Friday, 25 October 2013

Social Skills

Anyone who has been home educating or even just considering it for any length of time will know that one of the big "concerns" over home education is the 'socialisation' issue, ie "How will your child socialise?".
I have explored this issue fairly regularly in my blogs over the past year or so, and have come to the conclusion that although it is true that there are more opportunities to socialise or hang out with friends in school (despite education spokespeople saying that this is not a school's purpose), it can work against a child as well.  In the ideal scenario a child goes to school and makes friends.  Great.  It has worked for some I know, and it's lovely to see.  But some children are bullied, some are not naturally gregarious and struggle to bond with others, some are subject to negative peer pressure etc, and they lose their identity or become withdrawn.  When a child hits relationship issues (what parent hasn't heard "so-and-so isn't my friend any more"?) the theory is that they learn resilience... but the fact is that many children don't, they just suffer.  I know: I was one of those children.  You could say that I went through it and I turned out all right - but bear in mind that I am over forty now.  It took me the last twenty years of my life to undo many of the damaging lessons I 'learned' about myself and how to deal with people while at school. (I wrote about it in "My Learning Story" for those who are interested).  So social opportunities?  Yes, for children like Eldest, for whom life is just one big social opportunity - but definitely not for those like Middle who although willing to be friendly to everyone, finds relationships a more complicated obstacle course to navigate.

Then again, when some people bring up the 'social' issue, they seem to assume that this means a child is "socialised" in school.  The Oxford dictionary defines socialization as "the process by which somebody, especially a child, learns to behave in a way that is acceptable in their society".  This is where I lose sympathy for the "socialising" argument.  Do children learn social skills at school or at home?  To my mind it is obvious: at home!  Who teaches children to say "please" and "thank you"?  We (the parents) do.  Who teaches them to share, or apologise for causing pain?  We do... all of these ideals are being taught from toddlerhood onwards.  Who teaches them to wait in a queue (this is a British blog after all)?  We do - as we queue in shops with our precious ones in buggies, way before we need to start thinking about registering for school.

Social skills are learned at home.  School is one big opportunity to put those skills into practice, and refine them - but not exclusively so.  In our house this month we have been having a big "social skill" opportunity.  Not because I sat down with my planner and decided that it was time for some PSHE lessons or Citizenship classes - no, it was because for some unknown reason the boys have become increasingly snarky with each other lately.  There has been an increase in fighting, name-calling, tale-telling, teasing etc.  We're a family.  It happens.  Maybe it's hormones, maybe a growth spurt or two, maybe they're picking up on parental stress - who knows?  Most likely a combination of the above, plus the weather... but more important to me is that I do know this: it's an opportunity to help them learn how to deal with difficult social situations.  
So we have been chatting a lot about the importance of forgiveness; we've been discussing the best way to resolve disagreements; we've been talking about the power of words.  Not as an abstract theory, but as and when each issue arises.  I've been letting them argue and try out their own methods, and I have stepped in with guidance when I felt the situations warranted it.  If one of them has lied to me I have stopped whatever we were doing and lovingly challenged them, because teaching them honesty is more important to me than most other learning opportunities.  As home educators we are now used to taking the time to address whatever is needed and important at the time - and lately that has been less about academic subjects and more about practical life-skills.

So there we go: another blog post on "the socialising issue", because it still seems to be the main stumbling block that people come up against when telling their loved ones (and random strangers who feel bizarrely entitled to interrogate them) about home educating their family.  The primary source of training in social skills is - and always will be - home.  But if you want to know how I ensure my kids get plenty of chances to practice those social skills, not to mention just having fun with their mates?  Well - we attend a few clubs a week, some small, some large, some where they have freedom to mooch, play, and run about, some where they need to listen and follow instructions.  We visit friends and have friends visit us - widely ranging in age and outlook on life - and the boys interact with all of them, with increasing confidence.  And of course, even home on our own there is nothing like sibling rivalry to provoke some really good opportunities for honing those social skills!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Perfectly Imperfect

Today was one of those days, familiar to many home educators, where I had to make a choice between 'educating' and housework.  One of my biggest HE frustrations is that there just isn't time to do it all.  My head tells me it should (gah - that swear word again) - that it "should" be possible to give the boys my full attention with whatever they are doing, and also keep on top of all the housework: laundry, dishes, cooking, diary-managing, clearing up mess from whatever mess-making activity we have been engrossed in, planning more activities, getting outside, resource-finding, having friends visit, keeping track of what the boys have been doing at least partially etc - not to mention training the boys to do all of the above.  Sadly my head persists in being deceived.  It isn't possible - at least not to me, other than the freakishly rare days when we do manage to hold it all together - I know not how. Well, I do know those days start with a tidy house amongst other factors.  Unlike today.

