Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Where has our free time gone? Maths Mammoth, Arts Award, IGCSEs, Sewing, Fencing, Latin, Geography, Chemistry and snow at The Chicken Shed

The philosophical posts are queuing up (lots of thoughts, not much headspace to put them on here). But in the meantime I realised it's been rather a long time since I posted up what we've been doing.

We've got a bit of a routine going here now, which works at least some of the time. Mostly our week is organised around Ds1's IGCSE subjects/groups and his need to get his homework done every week. And his homework takes him a loooonnnnnng time. Everything else has become more organised - structured (dare I say it) - and scheduled.

What happened to our free time?

Dd has been doing a few pages of Maths Mammoth most days. She's 9 now, but we started at a very low level with the intention of skipping bits that she can do easily and spending more time on the stuff she isn't familiar with. I'm never fond of maths curricula (we've tried quite a few) and tbh ideally I'd avoid all formal maths until the kids were 11 or so as it all seems so unnecessary. Ds1 started sit-down maths at 11, ds2 at 10, and dd at 8 - it's getting younger with each sibling!

But, all-in-all, I like Maths Mammoth. It's no-frills, but it's methodical and works well for her. It's cheap to buy and try. It does require organisation to print out the stuff. (And half a rainforest worth of printer paper.) But for 'plodders' it seems to give enough practice and enough gradual steps to make it do-able.

Being an 'almost-reader' I need to sit with her to read the instructions and that's a pain for me. (Ok, rephrase that. It's inconvenient). Most days she's fine about doing the maths, 'though she does sometimes say it's a bit boring. How boring? Not school boring. Just, well, something I like her to do. (Which in itself makes it equate to a bit of a chore.) Which reminds me -  I do need to intersperse it with more online maths games. I don't find maths fun and it appears to take superhuman effort and ingenuity to make it fun for my children.

Dd has been doing lots of crafts. If you can't read and you're not interested in museums or science projects or history or documentaries or audiobooks or film-making or building intricate lego towers or doing anything the boys did, and mother says you can't spend hours plugged into your ds or powder game (however educational the latter is supposed to be), then all that's left is crafts. (Ok, there's also cooking, but mother doesn't have energy or patience to clear up the bomb-site kitchen after a child-friendly cooking session)

Today dd got the beads, wire and pompoms out to make wire bugs (with beady legs). [Similar style to the spider in our blog post here ]

And over New Year she made a couple of new friends (sock-creatures) using the Stray Sock Sewing book (which is very cute to look at, even if you never make anything in it!)

Incredibly easy to make and better house-trained than our dog (and kids).

We gave dd this book for Christmas

 and she's already made a start, using our old sewing machine and a lot of mother-patience.
(Blogger seems to think this photo should go sideways, no matter what I tell it. Don't you just hate it when it does that?)

DD has also started crocheting, again.

Needless to say, mother (who hasn't crocheted for a long while) is getting jaw-ache from the gritted teeth involved with teaching a 9-year-old who can't read instructions how to crochet granny squares. But like most home ed things, it's nothing that caffeine, chocolate and a bit of yelling at the back garden wall (it's a long garden) wont ease.

The latest local swap shop trip proved fruitful (A Swap Shop is where you can go along and take whatever you want for free and - equally important - dump all the stuff your kids picked up the last time you went)

We found a boxed chemistry set, with most of the chemicals still intact. We've picked up a chemistry set before from the swap shop, but this is even better - a bit more advanced. Theoretically it's nothing we couldn't get dh to 'borrow' from work, but this has everything to hand and comes with an instruction booklet.

Ds2 was inspired to get stuck-in.

Ds2 and dd using electrolysis of copper sulphate to coat a nail with copper.

Fencing club and lessons continue. Even in the snow. We're a hardy bunch, us.

And computer time happens. Alot. I try to keep it vaguely 'educational', but if you look hard enough (and I can look darn hard) most computer games have some educational value.

Below are the Pokemon Project Studio discs we found at the swap shop. I wont mention the precious hour of my life it took me to get just one of the discs to install...(ok I will mention it because I deserve a gold star for patience on that one.)

But, on the plus side, the discs got dd doing some 'writing' and asking about spellings. So. Like I said.  E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N-A-L.

Ds2 has started Visual Latin. We had a lovely 'chat' by email with the guy in America who makes these video. Turns out he grew up not far from where we live. And as a gesture of goodwill over Christmas he gave us a code to download it all for free.

So far, so good. I'll give it more of a review/appraisal when we're further into it, but at the moment it seems to be comprehensive and methodical. I've learned more grammar in 4 videos of Visual Latin than I did in 16 years of schooling (grammar was 'unfashionable' when I was at school and Latin wasn't considered a necessary pre-requisite for joining the army or working in a meat paste factory).

Predicative nominative??? what the - ?

Still, ds2 is lapping it up and if you're going to learn Latin, it seems a great way to do it.

