30 Days Wild :: Day 3

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In the morning, whilst walking the dog, I gave the camera to Minnie (3 years old in a few weeks) to see what she could find.  Admittedly they were mostly blurry, but I rather liked her reflection photo.  We saw plenty of wildflowers and I’m still noting the elderflower and whether it’s ready to collect yet.  Amongst the usual daisies, dandelions, speedwell, shepherd’s purse, etc, we found some lovely flowering sorrel (right) and a plant I’ve seen before and fairly sure I’ve ID-ed before, but just can’t remember the name of.  When I get another spare moment, I’ll try and update with its name.

In the afternoon my eldest son and his girlfriend came over and we walked to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park (we live very close to it) for an afternoon’s wander.  It borders wetlands and there are some lovely views of the surrounding countryside to be seen from within its fences.

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With some more indigenous wildlife (and more domestic) to be seen.

Every-so-often the white goose adjusted itself, but still kept to this rather odd position!

And of course plenty of the more exotic:

It was a lovely day, so many animals were dozing in the sun.  The meerkats were particularly amusing, growling over their hardboiled eggs, even though they each had one of their own!

We’re rather lucky having such a fantastic wildlife park within such close walking distance from the house!

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Two birthdays in a month

Chocolate and almond birthday cake

Moo celebrated her 10th birthday with a chocolate and almond chequerboard cake with white chocolate icing.  She shares her birthday with J’s sister and is already planning for her 18th (which is a scary thought).

R's birthday cake

And R turned 19.  He had a very rich chocolate cake (2 bites and you need a bit of a rest job…)

Scarborough and Filey

A couple of weeks ago, whilst Nin was in Norway (yes, she’s been on holiday to Norway to stay with my Uncle and his family but I’ve not got to that yet 😉 )  we took a trip to Scarborough and Filey, picking up my eldest son along the way.
Above are the ruins of Scarborough Castle – which I’d love to come back to one day.
But Ted just wanted to get into the water!
Anna got excited by it all!
And enjoyed paddling in the sea.
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Ted just got rather excited in the water.
We had some lunch and then decided to drive along the coast towards Filey.  Just past the North Beach of Scarborough we found this rock covered in seagulls nesting.
And then on to Filey – which was lovely, fairly quiet (especially in comparison to Scarborough).  It was the latter end of the afternoon and the tide was moving in.
There were so many part bits of crab around!
Rich doing his posing bit.
Ted and Rich waiting for waves to jump.
Skimming stones.
I think this is probably Flamborough Head in the distance (you can just see the lighthouse).
Ted sticking his tongue out at Richard.
And being chased.
And being caught.  He was dumped in the water and he coughed and spluttered and spat and cried and sobbed – BUT, to hear him on the phone to his granny later you’d’ve thought it was the funniest thing ever and he claimed it was one of the BEST parts of the trip – who’d’ve thunk?
Cleaning up at the fountain before going to the car to head off home.
It was a lovely day out.  I’d not been to Scarborough or Filey before (although Scarborough has been recommended numerous times) and I’d love to go back as we had a fabulous time – although, I have to say, that I preferred Filey, but I think that’s rather because I prefer ‘quieter’ places.
John always yearns for the coast so hopefully we will get back to the beach soon (hoping to get down to St Leonards-on-Sea soon!)

