Thursday, 29 March 2007


I haven't posted for a while as it's been hard to be positive about home education with the gloomy tail-end of winter, but with the clocks going forward bringing lighter evenings and a few days of Spring sunshine I think we're back into the swing of things.

We've had a pretty good week so far. It's Thursday, so I guess that's more like a pretty good 4 days, but I like to think of it as a week. It's called positive thinking (apparently).

Here is our week so far.


It starts with the usual morning stuff: getting dressed, breakfast, kids help feed the rabbit, our 2 chickens and the goldfish (not necessarily in that order). For ds1 it's 20 minutes of maths on the online maths programme on the pc and 10 minutes of piano practice, then play with lego or in the garden. ds1 goes to the local shop to buy a few things for me (good for his maths) - they know him well.

We're off at lunchtime to play games and meet with other home educated friends at the park. Sometimes they play chess (my 5 year old particularly enjoys this - he taught himself using a chess computer programme), while other times they run around with sticks and scream alot. Today we've brought along the go kart and a bicycle so they all take turns on these. Ds1 has in the past run a 'tuck shop' at some of the home ed meetings - he's a budding entrepreneur.

Normally after games club we'd go and spend an hour with some other home ed friends and the children would do some science or dig ditches in their garden, but the weather is so nice and the children are having so much fun we stay in the park. Then a half hour drive to piano lesson for ds1 while keeping the others entertained and home again. Ds2 catches me finishing off the sock I'm knitting and begs me to teach him to knit sometime. I promise I will, but not now. I'm not very patient at teaching things and I need to choose the right time.

Kids play a game on the pc and watch a DVD until tea time. I ask the kids to get the table ready for tea. While eating tea in theory we should be watching some of the schools programmes that we've recorded in the morning, though it doesn't always happen. I go out to our monthly home ed parents pub evening.


We get up late after my evening out. Eldest son reads a letter he's received from his home educated penfriend in Australia. His family have traveled around Australia while the father makes natural history films so the letters are always full of wonderful things - this time the penfriend has seen crocodiles and they have a python near to their house. I think about maths and piano practice, but the moment goes, and at just gone 10am we decide to join some other home educators at the sandpit at Shotover (they are meeting there at 10am and my kids still have their pyjamas on!). 40 minutes later we're pulling our wooden hand trailer down the hill to the sandpit, full of buckets and spades, trowels, towels and assorted picnic items.

About 7 parents and 15 children aged from a few months to 8 or 9 years play together in the sand and mud for several hours and in a den made of branches in the wooded area - their 'camp'. One of the parents is visiting from New Zealand with her 2 children and was herself home educated for 17 years. It's interesting to see how our children could be in 20 years time. The sun comes out, the fog clears, the company is good and we stay a further 2 hours. On the way back to the car we bump into an ex-home educated child that we know who is now at private school. He is heading towards the sandpit in his smart school uniform (I doubt if he'll be allowed to play in it) as we are leaving. We arrive home at nearly 4pm, tired and muddy, just as the school children are coming down the road from a day indoors. The advantages of home education!

Later when I'm getting dinner ready I hear ds1 practicing his latest piano piece - I didn't need to remind him. Bizarrely his reading has improved vastly since he has started piano lessons and I wonder if there is somehow a link that has been made in his brain. Before bed I continue reading 'Doctor Illuminatus' to him, a fantastic story from the library about the time travelling son of an alchemist. It fits in nicely with our medieval theme that we are covering in history, with lots of references to medieval times, but also lots of science too. We look up a few of the words in the dictionary and try and work out what the ancient 'gantry' is that they describe in the boy's magical chamber. As I read, ds1 squats on the floor and draws a picture from his imagination of the 'gantry' - a platform on a hook lifted up and down by pulleys like a crane.


After the usual getting up stuff, and a trip to the corner shop to photocopy some sheets from our history book, we start work on our history project. At the moment we're doing medieval times. Today we're looking at the arrival of Christianity to Britain and the changes to Anglo Saxon pagan beliefs. So with a 'monasteries and medieval writing' theme, the children use a book of celtic script to copy out some letters with a calligraphy pen. Eldest child draws his initial and 'illuminates' it with our gold and silver pens. It's interrupted briefly by the postman who they always welcome at the door - this time there's a package, a book for me off Ebay on philosophy of education. Often it's books we have ordered secondhand from Amazon on topics we are hoping to cover and the kids get really excited when packages arrive.

