Sunday, August 24, 2014

One from the archives...

But how do you know they are learning?

As a home-educating family that doesn't follow a curriculum nor include a structured learning time into our day, I'm often being asked the old "But, how do you know they are learning?" question.

My response is usually something along the lines of "What is your definition of learning?" or "How can they not be learning?" or "I'm not sure that learning can be separated from life can it?"

I'm always interested in hearing others opinions, and boy oh boy it often seems that everyone and their dog are eager for me to know exactly what their opinion is - sometimes quite vehemently.   This usually leads to me thinking (dangerous) and writing those thoughts down (time-consuming but interesting) and sharing them with you (could be dangerous and might not be interesting).

Home-Education in itself is a difficult concept for some people to understand.  Take away any ounce of 'formal teaching', structure, and curriculums, and many people are truly baffled as to how it can be done.   So many of us have been through the traditional school system, and thus believe that 'proper' learning can only take place within a structured classroom environment.

The idea that an education may be successfully provided without qualified teachers (who decides who is ' qualified' and what does that actually mean?), subject timetables, chairs and desks, classmates, and chalk/white boards, is difficult for some to get their head around.  It goes against everything that they have understood about what educational provision is.  We have been programmed to believe that this is the only way that children can successfully learn, that they need to be 'spoon fed' information by a fully qualified individual in order to retain it.  

I don't believe this to be true.

I know that learning takes place all the time as part of the real world.  I don't divide our days into 'learning time' and 'free time'.  Instead, my children learn from life itself.  They learn from their environment and from their every day experiences and choices.

Contrary to what many people believe, children do want to learn.  Naturally they have a thirst for knowledge, a thirst to know and do more.  It's natural development.  Think back to when children are babies - they want to learn to walk, they want to talk, they want to feed themselves, learn how to use the toilet, and get themselves dressed.   When they see a need for something, they will show an interest in learning how to do it.  An example of this is my eldest son and his reading journey.  For him reading didn't come easy.  He struggled and struggled (often with tears on both our parts) to the point of giving up.  But once he saw a need to read - to read instructions for his Playstation games - he taught himself to read and did so within a matter of days.   Why would learning about the world around them be any different?  Why is it deemed so necessary to force 'learning' upon older children?  Why are parents not able to continue nurturing their children and allowing them to grow, allowing their natural curiosity to thrive and lead the way?  Why do we have to send our children off to an institution to continue their development?  Children are always learning.  What we 'oh so wise' adults see as play, is a learning experience for a child.  Cause and effect, strategy techniques, decision making, teamwork, co-operation, listening, reading, counting, etc etc.  A child is never 'just playing'.

I am guided by my children's wants and needs.  This isn't (as some believe) a 'lazy' or 'easy way' for me to home-educate.  I am on hand at all times in order to provide and facilitate my children's learning process.  It is not unusual for plans to change as one child or more becomes engrossed with something and the day takes on a whole new unexpected direction.  An interest can be sparked at random - something seen on television, or an article read in a newspaper or magazine.  An overheard conversation in the supermarket, or an advert at a bus stop can all be that starting point of a wonderful learning journey.  I have to be on hand to aid the process where necessary - seeking relevant internet resources and books, places to visit, people to speak to.  My children participate in this research - learning how to seek and find the information they need - unlike in school when often children are told what pages of a book to read in order to answer the questions on an accompanying worksheet or the like.

Let's look at the school system for just a moment.  

If we, as an adult, were engrossed in a book and somebody came along and told us to put it down and do some writing or mathematics instead, how would we feel?  I know that I would feel annoyance, frustrated, dictated to - all negative responses to being told what to do.  My view on the next activity would be tarnished as my negativity and annoyance continued.  My longing to return back to my good book would bubble away unnoticed inside.  Aren't children allowed to feel the same way?  Is this developing a love of learning?  Or are we just teaching children to follow instructions without question or complaint?  

Forcing compliance, defeating enjoyment. 

Can children really fully learn and engross themselves in a topic if they don't enjoy what they are learning about?

