Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Nothing Doing...

What a funny, lazy day today - no matter what I tried, I just couldn't get the boys going.  In fact, Youngest still hadn't eaten breakfast by 11.30!  They were all just about dressed by lunchtime, which doesn't make much difference as we're not going out today, but the house was too cold this morning for just PJs.  Once they had finally eaten breakfast I did mention Literacy Planet, and they all wandered off, but I doubt the computers have even been switched on yet!  If I was rigid in our structure I could try to force it, but what would be the point?  You can't make someone learn if they are not interested.  So this morning they have mainly been mooching about, playing with lego, playmobil etc and generally going s-l-o-w-l-y.  We've sorted through some things for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes - I thought we had missed the opportunity in the general house-moving chaos, but it turns out a local church is still filling some boxes, so we are donating some goodies that they can parcel up for us.  In the past we have done boxes for children of similar age to my own - or children of similar age and gender to my Heaven-babies who I miscarried, but this year we talked about the fact that teenage boys get the least amount of boxes as they are not so much 'fun' to buy for as children who like teddies and dolls etc - so we bought stuff for teenage boys this year, and I'm glad we still managed to join in, albeit at the last minute!

Most of the rest of the morning we spent watching wildlife in our garden - a pair of rabbits who are getting increasingly bold in their hopping about and exploring the garden, and plenty of birds who are becoming regular visitors to the feeding station we put up when we moved in.  As well as the usual blue tits, great tits, coal tits etc that we used to see in our old house, we are also now seeing goldfinches and greenfinches who never visited us in Herts... very exciting!  We've been leaving food out to see if we can tempt foxes or badgers to the garden, but although it's been eaten, we won't know for sure if that's down to a local cat or something more wild until we can set up a camera trap.  That won't be this evening, due to the forecast gale-force winds, but I'm hoping soon - there can't be THAT many unpacked boxes left to search...

welcome goldfinch

cheeky chaffinch

reliable woodpigeon

pretty bluetit

greedy starling

Happy hoppity rabbits

bold squirrel (he came right up next to our patio doors)

we watched the crows and magpies for ages, all fighting over the pile of peanuts and trying to scare each other off.  The crows were quite aggressive but I think the magpies managed to carry off the greater stash in the end

Lunchtime is already upon us, so we are going to have an indoor picnic while finally watching "The Secret Life of Four-year-olds" on catch-up (it's working now, hooray!) so I'll leave you with our pictures from Monday which we all enjoyed creating.  Can you tell the boys are hoping to get some snow soon?

"Snowman looking up", by Middle

"Snowman looking at the Moon" by Youngest

"Snowman in the Night" by Eldest

Friday, 13 November 2015

Settling Slowly

My head is definitely settling back into the Home Ed groove now.  In some ways it's a shame as the house could probably do with a bit more attention, but hey - such is life!  I can't do it all, so I will just focus on the most important stuff, and my boys come over housework anyday!

I've even started thinking about IGCSEs again - eek! Today I heard about a scheme called "Interhigh" - basically an online secondary school through which Eldest could theoretically do his GCSEs from home.  I love the idea, particularly the part which would mean it was all taken care of and I could hand over responsibility for his studies, the marking, organising the exams etc. BUT I don't think it will work for him - it looks like he would have to commit to doing at least eight subjects at once, and he would be tied in to a two year course culminating in all of the exams.  Tempting though it is, I don't feel that's right for him.  I think he is going to do better starting with one or two subjects that he really enjoys, and easing himself into exam culture through those, probably with the help of a tutor. The other main drawback of the online school is the cost - it would be just under £2,500 per year for two years!  That's a lot of money, even if we could be sure that that style of study would suit Eldest, and as I said, I'm not convinced anyway - so I'm back to (almost) square one: looking into tutors, exam centres etc.  There's still no hurry as he's not quite ready yet, but I don't want to leave it until he's ready for me to have to catch up and learn everything I need to know with an added time pressure - so I'm just trying to prepare myself with finding out what I need to do first.

Meanwhile we're back in our comfort zone of following structured-but-ultra-flexible curricula in Maths and English, and mooching through other subjects as interest arises.  This week, after our first day back of MathsWhizz and painting, we spent Weds (11th Nov) first on Literacy Planet and then reading a book together on Remembrance Day and watching various Youtube clips summarising World War 2 from a kids' perspective and enjoying some war-themed Horrible Histories songs, before the boys each drew a picture inspired by the wars...

by Youngest

by Middle

by Eldest

The boys then really wanted to watch "The Secret Life of a Four-year-old" over lunch, but we couldn't make catch-up TV work (it should be fixed later today), so they wandered off and found other entertainment.  Then on Thursday it was back to MathsWhizz, followed by some Brainpop videos (Eldest choosing an easy one on camouflage, Middle found one on 3D printing, and Youngest did patterns).  Youngest is in that tricky period where Brainpop jr is too simple for him really, but the Brainpop UK films are still a bit advanced.  He's probably going to pick and choose from both for a while.  After the Brainpop videos Eldest spent ages working on a stop-frame animation involving his lego people, while Middle started work on a script for a puppet show he wants to put on for the family at Christmas, and Youngest baked some biscuits with me.  We're still getting used to the oven, so the biscuits were a bit overdone, but lashings of icing and decorations later (courtesy of all three boys), and nobody minded...

