Conversation Ed

Last week Fran handed in a science leaflet she had to write looking at health issues and ways of avoiding them or managing them. One element was smoking; I smiled when I saw what she’d written, which included lots about how the government couldn’t ban it because it would become an illegal trade in tobacco and how they needed the tax revenue to support the NHS and so it needed to phase out gradually. All those conversations, talking through the whys and wherefores have paid off; she may be a bit of a dizzy wotsit at times, but she’s learned to question and think and not just accept one view. It makes me very proud of what we’ve achieved.


This morning we had to drop Fran at school, something that thankfully doesn’t happen often. It’s only the second time the others have had to waste time on the trip. On the way, Fran mentioned a recent story about the government planning to ban forced marriages. We all got talking about the difference between forced and arranged marriages and how an arranged marriage might be handled in a thoughtful, sensitive way (I know several people who have had exactly that type of marriage) and when it might go less well. We discussed the relationship pitfalls of a marriage that doesn’t start out with naturally developing ‘love’ and how it might or might not work, using an example of one of them marrying the son of a close family to test it out. We talked about trying to see a whole picture and a culture and not just rejecting instantly something which is different to what we know, as wrong. Then we talked about honour killings, relationships that breakdown, families who might prize pride above love and why that might happen. We talked about Sharia Law and the impact of that on lives and culture.

Little Josie, drinking it all in, said “You mean in some places in the world people always think that it is the lady who is wrong?”

We were home by 8.15am.


At dinner tonight Josie said she likes all the fairy tales except the Ugly Duckling because it was boring and there was too much pecking and not enough other stuff. I told her about the meanings in the story, about difference and self worth and confidence and self belief and being your own person and fitting your skin. Maddy chipped in with bullying and thinking you are important in your own small world and not acknowledging that different is good. She said she sometimes feels like the different one in her musical theatre class. I said that well, perhaps she was or perhaps only she saw it that was but one thing was for sure, she had one of the most beautiful voices of all those kids and that was her special gift.

Josie said “I thought it was just about pecking!”


I really love home educating. I love having a family. I love just being with these people I share my home with. They fascinate me.

The home ed bits.

Life, aside from being extremely busy, is very peaceful here, back into the rhythm we all find comfortable and comforting. The girls get their stuff done first thing (currently we’re doing lots of maths, verbal and non verbal reasoning, spelling, grammar games and reading practise) and then, with that done by 11am or so, we’re able to do other things. We’ve gone back to the work diary idea, where we use a planner to add 4 “must do” pieces of work to each day we are at home, plus music – this Dodo Academic Planner is perfect; each day has 5 boxes, (for family members), but it works really well as a prompt box. The facing blank pages is where we work out weird maths stuff, keep a note of unusual stuff they do, what they read etc. They have one each and love them.

We’ve been doing some of the Primary Maths Challenge papers as Amelie is sitting it next week. It has been going… averagely…. ;)

With the endless round of dancing (4 shows currently being rehearsed!) talent shows, school shows, panto, TKD, gym, rugby and goodness knows what else, evenings and weekends are full and it helps to keep the days calm. Fran is so busy we hardly see her :( She’s happy – and doing fabulously – but it is a major change for us all. She’s trampolines there now, badmintons, has been chosen for the school dance show, has had decent grades from all the first round of tests she has done and her teachers seem to like her. She’s enjoying it very much indeed. I love that it is working for her, I can see she is totally at home there – I just miss her company.

Moving to the new gym club has been a good decision, despite my anxiety. Fran went back pretty much at the point she left off, Amelie is perhaps still not being stretched as much as she’d like but is happy and Josie went back to a 90 minute class and found herself moved to a 4 hour a week class. She LOVES it. Somehow my little squidgy baby girl who didn’t like trying new things has turned into this poised, lean beauty who goes off and does stuff without a backwards glance.

