Sunday, 26 December 2010

ok, that was it... stop, Easter.

I'm taking bets on how long til Cadbury cream eggs get in Tescos.

A week, perhaps? That should be long enough to clear the Christmas stock in the sales and get a shelf free.

The cynicism of the middle aged.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Pre-Christmas preparations

The past week (snow, snow and more snow)

Making Christmas crackers:

Melting and then re-freezing:

dd1's birthday:

And then we all got ill and went to bed!
(Gradually recovering and getting ready for the big day tomorrow)

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Not reading? Don't Panic!

Was sent the link to this blog entry on the Tiny Grass blog; a post from earlier this year on child-led reading.

As a parent of a 7-yr-old non-reader (or rather, a not-yet-showing-any-inclination-to-read 7 yr old) I am always reassured to hear other parents' encouraging words on the subject.

I consider myself privaleged in the world of home education for I have had personal proof that reading really can happen without intervention. I've had the benefit of seeing my middle child teach himself to read when he was 6 years old (though 'teach' is a very misplaced word in that sentence, it was far more an osmotic process, a neglect of intervention).

This helps me keep the faith; enables me to thicken my skin against the parents who insist on giving me a check-list of their child's literary achievements every time I see them. I don't care if little Jonny was reading age 4 and at age 7 was happily digesting Harry Potter at a rate of one novel a day.

Er...actually that's a lie. I do care, but only enough to want to smack the other person. 'Home Ed Hag Hits Pushy Parent with Tescos-own White Loaf' - not a good headline, so I must resist.

So, this article, helps. Just a little.

"Basic Formula for Parents:

Stay out of child’s way +
Don’t try to be a teacher +
Don’t hijack your child’s learning +
Wait….wait…wait (and be patient) +
Don’t stress (talk to other unschoolers when you worry!) +
Read lots of books out loud when your child wants to +
Have lots of interesting books available +
Be ready as a resource when you child asks for it

= A child that reads. Eventually. On his own timetable."


P.S. If you do nothing else today,
Do do do vote for Grit's Day in The Brilliance in Blogging shortlist here (it's under the 'make a difference' category).
I've even found large text and coloured font to highlight this...that shows how important it is - vote NOW!!!
Get home ed noticed (and, besides, it's a fab blog).

Thursday, 16 December 2010

That love:hate thing

So how do you feel about Christmas?

I confess I have a passion for twinkly lights, tinsel, sparkles, warm fires, comfort food, overindulgence, and an obscene blow-out after a year of frugality.

Yet at the same time I feel a sense of unease, a hint of guilt.

I love the idea of an old-fashioned, home-made, it's-all-in-the-thought, Christmas. You know the thing, everyone gathered round the tree sharing a home-made mince pie and one handmade present each.

But at the same time I desperately want to break free from a year spent being resourceful and thoughtful and restrained. I watch tv. I have friends who buy their kids laptops and ipods. And even though I know it's really not in the spirit of an ethical Christmas I want to buy buy buy! I want to spoil the kids! I want them to have a huge pile of presents to get excited over. I want to give them everything they've ever wanted (and more)! And actually I wouldn't mind a few decent gifts myself.

I don't want to budget or home-bake, I don't want to buy secondhand and secondbest. I don't want to make-do, because I do it all year round and I am heartily sick of it.

So all my nice homely good intentions go out the window, and in comes commercial obscenity, frantic purchasing, and an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I wonder, is there a middle ground?

Do you spend Christmas as you spent Christmas as a child?
I assume that the seeds of 'how Christmas should be' are planted in our childhood, mine certainly were.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The perils and pitfalls of a home educator (no it's not always fluffy as butterscotch Angel Delight, sometimes it's decidedly like burnt rock cakes)

You know when you feel like you should be blogging and somehow life, lethargy or that sore patch on your nose where it's been on the grindstone for several weeks and you've forgotten to take a step back, gets in the way..? Hmm.

Winter has arrived. It's cold. I mean more than a slightly temperate English dreary cold, a Father Ted fecking fffffrrreeeezing cold.