In the afternoon we had some new friends over to play, which was really lovely - we all like having people visit; it makes the house feel more like a home once we can invite guests round.  It's just as well I'm not the house-proud sort who has to have an immaculate home before I can let people in, otherwise we would never have guests.  The best sort of people either don't notice or don't care anyway.

And today we had our local Friday morning Home Ed group to go to.  We usually keep mornings free at home for learning etc, but it's a lovely group to go to, and a great venue for the kids - plenty of space with lots of things for them to do.  Youngest was gloriously filthy by the end from rolling down the grassy (muddy!) bank in the garden... hooray for washing machines, I say!  We're all getting to know people now and not feeling so completely alien as we did at first.  We knew it would take time and things are settling slowly.  So we've made it to another weekend.  I wouldn't say we've completely found our groove yet, but we are definitely getting there - it's all progress!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Getting Back into the Swing of Things

OK so screens are definitely back to stay!  The Wii U is fully installed and in regular use; the boys' computers are wired up and running; the DVD player is connected once again to the main TV.  No Sky TV as yet, but only a few more days to go until that is due to follow.  With almost all screens fully functioning we need to reset some limits, so gaming has been restricted to an afternoon activity once again.

There is still an awful lot that needs to be unpacked and organised around here, but although it would be incredibly easy to keep focusing on the house until it is all organised to my liking, I am not comfortable being inattentive to the boys' education any longer.  They have started to show signs of restlessness and needing more input from me, so I informed them that today we would be resuming Mathswhizz and other "learning stuff".

Middle sat and did his maths with me while Eldest got on with his on his own as usual. Youngest also did his alone in the Den - I'm not convinced he achieved/ understood much, as I had a look at his exercises later and he had taken a long time to get only low scores.  It doesn't matter - he is young and according to them he is still ahead of where they would expect for his age, and today I felt it was more important to help Middle get refocused into Maths zone.  It was a good strategy - he was able to focus and regain his confidence where left to himself I think he would have really struggled to do anything.  Next time I will spend more time with Youngest and we'll see how we get on.

After Maths I asked Eldest if he'd like to choose an Art project for everyone from my Pinterest board. He chose this one, using shades of colour to paint a wintry tree scene.  In retrospect I think I may have been better off choosing one myself, as this one proved to be more technical than it looks, which resulted in me needing to suggest they re-did some parts where they had misunderstood the technique (such suggestions are not always well received!).  For their first day 'back' it would probably have been better if they had been free to express themselves with no sense of getting it right or wrong, but just enjoying themselves. As it was we would have got better results if we had left it to dry between each layer, but there's no way any of us had the patience for that today!  It was a nice little project though, and the end results are sweet...

by Eldest

by Middle

by Youngest

by Mummy

After Art, and while I was getting lunch, Daddy found a slowworm outside on our drive, so we all rushed out to have a good look.  The boys gave it a very gentle stroke each, and then I relocated it to some leaf litter where it could hide safely (rather than under our car where it had been headed).

It looks like this is going to be a good home for continuing to enjoy wildlife, not least because we had a little hedgehog visitor on Saturday evening who needed rescuing. At 350g he was too small to survive the winter and he also just looked a bit poorly (after a while of looking after them you get to recognise a poorly looking hog).  I was a bit concerned as I'm not geared up to receive prickly patients yet - no vet or meds, and most of the necessary gear still packed somewhere, but happily I know a friend nearby who also rehabilitates wild hedgehogs, so I took little hoglet (named "Teazel" by Middle) in to keep him safe for the night and arranged to take him to my friend the following day. She has already started giving Teazel treatment for various found parasites, so I'm glad we took him in.  Hopefully once he's finished his meds we can have him back to fatten up for hibernation - we'll see.  It's a bit sooner than I was expecting to get involved with hogs again, but we couldn't ignore him in his hour of need!

Anyway, with slow worm successfully relocated, we decided to revisit our old tradition of having a "learning lunch", aka picnic lunch on the lounge floor while watching an educational TV programme.  Today's viewing of choice was "The Hunt" on iplayer.  Middle deliberately closed his eyes and ears briefly while the baby humpback whale fell prey to the Orcas, but other than that it proved to be completely gripping.

So that was it, our first day making an attempt to resume a degree of routine.  All things considered, it went quite well, but given that I still have half a house to sort out, plus Christmas things to start planning, plus GCSEs to start considering again, I don't think we will really settle for a good while yet.  Happily we are very familiar with the need for flexilbility, and that is the beauty of Home Education, that it works best when it fits around the family's needs, rather than us trying to fit around a rigid routine.  It's a bit of a crazy ride, but we love it still!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Home Ed on the Move - Part 2

Well, we've done it!  We 'upped and moved' to our new home in Worcestershire a week ago, and it all still feels very strange.

