Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Downs and ups

I will attempt a single sentence for each day as we have got so far behind!

Thursday 20th
I went to work and D and the kids went to the sixth birthday party of an HE friend, held in the local park.

Friday 21st
I took the kids to the library in the rain and then to the park in the sunshine!

Saturday 22nd
Began at four am with Leo vomiting in his bed and continuing to do so at hourly intervals for the rest of the day.

Sunday 23rd
Leo fully recovered so Dani went with both kids to an event in town organised by Brighton Black History called Gateway to History – tried on saris, salwar kameez, did rangoli pictures, took part in story telling and ate yummy food.

Monday 24th
HE group in pouring rain with toys and games/quizzes/logic puzzles – based loosely on humans theme.

Tuesday 25th
Pearl had former school friend for lunch and play and Leo had cousin B for same – very happy play all round.

Wednesday 26th
Morning was a quiet time at home – more below. In the afternoon Dani took P and L to meet up with some HE group friends for a show by the marvellous Stomp! P declared it 'brilliant' and L was happy to see his good friend J. P went straight on to capoeira where they had a stand in teacher as the regular one was away.

A wonderful HE morning

This past week has been tiring and pretty stressful. As well as being busy and having Leo so sick for a whole day (one of those times when the washing machine runs non-stop for 12 hours!) we have had some challenging debate going on at our HE group and my mum phoned from her holiday flat in Crete to tell us she had fallen and dislocated her shoulder. She is now home and resting – but it was worrying for us all and confirmed my fear that I do not have a valid passport – you never know when you may need one.

So this morning we decided to snatch a few hours just being at home. Dani went to work and the kids and I got up slowly. After breakfast I decided to make another geometric paper window decoration. We have had a book about these for some time and I made a shape yesterday while the kids were playing upstairs with friends.

The sight of me sitting down and making something at the table inspired Leo to switch off the telly. This is something of a small miracle as it is 'scooby week' on Boomerang. He had earlier been fascinated by a picture of the Blue Peter tortoise in a book of Pearl's, so he decided to make one. He drew a tortoise on some card, cut it out, attached a length of shirring elastic, and tethered it to the radiator in the hallway. After that he pottered and made another beautiful comic.

Leo's tortoise

Leo's comic cover and one of the pages

Pearl decided to make a pulley type device (actually something like a fan belt in the end). She has had a fascination with pulleys, and similar things, since she was four or five. Today she decided to draw her design in her 'inventions notebook' – she had it complete in her head before she started. I love watching her describe these inventions – she uses her hands to sketch it all out in the air and it is clear she can see it before her. Anyway, she used little wooden plant sticks, lolly sticks, and a cotton reel. The whole thing worked just as she had envisaged it, though it has collapsed this evening. We talked a lot about engineers, what they do and how they train. She told me that when she grows up she may be an engineer and do archaeology as a hobby. When she had finished her invention she did another design in her book, ready to be made another day.

Pearl's invention

As we chatted Pearl suddenly declared:
" I like being home ed."
Leo responded,
"I LOVE being home ed."

This was just the boost I needed after a tough week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Penultimate perils, groups and experiments

Life is getting a bit frantic again here but we seem to be inviting it!

Went to our weekly HE group. The session was rather spoiled by a huge pile of dog poo on the grass area where the kids run around. It ended up on three kids feet and through the entrance hall. Everything got a bit much so we sloped off early and, as we had a couple of hours all together, we went off to the park. We found two other HE families in the park, who told us all about another weekly HE group for over sixes, that runs locally. The sessions are run by a paid worker (with a rota of parent help) and the kids do topics that last a few weeks at a time. We think we can work it in to our weekly schedule for P, so she's going for a trial session in a couple of weeks.

I know it must be hard to imagine for people in areas with fewer HE families, but here we know of six weekly groups within reach, as well as a fortnightly one. We have a commitment to our existing weekly one, and I think we can commit to another for P – especially one where we drop her off! We have to guard against getting too busy.

P went to Woodcraft in the evening and Leo made this cool Hama bead robot

The kids and I went to town to collect 'The penultimate peril' – book 12 in the Series of Unfortunate Events books. Dani and I have been reading it aloud to both, and struggling to catch up on the chapters we miss!

We had an arty afternoon. Pearl declared a desire to make a collage of a sheep – which she did.

Then she wrote a Haiku about book 12.

Penultimate book
Violet, Klaus and Sunny
Are volunteers now.

Leo also made a collage, and then drew a lot more comic book stuff.

This picture shows the explosion of the planet, among other things. The superhero is called Super Squidgey.

I felt full of cold this morning, so we did a bit of book 12 reading in our pjs. Then the kids disappeared upstairs to make a secret den in Leo's room, while I did a Tesco shop online.

