Thursday, 26 March 2009

Edward Scissorhands makes fishcakes...

Do you ever wonder why people don't make their own fishcakes?

I did, but I don't any more.

I mean, how difficult can it be?

Well, like the Cat in the Hat, looking at the pink bath ring and wondering how to get rid of it, it would seem to be very hard.

My kitchen looks like a bomb site, with shrapnel of potato, breadcrumbs and fish flesh on every surface. I have used pretty much every pan, bowl and utensil in the kitchen (even ones I didn't know I had) and they litter the sink, cooker and tops of cupboards, leaving a trail of greasy, fishy potato. The floor looks as if it's been subject to an attack by a snow machine (the blender got a bit out of control when making bread crumbs) and I'm trying hard to forget I cleaned the kitchen yesterday and that dh only mopped it a day or two ago.

All-in-all it's like some very bad chef's nightmare, a sort of Delia-Smith-meets-Edward-Scissorhands culinary graveyard.

And of course there are now platefuls of the unappreciated rejected greasy, disintegrating, home-made fishcakes looking all unloved and unwanted. Even the dog has given up after the third fishcake and bowl of cooked rice.

There are lessons to be learned today.

One of them is that however wonderful home-made and home-cooked food sounds, sometimes it's best to admit defeat, acknowledge that no Earth mother resides in this house, and go out and buy some frozen fishcakes. DIY is not all it's cracked up to be.

(And no, before you ask. I don't have photos. Even though I document the most banal bits of our daily life, some things are just TOO bad to photograph.)

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Spacesuits, wet feet and that darned BLUE PETER BADGE

A bit of catch up blogging and some photos of our recent trips away.

A few weekends ago - while dh decorated the lounge - I went away with the kids to visit friends in Nottingham. We went via The National Space Centre at Leicester. Well worth a visit and good value as you can exchange your day ticket for a year's pass. Unfortunately, although the home educator's discounts are very good, we couldnt' make use of them AND have the year's pass, so we paid in full.

Ok, so we live quite a distance from Leicester, and I don't think we'll be having frequent visits to the centre, but it'll give us an excuse to go and see our friends again.

Ds1 being David Bailey (though I'm guessing David Bailey would have chosen a more attractive model to photograph)

And ds2, trying on a spacesuit for size. Hmm...perhaps black would be more slimming?

Here's ds2 (and ds1 below) exploring a local park, just over the county border.

One thing I can say about Nottinghamshire and its nearby counties is that they seem to have amazing areas for kids to play; both the formal playgrounds and the less-formal parks. This particular park had lots of man-made follies, huge earth mounds, tree trunks, little streams, a huge lake, and rocks placed perfectly to be climbed on and explored. And so much space!! What would our equivalent be around here? A dishevelled piece of 1970s play equipment (disabled because it's considered too dangerous to play on), some pathetic attempt to entertain teens, and some muddy dog-poo encrusted grass. Ok, ok, exaggerating maybe, but I can't help thinking that the people who design our local playgrounds obviously don't have any contact with children...

Anyway, rant are some more photos of our outings when we were in Nottingham:

Crossing the stepping stones.

Unfortunately you can't see it in this photo, but at one point across the river the stones were under water. And yes, I did get wet feet!

Fab scenery! And ds2 posing.

As you can see the sun was shining, but that wind...brrrr...hence the coats.Yep, I could certainly tell we were Up North; there was a definite temperature difference for us soft southerners lol.

It seems the older I get, the less hardy I become.

And the best bit of all. Eating ice cream afterwards!

Well that was our trip to Nottingham. I have more photos which may appear on the blog at a later date, AND I still need to post about our weekend in London. But maybe that'll be tomorrow.

AND some FAB news!

