I should be posting about Swanwick but my camera has gone on a little holiday to London in Pete’s overnight bag so will have to wait as that one needs photos.

But if I have too long a blogging gap it is harder to pick it back up again so I’ll come to an issue that has been on my mind a lot lately.

Handwriting!  Based on the amount of posts that bounce around the forums it is a big issue.  I know that Jack’s handwriting just clicked in to place when he started school as he saw how bad it was in relation to his classmates and had the motivation and need to improve it and now he has nice handwriting.  But school isn’t on Sam’s agenda so it is down to me.

3 years ago when we were just starting off his writing was reasonably okay and has gone down hill over last year or so, lazyness and the pen unable to keep up with ideas I think.  He is only just coming up to 8 so not a major concern yet but want to eliminate bad habits now.

His grip is okay and don’t think there are any particular ‘issues’ besides the fact he is a 7 yo boy.

My plan for the year is to eliminate any unnecessary writing – solid practice of handwriting as a skill every day but cover everything else verbally and practically.  15 mins a day no more (have a timer) with a page or 2 of handwriting scheme followed by colouring/drawing – using AV’s Learn to Draw stuff.

Back to basics with letter formation – Getty Dubay.  Honestly not sure if I am doing the right thing here.  Wonder if pushing him on to cursive and joined up might be better, slow him down, encourage him to think about his letters and would probably help massively with the whole spacing issue.  Just don’t know…

His friend has autism and sees an OT for support with issues like this and I pick and choose elements of the advice they have been given as I see relevant to us.  I have just invested in a tripp trapp chair (referred to in our house as the ‘awesome chair’ – Jack wants one!) as I think correct height and posture will be a real benefit.  Have used Stabio hand writing pens before but always end up drifting away, intend to push this time and have got pencil grips (only cheap as not sure how useful they will be).

8 years of home educating have shown no easy answers…

The 'awesome chair'
The ‘awesome chair’

Glorious Autumn

On a sunny Autumn afternoon it can be hard to understand why anyone who can doesn’t home educate (of course it is very easy to understand why they don’t on a dank day in early February!).  Very glad they don’t though as would mean more people about and spoil our fun!

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands (Geography and Charlotte Mason)

He’s got the whole world in his hands
He’s got the whole world in his hands…

It is going round and round and round in my head!

Geography is one of those subject areas where home ed resources are thin on the ground and what is available is very American.  Of course it is easy to cobble together projects on countries and landforms but I have been looking for a more cohesive, flowing approach.

I came across this – based on the original work of Charlotte Mason

20130926_46Well it definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste!  Not surprising for a resource written by Charlotte Mason it has a Christian bias.  I am not Christian but am very open minded about religion, suppose my religious views are best described as agnostic.

Anyway the book is a mix of poems/readings designed to spark discussion and non-fiction texts with questions to follow up.  Definitely not a full ‘curriculum’ more of a discussion starter to be followed up by reading around, watching videos etc.  With a groaning bookshelves all over the house this approach works really well for us.

Having skim read through it the only sticking point from the religious aspect looked to be the first lesson

How All Things Praise the Lord
by Lord MontgomerySun, moon and stars, by day and night,
At God’s commandment give us light;
As when we wake, and while we sleep,
Their watch, like guardian angels, keep.The bright blue sky above our head,
The soft green earth on which we tread,
The ocean rolling round the land,
We were made by God’s almighty hand.

Sweet flowers that hill and dale adorn,
Fair fruit trees, fields of grass and corn,
The clouds that rise, the showers that fall,
The winds that blow – God sent them all.

The beasts that graze with downward eye,
The birds that perch, and sing and fly,
The fishes swimming in the sea,
God’s creatures are as well as we.

But as He formed for better things,
As servants of the King of kings,
With lifted hands and open face,
And thankful heart to seek His grace.


Considered skipping it, while I am open-minded, I do (and if you ask Sam he does to) firmly believe in the ‘big bang’ and evolution.  But decided that was definitely over thinking it and a form of censorship, where there is obvious bias my approach is to read and then discuss why it might be told a certain way and what we believe (not always the same thing – I am keen the boys make up their own minds in matters of religion).  We discussed how Sam believed the Earth was formed and then read three variations on the Christian story of creation.


We then read the Barefoot Book “Whole World” which takes the Christian hymn “He’s got the whole world in his hands” and by alternating between between he and she turns it into a message about ecology and how everyone on the planet holds the world in their hands and has a duty to protect it.


We finished off with a piece of artwork.  We cut a circle from 12by12 scrapbook card and decorated it with pictures of animals/landforms etc cut from magazines, then added brightly coloured cut out handprints.


Sketch Tuesday – We’ve Got the Blues

It is a bluebird in a nest in a hedge (Hedgerow Tales still being read pretty much daily) done with oil pastels.



