Friday, April 29, 2005
It was a quiet session at our HE group. The theme was food. We had a lovely play café created and one mum and boy squeezed fresh orange juice for everyone. Pearl and Leo enjoyed the activity we had taken – lots of print outs of food and empty plates. They made up funny meals of their favourite foods which they labelled. Leo actually labelled his as 'GELY' and 'POO' but I can assure you it wasn't. He also wrote out an extensive menu for his own café. We also had some pretty wild games of 'Forty-four save all' with kids and adults joining in.
Dani and Pearl went to Woodcraft Folk where they did a lot of singing. Leo and I stayed at home and made a home for his Sylvanian ducks out of an old cardboard box.
On Tuesday Dani went to work and the kids and I went off to town to spend P's birthday money. The grandmothers are away in Spain for a couple of weeks so our usual routine is out the window. Leo decided that it was just too much saving to get to the forty pounds he needs for a Megazord and bought himself a Red Ranger with a Raptor Cycle. Pearl blew all her money on the very impressive Willow Hall for some of her luckier Sylvanians to live in. We had a lovely afternoon at home and once the rain stopped we spent a couple of hours sitting on the doorstep in the sun. The kids played with their toys and then I timed them running up and down the street. Leo also drew around the shadows of his toy dinosaurs and Pearl spent ages plaiting her Sylvanian pony's tail and mane.
Wednesday morning D went to work again and the kids and I went to the park to play with the Phlat Balls they were given recently. We had great time throwing and catching and enjoying the space. It felt a bit odd to be there with such big kids. The park in the morning is usually the preserve of the under threes as everyone else is at school. We left in time to intercept Dani on her way home from work. We hid behind a corner and jumped out on her. She shrieked very gratifyingly! We also saw the head of EOTAS driving around looking for a parking space. Couldn't help wondering who she was going to visit.
In the afternoon I went to work and Dani took the kids to Capoeira. They had a good time and bought new trousers to match their t-shirts. Apparently they come from Brazil and their Capoeira teacher got a friend to ask the factory there to make some small ones especially for the kids.
Today was pretty gloomy here. Dani went off to get a hair cut and the kids and I pottered at home. Pearl did some Maths from a Key Stage Three book she chose. She was pleased with long multiplication again and asked me to find a few more on the internet, so I printed some from Enchanted Learning. Leo was busy doing some cutting out to make a megazord collage. But after a while he asked for some 'maths from the internet' too and we found him a sheet of sums we'd printed out a while ago. He seemed to have no problem with them – they were very simple sums like 8+4=12. Of course he only did a few because they were pretty tedious!
In the afternoon Dani and the kids went to take some photos of the building site and buy a hot water bottle! This is something P has wanted for a while and we left her all snuggly, re-reading a favourite book, in bed tonight. Not sure what else went on this afternoon, apart from some picnic party preparations, but I think it was all fairly jolly!
Leo has worked very hard today to make some invitations to Moley's party. Moley is an imaginary mole friend who Leo loves. He is very tiny and often accompanies us on journeys. Apparently it is his fifth birthday soon and he is having a party.
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Yesterday was her family party day (we're planning a picnic for friends next week) and we had a pool party at our local pool. We paid thirty three pounds for a one hour hire of the whole pool and seven kids and eight adults went swimming. A fine time was had by all. Leo swims about happily in arm bands and he and various cousins enjoyed squirting everyone with the toys that were floating in the pool. Pearl enjoyed the pool in a typically Pearlie way – she swam lengths for about half an hour and then instigated a wild game of 'sharks' – which is 'it' in the water.
After a party tea at home with many aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents we had our Leicestershire cousins as overnight guests. The kids were all pretty tired by the time they finally headed off to bed – as were the adults. Pearlie only had one minor collapse at the tea when I arranged the candles in her cake and she burst into tears because they were not symmetrical. Different things matter to different people (as I say to myself many times a day!) so I had to go and apologise profusely outside her bedroom door before she would come down and blow out her candles!
A minty cake!
Today has been a lovely quiet day at home – just the four of us. We have played Cadoo (one of P's presents) and cheat and watched Pearl's new Tintin DVD. The kids have played with their Sylvanians a lot as Peral got several more for her birthday. We gave her the Pony and Trap which she thinks is fantastic.