Do you remember ages and ages ago ds1 sent in a letter to Blue Peter with copies of the animations he'd worked on? Well we hadn't heard and I just assumed as months had gone by that either they had lost the letter, or it just wasn't good enough to get a badge. Anyway today he was sent a Blue Peter Badge!!! Naturally he's well-chuffed. And I'm pleased too cos it gets him in free to loads of places (with a paying adult of course, but hey, still good news). Ds2 is feeling a bit put out though, so we'll have to come up with something for him to write about or do. Anyway, it shows it's worth doing these things. If you're interested in your child(ren) having a go see

And you can see the long drawn-out process that it took us to actually getting the badge from these blog pages. Here are all the blog references to the Blue Peter badge, starting in March last year!!

Well, my laptop battery is dying so I'd best end this blog entry now. Will try and play more catch-up tomorrow.

Friday, 20 March 2009

The Water Cycle (minor Smug Home Educator Moment)

Well I'm feeling rather smug.
It's not often that we plan to do something educational and then actually do it. I'm one of those breeds of home educators who has lots of Grand Plans, of which only about 10% ever get started, and only about 1% approach the finish line.
But YES, I am proud to announce that we have done - more or less - The Water Cycle.
I got the kids (after some minor grumbling and rolling of eyes) to do a collage based on the water cycle. Here it is in progress:

It's still awaiting some labels on it - you know the stuff 'condensation', 'evaporation', 'precipitation', etc - but we'll skip past that little technicality and gloat in the success of actually getting the kids to do something that is almost finished. [Actually I have a good excuse why it isn't finished: it's because the house has been invaded by a decorating dh, and the conservatory table where we were working on our water cycle, is now covered with tins of paint and assorted tools and the floor of the conservatory is covered with all the stuff that doesn't have anywhere else to go].

And still on the theme of The Water Cycle, we also put together our Eco Dome which we bought half price in Argos. I have to mention the half price bit, cos even at half price it was expensive, so there's no way I'd have paid full price for this glorified bottle garden. Bottle garden? Well if you're as old as me, either you or your mother or your aunt would have been bought a bottle garden from Marks & Spencers, or BHS in the 1980s and you'll know what I mean. And if you're not as old as me I'm sure Google will let you know all about it if you just ask...

Anyway, this Eco Dome is packaged up as a sort of educational climate/water cycle project with lots of observations and measurments to take (er, no we haven't actually done that bit yet). It is a sort of enclosed plastic box, with lift-off see-through lid.It has several tiers which are meant to replicate the different growing environments - tropical, desert etc. There is a water reservoir at the top and the bottom, plus thermometer strip, windmill to show air currents and other stuff. Here it is in progress:

Assembling the windmill (the best bit of course)

The 'desert layer' is in

and the finished result below...

And here is ds1 potting up all the tiny plants we had going spare. A local garden centre was selling off the pot-bound plants for 20p each and we couldn't resist...

Another reason why we can't get to the conservatory table to finish our Water Cycle collage - we seem to have rather a lot of plants now...
p.s. Can't remember if I've posted this link to a fab page about The Water Cycle before
It's worth a look just for the absolutely wonderful little video it has.

Legal power to dictate exam content (article)

Yet another interesting article about the education system...

'Ed Balls seeks power to dictate what textbooks GCSE and A-level students must study'. The Guardian, Thursday 19 March 2009

"The schools secretary, Ed Balls, is seeking a new legal power to dictate the basic content of every public exam in England, in a move that would give him or any future secretary of state the right to decide which books children must study at GCSE or A-level.

The law would allow the government to set "minimum requirements" for qualifications. One senior exam board source said it would give ministers "mind-boggling power" over exams if it got on to the statute books.

Opposition MPs will attempt today to remove from the apprenticeships, skills, children and learning bill the clause that gives the secretary of state control of basic qualifications content. Guidance published alongside the bill says it could be used to specify "which authors' works needed to be studied for someone to gain a GCSE in English".

Ministers insist the power would be exercised only as a last resort, to preserve the teaching of Shakespeare, for example, if there was a suggestion it should be scrapped from the curriculum.

The bill will break up the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority into Ofqual, an independent exams watchdog, and a smaller Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) responsible for qualification design. Announcing the move last year, Balls said it would protect the exam system from political interference, as Ofqual would be independent of ministers while the QCA is answerable to them.

