Kent – Garden of England

Yesterday my Geography group’s tour of England began properly, at the White Cliffs of Dover.


Group chalk picture.

After reading a few verses of the book we made plate gardens (look on Pinterest for inspiration!).  Because we had plants with roots we used plant pot saucers.  We added birdhouses, pebbles, pie case ponds and fences and signs from coffee stirrers and craft sticks.  Really pleased with result.


20140130_11 Sam and I followed up later with some fact finding


And a cartoon strip version of Canterbury Tales.


…and breathe!

Very, very busy few days.

Friday was a messing about at home day. Maths, Latin, history and geography were all touched on.  Geography was another lesson from our Charlotte Mason book, this time a poem about all the wonderful sights of the world (it is also a lesson in history as we’ve had to touch on the lack of air travel and that there was still a lot of exploring to do – pre climbing of Everest, reaching South Pole and of course Space travel).

We followed up by looking at a picture atlas (Usborne) and then drawing own version.  Influence of Minecraft evident as lots of showing of diamond and gold mines.

20140129_7 20140129_5Strategy games are still the order of the day, rest of Friday passed in chess, 2001, Stratego and Minecraft.


Saturday passed in homework, chores, Scout/Cub chess tournaments, running errands in town for me and messing around on Sporcle.  Boys (Jack in particular) are very good at naming countries.  Before cuddling up and reading Percy Jackson, Jack and I are long term Rick Riordan fans and while Sam listened to the Egyptian series, we’ve never done Percy as a read aloud and he’s loving it.


Sunday was another chores and paperwork day but kept getting distracted and ended the day thoroughly frustrated and fed up.  Getting roped into this by a desperately keen child who lost interest very quickly, didn’t help my mood.

20140140A couple of games of 221B Baker Street did help lift my mood though, heartily recommend it for those with older kids (Sam is too young to play independently).

Monday started a lot slower than I wanted. With a migraine threatening it took me ages to get out of bed so just had time to get everything ready for group and get out the house.  It was the first day of the new bus timetables and it was chaos on the buses and they were packed and uncomfortable.  Really should learn to drive but it scares the life out of me.  Will just have to adapt plans and not go into Fareham very often – Gosport is easier now and now bus goes along Stokes Bay and outside splash park so it isn’t all bad.

Group was Australia Day, was a bit hectic and confused but the kids loved the ‘trials’ and the coins which is what matters.


We had to get some library books for Guides so we went to Fareham library for the first time in ages…


…may have got a touch carried away.

Bit of shopping, home, printed lots of resources for Guides, ordered supplies for Geography, more stuff for Guides, went to Guides and then spent several hours making Maths resources for Sam.  Very tiring day.

Tuesday was maths and english followed by our annual concert.  Every year we go to a classical concert at the Guildhall for school children.  It is fabulous, I can not recommend it enough!  We started as we do every year with lunch and a play at Victoria park, when we were at the park as school arrived, so we fled!


Sam singing the song.  He gets really into it, it’s funny 🙂20140129_29


We had time for coffee and penguins in Waterstones and a bit more shopping.20140129_30

Before a very wet ferry ride home.20140129_31

Tea and Sam was off to Cubs (more codebreaking), while I treated myself to letting older boy watch FIFA videos while I had hot bath, then wine and Call the Midwife 🙂

Busy few days, frustrating at times but generally good.  Ready for a rest now.


G’Day Mate – Australia Day

Yesterday was Australia Day at home ed group.

Started with some Aboriginal dot art


Followed up by some ‘Bushtucker trials’ – tasting crocodile’s blood (tomato juice), sticking hands in horrible stuff, crawling into insect dens…



(only photo I managed – too busy!)

… ending with Sydney Opera House hats.  But thanks to changes in the buses we have to do a runner early.

Kids had great fun.


Holidays – costs (bit of a rant)

Sorry, ranting again.  Part of me thinks it would be much better for my blood pressure to quit Facebook, even people I like very much can press the wrong buttons through it.  It is very, very rarely anything they say (I have nice friends!) more the things that somehow end up forwarded on to my feed.  The big thing that is currently cluttering it up is people complaining about fines for taking the kids out of school and the cost of holidays during school holidays.  And actually with Jack in school now it does directly effect me.

