Monday, 27 January 2014

Back to the Future!

Why, I wondered had history become so much more vibrant and exciting in the last few years since I began home educating? As I sat rhyming off dates of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the sinking of the Titanic,the Chernobyl disaster,The first World War I realised that I hadn't 'meant' to learn them, they'd just happened because I was interested.

Why I was interested was another matter- for me, history starts with people and I usually come across them (both real and fictional) whilst reading books. Yesterday, for example , I was reading a book The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse and found myself looking at the role of prehistoric caves in the French Pyrenees as a refuge for the Cathar communities in Medieval times. If I had started with a text book looking at the role of the crusades and religious wars I would probably have closed the book but in this case my interest was picqued by one fictional character who could have been any one of us.

That's why I think I'm attracted by people  like Anne Frank, or Schindler or Ghandi because they make me realize that history is just  the everyday things that happen to everyday people but in the past , and it can happen again in the future.

I've realized that the technological revolution we're going through now, is not all that different from the Industrial revolution. It is having an impact on where people work, how many are needed to do a job,and competing with local retailers.

One of the most useful books I've bought is Eye Witness to History by John Carey  which is a compilation of eye witness accounts ranging from the burial of a Viking to an execution during the French Revolution,it brings home the enormous importance of us recording the most insignificant events and customs which we take for granted and encourages us to open our eyes to the world around us.

My son, on the other hand who has the same passion for history as me,sees things from a very different viewpoint. Being Autistic,it's not people and their emotions which interest him. He thinks logically, with far less emotion than me , and,  whilst the reasons for war would concern me ,he would be far more inclined to simply announce that 'war is stupid and futile' but then go on to investigate the strategy of war, what weapons they used,how the geographical terrain and weather affected the campaigns and how, if you have to go to war, to lose the fewest men! He would make a good military leader!

Books and programmes like Horrible Histories and Victorian Farm, together with historical dramas and films have also played a massive part in feeding his passion and I can't recommend highly enough anything at all by Michael Morpurgo whose books filled our earlier years and still now slip in and out of our life as the book takes us!

 Like many Autistic children he is a visual learner and if you ever read Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin you'll begin to understand that their brains are arranged like computers-as each piece of information goes in it is stored and filed in the appropriate file so building up a picture of a subject which once stored is rarely lost.

So if memorizing facts and figures is a struggle then 'don't'. If the interest is there it will come. You need to fuel the passion first and once your child is on fire then they'll teach themselves.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The State of our Education!

Schools are fining families who take their children on holiday in term time,there is even talk of fining families whose child is persistently late.You have to ask yourself whether the people who make these rules remotely understand what it is like to have a child with Aspergers. who refuses to go to school each morning.

 I've also heard stories of children having biscuits and cakes taken out their lunch boxes because that food is 'banned', even heard that the government were discussing banning packed lunches all together. What on earth do you do if your child will only eat one type of food in a stressful environment like school. What a mess our education system is in.It's becoming more like a communist state than a democratic society.

Decent hard working families ,who a few years ago would probably not have challenged the system .are starting to see their freedoms being eroded and the rumblings and undercurrent show that many aren't happy. I realised today how bad it had got when my husband suggested my daughter might be better off in an independent school. as at least there would be a degree of flexibility.

If my daughter were unhappy at school then  I suppose it would be an option but not one for which I'd have a great deal of enthusiasm, .Having home educated my son for five years I'm sorry to say I no longer think that school is the best place to learn.

My daughter goes to school because she enjoys meeting her friends there,not because I think it is the best place to learn.She does that at home.She thrives on having people around her and she has lots of friends.Dance also  plays a large part at  school and that's her favourite subject.

I'm not arguing that she wouldn't socialise at home.Far from it,she would never be at home,what with dance and drama classes,scouts and the gym.She is just not unhappy.She has her goals,knows what she needs to achieve them and the simplest route will be to navigate the system rather than swim against the flow.

