Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Fun fun fun in the sun sun sun

(if you watch Charlie and Lola, then you'll recognise that very Lola-ish title). We're all feeling very Lola-ish at the moment.
With a few days of fine weather and no particular place to go we've had bit of a garden-frenzy.
Tomatoes are looking fab in the greenhouse (all 40-odd of them).
Shame I don't really like eating them.
Why do I grow so many? Darned if I know.

The weather's been good enough for outdoor work so I dug over the border that Jack keeps trashing, and decided to risk planting out a few tomato plants. Last year this patch had herbs in, but I think the combination of dog wee and confrontations with next door's rotweilers through the fence (literally) finished most of the herbs off.
Only the sturdy chives remain; to be honest, as they are Jack's favourite marking spot, they're only really for decorative use, or for less hygenic cooks. Oh and there's a hollyhock plant too. Despite dh's best attempts to kill off the hollyhocks which he hates, they seem determined to live and every crack in every concrete surface...ha ha ha ha they cackle, shaking their little seedy things everywhere.

As you can see below I decided to set up some sort of contraption for keeping the tomato plants in the way to which they were accustomed; a little bit of protection in the garden. I figured that these black plastic sheets (actually 3 king-sized binliners that I bought in error) might warm up during the day and give off a little heat later in the evening (well that's how the science is meant to work, isn't it?). Needless to say the kids were bemused to find me trying to nail binbags to the fence. You know how the conversation goes:
'So what's that for Mummy?'
'It's a binliner and a nail and a hammer.'
'Yes but what's it for?'
'It's science, child, but not as we know it.'
Or something like that...
Well if I'd given them the long version including the science they'd have only glazed over before muttering 'oh so it's educational then...'

Then I used some leftover plastic glazing panels to give them a bit of protection:

Not sure it will withstand a bouncy King Charles Spaniel and the heads of next door's rotweilers as they come through the fence, or the investigation of 3 inquisitive children for that matter. Live and learn.
Talking of creating structures, here is another attempt to convince myself I have the gift of construction. I introduce the DIY pergoda:

Actually, as you may have guessed, it's a double duvet cover tied to the neighbours' fence and the conservatory window and propped up on poles. But shh...don't tell anyone.

The average collapse rate of this structure is about once an hour in calm weather, increasing to every 10 minutes in windy weather. Collapse isn't a major issue, unless you happen to be eating your bbq at the table underneath. Perhaps a more permanent structure should be on the agenda?

Talking of bbqs, the kids have been doing some outdoor cooking. If you like your food untouched by human hands, seasoned with grit and only slightly licked by the dog, this is the perfect way to enjoy lunch. What's that I hear you say? You've lost your appetite?

Looks like someone is keen to join in with the DIY (you'll have someones eye out with that, you know):

Thankfully we still have a garden bench, though there may be a few extra drainage slots in it now...

And ds2 was given the job of getting the lawnmower working for the 2009 season. Took a bit of oil and some kicking (probably something to do with the fact that we kept it out in the garden all last year) but eventually it slugged and creaked into life, ready to attack the stones, dog poo, string, plastic spades, bits of fishing net, lego, ice cream tub lids, soggy shoe boxes and - oh yes - the grass. Still, at least the risks of a push mower are less than the flymo; you don't have wear a hard hat and full-body armour (have you seen how far those stone chips go??).

And here it is in action. Why am I videoing ds2 cutting the grass? Well because he asked me, of course. You don't think I'm mad enough to go around taking photos and videos of average, everyday not-terribly-exciting activities, just for the fun of it and then post them for public viewing, do you? What sort of a nutter do you think I am?! (I'm off to join the cackling hollyhocks, far too much sun on my head today).

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Bare Butt-erfly Sandwiches topped with Beagle Beans

Today, carrying on with our Darwin and Evolution theme, we - or should I say ds2 - made South American Comida. What has this to do with Darwin? Well seeing as the Darwin geezer popped off around South America in The Beagle, there is a tentative link to this dish of beans, tomatoes and squash. Honest. Well that's what the book said and I'm sticking to it.

Are you impressed that we are still working on our P -P - P ..ok I can't say the P word.
Our P word that has 'ject' at the end, which from now on I'll call our THEME. Does theme sound better? I can't remember what I decided last time I wrote about this.