The second one I have no problem with people having a bit of a moan about, they are not cheap and they go up so steeply.  But I do get very annoyed at people complaining it is not fair!

It is basic economics, we live in a Capitalist society.  They are companies who provide these holidays not government funded services, therefore their purpose is to make profit. They will charge as much as they can for any given time.  They can only charge what people will pay or they are left with empty accommodation and reduce prices.

By complaining about these costs it is really a complaint that some people have more money. The answer is socialism!

What are the options for reducing costs? Tax breaks for the companies if they offer so many holidays below a certain cost, state regulation and interference in the market, government subsidies, government run holiday parks? All options that are financially a disaster, the tourist industry is massive and generates lots in taxes, capping that means less money in the government purse to pay for essential services. And using government money to fund holidays is ludicrous, even if the funding was capped to a few (let’s not worry where the money is coming from – libraries, social care?) it would be a nightmare to administer and there would be moral outrage in the Mail every week!

As to fines, I have a bit more sympathy here but more sympathy for the teachers.  Those of us who are parents of school age children now are children of the 70’s and 80’s, in those days there was no Ofsted, no league tables or SATs, no National Curriculum, schools had more flexibility so they could be more flexible.

Schooling is very different now to 30 years ago.  When I was training as a teacher it was in the early days of the numeracy and literacy hours (no idea if these still exist), and there was a big book for each that told you what you had to teach in any given week.  I suspect and hope things have improved from then but know there are still a lot of controls.  Controls not just on what is taught but how it is taught with a big emphasis on group work.

Many parents use the argument that children learn a lot on holiday through experience and the cementing of family relations.  I absolutely believe this and is one of the major reasons why we home educate.  But a school is responsible for the education of 100’s of children.  Children missing weeks of school cause disruption to the education of others.  It takes up valuable teacher time to ensure that these children cover what is missed as well as being disruptive to group work and classroom dynamics.

Attendance policies are clearly laid out in school documents, people know the score when they send a child to school.  And lets make it clear it is a choice.  No one has to be tied to school holidays, home education and private school (usually comes with much longer holidays) are perfectly legitimate options.  All three have pros and cons, expensive holidays being one of the cons of school. But you make your choice and have to take the rough with the smooth.

What is the alternative? Teach children that we can pick and choose which rules, and most rules exist for a reason even if we may not see/agree with it, we follow (never ever get me started on under 13’s on Facebook – you’ll regret it!), that our own short term pleasure is more important than our responsibility to support the needs of others?

Harsh I know, but that is the way I see it.  After all, no one ‘needs’ a holiday, it isn’t that long ago that the only days off were Sundays and bank holidays with no entitlement to annual holidays.  There are some cases when yes time out of school is justified (weddings/funerals/medical/Service personnel leave…) and schools should be more amenable here and probably would be if there were less ‘just holidays’.

All that aside I do think this is an issue partly of the government’s making with over regulation of education.  If schools were given more flexibility then perhaps they could organise it that they had ‘lax weeks’, the sort of weeks where they focus on the more fun side and do trips etc and perhaps they could say to parents we will consider holiday requests during these weeks.  The education time table of terms and long summer break is rooted in the farming communities of Victorian times, long outdated. Everything about state education is in need of a big overhaul and updating, we don’t have the mass employment in factories any more that schools were set up to prepare people for.  We need education to be more flexible in every way.

England Is Truly A Magical Place

It really is.

The school curriculum (and therefore textbooks etc) focuses very heavily on human geography, how we influence the environment and very little on establishing a sense of the actual layout of the world.  Home educators tend to go the other way, looking at individual countries as projects.  We tend to, if not forget to look at our own backyard, struggle to find the resources from which to do so (most being American).

So as so often I find myself constructing a ‘syllabus’ for myself.  Have a small group of friends (children 61/2 to 8yo) joining us to work on the the project which is nice and will hopefully keep us both motivated.  My aim is simply by the time we’ve worked through it that they have a general idea of where some of the landmarks and major towns/cities are and little mental ‘hooks’ to give them a little context to places and that they have had fun, very hands on approach.

