Friday, 27 January 2012

The Dilemmas of Change

Things are changing here and, as always, I don't know if we are doing the right thing.

Looking back at our education route so far we have dibbled and dabbled in a range of styles.

We tried 'school-at-home' in the early days and it didn't suit us. I mean it REALLY didn't suit us. It relied on organisation, preparation and willing participants. One out of three would have been good. We couldn't even manage that. With 3 small children, the eldest of which was very much his own person and resistant to most conventional educational techniques, it didn't happen. In fact most days it would take us an hour to get everyone's coats and shoes on just to get to the corner shop opposite our house. Home'schooling' was never really on the cards.

Some of the educational decisions we've made have happened through panic (OMG little Johnny next door knows his 9 times tables MUST BUY MATHS WORKBOOKS AND CATCH UP ON THE THREE YEARS WE ARE BEHIND), or desperation (NOTHING ELSE IS WORKING SO WE MIGHT AS WELL GO AUTONOMOUS) or the result of a tantrum (I GIVE UP. DINNER IS IN THE FRIDGE.  I'M IN THE LOFT).

Other decisions, usually caused by a child's changing needs, have been carefully thought through, weighed up and worried over. When you have 3 children there is never enough time in a day to consider everyone's individual needs all the time, unless they are all willing to sit at a table at the same time and work according to their level in workbooks (see previous comments for why 'school at home' didn't work for us).  So that means going with the path that suits the most children (or in most cases suits the eldest) at that particular time. In school I'm guessing at least two-thirds of the children in a class are having to follow an educational path that doesn't suit their learning style. There are worse things than home educating.

So our phases have swung from totally autonomous (child-led) to quite intensively project/theme-based (sometimes parent and sometimes child-led, but generally hands-on and multimedia) and everything in between. And then, at regular intervals (and almost always in moments of panic) we have made furtive and frustrating ventures into work books and curriculums, (usually Maths and English), that almost always end up being unsatisfying for all of us.

Some other home edders think I am anti-structure, because I'm so in favour of child-led education. I've never been anti-structure. I think structure is good if that is what a child wants or needs. What I am anti is bullying a child to do something they don't want to do. I've seen home edders tower over their children and reduce them to tears over completing some - irrelevant in the whole scheme of things - page in a workbook or similar. I am also anti children being dolled out with structured stuff just so the parent doesn't have to be involved with their child (surely one of the joys of home education is the opportunity to be involved in your child's learning, as much as they will allow you?)

Each to his own, and I'm not here to criticise other people's methods (I've done both the afforementioned crimes and I'm not proud of it). But from my experience using structured education as an excuse for bullying, or using structured education as a time-filling distraction to keep a child out of your hair never leads to a good place for child or parent.

I love the ethos of autonomous learning and while I may not achieve it on a day to day basis, I hold it at the very essence of what we do in our home educating lives. I think there needs to be some level of concensus when it comes to what we do as a family. Not everyone is going to be a happy chappy all of the time. I might choose to ignore a mild grumble or complaint, or adapt something to make it more appealing or interesting to a particular child. Or I may just ask the children to 'humour your mother'. But having been guilty of it more than once in our early home ed days I would now (I hope) never force a child to do something they really didn't want to.

So. What next?

Well I noticed over Summer we became more structured. The reason for this (I think) was that I had a heavy workload and needed to be more organised to fit in everything that I had to do. I didn't want to waste my time ferretting around for pencils, books, sheet of papers, a question-and-answer,craft materials, a topic-book, online resources etc. I knew that organisation and preparation saves time and makes life easier in the long-run, even if it takes a chunk of the sponteneity out of learning.

I also knew that ds2 was needed a bit more 'content' (as a home ed friend likes to call it) and I thought that actually they could all be stretched a little more than they had been. AND another plus for more structure was that I could fulful the promises I'd so flippantly made (and not kept). Promises like letting the kids cook more, going for bike rides, or buying x, y or z so one or other could complete whatever project/model/recipe they'd been whining about for months. It's so easy to let these things go. But if they were scheduled in, they happened. Although our structure over summer wasn't rigid (I put no time-scale on any of the activities) there was routine and forward planning and, for the most part, it worked fine.

Where are we now?

Well we are continuing to work through Story of the World Vol1, doing our own thing during the week and meeting up with another home ed family to do a few of the activities together. I've worked out a loose structure to it and we've been doing other associated activities (as you may have seen from the blog posts). So far so good.

Ds1 has been going to Geography sessions with a bunch of other home ed children. He may have the option to join an IGCSE Geography group in the near future. And though it shouldn't, the thought of this changes things. A year ago I thought it was unlikely we'd ever be looking at him doing IGCSE's. Out of desperation, I had predicted an entirely vocational route. Now, perhaps as a result of him maturing, or due to the exercises from the developmental optometrist, or may just as a natural result of things coming together, there is a remote chance that at some time in the future...Well, I don't like to jinx it by even mentioning it.

It's not a big thing, and yet I feel rather wobbly about it. I know if he is to be capable of jumping even the lowest of hoops (or keeping up with his 'classmates' on a weekly basis) we have a lot of catching up and filling the gaps to do. Yet if the offer is there I don't want him to miss out on the opportunity of at least having a go at the same material as his peers.

