Resources for Home Educators…Part 2! Some stuff for non HE families, too.

See Part 1 for an explanation of these free resources, along with some other great free and fun things! Hey, who doesn’t love post, am I right?

Booktime
Free book pack for reception age HE children. I think these are ones they’d get in school. Unfortunately they don’t do them for other ages! (If you are in the US, check out the Dolly Parton scheme, open to all. Not sure what it is called but it is free books every month!)

Grain Chain

Posters, posters, posters. A few on various grains and how they get from fields to the table, one on the sorts of breakfast people eat in different parts of the world. The site also has ideas for related activities and other fun stuff.

Water Aid

More stuff for HEers. Stickers, activity ideas, a poster. We’ve received ours but been too busy to open it!

Met Office
Free online resources for any age child, home educated or not! Only briefly looked through the site, but we will definitely be delving more deeply. M has a serious interest in extreme weather! A little digging through the site also yields downloadable posters…one on tornados, which will be printed in this house as soon as we put new ink in the printer…

Open University
Open to everyone, not just the HE community…

The OU does some free short courses, but they also distribute free print resources on programmes they produce with the BBC. If your child (or you!) like a certain programme, keep an eye out at the end. They will often direct you to these resources. Alternatively, click the link above and you can see what is currently on offer. Virtually every HE home we have been in has the giant seasons poster hanging somewhere! Ha.

Dyson Engineering Box
I’ve known about this since the kids were about one, but I am saving this for when they are older! I’ve heard lots of truly excellent feedback on it from other home educating families with older children. You get a vacuum to dissemble and reassemble. Sounds very fun for kids who like to tinker and understand how things work. The only caveat is there is currently a huge demand and backlog…so if you want to borrow this kit (which is posted and collected for free!) I would probably wait a few months before requesting it.

Again, please do leave links in the comments for other great resources so I can keep these lists going! I’m already working on part 3….

Matchsticks and marshmallows.

Today our little home ed group of friends ventured into the woods for spooktacular fun. And it was. Fun, I mean. It was also frustrating, exhausting, joyful, mysterious, fighting, curious, dog wrangling, screaming.

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An army of children mixed potions from ingredients like crushed Phoenix feathers, bog water, and mermaid scales. They made ghosts to send flying with a good old fashioned parachute bouncing. They tried to eat apple halves hanging from trees and ended up playing tennis, using the aforementioned ghosts as paddles. Some pressed clay faces onto trees.

Every now and then hell would break loose. A quickfire punch here and there, someone falling from a hammock and slamming to the ground, people screaming in terror if dogs came too close.

A friend said, ‘Hey, I read that blog post from the day when you lost your shit and came over, then we all talked about how hard it can be. And that was like the best day of my life, and it was purely down to how shit your morning had been.’ We laughed, and then another child related incident broke up our chat.

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We made a fire in the damp, damp woods…discovering that matchsticks and marshmallows appeared to be the best possible fuel. We swung high in tyres, played tug of war, crammed together in a hammock. Kids ran and laughed and climbed. People used facepaint to colour their nails. Creepy balloon shapes full of water, dangling from a branch, were fun to squeeze, hit, and kick. We ate marshmallows, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate cornflake cakes.

People were upset when friends wouldn’t do exactly what they wanted. Every adult conversation was cut short by various heartbreaks or emergencies. We discovered the ‘joy’ of weeing outdoors when girls are wearing waterproof bloody trousers. One kid collapsed on the ground and sobbed after begging to go home. Another screamed and thrashed when his toddler heart was cracked in half because he had to give someone else a chance on the tire swings.

The adults exchanged glances; we laughed.

The kids hit trees with soft plastic tubes, making a cacophony of sound and music. They screamed with excitement as the adults moved the parachute over their hands. One bent quietly over her mother’s wellies, painting them with facepaint. Some made giant brooms. Some wore werewolf masks and chased each other. We smelled like mud and smoke and more mud.

