Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Educating the kids is the easy bit

When I tell people I home educate, often the response is 'Wow, you're brave' or 'That must be hard work' or 'I could never do that'. And what I want to say in reply (but rarely do) is that educating my kids (or facilitating their learning, which is more our style), is actually the easy bit. It's all the other stuff that is hard.

This term I have been doing three courses. On Thursday evenings I'm doing a 2-year part-time diploma course, on alternate Monday evenings I'm doing an online course and on Friday mornings I'm doing another course. This equates to five 'homeworks' every fortnight, and one 2-3000 word assignment every term, plus working towards a larger portfolio and an exam. That's without actually making uninterrupted space for thinking time. I belong to a writing group, which meet every fortnight. It's my turn to lead the session tomorrow.

Two evenings a week during term-time I work from 7-10pm. The money isn't just handy, it's pretty much essential.

I try to home cook. I try to home bake. (Though at the moment the kids are living on Cream Crackers and Pot Noodle). I grow our own veg and I ignore our almost-abandoned allotment plot and feel guilty about it and continue to ignore it. I sell stuff on Ebay and Amazon to pay my late-payment credit card fines.

I do housework. I clean. I wash. I mend. I tidy. I cook. I shop. I cut grass and hedges. I scoop poop. I nag. I do it all over again. And still this place looks like something out of the series 'How Clean is Your House.'

Agreed, there are no dead mice in the wardrobe or cat pee stains on the carpet (there is no room in the wardrobe even for mice and we don't have a carpet). But it is a good demonstration of why hoarding stuff is A BAD THING and why pretty much everyone I know, except me, has a cleaner or an obliging mother who lives nearby and who cleans and babysits their kids every week, and why there are moments when I hate stay-at-home women whose kids are in school all day and who moan that they can't fit everything in. What I actually want to say is 'What the **** have you been doing all day? Writing a bestseller using alphabetti spaghetti?!' But of course I don't.

So, where does this leave us? Well, the crockery cupboards are full of dog hair and crud, the fridge has something growing in it, and the leaning tower of art and craft materials is now topped by a leaning tower of tablemats and books and clothes to mend and clothes beyond mending and weird things that the kids want to keep that I can no longer be bothered to resist, and one day it will topple down and bury us all and no-one will find us until the council break down the door to investigate the bad smell.

So when I start thinking about the home ed side of things, that is actually the easy bit. Or it would be if I had nothing else to do. One evening a week the boys have home ed fencing club, and middle child has cub scouts. This has to be juggled between work and courses. And then there is the kids' daytime activities - weekly fencing, monthly home ed group, monthly geography group, weekly/fortnightly Explorers Group for the younger ones. (We keep the activities to a tolerable level, but when you top up with play-dates and inpromptu meet-ups it all adds up.) And there's the time we spend on projects, research, library visits, outings, workshops.

But really, if someone - anyone - would step in and do the rest of the c**p, the boring, menial, essential stuff that is truly hard work, the home educating would be a doddle.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Woodland activities, polar craft, jelly, peacocks and leaf preservation

Last week (was it last week?) we managed to get some fresh air with friends in the woods.
Some of the kids tramped down stream and came to a mini waterfall

where the minerals in the water had solidified on branches and twigs and stones, giving them a hard casing. We concluded that it might be calcium carbonate (like the stuff that gunks up the kettle), but haven't looked into it yet. I'm thinking of putting some vinegar on it to see if it dissolves, but at the moment the mummified branch is sticking out of my jar of oversized kitchen implements. (We don't do houseproud.)

Of course a fire and marshmallows were compulsory. Ds1 had seen on Ray Mears that in survival cases where it was difficult to light a fire because of damp kindling it was possible to use plastic. So he took apart a blue connector rod pokey stick thing that for some wierd reason ds2 had brought along and set fire to it. Result.

Roasting marshmallows in molten plastic fumes...must be a bit like smoking bacon I assume.

More woodland activities on Monday this week, as we ventured to a local arboretum with a bunch of sweet little mostly-interested-in-what-we-were-doing girls and mildly thuggish feral boys (two of whom were mine). We discovered lots of clusters of hibernating ladybirds under the fern leaves (girls were interested; boys wanted to spear them)

Because I didn't want small child to fill my coat pockets with chunks of rotten wood and acorns, I'd supplied dd with a Tescos carrier. Thankfully the peacock was sensible enough to refuse to step into the bag.

and here she is with something she was determined to relocate to our garden.

After much negotiation I finally persuaded her that large unidentified fungi are probably more comfortable living in woods than in a back garden where a not-very-bright King Charles Spaniel will first pee on them and then eat them. And I definitely put my foot down when it came to taking the Fly Agaric home. Anything that looks like something a gnome would sit on it has got to be a BAD thing.

Ds1's culinary experimentations this week stretched to raspberry jelly with overcooked chocolate topping. Like me, he got impatient with the microwave and found out that if you heat chocolate high enough and hard enough, after the melting stage comes the solidified gunk stage (fractionally before the setting off the smoke alarm stage). I thought the fresh raspberries from the garden were a nice touch. I didn't ask how much he'd touched them before he put them on the top...particularly when I looked at his black fingernails.

At our monthly home ed group last week we made plaster cast fossils (which tied in quite nicely with our polar project fossil craft). Incredibly my kids sat through the whole of a geology talk, although ds1 was doing a good impersonation of a teen (it was the slumped body and spaced-out look that gave it away). I only had to hiss at smallest child once. I did have to hiss at a few adults who were chatting away, oblivious to the fact that their chatter made it impossible to hear the poor woman at the front who was doing her best to educate us about - er - rocks and things (I was listening, honest).

