Sunday, 23 February 2014

Land of Harry Potter

My son asked if I would buy him a set of chop sticks the other day. We found four sets of colourful bamboo chopsticks and all the children decided to use them.The trouble was that we were having an Indian curry for tea but that didn't seem to put them off. My son's interest in Japan often spills over into our lives.I for instance have found myself creating a pin interest board. I hadn't appreciated just how pink everything looks in blossom season.!

He had also recorded the film To kill a Mockingbird. Despite being black and white I watched as all three children curled up in the warmth of our cottage and watched it together, blissfully ignorant that they were  actually enjoying a GCSE prescribed text book.They discussed, prejudice,standing up for what was right,and the development of the film industry and I was saddened that the current education system  has the power to take away the love of a good book - in fact the  antithesis or what it sets out to achieve.I would rather my children read book after book after book than one set book all year as my seventeen year old ended up doing.

We went to Scotland on a snow hunt for a few days. It wasn't really planned we just decided to go.We travelled to the Cairngorms and  Glencoe was beautiful with its conical shaped mountains,rivers of snow running down their ravines. Unfortunately , despite loads of snow on the pistes, the winds were too strong for the ski lifts to work safely so we didn't get up the mountain.

 It wasn't a wasted trip however, far from it.My autistic son commented that the terrain looked something like the terrain of a Harry Potter film.We discovered that in fact,that's exactly what it was.The Prisoner of Azkaban was filmed there in 2003. The mountains are some of the oldest sedimentary strata and volcanic formations in the world.They were created 380 million years ago and were formed into their existing shapes by the Cauldon substenance. (Visions of Macbeth came to mind)

With our plans to ski scuppered , I managed to grab the opportunity to do a longer walk in my preparation for the Coniston to Barrow walk.

So far this year it's been wet and preparations for Cumbria's Finest have been a priority.

Ellen's Isle Loch Katrine

My walk took me along Loch Katrine to Ellens Isle. Along the way signs told the story of Sir Walter Scott (who gave his name to the steamer on the Loch) and history of the Scottish rebellion against the English. Quite relevant in the light of the forthcoming vote for independence.It was raining and there weren't many people about but it was lovely walking amongst the beautiful Scottish scenery on my own,whilst daddy chose to watch the rugby and the children ( chaperoned by their eldest brother) spent an hour in the pool and playing pool in the games room.

Walk to Loch Katrine from Loch Achtray

My 'not so keen to go out son' is a very happy boy up here in a place he feels safe with  dvds,fishing, golf, canoeing,snooker,table tennis and swimming , all on the doorstep.

A lovely break from routine!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Rocky Road in the Highways Department!

What a lovely surprise! My daughter has just received an invitation to watch a performance of "Accrington Pals."She has 2 complimentary tickets and it's on my birthday.How good is that!All about World war one as well - a fantastic opportunity for her to learn in a way that suits her.She wants to do performing arts and although three years away we are exploring that now so she has a chance to see if she likes it. We will be grabbing the opportunity to have a girls night!

It's been quite a week. My eldest son was chosen to take part in The Brathay Trust Apprenticeship challenge and the team are working on a garden for adults with learning difficulties and mental health issues. It has been interesting to watch as they have grappled with concepts of publicity, time management, project management,sponsorship and communication. A huge learning curve for a bunch of youngsters who in addition to working full time are spending their free time voluntarily planning a garden.

They have set up their Facebook page  Cumbria's Finest and posted pictures on it of them at work in the garden.

My daughter is helping to raise funds by making cakes. We had Rocky Roads in the Highways department the other day.Today is Flapjack and I've bought us a cup cake book so we can practice our icing skills! All this is practice for her Catering GCSE next year. I reckon that if she can cook she will always have the ability to make a living whether in cake decoration or in a restaurant.At the moment it isn't her intended choice of career but it's a life skill that won't go wasted and she enjoys it so I want to encourage her especially as she is on a high after winning the school Masterchef competition.

Twin brother meanwhile continues to concentrate on his Japanese. He was telling me the other day that the ancient Japanese built their pagodas with a framework of poles which were to guard against  earthquakes and that exactly the same technology is used in Japanese buildings today. He also mentioned Kyoto and I mentioned the climate change summit that took place there and said I would try and find out more about it for him. He spent last evening watching a television debate about the benefit changes being imposed by the British government, it is interesting to see the strong political debates he is able to raise because he has been free of the constraints of the mainstream education system for so long and has the confidence to air his opinions and to realise that they are as valid as the other man,even at the age of thirteen. In fact Friday nights at his grandparents house are becoming a bit like a session of Mastermind as he discusses his view on the world and answers some of their crossword clues that we are unable to answer. The second largest country in the world is he said, Canada,not Russia or China as we supposed.

I meanwhile have to finish my book and sharpish. "The Book Thief " comes out at the pictures next week and we are going to see it , so the heat is on. I'm also collecting plants for The Brathay Challenge garden today from a local community garden and the opportunity has arisen for me to do NVQ level 1 in Horticulture. It might just come in useful in our garden. I'm doing a free Future learn online course of the new computer programming curriculum for September 2014. It seems that whilst I have a long way to go,I am not as computer illiterate as I thought I was and am at least on a par with many of the primary school teachers. I suspect from what I'm reading however that my son is well ahead of the game,even without a teacher.Sadly that's the education system for you,it has a lot of catching up to do.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

All Booked up!

