - rubbed in and a lot of milk - and I thought the actual cake part was bland and a little heavy.
But the fun was in the decoration! All three of my children were fired up by this, even rubbing their hands with anticipation. We mixed the icing, and I tried hard to find 'messy-mama' mode as we sloshed the food colouring. The results were a riot of joy, clour and kitsch.

We stuck with the theme and had magical poems, including elves riding the underground and a nymph and a goblin arguing over moon beads. I searched on-line and discovered the delightful "A Small Dragon" by Brian Patten. If you have a minute - literally, 58 seconds - do click on the link and listen to the author himself read it. It is wistful and a little sad; something I couldn't quite catch touched me. After I had read it and we had paused a moment, my little girl wondered aloud what might have become of the dragon. I didn't know. What does become of us when we need foods others can't provide?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Milestones Museum

Today we had a day out to Milestones Museum in Basingstoke. Not somewhere I would have thought of going, but I had some Tesco vouchers due to expire at the end of the month and I wanted to use them up.
It was a fantastic place and I would have missed out on a treat if we hadn't gone. It is all under one roof, making it dry and warm and safe. After discovering how hard it is to build a viaduct,

we visited Victorian England and met the wife of an Iron Foundry owner. She told us how he had built cottages for his 200 workers and provided schooling for all the children and apprenticeships for all the boys.
The children dressed up in period costume and hit the open road, just like Toad. My own Artful Dodger!
We visited the greengrocer, the Co-op, the tobacconists and the station. Then, we hurried on to the 1930s, just through the 'Time Tunnel'.

Here we saw a sweet shop, although sadly it wasn't open for business, as well as other establishments of the time. We ended up in a display of home life from 1930 through to 1970, which was very interesting and even brought back some memories for me (who else remembers 'Multi-coloured Swap Shop'?)

"Mum, how do you use this 'phone?"!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Junior Monopoly

I was in the charity shop yesterday, trying to retrive my son's favourite joke book which I had cast out because it was too big and awkwardly shaped for my newly organised post-Christmas bookshelves, and I was lucky enough to spot Junior Monopoly. Monopoly has been growing as a family favourite since the summer and, as well as keeping us entertained, has provided many lessons in fair play and gracious losing. However, it is a long game. On Sunday we played for two hours and called it to a halt at the first bankruptcy rather than prolonging it to the bitter end. Once again we were comprehensively beaten by my six-year-old daughter who has uncanny fortune with the dice and ruthless instincts in the property arena.
The Junior version could just as easily be named 'Monopoly Lite'. Based on a fun-fair, you buy any 'amusement' you land on and immediately set up a ticket booth to charge the other players entrance fees. There is a cafe to which you can be sent back, like jail, stations which earn you an extra roll, and Chance cards bringing both blessings or loss. A whole game with three of us took just less than half-an-hour and my youngest two were well able to play a second game without adult help. While it wouldn't fit the bill for a serious afternoon's gladitorial game-playing, for a low time commitment option or for the children to play with their friends it was perfect.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Target Setting

One of the things that Graham Badman wants to see in Home Education is target-setting. As the parent-educator, I should, he believes, be aiming each year towards certain measurable goals and I should be able to prove that my children have reached them. The problem is that I have no idea what my children will learn today, let alone over the next year. The beauty of the freedom that is Home Ed is that I can let the children explore and lead wherever they would like. I am often asked if I follow a curriculum and sometimes I answer, too flippantly, that I make it up as I go along. This, of course, merely confirms to some that the education of my children should not be left in the hands of one so disorganized and unplanned. But the truth it is that I couldn't possibly plan it, and when I try to, I find that unhelpful pressures which undermine both learning and relationship are introduced.
Take this morning. Monday morning, experience has taught me, is the best time for maths. A crisp, clear and purposeful start to the week. I have tried various approaches with maths, but what has worked well for the last two years is a simple workbook covering all the topics which would be studied in the relevant year at school. If it's easy, great, twenty minutes and we're done for the week. If it's a harder, we spend a bit of time figuring it out together. I'm happy that we've had sight of everything they would do in school. They are happy that we don't spend too much time on maths. Once the book is done, ususally around March, that's it for the year. This year I even managed to buy books from the same series for all three of the children so we could stay on the same 'lesson' and keep step.
This morning, middle son was looking at shapes and the last question asked him to draw all 8 different nets for a cube. A tall order! I found a web-page with a whole bunch of nets, not all of which would work. Click on the right ones, they coloured in, click on the wrong, a pop-up explained why. I left him happily predicting and clicking until he had found all 8. I also found a site with nets not only for cubes, but for the other platonic solids. I printed these onto some stiff paper and gave them to him, thinking how much this kinesthetic boy would enjoy some construction. However, this reminded him of his card model Globe Theatre, which he started in the Christmas holidays, and he fetched that and built for a while. Elder son was delighted with the nets and spent the rest of the the morning cutting and sticking and is most pleased with the results. (While all this was going on, daughter designed a village complete with church and house for the vicar. The church, of course, had a table for biscuits and a trampoline in the garden! Such an insight into her priorities!)
How could I have planned such an activity? Had I looked ahead I might have seen the question on cubes, perhaps found the web-page, maybe even pre-printed the nets. But I could not have predicted the mood, the interest. Had I prepared resources I would have had more invested in my children using them and I would have put pressure on them to do what I had planned. This creates resisitance and resentment and crushes learning. Better to let it flow, to trust and to make it up as I go along, no matter how flippant it may appear!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Two lovely afternoons

