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Thursday was a ‘chilling’ sort of day recovering from Birmingham.  Besides the noise of various teenage boys sneaking in and out (not very stealthily due to an inability to close doors) and doing goodness knows what in Jack’s room (possibly trying to throw themselves through the floor :/) all was peaceful.

I spent the day catching up on housework, blogging, soaking in the bath and making plans for next half term.

Sam spent the day embracing his geek side,

20150529_1 building rainforest themed Lego (the parrot is hollow and can therefore eat and poo – oh joy!),

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eating chocolate and watched Madagascar.

20150529_4Friday was far busier. Most of the morning went on homework for Jack and finishing off Rainforest project for me and Sam (will blog this properly another time).

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We went swimming.  Sam is coming on and Jack and I are keeping up with the schedule of increasing the lengths every week.

Jack disappeared to a friend’s house.  Sam and I put together his rainforest stuff, baked brownies and packed for camp.  He’s now on second camp in a month.  May is always rather manic.

I then spent a good hour and a half cleaning and tidying after as looked like house had been hit by a tornado.

Cadbury World

Couldn’t do a trip to Birmingham without Cadbury World.

20150528_159If I wanted to claim an educational benefit it could be the finish to our Rainforest project – being a product of the Central American forests and the first part of the tour starts there.  Really though it was for fun, chocolate and the bait that tempted Jack along.

We’ve done Cadbury World before about 3 years ago so nothing new or novel.  Only new thing since we were last there was a 4D cinema that we couldn’t be bothered queueing for.  I totally get why people don’t like it.  It is loud, busy, gimmicky and awash with plastic, touristy tat, everything we normally hate.  We love it though 🙂

Touring the Rainforest.

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There are street scenes showing the start of the company.20150528_129Theatre/cinema shows on the history of the company and how chocolate is made.  Holographic heads, shaking seats, all the tackiness you could wish for.
20150528_130Then of course there is the fabulous Cadabra ride.  The highlight of last trip it did not disappoint.  So delightfully surreal 😀  You travel through Beanville in a Noddy car!

20150528_133 20150528_138 20150528_137 20150528_13620150528_135 20150528_132The tour is of the packing plant and a little bit of the making area.  Where they make some of the fancier bits rather than your standard bar.

They had this rather fabulous creation telling the story of chocolate in chocolate.


A pram made to mark the birth of Princess Charlotte.20150528_141

You could see them filling the moulds and the result.  We did NOT come home with a chocolate football, even Jack could see the folly of trying to get that home on the train!

20150528_143 20150528_146There was melted chocolate with a choice of sweets in to taste.

20150528_139Chocolate making demonstrations to watch.

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A look at advertising which is definitely more for the adults.  Rest of the day spent with ‘a finger of fudge is just enough…’ stuck in my head.

20150528_148 20150528_147  20150528_149 A motorised drumming gorilla.  Obviously I’m missing something as have no recollection of a gorilla.  Big area of the shop dedicated to them!20150528_150 An interactive, pointless except to burn off a bit of steam area.20150528_151 20150528_152 20150528_153 20150528_154 Leaving the main building we looked in at the Bournville Experience.  Walking around the local area on the route to and from the station was far better way of getting a sense of the impact of the factory and the philathropic efforts of the Cadbury family.20150528_156African themed playground for as long as Jack and I could sit in the baking sun outside.

20150528_160A chance to be Freddo.20150528_162

Then a chocolate and tat filled shopping trip.



Thoughts on the day.








Warwick Castle

This was the motivation for staying in Birmingham.  The ease of travelling to Warwick.  Actually kind of wish we’d stayed in Warwick.  It was a lot quainter than I imagined and the walk from the station to the castle took us past 2 quilting shops and a bead shop.  I like beads, not as much as buttons but…  Probably best for the boys we didn’t stay there :).

The topic for next half term is castles, so thought in light of the general lack of motivation starting with a bit of a pizzazz  would be good.  Plus I had Clubcard vouchers to use, often struggle a bit to spend them.

