Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Walking, talking, life and stuff

It's too late tonight to do a proper blog – here's some random things!

On Sunday morning we went on a walk organised by Woodcraft Folk. It had rained during the previous night but the sun came out and it was beautiful. There was a choice between 3, 6 or 9 mile walks. Leo insisted that he wanted to do the nine miler and we flatly refused. We did the three mile walk and as we slogged up the steep downland hill on the way back he declared:
"I feel like I've done the nine mile walk…"
Sunday afternoon we went down to the Labour Party Conference to take part in a demonstration about the plight of Omar Deghayes, with Brighton cousins S and D. Pearl had a good shout and declared that George Blair should be listening. She gets Bush and Blair confused sometimes, but then, who can blame her? Topics of conversation included state surveillance and torture – educational but sad

On Monday our HE group met up – back in the hall again for the winter. Pearl spent nearly all the time outside and showed little interest in the activities on offer. Leo got irate when people didn't want to play 'stuck in the mud' endlessly – mainly because he had exhausted himself running about. Looks like we all need to adjust to the changing season and the move back indoors.

Today was Leo's day to go to the grandmothers' house. He had a great time 'discovering' a bone in the garden – which I believe they had planted there for him! He also read a book to his grandmothers and was very pleased with himself as it was 'really fat'!

Meanwhile Pearl and I had a nice quiet afternoon. We had to pop in to the funeral directors as I had to drop off some music for a family funeral next week. They had little mini coffins on display, which Pearl thought were musical boxes. When we got home we cuddled up on the sofa with a maths workbook thing. I don't know why but Pearl really likes to do this with me – just the two of us. There were just a few things to complete in the Letts age 8/9 book she has – so she finished the book. I popped it in the filing cabinet and Pearl said she'd "show it to that Sharon Osborne woman" the LEA bod who does look a bit her I suppose. But if we keep referring to her as Sharon Osborne I'll be in great danger of saying it to her face.

Kids were alternately scrapping and cuddling/giggling this evening but it looked like ending in tears, so I suggested we try a game from a number pack I brought home from work. One of the perks of my job is freebie stuff that would otherwise be thrown away from the teaching resources collection. This pack has several sets of number cards up to 100 and suggested games. We had to pick games that Leo could handle and Pearl was great at helping him and being nice. Leo finds numbers quite mysterious but is always so pleased to work something out that it is quite enjoyable to watch him.

Dani was out tonight so both kids snuggled in Leo's bed for a chapter of Olga da Polga. It is a bit bizarre bur since acquiring guinea pigs of our own both kids seem to like it.

Anyway, must go and check ebay to see how we're doing on an auction. Pearl lost a bag of precious Sylvanians on the bus on Friday and we're trying to replace some at low(ish) cost – some hope!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Roman poster, jelly babies and digging


I took Pearl over to the grandmothers' house, where she did baking (scones) and delivered a present she had made for a friend. The friend in question is a friend of my mum, a person Pearl has met once, but with whom she was evidently taken. This friend collects dragons and Pearl had made her a dragon from Fimo and a lovely hand made card. One of the things that HE has encouraged in Pearl is an 'any age' approach to potential friends. We occasionally worry that she doesn't have a big group of eight year old girls to befriend and meanwhile she is happily spending hours making a present and card for someone she just happens to like, who is in her sixties.

Dani and Leo spent a lot of time on 'dragon studies' in the park - looking for nest sites, eggs and footprints in the bushes and sand pit. When they came home they made dragon eggs from Fimo and also produced a plaster cast of 'genuine' dragon tracks. At bedtime I read him Ace Dragon Ltd.


Pearl, Leo and I went to the 'drop-in' home ed group. This group is big (well over twenty kids, and many adults) but we all managed to find people to chat to and play with. Someone instigated an activity making constructions with jelly babies and spaghetti. Pearlie was so taken with this that she announced her intention to try for the world record 'highest construction of pasta and jelly babies'. We looked on the Guinness World Records website but I think all the regulations (respected independent witnesses, media coverage, etc.) will probably make this record attempt impossible. But we might make a more informal attempt!

In the evening we worked on completing our Romans poster – a mixture of things we did and information and pictures from books and web. We still haven't attempted to make the crane – not sure if we will now as Pearlie's enthusiasm peaked on our 'Roman day'. But we may come back to it over the winter.


I had to work today – lots of new students arriving on the campus. Pearl and Leo were already excavating in the garden when I left. They were dressed somewhat bizarrely in fleece hats, with scarves tied around their faces – something to do with repelling insects. Later in the day they went to a small local park to continue excavating a site they found on Wednesday on their way to capoeira, when there was no time to do a proper job. I believe they had a fine time and came away with some bits of pot and metal. P managed to cut herself on a big lump of metal but I think she had a tetanus booster at four??

