Not Back to School week 2017!

Because it’s a bit of a tradition, and I like being able to look back, here we go. Usual caveat that every week is different, etc.

Monday

This week is when many classes and groups kick off again – and thinking about how this upcoming term is going to be the most scheduled term we’ve ever had (half hoping it’s great, half expecting it to break us so we all agree to go back to a more relaxed pace!), we thought we’d stay in.

Then we discovered Spider-Man: Homecoming was on in our local cinema, and it’s cheap ticket Monday, so that was much of our morning.

M is obsessed with Spider-Man lately (again); S was less keen and brought a book along to read in the cinema, but alas, she forgot a torch.

(S has become obsessed with graphic novels – the longer non-comic book ones aimed at 9-12 year olds. She heavily recommends El Deafo as well as anything by Raina T. If you have cash to burn, send an Amazon gift voucher. Our libraries and finances cannot keep up with her pace!)

Afterwards we came home and much Lego/Playmobil fun was had. Mondays from now on will involve S going to drop off educational provision in the woods, so it feels special to have time for the both of them to just play!

Late afternoon M had gymnastics class with a friend, while S played with hers. She then had her first non-recreational gymnastics class; she was on her own with girls much older than her, and it was much more intense than the recreational classes she is used to. She survived.

Earlier in the day M ran round the block with hand weights, pumping them up and down while running (lots of this sort of tiny thing happened this week – I didn’t document it as it would be too crazily long!)

M suddenly asked for ‘muscles training’ in the evening so I found Tae-Bo videos on YouTube (#billyblanksforever!) and he did two full length videos aimed at adults. He did these two weight lifting videos every day this week.

Tuesday

First day back to a very busy pottery class after the summer break. Clay, glaze, inspiration.

Afterwards we all had a picnic/play in the park. Was nice to be back! We were there till around 1:30, when I had to take S to Spanish class. A friend offered to have M round her house – he and his friend had some quality Lego time.

S and I arrived ridiculously early at Spanish, so we went for a walk. Happened to stumble across an awesome music store – she played some broken chords on the various pianos until we discovered there was an entire room devoted to percussion instruments. She’s thinking of giving up piano to have drum lessons, so it was great to get to try out some digital kits.

Spanish was Spanish – learning how to describe circus related stuff, this week. She really enjoyed it.

Then back off to pick up M – it was my birthday, and my gorgeous friend made me a cake (which she unfortunately dropped on the floor.) She left me and the kids alone while she ran to the store to get milk, and the four of us promptly fell on the cake pieces like wolves. Bare hands and all.

Wednesday

Normally we’d be at forest school on a Wednesday, but this week our lovely friends from London were down and staying in the local area.

We met them at Slimbridge Wildlife and Wetlands Centre – or whatever it’s called. We spent a full day in the soft play, welly boot land, and somehow missed out on seeing the birds – except for the geese and swans near the entrance, who swarmed the children once they realised the kids had grain to feed them. One of my friend’s kids may now have a permanent bird phobia. Whoops.

Driving to and from our meet up, we listened to Short and Curly. It’s a podcast about ethics aimed at children – and it’s totally awesome. Ethics is a fascinating area of study, full of critical thinking, morals, debate, challenging our own ideas. We all LOVE it.

Thursday

Thanks to Groupon and the friend who spotted a deal on there, we headed off to the Mendips winter sports centre with five other families. The kids got an hour of tobaggoning on the dry slopes – which were much faster than I thought they’d be.

Everyone loved it; no one broke their skulls open.

Afterward, we went to the top of the ‘alpine lodge’ for lunch. Very unfortunately, M had an airborne allergic reaction to … something?

He responsibly asked for meds and took himself outside for fresh air. It was minor at that time, nothing out of the ordinary.

About ten minutes later, my friend looked out the window and saw him gasping for air/coughing.

Queue a very tense twenty minutes. No epipen was given – and luckily a nurse was on the trip with us.

M proceeded to give all his friends a lesson on how to administer an epipen.

We elected to head home rather than carry on to Chew Lake with friends – closer to hospitals if needed.

Thankfully he was fine. We cancelled our emergency GP appointment, and Suzy took both kids off to Woodcraft Folk for the first session of term. Luckily it was an outdoors session with plenty of fresh air!

That evening S and I spent a good chunk of time reading our own books in her room. Was very cozy.

Meanwhile M took proud ownership over a new Spider-Man costume, courtesy of Grandma! Lots of running around outside with it on.

