Resources for home educators!

New home educators may not realise that there are a lot of excellent, free resources out there. Many companies will send you posters, activity kits, etc that they normally send to schools. I’m going to occasionally provide some links to these websites, and trust that non home educators won’t take advantage of them! Most schools probably have access to this stuff, anyway, though of course you are welcome to share it with school staff who might want to request stuff.

These fabulous resources are only available to UK residents, as far as I’m aware. If anyone wants to compile a list of resources for other countries, I am happy to post it here or link to it!

Lego StoryStarter
We’ve got this (the free tester set, we’ve not bought the full set) and it is great. Three tiny matching Lego sets, so you can build a three set story. Would be fun to make stop motion films with this….though our set is sadly now mingled in the larger abyss of Lego we have.

British Ecological Society
We just ordered these yesterday, on a friend’s recommendation. They look to be four wall charts (we are a poster loving family. Come into our house and realise it will never look like a grown up lives here!) on various ecological topics. The hedge one may be the first one we really explore, especially as we have some excellent old hedge nearby.

British Heart Foundation
The BHF has a lot of excellent resources, broken up into different age groups. We’ve not actually ordered any yet as we want to give a donation when we do, and the donation isn’t in our budget at the minute! But we have seen friend’s stuff and the resources for 5-11 year old children look great!

Pizza Express visit
We are in the process of trying to sort a visit. If you get a small group of home educators together, you can go for a free tour of the kitchen, each child makes their own pizza, and then you can all go picnic together! All for free. I am aware that other restaurants have a similar scheme, so it is worth checking out with local chain restaurants, or asking independent restaurants if they’d be interested.

Potato Council
We’ve had Grow Your Own Potato packs the last two years, and we love it. You get two local varieties of potatoes (maybe about six?), a chitting tray, bags to grow the potatoes, stickers, and a booklet with lots of info in. One cool project it suggests which anyone can do it cutting the top off a 2 litre bottle, then planting a small potato in compost. Wrap the bottle in newspaper, as potatoes need shade. Water and watch the roots grow! This is really, really cool as it lets us see what is happening with the potatoes we have planted – not recommended to eat this potato as it is surrounded by loads of plastic and not much soil.

The first year we did this project I forgot to fill the growing bags a second time, and also badly neglected the potatoes. We still ended up with a large crop of very tasty spuds! Potatoes may be the ultimate plant for those who want to grow some of their own food but are rubbish at gardening!

Bees and Wildflowers
I love this one. You have fun, learn, and help bees! Best to probably do this with a group and share the resources around. You get wildflower seeds specifically chosen for the area of the UK you live in, a bee house to assemble and hang, and a great booklet with loads of info. This has been useful for us, as both kids are afraid of bees – and again, we have big ol’ flower beds and no time to plant or maintain anything. The flowers came up beautifully, we hung the bee house near them, and hopefully helped make our little patch of the outdoors more bee friendly. It led to lots of talk about bees, cross pollination, flowers, etc and has been an ongoing topic of interest (and sadly, some residual bee fear!) in our house.

If anyone has any other resources, please do share below in a comment. I will be compiling lists of resources I spot on local home ed groups, Facebook, or stuff we manage to find. Area specific resources welcome! Hope today’s list has at least one amazing link that you’ve not heard of, that matches with your children’s interests. Anyone with info on weather resources, we need them! And animal ones.

Who would I be?

What might I be if I’d been allowed, or allowed myself, free reign to follow childhood passions?

A pianist, a singer? A meteorologist? A camp counsellor? A writer, an explorer? A witch?

Would I be writing fabulous hit musicals, or composing more serious music?

I think back to those old days of writing songs in my head, putting the notes on paper, then playing them on the piano. Of old notebooks full of scenes – practicing my storytelling, yes, but also practicing being a heterosexual.

I think of hours alone in a canoe, knowing every twist and turn of the water, the paddle just an extension of my body. Swimming for days, in lakes and channels and the ocean and my swimming pool.

I remember believing I could control the weather with my magic ring (and who knows? Perhaps I could!), hours spent with playing cards that turned into a tarot deck soon enough, the instinctive hunting for amber on the trees in our front yard.