This evening P declared that she wanted to write a report of today's excavation, but was somewhat at a loss about how to begin. Dani helped her formulate a plan; what is the report for? How might you structure the report? Are you going to make notes first? I think this was helpful. P sometimes abandons written projects when she is frustrated by her own lack of experience. She has taken it to bed tonight anyway.

What's being read round here?

Just a quick note on our current reading. Dani is reading 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit' to P at bedtime. I think P is probably reading a lot of 'Guinness Book of Records 2005' and 'Horrible Science' magazines to herself. Leo is reading 'Rita and the Romans' to himself at bedtime, after finishing 'Magnificent Mummies' while waiting for P to finish her capoeira class. I have been reading 'Natural Learning and the Natural Curriculum' – a collection of writing by Roland Meighan. Dani has just finished 'In the Company of Cheerful Ladies' and has run out of Ladies Detective Agency books for now!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Roman Day

We had a weekend of birthdays – two of our local cousins turned 4 and 8, and Allie's birthday fell on the day between theirs. All these occasions were celebrated with cake, chocolate, etc. There was a party at the cousins' house, and a pottery painting party in town. Allie got to spend a day on her own in London at the Home Education Fair, and both of us spent a pleasant couple of hours mooching around town while the kids were painting pottery.

Monday's HE group was our last outdoor meet of the year on a surprisingly hot day at a park near the seafront with a paddling pool. It was a bit sad, as it was the day the pool was being drained, so the kids had to get in there while the water dwindled around them.

Tuesday was unusual, because A's mum had to spend the day making arrangements for a family funeral, so couldn't look after Leo. Instead, Allie and the kids did an emergency food shop and then P. researched a Roman evening meal, for the first instalment of Roman Day.

She found two useful recipes on this site – spicy lentils

Roman spicy lentils
which was quite nice but a bit too vinegary for P. and L., and sweet toast (sometimes called honeyed bread in the books), which was so yummy we ate it all up before we had time to take a photo.

P. wore her toga, sandals and bulla for the meal.
Roman Pearl

Allie was struck down by a bad migraine overnight and stayed in bed all day, so I didn't go to work this morning, and we continued Roman Day with a breakfast of bread and fruit (did the Romans have houmous, does anyone know?), followed by several good games of marbles in the garden and some writing on wax tablets (improvised out of plasticine and tupperware lids).
wax tablet with dalek by Leo wax tablet with Roman writing and numerals by Pearl

We did our best to make a Roman lunch from a basically empty fridge, and I read a chapter from the Diary of a young Roman girl, which A. had borrowed from her work.

We gave up being Roman after that, and the kids watched an interesting documentary called Quest for the Lost Pharaoh, while I did a quick Tesco shop and some ironing.

We stopped in the park for 15 minutes on the way to capoeira, and the kids did a bit of archaeology (finds included a dragon/dalek egg, some roman pottery and a metal watering can rose). P. did two capoeira classes and rode her bike home. This is the only thing I have ever known that can tire her out.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Romans ate stuffed dormice

This week we have been thinking about:


Following our visit to Fishbourne, we are on a Romans kick – Allie and the kids spent time today putting some of the things we've done onto a big poster for our kitchen wall. P. made herself some Roman sandals out of cardboard and string, and a bulla out of fleece. We've all been doodling mosaic designs, with the help of this brilliant book. Leo is working on a lovely cardboard shield. And we've been reading endless books and websites about the Romans. P. wants to make a Roman crane – we think we might base it around a hamster wheel.


Leo spent some pocket money on another little dragon to be a sister to the Tiamat he bought last weekend. The new one is named Fafnir, after the dragon slain by Sigurd in the ancient Norse legend (but ours is a girl dragon). Tiamat is the name of the dragon in Jeremy Hatcher, Dragon Hatcher, which we have now finished. He and I made a dragon world for them to live in.


P. and I went to our local community association AGM, where there was a discussion about the refuse and recycling service, with speakers from the council. P. enjoyed this immensely, especially the bit with wine and nibbles at the end.


Our HE group met at the flat park at the bottom of our hill and all the kids had a fine time scooting and cycling around, then getting soaked in the paddling pool (even though it was really not the weather for it).


We are finally back to our weekly routine of visits to Allie's mum for each child. This is a source of great joy for both kids. Today we had some bonus grandparents when A's dad and his wife popped in to deliver her birthday present. We are also very grateful to all the grandparents for their frequent contributions of educational resources – this week's crop includes a lovely Romans book, one on evacuees, a diary of a girl who emigrated to America at the turn of the century, and a book of autumnal activities, money for aforementioned hamster wheel, some promised recorders (currently living unplayed on top of my parents' piano), a bag full of feathers, and a clever device for making…


The kids discovered that they liked sunflower sprouts, and indeed beansprouts of all kinds. So we're planning to make our own.


