Sunday, 7 December 2014

Supposing He's Been Barked At By His School

What's worrying me is the sheer number of children being diagnosed with various forms of autism (and ADHD too, but I'm looking at autism here). While I'm not for a moment suggesting that these conditions don't exist, I am left wondering how many children are 'diagnosed' when actually their behaviour might simply be down to them being barked at by the school.

If a 4-year-old child is barked at by a big dog, the child is likely to be afraid of dogs and we, as parents, will tell people 'oh, a big dog barked at him/her and now he/she is afraid of dogs.' Whoever we tell this to will accept this as being the reason the child doesn't want to pet their dog. No problem.

This child has experienced some level of trauma because of what happened and this will probably mean that the child is wary of this dog and possibly most other dogs they meet and the child's behaviour when confronted by a dog might involve crying, running away, hiding behind a parent etc. as they try to protect themselves from the dog.

All quite natural and easily explained.

We might even try to calm the child and will likely demonstrate that this dog won't hurt anyone by reaching out to the dog and allowing it to sniff us. Perhaps we'll even give the child some tips on dealing with dogs (bend down to them so they don't jump - hold out the hand you don't write with etc.) and maybe we'll explain why they get so excited and barky (they're pleased to see us and just want to say hello).

If we're ready to accept that a child can be afraid of dogs because of a single bad experience with one dog, why do we have so much trouble understanding that a child starting a new school might be frightened by it and that this fear might cause a child to behave differently?

My son started school aged 4 years and 3 months. He went from a quiet, gentle home consisting of me and him (plus our non-barky dog) to a room full of noisy children that he didn't know, where he had to compete for the attention of the teaching staff as well as competing academically against all the other children.

Why are we surprised that he didn't cope well with this?

Hasn't the school just barked at him? In fact, over the period of four years when he was at school, I suspect it barked, growled and jumped up at him every single day.

It seems to me that schools are very quick to blame the child for any usual behaviour. It must be a problem with the child - never a problem with the behaviour of the institution or the people within the institution. And yet our schools are getting bigger and perhaps scarier. The amount of space they occupy isn't necessarily changing, but the numbers of classrooms and children are increasing dramatically. When I was a kid, our school playground had just the juniors in - four classes of around 30 children. So that's 120 children. My son's junior school had 360 children. The infant school when I was a child had just 90 children in it. Thomas's one has 270 in the playground at lunchtime.

In short, we have busier, noisier, scarier playgrounds than ever before. Might this be one reason why we have so many children struggling?

It's Lord of the Flies out there. Very few dinner ladies out patrolling and absolutely nothing being done to help the children who are struggling to find someone to play with.

I think my son's been barked at. He was fine before he went to school. The little boy I removed from school was far from fine though and I don't think it really has anything to do with him. I think he was simply a very young child who was ill-equipped to deal with such an enormous change and his way of dealing with it was to shut down. Perhaps if he'd started school when he was 6 or 7, he'd have dealt with it differently. Perhaps, had the school been smaller and more gentle, he'd have survived the experience. Or perhaps he'd have managed the change better if the teaching staff recognised and effectively reacted to seeing a child in a lot of distress. Who knows. Thankfully, he's very much better now and I almost have the boy back that I had before school was in the picture.

He's not the only one to have been frightened by school. Now I've been barked at by schools too. I trusted them to look after my little boy. I trusted the system and the institutions and the professionals that operate within the system. But I don't any more and it'll be a long time before I get over the trauma I've experienced. If I feel like this, goodness knows how my son feels.

I wonder how many other people have experienced something similar. I wonder how many other perfectly normal (whatever that maybe) children have been labelled to protect the system and to explain away their suffering. Something's really wrong. I'm sure it wasn't like this back in the day.





Thursday, 2 October 2014

Brown Legs And Grubby Feet

Even since he could walk, I've always measured how good a day Thomas has had by how filthy his feet were. And I still do. Last month though, I added another measure of happiness. This time it's because Thomas has spent so much time running around in the sunshine (yes, yes, with lots of sun cream on), that he has tanned legs. So now, he has brown legs and grubby feet and I couldn't be more pleased to see my son looking so happy, healthy and free.

September was a crazy month for us. Crazy, fun though! We went for a few days to the New Forest, then to Menorca and then to Romania.

The New Forest is really beautiful. My lovely friend Sammy and her lad Lewis, along with Thomas and I hitched up the happy camper and headed off for a few days. We went to Monkey World, Beaulieu (fab cafe in Beaulieu by the way - in the garden centre at the end of the main street), Corfe, Studland Bay, and Barton. We had a fantastic time and blinding weather too. Awesome.

Then we were home for a few days before we went to Menorca with my mum and sister. We had a great time there. Thomas isn't keen on water, but this holiday saw him really gain confidence and have fun in the pool and the sea. I think Menorca will become a regular haunt for our little family. It's so lovely there. Perfect for families.

Back home for a day and then off to Bucharest. This was for work. Lucky me, eh? :)

Bucharest is the capital of Romania. I wasn't really sure what we'd find when we got there. I had visions of it being very poor and very ex-communist. Actually, it was neither of these things really. Sure, it's an ex-communist country and there are lots of stark concrete communist-looking buildings, but there are also a lot of beautiful pre-commie buildings and it didn't feel down-trodden or scary. In fact, quite the opposite. It was vibrant and the people were enormously friendly and very proud of their city. 

Ceausescu, when he was in charge, ordered the construction of the most enormous building. It's the size of a small town. I've never seen anything like it - and there's the same again under the ground apparently. I believe it's the second largest building in the world. Bonkers! 

We did a pub quiz in an British bar there one evening where I unexpectedly found myself addressing the room of about 250 people, telling them all about the reason I was in the city and inviting them to join us at our quiz in a few week's time.

We have to go back at the end of October to run the European Quizzing Championships. That's what I was there for. Sorting out the last bits before the event. An event that includes a trip to the Carpathian mountains to see Dracula's castle.

Life is good.

Thomas can now say hello, please, thank you, yes and no in Romanian, Russian (he played with a Russian boy in Menorca) and Spanish thanks to these trips. Travelling is so great for learning. I often wonder how much Thomas is soaking up and I occasionally get little glimpses of how much he takes in. Most notably on the Bucharest trip was when we were exploring and he spotted this statue:



'Oooh, that's Romulus and Remus with the wolf', he said. Get in! I wonder how many people would have known that. Home Ed... WIN!

On the bus heading to our apartment in Menorca, Thomas was discussing Medusa, the Minotaur, Icarus and Daedalus. Another Home Ed WIN, I think :D

So that, in a nutshell was September.

We're back for a while now, so I'll delight you with more musings over the coming weeks. Lucky you!


Sunday, 7 September 2014

How on earth can it be September already?

My Facebook feed is choc-a-bloc with pictures of children in shiny new school uniforms, so that can mean only one thing - I've somehow missed the summer.

Well, that's not quite true. We had some fun way back in July at West Wittering in the scorchio heat with some lovely home edders, and a spectacular storm that wasn't at all scary to witness whilst cowering under canvas in a field.

We got a new gorgeous black kitten called Storm - named after the not-at-all scary storm the night before we got her. She's the sweetest little thing - not at all storm-like - and she and Cosy Joe, our beautiful ginger tom, are bezzie mates already. Can you believe that the animal charities are struggling to find homes for black cats? Apparently, they don't photograph well for Facebook and so people don't want them. I despair.

Then the work kicked in and I found myself working from 7am until 4am on an alarmingly regular basis. Hopefully that won't happen again as I've strengthened and expanded my team thanks to all my lovely friends mucking in and helping me. We verified about 10,000 quiz questions for TV shows this summer. That's a lot of questions, but it's given me an interesting little business idea. I'll bore you with that later. 

I even had to belt over to Riga for a business meeting at one point.

That was August. Gone. Bah! No Happy Camping. Double Bah.

Work has quietened down a bit now though and so we could get the Happy Camper out again. We headed to the New Forest in it with our friends Sammy and Lewis. Love the New Forest. We had an awesome time there, especially when the camp site emptied out as the kids went back to school. Love home ed :D

September needs to be more fun than August though, so we have trips planned to Menorca and to Bucharest. Yippee!

What's that you say? I haven't mentioned Thomas in this post. You're quite right. That's because I'm saving the best for last...

One thing that probably concerns all home ed parents is whether or not their children are learning much. I know that Thomas is learning at a hell of a rate because of the questions he asks. But, I've been watching him this summer and surreptitiously testing him to see how his three Rs are shaping up. When he left school, his reading age was barely higher than it was when I sent him to school four years earlier. He wouldn't read and he wouldn't write, telling me that he was too stupid to do it. (Let's not even go into how angry I am that my son should come out of school feeling like this...). Anyway, he now reads and writes confidently and happily. I'd estimate that his reading age is pretty much where it 'should' be, which by my reckoning means that his reading age has probably increased by about three years in the year that he's been home educated.