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A belated recap of 2012

Because I’ve had a busy start to 2013 I’m a little late recapping 2012, but I wanted to take a little time to look back over the year and summarise it with a few photos and thoughts.
The New Year in January saw us moving to a new house and John and I moving in together.  It may have been a new house, but it was back to the village we’d lived in since 2005 (we only left for 6 months after becoming temporarily homeless).  It’s quite a big village, though, indeed it’s quite often said it could vie for town status and I wasn’t familiar with the part we moved to, so it gave brand new exploring possibilities.
The housing estate was across the road from playing fields that led to open fields, grassland and woods – plenty to see and do for a family who enjoy walking and learning about nature.
February brought surprise snow after a dry Candlemas.  My eldest son took the camera and went off with his friends into the night.  He took the photo below (amongst many others). The children were, or course, thrilled.  Me, less so, I’m not a fan of snow – or rather snow is fine, so long as I’m not really expected to go out in it and can admire it’s sparkliness from indoors.
The snow only lasted a few days and a couple of weeks later it was dry, if rather chilly, and we took a trip to The Yorkshire Wildlife Park.  The pigs below were new (to me) and I loved their rich golden colour.
March brought more walks accompanied by the ever-enterprising Rosie (one of our cats).
I seem to have so many photos of family members up trees. I sometimes feel I’m missing out, but it’s hard to make your way up a tree when you’re pregnant (as I was at the time) or babywearing (as I am now when we go out for a walk).
John and I had a trip down to Birmingham (my hometown) for my father’s 60th birthday meal (his party was delayed until the summer with the hope of more clement weather).
Me with my stepmother and aunt.
A small collection of male family members in the pub after the meal.
April took us to Brodsworth Hall – the weather was beautiful and, as ever, I enjoyed a walk around the gardens.  Each season brings something new to see and it is a place that I like to visit regularly.
May brought more exploring the surrounding countryside and enjoying the sunshine when it came.  Rain had brought water to the streams and ditches and at times it was rather soggy underfoot.
June was a very busy month!  Lots of June birthdays and more walks in the sun.  One of the most magical things about where we lived were the hordes of rhododendrons that clamoured around the edge of the woodland – harking back, possibly, to when the land had been a part of the nearby Rossington Hall.
My father’s birthday party took us down to Warwickshire and an overnight stay to spend time with family and old family friends.
A rare group photo of my brother, me (even more heavily pregnant and due any day at this point – I kept having visions of having to give birth in a motorway lay-by on the way home) and John on the front row and my two eldest sons at the back.
At the tail end of June, Anna was born into a busy month of birthdays (she shares her’s with my brother) and following swiftly on, July brought getting used to a new family-way of being, for it had been a while since there’d been a baby in the house.
For many years Nin had asked for a baby sister for her birthday and finally her wish had come true.
August brought my second son home for the holidays and a trip to Sherwood Forest and the Robin Hood Festival.  The day was very warm and we enjoyed some time sunbathing.
September and a trip to the East Yorkshire coast: Hornsea and Mappleton (and a flyby through Hull).
In October we discovered a new passion for all things fungi and set off scouring the woods.  We also went on a guided fungi walk to learn more and Nin became official photographer for the day.
November brought a flurry of packing and organising and a scaling back of time spent out-of-doors.  Wild fruit appeared rather thin on the ground in the hedgerows around the house (due to some very wet weather – a worry because it has also affected food production in this country) and I was having some mobility issues that affected searching further afield.  We did pick some rosehips to make syrup out of, though.
My eldest son is a proud senior member of Army Cadets (although approaching the end of his membership with them due to his age).  November 11th brought the annual Rememberance Day procession in the village and we went along to watch R head it as a flag bearer.
December brought an even great flurry of packing as we got ready for the impending house move.  Solstice was quiet and rather minimal and Christmas saw fourteen of us sit down to dinner – the most I’ve ever catered for (although I say ‘catered’, but it was a shared approach with John’s mother, sister and father helping make and cook the food).
The decorations came down the day after Boxing Day and the last bits of the house were packed up ready for January and moving day.
***
2012 was a bit of a strange year – almost like a holding pen for me.  After the chaos and, at times, hardship that was 2011, the move in 2012 brought a kind of underlying limbo where I felt that, whilst life had certainly become far easier and more positive, that I was waiting for something – indeed, being pregnant I was, but it was more than that, 2012 became a period of rest and recuperation and a transition period towards a new way of being.  R moved out in October and with E now living with my father so that he can attend sixth form in Birmingham and with plans to go from there to University, we found ourselves with a contracted household (even with a new baby) and a completely different pattern to daily life.  Everything fell into place for us to move and so, after only a year (and the third house move for me in 18 months!) we downsized to a rather solid three bed semi on the very outskirts of South Yorkshire and finally, I think, a new chapter is now beginning…

