Monday, 18 April 2016

Riddles and Models

Trying to be quick today because it's late and I still have stuff to do (such is motherhood)

So we had a lovely week last week celebrating Eldest's 14th birthday with a visit from his best friend and family, involving a fabulous welly walk through our local woodland stream, plus lots of gaming to keep the teens happy.  Then we had another visit, this time from my lovely 'besties' (and an assortment of their family members) both of whom live in very different parts of the country, so it was utter bliss for me to have them both visit at the same time and get some long overdue quality time together, including a lovely walk through the woods and rock houses at Kinver Edge.  So not much was done by way of structured work last week: it was just wall-to-wall socialisation with some of our favourite people

This week I was unsure whether to attempt any structured work as I have still not officially moved on from my "back-off" status, but we have decided to continue with our fun standalone activities for now, unless I feel it starts taking over.

So today we started with MathsWhizz, then quickly moved on to some creative writing.  I found an exercise online describing 'five senses' poetry, but unfortunately I can't find the link now - will add later if I find it.  Anyway, I thought it would be fun to have a go at writing riddles using the five senses so I made our own adaptation (PDF here).  I wrote a couple of examples so the boys could get the idea, and then asked them to come up with one.  Middle struggled for a while but after hearing his brothers' creations, he found his inspiration.  They all made me smile.  I'll post them here, followed by all three answers so anyone interested can try to guess what the 'answer' to each is.  If anyone guesses Eldest's quirky one, I'll be mightily impressed!

By Youngest...
I see lots of trees
I hear hooting
I smell apples
I taste grass
I feel a breeze

By Middle...
I see fire
I hear swords clanging
I smell smoke
I taste raw bacon
I feel angry

By Eldest...
I see mostly black but sometimes white
I hear crunches and thuds most of the time
I smell something awful
I taste fabric
I feel slightly wet

Youngest - a forest
Middle - a pig battle
Eldest - feet (!)

After our riddles we decided to do some modelling.  We got out our 'jumping clay' which is coloured air-drying clay that is soft and blendable like playdough - and we simply had a lovely time creating until we started to run out of clay! Models shown below...

Youngest's camouflaged snails, rainbow, whale fin, tree, tadpole, worm, and wreath in the middle

Middle's fire flower, 'cheeky blob who stole Mario's hat', lochness monster + baby, and gnome

Eldest's sheep, Turtwig (pokemon), duck & ducklings on pond, and racecar

Mummy's monster, pig, gnome toes, and orca

After that it was time to go to our first session at some local Home Ed trampolining sessions with Sis and Niece.  All the kids really enjoyed it, although Eldest started to get painful sinuses towards the end so had to sit out the last ten minutes - something to keep an eye on, but otherwise, that was another lovely day!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Poetry Picnic

Friday seemed like a great day for a poetry picnic (our version of Brave Writer's poetry teatime)... end of the week chilling and all that.  Of course, I did forget that I needed to allow enough time and energy for three lots of baking (four if you count my little one at the end), so our picnic lunch was a bit late by the time all the cakes were finished.  I may need to plan it better next time!

Anyway, the baking was all successful - the boys had chosen their recipes a couple of days ago so I made sure to have the ingredients in.  Middle wanted to bake a chocolate fudge cake, Youngest made some sticky toffee squares and Eldest made some strawberry cheesecake muffins.

By the time they were all made and looking temptingly delicious I realised that I needed to make something gluten-and-dairy-free so I could enjoy baked goods too.  I tried this recipe for cinamon roll in a mug and although it looked a little uninspiring (microwaved cake always does), it tasted fab!  And Mummy was happily saved from sulking because everyone else was eating yummy cakes.

My sis and niece came to join us for (late) picnic lunch, and we ate cakes and read poetry.  Middle and Youngest found their poems on the internet and printed them off to read, while Eldest and I read poems from books that we have.  I lost my original choice of poem so had to find another last minute. Fortunately the book I used had lots of good ones to choose from.  It really is a very civilised way to have lunch!

After lunch my friend and fellow hedgehog-rescuer came over to collect Pickle, our overnight hedgehog guest.  Pickle had some nasty diarrhoea overnight and was very shaky this morning so I gave her a couple of doses of sub-cutaneous fluids and by the time my friend arrived to collect her she had perked back up again.  Still very much in need of treatment for internal parasites, but I was glad to have been able to help as if I hadn't been able to give the fluids today it is very possible that it would have been too late by the time my friend arrived. Basically it was a nice little 'feel good' moment to have been able to make a real difference.  The boys always love to have hedgehogs around and I'm glad of the chance for them to learn compassion for others, including creatures of any size.