Only time will tell whether we have made the right decision for each of our children.What I do know is that they are all different and we have respected that and listened to them.I think that they are responsible for their own choices.We can give them options but we need to accept their  choices,even if we have our doubts that they are the right ones.They learn by their mistakes just as much as their successes.At least we have the satisfaction of knowing that it's not too late to take another subject if they need it later on.We just need to follow their lead!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Transition at Sixteen - what's best if you're Autistic?

Autism hasn't featured very heavily in my blog recently because at the moment it isn't a major issue. It hasn't gone away, but as with many people with Aspergers it depends on my son's anxiety levels as to how his behaviour affects his moods and our family life and at the moment we are on a roll!

This week my husband has been speaking to a web designer about his new business. During his time at the website company he has met several employees, many of whom he has recognised are on the 'spectrum'. Whether they have a diagnosis or not is unknown,but when you live with someone with Autism it isn't hard to spot!

My husband explained my son's current interest in computer programming and now has an offer of help if my son runs into difficulties. Whilst his twin sister is choosing her GCSE options at the moment,we are looking for opportunities for our son to choose the life skills that will be important to him to live independently. He may struggle with interviews because of anxiety but if he can learn a skill now without 'pressure to perform', who knows he might be offered an opportunity to work or set up his own business? It's so unlike school when there is that panic moment at 16 about "what next" with so little thought about the huge transition involved for our children.

Whilst we slowly progress forward as my son develops.his twin sister has chosen the subjects she loves for her options. She opened the Options booklet only to be welcomed by a paragraph about the government's "suggested subjects"- thankfully the school are not enforcing them as they are purely guidelines but what choice is it when the government are dictating the subjects they recommend everyone should learn. What a sad society we would live in if everyone was the same! My eldest son,only two years ago, chose to go to college one day a week instead of two of his GCSE'S.He was student of the year and he earned an apprenticeship. This option is no longer available to my daughter- the choices are getting narrower.

Anyway,as I've said,she has chosen her favourite subjects, dance, P.E, catering and history or geography.We've learned from home education that if you like something you are likely to be more motivated and get a better result.It seems a reasonable assumption so we'll stick to our guns!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Lest we Forget! The legacy of Chernobyl

I came across this plaque whilst I was walking the other day. It hung on a trellis behind a flower tub by the edge of the road. I suspect it was the site of a road accident. The heart certainly seemed to signify that someone very special was being remembered  as it hung over a  vase of  daffodils and tulips recently placed there.

It brought to mind another memorial I had come across this week. A sculpture entitled The Book of life by David Kracov. It is a metal sculpture ,half a metre high, of an opened book out of which are flying many coloured butterflies. The book is a tribute to Rabbi Yossi Raichik,director of Charbad's Children of Chernobyl organisation,and the butterflies represent  the  children who survived Chernobyl and who had been helped by the  charity since.The pages of the book contain poems by children of Auschwitz. the main one being "The Butterfly" by  Pavel Friedman.

The Butterfly
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone…
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
In the ghetto.

I hadn't realised ,until I started to look into it, that Belarus (which is north of the Ukraine) was exposed to 90 times the amount of radiation to that released when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.Worse still the disaster happened in my life time in April 1986 and I , perhaps because I was too busy with my career and living a 'mainstream life' back then , didn't appreciate the significance. Home education has taught me to question things and to  become far more involved in politics when I'm passionate about something I believe is important. I think home education does that to you.

I discovered a free book on kindle called The Radiant Girl . It is aimed at children aged 9-14 but it is so much more than a children's book. I'm gripped as it tells the story of the Chernobyl disaster and the impact it had on the residents of  Pripyat, who were evacuated 36 hours after the accident unaware that they had been exposed to large doses of radiation.