Other top moments of the week were:
- Pottery painting while half watching Primary History and Geography on Wednesday. Pearl spent ages sorting out tiny bits of clay she had cut up and a friend fired for her. She counted them and divided them into equal piles and then painted them in different colours. They are called Megabites! Leo painted a rather spooky skull like thing he has made.
- Capoeira – where the kids learned a new move which sounds like 'Habajahi' but may be spelt almost anyhow because it is Portuguese. Anyway, P had a really good go at it.
- French with my mum on Thursday where P polished off a wordsearch for furniture words. She also made cheese scones to bring home. Meanwhile Leo and Dani were involved in party preparations at home. Leo joined in with a lot of list making and typed out Pearlie's birthday card alone his gorgeous message read:
with love from leo
I hope you like
I am iksitid
It is yor
- Friday – a day of lots of quiet activity. P spent much of the day reading both at home and at the library. She was enjoying the Savage Stone Age and Tintin and the Shooting Star. She has a vague idea that she may keep a list of all the books she reads while she is eight. She has been enjoying a Jacqueline Wilson recently – the Bed and breakfast star – the first time she has wanted to read that author.
- Leo made a lovely comic on Friday that contained his usual detailed illustrations and his first attempt at a real narrative done entirely by himself. In the past he has dictated stories for us to write or type and he has written words or phrases alone but this comic is a whole story – albeit part one of a series! It was entirely his idea – embarked upon just as I intended we should set off for the library. Funny how these inspired projects always get started just when we are about to leave to go somewhere – or very late in the evening.
Happy Pearlie with cake
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Monday we went to our HE group for the second week of our 'under the sea' theme. Both P and L were pretty uninterested in doing any of the activities. I think the sunny day was calling to P – she could barely stand to be indoors at all, so she spent most of the time playing spies and 'it' outside. Leo joined in with this a fair bit until he just flaked out. We came home with loads of clay and salt dough creations from previous weeks that had been fired and baked by other families for us (ta, people!). So we've got a painting morning planned for later in the week.
When Dani arrived I had to leave for work. D and the kids left soon after as L was so tired and they had Woodcraft Folk to get to later in the day. Pearl had a nice time at Woodcraft and came home with a drawing of some slugs she found in the garden of the community centre. Dani and Leo had to go to an organising meeting as the group is parent led. L has spent a fair few hours of his life sitting in meetings he doesn't really want to go to and it makes us feel bad sometimes. But the way our life is organised we often have no choice but to take him. He played with his dinosaurs and put up with it.
Today was a beautiful day here and the kids and I enjoyed our walk over to the grandmothers' house for Leo's weekly visit. The kids held hands and counted the steps of the 'cat's creep' together. Today it seemed to be 115 steps!
Pearl had a fun moment in the co-op on the way home when she worked out the price of seven bars of chocolate in her head before the guy on the till had worked out how to get his till to ring them up! The poor man was so startled that he forgot to give me my change.
Some lovely highlights of the rest of the day were
- Pearl spending ages painting a suncatcher with glass paints just because we found it in the cupboard when tidying up.
- Pearl doing a few subtraction sums using the 'borrowing' method. This was something that was not obvious to her when I once tried to explain it but somehow today she rattled through them with a chuckle. As far as I know she has not done any sums like this for weeks and has not been talking about it. After four or five she was satisfied that it worked and went off to run in the street.
- Spending half an hour sitting beside Leo 'helping' him tidy his Sylvanian house. I was actually called on to do nothing but watch his gentle, loving arrangement of baby ducks and frogs. This was good for my soul as I find the constant presence of Power Rangers a bit depressing sometimes.
- Leo reading me 'Doing the Garden' by Sarah Garland at bedtime. He asked for a word or two but astonished me by sight reading 'beautiful' and working out 'gently'. I don't think we've read that book in years as it was a real toddler favourite and I thought he'd outgrown it.