20140124_2This book forms my basic guide.  It is a story told in the form of a poem about a pair of children flying around England in a dream, it takes them to visit lots of places and gives little nuggets of information.  I have to say it is not quality literature but the idea is nice and it gives us a start every week and a route to follow.

This week we started off by reading the introduction and finding the (global) places mentioned on a world map.

Then moving on from looking at the UK last week we looked at the Union Jack and how it was broken down.  As a group they made an England flag (very good teamwork skills).

20140124_6Followed on to talking about St George (turns out to be a bit of a specialist subject of Sam’s patron saints  – who knew?!).  They then designed their own shield.

20140124_3Have to love Sam’s motto!

Got it sussed…

…for now at least. 😉

We’re going through a good patch. Actually a very good patch!  If I was just starting out, I’d be wondering what all the fuss was about – it’s easy this home ed lark.  Only I have been doing this 9 years and  know it is just a matter of time before something tiny derails us and I have my head in my hands wailing, we don’t work enough, we don’t socialise enough, we socialise too much, we work too much, I’m too controlling, all he does is play Minecraft, blah blah blah… Really is a precarious balance this home education lark, mainly because we worry far too much.

A friend of mine (yet to have children) commented recently that although she could see home education worked for us she would worry too much about that level of responsibility and would fret she was doing it wrong. I didn’t like to point out that actually that is just parenting, the worry starts the moment the staff nurse at works says ‘bet you ‘re pregnant’ and you think ‘oh deary me!’ or words to that effect.  From that second you worry about doing the best for that child, if you don’t home ed there are plenty of worries anyway, picking the right school, should I raise this with the teacher, how much should I help with homework etc.

Anyway getting distracted and borrowing trouble.  Life is good and enjoying each day as it comes.  We are definitely on one of our most prolonged peaks of our home education journey.  It is not perfect I had things I hoped we’d be fitting in but we’re not but that is because we are doing other stuff rather than being distracted by the bits that don’t matter so happy to go with the flow.  Our very structured new year is probably not looking that structured as I seem to have managed to have enthuse Sam so am happy drifting along letting him lead.

Monday, had Jack at home ‘sick’, he spent most of the morning playing dice football while Sam and I did Maths and English, did some prep for the afternoon craft, went to the library and to pick up some shopping for Guides.  Afternoon was spent watching documentaries (Origins of Us and Walking with Beasts) and learning about Martin Luther King. Plus for me cleaning wax off the walls and debating what we were going to do about Guides as there was a coffin in the church (and learning something new about Catholic funerals – I’m still learning all the time).

Tuesday was a home day.  Maths and English (which are both working well for us in their current forms).  Maths involved the use of pattern blocks so of course had to be followed by half hour of making pictures.

20140123_1Science, where we finally got around to starting BFISU.  We were looking at sorting things into categories. We started off playing Kim’s game with items that could easily fit into categories – I didn’t tell that bit to Sam to see if he could work it out and use it – he did! Discussed libraries and other places were you see obvious ‘sorting’.  What, where and how things are sorted in the house.  Then finished with a new card game, sorting animals into families.

20140157Afternoon passed in more Origins of Us, some sketching of feet for the Sketch Tuesday challenge playing Stratego and listing and discussing the pros and cons of carrying on at Cubs.



Answer to the Cub conundrum was to carry on (prospect of camp on the horizon), which I am very glad about as he does so little else that I don’t organise.  He really enjoyed himself and got to show off solving codes.

Wednesday was a day of group lessons.  Slow off the mark we only got through English in the morning. So Sam practised chess problems while I sorted the bits for group.

Geography I’ll cover in a separate post so I can keep track of it as a project.  Besides Geography there was time for playing, dressing up and more group pattern block pictures.

Space ship

English, moving on from last week where we wrote ‘mum’ poems, this week we looked at poems about themselves.  We brainstormed adjectives to describe people, trying to focus on nice ones!  Then they used them to write an acrostic poem about themselves, one or two adjectives a line or more if your name is only half the length of others (Sam!).



As our Spanish tutor couldn’t make it we let the kids play for a bit, opting to take the worksheets that she had left home.  When everyone had gone we did the Spanish worksheets and investigated an online language website with view to topping up our Spanish.  Not 100% convinced by it but had a special offer that was too good to miss.