Somehow from being a day of planned low-key activity it ended up being quite a long day, and I am now writing this at bedtime!  It was a good day though, I think poetry picnics may well become a regular experience for a while to come!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Boardgame Bonanza (with bonus hedgehog)

This morning the boys had all done some exercises on Literacy Planet before I was even ready to get going myself and we decided that today as a fairly quiet day would be a good opportunity for a board game tournament.  We chose a game each and played them one at a time.

First of all Youngest chose Labyrinth which we all enjoy.  It's great for strategy and problem solving, understanding sequencing and cause & effect etc ...

It was won by Middle.

The Middle chose Alpha Animals for us to play.  It's a lovely simple concept which builds literacy skills as well as exploring animal classification...

Youngest was the winner this time.

It was Eldest's choice next, and he had selected Angry Birds Space Race, which is a fairly modern take on the old-fashioned game of Ludo - again good for basica counting and strategy (and forgiveness/ learning to deal with frustration when a sibling sends your piece back to the start!)  I won this time, probably because I avoided sending anyone back where possible, so none of the boys were trying to get revenge! There's probably a life lesson in there too, on reaping what you sow, 'doing unto others' etc!

Finally it was my game.  I chose Wing It simply because Middle had already selected it but then changed his mind.  We removed the 'impede' cards which have the specific purpose of being played tactically to scupper your opponents.  I thought we'd had enough of that!  It's a lovely game from the RSPB, and you don't have to have any bird knowledge to play.  It is good for geography, being based arund the UK, and negotiation skills as there is a degree of card-trading at the beginning, as well as encuraging identification of native birds...

It could have been the deciding game that crowned Youngest, Middle or me the clear winner, but happily Eldest won the final game, making it an unusually (but very thankfully) even tournament, with each of us winning one round each.  We love board games, even if things sometimes get a little heated and some players need to take an occasional break!

We finished playing quite late after lunch as there had been an unexpected turn of events this morning when a fellow hedgehog-rehabilitator called to see if I could take in a local hedgehog overnight.  I haven't been caring for wild hedgehogs since we moved as there didn't seem much point finding a local vet etc if we were just going to move again, but I still have all my equipment (just not any meds), so I was happy to help out overnight until my friend can fetch him tomorrow to give him the treatment he needs.  So Middle, Youngest and I drove to get some cat food and newspaper (the phone call came two minutes after the rcycling lorry had taken all our papers away!), and collect the hedgehog.  It's a juvenile hog, named Pickle by the finder, and is significantly underweight, but hopefully not beyond the point of help.  Anyway, it took about an hour out of our morning to sort out but we were glad to help, and the hedgehog is seriously cute as always...

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

STEM Challenges and Other Fun

We managed to lower our stress again today and have fun too - back to our usual MO, thankfully!  Admittdly we started with MathsWhizz which didn't go so well on Monday, but was much better today.  I did still have to ask Youngest and Middle to sit with me in turn and do it on my laptop as Youngest went into 'fear-of-maths' mode and needed some hand-holding despite the exercise being well within his ability.  Middle also needed my supervision as he had found the calculator mode on his computer in the den (out of my sight) and couldn't resist using it to make the sums even easier.  As I told him, that's not exactly wrong - we all use calculators - but it does mean that he would get to harder levels of exercises without necessarily learning how to work out the steps needed to do the harder sums - so we sat and he did his exercises with me, and he had no problems at all.

While Youngest was doing his Maths, Middle read a book on "Disgusting Digestion", and then while Middle was doing his Maths, Youngest went to get a book but came back with a jigsaw map of Europe and proceeded to do most of it by himself, with Middle helping just at the end.

By this point Eldest had come downstairs from doing his Maths, so we went into the kitchen and had fun doing some STEM challanges that the boys had chosen from our Dyson Challenge cards.

Youngest did an experiment on inertia which involved boiling an egg and seeing how easy it was to stop it spinning compared to a fresh egg which continued spinning after he spun it and then stopped it briefly....

Middle was inspired by the card detailing how to make invisible ink, so got some lemon juice and wrote a secret (gorgeous) message for Daddy and me to discover when heated...

Eldest's experiment was acknowledged by all to be 'AWESOME!' as he made a lava lamp using oil, water, food colouring and an alka-seltzer...

Afterwards we listened to the 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba' by Handel, and the boys drew pictures inspired by the music.  Eldest said that his was too detailed to be coloured in - plus it was in the 'olden days' when photos were black and white anyway!  He certanly worked hard on it - and even wrote a list of random things on the back for us to look for in his picture...