Thoughts on the castle… Actually it was a lot more ‘castle trip’ than I was expecting.  I was picturing a glorified theme park type thing really.  But it was a castle you could walk around, climb the battlements and explore the beautiful grounds.  It was busy but you never felt people were on top of you (except in the playground – Sam loved it, Jack and I hated it).  There was a fair amount of touristy stuff and it certainly isn’t a cheap day out, £9 each extra for Dungeon tour, £5 for this, £5 for that… But sometimes days like that are worth it and this one was.

Definitely captured Sam’s interest in the Medieval and Wars of the Roses.  Hopefully something I can hold.  Was a lovely day out.



The boys had a go at archery.

20150528_57 20150528_58Sam went to knight school.


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We had a look around the grounds, which are really beautiful.  There was a Victorian Mill on site.

20150528_80 20150528_81There was a Horrible Histories Medieval village to explore.

20150528_82 20150528_83 20150528_85 20150528_86Stocks and a ballista.

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Over lunch we watched the firing of the trebuchet.20150528_89 20150528_91 20150528_93

Then we finally made it in to the castle.

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Sam and I toured the dungeon.  He was very proud as they didn’t recommend it for under 10’s as too scary (wasn’t really).  Jack doesn’t do enclosed spaces so he entertained himself buying sweets and stationery in the shop.  We then nipped in for Sam to buy some knights and weapons (just what you want to carry around for the rest of the trip).
20150528_112We walked the walls.  Surprisingly encountering a peacock up there.20150528_107 20150528_109


After a play at the fabulous castle themed playground we ended the trip with an outdoor theatre performance ‘Horrible Histories Wicked Warwick’.

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We did stop for a quick look at the birds of prey on the way out.





We’ve done a few of these science type centres now.  Our favourite remains Techniquest down on Cardiff Bay.  That one feels light, airy and not over crowded even with school groups in there.  All the exhibits are well maintained too.  Sadly our most local one (Intech, Winchester) is the exact opposite, the words grubby and tired spring to mind.

Thinktank was towards the better end.  Only spotted one thing not working, place was clean and well maintained.  I can imagine if we lived locally and could visit regularly for an hour at a time, perhaps focusing on a particular area, we’d really enjoy it.  Half-term though on a day trip it was a bit dark, loud and over-stimulating.  We didn’t last long and were heartily glad to leave.   That though says more about us than the place I suspect.

There was however a fabulous (free) science-themed park outside and as part of Thinktank a ‘science garden’.  We shouldn’t have bothered going inside, outside was far more fun!  Having big brother along to do all the pulling and pushing was a definite bonus 🙂

Not sure how much was learnt, can never measure these things and wasn’t the point but there was exploration of spinney things, sound, texture, colour, recycling, forensic science, the human body, materials, gears, levers, pulleys, wheels and water power plus lots more.

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Change of Scene

As it’s probably been clear we’ve been in the doldrums the last few weeks.  Not massively, having had the insight several years ago that May/June are always hardest time of year for us and it is not my fault, I now largely avoid the crippling self-doubt that used to hit.  I recognise that this is the natural rhythm of life and it is external factors that cause the dip.  For many people Jan/Feb are hard, for us it is the early summer, way of the world.

What I need to do then is find ways to lift us out of it.  It’s still a long time until Jack finishes for the summer therefore some routine and ‘getting on with stuff’ needs to continue.  So back in January when I still had energy and enthusiasm I booked us a trip away, right down to booking entry into places so it was all done ahead and all I had to do by the time the trip rolled around was follow the plan.

As added bonus Jack was happy to come so half term week it was making arrangements on the home front a lot easier.  Very aware of how much Jack is growing up and away.  Rightly as well, proud of the young man he’s becoming but opportunities like these are becoming much more scarce as he builds up his own life and commitments.

We left Pete at home as not his sort of trip (we were embracing touristy tackiness at it’s highest levels) and had a lovely few days of eating out, watching rubbish tv from a Travelodge bed and gorging on gift shop tackiness.  Definitely not a cheap trip but hey ho, just occasionally a big treat feel justified.