Bit of Minecrafting and then out for a family meal.

Thursday again began with Maths and English.  In Maths we were folding squares to show fractions.

20140169Which led to abandoning other plans in favour of origami – tug boat, sailing boat and icicle (which has gone in our season tray).

20140123_16 20140123_20 20140123_25Origami was abandoned in turn when a box of newspaper was delivered.

20140123_26When we eventually managed to unpack the games that were inside it we had time to play twice before an early lunch.

Ready to be picked up to go and watch a stage version of The Snowman (baby Sam LOVED the Snowman so we both have a soft spot for it) with friends.  It didn’t disappoint – lots of ‘Walking Through The Air’ (although all the kids pointed out the wires), dancing penguins and fruit and a finale that covered the audience in fake snow.

Home played more board games (well the same one again) inc with Jack who I haven’t forgotten about honest! Jack had Gang Show so Sam played on his Kindle while I snuggled down with pizza, wine and Call the Midwife (my guilty treat).  Sam came in right in the middle of a labour scene – he fled the room very quickly squealing ‘what is that?!’ 😀  Snuggles and stories to end the day.

Days don’t get much better than that!




Because it matters!

Petition – Stop denying children with special educational needs the right to adequate and appropriate educations.

This petitition was set up by a friend of mine.  Due to failures by the system to adequately meet her son’s needs they have been home educating for 3 years.  However due to serious chronic health problems they have begun trying to find a way back into the system, only to be failed and frustrated at every step.

Through home education you come across horror stories time after time in the failure of special needs provision. Home education can be an answer but it is not the right one for everyone, for many it is just not possible for health/finance reasons.

The much quoted Section 7 states:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(a)to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b)to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

The LEA has a legal duty to provide a school place (or if not deemed suitable home tuition) for all compulsory age children and in England, a pupil with SEN is entitled to receive full-time education that is appropriate to their needs. This applies to children and young people between the ages of two and 19. This may be in a special school or a mainstream school, or somewhere else.

The problem then arises in defining what is ‘appropriate to their needs’ or ‘suitable’. This can lead to a situation where the LEA can argue they are fulfilling their duties while a parent may feel that they are not morally meeting theirs.

I fortunately have no direct experience but I have no doubt that parenting a child with special needs is both a wonderful, unique experience and a daunting difficult challenge in equal measures.

No parent should be forced to fight tooth and nail to get the Government to fulfil their legal duties to provide a service (an appropriate school place) so that it will allow them as parents to meet their legal responsibility to provide their child with a suitable education.  There is just so much wrong with it all!

If anyone has had the stamina to stay with me -please sign.

Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January in the USA.   Which this year makes it today.

Martin Luther King Jr was a Minister and Civil Rights campaigner in 1960’s America.  He helped organise the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  He is famous for advocating peaceful protest, in 1963 he made his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech at a freedom rally in Washington.  In 1968 he was assassinated.  MLK Day was first celebrated 3 years later but it was not until 2000 that is was finally observed in all 50 states.

We started off with a piece of artwork.  We arranged two boxes of crayons across the top of a large canvas and glued them in place with strong glue.  We gave the glue a few hours and then tilting the canvas at an angle we turned on the hairdryer.


As the crayons melted the wax ran.

20140120_2Lesson’s learned – it was messy, we didn’t have a concentrator on so it spread the wax – up the walls too!

We followed up by reading a library book about Dr King.



We then added some information on to our timeline (no ink in printer) 20140120_15Sam listened to an audio of the ‘I have a Dream’ speech and then he made his own ‘I have a Dream’ poster – keen sense of social justice my boy.  He was most upset to find out yesterday how little the average soldier earns!

20140120_10One of the things I love about my job is that it occasionally tosses me up little gems I have forgotten about – I found Jack’s ‘I have a Dream’ poster on the website – no idea how old he was but clearly doesn’t have Sam’s social conscience 😉

Then using AV’s New Year Doodle Fun we looked at how he could help with those dreams.  We have some shopping to do to support the local foodbank.


We then read ‘The Crayon Box that Talked’. 20140120_16 Discussed how it and the artwork we had created early tied into the idea of civil rights and added the last lines of the book to the picture.