And finally we found a couple of episodes of "Your Paintings" (BBC2) on Youtube, on Henri Rousseau and Paula Rego to watch before an episode of the boys' much-loved Mythbusters while we had lunch.

So generally that was a busy but fun morning - just the way we like it!  We're back to fully enjoying our holiday from autonomy.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

New Week, New Mood

Last week was lots of fun and very busy in a structured Home Ed kind-of way, with all of us fully engaging and enjoying ourslves.  However this week started with a very different vibe.  Eldest really struggled to get out of bed yesterday which slowed his morning right down.  Middle was just in 'mooching' mode, and Youngest hit a huge wall which conflicted with my own stress.  It was over MathsWhizz, which is never usually an issue, but Youngest had been struggling with a particular lesson for a while, and doing everything he could to avoid it, to the point where it had become an insurmountable beast in his mind.  The thing is, I knew he could do it, and although I had been using the 'back-off until he's ready' method which usually works, this time it was making it worse and I knew we just had to push through to overcome.  Man, was that painful?!  It took over an hour of him whining, complaining, resisting and doing everything in his power to persuade me to let him off.  Eldest and Middle finished their maths and watched a Brainpop UK video each with test at the end, while they waited for Youngest to finish (Eldest got 8/10 on Exoplanets, and Middle got 10/10 on Internet Safety).  We did a sum at a time, and each time I had to draw on untapped levels of patience, sometimes through gritted teeth, to help him to just read the questions without his defenses of "but I can't do it".  It has to be said, my patience ran out repeatedly, but not as often as his did.  We did get there in the end though.  Sadly I am far from convinced that he has the confidence to know as I do that actually he can do that particular type of sum, but at least he has passed it in the programme now, so he will move on to other questions that he is happier with.  We were all exhausted by the end, so it was a relief to have a lovely art project to turn to.

It was a Deep Space Sparkle project on flamingos, so first I showed the boys a Youtube clip of a flamboyance of flamingos doing a mating dance - very amusing.  Then we watched the clip from Fantasia 2000 set to Saint Saens Carnival of the Animals, and then watched the video instructions from DSS.  It's part of her sixth-grade (year 6 here) curriculum, so I knew it might be a stretch for Youngest, but he was fine.  I didn't get to do my own picture this time as there wasn't space at the table (the boys were using A3 card) so I was free to help Youngest, and he did really well.  I never tell the boys what level the art lessons are aimed at as I don't want to set limits on their expectations - it's all about enjoyment and freedom in self-expression anyway.  As usual, I love the finished results...

by Youngest

by Middle

by Eldest

Today has been a much gentler day.  The boys all started with Literacy Planet, which they set to whatever level they want, so they can do super-easy lessons if they want/ need to.  They also did a book quiz (free PDF here) on "Weather" by Catriona Clarke, and then we did a spot of creative writing.  We started off by doing an exercise on 'cliche-busting', as found on the internet.  As part of the exercise we all had to come up with new ways of looking at and describing things.  We particularly liked "eyes like beach-balls" (Youngest), "rough as the road" (Middle),"spiky days" (Eldest), and "as soft as Mummy's tummy" (me).  Then I asked the boys if they could write a poem or piece of descriptive prose using at least one of their new phrases.

Night is Lovely
by Youngest

Night is lovely
It's black like an 'off' TV
owls, hedgehogs, badgers come out at night,
suspicious about our black camera-trap.
Stars and the moon come out as well,
making it feel a friendly black.

Where Rain Comes From
by Middle

If you have wondered
where rain comes from I'll tell you.
It comes from men driving clouds
When they are sad
they cry sky tears
which turn into rain

The Man on the Other Side of the Road
by Eldest

There's a man across the road
Who claims he's friends with a toad
He wears a top as white as sheep
He walks down the hill without making a peep
From inside his room
He makes quite a boom
From a machine he won't show anyone soon
He wears an odd hat
That holds a sleeping tail-less cat.
You could say he's bizarre
When he's driving a car
Especially when he doesn't take it that far.
Despite being weird he's quite a nice chap
Who takes care of a snake that likes to sit in his lap
An in case you wondered, the man across the road
Is actually friends with a toad.

Any resemblance to anyone is purely coincidental and I apologise if I offended anyone :)

I do love the writing they produce - it's one of my favourite bits of Home Ed, getting to see and enjoy their creative 'masterpieces'!