More details on Sketch Tuesday are here 

Picking up the pace

It is still at least 10 days before we will be able to move into our ‘school room’ – it doesn’t have anything but foundations at the moment.  But with a real taste of Autumn in the air we are starting to pick up the pace homeschooling wise – can’t procrastinate indefinitely.  This gradual easing in to resources and bookwork has really worked for us in terms of maintaining enthusiasm and allowed us to make the most of the changeable Autumn weather.  I must remember this next September and contain myself when I am chomping at the bit and have a big box of shiny new things.

With J. leaving the house at 8, find we’re starting early (we don’t have a set time) which is good – it is lovely when you look at the clock having achieved loads and it is still only 9.30am.

We are yet to start on our proper maths scheme (Saxon) mainly as it is printed on really horrible thin scratchy paper so I think I will redo the worksheets myself on the computer (added advantages I can anglicise the spelling and tweak and tailor to Sam) and print on nice paper.  Also have plans for the daily meeting element but that requires being set up in the conservatory that does not yet exist.  Although doing so much tweaking is a lot of work it does have the advantage that the books can be sold on virtually unused.

In the meantime I am setting Sam a collection of weekly challenges on MangaHigh we have a free subscription.  He likes the games although most are a bit difficult but I really like the challenges.  You pick your challenges (and you can search by school year/NC level) and set difficulty and target date so you can focus them on areas that you want them to look at.  It is designed for schools to set homework – Jack used it at juniors and got really into the competitive element (produces league tables of children in a class – good for those at the top of the class as challenges them not so keen on it for those at the bottom).   This week we have practiced addition and subtraction, easy times tables, reading and ordering numbers and ordering fractions.

We have started gently with handwriting (this deserves a post in it’s own right) a page of Getty Dubay at a time.

There has also been spelling work going on – we are using Spelling Made Easy Level 1, which at the moment we are following properly – even did the dictation this week which was a new idea for us.  The actual spellings I don’t think will test Sam until we are good 2/3 – 3/4 into the book and I may end up skipping bits, going through areas at speed.  But I wanted to start from the start and get him used to the way of working, there is a dictation exercise and also a creative writing task associated with it – these are things that he finds challenging so I think for these alone we will persevere for a good while through the easier spellings as it won’t hurt to reinforce the easier spellings and letter patterns/sounds.

Here is his first go at dictation


Helos and welcome :)

Monday was our first structured group at Lee Community Centre (yes very handy for me 😉 ).  Group gained the name HELOS (Home Educators Lee on Solent) purely as we needed a title for it so we could set up a Facebook group to store files and plan and didn’t want anything complicated.

Locally we have a thriving and very effective large group meeting for KS3+ with lessons up to GCSE, there are also large social meets but for those with younger children who want/need a more structured envirnment there was a bit of a vacuum and this was an attempt to plug it.  And it was needed as I had to turn people away as the space just isn’t there, we’re too many in there really as is.

The group is split into 2 sessions and 2 age groups – under 7’s and 7+.  Each group does one ‘creative’ session and one science based on the BA Crest Star Awards.

The under 7’s are working on a ‘colours theme’.  We did some sorting of coloured matchsticks and then they spelt out their names with the sticks. They then did some sorting of craft bits and made collages to go up in the library.

Meanwhile the older (Sam’s) group investigated clockwork and made some rollers from elastic bands and cotton reels.

Swapped and younger group did science – not entirely sure what something to do with rolling cans.

And I worked with the older group. We are looking at making videos next session to enter into the National Film Festival. We started off brainstorming what made the laugh – mainly violence and things getting hurt! Then we discussed ways we could make a video in the session next time. Finally we looked at storyboarding and they broke into groups to plan and come up with storyboards for their videos.

It was loud and a bit manic at times but with tweaks and work have the makings of a nice group.


Friday Fun

Friday is our ‘trip day’.  I like to have one day a week where we leave everything behind and go out.  I try and avoid signing up to home ed trips on other days unless they are something really special or very low key as know from previous experience it is very easy for us to ‘burn out’ – we’re home birds!

Most weeks we have a home ed trip or we can usually bank on Claire and Oscar to keep us company and indeed we had plans this week but got stood up for a washing machine repair man – humpf ;).

Anyway with a day to ourselves Sam decided that he wanted to collect some of his money and go to Cadbury’s at Gunwharf.  So we did!

20130925It was a beautiful day on the harbour.  I do so love living by the sea.

We had a vague idea of going to the Mary Rose but couldn’t be bothered to queue!  And as there were a few school groups in we decided not to stop at the Dockyard following our obligatory pose on a plinth photo.


So to Gunwharf where we discovered Paperchase closing and selling everything cheap so I was happy.  Sam bought his chocolate and a stress ball (Mr Happy).


Back to Gosport and a picnic in Ferry Gardens watching the boats go by.

At home we decided the afternoon was too nice to waste in and went to the park – a sunny autumn day and we had it to ourselves until one family showed up after the school run (shakes head).

SAM_0276 SAM_0288 SAM_0287 SAM_0279

In the evening as the Scouts were over the Alver Valley we decided to rejoin the Community Centre… hmm… what is it with pubs and loud music?  If I go out for a drink I like to be able to talk to who I am with.  Probably a bit unfortunate that our first night there for 5 years turned out to be ‘Mexican night’! Fled when the band showed up!