[I've just noticed something interesting about the P word: If you take away the P and replace the 'O' with an 'E', you get another interesting word: a word that best explains what my kids usually do when I say to them we are doing a 'P' word.]

Anyway, are you impressed that we're still doing Darwin? So am I. I'm not sure what it does for our autonomous education status, but I guess we got to a point when something had to give. And whatever it was has left some space for Darwin.

Chopping butternut squash (all fingers intact)

Cooking (no fingers burnt)

The finished result!

Anyway, The Beagle has officially now got as far as The Galapagos Islands, and the sticker is about to go on the map (when we find where The Galapagos Islands actually are - yeah I know, somewhere near South America...). So here I am, with baited breath, preparing my mind, body, and what's left of my soul, to grab the Galapagos DVD and shove it in the player. Ok, so it was the cheapest dvd I could find about the Galapagos Islands, so I'm hoping it isn't so incredibly boring that the kids will hate watching it. I must confess that David Attenborough and his fossils DVD was starting to grate on all of us after a week of viewing the series. Though I guess it was interesting to see how Mr Attenborough looked back in the late 80s...he seems to be ageing much better than this mother of 3. Hmm...I suppose never having been pregnant or given birth gives him a significant advantage.

So what else have we been up to? Oh the usual. We visited the sailing club during the week and as it was too blustery to sail we spent some time 'butterfly hunting' instead. We're joining in with the Great British Butterfly Hunt of The Independent newspaper. See:
I've just added our sightings to the map. The best one I saw was the Speckled Wood butterfly, really pretty (unfortunately this isn't on the list to add to their map). We saw loads of Peacock butterflies too, more than I've seen for ages and ages. I didn't tell the kids to do it, or even ask them, but once they saw me looking at the poster and filling in a chart with the butterflies, they joined in too. I'm sure that's something John Holt talks about in his books (not the bit about butterflies).

We've also been doing the usual fire-lighting, storm-kettling, and marshmallow melting. touch-typing is a bit skew-whiff today. Having twice replaced the 't' s in the word 'butterfly' with 'g' s (which puts a whole new slant on the word!), as well as just typing 'tough-typing' instead of 'touch-typing', I'd probably better finish off now...

[Before I go, I must let you know that I've just this minute Googled the word 'comida' thinking it would be some specialised word for a particular type of stew. NO! It appears to be the Spanish word for food! Ho hum. I knew there was a reason why I didn't like this 'Evolution for kids' book that we're using. Why don't they tell you things like that? There I was thinking we were making some exotic dish and all we've made is South American FOOD!]

Oh and if you're wondering why I have put such a strange title for my blog post, I have no idea. I just got fed up of trying to think of wonderfully creative titles and thought this one sounded interesting, even if it bears only a slight resemblance to the blog post.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Anyone fancy a trip on the titanic?

No? Well I think our chances of survival on the Titanic might well be higher than at the hands of the newly-revealed Home Education Review panel.

Rather weighted towards Childrens Services and Ofsted it would seem and not looking at all favourable for us home educators. Strange how a review panel on home education managed to have no-one from the home education community on it...

Ok, so even the optimistic part of me is thinking now that we're b******d.

Expert Group Reps


Early Years, home learning environment, child development:Professor Ted Melhuish, Birkbeck, University of London

Education / curriculum: Mick Waters – Director of Curriculum, QCA

Child protection / 3rd Sector:Delroy Pommell, Director, London and the South East, Barnardos

Safeguarding: Steve Hart, (HMI, Ofsted)

SEN: Jean Humphreys (HMI, Ofsted)

3rd Sector: Paul Ennals – Chief Executive, NCB

ICT / future technologies:Professor Steve Heppell, Trustee of

Children’s rights:Sue Berelowitz, Chief Executive, 11 Million

Safeguarding: Professor June Statham, Institute of Education

Education:Professor James Conroy, Dean of Faculty of Education, University of Glasgow

SEN: Beth Reid, National Autistic Society

Monday, 13 April 2009

Lego, water, chocolate and music

Ok, so next best thing after a bonfire is...

...playing in water.
We spent today at Legoland and dd just couldn't resist having a splash, despite the fact that we'd left all the spare clothes back at the car (eek!)