There is loads of music happening. Fran is doing grade 3 cello next term, Amelie grade 1 violin, Josie is learning recorder and Maddy has moved on to strumming on the guitar and is working away at flute. I don’t think any of them will ever be world class, but I love hearing the sound of it – I do wish I could persuade them to practise the way the music teacher asks though… Amelie in particular seems to regard most pieces of music as a race :roll:

This week we’ve been doing animal study. They’ve each been drawing an animal from the Draw Write Now books and then looking up facts about the animal and typing them out. I have to say, while the SWN books were a guilty purchase a long time back, they’ve been so worth the money. We use them LOTS, even now.


Maddy took the whole thing a step further. She drew her armadillo in the style of Picasso, her blue heron in the style of Van Gogh and her mountain goat in the style of Monet. This involved her voluntarily sitting reading art history books for ages, which seemed like a result :lol:

Amelie did an arctic fox and a giraffe.

Amelie’s favourite arctic fox fact was that it will eat the poo of larger meat eating animals.

Josie drew a reindeer and a porcupine.

Before we started our Art etc sessions, none of my kids would have produced work that good. They all either had perfection issues, or using colour issues, or using media issues. Now they go for pastels or whatever quite confidently. It’s been a hugely good things.

We plan to carry on with this for now and then hopefully do a ‘animals around the world’ project later on, to pull it all together with some geography and David Attenborough watching while I feed a baby.

Bells, Bangs, Skulls & Potions.

Regrouped for our WedEd? ;) meet this week, which was lovely in itself but made even better for me by Fran being on half term and so along with us. I do miss having her about, even if I am pleased she is doing well at school.

The kids started off with a Day of the Dead art thing just to warm up (not sure where Zoe got it, but this also looks good) while a collection of slightly discombobulated adults got sorted out and drank some tea. (Photos to follow but you can see one of the table here). During this HH did a round of conversational French with them which they nearly all joined in with. Loved that.

Once they’d done that, I took a mixed age group off of kids to do poetry; I hit (slightly haphazardly) on the witches speech from Macbeth which I read to them a couple of times first. I tend to prime them now to listen to the cadence, the words, the feel and the rhymes and then try to form a picture in their heads of what is happening and what emotion it is supposed to provoke. I didn’t tell them anything else about it, so they’d have no preconceived ideas.

They did very well with all of those things and then someone said they were sure it reminded them of something… what was it… what WAS it? I KNOW… that episode of Doctor Who with Shakespeare and the witches! I’m not sure if that is a greater testament to Shakespeare or Doctor Who but I thought it was quite a result :lol: That led on to a discussion of the Scottish play, a brief plot outline of Macbeth and so on and then we went back to the poem.

Having no other ideas, I went for the rather adventurous “now write your own” approach – and all the kids did a BRILLIANT job. Below are two photos, of Maddy’s and one I led Josie and BB through but all the kids did really excellent ones, following the basic brief of a witches spell, shopping list or recipe. We also spent some time looking at onomatopoeia and thinking of words which sound like the thing they describe, prompting Maddy to say “I just don’t know how you keep all this stuff in your head!!!!”

I just love doing the poetry with the kids we have; I finally feel like I have found my niche and have something to offer that widens their experience and I can do well.

(No one brought the art in from the car, so I have photos still to take!)

Meanwhile HH revisited the firework/gunpowder experiment of a previous session – I avoided this but apparently this time it worked brilliantly and had lots of bangs and flashes and fizzes.

The kids went of a nature walk and collected ‘stuff’ and made a gorgeous outdoor nature art collage collaboratively.

There was still loads of time for a leisurely lunch and lots of play and bouncing. It worked really well.

Last of all, Em gave them a bells lesson, after first letting them work together (really well) at sorting the bells, making scales etc. It was lovely to watch and hear.

This short video clip does, I hope, help to bust that “how do home ed kids ever learn to do things in groups?” myth.

The answer? Because a group is not often too hard to find and because their parents are generally not idiots and make sure they do! And because, most of all, home ed kids are lively, interested and enquiring and love opportunities to learn new things.

I think all the kids agreed it was an excellent day which ticked all the boxes; Fran said, very wistfully, “I really miss days like that. It feels more real.”

