Thursday, March 30, 2006

Spring has sprung!

And so begins a new season of running free in the park, climbing trees, and getting really mucky with disgusting slimy substances.

Our lovely local park was packed yesterday, with an atmosphere of lighthearted hysteria caused by the coincidence of a day off school and the first sunny day of the year. Pearlie told me that when the kids and Allie went up there with cousin B and his mum, they saw about 30 people they knew.

The kids discovered a rather gruesome pile of bits of frog in the park, and investigated them rather too closely. Several of the party also fell into the yucky stream and had to have dry trousers and socks fetched from home. All this was jolly exciting, but predictably ended in tears.

Later on, we had a constructive (I hope) conversation about sharing control of the telly and living space in the house, and then there was some nice hama beading done.

Today was declared to be a great day by Pearlie. It included some good maths in the morning – Allie and P. worked together on Cross Numbers, as they like to do. P. found the answer to 3.415 x 103 entirely by herself, which was pretty impressive. Leo didn't want to be left out, so he asked to do some of his Maths workbook. He and Allie talked about the decimal number system and he had a great time discovering and announcing how many tens and units made up a variety of two digit numbers.

Later, they both did some lovely drawing – L. doing his usual fantastic dragon-like creatures, and P. embarking on a set of home made flag cards.

Cousin D. came round for a play here instead of going to capoeira, as Leo was feeling a bit coldy and didn't fancy it today. The sun had made an appearance so they went into the garden and made mud and jungly streams for Leo's plastic animals.

D's mum came to take the boys to the cousins' house while I took P. to her capoeira class. We chatted about plans for the summer on the way – she wants to stay in the park till 8pm when it's really summer. And make a sundial.

Just in time for the warm weather, I have finished Allie's cardigan. It's blocked, and just needs buttons now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Culture and sport

Had a busy weekend, including:
  • Trampolining
  • An enjoyable visit to A's work, where we browsed the teaching resources section and borrowed books on dragons, greek myths, the water cycle, the Czech Republic and an oral history written by someone who grew up in our street before the first world war.
  • A theatre trip for Leo with his cousin and uncle, to see Jason and the Argonauts. This was good, by all accounts.
  • A baking fest for me and Pearlie, resulting in lots of delicious cheesy biscuits made by P. and some leaden herb scones made by me, plus a delicious fruit smoothie of blended strawberries, banana and yoghurt.
  • A night out for me and Allie, to see Transamerica at our local independent cinema – very good film and lovely to have an evening out.
  • Delightful breakfast in bed made for us by Pearlie, accompanied by lovely gifts and a beautiful homemade card.
  • Fantastic swimming trip with cousins S. and D. Pearl swam a couple of lengths and several widths of the pool and Leo took his armbands off
HE group today was busy and included various elephant-themed activities, plus a first outing for our new hockey sticks.

When we got home, the kids vegged out in front of separate tellies while I cleaned and tidied around them in preparation for the knitting group meeting here tomorrow night. P. did easter things at Woodcraft Folk while Leo pretended to watch all the same programmes again on Boomerang, but actually did some nice drawings and construction and I did more cleaning.

What we're reading:

At bedtimes, Pearl and I are still working our way through Bombs on Aunt Dainty, and Leo and Allie are enjoying The Shadow World. In my spare moments I've been reading Trilobite!, which was my treat purchase from the Natural History Museum.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Park and shoes and library and stuff

Pearlie went off to Kids' Club, where she had a great time playing a highly secret game with friends. I think it's good that she gets a chance to play with a group of kids when we're not around. Sadly she left a mother's day card there and was distraught when she realised she had forgotten it. She really hates it when things like that happen and will never even discuss how to sort the situation out – she just has to rage, strop off, calm down and then come back calm. Ho hum…

Dani went to the parent's meeting – where they discuss rotas, funding and stuff. I think that went well!