Many of these childhood things are still with me now. Either they’ve been there all along, or they are freshly flexing and burgeoning now, or still some place buried…but just beneath the skin. I can see the bulge, the urge to grow, to luxuriate in serious play.

Who would I be if I allowed myself that courage now?

Stay tuned. We may both find out, and hopefully soon.

(But until then, I read. Back to how I spent a huge portion of my childhood, happy and quiet and alone in my head.)

Help! How should we talk about fat?

My kids know everyone’s body is different. Different skin colours, different hair texture, some big, some small, some tall, some short, some needing wheelchairs, some not. We’re okay; we’ve got that.

What we don’t have is a Me who knows how to deal with what is often termed ‘the honesty of small children.’

A few weeks ago as we were walking through the woods, a large man went past us. One of the kids said, loudly, ‘Wow, that man is really fat.’

I will leave out the discussion we had (another somewhat inane everyone is different thing, with some added awkwardness about how to talk about differentness).

The thing is, many people are sensitive about their weight. And someone pointing out their size in a slightly awed voice may sting.

But the other thing is that I’m trying to raise kids who celebrate difference. My kids don’t mock people for being fat/disabled/black/a ‘masculine’ woman, but they do sometimes notice it. And I think that’s okay.

I was raised with a ‘colourblind’ society being hailed as the utopia. But I don’t agree with it. I’m different; I’m a queer woman. My difference isn’t one I want silenced – surely we can all be different, can learn from differentness? It doesn’t naturally lead to exclusion or derision. In my utopia it leads to celebration.

That means I have a lot of conversations with my kids. Sometimes they don’t notice what makes people different, and that’s okay – they are too busy noticing what we have in common with others. And that’s great. But when they do – they ask about why some people wear head scarves or niqab, they ask why a black friend has curlier hair than we do, they ask how prosthetic legs work. And then they get on with their day, a little more clued up and a lot more likely to accept these differences in an easier way. Because I try to be open.

Did I initially have an easy time explaining women covering their heads or faces, when my kids have no concept of religion? No. But I muddled through, because we may be different but we are learning about respect, beliefs, choice, and how to talk about these things.

But fat? I don’t know.

It happened again at the pool yesterday. Another, ‘Hey, that man is really, really fat.’ We had a quick conversation about not pointing out how people are different, how it may make others uncomfortable.

But really, I was the only uncomfortable one. Hushing up fat talk, but not hushing up talk about that kid in the wheelchair with the awesome Spider-Man wheels….what message am I sending? That being overweight equals something shameful, abhorrent, embarrassing?

My kids tested it on me. ‘Mama, why are you fat?’ Then, rushing and somehow sly, ‘Oh, sorry, I called you fat.’

Somehow I had turned fat from an ordinary adjective into something darker. And I don’t like that.

So what do I say? How do I say it?

I’m sending mixed messages by talking about my stretch marks with pride, about how all our bodies are just right for each of us. And then cringing with horror when my kids dare to innocently point out a body that is outside of what many would consider a normal weight range. Wasn’t that my opportunity to say, ‘Yes, we’re all different! Isn’t that great?’

Instead I feel like an awkward, socially inept person who knows this conversation is ongoing…and has a long way to go…but I don’t know how to talk anymore. It’s uncomfortable for me. This may be our first experience of really going against the grain when, actually, we may be rubbing people the wrong way no matter what we say.

Maybe I need to carry on explaining that difference can be a really good thing, a chance to learn more about other people and the world around us. But that we need to think about how we point it out – and here’s where I draw a blank. Anyone have ideas? Please do leave a comment below!

Thunderstorm at the end of summer.

It’s after bath time, and he creeps into my room, silent and steady. He notices a flash outside the window, so we both sit up. He leans in, excited body and quickened breath. ‘This is awesome!’ he stage whispers, the sky filling with bright flashes of light.

He sister and mummy come in, stay awhile, then leave. He looks at me.

‘It’s just me and my Mama,’ he says. ‘This is awesome.’

Not sure if he means me or the lightening, which he says he’s never seen before, I ask, ‘Do you want to come outside with me and watch it from there?’ His eye widen. He nods.