What is happening with the weather? It's only December! We don't get our usual freeze til Easter after 3 months of complaining about the mild miserable British global-warming winter. Did someone up there hear me when I said I was economising? When I said I was going to set the heating to be off all day and only come on at 7pm, because I'm broke. Oi! You up there! Are you intending on thinning out the population by tipping all us low-light sufferers into a perpetual cycle of self-harming gloom?

Back to home education. Or not. This week it is fair to say that I have thrown in the towel. My ambitiously-manufactured project on Polar Explorers (yes, highly appropriate for our minus temperatures) has gone mammaries up. It's a common outcome of good educational intentions.

'Let's do lap books' I say. 'I'll print off stuff, all you guys have to do is put a title and add some pritt stick'.

Who would suppose that two pairs of scissors between 3 children would be enough to start World War 3 in a suburban semi. Fifteen minutes of felt-tip pen missiles, sellotape tear gas, and a farting cloud the size of a nuclear mushroom later I return. The lounge resembles a pillow fight with a paper shredder in ToysRus.
'Have you finished then?' I ask.
'Finished what?' They say. 'What was it we were supposed to do?'

And so I rant at great length about how long the hours would be at school. What time they would have to get up. How little play time they would get. How many maths workbooks they would be forced to fill in. Yes. I'm on a roll now....How easy it would be for me to get on the phone and call a school now. (It's been a while since I've threatened school, but some days...)

There's no stopping me...How I have put time and effort into finding something vaguely interesting for them to do and how they can't even be arsed to fake some effort. How even though I am so very proud of the many things they do, I'm embarrassed to tell people - ordinary people - how we spend our days, and when people come, I hide evidence of the children's writing, because I'm tired of defending their apparent lack of progress in what others think is important.

Nope, there's still more....'When relatives visit they might want to know what you've been doing.' I say 'And what will you tell them? Eh? What have we been doing?'

It takes some thought...'Well we went to Scotland.' One brave soul attempts a guess.

'3 months ago! 3 beeping months ago! Anything else? You know, has anyone noticed anything we've been doing?'

No. They can't think of anything...ANYTHING we have done in the past 3 months. The fencing and martial arts...Scouts...Museum visits...Workshops... Animation rides...poetry...firelighting in the woods...Perhaps they think it is a trick question. Perhaps their only hope is to stay silent, so I'll slunk off and leave them to their exclusive children-only war.

I try a new tack. 'What is it you want to do, if you don't want to do this? Well???? And don't say you don't know!'

Ds2 says 'Go on the computer.' He sees my eyebrow hackles and knows it was the wrong thing to say.

Silent teary faces sniff. I slam the door, fall over the dog, growl at it, storm upstairs, feel guilty, sit in contemplation of my guilt for half an hour, drink half a litre of coke and raid the baking cupboard for chocolate and then, shamefaced, I return.

I am about to apologise. But then I am greeted by tumbling children hitting each other with cushions, drinks cups flying off the table, home-baked cookie crumbs dispersed along the length of the sofa, books, papers, wii-game cases littering the floor, the tv on full blast; three children, pulling hair and twisting limbs, blissfully unaware of the ton of parental guilt, resentment and weariness I am shouldering.

On Saturday I attend a HE adult discussion group. We contemplate autonomous education and other HE dilemmas over cheesy doritos and tea.

When we think about 'auto' are we refering to the child, or to us? is one question posed.

I think some more on this. It is particularly poignant to think about it while I'm spending my precious study time - the time I need to make this course worthwhile - picking up the pieces of my lounge and worrying how I'm going to make a low-budget dinner in time before I go out to work. I listen to the kids now arguing over the computer. One wails. Tearful recriminations follow. I am mum again. Which means no writing today.

Truth is, even if the aim is for all of us to be autonomous, even if that were humanly possible, history tells me that it wouldn't work. There will always be someone - most likely a woman -who through guilt, loyalty, love, or buck-stopping-here responsibility, has to sacrifice their autonomy in order to clear up the massive pile of crap that all those happily-autonomous beings leave behind them.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

What have we been doing..?

With the change in seasons we've been a bit out of sorts. However, slowly we are getting back into a rhythm, and these are some of the things we've been doing...

Dd has been learning to crochet:

Ds2 has been reading up about design for computer games:

We've downloaded the free 3D computer graphics software Art of Illusion and ds2's been getting to grips with it. It might as well be Japanese to me - I just make approving noises with the occasional interested-parent comment, like: 'What does that bit do?'

