Wednesday, 30 December 2009

What we like about Christmas...

New pyjamas:

Homebaked Christmas food, prepared under hygenic conditions:

Conversation and old-fashioned family games, played around the table:

The Christmas trimmings:

Frugality, ecofriendliness and non-commercialisation:

Family gatherings and social interaction:

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A brief overview of how to home educate

I found the piece below on the website Pioneer Women .

Just a note to us Brits, I know it uses the terms, 'Homeschooling' rather than 'home education', and unschooling' rather than 'autonomous education', and yes 'mom' instead of 'mum' (for some reason that's the most annoying). BUT it says pretty much what I would have said, if I ever got away from cleaning the toilet (or should that be restroom?) and got around to saying it. By-the-way, the home educator writing the piece refers to herself in the third person as 'Mrs G', just in case you were a bit confused.

"If Mrs. G. had to describe herself under the current homeschooling labels she would have to say she is an unschooler who makes her kids do math whether they want to or not. Mrs. G. felt her main job was making sure their house was filled to the brim with good books (hello garage sales and Goodwill) on all kinds of subjects, helping her kids identify their passions and figure out how to explore them on a budget, teaching them life skills at an early age so that they understood the concept of teamwork and that Mrs. G. was not a maid or servant or ATM machine. And loving them.

Mrs. G’s highly subjective opinions regarding homeschooling small fry:

* Homeschooling isn’t for everyone—if it doesn’t appeal to you, don’t do it, because it will probably not go well. It is a huge responsibility and, like all things, there are peaks and valleys. At least three times a year, Mrs. G. accosts Mr. G. at the door and tells him that she is driving the kids to school the very next day, because she can’t take it anymore and she is ruining the kids and their futures, and she is just over it. And what does it take to get some time alone around here. And then she goes somewhere by herself for a few hours and recovers. Take homeschooling on a year-by-year basis. If Mrs. G’s kids had expressed a genuine interest in public school, she would have let them go in a second. Mrs. G. is all about choices.

* Most beginning homeschoolers, in their enthusiasm, bite off more than they can chew and try to do too much which leads to burnout for everyone. For the first five grades Mrs. G. focused on reading to her kids, having them read to her and learning the basics of elementary math. All other subjects like science and history were explored through good books or books on tape, good PBS shows, good magazines, good cooking, good yard work, good playing and good cleaning of bathrooms.

* It makes a huge difference to be part of a like-minded homeschool group or homeschool co-op. Mrs. G’s kids have taken many classes on things that are more difficult to do at home—foreign language, drama, singing, dancing and band. Mrs. G. has done a lot of bartering for lessons and classes. Her kids have participated in parent partnership programs in the public school system. They have volunteered at food banks and the humane society; there are so many community resources out there. You just have to look around and talk to other homeschooling moms.

* Don’t buy the whole socialization issue—Mrs. G. had to put the brakes on some social activities, because she was spending too much time in the car. Of all the BS homeschooling myths out there, Mrs. G. thinks this is the lamest. Also, all children are gifted, so try not to get caught up in that whole homeschool genius thing.

* Don’t rush out and spend a ton of money on a full curriculum—one size rarely fits all and many kids find them painfully boring.

* A child’s main job should be to play. Encourage playing alone—a most excellent result of occasional boredom and not being over-scheduled.

* If you are unable to stick to a schedule, you are probably doing things right.

* Learning takes place all of the time. And it is shocking how much younger siblings absorb as you read or discuss things with your older child. Mrs. G. didn’t know her son could read until he asked what “employees only” meant, and she realized he was reading off doors. He was an early reader; Mrs. G’s daughter was not.

*Follow your own instincts and take all advice with a grain of salt (even Mrs. G’s!) No one knows your kid better than you do. "

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The little things that change our lives

We have a birthday boy in the house. Ds1 is 11 today.
I even lashed myself into a frenzy and baked and decorated a chocolate cake:
(ds2 made the lego 'drum kit' to go on the top)
And then a not-very-flattering photo of an excited boy who has just been given a mobile phone for his birthday:

I can't believe my little boy is 11!
And what a wonderful 11 year old he is - bright, articulate, polite, funny, cheeky, interesting, inquisitive and everything you could want in your child.
And to think that it was all because of him that we started our home educating journey all those years ago. It was because of him that I was there, in the lunch hour at my full-time job, looking on the internet for education alternatives (he was only 2 at the time!). And because of him that I stood up to all the 'good advice' from those around me and chose to delay his entrance into school. It was the start of a whole new lifestyle.
I wonder how different things might have been if we'd chosen to send him to school. A small boy, bright and inquisitive, always moving, always asking questions, unable to cope with large groups, with all his little quirks and characteristics. I wonder how long he would have survived in a class of 25, having to sit down, having to do what he was told, be quiet, listen, queue, wait. My guess is we would have been looking at a diagnosis, or he would have just vanished into the crowd, unseen, an unhappy little boy. Square peg round hole.
Instead we ended up home educating. Not just him, but two more children. I gave up full-time work (i.e. career, income, status etc) and became the one thing I was determined never ever to be, a stay-at-home mum and housewife.
But on days like this, looking at him, it was worth it. My big boy.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The pitfalls of parenting with non-performing progeny

