Saturday, February 25, 2006

Only half a Greenhouse

Fallen behind again – so here's a quick catch-up. Pearl and Dani are away at Woodcraft camp, and with Leo in bed, it feels like a strangely empty house.


Dani was at work all day. Leo went over to the grandmother's house, where he beat my mum at Black Jacks – three times in a row! Pearl and I came home and Pearl wrote a poem. Then she found a Cross Numbers puzzle she had started and we finished it off together.


The morning has disappeared from my head! In the afternoon Dani took the kids to capoeira. The cousins weren't around this week and so Leo didn't have his cousin D to do his session with him. Dani decided she would do it with him – she declared it to be exhausting! While Pearl did her class Leo sat and drew lovely pictures.


Pearl went to kid's club in the morning, where they were doing graffiti. Pearl didn't get a chance to work on the wall as someone had used up all the blue – but she and her friend made a design. Pearl also learned what a tag is – and has designed her own. In the afternoon she went, with the grandmothers, to visit an interesting house in their area. She likes this house (and the friendly inhabitants) as there is a cool bone collection there.
Leo spent a lot of time making things at home – mostly from cardboard and string. He also let me unravel and wind up all the string he had bound around the hall way and banisters! It is amazing how he loves playing with string – just like Pearlie did at five.


A quiet day at home for all of us – Dani and Pearl packing and preparing for camp. P and D left mid-afternoon. Leo and I played with Octons – interesting to see how symmetrical his creations have become since we discussed symmetry. He has also played with the idea on paper – producing seemingly effortless mirror writing (on purpose these days!) and showing me how the mirror could make it legible. We had Chinese takeaway (Leo is choosing the meals while the others are away) for tea and Leo stayed up late reading.


Leo and I finally woke up at 10 to 10. We had to get up fairly quickly as I dropped him off at the grandmothers' house and then went off to work. He had a fine time – made a set of 35 'dragon cards' – lovely pictures on them and lots of backwards digits! He was waiting for me on my return and we had a 'movie evening' watching Dr Who DVDs with the lights off and eating vegeburgers and chips in the dark.

I'm really missing P and D – we never really spend nights apart much. I've managed to engineer a day off tomorrow and Leo and I are planning to go to the flicks – something we both love and P is not so keen on. Then the others will be back!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Mirror, Mirror

We had a nice time at our HE group today, exploring symmetry and patterns. We had taken along lots of sheets of graph paper with squares, triangles, hexagons and other different patterns; a set of Penrose tiles (kites and darts) made by my dad when I was little; several books with mirrors in them; some books and printouts from the internet about patterns in various cultures – Roman mosaics, celtic knots, Arabic design, and rangoli patterns – and a display including posters borrowed from Allie's work and sections of some lovely Tarquin posters Pearl and Leo have in their rooms. Another family brought lots of Hama beads and an iron, and others chipped in with lovely books.

I think everyone joined in with one or more of these activities, and lots of the kids enjoyed finishing the session off with some yoga. I was quite chuffed to find I could draw Celtic knots by following these instructions.

We chilled out at home with some sweeties from the corner shop and a cup of tea, while watching Poirot. Later on P. went to Woodcraft, which was pretty chaotic.

Leo did this lovely picture last night – it's a robot.


By Leo, for Illustration Friday.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Quick, late night catch up


I was still off work, and suffering a bit from doing too much the day before. Allie and the kids met up with all her family for a tree planting ceremony, in memory of her sister.


I felt stronger but took a last day off work to recover fully. Allie went to work in the afternoon and the rest of us went to capoeira with cousin S (cousin D. couldn't come because he was ill!). Capoeira was very small because it was half term, but it was a good class and we all felt invigorated.


Pottered about in the morning, then Allie went to work and we picked up cousin S. for a very pleasant afternoon trip to Hove Museum. We looked at the excellent exhibition, called Self, and enjoyed the permanent Hove history, toy, and contemporary craft galleries. We were all very taken with a bronze age amber cup found in Hove and beautifully displayed with a light shining through it from the inside.