We've also downloaded the trials for various Sony video/music editing packages here . today the kids have been testing out Sony's Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum, which looks on face value a little like Windows Movie Maker, but with a million more whistles and bells.

Ds1 has been reading about survival techniques and has created his own survival kit (everything but the kitchen sink stuffed into a rucksack I think). He's also been reading about guns. And more guns. And weapons in general. And been watching the series 'Weaponology' that I recorded which shows techniques that snipers use,and real footage of war time shooting (nice). This child-led learning is fabulous, but there are times when I wonder if there is such a thing as encouraging the wrong hobby?

We've been to a fireworks party:
and the boys have attended their yearly Capoeira Batizado

"Batizado literally means "baptism"; besides being an initiation rite for new students it is also a graduation ceremony for advanced students and a great capoeira community celebration with masters from near and far are invited and the fraternity of capoeira is measurably strengthened by the camaraderie and interplay."

For more info see here

And today I took the bears off to the woods to let off some of that grizzly energy:
The low rope swing over a muddy ditch was particularly popular:
(This is what wellies and leggings were made for)
and there's always time to poke in the sand:

Monday, 8 November 2010


Teacher: 'So what do you notice about..?'

Audience attempts to notice something.

Teacher nods: 'Hmmm, that's an interesting comment [it obviously isn't], anything else you notice?'

Audience silence followed by more desperate attempts to notice something.

Teacher (with a 'helpful' voice): 'Take a look at the second stanza..?'

Audience still clueless, looks desperately at the two members of audience who have acquired secret knowledge of literary jargon in the hope they will blind tutor with said jargon.

Teacher: 'That's a good way of looking at there anything else..?

Member of audience: 'So, are you trying to get us to say..?'

Teacher: 'I'm not trying to get you to say anything, there's no right or wrong answer'

Audience gives up.

Teacher: 'Well perhaps if I tell you ...'

One member of audience realises that of course there IS a required ANSWER and that it's taken 17 people a whole agonising 15 minutes to be led to THE ANSWER, during which anyone who has contributed to the class discussion has made a rectumhole of themselves by muttering apparently irrelevant drivel.

90% of audience go home thinking what a wonderful teacher they've just experienced.

One member of audience (who at some time in the past opted for the red pill and dropped out of the matrix) realises that the class has been exposed to teacher-speak, and feels hugely patronised and rather depressed as a result.

And what can we learn from this story?

1. No matter what teachers say there is always a RIGHT ANSWER, i.e. the one they want you to say.

2. Until you say this answer, you're going to be WRONG.

3. To disguise the fact that there is a RIGHT ANSWER, and that the teacher knows that answer and is deliberately keeping that right answer from you, every time you say a WRONG ANSWER they will say things like 'yes, good try' and 'nearly' and 'I hadn't thought of that one' [they had, just thought it was stupid and irrelevant] and 'that's an interesting thought' and 'hmmm'.

4. If you hear any of the above phrases, you have been exposed to 'teacher-speak' and should immediately seek out a decontamination chamber, consume alcoholic beverage and exorcise yourself through some online ranting.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Lets celebrate our boys!

'What we need, she says, is to celebrate what makes them boys and help them to understand the things that don't come naturally to them. That means getting them outside more, particularly as space gets squeezed in urban schools. “Not letting boys be boys is not only detrimental to them but also to girls, many of whom become overcompliant with what is considered ‘good' behaviour and could do with a shove outdoors to take more risks,” she says. “I certainly wish that had happened to me.” '

[From a 2008 article in The Times]

As someone who tried very hard in my early days of parenting to 'gender neutralise' my boys, only to find out I was trying to bend the forces of nature, this quote feels very true.

So, let's celebrate our boys!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Oh yay! Oh yay! October round-up is here!

Ok, what can I say bloggy audience? I must kneel at your feet and beg forgiveness.

Forgive me for I have sinned: I've been a bad bad blogger.

You see this is how it happens:
I think of something I need to post. I have the photos; I have the words. But then somehow I don't get them to the pc.
Then a day or two later, something else happens that I want to blog. This time I get to the pc, but I don't have the photos to upload. So I think, 'well I'll wait till I have the photos'.