Nice one, Thomas! His maths was always excellent - despite the best efforts of his dreadful infant school.

He's also been learning to swim and isn't afraid of the water now.

I honestly couldn't be happier or more proud and can't wait for this year's learning shenanigans.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Morning Cuddles

Yet another thing I love about home educating is that we no longer have that stressful rush in the mornings. There's no more tearing around trying to get a boy ready to go to school when he doesn't really want to be there. There's no more eating breakfast on the move because we're running late. (We always started out on time on a Monday, but by Friday we seemed to slip).

How I hated mornings.

But now I love them!

Our mornings are calm. Our mornings start with me getting up and doing some work and then with a sleepy Thomas waking up, coming downstairs and planting himself on my lap.

I am the luckiest mum in the world. I love the cuddles Thomas gives me when he's not fully awake. This morning, we cuddled like that for nearly half an hour. We chatted while we cuddled and thought about some of the things we might do today.

Now it's time for a leisurely breakfast together.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Cooped Up For 24 Hours A Week

I'm just back from spending a few days camping with some lovely Home Ed friends. I watched my son run around and play from pretty much the moment he woke up until the moment he went to sleep. He has so much energy!



He ran, he climbed, he slid, he bounced, he dug in the sand and he barely stopped all day long. It was wonderful to see, but it's really made me think. How did he use up all this energy when he was at school? For that matter, how does any child use up all their energy when they're at school?

I remember Thomas bouncing off the walls one evening after school. He couldn't sit still and getting him into bed was pretty much impossible. I ended up getting him dressed in the middle of the night and taking him for a run to try to burn off some energy. It turned out that his class had been kept in that lunchtime and so he hadn't been able to run around at all. I could really tell.

I did a bit of maths, with Thomas, based on the school day at his old school:

School day = 08:50 - 15:15 (6 hours and 25 minutes)
Morning break = 15 minutes
Lunch break (including sitting and eating lunch) = 1 hour
That's 5 hours and 10 minutes spent at desks in a classroom every day.

Over a 5-day week, that's 25 hours and 50 minutes cooped up - less two hours of PE.

So, 23 hours and 50 minutes in a classroom every week. And that's not adding in time spent sitting down whilst eating, or rainy play times spent indoors, or breakfast clubs, after school clubs, TV time at home, homework time etc.

That's a hell of a lot of sedentary time.

How do children burn off all the energy they have while they are indoors so much?

It seems to me that a lot of children find themselves diagnosed with conditions such as ADHD and I can't help wondering how many of those children are actually perfectly normal children who are just unable to burn off the natural energy they have when they are so stifled.

I'm not suggesting that all children with ADHD just need more exercise, and nor I am suggesting that ADHD doesn't really exist. Far from it. What I'm asking is 'how many children are wrongly diagnosed when the problem is not them, it's the system?'

I think it's far too easy to find fault with a child who is pretty powerless to fight back, and far too easy to label them and avoid looking at the wider picture. So many children seem to have labels slapped on them, with far too few questions asked about the environment in which they live or the level of care they receive at school.

To put this into some context, my son is a child who has had a ludicrous 'diagnosis' slapped on him. Not ADHD, but it's still a diagnosis that, as far as I can see, exists to protect the school from any repercussions for failing him. I doubt we're the only ones.

Nearly 24 hours a week in a classroom might well prepare a child for a life as a worker drone, but I can't imagine it does much to promote a healthy physical or emotional life style.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

I Hate Shoes!

There. I've said it. I know, I know... there must be something wrong with me. Every girl *must* love shoes, right? But I don't. I don't think I've ever liked them. I've often been told that, because I'm a short-arse, I should wear heels. Why!?!?! I'm 5ft nada without them and would still only be around 5ft 3 with them. I'd still be a short-arse ;)

I see women tottering around in little clippy shoes and I think they must be crippling themselves. I never think their shoes look cute or sexy. I don't have dozens of pairs of shoes in my wardrobe, although I do have a smart pair of shoes and a smart pair of boots just in case I'd be breaking some unwritten social rule if I didn't wear them on certain occasions.

Today was one of those days. Our family celebrated my Mum's birthday at the very posh Cannizaro Park in Wimbledon and so the smart shoes were forced to make an appearance. After a very lovely lunch - roast sirloin of beef with all the trimmings... mmmm.... roast beef..., we watched Thomas playing with some really lovely children and then we had a stroll around the very beautiful park. Awesome.

Even though I wasn't completely crippled by the smart shoes, I still couldn't wait to ditch them as soon as we were home.

Controversial it may be, but I prefer to be barefooted or in Fit Flops or similar. When it's cold - really cold - then I wear my Berghaus boots because they are comfortable.

Am I the only one?


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Home Education - The Basics

I get a lot of people asking me what the rules are for home educating and so I thought it might be helpful to explain it here for anyone thinking about home schooling or for people who are just interested in it all.

Yes, It's Legal To Home Educate
The first thing to know is that, in Great Britain, it's perfectly legal to remove your child from school. If your child has been at school, you must write to the school to tell them you are going to home educate and you should get in touch with you local education authority (LEA) to inform them. If your child has never been to school, you don't need to contact the LEA.

The LEAs
I was really nervous about contacting my LEA (Surrey County Council) as I'd read so many negative things about LEAs - mostly from one page on Facebook. However, when I called my LEA I found them to be enthusiastic and extremely helpful. I've also seen a lot of people telling you not to let them into your house. Well, I let them in and they were great. I was given a list of useful websites and all sorts of things. I received a letter from them the following day saying they were very happy with what I planned to do and that they'd be happy for me to send them a letter each year instead of having a visit.

I have to say at this point too, that in the year that I have been home educating, I have met a lot of home educators and not a single one of them has had anything other than a positive experience of their local Elective Home Education teams.

The LEA is there to protect the children. I suspect that, if your family is already known to social services (or possibly if the school has raised concerns about the well-being of your child) or if your child has some fairly demanding special needs, then the LEA will want to be more involved in your home schooling.

My view, after first speaking to the LEA on the phone, was that the best plan of action would be for me to be welcoming and to make an effort to demonstrate to them that my son's educational and social needs would be met at home. I wrote a letter that detailed all the things I planned to do, ensuring that all the things I thought they would be looking for were covered. My letter is attached here. You are very welcome to read it and to use it, or parts of it, if you like.

I don't think it's helpful to set out to be antagonistic to the LEA (actually, I don't think it's helpful to be antagonistic to anyone, ever). That will just be a red flag to them that there might be a problem and you might create an unnecessary battle.

If you're concerned about letting your LEA into your home, why not call them first and have a chat? You can explain, calmly, why you feel you want/need to home educate and you can ask them what support they can give. This will get you off on the right foot with them.

That said, you don't have to let the LEA into your home. You can opt to meet them elsewhere - in a local library for instance - and you don't have to have your child present. It's your choice.

Your LEA is usually your county or borough council. A full list can be found here.

Educating At Home
Now for the fun part! Most home educators have no experience of teaching. However, all those that I have met have been very keen that their children should have an education that is fun and that meets the needs of the children. Teaching your child at home is very daunting to start with and it generally isn't a decision that any responsible parent will have taken lightly.

The law simply says that you have to provide your child with a suitable education. What does that mean? Well, it really means something different to everyone. I think that it's generally accepted that all children need to have the three Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic. Or, literacy and maths, as they call it in the 21st century ;)

Over and above that though, you can do whatever you like.

Some people like to have timetables and to follow a structured plan, whilst others prefer to be more autonomous. Both approaches, and everything else in between, are fine. You don't have to spend any set amount of time educating either.

The national curriculum is available to download here. It's quite a scary document, so you might prefer to look at a syllabus on a local school website. When I first took Thomas out of school, I went through his old school's curriculum so that I could map it and ensure that Thomas would be able to go back to school after a year if needed.

I started out with timetables and I'd run myself ragged trying to find good reference sources, but we don't do that now. We settled into a more autonomous way of doing things where I can leap on whatever might interest my son at that point in time, so what he's taught is always relevant to him. Here's one example, where we looked at the 'science of swimming' after a swimming lesson.

Reading and writing happens naturally as we research whatever interests us (him), and we cover a lot of maths by cooking, shopping etc.

My son is nine and I will probably do more formal maths with him once he's really nailed the basics. But there's the beauty of home education. I can observe my son and tailor the way I help him learn.

I like to facilitate learning, rather than teaching him. I think there's quite a big difference between these two things.

But this is my way of doing things. It might not suit you, and that's fine.

