Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Crafts!

Happy Easter from a lovely spring day in the Lake District. The clocks went forward last night so we can look forward to lighter evenings for the next few months and hopefully better weather. We normally hold an Easter egg hunt among the daffodils in the garden but Easter is very early this year and with the snow of the last week the daffodils are not yet out! Never the less our lovely neighbour has been round with eggs for the children and a chocolate bar in the shape of a lamb for my husband as he complained that WE had eaten all the chocolates she gave him last week for cutting down her tree.The Cheek! Anyway I got the lovely flowers above and thankfully no one can eat them!

My daughter has been busy preparing the window sill for Easter. I love living in a cottage.It lends itself to rural crafts.We used the felted goose and rabbit my artistic sister made me for Christmas.

It was my sister in laws birthday today too so my daughter made her a birthday cake using the icing recipe she's used on my birthday cake. My sister in law was really touched and the cake beat any shop bought recipe! 

It was lovely to see my autistic son join in the family celebrations! He often struggles with socialising but when he's with people he knows and feels comfortable with he can talk the hind leg off a donkey and if they are prepared to talk about computers and gaming he's off!

We've decorated some egg boxes too so we can deliver some eggs to my friend later. We thought we would add a broken shell with a chicken inside!

After the snow it's nice to see the lambs in the fields again. The farmers lost a few this year in the snow drifts and as I walked the fells yesterday I came across deep snow drifts which still hadn't melted but the signs of spring were definitely in evidence today.There's nowhere to beat Britain in the spring!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Our Day off!

Yesterday the children were off school again. This time it was my decision as the snow started just before I was due to take the children to the school bus.The snow drifts are still by the sides of the road leaving single lanes in many places and the roads were becoming slippery making the fell route to school lethal. With no pavements if the road became blocked the children could easily become stranded as many motorists were , just up the West coast over the weekend.

As a non working mum I now have the luxury of making such a decision without the feeling of guilt that I am letting work colleagues down.Years ago I would have been worried about the detrimental effect on the childrens' education by having a day off. I no longer believe the government statistics and propaganda  As a home educator I know that the children learn just as much at home ,it may not be the subjects upon which they are being tested but they are gaining the ability to think for themselves.

My daughter sat down and began to draft out an English essay she is preparing for school.Without the distractions of assembly and break she completed the task much quicker than she would have done at school. In fact that's often the case with home education. What takes a lesson at school can often take ten minutes at home. She then turned her hand to spatter painting and had a great time painting my floor (oh and the paper)

In the afternoon her friend (whose parents had also decided against taking the risk of the school bus) came round and they asked whether they could use our Chemistry kit. They set it up in the kitchen and broke the surface tension on water by putting washing up liquid inside and then successfully completed an experiment their teacher had done unsuccessfully at school with food colouring and hot water which you can see here! The food colouring rose to the top showing heat rises.

Meanwhile my eldest prepared a job application and CV letter. He wants to do Motor sports and hopes to get more experience in Motor vehicle maintenance before he starts his level 2 course at college next year.
As the main road to our nearest town was clear then he also went with his dad to the Fire station for a couple of hours to learn about his dad's work doing risk assessments on public buildings.He came back with a much better idea of the work involved. When he was little and his dad rode the pump he used to sit in the driving seat of the Fire engines and try the sirens. Now he was learning about the legal implications of not conforming the the health and safety building regs!

We are really proud of him.Whilst not being an academic he is growing into a mature and sensible young man who knows what he wants to do and is prepared to go for it.Only yesterday he was awarded his Diamond Queens scout award.Scouting has given him so many opportunities and the cost has been negligible  Simply completing his CV showed us how much he has achieved. Currently he is undertaking a leadership course and is planning to go to camp in Austria in the summer!

Once again I was reminded about the effectiveness of home education when I got a phone call from his D.T teacher saying the class is rapidly running out of time to complete their D.T projects and is my son available during the Easter holidays to come in for the day? My son doesn't mind at all, in fact he has already been staying voluntarily after school to work on his project but it's a harsh reminder of the pressure being place on the teachers and pupils to 'achieve well ' in their GCSE'S in order to succeed in life!

As my son told his teacher one day- his GCSE's results will bear no relation on how successful he will be. He will do his best but if that's not good enough- well he intends to work for himself anyway and any work experience he gets he will happily do for free to show how motivated he is so the grades on his CV will have little to do with how he gets on. I wonder who told him that?.........

Monday, 25 March 2013

No School today- there's too much snow!