I took Leo off to the shoe shop, as he had complained that his shoes felt a bit tight. He had, indeed, grown a half size. I bought him some very jazzy red trainers – after much faffing around with different sizes. How can it be that they use the magic machine and decree that he is a 12G and then end up selling us a 12F with an insole because, apparently, they are a 'bit too roomy'. I hate shoe shopping for the kids – we've had so many bad shoes sold to us in so many different shops. We don't bother taking Pearlie to get measured any more – we do it ourselves. Anyway, fingers crossed that Leo's trainers will be ok…

In the afternoon Dani took the kids to the park, where they were very excited to find a new hammock swing in the play area. They got a chance to have a good play with it before the school kids came out, and they headed home. Pearlie was very, very happy to be running around in the park again. She really misses that in the cold weather.

Dani was at work all day today. After some discussion we decided to get the bus to a branch library we have never used before. I really like just setting off on the bus with the kids. Pearlie has an incredible memory and she likes to look out the window and say 'we came in here on X day – do you remember?' or 'we waited at that bus stop when Leo was four – remember?'

The library was good – quite a reasonable stock. Leo was happy to find a Ricky Ricotta book he hasn't read before – he finished it by bedtime. Pearlie checked out the Tintin stock and borrowed a book on 'Avoid becoming an aztec sacrifice'. I borrowed a Ngaio Marsh on cd (for listening on the bus to work) and 'Lighthouse keeping' by Jeanette Winterson. I used to love Jeanette Winterson but haven't read any in years. This one was very enjoyable – I've already finished it. Being able to read around the kids is one of the best things about them getting older, especially now I often have a child next to me on the sofa doing the same thing.

We also borrowed 'Ice Age', which we had never seen. We watched it over lunch and all enjoyed it – even though the plot was pretty thin… Pearlie, in particular, loved it – she really enjoys slapstick and she cackled through much of the film.

After the film I did a Sudoku from a puzzle book that lurks in our puzzle books box. Pearlie finished off a 'cross numbers' puzzle that was half done in her book. She is very strict about not using a calculator, except to check things. She says it is 'cheating' and wants to work things out mainly in her head, or using a paper method when she knows one or I can teach her one. She enjoys adding and subtracting in columns on paper now – using the borrowing and carrying methods I was taught and have shown her. She told me how useful it is to know your square numbers by heart up to 15x15, as she does and I don't!

While we were puzzling away Leo found a 'story pad' he had bought in the Early Learning centre some time ago. It is paper with a blank space at the top for a picture and then a few ruled lines underneath. He wrote a very dramatic story of several pages, all about a dragon called Morfalax, an ice age, and a volcano. This had a beautiful picture on each page and some lovely use of language:
"The Morfalax awoke from his icey grave"
"20 milion degrees screamed Morfalax I've got to migrate west"
"A streem of lava poured on his house but the Morfalax punched his way out"
He doesn't really use any punctuation, except the occasional full-stop, and he still uses a mixture of upper and lower case letters. But he read it to us with lovely expression so we were able to follow the story.

Pearlie amused us this evening by getting a 'Round the World Snap' game from her room and effortlessly sorting the game into flag, country and capital cards in a few minutes. We often buy things like this because they match an interest of Pearlie's but they are never very satisfying for her. This game only had 12 countries and she needs something much more worldwide. Mind you, then the rest of us would find it impossible…

Busy day tomorrow, so better get some sleep.

Oh, just wanted to mention a wonderful moment of autonomous learning that occurred at the museum on Tuesday – that I forgot to blog. Leo bought a calculator in the gift shop and played with it as we wandered from gallery to gallery. While making a brief loo stop he asked about the 'divide' button and I gave him a quick example of sharing 8 biscuits between 2 people. He got this immediately and proceeded to do a series of division sums on his calculator – checking them in his head. A nice example of learning happening where we happen to be.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A greenhouse word cloud

Thanks to Merry for this cool thing! You can make a word cloud too.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Busy groups and a fabby museum trip!