When you are interested in something, when someone is talking about a subject that fascinates you, how do you react?  I expect that you, like me, develop a desire to listen to that person and you find it easy to stay focused.  You want to know more and you will pay attention, possibly making notes in order to search for further information elsewhere.  Learning is made easy, it is natural, it is enjoyable.

But what happens when you have no interest in a topic?  If a friend is chatting to you about something that bears little relevance to you and you don't want to know about it - how does that make you feel?  Bored?  Do you find it difficult to stay focused and really listen?  Does your mind start to wander off and think of other things? 

Isn't this what could possible happen to a child in a classroom?  If a child can see no point in learning something, if he or she feels it is irrelevant to their life and their interest is waning, why should it not be ok for their mind to wander just like ours?  Children are not little robots, switching on and off as required.  They are just like us, with the same thoughts and feelings.  

I know that some readers will be sat with the ol'  "We all have to do what we don't want to do, life isn't all sweet things and roses ya know!" squealing in their minds, and I agree.  Yes, I really do agree.  I had to leave my 3 month old baby and go into hospital for a week when I had a lump on my neck that no-one could account for and I couldn't even keep my head straight nor swallow food.  I had to spend days in a foreign hospital, where no-one spoke English, attached to a drip in order to stay hydrated due to a severe bout of gastroenteritis.  I have to go and have dental work done when I'm in pain, and take my pets to see a vet when they are suffering with illness.  I need to pay bills, spend time with people I'm not sure I like very much, and do the everyday mundane household chores I'd really rather not.  I don't particularly want to do any of these things, but I do them because I have to.  Life and society have their own rules and regulations, with their own consequences, I don't see the need to enforce any more.  

My children see how I live and what I do.   

They know that I don't enjoy doing some things but I love doing others.  They know that if given a choice I would spend every minute of every day splashing in puddles, making art, laughing with them hysterically as we skip enthusiastically around the village, or belting out the latest tunes in my best (it's dreadful) vocal.  They know what real life is all about, I don't hide or protect them from anything.  Chelsea for example struggles with mathematical concepts and it really isn't a subject that comes naturally to her.  She knows that mathematics is involved in her September starting college course, so she is spending a little time each day reading and digesting some of our numeracy textbooks.  Chelsea sees a need for it, so she is learning it.

I mentioned the theme of today’s blog post to my children and they came up with ideas for demonstrating just how difficult it would be for them to learn nothing.  

We had a tongue in cheek photo shoot.  

Learning nothing from the television or discussion...

"I see and hear nothing...."

"I have no idea what you are talking about..."

This one made me laugh - trying to demonstrate no learning with a blank laptop screen and look at little Taisia in the background with the Human Body book - a prime example how learning just happens!

We went outside, but the only way to learn practically nothing was to cover our ears and hide our eyes from the world.  Even then we were learning about temperature, how our body reacted to being uncomfortable, and how difficult it was to pose for a silly photo without giggling!  I think Taisia demonstrate natural childhood curiosity beautifully, she wasn't going to be stifled and controlled.

Of course our day wasn't really like this.  Instead we headed to CHAOS, a science roadshow event organised by Cambridge University students.  This was a free public event that even we, as home-educators, fancied going along to *shock horror* ;o)

Various microscopic slides were the first to be examined.  We saw a slide of Penicillium Chrysogenum, the fungus that penicillin derives from, and discussed cells and the nervous system.

At the next table we discussed DNA and it's extraction.

Then went on to talk about viruses and bacteria...

Next we could examine skulls and learn about the different characteristics such as teeth, brain size, etc.

Time then for a chemical experiment.  We talked about Carbon Dioxide and made things go BANG.

Then it was weighing air...

and finding out about soundwaves...

Callum and Tiegan particularly enjoyed learning about the skeleton and we discussed joints, cartilage, organs, and listened to heart beats via a stethoscope.

Of course, had we have walked around like this...

We probably wouldn't have learnt anything.