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It was the way these days can be. Small moments of peace and ease, quickly followed by discontent and control struggles.

It was the way this life can be. Big moments of laughter and discovery, quickly followed by exhaustion and deep sighs. We are so lucky for friends who get it. For other adults who laugh when one of my children does something bossy or mean or crazy. For other adults who don’t mind when I laugh whenever their kids do the same thing.

It’s a shared experience.

One of the best bits of the day was just sitting in a hammock with my kids, the commotion of the Halloween party at our backs, only the deep woods for us to look at. They leaned into me, my arms their pillows, and we rocked. For five minutes we had such joy and peace…..

And then we didn’t.

Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

Pumpkin carving.

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Design: drawing, ideas, imagination, creativity, art.

Cleaning: sensory play, motor control, sorting seeds from guts.

Carving: fine motor skills, strength, safe knife handling, history and religion (why do people carve pumpkins? What is Samhain, what is Halloween?)

Seed baking: maths (the timer, measuring ingredients), science (temperature), literacy and research (googling and reading recipes), cooking.

More seeds: taste testing, maths (volume, finding suitable container), motor skills in pouring or picking up seeds.

It’s all there, all the time. Everywhere you look, everything you do. You are learning. So are your kids, if you have them. You can’t help it.

But I maintain the most important lesson is joy. Sniffing pumpkin meat, adapting and sharing when one pumpkin is too rotten to use….and making an excellent two face pumpkin. Being brave enough to stick your bare hands into a sloppy, unknown mess. Laughing as you squeeze slippery seeds between your fingers. Trying to pull a knife out of a pumpkin, a small King Arthur and his orange stone.

Joy, joy, joy.

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The after eights edition of my extrinsic rage.

Tonight we go back to martial arts, and it’s got me thinking: how many people are raised with an obligation to just get through the broccoli so they can get to the chocolate cake?

If desserts/puddings/junk food whatevers are labelled and valued as treats, it can actually devalue other foods. The treats are seen as desirable, more worthy and delicious than the other food. (And if you’re thinking, yeah, but they are! perhaps cast an eye back to your own childhood!) So kids stop looking forward to the carrots, the entree, the banana. They want the biscuits, the juice, the sweets.

This post isn’t about food. I have a lot to say about food, but here it is just a metaphor.

Because I wonder if all these extra bribes and treats will teach the kids that martial arts is something to get through, some sort of weekly obligation, and if you manage to put up with it all you get toys. Because of course kids like toys. Mine effing love them. They’d probably do just about anything for the chance to earn a toy. Fair enough, I guess. Toys are awesome.

But bottom line? Martial arts is awesome, too. No, really, it is…no, not just because bribes are being thrown at you, uh….no, I know it’s all a subtle attempt to control kids…yeah, but…I….

Oh well.

original post on this topic

Halloween lanterns!

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Here’s a fantastic thing we made last year, and it’s certainly in keeping with the junk art/stuff you have laying around the house crafting we like to do.
All you need is glue, tissue paper, a bit of black paper, old salsa/olives/whatever jars, and possibly scissors.

Slather glue on the jars and apply small bits of tissue paper. The more you put on, the brighter the colour. We’ve done jack o’ lanterns here, but it would translate nicely to monster faces, ghosts, the night sky and stars…anything you can imagine, really.
And as long as all the tissue paper is on the outside and not on the rim, you can pop tealights in. Pro tip: I bought 78862 battery powered tealights on ebay last year. They’re great as kids can turn on and off at will, with no fire worries.

Have fun with this craft! And tweet me at @alisonmariemay if you make it, so I can see!

Halloweenify your house!

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There are two things my kids love: Halloween and collecting stuff as we walk along.

You name it, I have it. Bags of conkers, acorns, bark chips, pinecones, pebbles.

So today we combined our love of the spooky and fun with all the gently rotting natural craft supplies we have. This is really easy and fun, and I carried on painting by myself long after I was abandoned by everyone else. What? I didn’t want to waste the paint. *ahem*

Conkers are ideal little pumpkins. Acorns make sweet ghosts. And apparently pinecones make good creepers, endermen, and diamond Steves.