I'm reading The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie society. I'd recommend it. Just  the title intriuged me and ,when I read the reviews I couldn't resist having a peek. The story covers the occupation of Guernsey by the germans during the second world war and follows the lives of some very different characters who 'were accidently  brought together  to share their love of reading in the local Literacy society.

That got me thinking about the role of books in our own home education journey. As a child I devoured books but as I progressed further through the school system the books I read became more and more dictated by the subjects I was studying so that by the time I was studying for my Law degree the only books I read were Law books .Reading for fun had just disappeared.

It was only years later, when I started down the road of home education that I began to read again.Initially to learn what I needed to 'teach' (I know better now ) and then for fun.

The other day I came across this article in Brain Pickings which featured letters to children about the joy of reading. No one can make a child 'enjoy reading' but if you allow children to read what interests them then the majority of children will want more. School puts children off books. I know that for me I never ever want to see or read Waiting for Godot ever again, whilst for my son it's John Steinbeck's Mice and Men.

One website which offers reviews of great childrens' books is Love Reading 4 Kids. It's there that I uncovered a fabulous list of children's books about the First World War. I devour The Book People catalogue when it drops through the letterbox and it's a great excuse to grab a cup of coffee and choose books with my son. He has just chosen a Minecraft book on Redstone and an Usborne book about world war 1.

Books provide an education by stealth. Take The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie society as an example  I didn't intend to learn about the german occupation of Guernsey.It just happened. It reminded me to of a Michael Morpurgo book called Why the Whales came ,a children's story  of the Scilly isles during world war 1 and The Mozart Question when musicians were forced to play in concentration camps as Jews went to their deaths.

Books are sparks which ignite an interest in a subject we then follow through. If you are stuck for ideas it might just be worth opening one to see what ideas pop out!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A Family Affair

Yesterday evening my husband went out to the garage to saw a coconut in half whilst my daughter sat at the kitchen table whittling sticks from the garden into skewers.As I watched them I marvelled at how our home life has changed for the better since we began home educating my autistic son.

We are all now involved together in education and it's good fun. This particular evening we were helping my daughter prepare for her school Master Chef competition. Her challenge was to choose a celebrity and cook a meal for them.My daughter had opted for her favourite heroine Katness from "The Hunger Games" and we had much debate about the type of foods she might eat. As a hunter we decided she would be used to foraging for food and cooking on camp fires (hence the skewers). The coconuts were to be scooped out as bowls for rice and the skewers would be spiked with chicken, peppers, onions and mushrooms. Desert was to be a chocolate bombe. A sudden surprise oozing chocolate when you cut into it, a bit like one of Katness' weapons to kill her enemy.

It was lovely to see the huge smile on my daughter's face today when she came home to say that the judges had awarded her one point less than the total amount of available marks, for taste, presentation and creativity (the kebabs were served on a slate dish to represent stone and the chocolate bombes in small red dishes on a square black plate and dusted with icing sugar and a small orange fruit from Columbia called a Physalis). It made me realise how differently we think about education since my eldest started school twelve years ago. This wasn't about winning, or competition. It was about having fun and that's just what we did.

We sampled the inside of a coconut, tasted a new fruit,scooped the coconut out for the birds, and looked at pictures of foods for foraging , and ways to present it. 

Homework is no longer the burden it was me when I was working in a pressurised job and rushing into the house to be confronted by a fractious child , needing help whilst I was trying to make tea as we had to dash out  for choir or scouts. Neither do I blame the teachers for subjecting my children to irrelevant and uninteresting subjects. They are doing their best with the curriculum they've been given.

What we are trying to do though is to show our children that learning is what they make of it.The can be constricted by the restrictions of the curriculum or can learn from life experience and see how the subjects they are learning at school fit in with those experiences.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Land Girls (and boys)

Well it's been a busy weekend. According to my daughter she has been hurtling round the fields on a quad ,or in the trailer attached to a quad , feeding sheep and cattle. On one foray she came across the local gentry and said she would have doffed her cap if she had one. I know I have a country girl when she tells me that he drove across to them in his 'Landy'. A couple of weeks back on a Scout Activity day at Windermere she found it hilarious that some of the city children were in awe of a tractor. I'm sure she would be like a fish out of water in the city - her only gripe about rural living - we could do with a Primark!

Despite it only being the beginning of February they have a few lambs already. My daughter came back with a bag full of smelly wellies and waterproof trousers."Sorry mum, I smell of cow pats", she shouted cheerfully as she dumped them at my back door and swiftly departed for a shower!

My eldest meanwhile,has embarked on a nationwide Apprenticeship challenge. called the Brathay Trust Apprenticeship Challenge . He's about to start work on a garden for adults with learning difficulties and mental health issues so off he went to a meeting of the members of a local permaculture garden. At seventeen I expected him to come grumpily home to tell me he had wasted an evening with old fuddy duddies who were into allotments. Not a bit of it, he was full of ideas, right plant for the situation, selling produce to local residents, plants to attract bees and insects- he was hooked! What better lesson in biology that one full of enthusiastic teachers of all ages and experiences!

On top of all that it has been the school's Expressive arts performance this week. My daughter's been practicing since September and it's a relief that it all cumulated in two fantastic shows. It's lovely when a small rural secondary school can boast that over half its pupils were involved in one way of another. My daughter and three friends choreographed their own 'Fred Astaire' type dance in addition to the lyrical dances created for them by ex school students and her acting debut was 'Thing 2' from Dr Seuss' The Cat in the Hat and a leather jacketed youth in Grease. Well now it's all over for another year.Tomorrow she starts practicing for her Dance class Christmas performance (it never stops does it?)