Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Three good days and one bad

The less said about today the better, I think – illness, not enough sleep, too much emotion, added up to several unpleasant incidents and nasty strops all round. We all managed to end the day as friends, so hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Anyway, we had quite a nice weekend, even though Allie had to work on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday morning the kids and I went to trampolining, where they are both working hard and achieving great things at the moment. After lunch we wandered round some of the open houses in our neighbourhood and knocked on a couple of doors so that P. could get more opinions for her poll. We all met up at home for chip shop chips and Doctor Who in the evening.

The kids filled our bedroom floor with play tents on Sunday morning and entertained themselves very happily for several hours playing camping. They got themselves snacks, furnished their tents with pillows and had a game of oware.

After lunch, we set off for town, to take part in the Famous Brighton Back Passages tour. This was fascinating, and included several little pathways I had never seen before. Leo tired before the end, so I brought him home and dropped him off at his cousin's for tea, then dashed back to meet P and the grandmothers, who had stuck with the tour to the end. She and I then went to a presentation at some friends' house about their recent trip to Nepal. Very impressive technical wizardry and public speaking from both kids of the family, delicious Nepalese food and astonishing photos and stories.

Neither of us had to work on Monday, so we all went together to MMs, having hastily cobbled together some resources for a Moomins theme (P's request). This was quite popular, in a low key sort of way. There was also plenty of rampaging, and Dr. Who play. Someone had brought a lovely watermelon to share and someone else had brought along this week's Krampf experiment – candling an egg.

P. and I played a good game of Othello in the evening, then she thrashed everyone at Flags of the World – she's rapidly learning capital cities, so our chances of ever winning are getting slimmer all the time.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Rainy days in May

Amidst some gloom about the atrocious weather, we have been…

Cooking: Pearlie made some delicious cheese pastry on Wednesday, and I made some lovely bread rolls yesterday

Socialising: Capoeira, Kids Club, and visits - from 8 year old friend J yesterday and from Allie's cousin and her children today

Doing opinion polls: A woman from MORI knocked on the door today and asked Allie questions about her opinions on the world, how she would vote, etc. Pearl and Leo immediately devised their own opinion polls, and I was accosted by P. with a clipboard as soon as I got home. She is planning to ask everyone in the extended family, then calculate percentages with the results.

Playing games: P. and I played a game of Othello the other day, and I had a good game of casino with Leo. And the correspondence chess game continues.

Making things: Leo and I did some knitting together this evening, and of course he draws constantly. Pearlie is working on some secret cross stitch.

Talking about: why parrots are colourful and the fact that some parrots can recognise and name colours (according to Leo who saw this on a TV programme); how parking meters work; torture (prompted by an item on the news, probably about Guantanamo Bay); Doctor Who; and lots of other things I have now forgotten.

Another notable thing that's happened lately is that Pearlie has become much more self-sufficient about getting ready to go out in the mornings. She has made herself a list and ticks off each thing as she does it. No more nagging about hairbrushing and waiting by the open door while she dithers about which coat to wear! She's even started to go to bed earlier so she can get up at the time she wants to. This is somewhat miraculous and may not last, but we are all enjoying it while it does.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

For any readers home educating in Brighton & Hove

We wrote to the Acting Head of EOTAS (Education Otherwise Than At School) at Brighton and Hove Council in April, asking for copies of their policies and procedures relating to their contact with home educators. We contacted them because we had heard that they were approaching different people in different ways and we wanted to know if they had any stated reason for this.

The reply was that their policies and procedures were being reviewed and that they would welcome our input into this process. We were invited to meet to discuss it.

We have now arranged to meet the officer on July 13th. We have made it clear to her, and will restate at the meeting, that we are not representative of all home educators, and we will advise her to consult more widely if she wants to take all home educators' opinions into account.

If anyone else who lives in Brighton & Hove would like to be involved in this process, please get in touch with us. We are happy to contact the council to suggest that more people are invited to the meeting, if anyone wants to come along. If you are a member of EO, you can find our contact details in the contact list, or just leave a comment here.

We are also keen to hear about other home educators' experiences of dealing with the LEA. If you have deregistered your child/ren from a Brighton & Hove school, was this handled well? Did the LEA approach you and your child/ren respectfully? Did you feel pressure to accept a home visit or to provide information in a particular form? If you have had a visit from the LEA, what did you think about it?

If anyone has any comments about the way the LEA has dealt with them, we would be very happy to pass them on, anonymously if you would prefer.