During the build up to the move the boys were doing some structured HE work - mostly stuff that took little preparation or strenuous involvement from me, as I was focused largely on decluttering, sorting, packing, finding a house and getting here!  They kept up with MathsWhizz and Literacy Planet, and did some painting, listened to stories from history, drew pictures inspired by music, watched programmes on science and inventions etc - I may not have kept immacuate records of what they were doing, but I was encouraged by their activities, especially given the upheaval all around.

Now that we have arrived, it is - unsurprisingly - taking a while to settle.  We are still waiting for our internet service to be installed (I am currently piggybacking off my phone signal, but my mobile is old and the battery runs out quickly, so that is not viable for prolonged use by multiple people).  No internet means no Mathswhizz, Literacy Planet, Brainpop etc - not to forget the boys' beloved Minecraft, so I am feeling a little frustrated in my desire to settle back into a routine.  However, I am enjoying the different blessings of this season.  We have no satellite TV, resulting in the boys hardly watching anything (CBeebies and the other few freeview channels don't really cut it with them any more), and the Wii has not been installed yet, so they are effectively limited to playing on their 2DSs or finding alternative entertainment.  And at the moment, with no structured Home Ed in place, they have a lot of time to fill. You know, they are doing so well!  At the time of typing it is currently 2.30pm and I have not had to referee any fights yet ALL DAY!  They have mostly been playing together in Middle's bedroom wth his lego - they tried to explain their invented game to me over lunch, but I'm not sure I grasped the intrciacies of the set-up.  They were all enjoying it though, and have happily gone back to play again now, not a screen in sight!  We've also had some lovely chats about fires (no idea what prompted that), staked out the bird table outside our new lounge window to see who was stealing the fat balls whole (a very greedy magpie), explored our beautiful new surroundings, visited our first Home Ed group, shared experiences in assembling flat-pack furniture (no mean feat) and bidding on auctions.  There may not have been much by way of structured learning (not that we do that much anyway), but the richness of this season can't be overlooked.

One change that I hadn't really expected was the practical impact that a different house would have on our day-to-day Home Ed life.  We are enormously blessed to be living in a bigger house than our previous one (the benefits of moving away from London), with the result that we now have a room entirely devoted to the boys' learning (and gaming!).  We've called it the Den, and it houses the PC for computer work, the Wii (we are scanning auctions & pre-loved sites for a TV to go in the Den with the Wii), and a whole wall filled with shelves for their books, games, kits etc.  The only thing not in there is the painting and other messy Art stuff as the Den is carpeted, so Art will still be a kitchen affair.  The ex-teacher in me is excited by this new space, and hugely grateful for a whole room to store all their learning stuff... and yet part of me is finding it a bit sad too.  In our old house pretty much all of the learning revolved around our shared living space, and I loved that - loved being together, sharing our experiences.  We didn't need a dedicated HE room as our whole lives were taken up with learning.   And to be fair, that's not really going to change.  What will take some getting used to will be a feeling of almost segregation.  It's not that I won't be involved in their learning any more, but it's just not as obviously integrated with every day life, and I am going to have to find a new way of working around our available space so I don't end up spending days without getting time with my boys.

It's just all going to take a while to get used to.  Hopefully once we have internet, Sky and the boys' den up-and-running we will be able to work out our new routine, and that's the kind of challenge that I usually thrive on, so watch this space - it's going to be different from here on in, but hopefully with lots of fun.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

First Day Back

I had all good intentions of  commencing this term's Home Ed at the beginning of last week, but we had been away for a long bank holiday weekend exploring Worcestershire, and badly needed a couple of days to recover.  By Thursday I suppose we could have made a start, but the boys had a couple of playdates and we just couldn't seem to get motivated or organised.  Never mind, I thought, most local schools were only just starting, and we might as well enjoy the lack of compulsory term dates, so decided to leave it until this week.  I had forgotten that this Monday the boys' friend had a mid-morning + lunch birthday party at LaserKombat (Middle and Youngest's first time), and then our monthly soft play session, usually on a Weds, had been moved to Tuesday (yesterday) because of maintenance at the venue... with the result that today has been our first successful attempt to resume "education".

(Yes unschoolers, I know that learning happens all the time, but we have very clear periods of "time-off" when the boys are free to do mostly what they like, and periods of "education" when Mummy is focused on facilitating learning experiences for the boys.  I'm sure they are learning all the time whether I am focused or not, but as it is my legal responsibility to ensure that my children get a suitable education, our family fulfils that by having periods where I make sure I am fully engaged to that purpose - and periods when I can relax without having to monitor their activities, even if that results in my researching future possible activities or writing up what we did.)