But the contested clause, which has gone unnoticed in the sprawling bill until now, has raised concerns among exam boards and opposition MPs, who fear it will in fact strengthen ministers' ability to interfere with the exam system for political gain.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "What is taught in schools should not be dependent on the whim of some here today, gone tomorrow politician. And the idea of Ed Balls or Gordon Brown determining which parts of history children are taught, or which books and poems they should read, is a rather frightening one.

"This revelation simply serves to highlight that while the government is pretending to be creating a more independent system of qualifications, curriculum development and oversight, what is actually happening is that ministers are retaining huge powers to meddle in both what is taught and how standards are measured."

The parliamentary committee scrutinising the bill is due to debate the clause today. Ministers promise that the power would be used only in "exceptional" circumstances, and that the law makes it explicit they cannot interfere in grading, assessment or structure of exams.

In a letter to the Liberal Democrats, dated 14 March and seen by the Guardian, the schools minister, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, insisted the effect would be to limit their interference and protect the exam system. A memorandum of understanding is promised, to set out exactly when ministers could use the power.

However, exam boards fear that the measure is too broad. Bene't Steinberg, head of public affairs at Cambridge Assessment, the parent company of the exam board OCR, said: "Cambridge Assessment believes that teachers and academics are the best people to decide what goes into a qualification. However, if politicians must keep their hands on the levers of qualifications, this clause needs checks and balances. The government has explained that it will only use the power in exceptional circumstances and in line with a defined process. We don't see why that should not be put into the act and made law to protect future generations."

McCarthy-Fry said: "There is currently nothing in law to stop ministers intervening on anything in relation to qualifications so, by establishing an independent regulator of qualifications that is accountable to parliament, ministers are actually putting limits on the influence they can have.
"Ministers will rightly have no role in grading, assessments or standards. They will only use powers with regard to the curriculum in exceptional circumstances - for example, intervening to ensure Shakespeare remains a core part of what our children learn." "

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The world from a child's eyes...

Conversation in back of car by ds1 (10yrs) and ds2 (7yrs).

Ds1: So what's that then? (pointing at the long package in the car)
Ds2: It's an atomic missile
Me: Er, no actually it's my weed supressant material for the allotment
Ds1: Do you know what atomic means?
Ds2: Er, yeah. It means...explosion.
Ds1: No it doesn't.
Ds2: It means radiation...
Ds1: Yup.
Ds2: ...that explodes the world
Ds1: No it doesn't explode the whole world. It just wipes it out.
Ds2: Oh.
Ds1: Like a really big fart.

Conversation in the bathroom, me and dd1 (age 5).

Dd: You know what I do when I'm having a bad dream?
Me: Uh?
Dd: I kill myself.
Me: Well that doesn't sound very nice.
Dd: Well you know it's only a dream Mummy.
Me:I guess so. So does it help?
Dd:Yes, but the trouble is that I just end up in another bad dream...

Sunday, 8 March 2009

"Not how intelligent is the child but rather how is the child intelligent?"

Interesting article...

Soulless schools cursed by league tables and dominated by "formulaic" exams are squeezing the lifeblood out of education, leading headteacher and political commentator Anthony Seldon will warn tomorrow.

The 21st-century obsession with teaching "facts" harks back to Thomas Gradgrind's utilitarian values in Dickens's Hard Times, he will say in a hard-hitting lecture to the College of Teachers. The result is a system that stifles imagination, individuality and flair.

In an extraordinary indictment of the national examination system, Dr Seldon, master of Wellington College and biographer of former prime minister Tony Blair, will claim that we are forgetting the very purpose of education. "Many parents, many teachers, will recognise it. Schools need to be liberating places, but it is very hard to do it with the utter throttling, choking straitjacket of the national examination system curriculum," he told the Observer

In Britain, he advocates a severe cut-back of external testing and examinations, which he claims have increased because of a lack of trust of schools, heads and teachers.