Wednesday saw us continuing our journey through my cook-book. We have reached: My son was particularly impressed with the topping, a simple mix of lemon juice and demerara sugar. He was delighted with the way the juice soaked in leaving the crunchy sugar crystals on the top.
He declared them to look like salt mines, and 'sparkly'. They tasted good too.
We had a surprise visitor, and I don't think he quite knew what to make of Poetry Tea, but he pitched in with a couple of limericks from memory and was impressed both with muffins and eldest son's home-penned poem.

We had an unexpected free afternoon yesterday and I offered it up to the children to choose what we did. Middle son was very keen to bake, alone. The other two denied him permission to move on in the cup-cake and muffin book, as those recipes are for Poetry Tea alone if it's the first time their made, but we did find butterfly cakes, a simple sponge mixture we've all made countless times, and he was allowed to make them. They were perfect: light and fluffy and cooked just enough. Quite a skill for a nine-year-old.
There was nearly an hour with middle son cooking, eldest on the computer typing his novel and scouring the net for Doctor Who trivia and little girl collecting stones and making her own garden outside. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. I'm not too sure what area of any recognisable curriculum they were covering, but they were all purposefully engaged and yet I wasn't required.
The other request was for Freewriting, another Bravewriter idea, so, with tea and butterfly cakes they wrote and then drew while I did my jigsaw.
Learning, relationship, cake. Sounds good to me!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

That elusive schedule

I had a review of how I spend my day over the Christmas break. I realised that the children are ready to 'start' earlier than they used to be, that we could get our day going by 9:30, if I cut out my blog time. Easy, I thought, I'll be all done by 4pm and blog then. It's not really working out. I just don't feel inspired at that time in the afternoon, and I'm already thinking about the evening meal. Perhaps life is a little clearer first thing, a bit muddier by the time the day is done. So the blog is getting slotted in, and often I feel a sense of pressure through the day as I try to think up something to post about, something light and witty and yet with something to chew on. (I'm like it with running too. I love it, I really do, but it's best first thing in the morning, before I have time to dread it.)
The whole pattern of the week can be like that. I took the children ice-skating last Friday and discovered that there were some spaces on the Home Ed beginner lessons. Perfect! So, I've scrubbed our weekly swim and added skating instead. But Friday was for Tea-time, so that will have to be Wednesday, which doesn't feel that same. I have an appointment tomorrow, so we can't do French. I moved it to Monday, but the children didn't feel like it, so we did our Christmas gift Science experiments instead, and slated French for Friday morning.

I try to be flexible, and life keeps throwing up those schedule-slashing moments, (like a friend phoning and asking to drop in - only if you bring a poem!) but I would love to have a time-table, just like they do in 'proper' school. No difficult decisions about what to do with tired children or an unexpectedly sunny, or snowy, day or when resistance is high or energy levels (theirs or mine) low. You do what it says, because it says so, and that's that. I feel as if I'm on a fairground ride, it's supposed to be fun, it often is, but sometimes I feel dizzy.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The Weekend

A very dear friend of mine had the three children over to her home on Friday night for a 'sleepover' and then again on Saturday afternoon. They had a great time, watched Disney films, stayed up late and just hung out. On Friday evening, I felt under a certain amount of self-generated pressure to 'make the most' of the time. What could I do that I wouldn't be able to if the children were home? By the time we'd done a few bits and bobs of admin, it was the children's usual bed-time and I fretted that we wouldn't really feel the benefit of this most precious gift. I sat a the table, completing a jigsaw, chatting with my husband and listening to cheesy Friday night music while he created a delcious rissotto. We ate with 'Frasier', an old US sit-com we loved in our pre-children days. I got an early night.
I woke on Saturday thinking, 'Is it Monday morning?' - I felt as rested as if I had had a whole weekend. No, not Monday, not even Sunday, but only Saturday!
In the afternoon, when the children were back at my friend's, following her marathon training long run and their film club, we flopped on the sofa with 'Hancock' and chocolate. We had wanted to go on a walk in the Surrey Hills, but the forecast was for rain so we'd made alternative plans. Although it was dull and cold, it wasn't actually raining and my disappointment tipped me off that I didn't really want to walk that much so we stayed in. I was fearful that we were wasting time, that we should be doing something more 'useful' and 'productive' with this free afternoon. However, relaxing, just being, spending time with my husband, has been wonderful and I feel refreshed and ready for another full on week of Home Ed!

