8th July, 2018 – long journeys

W and I have to travel long distance regularly and since travelling with little ones can be difficult, we’ve had to figure out a way to make it easier for us both. I think, for me, I have found that involving W in the ‘admin’ of the journey, has really helped her to enjoy the travelling.

I book my tickets online well in advance in order to get the cheapest tickets (LNER have no booking fees and sell tickets for all routes), then W likes to collect the tickets from the ticket machine, using the booking reference. I let her type all the letters herself and press the buttons (we’re careful to never do this when there is a queue as I don’t want to upset the grumpy commuters further).

She then loves to find the right train on the departure boards for me. It takes a while, but she is so chuffed when she finds out what platform we need, all by herself (I leave plenty of time at the station to do all these things slowly – being in a hurry at a train station is the worst….). Then it is time for W to find the right carriage and the correct seat for us. All of these things are great practise for her literacy and numeracy, without her realising, which is important at the moment as W is a reluctant reader currently. I’m not going to push the issue as she is so young yet and there is plenty of time for her to pick up on reading again when she is motivated to do so (I hope….).

Once on the train, we have snacks, then it is time to play with whatever little toys she has brought for the journey. Another thing we always do is to a good deed for someone or a random act of kindness. This usually involves carrying someone’s bag up the stairs, lifting a buggy, holding a baby (my favourite), or giving some food to a homeless person at the station. I feel it is important for W to help people without the expectation that people will do things for her, just for the sake of it.

Anyway, as is usual for this blog….. below is the learning that happened this week, on and off the trains:

Science: On one of our journeys, a freight train had broken down in front of us, so we learned about all the different ways in which it could be moved (in the end another engine had to travel many miles from Doncaster to it to pull it along the tracks to a depot).

There were two rows of train tracks; one for northbound and one for southbound. The engineers opened up the southbound side to northbound trains, so that trains could get around the blockage, via the points. W learned about how trains can move, points on the track, and how train safety works in order for engineers to be able to open an otherwise one-way track to both directions.

There were another two trips to the vet for Flash (who has now thankfully made a full recovery), so more opportunities to watch an examination of an animal. W saw an x-ray of a rabbit’s head and teeth there and was interested in how the teeth fit into the skull.

At Rainbows, the children made two different types of paper aeroplanes to see which one flew better and which had better aerodynamics. W needed help with following the instructions for folding, but so did everyone. The planes were good – and W and I later had a discussion about why one plane flew better than the other.

We learned about how underground trains get power to run and why there are sparks on the live rail when it does. W also asked about what would happen if you touched the live rail, so we had a conversation about that too.

W attended First Aid Training, given by Daisy First Aid, which she really loved and was really engaged with. She put her hand up and asked questions and then had a go at CPR on a dummy, put me in the recovery position and later put bandages on me. Also within the lesson, she learned about when it is appropriate to call an ambulance and when it is not. She learned about the heart and what it does and how to tell if someone is not breathing.

W wasn’t worried by any of the emergency training at all, but was very interested. She also liked the fact that her friends were there to learn too.

Spatial Skills: This weekend, W has played a lot with her doll’s house and also with her Lego. With the Lego, she built a set that was quite difficult with minimal help. She also helped to build the giant Lego Disney Castle again and did very well. This set is for age 16+, so very tricky, but W took it in her stride!

Socialisation: At our regular group, W met a new friend and played with her and another friend for most of the session. It was mainly imaginative play and the three of them got along very well. W also made a card for a friend who has not been able to come to the group for a while due to her illness.

At Rainbows, W played with her friends as usual.

At home later, W had to use her negotiation skills when choosing a board game for all the children to play and also when playing with D. They were quite competitive with each other when playing this time, so had to try to keep things fair between themselves. They worked it all out in the end though…

Literacy: As usual, we have been reading signs and notices when we are out and about, and we have also been practising phonic sounds from an Alphablocks set, which W has got the hang of now.

Numeracy: We have started playing the more complicated rules of Monopoly Junior, and W is doing really well at it. She is now understanding the concept of selling a property back to the bank in order to get money for a purpose. Her subtraction skills are now really, really good and she has figured out a way to do it by herself, without me teaching her a ‘method’.

I do have to tell myself to step back sometimes and let W try to work something out herself, before I jump in to ‘help’. I know from a lot of the reading I have done that it is easier for her to learn that way, but as a parent, I do find it hard sometimes to facilitate her learning, rather than to ‘teach’ her directly… it’s a work in progress…..

PE: It was J’s school sports day on Monday and W really enjoyed watching all the different sports being played and how the children competed with each other. She didn’t have an interest in playing sport herself, but very much enjoyed watching.

Languages / Music: At the park, we saw a singer and guitarist who sang in English, French and Polish and was brilliant! They really engaged the children in learning words in other languages and W really loved watching and listening to them.

