Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Family pulls together in crisis

Well, not exactly a crisis - just me being out of action for a few days, ill in bed. But Zara was away and the boys don't usually take a major part in the childrearing/home educating/ babysitting/ running the house kind of jobs, and I was a bit concerned that we might not manage.

But, "like the Royal Engineers", (as my Dad said, quite bizarrely..) they swung into action when needed. (Is that what Royal Engineers do..? I've never known any. Oh wait, maybe my Dad was one in his National Service. Hmm. Well, he didn't swing into action this time, though he did bring us some potatoes.)

The baby was fed, clothed, entertained and kept safe and relatively clean. When I finally surfaced last night I saw that dishes and clothes had been washed and dried, and there were maths workbooks out on the dining table. Impressive! They've done a great job and I'm very glad they had the time and the inclination to do it, otherwise I'd have been stuck - the downside to single parenting.

This morning I'm [half] joking that it's nice to see I'm finally dispensible and that I'll be off for that trek across the Andes any time now, then. Just as soon as I can keep some food down. Actually, I'm just working towards Lyddie's playdate this afternoon and hoping we get that far. I'm giving it as long as possible and eating porrige.. here's hoping I'm fit to drive the car by 3pm!

No more looking at a computer screen and trying to type though. It's not helping.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Real socialisation

Our weekly home ed meetings have started again now that the floor is fixed. Here are some of the children playing a game of their own invention:

I don't quite understand the rules of this one, but I think it might be based on the one called: "Can we cross your golden bridge?" though heavily adapted, of course.

I don't know whether you can make it out from the picture there, but the ages of the children who were actively involved in that particular completely child-led game which was completely free of adult intervention, ranged from 18 months up to 15 years. All playing on an equal footing. All being treated kindly and fairly. All thoroughly enjoying themselves and with no coercion involved whatsoever.

I think that's one of the things I love most about home education.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I think Lyddie is finally moving on from The Sims, as she has now discovered...


- which is a different kind of game altogether. It's meant to be a strategy game, but she's not using the combat scenarios - just the economic freeplay option. So there's no enemy and no fighting. It's all about town-building, the way she's currently playing it.

So first there's a bit of reading and typing required in the intro, and you choose a name for yourself and select the kind of scenery you'd like for your little people. The game begins, and you have to site your castle keep, your stockpile and your granary. Then you have to get on with providing enough resources to keep people happy. Unhappy people leave the town and once they start going the place can empty pretty quickly!

You are provided with a very limited amount of the basics at the start, but once they're used up - which takes about five minutes - you're on your own. You need wood, stone and sometimes gold for building. So you need to find some trees and some stony land and open some quarries and woodcutting stations and build a market so that you can trade resources for gold.

Your people need houses (for which you need wood) and food - four different kinds, ideally. So you need farms, mills and bakeries. They like a few inns, for which you also need breweries, and churches, which use a lot of stone. And for every job created, you need more housing and food supplies.

Then there's the whole issue of politics. What kind of ruler will you be? If you're benign and you build parks, gardens, statues and maypoles your people will love you. But build too many and they become lazy and their efficiency drops until they start consuming more food than they're producing. When the granary is empty, people leave town. On the other hand, if you're too much of a tyrant your popularity drops and they'll leave town anyway. Tyrants can choose from all kinds of grisly installations of the stocks, guillotine and duckpond variety.

Success in the game invoves taking all of the above into consideration and making the right decisions at the right stages of your township's growth.

Lyddie's doing quite well so far. She was learning about how the market system works last night. I like the way she wants to know what every available option means so that she can keep control of the decision-making process and therefore her learning process. She's picked up the numbers very quickly and now understands how to buy and sell resources and why the prices fluctuate.

Is home ed supposed to be always about building real life tree houses and skipping through the daisies? We do that too. But sometimes it's raining.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Circle stories

I forgot to mention these in our list of games, but inventing 'circle stories' are another of Lyddie's favourite pastimes.

A really simple example might be:

"Once there was a little girl, who lay in her bed all tucked up, cosy and warm and listened to her mother telling a story about a little girl, who lay in her bed all tucked up, cosy and warm and listened to her mother telling a story about a little girl..." etc.

But of course they can be very intricate and elaborate - as long as they make a repeatable circle. The game - I think - as well as managing to complete the circle with the story, is to manage to remember it exactly right each time round.

Keeps us amused, anyway..

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Playing the game

Lyddie is still heavily into guessing games and we've extended our repertoire since I last blogged about it.

Rock-paper-scissors remains a favourite.

But we also play:

  • Who am I? - in which we take turns to guess who the other player has in mind, by means of them answering only yes or no to our questions. Variations on this theme include 'Where am I?' and 'What am I?'