I will post a list of the most useful resources I have found here later.

Tests and Exams
Your child doesn't have to be tested. There are no SATs for home schoolers and I'd really advise that you observe your child and make sure you are happy with their learning and progression, but I wouldn't tie yourself in knots worrying about what levels they 'should' be at unless they are really struggling. Happy children will learn - and all children are different.

Happily, one of the things I really love about home educating is that you don't get the 'competitive mum' nonsense that you often get at schools. Other home ed parents will be supportive and, if you post to say that your child is struggling, people will offer suggestions, advice and support. So don't worry or panic alone.

As for formal exams like GCSEs and such, you can teach your child all of these at home and they can do a few at a time if you like rather than all in one go. However, you have to pay for them and you have to find a centre willing to invigilate. Lots of parents send their children back to school in order for them to sit their GCSEs and such.

I plan to writing to my MP about this.

Socialising
Aside from 'how do you teach your child?', the other question every home educator gets asked is 'how does your child socialise?'

All I can tell you is that my son has a much better social life now than he ever had at school. There are lots of local groups and sooooooo many trips and outings that we could go on that we couldn't possibly do them all. We have trips in the next couple of weeks to the Poppy Factory, Chef School, camping at Wellington Country Park and a home ed camp in Yorkshire. All of these are home ed events and we know people at all of them. We also have play dates and we meet down at the local park too.

As a parent, you have to be ready to put some effort in to building up a good social life for yourself and your child, but it's easy to do and people are generally very friendly. I will gather together a list of local home ed groups to help you find other home ed families locally.

Special Needs
I haven't covered Special Needs here because I don't have first-hand experience of this. I would prefer to direct you to Fiona Nicholson at Ed Yourself who has a wealth of experience and information available in this area.

Messing About On The River... And On Land

We spent the weekend camping with my friends from school. We met aged 11 (so not *very* long ago) at Tiffin Girls' School, so it's pretty cool to be in touch with them and their children.

Happily for me, we were camping just 17 minutes from my home. Bliss! We set up on Friday... well, that was the plan. Lucy, Lucy's dad and I set up on Friday, but Karen didn't arrive in her newly-bought caravan. We started to get a bit worried about her at about 8pm and so we called her. She was having a mare. The electric socket on her tow bar didn't match the one on the caravan, so she couldn't wire up the driving lights and, therefore, couldn't drive the caravan. How annoying! So, she and her little girls drove over and stayed in the Happy Camper with Thomas and I.

We all crammed into to camper and went to sleep. Until we were all rudely awakened by a rain storm that could only be described as a monsoon. Honestly, if you'd aimed a pressure washer at us, the water couldn't have hit us any harder than this rain was.

Thank goodness I sprayed waterproofing gunk over the canvas a couple of weeks ago!

The rainy night was survived and the sun came out in the morning. Until Lucy's husband arrived and brought the rain along with him. Gah!

Still, Karen's caravan had been fixed and so she went back to collect it, and her husband. Then Petra and her daughter arrived too. Yippee! That was the the lot of us.

We then spent a lovely weekend chilling and laughing while the children played. Perfect.

On Sunday, Petra's husband brought their boat down to Runnymede and so Thomas and I went to see it. It was really good fun. We went up and down the Thames, through a lock and Thomas even got to drive - which he loved.




Thursday, 12 June 2014

Home Ed On The Move

I often get asked how I educate my son and it's quite a tricky question really. We do some reading, writing and maths, but most of what we do is led by whatever we are doing at that moment. I thought I'd post about it today as Thomas asked me what a litre was at a petrol station today. He knew what it was, but he wanted to know how big it was. He wondered if I just put one litre into the car.

While we drove along, I asked him to look at his drinks bottle and I asked what it said on it. He said '0.75 litres'. So, I told him that this was the same as three quarters of a litre - ie: less than a litre. I told him that our milk comes in a 1 litre bottle too. Now he has a rough idea of what a litre looks like.

We then chatted about other units of measurement. I explained that everything has a special way of being measured. I asked him what units of measurement we use for distance. He said kilometres, miles, centimetres etc. We then thought about units of weight and he said kilograms and time in hours, minutes and seconds.

There we go. A brief lesson about measurement that put everything in context at exactly the time it was relevant to Thomas - while we were out and about in the car. Learning is everywhere.

Tomorrow, we will have a go at measuring things when Daisy's here.

Sunday - The Day Of Rest

I don't think so!

Up at 5am to update the World Quizzing Championships rankings. With an expected 2,000 participants, it's a huge job!

Then tidying the house, having a bath, heading to Tesco to get in the groceries for our picnic and heading over to the station to pick up Auntie Annabel and Thomas's cousin George. Home again, in time for Auntie Sammy and Lewis arriving.

Now to make the picnic - with the help of Annabel and Sam.

Off to Bushy Park, late, to meet up with my Mum and more friends for a picnic. Lovely. Weather is awesome and the park is full of happy families.

Then came the tears as my friend Karen's 7-year-old daughter fell into a stagnant, almost dried up ditch. Unfortunately, being nearly dried up just meant that it had a thick black sludge in it that stunk! The poor little girl was covered head to toe in it. Absolutely hilarious ;)

Right! That's enough of picnicking. Let's head home and get out the water slide thing Thomas got for his birthday. Awesome! Well, it will be once I have found the pump for it. I knocked on the doors of three neighbours, but no one could find a pump. Although, one did find my cat, Cosy Joe, asleep in her caravan when she went to check in the garden! He is the cosiest cat ever.

Luckily, I found my pump and so disaster was averted and three boys got to splash and slide around in the sunshine while I made a roast for dinner. We moved the dining table and chairs out on to the decking. Oh joy! Roast dinner in the evening sun. Heaven.

After everyone left and Thomas went to bed, I got back to work getting those scores up. We had over 1,800 at this point and I knew people would be itching to see how they'd done.

Bed for me at 1am. Long day, but a good day.

Monday will have to be my day of rest.


A Birthday & The World Quizzing Championships

So, on Saturday, I ran the English chapter of the World Quizzing Championships and co-ordinated the scores coming in from 123 venues across 42 countries. The WQC was sat by nearly 2,000 people, so it was quite a day!

Not one to do things by halves though, it was also my son's 9th birthday that day.

Epic scheduling fail. As I believe the 'kids' would say. In my defence, the WQC used to be held in July, but got moved to the first Saturday of June.

I got up early that morning, leapt into the shower, got dressed, packed the car up and then woke Thomas and gave him some of his presents, bundled him into the car and headed to my mum's house so she could take the birthday boy out for the day, while his mum belted down to Frimley for the World Quizzing Championships.

I have never felt more guilty than I did as I had to leave Thomas on his big day.

The WQC itself went very well. We had almost 100 people out in England with a further 40+ in Edinburgh. Excellent. Defending champion, Pat Gibson (BBC Egghead), scored 157 in Edinburgh, but he was beaten by fellow Egghead, Kevin Ashman who scored a whopping 171. I thought the Brits had won the event again, but no! An American called Steve Perry scored 174 and a guy in India scored 176. So, for the first time in the event's 12-year history, a non-Brit won. Congratulations to Vikram Joshi on his incredible performance!

Right!

Now to get home... 

I drove down to Kingston to pick up Thomas's present from John Lewis. They didn't have it there! Argh!!! I ran over to Bentalls. They did have the Lego Millennium Falcon. Phew! But, it was £25 more than John Lewis and Amazon. Fuming! Cursing JL for not having reserved it for me and cursing Bentalls for being such a rip-off. Note to self: don't go to Bentalls again and order more online.

So now to wrap the presents (I bought him more than one thing) using a shopping trolley as a table in the JL car park. Somehow, despite this, the presents looked quite nicely wrapped.

Off to mum's now to celebrate Thomas's birthday with him.

He loved his presents, especially the foam Minecraft diamond sword. Why did I bother with the Lego when I could have just bought him foam? Hey ho!

After dinner, presents and cake, we headed home. Thomas went to bed and I got on with inputting all the scores that were starting to come in. I continued with this when I got up at 5am the next morning to get the house ready for our friends coming to celebrate Thomas's birthday some more.

To be continued...

Friday, 6 June 2014

Massive Scheduling Meltdown

Tomorrow, I will mostly be juggling Thomas's 9th birthday with running the World Quizzing Championships - a small affair taking place in just the 123 venues in 41 countries.

Amazingly though, I am quite well organised. Presents with Thomas in the morning, drop him to my mum's for a day at Hobbledown Farm, whiz over to the Lakeside at Frimley to run the English leg of the event, belt back to mum's in time for cake, then work all night once Thomas is asleep to collate the scores as they start coming in from around the world.

It doesn't sound too bad when I write it down.