The boys informed me that Monday and Tuesday did still count because they had lessons in shooting (ahem), target practice, team work, strategy etc - and the fact that Eldest won his games and Youngest came third and then second even though it was his first time playing, encouraged me to accept that there was skill involved (not to mention some slightly scary natural ability).  Middle later said that he was a bit disappointed about not scoring highly enough to get a place on the podium (one reason why I don't like competetive games) but I said I was really proud that he overcame his anxiety that had prevented him from joining in on previous parties that he had been invited to.  He really enjoyed himself and as I reminded him, his skillset may well be different to his brothers, but attitude counts for a lot - and his attitude was great :)  The soft play session yesterday - although very tiring coming the day after another full-on active day - was also lots of fun, and as the other Mums and I chatted and encouraged each other, sharing our new term struggles and plans, the children had a great time honing their social skills and getting LOTS of exercise.  Personality clashes happened, some of which they sorted out without needing assistance according to skills they have developed, and some of which required guidance, but only when asked for.  Soft Play (or similar play-based socials) may sound like a nice easy day-off - and in truth, they are pretty easy-going for me now - but we mustn't overlook the benefits of the kids getting together in large groups and learning to manage relationship issues.  Yesterday I could really see how well the boys have progressed socially since starting HE - and I am convinced that is because they are supported in their socialisation, rather than being thrown in at the deep end and left to it, as tends to happen more in school.

Anyway, back to today.  We started with a new Bible Study that we are following, called "Living with Jesus" (I will write a separate review shortly - we all loved it), and then the boys went their separate ways to do some MathsWhizz exercises.  Eldest and I have already chatted about the need for him to do more maths time than his brothers as blogged about in my previous post, and he has been brilliant about it - not one word of serious complaint (only one light-hearted jibe about it).  Middle found it very hard to focus and get started - he was having too much fun starting a diary in his new notebook (!!! yes this is the same child who was almost phobic about any request to write anything, now voluntarily writing!) - so it took him longer to finish than both brothers.  Then they all had a go on Brainpop: Youngest learning about Community Helpers (scoring 3/5 in the test); Eldest learning about Critical Reasoning (scoring 8/10) and Middle learned about Life on Mars (10/10).  Youngest and Eldest also played "inventioneers" in my ipad while they waited for Middle to finish his Maths.

Over lunch we watched a programme recorded from the BBC the other night, comparing the reigns of Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II - and chatted about today's significance in history as our own queen became the longest-serving British Monarch (the emphasis being on serving rather than reigning, because I think that has absolutely been our current queen's focus).  Finally they drew a picture each of our "Queen Liz 2", and have now disappeared off to play while I catch up with my blog.  Our new term may not have had the smoothest start, but I think we're doing pretty well.  Now I'm off to phone estate agents and arrange to view houses!  I'm hoping this 'limbo' season will be over soon so we can all settle again, but meanwhile will try to keep blogging - bear with me in case it gets a bit sporadic until we've moved?

Youngest's picture of the Queen in her coronation outfit

Middle's picture of the Queen being crowned

Eldest's portrait of Queen Elizabeth II

Monday, 24 August 2015

Home Ed on the Move

Wow, has it been a month already since my last post?!

To be honest, it feels as though we haven't done anything much worth blogging about since our end of "term".  A month or so ago we were becoming more convinced that it was time for us to move house, but I didn't want to say anything official as we were very unsure of the details.  Actually we still don't know exactly where we are going, just that we are planning to leave Herts and head for Worcs, and that is almost certainly going to be before Christmas (hopefully sooner). Consequently most of our summer holiday has been very free-range on the boys' behalf, with them doing pretty much whatever they fancy while I sorted and decluttered, hoping to make the packing easier once it is time (oh, and I spent a few weeks looking after poorly hedgehogs, though they are almost all happily back in the wild again now).  The only restriction I put in place for the boys was no computer games before lunch - purely because their behaviour (esp the younger two) really deteriorates if they have unlimited gaming console time.  So they have had fun, but I can't help feeling a bit guilty that we haven't done much this holiday. However, guilty feelings aside, the decluttering badly needed to be done (it's not quite done yet, but the worst of it is).  They have watched TV, read books, drawn pictures, played board games, had playdates, and played on their consoles - so if nothing else I can reassure myself that they have had a really good rest!

Today as I handed the younger two boys a pair of rubber gloves each so they could retrieve the post-it notes that one had put down the toilet and the other had peed upon, I reflected that it was probably time to start planning a bit of structure into the coming term.  After all I am expecting to be fully in the throes of packing and moving before long, so I really need to have a well-organised (and ultra-flexible) game plan for us all to follow.  Now this is where it has got a bit complicated, but actually not so much as I feared.

Last term I was really gearing up mentally for Eldest's impending IGCSE season, and trying to get my head around everything involved.  Well the approaching house-move has of necessity become much more of a focus, and I do not feel it would be in any way wise to make a start on GCSE studies before we get to our new home, when I can then start looking around for exam centres, exam boards etc.  I am sure that other HEors may have moved house mid-IGCSE, but I just know that is a step too far for me - so we are going to move and then get to grips with what we are doing once stress levels have normalised again.  Anyway, Eldest is still only 13, so we have plenty of time for exam courses etc. With that in mind but also knowing that he is mentally ready for a bit more of a challenge, I have drawn him up his own timetable that hopefully complements what Middle and Youngest will be doing, but places a bit extra demand on him.  We will see how he gets on - it's not meant to be a huge deal for him, but just to help him keep focused.  If it proves to be too much, we will adapt as always!