Home Education

I firmly believe that home education is the best education for *my* children, but know of plenty of children who thoroughly enjoy and thrive at school.  Horses for courses and all that – what works for my family does not mean it’ll work for someone else’s and well, to home educate, you really, really have to WANT to – well most of the time, anyway, we all have our off days!I thought I’d do an update about home education in my family – not only because I hope it’s helpful for people looking for examples, but also as it serves as a useful exercise to review what we do.

A Bit of Background

I’ve been home-educating (on and off) since 2003 and my children have been both in and out of the school system.  My eldest two sons had rather a ‘rocky road’ (although that’s rather a massive understatement!) with school and after quite a while trying to get the school to address awful bullying and my eldest’s arm being fractured by a group of boys, they were de-registered and home-educated for a few years.

Since then, both have been back to (a different) school and then came out again and in the case of my second son, went back in the very final year (year 11) to sit GCSEs (not the easiest thing to do at the last minute – although he was successful and is now studying A Levels).  It certainly wasn’t an easy time for them or me (for very many reasons) but despite the difficulties I still remain convinced that home education is best for my children and, indeed, if I were to ‘do it again’ I would actually look to say no to their returns to school in that time (except for the final Yr11 GCSE attendance which, at the time, made all the difference for E being able to do GCSEs) and maybe support them more to challenge any pressures they felt under to attend.  The actual nuts and bolts of their story is really very complicated and not the best read if you value your blood-pressure when it comes to detailing dealing with schools, various agencies and the Local Authority when you have children diagnosed with SEN.

I had always planned for my 3rd and 4th children to be home-educated ‘from the beginning’ but life has a way of sometimes getting in the way and they attended school for a short time when I had to work outside the home for a while (my ex husband left and I tried to keep the mortgaged roof over our heads and wasn’t able to organise suitable alternatives for them).  They did well at school, made friends, appeared to be generally popular with both their peers and teachers, and despite having not experienced any formal lessons in literacy or maths (due to their ages at the time) they settled well into their classes and Nin quickly caught up with reading and writing (her teacher said you would never have guessed that she started formal lessons so much later than her classmates).  However, they didn’t want to be at school, they wanted to be home-educated and they kept asking to be and I worried about them finding the very odd shifts I worked very hard.

Although I did enjoy my work, there was an underlying unhappiness at home and the nagging feeling that what was happening wasn’t right for us, I was becoming increasingly ill and struggling and coming to the realisation that things had to change.  So I de-registered Nin and Ted and we went back to home-educating.  This meant that the house was repossessed and we became temporarily homeless and we now live in rented accomodation, but in the end our happiness is what is important and tied up with that is the children being home-educated – who’d’ve thunk?).  The decision to home-educate isn’t always in response to a negative experience of school (indeed, we had a lovely letter from the Head wishing us all the best in the future) and my third and fourth children are an example of that.

What We Do

In The Beginning (i.e when I first deregistered my eldest two in 2003) I used workbooks – y’know the ones, they sell them in major bookshops/stationers and they’re aligned with the National Curriculum and they ask you questions and you fill the answer in in a space and if you get the answers right you get a star (or a shiny cup or a smiley face or some-such) and expected that the boys would sit down at a table and work through them with my support.  I’d never envisioned that I’d home educate till not long before I found myself actually home educating and it came as a bit of a culture shock (because, like so many other people, when I first became a parent I believed that children HAD to go to school).  Lets just say that workbooks didn’t exactly enthuse my eldest two and I was forced to rethink my approach…

I’ve tried a little bit of all sorts of things over the years, from very structured and organised to unplanned and child-led (autonomous) to child-led structure and various variations between and around about.  Home-education can be a very organic and holistic process – changing with the ebb and flow of family life as children, their interests and their needs, change and grow.  One size most certainly does not fit all and one of the beauties of home education is that you can alter the fit as needed.

