15th April 2018 – A birthday

W had her 5th birthday this week, so we had a great time seeing the grandparents and playing with new toys. She was lucky enough to get this Stephanie’s House Lego set (age 6+) and built it almost by herself. She showed good concentration and is now very good at rotating objects in her head to see where the Lego pieces might fit. A few days later, she built her new LEGO Minecraft set and then played with it afterwards, role-playing showing her minifigures around the new sets.

Building her new Minecraft set had spurred W on to play real Minecraft on her tablet, where she built some more of a house that she has been creating. I have to say that I am amazed at how quickly children can pick up the game and learn how to create things on it. I don’t let her use the multiplayer mode yet, but she is happy enough creating her own ‘world’ in the game so far.

I’m pleased that W plays with Minecraft Lego as well as Friends Lego. I need to point out that we do not do ‘boy’s toys’ and ‘girls’ toys’ in our house. Toys and clothes are not gendered here. The children are free to wear pink or blue or any other colour that they choose. They can play with any toys that are age appropriate (and are not guns) regardless of which gender they are marketed to (more information on this can be found here). I read a fantastic book, backed up by a great deal of research on the subject by Cordelia Fine, called Delusions of Gender. In it, she debunks ‘neuro-sexism’ and explores how society will have us believe that there are huge differences in male and female brains; and seeks the scientific proof to the contrary.

Another new birthday present that W received this week was this Disney Princess Heart Box, which she spent some time decorating. She then really wanted to paint this Galt Toys Tea Set. W enjoyed choosing the colours and styles that she wanted on each item. She liked it so much that a few days later, she went on to paint a couple of china chicks for us to have as Easter ornaments. They turned out great and are now part of the Easter box of plastic eggs and trinkets that we get out every year.

W, D and J all did some ‘work’ for me on my business when they wanted to. This is both educational and a great way for them to learn about the value of money. I have written more about the subject in my blog posts about pocket money and chores.

The next day, J, D and W all played together at a soft play centre. On the way there, W wanted to spot which bus was ours. She looked out for the correct numbers on the bus and found the right one in no time. She then spent a long time talking to J on the journey, and teaching him all she has learned over the last few weeks, showing that she has taken in a lot of information.

Later, all the children watched two videos together, as they needed to wind down after such a busy day. Whenever we watch a video, we have the subtitles on. The older one likes to read them to catch anything he may have missed (or to pick out inaccuracies), the middle one likes to read the words of the songs so that she can learn them, and it is helping W to be motivated to learn to read as well.
Three friends came to the house later in the week for an Easter egg hunt. My partner had set up clues for the children to follow to find eggs around the house and garden. D and J’s clues were written, and W’s were in words and pictures. They all did well to work out the answers and find their eggs. After much chocolate was eaten, they all played noisily in the park and the house and properly enjoyed their day! We had another social engagement later in the week when another friend came to the house to play and much fun was had again.

In addition to the planned play dates we had, there was also an impromptu social opportunity for W, when one of the trains that we traveled on this week was delayed, meaning a 3 hour journey for us. W spent the time playing with 4 other children (ages 9, 7, 5 and 3), sharing her toys and role-playing moving house, going to prison (!) and playing doctors, amongst other things. The other children loved playing with her and they all got on very well for the whole time we were travelling.

Back at home, W wanted to work on some activities in one of her magazines, so she read a few words of an Alphablocks story, even reading a couple of words without sounding them out first. She also matched some sticker shapes, followed dotted lines with her pen and cut out some shapes.

Since we are lucky enough to have all the children at home because of the school holidays, we visited Deen City Farm. There was lots to do and the children learned about what goats, sheep and cows eat. One of the goats ate a piece of the paper packet that the food was in and we had a discussion about what would happen to the packet and why goats eat things that they shouldn’t. They also learned the difference between herbivores’ teeth and carnivores’ teeth, since they noticed what shape the goats’ teeth were. We had a chance to pet rabbits and guinea pigs, and to ask lots of questions of the staff there.

We saw owls and W asked why the owl was awake in the daytime. She learned about how owls are bred and tamed, and how they are cared for. We then watched a riding lesson and then pooped in to see the rabbits and guinea pigs being cleaned out.

