Monday, 30 September 2013

Picasso in Pyjamas

Phew!  Crazy week, busy weekend... Monday mornings might be met with a groan in many other households, but here there was a sigh of relief this morning.  We all know where we are with Mondays, and what to expect: pyjamas, snuggles, staying home and having fun together.  Admittedly I was a bit frustrated being at home today while my niece is still in hospital (and my sister with her), but I knew there was no way of going to visit today so I tried hard to just make the most of the time I have with my boys instead, allowing for part of me being a bit distracted and sending 'get well' prayers throughout the day...

So we started the day as usual with Bible time, snuggled up in bed, then as soon as Eldest came downstairs he headed straight for his workbooks to do some English (today learning abut riddles)  Youngest also beat me downstairs and started on some writing, while Middle decided I ought to have a 'take-it-easy' day, so brought me his Spongebob blanket and made me sit in the armchair with his blanket over me.  Of course, the 'take-it-easy' day didn't last, but what a sweet boy he is to think of it!  I felt very blessed.

Middle did some time on Reading Eggspress, then came to join in with a game of "Scabs n Guts" (played at Youngest's request). I'd forgotten how much the boys enjoyed it... obviously the gruesome details hold particular appeal, and they were most delighted when Mummy had to act out having a shower or being sick with food poisoning!  I learned something new too: apparently there is such a thing as "Housewif'itis", caused by having to do too much housework! Hmmmmm - we stay-at-home-mums and home educators need to beware!

Once the game was done we headed to the kitchen for a bit of art.  We looked at a little book on Picasso (read excerpts and looked at the pictures) and looked at some of his work online - we talked about his paintings that were in blue or sad colours, and what happy colours might be; we looked at how he used lots of straight lines in his pictures where we might expect curvy ones; we talked about why he painted things that didn't 'look right' - facial features in strange places etc, and decided that maybe he was trying to say something about how he was feeling rather than just accurately painting what he saw with his eyes.  Then with all of that in mind we had a go at our own portraits (we used oil pastels as we wanted strong colours)...

Youngest drew a face in blue and added in some 'unusual' features in different colours...

I started quickly as I wanted to help the boys see what I meant about drawing a face that was looking straight ahead and profile.  As we had talked about showing feelings rather than just what we could see, I did one half of my face blue and sleepy to show the tired part of me, and the other half bright and smiley because I'm happy to be with them (with the addition of some slightly psychotic-looking eyeshadow)...

Eldest drew a portrait of Middle (green because it's his favourite colour and orange because he's happy)...

He followed that with a self portrait.  He said his two most important characteristics are happiness (yellow) and excitedness (orange)... that is a pretty fair summary of his character I'd say!

Middle decided against the portraits altogether as he had obviously been inspired in a different direction while looking at Picasso's work - so he did a lovely picture of a vampire bat...

After that the boys all went in different directions: Eldest watched "Supergiant Animals" which I had recorded from TV, Middle played Music-maker on Gridclub and Youngest played on the Tap-the-Cat app (from Reading Eggs) on my ipad... it's free to install today and tomorrow only.  Eldest and Middle then watched their new Rock n Learn DVD on Physical Science (we love the Rock n Learn science DVDs) while Youngest played Mathseeds on my laptop (I have finally subscribed - I was reluctant because we've already paid for a MathsWhizz subscription, but I got a good Home Ed discount on Mathseeds too, and it's really helping Youngest at the moment).  Then Eldest and Youngest disappeared upstairs to do some dressing up and role play, while Middle decided to write a diary and asked for my help.  I was delighted but also surprised, knowing how little he enjoys writing usually.  Well he wrote "Still in my pyjamas" (asking me for help with spelling) and then started complaining that he couldn't do it.  I was baffled!  Another barrier in his mind that seems to have come from nowhere.  He seemed to be frustrated by his own preconceptions of what he was 'supposed' to be doing.  I tried explaining that a diary is a totally personal thing, that there are no rules (although writing the date/ time for each entry is generally a good idea), that he could write one sentence or even one word if he liked - that he could fill it with pictures instead etc... it took about fifteen minutes of me trying to be patient and understand the reason behind the negativity before we finally got there and he settled back down to it.  Funny little sausage - he does get set ideas stuck in his head that don't need to be there at all.  Still, I'm happy that (I think) we managed to resolve it pretty quickly today.  He hasn't shown it to me like Eldest would (the boy who likes to share his work with everyone), but that's totally fine, because I think he would feel pressure to make it presentable, and as I said to him, a diary is a private thing for him to do whatever he likes with. But oh, I am so intrigued to see how it finally looked - I must be good and stay away!

