Thursday, 10 April 2014

What Home Education Looks Like

Some snaps taken in recent months. Please note, she does spend at least half the week in social activities, but I don't like to share photographs of others unless I've got their permission - hence, the lack of other other people in the photos.

Just dispelling any presumptions about the socialisation of home educated children!

Painting (inspired by Animal Jam)
The afternoon it snowed

Being a scientist at the Big Bang science event
The winter Olympics recreated

A winter picnic (Cupcake's idea)
Taking her daughter to watch the frogs in our pond
Playing Junior Brain Trainer on her DSi
Being a cautious otter receiving food from a human
Running a Chinese restaurant
Taking mommy to lunch on her birthday
Spotting dogs dressed for St Patrick's Day
Writing in one of her notebooks

Monday, 7 April 2014

Snapshot of Autonomous Education

She is sat by me now. Making play food from Play-Doh. My reading and typing being interrupted every couple of minutes by requests for food orders, by offers of work, by explanations of recipes.

I wonder how many school-going children still play with Play-Doh at eight years old? Certainly, the marketing machine does it's best to move children from one 'stage' of childhood to another as soon as possible. Well, Cupcake's not falling for it. Nope. She mostly just adds passions at present. Some things are gradually sloughed off but not Play-Doh, not yet.

Actually, many of the significant passions of her early years remain. Barney the dinosaur, Dora the Explorer, Maisy mouse... they all still have a part to play in her life. And dinosaurs...

This morning we worked on a Dinosaur lapbook. A project that got started quite some time ago then laid aside. Today there was writing, discussion about pronounciation guides, drawing, colouring, discussion about handwriting and grammar, a graph about dinosaur heights completed, discussion about using a book index, research on coprolites, then several chapters of a dinosaur story book were read. The plan is that the lapbook will be completed tomorrow morning... but I'm not counting my dinosaurs until they're hatched.

At lunchtime we ate in front of the TV when we discovered that not only an episode of Pokemon was broadcast but also a Pokemon movie. Cupcake was delighted. I, on the other hand, was frustrated. Why is it that Pokemon is rarely subtitled?

Catching up on Pokemon on ITV Player
And back to this moment... Turns out there is maths in Play-Doh! I've just been interrupted with pricing details for Play-Doh sweeties. Then there was the conversation a moment ago about how to cut a pizza into thirds (she got out her wooden fraction blocks as a guide). She says she is her own boss... hang on, I've just been offered a partnership! Half the profits apparently for doing half the work.

Seems blogging must wait once again...

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Note to an 8 year Old Girl

Hi sweetie, how are you? Good, I hope. Happy visiting your cousins with daddy? Maybe walking along the beach as I type? Or climbing the tree in grandma's garden?

Whatever, my baby... whatever the time and wherever the place, I wish you peace.

Nine years ago you were just beginning life inside of me. You were a speck of possibility, long wanted and wished for. I could never have imagined these days now. I look back and wonder how that was so because from here, from here it seems you have always been and will always be. Oh, how ignorant I was!

You asked me, before you went (on Friday), if it would be okay to remove the pink ribbon streamers from your scooter, the ones I'd fashioned for you when we rescued that old thing. I said "Yes, of course." and then asked why you wanted to remove them. You told me you are not so much into pink any more, "Still into sparkles and glitter but not just pink now!"

Indeed, we have been clearing out some 'princess' related stuff of late. There is no fear of any gap in your imagination though! Oh no! Your fantasy life remains vivid!

The small place princesses played has no doubt been reassigned to more of the animal world. Mother Nature and her offspring continue to dominate your psyche - wolves and big cats and eagles playing particularly central roles. As for humanoids? The gods and godesses and other mythical beings of world literature still have quite a part to play it seems. Just Friday morning you asked me, "Mommy, what's a chimera?" and we got out a book and looked at illustrations of all the wonderful magical beasties that once dominated the earth and skies and seas.

Hmm, yes, your questioning... it continues apace. It does seem the most learning that happens here is as a result of conversation. Lots and lots of conversation. There is something in the gift of attention that apparently makes your retention of information easier. It does not ensure retention, but it does seem to make it more likely.

