Saturday, September 20, 2014

ON THE MENU #1

Dinner menu from Sunday 21st September – Friday 26th September 2014



Sunday – Beef with Mushroom Sauce, served with baby potatoes, broccoli, carrots and peas.
Monday – Bacon and Egg Fried Rice, served with salad.
Tuesday – Mushroom Stew, served with home-made Parmesan bread.
Wednesday – Tuna and Potato Topped Pie, served with vegetables.
Thursday – Creamy Chicken Spaghetti, served with salad and home-made bread.
Friday – Mushroom and Bacon patties, with salad.
Planned baking includes:
Blackberry Puddings
Bakewell Tart
Chocolate Fudge Cake
Jam Tarts
Mince Pies (we bake them all year round!)
Cherry Gems
Raspberry and Chocolate Brownies

SIMPLE CHILLI


This is one of our cheap turn-to meals when we are feeling the financial pinch but in need of a substantial fill.
We eat is as a meat-free option – in fact, my meat-loving husband thought that it contained meat as it was so filling and ‘bulky’, he was shocked when I said we hadn’t been putting mince in it for months.  It’s a great winter warmer and can be made in a pan or a slow cooker.
slow cooker chilli
Serves 6 with more to spare.
Basic ingredients:
2 tins of chopped tomatoes.
2 tins of baked beans.
1 tin of chilli beans (we like it mild, add 2 tins for a stronger chilli taste).
We change it up with these optional ingredients:
1 tin of butterbeans.
1 tin of sweetcorn.
Chopped mushrooms.
A diced onion.
Minced beef or lamb can be added if desired.
Ok, let’s do this!
  1. It’s simple.  Open the tins and chuck it all in a pan!  If using mince, brown in a pan first before adding to other ingredients.
We make this in the slow-cooker and leave it on medium heat for around 4-5 hours.
Serve with rice or mashed potato and vegetables.
chilli

Sunday, September 14, 2014

BLUEBERRY ROCK CAKES

blueberry muffins
Makes 12 chunky buns!
300g Self Raising Flour
100g Butter
100g Sugar
2 Eggs
200g Blueberries
2 Tbsp Ground Ginger.
(Small amount of milk if necessary)
Ok, let’s do this!
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 / Gas mark 4
  2. Mix the butter and flour to the texture of fine breadcrumbs (a processor will make this job easy peasy and quick!). Pour into a mixing bowl.
  3. Add the sugar, blueberries and ginger and mix gently with a wooden spoon (gently so you don’t go bursting your berries!)
  4. Beat in the eggs slowly.  It will turn from crumbs to solid form fairly quickly.  The mixture should be like a dough, not crumbly or sticky. Judge if it needs a little milk added to get the correct consistency.
  5. Spoon on to a greased baking tray, spaced apart.  Don’t flatten, they can be heaped.  I usually make six per tray.
  6. Bake for around 15 – 20 minutes until golden.
I sprinkle with a little sugar before serving.

Friday, September 12, 2014

NEW CHAPTERS, NEW ROUTINES.