Cave Man Art

Last Thursday it was obvious very early on that ‘book work’ wasn’t going to go well.  Not sure why but as adults we all have those days where the brain isn’t gelling or we are just not in the mood so we can’t really be surprised that kids get the same.  So to save the day we diverted to hands on activities.  I tend to find if I plan that we will do a practical activity he doesn’t want to and doesn’t then engage the brain and get anything from it, things work far better if I am forced to come up with things on the fly.

Anyway back to Thursday and we’re reading Story of the World.  One chapter in and we have already decided to adapt – I can never just follow a resource ;).  Like so many resources I love the idea, in this case history being covered chronologically through a narrative but find the actual content quite weak and (my big bugbear) condescending.  So with Story of the World we will use it as a framework but read around the subjects particularly drawing on the Usborne Encylopedia of World History.  However we find that the book starts with the birth of farming so we are digging pack a bit further ourselves into human evolution.

We started off by reading the relevant pages on cave art in the Usborne encyclopedia and looking at examples online, then we took advantage of having a concrete shed.

Sam mixed up paint.  Rather than ground up rock and blood we settled for poster paint and water.

SAM_0258Then we painted the outline of animals on the wall with fingers.

SAM_0259And filled in the outlines by dipping cloth (animal skin – we used quilt wadding as natural fibres and absorbant and I had some spare) in the paint and rubbing it on the wall.

SAM_0262Sam’s whale

SAM_0261And bunny


And my chick

SAM_0263This was followed by lots of mixing of paint and throwing the pieces of paint covered fabric at the wall.  My poor chick was obliterated.


Downpour sent us indoors (but failed to clean path and shed) where we turned attention to clay and Sam made a glorious mess (I’d introduced him to the concept of slip) …


…and a rather good ‘Mother Earth style’ goddess statue (a kneeling pregnant lady with large breasts and no arms if it isn’t clear).


And then he baked a cake pretty much independently and went swimming.


Sketch Tuesday – something that lives in the forest

I aim to try and follow some of the Harmony Fine Arts Grade 1 course this year (like the idea of using it as an overview hence the earlier grade).  There will be a LOT of tweaking of the art side in the later half of the course as not particularly impressed with it but will try and use it as a template. Will definitely aim to follow the music as this is an area my skills and knowledge are not as good as I would like and I need a bit of hand holding.

Alongside this I hope to make ‘Sketch Tuesday’ from the Harmony blog a regular activity.

This week was the theme of ‘something that lives in the forest’.

As Sam had a new sketching set from The Works we looked at the different pencils and discussed the different hardness of nips and how you might use them for shading.


Here is Sam’s tree

Sam age 7

Book Group – Enid Blyton’s Hedgerow Tales

Hedgerow TalesOnce a half-term I run a home education bookgroup from my local library, which has a lovely self contained childrens area and on a Monday morning is usually deserted.  I try and pick books that I have not read and that have something we can hook onto in the local area where we can go afterwards as some people travel for a fair distance.

So far the books have been a great success with Sam at least (he is 3 books into the Swallows and Amazon series now and is learning to swim as he wants to sail) – if mixed responses generally.  But the point is to challenge them to read something they wouldn’t normally pick up.

This half-term I picked a book I’d seen someone mention on ALBOS as it seemed fitting to the time of year.  The book is a collection of 7 (I think) short stories which follow the form of conversations between animals who live in the hedgerow.  However, sweet and fluffy it isn’t!  Animals discuss their homes, their adaptations and there is a lot of being eaten going on.  I thought I’d lost Sam early on as he looked quite traumatised half way through the second story when a baby hedgehog met it’s end in a badger (and it got worse from there!).  But after a lot of discussion about the balance of ecosystems and how if they didn’t eat other animals then some animals would die out, he really got into the book (although hates rats now!) and we have two more of the series Woodland and Country Tales on order.

Numbers for book group were thinner on the ground than normal due to holidays/illness/other commitments but space is very limited and we were bit crushed last time so not necessarily a bad thing and we had enough for a nice gentle low stress meeting.

We normally open with a discussion on what people liked and didn’t about the book.  This time as we were low in numbers and half the group were new and their book hadn’t arrived I read one of the stories instead (the one where nothing got eaten!).

We then stood in a circle with everyone being a different plant or animal, with me in the centre as the sun.  We passed balls of wool around following the track of some of the food chains illustrated in the book to make a big food web.

Then we played ‘hedgerow bingo’ – children had cards with 9 creatures mentioned in the book and but rather than call out names I read descriptions of them (trying to pick things mentioned in the books).

Finally we made origami foxes and origami rabbits.


I had ntended that we stick them to card and write a conversation between them, but the beauty of small groups is that it is much easier to adapt to individual needs and sensing we had reached our limits I decided to leave it and we packed up and went for a walk to look at some real hedgerows – blackberry picking over Browndown ranges.






http://www.ecoenchantments.co.uk/mycraftypage1.html  (I LOVE the ice decorations definitely something to try if we get a real prolonged cold spell).