Mostly the obstacles are Maths and English. Of all the subjects these are the ones that home educators seem to get most obsessed about and these are the subjects that we have simply avoided declined to entertain as subjects (for various reasons, such as screaming, tantrums and all-purpose heel-digging-in).

In theory English and Maths should be the most straightforward to catch up with. But where to start? Ds1 is in agreement (at least at the moment - remember what I said about concensus) that it is time for a bit of catching up and filling in the gaps. And to this end I have got him the Galore Park 'Junior English Book 1' and some of the early 'topic' books from Maths Mammoth.

The English book is, well, pure comprehension (or possibly incomprehension). As my school experience taught me, comprehension is tedious even if you can do it easily. It's particularly tedious and doubly arduous if you can't.

But we need to start somewhere and being able to extract information from a passage and answer questions on it (including all those taken-for-granted school-learnt techniques like numbering your answers, writing full sentences and remembering capital letters and full-stops) seems to be an important technique that needs to be learnt for any hope of academic 'achievement'. For someone who until quite recently could read a question three times without understanding it, and has no apparent memory or technique for spelling, this is about as hard as it gets. (I don't like to tell him it's going to get harder).

Are we doing the right thing?

Truth is I don't know. We'll take it a little at a time and see how we go. This may be the ideal window to do all this catching up. Or it may be the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong person. The last thing I want is for home education to become a chore or a drag for any of us. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The wonderful thing about Lego is Lego's a wonderful thing, it's top is made out of pimples, its bottom is made out of dimply things.

If only the Ancient Egyptians had had Lego...

(Note: crocodile and Nile not to scale)

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Joys of Egypt! (note: enthusiasm of mother not met by enthusiasm of children)

I brought to the table what I thought was an inspiring lapbook for the boys to  fill in  create.

We are used to rolled eyes in this house. I've never quite got used to the groans, though.

At that point I had three choices.

1) start my usual long soap box drone about how much writing they would be doing if they were in school (noteably a lot more than filling one word in and sticking it onto a piece of cardboard) ending in me either sobbing or threatening to phone up the local school.
2) give up any thought of this 'jolly' activity, take on my autonomous parent mentality, and let them fry their brains on Minecraft for the day.
3) smile sweetly and carry on while sticking my fingers in my ears and going la la la la la everytime they complained about having to make a couple of marks on paper with a pencil.

Rightly or wrongly, I opted for 3. (But, being kind, I refrained from the la la la bit)

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Jigsaw finale


All Done!

Small scale education (or how to build the Nile in less than an hour)

How something on a miniature scale can take up your entire table for a day.

Ok, so someone got a bit carried away with the annual 'flooding'.
The trouble with organising an activity is that someone will always want to do something else.

Then, after all that exertion creating The Nile and populating Egypt with small plastic houses and overly large wicker boats, time to have a rest and run around the woods:

Wot no teeth?

Woodland pose

Strange 'man of the trees'

Saturday, 14 January 2012


Our latest find in the 99p store:

 Irritatingly fiddly and frustratingly difficult. 
(Bet you didn't know quite how many shades of brown there are in a Sphinx - I didn't)
But totally addictive.

 So addictive that I haven't been able to do anything else today.

 That is, if I can get a look in! 

 (btw, I did the sky. Me. Mine. All mine).

Also this weekend ds2 and dd have made more marzipan mice 
from the marzipan we bought on Friday. 

 And I picked up this book from the charity shop

 Which, if you ignore the silly costumes bit,
(caused huge amusement among my children)
has plenty that will be useful for our ancient history.
For example, when we make our Egyptian models.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Home Educators do it with buttocks

You're thinking about the title, I know. Hold that thought...

A day of museums.

Sketching at the Natural History Museum

My Old Friend

 And then a trip to Egypt

A Step Pyramid (and a small child)

The gruesome bit (much loved by children)

The Sinuhe Ostracon (apparently)

Sobek, Crocodile God


Stone blades

Model Egyptian boats

And then a wander to the covered market...

To the cake decorating shop (let's not mention the inferiority complex I have about my baking skills)

Hey, anyone could do that.

And then finally what you've all been waiting for...

Home educators do it with buttocks?

Education of course!

Friend and I stare for a while. 'Mmm...there's a nice firm pair of buttocks, don't you think?' Very educational.

Let's not talk about the front, shall we?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Giraffes, paint, wax, paint, marzipan (and no paint).

The connection is obvious, really: the activities of my home educated bunch these past few days.

Checking out giraffe colouring

A bit of painting

Et voila!

Making items for our Ancient Egypt model of the Nile (not yet created)

Pastel/wax and paint creations

Marzipan animals (made today)

Close-up of life in marzipan world.

Icing Flower (made today). Looking unnervingly like a triffid.

The boys also listened to a talk on nanotechnology. I was hoping to get a photo of their 'buckeyball' creation.
But it wasn't created.
'Someone took my bit of paper' and 'I had a go but it fell apart' being the feeble excuses given in response.
'But what about my blog? I need photos.' I wail. Children rolled eyes in response.