Sunday, 30 September 2012

Warhammer and archaeology

This afternoon I alternated between:

  • looming over middle child painting warhammer in Games Workshop, while tut-tutting over the price of models They want to charge HOW much for a mutated plastic soldier with a chainsaw?  and trying to grasp the concept of all the different armies So, tell me again, what are Wood Elf Glade Guards and why can't they team up with those space marine guys on motorbikes?... One customer child with paintbrush in hand, who heard me sigh aloud: This is like watching paint dry replied Actually that's what it is, most of the time. He had a point. But three hours of watching warhammer is more than any parental contract dictates.

  • taking/picking up big'un to an archaeology taster session at a local museum with his archaeology group. Not helped by standing outside the wrong door for 20 minutes and wondering most of his archaeology group hadn't arrived. But not alone because five others were also in the wrong place at the wrong time. And with that group mentality none of us thought to bang on the door and ask why we were still stood outside it 10 minutes after the session had started.  Anyhow, apparently the group were helping out the museum by bagging - or re-packing - museum specimens to avoid damage. The highlight for ds1 was when someone showed him how to identify different flints/flint tools. Hopefully these will become regular sessions.
  • testing out our new wireless internet. It took most of yesterday to get the connection working. I'd assumed it was just my technical incompetence, but when I finally gave in to ignorance and rang their helpline it turned out that *they* were having problems. Right. So I now have wireless on one laptop. The other with Windows 7 isn't playing ball despite poking it with a long stick and talking to it nicely.  I've had to order a dongle (which sounds very rude) for the pc. Suddenly I feel like the squirrel in that scene in Ice Age when it goes to heaven and is dragged back through the pearly gates in a whoosh, while leaving his giant golden hazelnut behind. Except that I'm being dragged into the modern tech world with nothing more than a very slim instruction booklet and a web address for their 'online help' (which they obviously haven't realised isn't much use if you can't get online). All of which is more detail about my household frustrations than you needed.

Art Gallery

A guided tour around the James Welling exhibition at MK Gallery, followed by a home ed workshop with an artist

An explanation of abstract art and the creation of prints using randomised techniques

James Wellings photographs of foil - which in turn looked like landscapes, rock, fossils and water.

and then, in the workshop, trying to recreate some of the effects by creating 'rubbing templates'

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Monday, 17 September 2012

"Everyone couldn't stop laughing..."

(This was ds1's verdict today on his first 2-hour IGCSE chemisty lesson with a group of home educated children.)

His other comment was something along the lines of:

The tutor gave us bags of chocolates. There were so many. We stuffed them in our pencil cases. She said she's going to bring some more next week.


I reckon that woman has teenage boys just about sussed.

Bring chocolates AND make 'em laugh.


Ds2 had his first Spanish session today. A thumbs up from him.

Next week more chemistry for ds1, and ds2 starts his Arts Award.

It's all rather strange. After years of very much a DIY approach (i.e. we bumble along through most subjects/topics, working it out for ourselves) I finally get to hand over the responsibility, temporarily, for educating two of my children for an hour or so. Apart from the occasional activity the kids have done, this is pretty much a first for us.

I wonder, is this what it's like to send your child to school? Probably not. After all, I'm hardly abandoning them at the school gate to do god-knows-what while I bake cakes and work off the 2 stone I've put on through childbearing by gym and yoga classes. I've never had that experience, and though I hankered for it once, I certainly wouldn't swap our lives for that now.

No. This seems like the next stage. Up to this point we've done everything on a shoestring budget and mother-and-child-fuelled energy. This is the right time to be buying in the experience/expertise/skills that I either don't have, or don't have energy or enthusiasm for.

And if our weeks consist of a mix of fencing sessions, Capoeira, swimming, home ed group, Spanish, Art class, film-making, archaeology club, computer programming, warhammer/model-making, chess, geography and chemistry, plus the projects we'll continue to do at home...Well, that seems a pretty decent spread to me. Let's hope we all have the stamina to keep up the pace!
Meanwhile we await news of whether ds1 will get a place on a training session at a local archaeological museum on 'object identification'. The aim, after the training session, is to help out at regular sessions via his (usual) local archaeological group, classifying and photographing and cataloguing objects in the museum. And this is a big, very important museum.

We've been unable to find him volunteer work at the local museums, primarily because of his age (child protection, supervision, blah blah), but also because he is competing against the students from two universities in the city who naturally want CV-boosting experience. Given the choice between a 19-yr-old university archaeology/classics student and a 13 yr-old enthusiastic amateur in a hoodie it's obvious which the museum staff would choose.

So perhaps something will come of this. As long as nobody starts getting picky about his age, this could be just the ticket for him :)

And if not, hopefully ds1 will get a place on the 'big' dig they'll be doing in October - he's done test pits, but not a full scale dig yet, so if it comes together, this will be very exciting for him...

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Life after price comparison websites and contract surfing

Ds2 spent the afternoon painting Warhammer, while I wrestled with price comparison websites trying to fix us a better phone/broadband and electricity/gas contract.