  • Clues - in which one player slowly gives the other clues to help them guess the person, place or thing they have in mind. The idea is to start with quite vague clues and work towards more specific ones, while the other player shouts out their guesses. So, Lyddie might start by saying: "I'm white..." and I'd start guessing: "Wall..? Paper..?" Then, shaking her head, she'd say: "I'm made of cotton..." "Sheet? Shirt?" "I begin with C...." "Um.... cloth?" "And I hang in the window!" after which I'd probably - finally! - guess: "The curtains!" And then it would be my turn.

  • Spellings - in which we take turns to spell out words while the other one guesses them, or to say words while the other spells them out.

  • Sums - which works like spellings, but with sums. (Lyddie will play these two, but not for long.)

  • "I went [somewhere] and I took/bought/found/saw..." - which are all variations on a memory game, in which we take turns to add things to the list and must each recite the whole list every turn.

  • Alphabet games - in which we take turns to think of items from a group for each letter of the alphabet, so we might, for example, choose food for a category. Then the game might go: "Apple," "Banana.." "Crisps!" etc. Other categories we've used for this game are: animals, names and toys.

We play these games a lot - several times a day. If I added up the time we spend on them, it would probably be up to two hours every day. They don't need any equipment, they don't cost anything and you can play them anywhere. All they require is time and attention - the best learning aids!

And of course they're developing and reinforcing her structural thinking skills and neural pathways in many different ways. And she usually suggests them herself and is in charge of which games we play, and when and for how long. In fact, another game I forgot to list which is fast becoming a favourite is: "Let's think of a new game."

I love the autonomous, free-range learning method for this reason, because if we were following more of a preplanned schedule I don't think we'd have the time to give these games the immediate and concentrated attention we do, and they're obviously crucially important for Lyddie's education at this stage. Having the time and the freedom to be able to identify, recognise and accommodate this kind of need is invaluable.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More to 'not learn' about

Have we had enough 'not learning' yet? ("Are we there yet?")

Today we had some more visitors to 'not learn' from. Actually, this time we didn't dash for the books for once. We were just all glued to the windows, spellbound.

It's a deer, for those who can't tell due to the poor camera and the even worse photographer ;-) Our neighbour saw some a few years ago there (just below the house) but nobody had seen any since then, so we assumed they weren't here any more. But this one was quite brave and stayed around for a good ten minutes, munching on young saplings.

We also finally got a pic (of sorts) of those woodpigeons:

Eat your heart out Bill Oddy, huh? They sat for ages too, like deliberate visitors. If I was superstitious, I'd be researching animal totems by now. *Grabs animal totem book...*

Oh and one more picture. Lyddie was busy with some tissue paper and a skipping rope on the dining room floor for five minutes. She set them out in the shape below, and took some time changing it slightly, just carefully getting it exactly right.

"There, Mummy," she stood back to show me. "It's you!"

"..... Oh! Thanks. Wow. So it is...!" I said. Worriedly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Still "not learning"....

A white stork landed in our neighbour's field yesterday! I'm not much of an ornithologist, but it was an amazing sight. In flight it was magical - all wings and legs, slowly and carefully coming in to land on his pagoda thing.

We got a pic, but not a very good one. You might be able to make it out:

Oh dear, it's really not clear, is it? One of the few times I (like Qalballah) wish I had a decent camera.

Lyddie grabbed the bird book. She's been doing a lot of that recently, since we saw a couple of big fat wood pigeons waddling up the drive last week and wondered what they were. I ought to have known - I'd heard their call and known from my childhood what kind of bird made that noise - but had never seen one, hence the book being out. Aren't they huge?

"How can I find the page about storks?" asked Lyddie.

"Look it up in the index at the back. It will be alphabetical." We said the alphabet as she scrolled with her finger through to S, read out the page number and found the right page. We read about storks and found out what we wanted to know about them. Then she pulled her boots on and went out "bird-hunting", as she calls it. Creeping up on them quietly and seeing how close she can get.

Our home ed meetings start again tomorrow. We're very pleased - we have missed them.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"I want to plant seeds, but can we do it without learning?"

"...Because learning is boring."

"Sure!" I said, but I'm still wondering where she got that idea from. We don't actually sit down and do any structured *learning* as such, so maybe it's something she's heard on the TV and assumes must be true. Or maybe I made the mistake of once saying: "See? Learning is fun!" which, admittedly, does give it the kiss of death somewhat, doesn't it? (*Rolls eyes @ self..*)

So. To plant seeds without doing any learning. Nothing educational at all. Sure. No problem.

"Ok. So, which shall we plant."

"Flowers. These." She picks up a packet of cornflower seeds.

"Oh, beautiful. Which pots shall we put them in?"

"The window boxes, so I can see them from my PC."

"Good idea. But how big do they grow? Oh - 75cm. That's very tall. You wouldn't see much else out of your window if we planted those there."

"How do you know they grow so tall?"

"It says so on the packet." I pointed. She agreed that it did say that.