I went back to work and the others went to the library, where they picked up Tintin and Captain Underpants books, a couple of jigsaws and a peg board toy.


Nobody had to go to work (hooray!) so we all went to trampolining together. This was eventful, as the teacher's assistant landed awkwardly when demonstrating a simple jump and injured her foot. She had to go to hospital – we haven't heard what happened yet.

Afterwards, we got back on the bus and went to Lewes for a day out. We had a lovely time at Lewes Castle, then wandered down to the lovely children's bookshop, Bags of Books, where Leo chose a Doctor Who book and Pearl bought Bombs on Aunt Dainty, the sequel to When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. On the way back to the bus stop we found some lovely handmade dolls furniture in a charity shop, bought delicious bhajis and pakoras from a stall in the street, dithered about having tea in a café but settled on takeaway cakes from the bakers instead.


It rained all day today, so we spent the day indoors (except poor Allie, who had to go to work). We've been preparing for tomorrow's HE group session on symmetry and pattern. P. and I were going to make ginger beer using a kit she was given for Christmas, but it turned out to be more complicated than we thought, so we've postponed that until we have more of the necessary equipment. Leo spent the day as Pyjama Man, mostly doing Scooby Doo studies, but did take a short break to do a magnetism experiment from Horrible Science magazine. P. played a lot with her Sylvanians, to celebrate the new furniture, and also researched a raw food diet on the internet – she decided against it.

Other things – can't remember what day they happened
  • P. has been studying the map of the world we have on our hallway wall, and printing out blank maps of Europe from Enchanted Learning to practice filling in the names of the countries. When we watched the Winter Olympics opening ceremony we were amazed at her knowledge about the flags and countries of the world.
  • Leo has been drawing fantastic comics
  • Leo and Allie read The Brave Whale last week and have now started Not Just a Witch, by Eva Ibbotson

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Here is Leo's artwork on the theme of Simple, for Illustration Friday (thanks, Debs!)

and here is mine

Monday, February 13, 2006

On the mend?

Today is the first day for about 3 weeks that I have really felt better. I still have a sore throat and an eye infection, and am still producing copious amounts of snot, but I feel less ill in myself (as they say) and have been able to do quite a lot of little tasks at home today, instead of just lying in bed moaning. I must make sure I don't overdo it…

Allie and the kids went briefly to the home ed group this morning, but spent most of the time waiting outside and in the library next door, after a mix up about the keys. Still, it was nice to see everyone else for a quick catch up.

There have been various interesting episodes round here lately, including:
  • The kids and I read with interest about the discovery of an intact tomb in Egypt
  • Leo did some drawing and cutting, exploring the theme of symmetry with folded paper. We plan to do some more about this when it's our turn at group next week.
  • Pearl is enjoying a wide variety of TV programmes at the moment, including Totally Spies, Hercule Poirot, Power Rangers, the news, Blue Peter, and Mod Cons (an engineering programme on Discovery Science). Leo is pretty loyal to Scooby Doo and Discovery Kids.
  • P. and her cousin S. arranged a play date for themselves this afternoon – they can both now travel safely to each other's houses, in daylight at least, so they are able to be pretty independent in their plans.
  • Leo continues to be interested in dragons – he and I used this book to make some pretty cardboard gems on Wednesday to be treasure for his dragons.
  • While ill I completed the edges and one sleeve of Allie's cardigan and reread a fascinating book by a friend of mine – a biography of her grandparents and, through the telling of their story, a social history of Jewish life in Lithuania, South Africa and the UK from the late 19th to the late 20th century.
  • P. and I are reading Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo, while she is reading Kensuke's Kingdom to herself. Leo and Allie have just finished Fatbag by Jeremy Strong. Allie is gripped by Border Crossing, by Pat Barker.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

How we came to home ed

As we are currently boringly ill we've put together a post we've always been meaning to do. Here's the story of how we came to home ed.