So there we go: another lovely Day In Pyjamas.  I was told at school once that wearing uniform was important a) to remove one-upmanship caused by the privileged having better clothes etc - as if we still couldn't tell who the privileged were - and b) to dress smart as a way of wearing a subconscious reminder to think smart and behave smart.  Well other than being able to slightly facetiously report a distinct lack of one-upmanship between the boys when wearing pyjamas, I am also happy to note that the subconscious reminder sent to my boys by what they wear on Pyjama Mondays is that when they wear relaxed, they think relaxed, and behave relaxed... and how very interesting it is for me to note that on their most relaxed days they seem to achieve the most...!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Flexibility Rules

I've just realised that I wrote this on Friday and then forgot to post it!  It's just been one of 'those' weeks this week... it's certainly been a very different one!  My niece went into hospital for a scheduled operation, so I had two days off so I could go and be with her and my sister.  Daddy stayed home with the boys both days - on Tuesday they had their usual clubs (craft and science) so Daddy was introduced to the more sociable side of home educating, and on Thursday there were no groups or outings scheduled so the boys had a pretty easy day while Daddy got some work done.  Eldest, being the one who craves structure the most, carried on with MathsWhizz and handwriting practice as usual.

Wednesday saw us celebrating Youngest's fifth birthday.  We went to soft play in the morning and then had a party in the afternoon.  Sadly not all those invited could come owing to illness, but those who did come made a very merry party for my lovely boy.  Occasionally throughout the day he would come up to me and say "I'm having a lovely birthday!  Thank you Mummy!"  Talk about heart-melting!  Sometimes it's so easy to just get frustrated with the boys' bouts of fighting and squabbling, but on Wednesday all of that was forgotten and Eldest and Middle were just so happy to celebrate their brother's birthday.  No sibling jealousy at all - it was really sweet.  Eldest's behaviour did wobble a bit in the afternoon at the party but then he confessed he wasn't feeling well so I dosed him up and things improved after that.  Sure enough, the next day he and Middle were coughing away, apparently having picked up Youngest's germs from the previous week.
So today, having had quite a disorientating week, we were all ready for a bit of structure again (but just a bit as the older two are still somewhat lurgified).  Middle and Youngest did some handwriting practice and Reading Eggs(press), and Youngest also did some more Mathseeds... he loves that program; I can see I'm going to have to fully subscribe!  Eldest chose to do workbooks instead of Reading Eggspress or MathsWhizz.  It's interesting how he is drawn towards workbooks again now.  Middle is still very wary of workbooks, but I think he was more traumatised by school (which was heavily work-book based), so maybe he'll come round eventually, or maybe he'll always prefer computer programmes.  It really doesn't matter to me as long as he's happy learning.

Also this week we've had an ongoing fridge challenge.  I make a topic word out of our fridge magnet letters (thank you Innocent Smoothies!), and the boys use the other letters to build a crossword around it.  I think they've done pretty well so far...

And Middle (the very reluctant writer) was inspired by something he saw on the computer, and wrote out a little story for Youngest...

There have been lots of games, drawing, playing, exploring and learning - some in a different guise to what we are used to - and hooray for that - and some more of the same as the boys are used to, just not as noticed by me.  It's all fine - I know that they are learning and happy, which is all that counts.