D had a day off work and we took our turn on the rota at HE group. Dani took dough and most of the kids made themselves a roll for lunch. We are very lucky to have a great kitchen in this venue, which is getting plenty of use. I offered air-drying clay to the kids, which was equally well-received. Another family offered delicious fruit salad and we looked at maps to see where different foods come from.

Leo proudly told everyone that he was now six. Pearlie chatted with various adults and made a list of all the fruits she likes – over twenty that she could remember.

In the evening Pearlie went to Woodcraft – where Dani was on the rota again! The activity was clay – so I think the day started to repeat itself a bit… Meanwhile Leo and I spent THREE HOURS assembling one of his birthday pressies – a thing called a Zoid. He loves it, and it is an impressive toy, but it felt like making very fiddly flat pack furniture to me!

No-one was working again – and we set off to the Natural History Museum for Leo's birthday treat. He chose to have a small family party this year and a trip to the NHM – as he loves it so much. We saw a mixture of things – some familiar and some new to us. These included:
  • Lots of exploring in the Earth Galleries – visiting the 'earthquake room', talking with some people about volcanic rocks of different types, enjoying the fossils and so on.
  • Another visit to the T-Rex – a four o'clock visit during the week is recommended for this! We actually got to saunter along and enjoy the displays, rather than just shuffling along in a queue.
  • A visit to the mammals and birds – lots of dead creatures in cases.
  • A good look around the displays on the ancestors of homo sapiens. The kids were tired by this point, but very interested in the information.
  • Our first ever look around the Darwin Centre – fascinating area where we saw lots of pickled things in jars, being stored on long benches. This prompted lots of interesting conversation with Pearlie about the ethics of such things, how scientific knowledge advances, and how the use of research can be for good or ill.
  • A quick visit to the insects area.
  • Shopping! We had an extravagant time in the shop, where we gave the kids some cash to blow and chose a book each.
It was a really satisfying visit – very quiet once the school trips had gone and made much more enjoyable by making proper use of the cloakroom, so we weren't laden down with coats and bags. The only low spot was the six quid we forked out for two buckets of unpleasant tea and two massive over-sweet biccies. Now everyone can read fluently we get more and more out of museum trips.

This fluent reading was illustrated to me in the shop when Leo chose to buy some rather fine toy gems and excitedly read aloud the following from the back of the packet:
"Gemstones are actually minerals formed deep beneath the Earth's crust. Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds you see today are actually millions of years old. The combination of heat, pressure and time create the raw mineral crystals which are then cut and polished into prized gemstones."
He read the whole thing (in tiny print!) without any hesitation and with satisfied understanding. He is reading now in a way that shows he has it totally cracked. I remember seeing Pearlie do that too – great!

We rounded off the day with a meal at Pizza Express in Kensington. Eating out with Pearlie is something of a challenge as she has very particular tastes - but we hit on a winning combination of food at Pizza Express. She demolished twelve little dough balls with garlic butter, a big mixed leaves and cucumber salad (no dressing!!) and a tall glass of milk. Leo ate dough balls and then most of a big pizza. We pigged out too and then we all waddled on to a bus that took us to Victoria.

We got home at 9.45pm and the kids went straight to bed – very tired but happy.

We were all predictably tired today - D went to work in the morning and I went to work in the afternoon. The kids just pottered around in the morning – Leo watching a new Scooby Doo DVD and Pearlie doing secret things in her room. I don't know what she was doing, but it involved an envelope!
This afternoon the kids went to capoeira. They are missing one of the regular teachers and Leo found it hard to concentrate – I think he was just too tired after all the excitement of the last week. Pearlie had a fine class as usual – practising handstands.

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    The boy's birthday!

    We fell behind again – because Leo's birthday overtook us! Leo was six years old on Sunday and he had a lovely day with pressies aplenty. He was very happy to receive so many lovely things – a great balance of books, toys, craft/construction stuff and drawing stuff.

    The happy boy - unwrapping in pjs and a hat!

    Cake - I made this and hoped it looked like a dragon's nest!

    Cousins, uncles, aunties, grandparents and so on...

    That candle blowing moment.