I remembered a book I had found in a charity shop months ago - it's funny how those little things suddenly fit into place. It is the story of Ira who was born with severe disabilities, two years after the disaster. A combination of fact and fiction are helping the details fall into place and, at every opportunity , I talk to my son about what I've learned and he will show me how much he knows by dropping in a fact he already knew such as where The Ukraine was on the map or the fact that it used to form part of Russia.

I explained what I'd learned about Nuclear fusion and that certain chemical components  (radionuclides) decayed at different rates.When contamination decreased by half it was called the nuclide's half life. For some such as iodine the rate was relatively fast- only a matter of days.For plutonium it was 24,000 years.

What I  hadn't fully appreciated was the effect that such devastation caused,not only in the countries immediately surrounding the Ukraine but at my own doorstep in Cumbria.Restrictions on sheep on some farms on the south lakeland fells were only lifted in 2012 and this article which appeared in the Westmorland Gazette two years earlier shows how it affected the livelihood of farmers' in Cumbria 

What started off as a small picture of a sculpture posted on Facebook has turned into a lesson on history, science, art,English and politics and I intend to find out more.

And on a lighter note. Look what popped through our letter box yesterday. A lovely Christmas Postcard, courtesy of Post Crossing .And you'll never guess where it came from- The Ukraine! Home Education never ceases to amaze me!

Addendum 4th December 2014  : today I came across this footage of Chernobyl as it now is- Food for thought

Friday, 17 January 2014

History through film!

As soon as we got back from the cinema yesterday my son got out his ipad and began to google Burma and the Death Railway. We had been to see The Railway Man Man and I have to say it is one of those films that left an indelible imprint in my mind. The last film I went to like that was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. When the film ended the audience didn't just get up as they normally would, but sat in stunned silence for a while coming to terms with what they had seen and trying to understand how, in the middle of war, human beings can be so 'inhumane' .But the film also showed how humans have the ability to overcome hatred and fear through forgiveness,

It certainly isn't a film for young children. It is certified 15 but I would still consider that for some it would be too traumatic.One of the traits of Aspergers however (at least in the case of my son) is the ability to separate his emotions from fact.Some would call it a lack of empathy but it is rather an ability to distance himself from the personalities involved and to look at the facts objectively rather than the inability to understand the sadness and hurt caused to people in times of war.

As I watched my son researching the role of the Japanese in the second world war I realised that that was the difference between a home educated child and a main stream 'spoon fed' child. That afternoon in the cinema had been a history lesson on the treatment of the British by the Japanese in Burma during the second world war and my son wanted to discover the facts, the film (which may not be fully historically accurate) had just wetted his appetite!

What my son did pick up (and I didn't) was that the railway was built next to the River Kwai and my job this morning has been to order The Bridge on the River Kwai at my son's request.

What else did we get from the film- well a glimpse I suppose that Eric Lomax  * the British prisoner of war upon which the film is based may have had Aspergers- he certainly had an obsession with Railway lines- how else would he have been able to memorise train timetables, carry around Bradshaw's directory and been able to identify where the cattle trucks had taken them when they were transported to Burma.

It also showed the terrible mental after effects of war.We would no doubt call it post traumatic stress disorder today. The in-hospital conditions in Burma - the reason why the British Empire failed to complete the railways line.

In the credits at the end of the film it said that the Japanese officer Nagase had died in 2010 and Eric Lomax had died in 2012, shortly before the film was complete.I then remembered watching a documentary "Enemy my Friend" about them both being reconciled.

So much learned (and no doubt remembered) from a two hour lesson at the cinema and yet we have only just scratched the surface!

* Some of the description of the brutality suffered by Lomax in this link to The Telegraph article are distressing .

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Copper, Charcoal and Hydro electric

I had one of those spontaneous moments the other day. An opportunity to grab ' me time' and go for a walk.As the day was bright and clear I decided to grasp the  opportunity and go up to Coniston as I was due to pick up my daughter after school in any case.

I’d been meaning to take photos of  the boats on Coniston Water at Water Yeat for months, the water is often so still as you go past. Having time to stop,I  parked the car and walked down to the Lake shore. I soon realised I need new walking shoes,it didn't take long before I had wet socks!