Friday

Crack of dawn piano lessons were cancelled as their tutor was ill – God help me, I was so relieved and happy for a chilled morning!

Back to Capoeira late morning. I cannot recommend this more – miles better than our previous martial arts experience. Kids remembered their moves from before summer, which was great. Lots of fun and excellent music on a very rainy morning!

S wanted to have friends back to ours after class, but honestly I was too tired! We went home – kids played, we watched Night at the Museum, etc.

Just a chilled out way to end the week.

I found during this week that car rides, as ever, are where kids continue to request maths challenges. M’s mental maths are off the chart – you know, if we used them!- and he particularly has been requesting more and more difficult problems. I’m still loving how we can cover a variety of topics within one thing – maths, ethics, language – and not even realise we are doing so until it’s reflected on later.

All in all, a great week -next week even more things start back up. I have a feeling I may revert back to drinking caffeine!

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It helps. 

You don’t have to have hot air balloons bright and dancing on the day you turn seven, but it helps.

The smell of food stalls lining the paths, the glow of lights in every direction, music pulsing deep and loud as the balloons light up in beautiful rhythm.

You don’t have to spend the afternoon stretched on a picnic blanket, or eating lukewarm chips, or running in circles laughing on the day you turn seven. You don’t have to stay up late to watch balloons dance.

But it helps.

Getting there. 

A little less than a year ago, S picked up a Dr Suess book and…just read it. Yes, she needed a bit of help, but she read all sixty pages of Hop on Pop like a mofo. Was I relieved? That was the understatement of the century.

Sure, all the unschoolers who came before me said to just relax and trust things. But, you know, literacy is a bit more complicated than potty learning. I was relaxed about that, I did no ‘training.’ (Though I had potties everywhere, explained what they were for, and made myself available if needed. Much like books and reading!) At age 2, S decided one day she was through with nappies. Three weeks later, M followed suit. I think each had one accident in the two days following getting rid of nappies, and never again. They were ready.

So I clutched our urine free carpet memories to my chest, I held tight to the words of those with older children and teenagers. I read the blogs of adults that had been unschooled. And I held tight.

What does unschooling look like when you are learning to read? We’ve never done lessons or anything formal. And that, my friend, takes courage.

Did I go nuts and order like four different sets of beginning books? Sure. Did I download Teach Your Monster to Read (WHICH IS AWESOME!)? Of course. But did I ever make the kids do any of those things? No.

S learning to read was a quiet event, right before my birthday bonfire. She read a book; we went outside and made s’mores. I wasn’t too surprised as she’d been writing for ages, had begun to sound out searches for youtube videos, etc. But still. Relief.

She’s read signs and various things over the past year with this sort of prideful glee, but not cared too much about books. But in the last three weeks? She’s bringing books to read in the car. I’m finding her in various corners of the house, reading. She’s showing me books for older children in bookstores and double checking she’s reading the sentences right. BOOM.

So we were 50% there. I relaxed quite a bit – now I had proof I could see and touch, it was easier to believe. But M is very different to S. He doesn’t do a lot of fine motor things, he doesn’t care about writing things down, he rarely draws. We recently read The Neverending Story to the kids and it totally captured his imagination. He’s always liked advanced books; his bedtime book for a good few weeks was a history of WWII book written for adults.

So how was he to ever match his intellectual brightness with the stupidity of most beginning reading schemes? I kind of thought he’d be one of those unschooling kids who doesn’t read until ten, but then is suddenly reading Ulysses in a single gulp.

Then I heard about another set of books recommended by another home edder. And because I hoard books and love getting stuff in the mail, I ordered them. He picked up the first one AND HE JUST READ IT.

What?!

What the actual?!

No stumbling, no hesitation. Then he read the next one.

Today in the car, S offered him one of her books. And he read that puppy, too!

MY GOD I CAN FINALLY EXHALE. Thank you, gods and goddesses of literacy, thank you books illustrated with stick figures sitting on each other while a freaky deaky sun looks on in horror.

It’s easy to retrospectively trust in the process, now that we are there. But getting there? I’m here to say it’s okay to worry, it’s normal to doubt – but my god, is it worth it to hang on. Because it’ll happen. And when it does, it’s truly at the right time for your child. They can do it.

But you know, YOU CAN TOO. Stay strong. *love to you all*

Now I’m off – probably to worry about when they’ll start reading more and more and more…at higher levels…with greater ease…It’s not easy to step of the merry go round of parental worry and guilt, but each little joy and success makes it easier.

