Review of ‘Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder’

Youngest picked this book up at the library.

Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder: Adventures in Science Around the Kitchen Table

The first experiment he fancied trying was the crisp tube catapult, but we didn’t have any crisp tubes. So, I added those to the grocery order and Youngest took another look.

He chose the egg parachute experiment. He needed a bit of help cutting the plastic bag and attaching strings to the cup. But, the instructions were clear, and I think most children would be able to complete it independently. Middly was outside, helping my husband to re-tar a shed roof, so we passed the parachute to him and he threw it off the roof. Youngest was delighted to see his parachute work and his egg survive! After a couple of throws, Youngest decided to try throwing the parachute from the top of the caravan steps instead. It’s only four steps, so the parachute didn’t have time to open and the egg was smashed. Youngest was initially surprised, but quite quickly thought about why that had happened.

Next, Youngest wanted to have a go at making a ‘Crazy Quick Cupcake’. Again, the instructions were very clear and – though he needed some guidance on measuring 1/4 teaspoon – Youngest could complete the experiment himself. We actually make microwave cakes quite a bit, so I would say that this isn’t the best recipe (we’d use twice as much sugar and oil and no water). But, Youngest was perfectly satisfied.

Youngest enjoyed making balloon powered cars. We struggled a bit with the wheels falling off his cardboard version, so I suggested he made a Lego one as well.

Our next experiment was the Crisp Tube Catapult. Youngest struggled a bit with this one. He needed help cutting the crisp tube and poking holes in the sides of a plastic bottle.

Our first launch was a failure. The pencil tore through the side of the bottle.

Admittedly, this was more my fault than Shaha’s. The instructions do call for a ‘fizzy drink bottle’, and actually point out that these bottles are stronger. But, I didn’t have any, so used a water bottle anyway.

I fixed the catapult by cutting the slits further down the side of the crisp tube and taping around the bottle to strengthen it (I didn’t even have a spare bottle on hand to switch – the preparation fault is entirely mine). This meant that the elastic bands weren’t pulled as far, which actually made it easier for Youngest to use. He was happy with the second attempt and played with it for quite a while.

These are pretty basic experiments – many of which we’ve done before – but the cheerful layout and child-friendly instructions encouraged Youngest to give them a go. I think he enjoyed choosing experiments from this book more than he enjoys just doing the same experiment at my suggestion.

If your child struggles with anticipation, you might want to make a few purchases in advance of them reading the book, but none of the required bits and pieces are very expensive, and the book does make some suggestions for alternatives (e.g. for the egg parachute it asks for a yoghurt pot or a plastic cup, rather than insisting you must use a yoghurt pot), which should reassure children who worry about using the ‘right’ things.

I would recommend this book to children aged five to ten, I think. There are some explanations, but an older child might find them rather simplistic. A younger child might find the heavily illustrated pages a bit tricky to follow.

Depending on the age and wrist strength of the child, they may need quite a bit of help with some experiments. Cutting cardboard, poking holes in plastic and even stretching thick elastic bands, are tricky for small children.

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Holidays

#adoptersblogtober18

As home educators we have a lot of freedom around holidays.

We don’t have to take our holidays in school holiday time. This can mean cheaper holidays, which are obviously very nice. It can also mean quieter holidays.

We’ve done Butlins out of season, which the boys loved. We’ve flown to Italy and France during school term times. The airport is quieter then, and fewer other travelers have children with them.

We also take day trips during term time. Legoland and Chessington World of Adventures are much calmer midweek. The queues are shorter, and there’s a lot less noise and bustle. All of which is great for Eldest in particular, who finds crowds and the closeness of long queues very hard to handle.

We don’t take the same breaks as schools really. During the long summer holiday, when most children are taking lots of day trips and enjoying a bit of freedom from school routines, we keep our schoolwork routines going (routine is important to us) and actually spend more time at home, sheltering from the busier than usual parks, libraries and museums.

At Easter we have a month long break, and we take the whole of December off. So, the boys do get a rest from school work occasionally, but we found that half-terms broke up our year too much. If our holidays happen too frequently, the boys struggle to relax into our usual routine. A couple of long holidays each year, with long periods of ordinary time between them suit us better.

Sometimes, when we’re still doing maths and the children two doors down are playing in the garden,or when we’re getting home from a trip to a theme park and drive past children leaving school for the day, it can feel as though our family is out of step with everyone else.

Sometimes it feels as though we have a different rhythm of life.