I caught a couple of pictures of the sheep, which are various colours at the moment- when I was young I can’t remember coloured sheep but now we have all hues on the hill sides at this time of year, blue, pink, red and yellow.

The water was still but not as glass like as I’ve seen.Despite it being a grey day and not the best for photos I  took some – it’s still beautiful. There was a scattering of snow on Coniston old Man in the distance- the first I’d seen this year.

Then off I set to Coniston and parked at the bottom of the Coppermines Valley. It’s called that because they used to mine copper up on the mountain and the evidence of the industrial past is still there. That’s what I love about the Lake District,apparently the woods around the Lake were at one time filled with Charcoal burners earning a living- they are mentioned by Arthur Ransome in Swallows and Amazons and the valley, which is now deserted, apart from a Youth Hostel and a few holiday cottages and walkers making their way towards Levers Water and the old Man, would have been a hive of industry. Tourism has replaced industry today.
Mound of mined copper

Mine workings
I passed a steep waterfall with a small dam which bore a sign stating it was Coniston hydro electric dam dam. Not on the scale of Pitlochy but a small local supply of electricity and yet another a lesson in home education how green power can be harnessed from local resources. We are surrounded in the area by windmills too, particularly the Walney windfarm which we can see offshore from our garden- it has changed the landscape considerably. As I walked along the track towards Levers water I was passed by two or three water utility vans making their way up the the central hub of the dam and I wondered whether they were as successful when the track is covered in snow and ice,

I reached the buildings in which the water service industry was based and sat on a rock looking down the valley towards the lake with my flask of coffee thinking that this must be one of the best coffee shops in the world. Then it was time for me to turn back and walk down to my responsibilities in the real world. 

Monday, 13 January 2014

Anxiety in Aspergers - the root of the problem?

One of the advantages of keeping a record of Home education is the ability to see how things go round in cycles. What can seem to be a monumental problem at one stage suddenly fades away and before you know it it's  forgotten as the issues which seemed so huge at the time have usually  been overtaken by another seemingly insurmountable challenge!

Take our house for example. A few months ago I was bemoaning the fact that my Autistic son never had a bath. Last week I nearly fell off my chair when he asked for one!

We have changed the time he bathes you see. Bath time is now in the morning when he gets up. When he didn't put up any objection I realised it wasn't intefering with his time on the computer with his friends so there was no resistance. Life is by no means perfect, after all we still have to deal with the problem of hair washing and cleaning his teeth but, for now at least, we seem to have cracked the bathing situation and also hair cuts (which not more than a year ago was unthinkable)

The sleep situation hasn't improved much (my son is awake most of the night|) but we have been determined not to make a big thing of it. There are days when he will keep himself awake for two days then go to sleep at normal times whilst on other days he will sleep most of the day.

I was discussing the prospect with him the other day of looking into the use of Melatonin   to regulate his sleep patterns.

" Oh I know about that" he said,

"It's produced naturally in our bodies. Have you only just come across it?"

" Well no actually I've known about it a while but would rather you make your own decisions about your life. Does it cause you unhappiness or inconvenience when you are up all night?"

"By and large 'no' ," he said, so for now at least, we have decided to leave things as they are until  my son considers out of synch sleep patterns  cause him a problem!

Even going out has improved. My son is not exactly a socialite but he has recently been to Morrisons for lunch (that wouldn't have happened a year ago) and he has asked to visit his Grandparents, has been to the cinema, been shopping,even walked the dog the other day and not a panic attack in sight.

The only thing that bothered him was when  a fighter jet went over (which is what triggered panic attacks in the first place) and he ran downstairs. I explained that whilst I couldn't guarantee it,there was unlikely to be another one (they normally fly over two at a time) he picked himself up and went back upstairs.