Rules for life…I mean, the treasure hunt.

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This morning M brought me paper and a marker. He wanted me to write rules for a treasure hunt. Now, I like a nice metaphor. I didn’t elect to start a PhD in a weirdly specialised area of English Literature for no reason, folks. But two items in on his list of rules, and it seemed to be jumping off the page. Look…

1. Have fun and learn.

That’s hopefully what we are doing, all the time. It doesn’t matter the hour of the day or the location of our bodies, we are exploring and playing and learning.

2. It’s not about racing and getting the most treasures.

AMEN. It’s not about that, not at all. Everyone develops at their own pace. Everyone considers different things a treasure. There is enough to go around.

3. Some treasure will hide super good.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where your heart lies. Sometimes even once you figure it out, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to achieve. That’s okay. It’s just hiding…super good.

4. After you get all the treasure (chocolate coins), eat it.

Accomplishments are to be celebrated with joy. No use in searching for that treasure then just reburying it. It needs to be integrated into who you are, enjoyed, and then perhaps shared with the world.

5. Hope you have great fun and come back again and again. Treasure is always out!

There is always more treasure available. New levels of treasure on old themes, or even totally new stuff. You normally like diamonds, fine. Excellent. But look! You can like emeralds, too. You can expand and change your mind, and maybe even branch into rubies. You can find treasures most anywhere, and it’s always worth looking.

Because, really, it’s great fun.

I love that little guy. Such a kind hearted, wise person.

Best of (the areas surrounding) Bristol! Jet Age museum, Gloucester.

We’ve been talking a lot about World War 2 recently, mainly sparked by M’s interest in fighter jets. I asked on our local Facebook home ed group about places to go see jets, and Jet Age Museum was recommended by a few people. It is only open weekends and bank holidays, though it apparently will open for booked visits of home ed groups during the week! Admission and parking are both free.

It’s worth mentioning that this place is right next to an airport – the sort of airport with loads of small planes and helicopters constantly taking off and landing. We accidentally found the airport first and hung out there for a few minutes, which was one of the happiest mistakes we’ve made in awhile!

Parking at Jet Age also borders airport fields, albeit from a bit further away. There’s a nice vantage point and picnic tables!

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This is another smallish museum…though it’s worth noting it’s only a ten minute drive from Gloucester City Museum!

It features old jet planes….mostly indoors, but a few outdoors. A couple of the cockpits are open for children to sit in – and it’s here I must say that half of the charm of this place are the volunteers running it. They are on hand to discuss each jet in detail…and in our case, to tease the kids about backwards helmets, provide a hunt for letters, give out fantastic posters, etc. Just so friendly and knowledgeable, which might really appeal to someone with an older child very into old fighter jets.

The highlight (which sadly I missed, as I can’t climb ladders!) was Suzy and the kids going up for a tour of a Vulcan – a 28 foot climb from ground to cockpit. They sat in the various seats of the five in the plane, learned what job corresponded to each seat, and spent a good ten or fifteen minutes exploring the cockpit in detail. As such, there was a bit of a wait for this – and a minimum height restriction. Both kids and Suzy adored it.

All in all, I’d recommend this place. But if you have an hour drive to get there, do google other local things as I don’t think you could spend more than a couple of hours here. (Unless you went to the little on site cafe, which we didn’t on this occasion.) I’d also recommend a donation….this place is a local labour of love, and I like supporting that.

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Worksheets!

S likes what would traditionally be thought of as schoolwork – worksheets, writing, drawing, etc. Suzy thought of the idea of doing worksheets, so today I made one based on Dalmations, her deepest desire and greatest love. She liked it so much she requested another straight away.

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The great thing about homemade activity sheets is that they can completely cater to the individual child – their present interests as well as their ability levels. S can do free writing well, she likes drawing, she’s recently discovered Barbie through a magazine she was bought.

M hasn’t ever been interested in writing, aside from the letter M (!), and he would rather dictate what he wants drawn rather than draw it himself. He likes staying at home and having lots of time for free play, so I was surprised when he asked for a worksheet. And, like S, as soon as he finished one he requested another.

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I don’t know that these will be a daily thing, though both kids are currently saying they’d like them to be! This is another great thing about home education. This week they want morning worksheets – fine! Let’s make them fun and relevant. Let the kids help design and plan them, or see if they’d rather have a surprise.

Next week they may not want to touch another worksheet for a month, and that’s fine, too.