Friday, March 28, 2008

"Mum! Don't think me to learn how to read!"

Conversation, just happened:

"Mum, what does this say?"

"Sim State University. Look, S..i..m..."

"Mum! Don't think me to learn how to read!"

"Oh! But, isn't learning to read a good thing to do?"

"Yes.... But not today."

So. That told me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Questions questions... (cont.)

Am very behind with my emails ATM. If you're waiting for a reply, I'm not deliberately ignoring you! Just a bit disorganised.

Some questions have come up here this week, namely -

From Lyddie: Why do clapping hands make that sound?

We explored it a bit, and worked out that slapping any bit of skin makes a similar noise. The compression of air, someone suggested. The amount of space involved in a slap/clap as opposed to, say, flicking with a finger. But no explanation so far seems to quite suffice. I think we might have to look at the whole issue of sound in much more detail, with books and experiments. The challenge then for me is to stop talking about it with her after the point where she's learned enough for now.

And from me: Why do my children invariably go through a stage of deliberately killing Sims (by walling them in and depriving them of food etc.) and mutilating Barbie dolls?

The boys didn't mutilate Barbies, but they did kill Sims. And even now they play Eve Online, which involves plenty of virtual destruction.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

AHEd heroes

Some heroic people at AHEd (Action for Home Education) have been diligently issuing individual Freedom of Information requests to find out how Local Authorities responded to the recent consultation on government's Home Education Guidelines to Local Authorities. They've listed the results here. I'm amazed to see that some Local Authorities appear to have mislaid their response, or sent it and not retained a copy! And I'm also amazed that DCSF refused to supply these responses in bulk in response to the FOI request, so they've had to be requested on such a time-consuming individual basis. Never mind, AHEd is collecting the responses anyway and some of them make fascinating reading.

I notice they've also acquired DCSF's statistical analysis of the responses [opens pdf] and made this publicly available too.

I'm so impressed with AHEd - which contains a committed, determined and hard-working group of people who never seem to give up or let up their efforts to stand up for the rights of those families who decide not to opt into the school system in the UK - that I've added an image link to its homepage in my sidebar. I'd be glad to supply the coding for this to anyone who wants it - just send me an email if you do.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


If it hadn't been for my eldest son's dyslexia - and the school's atrocious handling of it - we might never have home-educated.

(Well, I think we probably would, due to their similarly inept handling of my younger son's different educational needs, and my older daughter's need to go to the toilet - denied, at 6 years old, until she had to pee on the floor.) But the dyslexia thing was a key catalyst for the decision to deregister.

Reading this news story has brought it all back to me. But our dyslexia issues came to a head with the school in 1998 and 1999 - all documented and sent with the appropriate evidence to the then Secretary of State for Education (David Blunkett) and I'm sure I can't have been the only parent to have done that. It's been common knowledge amongst dyslexia experts for years and years that, for example, juvenile prison populations have an alarmingly high rate of dyslexia (about which more later). So why have the powers that be decided to address it in 2008, having studiously ignored it for so long?

Even now, people sometimes try to tell me that dyslexia doesn't really exist, as Tom's schoolteacher did. They imagine it's an excuse for the pampered children of paranoid, pushy parents, to cop out of making an effort to do the work. That's exactly how his teacher worded it to me. And the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator confidently informed me that she'd assessed him and found no trace of dyslexia. But she had no specialised knowledge in the field, other than her teaching degree and 'lots of experience'.

And yet the school was telling me: "We can't understand it. We know he's intelligent from the way he contributes to discussions. But he just won't do the writing or learn his spellings." He was 10 years old and could explain the theory of relativity, but was unable to spell Thomas, his own name.

The school had him labelled as a disruptive pupil. My Tom, who wouldn't upset anyone! Ali was the disruptive one. He'd upset anyone if he thought it was justified. But not Tom. They thought he was being rebellious and pretending he couldn't do the work, when he really could. But they'd send his work home and I knew, from working with him at the kitchen table in the evenings, that he wasn't capable of doing what they asked of him.

If I didn't have Ali, a non-dyslexic to compare him with, I might have believed them. That argument (made always by people who do not have dyslexic children) that it's some kind of a scam, a convenient label, does have a logical sort of attractiveness. I kept an open mind. I wasn't trying to kid myself.