We do not yet have copies of the policies and procedures they are currently using, but will ask for them again in order to prepare for the meeting. Again, if anyone else would like a copy, please get in touch with us.

Our main concern is to make sure that the LEA understand the extent of their legal obligations and powers, and take full account of these when drafting their new policy. We are also hoping to get some more information about how the EOTAS department is organised and the way they work. After the meeting, we will write a short report for the Sussex home ed newsletter, and probably post it on here as well.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Somersaults, swimming, music and monsters

Saturday was action packed, with the kids doing some great trampolining while Allie went on a walking tour in the town centre, before we all met up for a trip to the Chinese State Circus. I wasn't quite as impressed as I have been in previous years, but it was still a great spectacle. Doctor Who was fantastic – the most scary so far, I thought.

Sunday was rainy, so we went swimming with the local cousins, instead of to the park. Swimming was great – Leo took his armbands off and doggy paddled about happily without them. I love the way he takes these steps so naturally and lightly – not a swimming lesson or reading scheme in sight!

We stayed in for the rest of the day, because of the endless rain. I can't remember what happened, but it was quite pleasant and sociable. Oh, yes – we played with Pearlie's flag cards, and she roundly thrashed everyone with her encyclopaedic knowledge of flags. She is now starting work on learning all the capitals

The kids exhausted themselves with an energetic Doctor Who game at MMs on Monday, as well as doing some painting, sport, cards and discussion of chess. Everyone then piled into cars and crossed town to a pub with a soft play area and outdoor playground, where the kids exhausted themselves again and the grownups had a meeting. Luckily, Woodcraft was cancelled, so we had a quiet evening in.

We were all up and at 'em again this morning – me to work and the others to Squeezebox, where they started to learn a new song. Allie and Pearl dropped Leo off at the grandmothers' where he blew bubbles and collected treasure in the garden. They went home and did some Cross Numbers and other things, then joined Leo, Allie's mum, and all the cousins in the park.

Pearl and I had a good game of chess this evening, with occasional pauses to look at some newly hatched blue tit chicks on this nesting box webcam. P. is currently enjoying a game of email chess with my dad.

Leo has been keeping a daily diary this week, on a notebook with space on each page for a picture and a few lines of writing. He has done a Doctor Who monster on each page and is using it as a countdown to the next episode.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Running to catch up

OK, here's one paragraph per day:

Saturday: My turn to go to Streets of Brighton with the kids. They both played beautifully in the capoeira roda. Then we queued for many hours to see the maze, and somehow managed to take in various other lovely sights here and there.

In the evening we were all on the edge of our seats at the end of Doctor Who.

Sunday: Played with cousin B. in the park, then went on a rather dry guided walking tour of the park and its environs. Slobbed about at home for the afternoon.

Monday: Allie took the kids to MMs, where they played a lovely Doctor Who game. Later, P. went on a penny hike with Woodcraft Folk – a walk where you choose the direction on each street corner by the flip of a coin – and fortuitously ended up at the park.

Tuesday: As well as lots of educational conversation (see Allie's earlier post), this day included a Squeezebox session for both kids and a pleasant visit to the grandmothers' house for Leo, with more Doctor Who themed activity.

Wednesday: A trip to the park with the newborn bunnies – weather was a bit gloomy so they didn't stay long, but they did spot a baby long-tailed tit in a tree. Leo made a breakthrough in sociability at the capoeira class in the afternoon, after bonding with a fellow young capoerista in the queue at Streets of Brighton on Saturday. Having a full set of Doctor Who Adventures magazines with him also helped. Both kids played musical instruments in the roda at the end of the class.

Thursday: Pearlie embarked on building a solar powered cooker out of cardboard boxes and silver foil with a friend at kids club, then had a fine time floating paper boats with the grandmothers. Leo and I made delicious apple pies, then pobbled about at home, while Allie received distressing news about the state of her teeth from a new dentist then went to work.

Friday: Allie and the kids went birdwatching at Stanmer Park. They saw lots of crows, a magpie, some swallows, blackbirds, ducks and ducklings, a great tit, a wagtail, a moorhen, a pigeon and a chaffinch.

Allie and Leo made this lovely collage to commemorate the outing.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Living in a conversation area

I am aware that we need to catch up here – and there's been plenty going on, but I'm bored of the list of busyness, and feel the need for a bit of reflection!