    Tomorrow we are off to the Natural History Museum for his birthday outing. I think he was more excited about this birthday than he has ever been before. The night before his birthday I asked him if he thought he would enjoy being six and he said:
    "I think so, because it's been extremely fun being five."
    That was a good thing to hear – we must be doing ok as parents then!

    The few days leading up to Leo's party were fairly full of tidying and cake baking, and so on. Our little house accommodated a party of seven children and fourteen adults - a bit of a tight fit. But, in amongst that we also did:

    Making chocolate octopuses – Leo, Pearl and I followed a recipe to make rather huge, but tasty biccies.
    Pearlie started to look at some grammar in French, with my mum.
    Pearlie topped the 100 mark in the number of flags of the world that she knows.
    Pearlie, Leo and I went to the library, where Leo read himself a whole Ricky Ricotta book in dedicated silence.
    A friend came over for dinner. This involved a lovely chat and late night with wine.

    It should be a quieter time for a couple of weeks and so we should be able to blog more often.

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Social butterflies

    We've been hurtling from one social/group engagement to the next lately. Since last Tuesday we've taken in:
    • Capoeira, with cousins S. and D.
    • Kids Club for P. – twice – as she went to a special music workshop there today instead of our usual Monday group. This was excellent, by all accounts.
    • Friday drop-in HE group, where there was collaborative soup-making for anyone who wanted to join in
    • A lunch and play date with our 8 year old friend J. Leo spent all day with J. and his family, and went with them in the morning to a local farmers' market. Pearl and I went round there for lunch and the kids stayed for the afternoon. J's house is a highly educational experience in itself, containing as it does several dogs, a beautiful new kitten, a growing collection of tarantulas, some stick insects and a guinea pig, and J's parents are extraordinarily interesting, creative and hospitable people, so a splendid time was had by all.
    • A quick play at our house with cousins S. and D. after we failed to get into the local swimming pool (it was full!)
    • Kids' knitting group, where most of the kids immediately abandoned the knitting and rampaged about happily on the stairs, but Leo enthusiastically got the hang of it and produced several rows on a tiny scarf he is working on.
    • Monday HE group for Leo and Allie, where Leo made a delicious pizza, measured his height, did some painting and played very nicely with a friend who is very much on his wavelength (another J!)
    • Woodcraft Folk for P.

    Before going round to J's house on Saturday, Pearl and I went to an open day at the local magistrates court, which was very interesting. We watched a mock trial and participated in the discussions about whether the defendant should be found guilty and how he should be sentenced. We saw the cells below the court rooms, gathered bits and bobs from the stalls of various legal services, and chatted to a nice magistrate who was interested in community justice and liked what I had to say in the mock trial. Pearl was very interested to discover that you can go and observe real trials, and plans to do this at some point.

    Other recent highlights include:
    • Watching Oliver over a couple of evenings – Allie and I were inspired to several rousing renditions of a medley of songs from the show, much to the bemusement of the children
    • Prolific amounts of drawing by Leo

      Here's one I was particularly impressed by:

    • A resurgence of P's interest in Set. She has also been playing with Tantrix in her spare moments.
    • Allie read Michael Morpurgo's The Butterfly Lion to Leo and they both loved it.
    • Leo has been making lots of dragon detecting devices out of duplo and octons
    • Pearl continues to study the map of the world and deepen her knowledge of the geography of Europe and the flags of the world
    • Allie and the kids made hundreds of delicious biscuits and they all got eaten in two days

    Sunday, March 12, 2006

    The tyranny of the standard

    At HE group on Friday I heard an inspiring account of an autonomously educated HE child who learned to read in two weeks at the age of eleven and is now an avid reader. I was, once again, blown away by the courage of HE parents who manage to resist the pressure of age related 'standards'. It got me thinking about the peculiarly prescriptive nature of the current education system and the wonderful opportunity that HE gives us to allow our children a childhood free from this fashion.