And well, you can guess the rest.

So here I am to rectify the situation. I have forgotten all the words I was going to say, all those pearls of wisdom/angst/humour. So instead we'll stick to annotated piccies.

Dd's 7th birthday. The hedgehog cake. Entirely home-made (well the role of nice mummy didn't extent to hand-crafting the chocolate buttons, but you know what I mean).

The best party game ever: tie mini chocolate donuts to strings off the washing line and yell 'Shark Attack!' and realise how difficult it is to take a nice photo of your child at a party without everyone else's kids in it. Especially difficult when said child is wearing a bear hat.

The best bit of birthdays of course

Mother has a fit of worksheetitis and sends children on a trail around museum. 'Just read the question again.' I say cheerily through gritted teeth 'The answer's got to be here somewhere.'

Detour to the toy shop to goggle at over-priced house-junk (the reward for not filling in the museum trail). We are all mildly impressed by the lego R2D2.
'No you can't have one for Christmas!'

Making beady bugs. Guess what everyone's getting for Christmas instead of a lego R2D2..?
Dying fluorescent orange cotton a (hopefully) less fluorescent orange colour.
Only another 20 or so balls to go...
Hoping these will make stripey socks because I'm too tight to buy the proper wool.
So, if you're not getting a beady spider for Christmas,
it could be fluorescent orange (and brown) socks.
Halloween bonfire party in motion
A picture just made for quirky captions. Suggestions anyone?
How about 'The devil is in the detail' ?
Or perhaps 'It was a hell of a halloween'?
Is it one of my kids in the photo?
No, obviously someone more willing to wear silly headgear than my bunch.
I think someone has been drinking too much Tango.
And the most exciting part of the halloween bonfire party?
When the fire engine arrived, of course!
Nothing us mothers like more than when the firemen stripograms arrive
I think everyone should set fire to their carpark
and invite a few firefighters along to the party.

On our trip somewhere between worksheetitis and toy shop we do something far more educational: watch a stuntsman do a stunt for the next series of 'Lewis'. To quote a famous band: 'That aint working that's the way you do it,
get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.'
(Though it must cost a fortune in chiropracter fees.)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

New Fast Automatic Daffodils

There's a poem by one of the 'Mersey Beat' Poets, Adrian Henri, that I always liked as a teenager. I still have the poetry books, well-thumbed from that time long ago. The other day I browsed through them and came across the poem again.
It's a strange poem, probably not to everyone's taste. Henri has taken Wordsworth's famous 'Daffodils' poem and spliced it with a Dutch advert for a car. (Yeah, weird, but I like weird.)

Here's the first part of it:

by Adrian Henri

I wandered lonely as
that floats on high o'er vales and hills
The Daffodil is generously dimensioned to accommodate four
adult passengers
10,000 saw I at a glance
Nodding their new anatomically shaped heads in sprightly
Beside the lake beneath the trees
in three bright modern colours
red, blue and pigskin
The Daffodil de luxe is equipped with a host of useful
including windscreen wipers and washer with joint control
A Daffodil doubles the enjoyment of touring at home or


I showed the poem to the kids. Then, egged on by their interest,'You mean you actually like it?!', I printed out another Wordsworth poem, and gave them some old magazines to make their own 'Mutant Wordsworth' poem.

So, this is the original they were working with:

Hmm..well it doesn't really float my boat. But take a look at the new improved version by ds1:

(alterations to the original are marked in bold type below)


By Public Relations

My luxury car leaps up when I behold

Cheaper online access in the sky

So was it when my life began

So is it now I am a van;

So be it when I shall grow old

Or let me fly

The child is father of the car that is man

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by the tax increase."

So, you see, whatever you think of poetry - and most of the time I think it's a pile of pompous pants - it really is just playing with words. Yep that's all it boils down to. Iambic pentameters (or should that be pompous pantameters?) aside, there are times when poetry can be crude and fun. And - though I've only just noticed - ds1 has even kept the rhyme correct in some of the lines - man/van, sky/fly. There was no prompting from me, I gave them free reign to do as they wished with old Wordy. Blimey! That means my child actually READ the poem and THOUGHT about which words would fit best.

Sometimes we seriously underestimate our kids, don't we?