But the school was determined to force him to comply with its requirements. He was kept in during breaktimes and every sanction was used against him, to try to break his 'obsinacy'. They set him apart, repeatedly told him he was badly behaved for 'refusing' to comply and effectively criminalised him. If Tom's life had continued along that path I think he might well have become one of those juvenile prison statistics, because he was starting to become what they were accusing him of.

I scraped enough money together for a private diagnosis by an educational psychologist who found Tom to be profoundly dyslexic but with a high IQ. She said it was surprising he'd learned to read and write at all and, after she'd shown me examples of how dyslexic people see text, I agreed. She produced a 15-page report, which the school refused to even read. "If you pay someone to find something wrong with your child, they will find it," said the teacher.

This was the point at which I realised I had to give up my training and teaching career, deregister Tom and home educate him. I didn't see that he had any chance of surviving with his mental health - let alone his non-criminal status - intact if he stayed in the system. It's been the very best decision for all of us (Ali and Zara soon opted to leave school too.) Tom can read and write quite well now and has acquired enough techniques and tools along the way to be able to function effectively in the text-based world in which we live. Above all, he has his confidence and the knowledge that he's not a liar or a deliberate trouble-causer or a lazy person. Because he's not - he's one of the most honest and hard-working people I know.

Our story is by no means unusual. Dyslexia is real and is at the root of many of our social problems, I think, in school-based societies which relentlessly try force square pegs through round holes. To anyone who's had any experience of trying to help a person with dyslexia, the problem is blatantly obvious. I'm very glad if it's now being addressed properly, if indeed it is. I'm just wondering why it took so long.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Common sense from the Telegraph

Thanks to Lou for cheering me up with this today. I loved it!

Excerpt: "Samuel Johnson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were great skivers who never finished their Oxbridge degrees. Robert Louis Stevenson was of the view that "full, vivid, instructive hours of truantry" were a better education than sitting in a classroom having information drummed into your mind by Gradgrinds intent on producing obedient wage slaves."

*Edit: I like this one in the Indy too. Is the UK media finally becoming sane? LOL, not according to this man!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Emulation, simulation, motivation, experimentation

All kinds of learning have been taking place here this week. The baby has expanded her vocabulary and can now say: "Go! go..go..go..go.." (Plus her version of "Ready.. steady.."); "No"; "Back to bed"; "Bye!"; "Hello"; and "Num," which means: feed me. Also: "NUM," which means: feed me NOW. Oh and "thank you"! Which nobody has taught her or encouraged her to say. She's just picked it up from us. And "Iggy", of course, of Night Garden fame. And she's recently learned how to jump, which is very sweet.

Lyddie has been a mini-me in the past few days. She's been wearing one of her baby dolls in a babysling and cleaning. And changing its nappy and its clothes, and generally fussing over it. The doll watches a lot of TV, I notice, but I'm glad to see that it also enjoys stories. It has had some pictures painted for it and towers built with bricks, which it managed to knock over. We've also been doing that stereotypical home ed activity: looking for signs of spring and learning which things can be eaten and which can't. I think we'll make nettle soup soon - I noticed they're just about ready for picking already.

Zara has recently developed an interest in current affairs. This (well, politics and economics) has always been an interest of Tom's and I'm enjoying discussing the subject from a more human-oriented (female?) angle with her. I enjoy debating with him too, but Tom's thinking is much more theory-based and he likes to speculation-spar with me. ("I think this is bound to happen by this date," etc.) But with Zara I find myself exploring more of the reasons why people might make certain decisions and how they might be emotionally as well as practically impacted by them. It's definitely different.

The boys have been working together to install our new bathroom. I could have paid £thousands in tutors and courses and still never provided as much learning for them as this job is doing. They initially thought it would take 2 days and I think we're onto the 4th week now. At first I was impatient, but now I'm just enjoying watching it play out. They're completely self-motivated. I'm not having to issue reminders, pleas or naggings, but with every step they discover at least several others, and it's a constant process of problem-solving, deep and animated discussion and trial and error.