P. played a new French lotto game (direct from France) at the grandmothers' house. There's also been bits of conversation about latin roots (aqueduct, viaduct, … abduct), and Leo invented a new word, combining submerge and immerse to form 'immerge'.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Autonomy and where we are headed - thoughts

From Kahlil Gibran ‘Children’

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts
They have their own thoughts
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

This piece of writing is often in my mind these days. I have loved it for years and am particularly fond of the version sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock. But I think what keeps popping it into my mind at the moment is that it seems to include much of what I think is strengthening my belief in autonomous learning for our children.

I realize more and more that my children’s thoughts are their own – to be shared if they so wish. I cannot see inside their heads. As adults we seem to trust children very little with their own thoughts. We are always trying to peel back their skulls and re-assure ourselves that they are learning. We must assess all the time, measure and probe. I think that the autonomous approach we are taking is teaching me to keep my mouth shut and to open my eyes and ears more.

I also can only know what my children truly desire if they tell me. In our culture children are often placed in situations where they are trying to guess what adults want and provide that - or do their damnedest not to provide it! But what the adults want is always there. We do not encourage children to look into their own hearts and find what they want to do with their lives. We offer a limited range of futures and then whittle that down still further with our endless judgements about them. By the time I was ten I thought I knew that I could never do something ‘mathsy’ or ‘scientific’. I strove to be very good at the things I was told I was good at and stopped thinking about the rest. I stopped making judgments about what I wanted to know and started to base them all on what I was ‘good at’.

I know that my children's souls do truly ‘dwell in the house of tomorrow’ - their world as adults will not be mine. I do not know what knowledge or skills they will need in the future. So how can I help them with a future I cannot even imagine? I think by nurturing their own belief in their abilities and trusting them to make their choices.

I can, of course, offer to share what I know. I can suggest interesting topics of enquiry and fun things to do. I have been alive longer than they have and I know more of some aspects of life. I can invite them to share with me as they so often invite me to share with them.

This sharing gives us the freedom of living in the present. If I allow myself to be haunted by thoughts of a future where the children's education is 'finished' and the 'product' is deficient in some way I could end up letting that spectre destroy the present. Today my children are five and eight and they might: ride bikes, play an imaginary game, read a book, play monopoly, tell me a story, watch TV, climb a tree, devise a secret code, make a sandwich, play with their friends, cuddle me, have an argument, sniff their stinky feet, and a thousand other things. My children's autonomy in their learning means that I value their choices and so am free to delight in all the things they do (except maybe their bickering!) and enjoy their childhoods.

As they get older my children can choose more formal courses of instruction if they wish to. They will (and probably already do) know that our society sets up barriers that control access to particular institutions and occupations. Some of those are in the form of qualifications and some are in the form of experience. I hope that they will find ways to get where they want to go, negotiating whatever barriers they encounter along the way.

But what I do not want to do is give my children the message that negotiating the barriers is education. Nor do I want them to believe that their worth can be measured by a set of qualifications. Both these messages are so deeply ingrained in our culture that they are part of the common currency of a modern British childhood.

Accompanying these messages is the dominant view that the stuff of learning, the books, the information, the very words and symbols are by nature boring, tedious and a punishment for ignorance that must be endured. Autonomy in their learning means that our children can discover the lie of that view. For Leo a book is a doorway to a place of such pleasure that he can't bear to let me finish his current bedtime book, for fear that the doorway will be closed. I am certain that his own enthusiasm for reading comes from the certain knowledge that books are joyous things. I know that in school he would be forced to read to order and I have seen that force kill a child's confidence and their whole relationship with the written word.

When our children are babies we encourage and applaud their discoveries, their achievements and their sheer determination. My children strove to sit, to stand, to walk, and to talk. Why should I suddenly believe that they have no idea what to do next? They do know. The world is ever more complex and living in it is often confusing. But I believe my children will find their way best if they know that I trust them to do so. I do not mean abandoning them. I will be there whenever and however they want me to be. But I do not dare to tell them that they must know what I know - because I simply cannot believe it myself.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Back to life, back to reality

