10th June 2018 – Questions

This week, W seemed to be full of questions. It was a week of learning outside the home, with little sit-down work.

Here is what we did:

Numeracy: When we walked along the street, W read every house number along the way (they were 3-digit numbers).

Later, she also enjoyed reading the numbers on her old Lego trading cards (numbered 1 to 140) whilst she put them in order.

Music: We visited the library to take out and return some books. When we were there, there was a Rhyme Time session on and W listened and sang along to the songs.

Science / Nature: We spent some time feeding the squirrels in the park again and W enjoyed watching them bury their nuts. She is really good at being calm and quiet around the squirrels, so that they will come to her to get the food. This is another benefit of home education: it really does give us these lovely quiet opportunities when there are very few other people around and we can take our time to look at animals or flowers uninterrupted by others.

We visited the Science museum and W really enjoyed it there. She was a little nervous of the dim light in the ‘Space’ area, but loved the orb in the centre of the room, which had the different planets and moons projected on to it whilst audio was playing with information about each one. She was particularly interested in our moon.

We looked at space suits and how they keep astronauts cool, found out how astronauts go to the toilet (poo and wee are hilarious at the moment….), looked at models of space rockets and the space station, saw a real spacecraft, saw a real skeleton from 100BC and found out how they worked out how old those bones were.

Together, we learned so many things, including facial reconstruction of skulls, how skeletons are excavated, how vaccinations work, how anaesthetic used to be administered, what gravity is and more!

On the way home, we looked at, and talked more about how train points work, as we did last week.

Then she wanted to know how cranes are delivered and how they can turn into lorries. Luckily, I have seen many cranes at work due to a previous employment, so was happy to bore W with details about them….

And to top off a day of questions, W asked how steam engines work, why they can’t go into space, and why there were no spacecraft a long time ago, so we covered that too.

A few days later, W was thinking about our visit to the science museum visit and asked how a person’s skin and flesh decay to become just a skeleton (I tried to explain this in as nice a way as possible – saying that it basically becomes the earth around it with the help of insects and bugs).

Politics: On by-election day, we had a discussion over breakfast about the main political parties and touched on their policies too. W came to watch me vote and we discussed how the voting system works in this country. We went through the political parties again and talked about their policies a little and then she wanted to know how a person can become an MP.

Play: After our visit to the Science Museum, W played with her siblings and other children, chasing bubbles in the ‘garden’ of the Museum.

At home, there were many opportunities for play and the children chose board games, Lego and dolls to play with.

History: One evening, W asked to see the Royal family’s family tree with pictures, which I showed to her and explained what it meant and who the people are.

She then asked to see a family tree from a different country, so we looked at the French kings and queens back to 1300!

Religion: We visited a church on the way to Bank station (at her request) and learned what the pulpit and font are for and we looked at the ten commandments on the wall. She asked what the bible was and we talked about that. She wanted to read a gravestone inside the church, so we did, and then after that, we lit a candle and made a donation.

Time: At Euston station, W saw a digital clock and asked why it is different from an analogue clock. This led to a discussion on the 24-hour clock.

Literacy:  This week, W wasn’t feeling like doing any writing, so only did a couple of pages of an activity book until she moved on to something else.

As always, I didn’t push W to do any more writing than she was comfortable with. She is still so little at 5 years old and has many years ahead in which to perfect her skills in that area. An interesting recent study has shown that children taught to read and write early perform no better (often worse) academically at 11 years old than those who experienced play-based learning in the early years. This really shows that, if children are allowed to learn subjects when they are ready to, they will remain keen to learn the subject and are also capable of learning it more quickly.

For now, W writes when she wants to and loves to do so.

3rd June, 2018

Another busy week in terms of learning this week, which involved a birthday party and two family visits:

Play / Social: We visited our favourite social group as usual and W played with four friends in the sunshine.

The grandparents also visited for a while, so the children enjoyed lots of imaginative play with Grandma.

