Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On the move...

Classroom Free can now be found over at our self-hosted Wordpress site.  All future updates will be placed there.  Please update any bookmarks you may have to:  www.classroomfree.org

Many grateful thanks :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

LOVE

I love our home-education lifestyle so much.

I love the way that we can explore subjects of our own choosing at a time of our choice.  I love the way that we can talk freely throughout the day, we can go off on whimsical tangents without falling behind in lessons, and we can pack the books away and go for a stroll of discovery without feeling guilty.

I love the way that we can connect as a family, that I can gauge my children's interests at any given moment and work with them.  I love how I can facilitate their loves without term time restraints and can open their eyes to so much when opportunity arises - or I can make those opportunities happen.

I love the fact that learning is just natural, not forced.  That there is no distinction between life and learning time in our household, that the two are intrinsically linked without separation.   I love that we don't do 9am til 3.30pm days.  I love that we don't have to worry about early morning rising.  I love that we don't have to think about bedtimes and the excitement of a topic can keep us awake long past the norm without disruption to the next days routine.

I love that my children adore visiting the museum and don't see it as a place of learning but as a place to love.  I love that they see going to visit historic houses as exciting as going to the playground.  I love that they don't beg to go to expensive theme parks but ask to go on family picnics and paddling in countryside streams.

I love that my children are keen to spend time with me as well as their friends.  I love that the older ones still want to come along and feed the ducks with their younger siblings.  I love that they want to carry the baby when out and about.  I love their connections.

I love that my children are independent, self-confident, and free-thinkers.  I love that they aren't pressured to conform.  I love that they embrace individuality.  I love that they question everything and don't take things on face value.  I love that they have their own opinions and are happy to share them in eloquent and mature ways.  I love that they love to talk to people of all ages and can converse on all levels.

I love that I have an amazing life of love, freedom, and community support.  I couldn't ask for anything more.

I love my life, that is all.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NOT A BIG SIGH DAY

So, after yesterdays palava of a day, I was dubious as to how our Wednesday would go - particularly because I woke up with the same headache as I had gone to bed with.  Horrid.

However, I needn't have worried.  Our Wednesday has been an amazingly good one, full of good friends, smiles, and happy children.

Our day started off with a quick home tidy around and a trip to Exeter in the car.  We had arranged to meet friends at the museum and although we were late arriving they were understanding - so blessed to have understanding friends.

We met outside the museum and that was our first port of call.  Taisia really enjoyed her trip to the museum last week.  She is starting to develop a real thirst for knowledge and loves looking at all of the displays.  Both of our recent visits have been quick walk through fly-by ones in truth.  I must make sure that we allow plenty of time for a 'learning' visit one day soon.

The museum is free to access (although donations are very welcome!), and is a wonderful resource as it contains such a wide diverse variety of artefacts and displays.

You can learn about ammonites...


or try on armour and costumes...




You can find out more about life in Ancient Egypt...




or find out about world cultures...



One of my children's favourite areas are the butterfly and bird rooms.  Although we all agree that living animals are far better than any behind glass, we do appreciate the chance to get up close and to really be able to examine different species with ease.







Gasps of wow and wonder can often be heard escaping from the children's lips as they enter the room and witness the more than impressive collections.  Their eyes sparkle and open wide in amazement at the beautiful colours and the delicate wings - and the enormous size of some of the beetles and spiders!

After almost two hours of strolling around the exhibits, we decided it was time to leave and buy some food to take the home-education group meeting.  This week the meeting was playing host to a small birthday party and the children thoroughly enjoyed eating cake and singing Happy Birthday.  We really enjoyed the meeting this week - lots of interesting people to talk to, a couple of new faces, and the children enjoyed the fresh air and outdoor fun.  I think it may well become a regular outing for us again - maybe not every week, but certainly more often than not as Taisia in particular loves going.

We came home to find that our new oven had been delivered (yay, no more ear-crunching fan in distress noise when baking!) and a couple of new books had been delivered.  More bedtime reading for me.   We had a lovely dinner of Potato topped Tuna pie, and then I whipped up a super quick pudding of Chocolate Concrete Cake and Ice Cream.  Did you used to have Concrete Cake at school?  I did, usually with pink custard.