What have we talked about of late?

Quite a lot about rocks - geology is a growing love. We've been doing rock identification and talking about earth stratification and volcanoes and fossils and gemstones and semi-precious stones.

Animals, of course! This week we were especially captivated by a book about octopus.

Trivia! Ha! Yes! Have I had a lot of trivia related to me this week or not?! It has been an ongoing hum to my day lately, "Mommy, did you know..." And the subject matter? Everything from the absurd to the sublime.

Multiplication and division and measurement... Yes, we seem to have been talking a lot about relative size lately. When you were playing with plastic sea creatures and noticed one of the rays was quite different to the others we had to look up whether it was a representation of an actual species or not. Turns out it was. Also turns out the manta ray can grow as big three daddies. Yes, that seems to be our preferred system for imagining the scale of large objects at present, "How many daddies is it, mommy?"

Computer games, they play a significant role in our conversations too. They provoke conversations about character and morality. They result in discussions of strategy and morality. They lead to conversations about gender and science and wealth and religion and... well, morality. Sure, all the expected conversations about game design and internet safety take place too - but it's the stuff of character and relationship that takes up much more time than I might have expected it to. Funny that.

Other stuff from the last week or so? Geometry, optical illusions, Chinese language, French language, "The Arctic Fox" story book, Pokemon, friendships, dancing, fashion, cooking, herbs, perfume, Amelia Earheart, the Wright brothers, consciousness, the Buddha, stamps, "The Librarian of Basra" book, compass directions, the "Coraline" story, singing, dealing with bullies, Hour of Code, Australian wildlife, Yahtzee, British wildlife Top Trumps, "Not One Damsel in Distress" book...

Tucker still features in our conversations too. You miss him. Whenever we come across a picture of a black and white cat an emotional moment becomes likely. You still refer to him in the present tense and I've no desire to dissuade you from that. After all, without the thought that death is final we are left in the same place as we were when our loved one was merely temporarily absent. Tucker never left us, nor us him. He remains as loved as he ever was.

Hmm. And that, to reference Pooh Bear, is all this Bear of Little Brain can recall at the moment. I wonder if it would satisfy Ofsted?

Anyhow, I do hope you are enjoying yourself my baby. It's a pretty nice day today, isn't it? Gently springlike, if slightly windy. I can see the cherry tree in the front garden is prepping her corps de blossom for their inevitable springtime show. I can also see that the Muslim family across the street have let their 3 little girls play in the front garden. They've been doing that since the boys moved away last week.

Ah yes, the boys who used to play here and then became troublesome. One of the families that made this last year a neighbour nightmare. It was sad to see your friendship with them dwindle as they grew older and more hardened by school. You never understood nor wanted to subscribe to the boundaries they developed as they went from playgroup to school. The ideas of age segregation, of boys and girls having to play different games, of girls being less valuable in street play, of cruelty to animals being 'manly'. My only explanation was "They are sad little boys" and you saw that too.

You saw that they did not get enough hugs or attention or kisses or loving conversation or co-sleeping or affectionate grooming or respect for their intellects... or any of the stuff that, now I come to think of it, so many of us crave all our lives. The stuff they will grow up wanting from romantic partners (in unbelievable quantities) because they got so little of it as children.

Sorry, sweetie, I'm getting all philosophical on you! I can hear you interject with a Pokemon related query (were you really here) or a demand for a hug. So here I am baby, (((HUG))), (((HUG))), (((HUG))).

You keep saying you don't want to grow up, don't you? You can see your body growing; can feel the hormonal shifts already stirring into the background of your awareness; are aware of how you are being treated differently in the social arena as you grow taller. I always say that we don't have a choice about whether our bodies grow up (and that we should be grateful if we are healthy enough to keep physically growing) but also that your mind does not have to age as the media suggests. That you can keep your freshness of perspective, your love of animals, your imaginative forays, your energetic responses to living and learning - you can keep it all for some time yet because you're home educated. And yes my darling, as frustrated as I get at times, I will continue to hold this space for you to learn from home. To learn from home and stay a child for a while longer...

I love you my little one. I love you, I love you, I love you. And remember, as I tell you, "I love you not because I choose to but because you are naturally lovable!"