We've been working on ds2's handwriting, trying to move from wobbly printing to (ideally) beautiful joined-up. Or, if I lower my standards, non-wobbly joined up. Or just any bloomin' joined up that stays on the page and doesn't give him hand-cramp. It's a work-in-progress. An art form still being - er - formed.

Sometimes I wonder how anyone can find it so awkward just to hold a pen and move it across paper.  I mean, it's a pen. How hard can doing twirly letters be? Obviously much harder than I remember when I learned. But that was a long time ago and memories can be corrupted. I guess from now on it's just practice practice practice. And more patience on my part. (Which, after all these craft activities, is in short supply.)

Ds1 and ds2 have been plodding on through the Key Stage 3 Conquer Maths CD. It doesn't get done as often as I'd like and it's proving rather difficult for them without a reliable knowledge of times tables. But we have to start somewhere. As my current bible 'The Now Habit: Overcoming Procrastination...' suggests it's not about beating yourself up about all the stuff you haven't done, it's about finding somewhere to start and getting on with it. (Leastways that's how I interpreted it).

So, from now on, I refuse to feel guilty that my 14-year-old is working at 11(ish) year-old written maths. If he was a genius at everything, then he'd be the one running the household and paying the bills. Besides if there's one wise thing I found out from doing A level maths, it's this:

Wise housewife say: differential equations no use whatsoever when woman trying to work out which tin tomatoes in Tescos is cheapest.

[it's even better if you say that in a very politically incorrect Father Ted Japanese accent. Go on. Try it.]

Ds1's IGCSE Chemistry group is ongoing. We've decided to put him in for the Summer exam as a dry-run. He's done no exams before and this way he'll be going into an exam situation with people he knows. [This means that mother needs to get her head around a revision schedule. Even if it's a dry-run there's no point just not bothering to learn the stuff. No pressure, then.]

If the forthcoming dyslexia assessment (that's a whole other post) proves fruitful he may get extra time. If it doesn't then he'll have to take his chances. Taking into account his processing speed, speed of writing and spelling ability, without extra time I doubt he'd even get two-thirds of the way through a paper. But maybe I'm doing him a diservice. He's bright and capable. And, as I keep reminding myself, 14 is still very young to be doing IGCSEs for anyone, let alone someone with his literary issues :)

IGCSE geography is also ongoing. O-o-o-n-g-o-o-o-ing. Going on. Slowly.

Ds1 is (almost/mostly) completing the geography homework independently now. Whoo-hoo!!! The homework still takes most of a Wednesday, but, hey, that's what Wednesdays are for in our house.

GEOGRAPHY WEDNESDAY. Everyone should have one :)

But ds1's achievement is *absolutely immense* considering only a few years ago he was still writing his letters backwards and couldn't read more than a few lines at a time without eye-strain. Have we come a long way? Oh yeah! Give that boy a star!

I've started working through the IGCSE Biology book with ds1 and ds2. Plan is to plod through it, do a few practicals, watch a lot of YouTube videos (and there's a lot out there). We're hoping that one of the HE groups we go to will start a biology IGCSE course in September and I figured we might as well get a bit of prep in. When you have a kid (or kids) who struggle with reading and writing and spelling, that little bit of pre-course prep to get them up-to-speed on content makes a huge difference to their confidence when they actually start doing it in a group.

Ds1 starts IGCSE Art and Design this week. Signs of resistance in the troops, but will report back further.

Ds2 is still doing Spanish and his Arts Award once a fortnight. He's dropped art as they're moving on to GCSE level. He's also (hopefully) starting computing in February. [My bank balance is sick and getting sicker. I'm holding out for summer and the prospect of dropping a few things by September. And I hate Santander because they charge me a pound for every day I am overdrawn. (But that's another story...)]

Ds2 (and dd) have just started with a home ed science club. (Dd, on condition that I help out). She's a dark horse that one. I can never work out if she is shy, faking cluelessness for attention, or just plain not interested. But in structured activities she's just not an interactive person. Even after all these years (and having had a similar-but-different experience with no1), I'm really not sure what sort of home ed works for her.

Not much, it appears. But we'll keep plugging away. Something, I'm sure, is going in. It always does.

So that's the round-up of our start to 2013. Where has our free time gone?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

I'm feeling the urge to write more philosophical posts...

Yes. There are some topics I want to talk about.
I want to talk about how our home ed style has changed over the past year or so, from semi-autonomous to really rather structured/parent-led, and how that particular journey has been for us.

I also want to talk about our experience of having several children who are 'late readers', and in particular what it has been like starting IGCSEs with a child who has many of the 'dyslexia' symptoms. Needless to say, we have encountered some issues that we just hadn't foreseen.

And I also want to talk at some time about how the 'secondary years' have fared for us, in general, not just ftom an academic point of view. 

And there is still the issue of juggling the needs of three very different children.

But for now, I'll jyst post up some photos of our Christmas and New Year.