After looking at all the animals, it was time to play in the playground. Even though it was the school holidays, we managed to find another home educated child there to play with. W chatted to him and played with him on the slides and climbing frames.
D and W played catch at the bus stop on the journey home and then D later read her book to both W and J while we waited. W just loves being read to and loves books in general, so having D read to her benefits them both so much. We had one of those perfect parenting moments at that bus stop. You know, one of those moments where all the children are behaving perfectly and doing something very sweet while people look on and smile. It was definitely one of those times where I felt all smug (before the children’s grumpiness kicked in a few minutes later, but I won’t mention that…..).

Subjects covered:

Economics (business), Maths (receiving wages for ‘work’), Spatial skills (Lego, Minecraft), Art (pottery painting and decorating jewellery box), English, Biology (mammals’ teeth and animal characteristics), socialisation (friends visiting, meeting a new friend at the park, sibling play, extended family visiting). Technology (Minecraft).

8th April 2018 – The Big Bank

W has been very interested in money this week, so we decided to visit The Bank of England Museum. I love it there and, although it is a small museum, it is free entry and they have great activities for children, such as Easter Egg hunts.

There was lots to do and we started with looking at the different security features of banknotes, since W asked last week why people don’t just print more money when they run out. She learned about the Royal Mint and why it is important that money only comes from there. She got to use a UV light to show patterns on bank notes, which she loved.
In the museum, you have an opportunity to hold a gold bar and to try to lift it. W had a go (but couldn’t lift it as it weighed around 14kg – the same as her….). She asked why it was so heavy when it was so little, so we talked about density. There was also a fabulous display on the properties of gold and why it is so valuable.
After that, W learned what people did before money came into use, and also about the history of the Bank of England itself. She found some of it fascinating and engaging, then had a rest at one of the tables where some crafts were set out. She had a great time colouring-in and drawing too.
Next, it was time for the fun (and still educational) part – an Easter hunt around the museum, following clues to find certain things and answering questions about some items. We filled in a quiz as we went and got a chocolate egg as a great reward at the end. The staff were all lovely with her, especially when we realised that we had left her beloved teddy somewhere inside the museum. We searched everywhere, but had no luck. Eventually one of the porters helped us, even moving some exhibits to look behind them.

In the end, to W’s relief, Teddy was found and all was well with the world!

On the train home, W asked about the UV light that she had seen: what is it and why did it show patterns on the bank notes? We had a good long conversation UV light – eg how it fades fabrics, what it is etc. At this point, I found myself reflecting on the fact that school children don’t get as much of the ‘follow-up’ learning that W does, in that there isn’t time on the way back from a school trip for a child to ask so many questions of what they have seen. Sure, there is some time, but it is very short, considering that teaching staff are focussing on getting so many children from one place to another safely. I don’t know if it is different for other children, but my kids tend to learn so much more after an educational trip, rather than on it. There are usually additional questions for days afterwards, after they have had time to process what they saw or did.

Later in the week, W was lucky enough to be able to go on the London Eye. It was great for her to see the city from a different perspective and to have a chance to point out her favourite landmarks, which she loves to do.

When we travel, W loves to help me to find the correct train and platform and this is currently her main motivator for learning to read. She really wants to be able to find the right train on the display and to tell me which platform to go to. Aside from being a sweet thing to do, it is also a valuable life skill to have and I’m sure she will get to grips with it very soon. We keep looking at the displays together every time we get on a train.

When we got home, we spent some time building a Lego set. She is learning now that, although a build can take a long time, when she perseveres with it and finishes, she gets a brilliant toy to play with afterwards. Her building skills are great, so it doesn’t take her too long to put them together and she does really enjoy the end result.

W also noticed that she had some mail today. The Book Trust provide free books to all reception-aged children, so that includes home-educated children. W’s book had arrived, so we read it together. It is always lovely to have a parcel in the post that you weren’t expecting, and this was a lovely example.

The evening board game this week was mainly Charades For Kids and, as usual, we had bedtime stories every day.