And then, more family: the children’s cousins, who are 13 and 9, came to visit later in the week.  W loved playing with them and the children all get on very well together. We went to the park, fed the ducks and squirrels together and also played silly games there.

The next day, it was time for a birthday party for both D and J’s friends. The children had a great time there and W played with four children that she knows well, on the bouncy castle.

Spatial Skills: At the social meet, W enjoyed completing a puzzle where she needed to fit geometric shapes into a pattern.

When the grandparents visited, W got the chance to watch me and her grandfather build a wooden step for the garden. She was very interested in how it was put together, and even helped us for a while.

Later in the week, the Play-Doh came out, which was surprising as W has shown little interest in it lately. However, she was very keen to make cupcakes and various creations out of it this time. It was actually great to see how differently she plays with it now, compared to when she was tiny.

W spend a lot of time with me in the mornings (before the others got up) building the Lego Disney Castle, which is a Lego set for age 16+. It is a huge set and very difficult to put together, but W needed minimal help, possibly because she builds Lego so much already. I must say here that this was not our Lego set – it is far too expensive for us – we were putting it together for the purposes of a photograph later in the week…. A great educational opportunity!

Literacy / English: On our train journeys, W attempted to read the train signs, as usual. She also read all the tickets that we had collected from the station for our forthcoming journeys. She wanted to know the seat number and carriage for each one and I let her go through all the tickets (there were loads- I like to book in advance…) to check all of them.

The Local Authority sent us a form to fill in about W’s education (more about this in a later blog – coming soon), so W answered a couple of questions that were relevant to her and also drew a picture for the EHE officer.

While Grandma was here, W did a little writing and drew some pictures to show to her.

One of the cousins read stories to W and then also made up stories for her. W loves it when her cousin does this as she is very skilled at story telling. Although W was mainly listening to the stories and not telling them herself, it is a very important part of learning for her to be able to understand what makes a good story and why.

I read W’s new Great Women of the World book, which she really loved and seemed to remember details from the book a few days later.

History: At bedtime (I’m sure she was stalling…), W asked lots of questions about royalty and how Kings and Queens become so. She asked about our current Queen and about how many children she has and their titles and status. She also asked about previous Kings and Queens and royalty in other countries. We looked up a list of them online and she was very interested in the fact that the members of the royal family have historically married members of other royal families (or the same one….).

On a train journey, W wanted to know how trains can move onto different train tracks and go in different directions, so we looked at videos of train points on Youtube, which she enjoyed. She learned about how points were operated historically, compared to now.

Science / Nature: One evening, W enjoyed telling us all that she has learned about bees recently. She showed us how much she had remembered by describing how bees are kept and looked after, what different types of bees there are, how bees swarm and why etc etc.

We also observed a bumble bee when we were travelling to our social group. The bee was busy on a flower and calm, so we were able to have a good look at it, noting it’s different features.

W asked if there were any black flowers in the world, so we learned a bit about black tulips and how they get their colour. W is also learning a lot of flower names and types through her Nan, who is a keen gardener, and also from my partner, who is working on a ‘flower a day’ project at the moment.

W’s grandparents left a Nature workbook for her when they said goodbye, and W enjoyed completing a few pages of that on a later train journey.

At the birthday party, the children had the opportunity to make ice cream with liquid nitrogen, which W thought was amazing. The man helping the children to make the ice cream explained the properties of liquid nitrogen and described the process of the ingredients turning into ice cream too. It became a science lesson for them and it was also a really fun thing to do at a party, I must say.

Also at the party, W learned about generators and how they work, because the bouncy castle generator needed fixing while we were there. We watched people fixing it, filling it with petrol and starting it again.

Then there was a boat race. The children put together boats, which had been made on a 3D printer, and had the chance to make sails. We then put the boats in the water for a race.  During this, W asked why a boat would go slower if its sail got wet and also why it needs a sail at all.

W learned a lot about climate change one morning as D asked a question about it and so W started to ask questions about it too. We covered Solar Power, Elon Musk (!) and fossil fuels too. Obviously, we need to touch on this subject again many times in the future as it is such a big subject, but it is good to give the children a basic understanding to build on later.