    One of the many consequences of education policy over the last twenty years has been the spread of the notion of a ‘standard level’ for children of certain ages. Children may be measured and classified at any point on a scale of ‘attainment’ that covers the things deemed important by the current education system. It is no surprise that the system makes frequent reference to the scale. There are SATS at regular intervals and the language of the scale works its way into discussion of strategies and methods used in schools. But it is not just in schools that the targets and measures have an effect – they seep out of the walls and infect the culture!

    I am astonished at the power of these measures, at the way they are accepted and employed throughout the country – as if they had existed from time immemorial. As if they were the standards of some ‘education god’ who is looking down on all the children of the land. Yet it was not so long ago that there was no national curriculum, no SATS, no literacy or numeracy hours in the schools.

    I look back on my primary education (in the 1970s and early 1980s) and remember great differences in approach and style taken by different teachers. If a teacher had a passion (history, story telling, art) you knew about it – it was allowed to influence everyone’s experience. I can well remember the am dram enthusiast who performed the ‘wishing chair’ stories to the whole year group (90 kids) – every day for months! I remember the teacher who loved history and taught all ‘her’ ten year olds about ‘the enclosures’ – in great detail. Kids from different schools were taught different stuff, in different ways – and nobody turned a hair. It is hard to believe that this was so – but it was. Now, we live at a time when the education system does not tolerate this. The national curriculum dictates almost everything – and the children are judged with reference to it.

    So, what does this matter to home educating parents? I think it matters because this dictatorial, narrow approach influences British childhood. If you look for a puzzle book (hell, even a comic from the corner shop!) for your child, you will see a bit of waffle about ‘learning goals’ and ‘complying with the National Curriculum’. This is, of course, a marketing ploy to make parents feel that they are buying something really 'educational'. If a book, game or toy doesn't have this kind of blurb on it then it is not 'educational' and is, therefore, 'only for play'. As home educators we are, perhaps, even more vulnerable to this kind of marketing than other parents.

    We are very lucky in this country to have the freedom to home educate without having to concern ourselves with the current educational orthodoxy. We have the privilege of being able to step aside and look at the current trends from a position outside the tyranny of the standard. We can consider the different theories and approaches to learning that are taken internationally, that have been taken at different times in history, or that are evolving in the lives of our own families. We can remember that the current system is just a very recent approach being taken in a very small country. It may be the orthodoxy right here and just now – but I think it unlikely that it will be in twenty years. Most of our children have a life expectancy that will take them to the end of this century. Will anyone care in 2070 that they never adopted a neat cursive script, or that they were not a ‘level three’ in maths when they were eight?

    We are free to ignore the ‘targets’ that exist in the current education system – and the schools are not. So, if we worry about what our children ‘would be doing’ in school we need to remember that those things are being controlled, tightly, by the currently desired ‘targets’ for the children. And those ‘targets’ are MADE UP! They are just some words, no matter how many experts may have contributed to them. They are often general to the point of useless and are pretty pathetic as a way of interpreting anyone’s knowledge and skills – and yes, I have read many of them. There is no research to show that they are of any meaningful benefit in the lives of the people striving to meet them.

    If we seek to reassure ourselves about our children's development by referring to the 'attainment levels' of the national curriculum we are accepting that those levels are a valid measure. Our kids do many, many wonderful things that wouldn't be valued in school – but they value them, and we are free to do so too. We don't need to be influenced by the narrow categories of the national curriculum, the levels or measures, the things they 'would be' doing in schools.

    There are many tales out there of home educated children who have done amazing things in their own time, and in their own ways. I hold those tales dear and hope that we never lose the freedom to give our children the space to develop away from the tyranny of the standard.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    Rainy day fun

    Dani went off to work first thing. The rest of us got wrapped up in waterproofs and walked Leo over to the grandmothers' house in the rain. I suddenly realised how little rain we've had this winter - as Leo wore his waterproof mac for the first time in weeks (his winter coat is down filled and no good in real rain) and we found it really doesn't fit any more!

