Saturday, January 28, 2006

Wobbling on

Can't really believe it is the end of the week again. It's been quite a tough one here, with Dani suffering a streaming cold, everyone a bit sick of the cold weather, and me having a tricky time at work. Ho hum, roll on the summer. Mind you, there have been good bits too, so let's see if I can remember them.


Dani went to work all day and started to feel rough… Leo went to the grandmothers' house, where he made things and played cards and apparently did a lot of writing. Pearl and I made great strides with the knitting frame – drilling holes and gluing in pegs. Pearl is really enjoying this project – making it clear when she wants to work on it and exactly what help she wants. As she is only eight and very slight she obviously needs help using tools, but she has a damn good go. We were amazed at how hot the drill bit got when we were working – and talked about friction. Pearl also noticed that the bit turned four times for each turn of the handle and we discussed cogs with Dani when she got home – mechanics not being my strong point.
Pearl had been looking forward to seeing an old school friend in the afternoon, but unfortunately she was ill. I had got all keyed up for being in the school playground - funny how it feels so awkward. Anyway, we put it off for a week.


Dani went to work for the morning. Leo settled down to do a series of dinosaur dot to dots in a lovely book he has. He got the book for his last birthday and has been working through it very carefully.

Pearl declared a wish to do one of the cross-number puzzles in her book. We worked on this together and it was good. Leo even joined in with a couple – 'how many minutes are there in three quarters of an hour?' which he answered no trouble – and then another more challenging one for him 'what is 100-33?' He thought for a long time and guessed 97 and then 77! The questions are varied and I managed to sit back and let Pearl do things her own way.
It was good for me to really let Pearl think and not just jump in with some method I've been taught. An example:

The question was 738 divided by 6. Pearl wanted us both to work on it and compare answers. Pearl thought for a long time and nearly got it right – just a small error at the end. I showed her my method and she explained hers, which was fascinating for me. Here is Pearl's method:
600 divided by 6 is 100
Then consider the other 100
96 divided by 6 is 16 with four remaining
Add that four to the 38 and you get 42
42 divided by six is seven
Add the 100, 16 and seven and you get 123 – that is the answer
The only mistake she made in this was in the final addition, which she made 122.
Now, I can show Pearl methods I was taught and in general they are fine, quick and of course useful. But what Pearl loves to do is dive into a question like this and really think about the numbers.
She was thrilled to find that the clue 'a multiple of 37' turned out to be 333 and that playing with the calculator revealed that, in her words:
"The 37 times table has 222, 333 and 444 in it!"
We worked through the whole puzzle – about 1 and a half hours of thinking and talking.

Leo was happily engaged in the hallway making nests of baby dinosaurs and battle scenes for most of this time. He is very concerned with babies at the moment and enjoying casting himself in the role of protector.

I went to work for Wednesday afternoon and the kids played quietly while an ailing Dani dozed on the sofa. Later she roused herself to take them to capoeira.


Started Thursday with a silly argument with Pearlie about getting ready to go out! When she finally did go (to her HE bigger kids group) she had a good time preparing a display for an HE event, taking photos and writing something about being home ed. When I got back from dropping her off at group Leo and I played with his plaster of paris. He is really enjoying this again at the moment. We made dinosaur casts and a 'fossilised' egg.

Pearlie went round to the grandmothers' in the afternoon, where she did some French and played cards.

Leo and Dani did some pocket weaving - another idea from the 'things with string' book that we have borrowed from the library. Leo also made a lovely poster with yet more accurate spelling on it.

When I got home from a long afternoon/evening at work Pearlie and Leo played a wild tickling game that ended in tears and both kids going to bed miserable.


We really needed a quiet day today – so we did our best to have one. Dani staggered off to work with pockets full of tissues. I've got a suspiciously aching ear and Pearl has complained of a sore throat, so maybe we are getting ill too.

