Sunday, 1 March 2015

New stuff

Last week we went to our first study group session. I say 'we' but really it was 'they'. The only bit I was involved in was the driving and dropping off. Another home educating mother has organised a study group for older children to take Level 2 certificate courses which can then be extended into taking IGCSEs if they wish. The Girl has signed up for four classes and Boykin has signed up for the Digital Photography and Film-making class, working towards Level 1.

It's quite a long drive to the group, but it's through lovely countryside and we get to stop and walk round a lake on the way home - weather permitting. Unfortunately, the group clashes with the home ed martial arts group, so Ninjitsu has had to go on the backburner for a while :(

Other new stuff for The Girl is that she is starting her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award with Explorers. In fact, she is at the training weekend for the expedition as I type.

The Girl also walked up Glyder Fawr in Snowdonia, Wales last weekend with friends. We try to go on at least one holiday every year with a whole bunch of people, old friends and new, cousins and kids they've grown up with. It's a fantastic weekend that gives us all chance to catch up with each other and get to know new friends better. It started out as a camping trip every year and has evolved into a YHA holiday instead.

While the teenagers and adults climbed a mountain, I took Boykin inside one - a new experience for us both. Dinorwig aka the Electric Mountain houses an underground pumped-storage hydro-power station built by the CGB when electricity production was a nationalised industry. There is a lake on top of the mountain that feeds the turbines as the water drops a couple of hundred or so feet through an enormous pipe, ending up in a lake at the bottom. The station can go from stand-by to full production in 12 seconds (or something like that) and provides the extra electricity needed during a power surge. At night, it pumps the water back up through the system from bottom lake to the top lake, using electricity provided by coal-fired and nuclear power stations. It took me a short while to get my head round the fact that for every 3 units they produce during the day, it takes 4 units to pump the water back through the system in the night. The tour guide explained really well how this particular type of power station is designed to stabilise the national grid. It's well worth a visit if you or your children are into electricity and power stations.

Useful Electricity links:
Dinorwig educational materials - click on 'Pre-visit education pack'
Dinorwig educational materials - click on 'Post-visit educationpack'
Electrical safety for kids with an optional signed interpretation
KS3 resources and lesson plans
Electricity site for KS3
BBC Science clip KS1
BBC Science clip KS2
Another BBC science clip KS 2
BBC KS3 Bitesize
BBC GCSE Bitesize
Online activities for 5 - 16 yos
Resources for KS2 & KS3
How electricity is made interactive

Monday, 12 January 2015

Still Learning...

I managed to get up nice and early today to do some work before the kids were due to get up, as in accordance with their new timetable as designed by them. Even though they'd both had an early night last night, the wind was so strong it kept waking them up. Me too to be honest. Consequently, they were up quite a bit later than they'd planned and were still pretty tired and grumpy :/

They managed to get some of the things done that they'd chosen to do - maths and the Schofield & Sims reasoning books. They really like the challenge of them. It's just puzzles against a timer really but it gets their brains working in a different way. Boykin got a set of Nanoblocks for Christmas so he spent a fair bit of the morning working on that. Not sure quite how that fits into his new timetable, but hey ho! It's just great to see him gravitate to a toy rather than a screen :)

They got all their morning jobs done and cleaned out the rabbits. I read a chapter of Story of the World:  vol. 2:  to them while they finished their lunch. (We're on China and the building of the Grand Canal.) And, being inspired by this post, we had some soothing choral music playing in the background - Lambert Leçons de Ténèbres.

The Girl devised a game to build up her French vocabulary using the Cherchons Le Mot game from Orchard Toys. She's working on a print and play version, so I can't tell you what it involves, but it was fun and it worked well :) She's trying to raise money to go on an International Scout camp next year and is hoping that her Games Galore stuff will sell on Currclick as a means of helping towards her fundraising :)

There was also a Nerf battle, a singing lesson, tea at a neighbours and a cubs meeting in and amongst it all. And right now, although it is past bedtime by my body clock, they are both still running with the Harry Potter theme (how many years is this now?) and have both just signed up to Pottermore and Hogwarts school....


Thursday, 8 January 2015

New Year , New Routine

Somehow, New Year always feel like a time to make new beginnings. A time to look at what we've been doing, what has worked, what hasn't and reassess what we've learned and what we want to learn. I say 'we' because I include myself in these plans too :)

We're keeping our maths curriculum, Boykin will continue to work through the books and lesson plans with me, but The Girl has decided she will do the interactive materials on the website and use the lessons and tutorials on there instead. She's making good headway and is listening to Mozart at the same time: :)

Boykin has decided he wants to learn Spanish, which means I will learn it with him as I know no Spanish and want to be able to help him along. We're starting with Duolingo to build up some vocabulary. The Girl will continue with French.