One option would be banishing national external exams until the age of 18, as they do in the United States. He also argues that GCSEs and A-levels, should be "swept away" in favour of exams, such as the International Baccalaureate, with its primary years, middle years, and diploma-level programmes.

Schools are "dancing to Gradgrind's drum-beat of facts, facts, facts more than ever", he will say in his inaugural lecture on his appointment as professor of education to the College of Teachers. And the spectres of the Victorian Gradgrind and his unimaginative but aptly named schoolteacher, Mr M'Choackumchild, still "strut the classrooms of the world".
School authorities, schools and teachers are now valued for one thing alone: their success at achieving exam passes, says Seldon, who introduced happiness classes to Wellington College, one of Britain's leading public schools. "We have embraced dullness and so close are we to it, we do not even see what has happened," he will tell the college.

He will also criticise faith schools, claiming "all too often they have narrowed, not opened, children's minds and hearts".

In Britain, universities wield huge power over the sixth-form curriculum, yet do not encourage students to stretch themselves beyond their A-level requirements, he will allege. "A tutor of admissions at an Oxford college recently admitted to one of my colleagues at Wellington: 'We are not looking for broad-achieving and rounded students at this college. In fact , we are not rounded people ourselves.' "

University and school teachers are not themselves to blame, he will argue. But, he will add, the rigid system is having a negative impact on pupils and university students: "They are showing more signs of depression, eating disorders, self-harming, and alcohol/drug abuse, than at any point in recorded history. But they also have better resources, more computers, better buildings, and more money in their pockets than at any point in their history.

"What has been lost? Why has affluence and knowledge not brought us wonderful schools and remarkable universities?"

He will claim that schools have concentrated on a very narrow definition of intelligence: the logical and the linguistic, at the expense of cultural, physical, social, personal, moral and spiritual intelligence. He will add that we should be asking: "Not how intelligent is a child but rather, how is the child intelligent?"

Seldon will argue the case for bringing back playing fields, placing orchestras and music at the heart of the curriculum, and offering dance, physical exercise, outdoor adventure and challenge to everyone.

League tables are "the biggest curse", and have inflicted more damage on British education than anything else, he will claim. The well-being of students needs to be taken "far more seriously", and school sizes should be cut.

"Dickens's message is as timely and urgent for us in 2009 as it was in 1854," Seldon will argue. "It is that soulless, loveless, desiccated education damages children for a lifetime. Education should be an opening of the heart and mind. That is what education means; it is this, or it is nothing."

He will conclude: "Walk on every head teacher, inspector and every local and central bureaucrat who has squeezed the lifeblood out of education."

Friday, 6 March 2009

Froggy stuff and science songs

Two things, totally unconnected..

1) Try this wepage for loads of fab science songs. You might regret it when you've got songs like 'what makes the lightning' stuck in your brain, but it's good for a giggle. You never know, you might learn something (but don't tell the kids it's educational).

2) We saw the first Spring frogspawn in our pond today. We'd had a heavy frost overnight so in the morning the frogspawn was frozen, but it seemed to have defrosted by mid day. I figure it'll survive ok, it usually does.

Do you think this is the reptile equivalent of frozen embryos..?

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The 'Risk Avoidance' gene

I'm wondering how my children have managed not to inherit the 'risk avoidance' genes of their two cowardly - I mean sensible - parents.

I've never had a child, at least not one of my own, try to electrocute themself in my house. I have had a visiting child give it a good try, and I've had another visiting child feed an entire tub of fishfood to an overwhelmed goldfish, (other people's children are always more of an unknown quantity), but mostly my own kids are sensible. Yesterday, however, I found dd trying to stick a hairpin into on of the sockets on an extension lead. And yes it was plugged in! There she was happily poking the hairpin in, as if she were poking a plastic straw into a keyhole (a not-uncommon preoccupation in the under-6s). Thankfully no harm done (and we do have a cut-out system in our house), but it did make me realise, frustratingly, that just when you think you know your own kids they go and do something totally unexpected! What is it that makes that happen???