These are my own personal thoughts and opinions. My own experiences, my own (admittedly hot-headed) rants and distresses. I will not apologise for voicing my opinion here on this website - but I do apologise if any distress or offence is caused to those that don't share my views. If you don't like what I'm writing - don't read it, but I'd prefer it if you do :o)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Smiley Sunday

It's been another lovely day here in Devon, and we have managed to spend most of our day enjoying the outdoors.  We didn't have any real plans apart from doing a bit of a clear up operation on the land.  The weather this year has been fabulous growing weather for all things stingy - the nettles have shot up and it generally needed a ol' good tidy around.

The children have loved us being outside with them as they explored.  So often I find myself caught up with doing other things  -  house chores that need completed, researching things online or updating websites, or even dreaded time-wasting facebook, that despite my 'I'll be out in a minute' promises, the time flies by and the children have decided to come back inside.

Today I  made the decision that that would change.  From now on if I say I am going outside I will go outside - doing the minimum of what's necessary and then being with the children.  End of.

The tidying was pretty successful.  We are dividing the back field into differing sections and part of this plan is opening up the small woodland section so the children are free to play in there.  This will be where our 'fairy garden' will be based so I need to tidy it up and get rid of the nettles and much of the undergrowth.  I am strangely looking forward to the task even though it means hard work - I just know that Taisia is going to love it.

We refilled the pond area so the ducks and goslings are now very happy again.  We found this little fella having a nosey around...

He was quite the highlight of the day and probably the most educational springboard - we have learnt so much after researching, including the differences between frog and toads, poison glands, egg strings and clusters, and various species.

Trampoline jumping, role play games, swing swinging and tree climbing were also on the agenda...

along with photograph taking and hand clapping!

Once again we had an evening walk and enjoyed natures beauty...

Before having to 'rescue' two of the ducks from the pond as they couldn't work out how to get out using the ramp *sigh*.  After watching them for a long-ish period of time and seeing the ever-growing stress and frantic state they were getting in trying to get to their friends, we got the large fishing net and scooped them out.  I never thought I would be fishing for ducks!

I am totally loving these outdoor days and the children are too, it also means we are sleeping much better through the night,

I wonder what adventures we will have tomorrow....

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A sunny Saturday

Our Saturday has been a joyful mixture of sunshine, laughter, happy children, and beautiful views.  We are so blessed to live here, it's such a beautiful place and the space for the children is just wonderful - a dream.

The morning started with the usual animal chores - ducks, geese and chickens need to be released from their overnight coops, goats let out from their stable, and the guinea pigs and rabbit released from their bedrooms.  They have to be fed their appropriate food stuffs for breakfast, as well as hay for goats, and clean fresh water given to all.

Then it was breakfast for the humans, and a discussion about our plans for the day.  Yesterday I pulled a muscle (I think) in my leg - all I did was kneel down on the floor and I heard a crack.  Agony ensued, it was very painful - so much so that I felt sick and a little dizzy.  Clearly resting it as I slept through the night helped greatly because it felt a lot better when I woke - well enough to hoover the lounge, kitchen. and do the animal chores so I figured a bit of light walking wouldn't hurt.  We went to Tiverton and managed to find a new paddling pool to replace our old one - finding a paddling pool wasn't a problem, but finding the type we need here was.  Due to our free-ranging animals we can't have any of the inflatable types as they wouldn't last a day.  Instead we have to have one of the solid sided type, where the sides stand up as it fills.  Eventually after much trawling (so much for the light walking), we found what we needed, much to Taisia's delight when we returned, she played in and around it for hours...

As she played, we popped the tent up so shelter was available, particularly for the littlest...

Amara loves being outside.  She is a true nature's child, and likes nothing more than feeling the grass blades slip between her tiny toes and watch the birds fly above her head.  Everything is a curiosity and observed with great interest.  Flowers, bees, butterflies all hold her attention, as do leaves...

I can see Amara being chief egg-collector as she grows as she loves to hold and turn the shells within her small fingers.  I am grateful that I am able to give her the opportunity to explore and find her passion.

As Amara satisfied her curiosity being watched by Tiegan and Lee, I enjoyed strolling around the field, making plans of what should be put where, and admiring the views...

Nothing quite says countryside living than the hay in a freshly baled field...