I am so thankful for the flexibility of what we do.  We do appreciate a little structure (just a little), but if we can't flex that structure to suit us when necessary then it has become a hindrance instead of a help.  When people say that they are structured, semi-structured/ slightly structured etc, others sometimes assume they know what that means.  Many autonomous educators (if that isn't an oxymoron) feel that structure equals rigid rules, such as 'we must get XY or Z done' - but for us that certainly isn't the case.  We have a general idea of what we would like to explore during the week - hence the 'planner' - but none of it is really rigid.  There is just one over-riding rule to our structure: it is flexible to our needs at any given time.  And this week I particularly appreciated the value of an utterly flexible structure.  Just as well, as I can see the need for more flexibility coming up in the next couple of weeks or so...!

Monday, 23 September 2013

My Little Atelier: Block Printing

It being "Pyjama Monday", and therefore our favourite day to get creative, I was strangely unprepared with any arty ideas today.  It's not usually a problem - the boys often have ideas of their own - but before we even got that far the postman rang the doorbell to deliver September's edition of "My Little Atelier"... now I call that perfect timing!  It wasn't long before I had three little bodies crowding around trying to get a look at the contents.

This month the theme was Woodblock Printing, using Hokusai's "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" for inspiration.  Out came the box contents immediately, and I had to out the brakes on just long enough to get the kitchen table covered ready for paints.

We looked at Hokusai's work and talked about how the best designs were the simple ones.  We drew our designs onto paper first - this is Eldest's design...

Then we copied the designs onto the polystyrene tiles provided (they were A4 size, but I cut them in half to we could all have a go).  I helped Youngest and Eldest to make the lines wide enough and deep enough to hopefully show through - Middle just seemed to have the knack...

The idea was then to put paint into the paint tray, followed by the created block stamp, but sadly our paint tray had somehow broken in transit.  'Woodland Children' are sending a replacement, but still, the boys weren't bothered as they wanted to colour in their designs with multiple colours, so we painted straight onto the tiles...

Then turning the tile over we carefully pressed it down onto the blank paper and just as carefully lifted it up again.  Trying not to wiggle it wasn't easy for the younger ones, but they did just fine...

We all printed at least two copies so the boys could see the variations with each print - and then picked our favourites to show here (print tiles shown alongside the 'best' prints).  All in all, a lovely activity - another 'My Little Atelier' hit!

"North Johnson" by Youngest
(North Johnson is a character invented by Youngest and who appears in many of Youngest's stories)

"Rainbow Slug" by Middle

"Anakin's Jedi Starfighter" by Eldest

"Hedgehog" by Mummy

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Maths, Modelling Clay and More Besides

Getting a bit stir crazy today.  Youngest still snuffling, but by keeping him out of the cold we've managed to decrease the amount of coughing... he hasn't needed his inhaler at all today, which is a relief. What's left of his cough is a bit chesty though - I don't know whether I'm more protective because he's the youngest or because of last year's asthma scare, but either way, I'm hoping we can wrap up and go out for at least a little walk tomorrow...

Given that we've been stuck in again though, it's been a nice day.  The boys got on with their MathsWhizz nice and early, followed by a bit of handwriting practice.  Actually Youngest did a maths workbook instead of MathsWhizz, as he's hit a bit of a wall with their online curriculum.  There seems to have been a jump from number recognition to addition using numerals.  If the numerals were accompanied by pictures to count, I know he could do it no problem, but the numerals alone are a bit abstract for him right now.  So I went out and found this book that seems to be about the right level for him - and he loved going through several pages (more than I expected) this morning, so hooray for flexibility and mixing up our methods!

Following that, we decided to do a bit of modelling with air-drying clay.  We looked at a google search on animal sculptures, just to get an idea of what we could do.  I find it helps the boys to see the different styles: realistic, impressionist, abstract, and just plain weird etc, so they don't put too much pressure on themselves to have to produce something entirely life-like.  In this case there was no problem - Eldest and Middle both decided to do an unrealistic shark-with-googly-eyes.  Youngest spent a lovely time playing and experimenting with the clay, and eventually made a (very skinny) manta ray.  Mummy made a polar bear, and I can tell you, getting the head even close to 'right' was not easy!  It helped that we used some of the boys' toy animals to help us observe the shapes etc more closely, but I'm still not satisfied - need to learn a lesson from my kids I guess!