And finally…. Our last bit of travel this week, was an unusually long and disrupted journey back from Rainbows, where we eventually discovered to W’s dismay that she had left her favourite toy behind on a bench at a previous station….  She was so, so upset

We had done some learning about CCTV in the past, but got to experience the magic of it this time when we found a security guard at our destination station (there were no station staff at that time of night) and told him the problem. He got the guards at our changeover station to check their CCTV. thankfully, they saw the precious toy on camera and promised to look after it until the distraught W could get back to the station to get it.

So we travelled all the way back, amidst cancellations and delays and were happily reunited. W didn’t even mind the very late night that she had that night.

I did use this as a learning experience of how there are always people around to help when you need something…… I guess it was time for a good turn to be repaid to us this time on a journey…

27th May – nature

This week, the focus of W’s learning has very much been on nature, because that is what she wanted to do. I do love being able to be out in the sunshine in the daytime, just learning and observing.

This is what we did:

Science / Nature: We looked at how buds turn into flowers while at our lovely local park. We fed the squirrels there and watched them bury their nuts and then saw some baby squirrels. We saw that one of the squirrels still had part of it’s winter coat and so we discussed how some animals’ coats change according to the seasons. W also asked lots of questions about bees: why they sting people, their anatomy, what different types there are etc.

We used a free set of resources from the Woodland Trust which had worksheets on tree spotting. We identified the different types of tree in the park on the worksheet and brought an example of each leaf home to identify again at a later date. We then stuck them onto coloured paper to help us to remember them. We found lots of different types, just in the one park.

Whilst tree spotting, we also identified minibeasts such as aphids, insect eggs, bees and flies.

While we were out, it started to rain and W learned about why rain starts and stops.

Later in the week, there was a nature trail during the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in a different local park, where W enjoyed spotting various plants, vegetables, insects and flowers within the community garden there.

Whilst we were going home, we had  brief ‘lesson’ on genetics, since W asked why certain people have certain coloured hair.

Play / Social: While we were at the community gardens, W played with three friends and, of course, D and J too. They went through a ‘maze’ of plants, played hide and seek with their teddies and also played in the playground.

This week, W has also played a lot with her Sylvanian families. She has been putting them all to bed and deciding where each character fits into the family. They have been going on outings in her toy bus and also changing clothes and meeting up for meals.

On Thursday, she wanted me to take a video of her playing with them, so we did that. She really wanted me to put the video on Youtube, but I didn’t, for reasons I will explain in a later blog…

We went to our favourite social meet again and W had a great time. She played with two of her friends mainly, but also chatted to lots of other children.

On the train on the way there, we did our usual making up stories and W took turns with me to decide what should happen in the story next. We also played with her Magiclip dolls and role-played with them trying on dresses and having a sleepover.

In the evening, W and D performed a talent show for us in the living room, which was (intentionally) very funny.

On Tuesday, W went to Rainbows and really enjoyed it. She made salt dough with her friend. She really enjoyed the singing at the beginning and end of the session. The easiest way to get there was to go on W’s bike, so we spent time learning more about how to ride it for a while on the way there. On the way home, something had ‘clicked’ for her and she rode it by herself!

Spatial Skills: W played with her Lego and she built the fabulous Lego Gingerbread House with very little help. She also built her favourite Lego Hot Air Balloon as it had fallen apart from last time. She played with the minifigures too and there was a lot of imaginative play where the toys were all put in different scenarios.

Games / Board Games: This week, W has played many games of Uno and understands the rules well.

English / Literacy: On a train journey, W enjoyed reading the station signs and finding the correct platforms, as usual. She also read some of the signs on the train itself. She likes to find the correct carriage and seat for us also.

On Thursday, we went to a couple of structured lessons. W loved the relaxed learning environment and the fact that there was a café on site. She went to the English class first and practised her pen skills by  colouring in a difficult pattern. She also wrote her name and a few words to show to the teacher. There were 8 children in the class and the teacher was setting them different types of work to do according to their age and ability, along the same theme. After that, they had a card game where they collected a card for words that they had remembered from a poem he read to them.

Maths / Numeracy: After English and a break in the café, W went to the Maths lesson, which was facilitated by a great teacher who got the children to do bar graphs of how many times they had managed to get a water bottle to flip and then stand up, with different amounts of water inside the bottles. The younger children enjoyed the active part and counting the number of tries, while the older kids took part in the question and answer session about the graph.

We discovered that W’s friend from the social meet was in the lesson too, so W teamed up with her and was very pleased to see her.

During playtime with D, W learned about how to split numbers in half. This was because W and D wanted to make sure they had the same amount of toys to play with in a particular game, so they split each group of toys in half to make it fair!

Music: On Saturday, we went to a local mini-festival and W watched a steel band, which she loved.

Geography: Whilst at the little festival, W looked at some old maps of our area and we looked at where our house was on the post-war map and on the older 100-year-old map. We also looked at other places, such as the schools and parks, which were all there on the older map too.