"But," she asked, "How long is 75cm?" We got out a tape measure and looked to see how long it was, and went to the window with the tape measure to see how far up that would be. Lyddie then agreed that cornflowers would be too big for that position.

She checked through our stock of flower seed packets, looking to see which others she liked. "These then," she said, picking out night-scented stocks. "Let me see how tall they grow."

"30cm..." She checked on the tape measure, held it up to the window. "Yes that would be ok. Let's plant these. What does this say?"


"Full... sun. This window gets loads of sun, doesn't it? I have to keep closing the curtains to see my screen."

"Yes, I think it will be fine."

"What about this? Sow... March... Jun..."

"We have to plant them between March and June. The months."

"What month is this?"

"April. And it's ok, because the months go January, Febuary, March, April..." She started saying the months with me.

"Oh yes, April is fine! Right, let's get some soil."

So I filled up the pots with soil while she opened the seeds.

"How do I plant them?"

"It should tell us that on the back of the packet." I pointed at the relevant bit.

"4-6in apart. What does that mean?"

"Oh, those are inches. We're using centimetres. 10-15cm, look, it says that too."

"Why can't we use inches?"

"We can, but we used centimetres before so I thought we'd stick with centimetres. But we can use inches if you like." We got a ruler and saw how 10-15cm is the same as 4-6 inches. I explained, in passing, why we have both centimeters and inches in this country and how our uses of these measures have changed, even in my lifetime. Lyddie was planting the seeds, using the ruler to help with the spacings. She asked why the measurements had changed, so I tried to explain about the EU and how it had started out as a trade partnership and turned into a law-making body, like the government.

"Am I planting these seeds deep enough?"

"Let's check." We read the packet again and found they needed to be 'covered lightly with 0.5cm (quarter inch) of fine soil, firmed gently and kept moist. Seedlings appear in 14-21 days.'

"Oh, let's get the calendar and see when that will be," said Lyddie. We counted the days together from now to then, and wrote a reminder to check for the seedlings.

"Will you remember to water them?" I asked her.

"Of course!" she said. "I'll be able to see them all the time, so I won't forget."

We carried them outside, set them into place and went to get some water.

"I'm so glad we set this rainwater harvesting system up," I said. "I've always wanted an outside tap for watering plants."

She asked how it worked so I lifted her up so that she could see how the water collects in the gutter and runs down the pipe.

"When we build the new house I'm hoping to get all our washing and toilet-flushing water from the rain."

"Of course!" said Lyddie. "Because it falls for free from the sky, doesn't it?"

We had quite a chat then about reservoirs, water companies, rates and meters, while we watered the seeds. Then we went inside.

"Did we do that without learning then?"

Lyddie looked at me as if I was a bit dim. "Of course we did," she said. "It was just planting. No learning at all."

"Oh good," I said.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Blog 'til you drop (and ignoring the writing)

Apparently people who blog for money are blogging so frantically they're dying at their keyboards. Thank goodness it's only a hobby for me! Still, I've got so many blogs now that you'd be forgiven for thinking I was doing it for a living - especially this past weekend when I've been making this, to link them all together. All my bloggings will be referenced there from now on, so you can track them from just the one place if you like. Had enough for now though: the sun is shining and we're going out to play.

But first I'll tell you some other news from here: the car is taxed and is in the garage being fixed, so we'll be mobile again soon. That's kind of good news and kind of not: we're looking forward to visiting some museums, galleries, beautiful places again. But being 'stuck at home' has been great fun and very peaceful and calm. It's a joy not to rush anywhere or do clockwatching; just to live instinctively and according to our natural rhythms.

Lyddie has been writing of her own volition. She wrote several quite long and fairly legible sentences for me to explain something yesterday, then turned the paper over and did a load of squiggles on the back. When she brought me the message she explained to me what the squiggles 'said' and told me to ignore the 'silly writing' on the back because she hadn't done it 'properly'. From reading home ed blogs over the years I know that this is quite a common phenomena - the being able to do something but not confident that it's the right thing to do so scrapping it and reverting to something else - but it's the first time I've witnessed it for myself. Amazing!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The squiggles

The baby is getting frustrated, trying to do physical work while I'm reading and writing. These little squiggles mean nothing to her, of course, and she can't understand why I want to sit tap tap tapping when there's real work mummying to be done. So she sighs and complains and does it for me.

Looking at it from the outside, through her eyes, I see that my physical work seems to consist largely of moving clothes from one place to another in a way that makes very little sense. Busily opening and closing drawers and cupboards. Carrying things around. Hmm.

It's a relief when she brings me a book to read with her - an interface. Common ground. Welcome to the world of the squiggles.

Yesterday we had fun seeking out April Fools, though nobody here is quite of the age or inclination this year to be playing any real tricks on real people.

The older ones of us here have been learning, thinking and talking about economy, poverty and the rising price in food. I think we need to start properly growing our own, for sure.