Youngest's manta ray

Middle's shark

Eldest's shark

Mummy's bear

Middle also had a lovely time making a sort of adventure game in pictorial form with our lodger, known to us as Bo.  I have to confess I didn't entirely follow the details of the game - Bo probably had a bit better idea (it helps that when it comes to minds working on a surreal level of imagination, they are pretty well matched!), but I do know that he absolutely loved having her spend time with him, focused just on his game.  I just love how he thrives in the glow of one-to-one attention.   This is his game (the picture developed as the game - some sort of battle - developed)...

I realised that the garden birds had got through all the bird seed again (they're emptying the feeder every couple of days at the moment!) so I refilled all the feeders, then Eldest and I had an impromptu sort of bird count in the front room.  He wrote down all the birds that he thought we were likely to spot (buzzard was maybe a bit optimistic, but otherwise he was pretty spot on), and we spent a lovely half hour or so just watching them all visit.  It was impossible to count accurately as the blue tits, coal tits and great tits were so fast and flighty, so we just wrote down the minimum that we agreed we had definitely counted at any point. We enjoyed it, anyway...

Other than that, thanks to the notes I scribble down in my diary throughout the day, I can add that we also did the following today: read Bible stories (all), played Alphablocks and Nat Geo Kids on my ipad (Youngest), played minecraft (all three boys), read the National Geographic comic that arrived today (Middle and Eldest), played on Gridclub (Youngest & Middle), learned about komodo dragons and giant fruit bats on Deadly 60 (Eldest & Middle), drew a badger (Eldest)... and probably other things besides that I wasn't aware of!  Finally, just before I went to make tea, I was back on the computer with Youngest.  While he was on Gridclub earlier, he had found an advert for Mathseeds (the maths curriculum from the makers of Reading Eggs).  He really wanted to have a go, so I registered him for his free trial, and late in the afternoon he sat down to it.  He did the assessment, which was straightforward enough, and then did some exercises (games, as far as Youngest is concerned).  The first couple were a bit repetitive, but then he got to some addition (using different visual representations of each sum), and picked it up nicely.  I was really happy that he had asked for Math seeds! I don't know if we'll continue with it, but we'll certainly give the trial a good go!  It's age 3 - 6, so wouldn't be any good for the other boys, but Youngest loved it - he whizzed through an entire level, and I had to ask him to leave the next level for another day so I could make tea (the PC was occupied so he was using my laptop - NOT something I can let him do unsupervised).  I call that a success!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Nursery Naughtiness?

OK I know I'm tired - and probably a bit hormonal, but even making due allowances for both, I read something on the internet today that struck me as really sad - and I need to get it off my chest.

It was a three-year old's account of life in her nursery: "If you're a good girl you live on the sun or a rainbow. But if you're a naughty girl you end up on the rain cloud and if you're really naughty... you end up on the thunder cloud".  Apparently she hid after play time, and consequently ended up on the rain cloud.

This three-year old - at an age when most are barely out of nappies - is already learning that life is about performance.  She is already learning that people love to judge - in fact that throughout her whole life she can expect to be judged.  Is this the kind of lesson that we want our preschoolers to be learning?

I used to think that incentives for good behaviour were the way to go.  After all we want to teach our children the difference between right and wrong; we want them to learn how to differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' behaviour, don't we?  The problem I have here is that I fundamentally disagree with labelling a child as good or bad.  By all means explain that certain behaviour is unkind, or hurtful, or unhelpful - or even unacceptable. BUT DO NOT LABEL THE CHILD.  Presumably in the example above, the child's photo or name was attached to a visual representation of a rain cloud.  Possibly the nursery leaders had spent hours slaving over the display, making it as colourful and inspiring as possible.  Unfortunately, however good their intentions, the little girl went home with just one message: she was 'naughty'. 

