Monday, 9 March 2015

Donkeys ,Woodpeckers and Rhubarb jam

It's the time of year when I'm out walking the foot paths and fells in training for the C2B walk on 11th May. This year I'm practising with a friend who's going to join me and the conversation makes the miles go faster.

I've discovered she is a whizz with the ordnance survey map whilst I just make it up as I go along. She has a very precise weather app too. I now know exactly when and where a rain drop is going to fall on my head whereas before I would turn my eyes to the heavens and ask myself whether it was going to rain and whether to take sunglasses or wellies!

My friend told me that we had a chance of showers this morning. I replied that there would be no little black cloud over my head, although I took my waterproof trousers just in case.
We set off up the Woodland valley from Broughton up the disused railway line which used to go to Coniston and into a wood.It was too early for bluebells but we came across my neighbour coppicing wood for forest school and an instructor and student being assessed for tree surgery.We offered to give him points out of ten but he preferred a donation in his hat on the ground!

Once through the wood we came onto the road and ambled down the middle (there's not a vehicle to be seen out there) and I stopped at High Rosthwaite farm to buy some home made jam. I have a penchant for blackberry jam but 'spicy blackberry' didn't really appeal. (They don't come spiced from the bushes in our village) so I chose rhubarb instead.This time I had learned to be prepared and had brought my rucksack to carry it in.

At woodland rooms (no more than a little green corrugated shack which serves as a place for locals from miles around to congregate) we turned right into a farm yard and stopped to speak to a lady farmer who pointed us on her way.Her farm was a characteristic lakeland farmhouse,  reminiscent of the farm used to film Beatrix Potter .We followed a little 'green lane' between dry stone walls into a field.Here the path somewhat disappeared amoungst hedges but as we made our way in roughly the right direction we stumbled across a big brown horse with its back to us, staring into a pond, and a scruffy old donkey which obviously decided that we were the most exciting thing to happen all day so it ambled over and looked through the other side of my camera lense as I tried to take its photo! It then decided to follow us part of the way and I had visions of me sprawled in the mud as it nudged my bottom as we walked along the path like Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.
It gave up at the deer fence and we found our selves in decidous woodland which hasn't yet quite come into bud.Following the path down the valley we came out into a wide expanse of rough farmland covered in reeds and separated by a meandering river which on the map seemed to disappear into nowhere then into the sea. We crossed a little wooden bridge then followed the path through fields and over a stile to the road where we then followed a track through woods up to Wall end near Broughton and I was back on the path I'd taken in the other direction several weeks ago but been stopped due to a very muddy stretch of path which had been unnavigable then. We saw our first wild daffodils and then my friend pointed out the sound of a woodpecker . It sounded like someone banging on large bamboo canes and once I'd heard it would be easy to recognise again.
We were soon back in Broughton and reckoned we had walked about 5-6 miles, and I was right, there wasn't a raindrop in sight!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Little Bo Peep and Education about Sheep!

As I walked down the track with the dogs yesterday I rounded the corner and noticed three sheep ahead.Having lived in the country for about ten years now I've become proud of my shepherding skills and my ability to identify which sheep belongs to which farmer.In this case it was the shaggy curly haired sheep that gave them away.It was Blossom, a rare breed sheep that lives with one of my neighbours and which could only really be described as a pet.

On further inspection I discovered that there were in fact , five sheep, closely followed by my neighbour, her husband, daughter and pet labradoodle. They were , explained my neighbour matter of factly, going for a walk as she had run out of hay and was taking the sheep along the track so they could graze on the grass verges.

As the dogs and I looked on, the motley crew ambled past, taking no more than a cursory glance at the dogs as they strained on their leads to get a better look. You see some very strange sights in the country!

It's been a funny sheep week generally.These sheep  followed my friend and I through a field last week and one even came for a pat! I think they must have thought we must have looked like  dinner ladies!

Then yesterday there was a knock on the door. Our neighbouring farmer sent a message to say that one of his ewes was lambing if
 we wanted to run down to the farm.We were lucky. It was late on a sunny afternoon rather than a cold wet night in the lambing shed!

The ewe (a mule) which is a cross between a texel and a fell sheep for hardiness (they require strong teeth to graze the sea washed turf on the estuary) was lying in the field.Her waters had broken and Paul told us that it was often quite quick although one sheep had take forty minutes the previous day. The field was full of sheep having triplets. The mule would strain and lift her head upwards, then would get up and wander around eating grass.

This went on for quite some time and after about half an hour she seemed to be starting to tire. After 45 minutes, we novices were quite concerned, she didn't look well at all but then neither would we if we were giving birth to three babies. Paul came out and said it was taking longer than it should and decided to intervene.He invited us to watch as he put his hand into the Ewe's uterus and pulled out one very yellow lamb.The second to come out was lodged in a difficult position and wasn't breathing so Paul shook it and cleaned the mucus from its nose with straw.It was very small and weak and didn't look fit and healthy like its brother.Paul said only time would tell.He would leave it in the field for half an hour then bring it into the barn under a heat light over night.The final lamb popped out fit and healthy and, within minutes ,mum was licking both healthy lambs and they were up on their feet feeding from her colostrum. 