[Topics covered: Science (UV light), Maths (denominations of money; what was used as currency before money and how it was added together), Geography (London’s skyline), English (reading books and departure boards), Spatial skills (Lego building)]

1st Apr 2018 – Overcoming Fears

After seeing Tower Bridge in all its glory from a train window, W was desperate to go on a visit there, so this week we took a trip to The Tower Bridge Exhibition and experienced the glass walkway at the top of the bridge. I was scared to walk on it, but W was not nervous at all and even lay down on the glass to watch the traffic below. I didn’t mention my nerves at all and eventually convinced myself to walk on it too. Being able to overcome fears that I have is something I have only managed to crack since becoming a parent. I know that, if I show my (more irrational) fears to W, she gets the message from me that she should also be afraid. Obviously, for some situations, a degree of nervousness is needed in order to keep us safe, but in this instance, W was really enjoying herself and was completely safe. Who am I to take that from her by telling her that I am terrified and that, by default, she thinks that she should be too?

It’s so hard to face fears like that, but I can honestly say that I have done so much more than I usually would, just by giving my children experiences that I wouldn’t normally give myself and it has been quite liberating, to be honest. I would happily go on the glass walkway again.

Anyway, this is not a diary about me – this is about W’s learning, so….

We visited the engine room of the bridge and learned about how the bridge used to be lifted by steam engine many years ago, and how it works now. We also saw the tools that were used to build the bridge and learned how it was built across the river and why, by watching a video on it’s construction. W was interested in what people’s job roles were on the bridge and where all the materials came from to build it.

When we were on the glass walkway above the bridge, we spent a long time watching the river and road below. After that, we spent a long time playing in the fountains nearby with some other children and also walked through the gardens and tall buildings and looked at their different features.
When we were at the side of the river, we talked some more about the Thames and where it goes.

The next day, we did some work on telling the time, because she is keen to learn it at the moment. The main reason, I think, is wanting to know how long it is before her step brother and sister come home from school as they love playing together so much. She wants to be able to tell the time herself so that she doesn’t have to ask me how long it is until something happens. So, W now knows what the hour hand is for and knows what ‘half past’ means.

After that, it was time for a visit to the library for more chapter books that I will read to her at bedtime. W chose fiction books with an animal theme this time. She has one chapter of a book before bed (or one picture book, but she usually chooses chapter books nowadays), and D and J also have the same, so W actually gets 3 chapters read to her of an evening. She can also have unlimited chapters or picture books read to her in the daytime if she wants, of course, but at bedtime there is a limit of three, or bedtime would take even longer than it currently does…

I took W and D to the park and the children watched ladybirds for a while, to see how they moved.
J (9) and W made breakfast by themselves one day and W was proud of making it herself, so proud in fact, that she and D later wanted to put away all the shopping too.

I took W to the social group that we visited a couple of weeks ago. She played with lots of children, built Lego, played with a geometric shapes game and generally had lots of fun again. We stayed right until the end as she loves it there.

Just to squeeze in a bit more playtime, we went to a funfair, just for… well fun…. I can’t say much for the learning aspect, but they really had a great time there! After that, a friend came to visit and W had a great time playing with her, as usual.

Although it is great that we have so many opportunities for learning everywhere we go, I am still careful to not make everything we do educational. Its important to simply have a good time for the sake of it and this week was definite example of that – certainly for me and I hope for all the family too. Having children is a great excuse to be able to go to funfairs and be silly, in the name of entertaining them.

Socialisation and Home Education

Whenever I talk to other people about home education, the socialisation question almost always comes up. Actually, it is a bit confusing for me as I wonder where people have got the idea that home educated children don’t see other children. Where did it come from? It can’t be that all these people know some home educated children somewhere who sit at home and see no other children at all, because I’ve never met any and I’m fairly sure that this mythical family doesn’t exist…

Is it from the media? It is certainly true that there have been a couple of cases where the children in a family have been held captive and haven’t been allowed to see the outside world, but these are extreme and incredibly rare cases. It is estimated that there are between 40,000 and 80,000 home educating families in the UK. Is it the popular belief that all of these families are hiding from the world at a desk at home?

The truth, in fact, is that us families see each other. A lot. The friendships that home educated children have cross all age ranges, social strata and are neurodiverse. They form friendships according to common interests and not simply because they are exactly the same age or ethnicity etc. Schooled children are made to sit with the same people of the same age for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. The potential for these children to find other people who like similar things and play in the same way is drastically reduced as the ability to mix with a varied range of children is almost completely closed to them.