After a lot of play equipment moving and pond liner repairing, Lee had earned a rest...

whilst our ever faithful hound wanted anything but...

Our evening took the shape of a lovely stroll down the lanes to our neighbours for whom we are chicken sitting and plant watering.  Taisia joined us and played on their tree swing whilst Lee and I watered a huge variety of fabulous veggies and beautiful flora.  A tad envious it has to be said, but inspiration was found in abundance as we worked.

Home to complete the evening animal chores, watch the Commonwealth Games on TV to finish what really has been a simple but joyous invoking day.

Days like these are blissful.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Our Summer of Fun...

After chatting to the children and each of us coming up with a few ideas of what we may like to do in the coming summer months, we made a list.  Sharing here in case anyone is in need of some inspiration to keep the young 'uns entertained.

Our Summer of Fun!

1.   Make plaster of paris models to paint.
2.  Make and play super bubbles.
3.   Stargaze.
4.   Play tourist for the day.
5.  Have a family movie night.
6.  Visit a farm shop.
7.   Have a garden camp-out.
8.   Make jam.
9.  Go on a scavenger hunt.
10.  Have a great british bake-off day.
11.   Make homemade playdough.
12.   Picnic at the Park.
13.   Go on a photography walk.
14.   Enjoy a Family BBQ, help to cook!
15.   Feed the Ducks
16.   Make a moth box.
17.   Have a Water Fight!
18.   Create food for the birds.
19.   Go pond dipping.
20.   Explore Exmoor.
21.   Do a random act of kindness.
22.   Make and fly a kite.
23.   Make lemonade.
24.   Have a craft day.
25.   Go bug hunting.
26.   Make a sundial.
27.   Read 10 books as a family.
28.   Paint rocks.
29.   Study butterflies.
30.   Build insect hotels.
31.   Make a scrapbook or journal.
32.   Create a fairy garden.
33.   Go animal tracking.
34.   Build a woodland shelter.
35.   Go on a night walk by moonlight.
36.   Play Hopscotch.
37.   Become a pen-pal and write a letter.
38.   Go Geo-caching.
39.   Visit a Museum.
40.   Go to a country fair.
41.   Learn a new skill.
42.   Make fruit ice lollies.
43.   Have a badminton tournament.
44.   Create a mud kitchen.
45.   Go to the beach.
46.   Make bread from scratch.
47.   Create a treasure map and hunt.
48.   Do some vegetable and fruit stamping.
49.   Have a science day.
50.   Make our own clothes.
51.   Have a no technology day!
52.   Make decorations for our home.
53.   Create a weather station.
54.   Have a game marathon day.
55.   Make a new friend.
56.   Write a poem.
57.   Make a Teepee.
58.   Host a family quiz.
59.   Watch a sunset.
60.   Start a collection.
61.   Have a country theme day.
62.   Go to a pick your own fruit farm.
63.   Have a family appreciation day.
64.   Start a nature journal.
65.   Make a pinata.
66.   Make some shaped crayons.
67.   Create a Hama bead summer mobile.
68.   Make Rainbow Rice.
69.   Go for a woodland walk.
70.   Start building our continent boxes.
71.   Create a human body picture.
72.   Host a fun fitness challenge.
73.   Make Cress heads.
74.   Create coloured crystals.
75.   Make artificial geodes.
76.   Paint rocks.
77.   Go bat watching.
78.   Do a mixed media painting.
79.   Germinate fruit and vegetables.
80.   Study an artist and replicate their style.
81.   Make a toy for a family member.
82.   Take photos that represent your life.
83.   Make dinosaur eggs.
84.   Create playfood from felt.
85.   Create a ‘miss you’ box for Nanna & Grandad.
86.   Invent your own board game.
87.   Start learning a new language.
88.   Make a book.
89.   Make a marble run.
90.   Make a day in your life video.
91.   Create some outdoor games to play.
92.   Leaf pounding – create some prints.
93.   Have a worm charming competition.
94.   Have a donate to charity clear out.
95.   Create a gratitude or memory jar.
96.   Make some puppets and put on a show.
97.   Create art using items found in nature.
98.   Make pizza from scratch.
99.   Create mini-boats for sailing.
100. Be creative with fabric scraps. 