Things are going well here at the moment – after a rather shaky time over Easter. We tend to pack a lot into our holiday periods and we certainly overdid that break as far as Pearlie was concerned! Now we are back into regular commitments things are more settled.

This restored balance struck me this evening. I spent some time with both kids today, but quite a few hours alone with Pearlie and most of that time talking. I have been meaning to blog about conversation for some time – and how it seems to be at the heart of lives as home edders. With Pearlie today I made some little mental notes of the kind of things we talked about and I was astonished when I wrote them down tonight.

I know that no account, or analysis, of this sort of conversation can really do it justice but I'll try because I want to have some sort of record for the years to come. I think it is what Roland Meighan calls 'purposive conversation'. It is something more than 'will you hold my jacket?' or 'what's for lunch?' (not that those kind of exchanges are without educational content, even if only how much your mum will actually lug about for you before she notices and moans!) and it flows about in our day to day lives, bubbling up everywhere. Anyway, here are a few examples of this sort of conversation as they happened today.

We talked about how the Victorians built big, and imposing, constructions. We were looking at the viaduct that spans our town. Pearlie mentioned how the cities grew, and that there was overcrowding in Victorian cities. She wondered why people had to live near their workplaces and I said they worked very long hours. She told me that she knew that people got ill and we talked about how disease spreads and how important clean water and a proper sewerage system is. Pearlie told me of 'someone' (need to look this up!) who proved that a cholera outbreak was due to a contaminated water supply, by removing the pump handle in an area, and observing the decline in the illness.

Out of nowhere Pearlie asked me if 'black is the opposite of white'. I wasn't at all sure how to answer this but said that artists know a lot about colour and we could find out from some websites. She went on to tell me that she knew about colour wheels and how some colours are the opposite of others.

On the bus we noticed the brown signs that point tourists to some of the attractions in the town. Pearlie identified most of the signs ('that mask thing will be the theatre') and we talked about the need for the signs to be understood by people who don't speak English. There was one we didn't know (a filled triangle) that we need to look up. This conversation led on to one about different alphabets. Pearlie is very into Greek letters at the moment, and spends a lot of time writing little messages for us in English, using Greek letters. I told her that I thought that the Thai that I saw on signs at Bangkok airport (a re-fuelling stop, years ago) was very pretty.

Co-incidentally we then passed the tent and vans of the 'Lady Boys of Bangkok' who are here with their show. This is a pretty much an annual occurrence in Brighton. Last year I remember an educational conversation about 'lady boys' but this year it all took a more capitalist turn! Pearlie mentioned that they would need to have different posters for the different countries in which they toured. I told her I thought they probably kept their name in English but that she was right because the information would all need to be in the appropriate language. She said that they would need change in lots of different currencies. I explained that their show was a business, a touring company, that would have lots of people involved in the money management. We wondered if the performers and crew would get paid in local currency or if they would get money paid into bank accounts back home and then have to access it themselves.

In the stationers we bought a big piece of card and were interested to see that the colour was called Pompadour. Pearlie wondered if it was a colour first worn by Madame de Pompadour (thanks Dr Who!) and I wondered if Pompadour was a place where the colour was first used.

At home we were looking at a maths book of Pearlie's that had a page on percentages. Some of this she grasped very quickly, some was more troubling for her, and she asked when I, and Dani, needed percentages in our lives. I gave her some examples of writing reports on surveys at work, and how Dani's work might analyse usage, or implement a price increase. Then she chipped in that you needed percentages to understand loans. She is very interested in loans, as they get mentioned a lot on the satellite channels! She was horrified when I first explained the concept of interest to her and now she always notices it.

This evening I was reading blogs (some from other countries) and Pearlie checked with us that Amsterdam is in Holland and they speak Dutch there. She asked if German, Dutch and English were in a 'kind of group'. Dani explained that English is a bit different and how we have different influences in our language. She managed to come up with the example of how we have the word outstanding (with a Germanic root) and excellent (with a Latin root). Pearlie was pleased with this.

Looking through these little snippets of conversation I can see that there is art, history, science, language and linguistics, business, maths, geography, design and probably other 'subjects' I haven't spotted or didn't record. I am convinced that Pearlie's understanding of the world is ever changing and pretty damn sophisticated these days because of the things she observes, and the connections she makes between them. I think there is a real advantage to learning in this way, to building understanding through connections, rather than learning 'subjects' in isolation from each other. I never had much problem learning the facts that I was asked to learn at school but have often felt quite ill-educated in terms of how these things fit together. The gaps in my knowledge usually scared me and I strove to hide them when in 'educated circles'. Pearlie has none of this anxiety as she is happy to explore for linkages, to find bridges to, and mirrors of, the things she does know.