We slink down the stairs; I wrap him in a big orange sarong, I fling a green one around my waist. We sit on the front step. Rain drips down the magnolia tree, the sky steadily performs, and then we hear the first rumble of thunder. I put my arm around him, I catch glimpses of his joyful face in the inky darkness, we look for streaks of lightening.

I tell him about how you can tell how close the storm is. Wait for the lightning, then count until you hear thunder. We whisper about the fighter jet we saw that goes faster than the speed of light, and I think about how his childhood is doing the same thing. But not tonight.

Tonight our bodies are dry, but our feet get wet if we stretch them out. We say hello to the thunder, the lightning; we sit out here so silently among the gradual increase of rumbles and rolling sound.

I didn’t have to say yes tonight, because it was my idea. He thought it was amazing to watch lightning through a window. I showed him what it was like to watch lightning under the sky.

This was our night.

And it was awesome.

The way things change.

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Today was magic. Mayhem at pottery class, all day at the park (including a three hour grass fight with friends old and new!), Tang Soo Do in the evening. The sort of day where you have a million moments of laughter and are too happy to actually notice how much you are enjoying yourself. But you can tell.

It’s in the skin dyed green by endless grass rolling. The way we all look a bit disheveled, and in fact that one of us was nude when we arrived at marital arts, and had to quickly don the uniform in the car park. The endless bags I’m lugging back into the house – freshly painted and fired pottery pieces, carrier bags full of cheese toasty plates and banana peels.

Today S went up to another girl we’ve seen around a bit. She got it in her head that this girl ought to join the grass fight. She went up again and again, introducing herself and her friends. Extending an offer to play. She wasn’t too upset when the girl didn’t respond….and she was overjoyed when she eventually ran over, handing S handful after handful of fresh, soggy grass. S also noticed another girl hanging around the edge, hope in her eyes and grass in her hands.

How things change. This is the child that has said on multiple occasions that she doesn’t need any more friends. She has enough! The girl too unsure to reach out. Today she did. She pulled two kids into a large game, and everyone was happy and running and laughing. And I saw my glowing child, and I noticed her noticing what it was like to help make other people feel included.

Yesterday we had swimming lessons. S swam unassisted for the first time, not quite believing she was doing it. M said on the car ride there, ‘I can swim with my face in the water. Today I will try to do it with my whole body under water.’ And he did.

How things change. This is the boy who three weeks ago could not swim. Now he’s diving underwater and swimming lengths and willingly practicing, joy streaming off his body like the water droplets he leaves in his wake. This is the child that effortlessly charms people, and it’s a good thing he does, because he doesn’t like instructions, constrictions, repetitive things. He likes to soar. And there in the water, he’s found a place he can fly, he can be free, he can accomplish exactly how much he wants to accomplish. I see his joy at doing this powerful thing on his own, how his confidence grows even wider and deeper, and how he will willingly do this thing over and over, because he’s the boss of this very wet success.

Last week both kids had their first grading at martial arts. S passed her purple belt easily, as we thought she would. She loves Tang Soo Do and takes it seriously, her face shining the whole time we are there. M also earned his purple belt; how proud they are of these tiny little badges to sew on their uniform. And the focus badge they earned, despite M yelling out in the middle of the grading at watching friends, ‘We gonna get a badge! A focus badge!’

How things don’t change. M’s friendly exuberance. S’s perfectionist leanings.

But how things do. They grow up, out, sideways, upside down. They are trying new things, spending whole days splashing in water, throwing grass and making beautiful large clay bowls shaped like leaves.

How my life has changed, changed from what it could have been.

And all I feel is happy. And lucky, so lucky. We have this much freedom, this much joy, all these people to laugh with. We have grass to throw, and miles to swim, and stuff to kick.

This, my friends, this is the life.

Mega minecraft maze…ostensibly built for the children…

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Just made the kids something fun to find tomorrow! Not sure I will keep the rules section as is, but for now I’m pleased. Lots of little nooks and crannies to discover – a house, several gardens, mini art gallery, swimming pool, cheddar cheese area, snowman corridor, lookout platform, survival station, chicken farm, etc.

The plan is to add new stuff to our Adventure World map until we have a whole world of awesome – can’t wait to see what the kids build!

Have I mentioned I LOVE minecraft?