Finally today we watched a DVD on Earth Science while we had lunch (the boys really like the 'rock' song on the three types of rock), and now Daddy is taking the boys out.  That was a much better day - here's hoping the rest of the week stays this way now!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Catching Up

No, NOT the sort of catching up deployed in school, where children are deemed to have "fallen behind" and have to struggle to reach the same level as those who have naturally reached their learning targets sooner.  I find that whole idea highly offensive.  Learning is neither or race nor a competition, and children should - yes, you heard me - they SHOULD be allowed to learn in a way that comes most naturally to them, at their own pace.  Sadly that is no longer possible in our increasingly mad school system.  But anyway, I digress.

I'm catching up with the bits and pieces that we have done this week during our 'holiday from autonomy' that I haven't blogged about so far.  I want to keep a record of them, so here I am, catching up on things that I WANTED to write, not forcing a harsh schedule on young people (oops sorry - can you tell I have a bee in my bonnet on the subject? ;) )

So anyway this week, other than the nature walk and writing mentioned previously, we also read a chapter of the Bible together (John 6) and agreed that Jesus really is a lot more patient than any of us would be.  It's the chapter where he feeds the five thousand and then loads of his disciples get offended at him for not just being the kind of leader who exists to heal them and feed them for free, and decide following him is too hard.  I love the open conversations we have together and the honest questions that the boys ask - none of us have all the answers, and I enjoy seeing them think about the big issues of life; their words often enlighten me!

We played a board game ('Wing It' from the RSPB), and listened to some music: firstly Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart.  Youngest decided it made him think of someone asleep upstairs while someone downstairs listened to an opera outside through an open window.

Eldest and Middle struggled to find inspiration in the music, so once Youngest was done we had another go, this time with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.  Middle said it reminded him of ghosts and ghouls...

... while Eldest was inspired to draw a picture of night falling - very apt, especially as he had no idea what it was called before he drew his picture!

Then on Wednesday we fancied a bit of what is known in our house as 'arty-farty' so we made some very simple spring bunny collages, inspired by the rabbits that we saw on our walk the day before.  I had seen a simple art project on Pinterest and we adapted it to show a springtime field as background to our bunnies. Nothing too demanding, just a nice little piece of work...

"Awesome the Bunny" by Youngest

"King Alfred the Bunny" by Middle

"Benedict Bunny" by Eldest

"Flopsie Bunny" by Mummy

Yesterday we had a book-quiz based on The Story of Chocolate (Usborne) - the boys received a small chocolate reward each for getting the quiz answers right.  Then we had friends coming to play in the afternoon so we had a bit of a baking session: Youngest made some ginger-hogs, using a hedgehog cookie cutter and a gluten-free vegan recipe that I found on Pinterest, while Middle made some cinamon crunch muffins and Eldest made some chocolate crunch from a favourite recipe, just replacing the vanilla essence with orange essence (chocolate orange is his favourite combination)  I made some cheese scones for lunch too!

With all of that baking done, it seemed a perfect opportunity for our 'poetry picnic'  We got the idea from Brave Writer's 'Poetry Teatimes', but as the boys are usually off engrossed in their own play by the afternoon, we thought lunchtime would work better - especially when it is as sunny outside as it was yesterday.  So we all chose a poem each and carried the books (Read Me First, Little Book of Poems for Young Children, and the Glow-worms poetry collection); and lunch outside to eat while we read to each other.  It was very civilised and we definitely want to do that again!

And finally this morning, while I have been catching up, the boys have been carrying out a challenge to build an engine-free car (basically using stored energy)  It took them a couple of hours but all managed to produce something that worked in the end.  Frustratingly for Middle, he had a working model (made of lego and a balloon) within minutes of starting, but in the process of 'refining' it he ended up using up the working part (balloon) from the original and taping it to the point where it no longer worked.  He did manage to use a sort of catapult-propulsion in the end though, so he could see it moving in the end.

Youngest also used a balloon and the inside of an easter egg box with some wheels from a 'connect straws' kit.  There seemed to be a leak letting the air out (not through the straw) so although it did move, it didn't go very far...

Eldest took the longest but was really happy with his design in the end: using part of a cardboard box and wheels made by hand, with an elastic band twisted around a rod that was then released - he won the "how far can it go" race, but they all got a small prize for completing the challenge.

I love seeing the different ways the boys create designs and solve problems - the only issue was that I couldn't help all of them at the same time, but Daddy was also on hand, and they all got there in the end - lots of fun!

So that turned out to be a really busy week.  In actual fact, it was probably no busier than the previous weeks where they boys have been following their own interests - but because I was more 'hands-on' and involved in the direction-setting, I have had a lot more to blog about  So if you anyone might be feeling inadequate by comparison, give yourself a gentle slap for comparing yourself in the first place - not a good move! - and remind yourself these are my highlights of one intense week... from the lack of blogging in previous weeks you can feel superior in comparison. Happy days!