I also believe that being out and about in the world provides an incredibly rich learning environment. Every day there's a different newspaper billboard, a new shop opened, a new flower blooming in a garden, and different people passing by. A teacher can work hard to make a lovely classroom display but it will never be as rich and varied as the real world. In school, teachers can work hard to make the curriculum relevant to the children's lives but it will never be as relevant as real life. And no nine year old in a classroom would be able to talk quite as much as Pearlie has today!

This piece has been about Pearlie but, of course, Leo operates in much the same way – albeit with his own interests to the fore (more daleks, monsters, wee, poo, willies and shopping!). He spent a lot of today at the grandmothers' house but maybe I'll do this post again when I get a day with him.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Fabby fun and frenzy!

A frantically busy week here and lots of good fun had by all. This post would be endless if I tried a proper catch-up, so here's the severely edited highlights!

Sunday 7th
I went to work and Dani and the kids went to a craft fayre thing that was happening as part of the Brighton Festival Fringe. It was fun, I think, though Dani said that felt was rather too much in evidence for her tastes! Leo bought himself a new dot-to-dot book. Then they went on to Hove Park, where there is a reasonable play area, and had a play on the small flying fox thing.

Monday 8th
Dani went to work in the morning and I took the kids to our weekly HE group. I think we'd better start calling it something to distinguish it from other groups, so from now on it is MMs (an abbreviation of the name.) MMs didn't have a theme this week so there were lots of toys and books to share, and rampaging games happened in the sports hall. Pearl had a good game of chess with one of the adults. P has taken to chess very quickly and loves it. Leo spent quite a lot of time reading and then produced a short guide book to making a dalek – with lots of drawings showing the component parts. It was a quiet session in terms of numbers and felt a little subdued because of that.

Because we had arrived early for MMs we popped in to the branch library next door to the venue. Leo borrowed a 'Hiccup Horrendous Haddock' book – one in the 'How to train your dragon' series. He seems to be reading several of those at the same time at the moment. Pearlie borrowed a book by Johnnie Ball 'Think of a number'. D and I both remembered how much we had enjoyed the tv show of that name in the 70s and the book seems to be fabulous. Pearlie has had it in her room most of the time since we borrowed it!

In the later afternoon Dani was on the rota to run the Woodcraft session, so she and P went out for a couple of hours. I think the session went pretty well – bug hunting, leaf identification and games.

Tuesday 9th
Dani went to work all day. The kids and I had to be up and out to get them to their 'squeezebox' session by 10am. They are really enjoying this so far and are part of an embryonic band of five HE kids. Leo came away with instructions to learn the names of the white notes on the keyboard (so far we've got CD and E clear!) and P with details of the drumsticks she needs to buy.

P and I dropped Leo off at the grandmothers' house for the afternoon, where he did pond dipping. Then we went off on the bus to drop Pearlie at a friend's house for a play. This friend lives on a houseboat – so that was very exciting. I thought it was a wonderful place and started having fantasies about living somewhere similar.

I rushed back across town to collect Leo and found that he was on his way to the park with various cousins – so we went along for an hour or two. He had rather too much in the sweets and lolly departments and had a bit of meltdown on the way home. I made a big beany risotto when we got in, which made him human again.

Dani went to collect P and as soon as they got home I went out to visit a friend for the evening – a manic day!

Wednesday 10th
Dani went to work in the morning and the kids and I went to collect a parcel from the main dept place, in town. It was Pearlie's new Teva sandals – so she was super happy. Before we had left Leo had done a bit of mental maths, working out how many packets of stickers he could afford.

After collecting our parcel we wandered through a bit of town which is called the North Laine, but which I was brought up to call 'the back doubles'. There are lots of weird and funky shops there and we window shopped a bit. Then we went in to the Oxfam bookshop and the kids had a fine time reading and browsing. I bought a pugwash book for L and P chose a Tintin colouring book.

In the afternoon I went to work and Dani took the kids to capoeira. After their classes they went off to Stanmer to look at the bluebells in the woods. They had homemade rolls with them for tea, and stayed out until 8pm, when they came to meet me from work.