OK. It sounds like a mare.

Hey ho! Tomorrow, I will try to find time to tell you all about it.

Lucky you!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Home Education - Birds and Friends

How do I get myself into these situations? I really am an idiot at times. Not just a bit of an idiot, but a complete, total and utter idiot. Today, I managed to have five passengers, when my car can only accommodate four. D'uh. So, I had to drive to Bird World, drop off some of them and then drive all the way back to collect the rest and bring them to Bird World.

Idiot.

Bird World is nearly an hour from here, so it took about 3 hours to get everyone there.

Idiot.

Still, Bird World was excellent. The children really enjoyed meeting a cockatoo that says 'hello, stupid!' and they had a lovely guided tour where they were shown penguins and learned how they survive in the cold. They all really loved seeing a newly hatched chick in an incubator and they terrorised the ducklings as they tried to pick them up.

There was a water world there as well with some humongous fish and some very scary looking crocodiles.

Luckily for me, Tess was there with her grandson, Theo, and she took Thomas back to her house, so I could collect him after dropping everyone else home. Thus Tess saved me from another 3 hours of driving. Thank you!

Now, this brings me on to something really important about home education. It brings me on to the subject of all things social. Once they've got their heads around how I might be capable of educating my son, people always ask about how my son will have a social life. Today offered up the perfect explanation. When we arrived at Bird World, we were greeted by a number of people we knew. You see, there are a hell of a lot of people home educating, and mostly thanks to technology, we all communicate with each other. So, there are lots of meet-ups you can go to - we could probably go to two a day locally. And, because we all communicate, you very quickly start to know people. Even the people you don't know are very friendly and so you soon get to know even more people.

Thomas has made some lovely friends and so have I - just look at how Tess rescued me! And, don't forget that we were taking other home ed friends with us as well. We sometimes see them for play dates and the like and we sometimes see them at events like this. It's really great. The social side of things has not been a problem at all.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Home Educating: The Science Of Swimming

We dragged ourselves out of bed this morning feeling totally shattered after our awesome weekend at the Wychwood Festival and headed to Thomas's swimming lesson. Now, my son is terrified of the water. I have no idea why, but he really is. Anyway, he recently started one-to-one lessons with a lovely lady called Amanda who is very patient with him. As I watched him trying really hard to be brave and to follow instructions, I suddenly realised that there's a lot of science going on here, and so this afternoon's lesson was sorted.

The Science Of Swimming.
  • We looked at how a ball of plasticine sinks, but the same piece of plasticine will float (or sink more slowly) if it's flattened. We looked at why this might happen and discussed how lying flat in the water will make it easier to swim.
  • We pushed our hands into the water when they were flat and our fingers were together and felt a strong resistance that wasn't there when we put our hands in finger tips first. This will help us float and also shows us how we can propel ourselves through the water.
  • When we were doing this, we also noticed a 'skin' on the water and discovered this is called meniscus. 
  • Then we got a glass and put it on to the water upside down and pushed it down. We noticed that the glass didn't fill with water because there was air in the glass that couldn't escape at that angle. This will help prevent water from getting into your ears or nose when you are swimming - and blowing the air out through your nose will stop the water from getting in too.
  • Slightly off-topic, but Thomas also noticed that our fingers look bigger through the water and that water is displaced when you put something into it.
I love home educating. Learning is all around us and being able to leap on it at exactly the time it's relevant is great. Look at all that Thomas has learned today. Who'd have thought there was so much child-accessible science just in swimming?



10 Reasons Why You Should Choose The Wychwood Festival

While I was packing away the Happy Camper this morning, I was thinking about all the things Thomas and I had done that weekend. More specifically, I was reflecting on how impressed I'd been and how much I'd like you all to see it next year. So, I have compiled a list of 10 Reasons Why You Should Choose The Wychwood Festival.

  1. Children's literature
    This was a triumph and really makes Wychwood and Waterstones stand out. The quality of the authors and the illustrators was quite extraordinary, and the way they were all so generous with their time afterwards was fantastic. Thomas has so many books that were signed for him, and each author took the trouble to chat to him - all of them managing to remember something he'd said or done. Thomas has learned some drawing techniques from some of the country's best illustrators, and he's listened to some outstanding children's authors talking about how they write stories. Magical.

  2. Music
    There were so many bands! Amazing bands like the Boomtown Rats, The Stranglers, Newton Faulkner, Reef, Bad Manners, to name but a few, along with lots of other up-and-coming bands. There were three stages for the bands and there was a huge diversity of musical styles. It was really relaxed too and you could get ever so close to the stages too. Each of the acts I saw did a full 90-minute set, so it really was like going to lots of concerts.

  3. Family-friendly activities
    Where to start with these? There was just so much to do that we didn't get to do it all. We tried drumming (really loved this!), clay modelling, listening to stories at the Roald Dahl Museum tent and making a giant hand. We could have done a lot lot more though. There were activities that were suitable for tiny tots too, including the Book Trust tent that had rhyme time. All these activities were in one area that had the feel of an English village fete. It was just so much fun and so colourful.

  4. Food, Glorious Food
    Lots of really delicious food was available. Everything from curried fish to Lebanese food and from pizza to some spectacular puddings. Yum!
  5. Camping
    The camp site was really well-organised and was just a short walk to the festival with no muddy paths. There was a large shop selling all the basics, places selling breakfast and there was even somewhere for you to lock away your valuables that was available 24/7. And, they even have a service where they will set up a rented tent for you, so it's ready and waiting when you arrive.
    Look at the beautiful scenery around the camp site :D
  6. Showers
    Did I mention that they had showers there? Well they did! They even had hot water. What a revelation. I certainly didn't expect that at a festival. I thought I'd be going home on Monday with flies buzzing around my filthy hair.
  7. Toilets
    I'd heard a lot of very disgusting things about festival toilets. So much so, that I took my own Porta Potti. I needn't have worried though. The toilets were very good. They were clean and someone was working hard to keep them stocked with toilet paper. Much better than I expected - and there weren't great long queues either.
  8. Atmosphere
    Everyone was smiley. Everyone was happy. The place was buzzing with a very chilled out friendly atmosphere. It felt very safe. There were lots of stewards around all evening, so even as a woman travelling with a child, I could feel relaxed. One of the most astonishing things about the Wychwood Festival was that so many people had been going to it for years. It's been going for 10 years, and it has built up a very loyal following.
  9. Justin Fletcher
    I'm giving Mr Tumble a whole point here because he drew an enormous crowd, who he entertained. He then went on to sign autographs and was there for a good two hours. He chatted to every child and didn't stop smiling once. What a hero!
  10. Size is everything
    This is a smaller festival. I suppose there were 5k-10k people there. The biggies like Glasto scare the pants off me. I don't think I'd want to be somewhere with over 150k people. Wychwood has enough people for it to feel busy, but not enough for it to be scary.
  11. Value for money
    OK, this is point 11, but that's just because I gave Justin Fletcher his own point ;). At the moment, you can get early bird tickets for £99* (ticket for one adult, including camping - under 10s are free and over 10s are £40). You can even pay in instalments. I mean really, what are you waiting for? If you are paying £99, you will need £24-something deposit and then 9 x £8.25/month. You won't even feel it going. You could pay £99 just to see the Boomtown Rats, let alone all the other stuff here. I have no idea who will be there next year, but if the line-up is even half as good, you will be very glad you came along. 
We've already signed up for 2015. Click here for their booking form. or click here to pay in instalments.

I've set up a little Facebook group for anyone thinking of coming along with us. Whether you're an old friend, a new friend, or a friend I've yet to meet, I promise you won't regret it.**

Come and join us!

* No idea how long this offer is available for.
** Being my friend isn't obligatory ;). Come along anyway!



Monday, 2 June 2014

Diary Of A Couple Of Festival Virgins - Day 3

We were up at the crack of 9am today to make sure we got to the Waterstone's Kids' Literature Tent before 10am. Why would we want to be up so early of a Sunday? I'll tell you why... Tony de Saulles. That's why. Who? Only the man that illustrates all the Horrible Science books, that's all!

My drawing - attempting to copy Tony's one

Tony de Saulles was giving a masterclass in cartoon drawing for the children. So, off we went. We were the first there. Thomas sat on the floor and we were both given paper and pencils. The tent filled up with families and the Tony came in and showed us how to draw. Check out Thomas's masterpieces.

Learning about facial expressions

Shark eating piranha and getting eaten himself

Dinosaur eating dinosaur eating plant


How cool?

Very cool!

Where do you from here? Who on earth could follow this? There is only one man who could. The author of The Grunts, Philip Ardagh. He was absolutely hilarious, with a very impressive beard and a bottom that's so sexy, he was afraid to turn around ;). He gave a great talk and finished off by showing the children how to write a story by getting the children throw in ideas and act it all out. They were great and so was Philip.