I read a little to them from a history book from the library while they're drawing. We play a section of a DVD on 'The Dark Ages', and it shows how the anglo saxons cooked their stews using super heated rocks from the fire. It's similar to the something we've seen on a Ray Mears programme we recorded. We talk about whether we could do this - how long would the rock have to be in the fire? Would it really boil a pot of liquid faster than a gas cooker? Would it have to be a certain type of rock? - and decide next time we have a fire in the garden we might try it out. I remind myself to take them to the Museum of Oxford which I remember has some medieval relics in it and to look up something about medieval art in the book I bought cheaply the previous week.

Ds2 has long since disappeared upstairs with his sister to play. Because of his age he has a shorter attention span than his elder brother and I encourage, but don't force him to do 'work'.

During lunch I phone up dh and ask him if he can get hold of some feathers suitable for making quills. Art shops would be too expensive we decide. After spending his lunch break walking around a park in Oxford he phones back and says he has found some shabby specimens from pigeons. Will those do? We have a recipe for making ink from crushed walnut shells, so maybe the kids will want to do this later in the week.

After lunch we'd usually visit their elderly grandmother (my MIL), but not today, so the children take turns playing Age of Empires II on the pc (fits in very nicely with our medieval theme!). Ds2 has taught himself to read simple words while using computer games with little input from me. Child-led/autonomous learning is really working for him.

In the background I hear him singing in an American accent 'Oh Susannah, don't you cry for me, I'm off to California with a washpan on my knee'. It's probably been influenced by the Little House on the Prairie series that I've just finished reading to his elder brother - we bought a CD with the music of Laura Ingalls and I think it may be on it. I need to play it again, so he can learn some more. The repetition of just one line of the song gets a bit wearing after a while!

I think about taking the kids swimming, but they seem happy playing and when the next door neighbour's children arrive home from school they play together, an imaginary 'training academy' game at the bottom of the garden, racing up and down and climbing the apple tree. DD1 (age 3) paddles in the paddling pool with her 8 year old brother (it's March and still a little chilly!) and then goes inside (leaving a trail of wet footprints - 'my socks are only a little bit wet') to warm up and watch a DVD. While youngest is out of the way (she likes to 'help') I sneak into the greenhouse and quickly pot up some seedlings - future plants for our allotment - and sow a few more seeds while trying to keep the chickens from getting at the plants. It's my 'time out' while everything is quiet. The children also have their own allotment plot which we are converting into a wildlife garden.

Ds2 has been crinkling paper in our paper crinkler. He compares it with a lego model he has made with cogs and a handle to see which is the most effective at the job of crinkling.

Dinner in the garden, eldest son comes and shows everyone his illuminated letter - he's very proud of his work. Another chapter of 'Doctor Illuminatus' and bed.

After several arguments about the time it takes for them to get dressed (a whole hour this morning!) we set off to the Ice Rink to meet up with some other home educators; we get cheap entry fee if we all go as a group regularly. As we leave the postman passes us a package - it's a cut-out and assemble model of a medieval town. Looks like it might be good. The kids argue in the car. I shout.

Dd1 has really taken to skating and after a few stumbles seems quite confident. I don't think it'll be long before she's skating independently (hooray! Then I'll be able to skate without having to prop up a child!). There are free skating classes on offer during the session, but my children always decline. On a few occasions I've bribed them (unsuccessfully) with the offer of chocolate if they do the lesson. This time I just say feebly 'But you could get a badge'. It seems a pathetic reason to force them to do something they have no real interest in. What I really mean is 'but it's free and you might not get another chance because we can't afford proper skating lessons and if I had the chance I'D DO IT'. But they're having fun without the lessons anyway. I make a mental note to stop expecting them to be the next Torvil and Dean. If I don't watch out I'm going to turn into one of those 'pushy parents'.

After the ice skating we race back to the car before the parking ticket runs out and drive on to an adventure playground where the kids run around like mad things, take turns on the ropes and tyres and us parents get time to sit and chat. It only rains a little, thankfully.