On Friday I received a text to say that school was closed because of a severe weather warning. I was really quite glad as it's very possible for the children to become  cut off  in a short space of time at their small secondary school in the centre of the Lake district. Needless to say they were delighted !
As they had already got up and were dressed for school at the unearthly hour of 7.15 I watched to see what they would do. My home educated son being unaccustomed to early rises, was still asleep .Unlike his siblings he isn't bound by time scales and deadlines which would put an overwhelming pressure on him- Children with Aspergers whilst high functioning find  every day organisation and pressures can make them extremely anxious! Instead I work with him at the best times to suit his body clock which are generally in the afternoon or late evening.
I found my daughter sitting at the computer together with her ipod  talking to her friend face to face. They were discussing a maths assignment and I noticed that although they were helping each other understand how to tackle the questions they weren't helping each other with the answers. It struck me just how much technology has changed the way we learn and that it's perfectly possible to have a virtual classroom rather than school in a school building!
My eldest son on the other hand disappeared upstairs and I discoved that he was preparing a controlled assessment for his GCSE's on A Street car named Desire (which he incidentally  finds really boring and irrelevant to him)
When maths was finished my daughter decided to make a Victoria sponge so with minimal help from me she went off to the kitchen to weigh her ingredients!All the while the snow continued to come down and my husband came home early, before the village was cut off! 
My daughter was supposedly camping with scouts .It looked unlikely until we were told it had been moved from tents to a village hall and her friend's dad (a former gritter) said he would come and collect her! I realised how old she is becoming as she marched down the path in  green wellies, snow jacket, gloves and buff with a rucksack almost the same size as her on her back!
 Camp as usual was a .great success.Despite the blizzards and snow drifts in our village there was hardly any snow eight miles up the road and she spent the weekend  using a GPS,  hiking and  camp cooking all the while benefiting from the fresh air and exercise.
 For my autistic son it was lovely to have the company of his siblings- he went dog walking with his brother in the snow, played on the X box and computer, combining it with the literary skills needed to type messages he wanted to convey.
Whilst the school building might be closed the School of life certainly wasn't!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Rats in the Kitchen, What am I going to do?

It's official, we have rats! In the chicken enclosure to be precise. I noticed them initially scurrying about in the summer but hadn't seen them for months but over the last couple of days we have had snow and I saw a HUGE rat a couple of says ago disappear into the undergrowth.The last straw came today when one calmly scurried into the coop where that hens were eating and proceeded to join in whilst another jumped out the rabbit hutch! I will be taking a trip to my local farm stockist on Monday for rat poison. Apparently you shove it down their holes and they eat it. The thought of killing anything turns my stomach but the village experts say I must ,as the multiply quickly.It did occur to me to train our border terrier to become a Canine mouse trap but I suppose I'll just have to man up and do something about it.If I can clip chicken wings then I can dispose of rats. Now wheres my flute- I could lead them out of the village like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, down the road and into the sea-there's a thought!

Village life is like that. It's not all daffodils in the orchard and happy lambs cambolling about in the fields, in fact the lambs have been dying  at birth over the last couple of days because of severe blizzard conditions and drifting.The farmer has had to take them all back down on the farm to keep an eye on them. The brook has almost frozen over too and although the village was cut off from the outside world yesterday the farmers were up and down in their tractors ferrying hay and fodder to nearby fields.
We  spent the morning yesterday cutting down a tree that had fallen across the neighbour's drive. Chain saws have their uses in the country!
Rural life has changed us as a family for the better.We have become resourceful and more creative- less flappable ! We huddled round the fire last night with our lanterns as a power cut struck! We have learned to stock a supply of candles and torches which have a specific storage area for emergencies and my autistic son cuddles the dog 'so he won't feel frightened'. It's a different but wonderful life!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Random Acts of Kindness

Only the other day I read a thread on one of my home education forums about the impact of random acts of kindness on both the donor and recipient. It's a lovely feeling when you see the smile of pleasure on a neighbour's face upon receiving a handmade card or gift, particularly if it is made by the children, it's equally nice to be on the receiving end.
During the summer I escaped the house for an hour to visit a village craft fayre, It had been a horrible day- my son had been in a foul mood all day and nothing I did was right. I'd dealt with meltdowns and swearing and was at the end of my tether. As I walked round the church hosting the fayre I began chatting to a young girl who offered reflexology sessions and indian head massage.I was interested as my son has always found head massage has a relaxing and calming effect on him and whilst I was sure he wouldn't let anyone else touch his head I thought it might help me to know how to do it properly. As we finished our conversation and I turned to leave she passed me a small bag of bath salts which she had been selling on her stall and said she wanted me to have it. I welled up at this simple act of kindness. The gift was made at exactly the right time by someone who didn't even know me,
Only a few months later I was told that I qualified for a grant from Furness carers towards holistic therapy to provide me with some respite from the day to day responsibility of caring. The grant was for £400 and I immediately thought of that random act of kindness which had been done without motive but through caring and thoughtfulness. I was delighted to be able to ring up the young lady and book a years worth of reflexology and massage sessions. My thank you to her for showing her love on a very bad day!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Happy Birthday to Mum!