And ds2 also seems to have sidetracked the risk-avoidance genes too. On the journey back from ice-skating today he told me that he wants to do sky-diving. 'Because I'm alright at heights as long as I'm the one in control'. I gently broke it to him that you probably have to be 18 to do things like that, and promised myself that I would lock him in a high tower to spin gold from straw once he was 17...

...only hoping that he hasn't grown his long golden locks back by then {g}

'Hi Mum, been doing a bit of networking at ds2'

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Have you signed the petition yet?

Have you signed this petition yet?>

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to to remind his government that parents must remain responsible in law for ensuring the welfare and education of their children and that the state should not seek to appropriate these responsibilities. Submitted by Roxane Featherstone of Action for Home Education (AHEd) – Deadline to sign up by: 03 April 2009 – Signatures: 2340 (at 1.34pm on 4 March 2009)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Water Cycle, as you've never heard it before

We recently bought an 'Eco dome' in the Argos sale: it's a sort of tiered bottle garden, but with added scientific stuff (well I believed the blurb). Anyway, thought I'd combine it with a bit about the water cycle and was wondering how I could gently introduce the subject to the kids without the tedious fill-em-in worksheets and printouts that seem to be typical of most 'educational' web pages.

Anyway, I found this marvellous page, with not one, but two 'water cycle' songs, and a little Evian video set to 'We will rock You' by Queen, which tickled me and is well worth a watch.

There's also all the usual water cycle print outs and animations, but we'll probably skip those.

I've added the songs as widgets to the side bar of the blog for a while, so you can have easy access! Enjoy!

Monday, 2 March 2009

'The Unplugged Project'

We've just (hopefully) joined the Unplugged Project. See for more details. Here is a snippet to give you a taster:

'What is the Unplugged Project?
Sometimes we all need a little push (me included) to set aside our chores and have some creative fun with our children. The Unplugged Project is a weekly communal project which hopefully will inspire you and me to spend some high-quality but low-tech time with our little ones.
Every week I propose some sort of theme. I try to keep the weekly topic very general so that you can adapt it to your children’s ages and interests....Interpret the theme as strictly or as loosely as you like. There really are no rules. The point is to turn off the TV and find time in a busy schedule to have some creative fun at least once a week."

Next week's project is 'happy' ( ). So what does 'happy' bring to mind. Oh yes! Me having a week of perfect solitude away from kids and other dependents, time to do lots of reading, writing, watch whatever tv I want, catch up on some knitting and gardening and .... Ok, gonna have to rethink the 'happy' theme...

Clause 152 - do you want everyone to know your business???

I've been alerted on one of the home ed email lists to Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, which appears to give the government exemption from the Data Protection Act and will allow them to share data without restriction. Although Jack Straw has been wavering about it, and there are suggestions it may be rewritten/diluted, it seems like a dangerous thing to have clause 152 at all.

Here are some of the articles:

'Clause 152 must go. A clause in the new coroners and justice bill will allow the sharing of your personal information. Write to your MP now'

' 1. Summary
Buried among the numerous complicated and controversial provisions of this legislation is a single clause, clause 152 in the first draft of the Bill, which is a profound threat to privacy, liberty and the rule of law. It is enabling legislation that converts the Data Protection Act into a machine for massively increasing the dealing by government in information of all kinds. It is designed to allow ministers to use a fast-track regulatory procedure to sweep away
data protection, human-rights considerations, confidentiality, legal privilege, and ultra vires when they would stand in the way of any use, acquisition or dissemination of information in pursuit of departmental policy. The availability of broad data-sharing along these lines would be a profound change in the way the country is governed, potentially altering the function of almost all other legislation. It should not be introduced at all, but certainly not without proper public debate. There has been no such debate. It would be a disaster if the “information sharing order” (ISO in what follows) were to be successfully smuggled
through parliament in this manner.'

So please write to your MP! I've just emailed mine and it was surprisingly easy (I think it's the first time I've contacted my MP about ANYTHING!) You can find out your MP and email them through

This is the letter I wrote to my MP:

"I am writing to you to convey my extreme concern over clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill. I refuse consent to having my information, taken for one purpose, arbitrarily used for any other purpose.