taz

Taisia’s favourite colour is orange.  She wants to wear it, colour with it, make things with it.  She loves it.  It’s a new favourite.
Our life is full of new things at the moment.  New routines.  New challenges.  New budgets!
The teens are both at college full time now.  Chelsea is studying Psychology, Sociology, and English Literature.  Joseph is doing an NVQ Plumbing course.  Their timetable is dictating our days, each of them needing to be at college on different days and different times.  Living where we are in the beautiful Devon countryside this means plenty of ‘taxi’ service driving  for me – driving the 9 miles to college, or a 4 mile walk for the teens to the bus stop.
This is huge.
Huge in the sense of life-changing – not just car fuel bill huge (although the car fuel bill is now huge too!)
Since moving here in 2012 I’ve become pretty reclusive.  Not in a weird and strange lady of the neighbourhood way, but in a I’m very content living here and have everything I need sort of way.   There was so much that needed to be done in order to fulfill the dream of having animals and vegetable growing, that all my time was taken up clearing nettles, cutting down brambles, and securing fencing.  At times it appeared never-ending, but I loved it so and didn’t mind the hard work and effort at all.
What this did mean though was that I lacked the time (and let’s face it, the inclination) to explore and build new friendships in the area.  I was happily content with my lot.  We would visit the occasional home-education group, have friends over to visit from time to time, and drive to a few of the towns for shopping needs sometimes, but the majority of our days was spent pottering around home, wandering around on nature walks and learning as we lived.  I was content and fulfilled, the children were happy and blossoming and I saw no need to change what was clearly working.
Then college days beckoned and a new chapter was forced upon us.  Of course it goes without saying I’m so proud of my children wanting to further their education in this way and make their mark in the world, but it is going to take some getting used to.
For eleven years I have danced to my very own tune.  We haven’t had to schedule in term times and holidays, work around drop offs and pick up times, or ensure that people have been delivered to an educational establishment on time each day.   The teens have helped around our smallholding -tending to our animals, vegetable nurturing, and field maintaining.  It’s been great to have the children assist with the chores and learn a great deal along the way.  Now I am left to find my own way of doing things, assisted by the younger ones – including a baby under one.  That juggling act will be fun, but we will once again find a routine that works and incorporates life, animals, self-sufficiency (in a small way), and home-education.
I can’t wait.
Today was a prime example of what may beckon for us in the future to come.  We dropped Chelsea off at college for her English study and continued on to Tiverton Canal.   We took a small bucket of mixed corn feed (a bonus of keeping poultry), and headed off in search of ducks, coots, and moorhens.  It was only seconds into our stroll that we found some – or rather they found us – and the feeding frenzy began, with birds flying in from all directions wanting in on the feast.
We chatted as we wandered.
It was a beautiful day with blue skies overhead and sunshine glistening through the leafy trees, showing nature’s bounty at it’s very best. Hawthorn berries literally dripped from their thin bindings, blackberries hugged each other in numerous clusters, and the bushes that proudly give birth to their rosehip fruits displayed their pinky red wares in abundance.
We smiled and chattered to passers by, pointed out beautiful butterflies as they danced with joyous abandon around our heads, and made sure that this rather large fella had a safe passage across our path…
elephant hawk moth caterpillar
We believe it to be our first real-life encounter with an Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar.  You can find out more about them here.
Two hours later we were back at the car and packing up ready to pick up Chelsea, before heading to a nearby store to stock up on jam jars and goodies for making delicious ‘stuff’ over the weekend – we plan to be foraging lots!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

HOME-EDUCATION SERIES #1

WHAT IS HOME-EDUCATION?

Home-education can be a difficult concept for some to understand.  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 amongst similar aged peers.
The idea that an education may be successfully provided without attending a building for that purpose, without qualified teachers, rows of desks and chairs, classmates, and chalk/white boards, is difficult for some to get their head around.  After all it goes against everything that they have understood about what providing or receiving an education is.  We have been almost programmed to believe that there is only one way that children can successfully learn – that they need to be ‘spoon fed’ information in order to retain it and that there is a definite order and way in which such information should be passed on.
Home-educators know that this isn’t true.chelsea
Home-educating families know that learning takes place all of the time as part of living in the real world.  Most don’t divide their days into ‘learning time’ and ‘free time’, as in the case of many school-attending students.  Instead, most home-educated children learn from life itself.  They learn from their environment and their every day experiences.

Contrary to what many people seem to believe, children do want to learn.

