Little Woodham

Yesterday we joined lots of other home educating families for a day out at Little Woodham. It is a reconstructed village set in 1642 and staffed by volunteer craftspeople. It is very close to us and not the first time we’ve been as it is a lovely day out.

Finding out how the buildings were built.
With the Sawyer.

My arm muscles ache!


In one of the houses.

Bed was hard and uncomfy.

To the inn.
Seeing the food they would have eaten.
And having a game of backgammon.
The kitchen garden.

20110329_46The blacksmith.


Unfortunately they could get out!

Our favourite spot, a camp in the woods. We played here for ages long after most others had gone.

20110329_68Exploring and hunting.

And roasting their catch. Poor Achilles! He definitely needs a bath now!
Sam spent ages working on shaping a wooden spear with a stone tool.

At home we used quills to do maths.


Gaining Independence

For the last week and a half I have found myself trapped in a never ending cycle of decorating and tidying up. Boys have more or less been left to their own devices.

Jack has pleased me by pretty much keeping up with his timetable independently. Work may not have been up to quite the standard as it is if I am standing over him, but from where we were a year ago when he was unable to do anything unless I was sat right next to him he has come a long way and I’m really pleased with him.
We managed to fit in going to play with friends while I had Rainbows.
Caught up with friends we hadn’t seen for a long time at the park.

Scooted to drama.
Had parent’s evening at drama
where Jack got a certificate.
Jack also kept himself busy with some National Geographic kits we’d bought in the January Sales.
A skull has fallen apart but here’s the anatomy set.
And a working water pump based on Archimede’s Screw.
They have also made friends with some of the kids in the Cul-de-Sac opposite so have been over there to play at any chance.

The Fox Busters by Dick King Smith

Yesterday was book group. As ever we started with a quick chat about the book and then we looked at eggs and discussed what would happen if we dropped raw and boiled ones.

We then looked at one that had been soaking in vinegar since Friday and saw how the shell had dissolved and felt how rubbery it had gone – we even got a little bounce.
Then I set the children (or mums) the challenge of making a parachute that would safely land a raw egg from the roof.
Jack helped at bit, Sam and Oscar lost concentration and caused havoc by ‘investigating what happens when you squeeze eggs’!
I think there may have been a bit of taking over the challenge from the parents!
Showing off the parachutes. And yes from 3 or 4 shots this was the best!
The winner! Mine and Claire’s (forget the boys they didn’t help) survived completely unharmed.
Lunch in the sun.
Then that was pretty much the last I saw of them.
Home and Jack had a Cub hike along the beach.

Kitchen Science

Friday’s are our ‘flexi’ day, the day I’ve allowed in our timetable for catching up on things that we haven’t done in the week because we’ve had something else on, or going out, having friends to play, running errands or crafting. Or in this case because it was raining and Science week, having a bit of fun with some kitchen science. Most activities came from a brilliant book aimed at preschool/infant level, I’d bought for Sam a while ago.

We started off with density. Adding golden syrup, coloured water and vegetable oil to a jar.

Then we added some small items (dried pasta, coin, grapes, birthday candle) and looked at where they sank to and talked about what it meant in terms of their relative densities.
Then still on density we looked at changing the density of something. We put an egg in some water and it sank. However after we dissolved a lot of salt in the water – tada it floated.
Then we added some unsalted, coloured water carefully on top and it remained somewhere in the middle.
We looked at the different heat absorption/reflection properties of different materials by putting some ice cubes on different surfaces and comparing the rates they melted at.

Looking at heat transfer, we made our own orange slush. Orange juice in a glass in a bowl of ice which had been sprinkled very liberally with salt to lower the melting point. Didn’t work spectacularly well.
We looked at heat rising by putting a warm bottle of water in a vase of cold water, removing the lid and watching the upwards fountain.
Doing it the other way, putting coloured ice cubes into warm water didn’t work. I suspect water was warm enough, ice wasn’t frozen enough and I hadn’t put in enough food colouring to make it really obvious.

Growing salt crystals didn’t work particularly well either.

Great fun was had building structures from marshmallows and spaghetti.

We then made and tested the strength of various bridge designs – no idea why no photos.
Then on to chemical reactions and fruit.
Jelly with berries and pineapple. Acid in the pineapple stopped that one setting.

And seeing the reaction with enzymes and oxygen that make the fruit brown in air, one plate has lemon juice on to show the citric acid stopping this.

Haven’t got many photos of Weds and Thurs to share they were mornings working at home and afternoons doing their own thing type days.
But we did test Sam’s Mesopotamian seal.
Results were’t spectacular – playdough was past it’s best and a bit sticky.

