Tuesday, 28 April 2015

9 years of home education

Easter marks the ninth anniversary of our home ed journey. I can't believe it, nine whole years of educational freedom :-)

My official journey began when my eldest daughter Miss P was five. She had completed two terms of full time primary education at the sweet little village primary school in our parish. Unofficially our journey began when she was just nine months old and I furthered my study into the Montessori method for children aged 6-12 years. Having already trained to teach Montessori in the nursery years, learning about the primary (or elementary as it is known) enlightened me to a very special and more natural method of educating the child. It was to be an enlightenment that would shape the future education for all of my children.

The parish primary school was lovely and friendly and I do not doubt that it delivered a great education. Certainly the time Miss P spent there she enjoyed tremendously. But what spoilt it for me were the limitations of the National Curriculum which most schools tend to opt to sign in to. There are reasons of course. It is supposed to provide the child with a very 'rounded' education, a little knowledge about many different curriculum areas. What is doesn't take into account and what really mattered to me, were the actual interests of the child. The Montessori method on the other hand, recognises that not all children learn at the same rate and that they all have very different educational needs and interests and we all know that we learn best when something is of interest to us.

So after two terms of my beautiful daughter enduring institutional based education I removed her in order to educate her 'otherwise'.

Removing my child from what is considered 'the norm' and going against the grain of what all my friends were doing was daunting to say the least. Luckily I had developed a thirst for researching home education and had found a few local contacts and activities happening locally, so there was an element of support out there. My family thought I was mad!!!

The first few months were a learning curve as I tried to establish a method and break away from the idea of 'school'. It's a tough habit to break when it's all you've really known, but it is possible. Initially we did 'school' at home. I made an effort to make sure we covered all the topics on the National Curriculum and we worked to the hours of a typical school day. It didn't take me long to realise that you can actually achieve all the work outcomes of a school day in just an hour when you're working on a one to one basis. So we suddenly had vast amounts of wonderful free time to spend playing freely - it's been idyllic!
Everyone who home educates does things differently and even within a single family, what works one year doesn't always work the next. Even the needs of individual children are different. So it's a constant game of trial and error; swap and change.

Back in those early days I didn't know where our journey would take us. I told people it was a short term measure, perhaps just the Primary years, but we've had so much fun that it's continued into the secondary years too! :-)
Miss P will be sitting her first iGCSE exam in a week.............

When people learn that you home educate they look on in pity.....'Oh poor darling, I guess you don't have any friends'. WRONG!! We all have amazing friends. There is a fantastic community of people worldwide that now home educate and the numbers are growing rapidly. It is a very real option. With regards to friends, we have many many friends. Socialising is not a problem at all. Our children go to clubs, visit museums, volunteer in local shops and organisations and much more besides. They mix with people of all ages all of the time. When you think about it, in school children are all grouped according to age. In the outside world that doesn't ever really happen.
We also have a huge amount of fun and enjoy the time that we have together. As we're not following any strick guidelines and have a huge amount of freedom to do what we want, we do just that! Bliss!!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Spring enthusiasm

Well here we are again; Spring!
When I look back through my posts at what we were doing this time last year, it only seems like yesterday. How fast time passes.
It will be three years tomorrow that I have been in my current little abode, living the dream by myself with three 'not so' little people, Jenny dog, Lily Loola and a stick (insect). Spring for me is always a time of high inspiration when finally I feel able to emerge from my little chrysalis and venture out into the wide world once more after my long Winter sleep....I'm sure you know what I mean!
So this year enthusiasm on full throttle, I'm all out and raring to go with plans for this years attempt at the vege garden.
Last year, you may remember or perhaps not if my blog remained in my head and didn't make it to the stages of publishing....last year I progressed from the failed container vegetable growing idea of the previous year, to a miniature vegetable patch in a large space. That space (the field behind my house) longs to be utilised every year, it calls to the gardener in me to transform it into something productive. I call back 'hang on a minute, I'm busy doing a hundred and one other things'....I voice my ideas but rarely do they materialise. This time last year my lovely brother in law and I dug two very minuscule beds in which I tried to grow food for myself and the children. It was the first little step onto the ladder in my mind, the first step forwards in my plan to transform the space. I try. I try very hard....every year I try and every year I plan to do better the next.

Last year I did manage to grow a few things, a boiling of delicious broad beans, about five sweet pea flowers, some very small onions and that was about it! I did plant some healthy looking sweetcorn plants and some leeks given by a friend, but would you believe it something (??????) ate them in their early stages of growth. The cheek of it!!
This year I am out on a personal war against bunnies and deer and slugs and am once again determined that this year I'm going to have more luck and success.
I have big plans for this space :-), well in my dreams I do......in the Autumn last year, my neighbour and I cut down a whole load of sucker trees that were crowding one corner, (I shall use the slim trunks to make stakes to secure my anti bunny/deer netting around my main vege area). I've also had an offer of a mini digger help to level off some of the ground, remove the tree stumps and to generally tidy the place up. I've got plans to make the vege patch at least twice the size of last years efforts.