Not a proper catch-up, but here's a few highlights from the last few days:
  • More bike riding for P (in an eerily deserted park), followed by a visit from our 8 year-old HE friend, J. He and our two had a Doctor Who fest, with a DVD, talking dalek and other such delights. Much hilarity all round.
  • Allie and the kids tried out a new HE group, with the aim of finding some people the same age or a bit older than P. as she is the oldest child in our regular group. All three found people they enjoyed playing/chatting with, and they'll probably go back. It meets twice a month, which is nice for us as it's not so much of a commitment as another weekly thing. Also there's no particular focus, so there's no need for preparation. At our weekly group, everyone puts in a lot of effort to bring stuff for the kids to do around broad themes, and that works really well in our small, stable group with mainly young children. But I don't think we could put in that kind of effort for two groups!
  • The kids and I popped in on the main event of the Brighton & Hove Food Festival, which turned out to be very interesting. We picked up free samples when we could, tried home-made lemonade and later saw it being made, won a peach and a plum at the 'fruit shy', and marvelled at the chicken and turkey that had been brought along by the people from Hen Heaven.
  • We all enjoyed a lovely visit to Fishbourne Roman Palace, with another family from our weekly HE group. The kids and I had never been there before, and Allie last went on a school trip when she was 11. It was great, with splendid mosaics, simple and fun activities for the kids, informative museum displays, a fascinating Roman kitchen garden and lots of inviting green hills to run up and down. We saw a nice AV presentation, with pictures of the original excavation in the 1960s, showing the mosaics emerging from under the bare fields, and stories of the people behind the various finds. We resolved to go back soon!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Where were we??

Lost the plot!

I have no idea what we've been doing that has left us too tired to blog, but we have been busy. Let's see if I can recall…

Thursday 1st September
I spent the morning cleaning the filthy kitchen and the afternoon at work, but Dani and the kids had more fun. They went to a big Brighton park to ride bikes with some cousins, an aunt and a grandmother! The park has a bike hire place, where Dani hired a bike and trailer for two kids (her own Brompton is no good with a trailer), and kids hired assorted bikes and trikes. Pearl had her beloved new bike with her and had a wonderful time whizzing about, apart from riding through a massive dog poo. Dani worked hard at giving kids rides.
Leo rode a large tricycle and, with help from his grandmother, made great progress in pedalling and steering. He finds it very challenging to manage this kind of thing and was clearly thrilled with himself declaring it to be "the best thing I've ever done!" I love it that he can be pleased with his own achievements and doesn't keep comparing himself to other people. Most five year olds seem to have been riding trikes around for years, and a lot of them ride bikes, but Leo doesn't seem to care. Pearl was hurtling around on trikes and scooters from two, and we were wondering if maybe it was just something Leo would never do. But suddenly, a five and a half, he is doing it. It's wonderful to see him take his time and glory in his own achievements.

Friday 2nd September
Nothing much to say. We went shopping for lots of fleece fabric to use as bedding for our guinea pigs. We are using old towels underneath and fleece on top, which we change and wash daily. It's a bit like going back to the days of nappies!

Saturday 3rd September
More park fun with cousins for D and kids, while I went to work.

Sunday 4th September
We paid a brief visit to Rainbow Families (gay parents and their children group) where we met a load more babies! In the afternoon Dani and Pearl rode their bikes the three miles out to our beach hut. Leo and I went on the bus and on the way we went to the bookshop to collect a new book for Leo. I read him the first book in this series, which he enjoyed, but when he discovered the title of the next book in the series he was wildly excited. Dragons are emerging as Leo's new interest, coming from his previous interest in eggs. He was so thrilled to collect his new book (which he paid for himself our of saved pocket money) that he squeaked and hopped his way back to the bus stop.
We had a lovely afternoon at the beach hut. Dani and I both swam in the sea, Leo dug holes in the beach and Pearl rode off to the café for ice lollies. Pearl's bike is fast becoming a part of her body. She and Dani rode home and beat me and Leo using the buses. It's lucky that there is a bike path all along the sea front, and one from the bottom of our hill to the sea.

Monday 5th September
I took the kids to our HE group, which was a lovely outdoor meet to say farewell to our little friend H, who has decided to go to school. We will miss her and her mum J. We were able to give her a book bag for her new school, as she is going to the same school that Pearl used to attend. I think this was an important step for Pearl who hates to let things go, but who has really settled into being HE and felt able to pass her book bag on to someone who could use it.

Tuesday 6th September
Dani was at work all day. The kids spent a very busy day at home with their cousin B (5). The boys played a game which involved hurling all the cuddly creatures from Leo's room onto the basement floor. Pearl set up a bookshop and also rode her bike in the street.

Wednesday 7th September
This morning Dani went to work. I was feeling very 'start of term-ish' as all our local cousins are now back at school and the street is suddenly much quieter too. I had a sudden urge to suggest things to the kids, who promptly took themselves off to do quiet things on their own. Pearl made some numbers using Lego, which she stuck in the front window of the house. Leo played an imaginary game with an egg box that was being a dragon.
In the afternoon I went to work. Dani took the kids to capoeira. Pearl rode her bike for half an hour in the nearby park, then did the first capoeira class with Leo and then the next class as well. Then she rode home up the very steep hill. She was very slightly tired tonight, but she still had the energy to clamber up door frames until bed time. Leo did very well in his capoeira class, which was peopled mainly by very overtired little children who had spent a stressful day at school. He managed to stay focussed, played an instrument and played a game in the final roda.

We must blog more frequently. If you've read this far – thanks!