I would like to suggest that actually, us home educators are as worried about socialisation as much as anyone (because we are questioned about it so much, perhaps), and because of this, we go out of our way to seek groups and play opportunities for our children in order for them to form many friendships. It has to be the case that our children are having so much opportunity to mix with children with common interests, that they could be forming more varied and meaningful friendships than those children who happen to be in the same class, age (and often gender) at school.

So, if you are new to home education, or have been doing it for a while and are worried about socialisation, here are some tips for how to get your children out there and forming lasting friendships:

1. Join as many home education Facebook groups as possible.

I have found that the vast majority of meet-ups are advertised on local Facebook groups. Just search for “home education [your area]” in the Facebook search bar and it will bring up groups local to you. Try searching by county and also towns local to you. You’ll find a range of meet-ups and groups at various dates and times available to you.

2. Don’t worry if you’ve been to a meet-up and your child didn’t play with anyone.

As is the case for adults, children also need to find other children that they ‘click’ with and have the same interests as them. Don’t be disheartened if you have been to a group (or a few) and your child hasn’t engaged with many people. It will come. Keep going to different meets until you find your ‘tribe’… Those people that ‘get’ you and your children and welcome you for who you are.

With more reserved children, it may take a few visits to the same groups for them to ‘warm up’ and step outside of their comfort zones to talk to other children. I find this especially true for those children who have found school stressful or difficult socially. They need time to adjust and to regain their confidence for making friends. For some, school settings can be damaging socially (it certainly was for me, but more about that in a future post), and it takes time to undo the fear that some children experience when walking into a busy room full of children again. Give it time.

3. Chat to the parents!

When you go to meet-ups, make sure you chat to others. It can be daunting, but I have found that there is a big sense of community amongst home edders and they are happy to share knowledge and tips with others as they have been where you are too.

Other parents can tell you about the social meets and groups that are not advertised on the Facebook sites. These meets are many and varied and are often arranged by a group of friends whose children get on well together. If your children have common interests with the others (and even if they don’t), they will be welcomed along and you will have a full social diary in no time!

4. Go to your local park in the daytime.

Do your children play with other children at the park? If they do, walk over to the children’s parents and chat to them. If your child is playing with another child for a long time, go and say ‘Hi’ to their parents and introduce yourself. Parks are very busy after school, but if you go in the daytime, it is much easier for your children to play with one or two other children and have the space to run around. I have found other home-educating families this way and have made some great friendships, for me and for W. It is a bold step to go out of your way to meet people in this way, but you and your children could end up with friends for life, who live very near indeed.

5. Go on organised trips.

Organised trips for home educators happen all the time. In fact, they are so frequent that I have to pick and choose only the best ones for W to go on as there is so much choice.

Ask other parents at regular home-ed meets to join you to email lists and Facebook groups that are advertising trips at the education discount rate. It is not expensive to go on these as home educators can get the schools rate when they go in a group. Adults are often free and children’s tickets are at a drastically reduced cost, often with workshops included in that price too!

Search on Facebook for ‘Home education trips’ to find some of these.

When you are there, you will meet even more families similar to yours, especially if you are going to s specific workshop for a specific interest.

6. Relax

Try not to push your child to mix with others if they are not comfortable doing so yet (especially if they have recently been deregistered from school and are still finding their feet). Our job is to provide the opportunities for them to play with others, but not to push them into it. If a child feels pressured to do something, it is less fun and less meaningful for them than if they had done it under their own steam.

Model the behaviour you want to see in your child. Talk to others (adults and children) and show that being with others can be a fun experience. Take it easy, though. It takes time to step outside of your comfort zone, just as it does for our children.

We have all been there. We have started the home-ed journey with nerves, trepidation and doubt. We all found each other somehow and have the common goal of doing the best for our children. Taking the first step of de-registering (or even deciding to home educate before school age) is a huge decision to make, but we did it. And we did it with our children’s best interests at heart. And that is the point of all of this, after all.

25th March 2018 – out and about

One of the things that I really enjoy doing with the children is building Ikea furniture! They seem to love it and enjoy looking at the instructions and figuring out where the different pieces should go. This time, W and I built a chair. W liked learning which tools to use for each part and was very good at working out where the pieces fit (probably because of all the Lego building that she does).