I acquired some black 'skinny jeans' for free from the local swap shop and ds1 has been living in them for a fortnight now. For the first time ever we have found a pair of jeans that actually fit his legs (and almost his waist when hauled in with a belt!). When teamed with a hoodie and with his long dark hair hanging out he looks like some youff or some mini punk rocker! As he says, 'I'm practising being a teenager'.

It's very cute. Cute that he's playing at being older than he is. Testing it out without having to live it. Yet. But it does make me realise how fast my just-11 year old is growing up and how soon things around us will all be changing. We are on the edge of unknown territory and I'm so hoping that the path over the cliff edge is gentle and with a mild gradient!

At the home ed group on Thursday some of the children put on a Christmas play. Not my children though. Public performance and my children don't tend to mix. Not that I haven't know, encouragement, gentle persuasion, bribery, and-er-shoving to the front of the stage, stapling their feet to the floor and running away. (Yes even attempts at Pushy Mum persona have been to no avail).

I sometimes wonder how many plays and performances I have sat through that included other people's children, (but not mine). Ds1 sobbed and screamed through 4 years worth of nativity plays at nursery, finally managing to get on stage in his 5th year as a king, (chucking his present at the baby Jesus and legging it as fast as he could off the stage!). Ds2 managed to briefly trudge across the stage as a Gruffalo one year at the Christmas preschoool play, but his first was also to be his last performance. And dd? Well she refused to even entertain the thought of being in a Christmas play. And having the wisdom of a tired mother of 3 I didn't try to persuade her otherwise.

So there I was on Thursday, yet again watching other people's children performing in a play. It would be rude not to watch of course, but without sounding uncharitable I'd much rather watch my own children doing something. Wouldn't you? Another parent in a similar predicament tried to reassure me. 'Well there's a distinct lack of my children up there too,' she said. And then we consoled ourselves with the thought that at least our children hadn't disrupted the play. No, they'd actually been quiet, hadn't wrestled each other to the floor, walked in front of the cast, made rude noises or shouted. We have such low expectations, but, you know, sometimes you just have to give praise where praise is due (and hang on to the small blessings because there aint any big ones coming soon :) )

At the same home ed group we made some Christmas garlands. Dd threaded some popcorn. Well, to be acurate, she supervised me threading popcorn...sometimes I wonder if I have 'slave' tattooed in invisible ink on my forehead (only visible by children). Anyway, back to popcorn string; I was just thinking it would be a nice addition to our Christmas tree, then I turned my back for a minute. When I turned around I saw...

Needless to say, it didn't make it to the Christmas tree :)

We woke up on Thursday to find this:

No, not a child with an oversized mother-knitted crazy jumper!

I mean the snow! Yes snow! Ok, I know it's only a little snow. But it's still snow.

And here are our chucks wondering what all that cold white stuff is (the smaller one at the front is the 'chick' we hatched this year)

So just a little sprinkling of snow. Most of it melted, but a few patches remained, turned icy and hazardous and then topped themselves up with some soggy sleet today. So it's slippy out, but not really snowman material yet. It's funny to have snow so near to Christmas, unusual, kinda nice, in an unexpected way.

So are you all ready for Christmas?

I tackled Tescos today and it was manic, frenzied. 'But there's still 4 days to go yet!' I wailed (not out loud you understand, because then they'd find out the truth about me). I had to stock up on some birthday tea items for ds1 tomorrow and thought I'd get most of the Christmas food at the same time. Big spend. And it's only us to feed. How does that happen? Ah well, at least we'll be able to live on wine and crisps for the next 10 days. A balanced diet.

Friday, 18 December 2009

We've all been laid low by colds, coughs and - in my case - some sort of throaty earry headachey energy-draining hurty thing, so this post has taken about 3 days to come together.

I'm still avoiding the idea that I might need to make a doctor's appt, and instead I'm topping myself up with decongestants and painkillers and getting very familiar with the sofa. [Doctors and hairdressers come in the same category for me i.e. professions to avoid unless there is absolutely no alternative.] With ds1's birthday in 2 days time and Christmas snowballing towards us I may have to concede that I need to be off the sofa and functioning as a mother and organiser and birthday-and-Christmas make happener asap. Cos you know what it's like don't you? If us women don't MAKE it happen, then it just doesn't happen. Social niceties and all that; that's what we were created for. Men were created to avoid communication, start wars and take things apart and women were created to clear up the mess (physically and metaphorically), put everything back together, and make everyone a nice cup of tea and some scones afterwards.

