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...