Board games:  W played Monopoly Junior with D and one of the cousins, and had a great time doing so.

Politics: W asked why there were red posters on our street, so I took the opportunity to teach her about elections. She is very interested in how democracy works and why some people would vote for someone who doesn’t want everyone to have equal rights. It was a difficult thing to explain as I’m not really sure why someone would do such a thing myself….. As with climate change, this is another example of a subject that needs further exploration at a later date, as there are so many layers of different issues involved, that it is impossible to cover it all at once.

So, watch this space…. I’m sure you will read here about many more discussions on the big issues of the world over the years to come….

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!

20th May – a holiday

This week, W was lucky enough to go on a holiday. Obviously, there was no structured learning while on a break, but of course learning happens organically every day, without effort on our part. I just love that, even if we have no plans for specific educational activities in a particular week, learning will happen anyway, whether we want it to or not…

So, in order of subjects, this is the breakdown of W’s education for the last seven days:

Maths / Numeracy: W worked on her new pull-the-tab Counting Book. She went through the flashcards, which had questions like: are there more bees or more flowers in the picture? She was really engaged and loved counting everything. She also went through the other flashcards and read the numbers up to twenty. On other flashcards, she was asked which number was missing in a sequence and got all of them right.

On the addition pages, she had a good go at adding numbers under 10 together and loved it when she pulled the tab and had got the answer right.

I must say at this point that I try to not focus on whether W gets the answer right or not. I feel it is important to praise (or at least encourage gently) the effort that is put in, rather than the result. There was a very interesting study on this subject by Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University. In it, she found that students who had been praised for intelligence performed worse than those praised for effort. The psychological reasons behind the findings are detailed here.

 Literacy / English: W read the book The Big Carrot from the Oxford Reading Tree.

Science / Nature: We planted some wildflower seeds in the garden, so learned about germination and what a plant needs to grow. We also pulled up some old daffodils to store for next year, providing an opportunity to learn about the difference between bulbs and seeds.

W then spent time investigating what happens to chalk marks when you pour water on them. She realised that chalk could be washed off the bricks or ground, so she then tried wetting the chalks themselves and saw that the chalk marks were much brighter when the chalk was wet.

Then W decided to get a bucket of water and a paintbrush to paint the brickwork of the garden wall. She saw that is was darker when wet and lighter when dry. Her and D had a lot of fun spraying water and washing pebbles etc, noting what happens to different kinds of rocks when wet.

Play: W spent time indoors playing with D, which included lots of role play with her Lego minifigures and her dolls.

When we were travelling on the train, W and I played some more with her dolls, which I’m sure the other travellers enjoyed listening to…..

Geography:  In the car W had a go at interpreting road signs, and also learned what the lines on the road mean.

W also read the map of the holiday site, finding our lodge by herself and also spent time reading signs and finding numbers everywhere.

PE / Play: There were little log barriers all over the site, and W enjoyed balancing on these wherever she went.

She also played for hours in the playgrounds and parks with other children, having lots of fun!

There was a pool on site and W spent many happy hours playing generally, but also learning to swim as she did so.

…And then it was time to come home. However, there was no feeling of dread for going to school on Monday morning. We will simply go back to our usual learning through play, through our regular fun activities and basically being led by W in terms of her education. On days like these, at the end of a holiday, I am especially grateful for the path that I have chosen for W.

29th April, 2018 – Mail

W had a busy week in terms of learning this week. As I follow her interests and we learn as we go, I find that some weeks are far ‘busier’ in terms of learning than others. Some weeks, she is a sponge and wants to take everything in, and others, she is happy to relax and observe the world instead.

So, here is what we did, arranged by subject:

Logistics: W asked how parcels are sorted by Royal Mail and how the postal service knows where to send the parcels. We talked about how this is done (I have a had a few postie friends in the past and know a bit about it). We then watched a video of a cargo plane being loaded.