I was previously a bit stressed about the thought of educating the boys at ever-differing levels, but actually the fact that Eldest is becoming so much more independent really helps.  It will be good to have a season of him doing non-critical stuff by himself before we enter the season of me presumably needing to be more involved again with his exam course(s).  Anyway, he will be doing 40 minutes of Maths three times a week instead of 30 minutes of Maths twice a week (effectively doubling his work but hopefully not proving too onerous).  He is still "behind" his peers from when he was at school, so we are going to push a bit to see if he can catch up in time for IGCSEs.  Again though - if it's too much we will back right off again.  IGCSEs seem to be the right way for him to go, otherwise I couldn't give a fig about how he compared to his peers.

Then on the two days a week that he is not doing Maths, he will be doing Literacy Planet.  I am resolved to arranging an English tutor for him once we have moved as English GCSEs are so baffling (and that's coming from someone with a degree in English!), so I don't feel the need to put much pressure on in English right now.

He really likes Brainpop so his second scheduled activity of each day will be watching a Brainpop video and answering the accompanying quiz.  After that he should (if I have worked it out properly) have time to do an activity with the rest of us: Art on Mondays, History on Tuesdays, writing on Wednesdays, swimming on Thursdays, and board games on Fridays.  We will probably continue with the tradition of Mummy choosing an educational DVD or recorded TV programme (we still love the BBC's Learning Zone) to watch with lunch, and then the afternoons will be for all the boys to fill with their own choice of activities, or groups/ playdates etc.

Middle and Youngest are also going to get their own timetables, though less demanding as suits their ages.  They will also be continuing with Maths Whizz and Literacy Planet: Youngest is 'ahead' in Maths, so he can just continue with two half-hours a week.  Middle is slightly behind, so he can go to 90 minutes (three half-hour sessions).  They will both still go on Literacy Planet twice a week, and join in the family subjects together.  Youngest can only do one Brainpop video a week as he is at BrainpopJr level who only do one free video every week.  Middle can do two or three, and then we will have further activities to fill in the rest of the time, including lapbooks...

It all seemed so daunting when I was considering it last term, but having had a break to do lots of the fairly mindless physical work of sorting etc, my mind has obviously assimilated all of the issues while I was otherwise engaged, and come up with a plan fairly effortlessly.  It's amazing how your mind can move on subconsciously when you have a change of focus - though I see it all the time with the boys' learning, so it needn't be that much of a surprise.

Anyway, there we are: the boys are mvoing on to a new season of structured learning, particularly Eldest whose mind is maturing and ready for new challenges - and we are moving on physically too, to a whole new home.  Of course I will keep you updated, but for now I am just glad to have plans in place to keep us ticking along until we get there!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Summer Holiday All Year Round

So first of all - apologies for my complete lack of blogging recently.  I could bore you with the details, but I won't (I know: so kind of me).  Suffice to say life has been busy and distractions have been plenty.  Changes are coming up which are demanding plenty of attention... potentially good changes, but there's nothing concrete to tell yet, just nothing to worry about either for any lovely readers who wondered :)

Anyway I thought I'd check in briefly today because of a thought I had today that I wanted to share. If it seems smug, I apologise - I was just taking time to count-my-blessings.  I was scrolling through Facebook and I noticed a few common themes among friends of mine with children in school who have started their holidays: firstly the initial relief at no more school runs or school stresses generally, and anticipation of time together with their loved ones; secondly the panic (after a couple of days) that as their kids detox from school they start squabbling/ complaining of boredom; thirdly a list of lovely trips out to parks, theme parks, picnics, pools, playgrounds etc.  Amazingly to me, even though their children go to school to be educated, many of these parents still have an eye on the educational value of their trips, listing and counting books read, or sketching their surroundings, appreciating nature, planning projects etc.

And then I stopped and realised: some schoolchildren have the same kind of summer holiday as we have all year round.  Those four themes above pretty much sum up our Home Ed journey: instant relief quickly followed by a degree of panic at what was ahead, followed by endless days of trips, activities and experiences that enrich and educate, in a fun and natural way. Yes, our detox (aka deschooling) period was more lengthy and thorough, but in a nutshell, I think the two compare at least to a degree.  And I am just so thankful, so privileged to have what feels like a year-long summer holiday!  Not meaning to be smug - just grateful.

Of course, my summer probably looks very lazy to parents of schoolchildren, with day after day of the boys basically finding their own entertainment (with only limited console games) while I catch up on much neglected housework etc, but it has to be said that even with our "year-long summer holidays" I do need downtime: home education in this house generally means my being 'on duty' full time - and the main reason that we join in with the schools' lengthy summer break is that it allows me time to recharge.  My boys are still at home having fun, but I don't feel the pressure to pay ceaseless attention to their learning.  Plus of course it also gives me a decent amount of time to research and plan the coming season myself - not least because Eldest is coming up to GCSE season, and things are really going to change.  In fact my head is still spinning about it - not so much the practicalities of GCSEs now, but more the "how-to" of taking one child through GCSEs while being attentive to the education of my younger children.  I'm not planning on intense curriculum for them to follow, but I just don't want to miss these years while focusing on ther big brother: all too soon they will be approaching GCSEs too (I know it goes so fast), and I want to enjoy sharing their current seasons of much more natural, fun learning while they last.  Until now they've all enjoyed similar styles of HE but I am going to need to adapt to handling different styles at the same time... no big deal, hey?!