So if you are having a difficult time (don't despair there is light at the end of the tunnel). We have been through  'baby voices' 'furniture throwing' 'door kicking' and whilst there will surely be more to come, if you listen intuitively to your child and your gut instinct then those times are likely to last far less than if you rigidly stick to what others tell you ''you must do'.

Our children are precious, much of what they do is caused by anxiety and, if taken in that context you are far more likely to be able to understand and deal with it appropriately.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Resourcing Education - some ideas

Primula in the January garden
My son has been working hard on Tekkit from Minecraft. Apparently he is programming in LUA and he was anxious to show me what he had made . As he talked me through the building he had designed I asked him the meaning of various signs . It turned out that they were Japanese! Silly me I should have realised.

 'Oh that's Japanese for 'no entry' ' he replied!.

My son has shown an interest in Japan for a while now, and it doesn't seem to be waning. So far this week, thanks to a post on a geography Home education group we have seen how the Japanese island  Nishino Shima has grown eight times in size following volcanic activity making it look like an aerial picture of Snoopy. I mentioned it to my Autistic son during our teatime discussions and later found him reading the article. Today another post on the same Facebook page drew my attention to a childrens' book on the history of Japan and I have ordered it . I always love watching my son's face as he opens the surprises that drop through the letter box! Then I found a free app called Busuu with flash cards and Japanese and watched my son as he dabbled with it. Its a ongoing way of learning about Japan and its culture but it works as we remember what we learn because we've sought out the information rather than have it imposed on us.

We plan to watch "The Railway Man" when it's released at the cinema as it's about a japanese prisoner of war camp.

On another of my favourite Facebook ressources on  history someone posted a list of books posted on about the First World war (which started 100 years ago) I couldn't believe just how many on the list we had already read in the five years since we embarked on our home education journey. It introduced me to another reading website for children too.

As for my other two children,my eldest left school in the summer and is now working as an apprentice with our local council learning Motor vehicle maintenance. Both he and I know however that his home education hasn’t finished just because school is at an end.Home education for my son was driving lessons with his mum round the country lanes of Cumbria and yesterday he was off to Carlisle as he’s been chosen to be part of the Cumbria county council apprenticeship team in the Brathay Apprenticeship challenge, largely due to the opportunities and experiences he has had with Explorer scouts.

My daughter meanwhile has been busy creating her own recipes ‘Chicken wellington’ which I have to say was very tasty. She is busy rehearsing for the school performance at the end of the month too. She has added drama and singing to her repetoire too. Today we have tracked down a leather jacket for her part in Grease.

As for mum and dad. My husband has obviously done his homework. His new business has taken off and he’s learning lots about how to sell his services and to offer good customer service. Next week he is taking advice on improving the company web design.

Meanwhile I'm focusing on my walking and photography and facilitating the interests of my children. I’m pleased to report that life is good. Long may it remain that way!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A clean Sweep-Brushing the Cobwebs away

I walked down to the sea at high tide today. The wind has died down considerably but the waves were still pounding against the railway line. It looks as if my eldest  son won't be able to travel up to Carlisle by train on Friday. Some parts of the track have been damaged and if not repaired by the end of the week he will have to go by bus from Workington to Carlisle. One of the down sides I suppose  of living in a beautiful but remote community.

The fields seemed to be more full of sheep than normal, it transpired , when I spoke to my neighbour who is a farmer  that the high tides had torn down the fence next to the railway line and he can't let the sheep roam on the marshes as they normally do at this time of year, yet another unanticipated expense providing extra hay for his flock

Another victim of the storms appears to be our Black Rock hen Wilma who disappeared during the night. Her Coop door blew open and she is no where to be found. She's very vunerable as she has a limp and doesn't venture far.Despite my repeated calls she hasn't appeared and I'm wondering whether she has been taken by a fox. There were signs that a hen had been attacked in the field behind our house today but it wasn't Wilma- we obviously  have a fox or badger on the prowl.