Anyway, fortunately for me (I think), after the boys had finished with Reading Eggs (and Eldest with his workbook), they because wholly engrossed in a series of history-based games on Grid Club, including 'Stone age survival', 'Suffragette City', 'Roman Retreat', 'Brunel's Britain' - which enabled me to sort out some of the mess at least while they played (and learned).  Following that Middle wanted to come and read to me from his Angry Birds book... and I know my priorities, so I ignored the rest of the housework and sat down for some time together with Middle.  Eldest did some more drawing (he's been drawing Angry Birds Star Wars figures all weekend) and Youngest mooched about trying to think of something to do.  Eventually he and I made some "Chocolate Crunch" traybake together... baking always goes down well!

We ate some with our lunch while watchng Deadly 360, and then after lunch the boys realised we hadn't done any art yet, so we had a go at a little project that I hadn't been able to resist from the Yellow Moon catalogue.  The trees behind our house are finally starting to shed their leaves now, and as we live on the edge of woodland, the leaves are everywhere!  This inspired us to do the autumn leaf activity kit, weaving ribbons through foam templates to make coasters.  It was more fiddly than we thought, but we were impressed that the coasters provided came in each of our favourite colours, so there was no fighting over who got to do each one.  Youngest needed help, but the others managed fine on their own, and the finished coasters are very pretty.  I'm not sure how long they'll last, but it was a nice little project anyway.

(red - Mummy; orange - Eldest; green - Middle; yellow - Youngest)

Of course by this time there was lots of baking things to clean away, and ribbon cut-offs scattered about... sigh: back to housework and time to get tea ready... after an interlude of mopping up Eldest's split lip (he had been headbutted by on over-excited youngest brother).  Once the blood was all wiped away and boys calmed down, the TV went on (I don't care who disapproves - I needed the boys to be settled while I got on with tidying safe in the knowledge that they weren't making a mess in a different part of the house) and I got back to work in the kitchen.

Perfect days like the ones in my imagination (where the children have behaved beautifully all day and made noticeable strides in their learning, and the house is immaculate at the end of it, and Mummy has serenely glided through the day's activities) are few and far between, if they exist at all... but there are still many joys to be found in the imperfect days. Days like today where the day starts stressed because of a backlog of work, and learning opportunities inevitably create mess, and the boys' enthusiasm gets out of control enough that someone gets hurt, and we don't get half as much done as we wanted to... days like this are still OK. Because we're home, safe and sound (cut lip notwithstanding - at least I was on hand to give comfort and tend to it immediately).  The boys are still learning - what they want, when they want (their exploits on Grid Club led to a fascinating discussion on the Suffragettes and why the police were chasing them)  And the mess that was made was a by-product of fun and creativity.  No mess = no cakes or art.  And at least I have a house that is dry and warm and has a working oven and well-stocked food cupboards, and money to buy inspiring craft supplies. And it is a bit irritating having to rake up mountains of leaves from the back garden, but if they weren't there that would mean no woods, and no deer to watch when the trees are bare.  It would take a lot for me to willingly give that up.  And no, I have not glided serenely through the day (the point at which I turned the tap on too fast and caused a huge splash-back that covered the entire window and sill was particularly lacking in serenity), but we have had fun amidst the chaos, and fun counts for a lot!  No, today was not perfect, but it was good.  And I'm happy with that.