Now it's time for me to finish my cuppa, switch off the TV, and go to bed with my girls (and new books!)  I wonder what tomorrow has in store for us...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

BIG SIGH

Today has been one of those days.
It’s been one of those “when is it over?” days.
One of those “can’t wait until bedtime!” days.
I’m very fortunate in that I don’t experience many of them, but when I do…boy, I find it a real struggle.  I also find that things tend to rollercoaster and it seems as if it’s one thing after another – in hindsight I can always see ways that I could have stopped the escalation, but at the time I just have this overwhelming leave me alone and pack it in kinda feeling.
This morning was really difficult.  I haven’t been sleeping very well of late (blame a teething baby and much fun-loving kitten).  I wasn’t feeling on top of the world upon waking.  This lackluster feeling developed into a banging headache which didn’t want to vacate it’s abode.  I had plans which I really didn’t feel like following through with – kite-making. baking, and Autumnal display starting.  Urgh, I just really didn’t feel up to the challenge of entertaining the small people.
But clearly the small people needed entertaining, and that lesson has been well and truly learnt, ingrained, and understood loud and clear.
This morning we did a bit of science:
What happens when dried cat food gets put in water?  What happens when more cat food is spilt all over the floor in a puddle of water?  And how quick are everyone’s reactions in order to reach it and clear it up whilst an almost one year old tries to eat it?  (How many times did I ask that the cat food not be touched, moved to where baby can reach it, or played with?)
We also had a “How many times can mama say no before she loses her temper?” test going on, alongside a “How long can I stand outside the door sobbing before mama feels guilty?” test.
We also experimented with how long can we chase and hassle the kitten for before mama goes berserk, and then we had a “whoopsie daisy, I knocked tea all over mama’s diary, workbooks, home-ed exercise books, planning sheets, and a library book” moment.
To top it off we had a let’s chase the cat with water game (what?? why?? where did that come from?), and a put lipstick on the cat’s nose moment.  The latter two baffle me as my lot have all been bought up with animals, large and small, young and old.  The behaviour displayed towards the kitten today was totally out of character and something I really hope won’t be repeated.
Advantage has been taken at every turn – when I was feeding the baby or settling her to sleep, when I was doing the laundry, when I was sorting the dishes, or preparing food – all equaled sneak away to have fun moments for a certain little person.   Clearly we need to go back to not leaving her unsupervised for a milly-second, clearly we have to address a in need of attention and stimulation issue.
In order for the day not to be a complete write off I thought we should get around to doing something.  With a tired baby, fretful due to her teething, and my headache issue, we settled down at the table with the kite making workshop kit that I was very kindly sent from Aspire.
kit resized
I don’t think it is exaggerating to say the kit literally saved the day.
Taisia and Callum both volunteered to make a kite.  We read through the instructions and set about measuring our wooden doweling to the correct size.   Then we made the described shape with the doweling and then the yarn.
sticks

gluing
kite making callum
Taisia enjoyed talking about the shape being a diamond and how you could also see triangles.   Then it was a case of fixing the fabric into place and decorating it…
decorating taisia
Measuring out enough of the yarn for flying and making the pretty tail.  Once completed, the other thing left is to admire your handywork…
kites
Note – Yes, Callum’s kite does say “Rub some bacon on it”  *sigh*.
It was lovely to have an activity to hand that I could sit down and do with the children.  Something that was all ready organised, with all that was needed included, that I could just pick off the shelf and open – even with an aching head!  It certainly broke the overwhelming yucky feeling I had experienced for much of the day and best of all the children enjoyed it too.
Thanks to Tammie over at Aspire for calming things down and saving my relationship with my children today!

Oh yes!