Well, my baby, laundry and vacuuming and decluttering awaits me. I wonder what we will do and talk about in the week ahead? Time enough to attend to that when it arrives.

For now, my heart goes where you go, forever and ever, with love, your mommy.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Home Educating an 8 Year Old

Okay, where are we? Still home educating? Yes. Cupcake is adamant she doesn't want to go to school and I'm still inclined to think schools are the work of a devil I don't believe in!

What have we been up to since my last, long-ago, blog post?

There has been grieving about the loss of Cupcake's cat, Tucker. Existential questions, imaginative forays and plenty of wailing have all had their day. It's hard.

One of the most popular, and longest running, courses I used to run (as a Trainer/Facilitator) was called 'Loss and Bereavement'. So yes, I know the theories and all kinds of therapeutic approaches to dealing with grief. Still, when your child is distraught because, a couple of months after his death, she realises her cat is gone forever... it's hard.

Cupcake's paternal grandma has also been critically ill. She has survived but her life has changed beyond recognition. Again... it's hard, hard, hard...

We've also had problems with neighbours and problems with the police as a result. Conclusion - the police need a larger independent investigating body! Not just one that only deals with the most serious accusations.

Okay, you probably want the details - let's just say I  acted wholly lawfully in protecting myself and my property but an ill informed police man treated me as if I was perpetrating a crime. Upon post-incident complaint to the police they concluded that: they were sorry, no-one else would be treated as I was and... the policeman would not be sanctioned as he 'believed' that what he was doing was the right thing.

Yes, Cupcake was here when the event happened. Her dad was away for the weekend so it was just us here... we've consequently had lots of conversations about authority and power and gender and professional roles. Thank you Mr Jackass-Policeman for waking my daughter up to the value of feminism and activism in a distinctly experiential way!

Hmm, so much time has passed...It has been a winter of trying times personally.

As for home education. Extraordinarily, yes, it continues. Somehow we live it even when I doubt our ability to do so. Cupcake continues to change and develop with very little direction or co-ercion from her parents and none from educational 'experts'.

Is she a super-child? Is she uber-gifted? Could it be she is managing to learn despite our challenges because she's exceptional?

I don't think so. A part of me would love to be able to hold her up to you as some genius child but I can't. Certainly, she has her strengths, her passions and a couple of areas that come less naturally. But is she unlike most children who are compelled through educational curricula (at school or home)? No, I can't say she is.

She just learns because she is internally compelled to.

Unless she's not compelled to...

Mommy: "Is there anything you'd like to learn about this year?"

Cupcake: "Hmm, I don't know..."

Mommy: "I mean, is there anything you can't do or don't know about...?"

Cupcake: "Well, there is one thing I haven't learned yet!"

Mommy: "Oh yes, what's that?"

Cupcake: "I haven't learned how to be unhappy yet!"

Mommy: "Ha, ha ha... that's okay baby, that's something else you really don't have to learn."


Here's what has been (broadly-educationally) happening -

Handwriting - lots of it. At the moment it is teeny tiny handwriting. Upon querying it's size recently, she told me "Well, I always used to write so big and now I'm writing small so I can work out the right size for me".

Workbooks - she has completed a few this winter (two English, two Science and a Maths one). We sometimes pick them up at car boot sales or in local charity shops and they're kept as another potential learning tool. She went through a period, about two months ago, of wanting to do page after page for a few weeks. Her motivation included wanting to get the silver/gold star stickers and 'certificates' but she wouldn't award them to herself without completing the work. She has integrity, big integrity.

Science experiments - from using the perfume and lip balm making kits she got for Christmas, to playing with a kinetic water clock recently discovered in a nearby bird sanctuary, to growing experiments (there's an avocado stone and cress-heads being attended to daily at present) to today's outing to a local children's science event. And tomorrow we're off to the NEC for the Big Bang science event... science always happens here, how could it not?