Knights and Castles

Last week when we went to the Adventure Playground for HE group, they had finished the play castle. Since we had no plan in mind for this week we decided to go take the castle as inspiration for a group session.

Susie read the children Herb the Vegetarian Dragon to get us in the mood.
Then they all teamed up to paint a giant dragon, wonderfully drawn by Donna.
Then we’d bought a load of craft supplies from Baker Ross and Crafty Crocodiles (Baker Ross showed up 10mins before I had to leave the house – Postman probably thought I was mad as I greeted him most enthusiastically.
So they decorated card swords.

Glass painted rings and necklaces.

And made scratch art crowns.

Then we stuck up the dragon and it was out to play. You may not be surprised there was a lot of knight related games.
Sam slayed the dragon…
Jack slayed the Princess!
Cubs was music night so Jack got to show off his keyboard, recorder and boomwhacker skills and have a go on a full size drum kit, he got home very tired and happy.

Productive Day

Cobwebs seem to be well and truely cleared and everyone seems to have bounced back.

We started off the day with a puppet show. Actually several shows, I think the clip on the last post was our fifth attempt to get it on video.
Then Jack wrote a story
Whale in the Thames

Once upon a time there was a whale called Swishy who sometimes got very confused about life. In these phases whenever someone said hi to him he went like uuuuuuuggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh in a confused grunt. He was not always in these phases but when he was it was horrible.

Once when he was alright he went for a evening swim from India to South African waters where there were lots of weeds to chew.

He took what he thought was a detour up a little stream flowing up a beach.

He went through towns and villages with people who gaped and gawped as he sailed past.

As he swam he began to get tired so when he found a little cove he swam to the bottom of the stream and went to sleep because he could breath underwater like fish can.

When he woke up he went on up the stream until suddenly it widened up.

There was a bridge above him and people were laughing and pointing at him.

There were some people with flashing things that went snap. He had never seen guns like this before but he wasn’t taking any chances. “Take whatever you want just please don’t hurt me” he said but they carried on snapping. “Can’t you understand me” he said but it was no use.

“That is it” he said and swam back to India

Did some exercises in his Maths, Science and History books.

We followed up the science with a couple of practical investigations into bending light.

Sam did some reading writing and maths practice.
At this point it was only 11am so we’d been very efficient.
Boys played with torches while I mowed the lawns.
After lunch we did a bit of weeding, baked some cakes and gave me a ‘make over’ with some cheap makeup I’d found at the back of a cupboard.
Then the boys tidied up the living room for me and watched Ben 10 while I replastered part of the bedroom.

All the Fun of the Fair

To be quite honest weekends have been a struggle lately, with everyone being a bit snappy by Sunday afternoon. I think everyone has had a bit of a case of the JFBs (January/February blues) as Lindsay calls them.

Anyway we all seem to have emerged the other side.
Saturday morning and the boys got out the Knex fairground kits that they had had for Christmas.
Jack did really well at following the instructions himself.
And Sam did really well at …
…heckling Pete! ‘Come on Dad. Look how much Jack has done. You’re not doing very well!’
Spacial visualisation and patience not Pete’s strongest skills but I had to go out.
While I went and set up a display that the Rainbows had made for a local community event on making the village more environmentally friendly, the boys did a puppet show for Pete and kept on with the knex and heckling (although apparently at some point it changed to patronising support ‘come on Dad. You’re doing really well’).
We had made an attempt to resurrect our book of the week idea last week and looked at ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and made some spoon puppets.

Early afternoon I nipped home and collected the boys and took them back to the community event. Where they had a go in a fire engine, played with giant jenga and connect four, stuffed their face with cakes and burgers and then got fed up so went over to the park with friends. First time I’ve let Sam go without me, but there was a group all Jack’s age or older and they are sensible kids.

Back home and I finished off the Knex Octopus Whirl for Sam. And we watched the last episode of the Outnumbered DVD we’d bought last weekend.
Sunday and Pete took out the boys while I finished stripping the bedroom walls, did a mountain of ironing and caught up with my OU.
Jack and I then finished his ferris wheel. He did 90% of the ferris wheel and all of the car himself – not something he finds naturally easy so I am very impressed.
Oh and he’d bought a new Ben 10 alien in town so lots of Ben 10 games followed.
Sunday evening and Pete introduced the boys to the Carry On films. I opted to hoover upstairs and put away the ironing instead!

Home Educating Jack

The decision to home educate Jack was never a big issue for us. When he was very young, Pete said ‘I wish he didn’t have to go to school’, my response was ‘he doesn’t’ and that was pretty much it.