Monday, September 22, 2014

CHICKEN, HAM AND MUSHROOM PIE

Admittedly we cheated using shop bought puff pastry, but hey, it sure is a delicious pie!
pie
Serves 6.
What you need:
250g of assorted mushrooms, chopped.
2tbsp olive oil
2 onions (we used red), peeled and chopped.
3 large leeks, chopped.
3 cloves of garlic.
Between 500g – 8oog of diced chicken.
400g of ham cut into pieces.
large knob of butter.
75g flour.
350ml vegetable or chicken stock.
350ml milk.
3 tsps of mixed dried herbs.
Puff pastry for topping (we used 2 lots of shop bought).
1 beaten egg (for brushing the pastry).
Let’s do this!
  1. Preheat the over to 200 centigrade / Gas mark 6.
  2. Place the oil in a large saucepan.  Fry the onions and leeks for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic just before time up.
  3. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a 2.5 litre ovenproof pie dish.
  4. Add the chicken to the saucepan, season and fry until golden.  Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, add the ham. Stir for a couple of minutes then add to the dish and stir with the vegetables.
  5. In another saucepan, melt the butter.  Gradually ad the flour, continuously stirring.
  6. Add the stock, and the milk, a little at a time, stirring.  Add the dried herbs.
  7. Bring to a gentle boil for 5 minutes. (Taste it, it’s gorgeous – rather like a delicious soup).
  8. Pour contents over the ingredients in the pie dish and mix everything together.
  9. Dust the worktop with flour and roll out the pastry to the shape of the dish, allowing for about an inch for overlapping the edges.   We used two lots of shop bought pastry, you may use one depending on the width of the dish used.  Make a small hole in the centre and cover the pie dish, brush the pastry with egg.
  10. Bake until the pastry is crispy and golden – around 40 minutes or so.
Enjoy!