This week marked a special birthday in my house. I was 50. Now I'm not one for making a big fuss or having huge family parties which is just as well when you have a son with Aspergers but I really appreciated the little thoughts and kindnesses of my special friends which make birthdays all worth while. My daughter made my birthday cake, At just twelve she made it all by herself and I'm really proud of her I just had to record her handiwork for posterity! She loved piping the pattern onto the cake and we discussed her learning how to do it so that she can make a little pocket money designing and making her own cakes.
My parents called round with a beautiful necklace and cakes so we could have morning coffee at home as they knew that I was likely to be unable to go out during the day if my son was still sleeping (he is still awake during the night and sleeping during the day!)
Then a friend popped round unexpectedly and brought me some flowers which are now on display on our kitchen table. It's not often I get flowers so I have really enjoyed them. A dear friend sent me an e-card all the way from her new home in Caithness where she is happily settling in to a small holding ,making her crafts and surrounded by animals and I got this fabulous bag and a fleece from my sister!

My birthday celebration meal has been put on hold until April as after a family discussion about a restaurant where we could all be comfortable and enjoy ourselves (not all environments are suitable for my son on the spectrum) so he came up with the suggestion of going to Frankie and Bennys which is opening soon and the vote was unanimous!
And this was my birthday present to myself. A trip for my daughter and I to go and see The Lion King in Manchester with some friends! It was spectacular, the costumes and dance were inspirational and it was an experience that we don't often get living out in the sticks! It would have been rather too noisy for my Autistic son as there were bongo drums being played in the boxes on either side of the auditorium and at one stage even I  found the singing rather loud myself but we were able to watch snatches of the show afterwards courtesy of You Tube where he saw the Giraffes on stilts and the clever puppeteers!
It's not often you have a fiftieth birthday so thankyou all my friends and family for making it special!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Village Notice Board

Villages can be the hubs of Education!
As I walked up the lane today I stopped to browse the notices on our village notice board. Our disability information day was featured, as was a presentation about the last boat built in the area, a concert, a lent lunch  and the dates for the next photography and yoga classes.

It struck me how, in a very small village we had so many 'experts' and that if I had chosen to go to each group in turn I would have covered law, history, P.E, art,catering and socialising and music without a single formal lesson.

That's just how autonomous education works and the relevancy of the subject to the here and now makes the subject more compelling and  likely to be retained.

It's from little seeds such as this that projects can balloon. My son's interest in rifle shooting stemmed from the opportunity we spotted for children to go a try a free session of shooting at our local rifle range. The day was a wash out, most of the sports were cancelled and no one turned up. That is apart from my two sons! I rang up during the day to check if the session was going ahead and was told that as it was indoors it would. When we arrived the doors were locked and I could see from my Autistic son's face that this could turn nasty- he was getting stressed as things were not going to plan. Fortunately I had thought to programme the instructor's phone number into my mobile. He had been given the incorrect starting time but was just round the corner so the day was saved! For that evening my son and big brother then had an hours instruction from a former British champion in rifle shooting!

The University of Life is indeed a powerful learning tool if you choose to study there!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Interest led learning!

No one can act and learn for another.The doer must do the work himself. The task, the choice, the purpose must be his....

JOHN HOLT    Instead of Education

One of the most important lessons I've learned with an oppositional child is that you can't MAKE them learn. Learning comes from the heart and a need to know.

As I've backed off from worksheets, lesson plans and structured learning I have become what John Holt calls  a t-eacher rather than a Teacher! Rather than feed my children information which I feel they should learn like a Teacher in a school who is restricted by the National Curriculum, I have the luxury of being able to sit back to listen and observe what my children are saying and doing.

Yesterday I discussed the possibility with my son of giving him an allowance. He frantically scrambled the numbers in his head , did some mental arithmatic and decided that he would be better off than he currently is. This impromptu maths lesson took place in the car and continued throughout the day as he calculated how long it would take with his new found wealth to buy a computer for gaming.

We spent half an hour in PC World whilst he did his research and he explained about the memory in each computer and the merits of Windows over a mac for gaming and as we were leaving we spotted a rack of pc games for 97p each! We rifled through the games on offer and discovered Surgery simulator which my son had previously seen for £19.99. Needless to say we couldn't overlook such a bargain so we snapped it up and my son and his sister spent the evening operating in my front room, all the while learning the names of different parts of the human anatomy!

Meanwhile I drew up a legal contract for consideration with regard to my son's allowance and how it was to be used, and recommended that my son take independent legal advice on the content from his grandfather before he signed anything. I was surprised to receive an email back from my son complete with amended contract for consideration. My son had perused it ,struck out the wording which was too vague and could be ambiguous and which he requested be implemented. A discussion then took place between my husband and son as to the validity of a contract signed by a minor. My husband explained that in fact it was a memorandum of agreement evidencing an agreement between us and a signed copy could be produced in the event of dispute!

None of what took place that day took place at a desk,at a set 'learning time' or was premeditated. It happened naturally and continued as a result of my son's expressed interest in what we said and saw! Learning should be fun and spontaneous - not forceful and stifling!