Natural mathematics - includes playing restaurants and working out the bill; charging us entry fees for cuddlies-olympics, timing them, developing scoring systems etc.; telling the time voluntarily and when asked (she even has the 24 hour clock sussed now); discussing prices, marketing offers and saving strategies when out shopping; developing a 'cuddlies dance show' and selling 'tickets' to dance class friends then keeping an accounting log of (imaginary) sales - including accounting for special offers, "I could sell you some tickets too mummy, if you buy more they're better value. It's four tickets for the price of three or three tickets for 50% off... that's half price mummy, in case you didn't know..."

Computer activities - Animal Jam (as usual), lots of Furry Paws, a bit of Minecraft and some time with the freebie Brainpop apps (the latter has resulted in many conversations about memory strategies and how to learn information to pass a knowledge test - she loves to get high scores in the end-of-movie quizzes)

Pokemon - the love of the year. There's a weekly Pokemon club she attends dressed like Ash (the main, male, human character in the stories). Woe betide anyone who suggests she should dress like one of the female Pokemon trainers! She likes them but she also like playing with people's expectations of gender roles! 

Television - current favourites are Fierce Earth (geography themed show), Scooby Doo, 60 minute makeover (she loves to do 6 minute makeovers in her Animal Jam dens), Absolute Genius (about inventors and scientists), "All Over the Place" (geography themed show), Arthur (animated characters exploring social issues) and, of course, Pokemon.

Books - at the moment there's a biography of Amelia Earhart being read and another 'Humphrey' story book on the go. Humphrey is a hamster in a school classroom cage. Cupcake has taken to the character so much that she is also writing her own 'Humphrey' novel. There's a couple of short chapters completed already.

Writing a Humphrey story
That's not everything of course. Just what I can recall at the moment. Thing is, I can observe that she is  growing, changing, thinking, questioning... it's how we live - together. The development is self evident as a consequence of our closeness. I don't need an assessment to assure me she's progressing.

Sure I get all wobbly about the learning content at times... being around other home educators who insist that their children 'need' formal lessons is often a trigger. More so than being around school-centric parents. I mean, other HEors are supposed to be my peers, aren't they?

As it happens, autonomous educators seem pretty sparse around these parts. It seems plenty of folk call themselves an autonomous educator until their child reaches five or so... then out comes the schedule of 'fun daily lessons', 'fun' educational outings, 'fun' car-schooling, weekly 'fun' classes with "a wonderful tutor who really gets HE/ who used to be a home educator..." etc.

Look, if you're not an autonomous educator then please don't tell me you are! It just embarasses us both when we try to connect and you slip from calling yourself "autonomous" to "kind of autonomous" to "autonomous-eclectic" to "eclectic" to explaining that "We only teach reading and do daily math and we do have one unscheduled day each week..."


Yes, we continue to HE autonomously. Blogging has taken a bit of a backseat but hey, I'm not one to be beholden to anyone or anything!. We like freedom here.

Maybe I'll post again soon, who knows? Maybe you'll comment? Perhaps?

Oh! the anticipation!!!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

When I Was Seven I Loved...



Growing things

Making dens

Cooking in the garden

Learning to spell and writing letters 
(inc. to Microsoft)

 Spending time with family

 Learning to tell the time

Fossils and pre-history

 Winnie the Pooh


 Learning about money


 Learning about fractions and angles

 Stroking my cat, Tucker.

Reading stories of Gods and Goddesses

Playing Animal Jam the computer game
(and doing drawings inspired by Animal Jam)


The natural world


 Making and writing cards

Taking photographs

Being funny

Pokemon and LEGO

Watching movies and cartoons

 Wolves and wild cats

Playing with friends

Amy Pond and the Eleventh Dr

And now she is 8...

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Words for Wednesday - Another Noam Chomsky Quotation

“The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don't know how to be submissive, and so on -- because they're dysfunctional to the institutions.” Noam Chomsky

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Didn't We Have a Lovely Day, The Day We Went to The UKWCT?

Okay, not such a snappy title... gosh, sometimes I type and type then get stuck on the few words for the top of the 'page'! D'you know what I mean? And then I must insert a couple of lines ahead of everything else I typed to make sense of the bizzare title... dearie me! Ahem. Please excuse the title and read on!

Here's an overview of a trip we took last week - with academic 'topic' tags attached to help those of you who are still trying to understand how following your child's interests can naturally result in learning (without it being planned - the only planning we did was making sure we had the right address before setting off).