Ok, ok, maybe not. But I'm yet to find a man who actually 'does' Christmas. Would family celebrations of Christmas and birthdays have actually died out if it wasn't for women? I sometimes wonder...

Anyway, talking of birthdays. We had an early birthday party for ds1. His idea, an open mic session for his friends and their families. We hired a hall and I ran around panicking about how I was going to feed lots of people and then, in the end, the evening went very well. With several guitarists, drummers, vocalists and a ukelele player the evening's entertainment was provided and we all ate hot dogs, gateaux and crisps. Here is ds1 on dh's purple guitar, with one of his friends:

And here are some catch-up photos. Our local 'switching on the Christmas lights' evening, when all the museums open late and there is entertainment (sometimes rather random) till late.

The kids waiting for the lantern parade, cameras ready:

The lantern parade:

Our local museum has been 'revamped' and reopened. Here are lots of museum visitors on the newly created stairs, looking down and listening to a community choir:
The community choir:

On the Christmas lights evening we had a look around a display of 'Steampunk' art creations at another local museum. Fabulous stuff. I'd never even heard of steampunk before, but if you want to know more check out the wiki info here

More catchup. ..ds2 dressed up for his first ever cub sleepover weekend (Peter Pan theme). Despite some pre-weekend wobbles he survived fine!

A trip to a science museum with a few other home ed families. Dd never got further than the water area, spending nearly 3 hours just playing in the water.

Dd1 has been doing more modelling at a home ed group. Creating scenery for warhammer, or - in his usual entrepreneurial way- making parts for the other kids scenes and then selling them to them!

The boys went with some other home edders for a snowboarding lesson:

And ds2 was 'invested' at cubs:

He reckons he's going to sew on all the badges himself!
There's lots more to post, but best to get this lot up before my laptop battery flags completely.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Classical Chickens

I wasn't allowed to watch The Muppets when I was a kid, but did a fair amount of catching up in adulthood.

If you like chickens...or even if you don't, you gotta love this.

I love my Crocs

I love my crocs.
Yes, they are ugly.
Yes they have become some sort of weird fashion - or anti-fashion? - statement.
Yes EVERYONE seems to have been wearing them over the Summer.
BUT the best and most marvellous thing about crocs is that dog poo doesn't stick to them.
3 times - yes 3 times! - I stood in dog poo as I was hanging out the washing today. And it didn't stick. Not one bit. Not even the lumps that had melted all squidgy after the rain and frost.
I love my crocs.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Ding dong (couldn't think of a better title)

Oooh...did I sound a bit Bah Humbug yesterday?Sorry. Winter gloom 'n' all that.

Well, Advent Calendars up. Kids offered to fill them with chocolate coins. I noticed that dd has stuffed several of her pockets with more than one coin...I wonder how long it will take for the boys to cotton on to this. Got the kids' Christmas trees down from the loft (a couple of years ago I bought them little ones for their room for some strange reason which I've now forgotten). I'm yet to get the rest of the decorations out of the loft. Perhaps that's because I don't feel quite ready yet: I like the house to be at least part tidy and decluttered before it has the optical overload of tinsel, lights and streamers.

I've wrapped some presents. Still a fair few to go. Best to do these things in short bursts. I still have a few things to buy/make, but getting there. I'm knitting hats at the moment, hoping to do the kids two each (different colours), which I will sew together to make one single thick reversible hat. Well that's the theory. I'm using double thickness of some skinny-but-nice wool from our local scrapstore (I think it's Rowan, so yes, it's nice) and a pattern for hats knitted with chunky wool. Well with different thickness yarn and pattern the sizing is a bit hit-and-miss, but hey, the good thing about wolly hats is that they stretch! So one hat finished (sort of blue-grey with coloured flecks in it) and one on the needles (green with coloured flecks). Deadline approaching.

And I' ve made a load of candles. Well dd and I have made candles. They do look quite cool. Now I just need to persuade the boys to sew some material gift bags together for me to pop them in.

All in all, not bad in the preparation department.

Will post up some photos soon.

p.s. just found a wonderful blog with a fab idea for making pixie hats, really simple and quick. Look here for instructions :
with more pictures in this post:

Now how's about that for a Christmas present!

Not sure my mum and dad would wear one (or even the kids), but they look so fab I might make myself one!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The C word.

Christmas of course! (whatever else it was you were thinking, wipe that thought off right now!)

For the past 3 weeks the kids have been nagging me to get the advent calendars up, and yes, in true form, the advent calendars are still in the loft. Well, except for the one that needs mending which is still in the pile in my bedroom, awaiting repair.