    Leo had a fine time at the grandmothers' house. He made a 'camera thingy' that was apparently 'activated when a dragon flew by' – part of his long term desire to see a real dragon. He also ate pasta with pesto and garlic cheese, so he was pretty fragrant when he returned home.

    Meanwhile, Pearlie and I went on into town to pick up a parcel from Hope Education that the postie had tried to deliver yesterday. It was a big box of rubber bands, that we bought to go with peg boards. We had ordered a few things from Hope, figuring that if we were paying postage anyway we might as well. Annoyingly, they've pretty much all come separately and it was fairly annoying to slog into town in the rain just to pick up rubber bands! But Pearlie liked the parcel office – alphabetical order being something she appreciates. She peered in to the office and was pleased with the labelled shelves – and general lack of gushing service! Pearlie has never been someone who likes over familiarity.

    When we got home Pearlie made her own lunch (sandwiches, crisps and salad) and we watched the news. We had a conversation about the story in the news today of the woman who has lost her bid to use frozen embryos. Pearlie wasn't entirely sure what an embyo was – so we talked about that, and the various ethical questions involved.

    After lunch we snuggled under covers on the sofa (a rainy day activity) and did some more from the logic puzzles booklet Pearlie had started last week. This turned into some stuff on Venn diagrams, which Pearlie enjoyed a lot. She likes to have company, and the chance for some undivided attention, and we seem to be able to work alongside each other quite well these days.

    When we'd done lots of that she went off to sort through her coin collection. She loves this collection and seems to find it endlessly fascinating. I did a bit of washing up and cleaned the yucky kitchen sink. Then we snuggled up again to watch Poirot together. I'm not sure how well P manages to follow the plots, but she likes the denouement!

    Once Leo got home the kids watched tv and I read a few emails and stuff. When Dani got home we managed to cobble together yet another meal out of no food! We seem to run out of food earlier and earlier each week – must be bigger and bigger kids. But we got a food shop delivered tonight – from the evil empire of Tesco.

    This evening Dani phoned her dad to get some reminders on how to solve the Rubik's Cube – she was nearly there, but a bit stuck. Anyway, she's done it now, so she's happy. I'm impressed again – that woman never ceases to impress me…

    The kids and I had a lovely game of Monopoly. Pearl is great at getting us playing board games – and it's a good way of spending the evening. Pearlie likes to be banker and Leo likes to spend, spend, spend! His grasp of the game is fantastic now. Over the summer he amazed me with all the reading he could do when playing Monopoly, and now I'm seeing how his understanding of number is coming along too. He had to double 28 to work out how much rent Pearlie owed him and he thought long and hard and came up with 'forty sixteen' great stuff!

    There was a wonderful moment in the game when the kids started to joke about something – bogies, I think – and they just laughed and laughed. They were catching each other's eyes and giggling on and on and I started laughing at their hilarity. Sometimes it drives me mad when the kids bicker (and they certainly do!) but moments like that one are just magic.

    Dani unpacked the shopping and brought us a big bowl of grapes, which the kids demolished, and we played on for about two hours. We hadn't finished by bedtime so we counted up all our assets and found that Leo had won. I think this is the first time he has won Monopoly, so he was very chuffed.

    A good day, I think!

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    On the go

    It's been an action packed few days here.

    On Thursday it was my turn to help out at Kids Club for the morning. That was fun, and I got to know some of the other kids a little bit. P. has borrowed the club's video camera to make a short video diary. Leo and I popped to the shops in the afternoon while P. was at the grandmothers doing a bit of French and sorting out earrings.

    Our friends J. and O. came round for lunch and a play on Friday. I missed them because I was at work, but it was lovely for the others to see them.

    We all had a day off on Saturday, so we had an afternoon in town after trampolining. Allie and Leo went to the beach, while Pearl and I popped into the wonderful Brighton History Centre, where we looked at old maps of our neighbourhood and the helpful librarian showed us a box full of before and after photos of streets that were demolished in a slum clearance programme after the war. P. was very impressed by the place and vowed to return. We couldn't get a table at the best tea shop in town, so we bought takeaway cakes and had them at home. Allie thrashed the rest of us at Monopoly in the evening.

