Monday, 17 March 2014

Playing catch-up

There's an enormous pile of 'stuff' on my kitchen table.  Every time I go into the kitchen I have to walk past it, and it taunts me, reminding me of its presence and my failure to deal with it thus far.  It's a big fat meanie!

You know, blogging can be a bit like housework: if you don't keep on top of it, the backlog can quickly mount up and feel overwhelming!  So I'm not going to worry about all the stuff I haven't told you about lately, I'm just going to do the little I can right now - like this morning when I ignored the intimidation of the kitchen table pile and did what I could at the time to remove some of the bits - eventually I'll catch up!

So lately we've settled back into the routine that we started way back at the beginning of our HE adventure.  The boys do some Maths (mathswhizz) or English (Reading Eggs for Youngest and workbooks for the older two) each morning.  The rest of the day is mostly child-led.  Currently this means a LOT of drawing and game making, reading a huge variety of books - fiction and factual, plus playing on mine-craft/ grid club/ bad piggies (all really good for stretching their brains as long as they don't stay on the computers for so long that they disengage their social skills), and the boys (Eldest in particular who usually claims the remote control) have found some really good programmes lately.  Current favourites are "All Over the Place - Australia" (great for our ongoing backround project in world geography) and "Absolute Genius" - both CBBC.  Youngest's devotion to "Octonauts" from CBeebies has remained, and all the boys also love "Brain Games" and "None of the Above" - both recorded from National Geographic.  "None of the Above" is particularly good, as a science programme that sets up great "man-on-the-street" experiments using every-day equipment then invites people to guess what the result will be.  The boys really enjoy trying to out-guess the people on the TV, and as the experiments often involve massive explosions etc, it's a no-brainer for a house full of boys!  Highly recommended!

We've also really enjoyed the appearance of the sun recently - I'm still a bit restricted as to how far I can walk, but it feels so good to get out in the fresh air again,  with the boys running about, having sword-fights with sticks, spotting birds and other wildlife.  Speaking of which, our hedgehogs finally seem to be coming out of hibernation.  Harvest wasn't doing very well (he's huge - 952g, but off his food) so I sent off a sample and discovered that I need to give him a course of injections before releasing him.  Hedgeling and Hero are doing better - they are now in cosy nesting boxes inside rabbit runs in the garden, acclimatising before I release them for good.  Hiccup is still fast asleep and refusing to wake up.  I did check that she is still alive - she's, just determinedly hibernating still!

My other animal friends - not so alive, but far better travelled - Saxton and friends have been joined by another traveller, called Mungo (he's a mountain gorilla).  Their hosts have been so enthusiastic that I was asked if the travellers could each have their own blog - so I dutifully set them up (click here for Saxton's, with links to the other blogs at the top of his page), and people have been leaving some lovely guest blog posts that have really entered into the spirit of the project... my little idea has already achieved so much more than I hoped - it's great fun!

When we're feeling overwhelmed rather than on top of things, it can be easy to feel down about everything that we're not doing.  For example, I'm aware that I've not set up many invitations to play lately, or done fun art projects etc with the boys.  Of course, having the kitchen table buried in stuff makes it hard to do some painting - but then I looked at how much drawing the boys have done lately, and realised I was beating myself up over nothing.  They are improving all the time,  just by dint of them practising the things that they wanted to draw, over and over.   So I'll leave you for now with some of their fabulous pictures - and hopefully I'll be back soon...

"C3P0", by Youngest

"Kwazii" by Middle

"Flying Koopa Trooper" by Eldest

"Luigi" by Middle

"Rock Star Goomber" by Youngest

"Cat Goomber" by Eldest

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

I'm a Parent - Encourage Me, Don't Judge Me!

You know how easy parenting is?  How once you have kids you just know know exactly the right way to bring them up, with total confidence that all you have to do is follow a well-known prescription, and your children are bound to turn out as well-balanced successful adults?  (how long did it take you to realise I was being sarcastic there?  Not long I hope ... I also hope no-one fell for it and stopped reading because they were feeling condemned!)

I seem to have seen a LOT of articles lately on the "World's Most Successful Parenting Tips", or "Top Ten Ways to Mess Up Your Kid" - you know the sort of thing.  And it is really starting to bug me.  The problem with our post-modern world is that we have deconstructed everything, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself, except that people nowadays seem to have no confidence in their own sense of what is right.  Our common sense has been eroded, because it is apparently no longer common - and so we are left, surrounded by books, TV programmes, articles etc, all telling us the "right" way to parent. And do these books, programmes and articles all agree?  Of course not! In fact, I am beginning to suspect that one of the most damaging ways to parent is to be swayed by every opinion out there, swinging from one "successful technique" to another, leaving our children with no stable foundation.  To be honest, there are many ways to parent well, from the extremely child-led (which according to some will leave your child completely spoilt and incapable of functioning in a team), to the strict disciplinarians (who apparently produce brain-washed offspring, incapable of thinking for themselves), and all manner of people in between, who - depending on who is judging -  are putting their child at risk of all manner of dysfunctional adult behaviour.  None are wrong or right - it's all down to difference of opinion.  And difference is good!