We knew about home ed back when P was a baby. We thought about it from time to time but had some reservations – probably me more than D, I think. My main concern, shared by D to a certain extent, was that our kids had enough ‘difference’ to handle having two mums and no dad, and that school was an important shared cultural experience. We were never under any illusion that school was necessarily a great place to learn, or a pleasant place to be, but we somehow felt that the surviving of it was some kind of cultural bond. We were also very keen that our kids be part of the local community, have local friends to play with, and generally feel that they ‘belonged’.

So, when P was two we put her name on the waiting list for the very well-respected local nursery school. When she was three and a half a place came up for her. It had been a tough few months since Leo had been born (he had two meningitis scares and hospital stays in his first four months) and we thought this might be a good opportunity for her to have some fun and make friends. But it was a real shock for her – five sessions a week and, though we were encouraged to ‘settle her in’, it was clear that we couldn’t keep staying. So, in the end we bit the bullet and I let the staff wrench her from me, screaming and crying, and left. It was extremely hard for all of us and now seems crazy.

We thought that, as we were planning to send her to school, she should learn to be away from us in a kinder environment than a reception class. She did settle eventually and made some lovely friends and had a good relationship with her key worker, but every now and then she would resist going and we thought whatever we did we must stand firm.

So we were on the treadmill – nursery school led to school and, at first, Pearl seemed to quite like it. She was going half days and was able to show off her reading and writing skills and make friends. But as soon as she went full-time it got harder again. She was tired and frustrated by the end of the day – and angry a lot of the time. In year one Pearl had a teacher who eventually succumbed to stress (we used to stand outside and listen to the shouting :-() after she suffered at the hands of Ofsted. Pearl was already reading fluently and able to understand far more than the maths she was ever given and it all felt like so much slog to us.

In year two Pearl had a much happier teacher who seemed able to keep order with less shouting. The school work was inevitably influenced by SATS and endless handwriting practice – but things were ok for P – she had good friends and was quite settled.
Meanwhile Leo had reached the age to start at nursery school and I took him along. He declared that he was excited and wanted to go but after being left happily the second day, he was much more wobbly the next.

D and I had decided that there was no way we were going to do the screaming and wrenching thing again, so I stayed for a few sessions. A few more years as a parent, and some overheard remarks, made me far more critical than I had been in Pearl’s day. Leo was also more able to discuss his feelings than P had been and he declared one night in the bath:
“I don’t want to go to X – even if you do stay. In my mind there’s just me, Pearlie and you mummies.”

I realized that he was saying, quite clearly, that this place was not for him – that he just didn’t need it. The previous three years of worries and doubts and dissatisfaction with the system all came together in one evening and we decided that this time we would go for it. We sent in a note to the nursery school the next day and so started our home ed adventure.

It is interesting to see what had changed in us in those three years – that we were so determined that Pearl should go to nursery school and school and yet so ready to abandon the idea when it was Leo's turn.

I think that what it came down to was the overwhelming feeling that it had not been worth it. The things we thought school would provide (friendship, community, belonging) we realized were all around us anyway. Pearl had made friends but at too high a cost. Her initial experiences at nursery and some of those in her reception year had broken the trust between us and her – we were on bad terms for some time.

Pearl had started to read spontaneously the summer before she started in reception, she had been reading and understanding three digit numbers for some time, the literacy and numeracy hours in primary school were just tedious. We went in to help in Pearl's reception classroom and were dismayed to find infant school that seemed more Victorian than that we remembered from our own childhoods. The crowded classroom and the 'jobs' laid out on tables for four year old children just did not seem like a learning environment to us. There was an agenda at every turn and it was not play based at all.

At home Pearl spent her time reading, and creating wonderful things from cardboard and string - learning through play and exploration. In school she was learning, but most of what she learned was about how to manage in school. By the time she reached year two we were tired of biting our tongues over all the things that had upset Pearlie or offended us. To be fair to the teachers and the school, a lot of the most troubling things were related to the pressures of the curriculum and the numeracy and literacy strategies, but others were just the facts of school life like arbitrary rulings by dinnerladies and the sadness of watching the children endlessly sorted into sheep and goats.