Of course we had our low points too. P was very embarrassed to be found out when she had 'forgotten' some diamonds in her hand when playing whist and somehow this was my fault. L assured us all we were 'very rude' for leaving the room when he embarked on an episode of Power Rangers we have all seen too many times and raged at us for a bit. And I'm really tired this evening after doing battle with the mess that is our kitchen/living room for hours this afternoon. I'm not sure I won. D is sitting serenely knitting – a lovely scarf for me – and watching Newsnight. Funny to think another election is here already. It must be a sign of age when they start coming round faster and faster…
Sunday, April 17, 2005
P. is mainly doing a project on Sky TV at the moment. She spends quite a lot of time studying the TV guide and telling us all the different times of day Scooby, Power Rangers, Arthur and other things are going to be on. The rest of her time is spent watching aforementioned things, often for the second or third time.
This is an exaggeration, of course. She spent all of yesterday doing physical activity – trampolining, then running in the park. On Friday Allie and the two of them watched Look and Read, which led to some web browsing and art activities for everyone. She's also spent quite a lot of time playing with her Sylvanians this weekend, including naming and finding a home for the three new rabbits that arrived on Friday after a successful bid on ebay.
Leo has been doing a lot of writing. Today he went to the park with his cousin B, and wrote a list of the things in his bag before he went, and later he wrote out a recipe for orange ice crystals and some 'For Sale' and 'Sold' signs for his Sylvanian homes.
Sounds like they had a lovely time in the park. We had a different cousin staying with us for a sleepover last night, and she and Pearl were awake very late and up very early this morning, so P. was too exhausted to go out. It's nice for them to get a break from each other sometimes. While he was out, P. watched TV and I searched the web for some origami baskets (link is a pdf, by the way) for her birthday picnic in a couple of weeks.
On Friday Leo did some maths on Joe the Dragon and the BBC's Little Animals Activity Centre. He was very proud of himself for solving problems that involved numbers higher than ten (Allie helped a lot!). He's also been spending a lot of time counting his money – he's saving up for a Deluxe Megazord, which sell for the ridiculous price of £39.99. I'm secretly hoping he thinks of something better to spend the money on before he gets there, but I'm impressed by his dedication so far.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Had a mixed couple of days, including:
- Lots of cooking. Allie and the kids made cheesy scones on Wednesday, I made a banana cake that evening, and I made some bread rolls yesterday (with some help from Leo and friend). All quite successful, except the rolls lacked a bit of salt, so weren’t quite tasty enough for any children who were offered them.
- Capoeira – good fun as usual, and quite a busy session for the start of the new term. P. in particular really enjoys it, you can see it in her face.
- Schools TV – we are enjoying the latest Look and Read, and discovering pdf story books of past ones on this unofficial website.
- Very competent use of the computer and printer/photocopier by Leo. I know it’s no big deal for them to pick these things up, but it’s still a bit amazing when you see it done. As grownups go, we are both quite at ease with computers, TV, DVD players etc, but we still don’t have the ability to play and discover things the way our kids do.
- A visit from a seven year old friend from our HE group. He is a fellow Power Rangers and general superheroes enthusiast, and played very nicely with Leo for the afternoon yesterday. They also enjoyed the Geomag, each in their own very different style – there are never enough balls and rods, though, are there?
- P’s weekly visit to the grandmothers’ house – she came home very muddy and joined in with the boys’ superheroes game. I think there was some French done there as well as getting muddy.
- Lots of work – A. was at work both days from lunchtime until about 8.30pm, and I went to work Wednesday morning as well.
- A fair amount of bickering between P. and L. Not sure what this is about, just a pattern they get into sometimes. The challenge for us is not to blow it up out of all proportion and make things worse. Sometimes they just need a good night’s sleep and a gentle reminder that they do love each other really.
That’s all folks, back to work…
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
After lunch and a long play out on the grass we all went across the road to a shop that sells fish and other interesting creatures – as it fitted so well with our theme. The shop people were wonderfully accommodating and I think the kids enjoyed it. Halfway through this trip Dani arrived and I left for work.
I think they had a pretty quiet time after the group with one nice little 'scientific discovery' moment to record. Leo discovered that when he placed a small plastic container (from inside a kinder egg) on the handle of his up-turned fork it flew pleasingly into the air when he pressed down on the prongs. His observation was:
"This is just like when Tom steps on the thing and it bangs him in the face!"