Various achievements & good things.

Last week Amelie and Fran went off to audition for dancing parts in our city panto, one of those with proper paid cast members (although not dancers!) and a dame and everything. It seemed like it would be a good experience for them to try out an audition, particularly as Fran, buoyed up by how positive Tim Noble was about her earlier in the year, is really? determined to try and make it as a dancer. It never occurred to me they’d get in – and I’m afraid to admit I sort of hoped they wouldn’t given that Xmas is a busy time for us – so of course they both did :lol: I think Amelie was slightly surprised as she was uncharacteristically shy during it but Fran had clearly busted a gut to get in and it sounds like she really deserved her place.

So now, among other things, we’ll be fitting rehearsals and performances into the pre-Xmas rush and post Xmas flop :lol: I’m thrilled for them, I really am, it’s a really great opportunity to see professional theatre at work but I’ll also be quite glad when it’s behind us. (Oh no you won’t… Oh yes I will!!!!)

They are deeply thrilled about having to have performance licences for it, in the manner of the Fossil girls – I’m very amused by that too – and rather less amused at the amount of paperwork it apparently is :shock:

Fran has completed her first half term at school, known as a term in new fangled 6 term-y school world. I’ve had glowing emails and phone calls from staff about how hard working and conscientious she is, she’s already got an impressive collection of ‘positives’ on her record (roughly a house mark for those of us who are a bit older) and a heap of good homeworks, good class marks and tests, including a merit in a dance assessment. We are really pleased for her – as a home ed alumni, she’s doing us proud.

At home we’ve been doing lots of nice things – we’ve had several good days out which I really will try to blog:- fossil hunting with the local home ed group, a trip to a 1940’s day and a lovely History etc which the girls loved and I was gutted to miss most of due to mad ferrying about of various people. The middle girls have been revising how to multiply big numbers, which has been good for them and they’ve now got thoroughly sussed and doing lots of verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests. They’ve also been learning lots about Human Rights, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, off the back of something Fran was doing at school. We’ve had some very interesting discussions about that which led on to racism, foot binding, female circumcision, bullying and more. There has been lots of craft, loads of reading of new and interesting books and generally productive times. Josie is a super speedy adder upper in columns now and wants to do big maths like the others. I’m going to have to teach her carrying over, but my brain doesn’t believe she is big enough :lol: She is also getting on beautifully with Reading Eggs still, in a very cool way. It’ll come and she’ll have done it herself, which I rather love.

Amelie has been back at gym these last few weeks; I feel a little odd about it in a way. I miss seeing them doing something they love and being fit, but I also didn’t miss the stress it became. However, Amelie is back and Fran may follow. 6 weeks into being back, Amelie had a competition today and did very well.

Gold on Beam.

Gold on Bars (it’s a very dull routine, but ideal for being not quite back to her best yet.)

She also got 4th on Vault, so goes to the regional finals to do all three of those pieces. Unfortunately, due to a confusion with a change in her routine at a late stage, she was an element short on her floor routine and had a huge deduction because of it. It was a shame, because it was lovely, but there you go. These things happen :) It was still gorgeous to watch though, so here it is.

She was also first to go in the entire comp on floor, which must have been scary!

Well done Amelie :)

More thoughts on school & home ed.

A while ago I was reading over on Note From Lapland about the Finnish Schooling System. Finland is oft quoted by the home educating community as a paragon of virtue; they start at 6 or 7, learn to read at this age rather than earlier, have a holistic and charming (Chalet School like!) schooling ethos and are rewarded with some of the highest literacy rates in the world. Reading Heather’s post, I’m struck by the overwhelming sense of respect, common sense, aspiration towards comfort and joy, trust, community & family.

I’m struck by the idea that had I been bringing my children up in Finland, I would almost certainly have sent them to school. I’m impressed, envious even, that a country can make such bold and innovative concepts as the above work and they actually benefit children and promote learning and ability and achievement.