The kids and I got up slowly. Pearlie has been brilliant about taking her turns to feed the guinea pigs recently, so I left her washing out their bowls and went and had a bath. Once we were all up Pearlie requested that I read them both a ghost story before we left for the library. I read them one from this book, about a building that used to stand just behind our house – very spooky!

The kids settled down to read as soon as we got to library. I read a lovely book that talked me through the bayeaux tapestry. Pearlie was busy with a book of accounts of climbing Everest and Leo read three chapters of a story book about a dragon. We went home with some books, audio tapes and a board game.

In the afternoon Pearl, Leo and I worked together to tidy up the kitchen. Both the kids were really great and we got it all done together. Later, when Dani was home, we played the game we'd borrowed from the library – it turned out to be a rather odd sort of lotto.

This evening we had a minimally attended meeting of the adults from our weekly HE group. One of our three year old friends from the group has had an accident ice skating and broken her leg – poor little love. Our kids are already too scared to go skating after seeing the aftermath of a hideous finger accident in another child a few years ago.

Anyway better get some sleep – working all weekend and Dani has to get up to get the kids to trampolining.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A busy few days


Dani was at work all day and I took both kids round to friends for lunch. This was fun but somewhat overshadowed by Leo seeming to descend into an overwhelming cold during the three hours we were there. He went from quite perky and happy to see his friend to a wailing and plainly rude person – who was desperate to leave. Almost as soon as we were outside walking home he appeared to recover miraculously. After a few hours at home I suddenly realised that he is probably allergic to cats! The friends in question have two cats and as cat allergy goes with hay fever in at least one other family member I think the mystery is solved. It is a shame, of course, but now we know we can always try dosing him up with piriton if we know he will encounter cats.

Pearlie had a super time while we were round there. She and the daughter of the family, who is ten, produced delicious banana cake for everyone.


We were up and off quite early for a fairly mammoth day in London. First we went to a demonstration in support of the British residents still imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. As these people are not British citizens it seems that the government has no interest in their plight. One of these men grew up here in Brighton and is my age. He has a son he has never seen. Leo had not been particularly keen to go but he actually got a lot out of it as we talked about justice, trials, terrorism, accusations and campaigning – as we walked along. There were a lot of things to see as well – Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and so on. The kids were pleased to see one of their grandmothers there (Dani's mum) and their cousins S and D arrived with my brother too.

We dipped out of the march once we got to Piccadilly, as we had made a deal with the kids that we would do some of the demo and then go the museums for the afternoon. Pearl and Dani went with S and Dani's mum to the Science Museum. I went with my brother and Leo and D to see the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum. Everyone saw a lot of interesting things and we ended up in the basement of the science museum eating the end of our picnic and playing.

We got home to Brighton around half past six and were all pretty whacked – a lot of time spent on our feet that day!


We got up fairly slowly and then I went off to work. It was a beautiful day and I managed to walk a bit of the route – just to get some air. Dani and the kids went to the local park with cousins S and D again. They ran around a lot and played spies and power rangers. They had an amazing amount of energy given the activities of the day before!
Pearlie tidied her room in the evening and Leo made comics.


It was our turn to bring stuff to HE group today. We had decided on a theme of travels in time and space. The main activity was junk modelling to make time machines, daleks, etc. We had some Dr Who inspired music and a 'guess the Dr Who character' silhouette poster. Dani and Pearl worked on interviewing the kids and adults (recorded on my MP3 player) on where and when they would go if they had a space and time travel machine. Various kids got involved with the interviewing too, which was great. Dani and Pearl are going to make a book with the material they collected. The kids said some brilliant things so I think it will be a great read.