What a morning!

The author/illustrator talks are worth coming to the festival for in their own right. Just look at the amazing experiences Thomas has had. He came out of school not wanting to read, and yet on Sunday morning, the first thing he asked for was a book to read. Nice work Wychwood and Waterstones.

My lovely friend Helen then came to the festival and asked which crafts and workshops we'd done. How embarrassing. We had been so busy with the music and the literature, that we'd not really been into any of the other tents.

What a mistake! There was so much to do and I quickly discovered that we had barely scratched the surface of it. So, we set to work making a giant hand while Helen made a really beautiful pair of enamel earrings. We also got to join the Drumming Circle. I really loved that. It was incredibly uplifting and a lot of fun. We didn't sound too bad either!



We headed into the BBC tent too and listened to some up and coming local bands. Great idea! Some really good bands too. Let's hope these sessions give them the breaks they need.

Then we listened to more bands, including Lee Thompson and Mark Bedford from Madness and then, finally Lord Saint Bob of Geldof hit the main stage. What a show! How on earth does a man in his 60s have so much energy? We were so close to where the Boomtown Rats were. Check out my pic of Sir Robert of Geldofshire!



The crowd was great too. People dancing with complete strangers and everyone having a ball.

A magnificent way to end the weekend.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Diary Of A Couple Of Festival Virgins - Day 2

Thomas was so exhausted last night that he slept for a full 11 hours. He didn't seem to hear any of the noise of people wandering around and chatting, or the campers near us playing music at full volume. Mind you, I managed to sleep through all that too.

I woke up, made up the other bed for my friend Helen to sleep in when she gets here tomorrow, and tidied up. It's incredible how quickly this small space turns into a tip. Then I boiled some eggs. You have no idea how excited I am that the gas in here works. Even the fridge seems to be doing its stuff. Yippee! This little £400 odd-looking camper represents so much freedom.

First up today, after getting dressed, is to go and check out the children's literature events at the Wychwood Festival. I really don't want to miss Korky Paul or Tony de Saulles!

(Chuckling at the man in the caravan behind us teaching his kids to sing 'Lip Up Fatty'.)

...

Right! We've popped back - it's 3.45pm and we haven't stopped. We've not even found time to eat. There is sooooooooooooo much to do. Thomas really loved meeting Korky Paul (illustrator of Winnie The Witch books), who put on a really great show. We also went and saw another children's author called John Dougherty who was also great. He asked the children if they had any questions and Thomas's hand shot up. Thomas asked what time of day the children in his story had met the mean badgers, only badgers are nocturnal. Hahaha! Busted! The audience all clapped and laughed as John fessed up to having to use some artistic licence there.

Thomas absolutely enthralled by Korky Paul




Then we went to hear Roald Dahl stories being read and Thomas went to the clay workshop where he made a Wither Boss. Apparently. That's now drying on the work top in the camper.

Yes, I know it looks like a turd, but I'm assured it's a Wither Boss.


So, now we're off out again to catch King Charles (to annoy Petra to take photos of him for Petra) and then for some Bad Manners followed by Reef and some Newton Faulkner.

Phew!

And we still haven't done the drumming circle that looks, and sounds, acers!

...

This evening, we mostly spent singing and dancing along to Bad Manners. Class! Bizarrely, they were followed by Newton Faulkner who was also ace, but a very different kind of ace.

Somehow, I managed to squeeze in a shower because I was completely minging. Showers here are clean and hot. I didn't expect that. Come to think of it, I didn't expect there to be showers here at all.

Then off I went, complete with dripping wet hair, to see Reef. I first saw these guys on what was probably their first commerical gig. Never seen a lead singer look so scared. Not so now, he's very cool and very handsome too. 'Put Your Hands On, Put Your Hands On...' OK. Don't mind if I do :D

Which brings me on to the next incident of the day. I bumped into King Charles. No, not the one that was executed. This one's a singer. Looks v like Prince. Now, my friend Petra loves this chap, so she will be livid that I chatted to him. Mind you, he didn't seem all that impressed that I wanted him to have his picture taken with my nearly-nine-year old. And, he was even less impressed when my f***ing phone decided that it didn't really fancy taking his picture and so wouldn't switch itself on. Still, it got us an invitation to see him after his show.

I hate technology.



On balance, I'd say today has shown me that by day I'm a bit of a hippy and by night I'm still quite a rock chick.

So it's off to bed, mostly because I'm here with a child, and partly because I want to get up in time to see Tony de Saulles tomorrow. Another illustrator of children's books.

Rock and very roll.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Diary Of A Couple Of Festival Virgins - Day 1

I would have blogged earlier, but we've been having too much fun. Festival cherry well and truly popped :D

We arrived at the Wychwood Festival and set up our Happy Camper and then headed along the short walk to the festival. What a cool place. Fabulous sounding food from all over the world. 'Oooh, look! They've even got food for drunk people!' said Thomas pointing at the doner kebab. Think we'll give that one a miss. I've got my eye on the chicken pot pie stall. Well, it would be rude not to - they serve it with cheesy mash.

After fully acquainting ourselves with the venue and making notes about the kids' literature events tomorrow, we wandered down to hear The Stranglers at the main stage where we were immediately adopted by some very friendly drunk people from Swindon. Awesomely awesome.

The crowd's numbers swelled as we all waited for the band and the atmosphere just got better and better. There are people here of all ages and there's a fantastically chilled out feel to the place.

Then the lights blazed on the stage and The Stranglers started up. What a brilliant concert. All the obvious crowd pleasers - Heroes, Golden Brown, Peaches... - and a few covers too. All great! Even better was that no one came and stood in front of us. Hurrah! We could actually see the whole thing.



We've only been here a few hours, but we really can't wait for tomorrow when Justin Fletcher (Mr Tumble) hits the stage and then the kids' literature events. From 4.45pm though, you'll mostly find me at the main stage watching Bad Manners, Newton Faulkner, Reef and the Levellers. I might wander over the the Big Top to watch King Charles too, just to annoy my friend Petra ;)

Now, where do I go to get a shower here?

Night night all! Thomas is already asleep. Another gold star for Wychwood :D

Thursday, 29 May 2014

What Do You Pack For A Festival?

What on earth do you pack for a festival? We're heading off to the Wychwood Festival tomorrow and I have no idea what to take. Check it out, it looks fab!!

I have opened up the Happy Camper, cleaned it, and stocked up on toilet roll and water. OK, I've also got six pillows, two king sized duvets, tea, coffee, milk, bread, butter, eggs, baked beans, lots of toiletries and a first aid box. Plus lots of clothes and towels. Oh yes, and a portable toilet.

I obviously think I'm going away for months ;)

Mind you, I've heard lots of bad things about toilets at festivals, so I reckon I might be able to rent mine out. Form an orderly queue. Only those with a good aim need apply.

Maybe not.

Now to go and re-read all about the things that we'll be doing there. Stand by for all the photos tomorrow :D

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

What On Earth Can I Buy For A Boy Who Has Everything?

So, it's Thomas's 9th birthday in just over a week and I have absolutely no idea what to get him. I usually have a list that's a mile long, but not this time - probably because I've filled so many mile-long lists for him in the past!

I asked him what he'd like and he replied: 'I have everything I need.'

True, but not helpful.

Or is it? Perhaps he is absolutely right and has more than enough. He has eight crates that are full to bursting with Lego. He has dozens of games. He has a whole childhood's worth of art materials. Then there are the computer games...

Have I spoilt him? Maybe. He doesn't seem like a spoilt kid though. He's happy to share and he's not sulky, prone to showing off or being demanding.

In truth, I've always felt terrible that he doesn't have his dad around and so I have always worked hard to ensure that he doesn't miss out on anything. I've bought two parents' worth of stuff at every birthday and Christmas. Well, I have when I've had the money to do it, but I've also got things from Freecycle and charity shops when I've been brassic. I also have incredibly generous family and friends who always buy lovely things for Thomas and who always blow me away with the amount of thought and care they put into their gifts.

So now I am faced with his bedroom that is packed full of toys and I am at a bit of a loss about what to get Thomas this year. I don't feel like I can get him nothing. He's 9 and should have some fun gifts to open I think. Besides, he and I have such a close relationship that I look forward to snuggling up with him on birthday morning and watching him opening his presents from me.

I think perhaps that I'll go for some science experiment-type games that he can learn from, and some days out. Not all from me, you understand, but from friends and family too.

Anyone else out there got any better ideas?