Except that they aren’t bold or innovative really, are they? If I had to write a description of our home educating life, couched in language to pretend it was a school, it wouldn’t be so different, albeit with the lack of open fire, ballroom dancing & teacher with masters degree. In fact, the junior school I went to, a Charlotte Mason small private school, was run on similar lines, in so much as that was possible. Our teachers pulled us on to their laps and hugged us, we read what we wanted, wrote what we wanted, had long playtimes which were extended indefinitely if snow happened or we’d been stuck inside for a few days. The teachers tailored the lessons to suit the class, we curled up for stories each day and we enjoyed educational freedom of a sort I’ve not heard of in any state school here.

Nothing I have heard of about our junior school system here leads me to suspect there are schools that come close, though I admit I could be wrong. What astonishes me more than anything else is that when a model of education is proven to work so well in a neighbouring country, we persist in screeching ever more desperately down a different avenue. More tests, start earlier, remove more power and responsibility from parents. But heaven knows where you start to reverse the process; we’ve got a couple of generations of re-education to do first; educating a swathe of parents to know how to parent, how to read, how to add up, how to feed their kids, how to take responsibility. It’s not a job I’d want.

MochaBeanieMummy wrote the other day about how her child is being expected to ‘do reading’ each day at home with his mum. Now, great, really. Get those parents involved, get them taking responsibility, get them part of the process. Except he is barely three. Except it is a chore. Except that forcing a child into ‘literacy’ isn’t the way to make them love books. I’ve got total confidence that I’m right about this. I tried to make Fran read early, partly because I did and it worked for me and partly because I felt I needed to prove I ‘could’ home educate successfully. I nearly ruined it for her and I’ve not made the same mistake again. I haven’t MADE Maddy, or Amelie or Josie learn to read and I’m currently in possession of children who have not only perfectly age appropriate literacy levels, and in Fran’s case a significantly higher reading age than she actually is, but also love books, love to read and think they are an excellent way to further their education.

While it pains me to link to the Shaley Smail, this article is depressing in the extreme. No one should need to do this. No school system, teaching method or family lifestyle should require children of under 10 to be getting up at 5am in order to feel they have a chance at a decent education. I HATED being coached through my 11+ exam. While my girls would not have passed the one I did at at 10 with the style of education I have given them, Fran has proved that at 13 she has got entirely age appropriate skill levels, more than appropriate information levels and has retained a joy of learning. I call that a result, without a tutor, a 5am learning session, a literacy hour or a ‘could do better’ in sight.

All of which might make you quite reasonably ask why I am happy for her to be in school now? Well, one thing is the school itself. It’s a school with an ethos I quite like, with a sense of enabling kids to achieve at being people, not just at exams. It’s got a broad opportunity level, loads going on and it isn’t only interested in academia. It’s the only school I felt could be right for her and so far that seems a good call. But I think she is doing well there just as much BECAUSE she was home educated as anything else. The place has come at a time when her slow paced but enjoyable childhood has fitted her for exploration and challenge. I’m not blind to the fact that home ed has left some gaps and things to be learned (but she’s only 13, even the best educated of us has GAPS!) but what I love is that she’s well equipped to spot those and deal with them. She’s involving us in homework and happy to get guidance, she goes and looks in the library for extra books when she wants more information on something and she made me very proud yesterday when she went to her maths teacher after class and asked for a some practise papers because a particular format of numeracy test is bamboozling her a bit.

We’ll gloss over the fact that one thing I never beat out of her was the ability to procrastinate and leave her blazer in a heap on the floor. See how normal she is? ;)

There are worse ways to find yourself equipped with the skills for enabling yourself to do well through life; to have learned them curled up on the sofa with a book, playing in the garden with your sisters, having long holidays with both parents and endless crafts. Learning to BE by watching great dvds and tv programmes without worrying about going to bed early enough for getting up for school, going on trips and camps with people of all ages and walks of life and having time, sheer, unadulterated TIME to become the person you are meant to be.

It makes you wonder why on earth, as a country, we spend so much time, effort and wasted energy on trying to build something so very different?