The undisputed favourite of mine was the hunks of bark (collected off the ground, not ripped off a tree). I’ve painted some as funny monsters, or kids in Halloween costumes.

I don’t know what we will do with these. We have a nifty shallow plastic box we may use as a Halloween scene – and we’ve plenty of sticks and twigs to add to the autumnal flavour!

Brown bear, brown bear……why are you here?!

My kids really like their martial arts class, particularly S. Up till now it’s been a standard thirty minute class each week, with the slightly annoying sticker reward at the end. I know, I know, I’m such a sticker hating hippy. But seriously. At four, five, and six, why can’t the joy of the sport be enough? Little kids shouldn’t need to be bribed. But if there is a week when the stickers are forgotten, every bloody kid is upset. And why? Do they actually cognitively link the sticker to anything? Every kid gets one, so they are not merit based.

My kids like the stickers, so I’ve squashed my anti sticker sentiment. I don’t want to make them give up something they enjoy. And as we used to say when I was back in the therapy world, everything is ‘grist for the mill.’ We can have lots of discussions about these things. Fine.

But then talk of the reward charts entered the scene. Myself and a couple of other parents weren’t pleased, and that included parents of schooled kids. These reward charts are to get them to do things at home that the parent might normally have trouble getting them to do. Oh, there is so much wrong with that last sentence I don’t know where to start! We don’t have continual problem behaviours. Nor do we have to (often) coerce the kids to do things. We have a lot of freedom and choice, and both kids have taken on growing responsibility for stuff – their own personal care and toys, as well as helping pitch in around the house. There are no obligations, no punishments if someone doesn’t want to help – because they only help if they offer to. I know some of you may think we are crazy. That’s okay. Maybe we are. But it is working for us.

I just don’t get why martial arts should be rewarding kids for doing nightly reading, brushing their teeth, etc. I wonder if it is because it is trying to instill some mystical martial art thought processes or something? But surely martial arts are an inbuilt meritocracy – you earn belt/badges and progress to different levels depending on how much you train. Fair enough. That’s the nature of it.

Then why The Bear?

The Bear is a giant bear neither of my kids has cared too much about. He’s a relatively new thing, only making an appearance twice so far. The ‘best’ kid gets to borrow him for the week after class. I’ve been very lucky in that neither of my children has had a breakdown over not getting The Bear, though other poor souls have.

Until today. S worked her arse off. There was lots of (brilliant, really brilliant stuff) about heart rates, being healthy, etc – and she participated more than anyone. Did she win the effing bear? Nope.

She hung her head and asked me, ‘Why didn’t I win the bear? I tried so hard.’ In my head I was thinking, I don’t know, dude, but you totally should have. Ha.

She is the sort of person who does try very hard. She wants to be perfect. That worries me, but that’s a post for another day. Bottom line, though, my daughter cares a lot about stuff like this. And while The Bear is supposed to build children up, for kids like S, I think it only has the potential to do more harm.

So as we walked to the car I told them the truth – a little something I picked up from other mothers who also had bears in their children’s activities (wtf is up with these bears?). I told the kids that The Bear would likely just be rotated, that everyone would get a turn. I’d rather break the mystique of The Bear than have it break my kid’s spirit.

She loves martial arts. The exercises, the kicking, the punching. Her face glows while we are there.

And I wish that could be enough. Her joy, her getting to try new things, her working hard to progress.

Perhaps this is an inevitable problem – as we are now the only home educating family in a class of children who are daily offered rewards (that may not logically link to anything! I’m a rant girl!), use behaviour charts, are daily forced to do things they do not want to do. It makes me happy that we are not living that way – not that I judge people who are. Each to their own.

A few months back I took the reward chart issue to an online group filled with experienced, wise unschoolers. I read and deeply considered everything that was discussed, and it has helped us move forward. My kids can choose whether to do the charts. I won’t be signing my name in the squares – they can put happy faces in themselves. But The Bear?