Sunday 6th October:

I told Cupcake we were going somewhere I'd read about that I'd really like to visit. She good-naturedly packed her DSi and a cuddly and off we went with her daddy in his car (it *so* could have gone another way, but nope, she was in a very co-operative mood). After three hours and only a little bit of asking about where we were going, she spied a sign saying 'Wolves Ahead'. She got excited and asked could we go there instead. Her daddy and I made some non-commital noises and she sighed and sat back. A couple of minutes later she was squealing with excitement as we pulled into the car park for the UK Wolf Conservation Trust. I wish I'd had the foresight to film her as she realised where we were. "You're taking me *here*??? Now??? Woo hoo!!!"

The UKWCT were having an open day, it was gloriously sunny and my daughter was so, so happy to be there. I gave her a whole £10 note to spend (she usually gets £2 a week pocket money). Before we'd even gone into the site to see the wolves we were in the shop buying a wolf cub toy and some wolf pictures.

Did I say she was *happy*?

The day was surprisingly good value and had lots of stalls about other conservation topics as well as wolves. It also had free face painting, an education centre we spent some time in, a very cheap bouncy castle, a Hug-a-Husky stall and picnic tables at which to eat our lunch. We spent nearly five hours there and Cupcake said it was the best day ever (yes, she says this often!).

Actually, the day wasn't just good value, it was priceless. One of those days I am sure Cupcake will remember forever. Really, she was so, so, so happy!

Topics covered

History - We learned about the history of wolves in the UK and abroad. We learned about the history of the UKWCT. We also talked about the historical representation of wolves in different cultures and in some popular western literature. We discussed how appreciation of animal intelligence has changed over time as science has developed..

Literacy - There were lots of leaflets and posters read and a book purchased. Really, I can't sum up what was read as it happened all day long! Also, upon return home there was some note writing and diary writing (along with requested help with spelling a couple of words). I also remember we made reference to some story books we've read recently (there was one about a Russian wolf who gets given a pair of boots and learns to Cossack dance...)

Maths - we talked about how to divide £10 (Cupcake worked out, independently, how to get every last penny spent) we learned about the size and weight of wolves and how much food they can/do eat each day. We discussed how much time we'd spent traveling, what time we had left (at various points during the day); and compared travel distances and journey times between home and the UKWCT, and between home and grandma's house. We also covered relative size and poundage of wolves compared to a couple of species of domestic dogs. And I seem to remember there was something about bite pressure in there...

Geography/ Nature Studies - We talked about distance and the names of towns and how to use a sat nav. We discussed autumnal weather and seasons and changes in weather patterns over time. We talked a bit about global warming and the impact on native flora and fauna (mostly whilst in the car).

We learned about bees, honey making, hive building, bee identification and conservation. We learned about big cat conservation in Africa. We talked about human population size and it's relationship to the destruction of natural habitats and native species on a couple of continents.

We learned about social hierarchies in wolf clans. I recounted an article I'd read recently about a female Alpha wolf who'd taken two wolf brothers as her mates and how the killing of one of the brothers had lead to the disintegration of the clan hierarchy - we discussed how new hierarchies form, how human behaviour affects wolf relationships, how ageing affects wolves, how habitat destruction and large scale farming limit natural wolf behaviour, and how conservation organisations decide to label a species at risk of extinction.

We talked about wolf communication over distances and estimated how far a wolf howl would carry and how the terrain might influence the message. There was also some actual howling and inter-species communication.

Science - We learned about the eating habits of carnivores and the design of teeth in relationship to food sources. We learned about what it takes to work in veterinary science (we spent quite some time talking to a volunteer about working professionally with animals). 

We talked about animal communication - not just wolves but other mammals too (notably, dolphins). We briefly discussed intelligence and some of the scientific debates about animal intelligence. We talked superficially about experiments on animals and how scientists justify such (and what animals feel as a result of those experiments upon them).

Design and Technology - We learned about the design of the wolf enclosures. We somehow had a conversation about barbed wire and how it works. We discussed how sat navs work and the role of satellites in the development of map making. We discussed how tablet navigation apps work.