What had she done?  Simply hidden after playtime.  Maybe she was scared, maybe she was not ready to stop having fun, maybe she was pushing the boundaries a little. Whatever the reason, I do not think it is acceptable to label a child.  It is the adult's responsibility to show the child that they are not their behaviour.  Granted, the way we behave is generally a reflection of what we are feeling on the inside - and a whole lot of negative behaviour is a pretty reliable indicator of a whole heap of negative feelings on the inside.. but I'm talking about a three-year-old being labelled as naughty, because she hid.  Her words of "ending up" on a raincloud have such a depressing ring of finality about them. Maybe she redeemed herself with exemplary behaviour for the rest of the day (although she still went home remembering the shame of being put on the raincloud).  Maybe she did what Middle (and so many others) tended to do, and wrote herself off as bad because of one negative label, continuing to behave badly for the rest of the day.  Either way, I can not see how this was a positive experience.

So how about if the nursery had just put a sun and rainbow up (conveniently ignoring the fact that we all have periods of stormy behaviour)?  Well for my part, I do not see that that would be any better.  I have seen similar systems in use, and the children who were regularly in the top spot were mostly there because of their compliant personalities more than any motivation offered by the incentive system.  The others very often gave up hope of getting to the 'rainbow slot' - they still wrote themselves off and were uncomfortably aware that so had their top-of-the-class peers.  I think it was also damaging even to those at the top. For example, I was the sort of child who needed to be at the top - the sun and rainbow would have not only appealed, but become a rod for my own back.  In school - at least in primary school - I was at the top of the class and lived in fear of misbehaving or losing my 'good girl' status.  That may have made me a cooperative child to have in a class, but did it do me any good?  I doubt it.  Did it teach me compassion for my fellow classmates or did it teach me to judge everyone by the standards that I found so rigid and uncaring?

Is what I'm saying so very radical?  I do know that teachers need some sort of 'class control' system - but does it have to be a system that labels?  Do we have to have public displays showing everyone how we have behaved today?  If a child does well must we proclaim it to everyone, teaching them an early lesson in pride?  If a child is having a bad day do we really have to display it on a wall for all to see, or can we - surely, somehow - show compassion to each child, letting them know individually that what they did was not helpful but that it did not change their value as a person, and by the way, are they OK???

Which brings us to the crux of it I suppose:  teachers, nursery staff, classroom assistants - they don't have time to deal with every troubled child; they have too many plans, assessments, targets to tend to.  And that makes me grateful for home education: for the chance to spot when my child is struggling, and sit down and have a chat or leave them to have a bit of space if needed - but it makes me sad for the children in nurseries and schools being put under more and more pressure to perform academically, socially, and behaviourally.  The good news is that there are some wonderful teachers etc out there who are making a real difference, who do get to know their children, who do have kinder systems in place for teaching acceptable class behaviour... I would love to know how they do it - truly.  But for our little three-year-old at the start of this post, I just hope that somebody made the time to ask her why she hid - to check that she was OK.  And I hope that tomorrow she can have a good day - a day of sunshine and rainbows... but that even if a raincloud does crop up in her day, she will be told by the adults around her that no matter what, she is wonderful.

Butterscotch Cake

We were supposed to be going out today, but Youngest is fighting off some nasty germs, so I decided to keep him indoors (taking him out in the cold just sets off more coughing).  We were obviously all disappointed, so turned to one of our favourite comfort activities... baking!  Not just any old baking either - one of our family favourites: Butterscotch cake.  I've been making this since I was a child, it's such an easy recipe.  Sadly the original recipe has been copied and recopied so many times that I have no idea where it originated - if I find out, I'll  add the accreditation here.
Meanwhile here's the recipe...

