Friday, 29 June 2012

Postal 'Culture Swaps' - Good or bad?

As we've been doing a bit of a country/continent theme we signed up today for The Worldwide Culture Swap I'm not sure what will come of it, but after I explained what it entailed dd liked the idea of sending packages from our country - or, rather, receiving packages! So, if nothing else, it will add a bit of life to our flagging HE :)

We've had a stab at Postcrossing  before. It seemed like a great idea, but, tbh, it was me who ended up writing and sending the postcards and it was me who was ooooing and ahhhing over the ones that were returned, without even a glimmer of interest from any of my bunch.  Perhaps a parcel of THINGS will be different?

I also looked into the Flat Stanley project, but I can just imagine my kids' faces when I explain that not only do they have to write a 'journal' to send to someone, but they'll be expected to read the one that is returned. Things, rather than words, make more of an impression on my kids :)

Has anyone tried any of these projects? What has your experience been?

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Grinding to a halt in home ed.

After a conversation with a friend this morning we came to the topic of how tired we were. Not physically tired. Not even mentally tired. But just feeling a bit drab about our home education.

The thing is, there are often fabulous times when you home ed - times when your kids are bursting with learning, when you have all the enthusiasm and energy in the world and want to tell everyone the benefits of the HE choice you have made. And there are times when you wonder what on earth you are doing (Am I mad?!)

And yet life goes ok when you are riding up and down the this is great...this is crap rollercoaster.

The difficult times, aren't really the difficult times. The most difficult times I find are when we are stuck in the plateau, when everything is plodding on, but in a mediocre, half-hearted, jaded, can't-be-faffed sort of way. After all I didn't choose to home ed to spend the day doing mediocrity.

I know when we get to this point because I lose the will to keep any structure to the day. I'm not talking about educational structure (although that goes out the window too), but the ability to make anything happen. We find ourselves eating breakfast closer to lunch time and lunch sometime shortly before I cook dinner. Bedtimes become later, or just haphazard. The to-do list of jobs gets longer without any enthusiasm to reduce it.

When we get to this point I start resorting to worksheets because the effort of responding to child-led projects is more than I can muster. (And besides, think of the mess that someone will have to clear up afterwards). The kids spend more time on the pc because somehow there is no fuel to inject into creative activities. It takes energy to push myself out of the house. Pushing three other rather reluctant people out with me, is more than I can manage, so we stay in.

Of course these moments, like any moments in parenting and HE, do pass. And of course, it doesn't mean that the kids aren't learning, because they ARE learning heaps. But there is just a weighty drag to the week.

I've been home educating nearly nine years now and we've been here before.  (At least once a year, sometimes more).

Why? Why now?

Perhaps it's because we've always had to do things on a tight budget. Resourcefulness takes energy and time. If you have money you can always pay for someone else to do something with your kids. Or you can just go on holiday :) I have been feeling alot of money envy recently. A sure sign that I need a break, time to chill, connect back with the important things.

Perhaps it's nine years of responsibility. Someone with kids in school can put the blame on the teachers/school/ peer group/ education system. When you Home Ed, the buck stops here. When I'm on top, I don't mind taking that weight on my shoulders. I even revel in it. When I'm feeling lethargic and uninspired I just want to hand the load to someone else.

Or perhaps it's just the occasionally repetitive nature of HE when you have several children. Can you really summon up the same enthusiasm to do the Romans AGAIN, this time with the third child. Will they miss out if you don't make a table-top volcano with baking soda? (there will be a further post on this). Bedtime stories...sigh. Why wont this one just get on and learn to read?

Or perhaps it's just my personal response to finishing a two-year diploma course and now having to go back to being just a mum and a housewife and meeting everyone else's needs. Being treated as someone with a brain for two years is nice. It's like someone telling you you're doing a good job, and that you're important and that you're fit for more than colour-coding the lego. The rewards of home ed can be huge, but mostly they are intrinsic and not always easy to extricate in a way that the rest of the world will understand.

Is there a solution?

Hmmm...I don't know. Most of the time I think it's something we just have to ride out.

And other times it can be helped with a change of scenery, meeting some new people, or just a damn good rest.