Friday, 15 January 2010

The First Flowers

When I first moved into this house, a friend commented on the Hellebores in the garden. She told me how lovely they are when they bloom in January, just when you've had enough of the garden being so drab and dead from the winter. In the blazing heat of that July, I didn't really understand. Now, I do.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Sticky Muffins

As I have said before, Poetry Tea-time is a vital part of our Home Ed week. This year I have been inspired by my daughter's Christmas gift of a muffin and cup-cake cook-book and I have determined to work my way through it. Today, it was Sticky Muffins. Middle son refused to have anything to do with anything that contained dates, but the rest of us had fun.

Not high in the beauty stakes, they were delicious.Middle son still would not try even a bite,but enjoyed a cookie and read us some Michael Rosen poetry.
We also shared some A.A. Milne (The King's Breakfast is one of my favourites as I love to do all the voices: King, Queen, Dairymaid and Alderney cow) and a couple from an anthology of poems inspired by the senses: donkeys' large ears and all that they can hear, and if you were a chocolate, would you eat yourself?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

More snow!

I had just about had enough. The pavements have been slippery, preventing me from my stress-relieving and head-space provideing running. The roads have been an unsightly mixture of slush and ice. The car is filthy. And this morning we woke to fresh snow! Although it didn't seem to me any better than last week's, local schools didn't close and Wednesday church was not cancelled. I brushed off the car, loaded in three children and two neighbours and we set off. My middle son did the reading and we all enjoyed some cake, some tea, chatting with our friends and looking at a different four walls!
We have come home to play in the snow, an alternative to our planned swimming trip. I think I can pass this off as both PE and art!
Plans for the afternoon? Hot chocolate and a film, cosy and warm!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


One thing I plan to do more of this term is copy-writing. This is an idea I first came across from my friend Jean when she introduced me to Bravewriter and I have done in fits and starts for a while. I even took one of Julie's classes on copy-writing last year, but still have not really incorporated it in anything like a regular way. The course was inspiring and full of good ideas, but I think I began to think of copywork as a big thing and felt intimidated. This term, I have decided, I am going to change that. We will do a little every week and gradually I will refresh my memory of what I learned on the online course, I will re-read the relevant sections of the Bravewriter manual "The Writer's Jungle" and I will work my way in to all that this discipline can be.
I was pleased with myself this morning. I had been on the look-out for interesting passages in our chapter books all last week and had selected a fifteen word sentence lyrically describing a bumble-bee for my six-year old. With hindsight, it was verging on being too long for her, but it contained a good mix of words which she could spell phonetically, some high frequency words which she needs to know by sight and a couple of longer words to help her track back and forth. My middle son copied a short piece on skunks, inspired by reading "On the Banks of Plum Creek". The sentences I chose had an interesting mix of punctuation (a semi-colon, a dash and commas in a list), capitalized place names and words ending -ed, which he struggles with. I had my eldest, confident with writing and language, copy a French poem. This provided not only more demanding copying practice (no relying on words he knows) but also seeded a discussion on how French and English words are similar, the French verb 'to hold' relating to our word tenacious.
I lit a candle, rubbed shoulders, encouraged breaks to run up and down the stairs, enjoyed their illustrations and backed off when they said they were done. I told them how much I looked forward to us all being able to write together, when they needed less of my support and how we would all have journals and fountain pens and copy passages we loved from the books we were reading. I think they were excited too, and I think this morning we took a step towards that dream.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Snow Visitors

Due to the snow we have been treated to the sight of a small flock of redwings and fieldfares around our garden. These colouful thrush-cousins first came yesterday to the tall walnut trees behind our back fence but have now discovered the heavily berry-laden bushes across the road. I have spent much of this afternoon with my binoculars trained on my neighbour's front lawn and I do hope that she does not think I am spying! It is a joy to be able to see some unusual birds close up from the comfort of my own kitchen. The crowd of birds is around ten to fifteen strong and it is delightful to see them pull the orange and red treats from the branches and swallow them whole. Seeing them together it is very easy to tell the difference: fieldfares are noticeably larger and have much grumpier faces, they also lack the red patch which gives their companions their name. I would like to try to tempt them into our own, berry-free garden and the field-guide I have suggests they are fond of 'windfall apples'. Not having any windfalls, I fear that it may be a bit of waste to throw out the fresh, supermarket variety, and not very popular with my budget conscious husband or my fruit-eating son. Perhaps I will just go fill the bird-bath with water and put out some bread-crusts and sunflower seeds.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Chocolate Muffins