Thursday 11th

Pearlie went off to kids club in the morning, where she had fun playing games and doing other stuff. Apparently their new theme is energy, which may lead anywhere I guess!

After that she went to the grandmothers' for the rest of the day. She told me she helped with watering plants, played a 'map of europe' game, and did a bit of French conversation.

Leo and I spent a jolly hour in the doctor's waiting room. He read silently for about 45 mins and then hid in his cardie to avoid the attentions of friendly old ladies. I had forgotten to take anything to read and so was forced to read old 'women's magazines'… The doctor gave Leo a prescription for two big bottles of anti-histamine. I was all keyed up waiting for the HE question but the doctor was so busy, and running so late, that we virtually ran in and out again! We are on the hunt for anti-histamine that will work for L as last year the Piriton we gave him for his hayfever didn't touch his symptoms, which became pretty overwhelming by mid June.

In the afternoon I went to work and Dani and Leo spent a glorious sunny hour or two at our beach hut in Hove. L spent the whole time playing very happily with stones, sand and water – all based around a dragon's egg theme!

We (finally!) all met up again at 8.30pm when I got home from work.

Friday 12th

Today has been another beautiful sunny day here. Dani has been at work all day. The kids and I set off early to go to a music shop in town to pick up drum sticks for P. Then we had an hour or two to spare so went to St Ann's Well Gardens – a lovely park with lots of play equipment for older kids. The kids loved it and we have decided to go again soon.

Then we got back on the bus and went to the Pavilion Gardens to meet up with A and F from 'Where the Days Go.' It was Streets of Brighton day – lots of performance art everywhere. A got accosted by some very odd men with a wardrobe on wheels, who provided her with trendy sandals with laminate flooring attached! I thought I had a great picture of her feet, but then Leo had the camera and some of my best shots mysteriously disappeared.

We all went in to a wonderful maze, a surreal experience where walking teapots, a silent gardener, a 1950s family and a minotaur were lurking. It was great to see A and F and experience this bizarre maze with them. I suspect the whole thing will seem like a dream tomorrow!

After A and F had gone off in search of their bus home the kids and I followed a marching band of ants. The kids liked them so much we followed them for their whole route and were rewarded by seeing their purple faces when they finally removed their costumes.

Then we watched a band for a while and I had a real surge of Brighton love watching people dancing and smiling. I don't think there is anywhere else in the world I would rather be bringing up our children than here. Last week we walked home from the children's parade behind a grown man dressed as a swiss roll. There is such vibrancy in this town, so many people full of enthusiasm and creativity.

Anyway, Pearlie has just delivered me a message in greek letters – I'd better go and de-code it.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Taking to the streets

Well, it didn't rain as much as we feared, and the HE contingent in the children's parade put on a good show. Here are our finished costumes, and us, ready for the off:

Once we got there, we had to do a lot of waiting. And then wait some more. And a bit more.

At least we got a good view of the rest of the parade passing us by

Finally, we set off, waved to friends and relations along the way, shook hands with the Mayor, and found the welcome sight of a grandmother bearing chocolate in Pavilion Gardens. When we got to the beach it really started to rain, so we packed all our precious things in plastic bags and went home for a nice long rest!

Friday, May 05, 2006

What's cooking

Been too busy to blog lately, as we have been spending a lot of time:
  • Creating and painting giant kitchen utensils and associated costumes and hats for this weekend's Children's Parade. Also feeling despondent at the forecast rain which will turn our masterpieces soggy. Will post photos when everything's finished.
  • Playing games – lots of cards, a bit of oware, and a couple of games of chess.
  • Enjoying the sunshine – today was the warm, sunny day Pearlie has been waiting for all winter, and she was very happy to be out in it.
  • Watching, re-watching, reading about, buying magazines about and anticipating the next episode of Doctor Who, which is pretty much a full time occupation for Leo at the moment. We all loved School Reunion.
  • Reading – Allie's absorbed in The Great Stink by Clare Clark, Pearlie and I have just started Philip Ardagh's Awful End, and Leo is listening to Beyond the Deepwoods for his bedtime story. He's also working his way through P's collection of Geronimo Stilton books.
  • Learning all the flags of the world (only Pearlie has done this, I hasten to add).
  • Knitting prototype cardigans and puzzling out a pattern.
  • Starting exciting new music lessons with other home educators at Squeezebox
  • Going to the fair, which was apparently even more exciting than Doctor Who (!)
Plus going to all our usual groups and having stinking colds.

Normal service should resume shortly…