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!

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).

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….

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…