Pearl went to Woodcraft tonight where, owing to a mix up with keys, they all spent fifteen minutes on the steps outside the hall. All the kids thought this was quite exciting and enjoyed the drama of phone calls and rescue mission with spare key.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pottering on

Some highlights of the last week or so:

  • Renewed interest in things Egyptian – at HE group on Monday and again for Leo and me at home today, mummifying salt dough creations with strips of paper soaked in plaster of paris. Leo wants to know why leaving the heart in the body didn't introduce a source of moisture that would muck up the mummification. I'm not sure…
  • Leo has been doing quite a lot of writing – he made a newspaper today, bringing the exciting news of an alien encounter on Mars to the inhabitants of his bedroom.
  • Playing games – the kids and I had a mammoth Monopoly session on Saturday, everyone's been playing casino, and P. asked me to teach her rummy the other day. P. played Continuo at the grandmothers' house today. We've also all really enjoyed this finger pointing game.
  • A really good capoeira class, with both kids achieving some really impressive moves
  • Leo and I did this week's Krampf experiment, to make a clever siphon using a plastic bottle and a straw.
  • Progress on the knitting frame, after a setback due to nails that kept popping out of the wood as soon as they had been hammered in! We've redesigned and are now back on track with drilling holes and gluing in wooden pegs instead.

We're all a bit fed up with the gloomy grey weather and are gritting our teeth until springtime!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Poems and play dates, microscopes and maths


Pearl and I left Leo over with the grandmothers and then hurried home via the charity shop. The charity shop came up trumps again and I spent £3.70 I shouldn't have! For this we got:
A complete box of original octons (the 1970s transluscent ones)
An almost complete set of a construction toy called Mottix
An old Waddingtons puzzle thing, where you have to make a rectangle out of the pieces, without the different colours touching. It took Dani about 1 minute – grrr!
An unused Tarquin book of press out and create paper jewelry.

After a speedy lunch Pearl and I started to make a knitting frame – as described in the library book about string. I was very impressed by Pearl's dedication and guts – measuring, marking, sawing and hammering. She is very good at using her mitre saw and she clearly loves this kind of project. She was a bit anxious about fingers getting hit with the hammer so I got each nail started and she did the final few whacks on each one. We had to stop after we'd made the basic frame, as we found we didn't have the right kind of nails to finish it. Luckily, one of the grandmothers does upholstery and was able to supply some pins that will work. We'll post a picture when it's finished. I hope it works!

Leo arrived home with a big bag full of cardboard creations. He and my mum had hurried up the steep hill laden down with all this. My mum is waiting to find out if her shoulder will need surgery, after a nasty break and dislocation, so I'm not sure if she should be lugging robots about!

In the evening Dani went out to a Woodcraft folk training session and the kids and I had to ration out the bedtime story reading.


Pearl went downstairs alone first thing as she wanted to write a poem. She spent a good hour on it, making rough notes and then finally coming back with a neat version, written with her cartridge pen.

Untitled poem by Pearl

at 7 o'clock in the morning,
a farmer was drinking his tea,
he went to see his uncle,
but then got stung by a bee!

he went to feed his cows and chickens,
he went home to feed his horses,
the chickens weren't at home you see,
they'd been captured by strange forces!

the forces are not here today,
the forces are on holiday,
they are in the caribean,
and they are very very mean!

Needless to say I love this poem – it is very Pearlie.

Meanwhile, Leo was drawing a beautiful big picture of 'My Dragon World' on lining paper. Leo is not very interested in exploring other materials, though we have watercolours, pencils, pastels and chalks, he always wants pens. So I offered him a bigger bit of paper and he seemed to enjoy it.

I unpacked a Tesco delivery while the kids pottered and played, and then Dani arrived home and we had lunch.

I went off to work for the afternoon and evening.

Back at home Dani and Leo decided to look at their hair with our microscope. Apparently it was very shiny, like wire, and not really the colour that it appears to be on their heads. They then looked at grains of salt, which just looked like big grains of salt! Then Dani took the kids to capoeira, with their local cousins S and D. It was good for a while but Pearl accidently kicked her cousin S in the neck, so they didn't bother staying for the second hour.