ELEVEN YEARS ON

I know I have changed a huge amount throughout the eleven years of our home-educating journey.  I know I have grown as a person, as a mama, and as a friend.  I know that I have learnt a great deal from the good times, but far more from the not so great times.
The road we have traveled hasn't all been sweetness and light, but that is to be expected.  Home-education isn't some magical formula that takes all the bad parts of life away.  It doesn't magically create an off button for your children.  It doesn't miraculously make siblings get along without any squabbles,  and nor does it assist you in gaining that parenting manual that is on almost every parents wishlist soon after experiencing a birth.  But I have found that it does help build strong bonds and relationships which go some way to helping with this whole parenting malarkey, and the ever evolving process as a parent doesn't seem to cease.
When I look back to the person I was pre-mama days (shhh, nearly 19 years ago but we won’t mention that), I shudder and smile in equal measure. I was so very different, rather more – erm, perhaps compliant is the word.  I was very much a mainstream mama, following the path that was dictated and not daring to question what I was told.  I had hospital births as I didn’t know any different.  I vaccinated my children without a thought or query because it was the ‘done thing’.  I followed the health visitors regime of weigh-ins and developmental checks to the letter, and I had never heard of co-sleeping or babywearing.   It was just a natural progression that my children would go to nursery, then pre-school and on to primary.
stover pond edited
Before I knew it I had two children in school and I was seemingly happy with my lot. Five days out of seven I was bumbling along with everyone else, trying to get the children up and ready for school on time with a good breakfast inside of them, whilst I made the pack lunches and fumbled around looking for misplaced PE kits or book bags.  Upon leaving the house it wasn’t long before I would find myself getting cross with the small people for not walking fast enough, stop dilly dallying was a common verbal command – after all, we couldn’t be late!!
My afternoons consisted of the school pick-up, the ‘what did you do today’ conversations, the spelling test revision, the book scheme book reading, the parent teacher book writing, and the preparation for the next day.
And tired children.
Uniforms needed to be checked and washed, PE kits likewise, any letters from the school had to be read and acted on appropriately (which often involved sending in some money for a trip or fundraising cause), and I seemed to spend my time stressing about ‘things being right’.
Then, we found out about home-education.  What a revelation that was!  At first it was very much a temporary solution to a problem we were facing at school.  I never gave any thought to the long term future, after all, we were only going to be home-educating for 6 months or so, 12 months tops.
Yes.
Really.
Eleven (ELEVEN?!) years on and what a journey we have taken.
When we first started out, I would play teacher.  I worked out a subject timetable, we had proper lessons at set times and we even kept to scheduled breaks and lunchtime.
It was a ridiculous strategy, I know that now, but at the time I thought that was how it needed to be done.  I figured that this was the blueprint for learning in many areas of the world.  Children were sat at desks and were instructed to do things in order to learn them.  Simples.
But this darn thing called life kept getting in the way.
I soon learnt that this structured day thing wasn’t going to work for us.  When the sun was shining we wanted to be exploring rock pools or orienteering on Dartmoor.  When it was cold and wet we wanted to be snuggled in front of a fire reading a good book or playing board games.   We soon developed a network of friends and were often invited to their various homes for a social meet, or for a park trip or museum visit.
Whilst sitting at the table with pen in hand things still didn’t go to plan.   We would start studying one topic and discussion would lead us in another direction.  Our geography lessons would transform into history ones.  Our religious education lessons would develop into history, then geography, then science.  I became more and more frustrated that my timetable wasn’t been kept to and my lesson plans were being abused.  I just didn’t understand it, why wasn’t it working for us when it worked for schools?
The answer was of course that in our case my children were being allowed freedom.  They were able to think for themselves.  They were able to develop their own thought processes by asking as many questions as they felt the need to.  They could ponder, query, and discuss to their hearts content.  They didn’t have to put up their hands and wait for the opportunity to speak to arise.  They didn’t have to ask for permission to go off on a tangent, or get told that now wasn’t the time.
But here’s the thing.  As their ‘teacher’ I didn’t have to worry about time-restrictions and following the curriculum.  I didn’t have to fret that we didn’t fulfill the lesson plan brief, or that targets hadn’t been met.  I didn’t have to buy the gazillion workbooks and textbooks.  We didn’t need the ‘educational materials’ that I had bought in a ‘must have this so I can be a good home-educator’ frenzy.   I had set unrealistic goals and expectations in order to ‘prove’ to the world (or so it felt) that I could do a good job, and it was so unnecessary.
So so very unnecessary.
I was putting so much pressure upon myself that I was forgetting to enjoy our journey.
Crazy.
I needed to let go of the reins.  I needed to sit back and watch.  And I did so.  I sat and witnessed my children grow their wings and fly.  Not just fly, but soar.
The day I sat back and evaluated our journey was the day I changed as a mama.
It was that powerful. 
That important.  
That real.
Not only did I change as a mama, but our day to day living was shaken up, dusted down, and wiggled and jiggled about.
I started to analyse EVERYTHING.  I researched everything.  I devoured so many books, magazines and websites that related to child development, learning, and parenting.   I started looking at my relationship with my children.  How did I relate to them? In what areas did I feel the need to control them?  I looked at the battles we had and analysed any confrontations.  I realised that I could change these things too.
me reading done
I started to let go of reins again.
I became more relaxed about food and bedtimes.   The children began to have choices when it came to what they ate and when.  The cupboards became ‘open house’ for them to help themselves as and when they wished to.  I pictured the children pigging out on endless supplies of sweet stuff, but was surprised when I noticed that things like cereals and fruit were disappearing too – and they still all chose to keep the family dinner around the table time as they liked it – they still do now, even the teens at 16 and 18.  The bedtime routine vanished, replaced by trust.   The children were given the opportunity to self-regulate their needs for food fuel and sleep, in return we gained a much more relaxed and less pressured household.
This was such a stark contrast to my own upbringing it was at times scary.
I felt like I was exploring a whole new world.   
It felt like a big risk.
I was walking away from the education system safety net and would have no one else to blame if my children weren’t able to read or write.
I was allowing my children the freedom that some parents would throw their hands up in horror at, and many of those parents weren’t afraid of telling me their opinion loud and proud.
But it was ok.  Really, it was ok.
As time went by I could see our family evolving.
I could see confidence, self-motivation, and gorgeous relationships brewing.
Above all else, I could see joy.
Joy, happiness, and clarity.
The relationship between myself and my children grew closer and became more fulfilling.  The relationships between the siblings grew strong.  We became friends with a mutual respect for each other.
I had my lightbulb moment.
The realisation that this parenting malarkey doesn’t have to be difficult.  It doesn’t have to be days filled with battle of wills explosions and forced compliance.
I DIDN’T HAVE TO PARENT AS I HAD BEEN PARENTED.
Wow, that’s a biggie.
There was another way, there is another way.  A way of respect, of listening, of compromise, of harmony.

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