Three hours later, square-eyed and comparisoned-out, I think I might have sorted it.

Over the years with TalkTalk we have had numerous bizarre phone conversations in that loud monosyllabic voice that we English adopt when we can't understand someone's accent. Even the simple task of asking TalkTalk staff the most basic of questions (NO-I-DONT-WANT-TO-UPGRADE-I-WANT-TO-KNOW-WHY-YOU'VE-STOPPED-MY-INTERNET-CONNECTION) felt like Livingstone trying to swap underpants for frog poison with some obscure tribe who have never encountered people from the outside world. (YOU-GIVE-ME-INTERNET-CONNECTION-I-GIVE-YOU-MARMITE. EH? MARMITE. M-A-R-M-I-T-E. YOU'LL LOVE IT.)

I thought I'd never say it, (I don't like to feel that I'm a failure at multicultural communication),  but I am looking forward to a provider with a UK-based call centre.

So, this post, apart from documenting the ordinari-nari-ness of our day, is also a sort-of prior warning.

If I don't blog for a while, it may mean that my contract-swapping has all gone belly up.

Most likely it will mean that the guy at  the UK call centre with the lovely Glaswegian accent couldn't get the wee woman on the phone to understand a word, and that I'm without internet access. [btw it is common knowledge that it's useless anyone north of Milton Keynes trying to communicate with us over-anglicised southerners.]

[Apart from that, this was our day:
The usual chores, then 'tick-box' stuff from their folders, chemistry reading, touch-typing, blah blah. Then to the interesting stuff: dd made chocolate cookies, while ds1 made microwaved steamed pudding (that was his breakfast) and did some drumming and guitar. Then, some time in the garden, and ds1 off to IGCSE geography, picking up dd's friends on route. Dd and friends playing for the rest of the day. Then dinner and ds2 to scouts...etc etc.]

Browsing blogs, I saw a lovely post A Moment in our World  for making quick pencil cases.  The original instructions for making the pencil roll are here on the My Poppet blog.

We have rather a lot of random bits of material and I need to find some genuine uses for it, apart from its current employment as loft insulation.

Monday, 10 September 2012

One small step for...

Our day so far

After chores and watching Kiki's Delivery Service and finally getting out of pjs,  the kids did a few "tick-box" things from their folders and the boys did touch-typing. Ds2 translated rude English sentences into Spanish. Ds1 read a few pages of chemistry IGCSE and didn't grumble. Too much. 

Ds2 and dd launched into some Art from the Fine Arts Harmony Course (making clay and wire figures), while listening to Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (to go with our 'moon' theme today) on Youtube. 

We may not be very cultured, but we can at least do a good job of faking it.

Continuing with our Solar System/Space theme, we watched this on the moon and tides. Then, inspired by this, dd and ds2 made 'moon craters' using marbles, flour and chocolate powder. 

Ds1 put this film together, with a little help from ds2.

The experiments indicated that, yes, we could make craters just like those on the moon. The experiments also showed that flour and chocolate powder go a long way and don't brush off black clothes as easily as one might expect :)

Soon we will be heading down the library to return our - always overdue - books and to pick up a reservation of an audio CD for bookclub (20 discs. Yikes.) Then dd and ds2 will be going swimming with friends.

And now...

Dd has just rediscovered the asteroid landing zone that I brought in from the threat of terrestrial rain. She is currently covering the conservatory table, and herself, with flour and chocolate powder. Joy.

Friday, 7 September 2012

It's 9.10 am in The Chicken Shed household...

...and I've had a physiotherapy appointment, the kids have done their morning chores, have made their own packed lunch in preparation for chess club, have completed a few pages of tick-box maths and writing, as well as some logic problems from their daily folders, (ds1 has read the rest of a chapter on metals for IGCSE chemistry) and now they are taking turns to race down our shared drive in their home-made go-kart.

I take a moment to wonder what the neighbours are thinking as they see my ragamuffin bunch hurtling down the driveway in a plastic crate fixed to a skateboard.


Moment over.

Let's get on with enjoying the day :)

Update: 9.31 am and ds1 has just come in for a tape measure to help calculate how many kilometres per hour their go-kart is travelling.

'How many metres in a kilometer?' he asks (and I reply).

'Oh that's good.' he says, and off he goes.

Update: 10.26 am.  apparently 22mph, according to their calculations on Meanwhile, ds2 is teaching himself to crochet. We discuss 'freeform' crochet, when he explains how he'd like to experiment. Their lift for chess club is due any time. Dd is about to go on minecraft (waiting patiently for me to get off the pc)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

And what else...

...has been happening with the children for the past few weeks (apart from all the art!)

Ds1 plays drums at Rock School for a week. (The staff praised him on his talent and were gobsmacked he'd never had any lessons - just a teeny proud mum moment :) ). Meanwhile ds2 went rollerblading in the local park, and dd went for playdates with her friends.

We go to a local festival, held at a large allotment. Dd stays at the festival with friends for the rest of the day, while we made our way home.