In an attempt to find others who felt the same as we did about the direction of education policy, we joined Education Now! (an organization run by Roland and Janet Meighan, which has now metamorphosed into the Centre for Personalised Education). We began reading and seeking out heretical educational ideas.

We read:
• 'Wally's Stories' by Vivian Paley,
• 'How Children Learn', 'How Children Fail', and 'Learning All the Time' by John Holt,
• 'Doing it their Way' by Jan Fortune-Wood,
• 'Learning Unlimited' by Roland Meighan,
• 'Educating children at home' by Alan Thomas,
• 'Those unschooled minds' by Julie Webb,
• and numerous websites, magazine articles and blogs.

We were easily convinced by the arguments for autonomous learning, which made the reality of school even more frustrating.

As soon as we had decided that we would home ed Leo we offered Pearl the chance to come out of school, but she chose to stay for the rest of that year. She doesn’t like change and she felt settled in her class. She breezed through the silly SATS and got the school a fistful of ‘level 3s’ – whatever that meant. She prepared herself for the move up to the junior school.

Pearl went to junior school for two weeks in the end. She started nervously – her class had been split up and a lot of her friends were not with her. On day one the teacher spelled out the rules and punishment system, including the final sanction of 'time out room'. She assigned each child a seat in the classroom and then gave every child a number and told them that they had to line up in number order. Pearlie told us it was 'too strict' and we thought it sounded extremely unpleasant. We imagined how we would feel if, on day one in a new job, we had received the 'welcome' Pearl had just received to her new school.

Pearlie could see the fun Leo was having, and had met some of the new home ed friends he was making. At the end of the first week she told us she wanted to be home ed. We wrote to the teacher, and a formal de-reg letter to the Head, and Pearlie joined us at home.

Once we had decided to home ed we realized that it was going to suit us all. We never attempted to do 'school at home' – always having had great faith in our children's ability to learn autonomously. We have had our worries over the last eighteen months but we have never regretted our decision to home educate.

There is no point regretting the choices we made in the past – perhaps they were necessary to get here – and we all met some lovely children and their parents through Pearl's school. But we are glad that, as parents, we have the freedom to follow a path that we actually believe in, and our children have the freedom to learn in their own way. And, best of all, it turned out that there is a wonderful community of home educators here and our decision has, in no way, made our children social outcasts or denied them friends.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Not fun...

Thanks to everyone for your messages of sickness sympathy! Well, the last few days have not been fun. Sunday I sorted everyone with drinks and tissues and made packs of sandwiches for the fridge and went off to work with heavy heart. Pearlie had been up twice in the night with fever and was in no way her usual springy self. Leo appeared to be just rather snotty – but hot off and on. Dani continued to be feverish and couldn't breathe much. I got home to find them all lying around and miserable. Leo had found his own sandwiches and biscuits and fruit and managed to tuck away a big tea, so he was clearly better than the others. Dani and Pearl had been dozing and snorting.

Monday was more of the same but luckily I didn't have to go to work. Leo perked up considerably and spent most of the day drawing and constructing various traps for monsters who might pass through our hallway. Pearlie swung between crying, shaking fever and calpol induced highs that even saw her up the doorframe as usual at one point! But she was struggling to eat much (said everything tasted yucky) and she has been forced to actually blow her nose – something she hates. Dani seemed to be finally starting to improve.

Today I woke up with a sore throat. But I'm determined not to get ill and took Leo over to the grandmothers' house, where he enjoyed a break from all the snorting and moaning! He came home very happy and smelling like a little bulb of garlic – something to do with garlic cream cheese on his pasta lunch. Dani and Pearlie managed to stay awake all day and, though no food I gave Pearl was eaten much, she made herself some crumpets at some point. We both worry if Pearlie goes off her food as she doesn't have an ounce of fat to spare!