And.....I've built myself a salad garden :-)...I'm quite excited about the prospect of having delicious leaves and flowers pretty much on my doorstep for picking as needed. The back of my house doesn't get much sun once the lovely walnut tree that shadows it comes into leaf. I can't complain as the tree produces an amazing crop which I collect, dry and store every year for all year round consumption. The front of the house does get the sun but the flower boarders are already planted with shrubs and there's no room for vegetable growing. I decided this year to create my own salad garden, so I've made a raised bed :-)

Do you see those Sweet peas at the back? I'm hoping they will grow right up the meeting against the wall and up the windows :-), the salad has already come up after just a few days.

It wasn't all that difficult. I had some lovely planks of wood that I'd been saving to create rustic shelves but hadn't actually got around to using them so they have been put to good use and made into the raised bed.
I was planning to be on the scrounge for some soil to fill the bed but then it was pointed out to me by a good friend that I had a good supply right under my nose at the bottom of our communal compost heap. Sure enough when I cleared away the top clutter, there it was. Gorgeous rich soil, perfect for the job!
I enlisted the help of one Small Boy who was keen to get his hands dirty and help shovel the muck and soil and barrow it to the front of the house. So there we have it, one raised bed and all planted too!
Oooh and a piece of corrugated plastic sheeting makes the perfect lid to ensure moisture stays in and heat is trapped; the perfect combination for germination. Now it has become a waiting game. '21 days' the packet suggests until I should have some edible delights :-)

I am soo grateful to my lovely friend Kat who gave me her petrol powered lawn mower that wasn't working. In my previous life when mowing the lawn wasn't my job. My lovely husband used to use a petrol mower. I learnt all about the engines and the cut width, those things were all important to a man who valued his tools. When I moved to the little cottage with the tiny lawns, I gave away my old beast of a mower, Tim was the only person who could start the thing and besides with two lawns the size of postage stamps I figured I could cut them using scissors!
Fortunately the person who I gave my old mower to kindly gave me a little electric number in exchange. It worked quite well although it was a pain to keep moving the electric cable around the house and the wheel kept falling off so you had to hold it with force to enable it to cut properly!
It's funny, every time I used that mower I imagined Tim looking down at me and laughing, he wouldn't have been seen dead using such a thing! The second Summer I invested in a push along mower which wasn't much cop either and tended to flatten the blades of grass rather than cut them. So this year having finally progressed to a super posh petrol mower that now works thanks to my lovely dad, I feel I have some lawn cred. I got so carried away today at the excitement at actually managing to start the thing that I cut a good part of the field, the green in front of our house, the alley next to the house AND my neighbours lawns :-)....no, I didn't do my own. I'll stick to the push along mower for them, I don't fly round the corners!!

Now thinking willow arch, fire circle, straw bale shelter/den, tree house............

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Mmmm lunch for free

Hmmm I've been out and about foraging for scrumptious delights to feast on. Spring time is a fantastic time of year for free food. As the warm weather starts to kick in the green areas become alive with tasty treats.
Way back in May 2013 I blogged about Ramsons (or wild garlic as it is know to most). It grows mainly in woodlands and now at this time it is definitely at it's best when all the flavour is within the leaves. You can forage it right into May but the energy moves up into the flowers in May and the pungent flavour isn't as intense.

A word of caution when picking. Make sure you don't confuse the garlic with Bluebell leaves or those of the Lords and Ladies, which grow side by side.

So our favourite little haunt is laced with Ramsons right now so with the weather as it has been for the past few days, it seems the perfect excuse to take a wander and go picking.

You can add a little layer of grated cheese here. Yummy!

You can add the tasty leaves to salads or my most favourite thing is to make them into pesto. If you look back at the May 13 blog 'If you go down to the woods today.....' you can find my recipe.
Saturday when I made my first batch of pesto of the year, I spread some onto a plain flat great and lightly fried one side, then I sandwiched another flat bread on top and flipped it over. The kids love it too!
Garlic pesto is also scrumptious stirred into pasta or as a pizza base topping.....

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Science overdose

We've recently come to the end of Oxfordshire's science festival where organisations across the county have hosted a wide variety of science activities for folk of all ages. I have to confess that although I studied science at school waaaaayyyyyy back, it's not really a subject that is of much interest to me. I'm more of the airy fairy creative type me.

In previous years anything remotely science related has usually come to my attention after the event and I have always sighed a small sigh of relief that I haven't been involved.
This year somehow (not sure how?), I did actually take note of the fact that it was science festival week. Perhaps it was due to the fact that we had a guest attend our Home Ed group who ran a laser workshop? Maybe it was the recent solar eclipse? Or maybe the fact my sister pointed out the event? Who knows?? Whatever it was, this year I decided that perhaps the children might like some of the activities on offer. So we pootled off to the Natural History Museum in the first week and to the Science bazaar at Brookes University in the second.
Well, I'll be honest and say there we loads of really cool and interesting things on offer to do and see. I was proud to witness a familiar home ed father and son leading two demonstrations too :-)
We even got to solve a murder....how cool is that!