And just to prove I'm not showing favouratism to No.3, here's someone else who likes to pose for the camera:

Oi! Don't look now, but there's a dodgy-looking geezer with a big stick behind you. ..

And did I mention that it's been Easter? As you can see, we celebrated in the usual way:

And just to make sure that ds1 doesn't feel left out of the photo gallery, here's his new composition:

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Bonfires and music

There's nothing like a good bonfire, is there? Thought it was about time we got rid of the pile of bramble cuttings left from my early Spring garden purging. Not sure that the neighbours appreciated it as much as we did lol...

And here's one of my nice neat raised beds after the clear up, with lettuce, rocket and some onions. The hoops are so that I can pull over some polythene if we get a frost.

The music sessions at the local Montessori school have inspired ds1. One morning I came downstairs to see him playing this: (he'd worked out the riff all on his own)

And dd1 joins in with musical popcorn...

Friday, 10 April 2009

Blog catchup..i.e. stuff we've done

So, what have we been doing?

Well lots of stuff, really. I'll start with an allotment update:

Rhubarb, up and happy.

Strawberry plants looking chirpy after a bit of TLC

Jack the dog, providing musical accompaniment to our allotment work...

...and being pacified (or smothered with a hug?) by dd

Blackcurrant bushes with lots of flower buds.

Digging progressing well...

...But not so well on the kids patch. I think we're going for the 'wild' look lol.
We visit a local museum:

And ds2 tries on a costume

Dd finds something to examine under the microscope
And the kids pose in the museum garden

And continuing on the Darwin and Evolution theme, we make fake fossils:

And guess who forgot to soak the bowl afterwards.

I'm still chipping the plaster of paris out...

And ds1 finds something else to do with the plasticine!

I've had a splurge on the internet and bought in some maths stuff for ds2 (yeah, I know, the autonomous educator in me is having a big blip):

The kids get to grips with the base ten set

Er..actually I don't think they're meant to be used like Lego

And we went to a party:

Ds2 makes a 'train' from a cardboard box

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Mind Mapping for Morons (in the bath)

I've been reading - or trying to read - Tony Buzan's book 'The Mind Map Book:Radiant Thinking'.

I once saw Tony Buzan on a tv programme, working with some children who had been labelled as thick and unteachable (though of course they said it in a more politically correct way than that). He was fantastic with them and worked wonders, as they always do in these sorts of programmes, and I remember at the time I tried to read one of his books on mind mapping. I say tried, because I didn't get much further than the first chapter, scanned the rest of the book and then put it back on my shelf, where it still sits and fills the gap between the 'Meditation for beginners' cassettes (unused) and the extra strength ibuprofen (frequently used).

This book, however, isn't quite so daunting. It's more like Mind Mapping for morons (I should probably say beginners, but Morons goes better with the alliteration).

Anyway, I was reading this 'Mind Map' book in the bath this evening. I like the idea of reading books in the bath but it rarely happens because paperbacks just wont sit properly in the bath rack and I'm yet to work out how to hold the book, and turn pages without making the pages wet, or without flipping the entire book into the bath. What happens when you want to wash your hair? Or shave your legs? How do you manage to keep the book and bath separate entities during tricky multi-tasking like this? Or perhaps I have missed there some secret to this that no-one has let me in on?

Fortunately this other mind mapping book is a hardback, so it fell open easily at the pages, and stayed open -at least for the first 4 chapters - without the need to hold it or get the pages soggy. All of which meant I could submerge and wash hair, and carry on reading very time I surfaced. Quite handy really and a totally new bath-book-reading experience.

Anyway, I'd got to an interesting bit about radiant thinking and was puzzling about why my brain seems so constantly fuzzy, busy, cluttered, scatty, distracted; full of stuff, but unable to recall the information I actually need when I need it. As I was pondering this I tried to settle the book into the bath rack and realised that the rack was full of other stuff preventing me from doing so. So I lifted the book and started removing the stuff...a dog brush, a playmobil bed (just the plastic bed top), a toothpaste lid encrusted with dried pink toothpaste, two toothbrushes, a nit comb, a flannel with a large hole in the middle, a plastic half-litre coke bottle, a large blue jug, a hockey ball, a piece of unidentifiable black plastic, a face paint stick, and a nail brush.