You don’t need him, S. You are strong and smart and you may feel you are not sure, but I am. I can hold the sureness for you until you are ready to rise up, magnificent, and claim it for your own.

follow up post

Honestly.

Yesterday morning I just blew up.

Too many little things combined together to create a maelstrom of angst on my behalf, culminating in me yelling my head off about socks. Seriously.

Then crying over a piece of toast, in some monologue of self pity. ‘I do everything around here. I make the lunches, I get your clothes, I clean up breakfast. All you have to do is sit and play! When do I get to sit and play?

The crying increased. Mine, not theirs.

I felt terrible because as bad as I felt, neither kid had actually done anything warranting my reaction.

Another gem was me effectively stomping my feet like a two year old. ‘I don’t even want to go out! I’m doing this for you guys! When you want to stay in, we do, but what about ME?’

As it happens, I developed a giant cold around eight last night, so I hopefully blame my crazy blow up on the cold. Because in reality, we live consentually here. We make compromises. If someone really wants to do something, we find a way to make it happen, most of the time. But that’s not the important part. This is:

I said sorry. I came into the lounge, still half crying, and said, ‘I’m sorry. You did nothing wrong, this was not your fault. I should not have yelled like that.’ Then I said I needed a cuddle, and I got a big one, from two very empathetic kids. I said, ‘Its okay to need help. Even grown ups need help sometimes. I love you.’ Still feeling like a wrung out piece of wet towel, I got into the car and we drove to my/our friends.

Once there, once seven kids were happy, I told my friends. In excruciating detail. ‘I dropped the f bomb! I’ve maybe said that three times since the kids were born. And just because a kid wanted help with their socks!’

And their words embraced me.

It became a friendly competition of who had dropped the occasional f bomb in what situations, how we acted when we were driven crazy, the sorts of behaviours we did. We laughed about it, there, in that playroom. About being overwhelmed, about parenting, about life.

And it was a relief. This is the healing power of honesty. There we were, three parents who saw the other two as fabulous parents, and then heard about all the tiny, five minute times of yelling, frustration, upset. We were not alone, and we were still fabulous parents.

I think the fact that we can beat ourselves up over these occasional blow ups shows that, usually, we aren’t blowing up. We are somehow holding court with seven hands and thirteen things to do at the same time. And we do it well, even when we feel frazzled and don’t do as much as we feel we should.

I’m not superhuman. I am tired, I get sick, I want time alone. Even when I know I’m normal, I’m doing a good job, it is still an immense relief to hear other people voicing the same thoughts as me.

So here we are today, twenty four hours after I got a little crazy (and eighteen hours after we bought bigger socks to make things easier!) All three of us are not well. Soggy tissues are multiplying, fleece robes and fuzzy slippers have appeared, bed pillows are on the couches. It’s silent, except for that one kid on YouTube that does endless reviews. We are all tired, and sick, and ready for a day of rest and recuperation. I may have finally stopped beating myself up for how mean I was yesterday morning.

And that is largely due to the grace and forgiveness of my children, and my friends. My sweet, funny, smart, honest friends.

Last night/this morning.

I woke suddenly, full of energy and totally awake. My bedroom was filled with light, as if someone had set up floodlights right in the window. I pulled the curtain aside and saw a brilliant, blinding full moon, high in the sky.

‘Hello,’ I said softly, peering up.

The intensity of the moon was such that I rarely see, the angle meaning I was bathed in light even as I tilted my face upwards. I glanced at the clock. Exactly midnight.

Balancing on that knife edge between last night and this morning, marvelling at what it felt like to be awakened, all this energy quiet and large and awake. I realised I’d fallen asleep with my glasses on, which left the normally wet-watercolour vision of the night crystal clear.

I climbed back into bed, balancing right between the crisp, cool air of my room (windows open, moon shining down) and the warmth of my blankets. I thought in poems and pictures, just me and the moon, just me right here.