Meanwhile here are the decoupaged natural history boxes that the kids finished off this week for our ongoing polar theme thingy. It should look a bit like this and ours look like this:

Which I think is pretty good, don't you? I thought only ds2 would participate, so wasn't expecting to make three boxes, but the results are great. We haven't blown the eggs to go inside yet. I'm waiting for a good time to be enthused about egg-blowing. But perhaps there never is a good time to be enthused about egg-blowing...

The past few days ds1 has been taking weather measurements for his geography group. He's testing for wind-speed using a home-made anemometer, and rainfall using a home-made rain gauge (an empty lemonade bottle with bottle funnel and jelly in the bottom to make the bottom level). It's taken him two days to realise his anemometer is so stiff it wont turn even if he blows it. Or even if there is a gale. And particularly if he stands with one foot in the conservatory while sticking his arm out with the apparatus and says 'maybe I'm a bit close to the building, but it'll do'.

I suspect an over-enthusiasm for gaffa tape may have contributed to the non-turning design fault. But hopefully fixed now. But, like most science, it's all about experimentation, isn't it?

And today, after two hours of fencing classes with other home edders (that's the sword-sport, not the activity of trying to sell on nicked stuff) I persuaded at least one of my children to the cluttered conservatory table to try preserving some of the junk - I mean leaves - that we'd collected in our Tescos carrier on Monday. Following the instructions here on the ordinarylifemagic blog we bought some glycerin from the chemist and had a go. It was at this point I was particularly glad we hadn't brought home

a) the enormous fungi and

b) the peacock

as the glycerin was about £2.90 a small bottle and it would have taken a good few gallons to cover a peacock and a giant mushroom.

Apparently the leaves have to sit in the glycerin for two days, so watch this space...

As you may have noticed among all these activities, there's not alot of writing going on.

Or alot of maths.

Funny how the two main subjects that most home edders worry about just happen to be the two that all my kids do their best to avoid.

But, hey, who needs times tables and good grammar when you can rampage through a woodland stream, overheat chocolate in a microwave, start fires in damp weather, and preserve leaves - and potentially peacocks - in glycerin.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Polaris Chronicles - reviewed by someone who owns a thesaurus

Progress so far on the Polaris Chronicles polar explorers box themed package that we downloaded here

We've started with the Natural History section and the kids have started to make and antique a box in which to put a blown egg (supposed to be a puffin egg but I suspect we'd get arrested climbing cliffs to steal puffin eggs, so an ordinary chicken egg will have to suffice).

The kids stick a mini cereal pack together for the box:

and paint it with acrylic paint

making fake fossils with air-drying clay:

'Antiqueing' pictures (which we'll later use to decoupage the boxes) with diluted cold tea. Actually we used a cat litter tray of barely diluted very hot teabags, but that was only because we were, as usual, impatient. Our impatience also stretched to drying our pieces of paper in the oven - a gas oven (naturally rather flamey). We managed not to set the house on fire, or even set off the smoke detector (must check the battery). A successful outcome methinks.

and finally finished, the Emperor Penguin, a cardboard cut-out downloaded for free from Canon Creative Park
He looks a little worse for wear. Probably something to do with small sticky hands, impatience, multiple clothes pegs and half a bottle of PVA.

So. The verdict so far on the currclick Polar Exploration thingimajig download?

Well, the art/craft activities are great. Quite inventive suggestions, reasonable instructions, and pictures supplied for activities such as decoupage (though I suspect most of these can be found online if I had half a lifetime to look).

However, the introductory info, the interesting background scientific information that is supposed to accompany the craft activities is appalling, I mean really badly written. It is as if someone has cut and pasted a few lines from Wikipedia and then thought 'Oh I'd better try and put it into my own words so I can't be accused of plagiarism' and has then randomly rearranged the words in the sentence without even a tiny thought to clarity or - perish the thought - grammar. The result, therefore, is not only weird, but incredibly repetitive [I think I counted the word numerous used 3 or 4 times in less than 2 sides of A4, and spelt incorrectly on one of those occasions. Hey, guys, what's wrong with the word many..? Are you guys too posh to say lots of..?].

But perhaps I shouldn't be so hasty to judge. It is possible that I have stumbled across something rare and original. Reading it to my children yesterday there was a moment when I truly believed I had, in my hands, an attempt at an English translation of Japanese MFI instructions for an iceberg.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Polar project: on your marks...get set...

Well despite the big plans we haven't got far with our polar project.

I've collected some links (I've added most to the side bar on the right), downloaded a polar explorer box theme thingy here from currclick and also downloaded a cardboard penguin for free from Canon Creative Park here to put together. (Dd actually requested a polar bear, but seeing as the polar bear is more complicated-looking and it's been down to me to put most of the penguin together so far, polar bear can wait.)

The kids have watched the first episode of Frozen Planet and our free poster has arrived. We now have several polar-themed posters up in the hall, replacing the milk and other company marketing board ones that were up while we were following Hugh Fearnley Whatshisface's book The River Cottage Family Cookbook.

We've started making fake fossils and I've bought some marine-themed paper for our decoupages. I promise photos of work in progress, just as soon as we get a table clear enough to get the tub of glue on.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Four things Captain Scott found in Antarctica (and one that found him)

On an icy theme still...see this article here

"Found in the tent alongside their frozen bodies were 16kg (35lb) of fossils, a meteorological log, scores of notes, and rolls of film taken by Scott himself.

The dying explorers thought these too valuable to jettison, even though lightening their load could have played a part in the life and death struggle after weeks of travelling in temperatures below -37C (-35F)."