We read around the subject a lot. We spent one morning looking at local private schools on the web before discounting that. We could have afforded it if I worked but he would still be one of 20 and we would have holiday care etc to deal with so we couldn’t see any benefit at all and then along came Sam and ruled it out completely as couldn’t afford to pay for 2.
We never started off with any preconceived ideas or any particular educational philosophy.
Jack was quite a demanding and ‘full on’ toddler, always wanted your attention. And I’m ashamed to admit that both Pete and I used to get frustrated with his ‘being’ games (he never really ‘did’ toys). His games often seem to consist simply of you repeating exactly what he told you to say, no imagination or spontaneity allowed. As a result, Pete in particular used to divert his attention by sitting down with him and doing ‘early learning stuff’. I don’t mean in a stale sitting at a table way but as games. We had a crocodile from ELC, one of those ones with pockets that you put letters in, if Jack got the letter right he’d throw the letter in the air and the crocodile would jump up and eat it, accompanied my much exaggerated chomping noises from Pete and squeals of laughter from Jack.
Also with no car, we walk or bus everywhere so I became expert at entertaining a toddler with what was around me. We’d stop for a rest at street corners and try and recognise letters on street signs. Practice counting while at the bus stop, ‘I think bus will be here before we get to 100’ etc. The point of these games were never to ‘hothouse’ Jack, just as naturally ‘academic’ people (both of us have studied OU for ‘fun’) this was just how we felt comfortable playing. But the knock on effect was Jack was perfect in his alphabet long before he started preschool.
He did 2 mornings a week at pre-school, purely for the social aspect. I always stayed if he asked, although in practice his friend who I’d also take used to ask me to stay more often (and I did). He loved it and I know would have been relatively happy trotting off to school when the time came.
However, we never doubted home education was the right option for him. He is a very bright child but he seems to learn very much in fits and starts, he seems either to be physically growing or mentally growing but rarely both at the same time. Less obvious now but still apparent, those who have followed the blog for a while will have read we’ve struggled a bit lately, and in the last week I have noticed he’s grown out of 3 pairs of trousers. I hadn’t connected it in my head until I started typing this but it fits with everything I have seen in the past. And this is why home education is the answer for us. A teacher who has a class of 30+ children for one year can’t possibly know the kids well enough as individuals to recognise things such as this and even if they do, there are so many constraints imposed by the National Curriculum and class sizes that they can’t respond and adapt to the rhythms of individuals.
Over the years I have had numerous wobbles, feelings of failure, hiccups and philosophy swings.
Much of it resulting from doing the dreaded ‘comparing yourself to others’. While Jack has always been academically ahead of the majority around him it wasn’t comparing him that was the issue it was me. Others seemed happier, more confident, to have a belief in a certain way of doing things, to fit into a group better…
When you get involved in home education (in the UK at least) you can not fail to notice how vocal the autonomous education faction is. And it is easy to get caught up with the positive stories and in a way the irrefutable arguments behind it. It seems perfectly obvious that a child will learn more when they are interested and the best way for them to learn is to carry on the way they learnt to walk and talk. However, for many kids I believe it is not enough and most do need some prodding and inspiring (especially Jack). A Jack who doesn’t do a regular amount of structured work is a difficult Jack to be around. It seems if we don’t regular challenge his brain he looses the ability to concentrate on anything, and expends his brain power on winding Sam up. I recognised early on that he needed ‘work’ to ‘calm him down’ but it has taken several years for me to accept that this needs to be a routine and not a response, that we need to do a certain amount every week in order keep Jack ‘balanced’. Also I want school to remain an option for the boys should they need for any reason, or want to go at any point, so felt some form of structure is important. That is how I went from someone who is quite sympathetic to the idea of autonomous education to someone who spent quite a lot of time at the weekend drawing up a 14 week timetable.
It as also taken us a long time to find a system that works for us. Pete has always been very involved in Jack’s education and likes to spend time working with him at the weekend, usually playing with maths. And with no knowledge of the education system he basically introduces Jack to topics at random that he finds interesting. Hence we have an 8yo who is able to confidently deal with a lot of the concepts that I covered in my level 1 Maths degree course last year.
However I have always thought it a good idea to balance this and work through a maths curriculum too. Even with a sympathy towards autonomous I do believe you can’t learn many aspects of higher maths from everyday life and you need to get a good understanding of the basics. We started off with Singapore Math, did Earlybird level 2 and the worked through My Pals are Here up to Level 4. At which point I felt we were getting too far ahead so we worked through some CGP books. We alternated through the yearly framework books for years 3,4, 5 & 6 and the targeted question books for levels 3,4 and 5. And also did the mental arithmetic books. But around Christmas we finished them. We honestly don’t do that much, it’s just home ed is so much more efficient. At that point we moved on to KS3 CGP books, but as I said we have struggled really. While I am confident that Jack could do the work, for whatever reasons, low confidence, lack of ability to concentrate, not finding the style of book interesting, he struggled.
Since he is only actually halfway through yr 4, I can’t see the point in persevering so we have gone back and started a third KS2 course, the Galore Park So you really want to learn Junior Maths series. We have gone right back to the beginning, although having looked through it for the majority of chapters in the first book I expect he will just do the summary exercises, more as a confidence boost.
Structure in other subject areas has for a long time used to take the form of project work. For a long time we persevered with Hands of a Child lapbooks (everyone around us was doing them). But I can finally accept that I think they are rubbish and the only thing they are good for is cutting out practice. Eventually his interest in Ancient History led us to start the Galore Park So you really want to learn Junior History series. I had looked at Story of the World but the religious element and cost put me off.
As he got a bit older we started on Schofield and Sims series of Understanding English workbooks, chosen himself from WH Smiths and when he finished we moved on to the Galore Park So you really want to learn Junior English series (spot a theme).
For other things (Geography, Science, ICT) we have CGP books, chosen by Jack. I think the major factor driving that choice was that workbooks don’t allow much space for writing. While Jack loves (and is very good at) creative writing. He very much has always had a thing about writing what he wants when he wants and hating anything else that has required him to pick up a pen. But the problem with the CGP books is that if you ask him in the evening about what he’d done that day he could never tell you so he wasn’t learning anything from them.
So where you find us now is that we have a rough timetable. Morning is ‘work’, toys are banned. However, I do like us to do trips so factor this in and we are flexible with what amount we do each day.
Curriculum wise we use the Galore Park books for Maths (which he writes) and English, Science and History (which he types). Trail Guide to World Geography arrived this morning but we probably won’t start that until September, we started the Galore Park books ‘late’ so we’re working at catching up with them. Plus I like to throw in some project work now and again.
So that’s where we are 4 1/2 years after Jack would have started school I finally feel we’re ‘there’ and have found a system and way of working that suits us.