A printable version of this list is available by clicking here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

2 months on...

As I write, Chelsea is in hospital - her fourth hospital stay since the end of April.  Fortunately she is improving rapidly and the difference in her being since Thursday when we took her in is great.

Thank goodness.

On Thursday Chelsea was incredibly weak.  Her paleness was telling.  She had been violently sick over and over for a few days and suffered with dizziness whenever sitting up or standing.  With symptoms getting progressively worse, it was clear that anemia was playing a part again, but we knew the Ulcerative Colitis (diagnosis is currently under review and it may be put down as Crohn's Disease) was the culprit.  A quick check over at the Doctors surgery and straight to hospital we went.  We were expecting it.  The hospital bag was already packed.  I knew things were really bad when Chelsea agreed to me getting a wheelchair for her as she struggled to walk the few yards to the hospital entrance.  Her heart rate was 140 (rising to 190 at one point) at rest, her blood pressure was low, her weight had plummeted to 42kg and her bloods were showing at 81.  Just two weeks previous she had been taken in with bloods at 61 and given a 4 unit transfusion where they had then increased to 118.  Things shouldn't have gotten so bad in such a short period of time.  It didn't take a genius to know that it was down to unseen internal bleeding.

Another 4 unit transfusion, more intravenous steroids, constant fluids for dehydration, and a very expensive 'wonder drug' later and she is transformed into her bright sparkly eyed self again.  I have just returned from visiting her and my heart is being allowed to sing once more.  She is ok.  She has an endoscopy and a colonoscopy booked for tomorrow afternoon and depending on the results of those procedures she may be allowed home afterwards.  I can't wait to have our family unit complete at home once more.

I can't believe it's been over 2 months since my last posting.  Life has been hectic - not always good but also with blessings that must be counted.   We have been trundling along as best we can, often remaining close to home because of Chelsea's health worries, but we have managed a couple of home-ed group meets, including a forest walk and a beach trip.   Sport fever took over the house with Wimbledon and the World Cup being watched daily when available, Callum (who turned 9 at the end of June) in particular totally adored the football and followed it passionately.  He engrossed himself in everything from the team tactics, country flags, and geographic locations.  Hours were spent pouring over atlas maps and flag books.  He talked about them, drew them, and told 3 year old Taisia all about them.  It was great to watch such enthusiasm take hold and the football passion has progressed onto wanting to play - he practices his 'skills' daily, often badgering one or more of his siblings to join in.

With all that has been going on, it has been almost easy to forget we also have animals to look after and a smallholding to run.  Lee (husband) has been keeping himself busy with managing the land somewhat.  We now have a field that actually resembles a field!

The field is where we keep our three gorgeous goats and is also part of the land that the chickens are able to free range.  We hope to section it off so the goats graze a large piece (that will be rotated for rest) and part will be for growing a bit of veg again - we have been very lazy in that department this year, best intentions and all that.  Our animal count currently stands at 8 chickens (one disappeared, fate unknown *sad face*), 5 runner ducks, 2 goslings (biggggg goslings now!), 2 cats (Jasper has completely vanished.  No sign of him anywhere *sob* ), 3 goats, 2 guinea pigs, 1 rabbit, 1 dog, and 3 little fish.  Once Chelsea's health has improved for some time we shall look into the possibility of renting a bit of land and hope to get a pony or two (yes, still have that longing!) and maybe a couple of alpacas as I have a real soft spot for them.  We are still loving our countryside dream and although at times it hasn't been quite as envisaged, we wouldn't swap our lives for anything.

Taisia is enjoying being able to roam around the field without risking nettle stings...

It doesn't stop her being a cheeky monkey though...

Amara is now 9 months old and gorgeous of course.

She is finding life far more fun now that she can sit unaided and crawl around.  There are many adventures to be had you know!  Oh how she runs me ragged!   She is now at the 'attempt to stand using any surface to pull up' stage which is, erm, interesting for the rest of us.