Long ago when ds1 was little I protested about buying advent calendars each year and instead purchased material calendars with little pockets that I fill with little chocolate coins. In my day of course, we didn't have anything as luxurious as chocolate coins inside our advent calendars and had to settle with being excited about opening a cardboard door to see a little picture inside. You know the thing, robins, angels, a piece of holly, something weird that might or might not have been a donkey. And there was always a baby Jesus in a manger behind no.24 door (yawn). Often we would peek at days that we weren't meant to have opened and then try and close the door again so noone would notice. Sometimes we would peek at each others and then moan because the other sibling had a better picture in no.17 (or something similar). We even kept advent calendars from one year to the next, so we'd have the excitement of seeing all the same pictures again...and again...and again...until the cardboard doors fell off. You have to understand that we lived in a small village in the country and there wasn't a huge amount of entertainment :)

But this is now a fast-paced world, where even my kids (and I) have succumbed to the wonders of the computer, digital tv, the Wii and nintendo ds. For the past 2 years I've done pretty much all my Christmas shopping on the internet now. Mind you, if you've ever tried doing 'secret' Christmas shopping in a busy shop with 3 children in tow, then you'll understand the temptation of the internet (oh the strained life of a home educator - without the luxury of free nationally-sponsored child care) . Not to mention how much easier it is to compare prices online (remember the days when we actually had to visit all those high street shops to compare the prices of what we wanted to buy??).

But does this internet shopping save me money? Well yes. And no. Mostly no. I mean, there's almost TOO much choice when I look online. And then when I visit sites such as the fabulous and see all those bargains and vouchers, well, in the end I probably spend just as much, if not more. But at least I can do it without small child pulling on my sleeve, or begging for sweets, or pushing ALL the buttons on ALL the electronic toys in the aisle, or decided to rampage through the photo booth and climb on the Thomas the Tank engine toddler ride (and that's just my 10 yr old!).

Now where was I? Oh yes, Christmas.

I think I need to summon up the energy to put decorations up. Normally I've peaked by now and am well up for a bit of tinsel and baubles, but winter drabness has settled in with its usual symptoms.

And it's probably not helped by me being here at work, where their idea of decorating for Christmas is to hang some old CDs ('Index to Legal Periodicals' in case you wanted to know) in front of my desk on skinny red plastic ribbons. Every now and then I get the irresistable urge to blow at them and send them waving around...ok, I confess, I'm actually attempting to tangle them, but with no success so far. Oh, and there's also a poor scrawny artificial tree that has been drowned in those little tinsel strips and some depressed-looking baubles. Is it possible for baubles to look depressed? Trust me, yes.

Anyway, soon I'll be home and perhaps I might even get around to mending that advent calendar...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Catch up - halloween, fireworks, capoeira, and other stuff!

Ok, ok, so I haven't blogged for AGES (smacked hand, naughty naughty).

Which means

ta ta ta da da da daa daaaaah...

I'm due one of those mammoth catch up posts. I posted the photos a few days ago, but didn't get around to writing the blurb. So, here goes:

(Me, looking gorgeous):
(Cub fireworks night)

Too noisy!

An annual event when ds1 and ds2 play Capoeira with Brazilian masters to earn their next belt.

Dd sewing felt teddy bears:

Dd helping me make candles with our freebie candle-making set from the Swap Shop:

(Guess what eveyone's getting for Christmas this year?)

Ds2 finally finished his James Watt steam engine. If you look closely you'll see that it's held together with double sided tape and pins and a few (non-religious) prayers.

Now we just have the Viking settlement and medieval town to start (remind me not to buy any more of these cut out cardboard kits in future...arghhh!)

Dd1 has been making loads of films on his camera and creating all sorts of interesting items for his warhammer scenery (most of which are part assembled on my conservatory table...). He doesn't really play warhammer, but likes making the scenery.

And ds2 showing off his natural ability with technology again, while his mother disappears down the other end of the hall and feigns complete ignorance...well actually I didn't need to feign it :)

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Badman is a badman indeed...Badman and Nektus

Ok, so we were under no illusions that Badman was at all independent, but some interesting revelations are revealed in the 'Freedom in education under threat' blog
here for more)

"During the review process, Home Educators have obviously been very interested in finding out what professional interests Mr Badman holds, especially given that we have been told time and again that he, and therefore his review, are *independent*. Many home educators were surprised to find that an independent review into Home Education could be carried out by a former teacher, former head of children's services, and current chair of BECTA. Whilst looking into Mr Badman's professional interests, it was discovered that he was listed as the director of an Education Management company by the name of Nektus..."

Truth is stranger than fiction

Don't you just love weird news..?