The thing is, our children are unique.  There is not now, never has been and never will be anyone else on earth like them.  There is no manual on the perfect way to raise them successfully to adulthood, because no-one has ever had an Eldest, Middle or Youngest like mine, or yours.  So we have to figure it out as we go along.  Of course, I'm not talking about the basics, like loving them, feeding them, providing an education - but the "how-to" for any of the above is wide open to interpretation.  And sure, we need to apply our not-so-common sense, but it's not a one-formula-fits-all scenario.  We're all fumbling about in the dark, sometimes feeling like our kids are the unwitting subjects of a great parenting experiment, but all the time absolutely pouring our heart and soul into trying to raise them as best we can... but if I don't know the top ten ways to produce the perfect adult given the individual material presented in each of my own children, why should I be swayed by someone who has never met them?

So you'll excuse me if I don't don't read articles titled "Ways to be the worst parent ever" - because I suspect that the very lack of confidence that causes people to read such articles and be influenced by them is one of the big factors that would contribute to confused kids.  And you know what?  Even if I read the article and discovered that I did every "wrong" thing on the list (in that authors opinion), or if I read another and followed all of the advice to the letter - it still means absolutely nothing.  What matters is that I love my kids and do my best to raise each of them to be equipped and functional adults.
At the end of the day, I refuse to allow someone else's opinion to take up residence in my brain and judge me for failing their shoulds.

PS I agree that there is need in today's society for help in parenting amongst the very broken and clueless - I am not decrying that.  I am just against the rash of opinions put out by just about every-one-and-their-dog which serve only to confuse and/ or condemn parents who just want to do their best, and who need simple encouragement more than any list of "should"s or "should not"s.  If you lack confidence in your ability to parent, by all means ask a friend or family member - even a professional child expert if that's what you feel you need - but don't be swayed by every shallow opinion out there.  Your child deserves specific individual attention, not the generalisations of someone who has never met them and who just trotted out an article to generate an income.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

... and Ranulph P Bear and Kendal Sloth!

Quick update:

Well, that was a well-received idea!

There were so many people keen to host Saxton and Hudson on their travels (see yesterday's post), that we have now sent another two intrepid explorers off on their journey around the UK.

Ranulph P (for polar) Bear, named after Ranulph Fiennes, the great modern explorer...

And Kendal Sloth, named after that essential piece of kit for explorers everywhere: Kendal mint cake...

So today we took the new explorers to visit the local park, and filled in their travel journals before sending them off on their journey.  We're looking forward to hearing what they get up to next - and where!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Introducing Saxton Rabbit and Hudson Tiger

While browsing Facebook the other day I came across a link to helpful Geography ideas for home educators. As you probably know, World Geography has been our background project this year so far, so I clicked on it with interest.  One of the suggested ideas was a 'Flat Stanley', inspired by the books of the same name.  It reminded me of a project that friends of ours in school have done, where each child in the class gets to take the class teddy home for a few days - and I thought we could combine the two together - have a small cuddly toy (not too big, to keep the postage costs down) and send him around the country, meeting new friends and keeping a journal.  Enter Saxton Rabbit...

He is named after Christopher Saxton, a 16th century English cartographer who produced the first county maps of England and Wales.  

I put out an invitation on Facebook to see which home educating families in England would like to host him on his travels, and within an hour, he already had an impressive itinerary covering eight different counties!  In fact, while we popped out to take Saxton to the park for his first journal entry, so many more people responded that we had to enlist another traveller! Enter Hudson Tiger...

 He is named after Henry Hudson, the 17th century English sea explorer and navigator.

Actually Hudson's itinerary is now full too, and people are still expressing lots of interest, so there may well be a third traveller joining Saxton and Hudson by tomorrow!

The hosts have all agreed to take their guests to a local landmark/ beauty spot, to write about it in their travel journal, and send them on to the next family with a little gift.  I really hope it works - I guess we'll have to wait and see.  Watch this space!