Pearl went to her bigger kids home ed group, where there was some discussion of a home ed awareness event that is being planned at a local, alternative café and bookshop. Then she went over to her grandmothers' for some cards and French.

After a fairly slow start to the morning (a lurking migraine…) I went off to work and Dani and Leo looked at more things with the microscope – a tissue, a silk scarf, a piece of banana, a bit of red pepper and a drop of orange juice. After this they did an experiment that someone posted on one of the home ed lists. They used fizzy fanta, vegetable oil, food colouring and salt and saw various things: the food colouring doesn't colour the oil, the oil and water separate, and the salt realeases a lot of carbon dioxide from the fizzy drink to make an 'eruption'.

Leo went, with his aunt, to collect his cousin B (6) from school. Then he went back to B's house to play. Once Pearl had arrived back from the grandmothers' house she and Dani went round and played at B's house too. The kids had tea there and then came home and watched tv.

When I got home from work Dani I had a long talk about maths – late into the night. My insecurity about maths occasionally nags at me and I wonder if we are offering Pearlie the right things, or in the right way. Because Pearl has such a facility with number I worry that I just don't understand enough to be useful to her. Dani was a great help and we read a lot at this interesting site and I felt better.

A workbooks aside
Part of my anxiety about maths was about my own tendency to offer Pearlie workbook activities that I can see are pretty crap – just because I doubt my own ability to engage in more creative mathematical activities. In general I am getting less and less tolerant of workbooks. I don't object to puzzles, diversions that are there for you to exercise your brain, like crosswords, kakuro and so on. But I find that most workbooks are really tests, either in disguise or not. We never buy the 'literacy' or 'english' ones as I always turn a page or two and find myself despairing over the pointlessness of the exercises. I feel confident enough with reading and writing to know that the kids don't need anything like that. Comprehension exercises are my pet hate. I remember junior school English lessons that included hours of these things and I was always utterly mystified by them. I would do them, get all ticks and v.g. but never understood why on earth they would give me something to read and then ask me what it said – with the piece of writing there in front of me! I also despair at the things that ask you to re-tell a beautiful piece of writing in your own clunky prose. If s/he said it so well then let's just leave it there! The books that 'go with' wonderful children's fiction tend to have this kind of thing in them. Anyway, I guess we'll always have some workbooks around, but I do think they tend to make heavy weather of nothing much in the most tedious way possible.


Dani went off to work and the kids and I watched 'Building the Impossible' in which a group of people made a giant roman catapult. I love these kind of programmes because I enjoy watching the people – their excitement and enthusiasm for the project, and their camaraderie and sense of common purpose. Pearl and Leo liked the catapult. When this was over we set off to a home ed group that we go to sometimes. The group was good – busy and buzzing and we met some new people. I chatted and the kids played chasing games and air hockey. Leo and I were tired – Leo because he keeps staying up late reading The Secret Country, and me because I had awful nightmares last night – probably related to the migraine I have been determinedly not having. My dream last night was so tiring because in it Dani was dead and I was wailing and sobbing! I don't think I was making any noise IRL but somehow it still tired me out.

This afternoon the kids played with duplo (Leo) and Brio train set (P) and helped me here and there while I bathed Bunny and Hank. The piggies tolerated it and I gave them radical haircuts to make the grooming easier.

Dani had to go to another Woodcraft meeting tonight – after a long rant by me on how over-committed we are getting! We just don't get enough family time at the moment, what with work for both of us, and the various groups we are involved in. This week has included two nights when I worked until 8pm and two when Dani had to go out to meetings. This weekend I will be working both Saturday and Sunday, and then we're off into the next week… When we get a break it's great – but three month stretches of our current routine are pretty tiring. We need to put regular family time into our timetable. It really makes me laugh to think that people worry that home educating families are insular and their children don't socialise.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sunday, Monday, Happy Days!