Back From The Dead: Man Attends Own Funeral

A bricklayer who was thought to have been killed in a car crash shocked his grieving family by showing up alive at his own funeral.

Relatives of Brazilian Ademir Jorge Goncalves, 59, had identified him as the victim of a Sunday night car crash in the southern state of Parana, police said.

As is customary there, the funeral was held the following day, which happened to be the holiday of Finados, when Brazilians visit cemeteries to honour the dead.

What family members did not know was that Mr Goncalves had spent the night at a lorry park talking to friends over drinks of a sugarcane liquor known as cachaca, his niece Rosa Sampaio revealed later.

He did not get word about his own funeral until it was already happening Monday morning.

The bricklayer then rushed to the funeral to let family members know he was not dead, a police spokesman in the town of Santo Antonio da Platina said.
"The corpse was badly disfigured, but dressed in similar clothing," said the police spokesman.
"People are afraid to look for very long when they identify bodies, and I think that is what happened in this case."
Mr Goncalves' niece added that some family members were not sure the body was that of the bricklayer.

"My two uncles and I had doubts about the identification," she said.

"But an aunt and four of his friends identified the body, so what were we to do? We went ahead with the funeral."

The body was correctly identified later Monday, the police spokesman said, and has already been buried in another state.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

We are not hidden!

The early findings into research on home educated children's social contacts are here which demonstrate that the assumption that home educated children are 'hidden' is laughable.

In fact the term 'home education' is a bit of a misnomer; many HE children spend a large proportion of their time out of the home: learning in the community, mixing with people of all ages. How easy is it to cram in a social life if you are restricted to 15 minutes playtime at school, or in the hour squeezed between getting home from school/homework and tea-time/bedtime?

The schools around here are currently on half term, so we are trying to arrange playdates with my children's friends who are school children; many of the school kids are booked up all week, trying to meet all these friends that they share a classroom with, but never actually get a chance to play with. And people think that home educated children have limited socialisation..?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

This watched pot did boil (Unplugged Project of the week)

Here's our unplugged project (yay! we''ve finally done one, AND a week early!). The theme was


We didn't do a craft activity, we did a science observation

wait for it...




We watched a saucepan of water boil!

Whoo Hoo!

What's that got to do with change? Well, changing states of water, of course!

Ok, so we pinched the idea from someone else. The video is here with all the scientific explanations (Hopefully you'll be able to access it through my link)

There aren't really any written instructions for our unplugged project because, well, it's as simple as watching a pot boil. Try it out, but check out the happy scientist's explanations.

And do you know what we learnt? Well we learnt

a) what we call steam isn't steam at all

b) that those little bubbles that first cling to the bottom of the pan aren't a sign of the water boiling, they are gases coming out of solution

c)why the bubbles pop really quickly when the water is just starting to boil.

d) and that our saucepan handle conducts heat (ow!)

Go watch a saucepan of water boil!
[If you haven't done so I would seriously recommend going to website and registering to recieve their email newsletter which gives an experiment a week for free (or for 20$ - approx £12 - a year you can have access to all the videos and stock of science experiments on the website).]

And here are some videos about the changing states of watering water.

First The Water Cycle song:

And what about this one?

And here, my kids' all-time-favourite:

And this one, showing what happens when you throw boiling water into the air in Saskatchewan during a typical mid-winter, -40c day (wouldn't recommend it for a grey day in England!)

Happy Boiling!


Today we made a version of the bottle game inspired by this blog post here It took a few attempts to get it right. I think the string needs to be fairly slippy and not too long. We used curtain rings and reels of sellotape as handles.

If sibling arguing was an olympic sport then my kids would get a gold (I love the way ds1 flinches at the end in anticiaption of the kick/hit he might receive):

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Borrowing Bottle Brainstorm and Buying Black Boots

Great suggestion here at the blog Almost Unschoolers for using up all those empty drinks bottles. Haven't given it a go yet, but if I can rouse my sick* children tomorrow, it might provide a morning activity. The bottle project is almost unschoolers' unplugged project this week with the theme of 'the letter B'. I'm supposed to contribute to this too, but I'm yet to complete even one of these unplugged projects.

Maybe next week...the theme for the unplugged project is 'Change'. Mmm...that's a tricky one, but I suspect that might have a few good suggestions.

[*all 3 have been ill with temperatures and colds etc]

And today we finally got to buy ds2 some boots. So he's been clomping around the house in these huge black walking boots all evening. I have no idea if they actually fit him because they are so rigid I can't even feel his foot in them. But he's not that's positive, isn't it?

What is it about new shoes that is just so magical. Isn't it the best feeling in the world to have a new pair of shoes? It's that Paolo Nutini feeling, isn't it?

