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!

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….

28th Jan 2018 – record keeping

We’ll start with a long journey cross-country journey on the train. Whenever we do this journey, W likes to do some of her activity books and then play with her toys. True to form, she completed a couple of pages of her numbers workbook (like this one), where she had to count items and write the number. She also completed a page of her literacy book again. Then she enjoyed doing some activities in a CBeebies magazine including writing words, colouring-in, learning letters and where they fit into words, and spotting the difference between pictures. I do like some kids magazines for the educational value. I try to steer clear of the pink ones which just seem to focus on colouring-in dresses or reading about going shopping. The magazines that are not aimed at a specific gender such as the CBeebies magazines or Alphablocks are really good for having a range of different activities in that do not just focus on appearance or shopping.

Also, while we were on the train, W asked about the counties of the UK that we were travelling through and where they were in the country, so a bit of a geography lesson on the UK here.

While we were travelling through London, W asked how the Shard was built, how electricity is carried into underground trains, why the lights flicker, how a train becomes derailed and how they fix it. She also asked why the president of a country might say mean things about his own people (W had overheard adults talking) and so we talked about why it is wrong to discriminate. We covered quite a few subjects just in conversation alone. It’s definitely exhausting sometimes, but I do love following a child’s train of thought and getting to know how they think and helping them to understand the world. Being able to take the time to talk about these things and explore different concepts when they come up is a true benefit of home education. If we can discuss and learn things in an unhurried way, when they come up, W gets to explore a subject in depth at the time that she is interested in it, rather than when someone else says she should learn it, as she would if she were in school.

Later on, we had an appointment to go to. While we were there and talking about boring grown-up stuff, W decided to practise writing her name with a pen and piece of paper. Looking at it afterwards, I noticed that she had written her name in different sizes and slightly different styles.

I keep almost all of W’s written work as a record of what we are doing, just in case I have to show details of W’s learning to the Local Authority, who may want to come to visit us to see how W is being educated (more info on this here). Any colouring-in sheets, doodles, pictures or worksheets are counted as pen practise or artwork etc for the purposes of her education. I figure that if anyone wants to see evidence of W’s progress, we have a little record of how her writing, pen control or number work has changed over time.

Do any of my readers keep a record in this way? Do you keep records at all, or make notes of daily learning, or do you prefer to use a photo diary or secret Facebook group? I’m interested to know what others do in terms of evidence. Do let me know and we can update this with details….

We decided to go to a cafe after the meeting, for a treat and while we were there, W randomly asked to count my coins. This kept her occupied for a while.

The bedtime book that day was the same Science book that we have been reading over the last couple of weeks. This time, we learned about the elements. Over the next couple of nights, she learned about power and nuclear energy too (D, 7, read the book to her a couple of times). The General Knowledge book also included lots of science and history, which W found fascinating again. She later attempted to read some new signs that J had written for his bedroom door (‘keep out’ type stuff).

W bought a new toy this week which uses magnets to open and close items, so she learned more about how the magnets worked. This built on her learning with the fridge magnets last week.

Later in the week, we had a visit from the grandparents. All 3 children played board games with Grandma, which included counting and mental maths. Maths seems to be a theme with the board games at the moment because the pre-bedtime board games have all been number-related this week. The children also played lots of hide and seek and W is getting the hang of hiding so that people cannot see her now. It’s a shame really as it was very funny watching her hide behind her own hands when she was younger. I guess all these things change eventually, only to be replaced by new funny things….

Later that day, W wanted to help make dinner and then also learned how to make a fromage frais cake, so that would be her home economics lesson I suppose…

We did some work on the basics of telling the time – just through discussion and demonstrating on the kitchen clock, because W was waiting for something and was trying to work out how long an hour is. I gave her examples of things that take and hour, half an hour and a few minutes, so that she could get an idea of how long it is. She did well with her understanding, since it is a difficult thing to grasp when you are 4.

Later in the week, we also went to one of our favourite social / educational groups, where W played a lot with the other children. She made a couple of new friends and also played with children she knows from before. There was a lot of physical play such as jumping in and out of a ball pool and climbing on climbing frames etc. There were educational activities laid out for the children to do, but this time, W just wanted to play and socialise, which was fine by me.

In the evening at home, we had the house to ourselves – just me and W, so we spent some time playing silly games with her Lego and Playmobil minifigures, which wasn’t educational, but was good fun. And that is what life is all about, after all…

21st Jan 2018 – Pocket Money

Our learning this week began with a long conversation as we were travelling through London. W wanted to know how ice melts, so we talked about temperatures and solids turning into liquids (all explained in a way that she can grasp at age 4 and 3 quarters). We also passed by some celebrations for the Chinese New Year, so we had a long chat about what it means and how it is celebrated.