Centre of Birmingham not necessarily the usual setting for a relaxing break but everything including the train out of Birmingham (we were using it as a base really) was all minutes from hotel, making the whole thing so easy.

Fun time had by all.  Far too many photos to put in one post so here’s a few random, non-trip ones.

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Friday in a Flash

That’s what it felt like, day just whizzed by.

It started with a comic strip workshop at the local arts centre as part of their home ed workshop package.  Wasn’t exactly what I expected but pleasant morning.  We’d taken some of Sam’s friends along with us and they just cracked on with it with no input from me.  I found the creative side hard, comics don’t interest me at all but joined in and had time to chat with other home ed mums I only cross paths with occasionally.  It was interesting to see the planning stages of a comic.

First 3 photos are Sam’s, last is mine.  Thank you to Debbie for the idea of chameleon specs which meant I could draw Mumatron as a robot.  I had great fun thinking up her superpowers.

20150524_220150524_320150524_420150524_1After the workshop we had lunch with friends (by luck rather than design – the lure of coffee won us both 🙂 )

Picked up some shopping quickly and then home.

Had time for some group admin.  It seems every time I leave the computer  we get another request to join the local group.

Swimming followed and then a leisurely evening drawing (Sam) and watching videos on political ideology (me – current FutureLearn course) and making plans for next week now the rail strike was ruled out.


Value of an early start

Well actually by standards of a few months ago it was still a late start but earlier than it has been lately.  Sam was awake of his own accord by 8.30 which is a step in the right direction.

Meant that we covered Maths, English and Latin quickly and efficiently.  Maths by finger painting 🙂


Rest of the day was spent playing on the Xbox with a visiting friend.  When he departed at lunch time he was replaced within 1/2 hour by arrival of another friend for a bit of a pre-Spanish catch up.  Tutor and more friends arrived for Spanish.  Revolving door needed on a Thurs :).  After which we decamped to the park for a while.  We left friends and walked to the village for bread and milk, returning via the library.  They’d just put out some books for sale so we snapped up a bargain.  Home it was Scratch, Kindle games,  a new book and an early night.

20150522_1Hearing that the rail strike for next week has been called off so hopefully our plans for next week can proceed without incident was good news too.


Stay at home Tuesday (not going far Weds)

We’re struggling even more this week than last time I complained, the old hayfever nightmare.  You name it we try it, alternative and regular therapies.  At best they take the edge off.  Sam spent Monday night in my bed whimpering every time I got near to dropping off because his throat is so sore, bless him.  Last night was better but not much.  My throat hurts too and have a muzzy, sinus blocked, sleep deprived head.  I’m not a fan of summer.

It’s a tricky time of year.  We could do with school holidays starting now, with the necessary change in routine Jack being about brings, the hiatus from home ed activities and other clubs and ideally a prolonged break away.  We could down tools and have a break at home but in reality I know that it would lead to too long a break and cause more problems in the long run than it solves in the short term.  Voice of experience here!  The ideal would be a half way house, that Sam would get completely engaged in a project of his own interest and we’d just go with that.  But he’s completely unmotivated.

We’ll muddle through, we always do.  Hopefully a few weeks of a few trips away from home will help rejuvenate us (assuming of course plans aren’t scuppered by rail strike). Looking for positives I don’t get a crisis of confidence any more.  I know full well that it is external factors upsetting our balance and by September we’ll be cruising again.  I also know what doesn’t work for us when we hit this block (well lots of things that don’t work, I’m sure there are more to discover) and am getting better at finding what does.

General grumble aside, the days aren’t a total right off.  There are always rays of sunshine.

Sam has spent a lot of time this last week or so on live Mathletics.  In the past he has always stuck to the first couple of levels which were well with in his comfort zone.  He has however with encouragement gone up to level 3 which is probably about right – 3/4 being his level.  Today he has been playing level 5 and actually doing a very competent job.  But it was the change in attitude from a year ago or even a month that astounded me.  He tells me that he’s addicted to level 5 as it is “a proper challenge and sometimes he even gets two wrong and it is not like level 2 where he only makes mistakes from trying to type too fast!” Wonder where my little perfectionist who would wobble and strop when he didn’t get 100% and refuse to try again went?