4 oz butter                                           
6 oz dark muscovado sugar                  
1 large egg                                           
8 oz plain flour                                     
1 tbsp baking powder                          
5 fl oz milk

1 oz butter
4 oz dark muscovado sugar
3 tbsp milk
pinch salt (optional)
3 oz icing sugar

1/ Heat oven to GM4/ 180C
2/ Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in egg
3/ Add flour & baking powder with milk, beating well
4/ Put mixture into tin and bake for approx 45 mins, or until knife inserted into centre comes out clean
5/  Leave to cool

For the icing...
1/ Put all ingredients except icing sugar in pan and bring to boil, stirring
2/ Boil for 5 mins on low heat without stirring, & cool to warm
3/ Gradually beat in sifted icing sugar
4/ Cover top and sides of cake with icing.

I couldn't post a recipe without a photo, but am doing so with embarrassment because I was distracted during the final stages and neglected to sift the icing sugar... rookie mistake!  It's still the most scrumptious icing I've ever tasted, but anyway here is the picture: part mouthwatering temptation (especially to those who have tasted it before); part lesson in what it looks like if you don't sift the icing sugar! *blushes*

Monday, 16 September 2013

Manic Monday

It is well known that Mondays are Pyjama Days round here: usually lovely days full of snuggles and creative stuff that we all enjoy.  Today was still a pyjama day, but not quite so snuggly, sadly.  The boys all seemed to be in spiky mode, with squabbles breaking out fairly regularly.  Middle and Youngest seem to be fighting off colds, so that probably explains it.  They're not really ill though, so it can be hard to remember to be patient when the bickering breaks out yet again...

It also didn't help that the house turned into something resembling a disaster zone over the weekend - so instead of being able to enjoy snuggling with my boys, I had to do a manic amount of housework today. Usually the boys help me as part of their 'life-skills education', but it had mounted up to a hideous amount that I just needed to get on and grapple with.  And of course, today's baking and art only made the mess worse.  Still, the boys did their jobs as usual (laundry & dishwasher), leaving me to catch up on some of the tidying, in between helping them to have fun learning, plus making meals, putting groceries away, refereeing squabbles etc - it just didn't make for the most enjoyable of days.

That's not to say we didn't have any fun though - we still did, in between all the manic-ness.  Happily I had foreseen that today would be, let's say, full (!), so I added a couple of bits (puff pastry and grated cheese) to our weekly grocery order, and we did the easiest 'bake' ever: Cheat's Cheese Straws

I had some rare one-to-one time with Eldest too, while we both had a go at the art project he wanted to try, using watercolour paint and salt.  That was lovely!  

 Eldest's Lizard

Mummy's Badger

Later Youngest and Middle dd their own arty things (the difficulties of using white pastel on white card did not appeal to them). Middle got out a large A2 sheet of paper, and when his back was turned Youngest adopted it as his own, had a play with the watercolour wash + salt technique, and then got involved just experimenting with colours etc - he had a lovely time!

"Mario-land" by Youngest

Middle wasn't impressed by the theft of his paper, but we soon got another piece, and he was full of enthusiastic plans as he gathered all of his other bits together.  A couple of times he got distracted and wandered off, but he kept coming back to it until he was finished - I love the way that is possible in home ed! Anyway, his final piece of art turned out not to involve the A2 sheet at all (that got turned into a jumbo aeroplane instead), but it was very cute...

"Lizard with 3D Eyes" by Middle

Meanwhile Eldest went off to flick through one my our recipe books (our planner is now covered with recipe book page references on post-its) and decided he wanted to make a marble cake right away.   I was busy with the younger ones so he got to make it entirely by himself.  I checked on him a couple of times to make sure he was happy by himself - which he was.  We didn't have the right size tin, so I suggested he make a marble sandwich cake... and a bit later he mixed the vanilla and chocolate mixtures together a bit too enthusiastically, so we decided to just have a chocolate sandwich instead!  He decided to make a vanilla buttercream to sandwich it together... and I have to say, it turned out really nicely!  However my own Mum will sympathise with the state of the kitchen by the time he finished: I loved baking in my youth, but it was well known that I couldn't do it without getting every surface in the kitchen messy... and Eldest has certainly inherited my genes in that respect!  I'll just have to deploy the same rule as when I was his age: Mum stays out of the kitchen until it's all finished and tidied up again!