Branching Out

It has been a week of new group activities.

Following last week’s false start we began our first group Geography and Creative Writing ‘classes’ on Wednesday.  We have been doing a group Spanish class every Weds with a tutor and this is an expansion of that with the same kids.  Went well, we have five children a pretty eclectic mix but they all worked and played well together.  They cross paths away from here but not much so it was nice to see them all rubbing along nicely.

We are focussing on England in Geography so we began with an introduction to the UK.

Found and coloured it on a world map

20140161And then on a map of Europe

20140162Then we looked at a colouring map of the UK, talked about, identified and coloured some of the places they’d been.

20140163We rounded up Geography by making mini-books about where they live.

20140160Time for lunch and a play before Creative Writing.  Difficult to know how to pitch this one yet as some of the children are only just turning 7.  So we started simple with a fill in the blanks poem about Mum.  Quite like the poem even if it is a bit saccharine.  Was a right faff to anglicise it.  Think I need to get the writers of the family working on one for AV.

20140164  Then after a short break it was time for the tutor to take over for Spanish.

It was a long day and the children did really well over a long period, sure there will be off days but really happy with how it went.

Thursday, we did our work and went over to the new board game in Portsmouth.  Think I may have enjoyed myself more than Sam, I love playing games 😉 I did get in a right muddle playing a 3 player game with two Sam’s though!  Due to the day and the venue (it’s a fairly long way to go) I think we’ll only be occasional attendees.  But we enjoyed ourselves and when we’re free and I can tie it into other things over the harbour, to help offset time and cost, we’ll definitely be back.


I Think I May Have Seen Some Sun!

Tuesday was one of those rare perfect home education days.  We definitely have a lot more good than bad days, but the odd one shines out.

We started as ever with Maths and English, the chopping and changing – lots of short activities are working well, variety definitely helping keep attention.

The rest of the morning was spent curled up on the sofa with books, atlas and a globe.  Reading more about prehistoric man for History.

Then for Geography looking at the fact that the world is round.  The ‘lesson’ in the book (Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Geography) was incredibly weak.  Basically the Earth is round, God understands why but it is very complicated so you won’t, and we’ll come back to it in two lessons???!

Hmm, this chatty approach and dismissiveness of children’s ability to understand winds me up with a number of American curriculums, Story of the World I am looking at you!  I know the approach is a different educational style to the UK where they introduce an idea and keep going back to it adding further information/awareness and I can see a lot of positives to that.  My issue is in the presentation of it, covering a subject to the level the child can follow/understand is fine, saying something is too complicated for them is insulting.  Needless to say the books are being used very, very loosely.

Back to Geography and having tossed the book aside in disgust, I concentrated on answering Sam’s questions on which countries have mountains.  We dug out the atlas and compared physical and political maps and strayed onto tectonic plates and the formation of mountains.

After lunch we jumped on the bus to Stanley Park to enjoy a rare afternoon of sunshine .  I’ve wanted to set up a ‘tree diary’ – choosing a tree and going back regularly to visit it and chart the seasons – for years but never quite got going and this time was no exception.  When asked to come and pick a tree, Sam explained it to a friend as ‘one of Mum’s crackpot schemes’.  Know when I’m beaten – left it in favour of letting him run around with friends and climb trees, sunny afternoons are too precious not to enjoy.  This is how we like our socialising, low key and relaxed.  And he actually climbed a tree!  Not more than a few foot but for him that is high!


20140158 20140156         20140154 20140159

20140151Back home we just had time for ‘Sketch Tuesday’ – something in a bottle – champagne in our case.


20140115_60Charcoal – and yes it was messy.

20140115_61Bath, tea, emotional meltdown to take the gloss off the day – didn’t want to go to Cubs, hadn’t all day (and often doesn’t and was the same with Beavers) but doesn’t want to give it up.  Tricky.  We ended up not going as he was to upset but element of delaying the problem.  Truth is we don’t mind if he goes or not but can’t have him dipping in and out as not fair to them and there are plenty keen for the place.  The old problem of children running around and shouting and giving him a headache!  Yet it is the games he likes…  Kids do like to test us.