I’m doing a FutureLearn course on Propaganda and Ideology which is really interesting.  Motivated by that and current politics I dug out a book on Human Rights I’d bought a while ago.  It’s a real beauty, covers the articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a picture book illustrated by famous illustrators.  Gave rise to lots of discussion.  Will hopefully find the motivation to follow up (I’ve put a post full of links on the FB page if anyone is interested).

20150519_50 20150519_52 20150519_53 20150519_55Thought this one was worth noting.20150519_54

We’ve also been doing some more hands on maths but the camera appears to have gone awol (presumably it is in Jack’s room) so something to come back to.  A bit of charity shop, skate park, seeing Grandad pottering.  I’ve tried to interest him in some computer programming with only limited success.  We continue on the Rainforest reading.



Arty day

Yesterday was an arty type of day.

I had an idea that I wanted to try for a visual maths project that I’ve been waiting to do for a while.  Our second weekend of the year with no Guides/Scouts commitments (only other was Easter!) gave me time to prep at long last.  I marked a circle on a corkboard and separated it into 10 equal sections.  10 equally spaced pins around the circle with stickers of the digits 0 – 9 stuck next to them.

We then tied wool around pin 0 and started to wrap the wool around the pins following the last digit in the times tables, so for 3 – 3,6,9,2, 5,8,1, 4,7,0.  Watching the patterns unfold.

20150519_5 20150519_3In fact we spent a lot of time playing with it at the weekend (Sam was intrigued when he saw me make it) testing the various times tables. So yesterday we used a different colour wool for each times table 1 – 9 and watched the pattern build up, saw how sets of two numbers that add to 10 make the same pattern just one clockwise and the larger anticlockwise.  Will it help longterm?  I don’t know but it gave rise to interesting discussion, was a bit of fun and looks pretty.



Idea came from this video which explains it better.

For our rainforest project (and to leave in the bed to scare Dad!) Sam wanted to decorate snakes.  We’d ordered some wooden ones from Baker Ross.  We looked at some rainforest species and discussed why some are camouflage and others bright.


Our final art project on Degas took us back to sculpture.  We looked at ‘Trotting Horse’.

This is a bronze cast of the wax sculpture.  We bought some mouldable candle wax from Baker Ross and did some sculpting.  Learning from the many times I’ve done this with Rainbows we softened it by the fire.

20150519_11 20150519_13 Then of course we had to light them.20150519_16 And being a Guider use them to toast marshmallows for s’mores 🙂  Usable art projects are the best, particularly tasty ones.20150519_19 20150519_22

Hippity Hop

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” —Douglas Adams

Joining in with Four Pesky Hobbit’s 5th Birthday Blog hop.  I was blogging 5 years ago but in a more ad hoc way and on Blogger which I hate, so sadly those posts are gone.  This blog though will be 5 years old in Sep.

Where were we home ed wise 5 years ago?  Well Jack was 8 and Sam 4.  Sam wouldn’t have been school age though.  At home I was recognising that my boys have a need for structure and giving up my dream of lovely free range education.  Although we were still rather up and down with it.  Jack was working through Galore Park.  I did things like book of the week with Sam and a bit of reading practice.  I’d have preferred no structure but I needed Jack to see him doing something.

In the wider world things were changing locally as the older end of the local group became more organised with tutorials and what has eventually led to an amazing set up with a home ed run exam centre.  It did leave the younger families rather cut adrift in a way I don’t think the group has really recovered from.  What it did though was help the growth of the newly forming at the time Portsmouth Group on the other side of the harbour.

Here we are at their back to school picnic that September.  With someone who may look familiar.  We were making friendships that have stood the test of time.

Bubbles at the NBTS picnic sack race at the nbts picnic

Nationally everyone was recovering from the nightmare that was the whole Badman affair.  I don’t think any of us home educating at the time will ever forgive or forget.  It shows up even now how quickly home eders leap up at the slightest suggestion of any infringements on our freedom.