I have had to put my painting exploits on hold for a while as finding time for sketching, planning, painting numerous layers (allowing each to dry where appropriate), washing all of the tools and sourcing materials just far too time consuming.  Chelsea and Joseph used to take it in turns to watch Amara and Taisia for me for a couple of hours in the afternoon or evening allowing me to get on and paint, but Chelsea hasn't been well enough for baby watching for a long while.   Instead for my creative sanity I've turned to sewing.  I find it a lot easier to fit around little ones.   I don't have to worry about teeny fingers wanting to play with glue and paint, brushes being ruined due to lack of cleaning care when littlies wake up needing their mama, or continuously finding I've ran out of a paint colour due to over zealous small people squeezing the bottles and tubes too hard.  Instead I can design or cut out pattern pieces when tiny ones are sleeping at night time and return to sewing them throughout the day as and when I get the opportunity.  Much easier, and the bonus is that I can make useful stuff!  

Here are a few of my makes...

Our Father's Day gift for Lee.  A handprint from each child.

A skirt for Taisia...

She loves it because it's so 'twirly' when she spins :)

and a dress for Amara...

I am thoroughly enjoying building up my sewing skills and have soooo many clothing items I want to make for the children (and eventually for me!).

In the next few weeks we shall be attempting to structure our days loosely to ensure everyone has their needs met with ease.  So much has fallen by the wayside as we try to fit in hospital appointments and doctors visits that I really think we need a plan.  Having had a sit down and natter with the children they seem to agree and so we will be seeing how we can get time to work better for us so we are able to do all that is desired within a week.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Getting there...

This week certainly feels as if we are getting back to normality - whatever normality looks like in any home-educating family, let alone this one!

Chelsea has been doing ok at home.  She has had an appointment at the Doctors where blood tests were taken for further analysis.  A little weight has been gained and on the whole all was good.   We think that mushrooms may be the first trigger that we have come across thus far as Chelsea had incredible stomach pains after eating some.  The poor love was in a lot of pain.  She has also been experiences sensory hallucinations - one where she thought she was actually swimming and another when she believed she was in a bubble - side effects of the medication unfortunately.  We have a hospital appointment with the consultant booked for the 15th and an appointment with the dietitian booked also.

Callum has been spending a great deal of time looking through our Atlas collection and learning where various countries are placed in relation to one another.  He has also been fascinated by the flags and can identify far more than I can.  He asked if I could print out a flag outline for him to copy some of the designs as he wants to hang them up.

Those beautiful flowers were sent by a lovely lady and are now fully in bloom.  They make me smile every time I pass them.

We have planted more seeds and reluctantly purchased more after our first ones perished due to the shelf collapsing in the awful storms.  Our runner beans are the first to sprout, the children are so very excited - I do love their enthusiasm for all things outdoors.

Speaking of outdoors - Lee has made a start on building a small treehouse in the back field.  It was going to be just a platform with a rail at the edges to prevent topsy turvy downfalls, but Taisia has other ideas that we discovered when she started planning the curtains and colour of the door.  It seems that Lee has a much bigger job on his hands than he first envisaged!

It has been a good project for Joseph to be involved with and he has been helping out with the measurements, wood sawing, and hammering! 

A certain little lady was very excited...

Here she is testing it out for the first time....oooh, I'm high up aren't I?!

We have a few new additions to share with you in the form of two gorgeous ducklings...

and two goslings...

All four are incredibly people friendly but the goslings are just adorable, always seeking out human companionship for chatter and cuddles...

They are under heat at the moment as they are such littlies, but we very much look forward to watching them grow.

In other news I have been working on some resources , including a selection of topic 'springboard' boxes.  Each box will contain a variety of items including printed matter and relevant display items.  I have had an idea of doing this for a long while and now the imposed home time due to Chelsea's recovery has given me a kick up the bum to put the idea into action.  I'm really enjoying the process although putting something together for mixed ages can be a bit of a battle.  I'm currently putting together a "Weather" box and one about "Butterflies" and my children are enjoying looking at what is being created.  I'll explain more about the boxes with photos at a later date, hopefully very soon!