As we leave Ds1 gets the offer of a playmate for a few hours, so he goes home with one of the other parents. Ds2 and dd1 and I head home. Ds2 gets on the computer (Age of Empires again) and dd1 snuggles into my bed and watches a video with a bottle of milk. I spend an hour or so in the greenhouse again. After tea, the younger ones head upstairs for a bath. Ds1 starts practising piano, but is called up by dh to clear up the lego in his bedroom (shame since he is practising without being prompted). He returns a few minutes later to continue. Ds2 watches 15 minute episode of 'Astro Boy' on the DVD recorder, while I read to ds1 another chapter of 'Dr Illuminatus' while snuggled up in my bed. All in bed eventually, time to phone a friend and open the wine!

Thursday, 15 February 2007

PERNICIOUS PARENTING and the meaning of Furniture Moving

Ok, so it's been a week of little work, home education work that is. I figure since everyone else gets a week off for half term then we have a right to be rather lazy for a week too. And actually, more to the point, I really can't be a**ed this week.

I don't suppose most parents of school children will see this week as a week off. Some that I know of will visualise it as HELL ON EARTH.

The HELL ON EARTH reference is more likely to come from those with 5 year old boys - you know, the testosterone-fuelled hyperactive destructa-monsters with a 30-second concentration span, who, like something off of Dr Who are programmed to DISMANTLE , DESTROY and DISAPPEAR.

Parents with these children, well, they just have my sympathy.
Been there, done that, got the blood stains on the t-shirt.

This wont apply to those lucky parents with girls of course. Afterall, in my experience girls will quite willingly sit quietly for hours quietly doing 'creative things', while mummy drinks coffee, reads magazines, watches movies or goes to bed for a 2 hour afternoon nap.

Yes really! I know these parents! (and I hate them for it, in a nice generous way of course).

I suppose one advantage to the home educating parent of always being around their children and available to them 24/7 is that you can, quite rightfully, tell them to b****r off sometimes (in a politically-correct, child-friendly way of course). While this may lay on your conscience a short while, there is some justification for occasionally feeling the need to let rip. I personally feel that being 'on tap' to my children all day, gives me a reason - if not a right - to occasionally demand that I go for a wee without an entourage of 3 small beings trailing behind me and making bizarre requests through the bathroom door.

Call me a demanding mother, but it doesn't seem to be alot to ask for.

Of course being at home with 3 children IS 'work' and I dare anyone to do my 'job' for a month and not see it as 'work'. [Please, someone, take up the dare, I could do with a holiday]. I don't believe all those parenting books that talk of how rewarding parenting is (urggh). I just don't see it. Afterall, the job description basically states that you must be willing to work all hours, meeting all needs, with only 2 types of reward: minor satisfaction (usually at having kept your temper during the utmost provocation) and major despair (usually at having lost your temper over something really insignificant). It is of course worth mentioning the perks of the job: that rare benefit of parental gloating over some marvellous achievement of your offspring. However, this usually comes at the expense of someone else's parenting satisfaction and the self esteem of their offspring, so from a moral perspective it doesn't really count.

Still, it's work, it's a job. I sometimes think that monetary compensation for loss of sanity, sense of self and reduced libido due to the nature of the work would be nice, but hey, ho, don't I just lurve to do these wonderful rewarding things for free.


Anyway, on to less gloomy things. I have actually achieved something this week, something real and concrete. I've moved some furniture. No, don't dismiss it! It's an achievement and I like to record all my achievements, however small.

Usually triggered by a combination of boredom and visiting the house of another parent - a fantastic house which puts mine to shame - the ritual of furniture moving is a well-known phenomenon in our house. Usually it takes place in the lounge, as there are only two large pieces of furniture in this room and only 2 places they can go. It makes the moving somewhat easier and of course if we don't like it, we know that during the next furniture move (probably during the next 4-6 months) everything will be back where it started. If only parenting was that simple....

p.s. in case you were wondering about the title of this entry, the dictionary definition of 'Pernicious' is as follows:

1.causing insidious harm or ruin; ruinous; injurious; hurtful: pernicious teachings; a pernicious lie.
2.deadly; fatal: a pernicious disease.
3.Obsolete. evil; wicked.

—Related forms
per·ni·cious·ly, adverb
per·ni·cious·ness, noun
—Synonyms 1. harmful, detrimental, deleterious, destructive, damaging, baneful, noxious, malicious. 2. lethal.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Jigsaws, junk food and just learning to lower my expectations.