I ask you to work to prevent this clause being passed and to vote it off the bill. "

I'm sure others could do a much better job, but mine was short and sweet cause I knew otherwise I'd never get around to writing it.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The decorating, painting, fishing, pancake-cooking, hill-walking, playing, fire-lighting and 'looking excited for the camera' family

Bit of a catch-up to do on the blogging. Why is it that the longer you leave it the harder it is to get back into posting?

Anyway, we've been up to a few things recently and I've just uploaded some of the photos off my camera. These are in no particular order, but give an idea of what we've been up to over the past fortnight. It looks reassuringly like we've been very busy when I post a whole load of stuff like this.

As mentioned in my last posting I've been decorating the kitchen. I had a little help from dd, who has now got the decorating 'bug' and wants to paint all the walls everywhere...

Anyway, the kitchen is looking good, or at least better than it was. All clean(ish) and new(ish). Seeing as I only usually bother decorating when I'm pregnant (no I'm not) it's nice to actually have a saner un-pregnant perception of colour. Previously any rooms I've painted in this house took on a certain orange or bright yellow 'theme' (see above for an example!). It seemed a good idea at the time.

This bad taste when pregnant thing reminds me of a friend of mine who whenever she was pregnant would buy the most hideous clothes or shoes, something that she would never normally choose. On at least one occasion I had to say 'take the shoes back, they're gross and in a month's time when you're less hormonal you'll regret buying them'. (If this sounds harsh, don't worry, she's still a very good friend of mine, and she wouldn't hold back from giving me the same advice lol). That's not to say that either of us are fashion victims - far from it - just that pregnancy does weird things to your taste, and not just the tasetebud sort of taste. It's a kind of brain rot that sets in. I'm not sure if I ever recovered fully; I've been buying 'comfortable' shoes this past year...

Last week we took up an offer for a local 'palace' whereby you could swap a day ticket for a year's pass. The day ticket is extortionate (something like £40 for a family) , but it is worth it for a whole year. Although the day was cold we made use of the adventure playground, the train, and butterfly house, in the palace grounds. Hopefully it will be warmer next time - I plan to get lots of book reading (and maybe some writing) done there over summer while the kids entertain themselves.

On the train

Ds1, just hanging around in the adventure playground

A butterfly (I'm guessing you worked that one out for yourself).

Ds1 freaked as they kept dive bombing him

And , true to our non-resolution of going somewhere different each week, we went to The White Horse, a chalk horse on a hillside, with friends. This is the horse's head:

It was a bit of a hike up the hill, but not as bad as I'd remembered from BC (before childbirth) which was probably the last time I visited (yikes! Over 10 years ago). I even lugged the storm kettle up the hill in our cowprint granny trolley, just to prove a point. And yes the kettlelit beautifully in the hill-top wind, though I think I smoked out all the other hill-walkers!

Dd was rather frustrated that she couldn't see a horse - I told her it was more of a stick-figure dog than a horse, which probably confused her even more lol.

Proof that I pulled the cow trolley to the top of the hill.

(That's the castle mound in the background)

And here's a view of the walk to the nearby castle mound:

So what else have we been up to? Well we've been to the woods and done some fire-lighting. Here are the kids toasting marsh mallows:

In the woods

And ds2 cooked pancakes for us on Shrove Tuesday. In the background you can see the new colour of the kitchen walls (we haven't done the gloss at this point, so the yucky yellowy-pink is still on the door frames)

A couple of weeks ago we went to a local garden centre that has an animal farm and a small stream. The kids played for ages (and got rather wet feet) while I sat and nattered with a friend who was visiting from Nottingham. And yes, the storm kettle had another outing. Here is ds1 fishing for shrimps with a plastic bag on a stick. These home ed kids like to improvise!

And we visited a science history museum. Here is ds2 after I told him to look 'excited' for the camera.

Ok, well I'd better go now. Will post more soon.