Thursday, 10 July 2014

Summer Activities

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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

An Idyllic Home Ed Day

Yesterday we had one of those rare golden days. Our eldest son had heard about a "How to Train your Dragon" exhibition at a gallery in another city. Being a huge fan of the books by Cressida Cowell, the series which really got him reading, and eagerly anticipating the release of the second movie, he expressed an interest in going. As we had plans to visit friends on their farm over that way, we decided to make a day of it.

The Cressida Cowell exhibition was really enjoyable - especially as the older boys know the books so well. It was very interactive, and great fun even for our toddler, who enjoyed dressing up in Viking garb and sitting in the longboat listening to sea shanties. It was interesting to learn more about Cressida's early life, and the way in which her childhood shaped and inspired her Viking and dragon tales. It was also interesting to listen to her talk about her ideas book, which was on display, and the way in which she began with a map out of which the characters wandered and the stories began to unfold.

The boys enjoyed looking at original sketches from the stories and reading more - both about Cressida and her engaging characters, and about Viking culture and tradition. The exhibition combined of written and video presentation along with lots of pictures and interactive displays. A highlight was a video in which Cressida taught us some "Dragonese" - the language of the dragons.

I love the way so many great works of literature involve the creation of an imaginary world complete with geography, history, language and culture. It is such a creative process, and the hope is that the boys were suitably inspired.

My second son talks of wanting to be an illustrator, and recently told me he was going to write a book. He went on to describe his idea for a plot involving time travel and science fiction. It was creative and original - and it surprised me because it comes from a boy who shows no willingness or interest in the process of writing, not at the moment. It is so interesting what is going on, unseen, in the imagination.

After an hour or so at the gallery, we drove out of town and made our way to our friends' farm. What a beautiful location, tucked away in the middle of nowhere. We shared a picnic lunch in their walled garden, and the boys had fun playing with their young son on the climbing frame, trampoline and in the sandpit and BIG paddling pool, never mind the battery powered ride-on tractor - plenty to keep all ages entertained, whilst we chatted about autonomous learning! There is so much to learn day-by-day on the farm. They had a wonderful, well-established vegetable patch where we were able to pick a variety of berries which we have stewed today and enjoyed with our cereal and in a lovely crumble, prepared by son no 2! We walked down to the farmyard with their dogs, and were able to talk to the farmer about the farm machinery - and sit in a combine harvester and in a digger.

We drove home, tired but happy, all agreeing it had been a good day. It was the kind of day I imagined when we started out on our home educating adventure. Of course, not every day is like this ... but it can happen!

How would you like this for a school timetable?

Looking at it makes me think about what a culture values, and the way this is reflected in what is taught to the next generation. What do school timetables today convey about what we value as a culture? What does your home education say about what you value as a family? Food for thought!

How to stop fighting about screen time

Do you struggle with the feeling that your children are spending too much time in front of their screens? It is one of the real challenges for me personally of moving towards autonomous learning. Technology moves so fast and is such a big part of modern life and culture, and I recognize the huge contribution games, apps and programmes can make to all of our lifelong learning. (Just this week, my husband looked on youtube to find out how to fix our fridge, then ordered the part he needed from espares - and fixed it himself!) I do not want my children to be handicapped by restricting their access to technology, rather I want them to be fluent in their use of it. In spite of all this, I still find it difficult to watch them bent over their phones or tablets for considerable amounts of time. And I bite my tongue more often than I used to in order to keep myself from rushing them on to alternative activities quite so readily. If you struggle with this too, then you might find this article, "The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time" by Lori Pickert at Project-Based Homeschooling, as useful as I did.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Hayfever Medication

My third son really suffers with hayfever during the summer months. When he was younger this manifested as croup. We would have to take him into a steam-filled bathroom, or out into the cool night-time air to help his breathing. We even had a Tefal humidifier (inspired by our years in the dry air of Ankara) which would produce steam by his bed at night. But his symptoms still prompted several night-time visits to hospital, where a steroid would be administered to ease his breathing. As he has grown older, we have managed his symptoms with a Ventolin inhaler as required, but also with regular hayfever medication. For some weeks, I have been dosing him with Cetirizine Hydrochloride twice a day. However, I have noticed that he seems more lethargic recently, drowsy at times and a bit disinterested. This comes and goes. My Dad even commented on this today - and it got me thinking. I have decided to cut the meds - and to introduce an earlier bedtime for him - and to see whether these symptoms improve.

Bedtimes are tricky in our house as our youngest (2) doesn't want to go to bed whilst the others are still up. Our third son (8) may need more sleep, but doesn't want to go to bed before his younger brother and feel he is missing out on anything. This dilemma, combined with the lighter summer evenings, has meant bedtime has slipped back, with the younger two going to sleep at around 9.00pm and the older two later. Our eldest son seems to be particularly alert and productive in the evening. Anyway, tonight I said our 8 year old needs to go to bed between 8 and 8.30, and we managed to find an alternative homeopathic hayfever remedy in Boots which I will be trialling for effectiveness from tomorrow.

Does anyone have any advice or experience on medicating hayfever in children? My eldest son also suffers - particularly with itchy eyes, and eye drops have really been helping him this week. When I asked the doctor, though, we were prescribed a steroid nasal spray which I am now reluctant to use.