We pick courgettes from the garden. (Note the closeness of the yellow football. Plants in our garden have to be hardy to survive!)

Ds1 continues with his IGCSE chemistry and Geography reading

  Blackberry picking, to make crumble and wine.

Ds2 empties the counties' libraries of books about manga. Then teaches himself.

He makes a short list of equipment he needs to do animation 'old school', then goes onto the internet to do a price comparison.

 Ds2 decides he wants to make shortbread.

We move paving slabs to make a base for the new chicken coop that we're making out of a packing case that was being thrown out (our 10 hens need more space).

 And discover a huge ants' nest:

 Lots of reading - Guinness World Records, British History, The Aztecs, and a 4-inch tome called "3D Game Development"...

Lots of talk and plans for the kids' new Minecraft server:

 Thoughts on design:

We took down our posters and information about Australia and New Zealand:

 And replaced them with posters on space and art:

We started a chart of moon phases. The moon decided to hide behind cloud for the next three nights :)

The children caught flies and fed them to the garden spiders, overcoming their fear of spiders and experimenting with size and type of fly.

We walked to the park intending to pick blackberries. But came home with elderberries for wine.

 Swimming in the lake (bit chilly, but fine once we got over the initial shock!)

And catching crayfish

Ds2 took the screwdriver to the waterpistol to try to fix it.

Wine, all bottled up and fermenting happily under the piano.

Dd and I have a discussion about wine-making, fermentation, yeast, gas and the similarities with the chemistry of bread baking. So that's chemistry, biology, self-sufficiency and home economics in one 5-minute conversation.

Dd continues on her reading journey. Having finally decided she wanted to learn to read (or at least was willing to give it a go), in a matter of weeks she has gone from simple words like cat and bed to reading words like 'couldn't' and 'everyone'. She seems to have an excellent memory for sight-recognition of words, less tendency I think towards phonics deciphering. Each of my children has been different and found their own combination of what works for them. I haven't been teaching her. I just sit with her while she reads. She'll do it at her own pace when she wants to. Being, at the peak of "reading readiness" (which she, herself, has recognised) I expect there'll be no stopping her now.

My plans! All my beautiful plans!

Plans. How easily they go belly-up when you home educate :)

A couple of weeks ago I downloaded the Harmony Fine Arts Course. I thought it would be an interesting way to guide us through learning about art and classical music. I'm not a huge fan of
classical music, and know very little about it, so I thought we could learn to appreciate it (or not) together. The children have an interest in art, but none of us know anything about artists. This course looked like it would fill the gaps in a flexible way, offering us a broad spectrum introduction and then allowing us to then follow our individual interests if anything caught our eye.

We ordered the couple of books that were needed, including The Usborne Art Treasury (from the library) and Oxford First Book of Art (from Amazon), and made a start. My daughter liked one art book in particular. As seen in this post, she proceeded to work through the art book at break-neck pace, doing the parts that interested her.

Today, I get out the folder of The Harmony Fine Arts Course.

Dd says: "Oh. I don't want to do art today. I've done everything that interests me."

In the early days of home edding I would have taken this very personally. I might have been badly behaved enough to rant a little. I'd certainly have bemoaned the time and energy I'd invested in my 'plan', even if I didn't vocalise it out loud. I expect I would have dragged the kids kicking and screaming through the schedule for another few weeks, until we gave up in a fit of resentment.

But I've learned heaps since home educating.

I've learned that plans are flexible. I've learned that plans and projects and schemes, or whatever you want to call them, are just ways of offering something to your kids, of exposing them to something they (and you) may not have experienced before. The child may follow your neatly set out plan. Or by offering something different this might plant a small seed in their mind, (but they'd rather come back to it later). Or they may take the initiative and run with their own ideas. Or, as has happened on occasions, they may reject your offering altogether.

But this isn't failure.

I can step back and look at this experience, look at the positive things that have happened by offering this plan:

  • We now know about and own two lovely imaginative art books with activities in, that we would never have discovered otherwise.

  • My dd, who has barely drawn or painted for 2 years, has in the past 3 days produced a stack of inventive artwork. Not because I instructed her, but because she wanted to. And I let her.

  • Our long-untouched stack of art and craft materials has come back into use. The children have fresh ideas of how to use them.

  • I've had further thoughts about taking the kids to art museums and workshops, and come to the conclusion that this might be something they'd like to do. I've booked a workshop at an art museum.

  • My dd has realised she is able to independently use a book and to follow pictorial instructions, even though she struggles to read. This new-found confidence will most likely spread to other activities.

  • I've learned to let go of my fixed ideas, to go with the flow, to trust my children. I've also learned that plans aren't a bad thing, as long as you don't stick rigidly to them :)

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

8.30pm and time for...

...the Christmas lights and some artwork.

Life is full of surprises. One day you have a child who has barely drawn or painted anything for two years, and then the next day she decides to work her way through all the activities The Usborne Art Treasury in the half hour before going to bed.