Next week, we have some family visits planned and also a birthday party to go to, which we are really looking forward to!

Can You Work and Home Educate?

I hear this question a lot from people who are considering home ed. There is a belief that home education is expensive (more about that in a later blog post) and that you won’t be able to work while doing it either. Neither of these are true. Home education is as expensive as you want it to be and you can definitely work while doing it – you just have to be creative.

However, I’m not going to say it is easy – it isn’t – but raising children can be difficult anyway and we’ve managed to do that so far, right?

You will need to make sacrifices. Instead of arranging childcare around your work, you will need to arrange work around your children. Self-employment or freelance work is probably the best type of work for home educators, simply because of flexibility, but it can be done if you work away from the home, too.

In my case, I am self-employed. I work for an hour or two in the daytime, whenever W is otherwise engaged in play or an organised activity, and then I work from the time she goes to sleep until I am falling asleep at my computer, usually at around midnight. I am lucky in that I can be very flexible in the daytime as I don’t have appointments or (many) deadlines in my line of work, but I find that simply fitting the hours in can be a struggle. For example, tidying, cleaning and cooking has to be done in the daytime when W is awake. I don’t get the chance to clean up after bedtime as that is the time that I am working. I very rarely watch TV in the evening, but this is the sacrifice that I made to home educate W. I do realise that it isn’t for everyone. It is difficult – very difficult – sometimes, but I do strongly believe that the benefits of home education far outweigh the costs to my free time (and the loss of the money I could earn by doing something else if W were at school). I get to spend hours a day at the park, in museums or seeing our good friends (see my post on socialisation here), so this ‘sacrifice’ is definitely worth it for us, by a long way.

In a two-parent family, you could tag-team, in that when one of you comes home from work, the other can work from that time. It takes a lot of organisation and again involves unsociable hours, but it can be done. I know of a few families that work in this way, with one partner working two or three nights a week and the other partner working in the day. Again, it involves sacrifice. You will see a bit less of your partner, so the time that you do have together becomes all the more precious. If you find that this is the best working pattern for you, do make sure that you can fit in just a little bit of together time now and then. Savour the moments that you do have.

I have spoken to many home educators on the subject of work. I know editors, people who teach languages online at home, transcribers, bloggers, eBay sellers and many, many other freelancers. I know people who have had high-powered jobs, but have given that up when making the decision to home educate their children. I know single parents who home educate, some working and some not. I also know many people who are fortunate enough to survive on one person’s wage, within a two-parent family. Every family’s situation is different and it is important to make the decisions that are right for you, as a family. It is about looking at where you are now and what you want your future to be.

Questions to consider:

Do you have extended (or nuclear) family support to cover for the hours that you will work?

If your children have grandparents, aunts, uncles or other trusted extended family that would love to have regular time with them, take them up on their offers. Your children will love the time and attention from them and you will have space to work for a little while, when the opportunity comes up.

If not, are there other hours that you can do when your children are asleep or occupied at workshops, groups or lessons?

If your child is old enough, and ready, there are many and varied lessons or workshops that your child can do without you needing to be present (subject to all of the relevant DBS and qualification checks, of course). You would then have an hour or two to do some work while these happen.

Are there working from home opportunities that fit your skill base?

Try searching for local or national jobs that can be done from home. These are very often lower -paid jobs, but can be much more flexible in terms of hours. Be careful to never pay anything up-front and to check that any company is a reputable one before you commit to anything.

Is it possible to work fewer hours at your current place of work, or to ask for more flexibility with the hours that you do have?

Often people think that they cannot change their hours or request to work from home, for fear of upsetting their employers, but it might be worth an ask, at least. Explain your situation and your reasons for doing this. If you have an approachable boss, you might just be lucky.

I do realise that this is not an option for many people, simply because the job that you do needs you to be present at work for all of your hours, or because your boss is not approachable at all….

If you have a partner, can you work opposite hours to them?

Draw up a plan of how that could look for your family. How would you feel about it and how would your children feel about it? Could you trial it for a while and see how it works for you?

Have you researched local groups or lessons locally that your child will benefit from, while you can also work?

Check local Facebook groups and email lists for all the current activities, clubs, lessons and groups that your child could do. At this point, I have to say that it is important to not book in too much, especially if your child has only just been deregistered from a school environment. Make sure you have plenty of down-time and free-play opportunities in between organised activities.

In the end, the decision to home educate and to make a change to your working hours or overall employment lies with your family only. Only you know what is best for you and your family and no-one can tell you what to do for the best. Have a think about what life would be like if things stayed the same. Would things be better or worse with a change? You can’t predict that, of course, but sometimes it is better to make a change, than to keep things the same, for fear of making the wrong decision. Maybe this could be the change that you all needed. Maybe this could be the best thing for you all and you would be a happier and more relaxed family because of it. You will never know until you make that leap….