So...the Badman consultation, the latest one, is now closed. Over 5000 responses. Don't suppose the government will take a blind bit of notice, but maybe at least for a short while we can get back to actually home educating our kids. I am so sick of the whole's been exhausting.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

On my soapbox...(but not one of those designer ones)

I took ds2 today to one of those factory outlet centres about 20 minutes away from where we live. His boots are - well - no longer footwear really, the insoles aren't in, the outers aren't really out and they wouldn't even make good slippers. So I promised him we could go, just me and him, to buy a new pair at the Clarks outlet shop.

What do you make of these sorts of places?

My heart sunk as soon as we arrived.

Maybe it's just me, but I find these places really unsettling...on the stomach. People walking around with their little designer paper bags with string handles to show off which designer outlet they've just been to; shops that are more interested in fancy lettering and strange lighting than actually stocking anything; shops that just sell sunglasses, or white things, or suitcases, and prices that are just way OTT. Seeing customers contemplating whether to spend that 80 quid on a Jimmy Choo handbag , or 100 quid on a mac in Helly Hansen (these are DISCOUNTED prices remember!)...ooh it made my stomach turn. There were kids dressed up, identical little models of their consumer parents - designer outfits, handbags, shoes - with their little designer paper bags urgghh!

Maybe it's just a person's attitude towards money, the income they're used to, the pressure to keep up with the Jones's, or their family's relationship towards money when they were a kid. But me...well, I'm sure that even if I had the money to spend on an expensive handbag/pair of shoes/coat/white plate/cushion cover/pair of sunglasses, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It would be be too obscene. Obscene, yes that's the word. It's not that I don't spend money on things when money really needs to be spent, but I really can't - couldn't - even contemplate spending so much money on - what? A pair of socks with a designer label? A floral teacosy? I just don't get it.

When I was pregnant with ds1 I went to stay with my sister to buy things for the baby. I was chuffed to little meatballs when I bought a silver cross pram with carrycot in a charity shop for £20. It had already been used for 3 children by the woman who donated it. My sister and I took it back to her bedsit, carried it up the stairs and between us we wiped it down and polished it. It lasted for another 2 children of mine, until I was given a lightweight buggy and passed the silver cross pram on to another family. Later when I had my second child I had friends who spent vast amounts of money (e.g. 50 quid on a changing bag!) on their baby. I'm not criticising these people...they have a right to spend their money on whatever they's just when you've seen people who have nothing (I've travelled and I've seen people offer the only food in their house to me, a wealthy westerner, because I'm their guest), well...

So. A good thing came out of today. No, we didn't find any boots for ds2. BUT I was remindedthat although I'm bombarded with consumerist messages, and although I occasionally sucumb, splash out, blow some cash, spoil the kids etc, I remain a relatively sane human in an insane world.

And having watched the 3 Matrix films this week, I do wonder about how real this world

A love of reading...

I know the quote below is quite old now, and of course the National Literacy Strategy is being abandoned - in it's current form at least. However, I can't help thinking there is so much truth in these words.

I was an avid reader until I came to take exams in literature; I loved doing those exams, but pulling apart sentences and characters drove out any enjoyment I had of reading. The oppressive feeling of needing to strip down and analyse a book still niggles at the back of my mind 30+ years on. I love books and literature, but the feeling that I should only be reading worthy or current or classic 'works' never goes away, like some stern teacher looking over my shoulder...

Philip Pullman, Oxford Literary Festival in 2003
"What concerns me here is the relationship this sets up between child and book, between children and stories. Stories are written to beguile, to entertain, to amuse, to move, to enchant, to horrify, to delight, to anger, to make us wonder. They are not written so that we can make a fifty word summary of the whole plot, or find five synonyms for the descriptive words. That sort of thing would make you hate reading, and turn away from such a futile activity with disgust. In the words of Ruskin, it’s “slaves’ work, unredeemed.” Those who design this sort of thing seem to have completely forgotten the true purpose of literature, the everyday, humble, generous intention that lies behind every book, every story, every poem: to delight or to console, to help us enjoy life or endure it. That’s the true reason we should be giving books to children. The false reason is to make them analyse, review, comment and so on. But they have to do it – day in, day out, hour after hour, this wretched system nags and pesters and buzzes at them, like a great bluebottle laden with pestilence. And then all the children have to do a test; and that’s when things get worse. "

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Essential wear for parties...

...wellies of course.

All the best people have them.

They're the 'In Thing'.

Of course we have a good supply of hand-down wellies from the boys, in fine working order. But a girl just gotta have gurrl wellies, don't she?

And here's the complete party outfit (yeah, when it comes to clothes dd's as coordinated as her mother, poor girl):

And the 'dog' cake. Part daschthund, part chihuaha (part dodgy spelling?)...