W also learned about TV aerials and satellite dishes because she noticed ours while we were out in the garden. She asked how a TV signal is brought into the house and to the TV, so I showed her where the cables go and what they do.
Science: While enjoying her ‘Gelli Bath’, she learned about density and we spent quite a while working out what different materials would float or sink in the jelly. We also then spent some time trying to get the jelly to drain through her old stacking cups with small holes in the bottom. W was trying to work out how big the holes needed to be before the jelly would start to drain through.
We then sprinkled the dissolving salts into the bath afterwards to dissipate the jelly. W watched this, fascinated, while I explained the process to her.

We found an old chicken bone out in the garden and W asked why it was so light and hollow after being outside for a long time, so we talked a little bit about decomposition.

When we went into our town centre, W watched a skip being unloaded and loaded again. She absolutely loves watching them, so we had an opportunity to see hydraulics at work.

Later, W asked how our waste water is recycled into drinking water, so we watched 4 little videos on how that happens.

Two days later, we watched a large area of crazy paving being laid and levelled near our house. She also saw a digger / ‘grabber’ move the rubble from the ground to a lorry, which built on her understanding of hydraulics again.
Play / Socialisation: W played a lot with D and J over the weekend. They played Charades, hide and seek, and role-played with Lego. In the Lego game, they collected together all their Lego vehicles and minifigures and took them on a long journey to the Lego house and to the new Lego playground, which they had made.

We went to our local social meet-up and W played with a few of the children. She also chatted confidently with some of the adult visitors, who had come to find out more about home education.

On another day, a friend came to visit, so W had an opportunity for lots of playing, including role play, charades, hide and seek, and small-world play.
Materials: J, D and W (mainly D and W) spent a long time preparing and painting the railings and gate outside our house. They learned why surfaces need to be prepared first and how the paint sticks to surfaces. They were absolutely brilliant at following instruction and putting only a thin layer of paint at a time onto the metal. They are very skilled at painting, since they have done quite a lot of it in the past.

Our neighbour was breaking up their tarmac path in order to lay tiles, while we were painting our railings. We watched him physically break the tarmac into pieces, saw what was underneath and then W later watched how the path was leveled with concrete as a foundation.

W randomly wanted to watch a Youtube video of someone putting some doll furniture together, to see how it was made and she enjoyed seeing how it was done.
Biology / Nature: At the dinner table, we discussed how snakes eat, including how they kill prey and how they can swallow such big animals, by dislocating their jaws.

D and W did some gardening and gave some snails some water since it was a very hot day. They put them into a shady spot in the back garden where they would be more comfortable!

Over dinner the next day, we talked about what Praying Mantes eat and how they mate. We then moved on to spiders and snails too.

W also asked what a tiger’s roar sounds like, so we watched a video on that and also listened to recordings of other big cats such as the ocelot, lion and sand cat. We then looked at what other sounds the cats make, including the sound that lions make to locate other lions and the tiger’s ‘chuff’.
Spatial skills / sorting: W played with her Lego minifigures, putting them together according to the instructions from their respective sets, so that they would be ‘correct’.
Arts: W watched a CBeebies Shakespeare Play again, which she loved.
Geography: W watched the London Marathon on TV. She learned why people do it, how long it is, why there are different races for different people, and what the route is. When she watched it, she pointed out various landmarks too.

W asked about time zones around the world and which places are the furthest away in terms of geography and in terms of time difference.
Maths: W also learned about money and we have discussed how money is a finite resource and she is starting to understand that, if she buys items for a certain value, she has less money for other items.

Literacy: W decided to read one and a half books by herself, practising the sounds ‘th’ and ‘ou’.

W also did a few exercises from her workbooks and magazines, including: cutting-out shapes, colouring in, putting stickers in the correct places and answering questions about a story.

Her final bit of literacy learning this week was finding my notebook, writing her name in it and then writing ‘poo’ lots of times on various pages. I discovered this the next time I started work…. It made me smile during a very mundane work morning!