Boykin is currently using Schofield & Sims books for handwriting, grammar and spelling. The Girl is going to make a start on IGCSE English materials instead of doing the Galore Park she was doing before.

I'm still reading The Story of the World while we have elevenses, followed by whatever book we are reading for book group (A Bear Called Paddington) :0)

The Girl is really going to try and get her teeth into the IGCSE Biology book and Boykin will continue to do science experiments with me and we will start to look at the Galore Park SYRWTL Science books for a bit more theory, although I'm really not sure how he'll get on with them.

For music, The Girl will still do singing, violin and piano. I'm going to buy her a new cornet so that house has one in the house to play when she wants without needing to be in a brass band. Boykin wants to learn the didjeridoo. Hmmm!

They will both continue to work on Picture Book Explorers with me and I'm hoping to tackle volume 4 of the Five In A Row series in between those. Even if we don't follow the curriculum, I want to at least read the books :) I have plans for five more Picture Book Explorers and hope to make some more lapbooks and project packs too this year :)

Between us we want to go swimming more regularly; grow some more food; get rid of more clutter and make better use of our National Trust membership :)

We've all struggled to get back into the swing of things after Christmas, not least because of late nights and late mornings. We've managed to get to most of their activities so far, but Tuesday was a bit of a fail in that respect  and we didn't quite make them all today either :/

We have a day at home tomorrow so we'll have time to recharge our batteries before The Girl starts Explorers. Another new beginning :)

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Round-up of 2014

It's been a very busy year. I've written and published 10 new Picture Book Explorers, a lapbook and helped The Girl take her first steps into e-publishing with the game that she devised. 

Both children have achieved the yellow belt in Ninjitsu. The Girl also gained Grade 4 in both Cornet and Music Theatre; Grade 1 Ballet; the Bronze Arts Award and Gold Award in scouts. Boykin gained the Discover Arts Award and is working towards his Silver Award for cubs and Grade 1 in both Ballet and Tap.

We've been on lots of lovely Home Ed trips including a local camp and a youth hostel trip, unfortunately cut short because we wanted to be here to celebrate 10 years of one of our local groups. I think my favourite trip might just have been the evacuee workshop because we all got to dress up and we stayed dry for a change :)

We've also been on a youth hostel trip with some of our non-HE friends and are looking forward to another one in 2015. We've had some fab days out with family too - Chatsworth House and Blackpool Pleasure Beach particularly stand out in my memory. It would also have been my Granny's 100th birthday this year so we celebrated (commemorated?) with our very large extended family by gathering for a mass picnic at Cannon Hall on her birthday :)

I set up a new HE board games group at a local games shop which we are all enjoying very much and The Girl is taking part in activities in the new teenagers group organised by another local mum. They also enjoy the new social group in a local park and are interested in contributing to the variety show that is still in the planning stages. We are very lucky to live in an area with so many HE families that like organising stuff :)

We've all learnt lots about UK geography (thanks to PBE) and they've both made progress in maths. We're still reading Story of the World, but I'm no longer using the activity book as we would only get to the end of book 4 by the time Boykin is 16 at the rate we were going :/ Our time line is looking more interesting though :) They have both been spending time on Scratch and want to create more games.

Performance-wise they both took part in their drama class end of term plays and did the half-term four day workshop. Both have given up drama groups :( The Girl has sung in various choir performances, both with her usual choir and with a gospel choir for a Christmas show. Boykin also took part in the dancing show and is happily back at classes again. The Girl has also taken up dancing lessons, but has sadly, given up cornet and brass band :( :( :( She is now learning violin and piano.

We're all looking forward to the year ahead. There are lots of changes in the offing as The Girl moves towards thinking about exams and deciding which groups and activities to keep and which to drop in an attempt to make best use of her time. Boykin will move up to scouts this year and is looking forward to investigating his new Raspberry Pi, playing all his new board games and building with Lego.

Our year in photos that didn't make it to the blog before, starting in January with an amazing birthday cake made by the Girl for Boykin :)

Sunday, 28 December 2014


It's been a lovely Christmas this year. My eldest son and his girlfriend joined us and came to stay over on Christmas Eve which meant I woke up on Christmas morning with all my children in the same house. This hasn't happened for a good number of years so I was very excited.