He was, of course, referring to that classic moment in Tom and Jerry when Tom steps on a rake. He experimented further with smaller and larger objects to see what would happen.
Today started with a moment of high excitement when a parcel came for Leo. It was a talking red power ranger which he had bought on e-bay – still boxed and perfect – for £3.99. He took this proudly off to the grandmothers' house.
Pearl asked to go to my work on the bus. We ate sandwiches on the way and chatted about all kinds of things. Pearlie seems very grown up these days. We returned some books and P chose some new ones. She was pleased to successfully re-shelve our returns – Dewey decimal system if you're interested! She sat and read a book on symmetry for a while. Pearl has always been very pleased with symmetry – a lot of her art is based around pattern and symmetry – see her domino creations of the other day.
On the way home Pearl suddenly started thinking about how many letter names are also words. She decided that 14 could be counted as words and when we got home she wrote a joke based on some of them. She wrote this down and then typed it up on the computer and printed out copies for various family members. Her computer skills are fab these days and this is something that has developed almost entirely since she came out of school. Anyway, as I have her permission here is her joke – read it out loud.
D came home after a full day at work and we ate yummy home made veg and bean stew. P didn't like the look of it so she had cheese and mashed potato. She hates mixed up food.
This evening I spent ages picking all the magnetic poetry words off the fridge – where they seemed to be getting stuck. Each one left a sticky black mark and it took hours to get them all off and then scrub the front of the fridge. It was a pain but they were expensive and I was afraid they would become permanently stuck if we didn't get them off soon.
Leo made some little books this evening. He talked about them a lot. They are going to be part of a series and I was allowed one on a seven day loan. (Library addicts, us?) They concern the care of Zords (sort of dinosaur machine things from power rangers) and have advice for owners. This book creation was entirely independent and very interesting – here are a few quotes:
It is amazing to me how he can develop the skills needed to write intelligibly with so little input from us. I can only assume that this must be coming from his increased reading. We have never done any kind of 'sitting down' lesson in writing or reading but the two just seem to be feeding off each other and he is finding his way. Interestingly he is writing far more in uppercase letters than he used to. I think he finds them easier to form.
When I had finally finished sorting out the magnetic poetry I was playing with it and Leo read what I had made.
"My sister has a funny green monster and it ate my dinosaur. Next a fat man flew in a cloud."
He read it all without hesitation, except for the word flew.
So, loads of learning seems to be going on around here at the moment. We rounded off the day with a couple of games of cheat. Playing cards together is great fun – I remember loving it when I was a child. This part of their childhoods is so wonderful - and they would have gone back to school today – hooray for HE!
Monday, April 11, 2005
The sun came out today, so the kids and I went to our beach hut in Hove,
Quite windy on the seafront!
where P. rode her cousin's bike up and down the promenade for a bit, and we spent a bit of time watching the waves and making little films of each other on the digital camera.
This evening, we finally found the Discovery Kids channel and P. & L. sat glued to two episodes of Mystery Hunters. Leo (possibly for the first time ever) actually made something out of cardboard boxes, rather than describing what he wanted made and doing something else while one of us makes it.
Following a wonderfully generous gift of a box of books from our (newly HEing!) next door neighbour, P. has rediscovered her Lemony Snicket passion, and asked for the Unauthorised Autobiography for her bedtime story. Leo and Allie finished reading The Illustrated Treasury of Fairy Tales, which they have both enjoyed very much. A. was thrilled to find that one of the illustrators they had admired most, Roberto Innocenti, was self-taught. Leo, who has already illustrated several of his own books, was not so impressed by this news!
Other highlights of the last few days have been:
- P. and L. playing very beautifully with their Sylvanians this morning. They set up a big encampment just inside the front door, which I think is in preparation for a tea party for P's birthday in two weeks' time.
- Aforementioned box of books arriving. Our neighbours have been great over the years, keeping us supplied with loads of great books their children have outgrown. The last lot included three editions of the Guinness Book of Records, which P. fell upon with glee, a couple of books by David Almond, and one set in the Isles of Scilly, where we are planning a holiday in June, a complete set of Lemony Snicket, plus loads more that look very interesting.