When we were out, W asked how some words are spelled, so we did a little bit of spelling together (just spoken, not written). Then W attempted to read some signs too. The conversation then moved on to the seasons: we talked about when they all start and end, how long they are and why the blossom is on the trees in the Spring.

When D came home from school, W was desperate to play some board games with her, so they played Frustration and this Orchard Toys Crazy Chefs Game. After that, the children decided to perform some ‘shows’ all together, including dancing, singing and funny sketches too. This then morphed into a game of Charades (this one is great for little ones) and W did well at miming so that others could tell what she was doing.

The next day, it was time to go and visit the grandparents. On the train, W wanted to buy something from the cafe carriage by herself, so I let her, while I was watching from the next carriage. She was confident talking to the staff.

When we arrived at the grandparents, W showed her Dinosaur encyclopedia to them and explained what each of the pages was about, showing that she had absorbed the info in it from before. Being at the grandparents also means lots and lots of playing. W had lots of fun playing games and generally being silly whilst we were there.

We saw many things on the way home that sparked discussion. We saw another bus being repaired. This time, the electrics were being fixed and W asked many questions about the electrical circuits in the bus and what they do (this particular one was for the door ramp). This happened by Embankment Station and we popped into the gardens to look at the different flowers. While there, we saw a pigeon trying to build a nest.

As we passed, W asked how many windows the Shard has and asked how they are cleaned, so we looked both of those things up on my phone, watching a video of the Shard’s windows being cleaned. This raised questions on how people can abseil safely, so we watched another video on that.

Then we saw a postbox being emptied, which sparked a discussion on what happened to the post, where it will go and how does the Postie know where they all need to go. By the postbox was a Hindu temple, so had a look at it and talked about different religions and what different people believe.

The next day was a day for a playdate with 3 of W’s friends, aged 1 to 7. They had lots of unstructured fun and this free play continued when a (grown-up) friend came over on a different day and played with all 3 children.

Since we had such a great time at the Natural History Museum two weeks ago, we decided to go again and learned even more from that visit, spending longer in the mammals section and revisiting all the dinosaurs again. Afterwards, W was really keen to look at the encyclopedia again to compare what it says in there to the things she had learned at the museum.

I love how W likes to revisit a topic many times, to sort of ‘solidify’ her knowledge and to pick up anything she may have missed the first few times. I’ll let her continue to learn about dinosaurs for as long as she needs to, until she wants to move on to the next big topic.

18th Mar 2018 – transport

With all this talk of the underground and trains last month, I took W to the London Transport Museum. There, we saw lots of old buses and learned the difference between a trolley bus and a tram. Back in February, W asked how the London Underground tunnels were built initially and how they are built now, so we went to look at the exhibit that explains it all. W also learned about the new Elizabeth line and the design of the new stations and why they look like they do.

I mentioned in my post on pocket money that W was learning about saving and also about delayed gratification. For the first time, with no encouragement, W said she would like to save her pocket money and not spend it in the gift shop.

After our visit, we walked across Waterloo Bridge in the rain. W asked why the river was grey when it was raining, so we talked about how rivers and the sea reflect the sky. Then W asked why the Thames is so big and why it is called the Thames (I promised to look this up later..) She was very good at naming the buildings along the way as she loves looking at the skyline and learning them when she sees them from the train.

The next day, we decided to visit a local Home Ed group. It was a fantastic group with educational toys and games dotted around, an outdoor area and a hall for playing in. There were lots of children there, which gave W a chance to make new friends and play new games, which she did, enthusiastically. She also stood on the stage and sang to everyone (!). This group was great for me as well as it gave me a chance to pick up some tips and resources for project learning from the other parents. We shall definitely go back. It is a weekly group, so a good opportunity for W to make links and to see the same friends regularly.

On the train home, we did some phonics learning and W attempted to read the station signs as we passed them. She also enjoyed showing me the way home by following signs. As if all that hadn’t been enough, W later worked on her activity books by herself while I cooked.

The next day, we had a bit of down time. W has been building a house on Minecraft (a brilliant educational game) and wanted to work on that in the morning, then later played ‘vets’ with her Playmobil Farm.

In the afternoon, we went to the GP for a follow-up appointment and played with two children at the bus stop on the way there (they were racing each other). She chatted to the GP confidently about her toys and then learned about blood tests and what they are for.