Whilst it rained intermittently during the morning I cleared the decks. Down came the Christmas Tree and the decorations. Thank you cards were written and paper work was thinned . I needed to clear my head.It's the start of a new school year but it's easy to get in a rut particularly when the days are dull and rainy and no one feels like going out.

I find if I tidy through our books I find things I'd forgotten and often my son takes a renewed interest in them. I'm going to clear Facebook and my email account too. I spend far too much time surfing the net and replying to messages and I want to be more productive in 2014..Here's to  a busy new Year!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Our Wonderful world- Geography at our fingertips!

Railway line in Summer

The coast line has been battered today. High winds and high tides have meant that the coast road where , only  days ago my son was practising his driving. is closed as the waves are crashing over the flood defenses onto the road. In our village the sea has crossed the railway line.crept up the fields and onto the road at Sanside meaning cancelled rail services, buses have been cancelled too as the roads have been flooded in parts.

This is  geography by osmosis. When you can actually see how the weather impacts on the enviroment it makes sense. I watched as a people carrier was towed up the hill this morning, branches sticking out it's radiator. Later in the day it was reported that a mother with her young family had tried to negotiate the coast road into the village and had ended up waist high in water fleeing the incoming tide with her children.

I googled flood-plain then Duddon estuary and one thing led to the other. I ended up following the source of the Duddon to where it reaches the Duddon estuary ,all  whilst sitting in the comfort of my home. Then I picked up a book my son received for Christmas called Earth and read how the Enviroment agency predict flooding.

On the other side of the Atlantic in Massachusets, the temperature is -30 degrees in places. Where my sister in law lives in New Hampshire the temperature is -23 degrees. They have been out skiing today in the sunshine and blue sky.Photos on Facebook reinforce a picture of what it's like to live in New Hampshire in Winter. My children are learning without being taught.

I've been cuddled up to escape the weather  reading  a book called The Snow Child. It's one of those books which makes you feel warm and comfortable over the Christmas holidays.Based in Alaska it has prompted me to read more about the largest state in the USA (and I don't even know where I learned that!). Coincidentally the story was based on a Russian Fairy tale retold by Arthur Ransome. author of Swallows and Amazons and someone who I already plan to read about as an author who based some of his stories in the Lake District..

And then there's the post cards we have received from Post crossing, so far we have received one from Belgium and one from Vancouver. I've just sent my latest to a young girl in Russia and am eagerly awaiting our next card from who knows where? They have prompted lots of discussion and debate around the tea table.

I'm just about to send a thank you email to a relative in Australia for her lovely Australian Calendar-we are surrounded by opportunities to learn about our fascinating world if only we care to look.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A New Year Begins.

I just had to share my daughter's Christmas present to me, lovely isn't it? We have had a lovely time over Christmas cooking and shopping together. Yesterday we had a family party for New Years day and she made these.....

a broccoli Christmas tree

and meringue Father Christmas's

Although her Autistic brother doesn't socialise much he loves it when his Grandparents come for a family party and he chatted and laughed with the best of us.

We went to see The Hobbit today. He was desperate to go but I knew that if we went when it first came out that the cinema would be too busy (we are used to having the cinema to ourselves). Today was busier than usual but he had an overriding desire to go so he coped!

Whilst my daughter has been perfecting her cooking skills, her eldest brother has been practising his driving. He passed his theory test at the weekend, only a month after his 17th birthday. He's been revising since before he could learn to drive- he had the motivation to learn! He has the advantage of understanding the technical side of the ways cars work so he is doing well but although it won't be long before he is able to take and probably pass his test I've suggested that he doesn't take the test until March by which time he will have 4 months driving under his belt. There is one thing passing a test, quite a different thing having the experience.But I suppose that could be said for the GCSE exams as well!

Anyway a New Year has started and  I'm about to take up my walking again,so that come May I will be able to walk 23 miles in the Coniston to Barrow Walk. It will be interesting to explore new areas and take some more photos of our beautiful area.