We have just enjoyed our first Poetry Tea-time of 2010. I lit one of my Christmas candles and brewed the tea my new tea-pot, a gift from my husband which matches my charity shop tea-cup and saucer. My daughter bought me a Muffin and Cup-cake cookbook for Christmas (with the printed warning that adult supervision may be required) and we used it to make Chocolate Muffins. She chose it herself while in the Garden Centre with her dad and was excited by her find and told him that I could use it to bake for poetry tea. It is gratifying to me that this is such a fixed feature in her mind: something that we do and will keep doing and that is good to do. I plan to work through the book systematically and bake each recipe in turn, even the odd sounding ones (although I will have to give anything containing banana a miss.) Each child chose two poems, all old favourites, and again I am pleased that my children have such a thing as favourite poems. My little girl, a not-yet reader, recited the first verse of 'The Owl and the Pussy-Cat' and asked for a Pam Ayres as her second choice. I dared to read 'Snake' by D.H. Lawrence, a poem I am very fond of but have thought too long for the children to listen to, and they sat quiet and said they liked it. Dad joined us as he is off school due to snow again and, as the muffins were quite small, we had two each. Poetry tea may not take very long, it certainly wouldn't fill and afternoon of school, but I cannot imagine a better or richer experience. Next week, it's Sticky Muffins.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Snow, causing that great tear between routine and spontaneity. Am I the only one who feels like this? My main goal this week was to firmly re-establish the pattern of our home-ed day following the upheaval of the Christmas break and and the gradual break-down of order at the end of last term. My husband was supposed to go back to school today, but it is closed, and so are the local schools so my little girl has a friend round to play. Youngest two children and neighbour's child are in the garden (along with reluctant cat) and husband is doing the crossword (which I do think of as mine). I, however, had plans to do maths, start French and read our chapter books today. The condition of the transport network don't affect us as we weren't planning on going anywhere. I am trying to be flexible, I am trying to enoy the looks on their faces, I am trying to relax about it all. Perhaps I should use the unexpected free time to practice yoga!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A Good Sort Out

It seems a good time of year to tidy up. There are all the new presents to be homed, the new books to be shelved and all the new clothes to be put away. The problem is, of course, all the other stuff that we have. Yesterday I conquered my sons' clothes drawers. Bagfulls of too small, too dirty and just-not-liked garments exited our house, to the recycling or the charity shop depending on their state. Forgotten items, one or two even still had the labels on, were discovered at the bottoms of drawers and the son who frequently wears his shorts, even in this weather, because he 'has no trousers' found a couple more pairs buried and inherited a couple more from his taller brother.
Too confident and flushed with success, I over-reached myself this morning. Children were set-off simulaneously to tidy bedrooms (youngest two) and to start sorting all the over-size books (eldest). Less than an hour into the morning, I had bags of rubbish, recycling and charity shop donations littering the landing, it was impossible to walk across the lounge due to the piles of 'history' or 'science' or 'animal and bird' books and I had developed a thumping headache! However, in an effort which felt similar in proportion to Creation itself (well, almost) order was brought forth from chaos. The children's bedrooms are clear and I can get to the television again. I will have to live for a few days with four cardboard boxes of books, still categorised but not yet returned to shelves.
For me the achievement wasn't so much the tidiness, calming and beautiful though I find it, but the fact that no-one got shouted at and I was able to leave the job unfinished!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Happy Birthday

It was my middle son's birthday yesterday. This year, more than previous years, it just seemed too close to Christmas and I found it hard to get really enthusiastic. I was anxious that the day wouldn't really be special, but he told me, as he went to bed, that he had had a lovely day. We had gone to church in the morning and the talk was on family, bringing up kids in particular. With our own particular filters, my husband had heard much that he felt congratulations on, stuff we do well, whereas I found much that we don't do, or that I wish we did better. Our vicar talked of traditions, family rituals, those ways of doing things that are special and anticipated. Birthday cake for breakfast is part of our family celebrations and I always write each child a special card with words of affirmation both for what they have done and who they are. I love to see their faces as I read these out to them and I hope that they will provide a document of their achievements and progress as well as tangible evidence of our love for them in the years to come.