Wychwood Festival

I am so excited about this weekend that I could pop! Some how I have made it to the ripe old age of 43 this far without ever having been to a festival. But that will all change this weekend :D

Thomas and I are heading to the Wychwood Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. The line up looks fantastic: The Boomtown Rats, Newton Faulkner, Reef, Bad Manners, The Stranglers... even a couple of members of Madness have got a band there. I've practically died and gone to heaven!

As if all this isn't enough, this is a *family* festival and so there are lots and lots of things for children. In fact, there are so many things for Thomas to do that I can't see how we will squeeze them all in to a weekend. I have a feeling that we will be spending a LOT of our time in the Kids' Literate Festival area. Check it out! http://www.wychwoodfestival.com/line-up/Kids-Literature

Two of our favourite illustrators will be there - Korky Paul and Tony de Saulles - along with numerous children's authors and the Roald Dahl Museum. We loved our visit to the Roald Dahl Museum, so we can't wait to see what they will be doing at Wychwood. I really could pop, you know!

Then there's The Book Trust. They are running rhyme time and story telling with Cerrie Burnell from CBeebies. Speaking of CBeebies, for parents with younger children, Justin Fletcher will be there too!!!

Pop! Pop! Poppety Pop!

We're there for the whole weekend, but it's also possible to come along for just one of the days and the prices are pretty reasonable.


Friday, 23 May 2014

Home Education - Pros and Cons

I'm sitting, watching The Wright Stuff discussing Home Education and it got me thinking that I should write up the pros and cons of doing it for our little family now that we've been doing it for 9 months.

Pros

  1. We have found home educating to be a much gentler way of learning. Although we started out with timetables and a curriculum, we have found our natural equilibrium and learn much more autonomously now. This means that we learn as we go along, which in turn means that we learn things at precisely the moment they are relevant to Thomas. 
  2. I try to facilitate Thomas's curiosity. He asks all sorts of things, all the time. I love it and I try very hard to go with whatever he's interested in. I had a bit of an epiphany moment about this when we went to Rome. We were in Pompeii and I was eulogising about the sewage systems and heating they had created, but Thomas just looked at Vesuvius and wanted to know about the volcano. I suddenly asked myself why I was trying to teach him about what interested me when there was something that was clearly interesting my son. 
  3. No streaming. Thomas had stopped reading at school and constantly told me he was stupid. Much of this was down to the streaming in school and bullying. I gave Thomas his pen licence when he came out of school and I gave him a certificate that put him into the top group for maths too. Suddenly, he was excited and his confidence grew from that moment. (When he left school, Thomas's reading age was 5-6 years - not much higher than when I sent him to school in the first place. He can now happily and confidently read Roald Dahl books and the like. He's only been out of school for 9 months.)
  4. There are some fantastic FREE resources. Khan Academy is brilliant and places like English Heritage offer free entry to home educating families.
  5. I can ensure my son is equipped for modern life. School was obsessed with handwriting, but did little more than a hat-tip to computing. The world our children will grow up in is so different to the one we grew up in, and school doesn't seem to have kept up with developments. Our kids will grow up in a very digital world and one where a lot of people work from home and for themselves. I want to encourage my son to be able to think out-of-the-box, and to be creative. I want him to be able to program because I think that this will be the most useful, transferable skill he can have. I don't want him to be a worker drone - unless he chooses to be.
  6. We have no set homework. I see my friends posting with alarming regularity about how homework is causing arguments and stress. We have none of that.
  7. We have also rid ourselves of the other major stress of the school day - getting to school on time. I know Thomas has had exactly the right amount of sleep and I don't find myself screeching at him to get ready. We can even sit together and have a lovely, calm breakfast.
  8. Our learning trips (and fun trips) are done when the other kids are in school, so there aren't crowds. And, we can take advantage of everything being cheaper outside of the school holidays.
  9. Caring and sharing. There is no 'competitive mum' nonsense going on. Parents are very supportive of each other and they share resources and ideas in a way that I have never seen before.
  10. My son has a far better social life now that he ever did at school. On Monday, he went to a Home Ed meet at Bushy Park with a load of other children. On Wednesday one of those children came here to play. Yesterday, Thursday, we looked after a pre-school child and had another home school child to play. Then they were joined by two schooled children. Today, we're off to the park to meet a little boy who has just left Thomas's infant school. Thomas plays happily with children of all sorts of ages and has shown himself to be very kind towards younger children.
Most importantly for me: I get to spend quality time with my son and I am learning about him. I see what makes him laugh and what interests him and feel very privileged to spend this time with him.

Cons
  1. I have to juggle work and teaching my son, which can be very tough, but I have figured this out I think and I have lots of support with this.
  2. I honestly can't think of anything else.

I'm not suggesting that Home Education is right for everyone, but then nor is school. For us, it's working fantastically well. I wish I'd known years ago that it was possible to remove a child from school.

The Wright Stuff asked if it was arrogant to take your child out of school and to assume you could do a teacher's job. I'm afraid that my experience of teachers has been that they have been woefully inexperienced - none of Thomas's teachers had children and I don't think any at his infant school had more than two year's teaching experience. I looked at the state of the letters sent home and cringed at the dreadful grammar and spelling. All of the things the children were taught seemed to be downloaded from somewhere. This term the children in Thomas's old class are learning about a village in India - it's the same village they learned about two years ago. The world's an enormous place. Why are they learning about the same village again? The answer is that it's a downloaded pack.

I certainly don't think teaching him at primary school age will be a problem, and I suspect I could manage to teach him at GCSE level too. Actually, I don't really teach him anyway, I help him learn and discover.

Before people complain that I'm doing down the teachers, I really don't mean to. It's the system that stinks. Teachers have been emasculated and are thrown to the wolves with very little on-the-job training. Schools are all about cramming in as many children as possible and ticking boxes for Ofsted. It's not about a journey of learning. Well, it hasn't been in my experience anyway. I know there are some excellent teachers out there, but Thomas was never taught by them.

I'm very pleased with how things are going. I want Thomas to look back on his childhood and remember the fun he had. I want him to feel cherished. And, I want him to know that there's a huge world out there that's his for the taking.

I watch my son playing. I see him being happy. I know he's safe (emotionally and physically, which he definitely hadn't been at his infant school), and I witness him learning at one hell of a rate. My son has gone from being a child who experienced emotional distress disorder at his infant school to being a happy,carefree boy who is growing in confidence every day. I feel that I have given him back his childhood.

Here is The Wright Stuff's piece on Home Ed. It starts just after the fourth ad break. http://www.channel5.com/shows/the-wright-stuff/episodes/friday-23-may

Ticking My Boxes

I went to vote this evening. The Euro election ballot paper was about a mile long. Well, at least 18 inches long. It was essentially a list of terrifying racist, bigoted parties that I'd never even heard of before. Very scary. I've never struggled more to decide who should get my vote, although who shouldn't get my vote was easy. All the major parties seem to be so similar these days and all are equally unappealing.

I'd even taken a test on t'interweb to see who to vote for where the policies of the parties were listed, without telling you whose policies they were. I might have to tone down my views on policing. Apparently I side with the BNP on that one. Oops!

Education and the economy (particularly with regard to small businesses) are very important to me and none of the major parties even come close to ticking my boxes. Fnar fnar.

We also had our local elections where 'Monkey the Drummer' was the Monster Raving Loony candidate. If he'd be running for the Euros, I might well have voted for him. At least he'd have been honest and he'd have been some fun. Oh, and he'd probably be the sanest person in the European Parliament on the ballot sheet.

I made my marks on the papers and then had to faff around folding the Euro ballot to get it small enough to fit into the box. A man with a giant shoe horn came over to help poke it into the box. What a waste of paper.

Now I'm watching some of the election coverage on the Beeb. Tomorrow I will get a life. What I'm seeing is the most archaic waste of money ever. People. Hundreds of people. All sitting in leisure centres and the like manually unfolding mile-long bits of paper and counting - by hand - the votes. What a hopelessly inaccurate, inefficient way of doing things. I'm sure it's very exciting to sit up all night waiting for the results to come in, but really - aren't we a digital society now? Surely a lot of the voting could be done electronically.

Bed time! Sleep tight voters! xxx

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

One Step Closer To The Good Life

Thomas wanted to learn to do some things in the kitchen today. He's decided that he wants to be able to make his Grandma a cup of tea next time she's here. So, first up, was teaching him to do that. I would have taught him ages ago, but I don't really drink tea or coffee, so it hadn't occurred to me to show him. Anyway, today he asked and so we made one. As well as making the tea, we learned where tea comes from and we also observed that steam is water. Geography and science in action.

Then Thomas decided that he'd like to make butter - all by himself. So he did. We're going to make scones with the butter milk tomorrow.

