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?