It's just different, isn't it: the pros and cons, or swings and roundabouts of traditional schooling and/ or home education.  I do know that Home Ed isn't for all, and it's certainly not without cost - but this summer has already made me once again extremely grateful for this lovely lifestyle we have.  So whether you are a parent of schoolkids out enjoying the parks etc, or a Home Ed parent having fun home now the parks are so much busier than termtime - have a lovely summer everyone!

Friday, 19 June 2015

30 Days Wild: Day 19, Bug Hunting

Hedgehog care has taken over somewhat here.  William is still with us and is having treatment for capillaria (roundworm).  I'm hoping his weight loss will slow down now he's on meds.  Also the little hog with the strimmer injury is now here.  He is called Arnold and despite being pretty skinny has a good appetite, so I am hopeful for his recovery.


Yesterday's wild activity involved me doing a very thorough spring clean of the garden hedgehog shed, hoping that William and Arnold will be able to go out there soon.  They are currently inside our house where it is a bit warmer, but once they are a bit better than present they will go in the shed for the final stage of treatment.

Today I wanted the boys to be a bit more involved again, so we printed off some lovely Minibeast Hunt sheets, courtesy of Twinkl - and the boys had a good search around the front and back gardens. There was a lack of ladybirds and butterflies - maybe because it wasn't very sunny - but we found quite a few other wee beasties.  Initially the boys tried to claim there was nothing out there but ants but they knew I wouldn't fall for that, so I had them turning over stones and bits of wood, and having a closer look at the shrubs.  It always amazes me how much life is out there that we miss seeing because we don't pay attention - definitely enhances our sense of perspective!

After the garden hunt it was time for bedrooms to be tidied, and then the boys were exhibiting signs of being cooped up for too long, so I sent them back outside for a run around.  I love the way that physical exercise in the fresh air, even for a short while, is so restoring to their sanity (and therefore mine).  They are all back in now, but the clouds have cleared, so I think I'm going to go out and enjoy the sunshine some more!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

30 Days Wild: Day 16, Helping Hedgehogs

Wow, that was a manic few days!  Lots of distractions going on, although we did still manage to fit in a few good doses of "wildness", even if I did fail to blog about it!  So a belated hooray for appreciating the smell of summer rain (a smell so good there's even a name for it: "petrichor"), for long bike rides with Daddy, and for making chalk pavement art.

Today's Random Act of Wildness was chosen for me last night when I had a phone call about a hedgehog that had been found out in daylight.  I am a hedgehog rehabilitator (I have a Facebook page here), and the finder had seen a video on my page that showed a foraging pregnant/ nursing female hog - the only time that a hedgehog out in daylight needs to be left alone.  The finder watched the hog and said that hers was definitely slower and not looking anywhere near as purposeful, so I advised her to bring it over.  The hedgehog turned out to be male (I'm pretty sure, although it didn't let me get a very good look) and was a bit weak and dehydrated, so I popped him onto a heat pad in a box with some food (tinned cat food and dried hedgehog biscuits) and oral rehydration fluids.  If a hedgehog is very poorly/ dehydrated I will give them a sub-cutaneous injection of fluids, but this hedgehog (named "William" by the finders) looked strong enough to not require that, so after his initial check-over I just shut him in the box in a dark, quiet room for the night, hoping that he would produce a poo sample for me to get tested for parasites - that being the most likely reason for him being poorly enough to be out during the day.

With hedgehogs now on the brain more than usual, I decided to put my camera trap out near the hedgehog food bowl in my garden to see who we could spot eating the food we leave out.  We just leave out dried hedgehog food as a supplement for our wild prickly friends, though dry cat biscuits would also work if any readers wanted to do the same - but PLEASE NO BREAD OR MILK - it can make them very ill!

Anyway, I went to check on William this morning, and he had done well through the night, completely trashing his box, which is a really good sign.  He had eaten all of his food and produced a LOT of poo!  He had lost a little weight over-night but that's not unusual for the first night in captivity.  Once the sample was safely in a container and I had cleaned out his box, I even managed to get a photo of him - you can see he has a couple of patches of a clay-type mud on his spines.  This seems to be fairly common in this area and doesn't cause problems.

(William under his blanket)

Next, over breakfast the children and I had a good look at all the footage on the camera trap.  There were lots of clips of hedgehogs moving immediately in fromt on the camera, or eating the food with their back to the camera, but our favourite was the clip of a hedgehog pulling a juicy worm out of the lawn and chomping happily on it.  We also caught the neighbour's cat on camera later on, tucking into the hedgehog's leftovers... and later still, after dawn we saw some footage of squirrels and rooks who came to see if there was anything left.  The squirrels don't usually eat the hedgehog food, but rooks, crows, and especially magpies all love it!

We went to the Post Office this morning to send William's poo sample off for testing.  We send it to Vale Wildlife Hospital in Tewkesbury, who did my hedgehog first aid training, and who offer tessting for a small charge.  They are so experienced, it's great to have them on hand for advice etc!