Afterwards, we decided to have a go at making yoghurt in our new yoghurt maker. It's easy to do, but takes ages for the bacteria to do its stuff. It was very yummy and completely organic, so worth the wait. I reckon we spent about £1.20 on the ingredients to make 7 x 200g of yoghurt. It'll be 50p cheaper next time as I'll be able to use some of the yoghurt to start it off instead of having to buy one. So, 70p for all that yoghurt is less than half what I'd pay in Tesco and I'll be getting much better quality yoghurt. The yoghurt maker could pay for itself after around 14 uses. Great!

Finally, we made bread.

So, bread, butter, (jam we made in the autumn), yoghurt, scones (tomorrow) and a cup of tea. We're zipping down the fast lane towards the Good Life, baybee!

And, look at all the learning Thomas has done too. Weighing, measuring, geography, science, literacy (reading instructions) and maths (working out the best value products in the super market). All explained at a point in time when it's relevant to Thomas.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Messing Around On The River

OK, it was a stream, but it was a beautiful stream. In fact, it's one of my favourite spots on Earth.

Today, we spent the afternoon in Bushy Park. More precisely, we were at the stream in the Woodland Gardens part of Bushy Park. It's a wonderful, magical place. We sat in a shady clearing on the banks of the stream and watched the children splashing about, building dams and climbing in trees. What a perfect way to spend a hot and sunny day.



One of the first questions I'm asked when someone discovers that my son is home educated is 'how will he make friends?' It's a fair question from anyone not involved in 'HE'. Indeed, it was the first question I asked myself before I took Thomas out of school. But here's the thing: there are about 2,000 children being home educated in Surrey alone - five children that I know of are being home educated in our little town of Molesey. There are many HE groups on Facebook and other networks with lots of great ideas, activities and meet-ups. As a result, Thomas has had a better social life since leaving school than he ever had while he was at school.

Today was a fine example of this. We met up with four other HE families today and Thomas had a ball. He made a lovely new friend, and two existing friends came along too. He also played with two younger boys and demonstrated how kind he is with them. Wonderful.

To see Thomas playing happily with children of various ages, and children he doesn't always know is amazing. He is perfectly happy to play with anyone who comes along - especially if they happen to like playing Minecraft. It's like the children's equivalent of being in the Masons. 'Do you play Minecraft?' 'Yes!' 'Then you may come and play.' They don't roll up their trouser legs, but they certainly start talking in an unfamiliar language and they instantly have a connection.

I feel a lot less isolated than I did when Thomas was at school too. As well as it being very distressing to see my son being excluded from parties and such, his isolation became my isolation too. I always felt that we were looked down on and that we didn't fit in. But I have never felt like this with the HE families. All those we have met have been supportive and kind. It was a real joy to see Carly and her boys today. We met them on our Winchelsea trip and today they came all the way from Maidstone to join us. I feel like both Thomas and I have made some lovely genuine friends.

The second question I'm asked about HE is 'how do I teach Thomas?'. I'll talk about that later...

Today, I definitely feel one step closer to the Good Life :D

Friday, 16 May 2014

The Happy Camper :D

A couple of months ago, I bought a very odd-looking contraption called a folding camper. I blame it on my friends Karen and Lucy. Oh, and on my being somewhat impulsive! I spotted it on eBay, hit 'Buy Now' and then panicked because I didn't have a tow bar and I'd never actually towed anything before. Oops!

I called the lady I'd bought it from and explained that I needed to get a towbar, but she kindly said she'd drive it over for me. So, the Happy Camper was on my drive 1.5 hours after I'd bought it. Double oops!

I'd never actually seen one in the flesh and was a bit nervous about what I'd landed myself with. The bottom half is essentially a caravan, with a top that's canvas like a tent. It's quite a masterpiece of engineering and it is huuuuge. It has two double bedrooms with pretty decent mattresses and it even has a hob and a fridge. I am far too old for sleeping on the floor in a sodding tent. I need some home comforts!

Amazingly, when we opened it up, it was in excellent condition. Better than that even. It had everything in it... a three-man tent, crockery, cutlery, brand new sleeping bags... it even had a little container with tampons in. Handy. It was like Christmas, opening cupboards up to see what goodies lurked inside.

We've taken the Happy Camper away three times now, but I've not used the gas or anything just in case. The camper is 19 years old, so I was worried in case the gas isn't safe. So today, a very lovely man came over and serviced the Happy Camper. He got everything working and says it's all in mint condition and is perfectly safe. Yippee! Now to take on some camping adventures...

I can't wait to see where we end up and to regale you all with tales of our exploits :D

But now, it's time for Gogglebox. Best thing on TV by a country mile. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Sunshine On A Rainy Day

The sun shone brightly today and Thomas and I went over to our allotment twice to whiz the strimmer round and to remove the vast quantities of Mare's Tail that seems to have sprung up. The allotment itself is shaping up quite nicely. We have lots of gooseberries, the strawberries are thriving, and the other soft fruit seems to be doing well too. We also have potatoes. Lots and lots of them even though we didn't actually plant any. Mind you, of the things we did plant precisely ONE pea has grown.

Things I have learnt about myself today: I definitely do not have green fingers.

But then the rain set in. Not real rain. Metaphorical rain. First came the news that Stephen Sutton had died. Amazing young man, who I am delighted to have known about and who I will endeavour to think of if ever I become self-absorbed and whingey.

Then came the news that Linzi Geddes had lost her fight against a very aggressive form of brain cancer. Linzi was Thomas's first child minder. She was amazing with him. She was fun and kind and she involved him in all aspects of her family life. This was really important to me. I've been on my own since before Thomas was even born and so he has never been a part of a standard family unit. I loved that he got to eat with a family and was a part of all the hustle and bustle of family life.

Linzi's family were all lovely to Thomas and my faith has been restored in men as I've watched Linzi's husband doing everything imaginable to try to help her. There's a man who is a true hero. He's devoted to his wife and he's now facing bringing up their three children alone.

So, someone up there seems to have taken two amazing people in just one day.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Winchelsea Week

Wow!

We are just back from a week on the Sussex coast. It was amazing - or amazeballs, if you must embarrass yourself by attempting to look like you're down-with-the-kids ;)

Firstly, we met some lovely people. All home ed families with lovely children and fab parents. It was such a joy to watch children, who had never met before, playing happily and like they'd known each other forever. I have some cracking photos of them all running across the Battle of Hastings battlefield and searching for dinosaur footprints on Winchelsea beach. I'll post these when I've had chance to catch my breath.

Much learning and much laughter. Excellent.

Secondly, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed being out and about with everyone, especially in the evening. As a single mum, I very rarely get to go out in the evening and so it was a real treat for me to come out to play :D

We stayed at a holiday park. The very thought of this would have sent a shiver down my spine a few years ago, but actually it was perfect. We paid £59 for four nights accommodation in a 2-bedroomed static caravan. The children loved it. The caravans were spotless and well-equipped. The staff at the site couldn't do enough for us. The pool was warm. The club house served good food and had excellent entertainers. All for so little money. Amazeballs! Ugh. Did I really just say that?

I genuinely can't wait to go again and to this end, I have created a group called 'Hedders On Tour'. As well as educating our children and having fun, we are on a mission to find the best cream tea in the land. A challenge we will all rise to.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

New Friends

We are having the best week. We might be staying in a little static caravan on the windswept south coast, but we are having a ball!

The children, all 13 of them, are playing beautifully. There's a great mix of ages and all the children are really great. Thomas has never had more fun. We've been to Rye (beautiful!), we've been to see the petrified forest at the Winchelsea beach (didn't find the dinosaur footprints, but not for lack of looking!), the kids have all been swimming in the heated pool here, and we ventured to the magnificent beach at Camber, but were thwarted by the wind whipping the sand at us. I'm still finding it in my ears!

In the evenings, we've been heading to the little club house on the site and it's be fantastic. Music, quizzes, dancing and BINGO. I haven't laughed so much in ages. So, not only has Thomas made some lovely new friends, but so have I. The ladies here are all awesome!

I'm definitely going to organise another trip like this. It's proving to be a great adventure for us all and it's so nice not to be doing it all alone.

Here's to new friends!


Monday, 5 May 2014

Rocking The Home Ed Thing

A few weeks ago, I spotted a really good deal. Four nights at a holiday park on the south coast for just £59. So, I posted about it on one of the Home Ed forums to see if anyone else fancied joining us. Whaddya know? Five other families said 'yes!'.

So here we are. We've met up with three of the other families this evening, and tomorrow we are all meeting up to take the children to the beach. Not just any beach though. This beach has a petrified forest on it and dinosaur footprints on some of the rocks too. Very cool!

A day of fun, sun (?), sea and learning.

Can't wait!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Quiztastic!