Time for a break, perhaps?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Out of Africa, via Leonardo (with some home ed resources on the way)

 I'd been trying to think of something to do with dd, who, for a while hadn't really been engaging with the home ed I'd been doing with the boys. I had a vague idea of doing something about continents or countries, Montessori-style, but not (IYKWIM). We started with a giant map of Africa, which I printed out from Owl and Mouse Megamaps here

The flags came from an Discovering the Continents: Animals of Africa lapbook thingimajig that somehow I'd already downloaded from currclick here (my guess is that it was freebie). The landmarks cards were from Montessori Print Shop here . The flags and landmark cards were probably a bit unnecessary as I can't imagine my bunch will get joy out of memorising this sort of stuff and unless you have a montessori classroom I can't see how they'd get a lot of use. But the kids had fun laminating all the little things and then sellotaping them onto long embroidery/patchwork pins (from Ebay).

I remember doing Jigmaps when I was a child and loving them. I'd ordered one from Ebay and coincidentally as it arrived I was imobilised for a week with an excrutiatingly bad back for a week, so it was an ideal opportunity to put the jigsaw together with dd. I thought it might be too difficult for her, or that she would get bored, or find it rather old fashioned, but she thoroughly enjoyed it. (We now have another one of India on order :) )

The project that must not be named (think Leonardo) is still trickling along. Ds2 had a go at a perspectograph from the Amazing Leonardo Inventions book which wasn't terribly successful, but I think was due to poor choice of materials and impatience rather than lousy instructions.

I'm continuing to read Leonardo's Shadow out loud to dd and ds2. It's pitched a little bit older than they are, but the story is fast paced enough and thankfully references to anything 'unsavoury' have gone over their head. After all, Leonardo was no saint. My only complaint would be that in some chapters there is a rather a lot of internal thought of the main character that is interspersed with dialogue and when you read this aloud it's difficult for the listener to discern what is being said and what is being thought. But, hark at me, I'm starting to sound like a literature student...

Friday, 22 June 2012

Secrets of our Living Planet: Free 'How Nature Works' Booklet from Open University

See here: for your free booklet on the new series Secrets of our Living Planet. Might be useful if you're doing ecosystems/food webs etc.

We've watched the first of the series and although it wasn't as scientifically rigorous as your typical Attenborough, the animal-loving child of our family enjoyed it.

Spot the difference:

Friday, 8 June 2012

How to kill...

...six hours in the pouring rain on a shoestring budget:

While ds1 does his archaeology 'thang' (i.e. digs a large hole in some woman's large garden in Surrey) we have six hours to do 'something' in the area before picking him up.

A friend suggests taking them to the cinema.

Lovely idea.

Spending £20 at the cinema for one-and-a-half-hour's entertainment is an obvious suggestion when that's how you regularly occupy your kids in the holidays, (along with playschemes, skiing lessons, weekends at get my drift)

Being on the fraying end of the financial shoestring this month, it's not a sensible option.

No! I thought. I will battle to save that 20 quid!

As anyone with kids knows, occupying them when the sun is shining is a doddle.

Does the sun shine?

Does it heck!

So off we go with macs, wellies, leggings, bikes, a smelly (and later wet, dirty and smelly) dog, a dog blanket for wiping dirty hands (cos I forget to take the towel), felt-tip pens, drawing pencils (various varieties), notepads, paper, a board to lean on when drawing on paper, books (read-alouds and read-yourselves) a game of Uno, two Nintendo Ds's and games, an educational CD on famous scientists, a folder of my revision work, exam papers, several tedious books on literary criticism that I will probably only read when deprived of all other reading matter, changes of clothes, and more spare socks, a pair of walking boots (cos one child might complain about the wellies), drinks, more drinks, sandwiches, bananas (quickly crushed to a pulp and I forget to bring the fruit cake), the dog lead, dog poo bags (which as you see come in handy later), an umbrella, my camera, the kids' cameras because I think my memory card and batteries may be coming to the end of their life, and [deep breath] a life-time's (or hopefully 6 hours')  supply of Tesco Value Chocolate bars.

Yes. I can fully understand why the option to throw your kids in the car in t-shirts and trainers, drive to the cinema, spend 20 quid on cinema tickets, followed by another 30 quid in Pizza Hut, is very appealing.  As I frequently find, resourcefulness takes up a lot of space.

So, we get there and do a bit of this :

(I make them do an hour with lunch as the incentive. This is Wet Weather Bootcamp, you know.)