P.S. While sharing Saxton's exciting plans on Facebook this morning, someone else posted their own version of a similar game, "One of our Gingerbread Men is Missing!" - so having had a look, we just had to join in and send a postcard.  I love the Home Ed community... there's so much inspiration and creativity out there!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Our Top Ten Picturebooks

You know, it's weird how blogging seems to go in waves.  Sometimes I have so much to share that I can write more than one post a day - and sometimes I just lose the flow completely and find it hard to get back into it.  So apologies to anyone who missed me: my laptop had to be mended recently due to a dodgy socket, but we have been reunited now, so all is well.  I may do a 'catch-up' post of what we've been up to in the last couple of weeks, but today on Facebook a lovely friend asked for my top ten recommendations for 4-5 year olds.  As I have my very own resident five-year-old I thought it would be a doddle, but actually it proved to be really hard just to narrow the list down to only ten!  Anyway, it took me a while but I put a lot of thought into it, because I LOVE children's literature, and my lovely friend too :)  And then I thought to myself, why not share the list with you lot as well?  And as it's my blog, I might just share a few extra bonus ones too, that didn't quite make the final cut...!

My Top 10 Picturebooks for 4-5 year olds
(not written in any order other than the order I picked them up off the pile they happened to be in)

THUD (NickButterworth)
- because who doesn’t love a story where the smallest creature turns out to be the bravest - and where the much-feared mysterious beast turns out to be not scary at all...?  Plenty of ‘THUD’s for enthusiastic youngsters to join in with.  Oh, and it is almost impossible to read this aloud without doing character voices for each animal ;)

Who’s Hiding (Satoru Onishi)
- because its clean, quirky design style makes it utterly unique.  It is almost impossible to read just once, and adults will find ‘playing along’ just as challenging as their offspring.

- because quite frankly in my opinion any ‘top 10’ picturebook list without an Oliver Jeffers title is just not good enough – and this one is my personal favourite.  Simple yet emotive illustrations perfectly capture this journey with friendship at its heart – just beautiful.

HUG (Jez Alborough)
- because it takes some kind of genius to write a story that revolves around the almost exclusive use of just one word.  Non-readers probably get even more out of this story than readers, because they automatically draw more from the rich illustrations.  Definitely a favourite in our house!

Dig Dig Digging (Margaret Mayo & Alex Ayliffe)
- because it is a positive festival of all the coolest biggest vehicles that a boy could wish to gaze upon.  The illustrations are bright and simple, the rhythm and repetition instantly hook the reader.  And I particularly appreciate the end of the story where all the busy noisy vehicles go to sleep, which is a nice hint to any boys who are having the story read to them at bedtime by their tired Mum!

- because although its predecessor “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” is possibly more well-known and better loved by multiple generations, my own little ones weren’t too happy with the thought of that bear roaming about out there in the dark – and this story nicely turns the bear into a friend to be played with, all the while imparting Rosen’s famous love of language and encouraging countless flights of imagination.

The Great Pet Sale (Mick Inkpen)
- because apart from being a lovely story about a child who wants a pet, and a lift-the-flap book of the sort loved by small hands everywhere, it’s also a book about numbers that is not a simple ‘one to ten’ counting book - it can be read as a story in its own right even if the child isn’t old enough or keen enough to do the maths at the end just to check that the author got it right – but many of them will! 

The Snail and the Whale (Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler)
- because surely most everybody agrees on the perfectly genius pairing of Donaldson and Scheffler when it comes to what makes a good picturebook.  Choosing just one of their many brilliant books is difficult indeed, but this one is best loved in our house – partly because of the perfect (as always) rhymes and the typically character-filled illustrations, and also because the message of ‘big working together with small’, married with a subtle awareness of our (human) place within nature is a subject dear to our hearts and important to all.

Pants (Giles Andrae & NickSharratt)
 - because we have read it here so many times that I can almost recite the whole thing by heart; because there is something about underwear that is endlessly fascinating and amusing to all, and because the deceptively simple rhymes, bold illustrations and silly scenarios never cease to be entertaining.

Kiss Good Night, Sam (Amy Hest & Anita Jeram)
- because it’s the perfect atmospheric bed-time story for a dark, blustery night.  Parents of little ones will appreciate the use of the child-like voice in places, as well, of course, as the beautiful illustrations.  And the story ends with the perfect cue to tuck your own little one in with a kiss or two.  A real feel-good snuggle-up story.

And a dozen more books that didn't make it onto the list, but are also the most frequently requested reads in our house...

Nighty Night (Margaret Wild & Kerry Argent)

Baby Brains (Simon James)

What the Ladybird Heard (Julia Donaldson & Lydia Monks)

Captain Duck (Jez Alborough)

Stuck (Oliver Jeffers)

Bella Gets Her Skates on (Ian Whybrow & Rosie Reeve)

Goodnight Gorilla (Peggy Rathmann)

PS If you're looking for The Gruffalo, I only didn't include it because everyone on the planet has already read it, right?