So, we'll see what tomorrow brings. Dani has cancelled all her commitments for the rest of the week so she has a real chance to recover. When she is well I want her to go to the doc to get checked over. She has fainted twice in the last couple of months – proper falling on the floor fainting too – so I think she should just make sure. We have a little catch-phrase that we used during our pregnancies – 'perfectly normal and nothing to worry about' – and I'd just like to hear it again!

Just so this isn't all gloom, here are a couple of recent creations by Leo.

This is a picture of a new super-hero called Bum Man!

This is a poster about alien power sources. Read it carefully and you can probably work it all out.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

House of germs

Yeek! Just a quick post to say that there may be some silence from here for a while. Everyone except me is ill now. Dani got up today and fainted/collapsed again (she did the same just before Christmas when she had bad cold) and so she has been in bed all day. Was a bit scarey to see her fall over. She had staring eyes for a few seconds and was a bit twitchy - poor Pearlie was freaked and started crying. Pearlie had woken me at 4am with a sore throat and fever - she's been pretty floppy all day. By bedtime tonight Leo was hot and his nose was running. All are now dosed up on painkillers and tucked up in bed. Better get some sleep too. Bum, I really hate the winter. Next year I want us to go somewhere for a dose of sunshine in January.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Another winter week

Another week over and we are getting too slack about the blogging! Our excuse this week is that Dani has been failing to get better from this horrible cold. She has been feverish and miserable for the last two days (after more than a week of a full-on head cold) and so she went to the doctor today to get her chest checked out. Doctor told her she had a cold – so she is going to try to get some real rest over the next few days and actually get better.

Let's start with some photos of the long promised knitting frame.

The week in brief:

Saturday 28th
I went to work and Dani took the kids to trampolining. Cousin S came for a sleepover.

Sunday 29th
Kids went to the park with their friend H and her mum. H was home educated last year but now goes to school and the kids miss seeing her. I was at work again and Dani managed to have a short sleep.

Monday 30th
Dani went to work and I took the kids to our weekly HE group. The theme was rhythm and poetry. Pearlie had a go at writing a poem but was a bit distracted by people banging pots! Leo made a lot of comics – something he is doing every day at the moment. They were both pleased to see their friends and did a fair bit of hide and seek and basketball too.
I went to work for the afternoon. L went to play and have tea with cousin B and Dani and Pearlie went to Woodcraft. Dani did her best to offer interesting dinosaur themed activities to fairly wild kids.

Tuesday 31st
Leo went over to the grandmothers' house where he made more cardboard creations and did secret things! Pearlie and I knuckled down and finished the knitting frame and left the glue to dry. Then we went up to Pearlie's old school to collect a friend for tea and a play. I think she and P had a good time. Dani came home from work early but didn't get much rest as I went out to see a friend in the evening.

Wednesday 1st
Dani gave in and finally stayed in pjs instead of going in to work. We had a slow morning, pottering about, and then I went to work. Dani and Pearlie tried the knitting frame and were pleased to find that it worked. Then the kids went to capoeira.

Thursday 2nd
Pearlie went off to her bigger kids HE group, where preparations continued for an HE information event this weekend. Leo had a quiet day at home making things from cardboard and tape and playing with his plastic animals. Dani dozed and, when I had to go to work, managed to do some toasties for the kids tea.

Friday 3rd
Dani stayed in pjs all day until she went to the Doctor. I took the kids to the library, where we borrowed some Michael Morpurgo books – 'The dancing bear' for Leo and 'The sleeping sword' for Pearlie.
Then I took the kids on to town where Leo got a bargain toy soup dragon (reduced t £1 in Borders) and a £1 book – 'How to train your viking'. Pearlie was very pleased to find a constellations poster for £2.

This evening we had interesting conversations about many things: lawyers, social services, child development and care, pregnancy and birth, and sex and contraception! I'm not too sure what Leo was taking in, but Pearlie was very on the ball tonight. I was a bit amazed to find that we were discussing what to do if a partner is reluctant to use a condom, with our eight year old! Needless to say, she led the conversation – we don't ever push this stuff – but I am pleased that she and we seem to be able, so far at least, to discuss such things without embarrassment.