Followed by some of these:

 Then onto the bikes:

where ds2 discovers that his bike seat is rather too hard for going over large bumps:

 More of these:

Then a quick repair of a pedal (using those very handy dog poo bags - I was a girl guide, you know) that waits until we are a mile away from the car before choosing to break.

And yes, my kids did wonder why I was taking a photo of this. For the blog! For the blog! I say. They don't understand is that mothers get very bored too and have to find motivating ways to occupy themselves for six hours in the rain.

Then some more of this:

More of these:

More of this:

While I do some of this (under an umbrella):

And eat more of these:

And then an hour of playing on their Nintendos sitting in the car in the carpark waiting for ds1 to arrive, while I  receive some bad news on my phone (very sad, very sudden).

And then 2.5 hours moving approximately nowhere at a "I'm bored-I'm hungry-He's taking up all the space-He hit me!-Will someone hold onto the *!%**! dog before he ends up under the brake pedal" pace in a tailback on the M25. At which point

we run out of these:

and we resort,

first to Radio 4, where I learn all about Solomon (whether I wanted to or not),

and then to

The Educational CD on Famous Scientists, for entertainment.

I feel, after being educated for an hour, that I should know all about the bible and science and who Solomon is and why Copernicus was a bit crap and why the other blokes after him were a bit better.

But all I can remember is something about telescopes and a spectacle maker and that I should have bought two packs of these:

Then ds1 pipes up from the back:

 'Oh. I think I might have left my trainers behind.'

Yes. In someone's garden. In the rain. In Surrey.

I keep my temper. I do. Honest.

So he has no trainers (i.e. no shoes at all) one day before he has fencing practice (I swear I would send him in slippers) and two days before a fencing competition (when not even I would be mean enough to send him in slippers) and he will definitely need A PAIR OF TRAINERS.

So, on arrival home, I drop two wet children and one rank dog off, race out with ds1 to the nearest late-night-opening sports shop and we find him a new pair of trainers.

At the handsome price of £23.99.

Oh. Gee.

Thank you Oh Wondrous Higher Being.

Thank you for rewarding me for my frugal 20 quid-saving endeavours.

You know what. This goes to prove it.

I always knew you weren't a woman.

Friday, 1 June 2012

How to Make a Camera Obscura

We've finally got around to starting a 'project' on Leonardo da Vinci.

[I put 'project' in inverted commas so I don't jinx it. Projects without inverted commas get scared and run away or take over and become dicatatorial. No this is just an ordinary, everyday, insignificant, modest little 'project'.]

We are reading Leonardo's Shadow by Christopher Grey, which is surprisingly funny. Yes. I think this is one I am going to enjoy reading out loud. And it is shorter than The Kin, our last read aloud.

We have also been looking in Amazing Leonardo Da Vinci Inventions You Can Make Yourself by Maxine Anderson and came across instructions for making a Camera Obscura. A camera obscura is basically a dark box or a dark room with a very small hole in one side that lets in light.  An upside-down image of the outside is projected on the opposite side to the hole. It's a good demonstration of how an eye works (There is further info about camera obsuras here )

For those of you who don't have the book, and can't understand our instructions, there are perfectly adequate instructions here . This activity requires the consumption of a tin of Pringles, which for me is always a good way to start something practical.

You will need:
Pringle tin
tape (parcel or duct tape is good, but most will do)
aluminium foil
a sharp knife for cutting cardboard (we used a serrated kitchen knife).
A ruler and a pen for marking where you need to cut

Below are some photos and (very brief) instructions.

 Get an empty Pringle tin (with lid). Cut the tin apart 2inches from the metal base.

Fit the lid on the short stumpy bit of the tin. We found it best to tape a piece of greaseproof paper over the see through lid to improve the image (not shown here):

 (You'll probably need to tape round it to get it to stay fixed) (see below):

 Tape the longer piece of tube on top of the stumpy bit. The lid will be sandwiched in between the two tubes.

Roll the whole tube in several layers of foil (not shown) to make sure it is completely dark inside. (obviously don't cover up the pin hole). Tuck any ends into the open end of the tube.

Look through the open end (not the bit with the tiny hole in - as we found out that doesn't work). You should see an upside down image of whatever you are pointing at on the lid 'screen'.

It's best on a bright sunny day, or in good strong light. Cup your hands over the end nearest your eye or put a towel over your head, if it's difficult to see.
This is the best photo we could get down the tube. (It doesn't really do it justice).