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!