These days I would consider that I am reasonably structured in my approach to home education with my youngest three children.  I’ve had an interest in Steiner Education for some years now (including starting a degree in Steiner Early Childhood Studies which unfortunately corresponded with when my ex husband left and me subsequently having to leave the degree course to work to keep a roof over our heads) and this certainly informs part of what happens here.
Our current approach looks a little like this (for my 9 and 7 year old):
My 9 and 7 year old playing “Pirate Arithmetic” (practising the four processes of maths)
Daily (or roundabout that):
  • Maths: maybe only 10 minutes or so as a recap/practice, longer if we’re exploring a new concept.  We also explore maths through various day-to-day activities such as baking, gardening, craft, etc.
  • Reading: both children read every day. My 7 year old began to learn to read towards the end of 2012 (I have waited until he’s approaching 7 before making any formal movement towards this end: i.e. making word cards and sitting with him sounding them out, making sentences, etc.)  My 9 year old reads from various pieces I’ve chosen for the week as well as various pieces that she chooses herself.  In addition, I also read to them from a chapter book such as “Heidi” or “The Borrowers“.
  • Narration and Discussion: I ask the children if they can tell me about something we’ve (or they’ve, in the case of my 9 year old) read.  I’ll ask them about something we’ve done the day before (for example a piece of music we’ve listened to) and ask what they remember and what they thought of it.
  • Music: I’d like to say we practise recorder every day – but, sadly, I’d be lying.  We do tend to sing every day, it’s fun and also very entertaining for the youngest member of our family.
  • Poetry: We try to read a poem at least weekly – sometimes the same poem for more than one day.  I try to find something related to something we’re working on, or interested in, at the time.
  • Art and Craft: we make various things and a there probably isn’t a day that passes when the children haven’t drawn or painted *something*.
Also covered at some point (or more) during a week:
  • History: I aim for twice a week ‘formally’ although if something crops up that’s relevant on top of this, I’m not one to ignore an opportunity. Currently we’re exploring the Anglo-Saxons (with forays into what was happening worldwide in the same era).  The Vikings will be arriving in due course and we’ll be in full swing ready for York’s Viking Festival in February 2013.  Our progress in History will be, by and large, chronological for a few years.  I hope that we will jump back for a bit of Ancient History in a few years time and then revisit the various eras previously studied with a view to deepening understanding.
  • Geography:  most of the geography we’ve covered, so far, has been incidental.  As a part of History, we’ve looked at maps of the Roman Empire at its height and how it changed towards the time when Rome withdrew from Britannia.  As a part of Nature Study we’ve talked about different habitats and noted features of the landscape when we’ve been out walking.  When visiting the coast we’ve discussed features that the children have come across, e.g. coastal erosion.  I would expect that this subject will continue to be incidental to other subjects for a while yet unless a particular question arises.
Erosion on the Holderness Coast – incidental Geography on a trip to the beach (this particular stretch was also full of fossils!)
  • Natural Science: when possible we go out for walks exploring the local area and further afield.  The children have their own Nature Journals and they record things that they find that interest them in these.  Although they go on the same walks, their journals are very different. My 9 year old’s is populated with fungi, a frog, leaf rubbings and poetry.  My 7 year old’s is filled with pencil and crayon drawings of beetles and spiders (not strictly ones that he has found because there’s a Goliath beetle, a resident of Africa, amongst others in it – but this is what interests him!)  We may try to identify flowers; go on a scavenger hunt for leaves or fruit/seed pods; see what birds we can spot; note landscape changing with the seasons and much more – there’s always something new to learn when you get outside.  We sometimes discuss other aspects of science in response to questions (e.g: why steam comes out of a boiling kettle) but I’m not planning (at present) to do anything that resembles a ‘science lesson’ because I prefer to focus on what the children observe around them and support them in learning more as and when the opportunity arises.
An up-close look at a frog on a Fungi Walk organised by Natural England
  • French: rather simple French at the moment and mostly because I speak a bit of French so it’s not completely alien to me.  I’d like to learn Arabic but I think I’d struggle to make the time amongst everything else (especially as I think Latin would be really useful!)
  • Spanish: I organise for a Spanish tutor to come to our house and we share the cost with a couple of other home-edding families.
  • Sports/Exercise: Well, small children quite often don’t need much encouragement to be active (well, mine don’t) but in addition to this my 9 year old attends classes in Multi-skilled Martial Arts twice a week and Ted attends Beavers.  Both children have bikes and we live walking distance from a playing field with playgrounds and there’s plenty of countryside to go tramping through.
I’ve probably forgotten something and this list certainly isn’t exhaustive.  Various skills are practised as a natural part of the above, e.g. writing happens as a natural part of everything else we do, although my 9 year old is currently learning cursive and is experimenting with her ‘handwriting style’ and this is certainly more ‘contrived’ (in that she will purposefully sit practising handwriting, as opposed to writing simply to make a note of something she saw in her Nature Journal).