Chocolate OD.
And I got to eat most of a huge pack of twiglets. Isn't that what parties are all about?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Mathematical contemplations of a woman who should know better than to extrapolate data from one experiment & apply it to a totally different situation

This morning the kids and I went to see the film 'G-Force 3D', which was showing as part of Film Education Schools week. I usually book us in to see a few films, primarily because it's free (always good!), but also because I think it's an interesting opportunity for the kids to share space with large groups of schooled children and their accompanying teachers. It's educational.

Perhaps it's just me, but I'm fascinated by the teacher-child relationship in the classroom, and equally fascinated to see this relationship in action during school trips out of the classroom.
So, to kill the 20 minutes time before the showing of the film, I suggested to ds1 and ds2 that we keep a tally of how many times the teachers said 'sshhh' and 'don't' and 'stop'. [Am I a bad home educating mother? Probably best not to go there.]

The two words 'don't' and 'stop'were only heard a couple of times. Hmm...that surprised me. (I had a pre-ordained idea of the outcome of the experiment). Perhaps it depends on the teacher or the age of the children: I've noticed at previous screenings that these words are more popular among teachers with older children (age 8+yrs); these kids were a tad younger.

And then I think we sussed why we weren't hearing these words; it was because the teachers (or one teacher in particular) were giving orders instead: 'sit down!', 'listen to me!' etc. As ds2 so beautifully pointed out 'It's as if they are talking to a dog!' [I had to stifle a few giggles at that point]

As for the number of times the teachers said 'sshhh'...well we did our tally on a scrap of paper[incidentally, despite yesterday's concerns about maths, this was a lovely mathematical moment demonstrating to ds2 how to do five-bar tally keeping and then count up in fives]. In the 15 minutes or so before the film, the teachers - in fact primarily ONE teacher - told the children to 'sshh' an amazing 34 times!!! 34 TIMES!!!

Now, I'm not saying I've never sshh'ed my children. I do it often. Probably more often than I would like. But I'm thinking that 34 times in 15 minutes, in a large, mostly empty, but noisy auditorium where there isn't actually any need for the children to be quiet, is really quite incredible. And it does make me wonder how often that teacher might need to say 'sshhh' in a classroom...
... So, using the above example, lets be generous and say that this particular teacher in school only says 'sshh' an average of 10 times every fifteen minutes, that's - er - 40 times an hour. A school day is roughly 9am - 3pm, let's say an hour for lunch, 1/2 hour for play (though that's being overgenerous and assumes teachers don't say sshh during break times) which leaves 4.5 hours of classroom time.
4.5 X 40 is 180.
Multiply that by 5 days gives us 900 .
So theoretically, unless a teacher is giving a really rivetting lesson and the kids are silently enthralled, a school child could potentially hear the word 'sshh' 900 times in a school week.

900 times!!
Blimey, no wonder so many kids tune out. And no wonder that when they get home, all they are capable of is monosyllable replies and flopping in front of the tv. If I was told to shut up almost continually I would give up any attempt at communication, other than outright rebellion!

Anyway, on another topic altogether, its dd's birthday on Saturday, and her little birthday tea tomorrow. Apparently 'we' (the royal 'we'?) are making a dog cake with Tesco chocolate-flavoured log roll, smarties and chocolate rolls and lots of melted chocolate. I was just wondering how to do the tail while shovelling frozen pizza into bags at the Tescos checkout (as you do) when dd casually mentioned Kit Kats. Kit kats? I'm thinking that's just an excuse to go buy even more chocolate. Woman of little willpower has already eaten half a bar of the chocolate that will be used to cover the log roll and make it look 'dog-like'. [ was unguarded in the fridge] I suppose it could be a dog with mange...a bit of it's chocolate fur is missing. Ah well, if I cover it in enough smarties, I'm sure she wont notice.

Anyway, as usual, I have convinced myself that it is a bad idea for me to actually MAKE the cake. Decorating -yes. Making-No! As I frequently say to my children: ' You can either have a home-baked cake for your birthday...or you can have a nice mummy. The two are mutually exclusive.' Though to be fair, nice mummy left home at the point when I ended up with more kids than I have hands.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


Well, I've come back from a weekend away at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and already I feel like I'm way behind with my blogging.

My intention is always to write a little each day. Something short, philosophical, whimsical, meaningful, or just plain funny. Why don't I? Well, you know how it is...places to go...people to see...and all that stuff. So I leave it for a few days...and then I have just TOO much to put into a blog post and I can't decide what to write which makes it even more difficult to write anything. You know, I always swore I WOULD NOT be one of those people who just posted up annotated photos of my kids doing things, on their blog. Hmmm...

So, here's another one of my jumbled blog posts dutifully titled 'catch-up'.

Recently my kids have been doing what some people term 'crafting'.