Pearl informed us that she has recently been watching a lot of great 'How its made' programmes on Discovery Science. She likes to watch TV from our bed, on her own.

Pearl also wrote a letter to her Leicestershire cousins this afternoon – we have no idea what was in it, but the envelope was hexagonal.

Science in the bath

This evening I was very tired when I got in from work but Leo declared he wanted a bath. So I sat in the bathroom with a cup of tea and observed L enjoying a wonderful bath. He lectured me on many things:

"Now, there is some oxygen contained in the water. But if our lungs filled with water we would drown."

"If I mix some of this crazy soap and water, the chemicals might combine to form an explosive. I'll just add a specimen to my test tube and see what effect it has."

"Action man won't go under the water until all the bubbles are out."

There was a lot more along these lines. I particularly enjoyed his attempts at creating an explosive out of crazy soap. He loves to use the right vocabulary and it amazes me how well he does this and how much he has observed about the scientific method.

Both kids have been doing some experiments recently with balloons that contain a bit of water. They call these chromatography balloons, as they think the colour of the balloon is changed by the water. This activity was Leo's idea originally but Pearl soon got involved. Both kids had theories about what would happen to the water in the balloon. Leo thought it would come out with the force of the air going in as you blew it up. Pearl thought the water would evaporate inside the balloon extremely quickly. Actually we now have several balloons around that have water inside. They are fun to play with and the kids have observed a lot about them: they roll strangely as the water moves inside the balloon, they feel cold on your hand, they fall very fast compared to a balloon containing air. I think balloons are one of the top HE resources we have ever bought – they get used for everything and they are cheap!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

This week, we have mostly been…

  • Playing capoeira – we had our usual classes on Wednesday, and a special class with Mestre Laercio on Saturday. P. was fantastic, and played twice in the roda. She was quite cross she didn't get to play with the mestre himself – maybe next time!
  • Socialising – after the capoeira workshop we ended up in the nearest park and bumped into several other capoeristas, including a HE family we have recently made friends with, and had a nice relaxed play for an hour or so. On Thursday we had a visit from another HE friend – lots of Transformers chat and general rampaging. And last night we had a sleepover visit from cousin S, then met up again with her and her brother in the park this afternoon.
  • Cooking – I made bread rolls on Thursday, and we finally got round to doing some bean sprouts this week. They sprouted astonishingly fast, and the kids declared them to be "just as good as the ones made by professional bean sprouters".
  • Pottering about in the house – including lots of drawing, some maths in a workbook (P), playing Monopoly, trying out some games in a cuisenaire rods book A. printed off the internet, watching TV, reading blogs, making Hallowe'en costumes, creating playmobil scenes, etc.
  • Trying to kill fruit flies – we found out that our compost bin has caused a serious infestation in our next door neighbours' house. Aargh! Luckily, neighbours are very understanding, but we are now trying everything we can think of to get rid of the little beasties.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cooking, playing, reading and stuff

Pearl decided that baking was necessary and started making cheese straws before her parents were even dressed. She did this very slowly and very thoroughly and was still busy creating when I left for work. She did the whole thing herself, except getting the hot tray out of the oven. (Note to self: get decent oven gloves.) The end results were so delicious they were nearly all gone when I got home, but I managed to get one.

Dani took over to make 'tigger's spicy biscuits' – about a hundred of them and very yummy.

In the afternoon D and the kids went to play in the park with cousins S and D. They then went to cousins' house for tea and pay-per-view Lemony Snicket film. I believe a fab time was had by all and am sulking that everyone else in the family has now seen this film twice and I haven't seen it at all!

Home ed group theme this week was animals and natural cycles/ changing seasons. It went very well, everyone had fun and we spent quite a lot of time outside enjoying the balmy day. Can't remember all that happened but some highlights:
Completing an animals quiz with P, who displayed an impressive knowledge of animal behaviour in the winter.
P, L and I had a good look at tarantula moults (sheds?) brought in by a family who keep two such beasties as pets. These amazing creatures shed everything – even their teeth. Wonderful opportunity for us all to see something so unusual up close and I learned a lot.
One group member led some yoga for the kids out on the grass in the sunshine. P joined in and really enjoyed this. She is a very bendy bunny!
I had to leave half way through and Dani took over as parent on duty.

In the evening Pearl went to Woodcraft where they are continuing the food theme. She told everyone in the circle that she doesn't go to school, something she's been wanting to say but hasn't had a chance to.

My mum and partner left for two weeks hols today, so our usual routine is suspended. Pearl was streaming with cold first thing and she had a busy morning playing with playmobil toys in the hallway. Leo played with his 'dinosaur egg in the ice' playmobil toy and this led him into an experiment involving freezing a toy in a glass of water in the freezer. He has been hacking away happily at this tonight and I just found him in the bathroom where he told me the best idea was to 'add some warm water to defrost it.'