A radiator needed replacing, so they had to learn how to drain, refill and then fix the central heating system, which meant welding pipes. They suddenly know how a flushing lavatory works, in great detail. The back wall needed boarding out and the measurements had to be retaken and the board resawn, hmmm... once or twice!

But the lessons being learned aren't just practical - they're also lessons in things like humility, I suppose. They went at it with all the natural arrogance of youth to begin with, assuming it would be easy for them. But plumbing is quite unforgiving and if you do something wrong, or even not quite right, the consequences often involve getting wet. So it can't be botched and they've had to actually read the manual. And the text book. And the web site.

They have a great way of working together, which is evolving all the time too. Tom's obviously in charge but Ali keeps him on his toes. He'll assist but only up to a point: he won't slave. Tom has to delegate in just the right way to get things done. And Ali ribs him constantly, especially if he makes a mistake. So Tom's pride is making him all the more careful. And I love the way they debate issues, the way they always have since they learned how to talk: pacing backwards and forwards up and down the kitchen. That bit of the floor needs repainting every year! But it's worth it, just to watch them pace and discuss.

I'm learning too - probably things I should have learned many years ago. That praise always, always yields better results than criticism. That one volunteer is easily worth ten pressed men. That patience really does have its own reward. And that, as site manager, my most useful tools are my sweeping brush and my organisational (tidying up) ability. Oh, and that I'm quite enjoying the journey, never mind the destination.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When is an oath not an oath?

When it's coerced. Surely, for an oath to be worth the promise it's spoken by, it has to be freely made? Otherwise it has no more value than a forced confession.

But then this idea to compel all teenaged school leavers to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country comes from the same report [opens pdf] by Lord Goldsmith QC which suggests giving financial incentives to 'encourage' people to be proactive at the local community level, for example by running pressure groups or recycling schemes.

Financial rewards, for that? Is there nothing these people think can't be obtained from people by stick and carrot? Whatever happened to people doing things because they wanted to? Or because they thought it might be a good idea? Do those kind of motivations simply not exist in the world of Lord Goldsmith et al?

I wonder what they think we'd do if we weren't being threatened or rewarded. Or encouraged or 'incentivised', whatever. I'd love to know.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

"No Mum, *I'll* do the sums and *you* do the answers."

"Oh! Ok then.."

It worked very well actually. Duplo (the nearest county thing I could find) worked very well when I ran out of available fingers.

We were doing fine until it came to one-shared-by-three, then we reverted to chopping up a slice of bread and sharing it around three of us.

"No, we've still all got one piece each.." said Lyddie, quite truthfully.

I think we'll leave the concept of thirds to another day. Good excuse to bake a cake ;-)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Many heads better than one

Or... it takes a young person who is quicker on the uptake than me to see and point out the blindingly obvious sometimes.

Upset, teething baby with apparent earache.

Me: "She's also falling over a lot, which isn't helping. Keeps bumping her head."

Zara: "Yes well, her balance will be affected, won't it? If her ears are blocked up."

Me: "....... Ohhh yes, so it will!"

Five children and nearly 40 years on this planet and it hadn't occurred to me to make that connection at all! Duh. *Rolls eyes @ self*

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Staying in

We registered the car off road in the end, instead of re-taxing it. We'd have paid the road tax, but a water pipe ruptured in the engine which we need to replace before it will go anywhere else. I think the thermostat has probably gone as well, which might explain why the pipe ruptured in the first place. Hey ho! Life is an education, especially the kind you live on a shoestring budget.

So we've been mostly staying in for the past week or two. Having indoor picnics...

(though I think the 'food' on offer there was made of Duplo)

and working on PCs. Fixing the central heating system. Plumbing in the new bathroom. Yes, I think it's safe to say that *water pipes* are our educational theme for now.

It's good to stay in for a period of time, I think. There's certainly plenty to do here. And it's nice to have the time to enjoy doing things at home.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A very happy mother's day so far

I forgot it was mother's day, and wondered why the teens got up so early. They presented me with chocolates and a card and all 6 of us sat in the kitchen by a roaring fire - at 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning! - eating the chocolates, while they patiently indulged me in going on about why motherhood is so great. It is.