Thsi afternoon I was chatting to William's finder and saying how funny it was that he is my only patient, as this time last year was really busy.  A very short while later I had a phone call from my local vets asking if I had space for any more!  I have agreed to take one off their hands tomorrow - a hedgehog who they have been treating for a strimmer injury and who just needs a little more nursing - and then they also have a litter of six week-old hoglets who need hand-rearing.  This was briefly tempting but I know would be far too much work for me to even try while also having my own children to educate etc, so I sadly said no.  They said they would keep hand-rearing them at the vets and could I take them once they are weaned?  I'm more than happy to do that, so in a few weeks I think the hog shed in the garden will be very full!

So today has been all about doing our bit for our wild neighbours who need extra help.  The boys love it and are very proud of what we do.  Sometimes they get a bit attached to the hedgehogs, especally the ones who come in as babies, or the ones who end up staying for a long time, but they are never sad for long when it comes to releasing them as we are very clear that these are wild animals who belong back in the wild.  They are not pets - just animals who we are privileged to be able to help!

Friday, 12 June 2015

30 Days Wild: Day 12, Gardening in Miniature and Wild Poetry

Today we had creative writing down as part of our HE loose plan - so to tie in with our 30 Days Wild challenge we decided to write poems along a wild theme.

Youngest was first, dictating his for me to type and print...

There were two kids named Bob and Bill.
Those Bob and Bill were excited.
They were going on holiday wild camping.
They had wild camping things like
wood knives, wood, flint and fire starters.
They also bought some pork belly and some bacon.
Their wood knives were good for cutting meat too.
Their Mum and Dad were experts with the wood knives
so they taught them to use the knives.
That wood was to make a wooden house in case
the tent gets blown away.
There were gale force winds that night 
so they had to use the wooden house they built.
They each were very strong and pegged the house down.
They had a fire inside the wooden house 
because the wooden house was fireproof.
They cooked their tea and had meat for food.
The littlest was great at cooking marshmallows 
but the others weren’t.
The End.

Middle started typing but then also chose to dictate.  He was determined to do an acrostic - I think he finds it easier to have a framework to provide prompts as he goes along.  It took a while as he was particularly keen to get the rhythm and rhymes right, 
just the way he wanted them...

Summer is brilliant, I love it so much.  I can see squirrels digging for nuts.
Under the ground badgers sleep with their young until dusk falls when they go out to hunt.
Mr. Robin is flying around, and then he comes down to pull worms from the ground.
Meadows are filled with rabbits and hares, and poppies and daisies amongst the warm air.
Early each morning a deer or two comes out to munch on tender shoots.
Red kites soar above the trees; summer is the season for me.

Eldest didn't take long at all.  As usual the hardest bit seems to be getting inspiration (which never takes him very long) and then he just rattles off a lovely piece of work...

Badger scurrying across a path
Not even stopping for a bath
Badger with a worm in jaw
coming home to a house filled with straw
Badger digging a bigger hole
Passing by a greedy mole
Badger filling a house with straw
Coming back to fill it more
Badger giving birth to baby cubs
Sitting next to nervous grubs
Badger going out to eat
Coming back with worm meat
Badger returning to the bigger hole
Ignoring the little greedy mole
Badger cumbs all in bed
Resting down their little heads
Good night badgers, sleep tight

I think they all did really well with their writing.  Three very different styles, each delightful in their own way - but then it is easy to please me when it comes to wildlife related things, and I am more than slightly biased when it comes to my boys regardless!  Writing isn't something that they all love to do (although it was made easier by being on a favourite theme of wildlife etc), but I really enjoy the way that when they have finished they all request an audience to listen to their spoken art, so even if it's not their first choice of activity they feel a sense of acheivement, which is lovely.

After writing we popped to the local garden centre to buy a few alpine plants for our afternoon Random Act of Wildness, which we did after a bit of first aid theory, courtesy of St John's Ambulance BigFirstAidLesson.  The boys had really enjoyed making our bee/ butterfly watering hole the other day, so we picked up a few alpine plants and some gravel, and the boys potted up a miniature gnome garden each.  They all intend to make little gnome homes to go in them, or maybe even the actual gnomes, but it won't be today as the rest of our afternoon was spent tidying up!

Youngest's garden with picket fence

Middle's garden with fishing bridge over the pond

Eldest's garden with extra flower patch

How did our wild exploits make us feel today?  Well, I think we were all proud of the poems and enjoed being able to expound upon a favourite theme.  Youngest particularly was enthused remembering one of his favourite activities, and Middle enjoyed feeling like he was in the poem.  The gnome gardens were "really exciting", "wonderful" and "cool", and provoked a nice conversation about wanting our own garden to plant lots of wildlife-friendly things in (we rent our house, so it is just a dream for us at present).  All in all, another lovely day!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

30 Days Wild: Day 11, Eating outdoors

With such a lovely forecast for today, there really was no question about it today - we had to spend as long as possible outside.  So after the boys' mid-morning swimming lessons we headed straight to our local playpark and had a picnic lunch there and spent at least three hours just enjoying the sunshine and running around (well, not much running here, but the boys definitely got plenty of exercise!)