The weaker lamb was still on its side and hadn't tried to stand.Sadly we learned the next day that it hadn't made it.Perhaps nature knew it would have struggled to survive. Nature can be cruel sometimes.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Critical cleaning for Autistic children!

My conversation with Google tonight went as follows, "Are you having a bath tonight?"

"Is it critical?" He asked.

"About as critical as you can get" I replied. "In emergency speak you would be on red alert!"

"Can't you smell yourself?

"No I've got a blocked nose" he answered!

"Well you're lucky" I said, "I wish I had."

We regularly have conversations about baths.I've learned that when you have an oppositional autistic teenager it pays to take a laid back approach.

The more you push the less you achieve.You have to let them think it's their idea, and boy is that hard!

It's natural to worry about what people will think of you when they see your sweaty, spotty, greasy haired teenager, oh and did I mention bad breath?

What I have learned on our autism journey however is that I'm not alone.I've also learned that I can be totally upfront with my son and he doesn't take offence.It's a bit like Temple Grandin in the film Temple Grandin when she was told by her boss that she perspired and needed anti perspirant. She accepted it as a fact rather than a criticism.

Anyway, Google had his bath and the battle was over.But I still have a long way to go before I win the war!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Kebabs are the new K.F.C!

Google went to the kebab shop with his dad tonight. It's nice to see him going out voluntarily because he doesn't often choose to leave the house.
It's hard as a parent wanting him to go out and get fresh air and have a more balanced life but in fact by listening to him and not forcing him to go out then he has grown into a much happier and calmer child. To an autistic child trips out are less about socialising and more about getting something they want such as playing with a friend because the friend owns a digger, buying a game you want to play or going to the cinema.Each autistic child will have their own motivation.
The other day I  asked him if he thought he missed out by not going to school.He said that no doubt he did, but when I said he could go to school at any time he said that he didn't want to as teachers didn't understand autism and often made school a terrible place to be.
I've no doubt he is right.I'm increasingly being asked for advice about home education and have seen several local families embark on that journey in the last couple of years.A recent study shows an increase in the number  of families of autistic children's taking their local authority to tribunal and they are winning!
Locally families are beginning to get the placement their children need and the difference in their childrens' mental health and behaviour is obvious.
Parents in the west of the county are campaigning to set up an Autism academy .It is hard to see how they won't be successful. It is very much needed and these parents are passionate about getting the right help for their child!
I find myself on the fringe looking in.I desperately want them to succeed.If my son had been five years younger I would have wanted the same for him. Unfortunately for us our local authority neglected to mention the school which would have been totally appropriate for our son.They didn't want to fund it so presumably felt if they didn't mention it they wouldn't have to pay! Their strategies are starting to backfire, parents have raised thousands of pounds to fight them and have won.Their children are now being supported and helped.I just wish for their sakes that it could have been a lot sooner.
As for us, what turned out to be our only choice has in fact proved to be the best thing we ever did.It has changed the life of not only my son but our whole family. We have control over what we learn and we are not controlled by tests and grades and propoganda about not getting a good job without high grades.
Home education is teaching our children flexibility. They are able to adapt and learn when they need to and they are confident and happy.Even my daughter who is at school doesn't take it too seriously and has lots of out of school activities to balance her academic subjects
Even Google is learning slowly and surely to try new things. What used to be a weekly trip to KFC seems to have turned into a trip to the kebab shop!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Feeling Sheepish in the Lake District!

There is the sound of a whirring sewing machine in the kitchen as my daughter starts her first attempt at dressmaking. We discovered a newly opened scrap store yesterday and came home armed with material, stamps, paint, magazines, wool and ribbons- heaven! Half term has been a haze of sewing, crocheting, planting and creativity. In fact my daughter has said she would like to have a go at making her own clothes, so having managed a cowl with material from the scrap store and mastered how to thread the machine she is ready for trying something simple.I will post the results when we've made something!

It's half term but ,as with any home educating family , the learning always continues. We received a text from my daughter's ELBS (enviromental and landbased science) teacher this week to say her lambs had been born and did she want to see them? We didn't need to be asked again.They were born right on cue on Pancake day.Two tup lambs.
Weighing the lambs

At Boon Cragg national trust farm in Coniston lambing normally takes place in April where there are two lots of around 400 lambs born every year. The students' sheep, of which there are eleven , were sponged to time the birth for February so they could get individual attention as the students have to weigh them and monitor their health. First the lambs were weighed, then their sex was checked to see whether they were gimmers or tups.