Naturally they have a thirst for knowledge, a thirst to know and do more.  Think back to when your children were babies – they wanted to learn to sit up, then to crawl, then walk.  They wanted to feed themselves, then get themselves dressed.  Why would learning about their world around them be any different?   Why is it deemed so necessary to force ‘learning’ upon older children?  Why are parents not trusted to be able to continue nurturing their children and allowing them to grow?  Why do we have to send our children off to an institution to continue their development, putting others in charge of a large proportion of their educational and personal wellbeing for such a large percentage of their childhood.
Home-educators are often guided by their children’s wants and needs.  It isn’t (as some may believe) an ‘easy way out’ or a ‘lazy’ way to parent. Home-education actually often involves parents more, not less.  Parents are on hand at all times in order to provide and facilitate their child’s learning process.  It is not unusual for plans to change as a child becomes engrossed with something and the day takes on a new unexpected direction.  An interest can be sparked at random – something seen on television, or 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 for a wonderful learning journey.  Parents have to be on hand to aid the process where necessary, to assist in the seeking out of relevant internet resources and books, places to visit, people to speak to.  The child participates in this research, thus learning how to seek and find the required information  – unlike in school when much of the information needed is contained within a given text book or an accompanying worksheet.
Let’s look at the school system for just a moment.
If we, as an adult, were engrossed in reading a book and somebody came along and told us to put it down and do some writing or mathematics work instead, how would we feel?  I know that I would feel annoyance, frustrated and 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 yearning to return back to that good book would bubble away unnoticed inside.   Aren’t children permitted to feel that very same way?  Is this the way to strive towards developing a true love of learning?  Or is it a way of teaching children how to follow instructions without question or complaint?  Of forcing compliance, defeating enjoyment.  Can children really and truly connect with a subject and learn if they don’t enjoy what they are learning about?
stover pond edited
When you are interested in something, when someone is talking about a subject that fascinates you, how do you react?  I expect that you develop a deep desire to listen to that person and are easily able to remain focused.  You will probably find yourself want to know more and it is easy to pay attention, possibly making notes as you listen and thinking about how to go about seeking out 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 hear about it – how does that make you feel?  Bored?  Do you find it difficult to stay totally focused and to really truly give your all and listen?  Does your mind start to wander off and think of other things?
Isn’t this what could be happening to our children in the classroom?  If a child can see no point in learning about something or no interest in a topic, why should it not be ok for their mind to also wander, just like ours?
Children have an amazing natural ability to learn.  They are always learning.  What we oh so wise adults seem as play, is a learning experience for  a child.  Cause and effect, strategy techniques, decision making, teamwork, co-operation, listening, reading, comprehension, counting, following instructions, etc etc.

As you can see a child is never ‘just playing’.

The law regarding home-education differs from country to country.  Here in England we don’t have to follow any certain curriculum, take exams or have regular testing or check-ups.   If a child is named on a school register, then they have to be legally de-registered from that school but a letter to the school suffices.  There are many examples of such a letter available on the internet, such as those available here.
Part #2 of our Home-education series will be about why we have chosen home-education for our family and how it is working out for us so far.  

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Living in Bliss

Just bliss.
I am sitting here in quiet contemplation.
Sitting thinking about my life, my days, my bliss.
A smile forms within my lips, and I know for sure my eyes are glistening as I reflect on the joyous hours gone before.
I realise how fortunate I am, how every inch of my being should scream gratitude for the blessings I’ve received.  Six beautiful blessings in child form and so much more, so very much more.
I glance out of the window and deep blackness stares right back.   Our location ensures we have no street-lights, we have darkness and stars. Hundreds and hundreds of stars, twinkling, shining, seemingly dancing above within the wall-less space, daring to share our existence.   The silence, interrupted only by the far off hooting of distant owls, is perfect for deep thoughts to wander.   Hearts can be opened without fear of interruption, worries can be dispersed with ease, love can grow without hinder.
No disturbance.  No barriers.
Today has been a day of near perfection.  A day of beautiful family time,  of walking in nature, of cuddling children, of siblings deep in conversation, and more.  We have laughed together, read the written word together, concocted crazy dance moves together and enjoyed one anothers company.
That’s a biggie.  A privilege.
family
I don’t think I will ever take for granted the times that my children wish to spend time with me.   To have a sixteen year old son say that they want to come along for a gentle stroll around the lanes is priceless and means so much.  I am so thankful that as a family we are so connected. The children have freedom of choice, they can choose how to spend their time, yet still they want to come along and enjoy the simple things we do – taking the little ones to feed the ducks, walk the dog or as in today, picking blackberries.
love
We strolled, we chattered, we laughed.  We foraged abundantly and our container was soon full of treasure.
happy
We searched through the hedgerows to find creatures galore – spiders and their sparkly webbing, ladybirds, various fly types, shield bugs, and this gorgeous beauty who allowed us to be mesmerised in its presence for quite a while.
butterfly
We believe it to be of the

Comma (Polygonia C-Album)

variety.
Find out more about the true beauties here.
We ventured home to re-join our newest family member – Elsa, our gorgeous 8 week old kitten.
Elsa
Already she is bringing so much joy, and she most definitely has a firm hold on our hearts.  She joined us on Thursday afternoon and well within the hour she was eating, drinking, toileting, playing and purring.  She is easy going but playful.  Cuddly but independent.  Alert but lazy.  I just know she was meant to be here with us, she is quite simply perfect.

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.


*Disclaimer*

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....