Why is it that, when you need a piece of technology to work, it fails spectacularly? Yesterday, I printed off some question papers for a quiz I was running today. I was feeling very pleased with myself because I'm usually hideously disorganised. Then I checked the numbers of attendees and noticed that I had a couple more coming than I'd realised. Never mind! I'll print a few more. What do you mean, 'toner empty'? Why didn't I get any sort of warning about this?

Right! We'll have to get up early and hit PC World. Their website says they hold stocks of the toner I need.

So, up we get at the very crack of dawn and head over to Weybridge. No sign of the toner I needed. Not in PC World, Argos or Tesco. My quiz was starting in just over an hour, so I ended up having to buy a new printer!!!

Grrrr...

What a waste of money.

Anyway, papers printed and quiz went well. Phew!

Back to my mum's to collect Thomas (thank you, mum!) and for a yummy roast dinner (thank you, mum!)

Quiz Corner
The answers to the questions from yesterday are ENRIQUE TIRABOCCHI and GENERAL SHERMAN..

Today's two to tackle are from the quiz I ran today...
1. How many 'Dimes' are there in a US Dollar?
2. From the Latin, via French for “to fly’; what term is used in tennis to describe a return shot made by the player before the ball bounces on their side of the court?

Answers tomorrow :D

Livid Thought Of The Day
Shops that sell printers but not the consumables. Absolutely fuming!

Friday, 2 May 2014

I'm Thinking FESTIVALS!

One of the first things I thought when I bought my little folding camper two months ago was that it'd be fun to take Thomas to a festival. I figured it'll be quite an experience. Now, I've had a look around at family-friendly festivals and the one that's standing out on both price and content is the Wychwood Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse at the end of the month.

What say you?

Headline acts are The Boomtown Rats, The Stranglers, Newton Faulkner, Bad Manners... and the kids' stuff includes Justin Fletcher, Korky Paul - illustrator of 'Winnie the Witch' (my son's favourite books), the Roald Dahl Museum....

Oooh! I've just noticed the Lee Thompson's Ska Orchestra will be there too. As a HUGE Madness fan when I was a kid, I think I might actually pop! Mark Bedford also looks like he's playing.

Honestly, I am literally BURSTING with excitement now!

Only one thing... I have NEVER been to a festival before and have absolutely no idea what to expect. Have you been to this one (or any one)? What do I need to take? What do I need to know? Will you be at this one? Does this sound suitable for a mum and an 8-year-old?

Eeeeee!!!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Up With The Lark

Up early this morning. Not with the lark really, more with the pigeon. There are lots of those here, but I don't think I've ever seen a lark. Perhaps I don't get up early enough.

Anyway, I was so cross with myself for not getting our walk in yesterday, that I decided to get my lazy backside out of bed so I can get some work done before Thomas wakes up. This is how my life often works. Single mum working for myself from home whilst educating my son at home = getting up early to do my work and going to bed late for the same reason. I don't want to be 'back-of-head-mum', sat at a computer all day while my son has to entertain himself. So, the only way to ensure this doesn't happen is to get a couple of hours in first thing and then around six hours in during the evening after he's gone to bed. Bishety boshety, full day's work while my son sleeps. (I check emails periodically throughout the day and I take phone calls.)

Yes, it's hard work, but it's worth it. I think I have a fairly good work:life balance.

Thomas is ready for the walk. Today, we are taking our nature book, a crayon, a notebook and a pair of binoculars with a compass on them. I have also written a list of 'Missions' for Thomas to complete while we're out. My experience is that children rarely fancy going for a walk. They like having a goal. Well, mine does anyway.

The missions are just handwritten on to a piece of paper:

1. Jump in five puddles.
2. Do bark rubbings of three different types of tree.
3. Take photos of six different tree leaves.
4. Spot one thing for every colour of the rainbow. (Obviously we're talking about the seven colours Newton identified, not the whole spectrum <g>)

Off we go! Talk amongst yourselves :D

...
Tick Tock Tick Tock
...

OK, we're back now. Went to beautiful Bushy Park. We're very lucky to have this place right on our doorstep. The weather wasn't terribly kind, so we had to abandon the bark rubbings, but on the plus side, the puddles were bigger and more plentiful. To every downside, there's always an up :D




Thomas asked me how squirrels can run up trees so easily. Do they have sticky feet? I love the questions he asks. Children's questions give you an amazing insight into how their minds are working. Thomas is always asking questions and wanting to investigate things. Today, we came home and looked up oldest trees and largest trees.

All that learning, and a lot of walking too. Today's tally is 9102 steps and it's only 5pm, so I think I'll get to 10k today :D

Jane x

Quiz Corner
The answers to the questions from yesterday are LEGO and 14 MARCH (Pi is expressed as 3.14 - so third month, fourteenth day).

Today's two to tackle...
1. Our first question is one Thomas asked the great Kevin Ashman. We went on holiday a few years ago with Kevin (an awesome tour guide!). When we were in Dieppe, Thomas proudly told him that Captain Webb was the first man to swim across the Channel. Then he turned to Kevin and asked: 'Who was the first person to swim the Channel from France to England?'. Kevin didn't know. Do you?
2. Again, inspired by Thomas: 'Which is the largest known living tree in the world by volume?'

Answers tomorrow :D

Livid Thought Of The Day
Self-service tills. No, there isn't an unexpected item in the chuffing bagging area! Livid!

Broadcasting Live To The Nation

Today, I have mostly been broadcasting live to the nation. Well, OK, I was a guest on Simon Mayo's BBC Radio 2 show. They were talking about what makes a good quiz question and so they came and asked me - obviously :D

It was quite cool really because it gave me the opportunity to speak to the producer about something else I'm planning, so hopefully I'll be on the show again soon.

I have to say though, that I really hate doing anything like this. I get very stressed about it. I'm naturally a back room girl. I don't like speaking publicly and so I always feel proud of myself when I get up the nerve to do these things. Go me ;)

Enough about me though, today has also been about ensuring Thomas is familiar with the important things in life. To this end, I have introduced him to Knight Rider and, today, to the A-Team. What 8-year-old boy's education would be complete without a talking car and men who can armour a van, but who can't manage to shoot anyone?

He also learnt to play the harmonica and we read up on the trees we saw yesterday. He's rediscovered his dressing up box as well, and keeps appearing dressed as a knight or a pirate. Love it! Creative play at its finest. We even had a sword fight. Avast me hearties!

Did we do our walk? Erm....

So, how did you do with those questions from yesterday then?

Quiz Corner
The answers to the questions from yesterday are DR SEUSS and WIKILEAKS

Today's two to tackle from the Simon Mayo Show...
1. Which Danish company makes more tyres than any other company in the world?
2. On which date in March do mathematicians celebrate Pi Day?

Answers tomorrow :D

Livid Thought Of The Day
Why is it that, when you have a baby, everyone knows why it's crying except you? Livid!







Wednesday, 30 April 2014

I Am Exactly The Opposite Of The Person I Thought I'd Be

Whilst watching a programme this evening on the history of caravanning (never let it be said that I'm not 100% rock and roll), I suddenly realised that I have become exactly the opposite of the person I thought I'd be. And you know what? I bloody love it!

If you'd told me 10 years ago that I'd find myself an impoverished single mum, running a business from home and holding up traffic all over the country as I drive around trailing my £400 folding camper behind me, I'd have laughed at you. I'd have probably called the men in white coats out to cart you off if you'd told me that I'd make my own bread and butter too. I even made orange squash the other day (it was disgusting). But here I am. Just one goat short of living the Good Life, baybee! Tom and Barbara Good have nothing on me.

Life hasn't turned out to be quite the fairytale I was sold as a child. There is no handsome prince or knight in shining armour. But that's OK. Life's pretty good and Thomas and I have a great time. I'm determined to support my son and myself and I'm going to make sure that Thomas has a fun-filled, adventure-packed, loving childhood. I work all hours, so work doesn't encroach too much on my Thomas-time, and I put a lot into searching out things to do and see. Lack of money never holds me back. I can always find a way to achieve things on a shoestring.

Starting this blog has already been fab. I'm amazed to see so many people reading it and I very much look forward to taking you all along on the crazy ride that is my world. Marvel as I juggle educating my son and running a business, and I might even let you into some of my little secrets for living the high life for next-to-nothing ;)

What's that you say? Shut up talking because all you really want to know is how to make butter? Well OK, then - it's very easy. Get some double cream, a pinch of salt and a bowl of cold water. Whisk up the cream and bung in the salt. Keep going... the cream will suddenly separate out into butter milk and butter. You'll know when it's done because it goes from being white to being solid and yellow (looking exactly like... butter) with white liquid. Scoop it out and pop it into the cold water. Give it a squeeze to get out any remaining butter milk and bish bosh - home made butter. Simples.

Jane x