I went through our box of workbook/puzzlebook things, hoping to weed out some rubbish. Sadly the kids wanted to keep almost everything – even half done stuff that's been there for years! Mind you, P did a sheet of 'secret code maths' that has been there for months – actually just some simple addition but interesting to her for its code link. She decided it would not be suitable as a code for her and cousin S because 'it just came off the internet so anyone could print that out and break the code!' True enough and I think devising ciphers is the bit she likes best.
Leo and I sat down to something from an addition and subtraction book that was lurking in the box. He has been wanting to do a particular page for a while - just because it involves a sweetshop scenario! It was hard for him but with a selection of things to help – coins, number line, fingers, and me – he worked it all out. We discussed his tendency to write numbers backwards. In fact I realised that he often writes two digit numbers entirely in mirror writing – numbers in wrong order and digits backwards. I am never sure about pointing out such things to the kids. If we ever point out a spelling mistake to P (not something we do because she's a kid – we do the same to each other!) she always declares that she knows it is wrong and often volunteers the correct spelling. But she generally doesn't like to either make mistakes or to have them noticed. Leo finds the whole thing rather amusing and is not at all bothered. He may or may not correct himself but today he was happy to cross out his reversals and have another go.
It is interesting to me that Leo often writes his numbers backwards. He used to do the same with text too – often writing speech bubbles with text that started at the person's mouth and went in the direction of the bubble. He never does that now and has only two letters that persists in coming out reversed – s and g. I imagine that his numbers will sort themselves out just as his letters have. His fist pen grip persists but his control is amazing so I guess he doesn't see any need to change. He does hold paint brushes in a more orthodox three point hold, so he certainly can.
Pearl has loved playing with her playmobil today. She has been making big 'scenes' involving drama and intrigue – fire, theft, broken bicycles…

We went to collect cousin S from her school this afternoon and then met up with her brother D, cousin B and his mum. It is very strange to be in a school playground. I felt a bit conspicuous with L who had acquired a colander from a 'please take' pile in the street and was using it as a nest for 'invisible baby viseraks'. He was also dressed in his 'superhamster' t-shirt and quite a lot of mud from the park we'd visited on the way. Pearl and Leo are very fond of this little park at the moment - it offers a lot of excavation interest. I have promised to find out some more information about when the park used to be a bit of railway line to help them in their time teaming!

What are we reading?
Leo finished his Ricky Ricotta book on the day we borrowed it from the library. He has mainly been dipping in and out of a comic since. I am re-reading him the Series of Unfortunate Events book 11 so we remember where we are when book 12 is published this month. Pearl is enjoying the roman mysteries series by Caroline Lawrence, which her cousin S is also reading. Pearl is on book 2 'Secrets of Vesuvius' – Dani is reading bits to her at bedtime but she's reading on herself as she is gripped. I am going to try to read the Ian Rankin I borrowed from the library on Friday but I've just spotted that Dani is reading it as I type! Better go and steal it back.

Apparently, I'm a...


You are one of life’s enjoyers, determined to get the most you can out of your brief spell on Earth. Probably what first attracted you to atheism was the prospect of liberation from the Ten Commandments, few of which are compatible with a life of pleasure. You play hard and work quite hard, have a strong sense of loyalty and a relaxed but consistent approach to your philosophy.

You can’t see the point of abstract principles and probably wouldn’t lay down your life for a concept though you might for a friend. Something of a champagne humanist, you admire George Bernard Shaw for his cheerful agnosticism and pursuit of sensual rewards and your Hollywood hero is Marlon Brando, who was beautiful, irascible and aimed for goodness in his own tortured way.

Sometimes you might be tempted to allow your own pleasures to take precedence over your ethics. But everyone is striving for that elusive balance between the good and the happy life. You’d probably open another bottle and say there’s no contest.

What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.

That's not what I would have said, but what do I know?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Pause for breath

We've both been working a lot, and the kids have been busy with their stuff too.

Leo has rediscovered drawing, after a bit of a pause, inspired by his mammoth comic making session at Monday's group. He has been making comics, with lots of POWs and BATONGs, goodies and villains, dragons and daleks, all spelt in his own inimitable style.

He and Allie made a nest. She followed his instructions carefully, and together they made a nest from an old tissue box, with loo roll tube baby triceratopses. When it was finished he said "Now, we need to find something to act as vegetation, because it said on Tale of a Tooth that when vegetation rots, it produces heat". Once the babies were suitably insulated with string, he cut up paper to be the broken eggshells, as found in fossil dinosaur nests.