So even though it wasn't the most peaceful or happy of days, it was still a good day, really.  It reminds me of the saying, "a bad day home educating is still better than a bad day at school".  On a bad school day the boys could have come home upset, exhausted, discouraged, hopeless... whereas despite today's challenges, they are all still happy, relaxed and positive (Mummy is pretty tired, but still).  I do prefer to focus on all the good in our days, although it wouldn't be fair if I didn't share the rough bits with you as well - but ultimately for us, although home education may not be easy - it is still awesome.

Salt Paintings

Eldest decided he wanted to try the paint effect that he'd seen (in this book) that involved sprinkling salt onto wet watercolour paint, so we sat down together to have a try.  He's become quite experienced with using oil pastels as a resist technique, so first he drew his outline with a few wiggly background lines, in white oil pastel on watercolour paper.  This was NOT easy, but tilted a certain way , you could just about see the outline...

Then he added broad patches of colour inside the lines...

He was going to put all of the paint on before adding salt, but the paint was drying too quickly, so he had to paint then sprinkle salt over, then paint the next bit, etc...

It wasn't easy - Middle and Youngest did their own thing (see Manic Monday) as the white pastel on white paper bit was just too awkward.  The finished result looks really effective though...

 "Lizard" by Eldest

"Badger" by Mummy 

Cheat's Cheese Straws

The house suffered this weekend, and I knew I was going to be doing a LOT of catching up with housework, but I also knew the boys would be keen to bake.  I remembered this "recipe" (if you can call it that) that we invented at Christmas, and it appealed to my need for something ultra quick and easy - so I ordered the two ingredients with our weekly grocery shop last night, and it arrived this morning in plenty of time to bake for lunch - hooray!  I love it when a plan comes together.

1 pack pre-made puff pastry
1 bag grated cheese
1/ Preheat oven to 180C
2/ Roll puff pastry into a rectangle (or buy ready-rolled like we did... well they are Cheat's Cheese Straws!)
3/ Sprinkle layer of grated cheese over half the rectangle.  Fold other half over on top...

4/ Roll out again into rectangle
5/ Repeat a few times
6/ Cut into thin strips or use pastry cutters to make shapes (the smaller shapes work better)

7/ Top with extra cheese if liked
8/ Bake for 10-15mins, or until pastry is golden browned

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Gummy Bears and Hedgehogs

It's been a busy week, but one of those 'busy weeks' where you look back and can't really remember what you did to be so busy.  Anyway, I realised that I didn't write down the results of the gummy bear experiment from Rainy Day = Busy Day, so here goes.  We left the gummy bears in their various solutions for 24 hours, and then wrote down what had happened to each - their new size, and any other changes (in each photo the bear on the left is for comparison; the colour referred to in the table at the end is the colour of the test-tube lid and dish, not necessarily the bear)...

Tuesday (when we wrote down the results) was a very full day: craft club in the morning and science club in the afternoon.  Unfortunately that meant we didn't have time to investigate a little further, or suggest ideas for why we thought the different solutions had the noted effects, but it was still fun as far as we went.  We may repeat it another time when the second day is freer for extrapolations.

Wednesday was a very slow day.  The boys took a long time to do their Reading Eggs (I think they got carried away playing the games in extras) and then they all needed my input with their lapbooks, so I think there was a lot of waiting around and distracting themselves while they waited.  I had said we could go to 360 Play - a local soft play centre - in the afternoon (as requested on one of their post-its on the planner), but then we had to wait in all afternoon instead for a plumber who frustratingly didn't come in the end.  Still, I made sure we did 360 Play this afternoon - we were there for about four hours, and they all had a great time... and I even got to read some of my book!  Mums of toddlers, it may seem impossible right now, but there really will come a day when you can read a book while your kids play happily!!