Here are a few piccies:-


No fear!

Runner beans on soggy tissue in a plastic bag- makes for a perfect mini green house which can be stuck onto the inside of a window and observed.
We've got a race going now.....!

Cornflour goo....( it was actually custard powder)

                         Watching the solar eclipse....this blacked out car                 window worked well.....

Amateur astronomers at work....all eyes on that tiny light dot!

The action viewed with the naked eye...

Taking part in scientific research...

What's happening here?

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Walking, walking, waaaallllkkkkkiiinnngggggg........

You may recall my mentioning in passing back in January this year, that I have registered to take part in the London Moonwalk to raise money and awareness of breast cancer.
Well we're some four months on from that initial walk now and right at the heart of my training schedule (supposedly). I walked the walk back in 2011 with two of my lovely friends Kat and Jenny. The whole experience was beyond amazing, from the personal reasons we had for taking part, to the very intensive and demanding training, to the rather fun and exhilarating marathon walk around London during the night time hours in our decorated bras.

This year has been a different experience. Jenny isn't walking with us and to date Kat and I haven't managed any training walks together, so I'm feeling a little disconnected. Besides that the major difference this time is the fact that I am now a single parent. I cannot train as I did last time. Training isn't something that I can just 'do' as I please. This time training has to take into consideration three children who have to cycle alongside me. Miss P and the Little Lady are responsible enough to be left at home alone for short periods of time but Small Boy.......he cannot be trusted! So every time I wish to trundle on out I am accompanied by one (usually two) children who complain and fight constantly. You would not believe the energy that I have to use yelling at them to 'keep going', 'stop complaining', and encouraging them not to crash into each other. It's exhausting!!!

In the early weeks of training walking is to be leisurely. That's not busting a gut but generally meandering along at a reasonable pace, soaking up the serenity and beauty of your surroundings. If you read my January blogs you will have noted that I didn't really get to enjoy that phase but instead have been rather frantic and unrelaxed from the beginning. But 'hey ho' that is how it has to be.
Things were looking promising early on. I managed a few walks a week and was hoping to build up steadily. Nature had its own idea for dealing the cards but hey, isn't that what happens to cancer sufferers?
The divine powers that be gave me a stinking cold that morphed but lasted for five weeks. A slight drippy nose would not have  been a problem but a full on snotty hooter was no fun at all so I stayed in and kept warm not wishing to over strain my poor heart.

I've been back in training now for three weeks and I'm feeling somewhat behind but confident that I shall be ready in six weeks time to strut my stuff and walk the 26.2 miles needed. Whether I manage to beat my previous personal best time of six hours is dependant on factors on the night like whether we get caught at the back of 17000 other women, or having to stop to cross roads as London doesn't sleep even in the small hours, and whether I'm actually fit enough!

Last week we tackled the remote roads within the palace grounds of the Blenheim estate. There's a good mix of flat and hilly, relatively even tracks to put me through my paces and it's a pretty safe place to take child cyclists. I had wanted to cover twelve miles but nine was my limit, restricted due to exhausted children.

Power walking long distances is an empowering experience. Some folk listen to music or pod casts along the way, but I just tend to contemplate. Last week as the going got tough and the children complained about their achy legs and how stupid I was to do such excessive training and why did I bother anyway. I found myself thinking about those who develop cancer. They don't choose to develop it. I likened the highs and lows to how life must be for them, apart from they don't have the choice to give up and everything be okay. If they choose not to fight the battle they lose the fight.

A mighty Oak. I love having the time to notice such natural beauties!

You'd think that with training things would get easier and to a certain extent they do. But even now I still get an intense burn at the front of my lower legs which hurts and lasts for approximately the first mile and I don't feel warm until the two mile point. Then there are the hot and cold moments during the walk. The weather can change considerably during one of the longer training walks.

Monday this week, I managed to walk 13 miles with two children in tow. It was sunny and bright when we set off and raining and windy when we arrived home three hours later. I do enjoy walking out on the country lanes which I usually zoom along en route somewhere. At this time of the year it is especially lovely as you get to see all manner of wildlife bumbling about in their daily routines. I find myself talking to them. They probably don't see folk walking very often.
On this particular walk I could really feel the burn firstly in the front of my legs and in the latter miles around the sides of my butt. It's good to think of the good that such a workout can do. Three hours of intense training certainly makes you hungry!

If you are able to sponsor me I would be eternally grateful. Last time I raised a staggering £500 from all you generous folk. I wonder if I can get anywhere near that amount this time?

After 9 miles!

Do let me know if you would like to join me on a walk :-)