A Catch up in Words

Documenting our life in pictures in the way we seem to do in blogs only seems to scratch the surface of what actually goes on. Being semi-structured means there is obviously a huge amount of work that we do; comprehension exercises, maths workbooks, verbal discussion etc, that is just not photogenic and hence doesn’t really get documented. Also I have tended to skip over the actual practicalities of how home ed works for us and the decisions and processes we have gone through to get to where we are now.

Before I start on all that though I’ll just touch on yesterday.
Boys and I went to watch a Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare 4 Kidz at the Kings Theatre, Southsea. They loved it! It was the first time I have taken Sam to the theatre (baring in mind we go at least 3 or 4 times a year and have done since he was born) and he has come out not having spent some of it hiding under his coat claiming he didn’t like it (usually too scary!). From my perspective while I enjoyed it, it was a very weird experience to see Shakespeare done as a musical. I am not sure they needed to ‘dumb it down’ as much as they did, Midsummer Night’s Dream is funny and fairly kid friendly even in full Shakespearian language. It is one of my big bugbears, this tendency to assume kids are stupid and only understand stuff if you reference it to rubbish TV programmes. All that aside, it was an enjoyable few hours and we have been enjoying reading our Usborne Stories from Shakespeare . So you could say it did the job well. And if you follow the link above to the Shakespeare 4 Kidz (grr on the z! Another bugbear) there seems quite a lot in the teachers resources that look good, although I haven’t really had time to explore yet.
On reflection this could get very long so might do this in parts.

A Catch Up in Pictures

Off out so haven’t much time to post now so will try and come back later.

But to fill in some of the blanks.
Last week sort of fizzled out as boys were not at all well, lots of sleeping, reading and TV watching.
Sam found some watercolour paints, so they surfaced long enough to paint me some lovely pictures.
Spring was on Sam’s mind.
While it seems it hasn’t quite filtered through to Jack yet.
Sam practised writing like a Viking with the help of a Horrible Histories book.
Then we got out some clay and Sam made a stone tablet. It says Nebuchadnezzar, King of Persia in Sumarian (or possibly Assyrian).

Then made a cylindrical seal based on ones found in Ancient Mesopotamia. It’s a toilet roll covered in clay. Haven’t tested it yet.

And finally it’s an Assyrian bull!

This week they are still coughy and coldy but it was back to work.
Jack has started looking at Lights and Shadows so we made and looked at a eye kid from National Geographic.

Sam carried on with some of his Mesopotamian history pocket.

The sun was out so the garden beckoned.

Yesterday was home ed group and they filled pancakes and played. I forgot camera.
Then cubs and more pancakes.
Picture Jack drew at Cubs, blindfolded!