Frustratingly it turned out that I hadn't taken sunscreen, despite my being sure it was in my bag earlier.  Happily I was able to text some friends who were on their way and they brought some with them - even so though, I still caught the sun a bit on one arm - there was a lovely breeze there so I didn't notice until it was too late.  It's not at all bad though, and we all had such a lovely afternoon that it was easily worth it.  At the park there is a lot of play equipment, but there are also woods to walk in and a big field to run around in, with beautiful views to the Hertfordshire countryside beyond.

The boys played on the equipment with their friends, munched on tasty food (as Enid Blyton fans will know, food always tastes better when eaten outdoors!), flew a kite, blew bubbles, dug in the dirt, threw frisbees, rolled down grassy banks and generally ran around to their hearts' content... while Mummy sat and watched, relaxing with excellent company in glorious sunshine.

It was such a refreshing afternoon.  Some of our random acts of wildness have been a little hurried lately, with us doing our best to fit them in to our busy lives.  But today... well, what a luxury to be able to spend hours just basking and playing in the great, and I mean GREAT, outdoors!  Stresses melted away and everything just feels so much better after quality time with nature.  I do feel refreshed and am just so grateful for today's "wild" opportunity.

PS Sorry no photos today - I forgot my camera.  You'll just have to take my word for how lovely it was!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

30 Days Wild: Day 10, Making a bee/ butterfly watering hole

First thing this morning, as most days, we retrieved our camera trap from the garden, where it was facing into the woods behind us, and checked to see if we had captured anything.  Having had a bad run over the last few days with the camera not quite pointing in the right direction or just not working for unknown reasons, we were really pleased to see a few nice bits of footage from last night: a badger (more than one clip of badgers, but I'll just share one here)...

a muntjac deer (walks into frame right at the end of the footage)...

and a fox who pooped in front of the camera (at about 45secs), to the younger boy' great delight!...

It's so lovely knowing that this is all going on just the other side of our fence - and hopefully I will remember the right angle to fix the camera trap tonight as it looks like our little patch is pretty active most nights, if we can only capture it!

Anyway, once we had checked the footage it was time for the usual Home Ed MathsWhizz and a little bit of handwriting, then the boys did some more work on their lapbooks - all of are nature-based, which is not surprising as the boys all love wildlife etc.  Youngest made a matching card game based on the seasons, courtesy of Twinkl...

and Middle made a card fan showing the Arctic Fox's Diet, courtesy of Homeschool Share...

while Eldest, who is not doing a lapbook, had a look at GCSE Geography (looking at rivers) courtesy of BBC Bitesize.  I was pretty confident that it would be within his grasp, and sure enough, he did mention that it seemed a bit simple.  Long may it remain so!

Finally, for our Random Act of Wildness we made a "watering hole" for bees and butterflies, using a shallow tray, some large rocks for butterflies to spread their wings on, some gravel for them to walk on so they don't drown, and some pretty glass pebbles hoping that the colour might attract the insects...

It was really quite therapeutic, especially as Middle was quite particular about where it was all placed, and anything involving water always goes down well, so it made for another nice soothing activity!  I can't say that it has been used a lot this afternoon, but it hasn't really been sunny enough for many insects to be out.  It's right next to our window though, so hopefully we will see it being used in time - we just need to keep it topped up daily and keep an eye on it.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

30 Days Wild: Day 9, Marshmallow-toasting

Eldest was thrilled when he drew the slip out of the jar that read "toast marshmallows over a bonfire". We decided to do it during daytime as waiting for the dark at this time of the year, although undoubtedly more atmospheric, would have meant letting them all stay up very late which is not a good idea at present.  We have a brazier in the garden, so after lunch and the boys' various HE activities, we put some hay in for kindling and half-filled the brazier with sticks before lighting. The first time we tried lighting it, the hay burned out before the sticks caught light properly, but the second time it caught properly, and boy, did it burn?!

before lighting

first attempt - that smoke was as far as it got

second attempt - yep, that's on fire!

After the initial flames had died down a bit it was time to get the skewers and marshmallows, with all the usual warnings about not getting too close, plus a brief review of the "stop, drop and roll" method of extinguishing flames should your clothes catch fire - not that we were expecting to, but it never hurts to make sure we all know!  Holding the marshmallows close to the sides of the brazier proved to be the best toasting method, althoug not everyone was patient enough to wait for the marshmallows to be toasted golden brown, and they were eaten semi-raw, while others were inevitably held too close and caught fire!

getting to grips with toasting

that's how it's done!

erm... maybe a little overdone!

The boys had some friends visiting who joined in too - one of them, Sweet P, was getting a bit hot so she fashioned an extra long skewer for herself with the help of some parcel tape...

Great fun was had by all - it was lovely hearing the excited shrieks as the flames got a bit higher or burned a bit wilder.  I think out of all our 30DW challenges, this is the first one that hasn't left the boys feeling "calm" or "peaceful" - today's adjectives were "fun", "hot", "tasty", "exciting", and "thrilling".  It certainly felt wild - and very satisfying!