Politics - We had some conversation about the impact of personal/business wealth on access to political leaders (lobbying). Additionally, how big business has advantage over smaller (and usually poorer) animal welfare organisations when it comes to influencing government policy. We even touched on how the political systems of different countries are run in different ways and how a single word ('democracy') can mean different things according to who is interpreting it.

Personal and Social Education - We talked about being considerate of others when appropriate (queues!), about personal perception of other species and the impact this has on personal values and thus individual behaviour. We learned about how adults can disregard children as some folk pushed Cupcake aside in a bid for them to get a better view of the wolves (and thus had yet another discussion about the concept of human rights, and children's rights in particular). We talked about wolf social behaviour and how/if it is distinct from human behaviour and why that might be. We talked about vegetarianism.

Art and Creativity - Wolf pictures were coloured. We discussed shades of wolf fur according to their native habitat and which wolf colouring Cupcake would prefer to have if she were a wolf. We talked about the colours and blending of the wolf face painting Cupcake had applied and how we might replicate it at home. We looked at the patterns in honeycomb, at some leaf shapes, and at the posters of wolves - and had discussions about each of them. We compared the outlines of summer trees to autumnal ones and talked about how that would affect how we draw them.

We watched a man sketching the wolves and I talked with Cupcake about how if she did a third small wolf picture to go with two she recently did, we could make a form of triptych (and what that traditionally is). We took lots of photos and some video footage of the wolves (mostly taken by Cupcake) and discussed camera angle, the perils of shooting whilst moving and the impact of camera  wobble on the end image!

Health and Safety - we talked about how the sat nav warns Cupcake's daddy when he is travelling near the speed limit (and what the speed limits are and why they exist). We covered how to behave around wolves and other predators (there were birds of prey there) and even had some conversation around hygiene and food. Oh yes, we also learned about how not to let a wolf near your camera!


Hmm, I am sure there was more.

Still, I hope you can see how a broad range of conversational learning arose naturally from taking Cupcake on an outing to somewhere we knew she'd love. That isn't to say you have to go on a special outing to get such results - indeed not!

Every day we have little bits of chat that open up other chats that sometimes lead to the computer or a book being opened up and always, inevitably (if you let them), lead to our minds being opened up! I know, I know, "But it's just chat!" I can hear some of you say. Well, yes. Just like it is a chat a teacher has with a pupil...

Although we don't have to filter our conversation through quite so much hierarchy and imposed agenda, and the regulation effects of status upon our 'chats' is pretty minimal. Indeed, I realise some people may miss the learning value of casually arising conversations because it doesn't carve life up into 'lessons'. Hence, to help those of us still de-schooling ourselves, my artificially added subject headings above*

Actually, as I was typing this up I realised I kept typing "We" - that shows how little distinction there is between our learning journeys. How the conversations made us all learners. How we journeyed together into greater knowledge. Sure, in some areas us adults had some advantages but Cupcake, her daddy and I - we were all learning and sharing. And let me tell you, Cupcake had plenty to share about the wolves as she has read and watched more about them than either of her parents!

One of Cupcake's wolf photos


*I have learned how to assess, label and extract the content of daily activities into edu-speak (as an employment based trainer and facilitator - so that the content can then be 'converted' into formal education as required by colleges and employers). I do not need to do that here but I choose to do it as I've a vested interest in helping people cross the bridge of understanding how the main difference between formal and 'informal' education is the way the educators - ourselves or others - process learning. It is a created distinction. Formal education is a facsimile of natural learning, a pale cousin of the original thing, a false copy of our birthright as a species - to evolve our skills and abilities as a natural outcome of the drive to thrive.

We don't need the scalpel of formal education to see into the world with curious eyes. We already are in and of that world. 

So, why do I do it, that labelling, when I no longer have to? Simple. I go through this process because some of you are still not here, living your learning breath by breath...

Yes, I hope to welcome more of you over to autonomous education (lol, I nearly typed "I hope to welcome more of you over to the dark side of autonomous education..." Dun, dun, dun, duh!!! Scary music... I apologise on behalf of my internal drama queen!)

Anyhow...was my work worth it?

Will you join us?