In the library, he found a Ricky Ricotta book, found a comfy seat, and sat silently reading – 58 pages – until it was time to go home for lunch.

Pearl had a grandmothers visit, during which she took photographs at the allotment and picked lots of lovely flowers.

When she got home, she was seized by a desire to try out the tiny candle she had made from Babybel wax. Visiting grandmother (who used to be a science teacher) was quite interested in this, and hung around to help. We therefore did a very scientific experiment, involving making another candle with a thicker wick and weighing the two balls of wax left over to see which was heavier. We also talked about the colours of flames, and threw some salt on the gas cooker to see the lovely sodium flame colour.

While this was going on, Leo was doing his own experiment with water and scrunched up paper. At one point bubbles appeared in his cup of water. Visiting grandmother said this was like the bubbles in a fizzy drink and asked him what he thought those bubbles were. He said, without missing a beat, "carbon dioxide", and carried on with what he was doing.

P. has also been thinking a lot about codes. At the bus stop today she was explaining to Allie how Morse code was really invented by someone else, and had just been appropriated by Morse. She then demonstrated her own version, in which a dot is a hop and a dash is a jump – thus combining PE, history and maths in one fell swoop.

This evening she asked for a Dictaphone, and the two of them spent a happy hour or so taping themselves and giggling. We then had a lovely, peaceful evening, with Allie on the computer, Pearl and Leo sat at the table doing French knitting and drawing, and me knitting on the sofa.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005



Pottered about at home in the morning, then Allie went to work, and the rest of us went swimming with some local cousins. Leo went down the slide without me catching him, and was pleased to find he could touch the bottom of the pool with his feet.


Allie had to go to a funeral, so I took the day off work and went to the HE group with the kids. This was lovely – we were looking at the moon and stars, and everyone had brought interesting books and resources. We dropped stones into flour to make craters, used a scale model of the earth and moon to see just how far away it is (further than you think!), read moon-related stories and myths, wrote moon poems. Some people made lovely star and moon mobiles out of straws and paperclips, while Leo and his friend J. spent ages making comics which had nothing to do with the moon, and P. lay on the grass outside reading her book, The Thieves of Ostia.

The eclipse in the morning set the day up very nicely – we all enjoyed projecting the image of the sun onto P's bedroom wall, and noticed the strangely dim quality of the sunlight outside as the moon cast its shadow.

In the evening, P. and I went to Woodcraft Folk, where we unpacked shopping bags to find out where the food came from, then marked the countries on a map, and had a discussion about fair trade, global warming, Nestle boycott, etc – some very clued up kids at Woodcraft! Some were a bit more unruly and inconsiderate than I would have liked, at the end of a long day, but I think it went quite well overall.


Leo went to A's mum. Not sure what he did there, but it wore him out! He was thrilled to be given a big canine tooth that the grandmothers dug up on their allotment.

Pearl and Allie watched The Madness of King George, which we got free with the Guardian on Saturday. I think P. was quite shocked at the way he was treated. Extremely educational, I'm sure. As Allie said, you don't get to watch great films like that until you're doing A levels if you go to school.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Burning the candle at both ends

An exhausting few days, including a mammoth trip to the Science Museum for Allie and the kids on Friday. They saw a 3D film at the IMAX cinema about landing on the moon; enjoyed a lecture about rockets, complete with exploding hydrogen-filled balloons; and explored the museum's collection of early radio equipment in the company of a fascinating curator.

They all enjoyed the day, but were struggling with exhaustion, because they had to get up at 6.30 in order to be there on time for the film showing. We also blew loads of money on train tickets to travel at such an unearthly hour.

Other recent highlights have been:
  • Another good capoeira class for both P. and L. on Wednesday.
  • P. made lavender ice cream and read a funny French picture book with her grandmother on Thursday, while Leo accompanied me to work to do an emergency lunch cover. He amused himself beautifully on a spare computer and was no trouble at all.
  • P's trampolining class started again today, and two of our home ed friends came along to give it a try, which was lovely.
  • We looked at the stars this evening with a local cousin who has a telescope. We were trying to find Mars, but it turned out the house was in the way. It was interesting, anyway.
  • Some good conversations about how toys marketed at little girls tend to be quite hideous – heads with long hair attached to strange pod-like bodies, or with no body at all, just hands. A. and L. had a chat about how labelling toys for boys or girls is silly.
  • L. and P. both worked on codes this afternoon. This is a frequent activity for P, but the first time L has really followed it through. He made up a very complicated code with multiple symbols for each letter, and he and I sent each other coded messages.
  • Leo demanded a map of the world, out of the blue one evening, so he could see where the slaves who invented capoeira had come from, where Brazil was, and why the 15th century explorers had thought they could reach China by sailing west from Europe.

Must sleep now, another busy day tomorrow…