    We slobbed about on Sunday morning, then variously went to work and played with cousins, both at their house and ours. Leo embarked upon an ambitious new series of comic books, starring 'Spitman'.

    Allie and the kids went to the Home Ed group this morning, where they had a lovely time making scones, doing a volcano experiment, playing a complicated imaginary game, and thinking about fossils and dinosaurs. One of the parents lent P. some lovely historical novels, including Judith Kerr's Out of the Hitler Time trilogy. We are reading the second of these at bedtime at the moment, so she was thrilled with that. We all relaxed in the afternoon with Poirot/Scooby Doo, then P. and I went to Woodcraft Folk, where she did some rag rug making and I went to a meeting with the other parents. We had a Monopoly rematch in the evening which was declared a draw when nobody was bankrupt by bedtime (but I was winning!).

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    Trees, telescopes and teeth

    We had a lovely weekend at Knowles Tooth with our Woodcraft Folk group. The place was fantastic – a big, beautifully equipped farmhouse with everything a group of children could wish for: a trampoline in the garden,

    a sturdy treehouse,

    a pool table and a playroom full of soft toys and cupboards of games, a lovely garden,

    a shed full of bikes and skateboards,

    and a pond with rowing boats!

    Pearl slept in a shared room with several other kids, joined in with everything, did her share of the chores enthusiastically, made some lovely maps of the building, and was generally a star. She was thrilled with rowing, loved the treehouse, and had a great time with her friends.

    I think only I was aware of how much effort she was making to achieve this – somebody asked me if she was always so mellow, and I was astonished. Mellow is the last word I would use to describe her! I was very proud of the way she kept herself together and had a good time.

    We left a bit early on the Sunday, as P. and another friend who had been at the weekend were invited to a birthday party on the other side of Sussex. Her friend's dad kindly drove us to another amazing location, the Observatory Science Centre at Herstmonceux. It was a great party, with a telescope tour, sandwiches and cakes, and a demonstration of some exciting food experiments, plus the chance to explore the wonderful, interactive exhibits at the science centre.

    Meanwhile, Allie and Leo had another lie in, then enjoyed their trip to the pictures to see Zathura, followed by a brief but invigorating visit to the beach. We were all very pleased to see each other when we got home at teatime.

    The theme was sport at the HE group on Monday – cue lots of tearing around the hall with balls. Leo and his friend J. mostly made comics together very happily but did join in with the rampaging towards the end. P. was thrilled to find a mystery to investigate after our new balls were found to have been put in the after school club's cupboard by person or persons unknown. P. went to Woodcraft in the evening and made a lovely mobile using things found at the weekend. Leo did a beautiful series of robot designs in the evening.

    I was at work on Tuesday, and Leo went to the grandmothers'. Allie and Pearl went to a small toyshop after dropping him off, where she was thrilled to find a tiny train for her Sylvanian babies to ride around on and a ring with a pony on it. They came home and did lots of logic puzzles from this book (thanks to the Portico for the link), then made excellent pancake batter for our tea. Yum!

    Great excitement today (Wednesday), when cousin S. and her mum arrived at 9am after discovering that her school was closed due to boiler trouble. Allie agreed to look after S. for the day, and they all played with our new air drying clay in the morning. Before they settled down to that, though, there was more excitement when Leo's remaining top front tooth was knocked out in a headstand/knee/tooth incident. It was clearly ready to come out, and once he recovered from the shock he was quite thrilled at the thought of a nocturnal visit from the golden dragon that exchanges teeth for money and leaves Christmas presents.

    We swapped over mummies at lunchtime, and the kids all had a Sylvanian fest in the afternoon, with a bit of Octons and some chasing games thrown in. To round things off nicely, the capoeira class was a bit special this week as there was a visit from Mestre Laercio, the head honcho of our type of capoeira. He was very friendly and the kids all had a good class.