I feel like I should be making an entry in here today, but not sure if I can gather my brain cells together.

Monday is our busy day

It begins with the children doing some 'work' at the table in the morning and then the first of the day's activities is 'Games Club' at around lunchtime. Now, I consider this a good opportunity for the children to play games with other home educated children and generally do nice quiet educational brain-stimulating things, so that us parents can catch up on news and get a few uninterrupted moments of adult time. It's meant to be a nice treat for all of us.

So this is how the morning should go:
  • Children keen to do a bit of 'work' at the table
  • I pack a variety games, jigsaws, educational activities.
  • Children are cooperative and eager to brush teeth, put shoes on etc
  • I prepare nice wholesome things to eat.
  • We all get in the car calm and happy and on time (so as not to waste any of that precious 'adult time' that I look forward to).
  • We get to games club in plenty of time.
  • They play nice quiet games with their friends.
  • We all have a nice time.

The reality:
  • The children, using their best delaying tactics, take ages to get dressed do teeth etc
  • I rant on about how much more work those poor schoolchildren have to do each day and how lucky my children should feel to be home educated.
  • They get stroppy.
  • I get stroppy.
  • They do some rushed, resentful work at the table.
  • I realise that the rabbit hasn't been fed, I haven't had breakfast and we're going to be late.
  • I hunt furiously through the fridge trying to find something edible and quick for lunch. [Have the prepacked vegetable samosas gone furry yet? Damn! Yes they have and it's too obvious to get away with it. It'll have to be the fruit loaf again. Oh and a pack of rice cakes. No point taking any fruit - ds1 will have his tuck shop open and the kids will just want crisps and chocolate again.]
  • We dash out the door with a handful of jigsaws and I stuff them into the car (the children and the jigsaws).
  • I moan at them all the way to games club.
  • The kids avoid all the games laid out for them and instead decide to race around the hall screeching like banshees and taking turns to shut various children in the kitchen/toilets or chase each other with sticks around the playground.
  • They eat far too many crisps/chocolate/sweets that they've somehow conned me into buying.
  • They spill the drinks that they wanted me to make for them all over the jigsaws that they haven't played with.
  • They complain when we leave that they haven't had time to eat their lunch.
  • I grit my teeth, turn the car radio up loud to drown out the fighting children in the back and try to remember how 'lucky' we all are to home educate...

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Celtic axes, the snow and return of the machine

Well the Celtic business lasted a few more days and the boys made double-headed axes. Well, to be accurate, ds1 made his. Ds2 and dd1 just watched while I cursed and hacked at bits of cardboard and tore off bits of silver foil.

These axes were, apparently, the 'in thing' for Celts in, er, Celtic days. So, I guess, they went off on their Celtic pub crawls with their essential fashion item, the double-headed axe, making sure they didn't leave it on the bus on the way home. (Probably alot of axes in the 'lost and found' cupboard at the bus depot, would have made identification very difficult, maybe they had to postcode them with one of those uv highlighters).

Anyway, one thing's for sure, theirs weren't made with the inner tubes of wrapping paper, silver foil and cardboard. Would have been a bit ineffective during your average British downpour, don't you think? Instructions for making these things were a bit vague, or I was being a bit thick (probable) and we couldn't find any pictures of Celtic axe-murders to confirm the weapon's description, so we had to 'wing it' a bit. Still, the kids were impressed by my handiwork for a few minutes before they started trying to kill each other with the things.

Talking of British weather, it has been decidedly un-British today, with a heavy fall of snow during the night. Kids loved it and as soon as they were dressed they had a snowball fight with the neighbours' kids over the fence for about half an hour. The schools must have been closed as there seemed a lot of school kids around. Still, it makes ds1 appreciate being home educated - a few weeks back when we had our first heavy snowfall of the year and all the kids had to go to school he was really chuffed that he could stay out and play in it. The home education group was cancelled today, so we walked to the park and met up with some other kids to play in the snow.

ds2's life support machine has returned. The computer, which had a faulty motherboard, was whisked away to G's work for a week to be rebuilt by an IT guy. Ds2 has been pining for his soulmate ever since, but at last it has returned. And he, in true form, has returned to the grumbling sulky computer-obsessed boy we all know and love.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

A Good Night Out and The Celtic Cloaks

At last! We (a bunch of local home educators) managed to get an evening out together (Tuesday)! Hooray! Put the flags up! Roll the drums! (And all that sort of stuff....)