- An expedition to deliver party invitations to friends living in the local neighbourhood. I photocopied the street map and marked the addresses with stickers, then P. guided us around the route and L. found the right house number when we got to each street.
- Both P. and L. working very confidently on the computer to write a story (L.) and search on the internet for pictures of Sylvanians (P.).
- P. making and photographing lovely domino constructions.
- A fruitful visit to the library on Friday, followed by a calm quiet afternoon of pottering.
Friday, April 08, 2005
P. and L. spent quite a bit of time developing security systems for their rooms, to go with the door knockers A’s mum bought for them in Lyme Regis. They now each have a password and a list of authorised people. They also both made themselves ‘Knock before entry’ signs on the computer.
Leo and I used the story ideas generator we bought a couple of months ago, and wrote stories featuring the characters, locations, actions etc suggested by rolling the dice.
When the sun came out briefly, we popped round the corner to take some more photos of the building site.
I finished P’s birthday picnic invitations. I had hoped she might help me with that, but she was busy being a cat at that moment, so she couldn’t.
Later on she got very involved in writing a secret code on the computer, and then searching for pictures of Sylvanians to put on her wall.
Yesterday Allie had to work again, but the kids and I went to visit Allie’s dad and his wife in Haywards Heath. This was lovely, as always. We were given lunch and entertained in the wonderfully sunny hideaway they have at the bottom of their garden. We played Cheat and knocked balls around with bats in the garden. P. and L. took various Sylvanians and Power Rangers with them, and enjoyed explaining them to bemused grandparents.
We came away with a lovely little felt beret that P. plans to copy for her Sylvanians, some interesting cardboard packaging (L. declared his to be a graveyard), a spare chess set they happened to have, and some extra pocket money for the children. Grandparents are great, aren’t they?
On the way we picked up the latest Horrible Science magazine and read bits of that here and there. We’ve also been enjoying Terry Jones’s Medieval Lives in the evenings on UKTV History.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
D went to work all day today and the kids and I played with their cousin B – who is five. The weather held and so we went up to the park. We are blessed with a selection of fantastic parks in Brighton. When I get grumpy about coughing up the 108 pounds council tax each month I should remember that!
Pearl ran around with a football for ages and climbed the climbing poles (about 10 feet high) until her feet got too sandy and she couldn't get any grip. She had also been skipping in the street for about an hour first thing in the morning. By the time we finally got home she was still climbing on walls and hiding round corners. By this evening she was flaked out on our bed watching UK TV History for hours on end. I hope she is asleep now but she is re-reading 'Comet in Moominland' at the moment and so may finally crash out on that.
Leo and his cousin B played for while in his room before we went to the park and Leo got a bit agitated about the resulting mess. Now we live in a pretty chaotic house, and always have, so I am a bit surprised about his fastidiousness. I think it is part of recent phase of caring greatly for his possessions and his space. He handles his things very carefully - almost reverently sometimes. Anyway I tidied up for him as he was entertaining.
Leo did a new and exciting thing today. He has always looked at books a lot. He used to sit in his buggy staring at favourite illustrations. But today he announced that he was going to read his 'Ricky Ricotta' book. I was sitting next to him at the kitchen table looking at a catalogue but it was clear that he was not inviting me to participate. He has been reading to us for a while now, but this was different. He read four chapters of the book (silently) – asking me to tell him occasional words as he went along. Then he asked for a bookmark and went to do something else. I think it felt significant because he was reading entirely for himself - not to show that he could or to practice the skill.
Anyway, better get off the laptop as D is itching to start designing Pearl's birthday picnic invite.
Monday, April 04, 2005
I, like many other parents I am sure, often feel a surge of satisfaction when the children produce some attractive (complete, neat, clever, whatever…) thing on paper. Somehow I feel pleased that something has been 'done'. Of course I know that we do a great deal that does not appear on a piece of paper, and I do value those things, but to me there is still a feeling that paper with marks on is real work done. I suppose this is no surprise as I have struggled and sweated my way through endless reams of such work to achieve loads of qualifications. Most of the subject matter is now lost to me and by the end of my years of study the words were wrung out of me against a rebelling mind. Even though I was finally working on an MA dissertation on a subject of my own choosing, I was just so sick of the whole reading, note-taking, essay writing thing. So I know, deep down, that there is no intrinsic merit in work on paper but I have to fight the programming!