How We Do It

Now that I look at the lists above it all looks rather scary in many ways and may give the impression that we spend a large amount of time sat at a table with me drilling my children!  Nothing could be further than the truth.  Whilst sitting down at a table is helpful when practising handwriting, for example, maths practice can be done anywhere – we’ve shaken our times tables with maracas and bells, jump-roped number bonds and played Yachtzy on the floor (although a tray or something helps, throwing dice on a carpet isn’t the best idea).  Ted regularly does any sums on the floor with a basket of ‘jewels’, he just finds it more comfortable than sat at a table.  Weights are always far more fun to explain when you’re baking a cake (as are ratios).  Discussion and narration can take place anywhere – breakfast or lunch is a good time and, if you’re my children, any time when I’d prefer to be doing something else (and yes, this includes when I’m on the loo and in the bath *sigh*)

It helps if you can keep your eyes open for opportunities, every day occurrences that can open up doors for observation and discussion.  One day we went out for a walk and I’d planned a scavenger hunt for autumn leaves and fruits – I’d even printed off lovely sheets and everything 😉 – and this went well for all of about 5 minutes until we noticed all the different fungi in the fields and woods and ended up off on a tangent, seeing how many different ones we could find and take a photo of.  Sometimes you can make a plan but something else comes along instead and it helps if you can see these something-elses as opportunities rather than hindrances (after all, the autumn leaves were still there the next day and the day after that).  So, although I’m structured in my approach to home education with my children, I’m also flexible in going off on a tangent if an presented with a question or opportunity.

Home education can be a very organic thing and, in my experience, doesn’t necessary happen in the way that you might first expect it to.  It can be a very steep learning curve, not so much for the children, but for their parents and/or adults involved in the children’s life.

So If They’re Not In a Class With Other Children, What About Socialisation?

A common misconception about home education is that children are isolated from their peers. In my experience this is the exception rather than the norm for home educating families.  Nin and Ted have various friends, both home educated and schooled, and also attend one of the local home education groups as well as occasional events.  In my opinion what my children experience is quality of socialisation over quantity – lots of children in a school environment does not a good social experience make if you are horribly bullied and isolated by your peers (the experience of one of my eldest two).  We have the opportunity to choose who we see regularly and whilst I won’t say that everything is always rosy at any meet-ups, because we’re all human (and home educators are comprised of as just as wide a cross section of society and just because we all home educate, it doesn’t mean we have anything else in common) we are not compelled to attend and can go elsewhere if we choose.  That choice is a wonderful thing!

***

I’ve written a synopsis of what I do here with my children at the moment, but if I was to return and write again in a few years time my approach might be very different.  I have no way of knowing whether it will be, or not, but I’m looking forward to finding out!

If you’d like to find out more about home-education, the statistics, legalities, etc, I recommend: Ed Yourself.