What has changed in the last 5 years.  Well Jack went to school 2 1/2 years ago which was obviously a huge change.  With hindsight I can see the cracks 5 years back.  Socially Jack needed something different to what I could provide home ed wise.  Perhaps a different parent or in a different place could have made it work.  Jack is a social being who enjoys being surrounded by the same people all day every day.  To be honest he is just too ‘normal’ for home ed.

It was one of those things that was hugely traumatic at the time.  I’d like to say I took it all in my stride but I’d be lying.  There were tears and massive feelings of failure.  When he actually made the final decision I was okay and practical side kicked in.  In retrospect it was the best thing for him.  Academically he has ended up top of top set of everything academic despite not covering NC at all, which silenced a few doubters.  I could no doubt provide a better academic education, but he really does need the social side.

Jack going to school has also been the best thing for Sam.  Who does suit HE!  I am now not having to balance competing needs.  We spend a lot of time socialising, more than I ever thought we would, but in ways that suit Sam.  He has a big friendship base and our problem is time to fit everyone in.

When Jack went to school I made the decision to abandon all structure with Sam.  He’d always had to fit around Jack, now was the opportunity for him to have an education that suited him.  I persevered for pretty much the full academic year but in the end have to accept we are a family who needs structure.  Jack needed a lot but control over it, textbooks with work for the week allocated but left to self to do it.  Sam on the other hand is really not textbook/workbook child but does need me there playing games, making stuff and generally setting the rhythm of the day.

It is easy to see how the boys have changed in the last 5 years.  They’ve grown taller, more independent through taking their own steps and blossomed.  Sam is less quirkey than he was definitely.  I can see a time he could fit into school if he wanted to and I will be okay with that.  I can now see a life after home ed on the horizon.

For me?  I’ve grown into my own skin.  I read Katie’s blog earlier about her need to deschool and was thinking in some ways my experience was the opposite.   I started looking into HE 11 years ago.  Blogs and forums gave me the image of home ed as a lovely ideal, families happily following their children’s interests, children spending days outside with magnifying glasses, like minded families meeting in church halls for crafts, socialisation would never be an issue.

It wasn’t my experience though, my kids seem to be woefully lacking in natural curiosity.   They don’t really play.  They don’t seem to get ‘in to stuff’.  Socialisation we found that those lovely welcoming mixed age groups were hard to find after our initial year or so when the group was all I could have wished.  We live in an area with huge numbers of home educators but it is still easy for people to get lost in the wash.   As groups got bigger they started segregating by age and we found ourselves cut adrift as Jack’s friends were all younger siblings so able to tag on to the older group.  Younger groups started to materialise but it’s no fun being the oldest all the time.

I went through years of self doubt.  It must be me doing it wrong!  I’ve chopped, changed, spent sleepless nights.  In many ways I don’t feel a natural home eder.  We have rules and boundaries, I’m not religious but not in the slightest way ‘alternative’ in anything else.  I’ve felt judged by the home ed community, particularly when Jack went to school or when I have, heaven forbid, occasionally raised my voice.  It has also brought out my judgey side and I don’t like that, it is a personality flaw that I try to control but children running riot in cafes while I struggle through with a hot drink or throwing stones at others while parents completely ignore them does instinctively make me tug up my judgey pants.  I won’t start on people who book and then either don’t pay or show up for trips or who consistently show up 1/2 way through a trip or activity as I will start to rant.

In the last 5 years I’ve grown to accept that I am best avoiding too large a home ed gathering. I still organise lots but very much focus on what suits us, I know my limits and have strict guidelines.  Very rare anyone is late for me now or doesn’t pay, I’ve trained them well :).  I am best online so I work through forums trying to offer support and advice where I can.  I am not ashamed to say that there have been times where home ed is hard.     Most importantly I now happily accept my children are who they are and are constantly changing and I educate each in the way I feel suits them best at the moment.  I don’t worry about the future, what will be will be.  You know what, I think actually I am pretty good at this home ed lark.


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