Another challenge to me is the nagging idea that there must be some 'basic' things that the children need to understand, or to be able to do, before they can really be autonomous in their learning. I must admit that I am relieved that Leo is reading more every day. But I am wary of the idea that they can only be given free rein when they are older. Just now we might feel that they need to be reading, or to be clear what an adjective is, or know how to multiply fractions, before they can have a free hand. If we start down that route we may be forever extending the list of things they need to get under their belts – a foreign language, quadratic equations, some more grammar – and so their childhood could disappear. I want to be able to contemplate calmly a future where my children don't know everything that the schooled kids do but what they do know is infinitely more valuable as it is born of their own interests – the things that call to their hearts and minds.
Every day is new and with no plan it can feel like we are sailing in uncharted territory. The urge to take any spark of interest and plan a scheme of work is sometimes there. But in reality I know this would just be time wasted. We would never keep to the plan and it would just hang over us as some kind of reproach – like the extensive revision timetable that was pinned on my bedroom wall before every set of exams.
I work in an academic library and books on many subjects pass through my hands. Sometimes I will borrow a book on something I never 'studied' and perhaps never thought I would be interested in. I read eagerly the texts of the trainee teachers, the harrowing tales of social work practice, the fascinating (and stomach churning) books on wound care for nurses. I have no plan, I take no notes, no-one knows or cares what, or even if, I am learning. There will never be an exam again. It is liberating. I see my children do the same in the public library. That is when I know that we are on the right track for our family.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
Fossil-hunting on the beach towards Charmouth. Not quite as productive as last year, but P. found a beautiful little pyritised gastropod, plus a brachiopod, and L. spotted a lovely ammonite. Of course we have also hauled home unreasonable amounts of belemnite fragments, lumps of iron pyrites, and assorted stones.
A big find
Dinosaurland museum – very interesting and friendly. We benefited greatly from their fabby little book on how to find fossils, both this year and last. We popped in later in the week for their free fossil identification clinic.
The Town Mill. We finally got to see it working this year, saw flour being ground, bought a bag and baked bread and biscuits with it later in the week. The restoration of the mill is a fantastic story – we saw the pictures of the derelict building before they started work on it. Now it's a vibrant place, with a wonderful shop and a pottery and art gallery right next door. All run by volunteers – hugely impressive.
Seaton Tramway. We saw lots of birds, including buzzards, redshanks and sheldrakes. Everyone enjoyed riding on the top of the tram, and the grownups in particular appreciated Colyton, while the children in particular enjoyed the tramway gift shop.
Cold day at the tramway
The river Lym. We walked part of the way to Uplyme alongside the idyllic river. Saw butterflies galore (including a comma), and more buzzards.
Romping on the field by the river
Pearl learned to play the card game Cheat this week, and insisted we play it most evenings. This was good fun, and Leo kept us all on our toes by shouting 'cheat' as often as possible. There were five packs of cards in the house, which was enough for the grownups to play fierce games of racing patience in the evenings.
Other bits and bobs this week were:
Pearl got fed up with me reading her Stig of the Dump bit by bit at bedtimes and finished it herself, late into the night. I had to borrow it the next day to read the bits I missed. I'd never read it before, and I thought it was great. She also polished off a book we bought in a charity shop in a couple of days.
Leo has started spelling out words instead of just saying them, I think to give them more emphasis. He is interested in spelling, and is asking us how to spell things as well as continuing to use his own phonetic spelling in his writing. Especially when the writing is intended for someone else to read, he is writing with a more orthodox word order too, and using more upper case letters, perhaps because they are clearer?
Leo and Pearl both had a budget of 20 pounds spending money for the week, and both managed this very well. Leo astonished us by coming home with 7 pounds left, which he hopes will be enough to buy a mega zord. He really seemed to get the concept of saving money for a future purchase for the first time – just goes to show what an incentive can do!
All our journeys went remarkably smoothly, and we were home in time to watch Doctor Who!