But, then I think about the extra stress that holiday times (especially those big celebrations like birthdays and Christmas) can be for my boys. Holidays need special handling so that we can all enjoy them. We need to be a little out of step with other people at times, so that we can keep our own footing.

Shoes

Day 17 of #adoptersblogtober

The boys choose these wellies for me, shortly after they came home. We all needed new boots, so we went to Matalan. They chose their own boots, then saw these and declared them perfect for me. I was very touched. It’s the first thing they chose for me.

I’ve worn these boots a lot over the last nine years. We’ve walked through rain, snow, hail and sunshine together.

The boys have gone through a vast number of pairs of shoes in the course of those years. I can’t actually remember what their first wellies looked like. They’ve had do many different pairs. They’ve had wellies in favourite colours and wellies with favourite TV characters printed on them. I suppose if I’d kept a record, it would show their developing tastes.

There have been shoes that have been scuffed to pieces, soles that have been slashed and pierced, and picked apart. As well as old tastes, a gallery of old shoes would remind us of various incidents and adventures.

For a while there, Eldest had the same size feet as me and was able to borrow my boots when something unfortunate happened to his. That wouldn’t work now, though, he’d never get his feet into my shoes.

As they’ve grown, the boys have grown into my shoes, and they’ve grown back out the other side.

It’s a strange thing to watch them outgrowing me. So far, it’s mainly a size thing. They still live here, they still need me to provide, teach, cook, and drive them about. But, already I can see the signs that one day, they will outgrow me completely. One day, they will be adults, managing their own households, their own learning, diets and activities.

I think that’s my job, though. As the boys grow, as they go through dozens of pairs of shoes in many different styles, I stay constant, wearing the same boots, saying the same things, being the still center for them to whirl and spin about.

I guess that’s what shoes remind me of. The children change so much, so fast, and I seem to change much slower and much less.

Pets

Day 8 of #adoptersblogtober18

We have a rabbit, which belongs to Eldest, and some rats, which belong to Middly.

Both boys got their pets for their tenth birthdays (we have a list of things that happen at various ages, getting a pet is the privilege that comes with turning ten, though there are some provisos about being responsible).

Blizzard, the rabbit, is still rather wary of children. Eldest likes to sit in the rabbit run, reading a book. If he sits for a while, Blizzard will hop onto his lap for a stroke. He is the softest rabbit I’ve ever touched. Eldest loves him, and the quiet wariness suits a pet belonging to Eldest.

Middly’s rats are completely different. The day we got them, I told the boys to sit quietly and let the rats explore in their own time. I said they shouldn’t stroke them, at first, they should give the rats time to get used to their new home. The rats instantly ran up to the boys and climbed all over them! They have never been afraid in the least.

Middly’s rats scamper out to greet us every time we go near them. They love new things and new people. They’re perfect pets for our sociable – and sometimes rather excitable – Middly.

The pets have reflected our boys’ feelings, given them a new way of talking about emotions. Eldest can see how too many visitors make Blizzard withdraw to his hutch, and he can tell us that sometimes he likes to withdraw to his room when we have visitors. Middly’s watched his rats get so excited over a banana that they fall off the table; he can see what over-excitement looks like from the outside and relate it to how he feels at times.

Talking about the pets’ emotions on moving house helped us to explore the boys’ feelings as well.

The pets can be an easy topic of conversation, when things are strained at home. It’s easy to get a laugh by reminding Middly of the time one of his rats climbed in my cold mug of tea. Even if Eldest can’t accept a nurturing gesture from me, he can take a stalk of broccoli for his rabbit, and know that I am thinking of him. At times, the pets can be distractions from our stresses, or play substitute for the care I want to lavish on the boys. They are a shared love for us, demanding less in the way of relationships than people do. Loving the pets is uncomplicated.

Unfortunately, though rabbits live eight to twelve years, pet rats only live two to three years. So, earlier this year, Middly was the first of our children to lose a pet.

One of his rats – the white one, named Nippur – got a chest infection. We took her to the vets, but they weren’t able to save her. In the end, it was decided that Nippur should be put down. We buried Nippur under an apple tree in the garden. I said a few words about what a good rat she had been.

The boys have all dealt with this little loss in their own way. Youngest has found it easiest to talk about what happened and how he feels. Middly’s accepted some hugs. Eldest was rather sombre.

Saying goodbye to Nippur has meant that she has passed from part of our family to part of our family story. She is a shared memory now, a part of that web of shared experiences that makes us who we are. Having pets has drawn us closer.