A Day with the Arts (with a bit of science and maths thrown in!)

Today we went to see the Science of Sound - and interactive science show - in the awesome setting of Birmingham's Symphony Hall. We explored vibrations and sound waves and learned a lot about the Symphony Hall's imposing organ. It was interesting and fun, and even though aimed at Key Stage 2, my 12 year old enthused about it. Afterwards, we went to the Art Gallery to see an exhibition of Rowland Emett's work. He was a creative inventor, artist and illustrator and his quirky, magical automata are best recognised from the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which we now need to watch! Such a colourful, engaging exhibition. Recommended.

There was another exhibition of Symmetry in Sculpture which we also visited briefly, an interesting fusion of maths and art by Zarah Hussain.

I am in the process of signing the boys up for Arts Award, so lots of material seen today to inspire their portfolios!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Learning for Themselves

In the post, Apologies, below, I talked about how our house move has thrown us into complete chaos. I am not very good at operating in chaos, and need some degree of order around me to function. So I have been rather preoccupied, as I mentioned, with just trying to sort the house out. It will be great, but there is a lot of work which needs doing, and it is all taking rather longer than I anticipated, or would like. Never mind. Sometimes, that is how life is - and you just have to get on as best you can. The situation has given opportunity for an interesting experiment in truly autonomous learning. What happens when I - with all my agendas and plans and ideas - am not in the way, and the children learn for themselves? Well, I promised you a few examples, so here they are ....

My older two boys became very interested in commandos not long after we moved. They set up a club, which they are still encouraging their new friends to join. To be admitted to the club, a friend must complete a super tough obstacle course which the boys have designed in our garden. They spent several weeks following a training schedule and undertaking training exercises in the garden. They also found out about the commandos and made little booklets about what being in their club entails.

From this interest, stemmed a fascination with the exploits of Bear Grylls. They spent a lot of time watching Bear's survival videos "Man Vs Wild" on YouTube, where he is dropped and has to survive in different parts of the world including the East African savannah, a volcano in Hawaii, the Australian outback, the Amazon rainforest, the Sahara. They learned a lot of very interesting things about these different environments and some amazing survival tactics. Bear Grylls strikes me as a great role model. As a keen scout, our eldest son has encountered him in his role as Chief Scout, even meeting him at the end of The Chase Walk 2013 before he really knew who he was! The boys got hold of his autobiography, "Mud, Sweat and Tears" which we have been reading together. This includes his experiences of training for the SAS. We also discovered that Bear has written a series of fictional adventure titles for children, and my second son downloaded the first in the series on his tablet and has been enjoying reading it.

Dinosaur Adventures
My third son came across the programme "Andy's Dinosaur Adventures" on CBeebies. This channel is aimed at younger children, of course, but with a small brother in the house, it is sometimes on, and this programmes really captured his imagination. He watched these programmes avidly, and learned all kinds of information about dinosaurs. He and his older brother then devised a wonderful imaginary game, "Jurassic Journeys" where they would dress up as explorers and go out on adventures through time, encountering dinosaurs on their travels.

We went on a day out at a nature centre where they had a dinosaur trail with lots of huge models of dinosaurs, and he chose a book all about dinosaurs from the shop, which he has enjoyed looking at and reading for further information. We also have a DVD of the series, "Walking with Dinosaurs" which all three older boys have enjoyed watching.

Amazing machines
One day, we noticed some young men out on the street in front of our house, racing a quad bike. Fascinated, my husband went outside to see what they were up to, and our eldest son soon followed as he loves machines. Conversation ensued and we discovered that they were engineering students at our local University and had all sorts of projects on the go - doing up cars on their front drive, even overhauling a car for racing. They have a welder and a soldering iron, items our son has long desired. So he has been popping round to ask the students all number of things, and has been able to sit out on their front drive whilst they work on their cars. He has learned all kinds of things from this, and then from looking up how to do certain vehicle maintenance tasks on YouTube. He has been looking for a car wreck to take on and repair, and he and his brother dug out their Tamiya radio controlled cars and gave them the necessary attention to get them both running again.

Lego, as ever, has been popular. Our third son is particularly obsessed and creates no end of fantastic models and vehicles. The boys came across a competition to create piece of kit which would be useful in Arctic exploration, and all worked on entries, doing a bit of research in the process, and writing a blurb to describe their models in the gallery.

Bridge Building
One sunny day, we went out to a National Trust property and, in the woods in the grounds, the three boys decided they would build a bridge across the stream. They worked together for a good hour, moving logs to achieve their aim.

I'm sure there have been other projects, too. These are the ones which come to mind. Just this week, our eldest son has decided he wants to build a water powered rocket and today we have been gathering the supplies he has requested to be able to do that. Not my idea! Of course, work on the house itself has also provided opportunities for learning as builders and other workmen have come to do various jobs for us. When fitting our new stove, the plasterer was asked by our eldest son if he could have a go, and he showed him how to smooth the plaster and gave him a turn with the tools. It is great for the boys to encounter and observe tradesmen at work in this way. Our eldest son went on to strip the lining paper from the living room wall and smooth it ready to be re-papered .... For a fee, of course!