We didn't manage to get to the local Christingle service this year, nor midnight mass due to visitors and transport arrangements but we still watched our Christmas Eve film and read the last book of our annual Advent calendar - It's a Wonderful Life and Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Everyone got socks, toys, books and games - a proper Christmas selection. We ate goose for the first time but I forgot the Yorkshire puddings :( There were no arguments, everyone liked their presents and they all worked and all had the right batteries. My present from my first born and his lovely girlfriend included very posh chocolates and a theatre ticket for the end of February to go and see Mark Thomas with them. Such perfect presents - something delicious to eat and something to look forward to :)

The favourite new game we played on the day is Dixit. It consists of beautifully illustrated cards and is suitable for all ages, being both challenging and fun. I'm already thinking of ways to use the cards as creative writing prompts. I can't help it, I'm a home educator ;)

Favourite craft activity is Rainbow Loom Official Kit. The Girl declared them to be definitely superior and easier to use than the cheap ones they had before. She has made me some lovely new loom band jewellery and something I very much wanted - a glasses chain because I am CONSTANTLY losing my reading glasses.

Boxing Day was more relaxed, a day at home in front of the fire with more games (King of Tokyo), leftover Christmas food and Gnomeo & Juliet on iPlayer. (The geek in me wants to watch it slowly so that I can work out just how many Shakespeare plays are referenced...) The day was delightfully topped off with a fall of snow and playing out in the dark with the neighbour's children :) It really has been a truly delightful Christmas. I feel very blessed :)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Happy Birthday to Us!

Today was the 10th birthday of our local HE group. I was so busy that I didn't take any photos - nor do I have any photos of our first meeting. We also did Christmas crafts and played some party games. (I love the Hokey Cokey - it makes children smile).

It was a very busy session with lots of new families and old friends that I haven't seen for a while. It was lovely to see everyone there sharing memories and looking at old photos, including three families who were at the very first session, us being one of them.

The theme of our first session was Bats. We did some craft activities and had a speaker come from the Bat Trust. Some of the older children can still remember him :) The craft activity I took was making bat mobiles with coat hangers, brown card cut-outs of bats and cream card cut-outs of moths.

Whilst looking through old photos to take today, I came across the original guidelines for our group and was surprised to see just how much it hasn't changed. We had to add a few more ground rules and put up the price when we changed venues and the children don't wash up any more, but other than that, it's still pretty much the same. Sadly, we did lose the closing circle somewhere over the years but opening circle is still an important part of the day as is the communal meal and constant supply of fruit for people to snack on.

I remember the discussions and planning meetings we had at first, how we decided what was important, how we found an affordable venue. We don't have planning meetings now, but we do vote on the themes that we will cover and use email to organise related trips.

I've really enjoyed this group over the 10 years. I've made some good friends, met some interesting people, had a lot of fun, stressed about what activity to take, played, sang, danced, cooked, painted, crafted, seen children grow up, eaten lovely food (the shared meal is so important and probably my most interesting meal of the month), learnt loads, covered topics I would never have thought of (Toilets) and developed skills I didn't know I had.

I'd just like to say 'Thank you' to everyone who came today; to everyone who has ever been to our local HE group, even if they only came once; to everyone who has ever brought an activity to share; to everyone who has brought food to share - especially food that I would never dream of cooking myself; to everyone who is, and has been, involved in the organising. I'd like to say thank you for the support and friendship I've found in this group and thank you for the ideas and inspiration.

I'm really looking forward to more good food, good friends and interesting topics over the next few years :)

My top 10 tips to starting up a local HE group :)
1. Find some like-minded parents and share the load;
2. Decide what kind of session you want - purely social or learning activities?
3. Find a cheap venue, preferably with storage - church halls and scout huts are often a good bet, especially as they're likely to have outdoor space too;
4. Pick a regular date - once a month works well, it allows for other activities to happen, nobody feels overworked, and people who want to come don't keep putting it off till 'next week';
5. Do some fundraising before you start to give yourselves a cushion - a sponsored walk and jumble sale worked for us;
6. Ask parents to donate any unused art materials, pinnies, cooking equipment etc.;
7. Buy a teapot and cosy :) ;
8. Communal meals are great :)
9. Work out a fee that will cover costs - we started out at £2 for the 1st child + £1 for each sibling age 3 and up. We now charge £2.50 and £1.50 respectively.
10. Take photos - lots of them!

I'd love to hear of other peoples experiences when it comes to setting up and running Home Education groups. What tips would you add to this list?