Last week dd and ds2 were doing 'simplified' patchwork at a local home ed group.When I say 'simplified' it was just that the patches were first ironed on to backing material using that bonding web stuff . This held them in place while dd could hand sew them in wonky blanket stitch. (Still, not bad for a nearly 6 year old who's never really sewed before).

ds2, on the other hand, took to the machine...

And the boys have been doing warhammer. Well not really warhammer, but making the scenery for warhammer. The other day they were sawing polystyrene chunks in the conservatory. Have you seen how far little flakes of polystyrene can travel around a house? Bit of a vacuum cleaner job that was...

Here's ds1 being creative:

You know those educational maths 'games' that you see in educational catalogues, and end up buying because, well it seems like a good idea at the time [especially when you are just starting out in home education and haven't quite got your head around the idea that home education has nothing to do with 'school at home']. And then the game ends up sitting on a shelf for years because it's designed to be used in a classroom and just doesn't really fit into anything you would do at home. Well here are my kids using one of those games this week:

It's a number bonds (to 10 or 20) version of dominoes (triangular pieces). In some ways it's a nice set - quite tactile and attractive. But as a game it's rubbish. Nobody wins. Ever. Ever ever ever.There is never a time when you can't use your tiles to complete your turn. So basically whoever goes first, completes the game first. [yawn]. And the only form of entertainment, as my kids have discovered, is to find out what weird animal shapes you can make with the tiles, or to bully your sibling into putting their tile in a particular place. That's not to say they didn't enjoy using them (they did, briefly, this once), but I just wonder what the people who design these sorts of things think about when they make them. I guess they're just thinking...'hmm what can we make that looks like a game, but is actually just another educational classroom tool and some teacher will think is a good idea.' Well I fell for it. Once.

We've been doing quite a bit of maths recently. Conventional workbook-type maths. It makes me feel glum that we approach maths from this angle. I wish I was more maths enthusiastic, seeing the joys of maths in everyday activities [if I had a penny for every time I've heard a home edder say 'don't worry about maths, it's everywhere in every day life' I'd be a rich woman by now]. Science, yes. I see science in pretty much everything. We never have to 'do' science because we are always doing science anyway. Maths? Nope. If I do see it, then I don't appreciate or find pleasure in it. Yet I know others who do. I guess it's just about what floats your boat. Maths is like a very heavy load in my ship.

I guess when you home educate there are always going to be gaps in your child's knowledge, their experience. Unless you are going to farm them out to other families for a few months at a time to absorb the world from a different view, I don't think it's something you can totally avoid. But then, I don't suppose school kids have gapless knowledge either. Should I worry..? Probably not.

dd, contemplating the life of a sandwich

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A 3 hour queue to see some gold...

Yes we went to Birmingham to join a 3 hour queue to see some gold. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But after I'd got lost driving in to Birmingham, and discovered that the car park I'd finally found charged 90p per 20 mins (!), and I then found another carpark, which then took only some of my change before it jammed up...etc etc...and then we joined the 3 hour queue...yes it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Thankfully we were queuing next to a natural children's entertainer, who obtained some paper from the gift shop and proceded to make all sorts of origami creations for the kids. Then I saved our place in the queue and took the kids for a noodle around the museum; dd and I shared the camera. And to be fair, the kids were fab, and the staff very accomodating. Would I recommend it? Well it's a sneak preview of what, no doubt, will be an amazing exhibition when it's all catalogued and valued. But it was 3 hours to see a few cases of crumpled gold!
Anyway, ds1 and his friend were interviewed on the BBC ( with hair unbrushed, sweaty, grubby looking kids, who had queued for 3 hours and were trying to be impressed at these 3 glass cases of crumpled metal!). But at least ds1 had his 'I'm not hidden, I'm home-educated' badge on (even if it was upside down). They were meant to be showing the piece today (Friday), but we'll see.

And you know what? I think the bit the kids most enjoyed was fighting with lightsabers outside the museum after it was all over!

We couldn't take photos in the room of gold, but here are some photos/articles:

AND...last week we went sledging with friends in Milton Keynes. Fab! I even managed to fit my huge bum on a teeny tiny sledge. I want to disgrace myself and do it again! (Do you think it's an appropriate activity for someone who is near their 4th decade?). DD managed to lose control and end up face-down under the ski lift in a totally different section of the slope (!), but she got up smiling and carried on. Guess what she wants to do for her birthday?!

And also, recently, a trip to the local museum...

Followed by a trip to the park...

And some conker collecting...

And boat-making...

And more boat making...

Ok, who stole the biscuits then?
If this blog spot seems a little rushed, that's because it is. I'm off for the weekend to the Cheltenham Literature Festival...and meant to be packing right now. Displacement activities? They're great aren't they?