This is not radical

As I walk past the school on my way to an outing, I can’t help but notice that I am going in the opposite direction to everyone else. The parents and children all going in the same direction, speeding up as they look at their watches, desperate to get there on time.

Later, I pop to the shops and while I am there, I am asked almost every time why my child is not in school…. and I am struck by the feeling that I am doing something radical. Something so unusual and ‘out there’ that people are surprised by it and have cause to ask me about it. Every. Single. Day.

Except that this isn’t a radical step at all. This is normal life for me and my daughter. This is the day-to-day life for us and between 45,000 and 80,000 other people.

There is nothing radical about learning every day as we go about our business. There is nothing radical about choosing not to put my child into a class of 30 other children of differing needs and abilities, to be taught (and expected to learn) the same things at exactly the same time, for 6 hours a day.

And don’t get me started on the fact that that 6 hour day is probably taken up by just over 1.5 hours worth of actual learning per day (I love this blog on the subject).

Sure, to choose not to do what the majority does is unusual. Only up to 2% of children are educated in this way. However, we are not unusual people. We are ordinary people doing what works for our children in an ordinary way.

Home education is a valid choice. It is calm. It is gentle. It is sociable. It is fascinating. It is exciting and fun…. But it is not radical.

22 April 2018 – co-operation

One of the things that W loves to do is to collect the post in the morning and separate the letters into piles according to who they are for. With 5 members of our household, it is a great opportunity for literacy learning. I love the way that learning just happens as we move through life and skills are gathered and improved upon with little effort on my part, really.

Another example of this is when we passed a brick wall and W commented to me that she wondered how many bricks there were in the wall, and set about trying to work it out. We stayed a while by that wall, talking about multiplication and trying to add it up in our heads. To her, it was a bit of fun; to me, a great opportunity.

When we finally reached the train station, W had a go at reading the screens and finding the correct platform and seat etc.

Of course, we could only do this as we weren’t in a hurry that day. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to stop for a while, but I try to do it whenever we can.

Our destination was a meet up for home educated children at a park. W played with the other children and adults there and then also played with some equipment where she had to pour sand onto different levels of it. W was trying to figure out how heavy the sand had to be before it tipped onto a lower level.

On a different day this week, W wanted to help me with my work, cutting out labels for customers and opening my parcels. For her, this is great fun. She likes to see what stock has come in. I suppose it is like opening presents in a way. She is becoming much more dextrous with the scissors and also with tiny items.

Another thing that W and I like to do together is to watch the Shakespeare on CBeebies plays. Their plays usually pop up around Christmas time, but are also available at other times of the year. We watched A Midsummer Night’s Dream this week, which W absolutely loved. W doesn’t cope well with any mild threat on TV or in films at all, and these plays are brilliant as they are a gentle introduction to Shakespeare’s plays without being too fast-paced or scary.

On Tuesday, W wanted to spend her birthday money. When she bought the items, we spent some time working out how much of her money had been spent and how much was left. She paid for the items herself at the till.

On the way home, she was asking what my favourite animals are and then asked a lot of questions about tigers and how (and why) some types became extinct. She learned what the biggest and smallest types of tiger are and where they live.

J and W later played hide and seek, which W loves to do. She now hides completely for the others to find her, but does giggle when she is there!

All the children then played Charades together and W is learning how to demonstrate something in a way that others understand. She is working on it… for example, a plane is demonstrated by her jumping up and down and a vacuum cleaner is shown by V waving her hands above her head….. It is a work in progress!
But the point is that they had lots of fun trying to figure out what she was demonstrating…

The next day brought yet more playing – W and D have had a very calm and lovely time playing with their toys together many times this week and are learning now to cooperate during their play and to make things fair in terms of following one person’s rules of the game and then making sure that the other child can have a chance at playing by their rules too. Again, it is a work in progress, and because we are a blended family, the children are getting to know each others ways and preferences. It takes time, but I know we’ll get there and they are doing really, really well.

Topics covered: Maths (bricks in the wall), English (Shakespeare and reading names on parcels), Biology / geography (Tigers)