Chocolate Crunch

Way back in the day before the PC-mongerers got their hands on school tuck shops and healthified them, one of the highlights of my secondary school was the occasional appearance at the tuck shop of  "Chocolate Crunch".  As we poured out of another boring lesson in a miserable classroom on a freezing winter day, the aroma of this yummy chocolate traybake, still warm from the oven, was enough to lift the spirits of a gaggle of not-easily-impressed teenage girls.
And so in my last days at sixth form I pled with the long-suffering dinner ladies to share with me the recipe of this divine food - and they took pity on me and shared it (scaled down because I really don't need to make the quantities that they made for an entire secondary school)!  Over twenty years later I am going to share it with you - because quite simply it is almost insultingly easy to make - one of our most regular bakes if we have someone coming over or just fancy a snack and have nothing handy.
My boys call them Brownies, although they are actually nowhere near as rich as brownies.  I call them Chocolate Crunch as that is what the dinner ladies called them all those years ago, although they are not very crunchy.  Whatever you call them, they're just easy - and yummy.  Enjoy!

270g butter/ margarine
225g granulated sugar
30g cocoa powder
370g self raising flour
1 small egg
few drops of vanilla essence

1/ Grease and line a tray-bake tin (mine is 18 x 28 cm)
2/ Heat oven to 180C
3/ Heat butter with vanilla essence until just melted (do not boil)

4/ In small glass, beat egg

5/ In separate bowl. mix flour, sugar and cocoa

6/  Add melted fat to flour mixture and stir
7/ Add beaten egg and stir until fully mixed in

8/ Press mixture into prepared tin
9/ Bake for 15-20 minutes.
10/  Cool in tin, and cut into bars before turning out

The aroma may not transport you, as it does me, back to frizzy eighties hairdos and pink & white striped uniforms (yes, really), but you've got to admit, they smell and taste g-o-o-d!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Fungus, Lego, and Other Fun

Another slightly manic week, though not as crazy as last week, thankfully!  This week saw me back at the hospital with my sister and niece, plus joining in with our usual HE groups, plus having relatives visit us here, laden with lovely presses for the birthday 'boys' Youngest and Daddy... and even some gifts for me and the older two boys - hooray!  One of the family gifts was the game "Creationary" where players have to build items out of lego and other players have to try to guess what it is.  We had a go today - the only problem was that the boys weren't keen on dismantling each model as soon as it was guessed, so I had to take photos in order for them to consent to breaking them into pieces to be reused...

Youngest's bed

Middle's canoe

Eldest's binoculars 

Youngest's bus

Middle's cannon

Eldest's circus

Although it's quite a slow-paced game, the boys were all greatly inspired, and continued building long after the game was finished!

In fact today we have enjoyed staying home, other than a quick trip to the barbers first thing this morning to tidy up some haircuts that the older boys had decided to give themselves! (Eldest hadn't done a bad job on his fringe although the barber did tell him it made him look like a lego man, which I don't think was supposed to be a compliment!)  Youngest and Middle finished their lapbooks today - Eldest's is still a work in progress which is fair as he puts a lot more effort into his lapbooks.  We also read some books, played Sum Swamp, made some Christmas cards (!), played more games and watched some Muzzy DVDs that I have borrowed from a friend (the younger boys have been asking to learn French, but I had no intention of doing the current "free" trial as I have no doubt it will involve me having to sign up for an expensive package and then cancel it before they automatically take my money).  Anyway, the boys seemed to really like the DVDs - I was impressed by how long it held their interest, given that there is not a single word of English spoken throughout... we only turned it off because the disk needed cleaning.  Anyway, we'll see if their interest in French lasts!  I hope so, as languages is one of my better subjects!

So all in all, it's been a lovely indoors-y day, contrasted with Weds when I was visiting hospital in the morning, we all ate out with relatives in the afternoon and I was out at a church meeting again in the evening... and then yesterday when we had to go shopping in the morning, had a nature group trip out in the afternoon (a lovely, if damp fungus hunt), followed by delivering a parcel before bedtime.  We particularly enjoyed getting out in the woods yesterday, despite the rain - there were plenty of different fungi to spot, and there's just something about the woods that always makes me feel recharged!

Outdoors, indoors - we've had more fun times.  Admittedly my head doesn't seem to know whether it's coming or going, but I'm do glad we have the planner to fall back on - it's been invaluable in helping me to keep some kind of focus - and the planned activities have combined with the unplanned surprises to give us another lovely week!