Comfort and Discomfort

Day 7 of #adoptersblogtober18

When we went to our Approval Panel, to persuade a group of experts that we would make good enough parents to adopt, I thought long and hard about what to wear. I wanted to dress like a mother. I wanted to dress like someone a child would want to snuggle up to. I wanted to look like a source of comfort. I chose a soft grey skirt and a cotton polo neck. Of course, the outfit almost certainly had no effect on the panel! But, I think it does say something about me, and what I expected to be as a mother.

I still wear soft clothes, actually. I don’t like to wear zips or buttons wear they might catch on a cuddly child. I don’t wear sequins or brooches. I like to dress in a way that invites hugs.

The truth is that the boys need all the encouragement that I can give them. When they were small, they weren’t particularly keen on physical affection. They weren’t even keen on me putting plasters on cuts, or washing dirty faces.

They quite liked wrestling, though. Grabbing, squeezing and poking were all easier for the boys to do than gentle hugs or kisses. When they did hug me, they would turn it into a little competition and ask me to try and hug tighter than them. Now, when both the big boys are taller than me, they like to throw themselves at me in a bear hug that knocks me over (usually we land safely on the sofa, they’re playful bears).

I suppose in a way it summarises out relationship. Comfort and discomfort are tightly linked. Soft hugs are counterpoised with rough pushes.

Getting close to me, trusting me, can be hard for the boys. It can feel scary at the very moment it feels safest. Scary, because it’s safe. Because trusting a grown-up to keep you safe is taking a risk.

I’m amazed and proud at their willingness to take such a risk with me, though I wish that it was easier for them to do.

I don’t know how much I can really do about this tension. Ultimately, the best I’ve come up with so far is to keep on being safe, keep on offering soft edges for them to bump against, and hope that the repeated proof will make a lasting impression.

Cooking

Day 6 of #adoptersblogtober18

We love to cook in my house. We’re not particularly skilled or adventurous cooks.

I am happy to admit that I often buy kit cakes for the boys to make. They’re very easy, reliable ways of baking, and give the boys practice in following instructions.

We love to make cornflake cakes, cheesecake, and even microwave cakes.

We make all our own bread, usually in the bread machine, but once a week or so, someone will make a batch of rolls by hand.

Once a year, the boys take over the cooking for a week. They put together a meal plan (we keep a weekly meal plan on the fridge as part of our daily routines); they do an online grocery shop (keeping to a budget); then they cook all the meals for a week. It’s a lot of fun, and I think it’s helped develop their confidence.

Cooking is an important life skill and one of the great joys of home educating is being able to devote time to teaching life skills as well as academics.

I’m not a keen cook. I don’t like to spend more than half an hour preparing any meal (half an hour being one episode of a TV show, and the length of time I can usually leave the boys in the living room by themselves). I like short cuts (frozen, chopped garlic and onions, for example). But, despite all that, I do love putting a tasty meal in front of my family and watching them tuck in.

Feeding others brings me a deep pleasure and pride. When I teach the boys to cook, I am teaching them the joy of caring for others, the strength of being a provider. More than culinary expertise, it is the delight in sharing and in strengthening those around you that I really want to pass on.

Trees

Day five of #adoptersblogtober18

The boys love to climb trees. Middly in particular loves to climb as high as possible then jump into an adjoining tree! This trick terrifies me!

When they first came home, the boys used to get stuck up trees quite frequently. I’m still not sure if they were genuinely scared / unable to get down or if they just wanted to enjoy being ‘rescued’. Either way, we always climbed up after them and brought them down. It was reassuring for them, I think.

In the end we instituted a family rule. If you got stuck up a tree and had to be carried down, you weren’t allowed up the same tree again that day. It reduced my tree climbing to manageable levels.

A few years ago now, I rescued Eldest from a tree for what proved to be the very last time. He was quite big and it wasn’t easy to climb down the tree again, guiding him and supporting him. But, I wanted him to trust me to be there, so I climbed up and – slowly – I brought him back down.

When we got back to solid ground I tried to calm him, saying, “you never need to be scared of getting stuck. I’ll always come up and help you.”

He replied, “I know that. I was scared that you’re so fat the tree would break!”

Still, whatever he needed from the countless tree rescues, I guess he’s got it now.

These days, all the boys clamber up and down trees with very little trouble and only need me to stand at the bottom, holding coats.