I had a day off work as uni term hasn't started yet, but I was surplus to requirements as everyone had made plans! Dani and Pearl went, with cousin S and her mum, to a new kids' knitting group. Pearl saw some friends from her school days, which she enjoyed. Leo spent the afternoon with cousin D and his dad, playing Dr Who and watching Dr Who. So I spent the afternoon finishing off our LEA report – adding the list of outings, proof reading, fiddling with layout and making photomontage covers. Dani is going to laminate the covers and bind it at work so it looks impressive.

Both the kids (but especially Pearl) have been playing with our Brio train track a lot since I dug it out on Friday. I think it is yet another toy that we bought far too early. We started our collection on Pearl's second birthday and now, at eight, she really loves it! She can plan the layout and make it work – she loves changing points and turntable and rushing about squealing as she averts disaster. It has reminded me how much I loved the big clockwork engines, and metal track, we played with as children. I can remember living with a track around the dinner table for months – we used it to carry the salt and pepper!


We went to our weekly HE group today. We were first to arrive (by a few minutes) and Pearl dashed off a quick poem while I went to sort out some details with the office worker. I haven't got her permission to share it on the blog, but I will do if she says it's ok. Leo drew some more dalek pictures!

I really like the venue we are using now. It has a kitchen area in the main room and I think this is very relaxing for the adults, who tend to chat and drink a lot of tea around the counter there. The kids have a full size sports hall to play in – so they get to rampage and scream about. Pearl, Leo and I enjoyed a game of cards with one of our friends. Pearl was telling me today how listening in on adult conversations is something she really enjoys at the moment – and she gets plenty of opportunity at the group. I think this kind of 'earwigging' is very educational!

Some nice moments in the last couple of days:

Pearl reminded me of her truly astonishing memory and her very literal mind. I had told her (lightheartedly, about seven weeks ago) to remember the key pad number of the burglar alarm in the building we use for HE group. When we were chatting about going back there after the festive break she just stopped the conversation by reciting the four digits needed for the alarm! She had, of course, remembered the digits correctly.

Leo wrote some super stories on the computer tonight, using Word. Here is the longer of the two pieces as he wrote it.

"Their was a dalek 2000 years it lived on scaro. It was the emperor of its planet and rooled the univers and killed the world then the tardis came the ship of the daleks sopderitabeded the tardis so it shot up in to the sky and went to raxacoricofalapatoryas and they met a slitheen corled dkraserbelfotpasaleydayslitheen down came the tardis the end?"

I am very impressed at how many standard spellings he is using now – it must be influenced by his reading. I also love the inclusion of the planet of the Slitheen and the Slitheen name – these are just as they are said in the tv programme. And he asked where he could find the question mark on the keyboard to finish the piece. When he read it out to us his intonation was just right – letting us know we can expect a sequel! He wrote another piece and used different font sizes to great effect, without any help.

Leo settled down for a mammoth story session in bed tonight and informed me that it was '75 to 10' – and indeed it was 8.45pm!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Creative chaos resumes

We've both gone back to work this week – getting up in the morning was quite a struggle!

There's also been a fair bit of creative and constructive activity round here this week.

On Monday, our last day of holiday, we went to The Triangle Centre for a swim. It's a long journey for us, involving a train plus expensive taxi or rare and meandering bus, but it’s a great pool, with flumes and rapids and we all had a lovely time. Before we went, Pearl took some photos from her bedroom window, including some dramatic skyscapes like this

And this one, showing the impressive growth of her two ginger plants, grown from ginger roots and watered diligently by her.

In the evening, we all watched Balderdash and Piffle together.

Tuesday included some time pottering at home for Allie and the kids, followed by a short and pleasant play at local cousins' house.

While I was at work on Wednesday morning, the others did a bit of maths using some sticker books the kids got for Christmas, and P. had a look at another workbook type thing about word roots (which turned out to be more boring than we had hoped). We did a swift changeover at lunchtime, then we played cards and rested until it was time to go to the capoeira class. Leo and his cousin D. came back to our house for Doctor Who themed rampaging while their big sisters did another hour of capoeira.