In other news, regular readers may remember that last year we rescued some juvenile hedgehogs, and successfully rehabilitated them.  We have continued leaving food out for them all year, and caught a glimpse of them every now and again... and then the other night had the joy of spotting a new visiting juvenile (who has since been named 'Prickles').  I'd like to think Prickles is one of Squidge's offspring.  Anyway, we have been watching a wildlife programme that told how hedgehogs are predicted to become extinct by 2025 if we don't help, and this has inspired us to write a note to the neighbours, asking them to join a nationwide project called "Hedgehog Street".  Eldest drew a lovely hedgehog picture to go with the note, and made sure I included the six main points of having a hedgehog-friendly garden, as below...

"1/  Please avoid using slug pellets in your garden.  They cause slow painful deaths to hedgehogs.  Copper tape is a good alternative, if the hedgehogs don’t eat the slugs first!
2/  Please do not put bread and milk out for hedgehogs.  But please do leave food out for them.  The best food is cat/ dog food (not fish-based or the sort in gravy) – or dry cat/ dog biscuits.  A bowl of water is also helpful, until hibernation season (starting in December/ January).
3/ If you have a garden pond, make sure it has a sloping side or pile of stones at the edge to help a hedgehog climb out, should it fall in.
4/  Hedgehogs travel up to as much as a mile per night and prefer to avoid roads (for obvious reasons)  Please consider making a gap at the bottom of the fence between your garden and your neighbours’ (about 15cm sq) to help them travel in safety.
5/  Please check bonfires for inhabitants by gently raking it over immediately before setting alight.  Similarly, please check all ground-level areas before mowing/ strimming.
6/  If you see a hedgehog out during the day, it is in troublePlease pick it up (with garden gloves recommended) and put in a box with secure but ventilated lid – and take to your local hedgehog carer, or call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for further advice." 

Hopefully the boys and I can go and deliver the notes tomorrow... Eldest's ambition is currently to be a conservationist - so why not start now?!  I'm so grateful for the opportunities that home education gives us to pursue dreams and ambitions as soon as the interest arises, and for as long as it lasts - whether for a few weeks, or to adulthood and a career.  Either way, the children are learning while we get to help some of the cutest creatures we have come across living wild in this country... love it!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Hedgehog Rolls

Middle has been asking to make bread for a week now, so I made sure we got some bread flour in our grocery shop today.  The only problem with making bread with the boys is that bread takes some heavy kneading, and they're not all up to it - so we take it in turns to do the first large piece, and then after the first proving when we split the dough, they knead theirs and then I like to swap with them so I can have a go as well at each of their pieces of dough, to be sure that each piece has been thoroughly kneaded - which isn't really a problem as long as I don't mind a good arm work-out!

400g strong white bread flour
2tsp olive oil
1.5 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1.25 tsp dried yeast
250ml warm milk (or water for dairy-free)

1/ Mix flour and oil in large bowl.
2/ Add sugar, salt and yeast.  Mix well.
3/ Add half milk - mix.  Add other half, mix again.

4/ Turn out onto floured surface.
5/ Knead and stretch for 5-10 minutes, depending on strength of person doing the kneading.

6/ Cover and leave in warm place (we use airing cupboard) to prove for about an hour...

7/ Knead again for another 5 - 10 minutes (if sharing dough between young bakers, knead for 5 minutes then share out and let them knead some more)
8/ Divide dough into 8 equal pieces (or you can get 9 rolls out of it if you are sharing between three bakers)
9/ Shape into round balls of dough
10/ Pull one part of dough-ball out, to make hedgehog snout
11/ Use pointy end of spoon/ utensil to make small holes either side of snout, for eyes (can use raisins if liked)

12/ Using clean kitchen scissors, make v-shaped snips into dough, to make hedgehog's spikes

13/ Place onto lightly oiled tray, cover and leave again in warm place for second proving - for about half an hour...
14/ Preheat oven to 190C
15/ Bake rolls for 10mins, or until lightly golden-brown and you can knock on the base of the roll and it sounds hollow

Try not to eat until cool (this is the hard bit!)

You will notice there are only seven here... one of them was snaffled before I remembered to take a photo!