She wanted to know again how an underground tunnel is built, so we talked a bit about that too, and I made a mental note to take her to the Transport Museum in the future, so that she can see some examples of how it was done. While we were on the underground, W wanted to count the steps whenever we went up or down some, so we did that, checking her knowledge of numbers over 20.

Once we were on a train, W asked to do some colouring-in (good pen practise) and then did a page from a workbook on rhyming words, which she enjoyed. I find that, if W does ask to do some work on paper, she will often only do one sheet or two maximum. As I said before, I am not pushing her to do any at this stage as I want her to enjoy it and not see it as a chore.

I give W a small amount of pocket money to help her get used to the value of money and to hopefully learn about the benefits of saving versus spending. At the moment, she likes to spend it as soon as she gets it on a small item. She wants the bigger items and is slightly disappointed that she can’t have them because they cost more than she has. When this happens, I do explain about saving and the fact that she could afford bigger items if she waited a week, but W is still at the stage where she would rather have a little item now instead of a bigger toy in a week. That is fine by me, but hopefully she will learn delayed gratification in time.

On the subject of pocket money, I don’t give money for routine chores around the house as I believe that chores are for the good of the family and none of us get paid for them. I worry that W will grow up not wanting to do chores if she does not gain from them, whereas the true gain from chores is simply living in a tidy house where we can relax. The Washington Post had an interesting article on the subject…. So, an allowance it is! W counted her money (with help) while we were out to see if she could afford a particular toy or not (we are at the ‘is this a bigger or smaller number than this?’ stage so far) and was delighted that she had enough!

Readers: at what age do you think children should get pocket money, if at all? Do your children have an allowance or do they work for money? I’m keen to hear your opinions on this one.

On the way home from our shopping trip, we walked through a park and W asked what breeds the different ducks were. I knew a few, but we also had to look up a few on my phone. We both learned something then!

At home, W played with the fridge magnets and asked how they worked and why they stuck to metal. We tried them on different materials to see which ones they would stay on to and which they wouldn’t. We touched on the science of magnets a little also.

Later, we had a conversation on politics… W wanted to know why people would vote for a president who is not nice to everyone. It was a hard question to answer, but we did cover the subjects of democracy and majorities and also the media and people’s own beliefs. In the end, I don’t think W understood why people would vote a certain way, but at least she learned a little bit about how democracy works (or sometimes doesn’t….).

This week, W asked us to read more of the Lift-the-flap Science book and she really liked the sections on evolution, energy and electricity this time.

As with almost every week of our lives, Lego construction featured heavily, with all the educational benefits and opportunity for valuable playtime. Another brilliant game that featured this week was all three children (current ages 9, 7 and 4) setting up a ‘museum’ together. They brought toys to their museum to use as exhibits, made written signs and collaborated together to decide how much they should charge people to visit and how that money should be spent in the museum!

Whilst we were out on an errand, we spotted an engineer working in a hole in the ground, fixing communication cables. We stopped to have a look and he very kindly chatted to W about what he was doing and why. This was an excellent spontaneous lesson for her – the type that we can never really plan for, but are a welcome surprise when they do happen. I’m always grateful to those people who take time out of their working day to talk to an inquisitive child. It not only helps them to learn, but increases children’s confidence and social skills too.

On that note, I had to do some work on my business myself, as I do every day when W is happily engaged in something, or asleep. W decided that she wanted to help me, so I asked her to count items for me and add them together. She did very well and managed about 20 minutes. Any work that the children do on my business is paid work, but they never have to do it. They can choose to do real work at any time and they also choose when to stop as well. They usually do a maximum of and hour and a half per week each, if they do any at all and I think that is fine. They are paid for the work that they do and can choose to do it at almost any time.

We had our usual board games before bed every evening and the children chose mainly games with numbers in, like this Orchard Toys Bus Stop Game.

One day this week, W wanted to learn to count backwards, so we had a go at that.

We also went to one of our regular social groups this week. W had a great time playing table tennis, building towers with blocks, matching numbers with dominoes and playing chase with the other children. When we had finished there, we went to a cafe and W started counting things again. She had a go at counting in twos at one point, so we spent a bit of time on the two times table.

Reading all this, it seems that W learned so much in the course of a regular week. I am so happy that we are able to do this organically and at her own pace… and I hope that because of this, she will never lose her zest for learning…