Practising with the spray paint

Then after a practice with the spray canister, they were each numbered.The sheep in the barn were Charollais and there were several Tup lambs.The farmer normally prefers the gimmers (female sheep) but this time he was pleased as he wanted to sell them for breeding as the Charolais will be shown at Westmorland show.They weren't particularly attractive sheep like the Herdwicks, having rather square faces and being all white (at least these were) but they make a good price. One of the ewes had given birth to three lambs but had sufficient milk to feed all three.Another sheep lambed after her with a singleton lamb. If she had lambed first then one of the three would have been passed to her to feed to make it easier.

Numbering the lambs

My daughter's lambs on the other hand are Texels . There were outside when we saw them but would be brought in at night.It took us a while to get them to pose for their pictures!

My daughter's lambs with their mum!

And all the time we were up the farm we were surrounded by the sights and sounds of spring. The snowdrops are out and the primroses and crocuses and the daffodils are just about to open ready for a new half term of planting and growing in the new school greenhouse!

Spring is here again!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Computer Programming for Kids!

I've been planting primroses in pots today.It's one of the spin offs of having a large garden, flowers such as primroses, foxgloves and forgetmenots seed profusely and there are always spares. I'm hoping that these will root and bloom in time to pot up into pretty cups and mugs for Easter as we are planning a coffee morning to raise money for our local NAS.

Google is coding. In fact he has been coding for the last fortnight. He's been talking about "matrixes, " "vectors," and  "variables".Then a friend added "arrays" to the mix - a whole new language for me! As always in these cases when I don't know the answers I've bought him a book which arrived today  The Computer Game Design Course  . At the moment that's what Google  thinks he wants to do , so until he decides otherwise thet's what we'll concentrate on. Google tells me that he is using Computercraft from Minecraft but he has already bought a tome called Java for Dummies. My friend tells me that once you can program then it's fairly easy to read other computer languages too .

Google tells me that he was speaking to a friend who goes to school and is a year older than him. His friend is doing programming as part of the national curriculum and they are using Scratch . I recognised the name and realised that Scratch was the program used by Google four or five years ago when he first began to dabble in programming and I was looking for advice. The advice I was given was to give him the space and time to teach himself and that's exactly what I did. It's working too.Computers are such an intricate part of our world and whether we like it or not it helps to understand them.

So if, like me you have a child who loves computers and you aren't at all technically minded, don't worry.Just sit with him and ask him to explain what he's doing, get on home education forums and ask for advice, borrow or buy books, watch you tube, do online courses.Anything and everything to build up your knowledge in readiness for your child's next step (because it does appear to work like building blocks, Google learns for an intense period then stops for a while and starts up again when his brain has absorped all he's learned)
If you are looking for a simple book for beginners then this one wasn't around when Google was small but looks clear and interesting.Computer coding for Kids It's cheap with. The Book People. We also borrowed this book which is more expensive from our local library which some may find useful!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Changing the world of School!

Yesterday I watched a documentary called Schooling the World  It hit me like a lightening bolt that the current education system in the western world is way past it's sell by date. Desperate to give their children the chance to be educated and have opportunities they hadn't had ,parents in India were sending their children to school in towns and cities with the result that the children no longer had any idea of how to live independently outside of an economic society. One villager explained that as children it had been drilled into them the need to keep the rivers clean as people living beneath them on the mountain had a need for drinking water, now the rivers in the valley were full of litter and polluted leaving the water unfit to drink. This,she explained, was because the children no longer had an attachment to the land and didn't understand the consequences of their actions.

The point of the programme was not to say that we shouldn't be educated but that a western form of education was irrelevant and indeed was often harmful to community and society where the culture and traditions were different.

The message of Westernised education was that education brought with it better jobs, money and success. In fact it was the villagers working high up in the mountains who seemed the happiest, despite their way of life. Children played contentedly in the fields whilst their parents worked and villagers sang and laughed as they worked together.

In contrast,children in the classrooms, both in America and India looked disengaged and bored. Obviously the director chose his shots well but the message was clear that if we lump everyone together and teach them all the same thing then we lose our individuality and our creativity and at its worst it effects our ability to live sustainably and community disintegrates

The system we have now is three hundred years old. A short period of history in the scheme of things. Schooling became a compulsory when people flocked to the cities for work as a result of the industrial revolution and parents needed child care and a way to help their children read and write so that they could get employment.

The intention was well meaning - to pull people out of poverty and mould them to suit the workforce. We are however in the middle of a new revolution. One where technology enables you to learn remotely and when you need to. We live in a society when people are beginning to realise that money doesn't bring happiness and that many of the things we are doing to our planet in the name of the economy are destroying our planet , our health.and our sense of community.

Our children , need life skills. They can't all be farmers but they do need to know where their food comes from, the impact of additives in our foods and chemicals on our crops.They need to understand the  influence of large corporations over Government and the economy .School isn't teaching them these things neither is it teaching them  the ability to think for themselves and make decisions following their own research rather than merely accepting what is 'spoon fed' to them through the media and the education system.

It's time for change, not the sort introduced by government every two or three years but a radical shake up or how and what our children learn . I wonder when it will come?