Pearl and Leo started Thursday by co-operating to complete this jigsaw before breakfast.

Later, Allie dropped Pearl off at the grandmothers' house on her way to work, discussing averages as they walked. She did lots of French there and played cards on their computer (she's becoming an expert at Spider Solitaire) and in real life. Meanwhile, Leo and I made slime using one of his Christmas presents, he did lots of dragon-y and Doctor Who inspired drawing, and then we worked together on a vegetarian shepherd's pie for tea.

We all had to get up early on Friday, me for work and everyone else to get to an appointment in town at 10am. Allie having (only just) persuaded the bank she had enough identity to be a signatory of the HE group's bank account, they hopped on a bus to the library, where they collected a good crop of books and videos. Back at home, the kids were overjoyed to be offered the Brio train set - they worked together on this lovely layout, and took their own photos and video clips for posterity.

Leo also designed and made this dragon robot.

Allie had to go to work today, and the rest of us went to town to indulge our various hobbies. We bought the latest issue of Doctor Who magazine for Leo, some yarn for my scarf, and picked up some free wood from the Wood Recycling Project, for P. to make a knitting frame as described in the excellent 'You can do a thousand things with string', which was one of this week's library finds. I made bread and cauliflower cheese for tea, and the kids made a new train layout.

We are chuffed to have booked a family room at the Travelodge in Bath for £26 and are excitedly planning our one night break in April.

What we're reading: Leo and Allie started The Hodgeheg as a bedtime story one night this week, and he finished it off himself. He drew a picture of the end of the story so that she wouldn't be left wondering what happened. Pearl and I are enjoying The Outlaw Varjak Paw, and she is reading her usual eclectic mix to herself.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

We've had a pleasant and productive New Year's Day, tidying and sorting various rooms of the house, playing cards, watching Doctor Who, knitting, eating takeaway pizza and staying in pyjamas all day (the kids, that is!).

It's been really nice to have a good long stretch of time without someone or other going to work. Despite occasional worries about not making good enough use of this time, we've thrown ourselves into the holiday mood, rarely getting up before 10am, and planning very few activities beyond extended family commitments.

Some things we have done this week are:
  • Leo completed his set of Christopher Eccleston Doctor Who DVDs with some of his Christmas money, and has been watching them pretty much non-stop, pausing only to watch our video of the Christmas Invasion.
  • The kids and I went with their cousins and Allie's mum to see The Tinderbox, which turned out to be a quite strange and wordy version of the story, but quite good.
  • Pearl and I went to the Booth Museum to see their current exhibition about the beach, while Leo and Allie did some shopping in town and popped down to the actual beach.
  • We popped round for a short family get-together to celebrate Allie's brother's birthday
  • We all went to Brighton Museum for lunch and an enjoyable look at the Fashion and Fancy Dress exhibition.
  • Pearl spent some of her Christmas money on The Outlaw Varjak Paw, which we started reading tonight.
  • Allie finished writing a report on our year, in anticipation of a letter from the LEA, and decided to do more writing in the coming year, as it's something she enjoys but doesn't often find time to do. If anyone wants to read the report, email us or comment here and we'll send it to you.
  • I finished knitting the wrist warmers, and started work on an ambitious scarf, inspired by some gorgeous wool and a Kaffe Fassett pattern book I was given for Christmas. I'm also making steady progress on Allie's cardigan.
  • We've all been playing cards, especially a game I remembered from my childhood called Casino
  • Pearl and Leo decided yesterday to make a dalek out of lego today, and they did.

  • Leo has been diligently working through a lovely book he got for Christmas called Working with dragons – a short course in Dragonology, and from that has also produced some beautiful dragon themed art of his own.

Finally, here's a picture of Pearl's archway. and a candid shot of Bunny and Hank luxuriating in yet another new bedding arrangment.