It was then that my little light bulb lit up. I thought to myself: this bath rack is symbolic of my brain. No wonder I struggle to function at any more than a fraction of my true ability. I am cluttered up with the mental equivalent of dog brushes, playmobil, dried toothpaste and hocky balls!

Will mind mapping free me and enable me to chuck the whole lot of bath rack extras on the bathroom floor? I suppose I'd better stop blogging and go and read the next chapter to find out...

[am just editing this to say that I forgot 2 of the items that I found on the bath rack: a lego Star Wars stormtrooper and a guitar pick. Why do I need to add these items? Well, just in case anyone was feeling competitive and was about to write a comment saying that they had more on their bath rack than I do. These things are important, you know.]

Friday, 3 April 2009

The art of digging...

Well, it's definitely Spring.

Today we spent the day at the allotment with my parents and made some inroads into the Spring digging.

I am ambivalent about digging. In some ways it is like cleaning; it's easy to put off, and when you get around to it it seems like hard work; but the end result can be beautiful, clean, pure.
There is nothing more wonderful than a freshly dug piece of soil: it is full of promise, heaving with potential, ready and waiting for all your ambitions and hopes. I love it. does take some hard work to get there, and just like cleaning the house there is a little part of you that knows, deep down, that this moment, the moment of clean, the moment of weed-free, the moment of pure is only going to be fleeting; you know that you have to capture that moment, before something pollutes it - the weeds, the dust, the grime, the children {g}. is lovely just for that little moment...
Soil, glorious soil...
Contemplating compost bins
We promise we wont interrupt your soil moment, Mummy.

First signs of Spring in the beautiful soil:

my Welsh Siberian Bunching Onions and broad bean shoots.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Darwin does it for home education...

Have I mentioned before that we've been having a bit of a Darwin/Evolution theme recently?

Seeing as it's his 200th anniversary I thought we'd make the most of any workshops, tv programmes, books etc. Well we went to the Darwin exhibition at The Natural History Museum in London a few weekends back. There was huge amounts of stuff to be seen just in the museum, let alone at the exhibition, and the kids were really good. But it was a long day...a long weekend.

Watch out! There's a scary scorpion behind you!

The entrance hall of the National History Museum

Pose for your mother outside the museum then...

And again...

Ooh go on, humour me, just one more photo...

Alright then..last time.

Yep, that's the Darwin guy!
(Ok, we've seen him, can we go home now mum?)
We've also been working on a -shhh - 'project'. I kinda hate the P word, cos it sounds all big and important and, yes, so unachievable.
Well in reality it's not so much of a P thing, but more of a lapbook thing. I've resisted the lapbook stuff before, thinking that my kids would see past my attempts to make something 'educational' as something more palatable. But...I thought for this Darwin/Evolution theme that we'd give it a go. After all, I'd spent a fortune on books from Amazon, even bought a couple of DVDs. It seems a waste to just look at them sitting on the shelves. So this was my lounge on the first day of our lapbook thing:

I think on days like these you just have to grit your teeth, forget about the mess, and accept that you're going to have a lot of clearing up to do at the end of the day. And - most importantly - you have to accept that there might not be alot to show for all that mess. Why does so much mess equal so little product? Answers on a postcard...
Of course there are some home educators who do this sort of nice structured thing every day (in a more controlled, table sort of way). As you may have guessed from my blog entries so far, I'm not one of them...
So, how did we start these lapbooks on Darwin/Evolution? Well, first a large piece of stiff paper folded into a wallet/book shape. Then we photocopied bits and pieces out of books and then the kids started sticking in.
We're working our way round where Darwin travelled on The Beagle. Tuesday we looked at The Beagle and all the equipment and crew that went on it. Today we read a chapter about Ecuador and Uraguay, and Fossils, and then the kids watched a fossils DVD by David Attenborough. (Ok, big tick of box.).
Am I sounding smug? Oops sorry. Those who read my blog will know that our bursts of educational activity are just that - bursts - and when they happen I feel compelled to write about it. It's not's giving myself a teeny tiny pat on the back (well if I don't, who will?)
What you mean I'm meant to enjoy this??!!
oh, ok then if you insist...

Quiet children! Now then, I'm going to point at the map with my nose.
Can any of you find Ecuador for me?
[Edited on 6 April to correct spelling of David Attenborough's surname]