I bought W an Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs to start our project with. W really enjoyed looking at the timeline from the big bang to the evolution of humans. She then loved learning the names of various dinosaurs and learning why they were the size and shapes that they were.

A trip to the park later had us feeding the ducks and swans. this was a good opportunity to learn what the best food for them is, so we bought some duck food and talked about bread and human food, and explained what ducks can and can’t eat.

To round off the day, we all went to a concert that J and D’s school was involved in. J was performing and W and D loved watching the performance and took it all in. They commented on which dancers she thought were good and which were not so good. W was totally focussed on the performances and loved the different routines and songs.

The next day was a day for a long journey and W had a go at reading the signs to show us the way to the correct train, platform and seat. She did very well, with a few little pointers. When on the train, she did a few maths worksheets with simple addition on them. She was fairly confident with this as she has been adding numbers regularly over the past coupe of months, especially during board games. Next, we played snap and did a jigsaw together.

Next week, we shall visit the Bank of England Museum to follow up on our learning about money from last month. I’m looking forward to it!

11th Mar 2018 – dinosaurs again

So, after all this talk of dinosaurs, we needed a trip to the Natural History Museum!

I asked W what she wanted to find out there and she said she wanted to see some dinosaur bones and to find out how the dinosaurs died. She asked lots of questions while we were there (far too many to detail here) and learned three different theories of how they died out. She also learned how people find fossils, how they are dug up and how they are made. There was a little bit of learning about evolution in there too and a tiny bit of learning Latin words. She was interested in finding out about Mary Anning too. W was able to name a few of the dinosaurs and explain how their bones ended up in the ground as we had discussed that before.

She was fascinated by the different types of crystals there and how they ended up being different colours. She looked at petrified wood and looked at the growth of crystals and coral. She spent a while learning how rocks can glow in the dark and we got to see the refraction of light through calcite, which makes things appear double. W had the opportunity to handle some different rocks with different surfaces and to categorise them too – one of her favourite activities right now.

We briefly walked through the mammals section of the museum, which W would like to return to another day. We had a fabulous time there and W learned so much. It is so good to be able to see actual examples of dinosaur bones and to be able to touch crystals etc. You just can’t replicate that experience with books or websites. The experience of going to see real examples is so immersive and much more memorable.

After leaving the museum, she played with lots of other children, who were chasing bubbles, which she loved.

The next day, W wanted to do some writing and number practice. She wanted to know how certain words are spelt, such as ‘Special’. She then wrote them down and looked at them to see how the letters make the sounds. W is now in a phase of wanting to learn to read and write. I find it comes and goes. Sometimes she doesn’t want to put a pen to paper for weeks, but then something will spur her on to want to learn again and she will be enthusiastic about it for a time. I think having older siblings who can read and write helps in terms of her motivation. She wants to be able to read the same things that they can, so has a drive at the moment to learn.

W has also been counting a lot over the last week; train seats, train carriages, stairs, people etc all get counted as she passes! When we get the bus, she has been trying to read numbers over 100 on the front of them and on signs etc.

At home, W counted her Shopkins and has been interested in trying to read the names of the Shopkins on her lists.

One morning, W started the day with a geography lesson. She had bought a toy online from Hong Kong and wanted to know where that was. We got out the big atlas and looked at the size of the British Isles in comparison to other countries, the distance to China, and the travelling time to get there. Then we looked at the location of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, New York, Cork in Ireland, Shetland, Jersey and France, at W’s request. We then looked at the geography of London and the river Thames.

Later, W and D (7) did some problem solving together whilst they were playing. They really wanted to play together, but were disagreeing about what to play. With a little help, they managed to negotiate together to find something that they both wanted to do. Once they had got over that hurdle, they played two board games together and were great with playing by the rules and allowing each other to add up etc without the other interrupting. I know that sibling disagreements are normal and a way of learning social skills, but when things become a little tricky, I often revisit this book: Siblings Without Rivalry. It’s a practical book with great examples. Maybe a little simplified in places, but the message is good.

What is your go-to strategy for sibling disagreements? Is there a book or blog that you have found helpful? Let’s share some ideas and strategies for helping our children sort out their conflicts below in the comments…

To let off steam, we later popped out for a visit to the library, getting out some interesting books and chapter books for bedtime, then W, D and J all played in the park, climbing a lot and generally running about and having fun together.