You might think this isn't much of a challenge, but when you spend most of your waking hours meeting the demands of other - usually small and disproportionately loud - people, it's amazing how difficult it is to remember that actually you deserve a life too.

So off we went to the pub and had a bit of a 'really, do you feel that way too?' sort of bonding session. And oh it was so marvellous to have a conversation that wasn't interrupted by wails of 'I need a wee' or 'mum, xxx just hit me' or any line that starts 'I want...' and ends with a wail when you say no. And then, to top it all, we were the last out of the pub (oohh what stamina). Perhaps we were just trying to prove a point, or perhaps we genuinely didn't want to go home 'No! Please don't send me back to the kids! I'll do anything! Just don't send me back!'

So the next morning I woke up refreshed and positive, and thinking well perhaps my life isn't so c**p after all and I am doing an ok job some of the time and at least the kids are happy even if the house looks like it's been taken over by a giant magpie with a tendancy for large shiny plastic junk, cardboard loo-roll inners and small lego-shaped items.

In fact, so positive I was today that I even got the hand sewing machine out - i.e. the thing that can make tangles out of thin air and is guaranteed to raise my stress levels even before the handle is turned. Now that's what I call brave. And (nah nah nanahhh nahhh) we made 'Celtic cloaks' to go with the theme we're doing in history at the moment (Celts, obviously). [I had to put that in bold type, just so it would draw the eye and look really impressive if anyone actually gets to read this - hey you out there, skip the rest, just read about me on the day I did a really good job of home edding and made Celtic cloaks with the kids {g}] And, not only that, I was able to -calmly - coordinate sewing interspersed with cloth pinning and brooch-making amongst 3 children without shouting once. Ok, well maybe a raised voice once or twice, but hey, that's pretty good for one of those full-on home education-type activities. And this was after I had already done some spelling and some reading with Leon (ok, I'm getting blaise - er how do you spell it?). And then....wait for it...I had another 4 children dropped off in the afternoon, so 7 children in total. Ok, ok, perhaps that was a bit crazy, but I figured if I kept moving they'd get bored trying to track me down and then be forced to play with each other. Well actually I cheated and stuck a Scooby Doo video on and that satisfied about 2 thirds of the group so the rest were able to play undisturbed (while I kept moving so they couldn't track me down...). So that's it for *Super Mummy* for a week or two, back to the grumpy one tomorrow I expect. But it was nice for the kids while it lasted...

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

The First Piano Lesson

Ds1 had his first piano lesson on Monday (bless his cotton socks...). He was so nervous. Well actually we were both nervous, though in my case I was more nervous about him bottling it at the last moment and me looking a complete plonker stood on my own saying 'er sorry..couldn't get him out of the car, couldn't prise his fingers off the door frame'. But, bless him, he did it all a treat, with his little legs dangling down in front of this huge grand piano.

The lovely gentle piano teacher, Sally, asked him what he noticed about the keyboard on the piano and ds1's reply (in true character) was, 'Well it's a lot posher than the one we've got at home' [!]. More prompting from Sally; 'er well what do you notice in particular about the white keys?' to which ds1 replies ' well these have got all the ivory on, whereas there are bits missing on the ones at home'. Sigh...there's nothing like the honesty of a child... {g}

Monday, 29 January 2007

Why The Chicken Shed?

Having 'first day of blogging' nerves [twiddles thumbs, chews the keyboard a bit], but here goes....

Why 'The Chicken Shed'?

Well, firstly we have chickens.

Secondly my kids run around and make the equivalent noise most days as a flock of chickens (or 'a flock of prairie hens' as Laura Ingalls might have put it).

And most importantly because alot of the time my house looks like a shed. I don't mean it actually looks like a wooden building with space for tool storage (though some days...) No, I'm referring more to the slang word 'shed', which when used in the context of a house, means incredibly messy. (It's equivalent to the phrase 'a pig sty' if you're from the south, like I am). It's one of those words that comes, in my experience, from people who use words like 'buggerlugs' as a term of affection (never did really get that one...)